सोऽहं भगवो मन्त्रविदेवास्मि नात्मविच्छ्रुतं ह्येव मे भगवद्दृशेभ्यस्तरति शोकमात्मविदिति सोऽहं भगवः शोचामि तं मा भगवाञ्छोकस्य पारं तारयत्विति तं होवाच यद्वै किंचैतदध्यगीष्ठा नामैवैतत् ॥ ७.१.३ ॥
so’haṃ bhagavo mantravidevāsmi nātmavicchrutaṃ hyeva me bhagavaddṛśebhyastarati śokamātmaviditi so’haṃ bhagavaḥ śocāmi taṃ mā bhagavāñchokasya pāraṃ tārayatviti taṃ hovāca yadvai kiṃcaitadadhyagīṣṭhā nāmaivaitat || 7.1.3 ||
3. ‘True, I have learnt much, but I know only the word meaning. I do not know the Self. Sir, I have heard from great persons like you that only those who know the Self are able to overcome sorrow. I am suffering from sorrow. Please take me across the ocean of sorrow.’ Sanatkumāra then said to Nārada, ‘Everything you have learnt so far is just words’.
Bhagavaḥ, sir; saḥ aham mantravit eva asmi, [though I have studied much] I know only the word meaning; na ātmavit, I do not know the Self; śrutam hi eva me, I have also heard; bhagavat dṛśebhyaḥ, from people like you; tarati śokam ātmavit iti, one who knows the Self overcomes sorrow; bhagavaḥ, sir, saḥ aham śocāmi, I am suffering from sorrow; tam mā bhagavān śokasya pāram tārayatu iti, sir, please take me across [the ocean of] sorrow; tam ha uvāca, [Sanatkumāra] said to him; yat vai kiñca etat, whatever it is; adhyagīṣṭhāḥ etat nāma eva, you have learnt is only words.
Nārada was a great scholar. But in spite of all his knowledge, he did not know the Self and was very unhappy. So, with great humility, he approached the sage Sanatkumāra and said, ‘Sir, would you please teach me?’ Sanatkumāra replied, ‘Tell me what you already know.’ The teacher must know what level the student is at so he can raise him from where he is.
Then Nārada began to list all the subjects he had studied: the Vedas, history and mythology, grammar, mathematics, astrology, and so forth. But Nārada felt that all this was pointless. It served no purpose, because if he did not know the Self he knew nothing. His knowledge was merely aparā vidyā, lower knowledge, and not parā vidyā, higher knowledge—that is, knowledge of the Self. Moreover, Nārada said: ‘I know only the words. I do not know the Self.’
The finest, most subtle, knowledge is knowledge of the Self You begin with the gross and go step by step until you reach the finest. First you are only a mantra-vit—that is, you know only the word meanings of the scriptures. But this is nothing. The scriptures are all about the Self. If you don’t know the Self, your knowledge of the scriptures is useless.
Being a scholar without knowing the real meaning of the scriptures is like being a beast of burden. A donkey may carry a load of sandalwood. In fact, his back may almost be breaking with the weight of it. Yet he does not enjoy the fragrance. Similarly, being a scholar is not the same as having Self-knowledge.
Nārada has great yearning. He says: ‘I have heard that saints like you have no more grief because you know the Self. Please take me across the ocean of sorrow. You alone can do that by giving me Self-knowledge. Life has a purpose. Please make me feel that I have achieved that purpose.’
Now Sanatkumāra says to Nārada: ‘You have studied much, but you have studied only words. Each word has a meaning, and that meaning has to be grasped.’ How do we grasp the meaning? Śaṅkara gives an example here: Suppose the king is coming by in a procession and you are very anxious to see him. But along with the king are thousands of other people, bands, vehicles, horses, elephants—so much pomp and grandeur. Where is the king?
Śaṅkara says this world is like that procession. The king is there, but he is hidden from you—hidden behind all the pomp and pageantry. Similarly, in this world we perceive only names and forms—words, not substance. Merely knowing the word Brahman
Now the question may arise: Sanatkumāra says that this knowledge of the Vedas and other things is mere words. But perhaps you have studied all the scriptures and performed many sacrifices—is all this then futile? Śaṅkara says no, it’s not futile. He gives the example: Suppose a child wants to know what the moon is. How do you show him the moon? First you say, ‘Do you see that big tree over there?’ When the child says yes, you say, ‘Do you see the top of the tree?’ Again, when the child says yes, you say: ‘Do you see that big shining ball behind the branches? That is the moon.’ You go step by step.
Can you teach an ignorant person the highest science? Will he be able to grasp it? You must start with something he can understand. Similarly, there is the world of sense experience before us, and it is very real to us. We don’t see the Self, so we can’t understand what it is. Self-knowledge is the highest knowledge. We cannot expect to attain it immediately. First we must know what this world is. First we must know what it is to have money, scholarship, fame, and other things.
After experiencing these things of the world and finding them to be hollow, only then can we become disillusioned with this world. And only then can we renounce this world of name and form and fix our minds on the Self. We may hear about the Self, but first we must know that this world we are so