By Swami Harshananda
Aparā-vidyā literally means ‘lower knowledge’.
From the most ancient times knowledge has been highly eulogized in the scriptures. Its acquisition and dissemination have been considered as a sacred duty, especially of the brāhmaṇas.
One of the more well-known and earlier Upaniṣads, the Mundaka, classifies vidyā or knowledge into two groups :
- Parā - The higher
- Aparā - The lower
Only spiritual wisdom that gives a direct experience of the imperishable Brahman, the Absolute, is classed as parā and all other branches of knowledge, whether they are sacred or secular, are relegated to the lower plane as aparā-vidyā.
It is interesting to note that even the Rgveda, the most highly venerated scripture tops the list of aparā-vidyās. Other arts and sciences mentioned, include grammar, poetics, and astronomy.
Another Upaniṣad which is equally revered and perhaps even more ancient, the Chāndogya, gives a much longer list starting from the Rgveda and ends with magical sciences. By implication, these vidyās have to be classed under aparā.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore