By Swami Harshananda
Vidyā literally means ‘knowledge,’ ‘science’.
The word is derived from the verbal root ‘vid’ which means to know’.</ref> the term vidyā stands for knowledge in general and also for any organised body of knowledge. Though the word vidyā normally means learning or knowledge, in a more technical sense it signifies a science or an art. Philosophical thought has reached its acme in the Upaniṣads. Coming as a reaction to Vedic ritualism and priest-craft, it has to stress the need for realizing the spiritual dimensions of an individual. The sages of the Upaniṣads with their deep insight into human nature, knew that a total break with the past would be rather difficult for the men steeped lifelong in rituals.
Wishing to lead them to higher levels of spiritual experience, step by step, these sages devised several Vidyās or upāsanas often based on the same rituals which they had practiced. These Vidyās mentioned in the Upaniṣads and amplified to some extent by the commentators are sometimes listed as 32 in number. A few of them may now be considered here briefly. Upāsanas often based on the same rituals which they had practiced.
Vidyā as per Upaniṣads
The Upaniṣads divide vidyā into two varieties:
- Aparāvidyā - It is the lower knowledge comprising all worldly sciences including the Vedas
- Parāvidyā - It is the spiritual wisdom resulting in God-experience
Vidyā as per Arthaśāstra
Vidyā, when understood as ātmavidyā, is posited as the antidote of avidyā or nescience. The Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya recognizes four kinds of vidyās:
- Ānvīkṣikī - logic and metaphysics
- Trayī - the three Vedas excluding the Atharvaveda
- Vārttā - agriculture, trade and allied vocations
- Daṇḍanītī - statecraft
Vidyā as per Viṣṇupurāṇa
The Viṣṇupurāṇa lists 18 vidyās as follows:
- 4 Vedas
- 6 Vedāṅgas
Classification of Vidyās
Sometimes this word is used to indicate special modes of meditation such as Aksipurusavidyā, Bhumavidyā and so on. The 64 kalās are also sometimes known as vidyās. These Vidyās mentioned in the Upaniṣads and amplified to some extent by the commentators are sometimes listed as 32 in number. A few of them may now be considered here briefly.
Akṣipurusavidyā literally means 'science of the person in the eye’. Akṣipuruṣa means ‘the person in the eye’. He is identified with the ātman. He is the person who animates the eye and enables it to see or he is the person seen through the inner eye, after purifying the mind through spiritual disciplines. He is the draṣṭā and not the dṛśya. He is Brahman. Meditation on him as the seer is the Akṣipurusavidyā. The fruits of such meditation are believed to be obtaining all the good things, shining in all the worlds and not being reborn after death.
Antarādityavidyā literally means ‘science of the Person in the Sun’. This refers to the Puruṣa or the Cosmic Person in the orb of the sun. He is called tat and satyam. He is related to the person in the right eye of human beings, through his rays. When the time comes for the jīva to depart from the body he sees the sun without rays. The earth and the sky are this Cosmic Person’s head and arms. The heavens form his feet. His secret name is ‘ahas’. One who knows thus, gives up and destroys sins.
Bhumavidyā literally means ‘science of the Bhumā, the Great Brahman’. This is one of the most important sections of the Chāndogya Upanisad. The sage Nārada approaches Sanatkumāra who was considered to be a great teacher of spiritual wisdom of his times. Though Nārada had mastered 19 sciences and fields of knowledge including the four Vedas, he had not attained inner peace and tranquility.
Sanatkumāra takes him step by step from lower meditations starting with nāma as a symbol for Brahman to BhumāCite error: Closing
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<ref> tag Daharavidyā deals with the meditation on Brahman in the region of the heart, compared to a lotus containing a very small space. This ākāśa is itself Brahman containing the earth and the heaven, the sun and the moon, lightning and stars. Since the word Ākāśa is also a name of Brahman, this method of meditation on the daharākāśa is justifiable. As a result of this meditation leading to the realisation of the ātman or Brahman the sādhaka will get whatever he wants.
Gāyatrividyā literally means ‘knowledge of the Gāyatrī’. This is a rather complicated vidyā or meditation dealt with in the Chāndogya Upanisad. Gāyatrī is an important Vedic metre, described as superior to other metres. It is manifested as vāk or speech and protects all bhutas or beings. Since these beings are sheltered by pṛthvī or the earth, Gāyatrī and pṛthvī are identical. Man’s body including his heart, where his prāṇas or vital airs are situated, is also pṛthvī and hence the Gāyatrī.
The Vedic metre Gāyatrī has four pādas or quarters with six akṣaras or letters in each. These six letters can be considered as related to:
Puruṣa or Brahman is the self of this Gāyatrī. He is to be meditated upon in the ākāśa within the heart. The Upaniṣad further explains how the pañcaprāṇas within the heart are related to āditya, candra, agni, parjanya and ākāśa. Upāsanās or meditations on these in the prescribed manner will lead to several extraordinary results.
Madhuvidyā literally means ‘knowledge of the honey’. This vidyā is described in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad. It is primarily connected with the upāsanā on the Āditya who is described as devamadhu or honey of the gods since he brings joy like madhu or honey to them. Honey is stored in the honeycomb, in its chambers. The honeycomb is built up on a beam or any beam-like structure, by the honeybees. They collect honey from various flowers.
This analogy is now applied to Āditya as follows:
- Antarikṣa is the honeycomb.
- Dyuloka is the beam.
- Rays of the sun are the chambers or holes.
- Water particles in the rays are the small eggs of the honey bees.
- The four Vedas are Rk, Yajus, Sāma and Atharva are the bees.
- Vedic rituals are the flowers from which honey is collected.
The results of performance of these rituals, viz:
- Yaśas - fame
- Tejas - bodily lustre
- Indriya - vigor of the senses
- Vīrya - strength
- Annādya - food
All the above mentioned fruits are are all stored in Āditya.
The various Vedic deities enjoy this honey in Āditya with the more important ones as their leaders as follows:
- Eight Vasus with Agni
- Eleven Rudras with Indra
- Twelve Ādityas with Varuṇa
- Twenty-one Maruts with Soma
- Twelve Sādhyas with Brahmā
Any sādhaka who understands this and practices meditation as the deities did, will attain the same results as they got, ultimately realizing Brahman.
Pañcāgnivdyā literally means ‘knowledge of the five fires’. The duly established Vedic fire has several parts like fire, fuel, smoke, blazing tongues, embers and sparks. Offerings of ghee or rice-cake are poured into it. This results in a specific fruit or product. The five fires mentioned in this Vidyā are:
- Dyuloka - sky
- Parjanya - rain
- Loka - this world
- Puruṣa - man
- Yoṣā - woman
Various parts or acts which are connected with these are compared to the parts of fire and the oblation poured into it. Specific results are also assured if meditation is practiced according to the directions given here. It was taught by the king Pravāhaṇa Jaivali to the sage Uddālaka Aruṇi who was also known as Gautama.
Paryañkavidyā literally means ‘knowledge of the couch or bedstead of Hiraṇyagarbha’. This Vidyā is dealt with in the first chapter of the Kauṣitaki Brāhmana Upaniṣad. Citra Gārgyāyaṇi wanted to perform a sacrifice. He chose Gautama Āruṇi to be the chief priest and sent for him. Gautama, however, sent his son Svetaketu instead. When the latter went to Citra, he was tested first with some questions which he was unable to answer. Since Gautama too was ignorant of the same, both he and his son Svetaketu approached Citra as disciples to be instructed by him. What Citra taught them has now become known as Paryañkavidyā.
The Upaniṣad refers to the two well-known paths Devayāna or Arcirādimārga and Pitṛyāna or Dhumādimārga. When the jīva reaches Candra on his journey after death, he has to go beyond it by rejecting the offer of svarga and start treading the path of Devayāna. After passing through the various worlds of Vāyu, Varuṇa and so on, he reaches to the world of Hiraṇyagarbha or Brahmā. Before reaching Brahmā, this jīva has to cross the lake Āra, the river Virajā, enter the city of Brahmā called Sālajja and then approach Brahmā seated on the Paryaṅka in his palace Aparājita. After reaching him, the jīva ascends the Paryaṅka with one foot at first. Then there is a long passage containing the conversation between Brahmā and jīva. Once the jīva reaches the world of Brahmā and ascends the Paryaṅka. He is liberated and will not return to mundane existence. The Upaniṣad is full of descriptions which are highly symbolical. This is Paryañkavidyā.
Prānāgnihotravidyā literally means ‘knowledge of the Agnihotra concerning the five prāṇas’. Agnihotra is a Vedic sacrifice to be performed daily by a dvija who has established the Vedic fires. It is done more as a worship than for any specific results. Prāṇāgnihotra is the act of eating food converted into a mental sacrifice through contemplation. A dvija is expected to eat the first five morsels of food as an offering to the five prāṇas such as prāṇa, apāna and so on.
If he contemplates this as offering oblations into the gastric ‘fire’ known as the Vaiśvānara-agni, the result will be manifold. By this act not only is the body, along with the senses and the mind, satiated but also the various aspects of nature such as the moon, the fire, the earth, the sky, the rain and so on. The performer of this sacrifice will attain an excellent body and enjoys life with wealth and progeny. This is known as Prānāgnihotravidyā.
Pratardanāvidyā means ‘knowledge imparted to Pratardāna by Indra’. The king Pratardāna, son of Divodāsa, goes to the svargaloka or heaven by the dint of his powers. Pleased with it, Indra the lord of svargaloka offers him a boon. Pratardāna requests Indra himself to select a boon that is the best for human beings. Then Indra teaches him, ‘Know me! That is the best for human beings!’
Indra has realized his identity with the ātman, who is the mukhyaprāṇa and prajñā. Hence no evil or sin can ever taint him. One who meditates on him as prāṇa and prajñā, lives for a long time here and then goes to the immortal world or attains immortality. The mukhyaprāṇa and prajñā always go together and are inseparable. They depart together when the body dies. The word prāṇa also indicates an indriya or sense-organ. As long as the mukhyaprāṇa remains in the body, the departure or loss of the other prāṇas or indriyas does not result in the death of the body.
Ultimately, the mukhyaprāṇa and the prajñā are one and the same. They are the same truth looked at from two different angles the ātman, which again, is Brahman. He is ānanda or bliss, who is beyond old-age and death. He is not affected by good or bad deeds. He is the Lord of the universe. This vidyā is also known as Prāṇavidyā.
Puruṣavidyā means ‘knowledge of man as a sacrifice’. In this vidyā the life of a human being has been compared to a yajña or sacrifice. A Somayāga or Soma sacrifice has three savanas, each of which is associated with a mantra and a group of deities. By meditating on his life in the manner prescribed here, a man can attain good health and longevity of 116 years. This is puruṣayajña.
He should meditate on the first 24 years of his life as prātas-savana and his prāṇas as the gods known as Vasus. If he gets any disease, he should pray to these Vasus to join his life to the next savana, the mādhyandinasavana, of 44 years thereby overcoming the disease and increasing the longevity.
He should then meditate on these 44 years as mādhyandinasavana and his prāṇas as the associated deities, the Rudras. If he falls sick during this period he should pray to these Rudras to join his life to the tṛtīyasavana. After this, he is advised to meditate on the next 48 years as the tṛtīyasavana and also the deities associated with it, the Adityas. An earnest prayer to these Ādityas in case of illness will set things right. The number of years are 24, 44 and 48. It is determined by the number of letters in the three mantras which are in the metres gāyatrī, triṣṭubh and jagatī. It should be used for extraction. Mahidāsa Aitareya is said to have practiced this vidyā and lived for 116 years.
Sadvidyā means ‘knowledge of Sat or the highest Truth’. This vidyā was taught to Śvetaketu by his father Uddālaka Āruṇi. In spite of undergoing a long course of training under a competent teacher, Śvetaketu did not know the fundamental truth by knowing which everything unknown becomes known.
Uddālaka states that it is Sat. In the beginning, before creation, Sat alone existed, the one without a second. It thought, ‘Let me become many. Let me reproduce myself.’ Then it evolved into this world through the three fundamental elements fire, water and earth. Sat or Sadvastu is the original fundamental reality eternally existing. This teaching is known as Sadvidyā.
Samvargavidyā means the ‘knowledge of the ultimate substratum or absorbent’. The teaching of the sage Raikva to the king Jānaśruti Pautrāyaṇa has been designated as Samvargavidyā. Jānaśruti Pautrāyaṇa was a noble king, well-known for his generosity, especially for distributing food to the needy.
Once he heard from some swans flying over his palace that the greatness of a sage called Raikva far exceeded his own. After a vigorous search, he was able to locate the sage sitting under a cart. He approached this sage Raikva in a manner sanctioned by social conventions. Then Raikva taught him the Samvargavidyā. Samvarga means the ultimate substratum which absorbs everything into itself.
Vāyu is samvarga in the external world since agni, candra, surya and āpa get absorbed into it at the time of dissolution. Mukhyaprāṇa is samvarga in the body since in deep sleep the sense-organs and the mind get dissolved in it. If one identifies the Mukhyaprāṇa with Vāyu and meditates on it as Virāṭ, he is able to see everything that may be lying in the ten directions.
Śāndilyavidyā literally means ‘the knowledge taught by Śāṇdilya’. Brahman is designated here as tajjalān since he is responsible for the creation, dissolution and preservation or living of this world. One has to meditate upon this is Brahman. He is the same as the ātman inside this body. He works through the mind. The prāṇa or the chief life-force is his body. He is very subtle, resplendent, all-powerful, all-pervading even though bereft of all the sense-organs. He is in the heart and is subtler than the subtlest. He is also greater than the greatest since he is identical with Brahman. One who meditates upon him thus, attains him after the death of the body. Thus declared the great sage Śāṇḍilya.
Udgithavidyā literally means ‘knowledge or science of the udgītha’. A sāman is a ṛk or mantra of the Ṛgveda set to the intonation system of the Sāmaveda. It's singing has several steps called bhakti such as:
In the singing of a sāman, the udgītha comes first and is sung by the udgātṛ priest. It always begins with Omh. While chanting it, one should meditate upon Paramātman, considering it as his pratīka. The udgītha is the essence of sāman. One who meditates thus, is able to get the desires of the yajamāna fulfilled. This is Udgithavidyā. The entire first chapter of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad is devoted to upāsanā on the udgītha in several ways and its results.
Upakoṣalavidyā means ‘knowledge received by Upakoṣala’. Upakoṣala Kāmalāyana was a disciple of Satyakāma Jābāla. Though the teacher permitted his other disciples to return home after completing their education spread over twelve years, he did not allow Upakosala to go back. In spite of his own wife requesting Satyakāma to teach Upakoṣala, he ignored her and went away on tour.
Unable to bear this neglect, Upakoṣala started fasting. Taking pity on him, the three Vedic fires known as gārhapatya, anvāhāryapacana and āhavanīya, taught him first collectively, and then individually about the Brahman. The gist of their teaching is as follows:
- Prāṇa, kam and kham are Brahman. It means the bliss of Brahman one gets if one meditates on him as identified with the ātman in one’s heart.
- The fires then taught him about their identity with pṛthvī, āditya, ap, candra, ākāśa and other cosmic phenomena.
- One who understands this, destroys all his sins, lives long and attains the world of Agni.
- After returning home, Satyakāma discovered that his disciple was shining brightly with knowledge.
- Learning from him that the Vedic fires had taught him, the teacher imparted the knowledge of the ātman energizing the senses like the eyes and his identity with Brahman as also the result of this knowledge viz., attaining Brahmaloka from which there is no return.
This has been termed as Upakoṣalavidyā.
Vaiśvānaravidyā literally means ‘knowledge of Vaiśvānara’. Five sages named Prācīnaśāla, Satyayajña, Indradyumna, Jana and Buḍila started discussing about ātman and Brahman but could not come to any conclusion. Then they went to Uddālaka Āruṇi for enlightenment. Since he too did not know, he took them all to the king Aśvapati Kaikeya.
Since they approached him as disciples in all humility, the king started teaching them. In the ultimate analysis, ātman and Brahman are identical. They are called here by the name Vaiśvānara. When the king questioned them one by one, whom they were meditating upon as the Vaiśvānara, they replied in different ways. The objects of their meditation were:
- Dyuloka - heaven
- Āditya - sun
- Vāyu - air
- Ākāśa - sky or space
- Āpa - water
- Pṛthvī - earth
Since Vaiśvānara is the Cosmic Being enveloping the whole world and since these sages were meditating only on one limb or aspect of him, as if that represented the whole Being, their knowledge was partial and defective. The king Aśvapati Kaikeya then taught them the true nature of whole Vaiśvānara. This is known as the Vaiśvānaravidyā.
It is very difficult to comprehend these Vidyās now and even more difficult to practice them. However, one can appreciate the role of the Vedic sages who tried to prepare the sādhakas to gradually switch over from a purely sacrificial religion to contemplation on the higher aspects of philosophy.
- ↑ Upāsanas means mystic meditations.
- ↑ Upāsanas means mystic meditations.
- ↑ Ātmavidyā means realisation of the ātman.
- ↑ Arthaśāstra 2.1
- ↑ He lived in 321 B. C.
- ↑ Viṣṇupurāṇa 3.6.28, 29
- ↑ Kalās means arts.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 4.15
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 8.7.4
- ↑ Draṣṭā means the seer.
- ↑ Dṛśya means the seen.
- ↑ Bṛhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 5.5.2
- ↑ Tat means That.
- ↑ Satyam means Truth.
- ↑ Human beings are the jīva or the soul.
- ↑ It shines like the full-moon.
- ↑ Earth means bhuh.
- ↑ Sky means bhuvah.
- ↑ Heaven means suvah.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 7.23-26
- ↑ Nāma means name.
- ↑ This small space is called as daharam puṇḍarīkam.
- ↑ Ākāśa means daharākāśa.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 8.14.1
- ↑ Sādhaka means the aspirant.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3.12 and 13
- ↑ Ākāśa means space.
- ↑ Pañcaprāṇas means the five vital airs.
- ↑ Āditya means the sun.
- ↑ Candra means the moon.
- ↑ Agni means the fire.
- ↑ Parjanya means the air.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3.13.1-6
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3.1 to 11
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3.1 to 11
- ↑ Upāsanā means meditation.
- ↑ Āditya is the deity Sun.
- ↑ Antarikṣa means the sky.
- ↑ Dyuloka means heavenly regions.
- ↑ Sādhaka means spiritual aspirant.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad
- ↑ Bṛadāranyaka Upaniṣad 6.2
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.3-10
- ↑ Kausitaki Brāhmana Upaniṣad 1.1-6
- ↑ Jīva means individual soul.
- ↑ Candra means the Moon.
- ↑ Svarga means heavenly enjoyments.
- ↑ Paryaṅka means couch.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.19-24
- ↑ Dvija is a member of the first three castes.
- ↑ Gastric fire is the power of digestion.
- ↑ Kausitaki Brāhmana Upaniṣad 3
- ↑ Mukhyaprāṇa means the chief life-force.
- ↑ Prajñā means pure consciousness.
- ↑ Prajñā is also known as prajñātmā.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3.16 and 17
- ↑ Savanas means extraction of soma juice.
- ↑ Prātas-savana means morning-extraction.
- ↑ Prāṇas means the vital airs and senses.
- ↑ Mādhyandinasavana means noon- extraction.
- ↑ Prāṇas means vital airs.
- ↑ Tṛtīyasavana means the third or evening extraction.
- ↑ Tṛtīyasavana means the third or final or evening extraction.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.2.1 and 2
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 4.1 to 3
- ↑ Vāyu is the cosmic air.
- ↑ Agni means the fire.
- ↑ Candra means the moon.
- ↑ Surya means the sun.
- ↑ Āpa means the water.
- ↑ Mukhyaprāṇa is the chief vital air.
- ↑ Virāṭ means the Cosmic Being.
- ↑ See means realize here.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3.14
- ↑ 'Chāndogya Upaniṣad 1.1
- ↑ Pratīka means word-symbol.
- ↑ Yajamāna means the sacrificer.
- ↑ Upāsanā means the meditation.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 4.10 to 15
- ↑ Prāṇa means the chief life-force.
- ↑ Kam means happiness.
- ↑ Kham means ākāśa or space.
- ↑ Pṛthvī means the earth.
- ↑ Āditya means sun.
- ↑ Ap means water.
- ↑ Candra means the moon.
- ↑ Ākāśa means sky or space.
- ↑ Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.11-18
- ↑ Ātman means individual soul.
- ↑ Brahman means Cosmic Being.
- ↑ Sādhakas means the aspirants of spiritual life.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore