02.11 – Learning begins with unlearning

by March 2, 2013

None of us like to feel ignorant. That’s why we try to keep ourselves well-informed about things, even spiritual things.

However, our information about spiritual things tends to be sketchy, unreliable or incorrect. That’s because often people without any authority whatsoever speak about spiritual things. In specialized subjects like nuclear medicine or rocket science, experts with authority elucidate the subject. But in spirituality, almost everyone with a head on the shoulder has something to say. They may have a right to say what they think, but that doesn’t make them authorities – even if they speak on TV or write in newspapers. The popularity of the medium doesn’t determine the authority of the message.

Our spiritual life begins in earnest only when we treat spirituality as a specialized branch of knowledge. Gita wisdom indicates that a spiritual message is authoritative when it is derived from scripture and transmitted through a chain of practitioners that goes back to the original revelation. This standard of authorization implies that we need to critically examine the credibility of our past sources of spiritual information and re-evaluate what we have learnt. To learn, we need to first unlearn.

The Bhagavad-gita underscores this right in its beginning (02.11). Krishna points out to Arjuna that though his words are learned, his emotions still remain uneducated. This is the hallmark of learning that needs to be unlearned – what we know doesn’t really help us.

The great devotee-scholar Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura phrases the necessity of unlearning eloquently, “”To walk back is the first stage of walking in the path of spiritual living…the neophyte is required to offer his loyal unlearning submission.”

Paradoxically, such submission is not disempowering but is empowering. Spiritual knowledge learnt thus empowers us to connect with Krishna and change ourselves for the better – and also help others do the same.


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