Para Vidya (पराविद्या)
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The Vedas refer to two levels of learnings or truth. One is called Para Vidya (परा विद्या) and the other is called Apara Vidya (अपरा विद्या). The Para Vidya refers to higher learning or learning related to the Self or the Ultimate Truth that is transcendental knowledge. The Apara Vidya refers to "Lower knowledge" of this world, the empirical knowledge. There can be various ways of understanding this difference. The Para Vidya refers to philosophical dimensions and Apara Vidya refers to the empirical dimensions. Indian sages tried to know the ultimate Reality. This quest refers to Para Vidya. However, they also realized that not all persons can indulge in philosophical quest and therefore developed standard practices and rituals. Knowledge pf these practices is called Apara Vidya.
Saunaka, asked – कस्मिन्नु भगवो विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवतीति | kasminnu bhagavo vijñāte sarvamidaṁ vijñātaṁ bhavatīti | (" Revered Sir, what is that by the knowing of which all this becomes known? "), - was told by Angiras that –
- द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह् स्म यद्ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा च |
- तत्रापरा ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्ववेदः शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषमिति |
- अथ परा यया तदक्षरमधिग्म्यते || - (Mundaka Upanishad I.i.3-5)
- dve vidye veditavye iti h sma yadbrahmavido vadanti parā caivāparā ca | tatrāparā r̥gvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo'tharvavedaḥ śikṣā kalpo vyākaraṇaṁ niruktaṁ chando jyotiṣamiti | atha parā yayā tadakṣaramadhigmyate ||
Translation: There are two different kinds of knowledge to be acquired – the Para Vidya and the Apara Vidya. The Apara Vidya (Lower Knowledge) consists of all textual knowledge - the four Vedas, the science of pronunciation etc., the code of rituals, grammar, etymology, metre and astrology. The Para Vidya (higher knowledge) is by which the immutable and the imperishable Atman is realized; the knowledge which brings about the direct realization of the Supreme Reality, the source of All.
The knowledge of the Atman is very subtle; it cannot be obtained out of one’s own effort; the Atman cannot be intuitively apprehended by mere intellectual equipments. Thus, Angiras draw the distinction between the way of knowledge and the way of realization, as between opinion and truth.
A human being is blessed with the faculty of self-knowledge or logical reasoning (Apara Vidya) as well as the faculty of self-awareness or intuitive vision) (Para Vidya) Para Vidya is the transcendental knowledge which is beyond all limits of knowledge, experience and reason, and which is, beyond intellect, mind and sense.
Para Vidya as per Vedanta
Adi Sankara distinguishes between the ontological reality and the empirical reality. The Ontological reality is known by Para Vidya, while the empirical reality is known by Apara Vidya. Brahman is known by Para Vidya. Brahman is trans empirical, subject-objectless consciousness, which is not conditioned by space, time and causality - the empirical categories. True knowledge is intuition which is supra-intellectual integral experience. Apara Vidya or False knowledge or lower knowledge is discursive, intellectual and categorized. Para Vidya is absolute knowledge of identity, while Apara Vidya is relative and pragmatic knowledge of difference. The method of self-realization involves sravana , manana and nididhyasana.
- K. Aravinda Rao, How to tell Hinduism to Your Child. Page 15
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- Course on Vedanta Philosophy, IIT Bombay