Suppose a drink is set in front of you and just as you are about to drink you discover that there is poison in the cup; then your hand, extending to pick up the cup, will immediately refrain from doing so. That is, no sooner did you know that it was poisonous than the cup remained untouched. Hence, when knowing becomes action it is called true knowledge. And if you have to make an effort to change your behavior after knowing, then that behavior is imposed, it is thrust upon you. It cannot be called the result of the knowledge.
Knowledge which has been imposed to produce a certain action, which does not become action of its own accord, is called avidya – ignorance – by the Upanishads. It is vidya – true knowledge – which changes one’s life effortlessly, as if without knowing that any change has happened. On one side ignorance is burnt, and on the other darkness vanishes. Both happen simultaneously. Is it possible to create a lamp which, when turned on, does not remove darkness? And will it be necessary for us to make a special effort to remove darkness after putting the light on? If it were so then the lamp would be a symbol of avidya – of darkness. But darkness does not exist when the lamp is lit. Lighting the lamp means the extinguishing of darkness. Such a lamp is vidya.
There are two points to be remembered in this connection. Why does it happen that, even after our knowing, transformation does not take place? A lot of people come to me and say, “We know anger is bad; it is poison, it burns, it is fire, it is hell, and yet we are not free from it.”
Then I tell them, “It is a mistake on your part to think that you know it. You think you already know and yet you ask yourself, “What should be done so that anger goes away?” This is your mistake. In fact you do not know that anger is hell.”
Is it ever possible that a person would not leap out of anger once he knows it is hell?
Buddha has said this somewhere. A person whose life was full of troubles and anguish had approached him for advice, for a way out of his miseries. There was nothing but sorrow and affliction in his life. Buddha told him to give up those cares and miseries, to come out of them immediately: “I will show you the way to be out of them,” he said.
The man said, “Show me the way now, and then I will try, by and by, to follow your way.”
Then Buddha said, “You are like a man whose house has caught fire and who says, ‘Thank you very much for your advice; now I will gradually try to get myself out of the house.’” Buddha went on to say that it would have been better if the person had said, “You are telling a lie – I do not see any fire.” But the man does not say so; he says, “I believe you, I believe there is a fire, and by and by I will try to get out.”