According to the Upanishads, our present-day universities should be called centers of avidya, because they have no concern with, and no relation to vidya whatsoever. Our universities are the centers of avidya, and their chancellors are the chancellors of avidya. Only avidya spreads from these centers. But the Upanishads are not against avidya. They simply say, “Do not think of this avidya as vidya; don’t make this mistake.”
Understand the distinction between them clearly. Avidya has its own utility. It is not that doctors are not necessary, it is not that life would be better without shopkeepers. No, the shopkeepers, doctors, engineers, the sweepers and laborers – all of them are required, they are useful to society. But the mistake is to consider this education for livelihood as an education for life. Such a person will only earn his bread and die.
Jesus says, “You cannot live by bread alone.” This does not mean you can live without bread; but can bread alone be life? Bread is a necessity of life, but it is not life itself. No one can survive or make progress without bread, and yet it is not life. We fill in the foundations of a building with stones, and the building cannot be constructed without them, but remember, those stones in the foundations are not the building. Don’t live in the delusion that the building is constructed when the foundation is filled in. Not that the building can be constructed if the foundation is not laid. The foundation has to be laid: it is a necessary evil. The Upanishads say avidya has its own utility – namely that it provides the means for livelihood. It is an outward attribute for life; it concerns physical life, it is an arrangement to maintain life. But don’t see it as everything. It is necessary but not enough. Everything will not be fulfilled by it alone.
The countries of the East, and especially India, committed the second mistake. They said, “When the sages of the Upanishads – who are wise and learned – say something is avidya, we should be indifferent towards it. We should stick only to vidya.” So science could not make any headway in the East. We ignored whatsoever we considered avidya. Therefore the East became helpless, poor and enslaved. Had we been keen to pursue avidya we would have become soulless, but we became so eager to ignore it that we became helpless and poor in physical life.
The Upanishads say both are useful. Both are useful in different dimensions. Avidya has its place. It is not to be given up. The only thing to remember is that it is not everything. It is not the ultimate. Vidya has its place too.
The sage has said one more thing in this sutra: “We have heard this from those who knew.” It is necessary to go into this statement a little in order to understand it. It is said: Thus we have heard from the wise ones who explained it to us. Did this sage who said this not know it himself? Is he telling us that which he has heard? Does he himself not know it? Is he repeating to us secondhand knowledge? No, this point needs to be understood correctly, because much confusion has been created by it. It is necessary to understand the form of expression in those far-off days when the Upanishads were written.