In ancient Indian philosophy and spiritual tradition, knowledge is categorized into different types, each with its own significance. The terms "Para," "Apara," "Shruti," and "Smriti" are four styles or categories of learning:
Para (Supreme Knowledge):
Para, meaning 'supreme' or 'transcendental' in Sanskrit, refers to the highest form of knowledge in Indian philosophy.
It is the knowledge of the Self or the ultimate reality, often associated with the realization of Brahman (the absolute, unchanging reality) or the Atman (the inner self or soul).
This knowledge is not obtained through intellectual effort but through spiritual experience or revelation. It's considered intuitive, beyond the grasp of ordinary perception and reasoning.
Apara (Lower or Material Knowledge):
Apara, translating to 'lower' or 'material,' refers to worldly knowledge or the knowledge of the physical universe.
This includes knowledge acquired through the senses, intellect, and reasoning, encompassing various disciplines like science, mathematics, logic, ethics, and religious rituals.
Apara knowledge, while valuable for worldly affairs and understanding the material aspects of existence, is seen as limited because it doesn’t lead to the ultimate realization of the Self.
Shruti (Heard or Revealed Texts):
Shruti, meaning 'that which is heard,' refers to the body of most authoritative, ancient religious texts in Hinduism.
It includes the Vedas and the Upanishads, believed to be divinely revealed or 'heard' by the ancient sages (Rishis). The knowledge contained in the Shruti is considered eternal and unauthored.
Shruti texts hold the highest authority in Hindu philosophy and are considered the core of spiritual knowledge (Para).
Smriti (Remembered Texts):
Smriti, meaning 'that which is remembered,' encompasses a vast body of Hindu literature that is not considered as authoritative as the Shruti but is still highly respected.
It includes various texts such as the Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita), Ramayana, Puranas, Dharma Shastras (legal and ethical texts), and much more.
Smriti texts are considered the product of human authors and are based on the knowledge of the Shruti. They provide interpretations, explanations, and practical applications of the spiritual knowledge found in the Shruti.
Understanding these terms helps understand and appreciate the depth and complexity of knowledge in the ancient Indian tradition, where both spiritual and worldly learnings are valued. Our ultimate goal should not be cultural appropriation, rather cultural integration on the aspect of the practice that resonate with us. Simultaneously it is our duty to respect and pay homage where we can for the ancestors who paved the way. Truth is multi-dimentional, but it is also transcendental.