The Bhagavad-gita likens knowledge to a sword (jnana-asina). Its sharp edge can lop off our doubts and give birth to firm conviction. Yet, the acquisition of knowledge comes with a great responsibility. If one neglects to cultivate the appropriate devotional disposition, the sword of knowledge can actually be misused in one’s spiritual journey. Ancient sages therefore placed immense emphasis on the development of character, especially for those who were receiving the gift of wise words.
Knowledge without humility can give someone a falsely over-rated notion of their own spiritual status. Complacent and proud, their internal growth is stunted, leaving them highly susceptible to attacks of illusion. Knowledge without compassion and soft-heartedness can render one insensitive, condescending and judgmental. It can impair one’s vision of others, and block them from having the necessary discernment to mediate human relationships. Knowledge without a deep sense of selflessness can lead to exploitation, manipulation and deviation, creating a crisis of faith amongst unassuming followers. A leader is not ascertained simply by how much he knows, but by who he is. Knowledge without practical application can lead one into the deserts of dry philosophizing and mental gymnastics, falling way short of the incredible spiritual experiences that come from walking the talk. Krishna stresses that one who is actually in knowledge gives their heart and soul in the spirit of service.
It was Socrates who said that real education is not about filling up a basket, but about rekindling a light from within. The sages who scribed so many verses and offered the world so much knowledge, repeatedly warned us not to simply read the books in a scholarly or academic way, but understand the spirit and call to action of the divine words. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly stressed that real education is character development. His name reminds us of the balance we have to strike – “Bhaktivedanta: knowledge with devotion.” I'm seeking the company of those who have perfectly married these principles, for I have neither. That’s the winning formula.