We generally understand “education” to mean schooling. We say, “We are giving our children the best education.” We do not say, “We are giving them the best knowledge.” Our educational system can provide data and information, but it does not give students a direction and higher goal to strive for. When there is no ideal, there is no further progress or development of character. Thus, education prepares us to live only one aspect of life, but does not help us to discover the truth of life. Knowledge, on the other hand, prepares us to face life squarely and brings about a transformation within ourselves. The purpose of true education, as indicated in the scriptures, is to lead a person to that knowledge by which he can discover the truth about himself or herself.
“The result of knowledge is the elimination of falsehood,” declared Adi Shankaracharya. If we understand something as false, we must withdraw ourselves from it. A man saw a small glittering object lying on the road. Thinking it to be a precious piece of silver, he picked it up. On inspection, he realised that it was only a piece of rock wrapped in silver paper. Thinking that it was silver, he had picked it up, but the moment he discovered that it was not silver (true knowledge), he threw the rock away (false concept was eliminated).
Elimination of all false notions is the true purpose of knowledge. We have based our lives upon certain concepts, which are false, and, therefore, the activity arising from them is also false. Some of those false concepts are: we are the body; money gives us security; and all pleasures derived through sense organs can make us truly happy. However, when we awaken to true knowledge, all of our suffering comes to an end. This knowledge in Sanskrit is called jnana.
The Bhagavad Gita classifies knowledge according to three different visions. Our gross and subtle bodies are the medium through which we contact the outer world. When we look through them, we see the variety and duality of this world; this is their function. But, while seeing these diverse names and forms, if we are able to see the one reality pervading all these differences — if we recognise the one in the many — this is called the highest knowledge. It leads to nobility of character and peace. However, when one takes a certain part of the whole and gets very attached to only one object, view or belief, then that is the lowest vision or attitude towards life. The feeling that my path alone is right, yours is wrong, is the lowest knowledge and leads to intolerance and fanaticism.