“A little learning is a dangerous thing”

This is the first verse in the category, “अज्ञ-पध्दति” (the way of the ignorant) in Bhartrihari’s Nitishatakam.

अज्ञः सुखमाराध्यः सुखतरमाराध्यते विशेषज्ञः ।
ज्ञानलवदुर्विदग्धं ब्रह्मापि नरं न रञ्जयति ll

An ignorant (अज्ञः) (person) can be convinced (आराध्यः) easily (सुखम्).

A knowledgeable (विशेषज्ञः) (person) can be convinced (आराध्यते) even more easily (सुखतरम्).

(However), even (Lord) Brahma, himself (ब्रह्मापि) cannot (न) convince/ satisfy (रञ्जयति) a person (नरं) who has become conceited with a little knowledge (ज्ञानलवदुर्विदग्धम्). 

Bhartrihari emphasizes in this shloka that it is very difficult to explain the truth to a person who has a little knowledge. Such a person thinks he knows everything about the subject in question.

A person who is not educated or who has no knowledge is, in most cases, aware of his ignorance. Such a person is usually ready to accept what a knowledgeable person tells him.

A truly knowledgeable person is never conceited.

As Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

That does not mean that a knowledgeable or wise person does not know anything. Neither does it mean that he thinks that he does not know anything.

Rather, it means that he knows that there is still much that he does not know, perhaps can never know. That is why such a person is seldom conceited or cocksure.

In the case of a person who has a little knowledge, the situation is very different.

I am reminded of Alexander Pope‘s oft-quoted words-

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

A little learning/ knowledge ‘intoxicates’ a person. It makes him feel that he knows everything and does not need to listen to the views of others. He becomes vain and self-centred.

Such a person with a little bit of knowledge not only himself believes in his wrong opinions, but also tries to persuade others also.

Bhartrihari says that such a person is so sure that no one can be correct except himself, that even Lord Brahma, himself could not convince him otherwise.

“ज्ञानलवदुर्विदग्धं ब्रह्मापि नरं न रञ्जयति l”

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2 thoughts on ““A little learning is a dangerous thing””

  1. You have a way of making it easy to understand, Manju. Nothing illustrates this truth than the superficial and often misleading information people gain from Google these days. So much so that even kids act cocky in their ‘knowledge’.

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    1. Oh, yes, as you say, Google has made it possible for many people to become instantly ‘knowledgeable’! It takes a very wise person to recognize what is reliable/ not, out of what is found online…..

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