Who can receive spiritual knowledge?


In his insightful book – A guide for the perplexed – E.F.Schumacher is able to pin down the pre-requisite for deciphering, unlocking and understanding any kind of knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. I have attempted to summarize his discourse


He borrows the concept of adaequatio (adequateness) from Plotinus who said –

“Knowing demands the organ fitted(suitable) to the object”.

We are capable to discover, receive, decipher, comprehend only the knowledge for which we are adequately equipped. We can not safely assume that all human beings at all times are adequate to all kind of knowledge.

With all our scientific advancements and material tools, we are becoming more and more ‘adequate’ to receive knowledge about dead matter but the same can not be said true for knowledge about non-matter such as consciousness, spirit-soul.

Our bodily senses are able to take note of the material facts/features however it fails to unlock any soft, non-material features for which we are reliant on the capability of our higher faculties such as mind, intelligence.  Schumacher quotes an illustration by G.N.M Tyrrell –

“Take a book, for example. To an animal a book is merely a coloured shape. Any higher significance a book may hold lies above the level of its thought. And the book is a coloured shape; the animal is not wrong. To go a step higher, an uneducated savage may regard a book as a series of marks on paper. This is the book as seen on a higher level of significance than the animal’s, one which corresponds to the savage’s level of thought. Again it is not wrong, only the book can mean more. It may mean a series of letters arranged according to certain rules. This is the book on a higher level of significance than the savage’s….Or finallly, on a still higher level, the book may be an expression of meaning..”

This illustration highlights how the same phenomenon can be interpreted in different ways depending on the observer’s state of adequacy. The same illustration is carried forward by Tyrrell:

“A book, we will suppose, has fallen into the hands of intelligent beings who know nothing of what writing and printing mean, but they are accustomed to dealing with the external relationship of things. They try to find out the ‘laws’ of the book, which for them mean the principles governing the order in which the letter are arranged.. They will think they have discovered the laws of the book when they have formulated certain rules governing the external relationships of the letters. That each word and each sentence expresses a meaning will never dawn on them because their background of thought is made up of concepts which deal only with external relationships, and explanation to them means solving the puzzle of these external relationships…Their methods will never reach the grade ( of significance) which contains the idea of meanings.”

While not all human beings would have similar faculties but more critical is the background of thought.

The intelligent beings of the illustration lacked adaequatio with respect to the meaning contained in the book as their world view was dominated and rather restricted to the ‘external relationships of letters. In case of analyzing world beyond matter, we can either follow materialistic scientistism that propagates a belief that entire microcosm (individual) and macrocosm(universe) is nothing but a random schematic of atoms and that reality is confined to only that which can be materially observed through our five material senses OR we could operate from a standpoint that there is a meaningfulness attached to our life, our universe and we try to explore and understand that meaning.

So how does one ascertain the level/grade of significance to which we need to decrypt and analyse? 

Schumacher says “It is by an act of faith that I choose the level of my investigation; hence the saying ‘Credo ut intelligam’ – I have faith so as to be able to understand.” The choice of adaequatio or level is governed by observer’s faith rather than his/her intelligence.


When dealing with something superior which is non-matter, all levels will anyways give us factually correct/intelligent material observation, as in the case of book, however the real meaning comes to light only when we look for it with an adequate non-material lens. The choice of this lens will be governed by our faith. If we don’t have faith in the superior level of meaning then no objective assessment can help us from missing the point of whole thing. We would personify – ‘They seeing, see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.’

Schumacher states – “Faith is not in conflict with reason, nor is it a substitute for reason. Faith chooses the grade of significance or Level of Being at which the search for knowledge and understanding is to aim. There is reasonable faith and there is unreasonable faith. To look for meaning and purpose at the level of inanimate matter would be as unreasonable an act of faith as an attempt to “explain” the masterpieces of human genius as nothing but the outcome of economic interests or sexual frustration. The faith of agnostic is perhaps the most unreasonable of all, because, unless it is mere camouflage, it is a decision to treat the question of significance as insignificant, like saying:’I am not willing to decide where a book is merely a coloured shape, a series of marks on paper, a series of letters arranged according to certain rules or a n expression of meaning”

“The possession through faith of a hidden but certain truth is the very thing which will impel the mind to penetrate its content, and to give the formula, ‘Believe that you may understand’ (Crede ut intelligas), its full meaning.”

John Smith the Platonist in his own ways reiterates the same – ” We must shut the eyes of sense, and open that brighter eye of our understandings, that other eye of the soul, as the philosopher calls our intellectual faculty, ” which indeed all have, but few make use of it”‘


Thus to summarize – the Spiritual Knowledge becomes knowable only to people who have faith in a higher order of meaning and those who channelize this faith to go beyond their material senses and engage their intellectual faculty to understand the true meaning with the help of Aacharyas and Scriptures.