Sri Ramakrishna often used to tell the devotees that the real purpose of studying scriptures is not erudition or scholarship, but to understand the essence or true import of them. Quite often people attempt to read a vast quantity of literature without really acquiring any depth. To drive home this point, he used to narrate a beautiful story.
Once several people were travelling by boat in the Ganges. They were crossing the river from one shore to the opposite shore. One of them was a Pandit who was making a great display of his erudition saying that he had studied a vast number of books concerning the Vedas, Vedanta and the six systems of philosophy, etc. The boatman who was navigating was listening with great wonderment. The Pandit asked him, “Have you studied the Vedanta?” “No Sir”, replied the man. Then the Pandit asked, “Have you studied the Sankhya and the Patanjala?” Once again the answer was ‘No’. The Pandit said that without studying these scriptures the boatman’s life was in vain. The Pandit was talking in this egoistic way and the boatman was feeling humbled. Suddenly, a great storm arose and the boat was about to capsize. The boatman asked the Pandit, “Sir, can you swim?” “No”, replied the Pandit. The boatman said, “Sir, I do not know the Sankhya or the Patanjala, but I can swim”. The boatman swam to safety whereas the Pandit was drowned. Although the Pandit was an erudite scholar, he had no practical knowledge.
Sri Ramakrishna drawing a parallel from the above story used to say, “What will a man gain by knowing many scriptures. The one thing that is essential is to know how to cross the ocean of Samsara (world) realizing that God alone is real and all else is false.”