Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shastra is the Only Pramana for Self-knowledge

There seem to three issues
a. Does Advaita Vedanta adopt a rigid/absolute stance when it comes to declaringthe Vedas as the only pramana for self-knowledge?
b. As followers of this tradition then, how do we view or reconcile this factwith other spiritual traditions?
c. Do all spiritual traditions say the identical truth in different ways

With regards to the first question - there can simply be no two opinions thatthe Shruti the Smrti as well as Shankara's bhashyas (as well as Sureshwara'svartikas for that matter) all repeatedly, consistently and categorically affirmthat the ONLY means of knowledge of Brahman, or self-knowledge, is the Shastra. There is no leeway that allows for any other pramana besides the Shastra to beoperational in leading to self-knowledge - mystic experiences included.In BrahmaSutra 2.1.27 "tu shruteh shabdamulatvat"Shankara in his bhashya here also clarifies "...partlessness is accepted onaccount of its very mention in the Upanishads and the Upanishads are the ONLYauthority about It" and further "So what need has one to argue that the natureof Brahman, whjose power is beyond all thought, cannot be ascertained UNLESS itbe through the Vedas?" and moreover "Hence a supersensuous thing is truly knownfrom the Vedic source ALONE".In a different part the famous sutra BS 1.1.3 "Shastra yonitvat"Sastra is the ONLY pramana for knowing Brahman.It is only from the Sastra that Brahman is known.Similarly in innumerable instances in the Introduction to the Br.Up for example,in the Upadesha Sahasri, in the Sutrabhashyas, etc Shankara explicitly affirmsthat the knowledge of Brahman can be obtained ONLY from the Shastras.It is important to again note in this instance that the Vedas are not scripturesauthored by Rishis based on their personal experiences or "revelations". Theyare not even authored by the SUpreme Lord Himself. They are simply imparted bythe Supreme Being at the beginning of each cycle of creation without effort asin breathing out. (The Br.Up 3.4.10 refers to the VedAs as verily the breath ofBrahman) So even the Lord does not have any liberty in "creating" the Vedas - hehas to impart them in strictly and exactly the same way as they were in theprevious kalpa since beginnigless time. So unlike other spiritual traditions ourfaith in the VedAs is not based on the circular logic that the VedAs are truebecause God created them and God is true because the VedAs says so" - it isprecisely in this sense that the VedAs are considered to be coeval withbeginningless Creation - and hence are called `apaurusheya'So a firmrooted and unswerving faith in the VedAs - which is termed being an"astika" - is central to any seeker in advaita vedanta. "shraddhavan labhatejnanam" in the words of Bhagwan KrishnA.Certainly the vaidika margA is not one easy to obtain. In the words of theVivekachudamani "For all beings a human birth is difficult to obtain, more so isa male body; rarer than that is Brahmanahood; rarer still is the attachment tothe path of Vedic religion" So one can certainly be grateful and privileged tocome into the fold of a tradition that is based on the Vedic path.It is very likely that persons such as Ramana Maharishi or Nisargadatta who wereborn into a Vaidkia tradition had prior births of exposure to the vaidkia marga- in fact Ramana had stated as much, and has at the same time acknowledged theVedAs as being the source of knowledge of Oneness with the Supreme. Similarlymany of the modern Westerners who write about Oneness and the like (Tolle,Walsch, Chopra) have themselves acknowledge - some more halfheartedly - thatthey have been exposed to "numerous" source of Eastern philosophy in this birth.Now the question is raised: does our faith in the VedAs as being the solepramanA for self-knowledge then mean we condemn or reject the validity of otherspiritual traditions?The answer is no - we do not. Every spiritual tradition has validity in and ofitself. And the correct interpretation of what the tenets of a given spiritualsystem are is best left to the proponents of that system. Hoisting advaiticinterpretations to scattered statements in their scriptures, is in my viewunjustified. Ishwara's Order is perfect and it will ever ensure that a sinceredevout seeker belonging to any tradition - be it Abrahamic, Sikh, Jain, dvaitic,etc - will never be forsaken. As per the doctrine of karma each person is bornin a religion and environment suitable for his or her own furtheradvancement."tasyaahaM na praNashyaami sa cha me na praNashyati" This isKrishna's resounding promise - that My devotee I shall never forsake. How Henavigates their journey to salvation is not our concern. The following is anexcerpt from the SutaSamhita/Skanda PurAnA" Listen with faith, O sages, to what I say as to the truth of the variouspaths. Vedas, DharmaShastras, Puranas, Vedangas and minor Vedas; ...........thePashpuata, Soma, Bhairava and other ligamas with their hundred varieties;Vaishnava and Brahma agamas ; the agamas of the Baddhas and the Arhats;.........the Tarka-sastras in all their vastness; the profound Mimamsa, as alsoSankhya and Yoga : all these and many more Shastras, the Omniscient Divine Beinghas made in brief. It is only by the Grace of Rudra that Devas like Brahmas andVishnu, Siddhas, Yakshas, Rakshasas, Munis and men make the Shastras again, inbrief or in extenso. The wise say that each of these sastras is intended for aparticular class according to the individual qualification, not all for one. Asall streams ultimately empty themselves into the ocean, so all these pathsultimately lead to the Mahesvara Himself. Worshipped in what form soever bypeople as ordained in their respective scriptures, He assumes that form andtakes the devotee on to the next higher step. By His Grace man attains tosuperior paths. The Divine Being worshipped in the form in which He isrepresented in these paths takes the devotee step hy step onward to the path ofthe Veda. The form which the Divine Being assumes in the path of the Veda is theimmediate cause of salvation. Even there the form of the Divine Being asrepresented hy the ritualistic portion of the Veda only stimulates a longing forknowledge while worshipped in the form presented in the theosophical portion Heleads the devotee to moksha through wisdom. As the highest salvation is only ofone kind, the knowledge wliich leads to it must be of one kind and of one kindonlv. The Vedanta treats of Shankara as the non.dual Atman. No other path treatsof Him directly as the Vedanta does. Therefore knowledge produced by the Veda isalone wisdom. Knowledge obtained by other means is avidya, unwisdom. The otherpaths cannot themselves lead to moksha, they are serviceable only as leading toit through the intervening steps. Mahadeva, as known by the Vedanta, directlygives moksha; as known and worshipped in the other paths. He leads to moksha hygradually taking the soul on to the direct path. Wherefore he who treads thepath of the Vedanta should not change it for any other. For those who tread thepath of the Veda, nothing is hard to attain. There alone lie the supreme mukti.Wherefore the different paths are useful to the different individuals for whomthey are specially intended. Whenever other paths are opposed to the Vedanta intheir theories as to the nature of Isvara, as to the cause of bondage, as to thecause of the Universe, as to mukti, and as to what constitutes wisdom, and soon, those theories, to be sure, have been furnished in accordance with theprevailing desires of the ignorant whose minds are darkened by the mightydelusion, not because they are absolutely true in themselves, but because theyserve, by holding out some legitimate pleasures, to ultimately bring them roundto the right path when their sins have been washed away in the waters of themore or less pure morality therein inculcated. As man allures an erratic cow byholding out grass, so does Mahesvara first hold out some pleasures and thengives supreme wisdom as the mind becomes perfected. 'Thus these paths, laid outas they are by Shiva, are all of them true and serviceable. How can Shiva be adeceiver? He is supremely merciful, omniscient, and altogether stainless. Yet,of all the paths, the path of the Veda is the best, as conducing to all good.".WHen we try to interpret other scriptures based on our own knowledge of VedAntAwe undermine the ability of acknowledged Masters of that tradition to interpretit in the way they see fit. Would the Pope or any minister or bishop preachAdvaitA or acknowledge that someone like Ramana achieved salvation without firstaccepting Christ as His one True God and Savior? Would a Maulvi consider thatsomeone like Amritananda Ma who rejected the idea that Allah was the one andonly true God and Reality had achieved the status of Total Oneness with theSupreme. Do we feel that our ability to interpret Buddhist thought is betterthan hundreds of Great Buddhist masters who in trying to interpret the teachingsof the BuddhA founded various schools and subschools of Buddhism itself. Isntwhat MahAvirA taught best left to someone who has devoted his lifetime in thepursuit of the JainA mArgA, and who will never acknowledge Satyam-JnAnam-AnantamBrahman as taught by the Upanishads? How, without such knowledge, Ishwara willenable the emancipation of the varied followers of all these different faithsneed not be our concern. Every devout follower whatsoever be his faith will bythe strength of his devotion develop the qualities of ahimsA, amanitvam,adambhitvam, arjavam, kshanti, shama, dama, brahmacharyam, and so forth andgradually also total vairagyAm which really are the gateways to MokshA - be itvidehamukti or kramamukti. So while a Vedantic student who is caught up in hisown system's intellectual superiority may choose to never progress beyond alifetime of intellectual pursuit and jugglery, and fritter away this lifewithout taking the effort at inculcating shadsampatti, a devout Muslim forexample may instead make use of this lifetime far more effectively in workingtowards his emancipation, by a strict adherence to the principles of his ownreligious faith, without ever wondering about the intricacies of ajahallakshana,etcWe need not dilute the import of nor attempt to reinterpret our own scripturesin order to accomodate or provide bypass routes for non-believers of ourtraditions - it is quite unnecessary (and in many ways patronizing).For example - the oft-quoted rishibhir bahudha geetam - what does this statementmean? Does this mean that all religions speak of the One Reality in differentways? Absolutely not! What Krishna is indicating here that IN THE VEDAS variousmantra-drshtAs such as Vashishta have described the One Reality in many ways andso has the author of the BrahmasutrAs - BAdArayana. One cannot now reinterpretthis and say this also applies to proponents of every other belief system in theworld like Islam and BahAi etc. Another oft quoted mantra of all-inclusivenessis "ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti" Let us examine the entire sloka here"Indram mitram varunam agni mahuradho divyah Sa suparno garutman Ekam sat viprabahudha vadanti agnim yamam matariswanam ahuh" They call it Indra, Mitra,Varuna, Agni as well as Garutman of heavenly plumage. Truth or Reality is One,but the learned (Brahmanas) refer to it in different names like agni, yama,matariswan"This is a mantra from the Rig VedA which affirms that all the deities that areworshipped in the ritualistic section of the VedAs are in reality varied formsof the one ParamAtman. It does not mean that every religion's version of "Real"or the concept of what Reality is, is necessarily the same or identical. Whatseparates the Vedic path from others is that most of the other religions willsay - "Believe in my God or be prepared to spend eternity in Hell".Can the testimony of certain self-realized Masters be considered a equally validpramana? Yes - as long as such testimony is in line with the VedAntA - and againhere it is not the testimony itself that is the pramAna but the oneness of sucha testimony with what VedAntA affirms that becomes the pramAnA - for example ifa self-realized soul were to proclaim that there is no Ultimate Eternal Reality,then such a teaching and the teacher is best ignored by us. For example theBuddhA would certainly be considered Self-Realized in the same manner as wewould consider hundreds of other Masters. And yet we find Bhagwan Shankarasaying the BuddhA was incoherent, deluded, and malicious - all in one sweepingstatement! So if someone acknowledged as one of the Greatest Sages of our timescan be so charactized by our beloved AchAryA then we should certainly questionif we as ignorant jivAs have the capacity to trust any achAryA who does not baseor at least reconcile his own teachings and experience with the VedAs.We have a lot of ground to cover in our own as yet fragile hold on the Truth andin the severely limited time we have in this human birth to understand andassimilate VedantA which we have fortunately been privileged to be learning in asampradaya which has been preserved since time immemorial. Let us conserve ourefforts and energies in that, instead of trying to find similarities with thehundred other prominent religious faiths in the world, or wondering about themechanism of those we find "self-realized", seemingly bereft of the benefit ofdirect Vedic teaching.