Namaskaar. This is a 4-Part series on a very nice and important topic titled “Vedanta is a Means of Knowledge” by Ted Schmidt.
An introduction of Ted Schmidt :
He has his wonderful website http://www.nevernotpresent.com which is a great resource for articles and info on Advaita Vedanta. After learning about many faiths and practices, Ted finally met his Guru James Swartz, a disciple of (late) Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda. That meeting with James Swartz was a turning point for Ted and he studied Advaita Vedanta deeply and today himself teaches the subject. Its interesting to note that James Swartz is a “Guru-bandhu” of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati as both these great people were studying under Gurudev together. Ted has also been greatly influenced by Swami Paramarthananda fondly referred to as “SP ji”, a great teacher of Vedanta.
More about Ted in his own words here http://www.nevernotpresent.com/about/ Very fascinating journey he’s had as we can see.
I propose to put up some of Ted’s articles on this blog for which he had very kindly consented. This then is the first of those. Please visit Ted’s website and look up other articles too. Kindly post your comments / queries below and I’ll pass them on to Ted. Hope you enjoy and benefit from these wonderful, insightful writings. The first one itself begins with a profound statement, below :
Through effort I can attain something I do not have—or, for that matter, get rid of something I do have. But only through knowledge can I attain something I have already got.
Unfortunately, knowledge does not just waltz in and tell us what we should know. For understanding to occur, we need a means of knowledge. For instance, in order to know sensations, I need perceptive organs; in order to know emotions, I need a heart; and in order to know thoughts or ideas, I need a mind. Just so, I need a means of knowledge to know the self.
Of course, one might quite legitimately wonder why a means of knowledge is necessary in order to know something that is self-evident. The fundamental problem, however, is not that we do not know that the self exists, but that we are born ignorant, which makes us take the self to be something it is not and overlook its true nature. Because we think the self is limited, we need a means of knowledge to reveal its limitless nature.
The Five Means of Knowledge Available to Human Beings
Appropriately enough, it would seem, there are five basic means of knowledge available to human beings.
The first is direct perception (pratyaksha), which affords direct knowledge of objects gained through the immediate contact of the sense organs with their corresponding objects.
The second is non-perception (anupalabdhi), which is a direct means of knowing “negative facts” through non-perception. In other words, through this means we gain knowledge of the absence of a given object.
The third is inference (anumana), which is indirect knowledge. In this case, direct perception, together with the knowledge of the invariable connection between something that is now perceived and something that was earlier perceived, grants us the inferred knowledge of the presence of an object not directly perceived in the here and now. For instance, because we know that smoke is only produced by fire, upon seeing smoke rising above the crest of a distant hill, we immediately know that there is a fire burning on the other side of the hill, even though we cannot see it.
The fourth is postulation (arthapatti), which is another means of indirect knowledge. This means is used in situations wherein a known fact cannot be accounted for without the existence of an unknown fact, and so we must assume or postulate the existence of the unknown fact. For instance, while we know that John has been observed fasting during the day, he is not losing weight. We, therefore, postulate that he must be eating when no one is around. This means of knowledge is also referred to as “otherwise not possible logic” (anyatha anupapatti).
The fifth is comparison (upamana), which is a third means of indirect knowledge. This means is used to communicate knowledge of an unknown object by comparing it to a known object that is similar to it. For instance, if a person does not know what an alpaca looks like, then we liken it to another animal—a llama—that he is familiar with.
Since perception is the basis of direct perception and non-perception, and inference is the basis of inference, postulation, and comparison, we can pare down our list to two essential means of knowledge—perception and inference. In other words, all means of knowledge available to human beings are based on perception and inference.
Unfortunately, these means of knowledge, as well as the instruments—senses, mind, and intellect—through which they function, are incapable of knowing the self. The senses, mind, and intellect require objects from which they can gather the data necessary for perception and inference to take place. However, since the self is limitless, attributeless awareness and thus cannot be objectified, perception and inference are ineffective means of knowing the self.
In the case of relative knowledge, there is always a knowing subject, which we refer to as “I,” and a known object, which we refer to variously as “he,” “she,” “them,” “you,” “it,” or “that.” In any case, that which is known by perception is always different from or other than the one by whom it is known. Because perception and inference are object-dependent and only yield knowledge of objects to a subject, the subject itself can only be known if it becomes an object and may be cognized. In the case of the relative knower—that is, the person we take ourselves to be—this is exactly what happens. We identify ourselves as a person based on our knowledge of the objective phenomena—i.e., the body and its associated sensations, the mind and its associated emotions, and the intellect and its associated thoughts—that we believe constitute the discrete entity we think of as “me” and refer to as “I.”
The ultimate subject, however, is the eternal observer—the pure, attributeless awareness who is always “behind” the relative knower. Because by definition the subject can never be the object, and moreover because that which is without qualities is not available for objectification, the ultimate subject—our true self—cannot be known by perception or inference.
Furthermore, it is a universal law that the effect cannot comprehend its cause. Just as a light bulb can illumine the objects in a room, but not the electricity that causes it to glow, the senses, mind, and intellect—the insentient instruments of perception and inference—cannot illumine the source of their being and the cause of their operation.
It would seem, then, that God has played a devilish prank left us in the lurch. God did, however, provide us with an escape hatch: the self evolved Vedanta.
Vedanta Is the Means of Knowledge for the Self
Simply put, Vedanta is a systematic means of self-inquiry that leads to the assimilation of self-knowledge, which is tantamount to moksha, or ultimate inner freedom. It is not a belief you must simply have faith in or a dogma whose set of rules you must follow, but rather a tool that makes understanding possible.
The ancient and vast body of knowledge known as Veda—i.e., “wisdom”—is a means of knowledge that is technically referred to as a shabda pramana, which means that it is a means of knowledge based on sound. Simply put, it uses words to reveal that which is beyond words or concepts.
Strictly speaking, a means of knowledge is only regarded as shabda if it reveals knowledge that is not possible to gain through other means of knowledge. For instance, the sentence “The hill is on fire” is not shabda because we can see fire and/or know it by the presence of smoke. Conversely, the sentence “You are limitless awareness” is shabda because, as has been pointed out, we cannot know limitless awareness through perception or inference.
Vedanta is the section of Veda, or the Vedic scriptures, dealing with self-knowledge (atmajnana) and is the means for gaining self-knowledge.
Vedanta is considered a pramana, or an independent source of reliable knowledge, because it provides knowledge obtainable only through it and not by means of any other pramana. In other words, it reveals that which cannot be known through perception and inference. Also, it conveys that which is not opposed to the evidence of any other pramana. Because other means of knowledge have no access to the self, they cannot negate, amend, or confirm Vedanta. Furthermore, Vedanta conveys that which is both free from doubt and useful. The teachings of Vedanta are free from doubt because they are revealed knowledge rather than a conjecture cooked up by the human intellect, and because their central theme is stated in unequivocal terms. They are useful because the knowledge they offer removes ignorance, alleviates suffering, and grants ultimate inner freedom to those who assimilate them.
To be continued ……. in Part 2
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari