Namaskaar. Part 2 of the 4-Part series titled “Vedanta is a Means of Knowledge” by Ted Schmidt. Very logical and systematic explanation of what Vedanta is and is not.
What Vedanta Is Not
Before proceeding further, it is important to understand that Vedanta is not a philosophy, a channeled teaching, “intuitive knowledge,” a religion, a salvation theology, or a self-improvement plan. Erroneously believing it to be any of these things only allows for doubt concerning its efficacy. We will debunk each of these misperceptions in turn as we did earlier with the enlightenment myths.
Despite the plethora of references to its being so, Vedanta is not a philosophy. A philosophy is an ideational perspective on life that is proffered by an individual or a group of individuals. As such, it is a product of the human mind. The human mind, however, is limited in scope and invariably conditioned by ignorance. Thus, the human mind is incapable of producing a teaching that adequately and comprehensively conveys a perspective that is transcendent to itself.
Along these same lines, Vedanta is not a channeled teaching. Just as it did not come from the human mind, so it didn’t come through the human mind. The problem with channeled teachings is that they get tainted by the mind through which they pass. Just as clean water passing through a dirty pipe is sullied by the silt within the pipe, so channeled teachings are only as pure as the mind of the person conducting them.
For the same reason, Vedanta is not “intuitive knowledge.” Romantic notions aside, intuition is untrustworthy. The feelings or sense one has about a particular object is invariably colored by one’s vasanas, or preferences, and values. Hence, the insight one gains from intuition is dubious. It may or may not be accurate.
Vedanta is also most decidedly not a religion. It is not a dogmatic code of rules to be followed, nor is it the ritualized worship of a particular deity. Though Vedanta may initially require a degree of faith in the teachings, one is not asked or required to continue blindly adhering to a set of beliefs. The student is asked only to extend his or her faith pending the results of properly conducted self-inquiry. The bottom line is that Vedanta is not a system of belief, but rather a proven and systematic means of gaining self-knowledge.
Also of major significance is the fact that Vedanta is not a salvation theology or a self-improvement plan. Simply put, it does not require you to change. According to Vedanta, you are already perfect and free.
What Vedanta Is
In contrast to these erroneous notions, there are several markers that enable us to more clearly identify just what exactly Vedanta is.
First, Vedanta is revealed wisdom. While it does certainly convey ideas and in this way works through the intellect, Vedanta is not theoretical. It is based on direct experiences had by the ancient rishis, or “seers.” Vedanta is the knowledge that the rishis “saw” or “heard” in deep states of meditation, the knowledge that was revealed to them. Rather than coming from human beings, Vedanta is the knowledge that came to them. Hence, Vedanta is referred to apaurusheya-jnanam, or knowledge that is not of human origin.
Second, Vedanta is verified truth. The knowledge revealed to the rishis was not “seen”— i.e., understood—by only one or even a handful of rishis, but rather by countless seekers over the course of perhaps thousands of years. As a consequence, the insights that constitute Vedanta have been thoroughly vetted and purified of any personal interpretation or unique experiential character. What remains is a shining word-jewel of universal truth. This truth is available to anyone who is qualified for and motivated to conduct dispassionate self-inquiry by virtue of the fact that this truth reflects the singular light that is the fundamental substratum, or essential self, of all. For this reason, Vedanta is referred to as apta vakya, or the testimony of a reliable witness. In this case, however, the reliable witness is actually the distilled knowledge of thousands of reliable witnesses over a long period of time. The individuals who realized the truth and understood its importance became its guardians, so the purity of the teachings has been maintained, as it has been passed down from guru to disciple, or teacher to student, in unbroken succession (parampara) since the beginning of time. This teaching tradition is referred to as sampradaya.
Third, Vedanta is a science. As such, the methodology through which it reveals the truth is not attributable to any one person. Just as no complex scientific discipline or any intricate technological instrument—including the automobile, the airplane, or the computer—is the product of any individual’s ideas and efforts, so the comprehensive understanding of reality and the methodology through which Vedanta reveals the truth is not the result of any one seer’s insight. Moreover, science can be defined as the knowledge gained through observation, investigation, and experimentation. Science deals with a body of facts or truths that is presented systematically to show operation of general principles that can be repeatedly verified. In this regard, Vedanta provides an objective standard by which an individual can evaluate his or her experience. Of vital importance, however, is the fact that it does not rely on the presence or non-contextualized pronouncements of a realized being (brahmanishta) who might not be an effective teacher (shrotriya). Nor does it rely on epiphanies that eventually wear off. The highly refined methodology of Vedantic self-inquiry enables a person, assuming he or she is qualified, to verify the teachings by means of common sense and the logical analysis of his or her own experience.
Why the Validity of Vedanta Can Be Trusted
For these reasons, we can trust that the knowledge gained through Vedanta is valid. The basic principle of knowledge is that whenever all of the conditions necessary for gaining a specific form of knowledge are fulfilled, knowledge must result and must be valid. The validity of the knowledge so gained has two aspects.
First, it is intrinsically valid, or self-evident. In such a case, the validity of the knowledge is questioned only when some deficiency is noticeable in its cause. For instance, in the case of perception, a deficiency might result from a defect of eyesight or illumination. In the case of inference, a deficiency can occur as a result of erroneous reasoning. Thus, invalidity only arises from external agencies. In other words, the invalidity has nothing to do with the object of knowledge itself, but is caused by factors influencing its knowability. Additionally, valid knowledge is that which is not contradicted.
Second, it is spontaneously known, or self-established. Truly speaking, it is not possible for the knower to affect the process of knowing. Action requires the will of the actor, but knowledge does not require the will of the knower. Once the means of knowledge and the object of knowledge are aligned, knowledge immediately takes place. For example, if I open my eyes, I cannot help but see. And if I see with a sane mind, I cannot see something other than what is there because knowledge is true to its object. And having thus seen it, I can no longer say that I do not know the object. I may not know its name or use, but I do know of the object’s existence. Hence, the object has become established in awareness through no will of my own.
Vedanta meets both of these criteria. It does not prove you exist, because your existence is self-evident. It does not promise to give you an experience of the self, because you are already experiencing the self all the time—though the self is not an object.
Vedanta simply removes your ignorance of what you already are. It provides a “word mirror” in which the self is revealed.
To be continued ……. in Part 3
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari