You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : May 1999

Re: Vedic evolution

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Wed May 19 1999 - 12:13:25 PDT

I thank Sri Rajaram for focussing on the nature of pramANas
(ways of knowing) in this discussion of science and the Vedas.

I would first like to ask Sri Rajaram whether his opinions are based
on the writings of Sri Vaishnava acharyas, or teachers outside the
sampradAya. If the latter (such as Sri Prabhupada or other Hare
Krishna teachers), I urge strong caution before mixing these up with
the conclusions of the Visishtadvaita Sri Vaishnava sampradAya.  The
entire approach of these other teachers to Vedanta and pramANas are
markedly different from ours. I get the feeling that Sri Rajaram has
read these other scholars and has left with the idea that they reflect
the opinions of Sri Ramanuja's sampradAya.

This is evident from his very first argument:

> 1. Acccepting scientific opinion : Among the sources of knowledge,
> observation with senses and reasoning based on these observation are
> faulty because of the four defects namely imperfect senses, ... and
> illusion. Every scientist will accept that if the tools are
> imperfect, so will be the results.

The belief that senses are fundamentally imperfect directly
contradicts Ramanuja's opinion. It is also invalid, according to
Visishtadvaita, to claim that the senses are faulty because they are
under the sway of illusion. It is Sankaracharya and the Advaita school
who believe that the senses cannot be trusted with respect to
reality. Please see Sribhashya 1.1.1 and the many works of Desika.

The Visishtadvaita conclusion: except in individual cases where a
sense organ is actually occluded or afflicted with a disease, the
senses and therefore perception MUST BE trusted. In general,
therefore, perceptual observation is 100% reliable. This is an
irrefutable conclusion of Ramanuja.


I do however agree with Sri Anand Karalapakkam's point that not all
scientific inference (anumAna) can be trusted 100%. However, it is us
to determine whether a particular argument makes sense; it doesn't
mean that scientific inference as a whole is invalid.

I also do not understand Sri Rajaram's reluctance to accept Vedanta's
fundamental axiom vis-a-vis the pramANas, that they are independently
valid (svataH-prAmANya). He writes:

> 2. Order of prmanas : All the pramanas are equal only if we are not
> materially conditioned. But in the conditioned state it cannot be
> said so.  If you still insist, please answer this. A blind does not
> see and we can see. Which is the correct version of reality ? We
> accept the pratyaksha and anumana of acharyas like Sripad Ramanuja
> or Alwars etc., because they are on the absolute platform.

a) The blind person suffers from a defective sense organ. This case is
specifically dealt with by Ramanuja in Sribhashya 1.1.1, as mentioned
above. This just means that the blind man has incomplete knowledge; it
does not mean that sensual perception in general is invalid.

b) Ramanuja *never* argues from the standpoint of spiritual
superiority. He never expects anyone to accept his statements simply
because he is supposedly a "realized" being. That would be
theologizing a la the Koran.  Rather, Ramanuja consistently requests
the reader to accept his arguments based on reason. At the end of the
Vedarthsangraha, he says that he writes for those clear-thinking
individuals who are 'sAra-asAra-vivekajnAH', those who can distinguish
the essential from the non-essential.

c) It is accepted by all Vedantic schools that sabda (Vedas),
pratyaksha (physical observation), and anumAma (logical inference) are
three independent sources of knowledge (svataH-prAmANya).  Please see
Sri S.S. Raghavachar's "Introduction to the Vedarthsangraha" where he
discusses this in great detail.

d) As I stated before, we accept on faith statements by the Vedas and
Alvars on the nature of ultimate reality, that which is incapable of
being perceived.  This means (according to Ramanuja), the nature of
God, the nature of the individual self, their mutual interrelation,
the means of obtaining moksha, and the ultimate cause of the universe.
We *do not* blindly accept statements about, say, the chemical
constitution of water.

Based on the above principles, Ramanuja and Desika argue very
forcefully that statements from the Vedas have to be reinterpreted to
fit physical observation. (The opposite argument is made by Sankara
and the Advaita philosophers). Please reread my argument in my
previous article which explains this analysis.

> In Sri Mani's quotation of Sripad Ramanujacharya, all that comes out
> is that science (which depends on perception) cannot explore brahman
> whereas sabda can. He does not say that sabda has to be corrected,
> abandoned or reinterpreted to fit scientific opinion. As for as Sri
> Desika is concerned, Sri Mani has only given his opinion on Sri
> Desika's work. Unless we scrutinizingly study it, we cannot accept
> it.

I presume you do not have the original of Sri Ramanuja or Desika, and
you are assuming that I am misunderstanding him.  I assure you I am
not. Please see Sri S.M.S. Chari's "Advaita and Visistadvaita", or Sri
Raghavachar's work mentioned above, which explain the relation
between sabda and pratyakshA pramANAs in detail.

Ramanuja's fundamental principle is this: "Srutiopapattaye'py
anupapannam viruddham na kalpanIyam" -- "even for supporting the
Vedas, what is against reason or contradicts evidence should not be
postulated" (Vedarthasangraha).

I sincerely urge you to study only Sri Ramanuja's and Desika's works,
and then revisit your arguments.  Please *do not* base your ideas
about pramANAs on Hare Krishna materials and expect them to be
consonant with the Sri Vaishnava sampradAya.

Thank you,
Mani

P.S. The question was further raised as to how to understand the
various cosmological details mentioned in the Puranas. (The Vedas, by
the way, never speak of concrete dates). It is important to understand
that the Upanishads themselves propagate different creation theories,
sometimes mutually contradictory at first glance.  However, all of
them are meant to only elucidate the principle that God is the
material and efficient cause of the universe, needing no kind of
assistance from anything or anyone else. 

Where does this leave Rama, Krishna, etc.? I have expressed my ideas
on this subject, and the unimportance of the exact dating of the
avatAras in a previous article (see
 http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/jan98/0098.html ).  
I agree with Sri Venkat Nagarajan's statement that trying to prove the
dating, the exact historicity, etc., simply misses the point of the
avatAras. Rama and Krishna are meant to be *enjoyed* -- this is the
verdict of our Alvars and acharyas.  Their lives are entirely TRUE. We
may differ on the details, but this should not of any significant
concern to us. Much is symbolic, much factual, but nothing should stop
us from enjoying Rama, Krishna, et al irrespective of any of this.