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Re: Vedic evolution

From: Krishna Susarla (krishna_at_tumora.swmed.edu)
Date: Wed May 19 1999 - 16:34:26 PDT

>> 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.


Some context is necessary to differentiate between Sankara's views and those
of the Gaudiyas (aka Hare Krishnas). The former says that the senses are not
to be trusted because for them, the whole world is maayaa. For the latter,
the world is very much real, being an emanation of one of the Lord's
energies, and as such the senses can be used to gather information about it.
The reason members of the latter school regard the senses as imperfect is
because they are *limited*. For example, one can not see his own hand in a
dark room without light, what to speak of seeing (unaided) the spiritual
existence of other jiivas or even the Lord's own spiritual form. Because of
such limitations, the senses are described as imperfect, though they can be
perfected when used in conjunction with shaastra. For example, the
Bhaagavatam 1.3.5 has a reference to the devotees being able to see the
Lord's divine form with "adabhrachakShuShaa" or "perfect eyes."

Looking at Sri Bhaashya 1.1.1, it appears that Sri Ramanuja's problem with
the idea of direct perception being faulty is in relation to the Advaitin's
view. Therein, he appears to be arguing with the advaitin's view that direct
perception is false because through it one sees variety, as opposed to the
shaastras which allegedly teach only unity. I don't see anything on first
glance that would contradict the idea of the senses being independently
limited.

>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


No Vaishnava Vedantin that I have ever heard of argues like that.
Unfortunately, it's not hard to find in every tradition followers who are
less enlightened on epistemology and will assert the correctness of their
beliefs on the basis that their guru is supposedly "advanced," "realized,"
etc. For the purposes of discussing any system of Vedanta, it is probably
wise to discriminate between what the acharyas say is the means to acquiring
right knowledge and what their lay followers might say.

>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.

There must be *some* sense in which we accept Vedic statements which
describe material phenomena. If we reject them outright (or assign some
totally off-the-wall meaning to them in the name of "reinterpreting")
because they do not seem to be consonant with our direct perception, then
that is tantamount to saying that the Vedas have flaws. If the Vedas cannot
describe material phenomena properly, how can we be sure they are correct in
describing what is beyond our direct perception?

>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.


I probably missed that article, and I don't think the May archives are up
yet for me to check. However, let me point out that the context of what Sri
Ramanuja said is very important; I think there is concern over taking a
perfectly reasonable directive out of the bounds in which it was originally
spoken. Specifically, Sri Ramanuja's argument about the validity of direct
perception seems to be based on the Sankarite view that it is incorrect,
because of perceiving manifoldness. Ramanuja then points out that if
manifoldness is an error, and thus so too is direct perception, then how can
one state that the Vedas can allow one to arrive at the correct
understanding? Quoting from him, "The very fact that one has to practise
reasoning and meditation on Vedic texts after hearing them shows that a
person, who hears these texts, is aware of their inherent defect that they,
too, have a tendency to show differences, for they are made of words and
sentences which are differentiated." Sri Ramanuja then goes on to point out
that if direct perception is flawed in this way, then one cannot argue that
the scriptures are also without flaws, since consciousness by itself cannot
prove it, and "nor can direct perception prove it, since it is defective and
gives wrong knowledge..." This view of the faultiness of direct perception
does not seem at all related to the view that the senses are limited.

If we all agree that the senses independent of shaastra are limited, then we
must accept the possibility in regards to any scientific theory that
contradictory evidence can exist which we do not yet perceive. That seems
reason enough to excercise caution before reinterpreting Vedic statements in
light of theories based on pratyaksha and anumaana. We can't always assume
at any given time that we have seen all the evidence to support a particular
view; nor does the scientific method require this. For any scientist who is
worth his money will tell you that a paradigm is useful only as long as it
continues to explain the available evidence and allows one to correctly make
further predictions. When new evidence is discovered, the old theories must
be modified or thrown out in favor of new ones. Therefore, material science
is by its very nature a constantly changing thing.

(cont'd)