[Note: Dennis posted at the other thread a cryptic comment that says, “… whether self-enquiry can reveal the true self. If you say it can, then what is the pramANa?” My response to it has become too long and because I expect that there could be questions or more comments on my comment, I have taken the liberty to make my comment into a separate Post.]
The remark that was recently posted by Dennis hinting that vicAra cannot possibly be a valid means for Self-realization leaves one rather nonplussed. It, at one stroke, blunts the entire approach of jnAna mArga, which is a highly valued and respected method for liberation in Shankara tradition. Or in order not to make that statement invalid, one has to force oneself to assign a very narrow meaning to the word pramANa conforming to the concept that the author has in his mind rather than what is understood to be a pramANa in scriptural literature.
Shankara observes in his commentary on the mantra, II-ii-1, taittirIya, that starts with ब्रह्मविदाप्नोति परम् as follows:
“पुरुषे त्वेवाविस्तरामात्मा स हि प्रज्ञानेन सम्पन्नतमो विज्ञातं वदति विज्ञातं पश्यति वेद श्वस्तनं वेद लोकालोकौ मर्त्येनामतमीक्षति … “
Meaning: The puruSha is able to have intelligent perception because the Universal Consciousness has manifested in him. He has the capacity to speak, he can think of the future, distinguish between good and bad, and try to achieve immortality, although born in a world of mortals.
So man has the basic ability to choose a process for Self-realization as he has the motivation to be free, and is endowed with necessary tools, such as a suitable body, sensory organs, life-force, mind, and intellect to pursue liberation. This is a unique gift of the nature that only a human being, unlike other creatures in nature, is blessed with. Hence a seeker endowed with a relatively more mature and ready mind can follow a direct path of enquiry for Self-realization as Gaudapada tells us in his kArikA .
Shankara in his Commentary on Bhagavad Gita, Ch 4, verse 18 says:
न हि तमः तमसो निवर्तकं भवति ॥
Meaning: Darkness (ignorance) cannot be removed by more darkness.
Therefore, adding loads of darkness in the form of cumbersome procedures to existing ignorance would only result in much denser darkness. Likewise, if a seeker is expected to follow more and more involved action-centered instructions, he gets deeper and deeper into the mire of ignorance and bondage.
kena Upanishad, I-6 tells us:
यन्मनसा न मनुते येनाहुर्मनो मतम् ।
तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ॥ —
[Meaning: What none can comprehend with the mind, but by which, the Sages say, the mind is comprehended, know that alone as brahman. brahman is not this which people worship.]
So brahman is not a thing to be ‘conceptualized’ and adored, deified or reified and It cannot be approached with some processes that are circumscribed with expectations.
Ancient seers acknowledged that the true path to liberation lies through only Knowledge-based approach. We have from Garuda Purana (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/gpu/gpu18.htm#page_154):
ज्ञानादेव तु कैवल्यम् | — verse 70, Ch XVI, Garuda Purana.
(Direct Knowledge of the Truth is the cause of liberation.).
Further, it is asserted in the verses at 87-88: “There is no liberation by the study of the Vedas, nor by the reading of the Śāstras. Emancipation is by knowledge alone, not otherwise, O son of Vinatā.”
Two phrases make for bondage and liberation: “Mine” and “Not-mine.” The being saying “Mine” is bound; saying “Not-mine” is released — verses 93-94.
The muNDaka mantra II-ii-4 gives us a clue for an approach to comprehend brahman directly:
प्रणवो धनुः शरो ह्यात्मा ब्रह्म तल्लक्ष्यमुच्यते ।
अप्रमत्तेन वेद्धव्यं शरवत्तन्मयो भवेत् ॥ —
Meaning: Om is the bow; the individual is the arrow; and Brahman is called its target. It is to be hit by an unerring man. One should become one with It just like an arrow.
Unlike the progressive methods where the seeker still retains a sense of “doership,” the vastutantra approach drops the ‘doership’ right at the start, thus directly accessing the vastu, brahman like an arrow hitting the target straight.
After telling us the nature of brahman in the first part, kena upaniShad opens the second part with the mantra:
यदि मन्यसे सु वेदेति दभ्रमेवापि नूनं त्वं वेत्थ ब्रह्मणो रूपं यदस्य त्वं यदस्य देवेष्वथ नु मीमांस्यमेव ते मन्ये विदितम् ॥ — mantra 1, Part II, kena.
[Meaning: (The Teacher says to the seeker,) “You know very little of brahman’s form, if you think ‘I know it well.’ What you know of brahman among the gods is also very little. Therefore, the nature of brahman is still to be investigated by you.]
So how does the seeker proceed heeding the advice of the teacher?
He proceeds further with “vicAra” (मीमांस्यमेव = by inquiry only).
From the subsequent mantras of the Upanishad, i.e. after further inquiry, we find that the student “knows” and understands brahman.
So it is difficult to agree when one holds that “inquiry” will not take the seeker to understand brahman.
“pramANa” is defined as the one that is the means (medium or instrument) that provides “prama” or knowledge. The Knowledge we are interested here is Self-knowledge.
Shankara very clearly emphasizes that the “vastujnAna” (Knowledge of brahman) can be obtained by “inquiry alone” in his short treatise, vivekacUDAmaNi.
vastusiddhir vicAreNa — verse 11, viveka cUDAmaNi
Krishna, the personification of Consciousness Itself, considered to be the jagadguru (Teacher for the entire Universe), expresses with great emphasis:
नाहं वेदैर्न तपसा न दानेन न चेज्यया ।
शक्य एवंविधो द्रष्टुं दृष्टवानसि मां यथा ॥ — verse 53, Ch 11, Bagavad-Gita.
[Meaning: Not by Vedas, nor by austerity, nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice, can “I” be seen in this Form as thou hast seen Me.]
Explaining this Shankara writes in his Commentary (भाष्यम्):
न अहं वेदैः ऋग्यजुःसामाथर्ववेदैः चतुर्भिरपि, न तपसा उग्रेण चान्द्रायणादिना, न दानेन गोभूहिरण्यादिना, न च इज्यया यज्ञेन पूजया वा शक्यः एवंविधः यथादर्शितप्रकारः द्रष्टुं दृष्टावान् असि मां यथा त्वम् ॥
na vedaih — not through the Vedas, not even through the four Vedas-Rk, Yajus, Sama and Atharvan;
na tapas — not by austerity, not by severe austerities like the Candrayana;
na dAnen — not by gifts, by gifts of cattle, land, gold, etc.; na ca, nor even;
ijyayA — by sacrifices or worship;
sakyah aham — can I;
draShTum — be seen
evamvidhah — in this form, in the manner as was shown;
yathA – as;
dRShTavAn asi — you have seen
mAm — Me.
(Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
Introducing the next verse Shankara asks the question, कथं पुनः शक्यः इति उच्यते — “How can You be seen?”:
भक्त्या त्वनन्यया शक्य अहमेवंविधोऽर्जुन ।
ज्ञातुं द्रष्टुं च तत्त्वेन प्रवेष्टुं च परन्तप ॥ ५४ ॥
Meaning: But by undistracted bhakti can- I, of this Form, be known and seen in reality, and entered into, Arjuna!
By bhakti alone, Krishna says, that He can be seen.
But how do we understand what true “bhakti” is?
Shankara does not disappoint us. He defines bhakti very unambiguously in vivekacUDAmaNi:
स्वस्वरूपानुसन्धानम् इति भक्तिः — verse 31
svasvarUpAnusandhAnam iti bhaktiH
bhakti is “Contemplation of one’s own Real Nature .”
Obviously, it is again unmistakably, “vicAra.”
If one is still left with a doubt, here is another famous and highly revered text of Shankara. He teaches “Knowledge Path” in this text. He says:
नोत्पद्यते विना ज्ञानं विचारेणान्यसाधनैः ।
यथा पदार्थभानं हि प्रकाशेन विना क्वचित् ॥ — 11, aparokShAnubhUti.
[Knowledge is not brought about by any other means than “vicAra,” just as an object is nowhere perceived without the help of illumination.]
If one asks the question “ how should be the “inquiry” conducted,” he answers:
कोऽहं कथमिदं जातं को वै कर्ताऽस्य विद्यते ।
उपादानं किमस्तीह विचारः सोऽयमीदृशः ॥ — 12, aparokShAnubhUti.
[Who am I? How is this world created? Who is the creator? With what material the world is made? Thus is the way the inquiry has to go on.]
Thus it establishes that “Who Am I” inquiry is not a new method discovered by someone in the 20th century. It is an age old method in the true “sampradAya,” or at least for one who has respect for an unbroken teacher-disciple lineage right from pre-Shankara times. (The inquiry question “Who am I?” appears as the starting point in more texts (perhaps in “anu gIta” too (?)). But that makes the subject for another post.
If one were to keep his/her eyes closed to all the available evidence, or insist that it is not found in the specific text of his preference or takes a stand that the wording is not as per his preference, well, I can only say, Sorry.