Reasoning in Advaita

In Advaita Vedanta Vedantic (or higher) reasoning is distinguished from independent reasoning or speculation, which invariably is in conflict with that of other individuals and schools of thought – ‘Speculation is unbridled… It is impossible to expect finality from it, for men’s minds are diversely inclined’ (SBh 2-1-11). The former, higher reasoning, is, or must be, in agreement with scripture (Upanishads, etc. called shruti) and is never in conflict with universal experience. There is some syllogistic deduction (‘there is fire on that mountain for we see smoke there’), but it is not prominent in AV.

‘For the truth relating to this Reality conducive to final release is too deep even for a conjuncture without revelation (SBh 2-1-11). Here ‘revelation’ means the ‘deep intuitions arrived at by the sages of old (rishis)’ and compiled in three main bodies of works (chiefly the Upanishads), so you can disregard that word and substitute ‘self-realization’ for it.

But even scriptures are not sufficient to get at the truth: a prepared, mature mind is a requisite, which usually takes years if not lifetimes. After that long preparation, preferably with the help of a qualified teacher, a final intuition (anubhava or brahmavidya) may occur. I won’t talk about the method or methods used or about the qualifications of the student, not a small matter.

9 thoughts on “Reasoning in Advaita

  1. Dear Martin

    Nice to see you back again!

    Just one point I’d challenge you on:
    “higher reasoning . . . is never in conflict with universal experience”

    Isn’t Sankara’s point actually that scriptures are needed because the knowledge they impart is out of the jurisdiction of sense perception, or of universal experience. Further Gaudapa dismisses universal experience as an illusion, castles in the air. So ajata vada does indeed conflict with universal experience.

    best wishes,

  2. Martin’s response to me:

    SSSS uses the expression ‘universal Intuition’… ‘without the aid of
    the senses or the mind that has been regarded by Shankara as the valid means of right knowledge’.* Universal intuition cannot be different from ‘universal experience’. I will have to check on Gaudapada on ‘universal experience as an illusion’ to verify that he wrote that.

    *’Articles and Thoughts on Vedanta’, p. 54.

  3. For Satchidanandendra what he calls ‘intuitive reasoning’, i.e. reasoning approved by the scriptures which he contrasts with the ‘dry, vain, empty empirical logic of the intellect’, is never in conflict with intuitive or universal experience, by which he means cognitive or intuitive knowledge that accrues to us through the Sakshi (Sakshi Anubhava of the Witnessing Principle). This is because such reasoning must ‘be adopted or adjusted so as to be in consonance with our intuitive experience (wherein there is no scope for any kind of variations or differences whatsoever) alone.’ This universal intuitive experience, he says, is ‘exclusively different from both the sensory perceptions and the mental or psychic conceptions like emotions, feelings, etc.’ because in the Sakshi no vrittis, i.e. thought forms, can ever arise.

  4. Dear Rick,

    I don’t know about others but I am bound to say I find what you say difficult to understand. I think there are at least four separate questions I have:

    1) What exactly do you (SSS) mean by ‘intuitive reasoning’?
    2) Where does it take place if not in the intellect?
    3) How does it differ from ‘intuitive experience’?
    4) What is the mechanism by which this experience arises, if it does not involve perceptions or conceptions?

    Please note that I am not trying to be clever or critical. I really would like to understand.

    Best wishes,

  5. Hi Dennis,

    As Alan Greenspan once said, “If I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.” For Satchidanandendra intuitive reasoning is the kind of logic which is in consonance with intuitive experience. He equates it with manana or ‘shrauta tarka’. For the dry, vain empirical logic which he decries, Satchidanandendra claims “the intellect alone is predominant or important; but not the experience of the entity as it is. But the shrauta tarka, i.e. logic used in the scriptures, gives or attaches all the importance to intuitive experience alone. Since that logic is in consonance with one’s own intuitive experience, naturally it should lead one to get rooted in this intuitive experience (which goes by the name of Jnana Nishtha).” For Satchidanandendra intuitive experience (anubhava) does not ‘arise’. It is, in his words, “Pure, Absolute Consciousness”. “It should be evident’” he writes, “that anubhava, i.e. intuitive experience, means the knowledge, cognition or consciousness which is the real entity, but not a mere feeling or concept. Shri Shankaracharya has called this kind of universal (as also plenary, comprehensive) Intuitive experience of the innate nature of Pure, Absolute Consciousness or Knowledge alone ‘Anubhava’. It is his opinion that logical disputation should be carried on in accordance with intuitive experience or Pure Consciousness. Unless one carries out deliberation or discrimination taking the support of Intuitive experience (Pure, Absolute Consciousness) which is universal the determination of the Ultimate Reality (of Brahman or Atman) is not possible at all.” For those who would like to investigate this matter further see Satchidanandendra’s mercifully concise booklet called ‘Deliberation on the Ultimate Reality Culminating in Intuitive Experience’.

  6. I think I will carry on assuming that English words in common usage continue to mean what 99% of people understand them to mean, rather than some personally invented meaning that has not been clearly communicated at the outset. I suppose that this is one of the main reasons for always quoting the Sanskrit. Unfortunately many of us don’t understand that either.

    (Apologies for this comment, Rick. I only read through your response once – and didn’t really understand any of it. I guess I am feeling a bit thick this morning and also a bit grumpy!)

  7. Comment from Martin:

    In response to Ramesam’s request, I would say that just about all of the writings of SSSS have a more or less direct relationship to Vedantic reasoning. Apart from ‘Articles and Thoughts on Veanta’
    (which I previously cited), the following books (most of them about
    100 pp. long) may be found useful:

    ‘Shankara’s Clarification of Certain Vedantic Concepts’
    ‘The Upanishadic Approach to Reality’
    ‘Salient Features of Shanka’s Vedanta’
    ‘How to Recognize the Method of Vedanta’
    ‘The Pristine Pure Philosophy of Adi Shankara’
    ‘The Basic Tenets of Shankara Vedanta’

    All of these books are published by ‘Àdhyatma Prakasha Karyalaya’ of Holenarsipur, India..

    Note from Dennis: Many of these may be downloaded from

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