Review of article on Shankara – part 5

Under the section ‘Tarka vs Sruti’, the more or less unconscious devise (upadhi) of removing the subject from the ‘picture’ aimed at understanding the world, is broached, and the author (RB) quotes E. Schrödinger in that connection: “It became inherent in any attempt to form a picture of the objective world such as the Ionians made”. And so, “…the desire for understanding the world through our imperfect sensory knowledge invariably leads to certain, frequently overlooked, assumptions”.

It is curious that the first sleight of hand – by ‘primordial man’, the demiurge of mythology or Platonic philosophy – consisted in making a scission within reality so that subject and object would emerge in opposition to each other: God and man (the Garden of Eden), and then making a second scission (by imaginative surgery), thus removing the human subject altogether (provisionally! – for the Ionian ‘physiologoi’ knew what they were doing, though, it is related, Thales of Miletus fell once into a ditch while absorbed looking at the firmament’s stars in utter wonder). Certainly, this device – or both combined – made possible all the empirical sciences, literature, art, and everything we know ‘about’ the world. No division or separation (no adhyasa and its attending ‘names and forms’), no world. Allusion was made to this (mythological) result or outcome previously, as well as to the kind of ignorance that became knowledge (with small case).

The human subject, the observer, was ‘re-introduced’ in the latter part of the 20th Century by modern science, as is well known, not only in physics, anthropology, etc., but in other sciences as well (except mathematics and perhaps biology), the split never having taken place in the pictorial arts, in music, and in poetry… Can someone imagine a sociology, or an anthropology, where the observer/scientist is absent, removed? Well, it has been done! – for the sake of neutral, objective, detached observation and description of findings in these fields.

Western Orientalists were at it, guilty, it is now realized, of this inverted bias when studying and analysing Eastern customs, religions, and philosophies for all of 19th and first half of 20th centuries – Schopenhauer and few others being exceptions, and are not listed under the denomination of ‘Orientalists’. Were they not aware of the heavy cultural baggage (and prejudices) they were carrying on their shoulders? Tribal or native people and their customs were just specimens to be studied in the laboratory… everything, including sacred traditions, written or oral, forms of worship, etc., were suitable objects for ‘Western’ science to dissect and study. Very often working, functional concepts, such as ‘primitive’, ‘pre-rational’, ‘naïve’ were in wide circulation in learned books and journals.

Under ‘The Uniqueness of ´Sruti Generated Knowledge’, we read:

“Sruti cannot be challenged by mere human reasoning… Hence, reasoning without the veda, and based on the independent thinking of persons is inconclusive… Many other passages asserting that ´sruti alone can reveal the self can be found in the works of ´ San˙ kar¯ac¯arya and Sure´svar¯ac¯arya… anubhava cannot mean direct brahman-knowledge, for the simple reason that if direct brahman-knowledge were already present, there would be no reason for any enquiry.”

The above opinion of the author can be countered by the following observations: 1. It is not a question of challenging the Vedas, or of ‘independent thinking’ but, rather, of taking them as a basis for reflection and inspiration. 2. The scriptures, being couched in language, are based on categorical frameworks (as noted in part 4 of this Review), while the transcendent cannot be captured in any framework. 3. Direct Brahman-knowledge is “already present”, but only in those with eyes to see (anubhava). 4. The Mundaka Up. declares that even the Vedas are lower knowledge (l.i.4-6), higher knowledge being revealed “to the wise”. The Katha Up. confirms this (i.ii.23): “The self is not known through the study of scriptures…”

RB then continues:

“According to SSS [Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati], anubhava is essentially the experience of the three states. SSS also frequently uses ‘intuit’ as a translation of anubhava, since for him the deep-sleep state directly affirms the identity of the individual and supreme selves… Both Sv¯ami Gambh¯ır¯ananda and SSS interpret anubhava-avas¯anam as anubhave avas¯anam, or (brahman-knowledge) ending in direct-experience… (‘For knowledge of brahman has to culminate in intuition, and relates to an existent entity’ – SSS translation of Shankara. SSS also wrote: ‘Express statements and other textual aids … are not the only means of valid self-knowledge in the case of enquiry into the nature of Brahman as they are in the case of enquiry into religious duty’)”.

Answer: Isn’t that so, consistent with the two scriptural quotations in the previous paragraph?

The author then adds: “Indeed, SSS is downplaying the importance of ´sruti as a means of knowledge by itself, although in an almost imperceptible way, in the very chapter asserting the supremacy of the ´sruti. This is because he says that ´sruti is to be interpreted on the basis of anubhava, and that means ´sruti becomes subsidiary to anubhava itself… and he actually calls anubhava as the kingpin of all pram¯’… [But] ´ Sa ˙ nkar¯ac¯arya is merely saying that anubhava is useful in the sense of interpreting ´sruti, just like the other exegetical techniques mentioned before”.

Anubhava – only useful?