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Epistemology - theory of knowing.
Before studying philosophy we need to know what we actually know and how we know it.
There are 3 ways of acquiring knowledge which are:—
1. Direct perception and experience through the five senses. (pratyakṣa)
2. Rational thought, reasoning, (anumāna)
3. Trustworthy testimony from an trustworthy witness. (āpta-vākya or śabda)
Think of crime investigators — when they arrive on the scene they take note of all the evidence at the scene, they photograph, measure and document everything.
They then return to the precinct and draw up a time-line, paste up pictures, and try to figure out a logical narrative of events and possible causes and culprits.
They then call in trustworthy witnesses and take their testimonies – comparing the various versions to the evidence and the logical time-line. The depositions of the witnesses do not stand alone but need to conform to the tangible evidence.
Now, in relation to our examination of the presented metaphysical Truths of Vedānta, the above order has to be inverted.
It is very important to note that if a statement in Śāstra contradicts evidence and logic then it must be rejected.
Hindu philosophy has an interesting concept of “knowledge” - it is either valid or invalid.
“Valid knowledge” is called pramā and is defined as:–
yathāvasthita vyavahārāṇuguṇa jñānam pramā
Valid (Right) knowledge is that which reveals a thing as it actually is and is applicable to daily life.
Knowledge is said to be true when there is –
Coherence — The statement must be logical and consistent.
Correspondence — The knowledge must correspond to the actual nature of the object as it is. (tadvati-tat-prakāraka)
Consequence — Utility — our practical activities in relation to the statement are successful. (pravṛtti-samārthya). In other words we can do something with it — it has a practical application and utility. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!
Valid knowledge (pramā) corresponds to the thing as it really is, and leads to successful utilisation thereof.
False knowledge does not correspond to reality and any activity directed thereby results in failure and disappointment.
N.B. ‘Right’ or ‘valid’ knowledge in the Indian context is somewhat individualized — for example; knowledge of quantum particles is useful for a scientist engaged in that type of research but not useful for the common person, as nothing can be done with this knowledge — it may certainly be true but it is not valid in terms of practical outcomes of daily life.
It may be possible to count the number of grains of sand on a beach and this may have some scientific application, but the knowledge, albeit true is unusable for all practical purposes and therefore said to be “invalid” or more properly “irrelevant”.
Filters of Comprehension
Most of the problems and confusion and doubts relating to the vast patchwork which is Hinduism is the failure to apply the proper filters. So it is very important to memorise these filters and apply them whenever some doubts or confusion arise.
Not all teachings are applicable to everyone. We have already learned the human typology - so teachings that are given to the masses (paśus) are not the same that will be given to the more educated and intellectually inquisitive seekers (vīras) and of course none are required for the perfected ones (siddhas).
So all teachings need to be filtered according to three criteria.
The second set of three are:–
The way we see things is also not objective but is conditioned by a number of factors such as:–
So as students of philosophy we need to constantly check where our thinking is coming from - we need to start doing an auto-audit on our thinking, while striving to become more open and objective.
Every situation involves 3 different perspectives:–
A philosophy student would do well to appreciate and if possible integrate all three perspectives.
THE TWO TIERS OF TRUTH
This is an extremely important concept in Indian philosophy - Truth has two levels:–
Basic principles of Mīmāṁsa - Introduction
As mentioned before, Mīmāṁsa gives us the methodology of interpreting the Sacred Texts and lays the groundwork for the philosophical superstructure.
Mīmāṁsa as a school arose when the Vedic yajñas were the dominant form of religion. The Mīmāṁsakas were atheists who did not believe that the devas gave the results of the yajña - the results came from the meticulous performance of all the rites and their subsidiary parts as enjoined in the Vedas. So the most important thing therefore was to interpret the texts correctly. The bulk of the Mīmāṁsa Sūtras therefore are concerned with the elements of the Yajña.
When the sacrificial paradigm had degenerated and the circumstances of time and place had changed further — people had become more urban and societies had become more complex, the need arose for a clearer and more comprehensive explanation of the Vedic texts and the ritual and also the need to contemporize it in order to give it relevance.
The focus shifted from Yajña to Dharma. This gave rise to the compilation of the 'Smṛti' literature — with all its rules and regulations regarding the daily life of the people — including social and criminal laws. This brought about the necessity also of regular study of these matters as bearing upon 'Dharma' or the duty of the people. It was at this junction that the Mīmāṃsa literature appeared with it's 1000 odd rules of Hermeneutics for the interpretation and correct understanding of what is stated in the Shastras as regards Dharma.
The importance of Mīmāṃsa is testified by its present-day effect, for no part of the daily life of the Hindu is without the influence of the teachings of Mīmāṃsa. All rituals and ceremonies depend upon it; all moral conduct is guided by it; all Canon Law is interpreted by it. Mīmāṃsa is the life of the super-structure of Indian Civilization.
Vedānta makes use of the principles, rules and paradigms of the Mīmāṁsa to interpret the Upaṇiṣads. In their commentaries (bhāṣyas) the Acāryas, Rāmānuja, Śankara and Madhva make full use of Mīmāṁsa in framing and presenting their arguments and apply Tarka/Nyāya rules in refuting and defeating their opponents.
THE PURPOSE OF MĪMĀMSA
The primary purpose of Mīmāṃsa is to establish the nature of Right Action (Dharma).
The Sūtras of Jaimini open with:–
athāto dharma-jijñāsā — "Now the investigation of duty [dharma]"
The basic premise of Mīmāṃsa is that action is fundamental to the human condition. Without application, knowledge is vain; without action, happiness is impossible; without action human destiny cannot be fulfilled; therefore, Right Action (Dharma) is the sine-qua-non of a meaningful life on earth.
The very proper name of Hinduism is SANĀTANA DHARMA – The Eternal Dharma emphasizing the practical and applied aspect of Hindu teaching.
DHARMA or right action is also a prerequisite for Knowledge Jñāna and Mokṣa.
nāvi̍rato duśca̱ritān nā̍śānto nāsa̱māhi̍taḥ | nāśā̍nta̱-māna̍so vā̱'pi̱ pra̱jñāne̍naina̱m āpnu̍yāt || Kaṭha Upaṇiṣad 2:24 ||24. One who has not desisted from bad conduct, who is not restrained, nor one without concentration, nor even one whose mind is not still, can know This even though learned beyond compare.
nāvi̍rato duśca̱ritān nā̍śānto nāsa̱māhi̍taḥ | nāśā̍nta̱-māna̍so vā̱'pi̱ pra̱jñāne̍naina̱m āpnu̍yāt || Kaṭha Upaṇiṣad 2:24 ||
24. One who has not desisted from bad conduct, who is not restrained, nor one without concentration, nor even one whose mind is not still, can know This even though learned beyond compare.
The major focus of Indian spirituality and religion is not on BELIEF but on PRAGMATISM. The function of “belief” is to orientate one to the correct course of action (Karma Yoga of the Bhagavad Gītā).
VIDHI — Injunction
Therefore the primary focus of Mīmāṃsa pragmatism, and the essence of Vedic prescription, is the vidhi or “injunction” defined as follows:—
Vidhis are those (Vedic) texts containing verbs or expressions that communicate [ritual] instructions.
So the most important element of any Scriptural text is the VIDHI – and this is what must be looked for. In the Vedic context the only vidhis of importance were ritual directions.
In the Vedānta the vidhi are also those statements regarding the Ultimate Reality — Brahman, the Self (Ātman) and purpose of life (puruṣārtha) — all matters which cannot be comprehended by the either perception or reason.
According to Vedānta, knowledge must have a practical application, so therefore Brahman, jīva etc are always mentioned in the context of “doing” something i.e. meditation.
In the Smṛti context these vidhis relate to Dharma in any given situation as well as all aspects of jurisprudence and interpretation of laws.
In the Tantric context the vidhis relate to Dharma, Siddhānta (Established Truth) as well as methods of sādhana (spiritual practice).
 yathāvasthita vyavahāra anuguṇa jñānam pramā
Mīmāṃsa Methodology & Principles
The exegetical format or paradigm is called an Adhikaraṇa which comprises of a fivefold process.
• viṣaya vākya — the specific Scriptural sentence under discussion between two parties.
• samśaya — formulating the doubt which has arisen as to the correct and relevant meaning of the sentence.
• pūrva-pakṣa — study the position of the opposing party and present their unsound interpretation.
• uttara-pakṣa — the refutation of the former position using the rules of logical debate and argument and presentation of the reasoned interpretation
• nirṇaya/siddhānta — arguments for the conclusion reached. Some ācāryas include nirṇaya in the uttara-pakṣa and insert saṅgati here. Saṅgati is the relevancy of the discussion with the specific context.
All commentaries on the Brahma-sūtras and other texts etc. are presented in this format.
There are 3 ways in which knowledge and information are acquired:—
• Direct perception (pratyakṣa) — tangible evidence available to the five senses.
• Inference/reason (anumāna) — evidence based upon reason and critical thinking.
• Valid testimony/teaching (śabda) — knowledge acquired from a trustworthy witness.
So for example using an NCIS episode - the team arrive at the murder scene and the first thing they do is assemble the evidence - they then take the evidence back to the HQ and being formulating a time-line, motive and apply rational thinking. Then finally they call in the witnesses and take statements. All the statements conform to the evidence and logic.
The Vedas are considered as trustworthy testimony regarding metaphysical matters but their testimony must conform to evidence and or reason.
The same principle applies to all the Scriptures.
TRUTH is defined as
IN the Puranas it states that Vishnu sleeps on a multiple-headed snake floating on an ocean of milk.
Is this true?
So the conclusion is that it is not true on a literal level so we need to apply interpretative principles to discover a deeper meaning.
And there are three possible levels of meaning.
So in our example of Vishnu on the Ocean of Milk - it makes no sense on a literal level.
When analysed from a metaphorical point of view is makes perfect sense - please see Hindu Iconography for a detailed exposition.
Contents of the Sacred Texts (Shastra)
The purpose of Shastra is defined as:–
ajñāta jñāpanam iti śāstra — the objective of Shastra is to teach us that which we cannot learn from other sources such as:–
pratyakṣam — tangible evidence
anumānam — reason,
So the basis of knowledge is always evidence first.
The evidence produced must be rational and subject to investigation, analysis and criticism and testing.
There are certain important topics which cannot be known from either evidence or reason and so we then seek trustworthy testimony known as āpta-vākya.
“Trustworthy testimony” is that knowledge which comes from a source that is free from self-interest or invested-interest and has an impeccable reputation.
According to the Hindu tradition such a source of impersonal knowledge on occult topics is the VEDA known also as Śābda – verbal transmission.
The Purpose of Narrative
When an author composes a narrative the general intent is to communicate a message.
The specific reasons could be:—
(1) To convey some information or knowledge.
(2) To issue some instructions or directions
(3) To describe an event or thing.
(4) To entertain and delight
(5) To register or record something.
(6) To praise or glorify someone or something.
All these categories are to be found in the Vedas, Itihasas, Puranas and Tantras.
Mimāmsa classifies all the subject matter of this vast body of literature under five different headings which you will need to memorise: —
The most important factor of all śāstra is the VIDHI. Indian philosophy is above all pragmatic - all knowledge must be converted into ACTION.
A vidhi is defined as any statement that induces one to act.
All actions (karma), according to Mīmāṃsa are said to have two effects:
The mental aspect of an act is regarded as being long-lasting, while the external effect is transitory.
All actions create saṁskāras (mental impressions or “subliminal activators”) through their positive and negative results, they are, therefore the seeds, planted in the mind, of future activity and resulting effects both good and bad — KARMA.
Originally Mīmāṃsa was concerned about the directives in the Vedas relating to yajñas. So the Vedic texts were analysed in order to extract the correct and appropriate directive for the correct performance of the yajñas.
With the decline of the Vedic yajña in both Vedānta (Jñāna-khāṇḍa) and Tantra; the implication of the Vidhi has been broadened to include statements about the Supreme Truth (Brahman) and the nature of the Self (jīvātman), the meaning of life and proper course of action for living the good life and for promoting human flourishing (Dharma).
So whatever text is under discussion it must be analysed for the VIDHI. When reading a story in the Purānas, the question to ask yourself is – what is the VIDHI here - what are the implications for esoteric knowledge, action or practice?
So for example - there is a story about Krishna stealing the clothes of the Gopis who were bathing naked in the river. He hung the clothes up in a tree and demanded that they all exist the river one by one holding their hands above their heads and approach him to retrieve their garments.
So what is the VIDHI in this story?
This brings us to the other most important of the five topics mentioned above:–
An arthavāda is a corroborative state or one that affirms or supports a VIDHI.
Arthavāda is passage which extols and encourages the performance of a positive injunction (Vidhi) or censures and discourages the performance of a prohibition (Niṣedha).
Arthavādas are classified differently by various authorities but generally fall under 13 general categories which can be summarized as being of five kinds:—
Contents of the Sacred Texts - continued
Understanding the principles of ARTHAVĀDA will clarify a huge number of doubts and quandaries.
a. Condemnatory Arthavādas
A condemnatory arthavāda devotes itself to praising the thing enjoined by condemning things other than that.
E.G. “One who purchases a girl, becomes a demon in the forest; who steals a gem, becomes a base-born; who steals vegetables, becomes a peacock; thief of pearl-necklace becomes a shrew; of grains, a rat; of fruit, a monkey; of animals, a goat; of water, a crow; of meat, an eagle; of cloth, a leper; and of salt, a ragged one. (Yajnavalkya 12: 5-6)
The vidhi in this passage is the injunction not to purchase girls, not to steal gems or vegetables etc.
The arthavāda is the negative consequences - becoming demons etc. these statements are not to be taken literally but serve the purpose of disincentive only.
Likewise all the statements about going to hell if xxxx is done are ALL arthavāda.
b. Eulogistic Arthavādas
These are statements which are exaggerated and give superlative results for following a specific vidhi.
E.G. “Let him never eat any dainty food which he does not offer to the guest; the hospitable reception of guests procures wealth, fame, long-life, and heavenly bliss.” (Manu 3;106)
The vidhi is - never eat dainty food alone but always share it with a guest, be hospitable.
The arthavāda is the statement of rewards - wealth, fame, long-life, and heavenly bliss. Not to be taken literally.
c. Heroic performance Arthavādas
Is a statement which indicates that a particular work was done by a great personage or persons in order to act as an incentive;
Manu 10: 106. -108 Vamadeva, who well knew right and wrong, did not sully himself when, tormented (by hunger), he desired to eat the flesh of a dog in order to save his life. Bharadvaja, a performer of great austerities, accepted many cows from the carpenter Bribu, when he was starving together with his sons in a lonely forest. Visvamitra, who well knew what is right or wrong, approached, when he was tormented by hunger, (to eat) the haunch of a dog, receiving it the hands of a Chandala.
The vidhi in this passage is if in dire straits one may eat or accept anything without guilt.
The arthavāda is the list of previous great and heroic sages who did exactly that.
d. Past incident Arthavādas
— that which indicates something that has previously been narrated by another;
E.G. The Blessed Lord said: 1. I taught this imperishable Yoga to Vivasvan; Vivasvan taught it to Manu; Manu declared it to Ikshvaku. Thus handed down in succession, the royal sages knew this (Karma Yoga). But with long lapses of time, O Arjuna, this Yoga was lost to the world. (Gita chap. 4)
The vidhi here is an introduction to the importance of Karma Yoga.
The arthavāda is the mention of the names of the previous practitioners. The purpose is to generate interest and attention in the mind of the student. Again not to be taken literally.
d. Explanatory Arthavādas
An explanatory arthavāda may not be connected with a vidhi but alone serves to metaphorically explain why a certain thing is as it is.
E.G. 1 “Indra opened the hole of Vrtra; the topmost cattle he grasped by the back and pulled out; a thousand cattle followed it, they all became hump-backed.” KYV II:11.1.5
The explanation of why cattle are hump-backed is off course cute and entertaining and does not link to any vidhi.
E.G. 2 “Indra having killed the son of Tvaṣṭra was guilty of the sin of killing a Brahmin He ran to women and asked then: “take upon yourselves a 3rd of my sin!” They said: “what will we gain by doing that?” Indra said: “choose a boon.” They said: “May we obtain children during our season and may we live at pleasure with our husbands till the time of giving birth to our children.” Having obtained the boon they took upon themselves a 3rd of the sin of Indra. Therefore they become guilty of the sin of killing a brahmin every month with their discharge.” (Vasishtha Dharma śāstra 6)
The second example is linked to the Vidhi that women should take rest and keep social distancing during their periods, the arthavāda is the Indra-incident.
N.B. An arthavāda carries no authority in itself and can happily be disregarded and discarded.
So when reading Puranas and Itihāsas it is extremely important to bear in mind the twin concepts of VIDHI & ARTHAVĀDA.
When reading a story or passage ask yourself - “what is the vidhi here?” And the descriptive, eulogistic past incident stuff can all be disregarded as arthavāda and must not be taken as literal or even significant.
Interpreting the Sacred Texts
PURPORT — Tātparya
When reading a sacred text from Vedas. Puranas, Itihasas, Tantras etc. one needs to bear in mind what the PURPORT is.
The fundamental or basic meaning (mukhya artha) of a sentence, passage, chapter or an entire book is what may be called its purport (tātparya).
Definition of Tātparya:–
Purport is the meaning of words leading to valid knowledge (pramā).
The purport of a sentence may be an activity or a fact.
The literal or direct meaning of a particular sentence may be an activity or a fact.
The literal or direct meaning of a sentence may sometimes not reveal a purport; in which case its implied meaning or figurative meaning would be its purport.
For a scriptural statement or purport to carry any validity it must fulfill the following 5 conditions:–
A Śāstra (sacred text) is a vast conglomeration of sentences, and unless selective judgment and critical thinking is applied in trying to understand, one won’t be able to figure out a proper perspective regarding its teaching on Dharma or philosophical truths.
When reading śāstra the following sentences should be ignored:—
• Irrelevant statements — those statements which have nothing to do with the real and meaningful aims of human life, (puruṣārthas).
• Useless statements — those sections which give fantastic and marvelous descriptions and information which cannot be successfully validated or utilized.
• Incongruous meanings — those which are not in harmony with the general purport or theme of the passage or text under consideration.
All this can be figured out only if the recurrent dominant theme, in other words purport, is discovered; for once this is done, all statements can be harmonised with the general purport and a consistent teaching formulated which can be applied.
Purport, therefore, provides the framework for understanding scriptural passages.
Determining the Purport:—
There are six criteria (ṣad-liṅga) which must be born in mind when looking for the purport of a particular text:—
1. Upakrama-upasaṃhāra — Harmony of the initial and concluding passages
2. Abhyāsa – Recurrence of the same theme
3. Apūrvata – Novelty of the teaching – any new conclusion discovered
4. Upapatti – The general context, consistency and relevance throughout -
5. Arthavāda – The metaphors eulogizing or condemning a specific vidhi.
6. Phala – Alleged results or expected outcomes of the teaching.
Subjectivity verses Objectivity
While these six criteria may help us to reach an objective textual interpretation, selective judgment based on one’s own personal agenda and sense of importance is unavoidable, therefore all interpretation is by nature more or less subjective.
Even in the scientific model of objective observation of facts, every conclusion has its objectors based on each individual scientist’s sense of importance.
The great masters of Mīmāṃsa and Vedānta (Kumarila and Prabhakara, Sankara and Ramanuja) knew and applied these criteria and principles rigorously, and yet still they arrived at slightly different interpretations.
We need to approach the subject matter with great humility and sincerity. But it also does not mean that we accept the conclusions of the masters’ blindly! We need to arrive at our own conclusions using theirs as markers.
LEVELS OF MEANING
With these guidelines we can then proceed to examine the different levels of meaning we find in the Sacred Texts.
a. Śabdārtha — the literal sense
For example all the gods and goddesses mentioned in the Vedas and Puranas can be accepted as they are — as polytheistic deities living in heaven and accepting the sacrifices offered to them and intervening in human affairs.
b. Bhāvartha — the allegorical sense
Based upon the statement within the Veda itself that there is only One Truth and the gods are manifestations of that Truth, we can then form a figurative or metaphoric understanding of the gods and goddesses as emanations or aspects of that One Truth - different facets of the ONE.
c. Lakṣyārtha — the esoteric meaning.
We could also interpret the deities as being subtle energies of the universe and aspects of our own consciousness, subtle forces that operate within the depths of the unconscious mind.
Indra is not just a god but is a symbol of the enlightened mind which uses the vajra (thunderbolt) representing discrimination to slay the demon Vrtra symbolising ignorance, which has stolen and hidden the cows representing the streams of wisdom.
These three levels of meaning can be found in many of the stories we read in the Rāmāyana, Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas - but not all of them.
Contradiction vs Paradox.
Contradiction is a logical error and applies to literal readings of a text or statement. A contradiction needs to be resolved by applying hermeneutics.
There may be contradiction in one single text; —
Manu 5:35. But a person who, being duly engaged (to officiate or to dine at a sacred rite — yajña), refuses to eat meat, becomes after death an animal during twenty-one existences.
Manu 5:48. Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to (the attainment of) heavenly bliss; let one therefore shun (the use of) meat.
or between 2 or more different texts;
Manu 9:65. In the sacred texts which refer to marriage the appointment (of widows) is nowhere mentioned, nor is the re-marriage of widows prescribed in the rules concerning marriage.
Paraśara 4:30 When the husband disappears, dies, goes forth to a mendicant life, becomes impotent, or falls from social status, then in all these five cases remarriage is ordained for women.
In the case of a contradiction in texts there are three options:—
1. Samuccaya (orderly co-ordination) — combine the two injunctions together and work out a compromise.
2. vikalpa (option) — choose one or the other courses of action.
3. bādha (annulment) — follow neither course of action as the one annuls the other.
virodhī yatra vākyānāṁ pramāṇaṁ tatra bhūyasam | tulya pramāṇaktve tu nyāya eva prakīrttitaḥ || Kātyāyana Smṛti 28:17)
When there is a contradiction, the decision of the majority is considered as authority. Where evidence is of equal weight, reason is described as the authority
Paradox is a tool that is used to explain the inexplicable or to introduce an extremely abstract concept by using the tension between 2 opposites.
tad ejati tan naijati tad dūre tadvantike | tad antarasya sarvasya tad u sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ || 5 ||
It moves and It moves not; It is far and It is near; It is within all this and It is also outside all this. (Iśāvāsya Upaṇiṣad 5.)
These apparently contradictory statements are not suggestive of the mental unbalance of the writer. He is struggling to describe what he experiences through the limitations of human thought and language. The Supreme is beyond the categories of thought. Thought is symbolic and so cannot conceive of the Absolute except through negations; yet the Absolute is not a void. It is all that is in time and yet is beyond time.
It is far because it is not capable of attainment by the ignorant and it is very near to the wise because It is their very Self.
Solving the Inevitable Contradictions
There are three avenues for resolving contradictions between two or more passages:
Hyperbole are exaggerated claims or outrageous statements that are forms of arthavāda and not to be taken literally. Hyperbole is common in many cultures, and is all too frequent in Hindu literature.
The numerous phala-śrutis or declared benefits of reciting certain stotras is one such device.
raṅganātha aṣṭakaṃ puṇyaṃ prātar utthāya yaḥ paṭhet | sarvān kāmān avāpnoti raṅgi sāyujyam āpnuyāt || 10 ||
Another is the benefits of taking a bath in a holy river or even just mentioning he name of the river:—
gaṅgā gaṅgeti yo bruyād yojanānāṃ śatairapi | mucyate sarva pāpebhyo viṣṇu-lokā sa gacchati ||
The person who simply recites the name Ganga, Ganga, even though thousands of kilometers away, will be absolved of all sinful reactions and will attain the realm of Vishnu.
A particularly nasty prescription is allegedly by Gautama who says:
Now, if a Sudra listens intentionally to the recitation of the Veda, his ears shall be filled with molten tin or lac. (Gautama 12:4)
It is extremely doubtful whether this was ever taken seriously or any such punishment was ever metered out. Certainly neither Manu nor Apastamba mention it. It has been the custom in South Indian temples for centuries to recite the Vedas during services and the majority of people attending the ceremonies would have been Sudras. During the daily, monthly and annual processions of the deities the Brahmins walk around the town with the palanquin of the deity loudly reciting the Vedas in the hearing of everyone standing within range.
Degree of Authority of Injunctions (Vidhi), Mantra & Corroborative Statements (Arthavāda).
“Authority” is defined as “the ability to influence somebody to do something that (s)he would not have, or could not have done”.
The Injunctions (vidhi) constitute Dharma and are therefore the essence of the śabda [Revelation].
Dharma is that act which is enjoined by the Veda through its injunctive passages and which is conducive to the happiness of all beings (abhyudaya).
Arthavādas as such are authoritative only in so far as they serve the distinctly useful purpose of helping the injunction or prohibition.
Mantras convey a distinct meaning indicative in most cases of the deity connected with the sacrifice enjoined elsewhere and therefore in themselves, have no authority whatsoever.
Summary - degrees of Scriptural Authority
The Hindu Scriptural library is vast and contains thousands of volumes - the bulk of which still remain unexamined & critically edited and untranslated.
Today we have the Smritis (Law Books) 36 Purāṇas, major & minor, the Upaṇiṣads and of course the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata.
In these texts there are hundreds of different opinions, contradictions, legends, stories, historical fiction, scientific nonsense and so on and so forth.
So what exactly should a student of Vedānta consider authentic and accept and what should be rejected as inauthentic or irrelevant?
The answer as to what is authoritative is given by Mīmāṁsa:–
1. The Injunctions (vidhi) constitute Dharma and are therefore the essence of the śabda [Revelation].
Dharma is that act which is enjoined by the Veda through its injunctive passages and which is conducive to the happiness of all beings (abhyudaya) i.e. the common good.
So the most important part of any passage or text is the positive injunctions or teachings which lead to personal growth, flourishing and happiness and the happiness of others.
2. Arthavādas as such are authoritative only in so far as they serve the distinctly useful purpose of helping the injunction or prohibition. So all the stories in the Purāṇas etc. which convey the positive or negative injunction should be discarded as the “packaging” and not taken literally. All the rewards and threat are metaphoric only.
3. Mantras convey a distinct meaning indicative in most cases of the deity connected with the sacrifice enjoined elsewhere, and therefore in themselves, have no authority whatsoever.
In the books on Law (Smṛti) written by various sages, in the 18 Traditional Texts (Purāṇas) and the two great epics (Itihāsas) Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata the direct injunctions are buried in a mass of verbiage of a purely descriptive character. These descriptive passages are relegated to the category of arthavāda and as such need not be taken as absolutely correct with regard to scientific, biological, geographical or historical fact. They are supportive onluy and can be disregarded.
These works were intended for the general public, who are of varying degrees of intelligence, and thus Vyāsa and the others inserted every kind of material in their works from pure injunctions to apparently useless and banal stories. The sole purpose was to make these works attractive to all people.
Another element was aesthetics and pleasure in an age in which the main form of entertainment was story-telling, to delight people with beautiful descriptions and entertaining fables.
There were and are some teachers of the Madhva and Gauḍiya sampradāyas who emphasize Purāṇa as the highest Scriptural authority but this is not accepted by the two major schools of Vedānta. The highest authority is the Veda only, because the transmission of the Vedas over 1000’s of years has been perfect and there has been no interpolation.
Itihāsa purāṇābhyām vedam sam-upabṛmhayet |
Bibhetyalpa śrutād vedo mām ayam prahariṣyati ||
The Veda is to be interpreted through means of the Itihāsas and Purāṇas. The Veda dreads a person of little learning fearing — “he will misunderstand me!” (Vasiṣṭha Dharma sūtra 27:6)
The primary sources of knowledge are the Vedas/Upaṇiṣads, the Purāṇas and Itihāsas are authoritative only in so far as they confirm and elucidate the Vedic teachings. They are not accepted as independent sources of knowledge.
So as students of Vedānta we accept any statement in the Purāṇas and Itihāsas which concurs with, or confirms or elaborates upon a statement found in the Vedas and the Upaṇiṣads. It the passage does not concur with, confirm or elaborate upon a Vedic teaching then it is to be rejected.
In Vedānta, reason/argument (tarka) is employed —
The dialectic used by Vedanta must be —
Both Mīmāmsa and Vedānta are hermeneutic philosophies, in which exegesis, apologetics, epistemology, metaphysics and ethics are synthesized.
According to both the great teachers, Gauḍapāda and Śankara, the true meaning of the Veda must be ascertained with methodical reasoning, and nothing else.
niścitam yukti-yuktam yat tat bhavati netarat
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