Vedic Epistemology

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    Sugandha Sharma

    Hare Krishna Rsiraja Prabhuji,

    Prabhuji can you please explain the system of vedic epistemology because people often times question the validity of shabda pramana and they say that vedic epistemology just assumes that shabda pramana is authentic and correct but there is no logical or rational basis for it? Therefore can you please explain how vedic epistemology is correct or how the shabda pramana is the only true evidence?

    Ashish Dalela

    Vedic epistemology is a big topic. You can begin by reading this article and this article.

    Reasoning operates based on some axioms. If we accept consciousness as the basic axiom, then reasoning itself is complete. However, this requires us to understand what reasoning is. Semantic Reasoning discusses this topic. Similarly, experience is also a complete method for knowledge, if we can incorporate all aspects of experience (not just sense experience). However, this requires us to understand what experience is, and how it arises. Material and Spiritual Natures covers this.

    Who are the “people” you are referring to? If you read books systematically, you will get all the answers. They will take you on a systematic journey, where you will learn about many problems, and their solutions. This is the only way to overcome doubts. Random approaches don’t work.

    Sugandha Sharma

    I read the article ‘Knowledge by Reason, Experiment and Authority’ and I got some questions:

    First of all, how do we choose the authority for discovery? Like there can be many authorities and we have options to choose from them then why is it that we only choose vedic scriptures as the authority for the discovery of truth?

    Secondly, as you wrote:

    So I don’t just accept the authority of Vedic texts blindly. I rather apply them to real conceptual and philosophical problems and show that this solution makes sense because it solves long-standing problems. So, there is practical utility in adopting these ideas. Then, I take these ideas a step further and then apply them to modern science and show that using these ideas we can create new theories which are much better than current theories.

    Does this mean that if we find another authority to tells us the truth and by the process of verification it solves all the problems and creates new theories that are even better than how vedic texts do, are we supposed to reject the vedic texts? And if yes then how can we ever be sure that there is no other genuine authority?

    Ashish Dalela

    Yes you can reject if you find a better authority. There is no force. But I can say confidently that you won’t find a better authority. However, it is up to you if you want to try alternative things.

    Using the analysis of modern subjects, I have created an alternative way to know that the Vedic system is the best system by applying its philosophy to the unsolved problems of numerous subjects in modern academia. I have shown why these problems are unsolved and logically unsolvable, because people have run into contradictions. Whichever answer they give, it contradicts another answer. By such contradictions, you can never solve all the problems. That is because of their assumptions. If we change the assumptions, then we can solve all the problems. Then, we can see that the changed assumptions are more complete. Similarly, by using the same ideas to solve problems across many subjects, I show that we don’t need many different ideas. The same idea applies to all problems and solves them. Thereby, the explanations are consistent.

    Similarly, I have explained how these ideas I am applying are not my ideas. They are all based on the philosophy of Vedic texts, but applied to the modern questions and problems. Those questions and problems are not the only ones. There are thousands of problems which are not being discussed right now, but they have been discussed in the past and solved using the same ideas. Then, all these texts are not talking about different things. They are talking about the same thing in different ways. Hence, the Vedic texts themselves constitute a consistent and complete system of knowledge.

    Finally, I have discussed the other religious or traditional systems of philosophy to analyze their problems, and how these have never existed in the Vedic system due to alternative ideas. Therefore, if you don’t like to begin from modern science, or Vedic texts, but want to start in alternative philosophies or religions, you can also understand why they have various problems.

    Doubt is unlimited. You can keep saying: How do I know? What about this or that problem? And the answer is: The more doubts you have, the more you have to study. You can start from Vedic texts, modern science, or alternative religions and philosophies. If you are ready to read, then there are many paths to the same destination based on different starting points. I have enabled many new paths. All these paths did not exist until a few years ago. People would say: How does this traditional knowledge compare to modern science? There is an answer to that now. They could say: How does this traditional knowledge compare to the other systems of traditional knoweldge? There is an answer to that now. Then, they could say: This traditional knoweldge says contradictory things. There is an answer to that now. More kinds of questions require more reading and inquiry.

    Then again, when you ask me about authority, do you realize that most decisions you are making are based on popularity, which is another form of authority? If others say it is good, then it must be good. If this video has lot of views, then it must be good to watch. If this product has thousand ratings, then it must be good. If this website gives good reviews, then it must be good.

    You are asking me questions about Vedic epistemology, but you have to ask: How are you choosing toothpaste, soap, and shampoo? That is a choice, isn’t it? And the answer is: popularity. Most of our daily choices are based on popularity, not reason, or experience. We pass the responsibility of choice to others, by making the same choice as them, because there is comfort in the crowd. We delay our decisions so that we can rely on other’s feedback on having tried the same thing. What is that if not authority? On the other hand, we reject those things that are not popular.

    All your questions on epistemology come down to: Why is this not popular? And the answer is simple: Everyone is waiting for someone else to make it popular. That means, we are not driven by questions of epistemology, such as reason and experience, the real merit of ideas, and so forth. We are all driven by authority of choices made by others. But, I’m not insisting on that authority. I’m saying: You can study and analyze. There are so many additional paths for people who really want to know. If we are truly interested in epistemological methods, then we will make the effort.

    Sugandha Sharma

    So is it right to say that, according to all that we know as of now, vedic texts are the only way to know the truth because they are the best authority, but there exists a chance of the existence of a better authority and that chance is almost negligible?

    Ashish Dalela

    Yes, after 4,320,000 years, another Kali-yuga will come. At that time another Veda Vyas will again compile the Vedas. Veda means knowledge, and Vyas means division. Veda Vyas means one who divides knowledge into different books. So, it will be the same knowledge, but it could be divided in a different set of books. Someone could say: This is better. But in practice, nobody who comes across Veda then will remember the books from 4,320,000 years ago. So, it is a pipe dream.

    Vedic texts are not the only way to know the truth. One can know the truth by severe austerities. Similarly, one who has developed a loving relationship with Krishna knows everything, because He can ask Krishna anything, and Krishna knows everything. There are other ways to know. But none of those apply to you right now. Therefore, Vedic texts are the only way to know for you.

    Vedic texts are a perfect authority. You are relativizing things as good, better, best, because you have no clue about perfect, complete, and full. There comes a point in knowledge when there is no more need for knowledge, because everything is known. That is perfection of knowledge.

    Sugandha Sharma

    Thank you so much for the answer Prabhuji.

    Also one last question: How did our Acharyas establish the vedic epistemology because at their time there was no modern science and verification by fixing the problems of modern science wasn’t possible? Also how did Srila Prabhupada establish the validity of the shabda pramana because as far as I have read I never came across Srila Prabhupada using the ‘verification by fixing problems of modern science’ to establish the authority of the vedic texts?

    Ashish Dalela

    When you buy products from an online retailer based on the product ratings, how do you know that they are not rigging the ratings? They can manipulate ratings, can’t they? The answer is: You trust the online retailer. Why? Why do you trust them? Because it generally works for everyone.

    Similarly, when the government says that the country had some GDP for the last year, why do you believe it? They can manipulate the GDP numbers, can’t they? The answer is: You trust the government. Why? Why do you trust them? Because it generally works for everyone.

    Likewise, when the teacher says that you should study these parts of a book closely to be successful in an exam, why do you believe it? They can deceive you, can’t they? The answer is: You trust the teachers. Why? Why do you trust them? Because it generally works for everyone.

    As I have been explaining, your entire life is based on faith on authority. You just think you are rational and skeptical but you are not. You put your faith in hundreds of sources of authority everyday. Why? Why do you trust them? Because it generally works for everyone.

    In the same way, the Vedic system was earlier based on faith in authority. People put their faith in books and teachers. Why? Why did they trust them? Because it generally worked for everyone. That faith, however, isn’t the sole criterion. You can also ask questions of the teacher. Thereby, people went to teachers due to faith, and that faith was substantiated because their teachings worked. Then, they also asked questions, and they got satisfactory answers, which were also practically realizable, theoretically justified, and led to intended results. Because it worked, hence, it was trusted.

    This is why it is said that one must approach a teacher to learn, and Vedic texts were given so much importance. But it was not irrational faith, or blind faith. It was faith that had to be proven to work in this world, in people’s lives, and each person had to realize that truth individually.

    There is a difference between faith and blind faith. Abrahamic religions are blind faith, which means: Don’t analyze our teachings, don’t ask questions, don’t discuss alternatives. If you do that, then we will call you Satanic, and you will be killed. We are opposed to blind faith. But we are not opposed to rational faith, which means you approach a teacher based on faith, ask questions, analyze, and if you don’t like them, there is no coercion. You will not be called Satanic.

    People don’t understand the difference between faith and blind faith. Blind faith is never proven to work, and it cannot be questioned. Faith in a teacher, that leads to questions and realization, is not blind faith. You can never be free of faith in some authority. You will trust the medicine provider that the medicine will not kill you. You will trust the government, that it is mostly telling the truth. You will trust millions of people because there is simply no way around the problem. Even to use some reason and observation, you have to get something to test by reason and observation. And that initial contact with the idea, product, or service depends on faith in the source of such things.

    So, all these questions you are asking are based on false ideas as you have not analyzed your current situation. You are misled by false beliefs that you are rational, when you are relying on faith all the time. The situation was not different earlier. The Vedic system was based on teachers who were trusted because their teaching always worked. That trust is now lost because the Vedic system is called “blind faith” in the same way that Christianity, Islam, and others are called “blind faith”. This is a false propaganda by the modern intelligensia. They have a vested agenda in you discarding the older system of trust, and start trusting them instead. They are criticizing something better by hiding their own flaws. They don’t have conclusive knowledge, but they want you to follow them.

    This is why I have spent so much time to show why the intelligensia or modern society are not trustworthy, because all their theories are flawed, full of contradictions, and will never produce any truth. However, these elites have a power of propaganda through wealth that I do not. By propaganda they can create popularity because the people are not intelligent to ask questions. In fact, if you ask many questions, you will be treated as Satan, without using that word.

    So, you have to stop asking all these questions, and introspect on a few things:

    • Are you really free of faith? Or do you put your faith in millions of people? In fact, are you even free of blind faith–which means faith without the ability to verify it?
    • Are you really analyzing the people whom you have put your faith into? For example, have you really analyzed modern science? Or, are you just accepting them blindly?
    • Are you applying the same yardsticks to the Vedic system when you demand to know epistemology, when you don’t apply that yardstick to scientific epistemology?
    • Do you realize that you are equating the Vedic system to Christianity and Islam, which are blind faith systems, when I am talking about studying the books rationally?

    A man fell inside a well, and someone came to save him. But instead of taking his hand, the man inside the well says: I will hold your hand only after you have proven to me that your hand will take me out of the well. Until you can prove that I will be saved from the well by taking your hand, I will not take it. Such a man remains inside the well, because he rejects the help given to him.

    Faith is required to bootstrap a process. You cannot lift yourself by pulling on your boots. So, you take someone’s hand, and they lift you. But they cannot prove anything if you don’t take the hand. That doesn’t mean you rely on faith alone. You test if by holding the hand you are getting lifted. So, there is both doubt and faith. Faith is in holding the hand. Doubt is checking if I’m getting lifted.

    Srila Prabhupada did not use science to establish the Vedas, because it is not necessary. You can study Vedic texts themselves, and know everything perfectly. However, because people are foolish and egostistical, they cannot understand these books. Before they start reading the books, they ask a million questions. They are men fallen in a well who challenge the man trying to help him.

    Therefore, Srila Prabhpuada also asked his disciples to write a new set of books to establish the science of soul, God, and matter in a different way. This is also Veda because Veda means knowledge. It is not Veda produced by Veda Vyas, because you have rejected Veda Vyas and the way he has presented knowledge. Therefore, we are presenting the same Veda in a new way.

    The books I have written are completely unnecessary, if we put some trust in the traditional system and study it under the guidance of an enlightened spiritual master. However, in this day and age, 99.999% people will not. My books are to guide such people. It is a reformulation of Veda.

    Instead of seeing this as a response to your rejection of Veda Vyas, you are questioning the attempt. This is like the man fallen in a well. The person who is trying to help says: If you don’t want to hold my hand, you can hold a rope. Or we will give you a ladder that you can use yourself. But the foolish and egotistical keep asking: How do we trust your rope and ladder? There is no answer to that. A person has to be intelligent to grasp the proverb: The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    Sugandha Sharma

    Understood Prabhuji. So there is no way that the truth or reality can be known solely on the basis of either faith or reasoning. Both faith and reasoning have to be used. If we depend only on faith then it will be blind faith, and if we depend on reasoning then we will reach no conclusions. Did I understand it right Prabhuji?

    Ashish Dalela

    Everything can be known just by reasoning and experience, otherwise, how can God create the world rationally and know everything by observation? Earlier in this answer, I said the following:

    Reasoning operates based on some axioms. If we accept consciousness as the basic axiom, then reasoning itself is complete. However, this requires us to understand what reasoning is. Semantic Reasoning discusses this topic. Similarly, experience is also a complete method for knowledge, if we can incorporate all aspects of experience (not just sense experience). However, this requires us to understand what experience is, and how it arises. Material and Spiritual Natures covers this.

    This was the first answer above. Reasoning and observation are not incomplete but they become incomplete if we use a mechanized and materialized system of reasoning (modern logic and mathematics) and a mechanized and materialized system of observation (instrument measurement). These systems are impersonal, and not like a person. Like a machine cannot understand scriptures, know the world perfectly by observation, or ask good questions and grasp the answers, similarly, a mechanized and materialized consciousness also cannot understand.

    A person has loving tendency, but a machine doesn’t. In a person, knowledge automatically springs from within, but in a machine it has to be fed from outside. A person has the capacity to control itself, but a machine has to be controlled by someone else. A person can do self-analysis and self-reflection, and correct its faults; a machine cannot detect or correct its faults; it has to be always diagnosed and corrected by someone else. So, there is a big difference between person and impersonal. But right now we have become impersonalized due to the influence of matter.

    To become personalized, means (a) spontaneous loving tendency, (b) spontaneous springing of knowledge within, (c) complete self-control, and (d) spontaneous self-analysis and self-correction.

    Similarly, to be mechanized and materialized means: (a) act based on selfishness rather than love, (b) to know something, information has to be fed from outside, (c) absence of self-control of body and mind, and (d) complete absence of self-analysis, fault detection, and self-correction.

    Try to understand that you are right now like a machine, not like a person. And a machine cannot understand scriptures, observe the deeper realities, or even ask good questions. A machine has literally no comprehension power. To get all these things back, the first step is to demechanize and dematerialize the consciousness. That is called the purification of consciousness.

    Faith is necessary in religion only because the consciousness has been mechanized and materialized, and it has to be purified by a process. That process has to be accepted on faith, because the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is not blind faith, because you will become demechanized and dematerialized continuously, and by that progressive path, you will see yourself differently.

    As you become dematerialized and demechanized slowly, then, scriptural study, reasoning, and observation become perfect methods to make progress. Then you will understand how everything can be known perfectly by Vedic scriptures alone, by reasoning alone, by observation alone, and by devotion alone. However, that is because you have now become a person. All the methods are perfect for persons and none of the methods are suitable for machines. For a machine, there is only one method: Follow a process of gradual purification, and try to regain your personhood.

    The process of purification is also Krishna’s kindness. We have become machines, then He has given us a system of elevation which we can elevate ourselve by chanting Hare Krishna mantra repeatedly like a machine. This was Prabhupada’s formula–chant Hare Krishna and eat prasada–because this all that a mechanized and materialized consciousness can do. If you do that, then slowly you will realize your personhood by dematerialization and demechanization. Then you can use the other methods of scriptural study, reasoning, observation, and progress through them too.

    This problem today is that people cannot see their own faults. They cannot see how they have become just like robots. They have no spontaneous love; everything is selishness. They have no spontaneous inner inspiration or automatic springing of knowledge. They have no self-control. And they are constantly pushed by others, which they cannot resist. All these humans, who have become robots, have been indoctrinated to repeat the same nonsense by a system of misinformation. They cannot see their problems, because there is no capacity for self-reflection, self-analysis.

    A robot cannot understand scriptures, cannot ask good questions, cannot observe the world. This is why faith is necessary: If someone is a robot, they have to be given a robotic activity to purify them. But people cannot understand why that activity is the only way to regain their personhood.

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