How is Vedanta a – प्रमाण – pramana, means of knowledge?

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Vedanta means the Upanisads. Vijnana विज्ञान means visesa-jnana विशेष ज्ञान the particular knowledge, the unique knowledge that Vedanta or the Upanisads reveal. Vedanta is pramana – प्रमाण or a means of knowledge. Just as eyes are pramana, the valid means of ‘ knowledge to perceive colors and forms, or the faculty of hearing is the means of knowledge to perceive sounds; so also Vedanta is the valid means of knowledge for knowing the self which cannot be known by any other means of knowledge. We have the organs of perception, with which We perceive the objects of the world, but the self is not an object. The self is the subject, my own self, so it cannot be perceived with the organs of perception, and therefore it cannot be the object of any other pramana such as inference, presumption, or comparison, which are all based on perception. For example, we can infer that there is fire on the hill ‘when we see smoke. Inference is based on some perceptible evidence we perceive the smoke and therefore infer the presence of fire. So when atman, the self, is not available for perception, it is also not available for other means of knowledge, like inference, presumption, and comparison, which depend on perception.

Upanisad is not a means of knowledge in the sense that eyes are a means of knowledge to see this flower, or my faculty of smell IS the means of knowledge to experience its fragrance. The eyes reveal the colors and forms, but Vedanta does not reveal atma. We should know in what manner the word pramana (means of knowledge) is used for Vedanta. When 1 we say that eyes are pramana for color and form it means that ‘ color and form are revealed by the eyes. Without the eyes one would not be able to perceive color or form. We cannot experience the fragrance of a flower Without the faculty of smell, and we cannot experience the touch of the flower without the faculty of touch. Can we say that we cannot experience the self without the Upanisad? No we cannot say that because we ever experience the self. I do not require anybody to tell me that I am. That I am is a self-evident fact I am, I shine, I am conscious, I always love myself (अहम् अस्मि सदा भामि कदाचिन अहम् अप्रिय ! Aham asmi, sada bhami, kadacinn aham apriyah). That I am, that I am conscious, that I never dislike myself, that I always love myself are all self-evident facts about me, and therefore I do not need Upanisad to know that I am; I do not need Upanisad to know that I am conscious; I do not need Upanisad to know that I love myself.

If Upanisad is not pramana in the sense of revealing the atmanआत्मा, in what sense is it pramana? It is pramana for me to know that I am nondual, that I am brahman ब्रह्मन्, that I am limitless. For gaining that knowledge, Upanisad becomes pramana If we did not experience the self, then there would be no problem at all in life, there would be no samsara, because error can take place only when there is an experience. N 0 experience, no error. Is it not so? When can I mistake the rope for a snake? Only when the rope becomes an object of my awareness and I do not recognize it as a rope, then I take it to be a snake. We may say that I have the general knowledge of rope, but not the particular knowledge of rope. I See that there is an Object, so the is-ness is known, but the rope-ness is not known. This ‘ kind of a unique condition should obtain for error or superimposition to take place. If. I see a rope, but not as a rope, then my mind will project a snake or something else there. If it were pitch dark and I could not see anything, then I would have neither general knowledge nor particular knowledge, so no superimposition would take place. On the other hand, in broad daylight I would see the object as rope and have both general knowledge and particular knowledge, so again no superimposition would take place. But in the evening, in a twilight situation or semi-dark situation, when I see the object but do not see the rope-ness of it, that is when the superimposition takes place.

It is similar with the self also. I experience myself all right; I have the general knowledge of myself, that I am; without that, there would be no scope for superimposition. In the deep sleep state, when I am not even aware that I am, there’s no superimposition, there’s no samsara, meaning there is no sense of smallness or inadequacy there. In deep Sleep we are blissful, blissfully ignorant, because in the deep sleep state there IS neither general knowledge nor particular knowledge of am. The wise person is the one who is blissful because he has both. He has the general knowledge that he is and l the particular knowledge that he is brahman, nondual Everyone else has the general knowledge of being, but not the particular knowledge of being limitless, of being brahman; then one takes oneself to be jivatma, a limited being. That is why Upanisad is; the pramana to reveal the particular aspect that I am nondual; I am brahman. Thus, Upanisad becomes pramana not for revealing the self, but for revealing the particular aspect of the self about which we entertain this error or adhyasa (superimposition). Basically, statements of Upanisad remove adhyasa, or adhyaropa, or superimposition, and thus reveal the nature of the self truly as it is

The vijnana the particular knowledge that Vedanta revels is तत्त्वमासि  – tat tvam asi, you are brahman, you are limitless. This cannot be revealed by any available means of knowledge. Vedanta is the only source of knowledge which tells us and makes us see that I am limitless, I am nondual, I am the self of all, I alone am, there is nothing other than I.

I am that I which does not exclude you. The meaning of the word I changes. It becomes I that does not exclude anything; it’s all-inclusive. I recognize that I am all-inclusive, there is. nothing apart from me, nothing separate from me. This is what Vedanta teaches us. Only when we recognize that as the nature of the self, do we become totally free from every lack, because when nothing is apart from me, then nothing is lacking in me; I am complete in every way. Then there’s a total satisfaction about myself. That is the Vedanta-vijnana. Suniscitarthah सुनिस्चितरथः  are those who have the ascertained understanding about what Vedanta teaches, those people in whom this determinate knowledge which Lord Krsna calls vyavasaydtmika-buddhi व्यवसायात्मिका बुधि  has arisen that “This is the knowledge that I want”. Pujya Swamiji says that a mature person has no choice. The immature person has many choices. People who do not have that determination in their life, for them there are many choices, today this, tomorrow something else, and so forth. But for a mature person there’s no choice, because a mature person recognizes that all I want is to know myself,1 all I Want is this knowledge. There’s no real choice. The only choice is for inconsequential things like whether to eat idli or pasta, but for important goals there is no real choice; Whatever he does IS all directed to the gaining of the knowledge. That’ s Called samadhana समाधान; the mind is very clear. Take hiking as an example. We know that we want to reach a destination, and then every step leads to that destination. You might choose a particular path, either a steep one or one that takes a longer time, but every step is directed toward the destination. So also, a mature person would not waste even a moment, would not waste any ‘ opportunity at all, in anything other than making his whole life a process of reaching his destination. Here, reaching is nothing but knowing and making whatever preparation is required for that knowledge. That’s called devotion. That’s called commitment. So vedantavijnana-suniscitarthah वेदान्तविज्ञान सुनिस्चितर्थः are those people who have discovered that commitment for the knowledge that Vedanta reveals, namely that the self is brahman.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Kaivalyopanisad

Links to Swamiji’s talks & discourses


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