The Pitfalls of Intellectual Debates on Vedanta (fwd)

Ravisankar S. Mayavaram msr at REDDY20.TAMU.EDU
Wed Jul 2 15:26:08 CDT 1997

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 01 Jul 1997 10:17:04 -0400
From: Ram Chandran <chandran at>
To: vidya at
Cc: chandran at
Subject: The Pitfalls of Intellectual Debates on Vedanta

Dear Shri Vidyasankar;

        Let me take this opportunity to congratulate you for your excellent
work on the Home Page. I am very happy to say  that I thoroughly enjoyed
the exhaustive list of materials on Vedanta in general and Advaita
Philosophy in particular.  This home page is a great asset to those who
are interested in getting a working knowledge of Vedantic philosophies.
Thank you for your service to the humanity.
        I have a request. I have my comments to Advaita-L group on recent
discussions.  Please post this for me because I haven't subscribed to
the list.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

With my kind regards!
Ram Chandran.

                         Posting Material Below:
         Recently, while browsing the Advaita Home Page, I happened to read the
Advaita-L listings.  I joined the Advaita group when Shri Vidyasankar
Sundaresan started this group few years back.  Shri Gridhar Madras has
sent me an E-mail asking me to join the group.  After few weeks of my
membership, I noticed that the discussions became more focused on the
validity and relative merits of Vedantic philosophies.  Some of the
well known religious scholars in India including Kanchi Kamakoti Peedam
Paramacharya (Periyaval)  have rightly expressed the view that such
debates are futile and should be avoided.  Intellectual debates on
issues that are beyond human intelligence will not enrich spiritual life
and should be avoided as for as possible.  I was not comfortable in
participating intellectual debates to establish my Ego and hence I
decided to quit the group.  I browsed through some recent postings  (3rd
and 4th weeks of June), and found that the discussions continued to
focus on debating the validity of Advaita.

        When the subject matter of discussion focuses on relative merits or
demerits of different Vedantic philosophies then such discussions are
likely to develop an Intellectual Crisis. Intellectual Crisis always
brings chaos and utter confusion.  Instead of focusing on the
philosophical issues, such debates centered on the abilities of the
debaters.  One of the themes of Advaita is to curtail Ego and debates
kindle Ego!  At some threshold point it is necessary for the intellect
to bow down to faith and intuition.  It is intellectually arrogant for
anyone to believe that through arguments,  we can  come to a conclusive
position and there will be no disagreement whatsoever.  None of us can
ever claim that we have completely understood our scriptures and the
philosophical and religious dogmas that have been postulated in the
past.  If anyone dares to make such claims, no one will ever believe!
        I hope that the debate that took place long time back  between
Sankaracharya and Mandana Misra will open our eyes and ears.  Mandana
Misra's wife Bharathi (considered reincarnation of Goddess Saraswati)
was appointed as the referee.  The debate was not decided by
intellectual abilities of these two masters.  Instead, the debaters were
garlanded with two identical flower garlands. These two great intellects
had the humility to bow down to faith in the miracle of whether their
respective garlands withered away or not.  The debate continued for
several weeks Sankaracharya was declared the winner by the adjudicator,
the wife of his opponent!  This episode once again illustrates the
superiority of faith and intuition over intellectual ability.  Faith and
Intuition are parts of Hindu tradition and Advaita is no exception.

 Now let me turn my attention to the following issue raised by Allan
Curry who wrote:

>It seems most religions base themselves on some kind of scripture which
>gives valid epistemological status to "things that are not perceived
>or inferred" in any other way. Most religions feel quite certain that their
>scripture is correct and the other fellow's scripture is "make believe".
>I had hoped Advaita Vedanta could establish its truth independently of
>Sruti (if that means scripture) and perhaps it can although it seems
>a little doubtful to me at this point.

        First, let me assure Allan, that Hindu scriptures do accept the view
that TRUTH is always independent of religion, dogma and belief.   But
the scriptures want the believers to approach the TRUTH starting with
some belief.  Scientists also explore TRUTH by postulating Hypotheses.
Hence the Hindu approach does not deviate from normal intellectual
practice of investigation.    Two feasible approaches are available  to
search for the TRUTH:  The first is the path of no faith or the concept
"Truth is a Pathless Land " proposed by J. Krishnamurty.  This approach
asks the seeker to refrain from accepting any religion, dogma, or
belief.  In the second approach the seeker first accepts his (her) faith
on a specific religion or dogma and continues the search for the TRUTH.
Hinduism and Advaita the second approach where faith and intuition play
an important role in the search for the TRUTH.  There is a difference
between "blind faith" and "faith."  Let me give an example. To learn the
truth of physics, I approach a teacher.  It is important that I have
faith on ability of the teacher.  This faith does not preclude me to ask
questions to clear my doubts.  I  have no blind faith and hence I go and
verify the teacher's assertions in library, books, and Internet! The
teacher becomes the vehicle and the seeker is the driver and driver is
the controller of the vehicle!  The seeker of TRUTH also verifies the
statements postulated in the scriptures and/or dogmas using personal
experience.  Intuitions are always based on experience and knowledge and
it can certainly vary by individual.  Once we reach the destination, the
vehicle is irrelevant and religion, dogma and faith become irrelevant
when the seeker knows the TRUTH. .
        Let me quote this famous saying in the Upanishad on human life: "Life
is a bridge, enjoy while crossing, but don't build a castle on it."  In
summary, self-realization is nothing more than this simple fact.  We are
great creators and each of us create a whole world around us!  Sankara
claims that all  such creations are illusions. When  we completely
detach our "SELF" from the illusory  world and attach the "SELF" with
"Brahman" then World becomes irrelevant. For Advaitic philosophy, the
material world is irrelevant.  Sankara was correct in ignoring the
irrelevant material world in theorizing the Advaita Philosophy.  I am
fully aware that any interpretation of scriptures and religion is based
on faith and intuition.  Faith and intuition varies by individuals and
hence there will be always disagreements. Such disagreements do no prove
that a religion or dogma is wrong! It only confirms the famous quotation
in the Upanishads: "The more I know, I realize that more I don't know!"

        Allan had expressed his doubt on the verification of personal
experiences of  "Self- realization."  Those who are inside the Black
Hole and those experience "Self-Realization" will not be able to
describe what it is.  This is a limitation and we have to accept this
fact with faith and intuition!  Let me thank the Advaita Group for this
opportunity to participate.  I hope that Advaita group focuses the
discussions more on getting new insights on Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita,
Vivekachudamani, etc.

Ram Chandran.

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