The Pitfalls of Intellectual Debates on Vedanta (fwd)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Sun Jul 13 23:53:47 CDT 1997

I'm afraid I must disagree with some of what you say below.

>          Recently, while browsing the Advaita Home Page, I happened to read
> 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.

If you really believe truth is one (and I don't think anyone denies
Advaita Vedanta does), how can you accept multiple claims to truth?
Obviously only one is correct.  One way around this is to say that
different philosophies are true on different levels or from different
perspectives.  But that is still assigning validity and relative merits.

> 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.

Not knowing in what context the Swami of Kanchi made that remark I cannot
speak on his motives but it should be noted that from the Brahma Sutra to
the works of Shankaracharya, to the succesive heads of the Kanchi maths
themselves, the history of the Advaita parampara is full of such debates.
Now all of a sudden they've become futile?  Perhaps nowadays people are
more ignorant and most are not intellectually equipped to engage in debate
but that is the fault of the debaters not the issues that need debating.

>  Intellectual debates on
> issues that are beyond human intelligence will not enrich spiritual life
> and should be avoided as for as possible.

There are many ways in which a sound intellect can enrich spiritual life.
Doubt is the major obstacle on the path to Moksha.  Just as a strong
person finds it easier to swim in a torrent than a weakling a person who
is strengthened by logic will find it much easier to withstand the
perturbations of the mind than an irrational one.

> 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.

There are some people on this list who are pretty ignorant even downright
delusional but at least since I've been reading it I don't think I've met
anyone who I felt was insincere.  Unfortunately good intentions != truth
but at least by asking questions people may find there way to truth.  So I
don't know what these debates to establish ego that you're refering to
are.  But there have been debates to ascertain truth and this is a good
thing.  Advaita Vedanta makes some pretty big claims and it is right and
proper for people to try and determine their validity.  People who accept
things creduously end up trying to hitch rides on comets.

>         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.

Then, again, it is the fault of the debaters for not conducting the debate
properly.  A proper debate will illuminate and explain.  And I think for
the most part we have had proper debates here.

> 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 doesn't have to be an either/or.  Use of the intellect can be the
expression of faith.

> 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.

Then all of the Advaita parampara is arrogant because that is exactly what
we claim.

> 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!

well I know I cannot--for now.  But I can hope that one day I will.  I
cannot stop trying just because the task is arduous.

Why would the Kanchi math have established pathashalas where Brahman boys
"waste" their time on learning the shastras and debate if its leaders
thought it was of no value?

>         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!

What you neglect to mention is the miracle was only supposed to happen
_for_the_one_with_the_greatest_intellect.  It was only after Shankaracharya
proved he was the master of all fields of knowledge--even kama shastra by
entering the body of the dead Raja of Kashmir--that the miracle could

> 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.

The greatest expositor of the role of faith in Vedanta is Swami Madhusudana
Saraswati and it worthy to note he is also the author of one of the most
famous polemical works of our darshan called Advaitasiddhi.

>  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.

No they don't.  Vedanta as the name suggests makes its stand on the Vedas
and considers the Vedas alone as truth.  Advaita Vedanta suggests that the
ritual vidhis in the karmakanda are not useful for jnana but it in no way
denies their validity or suggests they are not the last word in their own
sphere of influence.

> 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. .

>From the standpoint of physics it doesn't matter if the teacher is
incompetent or not or if the student doubts him or not.  The laws of
physics are laws because they do _not_ depend on the presence of an
observer.  Similiarly the Vedic conception of Dharma is more than the
situational ethics of a particular group of people.  It is the very law of
nature and one cannot dismiss it anymore than one can dismiss the law of
gravity.  The only innovation Vedanta adds here is that the Jnani is not
bound by Dharma but even for him it is hardly irrelevant.  As long as he
is in any kind of position of having to deal with other people, he is
bound by the laws of Dharma.  This is how the Shankaracharya can be
simultaneously renouncers and "Jagad"gurus.

> I am
> fully aware that any interpretation of scriptures and religion is based
> on faith and intuition.

Vedanta being the Uttara Mimamsa employs the Mimamsaka method of rigorous
logical analysis of text.  It is through this method that the shastras are
interpreted.  Intuition has no place in Vedanta and faith needs only to be
faith in the method.

> 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!

With the information we have at our disposal we can definitely say _many_
religions and dogmas are wrong.  There are still some disagreements left
outstanding but we have hope we will eventually resolve them.

> I hope that Advaita group focuses the
> discussions more on getting new insights on Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita,
> Vivekachudamani, etc.

I hope so too but unless we are prepared to use our brains there aren't
going to be any new insights.

Jaldhar H. Vyas [jaldhar at]   And the men .-_|\ who hold
Consolidated Braincells Inc.                          /     \ -)~~~~~~~~  Perth->*.--._/  o-
"Witty quote" - Dead Guy   /\/\/\ _ _ ___ _  _ Amboy       v      McQ!
>From ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU Mon Jul 14 01:03:06 1997
Message-Id: <MON.14.JUL.1997.010306.0400.ADVAITAL at TAMU.EDU>
Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 01:03:06 -0400
Reply-To: "Advaita (non-duality) with reverence" <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
To: "Advaita (non-duality) with reverence" <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
From: "Jaldhar H. Vyas" <jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM>
Subject: Re: Testing the realization of "gurus"
Comments: To: "Advaita (non-duality) with reverence" <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
In-Reply-To: <199707030100.SAA07854 at>
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On Wed, 2 Jul 1997, Allan Curry wrote:

> Question: Is it OK to try to ascertain whether a "guru" actually is a realized
> being by asking such questions of them, or are we supposed to just "take it
> or leave it"? Is witnessing the sleep state a legitimate criteria to use to
> determine who is a realized being and who is not?

Certainly!  We are human beings not lemmings and there are a lot of
charlatans out there.

> Question: Can a teacher help AT ALL if they are not a completely realized
> being themselves?

As long as someone is within the confines of earthly existance they will
not be able to show 100% of what it means to be realized but they can
still show the way.  The problem with jnana isn't that it is not
understood but that most people don't have the will to do what is required
of them.

Jaldhar H. Vyas [jaldhar at]   And the men .-_|\ who hold
Consolidated Braincells Inc.                          /     \ -)~~~~~~~~  Perth->*.--._/  o-
"Witty quote" - Dead Guy   /\/\/\ _ _ ___ _  _ Amboy       v      McQ!

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