Philosophical Views and Certain Knowledge

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Mar 17 11:23:19 CST 1999

On Tue, 16 Mar 1999, Parisi & Watson wrote:

> I have a question that's not so much about the Advaita teachings
> themselves as about our stance in relation to them. I hope it will still
> be considered appropriate for the list.

I think it is appropriate because it seems to me a lot of the
controversies that occur here boil down to exactly this question.

> When bringing up the ideas of Vedanta in contexts outside this mailing
> list, I have occasionally been met with the response, "Have you
> experienced this yourself, or are you just spouting the ideas of
> others?" with the clear implication that it is presumptuous and
> fraudulent to offer as true ideas that I have not verified in my own
> experience. Even here in the list, I have seen the statement, "Those who
> know do not speak, and those who speak do not know."
> What is our most appropriate, humble, and above all honest stance in
> this regard? If we didn't accept Advaita as at least plausible and
> potentially true, then why would we even participate in the list? But,
> on the other hand, where is the boundary line between accepting
> something as hypothetically true in order to investigate it further and
> seek direct verification, and dogmatically advocating ideas that to us
> are merely second hand and largely unconfirmed?

Implicit in the kind of arguments you describe is the idea that there is
some kind of supra-rational "knowledge beyond knowledge" that supercedes
mere "book-learning."  But I don't see why gaining some knowledge from a
book or hearing it from a person (in the ideal traditional Indian way of
doing things, this would be the same thing) is any less of a personal
experience than anything else.  And I think most people woefully
underestimate how much of what they think are original ideas and how much
they owe to others.  So my answer would be, yes, I have experienced this
myself.  The retort may be that while this is an experience it is not the
kind of experience that is meant.  Well, if there is some kind of
experience out there that can only be gotten at through mystical means how
is it possible to communicate it?  If the opponent says it isn't, then why
is he arguing?  He has no reason for not accepting the assertion
at face value.  If he says it is, then the means of communication should
be examined.  10 times out of 10 they will turn out to be sensory and then
the normal rules of rationality apply because sensory experience is all
the Human species knows.  (Note: if you are debating with aliens all bets
are off! :-)

> And as individuals, how
> do we gain enough assurance of the truth of ideas that we have not yet
> personally verified to justify spending a lifetime, or even several
> lifetimes, in their pursuit? There must be some latitude in this regard,
> since if only the end result can justify the entire endeavor, then how
> would we ever
> begin?

There can't be any assurance in the beginning.  It's a gamble.  Faith in
the Guru and the teachings of Vedanta are necessary prerequisites for
Sadhana.  If a person doesn't have them, they should find something else.
There is nothing wrong with that.  I don't think anyone would be
well-served by a philosophy that tried to be everything to everyone.  For
those who make the gamble, the assurance will develop.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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