discussions on advaita

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri Oct 25 00:07:03 CDT 2002

On Thu, 24 Oct 2002, Subrahmanian, Sundararaman V [IT] wrote:

> Dear Sri Vaidya Sundaram,
> Thank you for highlighting this.
> > We need all types of knowledge). I think all of us would
> > immensely benefit
> > by constant repeating to ourselves this as if it were a mantra!
> While I appreciate the spirit with which you say I am afraid that it might
> not help.  The reason being that what paramaachaaryaH has expressed is not
> an emotional sentiment of compassion but something that requires
> understanding.  It is important to "understand" how advaita is able to
> accept all other theories and still remain vindicated and not negated.  And
> for somebody to say so, one has to know advaita very well.  The statement
> was the culmination of deep/proper understanding.  If we have to feel the
> way paramaachaaryaH feels, then we should understand advaita as well as He
> did.

And even more so we should understand the opponents of Vedanta as well as
he did. The main point I got from his words is that as Advaitins we cannot
simply declare some area off-limits because it is not "ours" In fact all
truth, all knowledge whether it is nyaya or quantam physics is part of our
shastra.  Of course some knowledge is more useful for certain tasks then
others but there is no truth which is not worth knowing.

> While on this topic, I would like to narrate a small conversation I had with
> Swami Dayananda Sarasvati which might be an interesting read to some.
> Below, the Q is myself and A is Swamiji.
> Q:  Swamiji, While you teach Vedanta in your institutions can you also teach
> nyaaya and mimaamsa also?
> A:  By mimaamsa you mean poorva mimaamsa?  Uttara mimaamsa is already being
> taught (refering to brahmasutra classes held by Him frequently).  Regarding
> nyaaya, it is a very difficult subject.

Yet people learn it in college all the time.

>  It will take years for me to train somebody in nyaaya.  After all the
> efforts, I will have to negate it ie., prove to him that nyaaya falls
> short and that it cannot reveal the Truth.

This is a big practical problem.  What do you sacrifice in order to learn
as much as you can in as short a time?  But I think the person  who takes
the time to learn such a profound subject even to make a balidana of it is
much better off in the long run.

> [Another Swamiji added:  we won't have anybody in the class, at the most one
> or two people turn up for such classes].

This is a bogus reason.  Is a Guru supposed to be a master or a servant?
If the Guru says you need to learn this and a shishya doesn't turn up
either a. he doesn't trust his Guru to act for his welfare. or b. he is to
lazy or egotistical to do what is right and proper.  In either why bother
with such people as they will never be able to progress in Vedanta anyway?

>  Some nyaaya is needed to
> understand Vedanta.  But that much of logical thinking is obtained from
> modern education (meaning regular school/college education).  The logic
> obtained from regular science and math subjects is enough preparation to
> handle the requirements of logical thinking in Vedanta.

There is the cultural aspect to consider too.  When Shankaracharya is
talking about nyaya he isn't talking to some professor, he is talking to
someone like him.  The ongoing conversation between nyaya and advaita
vedanta has been going on for centuries and has affected both sides. If
you are not aware of that you will miss nuances.  Take for example the
refrain in Bhaja Govindam.  na hi na hi rakshate dukr~nkarane.  What is
dukr~nkarane?  a footnote in the book you're reading or the lecturer you
are listening to might tell you it is a sutra of Panini but only an
understanding of vyakarana will help you grasp the full significance of

> [The thread on
> poorva mimaamsa was lost in the conversation].

In my opinion, purva mimamsa is even more important from a practical point
of view than Vedanta.  Purva mimamsa affects every act of your daily life
(if you are trying to live a Dharmic life that is.)

> Q:  Swamiji, but won't it be necessary to read texts like advaita siddhi etc
> and for that isn't nyaaya necessary.  Can't we have classes on advaita
> siddhi etc?
> A:  Texts like advaita siddhi was written primarily to handle poorva
> pakshis.  Those objections don't exist these days.

Again is this really true or is this just an assumption?  If one doesn't
know the kind of objections that were made in the past will one even be
able to recognize if there are similiar situations today?  The Dvaitins
subjected the tenets of Advaita Vedanta to a rigorous critique which in my
opinion is still valuable today.

>  It is enough if you understand Shankara.  Stick to Shankara.
>  Even the Tiikaas, I will recommend
> only if you have doubts in understanding Shankara.

But how will you understand Shankaracharya without understanding his
context?  Academic philosophers spend a lot of their time on the history
of ideas because they recognize the need for context.  To blindly follow
Shankaracharya is better than doing nothing or blindly following a lesser
person but inferior to true understanding.  Only true understanding will
lead to mukti.

>  If you can understand
> Shankara, you don't need other texts.  [Another Swamiji chipped in and said
> that they were planning to teach brahmasutra beyond the chathushrii].  The
> first four suutraas are enough to understand Vedanta.  You can read the rest
> if you want to continue reading "within the context" (ie., to spend time
> thinking on surrounding topics, instead of straying here and there).  But
> the first four is important for understanding Vedanta.

I have a good deal more respect for Swami Dayananda than most of the
modern swamis who claim to speak for Advita Vedanta but here unfortunately
he seems to be afflicted by the same malady that affects most modernists,
he advises based on "you don't have to" instead of "you can."  No doubt
it is based on much practical experience in dealing with todays "instant
mystics" who squeeze in a Vedanta class between a tennis match and the
latest episode of Friends.  And technically he is correct.  You don't
"need" to know nyaya or mimamsa or brahmasutras or indeed any sanskrit in
order to succeed in the goals of Advaita Vedanta.  Just as you don't
really "need" to eat more than a few mouthfuls a day in order to live.
But who would want to live without flavors and variety?

Don't be a reductionist.  Expand your mind outwards further and further
until it is all this and 10 fingers beyond.  That is moksha.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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