Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vedic Epistemology— the Real Scientific Approach

            For many centuries, the biggest materialistic brains have been trying to understand the intricacies of the universe, its atomic constitution, its origin, development and dissolution, but whatever was obtained so far is just a drop of relative knowledge from an ocean of immeasurable knowledge, both phenomenal and noumenal. There are different methods to obtain different results, and it should not be a surprise if by using the wrong method one obtains something distinct from the expected. That ocean of knowledge is accessible only to those who take to the proper method, i.e., sabda-pramana, hearing the Vedic knowledge from the parampara system, and not otherwise.


            The first mistake that even an honest person in search of knowledge may commit is to believe completely in his own senses, pratyaksa. Direct perception is already defective, thus how can one acquire perfect knowledge from an imperfect instrument? And this includes also any tool that is manufactured by such imperfect instruments. Of all methods of research, this is perhaps the most ineffective and susceptible to failure. The next attempt is inference, anumana. That depends more or less on one’s brain power to reach rational conclusions from some premises. The problem with this method is that the human brain is as ‘effective’ as the senses, or in other words, just another imperfect means to grasp knowledge. Those who are artificially making their brains work, trying to understand each and every thing in the universe by their own brain capacity are just like Mr.Frog calculating the dimension of the ocean taking his well as the standard measure. And what kind of contribution can we expect from frog-like brains?


“Mental speculations, by adding some dozens of "if's" and "maybe's," cannot aid the advancement of knowledge— on the contrary, such mental speculations will only end in despair by dismissing the case abruptly and declaring the nonexistence of God.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase =>  SB 2.7.43-45, purport


They may try to give some bluff for the future, but ‘trust no future, however pleasing.’


“But what can the scientists know? Even Brahma himself was once bewildered…”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.6.37, purport


Lord Brahma is the biggest scientist, and he proved it by creating the whole universe. Not that he just sat down and wrote some nonsensical theory. Science means theory and experiment. But what is the difference between Lord Brahma’s approach and that of our modern scientists? He did not waste his valuable time with pratyaksa and anumana, but rather took the way of sabda-pramana. And what was the first sabda? ‘Tapah’— austerity. In the process of receiving knowledge from the supreme authorities, one of the requirements is to be pure— without being fiery, nobody can enter into the fire; without being pure nobody can enter into pure knowledge. Therefore, the first step to becoming pure is to accept some sort of austerity in order to purify the heart. And because Lord Brahma took those words very seriously, Lord Visnu became very pleased with him (sabhajitah, SB 2.9.9). This is the next step to obtain transcendental knowledge: we must please the authority. Brahma was fortunate enough to have the Supreme Lord Himself as his direct authority, but through the chain of disciplic succession even today we may have an authority as good as the Lord Himself and whose words are as powerful as His. Just like Sukadeva Gosvami was the bonafide representative of the Lord for Pariksit Maharaja. And what were his qualities?


“The spiritual master, therefore, must be one who is sarva-jna, as stated herein before in connection with Sukadeva Gosvami.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.4.6


And to actually know Bhagavan, one must be bhagavan:


vicikitsitam etan me

bravitu bhagavan yatha

sabde brahmani nisnatah

parasmims ca bhavan khalu


“Kindly clear up all these doubtful inquiries, because you are not only vastly learned in the Vedic literatures and self-realized in transcendence, but are also a great devotee of the Lord and are therefore as good as the Personality of Godhead.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.4.10


Maharaja Pariksit, as a good scientist, was intelligent enough to take scientific knowledge from him by making the proper inquiries:


bhuya eva vivitsami

bhagavan atma-mayaya

yathedam srjate visvam

durvibhavyam adhisvaraih


“I beg to know from you how the Personality of Godhead, by His personal energies, creates these phenomenal universes as they are, which are inconceivable even to the great demigods.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.4.6


This is the missing point for many modern scientists— they don’t accept the existence of a Supreme Controller, and what to speak of understanding His potency:


visnor nu virya-gananam katamo 'rhatiha

yah parthivany api kavir vimame rajamsi

caskambha yah sva-rahasaskhalata tri-prstham

yasmat tri-samya-sadanad uru-kampayanam


“Who can describe completely the prowess of Visnu? Even the scientist, who might have counted the particles of the atoms of the universe, cannot do so. Because it is He only who in His form of Trivikrama moved His leg effortlessly beyond the topmost planet, Satyaloka, up to the neutral state of the three modes of material nature. And all were moved.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.7.40


Therefore, all their so-called scientific approaches fail, for they do not know that there is someone behind the creation and maintenance of the universe, and that He is always a Person. They may analyze many elements in their laboratory, or even plants and animals, but when we speak of analyzing a person, that is a different thing, for that depends on the person’s agreement to be analyzed. Just imagine if someone is walking on the street and a group of scientists come with test tubes, syringes, measuring instruments, etc. and try to forcibly analyze him. Surely he will protest and move away. If it is so in the case of an ordinary person, it is not surprising that our materialistic scientists are still in complete darkness about knowledge of God. Factually, the Lord is aprameya, “for not even the best human brain can estimate His powers and potencies by mathematical calculation.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.7.16, purport

But taking the process described by the Lord Himself, one may obtain positive knowledge about God and His creation, although not absolute, for only God can know everything absolutely. And how is this process?


“But as far as Indian sages are concerned, knowledge is received from the Vedic literatures, and the authorities accept without any hesitation that we should look through the pages of authentic books of knowledge (sastra-caksurvat).”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.7.13


            Srila Prabhupada met many scientists from all over the world and explained to them how bhakti-yoga is not a sentiment or just a philosophy— it is a science. However, in this science the approach is sabda-pramana, and no other methods will do, because we are dealing with a Supreme Person, and He reserves Himself the right to establish the rules. Vedic epistemology is based on the principle that hearing the pure sound vibration from a self-realized person is the perfect method for acquiring transcendental knowledge. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada is the biggest scientist we have in the modern age, for he was the first to present scientific transcendental literature to the general public, so that everyone may obtain scientific knowledge about God and the universe, which is the real purpose of a scientific book:


“Any book of knowledge (science or art) must lead to the knowledge of Narayana; otherwise it must be rejected. That is the way of advancement of knowledge.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.5.15, purport


And such transcendental knowledge is accessible to all of us and we do not even have to perform penances as Brahma did:


“By reading and hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam as a scientific presentation, the conditioned souls will gradually be promoted to the higher status of transcendental knowledge after being freed from the illusory energy based on sense enjoyment.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 2.7.53, purport

This essay was originally submitted for assessment during the first year of the Bhakti Vaibhava course at VIHE, second canto of Bhagavatam, on 19/10/02  


  1. I agree Vedic epistemology is the real scientific approach, but I hope some of scholars who are expert in this subject would like to explained clearly of the epistemic chronology. Its means, how to analysis one issue a step by step according to Vedic epistemology.

    Best regard

    Ketut Donder
    Lecturer at Universitas Hindu Negeri IGB Sugriwa Denpasar, Bali

  2. In the Tattva-sandarbha, Jiva Gosvami deals with this topic, but his focus is the validity of epistemology in understanding the nature of God. In the auto-commentary, he gives some illustrations on how various means of knowledge can corroborate the Vedic statements or be contradicted by them. This is also briefly discussed in the first chapter of Vedanta-syamantaka.