The Limits of Scripture by Anantanand Rambachan

Synopsis cum Review

Unlike most other religions, Hinduism is concerned with evaluation rather than revelation. One can trace the signs of evolution even from the Vedic times. There are two main factors that led to such a process: internal and external. Though non-Vedic factors can be considered external, they contributed more to the assimilation of all such external challenges within the fold of Hinduism. Even heterodox factors like sramanas could not challenge such a process of assimilation and remained mostly internal. Since the coming of Islam, Hinduism has faced a real external challenge. Though there were a few attempts made by some to assimilate certain doctrinal aspects of each other, as “Islamic dominance in many part of India was primarily political and military”1 the encounter of both the civilizations, “after a short time”, as Panikkar observed, remained as “a problem of co-existence, with mutual toleration rather than the domination of one by another”.2 This even made Hinduism, “more rigid” in the words of Panikkar. But the major shift in such an external influence on Hinduism began from the West, particularly after the British.

In contrast to Hinduism’s earlier encounters with other civilizations and cultures, the British challenge was total – economic, social, religious, and intellectual. The main thrust of the Western incursion was directed toward the religion of the Hindus. Missionaries questioned the validity of Hinduism, denouncing it as a mass of superstitions. Hinduism was condemned as idolatrous and polytheistic. Social customs for which religious legitimation was claimed invoked the severest disapproval. These included such practices as the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, infant marriages, compulsory widowhood, and the institution of caste with the acceptance of untouchability. The structure of Hinduism was threatened by the concept of equality, which the British incorporated into the Indian legal system. Economically, India’s handicraft industry was subjected to the pressures of industrialization; politically, the divisions and fragmentations within Indian society were confronted with the British sense of community and nationalistic pride. The British, in other words, offered an observable, functioning, and successful alternative to the Indian system. 3

The internal challenges that Hinduism faced several times in her history forced her to move more towards orthodoxy, meaning accepting the scriptural authority of the Vedas. Any reformation that any individual or sampradaya wanted to bring should be in agreement with the Vedas. Though there were different opinions regarding which parts of the Vedas are authoritative (as in the case of Swami Dayanand Saraswati)4, there was a common understanding that Sruti holds the final authority. Such a view not only kept Hinduism intact but also helped various acharyas develop sound doctrinal and theological foundations on which their respective sampradaya could flourish. Even those who only paid lip service to the Vedic authority could not openly oppose its authority but were forced to trace back some connection in the Vedas to claim their idea as authoritative. Though an individual’s experiences were highly respected, experiences that were recorded under smriti writings were rejected in case of any contradiction with Sruti. Even though ‘experience holds the evidence’ become the watchword later in modern Hinduism, before the reformation, Hindu traditions were unaware of such technical terms or slogans.

On the other hand, external challenges that Hinduism faced since the coming of Islam paved the way to project Hinduism as a universal religion. Though Islam gave a real challenge to the fundamental tenants of Hinduism, as its influence was more in the political area, it could not challenge Hindu orthodoxy. However since the arrival of Europeans, a considerable change began to take place in the face of the Hindu religion. The challenge came more to the field of religious beliefs; the process of assimilation of new thoughts forced Hinduism to re-think its orthodoxy in the name of expansion to make it a universal religion. “…the revival of Hinduism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not simply a reaffirmation of tradition but, in important ways, a new understanding of it.”5 Though such revival started from the father of Hindu Renaisance, viz., Raja Ram Mohan Roy, it was Swami Vivekananda who became its universal spokesperson, whose influence can be seen even today.

Most modern, educated Hindus, if not all, refer to Vivekananda for his interpretation on Hinduism. Vivekananda toiled throughout his life to make Hinduism not only a universal religion but also a scientific one. In their reference to Vivekananda, educated Hindus either superficially reading or hearing Vivekananda, give an unchallenged authority to his views to determine what Hinduism is. Vivekananda himself gained such an unchallenged reputation among both the layman and scholars6 that his views are often accepted without any critical appraisal of his philosophy. In this sense Vivekananda created a new “tradition” of authority who himself broke away from tradition. Now a proper critical study of Vivekananda becomes inevitable not only to understand his legacy but also to bring back Hinduism to its original solid foundation of Scripture from the shaky foundation of personal experience propagated by Vivekananda.

This book of Rambacan is timely both to understand the authority of Scripture and extra-scriptural authority which was propagated by Vivekananda. Vivekananda had become the champion of promoting “personal experience” as the source of pramana (evidence) at the cost of Scriptural authority and thereby limited the role of Scripture (of every religion) as the foundation of faith and belief.

Rambachan’s scholarly analysis has become valuable not only in considering the influence which Vivekananda exercised in post-modern Hindu scholarship, but even in answering Vivekananda’s challenges to the authority of Scripture (of every faith). Vivekananda’s questions and criticisms of Scriptures, taken as they are, will confuse ordinary people whose faith is based on the scripture of their respective faith.7 At the same time the challenges that Vivekananda poses are not with a spirit of cynicism but with his personal spiritual crises which so many people face one time or the other in their life. Vivekananda gave a powerful voice and suggestions for practical solutions; several times his “experience” was accepted unchallenged as authoritative, particularly giving new interpretation to the traditional scriptural values in these times (see note 6). Though Rambachan was sympathetic in understanding the circumstances in which Vivekananda articulated his ideas, he does challenges the very “authority” of Vivekananda that is accepted uncritically by post-modern Hindu scholars. Rambachan says:

The possibility of a human knowledge of God or reality is a problem with which every major religious tradition wrestles, and the issue of whether the authority of scripture takes precedence over that of individual experience transcends religious boundaries. Vivekananda universalized his claims for anubhava and argued for it as the ground and source of all religious traditions. A study of this debate within Hinduism will contribute to the wider community of discussion and stimulate fruitful dialogue among these traditions. 8

Such an analysis on Vivekananda becomes essential considering the fact that in the post-renaissance movement, Hinduism was almost reduced to advaita and projected to the outside world by the Post-Vedantians in their attempt to make it a universal religion. In this process they found a valuable help in the writings and teachings of Vivekananda as is rightly observed by Rambachan, “It is obvious that many modern commentators on Sankara are deeply influenced in their approach, directly or indirectly, by the interpretations of Vivekananda…” 9 His views were uncritically accepted and became a watchword to decide what Hinduism is. And now such a critical study by Rambachan breaks new ground not only in understanding the importance of Scripture over personal experience but also to challenge modern scholarship to project a universal religion at the cost of Scriptural authority.10 At the same time Rambachan is careful not to question anyone’s right to interpret any Scritpture or tradition but questions “the consistency and persuasiveness of these interpretations,”11 (and in the case of Vivekananda to the source of authority in the Advaita tradition)12.

 

Scripture or Experience?

The issue that Rambachan raises is an important one. “The possibility of a human knowledge of God or reality is a problem with which every major religious tradition wrestles, and the issue of whether the authority of scripture takes precedence over that of individual experience transcends religious boundaries…”13

If we say that Scripture holds final authority, then what is the scripture itself? Is it not the record of the experience based on the intuition of people? If we submit our experience based on the experience of others, which is recorded as Scripture, 14 then there is no freedom for our inner spirit. On the other hand, if our personal experience is the final authority, then anybody can claim any experience as authoritative; no two people can agree with each other as to whose experience is the correct one. Such extreme freedom to individual’s experience based on their personal intuition will end in confusion. This will result in the theory of ‘as many souls – so many views.’15

Above all, the extreme danger in holding such ideas will make oneself the final authority — particularly in the area of morality, which has importance for spirituality. So some objective-absolute principle is needed to test one’s own experience as correct or not. In this respect the given scripture of every religion holds a final authority, of course giving individual freedom to understand it – at the least in the initial level – to comprehend the final truth (of that particular scripture claims to reveal) through it.

 

The Role of Scripture

The scripture is like the base station from where satellites are launched to explore unknown areas in space. It not only provides guidance, but when something goes wrong, it can even control the satellite. Once the satellite severs its connection with the base station, then it will be lost once for all in an unknown space from where no one can recover it. Our experience is like that satellite, launching expeditions in unknown areas. It needs that base station both to start and return back. Of course in the course of its exploration, all the information and data collected are a definite contribution to the improvement of the base station’s process of launching further satellites. Likewise scripture is such a base station for us to launch expeditions to unknown spiritual space. One’s personal experience may help in the further understanding of the scripture, but it can never displace the very base itself. This is only an illustration though and we cannot stretch its meaning beyond its capacity.

In the spiritual life, Scripture provides the basis and guidance in our growing experience. Our new experiences help us have new interpretations that may help or misguide our understanding of Scripture. Giving undue importance to personal experience will result in confusion and contradiction (as we find in the case of Vivekananda). But altogether rejection of experience will deprive proper understanding of Scripture resulting in shallow faith or religious fundamentalism. In the present context of religious fundamentalism on one side and religious pluralism on the other, scholars like Rambachan are essential to help people to understand where they stand in their faith. As someone has said, “instant satisfaction is the curse of this age”; modern people have no time for serious studies, particularly in the religious field. Like claims made in other areas, instant solutions and ready-made answers are presented by several religious teachers, taking advantage of common’s people’s needs.

Such a lamentable situation is present irrespective of religion. Without a proper guru or acharya no one can understand the truth about spiritual life. But in selecting such a guru or acharya also one should be cautious, as Kabir has well said: ‘pani piyo canuke; guru kiyo januke’ (drink the water after filtering it and select the guru after proper scrutiny). Such a guru or acharya should have enough knowledge about the Scripture(s) of their respective sampradaya that they can provide a solid foundation for the faith of their followers. If they impart their ‘experience’ as the criteria for the faith of their followers, they will end up organizing a cult around themselves. Mere emotion and personal sentiment towards that guru instead of reason becomes the guiding principle in following them. Of course, common people are interested in listening to a ‘brahma jnani’ (knower about God), and not a ‘brahma vadin’ (one who intellectually talks about God). But such a guru or acharya who claims to be a ‘jnani’ at the cost of basic knowledge about the Scripture(s) will promote only a personality cult, imparting his own ‘experience’ as the ‘true knowledge’ to attain salvation. The following words of Rambachan are true in my own experience:

It is true that, in the quest for moksa, the value of scholarship and learning has to be placed in proper perspective. Scholarship is only a means and never an end in it itself. Viewed as an end, it can easily degenerate into sterile pedantry. Sruti affords a knowledge that leads to the attainment of moksa, and scholarship is chiefly an aid to its proper understanding. It is more important to the individual who aims to be a teacher.16 (Italics added) (p 135)

Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12 mentions proficiency in the meaning of the sruti as one of the two qualities necessary for the teacher. The other is establishment in the knowledge of brahman. In view of Vivekananda’s influence on modern Hinduism, it is unfortunate that he did not adopt a more balanced view of the value of scholarship in the quest for moksa. The decline of scholarship and its dissociation from spirituality is one of the most lamentable trends in the recent history of Hinduism. Its reflection in the poor state of theological education in Hinduism needs more study. 17

There is also a need for an examination of the Upanisadic ideal of the nature, qualifications, and functions of the teacher and a contrast of this with Vivekananda’s presentation of Ramakrishna as the model teacher in Hinduism. How far the emphasis on the gain of spiritual knowledge through an experience, rather than through sruti, has altered the understanding of the nature of the guru needs to be studied, as does its connection with the confusing proliferation of teachers in contemporary Hinduism18 (Italics added)

 

My Experience with Vivekananda

In the early days of my quest for spiritual truth, Vivekananda was my model and guru. I intensely studied the biography of Vivekananda and some of his writings. As there is no such thing as systematic learning in the Hindu religious world, particularly for lay people, I read at random every article and book I could get on Vivekananda. His longing, approach and challenges inspired me a lot, and he became a model for me on how to pursue spiritual truth based on experience alone.

I still remember how I also was a promoter of ‘anubhav hi praman’ (‘experience is the evidence’) in my faith in Christ. It was ‘experience’ and not ‘faith’ in Scripture that was important. “Which comes first, faith or experience? What in fact is faith? Is it not some kind of experience of ours about the truth? Without experience, faith is dead.” I argued on similar grounds, but as time passed on I struggled within me to grasp the fact that the experience I held and promoted based on the teachings of Vivekananda was not helping me to resolve several contradictions within me.

Thank God that He never abandons a true seeker after Him in some sort of a vacuum. When Christ became my guru and acharya and the Bible became my Scripture (particularly in Paul’s writings), I realized the importance of basic theology with a proper study of Scripture to understand what faith really is. Of course, experience has an important role to play in our faith but like scholarship and study of Scripture, experience also is a means to the end and not an end in itself. This principle is basic for all faiths in the world.

But the tragedy in present-day Hinduism is that, after Vivekananda was elevated to the pedestal as the champion of the Hindu cause, he became an authority not only to the lay people, but even to some modern scholars. Tragically, his ideology of ‘experience as the evidence’ was not properly assessed. Interestingly, even scholars like P.V. Kane, who is an authority on Hinduism, said nothing about Vivekananda, while at the same time criticizing others’ wrong views and interpretations on Hindu Scriptures. Such is the legacy of Vivekananda on modern Hinduism.

Therefore, Rambachan has done a valuable service to the Hindu world by carefully scrutinizing Vivekanand’s legacy and restored the importance of Scripture(s) and the need for proper study (which we call theology) to its old glory. In his own words “This study will also offer some comments on the legacy of Vivekananda and its continuing influence on the Hindu self-understanding.” 19

 

Vivekananda’s Legacy

Whether good or bad, I do not want to minimize the contribution of Vivekananda’s legacy on India. In him I saw the crises of a genuine seeker after the truth. The searches he made and the thoughts he shared still echo for several such aspirants who are not competent in articulating their inner voice. Whether one can or will find the answer in Vivekananda is to be left to the individual’s consideration, but this study of Rambachan will caution those aspirants who seek after the truth in a serious way and not as religious entertainment.

Instead of writing a book review I would like to prepare a synopsis, which I feel will help those who take religious study seriously and motivate them to read this book properly. We cannot afford that the future generation makes the same mistakes by not learning from past mistakes, of course done unintentionally. In the words of the author himself:

Vivekananda lived at a time of tumult and trauma in the history of Hinduism resulting from the impact of the West. In his reformulation of Advaita, he responded to and incorporated many of the diverse influences that were exerting themselves on Hinduism. The turbulence of his times is reflected in the synthesis that he attempted. In a very short career, he injected a spirit of confidence into Hinduism, and his many positive achievements must be acknowledged. The assessment of his reinterpretation of the authority of the Vedas, undertaken here, is not intended to be a denial of these achievements. One of his most progressive concerns was to elicit from Advaita the justification for a life of commitment to the service of society. He also sought to challenge the widespread indifference of Hindu society to poverty and suffering. (p. 137)

It is understandable, but unfortunate, that his presentation of Advaita was not more critically appraised during his lifetime so that he could have responded to many of its problems and contradictions. Such an approach, however, cannot be condoned today, in view of the many inconsistencies of his interpretation. 20

Before going further to learn in depth, let us look at a bird’s-eye-view about this book, from Rambachan himself:

This study is divided into six chapters. Chapter 1 traces the developments in attitudes toward scriptural authority and revelation during the period from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Ramakrishna that appears to have influenced Vivekananda. Chapter 2 analyzes Vivekananda’s understanding of the nature, authority, and functions of the Vedas. Following this discussion, I seek in chapter 3 to describe, compare, and evaluate his arguments for different methods of attaining moksa. Chapter 4 tries to understand and evaluate the significance of the experience (anubhava) that Vivekananda posits as the ultimate source of valid spiritual knowledge. Chapter 5 identifies and discusses some of the principal areas of contrast between Vivekananda and Sankara, while the final chapter assesses elements of his legacy to contemporary Hinduism.21

 

Analysis:

We all are the product of our own time. Not only society but also the period in which we live shapes our ideology. Vivekananda is no exception to this universal rule. To understand the legacy of Vivekananda, it is important to know the circumstances that shaped him. As we have seen above, with the arrival of Westerners, particularly the British, a new age had begun in Indian history. Nobody can underestimate the influence of Western ideals including that of Christian Missionaries in shaping the minds of elite Indians which set the place for the reformation. To make it short, from Raja Ram Mohan Roy began Modern India with his Reformation through his Brahmo Samaj and “…With Sen, the Brahmo Samaj completed a full, paradoxical circle. Founded in the name of rationalism, it ended with a denial of the role of reason and the intellect in the religious quest, upholding personal experience as unquestionable and sacrosanct.”22

But the Western influence on India was not limited to the religious field and, as we have seen above, its influence was total, covering social, economic, intellectual and politics.   While the influences were effective according to the local situation in social, economic, and religious areas, in the political area, “the divisions and fragmentation within Indian society were confronted with the British sense of community and nationalistic pride.” 23 Indian political leaders saw religion as the unifying factor amidst the diversity of Indians.

Political leaders like Tilak and Gandhi used religious sentiments of the people to instigate the spirit of nationalism and freedom. In the case of Tilak we are told that, “in as much as his statesmanship and his political activities would appear to have been based on the Karma-Yoga and the principles of Ethics, which he believed to have been expounded in the Gita”.24 This endorses the view of Rambachan: “Das is of the opinion that Roy mixed up the issues of religion and nationalism, the inevitable result of the colonial context in which he operated. According to him, the use of the texts as a medium of instruction was primarily the result of nationalistic sentiment.”25 The same can be said about Gandhiji who said, “Most religious men I have met are politicians in disguise; I, however, who wear the guise of a politician am at heart a religious man,”26 who also used religion to achieve his political end.

In Vivekananda one can also trace such a spirit of nationalism. His, “presentation of Hinduism was shaped by this identification of religion and nationalism.” 27 In the words of Rambachan:

The dissimilarities between Vivekananda’s statements in India and in the West are important in any evaluation of his views on the Vedas. It appears that, whereas in his Western talks Vivekananda was at liberty to express his views unreservedly, in India there were constraints and concerns that did not allow the same freedom. The principal of these concerns, which I have already noted, was his passion for national unity and his conviction that this could be achieved only on the basis of religious unity….28 (italics added)

The important difference between Vivekananda and his predecessors in Brahmo Samaj was that, “the Brahmo Samaj openly ridiculed many of the doctrines and practices of Hinduism and was not generally concerned to preserve a Hindu identity,”29 whereas after the acquaintance of Ramakrishan, his “influence and example…. distinguished Vivekananda’s approach to Hinduism from that of the Brahmo Samaj”30 because, “In Ramakrishna, Vivekananda perceived someone who, without any of the Western learning that characterized most of the Brahmo leaders, had attained the pinnacle of Hindu spirituality by adopting many of the beliefs and practices vehemently condemned by the reformers…” 31

And in Vivekananda we see a link between past and present, “defense of Hinduism and a vociferous cry for transformation”. Following the trend of his time:

While he did not reject the urgent necessity for change and innovation in Hinduism, Vivekananda subtly emphasized that what he desired was “growth” and “expansion” rather than “reformation.” Describing himself as a nonbeliever in reform, he defined the reformist method as one of “destruction,” whereas his was an attempt at “construction” (CW, 3:195, 213-220). This delicate and astute distinction enabled Vivekananda to be critical of the Hindu tradition while never alienating himself from it. He struck a very fine and original balance between an aggressive defense of Hinduism and a vociferous cry for transformation. This fact provides the most important clue to understanding Vivekananda’s popularity and the nature of the reinterpretation that he formulated. 32

Thus one can see the effect of “the diverse influences that were exerting themselves on Hinduism”33 on Vivekananda and such “turbulence of his times is reflected in the synthesis that he attempted.”34 But what concerns us today is that after Viviekananda, “All the significant elements of this synthesis….have been uncritically incorporated into the contemporary formulation of Hinduism”35 to make it an universal religion, particularly by several Neo-Vedantians at the cost of the doctrinal and philosophical divergences. Particularly in our time, where religious pluralism is accepted as a norm, in the name of dialogue, what several dialogists (like K.P. Aleaz in, Christian Thought Through Advaita Vedanta, ISPCK CTE 11, 1996)36 attempt is not even a synthesis but some kind of syncretism at the cost of basic theology which should uphold the scriptural authority of their respective faith. In the name of universal brotherhood (vasudeva kutumbakam) what they attempt is to shake the very foundation of the personal faith of individual believers, which alone will help common people grow in their spirituality.

We too agree that peaceful co-existence is necessary but we cannot achieve this at the cost of personal faith based on the authority of scripture. Basic theology, a clear understanding of the scripture, and a personal relationship with God alone will help us combat the growing menace of religious fundamentalism. A person who has no personal faith in his religion and scripture with proper theological understanding, loses his very identity and cannot promise a universal brotherhood. When he has no respect for his scripture and faith, how can he try to understand the scripture and faith of others with the same respect? In one sense the main reason for the present strife among different faiths is the poor understanding of their own. Mere slogans and formulas like ‘all the paths lead to the same goal’ and ‘Avoid the differences in order to achieve peaceful co-existence’ won’t help as they are mere objective slogans without having a subjective commitment to their own scripture and faith. Such an attitude towards one’s own scripture and faith determines one’s approach in understanding other faiths as well:

It is only by overlooking and dismissing the importance of different doctrinal and philosophical claims that one can so easily assert, as Vivekananda does, that all spiritual paths lead to the same goal. This argument, which owes its elaboration to Vivekananda and which, in its various formulations, has become a standard claim in contemporary Hindu rhetoric, has to be seen and evaluated in the light of his approach to epistemology and his scant regard for divergent doctrinal claims. In view of the importance of this argument in the contemporary Hindu attitude toward other religions, it is well worth a more detailed study and appraisal. 37

Now let us turn to some important topics like the authority of the scripture, the role of experience, science and religion, the importance of reason and doctrine in understanding our faith based on the scripture.38 Apart from this, “The significant divergences that have been established in this study” of Rambachan “between Vivekananda’s interpretations and those of Sankara must be addressed by those who argue for a continuity between neo-Vedanta and its classical roots and who see no deviation between Vivekananda and Sankara. The task of such critical studies must not be limited to evaluation but must also undertake to place the contemporary Advaita tradition on secure epistemological and philosophical foundations.”39As this challenge is important for those who want to seriously involve in dialogue with others, we will look on these subjects as Rambachan has made a wonderful contribution to this field.

 

The Role of a Guru

As we have seen above, though Vivekananda was a product of his own time like so many others, the turning point in his life came when he met Ramakrishna Pramahamsa.40 To understand the legacy of Vivekananda and the critique of Rambachan on Vivekananda, we should look at the role of a guru in shaping one’s faith.

“One of the important results of Vivekananda’s characterization of scriptural texts as the records of other people’s experiences, as mere theoretical religion incapable of giving rise to liberating knowledge, was a strong denunciation of the value of learning and scholarship in the quest for satisfactory spiritual knowledge. He affirmed that learning was not necessary for salvation and that its only value lay in the strengthening and disciplining of the mind:

…the man who cannot write even his own name can be perfectly religious, and the man with all the libraries of the world in his head may fail to be. Learning is not a condition of spiritual growth; scholarship is not a condition. (CW, 8:114; see also 4:148, 6:64).

The great teachers of the world, according to Vivekananda, were not the ones who went into detailed analysis and explanations of texts. The ideal spiritual teacher, in his view, is not one who commands a mastery of the texts but one who knows their spirit (CW, 4:24).

And Ramakrishna is such an ideal teacher according to this standard. 41

Rambachan is correct while saying, “Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12 mentions proficiency in the meaning of the sruti as one of the two qualities necessary for the teacher the other is establishment in the knowledge of Brahman.42 In Ramakrishna, Vivekananda found a teacher who in his words was not involved in “Text Torture” and at the same time never deviated from the tradition that helped preserve the Hindu identity. “In Ramakrishna, Vivekananda perceived someone who….had attained the pinnacle of Hindu spirituality by adopting many of the beliefs and practices vehemently condemned by the reformers. 43

Vivekananda never compromised on his stand that “every kind of knowledge is inherent”, yet acknowledged that “this inborn knowledge can be called out or made manifest only by another knowledge: ‘Knowing beings must be with us to call forth what is in us, so that these teachers were always necessary. The world was never without them, and no knowledge can come without them’ (CW, 1:216-2217).” But here also the importance of the teacher is to emphasize personal experience and not for the one who can firmly establish our faith based on the Scripture. “In all these discussions, his emphasis is on the teacher within who really teaches and without whom all teachers are useless.” 44

It is interesting to note that Vivekananda despised the need for the proper study of the texts, yet he himself has studied them. In the case of Ramakrishna Pramahamsa, his efforts were more in a nature of syncretism than synthesis of various religious experiences. Now having him as his guru, Vivekananda, though he had analysed the texts into detail (to some extent), had to give a new interpretation in order to acknowledge Ramakrishna as a true guru. He became a model for Vivekananda to promote his ideology of “experience” over Scripture and Doctrine. It is occasionally true that many theologians cannot be a proper guru to guide others, but a true guru should be a theologian as well. Otherwise, as we saw above, what he will leave behind is only a personality cult. So we have to agree with Rambachan that:

There is also a need for an examination of the Upanisadic ideal of the nature, qualifications, and functions of the teacher and a contrast of this with Vivekananda’s presentation of Ramakrishna as the model teacher in Hinduism. How far the emphasis on the gain of spiritual knowledge through an experience, rather than through sruti, has altered the understanding of the nature of the guru needs to be studied, as does its connection with the confusing proliferation of teachers in contemporary Hinduism…45

 

The Authority of Scripture

“If we cannot think critically, logically, or rationally and arrive at our conclusions on the basis of objective facts rather than subjective experiences, the authority of Scripture is effectively undermined, regardless of how firmly one insists he or she maintains it.” 46

While Scripture-loving people will agree that it alone holds the final authority and it is the pramana (self-valid source for knowledge about absolute reality), Vivekananda argued that “the declarations of sruti needed further verification”, which is personal experience. “The foundation of knowledge, therefore, for Vivekananda, is not the authority of the Vedas as a word revelation since the texts indicate only a method for the direct apprehension of spiritual facts.”47 This is opposed to the traditional view. According to Sankara, “liberation (moksa) is the immediate result of understanding the words of the sruti. For a qualified aspirant, nothing beyond a proper investigation of the meaning of those sentences in the sruti revealing brahman is required.”48 Vivekananda gave a death blow both to the role of reason in understanding scripture, and to the importance of scripture by giving importance to some kinds of experience, that too achieved through yoga. In the words of Clooney:

…There is never a place from which to examine reason’s and scripture’s claims impartially; one does not decide eventually, at some point, that scripture is more reasonable than reason. Only after one submits to scripture and is imbued with its way of constructing the world can one think properly about the possible, limited and never entirely systematic contributions of reason exercised without reference to scripture. (italics added) 49

…In neither Advaita nor yoga is realization caused by anything: twisting one’s body this way and that does not cause realization, words uttered or written on a page do not cause knowledge of Brahman. But in both, practices are essential to the achievement of what can never be the result of practices. If one were to despise bodies or to avoid texts because of some desire for a higher spiritual knowledge, [through experience] one would be left with an undisciplined and unrealized desire; only through the physical and textual does one acquire a knowledge which is reducible to neither. 50 (italics added)

 

Rambachan’s analysis on Vivekananda:

Now we shall turn to Rambachan regarding Vivekananda’s view on the authority of scripture:

…One peculiarity of the Vedas, Vivekananda says, in contrast to the scriptures of other religious traditions, is that they are the only ones asserting the need for going beyond them. They are written only for the adult who is in the childhood state of religious growth. One must, therefore, outgrow reliance on them. He likens the texts to tubs or hedges around a tiny plant, the confines of which it must eventually transcend (see CW, 3:283; 5:311,411; 7:6; 8:27) (p. 46)

…He saw the ultimate end of the religious quest, the realization of God within oneself, as being beyond all books: “Talking, arguing, and reading books, the highest flights of the intellect, the Vedas themselves, all these cannot give knowledge of the self” (CW, 7:70). Vivekananda sometimes adopted the extreme position of asserting that no scriptural text can make us religious and that the latter can be attained only by dispensing with such texts (see CW, 1:412, 4:34, 190) (p. 46)

…Scriptural analysis can easily delude us into believing that we are growing spiritually. He describes it as intellectual opium eating (see CW, 1:45, 4:168). Scriptures are specified by him as theoretical religion, which is ultimately unsatisfactory: “Knowledge of the absolute depends upon no book, nor upon anything; it is absolute in itself. No amount of study will give this knowledge; it is not theory, it is realization” (CW, 7:34; see also 4:166, 238; 6:101). Vivekananda distinguishes between the essentials and the nonessentials of every religion, between what he terms the essential truth and the nonessential receptacle in which this truth is held. Scriptures and belief in their validity are classified by him along with the nonessentials of religion (CW, 8:218, 2:483). Among other nonessentials, he listed doctrines, dogmas, rituals, temples, images, and forms. He describes these as only preparations for removing internal impurities (CW, 1:257, 2:38-39, 46). (p. 47)

(Notes) 18…. Vivekananda also attacks the view of the Vedas as a treasury of the sum total of all knowledge, past, present, and future, revealed to a particular group (see CW, 4:433).   It is important to note that, in Sankara’s view, it is not the purpose of the Vedas to inform us of everything. They impart only beneficial knowledge that cannot be obtained through any other means. (p. 147)

The following appraisal by Rambachan on Vivekananda is important for our context of understanding Hinduism, as Vivekananda still influences the minds of Hindus:

The obvious conclusion of this study, at this point, is that, as far as Vivekananda was concerned, the value and functions of scriptural texts were minimal in the search for genuine religious understanding. Vivekananda never seemed to miss an opportunity for deprecating their importance and calling into question their usefulness. Almost every one of his address contains such denunciations. These were directed toward both scriptures in general and the Vedas in particular.

Vivekananda confess a general skepticism of the accuracy of scriptural testimony (see CW, 1:328). He sees the view that all God’s knowledge could be confined to any particular text as horribly blasphemous (CW, 1:186). Scriptural infallibility was understood by him to be a denial of the freedom to question and inquire and book worship as the worst form of idolatry (CW, 1:453, 8:34). (p. 46) 51

He reviled the view that even incarnations must conform to the text:

There are sects in my country who believe that God incarnates and becomes man, but even God incarnate as man must conform to the Vedas, and if His teachings do not so conform, they will not take Him. Buddha is worshipped by the Hindus, but if you say to them, “If you worship Buddha, why don’t you take His teachings?” they will say, because they, the Buddhist, deny the Vedas. Such is the meaning of book-worship. Any number of lies in the name of a religious book are all right. In India, if I want to teach anything new, and simply state it on my own authority, as what I think, nobody will come to listen to me; but if I take some passage from the Vedas, and juggle with it, and give it the most impossible meaning, murder everything that is reasonable in it, and bring out my own ideas as the ideas that were meant by the Vedas, all the fools would follow me in a crowd. (CW, 4:42). (p. 49)

…Vivekananda alleged that many crude ideas, and that the Upanisads offered varying advice on the methods of gaining knowledge of the aatman (CW, 2:195, 3:521, 8:255). He felt that only those parts of the Vedas that are in harmony with reason should be accepted as being authoritative (CW, 5:315, 411)…. (p. 50)

While analyzing Vivekananda, Rambachan is aware of the restriction on Vivekananda here in India and the freedom which he enjoyed in the west:

In trying to form a composite picture of Vivekananda’s understanding of the nature, role, and authority of the Vedas, one is struck by significant divergences of content and tone between views expressed in America and Europe and those expressed in India…(p. 56)

Along with a new emphasis on orthodoxy and the Vedas as the fountainhead of Hinduism, another revealing contrast is also apparent from his Western statements. In the West, whenever he made a critical statement about the insignificance of scriptural texts, the Vedas were always treated on the same footing with the scriptures of other religion. In India, however, this equality was replaced by an equation of non-Hindu scriptures with the smrtis. Like the smrti texts of Hinduism, their validity is now seen as a secondary one, to be evaluated only with reference to the sruti: “Therein lies the difference between the scriptures of the Christians or the Buddhists and ours; theirs are all Puraanas, and not scriptures, because they describe the history of the deluge, and the history of kings and reigning families, and record the lives of great men, and so on. This is the work of the Puraanas, and so far as they agree with the Vedas, they are perfectly good, but when they do not agree, they are no more to be accepted” (CW, 3:333)

The dissimilarities between Vivekananda’s statements in India and in the West are important in any evaluation of his views on the Vedas. It appears that, whereas in his Western talks Vivekananda was at liberty to express his views unreservedly, in India there were constraints and concerns that did not allow the same freedom. The principal of these concerns, which I have already noted, was his passion for national unity and his conviction that this could be achieved only on the basis of religious unity… (p. 60)

Though Vivekananda became the promoter of experience to Scripture, he did not reach this stage because of his own personal experience with Scripture independently, but due to the influence of his own time. Rambachan’s analysis of such strong influences like the Brahmo Samaj (which influenced Vivekananda in particular and Hinduism in general), helps us to understand Vivekananda:

Vivekananda’s attitude towards the authority of scripture was molded in an atmosphere where the most progressive movement of the day, the Brahmo Samaj, of which he was a member for a short time, had unequivocally rejected the ultimate authority of the sruti. This is undoubtedly one of the most significant and dramatic developments in the recent history of Hinduism and one that has played a major part in influencing the contemporary understanding of the sruti… (p. 126)

…In particular, they (Brahmo Samaj) seized on the concepts of intuition and nature and sought, with very little success, to construct a theology on the basis of what could be known through these means. The consequence was that, while the movement initiated and contributed to various social reform measures, minimal theological development occurred…. (p. 127)

The general orientation of the Brahmo Samaj toward scriptural authority provided a strong stimulus to Vivekananda’s reinterpretation of the nature and basis of the authority of the sruti. From this source also he might have derived suggestions about an alternative source of spiritual knowledge, but he sought to locate this within the Hindu tradition and, in particular, in the tradition of Yoga. The crucial difference is that Vivekananda sought the elements of his reinterpretation within Hinduism. (p. 128)

Because, as we have already noted in the Role of a Guru:

…the Brahmo Samaj openly ridiculed many of the doctrines and practices of Hinduism and was not generally concerned to preserve a Hindu identity….The influence and example of Ramakrishna distinguished Vivekananda’s approach to Hinduism from that of the Brahmo Samaj. (p. 127)

Thus, this difference between Vivekananda and the Brahmo Samaj, though the former was very much influenced by the latter’s views, pushed Vivekananda to walk the tight rope of accepting the role of Vedas in spiritual life and at the same time rejecting it as a scripture holding final authority. Here the analogy of science helped him to make the Vedas as some absolute impersonal natural laws.

…The influence of this method is evident primarily in his aim to demonstrate that the validity of religious propositions need not depend on what he considered to be the weak foundation of faith and belief. Vivekananda represented the Vedas as a collection of spiritual laws, often emphasizing that they were not books. These spiritual laws are portrayed as similar to the natural laws governing our physical universe in that they have an existence that is independent of human apprehension. The doctrine of Vedic eternity, therefore, can now be represented as the timelessness of impersonal laws rather than of a word revelation. Even as scientists do not create physical laws but only discover these by the application of proper methods, Vivekananda portrays the aaptas as the “discoverers” of spiritual laws. Like a scientific manual, the Vedas, as books, are just the written records of these spiritual laws, discovered by different people at different times. (p. 129)

This view of Vivekananda is traditionally called in India as apauruseyatva, or ‘authorlessness’. All the Rishis who wrote the Vedas were only aaptas or ‘discoverers’. “But the eternity of the Veda and apauruseyatva of the Veda were interpreted in various ways”52. As this is not the place for them, we recommend P.V. Kane for a traditional, but scholarly view, and R. Panikkar for modern and liberal view on this subject.

Though Vivekananda despised the authority of the Vedas as scripture, he was careful not to despise the role of the Rishi or the aapta as long as they are helping the aspirant to understand those impersonal laws. But any unique claim closing the door for further knowledge based on experience is not acceptable. What he aimed for is a ‘rsi-hood’ for all53 because,

The chief characteristic of rsi status is the possibility of a direct apprehension of religious truth: “He is a man who sees religion, to whom religion is not merely book-learning, not argumentation, nor speculation, nor much talking, but actual realization, a coming face to face with truths and transcends the senses (CW,3:175). (p. 45)

About this we will see below in Scripture and Experience. So:

…according to Vivekananda, the spiritual aspirant is not condemned to establishing his or her convictions on the basis of faith in the aapta or in the reports recorded in scripture. Neither the scientist nor the aapta is genuine, says Vivekananda, if a claim is made for a unique access to knowledge. (p. 130)

And,

…In the case of the Vedas, Vivekananda emphasizes not only the possibility of verification but also its necessity. The foundation of knowledge, therefore, for Vivekananda, is not the authority of the Vedas as a word revelation since the texts indicate only a method for the direct apprehension of spiritual facts. (p. 130)

Sruti, he affirms, may stimulate a desire for firsthand knowledge, but it is in itself only “theoretical” or secondhand knowledge. Sruti is not, as in Sankara, a pramaana for the knowledge of brahman; rather, it is a method for the direct and independent discovery of spiritual facts. While in spiritual childhood we may rely on the sruti, we must eventually transcend it and certify its claims. Even as a scientific experiment can be repeated if we wish to verify its results personally, so too is the discovery of brahmajnaana by one person evidence of the necessity and competence of every other human being to attain it by the same method. (p.130)

Thus one can see a radical shift in Vivekananda regarding the authority of the Vedas as the pramana to attain brahmajnna. How Vivekananda reached such a stage is carefully analysed by Rambachan. In conclusion regarding the role of scripture in Vivekananda’s legacy we can see:

As a result of Vivekananda’s early exposure to the influence of Ramakrishna and the latter’s emphasis on the authority of personal experience, it is quite likely that his understanding of Sankara was influenced by questionable works like Vivekacuudaamani that were more in congruence with Ramakrishna’s teachings. At the same time, Ramakrishna’s influence, the prevailing attitudes toward scriptural authority in the Brahmo Samaj, and Vivekananda’s own concern to demonstrate what he considered to be the scientific character of Hinduism may have led him to ignore Sankara’s emphasis on the sruti as the source of knowledge about brahman. The championing of scriptural authority, as we will see, was not at all popular in Bengal in the nineteenth century. (p. 140)

 

Experience as the Evidence

A.W. Tozer said, “If this experience is served to humble me and make me little and vile in my own eyes it is of God; but if it has given me a feeling of self-satisfaction it is false and should be dismissed as emanating from self or the devil. Nothing that comes from God will minister to my pride or self-congratulation.”54

“This truth of the Divine hidden in man, and of his organic capacity to realize this truth, led all religions, developed in India, to treat all belief and dogma, in religion, as peripheral and secondary, and to consider experiment and experience as primary. India, therefore, speaks of experience, anubhava, of the ultimate spiritual truth, as the very soul of religion…”55

These words of Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission echo the influence of Vivekananda on contemporary Hiduism. At the same time we should be careful in generalizing such a trend as we see in the case of Dr. S.W. Bakhle, who in his paper Experience: Anubhava as Pramana in The Bhagavad Gita and the Bible says: 56

Summing up, I observe that the object of this paper is not to dispute or challenge the bona fides of the occult or mystic experiences. We grant such experiences to those who claim them. Nor does this paper dispute that such experiences may be the source of knowledge to those persons who have them, if not to others. What this paper disputes, however, is the claim that such experiences can be a Pramana, a means or source of valid knowledge. It, nevertheless, holds that sensory experience (prataksa) can be a Pramana though its application is very limited in scope.

Though there are different words that mean ‘experience’ such as anubhava, prataksa and saksatkara, sensory experience and revelation or vision respectively, these words in themselves and their interpretation and application is to be understood in each school of thought which is beyond the scope of ordinary people.57 But for ordinary people, particularly after Vivekananda, this experience is much more important than a proper understanding of the scripture.

Before understanding Vivekananda on this subject it should be remembered that, “The term anubhava (experience) is widely used by neo-Vedanta interpreters to refer to what they consider to be the common experiential source of all religions. The use of the term, however, is generally imprecise. As we will see, while Vivekananda also used the term loosely, he identifies anubhava with the samaadhi experience of the Yoga traditions.”58

The following quotes from Rambachan without our editorial comments will help us understand Vivekanand’s position of ‘experience as the evidence’ more clearly:

The possibility of a human knowledge of God or reality is a problem with which every major religious tradition wrestles, and the issue of whether the authority of scripture takes precedence over that of individual experience transcends religious boundaries. Vivekananda universalized his claims for anubhava and argued for it as the ground and source of all religious traditions. A study of this debate within Hinduism will contribute to the wider community of discussion and stimulate fruitful dialogue among these traditions. (p. 9)

…The idea of intuitive experience as an immediate source of spiritual knowledge, which rose to prominence at this time, became a leading idea of the period and has become a dominant motive in the rhetoric of modern Hinduism. In Vivekananda, it became associated with the idea of a scientific method of arriving at religious verification. (p. 23)

…The significant point of both analogies (map and calendar) is the same. The knowledge that we may gain from scripture is not self-sufficient. Something over and beyond this is required. Like maps, scriptures can only arouse our curiosity and stimulate us to make the discoveries for ourselves. (p. 44)

For Vivekananda, the fact of one individual gaining knowledge, is proof of the ability and necessity of every other individual to do the same (CW, 1:185). A scriptural text is represented by him as second-hand religion. As a record of the experiences of others, it may stimulate our own desires, but, even as one person’s eating is of little value to another, so too is the record of another person’s experiences until we attain the same end (see CW,2:473, 5:410). (p. 45)

…The chief characteristic of rsi status is the possibility of a direct apprehension of religious truth: “He is a man who sees religion, to whom religion is not merely book-learning, not argumentation, nor speculation, nor much talking, but actual realization, a coming face to face with truths and transcend the sense” (CW,3:175) (p. 45)

There is another, even more important reason why Vivekananda’s statements in the West could be seen as more truly representative of his position. These statements are fully consistent with a central conviction of all his lectures and writings. This is the doctrine that religious truth is acquired only by an experience of direct perception or apprehension, not by inquiry into words and sentences of any revelatory text.

This is a view that he unfailingly hammered and that may, with good reason, be said to constitute the pivot of his metaphysics. He was always consistent in this position and did not deviate from it in India. In one of his Indian lectures, he states,

This is the rsi-hood, the ideal in our religion. The rest, all these talks and reasonings and philosophies and dualisms and monisms, and even the Vedas themselves are but preparations, secondary things. The other is primary. The Vedas, grammar, astronomy, etc., all these are secondary; that is the supreme knowledge which makes us realize the Unchangeable One. Those who realized are the sages whom we find in the Vedas: and we understand how this rsi is the name of a type, of a class, which every one of us, as true Hindus, is expected to become at some period of our life, and becoming which, to the Hindu, means salvation. Not belief in doctrines, not going to thousands of temples, nor bathing in all the rivers in the world, but becoming the rsi, the mantra-drastaa—that is freedom, that is salvation. (CW,3:254-255)

This issue emerges as the central and very radical point of departure between Vivekananda and Sankara. (p. 61)

One cannot overestimate the importance of the experience of direct perception in Vivekananda’s philosophy of religion. It is this that he signifies (p. 94) by the frequently used expression realization and may, with good reason, be said to constitute the central and most outstanding feature of his religious thought…:

…The Hindu religion does not consist in struggles and attempts to believe a certain doctrine or dogma, but in realizing—not in believing, but in being and becoming. (CW, 1:13) (pp. 94-95)

Why does realization or the possibility of a direct perception of religious claims occupy such an unmistakably prominent focus in Vivekananda’s thought? What was his primary interest in arguing for its necessity and reality? It emerges from his lectures and writings that he was anxious to find an essential point of reference or appeal, by virtue of which the profound issues and claims of religion could be placed on the level of fact. He was concerned that all the crucial and significant issues of religion, such as the existence and nature of God and the soul, could never be finally and satisfactorily established by any form of argument or process of reasoning.1 (p. 95)

(Notes 1). This, of course, challenges his own attempt to present the method of jnaanayoga as a path to ultimate knowledge through independent reasoning. (p.151)

Vivekananda’s conception of raajayoga as a mode of acquiring knowledge through concentration of the mind has to be seen in the context of his repeated assertion that all knowledge, secular or spiritual, is within. No knowledge, he contests, ever comes from outside….The entire process of knowing, according to Vivekananda, is more accurately described as one of discovery or unveiling, for knowledge is never really created: “We say Newton discovered gravitation. Was it sitting anywhere in a corner waiting for him? It was in his own mind; the time came and he found it out. All knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in your own mind” (CW, 1:28). (p. 101)

…While never compromising his stand that every kind of knowledge is inherent, he contends that this inborn knowledge can be called out or made manifest only by another knowledge: “Dead, insentient matter never calls out knowledge; it is the action of knowledge that brings out knowledge. Knowing beings must be with us to call forth what is in us, so that these teachers were always necessary. The world was never without them, and no knowledge can come without them” (CW, 1:216-2217). In all these discussions, his emphasis is on the teacher within who really teaches and without whom all teachers are useless…. (p. 102)

…In all cases, according to Vivekananda, where religious teachers claimed to have received knowledge “from beyond,” the source has always been within themselves… (p. 102)

…But perhaps the most significant point about his loose use of the word experience is the fact that, with respect to samaadhi, he is making claims for a singular and unique experience, one totally unlike any other. He speaks generally about science and all other religious traditions as being founded on experience and ignoring all diversity and differences, slips into making assertions about the distinctive experience of samaadhi. Another very clear example of Vivekananda’s oversimplification of the methodology of science in order to underline parallels with raajayoga is his highlighting of observation or concentration as the only formula for gaining knowledge. As important as this quality of mind is in most fields of endeavor, one cannot assert that the insights gained by the scientist in the laboratory are simply the results of concentration or that the latter is the chief element of the scientist’s methodology. (pp.108-109)

In Vivekananda’s view, a clear experience is followed later by the recording, in words, of its implications and significance. This is how he conceives, for example, the origin of the Vedas. The assumption is that having an experience is distinct from giving it expression in language. In reality, however, no such dichotomy can be easily demonstrated, for language and experience are inseparable. Language does not merely provide labels for describing but, in fact, makes experience possible. It broadens the range of experience. Simply to describe an experience as “religious” involves a tremendous interpretative process. Anyone, for example, unfamiliar with the language, imagery, or theology of a religion cannot describe herself as having a “religious” experience. The simplest interpretation of experience in religious terms takes for granted the complex doctrinal claims with which it is heavily laden. In fact, it would seem that an “uninterpreted experience” is a contradiction in terms. An experience always belongs to someone who is never free from a belief system of some kind. Experience, therefore, seems to imply interpretation and never occurs in a vacuum. Even in the case of science, from which Vivekananda draws most of his analogies, an uninterpreted experience is not usually a means of objective knowledge. It is only when the “simple” experiences of the physical world are seen in wider theoretical frameworks that meaningful conclusions are drawn. It seems reasonable to suggest that experience, of itself, is not knowledge but that it puts one in a position where knowledge can be increased. (pp. 110-111)

In designating “experience: as the common basis of knowledge in both Yoga and science, Vivekananda overlooks the complexity of the so-called experience through which knowledge is gained in the sciences. The scientific technique is further simplified in the interests of superficial similarities when he argues for observation or concentration as its chief feature….In fact, it is indeed strange that, as an Advaitin, Vivekananda argues so strongly for the immediate validity of sense perception. Advaita contends that the universe that is apprehended through the senses is an inexplicable appearance of brahman. In positing that brahman is in reality free from the characteristics possessed by objects of the universe, Advaita questions the ultimate validity of the impressions that we form of the world on the basis of sense perception. (p. 131)

Vivekananda’s championing of an experience (anubhava) as the ultimate source of spiritual knowledge contributed to the divorce of scholarship from spirituality in modern Advaita and Hinduism. This effect can be best demonstrated by contrast with the classic approach and methods of Sankara. For Sankara, sruti is the definitive source of brahmajnaana, and the immediate result of this knowledge is moksa. As a pramaana, sruti is composed of words, and these must be correctly understood. Scriptural learning, study, and exegesis, therefore, become very important, along with such disciplines as grammar and etymology that aid interpretation. Proper principles for arriving at the meaning of texts are necessary. (p. 133)

 

The Role of Reason

No two people are going to agree regarding the role of reason in our life, but in the area of spiritual life there is always a tension between faith and reason. Faith stands beyond our rational mind because it is a gift from God, but God never expect us to despise His other gifts such as the very reason to comprehend that faith. Though our reason cannot comprehend that faith, any faith that does not begin with reasoning will end up as blind faith. Reason helps us put our trust in God as the One who reveals faith in its totality, once we began to trust Him. Flesh and blood won’t reveal Him. Anyone who claims that he can understand God because of his rationalistic understanding of Him underestimates the initiation of God in revealing Himself to us. At the same time, even in understanding this revelation of God, particularly through Scripture, a proper rationalistic understanding of Scripture is very important.

Here Clooney writing on Sankara helps us understand this more clearly:

In UMS II.1.11 Sankara agrees with the proposition that reasoning is legitimate, inevitable and necessary for life, and that it is at work even during the practice of exegesis. But he also claims that unless it is the reasoning of the scripturally literate person, it cannot provide an adequate view of reality as a whole; indeed, it is most inadequate on the topics of the most importance—the knowledge of Brahman, and what counts toward salvation.”59

On the other hand, in Vivekananda we find a deviation from tradition in this area also. Rambachan’s analysis of Vivekananda regarding the role of reason, and comparing it with the traditional view given by Sankara will help us give due respect to reason which it deserves.

(CW, 2:162). This argument that reason becomes possible only after perception seems to undermine Vivekananda’s own claim about jnaanayoga as a path of reason. If reason is the chief tool that the aspirant has to employ from the inception, then it appears impossible to do so without a direct perception of spiritual truths. If, on the other hand, one perceives these truths directly, then, from the logic of Vivekananda’s own arguments, reason is redundant.

Sankara shares the view that the primary limitation of inferential reasoning is its reliance on perception. In Sankara, however, the problem of the limitations of reason is overcome by the acceptance of sruti as a pramaana. Sruti is the only source of brahmajnaana. For Sankara, reason is the tool that we employ in understanding, interpreting, and reconciling the words and sentences of the sruti. As a pramaana in the form of words, these must be understood accurately, for the meanings of words are not always obvious. (p. 85) 60

It is very important to note that the acceptance of sruti as an authoritative pramaana did not mean the abandonment of a very significant role for reason. Reason is important in deciding between different interpretations of particular passages and in reconciling conflicting ones. Reason also has a major role to play in demonstrating that the affirmations of sruti are not inconsistent with what we know about the world and ourselves from other pramaanas. It also plays a crucial role in assessing and responding to rival views. Sankara obviously takes doctrinal differences very seriously, and, in responding to the claims of rival systems that do not accept the authority of the sruti, he is constrained to try to demonstrate the validity of Advaita on the basis of the reasonableness of its propositions. Opposing views are carefully outlined by Sankara, and the significance and development of doctrinal and philosophical argument are evident in his commentaries. (p. 133)

The decline of the significance of the sruti during the ascendancy of the Brahmo Samaj and Vivekananda’s own characterization of it as secondhand religion contributed to a low estimation of the value of scriptural scholarship. Because sruti is no longer seen as the definitive source of brahmajnaana, its study, exegesis, and right interpretation [using reason] are not of the utmost importance. The intellectual disciplines that aid interpretation, are also less valued…. (p. 133)

The upholding of the samaadhi experience, instead of the sruti, as the self-valid source of brahmajnaana is also connected to the low value accorded reason. For Sankara, conclusive knowledge is gained by the application of one’s reason to the analysis, with the help of a qualified teacher, of the valid source of knowledge (namely, the sruti). Since knowledge occurs in the mind and is mediated through reason, the demands of the latter, as far as possible, must be satisfied. (p. 134)

With Vivekananda, on the other hand, knowledge is gained not by the mediation of reason but by its transcendence. This transcendence is, in fact, the very condition for gaining that knowledge. In Vivekananda, therefore, reason, argument, and intellectual activity, in general, assume more of an obstructive character in relation to attaining brahmajnaana. Since conclusive knowledge can be attained only through a special experience, doubts can never be resolved through rational argument. (p. 134)

Paradoxically, it would seem that, where, as in Sankara, faith (sraddhaa) in the sruti as a valid means of knowledge is necessary to attain liberating knowledge, reason has a much more positive role in clarifying, explaining, and defending the propositions of the sruti. On the other hand, where an attempt is made, as in Vivekananda, to supersede the necessity of faith in the interest of being more rational, reason becomes less significant, and so does philosophical argument. The lack of development in contemporary Hinduism of philosophical argument must be connected to the emphasis on an experience as the ultimate source of knowledge, and this link needs to be studied more closely. (p.134)

Thus the role of reason is important in every area of life. Particularly in the field of religion, those who have accepted the role of a teacher cannot despise its role in understanding and explaining the texts on which the faith of their sampradhaya rests. Of course an illiterate person can be a jnani, but without the foundation of the scripture and proper (doctrinal) understanding of it, he may promote only a personality cult around him. (see further notes 17,18 & 56 on this)

 

Science and Religion

“…by virtue of its very aim of investigating all that exists, science can give no guidance to human life,” says Tolstoy61. This is true considering the fact that, “Science has provided the answer to the questions that start with ‘how’, but not to those that start with ‘why’.”62 But “Science as a method of attaining knowledge about human beings and the universe and as the key to human progress was enjoying considerable prestige among the Bengali intelligentsia in the nineteenth century. It was widely felt that all systems of human thought, including religion, had to be validated by the scrutiny of science and reason.”63  

And Vivekananda in his anxiety to make Hinduism (particularly advaita) scientific, attempted in his own way, as shown by Rambachan in the following pages:

…The most important idea, for him, linking science and religion was that of unity. The aim and end of scientific method, according to Vivekananda, was to find unity, the one out of which the manifold is being manifested. As soon as any science found such a unity, it would come to an end, for it would have reached the highest point beyond which it could not proceed (see, e.g., CW, 1:14-15). He represented science as having already discovered the physical oneness of the universe, in telling us that everything is a manifestation of energy, the sum total of all that exists. The difference between Advaita and science, he says, is that the former had discovered this oneness much earlier by its search into internal nature while the latter had discovered it through investigating the external. The corollary, of course, is that the discovery of this common goal makes Advaita scientific: (p. 88)

…In spite of Vivekananda’s attempt to show that the method of generalization and the criterion of an internal explanation render Advaita scientific, it is obvious that this aim is not achieved. While Advaita might proceed by moving from the particular to the general, and while brahman as a universal encompasses everything, these features do not make Advaita scientific in the same sense as other conclusions of the physical sciences are. This is also true for the argument that the universe must be explained with reference to its own internal nature. These kinds of reasoning perhaps demonstrate Advaita to be in line with certain general trends in scientific thinking, but they are not independently conclusive arguments…- (p. 89)

…But perhaps the most significant point about his loose use of the word experience is the fact that, with respect to samaadhi, he is making claims for a singular and unique experience, one totally unlike any other. He speaks generally about science and all other religious traditions as being founded on experience and ignoring all diversity and differences, slips into making assertions about the distinctive experience of samaadhi. Another very clear example of Vivekananda’s oversimplification of the methodology of science in order to underline parallels with raajayoga is his highlighting of observation or concentration as the only formula for gaining knowledge. As important as this quality of mind is in most fields of endeavor, one cannot assert that the insights gained by the scientist in the laboratory are simply the results of concentration or that the latter is the chief element of the scientist’s methodology. (pp. 108-109)

…He continuously seeks to demonstrate the compatibility of Advaita with the findings of science and presents this as one of the principal arguments in favor of this system. His understanding of science is the paradigmatic basis on which he constructs a view of the sruti and the method of attaining knowledge of brahman. His interpretations are most readily explained in this context. The frequent attempts in contemporary studies to draw analogies between Advaita and the methods of science are a reflection of Vivekananda’s continuing influence. While Vivekananda’s concern to express his views in relation to science might have been partially influenced by certain approaches within the Brahmo Samaj, the resulting synthesis was an original one. (p. 129)

 

Advaita, Sankara, Vivekananda

All through his analysis on Vivekananda, Rambachan often compares him with Sankara. Such a comparison is important for us to understand Vivekanand’s legacy on modern Hinduism.

…It is clear to me that, in relation to the gain of brahmajnaana, Sankara saw all other sources of knowledge as subordinate to the sruti and supported his views by well-reasoned arguments centered on the sruti as a logical, fruitful, and adequate source of knowledge. (p. 4)

In designating “experience” as the common basis of knowledge in both Yoga and science, Vivekananda overlooks the complexity of the so-called experience, through which knowledge is gained in the sciences. The scientific technique is further simplified in the interests of superficial similarities when he argues for observation or concentration as its chief feature….In fact, it is indeed strange that, as an Advaitin, Vivekananda argues so strongly for the immediate validity of sense perception. Advaita contends that the universe that is apprehended through the senses is an inexplicable appearance of brahman. In positing that brahman is in reality free from the characteristics possessed by objects of the universe, Advaita questions the ultimate validity of the impressions that we form the world on the basis of sense perception. (p. 131)

raajayoga and its culminating experience of samaadhi have their doctrinal basis in the system of Saankhya, which differs from Advaita on crucial issues concerning the nature of the aatman and moksa. In spite of his awareness of these divergences, Vivekananda neglects their significance in proposing samaadhi as the authoritative source of brahmajnaana….Not only is it contradictory to speak of a state of non-duality as involving “perception,” but it is also untenable, within the context of Advaita, to propose a direct perception of the aatman in samaadhi. Such a proposition presupposes another self for which the aatman must become a limited object of knowledge. (p. 131)

…For Sankara,…There are disciplines and aids for helping the inquirer gain and assimilate the knowledge generated by the sruti, but there is no substitute for sruti as the valid source. For Vivekananda, who endorses an experience (namely, samaadhi), rather than sruti, as the valid source of knowledge, it is perhaps more plausible to posit different ways of attaining this experience. This is what Vivekananda sets out to do in his elaboration of the methods of karmayoga, bhaktiyoga, jnaanayoga, and raajayoga. (p. 132)

It is very important to note that the acceptance of sruti as an authoritative pramaana did not mean the abandonment of a very significant role for reason. Reason is important in deciding between different interpretations of particular passages and in reconciling conflicting ones. Reason also has a major role to play in demonstrating that the affirmations of sruti are not inconsistent with what we know about the world and ourselves from other pramaanas. It also plays a crucial role in assessing and responding to rival views. Sankara obviously takes doctrinal differences very seriously, and, in responding to the claims of rival systems that do not accept the authority of the sruti, he is constrained to try to demonstrate the validity of Advaita on the basis of the reasonableness of its propositions. Opposing views are carefully outlined by Sankara, and the significance and development of doctrinal and philosophical argument are evident in his commentaries. (p. 133)

…He extracts the saamadhi experience from the Saankhya Yoga system and presents it as the authoritative source of knowledge in Advaita, overlooking the implications of crucial philosophical differences between both schools. (p. 135)

It is clear, however, that his reconstruction of the basis of knowledge in Advaita is far from successful. Although many elements of his synthesis have been uncritically adopted into Hinduism, it presents innumerable problems, leaves many questions unanswered, and, on several crucial issues, contradicts fundamental Advaita propositions. His aim to suggest a more convincing source for the knowledge of brahman remains unaccomplished. (p. 136)

There is little continuity between Vivekananda and Sankara with respect to the relation between sruti and brahmajnaana. His reconstruction represents a radical break rather than a continuation. In an age when science, in the enthusiasm and arrogance of its youth, seemed ready to subject all areas of human knowledge to its criteria and methods, Vivekananda felt that faith in the sruti as the source of brahmajnaana was irrational. He sought to posit a process of attaining brahmajnaana that he felt had satisfied the demands of science. Not only does it fail to do this, but, in a much wider perspective, his analysis is unconvincing and unsatisfactory. It is true that faith in the sruti (p.136) as a pramaana is indispensable for Sankara, but this faith is not one that proscribes the use of reason. (pp. 136-137)

 

Universal Religion

The present trend of religious pluralism, all the paths leading to the same goal, peaceful co-existence at the cost of doctrinal differences, etc., are the important product of Vivekananda’s legacy but here too as we have seen thus far his legacy has its own limitations as Rambachan shows below:

…He saw religious strife as the result of the adoption by each religion of a narrow, self-righteous position. It was a special concern of his, and his first speech before the Parliament of Religions in 1893 was on the theme of sectarianism and bigotry. Vivekananda’s own solution was to propose the concept of a universal religion. By universal religion he does not mean religious uniformity or the triumph of one particular tradition over all others. He saw certain failure in such attempts (CW, 1:24, 2:363). Universal religion, for him, seems synonymous with the absence of exclusiveness. In this connection, he distinguishes between the terms religion and sect. The former is indicative of an all-embracing attitude, whereas the latter is exclusive. He makes the same distinction between religion and creed and refuses to use the former appellation to designate Christianity because of its antagonistic features.64. By universal religion Vivekananda means, more than anything else, a particular outlook on religious diversity.…in spite of this diversity of expression, religions are to be seen as manifestations of a common struggle toward God, and each should strive to assimilate the spirit of others while preserving its own individuality. (pp. 91-92)

It is in the light of his ideal of universal religion and what he considered to be its central characteristics that one must look at Vivekananda’s argument for Advaita as fulfilling this ideal….He also considers the spiritual oneness of the universe advocated in Advaita as a better foundation for ethics than personal authority. It is in this context that he proposes the methods of karma-, bhakti-, jnaana-, and raajayoga as being wide enough to embrace the active, emotional, philosophical, and mystical temperaments. He sees these four paths within a single tradition as overcoming the one-sided nature of other religions. (p. 92)

The thesis that there are four different paths to the attainment of moksa was partly employed by Vivekananda to demonstrate the superiority of Hinduism in its capacity to cater to different spiritual needs and temperaments. Today, like so many of the interpretations popularized by Vivekananda, it has become a standard argument in Hindu apologetic writing and even in scholarly studies produced by both Hindus and non-Hindus. When Vivekananda’s arguments are subjected to close scrutiny in relation to basic Advaita propositions about the nature of avidyaa and moksa, they are not convincing. They are an attempt carefully to relate the nature of each method to the assumptions of avidyaa as the fundamental problem. At crucial points in his discussion, where it is necessary clearly to demonstrate the connection between a particular method and the attainment of moksa in the Advaita sense, Vivekananda becomes vague and obscure in his terminology and concepts. (p. 132)

 

Critique

The following final words of Rambachan will show us the legacy of Vivekananda in understanding Hinduism:

…All the significant elements of this synthesis that have been uncritically incorporated into the contemporary formulation of Hinduism must be evaluated. These include arguments for scientific character of Hinduism, the claim of many paths to the same goal, the nonessential character of doctrine, and the devaluation of reason. Vivekananda’s reliance on anubhava as the authoritative source for the knowledge of brahman must, in particular, be critically evaluated. The significant divergences that have been established in this study between Vivekananda’s interpretations and those of Sankara must be addressed by those who argue for a continuity between neo-Vedanta and its classical roots and who see no deviation between Vivekananda and Sankara. The task of such critical studies must not be limited to evaluation but must also undertake to place the contemporary Advaita tradition on secure epistemological and philosophical foundations. (p. 137)

 

Conclusion

As I have already said, for good or bad, in Vivekananda I found a conflict which is within me. Influenced by him in the early days of my youth, I too had an ongoing conflict in my mind between the claims of Scripture as the final source of knowledge and my personal experience in endorsing it. But this book by Rambachan cleared such confusion in my mind. He not only clearly demonstrated the contradiction in Vivekananda, but also further proved why Scripture holds the final authority. Almost every day while I was reading this book and preparing this synopsis, when I went for my evening walk, I meditated again and again on all the “Rationalistic argument and critical analysis on Vivekananda” and the conclusion that: Total surrender to a Personal God, without any reservation irrespective of the treatment received from Him is the climax of bhakti.

All the spiritual disciplines we undertake every day like reading Scripture, prayer, meditation, satsangh, etc. are only a spiritual discipline and never qualify us to receive the gift of salvation or faith in Him and bhakti to serve Him, but they all are free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). At the same time our spiritual life and bhakti depends upon proper understanding about God (II Pet. 1:5-6) [Understanding of the Scripture itself is a gift from God—St. Augustine]. For this understanding we should have the right attitude towards God and Scripture, particularly Scripture which points to that God. And this we cannot achieve at the cost of reason, which is also a gift from God to understand Him. But the basic thing for all this, is that not only proper attitude and understanding about God is important but that we should also have a PROPER GOD to understand this.

So which is the foundation for our spiritual life: Scripture or Experience? If it is Scripture, then is it not the record of other’s experience? Then my spiritual life will be built upon the foundation of others experience. So why should I accept others’ experience as authoritative at the cost of my personal experience?

Though Scripture is the record of others experience, its authority depends not upon their experience but what is the foundation for their experience itself. Can any Scripture that is mere record of some experiences of others based on mere imagination give guidance for our spiritual growth? This is one question to be asked. In that case except the Scripture on which we have faith, can we despise the Scriptures of others as mere imagination, viz., records of those experiences based on their imagination? For this, my personal opinion is that all other Scriptures are the records of the human longing to know the absolute Reality.

Finally, any Scripture that gives only objective principles that have universal value alone could be the True Scripture. To the question why Scripture alone should hold final authority and not experience, my answer is: because it can also stand on close scrutiny for valuable, universal, objective principles to guide all the people everywhere whereas personal experience won’t stand to such close scrutiny.

Having said this, as Gandhiji gave a new phase to the Freedom struggle, Swami Vivekananda gave a new life and phase for (modern) Hinduism, in spite of his many contradictions. To understand Vivekananda only by reading one book by a scholar like Rambachan may open the door for us to ‘debate’ him, but it may not give a complete picture about him. At the same time reading the Complete Works of Vivekananda without some scholar giving a critique about Vivekanand will help one to choose a perspective that serves her purpose and leave the rest to others. The best way to understand Vivekananda and his legacy is to debate him in the proper context of his time and history in which he lived and served. Thankfully, the recent book by A. Raghuramaraju: Debating Vivekananda: A Reader (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2014) is a helpful guide for any student of Hinduism.

However we agree or disagree with Swami Vivekananda, nobody can study (modern) Hinduism by ignoring him completely. In this way, he stands unique in the modern religious history of India.

 

 

Endnotes

  1. (K.M.Panikkar, Hinduism and the West [Chandigarh: Panjab University Publications Bureau, 1964], p.4), –p.11
  2. ibid., p.12
  3. ibid. p. 13
  4. …Swami Dayananda Saraswati…, however, did not accord equal authoritativeness to all portions of the Vedas. He accorded primacy to the samhitaas (hymns) alone…-p.39
  5. ibid. p.5
  6. “I also discovered that Vivekananda’s interpretation of the significance of the sruti in connection with the acquisition of the knowledge of brahman (namely, brahmajnaana) was continuously identified by many modern commentators as being the original position adopted by Sankara. According to these commentators, there is little or no deviation in Vivekananda’s views from the Advaita Vedaanta tradition as systematized and given expression by Sankara. The late T.M.P. Mahadevan, a distinguished Hindu scholar, writes, “The Advaita which Swami Vivekananda teaches in his speeches and writings is, in essence, the same gospel whose consolidation and comprehensive exposition we owe to Sri Sankaraacaarya”. R.S. Srivastava comes to a similar conclusion:”The concept of salvation and jnaanayoga as a path or discipline leading to it are ancient and traditional. The metaphysics and disciplines of Vivekananda do not deviate an inch from the standpoint of the Advaita Vedaanta of Sankaraacaarya.” Fundamntal differences are uncritically overlooked, and Vivekananda is seen merely as a reviver of the Advaita of Sankara.. ….these opinions suggest that, like Vivekananda, Sankara also saw a special experience as the ultimately valid source of our knowledge of brahman, that Sankara accorded only a provisional validity to the affirmations of the scripture and did not perceive these texts to be, in any way, a unique source of knowledge. Many felt that the only reason for Sankara’s recourse to sruti was the desire to gain the support of a traditional authority for his own views”.-p.3 [this quotation is to be checked from the book]

and also:

“Swami Satprakashananda, a distinguished member of the Ramakrishna Order, minimizes the differences between Vivekananda and Sankara: “It is Sankara’s Advaita philosophy that he (Vivekananda) accepted and expounded in modern terms and found is application in modern life. So far as the basic ideas of Advaita Vedaanta are concerned he does not differ from Sankara, but there are some differences in his way of presentation and the emphasis laid by him on its practical aspects”….-p.5

  1. Vivekananda asserted that….all authoritative sources were subordinate to anubhava, and all spiritual disciplines were intended only for its attainment.…The aspirant, however, could not simply rely with faith on this testimony, which was only a secondhand report. As the testimony of another, the knowledge that one may gain by a study of the sruti lacks conclusiveness and freedom from doubt. This knowledge is presented by Vivekananda as “theoretical” information that cannot lead to liberation (moksa). To be definitive, this knowledge had to be verified, and this was possible only through a similar direct experience. As a source of knowledge, therefore, even the sruti was subordinate to anubhava.-p.2
  2. ibid. p.9
  3. p. 4 and also see notes no. 6 above
  4. Note the words of Cloony: ” Anantanand Rambachan (1986, pp.8-24) has skillfully shown that the Indian neo-Vedaantins of the 19th and 20th centuries have taken up the same project of making Advaita “respectable,” and so have downplayed its ritual and exegetical components over against the claims of a higher truth, pure experience, etc. –Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Theology after Vedanta, An Experiment in Comparative Theology, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1993, Notes 38, p.213″

To understand this, it is worth to read both the demand and limitation of Advaita (of Sankara at least) against the Neo-vedantians claims of a “higher truth, pure experience, etc.” from Cloony himself, who book is an remarkable scholarly work:

…the positive intention of Advaita is to ensure that its truth be actualized in at least a few people, by providing at least for them the maximal education, and in a fashion that promises maximal fruitfulness. Yet by severely restricting and intensely preparing an elite audience for this knowledge, Advaita in practice severely limits its own universality. Its barriers of difficulty, demands on time and energy, and more direct exclusions of the “wrong kind of people” make it formidable, local, defensive; actual competence is extended to just about no one. Expectations regarding the reader are thereby intensified to the highest degree; only in the rare, right reader who carries out the project of reading properly and with preseverance is the supersession of the tension between Text and truth finally achieved. The transition from Uttara Miimaamsaa as practice to Vedaanta as simple knowledge is never a given; it must occur, and occurs only when the proper person comes along.—ibid, p.150

11.ibid. p.5

  1. “..My concern here, it must be clarified, is to question, not Vivekananda’s right to reinterpret the source of authority in the Advaita tradition, but the consistency and persuasiveness of these interpretations.”-p.5
  2. p. 9
  3. “For Vivekananda, the fact of one individual gaining knowledge is proof of the ability and necessity of every other individual to do the same (CW, 1:185). A scriptural text is represented by him as second-hand religion. As a record of the experiences of others, it may stimulate our own desires, but, even as one person’s eating is of little value to another, so too is the record of another person’s experiences until we attain the same end (see CW,2:473, 5:410).”-p.45
  4. On this aapta-hood of Vivekananda Rambachan’s analysis is important ones:

“In his commentary on this suutra, (pratyaksaanumaanaagamaah pramaanaani of Patanjali’s Yoga-suutras), Vivekannanda shows a certain awareness of the immediate problem of determining whether a particular aaptavaakya is valid knowledge. He proposes, therefore, a set of criteria for evaluating the authenticity of the aapta (attained one) and his or her perceptions. First, Vivekananda emphasizes the character of the aapta. Unlike other fields of endeavor, where the discovery of truth is independent of and not conditional on the moral character of the inquirer, here the reverse is true: “NO impure man will ever have the power to reach the truths of religion” (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda [CW], 8 vols. {Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1964-1971) 1:205). We must first ascertain, therefore, that the aapta is perfectly unselfish and holy. In imparting knowledge, Vivekananda advances, we must be clear that the aapta has no motive for material gain or acclaim. Second, we must be certain that the aapta has reached beyond the senses. The content of his knowledge should be information unobtainable through the application of our senses. Third, the perceptions of the aapta should not contradict truths derived from other valid sources of knowledge. A perception should be immediately rejected, for example, if it contradicts scientific knowledge: “Because whatever I see is proof, and whatever you see is proof, if it does not contradict any past knowledge. There is knowledge (p.42) beyond the senses, and whenever it does not contradict reason and past human experience, that knowledge is proof” (CW,1:205). Finally, according to Vivekananda, the assertions of the aapta must have a possibility of verification. The aapta should never claim any singular or unique faculty of perception and must represent only the possibilities of all persons. The perceptions of the aapta must be directly accessible to everyone.

It is these aaptas, adds Vivekananda, who are the authors of the sacred scriptures, and the latter are proof only because of this fact. The authority of the scripture is, therefore, one derived from the personal authority of the aapta: “Who is a true witness? He is a true witness to whom the thing said is a direct perception. Therefore the Vedas are true, because they consist of the evidence of competent persons” (CW,8:270; also 4:340, 1:232)….It is important to note, however, that Vivekananda does not see the rsis as the creators of the truths that they advocate. Like scientists in relation to the natural world, they are only discoverers. He characterizes the Vedas as a collection of spiritual laws discovered at different times by different persons: “Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical, and spiritual relations between soul and soul and between spirits and the Father of all spirits, were there before discovery, and would remain even if we forgot them” (CW,1:7). We may briefly note here that these spiritual laws are not conceived to be existing anywhere outside but are described by him as “the eternal laws living in every soul” (CW, 3:409). It is to substantiate this claim that he describes the Vedas as being “expired” rather than “inspired”.–pp.42-43

16.p. 135

  1. pp. 135-136
  2. p. 136
  3. p. 5 and also:

In spite of the acknowledged influence of Vivekananda-perhaps because of it-the Hindu tradition has yet to assess the nature of this influence critically….It is Vivekananda’s widespread impact, however, that makes critical appraisal necessary, and it is hoped that this work will contribute to such studies and to the understanding of changes in religious and philosophical thought in modern India.-p.7

  1. p.137
  2. p.8
  3. pp.39-40
  4. p. 13
  5. (B.S.Sukthankar, Translator’s Preface, Gita Rahasya by B.G.Tilak, Tilak Brothers, Pune, Seventh edition, 1991, p. ix.)
  6. Foot note 12. See S.K.Das, The Shadow of the Cross: Christianity and Hinduism in a Colonial Context (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1974), -p.141

“Vivekananda’s minimizing and underplaying, in contrast to Sankara, of the significance of the deep doctrinal differences among schools of Indian philosophical thought must also be related to his concern to emphasize the common basis of the Indian spiritual tradition. This again has to be seen in the context of his wider concern for Indian national unity. It is an example of political considerations influencing the shape of theology.”— p.135

  1. Religious Hinduism, chapter 27, Fallon, pp. 3277-78
  2. p.128
  3. p.60
  4. p.127
  5. p.127
  6. p.127
  7. p.128
  8. p. 137
  9. p.137
  10. p.137
  11. For example:

“Our Jesulogy basically agrees with the contention of the Neo-Vedaantins that unfortunately the universal message of Jesus which comprises the ideas of the indwelling divinity, of divine grace, universal ethics, and spiritual realization was distorted by the Christian Church through fettering it in cast-iron dogmas of innate vileness of human nature, the `scape-goat’ and the `atonement’, physical resurrection and the second advent, earthly kingdom and imminence of the Day of judgement which are purely sectarian in their scope. Human sacrifice was a Jewish idea and to fit the gentle and loving Jesus into Jewish beliefs, the idea of human sacrifice in the form of atonement or as a human scapegoat, by Christianity, was really unfortunate” (p.99), Aleaz.

On reading this the mind becomes still (rather numb), experiencing a theological or Jesulogical advaita (better shunya or the void); the way back to normalcy of faith and experience surely lies in tossing this book aside.—Review by Dayanand Bharati.

  1. -p.135
  2. The ” scientific character of Hinduism, the claim of many paths to the same goal, the nonessential character of doctrine, and the devaluation of reason. Vivekananda’s reliance on anubhava as the authoritative source for the knowledge of brahman must, in particular, be critically evaluated. (p.137)

39. p.137

  1. Quoted (in translation from the Bengali) in G.C. Banerji, 1931:345. Mallik’s claim is corroborated by Varia 3, p. 135 (under ‘Talk with Nalu Babu, 12th oct., 1928’); ‘It was Rev. Priyanath Mullick of the Nava Vidhan, who too then frequented the [Sadharan] Brahmo Samaj that brought [Bhabani] to Keshab. P. Mullick introduced Vivekananda to [Ramakrishna] Paramahansa.’ In fact Mallik also claimed to have introduced Naren to his future guru. This testimony (in translation from the Bengali) is also found in Banerji: ‘Everyone knows that the first part of Vivekananda’s life was formed in the Brahmo Samaj. At the very first he made acquaintance of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, then after he came to know me [i.e. Mallik] he began to have leanings towards Navavidhan. It was I who took him and introduced him to Keshab and he came to be selected to act as ritwik and do some singing in the staging of the Navavrindaban…..In those days I would conduct divine service and he used to sing hymns. One day while we were at worship thus, the late Ramchandra Dutt brought [Ramakrishna] Paramhansa there. Paramhansadeb listened to the…. Hymns and at the end started an ecstatic kirtan himself. Then he told Naren (Vivekananda) …. “I am very pleased with [your] song, do visit me.”….So far Naren was an intellectual, rationalist….Brahmo. From now he came under the influence of Paramhansa and the course of his life was changed’ (pp. 343-4). But cf. The Life of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, pp. 30-31.—Lipner (1999), op. Cit. Fn. 31, p. 65,Lipner,
  2. p.48   But the following points of Sankara quoted by Cloony is important for us to understand the danger of despising the learning to be a true guru:

Second, the reasoning of the uneducated person is notoriously unreliable:

One should not on the strength of reasoning alone challenge something that must be known from the scriptures. Reasoning that has no scriptural foundation and springs from the mere musings of the human mind lacks conclusiveness; for such musings are uncontrolled. Thus we see that an argument discovered with great effort by experts is falsified by other experts; and an argument hit upon by the latter is proved to be hollow by still others. So nobody can rely on argument as conclusive, since the human mind is so variable in its ways. (UMS II.1.11)—Cloony, op. cit. p.105

  1. P.135
  2. p.127

44. p.102

  1. p.136

46– Michael Scott Horton, Editor, Power Religion, The Selling Out Of The Evangelical Church? Moody Press, Chicago,1992, p.79

47 p.130

  1. p.3
  2. Cloony, op.cit.p.106
  3. ibid.p.128
  4. “The Church tries to fit Christ into it, not the church into Christ; so only those writings were preserved that suited the purpose in hand. Thus the books are not to be depended upon and book-worship is the worst kind of idolatry to bind our feet. All has to conform to the book—science, religion, philosophy; it is the most horrible tyranny, this tyranny of the Protestant Bible” (CW, 7:30)— Notes 16., pp.146-47
  5. P.V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, Vol.II. Part.I, Ch.VII. Upanayana Greatness of the Veda. p.353. And R.Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, Introduction. pp. 12-13.
  6. see fn. 15 above for a complete discussion by Rambachan.
  7. Man The Dwelling Place of God.
  8. –Swami Ranganathananda, Foreword, Krsna And Christ, by Ishanand Vempeny, S.J. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand,1988,p.xxiii.
  9. (Unity Books,Delhi, 1972, Editor, B.R.Kulkarni p.53
  10. (see Dr.S.W.Bakhle in pp51-52 ibid)
  11. Rambachan, ‘ For a discussion of the contemporary and traditional use of the term, see Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe (Albany:State University of New York Press, 1988), chap.21—Notes 1. p.139
  12. Cloony, op. cit, p.104
  13. The following points from Cloony will help us to understand this more clearly:

Second, the reasoning of the uneducated person is notoriously unreliable:

One should not on the strength of reasoning alone challenge something that must be known from the scriptures. Reasoning that has no scriptural foundation and springs from the mere musings of the human mind lacks conclusiveness; for such musings are uncontrolled. Thus we see that an argument discovered with great effort by experts is falsified by other experts; and an argument hit upon by the latter is proved to be hollow by still others. So nobody can rely on argument as conclusive, since the human mind is so variable in its ways. (UMS II.1.11)—ibid, p.105

Brahman is an objective extra-and post textual reality; legitimate, upanisadic statements about Brahman do not contradict properly exercised reason. But Brahman is beyond reason’s grasp in the sense that it places before reason truths it cannot combine into a single, overarching explanation; reason may recognize various points correctly, but never reaches a vantage point from which to envision the whole. The purpose of argument is to show that there are no reasonable grounds for seeking an explanation of the whole other than that indicated by the upanisads.—ibid, p.105

Here [UMS II.1.6], and throughout the rest of UMS II.1, the Advaita strategy is to demonstrate that its view point does not contradict reason on any given issue, but also that reason never achieves a broader systematization according to which everything the upanisads say can be organized reasonably. It is here that the superiority of the upanisads is shown: only to it, in all its textuality and indirection, can one attribute an adequate, practical narration of what the world is really like.

….There is never a place from which to examine reason’s and scripture’s claims impartially; one does not decide eventually, at some point, that scripture is more reasonable than reason.   Only after one submits to scripture and is imbued with its way of constructing the world can one think properly about the possible, limited and never entirely systematic contributions of reason exercised without reference to scripture.—ibid, p.106

  1. ( A Confession, p.85)
  2. (Leighton Ford; One way to change the world.)
  3. (Rambachan, -pp.128-129)
  4. “Religion is the acceptance of all existing creeds, seeing in them the same striving toward the same destination. Creed is something antagonistic and combative” (CW7:286).- Notes.27, p.151