By Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
The following is an excerpt from Sri Acharyaji's newly released 408 page book “The Vedic Way of Knowing God.” Released November 7, 2010. To purchase this groundbreaking work, visit http://www.lulu.com/product/paperbac...g-god/13555030.
To say that many of the teachings, philosophical positions, and insights of the tradition of Sanatana Dharma are wholly unique in the history of world philosophical and theological development would be an understatement of very large proportions. The uniqueness and brilliance of Vedic philosophy is seen especially in the epistemological approach of Sanatana Dharma, with epistemology forming, arguably, the very foundation of any systematic philosophical construct. The Vedic theory of how knowledge of Transcendence is arrived at is sophisticated, complex, psychologically oriented, as well as elegant in design. More, it is unparalleled in its logical rigor. It is based upon an ultimate rejection of both empiricism and intellectualism as epistemic mechanisms capable of knowing God, in favor of the unio mystica reality of a non-mediated perception of the Absolute that can only be attained via oneness with that Absolute.
Perceiving the Imperceptible: A Critique of Shabda
Sanatana Dharma philosophers ultimately reject the idea that the processes of empiricism (pratyaksa) and intellectualism (anumana) are means that are sufficiently capable of providing definitive criteria for formulating metaphysical judgments. Reliance on empiricism and intellectualism alone are seen as being nothing more than impetuous attempts by the finite to grasp the Infinite. As such, they are ultimately doomed to fail as sufficient means to understand the Absolute. But, while the finite can never fully know the nature of the Infinite using finite means, at the same time, in order for the Infinite to truly live up to His omnicompetent label, He must contain within Himself the ability to make Himself known to the finite. Any lesser expectation of God would be a clear encroachment upon His omnipotent status. This theo-dependent revealing process is what Hindu philosophy terms the process of shabda, or Divine Word. Rather than using an ascending or accumulative means to achieve knowledge of the Absolute, the teachings of Sanatana Dharma recommends the descending route of shabda. In other words, according to such great Vedic Acharyas (preceptors) as Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, and others, the proper way of gaining valid knowledge about the Absolute is to have the Absolute reveal Himself to the human person.
Sanatana Dharmins hold that complete and unerring knowledge of all transcendent and temporal subject matters, known in Sanskrit as sarva-jna (omniscience), is one of the distinguishing attributes of the Absolute. This being the case, brahma-vidya, or knowledge of the Absolute, is not to be attained by making a strenuous ascent up the steep Himalaya of mental speculation, but can only come about via a direct connection with that omniscient Absolute. Comparing the Dharmic descending model of knowledge acquisition with the pratyaksa-heavy methodology of modern science, Henry Stapp, senior physics researcher at U. C. Berkeley, says:
"The [Hindu] ontology is analytic, whereas the classical physics model of nature is synthetic. That is the [Hindu] conceptualization of the totality is top-down - it starts from the unified whole (the Supreme Person) and tries to identify component processes that exist and are defined only within the enveloping structure provided by the whole. In contrast, the classical physics idealization is bottom-up - it starts from the idea of distinct elemental parts and seeks to represent the whole as aggregates of these independent elemental parts." (Stapp, 13)
Thus, knowledge of the Absolute, for all traditional Vedic philosophers, is revealed by the Whole to the seeker by means of direct shabdic transmission. As we will see, the epistemic mechanics of this process of transmission are laid out by the Vedic philosophical system quite thoroughly.
Perception: Vaidushya vs. Avaidushya
Focusing first on the fundamental activity of perception, traditional Sanatana Dharma philosophers analyze the many ways in which sentient human beings are capable of interacting with various possible objects of knowledge. First, these philosophers uphold the Vedantic distinction between 1) external perception and 2) internal perception. The former corresponds to perception as achieved through each of the five physical senses. Thus, there are five forms of external perception. In addition to these, there is the means of internal perception (manasa-pratyasha), which is manas, or mind. Whenever we experience such non-tactile emotions as love, hate, sympathy, pleasure and pain, we are perceiving these phenomena with the internal sensory instrument of manas. This leads to a total of six tools of perception.
Additionally, in agreement with the Nyaya (logician) philosophers, Sanatana Dharma holds that these six tools can each be of two distinct types, a) determinate (savikalpaka) and b) indeterminate (nirvikalpaka), or that perception which either includes or excludes relations, respectively. This doubles the six modes of perception, giving us now twelve. The final distinction that Hindu epistemology makes is between avaidushya perception and vaidushya perception. It is at this juncture in our exploration of the epistemological theory of Sanatana Dharma that the specific cognitive conditions for shabdic transmission can begin to be directly investigated.
According to Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit/English Dictionary, the word vaidushya denotes “learning, erudition, science.” Vaidushya refers to that perception of wisdom that is free from any tinge of material imperfection. It is immune to all of the defects and errors inherent within the non-shabdic pramanas, such as the four deficiencies of bhrama (illusion), pramada (inattentiveness), vipralasa (the impulse to deceive) and karanapataka (insufficiency of the senses). By vaidushya, Hindu epistemology is specifically referring to the ability to perceive the noumenal, the “...integral knowing which gives us the genuine knowledge of the reality...”. (Mahanamabrata, 103)
Vaidushya perception itself forms the cognitive basis of shabda - divine transmission - since it is predicated upon a pure and reliable a priori source: the samadhi state of consciousness that was experienced by the rishis, the ancient seers of the Sanatana Dharma tradition. “Vaidushya pratyaksha is the basis of shabda itself”, according to Kapoor, “being free from all kinds of error. Avaidushya pratyaksha is liable to error.” (65) As such, it is not a means of perception that the vast majority of human beings are experiencing on a daily basis. It is not normative human consciousness. Rather, it is a psychologically illusion-free, and therefore materially non-mediated, form of perception that is consciously and volitionally acquired through Yoga practice and the consequent spiritual attainment that follows such practice. Therefore, vaidushya perception of transcendent reality is radically juxtaposed with avaidushya perception.
Traditional Vedic philosophers make an important differentiation between vaidushya, unadulterated knowledge, which is free from material imperfections, and avaidushya, or the mundane perception of ordinary knowledge. Avaidushya is knowledge which is practicably useful on the phenomenal plane, but which is almost invariably capable of being vitiated due to one sort of inherent fallacy attribute or another. Interestingly, included under the general category of avaidushya perception would not only be Humean “Matters of Fact,” or contingent truths the denial of which do not lead to a logical contradiction, but also “Relations of Ideas,” axiomatic necessities such as the principles of mathematics, geometry and the laws of logic, for which the denial of a valid proposition would lead directly to a contradiction. Thus, for Sanatana Dharma philosophy, every form of temporal knowledge, ranging from the immediately factual (for example, the contingent proposition: “I am presently reading this paper”) to the scientific (including the conclusions of such fields of inquiry as physics, biology, etc.), and including even the very laws of reason themselves (such as logic and mathematics), would fall under the category of non-vaidushya, or imperfect, perception. Real knowledge of the Absolute, being for Sanatana Dharma untainted by any imperfection (amala), can only be known by vaidushya perception. Moreover, this perception must be in the form of pure shabdic transmission.
The Nature of Shabda
The Sanskrit term “shabda” has several denotative and connotative meanings in Sanatana Dharma philosophy. I shall first discuss the former in order to shed some further light on the latter. Shabda in its denotative sense literally means “word,” “sound,” “name.” In Sanatana Dharma philosophy there are two distinct forms of sound: 1) mundane sound, that sound which is heard through the organ of the ears, and 2) transcendental sound, that living and eternal sound which is transmaterial in origin, having Brahman (God) as its source and content, and which is not heard with the ear, but which is directly perceived by non-auditory means. Heinrich Zimmer, in his Philosophies of India, explains this distinction further. “Sounds heard by the outer ear are produced by ‘two things striking together,’ whereas the sound of Brahman is anahata shabda, ‘the sound (shabda) which comes without the striking of any two things together (anahata)’” (Zimmer, 585). Mundane sound created as a result of “two things striking together” - and the words that originate from the mouths of human beings, specifically - are not considered to be a reliable source of metaphysical knowledge for Sanatana Dharma. This is so because these sounds will only be as perfect and as reliable as is their source. Fallible beings create fallible utterances. Fallible utterances lead to fallible knowledge. Fallible knowledge falls infinitely short as a means of knowing the Infallible. Such imperfect words are termed paurusheya-shabda, or “mortal sound”. As such, they are ultimately only capable of delivering knowledge of the temporal world - and even that, as we have seen, quite imperfectly. Satyanarayana confirms this:
"In its ultimate sense the term shabda refers to revealed knowledge about the transcendental reality that is realiable and free from defects. This kind of shabda differs from the language used in mundane transactions, called paurusheya-shabda, and is not always reliable." (Satyanarayana, 23)
On the other hand, shabda-brahma, the Divine Sound, is an eternal constant. What is not necessarily constant, however, is the human apprehension of that sound.
In addition to having its ontological locus in Transcendence, this divine, archetypal shabda serves as the very basis and primeval source of all posterior sound, including even the very grammatical structural vehicles of sound, the grammar of the Sanskrit language. In its eleventh skandha, the Bhagavata-purana gives a detailed description of this process of the divine descent of sound:
"Just as a spider evolves (lit. vomits) out of its woolly cob-web fibers from its heart, the Lord in the form of Hiranyagarbha, through Prana (the vital air) manifests Himself in the form of Veda. Essentially He is absolutely blissful. With the material of eternally abiding unstruck (anahata) sound emanating from the cavity of the heart through the medium of mind, He brings out various sounds represented in the letters of the alphabet. The Lord who is the embodiment of the Vedic meters and essentially sweet (lit. nectarine), manifests out of O‚ the Vaikhari form (of speech), which flowed out in a thousand ways beautiful with various sounds classified as consonants, vowels, silibants, semivowels (y,r,l,v). Such proliferated pranava (AUM) became expanded in various languages and was characterized by metres each consisting of four more letters than the previous one, and is (in a way) limitless. The Lord who creates this unlimited Vedic speech, also withdraws it within Himself." (Bhagavata Purana, 11, 21, 38-40)
Mundane sound designates something other than itself. The fact that a specific liquid is referred to by the sound “water”, for example, is a contingent linguistic fact, and not a necessary and unalterable referential reality. Transcendental sound and the transcendental referent to which it is connected, on the other hand, are one and the same. Due to having its originating source in the Divine, then, shabda is believed to intimately participate in the qualities of the Divine. As God is perfect, that verbum dei sound which emanates from God must also be perfect. Therefore, shabda contains within it the same purificatory, enlightening and salvific qualities as does the very omnisapient presence of God. Additionally, the grammatical vehicle of that very transcendent sound is thought to have been directly designed by a process of devolution, its inceptive source being Brahman and the devolutionary derivatives of which are the components of human language with which we are all familiar.
Both pre-Classical Vedic religion proper and the Classical Sanatana Dharma tradition teach that, in contradistinction to the mundane empiric sounds with which we are all familiar, there is also a trans-stratum of spiritual sound, which is eternal, perfect, pre-communicative, and of the same nature of pure consciousness as is the Absolute. It is to this ontological reality of transcendent sound vibration that the connotative meaning of the term shabda refers. Even more specifically, in the epistemological sense, the term refers to the direct experiential apprehension of that divine sound by the individual human agent under very specified, yogically induced psychological conditions.
Shabda as Word and Shabda as Experience
The term shabda must be categorically distinguished into two metaphysically conterminous, yet functionally distinct, senses. The first sense of shabda denotes the extrinsic Word as a vital, objectified source of revelatory informational content. The second sense of the term shabda is more imminently encountered in the subjective experience of the yogin (yogi in the nominative case) of the instantiated Word as the very unio mystica experience itself. The first sense of shabda is the Word itself, either in its eternally noumenal sense, or in the sense of shabda as it is manifest in written form. In this primary sense, shabda exists as an ontological Real, having its own inherent value. The second sense is shabda as the direct experience of the yogi. It is shabda in its second sense that is of primary significance in the revelatory process since it is in this second sense that shabda becomes epistemically operative in the most immediate sense. For, while the proofs of either a) eternal and transcendent shabda and b) written shabda may be epistemically accurate, they nonetheless still provide only an indirect knowledge of truth. Debabrata Sinha explains the distinction in the following manner:
"Cognition through word (shabda) is to be analyzed further in the steps of Vedantic realization. Firstly, there arises from scriptural texts an indirect knowledge concerning the existence of the Supreme Being. There are texts declaring the latter as real (sat), as existing (asti). All that such existential statements yield is the assured, but still indirect, knowledge of Reality. In its lack of directness, it is no less mediate (paroksha) than inferential cognition. It is only the generic aspect of existentiality (sattvamsha) that is primarily conveyed through scriptural texts, as also from ordinary words or inferences; but the specific context (vyakti) is not revealed thereby." (Sinha, 129)
It is the personal, dynamically transformative experience of shabda on the part of the individual yogi that is the aim of the yoga process, as well as the via medium through which eternal shabda is accessed within the realm of human agency.
Rishis as Aptas: “Perfectly Reliable Authorities”
Perhaps even more important than the mechanics of shabdic transmission are the subjective qualities of the individual to whom the transcendent experience is being communicated. Unlike the transient paurusheya (“mortal”) knowledge of phenomenal reality, brahma-vidya (knowledge of the Absolute) is not accessible merely as a result of the desire - or even the intellectual ability - of the observer. Rather it is accessed as a direct consequence of the personal spiritual purity of the seeker. Since untainted knowledge of the Absolute is perfect, infallible and pure, it follows that the vehicle through which such knowledge is revealed must of necessity also be of the same qualities as this brahma-vidya (knowledge of the Absolute). Hindu author, B.V. Tripurari, confirms this link between subjective spiritual realization and the objective realization of spiritual truth. “Proof of the validity of shastra [the literary form of shabda] itself as a valid means of knowing lies in those who have realized its subject through the means recommended therein” (Tripurari, 40). Such human beings as above described are known in Sanskrit as a rishis, or “...seers of the Vedic hymns...”. (Monier-Williams, 226)
The Rishi Phenomenon
The rishi phenomenon is an instance of a human being who, through the allied processes of yoga, tapas (vows of austerity), sadhanas (systematic spiritual disciplines), intense meditation (dhyana), and other esoteric means of systematic self-purification, has achieved absolute transcendence over the non-atman (non-spiritual) aspects of herself. Having gained complete control over the body, mind, speech and senses, the rishi becomes transformed into a being who is thoroughly absorbed in the spiritual reality. Being thus absorbed, she has a direct and unmediated experiential connection with the truth. In the terminology of Yoga philosophy, such a state is known as samadhi, or perfect meditative absorption.
The samadhi state is one of enstasy, in which the individual undergoes the experience of standing within her true self and tasting the bliss of her own inner reality. From this trans-material perspective within the samadhi state, the yogi and the Absolute - the subjective experiencer and the transcendent object of the experience - become intimately reunited. “Experience is synonymous with reality”, says Mahanamabrata, “which is to be analyzed, synthesized and plunged into, so that its ultimate nature may be immediately apprehended.” (3) There are two different levels of samadhi that the yogi undergoes in her attempt to realize the ultimate truth. The first of these is savikalpa-samadhi, in which the yogi begins to identify with the essence of the Absolute. At the highest stage of savikalpa-samadhi, one is able to attain the realization of one’s own primal substratum, which is composed of saccidananda (sat, cit and ananda), or unadulterated consciousness qualified by the attributive qualities of never-ending being, cognizance and bliss. In the second stage of samadhi, known as nirvikalpa-samadhi, the yogi achieves complete identification with her true self, atman, and has direct praesentia dei perception of Parabrahman, the Supreme Absolute. This is an experience that is described as being situated beyond the delimiting modes of time and space, thus utterly transcendental in content. In the immediate aftermath of this radical ontological shift in the yogi's subjective locus, a complete transformation of her consciousness subsequently ensues. The externally observable ramifications of the samadhi phenomenon on the subject (the yogi /rishi) are two-fold. One is psychological in nature, the other epistemological.
The psychological and cognitive impact of the samadhi phenomenon is radically transformative in nature. This transformation that occurs within the yogi (soon to be rishi) affects her on a variety of levels, including intellectual, mental, emotional, nervous, and ethical. For the sake of remaining firmly situated within the epistemic bounds of the present work, however, we will focus primarily on the cognitive modification that takes place in the psyche of the rishi (seer). Because the rishi has conquered the demands of the ego, she is no longer subject to the four imperfections of bhrama (the tendency toward illusion), pramada (inattentiveness), vipralasa (the desire to cheat) and karanapatava (insufficiency of the senses) put forth by Hindu philosophers in their critique of pratyaksha and anumana. The Bhagavad-gita explains this state in the following manner.
He whose mind is not affected in sorrow
and is free from desire in pleasure
and who is without attachment, fear, or anger -
he is called a sage of steady insight (sthita-dhi).
(2.56, Georg Feuerstein trans.)
Since her knowledge of the truth is derived via direct, non-mediated transmission - from Brahman (God) to atman (soul) - completely bypassing the customary intermediary routes of the senses, mind, intellect and ego, karanapatava (insufficiency of the senses) is averted. Empirical and rational instruments simply are no longer employed in this instance. Therefore, their perfection, or lack thereof, is rendered a thorough non-issue. Additionally, because she is no longer under the illusion that her self-interest is of any superior value to the ultimate spiritual interest of all other beings, the defect of vipralasa (the desire to cheat), also, no longer applies. The ultimate interest of all other living beings is now her supreme interest. Thus the apta (reliable person) is a perfectly moral being, acting from and in goodness, not due to a mere sense of necessitating duty, but out of her own intrinsic atmic (spiritual) nature. Having attained a state of dharana, or perfect concentration, she is not subject to pramada (inattentiveness). Being thoroughly absorbed in the loving contemplation (upasana) of Brahman, her attention is perfectly and effortlessly alert, never diverted and ever-focused. Finally, having transcended the firm grip of maya (illusion) altogether, the tendency of bhrama (the tendency toward illusion) is nothing more than a faint memory for the rishi.
Having thus risen above all the defective tendencies of the mundane cognitive processes, the rishi is seen, by the vast majority of philosophers within the Sad-darshana (seven schools of Sanatana Dharma philosophy) tradition, as the most indisputable source of knowledge. The rishi is not merely an intellectual who attempts to grasp the truth, captures it, and then mechanically teaches it to others. Rather, she is a transparent via medium through which transcendent truth is seen and directly experienced first-hand. She is a breathing example of truth in living, caring motion. In a poem created by René Dumal, we find a beautiful description of the profound experience that the rishi has:
You cannot stay on the summit forever;
You have to come down again.
So why bother in the first place? Just this:
What is above knows what is below,
But what is below does not know what is above.
One climbs, one sees.
One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.
There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions.
When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
For Sanatana Dharma, the rishi is no less than a living testament to the existence, nature, and power of God. It is for this reason that the rishis are termed aptah, or “perfectly reliable authorities.”
Identifying the RishiAll this having been drawn out, a legitimate concern may then arise as to the practical identifiability of such an apta-rishi (perfectly reliable seer). After all, anyone can claim to be a perfectly realized rishi without this necessarily being the case in fact. How can we truly know that one person’s cognitive aptitudes are any more spiritually attuned than any other individual’s? How do we know if someone really is a rishi? For the answer, we must revisit the idea, so prevalent in both traditional Asian philosophical systems, as well as much pre-Cartesian European philosophy, that one necessarily lives one’s philosophical claims in order for those claims to be considered perfectly valid and demonstrable. One’s philosophy must be lived, not merely speculated upon. We must ascertain the true identity of an apta by examining the behavioral modalities of the person under question.
Even within the familiar confines of our modern Euro-American scientific paradigm, the process of identifying and categorizing existents in accordance with their inherent attributes, properties, and effects is recognized as being a perfectly legitimate course of action in determining the inherent nature of the existent under consideration. The identification of an object as being fire, for example, is due to said object exhibiting the qualities of heat, brilliance, the ability to burn, etc. Moreover, the observation of such attributes - or effects - must be replicable in similarly designed circumstances. In a remarkably similar manner, there are a number of recognized behavioral characteristics which are traditionally attributed to an apta, the necessary presence of which objectively confirms the identity of a person as being decidedly aptic in nature, and the absence of which render any such claims to be void of validity.
Illustrations of the uncommon personalities, behaviors, and activities of perfected aptas, as well as rather detailed and comprehensive listings of their personal quality traits, are given in many of the sacred scriptures and ancillary texts of the Sanatana Dharma tradition. A very detailed catalogue of these distinguishing attributes is given in the Bhagavad-gita for example.
"The Lord said: Fearlessness, purity of being, steadfastness in the yoga of wisdom, charity, self-control and sacrifice, study of the Veda, austerity, uprightness, non-violence, truth, absence of anger, renunciation, peace, absence of guile, compassion towards beings, absence of covetousness, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness, majesty, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, absence of malice and excessive pride - these are the endowments of one who is born with the divine nature, O Bharata." (Bhagavad-gita 16, 1-3)
These are some of the many qualities that reveal the authenticity of the rishi (seer, perfected yogi) as a valid source of knowledge. If a person is deficient in any of these distinguishing attributes, then her claim to being an apta, and therefore her claim to have the ability to communicate perfect truth to humanity, is subsequently invalidated.
This is a foundational belief in Hindu thought and is perfectly in concert with at least two of the presuppositions that I previously noted in the unique outlook of general Indian philosophy regarding the very nature and purpose of the philosophic enterprise. 1) Truth is designed to be experienced and lived, not merely thought about, and 2) the mode of consciousness manifest during the state of liberation from illusion and suffering serves as both the final goal (artha), as well as the ultimate methodological procedure (upaya), for any genuine philosophical endeavor.
In summary, a rishi is a person who has six primary characteristics, one leading in a sequence of direct causality to the next. An apta-rishi:
1) has an immediate experiential perception of truth,
2) she is consequently positively and radically transformed by that experience,
3) therefore, she is beneficent and compassionate towards all beings,
4) therefore, she has a desire to communicate this truth to all beings, and
5) she then communicates this truth to all beings in the form of her own immediately validating personal example, in addition to her personal verbal testimony.
6) As a sixth and final potential development, periodically that sage will write down either a description, explanation, or account of her realization of truth. This writing will then be an instance of the manifestation of Shastra-pramana, or scripture as a valid epistemic mechanism.
One more concern that could possibly arise from the concept of the apta-rishi is the very question of the possibility of the reality of such a being. After all, how realistic is it for a human being to be expected to perfectly personify all of the above stated qualities that are constitutive for an apta? “I’ve certainly never met an apta”, the skeptic could very easily proclaim. The relevancy of such misgivings is quite negligible, however, when one considers the necessarily firmly demarcated scope of the philosophical project at hand. For in order to uphold the validity of the rishi phenomenon as a reliable epistemic tool, the first and most immediate task required of traditional Vedic philosophers is merely to show that it is in no way irrational to hold the idea that knowledge can be adequately derived via the process of shabda. And clearly, given the validity of the scrupulously outlined chain of arguments proffered by these philosophers, it is not.
In other words, ours is not a historical or a sociological inquiry, but an epistemological and a philosophical one. Our task is not to display a living, breathing apta for the world to shake hands with in full empirically-fueled appreciation. In order to firmly uphold the shabda theory as a perfectly valid and viable argument, our only responsibility from a strictly intellectual perspective is merely to prove to an adequately sufficient degree the logical tenability of such a being existing. Additionally, we must show that if such a being ever had existed, then receiving knowledge from this being would be an epistemologically sound course of action. In my estimation, both points have been conclusively proven.
The proposition that such a being as the rishi can possibly exist is neither a necessary falsehood nor in any way logically invalid. Therefore, such a contention can be perfectly validly upheld. Moreover, if there has ever been at least one such perfectly reliable person at any time within the bounds of human history, then the ramifications of this fact would be to prove that shabda (divine word) as a source of knowledge is not only a valid concept in itself, and not only superior to other valid ways of knowing, but is a phenomenon of immediate personal, religious, and spiritual relevance for every rational human being. Achieving this latter task is, however, certainly not within the intended scope of this present work.
The Flow of Shabda via Acharya-parampara
As we follow the progression of the divine descent of shabdic truth, we see that its place of origination is located in the heart of Narayana, the Supreme Being. At some instant in the timeless reality of the transcendent realm of Vaikuntha (the spiritual realm), this same Narayana (God) makes the free volitional decision to utter this eternally existent (apaurusheya) divine sound. From the mouth of God to the ear of the demi-god Brahma, the creator of the material realm (jagat), it is then transmitted. As utilized by Brahma, this shabda is then used in the construction of the material cosmos. This very same shabda is also used in the maintenance of the cosmos in the form of dharma, yajna (sacred ceremony), mantra and - most importantly - the way in which humanity learns of all the above: Veda. Shabda is compiled in the literary form of the Veda by Vyasa, the avatara (incarnation) of Narayana, the very origin of shabda itself, thus completing a revelatory circuit consisting of perfect Truth perfectly transmitted by the Perfect for the sake of the imperfect.
This same knowledge is then safeguarded and carried down to every successive generation of humanity by the unbroken lineage (parampara) of gurus. These guru/transmitters themselves serve several shabdicfunctions. First, as self-realized souls in their own right, they are concretely representing the samadhi tradition of the rishis, the original revealers of Shastra-pramana. Second, coming in direct disciplic succession from the first guru, Vyasa, they serve as his representatives to individual seekers of truth (shishyas) throughout history. The guru, consequently, is the ever-historically present replication of epistemic events originating from a sacred past. Because the guru is representing, via her own personal liberated samadhi experience, the same state of shabdic awareness that her ancient rishi predecessors had, the guru is thus considered to be empowered to deliver that same unadulterated truth that these rishis originally bestowed upon humanity.
In this way, shabda - the imperishable divine word - is conceived by traditional Sanatana Dharma philosophers as flowing in a dynamic and continuous circuit, within which, reality as we presently experience it is but a transient and secondary byproduct of a transcendent realm. Shabda exists eternally as non-different from the Absolute, is perceived periodically by the perfected apta-rishis (perfectely reliable seers), is communicated to imperfect humanity by means of Shastra-pramana (Vedic scriptures), with the direct aim of inducing the very same shabdic experience within imperfect humans that was beheld by the perfected aptas (reliable authorities) previously.
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya is the Founder-President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society, as well as the Director of the Center for Dharma Studies in Omaha, Nebraska.
He is universally acclaimed as one of the world's most respected and qualified Dharma teachers and Hindu spiritual leaders. Dr. Deepak Chopra has exclaimed in 2002: "You've done truly phenomenal work teaching the pure essence of Yoga". In a similar manner, Dr. David Frawley has said about Sri Acharyaji, "Sri Acharyaji represents the Sankalpa [the will] of the Hindu people and the cause of Sanatana Dharma. I urge all Hindus everywhere to give him your full support, assistance, and encouragement in his crucial work. He needs and deserves our help."
Sri Acharyaji was the Resident Acharya (Spiritual Preceptor) of the Hindu Temple of Nebraska (2007 - 2009), which represents the first time in American history that a Hindu temple has ever made such an esteemed appointment.
Sri Acharyaji began his personal spiritual journey over 35 years ago at the tender age of ten when he read the Bhagavad Gita for the very first time. He coupled his decades of intense spiritual practice and study with advanced academic achievements, earning a B.A. in philosophy/theology from Loyola University Chicago, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Explaining to his doctoral advisor that "I don't want to just study the history of religion…I want to make religious history", Sri Acharyaji eventually left academia to devote himself exclusively to spiritual teaching and to the preservation of the great tradition of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).
Today, Sri Acharyaji occupies his full time teaching Dharma spirituality to diverse audiences. In addition to leading classes, satsanghas, seminars and lecturing on Sanatana Dharma widely, Sri Acharyaji is a renowned author, as well as a personal spiritual guide (guru) to a rapidly increasing following of enthusiastic students from both the Indian and the non-Indian communities.
Some of his books include:
"Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Natural Way"
"Living Dharma: The Teachings of Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya"
"Radical Universalism: Does Hinduism Teach that All Religions are the
"Taking Refuge in Dharma: The Initiation Guidebook"
"The Vedic Way of Knowing God"
"The Shakti Principle: Encountering the Feminine Power of God"
"The Art of Wisdom: Affirmations for Boundless Living"
For more information about the life and teachings of Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya, please visit his website:
The Vedic Way of Knowing God
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
 My use of masculine pronouns in referring to God is neither arbitrary nor the result of my own personal gender preference when referring to the Absolute. Rather, they are used in order to convey the fact that for most philosophers of Sanatana Dharma, especially those of the Vedanta tradition, God is quite specifically seen in terms of the personage of Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita. For an indepth examination of the question of the gender-identity of God in the Hindu tradition, please see my book “The Shakti Principle: Encountering the Feminine Power of God”; Houston, Dharma Ascending Press, 2005. An illustration of this type of perfection can be found in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita: raja-vidya raja-guhyam pavitram idam uttamam pratyakshavagamam dharmyam susukham kartum avyayam, “This is sovereign knowledge, a sovereign secret, the highest purifier, understood immediately, righteous, very easy to practice and imperishable” (9:2).
 Allusions to this two-tiered distinction of knowledge are mentioned at least as early as the Mundaka-upanishad, "There are two kinds of knowledge (vidya) to be attained, the higher (para) and the lower (apara)." (tasmai sa hovaca dve vidye veditavye iti ha sma yad brahmavido vadanti para caivapara ca) (I, 1, 4) Though the context of this verse revolves more around a ritualistic concern than an overtly epistemological one, the philosophical point is nonetheless clearly apparent.
 To quote Hume’s own brusquely stated criteria: “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” (David Hume. Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951.)
 E.G.: “The bachelor is not a married man.” To deny the truth of this proposition would entail an absurd contradiction, i.e., that “The bachelor is a married man.”
 This view that knowledge can be seen as being of two distinct kinds - common and perfect - is not a thoroughly foreign notion, but is also found throughout the history of Western philosophy. For example, in Plato’s Symposium (I. 211, 11), Diotima makes a very similar distinction between these two forms of knowledge in her conversation with Socrates. Similarly, in Chinese philosophy, we find a clear distinction between two forms of knowing described in the Tao-Te Ching: "Tao can be talked about, but not the eternal Tao."
 See V. S. Apte’s Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary for a more exhaustive listing of definitions.
 yathornanabhir hridayad urnam udvamate mukhat/
akashad ghoshavan prano manasa sparsharupina//
chandomayo 'mrtamayah sahasrapadavim prabhuh/
vicitrabhashavitatam chandobhish caturuttaraih/
anantaparam brhatim srjaty akshipate svayam//
 All translations from the Bhagavata-purana that appear in this work are from the edition by Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare unless otherwise indicated.
 As observed above, the specific term shabda-brahman, or “spiritual sound,” is sometimes used by Sanatana Dharma philosophers in order to make it unambiguously clear what is being referred to by the more general word “shabda.”
 Additionally, according to Sanatana Dharma, the grace of God is a necessary prerequisite for spiritual realization (atma-jnana), apprehension of the Absolute (brahma-vidya), and the final liberation (moksha) that is the goal of all schools of Vedanta, and of the entire Hindu tradition generally.
 The term “pure” is here referring to that state of being which is devoid of all non-spiritual, non-eternal concerns, hence not subject to falsity, change, diminution and error. It is a term that is rooted in qualitative ontology, not in relative value judgments.
 duhkheshvanudvignamanah sukheshu vigatasprhah/
vitaragabhayakrodhah sthitadir munir ucyate//
 In describing a wholly good and rational being in a more Kantian sense, H.J. Paton inadvertently provides us with a vivid picture of the categorically transcendent ethical nature of such a morally perfect being: "A perfectly rational and wholly good agent would necessarily act on the same objective principles which for us are imperatives, and so would manifest a kind of goodness just as we do when we obey these imperatives. But for him such objective principles would not be imperatives: they would be necessary but not necessitating, and the will which followed them could be described as a 'holy' will. Where we say 'I ought', an agent of this kind would say 'I will'. He would have no duties nor would he feel reverence for the moral law (but something more akin to love)". (Paton, 26)
 Sri bhagavan uvaca/
danam damashca yajnashca svadhyayastapa arjavam//
ahimsa satyamakrodhastyagah shantirapaishunam/
daya bhuteshvaloluptvammardavam hriracapalam//
tejah kshama dhrtih shauchamadroho natimanita/
bhavanti sampadam daivim abhijatasya bharata//
 Most Bhagavad-gita translations that I use in this work are by Eliot Deutsch, unless otherwise clearly indicated.
 Two of many potential examples of this are the rishi Valmiki writing the Ramayana and the rishi Vyasa writing the Mahabharata.
 The Vedic demi-god Brahma is synonymous with the Demiurge (Gk. - Demiourgos; Latin - Demiurgus) concept found in Classical European philosophy and among the Gnostic sects of early Christianity. God, being of purely spiritual ontological substance and nature, cannot come into direct contact with matter. Thus, He uses an embodied person in the form of Brahma as an intermediary to create the material cosmos. The concept of the Demiurge/Brahma is found in Plato’s Timeaus (ca. 360 BCE), and the Apochryphon of John (ca. 200 CE), among other ancient texts. Marcion of Sinope, an important Gnostic philosopher, felt the Demiurge was synonymous with Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament. Yahweh was contrasted with the God of the New Testament, who was seen as the true God.
Among many other references to the parampara concept is the famous verse from the Bhagavad-gita:
evam parampara-praptam imam rajarshayo viduh /
sa kaleneha mahata yogo nashtah paramtapa // (4.2).
This article is an excerpt from Sri Acharyaji's (Dr. Frank Morales’) newly released 408 page book “The Vedic Way of Knowing God.” Released November 7, 2010.
To purchase this groundbreaking work, visit http://www.lulu.com/product/paperbac...g-god/13555030.
The Way of the Rishi
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
For further information on how you can directly experience the ecstatic state of God-consciousness, please visit:
Copyright Notice, (c) 2010-2012, Dharmacentral.com
You have the author's permission to publish and/or forward this article for educational purposes only if it is left thoroughly unaltered, unchanged and unedited (with the inclusion of this notice), and if full credit is given to the author.