Role of reason in Hindu dharma

Should we believe blindly anything written in Hindus  scripture? Does reason play any role in interpreting Hindu scripture? This is what Swami Vivekananda has written about Hindu dharma.
Religion is not about belief but about direct perception

 “There are certain religious facts which, as in external science, have to be perceived and upon them religion will be built. Of course, the extreme claim that you must believe every dogma of a religion is degrading to the human mind. The man who asks you to believe everything, degrades himself, and, if you believe, degrades you too. The sages of the world have only the right to tell us that they have analyzed their minds and have found these facts, and if we do the same we shall also believe, and not before. That is all there is in religion.”

(The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 2:163).

 “The proof, therefore, of the Vedas is just the same as the proof of this table before me, pratyaksa, direct perception. This I see with the senses, and the truths of spirituality we also see in a superconscious state of the human soul.”

(The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 3:253)
Here are some additional quotes on this issue.
Sri Sankara, the famous Advaita philosopher, makes the same point in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita 18.66:
” …… The appeal to the infallibility of the Vedic injunction is misconceived. The infallibility in question refers only to the unseen force or apurva, and is admissable only in regard to matters not confined to the sphere of direct perceptions etc. ….. Even a hundred statements of sruti to the effect that fire is cold and non-luminous won’t prove valid. If it does make such a statement, its import will have to be interpreted differently. Otherwise , validity won’t attach to it. Nothing in conflict with the means of valid cognition or with its own statement may be imputed to sruti.” (Bhagavad Gita Bhashya of Sri Sankaracharya translated by Dr. A.G. Krishna Warrier).
Yoga Vasishta Ramayan says:
Though human in origin, an exposition of truth is to be accepted; otherwise even what is regarded as divine revealation is to be rejected. Even a young boy’s words are to be accepted if they are words of wisdom; else reject it like straw even if uttered by Brahma the creator.”
(Vasishta’s Yoga II-18 translated by Swami Venkatesananda)
Vacaspati Misra, the author of Bhamati, says,
Even one thousand scriptural statements cannot transform a jar into a piece of cloth“.
quoted in Indian Philosophy by Radhakrishnan

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8 Replies to “Role of reason in Hindu dharma”

  1. Dear Pradip da,

    Thanks for a concise and illuminating article.

    This is a topic that many people to play a zero sum game with Dharma on one hand and the other faith-based religions on another. This is what makes sanatana dharma so special, imho. Pramāna including pratyaskha.

    There are of course dogmatists within the Hindu fold who argue that shruti is the highest pramāna. When countered with "yes, shruti is highest only when it is heard directly by you (ie found in meditative absorption) and not just mechanically heard (or read)" they say "Are you a Rishi? Only a rishi of the highest order might be able to do so…for us mere mortals, faith is the way".

    How would you explain to these people this topic?

    Best,

  2. Dear Dwai,

    Sankara says that even shruti is not authoritative in the domain where reason applies. He accepts that in some areas like the existence of Brahman, Its nature etc Shruti is authoritative because we can not reason out the existence of Brahman and its nature.

    Vivekananda agrees with the first part of Sankara's position. He, however, says that we will believe in the Rishis statement about Brahman and its nature only if the rishis also tell us how to test their claims. There is no room for blind belief for Vivekananda.

  3. Thanks 🙂

    Is Pratyaksha a possibility wrt. Brahman or is it Aparoksha Anubhuti?
    The difference as i understand it is – Pratyaksha is experience and since Brahman cannot be an experience, so there has to be another way. Aparokshanubhuti is what is translated as "Direct apperception".

  4. Brahman is not an object. So the usual process of light scattering from an object and entering our eyes and then interpreted by our mind can not work. What happens is Brahman projects itself directly into the mind of the spiritual aspirant. So Aparokshaanubhuti must be the term used.

  5. In fact Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma is based on facts and reason – there is no room for blind belief anywhere. However, it may take a long time for the methods to help a person reach the conclusion mentioned. That doesn’t automatically make the Rishi wrong. Its also being assumed that the Rishi has nothing better to do than to try and explain – don’t want to believe don’t! One will have the Anubhuti in one’s own good time with or without the explanations – possibly the hard way!

    Somewhere S Vivekananda has said the Vedas are ‘Pramaana’, given by Mantra Drashtas. If one has already rejected what the Rishis say because one has not had the Anubhuti that they talk about, where do the Rishis and Vedas come in? How can one accept concepts like the Brahman and Atma if one cannot accept much else of what they say? The ‘People of the Book’ cannot accept these concepts which is partially why they are blocked off against much else that is in the Vedas. But S Vivekananda seemed to accept these concepts.

    Main point I am making is that both Shankaracharya and S Vivekananda rejected Blind Belief as you have said but I think both accepted the place of Faith in certain sources wherein there is a strong probability that the source is likely right as much of it has been the experience of many people. For it also depends on one’s own level of understanding – just like a child may not always understand the grandparent’s reasoning. An eg also comes in Dwai’s experiences as laid out in his article on Tai Chi. He knew of and believed in a possible blissful state, the state of being involved yet not involved etc as part of the goal of Tai Chi practice, else he would not have started off on the practices. Yet it took him many months – which included a rather rough patch -to get to that point. Had he not believed he may never have got started – or left when the bad patch came up and didn’t seem to end. Again, when he did get there he found the descriptions he had read/ been told of, fitted even better than he had realised at the start.

    As you know the faith Hindus have in the Itihaas -also given by Rishis – is one of the major issues between the followers of the Abrahamic religions and Hinduism. Sufism does have what they called rishi, I am not sure whether these were Rishis or a slightly earlier stage.

  6. Dear Deshika,

    Yes, you are right. There is room for sraddha. Sraddha is usually translated as faith. I don’t think sraddha is faith. Sraddha is more like respect. Hindus are asked to respect the rishis and their scriptures prcisely because the rishis have given a road map for testing their claims.

    Warmest Regards

    Pradip da

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