Part VIII – shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana
Before we go into the teachings, we discuss some of the miscomprehensions that are circulating in the spiritual arena. These may provide some solace for the aspirants but not the spiritual knowledge for which we are longing. In addition to perception, inference and scriptures, there are three more means of knowledge. These are: comparison (upamAna) - in the example ‘her face looks like a moon’, we are comparing only the beauty and nothing else; presumption (arthApatti) – e.g. we presume that the train is late, since he has not yet come; non-apprehension (anupalabdhi) – e.g. there is no book on the table, since I cannot see it. Here non-apprehension is also a positive knowledge. ‘I was there during the deep sleep state, since I was aware of the absence of everything’ is another example. Some philosophers argue that these last three means of knowledge are only variations of inferential knowledge or anumAna pramANa. Thus at least we have three major means of knowledge: perception (pratyakSha), inference (anumAna) and scriptures, i.e. Vedanta (shabda). Knowledge can only take place by these three means and there is no other valid means.
What about Meditation? Is that not a means of knowledge? Many think that we have studied enough Vedanta and this is all intellectual stuff. The truth is beyond the intellect. We do not want intellectual gymnastics. What we want to do is Meditate from now on to gain the self-knowledge. All we need to do is to sit in the seat of meditation and find out ‘who we are’ by asking ‘who am I?’ – ‘who am I?’ All we need to do is upAsana, meditation on Ishvara or Lord Narayana or Lord Shiva’ etc. If Ishvara in the form of Lord Narayana or Lord Shiva does appear to the seeker, what will he do – since he cannot stay there permanently? He can only give knowledge of the truth. In fact Krishna says one who is knowledgeable alone is his greatest devotee. Hence meditation has to culminate in knowledge for liberation. Knowledge can come only through a means of knowledge or pramANa. Hence it is knowledge that we are seeking not Lord Narayana or Lord Shiva or God in any form. It is the knowledge behind all forms. Then what is meditation? – Meditation is inquiry by the intellect along the lines indicated by Vedanta.
Hence the Vedas declare: for mokSha or liberation, one has to learn vedAnta at the feet of a teacher – that is called shravaNa. The definition of shravaNa is the consistent systematic learning of Vedanta from a competent live teacher for a prolonged length of a time. The teaching has to be reflected upon until there are no more doubts left in the mind, and that is called manana. I am not going to touch a wire until I know for sure (100%) it is not a live wire. Even if there is a slight doubt, I would hesitate to touch it. Similarly the purpose of manana is to insure that the mind is completely doubt-free. Meditation is contemplating on the teaching until it is assimilated and that is nididhyAsana. Hence Meditation is not a substitute to learning Vedanta; it is assimilating the Vedantic teaching by inquiry within, until the teaching becomes one with the seeker.
Knowledge can only come through the intellect. Hence, through intellect alone one can realize the truth. Yet, it is not an intellectual understanding as a concept. As in our ‘Jones and the Rat’ story (see part 1), ‘I am man and not a rat’ is not an intellectual understanding as a concept. It is an understanding as a fact that needs to be assimilated in the intellect. It is internalizing the conceptual understanding as factual understanding. That is nididhyAsana or Meditation. For meditation to be effective the learning has to take place until there are no more doubts about oneself as declared by Vedanta. For manana to be effective one has to listen, and study, Vedanta under a competent teacher. The purpose of this Advaitin list serve becomes obvious. It is not a substitute for learning. But it helps in manana and nididhyAsana for reflection and assimilation of the knowledge learned through listening to the teacher.
Proceed to the next essay.