I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
Gods, then, do not have any ultimate reality and religions may sometimes be misguided. Both of them have their utility, however, as a means of mental preparation and for helping to quell the demands of the ego and point us in the right direction, away from the material and external and toward the truth within. These limitations need to be appreciated. But what of the scriptures upon which religions are based? Whichever religion might be under consideration, it has to be acknowledged that writers of major scriptural texts have attempted to record important information for posterity. There are many reasons why such attempts might seem to fail. The historical context in which they were written is now often poorly understood. Truths are often couched in obscure terms or hidden in the depths of seeming irrelevancies (which were probably not irrelevant to the culture which originated them). Vague or ambiguous presentation may have been used because writers at that time were persecuted for attempting to communicate ideas considered heretical by the prevailing society. Translations, too, inevitably lose something in the process � often their essential meaning! And stories written down only after many generations have communicated them verbally, with varying degrees of artistic license, may not be altogether factual.
The Hindu Vedas, with their philosophical Upanishads, are said not to suffer from these problems. They are supposed to have been passed on verbatim from generation to generation since their original observation by realized sages. Strictly speaking, they are said to be unauthored � apauruSheya in Sanskrit, literally �not coming from men�. The idea here is that the knowledge was given to man by God at the time of creation and passed down thereafter. But such statements need not confound us. The truths expressed in the Upanishads have been validated time and time again by successive sages and they are there only to provide guidance and to act as an incentive for us to discover those same truths for ourselves � and in this lifetime, not the next! It is essential to know where we are trying to get to and it is always valuable to have some understanding of the processes by which we might reach that destination.
(I have to say that my preferred (reasonable) interpretation of the adjective �unauthored� is that the words were originated by self-realized sages and subsequently passed on by word of mouth until such time as written materials became common. These sages, being self-realized, no longer identified themselves as body-minds, as named individuals, so they had no wish whatsoever to have their bodily-assigned names attached. They knew that what they were conveying was non-personal, eternal truth that has nothing to do with personality. The sole purpose was to pass on this knowledge so that other minds, initially believing in separation, might be enlightened. Such absolute truth is beyond authorship and hence is reasonably construed as �unauthored�.)
A useful metaphor for understanding how the scriptures operate is that of a mirror. We are totally unable to see our own face without the aid of a mirror, no matter how good our eyes may be. In an analogous manner, no matter how clever and perceptive the mind might be, we can have no knowledge of our true self. We are always the witness, never the witnessed.
In order to find out about this Self, we need the equivalent of a mirror. Scriptures (and the guru who interprets them for us) provide this mirror.
Neither God nor Being nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points.
As already mentioned, in Advaita, the scriptures (mainly Upanishads, together with the Bhagavad Gita) constitute one of the six pramANa-s or sources of knowledge � it was referred to as �testimony�. And we will see in the chapter on �The Limits of Knowledge� that reality is defined as that which cannot be sublated by any new experience. (The word �sublate� will be explained, too, if you haven�t encountered it before.) Furthermore, any cognition is said to be valid if its content can never be sublated. As we know from experience, and will be discussed in the third section of the book, perception, inference, etc., are all subject to later correction or modification as additional information comes to light. John Grimes, in his excellent book Perspective on Language summarizes this and concludes that scriptural knowledge is the only source that does not suffer in this way:
Perception and all the other pramANa-s, except words as knowledge, produce cognitions which ultimately suffer sublation. Brahman, which is the content of the cognition produced by religious discourse, remains unsublated. Because Brahman is eternal, there is no possibility of Its sublation at some later time. Thus, the cognition which religious discourse gives rise to is valid.
The above extract is also available on Ramesam Vemuri's blog, Beyond Advaita.
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