Acharya Sadananda is a Materials Scientist, Vedanta teacher and a disciple of Swami Chinmayanandaji. I had previously interviewed him when his book ‘Journey Beyond: A Non-Dual Approach’ had been published. Now, with yet another book titled ‘Transcending Science’ about to be published, I caught up with him for a discussion on Science and Vedanta. Here is an excerpt of the interview.
Nithin: Congratulations on your upcoming book ‘Transcending Science’. The title of the book intrigues me. Today we are taught in schools that Science is the ultimate way of understanding the world and scientism is imbibed in children from young age. However, the title of your book says ‘Transcending Science’. Can you elaborate a bit about the title, what does transcending Science implies, and why there is a need for such transcending.
Sada ji: The very first article in the book addresses this issue. Science means knowledge – knowledge that reveals the truth. Shankara, in his introduction to Maitreyee Brahmana, discusses this issue. He says all Sciences that we are familiar with are false since they deal with objects that are not real or that are false. True Science is that which reveals the truth. The truth is that which never changes – tri kaala abhaaditam satyam. Hence He defines the Science is that which reveals three facts – 1.Brahma satyam, 2. jagat mithyaa, and 3) jeevo brahma eva na aparaH. ‘anena vedyam that shaastram’ -that by which all these three are known is the Science.
The Science that deals with worldly objects is required for efficient transactions in the world. These are all objective Sciences that exclude the subject, the knower, from the analysis. What is taught in school is just information about everything other than about oneself. Even in the school-system, proper teaching should help in developing a questioning mind using deductive or inductive logic. How to think is more important than what to think. In principle, there is nothing wrong with teaching the objective sciences. Most of the objective scientists have the notion that only objective sciences are real sciences, and the rest come under belief systems. Since I come from that background, I understand the utility of these sciences, along with their limitations.
This book starts by pointing out the limitations of the objective sciences. It shows why one has to study Vedanta, how to prepare the mind for inquiry within, and the nature of the absolute truth that one should discover with the mind that is suitably prepared.
By the by, my wife came up with the title during the Oneness conference that we attended. She also suggested the cover picture that indicates one has to transcend the human brain to discover the truth that is beyond any means of knowledge. Hence transcending sciences, including Vedanta, is to discover that is beyond space and time. Vedanta is also a tool, and it also drop out as one transcends it.
Nithin: Since, India came under colonial rule, there has been a continuous interaction, often hostile, between Indic knowledge systems and what can be considered as modern or western Science. While modern Science acknowledges certain aspects of Indic knowledge traditions that confirm to its own worldview as valid, it relegates other aspects to superstitions. From an Indic perspective, modern western Science is largely seen as materialistic and mechanistic in approach and hence is considered incapable to understanding deeper sciences. Further, scienticism poses several problems. Being a scientist who is also a Vedantin, how do you see these conflicting approaches to understanding the world?
Sada ji: The materialistic view is not new to India. We had Charvaka system of Philosophy where life was cantered on sense-enjoyments. As Kathopanishat says, there are two paths – the path of Shreyas and the path of Preyas. Only those who can think deeper go after what is Shreyas. Krishna also declared that of the thousands of people, only very few are in the pursuit of The Truth, and make an effort to gain that knowledge –manushyaanaam sahasreshu. One can depend on materials and mechanics, for making life more comfortable. Comfort is different from being happy, and seeking happiness is the fundamental pursuit for all living beings.
The majority of people think happiness depends on acquiring wealth and with that, materials. As one sage said, the man wants wealth for his security, and later, he is worried about the security of his wealth. The majority of the people live at that level. This is true now and true in the past. India is no exception, as Krishna declares, and perhaps more so during Kali Yuga.
As Krishna says, it takes many lives for the mind to evolve – bahuunaam jnmanaamate.. Once Brahmaji had announced for Vedanta classes, but only two registered, and of the two one dropped out after the first class. The other one, Indra, persisted until he discovered the truth. On the other hand, we had Scientists like Schrodinger, etc. who were very much interested in Vedanta. There is the famous ‘Schrodinger’s cat problem’ that one can find in Google search. In essence, from my point, the materialistic system prevailed even before. The only problem that I see is even the Western-educated Indians go far it, without recognizing and exploring the wealth of knowledge that is passed on by our four-fathers. As one studies Vedana, one discovers that all possible questions were raised and answered in the past, in the pursuit of the truth.
Nithin: In one of your chapters titled ‘Why one should believe in Vedanta’, you write about Vedanta as a pramana. This is something I believe most people do not understand or appreciate. It is often taken for granted that only sensory knowledge that is empirically (scientifically) verifiable can be considered as real. However, Indian knowledge systems proposes a more nuanced concept of Pramana. Can you please elaborate on Pramana and what it means to designate Vedanta as a Pramana?
Sada ji: The Indian system of Philosophy has been so advanced that they have made a very scientific classification of how knowledge (pramaa) takes place. Most of the systems accept the three pramaanas or means of knowledge, pratyaksha, anumaana, and Shabda. Invalid knowledge or knowledge that is later invalidated by better pramaanas is called bhramaa. Our philosophical system also systematized how errors in perception can occur and presented in terms of Khyaati Vaadas. The famous example of rope/snake, shell/silver, mirage waters, are discussed in most of the philosophical systems. These are used to explain how we all commit errors thinking that we know ourselves, with the statements I am this, this and this – which we really are not since ‘I am’ is the subject and any ‘this’ is an object, which I am not. Hence Vedanta starts teaching us first ‘neti, neti’ as you cannot be any ‘this,’ and this.’
It is true that that perception (prathyaksha pramaana) forms the direct means of knowledge. This is accepted even by the Scientific Community. No Scientific theory is accepted until it is supported by experimental data that are based on observations. Sophisticated instruments such as Electron Microscopes or Telescopes may be used to enhance the sensory input. Logical deduction (anumaana pramaana) again rests on pratyaksha pramaana for validation. Indian epistemology has systematized the methods of knowledge or pramaanas.
Knowledge about entities that are not amenable by perception (and therefore also by anumaana) can only be gained by shabda pramaana or by the words of trust-worthy people. Shabda pramaana further classified as loukika (worldly) and aloukika (non-worldly) knowledge. When we listen to the dependable news reports, we can gain knowledge about worldly affairs until we recognize that the news reporters are not trustworthy. There is a famous statement by an author that says, ‘If we do not read Newspapers we are uninformed, and if we read the Newpapers we are misinformed’. In the case of worldly knowledge, one can confirm or validate by direct observations or pratyaksha pramaana. For the knowledge that can never be gained by either direct perception or logical deduction, it can only be gained by Shabda pramaana. Is there heaven or hell, cannot be established by direct perception or logical deduction. When it comes to the inquiry of ‘who am I?’ or ‘who is God?” or ‘What is the absolute truth?,’ it cannot be done without the help of proper teaching. For that, Vedanta alone becomes a means of knowledge. Vedanta also does not provide the knowledge directly since the truth involves transcending the subject-object dualities and, therefore, not amenable to objective tools. Vedanta only provides a means for a prepared mind to contemplate and think in the direction that is pointed, called lakshyaarthas. These are the techniques that were developed by our scientists of the yore, and we call them as Rishies. It is passed on from generation to generation in the form of Upanishads contained in Vedanta. For example, sat chit ananda Brahman is defined as ‘eye of the eye, ‘mind of the mind’ etc. where words are used to uplift a well-prepared mind to contemplate in the direction indicated. These Scientists have described the indescribable Brahman as – that which eyes cannot see, but that because of which eyes can see, that which the mind cannot think off, but because of which the mind can think off,’ that alone is Brahman.
Hence Vedanta provides the ultimate Science (Veda means Science and Vedanta means the ultimate Science). However, to gain that knowledge, the seeking mind has to be prepared (similar to pre-requisites for any scientific study). That is the subject of ‘yoga shastra’ where the seeker mind is prepared to inquire about the subtle truths that are not amenable to objective sciences. That forms the essence of this book.
Nithin: In the book, you have discussed in great lengths the Karma yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Jnana Yoga. Can you shed some light on how one beginner should understand these three yogas: as three separate streams or as three limbs of one integrated approach? And how these yogas help one to transcend Science?
Sada ji: Some aspects of the question were discussed above. All Yogas prepare the mind so that it can transcend the subject-object duality using the guidelines provided by Vedanta. The topics in the book are arranged in such a way that one can study any article depending on his Vedantic background.
Life involves action, and no one can remain a moment without acting, says Krishna. Now the only question is ‘how one should act in such a way that the mind gets purified’. Karma becomes yoga only when one brings in Iswara into the loop. The action should be done either as an offering to the Lord as naivedyam or kaikaryam or as a prayer itself. Whatever that is being offered to the Lord should be the best that one can offer. A Karma yogi becomes very efficient in action. In addition, the Lord will accept only when the action is dharmic action. Hence according to Vedic tradition, dharma comes first in the purushaarthas.
The series of articles on Karma Yoga are provided depending on the maturity of the seeker. Bhakti with Iswaraarpita buddhi becomes the main vehicle in the conversion of all actions into yoga. Once the mind is adequately prepared, then Jnaana yoga helps in further purification and contemplation to recognize the absolute truth. What exactly is involved in jnana yoga is discussed elaborately in the text. These steps are necessary for the mind to transcend the cause-effect relationships. Ultimately, it is the jnana yoga along the lines indicated by Vedanta that helps a contemplative student in guiding the mind to see the ever-existing and self-revealing truth that transcends all objectification. An example of the 10th-man story is provided to show how the Vedantic statement ‘tat tvam asi’ helps the seeker to discover the Self-Existing and Self-Revealing truth.
Nithin: People often have mystical and supernatural ideas about self-realization and liberation. Can you clarify what is authentic Vedantic teaching on Self-realization and Liberation and in what way is a Jnani different from Samsari?
Sada ji: Vedantic teaching is very simple – ‘You are the truth’, ‘tat tvam asi’. However, to understand what ‘you or tvam’ or ‘tat or that’ really means, the mind has to be pure. Here purity means free from pre-conceived notions about oneself. The truth is simple and self-revealing if one can drop all the wrong notions about oneself, about the world, and the interrelation between the two. There are also several misconceptions about the truth. Most of the problems arise by objectifying the truth as something that one has to achieve or one has to reach. Several misconceptions are also advocated by the teachers, starting from one has to go beyond the mind, or study of Vedanta is not required, and all one has to do is to sit down and meditate on who am I? Hence it becomes important to follow the traditional paths by studying Vedanta under sampradaya teacher who himself studied under a teacher. The book, in a sense, provides a method of inquiry for those sincere students of Vedanta. Since we do not have the old gurukula type of system, sincere study at an individual level becomes more adaptable for the modern age. In that sense, the book becomes very useful for earnest seekers who are longing to discover the absolute truth.
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