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Advaita Vedanta And Quest For Knowledge

The collective growth in human intellect over many centuries, borne out of myriad of experiences (for experience is the only source of knowledge), has endorsed 'scientific reason' as the most powerful tool for seeking knowledge. However, it demanded equally powerful, progressive and rational tradition in epistemology and philosophy that could balance the waywardness of science in proclaiming 'study of external nature' as the best form and source of knowledge. Advaita Vedanta alone could match this demand.

It was also necessary to nourish and strengthen this path of Advaita, for the galloping discoveries and inventions in science would have not accepted anything less for its equal. Scientists proclaimed sense perceptions --further refined and empowered by innovative instruments, equipment and gadgets-- as the only source of knowledge. Microscopes and lasers, for instance, were seen as the extensions of sense of vision. However, mere refinement of senses and concentration of mind without spiritual dimension proved to be inadequate to reach the highest truth. The 'objective rationality' was disturbed by the necessity of 'subjective consciousness' to interpret and grasp the highest truth. Restlessness of scientists, as they delved deeper into the realm of subtle, came to fore in the form of difficulty in comprehending the 'wave and particle phenomenon', for instance.

While physical science leads to the understanding of 'physics of matter', Advaita as the spiritual science explores the spiritual world through and beyond the 'physics of mind'. The former is at ease in dealing with grosser laws, but in trying to understand the subtle gets stuck up in the "principle of uncertainty" and dilemma of quantum physics. On the other hand, when it comes to the subtlest of the subtle Advaita has no problem in transcending the subatomic plane to reach the 'realm of immaterial substratum'. Without any superfine instrumentation and gadgetry, and with the help of control over senses and mind, Vedanta makes it possible to realize the only 'conscious reality' of which grosser forms are but deluding expressions.

Naturally, scientists level much criticism against this unique mode of seeking knowledge by ancient Indian Seers and Rishis. For want of understanding, the scriptural teachings are brushed aside as religious superstitions. 'If we cannot understand, the writings must be wrong!' This illusion of unchallenged victorious march of science is akin to the tendency of a triumphant king on rampage! But every king must stumble at the lonely gate of peaceful hut of a Seer. No king has yet defeated the Seer of absolute knowledge. Even Alexander the Great could not frighten a monk in ancient India to 'bow down to him or else face annihilation'. The monk laughed at the king's words of ignorance and said: "O king, how foolish is your idea to kill me. What are you trying to destroy? This body! But I am not this body, I am not this mind. I am the ever existent Atman; the Atman, which never dies, which can't be dried by the wind, which can't be cut by sword, which can't be destroyed by fire."

Another criticism that tries to throw the followers of Advaita off balance is to label them as selfish. It is argued that these Vedantins in the name of seeking truth and liberation do nothing to improve the condition of masses. For them law of karma and unity of all beings is a good escapist excuse to retreat to forest for isolated meditation and austerities. They think and teach, "Let the world go to dogs, for it is after all only an illusion!"

Nothing can be more preposterous than such a charge against seekers after Truth. Advaita Vedanta believes that the source of values is "Eternal Conscious Being" and not the factories of technological innovations where goods of comforts are counterpoised with the heaps of weapons of mass destruction! Seeking pleasure for this six-foot frame, which is also sure to perish, has become the sole aim and limit of science. Science as the best means of pursuit of knowledge and excellence has degenerated into a mere sense-pampering device. It has become an ineffective tool in the hands of 'Mafia of matter'.

Great Seers in ancient and recent past, e.g. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa (1836-1886), experimented with the truths of Vedanta. Although they touched upon all the notes of 'vedantic flute', the tune of Advaita Vedanta alone stood the test of severest scrutiny and investigations as a tool to reach to the highest Knowledge. It was based on 'in-depth study of internal nature'. Later, they exhorted, overtly or covertly, all their disciples to follow that path. They told to keep the knowledge of Advaita well within their grasp and roam in the world. No ill would then befall them; they could never be wrong. However, for those devotees who initially feel uneasy with the appeal of Advaita and thereby may get diffident or even frightened, they advocated path of qualified monism; path of Bhakti and path of Karma blended with path of Jnana or knowledge.

It should be clear to us that such Men of God or 'knowers' of Advaita Truths do not solely concern themselves with eradication of evil in the world. Their principal mission on the earth is to establish perfection and excellence in the means of acquisition of highest knowledge of Unity, Divinity of each soul. Only a few gifted persons understand this mission of transcending reason and reach the state of intuitive knowledge. To these devotees specifically the 'avatar' first addresses his/her teachings, or only such rare souls understand the language of Spirit.
C S Shah