Śabda—words can be a means of either direct or indirect knowledge (Swami Dayananda, Introduction toVedanta).
We have a means of knowledge for objects other than ourselves through perceptual data and perception-based inference. But what is the means for knowing the knower? It is not possible to objectify oneself as I am the subject. The subject “I” cannot be the object “I”; simply because anything that can be objectified is no longer the subject. So the human dilemma of self-ignorance. So the means of knowledge to rid ourselves of this ignorance has to be something other than sense based perception and inference. Śabda—words can be a means of either direct or indirect knowledge (Swami Dayananda, Introduction to Vedanta). If the object is beyond one’s perception or experience, then words will bring indirect knowledge. All indirect knowledge needs to be confirmed upon direct knowledge.
For example, if I say, “The days are twenty hours or more long in the Arctic Circle during the summer months.” This is subject to confirmation by anyone who goes there. However, if something is very near, experienced, but not recognized, in this case words can give direct knowledge, true to the nature of this particular thing.
Here it is appropriate to relate the tenth man story. Ten students went on a pilgrimage as directed by their Guru. In the course of their travel, they crossed a swift river. On searching the bank the leader, a conscientious fellow, started to count and came up with only nine persons. Needless to say he was distraught and started to cry for having lost one member of the group. He reached a hasty conclusion of having lost himself to drowning.
An old, wise person had watched this group of young men cross and came near and announced that no one had drowned. The leader, relieved, hastily announced that all was well, no one was lost after all. Another student more skeptical asked, “How can you say so, when we have already counted? Have you seen him?” The leader said, “No, but I believe this respected gentleman.” At this point the knowledge is indirect, called paroksha jňāman, of the tenth man. Now the leader, whose mind was agitated (now a days this is perpetual) at the loss, is in a calmer state. This relaxed frame of mind is a receptive mind—ready for knowledge. Also Śraddha (a faith about the correctness of the indirect knowledge a hypothesis before the proof) helps us to give a particular teaching time to prove itself. The story continues: The old wise man asks the leader to collect all the students and have them form a line. With a sinking heart the leader forces himself to count the students one more time up to nine and turns and looks with tears beginning to appear in his already red eyes and asks, “Sir, where is the tenth man?” The wise old man says “Tat twam asi.” That thou art. So you are the tenth man, the one you are seeking—you just forgot to count yourself.
Any seeking is a denial of the presence of the sought. In the above story the seeker is the sought. Quite like the real “self” for one never looks for it within oneself where it is ever present as a witness to all that goes on in life.
When an individual becomes a mumuksu (a seeker), a teacher who is well versed in the methodology of Vedanta Śāstrā must be found to lift the veil of māyā (relative reality as opposed to absolute reality). The teacher imparts the knowledge about the “self” being the same as God by creating a context of interrelated conditions surrounding the words. Just like in our story, the leader was made to commit the mistake a second time, but was guided to the realization of his mistake by another person who was not agitated or afraid of having lost one person! A Guru is able to lead us out of the mirage of Samsara/bhava sagar or confusion and hurt that the world causes to most.
There is no belief here, rather there is discovery of a fact; that all humans are born ignorant of the self. From the Vedantic viewpoint a human life is for the purpose of this amazing self-discovery. A human being has been given a certain type of mind, the faculty of choice (Free Will) and all the capabilities necessary for such a journey of self unfoldment. What distinguished the human race from other creatures is the capacity of self awareness and self-consciousness. (That is why cows do not need plastic surgery, but we do!) What one is seeking is not available for the eyes to see, but it is the seer himself. One wants to know the observer, not the observation, hence it is a very particular situation. In the Mundaka Upanishad the appropriate teacher is described as “Gurumeva abhigacchet śrotriyam brahmanistham,” Go to a teacher who is learned in the subject matter and steadfast in that knowledge.
A person can be a brahmanisth (steadfast in knowing his identity to be Brahman). But that alone will not make it possible to remove the darkness of ignorance that covers the self-evident “self.” He/she must be a Śrotriya, one who has heard the Śāstrā through a guru-śisya parampara (traditional flow of teaching) belonging to a sampradāya (an established method of teaching). This traditional handing down of a methodology has been present since the rsis (seers or sages) down to our time in an unbroken lineage. The very fact that such a teacher exists now is proof that he must have had a Guru who in turn had one too, just like the child proves the existence of parents, a teacher proves the existence of his teacher. All knowledge upon analysis belongs to the creator alone. So the teaching comes from Lord Dakśināmurty (God in the form of a teacher). This perennial flow of teaching is equally respected by the guru and the śisya (teacher and student) as it solves the fundamental problem of a human being as always finding himself a limited, inadequate, wanting person.
I may summarize by saying that Vedanta, through a highly analyzed, methodical teaching system unfolds the limitlessness of the “self.” Through this understanding we see the underlying reality from which springs this creation. This knowledge leads to seeing God in all and in everything animate or inanimate. Steadfast knowledge of this oneness has kept Bhaarat, (India) though physically broken, spiritually strong and generous to all other religions. This knowledge can and will in time bring peace to this divided world of ours.
What stands between this knowledge and the masses is the vested interests of organized religion and lack of time in the modern set-up which allows little time to reflect on ourselves.
-Renu S. Malhotra, (MBA)
Affiliate of Arsha Vidya Pitham Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania (Institute of Vedanta and Sanskrit)
Presented at the Eighth International Congress of Vedanta October 31 – November 3, 1996
Organized by Department of Philosophy, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio