Direct Perception versus Scriptures





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TOP        =======UNDERSTANDING HINDUISM========

Direct Perception versus Scriptures
From The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva
Section CLXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Vaisampayana said: Yudhishthira once more asked Bhishma the son of Santanu, saying, "O thou of great intelligence, O foremost of all persons conversant with duties, which indeed, of the two, direct perception and the scriptures, is to be regarded as authority for arriving at a conclusion?"

Bhishma said: I think, there is no doubt in this. Listen to me, O thou of great wisdom! I shall answer thee. The question thou hast asked is certainly proper. It is easy to cherish doubt. But the solution of that doubt is difficult. Innumerable are the instances, in respect of both direct perception and audition (or the scriptures), in which doubts may arise.

Certain persons, who delight in the name of logicians, verily imagining themselves to be possessed of superior wisdom, affirm that direct perception is the only authority. They assert that nothing, however true, is existent, which is not directly perceivable; or, at least they doubt the existence of those objects. Indeed, such assertions involve an absurdity and they who make them are of foolish understanding, whatever may be their pride of learning. If, on the other hand, thou doubtest as to how the one (indivisible Brahman or the Supreme Reality) could be the cause, I answer that one would understand it only after a long course of years and with the assistance of Yoga practised without idleness. Indeed, O Bharata, one that lives according to such means as present themselves (without, i.e., one’s being wedded to this or that settled mode of life), and one that is devoted (to the solution of the question), would be capable of understanding it. None else, truly, is competent for comprehending it. When one attains to the very end of reasons (or reasoning processes) one then attains to that excellent and all comprehending knowledge- that vast mass of effulgence which illumines the entire universe (called Brahman).

That knowledge, O king, which is derived from reason (or inferences), can scarcely be said to be knowledge. Such knowledge should be rejected. It should be noted that it is not defined or comprehended by the word. It should, therefore, be rejected!

[Note: Verses 4 to 9 are extremely difficult. They represent so may surceases. Nilakantha, however, has shown great ingenuity in expounding them. In the first line of 4, Drishtam refers to Pratyaksham, and Srutam to Sruti or Agama. Hence what is meant by the first line is, - Innumerable are the cases of both direct perception and scriptural assertion in which the scriptures are regarded as more authoritative, and in which direct perception is regarded as more authoritative. In 5, the speaker refers to the atomic and other theories of the creation derived from Reason. Bhishma declares it as his opinion that all such theories are untenable or groundless. In the first line of 6, the word Ekam implies Brahman. The sense is, if thou thinkest that Brahman alone is the cause of the universe and in thinking so becomest landed on doubt. The reply to this is that Yoga for a long course of years will enable thee to comprehend the sufficiency of unassisted Brahman to evolve the universe. In 7, Anekam Pranayatram Kalpamanena refers to one who without leading any particular or settled mode of life lives just as it suits him to live, that is, who leads the life of a religious mendicant never thinking of the morrow. In 9, Anibaddham Vacha implies what is not defined or indicated by the words of the Vedas or scriptures.]

Yudhishthira said: Tell me, O grandsire, which among these (four) is most authoritative, viz., direct perception, inference from observation, the science of Agama or scriptures, and diverse kinds of practices that distinguish the good?

Bhishma said: While righteousness is sought to be destroyed by wicked persons possessed of great might, it is capable of being protected for the time being by those that are good exerting themselves with care and earnestness. Such protection, however, avails not in the long run, for destruction does overtake Righteousness at the end. Then, again, Righteousness often proves a mask for covering Unrighteousness, like grass and straw covering the mouth of a deep pit and concealing it from the view. Hear, again, O Yudhishthira! In consequence of this, the practices of the good are interfered with and destroyed by the wicked. Those persons who are of evil conduct, who discard the Srutis (scriptures) – indeed, those wicked wights who are haters of Righteousness. –destroy that good course of conduct (which could otherwise be set up as a standard). Hence, doubts attach to direct perception, inference, and good conduct.

[Note: Teshu is equivalent to Pratyakshanumana Chareshu. The sense, therefore, is that the three, viz., direct perception, inference, and good conduct being, for these reasons, fallible, the only infallible standard that remain, is audition or scriptures, or, as verse 14 puts it, men with understanding born of the scriptures.]

Those, therefore, among the good that are possessed of understanding born of (or cleansed by) the scriptures and that are ever contented, are to be regarded as the foremost. Let those that are anxious and deprived of tranquillity of soul, approach these. Indeed, O Yudhishthira, do thou pay court to them and seek of them the solutions of thy doubt!

[Note: Atripyantah are men who like Yudhishthira are filled with anxiety as to what they should do. Seekers after the right (Righteousness) are so called.]

 Disregarding both pleasure and wealth which always follow cupidity and awakened into the belief that only Righteousness should be sought, do thou, O Yudhishthira, wait upon and ask those persons (for enlightening thyself). O Yudhishthira, wait upon and ask those persons (for enlightening thyself). The conduct of those persons never goes wrong or meets with destruction, as also their sacrifices and Vedic study and rites. Indeed, these three, viz., conduct as consisting of overt acts, behaviour in respect of (mental) purity, and the Vedas together constitute Righteousness.

Yudhishthira said: O grandsire, my understanding is once more stupefied by doubt. I am on this side of the ocean, employed in searching after the means of crossing it. I do not, however, behold the other shore of the ocean! If these three, viz., the Vedas, direct perception (or acts that are seen), and behaviour (or, mental purity) together constitute what is to be regarded as authority, it can be alleged that there is difference between them. Righteousness then becomes really of three kinds, although it is one and indivisible.

Bhishma said: Righteousness is sometimes seen to be destroyed by wicked wights of great power. If thou thinkest, O king, that Righteousness should really be of three kinds, my reply is that thy conclusion is warranted by reason. The truth is that Righteousness is one and indivisible, although it is capable of being viewed from three different points. The paths (indications) of those three that constitute the foundation of Righteousness have each been laid down. Do thou act according to the instructions laid down. Thou shoudst never wrangle about Righteousness and then seek to have those doubts solved into which thou mayst arrive. O chief of the Bharatas, let no doubts like these ever take possession of thy mind! Do thou obey what I say without scruple of any kind.

Follow me like a blind man or like one who, without being possessed of sense he has to depend upon that of another. Abstention from injury, truth, absence of wrath (or forgiveness), and liberality of gifts,- these four, O king, that hast no foe, do thou practise, for these four constitute eternal Righteousness! Do thou also, O mighty armed prince, pursue that conduct towards the Brahmanas which is consistent with what has been observed towards them by thy sires and the grandsires. These are the principal indications of Righteousness. That man of little intelligence who would destroy the weight of authority by denying that to be a standard which has always been accepted as such would himself fail to become an authority among men. Such a man becomes the cause of much grief in the world. Do thou reverence the Brahmanas (Brahmins) and treat them with hospitality. Do thou always serve them in this way. The universe rests upon them. Do thou understand them to be such!
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