This thought has its genesis in another discussion where a question is raised as to how to provide proof or logic for the knowledge gained by non-direct experience (experience outside the perception through sensory organs), which the scientists demand. This question must have occurred to those who have had a non-direct experience.

Is experience a valid source of knowledge?

Indian Philosophical System accepts non-direct experience as a valid source of knowledge (Sanskrit: Pramana). In fact it further divides it into categories of sensory organ dependent experience and perhaps sensory organ independent experiences. The reason for this confusion is because one of the greatest teachers of philosophy in India, Adi Shankaracharya at one place, in Vivek Chudamani (The Crest Jewel) mentions in the introductory verse 2 itself that human body is the most difficult to obtain, implying that human sensory organs are a must to gain knowledge. It would not be out of place to assume thus that those organs would include the brain, though not explicitly specified.

Yet, in his amazing treatise on experience Aparokshanubhuti (Aparoksha being Sanskrit for non-direct and Anubhuti being experience), in verse 57 he mentions:

The dream (experience) is unreal in waking, whereas the waking (experience) is absent in dream. Both, however, are non-existent in deep sleep which, again, is not experienced in either

This would make both direct and non-direct experience unreal.

It was suggested to me by some knowledgeable friend that to truly understand Shankara one needs OOBE (Out of Body Experience). This is where the dilemma begins.

Why would Shankara suggest the necessity of having a human body if he could only be understood in out of body form? And how real are these out of body experiences. It seems that within the human brain there is a temporo-parietal junction which under normal circumstances generates the feeling of self/others and when stimulated or damaged, produces out of body experiences. This has been tested in several lab experiments.

So, how can one be sure that the knowledge gained by non-direct experience is the correct knowledge?

Views: 996

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Though it relates to direct experience, everyone knows the story of blind men and the elephant where each of the blind man described the elephant differently based on his experience.But each one could describe only the part of the elephant and not the whole. Could experience give one only partial knowledge?

Thanks Jessica. The quote from Spanda Karika is very appropriate as it suggests that an experience may reveal as well as conceal. As one goes around looking for the concealed part more revelation as well as concealment would be experienced. No wonder Shankara questioned the validity of experience, terming it unreal. Moreover as each revelation has a component of concealment the knowledge derived from experience can only be partial.

Another aspect that is to be considered is the interpretation of experience. Different individuals may interpret exactly the same experience differently and arrive at different conclusions. And that makes the problem of testing those conclusions that much more complex.

Can there be an algorithm to reconcile the different interpretations of the same experience?

"The same experience" necessitating a reconcilliation of the "different interpretations" interpretations are no indications of the potency of an experience , the man who experiences has no need to interpret it to another , now to try and reconcile two different interpretations (which obviously is language ) would not be a very intelligent thing .

The Vedas are also very emphatic on this  it very clearly says 

    " Ekam sat , Viprah bahudavadanti " - The Truth is one only , great men describe it variously .  

Why on earth should anyone for that matter try and 'evaluaate" another person as if it were a worldly matter ?

The aims are very clearly been handed down to us and it is an indication of the stage of realization , one checks oneself against those and not everything heard and seen. 

" To see oneself in everyone and everyone in oneself " .....

"I exist only as an idea within everyone , but neither are they in me or I in them "

'First you will see everything within yourself and then yourself within the oversoul"

" Till you see the universe reflected within you like a city within a mirror , complete with all details "

" Equanimity or a man of steady consciousness is a Yogi "

" Yoga is the art of all work , so be a Yogi " 

" Craving nothing and finding happiness from the Self alone "

" Beyond the six waves of misery (Hunger , Birth and Death, Old Age, Delusion and Sorrow ) "

" Shantham , Shivam, Sundaram " (Peaceful, Blissful and Beautiful)

" From where the mind and words return in silence "

" That  knowing which, nothing else remains to be known "

" Who to speak to , and who to listen to - when all is one ? "

" Apta Kama Krita Kritya "  ( Satisfied that he has done what has to be done and attained what has to be attained ).

" Mana Krita kritam Rama , Shariram Na krita kritam " ( The mind does everything Rama , the Body does not partake in anything ).

" Mana ,Buddi eva cha " - Brahma sutras ( The mind , intellect and others are nothing but modifications of Brahman and are to be seen as itself alone under varying conditions ).

Iccha shakthi , Gnana Shakthi , Kriya shakthi ( Will , Knowledge and Action merged ).


     One checks ones realizations against these bench marks and not anything seen or known before and then determines where one stands in relation to these emphatic utterances .

The people who make out a case for evidences and not intuition are the people who are not willing to put their shoulders to the grinding wheel and spend time and effort for what is most desirable . Or they keep postponing on fears that they will lose their individualities or duties if they become realized , it is fear worse than death  for such people !! what a strange way of seeing things .           

" Na anyad Bhaved "  - As one cannot become another one should not consider the Self to be different from oneself . For if one becomes another one is sure to be destroyed .

" Avivekath Para Bhavam Yatha Buddhi(r) avaithattha ...." The intellect knew of the non existence of the Supreme Self before the discrimination between the Self and tne non self . But after discrimination there is no individual self different from the supreme nor the intellect itself .

Thanks Hari.

I am attaching the extracts from Shankaracharya's Bhashya( Commentary) on Vedanta Sutras, translated by George Thibaut, 1890 ed. Why reasoning is required to obtain correct knowledge from experience is self-explanatory. I have inserted a few comments of my own in the pdf.

Even if it appears to be direct cognition, the fact remains that it is interpretation, translation and display of knowledge existing in one form to another. Just as on our computer screen we see many different characters, graphics etc. but in the background they are one and zero only. Various methods exist to display those on the screen as per user requirements.

You have provided a few excellent benchmarks against which to judge the knowledge. These benchmarks construe knowledge as the valid means to know self. But for "Knowledge is self", new benchmarks are required. That is what I am looking for. Those new benchmarks will come from synthesis and not analysis. Neuroscience has a major role to play there as the experiences that can be repeated in a lab will not be counted as valid means of knowledge. It seems Shankara himself had doubts regarding those experiences.


Somewhere we are at cross purpose , you have misread me 

" Gururuvacha , Satyamevam Syat, yadi upa labdhyupalabdho . vishesha- 

Nitya upalabdhi matra eva hi upalabdha , na tu tharkika samay eva anya upalabdha ,

anya upalabdha cha .- The Knowledge of the Changeless - Chapter 2.Part 1 verse 79 - Upadesha sahasri .

 The Teacher said : 'What you would say say would be true if there were a distinction existing between the Knower and Knowledge . For the Knower is Eternal Knowledge only (Pure Knowledge).The Knower and Knowledge are not different as they are in argumentative philosophy "

It must be something to do with my use of the English language , I use the word Viveka as there is no word for intuition in sanskrit . The nearest is Prajna ,Medha and Ishwara Prathibha . 

It is wrong to attribute cognition and perspectives as in that of ordinary worldly objects , when any experience occurs from the self to the self , then the temporal self (the aspirant) is erased and one exists as the self alone . It is not just a "knowing" an object - the experience overpowers the temporal self and erases it gently or in a deluge thus "restoring "the person to his own senses  . The person exists as pure knowledge alone . Each experience is a permanent change - umlike the other acquired perceptions . It is valid knowledge that we are all Pure Knowledge (consciousness= knowledge) . 

Thanks Hari.

I do not believe we are at cross-purposes as we both conclude that there is no distinction between the knower, knowledge and the known. "Knowledge is self", I wrote, indicating that. The question is whether experience is the sole means of attaining knowledge or experience is a valid means of gaining knowledge. Experience being utterly subjective and liable to be a product of neurological disorder, how a discerning person could rely upon it to guide him. Why Shankara chose logic and reasoning and refuted Yoga which prescribes meditative techniques as a valid means of gaining knowledge?   

Dear Captain ,

As far as I know meditation is used to still the mind and body by which I mean the sitting with eyes closed and concentrating or lapsing into silence etc . I am not a very big votary of this method . I consider meditation to be our natural state and effortless , which Shankaracharya  calls Yoga  proper or Niddhidhyasa . 

Of the rest I  do not know anything and so would not like to mislead you by making some vague opinion of mine sound as if it were the truth, or fact or whatever . You will have to excuse me on grounds of ignorance proper !!.


I've found that combining logic and meditation works to quell my similar doubts. Logic has definitive limits, and when I'm reaching the edge of those limits, that's when I begin to meditate. Even if the experiences of meditation are recreatable in a lab, it doesn't necessarily mean the experiences are subjective or illusory in themselves. Hypothetically, if we could inject a chemical into someone to make them a genius at math, it doesn't then mean that math is an illusion. I hope that crude analogy makes sense...

I don't believe that we can truly "know" anything, at least not as a human. I believe that all that we can do is observe patterns. Just because a pattern has never been broken, doesn't mean that it will never be broken.

"I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance." - Socrates

Dear Captain ,

    I am familiar with Shankaracharyas Bhashyas , the perusal of the link that you had sent me left me with a strange disquiet and emptiness , I do not wish to prolong this line of thought anymore - The writer is least qualified to comment on the Bhashya, he takes an approach that is so puerile and never for once has he understood properly the meaning of the word "Knowledge" - in which case he would not have treated of the subjects of Sahkhya and Yoga in that manner . The Brahma Sutras have a history behind them and has to be seen in that light - it is a solely Indian tradition and it is "Nyaya" or Logic . Refutations and counters and Pros and Cons are part of the exercise , it is not a discrediting of the sciences - poor people will never understand that just as Platos dialogues represented his "Inner Dialogue with his self (Which he called "Socrates")  so too the Works of Shankara have to be seen in such light - and the Bhashyas on the Brahma Sutras are not even inner dialogues they are the workings of Knowledge itself within shankara as he found it in the higher intellect - How can a man who is not privy to the logic of Intuition be able to comment correctly in another language ? . It will only be the "inner dialogue of his with his faulty understanding ". One cannot even fathom his intellect - it appears as a only his personal musings in a dissertation . There are too many cross references and misunderstandings . Too many cross references are an indication of faulty knowledge in the intellect , it is just a musing and listing of the train of thought of the writer and is not of use to anyone else . We cannot judge Shankara or Indian Philosophy by resorting to a much lower and inferior intellect . It would be a grave crime to do so.  Everything is internal and subtle , even when we write it should be so , all it takes is to se where our consciousness is located in such activities as thinking , speaking, writing and cognition. We can only write ''on'' a thing correctly if we are "in" a higher ground of existence . We cannot be "on" and "in" the same ground of existence and write intelligently on it . Writing always requires an underlying idea . And the thing under discussion may preclude its being unveiled in certain forms - like say Shankaras Bhashyas on the Brahma Sutras will not lend itself to a word for word translation , or a free flowing commentary , or even an ordinary dissertation as a topic of interest . It requires another type of approach totally and a highly intellectual one with a good background of the sadhanas involved in practice in the various major paths , and a knowledge of the working of Consciousness , the mind is totally not there at this level , and a firm grasp of the Ego is also required .There is no "interpretation" possible of Shankaras writings - the prior practices having been done correctly and then the present topic having been taken , intutive insights will provide the meaning of the commentary arise - since our knowledge and shankaras knowledge are not different it is same in all periods and eternally same and is our very Self . What I am trying to emphasize is a sea change in thinking and reading and understanding is necessary to go through things that are Theosophical . I leave it to better judgement to ponder on what Plato asked Meno in his dialogue ..... he asked if it were possible that the soul which was embodied already contained all the knowledge past present and future .

And that knowledge was equally present in everyone alive including animals and insects and birds .  It is for each of us to verify whether this is true or false and it is a matter of faith .  I am only trying to bring out how things were previously and how we think these days . A relearning is involved and a forsaking of our penchants and predilictions on who and what we are . Theosophy is even pre socratic if we look at it clearly . it is a Universal Science of the soul . But somehow rules and regulations of language and grammar have finally over years of evolution have stripped the mind and intellect to soar above the mundane . Today we fantasize in order to soar over the mundane - when in fact the clean mind itself is enough , so what to say of a clean intellect and more so of the clean empirical ego , each a million times more potent and pervasive than the other . Man has become very weak , far weaker than believed . We shoot rockets into ourselves and call it exploration of outer space , nothing could be more perverted in logic or reason .I did not want to write a long reply and I had resolved not to do so in future but somehow the importance of approach to the philosophy dictated that I try and bring home what I knew iin terms of the same , so that discrimination could be resorted to as an aid . After all is it not easier if a person tells rather than letting another labour under a wrong impression . Of course choice arise only after such an event where a person may or may not wish to act on it . I do not wish anyone to waste time the way I have in my life over such things , too many years passed barren and fruitless something like a blind man in a desert without any direction . I would not wish such a barren existence even to my most dearest enemy ., that is all . Great things written by great men and standing firm on its own , without any aid of anything except the knowledge and understanding that it contains can only be commented upon by great men and not minnows . Such writings of minnows must belong to their private diaries and not in the public domain where it will corrupt the ability to discriminate correctly by others .   

Sorry Hari, for having caused you hurt. Yet, I would urge you to consider the following:

1. George Thibaut may be a poor translator, agreed. But if Shankara wanted to give knowledge only to a few in specified manner, why did he make it public? Why did he set up the four schools in the north, south, east and west of India? If Shankara wanted to promote rote learning he would have just repeated what Gaudapada taught and not gone beyond that.

2. Who can claim that this is exactly what Shankara or Plato had in mind when a certain text was written?

3. As Richard Ihle so aptly describes in his 'Introduction to General Theosophy", my-Messenger-is-better-than-yours can hardly lead to either knowledge or dissemination of it.

Dear Captain,

      All things considered , all the points you have mentioned and I am completely in agreement with what you have written . I have no issues with any of those , Hari Menon was wrong and is always wrong and will be wrong in all the three times .  unfortunately I do not have intermediaries , and yes Again you are correct , the "my - messenger -is -better-than -yours" is a very poor poor understanding and hardly conducive to self realization . 

Dear Paul - there are many things that cannot be seen but can only be known , and these are the things to be known .Why are you so detached from the cosmos at present ? Is not the cosmos or universe a concept which includes you ? why do you conjecture to the contrary and want corroboration ? Is not the fact that you are in the cosmos enough ? why do you want some connection like some wire and bulbs , even if we at the lowest consider that we are the body are we still not in the cosmos ? Why "somehow'' ? Is it not a reality ?What verification do you need to have Paul - this very distancing only shows how hard your ego is and does not allow you to see things in an integrated manner . What has brains and cells and hypothesis to do with all this ? Direct and simple thinking is enough for the Truth to shine .. 


Search Theosophy.Net!


What to do...

Join Theosophy.Net Blogs Forum Live Chat Invite Facebook Facebook Group

A New View of Theosophy


Theosophy References

Wiki Characteristics History Spirituality Esotericism Mysticism RotR ToS

Our Friends

© 2024   Created by Theosophy Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service