There are occasional rumblings against my Vedānta Sūtra commentary entitled Conceiving the Inconceivable: A Scientific Commentary on Vedānta Sūtras. I understand that many people come to religion with a sense of finality: Worldly knowledge changes, but spiritual knowledge is eternal. In their view, a new commentary breaks that finality. They may view the commentary as breaking the tradition. They question my intentions, attitudes, or qualifications to comment. It is painful to listen to personal attacks.
In the introduction to the commentary, I have laid out the reasons why Vedānta seems inconceivable: Vedic philosophy is based on qualities but Vedānta interpretations have been trying to interpret it in terms of quantities. Quality thinking requires non-binary logic, hierarchy instead of linearity, oneness and difference rather than oneness or difference. Quantity thinking is instead based on binary logic, oneness (Brahman) or difference (māyā), transcendence (by oneness) vs. bondage (by difference). It was introduced into Vedānta by Shankaracharya, and it has held Vedānta hostage for over a thousand years. Successive Acharyas have tried to solve the problems resulting from quantity thinking without fully rejecting it. The Achintya Bhedābheda doctrine says that we cannot resolve this problem because all these are logically contradictory ideas. My commentary says that we can resolve them if we change our thinking from quantities to qualities.
But many people overlook all these issues either because they are not interested in Vedic philosophy or because they are more attached to finality rather than understanding how these seeming contradictions can be reconciled. This post lays out these problems for those who might not have read the commentary and answers them using the why-what-how-who structure that addresses the most important questions first and the least important ones last. Responses to personal attacks are the final section.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why
- 2 What
- 3 How
- 4 Who
All commentaries on Vedānta have been written upon the commands of spiritual authority, after a careful study of their teachings. My commentary is no different. Instructions for writing a “scientific commentary” on Vedanta were given by Śrila Prabhupāda, and this is not a secret either. Many people are aware of such instructions. I have personally heard recorded conversations with Śrila Prabhupāda that were dedicated specifically to the writing of such a commentary. These instructions were imparted to H.H. Bhaktisvarūpa Dāmodar Swāmi, as the director of Bhaktivedānta Institute. I have also excerpted a part of that discussion at the beginning of my commentary.
Prabhupāda was certainly aware of the Gaudīya Vaishnava commentary on Vedānta Sūtra authored by Baladeva Vidyābhushan, referring to it many times in books and lectures. And yet, he asked not for an English translation of his commentary, but for a new commentary. Why he did so, has never been explicit. Are there problems in the Baladeva Vidyābhushan commentary? Will the new commentary supersede it? In what ways will the new commentary differ from the previous one? We don’t know the answer to these questions, because nobody asked Prabhupāda these questions. So many other questions about budgets and infrastructure were asked and answered, but not these.
It is understandable if people are confused about such questions, so in the following sections, I will try to explain how we can understand them. These are not substitutes for Prabhupāda’s instructions, but they are important to understand how they must be executed. The general principle of understanding is to grasp the “context” in which they were made. That context is all the reasons that Prabhupāda wanted a scientific institute. So, they are in a sense, tied to his idea of “science” which is quite different from what most people currently think science is, and how we should approach it.
Prabhupāda’s Vision for Science
Prabhupāda had a very different view of science than what prevails today.
Modern science arose in Europe due to the Protestant Reformation and Enlightenment, which tried to separate the questions of matter from the questions of soul and God. The Cartesian mind-body dualism separated the soul from matter. Deism separated God from the material world. The Protestant Reformation laid down principles of separation of individuals whereby the collective contracts of the Jews in Israel or those of the Catholic Church on behalf of humanity were replaced by separate personal contracts with God. These ideas were then applied to the material world, conceiving it as a set of separated particles, governed by some laws of push and pull.
I have earlier discussed the religious origins of modern science in other places (see here and here), and we can summarize those discussions succinctly. The genesis of modern science lies in the separation of things: (a) all souls are separate from each other, (b) God is separate from the material world, (c) the material world is many separate objects. All these separate things are tied through contracts and laws. All these laws and contracts are negotiable and hence not eternal. Thereby, there is no truth. The laws of nature, morality, or religion are not truths. They are negotiable contracts, they have been negotiated in a particular way right now, and they are prone to change.
Contrast this idea of reality with that in Vedic philosophy, where the principle is: Neither totally separate nor totally identical. This is called Bhedābheda. We cannot study the world as independent particles, because matter has some oneness apart from the separation. We cannot separate matter from God because matter is an energy of God, that originally rested within Him, and presently operates under His will. We cannot have a contractual society of independent individuals competing for survival, because individuals are not totally separate from society or other individuals. We cannot have a contractual religion because contracts require independence and the soul is never independent of God. The laws of nature are not universal; different places in the universe can have different laws. These laws can evolve with time and different laws can apply in different contexts and situations. However, that is not the negotiability of the laws; it is the contextuality of the law.
We can contrast modern science to the thinking in Vedic philosophy, by a simple dichotomy—separated vs. integrated. Integration entails that we cannot separate science from religion, soul from God, soul from matter, matter from God, individual from other individuals, etc. Thereby, everything in Vedic science changes due to a single idea: separated vs. integrated.
This simple idea of integration can become very hard for people conditioned to think about “science” and “religion” based on separations created by the Protestant Reformation and Enlightenment. But Prabhupāda was not influenced by these Western ideas. For him, Vedic scriptures are not “religion”; they are also science. Similarly, “science” doesn’t mean physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, etc. It rather means a deeper understanding of Vedic philosophy—i.e., how the soul, God, and matter—are simultaneously one and different. This fact is also evident even from a casual look at Vedic scriptures. For example, Lord Krishna speaks about the material nature in the Bhagavad-Gita, sometimes calling it divine, then calling it inferior energy, that operates like a machine under God’s control, divided into eight parts. Similarly, the Śrīmad Bhagavatam delves into the nature of matter (called Sāñkhya) and the cosmic structure. We cannot separate science from religion in the way that Protestant Reformation and Enlightenment conceived it. Rather, even the understanding of matter comes from the same book that defines religion.
Prabhupāda’s view of science can be gleaned from the fact that he envisioned a program of academics in which the Bachelor’s degree in science will teach Bhagavad-Gita, the Master’s degree in science will teach Śrīmad Bhagavatam, and the Ph.D. degree in science will teach Chaitanya Charitamrita. What most people consider “religion” was “science” for Prabhupāda because the science-religion dichotomy is an invention of Western Enlightenment and Protestant Reformation, and it should not be carried into the Vedic system.
Prabhupāda spoke about the “science of Krishna consciousness” and instructed his disciples to “write books to show that God is a person”. His idea of science was the “science of the soul”. Everything, including God, is a soul because a soul simply means a person. Evolution meant how the soul goes from one conscious experience to another. Cosmology meant the collection of all possible conscious experiences. These were the two urgent projects that Prabhupāda had for Bhaktivedānta Institute. Explain the universe as the collection of many kinds of experiences. And explain how the soul moves from one experience to another, which is evolution and transmigration.
How Enlightenment Thinking Conditions Us
In the Vedic system, science and religion are distinct as theory and practice, not as the study of matter vs. God and soul. Science in the Vedic system does not mean experiments; that experimentation is a religious practice by which we realize the nature of the truth. Likewise, religion can be practiced without fully knowing the science. Hence, one can chant the names of God, or worship the deity, without fully understanding the philosophy of soul and God. This is the essence of the science-religion distinction in the Vedic sense; it doesn’t mean matter vs. soul and God. It means theory vs. practice. But almost everyone today thinks that science means the study of matter while religion means the study of the soul and God. This is due to centuries of conditioning created by Western thinking.
If we understand science as a rigorous, detailed, and extensive philosophical analysis of the Vedic scriptures, then Vedānta is science. However, if we think that science means the study of matter, then Vedānta is religion. I doubt that people can shake off their Western conditioning on science and religion easily. Hence, it can be hard for them to think that Bhagavad-Gita or Śrīmad Bhagavatam is science. For them, they are religion. But for Prabhupāda, a scientist is one who deeply understands these books, and religionists are those who may read a few things and primarily focus on the practice, although not deeply understand these books.
Under this view, Vedānta is also science. But that is not unique to Vedānta. Even advanced topics about the love of God are in the purview of science. Science is just that aspirational state of deep understanding of the Vedic texts, while religion is the common state of practicing the processes of spiritual upliftment without a complete understanding of the texts.
The Importance of Science for Prabhupāda
Enlightenment thinking has conditioned people to reject anything that is not based on reason and observation. If we cannot explain the nature of the soul and God based on reason and observation, then it will be called “faith”. Similarly, anything that is based on “faith” would also be rejected as being inferior to knowledge that is based on reason and observation.
Reasoning and observation, however, are not the only basis of modern thinking; there is always an ideology behind reasoning, which constitutes the axioms of reasoning, which are used to interpret observations. That ideology of modern thinking is the doctrine of separation between souls, God, and material objects. If we change the ideology, then we change the axioms used in reasoning and the interpretation of all observations. If our reasoning is based on the ideology of separation, then we will see the world as independent particles and use these ideas to interpret the observed data. However, if our thinking is based upon the ideology of “oneness and difference” then we will use that alternative lens to interpret the same data.
This data can be fossil records of evolution, the movements of rockets, airplanes, cars, etc., the observations of the cosmos, the observation of the atoms, chemical reactions, biological phenotypes, the rise and fall of economics, the dynamics of organizations in a society, the psychological phenomena, etc. If separation is a false idea, then all modern scientific interpretations will fail to correctly account for the data. Conversely, “oneness and difference” will correctly explain all the data. In fact, because separation is also not entirely false in oneness and difference thinking, therefore, science will always be partially successful in accounting for empirical data—to the extent that the separation idea is true—but fail in many ways because that separation is not the only truth; we have to also think of the integration in reality.
The Bhedābheda doctrine can thus be established by the fact that it better explains the data. Then we cannot say that Vedic philosophy is irrational or unempirical. We can also refute all other religions based on the core idea of separation by the fact that they are not working for the data of this world.
This is an Archimedes Lever in which you use the data of science to refute scientific theories and other religions. Prabhupāda quoted a Bengali proverb to illustrate this idea: “using your mortar and pestle, I am going to break your teeth”. The “teeth” in question refer to the false prestige associated with science and other religions. He also said that this presentation will “enhance the prestige of ISKCON”. Thereby, we get the second use of science, which is to undermine other ideologies. It is slightly different in focus from studying and understanding Vedic texts deeply, but they are not independent.
In short, now we get two ideas: (a) study Vedic scriptures deeply because that study is science, and (b) apply that study to interpret the data of science to refute its theories and other religions. The former idea is traditional, and the latter idea arises in the context that Vedic religion is going global. Since it is no longer confined to the Indian subcontinent, how do you handle the attacks from other ideologies? How do you show that the Vedic system is superior, rational, empirical, and theologically better? The answer is: We are more scientific, and we can prove that by applying our ideas to worldly data.
Issues of Religious Modernization
The Gaudīya tradition has been extremely innovative since the time of Bhaktivinode Thakur. He is the first one to start writing books in English. To understand its significance, we have to note the fact that the Gaudīya tradition never translated books into Arabic or Urdu, although India was under Islamic rule when the Gaudīya tradition started. While the Vedic culture prohibited people from traveling to other lands and mixing with people from them, Bhaktivinode Thakur envisioned a worldwide community of devotees. Then, Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswati instituted “preaching” as a spiritual activity, which was never the case in the Vedic system; preaching was at that time the sole prerogative of Christianity. While Bengali intellectuals were fighting against the “caste system”, Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswati was advocating Varṇāśrama. They went against the Vedic tradition and the Indian culture of the time.
Similarly, Prabhupāda added the mission of scientific presentation of Krishna consciousness. He could not fulfill the mission in his lifetime in the same way that Bhaktivinode Thakur could not establish a worldwide mission dedicated to preaching the mission of Lord Chaitanya in his lifetime. The reason we know of such a mission today is that Prabhupāda fulfilled it subsequently.
The mission of a scientific presentation of Krishna consciousness is Prabhupāda’s modernization of the Gaudīya tradition. We cannot find any precedent of a scientific presentation of religion before him. But that is no different than the fact that we cannot find books written in English before Bhaktivinode Thakur. Or the establishment of preaching missions before Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswati. The mission of scientific presentation of religion is presently unfulfilled in the same sense that Bhaktivinode Thakur’s vision of a worldwide league of devotees was unfulfilled for a very long time, or Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati’s vision of Varṇāśrama is unfulfilled today. The Acharyas lay down a vision and instruction, asking it to be executed. That vision is perfect, but it has to be realized through effort and dedication.
The essence of that vision is that the Gaudīya tradition will lead all other traditions in an intellectual revolution. This is the equivalent of Enlightenment in the West in terms of intellectual reformation in natural sciences, social sciences, mind sciences, logical sciences, life sciences, and philosophy. Any difficulty one has in understanding that vision can be resolved by casting this in terms of how Enlightenment transformed Europe and then the whole world through ideological changes making European thinking global.
This is an audacious vision, but no more audacious than Bhaktivinode Thakur dreaming of a worldwide league of devotees, while sitting in a small house, under British rule. It is also no more audacious than Prabhupāda calling his small band of hippies the “International Society for Krishna Consciousness”. It seems audacious to those who might not think Prabhupāda’s words true.
This modernization of religion is due to the globalization of an ideology that was previously confined to the Indian subcontinent. It is needed because the modern world gives so much importance to the ideas of modern science. When you take a new way of thinking to people unfamiliar with it, then you have to adapt it to suit the manner in which they can accept it.
The Global Decline of Religion
It is well known that religion is declining everywhere. Whatever remains of religiosity is mostly blind faith fanatic followers, who are increasingly uneducated and violent. This decline is a direct consequence of the numerous false ideas in Abrahamic religions, which have been forced upon people through violence, conquest, intimidation, and coercion. The world is no longer prepared for false ideas being foisted upon them through brute force. So, if religion is equated to “faith” and “belief”, then it will automatically be rejected by almost all educated people. The rapid rise of atheism in the West is due to the irrationality of religions and their use of violence.
Atheism impacts complex religions far more than simpler religions. The Vedic religion is more complex because it includes karma and reincarnation, deity worship, mantra chanting, rituals, incarnations, more heavens and hells, more demigods and demons, many universes, many spiritual planets, masculine and feminine forms of God, and many forms of God, all of which are discussed to varying levels of detail in different texts, in response to different concerns. In contrast, Abrahamic religions are very simple, as they remove all of the above things from religion, and we are left with one universe in which one earth has human life, one God, one heaven, and one scripture. Impersonalism and Buddhism are even simpler—as they even remove the soul and God from religion—and describe the world as being unreal in some sense.
When atheism rises in society, then complex religions are impacted far more than simpler religions. People can then only accept simpler religions, which is why impersonalism and voidism are rising in the West because they are simpler compared to the Abrahamic religions. When the global trend is toward this simplification, then how do you make a more complex religion more popular? Every new idea you add to religion will contribute to additional complexity, and make it harder for people to accept it. The answer is: You have to do exponentially more philosophy and science to explain the complexity.
If we cannot do that, then the complex religion will decline rapidly even in places where it has prospered formerly. India is a good example of this problem as many “scientifically educated” people in India have begun to question Indian traditions, including temples and deities. They are also moving rapidly toward a simpler religion based on impersonalism. One common political issue arising from this trend is: Our temples have thousands of tons of gold and jewelry. Why can’t we sell all of that and feed the poor? If we cannot explain how the deity is God, and His temple is His home, then one of two things will happen: (a) there will be a violent group of fanatics who will protect temples and alienate everyone else, (b) the educated people will grow increasingly distrustful of religion and equate it to fanatic blind faith.
The same issue exists when the Vedic system spreads to other parts of the world, where it encounters other religions with simpler ideologies in which the people are growing tired even of the current complexity. If we cannot make this far more complicated religion accessible to people through extensive philosophy and science, then most people will go toward atheism, and some people will go toward a far simpler religion—e.g., impersonalism or voidism. The counter to materialism and atheism will therefore be impersonalism and voidism, and it will be much harder to speak of a complicated religion.
This is the third sense in which Prabhupāda envisioned the use of science—not merely as a deeper study of the Vedic texts, and not just as a superior science and better religion—but also as a tool to arrest the spread of impersonalism and voidism. Now, science has another significance: “use science to prove that God is a person”. Atheism replaces God’s deities with technology idols. Impersonalism and voidism try to break down all idols. But neither are correct positions. We have to idolize the Lord instead of idolizing technology, or rejecting all idolatry. The world is meaningful to the extent that it embodies the qualities of God. Hence, there are greater and lesser meaningful things in this world. If we cannot show why some idols are more meaningful, then atheism will replace them with technology idols while impersonalism and voidism will continue trying to break down all forms of idolatry.
The Problem of Inconceivability
Once we grasp the role of science in the modernization of religion, then we have to contend with the key issue: Bhedābheda is inconceivable. We can go to a philosopher, scientist, modernist, impersonalist, or voidist and proclaim: We know the nature of the truth, and it is that everything is simultaneously one and different from all the other things but I cannot explain that to you rationally because it is inconceivable. What do you think is going to happen? Will the opponent give you the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he analyzed everything perfectly and then concluded that reality is indeed inconceivable? Or will he say: He most likely made no effort before making such a claim?
We can make the Achintya claim among Vedānta stalwarts because they are aware of the succession of problems that arise from each position. Thereby, we can rule out the positions of total ignorance or lack of attempts. But we cannot make the claim among those unfamiliar with the Vedic system. In fact, in a world where everyone asserts the certainty of their claims with a greater force based on observation and reason, the claim of inconceivability would be easily rejected as being more suspect than claims of partial truth.
The basic issue is that inconceivability is a non-starter for any kind of science. Bhedābheda or oneness and difference is logically contradictory in traditional binary logic. If you have a single contradiction in a logical system, then you can prove anything. Thereby, you cannot assert any truths, because their opposites are also true. Likewise, you cannot assert any falsity because they are also true. Essentially, inconceivability within a binary logical system is equivalent to absolutely no truth. It is certainly less acceptable than modern science, other personal religions, impersonalism, and voidism.
Quantity vs. Quality Thinking
To solve that problem, we have to make Vedānta conceivable. This is again impossible in a binary logical system, so we have to change the logical system that only permits the truth to be either X or not-X. Our logical system has to permit the truth of both X and not-X without a contradiction. This is possible only if X and not-X are defined mutually, such that if one of them doesn’t exist, then the other doesn’t either. Now, X and not-X are true in different contexts not universally. Logical truths now include contextual truths rather than just permitting universal truths. Once we do that, then every conventional idea based on binary logic—numbers, geometry, space and time, the separability of objects, the reduction of the whole into parts—also changes.
All these changes can be summarized quite simply as the move from quantities to qualities. Quantity thinking involves binary logic, and quality thinking involves non-binary logic. That non-binary logic then leads us to Bhedābheda, or simultaneous oneness and difference. It is inconceivable in a worldview of quantities and conceivable in a worldview of qualities. Most people at present describe the world in terms of quantities, but all of Vedic philosophy is formulated in terms of qualities. There are three qualities of nature called sattva, rajas, and tamas. The soul has three qualitative aspects called sat, chit, and ānanda. God has many qualities like knowledge, beauty, power, wealth, fame, and renunciation. Each form of God differs in some qualities, and liberated souls are also different in their qualities.
Quality thinking requires the simultaneous existence of opposites such as hot and cold, bitter and sweet, and light and heavy because they are always defined by mutual opposition. We cannot separate them as independent things. However, only one of these two opposites can be considered true in a given situation. Thus, for instance, some object is hot while another is cold, some object is either bitter or sweet, and some object is either light or heavy.
Then, there are things that are neither of these opposites. For example, the quality of taste is neither bitter nor sweet; the quality of touch is neither hot nor cold. Finally, there are things that neither of these opposites and either of the opposites. For example, the mind is neither bitter nor sweet, and yet, it can be either bitter or sweet. Then the intellect is neither bitter nor sweet, but it can be both bitter and sweet in the sense that it can think of the distinction and relation between these opposites. Such distinguishing is required in the process of saying that something is more squarish in comparison to something that is more circular. Circularity is now a contextual truth perceived by the intellect through the capacity to see a distinction, contrast, and comparison, which in turn requires us to see opposites simultaneously.
This simple process of going from either-or to neither to neither with either to neither with both constructs a logical hierarchy. That logical hierarchy is also a quality hierarchy because the quality of taste is “higher” than the qualities of bitter and sweet, the concept of mind is “higher” than the qualities of taste and touch, and the judgment that sees either-or, neither, and both is “higher” than the mind which perceives neither or either. This higher truth is also more true than the lower truth because the lower truth is always a part of the higher truth. Thus, either-or is a part of neither, neither is a part of neither with either, neither with either is a part of neither with both.
These logical states can be used to construct a hierarchy of reality in which the material world is dominantly either-or, the Brahman realm is neither of these opposites, the Vaikuṇtha realm is neither with either, and the Goloka realm is neither with both. Since Brahman, Vaikuṇtha, and Goloka are neither, therefore, they are beyond material existence. But only Brahman is devoid of qualities. Vaikuṇtha (neither with either) and Goloka (neither with both) are not devoid of qualities. If we cannot understand neither and both, then we cannot understand transcendence. But neither and both are impossible in binary logic, quantity thinking, and the idea of all truths being equally true.
The understanding of qualities needs numerous non-binary logical principles: (a) X and not-X can exist simultaneously, (b) they are not simultaneously true in all contexts, (c) something can be neither X nor not-X, (d) something can be neither X nor not-X and yet, either X or not-X, (e) something can be neither X, nor not-X, and yet, both X and not-X. You can go on combining these to get all kinds of categories that seem logically contradictory in binary logic. Their logical contradictoriness simply means that we can never understand these qualities in binary thinking, using quantities, employing linearity, where all truths are equally true, rather than more or less true.
The Need for Qualities in Vedānta
All problems of Vedānta interpretations are tied to the use of quantitative analogies. For example, Advaita uses the analogy of drop and ocean; they say: There is just the ocean, and no drops; the drops are created by dividing the ocean into parts, creating many drops. Each drop is qualitatively identical to the other drops because they are just water. Hence, we can ignore the qualitative differences between them, and just count the number of drops.
The fact is that in personalist philosophy, each soul is qualitatively unique. So, they are not identical drops of water. Rather, each drop is mixed with different portions of salt, sugar, and lemon, giving them unique flavors. The distinction between two souls is qualitative rather than quantitative. That is, one soul is different from another soul precisely because it is a different quality. Thereby, the ability to count them is a consequence of qualities. Similarly, two material objects are distinct based on qualities. We are able to count them due to qualitative differences. If we take out qualities, then we cannot identify, distinguish, and sequence things, and hence we cannot count them. Thereby, numbers or quantities are not the fundamental reality; the fundamental reality is the qualities that make things distinct, enabling counting.
Similarly, Viśiṣṭādvaita says that the soul and matter are properties of an object—God. But when the soul takes on a body, then one property (matter) becomes the property of another property (the soul). If we think in terms of quantities, then we can never understand this. For instance, if height and weight are two properties of a table, then height can never be heavy nor can weight be tall. But if you think in terms of qualitative properties, then color can be sweet and shape can be angry. Viśiṣṭādvaita is problematic under quantity thinking, as one property cannot be the property of another property. Then, we have to say that soul is an object and not a property.
That objectivity of the soul requires separation between the soul from God, which is called Dvaita. But it creates another problem—how can one object be created from a source object, without reducing the source? This is the issue of how can God remain complete after creation? You try to solve that problem without reducing God, and you will get an ex-nihilo doctrine.
Even in Bhedābheda, which uses whole-part analogies, whole and part are quantitative—the soul is a part of God like a finger is part of our body. It means if the soul is suffering, then God must be suffering, which transforms the soul’s pain into God’s pain, the soul’s ignorance into God’s ignorance, etc.
Contrast these with quality thinking. Now, the chair is furniture, but furniture is not the chair. A dog is an animal, but an animal is not a dog. Yellow is a color, but the color is not yellow. By using qualities, you start getting all the properties of Bhedābheda: Color and yellow are one because yellow is color; however, color and yellow are different because the color is not yellow.
Is this inconceivable? In binary logic, yes, because X is Y but Y is not X. But is it inconceivable in the sense that nobody can understand it? No, because everyone can understand that a dog is a mammal, but a mammal is not a dog. The quality system involves a conceptual hierarchy, like an inverted tree, while a quantity system involves object linearity—e.g., like points on a line.
Hierarchies are the norm in Vedic philosophy. In Sāñkhya for example, there is a hierarchy of material elements—from mahattattva to ahaṃkāra to buddhi to manas to indriya to tanmātra to bhūta. Vedic cosmology is about a hierarchy from higher planets to lower planets. And this hierarchy is constructed from three modes of material nature in which sattva is higher than rajas, which is higher than tamas. If we understand these qualities deeply, then rajas and tamas are mutually defined opposites, sattva is neither of these opposites, and śuddha-sattva is all of the three modes of nature in combination.
Thus, there is natural equivalence between (a) non-binary thinking, (b) hierarchies, (c) quality-based thinking, (d) oneness and difference, and (e) inconceivability of oneness and difference in quantity thinking, involving linearity, and binary logic, which is based on the separation of all things.
This is the essence of my innovation in Vedānta interpretation—change all analogies from quantities to qualities. Is it my invention? No, because quality thinking is pervasive in Vedic philosophy. Since there is innovation, therefore, there is a novelty. But because this is not an invention, therefore, there is continuity and greater consistency with the Vedic system as a whole.
Consistency vs. Completeness
The consequence of a qualitative reality is that all quantitative descriptions become incomplete. Why? Because you can say that X is Y, but you cannot say that Y is not X, as that will lead to a logical contradiction. Hence, you can only make half the claims. That is incompleteness. It was demonstrated in mathematics by Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem, which says: “No system of arithmetic is both consistent and complete”. What is arithmetic? It is quantity thinking. What is inconsistency? It is the inability to make all statements without contradiction. What is incompleteness? It is the ability to only make half the statements to avoid contradictions with the other half.
Now, we can show that all of modern science is incomplete due to quantity thinking. If it tried to be more complete, then it would become self-contradictory. By the same principle, we can say that since Vedānta systems have used quantitative analogies, therefore, they can only permit half the statements in the various Vedic texts, because the introduction of the other half would create inconsistency. Now, you can choose some subset of claims, and whichever subset is chosen, you will always get an incomplete doctrine. If you try to complete it, then your analogies will break down, and you will end up with numerous contradictions. The conclusion is that all scientific theories and all Vedānta doctrines are incomplete because of quantity analogies.
We can demonstrate this problem in numerous contexts individually, and I have done that over the last decade through my books. Every subject—mathematics, physics, biology, economics, computing—is either incomplete or inconsistent. Incomplete because it cannot answer all the questions of that subject. Any attempt to answer more questions leads to contradictions.
The same pattern of incompleteness vs. inconsistency also arises in the case of Vedānta doctrines. Advaita is most consistent, but also the most incomplete. As the doctrines evolved, they became more complete but more contradictions were introduced. Finally, over successive iterations of trying to become more complete, we arrived at Achintya Bhedābheda in which everything is contradictory. Now, we can say, as many Acharyas have said, that this is the most complete system of Vedānta. That is not false. However, we can also say that it is the most inconsistent system of Vedānta thus far.
When we say that it is most inconsistent, we are not contradicting the claim that it is the most complete system, and hence the most perfect in the sense of incorporating all Vedic statements. We are merely pointing out the inconsistency. Likewise, we don’t stop at the criticism. We also trace this inconsistency to the use of quantity thinking and show how the solution to this inconsistency requires qualities, hierarchies, and non-binary logic.
The Necessity of Other Five Systems
The system of qualities, hierarchies, and non-binary logic is also Vedic philosophy, although it comes from the other five systems of philosophy—Sāñkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, and Mīmāṃsā. If we disregard these other five systems, and just employ ordinary intuitions about quantities to understand Vedānta, then we get either contradictions or incompleteness. Those contradictions in Vedānta come at the additional cost of contradictions with the other five systems because the other systems are talking about qualities, hierarchies, and non-binary logic, and we are interpreting Vedānta using quantities, linearity, and binary logic. Thus, we get contradictions within Vedānta and contradictions with the other five systems of philosophy. Conversely, if we take the six systems together, then we get completeness without contradictions. Therefore, we can interpret Vedānta itself using a system of qualities, hierarchies, and non-binary logic, but then we must also establish these using the other five systems. When we do both, then we solve all contradictions within a philosophy and between philosophies.
This is the genesis of the broader project entitled the Six Systems of Philosophy. It includes goals such as the (a) unity of Vedic philosophy, (b) making each system internally free of contradictions, (c) establishing Bhedābheda on a solid logical, scientific, and philosophical foundation, and (d) using that doctrine of Bhedābheda to attack the incompleteness of all quantity thinking, including science. All these goals either stand together, or they fall apart simultaneously; we cannot do just one of these.
Quantity thinking was introduced into Vedānta by Shankaracharya. We don’t have to go into details, because even a superficial analysis will suffice: The whole is Brahman, and the parts are the souls and bodies. This whole, however, is quantitatively big. It is called all-pervading. It is also equated to space, which is quantitatively infinite. Some people have tried to equate this idea of Brahman to a quantum field. Why? Because that field is as big as the universe. When Brahman becomes quantitatively big, then it is no longer a person. Thereby, things don’t originate from the personality of Godhead, because a person is quantitatively finite. All arguments of impersonalism against personalism are therefore based on quantity thinking.
It seems perfectly logical because (a) people are accustomed to quantity thinking, (b) it doesn’t involve non-binary logic, (c) it is far simpler because you can forego conceptual hierarchies. In quantity thinking, there is no meaning in the world. Thereby, you can say that all rituals, yoga practices, deities of the Lord, and sanctified food, are meaningless things.
To support quantity thinking, Shankaracharya rejected the other five systems of philosophy based on non-binary logic, a system of qualities, and a hierarchical organization of these qualities. For example, the doctrine of Satkāryavāda in Sāñkhya says that the effect comes out of the cause because it is talking about how one quality is manifest from another quality. In quantitative thinking, nothing comes out of anything else. If we employ qualitative thinking, then māyā must also be produced out of Brahman, because it is one of the qualities of Brahman. This creates problems for Advaita, which wants to keep māyā separate from Brahman. To support his view, Shankaracharya rejected Satkāryavāda and thereby Sāñkhya. Similarly, Arthavāda in Mīmāṃsā says that the world is meaningful; examples include the use of mantras, rituals, deity worship, yoga practices, etc. which are meaningful activities. But Advaita has to insist that the world is completely meaningless, so it also rejected Arthavāda and Mīmāṃsā. Likewise, Vaiśeṣika says that individuals and qualities are eternally real, but Advaita says that individuality and qualities are illusions. Hence it rejects Vaiśeṣika. Then, Nyāya says that the parts exist in the whole eternally, and are manifest from the whole, but that is a problem for Advaita, which wants to describe the whole without parts. Therefore, Advaita rejects Nyāya. Finally, Yoga says that the soul as one of the parts of the whole (the Supreme Lord) must be devoted to the purposes of the whole and work according to His will. However, that is problematic for the oneness of Advaita, hence Advaita rejects Yoga as well.
Basically, the false doctrine of Advaita—rooted in quantity thinking—requires us to reject the other five systems of philosophy, and Shankaracharya used Vedānta Sūtra to derive the rejections of the other five systems. Overtly, he was saying: Vedānta is the conclusion of Veda, and other philosophies are not very important. But under the hood, he was taking out the foundation of qualities, non-binary logic, and hierarchies. That helped him reject devotion to the Lord, mantra chanting or deity worship, separate the material world from the Lord, assert that all individuality and qualities are illusions and that the whole is a partless entity while parts of the whole are illusions.
When Shankaracharya rejected all the five systems of philosophy, he took out the foundations of personalism in qualities, individuality, a common source of everything in the Supreme Lord, devotion to the Lord, and the logical process by which the whole divides into parts to create the manifest world. But it was made to appear as if Vedānta is supreme while the other systems of philosophy are secondary, irrelevant, unimportant. By creating a contradiction between Vedānta and the other five systems of philosophy, the claim was that qualities, individuality, devotion, forms of the Lord, mantras, deity worship, etc. are material, and they have to be rejected to embrace Brahman. The deeper claim was that there is no spiritual foundation for these things. Everyone knows that Advaita rejects the personality of God. What they don’t know is that the philosophy of personalism rests upon hierarchies, qualities, and non-binary logic. You take out one, and you also lose the others.
How Paramparā Continuity Created Problems
When quantity thinking excludes many Vedic statements, impersonalism rationalizes the exclusion based on logic: If you introduce all these other Vedic ideas, then you will get contradictions. Thereby, Advaita stands supreme because it is the most consistent. Logic is now the tool to reject most Vedic statements. Of course, not everyone may accept logic as the supreme tool. So, they can bring other Vedic ideas into the fold to make Vedānta more complete, along with some additional contradictions. These contradictions invite many criticisms, and it becomes hard to defend the Vedānta system.
The problems of consistency vs. completeness in interpretations prevented successive Acharyas from accepting all Vedic statements or rejecting Advaita. They used Shankaracharya’s commentary as the foundation, adding new claims that traded off completeness with consistency. Their argument was: Yes, there are many contradictions, but we assert that the Absolute Truth cannot be known by logic; It can only be known via devotion. Of course, you cannot say that our Vedānta system is totally illogical because that will make it vulnerable to even more attacks from Advaita. So, you play a careful juggling act of (a) not rejecting the basis of Advaita totally, (b) riddling yourself with many contradictions, and (c) not totally accepting all the Vedic statements.
The seeds of the dispute between jñāna and bhakti were sowed by this juggling act. The jñāni would say: You bhaktas are using logically contradictory arguments, based on faith in the Vedic scriptures. And the bhaktas would say: You the jñānis are relying on logic and reason to understand the Vedic scriptures. This dispute between jñāna and bhakti is almost synonymous with reason vs. faith in the West. However, its roots are quite different. We can see both the similarities and the differences between the two cases.
The result of this careful juggling act was the following: (a) the foundations of non-binary logics, quality thinking, and hierarchies, which are rooted in the other five systems of philosophy were rejected by all Acharyas as they continued using quantitative analogies, (b) they just added the individuality of the soul and God and devotional relationships, creating new contradictions.
In Brahma-Samhita 5.62, Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati criticizes all Vedānta interpretations prior to Achintya Bhedābheda in their historical order. He concludes: “These speculations have originated from Veda relying on the support of the Vedānta-Sūtra. In these speculations, although there is no truth that holds good in all positions, there is yet a certain measure of truth.” This is a clear acknowledgment of the fact there are contradictory positions, which are not true in all cases; that is because X is Y but Y is not X. If we don’t use non-binary logics, then X is Y is equated to Y is X, and you get a contradiction. If you say that X is Y, then you haven’t said Y is not X, which is incomplete.
Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati then writes: “Not to speak of the anti-Vedic speculations Sāṅkhya, Patañjala, Nyāya, and Vaiśeṣika, nor even of Pūrva-mīmāṁsā which is fond of exclusive fruitive activity in conformity with the teaching of one portion of the Veda, the bodies of opinions detailed above have also come into existence by relying outwardly on the Vedānta itself. By discarding all these speculations, you and your bona fide community should adopt the ultimate principle identical with the doctrine of acintya-bhedābheda (inconceivable simultaneous distinction and nondifference). This will make you eligible for being a true devotee.” This leads to questions.
For example, Sāñkhya is propounded by Lord Kapila in the Śrīmad Bhagavatam, and He is an incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu. So, how can Sāñkhya be considered anti-Vedic? Similarly, the aśtānga-yoga system is discussed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. How can that be called an anti-Vedic system?
The answer is that the other five systems of philosophy have been rejected by all Acharyas because they were trying to maintain continuity with Shankaracharya in order to avoid too much criticism from the impersonalists. By limiting the number of changes made in a commentary, you reduce the criticism from the opponent, as they focus only on the few additional changes that you have made. Now, if you accept the other five systems, then you have to explain them too, which then requires commentaries on the other five systems. The devotional proponent will now criticize you on grounds of materialism because many systems of philosophy overtly deal with the material world. Thereby, you double the criticisms: (a) impersonalists will criticize anyway, and (b) even the personalists will abandon you because you are now entertaining “materialism” via the other five systems of philosophy.
Hence, even as later Acharyas changed a Sampradāya’s view of the nature of soul and God, they did very little to the Advaita view of the material world. Thereby a big schism between Vedānta philosophy and the practice of the various Sampradāyas was created. For example, if you reject Mīmāṃsā, then it is very hard to justify mantra chanting or deity worship. If you reject Sāñkhya, then it is very hard to explain why some form of God is superior to another form due to a hierarchy of qualities. Then, if you reject Vaiśeṣika, you acknowledge that qualities are not real or eternal, although in practice you continue cooking various types of foods for the deity. Basically, the limitations of the philosophy create contradictions between theory and practice.
Fragmentation of the Vedic System
The Advaita system is not consistent with Purānas, Tantras, Pāñcharātra, or the four Vedas. Advaita was never trying to be consistent. It was merely trying to be consistent only with some Upanishads. Similarly, the Advaita system rejects the five systems of philosophy. The net result is a lot of fragmentation in the Vedic system. Those who want to follow Tantra split. Then, those who want to follow Puranas split. Then, those who like the Pāñcharātra system split. Then, those who want to preserve the four Vedas split. Then, those who like the other five systems of philosophy split into different groups. Since these texts are also divided into Shaiva, Shakta, and Vaishnava texts, they split even further. For instance, Vaishnavism is split into Viśiṣṭādvaita, Dvaita, Śuddhādvaita, Bhedābheda, and Achintya Bhedābheda. For those who know the details, each of these has been further splitting into even more sects. For example, there are many subsects within the Gaudīya tradition that don’t see eye-to-eye. Now, each group starts their own system of textual interpretations creating their own commentaries and paramparā system of religion.
The result is that nobody knows what the Vedic system really means. People equate “Hinduism” with so many philosophies that it is impossible for Hindus to even define their religion. Over time, they just replace religion with a culture or a “way of life”. All these problems entail the gradual disintegration, deterioration, and eventual death of Vedic culture and philosophy.
Everyone in these fragmented systems can cite their authorities—their gurus. They can also cite some śāstra that they are based on. And yet, due to their inconsistencies, they stay away from the other systems. To the narrow-minded person, who looks within a particular Sampradāya, there can be strong arguments for maintaining continuity with their chosen system of gurus and texts. But in the broader sense, for someone looking at the entire Vedic system from the outside, there are so many conflicting Sampradāya.
This raises the question: What is śāstra? Is it just the books that I prefer to read? Or is it all the books in the Vedic system? Likewise, what is a guru? Is it just the particular system of gurus into which I have been initiated, or the other Sampradāya with different gurus, who assert different things, are also gurus? Whatever answer we give to such questions creates new issues. For instance, Lord Chaitanya took initiation from Madhava Sampradāya, but He did not take their Dvaita philosophy. He took Sannyasa initiation from the Advaita system, but He rejected their philosophy. He took the philosophy of Bhedābheda from Nimbārka Sampradāya along with Radha-Krishna worship, but not initiation from them. He accepted the worship of Lord Viṣṇu through salagram practiced in the Sri Sampradāya, but He did not emphasize it.
Reversing the Fragmentation
By hairsplitting these nuances, we are not getting closer to a conclusion. To fix these problems, we have to completely reject Shankaracharya’s commentary and stop all attempts to maintain continuity. Instead, we have to bring back the system of qualities, hierarchies, and non-binary logic present in the five systems of philosophy and use that to reunify all the fragmentations.
This “clean-slate” approach may not be palatable to many people, but the alternative is much worse. When we reject Shankaracharya’s commentary based on the principle that it uses quantity thinking and binary logic, we have to partially forego the successive commentaries that have tried to maintain continuity. However, that is not a violation of any paramparā, because it accepts all paramparā to be true in a certain sense. You don’t contradict the tradition by calling table furniture. You contradict it by calling a table not a table. The bigger contradictions like oneness and difference are already there. When the goal is to make that contradiction conceivable, we are not deviating from the conclusions. The changes are in the interpretation of sūtras, which have to be explained. The benefit is that the Vedānta system will be consistent with the claims of all Vedic texts, all systems of philosophy, and all assertions can be accepted as true in a certain sense and in specific contexts.
The necessity of a clean-slate approach is that if we don’t do such a thing, then we cannot present Vedic knowledge as a science, by the ordinary standards of being rational and empirical. We cannot apply the principles of Bhedābheda to interpreting the data of the ordinary world to show why separated thinking is false. And we can never arrest the rise of atheism, which relies on modern science, or impersonalism and voidism which try to simplify religion to a point where it loses all the subtleties and nuances of the Vedas.
An alternative interpretation of Vedānta is thus justified by: (a) unity among the Vedic traditions, (b) consistency with all Vedic texts, (c) consistency with the five systems of philosophy, (d) revival of qualities, hierarchies, and non-binary logic which make Bhedābheda conceivable, (e) the need of such conceivability to arrest the rise of materialism, atheism, impersonalism, and voidism, (f) make Vedic philosophy relevant in today’s world, and (g) lead an intellectual revolution quite like the European Enlightenment.
Any reasonable person can put all these benefits on one side, and contrast them with the benefits of sticking with a tradition or Sampradāya. I am convinced that an unbiased analysis will favor the clean-slate approach.
Philosophy of Text Interpretation
Everyone knows that words have many meanings. Some meanings are eliminated by taking the sequence of words in a sentence into account. For example, the word “President” can mean the “head of the state” or a particular person. “The President wants to meet you” requires us to treat the word “President” as a particular person. But “He was elected as President” requires us to treat “President” as the “head of the state”. The problem doesn’t end here. Certain whole sentences can have different meanings based on the sentences that were uttered before that sentence. This problem is easily demonstrable by using a single word sentence: “Yes”. Are you going to the shopping mall? Yes. Are you going to sleep? Yes. The sentence “Yes” has a possessed meaning, but that is not enough. Its complete meaning is known only by the context in which it is used. This too may not eliminate all possible interpretations. To further fix the interpretations, we can apply additional constraints, namely, that the statements are not repeated or discontinuous. We can use also use other texts to constrain possible interpretations.
We have already noted the importance of other texts in understanding Vedānta. There is the constrain that we have to use qualities, hierarchies, and non-binary logic. We have noted the importance of maintaining consistency between Veda and Vedānta. Then, there are simpler constraints such as abiding by Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary. Finally, there is a constrain of contextuality based upon the strict sequencing of statements in a text, to ensure that they are interpreted (a) continuously, and (b) uniquely.
We can call these three constraints semantics, syntax, and logical progression. The last one is called nyāya-prasthān, which fixes the context and thereby restricts the possible interpretations of a sentence or word. The other two criteria of syntax and semantics still apply; nyāya-prasthān is an addition.
The Vedānta Sūtra is called nyāya-prasthān, and it is like a mathematical proof. You never repeat an assertion in a proof. Every statement means something new. This is uniqueness. Then, you cannot jump from one step in the proof to something that doesn’t truly follow from the previous step. This is continuity. Continuity and uniqueness further constrain the possible interpretations of a text. That means that we are not permitting ourselves the freedom of interpretations based just on syntax and semantics.
Contextuality is evident in many places in Vedānta Sūtra. For example, the Sūtra “sṃrateśca” which means “also smriti” occurs many times. Talk about the qualification of a guru based on śrutī, and then say “also smriti”. Talk about the nature of the Absolute Truth based on śrutī, and then say “also smriti”. So, the sentence “also smriti” has no meaning independent of the context. Its meaning is always context-dependent. The question is: Why use context-dependent translation sometimes, and not at other times? And the answer is that contextuality must be used always. The result is logical proof in which nothing can be repeated and nothing can be missed.
Serialization Constraints Interpretations
While authoring this commentary I saw the practical use of this technique. There were occasions where I did not read the sūtra correctly and mistranslated it. Then I mistranslated the next sūtra, and the next one, and so on. On some occasions, I successfully mistranslated up to 20 sūtras, as there are many translations and possible interpretations of each sūtra.
Then I hit a brick wall, in the sense that, based on the previous succession of translations, I could never translate one of the later sūtras, because that sūtra can be understood only when the previous sūtras have been understood in a specific manner. The new sūtra translation did not make sense given the previous translations. I then retraced the journey backward and found the sūtra that I had misunderstood and restarted the process—sometimes redoing 20 sūtras all over again. The simple test was this: I should translate all the sūtras without discontinuity or repetition. Since there are 555 sūtras, there was always the risk that I could have reached the end of the book, hit a brick wall, and then had to start from the beginning again. I was prepared for that risk, to eliminate potentially erroneous translations of some of the sūtras.
By using this method, there were 3 occasions in which I found missing sūtras in the particular version of the Sanskrit text that I was relying on. The problem was that I simply wasn’t able to translate continuously if a sūtra was missing; it created a discontinuity which made the interpretation of the subsequent sūtra impossible. I then looked at other versions of the text and found that that they had additional sūtras, which, when added, made the interpretation trivially easy. I could have skipped those sūtras and continued my translation if I was giving myself the liberty of free interpretations. I wasn’t. The basic principle of logical progression of the proof caught missing steps in the proof.
The question is: Why are the sūtras in a specific order? Could we not rearrange them in another order? The answer is that if we rearrange them differently, then it would entail completely different interpretations. This is the problem of contextualization; any change in order drastically changes the meaning. This problem rarely arises in translating Upaniśads and Purānas, which is why it is possible to quote freely from these texts because a precise ordering of verses is not necessary. People accustomed to Purānas or Upaniśads may not understand this issue, because they are used to freely citing verses from different parts of the text, as the text is mostly context-independent.
The problem gets worse when some texts (e.g., Sāñkhya) bundle sūtras into topics. If we ignore the topic title, we cannot translate even the first sūtra under the topic, because the topic states what is being discussed, and the first sūtra makes the first statement within that topic, without mentioning the topic. For instance, the topic can be “The Discussion of Satkāryavāda”, and none of the sūtras will use the word Satkāryavāda again because it is understood what we are talking about. The topic also constrains possible interpretations of the sūtras. We cannot deviate away from the topic. And yet, we must establish continuity, such that the last sūtra leads to the next topic.
One of the key differences between Purānas and Vedānta Sūtras is the use of pūrva-pakśa or an “objection” which is always inserted between two sūtras while doing a commentary although that objection is not present in the Vedānta Sūtras itself. I have used the format of questions instead of objections, but the two methods are equivalent. That question or objection sets the context of how the next sūtra has to be interpreted. If we change the questions, then we can change the interpretation of the next sūtra, but as I have noted above, we will hit a brick wall at some point where (a) the question or objection is being repeated, or (b) the question and answer do not make any sense given the previous sequence. Because an interpreter is “free” to insert an objection, there is seeming freedom in interpreting, but that freedom is permitted only if the entire sequence is unique and continuous.
How Uniqueness Improves the Commentary
When translations repeat their claims, then the redundancy of claims necessarily comes at the price of some missing conclusions. For instance, if you are allotted 5 sentences, and you repeat the same thing three times, then the total unique statements will be 3 instead of 5. This is very convenient if someone doesn’t want to include all the conclusions of Veda in Vedānta. By repeating, you can ignore some essential conclusions. Conversely, by uniqueness, we can extract more essential conclusions from the same text.
One such conclusion is that Brahman has a masculine and feminine aspect, which are referred to as “two forms” or “two deities” a few times. We can scan all Vedānta commentaries, and not one describes them as the masculine and feminine form of Brahman. Thereby, the fact that we worship Sita-Rāma, Rādha-Krishna, Lakshmi-Nārāyana is missing from all Vedānta commentaries.
This is not a minor oversight either because it lies at the heart of all Vaishnava philosophy, and yet, it is missing even in Vaishnava commentaries. It arises because Vaishnava commentators were tweaking Shankaracharya’s commentary, rather than redoing the entire sequence of sūtras. In Advaita, there is no need for masculine and feminine forms because Brahman is said to be genderless. But when it is missing even in Vaishnava commentaries, a deep schism between Vaishnava theory and practice is created.
How Continuity Improves the Commentary
Another issue we see in Vedānta commentaries is discontinuity. For instance, out of the blue, the commentary will state, “now we consider the objection from Buddhism” disregarding the fact that these texts predate Buddhism by centuries, so there cannot be any objection from Buddhism. Why does that arise? Because Shankaracharya was trying to respond to Buddhism.
The real questions are linguistic, such as “Can we speak of the Absolute Truth using language? Or is language a human creation that cannot be applied to the Absolute Truth?”. These issues are not Buddhism but a form of impersonalism, also used by Buddhism. Therefore, we have to respond to that question, and in the process, we reject both Buddhism and impersonalism by recognizing the reality of language (which is called śabda-brahman) and its applicability to the Absolute Truth. However, if we narrow the scope to Buddhism, then we create a misunderstanding about what the sūtra truly means, permitting impersonal ideas such as “language is a human creation”.
The Problem of Arrogance
The above reasons for a new commentary are discussed in the introduction to my commentary, some detailed and some summarized. Anyone who reads the commentary can see them. And yet, I have received accusations of arrogance—i.e., that I consider myself more qualified than the previous Acharyas to think of commenting. Such accusations do not prescribe the qualifications of the person whose commentary would be acceptable. If we note that the Gaudīya tradition already has a commentary by Baladeva Vidyābhushan, then anyone who writes a commentary would be too audacious. That rules out the prospect of ever fulfilling Prabhupāda’s instructions on Vedānta.
These accusations are a double-edged sword, because if I say that I’m qualified, then I am arrogant. But if I say that I’m not qualified, then I should not write. In both cases, the commentary must be rejected. In the former case, because I’m arrogant to consider myself qualified, and in the latter, because I’m humble to consider myself unqualified. But if we apply that yardstick to other commentaries, then the conclusion would be: Either they were too arrogant to write a commentary or their humility should have prevented them from authoring a commentary. We cannot decide anything like this. The argument of arrogance can never be answered satisfactorily by anyone.
While I was authoring this commentary, I used to tell my friend Ciprian that I can never finish it. I must have talked about my inadequacy to him almost a dozen times. Every step I moved forward did not increase my confidence in my ability. It always made me feel that I was not going to be able to complete it. I was constantly plagued by self-doubt and feelings of incompetence. When I finished the commentary, I did not feel a sense of achievement. I felt a sense of relief that it is over. Like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
So, if anyone thinks that this work is done out of a sense of pride in my ability, they are patently wrong. On the contrary, it was done out of a sense of duty, with constant doubts in my ability to fulfill the duty. I have constantly begged for Krishna’s help, and I have constantly received guidance in the heart. But who is going to believe all these things? Perhaps nobody. They might accuse me of arrogance, because they don’t know me, don’t have all the facts, and because listening to such painful things is probably my destiny.
The root cause of such personal attacks is false triumphalism in the current state of understanding of Vedic philosophy. The uncurious mind is satisfied by a little knowledge because it cannot ask more profound questions. If the curiosities are satisfied, and no more questions are arising, then the uncurious mind considers additional books a nuisance: Why are these books required? They are certainly not required to satisfy my curiosities.
The most intelligent people can entertain alternative ideas temporarily, without getting disturbed by them. They know the arguments on both sides, and they know which argument is correct and why. But those who don’t know the arguments on both sides, and why one argument is correct, can get disturbed by alternative viewpoints. Intelligent people strengthen their convictions through arguments. The less intelligent people are afraid that the alternative viewpoints or arguments will weaken their convictions.
Therefore, Vedic knowledge was formerly confined to the most intelligent people. The less intelligent people don’t need to know everything. Keep them away from books, as they will get disturbed. Tell them a few basic things, which they can follow easily so that they are not overwhelmed. The difference was simply that those who did not read many books knew that others read them. They acknowledged their own ignorance and shortcomings and accepted that others were superior to them. When an issue arose, they approached those who knew more and requested clear answers.
But in this age, everyone thinks they know everything, although they cannot solve any open question or problem in any area of human inquiry. There are hundreds of big open issues in numerous areas of modern academia, which can be addressed through Vedic philosophy. But even those who claim to know Vedic philosophy are not able to use their professed knowledge to solve these problems. This is an indication that they do not know the philosophy, but they will not accept their ignorance. Such people, if called upon to address open questions, will say: All these are materialistic problems; we have already transcended into spirituality. They designate anyone who tries to answer these open questions as a “speculator” because they cannot see how such conclusions are entailed by Vedic philosophy. By name-calling, oversimplification, professing their own transcendence, and reducing everything to their level, such people drag everyone down. When standards are lowered in this way, then nobody can answer difficult questions or provide nuanced answers. Then, such people say: Nobody really knows.
We can see endless debates on forums that do not move the conversation forward. When the situation reaches a crisis, someone intervenes, makes a decision by popular vote or randomly, which is not convincing, but everyone watches helplessly and is forced to accept it. Despite the degrading quality of conversations, people are not able to accept that they don’t know.
Of course, they accuse others of audacity, which is fine, because others are also accusing them of audacity. You add up all the audacious claims, and they amount to nothing. So, we don’t need to give them any weight, because they are based on false triumphalism about knowing without knowing.
The Problem of Religious Finality
The problems of personal attacks on people trying to advance religion are also rooted in the desire for finality. People coming to religion want finality. Worldly knowledge is not final, because things keep changing. Religion gives people a sense of finality because scriptures do not change. But this finality is lost if scriptures are given new interpretations. That upsets people as they came to religion with the idea that religion gives the final truth.
Limiting the number of books, viewpoints, interpretations, eliminates that confusion and uncertainty. Religious finality demands that we should have read all the books, so the number of books cannot increase. By drawing an arbitrary limitation on what constitutes a religious text, they create a false sense of finality in religion—I have perfect truth, and it will never change.
However, we have to realize that God is infinite. The soul is eternal, and it spends eternity in trying to know that infinite. Finality has no room in religion because the soul can never know fully, and yet, there is an eternal endeavor to know more. That is not the same as constant changes in the understanding of the nature of the Absolute Truth. The difference is that improving religious understanding is always marked by deepening and broadening. Broadening means that more topics are now part of religion. And deepening means that we can understand a greater number of things using the same principle.
For example, Bhedābheda is generally understood to be a principle regarding the relation between soul and God—the two are neither identical nor completely different. But we can apply Bhedābheda even to quantum mechanics—two quantum particles are neither completely identical nor completely different. We can apply the same idea to sociology—individuals in society are not totally separate nor totally identical. Then, we can apply this viewpoint to psychology—the mind and body are not totally identical and not totally separate. This is what I mean by broadening and deepening. We can use Bhedābheda to understand the psyche, society, and quantum particles; this is the broadening of Bhedābheda. And yet, as we apply this philosophy, we begin to appreciate Bhedābheda in ever new ways. We are not talking about changing Bhedābheda to something unprecedented. We are talking about making Bhedābheda conceivable so that we can make it pervasive and use it in all subjects—psyche, society, and quantum particles.
This is not an attack on religious finality. But it is also not religious finality that rules out curiosity, expansion, advancement, and improvement of our understanding through applications of an idea. The books that apply Bhedābheda in different contexts are also not material books, even if they deal with the psyche, society, or quantum particles. They may not seem as much religious to a person who has a limited definition of religion confined to one application of oneness and difference that separates the material world from God. Those who see that integration, will not make such distinctions. Thereby, if we limit the number of books, to give ourselves a false sense of finality in knowledge, then we are exposing our disinterest in the infinite, a concomitant lack of curiosity, and pretentiousness of truly knowing.
At the least, Vedic religion is defined by hunger. Hunger for more. We satisfy our hunger by writing and reading books. But those who might not be hungry, find this problematic because they seek finality. Finality means no more books, and hunger means more books. To attain finality, one can reject all new books. And that is achieved by questioning an author’s audacity to write.
There is no answer to such questions because they are produced by a desire for finality, discomfort with advancement, fear of losing one’s conviction by entertaining alternative viewpoints, and a lack of curiosity. We cannot fix these issues, because the issues are in the reader and not in the author.
Ignoring Serious Everyday Issues
Philosophical debates have been ongoing since time immemorial, and we cannot stop them. That is because the human mind seeks perfection. The mind’s desire for intellectual perfection is rooted in the soul’s desire for perfection, knowing the Absolute Truth, and understanding our place in relation to that Absolute Truth. Philosophical debates also appear in the everyday world as debates about our place in the world. The real problem is that these philosophical debates have been mostly inconclusive.
For example, Greeks invented democracy because they realized that rational argument isn’t taking anyone closer to the truth, because opposite positions are true in different contexts, although not universally true. Greeks believed that truth must be universal, not contextual. Socrates, considered the greatest of Greek philosophers, spent a lifetime in such arguments only to realize at the time of death that he had not reached any conclusion. Therefore, some people might say: What is the use of all these debates? After all, they are never conclusive and final. But that is not going to put philosophical debates to an end, because of the mind’s and soul’s desire for perfection.
We must understand the real causes of inconclusivity in debates. Why are arguments and philosophical views inconclusive? As we have discussed, the root problem is that any conversation that employs binary logic, quantities, and linearity is going to be either contradictory or incomplete. That means, either you cannot know everything, or you believe in contradictory ideas.
Democracy or autocracy is not the answer to this problem. The answer is a better way of reasoning. Also, reasoning is not limited to theology. It applies to every single conversation and decision you make. There is a better method to reason, which is that we can make the simultaneous truth of X and not-X conceivable, such that X is true in one context and not-X is true in another context. That way, everyone can stop arguing endlessly, because they have a method for deciding what should be done in a specific situation.
The Absolute Truth is both sour and sweet. But if we don’t taste the Absolute Truth, then it is neither sour nor sweet. When we taste the Absolute Truth, sometimes it is sour and sometimes it is sweet. But if we persist, then over time, we can see that it is both sour and sweet. The same applies to every relative truth; it can be either-or, neither, or both. For the last 2500 years, Western philosophy has pursued the either-or logic, and for the last 2500 years, voidism and impersonalism have pushed the neither logic. So, when we want to go to the both logic which doesn’t contradict either-or and neither, then we need a serious overhaul in thinking, beginning with logic.
If we do not accept that overhaul, then all conclusions based on binary thinking will be no better than a coin toss. We might as well stop arguing because whatever we conclude, will be wrong 50% of the time. That means half of all our choices are wrong. Half of everything that we are doing is adharma. Half of everything we consider true is not true in a situation.
Those who accuse me of pride or arrogance are thinking “I don’t need this”. This is not true. They may not want it, but they need it. That is because everyone is stuck in wrong decisions by using binary logic, and its attendants. When something is needed by everyone, then supplying that need is not arrogance. It is actually a service to everyone. But if someone doesn’t see that need and necessity, then they can call it arrogance because they are not thinking about their own good, how they are stuck in mindless inconclusive debates because they cannot decide what is true in a given situation.
Democracy is about serving one’s own needs. Autocracy is about forcing one’s needs on others. But there is something beyond these two—serving everyone’s needs. When everyone’s need is served without forcing them, then there should be no issue if serving them is also my need and want.