Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Neo-Vedanta of Swami Vivekananda: Part Two


Part Two of this essay will look at the Neo-Vedanta of Swami Vivekananda in greater detail by way of a direct examination of his writings, specifically those contained in the convenient one volume anthology, Selections from Swami Vivekananda. In the first five sections of Part Two, particular attention will be paid to the rhetorical features of Vivekananda's writings. The seven sections that follow (which will be posted at a later date) will look at some of the more original aspects of Vivekananda's Neo-Vedanta. Part Two will then close with a brief look at Vivekananda's Indian addresses with the hope that they will help put into relief those writings by Vivekananda that were intended for Western audiences. Where relevant, Vivekananda's ideas will be related to those of his Neo-Hindu "forerunners," the European philosophy he had been exposed to as a youth, and to the traditional Vedanta and Yoga of classical India.

Several related themes emerge from a critical reading of Vivekananda. Many of these themes reappear in the writings of later scholars of Indian thought, such as T.M.P Mahadevan and Chandradar Sharma, and in the writings of later Neo-Vedantins and perennialists, such as Sarvapella Radhakrishnan, Aurobindo Ghose, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Rama, Adi-Da (Franklin Jones), Georg Feuerstein, and Ken Wilber.
Some of the more prominent of these themes involve various dichotomies. These dichotomies are used toward particular rhetorical effects by Vivekananda.

I. The Guru vs. the Pundit

One of the more interesting dichotomies put to use by Vivekananda is the contrast between the "Guru" and the "Pundit." In his writings, Vivekananda delineates a well marked distinction between the two. He associates the Guru, or "true teacher," with the world renouncers of India -- the samnyasins, parivrajakas, bhikshus, shramanas -- while he identifies the Indian pandita as a kind of substandard, corrupt and even false teacher. Echoing Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda writes:

In our country, the imparting of knowledge has always been through men of renunciation. Later, the Pandits, by monopolising all knowledge and restricting it to the Tols, have only brought the country to the brink of ruin. India had all good prospects as long as Tyagis (men of renunciation) used to impart knowledge.... From "Conversations." Selections, p. 384.

In this passage, Vivekananda indirectly addresses the charge that it is the renunciatory attitude that is responsible for India's ills by countering that all that is good in the Indian tradition can be traced back to its great spiritual personages, i.e., its world renouncers. The allusion to the "downfall" of the Hindu tradition and its association with the panditas brings to mind Rammohan's idea of the degeneration of Hinduism and his contention that the "selfish pundits" have concealed the true purport of Vedanta by way of the "dark curtain of the Sungskrit language." While Rammohan's rhetoric has probably provided the main inspiration for Vivekananda here, it is also possible that Vivekananda picked up a tendency to downplay the importance of the traditional pandita-education from his own master, Ramakrishna, who hated the local village school he attended as a youngster.

Vivekananda further develops the contrast between the "Guru" and "Pundit":

You will find that not one of the great teachers of the world went into the various explanations of texts... You study all the great teachers the world has produced and you will see that no one of them goes that way.... As my Master used to say, what would you think of men who went into an orchard, and bruised themselves counting the leaves, the size of the twigs, the number of branches, and so forth, while only one of them had the sense to begin to eat the mangoes? So leave this counting of leaves and twigs, and this note taking to others.... Men never become spiritual through such work; you have never once seen a strong spiritual man among these "leaf counters." From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, pp. 54-55.

In this largely rhetorical flourish, Vivekananda treats the teacher-as-realized-sage and the teacher-as-pundit as if it the two are mutually exclusive. Of course, the claim that none of the great teachers of India was ever an exegete is mere hyperbole that flies in the face of the fact that recognized masters like Shankara and Abhinavagupta were also great commentators. It is worth noting that Vivekananda is here addressing a largely Western audience who would have been, for the most part, ignorant of Indian intellectual and religious history.

Other aspects of the Vivekananda's distinction between the "Guru" and the "Pundit" recall the discourse of Rammohan in other ways. In a manner reminiscent of Rammohan, Vivekananda relates the "book learning" of the panditas to their purported conceit and pride:

The various methods of explaining the dicta of the scriptures are only for the enjoyment of the learned. They do not attain perfection; they are simply desirous to show their learning. From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, p. 54-55.
Here, Vivekananda appears to dismiss the tradition of expounding upon the purport of the Upanishads and the consideration of that purport. But it is actually only the exposition of a particular class of teachers that Vivekananda dismisses here -- that of the "Pundits." The exposition of the "Gurus," and apparently Vivekananda's own interpretation of Vedanta, remain intact.

The contrast between the "Guru" and the "Pundit" in Vivekananda's writings is closely related to another theme, the contrast between "book learning" and "experience." This distinction sheds light on how Vivekananda understands the distinction between the "Guru" and the "Pundit." In the following passage Vivekananda combines the two dichotomies and forms a contrast between knowledge derived from books, which "serves the intellect," and esoteric initiation from the Guru, which "serves the spirit."

This quickening impulse, which comes from outside, cannot be received from books; the soul can receive impulse from another soul, and nothing else. We may study books all our lives, we may become very intellectual, but in the end we find that we have not developed at all spiritually... In studying books, we sometimes are deluded into thinking that we are being spiritually helped; but if we analyse ourselves we find that only our intellect is being helped, and not the spirit. That is why almost every one of us can speak most wonderfully on spiritual subjects, but when the time of action comes, we find ourselves so woefully deficient. It is because books cannot give the us that impulse from outside. To quicken the spirit, that impulse must come from the another soul. That soul from which this impulse comes is called the Guru, the teacher.... From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, pp. 51-51.
It is not clear what Vivekananda means by "action" in the above passage, but the reference here to "spirit" and its apparent association with action suggests that Vivekananda has conflated two senses of the term "spirit" -- one having to do with "pure consciousness" (chit; chaitanya), which transcends the intellect in Advaita, and another having to do with inspiration, will and vitality. In any case, the reference to "action" here resonates with Vivekananda's notion of a "practical Vedanta," which we will discuss below.

II. Book-learning vs. Realization

The theme of "booking learning" recurs frequently in Vivekananda's writings. Its contrast with "experience" parallels, and indeed invokes, the empiricist distinction between "knowledge by description" and "knowledge by acquaintance."

Vivekananda's use of the contrast between "book learning" and "experience" also invokes the traditional Indian distinction between higher knowledge (para vidya) and lower knowledge (apara vidya). The distinction between "higher" and "lower" knowledge can be traced back to the Upanishads, which present themselves as the esoteric (guhya; rahasya) teaching implied by all the Vedas. The first explicit mention of the distinction is Mundaka Up 1.1.4-6, but this is prefigured by Chan Up 7.1.13, which contrasts knowledge of the self (atma-vidya) with various other forms of knowledge.

Echoing Mundaka 1.1.4-6, Vivekananda writes:

All these talks, and reasonings, and philosophies, and dualisms, and monisms, and even the Vedas themselves, are but preparations, secondary things.... The Vedas, Grammar, Astronomy, etc., all these are secondary. The supreme knowledge is that which makes us realise the Unchangeable One. From "The Sages of India." Selections, p. 237.

Interestingly, this passage implies that the supreme knowledge is not final realization per se but that which gives final realization, not a "knowledge by acquaintance" but a "knowing how." At other times, however, the disjunction drawn by Vivekananda is more absolute:

You must keep in mind that religion does not consist in talk, or doctrines, or books, but in realisation; it is not learning but being. No amount of doctrines or philosophies or ethical books that you have stuffed into your brain will matter much, only what you are, and what you have realised. From "The Need of Symbols." Selections, p. 64-65.

While several Indian traditions refer to a distinction between "higher" and "lower" knowledge there is by no means universal agreement as to what actually counts as "higher" and "lower" knowledge. For his own part, Shankara refers to a number of related distinctions, such as between worldly (lokika) means and ends, and ultimate (paramartha) soteriological concerns; or between teachings that are to be taken at face value and teachings that are "figuratively true" and merely propaedeutic (cf. GK 3.14). Following the Mundaka Up, he also refers to the distinction between higher and lower knowledge. But in Shankara's works, the distinction between higher and lower knowledge is not used to contrast "book learning" with "experience," even though this is a typical interpretation given by modern scholars. Rather, Shankara uses the distinction to distinguish knowledge that concerns ritual action from soteriological knowledge, that is, knowledge that leads to the heaven realms (brahma loka) from knowledge that leads to ultimate release (moksha). He does so primarily to make known his break with the jnana-karma-samucaya Vedanta of his contemporaries.

Shankara does not exclude the Vedas from the domain of higher knowledge since the Upanishads, which give soteriological knowledge, fall within the range of the Vedic revelation. For Shankara, the "higher knowledge" forms a kind of continuum from hearing the words of scripture (sruti) to final realization (samyagdrashana). As for the Mundaka's referring to the Rg Veda, Sama Veda, etc. as belonging to the lower knowledge, Shankara takes this as a reference to brahmanic ritualism, which he relegates to the domain of ignorance (avidya).

In contrast to Shankara, Vivekananda treats the Vedic scriptures in toto, as well as the revealed word of other traditions, as instances of the "ossification" of religion:

The whole world reads scriptures, Bibles, Vedas, Korans, and others, but they are only words... the dry bones of religion.... Those who deal too much in words, and let the mind run always in the forest of words, lose the spirit.... "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, pp. 54-55.

Vivekananda relates the contrast between "book learning" and "realization" to another of his favourite dichotomies -- that between the "East" and the "West." In the following passage, he associates book-learning with the "Western" attitude:

The network of words is like a huge forest in which the human mind loses itself and finds no way out.... To be religious, you have to first throw all books overboard. The less you read of books, the better for you.... It is a tendency in Western countries to make a hotch-potch of the brain.... In many cases it becomes a kind of disease but it is not religion. From "The Need of Symbols." Selections, pp. 64-65.

We do not know if the "hotch-potch of the brain" referred to here has anything to do with the state of confusion that Vivekananda's initial encounter with European philosophy left him in. Nor does Vivekananda tell us whether his own books -- Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, etc. -- fall into the class of materials that make a "hotch potch of the brain."

III. Talking School vs. Practising School

Book learning and exegesis are in turn related to what Vivekananda refers to as "talking." Indeed, at times, "talking" takes the place of "book learning" in juxtaposition with "experience." By "talk" Vivekananda could mean various things -- the practice of sermonizing and expounding upon a teaching, or the practice of philosophical discussion (vada), which is an aspect of deliberation (manana) upon a teaching. The distinction between "talk" and "practice" may also imply the well known distinction between "talk" and "action," in the sense of someone who "talks the talk but does not walk the walk," or someone who does not "practice what they preach," or someone who is "all talk but no action." This latter sense would be in keeping with Vivekananda's notion of a "practical Vedanta."

The next passage relates "talk" to the intellect and at the same time uses the notion of "common sense" as a check on intellectualism:

We may deliver great intellectual speeches, become very good rationalists, and prove the tales of God are all nonsense, but let us come to practical common sense. What is behind this remarkable intellect? Zero, nothing, simply so much froth.... A little more common sense is required. Nothing is so uncommon as common sense, the world is too full of talk. From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, p. 59.
In the following passage, Vivekananda again relates "talking" to intellectual understanding:

What you only grasp intellectually may be overthrown by a new argument, but what you realise is yours for ever. Talking, talking about religion is but little good. From "Inspired Talks." Selections, p. 325.
This passage echoes Shankara's comments at Br Su 2.1.11 where he dismisses traditions, such as Samkhya, that claim to arrive at truth through rational argument on the grounds that arguments used to establish one truth are continually being supplanted by more ingenious arguments claiming to establish another truth. Because of this, suggests Shankara, reason requires the guidance of revealed scripture.

The following passage appears to invoke GK 3.17 and 3.18, which state that the non-dualists conflict with no one (na virudyate):

I have discovered one great secret -- I have nothing to fear from the talkers of religion. And the great ones who realise -- they become enemies to none! Let the talkers talk! They know no better!... We hold on to realisation, the Brahman, to become Brahman. From "Letter to E.T. Sturdy." Selections, p. 456.
The theme of the contrast between "talking" and "realization" occurs frequently in the writings and speeches of Vivekananda:

Religion is realisation, and you must make the sharpest distinction between talk and realisation. From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, p. 59.

There is, you remember, all the difference of pole to pole between realisation and mere talking. Any fool can talk. Even parrots talk. Talking is one thing, realising is another. Philosophies and doctrines, and arguments, and books, and theories; but when that realisation comes these things drop away.... So the man of realisation says, "All this talk in the world about its little religions is but prattle; realisation is the soul, the very essence of religion." From "The Real and the Apparent Man." Selections, pp. 137-138.

While it is not immediately evident what Vivekananda means by "realization" here, elsewhere, it becomes clear that he means a direct cognition or intuition of the nature of reality -- an "experience" that transcends discursive and intellectual understanding:

You say there is a soul. Have you seen the soul?... You have to answer the question, and find out the way to see the soul.... If a religion is true, it must be able to show us the soul, to show us God.... We have to go beyond the intellect; the proof of religion is in direct perception. From "The Need of Symbols." Selections, pp. 63-64.

Until superconsciousness opens for you, religion is mere talk.... You are talking second-hand, third-hand and here applies that beautiful saying of the Buddha when Brahmins. They came discussing about the nature of Brahman, and the great sage asked, "Have you seen Brahman?" "No," said the Brahmin"; "Or your father?" "No, neither has he," "Or your grandfather?" "I don't think even he saw Him." "My friend how can you discuss about a person whom your father and grandfather never saw?".... Let us say in the language of Vedanta, "This Atman is not to be reached by too much talk, no, not even by the highest intellect, no, not even by the study of the Vedas themselves." From "The Sages of India." Selections, p. 236.

The first passage referred to by Vivekananda in the above paragraph is similar to a passage from Digha Nikaya 1.238, noted by Jayatilleke (see Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, p. 183), in which certain brahmins are asked by the Buddha if they have seen brahma "face to face" (brahma sakkhidittho). The second passage is an interpolation of Katha Up 1.2.23 and Mundaka Up 3.2.3.

While Vivekananda often contrasts "talking" with "realization," he also contrasts an approach that emphasizes "talking" with an approach that emphasizes "practice":

We always forget that religion does not consist in hearing talks, or in reading books, but is a continuous struggle, a grappling with our own nature.... From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, p. 54.
Here, Vivekananda shuffles the dichotomy, shifting it from a distinction between absolute and relative truth ("realization" vs. "talking") to a distinction between two relative forms of practice ("talking" vs. "real" practice):

It is imperative that all these Yogas should be carried out in practice; mere theories about them will not do any good. First we have to hear about them, then we have to think about them... and we have to meditate on them, realise them, until at last they become our whole life. No longer will religion become a bundle of ideas or theories, nor an intellectual assent; it will enter into our very self... Religion is realisation; not talk or doctrines nor theories... It is being and becoming not hearing and acknowledging. From "The Ideal of a Universal Religion." Selections, p. 161.

The roles of listening and discussion have now become ambiguous. Note that the above passage begins by recommending the practices of listening (shravana) and deliberation/discussion (manana), but then concludes with their dismissal. This kind of inconsistency is typical among modernist reinterpretations of Vedanta that attempt to draw upon the authority of traditional Vedanta while simultaneously attempting to dismiss it. Perhaps, it might be argued, the point is that listening and deliberation/discussion are not, on their own, sufficient for realization. This makes for an facile compromise, but it does not adequately take into account Vivekananda's repeated denunciations of "talking."

I would suggest that the dichotomy here between "talking" and "practising" is largely a polemical construct, and that Vivekananda has someone in mind when he refers to "talking" -- be it the Christian minister, European professor of philosophy, or Indian pandita. In other words, it is only the talk of certain teachers that need be dismissed; the rants of the Neo-Vedantin may still be taken to heart.

IV. Experience as the Essence of Religion and the Basis of Authority

As already noted, Vivekananda replaces traditional revelation with personal "experience." Like Debendranath and Keshab, Vivekananda views religious experience as the essential core of religion:

Religion consists soley in realisation. Doctrines are methods, not religion. From "Inspired Talks." Selections, p. 33

In the following passage, Vivekananda adopts the empiricist principle that all knowledge is rooted in experience and then transposes it into the domain of religion. He then makes the claim that all the great world religions find their true source and inspiration in "experience":

All our knowledge is based upon experience.... Now the question is, has religion any such basis or not? Religion as it is generally taught... is said to consist of faith and belief, and... consists only of different sets of theories, and that is the reason we find all religions quarrelling with each other.... This is why religion and metaphysical philosophy have a bad name nowadays.... Nevertheless, there is a basis of universal belief in religion, governing all the different theories.... [G]oing to their basis we find that they also are based upon universal experiences.... If you go to the fountainhead of Christianity, you will find that it is based upon experience. Christ said he saw God.... Similarly in Buddhism, it is the Buddha's experience. He experienced certain truths, saw them, came into contact with them, and preached them to the world. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, pp. 71-72.

The idea of religions "quarrelling with each other" because they are based on different doctrines is similar to an argument used by Shankara, namely, that the different heterodox darshanas, such a Buddhism, Samkhya, etc., are all mutually contradictory (paraspara-viruddha) because they are based upon heterogenous teachings. Shankara's solution to this problem of the "multivalency of truth" is to insist upon the authority of the authorless Veda. Vivekananda's solution is to replace scripture with "experience." The implication appears to be that if people recognized that all religion is based upon experience, quarrelling among the various religions would disappear. Here, Vivekananda hastily infers the uniformity of religious experience from the premise of its universality. He does not stop to consider the possibility that personal experience too is multiform.

Like the other world religions, Hinduism too, for Vivekananda, is based upon experience. Drawing on classical authors like Yaska and Vatsyayana, and possibly moderns like Debendranath, Vivekananda argues that the Veda itself finds its basis in the experience of the ancient seers, the rishis:

So with the Hindus. In their books the writers, who are called Rishis, or sages, declare they experienced certain truths, and these they preach. Thus it is clear that all the religions of the world have been built one universal and adamantine foundation of all our knowledge -- direct experience. The teachers all saw God; they all saw their own souls, and what they saw they preached. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, pp. 71-72.
In his famous 1893 address to the World Parliament of Religions, Vivekananda makes a similar point. Here, however, he makes the modified claim that the Vedas are not books but a body of knowledge:

The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas.... By the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasure of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times.... The discoverers of these laws are called Rishis, and we honour them as perfected beings. From "Address to World Parliament of Religions," Sept 19, 1893. Selections, p. 4

Like Vatsyayana, Vivekananda insists that the Vedas are intuited or "seen" through super-sensory (ati-indriya) perception (pratyaksha):

How comes then the knowledge which the Vedas declare? It comes through being a Rishi. This knowledge is not in the senses....... Beyond the senses, men must go, in order to arrive at the truths of the spiritual world.... These are called Rishis, because they come face to face with spiritual truths. The proof therefore of the Vedas is just the same as the proof of this table before me, Pratyaksha, direct perception. From "The Sages of India." Selections, pp. 235-236.

Vivekananda does not elaborate on how it is that the entire contents of the Vedas are "seen," exactly. It is the kind of claim that may sound plausible initially, but begins to make less sense the more one considers its details. In any case, Vivekananda claims that the means to obtaining the super-sensory perception needed to "see" the Veda is the practice of yoga. The ancient rishis were thus practising yogins.

In the next passage, Vivekananda interprets the doctrine of the "two truths" as a distinction between sensory perception and inference, on the one hand, and yogic experience on the other:

Truth is of two kinds: 1) that which is cognisable by the five ordinary senses of man and by reasonings based thereon; 2) that which is cognisable by the subtle supersensuous power of Yoga.... The person in whom this supersensuous power is manifest is called Rishi, and the supersensuous truths which he realizes by this power are called the Vedas. This Rishihood, this power of supersensuous perception of the Vedas, is real religion. From "Hinduism and Shri Ramakrishna." Selections, p. 429.
If experience is the source and basis of all religion, then it is also the supreme authority. Accordingly, for Vivekananda, personal religious experience is the basis of the authority of the guru:

No one can teach a single grain of truth until he has it in himself. From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, p. 66.

Have you seen this God whom you want to preach? If you have not seen, vain is your preaching; you do not know what you say. From "The Sages of India." Selections, pp. 236-237.

We are now in a position to put Vivekananda's views on experience and authority into context. While Vivekananda's relationship towards the Vedas remains ambiguous, it is at least clear that, for Vivekananda, the authority of the Vedas does not have to do with their being anonymous revealed scripture (shruti) per se, but with their being the "record" of the religious experience of certain individuals. In other words, it is not scripture here that grounds and authenticates personal religious experience, but religious experience that grounds and authenticates scripture.

What this does, in effect, is wrest control away from the perceived traditional mediators of authority, represented here by the "Pundits," and sets up in their stead a new priest-craft, the "Gurus," whose claim to authority is based not on the Veda but on their own personal experience. The oligarchy of the "Pundits" and their self-validating scripture has effectively been replaced by the tyranny of the Guru and his whimsical "experience."

It is sometimes claimed that Shankara also downplayed the importance of the role of scripture. I would like to briefly examine the basis of this claim. The point in doing so will not be to assert the superiority of Shankara's Vedanta over that of Vivekananda. (Shankara's own position on the authority of scripture vis a vis the authority of his Advaitic interpretation of Vedanta is not without its own share of problems.) The point here is simply to compare how Shankara dealt with the issue of authority and the role of experience.

At times in Shankara's commentaries, an interlocutor points out that if we are always already free, then the teachings found in scripture are not necessary. "Let them be unnecessary," Shankara responds, "for the one who has realized his oneness with brahman; but for those still under the spell of ignorance, they are necessary." At other times, as in his comments on Gita 18.66, Shankara says, somewhat rhetorically, that 100 scriptural passages will not make fire cold.

Such passages, which are very infrequent in the works of Shankara, are given great weight by certain scholars, such as T.M.P. Mahadevan, who, being impressed by modern sages like Ramana Maharshi, seek to find the Neo-Advaitin teachings confirmed in the works of Shankara. But we should not take such passages out of context. While it is true that Shankara gives priority to reality or "suchness" (yathabhutatva) over scripture (shruti), insofar as it is the reality (vastutva) of brahman that gives mahavakyas like "You are That" (tat tvam asi) their force, the context in which Shankara makes the second comment noted above is one in which he is claiming that scripture does not have authority over the worldly means of knowledge. And while Shankara maintains that brahman-jnana is indeed the cognition of a real state of affairs (tattva) akin to the perception (pratyaksha) of a fruit held in one's hand, he sees the difficulty in accepting mere personal religious experience as authoritative, for such experience is multiform. Experience, for Shankara, must be in accord with the Vedic revelation, and he carefully insists that personal experience submit to the rule of scripture. In Shankara's thought, it is revealed scripture that legitimates personal experience, and not the reverse.

V. Practice and "Verification"

While certain classical commentators such as Yaksha and Vatsyayana had held that the Vedas were "intuited" via super-sensory means, in classical India such extraordinary means of knowledge were not seen as possibilities for people other than the ancient rishis. Occasionally, the founders of various schools, such as the Buddha, Mahavira, and Kapila, were seen by their followers as possessing rishi-like powers. But for certain modern Neo-Hindus like Debendranath and Vivekananda revelation is not, and cannot be, a one shot affair: if it was possible in the past then it is possible today. In this way, Vivekananda distinguishes his Yoga and Vedanta from other religions:

Only there is this difference, that by most of these religions... a peculiar claim is made, namely, that these experiences are impossible in the present day.... This I entirely deny. If there has been one experience... it absolutely follows that that experience has been possible millions of times before. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, pp. 71-72.

The teachers of the science of Yoga, therefore, declare that religion is not only based on the experience of ancient times, but that no man can be religious until he has the same perception himself. It is not much use to talk about religion until one has felt it.... If there is a God we must see Him, if there is a soul we must perceive it. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 72.

As was the case with the ancient rishis, the means to acquiring these super-sensory capacities is the practice of yoga:

Yoga is the science which teaches us how to get these perceptions. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 72.
The theme of yoga as "science" is a recurring theme in the writings of several Indian yoga teachers who follow Vivekananda to the West. We find it exemplified in books such as Parmahansa Yogananda's The Science of Religion, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's The Science of Living and the Art of Being, and the works of Swami Rama, founder of the Himalaya Institute. Here, yoga, specifically patanjala-yoga, is presented as a kind of "scientific method" with results that can be "verified" for oneself through the application of an "experimental method" implemented in the "laboratory of the mind":

Verification is the proof of any theory, and here is the challenge thrown to the worldby the Rishis." From "Address to World Parliament of Religions," Sept 19, 1893. Selections, p. 7-8.

The science of Raja-Yoga proposes to put before humanity a practical and scientifically worked out method of reaching this truth.... Each science must have its own methods. I could preach to you thousands of sermons but they would not make you religious, until you practiced the method. These are the truths of the sages.... They all declare that they have found some truth higher than what the senses can bring to us and they invite verification. They ask us to take up the method. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 73.

In such passages we find an early version of a theme found in the writings of Ken Wilber: the need to "take up the injunction." The idea that the truths experienced by the ancient rishis can be "replicated" through a process of "testing," in a manner to akin to the methods of modern science, is also found in the writings of Debendranath Tagore. Debendranath understood the classical inquiry or "examination" (pariksha) as kind of "experimental method." He too suggested that the authors of the Upanishads were "inviting" or "challenging" us to "take up the injunction." Of course, while the Upanishads do contain injunctions for brahmins to "meditate upon the self" and so on, until the time of Debendranath there is no indication within the classical tradition that individuals were required to become self-styled rishis and seek out their own personal revelation; nor can it be said that the classical tradition advocated the adoption of a free and open-ended inquiry like that of modern science and philosophy.

Vivekananda interprets the process of yoga as a kind of introspective procedure in which the mind "watches" itself. This idea parallels conceptions found in European thinkers from roughly this same period. Henri Bergson's "intuition," William James' "stream of consciousness," and Edmund Husserl's "phenomenology of internal time consciousness" all imply similar connotations. Vivekananda describes the procedure thus:

The perfected mind... has the reflexive power of looking back into its own depths. This reflexive power is what the Yogi wants to attain; by concentrating the powers of the mind and turning them inward he seeks to know what is happening inside.... The Yogi proposes to attain that fine state of perception in which he can perceive all the different mental states. There must be a mental perception of all of them. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, pp. 79-80.

Apparently, this is supposed to be a description of the process of patanjala-yoga. But if that is the case, it is not clear which passages from the Yoga Sutras Vivekananda has in mind here. Yoga Sutra 3.53 does say that meditation (samyama) upon the moments (kshana) and their succession yields discriminative knowledge (viveka-jnana). But apart from this, there appears to be no indication that Raja-yoga is primarily concerned with an impartial introspection of the mind and its contents.

That for Vivekananda, the yogic procedure does not simply entail a passive observation of the mental flux becomes evident in the following passage:

The science of Raja-Yoga... proposes to give us such a means of observing the internal states. The instrument is the mind itself. The power of attention... directed towards the internal world, will analyse the mind, and illuminate facts for us... That is the only way to anything which will be a scientific approach to the subject. When by analysing his own mind, man comes face to face, as it were, with something which is never destroyed, something which is, by its own nature, eternally pure and perfect. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 74.

Here, Vivekananda reveals that, for him, more than a mere passive observation is involved in the yogic process; an active "analysis" of mental states is also entailed. And indeed, this is more in line with the teachings of traditional patanjala-yoga. Yoga Sutras 4.18-20, for example, describe how it is that the changing mental states presuppose an unchanging witness, and it is within this context that YS 3.53 should be situated. What such passages indicate is that a certain kind of understanding is required by the yogin, an understanding that is guided and informed by the teachings of patanjala-yoga. What is required, in other words, is a discriminative understanding (prajna) that regards the self-luminous (svabhasa) unchanging (aparinamatva) spirit (purusha) as essentially distinct (vivikta) from the mental flux (citta-vrtti). In patanjala-yoga, it is precisely this discriminative perception (viveka-khyati) that is required for release, or "independence" (kaivalya) from conditioned existence (samsara).

It is for this reason that Vivekananda himself "frames" his description of the yogic process within the larger context of the teachings of Samkhya:

Before proceeding further I will tell you a little of the Samkhya philosophy, upon which the whole of Raja-Yoga is based. According to the Samkhya philosophy the genesis of perception is as follows: the affections of external objects are carried by their outer instruments to their respective brain centres or organs, the organs carry the affections to the mind, the mind to the determinative faculty, from this the Purusha (the soul) receives them, when perceptions results.... With the exception of the Purusha all of these are material, but the mind is much finer matter than the external instruments.... That is the psychology of the Samkhya. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, pp. 79-80.

What the teaching of Samkhya does here is provide an interpretive framework within which the "observation" and "analysis" of the mental contents as they relate to "pure consciousness" can be situated. Here, the "mind" will not be something passively perceived like a chemical reaction in a flask; nor will it be an object of "verification" like an object of the empirical sciences. Rather, the mental process will be "seen-as," that is, interpreted as a function of the categories of "citta," "buddhi," and "manas," which are all pre-defined for the yoga practitioner as per the teachings of Samkhya-Yoga.

It is unlikely that the original Samkhya philosophers arrived at the above doctrine through a mere "intuition" of the natures of the "mind" and "spirit." Just as the yogic process does not simply involve a neutral perception of the mind as "given," so too the contents of the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas were not simply the result of a mere "super-sensory perception." Clearly, speculative reason also played a significant role in the development of these traditions, and to suggest otherwise would be historically naive. Vivekananda as much as admits the role of speculation when he writes:

There is in this no question of mere belief; it is the analysis arrived at by certain philosophers.... From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, pp. 79-80.
To conclude this section, while the language of "replication" and "verification" may be out of place as far as the description of the yogic process is concerned, and while it is unlikely that the contents of the Yoga, Samkhya and Vedanta systems were developed as a result of mere yogic perception (yogi-pratyaksha), a certain "concordance of vision" can be said to obtain between the founders of Yoga and Vedanta, on the one hand, and the followers of these paths on the other. But this "vision" is not like the perception of a given empirical reality passively absorbed through the senses (if such a thing even exists); nor is it something acquired through the application of a neutral open-ended enquiry. Rather, it involves the development of a certain kind of "seeing," an understanding of oneself and the world in accordance with a particular teaching. In this sense, it is more like the active incorporation of a perspective, a change of view that allows the practitioners of these traditions to understand and comport themselves in a particular, and hopefully more liberating, way.