Wed Oct 1 10:24:06 CDT 1997

  Allan Curry wrote:
>How do we know when the vedas are to be read literally and when they are
>to be interpreted metaphorically?  Do we have a choice at all, or must the
>vedas be accepted or rejected (in their totality) as being the *literal*
>truth?  If the vedas are not *always* literally true then what criterion
>enables us to know when the vedas are literally true and when they suggest
>a merely "poetical" truth?  How could there be any other such criterion
>when the vedas themselves are the touchstone we must use to assess all
>other truth claims? Are we not forced to accept the vedas as being
>*literally* true or abandon the claim the vedas are the touchstone which
>can correctly assess all other truth claims?

  Vidyasankar has answered these questions. I would like to add a little
  more. Shankara says, as Vidyasankar has also pointed out, that even
  hundreds of shruti  (vedic) statements cannot make a fire cold!
  What does Shankara mean here? We have to go back to the article on
  pramaaNas (means to knowledge) as per Shankara's school that I posted
  sometime ago. The vedas are one among various (usually six) pramaaNa's
  recognized by both miimaamsakas and advaitins. And each pramaaNa has
  its own sphere of dominance or authority. Something that can be and is
  perceived directly, is in the domain of perception. So even the Veda
  cannot negate the knowledge gained by perception in such a case. Shankara
  admits this readily. But the Vedas have their own sphere or domain where
  they are authoritative. And this sphere is exactly where perception,
  inference, and the rest fail to provide us with any knowledge. In the
   case where the Vedas appear to be contradicting another pramaaNa in
  the latter's sphere, then the particular Vedic statement must not be
  interpreted literally but its secondary meaning should be taken.
  However, when there is a contradiction between the Vedas and another
  pramaaNa, in the sphere of the Vedas, then the Vedic statement has
  precedence over that of the other pramaaNa.

  This shows that while interpreting the Vedas, some statements should not
  be interpreted with the primary meaning, whereas other statements may be
  interpreted using the primary meaning. For example, the statement from
  the famous Purusha suukta hymn that this world is a foot or a quarter of
  the Supreme Purusha (paado .asyehaabhavatpunaH) cannot be interpreted
  with its primary meaning. This statement is interpreted as saying that
  the Supreme Purusha is so great that this world is so small or
  insignificant compared to Him. But the shruti statement that says that
  one's mother and father are to respected as God is interpreted literally
  (maatR^idevo bhava, pitR^idevo bhava).

  Since interpreting the Vedas is not easy, one has to follow some cannons
  of interpretation. These cannons have been established by the
   miimaamsakas. Advaitins have accepted these principles as far as the
  karma kaaNDa (ritual portion) of the Vedas is concerned. Where the
  advaitins differ from the miimaamsakas is in the interpretation of
  jnaana kaaNDa (knowledge portion) of the Vedas.


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