[Advaita-l] Traditional Scholarship vs Modern Pseudo-Intellectualism

Omkar Deshpande omkar_deshpande at yahoo.com
Sat Nov 12 17:56:51 CST 2011

Dear Sri Rajaram,

<<<We should accept a scholar as an expert in a text or a tradition only if heknows the related texts by heart. Otherwise, they can form opinions but
they will be flawed for two reasons. First, inability to commit to memory
makes it impossible for the mind to synthezise all the related concepts in
a text. Second, inability to pay attention and grasp the text, which is
critical to retain it in memory shows that the mind is disturbed. The
reasoning exercised with such a mind is also prone to make mistakes.>>>

1. Would you say the same thing for the Bible as well, i.e, unless one knows (and also speaks) Hebrew and Greek, and has memorized the entire Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and New Testament by heart, any opinions formed by the person about these two texts will be flawed? (the same can also be asked about Plato or Aristotle's works)

If you think that the criterion you have given above applies only to Sanskrit texts but not texts in any other language (or of any other religion), what would be your justification for why it's applicable only to Sanskrit texts and texts from Hinduism? On the other hand, if you think that the criterion applies to texts in any language and of any religion, then would you also agree that no person who is not an orthodox Jew or Christian, and who does not fulfill the criteria above (which will probably include the vast majority of traditional Hindus and also the members of this list) can be trusted on their opinions about the Bible?

2. Consider two people A and B. 

A knows the ins and outs of the Sarvamula Granthas of Sri Madhvacharya and knows all those texts by heart, thanks to traditional learning. But A knows almost nothing about texts from other traditions, not just Christianity or Judaism, but also other Hindu traditions like Gaudya Vaishnavism or Advaita (independent of the rebuttals found in the dvaita commentaries themselves). A also does not have an understanding of the history of India, or of other civilizations, and the only sense of history that A has comes from the traditional texts like Mani Manjari and Sumadhva Vijaya. A also strongly believes that all the Vedas teach the philosophy he adheres to, i.e, his interpretation is the only right one.

B is not versed in the Sarvamula Granthas like A. He has studied many of those works taking the help of traditional scholars, and has supplemented that understanding with self-study as well. But B cannot recite a verse at random - e.g, B will not be able to answer a question like "What is verse 2.3 in the Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya" which A will be able to. In addition, B has also studied Advaita, Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Buddhism in a broad sense (and/or has learnt them from other colleagues who have studied them), although he would not be able to compete with serious traditional scholars (of the A type) in any of those traditions. Unlike A, B thinks that each of the traditions he has studied have good rational arguments in favor of their respective interpretations, and it's impossible to say that one school got it right everywhere, and others didn't. B also has a broad understanding of Indian history, including the early history of Buddhism, Advaita
 and other traditions (perhaps gathered from works written in English) and has also been trained in the history of other civilizations - Greek, Roman, Persian, Mesopotamian and Chinese. B is not a scientist, but he is familiar with the broad picture of the history of the world, evolutionary theory and so on.

Is A's opinions going to be more authoritative than B's on all questions pertaining to Hinduism? I hope you agree that it will not be the case. So for what sort of questions is A more reliable (a stronger authority) and for what sort of questions is B more reliable? 

Note that A and B are purely hypothetical figures, not modeled on any particular individuals. But the nature of the background that A and B come from would represent the general distinction between a purely traditional background and an academic one. I chose A to be from a dvaita background just so that the two examples can be more objectively compared on an advaita list. It does not matter what particular example tradition A is chosen to be from (it could even have been Buddhism or Christianity or Islam, not just any of the Vedanta traditions).



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