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

Rajaram Venkataramani rajaramvenk at gmail.com
Sun Nov 13 01:37:44 CST 2011

On Sat, Nov 12, 2011 at 11:56 PM, Omkar Deshpande <omkar_deshpande at yahoo.com
> wrote:

> 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)
> **

> *Definitely yes. For example, some scholars argue that Jesus is the only
> is not correct even according to the Bible itself. It should be "Jesus is
> the only way now". If you want to claim expertise in a text, you should
> know it by heart. Let us say I say, "Go straight, turn left and then right.
> You will see the iron pillar. That is not your destination. You need to
> keep going further on and turn right. That is the way to reach the gold
> pillar".  You cannot be said to be the expert on the route to the gold
> pillar if you do not know the complete text by heart. Now, if we dont
> understand the words in the context, we will make mistakes in understanding
> any text. Also, practically speaking you will be more impressed with a
> person who is able to quote the texts from memory to substantiate his
> understanding rather than one who is lost for words. *

> 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?
*It is even more important in sanksrit texts that have intonations. *

> 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).
*Let us say, you want to know the opinion of Madhwacharya on a topic, will
you go to A or B? You may disagree with A's conclusion because it
contradicts with what you know from B. But as far as Madhwa is concerned,
you will consider A to be an expert not B. All I am asking is that you
apply the same standards in judging a western scholar. If he does not know
the texts, please do not advertise him as an expert. *
*Now A might, in addition to his deep knowledge in Madhwa's works, might
also gather summary knowledge in other subjects through experts in the
respective fields. Due to the combination of depth in his tradition and
breadth in other schools of thought, he will still score well above B. *


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