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

Rajaram Venkataramani rajaramvenk at gmail.com
Mon Nov 14 14:38:06 CST 2011

On Mon, Nov 14, 2011 at 3:27 PM, Vidyasankar Sundaresan <
svidyasankar at hotmail.com> wrote:

> a. There is no expectation that you can learn in a traditional manner from
> a
> professor in a modern academic institution. Yes, the ability to quote
> chapter
> and verse from memory from a number of texts is a traditional requirement,
> but that is not how modern academia works.
My argument that is the traditional method of knowing the text in memory is
an essential pre-requisite to arrive at the right conclusion. The method
followed at Harvard or Oxford where a person reads a set of related texts
and speculates an opinion is prone to lead to erroneous conclusions for the
following reasons.

First, it is a sign of inattention, which is a cause of errors. Second, we
can only understand what we hold in our mind (short-term memory). If we
cannot hold in our mind what we read or hear even for a few moments for the
mind to fetch the meanings of the words from its deeper recesses, we cannot
understand the verse. Third, we can only analyze what we hold in our mind
(short-term memory). For the same reason as above, our analysis will be
flawed. Fourth, even if we read (hear), understand and analyze correctly
but forget later, we cannot connect the related verses. We can use software
searches of related texts but even what we search for will be based on our
shallow memory of the text. Therefore, we need to go with the traditional
method where experts in a text know the text first, understand it next and
analyze it third. By these standards, a human being can not be an expert in
all the related texts or even a large text but he can be an expert in a
small text or a logical partition of a large text. But a text or a logical
part of it will make sense only in the over-all context. So, there are two
options. Multiple scholars become experts on differents component parts and
share the essence of their knowledge with each other. A person who does not
know mathematical theorems or physical laws will not be considered an
expert in his field worth collaborating with. In the same way, we cannot
consider that someone who does not know a text to be an expert in his field
in philosophy. There is no point in awarding Ph.D. to students in Bhagavad
Gita, who do not know even one verse of the text by heart. Even if the
modern methods are improved to this level, there will be a problem that one
cannot conclude the essence of an individual part unless the essence of the
other parts are understood. As a result, a group of scholars can never
start to understand through the process of putting the parts together to
create the whole. The only way out is the traditional belief that Ishwara
knows every thing and transmits this knowledge through the traditions
capable of teaching the required essence to the students. We do not have to
suspend critical thinking because the chairs of Oxford etc. are traditional
scholars. Modern can always question them from historical, scientific,
linguistic, archaelogical and other points of view and publish their

b. There is  something to be learnt from professors in a modern academic
institution. If in today's world, we want to articulate a nuanced
of traditional positions on the role of revelation in our own philosophical
traditions, we HAVE to reckon with more than three hundred years of academic
study of Indian traditions that has now been firmly established. And rather
find fault with all of academia in a blanket sweeping fashion, learn from
it and
reconfigure how to utilize the skills you may learn from it, in order to
your own intellectual purposes.
I agree that it is the case but it is not wrong to question the modern
method. The end result depends on the process.

c. Do not club all approaches within modern academia together. This is the
first step towards deliberately NOT understanding what it is all about. If
goal is to understand one's "own" better, defend/protect it well and
even propagate it, then stop demonizing the "other". Learn to recognize real
worth and merit. If you demonize all and sundry from what you consider to
be the "other", you will lose the ability to recognize the real demons that
need to be fought and countered amongst them.

I agree that we should not demonize any one. That is not my intent but am
exercising the right to find fault with modern methods and motivations. I
agree that there are many who are better in intent and knowledge than even
traditional scholars.

>> Vidyasankar
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