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"The real study, in religion, is first-hand experience of God."



"We have said that the orthodox Hindu regards the Vedas as his highest written authority. Any subsequent scripture, if he is to regard it as valid, must be in agreement with them: it may expand them, it may develop them, and still be recognized, but it must not contradict them. They are to him, as nearly as any human document can be, the expression of divine truth. At the same time it would be a mistake to suppose that his allegiance to their authority is, in the final analysis, blind and automatic. If he considers them the word of God, it is because he believes their truth to be verifiable, immediately, at any moment, in his own personal experience. If he found on due examination that it was not so verifiable, he would reject it. If he found that any part of it was not so verifiable, he would reject that. In short, he conceives that his faith in the Vedas is as well founded, and on grounds exactly as critical, as in the natural scientist's belief in any physical law. And in this position these very scriptures themselves, he will tell you, uphold him. The real study, they say, is—not study of themselves—but study of that 'by which we realize the unchangeable'. In other words, the real study, in religion, is first-hand experience of God."

"For the study of the Vedas, according to long tradition, and even according to the Vedas themselves, one must have—as Yajnavalkya had—a master, or guru: 'Approach a teacher', says the Mundaka,1 'with humility and with a desire to serve.' Elsewhere we read: 'To many it is not given to hear of the Self. Many, though they hear of it, do not understand it. Wonderful is he who speaks of it; intelligent is he who learns of it. Blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher, is able to understand it.' 2

The function of the 'good teacher', as Hinduism conceives it, is twofold. He of course explains the scriptures, the spirit as well as the letter; but, what is more important still, he teaches by his life—by his little daily acts, by his most casual words, sometimes even by his silence. Only to be near him, only to serve and obey him in humility and reverence, is to become quickened in spirit; and the purpose of the study of the Vedas is not merely or primarily to inform the intellect, but to purify and enrich the soul:

Pleasant indeed are the study and teaching of the Vedas!
He who engages in these things attains to concentration of mind,
And is no longer a slave to his passions;
Devout, self-controlled, cultivated in spirit,
He rises to fame and is a blessing to mankind.3


We have said that the orthodox Hindu regards the Vedas as his highest written authority. Any subsequent scripture, if he is to regard it as valid, must be in agreement with them: it may expand them, it may develop them, and still be recognized, but it must not contradict them. They are to him, as nearly as any human document can be, the expression of divine truth. At the same time it would be a mistake to suppose that his allegiance to their authority is, in the final analysis, blind and automatic. If he considers them the word of God, it is because he believes their truth to be verifiable, immediately, at any moment, in his own personal experience. If he found on due examination that it was not so verifiable, he would reject it. If he found that any part of it was not so verifiable, he would reject that. In short, he conceives that his faith in the Vedas is as well founded, and on grounds exactly as critical, as in the natural scientist's belief in any physical law. And in this position these very scriptures themselves, he will tell you, uphold him. The real study, they say, is—not study of themselves—but study of that 'by which we realize the unchangeable'. In other words, the real study, in religion, is first-hand experience of God."

The Spiritual Heritage Of India: A Clear Summary of Indian Philosophy and Religion
Swami Prabhavananda, Vedanta Press (June 1979) pp. 29-30

1. I. ii. 12.
2. Katha, I. ii. 7.
3. Satapatha Brahmana, Madhyandini sakha, XI. V. 7, Swadhyaya prasamsa, I.




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