The Vedas are called vidya-sthanas, the abodes of knowledge, as they lead one to the knowledge of the truth of oneself, the Lord and the creation. The Vedas are also called dharma-pramanas because they reveal a way of life that is conducive to gaining this knowledge. Traditionally, study of the Vedas is accompanied by the study of ten other disciplines. The four Vedas together with these ten disciplines, are called the caturdasa-vidyasthanas, the fourteen-fold Vedic knowledge.
The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘vid’ meaning ‘to know’. The Vedas refer to a body of knowledge that reveals different means and ends available to a human being.
The Vedas are divided into two parts. The first part of the Vedas, the karma-kanda, deals with actions, karma, as a means for acquiring known ends, such as a child, or rain; and means for acquiring unknown ends, such as heaven. The karma-kanda provides the means for these countless human ends.
The last part of the Vedas, comprising the Upanisads, is known as Vedanta, or the jnana-kanda. The jnana-kanda does not deal with different means or ends. It discusses only one end, ‘the’ end in life, and the means of achieving this particular end. In the vision of the Vedas, this end, called Moksa, is seen as the ultimate goal of every individual’s life. Moksa is freedom from any sense of inadequacy or sense of limitation. This end is unlike all other ends because it is considered to be an already accomplished end. The jnana-kanda reveals that the individual is already free and need not do anything to become free. Knowledge of this fact is required — not action.
The second portion of the Vedas is a means of knowledge to unfold the nature of reality and the truth of oneself.
The Words of Vedanta
The teaching of Vedanta is in the form of words. For knowing oneself, words are the instrument, the means, just as one’s eyes are the means for seeing a rose. Therefore, one’s whole approach to using the words of Vedanta must be similar to one’s use of the senses. Consider how confidently one uses the eyes. When one opens the eyes to look at an object, one has complete confidence that they will be able to see whether the object is there or not. One does not doubt their ability to see the object or its absence; nor does one doubt the ability of the other senses to do their jobs. The source of one’s confidence in the sense instruments is the expectation that they can do their job properly. One uses the senses with sraddha, faith, or confidence in their ability to uncover perceptual knowledge of the objects which they apprehend.
One needs to come to the words of Vedanta with the same confidence with which one opens the eyes, listens with the ears, touches with the fingers, smells with the nose and tastes with the tongue in order to discover the existence of a thing which is available for perception. In the same manner one should open their mind to the words of Vedanta and see the facts that the teaching unfolds.
Vedanta as a Pramana
The words of Vedanta are just as much a pramana, a means of knowledge, as are the sense organs. In fact, the knowledge given by the sense organs, upon analysis, can be dismissed, whereas the knowledge that one gains from the words of Vedanta cannot be dismissed by any other means of knowledge. Sense organs can make known only the existence of things that are capable of being perceived; but what can be perceived by one means of perception can be dismissed by another perceptual means, or at another perceptual level of capability of the same means. What is perceived can always be dismissed.
Upon sufficient examination nothing perceivable is as it appears to be, but is always resolvable into something else. The perceived blueness of the sky, for example, is not really blue. The perceived daily ascent of the sun in the eastern sky does not really happen. Upon enquiry the perceived flatness of the earth can be dismissed. However, the words of Vedanta give rise to knowledge that cannot be dismissed. The knowledge unfolded by Vedanta — that there is one nondual reality — can be dismissed neither by perception nor by any perception-based logic.
While they may not reveal non-duality, perception and logic also do not have the capacity to dismiss non-duality, since the non-dual self is not their subject matter.
The pramanas ordinarily at one’s disposal are not adequate to reveal the truth. They are only perceptual means which can reveal certain useful truths necessary for conducting one’s life, but through them one cannot discover the fundamental truth which one seeks.
The words of the Vedas are looked upon as an independent means of knowledge. The validity of the Vedas rests in itself, and cannot be verified by operating another means of knowledge. The eyes, for example, are the only means of knowledge to see colours and the ears are the only means of knowledge to hear sounds. The fragrance smelled by the nose cannot be verified by the eyes or the ears. Similarly, the nature of reality and the truth of oneself unfolded by the Vedas cannot be verified by any other means of knowledge. The teaching can be understood only by exposing oneself to it with an attitude of sraddha, pending discovery.