Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 21 Nov 2019


Authorities for Knowing God

Note: This article is meant for intellectuals only

This mahā satsaṅga is meant for intellectuals who are familiar with logic.

Dr. Nikhil asked: Once, in a discussion on the use of logic in spirituality, You used the word ‘deduction’ to refer to direct knowledge obtained through perception. You also used the word ‘induction’ to refer to indirect knowledge obtained through inference. But, as per western philosophy, the meanings of the two terms are somewhat different. Deduction involves going from general rules or laws to specific conclusions as in the following example:

Premise1: All men are mortal (general).

Premise 2: Socrates is a man (specific case).

Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

Induction can, in a sense, be thought of as the reverse of deduction. It usually involves going from specific observations to general conclusions as in the following example:

Premise 1: John goes for a walk on Monday.

Premise 2: John goes for a walk on Tuesday.

Premise 3: John goes for a walk on Wednesday.

Conclusion: John goes for a walk everyday.

Could you please explain how Your interpretations of the terms deduction and induction can be correlated with the usual interpretation of these terms in Western philosophy.

Dr. J.S.R. Prasad (Prof. of Sanskrit, specialized in tarka or logic): As per Western philosophy, both deduction and induction are types of inference and not direct perception.

Swami replied: O Learned and Devoted Servants of God! Firstly, you must understand that perception exists even in inference. In fact, perception exists in all the six authorities (pramāṇas) of knowledge discussed in Indian philosophy. This includes even the authority called ‘non-recognition’ (anupalabdhi). For instance, the statement that no pot exists here, is based on the lack of perception of the pot. This shows that ‘non-recognition’ is based on perception (or the lack of it). However, such an interpretation of the authority of non-recognition has a defect. Your non-recognition of the absence of a pot, was equally the non-recognition of the absence of a cloth, stick and so on. So, the non-recognition was general and not specific. For non-recognition to be called an authority of knowledge, it must be specific, as far as possible. So, the Indian philosopher, Vācaspati Miśra interpreted this authority of non-recognition differently. According to him, non-recognition, as an authority of knowledge, means, not being able to perceive the presence of a specific item that exists, but is too subtle to be grasped. This way, non-recognition is not general, but is specific to that particular item. It can, therefore, be an authority providing conclusive knowledge. So, it is better to understand the non-recognition authority in this sense of the non-perception of a specific subtle item. Of course, that knowledge of the absence of that specific item is not ultimately correct since the item actually exists there, in a subtle form.

For example, we do not perceive X-rays with our eyes. Our eyes perceive the absence of X-rays, even though someone informs us that X-rays are present around us. Here, X-rays actually exist and hence, our perception of their absence is specific knowledge. Our non-perception of the X-rays is not the same as the non-perception of a pot or a cloth. The pot or cloth does not actually exist in a subtle unseen form around us. Thus, the non-recognition or non-perception of X-rays is a specific knowledge. Unfortunately, that knowledge is ultimately false since the X-rays do exist around us and can be detected using powerful instruments. Hence, the existence of that specific subtle item is the ultimate true knowledge and not its absence as perceived by the eye. However, the intention here is only to establish that perception by the eye (indriyārtha sannikarṣaḥ) exists in all the six authorities including the authority, of non-recognition.

Nikhil and J.S.R. Prasad: We agree that perception is the basis of all the authorities. We also appreciate Your interpretation of non-recognition as the non-recognition of a specific subtle item.

Swami: Alright! So, let us come to the main discussion about deduction and induction. In your example of deduction, the truth of the premises is doubtful. So, instead of artificially assuming the premises to be true, in an ideal sense, we must assess their truth realistically. There is actually no guarantee that all men in the world are mortal. All men in the world have not even been perceived by us, let alone perceiving all of them to be mortal. There might be a few men who are immortal. The second premise that Socrates is a man is perceived by us and can be regarded as certainly true. But we are not sure whether Socrates belongs to the majority of mortal men or the possible minority of immortal men. So, the conclusion that Socrates is mortal cannot be drawn with full certainty unless we perceive his death. Of course, the probability that he belongs to the majority of mortal men is very high. On the other hand, the probability that he belongs to the minority category of immortal men is very low. In fact, this category of immortals, is not only a minority, but we have not seen even a single immortal man so far. Many men have been perceived to be mortal, while none has been perceived to be immortal. So, the probability of Socrates being immortal is extremely low. Thus, on the whole, deduction provides a very high level of certainty, even though it cannot provide complete certainty.

Out of all the authorities, direct perception provides the highest level of certainty. But even perception cannot provide absolute certainty. We might perceive that a person has been living for a very long time. But we cannot conclude that he is immortal since he might just be a person with a very long life. Nevertheless, perception provides maximum certainty, followed by deduction. In the above example of deduction, if we wait to see the death of Socrates, we can make the conclusion that he was mortal, with certainty. In that case, all the three statements in the deduction-example are related to perception. We have perceived at least some men to be mortal (Premise 1). We have perceived that Socrates is a man (Premise 2). Finally, on perceiving his death, we have concluded that he was mortal (Conclusion). Since deduction is so heavily based on perception, I linked it to the authority of perception (pratyakṣa), which gives direct knowledge.

Induction appears to be closer to the authority called anumāna (inference), in Indian philosophy because its conclusion is always doubtful. The fact that John went for a walk on three days was perceived with full certainty. But the conclusion that John goes for a walk everyday is highly uncertain. John might not have gone for a walk before those three days and he may not go for a walk from the fourth day onwards. Further, the inferred conclusion has no authority of perception since we have not perceived that he walks everyday. Thus, there is a great amount of uncertainty in the conclusion. Especially since the conclusion has not been perceived with full certainty through perception, but is only logically inferred, I linked the word ‘induction’ to indirect knowledge, which is the authority of inference (anumāna), as per Indian philosophy. Thus, the Indian authority of perception (pratyakṣa) and the western deduction, which is closely dependent on perception, have a high degree of certainty. Comparatively, the Indian authority of inference (anumāna) and the similar western induction, which are more distantly related to perception, have a lower degree of certainty.

The two terms deduction and induction might be used as described by you and I am not opposing it. But the same words can also be used in a different sense, such that deduction is more related to perception and induction is more related to inference. I am not contradicting the statement that both deduction and induction are basically forms of inference. But perception is always present even in inference. Inference consists of two parts. The first part involving the premises is based on perception. The second part, which is the conclusion drawn from the premises, is the pure inference. Let us see this more clearly from the following example, in which the conclusion is stated first (1) and the premises on which it is based, are stated later (2a, 2b).

1. There is fire on the top of this mountain (Agnimānayaṃ parvataḥ). This conclusion is the pure inference since there is no perception of the fire on the mountain at all.

2a. Smoke is seen (dhūmatvāt) to be rising from the top of the mountain (perception-part).

2b. Wherever there is smoke, there must be fire, as seen in the kitchen (Yatra yatra dhūmaḥ tatra tatra vahniḥ, yathā mahānase) (perception-part).

In this example of inference, the perception-part includes both the smoke seen rising from the mountain and the generalization of the link between smoke and fire, as seen in the kitchen. Hence, there is no ambiguity if I say that deduction belongs to perception (perception-part of inference) and induction belongs to the conclusion, which is the pure inference-part.

Nikhil: Could You please explain again how this discussion on logic is related to spirituality?

Swami: The above discussion on logic was in the context of the spiritual concept that the unimaginable God is inferred from unimaginable miracles. Sometimes, a miracle takes place without the performer of the miracle being seen. In that case, the conclusion that we can draw is that the unimaginable God must have performed that miracle. The unimaginable God is inferred as the Source of the unimaginable miracles. He is the unseen performer of the miracles. Since the performer of the miracles is not seen directly, it is a case of pure inference, in which there is some uncertainty. Even this pure inference is based on perception since the miracles were first seen or perceived before we could draw the inference. In case the performer of the miracle is directly seen, it completely becomes a case of perception. This is the case of the Human Incarnation performing a miracle. The Human Incarnation is mediated God. The unimaginable God expresses Himself through the medium of a devoted human being. In this case, the performer, the performance of the miracles and the performed miracles are all seen by our eyes. Thus, in the case of the Human Incarnation performing miracles before our eyes, God is identified by us completely on the basis of the authority of perception. In the Human Incarnation, the visible human medium and the unimaginable God are in a state of perfect monism. Hence, seeing the Incarnation means directly seeing God. The Veda too says that the perception of such a Performer of miracles is the perception of the unimaginable God Himself (Kaścit dhīraḥ pratyagātmānamaikṣat).

Just because we are able to see the unimaginable God in this way, it does not mean that the unimaginablity of God is disturbed in any way. God’s unimaginable nature is only seen, but it is not understood. In the Gita, God says that one blessed devotee will see the Human Incarnation as the unimaginable God. Here, it is said that such a lucky devotee knows the unimaginable God (Kaścit māṃ vetti tattvataḥ). Here, the word ‘knows’ means that the devotee recognizes. For instance, a devotee can recognize that Krishna is the unimaginable God. It does not mean that the devotee has understood the unimaginable nature of God. The knowledge that the devotee has is that Krishna is not an ordinary human being, but that He is the unimaginable God or Parabrahman Himself.

J.S.R. Prasad: Is there not a possibility of fallacies (wrong reasoning) in using inference to identify God?

Swami: The conclusion that there is fire on the mountain is based on the generalization that smoke is always caused by fire. The generalization is based on prior perception. But such a conclusion can also fail at times. What looks like smoke on the mountain, might not necessarily be smoke; it might even be fog (bāṣpa). So, the conclusion that there must be fire on the mountain becomes false. The reason for the wrong conclusion is that the smoke was not real smoke but was an illusion which appeared like smoke. So, it is a fallacy (hetvābhāsa). A similar false conclusion can also be made regarding the spiritual concept of miracles. On perceiving genuine miracles, one can infer that the performer of the miracles must be a Human Incarnation. But if the miracles are not genuine, i.e., they are mere magic tricks which appear to be miracles; the inference becomes invalid. It means that the performer of the magic tricks which appear to be miracles, is not a genuine Human Incarnation. Thus, fallacies are indeed possible in trying to identify God.

Nikhil: So far, You have explained about two authorities, namely, perception and inference in obtaining knowledge about God. Could You also explain the use of the other authorities?

Swami: The third authority for obtaining knowledge about God is analogy (upamānam). A magician doing magic can be taken as an analogy for the genuine Human Incarnation performing a miracle. Śaṅkara gave this analogy (Māyāvīva vijṛmbhayatyapi mahā yogīva yassvecchayā). Actually, in that verse, He gave two analogies. One is that of a magician and the other is that of a yogi performing miracles, by his will. Here, the first analogy is proper because the magic of a magician is similar to the miracle, but it is not actually a miracle. The miracle merely resembles the magic seen during the magic show. In any magic, there is some secret trick or technology. The ignorant person who does not know that secret technology, might treat the magic as a miracle. But once, the secret technology of the magic is known, he will no longer treat it as a miracle. But in the case of a genuine miracle, the background secret technology is never known. The miracle occurs with the unimaginable power of God, which can never be known or even imagined by us. Thus, there is a difference between magic and a miracle. In an analogy, the comparison or similarity between the two items is only partial. The two items are not identical to have complete similarity. When a beautiful person’s face is compared to the moon, the comparison is only in the quality of pleasantness and not in other aspects like the moon having black spots, or undergoing an eclipse and so on.

The second analogy given by Śaṅkara is that of the yogi performing a genuine miracle. The yogi’s miracle too is genuine. It is not a magic trick. So, there is not much point in comparing the yogi’s genuine miracle with the genuine miracle performed by God because both are one and the same. God alone can perform a genuine miracle and no second genuine miracle-performer can exist. But Śaṅkara took the yogi also as another performer of a miracle because, even though there is similarity in the genuine miracles performed by God and the yogi, God is different from the yogi. The genuine miracle performed by the yogi is indeed performed by the power of God alone since the yogi has attained God’s grace. Even though the performed miracle might be the same in both cases, there is a difference between God and the yogi. Thus, there is partial similarity along with a partial difference and so, the yogi can stand as an analogy for God. In the case of the Human Incarnation, God is completely merged with the selected human devotee. One Human Incarnation performing a miracle cannot stand as an analogy for another Human Incarnation performing a miracle. So, Śaṅkara mentioned a yogi in the analogy. Even in the case of the yogi, the miracle is actually performed by God alone through the yogi. Hence, sage Vyāsa says in the Brahma Sūtras that no exact analogy for God can be given in this created world (Dṛṣṭāntabhāvāt).

J.S.R. Prasad: The scriptures are also an important authority in spirituality, right?

Swami: Correct! The Veda itself is the next authority. It is considered to be verbal testimony (śabda). The Brahma Sūtra (Śāstrayonitvāt) says that the Veda is the verbal authority for the existence of the unimaginable God. The Veda clearly says that God is unimaginable and that He does unimaginable miracles (Yo buddheḥ parataḥ.., Na medhayā.., Indro māyabhiḥ... etc.). The Gita also says the same (Māṃ tu veda na kaścana, Yadyat vibhūtimat sattvaṃ...). God is the Author of the Veda as said by the Veda itself (Niśśvasitamevaitat…). You need not doubt how the Veda can stand as the authority for the existence of God when God Himself is the Author of the Veda. It is obvious. No author says in his book that he does not exist! We should also understand that no soul can be the authority for proving the existence of God since God is unimaginable to all souls. So, God alone is the authority for proving His own existence (Svataḥ pramāṇaṃ).

Nikhil: What exactly is the authority known as arthāpatti? It seems to be similar to abductive reasoning in western philosophy. Could You please confirm it?

Swami: Arthāpatti is the fifth authority and it means ‘implication’. It is almost the same as abduction or abductive reasoning. Given below is an example of abductive reasoning:

1. John has a running nose and fever.

2. A running nose and fever are symptoms of influenza.

3. His room-mate has influenza.

4. Influenza spreads by air.

5. Hence, John must be affected by influenza.

The example given for arthāpatti is “Pīno devadatto divā na bhuṅkte, rātrau bhuṅkte”, which means:  

1. Devadatta is not seen eating during the day.

2. He is not lean (He is fat).

3. He must be eating during the night.

The same logic can be applied to the present spiritual concept. Even though Krishna is a human being, as far as we can see, He lifted a mountain on His tender finger. Hence, the Krishna who appears to be an ordinary human being, is actually the unimaginable God in human form. Here is the analysis of the same in more detail:

1. Krishna appears to be a normal human being.

2. No normal human being can lift a mountain.

3. But Krishna lifted Mount Govardhana on His little finger.

4. A Human Incarnation of God is capable of performing any miracle since the unimaginable God who has merged with Him, performs the miracles using His unimaginable power.

5. Hence, Krishna must be a Human Incarnation of God.

Nikhil: Vedantins also speak of the sixth authority of non-recognition or anupalabdhi, which You were explaining earlier.

Swami: Right, the sixth authority is ‘non-recognition’ (anupalabdhi). Here, the main point is that the person, who is searching for a pot, grasps the absence of the pot in an empty room, even though he also grasps the absence of every other item. A person who is not searching for the pot grasps only the absence of every item, in general. This idea is reflected in the commentaries of Kumarila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara Bhaṭṭa. But the absence of every item cannot be taken to be the absence of a specific item, unless the person in search of it enters the room. Vācaspati Miśra says that non-recognition means that a subtle item is not grasped by us while the existence of the subtle item has been proved in some other way. This is a better understanding of non-recognition as an authority of knowledge. Here, a particular item is specified and it is not a general recognition of the absence of all items. As mentioned earlier, the knowledge given by an authority should be specific, as far as possible. Hence, we support the interpretation of Vācaspati Miśra.

This too can be applied to the present spiritual concept. The unimaginable God is beyond our imagination since He is beyond space and so, He does not have any spatial dimensions. But He is imaginable to Himself. Otherwise, if He were unimaginable to us as well as to Himself, there would be no authority to prove the existence of such an unimaginable God. Our intelligence is too crude to grasp the extreme subtle nature of the unimaginable God. The intelligence of God is not crude and hence, is able to grasp His own nature. So, the unimaginable God Himself is the authority for knowing the existence of God. This reminds us of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The crudeness of the instrument used to detect the position and the momentum of the electron simultaneously, makes it impossible to calculate both at the same instant of time. The beam of light or electrons used in the instrument collides with the electron in an atom, changing its position as well as momentum. Actually, the electron has a specific momentum at a specific position, which could possibly be calculated. But it cannot be calculated because of the crudeness of the equipment used for making the measurements. This serves as an analogy for the unimaginability of God. The nature of God is unimaginable only to us (created souls) and not to the unimaginable God Himself.

This entire discussion proves that perception is the basis of all the six authorities which are used to get valid knowledge. The most significant outcome of this analysis is that the direct perception of God is indeed possible. It is possible in the case of the contemporary Human Incarnation of God performing visible miracles. For the people of Bṛndāvanam, Krishna was their contemporary Human Incarnation who performed miracles before them. The Performer of miracles (Krishna), the performance of the miracles and the performed miracles were all seen by the people directly with their eyes. Even today, the Incarnations of God Datta are performing miracles right before the eyes of their devotees and other people present around them. Hence, the existence of God is proved by the perception alone. Knowing this is especially important for scientists and atheists who only believe in perception as the authority of valid knowledge.

| Shri Dattaswami | pramaanas indriyaartha sannikarshah Vachaspati Mishra agnimaanayam parvatah pratyaksha anumaana Dhuumaat yatra dhuumah tatra tatra vahnih, yathaa mahaanase Kashchit dhiirah pratyagaatmaanamaikshat Kashchit maam vetti tattvatah Hetvaabhaasa Upamaanam Maayaaviiva vijrumbhayatyapi mahaa yogiiva yassvecchayaa Drushtaantabhaavaat Shaastrayonitvaat Shabda Yo buddheh paratah na methayaa indro maayabhih Maam tu veda na kashchana yadyat vibhuutimat sattvam Nisshvasitamevaitat Svatah pramaanam Anupalabdhi