Philosophy, the “love of wisdom” or “science of all sciences,” is classically divided into four branches in the Western tradition. The first branch is logic, the second metaphysics, the third epistemology, and the fourth branch is axiology. We could say that epistemology is the most important of these, as it deals with the main pillar of all knowledge, because it raises questions such as:
- What is knowledge?
- How can we gain knowledge?
- What do people actually know and what do they just think they know?
- What are the necessary and satisfactory conditions for acquiring knowledge?
- What is the structure of knowledge and what are the limits of human knowledge?
- What is it that justifies our legitimate beliefs?
- How should we properly understand the concept of legitimate belief?
- Is what justifies our belief possible outside or inside our mind?
- What is proof and is it possible to prove anything?
- Is there evidence for the existence of God?
As in the West, many thought traditions have developed in the East, trying to answer various epistemological questions and justify theism. The issues of epistemology were especially discussed in the Vedic scriptures called Pramāṇa śāstra, where they were substantiated as a source of “evidence”: guru or self-aware spiritual master, sādhu or advanced spiritual practitioner, and śāstra or scriptures. A member of the Western tradition might be able to argue that the epistemological authority of the Vedic approach “guru, sādhu and śāstra” is dogmatic, axiomatic, or even based on circular reasoning. However, this is not true, among other things, not because one of the basic epistemological items of the Vedic tradition is also “phalena pariciyate”, which means that everything must be judged by the result. In this context, great emphasis is placed on the principle of surrender. This means that the desired and ultimate goal of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness process – love of God or Kṛṣṇa bhakti – can be achieved by surrendering to the spiritual master and by faithfully following his instructions. However, surrender must not be based on blind faith or fanaticism, but must be based on knowledge or a sound understanding of three principles:
- sambandha: knowledge of the nature of the relationship between us, nature, God and his representatives (guru, sādhu and śāstra);
- prayojana: knowledge of the goal or the purpose of practicing Krishna consciousness;
- abhidheya: practical knowledge or the process by which we achieve the desired goal.
For example, if a student wants to perform an experiment in a chemistry laboratory, he must follow the instructions written in the chemistry manual or the instructions given by the chemistry teacher, otherwise he will not get the desired result. Because the chemistry teacher has the knowledge and experience, he can guide and guide his student in the laboratory, and the textbook also contains important information on how to perform the experiment correctly. In a similar way, a spiritual master guides a disciple in the spiritual laboratory of bhakti-yoga. Just as a student surrenders to the faculty by surrendering to its representative (professor of chemistry), so the spiritual aspirant surrenders to God by surrendering to his authorized representatives, who are the guru, sādhu and śāstra. The sciences emphasize that a true spiritual result, defined as the awakening of a dormant love of God, cannot be obtained without surrendering and following authority.
The Vedas claim that it is not possible to know God by sight, but only by a spiritual sound called shabda. Shabda is pure spiritual knowledge transmitted through sound vibration. It is therefore necessary first to hear the sound vibration containing the shabda, and then to put what is heard into practice. In fact, it is only natural that a heard and theoretically acceptable matter should be further tested in practice. This is true for both the chemistry student and the spiritual practitioner.
The Vedas thus present the process of Krishna consciousness in a very scientific way, with its own epistemology, methodology and paradigm. The process of Krishna consciousness, as a whole, forms a coherent theoretical structure with a clearly defined practical process and its result. For more information on Vedic epistemology and the Krishna consciousness process, you can read:
- ”Bhagavad-Gita As It Is”, author: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada;
- ”Substance and Shaddow”, author: His Holiness Suhotra Swami Maharaja;
- ”Tattva Sandharba”, author: Srila Jiva Goswami – in the form of commentaries explained by His Holiness Gopiparanadhana Prabhu.