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A Parrot and a Lotus

A lotus is called paṅkaja in Sanskrit, which means “born from wet mud”. A saintly person who lives in a decrepit world is compared to a lotus because even as the lotus is born from the mud, and lives in it, it remains unaffected. A parrot, called śuka in Sanskrit, is known to repeat what it has heard, without modification. These two are symbols for Shabda Academy because: (a) truth can be a lotus, born from the study of the problems in modern thinking, comparable to birth from wet mud, and (b) that truth can be semantically identical to what has been heard from a guru through a disciplic succession, without modification, comparable to a parrot’s speech.

Vedic knowledge is called śruti, or “that which was heard”. Veda has been preserved through disciplic successions in which every disciple transmits the knowledge unchanged to the next generation of disciples. But people today do not trust the Vedic texts or the disciplic successions due to the advent of industrialization. They consider the Vedic system a “myth” comparable to such myths concocted in the West. Therefore, we need a new method to establish the truth.

That method is reason and observation. Reasoning involves seeing the contradictions in modern thinking and connecting them to the assumptions in that thinking. Observation involves seeing the limitations of these assumptions in predicting and explaining the available empirical data. By combining reasoning and observation, we can conclusively refute the axioms in modern thinking. We can then show that the theories that explain these observations and overcome the flaws with current theories, are already found in the Vedic texts. Therefore, one doesn’t need to have blind faith in the Vedic texts. We can also trust them based on reason and observation.

The truth that springs out of the flaws of modern thinking is like a lotus that grows in the mud. If that truth is identical to that which was previously received through a disciplic succession, then speaking that truth is like a parrot repeating what it has heard previously. Thus, we don’t see a contradiction between science and religion, where science is defined as an empirical and rational investigation, while religion is defined as placing our trust in some disciplic tradition.

Vedic epistemology identifies three methods called Pratyakṣa (observation), Anumāna (rational speculation), and Śabda (scriptural authority and disciplic succession). Many people see conflicts between science and religion because they equate science to Pratyakṣa and Anumāna and scriptural authority and disciplic succession to Śabda. Resolving this conflict is essential for the Vedic tradition, although it is not important for modern scientists. We resolve that conflict by producing the same truth from the investigation of modern science as that produced by the study of the Vedic scriptural tradition. However, since this method of discovering the truth is not identical to the conventional method used in Vedic tradition, hence, we cannot just rely on being a parrot. We have to also become a lotus. Shabda Academy is a combination of parrot and lotus.

We can call this process the modernization of the Vedic tradition. Modernity here pertains not to new ideas that reject the old ones. It pertains to a new method of discovering the same truth because the trust in the older method has been weakened. Modernization of the Vedic system pertains to the use of a different method for imparting the same truth. The truth is eternal. The truth does not change. But the methods of imparting and acquiring the truth can change.

The truth can be known in many ways. The Vedic tradition has accepted many paths to the truth. Each path is called a process of yoga. Accepting a new path to the truth means acknowledging a new kind of yoga, complementary to other forms of yoga traditionally used in the Vedic system. The new path must lead to the same conclusion. Otherwise it is not yoga. A new path to the truth modernizes the tradition and makes it adaptable to modern times, without modifying it.