Panca Darsana - A New Theory of Knowledge

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by Jayaram V

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My writings are mostly about religion. But sometimes I do speak about science. I was a science student, before I became interested in religion or spirituality. Scientific temperament, therefore, is deeply ingrained in me and in my thinking process. One of the positive aspects of my experience in this regard is that my knowledge of science does not interfere with my faith or religious beliefs. Somehow, I manage to give importance to both of them and deal with them both without suffering from an inner conflict. It may because I know that science and metaphysics operate on different principles and to arrive at truth, we probably need to synthesize both of them and develop a comprehensive approach to understand life and existence.

One may wonder whether I am not contradicting myself by following these two divergent approaches, one which deals with the objects and the other with the invisible subtle spirit inside. I think I am doing the right thing. It is my conviction that we must have scientific temperament in exploring truth and we must have religious attitude in appreciating the knowledge our scriptures contain because religious knowledge cannot be verified and validated by science or by any other physical means. We therefore need both methods to arrive at truth. Truth is vast. Truth is infinite. You cannot measure it with one instrument or by one means. You need a comprehensive approach to unravel and understand our existence, the truths about our lives and about this world. We need to use both our minds and hearts to appreciate life. We need both science and religion to have a balanced approach to probe into the mysteries of the universe.

Hinduism appreciates the multipronged approach. Hindu philosophy, which has been ignored mostly by the western world, is all about perspectives. Each perspective we call in Hinduism Darsanas (Darshanas) or view points. We have a similar approach in Jainism. It is called Syadavada or the theory of stand points. What this means is you take into consideration several view points before you arrive at truth. From the time we are born, until we die we keep pushing the boundaries o f our knowledge and intelligence. And as we learn and grow, we have to change our perspectives too. Changing your thinking and beliefs is not a flip-flop, as some prefer to call it to deride their opponents in the political field. It is about learning, growing, and adapting. If we were not such flip-flips in real life we would have still been living in caves and eating raw flesh of the animals. We would have never used fire or invented the wheel. We would have never migrated to greener pastures and adapted to the changing climate of the planet.

I think for our personal growth and development, we need to adapt this multipronged approach to learning. We need to use various perspectives or approaches to cultivate an all-round knowledge and stretch our minds in every possible direction to assimilate whatever knowledge we can gather in the course of our lives. In this regard, I propose a new theory on how we may acquire knowledge using different perspectives, which I would call the five Darshanas of modern life. They are, in Sanskrit terms:

  1. Dharma Darsana
  2. Vijnana Darsana
  3. Atma Darsana
  4. Apara Darsana
  5. Para Darsana

Before we go into the details, let me clarify that I have used conventional words, but this is a new theory and the names are coined by me using Sanskrit words. You will not find them in any scripture or school of philosophy, but I believe they perfectly fit into the subject matter I am presenting here. Let me explain what they are.

Dharma Darsana means the knowledge of your religion, your religious scriptures, your religious duties, your religious philosophy, your spiritual practices, and the established code of conduct. It is essentially, the perspectives you will cultivate with the help of your religious beliefs. This knowledge should help you rise about your ordinary thinking, view life from a wider perspective and work for your liberation. Collectively, this knowledge should help us to live responsibly and help each other in our struggle for survival.

Vijnana Darsana is the knowledge arising out of your objective, intelligent and scientific study of the world and the universe in which you live. This knowledge should help you to understand the way Nature works and use that knowledge to deal with the challenges and modifications Nature creates within ourselves and the world in which we live. In traditional Hinduism, we call this tattva jnana or the knowledge of the realities of Nature. Science is essentially a systematic study of Nature or the objective material universe. Vijnana is empirical knowledge or worldly knowledge. It has limitations, but within those limitations it is extremely useful as an instrument of knowledge to understand and make sense of the perceptual world and our relationship with it.

Atma Darsana means the knowledge and awareness that arises out of your own experiences and perceptions. It is knowledge gathered by yourself through your own experiences and observations. Such experiences may be either spiritual or purely physical. This knowledge is immensely helpful in validating the knowledge we gain from other means. It helps us to be realistic, examine our irrational beliefs, test the assumptions and prejudices we may entertain, and cultivate maturity in our thinking and actions. Most importantly, when you use your own experiences and observations, you will develop a distinct individuality, and a very unique personality. You will develop a signature style in your thinking, decision making and actions.

Apara Darsana means the knowledge that you gain from others or others sources. Apara means something that is not you. The others or other sources may include your parents, relations, family members, friends, teachers, elders, other people, experts in specific fields, even television, news channels, radio, internet and other means of communication. This knowledge may not be entirely reliable, but you can still make use of it to expand your knowledge and understanding because knowledge cannot be secured entirely by your efforts and from time to time you have to depend upon sources outside of yourself.

Para Darsana means the transcendental knowledge that arises from deep spiritual states, from dreams, from intuition, and from spiritual experiences. This knowledge actually arises from your higher nature, not from your ordinary wakeful nature. These experience that arise in your higher mental states are very personal, very rare, very difficult to validate and very difficult to duplicate. This knowledge should be used exclusively for our spiritual growth, not to show off, not to attract other people's attention or to prove to others our moral or spiritual superiority. It is better if you use that knowledge to improve yourself rather than to speak about it.

These five means of knowledge are like the five senses. They are like the five streams of knowledge that keep flowing continuously into one's mind and enrich the ocean that exists in it. They can help you in resolving problems and overcoming challenges. Thus we have five means to know: dharma Darsana, knowledge arising from religion, Vijnana Darsana, knowledge arising from empirical experience or your interaction with objective material world, Atma Darsana, knowledge arising from your own experiences and perceptions, Apara Darsana, knowledge arising from your interaction with other people such as your teachers and parents, and Para Darsana, knowledge arising from your own transcendental states or your higher nature, or from your dreams and such other means.

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