Are Vedas valid means of Knowledge?
In Hindu tradition, Vedas or “Sruti” are held as ultimate “Pramana”. Sruti, Smriti, Itihasa and Puranas are all considered the authority on matters of Karma, Dharma and Moksha-in short the whole religious life. It is often asked, Why should we take Vedas as authority? Why should Vedas be taken as “Shabda Pramana”?
“Pramana” means “valid means of knowledge”. There are various means by which a correct knowledge is obtained. Pratyakṣa (direct perception),Anumāṇa (inference),Shabda (verbal testimony) and Upamana (analogy) are the important valid means mentioned in scriptures.
All these Pramana are used in day to day life. All that we see, hear and perceive by senses are called as “Pratyaksha”. “The water exist, because I can see it, and I can drink it” comes under Pratyaksha. “There is a smoke which I can see, so definitely there must be fire or factory somewhere”- comes under Anumana/Inference. “Similar to Cow, even Yaks provide milk” or “Unlike Tigers, Elephant has tusks”- these come under Upamana or Comparison.
Similarly statements like “John who went to Himalayas says it is very Cold”- comes under Verbal Testimony. So, in the Material world, all the four means of knowledge are used and accepted.
But, when it comes to the questions like- What happens after life? Does a person have only one life or is there after life? Does heaven or hell really exist?, neither direct perception nor inference nor comparison cannot function Independently or on its own because they are not perceivable from Sensory organs. The material world that is perceivable by senses can be understood using perception, inference and comparison but how will one to know about something that is not directly perceivable?
It is in these matters that are not “Laukika”- (that do not belong to this world/direct perception), the “Sruti” is considered the “Shabda Pramana”-the only means of Valid knowledge. In the world, when one has question related to Physical forces that work in Universe, he refers to Physics books. Similarly, to learn about chemicals and organisms, one refers to Chemistry and Biology and not History or sociology books. This is because we refer to only that book which explains about that particular phenomenon. A history book does not speak Physics nor vice versa. Similarly, it is Vedas alone that is the source of Knowledge about things that are beyond the grasp of our senses. Because, there is no other means by which we can know about Dharma, Karma and Moksha- the Vedas are considered the ultimate Pramana.
If it be asked, what is the proof that Vedas are true? Why should we accept it? The answer is that such questions can be asked about science too. Do we not accept the words of scientists when we read about it in textbooks? It is true that, they have arrived at those solutions after many experiments and analysis. But, the fact is that a common man does not witness those experiments in front of him. Similarly, the Vedic truths have been “Seen” (Directly Realized) by Rishis. There has been different lines of Teachers who have continuously guided the disciples towards Vedic Truth. If it be asked that, just as scientists have been proven wrong many times, even Rishis can be proven wrong and hence, Vedas cannot be accepted as “Pramana”; the answer is that, the Vedas are not created or written by Rishis. Vedas are “Apaurusheya”- that which is not of Human origin. Hence, at highest level Veda is not just “means” to attain Highest Knowledge but “Is” the Highest Knowledge itself. Brahman/God is described as “Satya”, “Jnana” and “Ananta”. Brahman is “Knowledge itself” and hence, it is Brahman who is source of all Knowledge. It is in this sense that, Vedas are described as “Apaurusheya”. Hence, it is God/Brahman himself who has for welfare of world has taken many avataras like Krishna, Dakshninamurthy, Hayagriva etc to reveal “Satya/Truth” to people.
Hence, for a sincere seeker, there should be no doubt regarding Vedas being the ultimate means of Valid Knowledge in matters that are beyond the grasp of senses.