Is experience a pramana if one’s experience contradicts scripture?
Transcription by- Keshavgopal Das & Ambuj Gupta
Question: If our experience contradicts scripture then is experience still a highest pramana for knowing absolute truth?
Answer: We have to understand carefully that what it means when it says experience is the highest pramana for knowing the absolute truth. This comes in Brihad-Bhagvatamrita. The Brihad-Bhagvatamrita is a revealation coming through Sanatan Goswami where-in he is describing the journey of a Gopa Kumar, as he moves through the various levels of spiritual progress and ultimately attains Krishna. While he is describing this he is telling his own story and he explains in that context that ones own autobiographical narrative can be the most persuasive form of conveying the truth in certain situations. So what are those situations? It is when one has through once experience to realize the truth of scripture and then the scriptural knowledge does not remain theoretical, it becomes experiential, it becomes directly lived reality in our lives. If our experience is contradicting scripture then what does it mean? Actually it is not contradicting scripture, it is just that we have not arrived at the stage where we will experience the positive spiritual reality that has been talked by scripture. What does it mean? For example, scripture may say that by chanting one will experience great joy and somebody may say I chanted but I didn’t experience great joy. Therefore chanting doesn’t work for me. We have to also see that scripture says that in the initial stages the holy name will taste like sugarcane juice for the jaundice patient. That means that it will not be relish able initially. It’s not that one’s experience is contradictory with scripture rather one is relying only on one’s partial experience and one is not going through full journey. If suppose it is said that if you come in this train and if you travel then you will come to a beautiful hill station, that may be true but before that in that train one may have go through a frigid cold area or extremely hot area and somebody say that I was promised to hill station and where I have come now. One just quit the train at that time then is it that whatever was promised about the destination of train is false, no. It is that one has not gone for full journey. Similarly if somebody practices devotion and then experiences sufferings and doesn’t see that sufferings are mitigated by the practice of devotion. Then one may wonder where is the scriptural promise that Krishna protects His devotees. Scriptures also tells us that this world is a place of misery and we think it is a place of happiness. That misconception itself is a danger because this misconception that we will enjoy life in this world is what will keep us going on in this world. Krishna is protecting us through the miseries that are coming in our life by giving us the realization that this world is place of misery by freeing us through from that misconception. Our experience is confirming the scriptural truth that this world is a place of misery and if we keep practicing bhakti we will also experience scriptural truth that even amid the misery of this world, if we remember Krishna and take shelter of Krishna we are able to transcend that misery of the world. If one devotee practices diligently and persistently in the path of bhakti then one’s experience will confirm scripture. When we say that one’s experience is not confirming scripture that simply means that one is experiencing some of the negative truth that are taught in scriptures. Negative truths about the miserable nature of the material world, negative truths about how the initial tastelessness of the holy name, that experience also, although it may be negative, although that may be unpleasant, that is also actually confirming scripture. When we say that our experience is the pramana that means it is not something that is contradict to scripture but it is confirmatory to scripture. Scripture has multilevel teachings and we have to see how our experience can be understood in scriptural terms. If we persevere adequately then our experience will vindicate and demonstrate the truth of scripture. We have to persevere it adequately. That’s why it is not that anyone’s autobiographical narrative can be called as a pramana in terms of scriptural understanding. It is the experience of one who has lived according to scripture, gone through the various phases that one will go through as a seeker and is eventually come to some level of realization of the reality of scripture that person’s narrative or experience can act as a guide for others. Those who has not come to that level, it is not that experience is contradictory but it is that there journey till now is partial, it is fragmentary. When they move forward and move towards completion in that journey then ever their experience will confirm scripture and their experience will also serve as a pramana for understanding the truth. Thank you.