Re: Topic 1: Observation vs Scripture
Asuri raises a valid objection that Vedanta's main means of knowledge is the scripture of the Upanishads and Samkhya does not rely on scripture for support, but starts with observation. I reply, that there appear to be major gaps in Asuri's knowledge:
1) He does not know that although Vedanta does indeed appeal to scripture as it primary source of knowledge, it does actually adduce rational arguments to argue for its propositions(e.g. All is Brahman) and against the propositions of Samkhya(e.g., Pradhana cannot be the material cause)
2) (a) He does not know that although Samkhya does not appeal to scripture as its primary source of knowledge, it does actually accept the authority of scripture on matters that cannot be resolved through rational methods.
(b) He does not know that Samkhya is not in fact based on observation, but rather actually rejects observation as a means of knowing the truth of something. The unseen can only be inferred through reason. Moreover, the conclusions that Samkhya draws are also counter-intuitive to what can be observed.(a criticisms he levels at Vedanta)
I will now expand on these points:
1) The Vedanta argument is that there is knowledge that we know intuitively and not through any rational means(observation, inference, testimony) In philosophy we call this knowledge a priori. There is some knowledge that we simply know and does not come to us from the external world, such as the knowledge of what is right and wrong, mathematics and ideals like perfection, infinite, whole. In the external world there is no such thing as a perfect triangle or a perfect circle for instance, such things only exist in our minds as pure ideas. The truths of mathematics and physics that we readily apply to the external world and expect the external world to behave according to, do not actually exist in the external world at all, they are being superimposed by us. What else are we superimposing on this world?
Vedanta's argument is that even before any act of observation takes place the mind has already superimposed many things on reality, thus we never actually see reality as it really is essentially - noumena, but a superimposed version - phenomena. Any conclusions we draw from anything we observe can only tell us truths about this phenomenal reality, but nothing but the essential reality. Therefore, rational means of knowledge can never tell us anything about the essential reality. So what can reveal the essential reality to us? Scripture, says Vedanta. Scripture is based on the direct experiences of mystics who have been able to go beyond the veil of the phenonenal reality and see beyond.
Let me simplify it with an illustration: Suppose you were a virtual reality character in a game. Everything you see is virtual reality. Every inference you draw from what you see is also virtual reality. Can you ever know anything about the actual reality outside of the game through any number of observations and inferences drawn from the virtual world? The only way of ever knowing the actual reality would be to go beyond the virtual reality. Now suppose you were succesful in doing that and returned to explain the actual reality to the rest of the virtual characters, how would you go about explaining the actual things in terms of virtual language? It would be very difficult to describe it, the best you could do is use metaphors, "It is like, such and such" and use logic to explain it and justify it.
This is exactly what Vedanta does. It is a system of philosophy based on non-rational means of knowledge gained by those(seers) who have gone beyond the phenomenal reality, but come back and tried to describe it and explain it and justify it. Every point in the philosophy of Vedanta is justified using impeccable logic. It is therefore unfair to treat it as just a religion based on dogma.
Asuri cited from the Brahma Sutras to show Vedanta simply appeals to scripture all the time to disprove the Samkhya theory of pradhana. This is grossly misrepresenting the Brahma sutras by selectively citing from them, although it does indeed appeal to scripture(but then so does Samkhya and other orthodox schools of philosophy) it primarily uses formal arguments and devotes an entire section to do it:
Brahma Sutras, Section II, Topic 1: Samkhya view refuted(Translated by Swami Ghambirananda)
The inferred one(Pradhana) is not the cause owing to the impossiblity of explaining the design(in the universe)
And Pradhana cannot be the cause, since the tendency to create cannot arise within it(because it is insentient)
If it is claimed that Pradhana acts spontaneously like milk and water(milk acts to nourish calves and water for the good of people), then even then intelligence is needed as a guide.
And Pradhana cannot be the cause, since(nothing external to it exist, so that) it has nothing to rely on(for impulsion to or stoppage from action)
And Pradhana cannot change automatically like grass etc(into milk in a cow) for such a change does not occur elsewhere(e.g. in a bull)
Even if(spontaneous modification of Pradhana be) accepted, still(Pradhana will not be the cause) because of the absence of any purpose
If it be argued that like a lame man(riding on a blind man) or a magnet(moving iron) the soul can stimulate(pradhana), even then the defect persists.
Besides, Pradhana cannot act on the account of the impossibility of(the existence of) any relationship of the principal and its subordinates(among the gunas constituting the Pradhana)
And even if inference be purusued otherwise(still the defect will persist) owing to absence of power of intelligence in pradhana.
And the Samkhya doctrine is incoherent because of its inherent contradictions
The aim here is not to analyse these arguments, but to show that Asuri's argument that the Vedanta merely appeals to scripture all the time to make its case is patently false. He either has not read the Brahma Sutras or is dishonestly citing from them. In the section on refutation of Samkhya in the Brahma sutras not a single appeal to scripture is made.
(a) In the principal text of the Samkhya philosphical school, the Samkhyakarika of Ishvarkrishna, it very clearly states that scripture is a valid means of knowing to know things which cannot be known from observation or reason:
Samkhyakarika 6(translated by Swami Viruprakananda):
The knowledge of supersensible things is obtained through inference based on general observation. And the knowledge of supersensible not established by even that, is known through testimony and scriptures.
In other words, while Samkhya indeed is a system of philosophy which is based on rational means of observation and then using reasoning drawn from that, it does actually accept its own limitations and accepts the existence of knowledge outside of rational means of knowledge.
(b) Asuri claims that Vedanta posits conclusions which are counter-intuitive, without realizing Samkhya does exactly the same e.g. Samkhya concludes for instance that we are not the body or the mind, but passive witnesses which transmigrate from one life to another - and yet it seems to us we are this body and mind and we do not remember any past lives. In other words just because something is counter-intuitive does not mean it is wrong. In reality we find most truths are counter-intuitive. According to physics our planet is a sphere spinning on its axis, hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour going around the sun, yet to us it seems like our planet is a flat land, fixed, static and the sun is an orb going around it in the sky.
Observation is therefore clearly not a very reliable means of knowledge. Although Samkhya is more a rational means of knowledge, but still it has to rely on this unreliable observation as its starting point. Vedanta, on the other hand, begins at the point even before observation is taking place - it begins with consciousness. Any act of observation of course requires consciousness to allow it to happen in the first place. No consciousness = no observation = no world.