You can understand why the people amongst whom Vedanta originated lived in a very quiet place where their meditation would not be disrupted or interrupted, where there would not be even the slightest noise, for only in that silence, external and internal, were they able to discover inner -truths unknown before. They practised hard austerities; you can see why that had to be so: how would they know there were deeper states of mind to begin with? Only the other day in the West you began to talk about the subconscious mind and to recognize that there are many things hidden in the mind which have great meaning for our conscious life. You see, even the science of the mind seems to be a modern thing with us. So in order to find ultimate truths, these rsis had to work very hard. No doubt many of them came up with wrong knowledge. They thought they had found something extraordinary, but the mind is a very subtle and complicated thing. When you think you have found something new and begin to talk about it, others find that it was not new or anyhow not valid. So while there must have been many experimenters who found something true, there were also many who became deluded. You can well see that it must have taken centuries and centuries before enough authoritative knowledge was gleaned, out of which a system of mysticism and a system of philosophy took birth.
I said at the outset that the principles of Vedanta are impersonal. Of course, all principles are impersonal, but it is also true that if spiritual principles are not embodied in a life, they are as good as nonexistent. How shall I know that there is such a thing as God if He has not become real in my own life? The deeper the principle the greater the necessity that it become alive and real for us. The action of material forces is obvious to us; even if we do not know how lightning comes or what makes the crash of thunder, the effect is there. But even the effects of spiritual principles seem unknown to us; at least, we do not recognize them as such. How much more difficult it must be to discover those principles themselves! So you see, although we may not look upon a person as the authority behind the principle, still the necessity of a person in whom subtle spiritual truths have become real, is paramount. We cannot have any religion or any true philosophy unless we have its exemplars amongst us. So we have given a great deal of respect to these rsis.
If you ask an orthodox Hindu what the authority is for his belief, he will first of all mention the Vedas. Well, of course, everyone will cite his own holy book as an authority: an orthodox Christian will say the Bible is the authority; a Mohammedan will say the Koran is the authority; so when a Hindu cites the Vedas as the authority, it doesn’t seem to mean anything more than that. But if you press our Hindu further, he will say the rsis are the authority. In other words, he would say that there have been generations and generations of people who have made these truths real in their own lives, who have actually experienced them; they are the authority. If you press him still further, he will say, Well, I would not swear by them. I have to experience those things myself before I know that they are really true. I think in this respect the Hindus are a Httle unique. They say that we ourselves have to experience these truths; there is no use just believing in them and thinking that some Saviour will come and rescue us whether we experience them or not. No. They will admit this much: great saints and~ sages, particularly those who are called Saviours we call them Incarnations of God have the power of making you experience these truths. Nevertheless, whether it is by our own direct effort or through the grace of an illumined soul, we have to experience these truths ourselves, here.
Otherwise, we do not think we have arrived at any certainty of knowledge. About that, every Hindu is quite decided; none would say, The books have said such and such, and if we do this or that, then we shall go to heaven, and there’s the end of it. Or We shall take the name of the Saviour and he will take care of the rest. No. We have never accepted any such belief.