Advaita Vedanta, as systematized and expressed by Shankara (788-820), is widely represented in contemporary studies as positing a special experience (anubhava) to be the ultimately valid source of the knowledge of brahman (brahma jnana) . According to these studies, Shankara only accorded a provisional validity to the knowledge gained by inquiry into the words of the sruti (Vedas), and did not see the latter as the unique source (pramäna) of brahmajnäna. The affirmations of the sruti, it is argued, need to be verified and confirmed by the knowledge gained through direct experience (anubhava), and the authority of the sruti therefore, is only secondary.
My own study of the original commentaries of Shankara suggests, however, that these common contemporary interpretations grossly misrepresent his epistemology in failing to apprehend the meaning and significance which he ascribes to the sruti as the definitive source of the knowledge of brahman. It is clear that in relation to the gain of brahmajnäna, Shankara saw all other sources of knowledge as being subordinate to the sruti, and supported his view by detailed and well-reasoned argument.
It is also clear that the approach to Shankara adopted by modern commentators is profoundly influenced by Swami Vivekananda's (1863-1902) formulation and presentation of Advaita Vedanta. Vivekananda was the first Hindu to elaborately present Advaita to the West, and his interpretation has dominated the understanding of Shankara's epistemology. Unfortunately, his views have received little critical attention, and are not distinguished from those of Shankara.
This study therefore, is concerned primarily with investigating Sh ankara's understanding of the sruti as the source of brahmajnäna and the process through which this knowledge is attained. It also seeks, by analyzing the lectures and writings of 'Swami Vivekananda, to highlight and evaluate his radical contrasts with Shankara about the authoritative source of the knowledge of brahman.