Religious experience and knowledge of the divine
Hindu tradition has long held that the divine or the truth is known experientially. The oldest Vedic texts are held to have been ‘heard’ directly by rishis (sages/seers). The Upanishads contain the teaching of those who not only debated intellectual ideas about the divine but spent time in meditative and ascetic practices, and are thus considered to have gained direct insight into reality and intuitive awareness of the divine. Likewise, the philosopher Shankara (eighth/ninth century) was also a renouncer practising forms of meditation and based his teaching on direct experiential insight as well as reason and sacred texts. He founded mathas (monasteries) to continue both practice and teaching. Founders of particular sects often had deep personal experiences such as Chaitanya (fifteenth/sixteenth century), founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism (of which ISKCON is a development), who frequently experienced states of devotional ecstasy. Ramakrishna (nineteenth century) is famous for teaching that all religions are paths to the same goal as a result of his mystical experiences which were mainly of the Goddess, but also incorporated elements of Christianity and Islam such as visions of Jesus. Those who have direct experience and insight are then able to share their understanding with others, as happened in the Ramakrishna Math and Mission founded by Vivekananda. There is thus a tradition of authoritative personal religious experience from the ancient rishis to modern mystics.