Shree Dhananjay answered many of the questions posed. In my post, I only addressed why rationality as part of viveka is a requirement to differentiate what is eternal and what is ephemeral without addressing the specific questions posed by the poster. We are not concerned about the language or the philosophy of language here per sec, but rational thinking what goes beyond just the language as a tool. Language is required for communication of the knowledge gained. There is obviously interconnection between the thinking and the language as a vehicle for thinking. Do I think in my mother tongue or do I think in English, the acquired tongue? Once the mind is habituated to think in a particular language, it will do so automatically. Even though my mother tongue is Telugu, it is difficult for me to give Vedanta talks in Telugu since the mind has lost flow of language with the appropriate vocabulary required to express the logical sequence of thoughts in Telugu. I end up thinking in English and translating it into Telugu, and fall short when the appropriate words do not strike from the memory. However I do not give more importance to the language itself other than the vehicle to express the thinking. Vedantic language with the words specifically defined becomes a basis for communication. Yet logical or rational thinking goes beyond the language per sec and the rationality comes by the training of the mind. I still remember the words of the famous professor with whom I worked decades ago, while comparing me and with another student by name John, from England, who was very good speaker in English, but yet could not logically think and present the ideas in a coherent way that others can appreciate the validity of his logic. The professor said - John speaks English, but no one can understand what he says, but Sada does not speak well in English, but it is easy to understand what he says, since there a logical flow in the presentation. The point is logical or rational thinking is different from learning language for communication and it requires training.Navya nyaaya ( the so-called modern logic developed in 11th century) has been developed extensively and nayyayikaas provided definition for every word used for precision in communication. For example an object is defined as praagaabhaava pratiyogini that is it is counter to its non-existence before. There is deeper implication of this definition. It implies there was a time the object was not there and therefore it is a creation and further that there will be a time the object will not be there in future since that which has a beginning must have an end. Every object is nothing but assemblage from its constituents with the anu as the ultimate particle or dravyam. Goudapaada uses this to express his idea – adouantecha yannasti vartamaanepi tattathaa| That which was not there the before and that which will not be there in future is also not really there in the present also – what is there is, of course, pure existence now in the form of a particular object, with naama and ruupa or name and form- which are superficial attributes for the existence that exists all the time.
NyaayaamRitam, ShatadhuushaNii of the dvaita and VishiShTaadvaita schools use Navya Nyayaa to criticize advaita Vedanta and Madhusudhana had to respond to those criticisms using the same nyaaya in Advaita Siddhi. Thus language is required for communication but mode of communication depends more than just the use of language.
Now coming back to the original questions that were posed:
1. What am I searching for?
I am searching for eternal peace, security and happiness in all my pursuits from the birth to death of from the womb to the tomb, as Swami Chinmayanandaji says. Vedanta says you can never find these outside since they are your essential nature. You are searching for something you already are or have in abundance as your intrinsic nature.
2. "Why is it that there is a search for rational answers to questions?"
Because mind only seeks for a rational answers. Since it is the mind that is searching, it finds itself comfort only if the answer is rational. That is what the intellect means and it involves rational thinking or discriminative aspect of the mind. One can shut of this part of the rational thinking by using a belief or dogma system, where you do not question rationally, but accept as a fact because of the faith, blind or otherwise. In fact you are not allowed to ask a question by declaring that it is blasphemy. That I am going to have eternal life in the future in haven or hell depending on whether I believe in their system or not, but at the same time I have no past life – is irrational but accepted in the belief system – while Vedanta says there was never a time you were not there and there will never be a time you will be absent; and therefore you are crying where there is no reason for you to cry.
That the all pervading Lord is in Heaven or in vaikunTa or Kailaasa is also irrational – all pervasiveness at the same time localization is illogical. Vedanta also says the absolute truth cannot be deduced by rational thinking – naishaa tarkena matiraapaneya says Kathopanishad. That does not mean that one should blindly follow Vedanta – it become again a belief system. I exist and I am conscious entity is not a belief but a fact. Even the rational thinking is possible only because I exist and I am a conscious entity. In fact my existence alone is a fact independent of any validation by any means. The misunderstanding according to Vedanta is I take myself as I am this body or assume that I exist as this body only since I cannot comprehend pure existence or pure consciousness, sans the body, mind or intellect.
"Why do I try to understand the world around me, my own existence, and everything in terms of reason and meaning?"
As explained above, the intellect cannot accept any thing irrational unless it is shut off by belief or dogma system. By killing all the non-believers I am going to go heaven is irrational but for those who have that belief it is to be accepted; no questions asked.
Vedanta does not want anyone to believe that is irrational. Only it points out the fact that absolute truth cannot be deduced by logic since logic requires direct perception as means of validation and the truth cannot be perceived by the senses.
" What is the guarantee that rationality works, that there is meaning?"
By rational thinking one cannot deduce the truth but rational thinking is essential for not falling into dogmatic approach. When we say Vedanta is pramANa or means of knowledge, it is not a dogmatic statement but to be experimented here and now to the validity of that truth. When Vedanta says you are what you are seeking (see the first question posed) one has to analyze and realize that by self-analysis and self-assertion. Vedanta only provides a means to know oneself like the mirror that shows your original which cannot be seen otherwise.
What is the guarantee? No other, other than the declaration of the sages and saints of the yore who have gone through the same questioning and discovered the truth and documented by way of Vedas. They provided the working hypothesis for us to proceed and discover ourselves the truth pointed out – not after life – but right here and right now.
One gentleman had an eye operation and doctor after removing bandages said to the patient that operation went very well, now please open your eyes and see. The patient refuses to open his eyes and said – I do not want to open my eyes until you guarantee that the operation is a success and I can really see now, without that guarentee I do not want to open my eyes and get disappointed. Now what is that doctor going to do? The patient has to open his eyes to see if the operation is a success or not – there is no other way the doctor can guarantee.
It is the same thing. Vedanta points out the direction and it is left to us to follow that direction and discover the truth, as others who did in the past. There are no other short cuts for this – hence Scripture says only way is – shrotavyaH, manthavyaH, nidhidhyaasitavyaH – Listening to scriptures from a teacher, understanding its essence by reflecting on it until no more doubts are left and contemplating on it until it is assimilated as a fact.
No, rationality is not evil but a glory of a human being where we have to use the rational intellect to discriminate what is eternal and what is ephemeral to filter out what is the absolute truth behind the rational world of plurality.