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Introduction to Vedanta

Giridhar

Vedanta philosophy, based on my understanding, has two main concepts. The first is the human's real nature is divine and the second concept is that the aim of human life is to realize this divinity.

Let us try to examine each of the concepts separately. Vedanta asserts that the universe perceived by the senses is not real. This is called Maya. Unfortunately, maya has been confused to be really illusion leading to questions like, 'Wouldn't blood flow out if I slit my wrists?.' Maya just means out that the perception of a person not 'self-realized' is not real because such a person associates himself with his emotions, and his ego. Since we are unable to perceive the world as a superimposition of the One reality (which is unchanged in time and space) and thus that all beings are inter-related, the vedantist says that the world we perceive is an illusion. Thus what the vedantist implies is that the world is not unreal like the existence of an offspring of a barren woman, but the world is unreal like the mistaking of a rope to be a snake.

Having said that, it is difficult to imagine that a lotus, the marsh where it resides, and the rock nearby are all made up of identical units. But, an scientist will agree with this statement, saying that it is indeed true.

Vedanta goes on to assert that beneath this outward changing appearance lies an fundamental reality which is supreme, called Brahman. This is the 'Sat-chit-ananda (being- consciousness- bliss)' and 'the peace of god which passeth all understanding' according to the Bible. The scientist protests this contention, saying that he cannot measure this underlying reality, if any. The vedantist is not surprised, he adds that since Brahman is beyond the senses, not being able to detect an underlying reality does not prove anything. Now, we are at crossroads, we can either agree with the scientist or the Vedantist. But in order to examine the next concept carefully, we have to have to agree with the Vedantist for a moment, and come back and question him later.

The vedantist goes on to say that the purpose of human life is to realize this underlying reality. He refers to the essential nature present in every human being as Atman (which is called God Immanent). A few vedantists differ on whether that this Atman is essentially the same as Brahman. This led to many philosophies including the three main ones, Advaita, Dvaita etc.. as mentioned in the Hinduism section. Advaita philosophy says that everything is Brahman and that only maya prevents us from seeing that. The other philosophies differ from this contention. But we will not worry about that, since all of the Vedantists seem to agree that Atman and Brahman are 'related' and the aim of the human life is realization of this. A good contention is to realize this Atman for ourselves, and investigate how the Atman is related to Brahman.

We are prone to ask why do we want to realize Atman ? To answer why, we have to find an alternate purpose unless one contends that life is of no real purpose. Of course there is no need to seek a new purpose if one is satisfied with his present life. Let us see what the majority do: get a education, get a job, make money, be beautiful, become strong, have children, and preferably, become famous. But, does one become satisfied with any of this ? Of course not, one always wants more since the desire is endless. Therefore desire can be satisified only by the infinite. But a common person does have periods of happiness and periods of sorrow. But is this really happiness or just pleasure ? Everyone would agree that sickness, death etc are suffering. Not getting what we want or getting what we don't want is also suffering. The only question is whether getting what we want and not getting what we don't want is also suffering. Actually, they are also suffering. Most of us when we get what we want don't really enjoy it. It is like eating a small ice-cream cone. One eats it hurriedly so that the ice cream won't melt and make a mess. The pleasure from these objects are so fleeting, yet the mind tries to repeat this experience and assumes it as happiness. When it so happens that we can't get this object, we experience sorrow and unhappiness.

Here is where saints like Sankara, Buddha and Jesus interject and say you can have HAPPINESS all the time if you let go of this cycle of joy and sorrow which you have by holding on to the unreal hoping that they bring you happiness. They even go on to say that desire is the root cause of suffering and unjust action leads to more action, and death brings a sudden end to all this. To pause and think about their statements seems unneccessary since down deep we seem to know that this indeed is the truth and we seem helpless. So, some take a high road and dismiss them as pessimists, and their teaching as escapism from the world.

But some of us have achieved many of the material successes, and still have an 'empty' feeling. Some others realize that all their ambitions have failed, and there seem to be no purpose to life. A few others have lost their loved ones, their valued possessions and wonder their true purpose of life. Among these people, a few of them would like to give the benefit of doubt to these prophets. He is prone to ask these masters, 'I don't entirely believe in this Atman, but let us assume this exists, how do I realize it ? and how am I to enjoy this everlasting bliss you all seem to be enjoying?'.

Pat comes the answer requesting you to quit thinking who you think you are but finding out and realizing who you really are. This sounds stupid, but they continue to say that who you really are is the Atman, and not the ego you associate yourself with. What exactly is this ego ? It is feeling that one is a separate unique individual, and shows whenever we boast our accomplishments, desire, or when we bemoan our failures, and fear the unknown. The Vedantist will say that this is an illusion and you are not separate. The scientist, to our surprise, will agree with the Vedantist that all objects are interrelated on all levels.

A simplistic person may ask whether this means that he should just stop believing he is an individual. But it ain't so easy. First, we have to overcome our possessive attitudes towards our action. This does not mean stop doing action but forgetting the fruits of the action. Thus, we have to stop taking credit for successes or bemoaning our failures, and be freed from these 'false' highs and lows. The vedantist goes on to say that you should work as a service and think of our body/mind as an instrument of the Atman.

A good question now is why does the Atman need our help and why we should work for it. Here, the vedantist is bound to give you a profound answer saying work is worship and the motive for worship is Love. Considering our normal ways of thinking about Love, we are bound to question this. But the Vedantist points out that this Love is perfect since now one is loving something which is perfect and everlasting. But, as usual, we are bound to feel somewhat unhappy with this answer. The Vedantist is advising us to Love something (which he claims to be perfect and permanent) but something we have never seen while loving your spouse seems to be more permanent, while we know it is not since death will separate the spouse.

The Vedantist here asks you to take up meditation, and stick with a practice of yoga. It is important, he adds, that one should drop any attachments which binds you more to this world. This can be achieved by judging every thought and every action from a standpoint of whether this action will help me freer, less egoistic, more aware of the Reality or would this action make me more attached to the world and would enlarge the illusion of separateness.

Here, some of us may view the Vedantist as a person who hates the world, or one who is an escapist. But in reality, only the self-realized persons are able to find the reality beneath all the appearances. The Vedantist is also able to serve the society more effectively than us since he has nothing to gain/lose from it and has no selfish motives and his love for the world is much more than an ordinary individual.

At this point, we come back to the original question whether this reality actually exists. The sage says it does, since he has experienced it but one cannot measure it. The prophet goes on to say that it is entirely up to us to believe him or not. But by following a set of procedures like Yoga, one is bound to realize it. So, he gives us a choice of following a path and experimenting it ourselves.

The messenger is as important as the message. When we look at Jesus, Ramana, Krishna, Ramakrishna, Buddha, we wonder whether these people were deluded or did they lie or whether they were speaking the truth. Reading their life histories, we seem to be inclined with the last option, but we can always follow their path and see for ourselves whether an underlying reality exists or not.

The saint becomes aware of the Atman residing within everyone. He also realizes this reality at all time, having no desires nor ego. This is called by Christians as the mystic union, while the Vedantist prefers the sanskrit word, which means the same, 'Samadhi'. Samadhi is beyond the three states of consciousness normally experienced, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. However, no one can describe it but one has to experience it.

More thoughts

The vedantist is finished, he says once you are established in samadhi, all questions are answered, but we would like to investigate two questions. One, how did ego come about in the first place and the second, what happens if one fails to achieve this samadhi state in this birth.

The first question is answered usually answered with a straight face, 'Ignorance'. Having been accustomed to our college degrees and our ego, we are indeed livid with anger. We have been told to our face that we are unaware of the reality because we haven't looked for it. We have been called ignorant because we reflect the society, imitate actions like a parrot, and hardly have a thought which is unique. We don't want to agree that we are unaware of this reality and concede to the sage that only ego separates us from this experiencing this reality because without the identification with our ego, we seem unable to identify ourselves.

The answer to the question what created this ego would depend on who you are asking. Buddha will tell you that this question is irrelevant since when a house is burning, you put out the fire, not enquire who started it. Christian theology may introduce the concept of original sin, and postulate the fall of man from the divine nature. Vedanta points out that the whole universe is timeless, and endless, and the concept of creation and destroying is an illusion by itself. But, knowing how and what created this ego does not really help one in attaining samadhi, in my opinion.

The second question of what happens to someone who fails to attain samadhi is a profound one. Unlike the christian view of heaven and hell, and no more, the vedantist says that a person is reborn (reincarnated) in this world based on the fruits of the actions in this previous birth. Now, we need to introduce a much maligned word, Karma. What exactly does Karma mean ? Karma, from the sanskrit word, kri, means 'to do'. In other words, Karma is an action, work, deed. It is just not physical action, but also mental action, both conscious and sub-conscious action. Hence, Karma is generated for every action, and thought we do. The proverb, 'as you sow, so shall you reap' has profound implications. Every action and thought makes an impression on our mind (called samskaras), and this is repeated, form our habit, and character. Karma is of three types, sanchita (karma from our past lives), prarabdha (the fruits resulting from the past actions or the karma in motion) and akamya (karma generated due to the present action/thought). The last typifies free will, since a Vedantist points out that while we can not change our past actions or the fruits we enjoy because of it, we have every right to live rightly now and influence the future. He also points out that at the state of samadhi there is no karma and a person who dwells in the Atman incurs no karma and no future births. Thus, it is entirely up to us to realize this Atman and be freed from the eternal cycle of rebirths (samsara). Thus, if one fails to achieve samadhi in this birth, the deeds will be carried over to his next birth, and he will be born under favorable circumstances to achieve samadhi.

Karma is beginningless, and endless which seems to be weird to us, since the human mind can not comprehend this. But, the scientists and Vedantists, both agree that the universe is also beginningless and endless.

We seem to blame karma for all our material successes or failure. However, we fail to note that these successes and failure arises exactly to keep us in this cycle of samsara. We haven't taken a moment to be an observer and see whether this success has indeed made us closer to the Reality or is it in fact separating us from it. We seem to proclaim that many evil people succeed, but we somehow seem lost to the idea that the success you attribute to them is material, is impermanent, and is in fact, detaches them from the Reality and engrosses one in Maya.

Thus, to avoid karma and hence rebirth, one has to perform actions selflessly, without worrying about the fruits of the action, and doing it as a service to the Divine. Let us examine the concept of sin. The Vedantic and Christainity concept of sin are not fundamentally different but there are some differences on the surface. When a Christian talks about sin, he usually refers to an act of ingratitude or a negative act towards God, the Father. A vedantist prefers to call this God, the Father, the Reality as it appears within time and space, as Ishwara and distinguishes this from the concept of Brahman and Atman. A vedantist approach towards sin would be any act which results in alienation of the Reality within us. Both these approaches has drawbacks. The christianity approach, by heightening the enormity of sin by relating to the Father, whom we have every reason to love and obey, may lead to self-loathing and despair. The vedantist approach has a major drawback since we tend to not find the offense of doing something against the Atman, since we have not realized it. Sometimes, this leads to the attitude that since one has millions of lives ahead of them, and there is no need to hurry and be engrossed in realizing the reality. But, we realize that both the concepts agree fundamentally that the act of sin is just a separation from the reality or Ishwara.

The main advantage of this approach of looking at sin, is that we come to realize that though it may appear that unrighteous people seem to be rewarded, this reward is just material, impermanent and just separates them more from realizing the reality. Now who is sinned ? Is it better to hang on a cross with the enlightenment and non-attachment of a Christ or to suffer here in the ignorance, agony and bondage of a rich man ? Who is happier : Buddha or the richest man in your town ? This is for an individual to decide.

The Unreal Mind

As soon as one has even a glimpse of what lies beyond [actually it is Truth revealing Itself], one realizes that one is neither the mind nor the body. The difficult part is to realize this TRUTH all the time. Frequently, the mind tells you otherwise, and the realm of maya weaves itself a seemingly inescapable web. The only way to realize is to control the mind. One has to use the mind to transcend it, akin to a ladder, only to realize that the mind never did exist in Reality.

To one who perceives the illusionary mind, there are lot of ways out to defeat this illusionary opponent, but all can be classified into five D's.. Dedication, Devotion, Discipline, Discrimination coupled with Do (action). Dedication of the fruits of the action, and the discipline of senses through various techniques including yoga, coupled with right action leads to excellent Devotion and Discrimination. All japa, dhyana, and even complicated philosophy and techniques are in fact only stepping stones to shape your mind for devotion and discrimination.

Thus there are only two ways to control the mind : One is to go to the source of thoughts and investigate 'Who am I, to whom do these thoughts occur, who is the thinker and the thought'. This is called self-inquiry or atma vichara (discrimination). The second way is complete surrender of body, mind, ego to Her (devotion). [I use Her to describe Shakti, the Divine Mother, though She is beyond gender similar to the usage of him/his above for persons of both the genders].

This surrender need not be a long drawn out process at all. The surrender should be motivated by Love for the Divinity. Faith is not a blind belief but a belief that whatever happens is God-Given and She looks after your happiness {which is not neccessarily your comforts}. This is like going to a doctor and trusting the medicines he gives without engaging in prolonged conversation of the chemical nature of the drug or how the drug enters the blood stream etc.

During the wakefulness, be a good servant to Her, and try to carry out your duties to perfection, all the while dedicating the actions to Her. Like a snake the ego raises its hood and is charmed by the music of the material world until Shakti Herself by Her Grace draws Her sword and cuts off the head of the snake and the ego withers at the magnificance of Her grace. All the struggles and sadhanas are just preparatory to the extinction of the illusionary mind and killing of the ego since once it is killed, the unreal ego never arises again since The Real does not die, and the unreal never existed.

One of the commonly asked questions is what will happen to so many things one does if one ceases to be attached to them. It is with great confidence that I say 'NOTHING'. The world is in you, you are not in the world. Do an action with good intent [since intent is important than the action itself, for example, a doctor cuts a tumor to save the life of a patient, the cutting of tumor is not ahimsa (non-violence), but the intent is] and FORGET the results of the action. Try it for a week, and see how calm you are, how happy you are when this ego is a servant of Her. Somehow many people have come to feel that they are doing the action, but in reality, it is not so, it is just the prarabdha karma working itself out.

One has to carry on the worldly affairs, but with the understanding that the body-mind has appeared of itself - no one asked for it. The atman is the witness, and the mind is operating, but the mind will tempt you to believe that you are the operator and not the witness. The apparatus of mind-body which is functioning has come upon your original essence, but you are not the apparatus.

By all means, live in this material world, just surrender your ego to Her, or apply the atma vichara at every moment of your life. The true sanyas is only an renunciation of ego. There is no need to go to some place holy and settle down. Any place can be holy, if the mind is devoid of ego, and no place can be holy with an impure mind.

Shri Ramana Maharshi says:
'Surrender to Him and abide by His will whether he appears or vanishes; await His pleasure. If you ask Him to do as YOU please, it is not surrender but command to Him. You can not have Him obey you and yet think you have surrendered. He knows what is best and when to do it. Leave everything entirely to Him. His is the burden; you have no longer any cares. All your cares are His. Such is surrender. This is BHAKTI. Or, enquire to whom these questions arise. Dive deep in the Heart and remain as the Self. One of these two ways is open to the aspirant.'

Be detached, allow the karma work itself out, just be devoted to Her since you do not belong in what you think is this the world, and never has this Self being a part of it.

Non-duality

If you are willing to give everything you think you are, the body/mind emotions, intellect, unconditionally to a Higher power (call it Shakti if you want) which is just another manifestation of your Atman (Self), you will know an deep and abiding peace which will fill you. You will eternally happy for apparently no reason because you don't need a reason to be happy, since your very nature is happiness. An example here would be appropriate. When your body aches, you take medicines to make the pain go away because the pain is not your real nature. Similarly, you are constantly trying to alleviate worries and unhappiness by seeking happiness. There is nothing wrong with that, only that the seeking is misplaced. No outer object can satisfy you eternally.

This happiness, bliss, tranquility depends on nothing and has no beginning or an end. It does not matter what you have done so far and what you have not done. All you have to do is surrender unconditionally, absolutely to your Self. The Self cannot abandon you, even if your mind rejects it, because you *are* the Self. One way to surrender is to just believe these words, or similar words from any of the saints, mystics, sages whose ever-present Grace is apparent. If you don't want to do that, you can go to the source of the thoughts of the questions you raise. To whom is this perceived unhappiness ? Who needs to be happy ? You know you exist. Start with this. Who am I ? Investigate this. This is atma vichara (self-enquiry).

Duality gives birth to the 'I' and 'non-I' concept. The seer and the seen, the seeker and the sought, the lover and the loved, the good and evil, and this endless cycle continues so long as the illusion of duality persists.

The "me" concept generates numerous misidentifications, the primary being the idea that 'I am the body/mind' and is the worst of all. In fact any identification with anything leads to a trap which creates duality and interrupts the flow of immortality. Nisargadatta puts it aptly, 'Anything that is perceived by me can not be me.' There is no escape from the dualistic world and misidentifications so long as the believer thinks he is someone else than who he really is or rather as long as one thinks he is a separate individual. Individuality is an illusion. Egoistic thoughts have to go ! All identifications with the unreal [emotions, body, mind, intellect and finally the concepts of good and evil] will have to finally cease !!

To remove this dualistic thought, one has to discard the "Me/mine" concept and when that is discarded the "other" concept will also be automatically discarded. Only in this state in which the ego and the personality associated with it completely disappears, one truly awakens to the state of the non-duality and there is no seeker apart from the sought, no seen apart from from the seer. This is the eternal Now, without the past, future. This is the state of fullness, oneness of the universal being, the state which is beyond all identities but is the identity of all beings. This is the state which is so near and but yet seems so far.

Just as you are sure that you are awake now, you should be aware that you are neither the body or the mind and thinking is not our real nature.

Please be sure to check out my wonderful friend's page at Ego Dust, for an excellent exposition on atma vichara and advaita vedanta. If you think you are ignorant and seek to be liberated through the practice of atma vichara, read this page carefully. Go deep into the meaning of the words, meditate on them and your misunderstanding that you are ignorant will disappear. All what you are seeking, you are already That. There is nothing to be 'done' because whatever you do and identify with as a separate phenomenal entity is itself your bondage. All you need to get rid of is not ignorance but the concept of ignorance. The transcending of conceptualization does not happen by suppressing concepts but by being free from purposeful intention. This will make you spontanteous, without any binding, making you realize that you already are what you seek. Truth will reveal itself when you negate your identity as a separate entity.

May Shakti make you aware of Her ever-present grace and help you in your spiritual practice. May the Truth prevail.

AUM TAT SAT
I bow in reverence to numerous teachers who showed me through their love and teaching and allowed me to experience that She (Shakti) is everywhere, eternally present and there is nothing else except Her. Thus She is also within me and is the source of my (sub) conscious feelings, and mental thoughts. She always has been, always will be. She showed that in true Love and complete surrender even the separate entity of I disappears and nothing is left but pure freedom and Love. There are no two loves, one anticipating the other, but it is Love living and loving in complete freedom.