Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The primary truth of Vedanta is that it is not authored by a person or a group
of persons, not even by a God or by a particular religious sect aka "Hindu" -
there is no individual-based experience or sect-based philosophy here. So if
some asks whose philosophy is Vedanta? All we can say it is sanatana - eternal.
Secondly the teaching is not something that is unavailable to everyone,
something esoteric, something that is out-of-body or transcendental, something
that is uniquely achievable in some undescribable trance or "state" of no-mind -
it is a Universal teaching that has a solution in the form of a Universal
knowledge, that is Universally available in the here and now. According to
Vedanta, what is "to be known" is both "known" and "unknown". Being "unknown" it
is not cognized, and being "known" it is re-cognized to be something other and
hence "not known". Because of this alone is a teaching possible, hence alone can
a learning be successful.
Thirdly, Vedanta is not exclusionary but in many ways, instead all-inclusionary.
Nothing is rejected - be it religion, prayer, yoga, values, dharma, ritualistic
worship, austerities, even work and relationships - everything is assigned a
place, a role, in the overall schema of the evolution of an individual.
Vedanta first defines a problem that is Universal. The problem is one of
limitation and hence fear.
I find myself to be limited, and hence in a state of "constant craving". I am
never happy with my status quo - I find myself lacking at every stage of my
life, and whatever I gain - be it money, power, fame, relationships, - fail to
deliver me from this innate sense of incompleteness. I fear losing what I have,
I fear losing my loved near and dear ones, and most of all I fear my own
imminent and sadly inevitable demise.
Now Vedanta tells such a person a fact - You are Eternal, the Limitless Whole,
the very Substratum of this Universe.
Any rational human being with any sense of logic and a spirit of scientific
enquiry cannot but reject this startling statement of fact outright. It is the
most natural reaction. To say that I, a puny little mass of flesh, bones and
excreta, constantly decaying, trying to make two ends meet while all the time,
the shadow of Death awaits, anxious for my devourment, - am Eternal, my very
nature is Happiness, - the whole thing seems a rather elaborate joke.
BUT if the Grace of God is smiling upon you, you take a step-back, rub your eyes
and ears, and say, wait-a-minute - perhaps this is worth looking into a little
further, perhaps there is something more than what meets the eye here - perhaps
this is worth my time enquiring into.
Upto this point, the teaching has not really begun. Two things now are paramount
- purushartha nischaya and shraddha. Purushartha nischaya is a choice, a
deliberate choice on the part of the individual, when after experiecing life for
a certain lenght of time, it has become clear to the individual that anything
that accrues to him in terms of wordly acquisitions is not going to solve his
fundamental problem and there-in is generated a certain degree of dispassion
towards a mad hankering after things and people. An enquiry into the Self, or a
devotion towards God, becomes the overwhelming concern of life. Shraddha loosely
translated as faith, is an acceptance of the validity of the statement of the
scriptures we call Shruti, which are the eternal Vedopanishads, and in the words
or Upadesha of our Guru or Acharya.
Once this is in place the teaching begins. And thanks to a teaching process, a
sampradaya enunciated and established for the most part by Bhagwan Adi Shankara,
the words of the Shruti are unfolded.
Hearing this teaching is what is shravana.
Now of course during the course of this teaching, one encounters a seemingly
endless stream of doubts, most of which are answered during the course of the
What is real? what is unreal? what is changing? what is eternal? What is the
self? what is the nonself? What is seen? Who is the seer? How is anything known?
What is delusion? What is real? What is apparent? Why is there delusion? and for
whom? How will it go? How can mere word-knowledge of a sentence or sentences
deliver me from Death? and suffering? What is the Universe? How did it get
created? Who is God? What is God? What is my relationship with the God and the
And in this the Scripture uses various methodologies or prakriyas. The words of
the Scriptures are not fantasay tales of a Eternal Heaven nor are they
meaningless phrases about unknown words like Mu and barking dogs. The words are
very deliberate, the sentences very carefully contstructed, metaphors deliberate
and pregnant with wisdom. Often times the intellect is intentionally bewildered
by paradoxes so as to break it loose of its shackles of perfunctory
thought-processing - for example it will be said the atma is anoroaneeyan
-subtler than the smallest atom or particle and soon as the intellect formulates
some concept about this it declares the atma to be mahato mahiyan - larger than
the Universe itself, and at the same time seated in the "cave" of your
intellect! While declaring that this knowledge is beyond words and beyond the
mind Yatho Vacho Nivartante, it also declares just as emphatically that "by the
Mind alone It is to be known." The Shruti,
[through the Acharya], in Her infinite patience and compassion, and slowly,
ever-so slowly, approaches the seeker thus and leads him or her from one rung of
understanding to another.
Inspite of this there can and do arise multiple doubts along the path - this is
where the second stage of this path comes into play - mananam - a reflection
over these areas, and getting them clarified either through repeated
self-reflections or through the Guru.
Once all the doubts have been put to rest, the third stage of nidhidhyasana or
an internalization of these teachings has to take place. Until when? Until there
is persistence of doubt of whether there is further internalization required.
There is quite simply abidance in the Self-Awareness.
So yes, Vedanta also says that concepts need to be discarded, but there needs to
be a method. "What is in your cup? Water. Dropt it. I did. Now what is in your
cup. Nothing. Drop it!" - this kind of an approach to teaching is quite alien to
Vedanta. Of course once Vedanta is understood, then we can appreciate the beauty
in many such cryptic statements, but Vedanta itself is very deliberate in its
approach, it is taliored to a rational intellect, and is geared towards
unfolding an understanding based on methodical and dispassionate enquiry. There
is hence great emphasis on grammar, on rules of logic, and most importantly
reverence for a teaching tradition that has been handed down over the ages.
Sadashiva Samarambham Shankaracharya Madhyamam
Asmadacharya Paryantam Vande Guru Paramparam
"I salute the Guru parampara which starts with SadaShiva, which is anchored by
Adi Shankaracharya in the middle, and is continued by a lineage of Acharyas
(including my own Guru)"