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What is Vedanta :

Philosophically, Vedanta deals with explanation of Consciousness. As a science, it derives scientific laws about Consciousness based on the experiences and knowledge of the Seers who have intuitively realized the highest Truth during their meditation and altered state of consciousness -samadhi. As a religion, Vedanta is the practice based on the combination of the philosophy and science for realizing our real nature as Divine Consciousness.

The philosophy of Vedanta in general, and Advaita Vedanta in particular, maintains that there is only one Reality - Absolute Consciousness (also called as Brahman, Atman, God, or Self). Out of ignorance we perceive this One Reality as multifarious. This cosmic ignorance is called Maya or Avidya. With spiritual practice one is able to transcend the limitations of body and mind so as to become one with the Reality; to know or experience the Truth. This is the aim of human birth. Scores of great souls have realized Self in this manner; and of course, it is also our birth right. To realize this goal certain spiritual practices are undertaken known as Yoga, viz. Raja-Yoga, Jnana-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, and Karma-Yoga.

Vedanta as a Science

One encounters certain physical and mental changes in saints and mystics, which are not ordinarily found in others. These changes cannot be explained on the present day knowledge of physics, physiology, neurology, or biology. If, however, we label them as unscientific or non-scientific, we fail to honour the definition of science as a "study of body of facts". These facts are experienced by a few persons, observed from time to time by many others and recorded as religious or scriptural books. In an attempt to verify the authenticity and nature of these facts, they are studied, and the explanation is sought from prevailing (existing) pool of knowledge for their categorization. Thus a working hypothesis is developed which, with added proofs over a period of time and with refinement of intellect, is accepted as scientific theory. During this whole process the facts do not change, but what changes is their scientific explanation.

Accepted theoretical conclusions are called Laws: 'Laws of Motion', 'Gravitational Laws', and so on and so forth. Science of Reason and Rationality, as it is called, wants following criteria to be fulfilled for any theory to be labeled as scientific:
Good observation, 2) the public nature of observation, 3) the necessity to theorize logically, and, 4) testing of the theory by observable consequences.
Applying these criteria to the study of altered state of consciousness in the lives of Yogis, Saints, and Mystics, one can say that the changes in their lives constitute a "body of facts" and need to be interpreted and theorized according to these rules of science. Scientists have changed their concepts regarding convictions they thought to be perfect and immutable. For instance:
Copernicus challenged the knowledge (or faith!) of the scientists previous to him in 'geo-centric' theory and put forward new 'helio-centric' theory.
One scientist has improved upon the theory of another, as Einstein over Newton, quantum theory over theory of relativity.
Drugs used in the treatment of high blood pressure are constantly changing; one rated as the perfect one in 1970s is outdated and discarded in 2000 as harmful.
- Many more examples can be cited.

If all such changes and modifications in the knowledge and beliefs in the laws of physical sciences can be accepted as "scientific progress", there is also no reason to hesitate in accepting the changing concepts about metaphysical truths of Samadhi, Visions, Bhava, etc. in the field of the science of spirituality. And, it would be worthwhile to study such phenomena applying the laws of science to the observed facts; and, if need be, create new laws and a new branch of science. Methods of one branch of science, e.g. physics, differ from another branch of science, e.g. chemistry. Applying the same logic, the method and laboratory for the study of spirituality will be different; the laboratory may be the human mind, the place an Ashrama, and the method may be Yoga.

The Present Day Dilemma

We may argue that all these talks on Vedanta and Atman etc. are too esoteric for a common man to understand and realize. We may want to 'know' the utility of spiritual science vis--vis other physical sciences. We may claim that values of compassion, generosity, and love can be cultivated by technological innovations. We may consider that effective changes in the socio-political system would help science and economy to grow to a degree where it may be possible to inculcate "values" in our lives. But unfortunately, values cannot be produced in factories like goods and commodities; for, as seen from the world history, this has never happened and would not be possible in future as well.

Pure science, technological achievement, economic progress, and genetic system are not the sources of values. Values take birth within the depth dimensions of Atman: the ever-pure Consciousness. In recent years Swami Vivekananda

has brought this point in a sharp focus during his lectures and talks in America, United Kingdom, and India. Learning and directly experiencing the Truths of Vedanta at the holy feet of his Master, Swami Vivekananda has contributed immensely in redefining religion as 'science of spirituality'.

Neo-Vedanta, the Real Vedanta

Accordingly, Swami Vivekananda has given new meaning to the Vedanta:
- The old Vedanta said that one who did not believe in God was an atheist, the new Vedanta says: He who does not believe in himself is an atheist. For New Vedanta material and spiritual development are conjoined. Work and worship go together. The inner and outer dimension of a person must be balanced in a pleasing harmony. The new approach does not believe in a God who promises a person eternal bliss in heaven but cannot give him bread here. Practical Vedanta is an active spiritual quest-not letting things happen, but causing them to happen.
- Another important contribution of the New Vedanta is its practicality. It replaces humanitarian ideals of compassion and charity with the spiritual precept of service to the living God dwelling in the hearts of all beings.
- The New Vedanta is available to all reegardless of caste, colour, or race. Its practice does not require a person to have a male body and Brahmin birth, or to live in the seclusion of the forest.
Vedanta would surely be misunderstood if it were thought that it considers the universe unreal in the crude sense of illusion or Maya. In our present state of intellect we accept both pleasure and suffering of this world to be real. 'The world is always filled with both joy and sorrow, it was always like that,' we tend to console ourselves. Vedanta leads us, however, to have higher vision. It maintains that this world is not what it seems to us now. It is much more glorious, much more beautiful, infinitely more lovable and enjoyable than what we take it to be. This is the most realistic hope Vedanta offers. The scientific mind will avidly grasp at this idea. If we persevere in our spiritual pursuit, the world will at last reveal itself as the embodiment of peace, bliss, and knowledge that we are consciously and unconsciously seeking for. Only at a certain stage of our research, we shall have to change the laboratory instruments with the mental instruments of meditation and contemplation, concentration and Tapas, and then the eternal secret will reveal itself to us.

As Swami Ashokananda says, "We thus consider Advaita Vedanta to be the hope of the present age. For it alone can successfully transform the dominant tendencies born of science and, through this, rehabilitate morality and religion. The true reconciliation of science and religion lies in their agreement not only in doctrines but also in the mental attitudes implied. Advaita Vedanta fulfills both these conditions. In it lies future of both science and religion, and if it fails nothing will succeed."
C S Shah
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