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What is Vedanta : Part 2
continued from Part...1

 Vedanta Philosophy | Vedanta as a Science | Vedanta Practice
Jnana Yoga | Karma Yoga | Bhakti Yoga | Raja Yoga | New Vedanta | 

C. The Practice

Out of ignorance we perceive the One Reality as multifarious. This cosmic ignorance is called Maya or Avidya. With spiritual practice one is able to transcend the limitations of Maya imposed by 'body and mind complex' and become one with the Reality, to know or experience the Truth. This is the aim of human birth. This is true religion. Scores of great souls have realized the Self in this manner; and of course, it is also our birth right too. To realize this goal, certain spiritual practices are undertaken, which are known as Yoga, viz. Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga.

The Four Yogas
General Considerations

By Yoga is meant an attempt to unite with God. It is clear that depending upon the concept of God, one's procedure to unite with Him, to seek Him, will differ. Therefore, it is necessary to define the term God before we embark on the study of various yogas.

In the Vedantic philosophy, or teachings of the Gita and the Upanishads, God is perceived as Absolute Consciousness. Through the illusion of space, time and causation the same Consciousness appears as broken in many individual 'consciousness'. The whole appears to be divided in parts as human consciousness, animal consciousness, tree consciousness, or insentient beings. Evolution of matter is aimed at being able to manifest Absolute Consciousness in Its most clear and pristine form. Thus, the difference between a human being and an animal is only of degree of manifestation of Consciousness. The same thing applies to different human beings. They all manifest different aspects of the same Consciousness, some more clearly than the others. Some philosophers even think that all the manifestations are equally desirable and not to be despised of, in so far as they all are the manifestations of the same Reality. From the Advaita Vedanta point of view this may be acceptable, but from the plane of relative existence, this idea may not appeal to many, and hence, sometimes Advaita Vedanta is looked, as suspect from this angle as teaching unethical postulates. Many people are not ready to accept the idea that stones, walls, lower plants and animals, criminals, and human beings, in short this whole universe is nothing but Brahman!

Without going into further details, we can say that it is necessary to lead moral and ethical life to be able to express the same consciousness in its fuller aspects. The tendency to perceive and enjoy higher level of bliss is inherent in every human being, and as such, if some people think and feel that Vedanta gives them a better life, and accordingly if they attempt to realize higher divine consciousness, such practices should be welcome, or at least not looked down upon. By necessity the person of vedantic realization is more selfless, loving, and compassionate. He is universal in his appeal and outlook. These qualities are desirable for a healthy human society and dignity of human race. Yoga tries to make the person fit to realize divine consciousness and gain these qualities. These values have their source in Absolute Consciousness, or Atman. Yoga is an attempt to reach nearer that state where Atman is perceived clearly and directly as our natural consciousness. Depending upon the inclination, persons can approach this goal by undertaking different spiritual disciplines:

- A few people are of philosophical bent, and they through intense power of discrimination and intellect are capable of renouncing what they think as temporary-'Jnana Yoga',

- Some are interested in 'doing good to thhe society' through social reforms and selfless work-'Karma Yoga',

- Others are more interested in devotionall activities-like rituals of worship, singing glory of God and Goddesses-'Bhakti Yoga', and

- And lastly, still others try to seek thee Highest by controlling their minds by psychic conventions-'Raja Yoga'.

Whatever may be the inclination, the basic idea is the same, i.e. purification of mind. This state requires attenuating our ego by removing the restrictive stranglehold of the senses over the mind. The greatest obstacle in achieving our natural state of identity with Atman is our false identification with mind and body. Yoga teaches us to remove this false illusion and thereby perceive the reality. The practice of austerity and sadhana is, therefore, recommended in different types of Yoga. Moreover, renunciation of all sense-enjoyment connected with body and mind, and discrimination between permanent and transient is also emphasized. Swami Vivekananda has given scientific analysis of all the four yogas. He has also elaborated each one in a philosophical treatise with hints to enable us to put them in practice as well.

1. Jnana Yoga  | Top

The capacity to discriminate what is real and what is unreal, and the ability to renounce the unreal, makes the person fit to liberate himself through Jnana Yoga. It is very difficult path and razor sharp precision is required to follow it. Such persons are of philosophical bent, intensely analytical and are often mistaken as dry intellectual. They appear to tread their path all alone, and are very bold and fearless. Whatever is deduced to be unreal by intellectual analysis is rejected outright and renounced, as someone may discard poison. Swami Vivekananda compared the courage to face the spiritual conviction of a Jnana Yogi to that of facing the cannon. While he was preaching this Yoga, many got the impression that the Swami favoured the practice of this Yoga over other yogas. This was not the case, however, because Swami Vivekananda had something for everybody according to his or her capacity and aptitude.

The discrimination between real and unreal ultimately leads to a state of divine consciousness. This is perceived as the only reality for which all other planes of relative consciousness are given up. This is a very bold demand on an ordinary human being; born as they are of the weaknesses of the body and mind. Therefore, only a few souls are fit to undertake sadhana of Jnana Yoga.

Sadhana Chatustaya:

It is said that the only competent student on this path is one who has obtained a general comprehension of the entire Vedas by studying them in a prescribed method. Similarly the aspirant should have cleansed his mind of all sins of this or previous births by avoiding all actions that are actuated by desires and forbidden in the scriptures and by performing the daily and occasional obligatory rites. Moreover the aspirant should have adopted the four sadhanas or means of attaining spiritual knowledge. These four sadhanas are known as sadhana chatustaya. These are:

I. Discrimination between the real and the unreal, and renouncing the unreal,

II. Aversion to the enjoyment of fruits of one's actions here and hereafter,

III. The group of six attributes as:
  1. Calmness or tranquility
  2. Self-control
  3. Self-withdrawal
  4. Forbearance
  5. Faith
  6. Self-settledness
IV. Yearning for freedom - Mumukshatva

To many, these preliminary conditions might appear too stringent to follow in everyday life, and also as unnecessary for the beginning of sadhana. But these are not strange rigorous conditions to distract an aspirant from undertaking spiritual practice, rather these are necessary preconditions to develop sharpness of reason and one-pointed concentration of mind so that unbiased glimpse of Reality can be obtained.

It is not necessary first to acquire these difficult qualifications and then plunge into spiritual practice. The interrelation between spiritual discipline and this four-fold preparation is so beautiful that while making efforts to gain mastery over the one, the other automatically gets incorporated in aspirant's life. The relation is of the nature of 'give' and 'take'. If we try to develop control over mind, the mind becomes pure, sharp, and intelligent; and when we try to meditate on the purity of Atman the mind is controlled automatically. It would be of no avail to think, 'I will take bath after all the waves in the ocean have subsided.' The waves will never subside. The idea is to plunge in the sea and get purified. The waves do not harm the one who makes the effort. Similarly, the rigour of sadhana chatustaya will not prevent a sadhaka from realizing the truth if sincere attempt is made. The attempt itself is a sign of having acquired the requisite training in this field. A wonderful reciprocal relationship is thus established between the attempt and the outcome of sadhana. It will be seen, as observed in the life of Sri Ramakrishna, that intense longing to realize God itself is sufficient qualification to gain requisite control over mind.

Jnana Yoga also calls for creation of such a society "where these highest truths become practical." It constantly exhorts the sadhaka to develop strength and be able to say, "I am not this body, I am not this mind, I am that-Absolute Consciousness, the Atman." It is a very bold statement, but all the same the real core of Advaita Vedanta.

2. Karma Yoga  | Top

In the third chapter of the Gita, Lord Krishna elaborates the secret of Karma Yoga. Arjuna asks: 'if Jnana Yoga is superior to Karma Yoga, why is it that Sri Krishna is persuading him to engage in the dreadful act of war?' Lord Krishna answers 'undoubtedly no person born as a human being can live without performing actions.' Actions are forced upon every individual according to his mental make up, which in turn is determined by his inherited nature and past and present impressions. It is in the nature of human beings to seek sense pleasures. It would do no good to a person to be hypocrite by feigning that he has controlled the mind, but inwardly he continues to hanker for sensual enjoyment.

The secret of 'Yoga of action' is to do all the righteous activities skillfully, but without getting attached to them. Lord Krishna also exhorts Arjuna to be busy in his activities in this way, because work done without attachment leads one to subduing one's ego. Moreover, the common folk follow the example set by the leader or a wise man. Therefore also, it is imperative that a person should be busy in righteous and skilful actions. Not only this, just as the ignorant people are busy in the activities seeking selfish ends, so also the wise men of illumination should work ceaselessly to achieve selfless end for the welfare and the benefit of many. In his deep impressive style, Swami Vivekananda has elaborated this Yoga in great detail.

Says he, "You must remember that freedom of the soul is the goal of all Yogas, and each one equally leads to the same result. By work alone man may get to where Buddha got largely by meditation or Christ by prayer. Buddha was a Jnani, Christ was a Bhakta, but the same goal was reached by both of them. The difficulty is here. Liberation means entire freedom-freedom from the bondage of good, as well as from the bondage of evil. A golden chain is as much a chain as an iron one."

Then should we not work? Work incessantly, but let the impressions of the results of work-even in thought-not enter your mind. Work as worship. Doing 'good' to others helps initially to develop purity of mind, and in this purified mind arises the intense desire to become totally free. The aspirant also develops sharpness of reason so essential to transcend the reason itself, so that power of intuitive thinking can take its place. Every action and every work done from this point of consideration takes the aspirant from bondage to freedom, from selfishness to selflessness, from hedonistic preoccupation to altruistic broadness.

The saints also act; they are busy in all sorts of activities. One should attempt to reach that stage of a wise man that can shake the world by a few thoughts of intense spirituality, sincerity, and concentration. Let some people do good to the world, let them engage themselves in their trade of loss and profit; the man of understanding-the person trying to learn the teachings of Karma Yoga should become utterly 'selfish' from a different point of view. He should become 'selfish' to seek liberation from the bondage of both good and bad effects of karma. Thus, establishing himself in the plane of total disinterestedness, a Karma Yogi works. The good of the world and of self is inherent in such Yoga-as a bye-product; sometimes, without even the knowledge that the wheel of dharma (religion) is set in motion.

Every action and thought is thus conducive to learning this great truth. It is a blow given to the soul in the form of experience to learn from. The idea of 'renunciation and service' becomes established more and more firmly in aspirant's mind through the practice of Karma Yoga. Such yogis of action write a new epic in every age. Sri Krishna is a shining example, and the Buddha no less. Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda of the recent times are a few great examples, along with numerous in every field of science and art. They all got their inspiration from the perennial fountain of Vedanta, either directly or indirectly. Every phase of human history will find karma yogis of different stature who knowingly or unknowingly will continue to work in this fashion.

3. Bhakti Yoga  | Top

There is a certain class of people for whom intense "love for God" plays important role in defining their religious attitude. These are emotional persons who believe in personal God - in a particular form or idea. This form of God becomes their Chosen Ideal-the 'Ishta Deva'. Swami Vivekananda in his discourses on Bhakti Yoga defines bhakti as intense love for God without any expectation of reward, favour, or fear. The natural tendency of sectarian love - love towards spouse, children, and the relatives, love for wealth, name and fame, etc. - is directed towards God in this Yoga. Initially, there is no suppression of thoughts or tendencies, on the contrary, every mental tendency is directed towards God and thus sublimated. The whole world is seen as the manifestation of glory of the Godhead-Ishta.

Bhakti Yoga is, therefore, the most constructive, non-sectarian, and simple path for majority of people to begin with. This is particularly true because non-dual Vedanta is very difficult to grasp even conceptually. However, the main danger on the path of Bhakti Yoga is the likelihood of developing fanaticism if one ignores that other persons also have, like him, the right to reach God through their own Ishta Deva and rituals. A feeling of hatred and jealousy may creep in his mind on this count. Hence we see quite a few devotees on the path of this Yoga behaving in a fanatical way when dealing with the persons and ideas of other religions.

In the initial stage of bhakti the devotee takes help of "pratika" and "pratima" - symbols - to worship his chosen ideal. Rituals like Puja, Upasana, and prayers, chanting and singing the glory of one's chosen deity are common. The individual worship may culminate in group-worship with the formation of a sect where the participating devotees have a common ideal. Such sects are very common in the Vaishnava tradition of bhakti. Chaitannya Mahaprabhu and Vallabhacharya have had nice tradition of such bhakti cult.

Soon this lower bhakti - of puja and rituals, stabilizes the mind of the sadhaka. The person involved in bhakti develops 'one pointed' concentration by losing himself in the beauty and love of his Ishta by developing a particular bhava (attitude). Such attitude towards the God may be of friendship-sakhya, servant-dasya, mother-vatsalya, lover-madhur, or plain divine attachment-shanta bhava. Consciously developing any one of these five attitudes, in the beginning, the sadhaka reaches the higher plane of bhakti-para-bhakti. Sri Ramakrishna used call it prema-bhakti or ragatmika-bhakti.

Para-bhakti creates a stage where feeling of total devotion and surrender to the wishes of the Godhead is established. The devotee does not expect anything from his chosen ideal, rather he enjoys giving to the God whatever best he has, be it new clothes, food, fruits, etc. The devotee is very happy to surrender his life, money, wealth, fruits of actions, and mind at the lotus feet of his Ishta. A feeling of total renunciation gradually comes in the mind of the devotee. Bhakti becomes the path and the goal, action and its own fruition, simultaneously.

4. Raja Yoga  | Top

Raja Yoga is a special class in itself. Literally it means 'king of yogas'. Patanjali has elaborated this Yoga as "Yoga of Eight Limbs". These are 1) Yama, 2) Niyama, 3) Asana, 4) Pranayama, 5) Pratyahara, 6) Dharana, 7) Dhyana or Meditation, and 8) Samadhi. Sadhana of this Yoga is to be undertaken under the supervision of a qualified teacher. It is absolutely essential for the sadhaka on this royal path to be pure in words, deeds, and thought (total continence is called for), along with fulfilling the basic criteria of leading ethical and moral life. These are the persons who right from their early age are pure, contemplative, and mature, much ahead for their age. They have no desires to gratify - either of body and mind. They are able to renounce sense pleasures with ease to the extent that they think that possessiveness is an obstacle in their search for superconscious state - God. They are true scientists in the field of spirituality. Their method is most scientific, as if they perform the experiment to seek superconscious state - samadhi. Their working laboratory is mind, and the instrument, object and subject are all one - the mind alone.

By controlling the outgoing tendencies of sense organs towards the sense objects the yogi stabilizes his energies. These are then directed to the internal world to explore the truths hidden in the depths of mind. The search for divinity lying hidden may lead to many visions and attitudes (Bhava), and occasionally one may get a glimpse of that state which we term as samadhi. The energy of concentrated mind is focused on Atman that is perceived as Absolute Consciousness, Bliss, and Existence. This is a state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi - nondual state of consciousness. If the mind, on the other hand, is concentrated on one divine idea or form, it becomes one with it and takes that form. The idea is exclusively perceived as the only reality and the person is said to experience Savikalpa Samadhi - consciousness with duality.

By concentrating the mind the yogi develops the faculty of intuition. The intuitive knowledge that he gains cannot be obtained by ordinary sense perception. Intuition means going beyond reason, although not contradicting it. Such clearing of inner vision is called as obtaining "Divya Chakshu"-Divine Vision as mentioned in the Gita (XI: 8). The state of samadhi the yogi achieves by psychic control of mind and senses is said to be very blissful and it prompts the sadhaka to strive for more and more inherent beatitude therein. Hence, Visions or Bhava themselves stimulate and encourage the yogi to go ahead and reach the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. As the mind itself is transcended, the language also fails here. Hence this state cannot be described in words. It can only be experienced. The experience brings a new knowledge that is ineffable and everlasting. Such a person is Jeevan Mukta, liberated from the ocean of worldliness (Samsara Sagara).

D. Present Day Dilemma  | Top

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-a-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 produce "values" in factories like goods and commodities. But 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 source of values. Values take birth within the depth dimensions of Atman: the ever-pure Consciousness. In recent years (1863-1902) 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, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda has contributed immensely in redefining religion as 'science of spirituality'.

New Vedanta

Accordingly, Swami Vivekananda has given new meaning to the Vedanta:

- The old Vedanta said that one who did noot 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 Neew 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 regaardless 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.

Advaita Vedanta would surely be misunderstood if it were thought that it considers the universe unreal in the crude sense of illusion or Maya. It maintains that this world is not what it seems to you now. It is infinitely more glorious, infinitely more real, infinitely more lovable and enjoyable than what we take it to be. What can be more realistic than this? The scientific mind will avidly grasp at this idea. Let us go on and on in our understanding, and the world will at last reveal itself as the embodiment of all 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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