International Forum for NeoVedantins


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. 1. What is Vedanta?

Q. 2. More About Advaita Vedanta

Q. 3. What is the Nature of God in Vedanta?

Q. 4. What is Maya?

Q. 5. Paths to Realization

Q. 6. Question of Utility


1. What is Vedanta?

Vedanta is one of the six systems of Hindu philosophical thought that deals with the nature and relationship between individual soul (Jiva), universe (Jagat), and the supreme soul (Jagadish). Other systems are Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, and Purva-Mimamsa. Vedanta -literary the end of the Vedas or the essence of the Upanishads- is also known as Uttar Mimamsa.

There are three principal variations among the Vedanta philosophy, namely a) Advaita Vedanta or Monism, b) Vishisthadvaita or Qualified Monism, and c) Dvaita or Dualism. Their chief exponents respectively are Acharya a) Shankara, b) Ramanuja, and c) Madhva. Additionally Vallabha, Nimbarka, and many other Acharya have contributed to explain the Vedanta in their originally ways. All the three currents of Vedanta are based on differing interpretation, emphasis, and priority of the teachings of Upanishads, Brahma-sutras, and the Gita.

For the dualists, God is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the universe. God, Nature, and the individual soul are different, but each eternal. Changes occur in nature and the individual souls, but God is unchanging reality. God is also personal and with attributes, like love, goodness, compassion, mercy, etc. He is the repository of an infinite number of blessed qualities.

Qualified non-dualists believe that God is the cause and the universe its effect, but as the effect can't be different from the cause God is immanent in the whole universe. God is both the efficient and the material cause of the universe. Like the spider, God projects the whole universe from within Himself and therefore, can withdraw it in Himself. Similarly, God can reach anywhere, as the spider reaches anywhere in the web. As from the blazing fire, fly millions of sparks of the same nature; even so from this Infinite Being -God- these souls have come. Accordingly, for qualified Vedantins, God, nature, and the individual souls are real and essentially one.

Shankara -Advaita Vedanta, Ramanuja -Qualified nondualistic Vedanta, and Teachers of Dualistic School, all are held in special esteem in the spiritual circles. However, Advaita Vedanta, in particular, as expounded by Acharya Shankara typically fascinates the intellectuals by its razor sharp logic and scientific reasoning.


2. More About Advaita Vedanta

The doctrine of Advaita Vedanta holds the view that there is only one Reality in the form of Absolute Consciousness, which is also known as Brahman, Atman, Self, or God. There cannot be second to limit it, as it is limitless and infinite. The universe of multifarious objects, as we perceive it, is but the superimposition of name and form on the substratum of this One Reality.

Like the snake that never existed in the rope, and which in fact is an illusion, and remains so till the correct knowledge of the rope is gained, this world appears to us to be real (as the snake in the rope) till the ignorance is abolished by correct knowledge of the rope -Brahman. The supreme Reality was never modified in any way as the universe or individual souls in the past, in the present, and will not be and cannot be modified in the future, for the concept of the time and space cannot be within the Absolute Reality; they come under the domain of ignorance. To realize our true nature as identical with Brahman is the goal and destiny of every human being.

It would not be wrong to say that Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Holy Mother Ma Saradadevi were the true emobdiments of Vedanta in recent past.


3. Nature of God in Vedanta

The nature of God in Advaita Vedanta is unitary Universal Consciousness. It is Absolute Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss -Satchidananda. It is also known as Brahman, Atman, Truth, Purusha, Self, God, and One without the second. As water is called by various names in different languages (example jal, pani, neer, aqua, water, etc.) but it remains the same, so is the case with God. It is the only Reality that is all pervading and, therefore, infinite and unbound.

The infinite and the only one can't be a compound, and hence it is Immaterial and Simple. It is the only substance without any qualities. All the qualities are superimposed upon that Substratum, but it is never affected by the changes in the superimposed qualities. This automatically nullifies multifarious existence, which is taken as relative reality. This relative truth or existence, that we wrongly take to be true or real, is explained on the basis of cosmic and individual ignorance known as Maya and Avidya.

Qualified monism and dualism differ in their concepts of Supreme Reality. For them God is personal-impersonal Being with attributes and qualities, and individual souls have distinct entity apart from It. An individual can experience the beatitude of the Self, but can't become one with It. On realization of the Self the individual is liberated from the worldly bondage.

For centuries now, all the three currents are flowing unceasingly and peacefully making the Holy land of India prosperous with abundant spiritual crop. Most people are dualist; and as dualism is based on Bhakti -devotion and surrender to God- it is the most popular sect in India, as elsewhere in the world. However, dualism is the root cause of religious persecution and fanaticism. Swami Vivekananda maintains that dualistic ideas have ruled the world long enough, and this is the result. Why not make a new experiment? It may take ages for all minds to receive monism, but why not begin now? If we have told it to twenty persons in our lives, we have done a great work.


4. The Concept of Maya

Swami Vivekananda refers to Maya as "a simple statement of fact -what we are and what we see around us." Maya is a statement of fact of this universe, of how it is perceived by individual human mind.

The world has no absolute existence, but has relative reality. Maya should not be taken to mean illusion, but should be regarded as that power, which forces us to see the world as we perceive it at a given point of time, and as an expression of our limited state of consciousness. Thus, it is the power of Maya that forces us to see the world as multifarious when in reality it is not so. What exists is One Unified Consciousness. Every soul is potentially that Consciousness. Therefore, again, with the help of Maya itself -Vidya Shakti- the aspirant is forced to engage in spiritual disciplines and realize his true nature. Then the Maya laughs and departs into nothingness for that aspirant! Maya -Cosmic Ignorance- has no beginning, but it has an end for the individual who realizes his/her true identity with the Absolute.


5. Paths to Realization

Naturally the only goal of every human being is to make efforts to remove this ignorance and become one with Brahman. Thus, in the final analysis, through spiritual practices -sadhana, one can gain the knowledge of one's true nature. That is the culmination and destiny of every human endeavour. Knowingly or unknowingly everybody is proceeding on the path of Self-realization. If conscious efforts are made the result are quicker and give unalloyed joy while still living in this world, the blissful state of Jeevan-Mukta.

Therefore, even considering this 'utilitarian motive', it is desirable to engage in spiritual practices! According to the one's inclination, aptitude, likes and dislikes - in short individual nature - one may choose path of devotion -Bhakti, knowledge -Jnana, selfless work -Karma, and/or meditation -Raja Yoga to achieve this end. Yoga Yoga means to join oneself with God.


6. Question of Utility

Someone may pose the question: "If I am happy in my present state of 'ignorance' with all the comforts and convenience in life (beautiful wife/husband, lovely children, health, wealth, and education) why should I try to seek 'Brahman' enduring so much of hardships in the form of austerities and renunciation?"

The question is valid, and the answer is - no one is forcing you to do that that you do not cherish. As already mentioned, unknowingly also one is trying to pierce the veil of Maya or Ignorance, only thing is that one is doing it in roundabout fashion. To love family members, money, sense-pleasure is in fact an attempt to seek the same highest Bliss. Advaita Vedanta offers a chance or opportunity to increase the scope and speed of your realizing the joy million-fold, for your chances of extracting pleasure increase in proportion when you undertake sadhana to realize Self. Just as hardships in the form of studies for higher education and research, and acquiring skills for a better job and prospects etc., are tolerated and welcomed, similarly one can and should endure initial hardships in sadhana. Here the gains far outweigh the efforts put and hardships endured.

One becomes more compassionate, pure, generous, selfless, joyful, humble, and loving; and all such qualities or virtues, or values are desirable in a human being and the human race. The source of these values is not money or flesh (body-mind complex), but that One Truth -Atman. Therefore, one should have knowledge of Brahman.

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