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What Is Vedanta?
Vedanta is a philosophy taught by the Vedas, the most ancient scriptures of India. The basic teaching is that our real nature is divine. God is the underlying reality that exists in every being and is manifest as the universe. The practice of spirituality is therefore a way of life to not only re-establish our own divinity, but to actually experience that oneness and experience the “peace that passeth understanding.” We don’t need to be “saved.”
Easy Summaries of Vedanta
Swami Vivekananda said:
Children of Immortal Bliss — what a sweet, what a hopeful name. Allow me to call you, brethren, by that sweet name, heirs of immortal bliss. The Hindu refuses to call you sinners. You are the children of God, holy and perfect beings. Sinners? It is a sin to call a person so. It is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep. You are souls immortal, spirits free, blessed and eternal.
Meditation and Yoga
Religion is a matter of experience. The goal is a heartfelt realization that your true nature is spiritual, that you are one with the universal spirit. Vedanta stresses the idea of self-effort. It encourages everyone to realize the God within by certain methods, called yogas, which channels tendencies we already possess to reach the goal. The ideal is to practice a harmonious balance of the four yogas:
Bhakti Yoga is for the person with an emotional nature, the lover. It teaches a devotional relationship with God, since God is love itself.
Jnana Yoga is the approach to spiritual enlightenment through discrimination and reason. This makes strong use of the powers of the mind. It is the path of the philosopher who wants to go beyond the tangible universe.
Karma Yoga is for the worker. It teaches us how to work in a spirit that will bring peace of mind, and yet harness the natural desire to be productive.
Raja Yoga is sometimes called the yoga of meditation. It is the soul of all the yogas. The emphasis here is on controlling the mind through concentration and meditation. Raja yoga is also called the psychological way to union with God.
None of the yogas asks you to give up your reason and put it in the hands of a religious leader.
Excerpt (Karma Yoga): “The ideal person is the one who in the midst of the greatest silence and solitude finds the most intense activity, and in the midst of activity, the silence and solitude of the desert. That person has learned the secret of restraint and controlled him or herself… If you have attained to that, you have understood the secret of work. But we have to start from the beginning… and slowly make ourselves more unselfish every day… In the first years we shall find that almost without exception our motives are selfish, but gradually this selfishness will melt through persistence.”
Excerpt (Bhakti Yoga): “The person who aspires to be a bhakta must be cheerful. In the Western world, the idea of a religious man is that he never smiles, that a dark cloud must always hang over his face, which, again, must be long-drawn, with the jaws almost collapsed. People with emaciated bodies and long faces are fit subjects for the physician, they are not yogis. It is the cheerful mind that can persevere. It is the strong mind that can hew its way through a thousand difficulties.”
Excerpt (Jnana Yoga): “The essence of Vedanta is that we are divine. The soul was never born and will never die. There may be weakness, but never mind. We want to grow.
We all know our weaknesses, says Vedanta, but being reminded of weakness doesn’t help much. Give strength.
Instead of telling us that we are sinners, Vedanta takes the opposite position and says, “You are pure and perfect. What you call sin does not belong to you.”
Meditation by Monks
Important Basic Books
The Soul Does not Love
It Is Love Itself.
It Does not Exist
It Is Existence Itself
It Does not Know
It Is Knowledge Itself
Biographies of the Great Ones who Inspired Vedanta in the West
Throughout the centuries, the ancient land of India has produced many great saints and illumined teachers. One of the great saints was Ramakrishna (1836-1886). His intense spirituality attracted a group of young disciples who, on his passing, formed a monastic community, later to be called the Ramakrishna Order of India.
One of the young monks, Swami Vivekananda, came to America as a representative to the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. His success was so great that for several years he toured the United States lecturing and holding classes. With the help of his brother monks, he started a number of Vedanta centers in America.
“The story of Ramakrishna is a story of religion in practice… He was a living embodiment of godliness. His sayings are revelations of his own experiences. Ramakrishna presents an example of a bright living faith.”
Known as the Holy Mother, Sarada Devi was the wife of Sri Ramakrishna and regarded as an equal to him in their spiritual mission. Her personality combined an intense wisdom and deep compassion for all. In her own life she showed the highest ideals of the monastic and householder way of life.
STRENGTH IS RELIGION
There may be weakness, says Vedanta, but never mind, we want to grow. Thinking all the time that we are diseased will not help us. Medicine is necessary. In our heart of hearts, we all know our weaknesses. But, says Vedanta, being reminded of weakness does not help much. Give strength. And strength does not come by thinking of weakness all the time, but by thinking of strength.
Teach people of the strength that is already within them. Instead of telling them that they are sinners, Vedanta takes the opposite position and says, “You are pure and perfect, and what you call sin does not belong to you.” Sins are very low degrees of Self-manifestation; manifest the Self in a high degree. That is the one thing to remember. All of us can do that. Never say “no,” never say “I cannot,” for you are infinite. Even time and space are as nothing compared to your nature.
These are the principles of ethics; but we shall now come down lower and work out the details. We shall see how Vedanta can be carried into our everyday life….For if a religion cannot help a man wherever he may be, it is not of much use.
…The old religion said that he who does not believe in God was an atheist. The new religion says that he is the atheist who does not believe in himself.. But it is not selfish faith, because Vedanta, again, is the doctrine of Oneness. It means faith in all because you are all. Love for yourself means love for all — love for animals, love for everything, because you are all. This is the great faith that will make the world better. I am sure of that.
— From Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda