Based on the wisdom of the Upanishads, the most ancient and authoritative scriptures of India, this book -is an insightful introduction to the teachings of Vedanta in a contemporary manner without compromising its traditional contents.
Vedanta says that no individual needs salvation because he or she is never Lost but merely living in ignorance of his or her true nature. The collection of essays here is meant to provide a background, in language which appeals to our reason, for further exploration of this extraordinary insight of ancient sages.
DHRUV S. KAJI has been studying Vedanta for several years with swamis, professors and other teachers, both traditional and non-traditional.
A Chartered Accountant, he has been the CEO of a well—known corporate group in India. He is a certified pilot and an advanced—level scuba diver; amongst his other interests are included sailing, astronomy, wildlife, ancient Indian art and gastronomy. He works as a business advisor and lives in Dubai and Mumbai with his wife and two children. He is reachable at.
The aircraft was on its final descent when the striped threshold of runway 27 at Elstree started moving towards the bottom of the wind—screen; its gradual disappearance from view meant that I was too high. if I continued, the plane would either overshoot the runway or touchdown dangerously fast. “Golf sierra limo, going around” I informed the tower with frustration as I opened throtlle o circle hack for another attempt at landing. And my long—suffering instructor once again said to me, “Remember a good landing can only come from a good approach.” today, as I work towards a better understanding of myself, it strikes me that the need to set up a correct approach is equally applicable to the teachings of Vedanta. And hence this book winch is meant to provide a contemporary approach to wisdom from an age—old tradition.
For an aircraft preparing to land, a good approach means being in Line with the runway at tire correct height, speed and distance. Whatever further that is necessary for touching down becomes much easier if this initial set—up is proper. For many of us, our journey on the path of’ Vedanta becomes unduly demanding because of a defective approach. We conic to this subject without prejudices understanding its true purpose and the rationale behind the methods it uses; this lack of understanding is frequently compounded by prejudices and false expectations. It is not surprising that when the challenges of Vedanta are thus aggravate disappointment or rejection arc the likely outcome — in other words, fail to make a good landing collection of essays in tins book contains what I have fund be a valuable approach to Vedanta’s wisdom, landings.
Vedanta is the name given to the end portion of the Hindu scriptures called the Vedas; unlike the bulk of these scriptures, the focus of their last section is not religion but extraordinary insights into the real nature of things. Vedanta addresses people who need a meaning to their lives beyond pleasure, wealth, power, fame or religion. Its subject—matter is our own reality which it says is misunderstood by most of us.
Vedanta’s purpose is to give us freedom from our constant sense of inadequacy. It does this by helping us discover natural fullness which it says is intrinsic to all. To benefit from Vedanta’s teachings, its students need some level of intellectual competence and mental equipoise. Wisdom similar to Vedanta’s is also available m other cultures through aspects such as Taoism, mystical streams of Christianity and Sufism; however, Vedanta has better developed traditions and unique methods for preserving and imparting the knowledge it contains.
A few caveats are appropriate at the outset. First, the objective of this book is to only provide an introduction to the subject so, even though you will find references to important teachings of Vedanta, this is not an attempt to set them out fully.
Second, it should be kept in mind that no hook, however exhaustive, can truly teach Vedanta. This is because Vedanta is not information but a path to he personally walked, a life to be actually lived in keeping with its vision. As we all know, not even the best of travel guides can replace a real journey. In Vedanta’s ca. its wisdom remains of limited use unless it is distilled in the crucible of our own effort and experience.
Third, I write as a student; while I certainly hope that you will take away some useful insights from tins hook, it must be noted the content here is neither based on scholarship nor on a life exalted plane. I write mainly because this is an effective way of improving my own understanding; hut, as I write, I frequently amber the truth of what Francois de Ia Rochefoucauld once ,at 11 is easier to he wise for others than for ourselves”.
Last, nm- understanding of Vedanta is inevitably coloured by my own objectives and limitations. The exceptional person who completes the entire journey of Vedanta does this on the basis of great wisdom and the life—style of a saint. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Life is a festival only to tire wise”. My abilities are more modest and nm life is not a perpetual festival vet, I am immensely grateful for the sense of ease and contentment which the pursuit of Vedanta has brought in. I have no doubt that the benefits of Vedanta are valuable even for those of us with feet of clay, who may never walk its full path.
Why yet another hook on Vedanta when a large number is already available there are, of course, several scholarly works which go about their task brilliantly with a detailed exposition to the subject. But many introductory books here are written in a manner which makes them difficult to relate to.
For instance, such hooks- re peppered with words (usually beginning in the upper case) like Bliss Divine, Eternal Life and Sacred Self As most of us are not quite finished with our struggle for earthly bliss, the goal of Bliss Divine seems a bit far—fetched: as none of us knows anything which is truly eternal, the Promise of Eternal life is none too clear; and the Self we know is, of course, far from Sacred!
These books often also contain grand exhortations, of which the more common ones are “Free yourself of all desires” and ‘14c1 without any expectation “; many of us who are just embarking on an exploration of Vedanta are doubtful about our ability to lead lives based on such noble dictums.
Expressions and ideas like these have to be very carefully employed by authors, and only after setting out their full context and rationale; unfortunately, this is not always (lone.
The need for greater clarity on the part of authors applies to other important areas in Vedanta as well. For instance, when Vedanta talks about the process by which our universe is supposed to have been created or about the much—bandied karma theory, it has to be pointed out that such material does riot share the sanctity of its key teachings; it is included only to provisionally answer initial questions of students. Even more important, it is necessary to clearly tell modern readers that Vedanta’s basic insight (of a single reality being all that actually exists) is not capable of being conclusively proved. There are good and logical reasons why this is so hut the fact remains that Vedanta cannot make us share its core vision by arguments alone, just as genuine appreciation of music cannot he brought to us purely live scholarly explanations. When such matters are not fully explained, the result is unnecessary confusion. Often, therefore, we begin to feel that Vedanta is too abstruse or esoteric and we may be better off with only an ethical or, perhaps, a religious life.
But an ethical or a religious life, by itself, does not solve the basic human problem of constantly seeking happiness without ever reaching that goal — only a grasp of the essential unity of things, which is revealed by Vedanta, can do thus. And the fundamental message of Vedanta, despite its great implications, is actually quite simple and capable of being shared. Therefore, all of us can and should benefit from Vedanta if we approach it properly.
In response to these impressions of mine, I have set out some aspects of Vedanta in the form of essays which I hope will he easy to understand. (‘Easy’ is, of course, a subjective term and sonic of you will find the material in this hook to be disappointingly elementary while some others may find the same material taxing their patience with too many details.) Keeping in mind a reader who is a product of present—day westernised education, I have tried to keep die general tone contemporary and practical. Relatively few Sanskrit words have been used in the body of these essays with many others having been relegated to the footnotes. Diacritical marks (such as die two (lots over the ‘i’ in naïve which alter the usual sound value of that letter), conventionally used when Sanskrit words are written in tile Roman alphabet, have en omitted here to reduce a sense of alienation.
As you read, you will find repetition of several aspects of Vedanta over a number of essays; this is deliberate because restatement useful for better understanding and, in the case of this hook, a is also necessary to make each essay self—contained. Similarly, some stock illustrations and analogies (such as the appearance of an imaginary snake instead of the rope and of water being the common truth behind both the ocean and its waves) have been repeatedly used as they are traditional and appropriate. One term which has been used iii several places is God and it may create immediate doubts or disdain for those who consider themselves to he atheists or agnostics; if von are one of them, you may 1111(1 it vortlnvln1e to first read the section “Does God Exist from the essay titled ‘Some Big Questions”.
It should also he noted that the original texts of Vedanta have been differently interpreted by a number of great teachers of the past, of whom the most notable have been Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. This collection of essays is based upon Shankara’s teachings which, despite age—old controversies surrounding their radical vision of a singular reality, remain the most rigorously developed and commonly taught form of Vedanta.
A few of the essays here are based upon work (lone much earlier. The entire collection has greatly benefitted from valuable suggestions made by Swami Tattvavidananda Saraswati, a renowned teacher, by Raghu, a fellow—student for many years and by Kersi Khambatta, a man of many facets who has just begun to explore Vedanta; all have been very generous with their time and patience as they reviewed this material.
For a newcomer to Vedanta, care is needed as one is being introduced to this subject in order not to miss or dismiss new ways of looking at things just because they are alien to our conditioning. We are used to dealing with things within a certain frame of size, time and experience. For this reason, we find it difficult to comprehend the size of galaxies or of sub-atomic particles; we cannot relate to time in picoseconds or in billions of years; we cannot grasp the idea of time and space being one continuum. Vedanta’s key insight goes out even further and postulates a single reality as the common truth behind all existence. While its vision never denies the fact that a world of diversity is vividly experienced by us, it denies any absolute reality to this experience; it goes on to erase the apparently fundamental distinction between an observer and what he observes. It should therefore not be surprising that we face difficulty in coming to grips with Vedanta’s core teachings.
Also, the process of assimilating this singular reality involves our trying to understand die consciousness because of which we perceive and understand things. Because we have to necessarily use consciousness to understand anything, including consciousness itself this attempt faces inherent obstacles — we would encounter similar problems if we attempted to till ourselves lift by- our own boot—straps or if our eyes tried to observe themselves. Ii is for this reason that all of Vedanta’s wisdom cannot be reduced to a set of bullet points; a certain amount of receptivity, patience and contemplation is required for the vision of Vedanta to progress from dubious, second—hand information to a live experience of a profound truth.
From this, it follows that books such as this one are not meant to be efficiently skimmed through to merely- extract data. Vedanta needs to he read in small portions over a period of time and with seater focus on obtaining a feel for its overall vision, as against getting trapped into dissecting every single detail or coming up with quick counter—arguments against each one of its ideas.
On the other hand, there is no need to approach Vedanta with labels like ‘Eastern’ or ‘Hindu’ and then automatically consider to he impenetrably mysterious. As said earlier, Vedanta involves unusual and subtle ideas; however, nothing in Vedanta offends logic or contradicts our valid experiences. Also, our neatest difficulties in reaping full benefit From Vedanta do not arise from problems of logic and understanding; they arise from our unwillingness to reduce the turbulence in our minds which renders them opaque. Vedanta requires an adequately prepared mind which is neither in internal turmoil nor in conflict with surroundings; it also needs a healthy ego which is receptive the possibility that our personalities may- not he as important we take them to be. These requirements are often glossed tr. However, one of the most encouraging features of Vedanta that even its introductory teachings bring in great benefits in terms of attitudinal changes as well as the realisation that the r4h may he different from our usual ideas.
Finally it should be borne in mind that it is not unusual for many of us to fail in relating to Vedanta’s offering at a given point in our lives. This has been so over the ages and if a person does not zealously embrace Vedanta immediately upon being introduced to it, nothing judgemental needs to he read into this. Vedanta’s goal is our own happiness and since all our activities are directed towards experiencing happiness, all of us are already on Vedanta’s path to some extent, even if we do not recognise this.
During the several years over which I have had the good fortune of pursuing Vedanta under the guidance of exceptional teachers, I have found my own life becoming more rewarding; I have also developed better understanding and immense respect for the scheme of wisdom contained in my culture, to which I had not paid any attention earlier. I hope that as you read this hook, you begin to feel the flue spirit of Vedanta which I have come to admire and love and find some things in it which add value to your own lives.
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