Application - that is what 'Workings-days' are about!
We are now undertaking basic technical discourse on Vedanta. The text forming the basis of these posts is 'Kindle Life'.
We have been covering all the basics of Vedanta in a very short space. It is a philosophy which underpins the very basis of Life - everywhere. This can be discovered by each individual if they take up its genuine study, with open hearts and inquisitive minds. Today, the conclusion of this introduction.
Given that any philosophy must have a core purpose, keywords if you will, prompts to keep the student of that philosophy focused on the point of it all, Vedanta is no different. All of what Vedanta is about can be said to be contained within the महा वाक्याः/mahaa vaakyaaH, the four great declarations, one from each Veda. There is an ascending order, in the sense that each is a signpost to the next. (Here is a 'thumbnail' description of each; don't fret over them… we will be studying in depth as and when they arise!)
प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म/prajnaanam brahma (definition of Truth = 'consciousness is Brahman'). This gives a simple statement of The Truth as held and proven through Vedanta. It is declaring that the very essence of who we are, being consciousness, holds a possibility of being universal. Consciousness is the one thing which binds as a common factor in 'life'.
तत्त्वं असि/tat tvam asi (instruction/advice of the guru to the shishya = 'that thou art'). A statement of profound import. First we heard that consciousness could be a unifying factor (called as Brahman), now we are being told that Brahman is who we Are. Brahman is not an abstract concept, but is ourselves, manifest. This is rather a mind-blowing idea! Majority of us, if we have an idea of Brahman ("God") as being some old bloke sitting in judgement over all the cosmos, or other equally pluralistic view, would find this concept challenging in the extreme. Many stumble at this juncture.
अयं आत्मा ब्रह्म/ayam aatma brahma (statement of direct experience = 'this atman is Brahman'). The avid student (mumukshu) however, will want to work on this (mananam) and thus will now seek to understand it further; this is where withdrawal from old life habits and, traditionally, leaving the home for the caves or forests would take place. His teacher has told him that there is a connection between himself and Brahman and he must now find it. Using all the texts given to him by the guru, using his own intellectual powers, applying the experiments through saadhana, japa and meditation, the sishya will make attempts to prove the truth in the first statement (Self is Consciousness) and that it applies to himself (Self [I] am that Consciousness [Brahman]).
अहं ब्रहास्मि/aham brahmaasmi (statement of the realised soul = 'I am Brahman') the student moves into mastership! Realisation is his. Moksha is assured.
The word 'philosophy' derives directly from the Greek with barely a change over the centuries and has the meaning 'love of wisdom'. In modern times it has taken on, to some degree, the context of 'system of thinking', but always with an intellectual edge. (Businesses, for example, might describe their mode of operation or the purpose of their existence in terms of 'philosophy'.) Thus we could say that when studying logics and motivations and suchlike, it is the capital letter Philosophy; and when we are talking about applying a system with consistency and round a core purpose, it is the small letter philosophy. Philosophy deals with much that is abstract, mysterious, and is used to explain Man's relationship with Life and why we have it, what it means and so on. It provides sound principles of living. There are many who would decry Philosophy as a dry, intellectual process having no bearing on 'real life'… but without Philosophy defining who and why we are, the human species would not have risen any higher than other animal species. In a sense, it is the very nature of Philosophising which defines us as something other than mere animal. Thus Philosophy (capital letter) can be called as 'a view of life'. When we apply it as small letter philosophy, we are making it a 'way of life'… and this is more correctly to be called religion.
Religion has an etymology a little more altered. It derives from old French 'religare', meaning 'to bind'. It had no specific relation to motivation or purpose, it was merely an action. As it progressed, the term was applied where there was an obligation due, thus requiring a return to the same action over and over ('repitition'; serf to master for example). The Latin 'religio' took on the aspect of 'reverence' and finally the term religion was derived and tended to indicate those who were dedicated in matters of reverence (i.e. service of God). Religion, then, is very much a Euro-English term and does not exist within Vedanta or Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). However, Gurudev taught in English, for he wished maximum number of people to obtain maximum benefit, so he used this term to refer to the application of the philosophy of Vedanta. If we take the original root of the word and think on how Man can 'bind' himself to a path which will bring him back to his maximum potential as a spiritual being, then we have a true expression of religion.
"Philosophy without religion is tantamount to a Utopian myth; religion divorced from philosophy becomes a bundle of superstitions." (Gurudev)
For many, religion has been distorted from its philosophical meaning into one referring to unthinking, unquestioning, ritual practice - or indeed, a practice involving rituals and rites. Religion is to have a goal and to strive for realisation of that goal. In this way, we can see that sportsmen, entrepreneurs, charities and such can all have a religious approach to their field of focus. Within spiritual establishments, it is a sad thing (and cyclical over the centuries) that the physical expression (rites, doctrinal expression, distorted use of scripture) has become so misused and, (dare it be said?), abused that the term 'religion' holds inflammatory potential.
All the ancient faith systems, though, hold a kernal of the Ultimate Truth, that which brings them back to the same goal as that which has ever burned and never wavered within Vedanta - this is why all true seekers of any background, who are ready for the highest spiritual journey, will 'recognise' Vedanta. It is akin to recognising family, even after decades of separation. There is a familiarity, a softness, a feeling of…' at last…'
The term 'yoga' is much touted in the West and is most often referred to in terms of physical stretching. The word itself, though, is derived from the Sanskrit root 'yug' which means 'join'. To Join (yoga) is used in all the paths to refer to joining with the Supreme Self. This union can be achieved through the four different paths, according to one's abilities, inclinations and stamina.
Karma yoga is to follow the path of action; that is to say, right action and as instructed by scripture. Everyone can take up this path, for it means that every act of every day can have Love and Pure Intention behind it, with Lord as focus - be it sweeping the streets or running a country. Bhakti yoga is to follow the path of devotion and service; all who take up caring professions and specified spiritual practices can practice this path. Hatha yoga is the path of mysticism (sometimes referred as Raja) and includes the physical 8-way ( अष्टन्ग/ashtanga) yoga with which so many are familiar. Keeping the body as temple and understanding it as an instrument of the spirit is contained within this path. Jnaana yoga is the path of knowledge. Vedanta lies within this path.
Each path may have different practices (saadhanas), but all are for mental integration and self-purification with a goal of Realisation.
With this we conclude the introduction to the fundamentals of Vedanta as provided by Gurudev in the 23rd chapter of Kindle Life. Next week we shall follow into the 24th, wherein Gurudev expands on the matter of philosophy and religion and its place in life - the keynote chapter!