III.3. Vedanta, the Foundation of the Indic School of Thought
Vedanta, the Foundation of the Indic School of Thought
������ The most characteristic system of thought coming out of India has always been Vedanta, the philosophy of Self-realization rooted in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. The Vedantic message of the unity of Atman and Brahman, the individual and the universal, is the prime message of all Indic thought. The great sages behind the modern Hindu renaissance and the independence of modern India since Vivekananda were all inspired primarily by Vedanta and looked back to Vedantic texts for their guidance.� The prevalence of the Gita as one of humanity�s greatest and most popular books is owing to its profound Vedantic message. India in its essence is the land of Vedanta, which is the land of the Atman, the Supreme Self, symbolized by its towering Himalayan peaks.
Why has Vedanta been so important and central to the Indic tradition? It is because Vedanta is the science of Self-realization, the way of Self-knowledge through which we can transcend the external world and realize the One Being-Consciousness-Bliss that is the foundation and goal of all life. Vedanta provides us with the wisdom and the skill to realize the absolute, in which we can go beyond all churches, governments and social institutions. Because of this background Vedantic view of universality and transcendence no single organized religion or belief, even Buddhism, could come to dominate India and why spiritual experience was always placed above outer religious forms. Because of Vedanta living gurus were always made more important than old books or even than the sages of old.
Vedanta and Science
According to Vedanta, the real goal of science, which seeks to know reality, is knowledge of the Self. If we learn all about the outer world but fail to understand ourselves we will remain not only ignorant but also miserable. Unfortunately, modern science has not yet recognized the Self and so is still wandering in outer cosmic laws and forces that miss the real purpose of human life. Modern science is not yet enlightened or spiritually aware but is still groping in the dark night of matter.
For modern science to develop at a deeper level, it should learn to ask fundamental Vedantic questions. Such are �What is the one thing, knowing which everything can be known? By what can the knower be known? What is the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind? Or the great inquiry �Who am I�� Such questions do not simply deal with learning about some external object or phenomenon in the universe, but are about the very nature of knowledge and consciousness itself. We must question not only the external world but the very inner ground of our own consciousness.
Vedanta and Religion
In the Vedantic view, the true goal of religion, which seeks to establish our proper relationship with God, is knowledge of the Self. If we pray and do service and offer everything to God but fail to know ourselves, our God is just a mental illusion that obstructs any higher consciousness from developing within us.
In the Vedantic view, the Self is greater than God and dwarfs all religious institutions and teachings. To become truly spiritual we should seek to know ourselves, even if this requires setting formal religion aside.���� In the Vedantic view, the goal of religion is to take us to the point that we seek Self-knowledge, that we begin the earnest quest for the true Self. At that point, we transcend all religious institutions, edicts and dogmas and can happily dispense with them as no longer necessary.
Unfortunately, the predominant western religions do not recognize any goal of Self- realization and have no real concept of the Atman. They have no organized teaching or sadhana in order to achieve it. For them, the institution, church, bible, prophet or savior is final and sufficient. Salvation consists of going to some heavenly world after death, in which some bodily identity often physical persists. This is the most we can realize as a soul who ever remains a servant, if not a slave of God. The idea of becoming or transcending God is a heresy in such traditions.
In the Vedantic view the Self is greater than any church, scripture or savior, and in our true nature we need none of these. To make human beings slave to a religion is to deny their true Self and turn religion, which should be an aid in liberation, into one of the worst factors of bondage. We should use religion as a positive tool in whatever manner or form it truly helps us become wiser and more compassionate, but we should not let ourselves become reduced to it, or it is not a truly spiritual pursuit and cannot develop a higher consciousness within us.
Vedanta and Independence
������ In spite of, or perhaps because of, all our modern progress we still live in a world of servility and bondage. I am not speaking of political servility, such as not having the right to vote, or economic servility, not being able to feed oneself, though these problems still exist for many people. I am speaking of the servility of the mind and heart, the dependence upon an external reality and an external sense of identity for our happiness in life.
America, in its own Declaration of Independence, recognizes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the God given rights of man. While life and liberty may be self-evident, the pursuit of happiness is not. The pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of desire and outer happiness, which is why America developed primarily as a commercial culture. The pursuit of happiness leads to bondage and servility to the outer things that promise happiness for us. Really, happiness like life and liberty should be given and need not be pursued.
The Vedantic declaration of independence is of being, consciousness, bliss and freedom absolute as our very nature, not a right given to us but as the very core of our being that we only need rediscover. This rests not an outer achievement and acquisition but an inner search with an empty mind and receptive heart. With a Vedantic view we can explore the entire universe in our own minds, connecting to the universal life-force as our unlimited source of energy. We don�t require technology and what we achieve will not be lost at death. Vedanta sets us free not from outer servitude but from all external limitations by connecting us to the infinite and the eternal.
������ Various religions teach that we are sinners and without the church we cannot be saved. Believing this dogma we become dependent on the church for its favors and rewards, including heaven itself. Our religious teachers tell us that we are weak and that we must be saved, or that if we are strong, we must devote ourselves to saving others. We set up charities to help the poor, teaching them the greatness of the savior as means of improving their lives not only religiously but economically.
������ We should note very clearly�the very thought of another as weak and needing to be saved is itself a sin against the Self, the Atman of that person. That thought renders the person weak and, if the person believes in it, we have only created a permanent ward of our charity. This may make us feel good, like the pleasure a mother has in feeding her children, but in this case the children cannot grow up. Their growth will remain stunted.
������ Even the need to enlighten others can be a form of false compassion. We look at others as ignorant, suffering sentient beings and think that without our help they are condemned to bad karma and futile rebirth for perpetuity. Instead of awakening them to their own strength, we make them dependent upon a teaching, guru, tradition or technique. The very thought of others as ignorant is itself the mistake. Everyone is the Atman. We must awaken everyone to their true nature, which is free, full and unlimited, not in need of any comfort or security.
Similarly, modern socialism teaches us that we are weak, whether because we are minorities who are victims of past discrimination, or because of normal human problems of disability, disease or aging, and that we cannot survive without the favors of the state and its social welfare system. The same phenomenon occurs as in religion. The individual does become weak and obsequiously curries the favor of the state. The modern welfare state resembles a gigantic religious charity and takes over the lives of people. What is really aggrandized in most such charities is the church or the state, while the people remain trapped in bondage, living on the meager handouts of institutions, which drain public resources.
Multinational corporations, though they are earning high profits and taking money away from the undeveloped world, also like to portray themselves as global charities concerned about the welfare of the people and countries that they are really exploiting. They create schools, hospitals or insurance programs for the benefit of those working under them. Once in harness by the corporation ones entire life can go to them and, as a reward, the corporation might help us in old age.
Today�s humanity, from different angles, has succeeded in creating religious, economic and political servility for the glorification of churches, states and multinational corporations. The Vedantic way is quite different. It is to give real spiritual and psychological power back to the individual. You are not a sinner. You don�t need anyone to take care of you. You are not weak. You don�t even need the world to be happy. In your true Self you are above material needs, beyond physical desires, not even in need of any entertainment.
������ Don�t throw yourself away on any belief, institution as greater than yourself. No one can save you and you cannot save another. There is no one who is weak. Do not grovel but assert your higher Self. If you really want to help others, first given them back themselves. Help them to help themselves. If you look upon others as dependent upon you for their well-being, you are just glorifying your own ego as the provider. You are not doing anyone a real favor.
Vedanta may be criticized for lack of compassion because it does not emphasis that we are poor, sinners or ignorant. It does not say that we need to be saved, put on welfare or enlightened by another. But what Vedanta teaches is true compassion and true self-determination. It gives us back our own Self and our own ability to create our own destiny and transcend the entire universe of matter and mind.
������ For India to rise up it must reclaim this Vedantic lion-hearted spirit and throw off the darkness of servility, not only in social and political behavior but also in spiritual practices. Vedanta should become the national ethos. India is not a poor and undeveloped nation needing to be saved and uplifted from the outside. It is the land of Vedanta, the realm of the Atman, that once more needs to assert its spiritual glory for the entire world. Such a Vedantic land will be the true teacher of the world and all material problems will be easily mastered from the Self-mastery that unlocks all powers. This is the real path to progress in India, not groveling after foreign favors or resting in the shadow of alien creeds.