Vedanta means “the end of the Vedas” – “anta” = end. The central topic is the Universal Spirit (Brahman) – so it is also referred to by the names Brahmasutra and Bhramnamimamsa. The central them is the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads concerning the nature and relationship of the three princinples – God, world & soul.
It is an effort to balance all knowledge – and contends that we have no right to disregard the findings of any seer; we are morally bound to examine the teachings of all minds that have attained enlightenment and find what is common – for that is likely to be the Ultimate Truth. Differences are due to various viewpoints, different stages of development and training, as well as social and hereditary backgrounds; therefore, the same Truth will vary according to the capacity of each individual for insight.
Vedanta accepts every though, idea and concept as a step forward. It evades nothing, and encompasses everything; it discards nothing and collects everything that is within the realm of human experience. However it does not accept anything as final, dogmatic, or as the last word; instead it investigates, analyzes and criticizes all alike, forcing every proposition to verify and substantiate itself according to the rules of logical inquiry.
Vedanta maintains that the human intellect can never fathom the nature of the Ultimate principle – it can only be known by direct intuition never logical inquiry and analysis. The laws of logical inquiry are only to be used for removing apparent contradictions in the Upanishads but never to reveal the Ultimate. Reasoning can only be used with certainty in secular matters to remove doubt, never for transcendental matters .
Never can there be certainty, doubt always remains. Study of the Vedanta can remove these doubts. The teachings are said to fortify the mind with the necessary arguments and reasons so strengthen our position until we grow firm in our understanding. To do this we are required to pass through a discipline which consists of:
- Viveka – right discrimination between the eternal and non-eternal, the real and the unreal. This comes from proper study.
- Vairagya – right dispassion and indifference to the unreal and transitory. This consists of renunciation of all desires to enjoy the fruit of action both here and hereafter.
- Satsampat – right conduct which consists of: control of thought, control of conduct, renunciation of all sectarian religious observances, endurance of opposites, faith & balanced mental equipoise (freedom from too much sleep, laziness and carelessness).
- Mumuksutva – right desire – earnestness to know the Ultimate Principle. This will come when one dedicates his life to this single goal.
The principal question raised by Vedanta is “What is the cause of the Primal Motion in Nature?” – it pushes the cosmological inquiry one step further then the other systems. It postulates an Intelligent Agent the guides and directs the workings of the subtle forces of the universe – it is called Brahman. It is translated in the west as God when placed in the context of religious worship, but it is advisable to use the term Brahman or Ultimate Principle until the concept is firmly rooted.
Vedanta indicates two problems with the Samkhya system:
- How is the process of evolution started?
- How do we account for the phenomenon of Pralaya (annihilation of the world at the end of each cycle).
The Vaisesika system taught that the original impulse was caused by the Adrsta (unseen, invisible, unknown) of the soul. For example: when we indulge in some particular form of pleasurable activity, there remains within us a latent desire to repeat that form of action another time; as soon as the environment provides an opportunity, we shall repeat that form of action. There are some forms of this latent energy that remain latent for a long period of time before manifestation (as some seeds must remain latent for several years before they are ready to germinate).
Vaisesika says the primal motion originate in the anu when it comes into proximity with the soul. Vedanta contends this is not reasonable since both any and the soul are, by definition, without parts; and there can be no contact between things having no parts. During Pralaya the souls are dormant, so they cannot originate motion; therefore there could never be a first beginnig.
Vedanta accepts the of cosmic evolution as outlined in the Samkhya and explained in the Vaisesika. These systems were presenting an interpretation of nature for minds who were not interested in inquiring into the nature of the first cause. The outstanding contribution of the Vedanta system is Brahman – that which causes the initial impulse in nature.
The Ultimate Principle (Brahman) is the creator, maintainer and destroyer of everything in the universe. It is the instrument and material cause of all manifest phenomena. It has two conditions:
- Pralaya: Asat (Non being) the universe it is at rest. This is the subtle condition of nature when the infinite energy of forms have become submerged into the eternal source from which they came. This is a time of universal dissolution, re-absorption, destruction, annihilation of all manifest phenomena.
- Sat-Cit-Ananda: the universe is active. In this period it has three attributes: universal being, consciousness & bliss. It has two inseparable forms: Nirguna – pure spirit, Saguna – pure matter (these refer to the Gunas explained in Samkhya).
At no time is it ever non-existent.
The term Atman is frequently used in Vedanta – it is translated as “Soul of Self”. It is identified with Purusa (Pure Spirit) and is the instrumental cause of the manifest world. It is also known as Cit – in the sense that it is Universal Consciousness, in contrast with Acit – universal matter which is “without consciousness”. When a part of the Universal Consciousness settles in Universal Matter which it animates – it is called Jiva – personal soul. Therefore, the only difference between man and God is only one of degree, for ultimately they are one in the same way that the space inside a cup is the same as the space outside. Man is a spark of the infinite.
“Maya” = delusion. It is the dividing force in nature which measures out the immeasurable and creates forms in the formless. It has two functions – to conceal the real and to project the unreal. It pervades the universe, but it’s presence is only inferred from its effect.
When nature is in a state of equilibrium, Universal Matter is called Prakrti; but the first disturbance, the first conceived motion away from that original equipoise is called Maya, because there has been no change in substance, but only in form – therefore, it is an illusion. When the universal force called Maya operates in the mind of an individual it is called Avidya (ignorance), especially in the spiritual sense. It is the subjective aspect while Maya is the objective aspect. It is called Avidya (without knowledge), because knowledge will dissipate all the illusions of perception.