Vedanta Philosophy 101

Om - Vedanta Symbol

From an academic standpoint the discipline of Philosophy is often described as – any study or interpretation of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.

Whether you adhere to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, David Hume, Lao Tzu, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Baruch Spinoza, or another, your curiosity and drive to understand the world that we live in; propels your spiritual search.

Complementary, shaped by years of experience with parents, siblings, teachers, co-workers, environment, culture and religion – we all see and interpret the world slightly differently.  Every person’s viewpoint of life can be considered to be their own personal philosophy.

Vedanta philosophy is a Hindu interpretation based partly upon Vedic text and on the teachings as expounded by the Upanishads.  They are not considered to be revealed truths, but instead consist of over 200 commentaries elucidating various aspects of Vedanta.

The principal Upanishads texts are:

Aitareya Upanishad
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
Chandogya Upanishad
Isavasya Upanishad
Katha Upanishad
Kaushitaki Upanishad
Kena Upanishad
Maitri Upanishad
Mandukya Upanishad
Mundaka Upanishad
Prasna Upanishad
Svetasvatara Upanishad
Taittiriya Upanishad

As with most teachings, there are different interpretations and categories of Vedanta Philosophy.  The major schools are …

Advaita Vedanta:
The teachings of Shri Shankara which describe all as Brahman; the absolute timeless Being, which appears as our activity based transitory field of space, time and causation thru the process/power of illusion (Maya).

As taught by Madhwacharya; Brahman, individual souls, and existence (physical, etheric, mental, spiritual time/space) are eternally separate, yet communal units.

Formulated from the teachings of Bhaskara; the individual spirit (Jiva) is both the same and one with Brahman.

Lakshmi Visishtadvaita:
Presented by Sri Srinivasa Deekshitulu; this branch of philosophy considers all things to be sakala (manifested/form) and nishkala (unmanifested/the formless absolute).

As initiated by Vallabha; enlightenment is only possible through the practice of Bhakti (devotion).

As qualified by Ramanuja; individual souls are unique and distinct while inseparable from Brahman.

Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) maintained that, “The endeavor to understand is the first and only basis of virtue, as the human spirit longs to define itself and better understand the world of existence/nonexistence.”

Vedanta philosophy:
Inquiry into the nature of our world; what is eternal and what is the transitory ephemeral  (fleeting world).

Let’s now discuss the central themes of Vedanta.

1. The Non-dual nature of the Ultimate Reality.

Once we find ourselves awake in a human body we begin to perceive various things around us.

As a newborn child we feel the warmth and gentle caress of our mother.  We hear her laughter and can feel the beat of her heart.  The sweet taste of milk satisfies our thirst, as we see her ever loving face. Exposed to the five Tanmatras and aided by our sensory organs, we begin our life’s journey.

Five Tanmatras:
Sabda (sound), Sparsa (touch), Rupa (form), Rasa (taste) and Gandha (smell).

Five Jnana-Indriyas:
Srotra (ear), Tvak (skin), Chakshus (eye), Jihva (tongue), Ghrana (nose).

Five gross elements:
Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether.

Sensations and perceptions are transferred to the human brain via nerve impulses, which in turn, employ the mind to generate an experience.  Cognition consists of integrating the sensory input and all the attributes (smell, form, texture, color, and taste) to project an image in the mind.

We can consider the physical brain to be hardware, while the mind is software.

Kathopanishad gives us a very nice analogy that describes the various characteristics of human life:


Know the soul as lord of a chariot,
the body as the chariot.
Know the intuition as the chariot driver,
and the mind as the reins.
The senses, they say, are the horses;
the objects of sense the paths.
This associated with the body, the senses and the mind,
the wise call ‘the enjoyer.’

Beyond the senses are the objects of sense.
Beyond the objects of sense is the mind.
Beyond the mind is the intuition.
Beyond the intuition is the great soul.
Beyond the great is the unmanifest.
Beyond the unmanifest is Spirit.
Beyond the Spirit there is nothing at all.
That is the end; that is the final goal.

Are the objects of our world real, or simply an illusion?  If there were no awareness, would they even exist?

Space Time Continium

An object exists only if we have knowledge of it.  That implies that there is a knower (Rishi, the inner self), the process of knowing (Devata), and the object of knowing (Chandas).  Objects exist only in the field of space/time.  There is no individuality or distinctiveness anywhere else.  The conveyance of space/time is the mind.  Beyond mind is absolute-bliss-consciousness, Brahman.

We all experience the solidity and apparent reality of our world.  As we meditate over a period of time we experience deeper levels of thought and consciousness.  As that happens the hardness of the world experience softens.

For example, while walking on the beach and enjoying the sun we can take a stick and drag it through the sand. That creates a line or furrow. The harder we press the deeper the channel we create. That line remains in the sand and will stay there until the wind or surf eventually covers it back up. Now take that same stick and swipe it through water. You will notice that it also creates a line, with emanating ripples, but that will not last long. The impression in the water quickly disappears. Now take that same stick and swipe it through air. That also creates a line, we can feel the resulting wind, but that disappears even faster.

As consciousness expands the imprint of experience on the mind becomes less and less. The winds of time and change and their resulting vicissitudes fall more softly on our psyche. Less indelible become their influence. Just as dragging a stick in the sand makes a deep furrow not easily covered up, swiping the stick through the air makes much less of an impression. So to, as our individual consciousness grows the impact of experience softens.

As we continue our meditation practice individual consciousness expands along with personal strength and stability.

But during meditation we can transcend the mind, leave it at the doorstep so to speak, and walk thru the entrance; as the individual self is transformed into the grand eternal reality (Self).  Beyond thought, perception and the three gunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas), lay the everlasting absolute timeless Brahman.  Thou art That.

The three Gunas:
Sattva (light, bliss, goodness), Rajas (passion, motion) and Tamas (inertia, darkness)

But, the superimposition error (Adhyasa) occurs when we take ourselves to be the body-mind-intellect complex, and not the timeless reality.

We depend on our senses, but all too often believe something is real only if we can; hear, touch, see, taste, or smell it.  Science has shown us that  we see less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum (gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, infra-red, microwaves, and radio waves) and hear less than 1% of the acoustic spectrum (radio & TV, 1000 MHz – 50 MHz ).

The universe is an expression of the one Spiritual Reality.

Movement in space creates time, and movement in time creates space.

The absolute (Purusha) and relative universe (Prakriti) is the non-dual nature of existence/nonexistence.  Purusha is the clock maker, while Prakriti is the ticking clock (space/time continuum). Purusha is non material, yet by sleight of hand allows Prakriti (matter) to appear.  The one allows itself to appear as the many.  Thus, the drama of life is begun.

2. The Divinity of each Soul.

Within each person resides the divine essence, found at the core of your innermost being.

Human life offers the opportunity to unfold the unbounded reality, found within every man, women and child.  The goal of life is to manifest this purity into all aspects of empirical activity.  The divine soul aspect (One) is silence, while the expressed world (individuality) is activity.

Because we are a reflection of the absolute, timeless and without borders, we have the strength and urge to pursuit freedom and bliss.  That drive is embedded in everyone’s heart.

Vedanta acknowledges six valid means of knowledge:

The Pramanas are:
Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison), Agama (scripture), Arthapatti (presumption), Anupalabdhi (non-apprehension).

According to the “Uthara Memamsa” of Vyasa Maharshi, we all share similar traits.

•  Thru the deception of Maya we take on individual form, name, and action. The unmanifest seemingly projects itself as the material space/time continuum.

•  The individual soul (Jiva) remains in ignorance (not knowing, Avidya) of its true nature.

•  The cause of bondage and suffering is due to Nescience, which is lack of knowledge and awareness.

•  Liberation is the experience of supreme bliss, identification with the absolute, and the cessation of all suffering due to Nescience.  Direct knowledge (experiential) of the Supreme Self reveals the Non-duality of silence, thought and experience.

Karma literally means “action.”  We can also describe its broader implication that elicits “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  In the West, this is often referred to as the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

From the standpoint of the science, Sir Isaac Newton stated in his 3rd Law of Motion, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Vedanta philosophy embraces a broader concept of Karma, and uses it to explain the inequalities and fortunes/misfortunes of human life.  Why is one person born blind or with an affliction, while another person is not?  By coupling karma with reincarnation it is rationalize that blindness at birth is a consequence of negative behavior in a prior lifetime.

From the standpoint of the non-dual absolute reality, there is no positive or negative, only what is and what comes next.  A volcanic eruption or earthquake is the result of natural plate tectonic motion.  If we don’t get in the way, we don’t assign significance to the event.

The moon Io which orbits the planet Jupiter is the most volcanically active place in our Solar System.  And yet, since these eruptions and the resulting outcropping of poisonous gasses do not affect human life, we remain indifferent.

We assign attributes (good, bad, etc.) based upon whether the event is perceived to be beneficial or not, for human survival and the search for happiness.

When we throw a stone into a lake, circular ripples emanate for the point of impact and travel outward.  As the wave moves its intensity diminishes by the square of the distance.  At twice the distance from impact, the intensity is 1/4th of the original amount.  At four times the distance from impact, the intensity is 1/16th of the original amount. The influence of human action albeit reaches to the ends of the Universe. The affects of Karma are unfathomable.

We act in this world by way of bodies (spiritual, causal, emotional, etheric and physical), animated by the forces of nature:

The five Pancha Karmendriyas, Organs of Action:
Upastha (creative), Paayu (elimination), Paada (foot), Paani (hand), Vaak (speech).

The five Pancha Jnaanendriyas, Organs of Cognition:
Ghraana (nose, organ of smelling), Rasanaa (tongue, organ of tasting), Cakshu (eye, organ of seeing), Tvak (skin, organ of touching), Shrotra (ear, organ of hearing)

This world is but the play and display of consciousness.

I-ness and mine-ness bind you to the wheel of Samsara. Destroy these notions and identify yourself with the Atman, the non-doer.

Upon reaching Enlightenment, these forces still continue to act and karma returns as it must.  However, established in Satchidanada (being, awareness and bliss), you are now beyond the binding influences of karma.  Sitting as the silent witness, the world of play takes place as a movie on a screen.  You remain untouched and beyond any sphere of influence.  Unborn, eternal, everlasting, you are one with the non-dual reality.

3. The Oneness of Existence.

Swami Sivananda states in his Moksha Gita, “That which is neither subtle nor dense, which has neither caste nor name, which is immutable, immortal and bodiless, which is beyond the reach of mind and speech, that should be understood as Brahman.”

This is also an essential teaching of the Upanishad texts.

And yet we all verify that the multi-universe that we live in seems not to be that at all.  We are bound by time and space, live individual lives fraught with suffering and momentary happiness.

How does the One seemingly become the many?

The term Maya is used to describe the projecting aspect/power of the One to simulate the appearance of the many.  Thru Maya the unreal appears to be real.  As such Prakriti projects itself into movable entities.  Under the cloak of Maya we are in bondage to forms, objects, ideas, and actions.

Maya consists of Avarana-Sakti (the veiling power) and Vikshepa-Sakti (the projecting power).

Commenting on the principle of Maya, Shankara has said,  “Like the appearance of silver in mother of pearl, the world seems real until the Self, the underlying reality, is realized.”

The great poet Mevlana Rumi (1207 – 1273) has said, “Oh! joy for he who has escaped from this world of perfumes and color!  For beyond these colors and these perfumes, there are other colors in the heart and the soul.”

Thru the work of Prakriti individuation flourishes and continues to expand into ever more multifarious forms.

From Maya are born …

Two apparent realities from the One:
Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter).

The distinction between the Self and the self:
Atman (the Self) and Jiva (individual self).

The five Pranas, vital forces:
Prana (respiration), Apana (elimination of body waste), Vyana (circulation of blood and support of the nervous system), Udana (supports standing tall and production of sounds; speech), Samana (digestion and assimilation).

The six Sat Kancukas, coverings:
Niyati (limitation of place), Kaala (limitation of time), Raaga (limitation of attachment), Vidyaa (limitation of knowledge), Kalaa (limitation of creativity), and Maayaa (limitation of individuality).

The three Antahkaranas, inner instruments:
Manas (emotional mind), Buddhi (intellect), and Ahamkaara (ego connected with objectivity).

The six Bhava-Vikaras, modifications of the body:
Asti (existence), Jayate (birth), Vardhate (growth), Viparinamate (change), Apa­kshiyate (decay), Vinasyati (death).

The six Vairies, enemies:
Kama (passion), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (infatuation or delusion), Mada (pride), Matsarya (jealousy).

The four human conflicts:
Individual (conflict within one’s own self between reason and feeling, emotions and understanding), Social (conflict with human society), Environment (conflict with nature), and Cosmic (how and why is all of this here).

From and intellectual and logic standpoint, we can also make an argument that existence is One:

•  The knower of change is changeless; otherwise there could be no awareness or knowledge of change.

•  Awareness of individuality and distinction is possible only if consciousness itself is not divided, and does not change with change.

… thus we can say that changeless consciousness, which is the unaffected and undivided witness of all change, is the ultimate Reality.

Greater exposure and assimilation of pure consciousness thru meditation breaks the bonds of Maya and incorrect self identification.

The veil of Maya is lifted when liberation (moksha, enlightenment) is gained.  Thru the continued practice of meditation you can pierce the cloud of illusion and see for yourself that Maya is not a fanciful concept, but does indeed obscure that fact that existence is one.

4. The Harmony of the higher Religions.

World Religions

Religions are the concept of mankind.  To the extent that they point to and guide people toward correct understanding and experience, they may be valid.

Rules, creeds, ceremonies, symbols, doctrines, faith and holy books, can be the outer trappings of a universal message tailored to suit specific peoples at different times.

Religions are often centered around a Proponent, Book and Building. The leader of a new religion may expound wisdom, grace and divinity from their level of consciousness, but over time the message is diluted and becomes ineffectual. That’s because followers are not at the same level of consciousness as the leader; so the full wisdom of the teaching is perceived and interpreted in a distorted manner.

Some religious leaders are more divine than others.  Some preach compassion and universal brotherhood, while others preach obedience to their God thru submission and the sword.  Some leaders turn the other cheek and forgive all, while others lead armies of conquest and subjugation, beheading all those who stand in the way.

All those who believe that their God is the one and only true God, have deluded themselves due to ego and culture identification.

A true religion is one that proclaims the universal message of peace, and displays unconditional love toward all people.  If non-judgmental and accepting of all that is, it may deem worthy of your study.


Having gained Enlightenment the knower of reality has transcended the teaching of Vedanta Philosophy.  It has served as a valuable bridge to cross the gap and shed the prior life of unknowing.

Close your eyes and meditate every day.  Expand your conscious awareness and loving heart.  Contribute to society and help pave the way toward a peaceful world.

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 25th, 2012 at 4:18 pm and is filed under Knowledge. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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