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Vedanta Knowledge and How to Apply it

A Talk

This material is offered to introduce Vedantic ideas to Westerners and as help to the path. The numbers in square brackets below are page references to the book Children of Immortal Bliss. Book data is furnished below. (1)

Parts of the material for this text is derived from lectures given at the University of Guelph, School of Continuing Studies, in Ontario, Canada. [vii] (2)

Many in the West want understanding of how to apply Vedantic seminal ideas – this great legacy to the world – in ordinary, human affairs, to apply this knowledge well. [x, ix] (3)

The core Vedantic ideas contain the views of of unity of existence, and that real Truth is universal, and not individually formed, but from the divine and indwelling presence somehow. [ix, x] (6)

So can we possibly apply carefully structured Vedanta insights of the best ancient teachings in our day-to-day lives so as not to end up as miserables near the end of our days? See for yourself. This presentation is intended to convey the core concepts of the Vedantic thought of India in such as way that not just talk, but practical applications stand out as possible. [vii] (7) 

Writings, Author

"The Bhagavad Gita – featuring Krishna, the most celebrated of avatars, as the central character – is the most popular scripture in India. It is the gospel of Hinduism, more popular than the Upanishads. However, the Upanishads may be considered slightly more prestigious than the Bhagavad Gita since they are older and the source of its teachings. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna quotes from the Upanishads to support his own teachings," write Anna and Paul Hourihans. [9]

Sanskrit is ancient language in which the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics and very many other texts of Hinduism were written. [7]

Divine incarnations are considered embodiments of the universal in teachings of Hinduism. One discerns between full embodiments, partial embodiments, and embodiments of greatly admirable qualities, such as joy. [5]

Another tenet of Vedanta is reincarnation. [5] (2)

The Brahma Sutras, also called Vedanta Sutras, are another important part of the Vedantic structure. They present the Vedantic teachings in a stringent order. [8] (3)

Krishna quotes from Upanishads in the Bhagavad Gita, and some Upanishads borrow from other Upanishads. Borrowing tales and other material and perhaps rewriting parts to suit one's orientations, was much common in the old days. this goes to say: The fact that reincarnation is a topic in some scriptures, does not necessarily mean that all the writers of those scriptures had direct knowledge into it. This is to say: Some have direct experience and others repeat statements.

Sanskrit scriptures that some of us up North treasure are not read by the majority of Hindus. Hindus have their own popular religion and scriptures that have been transmitted orally over many centuries. Very many oral renderings have come down to us because of the reverence for the teaching transmitted. For example, all of Buddha's vast teachings were first transmitted orally only. [7] (4)

Other scriptures include the Purana texts. Purana in Sanskrit means "of ancient times". Eighteen Puranas are considered more important than the others - which outnumber the eighteen or so by far. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Puranas"] [8]

In Puranas, stories of the lives of heroes, saints, sages, are blended with legends, and come down to us along with many valuable teachings that we may also find in the philosophical Vedanta works. The two world-famous epics of India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, are included in the Puranas. Both are of great length – each twice as long as the Bible – and are popular favorites. [9]

Ordinary people don't treasure the time they have, not enough, to go deeply into Self, to make great use of the opportunity of self-explorations that a human life tends to be. [8] (5)

So from ancient times, scriptures in Sanskrit have been handed down through the ages in an almost flawless transmission.* India is a subcontinent that has a very old, looming, unbroken mystical tradition - a longstanding tradition. [7]

Vedanta accepts the personal God, [5]

The Vedanta philosophy consists chiefly of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras or Vedanta Sutras. [3] (6)

Avatar, as some believe) Sri Ramakrishna. [6] (7)

Shankara was one of the chief commentators of the nondualistic or advaita Vedanta, He drew on the long Vedic tradition that was even in his time many centuries old. Shankara was the philosopher who wrote commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, as well as writing independent works. [5]

Rama, Krishna and Buddha have been and are worshiped by millions of people worldwide. [5]

Vedanta postulates among other things: "Truth is One; Sages call it by different names." - in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is not a spoken language, but it has an immense prestige in India to this day. Besides, Hinduism is not completed, but is open-ended. [4, 7, 4] (8) 

Rama and Krishna

Rama and Krishna are great ideals to most Hindus. Rama was Gandhi's ideal. Gandhi's last words as he lay dying, shot by a Hindu, were "Rama, Rama".

Gandhi also said, another time, "My God is Truth . . . There is no god higher than Truth." He sought to live the Truth for a long time. Gandhi's God was Truth, and the God of Vedanta is Truth. But Gandhi worshiped Rama. So privately he was a devotional person, he too. Gandhi, like other Hindus, and perhaps like us, can be devotional as well as philosophical. Thus, we have feelings as well as thoughts. Both may stand in need of being cultivated. [10]

Other Hindus, such as Shankara and Vivekananda, are typically that way. They are powerful thinkers, "full of Vedanta", and yet worshipers also. And some keep their religious practices and leanings a private matter. Not all great teachers are like that, but the Great Truth is Truthland deep within at any rate. [10]

Mahabharata

What does Mahabharata mean? "Maha" means great and "Bharata" refers to India. Bharata was the ancient name of the first king of India – so it's a story of the great Bharata's descendents, and their wars and struggles with each other. This semi-historical epic includes many good stories, legends and myths. Embedded in it is also the Bhagavad Gita. Shankara singled out this "song of the Lord" and polished it for the rest of the world to appreciate. [9]

Ramayana and the Great Valmiki

The Ramayana, which translates as the "Travels of Rama," or just as well "Rama's"goings", or Rama's advancements", follows a noble hero figure, Rama of Ayodha. His wife Sita was abducted by a demon king of Lanka. but Rama raised an army of bears and monkeys to build a bridge to Lanka, fight the demon armies, and get her back. However, her name had been sullied by her being captured by another, so she was put through much more after the couple came back to Ayodhya, where Rama was crowned king with Sita by his side. For it soon became evident that some people in Ayodhya could not accept that Sita had lived as a captive of another. An intemperate washer man, while berating his wayward wife, declared that he was "no pusillanimous Rama who would take his wife back after she had lived in the house of another man". This statement was reported back to Rama. He would not let slander undermine his rule, so he drove Sita out. Sita was forced into exile while pregnant. [9]

She was rescued by sage Valmiki, the ascribed author of Ramayana, and India's "first poet".

The Uttara Khanda tells how Valmiki in his early life was a highway robber who used to rob people before killing them. Robbing people who passed by was the only source of income for him; the means of supporting his family. But one day when he wanted to rob and kill a sage who passed by, the sage asked him if his family would share in the sins he committed. Valmiki tied the sage to a tree to make him stay in that same spot until he was back. Then he asked his parents if they were with him on the sin that he was doing. They would not share the burdens of sin. His wife said the same thing.

Valmiki then returned to the tied-up sage and fell to his feet and asked him to help him get rid of the sins he had committed. The sage told him to repeat Rama's name; that would assist him. Then Valmiki sat down and meditated on Rama for so long that an anthill grew up around him. But at last he was so cleansed that he was called Valmiki, 'one who sits in an anthill', in Sanskrit.

Valmiki used to walk down to the river Ganges for his daily cleansings afterwards. One day as he walked down to the waters along with a disciple who carried his clothes, a stream drew Valmiki's attention. He said to his disciple, "Look, how clear is this water, like the mind of a good man!"

When he was looking for a suitable place to step into the stream, he heard the sweet chirping of birds. Looking up, he saw two birds flying together. Valmiki felt very pleased on seeing the happy birds. All of a sudden the male of the couple fell down, hit by an arrow. His mate screamed in agony. Valmiki looked around to find out who had shot the bird, saw a hunter with a bow and arrows, nearby, and became very angry. He uttered words in a metre, a verse:

You will find no rest from now on:
You killed an unsuspecting bird in love.

This, we are told, was the first verse in Sanskrit literature. You may add a pinch of salt to the great and well-loved tale if you like - it hardly takes anything impressive from it. [Compare the Kalama Sutta] Valmiki was a renowned poet and holy hermit when he gave Sita refuge in his hermitage. There she delivered twin sons. In the hermitage, Sita raised her sons as a single mother. They grew up to be eventually united with their father. Once she had witnessed that her children were accepted by Rama, Sita sought release from the grave injustices that had come her way after being wed to an avatar. Her life had rarely been happy. The earth gave way and split open and swallowed Rama's crowned and exiled wife. While sinners around Moses in the Old Testament were swallowed by the earth as terrible punishment, the idea is that Sita passed on to a better world. Well, "Seeing is believing."

As for what is punishment and what is reward, what is going down or going to a better world, the story of lovely Sita blurs the boundaries between religion, mythology, history and fiction. However, in Hinduism, Sita represents the ideal daughter, ideal wife, and ideal mother, an ideal who needs support.

Like the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana has many important teachings incorporated in the story, and the handed-over stories about ascribed authors of books like these wto - – Vyasa and Valmiki – can be utterly rewarding reading too, as a lot of the splendid figuring in Hinduism rests on labours ascribed to them. [9] 

The lot of a human: Incorporated in injustices are their punishments to surface in time, unless something untoward happens. Old plots meddle with these balances and may add to the bad things in store for those it may concern - can you believe that? - TK

Contents


Vedanta for Westerners and others, Literature  

Chatterjee, Satischandra, and Dhirendramohan Datta. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. Rupa Publications, New Delhi 2007.

Ganguli, K., tr. The Mahabharata. Vols 1-12. 4th ed. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981.

Hodgkinson, Brian. The Essence of Vedanta. London: Arcturus, 2006.

Mascaró, Juan, tr. Buddha's Teachings. London: Penguin, 1995. — [Dhammapada]

Mascaró, Juan, tr. The Bhagavad Gita. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962.

Mascaró, Juan, tr. The Upanishads. London: Penguin Books, 1965.

Mason, Paul. The Biography of Guru Dev: The Life and Teachings of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath (1941-53). Vol 2. Penzance, Cornwall: Premanand, 2009.

Mazumdar, Shudra, tr. Ramayana. Calcutta: Orient Longman, 1958.

Shastri, Hari Prasad, tr. Ramayana of Valmiki. Vols 1-3. London: Shanti Sadan. Vol 1: 2nd rev. ed. 1962; Vol 2: 1957; Vol 3, 1st ed. 1959.

Subramaniam, Kamala, tr. Mahabharata. Bombay: Bharatiya Book University, 1982. Subramaniam, Kamala. Ramayana. Bombay: Bharatiya Book University, 1983.

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