What is Vedanta?
Philosophically, Vedanta deals with explanation of Consciousness. As a science, it is the derivation of scientific laws about Consciousness based on the experiences and knowledge of the Seers who have intuitively realized the Truth during their meditation and altered state of consciousness - samadhi. As a religion, Vedanta is the practice based on the combination of the philosophy and science for realizing our real nature as Consciousness.
The philosophy of Vedanta in general, and Advaita Vedanta in particular, maintains that there is only one Reality - Absolute Consciousness (also called as Brahman, Atman, God, or Self). Out of ignorance we perceive this One Reality as multifarious. This cosmic ignorance is called Maya. With spiritual practice one is able to transcend the limitations of body and mind so as to become one with the Reality, to know or experience the Truth. This is the aim of human birth. Scores of great souls have realized the Self in this manner, and of course, it is also our right too. To realize this goal, certain spiritual practices are undertaken known as Yogas, viz. Raja-Yoga, Jnana-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, and Karma-Yoga.
Vedanta As A Science
One encounters certain physical and mental changes in saints and mystics which are not ordinarily found in others. These changes cannot be explained on the present day knowledge of physics, physiology, neurology, or biology. If, however, we label them as unscientific or non-scientific (non-existent!), we fail to honor the definition of science as a "study of body of facts". These facts are experienced by a few persons, observed from time to time by many others and recorded as religious or scriptural books.
In an attempt to verify the authenticity and nature of these facts, they are studied and explanation is sought from prevailing (existing) pool of knowledge for their categorization. Thus a working hypothesis is developed which with added proofs over a period of time, and with refinement of intellect, is accepted as scientific theory. During this whole process the facts do not change, but what changes is their scientific explanation!
Accepted theoretical conclusions are called Laws: 'Laws of Motion', 'Gravitational Laws', and so on and so forth. The science of reason and rationality, as it is called, wants following criteria to be fulfilled for any theory to be labeled as scientific:
- Good observation,
- The public nature of observation,
- The necessity to theorize logically, and,
- Testing of the theory by observable consequences.
Applying these criteria to the study of altered state of consciousness in the lives of Yogis, Saints, and Mystics, one can say that the changes in their lives constitute a "body of facts" and need to be interpreted and theorized according to these rules of science.
Scientists have changed their concepts regarding convictions they thought to be perfect and immutable. For instance:
- Copernicus challenged the knowledge (or faith!) of the scientists previous to him in 'geo-centric' theory and put forward new 'helio-centric' theory.
- One scientist has improved upon the theory of another, as Einstein over Newton, quantum theory over theory of relativity.
- Drugs used in the treatment of high blood pressure are constantly changing; one rated as the perfect one in 1980 is outdated and discarded in 1999 as harmful!
If all such changes and modifications in the knowledge and beliefs in the laws of physical sciences can be accepted as "scientific progress", why should one hesitate to accept the changing concepts about metaphysical truths like samadhi, visions, bhava, etc. in the field of science of spirituality?
And, why not study such phenomena applying the laws of science to these facts and, if need be, create new laws and a new branch of science?
Study of all these observable and documented phenomena constitutes a science: the science of spirituality. Methods one branch of science, say physics, differ from another branch of science, say chemistry. Applying the same logic, the method and laboratory to the study of the science of spirituality will be different; the laboratory may be the human mind, the place an Ashrama, and method the Yoga!
We feel that all these talks on Vedanta and Soul etc. are too esoteric for a common man to understand and realize. We want to 'know' utility of spiritual science vis-a-vis other physical science. We feel that values of compassion, generosity, and love can be cultivated by technological innovations. We feel that effective changes in the socio-political system would help science and economy to grow to a degree where we may be able to generate - produce - values in factories as goods and commodities. But as seen from the world history this has never occurred
and would not be possible in future as well.
Pure science, technological achievements, modern economic theories, and analysis of genetic system are not the source of value-system. Values take birth within the depth dimensions of ourselves: the ever pure Consciousness, The Atman. In the recent years (1893-1902) Swami Vivekananda has brought all these points in a sharp focus during his lectures and talks in America, United Kingdom, and India. Learning and directly experiencing the Truths of Vedanta at the holy feet of his Teacher Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda has contributed immensely in
redefining religion as spiritual science.
- The most important contribution of the New Vedanta is its practicality. It replaces humanitarian ideals of compassion and charity with the spiritual precept of service to the living God dwelling in the hearts of all beings.
- The New Vedanta is available to all regardless of caste, color, or race. Its practice does not require a person to have a male body and Brahmin birth, and to live in the seclusion of the forest.
- The old Vedanta said that one who did not believe in God was an atheist, the new Vedanta says: He who does not believe in himself is an atheist. For the new Vedanta material and spiritual development are conjoined. Work and worship go together. The inner and outer dimension of a person must be balanced in a pleasing harmony. The new approach does not believe in a God who promises a person eternal bliss in heaven but cannot give him bread here. Practical Vedanta is an active spiritual quest - not letting things happen, but causing them to happen.
"Advaita Vedanta would surely be misunderstood if it is thought that it considers the universe unreal in this crude sense (of illusion -maya). It says: 'O man, the world is not what it seems to you now. It is infinitely more glorious, infinitely more real, infinitely more lovable and enjoyable than you take it to be...' What can be more realistic than this? The scientific mind will avidly grasp at this idea. Let us go on and on in our understanding, and the world will at last reveal itself as the embodiment of all that we are consciously and unconsciously seeking for. Only at a certain of our research, we shall have to change the laboratory instruments for the mental instrument, concentration, and then the eternal secret will become patent for ever."
"We thus consider Advaita Vedanta to be the hope of the present age. For it alone can successfully transform the dominant tendencies born of science and, through this, rehabilitate morality and religion. ...The true reconciliation of science and religion lies in their agreement not only in doctrines but also in the mental attitudes implied. Advaita Vedanta fulfills both these conditions. In it lies future of both science and religion, and if it fails nothing will succeed."
(Ref: Swami Ashokananda in "A Call To The Eternal", Advaita Ashrama Calcutta, 1995, pp. 168-9)