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The Origin of Vedanta
Simon: I have a question I would like to ask you.
I am wondering about the source of the teachings I am reading about in James’ book. I would like to get a book and be able to read and connect with them. I have come across the names – Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. Could you help me to understand about the teachings and how I can get a good book on them? I can use the internet to order the books, so the name of the author would be helpful.
Sundari: No one person wrote the scriptures of Vedanta. It is an office which passes on to different people in a lineage called the sampradaya. Authorship does not belong to anyone, because the self wrote them. Vedanta is also called The Science of Consciousness because, like any science, its principles and revelations are based on unbiased knowledge which is independent of personal opinion.
The Upanishads for the most part are not ascribed to any one person, although sometimes some of them are referenced by an author. Authorship has no bearing on what they are imparting, because it is the timeless knowledge of the self.
The Bhagavad Gita is part of the Mahabharata, ostensibly written by Vedavyasa.
The Brahma Sutras are a collection of intellectual discourses regarding very subtle issues and were collected and published by Badarayana. They are complicated discussions which are not really necessary for most inquirers to read as part of their sadhana.
We encourage inquirers to read as many of the sacred texts as possible, but unless you have then unfolded by a qualified teacher, they will be interpreted through the filters of your conditioning. You cannot “study” Vedanta.
Vedanta is a doctrinal teaching at the end of the Vedas, which are the sacred, impersonal and eternal scriptures of Hindu tradition. There are four Vedas; the first three pertain to the person living in the world, covering different aspects of physical life and obtaining desired results. They are for the person identified with being a person, the doer who thinks they can accomplish fulfilment of their desires through right action, which it can, to some degree.
The fourth and last Veda deals exclusively with the true nature of reality and negates the doer. As you know, Vedanta’s main teachings are found in the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The Vedas form the ancient tradition called the Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Way), which originated in what is now called India, but was once called Bharat, meaning the Land of Light – or “The people who uphold righteousness” – between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago. This point has been argued by many scholars but most agree that the Vedas are at least 3,500 old, making Vedanta the oldest scriptural teaching on the planet.
Although Vedanta originates from Vedic culture, the basic teaching is universal in that its fundamental principle is that reality is a non-duality as opposed to a duality. It reveals that there is only one principle operating, in which everything has its origin and is made up of, and that is consciousness. Therefore Vedanta in essence is not specific to any culture, race or religion, as consciousness does not “belong” to anyone in particular. It is who we are because there is only consciousness.
The methodology or means of knowledge Vedanta uses to teach was developed and perfected by the Indian culture, most recently by Sri Adi Shankaracharya in the eighth century AD, and is accredited to Hinduism. Vedanta spread throughout the East, influencing the spiritual traditions of the whole of the Indochina Archipelago. In spite of India being taken over by many invaders over the millennia, the British in particular more recently, all of whom attempted to conquer India by cutting at the very foundation of her culture and spiritual tradition, the Sanatana Dharma is nonetheless still alive and well, informing the culture of modern day India and spreading throughout the rest of the world.
Vedanta is unlike any other known doctrinal or scriptural knowledge in that it is not the revealed “word” of an exalted deity as interpreted by man, nor the contention of any person or persons. Vedanta is also referred to as apauruseya jnanum, meaning revealed knowledge of divine origin. It is thousands of years old and has been handed down through the ages to a long line of qualified teachers, called the sampradaya. Vedantic scriptures are called sruti, “that which is heard.” Sruti is knowledge that is revealed to the human mind, not interpreted by it. A good example of revealed knowledge is Einstein’s “discovery” of the laws of relativity; or gravity; or Thomas Edison’s “invention” of electrical applications. Discover means to uncover. Gravity and the law of relativity describe how the world works according to the laws of physics. Einstein did not invent gravity or relativity. Edison did not invent electricity either; it was always here, until it was “discovered.” Gravity, relativity and electricity all function the same way whether they are understood or not, nor do they care whether you believe in them or not. It is the same with self-knowledge: it is always here, right in front of our noses and it is not changed by our ignorance of it. Because we are blinded by ignorance, i.e. duality, we do not see it.
Vedanta Is Not a Belief System
Even though the means of knowledge Vedanta uses originates in Hinduism, Vedanta is not a belief system, a religion or a philosophy, as it is often portrayed and thought to be by those who do not understand it. All beliefs and philosophical ideas are subjective interpretations based on dualistic thinking (ignorance). Self-knowledge is not personal truth. It is the Truth that consciousness, the Creator, the creation and the individual are one, although they exist in apparently different orders of reality. Vedanta is called a “brahma vidya,” the Science of Consciousness, because it is the science of life insofar as life is consciousness. Vedanta predates all known religious or philosophical paths because it is based on the irreducible and irrefutable logic of human experience, albeit it unexamined. This experience has always been the same, in spite of changing conditions and in spite of the fact that consciousness is not understood by most.
The main purpose of Vedanta is not to explain the creation. However, one cannot understand the true nature of reality without examining and understanding the creation and the forces that run it. Vedanta deconstructs the creation in the light of self-knowledge, the knowledge of consciousness. Like other sciences Vedanta is an objective and scientific analysis of the facts, not a personal or philosophical theory of life. Its main aims are to prove that non-dual consciousness is the nature of reality and to reveal that the self is consciousness. Vedanta dissolves the subject-object split – by revealing the belief that the subject (consciousness) and the objects you experience are two different things – is false.
I have attached an excellent book for you that we have just published, called Vedanta: The Big Picture. We paid a professional writer to transcribe Swami Paramarthananda’s brilliant discourses explaining the methodology of Vedanta. It is now in very simple and accessible English without changing any of the meaning.
I scrolled down to the end of the thread of emails you sent to ShiningWorld. I am not sure if the questions you posed in your first email where ever answered. Is this so? It is possible that your email slipped through the cracks; as we have so many people we are coaching from all over the world, our workload is huge. It is impossible to remember everyone we write to. Anyway, if they were not answered and you would like me to do so, I am happy to oblige.
~ Love, Sundari