In ancient times, people lived holistic lives. They didn’t overemphasize the intellect, but integrated the mind, body, and spirit in all things. This allowed them to become masters of knowledge rather than victims of ideas. If a new invention appeared, they looked for the troubles it might cause as well as the shortcuts it offered. They valued old ways that had been proven effective, and they valued new ways if they could be proven effective.

 

Indian philosophy is one of the oldest philosophies that have come down to us. Hinduism is the name used in the West to designate the traditional structure of the Indian people. Those Indians who are not followers of the distinct teachings of Islam, Jainism or Sikhism are generally referred to as “Hindus.” In India this religious complex is called Sanatana-dharma, “the eternal religion”. For centuries it has incorporated all aspects of truth, found in nature. Hinduism, as a religion, is based on mythology, and not on a founder such as, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity.

 

I repeat, Sanatana-dharma or “the eternal religion”, of Hinduism is not derived from a human founder. It is truth that was revealed to the seers, saints and poets of ancient times, by highly evolved beings. This truth is of divine origin. The ancient seers compiled these revelations into Holy Scriptures. The holy texts are extensive. Some of it is known to us are the Vedas. These consist of the Samhitas which are ritual in the sense of becoming one with the higher Self, the Brahmanas are sacrificial, to be of service to the Higher Self and then there are the Upanishads which are dynamic, active, in the pursuit of knowledge. The Vedas and the Upanishads were followed by other sacred texts, the Ramayana and Mahabharata containing the famous, Bhagavad-Gita. These texts were later followed by the Puranas which are made up out of the abstract teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads. Through the passing of time they have become more accessible to the people. The Upanishads are for the Vedas what the New Testament is for the Bible. A lot of these sacred texts have been irretrievably lost to us.

 

Orthodox Hinduism is divided into six schools or darshanas.

 

1) the Nyaya (Logical School) or common sense school;

2) the Vaiseshika a metaphysical school (Atomistic School the cosmic Spirit manifests in innumerable atoms and molecules);

3) the Sankhya, one of the oldest, associated with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita;

4) the Yoga school, the union of the lower self with the Higher self;

5) the Purva-Mima-nsa is critical explanation or interpretation (First Vedantic School); and

6) the Uttara-Mima-nsa another critical explanation or interpretation (Latter or Superior Vedantic School).

 

They are all connected together by intimate links of philosophical principles and postulates. These six schools were founded by the great Indian thinkers. They help us understand accurately the full nature of the universe and of the entire human constitution as an entity.

 

Through the centuries, high philosophies, sciences and religions have been degraded. This is due to the misunderstanding and wrong interpretation of information that has been passed down to us. For example, recent survey has found that there are at present over 41,000 Christian dominations, and still more to come!! In a following article, I will try to explain the development of the Western esoteric traditions in Europe.

 

Indian development has also had its degradation through the centuries. For example, the caste system, which originally was a profound observation about the four major groupings of humanity as seekers for Truth, has been sorrowfully abused since the time of the writing of the Bhagavad Gita. But unlike the West with its various languages, the Hindu texts were written down in Sanskrit, an ancient language that has remained pure. Vedanta literally means “end of the Vedas”. Practically speaking, Vedanta is taken from these Holy Scriptures, mainly the Upanishads. Vedanta is a mystical branch of Indian philosophy. In its pure form, it has the strongest support for morality. It is the greatest comfort for the sufferings of life and death. Vedanta are the reflections about the essential nature of things. The spiritual heritage of India is both vast and rich.

 

There are three main interpretations of Vedanta, the Dvaita or dualistic, the Vishishtadvaita or qualified-non-dualistic and the Advaita the non-dualistic. The largest number of people in India follow the dualistic interpretation, and the followers of the non-dualistic school are comparatively few in number. The dualistic interpretation is more general and is due to the slow development of human understanding. The non-dualistic is a little more difficult and esoteric. It gives a better understanding of the sacred scriptures. In Buddhism there is something similar with the ‘Eye Doctrine’ followed by the majority of ritual and devotion, and the ‘Heart Doctrine’ of deep esoteric philosophy necessary to be lived, but followed by relatively few devotees.

 

To explain this difference, there is a story in Mundaka Upanishad that runs like this:

 

Once upon a time there were two birds in a tree, one at the upper branch, serene, majestic and divine, and the other at a lower branch, restlessly pecking fruits, sometimes sweet sometimes bitter. Every time, when the restless bird ate a bitter fruit, it looked at the upper bird and climbed a branch up. This occurred a number of times and eventually the lower bird reached the topmost branch. There it was not able to differentiate itself from the divine bird, and then it learned that there was only one bird in the tree, the upper bird, which is described as divine, the real form of the other restless bird. This is the thought of Vedanta. The fruits in the story are Karma, the restless bird denotes a human soul, and the majestic bird denotes the Absolute.   – From Wikipedi.

 

All the Vedantists agree on three points. They believe in God, in the Vedas as sacred revelation, and in cycles. The cyclic belief is as follows: All matter throughout the universe is the outcome of one primordial matter called ākāsa; and all force or energy is the outcome of one primordial force called prāna. Prāna acting on ākāsa creates or projects the universe. At the beginning of a cycle of activity, ākāsa is motionless, unmanifested. Then prāna begins to act, gradually creating grosser and grosser forms of ākāsa. The plants, animals, people, the stars and so on are formed. After an incalculable time this evolution ceases and involution begins. Everything becomes finer and finer going back into the original ākāsa and prāna. Both can be resolved into a third thing called mahat, the cosmic mind. This is beyond them. Cosmic mind does not create ākāsa and prāna, but changes itself into them.  

 

In the cosmology of Vedanta, there is a distinction between transcendental reality Parabrahman and Brahman, the creator of the phenomenal world, called Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Parabrahman is a vast cosmic ocean from which all arises. It is not an individual in the sense of a creator, or a being. Evolution is a finite process or karma. The Advaita Vedanta, which resemble closely the teachings of Theosophy, teaches that in the heart of our hearts we are Parabrahman. Each atom has an illusory garment that they wear, but its fundamental essence is Parabrahman. Vedanta is a tolerant system of belief. It says that everything is God. All is one so don’t condemn others.

 

Vedanta has a theory of error and a theory of knowledge. The theory of error is perceptual illusions. In our mistaken perception of seeing a rope for a snake. This is phenomenal, the rope really exists, but our mind thinks it is a snake. Advaita frequently uses this analogy. The theory of knowledge falls into two categories. 1. Empirical knowledge derived from perception, inference and verbal testimony. This is conventional relating to the phenomenal world. 2. Transcendental knowledge, the goal of the spiritual seeker. This is ultimate truth, attaining to enlightenment. In a higher state of consciousness, we break through our individuality and see our divine essence. Brahma is real, ‘Unborn, unchanging, eternal and primeval.’ One without a second.

 

So how does Cosmic Mind which is unchangeable, manifest into something that is changeable and perishable? This is called Vivartavada or apparent manifestation. The universe is only an apparent evolution of God. Here again is the famous illustration of this that recurs constantly in Vedanta. The idea that when we see a rope at dusk, lying in the grass, our mind mistakes this rope for a snake. The result is we become afraid, this is due to our misconception. This is how we perceive a world of diversity. It is because we are ignorant of our true nature of reality.

 

There are a couple of mystical examples from the Vedanta teachings, found in the Upanishads that I would like to quote. In the Kaustaki Upanishad, the teacher Ajatasatru and his pupil Balaki, while walking they stumbled upon a sleeping man. Ajatasatru said to the sleeping man:

 

“O great one! O bright-robed one! O King Soma!” But the man remained sleeping, until Ajatasatru pricked him with his stick. Only then did the sleeping man stand up. Ajatasatru asks his pupil Balaki; “Where was this man just now while he was sleeping?” But Balaki did not know, so Ajatasatru told him. “In man there are arteries which are called Hita (salutarily active, beneficent). These arise out of the heart and surround the heart pouch or pericardium. These arteries are so fine, like a hair split a thousand times. They are filled with fluids of various colours, red, brown, yellow, white and dark. In these finely filled arteries one stays when one is asleep.”

 

Long before the days of the electron microscope, the ancients already knew about the tiniest arteries in the physical body.

 

Another quote from the Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.14, when describing the God in us:

 

“The sun does not shine there, nor the moon or the stars,

Nor does lightening, let alone the earthly fire.

He, alone, shines and all others shine after Him,

The whole world shines by his shining splendour.”

 

The religion of ancient India had a scientific basis, similar in many ways to concepts of modern Western Quantum Physics. The ancients were aware of the subtle principle underlying all things.

 

One more example of the subtlety of the scripture is found in the Bhagavad Gita, 9, 4-5:

 

“All this universe is pervaded by me in my invisible form;

All beings exist in me, but I do not exist in them.

Nor are all things in me; behold this, my divine mystery:

Myself causing things to exist and supporting them all

But dwelling not in them.

Understand that all things are in me

Even as the mighty air which passes everywhere is in space.

 

O son of Kunti, at the end of a Kalpa

All things return unto my nature, and then, again

 At the beginning of another Kalpa, I cause them to evolve again.

Taking control of my own nature

I emanate again and again

This whole assemblage of beings, without their will,

By the power of the material essence.”

 

 

There is but one Spirit and not several. We cannot live for ourselves alone, because there is no such thing as separateness. Take us humans for example. We are beings that are born, and after a while we die, as a result we are imperfect. Throughout beginningless and endless time we will be running the eternal cyclic rounds of the developing and unfolding of what is in us, constantly more, and more. But the Spirit is beginningless and without an end. Another important thought is that there is no escaping the collective karma of the human race.

 

There were several great teachers of Vedanta. Two of them are its most famous for the West. Firstly there was Shankara-acarya who was born about 510 B.C. He only lived to be 32 years old. In a mystical way he was esoterically the successor of the Buddha. Owing to his extraordinary capacities he accomplished many great spiritual works for humanity. Like the Buddha he saw and knew the universe face to face. Recent discoveries have found that Shankara did not found Advaita Vedanta, but he was one of its most famous teachers.

 

He argued that knowing is not an act, and that actions cannot remove ignorance. For example to milk a cow, someone has to have the right instruments and make an effort; but knowing a cow, no effort is required. All that is needed is the presence of the cow and the appropriate organs of cognition. False knowledge is mistaking a rope for a snake. We can correct this error by being aware the thing is a rope and not a snake. No amount of activity will correct this error unless it produces the correct awareness. Actions cannot remove ignorance, that’s why wisdom is higher than actions. By meditating we gain more wisdom than by reading or study. Although combining the two, meditation and study, is better.

 

The other great teacher of Advaita Vedanta of modern times was Swami Vivekanada. He was born in 1863, he too died at an early age of 39 years. He made the teachings more accessible to the West. By his understanding of the difficulties of modern English words, he was able to convey the difficult ancient Hindu meanings into accessible and readable English. He argued that there are three things necessary for knowledge.  Instinct, reason and inspiration. Instinct belongs to animals, Reason to man and Inspiration to God-Men. The lower develop into the higher. In humans, instinct has developed into reason, and reason into inspiration.

 

He addressed the question on how the Infinite and Absolute, can become the Finite? The Absolute (a) becomes the Universe (b), meaning everything that exists, visible and invisible.  It does this by coming through space, time and causation (c). Time, space and causation are the glass through which the Absolute is seen from the lower side, the universe.  In the Absolute there is neither, time, space nor causation. The idea of time cannot be there because there is no mind or thought. The idea of space cannot be there, seeing that here is no external change. What we call motion and causation cannot exist where there is only One. What we call causation begins after the degeneration of the Absolute into the phenomenal world and not before. Our will, desire and all these other things always come after that.

 

 

Time, space and causation are described as Maya or illusion. In other words here we mistake the rope for a snake. We see the phenomenal world as the real world, not realizing that all life is momentary. Truth is in the unchanging ever present All as beautifully illustrated in the following quote found in the Svetasvatara Upanishad, 4. 1.

 

“The One who, himself without colour,

By manifold application of his power

Distributes many colours in his hidden purpose,

And into whom, its end and its beginning,

The whole world dissolves ― He is God!

May he endow us with clear intellect!”

 

               

Does all this matter for daily life here and now?

 

Hinduism is really a way of life rather than a religion, as pointed out at the beginning of this article. Discussion of the Vedanta can get pretty complicated at times, so what does all this philosophy mean for us here and now and living in the Western world.

               

          The same qualities of the ‘Higher Self’ encouraged by the different schools of Vedanta should be manifest in everyday life: humility, patience, tolerance, understanding, compassion, love – all of what is generally recognized the world over as being the finest human qualities.

 

          Essentially this means living outside of our own lower-ego fulfilment and becoming less personal as spiritual awareness grows.

 

          We should turn our energies ‘upwards’ towards compassion, rather than ‘downwards’ towards desire for personal benefit.

 

          We should generally become ‘other-centred’ rather than ‘selfish’ in our daily behaviour.

 

          This doesn’t mean abandoning looking after ourselves or our immediate family – this quality in Hinduism being called, ‘Artha’, or material welfare; and we should also develop spiritual discrimination of what is right or wrong for us in any situation, termed, ‘Viveka’ in Hinduism.

 

          The attempt to lift our state of consciousness also helps with uplifting Humanity as we are all connected at an inner level of our composite nature. As theosophical teacher HP Blavatsky reminds us:

 

          ‘It is an occult law, moreover, that no man can rise superior to his individual failings, without lifting, be it ever so little, the whole body of which he is an integral part. In the same way, no one can sin, nor suffer the effects of sin alone. In reality there is no such thing as ‘Separateness’. ” The Key to Theosophy: page 203.

 

We have the opportunity everyday in our interactions with other people to express the qualities of the ‘Higher Self’ encouraged by the great wise-men or Mahatmans of India, as in every corner of the globe. If we develop these qualities amidst the tests of daily life experience that will make sure we keep to the ‘Path of Compassion’ which different Vedanta schools in their own ways encourage us to follow.

 

Source references:

 

  • Encyclopaedia of Eastern philosophy and religion           Schuhmacher and Woerner
  • ENCYCLOPEDIC THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY                       G. de Purucker
  • Studies in occult philosophy                                                            ”
  • Sixty Upanishads of the Veda                                               Paul Deussen
  • The unknown teachings of Lao Tzu                                     Hua Hu Chin
  • Nature’s finer forces                                                                Rama Prasad
  • The Yogas and other works.                                                   Vivekananda
  • The Unknown teachings of Lao Tzu                                       Hua Hu Ching
  • Het mysterie van het Zelf Upanishad                                    W.H. Vledder
  • Vedanta                                                                                      Wikipedia, free encyclopaedia

 

 

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