Tag Archives: Upanishads

vedanta

Sankaracharya

Shankara, also called Shankaracharya (born 700?, Kaladi village?, India—died 750?, Kedarnath), philosopher and theologian, most renowned exponent of the Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy, from whose doctrines the main currents of modern Indian thought are derived. He wrote commentaries on the Brahma-sutra, the principal Upanishads, and the Bhagavadgita, affirming his belief in one eternal unchanging reality (brahman) and the illusion of plurality and differentiation.

Vedanta, one of the six orthodox systems (darshans) of Indian philosophy and the one that forms the basis of most modern schools of Hinduism.

The name is a morphophonological form of Veda-anta = “Veda-end” = “the appendix to the Vedic hymns”. It is also said that “Vedānta” means “the purpose or goal [end] of the Vedas”.  Vedanta can also be used as a noun to describe one who has mastered all four of the original Vedas.

In earlier writings, Sanskrit ‘Vedānta’ simply referred to the Upanishads, the most important and philosophical of the Vedic texts. However, in the medieval period of Hinduism, the word Vedānta came to mean the school of philosophy that interpreted the Upanishads.

Vedānta is also called Uttarā Mīmāṃsā, or the ‘latter enquiry’ or ‘higher enquiry’, and is often paired with Purva Mīmāṃsā, the ‘former enquiry’. Pūrva Mimamsa, usually simply called Mimamsa, deals with explanations of the fire-sacrifices of the Vedic mantras (in the Samhita portion of the Vedas) and Brahmanas, while Vedanta explicates the esoteric teachings of the Āraṇyakas (the “forest scriptures”), and the Upanishads, composed from the 9th century BCE until modern times.

All sub-schools of the vedanta propound their philosophy by interpreting the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources, the three canonical texts of Hindu philosophy, especially of the Vedanta schools. It consists of:

The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthana (injunctive texts), and the Śruti prasthāna (the starting point of revelation)
The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyaya prasthana or Yukti prasthana (logical text)
The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sadhana prasthana (practical text), and the Smriti prasthāna (the starting point of remembered tradition)

The Upanishads consist of twelve or thirteen major texts, with total 108 texts. The Bhagavad Gītā is part of the Mahabhārata. The Brahma Sūtras (also known as the Vedānta Sūtras), systematise the doctrines taught in the Upanishads and the Gītā.

All major Vedantic teachers, like Shankara, Rāmānuja, and Mādhvāchārya, have composed often extensive commentaries not only on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, but also on the Gita. While it is not typically thought of as a purely Vedantic text, with its syncretism of Samkhya, Yoga, and Upanishadic thought, the Bhagavad Gita has played a strong role in Vedantic thought.

No single interpretation of the texts emerged, and several schools of Vedanta developed, differentiated by their conceptions of the nature of the relationship and the degree of identity between the eternal core of the individual self (atman) and the absolute (brahman). These range from the nondualism (Advaita) of the 8th-century philosopher Shankara to the theism (Vishishtadvaita; literally “Qualified Nondualism”) of the 11th–12th-century thinker Ramanuja and the dualism (Dvaita) of the 13th-century thinker Madhva.

The Vedanta schools do, however, hold in common a number of beliefs; transmigration of the self (samsara) and the desirability of release from the cycle of rebirths; the authority of the Veda on the means of release; that brahman is both the material (upadana) and the instrumental (nimitta) cause of the world; and that the self (atman) is the agent of its own acts (karma) and therefore the recipient of the fruits, or consequences, of action (phala). All the Vedanta schools unanimously reject both the heterodox (nastika) philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism and the conclusions of the other orthodox (astika) schools (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, and, to some extent, the Purva-Mimamsa).

The influence of Vedanta on Indian thought has been profound, so that it may be said that, in one or another of its forms, Hindu philosophy has become Vedanta. Although the preponderance of texts by Advaita scholastics has in the West given rise to the erroneous impression that Vedanta means Advaita, the nondualistic Advaita is but one of many Vedanta schools.

Excerpts from Vedanta Articles on Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica


vedic literature of ancient india

Secrets of ancient humanity and lost civilizations can be found all over the world. Yet they are perhaps most common in India, which even today the spiritual practices of the ancient world continue and its characteristic regard for the sacred. The same type of temples with similar forms of ritual worship that were known in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, or Greece thousand of years ago still occur throughout India today from Badrinath in the Himalayas to the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Indeed it seems that the ancient world never ended in India but has continually maintained and, at times, reinvented itself.

Spiritual and occult arts such as abounded in the ancient world – including Yoga, Vedic astrology, Ayurvedic medicine and the use of rituals (Yajnas) to improve all aspects of our lives – remain commonly used and are honored by the culture of India as a whole. Indeed we could say that India is a living museum of the ancient world and its lost civilizations. To understand the ancient world, it may be better to visit the holy places of India where the ancient traditions are still unbroken, rather than try to interpret ancient ruins through bricks and pottery shards, which scholars today usually do so according to their own modern mindsets, not recognizing the all-pervasive regard for the sacred that was the basis of ancient life and culture.

Most notably, ancient India presents us with by far the largest literature that has survived from the ancient world. The Vedic literature of India, by all accounts dating from well before the time of the Buddha (500 BCE) and by traditional accounts extending back well over five thousand years (3100 BCE), covers several thousand pages. This is with the four Vedas (RigYajur,Sama and Atharva), their various BrahmanasAranyakas andUpanishads.

The Vedas contain many ancient poems, commentaries, dialogues and teachings, of which the famous Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita – the bedrock of Indian philosophy and Yoga – represent only the last layer or a late summation. There is no comparable ancient literature remaining from any other country, much less an on-going tradition of its interpretation and application according to both ritual and meditation.

The Vedas are not directly concerned with history or with the mundane aspects of culture. Yet a mentioning of these does occur in a peripheral way in the texts. In the Vedas, we can find references to the names of peoples, places and to certain events. Beside the deep spiritual knowledge, there are indications of astronomical, mathematical and medical knowledge of a profound order. There are also indications of natural disasters like floods, earth quakes, the melting of glaciers and the shifting of rivers, with a cataclysmic sense of life based upon a long experience of Nature’s changes.

Yet, even by way of understanding their spiritual side, it requires a deeper vision to appreciate the Vedas. The Vedas are composed in a cryptic ‘mantric code’ that cannot be understood without the proper orientation and right keys. Vedic mantras were said to have been cognized by great yogis and seers from the cosmic mind. They reflect a different type of language in which the higher truth is deliberately hidden in a veil of symbols, sacred sounds and correspondences. What may appear outwardly as a seeking cows and horses, for example, can inwardly refer to a development of higher powers of the senses (cows) and pranas or vital energies (horses). In fact, Vedic words have many layers of meaning, of which the surface appearance can be misleading, particularly to the modern mind not used to such a multidimensional language. This is also a phenomenon that we find throughout the ancient world. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, abounds in similar symbols that unless we can grasp the spiritual meaning, which few may be willing to look for, can appear quite superstitious.

The Vedas say, “The Gods prefer the cryptic and dislike the obvious.” The higher powers speak in symbols, riddles, paradoxes or conundrums. The Vedas speak of four levels of speech, of which ordinary human beings only know and speak with one (Rig Veda I. 164.45). They refer to a Divine Word or imperishable syllable on which they are based (Rig Veda I. 164.39). They reflect a pattern of cosmic sound that underlies all the laws of the universe and has its counterparts on all levels of both individual and cosmic manifestation. For this reason, the Veda was called the Shruti, or ‘revelation’ behind the Hindu tradition.

The Vedas speak of secret meanings to their mantras that were veiled to protect the teaching from its application by the spiritually immature. To receive the key to the Vedic mantras required years of work of ascetic practices, mantras, yoga, meditation, special initiations and the special favor of a teacher who knows the tradition and has realized the teaching in his own deeper consciousness. We cannot expect such cryptic mantras to unlock their secrets to a casual reading, particularly done in limited or bad translations in a language and mindset quite alien to the Vedic or ancient world view.

Modern scholars, particularly from the West, have not been able decipher this Vedic code. Most have not even recognized that it exists. This is not surprising because scholars have largely failed to understand the deeper meaning of the symbols of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Mexico and other ancient cultures. Ancient cultures like India and Egypt were carrying on great traditions of spiritual and occult knowledge, not just the rudiments of technology, trade or empire building. Since modern scholars have little background in that spiritual knowledge, with its recognition of higher states of consciousness extending into the Infinite and Eternal, naturally they cannot find it in symbols in which it is specially encrypted.

Scholars look upon the Vedas, just like the Egyptian religion, as little more than primitive nature worship, though the nature symbols like Fire in the Vedas have a vast cosmic symbolism and connect to the fire of the breath, the fire of the mind, the fire of consciousness and the Cosmic Fire through which the entire universe exists.

Introduction to Article The Vedic Literature of Ancient India and Its Many Secrets By David Frawley

 


yoga nidra

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Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep. It is a state of conscious Deep Sleep. In Meditation, you remain in the Waking state of consciousness, and gently focus the mind, while allowing thought patterns, emotions, sensations, and images to arise and go on. However, in Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state, go past the Dreaming state, and go to Deep Sleep, yet remain awake. While Yoga Nidra is a state that is very relaxing, it is also used by Yogis to purify the Samskaras, the deep impressions that are the driving force behind Karma (See Karma article).

 Yoga Nidra has been known for thousands of years by the sages and yogis. Of the three states of consciousness of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep, as expounded in the Upanishads, particularly the Mandukya Upanishad, Yoga Nidra refers to the conscious awareness of the Deep Sleep state, referred to as prajna in Mandukya Upanishad. This is the third of the four levels of consciousness of AUM mantra, relating to the state represented by the M of AUM. The four states are Waking, Dreaming, sleep, and turiya, the fourth state. The state of Yoga Nidra, conscious Deep Sleep, is beyond or subtler than the imagery and mental process of the Waking and Dreaming states.

In Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state,
go through the Dreaming state,
and into the Deep Sleep state,
yet remain fully awake.

 Excerpt from swamij.com Article Yoga Nidra


scratching the surface

When you are heading into new territory, it is helpful to have a map. Hiking in Yosemite, you need a topography map showing the mountainous terrain. In New York City, you need to know the city blocks and major sites to orient yourself. Within yoga, a different guide is needed—one that charts the landscape of the self. The koshas, “layers” or “sheaths,” make up one such map, charted by yogic sages some 3,000 years ago. Written about in the Upanishads, the kosha model navigates an inner journey—starting from the periphery of the body and moving towards the core of the self: the embodied soul.

According to the map of the koshas, we are composed of five layers, sheaths, or bodies. Like Russian dolls, each metaphorical “body” is contained within the next: annamaya kosha—the physical body; pranamaya kosha—the breath or life-force body; manomaya kosha—the mental body; vijanamaya kosha—the wisdom body; and anandamaya kosha—the bliss body. This is not a literal anatomical model of the layers of the body, although you can find physiological parallels to the koshas, like the nervous system and the “mental” body. As a metaphor, the koshas help describe what it feels like to do yoga from the inside—the process of aligning what in contemporary language we often call “mind, body, and spirit” or “mind-body connection.”

From the kosha perspective, yoga helps us bring body, breath, mind, wisdom, and spirit (bliss) into harmony. Like a tapestry, the koshas are interwoven layers. You have no doubt experienced this in your own body: When you are tense or strained, your breath becomes shallow, your mind becomes easily agitated, and wisdom and joy seem far away. When you are filled with joy and communion with life, these feelings permeate your entire being. Separating the strands of the tapestry is a way to look at how your whole being can become integrated or in discord. The kosha map is not a rigid truth but a template for exploring the mystery of being alive.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article, You Are Here, by Shiva Rea


perennial philosophy

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Ox4 by Thomas Schenk

The Perennial Philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis), also referred to as Perennialism, is a perspective within the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown.

The term was popularized in more recent times by Aldous Huxley, who was profoundly influenced by Vivekanda’s Neo-Vedanta and Universalism, in his 1945 book: The Perennial Philosophy. He defined the perennial philosophy as:

[…] the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical to, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being; the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the perennial philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.

and that in the Upanishads:

The Perennial Philosophy is expressed most succinctly in the Sanskrit formula, tat tvam asi (‘That thou art’); the Atman, or immanent eternal Self, is one with Brahman, the Absolute Principle of all existence; and the last end of every human being, is to discover the fact for himself, to find out who he really is.

From the Introduction to the Bhagavad-Gita (Translation of Bhagavad-Gita by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood) by Aldous Huxely:

At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines.

  • First: the phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness–the world of things and animals and men and even gods–is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.
  • Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.
  • Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
  • Fourth: man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.