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Of This and That: Essays on Religion

A Brief Note on Vedanta

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Offered in explanation of this joke.  You see, you are Brahman, you are not Brahman, and you both are and are not Brahman...


Advaita Vedanta: Vedanta indicates (in this as well as the next two responses) a philosophical system developed from the Brahmanic Vedas. Called "the end of the Vedas," it is based largely on the writings found in the Upanishads (literally the last section of the Vedas), the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Brahma Sutra (also called the Vedanta Sutra) of Badarayana. Advaita Vedanta, specifically, insists that reality cannot be divided into two, as in saying that Brahman and I are separate. One does not become Brahman; rather, one already is Brahman, and simply needs to come to this realization. The great champion of this point of view was Samkara (see below).

Visista Advaita Vedanta: A modified form of Advaita Vedanta, this teaching says that one is a part of Brahman, but is not fully Brahman as in Advaita Vedanta. Ramanuja (see below) argued that full-blown Advaita Vedanta would result in quietism, a lack of any sense of urgency in the spiritual quest. When one attains union with Brahman, one retains one's identity, becoming a part of Brahman, but not lost in Brahman. This was in reaction to the earlier teachings of Samkara's Advaita Vedanta.

Dvaita Vedanta: This was the teaching of Madhva or Anandatirtha (1238-1317 C.E.), who claimed a complete distinction between Brahman and the world, between Brahman and souls, and between souls and other souls. Thus, the individual is alone, until, through meditation on scriptures to attain consciousness of Brahman, the individual achieves moksha, or liberation. This, however, is impossible for the individual to initiate; rather, it depends on Brahman reaching "down" to the individual.

Samkara: (680-720 C.E. OR 788-820 C.E. OR ??) Indian philosopher whose teachings came to be known as Advaita Vedanta (see above). His teaching was based on the ideas that there is one eternal being, and no separate souls; that the eternal alone is real, and all else is illusion; that realization comes with recognition that the world is One; and the teaching on Oneness described in the section on Advaita Vedanta.

Ramanuja: (1017-1137 C.E.: The Methuselah of Hinduism!). The founder of the school which later came to be known as Visista Advaita Vedanta, or "Qualified Non-dual Vedanta." See above for his teachings; he placed emphasis on the adoration of Vishnu rather than Brahman, saying that while ritual (the Brahmanic, Vedic sacrifices) is good, bhakti (devotion) is better.


Originally written as part of a mid-term exam in Mysticism taught by Dr. Ken Locke in the Spring of 2003 at Hsi Lai University.


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