What is Vedanta?

The universal principles of Vedanta, are being appreciated today by an increasing number of thinking men and women the world over who are looking for ‘meaning’.

Vedanta is the philosophy which has evolved from the spiritual experiences of the great Indian Rishis (sages) as preserved in the four Vedas (viz. Rig. Yaju, Sama, and Atharva), the oldest known scriptures in the world. The term 'Vedanta' (ʽveda-antaʼ—the end of the Vedas) more generally includes not only the philosophical portion of the Vedas, the dialogues and tracts called the Upanishads, but also the whole mass of religious literature of the Hindus that has developed from them right down to the present day. The keynote of Vedanta is the fundamental unity of all metaphysical systems, such as dualism (Dvaita), qualified non-dualism (Vishistadvaita), and non-dualism (Advaita), which have sprung up on the fertile spiritual soil of India.

[NOTE: These schools are not at all contradictory, but stages, actual experiences on the way to the Ultimate Truth. The seeker initially feels separate from the Divine, then as a part of the Divine, and finally as non-different from the non-dual Ultimate Reality which is the final goal.]

The cardinal teachings of Vedanta may be summarized as follows :

  • 1. The real nature of man is divine. As Reality is one indivisible Entity, and underlies the entire phenomena from the highest to the lowest, all things partake of the nature of the Divinity which is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.

  • 2. The aim of every human being should be to unfold this Divinity which is inherent in him. The difference among individuals reflects the degree of manifestation of this Divinity, and all pious actions are meant only to uncover it.

  • 3. As man is essentially divine, he has within him infinite potentiality and capacity to tear the veil off the face of his divine nature through an intensive process of prayer, meditation, renunciation, and disinterested service. With the chastening of the mental-stuff by means of such spiritual discipline, every aspirant rises above all worldly desires, and eventually feels himself at one with the Universal.

  • 4. Truth, according to Vedanta, is universal and impersonal. Vedanta accepts all the religions of the world as true and honours all great prophets and teachers of humanity, born from time to time among different races to fulfil the spiritual needs of a particular age. The sacred Vedic word 'Om' stands as the symbolic expression of the impersonal Absolute or the omnipresent Godhead.

Although the Vedantic teachings are impersonal, there is a vast scope in Vedanta for personal modes of worship, for it considers every worship as a preliminary step leading towards the ultimate goal. The method and form of worship can vary according to the nature of the worshipper. Thus, a devotee may like to worship an image in a temple, while the intellectual may prefer impersonal meditation. This all-embracing ideal of Vedanta finds its expression in Sri Ramakrishna's cryptic expression: “As many religions, so many paths”.

(Source: Belur Math pamphlet—edited.)

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Practical Vedanta

Although termed a “philosophy”, the Vedanta is not confined to mere academic discussion of the universe, its origin etc., but offers a model for practical living and a rational understanding of the purpose of religion.

The Upanishads, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, offer:

A diagnosis:

Our lives are but a passing from dream to dream.

Man the infinite dreamer, dreaming finite dreams!

       (Swami Vivekananda—Unity, New York, June 1900)

And a cure:

Be bold, and face The Truth!

Be one with it! Let visions cease,

Or, if you cannot, dream but truer dreams,

Which are Eternal Love and Service Free.

       (Swami Vivekananda—‘To the Awakened India’)

This means:

Learn the method to apply, and do your best to get rid of the sense of separatness caused by the inexplicable ignorance which veils your true nature.

On the other hand, if you are not inclined to do this, at least live a life of compassion and disinterested service, according to the rules of intelligent living.

Applying the universal law of cause and effet, the Upanishads conceive of man as a dreamer, apparently migrating from life to life just as one slips in and out of dream in sleep.

And what is the condition of this essentially limitless apparent ‘migrator’ who, as the Upanishads tell us, is non-different from the Ultimate Reality, the Limitless Consciousness, the Eternal Changeless Witness Principle, the Brahman-Atman? By identifying himself, i.e. ignorantly thinking that he is the body or the mind—WHICH HE IS NOT, SINCE THESE ARE KNOWN AS "MY BODY", "MY MIND"—the ‘migrator’ feels he is a  limited doer and enjoyer, an ego, an inadequate separate entity, incomplete, unsatisfied with himself, subject to likes and dislikes, attachments, desires, anger, greed, delusion, etc., which leave  mental impressions that create future migratory experiences—just as they now create ordinary dreams. 

Since the Ultimate Reality, the Witness Principle, Pure Consciousness, cannot be objectified and known by the senses, the Upanishads resort to the method of ‘implication’ to help us grasp it intuitively as our own Reality, our own Self, our Atman. How? First by rejecting what we are not, as non-self (as an-atma). The following perches of the ‘me’-feeling are examined and discarded in the Upanishads:

  • a. Three bodies — Gross, Subtle, Causal
  • b. Five sheaths — Gross, Vital, Mind, Intellect, Bliss.
  • c. Three states of experience — Waking, Dream, Dreamless Sleep.

These categories—together wilh others concerning the life-model proposed by the Vedanta—are all competently discussed in the ‘Introduction to Vedanta’ by Swami Paramarthananda (see below, Suggested Reading ‣ Articles), at the beginning of which has been added a chart illustrating the above-mentioned categories.

It is important to get a clear understanding of the way things are, and the ultimate goal.

Even to do this intellectually, presupposes an amount of the necessary four-fold competence required of the student, the Sadhana-Chatustaya consisting of: (1) Discrimination (between the real and the unreal [between the changeless and the changeful], i.e. some disenchantment with the impermanent), (2) Renunciation (of the short-lived changeful unreal as unsatisfactory). (3) Six qualities (calmness etc.), (4) Burning desire for freedom from bondage (strong motivation).

These qualities are expected to be cultivated by an individual as he passes through the Vedic scheme of life as student, householder, retiree and renunciate. The daily and other religious practices involving the Personal God—including the repetition of divine names, meditation and ethical culture—enjoined on the householder, train the mind, create good habits and remove bad ones, so that the calm, refined mind becomes capable of the intuitive understanding which alone dispels the primordial ignorance, allowing the self-luminous Self to shine unobstructedly.

However, you really do not need to know many things, but you definitely need to practice what you know.

Katha Upanishad 1-II-23. The Self cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas, not by intelligence nor by much hearing. Only by him who seeks to know the Self can It be attained. To him the Self reveals Its own nature.

It is therefore only the Self which can know the Self by being Itself.

Theistically put, because the timing of this revelation is unpredictable, it is attributed to “Lord's Grace”, to the Unseen Power behind the universe.

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In the end, each individual has to personally explore the information offered by the Vedanta in its various aspects—as presented on this website in Books and Links sections, as well as in the several Articles on various practical subjects by worthy authors—some of which may fill the needs of a seeker of Truth.

Suggested Reading




  • ‘A Bird's Eye View of Advaita Vedanta’ by D. Krishna Ayyar (Student of Swami Paramarthananda of Chennai) – Detailed scholarly paper outlining the philosophy. The site offers a 'Print (PDF) Version': http://www.vedantaadvaita.org/default.html


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