What Is Vedanta?

Vedanta

(A presentation given by Nicole Scoppetuolo at a 
Yoga University Continuing Education day, 
Sunday, July 14th, 2013)
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[NOTE: Pictures were added by me, not in Nicole’s original presentation.]

Key Terms:

Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy dealing with the Upanishads

Veda means “knowledge” and anta means “end” or “culmination”, so it translates to “the end of the Vedas”, or “the end of knowledge.”  This is literal – the Upanishads are at the end of the Vedas, being the appendices of the Vedic hymns. It also means they are seen as the highest knowledge, the highest teaching.

Advaita the most well-known subschool of Vedanta

Advaita — “not two”

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Key Texts:

Upanishads

Brahma Sutras – commentary on the Upanishads

The Bhagavad Gita – “Song of the Lord” – Upanishadic philosophy in poetic dialogue

Adi Shankara was an eighth-century philosopher who played an important role in formulating the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.  One of his works, Vivekachudamani, contains a line that really encapsulates the entire philosophy of Advaita:

“Brahman is the only truth, the world is an illusion (maya), and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and the individual self (atman).”

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Key concepts:

Brahman

 Brahman is different from Brahma, the creator God. Brahman is not an anthropomorphized being, but perhaps better described as the ultimate reality, or the ground of all being.  It is transcendent, absolute, eternal, formless, the One.  We can use these words to help us understand, but ultimately Brahman is beyond all words and definitions.

Atman

Atman is the self or soul – however, according to Advaita, it is not an individual self or soul.  What we actually are, at our innermost core, is Brahman.

So, atman = Brahman

Maya

Maya, or illusion, is basically the world of form.  Brahman is the formless that manifests within the world of forms, appearing to be many different things.  Consider the world as a play in a cosmic theatre, with one actor (Brahman) playing all the different roles (you, me, a tree, etc.).

Another simpler way of saying all this is:

Tat Tvam Asi, or Thou Art That!

In other words, you are the ultimate reality.

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Passage from The Chandogya Upanishad:

“It is everywhere, though we see it not.

Just so, dear one, the Self is everywhere,

Within all things, although we see him not.

There is nothing that does not come from him.

Of everything he is the inmost Self.

He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.

You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”

“In the city of Brahman is a secret dwelling, the 

lotus of the heart. Within this dwelling is a space,

and within that space is the fulfillment of our desires.

What is within that space should be longed for and

realized.

As great as the infinite space beyond is the space

within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth

are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun

and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know it in

this world or know it not, everything is contained in

that inner space.”

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Other Religious Traditions:

Judaism – Kabbalah

“Before anything emanated, there was only Ein Sof. Ein Sof was all that existed. Similarly, after it brought into being that which exists, there is nothing but it. You cannot find anything that exists apart from it. There is nothing that is not pervaded by the power of divinity. If there were, Ein Sof would be limited, subject to duality, God forbid! Rather, God is everything that exists, though everything that exists is not God. It is present in everything, and everything comes into being from it. Nothing is devoid of its divinity. Everything is within it; it is within everything and outside of everything. There is nothing but it.”

– Elimah Rabbati, 16th century work by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero

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Christianity

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, [Jesus] answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

— Luke 17:20-21 (King James version)

“The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.”

– Meister Eckhart, medieval German Catholic mystic

The Cloud of Unknowing – 14th century anonymous work

Saint TeresaThe Interior Castle (1577)

Saint John of the CrossDark Night of the Soul (1578/79)

Bernadette RobertsThe Path to No-Self: Life at the Center (1991)

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Gnosticism

  “Jesus said to them,

‘When you make the two into one,

when you make the inner like the outer

  and the outer like the inner

  and the upper like the lower,

when you make the male and female into a

single one,

  so that the male will not be male

  and the female will not be female,

when you make eyes replacing an eye,

  a hand replacing a hand,

  a foot replacing a foot,

  and an image replacing an image,

then you shall enter the kingdom.”

— “The Gospel of Thomas,” Saying 22

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Islam – Sufism

“There came one and knocked at the door of the Beloved.

And a voice answered and said, ‘Who is there?’

The lover replied, ‘It is I.’

‘Go hence,’ returned the voice.

‘there is no room within for thee and me.’

Then came the lover a second time and knocked and again the voice

demanded,

‘Who is there?’

He answered, ‘It is thou.’

‘Enter,’ said the voice, ‘for I am within.’

— Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi, 13th century Persian Sufi poet

Hafiz, or Hafez – Khwajeh Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi, 14th century Persian Sufi poet

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufism: The Transformation of the Heart (1995)

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Science

“Inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you – and all conscious beings as such – are all in all. Hence, this life of yours you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole…Thus, you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth with a certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable.” Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist

The Science and Nonduality Conference

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Neurotheology

Also check out Jill Bolte Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight” – TEDTalk available online

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Advaita Vedanta teachers Other Teachers…

Ramana Maharshi

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Nisargadatta Maharaj

U.G. Krishnamurti

Ramakrishna

G.I. Gurdjieff

H.W.L. Poonja, aka Papaji

Douglas Harding

Ramesh Balsekar

James Swartz

Eckhart Tolle

Adyashanti

Gangaji

Mooji

Osho

Jeff Foster

Unmani (Liza Hyde)

Byron Katie

Nirmala

Jean Klein

Frances Lucille

Sailor Bob Adamson

Nick Gancitano — Boca Raton

Neo-Advaita Teachers Disclaimer :

I am not necessarily endorsing all of these

 teachers, although I do think they are worth

checking out to see if any of them speak to you.

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Recommended Texts

The Upanishads – Trans. Eknath Easwaran
The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels – Trans. Marvin W. Meyer
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (1966) – Alan Watts (or anything by Alan Watts)
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (1999) – Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005) – Eckhart Tolle
The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment (2008) — Adyashanti
Wake Up Now: A Guide to the Journey of Spiritual Awakening (2008) – Stephan Bodian
When Fear Falls Away: The Story of a Sudden Awakening (2007) – Jan Frazier
Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis (1989) – Editors Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof
Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief  (2001) – Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene D’Aquili, M.D., Ph.D., and Vince Rause
Anything by Jiddu Krishnamurti
Any book of Rumi’s poetry (Coleman Barks has particularly good translations)

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