Yes Vedanta teaches traditional Advaita Vedanta (self-knowledge in Upanishads) to those who seek to discover the Ultimate Reality, the truth of everything…
WHO AM I? What am I NOT? How is this world created? What came first? If all is One (non-duality; advaitam), why do I experience many (duality; dvaitam)? What is God? What is the highest purpose of life? How do I know what my duty is to the world? How does one unmistakably discriminate absolute Truth from Falsehood? How do I shift this false “I” (Body-Mind) to the true Self (Atman)?
These questions may or may not be important to you, but the fact is they've already been thoroughly resolved in precise detail throughout Advaita Vedanta texts for thousands of years. Such Sanskrit-based texts include Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras, Pancadasi, Tattva Bodha, etc.
As result of their irrefutable logic, the answers to above questions can't be negated from any point of view, at any point in time.
They remain unsurpassed because the non-negatable Truth (Brahman) is not subject to change in time/space. Absolute Truth “stands” eternally pure, full, whole, complete. Thus the answers to such descriptions also remain the same.
For example, sun is bright 5000 years ago, sun is bright today, sun is bright tomorrow. “Brightness” word may change according to personal preference, but principle of brightness is eternally unchanging.
This is exactly what Vedanta unfolds. The big picture of both form/matter (Mithya: changing/falsifiable) and formless/attributeless (Satyam: unchanging, consciousness, satcitananda, nitya). It explains their sameness and apparent difference in a way that other philosophies can only partially satisfy.
And the knowledge which reveals is called brahmavidya, whose purpose is to free one from sense of limitation. It is is passed down through the guru-disciple-lineage (guru-śisya-paramparā). This knowledge is immune to contamination of personal points of views, owning to vast literature answering every angle of inquiry into realities (like Brahma Sūtra or Pañcadaśī).
Meaning the only purpose of Vedanta, when taught by a competent ācāryaḥ (teacher), is to show the qualified student…
THAT knowledge, once known, nothing else remains to be known
Tat Tvam Asi: You Are THAT
However tat tvam asi (which reveals the essence of non-duality) is not always taught traditionally. One certainly won't find the real essence of Advaita (causing permanent life transformation) in circles like watered down Neo-Advaita. Nor in non-dual conferences like Science and Nonduality (SAND). Nor in 5-15 min YouTube clips on consciousness. Why?…
Because significant life transformation requires a systematic approach. One day builds onto the next. Just like in school. Devotee needs to be supported and led by the hand step-by-step. Else life circumstances quickly erase the knowledge no matter how profound. It's impact seems to fade into the background.
Reason for this is anything that begins in time, ends in time. Thus true liberation (mokṣa) is not time-bound. Else it's a state dependent upon the changing mind. If you get it, you will lose it. More into mechanics of moksha below.
So what does “traditional” mean? The knowledge is expounded as originally presented and how it's supposed to be taught step-by-step according to the tradition which remains perfected. Why is this important? Because a proper order is crucial for a proper, absolute and direct knowledge of oneself as the WHOLE (aparokṣa-jñānam: I am Limitless, Whole, Free).
Otherwise Self-Knowledge remains merely at intellectual level, called indirect knowledge (parokṣa-jñānam). Such cognition has no authentic life transformation other then a scholarly understanding, or a convinced ego believing it's “Enlightened”.
Not realizing one's partial comprehension of the TOTAL, such person remains unknowingly bound to saṃsāra (identification with Body-Mind owning to ignorance; avidyā).
Imagine a person learns arithmetic, but is never shown addition. Consequence will be a limited mathematician. However from person's point of view, he is knowledgeable. But the fact is he unsuspectingly remains limited.
This is EXACTLY the situation with modern non-traditional teachings disguised as Advaita Vedanta. The methodology is incomplete, yet attracts flocks of followers. How? Because psychology of easy and arousing wins over hard and necessary.
Face it, humans seek the path of least resistance. One wants an Enlightenment pill. A quick-fix technique. “I don't have time to do unto others as I'd have others do unto me”.
And the effect of an incomplete methodology is an artificial sense of pride and freedom – justified as spiritual awakening. What's to blame? Devotee's vision of reality is relying on partial knowledge.
For example once the partially-taught over-confident mathematician is confronted with addition, he or she suddenly discovers there is no way of solving the equation.
He then believes something is wrong with the calculations and spends years solving it. Failing to recognize nothing is faulty with one's ability or effort. Problem lies in ignorance of the missing knowledge, that once known, the equation is permanently solved.
Similarly, a doctor can't cure the patient's sickness with partial medical knowledge. The patient may be temporarily relieved. However the disease will inevitably resurface in time.
In the same way…
Only complete knowledge of the subject matter can fully and permanently destroy ignorance (intruder/bacteria of the mind)
For this reason alone – Advaita Vedānta uses a complete step-by-step methodology for removing eternal ignorance (avidya) – thus revealing WHAT-IS. After which no doubts remain and no further confusions ensue.
Absolute unmistakable clarity is established regarding (1) Body-mind complex (jiva), (2) World of matter (jagat) and (3) Supreme Truth – which is your true nature (Ishvara / Brahman / Awareness / Atman).
Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) declares that you are not who you take yourself to be. Because of beginingless ignorance and constant attendance to worldly activities, one never devoted even a single lifetime (literally out of of infinite beginingless lives) to discover HOW there is no difference between self and the WHOLE (satchitananda brahman). How is it that “I am already free of time, space and matter, including this body, mind and intellect”.
Thus Vedanta liberates the “I” from the wrong identification with the limited body-mind complex. Meaning one is also permanently freedom from all past karmas, because the “I” has been shifted from limited body-mind, to limitless brahman.
Vedanta employs a carefully structured and logically-consistent process to lead one's mind from finite self to infinite self. Methodology is unfolded step-by-step, and each step is verifiable through your own experience. Thus Vedanta doesn't rely on blind faith. It's teachings validate what you already know and what you already ARE.
Therefore Vedanta has nothing to do with believing something which can't validated through your own experience.
Vedānta comprises of three primary texts, known as the triple canon (prasthāna trayī). They form the foundation of Vedānta:
Upaniṣads (Śruti / Heard)
There are ten principal Upanishads which include:
- Bṛhadāraṇyaka (Brihadaranyaka)
- Chandogya (Chāndogya)
- Isha (Īṣa)
- Katha (Kaṭhopaniṣad)
- Prashna (Praśna)
- Mandukya (Māṇḍūkya-Upaniṣad)
- Mundaka (Muṇḍaka)
- Taittiriya (Taittirīya)
Bhagavad Gita (Smṛti / Remembered)
Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Upanishads that teaches how to realize the highest – while living in the world. It consists of 700 verses across 18 chapters and is part of the Indian epic Mahabharata.
If the Upaniṣads (highest truths) be represented by cows, then Gītā would be the milk of the cows (essence of the truths) extracted by Kṛṣṇa (supreme inner Self; Ātman) for the benefit of Arjuna (individual ignorant self believing is apart from the Whole) – who is unsure of the right path in midst of the battle of Kurukṣetra (struggle of life).
Brahma Sutras (Nyāya or Logic)
Brahma Sutras (Vedanta Sutras) is the philosophical treatise of Vedanta that systematically lays out the philosophy of the Upanishads. It consists of 555 aphorisms across 4 chapters. It should be studied along with the commentary of Shankaracharya for a deep and comprehensive understanding of Advaita (Non-Dual) Vedanta.
There are many commentaries (prakarana grantha) written by some of the greatest Vedanta philosophers, like Adi Shankara and Swami Vidyaranya. Both contributed to clarifying many verses and principles from Main Texts above. They include:
- Advaita Makaranda
- Aparokshanubhuti (Aparokṣānubhūtiḥ)
- Atma Bodha
- Panchadasi (Pañcadaśī)
- Tattva Bodha
- Vedanta Dindima
Few more Vedantic classics:
There are multiple ways getting to the mountain-top from its base. However all ways reach the SAME end.
Similarly there are multiple approaching leading to realization of the ONE same final Reality.
Because if the final Reality was not the same, then we are all hopeless, and all scriptures are useless. For example, if one gets to mountain-top A, they'll eventually wonder what's mountain-top B like. Then what's mountain-top infinity like, etc. Hence ONE final Truth is the same. And how to reach it (even though you're never away from it), is the job of Vedanta.
According to Vedic culture, approaches to enlightenment can be classified into three different paths.
Each path focuses upon sharpening and fine-tuning a specific personality – intellect, emotion, action and concentration. A perfected human being is one whose integrated all three, as though the head and heart are shaking hands in total agreement.
Which one to practice is not necessarily job of student, but job of Vedanta acharya who can identify where student stands, thus which path of put focus on. They are:
- Jnana Yoga (Path of Knowledge)
- Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion)
- Karma Yoga (Path of Action)
- Complimentary path: Raja Yoga (Path of Meditation / Concentration)
What's important to understand is all paths ultimately lead to the highest path; jnana-yoga (Path of Knowledge) which finally leads to moksha (liberation/enlightenment). Other paths serve to prepare the mind for jnana-yoga. Because only knowledge can remove ignorance.
For example, only knowledge can remove ignorance pertaining to cooking. Same principle applies to any subject matter. Meditation isn't going to magically make you a professional chef.
Thus “spiritual awakening” without support of jnana-yoga is as good as a temporary experience subject to beginning and end. Therefore only path of self-knowledge (jnana-yoga) has the power to provide a permanent solution of removing beginningless ignorance, which ultimately leads to moksha (permanent fulfillment).
Om Tat Sat
– Bhagavad Gītā 17.23