Yes Vedanta teaches traditional Advaita Vedanta (self-knowledge revealed in Upanishads) to those whose primary goal in life is to realize and actualize the Ultimate Reality… thus ending saṃsāra's cycle of birth-death.
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).
So what is Vedanta?…
Advaita Vedanta is the world’s most ancient, broadest, highest and deepest spiritual methodology. It's purpose is to remove one's limiting, false notions about Reality through means of Self-Inquiry.
It not only expounds who-what you really are – and what is the reality of the universe – it also accurately guides you to realize the Truth for yourself.
When all doubts are resolved and Truth is known with absolute clarity – the false “I” is easily recognized as “not-I” (anatman).
Thus knowledge of oneself as Limitless, unconcerned, ordinary, action-less, non-dual free Awareness (Atman) – is confidently accepted and re-identified with – as true “I”.
Advaita Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all human beings irrespective of country, culture, belief, and background. For example…
You can immediately recognize one aspect of universality in principle of ahimsa (non-injury). It applies to humans, animals, insects, and plants. Fact is none want to be hurt. Including you. This is why it feels painful hurting others. Because ahimsā is built in all Creation.
Now, let's investigate what is Vedanta and how it can help…
Word “Vedanta” is a combination of two Sanskrit words – veda (knowledge) and antaḥ (end, within, innermost).
“End” in this context does not mean something physically located at end. But the final culmination (message) of the Vedas, called the Upaniṣads or jñāna-kāṇḍa. Therefore “end” also signifies: end of my spiritual progress. As in, nothing more to accomplish after.
Therefore, Vedānta means “the end of knowledge” or “the culmination of all knowledge” or “the highest knowledge” which upon self-inquiry leads to freedom from limitation (moksha).
It's pointing to THAT which is beyond all relative knowledge.
It's pointing to the “knowledge” of the final/absolute Reality – knowing which everything else becomes known. * Chāndogya Upaniṣad
Here “Knowledge” means direct and permanent realization of final Reality. It does not mean knowledge memorized from a book, then brilliantly mastered and repeated until it's known ‘by heart'.
Because that kind of relative knowledge would be forgotten with amnesia (including your own name).
We are speaking of THAT which is independent of your body-mind-intellect. Even though body-mind-intellect is used to apprehend the Innermost Self (Ātman).
Purpose of Vedanta is Moksha (Liberation / Freedom / Self-Realization / Wholeness).
Unceasingly knowing with TOTAL clarity (a) who you are, but more importantly (b) who you are NOT, and (c) not confusing a-b, else occasional doubt is a familiar experience.
It also includes discovering the Reality of the WHOLE universe (who is it's maker), because the reality of the universe and your own Reality are not apart, nor different.
Upon this discovery, one transcends all sorrows and sufferings (atyantika-dukha-nivritti) and ‘attains' supreme bliss (paramānanda-prāpti). Word ‘attain' is used with caution because it's already attained. One can't attain what is already present and eternal (Brahman). Only to acknowledge and accept it's presence as YOU.
Although this doesn't mean that usual problems of life disappear. Let's get real. One still needs to work for shelter, food.
All that changes is problems are not seen as problems. This results in a life of positive and enduring peace about entire Universe including oneself.
Advaita (Non-Dualism) Vedanta expounds that you are not who you take yourself to be (body-mind-intellect).
Your real Self (Atman) is one with the ultimate Reality (Brahman) and is of the nature of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss (satcitananda), which is beyond all limitations and not bounded by anything, including – time, space, and objects within time-space (satyam jñānam ānantam brahma).
Brahman/Atman alone is Real (satyam) and everything else that you perceive to be real (ie: whole universe) is false, and you are none other than Brahman (brahma satyam jagan-mithyā jivo brahmaiva nāparaḥ).
“False” doesn't mean denial or rejection (eg: God is false). A common misinterpretation of anti-Vedānta critics. (Reason why) In Vedānta all is understood as ONE, without a second.
Eventually, as one is able to acknowledge one Self as Brahman (ayam ātmā brahma; aham brahma asmi) – the One non-dual Reality – then the apparent nature of the whole universe gradually becomes clear and the search/finding permanently stops.
Now the fundamental problem has been solved. Highest life purpose accomplished. And gurus who were irrationally placed on a pedestal, are treated equal to one's friend, mom, sibling, child.
It liberates you from the wrong identification with the limited body-mind-intellect. Meaning also freedom from death (because the “I” has been shifted from mortal Body-Mind, to it's original ‘place').
It also frees you from desires and aversions towards gratuitous things, because the whole universe is appearing within your Self and there is nothing apart from you.
In conclusion, the pursuit of Self-realization, causes: (a) removal of unnecessary suffering, and (b) “I” is re-identified to it's original identity which is eternal, all-pervading, ordinary, unconcerned, unchanging, ever-free Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.
“Ordinary” is emphasized so reader's imagination/ego doesn't glorify Mokṣa into some type of extraordinary state to attain in the future. Your nature is not a state and it's always present. It doesn't begin in time (because then would end in time). It's something you're already familiar with; ordinary AWARENESS because of which you are AWARE OF space and time. Space-time doesn't exclude your body-mind and it's experience of reading these highlighted words.
In fact, there is NO experience outside of space-time. Including thought – because every thought begins. And anything that begins – eventually ends. This is one reason why Vedānta easily sees through the fundamental mistake of any philosophy which claims Enlightenment is an experience. Or notion that you're NOT Enlightened now, thus implying Enlightenment is a future event possible by undertaking certain practices (sādhana).
Thus it saves the seeker lifetime(s) from erroneous thinking – which we also see many “truth-gurus” falling for unsuspectingly.
Vedānta employs a carefully-structured and logically-consistent process to lead one from one's apparent self to one's real Self… step-by-step, with each step being completely verifiable through one's own experience.
Therefore Vedanta has nothing to do with believing something which can't validated through your own experience. This makes it pleasing to modern scientific-analytical minds who need more then superstitious unprovable mandates to follow.
Vedānta comprises of three primary texts, known as the triple canon (prasthāna trayī). They form the foundation of Vedānta:
Upaniṣads (Śruti or 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 or 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 explanatory texts (prakarana grantha) written by some of the greatest Vedanta philosophers of all times, like Adi Shankara and Vidyaranya – who did a brilliant job explaining Vedanta systematically. They include:
- Advaita Makaranda
- Aparokshanubhuti (Aparokṣānubhūtiḥ)
- Atma Bodha
- Panchadasi (Pañcadaśī)
- Tattva Bodha
- Vedanta Dindima
Few more Vedantic classics:
For example – gravity already exists. Whether you know about it or not. Gravity doesn't care whether you know of it's presence or remain ignorant to it. It's still operational and present.
Thus, Newton didn't create gravity. He only discovered what was already accomplished and present all along. But due to lack of inquiry, it remained apparently absent and unknowingly ignored.
So no amount of action, meditation, mantras, devotion, āsana on Newton's part would produce gravity. It was only matter of being pointed out what's obvious. (Acknowledged – then accepted gradually through self-inquiry on your part.)
You don't need to do anything to “become” Ātman. Because you already ARE Ātman. In fact, there's NOTHING you can do to gain something which you already HAVE and ARE right now… AWARENESS (Atman).
However, some are unable to accept this ridiculously simple Truth, because we have accumulated false notions about Reality and “I”, preventing our full, unconditional and absolute acceptance.
So the practice of Vedānta is intended to remove ignorance about your real Self. It's not to give anything new. Because you already EXIST.
Answer this: what greater gift can one ask for then to EXIST?…
Because if you don't EXIST… then who's there to enjoy a sunset, your spouse, friend, Upanishads, God, food, knowledge, ignorance, sex, beauty, etc?
It's amusing that despite EXISTENCE (synonymous with Awareness / Consciousness / Brahman) being the greatest gift (which you already HAVE and ARE – since you EXIST) – we're not totally happy with just existing.
Instead one constantly generates and put series of experiences on-top of one's EXISTENCE. Then spends 99.9% time talking about his/her experiences. Completely missing the OBVIOUS… the ONE WHO EXISTS to report about the never-ending Experiences.
Yes, it's as simple as knowing the depth of what this means “I Exist“.
Experiences are different. But Existence is same for everyone. For example we can't say “I exist more then you!” or “This rock exists less then the tree!”. Fact is, they both Exist. 🙂
So to realize this simple Truth, we have several solutions…
Just like there are myriad ways getting to the mountain-top from its base. Yet the top is SAME for any arrival.
Similarly there are myriad ways of realizing your real Self from where you currently stand – but the eventual Reality (Existence) is same for all.
Consider: If the final Reality wasn't the same for every arrival, then there would be no freedom for anyone – and all scriptures would be useless. Because that would mean if one gets to mountain-top A, then they'll eventually start wondering what's mountain-top B like. Then mountain-top infinity like, etc. Hence final Reality must be same.
These myriad ways can be broadly classified into four different paths.
Each of these four paths are based upon four different and powerful faculties of the human mind – intellect, emotion, action and concentration. Their purpose is integration; that's why head and heart are shaking hands.
It's best to practice all four Yogas as they complement each other resulting in a rapid and holistic spiritual growth:
- Jnana Yoga (Path of Knowledge)
- Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion)
- Karma Yoga (Path of Action)
- Not part of Traditional Vedānta: Raja Yoga (Path of Meditation / Mysticism)
What's important to understand is all paths ultimately lead to the highest path; jnana-yoga (Path of Knowledge). Other paths only serve to prepare the mind for jnana-yoga. Because only knowledge can remove ignorance. Just like through knowledge alone can ignorance of cooking be removed. This applies to any subject matter. Meditation isn't going to magically make you a chef.
Thus “spiritual awakening” without support of jnanan yoga is as good as a temporary experience subject to beginning and ending. This is NOT Moksha.
Only path of Jnana Yoga has power of permanent resolution (moksha/liberation). See praptasya prapti for reason.
Om Tat Sat
– Bhagavad Gītā 17.23