What is Vedanta?

The Sanskrit word VEDANTA can be split into two separate words, Veda and anta, literally meaning the anta (end), or culmination of the Vedas.
The Vedas are the most sacred scriptures of the Hindus. There are four Vedas. One of them, the Rig Veda that dates back according to scholars to about 2500 B.C.E., comprises hymns to various gods—Surya (sun), Agni (fire), Ushas (dawn), and so forth. It's believed that the Vedas were transmitted orally from generation to generation until the art of writing was invented.
Although the majority of the hymns of the Vedas indicate that polytheism or the practice of worshipping multiple gods and goddesses prevailed in India during the Vedic civilization, the notion of One God was distinct as well in many hymns. Notable is the Rig Veda's hymn I-164-46:

"Ekam sad; vipra bahudha vadanti" the English translation of which is:
"Truth is One; sages call it variously."

Such monotheistic concepts culminated into VEDANTA in the concluding sections of the Vedas. The Vedantic philosophers critically analyzed and rejected the notion of multiple gods and goddesses and founded a profound system of philosophy that is not only in tune with the modern scientific thought but may also seem to provide a rational explanation about our lives in general.
VEDANTA, however, is not confined to these scriptures alone; it includes all the spiritual teachings of the saints and philosophers in some form or the other that India has produced during the past five thousand years. Furthermore, it is not based on the life and teachings of any particular saint or prophet. It is a federation of faiths and a commonwealth of spiritual concepts.
Simply stated, VEDANTA teaches the following principles:

  1. TRUTH is ONE; sages call it variously. In other words, God is ONE; people following different faiths, worship God in different forms. Vedanta's TRUTH, or the ULTIMATE REALITY (or the popularly known word GOD) is the Sanskrit word Brahman.
  2. Men and women, in their essential nature, are divine. We do not feel this divinity because of our ignorance.
  3. The only goal of our lives is to realize this divinity. It is possible to realize the divinity by removing the ignorance, just as Jesus said:"Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God."
  4. There are several ways to remove the ignorance and realize the divinity. They are called Yogas.

Unlike the Western philosophy, VEDANTA is not merely a speculative philosophy without any practical utility. On the contrary, it is a way of living and realizing. It gives full freedom to each individual to evolve morally and spiritually according to his or her faith and conviction. It includes various truths found in all religions of the world, including the teachings of the world's great saints and sages. In VEDANTA is found a reconciliation of religion with science, of faith with reason. A Vedantist is a seeker of truth who accepts and respects all religions as paths to the same goal.
Modern VEDANTA is exemplified in the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and his foremost monastic disciple Swami Vivekananda who was the first to come to the West to teach VEDANTA in 1893.
You can find the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda in the following books.

  1. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, originally recorded in Bengali by 'M' and translated into English by Swami Nikhilananda, and published by Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.
  2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (9 volumes), published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, India.


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