Those of us who have encountered Vedanta and studied its basic teachings quickly discover that it is truly a science of religion – a master key that unlocks the apparent contradictions of different traditions and systems and reveals the spiritual principles in operation. It is not only that Advaita, the culmination of Vedanta, shows the universal Truth at the apex other traditions, but also that Vedanta philosophy delineates the three stages of spiritual evolution: dualism, qualified non-dualism and finally nondualism. With this understanding of the avasthas, or stages, of spiritual development in individuals and religions, one is not perplexed by contradictory teachings within traditions or between traditions. One simply recognizes the stage and appreciates the forms it takes.
But Vedanta itself is a fine screen filter. It has been described as an underground river that nourishes everything above it, but is rarely seen itself. What is often hidden in most traditions until the latter stages of spiritual realization is given “out front” in Vedanta – at least in these contemporary times. A prime example is: Brahman satya, jagad mithya, Brahman is True (Real), the world is false (unreal). This is one of the foundational teachings in Vedanta, simultaneously providing a standard for discernment for the beginner, and revelation for the more advanced practitioners. Many people are not ready to hear this and very quickly turn away….sometimes running! Thus, Vedantic congregations focusing on the traditional teachings that assert both the need to perform spiritual practice and the necessity of non-compromise of the Truth tend to be small.
Hearing Brahman satya, jagad mithya in English has its own problems as well, simply due to translation. A student will have to spend time with the Sanskrit words, guided by an authentic teacher, in order to stretch the meaning of the English words to accommodate what is being conveyed. In previous blogs we have talked about the meaning of “satya” or satyam”. It is not merely truthfulness, but that singular Truth that can never be untrue at any time, place, or circumstance. Non-dual Truth transcends, time, space, and causation. Note, that time and space create divisions. If something transcends time and space it has no limits or boundaries. Therefore, this Truth/Reality must be infinite, eternal, and indivisible, hence, all-pervading. Further, there cannot be two infinites. Thus Brahman is all there is. So what is this world? The statement above says it is mithya, false. But what does this “false” mean? It means changing, impermanent, perishable, superimposed, and dependent on something else for its existence. Another great statement from the Upanisads asserts, Sarvam khalvidam Brahman, “All this, indeed, is Brahman.” All this (idam), meaning that all we see with our mind and senses is Brahman, but we are not recognizing it as Brahman. And this is maya, ignorance, the cause of all suffering.
This is a quick walk through how we are taught in Vedanta to understand these great statements and pierce through phenomenal existence to the unchanging Reality (Truth) that is the substratum of all. For, we must not forget here, that if Brahman is infinite and indivisible, that means It is our Essence, our true Self. So, as my teacher, Babaji , is fond of saying, people become miserable when they hear that Brahman is Real and the world is false, because they focus only on the world being false, and entirely miss the real point: Brahman is Real/True.
Vedanta tradition gives the story of the Ten Men. Ten men were traveling together on pilgrimage and had to ford a somewhat dangerous stream. After they crossed, they wanted to make sure that everyone had made it, so their leader counted everyone and came up with only nine. They all began to wail over their lost comrade. Another man came upon them and asked them what their trouble was and they told him. The stranger was sympathetic (and perhaps a little amused) and re-counted them, one through nine until he came to the leader and said “You are the tenth!” So great was their relief that they became completely joyous. Like this, we tend to remain so focused on outward phenomena, which also includes our mental processes and reaction to the world, that we fail to hear Brahman Satya, jagad mithya in its true spirit. Our inmost Consciousness is that Brahman, ever-Blissful, and That is the Light that makes all else perceptible and meaningful.
Twenty years ago, at the start of our SRV Associations, an unaffiliated branch of the Ramakrishna lineage in the United States, I thought that it was possible to present the core Vedantic practices of viveka and vairagya (discrimination and detachment/renunciation) to westerners by westerners and have more success since we know the western psyche so well. But the real issue is whether or not a person is ready to let go of the expectation that he or she can find true fulfillment in the world, with objects and activities. If one is not ready to examine the fact of suffering and the inability of objects, relationships, and activities to give ultimate satisfaction, one will not stick around long enough to understand that the world is real because Brahman is Real and realizing this in one’s own Self is the Ultimate Fulfillment.
eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman
tamatmastham ye’nupasyanti dhirah
tesham shantih shashvati netaresham
That one, the Eternal among non-eternals, the Intelligence of the intelligent, who though ever one fulfills the desires of the many C those who realize that One as existing in their own self, to them belongs eternal peace, and to none else.
Hiranmaye pare koshe
Virajam brahma niskalam
Tac chubhram jyotisam jyotih
Tad yad atmavido viduh
Shining like burnished gold in the luminous sheath of intelligence, the deepest core of the human being, there dwells Brahman, stainless, indivisible, and pure. That is the Light of all that shines. That is what the knowers of the Self realize.