The Experiential Dimension of Advaita Vedanta

The Experiential Dimension of Advaita Vedanta

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Item Code: IDD411
Author: Arvind Sharma
Publisher: MOTILAL BANARSIDASS PUBLISHERS PVT. LTD.
Edition: 1993
ISBN: 8120810589
Pages: 130
Cover: HardCover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
Weight 340 gm
Preface

This book is intended for those who have either a fleeting or nodding acquaintance with Hindu thought or a curiosity about it, specially that part of it known as Advaita Vedanta, but have also wondered whether this body of thought has anything to do with the daily experience of living. This book makes the claim that-stripped bare of the Sanskrit language and the cultural idiom in which it is expressed—this body of thought offers an analysis of life which bears a direct relevance to our daily business of living. The relevance is in fact so direct that no Sanskrit word other than Advaita itself may be required in expounding it, and no authority at all need be invoked in elaborating it except that of experience; the experience of those of whom it may be claimed that they have actually undergone the experience which the body of thought seeks to explore. In the pages of this book the reader will encounter only five major terms or names with which the reader may not already be familiar: Advaita Vedanta (Advaita for short); Sankara, Ramana and Nisargadatta.

The word Vedanta refers to a body of texts which form the concluding section of the Hindu scripture known as the Veda, just as the Revelation of St. ]ohn constitutes the concluding section of the Bible. Advaita Vedanta indicates one of the many systematic philosophical expositions which these texts have generated within Hinduism. This particular exposition, developed by the exegete Sankara•—(788—820), upholds the conclusion that in the final analysis the ultimate reality about the universe is a unity entirely indivisible and hence non-dual: this is the meaning of the word Advaita. This non-dual reality can be directly experienced.

Ramana (1879-1950) and Nisargadatta (1897-1981) are two figures of modern India about whom it has been claimed that an encounter with this reality made an "experience able difference" to their lives. While Ramana is too well known to need an introduction, the life of Nisargadatta may be presented in brief, as follows:
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in Bombay in 1897. His parents, who gave him the name Maruti, had a small farm at the village of Kandalgaon and it was here that he spent his early years. In 1924 he married, later becoming a cigarette trader in Bombay where he and his wife raised a I family. From early childhood he had taken a keen interest in spiritual matters, his talks with holy men sharpening his inquisitive mind and kindling a spiritual fire. At the age of (34 he met his Guru and three years later realized himself, taking the name of Nisargadatta. He continued to live the life of an ordinary Indian working—man but his teachings, I which he set out in his master-work I Am That and which are rooted in the ancient Upanishad tradition, made a significant philosophical break from contemporary thought. Devotees traveled from all over the world to hear Nisargadatta’s unique message until his death in 1981.

Introduction

The doctrinal philosophy of Advaita is characterized by the affirmation of the existence of a”sole spiritual reality"." One may well ask:

What is the bearing of such a view of ultimate reality on our A everyday life? The most striking feature of the latter is the conviction which it involves, viz. that diversity is real and ultimate. The presupposition of most, if not all, of the activities of life is that one man is different from another. The very efforts made through social and political organizations to unify men imply that they regard themselves as distinct. If man is distinct from man, his distinction from his physical environment is even clearer. It is not merely man that is distinct from matter; matter itself, whether it serves as an adjunct of the self like the g physical body and the organs of sense or as its environment seems to be diverse in its character, each object having its own individuality. . . . It is obvious that, if monism is the truth, no part of this diversity can be ultimate. That is the significance of the teaching.... so far as our common beliefs are concerned.

A little reflection will show that the significance of the teaching is even more radical. For if there is only one reality, we must be identical with it! When Advaita is faced with the logical necessity as well as the apparent implausibility of such a conclusion it appeals to a life-transforming experience which enables one” to grasp the unity of experience directly—as directly as he has grasped its diversity," on the principle “that a mediate knowledge of truth cannot overcome an immediate illusion—that seeing alone is believing.

There is our ordinary experience of daily living. Advaita intrudes into it with the claim that an extraordinary experience is possible in this life which can cause a Copernican revolution within it. This transformation of ordinary experience by the Advaitin experience represents a claim so astounding that on this basis alone it needs at least to be examined. But has anyone undergone such an experience to make it accessible to investigation? Most Advaitins are agreed that the modern Hindu sage Ramana (1879-1950) had undergone it. This view is shared by Nisargadatta (1897-1981) about whom a similar claim has also been made. Thus Ramana may be said to be the chief spokesman of experiential Advaita just as the philosopher Sankara (788-820) is looked upon as the leading expositor of doctrinal Advaita.

This book attempts an exploration of experiential Advaita. Any such exploration must (1) begin with a statement about the nature of ordinary or normal experience; (2) subject it to a suitable critique; (3) if the critique is plausible, reformulate ordinary experience in the light of this critique and, finally (4) compare its own putative experience of (ultimate) reality with ( our daily experience of ordinary reality. Thus are the four chapters of the first part of the book accounted for. The second part explores these issues further.

The term experience is an ambiguous one. It may refer to the experience of ordinary people like you and me or of extraordinary people like Ramana and Nisargadatta. It may also refer not only to the ordinary experiences of ordinary people and the extraordinary experiences of extraordinary people but to the j extraordinary experiences of ordinary people and the ordinary experiences of extraordinary people. Thus the discussion of experience raises two questions: wh0's experience and which experience? Ambiguity is usually viewed negatively, but in the present context could it not turn into something creative?

About the Book

The Experiential Dimension of Advaita Vedanta provides a clear, concise and precise introduction to Advaita Vedanta, on the basis of something more powerful than argument, namely, experience.

About the Author

A former member of the I.A.S., Arvind Sharma (B.A. Allahabad, 1958; M.A., Syracuse, 1970; M.T.S. Harvard Divinity School, 1974; Ph. D. Harvard University, Montreal, Canada. He has also taught in Australia (Brisbane and Sydney) and the United States (Philadelphia).

Dr. Sharma is a leading historian of religion and one of the most significant Hindu thinkers since Radhakrishnan. His recent works include A Hindu Perspective on the Philosophy of Religion as author and Fragments of Infinity: Essays on Religion and Philosophy as editor.

CONTENTS


Preface

Introduction

PART I
CHAPTER I : What is Normal Experience?

CHAPTER II : A Critique of Normal Experience

CHAPTER III : Conclusion based on the Critique of Normal Experience

CHAPTER IV : Advaitin Experience and its Relationship to Normal Experience

PART II

CHAPTER V :  Some Other Approaches to Normal Experience
CHAPTER VI : The Reconciliation of Normal and Advaitin Experience
CHAPTER VII : Advaitin Experience in the Course of Daily Living

CHAPTER VIII : Some Accounts of Advaitin Experience
CONCLUSION
NOTES
BIBLIOGRAPHY
GLOSSARY
INDEX

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