This anthology on practical Vedanta is a collection of my essays on various aspects of practical Vedanta, as expounded by Lord Krishna and as applied by Swami Vivekananda in the nineteenth century and Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo and Ma Anandamayee in the twentieth century. The essays appeared in various issues of Ananda Varta since 1954, Ma Anandamayee Amrit Varta since 1996, Abhigyan since 1996, Vedanta Research Centre Souvenirs since 1997, National Seminar Papers on Shree Shree Anandamayee Ma 1977, Bulletin of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of culture, culture 29 (July & August, 1999) and my book on Reminiscences of Anandamayee Ma (1997). However se4veral factual mistakes discovered in the original articles, have been corrected in the anthology. They have been documented in footnotes of each chapter. It is quite natural that many repetitions will be found in the text, as the same author has approached the same subject from different angles at different times in different publications. I have deleted some of the repetitions and have deliberately retained a few to highlight the same important view or statement.
I have devoted eight chapters out of sixteen on Ma Anandamayee as she is the only undisputed Brahmajnani, of the 20th century, in whose holy association I found myself, by the grace of God, from 1951 to 1982 and whom I have known directly and more intensely than Sri Krishna, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo or Mahatma Gandhi.
This is a sequel to my on Bhauta Vijan, Tantra and Vedanta,’ published in Bengali from Calcutta in 2000 A.D.
I am grateful to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai for the publication of this book.
Of all the systems of Indian Philosophy the Vedanta system happens to be the most important system and the projections of this Philosophy are regarded as the projections of Indian wisdom on problems relating to universe and life. As a matter of fact, since the dawn of human civilisation human mind has started searching after the reasons that lie behind the creation and dissolution of the universe and also solving the riddle of the universe. In its search after the eternal energy that creates the universe, remains immanent in it and continues to shine in its full splendour even after annihilation of the universe. The Vedanta system arrives at the Absolute Brahman which is formless and motionless but at the same time, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.
The Vedanta system draws its inspiration from the four supreme sentences of the Upanishads, each of which gives a clarion call to the posterity to realise the identity of the individual self with the Self of the universe. It is said that, the Absolute, which represents the Self of the universe, as also the self of the man is a conglomeration of Bliss, Beauty and Good, as a result of which human life is blissful and beautiful and at the same time is competent to conduct the man to the gateway of the Good through the shady avenue of the Beautiful, provided spiritual intelligence is made the supreme guide. The Upanishads conceive of the Absolute as the Quiet, Sublime (Sanatan) Incarnation of the Good (Shivam) and Non-duality (Advaitam).
The Quiet Sublime, it says, is to be attained through Knowledge, the Good is to be arrived at through Action and the Great one having no duality is to be experienced through Love. This philosophy broached by the Upanishads reaches the conclusion that all the three paths of Knowledge, Action and Devotion are to be followed for the emancipation of the man, which exists in transcendence over the boundaries of truncated ego.
It is clear thus that the Vedanta system of philosophy owes its genesis to the speculations of the Upanishads. At a later stage it gets the best and most dynamic expression as a philosophy of comprehensive spirituality in the teachings of Lord Krishna, as preserved in the Gita.
About three thousand years later it gets a full-bodied form in the speculations of the brilliant philosopher Shankara, in whom Vedanta achieves its most rational formulation with the widest intellectual sweep.
After a few centuries, appears Ramanuja in the field and he is followed by a succession of large-hearted saints and reformers in whom Vedanta achieves a unique emotional enrichment, through infusion of the element of Bhakti or devotion, as a result of which the love directed towards the Lord is transformed ultimately into love not only for human beings, but for all creatures. At a much later stage, Vedanta is re-interpreted by Lord Chaitanya, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Ma Anandamayee, who following more or less the line of Ramanujacharya, advocate the philosophy of Qualified Monism.
It is interesting to note that solutions to most of the problems confronting humanity in the 21st Century can be arrived at through the teachings of the Vedanta System of Philosophy, which declares all things as permeated by the Absolute and at the same time recognises the dignity of the man by saying that the seemingly finite man is infinite in dimension.
The lofty philosophy of Humanism propounded in the Vedanta system of philosophy appears through the wonderful path of spirituality, as a result of which it does not bring in its trail horror of class-conflict and at the same time tenders advice to the man to eschew the ego-centered desires and experience the heart-beats of others in his own heart-beats. The Qualified Monism projected by Ramanujacharya and Ballabhacharya gives rise ultimately to Gaudiya Vaishnavism so fondly advocated by the five Goswamis of Bengal and interpreted by Krishnadas Kaviraj in his magnum opus 'Chaitanya Charitamrita'. The tenets of the Vedanta system of philosophy get modified and strengthened by the projections of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Ma Anandamayee, each of whom tries to give a practical shape to the tenets, making them acceptable to the modern mind and applicable in the present context. The present era is an era of scientific and technological advancement, and unless something practical, useful to the present day man is projected, the society is not going to accept it as something Grand and Sublime. Too much emphasis placed on the sensuous to the neglect of the supra-sensuous, too much importance assigned to the physical to the utter neglect of the supra-physical, a great place assigned to the materialistic to the neglect of the spiritual, all these have denigrated humanity to a large extent, as a result of which violence has become rampant and interest conflict and class-struggle have become so common. To establish a society in which peace and tolerance prevail to a great extent, it has become an essentiality to accept the teachings of the Vedanta system, as interpreted by saints and philosophers, like Lord Ramakrishna. Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Ma Anandamayee and to implement them in practical life. But it is difficult to get a proper exponent who can trace the evolution of the Vedanta system of philosophy through ages and can evaluate the teachings of saints and philosophers, beginning from Lord Krishna down to Ma Anandamayee in the context of the World philosophical systems. The Vedanta system of philosophy not only teaches us the secret of making the process of living life an Art, but at the same time, teaches us how to bring into consummation the concepts of global fraternity and universal tolerance, how to combat evil forces, that stand in the way of attainment of fulfilment by the man and how to establish a classless society in which the dignity of man will be established once for all.
Indian scholarship is fortunate in having in Acharya Dr. Bireshwar Gangopadhyaya, Director, Vedanta Research Centre, Ranchi, and formerly Professor and Head of the Department of Economics, Magadha University, who happens to be a rare scholar, having deep penetration into all the systems of Indian Philosophy, including the new philosophies broached by Lord Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, Lord Chaitanya and Sri Aurobindo as also of Ma Anandmayee, who often had identified herself with the Goddess Durga or the Mother Kali, as a profound exponent of the approach of the Divine Mother.
In my last book in Bengali on Bhauta Vijnan, Tantra and Vedanta, I have tried to prove in a non-technical way that there is no contradiction between modern science and Tantra and Vedanta, the perennial philosophy of the Hindus though for the semetic religions it is difficult to find conformity between science and religion. Rather Tantra Shashtra is the theoretical as well as practical link between energy of modern Physics, life of modern Biology and conscious Atman of Vedanta philosophy, in as much as Tantra declares that matter is ultimately not only energy but also the lower limit of Atman or consciousness. Moreover Tantra Sadhana prescribes practical methods of realizing the self or Atman or Braman or God. For the God of Sanatan Hindu Dharma is not merely the semetic transcendental almighty ruler in heavan but also the immanent Brahman, enveloping, inhering and sustaining the whole created universe, containing matter and life of innumerable universes.
Vedanta, the crest jewel of six systems of Indian philosophy has three aspects, viz (a) Shruti Prasthana or source materials found in the revealed literature of the Upanishads, (b) Nyaya Prasthana or the logical codification of the fundamental aphorisms of the Vedas as found in Brahma Sutra and (c) Smriti Prasthana or the applied or practical aspect of Vedanta as found in Shrimad Bhagavad Gita the celestial song, sung by lord Krishna the plenary incarnation (avatar) of God.
A galaxy of sages in India gave practical demonstrations of applied Vedanta in their lived and teachings and I have picked up only four modern representatives of practical Vedanta, viz., Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi and Ma Anandamayee. I consider Ma Anandamayee to be the other side of the golden coin of Sri Ramakrishna of the nineteenth century. I have briefly dealt with the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, the best disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. The supreme dictum of Sri Ramakrishna, viz., “Jato Mat Tato Path,” –“as many ways to God as there are faiths” – found its best representation in Ma Anandamayee of the twentieth century.
Mayavadi Vedanta versus Vaishnava Vedanta:
Vedanta can be interpreted either with the Mayavadi monism of Shankaracharya (788-820 A.D.) or with the Leelavadi Vishistadvaittavad (theistic qualified monism) of Ramanujacharya (1027-1137 A.D) or with the Dvaitadvaitavad of Nimbarkacharya (11th century A.D.) or the Shuddhadvaitavad of Vallabhacharya (1481-1533 A.D) or with the Achintya bhedabhedavada of Lord Chaitanya (1485-1533 A.D) as interpreted by Krishnadasa Kaviraja in Chaitanya Charitamrita 1616 A.D) and by Sri Jiva Goswami (16th -17th Century A.D) Bengal Vaishnavism or Gaudiya (Gauranga Mahaprabhu) and elaborated by Sri Jiva Goswami on the lines of the philosophy of dualism of Madhvacharya. Leelavadi Vaishnava Vedanta consists of boththe schools of qualified monism of Ramanujacharya and Nimbarkacharya and dualism of Madhvacharya, Chaitanya, Krishnadas Kaviraj and Jiva Goswami. Mayavadi Vedanta is suitable for Sannyasis and Vaishnava Vedanta is suitable for householders.
For a philosophy suitable for Yoga-Sadhana should not only be logically acceptable for the aspirant sadhaka, but should also be psychologically and intuitively understandable.
While dealing with the views of Sri Ramakrishna on different schools of Vedanta, Romain Rolland observes: “The three great orders of metaphysical thought –Dualism, qualified Monism, and absolute Monism –are the stages on the way to supreme truth. They are not contradictory but rather are complementary, the one to the other. Each is the perspective offered to the mental stand—point of one order of individuals. For the masses who are attracted through the senses, dualistic form of religion with ceremonies, music, images, and symbols is useful. The pure intellect can arrive at qualified monism; it knows that there is a beyond, but it cannot realise it. Realisation belongs to another order, the Advaita the inexplicable, the formless Absolute, of which the discipline of Yoga gives a foretaste. It is the last word of Realisation. It is identity with the one Reality.
One who believes in Absolute Monism of Shankaracharya and feels a congenial atmosphere in the Samkhya Sadhana of Mayavad cannot logically be confined to household duties of grihasthashrama and undertake Karma Yoga, based on Varnashrama Dharma of Sanatan Hindu Dharma. He can at best undertake the work of a perform selfless social service like the monks of Buddhism, Christianity or the Ramakrishna Mission of Hinduism. The practical Vedanta of Bhagavad Geeta logically belongs to householders like Prince Arjuna, who was exhorted by Lord Krishna to perform his functional caste duties of a Kshatriya in a detached manner in the spirit of surrender to God. This is in fact the practical Vedanta of Nishkama Karma Yoga even for householders of all functional castes. Swami Vivekananda, founded the Ramakrishna Mission for carrying the banner of Vedanta as taught in the Gita for wholetime sannyasis who engage in selfless social service in the Ramakrishnaite spirit of serving humanity as the manifestation of divinity (Shivajnane Jiva seva). Mahatma Gandhi divinised political and social activity by applying the principles of practical as found in his Geeta Mata.
Since the practical Vedanta of Bhagavad Gita, the most authentic and most popular Hindu scripture, can be properly understood in the light of Ramanujacharya’s Vishistadvaitavad and not Shankaracharya’a Mayavadi Adaitavad, a brief statement of the story will be appreciated by intellectual aspirants of the middle category, who, I believe, constitute the core group of readers of this treatise.
According to Ramanujacharya’s Visistadvaitavad: Brahman is identical with God; He is the supreme person (Purushottam Paramatma); He is infinite and self-luminous; the supreme Brahman is eternal, omnipresent, immanent in the whole universe, omniscient, omnipotent and endowed with many auspicious qualities; he is the creator, preserver and destroyer of Jagat (universe), its material cause and efficient cause, and the ground of all; He is the inner guide and innerself of unconscious Prakriti (matter) and conscious Jivas (souls); He is immanent in them and transcendent of them; He is first cause of all effects (sarva kranakaranm).
There is unity in plurality of God or Brahman; there is internal difference (Svagata bheda) in Him; His nature is inconceivable; He can assume infinite forms; He harmonizes all multiplicity; he is perfect and creates the universe out of His fullness as a sport (leela); Matter and souls are attributes, modes, or parts of God; the individual soul is identical in the essence of consciousness with God (Tat Tvam Asi); the soul presiding over a body is not a mere appearance but an eternal reality, an eternal part of God (Mamaivansho Jivabhutah Sanatanah); God is an determinate and synthetic whole; He is the supreme person (Purushottama Parmatma Ishwara); and not merely the sum total of finite persons; all Jivatmas; matter and souls are dependent on Him as His inseparable attributes; self-luminosity, consciousness, selfhood and agency are common to Jivatamas and Ishwara; but the Jivatmas are, atomic or monadic in structures whereas Ishvara is bibhu or infinite; The Jivatmas acquire avidya (ignorance), actions, dispositions, and desires in connection with unconscious matter; human freedom and liberation are subject to the will and grace of God.
I find that though both Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa Deva of the nineteenth Century and Sri Sri Ma Anandamayee of the twentieth century were undisputed Brahmajnanis, their life and teachings can best be understood in the light of qualified Monism. Sri Ramakrishna’s views on Mayavad versus Leelavad can be understood in a nutshell from the following two footnotes of Romain Rolland’s ‘The Life of Ramakrishna’:
The jnani rejects Maya. Maya is like a veil (which he dispels). Look when I hold this handkerchief in front of the lamp, you can no longer see its light. Then the master held the handkerchief between him and the disciples and said, ‘Now you can no longer behold my face’. The Bhakta does not reject Maya. He worships Mahamaya (the great illusion). He gives himself to her and prays, ‘Mother, get out of my way! Only so can I hope to realise Brahman’. The Jnani denies the three states the waking state, the dream and the deep sleep, the Bhakta accepts all three. So Ramakrishna’s tenderness, the natural preference was for those who accepted everything, even illusion, who affirmed and loved everything, who denied nothing, since Evil and illusion are of God. It is not good to say from the very first, ‘I see the impersonal God’. Everything I see –men women, animals, flowers, trees- is God”.
Two days before his death in answer to Naren’s unspoken desire to drag from him the avowal he was so loth to make, Ramakrishna said, ‘he who was Rama and who was Krishna is now Ramakrishna, in the body lying here”. But he added, ‘Not in your Vedantic sense.’ (That is to say, not merely in the sense of identity with the Absolute, but in the sense of Incarnation)………At other times when a faithful follower (in 1884) said to him, ‘when I see you I see God’, he rebuked him, ‘Never say that. The wave is part of the Ganga, the Ganga is not part of the wave’. (cf. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, II, P.181). ‘The Avatars are to Brahman what the waves are to the ocean’. (From Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings, par. 362) ‘A Divine Incarnation is hard to comprehend –it is the play of the infinite on the finite’. (Ibid. 369).
Ma Anandamayee’s Theistic Monism
There are eight chapters dealing with different aspects of Mother’s life and teachings, as understood by a humble devotee in the course of thirtyone years of his long and intimate association with the Mother. It was revealed to him in course of time that though Mother was definitely well established in the supreme place of non-duality, yet for the sake of the overwhelming majority of her householder devotees, She displayed in Her behaviour and sermons, a definite bias towards dualistic devotion (Bhakti), conspicuous in the Gaudiya school of Vaishnavism, and the following twenty-four out of a hundred saying of mother on God, will reveal Her emphasis on the theistic qualified monism, rather than Mayavadi absolute indeterminate monism.
Saying of Ma Anandamayee on God Man and Sadhana:
1. There is one unchanging indivisible REALITY which though unmanifest, reveals itself in infinite multiplicity and diversity.
2. That one the Supreme Truth –is ever present everywhere in all circumstances.
3. Referred to as Brahman, He is no other than God Almighty.
4. God Almighty is nameless and formless, yet all named and forms are His.
5. God Almighty is nameless and formless yet all names and forms are his.
6. His essence is Being, Consciousness and Bliss.
7. Indeed, He is in everything and everything is in Him, there is nothing but Him.
8. Try to see God in everything and everybody, including yourself.
9. God Himself is revealed in some guise even in individuals supposed to be sinners, as also in suffering seemingly unbearable.
10. The vision of the Eternal Lila of the Supreme Being is impossible unless one has seen His Bliss in His universality and self sufficiency and unless one finds this represented in one in union with and as part of the whole.
11. The immutable Brahman and the primeval sound Aum are one and same as (the word) Ma.
12. God’s name is He himself – the name and the named are identical.
13. At every breath try to be in communion with Him through His name.
14. Since all names are His indeed, he will let Himself be grasped by any one of them; furthermore, it will gradually be revealed that he is also without name and without form.
15. Take it form me –repetition of His name makes everything possible.
16. If you live with the conviction that God is in the closest contact with you, you will gradually discover that there is nothing but God.
17. If at all your I remains let it exist only as His servant or as His child and therefore, the notion that he is far removed will be ruled out.
18. God Himself appears as the Guru. He has to be invoked full of faith. The Guru actually emerges from within.
19. Man is no other then the Self; but he wrongly thinks of himself as a separate individual centered on his body and identified by a particular name.
20. Duality is pain. So long as man does not wake up to his identity with the one, the cycle of birth and death continues for him.
21. Self-realization is God-realization and God-realization is self-realization.
22. It is the will of the Almighty that prevails. By living in harmony with His will and becoming an instrument in His hands you should try to realize Him.
23. What does Atma-darsana, the direct perception of the self imply? The seer the seen and the act of seeing –where these three are one there Brahman is realized.
24. Among all creatures man alone has been endowed with the capacity to realize God. Unconditional surrender to Him is the best solace for man.
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