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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Vedanta?
See our brief overview of Vedanta.

What’s the purpose of life?
Realizing that you are one with God in every moment.

How do I find God?
He’s usually at the corner grocery store. But if you can’t find him there, we recommend following one or all of these four spiritual disciplines: The path of knowledge (jnana yoga), love (bhakti yoga), work (karma yoga) or meditation (raja yoga). Contact us if you need help with these spiritual disciplines.

What is love?
Love is a momentary glimpse of your infinite nature and your Oneness with everything. True love. Infatuation is not love. See our introduction to New Western Bhakti Yoga.

What is a mystic?
A mystic is someone with exceptional perceptivity. The mystic may “see,” “feel,” “taste” God, maybe be “touched” or “taken.” It is essentially a matter of consciousness. That which remains an object of faith for the non-mystic—“God”—or the conclusion of an argument—“the absolute”—appears to the mystic as “being there.” To this person God is really present, and in an even more tangible way than surrounding people and things.

Mystics do not merely have a religious belief or speculative insight, they are gifted with experience of God. So a mystic is a normal person like anyone else. The mystic is exceptional only in that he or she is affected by a Presence.

And it is important to note that mystics do not possess more than other human beings; God dwells in them as in all people. But, in addition, they “know how this is,” to use a phrase from 13th century Flemish mystic, John Ruysbroeck. –Adapted from Paul Mommaers’ book, Hadewijch.

What are the most important prerequisites for reaching enlightenment?
Four of the most important prerequisites for reaching enlightenment include 1) purification of body and mind, 2) control of ego, anger and greed, 3) love for all, and 4) concentration on a spiritual theme (Self or God or an incarnation of God). There are others, too, but these are key. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Japan

Do I have to change my religion to practice Vedanta?
No, not at all. We don’t convert, we accept all religions as valid paths to God. There is only one God, although people may use different names, such as Jesus, Allah, Brahman, etc. Because there is only one God, through Vedanta a Christian, for example, can learn about meditation and apply it in a Christian context. See our sermon, “One Truth, Many Paths.” -Adapted from the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago

Is there one God or many?
Vedanta believes in one God that can be expressed as many. It is not polytheistic, although it can seem that way because the many aspects of God can be represented in different forms.

Is God a Man or a Woman?
God is everything from the table in front of us to the person next to us to the vast ocean of our mind. There is nothing that is not part of and indivisible from God. There is only one (God), not two. So since God is everything, He is beyond sex and gender. Conceptualizing God as “everything” is hard, however, so we also can think of God as something smaller and more personal since ultimately there is nothing that is not God. This personal conception of God can have a form and look like a man, a woman, or even an animal or a tree. Is God man or woman? You choose whatever form works best for you. The form you choose can even be no form at all.

How do I tell the difference between good and evil?
On the deepest level, there is no good or evil–there just “is.” Only a fully enlightened person can completely see the world beyond good and evil, however, so a simple rule of thumb is to judge in terms of wholesomeness. Something is “good” if it is wholesome: It makes us more whole by getting us more in touch with our true nature of connectedness with everything around us. Something is “bad” if it is unwholesome: the thing or action moves us away from a sense of connection with everything around us. It increases our ignorance or maya.

Why do you have so many gods and goddesses?
There are many–thousands, in fact. Each god or goddess represents a different aspect of the one God. And since God is infinite, it’s no wonder there are so many different expressions! For instance, the god Brahma represents that aspect of God which is the Creator; the god Vishnu represents that aspect of God which sustains creation; and the god Shiva represents that aspect of God which transforms. All are representations that help the individual conceptualize the infinite. -Adapted from the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago

Is Vedanta the same as Hinduism?
Vedanta is one of the six main schools of thought in Hinduism. Hinduism includes all the social and religious customs of anyone living in the subcontinent of India who is not a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Jain, Sikh, Zoroastrian or Buddhist. There are many different understandings in Hinduism; it is a complex collection of many religious traditions. Vedanta is the underlying philosophy for many people who call themselves Hindu. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

What is your relationship to the Ramakrishna community?
See our brief essay on our relationship to the larger Ramakrishna community.

Who is Sri Ramakrishna?
See our page on Sri Ramakrishna.

Who is Swami Vivekananda?
See our page on Swami Vivekananda.

Who is Sarada Devi?
See our page on Sarada Devi.

Does evolution exist?
Yes, evolution is consistent with the Vedantic view that everything is One. Vedanta does not dispute scientific findings, although it cautions that there is more to the world than what can be seen and sensed.

Isn’t yoga about poses and postures?
Yoga actually is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, not necessarily stretching and poses. The goal of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. The West primarily knows the poses and stretching that come from Hatha Yoga. But yoga is more generalized than that. -Adapted from Wikipedia

Do you do yoga exercises?
Hatha yoga exercises can be very good in promoting health, relaxation, and concentration. In this way hatha yoga can be beneficial to spiritual life. It is not essential to spiritual life, however. Many people in the West mistakenly think that being able to do hatha yoga will automatically make them spiritual. There is also the danger that a person’s focus will be too much on the body and longevity rather than on spiritual development. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

Is God feminine or masculine?
God is everything, so it is both feminine and masculine.

Is Vedanta life-denying?
Some sects of Vedanta emphasize the illusory nature of the world and the futility of taking part in it. Mainstream Vedanta, however, recognizes four main goals in life: Dharma (pursuit of righteousness), Artha (wealth), Kama (sense and artistic pleasures), and Moksha (liberation). Although the world is illusory compared with the fullness of God, it still is a manifestation of divinity and a temporary reality. Hence one should do one’s duties and participate in the world in a way that will lead to liberation rather than greater bondage. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

Christ said, “No one shall enter the kingdom of heaven except through me.” Shouldn’t we be worried we are taking the wrong path?
No. Krishna and Buddha said similar things. Also, Ramakrishna had a spiritual experience of merging with Christ. He felt his oneness with Christ, Rama and Krishna. How can we explain this?

There are three possible explanations:

• These great teachers at times felt totally identified with the one Reality. It is in this sense that they used the word “me”.
• They were talking to a local group of people who were not going to hear about other incarnations of God.
• Their teachings were altered by others coming later who wanted power and control over people.

-Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

Is there a devil?
Basically, no. God is beyond good and evil. When Oneness appears as many, it must, out of necessity, manifest as pairs of opposites. Good and evil are inevitable consequences of the One appearing as many. Good is that which helps us eventually see through the illusion that we are many. Evil is that which perpetuates our ignorance of our true divine nature. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

Is there sin?
The important thing is to realize that our true nature is divine. What some people call “sins” actually is an action not conducive to our spiritual goal. They are errors. Conduct can be judged as right and wrong. But we feel that it is not healthy to consider oneself or others as sinners. This puts the focus on our impermanent, imperfect nature. Think of your permanent, ever-pure nature instead. We should learn from our mistakes and go forward. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

Do you believe in karma?
Yes, but karma comes in a future life. It doesn’t come in this life. If you do good, you won’t necessarily be rewarded by good karma later in this life.

I don’t like to think of God as a person. Can I still practice Vedanta?
Yes. God manifests in different forms for the sake of devotees with different temperaments. Almost all religions have some symbol for God. God can be personal or impersonal, with form or without form. God may be approached in many ways.

Vedanta philosophy can be used with any aspect of God. A personal aspect of God is not essential to spiritual practice. However, using a personal form of God can help us focus the emotional-devotional component of our nature to help us along our spiritual path. Christ, Mother Mary, Buddha, or other great spiritual beings can all be used as symbolizing the personal form of God, or a generalized love for humanity if done correctly. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

Are cows worshiped?
No. All life is sacred, but cows are not more important than other forms of life.

Is it necessary to adopt Indian dress and Hindu food restrictions to be a Vedantin?
No. Habits of dressing and eating are cultural things, not spiritual things. The Vedanta philosophy is universal, and it can be adapted to any culture and time. -Adapted from the Vedanta Society of Southern California

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