Sunday Service: The Basics of Vedanta

Vedanta

Week of Nov 29 – Dec 5, 2015

I get asked about Vedanta all the time. Usually the questions are basic, because nobody has ever heard about Vedanta–despite the continuous and widespread practice of the faith for more than 4,000 years. The ideas of Vedanta have permeated every culture in the world to some degree, but rarely does it go named.

This presents a problem, especially since I struggled for years to recommend an introductory book on the topic. There are plenty of books on Vedanta basics, but many get weighed down with terminology and abstruse ideas that don’t exactly help the beginning.

For many years I looked for a good Vedanta introduction until a monk at the Ramakrishna Mission in Delhi suggested Pravrajika Vrajaprana’s Vedanta: A Simple Introduction earlier this year. I picked up a copy without much hope; my expectations were not high given all the other intro books I had tried over the years without finding “the” book I wanted to hand beginners. But Vrajaprana delivered. The first Vedanta book I recommend is now her simple introduction to the faith.

I’m overjoyed that Vedanta Press and the Vedanta Society of Southern California have given us permission to reprint several chapters from the book. This week we bring you Vrajaprana’s concise introduction to Vedanta, an explanation that takes less than 500 words. In the months to come we’ll also share other parts of her wonderful writing.

Enjoy!

Yours,
Peter Kowalke

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Pravrajika Vrajaprana This Week’s Spiritual Talk

The Basics of Vedanta

By Pravrajika Vrajaprana

Vedanta is one of the world’s most ancient religious philosophies and one of its broadest. Based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India, Vedanta affirms the oneness of existence, the divinity of the soul, and the harmony of religions. Vedanta is the philosophical foundation of Hinduism; but while Hinduism includes aspects of Indian culture, Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds.

A closer look at the word “Vedanta” is revealing: “Vedanta” is a combination of two words: “Veda,” which means “knowledge,” and “anta,” which means “the end of” or “the goal of.” In this context, the goal of knowledge isn’t intellectual—the limited knowledge we acquire by reading books. “Knowledge” here means the knowledge of God as well as the knowledge of our own divine nature. Vedanta, then, is the search for Self-knowledge as well as the search for God.

What do we mean when we say God? According to Vedanta, God is infinite existence, infinite consciousness, and infinite bliss. The term for this impersonal, transcendent reality is Brahman, the divine ground of being. Yet Vedanta also maintains that God can be personal as well, assuming human form in every age.

Most importantly, God dwells within our own hearts as the divine Self or Atman. The Atman is born, nor will it ever die. Neither stained by our failures nor affected by the fluctuations of the body or mind, Atman is not subject to our grief or despair or disease or ignorance. Pure, perfect, free from limitations, the Atman, Vedanta declares, is one with Brahman. The greatest temple of God lies within the human heart.

Vedanta further asserts that the goal of human life is to realize and manifest our divinity. Not only is this possible, it is inevitable. Our real nature is divine; God-realization is our birthright. Sooner or later, we will all manifest our divinity—either in this or in future lives—for the greatest truth of our existence is our own divine nature.

Finally, Vedanta affirms that all religions teach the same basic truths about God, the world, and our relationship to one another. Thousands of years ago the Rig Veda declared: “Truth is one, sages call it by various names.” The world’s religions offer varying approaches to God, each one true and valid, each religion offering the world a unique and irreplaceable path to God-realization. The conflicting messages we find among religions are due more to doctrine and dogma than to the reality of spiritual experience. While dissimilarities exist in the external observances of the world religions, the internals bear remarkable similarities.

Pravrajika Vrajaprana is a nun at the Vedanta Society of Southern California’s Sarada Convent. This essay first appeared in the book, Vedanta: A Simple Introduction, under the title, “Vedanta: An Overview.” We thank Vedanta Press and the Vedanta Society of Southern California for the permission to reprint it here.

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Video of the Week

Pravrajika Vrajaprana on God

Finding lasting happiness. Applying the Bhagavad Gita to daily life. Learning about the history of Vedanta in the U.S. These are some of the topics covered at American Vedanta’s YouTube channel. We curate a list of spiritual videos that will help advance your spirituality and expand your mind. When wanting spiritual videos, give our YouTube channel a look.

We also recommend other resources such as Booksaudio lectures and web sites, among other resources.

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Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.


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