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Vedanta


Vedanta literally means "the end of the Veda." However, the work refers to both the teaching of the Upanishads, the last treatise of the Vedas, and to the knowledge of the ultimate meanings. These ultimate meanings concern man's relationship to the existence of Brahman, to his relationship with the world, to his fellow man, and to his own inner self. After 300 BC-the end of the Upanishadic formulations, an intense study of the Upanishad gave rise to a number of philosophic schools with opposing interpretations of its central meaning.

An exemplary summary of the Upanishadic doctrines (known as either the Brahma Sutra or the Vedanta Sutras) became the focus of sharp discussion. The best known and the most influential of the diverse schools of Vedanta was that of Sankara (c. 788-c. 820) who who was a Saivite Brahmin and famous for his commentary on the Brahma Sutra and the ten most esteemed Upanishads. For Sankara, the Upanishad presented an organic unity when understood in its totality. As a non-dualist, Sankara saw Brahman as a pure reality, pure consciousness, and pure bliss. And since the world is a creation of Brahman and completely dependent on it, and since Brahman and indestructible, the seeming change that men discern in the world is merely illusion or "maya." Further, Brahman exist as an Absolute without qualities-however, in Brahman's existent as a personal god Ishvara, in this embodiment there is an inherence of qualities. Finally, Sankara hold that ultimate enlightenment cannot come from the devotion of deities and ritual but rather by the way of eradication of ignorance, or maya, and through knowledge of Brahman, and self.

In critical opposition of Sankara's views were two schools of Ramanuja (1017-1137) and Madhva (1197-1276). Ramanuja, who worshipped Vishnu, believed that Brahman in its cosmic aspect possessed qualities that are divine; that there is a separate world of souls who are of course dependent on God; and that the path to salvation is by the way of Bhakti. Madhva, also, agrees with Ramanuja that there is a world of pluralities; a world of permanent reality, of separate souls, and of God-who is Vishnu. Despite the conflicting points of view between the interpreters of the Vedanta, this metaphysical-religious outlook continues to exercise a dynamic influence on the on the intellectual and religious life of India.

A number of Vedanatas have greatly influenced Indian and Western readers including S. Radhakrishnan, Swami Viekananda, Aurobindo Chose. Western writers as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwoon have popularized the fundamental insights of the Vedanta, and stressed their relevance for modern humankind. These works are The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley (1946); and Vedanta for Modern Man by Christopher Isherwood (1951), this is the Harper Brothers edition, but has since been published and reissued under different titles. A.G.H.


Sources:

Riland, George, The New Steinerbooks Dictionary of Paranormal, New York, Warner Books, Inc., 1980, pp. 326-327
Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions: A Short Encyclopedia of Religions of the Orient, New York, Doubleday, 1978, p. 393