VEDANTA : I
“Every drop of water would find its way to the ocean.”
I could have done without introducing Vedanta but not without acknowledging the source of the line of progression I embarked upon one day decades ago. There is nothing in life that would have prompted me to take to the reality without and within this inclusive, cosmic fulness. It peeps into man, into each manifest being inert and alive, right since it all was yet unformed and unexpressed. Religions present this simple immanence as the “other” to us and renders it fictional, as yet another something in the humdrum of diversity we are situated in, or someone above the crowded multiplicity we end up dealing with. It was Vedanta that showed to me the way to that enveloping infinetely transcendent immanence that itself projects and permeates this living, breathing, pulsating reality we are priviledged to embody, view and experience.
Vedanta called aloud to me, “It is there, here and everywhere.” And that, it was attainable through this being expressed as us, the I – handle in our psyche at its source, the self I was never without. I remember that resonance when its meaning reverberated within me, filling me with an assurance my spirit was starved of and a trust to authenticity and harmony that was then singularly absent. The call itself was the culmination of humanity’s progressive rise into the truth millennia ago. And as effectively did I, over a period of about 12 years, when I allowed myself to be drawn by its rarefied reach.
The truth perspective of Vedanta is outlined and detailed in the Aranyakas, which include the more familiar Upanishads, the body of thought meant for reclusive and retired forest dwellers given over entirely to spiritual pursuit. It is what the Vedas ultimately lead us up to, after the Samhitas and the Brahmanas exhaust the revelations and purifying rituals to go along with them. The Bhagwad Gita and Brahma Sutras are different treatment and presentation of the same body of truth exposed in the Upanishads, and are hence considered authoritative Vedanta texts : the Gita being more pleibian and the Sutras more scholarly in their respective structure, context and content. These works have spawned a series of commentaries and clarificatory texts over time, right upto modern times, either to refresh that pinnacle of profundity where there is no more subtlety to unravel or to offer perspectival interpretations to suit different natural orientations in human subjectivity – devotion and reverential oneness, friendly and empathetic unity, or the formless undifferentiated being-witness infinite.
Vedanta concerns itself with truths that are superceded, not negated, by ones of higher or more subtle order. In contrast, a whole body of scientific facts have validity only until they are displaced by discovery of more ‘factual’ ones of the same material order. Truths are more subjectively intimate perceptions occasioned by a holistic integration of our multi-layered experience. That dimensional direction towards our within is important in the context of truth. Science, on the other hand, must point outward and insist on objectivity involving rational reductions, physical instruments and measures, and peer group validation of its repeatability and falsifiability. String theory speculations are less “scientific” in comparision.
Too, Vedanta is not a philosophy, which is largely a body of thought, speculative in nature and scope. We have, in any case, not had a philosopher proper in our midst since a couple of centuries now, while humanity has chosen to lay more and more of its lot with science that, in turn, is increasingly focused on areas having application in commerce and technology, with a promise of return on investment. Historically, it does seem that the natural philosophies and principia of yore morphed into the starker, more hard core, scientific treatises of modern times. Today, the only notable ‘ philosophers ‘ we still find occasionally on the horizon are all men of science !
The degree of truth is measured in terms of unmanifest cosmic drives it signifies and the manifest effects it engenders. Its hierarchy orients in the inverse, from the expressed to the subtle, and corresponds to the extent of its real equivalence and conceptual validity. A truth valid over the longer scale is superior to one that holds true for mere minutes, a particular environment or just one species. In simplistic terms, the one which holds good over the entire time scale, the whole of space and all of being, is termed the Supreme Truth.
Whilst Vedanta mentions truths of various kinds in passing, it lays at the very outset its primary focus : the Supreme Truth, its nature and facts, its meaning to man, especially the means and ways for an individual to realise and attain it. It would be clarifying to remember that the truth spoken of in the context of Vedanta is not the opposite of ‘ lie.’ A lie is a dream-like human construct, a creative representation of truth, a fact of the moment that gets contradicted in time. Conversely all truths, other than the Supreme, are illusory in comparison. Higher the truth, the more inclusive it is; and everything it includes are its expression, even if they are in apparent conflict with each other.
Truth is existence and the Supreme Truth is existence infinite. Humans sense the consciousness in their own very existence, and universally in all living and semi-living beings. The same consciousness is sensed or observed to configure itself to different forms of knowledge, identities, ideas, thoughts, emotions and feelings, organs and bodies. The difference among these forms lies in their capacity to reflect upon itself and animate the body with their will. In other words, the ‘formed’ knowledge could be fixed or programmed, instinctual but aware, or reflective and with a measure of control over its adjuncts, depending upon the intellectual and mental-vital endowment of the being. Besides, it is sensed that every form of being, animate and inanimate, comes to be on account of convergence of several pre-existing inputs and much energised cooperation at very specific actuated processes respective to manifestation of each form of being. The science we glean of it is the knowledge that pre-exists its discovery.
Vedic ancients hence appended their understanding of the Supreme Truth and described it as ” existence – consciousness – infinite ” or ” existence – knowledge – infinite.” They address the more universal and particular forms of beings anthropologically, but never without the sense of the infinite behind them. Further, in the phenomenal realm, a universal desire and pursuit for happiness, that is, for freedom from need, pain and want is seen to characterise all animals, including man. The same desire was projected and is now proven in plants All human motives, drives and actions are aimed at having happiness in some form or another – satisfaction, pleasure, joy, delight, fulfillment, contentment or peace. The descriptor for the Supreme Truth was thus modified to include this manifest aspect innate in existence; hence : Existence – Consciousness – Bliss – Infinite.
Vedanta suggests that whilst phenomenal truths, finite in their extention, having qualities but limited validity or lifetime, can be observed, studied and contemplated upon objectively and known, obtained or attained, the Supreme Truth is not an object accessible to our senses and mind. If it helps, we may go back to the facts at the origin : one, all truths are superceded in time; and, two, the Supreme Truth alone remains beyond the limits of form and space, and is transcendent of the of time and its effects. In other words, if we were to negate all forms in our vision, all emotions in our experience, all thoughts in our mind, all finite knowledge in our intellect including that of our own self… our own very consciousness would be subsumed in the Supreme Truth, since that alone is not superceded.
Traditions since antiquity admit of all manner of ways of ” uniting ” with the Supreme Truth. Very broadly, it spells the perspective to human needs, goals and endeavour within which such an exercise could be pursued : ethics and moral strength, livelihood and material abundance, sexual and sensory fulfillment, and liberation from all past impressions, present desires and future wants… which “liberation” subsumes in union with the Supreme Truth, the summum bonum. It allows for exceptions from the order or hierarchy of the nature of purposeful exertion, depending upon one’s moral excellence, freedom from sensory desire and focused drive to wipe the inner universe clean in order to maximise conditions for ultimate subsumption.