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Vedic Philosophy

 

BASICS OF VEDIC PHILOSOPHY

 

WHAT IS MEANT BY SPIRITUALITY

Spirituality is the relentless pursuit of the highest Truth and one�s real spiritual identity beyond the physical body and as part of the Supreme Spirit. It is the process of attaining direct spiritual realization, which far surpasses blind faith, and is based on attaining one�s own experience of self-realization. It is beyond conventional forms of religion that often keep one bound to a dogma or set of beliefs, when direct perception and experience of spiritual Truth will take one to seeing the spiritual realities that are described in the Vedic texts. 

 

WHAT IS SELF-REALIZATION

Self-realization is directly perceiving one=s real identity as the higher Self within the body, higher than the mind or intellect, but beyond all material components or influences. It is the stage of enlightenment and seeing what and who you really are. The true Self is not limited to material conditions. Its nature is eternal, blissful consciousness. When one truly recognizes that one=s own Self is the same as the soul in all beings, one becomes an embodiment of peace, love, and compassion capable of uplifting the world.

 

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL CULTURE

Culture is the development of the beliefs, skills, arts, crafts, etc., of a people. Spiritual culture is the manifestation of the divine, pure nature of human beings, by the society or the country as a result of practice and expression over a long period of time. It is expressed through music, dance, writings and places of worship. Any other form that doesn't rest its base on the divine nature of all beings cannot be the contributor to the integrated spiritual culture. The Vedic system is for doing exactly this.

 

ALL RELIGIONS ARE NOT THE SAME

Some people ask, �Aren�t all religions the same?� No. Every religion is different. Many preachers, mainly Hindu preachers who have vested interest of building their empires propagate the idea that all religions are the same. So any religions will give the same result. But this is not the fact.

Hindus respect other religions. It is not difficult for them to see various levels of spiritual truth in other spiritual paths. But all religions take their practitioners to different levels of philosophical understanding, spiritual knowledge, levels of consciousness, and different abilities to perceive spiritual Truth. So all religions are not the same. This is why members of some religions are more congenial and respectful toward members of other religions, while some members of particular religions are not respectful toward those that are different, are quick to call them infidels and other derogatory names, and say that they are going to hell, or tell them that they need to convert in order to be �saved�. This is certainly due to a different perspective and a lack of understanding that we all worship the same Supreme Being, though in different ways or expressions. Thus, religions can be compared to the difference between an abridged dictionary and one that is unabridged. They both contain the same knowledge, but one is more complete than the other. If you are going to have a dictionary, you might want to get the best one available, and that would be the unabridged dictionary, or the one that is most complete in its knowledge. And that is like the Vedic spiritual texts, which compiles a library of texts for those who want to understand the intricacies of spiritual knowledge.  

 

WHO IS GOD

In the Sanskrit language the word for God is Bhagavan. Bhag implies six attributes: Absolute Fame, Absolute Dharma, Absolute Wealth, Absolute Knowledge, Absolute Beauty and Absolute Detachment. One possessing these attributes is Bhagavan, the Supreme Person or God.

In simple words, One personified as perfect - par excellence is God. One who is Virtue-Incarnate is God. The One who has lived to the infinite limits of right conduct is God. An example of such a person in Hindu history is Maryada Purshottama Shree Rama or Sri Krishna. A person who had shown such qualities of par-excellence and can guide the rest of society to follow the right conduct in living is known as the Incarnation of God, or an avatara, God who descends into this material realm. Or as the Vedanta-Sutras also say, God, the Absolute Truth, is He from whom all else manifests.

  

HOW A FORMLESS GOD CAN BE RECONCILED WITH A PERSONAL GOD

Some saints and sages have emphasized the worship of and meditation upon a formless God, the Infinite and the Absolute. In contrast, there are people who worship God in different forms to which they impart particular attributes and qualities based on their intellectual capacity, personal tastes and preferences. However, the great sages have explained that one must understand the three main aspects of God, namely His personal or Bhagavan aspect; His localized Paramatma aspect or Supersoul expansion in the hearts of all beings; and His impersonal force or Brahman aspect. Until a person understands all three features, his understanding of God remains incomplete. It can be said that either form of worship can lead to Moksha (liberation) if steadily practiced with a true and sincere heart. But in Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna specifically says that meditation on His formless aspect is indeed a difficult path. [My article, �God is Both Personal and Impersonal� on my website goes much deeper in this matter.] 

 

THERE ARE NOT MANY GODS

Sometimes people raise a point of confusion that they have regarding the Vedic culture. They think there are too many gods. They ask why there are so many gods, and which one should a person choose to worship? First of all, there is only one God. His virtues are manifested in different ways, such as Bhagavan, Paramatma, and Brahman. Without comprehending all three aspects of the Supreme, a person will not have a full understanding of God. 

            If we properly analyze the situation, we will understand that there is but one Supreme Being who has many agents or demigods who assist in managing the creation and the natural forces within. And, like anyone else, if they are properly approached with prayer or worship, they may help facilitate the person by granting certain wishes that may be within the jurisdiction of that demigod.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, chapter 3, Yagyavalkya has said that in reality there are only 33 gods and goddesses. Of these 8 are Vasus, 11 Rudras, 12 Adityas, and Indra and Prajapati. The 8 Vasus include fire, earth, air, sky (space), sun, Dyau, moon and the planets. Entire mankind depends upon these. The five gyanindriya (the five senses of perception, namely the eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin), the five karmindriya (the five organs of action, namely hands, feet, larynx, organs of reproduction and the anus) and the soul comprise the 11 Rudras. The 12 months of the year are referred to as the 12 Adityas. The clouds are Devraj Indra, and nature, or the will of the Supreme Being, is referred to as Prajapati. Then there are also other positions that are considered major or minor devas. According to the Vedas, the devas are not imaginary or mythological beings, but are agents of the Supreme Will to administer different aspects of the universal affairs. They also represent and control various powers of nature. Thus, they manifest in the physical, subtle or psychic levels of our existence both from within and without. In this way, a transcendentalist sees that behind every aspect of nature is a personality.

The whole universe depends principally upon six divine forces - fire, earth, air, sky, Aditya and Dyau. When the religious texts have said that there are only 33 gods and goddesses, or forces that govern this universe, the words 33 koti as used in the original text have been misinterpreted to mean 33 crores (330 million) gods and goddesses, instead of 33 categories of divine forces.

The Rig-Veda (1/164/46) explains: An embodiment of truth, knowledgeable persons know the Supreme Being in different forms and different names. The Supreme Being is known by names like Agni, Yama, Matrishva, Indra, Varun, Divya, Suparn, Gurutman and many more. The religious texts are full of such narratives. Yet, the truth is that there is only one God. We see Him in different forms and with different names.

The names of these gods are considered offices or positions, rather than the actual name of the demigod. For example, we may call the president of the country by his personal name, or simply Mr. President. It�s the position itself that allows for him to have certain powers or areas of influence. In the case of the devas, it is only after accumulating much pious credit that a living being can earn the position of being a particular demigod. Then a person may become an Indra, or Vayu, or attain some other position to assume specific powers, or to control various aspects of material energy.

Another example is that when you walk into a big factory, you see so many workers and all that they are doing. You may initially think that these workers are the reason for whatever goes on in the factory. However, more important than the workers are the foremen, the managers, and then the executives. Amongst these you will find people of varying degrees of authority. Someone will be in charge of designing the products. Another may be the Chief Financial Officer or main accountant. Another may be in charge of personnel, while someone else may be in charge of maintenance in the factory itself. Finally, a chief executive officer or president of the company is the most important of all. Without him there may not even be a company. You may not see the president right away, but his influence is everywhere since all the workers are engaging in projects according to his decisions. The managers and foremen act as his authorized agents to keep things moving accordingly. The numerous demigods act in the same way concerning the functions of nature, all of whom represent some aspect or power of the Supreme Will. That�s why it is sometimes said there are 33 million different gods in Hinduism. Actually, there may be many forms, avataras, or aspects of God, but there is only one God, or one Absolute Truth.

This is often a confusing issue to people new to Vedic philosophy. We often hear the question among Westerners that if Hinduism has so many gods, how do you know which ones to worship? The point is that the devas affect all levels of universal activities, including the weather, or who is bestowed with particular opulences such as riches, beautiful wife or husband, large family, good health, etc. For example, one could worship Agni for getting power, Durgadevi for good fortune, Indra for good sex life or plenty of rain, or the Vasus for getting money. Such instruction is in the karma-kanda section of the Vedas which many people considered to be the most important part of Vedic knowledge. This is for helping people acquire the facilities for living a basic material existence.

The reciprocation between the demigods and society is explained in Bhagavad-gita (3.10-12). It is stated that in the beginning the Lord of all beings created men and demigods along with the sacrifices to Lord Vishnu that were to be performed. The Lord blessed them saying that these sacrifices will enable men to prosper and attain all desirable things. By these sacrificial duties the demigods will be pleased and the demigods will also please you with all the necessities of life, and prosperity will spread to all. But he who enjoys what is given by the demigods without offering them in return is a thief.

In this way, it was recommended that people could perform sacrificial rituals to obtain their desires. However, by the performance of such acts they should understand their dependent position, not only on the demigods, but ultimately on the Supreme Being. As further explained in Bhagavad-gita (3.14-15), all living beings exist on food grains, which are produced from rain, which is produced by the performance of prescribed sacrifices or duties. These prescribed duties are described in the Vedic literature, which is manifest from the Supreme Being. Therefore, the Supreme is eternally established in acts of sacrifice.

Although the demigods may accept worship from the human beings and bless them with particular benedictions according to the sacrifices that are performed, they are still not on the level of the Supreme Lord Vishnu (who is an incarnation of Lord Krishna). The Rig-veda (1.22.20) explains: �The demigods are always looking to that supreme abode of Vishnu.� Bhagavad-gita (17.23) also points out: �From the beginning of creation, the three syllables om tat sat have been used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth (Brahman). They were uttered by brahmanas while chanting the Vedic hymns and during sacrifices, for the satisfaction of the Supreme.� In this way, by uttering om tat sat, which is stressed in Vedic texts, the performers of the rituals for worshiping the demigods were also offering obeisances to Lord Vishnu for its success. The four Vedas mainly deal with material elevation and since Lord Vishnu is the Lord of material liberation, most sacrifices were directed toward the demigods.

In Bhagavad-gita, however, Lord Krishna points out that men of small knowledge, who are given to worldly desires, take delight in the flowery words of the Vedas that prescribe rituals for attaining power, riches, or rebirth in heaven. With their goal of enjoyment they say there is nothing else than this. However, Krishna goes on to explain (in Bhagavad-gita 7.21-23) that when a person desires to worship a particular demigod for the temporary and limited fruits he or she may bestow, Krishna, as the Supersoul in everyone�s heart, makes that person�s faith in that demigod steady. But all the benefits given by any demigod actually are given by Krishna alone, for without whom no one has any power. The worshipers of the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but worshipers of Krishna reach Krishna�s spiritual abode.

Thus, as one progresses in understanding, it is expected that they will gradually give up the pursuit for temporary material pleasures and then begin to endeavor for reaching the supreme goal of Vedic knowledge. For one who is situated in such knowledge and is self-realized, the prescribed duties in the Vedas for worshiping the demigods are unnecessary. As Bhagavad-gita (3.17-18) explains, for one who is fully self-realized, who is fully satiated in the self, delights only in the self, there is no duty or need to perform the prescribed duties found in the Vedas, because he has no purpose or material desires to fulfill.

However, another view of the Vedic gods is that they represent different aspects of understanding ourselves, especially through the path of yoga and meditation. For example, the god of wind is Vayu, and is related to the practice of yoga as the breath and its control in pranayama. Agni is the god of fire and relates to the fire of consciousness or awareness. Soma relates to the bliss in the samadhi of yoga practice. Many of the Vedic gods also represent particular powers of yoga and are related to the different chakras in the subtle body. It is accepted that as a person raises his or her consciousness through the chakras, he or she will attain the level of awareness and the power and assistance that is associated with the particular divine personality related to that chakra.

 

SEEING GOD EVERYWHERE

A true and purified devotee of God can see God everywhere. Everything is but a manifestation of God�s energy. And to such a devotee, God can reveal Himself in so many ways. God presents Himself in the personal form in which one wishes to see Him. There have been many devotees who have realized and conversed directly with God. The relationship between God and His devotee is considered most special and private. It is not appropriate etiquette for a devotee to advertise his or her relationship or ecstasies that are attained with one�s relationship or communication with the Supreme. In the past, many saints have realized God and found perfect peace within. But this realization is dependent on one�s sincerity and devotion, by which God becomes willing to reveal Himself to the devotee. Otherwise, such revelation is not possible. One cannot force God to appear no more than one can force the sun to show itself appear in the middle of the night.

 

WHAT IS PRAYER

Prayer is an act of love for God, usually expressed in the form of remembrance of the Supreme Being, Almighty, and Absolute Self, explicitly or implicitly. It is a momentary or prolonged withdrawal from the self-centered world, in the shelter and protection of God, submitting and submerging the self (ego) to Him completely. Prayer can take place involuntarily or by design. It can be invoked silently or vocally, by reciting self-made words or prescribed text, in solitude or in communion with others, including accompaniment of music.

Recitation of scriptural verses or popular songs as a prayer is quite common, particularly in the Hindu tradition. Such recitation is helpful in creating a devotional atmosphere, and beneficial for those who to increase their meditation on the Absolute Being. The positive quality of sound in disciplining the mind, especially in a group situation, such as in Bhajans and Kirtanas, is well recognized.

The question whether the devotee should or should not ask anything from God is best left to the devotee and his or her relationship with God. As children of God, we may be tempted to ask for certain boons from the Father. But as we mature spiritually (analogous to a child growing up), our expectations, hopefully, dwindle and we visit God's house and memory for the memory-sake and devotion alone. At that time, our faith and submission of the self are adequate for supporting and sustaining us; there is little need to ask for anything else.

 

WHAT IS A MANTRA

A mantra is a sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer or meditation. The chanting of mantras helps to open the heart and mind to clear consciousness, which is the reality of our true identity as a spiritual being. Mantras also create an uplifting and meditative atmosphere for inner communion and one-pointedness of our concentration. There are numerous Sanskrit mantras for a variety of purposes. Many mantras are often used as a form of greeting as well. Numerous mantras and stotras are found on this website (www.stephen-knapp.com/a_little_book_of_prayers_mantras_gayatris.htm). Some mantras include the following:

The Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra, or great mantra for deliverance. This is: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

            Aum (or OM): According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, OM is a symbol for the Absolute Reality, and is a name of God. It is also the first Sanskrit letter and the first word in many Sanskrit mantras. This is also used as a greeting in such form as AHari Om@, meaning salutations to the Divine as Hari, the Supreme who gives auspiciousness and removes obstacles. Another greeting is AHari bol@, which means chant the names of Hari, God. 

            Om Namah Shivaya: This means ASalutations to the Absolute in the form of Shiva@.

            Aum Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: AMay all beings everywhere be happy@.

            Om Amriteswaryai Namah: AI bow to that Supreme Energy and Immortal Bliss@.

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