• 20 Jul, 2024

Dialogues on Dharma-1

Dialogues on Dharma-1

A series of conversations on Sanatan Dharma and Vedanta between our editors, Dr Singh and Partho. This is the first conversation in the series, describing the initial process of Vedanta


Vedanta is commonly understood as the end of knowledge, ‘veda’ which is knowledge, and ‘anta', which is the end, the summit, the completion. But is there an end or a summit of knowledge? Our ancient seers realized that knowledge too has its limit, it reaches its completion, purnata, in the knower. When the knower is known, knowledge, and all seeking for knowledge, ends. It is this that Vedanta refers to—the end of knowledge in the knower. Knowing the knower, all is known.

But how does one come to ‘know the knower’? So, we begin with self-reflection or self-contemplation. Atma vichara. Through persistent reflection and contemplation, you unravel yourself, the multiple layers of your being, and touch something deeper inside you, something that is not constantly changing like your outer form and personality, something not fabricated by the outer world, by experience and memory.

But please understand that Vedanta is not religion or philosophy. It is a process—first, an intense psychological one, and then mystical. By itself, it is not religion if we go by the accepted understanding of the word religion. Nor even is it a philosophy because it has nothing to do with knowledge or systems of thought. That is why I call it a process.

Religion, as it is commonly practiced—the orthodox, traditional, organized thing—has nothing to do with Vedanta. But religion in the original sense of reconnecting, or binding again, with the Divine, from the Latin root ‘relegare’, as Saint Augustine interpreted, comes closer to Vedanta. For Vedanta reconnects to the Divine, to the supreme reality, the one Self. And in that sense, it is also Yoga. Yoga too is reconnecting or binding with the Divine. So, if this is what we mean by religion, religion in its original sense, then yes, Vedanta is religion as it is Yoga.

In terms of Indian philosophy, or darshan, we say that Vedanta is the basis of Dharma, which is the Sanskrit word for religion. Owing to the growing influence of Buddhism in the West, the word Dharma is quite widely understood and accepted. Dharma, in its simplest sense, refers to the subtle principle that holds everything together, the binding force in all existence. So, you see, in a way religion too can be seen as Dharma. Dharma derives from the Sanskrit root ‘dhri’—which signifies holding, supporting, bearing. The linchpin. Goupille d'essieu. So that's Dharma. The truth that binds all existence, that bears and supports all being, all existence. Without Dharma, everything would simply collapse, cease to be, fall back into chaos.

So, Vedanta is the basis for Dharma, or religion, but it cannot be regarded as religion—it does not have a priesthood or prescribed scriptures, it does not impose a belief system, it does not even posit the existence of a God. Many regard Vedanta as atheistic, in the sense that there is no central God in Vedanta. Nobody is watching and judging you, giving you report cards, nothing of that kind. You are creating yourself all the time. It is you—you create your gods and demons in your own image, in your own mind. You create your own heavens and hells out of your own experiences and tendencies, your fears and desires. You, finally and entirely, are responsible for existence. But of course, this you that we are referring to is not the surface self—there are many layers of the self, and we need to delve deeper all the time to uncover the many selves we are.

Vedanta does not talk about reincarnations either. It does not give you rebirth as the resolution of death—it only declares that your inmost reality, the true self that you are, the ‘atman’, is already immortal, timeless, deathless. You don’t need to do anything to ‘become immortal’, you just need to realize the immortal, eternal self that you are, the self beyond time, space and matter. This alone is the Vedantic quest—for the eternal self that you are. 

But does one need to be advanced on the path of Vedanta for such a realization? 

One of very interesting things about Vedanta is that it does not talk about paths, levels of practice or hierarchies of being. There's none who can say I am a superior or advanced Vedantin, for it is all relative. Superior to whom? ‘Advanced’ compared to what? The Self, the atman, is one. There are no gradations in the Self. And each person who sincerely seeks the Self will find the Self. 

But someone like Vivekananda, for instance, compared to the rest of the world?

There's only an infinite, unending curve of learning and growing into the Self.

And it doesn't matter where you are along the curve. 

The moment you get onto the curve, you're in the process, a living and intensely dynamic one. It is an upward spiral, not a linear progression at all. So, we must not think of hierarchies and levels, because then it encourages lower and higher, novice and master, and all that sort of thing.

But does this Vedantic process take time? Is it a long process? Or a lifelong one?

And this is the other interesting thing about Vedanta—nothing takes time. Everything is here and now—an eternally extending nowness of being and this-ness of being. Right now, and here, you are that Self, the atman. Nothing to be acquired, nothing to be accomplished, nowhere to go, no pilgrimage, no temple, no ashram. You are that Self, here and now, and eternally. You just have to realize that. The key is in the word ‘realize’. The mystery of it all is in the word ‘realize’.

You do not ‘become’ the Self. You cannot ‘become’ what you already are, can you? You just realize what you are. And to realize what you are, what you have always been, does not take time. It takes a certain movement of consciousness. A kind of a turning, turning inside out. And no, this ‘certain movement of consciousness’ cannot be learnt from books or teachers, it just comes, it happens. Maybe divine Grace, maybe cosmic synchronicity, maybe spontaneous recall—or maybe all of it.

Divine Grace? Wouldn’t divine Grace imply a God?

God, human, divine, cosmos—these are mental constructs or expressions all signifying the same reality, the one Self, which is Divine. This is the Vedantic idea—everything and everywhere is the Divine, or God, if you will. The Vedantin calls it ‘Brahman’. Brahman is not the name of God, it means infinite being, infinite becoming, infinite growth, expansion without beginning or end. Brahman is all there is, everything, everywhere. All existence. “Sarvam khalvidam brahman”, says the Vedantin. The entire universe, all existence, is Brahman, is Divine, is God—say it whichever way you wish to. And our whole existence is the Grace of this Divine being, this Brahman.

So, let's understand that Vedanta takes us to the deepest and highest reality of our being, and when we go that deep down into the very nature of being, or ascend that high up, we don't come to some almighty entity like God but to the truth of being itself, to the truth of life and consciousness.

But this ‘truth’ cannot be known mentally, as you would ‘know’ the truth about the sun, for instance. This truth is what you yourself are. You are the very expression, or the living manifestation, of this truth.

You come to a point where you know the universe not objectively, outside yourself, but inwardly, experientially, as yourself; or as Self, the one Self. At that point, when you’ve got that deep down, or that high up, there is no you and I, no separate self, no separate form or personality—everything and everyone has returned to its source in the atman. Or, put another way, you now see everything and everyone, this whole universe, as the one Self, the atman. Everything and everyone is the Self, this universe is the Self, or the Self is this universe—say it any which way, it is the same thing.

So, what is the universe to a Vedantin? His own self in a manner of speaking?

Can it be any other way? You and I are the universe that has become self-conscious and articulate. Everything that we regard as this universe is really self-reflection. We are only looking at the one Self reflected as so many different selves, or different forms and personalities of the same Self. The Self or the atman is one though reflected in myriad forms and personalities.

[To be continued]

This article is based on a recorded conversation between Dr Pariksith Singh and Partho. The conversation has been edited for print. Partho is the author of the newly released book This is Sanatan Dharma , and Dr Singh is the author of the newly released Veda Made Simple . Both books are published by BluOne Ink

Editorial Team

Written, collated or presented by the team of editors at Satyameva

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