Jeffrey Armstrong is a modern day Vedic Philosopher and teacher of Vedanta, its principles and conclusions. In this paper (excerpt) he presents classic Vedantic thinking as a debate against the arguments and objections of its critics and detractors. These include the three Abrahamic faiths, Buddhism and Jainism, all forms of modern science, the New Age movement and its various speculative teachers and perspectives, the Neo-Yoga movement and its non-philosophical methods of teaching, and the many supposed gurus who have come from India but have taught un-Vedic conclusions of their own creation. These include many “cults of personality” and supposed gurus who teach pieces of Vedic knowledge usually without acknowledging its source.
The rate of change in our mechanized technological world is unfolding at a dizzying and exponential rate. If we survive the process, a new and more sustainable world may emerge over the next twenty years of this historical tipping point. Moments of intense change are the most challenging to ancient cultures with fixed modes of living that have succeeded for thousands of years. Ancient Bharat now called India is foremost among the oldest sustainable cultures on our planet. And at the heart of India is a library of knowledge and wisdom, the Veda, written in the most precise human language, the perfected language Sanskrit. The tribal cultures that gave rise to the Abrahamic religions follow a single text and call themselves “the people of a book.” As a point of comparison, I call the sanatan dharma culture of India, “the people of a library.” It is no wonder that the people with one book have found the culture with a huge library to be difficult to understand. At the center of that Sanskrit library is a curriculum or more correctly, a progressive unfoldment of subjects for human learning that are called darshans. These six “ways of seeing” proceed from the matter we perceive from what is directly before us and lead to the ultimate causal principles and realities that are most remote from empiric perception. The highest level of Vedic discourse is called Vedanta, the PhD program of Vedic learning. Through a careful process of questions and answers, Vedanta attempts to reveal the ultimate and apparently invisible antecedents of the more obvious realms of matter from where we begin our journey of learning.
This paper is part of an ongoing discourse or debate about what the final purpose of human existence can be understood to be. Modern critics of this ancient process of knowing, argue that Vedanta is a primitive attempt to encounter questions that have been made irrelevant by the “progress” of modern thought and technological insight. Whereas this paper will argue that our current preoccupation with manipulating matter has obscured our collective vision and arrested global mental development within the intricacies of materialistic learning. The symptoms of a need for a modern understanding of Vedic philosophy are the sectarian narrowness of the Abraham faiths, the fragmented remains of most other indigenous cultures, and arrogant and superficial attitudes of modern technocratic science, which is superficial and uninterested in questions of humanity’s meaning or purpose. They are the self-appointed re-designers of a universe which they treat as random and without purpose. To the aggressive Abrahamic religions Vedanta says, “You are often narrow-minded, over-controlling, male-domineering and have dismissed philosophy in favour of tribal rules of ethical and moral conduct. To these faith-based groups, Vedanta also says, “The highest truths cannot be presented using coercion, warfare, or supposed authority.”
To manipulative science Vedanta says, “Unless you study cause and effect as if you are morally subject to it, then your clever manipulations of matter will cause more trouble than good in the long run.” To both blind faith and empiricism, and to all sincere seekers of universal truths, Vedanta respectfully presents a series of conversations that are believed to be as ancient as human life itself and are designed to awaken a part of our potential which must be debated but cannot be forced. Those questions are already present within our hearts and minds but need to be acknowledged and fully developed. These conversations propose to have been transmitted wirelessly as well as delivered in-person by the Intelligent Beings who have designed and manifested the life we are currently experiencing. To study Vedanta you must have the curiosity of science, the disciplined thinking of logic, the subtlety of perception of atomic physics, the focused autonomy of Yoga, the sophistication to consciously interact with all the powers in the cosmos, and finally, the ability to directly see the truth by hearing. Vedanta teaches us to gaze steadily at the deepest questions of life for decades, to feel, discern, act, sift and integrate all things into a single united view. Finally, in Vedanta one must not believe that the invisible is less real than the visible. Vedanta is a many life-time project, the impatient will not persist. But I promise you on behalf of the great Rishis of ancient Bharat, Vedanta will speak to your timeless self if you take your time and listen sincerely.
Most people have heard the story of the six blind persons asked to describe and elephant. Each is said to have reported what they could perceive – each was partially right. All views were different and even adding them together the whole truth was not revealed. Knowing this dilemma Vedanta takes the discussion one step further. The next logical question would be, “What is inside the elephant.” In this enquiry, short of killing the elephant, we could only make inferences or speculate about what is inside the elephant’s skin, based on our external observations. The first of these methods is called pratyaksha or direct perception through our aided or unaided senses. The second method of inquiry is called anumana, or inferences which depend upon direct perception. But if there is no method of knowing that extends beyond these two, then the origin of the elephant, its purpose and future destination, all remain unknowable. Therefore, Vedanta says there is a third method of knowing called shabda Brahman or hearing Transcendental sound that has descended to us from the Transcendental realm. The Vedic library is considered shabda or Divine knowledge that has been received through sound.
If the world is a random combination made of unconscious matter, this third method of knowing would be unnecessary. But because humans have no set habitat or species definition, the only view that fulfills the potential of our thinking and feeling nature, is that our small intelligence can have direct communication with the greater intelligence that pervades all existence. Information downloaded by or delivered in person to the humans by that Ultimate Intelligence is called Veda and the final destination that our human potential can achieve is activated by the science of Vedanta. To restate this, Vedanta means inquiry into the ultimate destination and purpose of life. The word Veda gives us the modern word video or that which must be seen. Anta means what preceded what currently is as well as the ultimate or final possibility. Another way to say this is that the Vedic library leads us to an ultimate conversation in which Divine testimony is the evidence that our true self examines in order to achieve a final vision of our own highest potential. That final vision eventually leads us to a non-material Transcendental Realm known as Brahman. That process is known as moksha or liberation from the limitations of matter.
Just a few words on the Vedas as a library and Vedanta as its final process of inquiry will set the context for a debate between all other world views and Vedanta. The Vedic library is a well-defined body of evidence or testimony as it is called. This body of knowledge also has a methodology of reaching the final conclusion or Source of all. The Vedas are defined in the Guruda Purana as: “Shruti, Smriti, Puranadi, Pancharatriki, Vidim Vina.” The primary texts are the Rig, Sama, Yajus, and Atharva, the 108 Principle Upanishads, the Valmiki Ramayan, the Mahabharata including the Bhagavadgita, the 18 Puranas, and all texts supported by and congruent with these.
Because the Veda is a library, debate is encouraged, even necessary, but coercion, intimidation, violence or forcible-conversions are strictly forbidden in Vedic culture. After debating, the contestants go to dinner and behave as dear friends. In Vedanta, debate is how ideas are tested and refined. A conclusion is reached in Vedantic dispute by the use of many methodologies but always with reference to textual evidence from the most important statements in all sections of the Vedic library. Thus it is that Vedantins debate in pursuit of the highest truths and the values that support them. This is agreeing to disagree in action and the idealistic basis of democracy in action.
In order to become a Vedantic master or acharaya and to create a new school of Vedanta from a particular perspective, one must first be a profound scholar of Sanskrit, and then they must be well-read in the complete library of Veda. Finally they must write a tika or commentary on three texts, the 10 principle Upanishads, the 700 verses of the Bhagavad-Gita, and the 550 verses of the Badarayana Sutras a.k.a. the Vyasa Sutras, which are also known as the Vedanta Sutras. These three texts must be interpreted congruently, which is judged by a non-sectarian and impartial board of scholars. In the Vedic culture, this is the ultimate Ph.D. thesis, which once accepted becomes a legitimate school of interpretation. In other words, Vedantins of all sorts debate with each other as well with all other opposing doctrines, in order to facilitate everyone’s grasp of the most crucial and life-altering ideas to which a human can be exposed. The Vedas and Vedanta in particular are the only fully developed process of discussing the non-material Transcendental Realms, realities, energies, implications, entities, historical appearances and the complete implications of all this for the present and future evolution and perfection of human beings.
This paper is part of a Vedantic revival that is taking place world-wide, as the ancient wisdom of Bharat pours out into the modern world to join the larger debate about who we are and what process facilitates our human perfection and evolution toward our highest potential.
As a closing note on this point, because Bharat is still struggling to recover from the lengthy and brutal process of Islamic and European colonization, the knowledge of yoga and Vedanta are leaking into the world culture in an uneven, inconsistent and often inaccurate manner. Since Sanskrit is a more complex language and does not always have English synonyms or equivalents, there are inevitable distortions as it is translated into English. In addition, some teachers of the Veda have used the cult of personality to further distort the meanings of Vedic knowledge. This new and unplanned spread of the Vedic knowledge is a wonderful historical development – truly a renaissance. In spite of that, debates on what the true Vedic meanings are and how to best represent them in the English language will go on for years as the Vedic culture becomes an established global reality.
In the Bhagavadgita Chapter 7.v.19. Bhagavan Shri Krishna says,
bahunam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatma su-durlabhah
“After many, many births in the pursuit of Transcendental knowledge one finally comes to understand that Vasudeva is the source of everything. Such a great soul is very rare.”
As one of the many thought–leaders active in the global development of Vedanta, I am convinced that televised international debates and discussions on these sublime topics will contribute to human-kind’s next steps in evolution.
May all be fed, may all find peace.
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi