Vedanta, meaning literally the end section of the Vedas, is a branch of Hindu philosophy. It is a system of Jnana Yoga that attempts to guide the individual to enlightenment. It is drawn from the Upanishads, considered the fundamental essence of all the Vedas, and some of the earlier Aranyakas. The three branches of Vedanta best known in the West are Advaita Vedanta, Vishishtadvaita, and Dvaita. Other than Shri Adishankara, Shri Ramanuja and Shri Madhvacharya, the founders of each of the three main Vedantic divisions, other important pre-modern Vedantins include Bhaskara, Vallabha, Caitanya, Nimbarka, Vacaspati Misra, Suresvara, and Vijnanabhiksu. In the modern period, Vedantins include Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Sivananda and Sri Ramana Maharshi. These modern thinkers represent of the Advaita Vedanta school. Proponents of other Vedantic schools continue to write and develop their ideas as well, although their works are not as widely known outside of India.
Historically, in order for one guru to be considered acharya or great teacher of a philosophical school of Vedanta, such acharya had to write commentaries on three important texts in Vedanta, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras. Accordingly, Adi Sankara, Ramanuja and Shri Madhvacharya have written commentaries on all three canonical texts.
While the traditional Vedic 'karma kanda', or ritualistic components of religion, continued to be practiced as meditative and propitiatory rites to guide society, through the Brahmins, to self-knowledge, more jnana ("knowledge")–centered understandings began to emerge, mystical streams of Vedic religion that focused on meditation, self-discipline and spiritual connectivity rather rituals. In earlier writings, the Sanskrit word Vedanta simply referred to the Upanishads, the most speculative and philosophical of the Vedic texts. In the medieval period, the word Vedanta came to mean the school of philosophy that interpreted the Upanishads. Traditional Vedanta considered scriptural evidence, or sabdapramana, as the most authentic means of knowledge, while perception, or pratyaksa, and logical inference, or anumana, were considered to be subordinate.
The systematization of Vedantic ideas into one coherent treatise was undertaken by Badarayana, in the Vedanta Sutra, or Brahma Sutra, which appeared around the time of Christ. The cryptic aphorisms of the Vedanta Sutras are open to a variety of interpretations, resulting in the formation of numerous Vedanta schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its own sub-commentaries claiming to be faithful to the original. Consistent throughout Vedanta, however, is the exhortation that ritual be eschewed in favor of the individual's quest for truth through meditation governed by a loving morality, secure in the knowledge that infinite bliss awaits the seeker. Near all existing sects of Hinduism are directly or indirectly influenced by the thought systems developed by Vedantic thinkers. Hinduism to a great extent owes its survival to the formation of the coherent and logically advanced systems of Vedanta.
Advaita Vedanta has greatly influenced modern science. Schrödinger was a Vedantist and claimed to have been inspired by it in his discovery of quantum theory. According to his biographer Walter Moore: "The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. In 1925, the world view of physics was a model of a great machine composed of separable interacting material particles. During the next few years, Schrödinger and Heisenberg and their followers created a universe based on superimposed inseparable waves of probability amplitudes. This new view would be entirely consistent with the Vedantic concept of All in One.". Additionally, Fritjof Capra's widely proclaimed book The Tao of Physics is one among several that pursues this viewpoint as it investigates the relationship between modern, particularly quantum, physics and the core philosophies of various Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Unfortunately, such writings by western authors often run the risk of oversimplifying and ignoring important differences between Eastern religions. For instance, pre-modern Vedantins argued for the existence of an eternal self, or atman, while Buddhists have denied this possibility.
- Advaita Vedanta homepage (http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/avhp/)
- Vedanta Society of Southern California (http://www.vedanta.org/)
- Vedanta Society of Northern California (http://www.sfvedanta.org/)
- Vedanta's influence (http://www.vedanta-newyork.org/articles/vedanta_influence_2.htm)
- From the Unreal to the Real (http://freespace.virgin.net/dennis.waite/advaita)
- NeoVedanta (http://www.geocities.com/neovedanta/)
- "Vedanta in America" (http://www.vedanta.org/reading/monthly/articles/2000/8.vedanta_in_america.html)
- Wikipedia. (2005). Vedanta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedanta). Retrieved on 02/28/2005.