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Introduction to Vedanta

by Swami Sivananda

Vedanta is the culmination of the Vedas. It is entering into the study of Brahman. It is the science which raises man above the plane of worldliness. It is the rational method of meditating on the Supreme Absolute, the Eternal, the Infinite. Vedanta is the culmination of human experience and is the end of the faculty of thinking. It is the greatest and the highest knowledge. This wisdom was revealed to the ancient sages.

The Rishis and sages of yore have made experiments and researches in meditation and given to the world their spiritual experiences. These are all authoritative. You must not spend much time in making the preliminary experiments once more. Your whole life-time is not sufficient for making these experiments and researches. The experiences of sages are like ready-made compressed tablets. You will have to simply follow their instructions implicitly with perfect, unswerving faith and devotion. Then alone can you make any progress in the spiritual path and attain the goal of life.

In order to practise Sadhana for the attainment of absolute freedom, you should know in the beginning itself its technique and method. You should know the nature of bondage, the cause of bondage and the way of getting rid of bondage. You have to make a searching study of life and know its mysteries.

You are born on this earth-plane on account of your Karmas (actions) done in previous births. This body and this condition of mind are both the results of effects of past Karmas. What is Karma?

A Vasana or desire arises. Then you exert to possess the object. This is Karma. Thought itself is the real Karma. Physical action is only its manifestation. Then you enjoy the object. This is Bhoga. This Bhoga strengthens and fattens the Vasana. The Chakra or wheel of Vasana, Karma, Bhoga, is ever revolving. Give up Bhoga. Practise renunciation, discrimination and dispassion. Destroy the Vasanas by eradicating ignorance (Ajnana) through Brahma-Jnana, the Knowledge of the Imperishable. Then alone the wheel which binds a man to this Samsara will stop revolving. Then alone you become an Atmavan or Knower of the Self.

Who is a Killer of Atman?

Forgetting the Self by indulging in sensual pleasures, is killing of Atman. Even after somehow getting this rare human birth, with an innate tendency for Nivritti, he who does not strive for the liberation of his soul, is a killer of Atman. He is not an Atmavan but an Atmaha.


The Atman can be realised only through renunciation. You have enjoyed sensual objects in millions of births. You have enjoyed sensual objects for so many years in this birth. If there has not come satisfaction in you till now, when will it come, then? Do not run after the mirage of sensual objects. The senses are deluding you. Develop dispassion and renunciation. Realise your Atman. Then only you will get eternal satisfaction, everlasting peace and immortal bliss. Wake up from your slumber of ignorance, O worldly fool!

If your body-clothes catch fire, with what celerity you want to run towards water for cooling you? You must feel like this from the burning fire of Samsara. You should feel that you are roasted in the fire of Samsara. Vairagya (dispassion) and Mumukshutva (strong yearning for liberation) should dawn in you. You should run to the Guru for saving you.
Enjoyment of objects strengthens the Vasanas or Trishnas (cravings) and makes the mind more restless. Enjoyment cannot bring satisfaction of desires. Further, Trishna drains the energy and weakens the senses.

When you dream, you see the events of fifty years within an hour. You actually feel that fifty years have passed. Which is correct, the time of one hour of waking consciousness or the fifty years of dreaming consciousness? Both are correct. The waking state and the dreaming state are of the same quality or nature. They are equal (Samana). The only difference is that the waking state is a long dream or Deerghasvapna. It will be realised that this life on earth is only a fantastic dream of the mind when the Supreme Absolute or Para-Brahman is realised.


Practise Upasana for acquiring concentration of mind. Upasana is of various kinds, viz., Pratika Upasana, Pratima Upasana (worship of idol), Panchakopasana (worship of the five deities: Ganesha, Siva, Vishnu, Durga and Surya), worship of Avataras like Rama and Krishna, and Ahamgraha Upasana.

Ahamgraha Upasana is Nirguna Upasana. The aspirant meditates on his own Self as Brahman. He identifies his individual self with the Supreme Self or Brahman. He tries to take out the Self that is hidden, within the body of five sheaths. Hence the significant name, 'Ahamgraha' Upasana.

'Food is Brahman'. 'Akasa is Brahman'. 'Surya (Sun) is Brahman'. 'Mind is Brahman'. 'Prana is Brahman'. - All these are Upasana-Vakyas of the Upanishads. These are all Pratika Upasanas. Pratika is a symbol of Brahman. All these are symbols of Brahman. You can realise Brahman through worship of these Pratikas. You will have to feel that Brahman is hidden in these Pratikas. You will have to think that the Adhishthana or substratum of these Pratikas is Brahman. These are some of the ways of doing the Upasana of Brahman.

Control of the Senses

The senses should be perfectly controlled in order to be able to concentrate on Brahman. The eyes and ears also are as much turbulent and mischievous as the tongue. The eyes always want to see new forms, new scenes, new pictures and new places which the mind has heard of during conversation with other people. If you have not seen Kashmir, if you hear from those who visited Kashmir, Kashmir is a lovely place. The springs and sceneries are wonderful, the eyes helped by the mind will agitate you again and again till you actually see Kashmir. The eyes and the ears should cease from desiring.

The two most troublesome of the senses are the tongue and the genital. One who has got an appetite for the objects of the tongue and the genital is unfit for the practice of Vedantic Sadhana. The four means of Sadhana should be well practised and only a master of these Sadhanas can take up the practice of Vedantic Sadhana.

The Mind and its Works

Mind is Jagat. The mind moves the senses, the Pranas, etc. Mind is the cause of bondage and liberation. A keen study of the mind and its works is necessary for the study of Vedanta.

The presiding deity of the mind is Moon or Soma. Moon is cool. It is formed of Apas-Tattva (water). Water has a tendency to run downwards. So also the tendency of the mind is always to run downwards towards sensual objects.

The external ear, the eye-balls, etc., are only instruments. They are not the real senses of Indriyas. The real centres or senses are in the brain or most correctly in the astral body (Sukshma Sarira). If the auditory nerve and the vision-centre in the brain are affected you can neither hear nor see. So is the case with the other senses also.

During dream the mind itself does the function of all the senses, despite the absence of the external instruments or the senses, such as eye-balls, etc. In the mind all the senses are blended. Really it is the mind that hears, tastes, feels, etc. This proves that the real senses are within. The eye-balls, tongue, external ears, nose, hands, legs, etc., are mere instruments (Karanas).

The mind does the function of Sankalpa and Vikalpa. It thinks: Whether I can go to Dehra Dun or not? The Buddhi or the intellect decides: I must go. Ahamkara, the ego, arrogates. Chitta which is the store-house of Samskaras or impressions makes the preparation and gives orders to the senses. Then the senses act. The legs move. The eyes see. After you reach Dehra Dun the Vritti or wave of thought that was agitating you to see Dehra Dun subsides or gets dissolved (Laya). Then you get a temporary peace, after the gratification of your desire.
Strike a vessel made up of bell metal with the tuning fork. It will vibrate. Even so the mind vibrates if any one abuses or praises you, if you feel pain or pleasure. During praise and pleasure, the mind expands. During censure and pain it contracts.

Mind is miniature-Maya. When the functioning of the mind stops, and when the mind is dissolved into the Absolute, there is Self-realisation.

The Guru and the Disciple

The aspirant in olden days used to approach the Guru, with a bundle of sticks (Samit) in his hand, for spiritual instruction. What does this indicate? He prays to his preceptor, O adorable Guru! Let my bundle of sins and worldly Vasanas be burnt in the fire of wisdom through thy grace. Let the divine flame grow in me. Let me attain the highest illumination. Make me realise, the Inner Self-effulgent Atman. Let my senses, mind, Prana and egoism be given as oblation in the fire of wisdom. Let me shine as the Light of lights!

It is Guru's grace that removes the veil of ignorance of the disciple. The Guru's grace penetrates the heart of the disciple and raises the Brahmakara-vritti in him. The highly exalted Brahmanishtha Guru, for whom there is no world, comes down from his exalted state to teach the disciple.

Vedantic Ethics

If you want to practise Vedanta or Jnana Yoga smile always, be cheerful always. He who is gloomy, he who is cheerless, he who has a castor-oil face or Sunday-face cannot become a Vedantin. He is not an Adhikari or qualified person for the practice of Vedanta. Such a man should be shut up in a cell, as he is a source of infection or contamination for others. Shun the company of such a negative person. A man of Viveka alone is fit for the practice of Vedantic Sadhana and a man of Viveka is always peaceful and joyful.

The Nature of Brahman

Brahman is the Absolute-Existence which is of the Nature of Knowledge-Bliss.
The world itself shines as Brahman when the veil of ignorance is torn down by the dawn of Knowledge of the Imperishable. See Brahman in your Guru, Brahman in the world, Brahman in everything.

In reality there is no creation. The world itself is an appearance of Brahman. The world is superimposed upon Brahman through Adhyaropa. Through Apavada-Yukti the superimposition is sublated or negated and everything is realised to be the Absolute Brahman.

Only the train moves, but you do not move. Only the boat moves, but you do not move. Even so, only the body moves, but the Indweller or the Silent Sakshi, the Witness, which is identical with the Absolute Brahman or Atman, never moves.

The word 'Atman' is used with reference to the soul in the individual. The term 'Brahman' is used with reference to the same Soul as the Soul of all beings and objects in the universe.

Brahman is Bliss

The king returns from his long journey to his palace at night. He is dead tired. He wants immediate rest. He does not want to talk even to the Maharani or the queen. The objects do not afford him any pleasure. He wants to enjoy the bliss of sleep. From where does bliss come in deep sleep, when there are no objects of enjoyment? The king (or the Jiva) in deep sleep comes in contact with the All-blissful Supreme Soul and refreshes and strengthens himself. Brahman is the source of all peace and bliss.

Isvara and Jiva

The causal body (Karanasarira) of the individual soul and of Isvara is one and the same. In the Jiva it is individual Avidya. Isvara's causal body is cosmic and is called Maya.

The Jiva is called Visva, Taijasa and Prajna in the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep experiences, and the corresponding name for the Cosmic Principle is Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Isvara. The Kutastha-Atman in the Jiva is identical with Brahman, the Absolute.

The Nature of Maya

Maya is Trigunatmika. Tamoguna is darkness and inertia. Rajoguna is passion and activity. Sattvaguna is divine light and purity.

You cannot detect your own faults on account of the force of Avidya. Avidya is the name for Maya in the individual or the Jiva. You always think that you are free from defects, that you are full of virtuous qualities, that you are the most perfect man in the world. This is Maya.

Maya is Satya or truth for a worldly-minded man. It is Anirvachaneeya or inexpressible for a Viveki or a man of discrimination. It is Tuccha or nothing for a liberated sage or Jivanmukta who is identifying himself with Satchidananda Brahman.

Vasanas and Trishnas, desires and cravings, can be destroyed in toto only by annihilating Avidya or Ajnana, the source for this Samsara, just as a tree can be destroyed only by annihilating its root. If you cut the branches of a tree, again they will grow. So you must pluck out the root itself. Avidya can be destroyed by knowledge of the Imperishable or Brahman, and not by indiscriminate suppression of the senses.

Destruction of Avidya will lead to the destruction of Raga-Dvesha. Raga and Dvesha are the modifications or effects of Avidya or ignorance.

Ajnana is absence of the Knowledge of Brahman. Just as the trees born on the soil of the mountain hide the mountain, just as the clouds born through the sun's rays hide the sun itself, so also Ajnana born from the Sakti of Brahman hides the Chaitanya or Brahman.

Ajnana is twofold: Toola and Moola. Toola-Ajnana is ignorance in regard to the objects outside. Moola-Ajnana is ignorance covering the Self within.

The Projection of the World

In summer the whole earth is parched. As soon as there is a shower the seeds sprout and plants come out. They were in an unmanifested state (Avyakta) before the rains. Even so the world which is in a manifested state had an unmanifested state and will become unmanifest again. It has come out of Maya, the causal body of Isvara, and will return to it in the end.

The earth, water, fire, air and ether are all pro ductions of Maya. Water is more subtle and perva sive than earth. Fire is more subtle and pervasive than water. Air is more subtle and pervasive than fire. Akasa is more subtle and pervasive than air.

If you keep some jasmine flowers on your table, the aroma or fragrance spreads throughout the room. The fragrance is more pervasive than the flower. The flower is in one spot, but the fragrance pervades the atmosphere. The moisture of vapour is more pervasive than the earth. Sun's light is more pervasive than water. Akasa which is the mother -substance for the other four Tattvas is all-pervading. All the four elements are rooted in the all-pervading Akasa.

From Brahman or the Supreme Being sprang the five elements. Akasa was born first. Akasa is ether or space. It is Akasa or space that is the abode for the four other elements. It is the vessel or the container. There was Gati or motion in Akasa. That motion is Vayu or air. There was heat during motion of air. Fire was born from air. Fire cannot burn without air. Fire cooled and became water. Water solidified and became earth.

The Sheaths of the Body

Five sheaths are covering the individual soul. They are the Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya Kosas. The Antah karana or the internal organ takes four forms, viz., mind, intellect, ego and subconscious mind (Chitta).

Ahamkara or the ego has connection with the intellect (Buddhi). Their abode is the Vijnanamaya Kosa. Mind (Manas) has connection with the Chit ta. Their abode is the Manomaya Kosa.

The light of Surya (sun) brightens the intellect. The heat of Surya gives heat to Prana and thus main tains the heat of the body.

Just as the mind is the dividing wall between the soul and the Prana, so also Prana (vital air, energy) is the boundary-wall between the mind and the body.

Above the mind is the Buddhi. The Buddhi or intellect is made up of Agni-Tattva (fire-principle). Below the mind is Prana which is also made up of fire. Between fire (intellect above) and fire (Prana below) is the mind (water). The presiding deity of the mind is moon (Chandra). Dry up this mind (water) through the fire of Vichara (intellect), or the fire of Prana (Pranayama), or both. You will attain eternal peace, everlasting bliss.

Samadhi is the Turiya or the Fourth State which is Pure Consciousness or the Supreme Absolute where even a tinge of dual consciousness does not exist.

Raja Yogis practise Nirodha-Samadhi. Jnana Yogis or Vedantins practise Badha-Samadhi. In the practice of Nirodha-Samadhi the Raja Yogi stops all the Vrittis of the mind by concentrating on one form. In the practice of Badha-Samadhi the Jnana Yogi abandons all names and forms and takes up the one essence viz., Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman that is the substratum for all these names and forms. There is Vyapakata in the Sadhana of a Jnana Yogi. He does Sadhana even while walking. Wherever he sees he tries to see the one underlying essence and rejects the names and forms. He is in Sahaja-Samadhi even while moving. But, a Raja Yogi sits and meditates. He is in need of a steady, definite pose. He cannot be in Samadhi while walking or moving.

In Vedanta, meditation is termed as Nididhyasa na. Nididhyasana leads to Sakshatkara or Nirvikalpa Samadhi. One who has experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi will not return to the state of embodiment once again.

Method of Vedantic Sadhana

Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana are the three stages of Vedantic Sadhana.

Sravana is hearing of the Truth. The Abheda -Bodha-Vakya should be heard from the Brahmanish tha-Guru. Then Vedantic scriptures and treatises have to be carefully studied for the purpose of proper ly grasping the meaning of the great Mahavakyas.

Vedantic Granthas are of two kinds: the Pra mana-granthas and the Prameya-granthas. One should always study standard works on Vedanta. A com plete and exhaustive treatise on the subject has to be studied with the greatest care. Then only the full knowledge of Vedanta will dawn. Works like the Advaitasiddhi, Chitsukhi, Khandanakhandakhadya, Brahmasutras, etc., are Pramana-granthas, for they refute other theories and establish the Advaita-Tat tva through logic and argumentation. Works like the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Yoga vasishtha are Prameya-granthas, for they merely state the Absolute Truth with authority and do not indulge in reasoning for refuting or establishing anything. They are intuitional works, whereas the former are intellectual.

The mind should be pure and tranquil before starting Vedantic Sadhana. Keeping the Vasana in the mind is keeping a black cobra within and feeding it with milk. Your life is ever in danger. Kill these Vasanas through Vichara, Vairagya and meditation on the Atman.

The Sruti texts that deal with creation, such as From the Atman sprang Akasa, from Akasa Vayu, from Vayu Agni, etc., are only intended for giving preliminary instructions to the neophytes or young aspirants; for they cannot grasp at once the Ajativada or the theory of non-evolution. When you read the passages which treat of creation, always remember that all this is only Adhyaropa or superimposition. Never forget this. Never think even for a second that the world is real. Only through Apavadayukti or refutation of superimposition can you establish the Kevala-Advaita-Siddhanta. If the world is real, if duality is real, you cannot have experience of Advaitic Realisation.

If the impurity of egoism or Ahamkara-Mala is destroyed, the other two impurities, viz., Kama-Mala (impurity of desire) and Karma-Mala (impurity of actions) will be destroyed by themselves. How, then, can there be Prarabdha for a Jivanmukta or the libe rated sage? He is one with the Supreme Absolute.

Obstacles in Vedantic Sadhana
Ahamkara is the greatest obstacle to Self-reali sation. I know everything. My view or opinion alone is correct. What I do is right. That man does not know anything. Everybody should follow what I say. Everybody should obey me. I am free from any kind of fault. I am full of auspicious qualities. I am very intelligent. That man is very stupid. That man is wretched. That man has got many defects. I am wise. I am beautiful. Thus says the egoistic man. This is the nature of Rajasic Ahamkara. He hides his own faults. He exaggerates and advertises his own abilities and qualities. He belittles others. He condemns others. He superimposes faults on others which they have not got. He sees not good but evil in others. He superimposes on himself several good qualities which he does not possess. That man cannot practise Vedantic Sadhana. He is unfit for the path of Jnana.

Raga and Dvesha constitute the great Samsara of the Jiva. They have to be destroyed through the knowledge of the Supreme Brahman. Either through proper understanding and discrimination or through Pratipaksha Bhavana these currents should be des troyed. Liberation is attained by simplicity, by carefulness, by purity, by controlling the passions and by following the footprints of saints and sages.

Through Vedantic Sadhana the Brahmakara -Vritti is generated. The bamboo strikes against the other bamboos and fire is generated. The whole forest is burnt. There is a huge conflagration. Then the fire subsides by itself. Even so, the Brahmakara -Vritti that is generated in the Sattvika-Manas through meditation on Brahman or the significance of the 'Tat-Tvam-Asi' Mahavakya destroys Avidya or ignorance and its effects and leads to the attain ment of Brahma-Jnana, and finally dies by itself when the Supreme Brahman is realised.

The paste of strychnos potatorum (Nirmala seeds) removes all dirt in the water and helps it to settle at the bottom of the vessel. Along with the dirt the paste also disappears. Even so, the Brahmakara-Vritti destroys all worldly (Vishayakara) Vrittis and finally perishes by itself after the dawn of the knowledge of the Imperishable.

The Nature of the Jnani

The Jnana Yogi practises neither Pratyahara nor Chittavritti-nirodhah like the Raja Yogi. He tries to behold the One Undivided Essence of Satchida nanda in all names and forms. He stands as a wit ness or Sakshi of all the Vrittis. All Vrittis gra dually die by themselves. The Jnani's method is positive (Samyagdarshana), whereas a Raja Yogi's method is negative (Nirodha).

There is no body from the Drishti or view of the sage. How can there be Prarabdha then, for a Jnani? The Jnani is one with the Absolute and hence no change takes place in his being. He is Santam, Sivam and Advaitam. He is a Jivanmukta. He is liberated in this very life itself. His body is like a burnt cloth or a sword that is changed into gold through the touch of the philosopher's stone. His ego is burnt by the fire of Supreme Wisdom.

Vedantic Assertions

Consciousness is Brahman.
I am Brahman.
That thou art.
This Atman is Brahman.
This, indeed, is Brahman.
Om Santi! Santi! Santi!

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