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Hindu Vedanta means in Sanskrit the conclusion of the Vedas and applies to the Upanishads, together with the Brahma-Sutras and Bhagavad Gita. Vedanta was promulgated by 8th century philosopher Adi Shankara. The Vedic period began in 2000 BCE and includes the mantras or hymns of poets,;the brahmanas, or elaborate ritualistic treatises which are the works of priests; and the Upanishads, the secret teachings, which are the revelations of mystics. 

These Himalayan treatises form the sources of all the later streams of Hindu thought, and their relation to the Vedic mantras is similar to the relation of the New Testament of the Bible to the Old, as expert D.S. Sharma has pointed out in his Hinduism Through the Ages. The Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Vedas, and the Brahma-Sutras the thread which strings their flowers together.

The Upanishads date from as early as 1200 BCE, the earliest of which were formulated prior to the rise of Buddhism. Even the religion of Buddha, who was a staunch Hindu himself, is a continuation of their deepest intuitions. Indeed the ethical ideals of the two religions are not dissimilar. Buddha’s teachings are a restatement or rendition of the spirit which gave birth to the Upanishads. Originally composed in Sanskrit, the Upanishads continue to be read in their original form today. Atman, which means the God within, is usually translated as Self, though the verbal equivalent of Self appears nowhere in Hindu philosophy. Self is analogous to the Tao of Tao Te Ching; I Am of the Bible; the Way of Buddhism; etc. And the syllable OM is the symbol of Brahman, or the God without, and regarded by Hindus to be divine. Truly God then is both Atman, indwelling, and Brahman, without: that is, God is both immanent, residing in the heart of each of us, and transcendant, being all that is, both substance and sustainer of the universe.

Jesus himself is said to have travelled to India between the ages of 12 and 30, during the so-called Lost Years. The India Jesus would have encountered was steeped in the Upanishadic lore and would have informed and shaped his gospel. Indeed the influence of Vedanta has pervaded all cultures and religions, and the experiences it describes have echoed the world over to the present.

Their special concern is with the nature of reality, the concept of a single, supreme Being, known by the Sanskrit term Tat, and of knowledge directed towards reunion with It. Tat Tvam Asi. Thou art That. The equation of Atman (the Self) with Brahman (Ultimate Reality) is therefore summed up by the phrase Tat Tvam Asi.

The brief, comprehensive statements found in the 108 Upanishads, of which 16 are considered the principles, are to be viewed as self-contained wholes rather than as parts. Their nature is empirical, or supported by the evidence of personal experience. And they are considered to be the word of God only insofar as their truth is verifiable, immediately, at any moment, by the individual. They are not some distant, remote spiritual mountain to be perilously climbed; rather they are accessible to each and every one of us, in the here and now!

In this universal religion pronounced by the Upanishads, Brahman is the goal and jnana, or wisdom born by direct experience of the Self, is the means of reaching it. Throughout history it was severely individualistic, requiring private study and practice and therefore from its very nature a religion of the few. But because of the widespread dissemination of these teachings, courtesy of the Web, knowledge of Ultimate Reality is now within the humble grasp of everyone.

What requirements must you have to embark on the path of wisdom and access the Supreme? A higher degree, perhaps? Hardly. Some of the greatest proponents of Vedanta have had little more than an elementary school education. Nisargadatta Maharaj, for example, was a householder and small business owner with little knowledge of his national religion other than what he had picked up from others in casual conversation. He only adopted aspects of the Veda way because their teachings accorded with his personal experience.

For if any spiritual teaching is found on due examination not to be verifiable, it is summarily rejected. If it is verifiable at some times but not at others, it is rejected. (This would apply to the concept of a personal God, who is worshipped during the waking hours but disappears from the mind during deep sleep.) If half of a teaching is verifiable while the other is not, it is also rejected. For this reason the Maharaj rejected the belief in reincarnation, a concept for spiritual dunces which was not supported by direct experience. I have no memory of any past lives, he was known to say, why should I take it on blind trust that I lived as some individual prior in time or go on to become someone else? What is gained from such a view? All is One. The consciousness igniting this body is identical with the consciousness of "others" and present everywhere. And it is true: all one may say in this moment is "I exist." Pure consciousness, not the vehicle it happens to embody, is what really matters.

You see, for the student of Vedanta, life is not meant to uphold the scriptures; it is the scriptures that uphold life, being as they are expressions of Reality proven true by personal experience. The real study, say the Upanishads in the words of translator and sage Swami Prabhavananda, is not study of themselves but study of that "by which we realize the changeless." The real religious study is firsthand experience of God.

Consider the case of the sage Ramana Maharshi, who had an out of body experience which revealed his true nature, that of ageless, changeless, deathless spirit, and thereafter spent years sitting in solitude and silence in a cave so as to root himself in this Reality, I AM. Only later when a disciple handed him the Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, by Adi Shankara, himself a noted commentator on the Vedas, did Maharshi endorse the teachings, finding as he did that they coincided with his actual experience.

But let us remind ourselves that the concept is not the thing, and lest we mistake the finger pointing at the moon for that celestial orb itself, we must remember that these sacred books are the revelations however authoritative and ancient that occurred to a handful of mystics, who in the end are individuals like ourselves. Indeed the sages of the modern day urge us to go beyond the Upanishads. "Do not concern yourself with the words or beliefs or experiences of others," they tell us. "Rather, dive deep within your own being and experience God for yourself."

For your true nature, which is Absolute Reality, is beyond the grasp of the Upanishads (which use words to express concepts, and knowledge of a thing is not the thing itself). The Upanishads are a storehouse of knowledge, but knowledge is but one side of a coin whose other side is ignorance. You must go beyond knowledge and ignorance, beyond duality, to the Oneness underlying all. This is wisdom. And it cannot be described but only experienced.

Everything you can think of is a concept. You must go beyond thought. Beyond mind. Stick to the Beingness, the sense of presence, the Awareness that is your true nature. Funny how it is this presence you take for granted as being there all the time, like the toddler (lower self) who while experiencing life's many delights (and falling more than a few times) assumes that his mother (the higher Self) is ever there keeping a watchful eye on his doings. So funny that more than book knowledge it is a sense of humor that is most helpful in realizing who you are.

Read the scripture of your soul. This is truth. It is wisdom. It is the Hindu's Tat. Tat tvam asi. And Tat you are. I'll shut up now.


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