Six Schools of Philosophies of Hinduism


In Hinduism the word darsana, ”Vision of Truth”  is used to indicate philosophy. Hinduism encompasses six schools of philosophy, called  सड -दर्शन Sad Darsanas (sad means six). Two different classifications of the schools of Hindu philosophy are recognized by the orthodox and heterodox thinkers.

The orthodox classification of the schools is:

  1. Vaisesika, Kanada
  2. Nyaya, Gautama
  3. Nir-Isvara-Sankhya निर्-ईश्वर -सान्ख्य, Kapila
  4. Sa-Isvara-Sankhya, स-ईश्वर -सान्ख्य,  Patanjali
  5. Purrva Mimansa, पूर्व मिमांसा , Jaimini
  6. Uttara Mimamsa, उत्तरा मिमांसा , Vedanta

The other classification, which gives equal status to the atheistic schools, is:

  1. Materialism – Charvaka
  2. Buddhism – Buddha
  3. Jainism – Mahavir
  4. Tarka – Kanada and Gautama
  5. Sankhya – Kapila and Patanjali
  6. Purava Mimamsa – Jaimini, and Uttara Mimansa Vedanta

Knowledge falls into two categories: secular knowledge and spiritual knowledge.

Secular knowledge pertains to the world of things and beings. Spiritual knowledge deals with the subjective realization of the transcendental Reality that lies beyond the limitations of the phenomenal world. The theme of each of the philosophies is an inquiry into spiritual knowledge.

Spiritual knowledge is divided into two main groups: theistic and atheistic.

Theists are those who accept the Vedas and believe in an eternal Reality. The Theistic school can be classified under two categories:

  1. Theistic Theism
  2. Theistic Atheism

Theistic Theism accepts the Vedas and also believes in Brahman, the nondual eternal Truth. Pure Theistic Theism is enunciated in the Brahma Sutras, which consist of the very essence of the Upanishads. This school of thought is known as Uttara Mimamsa, which had fallen into obscurity until Adi Shankaracharya revived it and brought it to the attention of the thinkers of the world as Advaita Vedanta.

Theistic Atheism supports a belief in the Vedic declarations but not in the one eternal Truth, or Brahman, as indicated by the Upanishads. Followers of this school believe that the Truth cannot be realized by study, reflection, and meditation upon the Upanishadic declarations. Three main schools of Theistic Atheism exist: Tarka, Sankhya, and Purva Mimamsa.

The Tarka school follows the points of view expounded by Kanada and Gautama, whose philosophies are called Vaisesika and Nyaya, respectively.

The Sankhyan philosophy is most rational, analytical; and scientific in its treatment. The Sankhyans fall into two groups, sustained by two great exponents, Kapila and Patanjali. Kapila’s philosophy, called Nir-Isvara-Sankhya, does not take into consideration the concept of a Creator, or Isvara. Patanjali introduces the concept of a Creator (Isvara) in his doctrine called Sa-Isvara-Sankhya.

Purva (”earlier”) Mimansa (”sequence of logical thinking”) is the last in the category of Theistic Atheism. The Vedas are divided into two sections, the Karma Kanda and the Jnana Kanda. Karma Kanda is the earlier section, which is seemingly dualistic, whereas the Jnana Kanda constitutes the later portion, which is positively non-dualistic, declaring the absolute oneness of Truth. The earlier Vedic thought, contained in the Karma Kanda, was compiled by Jaimini. The philosophy of Jaimini, discussed in the Jaimini Sutra, expounds the essence of Purva Mimansa. According to this philosophy, the human being has to follow faithfully the ritualistic portion of the Vedas. If he does so, he will gain infinite merit. To enjoy the fruits of such merit, the individual soul will get a chance to live for a fixed period of time in a realm of consciousness where he can experience subtler and more intense sensuous enjoyments. This temporary resort in Heaven is conceived by the followers Purva Mimamsa as the goal of existence.

The Atheistic school of philosophy is classified in two categories:

  1. Atheistic Atheism
  2. Atheistic Theism

Atheistic Atheism declares a disbelief in either the Vedas or the supreme Truth. This school is championed by some philosophers, the most important among them being Charvaka. The Materialists (Charvakas) believe that no higher goal than materialism is to be achieved in life, and that the human being has only to find maximum enjoyment in sensual indulgence, unrestricted by ethical or moral scruples. They believe that the human being merely exists as he is; he comes from nowhere when he is born and goes to nowhere when he dies. At death when the body is buried, everything ends.

Atheistic Theism, however, accepts a supreme Truth beyond the body and the objects of the world; however, it refutes the Vedas.

The Buddhists and the Jains fall under this category. The Atheism of Buddhism sprang from Buddha’s revolt against the excessive Vedic ritualism practiced during his age. Ritualism had reached a state of absurdity, and the people following it had grown to be barbarous and immoral. Buddha denied the authority for such practices and, in doing so, had to denounce the Vedic textbooks themselves.

The Jains, the followers of Mahavir, also belong to the Atheistic Theistic school. They are considered atheistic because of their non-acceptance of the Vedas. Their theistic leanings are attributed to their belief in the eternal Truth, which is permanent, perfect, and all-blissful.

Swami Chinmayananda

Excerpts from: Self-Unfoldment

What is the cause of the creation? Ignorance!

gurudev (2)

दिर्घस्वप्ने स्फुरन्त्येते स्वगमोक्षादिविभ्रमा

 Atmajnanamhahanidrajrmbhite sminjaganmaye
Drghasvapne sphurantyete svargamoksadivibheamah

 एते = these, स्वर्ग-मोक्ष-आदि विभ्रमाः = delusions like heaven, liberation etc, अस्मिन् = in this, आत्मा-अज्ञान-महानिद्रा-जृम्भिते = projected out of the great sleep (called) ignorance of the self;  जगन्मये = of the nature of (this) universe; दीर्घ-स्वप्ने  = in the long dream; स्फुरन्ति;  = spring forth.

In this long dream of the nature of this universe projected out of the great sleep, called ignorance of the self, do all these delusions like heaven, liberation etc., spring forth. (Advaita Makaranda, 18)

दीर्घ-स्वप्ने  Dirghasvapne means in this long dream. How long is the dream? It is going on since time-without-beginning. What are we told about it? स्वर्ग-मोक्ष-आदि विभ्रमा Svarga-moksa aadi-vibhramah, that the delusions of heaven, liberation etc., appear in this long dream. स्फुरन्ति Sphuranti, and in this long dream do all these things shine. What is this sleep or this dream? आत्मा-अज्ञान-महानिद्रा Atma-agana-mahanidra, this long sleep is of the nature of the ignorance of आत्मा aatma or one’s true nature, and the long dream is the world, which arises out of this sleep. Ignorance is compared to sleep here.

Here sleep is not just deep sleep; it is sleep characterized by dream. In deep sleep, there is no संसार samsar, since the I-notion is absent. It is the dream in which projection takes place. Therefore, the Bhagavad Gita (2.69) says:

या निशा सर्वभूतानां तस्यां जागर्ति संयमी |
यस्यां जाग्रति भूतानि सा निशा पश्यतो मुने: ||

ya nisa sarva-bhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami
yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh !!

ya–what; nisa–is  night; sarva–all; bhutanam–of living entities; tasyam–in  that; jagarti–wakeful; samyami–the self-controlled; yasyam–in which; jagrati–awake; bhutani–all beings; sa–that is; nisa–night; pasyatah–for the introspective; muneh–sage.

In the reality to which all the creatures are sleeping, the wise person is awake. That which is night to the wise, there, the ignorant creatures keep awake.

Ignorance is often compared to the state of sleep or the darkness of the night; both deprive us of the perception of what truly is. In the case of sleep, there is often also a projection of the dream, comparable to the projection of a snake on rope. This projection is प्रातिभासिक सत्ता pratibhasika-satta or a subjective . projection, being the projection of the individual mind. Then there is the creation in the waking state, which is an objective reality, a projection of माया maya or the cosmic mind, the creative power of ईश्वर Isvara.

The individual projection, such as the dream, is called जीव श्रुष्टि jiva-srasti, and Isvara’s projection, viz., this objective world of names and forms, is called ईश्वर श्रुस्ष्टि Isvara-srsti. Being projections, both are मिथ्या mithya, and, very often, the individual projection is cited as an example to explain the reality of the creation, which is called a long dream, dirgha-svapna.

In the verse of the Bhagavad Gita quoted above, Lord Krishna says that the ignorant are asleep to the reality, meaning that they are unaware of the reality to which the wise are awake. That reality is the self, the consciousness or ब्रह्मन् brahman, the very substratum of the universe of names and forms. The universe exists and shines because of brahman, just as a projected snake exists and shines upon the rope, its substratum. The wise know brahman as the self that is self-shining and give no reality to the world of duality.

When it is said that the wise person is asleep to the world, what is meant is that he does not give reality to the world; he knows it to be mithya. On the other hand, the ignorant person gives reality to the world of names and forms, to the duality, which is a projection and is compared to a dream. In the dream state, a person is asleep to the reality of the waking world and awake to the dream world projected by his own mind. Similarly, the ignorant person is both sleeping and awake at the same time; he is asleep to the absolute reality that is brahman and awake to the objective reality or projection, in taking it to be real. The ignorant are all asleep to the reality of the self, but awake to this world, which they look upon as real.

What is the cause of the creation? Vedanta states that maya or ignorance gives rise to the creation. We call mithya the projecting power, while the scientists call it energy. There are two aspects to ignorance -its power to veil and its power to project. In the rope-snake example, there is delusion of there being a snake where there is only a rope; here the snake is a projection and the rope is veiled. In the same manner, the true nature of self is veiled by self-ignorance, while all kinds of false notions are projected upon it. The false notions about oneself are the reason for creation. If I knew myself correctly, there would be no need to create anything.

What is the purpose of the creation? The creation exists so that our desires may be fulfilled. What is the desire? It is that we should be free, limitless. How can there be a desire to be limitless, when one is already limitless? It is because we are not only unaware of this truth, but also take ourselves to be limited; hence, we are constantly striving to fulfill our desire to become limitless, to become free. The universe must necessarily be there to enable us to fulfill our desire to be limitless, which is indeed the desire behind all desires.

Desires are of two kinds: one is the desire for स्वर्ग svarga – heaven or material prosperity, and the other is the desire for moksa मोक्ष, liberation or spiritual prosperity. To some, moksa becomes very important, and, to some others, svarga. The desire for moksa indeed amounts to the limitless seeking limitlessness. The one who is of the very nature of आनन्द ananda searches in vain for happiness; this absurdly ridiculous situation in our lives is created by ignorance. Desire is thus the product of the ignorance of one’s true self.

Why do we say that the universe exists so that we may fulfill our desires? It is, because, to fulfill even a simple desire, such as for a cup of tea, you need the Whole universe to cooperate. For instance, you need tea, you need sugar, you need water, and perhaps milk, and then you need a stove on which to heat the water. Yet, come to think of it, you would also need gas to run the stove, and the gas comes from petroleum wells, and the sugar is extracted from sugarcane, which needs water, sunlight etc. to grow, which, in turn, will require the contribution of all the elements of the universe.

Indeed, therefore, to fulfill the simple desire for a cup of tea, you will find that there is an entire chain of requirements that depend on the help or contribution of the whole universe. It means that this entire universe is a product of countless desires, which have arisen from the primary desire to be free, which, in turn, is a product of ignorance.

Ignorance both exists and shines in consciousness. Therefore, consciousness or brahman is indirectly the reason for ignorance. The corollary is that consciousness is also the indirect cause of the creation and not the direct cause. Vedanta explains that the primary cause of creation is अविद्या avidya, ignorance or माया maya. However, maya is enlivened only in the presence of consciousness, and, therefore, in an indirect way, consciousness or brahman is also looked upon as the cause of the creation. God is called the creator, sustainer, and dissolver in an indirect sense; the universe is primarily created, sustained, and dissolved by maya. This is why the text describes universe as a long dream projected by the great sleep of ignorance.

The ignorance of the self is the great sleep because it is beginning-less. And it is called sleep because it veils the true nature of the self and projects the dream of the universe. In this long dream of the universe given reality by the ignorant do the delusions of heaven, liberation etc. shine. The dream world is real for one who is dreaming, and, similarly, the world of duality is real for the ignorant. He takes himself to be a limited being and entertains a desire to be free. Because of a lack of maturity, he looks upon svarga, the heaven or any other worldly or otherworldly achievement, as representing freedom and aspires to gain it. Another one, who has gained emotional maturity, understands the transient nature of all worldly and otherworldly achievements and desires; instead, he aspires to gain moksa or the permanent.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Advaita Makaranda of Sri Laksmidhara Kavi

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

A God known is no more God!


The one question that is most difficult to grasp in understanding the Advaita philosophy, and the one question that will be asked again and again and that will always remain is: How has the Infinite, the Absolute, become the finite?

Supposing we knew the answer, would the Absolute remain the Absolute? It would have become relative.

What is meant by the knowledge in our common-sense idea? It is only something that has become limited by our mind, that we know, and when it is beyond our mind, it is not knowledge. Now if the Absolute becomes limited by the mind, it is no more Absolute; It has become finite. Everything limited by the mind becomes finite. Therefore, to know the Absolute is again a contradiction in terms. That is why this question has never been answered, because if it were answered, there would no more be an Absolute. A God known is no more God; He has become finite like one of us. He cannot be known; He is always the Unknowable One.

But what Advaita says is that God is more than knowable. This is a great fact to learn. You must not go home with the idea that God is unknowable in the sense in which agnostics put it. For instance, here is a chair, it is known to us. But what is beyond ether or whether people exist there or not is possibly unknowable. But God is neither known nor unknowable in this sense. He is something still higher than known; that is what is meant by God being unknown and unknowable. The expression is not used in the sense in which it may be said that some questions are unknown and unknowable. God is more than known. This chair is known, but God is intensely more than that, because in and through Him we have to know this chair itself.

He is the Witness, the eternal Witness of all knowledge. Whatever we know we have to know in and through Him. He is the Essence of our own Self. He is the Essence of this ego, this I and we cannot know anything excepting in and through that I. Therefore, you have to know everything in and through the Brahman. To know the chair, you have to know it in and through God. Thus God is infinitely nearer to us than the chair, but yet He is infinitely higher. Neither known, nor unknown, but something infinitely higher than either. He is your Self. “Who would live a second, who would breathe a second in this universe, if that Blessed One were not filling it?” Because in and through Him we breathe, in and through Him we exist. Not that He is standing somewhere and making my blood circulate. What is meant is that He is the Essence of all this, the Soul of my soul. You cannot by any possibility say you know Him; it would be degrading Him. You cannot get out of yourself, so you cannot know Him.

Knowledge is objectification. For instance, in memory you are objectifying many things, projecting them out of yourself. All memory, all the things which I have seen and which I know are in my mind. The pictures, the impressions of all these things, are in my mind, and when I would try to think of them, to know them, the first act of knowledge would be to project them outside. This cannot be done with God, because He is the Essence of our souls; we cannot project Him outside ourselves. Here is one of the profoundest passages in Vedanta: “He that is the Essence of your soul, He is the Truth, He is the Self, thou art That, O Shvetaketu.” This is what is meant by “Thou art God.” You cannot describe Him by any other language. All attempts of language, calling Him father, or brother, or our dearest friend, are attempts to objectify God, which cannot be done. He is the Eternal Subject of everything. I am the subject of this chair; I see the chair; so God is the Eternal Subject of my soul. How can you objectify Him, the Essence of your souls, the Reality of everything? Thus, I would repeat to you once more, God is neither knowable nor unknowable, but something infinitely higher than either. He is one with us; and that which is one with us is neither knowable nor unknowable, as our own self. You cannot know your own self; you cannot move it out and make it an object to look at, because you are that and cannot separate yourself from it. Neither is it unknowable, for what is better known than yourself? It is really the center of our knowledge. In exactly the same sense, God is neither unknowable nor known, but infinitely higher than both; for He is our real Self.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Jnana Yoga, The Absolute and Its Manifestation



We often hear that Veda is scientific. Is this true? The Veda as a whole is looked upon as a means of knowledge in the Vedic tradition of learning. Being an independent means of knowledge, the subject matter of the Veda has to be beyond the scope of other means of knowledge, and it has to be meaningful as well. It talks about a heaven, punya-papa, duties, and rituals with their results to be experienced here or in the hereafter. This subject matter is certainly beyond the scope of the means of knowledge such as perception, inference and so on that a human being commands. It does not expect corroboration from other sources of knowledge, much less is the subject matter revealed by the Veda subject to contention on the basis of other means of knowledge. Any contention is only with reference to a subject matter within the domain of perception, inference and so on. ‘

Science is a body of knowledge gained through perception and inference. Consequently, any scientific theory is subject to contention. When the subject matter of the Veda is not within the known means of knowledge, it is wrong to say that the Veda is scientific. Neither a scientist can accept the statement nor the one who knows the tradition. It would be proper to say that the subject matter of the Veda is independent of perception and inference.

When Vedanta, the last portion of the Veda, talks of the truth of oneself, does it reveal a totally unknown self? If it does, the self would be like heaven, which exists without any possibility of immediate knowledge in this life. If it talks about a self that is self-evident, then the self cannot be the subject matter of the Veda, since it is already evident. Vedanta, therefore, cannot be a part of the Veda since it reverses its status of being an independent means of knowledge.

A human being employs various means of knowledge to know. It includes the Veda. Every piece of knowledge becomes evident to the person through a relevant means of knowing. However, this person himself or herself does not become evident through any means of knowing. Employing a means of knowledge presupposes the presence of the person who employs it. Naturally, the person has to be self-evident. The existence of oneself, therefore, does not depend upon evidence born of an employed means of knowing. Self-evident existence of oneself is revealed when one says: ‘.‘I am.” So the Veda does not need to reveal the existence of the self.’ If this self is non-dual Brahman, the cause of the entire world, then no one can know that reality. An individual’s existence , is no doubt self-evident but he or she is the knower, who is other than the known, and who is subject to all forms of limitation. In this area, Vedanta is a means of knowledge to know the reality of the self, to know that it is free from any limitation.

The subject matter of Vedanta being I, the self, the knowledge unfolded by its sentences has to be immediate. If someone raises an objection to the way in which the tradition presents the meaning of the sentences such as “तत्त्वमसि – tattvamasi, that you are”, we employ reason along With the scriptural texts to point out the fallacy of their arguments. If the non-dual vision is contended, citing reason and experience, again the fallacy is pointed out. Thus, reason and experience are meaningfully employed by the teaching tradition. When the doubts and errors are removed, the Vision of Vedanta that I am Brahman is clearly understood. This proves that Vedanta is a means of knowledge, independent of perception and inference. So, the subject matter of the Veda is not within the domain of science. Of course, there are a lot of statements in the Veda about things that are empirically true. They can be scrutinized by the scientists to find out how valid they are.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Insights

Links to Swamiji’s talks

Do not ride your thoughts, maintain distance from your thoughts. Observe the Silence between the thoughts! The Silence is You, the Consciousness!

gurudev (2)

A mantra is a sound that emerges from silence and merges back into silence. Every sound has its source in silence. Let us say you are chanting om namah sivaya in your mind. Before you chant the mantra, there is silence and when you finish chanting the mantra, again there is silence, and from that silence the chanting of that mantra again arises. Therefore, silence is the source of the mantra. And when you are chanting that mantra, the mantra sound is also a modification of that silence. Thus, paying attention to, the source means paying attention to the silence that obtains between the chanting of the mantra. Pay attention to the silence when the mantra is repeated by itself. If one becomes an observer when repeating the mantra, the mantra stops and he is no more a repeater of the mantra. However, due to constant practice, the mantra can go on by itself and one can become a witness or observer of the mantra. Then, one can witness the silence between the mantras. Therefore, recognize the silence or pay attention to the silence that obtains between mantras.

The silence, in fact, obtains between any two thoughts. Usually, however, we are not able to maintain distance with our thoughts, and therefore, we generally get swept away by our thoughts; we go for a ride on our thoughts. And therefore, the silence between thoughts is not evident to us. Therefore, we have a special chain of thought in the form of repeating a mantra; here, each thought is preceded and followed by the same thought. This provides the mind with an opportunity to stay on one thought; it doesn’t run away anywhere. If the thoughts change, the mind will run away with it. In repeatedly chanting a mantra such as am namah sivaya, the mind has nowhere to go and it remains in one place, and allows us to pay attention to the silence that obtains between the mantras. Where is this silence? Who are you? You are the witness of the silence. What kind of witness? You are the silent witness of the silence. Ultimately, you will discover that the silence is yourself. You are the source of the mantra, and that silence is nothing but consciousness, and thus, the consciousness is the source of mantra. Consciousness is yourself, and therefore, looking at or examining the, source of the mantra will bring you to yourself. Thus, it helps us in abiding in our own selves. It helps us discover that we are silence and then the mantra may even subside, leaving just the silence that ultimately enables us to be with ourselves, the silence.

The Kenopanisad [2-4] says, प्रतिबोधविदितम् मतम्  pratibodhaviditam matam, brahman is known through every cognition. Bodham means a thought, a cognition. When brahman or the self is known, you are able to maintain the distance with the thought with reference to every thought that occurs in your mind. You can be objective with reference to any thought, that is, you do not get carried away by any thought. It can be any thought, not necessarily a mantra. As thoughts arise in the mind, you can contemplate as to what is common between the different thoughts. Each thought can be different from the other thought and the consciousness that illumines the thought is the common factor. It is like the light that illuminates the variety of objects in this hall. But we miss that light, since our attention is On what is illumined, the name and form. Similarly, in the case of our thoughts, it is the consciousness that illumines every thought but we are so pre-occupied with the thought itself that we miss the consciousness that illumines the thought. May you now become detached from the thought. This is detachment. It does not matter what the thought is.

Normally, the content of the thought is important to us. It is a good thought or a bad thought, this thought or that thought, and we react to it. A thought is a thought and if we can be equal with reference to all thoughts, with neither attachment nor aversion or reaction, we will have the poise to observe that all thoughts are illumined by consciousness. Thus, a thought becomes like a mirror. A mirror provides us an occasion to look at our own faces, and similarly every thought becomes an occasion to recognize the fact that it reflects consciousness, is illumined by consciousness. We thus shift our attention from the thought to the consciousness that illumines the thought or from the thought to the consciousness that obtains between the thoughts. This is what is suggested in the Kenopanisad. When brahman or the self is known with reference to every thought, it is truly known. The same thing happens here looking at the source of the mantra or looking into the source of the thought.

Ultimately, the source is nothing but the self Therefore, our attention is turned from the mantra or thought to the silence, and then to the self or consciousness. The self is the ultimate source of everything, and through this meditation, our attention gets. again focused on our own selves. This is the most exalted bhakti, devotion when the mind abides in its own self. Therefore it becomes the greatest tapas, penance or greatest bhakti, devotion.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Extract from Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol: 2

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

श्रद्धा – Śraddhā – Enlightened faith that we discover as a result of verification!

gurudev (2)

गुरुपदिष्टवेदान्तवाक्येषु विश्वासः श्रद्धा !  [Vedāntasāra, 24].

श्रद्धा Śraddhā is trust in the statements of Vedanta as taught by the teacher. Śraddhā is generally translated as faith and also as trust, which may be a better word. A trust in Vedanta is called śraddhā. Since Vedanta is a प्रमाणं pramāṇam, the trust is in the vision of Vedanta as revealed by the scriptures.

Vedanta is a means to the knowledge of the Self, not of worldly objects.

The organs of perception are a valid means of knowledge for gaining knowledge of external objects. A listener does not question the data collected by his ears; he accepts it without questioning. Similarly, you accept your eyes as a means of knowledge with respect to color and form. All our organs are the प्रमाणं  pramāṇam for their corresponding objects and we have śraddhā or full trust in them. For example, if my tongue says a hot drink is coffee, I accept it; I do not question it. We accept the knowledge given by our organs of perception with trust because we accept them as the pramāṇam or प्रमाण कारणं pramā kāraṇam, valid means of knowledge for revealing the corresponding objects. We should have a similar trust in Vedanta because Vedanta is a pramāṇam. The first statement of this text is वेदान्त नामोपनिसत्प्रमाणाम vedānto nāmopaniṣatpramāṇam, Vedanta is the Upaniṣad, which is a pramāṇam for the truth about the Self. The Self or God is not available for perception. It cannot be grasped by the organs of perception, the mind, or words. In short, the Self cannot be comprehended by any means of knowledge other than Vedanta.

The Upaniṣad may sometimes talk about things of the world and give various illustrations to explain certain points. Those illustrations may sometimes be questioned. Very often, an illustration is given of a worm that constantly thinks of a wasp and, ultimately, becomes a wasp. This example is given for meditation to illustrate the point that if we constantly dwell upon anything with a total faith and devotion, we become that. For example, if we constantly meditate upon a chosen deity, we become that. Regarding this example, somebody can say that a worm can never become a wasp. The illustration may be questioned from a scientific standpoint. We do not accept that a worm becomes a wasp just because the Upaniṣad says so, but we do accept the illustration in the spirit in which it is stated. If we maintain a certain flow of thought, we become that. This concrete or tangible form that we have now is nothing but the product of the thought-flow we entertained for a great length of time in the past. Vedanta is a pramanam for the nature of Reality and we don’t necessarily look upon Vedanta as a means of knowledge to other worldly things. Vedanta also gives an illustration of a spider that creates a web out of itself to show how the spider is the efficient cause as well as material cause. What should we do if we discover that the spider is not like that? Should we say that Vedanta is wrong? We don’t accept Vedanta as a pramāṇam with reference to the spider, but definitely do so with reference to God, who is both the material and the efficient cause of this universe.

Trust is accepting Vedanta as a means to the knowledge of the Self.

Truth alone is called God or the Self. Truth alone is called by different names and, therefore, Vedanta is accepted as a pramānam, valid means of knowledge with reference to revealing the reality of myself, of the world, of God, and the relationship that obtains among them. Here trust means accepting Vedanta as a pramānam and giving it the same benefit of the doubt that we would give any other pramānam. Before we dismiss the data given by our ears, for example, we first give it the benefit of the doubt. If there is a problem with the ears, they might misguide us; in that case, it is necessary to correct the pramānam. I start questioning my ears only when what they tell me does not make sense. Similarly, we must give Vedanta the benefit of the doubt before we question what it reveals.

 Trust enables us to understand Vedanta correctly.

The श्रद्धा śraddhā or trust that we have in Vedanta enables us to maintain a certain frame of mind wherein we don’t question what Vedanta says, but try to understand what it says. The Self is a unique subject. Typically, I don’t have any preconceived notions or opinions about the objects of the world. A scientist can investigate an object without any kind of prejudice or preconceived notions. However, here we already have many firm ideas or conclusions about the Self, God, and the world. For example, when you say you don’t believe in or accept God, you already have conclusions about the nature of God. Therefore, when Vedanta reveals a truth about the self or the world, which contradicts our present conclusions, we question Vedanta. When we do that, we cannot learn; once we question the means of knowledge, we cannot learn from it. What do I do when there seem to be a contradiction or deviation between what Vedanta says and what I think is right? I give Vedanta the benefit of the doubt first and then proceeds to see if my conclusion is valid or not. In doing so, we have an opportunity to review our own conclusions. Otherwise, how can we learn and grow? If we always hold on to our present conclusions, we will never learn anything. In order to learn, our scope of knowledge must grow and it is necessary to question our conclusions. Therefore, wherever there is a discrepancy between what Vedanta reveals and our own conclusions, we question our conclusions rather than question Vedanta. श्रद्धा Śraddhā or trust does not mean that we have to blindly accept whatever the teacher tells us. It only means that we give it the benefit of the doubt and look upon it with a certain reverence.

श्रद्धा  Śraddhā is trust as well as a reverence for Vedanta and the teacher.

Śraddhā is not merely trust, but trust along with reverence. This aspect of reverence is very important in India. There is a reverence for certain things, the scriptures, teachers, elders, and for people who follow a lifestyle that includes austerity and penance. Such a reverence opens up the channel for the teaching to flow from that source to us. The reverence that is śraddhā is nothing but being in tune with that source. Thus, if we have reverence for the scriptures, we necessarily have reverence for the teacher because the scriptures come to us through the teacher. Therefore, the text says that śraddhā is गुरुपदिष्टवेदान्तवाक्येषु विश्वासः gurūpadiṣṭa-vedāntavākyeṣu viśvāsaḥ. It calls for a trust in the words of Vedanta that we receive from the teacher, not in what we learn by ourselves through reading. When we study on our own, our minds tend to fit what we study into the frame of knowledge that we already have. Whenever we read a book, we already have certain ideas about the subject and we try to understand it in the context of our existing frame of mind or conclusions. If the book confirms to our conclusion, it is deemed to be good and if it does not, we think there is something wrong with it.

Bondage is nothing but various conclusions and preconceived notions about ourselves. My first conclusion is that I am a limited being, followed by the conclusion that I am subject to birth and death, and happiness and unhappiness. These are my fundamental conclusions about myself. Vedanta says, तत्त्वामसि  tat tvam asi, that thou art. You are not a doer, enjoyer, or limited being. You are a complete being and free. However, I can’t accept that. Should I dismiss what Vedanta says? Or should I ask who is right? I give Vedanta the benefit of the doubt: I must be free. I explore further. If I am free, how is it that I don’t experience that freedom? I question my conclusion. Next, I look into the process by which I arrived at that conclusion and create the ground for discovering the fact that my conclusion is erroneous. This process of inquiry or विचार vicara can begin only when I first permit Vedanta the benefit of the doubt. This is all that is asked of us: that we give Vedanta the benefit of the doubt and have trust and reverence primarily in Vedanta and secondarily in the teacher through whom we learn the Upaniṣad. The meaning of the word guru is explained as:

गुकारस्त्वन्धकारो  वै रुकार्स्तन्निवर्त्तकः अन्धकारोधित्वाद गुरुइत्यधीयते

gukārastvandhakāro vai rukārastannivarttakaḥ, andhakāranirodhitvād gururityabhidhīyate.

The syllable ‘gu’ stands for darkness (of ignorance) and ‘ru’ represents its remover. A guru is so called because he removes the darkness (of ignorance).

Devotion is very important. As we saw earlier, the one who has supreme devotion for the Lord and the teacher has an equal devotion to the scriptures also. We cannot separate God from guru and the scriptures.

The revealed scriptures are looked upon as God.

We accept that the scriptures are revealed by God. Vedanta can be accepted as valid only when we accept the fact that it is not composed by human beings. Anything composed by a human being will reflect the limitations of the human mind. The Vedas are looked upon as not having been composed by the ancient sages, but as having been revealed to them by God.

Our reverence for God automatically results in a reverence for the scriptures, which are looked upon as an avatāra or incarnation of God. Just as we look upon Lord Krishna as an incarnation, so also, we consider the scriptures to be an incarnation of God in the form of words. God incarnates in different ways, sometimes, even as an animal. The Puranas describe various incarnations, including one of the Lord incarnating as cloth, the vastra avātara. There was a great devotee of the Lord, Draupadi, who was about to be stripped of her clothes in the court of the Kauravas. At that time, she prayed to the Lord and her prayer was answered. It is said that the Lord presented himself in the form of cloth. There is a sect in India, the Sikhs, who believe God to be the Granth, their very text. They call it the Guru Granth Sahib, the composition of the guru, and the devotees carry it on their heads to indicate their highest reverence towards it.

One has to discover śraddhā.

Let śraddhā, trust or faith, arise in its own way. Let it be discovered. It cannot be commanded. This reverence cannot be thrust upon anybody. We discover it as we get exposed to Vedanta, appreciate its profundity and clarity, and see how it releases us from different notions and complexes. Just as we cannot make ourselves love someone, we cannot make ourselves have śraddhā. Love has to manifest itself. Similarly, devotion and śraddhā are not things that we can command; they have to happen.

Śraddhā is the enlightened faith that we discover as a result of verification.

Śraddhā, trust and reverence, is essential to learn and enjoy an open mind. An open mind is willing to shed its conclusions and prejudices and is ready to learn and change. In having śraddhā, there is trust, faith, reverence, devotion, openness, and freedom. In fact, this is the trust where there is freedom. Normally, the word faith scares us. Any intelligent person is skeptical when this question of trust and faith arises because faith is always understood to be blind faith. But here we are talking not about blind faith, but enlightened faith, a faith that we discover as a result of verification. As we listen and understand Vedanta and try to assimilate and implement it in our lives, we discover its validity and take the next step. We do not simply believe it, but proceed as we discover the validity of the truth. Vedanta says that qualities such as humility, non-pretentiousness, and non-violence give peace of mind. This is a testable proposition.

Vedanta says that happiness is not to be found outside, but is to be discovered within ourselves as it is our own nature. Let me stop the external pursuit of happiness and focus my attention on myself and see whether I am able to discover inner peace or not. The reverence or trust will enable us to shed all the notions that we may be holding on to and thus free us from our shackles. Nobody else has created these shackles of our various conclusions, complexes and prejudices, but we ourselves. Śraddhā or reverential faith enables that learning frame of mind and, therefore, is freedom. Such a mind remains free from doubts and questions and open to the teacher and the teaching. In the Vivekacuḍāmaṇi [25], Śrī Śaṅkarācārya says:

शास्त्रस्य गुरुवाक्यस्य सत्यबुद्ध्यवधारणम् ।
सा श्रद्धा कथिता सद्भिर्यया वस्तूपलभ्यते ॥ २५ ॥

śāstrasya guruvākyasya satyabuddhyavadhāraṇam, sā śraddhā kathitā sadbhiryayā vastūpalabhyate.

The conviction that the scriptures and the words of the teacher are true is said to be śraddhā by the wise by whom the Truth is known.

Lord Krishna also gives importance to śraddhā and says, श्रद्धावान लभते ज्ञानं  śraddhāvān labhate jñānam, one who has śraddhā gains knowledge [Bhagavad Gita, 4-39]. We give our eyes and ears the status of a pramāṇam with reference to revealing their corresponding objects. Similarly, we need to accord Vedanta the same status with reference to revealing the nature of the Truth. Thus, śraddhā, which we discover in course of time, is an extremely important disposition of mind.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Link to Swamiji’s Talks & Discourses

How is Vedanta a – प्रमाण – pramana, means of knowledge?

gurudev (2)

Vedanta means the Upanisads. Vijnana विज्ञान means visesa-jnana विशेष ज्ञान the particular knowledge, the unique knowledge that Vedanta or the Upanisads reveal. Vedanta is pramana – प्रमाण or a means of knowledge. Just as eyes are pramana, the valid means of ‘ knowledge to perceive colors and forms, or the faculty of hearing is the means of knowledge to perceive sounds; so also Vedanta is the valid means of knowledge for knowing the self which cannot be known by any other means of knowledge. We have the organs of perception, with which We perceive the objects of the world, but the self is not an object. The self is the subject, my own self, so it cannot be perceived with the organs of perception, and therefore it cannot be the object of any other pramana such as inference, presumption, or comparison, which are all based on perception. For example, we can infer that there is fire on the hill ‘when we see smoke. Inference is based on some perceptible evidence we perceive the smoke and therefore infer the presence of fire. So when atman, the self, is not available for perception, it is also not available for other means of knowledge, like inference, presumption, and comparison, which depend on perception.

Upanisad is not a means of knowledge in the sense that eyes are a means of knowledge to see this flower, or my faculty of smell IS the means of knowledge to experience its fragrance. The eyes reveal the colors and forms, but Vedanta does not reveal atma. We should know in what manner the word pramana (means of knowledge) is used for Vedanta. When 1 we say that eyes are pramana for color and form it means that ‘ color and form are revealed by the eyes. Without the eyes one would not be able to perceive color or form. We cannot experience the fragrance of a flower Without the faculty of smell, and we cannot experience the touch of the flower without the faculty of touch. Can we say that we cannot experience the self without the Upanisad? No we cannot say that because we ever experience the self. I do not require anybody to tell me that I am. That I am is a self-evident fact I am, I shine, I am conscious, I always love myself (अहम् अस्मि सदा भामि कदाचिन अहम् अप्रिय ! Aham asmi, sada bhami, kadacinn aham apriyah). That I am, that I am conscious, that I never dislike myself, that I always love myself are all self-evident facts about me, and therefore I do not need Upanisad to know that I am; I do not need Upanisad to know that I am conscious; I do not need Upanisad to know that I love myself.

If Upanisad is not pramana in the sense of revealing the atmanआत्मा, in what sense is it pramana? It is pramana for me to know that I am nondual, that I am brahman ब्रह्मन्, that I am limitless. For gaining that knowledge, Upanisad becomes pramana If we did not experience the self, then there would be no problem at all in life, there would be no samsara, because error can take place only when there is an experience. N 0 experience, no error. Is it not so? When can I mistake the rope for a snake? Only when the rope becomes an object of my awareness and I do not recognize it as a rope, then I take it to be a snake. We may say that I have the general knowledge of rope, but not the particular knowledge of rope. I See that there is an Object, so the is-ness is known, but the rope-ness is not known. This ‘ kind of a unique condition should obtain for error or superimposition to take place. If. I see a rope, but not as a rope, then my mind will project a snake or something else there. If it were pitch dark and I could not see anything, then I would have neither general knowledge nor particular knowledge, so no superimposition would take place. On the other hand, in broad daylight I would see the object as rope and have both general knowledge and particular knowledge, so again no superimposition would take place. But in the evening, in a twilight situation or semi-dark situation, when I see the object but do not see the rope-ness of it, that is when the superimposition takes place.

It is similar with the self also. I experience myself all right; I have the general knowledge of myself, that I am; without that, there would be no scope for superimposition. In the deep sleep state, when I am not even aware that I am, there’s no superimposition, there’s no samsara, meaning there is no sense of smallness or inadequacy there. In deep Sleep we are blissful, blissfully ignorant, because in the deep sleep state there IS neither general knowledge nor particular knowledge of am. The wise person is the one who is blissful because he has both. He has the general knowledge that he is and l the particular knowledge that he is brahman, nondual Everyone else has the general knowledge of being, but not the particular knowledge of being limitless, of being brahman; then one takes oneself to be jivatma, a limited being. That is why Upanisad is; the pramana to reveal the particular aspect that I am nondual; I am brahman. Thus, Upanisad becomes pramana not for revealing the self, but for revealing the particular aspect of the self about which we entertain this error or adhyasa (superimposition). Basically, statements of Upanisad remove adhyasa, or adhyaropa, or superimposition, and thus reveal the nature of the self truly as it is

The vijnana the particular knowledge that Vedanta revels is तत्त्वमासि  – tat tvam asi, you are brahman, you are limitless. This cannot be revealed by any available means of knowledge. Vedanta is the only source of knowledge which tells us and makes us see that I am limitless, I am nondual, I am the self of all, I alone am, there is nothing other than I.

I am that I which does not exclude you. The meaning of the word I changes. It becomes I that does not exclude anything; it’s all-inclusive. I recognize that I am all-inclusive, there is. nothing apart from me, nothing separate from me. This is what Vedanta teaches us. Only when we recognize that as the nature of the self, do we become totally free from every lack, because when nothing is apart from me, then nothing is lacking in me; I am complete in every way. Then there’s a total satisfaction about myself. That is the Vedanta-vijnana. Suniscitarthah सुनिस्चितरथः  are those who have the ascertained understanding about what Vedanta teaches, those people in whom this determinate knowledge which Lord Krsna calls vyavasaydtmika-buddhi व्यवसायात्मिका बुधि  has arisen that “This is the knowledge that I want”. Pujya Swamiji says that a mature person has no choice. The immature person has many choices. People who do not have that determination in their life, for them there are many choices, today this, tomorrow something else, and so forth. But for a mature person there’s no choice, because a mature person recognizes that all I want is to know myself,1 all I Want is this knowledge. There’s no real choice. The only choice is for inconsequential things like whether to eat idli or pasta, but for important goals there is no real choice; Whatever he does IS all directed to the gaining of the knowledge. That’ s Called samadhana समाधान; the mind is very clear. Take hiking as an example. We know that we want to reach a destination, and then every step leads to that destination. You might choose a particular path, either a steep one or one that takes a longer time, but every step is directed toward the destination. So also, a mature person would not waste even a moment, would not waste any ‘ opportunity at all, in anything other than making his whole life a process of reaching his destination. Here, reaching is nothing but knowing and making whatever preparation is required for that knowledge. That’s called devotion. That’s called commitment. So vedantavijnana-suniscitarthah वेदान्तविज्ञान सुनिस्चितर्थः are those people who have discovered that commitment for the knowledge that Vedanta reveals, namely that the self is brahman.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Kaivalyopanisad

Links to Swamiji’s talks & discourses

Is self-knowledge (self-realization) an experience?

gurudev (2)

Knowledge is not an experience. What we mean by knowledge is cognition. When my eyes come into contact with a flower in front of me, the cognition of the flower takes place. In that cognition, I have no doership at all.

Knowledge is determined by the object of knowledge, jnanam vastutantrum. The type of cognition that takes place in my mind is not determined by me; it is determined by the object, the vastu. That you experience something implies that the experience is of something other than you. Thus an experience usually conveys duality. On the other hand, knowledge conveys understanding Therefore, one can have an experience, but not an understanding. For instance, I may see the Lord in front of me and yet not recognize him.

We can illustrate the distinction between an experience and an understanding. I had once been talking to a person for 10 minutes. A mutual friend then came and said, “Swamiji, do you recognize this person? This is Krishnamurthi. Do you remember how we used to do so many things together in New York City in those days?” ”Oh, is he that Krishnamurthi?” I remembered that in those days he was clean shaven and always in a suit. Now he had a beard and long hair! I was then able to recognize my old friend Krishnamurthi. Until then, I’d had an experience of Krishnamurthi the individual, even though I had not recognized him to be the Krishnamurthi I used to know Therefore, there can be an experience while there may be no recognition. In that sense, you have to distinguish between an experience and the recognition of knowledge. It is okay to use the word experience to mean understanding. That I can ‘experience’ a person while I do not necessarily know him would give an idea of the difference between experience and knowledge.

In the same manner, I can have the experience of God and yet not recognize him. Vedantins will say that you don’ t need to “experience” God because Whatever you are experiencing is God; you don’ t need an experience of the self because the self is self-revealing. In fact, any experience is possible only when you experience the self. Therefore, when you talk of an experience of God, if you mean the experience of god in certain form, it’ s okay. However, if you mean the experience of God as Vedanta explains it, you must know that everything that appears is God1. Every experience you have IS but an experience of God. Thus, what is lacking is the recognition, not the experience. In that sense, experience and knowledge or understanding are different. There cannot be knowledge without experience.

Knowledge requires an experience because there has to be something for you to know. If you are talking about a god of a certain description, you require an experience of that god to know him. Therefore, in dvaita1, where god is looked upon as different from us, we require the experience of that god because it is a particular god of a certain description. Whatever may be the description of god, you would require an experience of that god. However, if God is your own self, He is always experienced. If everything is God, it is also always experienced, it is simply a matter recognizing him in every experience.

In the case of a belief in duality1, an experience is required. In the case of non-duality, only recognition is required because all that exists is God. Experience and knowledge need not be identical. You can experience something and still not have an understanding or recognition of it.

Swami Viditatmanand Saraswati

1 What is advaita, non-dualism?

Excerpts from Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol: 2

Links to Swamiji’s Talks and Discourses

Take your time and you will achieve your end.


It is thought which is the propelling force in us. Fill the mind with the highest thoughts, hear them day after day, think them month after month. Never mind failures; they are quite natural. They are the beauty of life, these failures. What would life be without them? It would not be worth having if it were not for struggles. Where would be the poetry of life? Never mind the struggles, the mistakes. I never heard a cow tell a lie; but it is only a cow-not a man. So never mind these failures, these little back sliding; hold to the ideal a thousand times, and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more. The ideal of man is to see God in everything. But if you cannot see Him in everything, see Him in one thing, in that thing which you like best, and then see Him in another. So on you can go. There is infinite life before the soul. Take your time and you will achieve your end.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Jnana Yoga

Open Your Eyes, and See! The world we have been thinking, it never existed!


Give up the world which you have conjectured, because your conjecture was based upon a very partial experience, upon my poor reasoning, and upon your own weaknesses. Give it up. The world we have been thinking for so long, the world we have been clinging to so long, is a false world of our own creation Give that up. Open your eyes and see that, as such, it never existed; it was dream, maya. What existed was the Lord Himself. It is He who is in the child, in the wife, and in the husband; it is He who is in the good and in the bad. He is in the sin and in the sinner; He is in life and death.

Swami Vivekananda