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Vedanta is for freedom lovers || Acharya Prashant, with 'Virat Hindustan Sangam' (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Questioner (Q): Non-duality is not generally accepted in the West or even in India. So, what can be done to push people towards the Vedantic thought?

Acharya Prashant (AP): You see, we need to revisit the fundamentals. Why is Vedanta or Dharma needed at all? Why can’t man do without Dharma ? Man needs Dharma because man suffers. When I say man, I mean human being; I am just being old-fashioned in my usage. So, we suffer, and therefore we need Dharma . Otherwise, we are alright as we are, as animals are; no animal has any concept of Dharma , not even a need.

So, why is Vedanta useful, and why would man move towards Vedanta? Because Vedanta actually, practically liberates us from suffering.

So, it is not a question of pushing someone to Vedanta or converting him; it is not a question of evangelizing something into a particular belief. It is a question of seeing what works. I mean, if we are sick, what do we need? We need a medicine that works. And I dare say Vedanta is the most fundamental medicine that works. We can have derivatives from that fundamental medicine, but we cannot change the fundamental nature of the medicine itself. So, you may have a group of chemicals, you have a mother medicine, and you can work on that as need be to come up with a newer version, a more updated form, a more contemporary form of medicine, but the fundamental formula cannot change. Vedanta is the medicine to the human condition, and the human condition is of misery. We are misery, Vedanta is medicine, and therefore we will have to go to Vedanta.

It’s not as if Vedanta needs to come to preach and convert; we need to go to Vedanta if we want our welfare. It’s just that somebody needs to demonstrate that authentically and credibly. What we need is not a justification on how effective Vedanta is. We do not need to investigate whether Vedanta works. What we need is people who know how it works. There’s a difference here. Vedanta need not be put under the scanner; we need to put ourselves under the scanner. Do we understand Vedanta?

And if we do not understand Vedanta and try to dismiss it—or as you said that people do not want to accept non-dualism, though non-dualism is one interpretation of Vedanta. The most logical, the most accurate, the most complete and the purest interpretation of Vedanta is Advaita , but there are dualistic interpretations as well. There is Viśiṣṭa Advaita , there is Dvaita . Ramanuja and Madhvacharya are given as high a status as Shankaracharya in many parts of the country. So, one need not go to Vedanta through the non-dualistic route only. One could take the dualistic route, approach Vedanta, and when you are intimate with the Upanishads, then you realize that their central message is of non-duality.

Q: What books would you recommend for someone who wants to develop a Vedantic thought process? For example, when it comes to your literature, is there an order those books should be read in?

AP: See, Vedantic ‘thought process’ is not quite the right thing. There is the Vedantic attitude, and that attitude is of constant meditativeness. You know, just as there is nothing like enlightenment in Vedanta, similarly there is nothing like meditation in Vedanta. It would be surprising to some people maybe. And these two are the hot words in spirituality: everybody wants to ‘meditate’ so that everybody can be ‘enlightened’. But in Vedanta there is neither meditation nor enlightenment. Meditation is taken for granted; a certain meditativeness as your basic attitude is taken for granted.

The Upanishads just do not teach any meditation. They say, if you are suffering, if you are curious, obviously you would have a certain attention towards Truth, and that is meditativeness, and that you need to continuously have. And that is the Vedantic thought process in your words, though that’s not a thought process; that’s a certain attitude, that’s a way of being. What kind of way of being? Not ritual-based, not belief-based, not based in anything, but really floating—floating to be free to enquire. 'I want to know, I want to know, I want to know. And I accept that I do not know, but I am knowing, I am knowing, I am knowing.'

Vedanta does not get fixated even to ‘I do not know’. Obviously, saying 'I know' is a thing of great arrogance. Even saying 'I do not know' is somewhat of a problem, because if you say, 'I do not know' then you have settled down somewhere. So, the Vedanti is always saying, 'I want to know, I want to know, I want to know, and I have faith that knowing is possible. I have faith, not belief, that knowing is possible, a very unreasonable faith. Knowing is possible, so I keep enquiring.'

Beyond meditation and enlightenment, there is also nothing called ‘love’ in Vedanta because Vedanta takes love for granted. If you do not have love, what have you come to the Rishi for? If you do not have meditativeness, how can you listen to the Rishi? So, even love is taken for granted. You obviously have love for the Truth, you want nothing more than the Truth, so you have come to the Rishi, and you are sitting in front of the Rishi and there is this entire discussion. Like the thing between Krishna and Arjuna as well—the Gita too is considered an Upanishad—there is that love, though in those eighteen chapters neither Arjuna nor Krishna ever say, 'I love you,' but that is the underlying, unsaid theme. Because they love each other, that’s why they are conversating.

So, that’s how one has to be. 'I want to know, I want to know, I want to know. It’s beautiful to know. It’s energizing to know. It’s lifegiving to know. How can I be dull like a stone? Am I not conscious? Don’t I feel that urge within to take my consciousness higher, and how can I move higher if I do not ask? So, I want to know. If a preceptor is there, I enquire from the preceptor; if a book is there, I read from the book; else I use my own mental faculties to try to know. But at no point am I going to feel settled.'

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