What is Vedanta?

Vedanta is the philosophy of the Vedas, the most ancient scriptures of India. Its basic teaching is that your real nature is divine. That Divine Manifestation is the underlying reality, present in every being.

“Where shall we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being?”
Swami Vivekananda

From that viewpoint, all religions become a deliberate quest for self-knowledge, a search for the Divine Presence within yourself. You do not need to be “saved” — you were never lost. At worst, you have been living in ignorance of your true original nature.

“Find God. That is the only purpose in life.”
— Sri Ramakrishna

There are different approaches to this quest.

According to a hymn from the Gospel of Hinduism, Bhagavad Gita:

“As the different streams,
Having their sources in different places
All mingle their waters in the sea,
So O Lord, the different paths which men take
Through various tendencies,
Various though they may appear
Crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”
— Bhagavad Gita, Chapter ?

Vedanta teaches respect and reverence for, and acceptance of all religions.

Vedanta’s most important ideas

The Vedas speak of the Godhead as Brahman. This universal Spirit is one without a second, absolute and indivisible. Though impersonal, beyond name and form, Brahman assumes various personal forms, both male and female, to reveal Divine Presence to us.

All the Incarnations — manifestations of God on Earth such as Jesus Christ, Sri Krishna, and Bhagavan Rama — are actual embodiments of Divinity. No one Incarnation can be regarded as the only manifestation of that Divinity.

Divine Presence is the source and cause of your being. You are essentially consciousness — poetically, a wave in the Ocean of eternal, unlimited cosmic Consciousness.

There is no accident in the cosmic universe. Human destiny — your destiny — is governed by the laws of cause and effect. This is called the Doctrine of Karma.

You will be born on Earth again and again until you complete the unfinished work of realizing your Divine nature. Although you may suffer because of the karmic effects of your actions, you can gain control of yourself and therefore your destiny.

With deliberate, sustained effort you can achieve a higher state of consciousness in this human birth.

There are many ways to reach this higher state of consciousness — through the intellect, emotions, actions, and the will. A specific path or combination of paths can be followed to realize your true original nature.

Four ancient paths to self-realization

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Vedanta stresses the idea of self-effort. It encourages you to realize the Divine within by the practice of four methods called Yogas. These yogas gather and channel the strengths and capabilities you already possess and lead you to God or Truth. The ideal is to practice a harmonious balance of the four yogas:

Bhakti Yoga. A bhakti yogi (bhakta) has a devotional relationship with God. This is developed over time by study, prayer, ritual, and worship. As a bhakta, you practice giving every action, thought, emotion, perception and tendency “a Godward turn.” Everything you are, both positive and negative, is offered to the Divine Presence. Your prayer is for the carefree self-surrender of a child in its Mother or Father’s arms and, ultimately, union with your Belovéd.

Jnana Yoga (advaita vedanta). As a jnana yogi, you practice discrimination, reason, detachment, and satyagraha (insistence on Truth). The goal is freedom from limitation (moksha). Our teachers say that all miseries in life are caused by seeing inaccurately. An earnest and persistent jnani may break through this misapprehension (Maya) and see only the Divine Presence everywhere, in everything and everyone.

Karma Yoga is a spiritual path leading to the abandonment of selfishness. As a karma yogi, you practice offering your actions and their results, as well as your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings to the Divine Presence.

Even before fully knowing this Presence, you hold firmly to the belief that the Presence is within each person or other living being that you interact with or serve. Working and abiding in this spirit, you are increasingly able to release attachment to your activities and their results. This yields the freedom and contentment promised by Karma Yoga.

“Even a little practice of this yoga will save you from the terrible wheel of rebirth and death …” — Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 2.

Raja Yoga is often called the yoga of meditation. As a raja yogi, you use ancient, proven spiritual techniques to quiet your mind and gain control of your attention.  Regular daily practice of Raja Yoga increases your ability to concentrate, and may lead to meditation. This can unite you with the Divine Presence, the source of your being, and liberate you from the cycle of rebirth and death. Raja yogis call this state of liberation kaivalya — independence.

Right and wrong conduct: Sin or error?

Ethics are a means to the end of finding the Divine Presence within yourself, and seeing it in others. Right action brings you nearer to that highest knowledge. Wrong action leads you further away from it. Each of us has profound personal challenges, and an individual path for development. Yet, the goal of self-realization is the same for all.

Swami Vivekananda, a saint and teacher of our tradition, said: “Children of immortal bliss—what a sweet, what a hopeful name. Allow me to call you, brethren, by that sweet name, heirs of immortal bliss. The Hindu refuses to call you sinners. You are the children of God, holy and perfect beings. Sinners? It is a sin to call a man so! It is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep. You are souls immortal, spirits free, blessed and eternal.”

Teachers in the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Vedanta tradition

Throughout the centuries, India has produced many great saints and illumined teachers. One of the greatest of these was Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). His intense spirituality attracted a group of young disciples who, when he died, formed a monastic community. This community became the Ramakrishna Order of India.

Swami Vivekananda was one of those young monks. He came to America as the representative of Hinduism at the first World’s Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893. Vivekananda was such a success that he was asked to stay in the United States for a time. He toured the nation for three years, lecturing, holding classes, and gathering disciples. With the help of his brother monks, several Vedanta centers were started here in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

There are now more than 20 Vedanta Societies in the United States, and nearly 200 around the world, directed by the Ramakrishna Order. More than 1,000 other centers worldwide bear the names of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.

For more information about Vedanta, please email, write, or call the Vedanta Center of Atlanta (770-938-6673), or contact us through our website — www.vedantaatlanta.org.

Interviews and private instruction

You are welcome to visit and discuss what we offer here; interviews are by appointment only — please email our Resident Minister, Br. Shankara at shankara@vedantaatlanta.org. Private instruction is available to those who attend classes and lectures for some time and want to deepen their spiritual life in the path of meditation. There is no charge for interviews, counseling or instruction.

These books are recommended, to give you a greater understanding of Vedanta and our Ramakrishna-Vivekananda spiritual tradition:

  • Vedanta and Ramakrishna
  • What Religion Is, in the Words of Vivekananda
  • Self-Knowledge
  • Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God
  • The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal
  • Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta
  • How to Know God: the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
  • Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination

These books and others on Eastern and Western spirituality are available in the Vedanta Center’s self-serve Bookshop, which is in our Chapel building at 2331 Brockett Road, Tucker GA 30084. (Parking lot entrance is on Adrian Street. Chapel is the building closest to the parking lot.)