by Robert Waxman
The purpose of this paper is to summarize and discuss the major religious themes in Vedanta Heart of Hinduism by
Hans Torwesten. These topics include the mystical concepts from the Upanishads, the yogas in the Bhagavad
Gita, Advaita, personal gods, Krishna, Shakti, and Vedanta’s relationship between western religion and philosophy.
Other important concepts such as Brahman, Atman, maya, karma and reincarnation are also discussed in this paper.
According to Torwesten, Vedanta means ‘end of the Vedas’ or transcending the Vedas (1991, p. 10-11). The
word Veda in Sanskrit means ‘knowledge’, and the goal of acquiring Vedic knowledge is to learn and experience
the spiritual wisdom of ancient Hinduism. Sometimes, the Vedas are viewed as metaphysical writings which are comparable to
wisdom books in other esoteric traditions such as Zen, Sufism, Taoism and Gnosticism. Cosmology and psychology have also been
assimilated into Vedanta, however, Torwesten claims Vedanta must be experienced to be fully understood (p. 11).
Hindus refer to their religion as ‘sanatama dharma’ (eternal religion) (Torwesten, 1991, p. 4). Vedanta
is one of six systems or ‘darshanas’ within Hinduism and is more orthodox than the others. Ramakrishna introduced
Vedanta to the Western world in 1893 at The Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair. Later on, his student
Vivekananda explained Ramakrishna’s universal message of Vendanta to Westerners. In order to make Hinduism more accessible
to western thinking, Vivekananda excluded thousands of Hindu gods and various religious rituals and complications of the caste
system. He is responsible for updating and reformulating the ancient teachings of the Vedas, and simplifying its teachings
so anyone could study this subject. Torwesten argues that Ramakrishna’s simplification of Vedic knowledge led to intensified
worldwide interest in Vedanta and Hinduism (p. 8). The source materials that were simplified by Vivekananda include the Upanishads,
the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. Before Vivekananda simplified these works, a new student of Hinduism
would encounter great difficulties when reading books like the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and the Brahma Sutras.
Subsequently, many readers became discouraged and lost interest in the subject. However, the revised discourses of Vivekananda,
allowed the reader to interpret the original spirit of the Upanishads, and experience the mystical feelings of the
ancient texts. The four Vedas include, the Yajur, Rig, Arthava, and Sama which are “concerned with individual
and relative truths” (p. 11). These teachings can only be realized by “non-knowledge”, described in the
Mundakya Upanishad as unknowable concepts that are stated in negative terms (describing what they are not) (p. 11).
A Vedantin believes in Brahman, the Law of karma, reincarnation, maya, and
the Atman or divine spark within man (Torwesten, 1991, p. 12). He also practices meditation and strives to transcend the physical
world of illusion or maya. His goal is to understand the universal nature of ‘being and non-being’, and Torwesten
asserts that Vedanta (like Zen) can lead one to “the end of all knowledge” (p. 14).
Each of the Vedas contains a section of collective writings called the Upanishads
which are the foundations of Vedanta (Torwesten, 1991, p. 17). The concept of Brahman is central to the teachings
of the Upanishads, and it establishes the concept of one divine source as the beginning of a manifold universe. Torwesten
says, Brahman is not “an abstract, absolute principle”, but rather a concept representing the highest good (p.
17). He also asserts that the Upanishads are known as a “secret teaching” because they refer to the unseen
and the paranormal (p. 18). The Upanishads also refer to the ‘principle of correspondences’ - summed-up
by the phrase ‘as above, so below’ (the macrocosm explaining the microcosm).
According to Torwesten, one of the most important secret teachings in the Upanishads is the concept of “Tat
tvam asi” or “That – thou art” (1991, p. 19). This phrase encapsulates the ultimate truth in the universe.
This phrase means ‘That’ is the highest force existing in nature, and ‘it’ manifests itself in each
person as ‘thou art’. Therefore, ‘That’ is the vivifying principle of life, and there is a direct
relationship between these macrocosmic and microcosmic forces. The well-known verse from the Hebrew Bible declaring,
‘I Am That I am’ (Ex. 3.14) has a similar meaning.
Vedanta, the study of knowledge is called jnana yoga, and those who study this path are not concerned with going to heaven
or worshipping deities. (Torwesten, 1991, p. 20). Vedantins on this path do not regard rituals, sacrifice, devotion, or good
works as important as knowledge. The student on the path of knowledge wants to know who he truly is and why he exists. He
also wants to understand the various aspects of his karma and how to expend it. This Vedantin wishes to free himself from
the chains of karma, and in the process, free himself from the cycle of rebirth. To achieve this goal, he must ‘self-realize’
and experience his direct connection to Brahman (the source of all being). Subsequently, he is set free from the recurring
cycle of life and death.
concept of Brahman has changed over time. The original meaning was to “swell, expand, or increase”, but its future
meaning changed to “a static” concept, meaning the opposite of illusion or maya (Torwesten, 1991, p. 36). Another
definition for Brahman is “sacred word”, which refers to the mystical power of words that “cause something
to happen” during a ritual or sacrifice. Later on, Brahman was known as the “creator-god” Brahma - the first
god named in the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. On the spiritual hierarchy, Brahma is one level below “prakriti”
or unmanifest nature (p. 38). Brahma’s primary function is to create a new universe at the beginning of each cosmic
cycle. Once his task is complete, he plays no role in human affairs. From that point forward, his counterparts Vishnu and
Shiva have the power to preserve, destroy and regenerate life on earth. Beyond prakriti lies the absolute ‘being and
non-Being’ of Brahman, which has a direct connection to each spark of Atman or individual consciousness.
In the Sankhya system of Hinduism, the forces of passive consciousness (purusha) and the active forces of “nature”
(prakriti) do not correspond to the teachings of the Vedanta system (Torwesten, 1991, p. 41). The Sankhya system teaches the
concept of dualism, while Vedanta teaches non-dualism or oneness. However, Vedanta agrees with twenty-four principles from
Sankhya, and adds purusha (eternal essence or spirit) which is separate and apart from prakriti (nature or matter). Purusha
is the true Self of the individual which “dwells in the hearts of men” (p. 43). To progress spiritually, Purusha
(individual consciousness) must be liberated within each person. In order for Purusha to enlighten the individual, the body
must go through a process of purification. Once this process is complete, the individual feels a direct connection with the
collective Atman (world soul) and experiences a sense of oneness. This relationship between purusha and ‘the collective
Atman’ leads to liberation of the true self (moksha).
describing Brahman, Torwesten quotes the Mandukya Upanishad, it is that “which cannot be seen or seized, has
no attributes, no eyes or ears…” (1991, p. 45). Torwesten says a mortal cannot have a personal relationship with
an abstract concept (p.45). Since Brahman cannot be described in a finite manner, the finite mind cannot have a relationship
with it. Consequently, Brahman is the ultimate mystery of ‘being and non-being’ and can only be spoken of as omniscient,
omnipresent and omnipotent.
There comes a certain cosmic moment when Brahman differentiates itself from
its resting state of oneness (pralaya). At this stage, purusha and prakriti come into being as two opposing qualities. Torwesten
says purusha is the “the highest transcendental” spiritual force, and prakriti is the “underlying ground”
of constantly evolving nature (1991, p. 45). According to the Upanishads, prakriti emanates from Brahman as a
projection rather than a creation (p. 47). In other passages of the Upanishads, Brahman is described as transforming
itself into a visible universe. Shankara (founder of Advaita Vedanta) disputes this idea by teaching that Brahman cannot transform
into anything. Shankara teaches that Creation and the universe are maya (illusion), and they are separate and apart from Brahman.
Therefore, Shankara is characterizing Brahman as the one, changeless, eternal Reality. Shankara’s teachings changed
many ideas that Vedanta inherited from the Sankhya system. He did not believe that the universe emanates from Brahman, or
that Brahman devolves from the highest transcendental level down to the lowest physical level (involution). Shankara agrees
with the Isha Upanishad that speaks of Brahman’s transcendental fullness, and its separation from the visible
universe: “Om. That is full, this is full. This fullness has been projected from that fullness. When this fullness merges
with that fullness, all that remains is fullness.” (p. 48). If one accepts the idea that ‘fullness of the universe’
is a projection of the ‘fullness of Brahman’, a question arises concerning the fullness of a one-time Creation.
Even though the Vedas speak of only one Creation, Torwesten argues there is a prevailing view in Hinduism that cycles of Creation
are without beginning or end (p. 48). He claims continuous cosmic cycles are an important teaching from the Upanishads,
and cycles are inherent in the Law of karma, and the doctrine of reincarnation (p. 48). Therefore, Creation is one third of
the cosmic cycle of Creation-Progression-Decay (in the macrocosm), which corresponds to the human cycle of birth-life-death
(in the microcosm). Both cycles begin their journeys by moving out of a state of oneness, and both complete their experience
by returning to their original state of Brahman.
Another important concept in the Upanishads
is the difference between the individual Atman and the collective Atman. The collective Atman corresponds to, ‘I Am
That’ in the Hebrew Bible and the individual Atman corresponds to the final ‘I Am’ in
the phrase “I Am That I am” (Ex. 3.14). The individualized Atman is the true self. According to Torwesten,
originally Atman was associated with the breath of life or prana (1991, p. 50). Later on, Atman became associated with the
‘I’ or transcendent Self which sometimes is interchangeable with the Sanskrit word ‘paramatman’, and
“jivatman” refers to an aspect of the soul’s Atman that is subject to reincarnation. Torwesten says
these descriptive words are found in the Upanishads, but there is a lack of consistency regarding their
exact definitions (p. 51). In any case, Atman and Brahman are considered identical in terms of their transcendental mystique.
Brahman is the macrocosmic version of the eternal mystery, and Atman is a microcosmic spark of the eternal mystery. Both Brahman
and Atman are subjective concepts and cannot be quantified or described in words. Both are beyond the senses and cannot be
analyzed or objectified in any manner whatsoever.
Another important topic in the Upanishads
is the “word symbol” for Brahman which is “OM or AUM” (Torwesten, 1991, p. 64). The Upanishads speak
of AUM/OM as a sacred word, and its three letters represent the three consecutive states of “waking, dreaming and deep
sleep” (p. 65). OM is a link between the mortal and divine worlds, and during meditation its sound is used to unite
both worlds. The negative definitions of OM are similar to Brahman and Atman: “unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible,
unthinkable, and indescribable” (p. 66). When a person is meditating or chanting the sound OM, his goal is to transcend
duality and experience a feeling of oneness between his individual Atman and the collective Atman. Torwesten describes this
form of mysticism by saying, “the infinite becomes the word, thus taking root in the human heart, and what is inmost
in the heart expands as he leaves his “I” behind and bounds across ‘to the other shore’” (p.
67). Raising one’s consciousness to the highest level of nothingness, and moving beyond the ego is one of the most important
practices in Vedanta. Transcending the personality and all the aspects of illusion is the ultimate goal.
The Upanishads teach ethical principles and how to expend karma through purification. One can be free from
re-birth through non-attachment, ridding one’s Self of all desires, and attaining a state of oneness with Atman (Torwesten,
1991, p. 68). However, if a Vedantin only studies the Vedas, his goal cannot be reached. Purification must be attained by
transcending to a state of “ananda, joy, bliss, and happiness in God” (p. 69). The Upanishads are instruction-manuals
to guide the Vedantin into transcendental bliss. The Upanishads belong to the school of jnana yoga which concentrates
on intellectual understanding, and attainment of the highest spiritual knowledge. Torwesten suggests that the Christian message
of love should be combined with the wisdom of the Upanishads, so the spiritual aspirant can reach the highest state of consciousness
through the heart and mind (p. 70).
According to Torwesten, the Mahabarata (containing the story of the
Bhagavad Gita) is the Hindu equivalent of the Judeo-Christian Bible (1991, p. 75). The Mahabarata
combines the different yogas or spiritual paths into one “brilliant synthesis of all the important religious and philosophical
currents in India” (Torwesten, 1991, p. 75). The Bhagavad Gita, like the Torah and the Gospels,
is regarded as divine revelation and its stories play a more important role in the daily lives of Hindus than the Vedas. The
Gita, along with the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras, are the pillars of Vedanta. The Gita
has a universal message that has great appeal. It tells the story of the human condition and how to overcome despair
and achieve blissful spiritual enlightenment. The two main characters in the Gita are the warrior Arjuna, and his
god-like teacher Krishna. They discuss profound spiritual questions that most great thinkers have asked throughout the ages.
Krishna teaches Arjuna the fundamental principles of the Upanishads, and these teachings become the spiritual basis
of the Vedanta system. The goal of the Gita is to teach any student how to achieve self-realization. Arjuna symbolizes
the ‘lower mind’ of man, and his teacher Krishna symbolizes the ‘the higher mind’. Thus, the higher
mind is imparting its wisdom to the lower mind, in the same way that Krishna is imparting ‘divine wisdom’ to Arjuna.
Another yoga discussed in the Gita is karma-yoga or the “Path
of Selfless Action” (Torwesten, 1991, p. 97). Karma means action, work or deed, and Krishna speaks to Arjuna about the
importance of performing selfless actions. Krishna tells Arjuna that action is better than inaction, and people need to live
in the world rather than in their minds. He also warns Arjuna about becoming attached to the objects of the world. According
to Torwesten, Krishna comes to earth to set an example for humanity, and without his constant action, all worlds would perish
In chapter eleven of the Gita, Krishna appears to Arjuna as a frightening and
awesome image with thousands of arms, faces, bellies, eyes, and mouths (Torwesten, 1991, p. 109). Arjuna is beginning to understand
that Krishna is a majestic deity who is capable of destroying the universe. Torwesten points out that the Upanishads
do not speak of such an apocalyptic vision, however, the Katha Upanishad describes Brahman “as a great terror,
like a thunderbolt…From terror of Brahman fires burns; from terror of It the sun shines, from terror of It Indra, Vyahu
and Death, the fifth, run” (p. 110). Like Brahman, Krishna is personified as a terrifying and awesome image. This type
of personification changes Krishna into a mythological figure in the mold of Egypt’s Horus or Persia’s Mithra.
Krishna’s personification is seen as symbolic by those Vedantins following Shankara and the Advaita school. However,
followers on the Path of Devotion (bhakti) worship Krishna as a personal god. Torwesten argues that this type of theism is
more appealing to Hindus than the concept of an abstract Brahman without definable qualities or attributes (Advaita) (p.113).
According to Torwesten, dvaita is defined as duality, and Advaita as non-duality or oneness with the ultimate reality
of Brahman (1991, p. 115). In Advaita nothing is explained, however “everything is explained away” (p. 116). Advaita
does not offer answers to questions, but rather concerns itself with why questions are being asked. The Advaitin does not
concern himself with the nature of duality, but prefers peeling off layers of objective reality until nothing remains. When
the Advaitin experiences a state of ‘nothingness’, there is only Brahman. The ‘I’ and the ego are
no longer causing questions to persist, and the Self is free from illusion. Finally, the Self is liberated and it experiences
oneness of Brahman.
Shankara is an important figure in
the emergence of Vedanta. He lived in approximately 800 CE, and lived to the age of 32 (Torwesten, 1991, p. 118). He wrote
many important texts about the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita during a time in
history when Buddhism was in decline in India. He established the concept of Nirguna Brahman - the “absolute without
attributes” and Saguna Brahman – a personal god with attributes (p.119). According to Torwesten, Shankara benefited
from the decline in Buddhism’s popularity, and had the opportunity to reshape Vedanta into his vision of a more cohesive
and profound religious philosophy (p. 121).
to Torwesten, a few hundred years later, the theistic Vedantins rebelled against Advaita by accepting their personal god as
the one eternal Reality (1991, p. 153). They resented Shankara’s Buddhist-like ‘impersonal nothingness’,
and changed the two tiered system of Brahman into a personal god-concept’. During the Middle Ages, Shankara’s
followers held to the idea of Brahman as the absolute deity, while others believed in a combination of an absolute deity and
a personal god (especially Vishnu or Shiva). The god Shiva was connected to jnana yoga and was more in the tradition of the
Shankara system of Vedanta. However, at the ‘lower tier’ of Advaita, Shankara worshipped Shiva (p. 154).
Later spiritual innovators of Vedanta include Ramanuja, Ramakrishna, Madhava and Chaitanya. From
the Middle Ages until the early 1800’s, Vedanta was influenced by Islam and Tantra, however, the Upanishads, Brahma
Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita still provided the religious and philosophical foundations for the Vedanta schools
(Torwesten, 1991, 169). In the mid- 1800’s, Shri Ramakrishna changed the direction of Hinduism, and there was renewed
interest in its teachings. Ramakrishna reshaped Vedanta by expressing love for a personal god, accepting Tantric practices,
and having an Advaita teacher as his guru. He also followed the Shankara tradition, settled old disputes between various Vedantic
schools, and brought new freedom of thought to Vedanta. Ramakrishna embraced all religions and accepted Jesus and Allah as
part of his new vision for Hinduism. He was not attempting to make Hinduism into a synthesis of all the religions, but taught
the idea that each religion revealed a portion of divine truth (p. 172). Ramakrishna was able to unite the different factions
of Hinduism by combining Vedic wisdom with bhakti yoga’s practices of love and devotion. He redefined Brahman as a passive
state of absolute oneness that was separate from creation, preservation and destruction. The active eternal
Reality was redefined as Kali or Shakti, and Brahman and Shakti became identical (p. 173). These two forces are personified
as eternal parents or The Divine Mother which corresponds to the dual concept of absolute truth (Brahman) and relative truth
(Shakti). Ramakrishna believed Brahman and Shakti were two sides of the same coin as dark is to light. Ramakrishna and his
disciple Vivekananda also led their followers toward Advaita and the concept of non-duality. Vivekananda became a passionate
leader in the Advaita-Vedanta movement in the late 1800’s. He was more moderate in his metaphysical views than Shankara,
and he recognized the personal god Shakti as the Divine Mother. However, he also accepted the concept of maya as illusion,
and Brahman as the one eternal Reality. Like Ramakrishna, Vivekananda was not trying to start a universal
world religion, but was interested in promoting the idea of non-dualism. He believed that complete unity existed between the
‘seen and the unseen’, and believed in one ultimate Absolute which is the beginning and end of all cosmic cycles.
Later on, the Vedantic leader Aurobindo taught a more rational doctrine that invited the Shakti energy down to earth in order
to help humanity (p. 187). Aurobindo did not exclude the concept of experiencing spiritual oneness with the impersonal Brahman,
however, he thought “the earlier paths were too negative and one-sided” (p. 188). Subsequently, he formed a new
type of Vedantic system that was useful in the world, but still included Shankara’s teachings of transcendence. He believed
Brahman energy could invigorate human life in the same way ‘the love of Christ’ could energize a Christian. Aurobindo
believed that the concept of enlightenment not only pertained to the advancement of the soul, but also to the evolution of
humanity. He reversed the thinking of his predecessors by explaining that each follower had the power of Shakti within himself,
and together with evolution, tradition, family, and community – people could work together to change the world. Aurobindo
believed humanity could unite in a spirit of love and cooperation and do the work of a god. This idea met with harsh resistance
because it was in opposition with the traditional Vedantic goal of achieving individual transcendence (p. 191). However, Aurobindo
contributed to the evolution of Vedanta by combining traditional Vedic teachings with a compassionate ideology. He tried helping
the Hindus overcome poverty, sickness and idle behavior by combing the practical with the mystical.
At the same time Aurobindo was changing Vedanta into a more humanitarian religion, Ramana Marharshi was directing his
followers back to the Advaita school of the Shankara tradition (Torwesten, 1991, p. 193). According to Torwesten, Ramana Marharshi
was the full embodiment of the best that Vedic knowledge had to offer (p. 194). He experienced self-realization and spent
five years in meditation. He reached the highest spiritual state of ‘Sahara Samadhi’ and lived his life immersed
in a blissful, natural state. He became known as a person who had liberated himself from his body, and directed his followers
to ask themselves, ‘Who am I?’. Marharshi said the truth comes to each person without words being spoken.
Torwesten’s last chapter concentrates on pointing out the similarities between
Vedanta’s mysticism and the writings of Schelling, Plato, Plotinus, Eckhart, Kafka and many other great philosophers
and religious leaders (Torwesten, 1991, p. 200). He also mentions Kant, Schopenhauer, Hegel and modern philosophers who seem
to have been influenced by Vedanta. In Europe and America many writers and progressive thinkers incorporated Vedantic themes
into their work. Vedanta’s universal philosophy appealed to the 1960’s generation who were seeking expansion of
consciousness. Torwesten concludes by saying that today’s version of Vedanta should encourage its followers to see if
Atman can be expressed in a positive manner in a finite world (p. 217). Vedanta’s spiritual philosophy should help people
become more alert, loving, creative and unique. In an ideal world, Torwesten suggests that Eastern metaphysics, mysticism
and Christian ethics should come together to form a more perfect religious ideology to help unite humanity.
Vedanta; Heart of Hinduism
offers adequate descriptions of the major religious and philosophical themes in Vedanta. The author begins by saying Vedanta
can be viewed as a perennial philosophy, and he succeeds in presenting this view. His description of Vedanta encourages the
reader to discover universal spiritual ideas that are usually not found in Western religions. The author stresses that Vedanta
is not just an exercise in deciphering ancient intellectual ideas, but it is also a tradition filled with many devotional
teachings (bhakti). Even though some brilliant thinkers and philosophers have studied Vedanta, one does not need to be a Kant,
Hegel, Schopenhauer or Schelling to understand its basic teachings.
book begins by explaining the main topics and key words used in Vedanta. Included are important ideas such as Brahman, Atman,
maya, karma, and reincarnation. Many of the same concepts are found in Zen, Sufism, Taoism, Gnosticism and Kabbalah. As in
other traditions, Vedanta offers a method for experiencing oneness with the divine source. The reader is introduced to the
Upanishads as the source of Vedic mysticism, and the author explains the goal of the mystic in the Vedanta system.
As discussed in the summary, the turning point for Vedanta came in 1893 when ‘a new and improved’ Vedantic
tradition was introduced to the West at The Parliament of Religions. Ramakrishna and his student Vivekananda were responsible
for organizing Vedanta into a cohesive religious philosophy that could be understood by western minds. Great credit is given
to these teachers for synthesizing the complex teachings of Vedanta into a simplified format that can be studied by anyone.
Unfortunately, the book provides no details about the methods used for simplifying these teachings, or why Ramakrishna chose
the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita as pivotal works for Vedantic study. It is clear that
Vivekananda understood the need for modernizing Vedanta, but it is not clear which teachings were considered too complicated
or outdated for this re-packaging of Vedanta.
The book also underplays the loose
and unorganized nature of the Vedanta system and its constantly changing philosophical ideology throughout the centuries.
Since there is no central Vedantic authority (like the Pope or the Dali Lama), it took enormous effort to reshape this mystical
tradition and find acceptance among its followers and the West. Ramakrishna and Vivekananda are the founders of the new Vedanta
school, however, few details are given about how they planned, revised, and edited Vedic knowledge before its debut on the
world stage in 1893.
The book thoroughly explains the most important Vedic concepts in the Upanishads
and Brahma Sutras. However, the lessons from the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita are not explained
in their entirety. Only basic information is given about the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna and the esoteric interpretation
is limited. Krishna’s role as teacher, god, logos and Brahman are not clearly identified in various portions of the
text. This is an important point because many Vedantins recognize Krishna as a divine messenger who incarnated on earth (like
Jesus). Many followers worship him as an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Others view Krishna as a god-object similar to Shakti,
and those from the Shankara school equate Krishna with Brahman. The author does not fully describe the scope of Krishna’s
changing role in the Gita as an incarnated human-god, an all pervading god-object, or an absolute god-force. If Vedanta is
to stay consistent with its metaphysical teachings, Krishna should not be worshipped as a divine incarnation of Vishnu. The
Advaita school would consider any human form as maya, and it serves no purpose for a god to incarnate as an illusion. The
second tier of Vedanta may recognize Vishnu as a personal god, since Shankara worshipped Shiva and Vivekananda worshipped
Shakti. However, the debate that goes to the heart of Vedanta’s teachings is whether or not an incarnating personal
god (like Krishna) belongs in the Vedantic system. The different beliefs among Vedantins on Krishna’s role may compromise
Vedanta’s standing as a mystical tradition. Especially since other esoteric traditions such as Taoism and Zen do not
worship any personal gods, Vedanta runs the risk of overlapping into a devotional Hindu system if its followers place a high
value on worshipping personal gods (bhakti). If Vedantins try integrating jnana yoga with bhakti, rajas, and karma yogas,
its mystical tradition of seeking oneness with Brahman may be compromised. Consequently, the validity of Vedanta as a study
of mysticism is at stake as it begins moving toward the teachings of the Sankhya system, and away from its roots in Advaita.
The book does not offer a sufficient amount of information on this important issue.
The author explains how Vedanta has moved back and forth over the centuries from being a purely mystical tradition
to being a jnana-bhakti combination of study. Shankara preferred his orthodox mysticism of Advaita, while Aurobindo preferred
a more humanitarian approach which combined mystical practices with a ‘love and help thy neighbor’ philosophy.
The author examines the history of Vedanta and how its leaders revised its teachings throughout the centuries. Shankara believes
seeking oneness with Brahman is the goal of studying Vedanta, while Aurobindo believes Krishna is right when he says the Path
of Loving Devotion is the way to salvation. This ideological conflict has been a continuous struggle among the followers of
Vedanta for centuries, and the book underlines this point.
The author contends that most Hindus would rather worship their gods and perform rituals, than follow the path of the
mystic. He also says, most Hindus do not concentrate on the impersonal Brahman, but prefer to worship their visible personal
gods. The Bhagavad Gita is sympathetic to the view that people want to know and see their gods. Arjuna wants to see
the ‘visible god nature’ of Krishna because as ‘the lower mind’ he is not content keeping the faith
in an impersonal deity. However, once Krishna appears to him in his physical form, he is terrified and regrets his request.
Therefore, neither a visible god nor an invisible god-force can meet human expectations. This is why Advaita and the Vedas
stress the importance of finding the god within oneself.
this book, the reader may want to know if Vedanta’s philosophy is similar to Taoism, Zen and Theravada Buddhism. The
author compares Vedanta to other traditions, but makes the point that only the Advaita system is comparable. The author describes
Advaita as an orthodox mystical path for the individual seeking oneness with a non-dualistic, impersonal Brahman. He devotes
a chapter to this subject, and understands the problems of confining Vedanta to orthodox mysticism and teaching the concept
of maya. According to Advaita, everything in the entire universe is illusion, and the only abstract concept that is not maya
is the ‘nothingness’ of the impersonal Brahman. With this system, the Heart Doctrine is put aside. The author
mentions that Advaita may contain Buddhist influences, but he does not go into detail about how Shankara may have ‘borrowed’
certain ideas from Buddhism.
If the Vedas originally intended to
focus on the study of jnana yoga, then Advaita is the purest form of Vedanta. However, we must go back to Krishna’s
claim that complicates the matter. Krishna says bhakti yoga is a better path than jnana yoga for attaining enlightenment.
The problem is to reconcile these two schools of thought under the umbrella of one religious-philosophy. We cannot ignore
the fact that the Bhagavad Gita is one of the primary sources of Vedantic philosophy. Krishna’s proclamation
that he prefers the Path of Loving Devotion over The Path of the Kingly Knowledge is a defining moment for the Vedantic system.
In this chapter of the Gita, Krishna is providing the philosophical basis for establishing goodness, love, truth
and beauty as innate qualities of mankind and the universe. This pronouncement is similar to Plato’s view of the universe,
and Voltaire’s idea that man is born inherently good. Jesus like Krishna, also prefers the Heart Doctrine over the Path
of Knowledge because they believe love is the only power that can unite humanity, and raise the consciousness of the world.
Subsequently, the question arises as to whether or not these two yogas can co-exist under the same system? Is it possible
that ‘love and devotion’ can be included in Vedanta, without compromising its historical leanings toward mysticism?
By including both yogas in its teachings, Vedanta becomes more attractive to those followers seeking a compassionate, mystical
tradition. With the inclusion of jnana and bhakti yogas within the Vedanta system, there is a balance between the doctrines
of the intellect and the heart. The integration of these two yogas is the central conflict within the Vedantic system and
the author does not explore it fully.