“Access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries. In the whole world, there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life – it will be the solace of my death.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, a skeptical and delightful writer of the French Renaissance, inventor of the modern essay. The philosophers no longer number him among their tribe, and no wonder: he’s too clear, too pleasant, and above all, too sensible. [CRS. Exception: Stephen Toulmin…] My paper may also fall into this category, because I do not think Vedanta needs to be dry and the concepts therein hidden behind long incomprehensible words.
This quote from the philosopher Schopenhauer simply confirms what the West, especially Western thinkers, have known for a long time the Vedas to be the one enduring solace of the human race.
The United States along with the world stands at the threshold of a new era of “globalization.” Not only are our daily lives connected to people from every corner of the earth, but even our own families may be scattered all over the globe.
The connection and interdependence of our lives is becoming more clearly visible with each passing day. Just try to buy something made in a particular country and then look at how it was put together. We quickly realize the myth of belonging to a nation, for example the slogan “Buy American.”
A few years ago, living in Michigan, I was going through the general sentiment of our country, which was anti-Japanese and in favor of supporting the American car industry, as if by making better cars the Japanese had personally hurt us, especially Michiganders! So I went and bought a Detroit designed and made car. Well, within two weeks my car started giving me problems and I started seeing articles in the Wall Street Journal about these. What I had learned sent my patriotism into a spin. I found that the frame of my car was made in one country and the tires in another and various other parts in yet another nation. That was my first close look at globalization.
Vedanta is somewhat like this car example. It looks at the world as an intelligently put together creation for a purpose. However, in this case when we say that God is the creator, we have no confusion about which God from which country. Actually, Vedanta goes on to clearly show that not only is God the creator, but also the creation. He (he/she) is both the efficient and the material cause. To make it simple we can see that the infinite Almighty cannot go shopping for material to make anything as infinity already includes everything; nothing is outside; then only it is INFINITE.
Most traditions use the word “Almighty” when referring to God but never go on to explain what is meant by this word? Also words like omniscient (Sarvgnya), omnipotent (Sarvāśaktimān) and Omnipresent (Sarvavyāpak) are often used and agreed to in most interfaith groups. However my experience tells me that very few understand or even want to look into the deeper meaning of life. If most people or even religious leaders tried to comprehend through analysis the proper meaning of these words, there would be far less confusion about matters religious. Then again, I cannot help but wonder if this confusion is not knowingly created by those who seek a certain kind of power over the masses; that too for material profits in the modern form of western corporations! I know that this form is not at all ideal for the ordinary persons. It makes much wealth for some, while keeping a large population of the world poor. If we look at European history we see coups and revolutions and killing of the Russian Czars when the society is out of balance!
The Bhagavad Gita says, “न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते (Na hi jňānena sadrśam pavitram iha vidyate)” (B.G. 4.38). Nothing liberates like knowledge. Meaning that only through understanding of anything can we see it objectively and in objectivity lies freedom. As an example let us take the case of fire; by knowing the essential quality of fire which is heat, we can use its power in a beneficial way or by ignoring we can get burnt again and again! So is the fire to be blamed? No, it is our ignorance of its essential quality that is the problem. Once understood we do not put our hands in the fire again. That understanding is given to us.
Vedanta says that God is not to be believed, rather God is to be understood. Only when we know what God is can we proceed further to understand where the individual jiva fits into this creation, which in fact is inseparable from the Lord.
Let us take the above-mentioned four words referring to God, generally accepted by most religions and their proponents:
Omniscient -- सर्वज्ञ (sarvagnya)
Omnipotent -- सर्वशक्तिमान (sarvashaktimaan)
Omnipresent -- सर्वव्यापक (sarvavyaapak)
(Omniscient + Omnipotent + Omnipresent = "Infinity")
If God is indeed all these; then s/ he alone can be truly infinite, so any addition or subtraction from this infinity causes no changes to the absolute. From this absolute alone, all the manifest universe is and therein lies also whatever may be in a potential state, unmanifest as yet, or simply a dimension unknown to us. Once this concept of God is well understood there is no need to stress tolerance. In fact, spontaneous acceptance is the result of such knowledge. Furthermore, spirituality is a natural outcome because all creation is nothing but a manifestation of one absolute reality called Brahman,God, Allah or a any number of other names.
There is a quest in the United States now for spirituality and universality, which it is hoped will lead to tolerance of all people. Hindus have been astute enough to realize that our happiness and prosperity, even our survival, depends on our ability to get along and help preserve as many things in the Creation as we possibly can.
-Renu S. Malhotra, (MBA)
Affiliate of Arsha Vidya Pitham Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania (Institute of Vedanta and Sanskrit)
Presented at the Eighth International Congress of Vedanta October 31 – November 3, 1996
Organized by Department of Philosophy, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio