“The real connecting link though can be understood only when we turn to the teaching not for a result but for its own sake”
The Western view has relied heavily on organized religion and failing that, on science to explain the mystery of life. Organized religion, where proselytizing is a great thrust, has given us more and more violence and has created great divisions between people. We find that one ends up supporting the organization and its infrastructure rather than gaining any spirituality. Acceptance rather than tolerance, spirituality rather than religiousness, is what we really seek in a more and more Globalized planet. Science has a possibility to connect us to the absolute truth as can be seen in the study of quantum physics (as opposed to classical) and related discoveries that are bringing us close to understanding the point where the subject/object distinction seems to become nonexistent. “The real connecting link though can be understood only when we turn to the teaching not for a result but for its own sake” (Isherwood, C., Vedanta for the Western World, p. 214).
Vedantic texts offer an immensely well analyzed source for us to see who we really are. However, the West does not yet advocate many practices necessary to prepare us for assimilating this knowledge properly. The churches have loads of money and never want the truth to be understood as then their existence will be jeopardized (a bit better than the Mosques where the existence of anyone can get jeopardised)!
So the problem is not ordinary citizens of a Nation -- they are just there to be exploited by power and money hungry institutions.
Even so, many in the West are trying to understand and question their own faith traditions! That gives me hope that one day the Sanaatan Vedic Dharma will prevail, leading to a more fair and sustainable world! the West has been successful in the last two or three hundred years in spreading their beliefs in nearly every area; however Spirituality is not the forte so far. Let us explore certain reasons which hinder the proper grasp of Vedanta in the Western world.
First and foremost, materialism and insatiable want of money clouds everyone's vision.
In their lives no deep or higher thinking was ever included; only a heaven and hell presided over by a vengeful God.
Initially when the colonizers came to India, they thought of themselves as superior in every way; yet they found a place with much wealth and amazing ideas which by their own words became the JEWEL in the crown! Hence their interpretations of anything belonging to India were heavily colored by this thinking and continue to be so even in the 21st century. It is not the lack of intelligence rather it is the interest groups (religious, political and above all monetary) that keep ordinary people from following anything sensible;that infact would free them from fears of every kind.Yes, if you live here you find that truely a vast majority live in fear of something or the other at all stages of life.
The Jesuit priests did learn Sanskrit and translated many ancient texts. Unfortunately, their goal was to learn the workings of the Hindu mind and then be able to convert them. So their explanations again were colored by a desire to show the Vedas in a less favorable light. Most people of European descent learnt about Vedanta, (if they know of it at all) through this type of translation. Even the Westernized Indians have been greatly influenced by these writings as English became the medium of education; a grand plan to subjugate all indigenous peoples of the World.
Most importantly it is the prevalence of an outward looking culture, intervention of religious institutions and extreme materialism of the western countries that is an inhibiting factor in getting a real grasp on the study of the “self” through Vedanta. This type of study definitely needs an inwardly looking culture, otherwise the study itself stays incomplete, only a philosophy which looks ephemeral and other worldly.
Finally, the place of a living Guru (spiritual teacher), Sadhana (practice—inculcating of certain values), a Sattvic (pure) lifestyle and Dharmic (righteous) attitude are the very base of understanding Vedanta. Without all of these we do not become “Adhikaris” (prepared to receive the teaching). It is like going to graduate school without the learning at the secondary and collegiate levels. The subject matter of Vedanta is the “self.” This is our very core and we feel a natural pull towards it. We may be able to understand some things intuitively if the mind is freed from the usual preconceived notions. Many of these notions would never be with us except for what we have been told by people whose personal interests lie in the masses of ignorant followers rather than clear thinking humanity.
The Upanishads constitute the Vedantic literature along with many other texts and commentaries. The study of these with a Guru who is himself a “Brahmanisth” (rooted in knowledge that there is an identity between the self and Brahman) and is conversant with both the Śabda Pramana (words as a means to knowledge of the self) and the methodology contained in the Śāstra (sacred writings) is essential.
-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