Vedanta in a Nutshell

Vedanta is one of the six traditional schools of Hindu philosophy. The word Vedanta means “the end of the Vedas.” The Vedas are ancient, revealed hymns wherein Hindu religion originates. They contain writings known as the Upanishads, which hold the kernels of Vedanta philosophy. Veda means “knowledge.” The implication is that the end of all knowledge is contained in the Vedanta philosophy. And, what is the end of all knowledge? Knowledge of God, the ultimate reality.

There are three main branches of Vedanta, which vary in their outlook according to interpretations ranging from dualism to nondualism. Shankara (ca. eight century A.D.) is considered its key nondual proponent. However, we still have not really said what Vedanta is in real-life terms.

In a nutshell, Vedanta is the realization of one’s innermost nature, or one’s spiritual self. This is called the “Atman.” The Atman is considered to be one with Brahman, or the universal, ultimate reality. Hence, two of the “Great Sayings” in the Upanishads are Tat Tvam Asi, meaning “you are That,” i.e., your innermost essence is the same as the ultimate reality. And Aham Brahmasmi, which means, “I am Brahman”; that is, our real “I” – not our superficial ego – is identical with the ultimate reality.

All this is fairly heady stuff. So, how does one realize these truths on a practical level? By diligently practicing one of the yogas, or paths to Union with God, in accord with one’s temperament. There are four principal yogas – bhakti (devotional), jnana (intellectual comprehension), karma (spiritualized actions), and raja (meditational) – as well as many minor yogas. However, one can combine all yogas into one grand synthesis by applying them in all aspects of one’s life. (By the way, hatha yoga postures are a subset of raja yoga, and are not in and of themselves considered a pathway to God.)

Okay, so let’s get to the nuts and bolts of Vedanta. Through dedicated spiritual practice, a person can transform themselves so they experience nonduality. This is not merely intellectually adopting a nondual viewpoint, but experientially realizing in our innermost essence that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) in God.

So‘ham is a third Great Saying from the Upanishads: “I am He.” No, this does not mean that your ego is one with God – far from it. In God there is no ego, no differentiation. All separation is gone; all dividing lines, eradicated. Enlightened saints relate that they simply experience a vast ocean of oneness—forever blissful and filled with infinite peace—and they are a part of this oneness, even as they go through the motions of their daily lives. In a nutshell, we, too, can experience this—the end of all knowledge.