Vedanta – The Science of Self Discovery

Flickr - Vedanta - epSos.deFrank Huguenard, Staff Writer
Waking Times

At the heart of Hinduism is a spiritual and philosophical framework known as Vedanta. To understand the distinction between the two, it’s important to understand the origin of the word Hindu. When the first explorers from Persia traveled to India (then known as Bharat), they came across the Indus valley region of the country and called the indigenous people there Hindus. The meaning of Hinduism then went on to connote the entire set of traditions, rituals, practices, cultures, rites and so forth for an extraordinarily complex society and lifestyle.

The root set of Hindu values, ethics, knowledge, spirituality, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture and health care practices came from ancient Sanskrit texts known as the four Vedas (Rig, Yamur, Atharva & Sama). While no one knows for sure how old the Vedas are, some estimates put the age at 10,000 years or even much older. The word Veda is very similar to the word science in that in means the methods and techniques for acquiring knowledge as well as the accumulative body of knowledge amassed.

The Sanskrit word “anta” literally means the end of, or the culmination of, and so appending this suffix to the word Veda, we get Vedanta which means the end of knowledge or the culmination of knowledge. Vendanta represents the highest spiritual knowledge within all the Vedas. Generally speaking, Vedanta refers to ancient texts known as The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita and certain commentaries on both by Shankaracharya.

In many traditions, God is said to be Omniscient, or All Knowing, with the prefix omni meaning ‘all’ and the word ‘scient,’ being the present participle of the Latin scīre which means “to know.” Over the past several thousand years, mankind wouldn’t have been able to move out of caves, begin to build structures, roads and cities, develop agriculture and understand the seasons and astronomy without some form of science. The spirit of science has always been about a quest for knowledge, a yearning for the truth and over the millennia, there have been many different forms of science, culminating in what has become to be known as the Modern Scientific Method around 400 years ago.

For better or for worse, the word science now generally refers to the Modern Scientific Method but the answers to mankind’s greatest questions lay outside the purview of anything the Modern Scientific Method can ever hope to resolve. Is there an immortal soul? Is there a supreme intelligence governing the cosmos? Is there life after death? What is the purpose/meaning of life? These questions fall outside of anything that modern science can possibly provide an answer for and yet these questions represent the highest knowledge attainable by man. More importantly, there is a science that provides the same necessary framework defined within the Modern Scientific Method of assumptions and definitions, postulates and hypotheses, theories, methods and techniques that can answer these profound questions and that science is Vedanta.

Vedanta has slowly been integrated into Western Society’s thinking for a very long time and once we begin to look under the hood and learn a little bit about what is and is not Vedanta, we realize that the basic concepts and practices are already quite familiar to us. Here are some of the principles and tenets of Vedanta that most of us easily recognize:

  • Underneath this apparent reality is an indivisible substratum of existence that all matter, anti-matter, thoughts, emotions and memories rise up and dissolve back in to. In other words, “We are All ONE” and this theme has been scientifically proven with Quantum Mechanics.
  • While this non-dual, Supreme Being is singular and beyond comprehension, it has been given many names (Brahmin, God, Atman, Allah, etc.), characteristics and properties. From the Rig Veda, “the truth is one, the wise call it by many names.”
  • “I am That” is the basis for Self Realization. That the nature of the Self is, in fact, divine and you are the Self.
  • Our mind’s identification with our ego is what keeps us from realizing this Truth, therefore keeping us in ignorance.
  • Once we fully realize the Truth of who we really are, we attain liberation from the bondages of mind-body identification and move beyond suffering.
  • The journey of liberation is a process of passing through several levels of stages and the individual becoming more wise, compassionate, joyful and peaceful along the way.
  • There is any number of different avenues to Self Realization. No single path is the correct one.

Vedanta in the West

From Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau to The Beatles, Eddie Vedder and Russell Brand, westerners have a long history of turning to ancient Indian philosophies and practices to enhance their lives, bring peace of mind and provide practical wisdom. Films such as The Matrix, Vanilla Sky, Star Wars (Joseph Campbell, the renowned expert on Vedanta consulted George Lucas on the first three films), Inception and even Kung Fu Panda all have obvious Vedantic references and themes.

When Carl Jung first visited India 100 years ago, he was quoted as saying that Western Psychoanalytic Theory was in its mere infancy compared with Easter Philosophy. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson also was influenced by Eastern Philosophies, meaning that the 12-Step program has its origins in Vedantic  Science as well. One of the most popular and effective contemporary mental health treatment programs, Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT), is comprised of four primary modules (Mindfulness, Emotional Regulation, Distress Tolerance and Interpersonal Relations Skills) which are pure Vedanta, whether the creator of DBT understood  them to be or not. That’s just how much Vedanta has permeated our way of collective thought processes.

The New Thought  Movement

Successive waves of Vedantic influence have sailed across the oceans to America’s shores, from the Romantics in the early 1800s (including President Adams and William Emerson, Ralph Waldo’s father) to the India Invasion of the 1890’s when both Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda emigrated to the U.S., but one of the largest waves of Vedanta to impact America was the New Thought Movement.

Long before Rhonda Byrnes wrote the book “The Secret and produced the film of the same name, books like Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles and The Master Key System by Charles Haanel promoted the idea that things are thoughts and our thoughts determine what gets manifested as our reality, and in order to attract wealth into our lives, we need to reprogram the way we think. The Law of Attraction, as it is commonly known today was a significant component in The New Thought Movement started over 100 years ago by Thomas Troward.

Troward, who is considered to be by many to be the Father of the New Thought Movement, was a divisional judge in India during British Imperial rule, and when he returned to England in the early 1900s, he brought back with him the ancient knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of Vedanta.

The Religious Science Organization, another branch of the New Thought Movement, was spearheaded by Earnest Holmes who’s book The Science of Mind is still studied throughout North America by secular spiritualists who seek something more meaningful and life changing than what they feel they get from orthodox religions.

The New Thought Movement is considered to be an amalgamation of several different disciplines and philosophies including Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism but in reality The New Thought Movement is pure Vedanta. If you take into account that Jesus trained in India during the so called lost years of the bible, that Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism all have their roots in Vedanta, and that Vedanta is the spiritual core of Hinduism, then you can understand that the movement is basically a watered down, westernized version of Vedanta.

Organizations in the West Offering Vedantic Knowledge

The reasons that Vedanta appeals on so many different levels to westerners is that it doesn’t ask that we defer to an authority and are expected to have faith in miraculous events but rather, Vedanta says “here is what we accept as truths, and here are a set of parameters, methods and techniques to test and verify for yourself.” Vedanta rationally speaks about divinity without offending a person’s sense of reason and never asks you to believe anything without having your own personal experience of it.

In North America, there are many, many Vedantic based organizations easily accessible for people interested in their own search for truth and a few of the larger ones are widely available. All of Buddhism is based on Vedanta and one of the most popular retreats is Vipassana taught by S.N. Goenka. The Self Realization Fellowship and Vedanta Society, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda respectively are still very popular and the TM (Transcendental Meditation) organization that was started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s is very well known, primarily for meditation but also has Vedanta as its basis as well. And most recently, there is the Art of Living, which was founded in 1982 by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and is currently the world’s fastest growing Vedanta based movement.

What sets the Art of Living apart from all of the other organizations focused on providing Vedantic based retreats and practices is that after 4000 years of tradition, a new technique has been added to the repertoire of tools encompassed within Vedanta, a rhythmic breathing technique known as the Sudarshan Kriya which has been scientifically proven to bring significant decreases in cortisol (the stress hormone), cholesterol, sleeplessness, restlessness and anxieties.

Whether your motivation is stress relief, clarity of thought and better sense of well being or your motivation is expansion of consciousness, Self inquiry and ultimately Moksha (liberation), Vedanta’s universal approach is applicable as well as beneficial to everyone. And whether your preference is to set off on your own on an adventure of self discovery or you’d rather get involved with a specific organization or group, the promise and value of Vedanta is equally the same. Thou art That.

About the Author

Frank Huguenard is an author, teacher and documentary film producer, specializing in films on Science and Spirituality. You can see all three of his films, Beyond MeBeyond Belief and Beyond Reason at his website

Please tune in this weekend for an exclusive documentary film screening webcast and global meditation event, hosted by Frank Huguenard:

Boone, NC (April 24th, 2014) – The Award Winning documentary film Beyond Me will be broadcast live during a Google Hangout event on Sunday April 27th at 5:00 p.m. EST with Producer Frank Huguenard taking live questions during intermission as well as after the film. Following the Q & A Frank will be guiding a 30 minute global meditation. Beyond Me is a film that draws a direct link between human suffering and the instinctive behaviors of plants and animals. Not only does this film provide an interesting new theory that bridges the gap between Intelligent Design and Darwinism, but it also offers a practical solution for helping people break out of their unwanted traits and tendencies.

For more details, see the event’s Facebook Page.

Read more articles by Frank Huguenard, here

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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  • E. Grogan

    small correction:
    “Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson also was influenced by Eastern Philosophies, meaning that the 12-Step program has its origins in Vedantic Science as well.”

    In all the years Ive spent in AA I never heard this; what I do know is that he drew from many different areas to create A.A, such as the Oxford Group, the Iroquois confederacy, the Quakers, etc. my point is that he didn’t just draw from Vedanta, if he did at all ( my understanding is that he dabbled in it long after A.A. was founded.)

  • mothman777

    Incidentally, if vedanta advaita theory were truly valid, if we were all really One, then surely we could all unmake our separateness and become One again instantly, but we cannot. Surely, the ‘One’ can do this?

    I have spoken to a yoga guru who entered the advaitist conception of God consciousness, who self-statedly merged with the advaitist conception of God, and when he opened his eyes, and I spoke to him in English as I stood by his side, he immediately had to ask another person to translate the meaning of one of the words I had just spoken to him.

    So why was the state of all-knowing, all-being immediately lost upon the yogi opening his eyes? Why was he not still cosmic in all-beingness and all-knowingness? Surely, if he had truly engaged in the One as One, then he would clearly maintain that in continuity as soon as he opened his eyes. But he did not.

    Albeit, I know some lovely people who adhere to the advaitist philosophy, and they can telepathically communicate with me instantly from any distance, in very kind manner, which I am very glad for, but, ultimately, what they are experiencing is just a form of spiritual siddhi granted to them by Lord Krishna as a form of spiritual maya, though they themselves cannot appreciate that truth in their present state of consciousness, as the cosmic sized Supreme Soul Krishna Himself is the substance and medium of all the communications of these yogis, who are in truth, still just tiny jiva souls themselves, who, without that spiritual maya potency of Lord Krishna, would just be limited in their sphere of consciousness like a tiny ant or any ordinary human being. In truth, the individual vibrations of the advaitist yogis must still pass through the greater Soul Lord Krishna to reach anyone else, but they mistakenly believe themselves to have become God Himself when that is occurring in the Brahman white light, and when they experience ‘cosmic awareness’. Even eternally liberated souls in the Vaikuntha planets are given to experience cosmic consciousness also, but they do not mistake themselves as having actually become that infinitude themselves, and their level of experience is much clearer and much more pleasurable, and of much greater benefit to all around them also.

    Even in the transcendental Vaikuntha planets, the state of sarshti, or spiritual cosmic consciousness is gained by all souls there purely through maintaining a relationship with Lord Krishna, who is the best friend and constant associate of all souls in the spiritual world, as He is the very substance of all the spiritual planets and the infinite spiritual sky in which they are situated, so a relationship with Him is definitely a prerequisite for all who wish to experience true cosmic consciousness, though to know Krishna in His personal form is the highest bliss of all.

    Krishna is merely indulging those advaitists in a kindly manner when He gives them the pleasant spiritual dream of having become an infinite ‘formless’ Godhead themselves, and that manifestation is actually much more limited in its scope, as a formless infinitude of partially blissful white light is not the true nature of spiritual reality on the highest and optimal plane of spiritual self-cognisance, where Krishna Himself is the spiritual sunlight by which all true consciousness, love and bliss is maintained, especially in the highest spiritual planet, Krishna Goloka, where madhurya rasa is maintained, the most intimate and loving transcendental relationship with the Godhead, resulting in the highest bliss, on a level that has 100% equality with the bliss of the Godhead Himself.

  • Four Vedas are:
    Rig veda
    Yajur veda
    Atharva veda
    Sama veda
    and not
    Rig, Yamur, Atharva & Sama.

  • dimitri

    That clears the air a bit. Very necessary in a world full of hot heads. Thank you also for NOT mentioning the tentacles of the New Age Movement.

  • hp

    Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s Vedanta (end of Veda = Bhakti), realized in a lifetime of contemplating and learning via Advaita (impersonal Brahman), at the end of his exalted life culminated in ripened Vedanta; realization of the Supreme Personality.

    Even as his dharma immersed him in the Advaita impersonal philosophy, at the end his Vedanta blossomed into a “Bhaja Govindam”

    The realization of one’s true eternal position as servant of God in whatever capacity/position.

    “Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda. Oh fool!
    Rules of Grammar will not save you at the time of your death.”

    Bhaja Govindam

    • mothman777

      Indeed, both Buddha and Shankaracharya were actually avatars from the spiritual world sent by Lord Krishna to provide limited teachings suited at specific times for specific audiences, and both in fact knew all the time of the existence of the supreme individual, Lord Krishna, our communal Higher Self, who dwells eternally within the heart of every soul in every species throughout the infinite cosmos.

      Followers of earlier vedic rituals had become degraded and addicted to mistaken interpretations of vedic ritual that had actually been designed originally to demonstrate brahminical prowess in using vedic mantrams by passing an aged cow through a sacrificial fire, and out of the fire would come a young calf.

      When brahmins became degraded, the fires became used to justify killing anaimals for the consumption of flesh, so Krishna decided to soften the hearts of everyone by taking their attention away from what had by then become degraded interpretations of vedic teachings, by superficially denying the validity of the vedas through Buddha and Shankaracharya, and this involved people temporarily being given illusion in the form of atheistic advaitist teaching, till such time as their lust for flesh and uncaring natures had been changed to compassion and caring, so that they would once again be fit to receive the compassion of Krishna in full measure once again, and then Lord Krishna came again in the form of Radha and Krishna combined, disguised in the form of His own devotee, in 1486 in Mayapur in West Bengal, to render these Buddhist and other advaitist philosophies redundant, they having served their purpose, and to deliver those souls who had earlier been given over to the false teachings of Buddhism and other advaitist philosophy, also to deliver all other souls who would receive His compassion.

      The Bhagavad Gita is quite specific in stating that Lord Krishna, who is the communal head of the entire cosmic body of souls that fill the infinite cosmos, there being nothing other than this in all existence in truth, is an eternal, beginningless and unending Being, an eternal individual, as are each of us;

      Bhagavad Gita 2.12

      na tv evāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ
      na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ
      na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
      sarve vayam ataḥ param

      na—never; tu—but; eva—certainly; aham—I; jātu—become; na—never; āsam—existed; na—it is not so; tvam—yourself; na—not; ime—all these; janādhipāḥ—kings; na—never; ca—also; eva—certainly; na—not like that; bhaviṣyāmaḥ—shall exist; sarve—all of us; vayam—we; ataḥ param—hereafter.

      Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. (original unaltered books by Srila Prabhupada)

      The quality of awakened consciousness experienced by a devotee of Krishna who has been transferred to Vaikuntha is vastly more deep and intense than anything experienced in the Brahman light, which, though maintained by Krishna for those who wish to enjoy the illusion of having merged with infinite white light there, is still only a type of spiritual maya, an illusion itself.

      It is far better to become truly awake in the company of Lord Krishna (Govinda), as even the capacity to think is entirely absent in the Brahman white light, blissful and restful though it is. That bliss in the Brahman light is very inferior becuase it is devoid of the sense of the presence of the Love of Lord krishna as one’s personal friend and associate.

  • In the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls, written by Jesus (but that research has been censored by the Jewish and Christian Dead Sea Scrolls researchers for economic reasons), the Vision of the “Son of man” is referred to as the “Vision of Knowledge” (also referred to in Genesis as the “Tree of Life”; and, in the Quran, as the “sidrah tree” and the “Night Journey”).

    Such a Vision conveys Knowledge of the three dimensions of consciousness: 1) the dualistic consciousness of the “self”; 2) the dualistic consciousness of the ‘thinker’; and, 3)a non-dualistic, non-temporal and non-spatial dimension of consciousness (or, in the monotheistic Revelations, the consciousness Created by God.)


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