Past Essays by Vedanta Scholars
How can we keep thinking good
when so much bad is happening?
Consider the cause
by Arvind Khetia
The human mind has always been preoccupied with the effects of past actions and not the causes
that produced these effects. If one looks behind these events, one will recognize that we are simply
reaping the fruits of what was sown earlier. The present economic and environmental crises are
prime examples of this phenomenon.
According to the universal law of karma, every event is a result of an unending chain of cause and
effect. Understanding this compels one to stand on rational ground, realizing that instead of fearing
God's punishment for bad actions, one is convinced that all wrong actions will eventually be the
cause of one's own suffering.
It is this awareness that prepares one to respond to bad times in life and helps one to accept the
inevitable. Therefore, the belief in the law of karma provides an incentive for ethical behavior. Swami
Vivekananda correctly observed that, "Thank God for giving us this world as a moral gymnasium, to
help our spiritual development." The secret of happiness is explained in the Bhagavad-Gita as
practicing a disciplined detachment from the results of one's actions and thus becoming free. This
transforms one's actions into the yoga of self-realization through unselfish action (karma yoga).
According to Vedanta, when one attains spiritual wisdom, one transcends both good and evil and
lives with a mind filled with equanimity.
What are the different purposes of prayer in your faith?
Purifying the heart
by A.M. Bhattacharyya
As in many religious traditions, prayer is a common spiritual practice among the followers of the
faith. Hindus pray for various reasons and on various occasions. A call for prayer may come from a
distressed person seeking strength to face a difficult and painful situation or from a grateful person
thanking the Lord for whatever one gains by his mercy and grace. Or it may come from an aspiring
seeking spiritual knowledge and illumination or from a devout heart simply praising the Supreme
Being for his infinite power and glory. A prayer offered sincerely with faith and devotion establishes
a communion between a human soul and the divine. As a result one finds spiritual strength, mental
peace and abounding bliss.
In the Hindu tradition, prayers are offered at any time during the day or night, either individually or
collectively. Prayer songs are called "bhajans." Individual prayers are generally offered at a family
shrine in the home in front of the family's chosen deity. Collective prayers are usually offered in a
temple during a worship service (puja) led by a priest. Prayer mantras are chanted in Sanskrit, which
is considered a
sacred language. Hindus believe that mantras have special power. The sounds and vibrations of
properly chanted mantras can create a spiritual environment and raise one's awareness of the divine.
Through prayers, invocations and offerings, Hindus are intent on purifying their hearts and seeking
blessings for peace, happiness and prosperity for all.
How do you respond to people who say the human mind
created God to explain the unknowable?
True knowledge lies within us
by Arvind Khetia
In the beginning, the fierceness of natural events caused by sun, rain, wind or fire inspired awe and
fear. The forces behind these events were unknowable at that time. Eventually, these forces were
personified and worshipped to earn their grace. Thus, this anthropomorphic idea of God was a
result of man's hopes and fears.
Since that time, the human mind has continued to search for the meaning and purpose of human life
and its relation to the divine. The pursuit to unfold this mystery has resulted in varying and competing
ideas of the divine.
The vision of the sages of ancient India transcended this limited notion of the divine. They pursued
their search by looking inward to transcend the limitations of the senses. During deep meditation,
they experienced an ecstatic state of mind, which is only known in the spiritual realm, detached from
the material universe. In the process, they realized the infinite nature of reality, which is also the inner
Self (Atman) in all beings. They concluded that true knowledge of the divine comes from the
realization of one's inner Self.
Swami Vivekananda has said that, God is the eternal subject of everything. He is one with us; and
that which is one with us is neither knowable nor unknowable, but infinitely higher than either, for He
is our real Self.
What does your faith say about the origin and fate of the universe?
The cycle of evolution and devolution continues
by A.M. Bhattacharyya
Both philosophy and mythology have made important contributions to the topic of creation in the
Hindu faith. I am presenting the philosophical perspective about the origin and the fate of the
universe, as expounded in the scriptures, the Vedas and their Knowledge sections, the Upanisads.
First and foremost, there is God--the all-pervading, eternal, absolute reality--the infinite source of
knowledge, truth and bliss. God is transcendent as well as immanent. He creates the universe out of
himself. The Isa-Upanisad says, "In the heart of all things in the universe, dwells the Lord."
The universe goes through an infinite series of universal cycles . At the end of a cycle, it becomes
latent in God. It remains in a state of quiescence, until by God's creative urge it becomes manifest
again. The cosmic process of creation and dissolution continues forever. A hymn from the Rig-Veda
whole series of universes past, present and future express the glory and power of the Universal
Being. However, he transcends his own glory." The Mundaka-Upanisad describes the
evolution-involution cycle this way, "As from a fire fully ablaze, fly off sparks in their thousands,
similarly, from the Imperishable, originate different kinds of creatures, and into him again they merge."
In modern terms this may look somewhat remotely like the big-bang theory. However, Hindu
scriptures made it abundantly clear that, just as the creator God is eternal, the creation-dissolution
cycle will go on throughout eternity.
In your faith, what is the nature of God?
Divinity of the soul
The Vedic sages of ancient India meditated and pondered on the nature of God. In the process,
they not only determined the nature of God, but also defined God itself. They determined that
behind this ever-changing phenomenal world, there is an infinite, changeless, transcendental reality,
known as Brahman (literally, the Immensity).
Brahman is omnipresent, therefore, it is also the inner self (Atman) of all beings and the source of
unity of all existence. Thus, Hinduism recognizes the divinity of the human soul, and all divine
incarnations, such as Rama, Krishna, Jesus, and Buddha, as manifestations of that one reality.
In one of the Upanishads, the question is asked, "What is that, by knowing which, all is known?"
The answer that follows is profoundly spiritual, universal in its scope and sublime in its poetry. It
describes the nature of Brahman, the impersonal God of Vedanta: "The eyes cannot see it, the mind
cannot grasp it. The deathless Self has neither caste nor race. The Self is infinite, everlasting and
changeless ; the source of life. The lord of Love is above name and form and is present in all and
According to Vedanta, the knowledge of Brahman, or self-realization, is the culmination of all
spiritual knowledge. Swami Vivekananda has said, "He who, in this world of many, sees that one,
he who, in this world of shadows, catches that reality, to him belongs eternal peace and to none
What is Your Concept of Eternity?
Brahman is Eternal
by A.M. Bhattacharyya
In this ever-changing world of names and forms, is there anything that is changeless, eternal, without
beginning and without end?
Many millennia ago, ancient Hindu seers did a thorough investigation of this philosophical question.
Their findings were recorded in the Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads. The following is the essence
of their conclusions:
* Brahman (God): The Upanishads say, "Brahman is truth, knowledge and the eternal." Brahman is
absolute, changeless, one without a second. He is transcendental, formless, everlasting,
all-pervading Holy Spirit and the Lord of all souls. He is the ultimate reality and the first and final
cause of creation.
*Atman (individual soul): "This atman is Brahman" is one of the four great declarations of the
Upanishads. The sages identified the individual soul of every being as divine spirit. Since the soul,
also called "self" (atman), meaning "true being," is one with God, it is inherently pure, perfect,
immutable, immortal and has no beginning and no end.
* Jagat (the universe): The Upanishads say, "Out of Brahman the universe emerges, in him it exists,
and unto him it returns." So God is the root cause and support of the universe. The cosmic process
of creation does not have an absolute beginning, nor does it have an absolute end. The universe
alternates between evolution and involution. Evolution is the manifested state, and involution is the
latent state. Thus the universe goes through a cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. This
cycle is repeated throughout eternity.
How can faith combat discouragement or hopelessness?
Peace comes to those with spiritual wisdom
by Arvind Khetia
Discouragement and hopelessness can arise due to many reasons. Swami Adiswarananda describes
some of the symptoms of the uncontrolled mind in his book, The Vedanta Way to Peace and
Happiness. He writes, "...optimism without realism brings disappointment; enthusiasm without
control is prone to blunders, and an unbridled adventurous spirit can lead us into endless
difficulties." The underlying malaise for such a state of mind is due to an ignorance of one's inner
Thus, spiritual wisdom is essential to cultivating a balanced mind. Then, one recognizes the negative
influence of ego, greed and desire for excessive material pleasures on one's mind and society.
Consequently, one learns to cultivate self-control, discriminate between what is eternal and
transient, practice equanimity and follow one's dharma. Dharma requires one to perform the duties
of life in accordance with universal ethical values.
Therefore, one's faith must be founded on spiritual reality to help combat discouragement and
hopelessness. The Bhagavad-Gita states, "When spiritual wisdom is the highest goal, one's faith is
deep and senses restrained, then one attains wisdom and acquires perfect peace."
According to Vedanta, true faith begins with having faith in ourselves. Then, through practicing the
spiritual disciplines of meditation and yoga, one achieves a transformation of one's character. Thus,
one's faith evolves into the realization of one's inner spiritual nature and manifests as enlightened
What is the ultimate reality according to your tradition?
Brahman is reality
by A.M. Bhattacharyya
Hindu philosophical scriptures, the Upanisads, identify Brahman (the Impersonal Godhead) with
such expressions as one without a second, eternal, all pervasive, without beginning and without end,
changeless, absolute truth, pure consciousness and infinite bliss. Absolute reality refers to what is
changeless and everlasting. The material world, though a creation of God, is not â€œrealâ€� in the
same sense. The names and forms of which the world of phenomena is made are continuously
changing, going through their own
cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution. Nothing is unchanging and everlasting except
Brahman. Hindu scriptures call Brahman the Ultimate Reality.
The authors of the Upanisads also found that same changeless reality to be the subtle core of every
being. This reality is called â€œAtmanâ€� (Self), the divine guiding spirit within every being. Paul
Deussen, a professor of philosophy and a celebrated scholar of the Upanisads, said: â€œIt was here
for the first time the original thinkers of the Upanisads, to their immortal honor found God. They
recognized one Atman, one inmost individual being, as Brahman, the inmost being of universal
Nature and of all her phenomena.â€� Sri Aurobindo, a modern-day Hindu saint, also expressed a
similar sentiment. He said: â€œThis (the knowledge
of Atman-Brahman identity) is the fullness of liberating knowledge. It is the knowledge of the divine
within us and in the world and, at the same time, of the transcendent infinite.â€�
Where lies the final word, with faith or reason?
Experience is source of knowledge
by Arvind Khetia
Faith and reason are uniquely human attributes, essential to discoveries in material and spiritual
science. It is generally believed that faith belongs to religion, while reason belongs to science.
Progress in science, however, has adversely influenced our faith in faith itself.
People of faith feel convinced that reason can never adequately define the Absolute because reason
needs something tangible to reason about. People advocating reason see faith as believing in
something that is not verifiable. When one is required to believe in certain dogmas, reason either
remains ignored or is used only to justify oneâ€™s beliefs.
In spite of such arguments, it must be recognized that faith and reason are like two sides of the same
coin. Faith without reason can turn into blind faith, leading to fanaticism. Reason without faith can
lead to cynicism resulting in a negative worldview. Einsteinâ€˜s famous words in essence are, â
€œReason without faith is lame, faith without reason is blind.â€�
Hinduism, based on the philosophy of Vedanta, reconciles faith and reason by its emphasis on
critical discrimination and its scientific attitude in the field of religion. It asserts a higher vision of
spirituality by recognizing the importance of becoming versus believing, and realizing versus
reasoning. Vedanta maintains that it is neither faith nor reason, but experience that is the sure source
of knowledge and that it, ultimately, is what validates the truth of religion.
Shouldnâ€™t men and women have equal rights and
privileges in a modern society?
The Scriptures provide for spiritual equality.
by A.M. Bhattacharyya
The Hindu scriptures affirm spiritual equality between men and women. Hindus worship both male
and female deities as manifestations of God. During the Vedic period (3000 BCE-600 BCE) ,
women seers made significant contributions to the Vedic scriptures. Toward the end of the Vedic
period the philosophical treatises the Upanishads, also known as the Vedanta, were composed.
Women were described as equal to men. â€œMen and women are just two halves of a split pea,
each incomplete without the other.â€� --The Message of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, by
During the medieval period (1000 CE-1800 CE), the Hindu lands of South Asia, because of their
richness, attracted repeated foreign invasions. During this period women gradually lost their freedom
from fear of molestation by the invaders and were kept under the protection of their male family
members. Various restrictions imposed on women tarnished Hindu society in that era.
The regeneration of Hindu society started in the early 18th century. Rammohan Roy and other
reformers after him tried to revitalize the society by returning people to the quintessence of Hinduism
and by removing the social evils practiced on women in the name of â€œreligion.â€� After World
War II, Hindu-majority India became a free, modern democratic society. Various laws were
enacted by the Indian parliament and by the state legislatures to grant women equal status with men.
Rightfully, many women now fill leadership roles in many social and political fields.
If this world is Godâ€™s creation, why is it filled with sorrow?
See the divinity in all
by Arvind Khetia
Bertrand Russell, author and philosopher, wrote, â€œUnless men increase in wisdom as much as in
knowledge, increase in knowledge will be increase in sorrow.â€� Unfortunately, the human mind
has not kept pace in spiritual wisdom as the prevailing malaise would tend to indicate.
The world is filled with sorrow because we do not recognize our spiritual oneness. The delusion of
separateness creates a false sense of superiority resulting in exploitation, inequality, fear and
violence. The Bhagavad-Gita explains this as: â€œPeople with a false sense of ego, pride, greed
and anger are indifferent
to the divinity within themselves as well as in others. Those who see themselves in all and all in them,
they live in wisdom.â€�
Vedanta interprets creation as a manifestation of the divine and explains its omnipresence. The
divinity in all is the Vedantic vision of spiritual unity, which explains the ideals of humanism and
universal ethics. The secret of happiness, then, is to manifest oneâ€™s divinity by cultivating
spiritual wisdom. This requires the revival of the inner life of simplicity and righteousness . In the
words of Swami Vivekananda, â€œNature is like that screen which is hiding the reality beyond.
Every good thought that you think or act upon is simply tearing the veil, and the purity, the infinity,
the God behind manifests itself more and more.â€�
Should antiquated scriptural injunctions be
changed to suit modern society?
by A.M. Bhattacharyya
Hinduism, which has been guiding the lives of Hindus for many thousands of years, has a large
number of holy books. First came the scriptures known as the Vedas. The Vedas have two kinds of
knowledge, ceremonial and spiritual. The ceremonial section includes prayers, rituals, duties and
commandments. The spiritual section contains the most profound philosophical thought, dealing with
the creation and the Creator and their interrelationship. It has its own series of scriptures, called
Upanisads. In a later period many auxiliary scriptures, classified as Smritis, were authored by
various sages. Smritis include stories and illustrations, outlines of social structure, codes of conduct
and delineations of oneâ€™s rights and duties. The wealth of knowledge in the Smirtis helped to
bring the messages of Hindu religious principles and practices to the people at all levels of the
The fundamental precepts of Hinduism in the Upanisads are acclaimed by all Hindus as the eternal
spiritual principles revealed by God to the ancient Vedic seers. These spiritual beliefs are the most
authoritative and unchangeable. But, according to Swami Vivekananda, â€œThose religious
practices which are based entirely upon our social position and correlation must change with the
changes in society.â€�
For example, the caste system served very well within the structure of the old Hindu society.
However, in our modern society, the caste system is antiquated. It has created discrimination and
division in society. So, it must change to harmonize with the modern era.
How can you recognize a genuine spiritual teacher?
Spiritual knowledge, human compassion
by Arvind Khetia
In Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, a spiritual teacher is called â€œguru,â€� which means a
remover of darkness or ignorance. In Vedic tradition, a guru is worthy of the highest respect and is
regarded as the divine, as a guruâ€™s grace can be a source of salvation.
To be worthy of such high regard, a genuine spiritual teacher must have a deep knowledge of
scripture, be pure in thought and be detached from worldly desires. He or she is self-controlled,
calm and an embodiment of compassion and selflessness. A true spiritual teacher, like Shankara,
Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi, just to name a few, is established in the Self (Atman) and has
realized the truths of
In ancient India, scriptural teachings and the teaching of spiritual disciplines like meditation and yoga
communicated directly from the guru to the disciple. Therefore, a disciple is also required to have
qualities to receive such spiritual teachings.
The essential qualities for spiritual learning are a deep desire for liberation, understanding the
difference between the real and unreal, non-attachment and the six essential virtues: self-control,
equanimity, calmness, tolerance, concentration and faith.
These qualities are essential to recognize a true spiritual teacher. Divine grace manifests itself in
many ways. However, to receive the wisdom of an enlightened master is one of the most blessed
experiences of divine grace.