The What of Vedanta - The Philosophy of Narayana Guru


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The What of Vedanta, is the first of a series of basic lessons in the Philosophy of Narayana Guru. These basic lessons in Vedanta specifically reflect perspectives from the Philosophy of Narayana Guru, as expounded in various literary compositions authored by Narayana Guru during his lifetime (1856-1928).

The structure and content of this series of lessons are principally based on the prescribed text ‘The Philosophy of Narayana Guru’ authored by Guru Muni Narayana Prasad, the presiding guru and head of the Narayana Gurukula Foundation.

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The What of Vedanta - The Philosophy of Narayana Guru

  1. 1. ‘The What of Vedānta’ Compiled by Sujit Sivanand For NPHIL Canada October 2013 The Philosophy of Narayana Guru 2013 © NPHIL Canada
  2. 2. PREFACE These basic lessons in Vedanta specifically reflect perspectives from the Philosophy of Narayana Guru, as expounded in various literary compositions authored by Narayana Guru during his lifetime (1856-1928). The structure and content of this series of lessons are principally based on the prescribed text ‘The Philosophy of Narayana Guru’ authored by Guru Muni Narayana Prasad, the presiding guru and head of the Narayana Gurukula Foundation. The contents from chapters in the book, corresponding to each of these slide-sets, have been enhanced with diagrams, images and other explanatory methods to facilitate usage as teaching aid by NPHIL centres and universities. Explanations in these slide-sets are kept at a high-level, assuming that slides are meant to aid in the delivery of lessons in a lecture room environment. When used in self-study, it is recommended that these slides are duly read in conjunction with the prescribed text. NPHIL expresses its profound gratitude to the Narayana Gurukula Foundation for the support and guidance extended in the creation of these lessons. Sujit Sivanand October 2013
  3. 3. WHAT ARE WE SEEKING? What are we, students of philosophy, in search of?  We are in search of knowing the Reality (or Truth) that underlies the world as we see it. Of course we wish to know beyond what we see.  While we are trying to ‘know’ the Reality, incidentally we are also an integral part of the same Reality we seek to know.  So, whatever that Reality we seek to know should also be the same Reality that underlies each one of us, ‘the knower’.  What we are seeking also amounts to ‘self-knowledge’ (Ātma- Vidyā*). * Ātma-Vidyā is also known as Brahma-Vidyā – knowledge of the Absolute.
  4. 4. THE WORLD In Science: The world* is understood in modern science as a ‘material’ world or an ‘objective reality’. The Reality underlying the world is believed to be all matter and energy. Therefore being a collection of innumerable objects, or conditions in the realm of sensible experience, that are independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers. In some mysterious way we know that the world is a configuration of energy. In Philosophy: The world is a phenomenon or entity determinable neither as matter alone, nor as non-matter, nor as both. In philosophy the world is conceived as manifesting in two distinct poles, i.e. a bipolar Reality of ‘objects’ and ‘names’. *The word ‘world’ is used to represent the observable universe or ‘prapańca’.
  5. 5. BIPOLAR REALITY BIPOLAR REALITY POLE – ‘B’ ‘Objects’ OBJECTS OBJECTIVE REALITY POLE – ‘A’ ‘Names’ IDEAS, THOUGHTS, PERCEPTS SUBJECTIVE THOUGHTS OF REALITY 2013 © NPHIL On observation and experience, the world is conceivable as two distinct poles of Reality.
  6. 6. OBJECTIVE REALITY The prima-facie existence of the world conceived in Vedanta, as also Narayana Guru visualized it, has an objective side, or pole, to Reality. A Reality which, by experience (‘anubhava’) of an object, we know that it exists, and is emphiricially verifyable. Objects therefore have some sensible form. 3-DIMENSIONAL & OTHER OBJECTIVE REALITY 2013 © NPHIL
  7. 7. OBJECTIVE REALITY 2013 © NPHIL Objective Reality could be any observable object occupying space, or any sensible Reality; e.g. the room we occupy, micro objects, the sounds and weather we can sense, or macro objects like the Earth, galaxies and up to the observable universe.
  8. 8. SUBJECTIVE REALITY On the other hand, we can concieve Reality as also having a subjective side, or pole. A Reality where experience of objects, or even thoughts, has involved the formulation of the idea in the mind, known to us by some name, tag, or imaginable reference, after our experience (‘anubhava’). The subjective Reality could be different between person to person, based on differences of perception. However varied, these percepts are fundamental to recognizing the objective Reality as generally existent. IDEAS, THOUGHTS, PERCEPTS 2013 © NPHIL
  10. 10. NAMES AND OBJECTS Everything conceived by the human mind is given a name. The convention of naming or labeling (identifying) enables us to conceive the larger world (prapańca) as a Reality - constituted of:  innumerable concepts,  innumerable names (hierarchies of identities), and  the corresponding innumerable objects. Micro object identities starting from sub-atomic particles to macro identities like large galaxies and the universe.
  11. 11. NAMES AND OBJECTS Narayana Guru in the philosophical poem Advaita Deepika (Lamp of Non-duality) defines the world or prapańca as follows: Names in their thousands, Concepts in their thousands, And the externally existing Objects in their thousands Corresponding to each of them – These together form the world.
  12. 12. SUBJECTIVE REALITY Subjective Reality validates the existence of objective Reality, by references to corresponding ‘names’ (tags or references) or ‘concepts’ in the mind. These are names (‘nāma’) for things that physically exist outside the human mind and are perceptible to the human mind. No assertion of the existence of objects is possible in the absence of such a perception or ideation. OBJECT RECOGNIZED AS EXISTENT 2013 © NPHIL
  13. 13. BIPOLAR REALITY On the one pole are ‘objects’ of matter, as the objective Reality - that is empirically realizable with our senses. On the other pole are the ‘names’ (tags or references) as the subjective Reality – comprising of ideas, thoughts and percepts, which might vary between observers, but provides the sensory references to the objective Reality and thereby asserts its existence.
  14. 14. REALIZATION OF REALITY In the Reality we experience, to think of one pole as ‘more real’ or more important than the other pole is rather irrational. Isn’t it?
  18. 18. THE ONE REALITY 2013 © NPHIL  Objective Reality provides the matter to embody the mind.  Subjective Reality provides for the cognition of matter.  Essentially one sustains the other, and viceversa, in the Reality we experience.  Polarities thus becomes non-existent, as One Core Reality.
  19. 19. THE ONE REALITY REALITY In Vedantic terms it is the Core Reality that unfolds itself as the subjective experience as well as the objective experience. For this reason the ultimate Reality is neither subjective nor objective. Essentially, it is not solely what is asserted by either ‘idealism’ or ‘materialism’.
  20. 20. THEORIES OF KNOWLEDGE Knowledge of Reality, according to Vedanta is the result of experience (‘anubhava’). Knowledge (jnāna) results from the exposure of the ‘knower’ to an ‘object of knowledge’. When the ‘knower’ (‘jnāta’) comes in contact with the ‘object of knowledge’ (‘jnēya’) and experiences the object, it is conceivable that the third factor or percept is born in the knower. That perception is the act of knowing in the knower. Vedanta calls this three-fold concept of knowledge as ‘triputi’.
  21. 21. CONCEPT OF ‘TRIPUTI’ KNOWER ‘jnāta’ KNOWLEDGE ‘jnāna’ OBJECT OF KNOWLEDGE ‘jnēya’ Experience (‘anubhava’) The domain of experience. In Sanskrit, the word for experience, ‘anubhava’, means “becoming the same.” It is not an interaction but a transformation. The knower is transforming into what is known. (Ref. Nitya – AS1). 2013 © NPHIL
  22. 22. THEORIES OF KNOWLEDGE The act of knowing is inseparable from the knower. The knower in turn is an integral part of the known world. Knowing really what Reality is, therefore, in essence, is the event of the knower being merged with the known, with no distinction remaining finally among the three factors of ‘triputi’. The Reality, seen from that point of view, is the one that manifests itself as the knower, the known and the act of knowing at the same time.
  23. 23. MANIFESTATIONS OF REALITY “Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and one's personal knowledge merges into primordial ‘mahas’ alone; that infinite, Supreme Knowledge, to become That alone..” Narayana Guru Verse 4 in Atmopadesa Satakam.
  24. 24. THAT ALONE
  25. 25. THAT ALONE
  26. 26. WHAT IS ĀTMAN? In Vedanta, this Reality is known as ātma or ātman. The word ātman is derived from the verb root āt, meaning to pervade the being of something (from āp vyāpane = signifying the Substance that pervades all that has come into being). One such being, that is pervaded by the Substance, is the knower’s self. Therefore, the ātmā denotes “the self” or oneself.
  27. 27. WHAT IS BRAHMAN? In the sense of being the Substance that always grows and assumes the form of the ever-changing world, it is called Brahman also, a word derived from the root bŗh meaning ‘to grow’. Brahman thus literally means ‘that which always grows’ or ‘the all encompassing one’. The Absolute is the nearest equivalent term in English. In common usage ātmā refers to the Substance in individuated beings, and Brahman to the universally pervading and changing phenomenon.
  28. 28. THE ONE SUBSTANCE What is the essence of the Substance referred to both as ātman and Brahman? An analytical example from Narayana Guru: A piece of cloth, when analysed disappears in the being of yarn. The yarn, taken apart, disappears in the being of cotton fibres. The fibre likewise disappears in the being of constituent base elements of nature, i.e. space, air, fire, water and earth (the pancha-bhoothas - akāsa, vāyu, agni, ap and prithivi). The baser elements and particles in their pure and uncompounded form have no existence other than as concepts. The existence of concepts is in the Consciousness or mind alone. Reversing that thought, Consciousness is the one Substance that manifests itself as particles, elements, fibres, yarn and cloth – and everything likewise perceptible, in short as the world. This underlying Substance, the unconditioned Consciousness is called cit or samvit. Narayana Guru calls it arivu. The Reality we are in search of is this cit or arivu.
  29. 29. SACCIDĀNANDA The ātmā or Brahman is defined as saccidānanda, a compound word of the three: sat = existence, or that which has existence without spatial and temporal limitations. cit = consciousness or arivu, mostly experienced by the self’s awareness of the world. ānanda = meaningful contentment. What do we ultimately gain by knowing Reality? The contentment of having found the meaning content of life, and thus the contentment of living meaningfully as freedom embodied. This ultimate contentment is the ānanda. It is an experience that buds in the being of cit and fills the being of cit. Essentially sat is cit. Also ānanda is cit in experience of life. The ātmā or Brahman we are seeking thus is saccidānanda.
  30. 30. SACCIDĀNANDA “Sarvam hi saccidānandam, Neha nānāsti kiñchana.” “Everything indeed is saccidānanda, Multiplicity has no existence at all here.” Narayana Guru in Darśana Mālā II.10. Original composition in the Sanskrit language.
  31. 31. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 1. Guru Muni Narayana Prasad and the Narayana Gurukula Foundation for use of content from the various books published by the Foundation. More specifically, content adaptation from the prescribed text ‘The Philosophy of Narayana Guru’ (D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd. New Delhi. Copyright retained by the author Swami Muni Narayana Prasad. 2. References to interpretations in the ‘Works of Sree Narayana Guru with Complete Interpretations’ by Prof. G. Balakrishnan Nair and his discourses on the works of Narayana Guru and Vedanta. 3. References to interpretations in ‘Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru’ by Nataraja Guru. 4. References to interpretations in ‘That Alone – The Core of Wisdom’ by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati. 5. Collaborators and well-wishers of NPHIL for their input and feedback that assists in the creation and continuous improvement of this slide-set. Special thanks to Scott Teitsworth for his valuable feedback. 6. Image - Supercomputer simulation of the evolution of the universe, credit: Andrey Kravtsov/University of Chicago. 7. Image - Orange Sun, credit: 8. Image - Neuron credit: Nicolas P. Rougier, source : Wikimedia. 9. Image – Narayana Guru. Portrait captured circa early 1920s at the Jagganatha Temple, Thalassery. Recopied and enhanced by Sujit Sivanand from a surviving print at Alummoottil House, Mavelikkara.
  32. 32. A Self-Education Network 2013 © NPHIL Canada B&W Series. 002