Vedanta is one of the world’s oldest and most comprehensive spiritual philosophies. It is based upon the Vedas, or sacred scriptures of India and underlies the principles of Yoga, Ayurveda, and Hinduism. The word “Vedanta” has two parts, Veda, which means knowledge, and anta, which means the end or goal of.
Therefore Vedanta means the end of all knowledge and where it concludes. This knowledge was “cognized” or perceived by sages and seers in higher states of consciousness, none of whom take credit for the information. It is eternal, universal knowledge that everyone has a right to and is not something that you believe in, read about, or simply understand intellectually, but something that you experience.
Vedanta is also known as the Science of Spirituality. It’s not a belief system, an ideology, dogma, or a religion; It is a method for exploring the nature of reality. Many may find this definition to be contradictory or even absurd in that science and spirituality seem to be mutually exclusive terms that can’t coexist together. However, when you look at Vedanta through the lens of the modern scientific model, the reasons for this definition become clear.
The Scientific Method
For hundreds, if not thousands, of years the scientific method has been the most effective and reliable means we have for understanding the world in which we live. All science follows these specific steps when exploring the observable universe:
- Observe some aspect or behavior of the universe.
- Collect information and make an educated prediction of what is taking place, known as a hypothesis.
- Test the hypothesis with an experiment.
- Record the results of the experiment which will either support or disprove the hypothesis.
- Draw conclusions, publish your findings, and ask your peers (fellow scientists) to validate and test your hypothesis by repeating your experiment.
If the results of your peers agree with your findings, then the hypothesis or theory is considered to be scientifically valid. If they cannot replicate your results, the hypothesis is considered suspect and not an accurate description of how the universe behaves. When this happens, the scientist heads back to the drawing board to determine if there was a flaw in the experiment or possibly the hypothesis itself. If necessary, a new hypothesis may be formed and subsequent testing takes place until a consensus is reached by the larger scientific community. This unprejudiced and self-correcting process of hypothesis testing is at the heart of all forms of all scientific endeavour.
Now, let’s see how Vedanta aligns itself with these steps.
Vedanta & Step 1: Observations
First, Vedanta makes the following observation: There seems to be a deeper reality beyond the material world and what the five senses report back to you. The inner world of thoughts, emotions, and perceptions feel as if they are somehow connected to the outer world of objects, time, space, cause, and effect.
Vedanta & Step 2: Hypothesis
Second, Vedanta hypothesises that the separation you feel from the rest of the world is an illusion and that there is actually only one reality of pure consciousness, and your true nature is that of oneness with the immeasurable potential for all that exists, for all that was, and for all that will be. This one reality is eternal, was never born, and will never die. Vedanta also recognises that your experience of the world comes to you in one of four ways: a feeling, a thought, an action, or a sense of being.
Vedanta & Step 3: Experiment
Third, to test the hypothesis of one reality, Vedanta provides the experimental protocol for which you can validate this theory. It states that in accordance with the four types of experiences you can have, there are four corresponding ways of discovering the true nature of reality and yourself. These methods are known as Yogas, or paths back to union. They are:
- Bhakti Yoga – the path of feeling. This is the yoga of love in a human relationship or love for God; the relationship of the human soul to the universal spirit in all its aspects.
- Gyana Yoga – the path of thinking. This is the yoga of intellectual understanding and science; using the intellect to go beyond the intellect.
- Karma Yoga – the path of action. The yoga of selfless service, or service without attachment to the result or need for ego gratification.
- Raja Yoga – the path of being. The yoga of meditation and all its allied disciplines.
In essence, Vedanta says: Here are the paths to self-realisation and enlightenment, each of which is appropriate to the nature of the individual seeker. Choose the path that is best suited to your temperament and run the experiment.
Vedanta & Step 4: Results
Fourth, while following the path of one of the four yogas, you can do the following:
- Measure the effects of your practice, assessing your subjective experience, documenting the changes in your mind, body, perceptions, understandings, intuitions, and creative insights.
- Take note of changes in your awareness and look for clues that the gap between the inner world and outer world is growing smaller.
- Accumulate evidence of the evolution of your spirit in moments of lightheartedness, joy, and bliss along with the ease in which your desires are being fulfilled.
- Record experiences that indicate the transformation of the personal self into the universal self.
- Notice any signs that point to progress through the seven states of consciousness as described by Vedanta.
Vedanta & Step 5: Conclusion
Lastly, having performed the experiment, you are able to conclude whether or not the hypothesis of one reality is valid. If you have experienced it directly and have accumulated the evidence to support your findings, then you will know it to be true. You can publish or share your findings with your peers of fellow seekers in the form of writing or teaching that details your experience and encourages others to test the hypothesis as well.
If, however, your experiment fails to produce results, if it fails to confirm the existence of the one reality Vedanta describes, then you are under no obligation to believe it and it should be discarded. Nothing should be taken on belief or faith. A philosophy should only be accepted if it has been tested and confirmed through direct experience.
A similar reminder is echoed in the Buddha’s words when he said:
Do not believe in what you have heard.
Do not believe in tradition because it is handed down many generations.
Do not believe in anything that has been spoken many times.
Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.
Do not believe in conjecture.
Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders.
But after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.
These guiding principles at the heart of Vedanta are what set it apart from other spiritual philosophies or religions. It applies the principles of scientific exploration to the realm of your own world of inner experience. It reminds you that the nature of reality is unity and encourages you to explore it directly and test the hypothesis using one of the four yogas. It puts the responsibility of self-realization in your own hands and encourages you to follow in the path of countless seekers over the centuries as they have made their way across the ocean of illusion … and back to the experience oneness.