Vedānta: Introduction

RamiSivanAuthor: Rami Sivan, Priest, Dharma teacher, counsellor, Gov. Advisor (1998-present)
March 20th, 2020

THE Vedānta system of philosophy is the heart of modern Hinduism which is properly known as sanātana dharma — the “Eternal Path”.

This system of philosophy[1] commonly referred to as the Vedānta — composed of Veda = knowledge and Anta = end; literally refers to “the end of the Vedas or final conclusion of knowledge”.

The corpus of the Vedas[2] consist of four major divisions[3] the last sections of each Veda are the texts known as the Upanishads and their central topic of investigation is the Ground of Being, or Ultimate Reality called Brahman[4].

The Vedānta is technically classified as Uttara-MimāmsaUttara means “last”; Mimāmsa means “investigation, examination, discussion, or consideration”; therefore, the Ultimate Conclusion of the Vedas.

Before beginning the introduction to Vedānta proper we need to briefly understand the principles of Pūrva Mīmāṁsa or the “Prior Investigation” – please read the next post.


All sentient beings from an ant to humans are basically driven by 2 forces:—

(1) Self-preservation — (2) Self-propagation

These two are common to all species but Self-actualization is specifically a human pursuit.

The fear of death and extinction and the desire for happiness security and immortality are the two most potent drives.

The Classical Darśanas (Schools of Indian Philosophy) all agree that the ultimate goal of philosophy is the extinction of sorrow and suffering (duḥkha) and achievement of immortal and abiding joy and happiness (mukti or mokṣa).

Yet no matter how much we strive to achieve abiding happiness we are unable to do so. This striving for happiness manifests as the “progress paradox” — today we have more of everything than our grandparents did, yet our levels of happiness seem to be inversely proportional to our material gains. There are seven defects associated with all material pleasures — leading to duḥkha.

1. alpa — their end results are trivial

2. asthira — they are transient and impermanent,

3. asukara — not easily obtained, they require much effort and are time consuming.

4. asukhāvasāna — ultimately ending in grief and disappointments.

5. dukhānvita — accompanied by disappointments and supported only by struggle.

6. anucitam — incompatible with our essential being.

7. abhimāna-mūla — they’re based upon a false sense of self and lead to further perpetuation of this delusive sense of identity.

DUḤKHA — Dis-ease/Suffering – the existential problem.

All forms of suffering and their corresponding sources of happiness can be categorised under three headings:—

The only defence and remedy for the first category is forward planning, hard work, financial management and prudent investment and of course a comprehensive insurance policy!

The second category can be dealt with through education, hard work, yoga, healthy diet and training.

The third category requires the greatest effort, and the only remedy is the study of the Vedānta which includes both the disciplines of philosophy and psychology, as well as providing an effective therapeutic methodology.

A comprehensive modern description of Duhkha is:—

Disturbance, irritation, dejection, worry, despair, fear, dread, anguish, anxiety; vulnerability, injury, inability, inferiority; sickness, aging, decay of body and faculties, senility; pain/pleasure; excitement/boredom; deprivation/excess; desire/frustration, suppression; longing/aimlessness; hope/hopelessness; effort, activity, striving/repression; loss, want, insufficiency/satiety; love/lovelessness, friendlessness; dislike, aversion/attraction; parenthood/childlessness; submission/rebellion; decision/indecisiveness, vacillation, uncertainty.

(Francis Story in Suffering, in Vol. II of The Three Basic Facts of Existence.)

The Existential Paradigm.

Since the pursuit of abiding and stable happiness seems to be illusive and unsubstantial we begin our quest by investigating what the root cause of suffering/dis-ease/discontent is.

The answer that Vedānta offers is as follows:—

  1. avidya

Root ignorance, not knowing one’s true identity. The problem is our cognitive error. We all want to be someone, to be acknowledged to be validated and to “belong.” We seek meaning through our identities that we assume and the roles which we play.

2. asmitā

“Notion of individuality” arises which in the extreme form excludes others. The myriad of identities which we cling to are based upon gender, family relationships, friends, peer-groups, race, religion, profession, interests, possessions, political affiliations etc. etc.

3. rāga

Attraction, craving or passion develops towards anyone or anything that supports, enhances or validates the chosen identities.

4. dveśa

Repulsion, aversion towards anything or anyone who negates, challenges or invalidates our chosen role.

5. abhiniveśa

Total immersion in our own psycho-dramas! Clinging, grasping, clutching, attachment to our identities, roles, possessions, family, friends etc. that give us identity and meaning.

This is the basic paradigm of Vedanta.

The spiritual problem is not ontological (a problem of our nature as in Christianity) but rather epistemological — wrong notions which we hold about ourselves, the world, the nature of existence and of the Absolute. The problem is spiritual ignorance. The function of Vedānta is to help us reboot and adjust our mental parameters as it were.

Here is a more elaborate description of the chain of causation.

More about this later.

[1] From the outset it is important to note that English terms do not do justice to the Sanskrit terms. “Philosophy” is a poor translation of darshana — which means a view of Reality and includes philosophy, theology and spiritual practice.

[2] The ancient collections of Hymns in Sanskrit dating back more than 5000 years

[3] Samhita, Brāhmaṇa, Araṇyaka and Upaṇiṣad.

[4] Brahman must not be confused with Brahmin which is the priestly caste.