All the blog posts and comments in this blog are personal views and opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vedanta Society of Providence.


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[Note from the Blog editors: During Summer 2016, we are encouraging readers to submit short summaries and commentaries on Swami Vivekananda's book Jnana Yoga, as stated by Swami Yogatmananda at the last Jnana Yoga class before the summer break. Please follow the usual instructions for submitting a blog post, which can be found by clicking the link above. We will be publishing these posts on the blog throughout the summer, and maybe beyond, too. We of course welcome other relevant posts as well.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Essay on The Real and the Apparent Man, Chapter 16 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi")

Swami Vivekananda says, “The one theme of the Vedanta philosophy is the search after unity. The Hindu mind does not care for the particular; it is always after the general, nay, the universal. ‘What is that, by knowing which everything else is to be known?’ That is the one theme. ‘As through the knowledge of one lump of clay all that is of clay is known, so, what is that, by knowing which this whole universe itself will be known?’ That is the one search. . . .” This quest for transcendence need not be an unconscious motivation that misses the mark. While the common man will mistakenly seek for unity in enjoyment of objects or association with a group, the spiritual seeker desires to know God and become absorbed in that Presence.

There are many obstacles to perception of Truth.  First, the body and the work required for its survival and comfort. Also, the ignorant and confused mind with its many fantasies, preferences, and selfish tendency toward personal aggrandizement and calculating gains and losses. Third, social situations, from the subtle pressure of ancestors and error-as-custom to the more direct influence of our family, friends, and colleagues to effect conformity to norms and taboos. The unthinking crowd’s collective wrong emphasis results in superstition (misinterpretation) and nihilism that denies Truth and stigmatizes its witnesses. The built environment does not encourage contemplative inquiry: there is distracting noise of electric media and machines whose only virtue is their speed.  There is a cultural epidemic of mindlessness and mindwandering that is exploited by a sick economy which preys upon physiological needs and psychological desires. The marketplace offers a variety of false identities in the stereotypical roles of consumer lifestyles. The custodians of wisdom, the schools and the religious institutions, have few qualified guides and true masters, and their message is bastardized into a commodity promoted as a cure for misfortune, love problems, and failed health. Many come to the Truth, not for Truth itself, but as an avoidance of pain and suffering.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Essay on The Atman: Its Bondage and Freedom, Chapter 15 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi")

 Swami Vivekananda says, “According to the Advaita philosophy, there is only one thing real in the universe, which it calls Brahman; everything else is unreal, manifested and manufactured out of Brahman by the power of Mâyâ. To reach back to that Brahman is our goal. . . . The Atman in bondage is called Jiva. . . . Projected from Brahman, it passed through all sorts of vegetable and animal forms, and at last it is in man, and man is the nearest approach to Brahman. To go back to Brahman from which we have been projected is the great struggle of life.” For most people, infatuated with material enjoyments, this struggle is passive and unconscious. Only a few great souls struggle consciously to attain freedom.

The ancient Sankhya system of Kapila is the companion to Patanjali’s yogic method. It was studied by Pythagoras and imported into the Alexandrian school and European Gnosticism. There are two main principles: purusha, the changeless witness, and prakriti, the material phenomena subject to three conditions of rajas (creation), sattva (preservation), and tamas (destruction). The first manifestation of prakriti is mahat, or intelligence. It is sometimes translated as buddhi, which in mankind is discrimination, or the determinative function.  There is no consciousness inherent in it; consciousness itself (purusha), independent of mechanical processes, illumines the mind, the senses, and the objects of perception like the sun is reflected in a jar of water.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Essay on The Real Nature of Man, Chapter 2 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Sravani Bhattacharjee

However engrossed with this world we might be, a time comes when we begin to question its very subsistence.  We rush to grab enjoyment and pleasures, fame and fortune, acquire as many physical objects as possible . . . but with the passing of time those very objects lose their luster, they fail to give us happiness anymore.

And then we confront death. A near and dear one in our lives passes away to the other shore, leaving all belongings (even the body) behind. And that makes us ask – what happens after death? Is that "the end" or one continues to exist after death? It also makes us "see" the impermanence of things, of this world, and of life itself, as we had perceived it till then.

That’s when religion truly finds a place in our lives.

In religion begins our quest for the Eternal . . . something above and beyond our sense limits. We start seeking goodness, justice, righteousness, well-being, and bliss. The concept of heaven takes shape in our awareness – an “other world” where everything is better than our present experience. We dream of a life after death in heaven where all our longings are satiated. We worship a greater being or God who can grant our wishes.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Essay on The Atman, Chapter 14 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi")

Swami Vivekananda says, “All the schools of Hindu philosophy start from the Vedanta or Upanishads, but the monists took the name to themselves as a speciality, because they wanted to base the whole of their theology and philosophy upon the Vedanta and nothing else. . . . This is the non-dualistic Vedantism. It is too abstruse, too elevated to be the religion of the masses. . . . Yet there are a few brave souls in the world who dare to conceive the truth, who dare to take it up, and who dare to follow it to the end.” The question inevitably arises, “How do we know?” Vedantic epistemology is not mere intellectual cogitation but the means to discern Truth. Vedanta offers three steps to absorption in Brahman: revelation, reasoning, realization. First, it is necessary to hear about it. Then, questioning and testing. Finally, in integrating the insights gained from study, contemplation, and direct experience of the Real, there is nothing further to be known.

Swamiji teaches three divisions of orthodoxy: nyaya-vaisika (rational-atomism), samkyha-yoga (statistical-metaphysics), and mimamsa-vedanta (testimony and scriptural authority). There are six valid methods of knowledge: pratyaksa (sense-perception of the empirical world), anumana (inference divided into reasoning from cause to effect [a priori Platonic deduction – the Way of the Thunderbolt] or from effect to cause [a posteriori Aristotlean induction – the Way of the Serpent]), upamana (comparison -- a is to b = c is to x), arthapatti (postulation – if y, then z), anupalabdhi (negation), and sabda (witness to the sensible and suprasensible that does not contradict logic). Oral or written witness from a trustworthy source is the most potent instrument for knowledge transmission. Confidence in the words of an authority need no verification.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Essay on Immortality, Chapter 13 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi") 

Swami Vivekananda says, “The whole of this life which slowly manifests itself evolves itself from the protoplasm to the perfected human being — the Incarnation of God on earth — the whole of this series is but one life, and the whole of this manifestation must have been involved in that very protoplasm. This whole life, this very God on earth, was involved in it and slowly came out, manifesting itself slowly, slowly, slowly.”  A serious seeker doesn’t leave the possibility of realizing latent potential to chance. Initiation with right guidance accelerates the evolutionary process to a definite end.

In the first initiation, the body is disciplined, its impulses transmuted, and conduct reoriented toward wisdom and spiritual principles. The needs of the body for food, drink, sleep, and sex do not dominate. The aspirant moderates desire and espouses vegetarianism. Ideals of duty and mercy become strong. In the second initiation, emotional life is stabilized. The ignorance and confusion of fear and vanity is clarified and overcome through withdrawal from the senses and non-attachment. The soul is no longer stifled by animal instincts, conditioned reactions, and habituated opinions. There is no distress arising from shame, aversion, or the need to control. Sincere devotion and steady effort nurture altruism and free an initiate from burdens of the heart and distortion of thought.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Essay on The Cosmos: The Microcosm, Chapter 12 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi") 

Timeless questions puzzle humankind. Swami Vivekananda says, “These questions have been asked again and again, and so long as this creation lasts, so long as there are human brains to think, this question will have to be asked. Yet, it is not that the answer did not come; each time the answer came, and as time rolls on, the answer will gain strength more and more. The question was answered once for all thousands of years ago, and through all subsequent time it is being restated, reillustrated, made clearer to our intellect. What we have to do, therefore, is to make a restatement of the answer.” Surface appearances change, but the Reality remains the same. To know and become absorbed in the Reality is the purpose of Life.

Humanity exhibits great material progress and technical innovation, yet there is an evolution of consciousness that has thus far occurred only among a small number of the species. They stand as rare examples of human potential, and few imagine similar strength and greatness is possible for all willing to make the effort. We imagine countless projects and policies intended to improve the world, and we overlook that the greatest impact and benefit we can give to the world is the transformation of our own character and perspective. In other words, evolving consciousness toward a definite goal.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Essay on The Cosmos: The Macrocosm, Chapter 11 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi") 

Swami Vivekananda says, “Do not be frightened by theological terms; if terms frighten you, you are not fit to be philosophers.” The urgent questions of life (who am I? what is this place where I’m born? where is this going? what does this mean?) occurred also to the ancient seers, who did not invent an answer but witnessed a revealed Truth. They recorded their visions in the world’s oldest scriptures, the Vedas, transmitted orally for generations as metrical poetry before the teachings were transferred to writing 6,000-years ago. “Veda” is from the root “vid” meaning “to know.” “Veda” is etymologically related to the Latin word “video (“I see”) and also the English word “wit” (“intelligence”). It is best translated as “knowledge” or more specifically, “wisdom.”

“Vedanta” means “the end of knowledge” or “the goal of wisdom.” This definition has a literal and figurative meaning, as well as a secondary meaning. First, “Vedanta” is based on the Upanishads, which are literally, “the appendix to the Vedas” and the conclusion of the Vedic hymns, rites, and codes of conduct. Moreover, “Vedanta” is not merely abstract speculation, but “the aim of human life.” Supersensuous realization is beyond intellect and logic and more than an idealistic concept. It is a fact that can be directly experienced under the right conditions and does not contradict reason. Finally, “Vedanta” also refers to a genre of literature that explains, expands, and comments upon this teaching and perception.