The Way of Mystical Knowledge: Vedanta



1.    Time Frame: 800 BCE – 400 BCE

a.    Emergence of new religious voices: Forest Sages

b.    “Vedanta” as culmination of the Vedas (lit. “end of the Vedas”)

c.    Critique of early Vedic religion – Brahmans and sacrifice

d.    The Upanisads

                                     i.     Literally “sitting at the feet of” – indicating centrality of guru-disciple relationship, conveyance of secret knowledge


I.  Central Concepts


1.    Karma, Dharma, Samsara, Moksha

2.    Brahman: A single pervasive power and essence that is the source of all things

                                     i.     “That from which these beings are born; on which, once born, they live; and into which they pass upon death – seek to perceive that?  That is brahman!”

                                    ii.     Totality of sacred words in the Veda; gives unlimited power to sacrifice; Essence of the entire world; the power that reside s in all beings, including the gods

                                  iii.     Svetaketu (boy) and Uddalaka (his father): Sve hasn’t heard of world soul

                                  iv.     Brahman is the essence and source of the whole phenomenal world

3.    Atman: the reality that is the lasting and indispensable basis of one’s being

a.    Relationship between Atman and Brahman

b.    Tat tvam asi

c.    Moksha as merger with Brahman or mystical knowledge (jnana) of Brahman


II.  Central Practices

1.    World Renunciation

a.    Withdrawing one’s attachments to the world

2.    Yoga: from yuj ‘to control’, ‘to yoke’ or ‘unite’.  Unite the self with the Supreme

a.    Technologies or disciplines of asceticism and meditation which are thought to lead to spiritual experience and profound understanding or insight into the nature of existence.

b.    The means whereby the mind and senses can be restrained, limited and empirical self or ego (ahamkara) can be transcended and the self’s true identity eventually experienced.

c.    Three Main features:

                                     i.     Consciousness can be transformed through focusing attention on a single point

                                    ii.     The transformation of consciousness eradicates limiting, mental constraints or impurities such as greed and hate

                                  iii.     Yoga is a discipline, or range of disciplines, constructed to facilitate the transformation of consciousness