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SWAMI SARVAPRIYANANDA

Sri Ramakrishna and Vedanta


SWAMI SARVAPRIYANANDA

edanta is interpreted and taught in different ways. The teaching of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Git , and the Brahmasutras are interpreted in three fundamental waysAdvaita, Vishishtdvaita, and Dvaita, ie non-dualistic Vedanta, qualified non-dualism, and dualism respectively. Apart from their fundamental interpretations, the singularity of Vedanta lies in its meaning. What is that? Brahma satyam, jagat mithy , jiva brahmaiva nparah, that is what Shankarchrya says. The ultimate Reality is Brahman. This world which we see, interact with and experience as true is illusory. It has no independent reality apart from Brahman. And what is Jiva? Shankara says, jiva is nothing other than that ultimate Reality or Brahman. The Upanishadic dictum is therefore TattamasiYou are That or That thou art, aham brahmsmiI am verily Brahman, etc. A few hundred years after Shankara comes Rmnuja. He says, it is untrue that the world is false. The world is real. Although we are not Brahman, yet we are not apart from It either. He says, Brahman is the whole; we are the parts. It is ansha-anshi relationship much like the human body. I am the whole body; the hands, the feet, and the head are all my parts and are real. It is not true that I alone exist and not the other parts of my body. The hands are different from the feet, the head is different from the belly, yet they are related inseparably to my body. In the same way all beings that we see around are having a separate existence, as it were.
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Yet there is a divine unity among them all. Brahman is the whole, purna, we are the anshas, parts. There are two kinds of parts. The conscious beings constitute the chit ansha and all others, chairs, tables etc., even our bodies, constitute achit ansha. So, chitachit-vishishta-BrahmaBrahman qualified by conscious beings and non-conscious beings, or objects of inert nature. All these are true. The differences that we see are apparent. There is an underlying divine unity that characterizes all and everything. A few hundred years after Rmnuja comes Madhvchrya. He says, the world is real. There is no question of its being false. Brahman exists, but separately from us. Is there any kind of underlying unity? There is no underlying reality, he says, and adds that we see only difference everywhere I am different from you, you are different from others, and we are all different from the nonliving things, etc. He speaks of five types of differencesdifference between God, (ie, Brahman), and jiva, difference between jiva and jiva, difference between jiva and jagat, difference between jiva and ajiva, difference between one ajiva and another ajiva, ie, the difference between a chair and a table, difference between jagat and jagat and the difference between jagat and Brahman. All around us we find this pancabheda . Curiously enough, this philosophy is also based on the same Upanishads, on the same Bhagavad Git , and on the same Brahmasutras. So you see how Vedanta which includes
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Bulletin of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture

SRI RAMAKRISHNA AND VEDANTA

the Upanishads, Bhagavad Git and Brahmasutras, is instrumental in raising different perspectival philosophies. One says, Brahma satya, jagat mithy. Another says, Brahman is purna, the whole, and the world is Its parts comprising chit ansha and achit ansha. Another says, not only the world is real, not only the differences are real, there is no underlying unity. Brahman exists and is separate from everything. These different philosophies, all claiming to be the Vedanta, naturally led to polemics. When you try to establish Vishishtdvaita, you cut down Advaita . Therefore when Rmnujchrya comes, he in his magnum opus Sribhshya, the commentary on the Brahmasutras , puts forward sevenfold objections to Shankar ch ryas interpretation of Vedanta and his interpretation of my. A few centuries later Vedntadeshika raises a hundred objections to Shankaras Advaita in his Shatadushani. Then arrives Madhvchrya (in AD 1197) and his followers, Vysa Tirtha and others, who were great logicians. They put forward a whole host of objections to Advaita. So this polemics continued for over thousand yearsfrom Shankara, Rmnujchrya onward to Madhvchrya and his followers. This has of course enriched Indian philosophy. Even in the 20th century Vedntadeshikas Shatadushani was countered by Mahamahopadhyaya Anantakrishna Shastris Shatabhushani, a hundred arguments in defence of Advaita. At this juncture, Sri Ramakrishnas position on this ceaseless polemics about Vedanta in the modern world is of great significance. Swami Vivekananda says, Vedanta is the core of the philosophy of Hinduism. It does not signify any particular stream of the three major schools of Vedanta, namely Advaita, Vishishtdvaita, and Dvaita, or, for that matter, any other sub-streams that it is
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divided into. Vedanta stands for the amalgamated whole of Hindu philosophy or HinduismSantana Dharma. And for this wonderful revelation, we are grateful to the genius of the avatrapurusha in the guise of a humble brahmin priest of the Kali Temple of Dakshineswar who was illiterate and often found to behave in an uncommon manner which was beyond the ken of average human understanding. That person is Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. In this light, let us try to see Sri Ramakrishnas teachings. Once somebody implores him: Sir, tell me something in a single sentence so that I may attain knowledge or realization. To this, Sri Ramakrishna replies: Brahma satya, jagat mithy. Understand that. That is Advaita. Swami Brahmananda is witness to the incident. He says: After uttering the sentence Sri Ramakrishna becomes silent. Yet, in the Kathamrita, (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna), the example of the belfruit is given. Sri Ramakrishna says: I accept everything. If you ask what is the essence of the bel-fruit, I would say it is the pulp of the fruit, and not the seeds and the hard outer shell. But when you need to weigh the belfruit, you have to take into consideration the whole fruit in its totality including the pulp, the seeds and the outer shell. If you do not do it then you cannot get the correct weight of the fruit. And many a time after citing the example of the bel-fruit he says: This is Vishishtdvaitavda. (Qualified monism). A very great scholar of Vishishtdvaita studying the subject for the last forty years had come from Chennai to Belur Math last year. While speaking with us he said that he loves The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as it is undoubtedly a Vishishtdvaitic text. We also find that Sri Ramakrishna goes to the Kali temple and says: This is my Mother and I am Her child. This is a dvaitic
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Bulletin of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture

SWAMI SARVAPRIYANANDA

approach. Now the question is: How does he reconcile all these approaches? In The Gospel there is a story of Sri R machandra and Hanum n. Sri Rmachandra is asking Hanumn: What do you think of Me? Sri Hanumn replies:
Dehabuddhy tu d sosmi jivabuddhy tvadanshakah / tmabuddhy tvamev hamiti me nishcit matih //

That is, O Rma, as long as I think of myself as this body, I am Thy servant. When I think of myself as the conscious being dwelling inside this body, You are the whole and I am a part of You. But when, O Rma, I have the knowledge of Truth, when I realize that I am beyond the adjuncts of the jiva, I am Pure Consciousness, then I find no difference between You and myself. This is my definite conclusion. Sri Ramakrishna was very fond of this example. Sri Ramakrishnas wonderful innovation is that he says, there is a Reality, and that Reality can be seen in different ways. First is the Dvaitic or dualistic approach. Here You are God and I am Your devotee. That Reality again is approachable from the standpoint of qualified nondualism or Vishisht dvaita. There the Reality is the whole and I am Its part like a blazing fire and its spark. That Reality can be realized also from the Advaitic or nondualistic viewpoint from where the aspirant perceives that nothing except Brahman exists. Sri Ramakrishna goes even a step ahead and says that once you have reached the rooftop after climbing the staircase step by step, you realize that the rooftop or the terrace is made of the same bricks, mortar *

and other things as the staircase is. In other words, he shows that Nitya and lil or the Absolute and the relative are essentially non-different. Swami Vivekananda says: Shankarchrya taught that the One alone is real, and many are false. Buddha did not speak of the One, and said that the many are ever-changing. But What Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and I have added to this is, that the Many and the One are the same Reality, perceived by the same mind at different levels of times and in different attitudes. This is how can all the three Advaita, Vishisht dvaita and Dvaitabe true at the same time. The Absolute Reality is beyond conception and speech, avngmanasogocaram, and when you try to express that Reality verbally, you tend to express variously. Robert Wright in his book The Evolution of God says that there is not much prospect of peace in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He says in the final chapter of the book that only one possibility is there which has been discovered by the ancient Hindus. What is that? Ekam sat vipr bahudh vadanti, Truth is one, but that Truth has been expressed in many ways by the sages. Sri Ramakrishna therefore has given us the maximas many opinions, so many paths to God. He says, hold onto one path sincerely and you will reach God. Opinions and theories are not so important; what is of paramount importance is the realization of God. And when that is done one can understand that different religious and philosophical paths are all ways to God.

Swami Sarvapriyananda is an Acharya of the Training Centre of the Ramakrishna Math, Belur. This article is the edited version of his lecture delivered at the Institute on 17 March 2011. Bulletin of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture
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