Arsha Vidya Center


Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Please explain where Vedanta stands in the structure of Hinduism.
The word Vedanta is made up of two words - veda and anta. Anta means end, and Vedanta means the end portion of the Vedas. This term is used for a certain kind of literature found in the Vedas called the Upanishad. The Vedas have two sections. The first section deals with rituals or karma, actions, and dharma, the way of living one's life. The second section, the Upanishad, deals with gyanam or knowledge. This is Vedanta. Vedanta reveals the nature of the realities of life. It is very important to understand the realities of life because our life is based upon our own conclusions of these realities. This is the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge is meant to dispel ignorance, and we will discuss how our sorrows or problems in life are the product of ignorance. Vedanta explains to us that unhappiness is the fundamental human problem with which every human being is battling. Our life is a process of avoiding unhappiness and seeking happiness. How do we fulfill this pursuit? That is what Vedanta teaches us. It shows us how to gain the happiness that we are seeking and how to become free, once and for all, from all unhappiness. Vedanta explains that it is knowledge of the realities of life that becomes the means for achieving the goal.

2. What is the most valuable lesson that Vedanta teaches?
The most valuable lesson that Vedanta teaches is that you already are what you are seeking to be. Each one of us is seeking to be something. I find that there is dissatisfaction with the way I am and an urge to be different from what I am. I am seeking to be pleased with myself, to be free, to be happy. Vedanta teaches that you are what you seeking to be, that you are already free and happy. Vedanta teaches us to live a life of knowing rather than one of becoming. Usually a person desires to become someone. I am trying to become someone different without understanding what I am. I have concluded that I must become free and limitless without inquiring into what I am. So the most important lesson to learn from Vedanta is not to take things for granted. Instead, we need to inquire into what is, into what I am. Are my conclusions about myself correct or do my conclusions need to be changed in the light of the understanding that Vedanta gives us? So the most important lesson I have learned is about the nature of basic realities, and the dropping of the various notions that I entertain about the world and myself.

3.Why did the Lord create this world? What is the purpose of creation?
This is how the creation is explained. One Lord becomes many. So, what is it that existed before creation? "Sadeva somya idam agre aset ekam eva advitiyam: O dear boy, in the beginning (before its creation) this whole universe was sat, one without a second [Chandogyopanishad, 6-2-1]. The Upanishad says, this universe before its creation was sat, brahman, one without a second. Before the creation of the universe, one secondless brahman was all there was! It really means that brahman had no resources to create this universe. For creation to take place, one requires some resources. For example, the pot-maker requires clay, the material cause, and the potter's wheel, the instrumental cause. Brahman has no resources to create this universe. Still there is a desire, "May I become many". Hence, the One became many, which means that the One appeared as many. What we call 'creation of the universe' is nothing but one Lord appearing as the universe. Therefore, the creation is nothing but an appearance. If creation were real, we would have to search for a cause. However, what is the cause for something that is not real? Where there is a rope, I see a snake. If the snake were real, then there could be a question as to why and how the rope became the snake. But the snake is just a projection, there is only an appearance of the snake. Therefore, there is no question as to why the rope became a snake. Similarly, in as much as the creation is not real, the question 'why' has no meaning. Such an answer may not satisfy some of us, but this is the answer. Another answer that can be given is that God desired, and therefore there is creation. The Upanishad says that the Lord, in the beginning of creation, desired, "sah akamayata bahu syam prajayeya iti: May I become many. May I be born" [Taittiriya Upanishad, 2-6]. What prompted the first desire?

Let us take the example of waking up in the morning. What wakes me up from the sleep? Is it the alarm clock that wakes me up? But one may wake up without the alarm clock or one may not wake up even with an alarm clock. So there is something that wakes me up. It is the unfinished agenda that wakes me up. When I go to sleep at night, some agenda remains unfinished. My unfinished and unfulfilled desires that require to be fulfilled, wake me up. Similarly also, what we call the dissolution can be considered as the whole universe sleeping, and what we call the creation is when the sleeping universe wakes up. Thus the model for the creation is somewhat similar to our daily experience of sleeping and waking up.

What happens when I go to sleep? It is not that I become nonexistent in sleep. I continue to exist, but my personality becomes un-manifest. All my desires, memories, complexes, are still there; they merge into the causal state. The effect merging into the cause is called dissolution. The cause, manifesting as the effect, is called creation.

This is how Vedanta explains creation. The cause manifesting as the effect, like a lump of gold manifesting as ornaments is creation, and the ornaments melting back as the lump of gold is dissolution. Therefore, what we call creation is like waking up from sleep and the cause for waking up are the desires, the combined desires of all the living beings. Hence, the first desire that occurred at the beginning of the creation is the sum total of all the desires of all the living beings. Those desires unfold as the creation goes on. Then the purpose of the creation is to provide all the living beings with an appropriate field in order to fulfill their desires, in order to do whatever they want to do. That is why we find that in this creation there is provision for all the living beings. Whatever any living being requires is all provided for. That is one way to look at the purpose of the creation, i.e., to provide a field of action for all living beings.

4. What is the purpose of human life?
Every human being always wants something or the other. The purpose of human life becomes evident when we examine what it is that we want. Even though every desire seems to be different from every other, when we examine each of them, we find that there is only one desire that is behind all the desires. This is the desire to be free. Every living being wants freedom. Nobody wants to be dependent, nobody wants bondage, nobody wants helplessness, nobody wants to be compelled and nobody wants to be controlled by someone else. This is the common desire behind all desires. There cannot be any living being that wants to be controlled. The human being can do not want to be dependent. Dependence is unhappiness, being free and in control of myself is happiness. Whenever I see myself as being dependent, being bound, being limited, in control of someone else, and thus helpless, I become unhappy. There is a lot of helplessness in our lives. There are many things that I want to do, but cannot. There are many things that I do not want to see happen, but they do happen. Thus I find that I am a helpless being. My attempt is to become free from this sense of helplessness, this bondage. However, the manner in which I am trying to become free may not be right. The purpose of human life is to become free. Behind every desire, there is the desire to be free. When I feel bound in some way, say, in not having enough money, I go after money. If I feel that I do not have enough power, I go after more power. So wherever I feel a lack, which makes me feel bound, I go after it. Everybody is pursuing freedom and nothing else, while not knowing what this freedom is and where it is to be found. We often invite bondage in pursuit of freedom. Everything that gives me some freedom, comes at a price. Every solution brings some other problems along with it. There is no such thing as absolute freedom or pure gain. There is some loss involved in every gain. Sometimes the price I pay is even more than what I gain. When we realize this, our search for freedom becomes more directed. The freedom has to be sought from within myself, rather than outside myself. While I think that the world makes me helpless, it is in fact my own impulses that make me helpless. My likes and dislikes impel me and make me helpless. When this is understood, the process of seeking freedom becomes a process of seeking freedom from my own inner impulses in terms of my likes and dislikes. Karma yoga and Gyana yoga are the means towards this end. The first freedom is to be obtained from likes and dislikes. The final freedom is to be free from the ego, the sense of individuality, which is a product of ignorance. It finally comes about by recognizing that I am always free. True freedom is recognizing that freedom is my very nature. I take myself to be bound, but that is a notion and not the truth about myself. Ultimately, freedom is to be gained by knowing that I am always free.