From the Jacket :
The novelty of this book consists of the fact that it introduces the reader to the basic tenets of Advaita Vedanta in three independent but complementary ways: scripturally, rationally and experientially. All the three elements are usually found intertwined in accounts of Advaita Vedanta. They are presented distinctly here in the hope that each perspective will enrich one's understanding of Advaita Vedanta as a whole and also allow the reader to form his or her own opinion about the relative merits of each approach.
About the Author:
Arvind Sharma is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion in the faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University; and was the first Infinity Foundation Visiting Professor of Indic Studies at Harvard University. His previous works on Advaita Vedanta include: The Experiential Dimension of Advaita Vedanta (1993); The Philosophy of Religion and Advaita Vedanta (1995); and The Rope and the Snake: A Metaphorical Exploration of Advaita Vedanta (1997).
He lives in Montreal, Canada.
The Biblical recognition of the fact that to the writing of books there is not end must surely not be used as an excuse for writing books indiscriminately. The readers therefore have a right to ask why another book on Advaita Vedanta?
Most of the existing books on Advaita Vedanta rely on the scriptural approach in presenting it. Some books mix it with the rational and experiential approaches as well without always distinguishing clearly between them. This book tries to accord an independent status to each of these approaches without losing sight of their interconnectedness in the hope that the reader will find such a presentation refreshing.
I hope that this pedagogical variation in the way Advaita Vedanta is thematically presented will be welcomed by the readers.
] It might be helpful to say a few words about the nature of philosophy as it is pursued in India, prior to providing an introduction to the school of Indian philosophy known as Advaita Vedanta.
Both Western and Indian philosophers admit that the nature of the relationship between philosophy and religion follows a different pattern in Western and Indian civilization but they tend to differ in their assessment of the significance of this divergence. Both accept that philosophy essentially consists of a rational investigation into the nature of Reality. The nature of the Reality, however, also constitutes, in its own way, the subject matter of religion, so the nature of the relationship between the two needs to be considered.
A relationship between religion and philosophy is considered peripheral in Western culture for historical and philosophical reasons. In the West, philosophy represents an intellectual movement which first distinguished itself from theology and then proceeded to achieve an independent status. This meant that the attitude of Western philosophy towards religion came to be marked by indifference, aversion and perhaps even rejection. Such a development did not occur within Indian culture. Thus, although the distinction between philosophy and religion can also be drawn in the Indian context, such a distinction therein tends to be analytical without being antagonistic. It can even be claimed that the two, even when they become dual, remain undivided. Moreover, the distinction between philosophy and religion in the West additionally rests on the distinction between reason and faith, with reason constituting the cornerstone of philosophy and faith that of religion. This distinction is strengthened by the fact that the results of faith are typically accessible only posthumously, while the results of rational investigation are typically available here and now.
A separation of philosophy and religion is intellectually approved of in the West. as this allows for the pursuit of philosophical truths untrammeled by religious scruples. Many Indian thinkers, however, take a different view of the matter. According to them this divorce of philosophy from religion runs the risk of reducing philosophy to a merely intellectual pastime, far removed from the kind of ultimate concern which should ideally characterize philosophy. In this context they make a further point: that although the claims made by Indian philosophy may sometimes seem to possess a religious nature, they are attainable within this life, and are therefore, in principle, verifiable.
The successful attainment of such results is characterized by the term jivanmukti. Not all schools of either Indian philosophy, or of Hindu philosophy, make such a claim but Advaita Vedãnta does’—along with the Hindu systems of Sankhya and Yoga. The claim also characterizes much of Buddhist and Jaina thought. The term jivanmurti is often translated as living liberation, as the word mukti means liberation and divan means while living. The idea underlying jivanmukti thus seems to be that one can attain the results of one’s faith while still living in this world. There is no reason in principle why faith in reason could not also represent such faith.
These ideas contrast, perhaps even sharply, with those found in the thought of other religious systems such as those of Christianity and Islam. In Christianity and Islam, specifically in their more traditional versions of Catholicism and Sunni Islam, the benefits of faith are to be enjoyed in a post-mortem existence. That is to say, one does not experience the results of one’s faith until after death, or perhaps not even until the Day of Judgement, which takes place not at the time of one’s death but at the end of the world or of Time itself This leads to the curious situation that one of the questions critically debated in those traditions which accept jivanmukti is “What happens to the liberated one after his or her death” rather than “What happens after death”! The grand question is not what happens after death as in Christianity and Islam, but what happens to the liberated person after his or her death.
It is clear that the concept of faith itself also carries very different connotations in the schools which accept jivanmukti, compared with those of the West. In schools which accept jivanmukti, faith is understood as faith pending realization - it denotes the trust one must have in order to undertake an experiment, but the outcome of the experiment is independent of such faith. It is even possible that the revealed results might contribute towards strengthening faith, just as one’s faith in science is strengthened when one expediently discovers that water is made of two gases.
It is in the light of these considerations that Indian thinkers take a more positive view of the fact that philosophy and religion have not been sundered in India, as in the West. This attitude is also reflected in their treatment of Advaita Vedanta. To recapitulate: Philosophy in the Western world consists of rational investigation into the nature of reality. For Indian philosophers, however, philosophy in the Western world is only half of what it should be. They like to say that Western philosophy is a purely intellectual activity, and that in the West religion and philosophy have been broken apart. In the West, then, reason is opposed to faith. This split, they argue, has not occurred in the Indian tradition. Thus many schools of thought in the Indian religious traditions feel no awkwardness, embarrassment or self-consciousness in discussing the ultimate nature of reality both from a philosophical and a religious perspective. Advaita Vedanta is one such school.
Since Religion cannot be completely overlooked when dealing with philosophy in the Indian context it is useful to draw a distinction between Indian Religions and Indic religions. The term Indian religion refers to all the religions found in India such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam and so on. The term Indic religions by contrast is used to refer only to the religion of Indian origin collectively namely Hinduism Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Indian philosophy again by contrast is classically taken to refer to the philosophical systems which characterize the Indic religions.
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