The Roots of Vedanta: Selections From Sankara's Writings

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Item Code: NAC983
Author: Sudhakshina Rangaswami
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9780143064459
Pages: 467
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.0 Inch X 5.0 Inch
Weight 360 gm
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Book Description

It may sound a bit clichéd but with the writing of this book my life has come full circle. It was the spirit of inquiry which had led me to pursue academic study and research in Indian philosophy and my engagement with Vedanta since then has consciously and unconsciously shaped my life both personally and professionally. When I switched my career mid stream from academics in 1994 to become a writer of the daily popular column on religion in the Hindu Newspaper, I embraced this change because it presented both an opportunity and a challenge. For one who was familiar with the academic world my day to day work from then on afforded me the occasion to listen to the exposition of the scriptural texts by traditional scholars the challenge lay in presenting the abstract philosophical concepts to the general reader. My work also reinforced the truth that Vedanta is not Just armchair speculation but a lived experience to be imbibed from those who have followed its tenets. It is a vibrant living tradition that can be understood in all its facets only when it is approached with the objectivity of the scholar and with the right spirit of inquiry. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the course of writing my columns over these years I gained greater clarity of thought and expression because lucid communication and sustaining the readers’ interest are paramount for a columnist. At the same time it must be said that Vedanta Cannot be diluted to make it appealing. Anyone who wishes to study Vedanta has to make an effort to familiarize himself with its fundamental concepts and terminology as in the case of any discipline. The Challenge in writing this book therefore was to strike the right balance so that the abstract concepts were intelligible even to the beginner.

It is the unique experience I have gained as an academic researcher and Media practitioner that prompted my book editor Kamini Mahadevan to propose that I undertake this exercise for the Penguin Classics series. When she approached me in early 2008 with an invitation to put together and anthology of Sankara’s writings my initial reaction was one of the hesitation because for one I felt that after a break of fifteen years from academic work I would not be able to get back to research that such a project would entail. I also hesitated due to the commitment that would be necessary to bring it to fruition because of the demands of my career and family life. I succumbed because it afforded me a chance to revisit the classical texts with a different perspective making them accessible to the modern reader. For me it was a nostalgic journey back in time a promise of new beginnings.

This book is an edited selection of Sankara’s writings with the objective of presenting the salient concepts of Advaita Vedanta according to Sankara. While there is a rich corpus of book available in the genre this differs from them in that it presents the teachings of Vedanta in Sankaras own words. Swami Atmananda’s Sri Sankara’s teachings in his own words and A.J. Alstons six volume a Sankara Source book both published several decades ago were undertaken with a similar purpose. While the former is a handy volume mainly intended for the spiritual seeker the latter is a very comprehensive manual suitable for intensive study and research. This attempt on the other hand strive to find the middle ground so that it can serve the interests of both the student of Vedanta and the modern reader for whom studying the original works of Sankara may be daunting. Besides with Sankara being the pre-eminent and central figure in the Advaita lineage it is necessary for the discerning reader of Vedanta to distinguish and appreciate the differences between and the nuances of pre Sankara and post Sankara though and developments for which grounding in Sankara Vedanta becomes all the more necessary and this book will meet with this need.

I have organized the passages from Sankara’s works in seven Chapters covering all the important concepts of Vedanta with a general introduction explaining the rationale of this anthology. The general introduction by itself is a standalone summary of the life mission works and teachings of Sankara and it also offers a bird’s eye view of what is explained in the chapters that follow. The introduction to each chapter is a concise account of the subject matters dealt with in it so that the reader can better appreciate the topics and the selected passages in them. I have annotated the selected passages under every topics so that it is easy to follow the nuances of the concepts and the arguments. The grouping of the passages also allows scope for easy reference.

I began this preamble on a personal note because the writing of this book coincided with the birth of my grandson Aniruddh my migration to the USA and moving on in life with the promise and hope of new beginnings. I offer this anthology to my readers with the same spirit that new vistas would unfold in their lives by engaging with Vedanta.




  Preface xi
  Acknowledgements xv
  Introduction 1
  Section I 1
  Vedanta Timeless 1
  Situating Vedanta 2
  Date of Sankara 5
  Life Sketch 8
  Works of Sankara 12
  Section II (Vedanta Tradition) 15
  The Roots of Vedanta 15
  Advaita Vedanta 19
  Philosophy of Standpoints 21
  Methods of Vedanta 22
  Section III (Concepts) 23
  Superimposition 23
  Ways of knowing 25
  Concepts of Maya 27
  Being and becoming 29
  Means to liberation 37
  Spiritual discipline 41
  Enlightenment 44
  Section IV (Process of selection) 46
  Choice of texts and their translations 46
1 Epistemology 50
  Pramana (Means of knowledge) 52
  Scope of Pramanas 54
  Interpretation of Sruti 56
  Scriptural Study 59
  Instruction through Dialogue Story 60
  Sruti, Yukti Anubhava 61
  Para Vidya and Apara Vidya 62
  Pramanas Relevant only till the self is known 70
  Source of Sruti 73
  Adhyasa 74
  Adhyasa the key to Metaphysics and Spiritual Discipline 80
2 Maya/Avidya (Nescience) 84
  Nature of Maya 86
  Effect of Maya 100
  Maya and Absolute knowledge 108
3 Reality (Brahman) 114
  Aspects of the Absolute Reality 19
  Brahman is Satyam Jnanam Anantam 122
  Brahman as Existence 130
  Brahman as consciousness 141
  Brahman as Bliss 162
  Brahman Not On Object to be Known 171
  Brahman Self Evident 181
  Path to Negation to know Brahman 187
  Transcending the Mind 201
4 Jagat (world) 212
  Brahman the cause of the world 216
  Causation 241
  Manifestation of Name and form 245
  Unreality of the world 252
5 Soul (Jiva) 266
  Adjuncts of the soul 270
  The Self’s is the light Within 288
  The Soul and the Lord 293
  States of the soul 299
6 Path to perfection 313
  Samsara and Transmigration 318
  Spiritual Path 326
  Means to Liberation 330
  Faith and prerequisites for scriptural study 360
  Result of Self Knowledge 362
7 Liberation 366
  Meditation 370
  Direct Means to Liberation 381
  Enlightenment 413
  Conduct of the Liberated one 427
  State of Release 433
  Glossary 441
  References 445
  Index 448

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