Wooden Hut

Vedantic Philosophy Through Time

This course introduces students to the rich diversity of philosophical traditions within the Vedānta school of Indian thought. After first acquainting ourselves with the three scriptural "pillars” of Vedānta—namely, the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad-Gītā, and the Brahmasūtra—we will learn about the different classical philosophical traditions of Vedānta, including Advaita Vedānta, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, Dvaita Vedānta, and various schools of Bhedābheda Vedānta. We will also discuss key passages from the Īśā Upaniṣad and the Bhagavad-Gītā, exploring how these scriptures have been interpreted by traditional and modern commentators. Finally, we will examine how the Vedāntic tradition has evolved over time by focusing on the modern Vedāntic worldviews of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda and comparing them with
earlier Vedāntic traditions.

Reading material will be provided in advance. Book purchase is not necessary for the Pre-reads.

Optional Session

Live Questions & Answers

09/26/2020

Pacific Standard Time

Pre-Read:

Session 1

What is Vedanta?

09/07/2020 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Pacific Standard Time

I will explain the different meanings of the term “Vedānta,” and then provide an overview of the prasthānatraya, the three scriptural “pillars” of Vedānta—namely, the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad-Gītā, and the Brahmasūtras.

Pre-Read:

Mandatory Homework for Session 1:
1. Swami Medhananda, “Introduction: The Past, Present, and Future of Scholarship on Vedānta,” in The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta, pp. 1-2.

2. Swami Medhananda, “Asminnasya ca tad yogaṃ śāsti: Swami Vivekananda’s Interpretation of Brahmasūtra 1.1.19 as a Hermeneutic Basis for Samanvayī Vedānta,” in Rita Sherma, ed., Vivekananda: His Life, Legacy, and Liberative Ethics (forthcoming), pp. 1-7.

Session 2

The Major Schools of Vedanta: A Bird’s Eye View

09/14/2020 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Pacific Standard Time

We will learn about some of the major doctrinal similarities and differences among the major schools of Vedānta—namely, Advaita Vedānta, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, Mādhva Vedānta, and four subschools of Bhedābheda Vedānta.

Pre-Read:

Mandatory Homework Assignment:
Swami Medhananda, “Introduction: The Past, Present, and Future of Scholarship on Vedānta,” in The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta, pp. 2-8

Session 3

Seeing God Everywhere: A Deep Dive into the Isa Upanisad

09/28/2020 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Pacific Standard Time

We will explore how traditional and modern commentators have interpreted some of the most important verses of the Īśā Upaniṣad, focusing especially on the Ramakrishna-inspired interpretations of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo and comparing them with Śaṅkara’s traditional Advaitic interpretation of the Upaniṣad.

Pre-Read:

Mandatory Homework Assignment:
1. Ayon Maharaj, “Seeing Oneness Everywhere: Sri Aurobindo’s Mystico-Immanent Interpretation of the Īśā Upaniṣad,” in The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta, pp. 309-321 and pp. 326-327.

2. Sri Aurobindo, “Isha Upanishad: Text and Translation,” in Sri Aurobindo, Isha Upanishad (Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, vol. 17), pp. 5-10.

3. Please read Śaṅkara’s commentary on verses 1 and 2 of the Īśā Upaniṣad (pp. 3-8 of volume 1 of Swami Gambhirananda’s Eight Upaniṣads).

Session 4

Harmonizing Devotion, Works, and Knowledge: A Deep Dive into the Bhagavad-Gita

10/05/2020 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Pacific Standard Time

We will compare Śaṅkara’s, Rāmānuja’s, and Sri Aurobindo’s interpretations of key verses from the Bhagavad-Gītā—especially from chapters 12 and 15—and discuss some of the difficulties involved in determining the original meaning of these verses.

Pre-Read:

Mandatory Homework Assignment:
1. Ayon Maharaj, “Toward a New Hermeneutics of the Bhagavad Gītā: Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, and the Secret of Vijñāna,” Philosophy East and West 65.4 (October 2015), pp. 1209-1220 and pp. 1224-1228.

2. Please read Śaṅkara’s commentary on verses 3.41, 5.4-5, 7.2, and 18.54-56 of the Bhagavad-Gītā. (Link to PDF of Swami Gambhirananda’s Bhagavad Gītā)

Session 5

Sri Ramakrishna’s Harmonizing Philosophy of Vijnana Vedanta

10/12/2020 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Pacific Standard Time

After outlining some of the main ways that Sri Ramakrishna’s philosophical teachings have been interpreted over the years, I will defend the view that his philosophy is best understood as “Vijñāna Vedānta,” an expansive, nonsectarian philosophy rooted in his own spiritual experience of vijñāna. According to Sri Ramakrishna’s Vijñāna Vedānta, the impersonal Brahman and the personal God (Śakti) are equally real aspects of one and the same Infinite Divine Reality, the world is a real manifestation of Śakti, and various religious paths are equally effective in leading to the common goal of God-realization.

Pre-Read:

Mandatory Homework Assignment:
Ayon Maharaj, “Chapter 1: Sri Ramakrishna’s Harmonizing Philosophy of Vijñāna Vedānta,” Infinite Paths to Infinite Reality: Sri Ramakrishna and Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 13-30, pp. 33-41.

Session 6

Swami Vivekananda’s Rethinking of Advaita Vedanta in the Light of Sri Ramakrishna

10/19/2020 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Pacific Standard Time

Although many scholars have assumed that Swami Vivekananda followed Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta in all or most of its essentials, I will make the case that Swami Vivekananda reconceptualized and broadened Advaita Vedānta in the light of the teachings of his guru Sri Ramakrishna. Like Sri Ramakrishna’s Vijñāna Vedānta, Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy of Integral Advaita upholds the reality of both the personal God and the impersonal Brahman, affirms the world as a real manifestation of Śakti, champions an ethics of serving all creatures as different manifestations of God, and maintains that all four Yogas—Jñāna Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Rāja Yoga—are direct and independent paths to salvation.

Pre-Read:

Mandatory Homework Assignment:
1. Swami Medhananda, “Asminnasya ca tad yogaṃ śāsti: Swami Vivekananda’s Interpretation of Brahmasūtra 1.1.19 as a Hermeneutic Basis for Samanvayī Vedānta,” in Rita Sherma, ed., Vivekananda: His Life, Legacy, and Liberative Ethics (forthcoming), pp. 3-5.

2. Swami Medhananda, “Was Swami Vivekananda a Hindu Supremacist? Revisiting a Long-Standing Debate,” Religions 11.7 (2020), pp. 7-14.

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