Vedanta teaches us what is that which, by being known, everything else becomes known.
Advaita Vedanta is a means of gaining union with the higher self through self-inquiry, inner exploration and contemplation. The term comes from the ancient Sanskrit language; veda means “true knowledge” or “sacred knowledge,” anta means “end” and yoga means “union.”
Yoga Vedanta is one way of reaching the spiritual goal of unity with the inner self and is promulgated by the ancient Himalayan masters. The other paths are Hatha yoga (the physical practice of asanas, pranayama and meditation) and Tantra yoga (the mystic practice using kundalini energy). Yoga Vedanta teaches the oneness of all creation.
The Vedas are the most ancient of Hindu scriptures. Each of the Vedas has a final section called the Upanishad. The teachings of Vedanta are mostly found in the texts of the Upanishads, the Brahmas Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The Upanishads give us the goal, the Bhagavad Gita gives us practical advice for getting there, and the Brahma Sutras discuss the nature of human existence and summarizes the teachings of the Upanishads. Other later texts such as the Yoga Vasistha and the Ashtavakra Gita are also considered to be Vedantic in nature.
- Rig Veda is mainly composed of joyful songs praising the divinity of nature. This is the primary Veda, said to contain the knowledge of all the others.
- Sama Veda, sometimes referred to as the Veda of Chants or knowledge of chants, is comprised of text primarily from the Rig Veda, set to various melodies. Indian classical music and dance have their roots in the Sama Veda.
- Yajur Veda gives instructions for the correct performance of sacred offerings, which allow participants to direct the forces of nature for their benefit and well-being.
- Atharva Veda contains formulas, spells, and guidelines relating to life and was the beginning of the medical sciences. Ayurveda is a subdivision of this Veda.
Swami Vishnu-devananda called Vedanta the philosophy of positive thinking. The thoughts define who the person is, he said, and positive thoughts develop peace of mind.
Enlightened Yoga teachers teach us that in order to be able to make consistent and successful progress through self-inquiry and contemplation, it is necessary that the body and mind be reasonably peaceful and stable. This is especially true with our minds. If the mind is unstable and our emotional states are fluctuating dramatically, it is much more difficult to penetrate the veils of Maya, or illusion, and see into the depths of our own hearts.
Through the ages, Himalayan sages have recommended the practice of Vedantic meditation, in addition to a regular practice of asanas and other Yogic techniques, such as chanting and pranayama. The combination of these three aspects of Yoga training will stabilize the mind, strengthen the body, and nourish our energy. One of the main inquiries of Vedantic meditation is the contemplation of who we are in our essence.
Swami Vivekananda observed, “In the West, if a man doesn’t believe in a God outside himself, he is considered an atheist, whereas Vedanta says that a man who doesn’t believe in himself is the atheist.”