Three Hindu monastics visiting Harvard Divinity School this year spoke on March 11, 2020, on the great tradition of the Upanisads and Vedanta, and why this wisdom is relevant in today’s global society.
Featuring: Swami Sarvapriyananda (Ramakrishna Mission); Brahmacharini Shweta Chaitanya (Chinmaya Mission); Sadhak Akshar–Guru: Mahant Swami Maharaj (BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha).
Moderated by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, Harvard Divinity School. The discussant was Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Saint Olaf College. Made possible by support from the Nagral Fund.
Good evening, everyone. Welcome. Svagatam. I'm very delighted to be able to host this gathering tonight. My name is Francis Xavier Clooney. I'm a member of the faculty here at Harvard, and very much supportive of this wonderful program, and our wonderful visitors this year. And I'm very grateful for everyone accommodating the unusual, unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves tonight, with a very small and very select audience in the room.
Very grateful to those who are able to be here in the room, and for our much larger audience watching live online. In some ways, it's perhaps symptomatic of the very challenge of our topic tonight. That we talk about Vedanta in the 21st century. Not Vedanta in the first century, the 10th century, the 19th century, but the 21st century. Not as we wish it would be, but as it is. A world in which there are many dangers, many confusions, people moving around, violence, ecological degradation.
All kinds of problems around us, and this coronavirus, perhaps, is a symptom-- a symbol for us of how frail and fragile our life is. And I think to be able to say, given the problems of our generation and the world in which we live, how important it is to be able to go back, and to learn from the great traditions to which we belong. And how appropriate it is, now, to be able to say Vedanta. Such an ancient tradition, such a beautiful tradition rooted in the Upanishads, rooted in the Veda, rooted in texts like the Bhagavad Gita.
And thousands of years of lineages of teachers, teaching us how to put our life in balance. How does seek the path. How to travel the path of learning and of education. How to teach, and to be students of generations to come, passing on the wisdom. And how would you envision societies that have the wonderful mix of detachment and engagement in the world. And I think it's wonderful, tonight, that we can long-distance, some in the room and many online, take up and begin to explore this together.
I told my class the other day, I'm teaching a course on the Bhagavad Gita. A wonderful course that some people in this room are in. And that we should be a little bit heartened by the Gita. After all, it was Sanjaya in the Gita with the King, Dhritarashtra, who from a distance, seeing with his television, is able to report everything that takes place. We're very grateful to Bob Devoe and our technical people for being able to make us see things, even at a distance, in our time and place.
So the panel we have tonight, I think, speaks to the topic-- a very timely topic of Vedanta in the 21st century. But as I'll introduce the speakers as we go along, it's also part of an exciting new initiative at Harvard Divinity School. A context in which a multi-faith Divinity School. A Divinity School that is deliberately, intentionally trying to enrich its learning, its teaching, by bringing different traditions from around the world together to be able to see, on campus, the presence of Hindu monastics bringing their personalities, their individual wealth of knowledge, their wealth of experience, and also to enrich our lives by opening us to a way of learning, a way of thinking, a way meditating that for many of us, is not so familiar.
And to be able to see this program, tonight, as the wonderful program we had back in November, as a sign of how blessed we have already been in the Harvard community to have such wonderful people on campus with us for this time. And we're looking forward-- this is an, I guess, off the record comment. That we're looking forward to another group of wonderful monastics next year, and that we have fine applications, and we're hoping to continue the program as best we can. And then build it the year after, the year after, the year after. So I think something new for some of the communities who are represented here tonight, but also new for Harvard Divinity School to have this commitment and lineage of Hindu wisdom present on campus.
So as we move forward, I will, in a moment, introduce the speakers one by one as they speak. They will have about 15, 18, 19 minutes to speak each. And then after all of them have spoken, Professor Rambachan will respond to them, and I'll introduce him later. And then we'll have time for questions and answers. Comments from the audience here, and then maybe a few that had been texted in, and brought to us online. But before I get to the first speaker, I'd like to just do two things. One would be a word of thanks.
And if I wanted to thank everyone who made this event possible, both the original conception of hundreds of people in the room, and the downsized version of it that we have here tonight, I would be added for 20 minutes, thanking people who have made this possible. I'd like to begin by thanking our Dean, David Hampton, our Executive Dean, Kristen Anderson for their constant support and backing what we do here. It's been so important, right from the start.
Our co-sponsor, the Center for the Study of World Religions, has, again, been patient and helpful to us along the way. Director Charles Stang, Associate Director Corey O'Brien have been extremely helpful. The office of administrative affairs has been helpful at every stage. The Office of Financial Aid. The office of communications. And again, I praised Bob Devoe for making all these magical things happen here tonight. And Sue Ritter at making the room so beautiful, and helping us to have everything set up so nicely, operations.
Doing things that we take for granted, but should not take for granted. But particularly, I'd like to thank two groups. One, the development office, who have been my great friends in this pilgrimage and saga over the past few months, including especially Sheila Dennis, Susanna Lets, who's here helping out tonight, Nancy Byrne, who's been a great supporter and strategist on how we do these things here, and the indefatigable Dame Sam, who seems to be able to, with endless energy, help things move forward. So I'm very grateful to all of you.
And then I'd like to have a personal word of thanks for Vibhu Nagral who has made this program possible with her husband, Ajit, right from the start. To have this new possibility at Harvard this year could not happen without Vibhu and Ajit. So thank you very much for your constant support and friendship to us, here at Harvard Divinity School.
And then finally, for me, we were going to have a beautiful group of undergraduate musicians to sing for us at two points in the program. Due to complications in the college, again, related to the virus, they were unable to be here tonight. But I thought it would be appropriate to begin with a recitation of a Sanskrit text, and then I'll read the English translation. It's the ancient Kena Upanishad. One of the most beloved of the Upanishads for Vedantas. And I ask that Swami Savapriyananda would chant for us the Sanskrit, and then I will read simply an English translation of the same, and then we'll be underway. So Swami, if you would begin.
[SINGING AND RECITING TEXT IN HINDI]
By whom impelled, by whom compelled, does the mind soar forth. By whom enjoined does the breath march on as the first. By whom is this speech impelled with which people speak. And who is the God that joins the sight and the hearing. That which is the hearing behind hearing, the thinking behind thinking, the speech behind speech, the sight behind sight. It is also the breath behind breathing. Freed completely from these, the wise become immortal when they depart from this world. Sight does not reach there, neither does thinking or speech. We don't know. We can't perceive.
How would one point it out? It is far different from what's known. It is farther than the unknown. So we have heard from people of old who've explained this all to us. Which one cannot express by speech, by speech itself is expressed. Learn that that alone is Brahman. Not what they hear, venerate. Which one cannot grasp with one's mind, by which they say the mind itself is grasped. Learn that that alone is Brahman.
Not what they hear, venerate. Which one cannot see with one's sight. By which one sees sight itself, learn that that alone is Brahman, not what they hear venerate. Which one cannot hear with one's hearing, by which hearing itself is heard, learn that this alone is Brahman. Not what they hear venerate. Which one cannot breathe through breathing, by which breathing itself is drawn forth. Learn that that alone is Brahman, not what they hear venerate. Om Shanti.
I am happy and privilege to introduce our first speaker tonight, Sadhak Akshar, whose guru is Mohan Swami Maharaj of the BAP Swaminarayan Sanstha. Akshar was born and raised in Gujarat in India. For the past six years, he has been a student at the BAP Swaminarayan Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya in Sarangpur Gujarat in India, a college of Somnath Sanskrit college. He is specialized in Vedanta, and the Prasthanatrayi, and has received both his BA and MA in Swaminarayan Vedanta.
Remaining steeped in the traditional learning and teaching style of a seminary, has transformed his thinking, and helped shape his perspectives on religion, theology, history, philosophy, and other topics broadly related to academic life, and to personal life as well. During the past six years, he has also learned, as well as taught, Sanskrit text, including the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads.
These are the texts he is primarily interested in, in addition to the vernacular scriptures of Swaminarayan sampraday, including the Vachanamrut and the Swamini Vato, and the scriptures and practices of other traditions as well. When he is not studying, he enjoys participating in, and helping organize the many Hindu festivals that occur during the year. After this year at Harvard Divinity School, he plans to join the Swaminarayan seminary in Sarangpur, and embark on the final stages of his monastic training. So let us welcome Akshar to speak.
[SINGING AND RECITING TEXT IN HINDI]
Vedanta for the 21st century. It was the beginning of the 21st century, and the UN had organized a world peace summit. Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the guru leader of the BAP Swaminaryan Sanstha had given a speech. In his address for peace, he cited key verses from the texts, important to Vedanta: Isavasyam idam sarvam yat kinca jagatyam jagat. In every one and in everything, there is the divine presence of God.
This spiritual unity connects us with the entire creation. Hindu traditions, in this way, often recall and identify with voices from the canonical texts of Vedanta school. Today, I would like to dive deep into one tradition, the tradition from which I am coming, this Swaminaryan tradition. And describe in detail, how the tradition interprets the canonical texts of Vedanta, namely the Upanishad, the Brahman Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita, and its relevance in the 21st century.
I will start by situating the Swaminarayan tradition within the Vedanta school. Then, I will discuss how this Vedanta might provide answers and guidance for questions that we all face in daily life. Contemporary questions. Lastly, I will talk about questions that's important, perhaps, for all religious traditions. How mukti or liberation is conceived of. We will look at all these three things through the lens of Akshar-Purushottam Darshan.
First, there are seven Vedanta schools. Each have different ontologies and theologies. For instance, the Advaita darshan expanded by Shankaracaryaji posits one entity, Nirguna Brahman. The school founded by Ramanujacaryaji called Vishisht-advaita darshan posits three ontological entities, Chit, Achit, and Saguna Brahman. Similarly, there were other commentators in the Vedanta school who proposed their own unique interpretations.
In the 19th century, Parabrahm Bhagwan Swaminarayan developed the theology consisting of five different metaphysical entities, namely Jiva, Ishwar, Maya, Brahm, and Parabrahm. According to Bhagwan Swaminarayan's teaching, other Swamis recently wrote classical Sanskrit commentaries on the three canonical texts of the Vedanta. The Bashir texts he wrote collectively formed the corpus of Akshar-Purushottam Darshan.
Let's now discuss, in detail, how these texts might be relevant today. Every day, we might be faced with many questions, such as interpersonal conflict, a lack of confidence for one's goal, self-doubt, a desire for others validation, mental stress, and others. Now we will see that how these texts respond to the persistence of these problems. What remedies do they provide? There is one analogy, in particular, that comes to my mind when I think about this kind of questions. Arjuna's analogy.
We look at Arjuna's situation from the Bhagavad Gita, and look how Krishna answered his questions. In the beginning of the first chapter, Arjuna says, senayor ubhayor madhye ratham sthapaya me cyuta. Oh, Krishna, please draw my chariot between the two armies. Once, when Arjuna was between two armies, situation changed. What happened? Arjuna describes his situation: sidanti mama gatrani mukham sa parisusyati / vepathus ca sarire me romaharsas ca jayate / gandivam sramsate hastat tvak caiva paridahyate / na ca saknomy avasthatum bhramativa ca me manah.
Arjuna says, sidanti mama gatrani, I feel the limbs of my body quivering. And mukham sa parisusyati, and my mouth drying up. My whole body is trembling. Moreover, gandivam sramsate hastat. Gandi, my bow, is slipping from my hands. It was these same hands by which Arjuna was able to pierce the eye of the fish, looking at the reflection of it in water while standing on a scale, and balancing himself. Such a concentrated skill, experienced, and trained warrior became, in this situation, unstable and unable to access any of these skills that he possessed.
Then after, he says, na ca saknomy avasthatum bhramativa ca me manah. I am now unable to stand here any longer. I am forgetting everything. Arjuna, the warrior, in the second [SANSKRIT] is crying: tam tatha krpaya vistam asrupurnakuleksanam. Arjuna, a strong warrior, was crying in front of 3.9 million soldiers. A question we might ask is how difficult must this situation have been for Arjuna to have cried? I expect he wasn't an emotional person, but this situation brought him mentally, physically, and emotionally. Mentally because he was unable to contemplate his duties. Physically because he was unable to pick up his bowl, and unable to stand. And lastly, emotionally, because tears have filled his eyes. This situation of Arjuna is in the first of the Bhagavad Gita.
Let us fast forward hundreds and thousands of years, and come to the present situation in the 21st century. The questions which we face now because Arjuna's problems mirror some of the ones that we face in daily life. We face stress we also face uncertain situations. We also have to make difficult choices. We also feel less certain of our skills in many situations.
Sometimes we face self-doubt, and sometimes we cannot lean on the ones closest to us. When Arjuna was faced with similar questions, his wealth, family, friends, weren't able to help him. Even his army, which was fully equipped with weapons-- was unable to support him. Even his own strength was of no use as the problem stemmed from his mind. This was the situation of Arjuna, and the present situation which we might be facing.
Now, let's briefly look at how Arjuna was pulled out of this situation. The very first step which Arjuna did was that he saw Krishna. But seeing alone isn't enough. He took refuge. In the second at, what Arjuna does is that sisyas te 'ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam. Krishna, you are my guru, and I am your sisya, the disciple. But taking refuge isn't enough either. One must listen to the person one has chosen to take refuge in. Throughout the rest of the Gita, Arjuna does just this. He listens to the discourse of Krishna.
At the end of the 18th chapter, Arjuna says nasto mohah smrtilabdha tvatprasadan mayacyuta / sthito'smi gatasamdehah karisya vacanam tava. My illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by your mercy, and I am now firm and free from doubt, and I'm prepared to act according to your wish. This is the situation of Arjuna in the 18th chapter. After listening to the discourse of Krishna. So what we see here is that Arjuna, in the first [SANSKRIT] was broken. Completely broken. He was unstable, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
He was deviated from his goal like 180 degrees. He was, in fact, resisting to perform his own duties. He was full of doubt, and in the 18th chapter, he is ready, strong, and confident. The external situations were the same. Something else changed. This change was brought about by the discourses that Krishna gave to him, and this might be what is relevant in the 21st century. The discourses which Krishna give and the steps which Arjuna took. We looked at some of these steps which Arjuna took. Now we will look at the discourse which Krishna gave.
Krishna said, [SANSKRIT]. One who has become brahmaru, that is one who is oneness with Akshar Brahman remains joyful, grieves for nothing, desires nothing, behaves equally with all beings because he sees God in every one. If one believes this, then one has an obligation to respect all, and that respect is unconditional.
We do respect people, but such respect might not be constant. It may increase and decrease, depending on the situation that the people are involved in. But this respect is different, which is born of the understanding that God resides in everyone. It is equal in its magnitude for everyone, regardless of individual's gender, creed, and caste.
We looked at a few of the contemporary questions, and how the Vedanta answers them. Now, having talked in some detail about some of these texts, related to some contemporary problems that we might face. We can now talk about something that, perhaps, all religious traditions ask about. Diparam purusha. Mukti or liberation. By some Hindu traditions, there are four purusarthas: Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. We will talk about the last one, moksha, in detail. Upanishads. Upanishads primarily contained questions and answers.
Questions are asked, and answers are provided. Disciple seek guidance from their gurus. The Mundaka Upanishad has one question. It concerns our Brahmavidhya. For liberation, equating Brahmavidhya is necessary. So what's the definition of Brahmavidhya? The Mundaka Upanishad says that [SPEAKING SANSKRIT] by which the knowledge of Akshar Brahm and Parabrahm is attained is known as Brahmavidhya. But now the question arises. From whom we should attain this knowledge? The Upanishads says [SPEAKING SANSKRIT].
For the knowledge of Brahmavidhya, one should go to guru. So what are the characteristics of guru? The Upanishad says kshotriya brahma nishtha. Kshotriya-- knower of the true meanings of the revealed text. Brahma, who is Akshar Brahma himself, and Nishtha who firmly is attached with God always. So what we saw from the Upanishad is that to attain liberation, we should attain Brahmavidhya. And for it, we should go to a guru who is kshotriya, brahma, and nishtha. Having met the guru, what is the sadhana or means to attain liberation?
The Upanishad says [SPEAKING SANSKRIT]. That aligning our jnan that is knowledge, action that is karma, and bhakti with guru. By doing so, one becomes Brahman. And this being brahmaru can be of two different types. Jivanmukti being liberated while alive, and videha mukti that is after death. So we saw the importance of the guru.
In the Swaminarayan tradition, the guru is particularly important. The pragat guru. The concept of pragad guru is important and interesting. Interesting because it's like divinity in humanity. Guru is among us, but still about us. And important because having a test with guru, people get liberation. The pragat guru guru is Akshar Brahma. The relevance of guru is, however, not just that guru is the manifest form of God. The shastras contain knowledge. However, one thing is still needed-- someone who facilitates the imbibing of that knowledge.
When I think of the relevance of the Upanishadic guru, or [SANSKRIT] guru, or [SANSKRIT] who is actually Brahma, I think about Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the late president of India who was a scientist, and also known as missile man of India. He quotes, you are-- while he was talking about a guru, he says "You are a great teacher. I learned to remove I, remove me. That's a great lesson I have learned. Remove I and my. I learn from you." Unquote. There is a lot of knowledge in many [SANSKRIT], but the guru is needed for one to imbibe the knowledge. That is for one to put the knowledge into practice.
To conclude, the guru is said to be the means of all these remedies, as it is through him that one gains all of the knowledge of the Upanishads. I would like to conclude by these words [SPEAKING SANSKRIT] All those words noted in in the scriptures shine forth, for the great person, who has the same profound bhakti towards the guru as he has towards God. Thank you.
Thank you, Akshar, for a very beautiful and clear presentation. This is a very formal occasion, but I think I was remiss to say how wonderful these persons are on campus. Akshar has many, many friends now at Harvard, as well as I think in the entire United States. And he's a very serious scholar, but also has this loving style that I think we could have a sense of tonight. Our second speaker is one of those people who needs no introduction, but he gets one anyway.
Swami Savapriyananda of the Ramakrishna mission. He is the minister and spiritual leader of the Vedanta Society of New York. Swami joined the Ramakrishna mission in 1994, and he took his vows, received sannyasa in 2004. He has many experiences and training moments in India before coming to the West. He served as an acarya, teacher of the Monastic Probationers Training Center at Belur Math, the very headquarters of the Ramakrishna order.
He also has served the Math and mission in other capacities, such as being the Vice Principal of the [SANSKRIT] Higher Secondary School, the principal of the [SANSKRIT] Teacher Education College at Belur Math, and indeed, was the first registrar of the Vivekananda University at Belur Math itself. Prior to coming to New York to be head of this very distinguished and old center, he had served for a number of months, about a year, at the Vedanta Society of Southern California, and then came to New York in 2017.
I've learned only since Swami came that he is an absolute superstar. It seems half the people I meet on campus have already seen Swami online somewhere, and we're very grateful, and very lucky to have him with us this year. So welcome, Swami.
[CHANTING AND RECITING IN HINDI]
Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from darkness unto light. Lead us from death to immortality. Ohm, peace, peace, peace. Friends, I read somewhere that the famous physicist Niels Bohr, he said that if you are not shocked by quantum mechanics, you have not understood quantum mechanics. An acquaintance and friend of mine, Uncle Baruah, who teaches Indian philosophy at Cambridge University-- the other Cambridge, across the pond.
He begins his Advaita Vedanta classes-- his hand out begins with if you are not shocked by Advaita Vedanta, you have not understood it. I'm going to speak about a school of Vedanta. Akshar spoke about one school, and we're going to speak about another school-- Advaita Vedanta, the non-dual Vedanta. Now, what is it that's so unique, and strange, and remarkable, and even shocking about Advaita Vedanta? It's helpful to see what Advaita Vedanta is not. That gives us a good sense of what it is. Religion, the kind of religion we are most familiar with, and most of us we study here at the Divinity School, is faith based.
So you are told by your tradition, by your books, by your teachers that God exists, and if you believe in God and surrender to God, and there are devotional practices. But notice, all of that is based on faith. It starts with belief, and it's belief which sustains you for a long time. And the problem with this approach-- it's a very beautiful approach, and it's the most common approach. You find it across the religions of the world.
The only problem with this approach is it's vulnerable to skepticism. It always has been, and especially in today's age. You just have to listen to a few minutes of Christopher Hitchens, bless his heart, and Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett-- to know what I'm talking about. To those who are much too emotionally involved, even to the point of fanaticism, I prescribe a course of Dawkins, and Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. As against this, there is another kind of religion, an experience-based religion.
So it's not that you have to believe in something, but that these things-- God, and an immortal soul-- they can be experienced. This experience-based approach, I think this is what made Swami Vivekananda so popular when he came to this country in the late 19th century to a land which thought of religion as faith. In fact, the most common word for religion even today is faith. He said that religion does not consistent in believing doctrines. It consists in actually realizing the truths of religion. If God exists, I must be able to see God. If I have an immortal soul, I must feel it.
The basic idea is that there are extraordinary experiences which are called mystic experiences, which if you have them, they reveal to you the truths of religion. The claims of religion are validated by mystical experience. A classic text in the Indian tradition of this type would be the Patanjali yoga sutra. It was no accident that Swami Vivekananda chose that as the first book to translate and publish from the Vedanta Society of New York, his famous Raja Yoga. It's based on the Yoga Sutras. But even here, that's not Vedanta either.
That's not Advaita either. The path of mystical experience. Even the path of mystical experience, it can be critiqued. Suppose you have wonderful experiences. Very spiritual experiences. A neuroscientist and a doctor can come and tell you that there's no doubt that you felt these things. We're not denying that, but it's just this little problem. You have a little tumor in your brain, which is pressing against such and such nerve, and that's what is giving you these experiences. It does not really tell you that there is a God, or an immortal soul, or that we are all one.
In fact, recently, there was a very popular YouTube video about a neuroscientist. She got a stroke, and for some time, because of that hemorrhage in her brain, the experience was of a feeling of universal oneness. And she talks about it, and that talk became very popular. Many people have seen it. So that could be a critique. That no, mystical experience, we are not denying that you experience these things, but we can say that they do not really prove anything special to you. It just could be something neurological.
So that's the way of mystical experience. Advaita Vedanta often is confused with this, but it is not a path of mystical experience. Now, let me be clear. I am being too strict here. There is the room for faith in Advaita Vedanta. There is a room for mystical experience in Advaita Vedanta, but I want to get to the heart of Advaita Vedanta. And I think such exercises in drilling down are helpful to get at the core concept. After which, you can build up again. So no, classical Advaita Vedanta is not a part of mystic experience either. What is it a path of? It's a path of knowledge.
What do I mean by that? You see, mystic experience is the problem that is most of us don't have it. Even if they were valid and justified, and they are very valuable, but most of us don't have it, and it takes a long time and arduous practice to even to make a beginning on the path of mysticism, in every religion of the world What Advaita Vedanta says-- not mystical experience, not faith, but take up experiences which are common to all of us. We all have these experiences. What experiences? Waking, dreaming, deep sleep.
I mean, I hope you are all in the waking state right now because Advaita Vedanta has a tendency of putting people to sleep. But these are experiences we all have, every day, and that's all that is needed for Advaita Vedanta. When you go to these texts, and they will guide you through a process of reasoning, based upon experiences which we all have-- waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, the seer and the seen, the different layers of the human personality. We are all aware of our bodies, our breath, our mind, our intellect. We are all aware of it.
That's all you need on this path. And the promise is, the claim is with on the basis of these common experiences of humanity, we will start a process of inquiry, which will lead you to the core of Advaita Vedanta. The knowledge which Advaita Vedanta embodies. That we are one the absolute. That our reality is, and that we are one with God, to put it in a very broad sense. Aham brahma asi. I am the absolute. And that can actually be experienced, or more clearly, it can be realized. It's an existing reality, not accomplished. They say pratyasa prati. That which you already have attained, you attain it again.
So this is Advaita Vedanta at its heart. Not a path of believing something. Not a path of seeking extraordinary mystical experiences, but a path of spiritual, philosophical inquiry. And very quickly, I am not saying Advaita says you can argue your way to God. Not that kind. But reason is it takes you to the very verge, after which there is an intuitive jump that has to occur.
The journey in Advaita Vedanta is not a journey in space. You are not going from here to there. Sometimes I see, driving around the United States, you find these huge posters-- heaven is a place. Call 1-800, something like that. Now, what does that mean? It's very interesting. It's a place. That means it's not this place. It's that place, and you have to go there. Advaita Vedanta is not a journey in place. The Brahman which you are speaking about, the absolute reality, it's there everywhere, it's there here, and there too.
It's not a journey in time. Again, some of the billboards will say after death-- very ominous, big letters. After death, you will see God. Call 1-800, something, something. But what's interesting is after. After is a time word. Not now, then. So you have to wait through time. It's a journey through time. Advaita Vedanta is not a journey through time. It's not about something that's going to happen later. That reality which we are, which Advaita Vedanta is trying to point out about ourselves is a reality now, and then, and every when. All the time.
It's not a journey from us to something else. The reality which Advaita Vedanta speaks about is not an other. Not something different from you. It's our own reality. Not as we know ourselves because Advaita Vedanta claims that we are terribly, terribly mistaken about ourselves. Swami Vivekananda would often say, if only you knew yourselves as you really are.
So that's what Advaita Vedanta wants to say. It's not a journey from us to something else, a journey from one object to another object, or some object to some other object. Rather, it's a realization of the reality about ourselves. Not a journey in space, not a journey in time, not a journey from one object to the other. I'm sort of translating Hindi Brahamacins. Talks given by the acariya Advaita Vedanta in Hindi. I'm translating that into English.
So what is it a journey? What kind of spiritual journey does Advaita Vedanta speak about? It's a journey from ignorance to knowledge. What kind of ignorance? Ignorance about our real nature. We do not know what we really are. To a knowledge of our real nature. A knowledge, of course, is a living reality, and a vibrant experienced reality. This is called spiritual realization. So this is the uniqueness of Advaita Vedanta. It's a delicate point to make, but if you think about it, you begin to see that something really remarkable about what Advaita is trying to tell us.
Vedanta for the 21st century. I'm careful about the time. I haven't started yet, that's why I was looking at the clock. Let me make a beginning. What can we say-- what can Advaita give us in the 21st century? I'm going to share with you three big ideas, none of which are mine. I'm just sharing them with you. Three big ideas for the 21st century from a Advaita Vedanta. First, Advaita Vedanta and the hard problem of consciousness.
Right now, in the last 20 years or so, and right now we are in the midst of a boom in consciousness studies, and research into consciousness. It may be prompted by the recent developments in technology and neuroscience, and it's a multidisciplinary subject. There are computer scientists who are interested in it, linguists, and philosophers, and psychologists, and doctors, and neuroscientists, and brain scientist. So many people are interested in consciousness studies. The question is what is consciousness? And it's a mystery.
Almost every other day you find new articles coming up. There either be the mystery of consciousness, one kind of article, or the other kind of article would be consciousness explained, breaking news. I always call those articles consciousness explained away. What is consciousness? Why should it be a mystery? It is put very well by David Chalmers, who is the head of the Mind Brain Consciousness unit at NYU. He coined the term, "the hard problem of consciousness." Why is it so difficult? There are these easy problems-- easy within quotes. They're not easy, but comparatively.
What is going on in our brain is correlated to our conscious experiences. So I feel a pin prick, maybe, a pain. And the brain scientist looks at what neurons are firing in my brain, and correlates, oh, those firing of those neurons is causing this pain. So it's a science of correlations. This kind of neuronal activity is related to this conscious event. That's one kind of consciousness study. There is another kind. The hard problem of consciousness.
How is it that we-- all of us, sentient beings-- have this inner movie playing within our heads all the time? Sights, and sounds, and smells, and touch, and thought. The Kena Upanishad, which we chant at the beginning, the first verse starts with impelled by what? Do our minds think? What is it? What shining do we see, do our eyes see, do our tongue speak? What is that one thing which gives us all these first-person experiences?
See, the question of the hard problem of consciousness, which has been formulated or reformulated in our times by David Chalmers, thousands of years ago, this very question-- the Upanishad begins with this question. Advaita begins with this question, and ends with its answer. Why should it be so strange? Think about it. If you just look at some of David Chalmers Ted Talks, you will see what he means. Think about it. None of the physical things here, this stable, even this highly sophisticated computer-- none of them have a second internal first person state. Only us.
There is something what it is like to be outside. You can see the person, but inside something is going on. Inside, not physically inside. That is also something that a doctor can't check, but inside in our minds. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires, questions. And it somehow feels like that. Even the most sophisticated machine, the most sophisticated computer, does not have that. It is only one state, the physical state. You can thoroughly describe what is going on in terms of physics.
Even our most esteemed colleagues across the street at Maxwell Dworkin, who come up with these fancy machines, none of them ever claims that the machines are conscious in any sense that we use. Even the most sophisticated ones. Imagine a Google self-driving car, and you are driving your car, and you turn the car at this corner, and the Google car also turns along with you.
Doing exactly what you are doing, but there's something going on in your car, which is not going on there. You, the feeling of driving, and sound, and decision making, the tension in your body, the feel of it which you have-- there is nothing corresponding to that in the Google car. How is it that we are conscious? There doesn't seem to be any space for that in the deterministic universe.
So we are studying this. I am taking this course on philosophy of mind at Emerson, and I'll let you into a secret. Those folks over there, very smart folks. They think most of us are zombies. They really do. After Descartes, who posited that there are two kinds of things-- the mental and the physical. You know the famous cogito argo sum, I think therefore I exist. I am a thinking being, and I'm related somehow to a material universe through a material body.
The entire history of the philosophy of mind, which we are studying-- Gilbert Ryle, or Smart, or Chalmers, is a pushback against the possibility of mind, against the possibility of consciousness. All there is no such thing as consciousness. What do you mean? When you're pricked with a pin and you shout ouch, and you say I am feeling pain. That making a face and shouting ouch, that's pain. No, no, no, no, that's just the behavior. Inside, I'm feeling something. Oh, there's nothing like that. It's just a behavior.
You might think they're crazy or something. Are they zombies? But I mean it seriously. There's a whole school which seeks to explain away consciousness as behavior. Logical behaviorism. Gilbert Ryle. Very smart people. I asked David Chalmers once, these very smart people who deny consciousness, don't they get it? Don't they get the question? So he was nice. He said that Swami, they get the question, but they are reframing it in some other way. That's not the word he used, but they are-- they understand it in a different way.
Galen Strossen, who is a brilliant philosopher, I hope to meet him someday. He's at the University of Texas in Austin. He has written some very caustic articles about this. One is the silliest hypothesis. What is the silliest hypothesis? He says this modern-- the turn in philosophy of mind. Trying to deny the existence of consciousness. That is the silliest hypothesis. So it's much more logical to think of ourselves as conscious beings, having the experience of a material universe, and then you relate it. And David Chalmers, in fact, has come up with this idea of panpsychism-- that consciousness is an all-pervasive, ubiquitous reality.
Advaita Vedanta can contribute something there. I mean, almost all the time in the philosophy of mind class, I have this temptation of saying no, no, no, I can solve this problem. But I restrain myself. But there are so many insights. Not just in Advaita Vedanta, in Sankhya, yoga, many schools of Buddhism, which can actually contribute. We can discuss some of them in the Q&A session. There was a conference, and people are beginning to recognize this. There was a conference in NYU. David Chalmers himself organized it.
Advaita Vedanta and the hard problem of consciousness. And there were three or four of the top people in the philosophy of mind whose articles we are reading now. They are present in the room. What happened later on, you can ask me. I'll tell you. Not much happened. So that's one thing. Advaita Vedanta, and the hard problem of consciousness. There is something to be done there. OK, two minutes for two more big ideas.
The second big idea I want to share is Advaita Vedanta and the-- I'll call it the grand unified theory of religion. Just the outlines of it. The essence of Advaita Vedanta is tat tvam asi. That thou art. Think about it. Religions of the world can be cleanly divided into these two categories. There are the that centered religions. That centered means God centered religions. And Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivism. These are basically God centered religions. There is a God.
There is the self-oriented or self inquiry based religions. Buddhism comes to mind. Yoga comes to mind. Sankhya comes to mind. Jainism comes to mind. So there are these two different kinds of religions, and these two different approaches to spiritual life. In this room itself, if you ask why am I interested in religion? Those who are spiritual seekers, you will get two kinds of answers. One is I am looking for God. I believe in God. I love God. I am searching for God. That centered. The other one is, well, God is fine, but I am more interested in who am I.
An inquiry into myself. Self-inquiry based approach. That and to whom. That and thou. Very quickly, that centered religions have some deep problem with that is that's based entirely on belief. God is fine, but the question is does God exist? That's the whole question. That's the problem with the that centered approach. That's why you'll find in those religions enormous efforts to prove the existence of God. That problem is not there with the self-inquiry based religions. Nobody doubts, including Descartes, that whether I exist or not. There's a certainty about that.
But the problem with the self-inquiry based approach is our existence is certain, but that's the problem. Our certain existence is surrounded by suffering and sorrow. What Advaita Vedanta does is it relates the two. Our certain existence is shown to be infinite by the process of Advaita inquiry. The third point, I will not make it because there are two speakers who are going to actually speak about it. Shweta Chaitanya will speak about that point-- ethics in Advaita Vedanta. And I highly recommend Professor's Rambachan's book, Hindu Theology of Liberation, which is about how Advaita Vedanta can be applied to today's problems. Thank you. Thank you very much.
So as I promised, Swami is a very dynamic speaker, and I'm sure that there'll be many questions, and follow up conversation that we can have afterwards. I'm very happy now to introduce our third speaker, Brahmacharini Shweta Chaitanya of the Chinmaya mission. Shweta, perhaps, has the longest journey of anyone here in terms of her spiritual journey. Her Vedanta journey began when she started attending children's classes at Chinmaya mission in Houston, Texas, at the age of six years old.
After completing her undergraduate degree, years later in Sanskrit at the University of Texas at Austin, inspiration from the Vedanta teachings of the Chinmaya mission came together intensely with her Sanskrit studies. And this, in turn, led her to spend a two year residential Vedanta course at the Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Mumbai in 2014. So she moved to India, and did this deeper, intensive study. And after being trained in great depth by Swami Bhodatmananda for two years there, she returned to Columbia University in New York to finish her master's degree. So this wonderful combination of traditional learning, and learning in the modern Western Academy.
And then, as a climax, in August 2017, Swami Swaroopananda, the worldwide head of the Chinmaya mission, initiated Shweta into the monastic order under this monastic name of Shweta Chaitanya. She is now posted, when she's not at Harvard, in Houston, Texas. She shares the message of Advaita Vedanta through discourses offered at Chinmaya Mission Houston, in study groups across the greater Houston area, and I think, increasingly, also indirect forms of Hindu spiritual ministry. So Shweta, though still very young, brings an enormous wealth of experience, and a very good heart to her work. So we look forward to hearing her.
Hari om and vernans to all. My gratitude to everyone for taking the time out to be a part of this event, either in person or virtually online. And of course, a special thanks to everybody who worked so hard to put the event together, especially given the current circumstances. In the panel we had last year, I had spoken about the influence, the Maharashtra and Saint Poet, Tukaram Maharaj, had in my life. Today, or yesterday, depending on the calendar that you may follow, happens to be the day that Tukaram Maharaj left his physical body.
His life is commemorated on this day by singing his compositions, and remembering the deep impact his powerful words had on the lives of so many during his time and after. And so I offer this talk today at his Lotus feet. Now, Swamiji has just spoken about the Advaita Vedanta tradition, and I also come from the same tradition. So there will inevitably be some overlap. But yesterday, Swamiji assured me that you can never hear Vedanta too many times, so I'm comforted that.
In the Vedanta tradition, the Upanishads are considered a mirror to the self. They reveal to us exactly who we are in the most fundamental sense. So who are we? The Upanishads declare that we are Brahman, the infinite self. Sacitananda. Existence, consciousness, bliss. And this is our nature, right here, right now. Well, last time I checked, my mirror reported something very, very different.
But it's precisely in this contradiction that Advaita Vedanta begins its work. It urges us to dig deep into our current personal experience to try to locate our experience of I. Where is it? Is it in the body? Is it in the mind? In our emotions, our memories, our convictions? Upon observation, I can see that all of these things are observable. They come into my awareness. Their changes are perceived by me, and yet when they change, I still experience myself as a singular, continuous observer. Here, we are essentially being pointed to our innermost experience of I.
A subject even subtler than our thoughts this subject is the very same one in whose awareness we switch between the experiences of waking, dream, and deep sleep. This is why we can take a nice nap sometimes during talks just like this, and wake up and say I slept so well. In other words, I know I had the experience of not experiencing anything. Actually, the sleep joke, I think it comes up a lot in Vedanta talks, and sometimes it makes me feel that deep sleep is brought up just to wake up students.
Anyways, but the Advaita teaching does not stop here. It is not enough to separate the observer from the observed. It is not enough to recognize my subjectivity as something that simply oversees my experience of all the states-- waking, dream, deep sleep, and everything in between. There is one more step. Vedanta wants to say that this observer is not limited in nature. It is infinite. In the Vivekachudamani, a text attributed to Shankaracarya, it is said [SANSKRIT].
The one who can claim complete freedom in the south, the one who is mukta not only does this person discern between the observer and the observed, but she also does what is called pravilapana. She dissolves the seeming difference between the two-- subject and object-- back into the subject. And just to reiterate, this is the observer that is present, even during the experience of deep sleep.
Advaita Vedanta's claim is that without this observer or awareness, there would be no possibility of individual subjective experience, or even the experienced world. This is the heart of Advaita Vedanta. Recognizing that all this is known through our experience, and all that has the potential to be known through our experience is, in essence, nothing fundamentally separate from the non-dual infinite self. It is in the light of this ultimate self that everything, from the experienced world to the agent that experiences it, exists.
So what does this mean? What does this do for the one who knows it? Advaita Vedanta actually begins its inquiry not necessarily in search of truth, but in search of enduring happiness, peace. Vedanta tells us that the joy we seek in the world of objects is merely a reflection of the joy within. So long as we seek it outside of ourselves, it will continue to slip out of our grasp. Effectively, what one stands to gain through this journey is the knowledge that they themselves, not as the agent, but as the infinite self, are the very source of joy that they have been seeking outside.
Therefore, complete fulfillment, here and now, is the outcome of this process. And now, immediately, this may seem problematic. So long as this body and mind function, there will always be experience, and observation tells us that we can never guarantee the sensation of sorrowful experience. And this is very true. But Vedanta never claimed to change the nature of our worldly experience. Only our perspective towards it. The liberated one is simply awakened to the reality that was once hidden in plain sight. The example of mirage water works best to illustrate this.
Prior to knowing it as a mirage, I might have thought that the water appearing in front of me had the potential to quench my thirst. I might have thought that the water-- sorry, I might have spent hours running after it. But upon realizing it to be nothing but a play of sunlight, I would no longer run after it, hopefully, with the idea that it could quench my thirst, no matter how water-like the appearance may be. Water appears before and after the sunlight is apprehended. The difference is that afterwards, the very real appearance of thirst quenching water is seen exactly as it is, an appearance.
Similarly, the one who recognizes the infinite reality within and without no longer seeks fulfillment in the world of objects. The world of experience is there prior to realization and afterwards. The difference is that the realized one won't run after it with the idea that it can offer fulfillment, since the notion is clearly understood-- since this notion is clearly understood to be an appearance. This person now lives in this very same world, not for, but out of complete fulfillment. More importantly, in the eye of her mind, she now sees this world as nothing but an expression of her own infinite self.
Before moving further, I'd like to take a moment to clearly point out what this does not mean. It does not necessarily mean that the realized person no longer engages in the world, thinking it to be a mere illusion. The only illusion is the illusion of finding completeness separate from the self. In fact, an attitude of neglect is impossible for the one who sees the very core of herself emanating in and through the entire world around her. This person continues, in this world, as before with the same body, mind, and sense of agency.
The only difference is that all of these things are understood to be relative, and dependent on what is fundamental, which is Brahman. I want to remind us that for the Advaita, this is not a forced, contrived, or even mystical vision of non-duality. It is a clear discovery of something fundamental that can never again be ignored. For the realized one, this knowledge of non-duality becomes the cornerstone for an attitude of spontaneous care, love, and empathy for all beings in the environment, since they are, undeniably, expressions of the very same self.
What is important to me, as a 21st century seeker of this goal, pertains to a message that Shankaracarya shares in his commentary on Chapter 2 of the Gita. He says, in essence, that whatever traits the Vedanta texts share about realized people, those very same traits should be practiced diligently by the seekers of liberation.
In fact, in the Vedantasara, another text, towards the end, it is said that the realized person naturally exhibits qualities of goodness after realization, due to the very fact that they were cultivated prior to realization. I bring this up because it is imperative to see that the Advaita journey must be fleshed out by a sincere cultivation of personality traits that embody a global spirit of unity and connectedness amongst all beings.
In the earlier portion of the Vedantasara text, the teacher explains the self to the seeker as that which expresses through the individual, and through the total, simultaneously. It is the infinite self alone that appears as the individual, and it is the same self that appears as the totality in which the individual exists. While there are technical implications for this statement within the Advaita context, it is clear that the seeker is being asked to recognize her individual existence as situated within the totality of the world around-- existing as part of it, and not somehow inherently separate from it.
To me, this terminology of individual and total, or in Sanskrit, vyasti and samas, marks a beautiful expansion of thought for the seeker. Suddenly, the student must think of herself in constant relation to the world around her. This doesn't mean that she has to know every last bit of information about the world at large, but it means that she must encounter her own experience, as situated in a vast web of experience that is constantly in flux, and ever connected. She must open her eyes to the threads that connect her to the experiences of others.
This inseparable relationship between individual and total becomes the guide with which she leads her life as a seeker. And then, naturally, after realization, this allows her to focus on what is fundamental to us all. That we do not each live in our own personal vacuum. That all beings are comprised of and depend upon the same exact five elements, and that we are all connected through our shared experience of life spectrums of highs and lows.
These are all key observations Vedanta teachers emphasize during the teaching process. It is while keeping these observations in mind that the seeker fine tunes the fourfold qualities essential for clear knowledge of the self. Viewed in this way, the spirit of living in a socially aware and engaged manner is at the heart of Advaita Vedanta, both in practice and in principle.
I am speaking here today as a female monastic because Swami Chinmayananda exhibited the spirit. Keeping in mind the history through which this teaching has come to us, today more than ever, being a practicing Advaitan necessitates taking an active role in working against inequality, shame, taboo, and everything else that skews the reality of our fundamental oneness with one another. In fact, this is precisely what today's practicing Advaitan would ask themselves.
How can I act in this world such that our singular identity with one another is not skewed or hidden? In the wake of today's public health concerns, the fact that we live a shared physical experience as human beings is now clearer than daylight. Even a genuine recognition of our fundamental oneness at the physical level is plenty a start to keep the insidious creepers of hatred, bias, and crippling fear from encroaching upon us.
To conclude, realizing the truth of Brahman simply means to recognize and give priority to what is essential, what is inherent, and what is fundamental to life, and to never ignore it again once it is known. It is not a call to make this ego, this agent, feel infinite. That would be a disaster. Rather, it is a call to strip away the centrality we ascribe to this agent in light of the undeniable truth of the infinite self.
Thank you, Shweta, for such a beautiful and well-expressed presentation. If we had any good sense at this point, we would simply stop and meditate for an hour or so upon the wisdom we have shared. But of course, with our in-house audience and audience online, we're not able to do that. So luckily, I have somebody to pass the responsibility to to offer a few comments. We are extremely fortunate to have with us tonight, Professor Anantanand Rambachan. He is professor of religion at St. Olaf's College in Minnesota.
He himself is a dedicated disciple of a great Swami, Swami Dayananda. And has managed over the decades, to combine traditional learning and academic learning as well. His own scholarly interest included Advaita Vedanta, Hindu ethics, liberation theology, and inter-religious dialogue. Among his many books, I can point to Accomplishing the Accomplished, his first one, The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Chakra, the Limits of Scripture, Swami Vivekananda's reinterpretation of the authority of the Vedas, The Advaita Worldview, God, World, and Humanity, a Hindu liberation of-- theology of liberation, which Swami mentioned.
And then most recently, hot off the press, Essays in Hindu Theology. He is also a renowned teacher. I note here, the BBC transmitted, not long ago, a series of 25 lectures on Hinduism by Professor Rambachan for a worldwide audience. You can probably still find them online. But somehow, in the midst of all these duties and responsibilities, being a department chair and so on, he's also been exceedingly busy in dialogue.
He's been involved in dialogue for over 25 years. He is active in dialogue programs at the World Council of Churches, and indeed, was a Hindu guest and presenter at Four General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches. He is also involved in consultations at the Vatican, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. He currently participates as a Hindu theologian in the ethics in action dialogues at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
And here, I cannot but interject that I, a Roman Catholic, have met exactly zero popes, and Professor Rambachan has sent me pictures of meeting at least three popes, personally. Shaking hands and exchanging greetings. So he's very well-placed. He also serves as the President of the board of the Arigatou International, a global organization advocating the rights of children, and mobilizing the resources of religions to overcome violence against children. And finally, he was very recently elected Co-President of Religions for Peace, the largest global interfaith network. So let us welcome Professor Rambachan.
So greetings, everyone. And I want to also say a very special greeting to Swamiji, Swami Tyagananda, who is senior monk of the Ramakrishna order, and I'm honored to have been his friend-- to be his friend for many, many years. So very good to have you in the audience. And we thank all of you who are also joining us online.
Thank you very much, Professor Clooney for inviting me to be part of this dialogue. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to share some of my own thoughts, and my gratitude also to Swamiji, Swami Savapriyananda, also to Sadhak Akshar, and of course, Shweta for each distinctive conversations to our discussion tonight.
So what I would like to do is to sort of after listening to the three of them, I had some notes before, and some notes now. I would like to offer some broad reflections on what I see as some of the challenges of Vedanta for the 21st century. In accord with what you said, but I think also trying to raise some questions through them. So as Swamiji said, the traditions of Vedanta, preeminently traditions of knowledge.
They are traditions of jnana. And the term Vedanta, in its primary meaning, refers to the end of the Vedas. It points to the Upanishads. The concluding dialogues at the end of these texts. But in a secondary sense, Vedanta also means the end of all knowledge, or the highest knowledge, which is also one of the ways of breaking up the-- and the Vedanta traditions do, indeed, affirm the Upanishads offer the final teachings of the Vedas or the highest wisdom.
To describe the Vedanta traditions as traditions of knowledge is to imply, I think, as all of our speakers said in different ways-- is to imply that these are teaching traditions. Knowledge is imparted and transmitted from a teacher, as Sadhak Akshar said, from teacher-- from Guru to student, through a process of inquiry, interrogation, and dialogue.
There are some very beautiful sections of these Upanishads speaking about relationships between teachers and students. So the opening mantra of the Taitriya Upanishad, speaks about the hope that teachers and students will inquire with vigor. [SANSKRIT]. Under the fruits of knowledge will be illuminating, and they will engage in this inquiry without mutual hostility. [SANSKRIT].
So these are traditions from which we can retrieve today, a great reverence for learning, a reverence for the teacher-student relationship, and for relationships among students of a teacher. I think this is something that, I feel myself, in our teaching for over 35 years in an institution of learning that we sometimes don't value. And the relationship between teacher and student can be trivialized in a culture that does not revere learning.
So I offer these opening remarks to make the point that the descent of learning like Harvard Divinity School and the program which has brought these three monastics here, with the support of the wonderful family, is that the Harvard Divinity is a natural and congenial home for the Vedanta traditions. As traditions of learning, as traditions of inquiry. And I think this program is really inspired and committed by that kind of vision. To bring diverse students and teachers in a process of deep learning and inquiry.
So this commitment to inquiry, and the profound quality of learning that the Vedanta traditions exemplify, enable them to engage in the mutuality of sharing and receiving that characterizes any good pedagogy. The value and respect for learning, in other words, does not stop at the boundaries of the Vedanta. Tradition should not stop at the boundaries of those traditions. There is an ancient Vedic mantra that I think is instructive to all of us. Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah. May noble thoughts-- may wisdom come to us from all sides-- from everywhere. And I think it is an ancient acknowledgment that no tradition has a grasp on the fullness of wisdom, on the fullness of teachers, of learning we can be open to instruction from all sides.
So when I look at the Vedanta traditions, I want to organize my thoughts, probably I'm only going to get to two of the constellations of questions that I want to raise. If time permits, I might touch on the third, but I'll limit myself to two. First, to talk about the relationship between Vedanta traditions and other traditions. Now, the Vedanta traditions have always defined and explained themselves in conversation with rival systems. Both orthodox systems and what we call heterodox systems in Sanskrit. The astika and the nastika systems.
And these traditions, the Vedanta traditions, always took the critique of other traditions' other systems very seriously. Are we not unwilling to learn from them? To incorporate. Even as they debated them, they were also being transformed in various ways by these encounters with other systems. We see this-- there is a lot of evidence of this. We see this approach preeminently, for example, in the commentaries of the great non-dual teacher, the Advaita teacher, Shankara. He expounds-- develops his interpretation of the Advaita in disputation with the ritualist schools, the Purva Mimamsa, with Sankhya, yoga, with Nyaya, and also with what we regard as heterodox systems like Buddhism and Jainism.
And he demonstrates a commendable effort-- not always these systems might say to represent them fairly in his summaries and his articulation, but there's something there that he was challenged to first describe these traditions, and then to engage them. But my point is that in the process of engaging these all very sophisticated traditions, and attempting, when necessary, to refute some of them their claims, Shankara also incorporated many of their insights, and the Advaita tradition was enriched. And his engagement with Buddhism, I think, is a good example of that process of debate and mutual enrichment.
Now, today, I believe-- it was a long time ago since I myself started as a monastic, but not long ago, I made an effort to gather what we would call the syllabi of monastic institutions in India. And to try to understand it to study how they were teaching Vedanta in these institutions. What was the course of studies in Vedanta, what it looked like, what the topics covered.
And I found-- I don't know if it has significantly has changed since I requested those documents, but I found that the emphasis in the teaching of the Vedanta at traditional institutions still had a heavy emphasis on the classical commentaries and their engagement with, say, the Mimamsa, Nyana, Yoga, Sankhya, et cetera. This is very-- I'm not trying to dismiss this. It's very interesting. Historically interesting and enlightening. But I think there is a challenge here because our context is now different.
And Vedanta in the 21st century, while not giving up on that kind of classical study, has to engage with new conversation partners. The circle of conversation that are important to the Vedanta in the 20th century cannot still be only the classical interlocutors of Shankara, and the Ramanujan, and the Madva and others. The living traditions that I want to say that ought today to be our dialogue partners must also include Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, of course, Judaism, as well as contemporary, secular, and scientific perspectives. And Swamiji gave a very good example of how we, perhaps, can engage in conversations about the nature of consciousness.
The purpose of such conversations, I want to emphasize, has to also be different from the classical times because in the classical period, the motivation for studying the other, the motivation for engaging in debate was to defeat. There was a sense of victory that you somehow demolished the argument of the other end. There was a certain kind of triumphalism when that happened. Certainly, there should be some critical engagement in these dialogues, but I think that a more profound aim should be to engage with others for mutual enrichment. Mutual enrichment through study and dialogue.
Now, as a Vedantan myself, let me say something self-critical. The Vedanta traditions, as I said, one of the ways in which we read the meaning of Vedanta is the ultimate knowledge, the highest knowledge, the fullness, the culmination of all knowledge. And I think any tradition-- and we could look at beyond the Vedanta, but any tradition claiming final and fullness of knowledge or the highest knowledge does run the risk of a certain kind of elitism.
That can easily slip, and I'm-- none of the presenters here manifested that, but I think in the history of the Vedanta traditions, there has also been a certain kind of elitism, and even an arrogance in the way in which they presented themselves, and engage other traditions because, after all, how can you claim fullness of knowledge, it can inform the way in which you might engage the other. So I want to make a plea for Vedanta in the 21st century also.
To develop the virtue of humility in its engagement with other traditions. And I think that they are rich resources within the Vedanta tradition for virtue of humility in dialogue with others, and openness to the enrichment that might come from dialogue. I don't have time, myself, to speak of all of that tonight, but I can give you so many examples as a Vedantan myself of all the ways that my engagement with other traditions has transformed my own understanding of the Vedanta tradition, and all the ways in which it has inspired the work that I do as a scholar of the Vedanta, but as that's for another presentation. We have to look to all of the voices. We had the beautiful chanting of Swamiji from the Kena Upanishad. We have the words of the Taitreya Upanishad, cautioning us. [SPEAKING SANSKRIT]
That from which all will return. And Kena Upanishad beautifully tells us about the paradox of speaking about the ultimate. It is not known by those who say they know. It is known to those to whom it is unknown. All of these I read also as profound texts of humility. About the one that we are seeking to know. That humility has to find expressions, both in the way in which we engage other intra-Vedanta traditions, but also traditions outside of the Vedanta family.
So here is a question. How do we articulate, from within the Vedanta traditions, theology of humility for inter-religious learning? What would be the core arguments of that theology? What does the Vedanta tradition-- what is this theological need for other traditions? If you claim-- if a tradition claims full or final truth, does it really have a need for the other? How would we articulate, from the traditions of Vedanta, a theology of humility? A need of enrichment for the other? How will we ground that in the sacred texts that we study, as we seek to enlarge conversation partners in our contemporary setting?
Secondly, the traditions of Vedanta, by and large, are traditions of renunciation. One-- a sannyasa-- one entered deeply into the study of these traditions through a ritual, or a ceremony of renunciation. There's quite a significant ceremony in the sense that it freed you from all ritual obligations. That you don't have to perform the traditional rituals that someone in the householder stage would have to perform. It also liberated you from all obligations to family and community, which is signified by the adoption of a new name.
And renunciants even speak of the life before renunciation of the previous life. My purva janma. In my earlier life. This is a new life. It's a complete severing of ties with everything that went before family, community, ties. Renunciation resulted in the-- if you were married, it would be the dissolution of marriage, freedom from contractual debts, the distribution of property among heirs, and even required the performance of one's own funeral ceremony. It is as radical as that.
And I think that the consequences of a tradition that has developed in such a profound way as a tradition and culture of a transition, have been significant. Significant in many ways. Significant also for the exegesis of his texts because the primary exegesis of the Vedanta texts were renunciants, and clearly, if you are a renunciant, you are going to read the text through the lens of renunciation.
So now, when I-- in my own case, coming from a background of monastic study also, but not following-- then going back to graduate school, becoming a professor of religion, marrying, having a family, and now very recently becoming a grandfather of twin babies-- as a professor, as a father, as a grandfather, as an activist, when I read these texts over the last eight years after studying in the monastery, I say, how did they not see this? How did they not-- how has Shankara glossed over this potential in this verse?
Obviously, he's reading it through the lens of a renunciant, and all the other possibilities of the voices will not necessarily speak to the renunciant So in reading Vedanta texts, I think-- and that's just a fact of life. What you see depends on who you are, and what your interests are. It's not to decry a particular kind of reading, but to speak about the limits of the lens through which one reads the texts. So in reading Vedanta texts, such renunciant readers and commentators are not interested in the implications of these teachings for life in the world, a world from which they turned away.
They were not asking-- Shankara would not ask, what does this tell me about obligations to community, obligations to the world, because this is a world one had turned away from. The exclusive concern here is moksha. So I believe that a Vedanta for the 21st century is challenged to revisit fundamental questions about the value of the world, and life in the world, and human relationships. And to really ask how this tradition-- how does these Vedanta traditions-- how do we make the fullness of the Vedanta tradition available to human beings in diverse settings and relationships who are not renunciants?
Is the fullness of the Vedanta tradition a privilege? Fullness that is available only for those who seek the part of renunciation? Or can it rich, also, human beings in all of their rich relationships and cultures? If the world is devalued, and of course, you have interpretations of renunciation that do devalue the world. We have to acknowledge that.
If the world is devalued, and renunciation is interpreted as turning away from the world, then the Vedanta traditions will not feel obliged to engage seriously with suffering in this world that is caused not only by ignorance, but also by social and economic injustice. By racism, by sexism, by castism. To address those kinds of problems, one has to have a value for life in the world. It requires an embracing of the world, and not turning away from it.
So I want to say if the Vedanta in the 21st century is to me remain relevant, it must, without giving up certain interpretations of renunciation-- because I think there is something very valuable in the ideal of renunciation, but we can see in a text like the Bhagavad Gita is also wrestling with what does renunciation really mean? A Christianized contesting set in traditional understandings of renunciation, and advancing very different definitions of renunciation.
So Shankara would say, well, he's doing that only because Arjuna is not yet ready for renunciation. But I think that is not a very faithful reading of the argument of the book would be to myself. I think it's a radically different kind of renunciation that he's-- he's speaking about the world, an engaged renunciation in the world.
So if the Vedanta traditions in the 21st century must remain relevant, without giving up on the central idea of liberation, it has to enlarge its understanding of what is suffering. The traditional emphasis has been upon suffering as an inward condition that is associated with ignorance. And this is important, but there is no reason to limit our understanding of duhka suffering in this way.
We need an expansive understanding of both suffering and liberation, and there are not good theological reasons, I think, why the tradition cannot take this step in the 21st century. So while we will speak about the peace-- Vedanta is ultimately awakening us to a deep peace and joy within, I think we have to push questions about what is the relationship between peace and justice? What is the relationship between an inward state of joy and injustice in the world?
Otherwise, Vedanta becomes privatized. Its understanding of liberation becomes so privatized and individualized that it turns away-- it ceases to be relevant to the challenges of our world. So my contention is that the Vedanta tradition has to concern themselves actively with systemic sources of suffering, and from their resources. You have to read the text with new eyes, and to ask these kinds of-- bring these kinds of questions to the text, which were not brought before.
And that's why I do think that an experienced-- being in an institution like the Divinity School, where such questions hopefully are, indeed, addressed, will challenge the Vedanta traditions not just to share, but to open themselves also up to learning. To ask questions of the traditions-- the tradition has not asked all the questions that could be asked of the texts. There is a lot to be mined there still, but we need a stimulus. We need the kinds of conversations that will stimulate the new questions that the Vedanta traditions must ask. I think I will stop this. My third one I will leave because of time. So thank you very much, Frank, again. Good to be here.
So thank you very much, Anant, for a wonderful and very thoughtful presentation. Thinking on your feet, and hearing these wonderful presentations, and then enhancing them by further comments. Thank you very much. So we have about 20 minutes left, and then we will stops at 7:00 for the sake of the people in the room, and the people at home who are going to go for dinner, and so on, I suppose. And I thought I'd do this in two ways.
One would be, Anant-- although, he didn't get to his third point, I picked out three points in what he said, and we have three speakers to ask each one of them to say something about one of these points. This is where I end up being a dictator up here. And then open it for a few questions from this audience in the room, and then I think we may have some questions that have come in from outside, and then we'll try to stop at 7:00.
So I'm sorry to be sort of organizing it a lot, but I think this may help us to get through it. When we get to the short questions, short answers, I think it will help us. But I saw that three of the major points that Anant was making-- the role of humility in Vedanta, and the need to learn from the other. The second one, renunciation-- attitudes toward the world, and why renunciation, when there are goods in the world, like having children, grandchildren, and so on.
And the third, what about suffering, and what about justice? So I thought I would do these one, two, three. So Akshar, what do you think of this issue of humility in Vedanta, and the need to balance having a complete tradition with the possibility of learning from others? You don't have to speak to me, but you can speak to the audience. I'm sorry, off the top of your head, but you can do this.
This is really a great question. And just, Professor Rambachan mentioned a quote from Rigveda, which stated that Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah. So let the noble thoughts come from all directions. Like all, from every side. So whatever is good in other religions. And coming back to the question of humility and humanity in the Vedanta, one thing which I have learned from my studies is that by learning Vedanta, you start respecting-- one of the arguments in my paper was about this.
When you see God in everybody, you will have respect. And that respect is unconditional for those who are smaller than you, younger than you, and for those who are elder than you. So what eventually happens is that you feel that you are dust. The spirit of servitude. There are many voices in these traditions, as you may have heard about like [SPEAKING SANSKRIT], which states that I am the dust of the dust of the dust of the dust of the dust of that person.
So studying Vedanta will eventually make you humble, up to the extent that you will respect people because you are seeing God in them. And once you are seeing God in them, then the feeling of humbleness, that's something I think that we should get from this learning.
Thank you so much. And the second question that I discerned on renunciation-- is there a new opportunity for a different attitude toward the world, where Vedanta is not largely in the hands of renunciants? Swami, you can speak eloquently to this.
Although, I am a renunciant, but yes, it's true that if you read the texts-- Shankara's commentary is-- we are reading Madhusudana Saraswati's commentaries, who is a Sanyasi of the Dashnami Sampradaya. You see again, and again, it's the monks perspective which is being brought up. It's the renunciant's perspective which is being brought up, and that's very natural. But when I was listening to Professor Rambachan, I was immediately reminded of Swami Vivekananda's exultations, both in this country and in India.
I think the term which he is talking about, that was-- for the 21st century, it was already done in the late 19th century by Swami Vivekananda. For example, he who runs away from the world to meditate and die in a cave has missed the way. He who plunges headlong into the vanities of the world as mystery-- so if you run away from the world, you miss the way. If you plunge into the world, you miss. What is the way? And he said, to see God in everybody, in every situation, every person. To divinise life itself.
So you see the Kena Upanishad very much there. The Bhagavad Gita, as you pointed out, the context was Krishna was not a renunciant. Arjuna was not a renunciant. And nowhere does Krishna actually suggests directly, it is only a halfway house. He gives him an ultimate solution to the problems of life. So I think Vedanta is already in the process of acclimatizing itself to this new environment.
Swami Vivekananda's famous quote that Vedanta has been hitherto limited to the hands of monks, and scholars, and pundits in the mountains and forests. I'll bring Vedanta out from the mountains and forests, and broadcast it in the cities of the world, which you did, right here in Harvard. So yes, this is an ongoing process, but it's an important point. The point is important.
Thank you so much. And then Shweta, you get the easy one. The problem of suffering, injustice in the world, and whether Vedanta really can say something about these enormous problems we face.
Yeah, so I think the idea of suffering that Professor Rambachan brought up, there definitely does have to be an expansion of that understanding. Within the Advaita monastic world, not that it isn't there, but we're at a time where it has to be spelled out. It needs to be nuanced. It needs to be looked at. It needs to be viewed for what it is, and not explained away in a surface level sort of way. So I do agree with that, 100%.
Convey that to provide one to one solutions for every single form of suffering in the world. I think Vedanta provides a perspective, but as far as solutions are concerned, I think a Vedantan can situate themselves together with the rest of the world to help, and come up with ways that we can work together to tackle some of the sufferings that are very prevalent today in the world. And so yeah, I think that kind of work can definitely be done, and should be done today.
Thank you so much. And I would just commend Anant for making the point several times that doing all of this at a Divinity School is a wonderful opportunity to think in the tradition, to think from outside, and bring these things together. Swami Tyagananda, our distinguished Swami in the middle there, he and I are probably thinking of doing a course in the fall on Hindu spiritual ministries.
I think a first for Harvard, and one of the first times this has been done. But to bring together tradition and everyday problems. So that will be coming, probably, in the fall. So for our audience, I would say let's start with three questions from this various honored group here in the room. Brief questions, brief answers, hopefully. And they don't have to be very technical. You don't have to know Sanskrit to ask a question. So just relax and ask, and I'll just call it-- and I think, do they have to go to the microphone? Can the microphone move?
Move the microphone a little bit more toward the middle. It seems far away. OK, and I believe Philip has the first question. So you have to come up. We can hear you, but online, they can't hear you unless you come to the mic. So brief questions, brief answers.
So Vedanta is based on knowledge-- Ramakrishna says only after you have received God's grace can you have a vision of him, which seems like a very different statement. He sounds dangerously close to Luther's sola gratia. Actually, the word Vedanta occurs only 97 times in the Kathamrita, whereas the word grace occurs about twice as many times, and vision and visions occurs in a very large number of times.
And it seems that Ramakrishna and his lifestyle, his whole life, was very invested in having visions of God-- dualist experiences, in spite of his experience, which he did say was the highest experiences. But then he went back to these dualistic-- so what is the status of grace in, I believe, the Indian word would be krpa in Vedanta. What's the Vedanta perspective on this?
So anyone can pick up the question. You don't all three have to answer all the questions. But let's start with Swami, and then Shweta on this one.
There's actually a book on this. I think Brian Malkovsky--
Brad Malkovsky, The Role of Grace in Advaita Vedanta. So I think in Shankara, the role of grace in Shankara, and he goes through all the ways in which Shankara has used the word for grace, and the different things that grace does in Advaita Vedanta. Two points here. One is there are a vast number of paths. For example, I spoke about that oriented religion's. God oriented religions. So those are basically faith-based, devotion-based. The basis is faith, the method is devotion, and that required grace. So grace plays a very important role in the dualistic, theistic, devotional religions.
You would have to transform what grace means in Advaita. There's a role there too. I mean, I wish I could go into the details of this, but I'd recommend that book. Upanishads themselves say the who really realizes the Atman. The one whom the Atman chooses, realizes the Atman. There, you can see Grace hidden. The Atman chooses somebody to reveal itself. To the one which Atman chooses, the Atman reveals itself to that one. And Shankara comments there. So whom does Atman choose? The one who chooses the Atman. That means if you really want it, you're going to get it. I'll leave it at that.
So just to tack onto that, in Vedanta, many times God's grace is equated to an increase in wanting liberation, or in [SANSKRIT], as they say. That's like the direct manifestation of that. And that wanting to be liberated, of course, is predicated on our sensitivity towards duhka in life, which I think we can bring in what Dr. Rambachan was talking about, which then requires a very keen observation of what that duhkam actually is, in my own experience and others experience. And so I think that grace can be traced-- again, I think just like what Swamiji is saying, back to us. What is it that we're looking for in our life? So it manifests, again, as that desire to be liberated.
OK, thank you very much.
Melanie Sri Krishna has a question. So brief questions, brief answers. And you can move the mic. Don't feel shy.
So 30 seconds I'll take to ask the question because I think, for me, asking this question is not so much as getting an answer, but ensuring that we all think about these questions more deeply. So as an Advaita scholar, as somebody who Advaita is the reason why I became a social worker, a community organizer. Advaita is the reason why race and caste disturbed me so deeply is because to see suffering is to recognize it as your own, or otherwise to be separated from what your essence is.
So the question I really want to ask one is well, I constantly see that when I think of renunciation, I think of being able to escape so much of the suffering of witnessing others suffering. And on a personal level, not necessarily like how it actually happens. And in the same case with Arjuna, as he's on the battlefield, he would rather do anything except fight his family, but that is his duty. And so I understand that, and keeping that in mind, what do you see as the responsibilities of monastics in the world today with the suffering that happens?
And on a second level, much more identity-focused, if we're looking at 200 million Dalits in India, or if we're looking at the fact that half the female population-- that there's so much segregation in our communities. We are a very segregated country, even if it doesn't appear. So from sex to caste, especially these two areas. So why has-- I wonder why have our missions and orders not more aggressively fought against this segregation, because they're on such a large, wide, and prevalent scale.
So any of the four of you. So Anant, you're part of this too. Give everyone a chance to speak. Any one or two of you want to take that up? Anant, you want to go first?
Just make some quick comments. Thank you. It's an excellent question we can talk for a very long time about. But I think that the gist of what I want to say is this. That even when we have profound text in the Vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita, for example, that we can certainly read and interpret the challenge-- all of the kinds of social and gender inequalities that you've identified.
The broad trend of exegesis has been to speak of oneness, but oneness that is somehow comfortable with social hierarchies. The oneness is not-- the metaphysics of oneness has not been used to challenge those social hierarchy, and to say that these are inconsistent with this vision, and we have to-- especially when it comes to structural injustice. This has been a place of my on deep learning from Christian liberation theology.
The issue of structural suffering, and structural injustice. And how you can talk-- you can so much spiritualize the notion of oneness, that you disconnect it completely from social reality. So one world doesn't speak to the other world, and you're very comfortable in proclaiming a theology of oneness, and completely turning away from all of those structures in society that don't-- that are completely contradictory, like the problem of the Dalits, and the problem of patriarchy, and other kinds of problems. It requires a fuller step.
Akshar, you were taking notes. Did you want to say something on this?
OK, Swami, briefly.
In the Introduction to New Testament class, I think the class is held right here? Or in the other class? We are right now talking about slavery and Christianity, and how the Bible was used to, in some senses, to support slavery, and how it was used to fight against-- to protest against slavery. How going all the way back to Paul, we find the roots of anti-Semitism. The point is that religions have this conservative side. They tend to go with the conservative section in society. That's one movement in religion. But there are also resources for change and betterment of society in those very texts.
So how does a black person read the Bible? So it's very interesting discussion. One is you could reject the text altogether. Another you could appropriate it that it's my text, and it does not mean what you want it to mean. A better reading is this. So we are talking about this. We had a dialogue with Dr. Suraj Yengde, a very noted Dalit scholar activist at the Kennedy School. And that's what I said to him.
That these resources are there-- the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, or the different Vedanta traditions, they also belong to the Dalits. One way is to reject it. One way is to say that, no, this is the real meaning. We're talking about oneness. It should mean oneness in practice also in all these ways. So that's where we had the discussion, if you remember.
Our time is limited. So I think what I'll do now is invite Vibhu who is our master of online questions, and you can sneak in your own, to pose two questions, maybe, from those you've received. And then we'll close with one more question from in the room. So if somebody hasn't asked the question and would like to ask, get yourself ready. We could do just one, let people answer, and then do the second.
Thank you, everybody. I just received a couple of comments. One comment was directly to you, Shwetaji, about Swami Chinmaya, and to your comment about him-- why Vedanta seems to be sitting away. But Swami Chinmayananda, so did Swami Vivekananda, came down, and came and shared the knowledge. So shifting away from the nigunti to the idheti aspect. So that was one comment. But coming to your question, there's a gentleman by Shriji, and this is for you, Swamiji, directly. How does jivan mukti apply to the followers of other philosophies?
How does jivan mukti apply to the followers of other philosophies? That's a really big question, actually. Jivan mukti, what the term is being enlightened, and yet being embodied in this body, in this life, and yet you know that you are Brahman. So until the death of this particular body, you continue in this state, and it's a wonderful state. You realize that you are the absolute, and yet you are particularized-- you appear as an individual in this word.
Related to other philosophies, the way I understand it is do other philosophies accept it? Yes and no. There are a wide range of Vedanta philosophies which do not accept jivan mukti. Only videha mukti. That means full enlightenment is possible only after the death of this particular body. If I'm not wrong, Vishishtadvaita would be one of them. I'm not very sure. Would it accept jivan mukti?
Only reinterpreting it in a very different way.
In a different way, yes. So there are schools of Vedanta and other Indian philosophies which do not accept jivan mukti. Advaita Vedanta does, and I was actually surprised to discover Sankhya does. I wouldn't have expected it, but Sankhya actually does accept living while liberated. It's a big question.
Did you have another one?
This is to Shweta. Can you please give us more information about equality in Vedanta with maybe respect to gender, religion, and also maybe caste differences?
That's exactly the part of-- that's exactly what we need to be discussing more today I think Malini's question speaks to that, and as renunciants and-- really speaking from the Vedanta that I've understood, as far as knowledge is concerned, there's no difference, really, in what-- in a renunciant's knowledge, and anyone else's knowledge. And so yeah, there really has to be more discussion. Not on behalf of those people who are marginalized-- they're already discussing.
Really, there has to be discussion amongst those who are not marginalized. Who are privileged in this structure. And that to serious discussion with results, with effect. Where, let's say, a girl could go to a monastery and feel totally comfortable because there's rooms available for her, or there's a place available for her to stay. And same with a caste issue. Where people who are extremely marginalized can go into an ashram, and feel that I can study here, and there's nothing wrong.
So I think the discussion-- yes, it has to-- it is being brought up by those who are marginalized, but the real heavy discussion has to occur on the other side, where change can be made, where everyone can now come to-- living this truth as we understand it, but also to be able to see it. I think the discussion has to begin there.
Thank you. So to keep my promise, and to keep our promise to finish fairly quickly, one more question from the room from somebody who's not asked a question. Yes, sir. Come to the mic, please.
Thank you all for your wonderful presentations. The other day, I went to talk on-- the topic was reincarnation, and there's something troubling about this notion that, well, if you did things that were wrong in this life, and you didn't get punished for it, you will still have to reap the rewards of that.
You'll be born again, and you-- now, this is related to all the questions that are coming up about suffering. We see people suffering, we see people, all the time, not as well off as others. It's troubling to then think that, well, they're reaping the fruits of a previous life, which doesn't seem right somehow. And yet, seems consistent with this notion of karma, and I would like to see how you might address this contradiction.
Akshar, you haven't spoken yet. Do you want to explain rebirth and reincarnation?
So Swami first, and then Akshar.
I just recommend a book. Arthur Hartman, The Problem of Evil in Indian Philosophy. So there, he considers different answers to the question why there is suffering in the world, and then 23 different options. And finally, he comes to karma, rebirth, and reincarnation. And he shows, with all its defects-- he has a whole chapter on these questions you ask. With all its defects, it's still the most rational explanation that we can offer at this point.
One clue. If you find it troubling, think of the alternative. If that is not true, Karma and rebirth are not true, what are the alternatives? It's God who's doing everything? That is God is responsible for all the misery in the world? That's not a nice option. Or all it's accidental. There's no logic to it. No reason to it. Then let's not do philosophy or theology.
Yes, thinking about the karma in suffering from a different perspective. This perspective is different in the sense that a person who is suffering is currently suffering less in sense with respect to what he has to suffer for his past many lives. Like in future in many lives. So there is a notion that if a person is suffering for a nail, in fact, he was going to suffer a lot. So it is in the reduced path. Not being optimistic right now, but trying to make a point here that maybe if-- suffering is death. That's the fact. So how we can understand it, and then that is something I was thinking about.
Wonderful. I think one thing that this conversation proves that it was a very fast two hours, and that we will definitely have to have more of these in the future. I'd like to conclude by just a couple of words of thanks. Again, thanks to the development office. Thanks to facilities. Thanks to all those who put together this beautiful arrangement in a very difficult time, where things were changing by the hour in the last few days. So thanks to everyone who made this possible.
Thanks to you, our studio audience, as they say. For you who came, and paid such good attention, and gave kind of a direct human quality. And for all of those who are online, I would say both thank you for listening, and for spreading the word. This will be online soon, and everybody else can watch it. But once the coronavirus crisis is over, those of you who are not able to be here tonight, you must come to campus, and be in our midst. And I close, finally, by thanking our distinguished panelists, our three monastics, and Anant Rambachan for wonderful presentations.