24 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside listening to a discussion called “Vedanta for the 21st Century” hosted by Harvard Divinity School on March 11, 2020.
What questions arise when I focus on “consciousness” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
Three Hindu monastics visited Harvard Divinity School on March 11, 2020 and discussed the tradition of the Upanisads and Vedanta and its relevance to today. Sadhak Sahgar-Guru talked about the mental and physical instability that plagued Arjuna on the battle field in the Bhagavad Gita. The ways Arjuna overcame his dilemma can give us hope and insight today. Swami Sarvapriyananda talked about the hard problem of consciousness and the ways Advaita Vedanta offers a unique non-mystical, non-faith-based way to experience a knowledge of absolute consciousness. Brahmacharini Shweta Chaitanya talked about the ways the liberated consciousness not only discerns between the observer and the observed, but she also dissolves the seeming difference between the two—object and subject—to merge back into the subject. Without this observer who can do this with all states of consciousness—awakening, deep sleep, dreaming—there is no possibility of the phenomenal world. She says this is the heart of Vedanta, and it reveals how nothing is separate from the non-dual, infinite self. The joy we seek in objects is a reflection of the joy within. Complete fulfillment in the here and now is the outcome of this distinguishing-merging process. Yes, body and mind will have experiences, such as illness, aging, fear, anger, sadness; Vedanta never seeks to change our experience, simply change the way we know our experience. This panel discussion ends with clear confirmation that this ancient sage wisdom is relevant today.
It had been 164 years since Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his poem “Brahma.” It had been 166 years since Henry David Thoreau contributed his essays Walden to the American Transcendentalist movement. It had been 166 years since Walt Whitman published his Vedanta-influence Leaves of Grass. It had been 137 years since Swami Vivekananda merged his wisdom with the sisters and brothers of America at the 1883 Chicago Parliament of World Religions, and finally in 2020, Harvard Divinity School did welcome three Hindu monastics to give the first-of-its-kind talk on Vedanta in the 21st century. That is one long and beautiful narrative arc that seems to reveal the story of Vedanta Now is just beginning. Beloved seeker, keep asking!
Meditating on consciousness, a Jnana yogi might ask, “Now that I am happy to know my experiences need not be fruitful, nor mystical, nor faith-based, nor meditative in order to be fulfilling; and now that I know this world is an expression of my infinite Self, where goes all this happiness in a culture that loves its negativity bias?”