Why would Vedic culture be called the last bastion of deep spiritual truth? It doesn't take much to understand, at least after a little investigation, that the Vedic process of spiritual advancement promotes individual freedom of thought, complete liberty of inquiry, and the privilege of independent and personal development through one's own spiritual experiences. This degree of latitude for self-discovery is found in few other cultures or spiritual processes.
The fact is that the Vedic literature consists of the oldest and most complete spiritual scriptures available. It contains more in-depth knowledge of the identity of the spiritual being and its connection with the universe and God than most anywhere else. It provides more information about the spiritual domain, the characteristics of God and our relationship with the Supreme.
Furthermore, the spiritual principles in the Vedic system are universal, meaning they can be applied in any time or place in the universe. In fact, even a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, or anyone can understand his or her own religion more deeply by investigating the Vedic spiritual knowledge.
The Vedic system expects the individual to progress and not merely stay on the level of blind faith. The Vedic path does not rely on faith or beliefs alone, but offers the methodologies that a person can use to refine one's consciousness. Then he or she can personally perceive the higher levels of reality and spiritual truths of which the Vedic instructions speak. In fact, the many Vedic holy men are often those who have had various levels of success in experiencing aspects of spiritual reality, and then can relay that information to others. This is also why portions of Vedic philosophy are expressions of one's spiritual experience, followed by instructions enabling others to reach that same experience in perceiving the Absolute Truth.
The Vedic process allows full freedom to investigate spiritual matters and for one to ask all the questions that may come to mind, without restrictions or the possibility of being called a doubting person or a blasphemer. The Vedic approach knows that the Absolute can be perceived in different ways, thus the Vedic system accommodates this and allows for the individual to pursue the level of Truth that he or she wants to perceive. The Vedic path also makes no restrictions on our right to use whatever resources we can to help ourselves understand our spiritual nature. This it is why Vedic followers can look at any religion and find truth in it.
The Vedic system also acknowledges that we all have a unique relationship with God, and that this does not depend on the approval of a church, an institution, or a cleric or priest. It is eternal. The Vedic process merely provides the means or methodologies by which we can awaken that relationship and the awareness of our spiritual identity. By this approach, we stimulate our own perception of spiritual reality rather than merely being forced to accept a dogma presented by some religious institution.
On the other hand, we see the conventional religions of the West. They are often monotheistic constructs that are based primarily on faith, beliefs, and fear. Their faith is often directed toward the idea that if you follow what your church authorities tell you, or what you read in your scripture, you will go to heaven and be "saved". Belief usually amounts to accepting something that is still beyond your experience. And fear in most religions is based on the idea that if you don't follow the tenants of your faith or church, or if you question it, you may find yourself being excommunicated and outcaste from your religion, or even told that you will go to hell. Thus, you will have no relationship or connection with God. Fear in this regard is also displayed as a fanatical defense of one's ideas, that everyone else but you and your clan are going to hell and that you are the only ones who really know the truth. In this way, they allow for little freedom of thought or inquiry, or for the individual to seek out answers to questions that are not described in its scripture. Anything that is not included is labeled as either demonic or will lead one to hell.
One problem with the religions that primarily are based on belief and faith is that they can become an effective means of manipulating the masses who follow it. If you can convince people to believe that by doing something they can go to heaven, then you can get them to do almost anything. For example, Pope Urban II implied to the soldiers who were going out on the first crusade that if they died in the name of Christ, they would ascend to heaven and live in the association of God. Thus, they rode out to fearlessly and mercilessly conquer the "heathens" or non-believers, and were willing to die to reach heaven.
This is the same effect we see with the Palestinian youth, that if they die in the name of Islam they will immediately go to the seventh level of heaven and take pleasure in wondrous gardens in the company of beautiful virgins. The more fantastic the heaven, the more hope and conviction will be seen in the followers.
Another problem with this is that the beliefs that are given to you to accept often change with time, or according to the needs of the church to keep a congregation. As explained in a recent issue of Newsweek magazine (August 12, 2002), the concept of heaven has changed with the ages. "Dante saw heaven as the universe, and Thomas Aquinas thought of it as a brilliant place, full of light and knowledge. In the 18th century, Emanuel Swedenborg imagined heaven as a tangible world, with public gardens and parks." Nowadays you can imagine heaven to be whatever you need it to be. This gives impetus for you to do whatever you feel you should do for your beliefs, and have it justified by your religion. However, in actuality, in the Bible, the Koran, or Torah, there is little in the way of specific information of where or what is heaven. And this leaves much for the imagination.
Another problem with religious processes that rely mostly on faith and belief is that peer pressure and the need for conformity and acceptance or approval stifles and restricts one's ability to develop or inquire to one's fullest. We often see children tolerated for their deep and thoughtful questions, while the adults fear to reveal their ignorance of the topics or even stifle a child's inquisitiveness. So such religions act like self-policing institutions wherein individuals are not encouraged to develop their own spiritual realizations or ask too many questions. They are encouraged to leave it up to faith and the dictates of the institution. They are told that we are not meant to know certain things, and that faith alone in a particular savior or the power of the church is enough to take you to heaven. But if you lack faith or question it, or don't follow the dictates of the church or scripture, you won't go to heaven. Thus, you must look good in the eyes of the church authorities and your fellow members or there will be no room for you, and thus you will be sent to hell.
The second kind of fear is the fear that you may be wrong, or the church and its doctrines may be wrong, or there may be weaknesses in its philosophy. So people become defensive of their beliefs, defending it like life itself. Thus, they condemn and criticize those who are of other religions without trying to understand them. Sometimes you can see this amongst the sects in the same religion. We already see so many divisions within Christianity, as well as Islam and Judaism. And each one often feels they are the only ones that are true followers of Jesus or Mohammed, and all others are going to hell. So it can become extremely divisive even within the same faith.
In fact, some people of particular religions may feel it is their God-given mandate that when someone is a so-called non-believer, he should be converted and "saved" at whatever cost, and then deprived of any freedom to follow an alternative view. A person in another religion may brand "nonbelievers" as infidels, and thus feel it is his duty to convert, destroy or even kill such a person. In either case, they may use coercion, manipulation, or simply take advantage of poor and vulnerable people to bring them over to their faith. And in both cases, the people of these religions feel they are doing God's work, and that they are justified in what they do.
However, it is refreshing to see that you usually don't have this kind of divisiveness or criticism in the Vedic system. It is much more open and provides the individual the freedom to pursue the level of experience that he or she needs for his or her own development and still be a part of the Vedic process.
Religion, when used improperly or without the real essence of spiritual truth, can also be a way of confining and restricting people of a wider understanding of the universe and themselves. This is done through the use of fear, guilt, violence, and the oppression of anything that shows a different view than what is being indoctrinated into society. It has been the most militant of religions that has suppressed the ancient avenues of reaching higher levels of understanding our multidimensional or spiritual nature. Thus, by mere blind faith in whatever the church or priests are giving us, or allowing us to know, we are kept in a lower consciousness than what is really possible. In this way, higher realms of thought, wisdom, love, and knowledge are kept away from the masses. After all, knowledge is power, and your ignorance is my strength. To keep power over others, the church and monotheistic religions in general have systematically abolished a wide range of spiritual and esoteric knowledge that would, otherwise, give mankind the ultimate freedom. And because people who understand their true spiritual nature and the power that lies within themselves become impossible to manipulate, it is necessary to keep this knowledge hidden. So the idea would be to keep the truly spiritual knowledge concealed while creating and perpetuating a religion, or a standard of "science," that keeps people bound by the above mentioned factors: fear, guilt, violence, and intimidation. The implication is that to tread outside the accepted jurisdiction of knowledge or understanding, or outside the rules of the institution, will bring fear. This is fear of uncertainty, or disapproval by the institution, or of going to hell, as previously mentioned. Questioning the present system, or doubting its effectiveness, or desiring more knowledge about God than the church provides, will bring guilt. In this way, some religious institutions have made such ancient sciences as astrology, yoga, meditation, or the deepest understandings of the soul, or other topics, to look evil or even absurd, and thus be dismissed, or preferably even outlawed. We need to understand and recognize this pattern, which is used in numerous places in the world.
In this regard, reports have been given about how huge libraries and collections of ancient and esoteric books have been destroyed or were kept out of circulation from the public. This indicates the methodical removal of various levels of spiritual and metaphysical knowledge from society, while claiming that anything other than the established doctrine of the church is satanic, evil, and hell bound. The Christian Inquisition, for example, was a wonderful method of producing this effect. Even today we can see how some people are so influenced by this tyrannical tendency that they still are afraid of looking at anything other than what the Church condones. However, most of these people are totally unaware of the "pagan" heritage found in Christianity or Judaism, which makes it very similar to pre-Christian ways, but with a different name. It is practically the same medicine yet in a different bottle. To remove this understanding from public knowledge, it became necessary that whenever Christianity or other militant religions conquered a country or culture, the first thing that was done was to capture or destroy all of the ancient sacred texts. However, any organization that destroys the ancient knowledge and historical records of a civilization is never going to present the true history of the world, or the spiritual wisdom of any previous culture. Thus, the view of history is controlled and the population is kept in ignorance and under subtle restraint. And the people who are allowed to understand any of the truth are those of the elite or who are already in power.
By taking a look at the history of the conventional or western religions, for example, a person can see to what extent such an institution will go to maintain power and control, especially when it feels threatened by what it does not understand. Furthermore, the dark history of Christianity represents the fanatically narrow-minded side of it that has continued to the present day in the form of fundamentalists thinking that if a religion or culture is not Christian, then it must be of the devil. Or at least its followers will not go to heaven. Such people are often ready to dismiss or criticize other spiritual paths and cultures without understanding them. They may see a ceremony or ritual of another religion and immediately say it is heathen or devil worship, without realizing that it is the worship of the same Supreme Being that they worship.
The point is that all people have to have the freedom to find themselves to the fullest extent on whatever path it takes, providing it is a genuine and uplifting path. So how do we make sure we can continue to have this freedom? By understanding each other and other cultures of the world and the different paths of self-discovery, and by recognizing the value that they have to offer. We must also bury our preconceived prejudices that are based on our immature feelings of superiority because, spiritually speaking, we are all the same. We just have to attain that spiritual vision to see the reality of it. And the path we take to do that is the only difference among us.
A true religion paves the way for everyone to become spiritually aware, and to establish his or her own relationship with the Supreme. And the Vedic system is an ideal means for supplying that. If a religion is not based on the higher principles of self-realization, but is merely based on dogmatic rules and regulations that it forces on others, then it becomes a trap based on fear, guilt, oppression and intimidation. One must not be afraid to break free from such a trap. It is greater to see God's love manifested in many sages belonging to different traditions at different times and places, among different people.
The premise that all spiritual knowledge must be connected with one distinct or localized savior is itself a stifling factor in allowing individuals to progress in spiritual understanding. There is so much more that could be learned if they didn't feel that if something isn't connected with their particular savior or scripture, then it must be Satanic. In this way, if it is not in the Bible or Koran, for example, they refuse to acknowledge the value of any additional spiritual knowledge if it comes from a different culture or source. Thus, they act with fear or contempt toward anything outside their own sphere of familiarity or acceptability, or like people who are proud of their own ignorance and narrow-mindedness.
The straightjacket of Western theological dogma keeps a person from looking at additional resources that could supply answers for questions not considered in western thought, or at possibilities that are elementary in Eastern traditions. What's wrong with learning newer ways of connecting with our higher selves, and with each other and with God? What's wrong with allowing our hearts and minds to expand with new vibrancy, new insights and confidence? Why not allow ourselves new hope and understanding in regard to the purpose of the universe and the nature of God, even if we look to different sources of knowledge? Who knows what additional information we can add to what we already know, or newer ways to incorporate and develop ourselves into people who are better and more aware and spiritually developed. This is natural for those who participate in the Vedic system.
For these reasons, India must remain the homeland of a living and dynamic Vedic culture. This will allow the world to retain some of the deepest knowledge and methods of attaining the most profound spiritual insights that have been known to mankind. India should defend itself from the risk of further partition or divisions. If India is divided up any further, Vedic culture could dwindle or even be lost over the long-term, except for small colonies of Vedic practitioners here and there. This may indeed be what many people would like to see. Yet, if Vedic culture is lost, the world will not even realize the treasure of human development that will disappear. Then such deep spiritual knowledge and insights will begin to permanently fade away from society.
Once India and Vedic culture is diluted or stamped out, along with other decreasing numbers of indigenous traditions, then the whole world will be fitted with the straightjacket of Western thought and monotheistic religion. Thus, it will be more easily controlled by the establishment. Then individual freedom for the pursuit of higher understanding and spiritual happiness will be limited to the constraints as dictated by whatever regional monotheistic views reign in that area.
The Vedic culture and philosophy offers deep insights into spiritual knowledge that can be found no where else. It provides for levels of thought and knowledge of the soul and the Supreme and the spiritual reality that are hardly matched elsewhere. It outlines the processes by which a person can uplift or purify one’s own consciousness to perceive for themselves the spiritual strata and recognize one’s true spiritual identity. Many are those noteworthy sages and saints of the past who have followed this path successfully, and left profound teachings for the rest of us. For this reason Vedic culture is the last bastion of deep and genuine spiritual truth and freedom. It is a culture that allows full liberty of investigation for the individual to practice and reach the highest levels of spiritual perception known to humanity. This is also why it should be clearly understood and preserved for the benefit of all.
Published with the kind permission of Stephen Knapp
Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana) is the President and Treasurer of the Vedic Friends Association (www.vedicfriends.org). He has been researching Vedic spirituality and comparative religious study for over 30 years in a variety of settings. He has directly engaged in those spiritual disciplines that have been recommended for hundreds of years. He continued his study of Vedic knowledge and practice under the guidance of a spiritual master to get the insights and realizations that are normally absent from the ordinary academic atmosphere. Through this process he has been initiated into the genuine and authorized spiritual line of the Brahma-Madhava-Gaudiya sampradaya, or disciplic succession, under the sanction of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. He has also extensively travelled throughout India to most of the major holy sights and more, and is known for his slide shows on his travels to the holy places and spiritual festivals of India (even nicknamed "the slide show acharya"), and for his lectures on the Vedic and Indian philosophy. He has written several books on the science and spiritual practice of Vedic culture and Eastern philosophy.
Visit his website, at: http://www.stephen-knapp.com.
You can email him at: Srinandan@aol.com.
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