Vedanta: Its Many Manifestations, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
From its origins in Vedic literature nearly 3,000 years ago, Vedānta has influenced every aspect of Indian thought and culture. Its multiple expressions have inspired worldviews ranging from non-dualism to theistic devotionalism and have shaped varied regional and pan-Indic traditions in literature, art, performance, ethics and culture.
While arguably influencing the foundations of western thought in pre-Socratic Greece, Vedāntic texts made an important intervention in 19th century German transcendentalism and its continental offshoots and in American idealism from the mid to late 19th century. Revivified by Vivekananda at the turn of the 20th century, the fertile universalism of Vedānta continued to feed a new humanism for more than a hundred years, inspiring Indophilic counterculture and human potential movements.
In our new millennium, the importance of Vedānta remains greater than ever, in expanding the boundaries of human self-conception through transpersonal and integral psychologies and new trans-religious theologies. In this two day conference we will explore the various dimensions of Vedānta, its relationship to later hermeneutic philosophies that took its name, and other schools of Indian thought and practice, such as Sāṃkhya-Yoga, Tantra and medieval Bhakti. We will also hear from leading experts about its influence in the West and its international and transcultural potentials. This conference will also include bestowing the Doshi Bridgebuilder Award upon Dr. Karan Singh, author, member of Parliament, and former ambassador to the United States from India. Dr. Singh will deliver the keynote address for the conference. Additionally, we will celebrate the long-awaited publication of a 50 commentary edition of the Isa Upanisad by Drs. Yajneshwar and Sunanda Shastri of Gujarat University.
SESSION ONE: Origins of Vedanta
Yato Mat, Tato Path: The Pluralistic Turn in the Vedanta of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda
A marked departure of the modern Vedanta of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda from the classical systems of Vedanta rests in its strong affirmation of religious pluralism as a central Vedantic value and doctrine. This paper will examine both the rootedness of Sri Ramakrishna’s pluralistic approach to religion in the modern Vedantic shift from scripture to experience as the true basis for spiritual authority, and Swami Vivekananda’s twofold approach to the harmony of religions, which affirms both the religions’ shared experiential core and their diverse, but complementary, perspectives on reality.
Jeffery D. Long is Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College, in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since receiving his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in the year 2000. He is the author of A Vision for Hinduism: Beyond Hindu Nationalism (2007), Jainism: An Introduction (2009), The Historical Dictionary of Hinduism (2011), and the forthcoming Indian Philosophy: An Introduction.
Bhakti and Tantric Elements in Ramakrishna's Practical Vedānta
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna narrates the life and development of one of India’s most influential saints in modern times. It tells of his deep love for the goddess Kāli and his exploration, study, and practice of other world religious traditions. It also gives a glimpse into the profound truths to be learned by embracing what some scholars call “the dark night of the soul.”
Rita Sherma is Swami Vivekanda Visiting Professor of Hindu Studies at the University of Southern California.
SESSION TWO: Tantra and Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta and Tantra
This presentation will focus on Shakta Non-dualism, based on an analysis of the Atharva-guhya-upaniṣad, the last section of the Mahākāla Saṃhitā, one of the most esoteric texts in the Kali tradition. This text synthesizes the Upanisads (the text was written around 1500s) and borrows esoteric ideas from Tantra, forming a bridge between Tantra and Advaita Vedanta.
Sthaneshwar Timalsinha is associate professor of Religious Studies at California State University, San Diego. He taught for many years in Nepal and is author of several books, including Seeing and Appearance, an analysis of Dṛṣṭi-Sṛṣṭi Advaita Vedānta.
The Paradoxical Method of Grace: Reflections on the Anupāya of Abhinavagupta’s Tantrāloka
In his magnum opus entitled "Light on the Tantras" (Tantrāloka), the medieval Mahāsiddha and exegete of the non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir, Abhinavagupta presents a deeply considered analysis of the various "methods" (upāya) that may be employed by initiated Śaiva practitioners as they traverse the path to the divine. Three of the methods activate or involve some form of individual effort, participation or enactment: the Aṇavopāya centering on the mobilization of the kriyā-śakti, the Śāktopāya devoting itself to the blossoming of the jñāna-śakti, and the Śāmbhavopāya moving in the most subtle impulses of the icchā-śakti. This presentation will present an inquiry into some of the intellectual and spiritual puzzles that such an approach to Liberative Grace entails.
Professor Paul Muller-Ortega is the founder of Blue Throat Yoga, which teaches the Svatantra philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism and the practice of Neelakantha Meditation. He served as Professor of Religion at Michigan State and the University of Rochester. He is author of The Triadic Heart of Śiva.
DOSHI BRIDGEBUILDER AWARD
The Doshi Bridgebuilder Award recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions toward building bridges between peoples, cultures, and disciplines. As a senior statesman, diplomat, and scholar Dr. Karan Singh embodies the ideals of the award through his continued endeavors to improve international and inter-faith understanding. Building bridges between different religious traditions.
KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Vedanta Today
Vedanta arises from the early literature of India, the Vedas and the Upaniṣads, offering many philosophical approaches to the challenges of life. Through Vedānta we can see the inter-connectedness of all beings. Prominent Vedāntins from Yajnavalkya to Sri Aurobindo have speculated about the relationship between divinity and worldliness, suggesting how the things of the world at their best reflect the highest good. Vedānta offers many pathways for establishing harmony where it has been lost through the Yogas of meditation, action, and devotion. This talk will explore how Vedānta can help address issues such environmental degradation, personal alienation, and inter-group conflict.
Dr. Karan Singh serves as a member of India's Parliament. As a young man, he was the head of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from 1949-1967. He earned his doctorate by writing a dissertation on the work of Sri Aurobindo. He was Ambassador to the United States and Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, Jammu and Kashmir University, and Jawaharlal Nehru University. As a leading spokesperson for Indian thought worldwide, Dr. Singh has lectured at many universities and has served on numerous commissions. He currently serves as India's representative to the executive committee of UNESCO. He is the author of more than two dozen books including India and the World and In Defence of Religion. Dr. Singh is featured in numerous videos, including the recently released "I Believe: Universal Values for a Global Society." He received India's highest honor, the Padma Vibhushan Award, in 2005.
DINNER PRESENTATION: The Isa Upanisad
This core text of Vedanta has been interpreted variously as signaling theistic devotionalism, non-dualism, and variegated panentheism. For several years, the research team of Drs. Yajneshwar and Sunanda Shastri have gathered and edited fifty commentary on this seminal text. Yajneshwar Shastri will summarize their findings at this event.
Yajneshwar Shastri is emeritus professor of Philosophy at Gujarat University where he directed the School of Philosophy, Education, and Psychology for many years. An expert in Vedānta, Yogācāra Buddhism, and Jainism, he has published 13 books, including Foundations of Hinduism, Atmabodha of Padmanandi, and Mahāyanasūtrālaṅkāra of Asaṅga: A Study in Vijnānavāda Buddhism. Sunanda Shastri is professor of Sanskrit at Gujarat University and author of Nāradasmṛti: A Sociological, Historical, Political, and Legal Study.
SESSION THREE: Neo-Vedanta
Swami Vivekananda and Neo-Vedanta
This presentation revisits two questions: what is neo-Vedanta and what is Swami Vivekananda’s contribution to it. In exploring this “newness” I hope also to raise questions about the nature of Indian modernity itself, especially its “spiritual” components.
Makarand R. Paranjape teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His latest book is Making India: Colonialism, National Culture, and the Afterlife of Indian English Authority (Springer, 2012).
Hidden Spring: The Role of the Vedanta Societies in Disseminating Vedanta in the West
In describing the Vedanta Societies in America, historian Carl Jackson has written that "few other religious bodies of such Lilliputian size have equaled the movement's impact or historical significance." What is the secret of their disproportionate impact on the West? What is the historical significance of what the Vedanta Societies represent? My paper examines these questions and explores possible answers.
Pravrajika Vrajaprana has been a nun at the Sarada Convent of the Vedanta Society of Southern California since 1977, taking her brahmacharya vows in 1983 and sannyasa vows in 1988. Before joining the Order, Vrajaprana did both her undergraduate and graduate work at U.C. Santa Cruz where she also briefly served as Associate Professor of Literature. Vrajaprana is the author of Vedanta: A Simple Introduction as well as other books on Vedanta. Most recently, Vrajaprana wrote a chapter entitled “What a Hindu Nun Learned from Christian Evangelicals” in My Neighbor’s Faith (Orbis, 2012) and co-authored with Swami Tyagananda Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kali’s Child Revisited (Motilal, 2010). Vrajaprana’s books and articles have been translated into a number of European and Indic languages.
SESSION FOUR: Consciousness
Vedanta as a Master Template of Human Consciousness
This presentation will explore the experiential dimension of Vedānta as a universal template or archetype of human consciousness particularly where individuals engage in the contemplative life. Such templates include the creative void or emptiness of Buddhism, the mythic monotheisms of Christianity and Islam, and the richly populated myth-o-magical cosmos of ancient paganism and both ancient and modern shamanism. This presentation will explore the history and dynamics of the modern efflorescence of the deep experiential cosmos of Vedanta, first articulated and explored by the Indic culture and ancient practitioners of Vedanta.
Allan Combs is the Doshi Professor of Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies where he directs the Center for Consciousness Studies. He is also Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of North Carolina. Dr. Combs is the author of over 200 publications on consciousness and the brain. His books include The Radiance of Being, Consciousness Explained Better; A Victorian’s Guide to Consciousness, and (with Ervin Laszlo) Thomas Berry: Dreamer of the Earth.
The Integral Nondualism (Purnadvaita Vedanta) of Sri Aurobindo
The modern interest in Vedanta as a spiritual philosophy enables transcendence as well as world affirmation. It was approached in a number of ways by modern thinkers. This talk deals with Sri Aurobindo’s use of Vedantic texts to advance his own spiritual philosophy. Drawing centrally on the Isa Upanisad and the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Aurobindo integrates Tantric, Vaishnava, and Advaitic philosophical strands to construct a neo-Vedantism for modern times.
Debashish Banerji is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles. He is also adjunct professor of Art History at Pasadena City College and research fellow in Asian and Comparative Studies at the California Institute for Integral Studies. His most recent book is Seven Quartets of Becoming: A Transformative Yoga Psychology Based on the Diaries of Sri Aurobindo.
SESSION FIVE: Vedanta and Yoga into the Future
The Great Vedantic Transmission
Vedanta has become the dominant worldview of a large and growing segment of the American population, including many who are unfamiliar with the word “Vedānta.” This profound development has come about over the course of two centuries, as gurus, scholars, artists, and others adapted Vedanta to the West. The presentation will describe the history of this ongoing transmission from India and explore its implications.
Philip Goldberg has been studying India’s spiritual traditions for more than forty years, as both practitioner and author. The latest of his many books, American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, was named one of the top ten religion books of the year by both Huffington Post and the American Library Association.
Yoga, Vedanta, and Swami Vivekananda
The Yoga tradition has gained great popularity since it was introduced to the general public by Swami Vivekananda in the 1890s. This presentation will examine the reach of Yoga into mainstream culture, investigating primary lineages. Particular attention will be given to the contemporary transmission of Yoga through non-religious organizations.
Christopher Key Chapple is Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University. He directs the Master of Arts in Yoga Studies at LMU. He has published more than a dozen books, including Yoga and the Luminous: Patanjali’s Spiritual Path to Freedom.
SESSION SIX: Concluding Discussion
Dr. Veena Howard and Dr. Chris Chapple preside. Sponsors for this event include the Loyola Marymount University Doshi Bridgebuilder Award, Navin and Pratima Doshi, Avadesh and Uma Agarwal, The Vedanta Society of Southern California, and Nalanda International.