By Nishtha Shukla November 2003 Most people take Vedanta to be heavy philosophy. What they don’t know is that it can just as well show us the way towards better relationships, health, work and understanding ourselves. It is about a deep, truly holistic understanding of what life is all about. Primarily then, the idea is to realise the difference between the mind and the intellect. Swami Parthasarathy, an acclaimed exponent of Vedanta and founder of the Vedanta Academy near Pune, differentiates the mann (mind) from buddhi (intellect). His student Janki Chopra, who runs the Vedanta Institute in Delhi, explains: ‘‘Mann is emotions, impulses, irrationality; while buddhi is the capacity of reason or judgment. The trick is to act from the intellect and do the right thing, and not to act indiscriminately on one’s feelings.’’ Vedanta is a philosophy that combines dynamism as well as stillness and peace. ‘‘To deal properly with life, act properly and live happily,’’ says Janki. With such an insight, who needs ‘personality development’ or ‘grooming’ classes? A key Vedantic idea is viveka or discrimination—to be able to tell the difference between the higher and the lower. Say if you have a fight with your sister, then you know if it is a permanent fight or a temporary one and act accordingly. While ancient Vedantic texts have been revered for millennia, their potential for providing guidelines for living and for enriching our lives has not been sufficiently explored. For instance, Vedanta is often accused of inertia. According to Janki, it is lack of Vedanta that breeds inertia. She is critical of the fact that we have reverently anointed our scriptures with a tikka and let them be. Instead, we need to involve them in our daily activities because what they describe is essentially a way of life that must be put into practice. This has been the motivation with which Swami Parthasarathy has spent over 50 years studying and researching Vedanta. The result is a user-friendly version that makes ancient knowledge easily accessible to you and me. He has written Vedanta Treatise, which is a surprisingly easy guide to cumbersome texts. That Vedanta does not mean a sedentary, boring life is exemplified by Parthasarathy’s own love for cricket. With his trip to Delhi due this month for a corporate seminar titled ‘Work Ethics—for effective management’, dates have already been fixed for matches in the city. Even when it comes to weighty questions like the reality of the world, Vedanta provides simple explanations to existential reservations. The world is ‘maya’, meaning ‘not that’. It is not ‘real’, it is not ‘unreal’. So it is maya. Lectures organised by the organisation in both Delhi and Pune are interactive. They include 20 per cent reading and 80 per cent understanding. One studies first, then reflects, and finally follows it up with silence. The course curriculum seems quite interesting. For corporate executives and professionals, there is training in stress management, productivity, positive living and work ethics. For young people, there are special classes on administrative skills, development of co-operative endeavour to maintain peace and harmony in society, understanding the Bhagavad Gita, even English poetry and Shakespeare. About the aim of the Vedanta course, Janki says: ‘‘The purpose is dual. In the midst of helping people in their day-to-day lives, you teach them the path to enlightenment.’’
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