Vedanta for the Western World Hardcover – 1948
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This collection of essays gathered by Christopher Isherwood is by far the most lucid commentary on the common currents between Christianity and the writings that form the basis of both Hinduism and Buddhism that I have ever found. The essays are short, mostly, only three to five pages and easy to digest in a short sitting. This is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover, but you will be tempted to do just that. Then you will want to read it again, but more slowly.
Mr. Isherwood, in a wonderfully written introduction asks the question, how does one achieve the divinity we are taught is already ours? The answer -- by ceasing to be oneself -- is not one commonly taught in church. (I was raised a Protestant). A rather spirited imaginary dialogue follows this answer, and it is supported not only by the Eastern teachers represented here, but also by the Christians, who illuminate areas of our familiar religion that we seldom explore.
I can't begin to do justice to this work. Just trust me. If you're looking for enlightenment, this is a good place to begin.
This is a book about modern Hindu thought as it relates to spirituality and religion by a group of Western and Indian writers. Like many Vedanta books aimed at a Western audience, Christian ideas serve as reference points rather frequently. Much of this I think has to do with Ramakrishna's ventures into both Islam and Christianity, his return to Hinduism, and his message that one could find spiritual value in any of the religions.
There are many elements of the book that I found challenging and am not sure if I accept, but I also think that one reads a book like this to provide food for contemplation and thought, not to provide answers to questions that we accept without question. In particular the question of celibacy strikes me as inconsistent with how I look at religion and spirituality, in part because my view of concepts analogous to Brahman and Maya differ in fundamental ways from the contemporary Hindu approach. This isn't to say one side is right and the other wrong. They may well both be correct from limited perspectives.
On the other hand, I found many essays in the book to be quite interesting. Gerald Heard's essay "Return to Ritual" was quite striking and I found it resonated with me a great deal, and the general description of what drives folks from modernism towards Vedanta and other religions echoed elsewhere seems as valid today as when it was written.
This 1945 book is a very broad and fascinating collection of essays by such persons as Aldous Huxley; Swami Prabhavananda; Swami Yatiswarananda; Gerald Heard; not to mention Isherwood himself. He wrote in the Introduction, "'Vedanta and the West' (the magazine) has always had an extremely small circulation, a fact that we much regret... We hope to reach some ... by publishing this book. From another point of view, however, I cannot say I am sorry that 'Vedanta and the West' has always remained, as it were, a parish magazine, a family affair... Several of our contributors have distinguished names, but their work has not been hired. They have written for us simply because they are interested in Vedanta and are our personal friends."
Here are some quotations from the book:
"Brahman does not interfere in the world's affairs. The question 'why does God permit evil?' is, to a Vedantist, as meaningless as 'why does God permit good?' The fire burns one man and warms another, and is neither cruel or kind." (Pg. 5)
"(Q:) 'If we had past lives, why can't we remember them?' (A:) 'Can you remember exactly what you did this time yesterday? Can you remember what it felt like to be sitting on your mother's lap at the age of eighteen months?'" (Pg. 13)
"What is the purpose of working and living? To find freedom from the bondages of misery and death. There is no other purpose." (Pg. 69)
"Patanjali was one of those philosophers who claimed that belief in God is not a necessary prerequisite for spiritual life. To him religion is experience; therefore... whether you believe in God or not, does not matter." (Pg. 80)
"Vedanta ... asserts that, when viewed from the point of view of the Absolute, there is neither good not evil, neither pleasure nor pain. Then evil no longer exists, not because the magical power of the Absolute changes evil into good, but because both good and evil have ceased to exist." (Pg. 110)
"If you go to the source, to the actual founders of the world's great religions, to Christ, to Buddha, to Krishna, or to Ramakrishna, you will find that one truth expressed: Realize God IN THIS LIFE." (Pg. 317)
"This is a fundamental principle of spiritual life: that you must control the mind." (Pg. 329)
Here's a full-text online version that I found: http://archive.org/.../vedantaforthewes029280mbp_djvu.txt