The fundamental message of Vedanta, realized by sages throughout the ages, is that only one thing truly exists, and its essence is the consciousness that we all experience. This primordial consciousness exists outside of time, hence is immortal and indestructible.
Its nature is perfect freedom, endless existence, absolute bliss—and yet it also takes on the semblance of decaying flesh and misery and bondage to the laws of nature. It is the creator and destroyer of the world in which we live. This is the being that people call God. And we are It, for that primordial, singular consciousness is all that exists. It manifests as every particle and being in the universe; each is an incarnation of God. Though perfectly aware of itself on a higher plane, in its cage of flesh or stone it forgets its true nature and takes itself to be mortal and limited. Only a spark of its intrinsic nature shines through, as the consciousness we all experience.Locked in the cage of flesh, subject to injury and decay and death, it mistakes Itself for a mortal being and suffers countless miseries.
It undertook this incarnation voluntarily, yet in its state of forgetfulness—that is, from our point of view—it often yearns to escape the world. Its wish comes true each time one of us remembers who we really are.We correctly identify with the inner spark of consciousness; it’s what we mean by “I” and “myself”. But this tiny sense of self vastly understates our true Self, which is one with the creator of the universe. Our task in life is to let the spark of consciousness lead us inward through the darks of the mind until we reach the source of all awareness, which is none other than the primordial consciousness that gave rise to the whole universe. The end of that inner journey is called Self-realization.
Thus, Vedanta teaches that each person’s real nature is divine, a manifestation of the infinite, immortal Reality or Godhead, which is within each person and every creature and object. Sages often say the aim of human life on earth is to realize this divinity. Through spiritual practice one can discover one’s true Self, which is pure consciousness distinct from the body and mind, perfect, free and blissful. Having found the Divine Being within oneself, one sees it likewise in all living creatures. One pours oneself out in the service of others, regarding each being as an embodiment of God.
Vedanta declares that God is both absolute and dynamic, impersonal and personal, formless and with form, with and without gender, transcendent and immanent. Vedanta also maintains, as does Christianity, that when humankind becomes especially lost in its delusions, God manifests with special brilliance in a particular human, such as Jesus or Krishna or the Buddha or Ramakrishna. Such a one, called an Avatar, differs from the rest of us in remembering its true nature while still living in human flesh. The Avatar comes to teach us the way and to provide a focal point for love and devotion. Vedantic sages tell us that God has done this many times, and will continue to do so in the future. However, one need not believe this to benefit from Vedanta.
Vedanta philosophy embraces three main systems of thought. One system, called dualism (dvaita in Sanskrit) holds that God is different from Its creation. The second system, called qualified monism (Vishishtadvaita in Sanskrit), holds that the created universe is a part of God. The third system, called monism (Advaita in Sanskrit), holds that in the highest realization of things as they truly are, there is but one Divine Existence—the primordial consciousness, called Brahman in Sanskrit. Brahman is simultaneously all that exists, and at the same time is the Self in each human, animal, plant, and atom of the universe.
However, dualism and monism and qualified monism are not mutually exclusive. Each reflects the same reality from a different point of view. A spiritual seeker may start with dualism, pass through qualified monism and end in monism. And one may move repeatedly from one to another as circumstances dictate. Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda stood for the harmonization of these three philosophies and all religions.