For those who are not familiar with the term, Vedanta is the philosophy of the Upanishads, which are the teachings of the sages and yogis in the Vedas, as opposed to the priests. Accordingly we find in Vedanta a philosophy of sufficient stature and subtlety to have served as a guide to the spiritual life of men and women through approximately three thousand years of Indian history. Although Vedanta has its devotional aspects, its basic tendency is monistic, for beside a single, ineffable reality it posits only the maya that obscures that reality.
I could have given this article the title, “The aesthetic as opposed to the ascetic in Vedanta”. The possibility of pursuing one’s life as a work of art instead of a spiritual endeavor arises from the two-fold nature of maya as defined by Vedanta---for maya is magic as well as illusion. But first we must see that Vedanta, even at its most spiritual, does not come with a moral imperative. We cannot say that we ought to detach ourselves from the illusions of life, or that we should practice spiritual exercises. Detachment and spiritual exercises are matters of free will. We presume that one is already moral according to the laws of society and the needs of one’s family.
Vedanta is here in order that we might suffer less, and ultimately escape suffering altogether. But I can choose to suffer more, not less---that is my free will, and my choice need not hurt anyone else. Artists commonly enter into moods of anguish or sorrow when they create an artwork or appreciate an artwork. In Vedanta we actually have a philosophy that can help us transform our entire lives into works of art, especially when we make use of Vedanta’s ally, yoga. I include meditation techniques under the umbrella term yoga. Most of us are familiar with the way that mindfulness and alpha and theta brainwave states can help us to appreciate the magic of the moment, whether we wish to experience the moods of nature or intimacy with another person or a pet.
Relationships can gain a great deal from detachment. It is the grasping ego that binds us to the wrong person. Even with the right partner the ego’s expectations tend to spoil the actual experience that we are having. A quiet mind can help us to enjoy the many flavors of intimacy without the constantly nagging thought, Is this what I expected, or Is this making me happy, or Is this going to end soon. It is also obvious that we cannot be truly happy in a relationship if we are insecure in it, and insecurity in a relationship is augmented by the feeling that one does not have a secure foundation in oneself. Meditation is an excellent remedy for many of the ills of relationship. Above all else it increases the faculty of empathy, and that alone will go far to make a relationship successful.
In the moments of making love, a quiet and receptive mind and heart can increase the charm or the passion of a touch, and decrease the need for intercourse. We have less need for a “big moment” when the small moments are meaningful and deeply felt.
Do you remember the saying, Youth is wasted on the young? Meditation can add the wisdom of years to youth and the familiar activities of youth as one becomes involved in family and career. There is an image in the Upanishads that is familiar to most students of Vedanta, of two birds in a tree---the one watching detached, the other eating the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree. While we are engaged in the sweet and bitter passions of life another part of ourselves is detached and observant. We may choose---or a wise “knowing” within us chooses---where we will place the focus of our life. The usual pattern is to enter into passion more completely in youth and disengage from it gradually as one ages. In any case Vedanta, if rightly understood, is not dogmatic about the way we should live, even if individual teachers are.