what is the minimum?

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Nov 18 17:05:52 CST 2002

On Sat, 16 Nov 2002, Steve Wray wrote:

> It has often occured to me that there are some
> interesting patterns in the worlds faiths etc;
> In Christianity and Islam, for example, one must
> be possessed of a fairly large body of geographical
> and historical knowledge before one can *be* a Christian
> or a Moslem.
> In Judaism, one can be a Jew without even realising it,
> for example it ones mother were a Jew and one was seperated
> from her at a very early age, without any religious
> indoctrination one would still be a Jew.
> In the case of Taoism, it is quite possible that one
> might develop a world view that coincides with that
> of Taoism without any knowledge of Taoist history
> or texts.

If we were to make a graph of the basic beliefs of the worlds major
religions it might look something like this:

A                                |formal                      M J
                                 |(texts, logic etc.)
                           P     |    C
pure                             |                                 pure
belief                           |                                 activity
(faith, renunciation etc.)       |
                                 |                              H
                                 |Informal                      T
B                                |(personal insight, oral tradition etc)

(if you are not using a monospaced font it will look horrible.)

M = Islam
J = Judaism

I do not mean to imply that faith is not important to Muslims and Jews but
that in those religions *doing* specific things is seen as more good than
just *believing* them.  In the case of Judaism there is also the fact that
it is an ethnic group as well as a religion so one is a member by virtue
of being born in it but most Jews regardless of ideological stripe will
agree there is more to being a good Jew than just that.

P = Christianity of the Protestant type.
C = Christianity of the Catholic or Orthodox type.

It seems to me of the major religions, Christianity places the most
emphasis on faith (in the resurrection of Jesus.)  Catholic and Orthodox
Christians practice rituals more than protestants but still far less than
Muslims and Jews.  Fundamentalists claim to base everything on the Bible
but in practice even they seem to ignore vast parts of it.

T = Taoism

As you mentioned, formal beliefs are few in this religion it is more a
matter of acting in the right way.

B = Buddhism

Actually as most Buddhists practice it, Buddhism should be placed near H
but if we look at the formal teachings it seems to be more interested in a
personal, informal ideology. One doesn't have to do any set order of things
to achieve its goal.

H = Hinduism -- a rather vague term for the various religions of India
some of which overlap and some are exclusive

Definitely, apart from some westernized modern people, most Hindus would
consider religion a matter of what one does rather the what one believes.
Of course there ideologies which the more educated will understand and
follow but it is not considered necessary on a basic level.

A = Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta at the basic level is H.  it sees itself as the higher
stage of it.  However in some ways it is the complete opposite declaring
the core concerns of H are in fact the *opposite* of the final goal. It is
firmly based on the Vedas and scriptures derived from them (even though in
the end it rejects them too as less than real!)

This is a very rough sketch and no doubt you can pick holes in every
single one of my descriptions.

> I am curious as to the lists perceptions of the
> minimum requirement for Advaita Vedanta; is knowledge
> of specific historical facts, specific geographical
> knowledge, exposure to specific writings and so forth a
> requirement?
> Or is it based more on ones understanding of the
> 'way the world works'?

I answer this question with the assumption that all that exists is
pervaded by Brahman however the nature of Brahman is not known due to

Based on this assumption, there cannot be any specific things which are
vital to knowing Brahman because everything there is is equally Brahman.
Or put it another way you already know Brahman, you just don't understand
the implications.  So the minimum (and the maximum) is whatever it takes
to dispel the ignorance that clouds your always-existant knowledge of

Now Advaita Vedanta is firmly based upon the Vedas (Vedanta = the
knowledge which is the anta or culmination of the teaching of the Vedas)
The Vedas teach the performance and prohibition of various ritual and
moral actions.  These can be done for gain (whether worldly or heavenly)
and will produce results limited by space and time.  But if they are done
dispassionately purely out of duty and as a sacrifice to God, they will
gradually purify the mind and remove the blocks that impede the
realization of Brahman.

The practical problem here is that the karma prescribed by the Vedas has
varying levels of eligibility.  Certain things can only be done by people
of a certain caste or region or gender, or level of education, or level of
wealth, or many other factors.  For example the Vedas (which include
the Upanishads) may only be studied by Brahman, Kshatriya, or Vaishya
males who have undergone the initiation (upanayana) That doesn't even
include all the people in India let alone the rest of the world.  So are
they out of luck?

Well as I mentioned earlier, our assumption is that Brahman pervades all
so it cannot be that a sentient being is incapable of knowing that which
its' true nature.  If this knowledge cannot be learnt in one way, it has
to be learned in another.  Out of compassion for those who were ineligible
to learn the Vedas, Maharshi VedaVyasa who is the avatar of Vishnu
Bhagawan Himself, took the essence of the Vedas and wrote the 18 Puranas
and Mahabharata.  These also explain the teachings of Advaita Vedanta in
both the practice and theory.  (For example the Bhagavadgita is part of
the Mahabharata.)

These shastras teach dharma for various types of people but also what is
called Sadharana Dharma, princliple which should be followed by all
regardless of their station in life.  A few years ago, Anand Hudli wrote
about this subject in the list.  I am reproducing his explanation below:

 sAmAnya-dharma is the dharma which needs to be followed by
 all human beings, regardless of their status in society.

 The definition of sAmAnya-dharma occurs in many SmR^iti texts,
 including the Manu-smR^iti. But I found the mitAxarA commentary of
 VijnAneshvara on the YAjnavalkya smR^iti illuminating. So I will
 use the definition of sAmAnya dharma found in this smR^iti and
 the commentary thereon.

 ahiMsA satyamasteyaM shauchamindriyanigrahaH |
 dAnaM damo dayA kshhAntiH sarveshhAM dharmasAdhanam.h ||

 These are the means to dharma for all persons, regardless of
 whether they are brAhmaNas, kshhatriyas, vaishyas, shUdras,
 chaNDAlas, etc. (mitAxarA- ityete sarveshhAM purushhANAM
 brAhmaNAdyAchaNDAlAntaM dharmasAdhanam.h) :

 1) ahiMsA - not causing pain to creatures. This includes not
    causing pain to animals as well as humans. All killing of animals,
    except in vedic sacrifices, causes only pain to animals. So the
    pratice of consuming meat and other animal products that are
    produced by causing pain to animals is against this principle of

 2) satyam.h - the mitAxarA defines satyam.h as "aprANipIdAkaraM
    yathArthavachanam.h", which means speaking truth that does not
    cause pain to creatures (both humans and animals). To clarify
    one must always speak the truth unless doing so would cause
    only untold suffering to others.

 3) asteyam.h - non-stealing. This is defined as "adattAnupAdAnam.h"
    - not acquiring something that is not given/donated or earned.
    This is a much broader definition than merely saying that one must
    not steal anything. For example, if one finds some money in a
    public place, it is against the principle of asteyam if one
    pockets that money. That money was neither donated nor earned.

 4) shaucham.h - this includes not just external cleanliness but
    also internal or mental cleanliness. Living in dirty, shabby
    conditions even when one can possibly live in clean conditions is
    against this principle.

 5) indriyanigrahaH - this is defined as "buddhikarmendriyANAM
    niyatavishhayavR^ittitA", meaning "performing only restricted
    or obligatory actions with the 10 sense organs (such as eyes,
    tongue, hands, feet, organ of generation, etc.)"

 6) dAnam - yathAshakti prANinAmannodakAdidAnenArtiparihAro dAnam.h
    Donating(giving) food, water, etc, according to one's capacity,
    to creatures (animals and humans) so that their suffering is
    removed is "dAna".

 7) damaH - antaHkaraNasaMyamo damaH. The restraint of the mind
    is dama.

 8) dayA - ApannaraxaNaM dayA. Protecting one who is afflicted (by
    misery) is dayA. Merely expressing sympathy in eloquent words
    is not enough to be called dayA.

 9) xAntiH - apakAre .api chittasyaAvikAraH - Not changing one's
    mind even when faced with adversity is called xAnti or

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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