The What of Vedanta - The Philosophy of Narayana Guru
The What of Vedanta, is the first of a series of basic lessons in the Philosophy of Narayana Guru. These basic lessons in Vedanta specifically reflect perspectives from the Philosophy of Narayana Guru, as expounded in various literary compositions authored by Narayana Guru during his lifetime (1856-1928).
The structure and content of this series of lessons are principally based on the prescribed text ‘The Philosophy of Narayana Guru’ authored by Guru Muni Narayana Prasad, the presiding guru and head of the Narayana Gurukula Foundation.
These basic lessons in Vedanta specifically reflect perspectives from the
Philosophy of Narayana Guru, as expounded in various literary compositions
authored by Narayana Guru during his lifetime (1856-1928).
The structure and content of this series of lessons are principally based on the
prescribed text ‘The Philosophy of Narayana Guru’ authored by Guru Muni
Narayana Prasad, the presiding guru and head of the Narayana Gurukula
Foundation. The contents from chapters in the book, corresponding to each of these
slide-sets, have been enhanced with diagrams, images and other explanatory
methods to facilitate usage as teaching aid by NPHIL centres and universities.
Explanations in these slide-sets are kept at a high-level, assuming that slides are
meant to aid in the delivery of lessons in a lecture room environment. When used in
self-study, it is recommended that these slides are duly read in conjunction with the
NPHIL expresses its profound gratitude to the Narayana Gurukula Foundation for
the support and guidance extended in the creation of these lessons.
WHAT ARE WE SEEKING?
What are we, students of philosophy, in search of?
We are in search of knowing the Reality (or Truth) that underlies the
world as we see it. Of course we wish to know beyond what we see.
While we are trying to ‘know’ the Reality, incidentally we are also an
integral part of the same Reality we seek to know.
So, whatever that Reality we seek to know should also be the same
Reality that underlies each one of us, ‘the knower’.
What we are seeking also amounts to ‘self-knowledge’ (Ātma-
* Ātma-Vidyā is also known as Brahma-Vidyā – knowledge of the Absolute.
In Science: The world* is understood in modern science as a
‘material’ world or an ‘objective reality’. The Reality underlying the
world is believed to be all matter and energy. Therefore being a
collection of innumerable objects, or conditions in the realm of
sensible experience, that are independent of individual thought and
perceptible by all observers.
In some mysterious way we know that the world is a configuration of
In Philosophy: The world is a phenomenon or entity determinable
neither as matter alone, nor as non-matter, nor as both. In
philosophy the world is conceived as manifesting in two distinct
poles, i.e. a bipolar Reality of ‘objects’ and ‘names’.
*The word ‘world’ is used to represent the observable universe or ‘prapańca’.
NAMES AND OBJECTS
Everything conceived by the human mind is given a name.
The convention of naming or labeling (identifying) enables
us to conceive the larger world (prapańca) as a Reality -
innumerable names (hierarchies of identities), and
the corresponding innumerable objects.
Micro object identities starting from sub-atomic particles to
macro identities like large galaxies and the universe.
NAMES AND OBJECTS
Narayana Guru in the philosophical poem Advaita Deepika
(Lamp of Non-duality) defines the world or prapańca as
Names in their thousands,
Concepts in their thousands,
And the externally existing
Objects in their thousands
Corresponding to each of them –
These together form the world.
On the one pole are ‘objects’ of matter, as the objective Reality
- that is empirically realizable with our senses.
On the other pole are the ‘names’ (tags or references) as the
subjective Reality – comprising of ideas, thoughts and percepts,
which might vary between observers, but provides the sensory
references to the objective Reality and thereby asserts its
REALIZATION OF REALITY
In the Reality we experience, to think of one pole
as ‘more real’ or more important than the other
pole is rather irrational. Isn’t it?
THE ONE REALITY
In Vedantic terms it is the Core Reality that unfolds itself as the
subjective experience as well as the objective experience.
For this reason the ultimate Reality is neither subjective nor objective.
Essentially, it is not solely what is asserted by either ‘idealism’ or
THEORIES OF KNOWLEDGE
Knowledge of Reality, according to Vedanta is the result of
Knowledge (jnāna) results from the exposure of the ‘knower’ to
an ‘object of knowledge’.
When the ‘knower’ (‘jnāta’) comes in contact with the ‘object of
knowledge’ (‘jnēya’) and experiences the object, it is conceivable
that the third factor or percept is born in the knower. That
perception is the act of knowing in the knower.
Vedanta calls this three-fold concept of knowledge as ‘triputi’.
THEORIES OF KNOWLEDGE
The act of knowing is inseparable from the knower. The
knower in turn is an integral part of the known world.
Knowing really what Reality is, therefore, in essence, is the
event of the knower being merged with the known, with no
distinction remaining finally among the three factors of
The Reality, seen from that point of view, is the one that
manifests itself as the knower, the known and the act of
knowing at the same time.
MANIFESTATIONS OF REALITY
object of knowledge,
and one's personal
‘mahas’ alone; that
Verse 4 in Atmopadesa
WHAT IS ĀTMAN?
In Vedanta, this Reality is known as ātma or ātman.
The word ātman is derived from the verb root āt, meaning
to pervade the being of something (from āp vyāpane =
signifying the Substance that pervades all that has come
One such being, that is pervaded by the Substance, is the
knower’s self. Therefore, the ātmā denotes “the self” or
WHAT IS BRAHMAN?
In the sense of being the Substance that always grows
and assumes the form of the ever-changing world, it is
called Brahman also, a word derived from the root bŗh
meaning ‘to grow’.
Brahman thus literally means ‘that which always grows’ or
‘the all encompassing one’. The Absolute is the nearest
equivalent term in English.
In common usage ātmā refers to the Substance in
individuated beings, and Brahman to the universally
pervading and changing phenomenon.
THE ONE SUBSTANCE
What is the essence of the Substance referred to both as ātman and
Brahman? An analytical example from Narayana Guru:
A piece of cloth, when analysed disappears in the being of yarn. The yarn,
taken apart, disappears in the being of cotton fibres. The fibre likewise
disappears in the being of constituent base elements of nature, i.e. space, air,
fire, water and earth (the pancha-bhoothas - akāsa, vāyu, agni, ap and prithivi).
The baser elements and particles in their pure and uncompounded form have
no existence other than as concepts. The existence of concepts is in the
Consciousness or mind alone.
Reversing that thought, Consciousness is the one Substance that manifests
itself as particles, elements, fibres, yarn and cloth – and everything likewise
perceptible, in short as the world. This underlying Substance, the unconditioned
Consciousness is called cit or samvit. Narayana Guru calls it arivu.
The Reality we are in search of is this cit or arivu.
The ātmā or Brahman is defined as saccidānanda, a compound word
of the three:
sat = existence, or that which has existence without spatial and
cit = consciousness or arivu, mostly experienced by the self’s
awareness of the world.
ānanda = meaningful contentment.
What do we ultimately gain by knowing Reality? The contentment of
having found the meaning content of life, and thus the contentment of
living meaningfully as freedom embodied. This ultimate contentment is
the ānanda. It is an experience that buds in the being of cit and fills the
being of cit. Essentially sat is cit. Also ānanda is cit in experience of life.
The ātmā or Brahman we are seeking thus is saccidānanda.
Neha nānāsti kiñchana.”
“Everything indeed is
Multiplicity has no
existence at all here.”
Narayana Guru in Darśana Mālā II.10. Original
composition in the Sanskrit language.
1. Guru Muni Narayana Prasad and the Narayana Gurukula Foundation for use of content from the various books
published by the Foundation. More specifically, content adaptation from the prescribed text ‘The Philosophy of
Narayana Guru’ (D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd. New Delhi. Copyright retained by the author Swami Muni Narayana
2. References to interpretations in the ‘Works of Sree Narayana Guru with Complete Interpretations’ by Prof. G.
Balakrishnan Nair and his discourses on the works of Narayana Guru and Vedanta.
3. References to interpretations in ‘Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru’ by Nataraja Guru.
4. References to interpretations in ‘That Alone – The Core of Wisdom’ by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati.
5. Collaborators and well-wishers of NPHIL for their input and feedback that assists in the creation and continuous
improvement of this slide-set. Special thanks to Scott Teitsworth for his valuable feedback.
6. Image - Supercomputer simulation of the evolution of the universe, credit: Andrey Kravtsov/University of Chicago.
7. Image - Orange Sun, credit: www.inkscape.org.
8. Image - Neuron credit: Nicolas P. Rougier, source : Wikimedia.
9. Image – Narayana Guru. Portrait captured circa early 1920s at the Jagganatha Temple, Thalassery. Recopied and
enhanced by Sujit Sivanand from a surviving print at Alummoottil House, Mavelikkara.