Have a question about Hinduism? E-mail Swami Tripurari.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that we should do our duty but not be attached to the results. In our own duties or studies, it is difficult to see how we could work if we didn't care for the results of our work.

The spirit of this lesson is that there is something more important than the fruit of one's work. According to the Gita, what is ultimately important is not if one wins or loses materially, but how one plays the game. Detachment from the fruit of one's work and dutiful engagement does not involve being unconcerned about the final outcome or being apathetic about achievement in one's field. Detachment is more about identifying with the fact that there is a grand scheme of things. In that scheme, the fruits of one's activities are incidental. Ignorance of this is materially binding because one considers the fruits of one's work, such as home, family, and possessions, to be everything. The Gita's second chapter advocates attaining mental equilibrium (Bg. 2.38), which is central to the yogic experience. No matter how adept one is in material acquisition, it's of little value if one's mind is not peaceful. Conversely, no matter how little one has materially, with peace of mind one can be happy. In a culture that respects no truth as absolutely valid, how do we find the emotional fortitude and faith to conquer what Bhagavad-gita (3.37) calls our greatest enemy: lust? I do not believe that our Western culture has no place for absolute values or truth, nor do I think that a culture that dismisses the notion of absolute truth can speak convincingly on the virtues of lust. Lust is an expression of dissatisfaction, and pursuing it does not lead to enduring fulfillment. It is a universally accepted principle that lust is undesirable to everyone on some level. Even the lustiest people despise certain manifestations of its excess in their own ranks. On the other hand, most cultured and educated members of society revere a spiritual person perceived as free from lust. Thus one needs to understand the principle that the Bhagavad-gita teaches in its condemnation of lust rather than merely viewing it as an outdated religious law that has no cultural support. Both Buddhist and Vedanta philosophies provide good guidelines to clear obstacles, purify oneself, attain enlightenment, and serve others with compassion, but Buddhism seems to go further toward freeing all sentient beings from suffering. Yet you wrote that you see Buddhism as an incomplete path and have compared the nirvana of Buddhism to becoming stone.

I find Buddhism incomplete because Buddhism is a philosophy, whereas Vedanta is both philosophy and theology. Theology refers to study in pursuit of Theos--God. Buddhists believe that there is no God or soul (atman), as these two cannot be validated by reason. Thus Pope John Paul II once described Buddhism as a negative theology. He was correct in the sense that Buddhism is about negation, while misunderstood as having spoken negatively of Buddhism. Vedanta, on the other hand, assumes there is both God and soul and teaches that they can only be known by revelation. Vedanta reasons that the finite mind cannot capture the infinite through philosophical speculation and that God makes himself known on his own terms. How could it be otherwise? Even some forms of Buddhism recommend that some type of ritualistic devotion accompany its reasoning. The Vedanta-sutra says that reasoning alone can never be conclusive, tarko 'pratisthanat. According to Vedanta, the path to conclusive knowing is devotion, which in the beginning is supported by reasoning from the revealed scriptures. When devotion is firmly established in the heart, the need for philosophy recedes to the background. When Buddhists say that there is no direct realization of the self, they mean that they believe that there is no self, no ontological reality known in the language of Vedanta as 'nondual consciousness.' The ideal of Buddhism is to cease from identifying oneself as either something other than matter (nondual consciousness) or a particular combination of matter (body/mind). As Buddhists don't accept spirit or the existence of a conscious energy separate from matter, they are left with only matter, matter in constant flux. Thus the nirvana of Buddhism must be prakrti (material) nirvana, not the brahma (spiritual) nirvana of Vedanta.
Therefore, to the Vedantin it appears that the Buddhist conception of nirvana is to merge into matter, becoming the stone, the tree, the earth, the sky, the entirety of matter in its ongoing transformation, and to transform with matter, never identifying with any particular state of transformation as being separate from the entirety of matter in flux. In contrast, Vedanta posits that consciousness is eternal and blissful. It recognizes the limits of reason, and thus the necessity of revelation. The mantras of the Upanisads have come to us through revelation. They tell us aham brahmasmi: "I am Brahman (spirit/atman/consciousness)" and tat tvam asi: "So too are you that." "That"--consciousness--is something positive, the full realization of which not only ends suffering but also enables one to taste joy itself.

Vedanta says that tasting joy one eventually comes to know that Brahman is rasa, raso vai sah--a relationship of love. This is opposed to the Buddhist conception of relief derived from negating material suffering. So while Buddhism is about the negation of suffering, Vedanta, meaning the conclusion of knowledge, is about neverending love.

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