Introducing ‘Vedanta in Light of Christian Wisdom’

Wolfgang Smith

In a sense this book originated in remote parts of India when a young man from the West sought the counsel of sādhus in quest of spiritual wisdom. It is not however autobiographical, but aims rather to clarify fundamental questions arising from the encounter of Christianity with what appears to be the most ancient religion of the world: i.e., the Vedic. I am persuaded moreover that this encounter leads de jure to issues of ultimate depth regarding which a great deal of confusion reigns today on both sides.

The first objective of the book is to dispel some grossly erroneous views widely held, on the one hand, by Christians regarding what they term “Hinduism,” and on the other, by adherents of Vedanta the world over regarding Christianity. The prime error on both sides, I charge, resides in the presumption that either religion can be “understood” in terms of the other. The first major conclusion, thus, at which we arrive is that, as the matter stands, neither the Christian nor the Vedic religion can in truth be apprehended in terms comprehensible to the other. The very categories in which each religion normally conceives its own Eschaton simply do not permit the other to come into view—with enough clarity, that is, to discern what is actually definitive. Those who apprehend Vedanta through Christian eyes—no less than those who do the reverse—are consequently bound from the start to miss the mark.

There has been a trend in intellectual circles to suppose that the two religions share the same Eschaton, a tenet we absolutely deny: we argue in fact that the respective termini are not only distinct but virtually antipodal. This contradicts the contemporary thesis—widely held in intellectual circles around the world—of the so-called “transcendent unity” of religions, which in effect would demote Christianity to the status of a Hindu bhakti cult.

An inquiry into these ultimate matters demands however an appropriate basis. And when it comes to the Christian religion there is a distinction to be made between the catechetical level of understanding, comprehensible in principle to everyone, and the non plus ultra which in olden times was termed esoteric. This is the doctrinal dichotomy alluded to by St. Paul when he distinguishes famously between “milk” and “meat” (1 Cor. 3:1-2). The point is that doctrinal Vedanta proves to be incurably esoteric, which is to say that the subject simply cannot be meaningfully broached on an exoteric plane: like it or not, the questions we have raised oblige us to enter upon esoteric ground. And this calls for a word of caution—analogous, if you will, to a warning label informing the potential consumer that “this product may contain ingredients harmful to your health.” I would suggest that some serious reflection—and perhaps a bit of prayer as well—are called for: the stakes could not be higher.

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The final question, then, comes down to this: upon what basis can one transcend the inherent limitation which our preceding reflections have brought to light? The one and only means I know by which Christianity and Vedanta can be encompassed squarely in a single field of intellective vision is based upon an exegesis discovered by Meister Eckhart; and suffice it to say, the most decisive points made in the book rest squarely upon that Eckhartian masterstroke. What that exegesis reveals is the stunning fact that—notwithstanding the categorical difference of the two Ways and their respective termini—Christianity too demands, in fine finali, a “mental purification” coincident with that of Vedic yoga. What on the other hand differentiates Christianity radically is the Christ-given and Christ-centered modus operandi by which that yoga is consummated, as well as the Eschaton to which it leads.

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One last issue needs to be touched upon: how does VCW fit into the mission of the Philos-Sophia Initiative? And the fact is that it does not. For various reasons it was decided at the outset that the Initiative should be missioned specifically to “break through the barrier of scientistic belief” as the subtitle of my first book has it; and whereas this does most assuredly open the door to the religious sphere, it goes no further than that. As our dear friend Rick DeLano used to put it: “We are not in the religion business.” And mind you: this comes from a man who, when a reporter askedWhat has been your biggest success?” answered straightway in one word: “Baptism.”

The point has thus been made that VCW is something extra, something transcending the scope of the PSI mission, which we offer—with due “warning”—to those of our friends who may be inclined to read that book. To indicate, moreover, that the book is not part of our Collected Works series, VCW is offered exclusively in a hardcover edition visibly different from our “regular” books. We are planning to republish two other of my works in that “extraordinary” format: Christian Gnosis: From Saint Paul to Meister Eckhart namely, and my correspondence with Malachi Martin, which has been published under the title In Quest of Catholicity.

That said, it is our hope that those of our friends who are interested may draw both pleasure and profit from reading our latest publication: Vedanta in Light of Christian Wisdom.


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