A complex ultimate reality: The metaphysics of the four Yogas

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This essay will pose and seek to answer the following question: If, as Swami Vivekananda claims, the four yogas are independent and equally effective paths to God-realization and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, then what must reality be like? What ontology is implied by the claim that the four yogas are all equally effective paths to the supreme goal of religious life? What metaphysical conditions would enable this pluralistic assertion to be true? Swami Vivekananda’s worldview is frequently identified with Advaita Vedānta. We shall see that Vivekananda’s teaching is certainly Advaitic in what could be called a broad sense. As Anantanand Rambachan and others, however, have pointed out, it would be incorrect to identify Swami Vivekananda’s teachings in any rigid or dogmatic sense with the classical Advaita Vedānta of Śaṅkara; this is because Vivekananda’s teaching departs from that of Śaṅkara in some significant ways, not least in his assertion of the independent salvific efficacy of the four yogas. This essay will argue that Swami Vivekananda’s pluralism, based on the concept of the four yogas, is far more akin to the deep religious pluralism that is advocated by contemporary philosophers of religion in the Whiteheadian tradition of process thought like David Ray Griffin and John Cobb, the classical Jain doctrines of relativity (anekāntavāda, nayavāda, and syādvāda), and, most especially, the Vijñāna Vedānta of Vivekananda’s guru, Sri Ramakrishna, than any of these approaches is to the Advaita Vedānta of Śaṅkara. Advaita Vedānta, in Vivekananda’s pluralistic worldview, becomes one valid conceptual matrix among many that bear the ability to support an efficacious path to liberation. This essay is intended not as an historical reconstruction of Vivekananda’s thought, so much as a constructive philosophical contribution to the ongoing scholarly conversations about both religious (and, more broadly, worldview) pluralism and the religious and philosophical legacies of both Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. The former conversation has arrived at something of an impasse (as recounted by Kenneth Rose), while the latter conversation has recently been revived, thanks to the work of Swami Medhananda (formerly Ayon Maharaj) and Arpita Mitra.





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