Practical Vedānta in the Works of M. Hiriyanna

A paper titled “The Perspective of Practical Vedānta in the Works of M. Hiriyanna” was presented by Arjun Bharadwaj at the international conference “New Frontiers in Sanskrit and Indic Knowledge” (NFSI) on 12th June 2017 organized by the Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth. The current article contains excerpts from the paper.

The previous article defined the three cardinal values – Truth, Goodness and Beauty – and their relation to the ideal - mokṣa. It was seen that a conscious experience of the eternal Bliss constitutes mokṣa and according to the Vedānta of Śaṅkara, it was something that could be realized within one’s lifetime. Man’s daily pursuits are after happiness and thus, a perfect state of untainted Joy, characterized by mokṣa is an ideal that none would not want. Thus, the definition of the ideal is not merely theoretical, as it includes practical experience and the empirical validation for the existence of the ideal is also through universal experience, as shown in the previous article.

The following sections tell us the steps that need to be taken by an aspirant of mokṣa and shows how both the process and the product of the Vedāntic pursuit are practical.

The Training of the Vedāntin

Man is characterized by a double nature. As a member of the animal world, he acts on his instincts and desires and he also has in him spiritual leanings. The course of the Vedāntic discipline is meant only for those, in whom the spiritual leaning has predominance over animal instincts. These are men in whom the conflict between the flesh and the spirit is sharp and irrepressible.

Hiriyanna identifies three progressive stages for the training of such men in their Vedāntic pursuit.

  • First Stage:

    The first stage of Vedāntic discipline is to cultivate a life of social morality. This broadly comes under the value ‘Goodness’ defined in the previous section. Most people, in spite of their sincere desire for spiritual development, feel that the world’s good has real value for them and cannot make up their mind to abandon it altogether. The Vedāntic tradition requires them to practise nitya and naimittika karmas (a disciplined daily life and good deeds) and avoid pratiṣiddha karmas (forbidden activities). Getting up early in the morning is an example of a nitya karma, performance of certain obligatory rituals constitute naimittika karmas and killing a human is an example of pratiṣiddha karma. Karmas prescribed are not merely religious but are secular too – for example, duty to our parents and teachers, which are of immediate practical significance. The person in the first stage may devote his time and energy for securing his worldly interests provided he does so in some way not disadvantageous to society, but as far as possible conducive to its welfare. He should also not give up his sva-dharma, i.e., activities that are in line with his natural traits and his character. He is not required to abandon the pursuit of sensory pleasures, but only needs to rationalize them. This is what the traditional term ‘varṇāśrama-dharma’, signifies in essence and is required for the upkeep of civic cohesion. ‘Varṇa’ signifies a life-style and preference for occupation that is true to one’s nature and āśrama signifies the duties of an individual at different stages in his life. This shows how ill-founded is the charge leveled against Vedānta that it weans away men for society.

  • Second stage:

    A person who has sincerely followed the first stage will soon realize that both the worldly and the spiritual ideal cannot be pursued at the same time and that they are two opposing aspects. He ceases to think of making the best of both worlds and sets his eye on the higher. The rule of life prescribed for him has two components - niṣkāma karma and upāsana.

    Niṣkāma karma signifies overcoming the tendency of human nature to yield to selfish or natural impulses and to have ‘purification of the heart’ (sattva- śuddhi/ citta-śuddhi) as the general result of all duties. The immediate result of the duty, whatever it may be, is to him a consequent but never the end.  Thus, he is not careless about the results, but does not see the material benefit of duty as its real result – the real result being sattva-śuddhi. His social morality does not let him compromise on the quality of his work and he strives to deliver the best immediate result without being emotionally attached to it. Being dispassionate about the result makes him give his best in the activities he is involved in. It should be noted that he is dispassionate about the product of his work and is not indifferent to the process.

    The steps recommended so far show that Vedānta does not advocate passivity or indifference. It only stresses on disinterestedness in the ephemeral results of an activity and to strive for sattva-śuddhi. Critics mistake disinterestedness for absence of interest. The true Vedāntin is not devoid of activity, but is devoid only of anxiety which invariably accompanies interested activity and the anxiety is usually regarding the outcome of the activity.

    Upāsana, roughly translated as ‘meditation’ is traditionally seen as an important step in the Vedāntic training. The specific variety of upāsana required is a process of mentally identifying oneself with the object meditated upon – a process not merely of thinking about it, but actually becoming it, in imagination. According to Vedānta, what distinguishes one object from another is merely formal and nominal, reality being equally present in all. The aim of the Vedāntin is to attain this underlying reality by transcending the limits of his individuality and graduating it to universality. Upāsana serves as an exercise preliminary to such attainment. A simple case is where a person meditates upon a deity and identifies himself completely with it. The practice of upāsana cultivates the intellectual habit of intense concentration and the emotional one of feeling akin to and identifying ourselves with things commonly regarded as outside us.  It helps in transcending the duality and helps in identifying oneself with the whole of the universe. One can first try by identifying the five elements in the body with those of the universe and then go further.

    Although upāsana  is not directly linked to moral good,  individual refinement and seeing all as one does good to the society. When a no second is seen, at least virtually even if not realized by experience, the person ceases to be selfish, i.e., stops indulging in activities that do good only to him and not to the rest of the world. The difference between the world and himself, has at least theoretically, ceased to exist to him. This aims at cultivating what may be termed as detachment from the mere particular and really amounts, to seeing all as equal.

    This unity and bridging the gap can be seen in art. For instance, Kālidāsa in his play Śākuntalam- has his characters address even non-human elements of nature with kinship terms – ‘brother plant’ and ‘sister creeper’. He shows that hermits are those who have realized the kinship of the whole world. Here, the cardinal value of beauty comes in. The overcoming of duality naturally happens while enjoying a work of Art – the ‘I’ is forgotten momentarily and connoisseurs are in a state that is completely devoid of selfishness. This needs to be consciously cultivated in daily life and it amounts to self-sacrificing love – for what is love but unselfish attention? A great artist gives unselfish attention given to all characters in his work of art and he needs to be extended to his daily life too for his Vedāntic pursuit. The same applies to a good connoisseur- to extend the state of no selfishness from a work of art to the world as a whole.

    Love: Though most religions claim to cultivate love in man, its scope is usually limited to mankind. This limitation implies preference that rests on an egoistic consideration. The ethics of advaita, however extends love to the whole of the sentient creation. Thus, this widening of range of its definition makes love universal in character; and it consequently banishes its opposite of hatred, but also indifference, that usually complements hatred. The advaitic concept of Love, is thus not limited to mere fellowship of all living beings, but their fundamental oneness, which is brought about by denying the distinction between one sentient creature and another. According to the Upaniṣads, all forms of love are but flashes of that Love, that is deeper and wider than other conceptions. This can be cultivated by the practice of upāsanas.

    Thus, the kārmic discipline possesses only moral value and upāsanas have intellectual and emotional values too. While the former has self-conquest as its goal, the latter leads to self-sacrifice.


  • Third stage:

    By the end of the second stage of training, the Vedāntin will have discovered the interrelation of part and whole, and will have therefore ceased to live a self-centered life, but he has not yet risen from a notion of appearance to that of reality; for in truth, there are no parts at all and the whole is integral and one. Jñāna (knowledge of ultimate reality) is the key word to this last stage of spiritual ascent. It is of two kinds - parokṣa (mediate) and aparokṣa (immediate). The former is merely an intellectual apprehension of the truth, while the latter is an actual realization of it in one’s own experience. Mediate knowledge can be acquired by a study of the Vedāntic texts and through the words of a teacher. This phase is called śravaṇa. It is followed by manana, which is the means of convincing oneself, through reflection, of the truth learnt by śravaṇa. Study and reflection lead only to a mediate knowledge, and it is only immediate knowledge or the inward experiencing of unity that can bring about final freedom. Mere intellectual conviction of the truth does not suffice to reach the Vedāntic goal but we actually need to see that the finite and the infinite are one. To take the traditional example of a person mistaking a rope for a serpent in semi-darkness, no amount of reasoning or assurance by another will finally convince him that it is not a serpent. It is only when he sees it for himself with the aid of a light that he will be totally convinced of the reality.

    To get a first-hand experience of the reality that has only been intellectually perceived, we must practise nididhyāsana, i.e., communion. By its constant practice, the contemplative will be able to see the ultimate truth piercing through the veil that hides it. The vision of reality will necessarily be a fleeting one in the beginning. It must therefore be captured again and again until it begins to endure. Then the disciple becomes a jīvanmukta, i.e., one who has realised the ideal of mokṣa through direct experience.

What makes the other schools of philosophy less practical?

It will suffice to show, in brief, that two major schools - dvaita and Buddhism, as seen in popular practice today are less practical than the Vedāntic school as retold by Śaṅkara. Other schools of philosophy fall within the spectrum with dvaita and Buddhism at its extreme ends.

Simply put, all dvaitic, i.e., dualistic and theistic schools hold that absolute differences exist between the individual, world and God, whatever their definitions might be. Defining God as an entity extraneous to the material world and as an ideal that can be actualized only after the death of the individual gives it a mystical dimension. An objective mind might ask for the proof for the existence of such an ideal and asks if it can be brought under the purview of universal experience. Buddhism as popularly practiced today negates the world and advocates the life of a recluse. On the contrary, the Vedāntic school advocates an all encompassing positive attitude of mind and its ideal of mokṣa can be realized through direct universal experience



[1] Hiriyanna M, The Mission of Philosophy, Kavyalaya Publishers (Mysore: 2004)

[2] Hiriyanna M, The Aim of Indian Philosophy, New Era (Madras: 1929)

[3] Hiriyanna M, The Ethics of Advaita, Vedānta Kesari (Madras: 1942)

[4] Hiriyanna M, The Quest after Perfection, Journal of the Madras University, Vol. xiii. 2

[5] Hiriyanna M, The Indian Conception of Values, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. xix, Part I (1938)

[6] Hiriyanna M, The Training of The Vedāntin, The Karnataka (Bangalore: 1917)

[7] Hiriyanna M, Indian Conception of Values, Kavyalaya Publishers (Mysore: 1975), pages 292-312

[8] Ramachandran T. P., The Builders of Indian Philosophy Series - M.Hiriyanna , Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers (New Delhi: 2001)



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

Prekshaa Publications

Indian Perspective of Truth and Beauty in Homer’s Epics is a unique work on the comparative study of the Greek Epics Iliad and Odyssey with the Indian Epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Homer, who laid the foundations for the classical tradition of the West, occupies a stature similar to that occupied by the seer-poets Vālmīki and Vyāsa, who are synonymous with the Indian culture. The author...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the sixth volume of reminiscences character sketches of prominent public figures, liberals, and social workers. These remarkable personages hailing from different corners of South India are from a period that spans from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Written in Kannada in the 1970s, these memoirs go...

An Introduction to Hinduism based on Primary Sources

Authors: Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Hari Ravikumar

What is the philosophical basis for Sanātana-dharma, the ancient Indian way of life? What makes it the most inclusive and natural of all religio-philosophical systems in the world?

The Essential Sanātana-dharma serves as a handbook for anyone who wishes to grasp the...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...