The word Vedānta is the combination of two separate Sanskrit words “Veda” and “anta”. Veda means Knowledge and anta means end. Knowledge, as it is described in ancient Indian scriptures, can be categorized into two types based on its nature. The one which helps us to live in the world as a healthy-wealthy-learned person, is traditionally written as “knowledge” and is known as, in Sanskrit, ‘Aparā Vidyā’, secular knowledge. The other one which gives us access to the eternal happiness is expressed as “Knowledge” and, is according to Vedānta terminology, ‘Parā Vidyā’, Spiritual Knowledge. At the end (anta) of this Knowledge (Veda) one, by attaining God (Brahman), becomes nothing but God. Vedānta and Upanishad are synonymous. The word ‘upanishad’ is derived from the prefixes upa (near) and ni (perfectly), joined to the verbal root sad (to shatter, attain, or destroy), and means the knowledge of Reality, expounded in books of that name.
Vedānta can be looked at from three different aspects — Dualism (Dvaita), Qualified Monism (Vishishta-advaita) and Non-dualism or Monism (Advaita). Mādhva-āchārya, Rāmānuja-āchārya and Shankara-āchārya are the three renowned expounders of these philosophies, respectively. A spiritual aspirant is free to follow any interpretation of his or her choice. They are welcome to adopt the attitude, “I am a child of God” (Dvaita), or to meditate on the fact “The kingdom of heaven is within” me (Vishishta-advaita), or to taste the bliss of union, “I and my Father are One” (Advaita).
Traditionally, there are four paths to attain the highest spiritual goal that is to have union (Yoga) with God or Atman: by devotion (Bhakti Yoga); by the control of body and mind — meditation (Rāja Yoga); by using the faculty of discrimination to hold on to the Eternal and giving up the materialistic changeable world (Jnāna Yoga); and through unselfish work (Karma Yoga).
In the 19th century Sri Ramakrishna Deva rejuvenated Vedāntic teachings. He greatly advocated the concept of Harmony of Yogas which he expressed in characteristic style, ‘Each faith is a path to God’. He also emphasized that one should go from mere ritualistic worship to actually seeing the Divinity in all creatures ―
‘Does God exist only when I think of Him with my eyes closed? Doesn't He exist when I look around with my eyes open?’. The Truth is that Unity. He brought home to us this cardinal teaching of the Upanisads and deeply inspired Vivekananda to seek the ultimate Truth.
Under Sri Ramakrishna's guidance, Vivekananda practiced arduous spiritual austerities and attained the highest spiritual Truth, sarvam khalu idam Brahma (All this is verily Brahman), which he expressed as,
“each soul is potentially divine.”
In the words of Swami Vivekananda,
“This infinite power of the Spirit brought to bear upon matter evolves material development, made to act upon thought evolves intellectuality, and made to act upon itself makes of man a god.” We must struggle patiently and perseveringly. The well-being of the modem world depends on a proper understanding of the Vedāntic teachings and on their sincere application to the practical problems (Practical Vedānta) of our daily life. Thus only can materiality be conquered. Let love, instead of hate, be our guiding principle. Even age-long darkness, as Sri Ramakrishna used to say, disappears as soon as a light is brought in. It behooves us, as true followers of Vedānta, to assert our birthright and, armed with the strength of Vedānta, make a determined effort to establish the reign of peace and harmony on earth.
In 1895, Vivekananda established Vedānta Societies in the USA to spread the message of Vedānta among the people of West. Two years later, in India the Ramakrishna Math and Mission was founded, which is a unique monastic order whose motto is, “For one's own liberation; and for the welfare of the world.”