I was listening to Shankaracharya of Puri, and he remarked that the fundamental difference between Vedic philosophy and Western Philosophy is that Westerners(Meaning those who adhere to Western thought. This include Indians too) consider body as Atman while we do not consider body as Atman. I frowned and scratched my head thinking this statement is absurdity and is of no use. On contemplation I realized the enormous implications of this. If one keeps in view this distinction, most of the critiques of our texts for oppression and violation of human dignity will loose or cease to have any weight whatsoever. Just think over it.
As far as I understand Vedanta, the quest and central aim of it is to arrive at the Reality. Now, what is Reality? Reality is not something that we percieve through senses. Why? Because what we percieve through senses is specie specific. Different beings experience it differently. For example, a being with 100 eyes will not percieve an object the same way as we do.
On reflection we further find that essentially everything which is causal is specie specific, therefore Reality is something which is not contingent on any cause. And the nature of Reality is understood to be that which is complete in itself. That which is it’s very condition. That which is inborn. That which is not accidental. And that which doesn’t cease to be itself. This Reality is called as Brahman in Vedanta. The Atman of humans is a part of Brahman.
How? Its argued that assuming that you’ve dreamt 10 times till now, that means your 10 dream bodies have already been destroyed, but you haven’t been destroyed. Since infancy till now, your body has changed but you have not changed.
Some of you might wonder what I mean by the word you. By it I mean pure consciousness. Your thoughts are in ceaseless flux. To recognize such a flux there must exist something which is not in flux. That unchanging subtratum is consciousness, or Atman. It satisfies all the preceding tests of Reality.
The goal or quest of life as per Vedanta then is realization of this Atman where realization doesn’t technically mean knowledge as is commonly understood, for that will entail causation. Jnana(or Gyaan) is understood as cessation of all the causation, and thus realization of Atman lies in cessation of knowledge and thought, which in Yoga is called as Samadhi.
But to arrive at such a state one needs reasoning through thoughts. That entails using body in service of cessation of all the Vritis accompanied by justified reasoning. These are all contingent upon our bodily experiences. Body, in Vedantic metaphysics, is thus NOT AN END IN ITSELF, BUT A MEANS TO AN END. Body is regarded as a mere tool to achieve this state. That action is regarded as pure or good, which helps in furtherance or achievement of this state. That action is considered as base or evil which does the opposite of it. Social life is to be organized in a way which facilitates the furtherance of this realization.
Contrary to that, human body is the center of philosophy of say Kant, or Bentham or others. Social life is organized keeping human satisfaction as its center or human dignity as its center and its through this lens that Srutis and Smritis are read which is the source of fundamental misinterpretation of almost everything it says.
I have a lot to say, but the piece is already quite long. So next time, maybe.
Note: The language that I have used is unsuitable in conversation of what Vedanta wants to convey, just as plain English is unsuitable to convey what a Physicist wants to convey. This is because language has a certain structure, surpassing which we cannot speak.