Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa’s Philosophy of Vijñāna Vedānta

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The philosophical teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, the nineteenth-century Bengali mystic, have been a source of lively interpretive controversy. Numerous commentators have interpreted Sri Ramakrishna’s views in terms of a particular philosophical sect, such as Advaita, Viśiṣṭāḍvaita, or Tantra. Militating against this sectarian approach to Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings, I argue that Sri Ramakrishna’s philosophy is best characterized as “Vijñāna Vedānta,” a resolutely non-sectarian philosophy—rooted in the spiritual experience of what Sri Ramakrishna calls “vijñāna”—that harmonizes various apparently conflicting religious faiths, sectarian philosophies, and spiritual disciplines. Part I outlines five interpretive principles that should govern any attempt to determine Sri Ramakrishna’s philosophical views on the basis of his recorded teachings. With this hermeneutic groundwork in place, Part II attempts to reconstruct from Sri Ramakrishna’s philosophical teachings the six main tenets of his Vijñāna Vedānta. Part III begins to explore how Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings on religious pluralism can be brought into dialogue with John Hick’s influential theory of religious pluralism.
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