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By Shyam Subramanian

5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, Exhaustive and Elevating, July 7, 2011

The Universe of Hindu spiritual thought covers a vast expanse ranging from gripping mythological tales to sublime metaphysical truths. Prof VKs book is a wonderful attempt to pick an assortment of gems from this veritable Ocean.
In the beginning was the word - giving rise to name and form - and the book too begins with an exploration of name - as even the lofty ideals of vedanta preach to the Supreme being beyond name and beyond form, yet in and through the entire breadth of the Vedas and Puranas there exists a littany of names each with wonderfully colorful stories of how their names origin and what they signifiy both in a literal and even more importantly in a esoteric sense. He begins with an exploration of Lord Ganesha, as all auspicious projects in Hinduism commence. He touches upon some related topics in this section including the significance and importance what is popularly misconceived to be idol worship, the power of mantra and japa among others. The author seamlessly alternates between a prose style with multiple interludes of a question and answer style, which takes a initiate some getting used to, but is quickly seen to enhance the ability of the reader to comprehend the subject by means of a logical sequential thought process. The section dealing with Aum, and Narayana are particularly illluminating. While a detailed discussion on the entire texts of the 2 popular sahasranamas - Vishnu Sahasranama and Lalita Sahasranama - are clearly beyond the scope of this broadbased book, the author does a splendid job of providing a detailed analysis of a few key verses and names, thus greatly stimulating the most casual reader into an independent study of both these works.
The second chapter deals with common quesions about the constituents of any spiritual path, and systematically examines the polemic positons and counterarguments amongst different actors - a rationalist, a simple devotee, a theologist, a philosopher, and an advaitin- and once again enables a simplistic but effective understanding of their broad positions. A similar exercises helps articulate the different positions about determinism and free will. While the authors leanings are of course transparent he nicely allows all the protagonists cogent lines of thought. The author deviates in this section to also provide a synopsis of the significance of the Gayatri Mantra and also elaborates about the Divine Dance form of Nataraja.
Chapter 3 provides a detailed overview of the different Hind scriptures ranging from the Holy Vedas to the Puranic tales, the Agamas and the six darshanas. A wonderfully detailed example of ghanapatha is provided. The HIndu Cosmology is introduced along with aspects of its time cycle.
In Chapter 4 he takes upon the unenviably arduous topic of the Impersonal Absolute, the subject matter of the extremely terse Upanishads. To his credit he is able to convey some extremely subtle metaphysical truths in a easy-to-grasp fashion that enables a educated overview for the lay reader. Examples from various principal Upanishads are provided as well as a brief explanation of the mahavakyas - the goal is clearly to enthuse the lay person to seek for himself the lofty heights of these sublime truths.
Prof VK concludes this beautiful book with a indepth essay of that - without which no book on Hindu philosophic thought can ever be considered complete - yes - the Holy Gita. All the key aspects of the Gita - karma yoga, Maya, devotion, etc are very well summarized - the section I particularly found the author in fine form was in his breathtaking analysis of "who is the knower? who is the doer?" - easily the highlight of this entire book in my opinion, as it covers a number of topics related to the Gita and more importantly has tremendous utility to practical living which the author himself succinctly summarizes towards the end of this chapter.
All in all - an excellent read - constitutes spiritual food for the intellect mind and soul. Many thanks and kudos to the revered Prof for this wondrous work.

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