698. Swami Medhananda

Swami Medhananda is a monk of the Ramakrishna Order and an academic philosopher, currently serving as Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at the Vedanta Society of Southern California in Hollywood. He is also the Hindu Chaplain at both UCLA and the University of Southern California. He is Section Editor for the International Journal of Hindu Studies (Springer), overseeing submissions in Hindu and Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion. From 2010 to 2021, he was Associate Professor and Head of the Program in Philosophy at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Educational and Research Institute in Belur Math, West Bengal. He received his PhD in 2009 from the University of California at Berkeley, where he specialized in German aesthetics. He was also a Fulbright Scholar at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (2006–7) and a Visiting Student at Oxford University (2000–1). His current research focuses on global philosophy of religion, the epistemology of mystical experience, cosmopsychism, Indian scriptural hermeneutics, and Vedāntic philosophical traditions, especially the philosophies of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Sri Aurobindo.

He is the author of three books: Swami Vivekananda’s Vedāntic Cosmopolitanism (Oxford University Press, 2022), Infinite Paths to Infinite Reality: Sri Ramakrishna and Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press, 2018), and The Dialectics of Aesthetic Agency: Revaluating German Aesthetics from Kant to Adorno (Bloomsbury, 2013). He is the editor of The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta (2020) and co-editor, with Benedikt Paul Göcke, of Panentheism in Indian and Western Thought: Cosmopolitan Interventions (Routledge, 2023). He is also the editor of two special issues of the International Journal of Hindu Studies, one on “Swami Vivekananda as a Cosmopolitan Thinker” (2023) and one on “Vedāntic Theodicies” (2021). He has published over thirty articles in leading academic journals.

He is currently working on two book projects: Karma and Rebirth in Hinduism (Cambridge University Press, under contract) and An All-Embracing Oneness: Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Advaita and the Legacy of Sri Ramakrishna (Oxford University Press, under contract).

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Summary and transcript of this interview.

Interview recorded January 22, 2024.

YouTube Video Chapters:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction to Buddha at the Gas Pump
  • 00:05:04 – Agnostic to Swami: My Spiritual Journey
  • 00:09:28 – Conversations with an Atheist and Finding Common Ground
  • 00:13:36 – The experience of mystics and the standards of proof
  • 00:17:49 – The Pissed-off Response to Vedanta
  • 00:22:01 – Anecdote about Eligibility in Advaita Vedanta
  • 00:26:13 – Shankara’s understanding of Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya
  • 00:30:16 – Different Paths to Realizing the Divine
  • 00:34:00 – Contradictions in Shankara’s writings
  • 00:37:57 – The Vijnani’s Perspective and the Colorful Chameleon
  • 00:41:51 – Different Perspectives in Vedanta
  • 00:45:59 – The Benefits of Science and Spirituality
  • 00:50:07 – Embracing Christianity in Vedanta
  • 00:54:30 – Shakti and the Manifestation of the World
  • 00:58:16 – Manifestation of Brahman in the World
  • 01:02:02 – The Validity of Personal Perception
  • 01:05:22 – Epistemic Principles: Credulity and Perceptual Testimony
  • 01:09:05 – The Importance of Critical Thinking on the Spiritual Path
  • 01:12:45 – The Problem with Neo-Advaitins
  • 01:16:54 – Panentheism and Spiritual Practice
  • 01:21:02 – Vijnana Vedanta and the Path to Liberation
  • 01:24:59 – Embracing the Dual Nature of God
  • 01:29:27 – Ramakrishna’s First-Line Response to the Problem of Evil
  • 00:01:32 – The Doctrine of Karma and Rebirth
  • 01:36:34 – The Challenge of God’s Attributes
  • 01:40:04 – Dissolving the Problem of Evil
  • 01:44:58 – Gaudapada’s doctrine of Ajatavada and the Difference between Jnani and Vijnani
  • 01:48:44 – Vijnana Vedanta’s Different Outlook
  • 01:53:07 – Realization of God in Various Forms
  • 01:56:43 – The Levels of Consciousness and the Vijnana Vedanta Paradigm
  • 02:00:36 – Next Interview: For the Love of Animals