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Swami Vivekananda's Message
for the New Millennium

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Swami Vivekananda's Message for the New Millennium

By Mahendra Jani

Dr. Mahendra Jani, Chairman of the Department of Mathematics, William Paterson University, New Jersey is the Founder and President of the Vivekananda Vidyapith, an Academy of Indian Philosophy and Culture in New Jersey. The following lecture was delivered on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda's Birthday Celebration, held on January 21, 2001 at the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center of New York.

(This lecture has been edited by Uma Ramakrishnan for publication)

 

 

I.    Introduction:

  Revered Swami Adiswaranandaji and friends,

This is a great honor - to speak from this podium, on Swami Vivekananda’s birthday celebration.    I am well aware that this is not an honor to me alone – on this occasion, Swami Adiswaranandaji is honoring my family, the institution, Vivekananda Vidyapith and all the teachers and helpers of the Vidyapith, and the great cause of giving “character building education” to the children of the Vidyapith.  I sincerely thank Swami Adiswaranandaji for giving me this opportunity. 

  Today’s topic is:  “Swami Vivekananda’s Message for the New Millennium.”

  II.   The New Millennium

Let me ask you….Do you feel that we are something special?   Were you excited that we have lived through the change of millenniums?  On the 1st of January, 2000 or 2001, did you feel that this is the first day of the new millennium?  Some might say, “only when I looked at the calendar, I felt that way” otherwise, walking down the streets of New York, we find the same houses, same buildings, same shops and same Hudson River.  There is no change.

However, those who were born or will be born after January 1st, 2001, will wonder how people felt during this change of the new millennium, what their thoughts were at that time and will be kind of jealous that they were not part of that special moment.  In one way, we have lived through a special time.

If we count in terms of “millennium units”, the society which follows the English calendar is just a 2 year old infant.  Counting thus, some countries are 5, or 8, or 10 years old.  If we want to predict something about the new millennium, this is a very small data set.  What can we  predict from a data set of 2 samples?  Very little.  However, in terms of centuries, we find that human race has made tremendous progress in science and technology in the last two centuries.  These advances have brought substantial changes in the lives of people. 

When Swami Vivekananda came to America, the nation was in the thralls of scientific and technological advances.  In 1892, Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first vocal message by electricity from New York to Chicago, and George Eastman founded the Eastman Kodak Company.  In 1893, Henry Ford built his first gasoline engine that ran successfully, and Nikola Tesla demonstrated his polyphase alternating current system at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  (By the way, Swamiji had a personal interview with the scientist Tesla).  New York City, the great metropolis, was the hub for much of this activity.  On the Pearl Street Thomas Edison designed and installed the first large central power station.  His electric lamps lit up the city.  [2]

100 years ago, people would not have thought that human beings will walk on the moon or traveling in the sky from one end of the earth to the other end will be as easy as traveling in the bus.  People would not have thought that pressing a few buttons one can talk to another person anywhere in the world or with the click of a mouse one can bring a whole library of the world to one’s desk or shop for anything from a pin to a plane ticket. 

Not only the rate of discoveries is accelerating, but the acceleration rate itself is accelerating .

Every day tons of research papers are being produced – hard copies as well as soft copies.  On the one hand we are exploring the mysteries on Mars and stars several billion light years away, and on the other hand going deeper into the atom to study the quantum behavior of the electrons, or going deeper into the human cell to decode the messages imprinted on DNAs.  Scientists are creating new animals like ANDY, by combining genes of a monkey and a jelly fish.  Some are studying the signals of the neuron-cells by opening up the skulls of human beings to understand the functions of their brains in order to fix problems.  Recently, scientists have completely stopped light which travels at the speed of 186,000 miles/second, wrapped it up and released it again. Human race is advancing in all directions with a dazzling speed.    

At this time it is extremely difficult to predict the future ten, a hundred, or a thousand years ahead.  However, do you know that there are some “futurologists” all over the world attempting to predict the future?  Let me give you one interesting example: 

  I read about an office [5], set up in London by British Mobile Company, where a casually-attired group of young brains spends all day thinking about things to come.  One of their several ideas is about “the stud.”   The stud is a tiny device that looks like a small studded earring.  It will be a 7-24-365 all-purpose link to the rest of the world, just like the one Lieutenant Uhura wore in Star Trek.  The stud will be audible in your ear in a voice and personality of your choosing.  It will wake you up in the morning, softly calling your name.  As you shower – the stud having set the water temperature just right and remotely switched on the coffee maker in the kitchen – it will give a rundown on your schedule, the weather, news items which might interest you, any e-mails or voice-messages it had received overnight and whether it would be advisable to drive to the office or take the train that day.

  At the work, it will set up multi-national conference calls, in foreign languages if necessary.  During the day, it will keep tabs on your state of health as well as your car’s and that of your finances, guide you if you get lost, tell you where the nearest parking space is, give updates on your children, and quietly shop around for the latest grocery bargains which it knows you need.

  Based upon the progress of science and technology, people are making all kinds of predictions about the New Millennium.  For example, the fastest running quantum computers, PalmPilot equivalents as an addition to our brains, house-hold robots, self-fixing body parts, multiple copies of a human being created by cloning, quantum communication, quantum teleportation, life on another planet (with aliens) and many others. 

  Talking about aliens, Dame Margaret Anstee, head of the UN peacekeeping mission to Angola in 1992-1993, gravely said, “I am by nature optimistic, but sometimes I think the only solution will be an invasion from the outer space.  Then, at last everyone would unite (on earth).” 

People are also imagining environmental catastrophes some natural and some due to the abuse of the natural resources, moral and ethical problems, (it has been predicted that the number of lawyers will increase.  We can believe this by the Florida recount business) People are predicting nuclear disasters, wars with chemical, biological, or some unknown weapons, complex physio-psychological and drug problems, new diseases and many others.

  Looking at the accelerated progress of science and technology, questions come to mind; Where are we going?  What for?  What are we seeking?  Are we going to get what we are seeking?                               

  I was looking at the chronology of science and technology in the last millennium. We find progress, inventions after inventions and then comes two world wars.  Millions of people were killed.  After the wars people lost their faith in science and technology.  Existentialism and absurd movements prevailed in Europe.  Philosophers, artists, poets and writers expressed their frustration, anguish and pathos in their writings and paintings.  

We see some reflections in the poems “Waste Land” and “The Hollow Men” of T. S. Eliot [3], the great American poet.  He writes

  “We are the hollow men.”
We are the stuffed men.
………………..
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of Death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
…………….(and at the end he writes)
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Sensible people remembered the “Myth of Sisyphus.” The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight.

  The main question is, “What are we searching for?”  If we observe carefully, we find that besides food, comforts and sense pleasures, a mature human being wants three things: Knowledge, longer lasting Happiness and Immortality.  A mature human being wants to know about the world and about oneself.  He/she wants to attain happiness which does not depend on the constantly changing people, situations or society.  A mature human being will not be satisfied with the limited self, bound by the body, the mind and the intellect.  He/she wants to break all limitations, including the limitation of death, and be free. 

  There are two worlds in a human life; external and internal.  The external world can be satisfied with food, comforts and sense-pleasures, but the internal world needs much more beyond these three things.  The internal world is filled with feelings, questions, and desires..  Science and technology can provide good health and comforts, but cannot bring longer lasting happiness, because happiness lies in the mind.  There are so many aspects of a human being about which Science and technology cannot do anything.  The sooner we learn the limitations of Science and technology, the better for us and the better science itself. 

  Scientists are realizing this.  Albert Einstein said  "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."  People shrink at the word “religion”, and I won't blame them.  The Earth has seen much bloodshed in the name of religion than for any other reason.  However, the fundamental aspect of religion -“search within” remains.  Recently, several active scientists are getting together under the title “Science and Spiritual Quest” and discussing among themselves how to combine the knowledge given by the mystics of the world with the knowledge of science.  Last month, I attended one of their conferences in New York, and I was impressed by the awareness of the scientists about such a need and also their attempts in this direction.  People are realizing that we have to improve within in order to keep up with the progress of science and technology and derive benefits from it. 

  After the conference, walking in midtown, I was thinking that in the same New York city, 105 years ago, in 1896, Swami Vivekananda was giving public lectures, conducting classes, and guiding individuals for that very same purpose.

  Those who have studied Swami Vivekananda’s life and teachings realize that this is exactly what Swamiji was working for. 

 

III.   Swami Vivekananda and his message 

  It will not be inappropriate to remember his life briefly on this occasion.

  Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863 .  His childhood name was Vireswar, a name of Shiva.  Later, he was known as Narendra.  His father, Viswanath Datta, was a High Court lawyer of Calcutta, considered a prestigious position.  His father was well versed in English and Persian literature.  He was also open minded, compassionate by heart towards poor people and did his best to help them.  Narendra’s mother, Bhuvaneswari Devi was a pious devout person, well versed in Hindu mythology.  Narendra learned logical thinking from his father, and Hindu mythology form his mother.    His grandfather, Durgacharan,  had renounced the world in search of God.

  Narendra excelled in studies, singing, in gym and sports.  From childhood, he had an inner urge to realize God.  This urge became a blazing fire as he grew.  As a teen, he was asking all the renowned religious people whether they had seen God.  As we know, he met Sri Ramakrishna.  Upon asking the same question, “Sir, have you seen God?, Sri Ramakrishna said, “Yes,  I have seen God.  I see Him as I see you here, only more clearly.  God can be seen.  One can talk to Him.  But, who cares for God?  People shed torrents of tears for their wives, children, wealth, and property, but who weeps for the vision of God?  If one cries sincerely for God, one can surely see Him.”

  Narendra was convinced that he had found the right teacher.  For five years Narendra closely watched the Mater, his teacher, never allowing himself to be influenced by blind faith, always testing the words and actions of Sri Ramakrishna in the test-tube of reason.  

  Sri Ramakrishna passed away in 1886, leaving the responsibilities of his disciples on Narendra.  Under the leadership of Narendra, a few disciples renounced everything in order to live God-centered lives and to carry on the work of their Master.  Narendra became Swami Vivekananda.  After traveling all over India, following his vision at Kanyakumari, he decided to come to America in 1893 (note, 108 years ago, a mystical number).  He represented the ancient Hindu religion in the Parliament of Religions. The very first talk of Swami Vivekananda made him known to the whole world. 

  When he was here (in America), he had to go through several difficulties, like renting a place, collecting money, cooking his own food, and talking to people who had no idea or had wrong ideas about India and Indian philosophy and culture.  In New York, he was not charging people for his classes and he decided not go to the lecture bureaus.  To pay the rent, he used to arrange public lectures on week-ends.  I was moved when I read about the difficulties and adversities he had to go through to deliver his message.  In Texas, someone started shooting around him in order to check whether he was truly identifying himself with the Immortal Self and whether he was free from the fear of death. 

  The rest of his life he dedicated to helping humanity; inspiring people into spiritual path by giving lectures and guidance, training disciples for monastic lives, founding the great Institution - the Ramakrishna Mission.  Since then, the Mission has inspired and continues to inspire people in their spiritual quest and has constantly engaged in humanitarian activities helping millions of people.  Swami Vivekananda wore out his robust body in the service of humanity.  At the age of 39, on July 4th, 1902, he gave up his body.   

  Let us see how Sri Ramakrishna looked at Narendra.  It is like a recommendation from an advisor: 

  Sri Ramakrishna considered Narendra as Narayana, the Lord of the universe.  Sri Ramakrishna realized the potential of Narendra.  One day in the presence of Keshav Chandra Sen and Vijay Goswami, two outstanding leaders of the Brahmo Samaj, he said:  “If Keshav possesses one virtue which has made him world famous, Naren is endowed with 18 such virtues.  I have seen in Keshav and Vijay the divine light burning like a candle flame, but in Naren it shines with the radiance of the sun.”  Narendra, instead of being flattered by these complements, became annoyed and sharply rebuked the Master for what he regarded as his foolishness.  The Master protested.  He said, “I cannot help it.  Do you think these are my words?  The Divine Mother showed me certain things about you, which I repeated.  And she reveals to me nothing but the truth.”

  When Sri Ramakrishna was suffering from throat cancer, he had great difficulty in speaking.  He wrote on a piece of paper: “Naren will teach others.”  Narendra demurred.  The Master said, ”But you must.  Your very bones will do it.”  (Remember the Bhagavad Gita.  Arjuna was refusing to fight.  Sri Krishna told Arjuna that his very nature will force him to fight a righteous war.)  Sri Ramakrishna further said that all the supernatural powers he himself had acquired would work through his beloved disciple.

  Absorbed in Samadhi, one day Sri Ramakrishna found that his mind was soaring high, going beyond the physical universe of the sun, moon, and stars, and passing into the subtle region of ideas.  As it continued to ascend, the forms of gods and goddesses were left behind, and it crossed the luminous barrier separating the phenomenal universe from the Absolute, finally entering the transcendental realm.  There Sri Ramakrishna saw seven venerable sages absorbed in meditation.  There, he saw a portion of the undifferentiated Absolute become congealed, as it were, and take the form of a Divine Child.  Clasping the neck of one of the sages with His soft arms, the child asked, “I am going down to earth.  Won’t you come with me?”  The sage with half-opened eyes and a benign look expressed assent and returned into deep samadhi.  When Sri Ramakrishna saw Narendra, he immediately recognized him as the sage he saw in his vision [6].      

  Swami Vivekananda's teachings have been compiled into several volumes [7].  We are indebted to Mr. Goodwin for writing down most of Swami Vivekananda’s lectures and teachings and thus preserving them.  Without him, most of Swamiji’s teachings would have been lost to us.  Note that, Swami Vivekananda found Mr. Goodwin in New York. 

  Swami Vivekananda's message:   Every thought of Swami Vivekananda is inspiring.  I have selected the following two teachings [8, 7]which, I think, reflect the central theme of his message.

  (1)   Each soul is potentially divine. 
The goal is to manifest this divinity within
By controlling nature, external and internal.
Do this either by work or worship or psychic control or philosophy
By one or more or all of these
And be free.
This is the whole religion.
Doctrines or dogmas or rituals or books or temples or forms
Are but secondary details.

(2)  “After so much austerity, I have understood this as the real truth;
God is present in every Jiva (being), there is no other God besides that. 
Who serves Jiva serves God indeed.”
The message is very clear.  Also, it is clear that he lived what he preached. 

 

IV.  The significance of Swami Vivekananda’s message: 

Why is Swami Vivekananda’s message is appropriate for the new millennium?  What is the significance of his message?  Why a message given a hundred years ago becomes useful for the new millennium?  Let us try to find answers from his life and teachings.

  First, the significance of his message.  I think, the most significant contribution of Swami Vivekananda is that he made religion as a scientific search to realize the divinity within.  Also, this inner search is grounded in humanity.  Combining these two, we can say that he made religion a “humanistic science of the Self.”  I would say, a “MetaScience”.

  From the following points it will be clear how Swami Vivekananda tried to make religion a scientific search within and from that perspective he delivered the message which is appropriate for the new millennium.

 

1.      Realizing the Divinity within is essential

Swami Vivekananda emphasized that as we are making progress in the external world with science and technology, a progress in the inner world is equally, nay more important.  According to Swamiji, to make progress in the inner world means to manifest the divinity within. Such progress enables us to properly enjoy the benefits of scientific achievements and simultaneously help us to manage the destructive consequences follow from these achievements.  If we neglect the internal world, then the progress of the external world, especially the negative consequences of scientific and technological achievements will destroy human race. 

We hear the echo of Swamiji’s message in the words of Romain Rolland [1], a well known French writer and philosopher.  He writes in the biography of Swami Vivekananda, "I advise the “extrovert” peoples of the West to rediscover in the depths of themselves the…sources of active and creative “introversion.”  If they fail, there is not much hope for the future.  Their gigantic technical knowledge, far from being a source of protection, will bring about their annihilation.  One worries that an introvert person will not be able to make progress in the external world.  This is not true.  Again, Romain Rolland emphasizes that A great “introvert” will know at the same time how to be a great “extrovert”…Interiorisation has never led in principle to diminution of action. 

2.      Religion should not contradict reason:

In this day and age, religion cannot be and should not be taught in an irrational, ambiguous, whimsical way to reach an unclear goal, and it should not encourage blind faith.  Even though, the truths of the inner world surpass rationality, they should not contradict reason.  Swamiji always encouraged genuine questions and reasoning.

  In India also, I have found that people become uncomfortable when certain ideas or rituals of religion are challenged.  People are afraid of such challenges, as if someone from the sky is going to come and punish them.

We encourage students in the Vidyapith to ask questions.  We found that students feel good when ideas are rationally explained.  A scientist or a mathematician always encourages people to ask questions, and if he/she does not know the answer, will not hesitate to say “I don’t know.”  Somehow in the field of religious, this kind of attitude is not encouraged. 

Swami Vivekananda wanted all the religious ideas to be tested by reasons.  He said ‘Do not believe because your grandfather believed it, or because it is written in some book.  Believe when you are fully convinced.’  He himself reasoned out everything, and so he could explain spiritual truths rationally.  The following incident [6] illustrates how he challenged and tested a statement of his Master.  

Sri Ramakrishna told his intimate disciples that through spiritual practices his nervous system has undergone a change and that he cannot bear the touch of any metal, such as gold or silver.  Narendra wanted to test this.  One day, in the absence of Sri Ramakrishna, he slipped a coin under his bed.  When Sri Ramakrishna returned and sat on the bed, he jumped up in pain as if stung by an insect.  The bed was examined and the coin was found.  Narendra was guilty.  Sri Ramakrishna was always pleased when his disciples put to the test his statements or behavior before accepting his teachings.  He would say, “Test me as the money-changers test their coins.  You must not believe me without testing me thoroughly.”

Every religion has two parts: the fundamental or the essential part, and the non-essential part.   The essential part consists of eternal truth which is true all the time.  It’s validity does not depend on a person or a place.  The essential parts of all religions are the same.  The non-essential part of a religion is based on the local customs, geography and traditions.  When religion goes through reasoning, its essential and eternal part survives and the non-essential part falls off.        

  1. Religion is the Science of the Self:

  Just as science is a search in the external world, religion is a search in the inner world.  Therefore, religion should be expressed and recognized as a science.  

Swami Vivekananda himself asked these questions [8, 7]: “Is religion to be justified by the discoveries of reason, through which every other science justifies itself?  Are the same methods of investigation which we apply to sciences and knowledge outside, to be applied to the science of religion?

He answered:  “In my opinion, this must be so, and I am also of the opinion that the sooner it is done the better.  If a religion is destroyed by such investigation, it was then all the time useless, unworthy superstition; and the sooner it goes the better…All that is dross will be taken off, no doubt, but the essential parts of religion will emerge triumphant out of this investigation.  Not only will it be made scientific-as scientific, at least, as any of the conclusions of physics or chemistry-but will have greater strength, because physics or chemistry has no internal mandate to vouch for its truth, which religion has.”

  Swamiji was eager to meet scientists and discuss his ideas with them. 

When he was in New York, he met a well-known scientist, named Nikola Tesla.  Swamiji writes in his letter to Mr. E. T. Sturdy [4], “….Mr. Tesla was charmed to hear about the Vedantic Prana and Akasha and Kalpas, …. according to him (the Vedantic theories) are the only theories modern science can entertain…..Mr. Tesla thinks he can demonstrate mathematically that force and matter are reducible to potential energy.  I am to go and see him next week, to get this new mathematical demonstration.”  Then, Swamiji drew charts showing equivalence between Brahman, Akash, Prana and Energy, Matter and Force.  After explaining the relationship between Brahman and the identity of an individual, he wrote, “I have to work all this out carefully, but you will see at a glance that I am on the right track.”  It is clear that Swamiji wanted religion to be expressed and recognized as a science of the Self. 

We find the idea of science in the Upanishads.  In Kathopanishad there is a beautiful description:  ‘Body is a chariot, senses are the horses, mind is the rein, intellect is the driver (charioteer), and soul is the master sitting in the chariot.  One who knows the science of driving this chariot and whose mind is focused, that person’s senses are well-behaved like trained horses.’    Further, it has been said that ‘One who knows the science of controlling the mind and is pure, attains the highest knowledge and does not get deluded again.’  

  Sri Ramakrishna's classification of information, knowledge and science is simple but superb.  He said, " One who has only heard about milk has gathered information, one who has seen the milk has acquired knowledge, but one who has drank the milk and became strong has known the science of the milk."  Thus, mystics and Upanishads talk about spirituality as the science of the Self.

4.   The Four Methods to Realize the Divinity Within:

Like a scientist, Swami Vivekananda first outlined the goal.  Then he told that the same scientific methods of investigations which we apply in the external world should be applied in the inner search.  After that, he gave the methods from the Bhagavad Gita to achieve this goal.   In science there are methods to perform experiments in order to verify the hypothesis.  Every religion has methods to attain the goal of the religion. 

 

According to Swami Vivekananda, all the religious methods can be classified under four categories: 

(i)                 Karma Yoga:  A way to realize one’s own divinity through unselfish actions. 

(ii)               Bhakti Yoga: A way to realize one’s own divinity through love of God 

(iii)             Raja Yoga: A way to realize one’s own divinity through self control, and

(iv)             Jnana Yoga:  A way to realize one’s own divinity through knowledge obtained by reasoning and analysis. 

One of the important contributions of the Bhagavad Gita is these four yogas.  Swami Vivekananda elaborated all these paths in greater detail and they can be applied in any religion.  Swamiji said realize your divinity by one, or more, or all paths.  Here he emphasizes to achieve the goal is most important.  However, Swami Vivekananda wishes that every person develops all these four aspects in life, namely selfless service, devotion, self-control and reasoning.  He found that when a religion emphasizes only one or two of these four paths, it becomes one-sided and considers other paths as dangerous and horrible.  Swamiji says, “To become harmoniously balanced in all these four dimensions is my ideal of religion.”  He wanted to give to the New Yorkers harmoniously balanced spiritual practices.  In a light tone he writes in his letter to Mr. Sturdy [4] from New York, "..I have a clear light now, free of all hocus-pocus.  I want to give them dry, hard reason, softened in the sweetest syrup of love and made spicy with intense work, and cooked in the kitchen of Yoga, that even a baby can easily digest it."

  5.   Experiments and Experiences: 

When experiments are performed in science, one can take objective observations and collect data of information to verify the hypothesis or derive conclusions.  In spiritual practices, experiences are more subjective.  Therefore, they could be misleading.  There are many baseless experiences created by auto-suggestions like seeing light, or hearing sounds etc.

Based on this possibility, Narendra told Sri Ramakrishna that the latter’s visions could be hallucinations or auto-suggestions.  Sri Ramakrishna, with his childlike nature, assumed it might be true and he questioned his own experiences.  He went to Mother Kali in order to find out the truth.  Then it was revealed to him that it is not the case.  When he was convinced that his visions are genuine, he told that to Narendra. 

Finally, not only were all these experiences confirmed, but Narendra himself had such experiences.  One day, Narendra was making fun of Sri Ramakrishna’s statement that everything is Brahman.  Narendra was telling his friend that ‘this cup is God, this pot is God, we are God’.  Just then Sri Ramakrishna entered the room.  He heard this.  Then he gently touched Narendra.  With this divine touch, Narendra entered into a new realm of consciousness and he felt the presence of Brahman everywhere and in every thing.  He struck his head against the iron railing to see if this experience was real or a mere illusion of his mind.  This state of his remained for a few days. 

So, we can see Narendra himself treating spirituality as a science.  Later he said, “Experience is the only source of knowledge.  In the world, religion is the only science where there is no surety, because it is not taught as a science of experience.  This should not be.  There is always, however, a small group of men who teach religion from experience.  They are called mystics, and these mystics in every religion speak the same tongue and teach the same truth.  This is the real science of religion.  As mathematics in every part of the world does not differ, so the mystics do not differ.”

 

  1. Conclusion of the experiment: 

After experiments of science, conclusion must be reached which either verifies or rejects the hypothesis or leads us to a plan for another modified experiment.  In spirituality, the final conclusion is the realization of the divinity within, or realization of God.  After spiritual practices, one must reach the final conclusion.  If this does not happen, one must question the purpose of one’s spiritual practices or consult an expert who can help in correcting the mistakes.  If we perform various rituals and spend months and years in spiritual practices, we must ask ourselves whether we are going towards the goal or not.  Swami Vivekananda emphasizes in strong words the importance of achieving the goal.  Also, this goal is universal in the sense that all religions' ultimate goal is the same.   

Swami Vivekananda says [8, 7],“If there is one universal truth in all religions, I place it here, in realizing God.  Ideals and methods may differ, but that is the central point.  There may be a thousand different radii, but they all converge to the one center, and that is realization of God: something behind this world of sense, this world of eternal eating and drinking and talking nonsense, this world of false shadows and selfishness.  There is that beyond all books, beyond all creeds, beyond the vanities of the world, and it is the realization of God within yourself.” 

  “A man may believe in all the churches in the world, he may carry in his head all the sacred books ever written, he may baptize himself in all the rivers of the earth; still, if he has no perception of God, I would class him with the rankest atheist.”

“And a man may have never entered a church or a mosque, nor performed any ceremony, but if he feels God within himself and thereby lifted above the vanities of the world, that man is a holy man, a saint, call him what you will.”  

Even if one does not have the final realization, there are milestones in the spiritual path.  We have to ask ourselves whether we are improving within.  We have to ask ourselves: Am I gaining control on my weaknesses, like anger, greed, jealousy, and hatred?  Is my delusion decreasing?  Do I see myself more clearly and objectively?  Do I recognize my strengths and weaknesses more?  Do I feel more inner strength, inner peace and satisfaction in doing the right things?  Am I gaining control on my mind and senses?  Is the grip of worldly things on my mind loosening?  Is my selfishness decreasing?  Do I really enjoy serving my fellow-beings unselfishly? 

If the answer is "yes", then this is called transformation.  The difference between science and religion is that science gives information, while religion brings transformation.  Kabir was a great Saint and was a householder.  He used to weave for living.  One of his disciples had a bitter tongue.  This disciple wanted to go on a pilgrimage.  Kabir advised him to sit at home and do spiritual practices and bring some inner transformation.  The disciple was determined to go and was asking Kabir to join him.  Kabir said, “You can go.  But, please take this tumbadu (a vessel which Sadhus use to carry water etc.) with you and bring it back.”  After the pilgrimage, the disciple came back and returned the tumbadu.  However, from certain behavior of the disciple, Kabir found that he still had a bitter tongue.  The disciple asked, “Why did Kabir send his tumbadu with me?”  As an answer, Kabir bit his tumbadu to taste it and with a grave face said, “Oh!  I was hopping that by pilgrimage my bitter tumbadu will transform into a sweet one.  Alas, pilgrimage did not do any good to it.”  The disciple understood the message.

Even though we may not have realization of God, we must transform and become fit for realization.  This process of becoming fit for realization is in itself enjoyable and it brings much inner peace, satisfaction and clarity of thoughts.  Swamiji says no matter which religion we practice, we should undergo these transformations, and ultimately the realization of God should follow.

 

  1. Unity in Variety is the Plan of Nature 

  Scientific truth is same everywhere.  For example, gravitational force in America is not different from the gravitational force in Europe or any other country.  The sum of angles of a triangle drawn on a piece of paper in America or in India or anywhere else in the universe will be 180 degrees.  As there are practical errors or approximations in science, so there are in religion.  The basics or fundamental truths of all religions are same.  All religions are trying to bring out the best in human beings, and the culmination of the best is the realization of the divinity within. 

If we read Swami Vivekananda’s life and teachings, we find that he was constantly trying to find a common ground for all religions where they accept each other without loosing their identities.  In the final lecture at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda said that if people hope to bring unity by the triumph of one religion and the destruction of others, then it is an impossible hope. 

Swami Vivekananda’s lecture, “The Ideal of a Universal Religion” [7] is an excellent illustration of his attempts to find a common ground for all religions.  He said that each religion has three parts: philosophy, mythology and rituals.  There cannot be a universal philosophy or mythology or a set of rituals for all religions.  However, one can still find a common ground for all religions without losing the individual characteristics of any one of them.  He explains this very clearly.  He states, “As a man, I am different than a woman or a child,  but as a human being I am one with woman and child and different than animals.  However, as a being I am one with all animals and plants but different than stones, and as an existence, I am one with the whole universe.  That universal existence is God.   In God, we are all one.  At the same time, in manifestation, we are different.”  Swamiji wanted all religions to realize this double-fold phenomena, unity in diversity, and make the world run smoother.  He used to say, “Help the world rather than destroying it.”  According to him, helping a person to grow spiritually is most important.  It does not matter through which religion.  He said if it is true that God is the center of all religions, then all of us must reach the center.  All differences cease when we reach the center. 

 

  1. Service to the living God 

Science stops after reaching a conclusion or creating an instrument or a machine.  Then, it is up to the person to decide what to do with the conclusion or how to use the instrument.  If the invention of science falls in the hands of a good person, it will be used for a good purpose.  If it falls in wrong hands, it will bring destruction.  A scientist will say, “I am not at fault.  I was curious, I performed an experiment and I obtained a result.  Now it is up to you to decide what to do with it.” 

Swami Vivekananda does not want to stop here.  He says suppose you close your eyes and do research in the internal world, perform experiments, get transformed, realized God.  Then what happens when you open your eyes?  If you see demon in the world outside, then you saw demon while your eyes were closed also.  If you have seen God in the internal world, then you will see God in the external world, because of the ultimate Unity in the universe.  The outer world is not different than the inner world.  Those who have realized the Self say that the outer world is a projection of the inner world.  Now, when you see God in all, then naturally you get involved in doing service to this living God.  That will be the true worship to the God you have realized. 

  We can see from the following incident [6] that Swami Vivekananda wanted this message of 'worshiping God through the service of human beings' to be delivered to the whole world.

One day, a devotee was reading a holy book to Sri Ramakrishna.  The book talked about three salient disciplines of a devotee, namely love of God’s name, service to the devotees and compassion for all living beings.  Sri Ramakrishna did not like the word compassion.  He said, “How foolish to speak of compassion!  A human being is an insignificant worm crawling on earth-and he to show compassion to others!  It must not be compassion, but service to all.  Recognize them as God’s manifestations and serve them.”  Narendra felt that Sri Ramakrishna had wonderfully combined the path of knowledge, love and action.  He concluded, “If it be the will of God, I shall one day proclaim this noble truth before the world at large.  I shall make it the common property of all-the wise and the fool, the rich and the poor, the Brahmin and the pariah.” 

The following incident [6] shows how his Master Sri Ramakrishna encouraged and guided Swami Vivekananda towards the service to the humanity.

Knowing that his Master will not live long, Narendra intensified his spiritual practices.  One day, he asked Sri Ramakrishna for the boon of remaining merged in Samadhi three or four days at a stretch, interrupting his meditation for a bite of food.  Sri Ramakrishna said, “You are a fool.  There is a higher state than that.  It is you who sing, ‘O Lord! Thou art all that exist.’”  On another occasion Sri Ramakrishna said, “Shame on you!  You are asking for such an insignificant thing.  I thought that you would be like a banyan tree, and that thousands of people would rest in your shade.  But now I see that you are seeking your own liberation.”  Narendra shed profuse tears.  He realized the greatness of his Master and his command for his future.  

 

9.   Do we need divinity to serve humanity?

  Several youngsters ask me this question:  Why do we need God?  Can’t we just serve humanity?  According to Swami Vivekananda's teachings, the answer is: theoretically "yes", but practically, "no".  When one tries to do service without spiritual background, then one will not be aware when selfishness creeps in, and unknowingly one may harm people instead of helping them.  Selfless service is not easy.  There are many other difficulties and obstacles in doing service without proper spiritual background;  for example, after sometime, frustration comes, ego builds up, family members react, the people whom you helped might talk ill about you etc.  These are not easy things to handle without proper training of the mind.  Spiritual practice is the best training of the mind.

 

V.   Who will be benefited by the message?

  People might ask, What do I do with this knowledge of the divinity of the soul?  Is it going to help me in my studies?  Is it going to help me in my job performance?  Is it going to solve the problems of my life,  my family, my society, my country, or the world?

  The root cause of most problems lies in the mind.  The mind cannot find the cause of the problems, because it is confused or deluded.  One needs a sharp and unbiased intellect to clear the mind and see things in their true perspective.  Only spiritual practices prepare such sharp and unbiased intellect.  Also, when one realizes one’s own divinity within through spiritual practices, the intellect remains sharp and unbiased under all circumstances.  Only then, one thinks unselfishly from a broader perspective, and one acquires inner strength to solve problems.  Thus, realizing the divinity within is beneficial to all the people in all walks of life. 

The following teachings of Swami Vivekananda emphasizes this fact.

“These conceptions of the Vedanta must come out…They must come out to work at the bar and the bench, in the pulpit, and in the cottage of the poor man, with the fishermen that are catching fish, and with the students that are studying.  They call to every man, woman, child whatever be their occupation, whatever they may be…”

“If the fisherman thinks that he is the Spirit, he will be a better fisherman: if the student thinks he is the Spirit, he will be a better student.  If the lawyer thinks that he is the Spirit, he will be a better lawyer, and so on…”

“…If all mankind today realize only a bit of that great truth, the aspect of the whole world will be changed, and, in place of fighting and quarrelling, there would be a reign of peace.  This indecent and brutal hurry…will…vanish… With it will vanish all struggle, with it vanish all hate, with it vanish all jealousy…

 

VI.  Did Swami Vivekananda deliver a new message? 

  The answer is “No”.  This is the eternal message we find in the Upanishads.  For example,

Arise, Awake, find wise people and through their guidance realize the Self.

About Knowledge, it has been said:

The Supreme knowledge is the one through which one attains the Imperishable Self.

About Bliss, Upanishads say:

One rejoices by realizing this Self whose nature is blissful.

About Immortality, Sages proclaim:

By knowing the Self, one breaks the bondage of death and becomes free.  There is no other way.

Swami Vivekananda himself did not claim that his message was new.  Once in England, he gave a lecture.  As usual, his lectures were well attended.  The hall was packed and the impact of his lecture was magical.  People were sitting or standing like statues absorbing his inspiring words and getting overwhelmed by the beauty of his magnetic personality.  At the conclusion of his lecture, a white-haired and well-known philosopher said to Swamiji. “You have spoken splendidly Sir, but you have told us nothing new.”  Quickly came Swamiji’s reply, “Sir, I have told you the Truth.  That, the Truth, is as old as the immemorial hills, as old as humanity, as old as creation, as old as the great God.  If I have told you in such words as will make you think, make you live up to your thinking, do I not do well in telling it?”  Loud applause greeted him at the end of these remarks. [6]

Swami Vivekananda’s message is eternal and essential for the new millennium.  He delivered the message in the language of the new millennium.  This message gets lost in the hum-drum of the new discoveries of science and technology and the noises and attractions of the world.  Swamiji’s message has been tested by four generations and has given new courage, new hope, new direction, and new inspiration to millions of people.  That message is flowing like a river with clean nourishing water.  The choice is ours, the people of the new millennium, whether to quench our thirst for knowledge, bliss, and immortality and feel blessed, or to live a miserable life and die thirsty.

Thank you.

 

References:

1.      The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel, Romain Rolland, Advaita Ashrama, 12th Impression, Calcutta, 1992

2.      Swami Vivekananda, A Hundred Years Since Chicago, A Commemorative Volume, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Calcutta, 1994

3.      The Complete Poems and Plays, T. S. Eliot, Faber & Faber, 1969, reprinted 1990.

4.      Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1989, p281

5.      A Brief History of Tomorrow, the future, past and present, Jonathan Margolis, Bloomsbury Pub., 2000

6.      Vivekananda, A Biography, Swami Nikhilananda, Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, New York, 1953, (paperback edition 1989)

7.      The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.1-8, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 18th Reprint, 1991

8.      Teachings of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Himalayas, 5th Edition, 1971



   
 

 

APPENDIX:

 

ABOUT THE VIDYAPITH AND CHARACTER-BUILDING EDUCATION

In a1976 my wife Vandana and myself felt a dire need to introduce to children growing in America, the great treasure of the inspiring and life-giving ideas of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, the wealth of mythology, the stories of great epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the teachings of Bhagavatam and others.  We started Vivekananda Vidyapith’s classes on “character-building education” in our one-bedroom apartment with 7 students.  The curriculum was based upon the teachings of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita as expounded by Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. 

Why Character-building Education?     In the very first chapter of  Karma Yoga, Swami Vivekananda explains that any word we speak, any act we perform, or any thought we entertain leaves a mark on the soul-may be on the DNA-and this constitutes the character of a person.  Our character attracts an environment around us and inspires us to do things accordingly.  A constructive and positive character attracts an environment conducive to constructive and positive activities and it inspires one to perform constructive and positive deeds.  The same is true for the opposite – for destructive and negative character. 

Swami Vivekananda says, “Let positive, strong, helpful thoughts enter into your brains from very childhood."  Why do we do wrong things and suffer?  Swamiji says,      “Weakness is the one cause of suffering.  We become miserable because we are weak.  We lie, steal, kill and commit other crimes, because we are weak.”  He said, “Strength is life; weakness is death.”  Weak minds become victims of harmful ideas, influences and vices.  The thing we need is inner strength.  This inner strength comes from asserting our divine nature. 

Swamiji Says,  “We are the children of the Almighty, we are sparks of the infinite, divine fire.  How can we be nothing?  We are everything, ready to do everything.  Therefore, my brethren, teach this life-saving, great, ennobling grand doctrine to your children, even from their very birth.  This marvelous doctrine of the soul, the perfection of the soul, is commonly believed in all sects.”

Such character building education gives children a head-start in their lives.  And when they grow, these are the ideas which are going to help them to become decent human beings and save them during critical times of their lives.  For younger children, we have made it simple: Character building means Respect, Prayer, and Service.

In the beginning we had classes every Saturday, 8:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m..    Now, with the help of several teachers and helpers, the Vidyapith is conducting classes on Saturday and Sunday and more than 300 students are participating in the program.  Several hundred students have taken advantage of the Vidyapith’s program.   Many have attended the Vidyapith for consecutive 8-10 years, until they graduated from their high schools.  Several students are still keeping contact with Vidyapith after going to colleges.  Currently, Vidyapith has started serving its 2nd generation.  A student’s 5-year old child now attends the Vidyapith.  I remember, Swami Adiswaranandaji attended our 1st Annual Function in 1976 and since then his constant guidance is a source of inspiration for all of us throughout our 25 years.  During the last three week-ends, we celebrated Swami Vivekananda’s birthday and held speech competitions, essay writing competitions, and a special symposium on ‘Science & Religion.’   

When we decided to start these classes, we were not sure whether children would enjoy these classes.  To our utter surprise, they loved the program.  Do you know why?  From my 25 years of experience, I can tell you one sure thing:  Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and ideas are most appropriate for the youth. 

I have experienced that these teachings have been most effective for the last four generations (that I know) and will be effective for many more.  I remember, my father telling me that he kept in his pocket copies of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on strength and perseverance.  Everyday, he used to read a few of these teachings.  They gave him tremendous inner strength, infinite courage, build self-confidence, and inspiration to strive for higher goals and to keep a positive attitude in life.  Especially, when he was in distress, these teachings gave him strength to face the problems of life and move on. 

Let me read a couple of these teachings which my father used to recite to me: 

“All power is within you; you can do anything and everything.  Believe in that; do not believe that you are weak; do not believe that you are half-crazy lunatics, as most of us believe now-a-days.  You can do anything and everything.  All power is there.  Stand up and express the divinity within you.” 

“What we want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel-gigantic wills which nothing can resist, which can penetrate into the mysteries and secrets of the universe and will accomplish their purpose in any fashion even if it meant going to the bottom of the ocean and meeting Death face to face.”

“To succeed, you must have tremendous perseverance, tremendous will. ‘I will drink the ocean,’ says the persevering soul, ‘at my will mountains will crumble up.’  Continue to exercise your will and it will take you higher still.  The will is almighty.  Have that sort of energy, that sort of will, work hard, and you will reach the goal.”

            My father’s voice is still ringing in my ears.  These teachings have inspired him, they have inspired me and I have no doubt that they will continue to inspire men, women and children everywhere.

 

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