The New Vedanta Draws
Vivekananda, with his new
Vedanta, created a stir both in the East and in the West. While
many universalists and scientifically-minded persons in the West applauded
his new message and the noble-minded breathed the air of freedom, justice,
equality, and spiritual democracy, the entrenched dogmatists denounced his
teachings as monstrous and profane. They concocted false stories and
spread rumors about his authenticity and personality, and invented the
vilest of lies, assailing his character. It is said that there was even an
attempt to do away with him altogether by mixing poison with his coffee in
Detroit. On his return to India, he recalled; "It struck me more than
once that I should have to leave my bones on foreign shores, owing to the
prevalence of religious intolerance."
There were also attempts in India to suppress Vivekananda
and his message. Leaders of orthodox Hindu society denounced his message
of Vedanta as a veiled imitation of Christianity. They accused him of
violations of caste rules and monastic traditions, on the grounds that he
had crossed the black waters of the ocean, lived in foreign lands, and
dined with foreigners. His followers, the Ramakrishna Order monks -- who
were engaged in work of service nursing the sick, providing for the poor,
and conducting epidemic and other relief work -- were branded as
"scavenger monks," whose conduct was unworthy of the monastic
life. Even some of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna expressed doubt in the
beginning about Vivekananda's new Vedanta, considering it a departure from
their master's message. The followers of Vivekananda were but a handful of
young men fired up by the spirit of worshipping the living God. They truly
believed his message and were ready to die for their beliefs.
Vivekananda's message prevailed: nothing could stop it, because it
answered the crying need of the time.
The same love that was born as Buddha, the Compassionate
One, once again assumed a human form as Vivekananda. It was this unbounded
love for suffering humankind that gave Vivekananda the mandate for his
message. It gave him a power that nobody could match, a wisdom that no
doctrine could qualify. Vivekananda's message bridged the gulf between man
and God, and broke through the wall that traditionally separates the
physical from the spiritual. In him the immortal message of the Upanishads
and the Bhagavad Gita came to life again. Despair over degradation turned
into hope for the future.
Saints and savants think ahead of the contemporary world.
They come to give us not the things we want, but the things we need. Small
wonder then that contemporary society would condemn Socrates to die,
denounce Buddha, crucify Jesus, and assassinate Gandhi. Truth must
struggle hard against entrenched dogma, hardened superstitions, and
credulous mass thinking. History tells us that the Jesuits, the disciples
of St. Ignatius, were accused of violating orthodox commands of the
Gospel. Carlyle condemned them as most fatal of all time; Napoleon hated
them; and the American President John Adams warned his successor Thomas
Jefferson about them. Yet the Jesuits prevailed in their efforts because
of the fire of their faith.
In spite of opposition, Vivekananda scattered the seeds of
Vedanta wherever he went. Those seeds were not sown in vain. From them
have sprung up societies and centers of Vedanta, both in the East and in
the West, under the banner of the Ramakrishna Order. These centers are not
merely houses of worship but homes of service where the living God is
served with material, intellectual, and spiritual offerings.
The New Vedanta as the
Religion of the Future
Vivekananda envisioned Vedanta as the religion of the
future; in a prophetic mood, he said that his messages would sustain the
world for the next fifteen hundred years. Science has shaken dogma-based
religion to the very root. The decay of organized religion is in the air.
Material usefulness is becoming the measure of all value. In spite of all
our technological achievements, the world is experiencing a great void.
Holy days are giving way to holidays. Psychotherapy is replacing the
counseling of priests and pastors. Confession, once considered good for
the soul, is being looked upon as bad for reputation. The word
"sermon" in the present-day Western world is an unpopular word,
and a preacher is regarded by some as a salesperson. For many, the word
"liberated" means liberated from all religions.
The myths and symbols that once gave emotional support to
humankind have been shaken by the cold conclusions of science. After the
Thirty Years' War, Europe lost faith in God, and after two World Wars,
humankind lost faith in itself. A culture of unbelief and skepticism has
pervaded the world. Whatever claims the idealists put forth, the
materialists try to disprove. The skeptics claim that there is nothing
inherently spiritual about energy or wave equations. To the idealists the
fourth dimension may seem to be out of this world, but to the skeptics it
is no stepping stone to heaven. No dogma-based religion can fill the
spiritual void. What is needed is a spiritual teaching that can meet the
challenges of science and secularism, and make the spiritual quest
meaningful for all. This is where the value of Vedanta lies.
Since the time of Vivekananda, Vedanta has silently but
surely influenced the thought currents of the world, and built a consensus
of amity among all the branches of human knowledge. When Vivekananda
visited America, Robert Ingersoll, the famous orator and agnostic, told
him: "Forty years ago you would have been hanged if you had come to
preach in this country, or you would have been burnt alive. You would have
been stoned out of the villages if you had come even much later." But
today the religions are in a process of continuous dialogue. The voice of
Vedanta can be heard in such movements as "Save the Planet,"
"Conserve the Forests," "Preserve the Ozone Layer,"
"Stop Cruelty to Animals", "One World, One Family,"
and others. At the present time, there is more consciousness of world
unity than ever before. The voice of spirituality is becoming louder and
louder, and the wave of spiritual democracy is breaking down the barrier
of religiosity. Religious belief, for so long sure of its scriptural
evidence, is now looking for the corroboration of science for its
Worshipper of the Living God
was the worshipper of the living God. He made God in the heart of all the
sole object of his worship. Even as a child he would be overwhelmed to see
the sufferings of the poor. To see God and serve Him became the passion of
his youth, the dream of his wandering days. He lived with the poor masses
of India, slept with them, ate with them, cried for their material
salvation. Untiringly, he lobbied for them with his master Sri Ramakrishna
and at the doors of heaven. Service of this living God was the joy of his
last days. Like Prometheus, he brought down the spiritual power from
heaven and made it spring up on earth in the hearts of all. This shifting
of God from a far off heaven to the human heart, as our innermost Self,
marks a momentous advance in the spiritual history of the world.
Vivekananda passed away in 1902 before reaching the age of
40. But he left a promise for his living God: "And may I be born
again and again, and suffer thousands of miseries, so that I may worship
the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all
souls. And above all, my God the wicked, my God the miserable, my God the
poor of all races, of all species, is the especial object of my
worship," "It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my
body -- to cast it off like a worn-out garment. But I shall not cease to
work. I shall inspire man everywhere, until the world shall know that it
is one with God." (Concluded)
- Swami Adiswarananda