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SPIRITUAL TOLERANCE AND UNDERSTANDING,
THE NEED OF OUR TIMES

Book  stop.gif (845 bytes) Weekly Message Archive

WEEKLY MESSAGES

In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.

 

 

 

 

SPIRITUAL TOLERANCE AND UNDERSTANDING,
THE NEED OF OUR TIMES

Science and technology have increased our knowledge of the universe. Advances in computer science and telecommunications make it possible for all of us to have immediate access to one another and to the information and knowledge accumulated over many centuries. Satellites constantly orbiting in space provide us with a continuous view of every corner of the earth. The study of genetics has reached the point where the most basic building blocks of life have been revealed to us, presenting the possibility of conquering many diseases and increasing the length and quality of life.

 

            Yet new developments in science and technology have not been an unmixed blessing. The secular culture ushered in by science has broken the unity of existence. It has replaced cooperation and interdependence with competition and the struggle for survival. It has ignored the Socratic teaching that knowledge is virtue and replaced it with its own, knowledge is power. The trend toward globalization that had the prospect of bringing about global peace and shared prosperity has instead greatly increased inequality, injustice, and economic disparity and exploitation. The divinity of the human soul has been completely ignored, and this has set in motion a chain reaction of alienation from reality, from nature, and from our true self. We have lost sight of our highest aspiration of the unity of humankind through love, compassion, and democratic equality. Science and technology have brought the world together, but our minds have not come together. We claim to be more intelligent than our ancestors; yet we cannot say that we are any less selfish or more kind.

 

We have had crises before in different forms – political, economic, cultural and religious – but we have never had the total crisis we are facing today. We face a conflict between secular values and faith, between the economically developed and underdeveloped societies, between generations, between religions, between reason and dogma, between human beings and nature. Politics has become the religion of our times; and wars, civil unrest, and riots based upon religious prejudices have become everyday occurrences.

 

In the background of these bleak and fearful developments, Swami Vivekananda’s words are more relevant today than ever before. Vivekananda introduced to the world the teachings of Vedanta, the essential message of the oneness of existence, unity of faiths, nonduality of the Godhead, and divinity of the soul. Oneness of existence is the basis of all love, compassion, and charitable feelings. We are like the leaves of a huge, universal tree. Driven by intolerance and greed we disclaim the rights of others. But we forget that the leaves cannot survive apart from the tree. No one can be at peace while others are unhappy. No one can enjoy prosperity while surrounded by a world of poverty.

 

The movement of our life is a search for our true Self. Through acquisition of wealth, education, and fulfillment of desires we are moving toward that ultimate goal. Life evolved from the subhuman stage to the human stage, where physical evolution came to a stop; but evolution continues on the mental, moral, and spiritual planes. Survival of the fittest may be true but only up to a certain stage of evolution. Beyond that, self-sacrifice for the good of others is the guiding principle of life. Although there is joy in acquiring and possessing, there is a greater joy in giving and serving. Reason emerged by controlling the raw impulses and urges. But reason divorced from love and compassion makes a person callous and insensitive. True knowledge and wisdom teach a person the spirit of sharing with others. It makes a person see that life is interdependent and not independent. When reason is purified and disciplined there emerges intuition. Intuition is the vision of our true Self – the center of our being. Knowledge of the Self is our birthright.

 

Vivekananda presents us with a positive view of the human individual and says that education is the manifestation of the perfection already in a person. True peace and fulfillment depend upon this knowledge of our true Self. We do not move from falsehood to truth but from lower truth to higher truth. Ignorance is less knowledge. Impurity is less purity. Darkness of the soul is less enlightenment. The urge for Self-knowledge is irresistible. The master urge of a human individual is not sex-gratification or acquisition of power or wealth but desire for unbounded joy, unrestricted awareness, and eternal life. This is the driving force behind all evolution, struggle, and efforts for peace and happiness.

 

According to Vivekananda, world peace depends upon social peace; social peace upon individual peace; and individual peace upon the spiritual awareness of the individual. No amount of political reform, economic regeneration, or increase in the amenities of life can ever insure the peace and wellbeing of the world. The Upanishads tell us that we may roll up the sky like a piece of leather yet peace will not be achieved until we know and realize our inmost Self. Each one of us is called upon to promote these values not only for social and community welfare, but also for our individual peace, happiness, and prosperity. We transform the world by first transforming ourselves, and the key to transformation is the transformation of consciousness. These are the teachings of the great prophets and teachers of humanity. Vivekananda once again affirmed for our age the timeless wisdom of the prophets and saints.

 

            Nonviolence and tolerance are the basic virtues taught by the great teachers of all traditions. While the prophets teach love and tolerance, traders in religion teach separativeness and selfishness that denounce the rights of others. “What good is it if we acknowledge in our prayers that God is the Father of us all,” asks Vivekananda, “and in our daily lives do not treat every man as a brother?”

 

The world is in need of a new spiritual revival. Unity in diversity is the natural law, and the core of this unity is not social, cultural or humanitarian but a spiritual unity that says “the same soul dwells in every one of us.” Fear, hatred, bigotry and war are symptoms of a forgotten spiritual unity.  Human unity will never become a social reality unless we realize the fact that the same God dwells in all. Foreseeing the need of our age, at the first World’s Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, Swami Vivekananda made his famous remarks:

 

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

 

From the Introduction to” VIVEKANANDA, WORLD TEACHER: His Teachings on the Spiritual Unity of Humankind”, Edited and with an Introduction by Swami Adiswarananda.

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