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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.





Sri Ramakrishna: A New Spiritual Wave

Part Four (concluded)

(From “My Master” by Swami Vivekananda)


He then set about to learn humility, because he had found that the common idea in all religions is “Not I, but thou,” and the Lord fills the heart of him who says, “Not I.” The less of this little “I,” the more of God there is in him. This, he found, was taught by every religion in the world, and he set himself to realize it. As I have told you, whenever he wanted to do anything he never confined himself to theories, but would enter into the practice immediately. Now, there was a family of pariahs living near the temple. The pariahs number several millions in the whole of India, and are so low in society that some of our books say that if a brahmin, on coming out of his house, sees the face of a pariah, he has to fast that day and recite certain prayers before he becomes holy again. In the dead of night, when all were sleeping, my Master would enter the house of the pariahs and cleanse the dirty places there, saying, “O Mother, make me the servant of the pariah, make me feel that I am even lower than the pariah.”

There were various other disciplines, which would take a long time to relate, and I want to give you just a sketch of his life.

Then came to him the conviction that to be perfect, the idea of sex must go, because the soul has no sex, the soul is neither male nor female. It is only in the body that sex exists, and the man who desires to reach the spirit cannot at the same time hold to sex distinctions. Having been born in a masculine body, this man wanted to bring the feminine idea into everything. He began to think that he was a woman: he dressed like a woman, spoke like a woman, behaved like a women, and lived as a member of the household among the women of a good family, until, after months of this discipline, his mind became changed and he entirely forgot the idea of sex. Thus the whole view of life became changed.

We hear in the West about worshipping woman, but this is usually for her youth and beauty. This man meant by worshipping woman that to him every woman’s face was that of the Blissful Mother, and nothing but that. I myself have seen him standing, bathed in tears, before those women whom society would not touch, and saying with utmost humility: “Mother, in one form thou art in the street, and in another form thou art the universe. I salute thee, Mother, I salute thee.” Think of the blessedness of that life from which all carnality has vanished, which can look upon every woman with that love and reverence, to which every woman’s face becomes transfigured and only the face of the Divine Mother, the blissful one, the protectress of the human race, shines instead! That is what we want. Do you mean to say that the divinity back of a woman can ever be cheated? It never was and never will be. It always asserts itself. Unfailingly it detects fraud, it detects hypocrisy; unerringly it feels the warmth of truth, the light of spirituality, the holiness of purity. Such purity is absolutely necessary if real spirituality is to be attained.

This rigorous, unsullied purity came into the life of my Master; all the struggles which we have in our lives were past for him. The hard-earned jewels of spirituality, for which he had given three-quarters of his life, were now ready to be given to humanity; and then began his work. His teaching and preaching were peculiar: he would never take the position of a teacher. In our country a teacher is a most highly venerated person; he is regarded as God himself. We have not even the same respect for our father and mother. Our father and mother give us our body, but the teacher shows us the way to salvation. We are his children; we are born in the spiritual line of the teacher. All Hindus come to pay respect to an extraordinary teacher; they crowd around him. And here was such a teacher. But the teacher had no thought whether he was to be respected or not; he had not the least idea that he was a great teacher; he thought that it was the Mother who was doing everything, and not he. He always said: “If any good comes from my lips, it is the Mother who speaks. What have I to do with it?” That was his one idea about his work, and to the day of his death he never gave it up. This man sought no one. His principle was: first form character, first earn spirituality, and results will come of themselves. His favorite illustration was: “When the lotus opens, the bees come of their own accord to seek the honey. So let the lotus of your character be full-blown, and the results will follow.” This is a great lesson to learn. My Master taught me this lesson hundreds of times, yet I often forget it.

Few understand the power of thought. If a man goes into a cave, shuts himself in, and thinks one really great thought and dies, that thought will penetrate the walls of that cave, vibrate through space, and at last permeate the whole human race. Such is the power of thought.

Be in no hurry, therefore, to give your thoughts to others. First have something to give. He alone teaches who has something to give. For teaching is not talking, teaching is not imparting doctrines; it is communicating. Spirituality can be communicated just as directly as I can give you a flower. This is true in the most literal sense. This idea is very old in India and finds illustration in the West in the theory of apostolic succession. Therefore first form character: that is your highest duty. Know truth for yourself, and there will be many to whom you can teach it afterwards. They will all come.

This was the attitude of my Master. He criticized no one. For years I lived with that man, but never did I hear those lips utter one word of condemnation for any sect. He had the same sympathy for all sects; he had found the inner harmony of religions. A man may be intellectual or devotional or mystical or active: the various religions represent one or other of these types. Yet it is possible to combine all the four in one man, and this is what future humanity is going to do. That was his idea. He condemned no one, but saw the good in all.

People came by thousands to see and hear this wonderful man, who spoke in a patois every word of which was forceful and instinct with light. For it is not what is spoken, much less the language in which it is spoken, but the personality of the speaker, which dwells in everything he says, that carries weight. Every one of us feels this at times. We hear most splendid orations, most wonderfully reasoned-out discourses, and we go home and forget everything. At other times we hear a few words in the simplest language, and they remain with us all the rest of our lives, become part and parcel of ourselves and produce lasting results. The words of a man who can put his personality into them take effect; but he must have tremendous personality. All teaching means giving and taking: the teacher gives and the taught receives; but the one must have something to give, and the other must be open to receive.

This man lived near Calcutta, the capital of India, the most important university town in our country, which was sending out skeptics and materialists by the hundreds every year; yet great men from the colleges – many of them skeptics and agnostics – used to come and listen to him. I heard of this man, and I went to see him. He looked just like an ordinary man, with nothing remarkable about him. He used the most simple language, and I thought, “Can this man be a great teacher?” I crept near him and asked him the question I had been asking others all my life: “Do you believe in God, sir?” “Yes,” he replied. “Can you prove it, sir?” “Yes.” “How?” “Because I see him just as I see you here, only much more intensely.”

That impressed me at once. For the first time I found a man who dared to say that he saw God, that religion was a reality – to be felt, to be sensed in an infinitely more intense way than we can sense the world. I began to go to that man day after day, and I actually saw that religion could be given. One touch, one glance, can change a whole life. I had read about Buddha and Christ and Mohammed, about all those different luminaries of ancient times, and how they would stand up and say, “Be thou whole,” and men became whole. I now found it to be true; and when I myself saw this man, all skepticism was brushed aside. It could be done. As my Master used to say: “Religion can be given and taken more tangibly, more directly, than anything else in the world.” Be therefore spiritual first; have something to give, and then stand before the world and give it.

Religion is not talk or doctrines or theories, nor is it sectarianism. Religion cannot live in sects and societies. It is the relation between the soul and God. How can it be fitted into a society? It would then degenerate into business, and wherever there are business and business principles in religion, spirituality dies. Religion does not consist in erecting temples or building churches or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books or in words or in lectures or in organizations. Religion consists in realization. We all know as a fact that nothing will satisfy us until we realize the truth for ourselves. However we may argue, however much we may hear, but one thing will satisfy us, and that is our own realization; and such an experience is possible for every one of us, if we will only try.

The first idea in this attempt to realize religion is that of renunciation. As far as we can, we must give up. Darkness and light, enjoyment of the world and enjoyment of God, will never go together. “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”

The second idea that I learnt from my Master, which is perhaps the most vital, is the wonderful truth that the religions of the world are not contradictory or antagonistic; they are but various phases of one eternal religion. There never was my religion or yours, my national religion or your national religion. There never existed many religions; there is only one religion. One infinite religion has existed all through eternity and will ever exist, and this religion is expressing itself in various countries in various ways. Therefore we must respect all religions and we must try to accept them all as far as we can.

Religions manifest themselves not only according to race and geographical position, but according to individual powers. In one man, religion is manifesting itself as intense activity, as work; in another, it is manifesting itself as intense devotion; in yet another, as mysticism; in others, as philosophy, and so forth. It is wrong when we say to others, “Your methods are not right.” To learn this central secret that the truth may be one and yet many at the same time, that we may have different visions of the same truth from different standpoints, is exactly what must be done. Then, instead of feeling antagonism towards anyone, we shall have infinite sympathy for all. Knowing that there are different natures born into this world and that they will require different applications of the same religious truths, we shall understand why we should bear with each other. Just as in nature there is unity in variety – an infinite variation in the phenomenal, and behind all these variations, the Unchangeable, the Absolute – so it is with every human being. The microcosm is but a miniature repetition of the macrocosm. In spite of all these variations, in and through them all runs this eternal harmony, and we have to recognize this. This idea, above all other ideas, I find to be the crying necessity of the day.

Born in a country which is a hotbed of religious sects – through good fortune or ill fortune, everyone who has a religious idea wants to send an advance-guard there – I have been acquainted from my childhood with the various sects of the world. Even the Mormons came to preach in India. Welcome to them all! That is the place to preach religion. There it takes deeper root than in any other country. If you teach politics to the Hindus they will not understand, but if you preach religion, however curious it may be, you will have hundreds and thousands of followers in no time, and you have every chance of becoming a living God in your lifetime. I am glad it is so; for it shows that one thing we prize in India is God.

The sects among the Hindus are various, almost innumerable, and some of them apparently hopelessly contradictory. Yet the Hindus will tell you that they are but different manifestations of one religion. “As different rivers, taking their start from different mountains, running crooked or straight, all finally mingle their waters in the ocean, so the different sects, with their different points of view, at last all come unto Thee.” This is not a theory. This has to be recognized – but not in that patronizing way in which some people do, when they say: “Oh yes, there are some very good things in them.” Some even have the most wonderfully liberal idea that while other religions are remnants of a prehistoric evolution, “ours is the fulfillment of things”. One man says that because his is the oldest religion it is the best; another makes the same claim because his is the latest.

We have to recognize that each one of them has the same saving power as every other. The same God helps all, and it is not you or I or any body of men that is responsible for the safety and salvation of the least little bit of the soul. I do not understand how people declare themselves to be believers in God, and at the same time think that God has handed over to a little body of men all truth, and that they are the guardians of the rest of humanity.

Do not try to disturb the faith of any man. If you can give him something better, if you can get hold of a man where he stands and give him a push upward, do so; but do not destroy what he has. The only true teacher is he who can convert himself, as it were, into a thousand persons at a moment’s notice. The only true teacher is he who can immediately come down to the level of the student and transfer his soul to the student’s soul and see through the student’s eyes and hear through his ears and understand through his mind. Such a teacher can really teach, and none else. All these negative, destructive teachers that are in the world can never do any good.

In the presence of my Master I found out that a man could be perfect even in this body. Those lips never cursed anyone, never even criticized anyone. Those eyes were beyond the possibility of seeing evil, that mind had lost the power of thinking evil. He saw nothing but good. That tremendous purity, that tremendous renunciation, is the one secret of spirituality. “Neither through wealth nor through progeny, but through renunciation alone, is immortality to be reached,” say the Vedas. “Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and follow me,” says Christ. So all great saints and prophets have expressed it and have carried it out in their lives. How can great spirituality come without that renunciation? Renunciation is the background of all religious thought, wherever it be; and you will always find that the more this idea of renunciation diminishes, the more the senses will creep into the field of religion and spirituality will decrease.

That man was the embodiment of renunciation. In our country it is necessary for a man who wants to realize God to give up all wealth and position; and this condition my Master carried out literally. There were many who would have felt themselves blest if he would only have accepted a present from them; who would gladly have given him thousands of rupees if he would have taken them; but these were the only men from whom he would turn away. He was a triumphant example, a living realization of the complete conquest of lust and of desire for money. He was beyond all ideas of either. Such men are necessary for this century. Such renunciation is necessary in these days when men have begun to think that they cannot live a month without what they call their “necessities,” which they are increasing out of all proportion. It is necessary in a time like this that someone should arise to demonstrate to the skeptics of the world that there yet breathes a man who does not care a straw for all the gold or all the fame that is in the universe. And there are such men.

The third idea I learnt from my Master was intense love for others. The first part of his life was spent in acquiring spirituality, and the remaining years in distributing it.

Men came in crowds to hear him and he would talk twenty hours out of twenty-four, and that not for one day, but for months and months, until at last the body broke down under the pressure of this tremendous strain. His intense love for mankind would not let him refuse to help even the humblest of the thousands who sought his aid. Gradually, there developed a fatal throat disorder, and yet he could not be persuaded to refrain from these exertions. As soon as he heard that people were asking to see him, he would insist upon having them admitted and would answer all their questions. When expostulated with, he replied: “I do not care. I will give up twenty thousand such bodies to help one man. It is glorious to help even one man.” There was no rest for him. Once a man asked him, “Sir, you are a great yogi; why do you not put your mind a little on your body and cure your disease?” At first he did not answer, but when the question had been repeated, he gently said: “My friend, I thought you were a sage, but you talk like other men of the world. This mind has been given to the Lord; do you mean to say that I should take it back and put it upon the body, which is but a mere cage of the soul?”

So he went on preaching to people. When the news spread that his body was about to pass away, people began to flock to him in greater crowds than ever. You cannot imagine the way they come to these great religious teachers in India, how they crowd round them and make gods of them while they are yet living. Thousands wait simply to touch the hem of their garments. It is through this appreciation of spirituality in others that spirituality is produced. Whatever man wants and appreciates, he will get; and it is the same with nations. If you go to India and deliver a political lecture, however grand it may be, you will scarcely find people to listen to you; but just go and teach religion, live it, not merely talk it, and hundreds will crowd just to look at you, to touch your feet. When the people heard that this holy man was likely to go from them soon, they began to come to him more than ever before, and my Master went on teaching them without the least regard for his health. We could not prevent this. Many of the people came from long distances, and he would not rest until he had answered their questions. “While I can speak, I must teach them,” he would say, and he was as good as his word. One day he told us that he would lay down the body that day, and repeating the most sacred word of the Vedas he entered into samadhi and passed away.

His thoughts and his message were known to very few capable of giving them out. Among others, he left a few young boys who had renounced the world and were ready to carry on his work. Attempts were made to crush them; but they stood firm, having the inspiration of that great life before them. Having had the contact of that blessed life for years, they stood their ground. These young men lived as sannyasins, begged through the streets of the city where they were born, although some of them came from well-known families. At first they met with great antagonism, but they persevered and went on from day to day spreading all over India the message of that great man, until the whole country was filled with the ideas he had preached. This man, from a remote village of Bengal, without education, by the sheer force of his own determination, realized the truth and gave it to others, leaving only a few young boys to keep it alive.

Today the name of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is known all over India, with its millions of people. Nay, the power of that man has spread beyond India, and if there has ever been a word of truth, a word of spirituality, that I have spoken anywhere in the world, I owe it to my Master. Only the mistakes are mine.

This is the message of Sri Ramakrishna to the modern world: “Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas or sects or churches or temples. They count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man, which is spirituality; and the more a man develops it, the more power he has for good. Earn that first, acquire that, and criticize no one; for all doctrines and creeds have some good in them. Show by your lives that religion does not mean words or names or sects, but that it means spiritual realization. Only those can understand who have felt. Only those who have attained to spirituality can communicate it to others, can be great teachers of mankind. They alone are the powers of light.”

The more such men are produced in a country, the more that country will be raised; and that country where such men do not exist is simply doomed; nothing can save it. Therefore my Master’s message to mankind is: “Be spiritual and realize truth for yourself.” He would have you give up all for the sake of your fellow beings. He would have you cease talking about love for your brothers and set to work to prove your words. The time has come for renunciation, for realization, and then you will see the harmony in all the religions of the world. You will know that there is no need of any quarrel; and then only will you be ready to help humanity. To proclaim and make clear the fundamental unity underlying all religions was the mission of my Master. Other teachers have taught special religions which bear their names, but this great teacher of the nineteenth century made no claim for himself. He left every religion undisturbed because he had realized that, in reality, they are all part and parcel of one eternal religion.

From “The Great Spiritual Teachers of the World” quoted from “VIVEKANANDA, WORLD TEACHER: His Teachings on the Spiritual Unity of Humankind”, Edited and with an Introduction by Swami Adiswarananda


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