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GLIMPSES OF VIVEKANANDA - VI

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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.

 

 

 

 

GLIMPSES OF VIVEKANANDA – VI


 

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, an unknown monk of India, suddenly leapt into fame at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, at which he represented Hinduism. His vast knowledge of Eastern and Western culture as well as his deep spiritual insight, fervid eloquence, brilliant conversation, broad human sympathy, colorful personality, and handsome figure made an irresistible appeal to the many types of Americans who came in contact with him. Reports from newspapers of the time and reminiscences of those who met the Swami reveal to us the many facets of his magnetic personality.

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda

From the reminiscences of Sister Christine

Of the wonderful weeks that followed [at Thousand Island Park, New York], it is difficult to write. Only if one’s mind were lifted to that high state of consciousness in which we lived for the time, could one hope to recapture the experience. We were filled with joy. We did not know at that time that we were living in his radiance. On the wings of inspiration, he carried us to the height which was his natural abode. He himself, speaking of it later, said that he was at his best in Thousand Islands. Then he felt that he had found the channel through which his message might be spread, the way to fulfill his mission, for the guru had found his own disciples. His first overwhelming desire was to show us the path to mukti (freedom), to set us free. “Ah,” he said with touching pathos, “If I could only set you free with a touch!” His second object, not so apparent perhaps, but always in the under-current, was to train this group to carry on the work in America. “This message must be preached by Indians in India, and by Americans in America,” he said. On his own little veranda, overlooking the tree tops and the beautiful St. Laurence, he often called upon us to make speeches. His object was, as he said, to teach us to think upon our feet. Did he know that if we could conquer our self-consciousness in his presence, could speak before him who was considered one of the great orators of the world, no audience anywhere would dismay us? It was a trying ordeal. Each in turn was called upon to make an attempt. There was no escape. Perhaps that was why certain of our group failed to make an appearance at these intimate evening gatherings, although they knew that often he soared to the greatest heights as the night advanced. What if it was two o’clock in the morning? What if we had watched the moon rise and set? Time and space had vanished for us.

There was nothing set or formed about these nights on the upper veranda. He sat in his large chair at the end, near his door. Sometimes he went into a deep meditation. At such times we too meditated or sat in profound silence. Often it lasted for hours and one after the other slipped away. For we knew that after this he would not feel inclined to speak. Or again the meditation would be short, and he would encourage us to ask questions afterwards, often calling on one of us to answer. No matter how far wrong these answers were, he let us flounder about until we were near the truth, and then in a few words, he would clear up the difficulty. This was his invariable method in teaching. He knew how to stimulate the mind of the learner and make it do its own thinking. Did we go to him for confirmation of a new idea or point of view and begin, “I see it is thus and so,” his “Yes?” with an upper inflection always sent us back for further thought. Again we would come with a more clarified understanding, and again the “Yes?” stimulated us to further thought. Perhaps after the third time, when the capacity for further thought along that particular line was reached, he would point out the error – an error usually due to something in our Western mode of thought.

And so he trained us with such patience, such benignity. It was like a benediction. Later, after his return to India, he hoped to have a place in the Himalayas for further training of Eastern and Western disciples together....

The first morning we learnt that there is a state of consciousness higher than the surface consciousness – which is called samadhi. Instead of the two divisions we are accustomed to, the conscious and the unconscious – it would be more accurate to make the classification, the subconscious, the conscious, and the superconscious. This is where confusion arises in the Western way of thinking, which divides consciousness into the subconscious or unconscious and the conscious. They cognize only the normal state of mind, forgetting that there is a state beyond consciousness – a superconscious state, inspiration. How can we know that this is a higher state? To quote Swami literally, “In the one case a man goes in and comes out as a fool. In the other case he goes in a man and comes out a God.” And he always said, “Remember the superconscious never contradicts reason. It transcends it, but contradicts it never. Faith is not belief, it is the grasp on the Ultimate, an illumination.”

Truth is for all, for the good of all. Not secret but sacred. The steps are: hear, then reason about it, “let the flood of reason flow over it, then meditate upon it, concentrate your mind upon it, make yourself one with it.” Accumulate power in silence and become a dynamo of spirituality. What can a beggar give? Only a king can give, and he only when he wants nothing himself.

“Hold your money merely as a custodian for what is God’s. Have no attachment for it. Let name and fame and money go; they are a terrible bondage. Feel the wonderful atmosphere of freedom. You are free, free, free! Oh blessed am I! Freedom am I! I am the Infinite! In my soul I can find no beginning and no end. All is my Self. Say this unceasingly.”

He told us that God was real, a reality which could be experienced just as tangibly as any other reality; that there were methods by which these experiences could be made which were as exact as laboratory methods of experiment. The mind is the instrument. Sages, yogis, and saints from prehistoric times made discoveries in this science of the Self. They have left their knowledge as a precious legacy not only to their immediate disciples but to seekers of Truth in future times....

For the first time we understood why all religions begin with ethics. For without truth, non-injury, continence, non-stealing, cleanliness, austerity, there can be no spirituality.... Beyond a few directions in meditation there was very little set instruction, yet in course of these few days our ideas were revolutionized, our outlook enormously enlarged, our values changed. It was a re-education. We learnt to think clearly and fearlessly. Our conception of spirituality was not only clarified but transcended. Spirituality brings life, power, joy, fire, glow, enthusiasm – all the beautiful and positive things, never inertia, dullness, weakness. Then why should one have been so surprised to find a man of God with a power in an unusual degree. Why have we in the West always associated emaciation and anemic weakness with spirituality? Looking back upon it now one wonders how one could ever have been so illogical. Spirit is life, shakti, the divine energy.

It is needless to repeat the formal teaching, the great central idea. These one can read for himself. But there was something else, an influence, an atmosphere charged with the desire to escape from bondage – call it what you will – that can never be put into words, and yet was more powerful than any words. It was this which made us realize that we were blessed beyond words. To hear him say, “This indecent clinging to life,” drew aside the curtain for us into the region beyond life and death, and planted in our hearts the desire for that glorious freedom. We saw a soul struggling to escape the meshes of maya [ignorance, delusion], one to whom the body was an intolerable bondage, not only a limitation, but a degrading humiliation. “Azad, Azad, the Free,” he cried, pacing up and down like a caged lion. Yes, like the lion in the cage who found the bars not of iron but of bamboo. “Let us not be caught this time” would be his refrain another day. “So many times maya has caught us, so many times have we exchanged our freedom for sugar dolls which melted when the water touched them. Let us not be caught this time.” So in us was planted the great desire for freedom. Two of the three requisites we already had – a human body and a guru, and now he was giving us the third, the desire to be free.

“Don’t be deceived. Maya is a great cheat. Get out. Do not let her catch you this time,” and so on and so on. “Do not sell your priceless heritage for such delusions. Arise, awake, stop not till the goal is reached.” Then he would rush up to one of us with blazing eyes and fingers pointing and would exclaim, “Remember, God is the only Reality.” Like a madman, but he was mad for God. For it was at this time that he wrote “The Song of the Sannyasin.” We have not only lost our divinity, we have forgotten that we ever had it. “Arise, awake, Ye Children of Immortal Bliss.” Up and down, over and over again. “Don’t let yourself be tempted by dolls. They are dolls of sugar, or dolls of salt, and they will melt and become nothing. Be a king and know you own the world. This never comes until you give it up and it ceases to bind. Give up, give up.”

The struggle for existence, or the effort to acquire wealth and power, or the pursuit of pleasure, takes up the thought, energy, and time of human beings. We seemed to be in a different world. The end to be attained was Freedom – freedom from bondage in which maya has caught us, in which maya has enmeshed all mankind. Sooner or later the opportunity to escape will come to all. Ours had come. For these days every aspiration, every desire, every struggle was directed toward this one purpose – consciously by our Teacher, blindly, unconsciously by us, following the influence he created.

With him it was a passion. Freedom not for himself alone, but for all – though he could help only those in whom he could light the fire to help them out of maya’s chains:

“Strike off thy fetters! Bonds that bind thee down,

Of shining gold, or darker, baser ore; ...

Say – ‘Om Tat Sat, Om.’”

(To be continued)

 

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