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.
THE REAL NATURE OF MAN – Part II
(Delivered at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolors, London,
June 21, 1896)
This idea of “me” and “mine” – ahamkara and mamata – is the result of past
superstition, and the more this present self passes away, the more the
real Self becomes manifest. This is true self-abnegation, the center, the
basis, the gist of all moral teaching, and whether man knows it or not,
the whole world is slowly going towards it, practicing it more or less.
Only, the vast majority of mankind are doing it unconsciously. Let them do
it consciously. Let them make the sacrifice, knowing that this “me” and
“mine” is not the real Self, but only a limitation. But one glimpse of
that infinite reality which is behind, but one spark of that infinite fire
that is the All, represents the present man. The infinite is his true
What is the utility, the effect, the result of this knowledge?
In these days we have to measure everything by utility – by how many
pounds, shillings, and pence it represents. What right has a person to ask
that truth should be judged by the standard of utility or money? Suppose
there is no utility, will it be less true? Utility is not the test of
truth. Nevertheless, there is the highest utility in this. Happiness, we
see, is what everyone is seeking for; but the majority seeks it in things
which are evanescent and not real. No happiness was ever found in the
senses. There never was a person who found happiness in the senses or in
enjoyment of the senses. Happiness is only found in the spirit. Therefore
the highest utility for mankind is to find this happiness in the spirit.
The next point is that ignorance is the great mother of all
misery, and the fundamental ignorance is to think that the infinite weeps
and cries, that it is finite. This is the basis of all ignorance – that
we, the immortal, the ever pure, the perfect spirit, think we are little
minds, we are little bodies. It is the mother of all selfishness. As soon
as I think I am a little body, I want to preserve it, to protect it, to
keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies. Then you and I become
separate. As soon as this idea of separation comes, it opens the door to
all mischief and leads to all misery. This, then, is the utility of this
knowledge – that if a small fractional part of human beings living today
can put aside the idea of selfishness, narrowness, and littleness, this
earth will become a paradise tomorrow. But with machines and improvements
of material knowledge only, it will never be so. These only increase
misery, as oil poured on fire increases the flame all the more. Without
the knowledge of the spirit, all material knowledge is only adding fuel to
fire, only giving into the hands of selfish man one more instrument to
take what belongs to others, to live upon the life of others instead of
giving up his life for them.
Is it practical? – is another question. Can it be practiced in
modern society? Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient or
modern. Society has to pay homage to truth or die. Societies should be
molded upon truth; truth has not to adjust itself to society. If such a
noble truth as unselfishness cannot be practiced in society, it is better
for man to give up society and go into the forest. That is the daring man.
There are two sorts of courage. One is the courage of facing
the cannon; and the other is the courage of spiritual conviction. An
emperor who invaded India was told by his teacher to go and see some of
the sages there. After a long search for one, he found a very old man
sitting on a block of stone. The emperor talked with him a little and
became very much impressed by his wisdom. He asked the sage to go to his
country with him. “No,” said the sage, “I am quite satisfied with my
forest here.” Said the emperor: “I will give you money, position, wealth.
I am the emperor of the world.” “No,” replied the man, “I don’t care for
those things.” The emperor replied, “If you do not go, I will kill you.”
The man smiled serenely and said: “That is the most foolish thing you ever
said, Emperor. You cannot kill me. Me the sun cannot dry, fire cannot
burn, sword cannot kill; for I am the birthless, the deathless, the ever
living omnipotent, omnipresent spirit.” This is spiritual boldness, while
the other is the courage of a lion or a tiger.
During the Mutiny of 1857, there was a swami, a very great
soul, whom a Mohammedan mutineer stabbed severely. The Hindu mutineers
caught and brought the man to the swami, offering to kill him. But the
swami looked up calmly and said, “My brother, thou art He, thou art He!”
and expired. This is another instance.
What good is it to talk of the strength of your muscles, of
the superiority of your Western institutions, if you cannot make truth
square with your society, if you cannot build up a society into which the
highest truth will fit? What is the good of this boastful talk about your
grandeur and greatness if you stand up and say, “This courage is not
practical”? Is nothing practical but pounds, shillings, and pence? If so,
why boast of your society? That society is the greatest where the highest
truths become practical. That is my opinion. And if society is not fit for
the highest truths, make it so – and the sooner, the better.
Stand up, men and women, in this spirit, dare to believe in
the truth, dare to practice the truth! The world requires a few hundred
bold men and women. Practice that boldness which dares know the truth,
which dares show the truth in life, which does not quake before death,
nay, welcomes death, makes a man know that he is the spirit, that in the
whole universe nothing can kill him. Then you will be free. Then you will
know your real soul.
“This Atman is first to be heard of, then thought about, and
then meditated upon.” There is a great tendency in modern times to talk
too much of work and decry thought. Doing is very good, but that comes
from thinking. Little manifestations of energy through the muscles are
called work. But where there is no thought, there will be no work. Fill
the brain, therefore, with high thoughts, with the highest ideals; place
them day and night before you, and out of that will come great work. Talk
not about impurity, but say that we are pure. We have hypnotized ourselves
into this thought that we are little, that we are born and that we are
going to die, and into a constant state of fear.
There is a story about a lioness who was big with young. Going
about in search of prey, and seeing a flock of sheep, she jumped upon
them. She died in the effort and a little baby lion was born, motherless.
It was taken care of by the sheep and they brought it up. It grew up with
them, ate grass, and bleated like the sheep. And although in time it
became a full-grown lion, it thought it was a sheep. One day another lion
came in search of prey and was astonished to find that in the midst of
this flock of sheep was a lion, fleeing like the sheep at the approach of
danger. He tried to get near the sheep-lion to tell it that it was not a
sheep but a lion, but the poor animal fled at his approach. However, he
watched his opportunity and one day found the sheep-lion sleeping. He
approached it and said, “You are a lion.” “I am a sheep,” cried the other
lion; it could not believe the contrary, but bleated. The lion dragged it
towards a lake and said, “Look here: there is my reflection and there is
yours.” Then came the comparison. The sheep-lion looked at the lion and
then at its own reflection, and in a moment came the idea that it was a
lion. The lion roared; the bleating was gone.
You are lions; you are the soul, pure, infinite, and perfect.
The might of the universe is within you. “Why weepest thou, my friend?
There is neither birth nor death for thee. Why weepest thou? There is no
disease or misery for thee. Thou art like the infinite sky: clouds of
various colors come over it, play for a moment, then vanish; but the sky
is ever the same eternal blue.”
Why do we see wickedness? There was a stump of a tree, and in
the dark a thief came that way and said, “That is a policeman.” A young
man waiting for his beloved saw it and thought that it was his sweetheart.
A child who had been told ghost stories took it for a ghost and began to
shriek. But all the time it was the stump of a tree. We see the world as
we are. Suppose there is a baby in a room with a bag of gold on the table,
and a thief comes and steals the gold. Would the baby know it was stolen?
That which we have inside, we see outside. The baby has no thief inside
and sees no thief outside. So with all knowledge.
Do not talk of the wickedness of the
world and all its sins. Weep that you are bound to see wickedness yet.
Weep that you are bound to see sin everywhere. If you want to help the
world, do not condemn it. Do not weaken it more. For what is sin and what
is misery – what are all these but the results of weakness? The world is
made weaker and weaker every day by such teachings. Men are taught from
childhood that they are weak and sinners. Teach them that they are all
glorious children of immortality, even those who are the weakest in
manifestation. Let positive, strong, helpful thoughts enter into their
brains from very childhood. Lay yourselves open to these thoughts, and not
to weakening and paralyzing ones. Say to your own minds, “I am He, I am
He.” Let it ring day and night in your minds like a song, and at the point
of death declare “I am He.” That is the truth. The infinite strength of
the world is yours. Drive out the superstition that has covered your
minds. Let us be brave. Know the truth and practice the truth. The goal
may be distant, but awake, arise, and stop not till the goal is reached
From “The Real Nature of Man” by
Swami Vivekananda, quoted from “VIVEKANANDA, WORLD TEACHER: His
Teachings on the Spiritual Unity of Humankind”, Edited and with an
Introduction by Swami Adiswarananda.
Weekly Message Archive