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PRACTICAL VEDANTA - Excerpt 1

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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 and other spiritual texts.

 

 

 

 

From Practical Vedanta – Excerpt 1.

(Delivered in London, November 12, 1896)

We want to worship a living God. I have not seen anything but God all my life, nor have you. To see this chair you first see God and then the chair, in and through him. He is everywhere, as the “I am.” The moment you feel “I am,” you are conscious of existence. Where shall we find God if we cannot see him in our own hearts and in every living being? “Thou art the man, thou art the woman, thou art the girl, and thou art the boy; thou art the old man tottering with a stick, thou art the young man walking in the pride of his strength; thou art all that exists” – a wonderful, living God who is the only fact in the universe.

            This seems to many to be a terrible contradiction of the traditional God, who lives behind a veil somewhere and whom nobody ever sees. The priests only give us an assurance that if we follow them, listen to their admonitions, and walk in the way they mark out for us, then, when we die, they will give us a passport to enable us to see the face of God! What are all these ideas of heaven but simply interventions of this nonsensical priestcraft?

            Of course, the idea of the impersonal[1] is very destructive: it takes away all trade from the priests, churches, and temples. In India there is a famine now, but there are temples in each one of which there are jewels worth a king’s ransom. If the priests taught this idea of the impersonal to the people, their occupation would be gone. Yet we have to teach it unselfishly, without priestcraft. You are God and so am I. Who obeys whom? Who worships whom? You are the highest temple of God; I would rather worship you than any temple, image, or Bible. Why are some people’s thoughts so full of contradictions? They say that they are hardheaded practical men. Very good. But what is more practical than worshipping you? I see you, feel you, and I know you are God. The Mohammedan says there is no God but Allah. Vedanta says that there is nothing that is not God. It may frighten many of you, but you will understand it by degrees. The living God is within you, and yet you are building churches and temples and believing all sorts of imaginary nonsense. The only God to worship is the human soul in the human body. Of course, all animals are temples too, but man is the highest, the greatest of all temples. If I cannot worship in that, no other temple will be of any advantage. The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him, that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.

            This is the most practical of all worship; it has nothing to do with theorizing and speculation. Yet it frightens many. They say it is not right. They go on theorizing about old ideas told them by their grandfathers, that a God somewhere in heaven had told someone that he was God. Since that time we have only theories. This is practicality according to them – and our ideas are impractical! No doubt, Vedanta says, each one must have his own path; but the path is not the goal. The worship of a God in heaven and all these things are not bad; but they are only steps towards the truth, and not the truth itself. They are good and beautiful, and some wonderful ideas are there, but Vedanta says at every point: “My friend, him whom you are worshipping as unknown – I worship him as you. He whom you are worshipping as unknown and seeking throughout the universe has been with you all the time. You are living through him and he is the eternal witness of the universe.” He whom all the Vedas worship, nay, more, he who is always present in the eternal “I” – he existing, the whole universe exists. He is the light and life of the universe. If this “I” were not in you, you would not see the sun; everything would be a mass of darkness. He shining, you see the world.

            One objection is generally raised, and it is this: that this may lead to a tremendous amount of difficulty. Every one of us will think, “I am God, and whatever I do or think must be good; for God can do no evil.” In the first place, even taking this danger of misinterpretation for granted, can it be proved that on the other side the same danger does not exist? Men have been worshipping a God in heaven separate from them and of whom they are much afraid. They have been born shaking with fear, and all their life they will go on shaking. Has the world been made much better by this? Those who have understood and worshipped a personal God, and those who have understood and worshipped an impersonal God – which of these have been the great workers of the world? On which side have been the gigantic workers, gigantic moral powers? Certainly on the side of the impersonal. How can you expect morality to be developed through fear? It can never be. “When one sees another, when one hears another, that is maya. When one does not see another, when one does not hear another, when everything has become Atman, who sees whom, who perceives whom?” It is all he and all I at the same time. The soul has become pure. Then and then alone do we understand what love is. Love cannot come through fear. Its basis is freedom. When we really begin to love the world, then we understand what is meant by the brotherhood or mankind, and not before.

(To be continued)

From “Practical Vedanta” by Swami Vivekananda, quoted from “VIVEKANANDA, WORLD TEACHER: His Teachings on the Spiritual Unity of Humankind”, Edited and with an Introduction by Swami Adiswarananda.


 

[1] The impersonal God is a living God, a principle. The difference between personal and impersonal God is this: the personal God is only a man, whereas the impersonal is angel, man, animal, and yet something more, which we cannot see, because impersonality includes all personalities, is the sum total of everything in the universe, and infinitely more besides.

 

 

 

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