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Book  stop.gif (845 bytes)  Weekly Message Archive


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.





(From “Vedanta and Privilege” Delivered in London, 1896)

There is a screen here, and some beautiful scenery outside. There is a small hole in the screen through which we can catch only a glimpse of it. Suppose this hole begins to increase; as it grows larger and larger, more and more of the scenery comes into view; and when the screen has vanished, we come face to face with the whole of the scenery. This scene outside is the soul, and the screen between us and the scenery is maya – time, space, and causation. There is a little hole somewhere, through which I can catch only a glimpse of the soul. As the hole grows bigger, I see more and more, and when the screen has vanished, I know that I am the soul.

            So the changes in the universe are not in the Absolute, but in nature. Nature evolves more and more until the Absolute is fully manifest. In everyone it exists; in some it is manifested more than in others. The whole universe is really one. From the standpoint of the soul, to say that one is superior to another is meaningless. From the same standpoint, to say that man is superior to the animal or the plant is meaningless. In plants the obstacle to soul-manifestation is very great; in animals, a little less; in man, still less; in cultured, spiritual men, still less; and in perfect men it has vanished altogether. All our struggles, exercises, pains, pleasures, tears, and smiles – all that we do and think – tend towards that goal, the tearing up of the screen by making the hole bigger, the thinning of the layers that remain between the manifestation and the reality behind. Our work, therefore, is not to make the soul free, but to get rid of the bondage. The sun is covered by layers of clouds but remains unaffected by them. The work of the wind is to drive the clouds away, and the more the clouds disappear, the more the light of the sun appears. There is no change whatsoever in the soul – infinite, absolute, eternal knowledge, bliss, and existence.

            Neither can there be birth or death for the soul. Dying and being born, reincarnation, and going to heaven cannot be for the soul. These are different appearances, different mirages, different dreams. If a man who is dreaming of this world now, dreams of wicked thoughts and wicked deeds, after a certain time the thought of that very dream will produce the next dream; he will dream that he is in a horrible place, being tortured. The man who is dreaming good thoughts and good deeds, after that period of dream is over will dream he is in a better place. And so on from dream to dream.

            But the time will come when the whole of this dream will vanish. To every one of us there must come a time when the whole universe will be found to have been a dream, when we shall find that the soul is infinitely more real than its surroundings. In this struggle through what we call our environments, there will come a time when we shall find that these environments were almost zero in comparison with the power of the soul. It is only a question of time, and time is nothing compared to the infinite. It is a drop in the ocean. We can afford to wait and be calm.

            Consciously or unconsciously, therefore, the whole universe is going towards that goal. The moon is struggling to get out of the sphere of attraction of other bodies, and will come out of it in the long run. But those who consciously strive to get free shorten the time. One practical benefit from this theory, we see, is that the idea of a real universal love is possible only from this point of view. All are our fellow travelers. All living things – plants, animals, and men; not only my brother man, but my brother brute, my brother plant; not only my brother the good man, but my brother the evil, my brother the spiritual man and my brother the wicked – they are all going to the same goal. All are in the same stream; each is hurrying towards that infinite freedom. We cannot stay the course; none can stay it, none can go back, however he may try; he will be driven forward and finally will attain to freedom. The cosmic process means the struggle to get back to freedom, the center of our being, from whence we have been thrown off, as it were. The very fact that we are here shows that we are going towards the center, and the manifestation of this attraction towards the center is what we call love.

            The question is asked: From what does this universe come, in what does it remain, to what does it go back? And the answer is: From love it comes, in love it remains, back it goes unto love. Thus we are in a position to understand that, whether one likes it or not, there is no holding back for anyone. Everyone has to get to the center, however he may struggle to hold back. Yet if we struggle consciously, knowingly, it will smooth the passage; it will lessen the jar and quicken the time.

            Another conclusion we naturally arrive at from this is that all knowledge and all power are within and not without. What we call nature is a reflecting glass; the only use of nature is to reflect, and all knowledge is this reflection of the internal on the glass of nature. What we call secrets of nature and powers are all within. In the external world is only a series of changes. There is no knowledge in nature; all knowledge comes from the human soul. Man manifests knowledge – discovers it within himself – which has existed through eternity. Everyone is the embodiment of knowledge, everyone is the embodiment of eternal bliss, and eternal existence.

            The effect of this theory is the same, as we have seen elsewhere, with regard to equality. The idea of privilege is the bane of human life. Two forces, as it were, are constantly at work, the one making caste and the other breaking caste; in other words, the one making for privilege, and the other breaking down privilege. And whenever privilege is broken down, more and more light and progress come to a race. This struggle we see all around us. Of course there is first the brutal idea of privilege: that of the strong over the weak. There is the privilege of wealth: if a man has more money than another, he wants a little privilege over those who have less. There is the still subtler and more powerful privilege of intellect: because one man knows more than others he claims more privilege. And the last of all, and the worst, because the most tyrannical, is the privilege of spirituality: if some persons think they know more of spirituality, of God, they claim a privilege over everyone else; they say, “Come down and worships us, ye common herd; we are the messengers of God, and you have to worship us.”

            None can be Vedantists and at the same time sanction privilege for anyone, either mental, physical, or spiritual. There should be absolutely no privilege for anyone. The same power is in every man, one manifesting more, another less; the same potentiality is in all. Where then is the claim to privilege? All knowledge is in every soul, even in the most ignorant; he has not manifested it, but perhaps he has not had the opportunity; his environment was not, perhaps, suitable to him; when he gets the opportunity he will manifest it. The idea that one man is born superior to another has no meaning in Vedanta; that between two nations one is superior and the other inferior has no meaning whatsoever. Put them in the same circumstances and see whether the same intelligence comes out or not. Before that you have no right to say that one nation is superior to another.

(to be continued)

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

Book  stop.gif (845 bytes) Weekly Message Archive