The Religion of Vivekananda – a call to a universal science of spiritual life.
Formerly Professor of Philosophy New College (AUT) University of Madras.
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A paper presented in Vivekananda Study Circle, Madras e chapter on the occasion of his 150th Birthday
A tremendous impact was created by Swami Vivekananda during his two visits to America, the first from 1893 to 1896 and the second from 1899 to 1900. Eleanor stork a well known American academician in his work “The Gift Unopened” wrote:
“There was an advent on the American scene of a voice from the East, which in a few short years, sowed the seeds of a regeneration of a great people. At the turn of the century, an un heralded and quiet revolution took place across the land. A message was given by Vivekananda to the American people in words of such universal wisdom and power that those who heard him at the time found their lives changed and their spirits freed. It was a message of humanism in depth, a ringing declaration of a science of human development that did not deny but deepened to new dimensions America’s achievements in science and humanistic philosophy. It was not a call to a new religion but to a new way of thinking about religion… a call to a universal science of spiritual life that affirmed man as God and asked him to look within, to turn inward in order to discover the growth of his Being, and there to discover the same ground in all”.
He told to Americans that the all pervasive divine consciousness he is the infinite principle of God embodied in every one of us. Every thing in this universe is the manifestation of the divine consciousness from which we come, through which we live and in which we get absorbed in the end.
He explained the vedantic philosophy and emphasized that this philosophy places utmost importance to self realization and discovery of Eternal Divine Force of which man is a constituent and to which he is also a contributor. The real goal is one of attaining a stage of higher spirituality where there is only worship of the spirit by a spirit. Vivekananda asserted that what was conventionally regarded as religion was really an ethnic religion with all its dogmas and doctrines. The real religion was only one. He said : “There was never my religion or yours, my national religion or your national religion. There is only one religion – one infinite religion existing all through eternity and will ever exist, expressing it self in various ways in different communities, countries and races”. Every religion he exhorted, was true; but it was perfected within man only through self realization and identification with the eternal divine force. He gave a new perspective on religion and opened a new vision to perceive and move to a higher level of thinking. He emphasized upon the need to understand that for digesting material prosperity, spiritual strength was necessary; ignoring spiritual growth will create imbalances at the individual and social levels.
It is Swami Vivekananda who in the present age has most clearly shown the creative role of religion in bringing about the desired evolution of modern civilization not only in India but in the whole world. This was his most original contribution to modern thought of the world. True, his voice has not been fully heard either in India or abroad; but there are signs that thinkers all over the world are slowly veering round to his views.
THE IDEAL OF A UNIVERSAL RELIGION
An analysis of religio-spiritual content contained by major religions is provided by Swami Vivekananda in one of his lectures on ‘Ideal of a universal religion’ given at Pasadena in California (USA) in the year 1900 is quite enlightening. He says : “ In every religion there are three parts. First there is a philosophy which presents the whole scope of that religion, setting forth its basic principles, the goal and the means of reaching it. The second part is mythology, which is philosophy made concrete. It consists of legends relating to the lives of men or super natural beings… it is the abstractions of philosophy concretised in more or less imaginary lives of men and super natural beings. The third part is the ritual. This is still more concrete and is made up of forms and ceremonies, various physical attitudes, flowers and incense, and many other things that appealed to the senses. In these consists the ritual… All recognized religions have these three elements. Some lay more stress on one, some on another”6
________________________________________________________________6. Swami Vivekananda, “Jnana Yoga”, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.
If we take these three aspects together and consider them one by one we will find that there is no agreement between religions as far as its philosophy, mythology and ritual are concerned. No body in the world is able to make out the fine distinction between history and mythology. All such stories to whatever religion they may belong, are really mythological, mixed up occasionally it may be, with a little history. Even in rituals, there is no universal symbol, which can command general recognition and acceptance. How is it possible, then, to have a universal form of religion? That, however, already exists, let us examine what it is.
Various are our faces. But no two faces are alike, yet we are all human beings. Where is this one humanity? Among all these faces there is an abstract humanity which is common to all. We may not find it when we try to grasp it, to sense it and to actualize it and yet we know for certain that it is there – this humanity which is common to us all. It is through this generalized entity that we see everybody as a man or a woman. So it is with this universal religion which runs through all these various religions of the world in the form of God; it must and does exist through eternity. ‘ He is the thread that runs through all these pearls’ and each pearl is a religion. Such are the different pearls, and the lord is the thread that runs through all of them; only the majority of the mankind are entirely unconscious of it.
Unity in variety is the plan of the universe. As existence we are one with the whole universe. That universal existence is God-the ultimate unity in the universe. In Him we are all one. At the same time, in manifestation these differences must always remain. We find them that if by the idea of a universal religion it is meant that one set of doctrines should be believed in by all mankind, it is wholly impossible. It can never be. There can never be a time when all faces will be the same. Again, if we accept that there will be one universal mythology, that is also impossible, it can not be. Neither there can be one universal ritual. Such a state of things can never come into existence- if it ever did the world would be destroyed, because variety is the first principle of life. It is differentiation that makes the formed beings. The unity of the same ness can come only when this universe is destroyed. It is this difference, this differentiation which is the very soul of our progress, the soul of our thought. This must always be .
By the ideal of a universal religion, it does not mean any one universal philosophy or any one universal mythology, or any one universal ritual held by all alike. What is of utmost importance is to know at this juncture is that this world must go on working, wheel with in wheel, this intricate mass of machinery most complex and most wonderful. What we can do is to make it run smoothly, lessen the friction and grease the wheels by recognizing the variation. Just as we recognize unity by our very nature, so also we must recognize variation. We must learn that truth may be expressed in a hundred thousand ways and each of these ways is true as far as it goes. We must learn that the same thing can be viewed from a hundred different stand points and yet be the same thing. Even so is it with the Lord. Through high philosophy are low, through the most exalted mythology are the grossest, through the most refined ritualism or arrant fetishism, every sect, every soul, every nation, every religion consciously, is the struggling upward, towards God; Every vision of truth that man has, is a vision of Him, and of none else. This is the only recognition of universality that we can get.
It appears all right theoretically. But is there any way of practically working out this harmony in religion. Hundreds of attempts have been made in India, in Alexandria, in Europe, in China, in Japan, in Tibet and lastly in America to formulate a harmonious religious creed, to make all religions to come together in love. They have all failed, because they did not adopt any practical plan. Many have admitted that all religions of the world are right, but they show no practical way of bringing them together so as to enable each of them to maintain its own individuality in the conflux. That plan is alone practical which does not destroy the individuality of any man in religion and at the same time shows him a point of union with all others. But so far all the plans of a religious harmony that have been tried, while proposing to take all the various views of religion, have, in practice, tried to bind them all down to a few doctrines, and so have produced more new sects, fighting, struggling and pushing against each other.
In this context Swami Vivekananda exhorts:
I have also my little plan. I do not know whether it will work or not… I would ask mankind to recognize this maxim, ‘Do not Destroy’. Iconoclastic reformers do no good to the world. Break not, pull not any thing down, but build.7
God is the centre of all religions and each one of us is moving towards Him; Then it is certain that all of us must reach that centre; But until we reach there , there will be differences. Each one, according to his nature, travels along one of these ways, and another along another and shall surely come to the centre because each one of us is naturally growing and developing according to his own nature and each one will in time come to know the highest truth. Spiritual growth must come from inside. There is no other teacher to make us spiritual than our own soul.
There are thousands and thousands of varieties of minds and inclinations. A thorough generalization of them is impossible. But for practical purposes they can be classified into four categories. First there is active man, the worker; he wants to work. His aim is to work- to build hospitals, do charitable deeds to plan and organize. The second category is the emotional man who loves the sublime, to adore love and the God of love. The third category is the mystique whose mind wants to analyze his own self, to understand its own self, to understand the human mind, the forces that are working inside and how to know, manipulate, and obtain control over them. This is the mystical mind. The fourth category is the philosopher who wants to weigh every thing and use his intellect beyond the possibilities of human philosophy.
Religion to satisfy the largest portion of mankind, must be able to supply food for all these various types of mind and where this capability is wanting, the existing sex will become one sided. This is the condition of religion. The world is in need of a religion that will be equally acceptable to all minds; it must be equally philosophic, equally emotional, equally mystique and equally conducive to action. A religion that will be able to show how to realize the philosophy that teaches us that this world is one, that there is but one existence in the Universe. A combination of all these elements of philosophy
______________________________________________________________________________________________________7. Swami Vivekananda, “Jnana Yoga”, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.
23rd edn.2001. Ibid
Mysticism, emotion, and of work will be the ideal of the nearest approach to a universal religion. To become harmoniously balanced in all these four directions will be an ideal religion. And this religion is attained by Yoga-union. To the worker, it is union between men and the whole of humanity; To the mystique, between the lower and higher self; To the lover union between himself and the God of love; and to the philosopher it is the union of all existence. This is what is meant by yoga. There are four divisions of yoga. The man who seeks after this kind of union is called a Yogi. The worker is called Karmayogi. He who seeks union through love is called Bhakti Yogi. He who seeks it through mysticism is called Raja Yogi. And he who seeks it through philosophy is called The Jnana Yogi.
Raja-yoga is the controlling of the mind. Raja-yogais the psychological way to union. The power of concentration is the only king to the treasure house of spiritual knowledge. The system of Raja-yoga deals almost exclusively with this which has to be practiced under the careful supervision- a teacher who is a realized soul himself. He also decides this particular Patanjali Yoga system suits your body-mind status which you have acquired in this birth from the accumulated karma of your previous births .
Karma-Yoga is the attainment of God through work. There are many persons in society who seem to be born for some sort of activity who have but one idea, concretised in work, visible and tangible. There is a science for this kind of life also. Each one of us is engaged in some work, but the majority of us fritter away the greater portion of our energies because we do not know the secret of work. Karma-Yoga explains the secret and teaches where and how to work, how to employ to the greatest advantage the largest part of our energies in the work that is before us. But with this secret we must take into consideration the great objection against work, namely that it causes pain. All misery and pain come from attachment. You want to do work, you want to do good to a human being; and it is ninety to one that human being whom you have helped will prove ungrateful and go against you; and the result to you is pain. Such things deter mankind from working and it spoils a good portion of the work and energy of mankind- this fear of pain and misery. Karma-Yoga teaches us how to work for work’s sake, un attached without caring who is helped and what for. The Karma-Yogi works because it is his nature, because he feels that it is good for him to do so, and he has no object beyond that. His position in this world is that of a giver, and he never cares to receive anything. He knows that he is giving and does not ask for anything in return and, therefore, he alludes the grasp of misery. The grasp of pain, whenever it comes is the result of reaction of “attachment”
Bhakti-Yoga is meant for the person who is of emotional nature, the lover. He wants to love God, he relies upon and uses all sorts of rituals, flowers, incense, beautiful temples, forms and all such things. The worlds greatest spiritual joints have all been produced only by those religious sects which have been in possession of very rich mythology and ritual. The greatest men, the most wonderfully developed in spirituality have all come through the discipline of these rituals. God to them is something tangible the only thing that is real; they feel, hear; and see Him and love Him. Bhakti-Yoga teaches us how to love, without any ulterior motives, loving the God because it is good to do so, not for going to heaven, wealth or anything. It teaches us that love itself is the highest recompense of love-that God Himself is love. It teaches us to pay all kinds of tribute to God as the creator, the omnipresent, Almighty Ruler the Father and the Mother. Where ever there is love it is He. Where ever the heart expands, He is there manifested. This is what the Bhakti-Yoga teaches.
The Jnana-Yogi is the philosopher, the thinker. He wants to go beyond the visible. His soul wants to go beyond all that into the heart of being, by saying reality as it is, by realizing It, by being It, By becoming one with that Universal Being. To him God is the life of his life. The soul of his soul. God is his own Self. He is the basis of His life. “Nay Thou art That”. This is what Jnana-Yoga teaches. It tells man that he is essentially Divine. It shows to mankind the real unity of being and that each one of us is the Lord God Him self manifested on earth. He is life of this Universe, present in the atom and in Sons and Moons.
It is imperative that all these four yogas should be carried out in practice; Mere theories about them will not do any good. First we have to hear them reverentially by sitting at the feet of an accomplished Guru sought by us after a life long search for a spiritual guru who is himself a realized soul. We have to reason the thoughts out, impress them on our minds and we have to meditate on them, realize them until at last they become our whole life. No longer will religion then remain a bundle of ideas or theories nor an intellectual assent; It will enter into our very life.
As Swami Vivekananda puts it aptly; “By means of intellectual assent we may to day subscribe to many foolish things and change our minds altogether tomorrow. But the true religion never changes. Religion is realization; not talk, nor doctrine, nor theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming, not hearing and acknowledging; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes”8.This is the ideal of universal religion.
On realization of a universal religion
While giving a lecture on “on the way to Realization of a universal Religion” Swami Vivekananda said;
“No search has been dearer to human heart than that which brings to us light from God. No study has taken so much of human energy… as the study of the human soul, of God and of human destiny. However immersed we are in our daily occupations, in our ambitions, in our work, in the midst of the greatest of our struggles, sometimes there will come a pause; the mind stops and wants to know something beyond this world. Sometimes it catches glimpses of a realm beyond the senses and struggle to get at it is the result. Thus it has been through out ages, in all countries man has wanted to look beyond, wanted to expand himself; and all that we call progress , evolution, has always been measured by that one search for human destiny, the search for God”9
Man’s spiritual struggle is represented by various religions. There is a tremendous power in all the great religions of the world. Each one of them is progressive. Burt all religions sometimes advance and some times decline. Any attempt to bring all humanity to one method of thinking in spiritual matters will
8. Swami Vivekananda, “Jnana Yoga” Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, P.342.
9. Swami Vivekananda, “Jnana Yoga” Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, P.343
Be a failure. If all of us think exactly the same thoughts, there would be no thoughts for us to think. It is the clash of thought, the differentiation of thought that awakes thought. So long as mankind thinks there will be sects. Variation is the sign of life. There will be as many sects as human beings and each one will have his own method, his individual method of thought in religion. Every religion has a soul behind it, and that soul may differ from the soul of another religion. But they are not contradictory; The are supplementary. Each religion takes up one part of the great universal truth, and spends its whole force in embodying and typifying that part of the great truth. It is, therefore, addition, not exclusion. System after system arises, each one embodying, and ideals must be added to ideals and this is the march of humanity. Man never progresses from error to truth, from truth to truth, from lesser truth to higher truth-but it is never from error to truth. It is like looking at the truth from different stand point which vary according to our birth, education and surroundings. We are viewing truth getting as much of it as the circumstances permit, coloring the truth with our own heart, understanding it with our own intellect and grasping it with our own mind. We can only know as much of truth as is related to us, as much of it as we are able to receive. This makes the difference between man and man and occasions some times even contradictory ideas. At the same time we all belong to the same great universal truth.
All these religions are different forces of God, working for the good of mankind. They are all spiritual forces. Each religion is a living religion and intelligenyly on the m arch. Just as the universal brotherhood is already existing so also is universal religion. Each religion represents a particular excellence – something which is its soul. The fact that all these religions are living today proves that they have kept their mission intact – the great mission for which they came for.
Islam came to preach the world the practical brother hood of all belonging to their faith. This is the essential part of Islam. The central idea of Christianity is; “ watch and pray, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – which means purify your minds and be ready. Christian countries prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord by trying to help others, building Hospitals and so on. So long as the Christians keep to their ideals, their religion lives.
The one national idea of Hindus is spirituality. A lot of energy is being spent in refining the idea of God they are trying to define the ideal of soul so that no earthly touch might mar it. The spirit must be divine. The spirit understood as spirit must not be made into a man. The idea of unity, the realization of God, the Omni present is preached through out. They think it is all non-sense to say that he lives in heaven and all that. It is a mere human and anthropomorphic idea. All the heaven that existed is now and hear. One moment in infinite time is as good as any other moment. They think that religion begins when one has realized something. It is not believing in doctrines, nor giving intellectual assent, nor making declarations. They say that if there is a God, one has to see Him to believe Him and one has to struggle to see Him and renounce the world and spend the whole life for this one object. Renunciation and spirituality are the two great ideas of India and it is because India clings to these ideas their religion lives.
There are various ways of mind. One may be matter -of-fact, common sense rationalist. He will not care for forms and ceremonies. He wants intellectual hard ringing facts. They alone will satisfy him. There are puritans who will not allow a picture or a statue in their place of worship like Islam. But there is another man who is more artistic. He wants a great deal of art-beauty of lines and curves, the colors, flowers, forms; He wants candles, lights and all the insignia, paraphernalia of ritual, that he may see God. His mind takes God in those forms. Then there is a devotional man whose soul is crying for God; He has no other idea but to worship God and to praise him. Then there is philosopher, standing out side all these, mocking at them about their ideas of God.
They may laugh at one another, but each one has a place in this world.All these various types are necessary. An ideal religion must be broad and large enough to supply food for all these minds. It must supply the strength of philosophy to the philosopher, the devotee’s heart to the worshipper, to the ritualist it will give all that the most marvelous symbolism can convey, to the poet it will give as much of heart as he can take in. To make such a broad religion, we have to go back to the time when religions began and take them all in. The watch word is acceptance not exclusion. Pray God with a Muslim in the mosque; enter church with a Christian to kneel before the crucifix, sit down in meditation with a Hindu who is trying to see the light which enlightens the heart of every one.
God’s book is not finished. A continuous revelation is going on. It is a marvelous book of spiritual revelations of the world. The Bible, the Veda’s, The Koran, and all other sacred books are but so many pages, and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded. Let us stand in the present but open our selves to the infinite future. Let us take in all that has been in the past, enjoy the light of the present and open every window of the heart for all that will come in the future. Salutations to all the prophets of the past and to all that are to come in the future. Some times it is better to dream a dream than die on hard facts. Great truths even in a dream are good, better than bad facts. So, let us dream a dream .