Gems from Vivekananda

All religions are true

You must remember that humanity travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth; it may be, if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth, but never from error to truth. Suppose you start from here and travel towards the sun in a straight line. From here the sun looks only small in size. Suppose you go forwards a million miles, the sun will be much bigger. At every stage the sun will become bigger and bigger. Suppose twenty thousand photographs had been taken of the same sun, from different standpoints; these twenty thousand photographs will certainly differ from one another. But can you deny that each is a photograph of the same sun? So all forms of religion, high or low, are just different stages towards that eternal state of light, which is God Himself. Some embody a lower view, some a higher, and that is all the difference.

– Vivekananda (Complete Works IV, p147)

Religion is not about belief but about direct perception

“There are certain religious facts which, as in external science, have to be perceived and upon them religion will be built. Of course, the extreme claim that you must believe every dogma of a religion is degrading to the human mind. The man who asks you to believe everything, degrades himself, and, if you believe, degrades you too. The sages of the world have only the right to tell us that they have analyzed their minds and have found these facts, and if we do the same we shall also believe, and not before. That is all there is in religion.” (CW, 2:163).

“The proof, therefore, of the Vedas is just the same as the proof of this table before me, pratyaksa, direct perception. This I see with the senses, and the truths of spirituality we also see in a superconscious state of the human soul.” (CW, 3:253).

Dangers of unguided Yoga

The Yogi says there is a great danger in stumbling upon this state
(Samadhi). In a good many cases there is the danger of the brain being deranged, and, as a rule, you will find that all these men, however great they were, who had stumbled upon this superconscious state without understanding it, groped in the dark, and generally had, along with their knowledge, some quaint superstation. They opened themselves to hallucinations. Mohammed claimed that the Angel Gabriel came to him in a cave one day and took him on the heavenly horse, Harak, and he visited the heavens. But with all that, Mohammed spoke some wonderful truths. If you read the Koran, you find the most wonderful truths mixed with superstitions. How will you explain it? That man was inspired, no doubt, but that inspiration was, as it were stumbled upon. He was not a trained Yogi, and did not know the reason of what he is doing. Think of the good Mohammed did to the world, and think of the great evil that
had been done through his fanaticism. Think of the millions massacred
through his teachings, mothers bereft of their children, children made orphans, whole countries destroyed, millions and millions of people killed.

– Vivekananda (Complete Works I, p184)

Hinduism accepts people who want to convert to it

“I want to see you Swami”, I began, “on this matter of receiving back into Hinduism those who have been perverted from it. Is it your opinion they should be received?

“Certainly”, said the Swami (Vivekananda),” they can and aught to be
taken.”

He sat gravely for a moment, thinking, and then resumed,”Besides,” he
said, “we shall otherwise decrease in numbers. When the Mohammedans first came, we are said — I think on the authorty of Ferishta, the oldest Mohammedan historian — to have been six hundred millions of hindus. Now we are about two hundred millions. And then every man getting out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more. Again the vast majority of Hindu perverts to Islam and Christianity are perverts by the sword, or to the descendents of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on.In my own opinion, this statement not only applies to aboriginal tribes, to outlying nations, and to almost all our conquerors before the Mohammedan conquest, but also to all those castes who find a special origin in the Puranas. I hold that they have been aliens thus
adopted. Cermonies of expiation are no doubt suitable in the case of
willing converts, returning to their Mother church, as it were; but on those who were alienated by conquest– as in Kashmir and Nepal — or on strangers wishing to join us, no penance should be imposed.”

– Vivekananda (Complete Works V, p233, interview given in “Prabuddha
Bharat”, April, 1899)

Buddha and Shankara


What Buddha did was to break wide open the gates of that very religion
which was confined in the Upanishads to a particular caste. . . His greatness lies in his unrivalled sympathy. The high orders of samadhi etc., that lent gravity to his religion, are almost all there in the Vedas; what are absent there are his intellect and heart, which have never since been paralleled throughout the history of the world. . . The religion of Buddha has reared itself on the Upanisads, and upon that also the philosophy of Shankara. Only Shankara had not the slightest bit of Buddha’s wonderful heart, dry intellect merely! For
fear of the Tantras, for fear of the mob, in his attempt to cure a boil, he amputated the very arm itself. (CW, VI. 225-27)

Shankara’s intellect was sharp like a razor. He was a good arguer and a
scholar, no doubt of that, but he had no great liberality; his heart too seems to have been like that. Besides, he used to take great pride in his Brahmanism — much like a southern Brahmin of the priest class, you may say. How he has defended in his commentary on the Vedanta Sutras that the non-Brahmin castes will not attain to a supreme knowledge of Brahman! . . . But look at Buddha’s heart! — Ever ready to give his own life to save the life of even a kid — what to speak of bahujanahitaya bahujanasukhaya — For the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many”! See what a large-heartedness – what a
compassion. (CW, VII. 117-18)

Philosophical Conception of Ishvara


Who is Ishvara? Janmadyasya yatah – “From whom is the birth, continuation, and dissolution of the universe,” – He is Ishvara – “the Eternal, the Pure, the Ever-Free, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Merciful, the Teacher of all teachers”; and above all, Sa Ishvarah anirvachaniya-premasvarupah – “He the Lord is, of His own nature, inexpressible Love.” These certainly are the definitions of a Personal God. Are there then two Gods – the “Not this, not this,” the Sat-chit-ananda, the Existence-knowledge-Bliss of the philosopher, and this God of love of the Bhakta? No it is the same Sat-chit-ananda who is also the God of Love, the impersonal and personal in one. It has always to be understood that the Personal God worshipped by the Bhakta is not
separate or different from Brahman. All is Brahman, the One without a
second; only the Brahman, as unity or absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped; so the Bhakta chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is Ishvara, the Supreme Ruler. To use a simile:Brahman is as the clay or substance out of which an infinite variety of articles are fashioned. As clay, they are all one; but form or manifestation differentiates them. Before everyone of them was made, they all existed potentially in the clay, and, of course, they are identical substantially; but when formed, and so long as the form remains, they are separate and different; the clay-mouse can never
become a clay-elephant, because, as manifestations, form alone makes them what they are, though as unformed clay they are all one. Ishvara is the highest manifestation of the Absolute Reality, or in other words, the highest possible reading of the Absolute by the human mind. Creation is eternal and so also is Ishvara……..Those who attain to that state where there is neither knower, nor knowable, nor knowledge, where there is neither I, nor thou, nor he, where there is neither subject, nor object, nor relation, “there, who is seen by whom?” – such persons have gone beyond everything to “where words cannot go nor mind”, gone to where the Shrutis declare as “Not this, not this”; but for those who cannot, or will not reach this state, there will inevitably remain the triune vision of the one undifferentiated
Brahman as nature, soul and the interpenetrating sustainer of both – Ishvara.
…..
Bhakti, then, can be directed towards Brahman, only in His personal
aspect. “The way is more difficult for those whose mind is attached to the absolute!” Bhakti has to float on smoothly with the current of our nature. True it is that we cannot have any idea of the Brahman which is not anthropomorphic, but is it not equally true of everything we know? The greatest psychologist the world has ever known, Bhagavan Kapila, demonstrated ages ago that human consciousness is one of the elements in the make-up of all the objects of our perception and conception, internal as well as external. Beginning with our bodies and going up to Ishvara, we may see that every object of our perception is this consciousness plus something else, whatever that may be; and this unavoidable mixture is what we ordinarily think of as reality. Indeed it is, and ever will be, all of the reality that is possible for human mind to know. Therefore to say that Ishvara is unreal, because He is
anthropomorphic is sheer nonsense. It sounds very much like the occidental squabble on idealism and realism, which fearful-looking quarrel has for its foundation a mere play on the word “real”. The idea of Ishvara covers all the ground ever denoted and connoted by the word real, and Ishvara is as real as anything else in the universe; and after all, the word real means nothing more than what has now been pointed out. Such is our philosophical conception of Ishvara. (CW III.37-42)

Practical Vedanta


He presented his “practical Vedanta” in the Mahavakya, “Each soul is
potentially Divine. The goal is to manifest this Divine within by
controlling Nature external and internal. Do this by work or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy, by one or more or all of these ? and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrine or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”

Bhakti and not fear of God


The Bhakti of India is not like the western Bhakti. The central idea of
ours is that there is no thought of fear. It is always, love God. There is no worship through fear, but always through love, from beginning to end.

– Vivekananda (Complete Works V, p300-301)

Salvation


Salvation has NOTHING to do with God. Freedom already is.

– Vivekananda (Complete Works V, p317)

Hindu dharma not polytheistic

At the very outset, I may tell you that there is no polytheism in India. In every temple, if one stands by and listens, one will find the
worshippers applying all the attributes of God, including omnipresence, to the images. It is not polytheism, nor would the name henotheism explain the situation. “The rose called by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are not explanations.

– Vivekananda (Complete Works I p 15)

Man is spirit

So then the Hindu believes that he is a spirit. Him the sword cannot
pierce – him the fire cannot burn – him the water cannot melt – him the air cannot dry. The Hindu believes that every soul is a circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose center is located in the body, and that death means the change of this center from body to body. Nor is the soul bound by the conditions of matter. In its very essence it is free, unbounded, holy, pure and perfect. But somehow or other it finds itself tied down to matter, and thinks of itself as matter.

– Vivekananda (Complete Works I p 9)

A brief summary of Hindu dharma

Well then, the human soul is eternal and immortal, perfect and infinite, and death means only a change of center from one body to another. The present is determined by our past actions, and the future by the present. The soul will go on evolving up or reverting back from birth to birth and death to death. But here is another question: Is man a tiny boat in a tempest, raised one moment on the foamy crest of a billow and dashed down into a yawning chasm the next, rolling to and fro at the mercy of good and bad actions – a powerless, helpless wreck in an ever-raging, ever-rushing, uncompromising current of cause and effect; a little moth placed under the wheel of causation which rolls on crushing everything in its way and waits not for the widow’s tears or the orphan’s cry? The heart sinks at the idea, yet this is the law of Nature. Is there no hope? Is there no escape? – was the cry that went up from the bottom of the heart of despair. It reached the throne of mercy, and words of hope and consolation came down and inspired a Vedic sage, and he stood up before the world and in a trumpet voice proclaimed the glad tidings: “Hear, ye children of immortal bliss! even ye that reside in higher spheres! I have found the Ancient One who is beyond all darkness, all delusion: knowing Him alone you will be saved from death over again.” “Children of immortal bliss” – what a sweet, what a hopeful name! Allow me to call you, brethren, by that sweet name – heirs of immortal bliss – yea, the Hindu refuses to call you sinners. ye are the children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on Earth – sinners! It is a sin to call a man so; it is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies;
matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter.

Thus it is that the Vedas proclaim not a dreadful combination of
unforgiving laws, not an endless prison of cause and effect, but that at the head of all these laws, in and through every particle of matter and force, stands One “by whose command the wind blows, the fire burns, the clouds rain, and deathstalks upon the earth.”

And what is His nature?

He is everywhere, the pure and formless One, the All-mighty and the
All-merciful. “Thou art out our father, Thou are our mother, Thou art our beloved friend, Thou art the source of all strength; give us strength. Thou art He that beareth the burdens of the universe; help me bear the little burden of this life.” Thus sang the Rishis of the Vedas. And how to worship Him? Through love. “He is to be worshipped as the one beloved, dearer than everything in this and next life.”

This is the doctrine of love declared in the Vedas, …. fully developed and taught by Krishna.

on the Vedas

There was a time when the Vedas themselves were considered eternal in the sense in which the divine truths contained therein were changeless and permanent and were only revealed to man. At a subsequent time, it appears that the utterances of the Vedic hymns with the knowledge of its meaning was important; and it was held that the hymns themselves must have had a divine origin. At a still later period, the meaning of the hymns showed that many of them could not be of divine origin, because they inculcated upon mankind performance of various unholy acts, such as torturing animals; and we can find many ridiculous stories in the Vedas. The correct meaning of the statement “The Vedas are beginning less and eternal” is that the law or truth revealed by
them to man is permanent and changeless. Logic, geometry, chemistry, etc., reveal also a law or truth which is permanent and changeless and in that sense they are also beginning less and eternal. But no truth or law is absent from the Vedas, and I ask any one of you to point out to me any truth which is not treated of in them. (5) (CW, Vol.5: With the Swami Vivekananda at Madura, pp.205-206)

The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas.
They hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound ludicrous to this audience [in the West] how a book can be without beginning or end. But by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times. Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical, and spiritual relations between soul and soul and between individual spirits and the Father of all spirits were there before their discovery, and would remain even if we forget them. (6) (CW, Vol.1:
Paper on Hinduism, pp.6-7.)

[Vedic] principles have existed throughout time; and they will exist. They are non-created – uncreated by any laws which science teaches us today. They remain covered and become discovered, but are existing through all eternity in nature. If Newton had not been born the law of gravitation would have remained all the same and would have worked all the same. It was Newton’s genius which formulated it, discovered it, brought it into consciousness, made it a conscious thing to the human race. So are these religious laws, the grand truths of spirituality. They are working all the time. If all the Vedas and Bibles and Korans did not exist at all, if seers and prophets had never been born, yet these laws would exist. They are only held in abeyance, and slowly
but surely will work to raise the human race, to raise human nature. But they are the prophets who see them, discover them; and such prophets are discoverers in the field of spirituality. As Newton and Galileo were prophets of physical science, so are they prophets of spirituality. They can claim no exclusive right to any one of these laws; they are the common property of all nature.

The Vedas, as the Hindus say, are eternal. We now understand what they
mean by their being eternal, i.e. that the laws have neither beginning nor end. Earth after earth, system after system, will evolve, run for a certain time, and then dissolve back into chaos; but the universe remains the same. Millions and millions of systems are being born, while millions are being destroyed. The universe remains the same. The beginning and end of time can be told as regards a certain planet; but, as regards the universe, time has no meaning at all. So are the laws of nature, the physical laws, the mental laws, the spiritual laws, without beginning or end; and it is within a few years, comparatively speaking – a few thousand years at best – that man has tried to reveal them. The infinite mass remains before us. Therefore the one great lesson that we learn from the Vedas, at the start, is that religion has just begun. The infinite ocean of spiritual truth lies before us to be worked on,
to be discovered, to be brought into our lives. The world has seen
thousands of prophets, and the world has yet to see millions. (7) (CW, Vol.6: The Methods and Purpose of Religion, pp.8-9.)

The Vedas are anadi, eternal. The meaning of the statement is not, as is erroneously supposed by some, that the words of the Vedas are anadi, but that the spiritual laws inculcated by the Vedas are such. These laws, which are immutable and eternal, have been discovered at various times by great men or rishis, though some of them have been forgotten now, while others are preserved. (8) (CW, Vol.6: Notes Taken Down in Madras, 1892-93, p.103)

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