Collection of Thoughts from Hindu Mystics – Part III
Swami Vivekananda on Universal Religion
Universal religion must 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. For a mystic, such a religion shall provide science of mental analysis; for emotional people, share their laugh and devotion in the name of the lord. If the energetic worker comes, work with him with all energy without expecting rewards. And this combination will be the ideal of the nearest approach to a Universal Religion.
Such a universal religion is attained by what we in India call Yoga-union. To the worker, it is the union between men and the whole of humanity also called Karma-Yoga. To the mystic, between his lower and higher self also called Raja-Yoga. To the lover, union between himself and the God, also called Bhakti-Yoga, and to the philosopher, it is the union of all existence also called Jnana or Gyana-Yoga.
Karma-yoga is the attainment of God through work. Many of us squander away the great portion of our energies because we do not know the secret of work. Karma-yogi explains this secret and teaches how to work for work’s sake, unattached, without caring who is helped, and what for. The karma-yogi works because it is his nature, because he feels that good for him to do so and he has no object beyond that. Karma-yogi knows that he is giving and does not ask for anything in return and therefore he avoids the misery. Examples of Karma-yogis are Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther king Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and others.
The whole subject of studying Raja-Yoga is to bring the mind under control. Raja-yoga is the psychological way to union. The only method of acquiring knowledge (from man to highest yogi), all have to use the same method, and the method is called concentration. The more the power of concentration, the more knowledge is acquired. The process of concentration is the only key to the treasure house of knowledge.
Bhakta-Yoga is for the man of emotional nature, the lover. He wants to love God, he relies upon, and uses all sorts of forms, rituals, flowers, incense and all such things in expressing his love towards God. The world’s greatest spiritual giants have all been produced only by these religious sects which have been in possession of very rich mythology and rituals.
All sects that attempted to worship God without any form or ceremony or ritual were crushed without any mercy during the past history. Therefore do not belittle these rituals and mythologies. Let people practice the ritualistic devotion towards God.
God to Bhakti-Yogis is something tangible, the only thing that is real, they feel, hear and see him and love him. Bhakti yoga teaches how to love without any ulterior motives. Loving God and loving the good because it is good to do so, not for going to heaven, acquire wealth or anything else.
Jnana (Gyana) -Yogi is the philosopher, the thinker who wants to go beyond the visible. To say God is the Father or the Mother, the creator of the Universe, its protector and guide is to him is quite inadequate to express him. To Jnana yogi, God is life of his life, the soul of his soul. God is his own self. Jnana yogi teaches that he is essentially divine. It shows to mankind the real unity of being and each one of us is the Lord God himself manifested on the earth.
Vedanta only can be the universal religion that it is already the existing universal religion in the world, because it teaches principles not persons. No religion built upon a person can be taken up as a universal religion. Vedantic religion does not require any personal authority such as Christ, Buddha or Mohammed to attest its validity and universal applicability.
Hindus can worship in churches, mosques or any other places of worship since they believe in universality of every religion despite believers of other faiths who may not consider Hinduism as a universal religion.
In conclusion, it is imperative that all these various yogas should be carried out in practice; mere theories about them will not do any good. First we have to hear about them, and then we have to think about them. 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 remain a bundle of ideas and theories, nor an intellectual assent; it will enter into our very self. By means of intellectual assent we may today subscribe to many foolish things, and change our minds altogether tomorrow. But 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 or acknowledging; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes. That is religion. The conceptions of Vedanta should not be limited to the sanctuary of learned people, it should be discussed by all sections of the society, students in the schools, colleges and universities; fishermen, vegetable vendors, office workers, factory workers, healthcare workers, young and mature people.
Vivekananda on Shrutis and Smritis
In Shrutis, the eternal relations which deal with the nature of the soul, and the God, and the relationship between soul and God are embodied. The idea is that the framework of the destiny and the goal of man have been all delineated in the Vedas (Shrutis). All the advice that is necessary to lead the soul to perfection has been completed in the Shrutis. The details have been left to be worked out in the Smritis and Puranas. Shrutis have many sages as recorders of the truth (original composers), but very little was known of their personalities, the dates but their best thoughts, their best discoveries were preserved in the sacred literature called Vedas.
Smritis as embodied in the works of Manu, Yajnavalkya, and other writers and also in the Puranas, down to the tantras. The personalities that wrote Smritis were in evidence.
A peculiarity which we have to understand that Hindu religion (universal religion) preaches an Impersonal Personal God. It preaches any amount of impersonal laws plus and any amount of personality, but the very fountain-head of our religion is in the Shrutis, the Vedas which are perfectly impersonal; the persons all come in the Smritis and Puranas , the great Avataras, Incarnations of God, Prophets, and so forth. It should be noted that except in Hindu (universal) religion, every other religion in the world depends on the life and teachings of the founder of the religion. For example, Christianity was built upon the life of Jesus Christ, Islam on the teachings of Mohammed, Buddhism on Buddha and Jainism on Jinas and so on. In Hinduism, Lord Krishna is not the authority of the Vedas, but the Vedas are the authority of Krishna himself. His greatest glory that he is the greatest preacher of the Vedas the ever existed. So with other Incarnations.
Vivekananda on Superstitions
In India, all sorts of little superstitions passing under the name of religion. For some, every little superstition is a mandate of the Vedas. An atheist ranks above superstitious fool. We can make something out of an atheist, but if superstition enters, the brain is overtaken by blind beliefs. Avoid all mystery. There is no mystery in religion. Mystery mongering and superstitions are always signs of weakness and degradation.
Vivekananda on Sages of India
Shankaracharya was a great intellect but not known for his great heart. His philosophic sect was about wonderful liberalism (Advaita). Shankaracharya to whom every Advaitavadin in the world owes allegiance. There is not a man who follows Shankara who will say that all the different sects of India are really different.
Ramanuja was a sage with great heart. He felt for the downtrodden with whom he sympathized. He took up the ceremonies and instituted new ones particularly for those that absolutely required. He opened door to the highest spiritual worship to the pariah. His highest contribution is opening door of spirituality to everyone. That was Ramanuja’s work.
Ramanuja’s work rolled on and spread to the North and took up by Sage Chaitanya particularly after Islam invaded India. Chaitanya was a professor of logic fighting but became a changed man and gave up his fighting and quarrels and became one of the greatest teachers of Bhakti the world has ever known – mad Chaitanya. His Bhakti rolled over the whole land of Bengal bringing solace to everyone. His love knew no bounds; the saint or the sinner, the Hindu or the Muslim, the pure or the impure, all share in his mercy. His sect is the refuge of the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast, the weak and those that have been rejected by the society.
Great Madhava whose leadership was recognized even by the followers of that only northern prophet whose power has felt all over the India Krishna Chaitanya. The influence of Chaitanya is all over India, wherever the Bhakti-Marga is known, there Chaitanya is appreciated. Shri Vallabhacharya recension is only a branch of the sect founded by Chaitanya.
Patanjali, the father of yoga said “when man rejects all the superhuman powers, then he attains the cloud of virtue. He sees God. Then he becomes God, and help other to become God.”
Shankaracharya had a great head; Ramanuja and Chaitanya have great heart. The embodiment of both the head and heart was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Paramahamsa found that the one idea in all religions is “not me,” but “Thou,” and he who says “not me,” the Lord fills his heart. The less of this little “I” the more God there is in him (this reminds of Ramana Maharishi’s re-discovery of same philosophy in a later time). Paramahamsa had the most wonderful faculty of carrying everything into practice which he thought was right.
According to Paramahamsa, religion does not consist erecting temples or building churches, or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books, or in words or in lectures, or in organizations. Religion consists in realization. As a fact, nothing will satisfy us until we know the truth for ourselves. However, it may be argued, or heard, only one thing will satisfy is our own realization and such experience is possible for everyone if will only try. The first ideal of this attempt to realize religion is that of renunciation. Darkness and light; enjoyment of world and enjoyment of God will never go together. If one word remains true in his saying, it is give up everything for the sake of the Lord.
As per Ramakrishna, one eternal religion is applied to different planes of existence, is applied to the opinion of various minds worldwide. There was never was my religion or yours, my national religion or your national religion, there never existed many religions, there is only the one. One infinite religion existed all through the eternity and will ever exist, and this religion is expressing itself in various countries and in various ways. Therefore, we shall respect all religions and we must accept them all.
This is the message of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa to the modern world: Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas or sects or churches or temples, they count for little compared to the essence of existence in each man, which is spirituality, and the more this is developed in a man, the more powerful is he for good. Show by your lives that religion does not mean words or names or sects but that it means spiritual realization. Other teachers have taught religions which bear their names, but Paramahamsa made no claim for himself. He left other religions undisturbed because he realized that in realty they are all part and parcel of the one eternal religion. Ramakrishna got his sannyasashrama from Tota Puri.
Vivekananda on the symbol OM
Every idea in mind has a counterpart in a word; the word and the thought are inseparable. So long as man has existed there have been words and language. What is the connection between an idea and a word? The thought may be the same in several languages of the world yet the language is different. We must have a word to express each thought, but these words need not necessarily have the same sound. The sounds vary, yet the relation between the sounds and the thoughts is a natural one. The connection between thoughts and sounds is good only if there is really if there is a real connection between the thing signified and the symbol; until then that symbol will never come into general use. A symbol is the manifestor of the thing signified, and if the thing signified has already an existence, and if, by experience , we know that the symbol has expressed that thing many times, then we are sure that there is a real relation between them (a long sentence requires reading several times to understand!.)
There must be a natural connection between the symbol and thing signified; then, when that symbol is pronounced, it recalls the thing signified. Hindu mystics say the manifesting word of God is OM. Why emphasize this word OM? There are hundreds of words for God. One thought is connected with a thousand words, and each one stands as a symbol for God. Very good. But there must be generalization among all these words, some substratum, some common ground of all these symbols, and that which is the common symbol will be the best, and really represent them all. In making a sound we use the larynx and the palate as sounding board. In pronouncing the word OM (AUM), the first letter A when pronounced no part of the tongue is used and when pronouncing M or UM, the lips are closed. In other words, in pronouncing the word OM or AUM, no part of tongue and palate is used. Thus, OM represents the whole phenomena of sound-producing. As such, it must be the natural symbol, the matrix of all the various sounds. It denotes the whole range and possibilities of all the words that can be made. All this could be speculative. And yet, all the religious ideas of the Vedas have gathered themselves around this word OM or AUM. The use of word GOD covers a limited function since people have to add an adjective to make it personal, impersonal or absolute. But the word OM signifies everything spiritual.
Vivekananda on Gita
Gita forms a part of the Mahabharata. The authorship of Mahabharata was attributed to Veda-Vyasa. Since Vyasa was only a title, anyone who composed a new purana was known by the name Vyasa. Gita was not much known to the general public before Shankaracharya made it famous by writing his great commentary on it. Long before that, Bodhayana commented on Gita. If this could be proved, it establishes the antiquity of the Gita and the authorship of Vyasa. However, not a copy of Bodhayana Bhashya on Vedanta Sutras was ever found.
It is said that Ramanuja compiled his Shri-Bhasya from a worm-eaten manuscript of Bodhayana Bhashya which he happened to find. Since Bodhayana Bhashya on Vedanta Sutras was so much shrouded in uncertainty, it is simply useless to try to establish the existence of Bodhayana Bhashya on Gita. Some even infer that Shankaracharya was the author of the Gita, and it was he who foisted it into the body of Mahabharata.
The Upanishads deal elaborately with Shraddha in many places, but hardly mention Bhakti. In Gita, on the other hand, the subject of Bhakti is not only mentioned again and again, but in it, the innate spirit of Bhakti was attained its culmination.
In conclusion, before the advent of a scripture named Gita, Jnana and Bhakti yoga had their it’s strong adherents, they all argued among themselves each claiming superiority for their own chosen path. It was the author (whom ever it may be) of Gita who for the first time tried to harmonize Jnana and Bhakti yoga. But only Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in 19th century was fully successful in complete reconciliation of Jnana and Bhakti yoga in interpreting Gita. Also, Nishkama-Karma or work without a desire or attachment was special characteristics of the Gita.
Vivekananda on his visit to America
o Stayed three years in US.
o American mind peculiarly susceptible to new ideas, nothing is rejected because it is new.
o Did not find anything new about religion in USA.
o USA is always involved in perfecting of the social state.
o With exception of the missionaries and church-women, the Americans are most hospitable, kind hearted, generous and good natured people.
On his visit to England
o English churchmen belongs to the class of gentlemen.
o The Englishman goes to practical work as soon as he believes in something.
o They have tremendous energy for practical work.
On his visit to Japan
o Never seen such a patriotic and artistic people as Japanese.
o Japanese think that everything Hindu is great and believes that India is a holy land.
o Japanese Buddhism is entirely different from Sri Lanka Buddhism and is more close to Hindu Vedanta.
On Ideal Society of India
Combination of the Greek mind represented by the external European energy added to the Hindu spirituality would be the ideal society for India.
On the role of Religion
The religion has to do only with the Soul and has no business to interfere in social matters. A big mistake of religion was to interfere in social matters. (This is a significant statement from Vivekananda made over one hundred years ago and it is so relevant to current situation where religious zealots take a stand on every social issue from abortion to many other issues.)