Swami Vivekananda and Vedanta Philosophy: Part 2 Hindu Students Stanford February 3rd, 2005

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Swami Vivekananda and Vedanta Philosophy: Part 2

Hindu Students Council @ Stanford

February 3rd, 2005

Excerpts from Speeches of Swami Vivekananda 1. Address at the Parliament of Religions 2. Work and Its Secret

3. Hints on Practical Spirituality 4. Bhakti or Devotion

5. The Necessity of Religion

Address at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago 1893 Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world. I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. […]

I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. […]

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita:

Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach them; all are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death- knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Work and its Secret: Los Angeles, January 1900.

Means are as important as ends in all that we do. Our failures are often due to our ends being beyond our means. If we paid careful attention to means, the results will flow automatically. Means and ends are related to each other as cause and effect.


The Gita teaches us to put our whole mind on work, without a thought to the results. This calls for strength of mind. If we succumb to desire for the results, it is a source of weakness. Success comes unasked, unsought, to the strong. If you are weak, you will be overcome by failure, sorrow or disease.

Attachment and detachment are key attitudes to work. Attachment can be to high eternal values, and efforts directed to them alone can bring true, long-lasting joy. But attachment to low, transient values, lead to sorrow in the event of failure, or pleasure in the event of success. But the success is short-lived and soon yields to the next failure and it's trail of sorrow. The secret of success lies in attachment to eternal values, detachment in respect of transient ones. The teaching of detachment has to be understood thus. Life must be joyful, full of joy, and not be an existence bereft of joy.

Selfless love is an eternal value, while selfish love is a transient one. Says Vivekananda

"Whatever we do, we want a return. We are all traders. We are traders in virtue, we are traders in religion. And Alas !, we are traders in love"

"Ask nothing; want nothing in return. Give what you have to give; it will come back

multiplied a thousand fold -- but the attention must not be on that. You have the power to give, and there it ends. Learn that the whole of life is giving, that nature will force you to give. Sooner or later, you will have to give up .

All this is very difficult, but can overcome by practice. Constant practice opens your mind to the fact that there is a constant interaction between your inner nature and your external

circumstance; to the fact that you can control the former, but not the latter; and to the fact that former is your only choice, and that if you take it, you will pre-empt the actions and reactions of circumstance. This is the only way open to you of pre-empting failure and sorrow. Blaming circumstance, blaming the world, can only give sorrow, not a solution. It is self-defeating. The central lesson from Swami Vivekananda then is :

"Let us perfect the means, and the end will take care of itself. For the world can be good and pure, only if our lives are good and pure. It is an effect, we are the means. Therefore let us purify ourselves. Let us make ourselves perfect"

Hints on Practical Spirituality, Los Angeles, January 1900

Fourteen hundred years before Christ, a great Indian philosopher, Patanjali, made a systematic study of psychology in order to give man a practical framework in which to shape his life. For it was clear to him that man's actions sprang from his mind, and it was only there that man's understanding of himself and control of his destiny could begin.

Looking at workings of the mind, we see that it is conditioned by memories and experiences.

And we see too, that memories of the past, some of the present lifetime itself, and some from a remote past, inscribed into our genetic or cultural inheritance, lie forgotten and submerged in the unconscious, beneath the conscious, and yet exert a powerful influence over it, for both good and bad.

"On some other occasions, I told you the definition of God and man. Man is an infinite circle whose circumference is nowhere, but the centre is located in one spot; and God is an infinite circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose centre is everywhere. He works through all hands, sees through all eyes, walks on all feet, breathes through all bodies, speaks through every mouth and thinks through every brain. Man can become like God and acquire control over the whole universe, if he multiplies infinitely his centre of self-consciousness. Consciousness, therefore, is the chief thing to understand... "


"Practical psychology directs, first of all, it's energies in controlling the unconscious,

and we know that we can do it. Why ? Because we know that the cause of the unconscious is the conscious; the unconscious thoughts are the submerged millions of our conscious thoughts, old conscious actions become petrified ---- we do not look at them, we do not know them, have forgotten them... if the power of evil is in the subconscious, so also

is the power of good ... True psychology would therefore try to bring them under the control of the conscious. The great task is to revive the whole man, as it were, in order

to make him the complete master of himself..."

"This is the first part of the study, the control of the unconscious. The next is to go beyond the conscious. Just as unconscious work is beneath consciousness, so there is another work which is above consciousness. When this super-conscious state is reached, man becomes free and divine;

death becomes immortality, weakness becomes infinite power, and iron bondage becomes liberty. That is the goal, the infinite realm of the

super- conscious."

"... The greatest help to spiritual life is meditation (Dhyana). In meditation, we divest ourselves of all material conditions and feel our divine nature... The less the thought of the body, the better. For it is the body that drags us down. It is attachment, identification that makes us miserable. "That is the secret : To think that I am the spirit and not the body, and that the whole of this Universe with all it's relations, with all it's good, with all

it's evil, is but a series of paintings -- scenes on a canvas -- of which I am the Witness."

Bhakti or Devotion

Bhakti or Devotion is a relationship to a Personal God. Most religions rest on the idea of a Personal God. A few like the Buddhist and Jain religions do not subscribe to this idea, but virtually elevate their founders to the status of a Personal God..

Religion in their earliest forms rested on worship of a higher power represented by some symbol. And man being sense-bound, always had and perhaps will always have an affinity for a physical object as a symbol and a connected physical action as a ritual.

A symbol must have a form, and the power it represents must have a name. The name that has come to find the widest acceptance in the world is God. In due course men came to worship exalted men and elevated them to the level of Gods. The symbol, the name and the God- man are thus features that mark every religion. And as long as man's religion remains confined to this level and he does not look beyond, men will inevitably fight with one another over whose symbols, rituals and names are superior.

"These are external forms of devotion, through which man has to pass; but if he is

really sincere, if he really wants to reach the truth, he goes to a higher plane where forms are as nothing. Temples or churches, books or forms, are simply the kindergarten of religion, to make the spiritual child strong enough to take higher steps; and these first steps are necessary if he wants religion. With the thirst, the longing for God, comes real devotion, real Bhakti. Who has the longing ? That is the question. Religion is not in doctrine, in dogmas, nor in intellectual argumentation; it is being and becoming, it is realisation…. "

"…. The vast majority of men are atheists. I am glad that in modern times, another

class of atheists has come into existence in the Western world - I mean the materialists. They are sincere atheists. They are better than the religious atheists, who fight and talk about religion, and yet do not want it, never try to understand it. Remember the words of Christ : 'Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you'. These were the outflow


of the heart's blood of one of the greatest sons of God who have ever come into this world of ours; words which came as the fruit of realisation, from a man who had felt and realised God Himself; who had spoken with God, lived with God, a hundred times more intensely than you or I see this building. Who wants God ? That is the question. Do you think all the mass of people in the world want God and cannot get Him ? That cannot be …… "

The Necessity of Religion

"Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above his nature, and this nature is both internal and external. Not only does it control the particles of matter outside us and inside our bodies, but also the more subtle nature within, which is in fact, the motive power governing the external. It is good and very grand to conquer external nature, but grander still to conquer our internal nature.

It is grand and good to know the laws that govern the stars and the planets; it is infinitely grander and better to know the laws that govern the paasions and feelings, the will of mankind. This conquering of the whole inner man, including the secrets of the subtle workings that are within the human mind, and knowing it's wonderful secrets, belong entirely to religion... "

".... The ordinary man cannot understand anything subtle.... They understand and find pleasure in everything that is external...But in every society, there is a section whose pleasures are not in the senses, and who, now and then catch glimpses of something higher than matter and struggle to reach it. And if we read the history of nations, between the lines, we shall always find that the rise of a nation always comes with an increase in the number of such men; and the fall begins when this pursuit after the Infinite, however vain the Utilitarians may call it, has ceased. That is to say, the mainspring of the strength of every race lies in it's spirituality, and the death of that race begins the day that spirituality wanes and materialism gains ground. .... "

"... Religions, having tremendous power in them, have often done more injury to the world than good, simply on account of their narrowness... Therefore religions have to broaden.... It is sometimes said that religions are dying out, that spiritual ideas are dying out of the world. To me it appears that they have just begun to grow... So long as religion was in the hands of a chosen few or a body of priests, it was in temples, churches, books, dogmas, forms and rituals. But when we come to the real spiritual, universal concept, then and then alone will religion .... live in our every movement, penetrate every pore of our society and be infinitely more a power for good than it has ever been before... "

"... What is needed is a fellow feeling between all types of religion seeing that they will all stand or fall together. .... And above all, this is needed between types of religious expression from the study of mental phenomena --- unfortunately even now laying claim

to the exclusive name of religion -- and those expressions of religion whose heads, as it were, are penetrating into the secrets of heaven, though their feet are clinging to earth,

I mean the so-called materialistic sciences." (in other words, a convergence of Truth from the standpoints of both Religion and Science)

This packet was complied from the online resources of www.vivekananda.org/readings.asp and acharya.iitm.ac.in/mirrors/vv/literature/vivekndx.html






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