What's NewLast Updated on 10 February 2014
LecturesLife of Swami Vivekananda
Swami Ashokananda (English)
Swami Vivekananda and His Gospel
Swami Prabuddhananda (English)
Swami Vivekananda's Contribution to Religious Thought
Swami Tattwamayananda (English)
Swami Vivekananda: Jivan evam Sandesh
Swami Brahmeshananda & Swami Nikhileshwarananda (Hindi)
Swami Vivekanander Jivan O Vani
Swami Vishwanathananda (Bengali)
Leelageeti on Swami VivekanandaAnandarupam (Bengali)
Prabuddha BharataLatest Issue
Editorial : Vedanta for the Modern Age
The philosophy and religion of Vedanta, since the Upanishadic age, has played a major role in moulding people’s spiritual consciousness. The time is coming for Advaita Vedanta to play a central role in moulding the future of humanity. Vedanta is finding new areas to take root, as all sciences are leading us to the concept of ‘the unity of all life and matter’, besides daringly studying the field of consciousness. Moreover, formal religions are giving way to irreligion and iconoclasm. Swami Vivekananda says: ‘It [Vedanta] comes whenever religion seems to disappear and irreligion seems to prevail, and that is why it has taken ground in Europe and America.’ Swamiji describes how it saved India twice in the past: ‘Buddha brought the Vedanta to light, gave it to the people, and saved India. A thousand years after his death a similar state of things again prevailed. The mobs, the masses, and various races, had been converted to Buddhism; naturally the teachings of the Buddha became in time degenerated, because most of the people were very ignorant. Buddhism taught no God, no ruler of the universe, so gradually the masses brought their gods, and devils, and hobgoblins out again, and a tremendous hotchpotch was made of Buddhism in India. Again materialism came to the fore, taking the form of licence with the higher classes and superstition with the lower. Then Shankaracharya arose and once more revivified the Vedanta philosophy. He made it a rationalistic philosophy. … By Buddha the moral side of the philosophy was laid stress upon, and by Shankaracharya, the intellectual side. He worked out, rationalised, and placed before men the wonderful coherent system of Advaita.’
There are various schools and sub-schools of Vedanta apart from the popular Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita, and Advaita. Swamiji says that Vedanta covers ‘the whole ground of Indian religious life’, whatever be the philosophy or sect. This is because sages and saints have applied its fundamental principles to newer grounds according to the need of the various ages and stages of human development. In this age Swamiji came and made Vedanta practical, as this was the growing need of the age. He absorbed the various material sciences and made Vedanta reach all people in whatever condition they may be.
Swamiji’s interpretation of Vedanta demands a tremendous sense of responsibility to make this philosophy practical—it can be called ‘responsible’ Vedanta. Ordinary people lack a deep sense of responsibility and commitment to anything, that is why Vedanta appears so distant and difficult. Even those who take up Vedanta, the elite among monks and pundits, have been preaching it to others by saying that the world is maya, instead of practising this principle themselves. It reminds one of the sadhu who came to Dakshineshwar and talked big Vedanta but never bothered to harmonize his actions according to his teachings. One day Sri Ramakrishna accosted him and demanded an explanation. As usual the sadhu said that if everything is unreal, then his actions too were unreal. To this kind of irresponsibility Sri Ramakrishna said that he would spit on such understanding of Vedanta.
One must have a tremendous sense of responsibility, above all for one’s actions, in order that the results of karma do not make one miserable. We think and do things casually, causing harm to others—like speaking lies and behaving corruptly—and then acknowledge that we are unhappy. Such unhappy people go to temples, therapists, and travels everywhere as an antidote or to simply lull themselves into the idea that everyone is unhappy. The scriptures say that the result of good karma is happiness and bad karma brings misery and unhappiness.
Next we must become responsible for those around us—family, relatives, and friends. Making them happy makes one happy. In his Karma Yoga, Swamiji quotes from the Smritis a long list of duties to be performed by householders, while also delineating one’s responsibilities towards society. As we have been nurtured in it, we have to contribute to society so that it can nurture future generations. In this global age we must be responsible also towards the environment, as it affects everyone near us as well as others across the globe.
We are responsible for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth we trod on, the food we eat. This sense of responsibility should grow with our increasing knowledge of the universe. Simply saying humankind is superior will not do any good. We must be able to now prove this superiority to ourselves and to the millions of other species for whom we are really responsible. Vedanta demands such a high responsibility that calls for the highest sacrifice. Fast disappearing are the days when one would stand in front of a deity with gifts, praying for oneself. Vedanta would make one pray for all of creation, constantly.
Only such responsible persons can become Vedantists in the truest sense. Advaita Vedanta speaks of an impersonal Reality, but this impersonal Reality includes all personalities—from Ishvara down to a blade of grass. Vedanta also preaches a known God, who comprises all the forms of the living and the non-living we see around. Swamiji says that Vedanta ‘does not teach anything unknown, but in the language of the Upanishad, “The God whom you worship as an unknown God, the same I preach unto thee.” It is through the Self that you know anything. … It is in and through the Self that you are known to me, that the whole world is known to me; and therefore to say this Self is unknown is sheer nonsense.’ This is practical Vedanta. We can no longer look down upon at the weak and those who have had no opportunities to manifest their Divinity. Swamiji went even further and said that we should not even sneer at a streetwalker ‘whose street-walking is the cause of the chastity of other women!’ This idea of the balance of nature’s law has been emphasized by Swamiji.
Everything in the world affects us, and we affect everything. This reality is however shut down by the ego. It narrows our view of ourselves and the world around; that is the reason why we do not love or identify with others. Those who want to be Vedantists must renounce this ‘raw’ ego and develop a ‘ripe’ ego as Sri Ramakrishna used to say.
It is true that it is hard to be a true Vedantist, but the future humanity is travelling towards it. We need to be ready and practise it in order that future generations will find it easier. This is the responsibility for each and every one of us: to spread Vedanta and make it living for us and for future humanity. The other method is by understanding that this philosophy and religion of Vedanta is not in books or anywhere outside but in every heart. It is our real nature waiting to become manifest.