In this new feature of our website, we present
every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a
variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda,
Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.
It is a Privilege to Serve Mankind
(From “Vedanta and Privilege” Delivered in London, 1896)
It is a privilege to serve mankind; for this is the worship of God. God is
here in all these human souls. He is the soul of man; what privilege can
men ask? There are no special messengers of God, never were, and never can
be. All beings, great or small, are equally manifestations of God; the
difference is only in the degree of manifestation. The same eternal
message, which has been eternally given, comes to them all. The eternal
message has been written in the heart of every being; it is there already,
and all are struggling to express it. Some, in suitable circumstances,
express it a little better than others; but as bearers of the message they
are all one. What claim to superiority is there? The most ignorant man,
the most ignorant child, is as great a messenger of God as any that ever
existed and as great as any that is yet to come. For the infinite message
is there imprinted once for all in the heart of every being. Wherever
there is a being, that being contains the infinite message of the Most
High. It is there.
The task of Advaita, therefore, is to break down all these
privileges. It is the hardest work of all; and curious to say, in the land
of its birth Advaita has been less active than anywhere else. If there is
any land of privilege, it is the land which gave birth to this philosophy
– privilege for the spiritual man as well as for the man of birth. In
India there is not so much the privilege of money (that is one of the
benefits, I think); but the privilege of birth and spirituality is
Once a gigantic attempt was made in India to preach Vedantic
ethics, which succeeded to a certain extent for several hundred years; and
we know historically that those years were the best times for the country.
I mean the Buddhist attempt to break down privilege. Some of the most
beautiful epithets addressed to Buddha that I remember are: “Thou the
breaker of castes, destroyer of privileges, preacher of equality to all
beings.” He preached this one idea of equality. Its power has been
misunderstood to a certain extent in the brotherhood of Shramanas, where
we find that hundreds of attempts have been made to form them into a
church, with superiors and inferiors. You cannot make much of a church
when you tell people that they are all gods. One of the good effects of
Vedanta has been freedom of religious thought, which India has enjoyed
throughout its history. It is something to glory in, that it is the land
where there was never a religious persecution, where people are allowed
perfect freedom in religion.
This practical side of Vedantic morality is necessary as much
today as it ever was – more necessary, perhaps, than it ever was; for all
this privilege-claiming has become tremendously intensified with the
extension of knowledge. The idea of God and the Devil, or Ahura Mazda and
Ahriman, has a good deal of poetry in it. The difference between God and
the Devil is in nothing except in unselfishness and selfishness. The Devil
knows as much as God, is as powerful as God, only he has no holiness: that
makes him the Devil. Apply the same idea to the modern world: excess of
knowledge and power, without holiness, makes human beings devils.
Tremendous power is being acquired through machines and other appliances,
and privilege is claimed today by those in power as it never has been
claimed in the history of the world. That is why Vedanta wants to preach
against it, to break down this tyrannizing over the souls of men.
Those of you who have studied the Gita will remember the
memorable passages: “He who looks upon the learned Brahmin, upon the cow,
the elephant, the dog, or the outcaste, with the same eye, he indeed is
the sage and the wise man.” “Even in this life he has conquered relative
existence whose mind is firmly fixed on sameness; for the Lord is one and
the same to all, and the Lord is pure. Therefore those who feel this
sameness for all and are pure are said to be living in God.” This is the
gist of Vedantic morality, this sameness for all. We have seen that it is
the subjective world that rules the objective. Change the subject, and the
object is bound to change; purify yourself, and the world is bound to be
purified. This one thing requires to be taught now more than ever before.
We are becoming more and more busy about our neighbors, and less and less
about ourselves. The world will change if we change; if we are pure the
world will become pure. The question is why I should see evil in others. I
cannot see evil unless I am evil. I cannot be miserable unless I am weak.
Things that used to make me miserable when I was a child do not do so now.
The subject changed, and so the object was bound to change – so says
Vedanta. All these things which we call causes of misery and evil, we
shall laugh at when we arrive at that wonderful state of equality, that
sameness. This is what is called in Vedanta attaining to freedom. The sign
of approaching that freedom is the realization of more and more of this
sameness and equality. In misery and happiness the same, in success and
defeat the same – such a mind is nearing the state of freedom.
From “Vedanta and Privilege” by Swami
Vivekananda, quoted from “VIVEKANANDA, WORLD TEACHER: His Teachings on the
Spiritual Unity of Humankind”, Edited and with an Introduction by Swami
Weekly Message Archive