Swami Vivekananda: His Message of Vedanta and the Western Way (Part 1)

by Swami Adiswarananda

The Message of Vedanta

Swami Vivekananda is the world-teacher who first brought the message of Vedanta to the Western world. Vedanta was the message that he delivered at the Parliament of Religions in 1893.

Vedanta literally means "end of the Vedas," that is, the final teaching of the Vedas. It is the crowning consummation of the spiritual thoughts of Hinduism. It is the teaching of Vedanta that has saved India again and again in times of spiritual crisis over the centuries. The conclusions of Vedanta are based on universal principles and are applicable to all people of all times. Philosophically non-dualistic but religiously monotheistic, Vedanta reflects the very mood and outlook of Eastern spirituality, and its echo can be heard in Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, theistic Hinduism and other spiritual traditions of the East. Vedanta is more than a religion or a speculative philosophy. Is a spiritual way that is direct and decisive. Breaking the barriers of traditions and conventions and cutting through the speculations of theology and philosophy, it leads the individual soul to its inevitable destiny - union with Brahman, the Supreme Soul. It pushes its search for truth as far as human reason can go and reaches the dizzy height where everything is reduced to one principle, Pure Consciousness. Though developed and perfected in the Indo-Gangetic plain, Vedanta cannot be called Indian, just as the law of gravitation, discovered by Newton, cannot be called a British law.

Vedanta maintains that the Ultimate Reality is one without a second, and designates it by the name Brahman. Brahman is incorporeal, immutable, all-pervading, Absolute Pure Consciousness, beyond all names, forms, and attributes. The various names, forms, and epithets of the Divine, such as Shiva, Kali, Vishnu, Jehovah, Allah, Father of Heaven, are merely superimpositions of the individual seekers on Brahman. For the spiritual fulfillment of the seekers of truth, the Supreme Brahman assumes various names and forms. It is this Brahman that appears as Personal God and also as impersonal Absolute Truth. Brahman is called the Reality of all realities. The various concepts of the Divine are the various readings of the Absolute by individual minds from different depths and spiritual distances. They are like the various pictures of a building taken from various angles of vision.

The individual soul, according to Vedanta, is the focus of the infinite Brahman. Designated by Vedanta as Atman, It is ever divine and ever pure. Atman is different from the ego-self, generally assumed to be the soul of a person. A human individual is a layered being. His soul remains encased by five material layers - physical body, vital air, mind, intellect, and bliss. The so-called individualities are like whirlpools in the Ocean of Infinite Brahman.

Creation, according to Vedanta, is beginningless cycles of manifestation and non-manifestation of Brahman, and it is often described by Vedanta texts as the outbreathing and inbreathing of Brahman. The myriad diversity of the universe is only in name and form. As in the case of a mirage in a desert, the ignorant see water and trees but the enlightened see the desert; similarly, what appears as the diverse universe to the ignorant is perceived by the illumined as nothing but Brahman. The world appearance of Brahman is caused by its own power, known as maya. Another name of maya is imagination. So it is said that the world is in the mind of the individual. Speaking psychologically, the earth rotates not so much around the sun as around the individual mind. Maya is the disguise of Brahman. So long as it is not known it is a terrible delusion and is destructive; but when perceived through the eye of Knowledge, it is nothing but Brahman. Good and evil, pain and pleasure, heaven and hell, are all in the mind. Nothing in this world is absolutely good or absolutely evil. It is the mind, that having been polarized due to ignorance, divides the indivisible into good and evil, desirable and undesirable.

The sufferings of life, according to Vedanta, are not due to the retribution of God, to luck, chance, hostile stars and planets, or to any external agency like Satan, Iblis, the Devil, or Ahriman. Vedanta attributes five causes of suffering, and these are: (1) loss of contact with the real that is the center of our being, the Atman; (2) ego; (3) attachment; (4) aversion; and (5) clinging. Loss of contact with the real forces the individual into the world of ego - a fanciful world of polarization, imagination, and dream. Birth and death, pain and pleasure, here and hereafter, the law of karma and reincarnation, all apply to the ego and its world. The way to the end of suffering is neither multiplication of desires nor their liquidation, but Self-Knowledge through self-control.

Part 2

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