Swami Vivekananda: His Message of Vedanta and the Western Way (Part 2)

by Swami Adiswarananda

The Essential Teachings of Vedanta

The way to the liberation of the soul through Self-Knowledge is called yoga. Vedanta speaks of four yogas, or paths to the goal: (i) Jnana-Yoga, or the direct way of Knowledge; (ii) Bhakti-Yoga, or the natural way of divine love; (iii) Karma-Yoga, or the practical way of unselfish work; and (iv) Raja-Yoga, or the scientific way of concentration and meditation. The primary road block to Self-Knowledge is the restless mind. The four Yogas are four ways to overcome the restlessness. The path of Jnana-Yoga advocates the method of persuasion through reason, saying that unreason, the cause of all restlessness, can be overcome only by reason. Bhakti-Yoga looks upon the cause as the mind's impurity, and for its purification prescribes worship, prayer, and self-surrender to the divine. Karma-Yoga views the intoxicated ego as the cause of all restlessness, and seeks to overcome restlessness by the eradication of the ego. Raja-Yoga upholds the method of confrontation. It maintains that restlessness of mind has its roots deep in the psychophysical system. Reason is too weak to uproot ingrained habits, worship and prayer in order to be effective require inborn faith in God, and eradication of the elusive ego is almost impossible. So Raja-Yoga calls for confronting the restless mind through concentration and meditation and by control of posture and breathing (pranayama). To bring the mind under control is the central purpose of all the yoga disciplines. Vedanta maintains the mind never becomes controlled unless it is controlled consciously and deliberately. For the spiritual seeker, the ultimate battlefield is his mind. Yoga is not a collection of vague theories or theological arguments. It takes a person from where he is and leads him to genuine freedom, compared with which all other forms of freedom are merely bondage in disguise.

The keynote of Vedanta is: "Truth is one: sages call it by various names." The essence of Vedanta can be summed up in four sentences: God as Pure Spirit alone abides. The world of diversity is the manifestation of the Spirit in time and space. The individual soul and God as the Supreme Soul are non-different in essence. Realization of this identity alone can confer liberation and put an end to all the sorrows and sufferings of life. The four cardinal principles of Vedanta are non-duality of the Godhead, divinity of the soul, oneness of existence, and harmony of religions. These are not dogmas but four universal principles that are in keeping with common sense, reason, and everyday personal experience. It is a universally accepted fact that Ultimate Reality is one and beyond all names, forms, and attributes, which are mere concepts superimposed on It by the human mind. Again all religions proclaim that the individual soul is divine. This divinity is innate, not acquired or given. Practice of spiritual disciplines only endows us with faith in the divinity in ourselves. The difference between a sinner and a saint is that the former has faith in his sinfulness and the latter faith in his saintliness. Oneness of existence is the basis of all ethics and morality. Life is interdependent, not independent. There is only one life that pulsates in all. That which unites us with the whole is virtue, and that which separates us from the whole is vice. The creative process consists of evolution and involution, potentiality and actuality, described by Vedanta as the outbreathing and inbreathing of the Pure Spirit. The universe comes into being, endures for a length of time, and again goes back to its causal state. In this sense, creation is beginningless. Vedanta regards the creative process as the play of God, or lila. God is at once all the actors and all the audience, the props, the prompter, the playwright, and the producer.

Critics of Vedanta observe that such a world-view dwarfs the human individual to utter insignificance. In answer to this, Vedanta says the drama is cosmic and evolves through a chain of numberless separate dramas where the One assumes the roles of many. But how does Vedanta resolve the question of evil in the realm of God and His drama? If everything is the play of God, does He not become responsible for all the sufferings of the world? Does this not make God whimsical and cruel, an irresponsible Creator who just for His enjoyment inflicts suffering on his own created beings? The seers of Vedanta never shrink from accepting evil as part of creation. They have no use for a fairy-tale view of creation, a childish sentimentality that says God made all things bright and beautiful and had nothing to do with all things dark and hideous. Good and evil, Vedanta maintains, have no absolute reality and are value-judgements of individual minds, superimposed on the divine play. That which is good for some is evil for others, and that which is evil for some is good for others. They are different facets of the same drama. Life is role playing. A human individual suffers when he refuses to play his role in this drama. He slips into the fanciful world of his deluded ego and never thinks or even suspects that his life is part of a vast cosmic drama.

Part 3

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