Swami Vivekananda: His Message of Vedanta and the Western Way (Part 4)

by Swami Adiswarananda

Vedanta Contribution to World Thought (Continued)

The third major contribution of Vedanta is its ideal for enduring world unity. World unity based on political considerations, economic interest, cultural ties, or humanitarian principles is never enduring. The bonds of such unity are too fragile to withstand the stresses and strains of social diversities. They are too often bonds of convenience and not of spiritual solidarity. Social diversity without spiritual unity always proves to be explosive and dangerous to society. Unity of the world-body, in order to be real, must be organic, and this requires a World-Soul. As the presence of the soul makes the human body with its various limbs into an organic unity, so also only a World-Soul that is capable of embracing countless diversities of culture, creed, religion, and human experience and aspirations can make the unity of the world-body organic and enduring. Such a World-Soul, in order to be universal, must be the Soul of all beings - human, superhuman, and subhuman - beyond all names, forms, and epithets. Vedanta provides that World-Soul, designating it as the all-pervading Self which is the Common Self of both the macrocosm and the microcosm. The unity of this Self includes not only humans but every form of life - animals, plants, etc. Superficial critics often perceive this unity as anthropomorphism. But science has proved life is as much present in the galaxy as in a tiny plant, an animal, or a human being, only its manifestation varies. The fabric of life in the universe is organically woven. No one can move one atom of the universe without moving the whole universe with it. No one can be truly happy by keeping the rest of the world unhappy. No one can live in peace on a island of prosperity surrounded by a sea of poverty and suffering.

Vedanta gives a spiritual interpretation of the Ultimate Reality, the meaning of creation, and the human individual, as opposed to mechanical and psychological interpretations. Its view of the cosmos is one of organic wholeness that includes all beings and things. It presents an immortality that is attainable and a salvation that is verifiable. It extols a way of life which is holistic and realistic. It avoids the extremes of pseudo-mysticism and occultism on the one hand, and reason for reason's sake on the other. Vedanta asserts that spirituality is the core dimension of both the macrocosm and the microcosm. To deny this core or to neglect is the surest and shortest way to self-destruction. Vedanta considers all human problems as symptoms of a deep-rooted malady that is alienation from our true self, our spiritual dimension. Any lasting remedy must be spiritual, and not just humanistic, political, or social. Present day secular culture has broken the unity of existence. It has replaced the cosmic law of cooperation and interdependence with the low of competition and the struggle for survival. It has ignored the old Socratic aphorism that knowledge is virtue and replaced it with its own: knowledge is power. This has set in motion a chain reaction of alienation - alienation from Reality, alienation from nature, and alienation from our true self. Vedanta seeks to give us back our spiritual connection with everybody and everything.

Vedanta is the very soul of India's spiritual wisdom. It is the message of the Upanishads, the voice of the Bhagavad Gita, and the song of all its prophets and Godmen, past and present. The conclusions of Vedanta are no idle speculations, but guidelines of life that have been tested and verified through countless spiritual experiments and adventures. Vedanta has saved India again and again in her times of spiritual crisis. Deviation from the wisdom of Vedanta always brought her spiritual decline, moral chaos, and material degradation, and recovery came by invoking the spirit of Vedanta.

The Nineteenth Century Eclipse of Vedanta

The nineteenth century witnessed as unprecedented spiritual eclipse in India, the land of Vedanta. Once again, Vedanta lost its fire and vigor and ceased to be a social reality. That which is the teaching for the strong-minded became a refuge for the weak and the escapists. The philosophy of Vedanta became life-negating instead of life-giving. The spiritual values it championed became separated from the material values which were their support. In search of God in heaven, it ignored the God in the human heart. The connecting link between mysticism and humanism was lost. Vedanta forgot that holiness means nothing unless it brings happiness, that filling the empty stomach must come before filling the empty heart, and that renunciation presupposes acquiring and enjoying things to renounce. Passivity became its keynote and self-withdrawal its prime virtue. Inertia passed for tranquility, hopelessness for dispassion. Its spiritual quest encouraged a morbid inwardness, a flight from the world, in despair over life and its problems. Once a teaching of hope and strength, Vedanta of the time exaggerated human weakness, wickedness, unworthiness, and sinfulness. It only saw human limitations and not human possibilities. As a result, Vedanta proved to be a hollow philosophy of life that produced only seedy reformers, dreamy idealists, idle philosophers, and so-called knowers of truth who sought transcendental solutions for earthly problems. It created pessimists who proved life intolerable, yet continued to tolerate it. Except for a few sannyasins, the wisdom of Vedanta got lost in the wilderness of superstition, false piety, pseudo-mysticism, eroticism, occultism, and fatalism.

Part 5

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