International Forum for NeoVedantins
Vedanta of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda

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Swami Vivekananda And His Relevance Today
The topic of 'Swami Vivekananda And His Relevance Today' assumes more and more importance in modern times because of the dynamics of globalization and 'free market' economy forced upon or undertaken by one country after the other. Such socioeconomic changes produce a transient or temporary phase of social confusion, unrest, and apprehension. It produces stressful life style. When science and technology, inventions and discoveries, and advances in knowledge (including humanities -such as psychology and human resource management) fail to answer questions pertaining to declining moral and ethical values, widening gap between the rich and the poor, failing economies, and feeling of insecurity all around, one turns to something else for finding peace and balance of mind. Religion offers such a hope for most of us.

This is particularly so because inherited spiritual and religious cultures from ancient times guide us on the path of both Abhyudaya (social and individual progress) and Nishreyasa (path of renunciation) for human fulfillment. Today, human evolution has progressed to the stage where we are prompted to look deeper into our religious beliefs and spiritual understanding. In one's own religion or faith one is sure to find treasures of higher truth; the truth of diversity held together by the unifying substratum of universal divinity.

Such probing in our age-old beliefs is the need of the hour. It will be the order of future civilization. It calls for conscious effort to acquire such broadness of vision and heart; any deliberate retrograde step would bear the forceful negative reaction from both nature and collective intellect. For this, it is not necessary to change one's faith (in idol, image, or symbol of any kind), one is sure to find higher planes of truth in his old beliefs themselves. The same principle applies to religion as well. As Swami Ashokananda says: " does not ask us to relinquish one form in favor of another to realize higher spiritual state. It wants us to see superior content in the same form by means of inner development. Even the highest spiritual realizations are possible through image worship, only the meaning of image worship changes as we progress along spiritual path. The image itself becomes spiritualized. It is then not stone or any other earthly material; it is spirit itself. The universe with all its variegated objects appears as divine."

In this regard it would be worthwhile to note that the four ways of human endeavor and aspirations (Purusharthas as they are called in Hindu system of thought) are 1) Dharma, 2) Artha, 3) Kama, and 4) Moksha. In the beginning is always Dharma (righteousness) in our efforts to produce and acquire wealth (Artha), and enjoy (Kama) the benefits of having earned the riches thus. Enjoyment alone, without consideration of social and collective welfare, leads to distortion and degeneration in individual and collective psyche. Similarly, sense enjoyment alone, which does not lead to yearning for highest spiritual realization -Liberation or Freedom -, is also undesirable and inadequate human goal. Moksha or desire to become Free from the bondage of body and mind is the final purpose of human birth.

However, from time to time such teachings are misinterpreted or diluted, and thus they lose their force. They become mere play of words, and we see selfishness and sense enjoyment raising their head again as the sole aim in life. At best one tries to identify excellence in action or art or literature or physical sciences as the ultimate aim of human life. However, this is not spirituality; spirituality is a state of consciousness. It is realization of universal divinity; this is a factual thing and not a speculation or a concept.

Swami Vivekananda and his teachings

Through the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda we come to understand these teachings and message of Sri Ramakrishna. It was Swami Vivekananda who interpreted the life of his Guru and spread its unique relevance for the modern world. For life of Swami Vivekananda please visit: Swami Vivekananda

The essence of the teachings of Swami Vivekananda was Advaita Vedanta as revealed in the life of his Master, Sri Ramakrishna. The main points of his teachings are: 1) that each soul is potentially Divine, 2) the goal of human birth is to realize this Divinity within and manifest it for the welfare of the humanity, and 3) Essentially all religions lead to the same realization.

The important point to note is Swami Vivekananda's insistence on individual liberation as a priority over the efforts to 'do good to the world'. The idea is to strive for special state or plane of consciousness that would lead a person to realize his or her true nature. Achieving such exalted state of altered consciousness forms the basis for human actions. Every human act should have this aim in sight, even in 'service to humanity and renunciation of sense pleasures'. Thus, religion or spirituality for the Swami was an act of inching higher and higher on the steps of consciousness, from animal consciousness to human consciousness, and from human consciousness to Divine Consciousness.

There is no need of bringing in Personal God, if one feels so; there is no question of 'doing good to the world' if one is not so inclined. One need not perform worship and/or rituals if one does not believe them to be correct. Without all this also one can concentrate and focus the mind to reach higher state of consciousness. By one means or by undertaking all means, one should be able to rise from human plane to divine plane. The world would change its appearance then and a new knowledge will be gained. This is what all religion is about. This is what we call spiritual growth. This is what is the purpose of human evolution, evolution in matter and higher and higher manifestation or reflection of the Divine in it.

All the efforts in the form of yoga practices, rituals, charity, social services etc. must be put to severe scrutiny: Are they useful in taking the aspirant to higher level of consciousness? If yes, follow them; if not, reject them. Are the practices making the aspirant strong to reject the practices themselves in due course of time? If yes, they are welcome; if not, it is better to throw them away. Does worship make the aspirant strong enough to jump out of temple itself? If yes, follow it; if not, it is better to discard the rituals. The spiritual practices or disciplines are but the means to the end of Self Realization, not end in themselves.

As Swami Vivekananda says in 'Is Vedanta The Future Religion?' (Complete Works Volume VIII, page 122) "...Gradual or not gradual, easy or not easy for the weak, is not the dualistic method based on falsehood? Are not all the prevalent religious practices often weakening and therefore wrong? They are based on a wrong idea, a wrong view of man. Would two wrongs make one right? Would the lie become truth? Would darkness become light?"...

"...Vedanta is everywhere; only you must become conscious of it. These masses of foolish beliefs and superstitions hinder us in our progress. If we can, let us throw them off and understand that God is spirit to be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth. ...All the different ideas of God, which are more or less materialistic, must go. As man becomes more and more spiritual, he has to throw off all these ideas and leave them behind. If Vedanta - this conscious knowledge that all is one Spirit - spreads, the whole humanity will become spiritual. But is it possible? I do not know..."


Thus, harmony of religions, universal solidarity, and human being as the highest manifestation of Spiritual Consciousness are the basic fundamentals one should not lose sight of in reading or understanding Swami Vivekananda. The practical aspects of these teachings reflect in renunciation and service. This forms the twin ideal of Swami Vivekananda's emphasis for the modern man and woman to strive for. Along with excellence and perfection in every field of human endeavor one should keep these ideals before eyes, lest the person should miss the aim.
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