International Forum for NeoVedantins
Fortnightly E-zine. Next: October 16 2001
Neovedanta of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

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Articles on Science and Spirituality
Articles on Hinduism and Upanishads
Articles on Swami Vivekananda and Vedanta
What Does Religion Mean To Me?

This question might be agitating many of us; a few of us must be eager and inquisitive to know the true meaning and necessity of religion. I was also agitated over the problem of religion a decade ago. Like many intellectuals affiliated to the culture of science on the basis of its obvious success and rationality, I also took pride in associating with the 'reason' of modern thought and took a stand slightly to the 'left of center'! My struggle to spread scientific culture was mostly concerned with finding its application in human welfare and social uplift. The urge to see the end of social evils once for all from the face of our beautiful, patient, and tolerant Mother Earth and her children with equally gracious, varied, and unique attributes, that urge was genuine in my heart.

Probably I was desirous of projecting my childhood sufferings over the whole humanity and dreaming for global welfare, with a social structure where peace, brotherhood, art, quality, and similar aspects would prevail over hatred and jealousy, mediocrity and superstitions, injustice and vulnerability. It was not so much to do with poverty, but essentially what hurt me most was the humiliation and insult to human dignity. The hurt produced by these evils penetrates deep within human psyche and leads to inner pain, torture, and stress. And, if I may say so, at some time or the other the collective lava of such chronic agitation surfaces in the form of devastating and disturbing volcano of social unrest and terrorism in its extreme expression.

I am not alone in harboring such desire to make the world beautiful and free from stress. Thousands have cherished such noble thoughts, and out of these a few have indeed excelled in achieving the goal of offering equal opportunities for every human being to express himself fully. Innumerable are the fields in which persons of different race and culture, aptitude and talents can find their fulfillment. A folk dance performed to perfection, a piece of wood or stone sculpted in its most beautiful form and intrigue, a musical instrument touched with deft fingers of an artist to express sweetest melodies of joy, a research worker in a physical laboratory glued to his microscope or telescope in search of the truths hidden in an atom or cosmos, a poet in his restless attempt to arrange the words in exquisite bouquet of fragrant beauty, all such human endeavors still remain to be accomplished during our sojourn on this planet.

And to be honest, the Mother Earth has not disappointed us; she has produced such noble souls from her soil as have struggled to realize and accomplish the perfection in their specific endeavors. Like a yogi, each one of them submerged himself within the depth of his mind forgetting everything else but the object of his quest. Every field of human activity would take pride in showing or exhibiting such men and women of exalted character, ability, and skill who have made the human race worthy of Nature's special liking for it! All such great persons have returned in multiples and with gratitude what the Nature have given to us. If I take names only of a few, please do not misunderstand me, for the list exhaustive and my knowledge is limited. The Rishis of Vedic culture, the philosophers of ancient Greece, the statesmen of Roman Empire, the sculptors of medieval Europe, the unsung heroes of Asia who have carved exquisite beauty in the stones of Ajanta and Ellora, the great kings who turned away from compulsions of war and returned to the compassion of Buddha, and recently the great men and women in the fields of modern science and humanities; the list is unending.

However, the social and ground realities of today, accentuated from time to time by callous, cruel, and insane outbursts of violence and terror try to project a different picture. The excess committed by brutal forces of power, even in 'free and democratic states,' the torture and deprivation in prisons and jails, prevalent pockets of hatred and religious sectarianism, all try to confuse and dissuade our mind from the dreams of 'Heaven on the Earth'. The mind tries to find meaning in these scattered and incoherent expressions of such groups appearing contradictory to each other, one trying to score over the other. The vulgar competitiveness tries to blur honest attempts of simplicity and sincerity. The mind again tries to revert to selfish individualism turning away from the noble course of virtues of kindness, tolerance, and acceptance of other's viewpoints. Such cyclical and cynical expressions of expansion and contraction paint our history from time to time. In this deafening clatter of 'wheel within wheels', in this confusing noise of provocative shouts of 'war, kill', our little voice of sanity and peace seems to be lost forever. Individual appears terrified in his helplessness.

And then comes the sweet voice of music from within, the Flute of Sri Krishna, the kind and pacifying words of Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha, the reassuring call of 'universal brotherhood', all these reach an ear that cares to listen. The focus for solution now switches from without to within, and then it can be said that the person has taken first step towards religion. The arguments and discussions, the books and the scriptures, the temples and the Churches, symbols and the concepts relegate to background, and the person, now an aspirant, is immersed in listening to the inner voice of sanity, truth, and hope.

Who am I?

"Ko Aham?" who am I? The question surfaces and resurfaces, echoes and reechoes, despite every attempt to relegate it in background. This is so because answer to this question is fraught with fear and obscurity due to our inability to pierce the veil of ignorance about our true nature. However, the basic question must be answered; who am I? Am I this body and mind that perish, change, and waver at slightest provocation and danger? What is the basis, the unflinching foundation, or the substratum that lends viability to my transient existence?

And one turns to the beautiful verses of Upanishads for solace and confidence. "From where mind and speech return without any answer, that is My Abode," says the Lord. That which is the Light of all lights, of the sun, the moon, and earthly fire; that which is the Ear of the ears, Sight of the sights, Mind of the minds, Speech of the speech, I am that infinite, all pervading, and omniscient Atman. So speaks the ancient Indian scriptures. The truths are based on the direct experiences of the Seers. And in modern times, Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Ma Saradadevi and Swami Vivekananda provide proof for these universal claims of sanity and truth.

The procedures and methods are hinted at as to how to gain this eternal knowledge in our own lives. The methods of joining our lower self to higher Self, of Yoga, come into existence offering all of us a chance to seek what we must. 'Religion is realization,' claims Swami Vivekananda. Nothing else would and can pacify the restlessness of soul; nothing else can satisfy the eternal quest of our search for Final Truth. Freedom from the clutches of body-mind prison is what Liberation is all about. Discrimination and renunciation are the means to this end. This is what all religion is about. Let the Gods and forms wait for sometime, let worship and rituals wait for sometime, let us search within our heart the hidden treasure of Soul.
c s shah
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