3.H.1 Teachings of Swami Vivekananda, presented by Swami Atmapriyananda

— Christian response by Timothy Wright


  • Text

May I begin by quoting two important passages from Swami Vivekananda. The first one is part of a lecture he delivered at Detroit in 1894, while the second one is from a lecture onMy Life and My Mission delivered at Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California in 1900.


Hindu is a peculiar person. He does everything in a religious manner. He eats religiously; he sleeps religiously; he rises in the morning religiously; he does good things religiously; and he also does bad things religiously. At this point the lecturer struck the great moral keynote of his discourse, stating that with his people it was the belief that all non – self is good and all self is bad. This point was emphasised throughout the evening and might be termed the text of the address. To build a home is selfish, argues the Hindu; so he builds it for the worship of God and for the entertainment of guests. To cook food is selfish, so he cooks for the poor; he will serve himself last if any hungry stranger applies, and this feeling extends throughout the length and breadth of the land. Any man can ask for food and shelter, and any house will be opened to him. (Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Works, Vol.8, p.205)


Whether they were wrong or right — that is not the question we discuss — that nation, among all the children of men, has believed, and believed intensely, that this life is not real. The real is God; and they must cling unto that God through thick and thin. In the midst of their degradation, religion came first. The Hindu man drinks religiously, sleeps religiously, walks religiously, marries religiously, robs religiously.

Did you ever see such a country? If you want to get up a gang of robbers, the leader will have to preach some sort of religion, then formulate some bogus metaphysics, and say that this method is the clearest and quickest way to get God. Then he finds a following, otherwise not. That shows that the vitality of the race, the mission of the race is religion; and because that has not been touched, therefore that race lives.
Well! You see religious activities going on all through the country. I do not recall a year that has not given birth to several new sects in India. The stronger the current, the more the whirlpools and eddies. Sects are not signs of decay, they are a sign of life. Let sects multiply, till the time comes when every one of us is a sect, each individual. We need not quarrel about that. (Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Works, Vol.8, p.74)


  • Commentary

For the Hindu, there are not two lives, the daily life and the spiritual life (or popularly called religious life, for religion for the Hindu is spirituality, dogmas and rituals are only secondary details). Right from the moment he leaves his bed early in the morning, the Hindu child is taught to chant mantra after mantra for every little action—mantra for leaving the bed, mantra for having a wash, mantra for bathing, mantra for offering morning prayers to the Supreme Being in the form of the Divine Effulgence of the Sun, mantra for cooking food, mantra for offering the food to God, mantra for eating this offered food consecrated by God’s partaking of it, mantra for going to work, mantra while working, mantra while sipping water, mantra while the Sun is just at the top of your head at noon, mantra for resting, mantra for eating dinner, mantra for offering evening prayers while the Sun is just setting, mantra for going to bed at night. There is a famous text called Mahanarayana Upanishadwhich lays down all these mantras which are of so sublime that they elevate the mind of the person to an extent that he feels his body and mind are mantramaya, that is, formed as it were by mantras or holy words. In his morning prayers the Hindu prays that he may be cleansed thoroughly of whatever sins he committed the previous night. In the evening he prays to be cleansed thoroughly of whatever sins accumulated during the day. His whole life is thus one of continuous purification. There are higher and higher order of purification mantras as one progresses from one order of life to another—from a celibate student (Brahmacharin) to a house-holder (Grihastha) thence to a retired person in a secluded place (Vanasprasthin) and finally to an ascetic monk (Sannyasin). Different grades of spiritual practices that are mandatorily to be practised every day, day after day, as a matter of daily routine, as an integral part of daily life, are prescribed for each of these classes of aspirants. Again, these differ in their intensity and thrust for the four different castes—the Brahmin (priestly class devoted to study and meditation), the Kshatriya (the royal or kingly class characterized by administration), the Vaishya (the commercial or corporate sector devoted to generation and distribution of wealth) and the Sudra (labourers and servants devoted to serving the other three).

The smriti shastras (books laying down the codes of conduct) following the shruti (the Vedas, Upanishads) are the books that mainly prescribe daily practices. The greatest of the smriti shastras is the famous Bhagavad Gita, literally the Song of God, wherein the Lord enunciates the daily practices in a simple, almost simplistic, language. For example, he tells his disciple and friend Arjuna: “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you sacrifice, whatever you donate or offer others, whatever penances or austerities you perform, O son of Kunti, all that you offer unto Me!” (Gita, Chap.9, verse 27). This is the simplest of daily practices which integrates spiritual life with daily life. Again, “Have your mind fixed on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice and offer everything unto Me, worship and prostrate before Me. Having thus been absorbed in Me, you will ultimately attain Me alone.” (Gita, 9.34, 18.65). The final thrust comes at the very end of the Gita: “Abandoning all Dharma, take refuge in Me alone. I will liberate you from all sins, do not grieve.” (Gita, 18.66).

Ultimately, life itself becomes one constant flow of prayer and surrender to God. What began as religion or spirituality in daily life, finds its culmination and fulfilment asreligion or spirituality is daily life. What happens then to the seeker or the aspirant? The Gita puts it at the very end of the last Chapter as follows: visate tadanantaram—he enters into Divine Life.

Daily life thus gets transformed, transfigured and transmuted as Life Divine.