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Books > Hindu > Realizing God: Lectures on Vedanta
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Realizing God: Lectures on Vedanta
Realizing God: Lectures on Vedanta
Description
Foreword

This Book Has been edited from transcripts of Swami Prahhavananda’s lectures and talks contained in the Archives of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, They span years 1935-1976. I had intended to combine lectures of similar titles into a single chapter, but from year to year, even from month to month, the swami changed content when speaking on the same topic. Feeling that the lectures of the

1960 as represent him at his prime, I began with those and afterward added valuable material from other decades. With a’ view to documenting his thought clearly, I have left material from each lecture as a separate item, with its original source in the Archives cited at the end. There are some unavoidable repetitions in such a presentation, but they serve to illustrate swami’s multi-faceted thinking on any given subject.

Swami Prabhavananda’s only aim was to point the student toward realization of God — as he used to say, “by hook or by crook”, meaning in any way that appealed. His use of the expression was typical of his understanding of the culture in which he spoke, in this instance referring to the crooked staff of the shepherd of lost souls, Lord Jesus Christ, reining in his wayward lambs. It also referred to a Bengali saying, adopt any means whatsoever, but keep your mind fixed on Krishna

The task of presenting Swami Prabhavananda’s legacy has been approached with a great sense of responsibility. I have tried not to intrude between him and the reader, but have Striven to let his personality shine through on the printed page.’ I am deeply indebted to Swami Krishnananda, who transcribed these lectures, to the VSSC Archives for making them available, and to David Nelson for editorial advice.

INTRODUCTION

RENAISSANCE OF VEDANTA

Today is Rooted in yesterday; today’s religion is rooted in the religion of the past. For this reason we must try to understand Vedanta in its original form before we discuss its recent development.

The oldest scriptures of India and the most important to Hindus of all schools of Indian thought past and present (except Buddhism and Jainism) are the Vedas, the origin of their faith and their highest written authority. The term Vedas as used by orthodox Hindus not only refers to a large body of texts composed in infinitely remote times and handed down generation after generation, but in another sense stands for nothing less than divine truth itself. Of this inexpressible truth, the Vedic texts are necessarily but a pale reflection, but regarded in the second context, they are infinite and eternal, the perfect knowledge which is God.

“As clouds of smoke arise from a lighted fire kindled with damp fuel, so has issued the breath of the Vedas from the bosom of God.” From this can be understood the Hindu claim that the religion of Vedanta is Santana Dharma, the Eternal Religion. No teacher, no prophet, can be regarded as its founder. Just as physical laws operating in the universe neither Newton nor Einstein can be said to have founded or discovered, similarly there are spiritual truths eternally existing. These truths have been discovered by seers, known as reships. In the words of the ancient Vedic commentator Sayanacharya, God created the whole universe out of the knowledge of the Vedas.” That is to say, Vedic knowledge is coeval with God. The authority of the Vedas does not depend upon anything external: they themselves are authority, being the knowledge of God. Why they are accepted as such we shall see later, but their truth is verifiable in transcendental consciousness by any spiritual aspirant.

It is the Vedas in the concrete sense of scriptures with which we are henceforth concerned. As such, they are divided into two major parts, Karaganda, the work portion, and jacaranda, the knowledge portion. The knowledge portion consists of the Upanishads, and they came to be spoken of as the Vedanta —the anta or “end” of the Vedas, that is, the latter portion of the Vedas. The word ama, in addition to its literal meaning, has the figurative meaning of goal or purpose.

A modern Hindu, speaking of the Vedanta, may have both meanings more or less in mind. The scriptures refer to the last part of the Vedas, their highest wisdom, the wisdom of God.

The teaching of the Upanishads is summed up in several sacred Sayings known as mahavakyas. They are: Tat tamest, “That thou art”; Aham Brahmas, “I am Brahman”; Prajnanam Brahma, “Pure Consciousness is Brahinan”; Ayam Atma Brahma, “This Self is Brahman.” They are to be found strewn throughout the pages of the Upanishads. They are concise utterances, given by the teacher to the disciple, to be meditated upon. It is interesting to note that the ten orders of monks of the school of Shankar a are differentiated to this day by the particular mahavakya upon which they meditate.

This, then, is the fundamental truth of the philosophy of Vedanta, the identity between Brahman and Atman. To a superficial reader who fails to penetrate deeply into the mystery of the human soul, this doctrine of identity may easily become the ground for misconception and misinterpretation.

But the Upanishads give us a profound analysis of essential human nature, an analysis which upholds the identity of the spirit within with the Godhead. According to this account, the human being is called jiva, one who breathes, denoting the biological and physiological aspects of life. His individual self is further indicated by the word bhokta, the enjoyer, and karta, the doer.

This individual self is not meant to be the Atman that is one with Brahman. To show the distinction between the individual soul and the Atman, let me quote to you some of the teachings of the Upanishads: “Both the individual self and the Universal Self have entered the cave of the heart, the abode of the most high, but the knower of Brahman - -. See the difference between them as between sunshine and shadow.” [Katha Upanishad]

Jan the Mundaka Upanishad we read: “Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the Immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter tasting of neither, calmly observes, The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds His glory, he grieves no more. -- The Lord is the one life shining forth from every creature. Seeing him present in all, the wise man is humble, puts not him forward. His delight is in the Self, his joy is in the Self, and he serves the Lord in all. Such as he, indeed, are the true knower of Brahman.”

What is the nature of Brahman that is identical to the man? Brahman in this connection is described as beyond all oppression: “Brahman is he whom speech cannot express and from whom the mind, unable to reach, comes away baffle.” [Taittiriya Upanishad] “Those which cannot be expressed in words but by which the tongue speaks — know that to be Barman. Braliman is not the being who is worshiped of men. That which is not comprehended by the mind but by which the mind comprehends — know that to be Brahman. Brahman is not the being who is worshiped of men.” [Kena Up an is had] In another passage we read: “He, the self-luminous, subtler than the subtlest, in whom exist all the worlds and all those that live therein - he is the imperishable Brahman. He is the principle of life. He is real. He is immortal. Attain him, my friend, and the one goal to be attained!” [Mundaka Upanishad]

So though he is beyond mind and speech, beyond human comprehension, he can be attained. One realizes this identity of Atman and Brahman in what is known as Samadhi or transcendental consciousness. We shall presently come to explain that point, but before we come to that, we must mention that Brahinan is described also as the cause of the universe. Viewed as such, Brahnian is known as saguna, that is, the personal God with divine attributes. To quote the Upanishads:

“The one absolute, impersonal Existence, together with his inscrutable Maya, appears as the divine Lord, the personal God, endowed with manifold glories. With his divine power he holds dominion over all the worlds. At the periods of creation and dissolution of the universe, he alone exists. [Svet. asvatara Upanishad]

To the Hindus, creation is beginning less and endless. That it is beginning less is proved by a simple process of logic. If creation had a beginning, then the Creator must also have had a beginning, because until there is creation there can be no Creator. But to admit that the Creator had a beginning would be to admit that God had a beginning, since God is not God until he creates. To think of God as having had a beginning would be a manifest absurdity. God, who contains Within himself the seed, the material cause of the universe, first brings forth this universe out of his own being, and then in due time takes it back again into himself. This process of creation and dissolution goes on forever, for it is as endless as U is beginning less: eternity is witness not of one universe only for instance, that of which we are now a part — but of an Infinite succession of universes. The birth, life, and destruct (ion of a universe constitutes one cycle. To say that there was neither a first cause and will never be a last is to say that there was never such a cycle. And to say it will never be the last is only a way of asserting that the creative function of God is, like himself, eternal.

‘The phenomenon of creation is described in the Mundaka l, Upanishad as follows: “As the web comes out of the spider and his is withdrawn, as plants grow from the soil and hair from the. Body of man, so springs the universe from the eternal Brahman.”

What is our fate? Do we, like the universe, continue to undergo birth, death, and rebirth endlessly from a beginning? rn time? To quote the Svetasvatara Upanishad: “This vast universe is a wheel. Upon it are all creatures that are subject in birth, death, and rebirth. Round and round it turns and never stops. It is the wheel of Brahman. As long as the indiviclual self thinks it is separate from Brahman, it revolves upon the wheel in bondage to the laws of birth, death, and rebirth. But when, through the grace of Brahman, it realizes its identity with him, it revolves upon the wheel no longer. It achieves immortality.”

Herein we get the idea of what is known in Indian thought as reincarnation, and also the idea of liberation achieved through union with Brahman. There is divinity in each soul Annan is Brahman — but as long as the Atman is identified with the sheathes of the body — vital principle, mind, intellect, and ego — it appears as an individual being Separate from the Godhead. It is through ignorance, which is universal, that this identification continues. We remain subject to reincarnation — to birth, death, and rebirth — until we awaken spiritually and realize the truth of God. Then we achieve immortality. According to Vedanta, continuity of existence is not in time. The soul reincarnates again and again, but that is not immortal life. Immortality is achieved when the individual self realizes its true nature as one with the Godhead. Ultimately every soul will experience this union. Reincarnation merely gives it repeated opportunities to do so.

The supreme goal of life, therefore, is to achieve moksha, liberation from the bondages of birth, death, and rebirth, which is attained by realizing the Godhead within, by realizing the Atman as Brahman. And Vedanta emphasizes that this state can be attained here and now. No one needs to wait till after the death of the body. For one who has achieved liberation during life on earth, the vision of the world becomes transformed into the vision of Brahman. Such a person is then called jivanmukta, free while living. Forever free from delusion, free from all selfish desires, free from all sense of want. Every desire is extinguished by the ineffable experience of the Self. For one who has not achieved liberation in life, there is the possibility of obtaining it at the moment of death, provided that preparation for this experience has been the sole aim of life.

It must be admitted that the Vedantic conception of immortality which is found in the Upanishads runs counter to a common human desire. Most of us cling fondly to what we call our individuality or personality and we long to retain it through what we think of as an infinite extension of earthly time. Against this proposition there lies implicit in the Upanishads the following argument: This so vaunted individuality of ours, what is it after all? Born as it is of the false identification of the Self with the non-Self, it is but the illusory product of a radical misunderstanding. It has no genuinely real, no ultimate, existence. Further, if only we will but observe and reflect, we shall realize that everything which pertains to this particularized self — whether of body or mind — is in a state of incessant change. To cherish our finite individuality is, therefore, to expend our affections on what moment by moment we are losing forever. On the other hand, beside this elusive, ever-vanishing self, there is another Self, the Atman, motionless behind the flux. In that, and only in that, lies our higher and truer individuality which, so long as we continue in our blindness, we can never know. It is only when we have achieved moksha that we come to know of it, and then we realize it in its fullness.

What is meant by the knowledge of Atman-Brahman which leads to liberation is not what we ordinarily understand by that word. In the Mundaka Upanishad we find that a sharp distinction is made: “There are two kinds of knowledge, the higher and the lower. The lower is knowledge of the Vedas and also of phonetics, ceremonials, grammar, etymology, meter, and astronomy. The higher is knowledge of that by which one knows the changeless reality. By this is fully revealed to the wise that which transcends the senses, which is uncaused, which is indefinable; and which has neither eyes nor ears, neither hands nor feet, which is all-pervading, subtler than the subtlest — the ever-lasting, the source of all.”

The lower knowledge, being of the intellect and the senses, is limited to the objective, finite world, with Brahman or Atman unseen but seeing, unheard but hearing, unperceived but perceiving. Knowledge of the Atman or Brahman is, of course, the higher knowledge. It is known as Turiya, the Fourth. Turiya is beyond the three states of ordinary consciousness: the states of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. It is thus defined in the Mandukya Upanishad: “The Fourth, say the wise, is not subjective experience nor objective experience, nor experience intermediate between these two, nor is it a negative condition which is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness. It is not the knowledge of the senses, nor is it relative knowledge, nor yet inferential knowledge. Beyond the senses, beyond the understanding, beyond all expression is The Fourth. It is pure unitary consciousness, wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated. Jt is ineffable peace. It is the supreme good. Know it alone!”

As already stated, to experience Turiya is to become a knower of Brahman, to be liberated from every finite bond. Such is the all-important purpose of life. But how is this purpose to be achieved? Through two main types of spiritual discipline, say the Upanishads: self-control or inner-check, and the practice of meditation. Just what is meant by self-control, the first discipline, is explained in a famous passage from the Katha Upanishad: “Know that the Self is the rider and the body the chariot; that the intellect is the charioteer and the mind the reins. The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of desire. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when he is united with the body, the senses, and the mind. When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled, his senses are unmanageable, like the restive horses of a charioteer. But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of the charioteer, lightly obey the rein. He who lacks discrimination, whose mind is unsteady, and whose heart is impure, never reaches the goal, but is born again and again. But he who has discrimination, whose mind is steady, and whose heart is pure, reaches the goal and, having reached it, is born no more. The man who has a sound understanding for a charioteer, a controlled mind for reins, he it is who reaches the end of the journey, the supreme abode of Vishnu, the All-pervading.... This Brahman, the Self deep-hidden in all beings, is not revealed to all; but to the seers, pure in heart, concentrated in mind — to them is he revealed.”

The importance of the second type of spiritual discipline, meditation, is emphasized in the following passages from the Svetasvatara Upanishad: “Like oil in sesame seeds, butter in cream, water in the riverbed, fire in tinder, the Self dwells within the soul. Realize Him through truthfulness and meditation. Like butter in cream is the Self in everything. Knowledge of the Self is gained through meditation. The Self is Brahman. By Brahman is all ignorance destroyed. - -- Be devoted to the eternal Brahman. Unite the light within you with the light of Brahman.”

And in the Katha Upanishad we read: “None beholds him with the eyes, for he is without visible form. Yet in the heart is he revealed, through self-control and meditation. When all the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not — that, say the wise, is the highest state. This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga- He who attains it is freed from delusion.”

There are four yogas or paths of union with Brahman. Raja Yoga is the path of self-control and meditation. Jnana Yoga is the path of discriminative knowledge, which consists of hearing the truth of Brahman, reasoning upon it, and meditating upon it. Bhakti Yoga is the path of love or devotion to God. Karma Yoga is the path of selfless work. The four paths are mentioned in the Upanishads in rudimentary form. They are discussed in greater detail in the auxiliary scriptures, especially in the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, and also in the Purina’s and Tantras. The auxiliary scriptures, which arc more recent than the Upanishads, are also accepted as authority by the Hindus inasmuch as they explain and popularize the Upanishad teachings.

In addition to the auxiliary scriptures, there are sufras or aphorisms which constitute the basic Indian philosophical literature. Western scholars regard the second century A.D. as the sutra period. The six schools of Indian Philosophy Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa, and Vedanta — are based upon sutras.

The most important aphorisms are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Vedanta Sutras of Vyasa.’ The Yoga Sutras explain in detail how Samadhi or God-consciousness is attained by following the path of concentration and meditation. The Vedanta Sutras are important to all Vedantic schools of thought inasmuch as every philosopher has commented upon them in order to establish his particular doctrine. For a Vedantist, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, and the Vedanta Sutras are considered the most authoritative and fundamental of all the scriptures.

Based upon these, three main schools of Vedantic thought developed in India. First, Advaita Vedanta. It was Shankar in the seventh century A.D. who expounded Advaita Vedanta in a comprehensive and clear manner. He accomplished this by writing commentaries on the basic Vedantic texts mentioned above. None of the many commentaries written before Shankar are extant. Shankar propounded the philosophy of no dualism — that Brahman alone is real and that the appearance of the universe as we know it is a superimposition upon Brahman.

The second school of thought developed approximately two centuries after Shankar. Is is known as the Vishishtadvaita or alified monism of Ramanuja- Ramanuja rejected Shankar’s Dory of superimposition and propounded his own theory of information. According to Ramanuja, Brahman is related the world of the living and the non-living as the soul is rated to the body: all living creatures and non1iving matter institute the qualifications of Brahman; individual souls are of Brahman, the whole- Brahman is saguna, personal, the blessed attributes.

The third school of thought is the Davit or dualism of Madhya. Madhya, who was born toward the end of the twelfth century, interpreted Vedanta as radical pluralism. According in him, God, matter, and souls are absolutely different from another.

During the following six centuries, many other saints, too numerous to mention, left their mark of spirituality on the course of Indian philosophy and religion. In the nineteenth century, through English rule and the spread of English education in India, the materialism of the age touched her shores. Lord Maccauley said that if Indians were given an English education, they would come to understand that their religion was superstition. And that is exactly what happened. Young Hindus neglected study of their own scriptures; Sanskrit learning was at its lowest ebb. Western scholars, on the other hand, translated the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, thus bringing to the attention of English- educated Hindus the greatness of their own spiritual heritage. In the life of Sri Ramakrishna, about whom I shall presently speak, an incident is mentioned which bears out the general lack of the Hindus’ regard for their scriptures at that time. One of Sri Ramakrishna’s young disciples told his Master what a wonderful book the Bhagavad-Gita Gita was. Sri Ramakrishna smiled and said, “Some Englishmen must have said so.” Vedanta was given a new impetus with the advent of Sri Ramakrishna, who was born in 1836. In his teens he was engaged as a priest in a temple at Dakshineswar, not far from Calcutta. Unbeknown to the people of the world, he practiced spiritual disciplines so intensively that the state of Turiya, which we mentioned while dealing with the Upanishads, almost became his natural state of awareness. In other words, he lived in God-consciousness practically all of his life.

The most characteristic aspect of the Vedanta as taught by Sri Ramakrishna can be summed up in the words—tolerance, reconciliation, and harmony. The ideas these words represent are not, of course, new to Indian religion, which from its remote beginning has seldom been morally exclusive or dogmatic. But in the Vedanta of Sri Ramakrishna they find a comprehensive and definitive embodiment. He not only brought into agreement the diverse views of Vedanta, but also managed to include in his native faith all the faiths of the outside world. The idea of the unity and universality of the religious sentiment could hardly be carried further. In the ultimate reaches of Vedanta there were, to be sure, no diverse views to be reconciled. When the aspirant attained the ultimate goal, views of whatever kind ceased to exist. An aspirant, absorbed in Turiya, the transcendental consciousness, had become one with God- But at lower levels, where the mind tried to determine the nature of God and the universe, differences arose early. Some said that God was personal, some that he was impersonal. Some said he was with form, some that he was without form. Sri Ramakrishna, bringing to bear his own mystic experiences, dissolved in his simple way all such oppositions. He said: “Infinite is God, and infinite are his expressions. He, who lives continuously in the consciousness of God and in this alone, knows him in his true being. He knows his infinite expressions, his various aspects. He knows him as impersonal, no less than as personal. He indeed has attained the supreme illumination that not only realizes the presence of God, but knows him as both personal and impersonal, who loves him intensely, talks to him, and partakes of his bliss. Such an illumined soul realizes the bliss of God while he is absorbed in meditation, attaining oneness with the indivisible impersonal being, and he realizes the same bliss as he comes back to normal consciousness and sees this universe as a manifestation of that being and as a divine play. To reason out the truth of God is one thing and to meditate on God is another, but when illumination comes through the grace of God, then only is the truth of God known and experienced. Just as a dark room is lighted when you strike a match, so is the heart lighted up by the grace of God. Then alone are all doubts dissolved away.”

As we have seen, the three main schools of thought in Vedanta are dualism, qualified monism, and no dualism. Sri Ramakrishna reconciled these in the following manner. Quoting an ancient verse from the Hindu scriptures, he told how Rama, who was worshiped as a divine incarnation, asked his faithful devotee, Hanuman, how he looked upon him. Hanuman replied: “When I consider myself as a physical being, Thou art the master, I am thy servant. When I consider myself as an individual being, Thou art the whole, I am one of Thy parts. And when I realize myself as the Atman, I am one with Thee.” Thus, Sri Ramakrishna pointed out that dualism, qualified monism, and no dualism are not mutually exclusive and contradictory concepts, but successive steps in realization, the third and last being attained when the aspirant loses all consciousness of self in union with God. Thus, in a way more or less peculiar to himself, through attention mainly to the mystic experience, Sri Ramakrishna harmonized conflicting notions of God and religion.

But this was not his only way. Another, still more peculiar to him, might in current terms be called pragmatic. According to him, any idea of God, any mode of worshiping him that worked, that led the aspirant to the ultimate goal, must be valid and true. But how could one be sure that an idea or a method is really effective? Clearly, only by trying it oneself. That, in all simplicity and sincerity, is what Sri Ramakrishna did. First he practiced the teachings of many divergent denominations within Hinduism. Then he practiced the teachings of other faiths, including Islam and Christianity. Through each religious path, he attained the realization of God. In the end Sri Ramakrishna arrived at the grand conclusion with which the ancient rishis of the Vedas began: “Truth is One; sages call it by various names.” In Sri Ramakrishna’s words: “So many religions, so many paths to reach one and the same goal.”

In defining this goal Sri Ramakrishna was, of course, at one with all his spiritual ancestors — simply to realize God within one’s own soul. Sri Ramakrishna emphasized the importance of means: “Adopt adequate means for the end you seek to attain. You cannot get butter by crying yourself hoarse saying that there is butter in the milk. If you wish to make butter, you must turn the milk into curd and churn it well. Then alone you can get butter. So if you long to see God, practice spiritual disciplines. What is the use of merely crying, “Lord, Lord!”

In the course of its long history, reaching far back into an unrecorded past, Indian religion has had its share of denominations and doctrines, of reformations and revivals. It has nevertheless preserved unchanged, at its core, four fundamental ideas. These may be simply expressed: God is. He can be realized. To realize him is the supreme goal of human existence. He can be realized in many ways.

God is. This tremendous proposition, though variously interpreted, is, of course, common, not only to the religions of India, but to all religions of the world. In every age god-men have proclaimed it, each according to his own spiritual vision. And in every age people have asked for proof that it is true. Many plausible demonstrations have been devised by philosophers, establishing God as a logical necessity. However, there is not a single argument substantiating God’s actuality on the basis of reason which has not been contradicted by equally plausible arguments of opposing philosophers. The only real proof that God is must be sought elsewhere.

God can be realized. That is to say, he can be known, felt, experienced immediately, in the depths of one’s own soul. Upon this all-inspiring fact, the religions and philosophies of India, without exception, have been founded. From the dim ages of the Vedic seers, down through the many centuries to our own day, it has been consistently declared that the ultimate reality of the universe can be directly perceived, though never in normal consciousness. To the unique transcendent state, in which the miracle happens, various names have been given: Tuna, Samadhi, nirvana. To realize God is the supreme goal of human existence. On this, all Indian religions and philosophies have at all times been agreed: “Arise! Awake! Approach the feet of the Master and know that!” says the rishi of the Katha Upanishad. “Study of the scriptures is fruitless,” says the great Shankar, “so long as Brahman has not been experienced.” “He is born to no purpose,” says Sri Ramakrishna, “who, having the rare privilege of being born a man is unable to realize God.” Jt will be observed that the call for tolerance, harmony, and universal consent applies only to the paths, not to the goal. The Upanishads say: “Neti, neti.” The Atman, or Brahman within, is not this, not that. In that ecstatic realization, says Sri Ramakrishna, speaking out of his own abundant experience, all thoughts cease, no power of speech is left by which to express Brahman. If this were all, there would, of course, be no religious doctrines, no religious philosophies — but it is not all. The mystics sooner or later emerge from transcendental consciousness, and then it sometimes happens that they talk, not for their own sake, but for the good of their fellow human beings. In talking, they may express variously the same ultimately inexpressible truth- The seers and philosophers of India, as elsewhere, have defined God in many ways, often apparently contradictory. Hence, divergent denominations have arisen. But what is to be noted is that seldom, if ever, do the differences in doctrine lead to intolerance, let alone to persecution. On the rare occasion when a system of philosophy or religion tried to prove and establish its own truth at the expense of others, it could not get very far; it could never dominate the minds of the people of India as a whole, as, thoroughly ingrained in their hearts was the spirit of understanding and sympathy. After all, they felt, it was the saintly life that counted. Saints and sages have been produced by following the order of Shankar, but also by following the order of Ramanuja, of Madhya, and of others. And they are recognized as such, not only by their particular followers, but by the whole of India. Moreover, by natural extension of their liberal attitude, Hindus revere the saints and sages of religions other than their own.

The first systematic attempt to harmonize the many doctrines of Hinduism is to be found in the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, the Bible of the Hindus. By the fifth century BAD. Many schools of thought with varied ideas of God and the Godhead, as well as varied paths, had come into existence. These were all incorporated in the teachings of the Gita. Sri Krishna says: “Whatever path men travel is my path. No matter where they walk, it leads to me.”

After many centuries, when Hinduism came for the first time into contact with a foreign religion, attempts were made by two great teachers, Guru Nanak and Kabir, to harmonize the newly arrived Islam with the native faith. And more recently when confronted by Christianity, Hinduism has once more, especially by the precepts and practices of Sri Ramakrishna continued its role of peacemaker among the creeds.

It is perhaps natural, in conclusion, to emphasize strongly the age-old effort of India to reconcile differing faiths. For it is probably by continuing this effort on an international scale that she is doing most for the spiritual welfare of humanity. To bring together against rampant evil the great religions of the world is no doubt a gigantic task. But it is one for which India has a special qualification. She strives for unity, not by calling for a common doctrine, but only by pointing to a common goal, and by exhorting men and women to its attainment. The path, she assures us, matters little. It is the goal that is supreme. What is the goal? It is only, once again, to realize God.

Contents

Foreword 3
Introduction
Renaissance of Vedanta9
Concepts
Religion26
God, Soul and the Universe40
Om47
Brahman/Shakti52
The Kundalini57
The Practice of Religion63
Active and Contemplative Life71
The Self73
The Impersonal Life80
The Problem of Evil98
Reincarnation and Immortality101
Peace and Holiness117
Saints and Miracles126
Cast Out Fear135
Divine Incarnation139
Incarnations and Teachers
Buddha148
Christ163
Shankara169
Ramanuja179
Chaitanya187
Totapuri194
Ramakrishna202
Sarada Devi218
Vivekananda230
Brahmananda242
Scriptures
Upanishads274
Bhagavad-Gita- Gita281
Tantras285
Bible: the New Testament
The Beatitudes292
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life297
The Lord’s Prayer302
Peace I Give Unto You307
Not Peace, But a Sword308
Be Still and know That I Am God309
A Well of the Water Springing Up Into Everlasting Life310
Know Ye Not That Ye Are the Temples of God311
Except a Man Be Born Again 312
Spiritual Practices
Vedanta in Practice316
Householder and Monastic Life318
Contemplation and Happiness321
How To Gain Poise327
How To Play330
Faith332
stages of Spiritual Unfoldment337
Self-Effort and Divine Grace339
Karma and Grace344
Ritualism351
Overcoming Obstacles in Spiritual Life357
Path of Meditation363
Path of Action371
Path of Devotion375
Path of Knowledge386
Yoga395
Pranayama410
Mind and Its Control414
Mysticism and Mystic Union or Super conscious Vision 427
Silence442
Afterword456
Sources468
Index473

Realizing God: Lectures on Vedanta

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Foreword

This Book Has been edited from transcripts of Swami Prahhavananda’s lectures and talks contained in the Archives of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, They span years 1935-1976. I had intended to combine lectures of similar titles into a single chapter, but from year to year, even from month to month, the swami changed content when speaking on the same topic. Feeling that the lectures of the

1960 as represent him at his prime, I began with those and afterward added valuable material from other decades. With a’ view to documenting his thought clearly, I have left material from each lecture as a separate item, with its original source in the Archives cited at the end. There are some unavoidable repetitions in such a presentation, but they serve to illustrate swami’s multi-faceted thinking on any given subject.

Swami Prabhavananda’s only aim was to point the student toward realization of God — as he used to say, “by hook or by crook”, meaning in any way that appealed. His use of the expression was typical of his understanding of the culture in which he spoke, in this instance referring to the crooked staff of the shepherd of lost souls, Lord Jesus Christ, reining in his wayward lambs. It also referred to a Bengali saying, adopt any means whatsoever, but keep your mind fixed on Krishna

The task of presenting Swami Prabhavananda’s legacy has been approached with a great sense of responsibility. I have tried not to intrude between him and the reader, but have Striven to let his personality shine through on the printed page.’ I am deeply indebted to Swami Krishnananda, who transcribed these lectures, to the VSSC Archives for making them available, and to David Nelson for editorial advice.

INTRODUCTION

RENAISSANCE OF VEDANTA

Today is Rooted in yesterday; today’s religion is rooted in the religion of the past. For this reason we must try to understand Vedanta in its original form before we discuss its recent development.

The oldest scriptures of India and the most important to Hindus of all schools of Indian thought past and present (except Buddhism and Jainism) are the Vedas, the origin of their faith and their highest written authority. The term Vedas as used by orthodox Hindus not only refers to a large body of texts composed in infinitely remote times and handed down generation after generation, but in another sense stands for nothing less than divine truth itself. Of this inexpressible truth, the Vedic texts are necessarily but a pale reflection, but regarded in the second context, they are infinite and eternal, the perfect knowledge which is God.

“As clouds of smoke arise from a lighted fire kindled with damp fuel, so has issued the breath of the Vedas from the bosom of God.” From this can be understood the Hindu claim that the religion of Vedanta is Santana Dharma, the Eternal Religion. No teacher, no prophet, can be regarded as its founder. Just as physical laws operating in the universe neither Newton nor Einstein can be said to have founded or discovered, similarly there are spiritual truths eternally existing. These truths have been discovered by seers, known as reships. In the words of the ancient Vedic commentator Sayanacharya, God created the whole universe out of the knowledge of the Vedas.” That is to say, Vedic knowledge is coeval with God. The authority of the Vedas does not depend upon anything external: they themselves are authority, being the knowledge of God. Why they are accepted as such we shall see later, but their truth is verifiable in transcendental consciousness by any spiritual aspirant.

It is the Vedas in the concrete sense of scriptures with which we are henceforth concerned. As such, they are divided into two major parts, Karaganda, the work portion, and jacaranda, the knowledge portion. The knowledge portion consists of the Upanishads, and they came to be spoken of as the Vedanta —the anta or “end” of the Vedas, that is, the latter portion of the Vedas. The word ama, in addition to its literal meaning, has the figurative meaning of goal or purpose.

A modern Hindu, speaking of the Vedanta, may have both meanings more or less in mind. The scriptures refer to the last part of the Vedas, their highest wisdom, the wisdom of God.

The teaching of the Upanishads is summed up in several sacred Sayings known as mahavakyas. They are: Tat tamest, “That thou art”; Aham Brahmas, “I am Brahman”; Prajnanam Brahma, “Pure Consciousness is Brahinan”; Ayam Atma Brahma, “This Self is Brahman.” They are to be found strewn throughout the pages of the Upanishads. They are concise utterances, given by the teacher to the disciple, to be meditated upon. It is interesting to note that the ten orders of monks of the school of Shankar a are differentiated to this day by the particular mahavakya upon which they meditate.

This, then, is the fundamental truth of the philosophy of Vedanta, the identity between Brahman and Atman. To a superficial reader who fails to penetrate deeply into the mystery of the human soul, this doctrine of identity may easily become the ground for misconception and misinterpretation.

But the Upanishads give us a profound analysis of essential human nature, an analysis which upholds the identity of the spirit within with the Godhead. According to this account, the human being is called jiva, one who breathes, denoting the biological and physiological aspects of life. His individual self is further indicated by the word bhokta, the enjoyer, and karta, the doer.

This individual self is not meant to be the Atman that is one with Brahman. To show the distinction between the individual soul and the Atman, let me quote to you some of the teachings of the Upanishads: “Both the individual self and the Universal Self have entered the cave of the heart, the abode of the most high, but the knower of Brahman - -. See the difference between them as between sunshine and shadow.” [Katha Upanishad]

Jan the Mundaka Upanishad we read: “Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the Immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter tasting of neither, calmly observes, The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds His glory, he grieves no more. -- The Lord is the one life shining forth from every creature. Seeing him present in all, the wise man is humble, puts not him forward. His delight is in the Self, his joy is in the Self, and he serves the Lord in all. Such as he, indeed, are the true knower of Brahman.”

What is the nature of Brahman that is identical to the man? Brahman in this connection is described as beyond all oppression: “Brahman is he whom speech cannot express and from whom the mind, unable to reach, comes away baffle.” [Taittiriya Upanishad] “Those which cannot be expressed in words but by which the tongue speaks — know that to be Barman. Braliman is not the being who is worshiped of men. That which is not comprehended by the mind but by which the mind comprehends — know that to be Brahman. Brahman is not the being who is worshiped of men.” [Kena Up an is had] In another passage we read: “He, the self-luminous, subtler than the subtlest, in whom exist all the worlds and all those that live therein - he is the imperishable Brahman. He is the principle of life. He is real. He is immortal. Attain him, my friend, and the one goal to be attained!” [Mundaka Upanishad]

So though he is beyond mind and speech, beyond human comprehension, he can be attained. One realizes this identity of Atman and Brahman in what is known as Samadhi or transcendental consciousness. We shall presently come to explain that point, but before we come to that, we must mention that Brahinan is described also as the cause of the universe. Viewed as such, Brahnian is known as saguna, that is, the personal God with divine attributes. To quote the Upanishads:

“The one absolute, impersonal Existence, together with his inscrutable Maya, appears as the divine Lord, the personal God, endowed with manifold glories. With his divine power he holds dominion over all the worlds. At the periods of creation and dissolution of the universe, he alone exists. [Svet. asvatara Upanishad]

To the Hindus, creation is beginning less and endless. That it is beginning less is proved by a simple process of logic. If creation had a beginning, then the Creator must also have had a beginning, because until there is creation there can be no Creator. But to admit that the Creator had a beginning would be to admit that God had a beginning, since God is not God until he creates. To think of God as having had a beginning would be a manifest absurdity. God, who contains Within himself the seed, the material cause of the universe, first brings forth this universe out of his own being, and then in due time takes it back again into himself. This process of creation and dissolution goes on forever, for it is as endless as U is beginning less: eternity is witness not of one universe only for instance, that of which we are now a part — but of an Infinite succession of universes. The birth, life, and destruct (ion of a universe constitutes one cycle. To say that there was neither a first cause and will never be a last is to say that there was never such a cycle. And to say it will never be the last is only a way of asserting that the creative function of God is, like himself, eternal.

‘The phenomenon of creation is described in the Mundaka l, Upanishad as follows: “As the web comes out of the spider and his is withdrawn, as plants grow from the soil and hair from the. Body of man, so springs the universe from the eternal Brahman.”

What is our fate? Do we, like the universe, continue to undergo birth, death, and rebirth endlessly from a beginning? rn time? To quote the Svetasvatara Upanishad: “This vast universe is a wheel. Upon it are all creatures that are subject in birth, death, and rebirth. Round and round it turns and never stops. It is the wheel of Brahman. As long as the indiviclual self thinks it is separate from Brahman, it revolves upon the wheel in bondage to the laws of birth, death, and rebirth. But when, through the grace of Brahman, it realizes its identity with him, it revolves upon the wheel no longer. It achieves immortality.”

Herein we get the idea of what is known in Indian thought as reincarnation, and also the idea of liberation achieved through union with Brahman. There is divinity in each soul Annan is Brahman — but as long as the Atman is identified with the sheathes of the body — vital principle, mind, intellect, and ego — it appears as an individual being Separate from the Godhead. It is through ignorance, which is universal, that this identification continues. We remain subject to reincarnation — to birth, death, and rebirth — until we awaken spiritually and realize the truth of God. Then we achieve immortality. According to Vedanta, continuity of existence is not in time. The soul reincarnates again and again, but that is not immortal life. Immortality is achieved when the individual self realizes its true nature as one with the Godhead. Ultimately every soul will experience this union. Reincarnation merely gives it repeated opportunities to do so.

The supreme goal of life, therefore, is to achieve moksha, liberation from the bondages of birth, death, and rebirth, which is attained by realizing the Godhead within, by realizing the Atman as Brahman. And Vedanta emphasizes that this state can be attained here and now. No one needs to wait till after the death of the body. For one who has achieved liberation during life on earth, the vision of the world becomes transformed into the vision of Brahman. Such a person is then called jivanmukta, free while living. Forever free from delusion, free from all selfish desires, free from all sense of want. Every desire is extinguished by the ineffable experience of the Self. For one who has not achieved liberation in life, there is the possibility of obtaining it at the moment of death, provided that preparation for this experience has been the sole aim of life.

It must be admitted that the Vedantic conception of immortality which is found in the Upanishads runs counter to a common human desire. Most of us cling fondly to what we call our individuality or personality and we long to retain it through what we think of as an infinite extension of earthly time. Against this proposition there lies implicit in the Upanishads the following argument: This so vaunted individuality of ours, what is it after all? Born as it is of the false identification of the Self with the non-Self, it is but the illusory product of a radical misunderstanding. It has no genuinely real, no ultimate, existence. Further, if only we will but observe and reflect, we shall realize that everything which pertains to this particularized self — whether of body or mind — is in a state of incessant change. To cherish our finite individuality is, therefore, to expend our affections on what moment by moment we are losing forever. On the other hand, beside this elusive, ever-vanishing self, there is another Self, the Atman, motionless behind the flux. In that, and only in that, lies our higher and truer individuality which, so long as we continue in our blindness, we can never know. It is only when we have achieved moksha that we come to know of it, and then we realize it in its fullness.

What is meant by the knowledge of Atman-Brahman which leads to liberation is not what we ordinarily understand by that word. In the Mundaka Upanishad we find that a sharp distinction is made: “There are two kinds of knowledge, the higher and the lower. The lower is knowledge of the Vedas and also of phonetics, ceremonials, grammar, etymology, meter, and astronomy. The higher is knowledge of that by which one knows the changeless reality. By this is fully revealed to the wise that which transcends the senses, which is uncaused, which is indefinable; and which has neither eyes nor ears, neither hands nor feet, which is all-pervading, subtler than the subtlest — the ever-lasting, the source of all.”

The lower knowledge, being of the intellect and the senses, is limited to the objective, finite world, with Brahman or Atman unseen but seeing, unheard but hearing, unperceived but perceiving. Knowledge of the Atman or Brahman is, of course, the higher knowledge. It is known as Turiya, the Fourth. Turiya is beyond the three states of ordinary consciousness: the states of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. It is thus defined in the Mandukya Upanishad: “The Fourth, say the wise, is not subjective experience nor objective experience, nor experience intermediate between these two, nor is it a negative condition which is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness. It is not the knowledge of the senses, nor is it relative knowledge, nor yet inferential knowledge. Beyond the senses, beyond the understanding, beyond all expression is The Fourth. It is pure unitary consciousness, wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated. Jt is ineffable peace. It is the supreme good. Know it alone!”

As already stated, to experience Turiya is to become a knower of Brahman, to be liberated from every finite bond. Such is the all-important purpose of life. But how is this purpose to be achieved? Through two main types of spiritual discipline, say the Upanishads: self-control or inner-check, and the practice of meditation. Just what is meant by self-control, the first discipline, is explained in a famous passage from the Katha Upanishad: “Know that the Self is the rider and the body the chariot; that the intellect is the charioteer and the mind the reins. The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of desire. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when he is united with the body, the senses, and the mind. When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled, his senses are unmanageable, like the restive horses of a charioteer. But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of the charioteer, lightly obey the rein. He who lacks discrimination, whose mind is unsteady, and whose heart is impure, never reaches the goal, but is born again and again. But he who has discrimination, whose mind is steady, and whose heart is pure, reaches the goal and, having reached it, is born no more. The man who has a sound understanding for a charioteer, a controlled mind for reins, he it is who reaches the end of the journey, the supreme abode of Vishnu, the All-pervading.... This Brahman, the Self deep-hidden in all beings, is not revealed to all; but to the seers, pure in heart, concentrated in mind — to them is he revealed.”

The importance of the second type of spiritual discipline, meditation, is emphasized in the following passages from the Svetasvatara Upanishad: “Like oil in sesame seeds, butter in cream, water in the riverbed, fire in tinder, the Self dwells within the soul. Realize Him through truthfulness and meditation. Like butter in cream is the Self in everything. Knowledge of the Self is gained through meditation. The Self is Brahman. By Brahman is all ignorance destroyed. - -- Be devoted to the eternal Brahman. Unite the light within you with the light of Brahman.”

And in the Katha Upanishad we read: “None beholds him with the eyes, for he is without visible form. Yet in the heart is he revealed, through self-control and meditation. When all the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not — that, say the wise, is the highest state. This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga- He who attains it is freed from delusion.”

There are four yogas or paths of union with Brahman. Raja Yoga is the path of self-control and meditation. Jnana Yoga is the path of discriminative knowledge, which consists of hearing the truth of Brahman, reasoning upon it, and meditating upon it. Bhakti Yoga is the path of love or devotion to God. Karma Yoga is the path of selfless work. The four paths are mentioned in the Upanishads in rudimentary form. They are discussed in greater detail in the auxiliary scriptures, especially in the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, and also in the Purina’s and Tantras. The auxiliary scriptures, which arc more recent than the Upanishads, are also accepted as authority by the Hindus inasmuch as they explain and popularize the Upanishad teachings.

In addition to the auxiliary scriptures, there are sufras or aphorisms which constitute the basic Indian philosophical literature. Western scholars regard the second century A.D. as the sutra period. The six schools of Indian Philosophy Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa, and Vedanta — are based upon sutras.

The most important aphorisms are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Vedanta Sutras of Vyasa.’ The Yoga Sutras explain in detail how Samadhi or God-consciousness is attained by following the path of concentration and meditation. The Vedanta Sutras are important to all Vedantic schools of thought inasmuch as every philosopher has commented upon them in order to establish his particular doctrine. For a Vedantist, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, and the Vedanta Sutras are considered the most authoritative and fundamental of all the scriptures.

Based upon these, three main schools of Vedantic thought developed in India. First, Advaita Vedanta. It was Shankar in the seventh century A.D. who expounded Advaita Vedanta in a comprehensive and clear manner. He accomplished this by writing commentaries on the basic Vedantic texts mentioned above. None of the many commentaries written before Shankar are extant. Shankar propounded the philosophy of no dualism — that Brahman alone is real and that the appearance of the universe as we know it is a superimposition upon Brahman.

The second school of thought developed approximately two centuries after Shankar. Is is known as the Vishishtadvaita or alified monism of Ramanuja- Ramanuja rejected Shankar’s Dory of superimposition and propounded his own theory of information. According to Ramanuja, Brahman is related the world of the living and the non-living as the soul is rated to the body: all living creatures and non1iving matter institute the qualifications of Brahman; individual souls are of Brahman, the whole- Brahman is saguna, personal, the blessed attributes.

The third school of thought is the Davit or dualism of Madhya. Madhya, who was born toward the end of the twelfth century, interpreted Vedanta as radical pluralism. According in him, God, matter, and souls are absolutely different from another.

During the following six centuries, many other saints, too numerous to mention, left their mark of spirituality on the course of Indian philosophy and religion. In the nineteenth century, through English rule and the spread of English education in India, the materialism of the age touched her shores. Lord Maccauley said that if Indians were given an English education, they would come to understand that their religion was superstition. And that is exactly what happened. Young Hindus neglected study of their own scriptures; Sanskrit learning was at its lowest ebb. Western scholars, on the other hand, translated the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, thus bringing to the attention of English- educated Hindus the greatness of their own spiritual heritage. In the life of Sri Ramakrishna, about whom I shall presently speak, an incident is mentioned which bears out the general lack of the Hindus’ regard for their scriptures at that time. One of Sri Ramakrishna’s young disciples told his Master what a wonderful book the Bhagavad-Gita Gita was. Sri Ramakrishna smiled and said, “Some Englishmen must have said so.” Vedanta was given a new impetus with the advent of Sri Ramakrishna, who was born in 1836. In his teens he was engaged as a priest in a temple at Dakshineswar, not far from Calcutta. Unbeknown to the people of the world, he practiced spiritual disciplines so intensively that the state of Turiya, which we mentioned while dealing with the Upanishads, almost became his natural state of awareness. In other words, he lived in God-consciousness practically all of his life.

The most characteristic aspect of the Vedanta as taught by Sri Ramakrishna can be summed up in the words—tolerance, reconciliation, and harmony. The ideas these words represent are not, of course, new to Indian religion, which from its remote beginning has seldom been morally exclusive or dogmatic. But in the Vedanta of Sri Ramakrishna they find a comprehensive and definitive embodiment. He not only brought into agreement the diverse views of Vedanta, but also managed to include in his native faith all the faiths of the outside world. The idea of the unity and universality of the religious sentiment could hardly be carried further. In the ultimate reaches of Vedanta there were, to be sure, no diverse views to be reconciled. When the aspirant attained the ultimate goal, views of whatever kind ceased to exist. An aspirant, absorbed in Turiya, the transcendental consciousness, had become one with God- But at lower levels, where the mind tried to determine the nature of God and the universe, differences arose early. Some said that God was personal, some that he was impersonal. Some said he was with form, some that he was without form. Sri Ramakrishna, bringing to bear his own mystic experiences, dissolved in his simple way all such oppositions. He said: “Infinite is God, and infinite are his expressions. He, who lives continuously in the consciousness of God and in this alone, knows him in his true being. He knows his infinite expressions, his various aspects. He knows him as impersonal, no less than as personal. He indeed has attained the supreme illumination that not only realizes the presence of God, but knows him as both personal and impersonal, who loves him intensely, talks to him, and partakes of his bliss. Such an illumined soul realizes the bliss of God while he is absorbed in meditation, attaining oneness with the indivisible impersonal being, and he realizes the same bliss as he comes back to normal consciousness and sees this universe as a manifestation of that being and as a divine play. To reason out the truth of God is one thing and to meditate on God is another, but when illumination comes through the grace of God, then only is the truth of God known and experienced. Just as a dark room is lighted when you strike a match, so is the heart lighted up by the grace of God. Then alone are all doubts dissolved away.”

As we have seen, the three main schools of thought in Vedanta are dualism, qualified monism, and no dualism. Sri Ramakrishna reconciled these in the following manner. Quoting an ancient verse from the Hindu scriptures, he told how Rama, who was worshiped as a divine incarnation, asked his faithful devotee, Hanuman, how he looked upon him. Hanuman replied: “When I consider myself as a physical being, Thou art the master, I am thy servant. When I consider myself as an individual being, Thou art the whole, I am one of Thy parts. And when I realize myself as the Atman, I am one with Thee.” Thus, Sri Ramakrishna pointed out that dualism, qualified monism, and no dualism are not mutually exclusive and contradictory concepts, but successive steps in realization, the third and last being attained when the aspirant loses all consciousness of self in union with God. Thus, in a way more or less peculiar to himself, through attention mainly to the mystic experience, Sri Ramakrishna harmonized conflicting notions of God and religion.

But this was not his only way. Another, still more peculiar to him, might in current terms be called pragmatic. According to him, any idea of God, any mode of worshiping him that worked, that led the aspirant to the ultimate goal, must be valid and true. But how could one be sure that an idea or a method is really effective? Clearly, only by trying it oneself. That, in all simplicity and sincerity, is what Sri Ramakrishna did. First he practiced the teachings of many divergent denominations within Hinduism. Then he practiced the teachings of other faiths, including Islam and Christianity. Through each religious path, he attained the realization of God. In the end Sri Ramakrishna arrived at the grand conclusion with which the ancient rishis of the Vedas began: “Truth is One; sages call it by various names.” In Sri Ramakrishna’s words: “So many religions, so many paths to reach one and the same goal.”

In defining this goal Sri Ramakrishna was, of course, at one with all his spiritual ancestors — simply to realize God within one’s own soul. Sri Ramakrishna emphasized the importance of means: “Adopt adequate means for the end you seek to attain. You cannot get butter by crying yourself hoarse saying that there is butter in the milk. If you wish to make butter, you must turn the milk into curd and churn it well. Then alone you can get butter. So if you long to see God, practice spiritual disciplines. What is the use of merely crying, “Lord, Lord!”

In the course of its long history, reaching far back into an unrecorded past, Indian religion has had its share of denominations and doctrines, of reformations and revivals. It has nevertheless preserved unchanged, at its core, four fundamental ideas. These may be simply expressed: God is. He can be realized. To realize him is the supreme goal of human existence. He can be realized in many ways.

God is. This tremendous proposition, though variously interpreted, is, of course, common, not only to the religions of India, but to all religions of the world. In every age god-men have proclaimed it, each according to his own spiritual vision. And in every age people have asked for proof that it is true. Many plausible demonstrations have been devised by philosophers, establishing God as a logical necessity. However, there is not a single argument substantiating God’s actuality on the basis of reason which has not been contradicted by equally plausible arguments of opposing philosophers. The only real proof that God is must be sought elsewhere.

God can be realized. That is to say, he can be known, felt, experienced immediately, in the depths of one’s own soul. Upon this all-inspiring fact, the religions and philosophies of India, without exception, have been founded. From the dim ages of the Vedic seers, down through the many centuries to our own day, it has been consistently declared that the ultimate reality of the universe can be directly perceived, though never in normal consciousness. To the unique transcendent state, in which the miracle happens, various names have been given: Tuna, Samadhi, nirvana. To realize God is the supreme goal of human existence. On this, all Indian religions and philosophies have at all times been agreed: “Arise! Awake! Approach the feet of the Master and know that!” says the rishi of the Katha Upanishad. “Study of the scriptures is fruitless,” says the great Shankar, “so long as Brahman has not been experienced.” “He is born to no purpose,” says Sri Ramakrishna, “who, having the rare privilege of being born a man is unable to realize God.” Jt will be observed that the call for tolerance, harmony, and universal consent applies only to the paths, not to the goal. The Upanishads say: “Neti, neti.” The Atman, or Brahman within, is not this, not that. In that ecstatic realization, says Sri Ramakrishna, speaking out of his own abundant experience, all thoughts cease, no power of speech is left by which to express Brahman. If this were all, there would, of course, be no religious doctrines, no religious philosophies — but it is not all. The mystics sooner or later emerge from transcendental consciousness, and then it sometimes happens that they talk, not for their own sake, but for the good of their fellow human beings. In talking, they may express variously the same ultimately inexpressible truth- The seers and philosophers of India, as elsewhere, have defined God in many ways, often apparently contradictory. Hence, divergent denominations have arisen. But what is to be noted is that seldom, if ever, do the differences in doctrine lead to intolerance, let alone to persecution. On the rare occasion when a system of philosophy or religion tried to prove and establish its own truth at the expense of others, it could not get very far; it could never dominate the minds of the people of India as a whole, as, thoroughly ingrained in their hearts was the spirit of understanding and sympathy. After all, they felt, it was the saintly life that counted. Saints and sages have been produced by following the order of Shankar, but also by following the order of Ramanuja, of Madhya, and of others. And they are recognized as such, not only by their particular followers, but by the whole of India. Moreover, by natural extension of their liberal attitude, Hindus revere the saints and sages of religions other than their own.

The first systematic attempt to harmonize the many doctrines of Hinduism is to be found in the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, the Bible of the Hindus. By the fifth century BAD. Many schools of thought with varied ideas of God and the Godhead, as well as varied paths, had come into existence. These were all incorporated in the teachings of the Gita. Sri Krishna says: “Whatever path men travel is my path. No matter where they walk, it leads to me.”

After many centuries, when Hinduism came for the first time into contact with a foreign religion, attempts were made by two great teachers, Guru Nanak and Kabir, to harmonize the newly arrived Islam with the native faith. And more recently when confronted by Christianity, Hinduism has once more, especially by the precepts and practices of Sri Ramakrishna continued its role of peacemaker among the creeds.

It is perhaps natural, in conclusion, to emphasize strongly the age-old effort of India to reconcile differing faiths. For it is probably by continuing this effort on an international scale that she is doing most for the spiritual welfare of humanity. To bring together against rampant evil the great religions of the world is no doubt a gigantic task. But it is one for which India has a special qualification. She strives for unity, not by calling for a common doctrine, but only by pointing to a common goal, and by exhorting men and women to its attainment. The path, she assures us, matters little. It is the goal that is supreme. What is the goal? It is only, once again, to realize God.

Contents

Foreword 3
Introduction
Renaissance of Vedanta9
Concepts
Religion26
God, Soul and the Universe40
Om47
Brahman/Shakti52
The Kundalini57
The Practice of Religion63
Active and Contemplative Life71
The Self73
The Impersonal Life80
The Problem of Evil98
Reincarnation and Immortality101
Peace and Holiness117
Saints and Miracles126
Cast Out Fear135
Divine Incarnation139
Incarnations and Teachers
Buddha148
Christ163
Shankara169
Ramanuja179
Chaitanya187
Totapuri194
Ramakrishna202
Sarada Devi218
Vivekananda230
Brahmananda242
Scriptures
Upanishads274
Bhagavad-Gita- Gita281
Tantras285
Bible: the New Testament
The Beatitudes292
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life297
The Lord’s Prayer302
Peace I Give Unto You307
Not Peace, But a Sword308
Be Still and know That I Am God309
A Well of the Water Springing Up Into Everlasting Life310
Know Ye Not That Ye Are the Temples of God311
Except a Man Be Born Again 312
Spiritual Practices
Vedanta in Practice316
Householder and Monastic Life318
Contemplation and Happiness321
How To Gain Poise327
How To Play330
Faith332
stages of Spiritual Unfoldment337
Self-Effort and Divine Grace339
Karma and Grace344
Ritualism351
Overcoming Obstacles in Spiritual Life357
Path of Meditation363
Path of Action371
Path of Devotion375
Path of Knowledge386
Yoga395
Pranayama410
Mind and Its Control414
Mysticism and Mystic Union or Super conscious Vision 427
Silence442
Afterword456
Sources468
Index473
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