Most people unacquired with Vedanta, if they would pick up this book for the first time with an open mind, would find at least their curiosity whetted and perhaps their wonder aroused. To those who have already made an effort to start upon the way, it is full of useful information, sudden insights, and profound counsels.
It is something more than an ordinary book – it is a personal contact with a great man, a teacher who has actually experienced what he teaches.
For some time past revered Swami Virajananda, the present President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, had been putting down in writing, especially for the guidance of his numerous disciples, his thoughts and experiences on the subject of spiritual practice and discipline, as and when they arose in his mind. In order that they will be of great help to all seekers of Truth, whatever denomination they may belong to, the Swami, at the request of many devotees brought them out in book- form in the original Bengali. It was highly appreciated by the general public and the first edition was sold out in a few months necessitating a reprint. Pressed by his non-Bengalee disciples, he consented to translate it himself into English so that it may reach a wider public in India and abroad, and the present work is the result of his labours.
The Swami joined the Math (Monastery) then located at Baranagore, in the year 1892, after renouncing the world at the early age of seventeen. The long fifty-eight years of his life, since then, have been spent in intimate association and service of Swami Vivekananda and the other direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and in scriptural studies and spiritual practices and austerities, and also in activities of various kinds while holding highly responsible positions in the Order. To him the world owes, not a little, for the compilation, editing and publication of the first five volumes of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda and the first edition of the four volumes of The Life of Swami Vivekananda by I-us Eastern and Western Disciples. A glimpse of the profound and varied experiences gained in all these years of strenuous spiritual endeavour and whole souled devotion to the service of humanity comes to light in the present work.
It is not the aim of this treatise to discuss and solve big and abstruse metaphysical problems. The chief value of the counsels that follow lies in the practical hints, and in the inspiration they give to those who aspire after some sort of direct Realisation as a result of the awakening of the spiritual urge within, but who feel helpless and otherwise despair of success in their struggle against the various hindrances and obstacles, snares and pitfalls, currents and cross-currents, failures and disappointments of worldly life. It is hoped that the valuable instructions contained herein will help the disciple or the aspirant to advance with firm and reassuring steps along the road to the Highest Goal of life. A pertinent discussion and eminently practical solution of the various distracting doubts and problems, big and small, which daily confront the spiritual aspirant, mostly in the initial stage, is also a special feature of this book; yet it contains a large number of the high spiritual truths which form the basis of these counsels.
These instructions being given in an easy conversational style, are as refreshing and touching as direct talk, and being universal in their aspect can be easily understood and followed by all, men and women, earned and ignorant, young and old, housholder and Sannyasin (monk), of shades and creeds without distinction. The book is indeed indispensable to all those who hunger and thirst after spiritual life and for realization of the higher.
A glossary of Sanskrit words and Pauranic names occurring in the book is appended.
This book seems—to a Western reader
—to be in the true tradition of Rama krishna’s and Brahmananda’s teaching. Both in style and in spirit, in its practical ness and its topicality, it reminds us of M’s great transcript of the Master’s actual words, and of Brahmananda’s teaching as given in the eternal companion. In this book the reader will find no vague uplift or long sustained eloquence about generalities. The remarks show all the freshness of having sprung from actual talk and from the questions addressed to an authority by seekers of different competence and various proficiency. There is, then, something for everyone; and always there is that scientific exactitude, that sense of method and knowledge of technique, which is so often lacking in Western books on spirituality. Most people unacquainted with Vedanta, if they would pick up this book for the first time with an open mind, would find at least their curiosity whetted and perhaps their wonder aroused. If what is said here with such quietness—such assumption that it is true—is true—well then, surely everyone ought to do something about it. And it is that mood this book is meant to rouse. To those who have already made an effort to start upon the Way, it is full of useful information, sudden insights and profound counsels. Yet there is nothing in it that is startling or outré. It is clearly and surely in the Tradition—this is the voice of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Brahmananda; yes, and of the whole apostolic succession from the dawn of time, speaking today—speaking in the vernacular, speaking in those short paragraphs and pithy sentences which our hurried minds love, but speaking the Eternal Gospel, and of the lifelong—yes, many lives long quest of the Soul for its one rest and reward.
Here is a book written by a man of vast spiritual and, in the best sense of the word, worldly experience. As the President of the Ramakrishna Math and its widespread Mission, Swami Virajananda is qualified to speak both as a religious teacher and as an administrator of educational and social welfare projects. His words have therefore a double authority, and they are addressed not merely to monks but to all classes of men and women. Primarily, of course, the ‘Paramartha Prasanga’ is intended for a Hindu public, just as similar works written in the West are intended for readers whose religious background is Christian. But no serious-minded Western student should be deterred from studying it on this account. Even the noblest creeds and cults are only small provincial areas in the universal expanse of spiritual Truth. And, indeed, it may be positively helpful to a member of one sect to see this Truth stated in the terms and language of another. In this way, we may more easily distinguish between what is superficial and what is basic in our own beliefs.
Without attempting to summarise Swami Virajananda’s message, I would like to mention briefly a few of its most important points—the most important, that is to say, to myself, for every individual will find here something especially relevant to his own problems and condition.
First, about spiritual disciplines, devotional acts, meditation and so forth. Don’t argue about them; try them. ‘I don’t want to pray, but, by Jingo, if I do. . . !‘ is a very common attitude of intellectuals. The idea of the spiritual life attracts them philosophically and aesthetically, but somehow they can never quite decide how to set about living it. Before they begin, they must have their ‘position’ clearly defined, their ‘case’ precisely stated. They mistrust emotion, they must get everything straightened out in their rational minds, they say. And none of the existing religions satisfy them—some seem too old- fashioned, some too exotic, some dreadfully vulgar. Actually, they are mortally afraid of making fools of themselves, of being laughed at by their sceptical friends. So they talk and talk and read thousands of books, and time passes and they do nothing. This, as Swami Virajananda points out, is hopeless. Don’t wait for a calm sea, he tells us. Plunge in, anyhow, anywhere, and never mind the waves. An ounce of spiritual practice is worth more than a ton of theology, and it is only through practice and first-hand experience that we achieve any degree of real wisdom. As this wisdom grows, the subtleties of dogma, which appear to the outsider as formidable obstacles to his faith, begin to seem very unimportant. That is why saintly men are sometimes found within even the narrowest and most intolerant religious sects.
Second, a word to self-doubters, back- sliders and all those who are overburdened with worldly responsibilities and cares. Nobody is ever too busy, or too wicked, or too degraded to be able to pray. The man of affairs often dreams of the day when he will give up his duties and his business and devote himself to higher things. The drunkard plans to stop drinking and lead a disciplined life. ‘The way I am now,’ he says to himself, ‘I’m not fit to approach
God.’ These are dangerous and romantic notions. Even when they are put into practice, they are apt to produce exaggerated and hysterical acts of renunciation which can only end in relapse and redoubled self disgust. We must start where we are, from what we are, and not overtax our strength. And we must not be ashamed of our lapses, as long as the will to struggle on persists. Sri Krishna said that no one who has once asked the way to God is ever lost—for, despite all appearances to the contrary, every step ever taken along that path remains a permanent advance. Acts of devotion and spiritual recollection, however slight and irregular, have a very strange power. Even when they are practiced in seemingly flat contradiction to the mode of a man’s life, they will slowly transform that life, though he may never make any conscious decision to live better.
This brings me to a third point—the last I shall mention here. In what manner are we to receive that first, small but decisive impulse which is to jog us out of our apathy and hesitation and start us on our way? This is a very individual question, kind of personal contact. True spirituality is very infectious. A teacher’s own life and faith speak much more loudly than his words. And that is why I recommend the ‘Paramartha Prasanga’. It is something more than an ordinary book—it is a personal Contact with a great man, a teacher who has actually experienced what he teaches. When we read in the newspapers about the political happenings in a foreign city, we are inclined to believe something of what we read, but a doubt remains; accurate reporting may be mixed with propaganda. When our best friend returns from that city and confirms the story, then we are very, very nearly convinced. But, to be absolutely and entirely certain, we must go to the city and see
for ourselves. I hope that, for many readers . the ending of Swami Virajananda’s book will mark the beginning of their own journey.
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