THE SUPPORTIVE TEACHINGS

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA

PRACTICAL VEDANTA | PART 3 OF 4 | CWSV 2

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THE COMPLETE WORKS | VOLUME 2 | SWAMI VIVEKANANDA

|| SECTION 2 | PRACTICAL VEDANTA & OTHER LECTURES ||

|| PRACTICAL VEDANTA | PART 3 OF 4 ||

In the Chhadogya Upanishad we read that a sage called Narada came to another called Sanatkumara , and asked various questions , of which one was , if religion was the cause of things as they are .

And Sanatkumara leads Narada , as it were , step by step , telling that there is something higher than this earth , and something higher than that , and so on , till comeing to akasha , ether . Ether is higher than light , because in the ether are the sun and the moon , lightning and the stars ; in ether we live , and in ether we die . Then the question arises , if there is anything higher than that , and Sanatkumara tells of Prana .

This Prana , according to the Vedanta , is the principle of life . It is like ether , an omnipresent principle ; and all motion , either in the body or anywhere else , is the work of this Prana . It is greater than Akasha , and through it everything lives . Prana is in the parent , in the sibling , in the teacher , Prana is the knower .

I will read another passage , where Shvetaketu asks the parent about the Truth , and the parent teaches different things , and concludes by saying ,

" That which is the fine cause in all these things , of It are all these things made . That is the All , that is Truth , thou art That , O Shvetaketu . " And then gives various examples .

" As a bee , O Shvetaketu , gathers honey from different flowers , and as the different honeys do not know that they are from various trees , and from various flowers , so all of us , having come to that Existence , know not that we have done so . Now , that which is that subtle essence , in It all that exists has its self . It is the True . It is the Self and thou , O Shvetaketu , are That . "

Giving another example , of the rivers running down to the ocean :

" As the rivers , when they are in the ocean , do not know that they have been various rivers , even so when we come out of that Existence , we do not know that we are That . O Shvetaketu , thou art That . " And going so on with the teachings .

Now there are two principles of knowledge . The one principle is that we know by referring the particular to the general , and the general to the universal ; and the second is that anything of which the explanation is sought is to be explained so far as possible from its own nature .

Taking up the first principle , we see that all our knowledge really consists of classifications , going higher and higher . When something happens singly , we are , as it were , dissatisfied . When it can be shown that the same thing happens again and again , we are satisfied and call it law .

When we find that one apple falls , we are dissatisfied ; but when we find that all apples fall , we call it the law of gravitation and are satisfied . The fact is that from the particular we deduce the general .

When we want to study religion , we should apply this scientific process .

The same principle also holds good here , and as a fact we find that that has been the method all through . In reading these books from which I have been translating to you , the earliest idea that I can trace is this principle of going from the particular to the general .

We see how the " bright ones " became merged into one principle ; and likewise in the ideas of the cosmos we find the ancient thinkers going higher and higher — from the fine elements they go to finer and more embracing elements , and from these particulars they come to one omnipresent ether , and from that even they go to an all embracing force , or Prana ; and through all this runs the principle , that one is not separate from the others . It is the very ether that exists in the higher form of Prana , or the higher form of Prana concretes , so to say , and becomes ether ; and that ether becomes still grosser , and so on .

The generalization of the Personal GOD is another case in point .

We have seen how this generalization was reached , and was called the sum total of all consciousness . But a difficulty arises — it is an incomplete generalization . We take up only one side of the facts of nature , the fact of consciousness , and upon that we generalise , but the other side is left out .

So , in the first place it is a defective generalization . There is another insufficiency , and that relates to the second principle . Everything should be explained from its own nature .

There may have been people who thought that every apple that fell to the ground was dragged down by a ghost , but the explanation is the law of gravitation ; and although we know it is not a perfect explanation , yet it is much better than the other , because it is derived from the nature of the thing itself , while the other posits an extraneous cause .

So throughout the whole range of our knowledge ; the explanation which is based upon the nature of the thing itself is a scientific explanation , and an explanation which brings in an outside agent is unscientific .

So the explanation of a Personal GOD as the creator of the universe has to stand that test . If that GOD is outside of nature , having nothing to do with nature , and this nature is the outcome of the command of that GOD and produced from nothing , it is a very unscientific theory , and this has been the weak point of every Theistic religion throughout the ages .

These two defects we find in what is generally called the theory of monotheism , the theory of a Personal GOD , with all the qualities of a human being multiplied very much , who , by GOD's will , created this universe out of nothing and yet is separate from it . This leads us into two difficulties .

As we have seen , it is not a sufficient generalization , and secondly , it is not an explanation of nature from nature . It holds that the effect is not the cause , that the cause is entirely separate from the effect . Yet all human knowledge shows that the effect is but the cause in another form .

To this idea the discoveries of modern science are tending every day , and the latest theory that has been accepted on all sides is the theory of evolution , the principle of which is that the effect is but the cause in another form , a readjustment of the cause , and the cause takes the form of the effect . The theory of creation out of nothing would be laughed at by modern scientists .

Now , can religion stand these tests ? If there be any religious theories which can stand these two tests , they will be acceptable to the modern mind , to the thinking mind . Any other theory which we ask the modern person to believe , on the authority of priests , or churches , or books , one is unable to accept , and the result is a hideous mass of unbelief . Even in those in whom there is an external display of belief , in their hearts there is a tremendous amount of unbelief . The rest shrink away from religion , as it were , give it up , regarding it as priestcraft only .

Religion has been reduced to a sort of national form . It is one of our very best social remnants ; let it remain . But the real necessity which the grandparent of the modern human felt for it is gone ; one no longer finds it satisfactory to one's reason . The idea of such a Personal GOD , and such a creation , the idea which is generally known as monotheism in every religion , cannot hold its own any longer .

In India it could not hold its own because of the Buddhists , and that was the very point where they gained their victory in ancient times . They showed that if we allow that nature is possessed of infinite power , and that nature can work out all its wants , it is simply unnecessary to insist that there is something besides nature . Even the soul is unnecessary .

The discussion about substance and qualities is very old , and you will sometimes find that the old superstition lives even at the present day . Most of you have read how , during the Middle Ages , and , I am sorry to say , even much later , this was one of the subjects of discussion , whether qualities adhered to substance , whether length , breadth , and thickness adhered to the substance which we call dead matter , whether , the substance remaining , the qualities are there or not . To this our Buddhist says ,

" You have no ground for maintaining the existence of such a substance ; the qualities are all that exist ; you do not see beyond them . "

This is just the position of most of our modern agnostics . For it is this fight of the substance and qualities that , on a higher plane , takes the form of the fight between noumenon and phenomenon .

There is the phenomenal world , the universe of continuous change , and there is something behind which does not change ; and this duality of existence , noumenon and phenomenon , some hold , is true , and others with better reason claim that you have no right to admit the two , for what we see , feel , and think is only the phenomenon . You have no right to assert there is anything beyond phenomenon ; and there is no answer to this .

The only answer we get is from the monistic theory of the Vedanta . It is true that only one exists , and that one is either phenomenon or noumenon .

It is not true that there are two — something changing , and , in and through that , something which does not change ; but it is the one and the same thing which appears as changing , and which is in reality unchangeable .

We have come to think of the body , and mind , and soul as many , but really there is only one ; and that one is appearing in all these various forms .

Take the well-known illustration of the monists , the rope appearing as the snake . Some people , in the dark or through some other cause , mistake the rope for the snake , but when knowledge comes , the snake vanishes and it is found to be a rope . By this illustration we see that when the snake exists in the mind , the rope has vanished , and when the rope exists , the snake has gone .

When we see phenomenon , and phenomenon only , around us , the noumenon has vanished , but when we see the noumenon , the unchangeable , it naturally follows that the phenomenon has vanished .

Now , we understand better the position of both the realist and the idealist .

The realist sees the phenomenon only , and the idealist looks to the noumenon .

For the idealist , the really genuine idealist , who has truly arrived at the power of perception , whereby one can get away from all ideas of change , for that one , the changeful universe has vanished , and one has the right to say it is all delusion , there is no change .

The realist at the same time looks at the changeful . For the realist the unchangeable has vanished , and the realist has a right to say this is all real .

What is the outcome of this philosophy ? It is that the idea of Personal GOD is not sufficient . We have to get to something higher , to the Impersonal idea . It is the only logical step that we can take . Not that the personal idea would be destroyed by that , not that we supply proof that the Personal GOD does not exist , but we must go to the Impersonal for the explanation of the personal , for the Impersonal is a much higher generalization than the personal .

The Impersonal only can be Infinite , the personal is limited . Thus we preserve the personal and do not destroy it . Often the doubt comes to us that if we arrive at the idea of the Impersonal GOD , the personal will be destroyed , if we arrive at the idea of the Impersonal human , the personal will be lost .

But the Vedantic idea is not the destruction of the individual , but its real preservation . We cannot prove the individual by any other means but by referring to the universal , by proving that this individual is really the universal . If we think of the individual as separate from everything else in the universe , it cannot stand a minute . Such a thing never existed .

Secondly , by the application of the second principle , that the explanation of everything must come out of the nature of the thing , we are led to a still bolder idea , and one more difficult to understand . It is nothing less than this , that the Impersonal Being , our highest generalization , is in ourselves , and we are That .

" O Shvetaketu , thou art That . "

You are that Impersonal Being ; that GOD for whom you have been searching all over the universe is all the time yourself — yourself not in the personal sense but in the Impersonal .

The human we know now , the manifested , is personalised , but the reality of this is the Impersonal . To understand the personal we have to refer it to the Impersonal , the particular must be referred to the general , and that Impersonal is the Truth , the Self of the human .

There will be various questions in connection with this , and I shall try to answer them as we go on . Many difficulties will arise , but first let us clearly understand the position of monism . As manifested beings we appear to be separate , but our reality is one , and the less we think of ourselves as separate from that One , the better for us . The more we think of ourselves as separate from the Whole , the more miserable we become .

From this monistic principle we get at the basis of ethics , and I venture to say that we cannot get any ethics from anywhere else . We know that the oldest idea of ethics was the will of some particular being or beings , but few are ready to accept that now , because it would be only a partial generalization .

The Hindus say we must not do this or that because the Vedas say so , but the Christian is not going to obey the authority of the Vedas . The Christian says you must do this and not do that because the Bible says so . That will not be binding on those who do not believe in the Bible . But we must have a theory which is large enough to take in all these various grounds .

Just as there are millions of people who are ready to believe in a Personal Creator , there have also been thousands of the brightest minds in this world who felt that such ideas were not sufficient for them , and wanted something higher , and wherever religion was not broad enough to include all these minds , the result was that the brightest minds in society were always outside of religion ; and never was this so marked as at the present time , especially in Europe .

To include these minds , therefore , religion must become broad enough . Everything it claims must be judged from the standpoint of reason . Why religions should claim that they are not bound to abide by the standpoint of reason , no one knows . If one does not take the standard of reason , there cannot be any true judgment , even in the case of religions . One religion may ordain something very hideous . For instance , the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion . It is clearly stated in the Koran ,

" Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans . "

They must be put to fire and sword . Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong , the Mohammedan will naturally ask ,

" How do you know that ? How do you know it is not good ? My book says it is . "

If you say your book is older , there will come the Buddhist , and say , my book is much older still . Then will come the Hindu , and say , my books are the oldest of all . Therefore referring to books will not do . Where is the standard by which you can compare ? You will say , look at the Sermon on the Mount , and the Mohammedan will reply , look at the Ethics of the Koran . The Mohammedan will say , who is the arbiter as to which is the better of the two ? Neither the New Testament nor the Koran can be the arbiter in a quarrel between them .

There must be some independent authority , and that cannot be any book , but something which is universal ; and what is more universal than reason ? It has been said that reason is not strong enough ; it does not always help us to get at the Truth ; many times it makes mistakes , and , therefore , the conclusion is that we must believe in the authority of a church !

That was said to me by a Roman Catholic , but I could not see the logic of it . On the other hand I should say , if reason be so weak , a body of priests would be weaker , and I am not going to accept their verdict , but I will abide by my reason , because with all its weakness there is some chance of my getting at truth through it ; while , by the other means , there is no such hope at all .

We should , therefore , follow reason and also sympathise with those who do not come to any sort of belief , following reason . For it is better that humankind should become atheist by following reason than blindly believe in two hundred millions of gods on the authority of anybody . What we want is progress , development , realisation .

No theories ever made humans higher . No amount of books can help us to become purer . The only power is in realisation , and that lies in ourselves and comes from thinking . Let humans think . A clod of earth never thinks ; but it remains only a lump of earth . The glory of the human is that the human is a thinking being . It is the nature of the human to think and therein one differs from animals . I believe in reason and follow reason having seen enough of the evils of authority , for I was born in a country where they have gone to the extreme of authority .

The Hindus believe that creation has come out of the Vedas . How do you know there is a cow ? Because the word cow is in the Vedas . How do you know there is a human outside ? Because the word human is there . If it had not been , there would have been no human outside . That is what they say .

Authority with a vengeance ! And it is not studied as I have studied it , but some of the most powerful minds have taken it up and spun out wonderful logical theories round it . They have reasoned it out , and there it stands — a whole system of philosophy ; and thousands of the brightest intellects hare been dedicated through thousands of years to the working out of this theory . Such has been the power of authority , and great are the dangers thereof . It stunts the growth of humanity , and we must not forget that we want growth . Even in all relative truth , more than the truth itself , we want the exercise . That is our life .

The monistic theory has this merit that it is the most rational of all the religious theories that we can conceive of . Every other theory , every conception of GOD which is partial and little and personal is not rational . And yet monism has this grandeur that it embraces all these partial conceptions of GOD as being necessary for many . Some people say that this personal explanation is irrational . But it is consoling ; they want a consoling religion and we understand that it is necessary for them .

The clear light of truth very few in this life can bear , much less live up to . It is necessary , therefore , that this comfortable religion should exist ; it helps many souls to a better one . Small minds whose circumference is very limited and which require little things to build them up , never venture to soar high in thought . Their conceptions are very good and helpful to them , even if only of little gods and symbols . But you have to understand the Impersonal , for it is in and through that alone that these others can be explained .

Take , for instance , the idea of a Personal GOD . One who understands and believes in the Impersonal — John Stuart Mill , for example — may say that a Personal GOD is impossible , and cannot be proved . I admit that a Personal GOD cannot be demonstrated . But GOD is the highest reading of the Impersonal that can be reached by the human intellect , and what else is the universe but various readings of the Absolute ?

It is like a book before us , and each one has brought one's intellect to read it , and each one has to read it for oneself . There is something which is common in the intellect of all people ; therefore certain things appear to be the same to the intellect of humankind . That you and I see a chair proves that there is something common to both our minds . Suppose a being comes with another sense , the being will not see the chair at all ; but all beings similarly constituted will see the same things .

Thus this universe itself is the Absolute , the unchangeable , the noumenon ; and the phenomenon constitutes the reading thereof . For you will first find that all phenomena are finite . Every phenomenon that we can see , feel , or think of , is finite , limited by our knowledge , and the Personal GOD as we conceive of GOD is in fact a phenomenon .

The very idea of causation exists only in the phenomenal world , and GOD as the cause of this universe must naturally be thought of as limited , and yet GOD is the same Impersonal GOD .

This very universe , as we have seen , is the same Impersonal Being read by our intellect . Whatever is reality in the universe is that Impersonal Being , and the forms and conceptions are given to it by our intellects . Whatever is real in this table is that Being , and the table form and all other forms are given by our intellects .

Now , motion , for instance , which is a necessary adjunct of the phenomenal , cannot be predicated of the Universal . Every little bit , every atom inside the universe , is in a constant state of change and motion , but the universe as a whole is unchangeable , because motion or change is a relative thing ; we can only think of something in motion in comparison with something which is not moving . There must be two things in order to understand motion .

The whole mass of the universe , taken as a unit , cannot move . In regard to what will it move ? It cannot be said to change . With regard to what will it change ? So the whole is the Absolute ; but within it every particle is in a constant state of flux and change . It is unchangeable and changeable at the same time , Impersonal and Personal in one .

This is our conception of the universe , of motion and of GOD , and that is what is meant by " Thou art That " . Thus we see that the Impersonal instead of doing away with the personal , the Absolute instead of pulling down the relative , only explains it to the full satisfaction of our reason and heart .

The Personal GOD and all that exists in the universe are the same Impersonal Being seen through our minds . When we shall be rid of our minds , our little personalities , we shall become one with It . This is what is meant by " Thou art That " . For we must know our true nature , the Absolute .

The finite , manifested human forgets one's source and thinks onself to be entirely separate . We , as personalised , differentiated beings , forget our reality , and the teaching of monism is not that we shall give up these differentiations , but we must learn to understand what they are .

We are in reality that Infinite Being , and our personalities represent so many channels through which this Infinite Reality is manifesting Itself ; and the whole mass of changes which we call evolution is brought about by the soul trying to manifest more and more of its infinite energy . We cannot stop anywhere on this side of the Infinite ; our power , and blessedness , and wisdom , cannot but grow into the Infinite . Infinite power and existence and blessedness are ours , and we have not to acquire them ; they are our own , and we have only to manifest them .

This is the central idea of monism , and one that is so hard to understand . From my childhood everyone around me taught weakness ; I have been told ever since I was born that I was a weak thing . It is very difficult for me now to realise my own strength , but by analysis and reasoning I gain knowledge of my own strength , I realise it .

All the knowledge that we have in this world , where did it come from ? It was within us . What knowledge is outside ? None . Knowledge was not in matter ; it was in the human all the time . Nobody ever created knowledge ; the human brings it from within . It is lying there .

The whole of that big banyan tree which covers acres of ground , was in the little seed which was , perhaps , no bigger than one eighth of a mustard seed ; all that mass of energy was there confined . The gigantic intellect , we know , lies coiled up in the protoplasmic cell , and why should not the infinite energy ? We know that it is so . It may seem like a paradox , but is true . Each one of us has come out of one protoplasmic cell , and all the powers we possess were coiled up there . You cannot say they came from food ; for if you heap up food mountains high , what power comes out of it ? The energy was there , potentially no doubt , but still there .

So is infinite power in the soul of the human , whether one knows it or not . Its manifestation is only a question of being conscious of it . Slowly this infinite giant is , as it were , waking up , becoming conscious of one's power , and arousing oneself ; and with one's growing consciousness , more and more of one's bonds are breaking , chains are bursting asunder , and the day is sure to come when , with the full consciousness of one's infinite power and wisdom , the giant will rise to one's feet and stand erect .

Let us all help to hasten that glorious consummation .

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