Vivekananda’s Appeal for America

/, Public Articles/Vivekananda’s Appeal for America

Vivekananda’s Appeal for America

AT THE DAWN OF THE twentieth century Swami Vivekananda challenged his Western audiences with language and concepts they found deeply inspiring. As Ann Louise Bardach said: ‘He simplified Vedanta thought to a few teachings that were accessible and irresistible to Westerners, foremost being that “all souls are potentially divine.” His prescription for life was simple, and perfectly American: “work and worship.”’1

 

What did Vivekananda say that Americans found so compelling ? How did his experience in America after his arrival in 1893 broaden and shape his message to the West? And what relevance does that message have on his hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary? In answering these questions it is important to consider the challenges Vivekananda confronted concerning religion in America at that time: (i) A bias that valued monotheistic religions—in particular the Judeo-Christian tradition—as superior to any other; (ii) a concept of the supreme Being as separate from humanity; (iii) a prevailing Protestant ethic that rejected renunciation and monastic retreat from the world; (iv) an unquestioned belief in the authority of divine revelation as recorded in the Bible; and (v) a philosophical divide between science and religion that was growing wider and more pronounced.

 

In spite of all this Vivekananda would come to believe that their belief in equality, pursuit of freedom, trust in rational thought and science, scepticism of authority, and cooperative spirit made America fertile ground for Vedanta to take root and lead to a rebirth of spirituality in the West.

 

Vivekananda’s Encounter with America

Vivekananda took time to shape what would evolve into his new synthesis of Vedanta. For four years following his triumphant reception at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he travelled and lectured throughout the United States, immersing himself in the US culture. As R K DasGupta points out: ‘The West too was in need of a spiritual regeneration. He conceived his Vedanta with these considerations in his mind.’2 During this time Vivekananda would formulate, sharpen, and expound upon what he called ‘practical Vedanta’ and what DasGupta termed ‘neo-Vedanta’. This new synthesis was not simply a restatement of ancient Vedanta but an original and new message that married the wisdom and philosophy of the Upanishads with the rational, scientific, and freedom-based values of Western culture.

 

Vivekananda’s opening address at the parliament was a clarion call for religious understanding and acceptance: ‘Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair.’3 Yet he appealed to his audience to help usher in a new age: ‘I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal’ (ibid.).

 

Notable too was what he did not say. He never claimed that his religion was superior to any other or the only path to truth and salvation. Instead, his was an appeal to all religions, and to all men and women, to realize that all their paths and traditions were valid and leading to the same goal.

 

The Message of Vedanta

As he lectured across the US, Vivekananda’s primary goal was to make Vedanta intelligible to Western audiences. He undertook the monumental task of distilling the vast and complex threads of a profound Eastern philosophy and tradition spanning thousands of years. He extracted its essence while conveying its comprehensiveness, its all-embracing character, and the heights of its discoveries. He spoke eloquently and authoritatively about ideas, ideals, and sources of wisdom that went beyond Western philosophical and religious traditions, to the essence of non- dualism. ‘Vedanta teaches the God that is in everyone, has become everyone and everything’ (8.125). The enthusiastic reaction to these and other new concepts proved that he made Vedanta understandable, alive, and tangible to his listeners.

 

From his experience Vivekananda also came to understand the unique task that lay before him. One year after the Parliament he proclaimed in an interview in Brooklyn, New York: ‘I have a message to the West just as Buddha had a message to the East’ (5.314). In a letter to his American supporter Mary Hale, he wrote: ‘I have a message, and I will give it aft er my own fashion. I will neither Hinduise my message, nor Christianise it, nor make it any “ise” in the world. I will only my-ise it and that is all. Liberty, Mukti, is all my religion, and everything that tries to curb it, I will avoid by fight or flight’ (8.72). Two years later he would write to Margaret Noble, destined to become Sister Nivedita: ‘My ideal indeed can be put into a few words and that is: to preach unto mankind their divinity, and how to make it manifest in every movement of life’ (7.501). Vedanta was to be at the core of his message to America. As DasGupta noted, it was only aft er one year of interacting with Americans that ‘Vivekananda thought of preaching Vedanta’ 4 as the philosophical basis of his new synthesis. Practical Vedanta would bridge East and West and free adherents from being limited by traditional religious doctrines and cultural practices associated with those traditions. He said: ‘One may desire to see again the India of one’s books, one’s studies, one’s dreams. My hope is to see again the strong points of that India, reinforced by the strong points of this age, only in a natural way. The new stage of things must be a growth from within. So I preach only the Upanishads. If you look, you will find that I have never quoted anything but the Upanishads. And of the Upanishads, it is only that One idea strength.’5

 

Strength, Vivekananda said, ‘is the medicine for the world’s diseases’ (2.201). It helps us to see beyond our cultural and religious prejudices. At the very core of Vedanta was the concept that humans were not innately sinful but divine. For those raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, who had been instructed from their childhood about humanity’s fallen and sinful nature as told in the Bible, this was a radical concept. It was liberating, uplifting, and optimistic.

 

Equality and Freedom

Vivekananda explained that Vedanta was compatible with the core American democratic values of equality and freedom: ‘None can be Vedantists and at the same time admit of privilege for anyone, either mental, physical, or spiritual; absolutely no privilege for anyone’ (1.423). But above all, he stated that individual freedom, mukti, was the final goal.

 

The American ideal of equality had special appeal to Vivekananda. He had traversed the vast Indian subcontinent before coming to the US.

 

He had witnessed the squalid conditions of India’s poor and experienced first-hand the gulf separating the elites from the downtrodden. He lamented that the rich and poor would treat him, as a sannyasin, with great respect and hospitality, but would turn a blind eye to those millions suffering at the lowest rungs of society. While he had also encountered inequality in the US, he noted an important difference: Americans saw inequality as a moral failing to be corrected. In his view, this made American society particularly predisposed to Vedanta.

 

Similarly, Vivekananda held up freedom as essential in Vedanta. In the ‘land of the free’, religion was an individual choice and a private matter. People were free to choose, change, or even reject religion in their lives. This was another reason Vivekananda believed America would embrace Vedanta. However, he went much further. He explained to his audiences that liberty was also essential to spiritual growth. Vivekananda elevated the concept of freedom from a political, social, or intellectual ideal to a spiritual one. In the process he challenged Western religion’s concept of the fundamental nature of the human being. He explained that true spiritual freedom was freedom from bondage and, ‘the main cause of bondage is ignorance. Man is not wicked by his own nature—not at all. His nature is pure, perfectly holy. Each man is Divine. Each man that you see is a God by his very nature. Th is nature is covered by ignorance, and it is ignorance that binds us down. Ignorance is the cause of all misery’ (9.214).

 

The freedom that Vedanta advocated was a total liberation from the tyranny of the body, the mind, and the senses, that is, from maya. ‘All our struggle is for freedom. We seek neither misery nor happiness, but freedom’ (8.250).

 

Reason and Beyond

Vivekananda also shared Americans’ faith in rational thought and embraced their sceptical attitude toward traditional dogmas, blind beliefs, and authoritarian regimes. He exhorted people to use reason to evaluate the truths of Vedanta and of any religion: ‘Stick to your reason until you reach something higher; and you will know it to be higher, because it will not jar with reason’ (7.60). Ultimately, reason was the essential tool that would allow the intellect to realize that there was a higher reality beyond the mind and the external world. ‘When we rise higher … we have to get out of the body, out of mind and imagination, and leave this world out of sight. When we rise to be the absolute, we are no longer in this world—all is Subject, without object’ (8.34).

 

His words were a fundamental challenge to Western religions, which looked to outside authorities such as sacred texts and personalities as the basis for truth and belief. ‘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’ (2.335).

 

Vivekananda made a distinction between belief and faith. Belief in truths based on external authorities required a suspension of reason. Faith, in contrast, was ‘the grasp on the Ultimate, an illumination’ (7.60). It is arrived at through the tool of reason and does not contradict reason. In Vedanta ‘there is no external test for inspiration, we know it ourselves; our guardian against mistake is negative—the voice of reason. All religion is going beyond reason, but reason is the only guide to get there’ (ibid.). Faith is the ultimate step: ‘First hear, then reason and find out all that reason can give about the Atman; let the flood of reason fl ow over It, then take what remains. If nothing remains, thank God you have escaped a superstition’ (ibid.).

 

Vivekananda spoke some of his most scathing words against what he considered to be the ‘superstition’ of materialism, which led to a belief in a separate God, a God in the clouds ruling over man below. ‘What is the idea of God in heaven? Materialism. … It is all matter, all body idea, the gross idea, the sense idea’ (8.126). Beliefs such as these are materialism, ‘because they are all based on the consciousness of body, body, body. No spirit there’ (8.133). Vivekananda, in contrast, highlighted the spiritual side of religion: ‘God is spirit and He should be worshipped in spirit and in truth’ (8.126). Vedanta demanded that the Truth be realized inside one’s own self.

 

If any people in the world might embrace reason and reject traditional hierarchies with God as king and humans as subjects, it would be Americans, Vivekananda thought. He pointed out: ‘The king is gone from this country [America] at least. … In this country the king has entered every one of you. You are all kings in this country. So with the religion of Vedanta. You are all Gods’ (8.125). He went so far as to suggest ‘there is a chance of Vedanta becoming the religion of your country because of democracy’ (8.126), because of America’s commitment to reason, equality, and the primacy of the individual.

 

But he understood the huge challenge ahead. Vedanta called upon Americans to form new attitudes and habits based on questioning sacred texts and instead seeking truth within; faith would be based on ideals and not personalities. He said: ‘This makes Vedanta very difficult. It does not teach the old idea of God at all’ (8.125). For all books, persons, and personal God must go, including the senses. ‘What is the God of Vedanta? He is principle, not person’ (8.133).

 

All Knowledge Is Veda

Vivekananda explained that ‘the meaning of the word “Veda”, from which the word “Vedanta” comes, is knowledge’ (8.136). Vedanta means the fi nal or ultimate knowledge. Speaking to his audiences, Vivekananda said: ‘All knowledge is Veda, infinite as God is infinite’ (8.136). But he contrasted the knowledge of Vedanta with mere book learning : ‘What knowledge? Chemistry? Physics? Astronomy? Geology? They help a little, just a little. But the chief knowledge is that of your own nature. “Know Thyself ”. You must know what you are, what your real nature is. You must become conscious of the infinite nature within. Then your bondages will burst’ (9.214). At that moment, the sense of dualism, the illusion of God separate from the human, would disappear in the realization of the unity of all existence. At that moment would come the realization that ‘Unity is knowledge, diversity is ignorance’ (8.138).

 

Vivekananda explained that we falsely see the world as many not one, as matter not spirit. This is because of maya, a beguiling apparitional ignorance that limits consciousness and projects a veil over the reality of Advaita, nondualism. Sri Ramakrishna had explained that the knowers of Brahman declare that identification of the Atman with the body is the cause of the perception of duality: ‘What is spirit? We are all spirit. Why is it we do not realise it? What makes you different from me? Body and nothing else. Forget the body and all is spirit’ (8.126). Destroying ignorance meant going beyond good and evil and all duality and to realize the ‘One without a second’, (8.5) which is eternal, unchanging, and infinite. Until we come to this non-dualistic understanding of Truth, Vivekananda said, the presence of good and evil and all other dualities in the world would always remain a difficult and perplexing issue.

 

Vivekananda knew how difficult it is to go beyond the phantasm of maya and achieve Advaitic realization. As a young man he had, at first, openly ridiculed Advaitic teachings. He had once joked to a friend, Pratapchandra Hazra: ‘How can that be? Th is jug is God, this cup is God, and we too are God: nothing can be more preposterous.’6 Although he observed Sri Ramakrishna repeatedly go into nirvikalpa samadhi and heard him describe the unfathomable experience of oneness, it was only after he himself realized such a state that he would begin to speak definitively and from personal experience.

 

To his audiences, he was blunt about the truth as he knew it: ‘There is such a thing as illusion—in it one thing is taken for another: matter is taken for spirit, this body for soul. That is the tremendous illusion. It has to go.’⁷ Yet he consistently promoted this lofty goal and claimed it was feasible to one and all. He proclaimed the hopeful message that a time would come for everyone when they would realize their Divinity, for it is their very nature.

Vivekananda had tremendous faith in the power of the knowledge expounded in the Vedanta to transform humankind. He proclaimed that ‘knowledge will make the world good. Knowledge will remove all misery. Knowledge will make us free’ (9.214). But he also took a realistic view of the struggle to get there. ‘If Vedanta—this conscious knowledge that all is one spirit—spreads, the whole of humanity will become spiritual. But is it possible? I do not know. Not within thousands of years. Th e old superstitions must run out’ (8.139). Vivekananda spoke of Vedanta as a revelation continually unfolding. His new synthesis was part of a thread woven into the future. Perhaps this is why Vivekananda, like his Master, never rejected any other religion and heartily encouraged new ones. He said: ‘I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship them all … I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future. Is God’s book fi nished? Or is it still a continuous revelation going on?’ (2.374).

 

Science and Religion

From the time he set foot on American soil, Vivekananda set out to reconcile Eastern thought and Western science. Most likely his first opportunity came immediately after the parliament, when he was honoured at a reception that included the top scientists of the day. Vivekananda believed that science and Vedanta were parallel and complementary paths to discovering the ultimate Truth. He said: ‘Are the same methods of investigation, which we apply to sciences and knowledge outside, to be applied to the science of Religion? In my opinion this must be so, and I am also of opinion that the sooner it is done the better’ (1.367).

 

Vivekananda understood that science was exploring only the external world, while Vedanta had already conquered the internal. Nonetheless, neither one should conflict with the other. Both, he explained, were based on the direct experience and authority of the individual and rational thought. He believed science could prove the same truths. He wrote to his disciple E T Sturdy: ‘I am working a good deal now upon the cosmology and eschatology of the Vedanta. I clearly see their perfect unison with modern science, and the elucidation of the one will be followed by that of the other. I intend to write a book later on in the form of questions and answers’ (5.101–2). Sadly, Vivekananda did not do so before his death in 1902, at the age of thirty-nine.

 

Comparing the two disciplines he said: ‘Science and religion are both attempts to help us out of the bondage; only religion is the more ancient, and we have the superstition that it is the more holy. In a way it is, because it makes morality a vital point, and science does not’ (7.103). Vivekananda understood that scientists would first have to turn their investigative eyes within and on the subject—on consciousness itself. He believed that when they did, they would discover that logic, reason, and intellectual knowledge were insufficient to reveal the Truth. Only then would they see the need for moral and spiritual discipline as a prerequisite in their research.

 

To test his concept of the convergence of Vedanta and science, Vivekananda sought out the top scientists of the day, including Nikola Tesla, Professor Hermann von Helmholtz, Sir William Thompson—Lord Kelvin—and others. He enquired Tesla whether he could show ‘that force and matter are reducible to potential energy’ (5.101). Tesla believed he could prove this mathematically but failed. It would not be until after Vivekananda’s death that Einstein arrived at it in his famous equation, E=mc2.

 

Exploring the intersection of science and Vedanta, Vivekananda was able to accurately predict modern scientific insights a decade before Einstein’s discoveries starting in 1905. Thanks to Einstein, the separation between time and space would be erased, while mass and energy would be proved to be equivalent. Today quantum physicists struggle to comprehend the strange implications of how matter can be measured to be both a particle and a wave and how subjective consciousness literally creates what is measured to be ‘real’ on the subatomic level.

 

Modern physics has proved that nothing in this universe is as it appears to be—that it is all a kind of illusion, just as Vivekananda predicted. The objective universe as perceived through the senses defies all notions of common sense. ‘The senses cheat you day and night. Vedanta found that out ages ago; modern science is just discovering the same fact. … No two people see the same world. The highest knowledge will show that there is no motion, no change in anything ; that the very idea of it is all Maya’ (7.74). Today the study of consciousness still beckons and is being heard.

 

Worship of God in Humans

Perhaps Vivekananda’s most profound legacy was his ideal of performing work as worship of God in humans, a legacy that has been neglected in America. This was his radical application of Advaita Vedanta to the practical experience of everyday life and the world. Mundane work could thus be transformed into sadhana. He said: ‘We must become thinkers. Every birth is painful. We must get out of materialism. … This struggle is all the worship there is; all the rest is mere shadow. You are the Personal God. Just now I am worshiping you. This is the greatest
prayer. Worship the whole world in that sense—by serving it’ (8.135).

 

One aspect of ‘work as worship’ was non-attachment, an ancient concept described in the Bhagavadgita. ‘Doing work is not religion, but work done rightly leads to freedom’ (7.69). Vivekananda explained that work ‘done rightly’ means work done as service to God and with complete non-attachment to its results: ‘This is the one central idea in the Gita: work incessantly, but be not attached to it’ (1.53).
An even more significant aspect was that work was to be performed as worship of God in his highest temple: a human being. This ideal was inspired by Sri Ramakrishna, who proclaimed: ‘Not compassion to Jivas but service to them as Shiva.’8 Hearing these words from his Master, Vivekananda realized how the philosophy of Vedanta could be put into practice. He said he would ‘proclaim everywhere in the world this wonderful truth that I have heard today’ (ibid.).

 

Vivekananda believed this worship of God in humans was vital for the entire world. In March 1894 he wrote from Chicago to his disciple ‘Kidi’, Singaravelu Mudaliar: ‘We believe that it is the duty of every soul to treat, think of, and behave to other souls as such, i.e. as Gods, and not hate or despise, or vilify, or try to injure them by any manner or means. This is the duty not only of the Sannyasin, but of all men and women.’ 9 While this idea has been taken up in India by institutions dedicated to service, education, and relief work, it was never attempted in America and so it remains an untested element of Vivekananda’s message for Americans.

 

New Synthesis for the West

While in America, Vivekananda would return again and again to the American values of equality and freedom, and to the Western faith in reason, science, and personal experience as the basis to realize God. He constantly challenged conventional notions of religious authority. He urged his audience to evolve, to wake up, to ‘Vedantize’ their understanding of spirituality. He gave them ammunition to challenge major superstitions, materialism, and to question those authorities that demanded blind belief. He prodded them to apply reason to religion just as in all other aspects of life, and to recognize that science and religion are not separate disciplines but parallel tracks leading to the same truths. Ultimately, practical Vedanta, he said, would lead to the realization of God in humans and to the practice in daily life of work as worship.

 

He understood the revolutionary nature of what he was advocating to his audiences. Practical Vedanta required nothing less than a total change of mentality towards the world: from dualism to non-dualism and from materialism to the realization that all is Atman. He said: ‘How can the rich man turn up his nose at the poor man, and the learned at the ignorant, if we are all spirit and all the same? Unless society changes, how can such a religion as Vedanta prevail? It will take thousands of years to have large numbers of truly rational human beings. It is very hard to show men new things, to give them great ideas. It is harder still to throw off old superstitions, very hard; they do not die easily’ (8.136).

 

Vivekananda believed the time for Vedanta in the West had come, and that if there was any hope for a religion based on practical Vedanta, it was in America. He urged Americans to embrace his new synthesis and to begin a spiritual regeneration that could eventually spread throughout the entire world.

 

The Legacy of Neo-Vedanta

Vivekananda’s participation in the World Parliament of Religions was historically fitting. It coincided with the Columbian Exposition also being held in Chicago in commemoration of Columbus’s arrival on the shores of America four centuries earlier. Columbus’s voyage of discovery had opened up the New World to refugees from Europe seeking freedom from political and religious persecution. Vivekananda brought another message of freedom to America: freedom as the means to and the goal of spiritual realization. Just as the highest power in American democracy is the individual, so the highest authority in knowing God, he would preach, also lay within each individual.

 

When he arrived in America, Vivekananda had only a limited idea of the scope of the mission he would be taking on. He came in hopes that America might provide some material support to India, which though rich in ancient spiritual traditions, could not progress until its material miseries were alleviated. But he soon realized, from the resounding reception he enjoyed, that America was also ripe for a spiritual regeneration.

 

After his inaugural speech at Chicago, he established a bridge between the East and the West and became a celebrity. When he left the US he had developed practical Vedanta as a philosophy suitable for the modern world. By the time of his untimely death on 4 July 1902—America’s Independence Day—Vivekananda had won countless supporters and inspired followers all over the world.

 

America played a crucial role in shaping Vivekananda’s new synthesis of Eastern and Western thought. Vivekananda had been energized by the dynamism of the young country. He believed that the absence of social hierarchies,
along with the embrace of equality, freedom, reason, and science, made the US the perfect environment for the flowering of modern Vedanta. In his 1900 talk in San Francisco ‘Is Vedanta the Future Religion?’, at the end of his second visit, he was optimistic but realistic about those prospects. He said: ‘This Vedanta is everywhere, only you must become conscious of it. These masses of foolish beliefs and superstitions hinder us in our progress’ (8.139).

 

His words were prophetic. Today Vivekananda’s democracy-inspired message of Vedanta has been all but forgotten in America—along with the memory of his dramatic influence on early twentieth century thought and culture. As the world grows ever more inhospitable and in need of an ambitious spiritual renaissance based in reason and strength, Vivekananda’s grand experiment—Vedanta for the West—has yet to be tested.

 

The Future of Vedanta in America

America today is still in need of hearing the message of practical Vedanta. Traditional religions seem to be losing relevance. Many Americans are seeking new forms of prayer and worship, often turning to Eastern traditions. Democratic principles are weakening as the nation responds to social and political upheavals at home and around the world. The notion of equality for all is under assault as the gaps between the ultra-wealthy, middle class, and poor widens. US’s domination of the world economy and leadership in science, education, and technology are being openly challenged across the globe. Amidst these trends, Vivekananda’s words and message, presented anew, may inspire Americans today as much as they did in his day.

 

Vivekananda showed how Vedanta could achieve a new synthesis, but it is up to Americans to turn that ideal into a reality. Vedanta by Americans for Americans was a concept understood by Swami Saradeshananda, a direct disciple of Sri Sarada Devi, who once predicted that ‘Vedanta will begin to succeed in America only when Americans are teaching it.’10 In order to achieve that success, there are number of actions Americans can take to begin Vivekananda’s grand experiment.

 

One would be for Americans to establish, for the first time, service institutions committed to Vivekananda’s ideal of work as worship of God in humans. Countless institutions in America do exemplary service work, but all these lack the unique spiritual attitude advocated by Vivekananda. New institutions can be established throughout the country and led by dedicated people from all walks of life. In this way, entire communities committed to practical Vedanta will emerge and grow.

 

A second action would be for women to take a leadership role in practical Vedanta. This could include establishing and working in the proposed service institutions and lecturing and teaching practical Vedanta to Americans of all ages. Vivekananda advocated a strong, independent place for women in society and religion. He had been inspired by Sri Sarada Devi, who he honoured as the living embodiment of the Divine Mother. In America Vivekananda’s interactions with accomplished women gave him added insight that women, freed from control by male authorities, would be a crucial component in any spiritual regeneration to come. He said: ‘All the mischief to women has come because men undertook to shape the destiny of women.’11

 

Vivekananda made clear that his mission would remain unfi nished until women established their own, independent work. At Pasadena, in early 1900, Vivekananda said:
I am glad to tell you that I have made a rude beginning. But the same work I want to do, on parallel lines, for women. And my principle is: each one helps himself. My help is from a distance. Th ere are Indian women, English women, and I hope American women will come to take up the task. As soon as they have begun, I wash my hands of it. No man shall dictate to a woman; nor a woman to a man. Each one is independent. … Women will work out their own destinies—much better, too, than men can ever do for them (8.91).
A third action would be to begin to engage in an exploration of the ‘science of the subject’. Vivekananda wanted scientists to examine the truths revealed in the ancient Vedanta, but this challenge has not been taken up by contemporary researchers. If anything, the divide between religion and science is more pronounced than ever. Science today still lacks the personal moral dimension that Vivekananda saw as basic to the study of consciousness from within. Scientists will need to test the assumption that consciousness is simply a by-product of biochemistry, that is, of matter. Doing so will open new dimensions of research and knowledge. Scientists will have to finally go beyond exploring the objective world based solely on external observation.

 

The sesquicentenary of Swami Vivekananda’s birth heralds an opportunity for Americans to honour his great legacy by launching practical Vedanta in America. America was born out of a revolution. Vivekananda’s message to America was revolutionary in his day and it is still revolutionary in ours. He attempted to enact a grand experiment stretching over the next millennia: ‘Dualistic ideas have ruled the world long enough, and this is the result. Why not make a new experiment?’ (2.200). He believed that Americans were uniquely equipped to orchestrate the experiment, but only if they could overcome the superstition of materialism. He said: ‘The teachings of Vedanta … were never really experimented with before. Although Vedanta is the oldest philosophy in the world, it has always become mixed up with superstitions and everything else. … The hour comes when great men shall arise and cast off these kindergartens of religion and shall make vivid and powerful the true religion, the worship of the spirit by the spirit’ (8.141).

 

(Source: Prabuddha Bharatha January 2013)

 

References

1. Ann Louise Bardach, ‘How Yoga Won the West’, The New York Times, 1 October 2011.
2. R K DasGupta, Philosophy & Philosophers (Kolkata: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture,2008), 147.
3. Th e Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.4.
4. Philosophy & Philosophers, 154.
5. Complete Works, 8.266–7.
6. His Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda, 2 vols (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2008), 1.96.
7. Complete Works, 8.112.
8. The Life of Swami Vivekananda, 1.523.
9. Complete Works, 4.357.
10. Spoken to the author and three other Americans during an interview with the swami in Vrindaban on 8 December 1973.
11. Complete Works, 8.91.
By |2018-06-12T11:37:33+00:00June 3rd, 2018|Prabuddha Bharata, Public Articles|0 Comments

About the Author:

Neil Feldman and Judy Scott Feldman, from Rockville, MD, are associated with the Vedanta movement in the US.