The Vedanta Way of Life

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The religions of the world are not contradictory or antagonistic. They are but various phases of one eternal religion. That one eternal religion is applied to different planes of existence and is applied to the opinions of various minds and various races. There never was my religion or yours, my national religion or your national religion; there never existed many religions, there is only the One Infinite religion that existed all through eternity and will ever exist. And this religion is expressing itself in various countries in various ways. Now, by religion is meant the Vedanta; the applications must vary according to different needs, surroundings and other circumstances of different nations,' in the words of Swami Vivekananda.

In other words, Vedanta is the essence of all religions. It is not a new religion. It is as old as God Himself; it is not confined to any time and place; and it is now everywhere. The word ‘religion', in its original meaning, is something that binds, and it is literally true in respect of Vedanta.'

Reduced to its elements, Vedanta philosophy consists of three propositions. First is that man's real nature is divine. Second is that the aim of human life is to realize this divine nature. Third is that all religions are essentially in agreement with the first two elements.

As to the real nature of man being divine, Vedanta asserts that the universe, which is perceived by our senses, is only in appearance. It is not what it seems. It is other than its outward aspect, which is subject to perpetual change. The hills, says Tennyson, are only shadows.

Vedanta asserts that, beneath this appearance, there is an essential, unchanging Reality, which it calls the Brahman, the Godhead. The Brahman is existence itself, consciousness itself. The Brahman is also said to be that indefinable quality called Ananda. This corresponds to ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding' of the Bible. Ananda is not only ‘peace' but also ‘bliss', which alone give the only permanent kind of happiness.

No one can explain the Brahman as the Brahman is beyond all sense perception. IT is beyond scientific analysis as such analysis necessarily depends upon the evidence of the five senses.

The Brahman, being an essential Reality, is omnipresent. IT is, therefore, within each one of us, within every creature and object. In other words, the Brahman is our real, essential nature. The Brahman is God-transcendent. IT is same as the Atman - God-immanent.

According to Vedanta, the aim of human life is to realize the Atman, our essential nature, and hence our identity with the one underlying Reality. To seek to realize my essential nature is to admit that I am dissatisfied with my nature as it is at present.

It is to admit that I am dissatisfied with the kind of life I am now leading.

The way to realize this essential nature is stated to be by ceasing to be oneself. If one introspects, one realizes that one is but a constellation of desires and impulses, reflecting one's environment. One mimics the social behavior of one's community. Those around one condition one's actions, and one is subject to suggestion, climate, disease, etc. One is changing all the time, and has no essential external reality.

One's Reality, the essential nature, is clouded and hidden from one because of one's egotism, which is asserted and reinforced by hundreds of daily actions. One feels one is separate and a unique individual every time one desires, fears or hates; every time one boasts or indulges in vanity; every time one struggles to get something for oneself. One is assertive in one's daily actions only because of egotism.

In truth, one is not apart from anything else in this universe. The scientist agrees that every living creature and every object are interrelated biologically, psychologically, physically, politically and economically. They are all of a piece.

To believe that one is not apart from everything else in the universe is not easy. To overcome this possessive attitude towards one's actions, one is to stop taking credit for one's successes. One is to stop bemoaning one's failures and making excuses for them. One is to stop worrying about one's results. One is to work for the sake of the work. One is to think of one's body as an instrument of action of the Atman, and no more. All work done in this spirit is symbolic, like ritual. Then it becomes a form of worship.

Vedanta is both specific and universal. It has its all-embracing, universal aspect and also its specific aspect, and is the distilled wisdom of the Hindu spiritual tradition. A Vedanta way of life applies to both the dimensions duly integrated.

The Vedanta way of life is a seamless whole, a unified endeavor that moves smoothly, resolutely and joyfully toward the goal of spiritual awakening. This goal is what keeps our lives anchored. It is what enables us to make daily decisions. It is what enables us to engage or not to engage in activity.

In this integrated Vedanta life, our actions are in tandem with our words and our words do not betray our heart. Our subconscious state of mind does not conflict with a conscious mind, and the conscious mind does not engage in internal conflict. This way of life, as it is lived in private and in public, reflects our most deeply held, cherished beliefs about the ultimate Reality and our relation to It. As a necessary corollary, it is our relation built with all other beings around.

First and foremost, our very life is our gospel. What we say about religion or spirituality does not carry conviction unless we live by what we say. People judge what we say by what we are.

If there is wide disparity between our philosophy and our action, we need to mend the fissures in our personality so that we can live as deeply integrated a spiritual life as we are capable of.

We see many persons talking the most wonderfully fine things about charity, equality and the rights of other people; but it is only in theory. Rarely do we come across some one who is able to carry theory into practice. The one who has such faculty of carrying everything into practice which he thinks is right harmonizes thoughts, words and actions. The Vedanta way of life is not just in talking the talk, but also in walking the walk. If there is any deficiency in this approach, we are only parrots, not genuine spiritual seekers.

The light of truth illumines the Vedanta path. One need have great love for truth, and that much reckless abandon in seeking it. Great sages like Sri Ramakrishna renounce everything except truth. ‘Through truth everything is attained‘. Truth is both the way and the goal; it is direction to the destination and the destination itself.

A true person alone can have true knowledge. A true person is one who, having attained oneness with the Divine, does not mind having little, does not boast of accomplishments, is not concerned with success or failure or with his or her own life or death. Above all, a true person is one who is wholly detached and utterly free.

Detachment, an essential quality of Vedanta life, is not synonymous with indifference. Detachment is not the opposite of love and concern. On the other hand, it is detachment that produces true love and selfless concern. Detachment means identifying with our real nature. It means really being ourselves in the highest sense of the term. It is acknowledging and responding to our innate purity, joyfulness, freedom and wisdom.

Detachment is considered the cornerstone of a committed spiritual life. It is a state of deep calm, arising from the full and harmonious integration of the emotional life under the influence of love. It is not coldness or indifference.

Detachment and love for God are intertwined in a Vedanta way of life. Real detachment is freedom from the lower desires, which pull us away from realizing our true nature and from attaining oneness with the Divine. Unless checked, the desires will prevent us from giving ourselves wholeheartedly to spiritual life. Sri Ramakrishna often says, ‘a thread cannot pass through the eye of a needle if it has the smallest fiber sticking out'. A Vedanta way of life means having the determination to continue struggling in our spiritual quest so that our carefully threaded life can enter into the eye of the needle of divine Reality.

Another important attribute is the patience to persevere against what appear to be obstacles most of which are self-imposed. This patience is what we call steadfastness. It means that we have to keep our spiritual goal always in our mental foreground.

Otherwise, we just get distracted. Once distracted, one gets disinterested. Anyone who does things lukewarmly is close to falling and failing.

As is said, the true person is one who has true knowledge. True knowledge is the integrated vision of wholeness, the experience of the One that is all existence. There is no place where the One does not exist. The subjective experience is that I am one with all Existence. This experience is, indeed, the crown of the Vedanta way of life.

This is best illustrated in what Mr. Merton, a Trappist monk, writes of his sudden experience on a street corner: ‘...it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of (everyone's) heart, the depths of their hearts... the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes... It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely... I have not programmed for this seeing; it is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.'

This realization (vision) only corroborates what Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita: ‘One who, established in unity, worships Me who dwells in all beings, abides in Me.'

If the highest expression of spirituality is seeing God dwelling in the hearts of all, then to worship God is nothing but offering service to humankind. As Swami Vivekananda says, ‘he who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary.'

To sum up, the Vedanta way of life always means starting from where we are, and starting itself is a triumph. Secondly, it means that success is inevitable in the sense that we are only discovering our real nature. We are attaining what is ours by our very nature of our being human beings. In the end, all of us, every one of us shall attain to the goal of life.

Whether we attain to the goal quickly or whether we attain to it over a prolonged period of time depends on our own sincere efforts. The crucial issue is that when once we embark on our journey in the right direction, we find it difficult to halt. The way of leading a Vedanta life is too difficult to resist. We find that our tenacity pays off with happiness and meaning pouring over our entire life, from the smallest detail to its highest goal. We experience that the Vedanta way of life is the best and the most joyful life a human being can ever have. We find our life truly blessed, and our life will be a blessing to others around us.

K. R. Paramahamsa is an author of book Living in Spirit.

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