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Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda

 
 
The old religion said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is an atheist who does not believe in himself.
Swami Vivekananda

 
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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Swami Vivekananda said, ‘You must remember that humanity travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth; it may be, if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth, but never from error to truth.’ What are the higher and lower truths?

What is the meaning of character-building without any concrete organized action? Is there any example of concrete action in the last forty years of the Mahamandal?

Instead of learning character-building, how can we inspire the student community to do something for the sake of their country and serve the poor? Please explain its method.

The contribution of Swami Vivekananda in Indian freedom struggle was immense. Yet, why did he not get an important place in the history of our freedom struggle?

Each man is the soul identified. Again, Shāstras say, Aham Brahmāsmi. What is the relation between the soul and Brahman?

In what way is this training camp of the Mahamandal specially useful to us? Of the daily practices advised by you, mental concentration seems to be very important. Will you kindly explain how to practise it and how is it going to increase my powers to serve the motherland?

Why is the mind attracted to any beautiful thing?

You have said that there are three things in the make up of man: the body, the mind, and the heart. What is the heart and how can we develop it?

What is the method of imparting true education?

What is mind?

What was Swamiji’s opinion on Hinduism and other religions of the world? Why did he give primacy to religion over everything else?

Ans:

Swamiji did not give a set of separate opinions for each separate religion. His Master, Sri Ramakrishna, showed the harmony of all religions through his life and message for the first time in the history of the world. At least, we don’t know about any other instance before him in this regard. Swami Vivekananda was trained up by him, and the complete man that finally appeared in the form of Vivekananda was certainly his creation. So, Swamiji also looked upon all religions as true. He also knew that there are good ideas in each of them, and that the essence of all religions is the same. Sri Ramakrishna not only said so, but also practised so many religions originated in India and foreign lands in his life. He took them up one by one, practically applied their teachings in his life, and thus, like a scientist in the realm of religion, proved in the laboratory of his heart that each of them is true and ultimately leads to the same goal. He took up Islam, Christianity, and various religious paths of the so-called Hinduism for practice.
                        The word ‘Hinduism’ came in vogue from wrong usage. So, we don’t use this word, though some may dislike our opinion. The word, ‘Hindu’, does not appear in any of shāstras, the ancient sacred books of India. It is neither in the four Vedas, nor in the Upanishads, nor in the Rāmāyana or the Mahābhārata. It is nowhere. In later times, when the Persians came to the Indus valley from the land now called Iran, they marvelled at the art and architecture, philosophy and religion, etc. of the valley. They referred to all these by the name of the major river of the valley, Sindhu (called ‘Indus’ by the Greek). But they could not pronounce Sindhu. Persians pronounced ‘ha’ in place of Sanskrit ‘sa’. So, they pronounced Sindhu as Hindu. And thus the word came into the ordinary parlance of common people. In the beginning it meant ‘Indian’. Later it was used to refer to the traditional religious ideas and practices of India. Thus it is also confusing to use the word. So, we would shun the word altogether. Swamiji explained it in three of his lectures delivered in India. The term, ‘Hindu’, does not clearly mean anything, but people are shouting for or against Hinduism or the Hindus. That is completely ludicrous.
Now, through all those practices Sri Ramakrishna realized that there is one real thing, the Sat-vastu, in all of us, and that That can be realized through any of these religions. Sat means that which really exists. It is never born or created; it never dies or gets destroyed. It never changes. There is no trace of imperfection in It. It is variously called God, Allah, Bhagavān, etc., and That alone really exists. There were some who, through intellectual efforts, found that God, Allah or Bhagavān are similar and not antagonistic or competing ideas. But Sri Ramakrishna alone realized in his heart, by actually practising all those religions, that these are but different names for the same Truth. Swamiji preached the same truth. In a letter he explained the potential harm in using such words as Hinduism, Christianity, etc. at present, as such usage would generate communal hatred. There he said: ‘My master used to say that these names, as Hindu, Christian, etc., stand as great bars to all brotherly feelings between man and man. We must try to break them down first. They have lost all their good powers and now only stand as baneful influences under whose black magic even the best of us behave like demons.’ But we do not listen to them. We talk in terms of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and so on and argue for or against them. It is far better to accept one of them and actually apply its teachings in our life, so that we can rise higher and higher in life, so that we can have more and more of real wisdom. Religion, taken in this spirit, unfolds in us the higher possibilities of life, makes us great and good. That is why religion is superior to all other essential things of life and society. That is why religion is primary and all else is secondary.
Most of us have gross misconception about religion. Real religion does not stand for temples, mosques, and churches. It is not in the holy books like the Vedas, the Koran or the Bible. ‘To be good and to do good – that is the whole of religion’, Swamiji said. The word, religion, has several connotations. One is dharma. It is very important for us. It means that which holds us up and saves us from falling down. Thus the Mahābhārata says:
Dhāranāt dharmamityāhurdharmo dhārayate prajāh /
Yad-syād-dhārana-samyuktam sa dharmamiti uchyate.

So, it is not about this or that religion. Well has it been said:

                        Sarveshām yah suhŗnnityam sarveshām cha hite ratah /
Karmanā manasā vāchā sa dharmam veda jājale.

  1. One who is friendly to all and always doing good to all through his thought, word, and deed knows what dharma really is. So, let us not search religion in external symbols and rituals and books and temples. These may be a little helpful for the beginners in some cases, or these may give us a sense of ethnic identity, but these are not essential parts of religion. And all dissention between religions and all fanaticism and bigotry are the outcomes of confusing these external things with real religion.

            Sri Ramakrishna related a beautiful story, which is in the Mahābhārata with a little variation. We generally think that the Mahābhārata is the story of the competing cousins, Kurus and Pāndavas, and the War of Kurukshetra, while the Rāmāyana is just the story of Rāma and Sitā and the War of Lankā. We have very little opportunity to come across the essential ideas presented through these great epics. Anyway, thus the story goes: A man went into a forest for hard spiritual practices. One day, while he was meditating under a tree, a crane sitting on that tree excreted, and the extreta fell on his head. The man got very angry, and as soon as he stared at the bird, it was burnt into ashes! So, this man became very happy and boastful. He thought: See, I have gained so much of miraculous power by meditating in the forest. Now he went out for begging alms and entered a village. He came in front of a house and commanded, ‘Here is a Mahatma in front of your house. Do bring alms.’ A female voice came from inside: ‘Wait a while, please. I am busy discharging an important duty. As soon as I finish, I shall come with alms.’ The conceited hermit would not wait. He got vexed, and he asked, ‘Do you know who I am?’ The lady retorted, ‘I am not a crane!’ Now this man was taken aback: how this ordinary housewife comes to know all that had happened in the forest? He was humbled. So he waited patiently for the lady. She came out after some time and apologized for her delay, explaining that her husband was just in after the day’s hard work and that it was her duty to look after his comfort first. The hermit was amazed and he earnestly requested her to teach him true religion. But she said she was an ordinary woman and if he wanted such instructions, he should better visit a butcher at a nearby market. This man went to the butcher, who too kept him waiting for finishing his daily work, cleaning his body, and then serving his aged parents. Then he retired and taught the hermit. The two beautiful verses I quoted a little back were from these teachings of the butcher. So, that is real religion, and nothing in our life is greater than that.

 

 

What is the aim of the Mahamandal?

Does the system of varnaand āshrama have any relevance today?

The Mahamandal is working for character-building of the youths with Swamiji’s message: ‘Be and make’. It was taught by Swami Vivekananda over a century back. It seems it was lying unused at some corner. Is there no other organization doing this type of work?

When does the soul enter our body?

Religion teaches that God is there in all, that the human body is the abode of God. Then why do we not see Him? Please tell me the way to see Him and be loved by the All-Love.

What is vairāgya?

Why are the youth of India moving towards degeneration? What is the solution of this problem?

I understand that the world is like a series of pictures. But I cannot hold on to the idea all the time. The mind goes out of control. What do I do?

There was a historical background of the beginning of the Mahamandal. One immediate need was to show the right way to young people who were in disarray at a time of ideological confusion. Some others who were in a dilemma between religion and social work also needed it. Now times have changed, but the necessity of this work remains for all time. Young men in general are nowadays interested neither in politics, nor in social work, nor in poetry. For most of them the sole concern is career. Under the present circumstances, how should the ideas of the Mahamandal be placed before them?

How can we bring about national integration?

What is brahmacharya? Why should we practise it and how? What are the   means?

What is caste? What is its relation with religion?

Can science exist without religion?

Is there any difference between the ideas of Sri Ramakrishna and those of Swami Vivekananda?

Is absolute unselfishness possible under the present circumstances?

What should we do to strengthen our mental abilities?

 

 
 

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