Tag Archives: philosophy

Vivekananda: Paper on Hinduism

Swami Vivekananda
At the world’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago

September 19, 1893

[My comments are in blue – Vinaire]

Three religions now stand in the world which have come down to us from time prehistoric — Hinduism,  Zoroastrianism and Judaism. They have all received tremendous shocks and all of them prove by their survival their internal strength. But while Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations, but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith.

The root meaning of the word VEDA is ‘to look.’ The root meaning of the word RELIGION is ‘to bind’. From looking we derive conclusions, beliefs, and faith. This faith then binds us. This faith is religion. Thus, religion (faith) literally comes from Veda (looking, contemplating).

From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu’s religion.

The use of idols came about in an effort to make abstract ideas of philosophy and wisdom understood, as explained in the essay HINDU IDOLS. But this has not been successful all the time. This purpose for idols has been lost, and replaced by ignorance and superstitious hope, resulting in the phenomenon known as idolatry.

Where then, the question arises, where is the common centre to which all these widely diverging radii converge? Where is the common basis upon which all these seemingly hopeless contradictions rest? And this is the question I shall attempt to answer.

All of these diverging radii converge back to looking, contemplation or mindfulness.

The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. They hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound ludicrous to this audience, how a book can be without beginning or end. But by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times. Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical, and spiritual relations between soul and soul and between individual spirits and the Father of all spirits, were there before their discovery, and would remain even if we forgot them.

The word VEDA implies looking. Knowledge comes from looking. Knowledge is thus manifested, and has a beginning and end;  but looking seems to have neither beginning nor end. Looking is primary. Knowledge is secondary. Revelations comes from looking and not from knowledge and its logic. The value of Vedas lies in how they inspire one to look.

The discoverers of these laws are called Rishis, and we honour them as perfected beings. I am glad to tell this audience that some of the very greatest of them were women. Here it may be said that these laws as laws may be without end, but they must have had a beginning. The Vedas teach us that creation is without beginning or end. Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same. Then, if there was a time when nothing existed, where was all this manifested energy? Some say it was in a potential form in God. In that case God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic, which would make Him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound, and everything compound must undergo that change which is called destruction. So God would die, which is absurd. Therefore there never was a time when there was no creation.

It seems that space, energy, and mass convert back and forth into each other, and the state parameter of that is time. Furthermore, the sum total of ‘space-energy-mass’ seems to be constant. If that is the case then God (total potential) is simply one of the many forms of space-energy-mass. All these forms, which also include the body, the soul, and ‘I’, shall have relative beginning and end. But, for ‘space-energy-mass’ itself, there may be no absolute beginning or end. And what is this space-energy-mass? That would be a fascinating trail to follow.

If I may be allowed to use a simile, creation and  creator are two lines, without beginning and without end, running parallel to each other. God is the ever active providence, by whose power systems after systems are being evolved out of chaos, made to run for a time and again destroyed. This is what the Brâhmin boy repeats every day: The sun and the moon, the Lord created like the suns and moons of previous cycles.” And this agrees with modern science.

The cycle of creation, continuance, and dissolution doesn’t seem to have either beginning or end. This cycle is simply there.

Here I stand and if I shut my eyes, and try to conceive my existence, “I”, “I”, “I”, what is the idea before me? The idea of a body. Am I, then, nothing but a combination of material substances? The Vedas declare, “No”. I am a spirit living in a body. I am not the body. The body will die, but I shall not die. Here am I in this body; it will fall, but I shall go on living. I had also a past. The soul was not created, for creation means a combination which means a certain future dissolution. If then the soul was created, it must die. Some are born happy, enjoy perfect health, with beautiful body, mental vigour and all wants supplied. Others are born miserable, some are without hands or feet, others again are idiots and only drag on a wretched existence. Why, if they are all created, why does a just and merciful God create one happy and another unhappy, why is He so partial? Nor would it mend matters in the least to hold that those who are miserable in this life will be happy in a future one. Why should a man be miserable even here in the reign of a just and merciful God?

In the second place, the idea of a creator God does not explain the anomaly, but simply expresses the cruel fiat of an all-powerful being. There must have been causes, then, before his birth, to make a man miserable or happy and those were his past actions.

The idea expressed here for ‘soul’ is in the sense of ‘unknowable’ and not in the sense of some known identity. It is called ‘atman’ in Hinduism, which does not carry the connotations attached to soul in Christianity. People may have delightful or wretched existence. These are viewpoints about existence. These viewpoints also exist like anything else exists. Cruelty and mercy, good and evil, creation and destruction, etc., may characterize existence. Existence is the bottom line.  We think of God to explain this existence. But then God becomes part of existence like any viewpoint or characteristic. What is existence? It is manifestation. It is awareness. Primarily, it is space-energy-mass; and, secondarily, it is time.

Are not all the tendencies of the mind and the body accounted for by inherited aptitude? Here are two parallel lines of existence — one of the mind, the other of matter. If matter and its transformations answer for all that we have, there is no necessity for supposing the existence of a soul. But it cannot be proved that thought has been evolved out of matter, and if a philosophical monism is inevitable, spiritual monism is certainly logical and no less desirable than a materialistic monism; but neither of these is necessary here.

Looking at the participation of electrons in chemical reactions, they seem to determine all the physical properties that we perceive. All properties of the body seem to come from how the atoms of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc. bond together in large chains. This bonding comes about from sharing of electrons among atoms. The nuclei in atoms seem to act as anchors for the electronic distribution. These macromolecules are large enough to have computing circuits, which generate their own computation. This, probably, gives rise to a rudimentary form of thought. However, this cannot be entirely looked upon as “materialism” because there is an unknowable spiritual element determining that electronic configuration. I believe that physical and spiritual are aspects of a single overall system that is yet to be fully comprehended.

We cannot deny that bodies acquire certain tendencies from heredity, but those tendencies only mean the physical configuration, through which a peculiar mind alone can act in a peculiar way. There are other tendencies peculiar to a soul caused by its past actions. And a soul with a certain tendency would by the laws of affinity take birth in a body which is the fittest instrument for the display of that tendency. This is in accord with science, for science wants to explain everything by habit, and habit is got through repetitions. So repetitions are necessary to explain the natural habits of a new-born soul. And since they were not obtained in this present life, they must have come down from past lives.

Since physical and spiritual are two different aspects of the same system it is natural to see them go together in certain familiar ways. Hence the statement, “And a soul with a certain tendency would by the laws of affinity take birth in a body which is the fittest instrument for the display of that tendency.” To me this is like saying that certain patterns will go with certain configurations. This would apply to macromolecules in a living body. But when a living body is not there, there still can be certain electromagnetic patterns stored in space that may later influence a new born body. I have tried to explain that using the popular terminology in The Self and the Soul.

There is another suggestion. Taking all these for granted, how is it that I do not remember anything of my past life ? This can be easily explained. I am now speaking English. It is not my mother tongue, in fact no words of my mother tongue are now present in my consciousness; but let me try to bring them up, and they rush in. That shows that consciousness is only the surface of the mental ocean, and within its depths are stored up all our experiences. Try and struggle, they would come up and you would be conscious even of your past life.

Memories from past life are impressions that have not been sorted out fully. When impressions are sorted out fully they convert into understanding. They no longer persist as memories. They may be recalled as possibilities. One may not remember anything of past lives if the mental energy patterns absorbed by a new born body are primarily functional and do not contain unsorted impressions. It is not a must that there be past life memories. There may just be talents one is born with.

This is direct and demonstrative evidence. Verification is the perfect proof of a theory, and here is the challenge thrown to the world by the Rishis. We have discovered the secret by which the very depths of the ocean of memory can be stirred up — try it and you would get a complete reminiscence of your past life.

It is possible that one may pick up mental energy impressions from the surrounding space. But that does not necessarily mean that they are memories associated with one’s identity in the past. It may be assumed to be so.

So then the Hindu believes that he is a spirit. Him the sword cannot pierce — him the fire cannot burn — him the water cannot melt — him the air cannot dry. The Hindu believes that every soul is a circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose centre is located in the body, and that death means the change of this centre from body to body. Nor is the soul bound by the conditions of matter. In its very essence it is free, unbounded, holy, pure, and perfect. But somehow or other it finds itself tied down to matter, and thinks of itself as matter.

Just as there is the capability of sensing the physical energy patterns of the universe through our physical senses, similarly the capability is there to sense the mental energy patterns of the space. This capability may be centered in the body but it can rise beyond the body. The spirit, which symbolizes this capability is unbounded to the extent of being unknowable. But it can consider itself to be bound to a body.

Why should the free, perfect, and pure being be thus under the thraldom of matter, is the next question. How can the perfect soul be deluded into the belief that it is imperfect? We have been told that the Hindus shirk the question and say that no such question can be there. Some thinkers want to answer it by positing one or more quasi-perfect beings, and use big scientific names to fill up the gap. But naming is not explaining. The question remains the same. How can the perfect become the quasi-perfect; how can the pure, the absolute, change even a microscopic particle of its nature? But the Hindu is sincere. He does not want to take shelter under sophistry. He is brave enough to face the question in a manly fashion; and his answer is: “I do not know. I do not know how the perfect being, the soul, came to think of itself as imperfect, as joined to and conditioned by matter.” But the fact is a fact for all that. It is a fact in everybody’s consciousness that one thinks of oneself as the body. The Hindu does not attempt to explain why one thinks one is the body. The answer that it is the will of God is no explanation. This is nothing more than what the Hindu says, “I do not know.”

(1) The free, perfect, and pure being seem to be under the thraldom of matter because of its considerations and the condensation of them. It gets caught up in its own considerations.
(2) Consideration starts with manifestation. This is the consideration of BEING (verb). The most diffused state of being is SPACE. Within this space lies the potential of all other considerations.
(3) The ripples in this space manifest as electromagnetic waves. These waves have the potential of considerations as part of their make-up.
(4) These electromagnetic waves then condense as photons, electrons, atom, molecule, and finally matter.
(5) Buried into this matter must be the original potential of consideration.
(6) Thus, ‘being’ gets caught up in its own considerations.

Well, then, the human soul is eternal and immortal, perfect and infinite, and death means only a change of centre from one body to another. The present is determined by our past actions, and the future by the present. The soul will go on evolving up or reverting back from birth to birth and death to death. But here is another question: Is man a tiny boat in a tempest, raised one moment on the foamy crest of a billow and dashed down into a yawning chasm the next, rolling to and fro at the mercy of good and bad actions — a powerless, helpless wreck in an ever-raging, ever-rushing, uncompromising current of cause and effect; a little moth placed under the wheel of causation which rolls on crushing everything in its way and waits not for the widow’s tears or the orphan’s cry? The heart sinks at the idea, yet this is the law of Nature. Is there no hope? Is there no escape? — was the cry that went up from the bottom of the heart of despair. It reached the throne of mercy, and words of hope and consolation came down and inspired a Vedic sage, and he stood up before the world and in trumpet voice proclaimed the glad tidings: “Hear, ye children of immortal bliss! even ye that reside in higher spheres! I have found the Ancient One who is beyond all darkness, all delusion: knowing Him alone you shall be saved from death over again.” “Children of immortal bliss” — what a sweet, what a hopeful name! Allow me to call you, brethren, by that sweet name — heirs of immortal bliss — yea, the Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the Children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth — sinners! It is a sin to call a man so; it is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter.

(1) To me, the human soul is unknowable and we may only speculate about it. We shall then have considerations to describe the human soul.
(2) The consideration of soul may shift from one body to another when death of the body takes place.
(3) A consideration continues to exist and to exert influence until it is thoroughly reconsidered and dissolved.
(4) Thus, present is influenced by the considerations still in play from the past.
(5) Any moment will be determined by all the considerations in play at that moment. This is the law of nature.
(6) That moment be modified by thoroughly reconsidering the considerations in play.
(7) Calling something “sin” may simply be a mechanism to avoid a thorough reconsideration of what is there.
(8) You are that unknowable that is considering and reconsidering.

Thus it is that the Vedas proclaim not a dreadful combination of unforgiving laws, not an endless prison of cause and effect, but that at the head of all these laws, in and through every particle of matter and force, stands One “by whose command the wind blows, the fire burns, the clouds rain, and death stalks upon the earth.”

And what is His nature?

He is everywhere, the pure and formless One, the Almighty and the All-merciful. “Thou art our father, Thou art our mother, Thou art our beloved friend, Thou art the source of all strength; give us strength. Thou art He that beareth the burdens of the universe; help me bear the little burden of this life.” Thus sang the Rishis of the Vedas. And how to worship Him? Through love. “He is to be worshipped as the one beloved, dearer than everything in this and the next life.”

Beyond self lies the unknowable region. It is within unknowable that consideration and reconsideration takes place. It is difficult to appreciate the unknowable as long as one is fixated on self.

This is the doctrine of love declared in the Vedas, and let us see how it is fully developed and taught by Krishna, whom the Hindus believe to have been God incarnate on earth.

To me, this doctrine of love is the doctrine of non-judgmental mindfulness. Here we have a complete absence of filters. There is total granting of beingness to whatever comes up in front of one. And, this is the ultimate in love.

He taught that a man ought to live in this world like a lotus leaf, which grows in water but is never moistened by water; so a man ought to live in the world — his heart to God and his hands to work.

One should live in this world physically involved while mentally exterior to, or detached from it.

It is good to love God for hope of reward in this or the next world, but it is better to love God for love’s sake, and the prayer goes: “Lord, I do not want wealth, nor children, nor learning. If it be Thy will, I shall go from birth to birth, but grant me this, that I may love Thee without the hope of reward — love unselfishly for love’s sake.” One of the disciples of Krishna, the then Emperor of India, was driven from his kingdom by his enemies and had to take shelter with his queen in a forest in the Himalayas, and there one day the queen asked him how it was that he, the most virtuous of men, should suffer so much misery. Yudhishthira answered, “Behold, my queen, the Himalayas, how grand and beautiful they are; I love them. They do not give me anything, but my nature is to love the grand, the beautiful, therefore I love them. Similarly, I love the Lord. He is the source of all beauty, of all sublimity. He is the only object to be loved; my nature is to love Him, and therefore I love. I do not pray for anything; I do not ask for anything. Let Him place me wherever He likes. I must love Him for love’s sake. I cannot trade in love.”

To be in love with God for love’s sake, means to be godlike, which is to be non-judgmental and mindful toward everything. It is incorrect to associate the idea of God with the idea of control.

The Vedas teach that the soul is divine, only held in the bondage of matter; perfection will be reached when this bond will burst, and the word they use for it is therefore, Mukti — freedom, freedom from the bonds of imperfection, freedom from death and misery.

Bondage of matter is essentially the attachment  to life in this universe. This bondage is made up of desire and considerations. Freedom is reached when desires are under control, and considerations are fully reconsidered.

And this bondage can only fall off through the mercy of God, and this mercy comes on the pure. So purity is the condition of His mercy. How does that mercy act? He reveals Himself to the pure heart; the pure and the stainless see God, yea, even in this life; then and then only all the crookedness of the heart is made straight. Then all doubt ceases. He is no more the freak of a terrible law of causation. This is the very centre, the very vital conception of Hinduism. The Hindu does not want to live upon words and theories. If there are existences beyond the ordinary sensuous existence, he wants to come face to face with them. If there is a soul in him which is not matter, if there is an all-merciful universal Soul, he will go to Him direct. He must see Him, and that alone can destroy all doubts. So the best proof a Hindu sage gives about the soul, about God, is: “I have seen the soul; I have seen God.” And that is the only condition of perfection. The Hindu religion does not consist in struggles and attempts to believe a certain doctrine or dogma, but in realising — not in believing, but in being and becoming.

(1) Hindu religion does not believe in some doctrine or dogma. Hinduism is basically mindfulness.
(2) Self is part of the bondage. Therefore, self cannot get rid of bondage.
(3) One ought to just keep on addressing inconsistencies one after another with no attention to bondage. The bondage will fall off by itself.
(4) Any additives or impurities, such as, presumptions, prejudice, suppression, lies, crookedness, etc., are part of inconsistencies.
(5) As mindfulness help us to wrap up incomplete cycles, the law of Karma, or causation,  appears no longer to be binding, 
(6) The Universal Soul and God are core of this non-judgmental mindfulness. This is the condition of perfection.
(7) There is no belief required. There is only mindfulness and realization.

Thus the whole object of their system is by constant struggle to become perfect, to become divine, to reach God and see God, and this reaching God, seeing God, becoming perfect even as the Father in Heaven is perfect, constitutes the religion of the Hindus.

And what becomes of a man when he attains perfection? He lives a life of bliss infinite. He enjoys infinite and perfect bliss, having obtained the only thing in which man ought to have pleasure, namely God, and enjoys the bliss with God.

So the Hindu is struggling to drop all filters, so he can see things the way they really are. And what happens when this is accomplished? One can really see why situations come about, the stress disappears, and one really starts to handle one’s life successfully. This may be called enjoying bliss with God.

So far all the Hindus are agreed. This is the common religion of all the sects of India; but, then, perfection is absolute, and the absolute cannot be two or three. It cannot have any qualities. It cannot be an individual. And so when a soul becomes perfect and absolute, it must become one with Brahman, and it would only realise the Lord as the perfection, the reality, of its own nature and existence, the existence absolute, knowledge absolute, and bliss absolute. We have often and often read this called the losing of individuality and becoming a stock or a stone.

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”

I tell you it is nothing of the kind. If it is happiness to enjoy the consciousness of this small body, it must be greater happiness to enjoy the consciousness of two bodies, the measure of happiness increasing with the consciousness of an increasing number of bodies, the aim, the ultimate of happiness being reached when it would become a universal consciousness.

Perfection transcends self. It has to be the same all over. It cannot have boundary of separation defining it as some quality or individuality. Attaining perfection would then mean losing individuality or self.
Is losing individuality the same as becoming one with matter as thought by those who worship individuality? No, it is nothing of the kind. Individual happiness is to enjoy the consciousness of a small body. Perfection is to enjoy the universal consciousness.

Therefore, to gain this infinite universal individuality, this miserable little prison-individuality must go. Then alone can death cease when I am alone with life, then alone can misery cease when I am one with happiness itself, then alone can all errors cease when I am one with knowledge itself; and this is the necessary scientific conclusion. Science has proved to me that physical individuality is a delusion, that really my body is one little continuously changing body in an unbroken ocean of matter; and Advaita (unity) is the necessary conclusion with my other counterpart, soul.

The universal consciousness is the “non-judgmental mindfulness” toward everything. This leaves the little individuality-ego far behind. One is then life itself. The body is then the continuously changing form of the universe.

Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further progress, because it would reach the goal. Thus Chemistry could not progress farther when it would discover one element out of which all other could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all others are but manifestations, and the science of religion become perfect when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world. One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestations. Thus is it, through multiplicity and duality, that the ultimate unity is reached. Religion can go no farther. This is the goal of all science.

The effort has always been to find the most fundamental factor in any subject. It is the non-judgmental mindfulness that helps us discover it.

All science is bound to come to this conclusion in the long run. Manifestation, and not creation, is the word of science today, and the Hindu is only glad that what he has been cherishing in his bosom for ages is going to be taught in more forcible language, and with further light from the latest conclusions of science.

Manifestation is more fundamental to creation.

Descend we now from the aspirations of philosophy to the religion of the ignorant. At the very outset, I may tell you that there is no polytheism in India. In every temple, if one stands by and listens, one will find the worshippers applying all the attributes of God, including omnipresence, to the images. It is not polytheism, nor would the name henotheism explain the situation. “The rose called by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are not explanations.

Using innumerable images to describe the various attributes of God is mistakenly called polytheism.

I remember, as a boy, hearing a Christian missionary preach to a crowd in India. Among other sweet things he was telling them was that if he gave a blow to their idol with his stick, what could it do? One of his hearers sharply answered, “If I abuse your God, what can He do?” “You would be punished,” said the preacher, “when you die.” “So my idol will punish you when you die,” retorted the Hindu.

All these attributes are ways to conceive of God.

The tree is known by its fruits. When I have seen amongst them that are called idolaters, men, the like of whom in morality and spirituality and love I have never seen anywhere, I stop and ask myself, “Can sin beget holiness?”

We condemn others at our own peril, when we do not look closely enough.

Superstition is a great enemy of man, but bigotry is worse. Why does a Christian go to church? Why is the cross holy? Why is the face turned toward the sky in prayer? Why are there so many images in the Catholic Church? Why are there so many images in the minds of Protestants when they pray? My brethren, we can no more think about anything without a mental image than we can live without breathing. By the law of association, the material image calls up the mental idea and vice versa. This is why the Hindu uses an external symbol when he worships. He will tell you, it helps to keep his mind fixed on the Being to whom he prays. He knows as well as you do that the image is not God, is not omnipresent. After all, how much does omnipresence mean to almost the whole world? It stands merely as a word, a symbol. Has God superficial area? If not, when we repeat that word “omnipresent”, we think of the extended sky or of space, that is all.

Superstition and bigotry are filters that some people look through. But when symbols, imagery and idols are used to represent abstract concepts with understanding, then it is usual and no filters are involved.

As we find that somehow or other, by the laws of our mental constitution, we have to associate our ideas of infinity with the image of the blue sky, or of the sea, so we naturally connect our idea of holiness with the image of a church, a mosque, or a cross. The Hindus have associated the idea of holiness, purity, truth, omnipresence, and such other ideas with different images and forms. But with this difference that while some people devote their whole lives to their idol of a church and never rise higher, because with them religion means an intellectual assent to certain doctrines and doing good to their fellows, the whole religion of the Hindu is centred in realisation. Man is to become divine by realising the divine. Idols or temples or churches or books are only the supports, the helps, of his spiritual childhood: but on and on he must progress.

Hinduism and Buddhism are centered on non-judgmental mindfulness and realization. They are not a mere intellectual assent to certain doctrines and doing good to one’s brethren.

He must not stop anywhere. “External worship, material worship,” say the scriptures, “is the lowest stage; struggling to rise high, mental prayer is the next stage, but the highest stage is when the Lord has been realised.” Mark, the same earnest man who is kneeling before the idol tells you, “Him the Sun cannot express, nor the moon, nor the stars, the lightning cannot express Him, nor what we speak of as fire; through Him they shine.” But he does not abuse any one’s idol or call its worship sin. He recognises in it a necessary stage of life. “The child is father of the man.” Would it be right for an old man to say that childhood is a sin or youth a sin?

Worship is adoration and acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us. People pay honor and homage according to their understanding. Many worship nature, external symbols and idols, others turn inwards praying mentally to various visions, and some keep looking industriously until they understand the ultimate reality. A mode of worship should not be despised because one favors another mode. Different modes are necessary to different stages of development.

If a man can realise his divine nature with the help of an image, would it be right to call that a sin? Nor even when he has passed that stage, should he call it an error. To the Hindu, man is not travelling from error to truth, but from truth to truth, from lower to higher truth. To him all the religions, from the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism, mean so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realise the Infinite, each determined by the conditions of its birth and association, and each of these marks a stage of progress; and every soul is a young eagle soaring higher and higher, gathering more and more strength, till it reaches the Glorious Sun.

The goal is to realize that, which lies beyond us. One travels toward that goal from lesser understanding to greater understanding. These are so many attempts to grasp and realize the Infinite. Each of these marks a stage of progress. None of these should be looked upon as an error. One travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth.

Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and the Hindu has recognised it. Every other religion lays down certain fixed dogmas, and tries to force society to adopt them. It places before society only one coat which must fit Jack and John and Henry, all alike. If it does not fit John or Henry, he must go without a coat to cover his body. The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be realised, or thought of, or stated, through the relative, and the images, crosses, and crescents are simply so many symbols — so many pegs to hang the spiritual ideas on. It is not that this help is necessary for every one, but those that do not need it have no right to say that it is wrong. Nor is it compulsory in Hinduism.

Thought should not be strait-jacketed with doctrine and dogmas. It is ok to have different religions but religion should not be forced on people. It is not that this help is necessary for every one, but those that do not need it have no right to say that it is wrong. There should be no compulsion in religion.

One thing I must tell you. Idolatry in India does not mean anything horrible. It is not the mother of harlots. On the other hand, it is the attempt of undeveloped minds to grasp high spiritual truths. The Hindus have their faults, they sometimes have their exceptions; but mark this, they are always for punishing their own bodies, and never for cutting the throats of their neighbours. If the Hindu fanatic burns himself on the pyre, he never lights the fire of Inquisition. And even this cannot be laid at the door of his religion any more than the burning of witches can be laid at the door of Christianity.

Idolatry is the attempt of undeveloped minds to grasp high spiritual truths. There is nothing horrible about that. Horrible is to light the fire of inquisition, or to cut the throat of neighbors because they believe differently.

To the Hindu, then, the whole world of religions is only a travelling, a coming up, of different men and women, through various conditions and circumstances, to the same goal. Every religion is only evolving a God out of the material man, and the same God is the inspirer of all of them. Why, then, are there so many contradictions? They are only apparent, says the Hindu. The contradictions come from the same truth adapting itself to the varying circumstances of different natures.

Every religion is only evolving a God out of the material man, and the same God is the inspirer of all of them. The contradictions come from the same truth adapting itself to the varying circumstances of different natures.

It is the same light coming through glasses of different colours. And these little variations are necessary for purposes of adaptation. But in the heart of everything the same truth reigns. The Lord has declared to the Hindu in His incarnation as Krishna, “I am in every religion as the thread through a string of pearls. Wherever thou seest extraordinary holiness and extraordinary power raising and purifying humanity, know thou that I am there.” And what has been the result? I challenge the world to find, throughout the whole system of Sanskrit philosophy, any such expression as that the Hindu alone will be saved and not others. Says Vyasa, “We find perfect men even beyond the pale of our caste and creed.” One thing more. How, then, can the Hindu, whose whole fabric of thought centres in God, believe in Buddhism which is agnostic, or in Jainism which is atheistic?

The Buddhists or the Jains do not depend upon God; but the whole force of their religion is directed to the great central truth in every religion, to evolve a God out of man. They have not seen the Father, but they have seen the Son. And he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also.

This, brethren, is a short sketch of the religious ideas of the Hindus. The Hindu may have failed to carry out all his plans, but if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development; which in its catholicity will embrace in its infinite arms, and find a place for, every human being, from the lowest grovelling savage not far removed from the brute, to the highest man towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity, making society stand in awe of him and doubt his human nature. It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be created in aiding humanity to realise its own true, divine nature.

Offer such a religion, and all the nations will follow you. Asoka’s council was a council of the Buddhist faith. Akbar’s, though more to the purpose, was only a parlour-meeting. It was reserved for America to proclaim to all quarters of the globe that the Lord is in every religion.

May He who is the Brahman of the Hindus, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians, the Buddha of the Buddhists, the Jehovah of the Jews, the Father in Heaven of the Christians, give strength to you to carry out your noble idea! The star arose in the East; it travelled steadily towards the West, sometimes dimmed and sometimes effulgent, till it made a circuit of the world; and now it is again rising on the very horizon of the East, the borders of the Sanpo, a thousandfold more effulgent than it ever was before.

Hail, Columbia, motherland of liberty! It has been given to thee, who never dipped her hand in her neighbour’s blood, who never found out that the shortest way of becoming rich was by robbing one’s neighbours, it has been given to thee to march at the vanguard of civilisation with the flag of harmony.


Is there an absolute Will?

My friend Geir Isene has written this article ‘On Will.’

According to this article the idea of will essentially depends on the idea of choice. But what is not clear is who or what is this thing called ‘I’, which makes the choice. The whole logic of this article depends on the underlying assumption that there is a spiritual element called ‘I’, which is absolute, permanent and independent in itself.

That is an assumption, which I do not see challenged in the western philosophy. But I do see it challenged in the Eastern philosophy. If there is no absolute, permanent and independent ‘I’ then there is no absolute, permanent and independent power to make choice; and there is no absolute, permanent and independent will – even potentially.

According to Buddhist philosophy, what we call a ‘being’ or an ‘individual’, or ‘I’ is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces or energies. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. They are not the same for two consecutive moments. Here A is not equal to A. They are in a flux of momentary arising and disappearing.

One thing disappears, conditioning the appearance of the next in a series of cause and effect. There is no unchanging substance in them. There is nothing behind them that can be called a permanent Self, individuality, or anything that can in reality be called ‘I’. But when these physical and mental aggregates which are interdependent are working together in combination as a physio-psychological machine, we get the idea of ‘I’. But this is only a false idea of self. There is no other ‘being’ or ‘I’, standing behind these aggregates.

There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker. If you move the thought, there is no thinker to be found. Here we cannot fail to notice how this Buddhist view is diametrically opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum: ‘I think, therefore I am.’

Everything in the physical universe is relative to each other. According to Buddhism, this is the case with everything in the spiritual universe as well. There is nothing absolute… not even the soul.

The Absolute Truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent, and that there is no unchanging, everlasting, absolute substance like Self, Soul, or Ātman within or without. – Buddha


The Eight-Fold Path to Nirvana

Reference: The Fourth Noble Truth: Magga

The path to Nirvana is neither through the pleasures of the senses, nor through self-mortification in different forms of asceticism. The path to Nirvana is through the following actions.

(A) Wisdom

1.  Right Understanding (seeing a thing in its true nature, without name and label)

(a) The nature of life is Dukkha

(b) The origin of Dukkha is ‘thirst’ (desire)

(c) Nirvana (the Absolute Truth) is the cessation of Dukkha

(d) The path to Nirvana

 2.  Right Thought (extended to all beings)

(a) Thoughts of selfless renunciation or detachment

(b) Thoughts of love

(c) Thoughts of non-violence


(B) Ethical Conduct

 3.  Right Speech

(a) Abstain from telling lies

(b) Abstain from backbiting and slander and talk that may bring about hatred, enmity, disunity, and disharmony among individuals or groups of people.

(c) Abstain from harsh, rude, impolite, malicious and abusive language.

(d) Abstain from idle, useless and foolish babble and gossip.

(e) Do not speak carelessly: speech should be at the right time and place.

(f) If one cannot say something useful, one should keep ‘noble silence’.

 4.  Right Action

(a) Abstain from destroying life, from stealing, from dishonest dealings, and from illegitimate sexual intercourse.

(b) Always aim at promoting moral, honorable and peaceful product.

(c) Help others to lead a peaceful and honorable life in the right way.

 5.  Right Livelihood

(a) Abstain from making living through a profession that brings harm to others, such as

  • Trading in arms and lethal weapons,
  • Intoxicating drinks,
  • Poisons,
  • Killing animals,
  • Cheating, etc.

(b) Live by a profession which is honorable, blameless and innocent of harm to others.


(C) Mental Discipline

 6.  Right Effort (energetic will)

(a) To prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising

(b) To get rid of such evil and unwholesome states that have already arisen within a man

(c) To produce, to cause to arise, good and wholesome states of mind not yet arisen

(d) To develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present in a man.

 7.  Right Mindfulness (to be diligently aware, mindful and attentive with regard to)

(a) The activities of the body.

  • Be clearly aware of breathing
  • Whether it is deep or shallow
  • Of how it appears and disappears within the body

 (b) Sensations or feelings.

  • Be clearly aware of all forms of feelings and sensations
  • Whether pleasant, unpleasant and neutral
  • Of how they appear and disappear within oneself

 (c) The activities of the mind

  • Whether one’s mind is lustful or not, given to hatred or not, deluded or not, distracted or concentrated, etc.
  • All movements of mind, how they arise and disappear.

 (d) Ideas, thoughts, conceptions and things

  • One should know their nature
  • How they appear and disappear
  •  How they are developed
  •  How they are suppressed, and destroyed, and so on

8.  Right Concentration

(a) First Stage

  • Passionate desires and certain unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill-will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded
  • Feelings of joy and happiness are maintained, along with certain mental activities.

(b) Second Stage

  • All intellectual activities are suppressed
  • Tranquility and ‘one-pointedness’ of mind is developed
  • The feelings of joy and happiness are still retained.

(c) Third Stage

  • The feeling of joy, which is an active sensation, also disappears
  • The disposition of happiness still remains
  • Mindful equanimity remains

(d) Fourth Stage

  • All sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness, of joy and sorrow, disappear
  • Only pure equanimity and awareness remains

This path needs to be explained in different ways in different words to different people, according to the stage of their development and their capacity to understand and follow it. These eight categories or divisions of the Path are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual.


The Second Noble Truth – The Arising of Dukkha

Reference: Chapter 3, The Second Noble Truth: The Arising of Dukkha

At the core of dukkha is the idea of impermanence. It is the attachment to things that are inherently impermanent, which causes all suffering. When we look at things as they really are we come to realize the impermanent nature of things, and the futility of holding on to them. This awareness helps us replace fear and anxiety with peace and contentment.

Underlying dukkha there is a thirst, which is bound with passionate greed; and which finds fresh delight now here and now there in sense-pleasures and in becoming this or that. But there is no first cause of dukkha. Even the thirst depends on sensation, which, in turn, depends on the contact of internal faculties with the external objects, and so on and so forth on the circle which is known as Conditioned Genesis. However, this ‘thirst’ has at its center the false idea of ‘self’ arising out of ignorance.

This ‘thirst’ is not only for sense-pleasures, wealth and power, but also for idea and ideals, views, opinions, theories, conceptions and beliefs. It is this thirst that keeps the existence there. Here we have the will to live, to re-exist, to continue, to become more and more. Here we have ‘mental volition’ or karma.

It is this striving forward by the way of good and bad actions that creates the root of existence and continuity. This is called karma (volitional action) that hankers after, and brings about that, which tends to be impermanent. Karma is part of the aggregate of mental formations (see The Structure of “I”). Thus, the cause, the germ, of the arising of dukkha (the five aggregates) is within dukkha itself, and not outside; and we must equally well remember that the cause, the germ, of the cessation of dukkha, of the destruction of dukkha, is also within dukkha itself, and not outside. It is karma, no matter how good or bad it is, that produces continuity. None of what continues is permanent.

‘Self’ that continues is also not permanent. It is the false idea that self is permanent, which contributes heavily to karma.

The theory of karma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law, which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward and punishment. Every volitional action produces its effects or results. If a good action produces good effects and a bad action produces bad effects, it is not justice, or reward, or punishment meted out by anybody or any power sitting in judgment on your action, but this is in virtue of its own nature, its own law.

It is important to understand that the effect of a volitional action may continue to manifest itself even in a life after death.  As explained in The Structure of “I”, it is a combination of physical and mental forces, or energies, that expresses itself as a being. The being manifests itself through a physical body. What we call death is the total non-functioning of the physical body. The physical and mental forces are still there even after body’s death; they are simply not being manifested. Underlying these forces and energies is this tremendous thirst that wants to continue. This thirst may then manifest itself through another body that is born.

Life is a combination of physical and mental energies, which is constantly changing. This combination does not remain the same for two consecutive moments. Every moment a combination is born, it decays and dies. It continues even after the body is no longer alive. The idea of a permanent, unchanging substance like Self or Soul is not required.

From “What Buddha taught”:

“When this physical body is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life. In a child all the physical, mental and intellectual faculties are tender and weak, but they have within them the potentiality of producing a full grown man.  Physical and mental energies which constitute the so-called being have within themselves the power to take a new form, and grow gradually and gather force to the full.

“As there is no permanent, unchanging substance, nothing passes from one moment to the next. So quite obviously, nothing permanent or unchanging can pass or transmigrate from one life to the next. It is a series that continues unbroken, but changes every moment. The series is, really speaking, nothing but movement. It is like a flame that burns through the night: it is not the same flame nor it is another. A child grows up to be a man of sixty. Certainly the man of sixty is not the same as the child of sixty years ago, nor is he another person. Similarly, a person who dies here and is reborn elsewhere is neither the same person, nor another (na ca so na ca aňňo). It is the continuity of the same series. The difference between death and birth is only a thought-moment: the last thought-moment in this life conditions the first thought-moment in the so-called next life, which, in fact, is the continuity of the same series. During this life itself, too, one thought-moment conditions the next thought-moment. So from the Buddhist point of view, the question of life after death is not a great mystery, and a Buddhist is never worried about this problem.

“As long as there is this ‘thirst’ to be and to become, the cycle of continuity (samsāra) goes on. It can stop only when its driving force, this ‘thirst’, is cut off through wisdom which sees Reality, Truth, Nirvāna.”

Thus, a fundamental inconsistency occurs when one considers oneself to be, ultimately, permanent and unchanging. It takes some understanding before one can come to terms with this inconsistency.