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Practical Vedanta

In the winter of 1896 Swami Vivekananda delivered a series of four lectures in London on "practical vedanta". Here he met Margaret Noble who later became his ardent follower and disciple. She came to India as Sister Nivedita to start educational schools and colleges for women. It would be worthwhile to see in very brief what Swami Vivekananda meant by practical vedanta. Here is an attempt to present the summary of the same.

The basic contribution of seers or rishis of India is their discovery of 'divinity of each soul'. Everything that one perceives is none other than Reality appearing distorted because of our distorted perception of ourselves. Because we feel we are "body-mind" compendiums we perceive the world as multifarious, some forms appearing favourable to us while other antagonistic to our being.

However, as one becomes aware of his divine consciousness his perception of the world undergoes qualitative change. Then the fear and alienation make way for love and unity. To attempt to realize and manifest our divine nature, to make efforts to see unity in diversity, to convert indifference and hatred into love for all beings is in essence practical vedanta. This is whole of religion.

Certain procedures and methodology help us in this arduous process of self-realization. A blessing of the Teacher who has already attained such a state helps develop confidence and quickens our journey. He gives us a mantra and shows us our ideal. One should initially follow these preliminaries with faith and devotion. Such a path is known as path of devotion or Bhakti Yoga. Or else, the person may engage himself into unselfish activities for the welfare of all beings. One can work for alleviation of suffering of the masses, or attempt to reestablish the disturbed ecological balance, etc. Such selfless actions lead to attenuation of the ego and become Karma Yoga for the aspirant.

To bring out the best from these two disciplines, one should undertake practice of discrimination between real and unreal, and renouncing the unreal or transitory. This is Jnana Yoga. And lastly, to control the wavering mind that tries to escape from these stabilizing paths by conjuring up false arguments against spiritual practices one should undertake Japa, meditation, and Yoga. This is Raja Yoga.

Thus practical vedanta is a conscious and deliberate way of life leading to realization of our true nature. There is nothing secret or esoteric in such a way of life. The much 'hue and cry' about irrationality and impracticality of Vedanta is the brainchild of those busy in sense enjoyment alone. These people are engrossed in their world of senses and any attempt to disturb or obstruct their hedonistic pursuit is fraught with despair and attack on the noble paths of seeking higher truths.

Nobility of Athens gave bowl of poison to Socrates and the Church humiliated Copernicus and Galileo. Such persecution would continue, because it is borne out of ignorance. In addition of removing individual ignorance, practical vedanta has one more function: it has to clear the way for desirable social change for the better. It has to struggle to instill that knowledge which tries to etch new lines of selflessness on the brains of humanity. Therefore, spreading the ideas of Vedanta becomes a sadhana in itself. It is not an attack on something sacred; in fact, it tries to shake the foundation of ignorance and selfishness that prevents humanity to manifest its pristine divine glory.

A well-developed personality, as value-based expression of life, is to be found amongst the followers of Vedanta. And as such, practice of vedanta should be considered beneficial to the human race. The strong opposition to its spread should not discourage true Vedantins to abandon their efforts. On the contrary, this persistent clash between the forces of 'light and darkness' would one day break the ice and lead everyone from 'darkness to light, falsehood to truth, and mortality to immortality.'

As Swami Vivekananda says: "I wish that everyone of us had come to such a state that even in the vilest of human beings we could see the Real Self within, and instead of condemning them, say: 'Rise thou effulgent one, rise thou who art always pure, rise thou birthless and deathless, rise almighty and manifest thy true nature. These little manifestations do not befit thee.' This is the highest prayer the Advaita teaches."

Inadequacy of Science

Someone would claim science is there to release us from such bondage. True, but only partly! Science did start with an attempt to establish culture of 'reason and rationality', as opposed to 'superstitions and fraud'. But it only succeeded in part in its endeavor. The technological fall-outs were usurped by the privileged few, who exploited the weak in the name of superiority of their knowledge. Scientific culture has suppressed the genuine cry of millions crushed under the wheel of exploitation of power of rich and privileged.

This has happened to the utter dismay of true protagonists of science. Why? Because they had missed the basic concept of 'divinity of each soul'. For them scientific progress meant progress in values, which proved to be a great myth. When one considers oneself to be a 'body-mind' complex it is but natural that progress would be considered as a means to satisfy sense cravings alone. This results in distorted ego-satisfaction where poor cannot have any other fate than subjugation to the exploits of scientific knowledge of a few.

Vedanta does not oppose reason or rationality. It only sublimates it to its logical conclusion of treating everyone as a part of our own. It renders everything we perceive as divine and therefore, cannot allow exploitation of self by self! This is no imagination. Indeed, when we attain higher consciousness through spiritual disciplines, we actually see or perceive divinity all around. The whole world changes its appearance into beautiful reality with love and worship as its natural and inseparable attributes.
C S Shah