Reading 1 - Practical Vendanta

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Vivekananda in Practical Vedanta

All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark. Know that there is no darkness around us. Take the hands away and there is the light which was from the beginning. Darkness never existed, weakness never existed. We who are fools cry that we are weak; we who are fools cry that we are impure. Thus Vedanta not only  insists that the ideal is practical, but that it has been so all the time; and this Ideal, this Reality, is our own nature. Everything else that you see is false, untrue. As soon as you say, "I am a little mortal being," you are saying something which is not true, you are giving the lie to yourselves, you are hypnotizing yourselves into something vile and weak and wretched.

The Boston Evening Transcript, September 30, 1893

“Hindus at the Fair”

The most striking figure one meets in this anteroom [at the World’s Fair Parliament of Religions] is Swami Vivekananda, the Brahmin monk. He is a large, well-built man, with the superb carriage of the Hindustanis, his face clean-shaven, squarely molded regular features, white teeth, and with well-chiseled lips that are usually parted in a benevolent smile while he is conversing. His finely poised head is crowned with either a lemon-colored or a red turban, and his cassock (not the technical name for this garment), belted in at the waist and falling below the knees, alternates in a bright orange and rich crimson. He speaks excellent English and replied readily to any questions asked in sincerity.

Along with his simplicity of manner there is a touch of personal reserve when speaking to ladies, which suggests his chosen vocation. When questioned about the laws of his order, he has said, “I can do as I please, I am independent. Sometimes I live in the Himalaya Mountains, and sometimes in the streets of cities. I never know where I will get my next meal; I never keep money with me; I come here by subscription.” Then looking round at one or two of his fellow-countrymen who chanced to be standing near he added, “They will take care of me,” giving the inference that his board bill in Chicago is attended to by others. When asked if he was wearing his usual monk’s costume, he said, “This is a good dress; when I am home I am in rags, and I go barefooted. Do I believe in caste? Caste is a social custom; religion has nothing to do with it; all castes will associate with me.”

It is quite apparent, however, from the deportment, the general appearance of Mr. Vivekananda that he was born among high castes – years of voluntary poverty and homeless wanderings have not robbed him of his birth­right of gentleman; even his family name is unknown; he took that of Vivekananda in embracing a religious career, and “Swami” is merely the title of reverend accorded to him. He cannot be far along in the thirties, and looks as if made for this life and its fruition, as well as for meditation on the life beyond. One cannot help wondering what could have been the turning point with him.

“Why should I marry,” was his abrupt response to a comment on all he had renounced in becoming a monk, “when I see in every woman only the divine mother? Why do I make all these sacrifices? To emancipate myself from earthly ties and attachments so that there will be no re-birth for me. When I die I want to become at once absorbed in the divine, one with God. I would be a Buddha.”

Vivekananda does not mean by this that he is a Buddhist. No name or sect can label him. He is an outcome of the higher Brahminism, a product of the Hindu spirit, which is vast, dreamy, self-extinguishing, a Sanyasi or holy man....

 Vivekananda’s address before the Parliament was broad as the heavens above us, embracing the best in all religions, as the ultimate universal religion – charity to all mankind, good works for the love of God, not for fear of punishment or hope of reward. He is a great favorite at the Parliament, from the grandeur of his sentiments and his appearance as well. If he merely crosses the platform he is applauded, and this marked approval of thousands he accepts in a childlike spirit of gratification, without a trace of conceit....

At the Parliament of Religions they used to keep Vivekananda until the end of the program to make people stay till the end of the session.... The four thousand fanning people in the Hall of Columbus would sit smiling and expectant, waiting for an hour or two to listen to Vivekananda for fifteen minutes. The chairman knew the old rule of keeping the best until the last.