Priviledge and Spirituality
one gets true Knowledge, it is all faith, and all faith is
‘blind’. Without this blind faith, however, man does not strive
to acquire true faith, or knowledge, as it is usually called.
True Knowledge - that of the oneness of all existence - has
no room for privilege, and, conversely, where there is a seeking
for privilege, true Knowledge has not arisen there. Spirituality
concerns itself with spiritual disciplines based on faith
in the scriptures and the utterances of realized souls. Such
faith may be called active faith as it activates one to practice,
and this active faith leads to ultimate Knowledge.
Vivekananda started discussing the practical aspects of Vedanta
after having nearly ‘finished the metaphysical portion of
the Advaita.’ (1) He summarized the teaching of Advaita Vedanta
in a few sentences when he proclaimed:
we see around us, and the whole universe, in fact, is the
evolution of that one Absolute. This is called, in Sanskrit,
Brahman. The Absolute has become changed into the whole
of nature. But here comes a difficulty. How is it possible
for the Absolute to change? … Change of the unchangeable
would be a contradiction. …
theory of Vedanta] is that this universe, as we know and
think it, does not exist, that the unchangeable has not
changed, that the whole of this universe is mere appearance
and not reality, that this idea of parts, and little beings,
and differentiations is only apparent, not the nature of
the thing itself. (1.417-8)
(later Swami Vivekananda) had the fortune of converting this
conclusion of Advaita Vedanta into Knowledge at the holy feet
of Sri Ramakrishna, and later he spread this Truth while addressing
the East and the West. If we fail to take this into consideration,
we may neither understand the true import of his teachings
on ‘Practical Vedanta’ nor the meaning of faith, privilege
we find it difficult to proceed to discuss Swamiji’s ideas
on faith, privilege or spirituality as we have no actual knowledge
of the said Advaita teaching. We can only talk in terms of
conjecture and hypothesis. With the exception of a few realized
souls, probably this shortcoming applies to the vast majority
of persons attempting to write or elaborate on the teachings
of Swamiji. By necessity, therefore, the force of explanation
becomes weak and does not appeal to the readers with the conviction
the writer desires to transmit. The dilemma can be overcome
to some extent by deliberately cultivating faith in
his teachings and sayings first.
people’s experience is just a belief or faith for the beginner.
The father tells his son that the mango is sweet; and the
child eats it to confirm its sweetness. The child gets joy
after it. Copernicus came to the conclusion that the Earth
moves round the Sun, and not the other way round. A few people
believed in him in the beginning. The truth of his proposition
became evident later. Faith is the starting point of a novice
to attempt to know the truth himself. But faith is not static
laziness; it is dynamic activity. It stimulates the person
to act to reach the goal. In this process faith evolves and
appears as changing, but this change is the sign of its vitality.
Let us not forget that the concepts of physics evolved from
Newtonian Laws to the Quantum Theory.
scientific approach is lost,’ shout intellectuals when we
speak of faith. Supplementing science with the ingredient
of faith is not yet acceptable to most moderns. They fail
to understand that their science and methods of experiments
are also based on and start with the firm belief in the findings
and observations of their predecessors and nothing else. This
faith itself they call and take for granted as knowledge.
comes the role of the basic teaching of Vedanta: Unless and
until an individual has actually experienced the truth
of Vedantic statements, it cannot be called knowledge. Otherwise,
at best, it is a firm belief or faith as we call it. When
the truth embodied in that belief is realized in one’s own
life, it becomes knowledge.
Goads One to Action
defines shraddha as ‘strong faith in God and the consequent
eagerness to reach Him’. (1.407) Sri Ramakrishna gives a wonderful
example to define faith: ‘Suppose there is a thief in this
room, and he gets to know that there is a mass of gold in
the next room; what will be the condition of that thief?’
… [The answer is,] ‘He will not be able to sleep at all; his
brain will be actively thinking of some means of getting at
the gold, and he will think of nothing else’ (1.407)
things are to be noted here: 1. that the person is a thief;
2. he has not seen the gold, but believes because a person
has told him so; 3. he is restless to get it; he will be happy
and quiet after he gets it with efforts.
may substitute ‘thief’ with ‘lawyer’, ‘doctor’, ‘engineer’,
‘worker’ or ‘businessman’, and consequently, ‘gold’, as an
object of desire, with ‘name and fame’, ‘profit making’, ‘winning
or treating a case’ and so on. The strong desire to get the
desired outcome will remain; and the person will be happy
when he obtains it. The emphasis is on the belief and the
strong desire, which is what faith means.
all such worldly pleasures are temporary. They tickle one’s
senses and the mind; and the happiness, therefore, is shortlived.
First, this is because, instead of being reposed, the mind
becomes greedier. Therefore, the means employed to fulfil
the rising expectations are distorted and unethical. Second,
Vedanta says this is what can be expected from the pursuit
of sense pleasures, because sense objects can give only limited
pleasure. And people seek pleasure in the senses since they
are not aware of an alternative offering them higher happiness.
The karma-kanda of the Vedas is to be studied in this
respect: it tries to lead a person of worldly concern gradually
from a lower faith to a higher faith, from selfishness to
this connection, we recollect Sri Ramakrishna’s simple but
very meaningful parable of the woodcutter:
forward. A woodcutter once entered a forest to gather wood.
A brahmachari said to him, ‘Go forward.’ He obeyed the injunction
and discovered some sandalwood trees. After a few days he
reflected, ‘The holy man asked me to go forward. He didn’t
tell me to stop here.’ So he went forward and found a silver-mine.
After a few days he went still farther and discovered a
gold-mine, and next, mines of diamonds and precious stones.
With these he became immensely rich. (2)
‘going forward’ came to the mind of the woodcutter on reflecting
upon the words of a wise man. The woodcutter had faith
in the advice of the brahmacharin, who he believed
had knowledge of the treasures ahead! A question may arise
in those of us whose mind is engrossed in ‘gold’: ‘Why, then,
didn’t the brahmacharin himself seek the treasure?’ Vedanta
answers, that is because the brahmacharin had found a treasure
of higher value: God, the ultimate Treasure. If we stretch
the parable further, the woodcutter would perhaps become a
sannyasin after enjoying the fruits of his acquired riches
and attain peace after going still further!
it is said that the same power which is manifesting in the
flower is welling up in my own consciousness, it is the
very same idea which the Vedantist wants to preach, that
the reality of the external world and the reality of the
internal world are one and the same. … The theory of the
Vedanta, therefore, comes to this, that you and I and everything
in the universe are that Absolute, not parts, but the whole.
You are the whole of that Absolute, and so are all others,
because the idea of part cannot come into it. These divisions,
these limitations, are only apparent, not in the thing itself.
to our faith and the distance we have ‘gone forward’, we will
understand the above passage, each in his own way. For a few,
all this will appear as a dream or useless talk; for some,
there may be points in the passage to ponder over; and for
still others, it may suggest the diamond mine to be
acquired by going forward. For the majority, however,
at their present stage of evolution, faith is fixed at the
pursuit of their vocation and earning money, name and fame,
and so on. And one’s faith dictates one’s actions. This leads
us to the following corollary: one’s faith can be easily judged
by observing the actions one is engaged in. I may be talking
and writing about lofty ideas in an article, but if my actions
are not in conformity with what I say or write, one can easily
infer that my faith is just in writing the article and not
beyond. I am still cutting the ‘sandalwood’ instead of trying
to gather the riches from the ‘mines of treasures’!
to Change Oneself
one goes ahead in this field of philosophy of Advaita Vedanta,
one sees the same God in every person. The idea of privilege
gradually starts leaving him. He begins to understand that
this philosophy is purely subjective. If he is pure, if he
changes for the better, his vision changes and the world begins
to appear different to him. As the subject grows in spirituality
- love, beauty, goodness and holiness - to him the object
of his observation, this world, undergoes change. He develops
the sameness of vision (samatva) described in the Bhagavadgita.
many others the world still remains divided into many parts,
full of misery and joy, good and bad - in short, a mixture
of dualities. Let it be. One’s concern is to go ahead oneself
without blaming anybody of lethargy or weakness or ignorance.
If someone sees others weak, as sinners, ignorant or selfish,
we can be sure that he himself is not able to discard these
traits from his mind. At best, he can offer others a helping
hand to pull them down to his own level! It will not be out
of place here to quote Holy Mother’s eternally relevant advice
to this world: ‘But one thing I tell you - if you want peace,
my daughter, don’t find fault with others, but find fault
rather with yourself. Learn to make the world your own. Nobody
is a stranger, my dear; the world is yours.’ (4)
evolves just as our ideas about matter do. With this evolution
in faith, our knowledge of the relative world also changes.
As we grow spiritually - and we are discussing the spirituality
of Advaita Vedanta - our faith in separateness also vanishes,
only to be replaced with a newer and higher faith in universal
brotherhood. We grow from selfishness to selflessness. Our
love grows from being limited to ourselves and the family,
and extends to our neighbours and society at large. The restrictive
egotism begins to lose its grip over our mind, and we start
feeling more free. We start breathing in a vaster area of
the world with peace and bliss.
Leads to Knowledge
faith in something gradually brings knowledge about it. A
football player having faith in playing football gains name
and fame, money, physical fitness and so on and starts playing
the game with more and more concentration, determination and
perseverance. While doing so he acquires the knowledge about
the ideal air pressure in the ball, size of the ground, rules
of the game, nuances and subtleties of play, the playing techniques
of other great players of the past and present, and so on.
He also realizes his capabilities and limitations. He tries
to attain perfection according to his capacity. Afterwards,
just the idea of enjoying the game remains in his heart. He
takes pleasure in undertaking every activity related to the
game. He has done sadhana in that field and achieved the goal,
so to say!
Is Privilege Effaced from the Mind?
idea of privilege is, therefore, related to the object of
our faith. If we have faith in sense enjoyments, we will seek
more and more privilege based on wealth, education and secular
knowledge. Similarly, a society engaged in sense pleasures
will demand more privileges based on caste superiority and
the monetary power of a few. The same thing will apply to
the rich and technologically advanced nations who try to dominate
the less privileged nations. A stage will come in everybody’s
life when the evolution of faith reaches the highest level
where concepts like ‘service of man as worship of God’ and
‘the giver is more blessed than the receiver’ are realized
in his life. Then the idea of privilege is totally effaced
from his mind forever.
only hope lies in our faith in the correctness of Vedanta
philosophy: True knowledge and spirituality do not come from
outside, but are inherent in each and every one of us irrespective
of nationality, caste or sex. Fortunately, in India there
have been many spiritual scientists from time immemorial.
They have given us the Upanishads and other scriptures to
strengthen and stabilize our shaking faith. We are fortunate
to be living in a period of history not far from when the
principles of Advaita Vedanta were personified in the lives
of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swamiji, and their disciples.
These facts should make us bolder and more courageous to drive
away all lingering doubts from our mind and allow shraddha
to enter our heart.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.417.
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 109.
Sri Sarada Devi: The Great Wonder (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1994), 409.