Complete works of Swami Abhedananda

by Swami Prajnanananda | 1967 | 318,120 words

Swami Abhedananda was one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and a spiritual brother of Swami Vivekananda. He deals with the subject of spiritual unfoldment purely from the yogic standpoint. These discourses represent a study of the Social, Religious, Cultural, Educational and Political aspects of India. Swami Abhedananda says t...

Chapter 2 - The Religion of India Today

Few people realize the vastness of India. If we include British Burmah [Burma=Myanmar], it is as large in area as the whole of Europe except Russia, or nearly two-thirds of the United States, with a population almost three and a half times as great. It is a country with a vast conglomeration of nations and languages, far more diverse than in America or in any other country of the world. Among this huge mass of inhabitants we find the followers of every great religion; there are Christians, Mohammedans, Jews, Parsees or Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Hindus. According to the census of 1901 the adherents of the different faiths in India number as follows:

Christians — 2,923,241
Mohammedans  — 62,458,077
Jews — 18,228
Parsees — 94,190
Buddhists (chiefly in Burmah) — 9,476,759
Jains — 1,334,148
Sikhs — 2,195,339
Hindus — 207,147,026[1]

The Jews are scattered in large cities like Bombay, Poona, and Calcutta. The Parsees are to be found in the Bombay Presidency; but in India proper there are very few Buddhists. Besides these, there are about six hundred thousand aboriginal non-Aryans who are ancestor or spirit-worshippers. The majority of the population are known as Hindus and their religion is called Hinduism. The words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’, however, are entirely of foreign origin. In ancient times, when the Persians and Greeks invaded India, they came across a river in the northwest of India which was called in SanskritSindhu’ (the Indus of modern geography), but, in Zend and in Greek, ‘Hindu’. Consequently, those who inhabited the banks of the ‘Sindhu’ or Indus were named by the Greeks and Persians ‘Hindus’ and their land ‘Hindustan’. If we remember this derivation we shall be able to understand why these words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’ do not mean anything to the natives of India, who call themselves, not Hindus, but Aryas or Aryans. The inhabitants of India today are the descendants of the same Aryan family from which the Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Latin races have descended. They came originally from Central Asia,—some say from the North Pole and others from Europe; but we do not know the exact spot where the ancient forefathers of the Aryans lived.

The word ‘Hindu’, therefore, refers to the descendants of the Indo-Aryans who at present inhabit India and call themselves Aryas or Aryans; while their religion is known among themselves as ‘Arya-Dharma’ (the religion of the Aryans), or ‘Sanatana-Dharma’, which means ‘that religion which lasts throughout eternity’, for, according to the Hindus, this religion is eternal. It has always existed, and will continue as long as the world will exist. Some people may think that it is a natural religion; but if we trace the origin of all so-called supernatural religions, we shall find that they were in some way connected with India, the home of all the religious system of the world, and that, when other countries and other nations had no religion at all, the eternal religion of the Hindu not only prevailed, but was fully developed.

Under the name of Hinduism there still exists in India today a system of religion which embraces all the religious thought of the world. It stands like a huge banyan-tree, spreading its far-reaching branches over hundreds of sects, creeds, and denominations, and covering with its innumerable leaves, all forms of worship—the dualistic, qualified non-dualistic, and monistic worship of the one supreme God, the worship of the incarnation of God, and also hero-worship, saint-worship, symbol-worship, ancestor-worship, and the worship of departed spirits. It is based upon the grand idea of universal receptivity. It receives everything. It is like an immense hospitable mansion which welcomes all worshippers, from the lowest to the highest, all believers in the existence of God, and which has never refused admission to any sincere applicant for spiritual freedom. The prevailing religion of India may be compared to a vast mosaic, inlaid with every kind of religious idea and every form of worship which the human mind can possibly conceive. If any one wishes to study the history of the gradual evolution of the worship of the one supreme Being step by step, from its lowest to its highest phase, let him go to India and study the living history of religions. Let him simply watch the lives of the followers of existing sects, for Professor Max Müller says: “No phase of religion, from the coarsest superstition to the most sublime enlightenment, is unrepresented in that country”.

This universal religion, strictly speaking, is neither Hinduism nor Brahminism, although it has been called both, as well as by still other names. But why should we call it Brahminism? The term, which is an invention of the Christian missionaries, has no meaning to the Hindus, because no Brahmin was its founder. This eternal religion, indeed, is nameless and it had no founder. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Mohammedanism had their founders and were built around the personality of these founders; but the religion of the Hindus is not limited by any book, or by the existence or non-existence of any particular person. If we study the words of the earliest-known Rishi, or vedic seer of Truth, even he alludes to others who had seen similar truths before him. It is for this reason that the religion of the Indo-Aryans never had any special creed or dogma or theology as its guide. Everything that harmonized with the eternal laws described by the ancient seers of Truth was recognized and accepted by them as true.

From the very beginning this religion has been as free as the air which we breathe. As air touches all flowers and carries their fragrance along with it wherever it blows, so the Sana-tana religion takes in all that is true and beneficial to mankind. Like the sky overhead, it embraces the spiritual atmosphere around all nations and all countries. It is a well-known fact that this eternal religion of the Hindus surpasses Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism in its antiquity, grandeur, sublimity, and, above all, in its conception of God. The God of the Hindus is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, all-merciful, and impersonally personal. He is not like the extra-cosmic Creator as described in Genesis, but is

immanent and resident in nature. He is more merciful, more impartial, more just, more compassionate, than Jahveh, the tribal god of the sons of Israel. The God of the Aryan religion is more benevolent and more unlimited in power and majesty than the Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrians. You will find monotheism at the foundation of every religious structure, and other nations do not go beyond this; but the Indian people are not satisfied to stop with monotheism; they want something higher.

The religion of the Indo-Aryans of today can be classified under three heads,—dualistic, qualified non-dualistic, and monistic. The first two, that is, the dualistic and qualified non-dualistic phases, have given foundation to the various sects of worshippers who are known as Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas, Ganapatyas, Sauryas; of these, the last two sects have become almost extinct at the present time. The majority of the Hindus, both men and women, are either Vaishnavas, Shaivas, or Shaktas.

The Vaishnavas are those who worship the supreme Being, the all-knowing, all-loving, and omnipotent Lord, Governor, and Protector of the universe, under the name of Vishnu. Vishnu is the name of the second person of the Hindu Trinity, the literal meaning of the word being ‘all-pervading’, ‘omnipresent’. According to the Hindu belief, Vishnu, or the Lord of the universe, is both personal and impersonal. In his impersonal aspect he pervades the universe, interpenetrates the atoms and molecules, and fills the infinite space like the glorious light of the self-effulgent sun. In his personal aspect he dwells in the highest heaven. The personal Lord of the universe also incarnates Himself on this earth in every age to establish the eternal religion and to help mankind. “Whenever true religion declines and irreligion prevails”, says the Lord, “I manifest myself to establish true religion and to destroy evil”.[2]

Some people think that this idea of the incarnation of God was borrowed from the Christians; but it can be proved, on the contrary, that it existed in India centuries before Christ was born. In fact, India is the home of this belief, which was afterwards adopted by other religions. The Hindus maintain that since the beginning of the world God has incarnated many times, and will come again and again. They have recognised many incarnations in the past, and believe that there will be many in the future. On this point they differ from the Christians, who believe that there was only one incarnation, and that that was the first and the last. According to the Hindu faith, God can manifest in any place at any time, because His powers are unlimited. If we limit Him by saying that there has been only one incarnation, then we make Him finite; but as He is Infinite in His powers, in His glory, and in His manifestations, He ought not to be limited by time, space, or nationality. His love for all nations is equal, and whenever and wherever His manifestation is necessary, there He naturally descends. These incarnations are called in Sanskrit Avataras, which means the descent of the supreme Being for the good of humanity.

Rama, the hero of the great epic Ramayana, for instance, is regarded as one of the great incarnations of ancient India. Today, in various parts of the country, especially in the North-Western Provinces and in Central India, there are millions and millions of souls who worship Rama as the Saviour of mankind, who look upon him as the ideal son, the ideal king, the ideal father, and the ideal husband; who repeat his holy name with the deepest feelings of love and devotion; who chant his praises in the morning, at noon, and in the evening; who sing songs describing the exploits of this great Avatara; who everyday read a portion of the Ramayana in Sanskrit or in Hindusthanee, or in any other vernacular; and who in their daily life follow the teachings and the high moral and ethical ideals exemplified in the character of Sri Rama, the embodiment of truth eternal. For the sake of truthfulness, Rama abandoned his throne, went into the forest, and lived there for fourteen long years, practising austerities in order to set an example of perfect truthfulness. His consort Sita, the noblest, purest, and most perfect ideal of womanhood that India has produced, is now the exalted spiritual ideal of every Hindu woman, old or young. Those who have read the Ramayana will remember the unparalled character of Sita, the ideal wife and mother. She was the most wonderful character that the world has ever seen. To show her faithfulness to her lord, she sacrificed everything; she was, indeed, like the personification of loyalty and purity. Hanuman, again, who is erroneously called by the Christian missionaries the monkey god, represents the ideal devotee and the perfect embodiment of faith and devotion; and whenever a worshipper of Rama thinks of these qualities, he holds Hanuman as the ideal before him. Those who worship Rama are known as Ramayet Vaishnavas. They regard Rama and Vishnu as one.

Then there are many millions of Vaishnavas all over India who worship Krishna, the Hindu Christ. Krishna is regarded as the greatest of all Avataras or divine incarnations. He lived about 1400 b.c. His life, which is described in the Mahabharata, the history of ancient India, as also in many Puranas, resembles that of Jesus the Christ, not only in His miraculous birth, but in all the principal events of His earthly career. He was, for example, born in a cave, and at the time of his birth an Indian Herod, Kamsa by name, ordered all infants to be killed. Krishna also resuscitated the dead, brought animals back to life, and performed many other miracles. Those who have read the Bhagavad Gita, or ‘Song Celestial’, as Sir Edwin Arnold calls it, will remember how vast was the divine wisdom of the sin-atoning Krishna, the Redeemer of the world. He is regarded by all Hindus as the Saviour of mankind in the same way as Christ is in Christendom. They worship him, repeat his holy name, and chant his praises at all hours of the day, as a devout Roman Catholic saint would do.

Both Krishna and Rama are manifestations of the same Vishnu, the Lord of the universe. This is a difficult thing for Western minds to grasp, and for that reason they think the Hindus polytheists. But they are not polytheists. They worship one God under different names and forms. Rama was the incarnation of Vishnu, and so was Krishna. In their spiritual essence they are one and the same, but in their manifestations they are different. Both have their statues in all the big temples of India, just as we see the images of Christ and Mary in the Cathedrals of Christendom. The Christian missionaries, however, not understanding the Hindu form of worship, have misrepresented these statues and called them idols. Here, let me assure you that there is no such thing as idol-worship, in your sense of the term, in any part of India, not even among the most illiterate classes. I have seen more idolatry in Italy than in India. The Italian peasants even beat the Bambino when their prayers are not answered, but in India you will not find such spiritual darkness anywhere. There the people worship the Ideal, not the idol. Statues and figures are kept in the temples as reminders of the deeds of the great Saviours. It is the memory, the spirit of Rama and Krishna, which the Hindus worship; but if you ask a Brahmin priest whom he worships, or where is Krishna, he will tell you that Lord Krishna dwells everywhere; he is the Soul of our souls, the Heart of our hearts. He is not confined to any particular form made of wood or stone. Is this idolatry? If so, what kind of idolatry is it? It is very easy for any one to say that it is the worship of a false god, or of an idol; but if a person will look beneath the surface and inquire of the Hindus themselves, he can readily discover how mistaken such assertions are. If the Hindus are idol-worshippers because they show respect to their spiritual Masters like Krishna and Rama, why should not the Christians be called idolaters when they show respect to Christ, kneeling down before his statue or picture? If the Hindu is idolatrous because he fixes his mind on some religious symbol, like the cross or triangle or circle, why should not the same term be applied to the Christian, when he thinks of the crucifix and keeps it on the altar?

Images and symbols are also used in Hindu temples as aids to the practice of concentration and meditation. This is a peculiar mode of worship common among the Hindus. There may be no outward signs of worship. A man will perhaps sit cross-legged on the floor, close his eyes, and remain as motionless as a statue; his devotion will all be internal. He will withdraw his mind from the external world and fix it upon the supreme Being; but the starting-point of his concentration and meditation will be these symbols and figures, because the natural tendency of the mind is to go from the concrete to the abstract and then to the Absolute. So there may be many symbols in the temples; the cross, for instance. The cross was a religious symbol in India long before Christ was born. The swastika [svastika] is the oldest of all forms of the cross, and that we have in India today. Then there is the triangle, which symbolizes the Hindu Trinity; the circle, which represents infinity; and there are many other symbols, all of which are considered extremely helpful to beginners in concentration and meditation.

The Hindus regard Krishna as the ideal incarnation of divine Love. His mission was to establish divine Love on this earth, and show that it can be manifested through all sanctified human relations. What Krishna has done in India, and how he has impressed the minds of the people, we cannot understand here. We must go to India to see that; we must go to Mathura where Krishna was born, or to Vrindavana, where he played as a shepherd-boy, to find how the Vaishnavas revere and worship him. The worship and devotion which we see today in India cannot be found in any other part of the world. 1 have travelled through many countries in Europe and almost all over the United States and Canada, but I have not seen the pathos, the spiritual fire, that I have found among the Vaishnavas in India. God can be worshipped not only as the Master, but also as a friend, as a child, as a husband,—that is what they teach. They bring Him closer and closer, and make Him the closest and nearest to our Being. Time will not permit me to go into the details of the method of worship which these Vaishnavas practise, but I can at least tell you that there are thousands and thousands of Hindu women who look upon Krishna, the Saviour of mankind, as their own child. They do not care for a human child; they want God as their child, and they consider themselves as the mother of Divinity. This is a unique thing. The mother of God! How much purity is required to make a woman think of herself as the mother of Divinity or of divine incarnation! And this is their ideal. I am not exaggerating; I have seen with my eyes such wonderful characters, and I have seen them nowhere else.

These Vaishnavas, or worshippers of Krishna, can be subdivided into different denominations: the followers of Sankaracharya, the great preacher and commentator of monistic Vendanta; the followers of Ramanuja, another great preacher and commentator, who lived in the southern part of India, and whose followers are known as qualified non-dualists; the followers of Madhavacharya, the preacher of the dualistic school; and the followers of Chaitanya, of Ballavacharya, of Ramananda, and of Nimbacharya. Each of them was an ideal prophet, spiritual leader, and commentator of the philosophy of Vedanta, as also the founder of a denomination which still has millions of followers all over the country. They differ only in the minor peculiarities of their doctrines, beliefs, and modes of worship; but they all agree on one point,—that Krishna was the greatest of all divine incarnations, that He was the Saviour of mankind and the Redeemer of the world.

The worshippers of Krishna and of Vishnu or Rama are all vegetarians; they do not touch meat, because non-killing is their ideal. They cannot kill any animal for food. They never drink any intoxicating liquor, neither the men nor the women. That is a very difficult thing to find anywhere else. They practise non-resistance of evil, which was taught not only by Krishna, but by Buddha and afterwards by Christ. Their religion makes them loving, not only to human beings, but to all living creatures, and pure and chaste in their morals. They practise disinterested love for humanity; they will sacrifice everything for the good of others, because their Ideal, their Master, was the sin-atoning Krishna, who sacrificed everything for the good of the world. There are no caste distinctions among the Vaishnavas. Mohammedans and Pariahs have often become followers of this faith. Krishna has indeed given to earnest and sincere souls among the Hindus what Jesus the Christ has given to Christendom, and there is a great similarity in the belief and mode of worship of the Vaishnavas and those of the most devout followers of Jesus.

As the Vaishnavas regard Krishna and Rama as their Ideals, so there are Hindus who look upon other manifestations as their Ideal. The Shaivas, for example, worship Shiva, the third person of the Hindu Trinity. Shiva represents the ideal of renunciation and absolute freedom from worldliness. He is revered by the Hindus as the embodiment of contemplativeness and Yoga; he is therefore worshipped by the Yogis, saints, and sages of all sects. They repeat the name of Shiva with tears of love and devotion streaming from their eyes; they forget everything of the world when they utter his sacred name. Shiva and Vishnu, again, are one and the same in their spiritual essence; they are two manifestations of the one infinite Being who is called Brahman in the Vedas. A Vaishnava can worship Shiva in the same spirit as he worships his own Ideal, Vishnu, and a Shaiva can worship Vishnu in the same spirit as he worships his own Ideal, Shiva; because they know that He who is Vishnu is Shiva and He who is Shiva, is Vishnu.

Shiva represents, as I have already said, contemplativeness, Yoga, renunciation and absolute freedom from worldliness. As Vishnu is adorned by the Vaishnavas with all blessed qualities, with all that is beautiful, all that stands for wealth, prosperity, and success in life, Shiva, on the contrary, is adorned with all that is ugly, horrible, and awe-inspiring. His beautific form is encircled by venomous snakes of evil, misfortune, and worldliness; but they cannot injure Him. Shiva dwells in the shmashana or cremation ground, where horrors of death and destruction surround Him, but they cannot frighten Him or disturb His blissful samadhi. He is the ever-undaunted conqueror of all dread, danger, passion, and distress. He is attended by ghosts and wicked spirits, but they cannot hurt Him. Shiva renounces the world for the good of humanity. Voluntarily He takes upon Himself the burdens, anxieties, sufferings, and pains of all humanity, and swallows the deadliest poison to bestow immortality upon His earnest followers and true devotees. His consort, the Divine Mother of the universe, is His only companion in austerities and penances. He lives where nobody cares to go and He accepts the tiger-skin and the ashes from crematories as His ornaments. He is the ideal of the Yogis. If any one wishes to see and understand what renunciation means, let him go to India and study the worship of Shiva. He has many forms, many incarnations, and there are many symbols connected with His life. The Shaivas worship the snow-white form of Shiva, which symbolizes purity and freedom from all taint of worldliness, the form of Him who is the Master of the universe. Shiva can be worshipped under all circumstances. If a follower of Shiva cannot find a temple, he may sit under a tree; he does not need any form, statue, or symbol; he simply closes his eyes and meditates upon Shiva as the Lord of the universe, beyond good and evil, beyond all relativity, the embodiment of the infinite and absolute Being.

The Vaishnavas and Shaivas, as we have just seen, regard the Lord of the universe as masculine and give Him masculine attributes; but there are Hindus who give to God feminine attributes and call Him the Mother of the universe. India is in fact the only place in the world where God is worshipped as the Mother, and where all women are considered as representatives of ideal divine motherhood. Some people think that the Hindus deny salvation to women, but no Hindu ever imagined anything so crude; on the contrary, womanhood is attributed by him to the Lord of the universe. He knows that the soul is sexless, and that it manifests on the physical plane as a man or a woman only to fulfil a certain purpose in life. The Bhagavad Gita says: “All men and women, whether they believe in God or not, are bound sooner or later to reach perfection”.

Those who thus worship God as the Mother are known as Shaktas, the worshippers of Shakti, the divine Energy, the Mother of all phenomena. These Shaktas believe that the Mother of the universe manifests Her powers from time to time in human form and incarnates as a woman. There have been various feminine incarnations among the Hindus. These divine incarnations of Shakti or divine Energy, are in different forms, such as Kali, Durga, Tara, etc. Foreigners connot understand the meaning of these symbolic figures, used as aids to concentration and meditation at the time of worship, and they think, ‘How hideous these forms are!’ Of course some of them are hideous to Western eyes, but to the Hindus they are spiritual symbols; for the people of India are not merely optimistic, they recognize both sides. They are brave. They do not deny the evil side of the world; they take that also, and adorn the Mother on the one hand with evil, murder, plague, and the most horrible things, while, on the other hand, they represent Her as overflowing with blessings and all that is good and beautiful. Those who have only optimistic ideas shut their eyes to evils and misfortunes and curse either God or Satan when these come upon them; but among the worshippers of the divine Mother you will find both men and women, who in time of distress face danger bravely, and pray to Her with unflinching faith and whole-hearted love, recognizing Her grandeur and divine power even behind misfortune and calamity.

The whole truth of the Sankhya philosophy[3] is symbolized in the Shakti-worship, or the worship of divine Mother. You will remember that the Sankhya believes in the evolution of the world and of the whole universe out of one eternal Energy, while the individual soul is known as Purusha, the infinite Spirit. So Shiva represents Purusha, the formless Infinite Spirit, and His consort or Shakti is that eternal Energy, which is called in Sanskrit Prakriti. The union of the male and female princi-

pies of Divinity is the beginning of cosmic evolution. Here you will notice how the ultimate conclusions of science have been symbolized by the Hindus and made into objects of devotion and worship. Ask how the evolution of the world began and they will show you the symbol of the Purusha and Prakriti. The religion of the Hindus, in fact, embraces science, logic, and philosophy. They think that, that which is unscientific, illogical, and unphilosophical cannot be called religious, so they take the scientific truths, make symbols out of them, and, relating them to the eternal Being, they use them as the most helpful objects for devotion and worship. The Hindu mind is very inventive along spiritual lines. It gives its inventive genius full play in the spiritual field. There is no other religion in the world which is so rich in mythology, symbology, rituals, and ceremonials, and which possesses so many phases of the divine Ideal, as the Sanatana Dharma, or the eternal religion of the Hindus. Its followers are freely allowed to choose their ideals in harmony with their thoughts and spiritual tendencies. They believe that one particular set of doctrines and dogmas cannot satisfy the aspirations of all human souls. As one coat cannot fit all bodies, so one particular ideal cannot fit all minds, cannot suit all the spiritual tendencies of all nations in all countries. Do we not see how Christianity has failed in that respect when it has tried to make the whole world adopt one ideal? Do we not see today how, among the followers of Christianity, there is a constant fight and struggle for lack of a better understanding of their religious ideal? Human minds need variety; and the paths which lead to the supreme goal should vary according to the tendency, capacity, and spiritual development of the individual. Therefore the eternal religion of the Hindus prescribes no set path, but offers various ones to suit different minds,—the path of right knowledge and right discrimination (Jnana Yoga); of concentration and meditation (Raja Yoga); of work for work’s sake (Karma Yoga); and of devotion and worship (Bhakti Yoga). Each one of these, again, has various branches. Thus we see that the Hindus alone have succeeded in giving to the world a religion which fits all minds and all tendencies under all conditions, a religion which preaches the worship of one God, the infinite Being, under a variety of names and ideals. Truth is one, but its manifestations are many. This noble and sublime conception has made the Hindus extremely tolerant towards other faiths and other forms of worship outside their own; for they consider that all religions, sects, and creeds are like so many paths which lead to the same goal.

Those who do not understand the Hindu mode of thought, have called it Pantheism; but it is the worship of one universal Spirit, which is infinite, omnipotent, all-merciful, impersonal and yet personal. If you call it Pantheism, then you use the term in the wrong sense. Pantheism never means that. When I think that this table is God, or, if I consider that God has become this chair, then, it will be Pantheism. But if I believe in one God, who pervades and interpenetrates the atoms and molecules of the chair and the table, or any other object of the world, then that will be the worship of the one supreme Being, who is infinite and all-pervading.

True religion, according to the Hindus, does not consist in belief in a certain creed or set of dogmas, but in the attainment of God-consciousness through spiritual unfoldment. It is being and becoming God. It is the subjugation of selfish love and desire for self-aggrandizement, and the expression of divine love, truthfulness, and kindness to all. The object of such a religion is the freedom of the soul from the bondage of the world. A Hindu is not limited by sectarian doctrines and dogmas; he can go anywhere, worship any ideal that suits him and make that his chosen Ideal. As long as he believes in one God, there is no danger, he will have salvation; and this salvation can [be?] attained in this life.

Outside of the Vaishnavas, Shaivas, and Shaktas, we find Hindus who follow other phases of religion. In the Punjab the North-Western Province of India, for instance, there is a large population which is known as Sikhs. The word ‘Sikh’ is derived from the Sanskrit ‘Shishya’, which means ‘a disciple’; and the Sikhs are so called because they are disciples of their master, Guru Nanaka, who was a contemporary of Luther: Guru Nanaka was a great soul. He is regarded today by his disciples and followers as the manifestation of Divinity, and he left sayings and teachings. These are written out in a book, and this book the Sikhs hold in the same light as the Christians their Bible, the Mohammedans their Koran, and the orthodox Hindus their

Vedas. It is to them the revealed word of God. They put it upon an altar, burn incense before it, and worship it as the word of God. They cannot bear any other form or symbol or image, or the statue of any incarnation or manifestation of Divinity. They are as fanatical as the Protestant Christians in their attitude towards forms and images. They observe no caste prejudice; they are very broad and liberal-minded, and will accept the followers of any faith in their religion. At one time they converted hundreds of Mohammedans and made them Sikhs. Their book is called the ‘Granth-Sahib’, or the Great Scripture, and contains the most sublime moral and spiritual ideals, which harmonize with the teachings of the Vedas. They believe in one supreme God who is formless. As the Mohammedans believe in Allah, the one formless Being, who can take no form, so these Sikhs believe in the same way. Perhaps Sikhism arose in India through the influence of Mohammedanism. It is one of the recent sects.

Besides these orthodox Hindus, there are Jains and Buddhists. The Jains have their own scriptures and their own prophets, Parsvanath [Parsvanatha], Adinath [Adinatha], Mahaviranath [Mahaviranatha], and many others, who are called Tirthankaras (perfected souls). These are great and immortal spiritual leaders who came down to teach mankind; any one who follows their teachings will reach absolute freedom from this world of imperfection. Jainism arose in India about the same time as Buddhism. Buddha lived about 557 b.c. He was the founder of the great religion which has civilized the larger portion of Asia, which predominates in China and Japan, which has made the Japanese a great nation, and which prevails today in Tibet, Siam, Burmah, Ceylon, Sumatra, Java, and many other Asiatic countries. But the orthodox Hindus regard the Jains as agnostics and the Buddhists as atheists; because the Jains neither accept nor deny soul or God; while the modern Buddhists in India do not believe in the existence of one supreme Being, or in the existence of the individual soul as an eternal entity, neither do they honour the revealed word of the Vedas. For this reason they are classed by the orthodox Hidus as atheists, although Buddha himself is recognized as one of the incarnations of Vishnu. Every Hindu believe that Buddha came to help mankind, and ranks him with Rama, Krishna, and other Avataras.

There are still other heterodox Hindus who are known as Brahmas and Arya-Samajis, and who may be compared to the Unitarians in this country. They reject all symbols and images but worship one God who is personal and without form.

Thus I have given you a brief outline of the existing phases of the dualistic and qualified non-dualistic branches of the one religion. But there is still another which is the monistic phase of the same religion. It is based upon the fundamental principle of unity in variety. It teaches that there is one existence, one reality, one truth, one substance, in the whole universe. All the distinctions and differentiations which we perceive with our senses are phenomenal, therefore transitory and unreal. This one Substance is called by various names. In the Vedas, we find the first mention of this universal and eternal law of unity in variety. In the Rig Veda, which is the oldest scripture of the world, we read: “That which exists is One; men call it by various names”.[4] Men worship it in different forms, under different names. The same Substance, the absolute eternal Being, manifests itself as Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preserver, Rudra, the Destroyer, and Shakti, the divine Mother. The same eternal Being is worshipped as Allah by the Mohammedans, Father in Heaven and Christ by the Christians, Buddha by the Buddhists, Jina by the Jains, Ahura Mazda by the Zoroastrians, Ti-Tien by the Chinese, and Shiva, Divine Mother, or Brahman, by the Hindus. The substance is one, although the names may vary. As the one substance water is called in different languages by different names, such as aqua, wasser, eau, agua, pani, vari, jala [jalam], etc., so the one infinite absolute Being is worshipped under different names in different countries. This phase of religion unifies all sects and creeds; and, putting each in the place where it belongs, it builds up the universal religion, which is not confined by any particular book or scripture, but embraces all the scriptures of the world. Its principal teaching is that the individual souls are not born in sin and iniquity, nor have they inherited as a birth-right the sins of some fallen man who was tempted by an evil spirit called Satan. On the contrary, it tells us that all men and women, irrespective of their colour, creed, or religious beliefs, are children of immortal Bliss and the sons of immortality; that each individual soul is immortal by its birthright, will attain to immortality, and continue to remain immortal forever. For, if the soul were not immortal by nature, it could not be made so by any being however powerful. Each soul is a storehouse of inifinite potentialities and possesses infinite possibilities. It was not created out of nothing, nor by the will of some creator; but it is eternal, beginningless and endless. That is the teaching; and it declares that we are not helpless victims of our parents’ sins, but that our present condition is the resultant of our past deeds, and that our future state will be the result of our present actions. Parents do not create the souls of their children; they are but the channels, the instruments through which the individual souls incarnate or manifest themselves on the physical plane. This is popularly known as the doctrine of reincarnation, which means the remanifestation on this earth of the individual soul, or the germ of life, according to its desires and pendencies, which will determine the conditions of its existence. The Hindus accept the law of karma and do not believe that God creates one man to enjoy and another to suffer, nor do they maintain that He punishes the wicked and rewards the virtuous. Punishment and reward are but the reactions of our own actions. Each individual soul reaps the fruits of its own acts, either here or in some other existence.

This universal religion may be called the ‘science of the soul’, As modern science does not deal with dogmas and does not insist upon belief in the authority of any person or book, but depends entirely upon correct observation and experience of the facts of nature to discover the laws which govern the phenomena of the universe, so ‘the monistic religion does not deal with dogmas and creeds, but explains through logic and reason the spiritual nature of man or the true nature of the soul. It describes the origin, growth, and process of its gradual evolution from the minutest germ of life up to the highest spiritual man, as Christ or Buddha or Ramakrishna; for it claims that all souls will become perfect in the course of evolution. Each individual soul, however imperfect it may be at present, is bound in the end to attain perfection and become divine. It teaches that the human soul in the progress of spiritual evolution passes step by step from dualism or monotheism to qualified non-dualism, and ultimately reaches the spiritual height of absolute non-dualism or monism. So long as a soul is on the plane of duality, or of monotheism, it believes in a God who dwells outside of nature, who is extra-cosmic, who, as the Creator of the universe, creates something out of nothing, and who is far, far away from us. We cannot reach Him so that He is too high, too great, too distant. He is the Master, and we are His servants; we must worship Him in that relation. But when we approach nearer to the infinite Being, we gradually begin to see that He is not so far from us, that He is immanent and resident in nature. He is near us: why should we consider Him as beyond, far out of our reach? Then we come to that phase which is called qualified non-dualistic. In this we realize that God is one stupendous whole and we are but parts; each individual soul is a part of the infinite Being. But when the soul rises still higher, it transcends all relativity and plunges into the realm of the Absolute..There, forgetting all names and forms, it reaches absolute oneness with Divinity, and then it declares: ‘I and my Father are one’. In that state the soul becomes perfected; all the divine qualities and divine powers begin to flow through it, and it is transfigured into divine Glory. Then it becomes Christ-like; it reaches that state which is represented by the word ‘Christ’.

The word ‘Christ’, according to the universal religion, means a state of spiritual perfection, of spiritual realization or attainment of oneness with the supreme Being. Whosoever reaches that state becomes Christ. And this universal religion teaches that each individual soul is a potential Christ, is potentially divine, and that potentiality will become actual when the soul awakens to the consciousness of its divine glory. When, transcending all bondage, all laws of the relative, phenomenal world, it comes face to face with the Absolute, it reaches the height of monistic religion, then it will be Christ, then it will be Buddha, ‘the Enlightened One’,—or he who has attained to spiritual enlightenment. According to this religion, when Jesus attained to that state, He became Christ, when Buddha attained to that state, He was held by the world as the Saviour of mankind, as the Redeemer. This universal religion brings great comfort and consolation to us, because it assures us that we are not going to eternal perdition; for it does not believe in hell-fire or eternal damnation. It teaches that men commit mistakes, and those mistakes will bring their results through the law of cause and sequence, of action and reaction, but they will not last throughout eternity. Death, therefore, cannot frighten the followers of this religion.

Although this universal religion is founded upon the teachings of the Vedas and is as old as the Vedas, yet it has been forgotten again and again, and again and again it has been revived and preached by the great Saviours and spiritual leaders who have flourished in India from time to time. Krishna preached it 1400 years before Christ; after the decline of Buddhism it was preached again by Sankaracharya in the eighth century after Christ; and lastly it was preached by Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, who lived in the latter part of the nineteenth century and who is regarded by thousands and thousands of educated Hindus as the latest incarnation of Divinity. He is recognized as the prime-mover in the great religious upheaval which has begun in India. The tidal wave of this universal religion, rising from Ramakrishna as its centre, has inundated the whole spiritual field of India and is rapidly spreading all over the world, creating a revolution in the world’s religious thought, which will surely produce wonderful results in time to come.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

As per statistics of his time, in 1906.

[2]:

Cf. The Bhagavad Gita, Ch. IV, v. 7.

[3]:

Described in previous lecture.

[4]:

Ekam sad vipra vahudha vadanti’.

FAQ (frequently asked questions):

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Yes! The print edition of the Complete works of Swami Abhedananda contains the English discourse “The Religion of India Today” of Volume 2 and can be bought on the main page. The author is Swami Prajnanananda and the latest edition is from 1994.

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