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SWAMI VIVEKANANDA ON THE VEDAS AND UPANISHADS

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA ON THE VEDAS AND UPANISHADS

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03/18/2014

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SWAMI VI VEKANANDA ON THE VEDAS AND UPANI SHADS
By Sist er Gayat riprana of The Vedant a Societ y of Sout her n Calif ornia
PREFA CE

Af t er f our t een year s of cont inuous wor k, t he compilat ion, Swami Vivekananda on t he Vedas and Upanishads, is now r eady t o come t o t he light of day. I t began, par t ially as a r esponse t o t he cur r ent conf usion over t he coher ency of Swami Vivekananda\u2019s Neo-Vedant a and par t ially as a sear ch f or t he essence of his message t o cont empor ar y humanit y. As t ime went by, t he volume of t he wor k and a cer t ain compelling pat t er n of inner or ganizat ion built up a cr it ical mass and moment um which swept t he proj ect f orwar d t o it s present st at e of complet ion. A number of loose ends r emain unt ied, however. Per haps t hat is a good t hing, f or it provides oppor t unit ies f or r eader s t o make cont r ibut ions and addit ions t o t he over all body of t he wor k.

The invaluable nucleus f or t his work is Swami Yogeshananda\u2019s Swami Vivekananda Quot es t he Upanishads, an unpublished compilat ion made f r om t he Complet e Works in 1960, bef ore much mat erial now available appeared in t he public domain. The swami\u2019s work did not include t he classical f our mahavakyas, which have been r esearched and included in t his compilat ion along wit h some ot her maj or mant ras such as Saccidananda. I am very much indebt ed t o Swami Yogeshananda\u2019s pioneer ing wor k.

I sincerely hope t hat , by bringing t his mat erial t o light on t he I nt ernet we shall, on t he one hand, r eceive f eedback f r om r eader s everywher e, improving and st r engt hening t he work; and, on t he ot her, will t ake a st ep t owards establishing t he Himalayan maj est y of t he Vedant a, particularly in its modern incarnat ion of t he Neo-Vedanta of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda.

SWAMI VI VEKANANDA ON THE VEDAS AND UPANI SHADS
COMPI LER\u2019S I NTRODUCTI ON
Re- visioning t he Message of Swami Vivekananda
a) The Need f or a Reassessment of Swami Vivekananda and His Neo- Vedant a

When we r ead about Swami Vivekananda, in most inst ances we hear of his char isma, his st r iking appearance, or his "cyclonic", impet uous movement t o ef f ect change in bot h East and West . And, as of t en as not , it is conceded t hat he met wit h conspicuous success in his under t akings (t hough West er n int ellect uals, not keen t o be beholden t o t he Or ient , ar e less ent husiast ic on t his scor e t han ar e t he I ndians) t his much is in t he common domai n.

As t he dust set t les on t he past hundr ed year s, however , we ar e hearing mor e and mor e, even f rom t he precinct s of t he Ramakrishna Order itself , t hat Swami Vivekananda was "not a systematic thinker" or, less generously, that he was "inconsistent", "conf using", and even " incoher ent " . A r at her st r ange st r ing of epit het s f or a man who is, at t he same t ime, t out ed as

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t he et er nal companion of t he avat ar Ramakrishna! Can we ascr ibe such exalt ed st at us t o one whose t hinking processes were, in t he common est imat ion, inf erior even t o a merely normal, educat ed per son?

More insidiously, there is also a movement af oot among orthodox, scholarly Hindus and t r adit ionalist s of ot her f ait hs which assert s t hat Sr i Ramakr ishna, as also Swami Vivekananda and t he Or der he f ounded ar e ant i- int ellect ual and ul t imat ely r esponsible f or t he cont empor ar y breakdown of t he Hindu t radit ion. Again, a rat her odd evaluat ion of t wo personalit ies whose avowed mission in lif e was t he r e-est ablishment of t he Et er nal Religion and t he cult ur e which emanat es f r om i t !

To someone who has benefited immensely from the so-called new (Neo-) Vedanta of Ramakr ishna- Vivekananda, such asser t ions come as a sur pr ise and, at t he same t ime, a challenge. Why ar e such wild st at ement s being made, even by swamis of t he Ramakr ishna Or der ? Ar e Sr i Ramakr ishna and Swami Vivekananda mer ely "paper t iger s" wit h no endur ing subst ance t o t hem? The t est imony of one\u2019s own lif e immediat ely cries, "No!" and a deep convict ion ar ises t hat , no mat t er what cont radict ions and inconsist encies may appear on t he surf ace of Neo-Vedant a, t her e must be a coher ency, meaning and a prof oundly suppor t ive and nur t ur ing st r uct ure t o N eo- Vedant a t hat , as yet , is not f ull y appar ent .

The mat er ial you have bef ore you is a f ir st st ep t owar ds an explor at ion of t he st r uct ur e of Neo-Vedant a, a response t o t he of t -repeat ed st at ement t hat "Swami Vivekananda was not a t hinker, mer ely a Hindu r ef or mer ." The possibilit y t hat he is a Vedant ic Achar ya in t he line of t he Vedic rsis, Buddha and Sri Shankaracharya is not ent ert ained, f ar less explored; and t her ef or e t he pr onouncement s on his " inadequacies" ar e self - f ulf illed.

However , t o be f ai r , it is i ndeed t r ue t o say t hat t he mat er ials of Swami Vivekananda\u2019s t eaching, as ex t ant t oday, do not r eadily lend t hemselves t o t he sor t of syst emat izat ion t hat is needed t o see t he inner st r uct ur e of his t hought . The pr imar y r eason f or t his sit uat ion is t hat he died at t he age of 39, worn out by his Herculean labor s t o awaken t he spir it ual cur r ent s of bot h I ndia and t he W est . Alt hough he year ned f or t he quiet and solit ude t o wr it e a syst emat ic t r eat ise on Sr i Ramakr ishna\u2019s new appr oach t o t he Vedant a, his hect ic schedule of t r avel and r ef or m made it impossible f or him t o live a f ull span of lif e, f ar less t o wr it e a philosophical magnum opus. I n t he absence of such a bluepr int f r om t he swami himself , t he or ganizat ion of his copious works has pr oven t o be challenging. His published Complet e Wor ks ar e pr over bially a t hicket in which it is all t oo easy t o get lost and hopelessly conf used! One begins t o see how his det r act or s have arrived at t heir posit ion, but not t o give up hope of f inding a met hod by which t he inner st ructure of his work can at last be demonst rat ed.

b) A Basic Point of Ref erence f or t he Assessment of Neo- Vedant a

At t his j unct ure, what seems t o be necessary is t o est ablish a ref erence point t o which t he whole pr oj ect of r evisioning Swami Vivekananda\u2019s message can be r elat ed. Almost cer t ainly t he most basic and obvious one is t hat he per ceived himself as a Vedant in and t hat he believed his message t o be a comment ar y on Sr i Ramakr ishna\u2019s r e-living and r e-int er pr et ing t he Upanishads in t he cont empor ary era. This is t he mat r ix f r om which everyt hing else emanat ed. Such a view

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is, f r om one st andpoint , Swami Vivekananda\u2019s "applicat ion" t o be t aken ser iously as a Vedant ic Achar ya or t eacher , his "posit ion st at ement " f or any f ur t her evaluat ion. I t provides t he basis, not only f or a rat ional and syst emat ic assessment of his wor k, but also f or t he pr ocess of his accept ance as a Vedant ic t eacher . Tr adit ionally, any per son who calls himself a Vedant ic t eacher is expect ed t o accept t he Upanishads as t he source of t rut h and t o comment upon t hem and t heir t wo auxiliary t ext s, t he Bhagavad-Git a and t he Brahma Sut ras. From t hat st andpoint , Swami Vivekananda could be readily dismissed as a Vedant ic Acharya., because he f ailed t o pr oduce a wr it t en and syst emat ic comment ar y on t hese t ex t s.

We have alr eady ment ioned how t he swami was cheat ed of t ime t o car r y out t his basic wor k, despit e his desire t o do so; but not of inf init e opport unit ies t o int roduce t he Upanishadic wor ldview int o every nook and cr anny of his vision of cont empor ary lif e. We f ind, t her ef or e, in t he cat acombs of t he Complet e Wor ks, as well as in t he Ramakrishna-Vivekananda lit er at ur e gener ally, a wealt h of comment s by Swami Vivekananda on t he Upanishads, Git a and Brahma Sut r as, gems lying st r ewn helt er -skelt er as t he swami r esponded spont aneously - and gave his ver y lif e - t o t he cr ying needs of East and W est .

On ponder ing t he pr oblem of t he swami\u2019s "inconsist encies" it t her ef or e seemed an obvious f ir st st ep t o gat her up t hese gems and ar r ange t hem in t he t r adit ional pat t er ns of Vedant a which is, af t er all, t he very t emplat e of Sr i Ramakr ishna and Swami Vivekananda. I f , under t he heading of t he f our Vedas and t heir subsect ions, especially t he Upanishads, we could gat her t he scat t er ed t r easur es of Swami Vivekananda\u2019s ut t er ances, would we be in a bet t er posit ion t o see t he st r uct ur e and coher ency of his t hought ? I t is my hope t hat t he r eader of t his compilat ion is now in a posit ion t o answer t hat quest ion f or him- or her self . Whoever can encompass t he sheer volume of t his wor k, amount ing t o near ly half of t he nine-volume Complet e Wor ks, will see how it at t est s t o t he cent ral posit ion of t he Vedas and Upanishads in t he t hought of Swami Vivekananda. Again, t he concent rat ion of t he swami\u2019s wide-r anging and int ense t hought under t he r ubr ic of a comment ar y on t he Vedas and Upanishads put s it , as it wer e, in a super -cooled crucible where its powerf ul internal dynamics can be more readily studied than in the f r eewheeli ng milieu of his spont aneous ut t er ances t o an inf init e var i et y of people and sit uat ions. I t is as if we have peeled of f sever al layer s f r om t he swami\u2019s wor k and ar e laying bar e t he cor e f or m f r om which ever yt hing else t akes it s or igin.

Encount er ing such "DNA" of Swami Vivekananda\u2019s cor e t hought can be not hing less t han a t ot al experience. As one ent ers int o his "comment aries" as present ed in t his work, one f ind, as it were, terra f irma disappearing and t he rapid unf oldment of universe af t er universe, each expanding inf init ely and yet at t he same t ime as close as one\u2019s j ugular vein, t o bor r ow a phr ase f r om t he Kor an. I t is my belief t hat such encount er s can and will open up new vist as int o what Swami Vivekananda was about , not j ust in t he piecemeal way t hat t ends t o result when we dabble on t he sur f ace of his vast and pr ot ean wor ks.

c) Approaching Neo- Vedant a as an I nt egral Whole

Her e we ar e ent er ing int o t he ver y par adigm of t he Vedant a it self , t he deep mat r ix f r om which have emanat ed t he Upanishads, Buddha, Sri Shankaracharya and t he ent ire galaxy of t he Vedant ic t r adit ion as we know it . The present work plugs us int o t he very heart of Vedant ic

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