Wisdom in Practice

Reflections on Swami Vivekananda’s “God in Everything,” from Jnana Yoga.
by Paravasta

Starting from his 4th paragraph, Swamiji states:

“Most of the religions understand this fact [the need to combine reason and feeling], but the error into which they all seem to fall is the same: they are carried away by the heart, the feelings.  There is evil in the world; give up the world – that is the great teaching, and the only teaching, no doubt.  Give up the world.  There cannot be two opinions: to understand the truth every one of us has to give up error.  There cannot be two opinions: every one of us, in order to be good, must give up evil.  There cannot be two opinions: everyone of us, to have life, must give up what is death.  And yet, what remains to us if this theory involves giving up the life of the senses, life as we know it?  And what else do we mean by life?  If we give this up, what remains?

“We shall understand this better when, later on, we come to the more philosophical portions of Vedanta.  But for the present I beg to state that in Vedanta alone we find a rational solution of the problem.  Here I can only lay before you what Vedanta seeks to teach; and that is the deification of the world.

“Vedanta does not in reality denounce the world.  The ideal of  renunciation nowhere attains such a height as in the teachings of Vedanta; but at the same time, no dry suicidal advice is intended.  It really means deification of the world: giving up the world as we think of it, as we know it, as it appears to us, and knowing what it really is.  Deify it; it is God alone.

“We read at the commencement of one of the oldest of the Upanishads: ‘Whatever exists in this universe is to be covered with the Lord.’  We have to cover everything with the Lord Himself, not by a false sort of optimism, not by blinding our eyes to evil, but by really seeing God in everything.  Thus we have to give up the world.  And when your world is given up, what remains?  God.  What is meant?  You can have your wife; you certainly do not have to abandon her; but you are to see God in your wife.  Give up your children – what does that mean?  To turn them out of doors, as some human brutes do in every country?  Certainly not.  That is diabolism; it is not religion.  But see God in your children.  So in everything.  In life and in death, in happiness and in misery, the Lord is equally present.  The whole world is full of the Lord.  Open your eyes and see Him.

“This is what Vedanta teaches: Give up the world which you have conjectured, because your conjecture was based upon a very partial experience, upon very poor reasoning, and upon your own weaknesses.  Give it up.  The world we have been thinking of so long, the world we have been clinging to so long, is a false world of our own creation.  Give that up.  Open your eyes and see that, as such, it never existed; it was a dream, maya.  What existed was the Lord Himself.  It is He who is in the child, in the wife, and in the husband; it is He who is in the good and in the bad.  He is in the sin and in the sinner; He is in life and in death.

A tremendous assertion indeed!  Yet that is the theme which Vedanta wants to demonstrate, to teach, and to preach.  This is just the opening theme….”    – from “God in Everything,” Swamiji’s Jnana Yoga lectures

Paravasta’s reflections begin:

Although the Bible verse, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” is couched in dualistic language, I cannot help but think that it is not meant to be understood in the dual sense.  The “earth” is the “Lord’s” seems to imply a distinction between creator and creation, between creator and creature.  Yet it is more like a “line drawn on water,” for the implication of the very same verse is qualified by the word “fullness,” suggesting a homogeneity and pervasiveness that blurs such distinction, implying a common identity.  It is purnyata!  So the inner meaning, the true spirit of this verse, is precisely the same as Swami Vivekananda’s exquisite expression of monistic Truth: “The whole world is full of the Lord.  Open your eyes and see Him.”

I love how Swamiji further resolves the question of duality so simply, so directly, and with such finality: “What existed was the Lord Himself.”  Here, his denial of absolute reality for the empirically-valid world of sense experience, never approaches the extreme of nihilism either, for he does not deny Reality Itself, only the unreal world that through ignorance, we project to veil that Reality.  Existence is.  It never is not.  In ascribing true existence to the world of changing and therefore impermanent forms, we delude ourselves: for the scriptures state that what is non-existent in the “beginning” and also nonexistent in the “end,” cannot rationally be considered to exist in the “middle” (manifestation) either.  In a sense, we allow mere appearance to become our false idol, although God alone is always and ever the Existence Absolute, the Consciousness Absolute, and the Bliss Absolute! (Isn’t this what is implied also by the Jewish prophet: “Hear O Israel!  The Lord our God is One”?)

Perhaps the non-dualist (of whatever cultural religious tradition) who wishes to transcend vivarta/mental superimposition that he may better perceive Divine Reality, is the ultimate iconoclast, or “idol-breaker.”  But she breaks her own idol, which is the idol of external, false appearance, that she may know her true Lord and Mother, which is pure, divine Essence.  (“O Lord, allow me, beyond limited understanding, to know You in truth, as You really are.”)  And he breaks but his own idols – not those of others – for he understands that all must come to understanding in their own time, and more often than not, pass through that phase in which nature’s transformations seem the more immediate reality.  And further, once he sees the Reality the symbols imply, what were previously idols cease to be idols, and instead become sources of illumination, lenses which direct our attention to what is truth.  As understanding grows, it is seen that forms were never real “as such” (Swamiji’s emphasis, as above), in that their appearance is not self-produced or self-arising, but rather, are dependent upon a basis, which is God alone.

Like in that common metaphor of the snake and the rope: the snake may never have existed in the true sense of that word (Maya), yet it could not have been perceived in the first place in the absence of the rope (Brahman).  Adherents of the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism take the position that the world (the snake) is perfectly real, in the sense that its basis or Shiva (the rope) is real, and in fact, Reality Itself.  Even accepting the truth of their insight, the theory of Maya is not contradicted or shown to be false, for the appearing forms can still be said to be unreal in that they come and go and are impermanent. (“Therefore bear them patiently, O Arjuna.” – Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita)

It may only be natural that we take the world to be real, given the insistent and persistent nature of sense experience.  It may be natural for the child, in testing the boundaries of its experience of the world, to place its hand in fire, and then just as naturally, upon experiencing firsthand the truth of cause and effect, to refrain from doing so again.  Just so, once we experience the unsatisfactory nature of samsara for ourselves, it is perfectly natural to give up this mayic world, whose true nature we have mistaken by our own imperfect conjecture.  “As such, it never existed.  What existed was the Lord Himself.”  For “matter” is like a membrane that must be pierced in order that we may emerge from our prakritik womb into that greater life, in which all live, move, and have their being.  The conception of “matter” as self-existent must be discarded in favor of immersion in the “magna Mater,” or the Great Mother.

The external aspect of Prakriti can be likened to the church that Swami Vivekananda spoke of.  He said, in the interest of broad-mindedness, that “it is good to be born in a church, but not to die there.”  Metaphorically speaking, to die in that “church” implies that we do not strive to free ourselves from the narrowness of identification with matter (and thereby continue to be dragged “from birth to death, and death to birth”).  To broaden our perspective beyond the confines of that church means that we are no longer “sectarian”: our sense of identity has outgrown the “I” (the particular) and come to rest in “Thou” (the universal).  In that “universal church” we find identity with all, for we know that basis which is common to all.

These are some ideas that have occurred to me in response to Swamiji’s penetrating insight.  His words need so much more reflection and still I will never plumb the depth or fathom them completely.  The meanings inherent in them are endless, so much is there to be discovered.  His words are living scripture, like expressions of that creative Word or transcendental Veda.  It is so inspiring to see the infinite knowledge that gets reflected in the purified mind of such a one.