Spring Retreat Notes & Reflection


Spring Retreat Notes & Reflection


The subject of our last Spring Retreat, The Vedanta & Neo Vedanta of Shankara and Vivekananda, was effective in opening one’s mind to the correlations and contrasts between these two great souls – emanations of Siva – as well as to the ways in which they complement each other. Those of us actively engaged in studying and possibly sharing Vedanta here in the West will find it useful to consider what Shankara was facing in his time, as compared to what Swamiji was facing in modern times at the rise of westernization and globalization. By understanding history we can better understand our present, and how to proceed.  Swami Vivekananda was deeply versed in both Eastern and Western histories, philosophies, and religions.  He even read the entire Encyclopedia and could quote any page of its contents, a feat that Babaji often uses to indicate that Vivekananda was checking up on the world since his last incarnation.

Shankara’s mission was focused in India alone. In the aftermath of Buddhism’s decline in India, after mixing in an unhealthy way with certain aspects of Tantra, Shankara’s mission was to restore authentic Vedic-Tantric religion and rituals to the masses, and establish the Jnana Marg, the path of Knowledge, firmly on the principles of Nondualism based on the Upanisads and on his line of teachers – Govindapada, and especially Gaudapada. As he made his way to the four cardinal points of India, establishing a monastery at each one, he challenged and was challenged by leading pundits of his time representing different philosophical schools.  His teachings and arguments for Advaita triumphed over all. 

Swami Vivekananda worked in both India and in the West.  At a time when it was still considered taboo for Hindus to leave India, Vivekananda crossed the ocean to offer India’s spiritual wealth in exchange for Western financial aid and scientific knowledge for his people.  As a result of Swamiji’s extensive travels in India, he had seen clearly the effect of centuries of foreign domination, oppression by the highest castes on the lowest ones, and then Western materialism in India — on her spiritual, religious, and philosophical culture as well as in the economic and social areas.  Materialism is not merely the preoccupation with and enjoyment of objects and luxuries as people commonly use the term.  As we use it in spring1602philosophical-spiritual contexts, it means thinking that gross matter and physical existence are the only reality; that human beings are bodies first and then minds, and possibly souls; that intelligence arises from the physical.  Simply put, this perspective, introduced via foreign domination by England, eroded the confidence of many educated Indians in the value of their own spiritual and cultural history, while impoverishing the masses via the dominator’s greed. Upon traveling to the West, he found that this same materialistic viewpoint, in Western religion, secular culture, and science, was not only used to erroneously substantiate the claim to Western superiority and perpetuate its global spread, it was impoverishing Western people themselves, spiritually and philosophically, setting the stage for discontent and emptiness in the face of the antagonistic poles of dualistic religion and science.

As the notes from Babaji’s classes will express or imply, Shankara would lay stress on Liberation, Moksha, and on the general incompatibility of action and knowledge, whereas Swami Vivekananda placed emphasis on the Four Yogas and their integration, service of God in man, and a new calling to sannyasins in India — that of social service to raise the suffering masses in order to help them become fit for religion and spirituality.