Amul Gupta’s response to the Reader’s Forum question: What do you believe Swamiji envisioned as the future of Vedanta in this country?
“There is a chance of Vedanta becoming the religion of your country because of democracy.” That’s how Swami Vivekananda envisioned the future of Vedanta in the USA. (“Is Vedanta the Future Religion”, delivered in San Francisco on April 8, 1900).
He also clarified why he said “there is a chance…” He said, “You are all kings in this country. So with the religion of Vedanta. You are all Gods. One God is not sufficient. You are all Gods, says the Vedanta . . . This makes Vedanta very difficult.” Yet he was a visionary, “If Vedanta — this conscious knowledge that all is one spirit — spreads, the whole of humanity will become spiritual. And he was a little skeptical also, “But is it possible? I do not know. Not within thousands of years.”
In the same talk, Swamiji said something, which I find most intriguing, “This Vedanta is everywhere, only you must become conscious of it.”
After living in the United States for a little over half of my life, I find Vedanta all over the USA, but Americans aren’t conscious of it. And after spending some time in India during the past two years, I find Vedanta all over the country of its origin as well, but a majority of her people don’t know what Vedanta is either. Yet they practice it every day performing some rituals – perhaps not the way Vivekananda might have envisioned.
In my opinion, the Vedantic principle of freedom first manifested in America with the Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution, who felt the Church of England violated the biblical principles of true Christians.
By proclaiming, “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…” the (13 united American colonies’) Declaration of Independence firmly established the principle of democracy and freedom. And freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of pursuing one’s own religion is what Vedanta is all about.
Abolitionism resulted in the Civil War to end slavery in America, which further strengthened the principle of freedom, democracy, and equality. “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy,” said Abraham Lincoln.
The inscription on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty sings the song of freedom:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your
Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tossed to me;
I lift my lamp beside the
Compare this to Vivekananda’s clarion call to his countrymen:
“Forget not that thy social order is but the reflex of the Infinite Universal Motherhood; forget not that the lower classes, the ignorant, the poor, the illiterate, the cobbler, the sweeper, are thy flesh and blood, thy brothers. (CW, Vol. IV, p. 480)
Fast forward… In his 8th annual address to Congress on January 6, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt envisioned a world built upon four essential human freedoms:
- Freedom of speech and expression,
- Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way,
- Freedom from want, meaning economic understanding
that will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants, and
- Freedom from fear, meaning no nation will be in a position to commit an aggression against any neighbor.
E pluribus unum, or “Out of many, one”, was considered a de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when the U.S. Congress passed an act adopting “In God We Trust” as the official motto. Both appear on American coins. Since many Americans claim America as a Christian nation, Congress could have adopted the motto as “In Christ We Trust”. But by adopting “In God We Trust” along with E pluribus unum, or “Out of many, one” in the seal, America seems to be echoing Rig Veda’s “Ekam Sad; Vipraa Bahudhaa Vadanti,” or “Truth is One; sages call it variously.”
Miranda Warning, “You have the right to remain silent,” etc.; the first man on the moon; America’s contribution to maintaining world peace, although not being successful every time; equal rights and women’s liberation movements; first women speaker of the House of Representatives; first African American President — the list goes on and on.
So what’s the future of Vedanta in America? Looking at the current political and socio-economic trends, Vedanta’s future in America seems to be positive. After the September 11 wake-up call, it had better be positive and thriving; otherwise I think the future not only of America but the rest of the world will be doomed. “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves,” said Abraham Lincoln.
One thing is certain, and it is this: Vedanta in America in the 21st century will not be closeted within the current Vedanta Societies. The Church-model that the Vedanta Societies still follow is a thing of the past. Everything is quick sound-bites today. The present generation is an “instant” or “i” generation — a generation of iPhone, iTouch, iPad, Google, eBooks, Facebook, Twitter, and Webinar, to name a few. Social media, social entrepreneurship, and cultural capitalism are the buzz words for today’s computer- and Internet-savvy young people.
Yet today’s generation is not a generation of non-believers. But they want spirituality in today’s format. A few statistics of members of a few groups on Facebook says it all. As of this writing, on Facebook, Dr. Wayne Dyer has 136,321 fans, Rumi 22,851, Tao Te Ching 20,347; and Swami Vivekananda is the last having 14,179 fans. Vedanta, Sri Ramakrishna, and the Holy Mother are way below with less than 1,000 fans each.
So, this is it, my fellow Vedantists. Vedanta is in America, but the majority of Americans do not know that what they have is called Vedanta. About Swamiji, Sister Nivedita said: “To him, the workshop, the study, the farmyard, and the field are as true and fit scenes for the meeting of God with man as the cell of the monk or the door of the temple.” America seems to have fulfilled Swamiji’s vision during the 20th century. What America does in the 21st century is yet to be seen.
AMAL GUPTA, associated with Vedanta since 1961, has been a member of the Vedanta Society of New York (VSNY) since 1980. He was Webmaster of VSNY’s website from 1998-2008. After a career as an IT Consultant, he retired in 2007. He lives in Stoneham, MA and in his hometown Jabalpur