Sister Gayatriprana’s response to the Reader’s Forum question: What do you believe Swamiji envisioned as the future of Vedanta in this country?

Before projecting what we think Vivekananda might have wanted for the United States, it behooves us to look at what he thought about it when he was alive. What did he regard as our strengths, and also our weaknesses, and where did he feel we should be heading? If we regard him as a far-sighted seer, we can fairly safely extrapolate from his utterances over a hundred years ago to where we are now and where we most profitably should be heading. With this is mind, let me take a look at some of his striking observations on the West in general and the US in particular.

With regard to the West in general, Swami Vivekananda said, “Europe has always been the source of social, and Asia of spiritual, power; and the whole history of the world is the tale of the varying combinations between the two.”2 And this social power he so much admired in the West and later emulated in India, he found particularly concentrated in the United States, where “they have given me food, shelter, friendship, protection – even the most orthodox Christians!” This situation he contrasted to the narrow boundaries drawn in Indian society, where the word mlechcha (an untouchable or foreigner) had been coined and communion with the rest of the world had ceased. He concluded, “It is good to talk glibly about Vedanta, but how hard to carry out even its least precepts!”3

He loved the generous Yankees he encountered during his first visit to the States and admired their energy, drive, and enthusiasm for innovation: “I love the Yankee land. I like to see new things. I do not care a fig to loaf about old ruins and mope a life out about old histories and keep sighing about the ancients. . . In America is the place, the people, the opportunity for everything.”4

However, with all of that, he did not fail to notice the failings of his newfound brothers and sisters and to offer some trenchant observations as to their causes: “Do not think for a moment that the Yankees are practical in religion. In that alone the Hindu is practical, the Yankee in money-making, so that as soon as I depart, the whole thing will disappear. Therefore I want to have solid ground under my feet before I depart.”5 We get some insight into his thinking on this problem: “It seems, however advanced the Western nations are in scientific culture, they are mere babies in metaphysical and spiritual education,”6 a situation which in turn could have related to his other observation on the “growing revolt against old traditions and authorities. Instead of accepting them, people of today boldly challenge them to give reasons for their claims, to make clear the grounds on which they demand acceptance,”7 what I would take as a preview of what we now know as postmodernism, based on an extreme reliance on physical facts. He admired the boldness and proactiveness of America, but also saw that its relentless rationalism and materialistic pragmatism was sawing off the branch that was sustaining it. But did he simply observe? What solutions did he offer to a people he loved and appreciated so much?

Vivekananda’s Personal Gifts to the US and How Americans Responded

One of the very first, of course, was himself. As a highly developed spiritual person, he very quickly impressed the Americans as “A new type of human being,”8 who gave not money but spirituality.9 This direct giving, perhaps attested in William James’s seeing Vivekananda in samadhi,10 certainly by what his students in London saw as he ascended during his classes into more and more exalted states of consciousness,11 and Lillian Montgomery experienced very vividly in New York in 1900,12 was almost certainly Vivekananda’s most powerful influence on the American mind, as closed as it was to metaphysics and the science of higher consciousness.

But it was not entirely closed. The published versions of his yoga classes given in New York in 1895-96, brought out by his enterprising American and English followers, sold like hotcakes. This was true particularly of Raja yoga, on the science of inner exploration and development. First published in 1896, by November of the same year it was sold out, and a standing order for several hundred more copies was in place.13 Clearly, there were Americans who were determined to develop spiritually and to commit to whatever it took to do so. Vivekananda himself would discover four years later on his visit to California just how serious and committed many Americans were to nothing short of complete self-transformation. And in the larger world of publishing, which defines itself by the response to its offering, Raja yoga continued to be published by Brentano’s until 1929, and by the commercial British publishers Luzac up to 1937, just before World War II.

But, though Vivekananda intended that Americans would indeed go for the gold in self-transformative efforts, which would help them discover for themselves the meaning and power of advanced states of consciousness, he did not intend them to subscribe reflexly to what he considered shopworn superstitions. One that he most often knocked was that of the avatar, which he regarded as a “dualistic superstition”.14 He much preferred that his American audiences would understand that “You are incarnations of God, all of you”, and that “every knowledge is sacred,” including Western science.15 By Indian standards, this was rather revolutionary; but we know Vivekananda was not one to “mope over old relics”, and I think we can take a cue here as to the kind of democratic, self-reliant, proactive type of Vedanta he hoped would develop from the meeting of Yankee can-doism and the hoary discoveries of higher consciousness by Vedanta. The only caveat he gave in this bold blueprint for America was that the guru was one thing not to be abandoned, referring particularly to the teaching of one culture by another, for he had in mind that the West would learn higher consciousness from India and India the this-worldly can-doism of the West. However, he made it clear that each, while learning from the other, must retain its own type:

Each nation is a type, physically and mentally. Each is constantly receiving ideas from others, only to work them out into its type, that is, along the national line. The time has not come for the destruction of types. All education from any source is compatible with the ideals in every country; only they must be nationalized, i.e. fall in line with the rest of the type manifestation.16

Here we have a valuable indication of just how he envisioned America developing: absorbing the wisdom of Vedanta with earnestness, but entirely in its own way, according to its own, natural bent and genius and using methods congenial to it, which would most rapidly move it along the inner path of Vedanta in order to express the American archetype most directly as well as spiritually. One concrete example we might give here of how he envisioned this process working out was his request to Miss Waldo, not only to edit his writings, but also to give classes. He told her, “I will be a thousand times more pleased to see one of you start than any number of Hindus, scoring success in America, even be he one of my brethren.”17

This was a Westerner, a woman, no doubt distinguished by being a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson and therefore saturated in metaphysical and transcendental thought. This woman, who might have been considered quite unfit as a teacher by those much more traditional than Vivekananda, had, by her utter dedication to his teachings as well as to him, qualified herself in his mind as a teacher for Westerners, whom he hoped would take up the banner of the Vedantic teaching and share it with others in her fully American way. Surely this is an indication of Vivekananda’s gender-blind, culture-blind approach, honoring excellence wherever he saw it and promoting it, no matter what the diehards or curmudgeons thought about it. This is a word to the wise, if there ever was one! And Miss Waldo did not fail him: her efforts at speaking in public met with public acclaim.18

Some Principles for the American Work

Having drawn a picture of Vivekananda’s vision for America, let us now look at five key elements of his dream, as I have understood it:

a) Spiritual Humanism and Democracy

As an integral seer, Vivekananda had gone beyond the traditional Hindu hierarchies and systems of authority and embraced the idea of democracy. But his concept of democracy was not a simply political one; it was a radical application of the central truth of Vedanta to prevailing conditions:

There is but one basis of well being, social, political, or spiritual – to know that I and my brother are one. This is true for all countries and all people. And Westerners, let me say, will realize it more quickly than Orientals, who have almost exhausted themselves in formulating the idea and producing a few cases of individual realization.19

Perhaps the reason he felt that the West would succeed where Asia would not is that he had observed that “America is the best field in the world to carry on any idea,”20 perhaps because it was a young nation with as yet few rigid, crystallized notions, and perhaps because he could see just how rapidly technology was moving forward in America to increase not only the rapidity of access to, but also the extensity and depth of information. For better or worse, radio, TV, the internet were on their way and, while carrying a lot of rubbish, would also demonstrate instantly what is going on in any corner of the world and also purvey stunning images of worlds that might yet be (as in Avatar), or already exist, even in the midst of apparently dreadful degradation (Lord of the Rings).

But at the same time, Vivekananda was getting “weary of . . . mixing with hundreds of varieties of the human animal” in America, by which he meant those obsessed with hot deals and “hot Scotch”; he understood that it would be far more profitable for him to “speak fire” to a select few, who would then “scatter my ideas broadcast.” He wanted to “evolve a few giants” rather than strewing pearls before swine.21 He had a master plan for America and that was to “evolve a few giants,”22 an idea he elaborated on in a wider context at the Parliament of Religions. Speaking of his vision of universal religion, which the Indians had failed to carry out in practice and therefore, by implication, something he hoped to realize in the West, he said:

[This] religion will recognize divinity in every man and woman; . . . its whole scope, whole force, will be centered in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature. 23

This was the early formulation of what we have come to understand in the West as evolution of consciousness, the progression along a chosen path of discipline to the deepest and highest levels of our being, in order to manifest the divinity that was so obvious in Vivekananda himself and the very essence of his teachings. Vivekananda envisioned that such a religion would allow to appear “the highest man, towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity, making society stand in awe of him and doubt his human nature.”24 Can we doubt that Vivekananda was prompted to envision this on account of his experience with the materialism dominating America, and also his awareness of the deep hunger for spirituality that lay beneath it and was drive by it, as well as the Americans willingness to work, take risks, and aim for something higher than mere crystallized dogmas and ritual? It certainly seems to me that America’s love affair with yoga and all manner of self-transformative practices (no matter how crude at the moment) is testimony to the accuracy of Vivekananda’s analysis of the American soul; but just how long it will be till the giant appears on the scene remains to be seen!

And, as a kind of zenith of Vivekananda’s early vision for America, rooted in its deep-seated this worldliness, he also said in the same lecture:

If it is happiness to enjoy the consciousness of this small body, it must be greater happiness to enjoy the consciousness of two bodies, the measure of happiness increasing with the consciousness of an increasing number of bodies – the aim, the ultimate of happiness, being reached when it would become a universal consciousness. 25

This quite stunning utterance seems to me to simply begin with a basic American presupposition that enjoyment of the body is a God-given right, and to take it step by step into deeper and deeper levels of understanding – first that to identify with another is more blessed, more of a God-given right than anything else, and then to move in wider and wider circles into a deep concern for all bodies in the universe and the interior evolutionary process each contains. How strange this utterance must have seemed at the time; but now I think we can see in the widespread concern and activism for global sustainability and protection of the environment a working-out of Vivekananda’s dream, that not only applies to us but to all human beings. This work is indeed a product of his thinking, not of a religion that denies value and sacredness to all without exception; and potentially America, with its basic values dynamized and transformed by Vivekananda, is the one that will spearhead and carry this out so that all of us will be humanized and divinized at the same time.

b) Yoga as a Science

Vivekananda saw the West as materialistic, but at the same time ripe for the process of self-transformation, and gave to it in full measure his contemporary formulation of yoga, not as an arcane, hidebound tradition, but as an exciting, individually based journey of experience, related in his mind with science, and therefore systematic, evidence-based and free of dogma or superstition. And Americans were not going to be given merely “the crumbs that fall from the table.”26 At Thousand Island Park he told his students, “’The good of the world’ will be that what is now superconscious for us will in ages to come be the conscious for all.”27 This was no watering-down for benighted materialists ignorantly struggling to understand yoga, but a clarion call to the very highest, with the vista of propagating that vision and all that goes with it to the furthest ends of the earth, so that all of humanity can share in a consciousness which takes us radically beyond our present circumstances.

Vivekananda’s project was nothing short of creating in the US “A new order of humanity, who are sincere believers in God and care nothing for the world.”28 He knew it would be uphill work, taking into consideration the rampant materialism of the Gilded Age, but he had already seen the sincerity and seriousness of too many Americans to doubt that it was possible.

In an essay later found in Miss Waldo’s possession the swami grappled with the issue of the rejection of a non-sensory reality running through all of our sense perceptions, a position he was to meet again and again in America. He iterated his conviction that the “sheer necessity of being true to our reason and generalizing faculty”29 would finally lead us to accept the supra-sensual as counterbalance to the physical world. We can only think that his amazing discussions of particularly raja and jnana yogas, with their highly abstract concepts and practices, were a part of his drawing attention rationally to the minds of Americans of the possibility of higher realms of being. And, as we know, the Americans welcomed such “arcana” with open arms and have not stopped exploring it ever since. Generations of Indian yogis have ridden this wave, with conspicuous success, and more recently science-trained Americans such as Ken Wilber have systematized and explained the whole process in terms of contemporary transpersonal psychology, thus putting the whole project on a more general, popularly acceptable level.

Vivekananda was already aware of such waves, but he was thinking in much longer time-spans and in a much more inclusive way:

Apparently, every five hundred years or so, a wave of this thought (giving back divine consciousness to the all the poor, downtrodden, the oppressed and the sick) comes over the world. Little waves arise in many directions, but one swallows up all the others and sweeps over society. That wave which does this has most character at its back.30

What was interesting was that the swami was thinking, not only in terms of Confucius, Buddha, the Sikhs, but also Moses, Pythagoras, Christ, Muhammad, Luther, Calvin, Theosophy and spiritualism; for him “all these mean only the preaching of the Divine in Humanity.”31 He saw the value and relevance for the West’s practice of yoga its very own tradition, including even the more contemporary movements, which in some quarters are held in disdain and rejection. This is surely a lesson for us: our very own spiritual and religious impulses are genuine and can help us grow spiritually every bit as much as more exotic and difficult-to-understand Asian systems.

Having drawn this dramatic picture of the future of yoga in the West, Vivekananda gave his final words on what it is that connects with yoga: “One woman contains the whole universe; one particle of matter has all the energy of the universe at its back.”32 In such a perspective, we can better understand his statement, “The end of all religions is the realizing of God in the soul. That is the one universal religion.” 33 No dogmas here, nor creeds, no cultural overlay – just the energy of the universe turning itself inwards and discovering What Is, beyond ethnic, national, or any other kind of affiliation. In this huge, all-embracing vision we can readily see why the swami urged an audience in Hartford, “We have humanity for the background, but each must have his own individuality and his own thought. Push the sects forward and forward till each man and woman are sects unto themselves.” 34 I think we can conclude that Vivekananda envisioned Americans as spiritually self-sufficient, capable of evaluating all possible paths and yogas on offer and able to discover what actually works for them as unique individuals, and moving forward with Yankee can-doism to create a tailor-made program for total self-transformation. No doubt spiritual teachers will still exist – all forms of knowledge require a teacher, don’t they? – but in an environment such as we have just delineated from his works, we cannot envision anything autocratic, rigid, or authoritarian. That isn’t what we think of when we think of American, I rather imagine. No, we need several start-ups, various initiatives as to how to interpret and apply the yogas of Vivekananda, with serious investigation, development, and collegial cross-fertilization, which jumpstarts the whole process of spiritual growth in America and makes this country as productive and as creative as it has formerly been in the material world. Lots of Americans have already begun this program in what is disparagingly referred to as “smorgasbord spirituality”, which may indeed be quite confused; but I rather think that when Americans in general come to understand the principles of yoga as demonstrated by Vivekananda, such random efforts will become much more focused and productive for all. We shall have our own, American Parliament of Religions going on in each individual life on a minute-to-minute basis.

c) What Is Maya?

One aspect of Vedanta that is more challenging intellectually than simple practice of yoga is the big question: Why do we keep doing negative and destructive things, even when we are damaging ourselves thereby? Why, for example, does America keep hewing to fundamentalist materialism, when it has been demonstrated over and over that is it leading us into global meltdown and chaos at home? This is the pragmatic question that Vivekananda dealt with on many occasions in terms of the Vedantic notion of maya. His big theoretical lectures on that subject were of course given in England, but he had lots to say on the subject in the less intellectual environment of the America of his day, which he summarized as:

We should be free to think, especially spiritual thoughts. Just because this assertion of independence, this proving that humans are not machines, is the essence of all religious thought, it is impossible to think in the routine, mechanical way. It is this tendency to bring everything down to the level of a machine that has given the West its wonderful prosperity. And it is this that has driven away all religion from its doors. Even that little that is left the West has reduced to a systematic drill.35

This is a clear definition of what the obstacle to spirituality was in America, giving a hint which perhaps the green and ecological movements are urging us to consider, in that they are calling for greater simplicity, more awareness of our shared existence with all of life rather than with the world of mere mechanics and machines.
And in another letter to an American sister, he gives us another hint into what we might regard as the blueprint to leave behind our self-created obstructions to spirituality:

The eternal, the infinite, the omnipresent, the omniscient is a principle, not a person. You, I, and everyone are but embodiments of that principle, and the more of that principle is embodied in a person, the greater is he, and all in the end will be perfect embodiments of that and thus all will be one, as they are now essentially. This is all there is of religion, and the practice is through this feeling of oneness that is love.36

What was needed was for Americans to be less focused on material objects and more on principles, particularly the principle of our shared divinity and what it means in practice as we relate to and work with one another. Have we worked out an effective way to do this, without losing our amazing technical skills and ability to organize efficiently? I believe this was what Vivekananda particularly expected of us, in the same way that he expected Indians to connect effectively with the material world without losing their grip on their hoary spirituality.

One very helpful thought Vivekananda offers is: “Vedanta holds that the soul never changes in essence, but it is modified by maya. Nature is God limited by mind.”37 Here, I feel, is a very practical key to help us get over maya, what is more traditionally regarded as a metaphysical stumbling-block to spiritual life. We limit God or Spirit with our minds! Why? Because we keep applying mechanical categories to things that belong in deeper domains, such as life, understanding, intuition, and thereby straight-jacketing others as well as ourselves. And we make ourselves and others suffer, don’t we? And how do we get over such non-productive behavior? By attuning ourselves to the deeper parts of who we are, a project that yoga largely addresses. But we can also observe our day-to-day workings of the mind, particularly what we in the West call, after Jung, our shadow. Western psychology is very focused on this, and I believe it is a useful tool to help us pinpoint where we keep going wrong, shafting others and holding ourselves up spiritually by judging everything by the standards of the material, technological universe.

In some jottings made in America, probably during his first visit there, Vivekananda sketched out the process he was envisioning as taking place in America: “Individual to general, Concrete to abstract to absolute”38. This gives us a kind of formula for how he envisioned Americans would progress in their evolution from the merely mechanical and inflexible to the more interior, flexible, and creative. Are we aware of this progression, and what, if anything, are we doing in Vedanta to facilitate it, through study, discussion and projects which help people work it out in practice?

To my mind, we might honor and respect intellectual study more than we have, for it is there that such interior ideas can be developed as a form of blueprint for our work. As and when we grasp the necessity of honoring the more subtle human faculties we shall find that they begin to play a more active part in what we do, allowing us to fine-tune, network, and adjust to a much wider variety of minds than we do at present.

Finally, in this connection, Vivekananda gives us a very poetic statement of the problem we face and need to solve:

Ye fools! Who neglect the living God
And His infinite reflections
of which the world is full,
While you run after imaginary shadows,
That alone lead to fights and quarrels;
Him worship, the only visible!
Break all other idols!39

As and when we clear out all the technological cobwebs from our minds and have a clear understanding of the principles of Vivekananda’s integral Vedanta, we may hope to spontaneously see others as they are in all of their dimensions and to gladly connect up with them, seeing as we do the living real spirit which animates all of us. For now, I guess we just have to work with the idea and strive to create a milieu where it can be nurtured, grow and finally take the form of highly democratic organizations where all forms of self-transformation are promoted and the mind transmuted from an instrument of the material world into that of the Spirit, or the deepest levels of consciousness of which we are capable of attaining, and Vivekananda expected us to attain.

d) Spiritual Evolution

Vivekananda was a great exponent of the idea of evolution, which came to so much prominence during his lifetime. He applied it to many different situations, but particularly to the whole project of spiritual development. He expressed this idea very directly to the Hale Sisters: “Instead of materializing the spirit; that is, dragging the spiritual to the material plane as these folks [spiritualists, etc.] do, convert the matter into spirit.”40 This is clearly picking up from the previous topic of maya, but more explicitly expressing it as a continuous process, which he also summarized later for Nivedita: “Matter changed into spirit by the force of love. Nay, that is the gist of our Vedanta.”41

This, I think, is a blueprint for our own thinking. If we can see our work, not just as our own practice, our personal struggle with maya, but as part of a whole evolutionary process, our chances of getting into the flow with what others are doing is that much greater. And this idea is being taken up with great gusto by contemporary teachers such as Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber, whose background is in Vedanta or a form of very Westernized Buddhism related to cutting-edge science. And, judging by their tremendous popularity and effectiveness in reaching out to large numbers of people in order to help them evolve personally as well as to join the global evolutionary thrust, their insights have a great deal of validity.

To Sturdy, an Englishman with a metaphysical turn, Vivekananda stated that notions of evolution must be based on the idea of Mahat or cosmic consciousness, a term that was as he spoke germinating in the American mind as Dr. Richard Bucke incubated his seminal work Cosmic Consciousness, which has remained a perennial favorite for Americans inclined to conscious self-evolution. And Vivekananda used here his favorite illustration from the psychological world of the progression he had in mind: Unconscious – conscious – superconscious,42 which we might regard as his gloss on the discoveries of Freud of the subconscious as well as the conscious, being made even as Vivekananda spoke. It is easy to dismiss such thinking as mere philosophizing, but if we are going to follow Vivekananda’s mandate to get beyond mere mechanical thinking, we will have to engage with thoughts like this and learn how to work them out in our own lives and in practical expressions of them in our relationships with other groups fired by the same vision and moving forward with the utmost sincerity and address.

Moving to a more intellectual view of the same thing, Vivekananda told the professors at Harvard University:

Your belief in evolution is among our yogis and in the Sankhya philosophy. For instance, Patanjali speaks of one species being changed into another by the infilling of nature; only he differs from you in the explanation. His explanation of this evolution is spiritual. . . Each is the Infinite already, only . . . bars and bolts and different circumstances shut her in. But as soon as they are removed, she rushes out and expresses herself. . . As soon as fitting circumstances came, the God in humanity manifested itself.43

Stepping back, as it were, to a yet more general view, Vivekananda told an American lady, “The world has not come to that state as yet when the ideal can be realized in society. The progress of the world through all its evils is making it fit for the ideals, slowly but surely. . . . Only we have to learn that evil is destroyed by the growth of good.”44

Here I feel is an extremely important pointer to how we have to proceed in order to adjust Vedanta to the West in order to support and promote the kind of evolution we wish to see: hold the ideal firmly, and work only in constructive and truly creative ways so that all of the dullness, stupidity and crassness that now vexes and holds us up simply gets left behind to die of inanition.

And, finally, the overall summation of this aspect of Vivekananda’s vision might be:

The utility of this science [of the mind and its powers] is to bring out perfect human beings, and not let them wait for ages and ages, just like a plaything in the hands of the physical world, like of log of driftwood carried from wave to wave and tossing about in the ocean. This science wants you to become strong, to take the work in your own hand, instead of leaving it in the hands of nature, and get beyond this little life. That is the great idea.45

It seems quite clear that Vivekananda wanted us to grasp the idea of spiritual evolution thoroughly and take up it with a will, relying not simply on old ideas and methods, but working the whole thing through for ourselves and creating an approach that can spread out to the culture around us, thus jumpstarting the evolution, not only of ourselves, but all of America, and by extension the world. Difficult though it may be to visualize at the moment!

e) Holism

Particularly at the end of his work in America, Vivekananda liked to speak about the whole, a wonderful word which is gaining popularity in the West in the terms holistic or holism, the properties of which many scientists, particularly quantum scientists, are currently exploring. To my mind, this indicates that our culture is getting ready to move away from its obsession with the particular, the limited, the material, to a much more encompassing worldview. Let us see how Vivekananda introduced this idea in order to guess at and perhaps work on how he intended it to express itself through Vedanta.

He gave a quite uncompromising statement that we might take as the manifesto of this subject:

The theory of the Vedanta, therefore, comes to this: that you and I and everything in this universe are that Absolute, not parts, but the whole. You are the whole of that Absolute, and so are all others, because the idea of a part cannot come into it. These divisions, these limitations, are only apparent, not in the thing itself. I am complete and perfect, and I was never bound, boldly preaches the Vedanta.46

He then gives us a clue as to how such a statement might work out in practice:

We cannot say how much someone may grow in one life. You have no reason to say that this person can do this much and no more. Circumstances can hasten him wonderfully. Can there be any limit, then, till you come to perfection? So, what comes of it? That a perfect human being, that is to say, the type that is to come of this race, perhaps millions of years hence, that person can come today.47

He naturally was thinking of Ramakrishna, whom he referred to as “he lived the life of the whole human race and reached the end – even in this life.”48 But as always, his interest was not in personalities, but in the methods we must use if we are to tap efficiently and productively into the huge potential that has been made apparent to us.
And, just to hammer home the implications of this line of thought, he socked out to his audience in San Francisco, “You are all Gods. One God is not sufficient. You are all Gods, says Vedanta. . . Vedanta teaches the God that is in everyone, has become everyone and everything.”49 Are we able to digest this and do anything about it? Can we relate this idea to the holographic paradigm, which physicists tell us means that one template (which we can postulate as Spiritual Reality) expresses itself in infinite ways throughout the entire universe? If so, we will be catching the contemporary American worldview by the tail and are ready to engage with it creatively.

But this was not the end of Vivekananda’s bombshells. Around the same time he said, “All the troubles arising from the conflict between materialism and spirituality are due to wrong thinking. Actually, there is no difference between the two. I and the lowest pig differ only in degree. It is less manifested, I more. Sometimes I am worse, and the pig is better.” 50 Food for thought, to put it mildly! Can we finally get beyond our obsession with distinctions such as sacred and secular and find a way to bring them together harmoniously, so that we no longer shut ourselves off from the life of the world and thereby withhold from it the luminous notion of the Living God, humans, animals, plants, nature in all its forms, expressing the Divine in so many different ways?

Finally, in practically his last utterance on American soil, Vivekananda himself gives us the mandate for what we are to do. Speaking of his ashram in the Himalayas, he says about how he proposes to educate the children there:

They shall not hear about Christs and Buddhas and Shivas and Vishnus – none of these. They shall learn, from the start, to stand upon their own feet. They shall learn from their childhood that God is the spirit and should be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Everyone must be looked on as the spirit.51

He went on to confide that this is what he really liked and that he wished he had been brought up without dualistic superstitions. It seems to me that this is a very large hint to us Vedantists to embrace this holistic vision, so compatible with all that is developing around us and so far the best method to find our unity with all of the variety that surrounds us all the time and would probably crush us if we did not have this worldview bequeathed to us by Vivekananda.

Again, are we ready to embrace this and make it the operating system of the Vedanta we aspire to in America? As we have seen, Vivekananda has a lot of different views about America and its needs; but I believe that all of them ultimately revolve around this central notion of holism and the divinity of all beings without exception. In what ways – besides our own efforts to think and act this way – can American Vedanta enshrine and express this pearl beyond price?


[Quotes from Swami Vivekananda have been gender-neutralized.]
2 CW, Vol.8: Letter to E.T. Sturdy, New York, p.336.
3 CW, Vol.5: Letter to Alasinga, Washington, October 27, 1894, p.52.
4 CW, Vol.7: Letter to Mary Hale, May, 1896, pp.495-496.
5 CW, Vol.5: Letter to Alasinga from the USA, March 6th, 1895, p.75.
6 CW, Vol.6: Letter to Mary Hale from Darjeeling, April 28, 1897, p.391.
7 CW, Vol.8: Discourses on Jnana-Yoga VII, pp.24-25.
8 CW, Vol.6: Letter to his brother disciples from New York, September 25, 1894, p.271.
9 CW, Vol.6: Letter to Swami Ramakrishnananda, from Chicago, March 19th, 1894, p.255.
10 Marie Louise Burke: Swami Vivekananda in the West, Vol.2, p.187. (Hereafter SVW)
11 Mahendranath Dutta. Londone Swami Vivekananda. Calcutta: Mahendra Publishing Company, 1937; an unpublished English translation by Swami Yogeshananda, Former Head, Vedanta Society of Atlanta, USA, p.53. Currently on
12 Lillian Montgomery. “In the Presence of Swami Vivekananda” in Prabuddha Bharata (Calcutta; Advaita Ashrama, June 1952), p.97.
13 CW, Vol.6: Letter to Mrs. Bull, London, November 13, 1896, p.382.
14 CW, Vol.8: Is Vedanta the Future Religion? p.140.
15 Ibid., p.137.
16 CW, Vol.8: Letter to Mary Hale from Los Angeles, June 17, 1900, p.523.
17 Letter from Swami Vivekananda
to Miss Waldo, London, October 8, 1896 in SVW, Vol.4, p.337.
18 Ibid., pp.341-342.
19 CW, Vol.8: Letter to Mr. Sturdy from New York, August 9, 1895, p.350.
20 CW, Vol.8: Letter to Alasinga from Chicago, June 28, 1894, p.313.
21 CW, Vol.8: Letter to the Hale Sisters from Detroit, March 15, 1894, p.302.
22 Ibid., pp.302-303.
23 CW, Vol.1: Paper on Hinduism, p.19.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid., p.14.
26 Matthew, 15.27.
27 CW, Vol.7: Inspired Talks, July 11, p.44.
28 CW, Vol.5: Letter to Alasinga from U.S.A, May 6, 1895, p.82.
29 CW, Vol.4: Fundamentals of Religion, p.381.
30 CW, Vol.8: Jnana and Karma, p.229.
31 Ibid.
32 CW, vol. 8: The Religion of Love, p.223.
33 CW, vol.1: Soul. God, and Religion, p.324.
34 CW, Vol.9: Universal Religion: Vivekananda’s Lecture on the Creeds of the World, p.487.
35 CW, Vol.8: To the Hale Sisters from Detroit, March 15, 1894, p.302.
36 CW, Vol.7: Letter to ?Mary Hale, London, May, 1896, p.496.
37 CW, Vol.8: The Reality and the Shadow, p.238.
38 CW, Vol.5: Reason, Faith, and Love, p.426.
39 CW, Vol.8: The Living God, p.169: In a letter written to Mary Hale, from Almora, July 9, 1897, p.137.
40 CW, vol.6: Letter to the Hale Sisters from Greenacre, July 31, 1894, pp.259-260.
41 CW, Vol.8: Letter to Sister Nivedita from Srinagar, October 1, 1897, p.429.
42 CW, Vol.8: Letter to E.T. Sturdy from New York, 1895, pp.362-363.
43 CW, Vol.5: A Discussion, p.298.
44 CW, Vol.5: Letter to an American Lady, December 13, 1896, p.125.
45 CW, Vol.2: The Powers of the Mind, p.19.
46 CW, Vol.1: Vedanta and Privilege, p.419.
47 CW, Vol.2: The Powers of the Mind, pp.18-19.
48 Ibid., p.19.
49 CW, Vol.8: Is Vedanta the Future Religion? p.125.
50 CW, Vol.8: I Am That I Am, p.246.
51 CW, Vol.8: Is Vedanta the Future Religion? p.140.

SISTER GAYATRIPRANA is a writer on Vivekananda Vedanta, with a
background in the neurosciences. Formerly a monastic member of the
Vedanta Society of Southern California, she retired to Santa Fe, NM.

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