Since its first weekend retreat in October 2010 in New Mexico, a small group of long-time Vedantists continue to explore ways of pooling ideas and resources. Seeking to further the Ramakrishna Vedanta movement in the West, they are exploring ways to best communicate Vedanta in the 21st century. The group gravitated to the name Integral Vedanta to express Swami Vivekananda’s vision.
Swami Vivekananda’s Vision
His was an all-inclusive vision—every aspect of life was an illustration of a spiritual ideal waiting to be recognized, divinity manifesting. During one of his walks in New York City, Vivekananda’s gaze rose to the top of a skyscraper. Possibly, it was the 260-foot New York Tribune building, one of the earliest skyscrapers. He immediately, half-audibly, commented on the greatness of the Divine Mother. It was the energy of the Divine Mother that appeared in this form before him. Furthermore, its construction spoke of human power and vision coupled with dauntless spirit. He marveled, realizing these qualities could be harnessed and utilized by man for spiritual growth.
Every field and endeavor of mankind gripped his interest and curiosity, whether economic theories, social thought, or scientific discoveries. He was a student of life; the strong points of every nation were his course of study. It was often the smallest things that caught his attention and spoke to the noblest qualities of that nation.
Sister Nivedita writes that he looked “at the world…through the eyes of the taught,” which provided him with an in-depth understanding of the human mind. The poet Rabindranath Tagore viewed him as the meeting point of the East and West. He wrote that Vivekananda possessed “the unique genius of assimilation and acceptance.” Romain Rolland described him as “the personification of the harmony of all human energy.”
This harmonizing trait was evident in his ability to gauge the meaning of his guru’s utterance: “Who are we to show compassion to others? No, not compassion for others, but rather the service of man, recognizing him to be a veritable manifestation of God,” and then to bring alive, to make practical, these words of Sri Ramakrishna. He boldly deviated from the tradition of monasticism in the East, which equated renunciation with complete withdrawal from society. He added to the inward spiritual life of the members of the Order an outward component of humanitarian activities. Both aspects were incorporated in the motto of the movement: For the freedom of oneself and for the welfare of the world. Vivekananda dedicated himself and the Order to the service of others, serving God in man within society. Service was his theme:
The poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted— let these by your God. Know that service to these alone is the highest realization.
In fact, service of God in man became one of Vivekananda’s foremost teachings. Its basis is the Upanishadic truth, tat twam asi (thou art that). The individual soul is one with the universal soul. To Vivekananda, practical Vedanta meant permeating our being with the idea that I am that ever glorious Self, then bringing this thought to bear on our everyday life. Deification of the world is an ancient Upanishadic teaching, “Whatever exists in this universe is to be covered with the Lord.” By reinvigorating this teaching, Vivekananda offers us a rational, unifying solution to the dilemma faced by those living in the world (as opposed to renouncing it as a monastic), and yet seeking to perceive the Divine Reality. In fact, by asking us to see the world as God alone, the ideal of renunciation attains its greatest height—we must give up the world as it appears to us, as we know it through our senses.
His disciple Sister Nivedita wrote:
If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths to realization. No distinction henceforth between the sacred and secular…To labor is to pray…Life itself is religion.
We need look no further than his speech at The World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893, which launched his work in the West, to see the dual themes of universality and harmony playing out once again. In his addresses, Vivekananda spoke on behalf of all religions while other delegates represented their traditions faithfully. He urged religions to give up the frog-in-the- well mentality. He expressed the hope that the Parliament itself would be the “death-knell” to intolerance and persecution. His addresses were all well received. For instead of appealing to universality based on emotions or rational reasoning, he spoke from his own realization of the oneness of existence.
In summary, Vivekananda’s outlook was one of acceptance (as in the case of embracing all aspects of life), unification (as in the case of the sacred and secular), and harmonization (every religion is true)—basically, it was one of universal integration. Clearly, the seeds of Integral Vedanta were sown by Vivekananda.
Publishing Project of Integral Vedanta Group
To serve the larger Vedanta family in the West, the group is undertaking to publicize and promote events and projects of an “integrating” nature, that is, which demonstrate inclusiveness. How? First of all, gathering information from centers or informal groups or individual Vedantists, and then electronically disseminating it to a list of subscribers. Its focus is limited, in that the information published will be events or activities promoting cooperation, broadening outreach, demonstrating new approaches in addressing issues, or establishing new models for spiritual growth through service, education, and other activities.
Its content will consist of announcements, details, and interviews concerning a specific project or activity. It will not support generic articles on spiritual topics, a discussion forum, book reviews, or after-the-fact reports of conferences or seminars.
The purpose of disseminating information in this form is to:
1. Increase awareness as to the form Vedanta is taking in the West to a larger circle of people as we enter the 21st century
2. Encourage support or inspiration for a project or activity from a larger, diverse constituency
3. Support and facilitate networking between groups or individuals
The first issue of Integral Vedanta News has been launched via email. Subsequent issues of the publication will be sent out periodically and in a timely fashion to any interested subscriber. If you would like to subscribe, please send your email address to our list manager at Integralvedantanews@gmail.com. If you would like to submit information for publication, email our news manager at Integralvedantainfo@gmail.com. If you have friends who may be interested in Integral Vedanta, please tell them about Integral Vedanta News.
—The Integral Vedanta News publication committee