by Judy Howe Hayes
Swami Vivekananda said, “I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and I hope that in the future the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.” In this the 150th anniversary year celebration of Swamiji, the above quote from his talk, “Why We Disagree,” given at the Parliament of Religions on September 15, 1893, raises the pertinent question: How far have we come in realizing what Swamiji calls “our purpose” as Americans in breaking down the barriers in this little world of ours? A further question for reflection may be: What might it mean to be a Vedantist in 2013?
In this age of technology and easy communication through the Internet, many on-line spiritual communities are being formed, and we find the artificial walls and barriers of the past dissolving in cyberspace. The universal principle of the underlying connection beneath the stories and beliefs of individuals and institutions is a current carrying us into the future as on-line monasteries and communities without walls; and inter-faith organizations that embrace and accept members of varying beliefs and practices are beginning to take shape.
There is much evidence that the Vedantic principles embodied in the lives and realizations of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Vivekananda are manifesting and becoming part of the fabric and pattern of American life and institutions, both secular and religious. Having been a Vedanta devotee for 45 years, I am now looking at what being a Vedantist means today and what direction we may take as new models of spiritual life emerge in our society. As dedicated, former members of religious institutions come together in grass roots organizations and communities, we may be experiencing the birth of a nameless religion, referred to by Swamiji and Swami Abhedananda, which is free of institutional identification through its universality, affirming that which connects rather than that which divides. Perhaps with this “evolution of consciousness.” a term used widely in the world of spirituality today, we can say that the purpose of America to “break down the barriers of this little world of ours” is being realized.
There are also many within the Vedanta community, including some former monastics who now live independent of an organization, who are drawn to the contemplative life of service and may find the idea of a monastery or community without walls appealing. Self-identifying as a contemplative at work in the world is a new model for religious life, introduced within the Ramakrishna Vedanta tradition by Vivekananda, who saw the service of God in Man as a suitable and necessary practice in the modern world. In the West, a contemplative community without walls that integrates contemplation and action is the emerging model for those interested in committed spiritual life without joining an established institution, center, monastery or convent. This model affirms a variety of lifestyles while one maintains the inner commitment to the disciplines and attitudes of a sincere spiritual aspirant. Through on-line contemplative communities without walls, one can make a contribution by sharing ideas and inspiring others who do not have the support of a traditional institution, but are steeped in the traditional spiritual values and practices.
In keeping with the teachings of Swamiji, the French Jesuit priest, scientist, philosopher and visionary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) said:
May the time come when men [sic], having been awakened to a sense of the close bond linking all the movements of this world in the single, all-embracing work of the Incarnation, shall be unable to give themselves to any one of their tasks without illuminating it with the clear vision that their work—however elementary it may be—is received and put to good use by a Center of the universe. When that time comes to pass, there will be little to separate life in the cloister from the life of the world.
As Vedantists we may ask ourselves if we have gone beyond the idea of exclusive membership by recognizing and hopefully realizing the illusion of the walls of separation of the past. It may be particular beliefs and ideas that initially draw us together in community, but at the heart of community it is unconditional love that gathers and enfolds us all. In the introduction to the article, “New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century,” by Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko, we find the inspiring mission statement, so in keeping with what may also be emerging within the Vedanta community in the West. In the words of the authors:
We assert that new monasticism names an impulse that is trying to incarnate itself in the new generation. It is beyond the borders of any particular religious institution, yet drinks deeply from the wells of our wisdom traditions. It is an urge which speaks to a profoundly contemplative life, to the formation of small communities of friends, to sacred activism and to discovering together the unique calling of every person and every community.
To read this entire article in which the Ramakrishna Order is also mentioned, please go to: http://www.scribd.com/doc/101981052/New-Monasticism-An-Interspiritual-Manifesto-for-Contemplative-Life-in-the-21st-Century
To explore further how the principles of Vedanta are manifesting in 2013, and how through the Internet America may be accomplishing its purpose of breaking down barriers that Swamiji spoke of in his address, one may explore some on-line communities that may be of interest:
“An inter-spiritual Universalist community for all paths and traditions. The Order of Universal Interfaith (OUnI) is an organized religious body providing an ecclesiastic home for interfaith, inter-spiritual and integral men and women from all faith and spiritual paths, cultures and ethnic groups.” It is an umbrella group for other on-line communities such as Integral Spirituality Nexus and The People’s Monastery, a community dedicated to spirituality through theater and the arts.
“The Universalus Inter-Spiritual Community, a radically inclusive community, was founded to provide a supportive, accepting and affirming environment for individuals who are committed to a universal approach to spirituality, encompassing all faiths and all traditions, and wish to express their spirituality in an interfaith tradition without dogma.” They provide service to the community-at-large, especially those who are disenfranchised and marginalized.
“An on-line experiment inviting contemplative minded people to connect, share ideas and build community in an inter-spiritual age.”
A circle of interspiritual mystics and contemplatives originally envisioned as “the Universal Order of Sannyasa” by the founder, Brother Wayne Teasdale, who says of the Order that “It should be an interspiritual order … open to all people—men and women, married and single, young, middle-aged, and old, confused or clear, adherents or not, with faith or agnostic—united in their desire for a deeper, more meaningful life. This would be a truly universal society of sannyasa, an order that welcomes as members individuals from all the world’s religions and even from no tradition at all.” • • •
 Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 1 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1986), 5
JUDY HOWE HAYES (GOPA), a former Vedanta and Buddhist nun, lives an independent contemplative life with her husband, Dharmachari Richard Hayes, in the mountains of Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org