Many people today are alarmed by the condition of the world. The bad news seems to get worse by the hour. Not only is there social disorder and political mayhem, war and rumors of war, famine, unprecedented numbers of refugees, and contagious epidemics, but it is impossible to deny the fact of climate change. Millions are affected by catastrophic drought, crop losses and resource scarcity, wildfires, extreme hurricanes and flooding, and cataclysmic earthquakes. Some scientists suggest we are now in the midst of a mass extinction event that will exponentially accelerate in this generation. How can Vedanta help us cope in this time of trouble?
Sri Ramakrishna said, “Truthfulness alone is the spiritual discipline in the Kaliyuga.”1 This dark era began 5,120 years ago, and it is difficult to predict the end of the cycle. Some say that the precession of the equinoxes indicate we are quickly transitioning out of the Iron Age to a return of a blessèd epoch; others cite complicated mathematical formulas to predict this Age of Vice will continue for hundreds of thousands of years. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, it is told that the Bull of Virtue lost three legs of austerity, purity, and charity when doubt, attachment, and pride entered this world. Now it stands on one leg of Truth, which is in danger of being crushed by jealousy, hate, and cruelty.2 This period is characterized by ignorance, greed, and quarreling. Honor is based on glamorous appearances, and teachers with knowledge of scriptures are disrespected and hungry. People seek only possessions and sensuality; their lifespans are short, and they are ill from bad food. The Earth is wasted and ruined. Will these calamities prevail against the common good?
Swami Vivekananda said, “Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient or modern. Society has to pay homage to Truth or die.”3 This warning is especially pointed for the United States, a chosen nation for the modern Enlightenment project of rights and opportunities. It seems our constitutional experiment is in jeopardy. The quest for material security, inclusive democracy, and religious freedom for all without exception is endangered. Manifest Destiny was not simply an excuse for territorial conquest and exploitation but a millenarian ambition to bring forth the highest spiritual truth into the world. The intention of liberty, equality, and fraternity was articulated in the Columbian Exposition and Parliament of Religions at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, which envisioned an electrical future city free from bigoted prejudice, sectarian hatred, and violent fanaticism.
Swamiji said, “Each nation has a mission… So long as a nation keeps to that ideal, nothing can kill that nation. But if the nation gives up its mission and goes after something else, its life becomes short and ultimately it vanishes.”4 Seven generations later, unrestrained desire and technological idolatry has ravaged the land, air, and water. People are bitterly divided and anxiously suffering through tumultuous disasters and civic chaos. New legislative policies, innovative economic development, and compassionate social programs are woefully inadequate for the challenge. However, it is not a hopeless situation. The cure for collective wrong emphasis is an evolution in individual consciousness, the attainment of an illumined perspective that transforms character and relationships with neighbors, the world, and God. This orientation cannot be imposed from above or outside, but reached only through a personal desire and determination to reach a definite goal.
According to Vedanta, the infinite, undivided, unchanging sat-chit-ananda (existence-consciousness-bliss) is the only Reality. The empirical world (vyavaharika) is an appearance due to ignorance (avidya); it is not unreal but it is not what it appears to be. It is due to lack of discernment that the self is entangled with external objects and conditions and falsely identified with a limited body and its various mental states and moods. Swami Vivekananda says, “The whole struggle is to get rid of this clinging on to time, space, and causation, which are always obstacles in our way.”5 Maya has two main aspects: samasti, the cosmic appearance and sensible world which is not a projection of the finite mind, and vyasti, the individual ignorance which obstructs right understanding and right action. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says, “That Reality which pervades the universe is indestructible. No one has the power to change the Changeless.”6 Therefore, the task is to modulate reactions to the apparent suffering of the moment by mindfulness of the Eternal Source of Life which is unmoved and imperishable. Sri Krishna says, “He Who dwells within all living bodies remains for ever indestructible. Therefore, you should never mourn for anyone.”7
A blend of four yogas is the means to unfold the fullness of human potential and surmount the stress of turbulent times. The treasure to be gained is peace, patience, perseverance, faith, wisdom, and skillfulness. Jnana Yoga discerns the real from the unreal, overcomes ignorance, and perceives the truth of all phenomena with the knowledge of God. Raja Yoga is contemplative meditation that unites our limited self with the ultimate Reality. Bhakti Yoga is devotion to an ideal that increases our love and mercy toward all living beings as our experience of the world becomes a continuous perception of God. Karma Yoga is inspired action and reverent service to others without agitation or calculating selfish gain. An aspirant must consistently practice and persist through many difficulties. Success is founded on a clean and frugal lifestyle and an attitude of contentment and generous hospitality. With no feeling of superiority, give sympathy to all—even the worst rascals—and comfort the afflicted, respect and empower women, and support activities that give medicine to the sick, and food, clothes, and shelter to the poor. Much great work is done in the quiet deeds of everyday life.
Truth conquers slowly. Swami Vivekananda said, “That society is greatest, where the highest truths become practical. That is my opinion; and if society is not fit for the highest truths, make it so; and the sooner, the better. Stand up, men and women, in this spirit, dare to believe in the Truth, dare to practice the Truth! The world requires a few hundred bold men and women. Practice that boldness which dares know the Truth, which dares show the Truth in life, which does not quake before death, nay, welcomes death, makes a man know that he is the Spirit, that in the whole universe, nothing can kill him. Then you will be free.”8 We are not defeated. Let’s advance confidently toward victory!
Patrick Horn (firstname.lastname@example.org) was initiated by Swami Swahananda and lived with monastics in Hollywood, Orange County, and San Francisco. He is a Parliament of World’s Religions – Emerging Leader and member of the United Religions Initiative, Religion Communicators Council, and Religion News Association. He contributes to Reading Religion, published by the American Academy of Religion. Patrick studied Liberal Arts and Science at L.A. Valley College, Literary Theory and Criticism at California State University Northridge, Mythology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and launched a Capstone Project in Interfaith Action at Claremont Lincoln University.
1. Nikhilananda, Swami (tr.). The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1942. p177
2. Prabhavananda, Swami (tr.) Srimad Bhagavatam: The Wisdom of God. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1956. p16-17
3. Vivekananda, Swami. Complete Works, Volume II. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1971. p84
4. Ibid. p371
5. Ibid. p136
6. Prabhavananda, Swami and Christopher Isherwood (tr.) Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God. Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1944. p39
7. Ibid. p41
8. Vivekananda, Swami. Complete Works, Volume II. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1971. p85