Vedanta in the modern age
By Swami Chinamayananda
There is nothing wrong with our times. It is a wonderful era of glorious human endeavour. Modern times symbolise and point out vividly what man can do with his individual intellect and the cooperative strength of his biceps. A shrunken world that can be blasted with a touch of the switch, peopled by men whose eyes go around the world and whose ears embrace the globe. There is nothing wrong with our modern world! But everything seems to be wrong with the man who lives in this wonderful world of ours. If modern times are to be evaluated in terms of the world and its external arrangements, we belong to an era of great progress, the likes of which have never before been visualized by even the greatest Utopian dreamer. And yet, if the world is to be evaluated by the generation that lives in it and in terms of its joys and sorrows, never before have even the describers of hell thought that so much pain could be distilled for the punishment of man.
This is the cancerous growth that any observant student of life must necessarily see. A happy world in which the miserable man lives comfortably to sigh luxuriously and weep plentifully. The world around is throbbing with potential wealth and the ready amenities of life, but the miserable man sits in the midst of his prosperity and glory, a tragic being, seeking everywhere but finding nowhere any substantial peace or joy which can satiate the panting hunger of his persecuted heart.
This sad paradox of tears in plenty, war amidst peaceful surroundings, death and destruction amidst the fully developed science of health and good living is the painful cross under which the world is groaning.
Thoughtful members of the generation have started seeking a panacea for the ailing world. Political and economic experiments have been undertaken with no substantial and satisfying results. Principles of cooperative growth, the commonwealth of countries, the United Nations, community, projects, development schemes, bhudana-yajñas, and a thousand other treatments have been found to yield no substantial relief for the agonizing world. Even now it is but meet to say that we have not yet started sincerely treating this generation with the little-known science of living called ‘Vedanta’.
And there is a reason for it. So far the brave young world, especially the West, placed greater importance on things and circumstances — the world outside — than on individuals and their hearts - the world within. To the majority, the world determines man, and the circumstances mould the individual. And so long as this attitude remains, materialism must thrive, and wealth in the hands of a maladjusted generation must necessarily bring about restlessness and destruction all around. An uncultured person in power is necessarily more dangerous than a wild tiger freely roaming about in the marketplace.
In the East — famously known as the philosophic East — cultured people, highly contemplative in their national temperament, exhausted their own purely secular and scientific research, came ultimately to discover that the happiness of man depends entirely upon the chastity of his life and the serenity of his composure while facing the dribbling game of Life’s circumstances.
As a contrast to the West, the East thus came to the wondrous discovery that man rules the world and that never should the insentient world be allowed to become the proprietor of the sentient man. This line of thought was pursued, perhaps through generations, until the perfect science of true living was discovered by the Rishis and enunciated in the wonder books called the Upanishads. The philosophy contained therein is called Vedanta, which is not the contribution of any individual, just as physics or chemistry is not the copyright of any individual. Unfortunately for the world, this sacred science of life called Vedanta went into disuse and misuse, and the crude methods of interpretation indulged in by an unprepared priestly class made this philosophy of man too difficult for the average individual to understand and too cumbersome for anyone to live.
So long as one lives hugging the outer world of wealth and making its production, acquisition and preservation the sole aim of life, one will have to stoop lower, not only into a state of beastliness but often to the very levels of the inert and the insentient. One loses all the glorious charms of one’s personality - as a psychological being capable of sweet emotions and divine love and as an intellectual being capable of angelic thought and godly visions. Today nerve- shattered, mentally perturbed, intellectually perverted, a crowd of living beings in the shape of men, but carrying none of the flavours of human possibilities crowd the face of the world, like warts. Naturally, they fail to discover the joy and peace which they claim as their right to life.
Panting in despair, they seek to discover a new medicine or weapon, a new plan or scheme by which they can reorganize the world to give them what they need. From a wooden cow, however beautifully it is made and coloured to look like the original, we can never get even an ounce of milk; it can give only what it contains! If we expect joy to be milked out of the inert world, disappointment alone can be our lot. Vedanta roars, declaring its lived experiences: “Seek, O man, what you want where it can be had. Infinite peace and eternal joy are your essential nature. Adjust your own inward life and tickle out of it the music of perfection which you are trying to wrest out of the rocky earth!”
Religion is that science that seeks, as diligently as all other sciences, the Reality behind things and their constitution. The only difference is that while all other sciences are mainly objective, religion represents a totally subjective science.
From the standpoint of philosophy, man is a multi-stringed instrument, constituted of the various layers of his personality. Each individual has in himself physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual expressions, and the grossest of them is indeed the physical. Our times represent an era in human history when we are catering mainly to the physical in us. To a very meagre degree, no doubt, we serve also the mental and the intellectual demands in us, but the deepest and the subtlest urge in us, namely the spiritual, is totally ignored, nay, even deliberately choked, in our thoughtless preoccupation with the physical. From the standpoint of Vedanta, this is the diagnosis of the sufferings of our times.
For the ‘world disease’ of our times, Vedanta is a specific cure. It promises a cure for all those who take the treatment. But a prescription, however noble and great in itself, cannot cure a disease unless one procures the medicine and takes it in the right doses; so too in Vedanta, we have to live it every moment, in every thought and action. Thus rehabilitated, one will come to feel a greater Self-unfoldment within, and the wafting fragrance of one’s divinity will provide a satisfying aura around the world of objects that spells dire sorrow today.
The drooping person today sits dejected and despairing amidst a shattered world blasted by his own miscalculations and over-ambitious projects. To awaken him from his stupor, the very call of Vedanta is sufficient. “Man, thou art God! Awake, and realize thy glorious destiny!” Thus thunders Vedanta, and it can jerk any person out of his stupor. The technique of meditation by which this rediscovery of the Self can be accomplished is so scientific that I have found the so-called faithless atheists, the young and educated children of our times, are the very folks who react admirably and revive fully in a very short time.
A better adjusted and balanced personality is needed in a modern man to make him a true ruler of the wonder-world that he himself has created. (Courtesy of Tapovan Prasad, January 2009)