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Swami Vedananda: Seeking the Unity Within and Without

Transcript for Awakin Call with Swami Vedananda 4/18/15

Nipun: Hello everyone. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Particularly excited for today's call. Our guest speaker is none other than Swami Vedananda, somebody who really embodies today's theme of seeking unity within and without. Once again thank you all for joining today's call.
After a minute of silence ....
Nipun: Thank you for that minute of silence. Welcome again for our weekly Awakin call, today in conversation with Swami Vedananda.
Today's theme as I said earlier is - "Seeking unity within and without."
We had a whole bunch of responses online around this question of what does an underlying changeless reality beneath all change mean to you? What is the practice that helps you ground yourself into that essence of things? So, rich, rich theme in that sense and even richer personal story of Swami Vedananda. Somik, who is going to be our moderator, he himself has got quite a journey. I won't go too much into the details but, one of the things that I absolutely love about him is the title of his PhD thesis. I don't think this is the formal title of his thesis but this is the way I like to frame it and I think of it as the value of values. So here is the guy who went to Stanford and who studied value of values. And he is telling all these big people in the world to make decisions that are aligned around values. Somik himself comes from a deep background of trying to align into these values. So Somik thank you for agreeing to do this. Somik, for those of you who may not know actually spent the night at the monastery where Swami Vedananda lives and really just set it up and has this whole thing going. It is so beautiful to see him put his heart into this as he does everything he puts his mind to. Somik, thank you for joining us. Any thoughts on today's conversation? Swamiji, I know is somebody both you and I have known, but you have known him lot longer and in a more intimate way. Any particular thoughts before you start the conversation?
Somik : Yeah , this is a very interesting and profound moment for me because even before I knew you Nipun, it was Swamiji who told me," you know there is this interesting guy. His name is Nipun Mehta. He hosts this Awakin circle" At that time it wasn't called Awakin. That's what led me to Servicespace and the wonderful ecosystem. Swamiji often said,"Nipun is my hero". So it's a great honor to be in the confluence of two of my heroes in the same call. So I am very grateful to be here. And Swamiji, I must say that, his presence has been amazing for so many people at Stanford and I will give you more of the introduction later on. But I have never seen him get angry, never seen him loose cool. And Stanford can be a pretty tough bunch to handle. We have questions from hell, but somehow in spite of all the difficult questions people come back with a lot of peace.
Nipun: Somik, I have to agree with you on that because, yesterday I was talking with Guri, my wife and I was saying how ... we tend to sometimes compartmentalize spiritual cultivation. You know this is on the cushion and this is off the cushion. This is at the monastery and this is in the market and at some point, all of those start to blend together and everything becomes a field for cultivation. And I remember telling Guri yesterday, "you know, Swami Vedananda is one of these people that you just get the feeling that he is so steady. He just seems like he is cultivating through it all." It is really inspiring to know that kind of steady intent. We may go up and down and our contacts may go up and down and people may challenge him, he may be rushed, but he is still going to be right there. You know, he is still going to be the same Swami Vedananda we have come to know and "within" in practically any moment. So I just want to underscore that point that you are sharing.
Somik: It's been incredible. I even remember once there was an interfaith gathering at Stanford, and someone took exception to something swamiji said. And I was really curious to see how he would respond. And this person who was a little upset and heard something in a particular way. Swamiji not once tried to explain his comment. I was struck by how compassionate he was and he completely went over to the other person's point of view and completely agreed! Basically this person would come for an argument didn't know what to do next because he found that swamiji was on his side. That was a remarkable conversation for me to witness.
Nipun: Wow !Awesome! Well, I will let you take it away with the introduction of Swamiji.
Somik: Swamiji is from the Sri Ramakrishna order of monks which traces its lineage to "Puri" order of monks established by Adi Shankaracharya a long, long time ago. He has a PhD in physics from Berkley. Before that he did Bachelor of physics from MIT. So he has a very interesting academic background. From physics he transitioned to being a monk! I am hoping he will tell us all those stories today. My personal introduction to him would be the amazing impact he had on so many students at Stanford. In particular in 2005, when we were organizing a yoga class for ourselves and at some point the students felt that, we wanted to go beyond stretching exercises and we wanted to go into philosophy. So we reached out and Swamiji immediately agreed to come. We didn't even know that he was driving 2 hours from Olema, just to come to hang out with us. We didn't even offer him any food or water. He would just be delighted to be with us. There will be days when there are just 2 or 3 people would be there. He would be just as delighted as when we would have a full house. Made no difference to him how many people showed up. So these small things mean a lot in terms of walking the talk. He just enjoys living with this wisdom of seeing the changeless. When I read this on the paper it seems academic. But when I hear from his mouth it feels like it is totally real and makes me want to aspire to see this. What is this changeless reality, that reality that is of the essence of things?

Somik: Swamiji, you have PhD in physics as I mentioned from UC Berkeley and you were at MIT before that . What attracted you to the monastic path? Can you share a little bit with us of your life prior to being a monk that led you to becoming a monk.
Swamiji: Thank you very much for the introduction. It was so flowery that I thought you were talking about somebody else! I couldn't for a while figure out who you were talking about. Any way, thank you. The back ground of my association with Vedanta, which is the particular order of monks the Ramakrishna order is one part of a "Dashanami sampradaya" that was founded by Sri Shankaracharya originally. But our particular order is the Ramakrishna order, which means that the inspirer is Sri Ramakrishna and He actually gave vows of sanyasa in a symbolic way to His original disciples. The order was officially organized by Swami Vivekananda. This is our particular lineage. So I came to the order through Vedanta through in particular, the Vedanta Society in San Francisco, which was at that time (1959) led by Swami Ashokananda. He was an extraordinary person. It is through his influence that I became interested. He was a very intellectual, very compassionate ... I mean he could express the very needs of, very essence of spirituality in such a clear way that it became ... I mean it was so lucid , so transparent that, it was like an acid, you could say that cuts through the heavy steel of my resistance and finally wore it down. It took several years just to even begin to admit that there could be a possibility of truth in what the swami was saying. But I was totally fascinated and kept coming back even though I really could not understand or appreciate his exposition. Somehow there was something about it that was fascinating and after a number of years, I finally decided that this has to be the way to go. And once that decision was made then it was non-stop all the way.

Somik: Swamiji, I want to dig a little bit deeper about your vows. Because, it is a pretty serious undertaking. It's not just like, "Hey, I want to learn how to play the guitar". What kind of vows did you take? In other words, how did your life change after becoming a monk?
Swamiji: The vows that monks take, especially in the Dashanami order that is the Sankaracharya order, there are certain traditional vows that are taken. They are actually not so much vows, but declarations. The actual vows are generally the vows of Bhramhacharya that are taken during the Bramhacharya ceremony, which is the preliminary ceremony. Then, you become from probationary to actual member of the order. For some years you start as a probationary and then you take these first vows. Sanyasa ceremony is a set of declarations that are made about the reality of things and about the way we are going to live afterwards. It's a declaration of our understanding and of our total commitment to this purpose. And that is the emphasis. The emphasis is on the totality of it. This is a one way street and one way street in the sense that the way itself becomes the goal. Because,there is no difference. The basic understanding is that there is only one reality here. There is only one reality, period. You cannot even say that there is one reality. You can only say that there IS. So what you commit to is to live like that. To live as Brahman, as the Infinite, as the Eternal. Not that you want to understand something or realize something, because you are “that” already. You want to live that way. Now, in a humored way we say what have you realized? Have you realized this, have you realized that? But that's not the main emphasis. The main emphasis is stated as declaration. "You are That. " There is not even any question of living or not living this way or that way. The point is, "You are That." That is why it is the finality. There is no going back or going forward or anything. "You are That." That is the emphasis.

Somik: After making this declaration along your journey, did you ever have any doubts about the monastic path ?

Swamiji: Well, if you once committed yourself to this, there is actually no question of a path anywhere. You are not going anywhere. That is the main difference. It is nothing that you actually would attain. You are that already. And the commitment is to live like that, in a sense to overcome any attempt to deviate from that commitment.

Somik: You mentioned being inspired by Swami Ashokananda. I wanted to focus a little bit on him. We have heard stories that he was initiated in a dream by Swami Vivekananda. And how he once went up to give a talk, and he just looked at the audience in silence and left and many were in tears. Can you share some stories from the life of Swami Ashokananda and what inspires you about him?
Swamiji: Well the main thing is that it was so transparent and so visible that he was totally committed to this concept and he was actually living in this way. The sheer logic and intensity of his commitment was what was actually communicated. It wasn't any question of there being two things or choice between this or that. The reality was this that Brahman or Atman or The Lord, or whatever name you want to give it, The Reality, The Buddha nature, that is all that exists. There is nothing else. It becomes a commitment to live that way. So that is what was impressive about him. He was so totally the embodiment of what he spoke what he talked.

Somik: Some have noted that now a days less and less youth are being drawn to such ideas. Perhaps there is still a spiritual draw, just not in the context of traditional religious organization. What is your sense of the youth and the attraction to these ideals today?

Swamiji: Well, it's not a question of organizations or anything. I think there is a great hunger for clarity and that is the main thing that we can try to achieve ourselves and try to inspire others to direct their lives and their efforts to understand what is real here? What is true here? And that can be expressed in so many different ways. Each religion is an attempt or is actually a formulation of that very idea. It isn't that without that alone, or Hinduism or any particular religion is the only approach to this. All religions, this is what Sri Ramakrishna realized, that all religions are so many representations of this path and each religion has in it what ever it takes to guide its devotees to this goal. But the thing is, are you interested in the goal of attaining to the reality that is here to get to the foundation of what is real here or are you interested in more limited ideas? The more limited the goal or the more circumscribed the goal I only want to do this or only believe in that, then the problem of contradiction, or possible contradiction between various expressions of that goal arises. But if one is aiming at that central idea, no matter how it's phrased.... I think that is what people now a days are specially qualified or specially concerned or specially devoted to. I think if anything marks the modern age it's the desire to get to the heart of things, get to the reality of things, not just in theory because so much has been written on that but to actually experience that within in each ones own life. That is a tremendous and valuable and incredible aspect of modern age. And communication is so thorough and so instant that nothing can be hidden. Very little can be hidden. Sooner or later it will come to light. So I think now a days what characterizes people is the hunger for reality, hunger for truth and hunger to be at the heart of things. That is a remarkable aspect.

Somik: I want to dig a little deeper on that point. So you touched quite a bit on the different faith traditions. And you show great respect to Christ, Mother Teresa , Buddha, Islam and other traditions, even though that sometimes might challenge you. I know that, and I have seen in the Altar there are images of Christ and Buddha along with your teachers. It is one thing to tolerate other religions but people who come and interact with you with this kind of thinking, they come away with deep regard of all faiths. And even atheists seem to enjoy interacting this way without feeling the need to change their beliefs. This sounds pretty incredible to me. So can you perhaps touch little bit on what's at the core of the belief system that makes this possible? May be if you could share some stories from your life or from Swami Vivekananda's life or Sri Ramakrishna's life to illustrates this?

Swamiji: Personally I don't believe that there is a category of people that's called atheists. I mean there are people who may not believe in theism, so in that sense may be literally they could be called atheists. But everyone believes in himself or herself. The fact that we exist makes everyone a believer. The point is, are you believer in traditional sense or not traditional sense that's the only difference, but there is nobody who does not believe in themselves.
There is the fundamental reality there that everyone is by the very fact of being conscious, that they are conscious and that's the back ground of their experience, and yet every expressed belief and every expressed religion an every expressed philosophy is subject to being challenged, because it is something that is formulated by human beings. If it is expressed in a certain way and in a certain context and because it is expressed like this in a certain way and certain context it can be challenged and one could maintain that one expression is more satisfactory to oneself than another expression. And that's why we have so many different varieties. It is to fulfill the needs of all the people.
Swami Vivekananda expressed the wish that there should be one religion for each person. Because everything is so individual and however you try to phrase and formulate a religious idea or religious doctrine, it's not going to be satisfactory for everyone. So really speaking each person has his or her own religion. But there are certain common sympathies that we can share even though we may disagree on certain specifics. It's these common things that should be emphasized. Everyone is really in a very real sense makes their own religion. Even if you are officially following the doctrine that's promulgated in a certain context, when you try to understand that, it is your own understanding. It will not be shared by necessarily others even of your own faith. So this is the emphasis that everyone has that “Tuth” within. Everyone is cognizant of that fact. Their very existence radiates the idea that they understand a certain basic truth, a certain basic reality, however it may be phrased. So religion, whichever particular religion you adopt becomes and attempt to clarify that to oneself. What is that I believe and how am I going to actually experience that in life? That is the struggle. To actually experience what we believe. We may profess so many things, but how much have we dedicated ourselves to reality and how much have we actually been able to experience? How much have we been able to desire to experience? So it's the fundamentals that are important and the particular expressions of it will have to vary from person to person.

Somik: I wanted to get a little deeper into this area of Reality. I know the big theme of your life has been seeing the changeless behind all that changes. And at this point I want to bring a question from a member of our ecosystem, Lavanya. She asks what does one hold on to when one realizes that everything around, including one's idea of I am, what I want are changing all of a sudden? How does one maintain equanimity in that state and understand what the changeless Self is? You say that there something within everything that does not change. What are you referring to and how do we know?

Swamiji: In order to be aware of the changing, in order to be aware of that which changes, in order to be aware of our own selves in a particular context in the world in a particular society, in a particular culture, in order to be aware of one's own existence, one has to first of all be aware of the changeless. Swami Vivekananda made that point very clearly. Unless there is a changeless screen you would never see a movie. You can make a statement, well, there are holograms that don't require screens. That's a technical point. I leave to the technicians to figure out. That 's an example. No illustration, no example should be driven beyond the point that it is trying to illustrate. What I am trying to illustrate is that, Swami Vivekananda's idea that in order to perceive anything thing there has to be a changeless background or changeless reality on which the changing is perceived . And who is it that is perceiving the change? Sri Ramana Maharishi made a great point about this "Who Am I"? And that's the standpoint. Who is it that is asking the question about the changing? And what is the basis of the changing if there was nothing changeless? But you can look at it in an anther way in a purely scientific way. What ever you look at physically, earlier it would be expressed in a different way, but now a days you know that though things are very solid, if you look at them in detail through a microscope they look different. If you bring in an electron microscope they still looks different. And then it becomes a set of molecules and where one thing ends another thing begins. You don't know where precisely where a solid object ends. Because, it is simply a gradation in density of molecules. So solidity, that which is solid, that which is real, if you look at it ever more closely it seems to vanish. From molecules to atoms to protons, neutrons, electrons quarks, all these things that are now known elementary particles, you just keep on looking, looking and you never come to the end of it. There is always something else. So you never come to the end of looking at the multiplicity. The point is that, that which is the many can never be perceived unless there was a consciousness. Your consciousness is the one steady point in a totally and constantly changing universe. Everything around us is changing all the time. And everything around us, you could say, undefinable in it's precision. I cannot precisely tell anything. The uncertainty principle for one thing illustrates this. The more I know about one thing, the less I will know about something else. So these are all different aspects same question. Science is characterized by this thing that if I want to understand something really fundamentally, I can look at it more closely and say, ok, this thing is made of certain particles. Then I look at each particles and say, what is this? What is the proton. Well the proton is made up of quarks and what are the quarks made of and so I can ask what is each thing made of and the answer is always it consists the things. But it never tends to answer what is it actually. Science tends to answer the question what is the nature of anything by simply taking it apart and saying it consists of these pieces. And then you take each piece apart and ask about it and the answer is, it consists of other pieces. But what it actually is in itself is never known. But the basic question of what is it, is never answered. And one way to rephrase the question or rephrase our thought upon it, we can realize that one possibility is that the essence of everything, the reality of everything is not the material that it is made of but the consciousness that I am seeing it. In other words, that consciousness is the basic reality. And this is of course we are getting into the vedanta idea of consciousness. Sat-chit- ananda. Existence, consciousness which implies joy. That is the basic nature of the universe. Anyway, these are the trends of thoughts that I have interested me.

Somik: Great. I want to turn the heat up a little bit and ask you may be a difficult question now. You have been known to say that when something "bad" happens in the universe, God has not gone to sleep. God is still right there. What do you mean by that? In the context of what many people speak of evil. Is there such a thing as evil? On a sort of related note, Swami vivekananda had said in essence one who believes in a God that is all good, believes in a one legged God. Can you help us understand that a little bit and any stories that you might have
Swamiji: Of course, there is this aspect of Hinduism which is so puzzling to people who are not used to it. It is the worship of the terrible, which is symbolized by the picture of the Divine Mother in various realms and then there is a poem by Swami Vivekananda, which shows this aspect.
At the thing is, as long as we feel that God is good and if we have no heart for God in the terrible aspect of things then we are believing in the one legged God. There are several aspects to it. That which is terrible, may be terrible to one group of people and may not be terrible to others. That is one aspect. But that is only very superficial aspect. The point is that, this universe is built in such a way that all these things are possible and all of these things in fact do happen. So the question is how do we react when this happens? In two different ways. When it happens and if we can do something about it to prevent misery from occurring and to prevent suffering, to prevent destruction, to prevent fanaticism, then definitely we should do everything we can to prevent that . If cruelty comes we have to stop the cruelty from occurring. If injustice comes we have to strive with all our might for justice, for fairness, for equality, for generosity, and for love. That we have to struggle with all might and main there is no question about that. If cruelty is being done it is our responsibility to do something to prevent it's occurrence.
But that is not the basic question when you are talking in the philosophical way. The basic question philosophically is what is this cruelty. Cruelty or in justice seem to be concurrent with the existence of the universe. It just seems to be there. It is our duty to stop it whenever it comes to our attention. There is not doubt about that. But the point is why does it occur at all ? What is it's significance? How are we to think about it as differentiated from what are we to do about it ? The point is neither cruelty nor generosity is at the heart of the matter. That is oddly on the level of behavior on the level of action and there we have to protect the good and chastise evil. There is no doubt about that. But what is good and what is evil? Right now they are separate things. From a philosophical stand point there is only one reality.

Somik: We have a whole bunch of questions on equanimity. This is of much broader interest. I will read a little bit t set the context. One of our members had this question." I wonder if I get treated like a doormat and invite more abuse by not standing up to resist and fight against what I forgive? The eternal Gandhian ethic of turning the other cheek to shame the assailant, does not work when dealing with sociopaths. How can one be equanimous when one needs to engage in violence in such situations? Does living in equanimity mean never getting angry? When was the last time you were annoyed by something?
How do you process the havoc created by climate change and acts of terrorism and still maintain your equanimity? How do we get this to the practical level where we can practice this?

Swamiji: Yes. This is what we were talking about few minutes ago. At the level of which action is required, action must be undertaken. In the Bhagavad Gita, which is the one of the principle scriptures of Hinduism and of humanity as a whole, Arjuna is urged by Krishna to fight. That initially struck me as being very strange that, when Arjuna is making all these statements about nonresistance being better than resistance why should Krishna ask him to fight? The point is, Sri Krishna did not ask all of his disciples to fight. There was another disciple, Uddhava, who was asked to go into the Himalayas and become absorbed in meditation. Arjuna was asked to fight. The question is at what level are we operating in this world? There are certain times when resistance is necessary in this world. For instance when you see someone actually harming someone else, and you’re the bystander and you are watching one person injuring another, killing another and you don’t do anything. Or if you have one agency that is committing huge acts of terror and you don’t do anything because you believe in nonviolence. Well, that’s fine if this is your path, you want to see reality in everything and you are not going to offer any resistance, one could question that and say that's not justified. If you see someone is being gravely hurt by something, for you not to do anything about it, one could question if you are justified in remaining aloof. If you have reached the spiritual state where you see the presence of God everywhere, then it won’t be a question of you are seeing the suffering, you are seeing that God is present everywhere. When you see God present everywhere, there is no question of resistance. But when you see what you actually see in front of you is someone being hurt, being unjustifiably oppressed, then to maintain that you are not going to do anything about it, it’s disingenuous. It's unfounded. If you see a problem then it's our obligation to try to solve the problem. But if you see that it is God alone who is acting then it is justified to not resist. If a question arises as to whether you should act or not, that means you haven’t reached that state of equanimity and you should definitely act. If you reached that state of equanimity the question of whether you should at or not does not even arise.

Somik: Swamiji, I would request you to share the most powerful story of Vivekananda that comes up for you right now?

Swamiji: The most powerful image of Swamiji that comes up right now is - when he was walking up and down the porch at the Belur Math in he minks quarter. And he was weeping and at one time he put his head on the rail and wept bitter tears and someone asked him, “ Swamiji, why are you so sad?” and he said, "Oh! I feel a terrible catastrophe must have happened somewhere in the world. People are suffering so much. That is why I am overcome with great feeling of sorrow.” And the person that was watching him felt that the whole universe was sympathizing with Swami Vivekananda in his great sorrow. Later on it was found that there was a great catastrophe somewhere and many people had perished. So it was verified that this feeling that Swamiji had was actually an occurrence. To see that great hero in that condition is tremendously inspiring.

Nipun: Related to what you said, it seems paradoxical that if cruelty and generosity aren’t at the heart of the matter, it’s really our consciousness and the question of experiencing that consciousness. What is the basis of compassion then? Why would someone like Swami Vivekananda, who is so tuned into the changeless and the changing, what would be the source of his grief and his experience of human suffering and at the same time an overflowing of compassion? Is this something that we are wired to experience? It seems to be a paradox.

Swamiji: The compassion comes from a feeling of oneness. I feel the sorrows of others because I feel one with others. The basic idea of any religion really and Vedanta certainly, is that feeling of oneness. I and my brother are one. That is the point. If anyone in this universe suffers, it’s my suffering. If anyone in this universe is full of joy, it’s my joy. I am on with everything and I am one with all. That feeling of being one with the universe, of not being separate from anything, that is spiritual realization. It’s at the heart of spirituality, at the heart of all compassion, heart of all feeling, of greatness, feeling of dedication, feeling of spirituality. Oneness, if you trace it to it's core, is the feeling of non-difference. Which is the basic teaching of all religions. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” you can interpret it various ways. But the words indicate the same spirit of oneness.

Nipun: Even when you feel that oneness there is still a sense of suffering and pain that you would feel for other people.

Swamiji: Yes. If I feel a hurt within myself, I feel the pain and want to do something about it. If I feel that the whole universe is one, the reality of the whole universe pulses in my whole heart. I see no difference. I react to the pain everywhere. I also react to the joy everywhere. But this pain in particular enlarges our heart. In fact there is an idea called "sarvamukti" which Swami Vivekananda was asked about. The idea is that I will not accept liberation until all are liberated. In Buddhism also. From a strictly Vedantic orthodox standpoint, one can question this. What do you mean you will not accept liberation till all are liberated? Because there is only this idea of oneness. But Swami Vivekananda's answer was, " Yes. You are right. From a philosophical stand point that is true. But imagine the greatness of heart of a person who feels that he will not accept liberation until he has striven and succeeded in bringing all others to liberation before him. Then he will attain that state." Like Yudhishtira walking into heaven at the end of the Mahabharata, but only after all others, including the dog the accompanied him had attained liberation. Then he would accept it.
Nipun: That's beautiful. Thank you.
Deven: Swamiji, when I’m wrapped up in my day to day routine the fear or the experiences from the past make me react and it could be my ego, it could be my fear, it could be my attachment to something. When I’m quiet on a Saturday morning I can think of consciousness but it doesn’t happen so easily on Tuesday afternoon. What can I do to feel that consciousness in the heat of the moment when I’m angry or fearful or have anxiety?

Swamiji: The point of anger, fear, anxiety and how to deal with it ... This is one of the prime questions. How to make these ideas practical? If one feels the presence of God everywhere, that is the major tool. What is God for one person is not God for another person. But it helps if one can choose one of these great luminaries of the world or some symbol of divinity or being that, may or may not have existed in physical forms such as Shiva or the Divine Mother or other aspects of divinity or God in any way one like to think about it. If one can have a personal relationship with the Reality, in other words, worship of God, God is my own. God is the source of all my joy or any particular incarnation or Divinity or some Divine reality, if I can accept that as the entity that I speak to. In other words, prayer is one of the essential needs of human beings. Prayer can be like the child’s prayer to the mother, “ Mother give me a cookie". Mother says, " No. I will not. It's not good for you. It will ruin your teeth" And this and that. But the child says,"Mommie please, a cookie " The child may eventually understand it's is not good for him. But child feels better, feels assuaged, feels satisfied when the mother responds in some way. That personal connection with divinity is one of the greatest tools we have for making all these ideas real. God need not be an incarnation in the physical sense. It can be just a great feeling of love and devotion to whatever reality we understand as God. To go back to that, to lean on, that to rely on.... After all we are all children. In one sense or another we may be pretty old. But in our hearts we’re all children. We all need that Divine, that motherly affection and if we can establish a relationship with a divine reality, in the sense that one can approach it like one approaches one's parents, that enables one to control the things that one wants to control, to achieve the things that one wants to achieve. That is one way, not the only way. Definitely one can achieve great compassion and great success.
David: Swami Vedananda, many people believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead. What is your interpretation of the resurrection story of Jesus.

Swamiji: Of course. If you talk philosophically, that's one thing. If you go according to tradition, then you could say, "I don't know if the tradition is true or not." But the point is that the body of Jesus certainly at some point or other would have passed away. Whether He died on the cross and was then laid to rest in the Sepulchre, or as some people believe, He did not actually die on the cross, but went on to travel, may be even to India. There are different traditions surrounding that. That sort of scenario you would have to decide for yourself what seems reasonable. But from a philosophical standpoint, that which is called Jesus as a physical entity certainly at some point has to pass away. There are stories like Trailinga Swami in Varanasi who was supposed to have lived to 320 years of age and there was another who was attributed to have lived 800 years or something. Nevertheless after 320 or 800 years they would have passed away. The question of physical survival is beside the point. The point is, did the spirituality of Jesus pass away? Did the real essence of Jesus pass away? No. Because, the essence of Jesus is the essence of the universe. And that will not pass away as long as we are conscious of the existence of ourselves, and of the universe. So the essence of spirituality can never pass away. It is the essence of everything. It is the essence of Jesus and it is the essence of ourselves. It's the oneness between us and Jesus. "I and my father are one", he said. That is what that enables us to understand and realize and appreciate and reach for the infinite which is present everywhere.

Bee: My family often treats me like I have my head in clouds. A simple question- Do you have any advise for a person who embraces her spiritual nature but her family does not accept her interfaith belief?
Swamiji: Well, the person's beliefs need not be shared with anyone else. Whether other people accept the belief or not, it is up to ourselves to deal with it. It does not make any difference whether someone else accepts what you believe or not accept what you believe. The point is, do you really not only believe it, but do you feel more and more in your heart that this is a solid truth, at least solid enough to base your life upon? If you feel that, it does not matter whether other people accept you or accept your belief. I don't think one need to worry about that. One simply goes on.... One is going to believe what one believes whether other people accept it or not. And that is quite justifiable.

Pallavi: I would like to go back to something you said in the beginning of the call about your Vows and living from a place of “I am that.” This is multilayered question and I will let you take it wherever you want to. When you start of it is probably an intellectual thought. I am assuming, at some point there is an awakening and you recognize "You are that." Even after that, how did you personally continue to operate from that higher place? How did you deal with it? Do you tend to slip and take your awareness back to that higher plane or what are the challenges of living from the place of "I am that."

Swamiji: Well. I would phrase that perhaps a little differently. "I am That" means you have to define in some sense what "That" is. But the basic truth we are trying to achieve is- "I am." I am doesn’t require any definition. And that is something that each one of us will be able to feel. That is why if we are very quiet, that feeling of existence, I am, is a very profound feeling of existence of solidity upon which you can base the rest of your life, the rest of your thought, the rest of your relationships.

Jan: From what I understand, the purpose of the different paths of yoga (ie. Raja, Bakhti, Jyana, Karma) is that some are better suited to one path or another. In a parallel way, some are called to one worldly vocation vs another in this life. However, in one example from the Upanishads, Krishna asks Arjuna to fight, which is the very path he is most conflicted by. In the absence of full consciousness, how can we trust our own discernment in choosing our own path?

Swamiji: The first thing is to decide what is it that I’m fundamentally interested in? Or what is it that I fundamentally need to answer in order to live this life at all? What is my most fundamental need, spiritually speaking? Once one has chosen that, approached the question of existence in the most fundamental way, then the answer will slowly unfold itself in our own life. The main thing is to decide what is real here, what is the most fundamental aspect of reality that I want to give myself to or that I can lean on. What is that, that I can lean on that will not crumble when I lean on it. That's the basic question. When one has gotten an outlook that supports that, from then on, the idea is to live in that consciousness. That which is most central to one’s being, that is what one should concentrate on. How you do it, the techniques, the ritual or methods you use, that will be in the particular religion or thought pattern you accepted. There should be techniques or ways to reinforce this and make it central in your life. But the first thing to be decided is, “what is my own center?”

Bansi Pandya: Do we have free will? If time doesn’t ultimately exist, how do we relate to our experience of the past and future?

Swami: Swami Vivekananda made the point that free will is a misnomer. If anything is will, it cannot be free. Will is a finite idea and anything finite is bound to be influenced by other things that are finite. He made such statements about the idea of free will. From a limited standpoint, he also acknowledged that we must have the idea of freedom otherwise we can’t act at all. So free will means- can I do what I want to do when I want to do it? It seems that we can, but when you examine it or think about it later in very specific detail, you find that most of what happened was influenced by past actions that guided you to act in a certain direction. So the recommendation always is do good and be good. Which was Buddha's recommendation. And it will lead you to whatever ultimate good there is. If you do good and are good in the highest sense that you understand goodness, you will create a habit in yourself to do good and then after some time it will be impossible to do evil and then as you rise higher and higher in that practice of only being concentrated on the good, the infinite, the eternal, the real, you will get to a point when it will be impossible for you to think of or concentrate on anything that is not good, not eternal and not real. So this is how doing good and being good, being true, being totally devoted to these ideas, it becomes impossible to act contrary to those ideas. You have created a habit that will force you to do good and be good and head towards that which is good, which in the ultimate sense will lead to that which is beyond good and evil, that essence is the essence of the universe, that feeling of oneness.

Ariye: You said that if one has reached equanimity and feels the presence of God everywhere, then the question of responding to cruelty and injustice does not arise. You also said that when we are in a state of oneness, we feel the pain of others, we feel compassion. Is it possible that we can simultaneously be in the state of experiencing God presence everywhere, and also being of this world where we feel the need to act?

Swamiji: Exactly. Feeling God’s presence everywhere is the essence and then whatever else happens is individual to each one of us. If we feel God’s presence everywhere, then the struggle then is to live in that, to maintain ourselves in that. As it becomes evermore real, as this doing of good becomes ever more real to us, then whatever we do will be filled with God’s reality, with God’s presence. It sort of culminates in a total absorption. That’s the principle. Now if you say, “How can you fight and do all sorts of cruel things while you do that”? That is the tension that exists in this world. If one’s job is such that, as Arjuna’s job was to carry on this fight, how can one do this in the spirit of feeling the presence of God, in the spirit of detachment, that is the challenge for us in each one of our lives? How can we live our life in such a way? Many of us in our lives we have to do things that are not necessarily things we want to do. Arjuna was called to defend his country and innocent people. But he has to perform these cruel actions. How does this happen? And how can you justify it? First obligation is to feel the presence of infinity and divinity, and presence of reality. You have to ask what is real here? Existence, consciousness, that joy is real here. To live our life so that we begin to experience that. Then if we are called upon to do these things, we will have to do them in that spirit. Arjuna has to fight, having established himself in the consciousness of the presence of God everywhere. Seeing the Divine form or seeing the reality everywhere, now he has to perform his actions. But if he performs his actions whatever they have to be, with the consciousness of presence of God everywhere, even though he may not see it, he may be a spiritual aspirant, the more he aspires after that, the more real it becomes to him and the more he will be able to act in an appropriate way even though he may like a soldier has to do cruel things. If he does the action with the consciousness of God's reality, the action that he actually undertakes will be tending towards reinforcing the reality of God. Though on the surface they may appear to be cruel, like Arjuna's, in actuality it will lead to ever deeper realization of the presence of God everywhere. This is an extremely difficult question. Sri Krishna gave His sermon and original teaching in chapter 2 and he had to go through to chapter 18, until finally Arjuna says," Ok. I understood." In the process he goes through chapter 11, in which he was shown the Universal form and shows God in a very specific way. It is a very difficult question. But the point is, our mind should be concentrated on infinity so that it becomes habit and then slowly our actions will become inconsonance with that. It is not an easy thing to do and it is something that takes practice.

Tejas: Swamiji, how does one instill his faith back in Divinity? Once lost, is it possible to re instill that faith back in one's heart? Is believing in karma and Divinity one and the same thing? So perhaps, your thoughts on karma?

Swami: You cannot lose it. "I exist" is the basic faith. The very fact that the person has that question means that faith is there. He has faith in that reality. "I exist", that much we know for sure. The point is, if one is able to feel that there is a reality, which underlies one’s life, that is the core of the matter. I feel that the basis of this universe and the basis of my own reality is a consciousness, that the basis of this universe is not non-existence. It could not be....I would not be conscious of anything if I were not conscious of existence first. Once you have the feeling that, "I am." In the Bible, Moses asked God to define himself and God said, "I am." That feeling of I am is the basic feeling without which life is impossible. Even the question that is being asked cannot be asked if you don't have the feeling "I am". So that is the basis. Now the feeling of existence, the feeling of reality, that is at the core. If one feels that there is a reality in this universe, that reality is at the core of my being, that is the basis. If one had faith inparticular form of God , or particular aspect of religion advocated by certain faiths that comes after. Everyone of us feels "I am". So that basic faith can never be lost. I am means also that everything that I perceive, "Is". In other words, Others "are". If I am and others are, that means a universal bond is automatically created. That universal bond and that universal oneness, I and my brother are one, I and my sister are one, if that bond is there, that is spirituality. I and my father are one, I and my brother are one. That feeling of oneness is religion. Everyone has that. You cannot lose it. Once you have that feeling of oneness, then everything else follows. I am one with all. I am one with this universe. All of existence is based on compassion, on the feeling of oneness. All of religion follows from that one idea of existence. And how you specify it, how you make it particular in your own case, that is up to you, and up to the system that you want to follow. All of these things are details. Basic thing is "I am "And you are my brother, you are my sister, that feeling of oneness is the source of everything. From that comes all goodness all feeling of Love and appreciation and joy. From that comes all holiness and one feels that sense of oneness with everything in the universe. I am one with universe. THAT IS GOD. There is nothing else in this universe but God. One becomes more and more dedicated and devoted and immersed in that. So that is religion.
Nipun : How can we support you, support what you stand for ? We have so much gratitude and would love to pay it forward and do whatever we can with love. Your thoughts on that
Swamiji: The best thing to do... for the feeling of oneness to spread. That there is a reality and that reality is my own self. I don't have to go anything beyond that. If that idea spreads... that religion and spirituality are at the core of everything. That all other things, economics, politics whatever we do in this world , everyone can be a little bit conscious of the fact that... this the essence . I don't need anything else.
Nipun : How can we support you and that answer is... Spread the feeling of oneness . I love it ?
Preeta and I were chuckling with your answers. There were series of 5 questions . One of them was :
what is the act of kindness you will never forget ?
Swamiji's answer: Being accepted as a monk in the monastic order founded by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
We really got a chuckle on this one:
One thing on your bucket list?
Swamiji's answer : I don't know what is meant by the expression "bucket list "

It's beautiful Swamiji. Just the way you are. It just brings so much joy to so many of us. I know Somik and I feel very privileged to have had this small opportunity of service to your message of oneness.
Somik any closing thoughts?
Somik: I feel very deeply that the swamiji's words and these ideas are like a balm on our souls. Specially, when we feel little bit broken. Every time I hear swamiji speak, I feel I am standing on a rock. I once asked him, as we go backing the world and forget these words and ideas, then we again get confused. Can you suggest a test, how do I know that when I am in the world out there that I am doing karma yoga, or action that is freeing and not that is binding? what is the test ?
He said, "When everything you do, to the best of your effort, completely flops, completely fails, you are crashing and burning, in those moments do you still retain your sense of humor? And if you do, then it is quite likely that you are doing karma yoga". It is not just philosophy for him. It is actually practical reality.
His huge contribution to my life is to make it practical. To help me practice it.

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