explains the basic teachings of Vedanta,
its concept of God, and the validity of all religions
Explorefaith sat down recently with Swami Adiswarananda, the spiritual
leader of the historic Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
Center in New York City. We wanted to learn more about the teachings
of Vedanta, and we wanted to discover what people do at a Vedanta
Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York is a place for spiritual
seekers of all faiths. One of the approximately 150 branches of
the Ramakrishna Order of India and abroad, the Center bases its
teachings on the system of Vedanta, especially as it is explained
by Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886), his wife and spiritual companion
Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother (1853-1920), and his disciple Swami
Adiswarananda was born in India and educated as a monk in the Ramakrishna
Order. The Ramakrishna Order is often referred to as “the
Jesuits of the East,” because of the comparable rigor of training
which they undergo, and the high expectations that accompany becoming
a Ramakrishna swami. He came to the United States nearly four decades
ago, and is a popular spiritual teacher on the Upper East Side of
Manhattan and beyond.
Adiswarananda has also recently published several books with SkyLight
Paths Publishing in Vermont, including Meditation and Its Practices
and The Four Yogas.
many in the explorefaith community may be unfamiliar with your beliefs,
why don't we take a few minutes to tell people what a Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
Center is. What religious tradition or traditions are you a part
are students of Vedanta, a philosophy that has evolved from the
teachings of the Vedas, the world’s oldest religious writings.
According to the Vedas, ultimate reality is all-pervading, uncreated,
self-luminous, eternal spirit, the final cause of the universe,
the power behind all tangible forces, the consciousness which animates
all conscious beings. This is the central philosophy of Vedanta.
the philosophical standpoint, Vedanta is non-dualistic, and from
the religious standpoint, monotheistic. Vedanta philosophy asserts
the essential non-duality of God, soul, and universe, the apparent
distinctions being created by names and forms which, from the standpoint
of ultimate reality, do not exist.
Vedanta accepts all religions as true and regards the various Godheads
of different faiths as diverse manifestations of the one Absolute.
Vedanta asserts that Truth is universal
and that humankind and all of existence are one. It teaches the
unity of the Godhead, or ultimate Reality, and accepts every faith
as a valid means for its own followers to realize the Truth.
so, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda must be two of the supreme teachers
that’s right, along with Sri Sarada Devi, the wife of Ramakrishna,
whom we refer to as the Holy Mother.
four cardinal principles of Vedanta may be summed up as: the non-duality
of the Godhead, the divinity of the soul, the unity of existence,
and the harmony of religions.
The essential teaching of Vedanta, as stated by
Swami Vivekananda, is: “Each soul is potentially divine. The
goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature:
external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic
control, or philosophy—by one or more or all of these—and
be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or
rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”
does Hinduism fit into all of this? Are you Hindu, as well?
is the final teaching of the Vedas, and the Vedas are rooted in
Hinduism. The original name of Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma or Eternal
Religion. The teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and
Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi reflect not only the original teachings
of the Vedas and Vedanta, but also go beyond popular Hindu thoughts
and traditions. This is because Sri Ramakrishna practiced various
religions, eventually coming to the ultimate realization, declaring,
“As many faiths, so many paths.” It is for this reason
that the Ramakrishna Order adores and reveres the prophets, saints
and scriptures of all religions.
sort of spiritual practices do you do at the Center?
follower of Vedanta practices prayer, meditation, self-analysis,
selfless activity and service of God in all beings. According to
Vedanta, to know God is to become like God. We may quote scriptures,
engage in rituals, perform social service, or pray with regularity,
but unless we directly experience the divine spirit in our hearts,
we are still phenomenal beings—victims of a separative existence.
Direct experience is more than blind belief, intellectual understanding,
or temporary emotional exaltation.
can experience God as tangibly as “a fruit lying on the palm
of one’s hand,” which means that in this very life we
can overcome our lower nature, manifest our higher nature, and become
perfect. Through direct experience
of God, one’s doubts disappear and the “knots of the
heart are cut asunder.” Only such direct experience can confer
immortality. Immortality is never physical, but
spiritual, and it is to be attained in this very life. The attainment
of immortality is not the prerogative of a chosen few, but the birthright
can a person know if he or she has attained this sort of perfection?
Does someone always know clearly when they have had the experience
of unity with the Divine that you describe?
transformation of the character of a person is the most vital test
of the attainment of perfection. Such transformation (a) silences
all doubts, (b) is never superseded by any subsequent experience,
(c) is never contradictory to reason and common sense, and (d) is
always conducive to the welfare of all beings. A seeker who has
attained perfection not only communes with God inside his or her
heart, but also sees all beings as transfigurations of that same
God. The heart of such a person overflows with compassion for all
human beings regardless of culture, tradition and religious affiliation.
Such a person dedicates his or her life for the welfare of all.
you celebrate or commemorate any religious holidays?
a temple of universal worship, the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center
of New York honors and reveres the saints, sages and prophets of
all religions. We observe special services annually to commemorate
Sri Ramakrishna’s Birthday, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi’s
Birthday, Swami Vivekananda’s Birthday, Buddha’s Birthday,
Sri Durga Puja (the worship of God as Mother), Christmas, Good Friday,
you ever encounter people of other religious traditions wanting
to convert you to their faith? How do you respond to them
spiritual unity of humankind and the harmony of religions are our
central teachings, and at our Center followers of all religious
traditions are welcome. We do not believe in conversion or proselytizing,
and we do not ask those who come about their religious background.
In the interfaith spirit,
religious leaders of all faiths are invited to speak at our Center.
At our Center we believe in the essential truth of all faiths and
accept all religions as basically true. Diversity
is the plan of the universe, and so representations of God and religion
must also be diverse to suit the needs and temperaments of people
of all times, countries and backgrounds.
know that you, Swami, were born and educated in India. Are there
swamis leading centers like yours elsewhere in North America that
were born and trained, here?
present there are more than twelve hundred monks (swamis) in the
Ramakrishna Order. While most of them are from different parts of
India, there are also many individuals from various other countries
who have taken up the monastic life, joined the Order, and become
ordained as swamis. All swamis of the Ramakrishna Order, including
those from abroad, are required to receive some of their training
in India at the Order’s monastic training center at Belur
Math, the headquarters of the Order. While the spiritual leaders
of our Ramakrishna Order centers are generally senior swamis of
Indian origin, there are many western-trained swamis who take up
various religious duties, including speaking from the pulpit, ceremonial
worship and other works of service.
you leave us with a teaching from Sri Ramakrishna about spiritual
practice? What would he have the beginner do?
central theme of Sri Ramakrishna's message is God-consciousness.
God-consciousness is the essence of all teachings of all religions.
It is the goal of all study of scriptures, philosophical speculation,
prayer and contemplation, sacraments and rituals, charity and austerity,
and pilgrimage to holy places. To Sri Ramakrishna, the message of
all scriptures, of all religions, is that God alone is real and
all else is illusory. One must grasp this message and then plunge
into oneself for the realization of truth, through some form of
prayer, meditation, self-control and other spiritual practices.
Sri Ramakrishna, sincerity lies at the root of all spirituality.
The purpose of all spiritual
practices is to become sincere. It is, in his words, “to make
our thought, word, and action the same.” While
God-consciousness, the goal of religion, remains the same for all
ages, denominations and paths vary, as they must, to suit the diverse
tastes of different seekers.
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