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All the blog posts and comments in this blog are personal views and opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vedanta Society of Providence.

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[Note from the Blog editors: During Summer 2016, we are encouraging readers to submit short summaries and commentaries on Swami Vivekananda's book Jnana Yoga, as stated by Swami Yogatmananda at the last Jnana Yoga class before the summer break. Please follow the usual instructions for submitting a blog post, which can be found by clicking the link above. We will be publishing these posts on the blog throughout the summer, and maybe beyond, too. We of course welcome other relevant posts as well.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Essay on The Cosmos: The Microcosm, Chapter 12 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi") 

Timeless questions puzzle humankind. Swami Vivekananda says, “These questions have been asked again and again, and so long as this creation lasts, so long as there are human brains to think, this question will have to be asked. Yet, it is not that the answer did not come; each time the answer came, and as time rolls on, the answer will gain strength more and more. The question was answered once for all thousands of years ago, and through all subsequent time it is being restated, reillustrated, made clearer to our intellect. What we have to do, therefore, is to make a restatement of the answer.” Surface appearances change, but the Reality remains the same. To know and become absorbed in the Reality is the purpose of Life.

Humanity exhibits great material progress and technical innovation, yet there is an evolution of consciousness that has thus far occurred only among a small number of the species. They stand as rare examples of human potential, and few imagine similar strength and greatness is possible for all willing to make the effort. We imagine countless projects and policies intended to improve the world, and we overlook that the greatest impact and benefit we can give to the world is the transformation of our own character and perspective. In other words, evolving consciousness toward a definite goal.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Essay on The Cosmos: The Macrocosm, Chapter 11 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi") 

Swami Vivekananda says, “Do not be frightened by theological terms; if terms frighten you, you are not fit to be philosophers.” The urgent questions of life (who am I? what is this place where I’m born? where is this going? what does this mean?) occurred also to the ancient seers, who did not invent an answer but witnessed a revealed Truth. They recorded their visions in the world’s oldest scriptures, the Vedas, transmitted orally for generations as metrical poetry before the teachings were transferred to writing 6,000-years ago. “Veda” is from the root “vid” meaning “to know.” “Veda” is etymologically related to the Latin word “video (“I see”) and also the English word “wit” (“intelligence”). It is best translated as “knowledge” or more specifically, “wisdom.”

“Vedanta” means “the end of knowledge” or “the goal of wisdom.” This definition has a literal and figurative meaning, as well as a secondary meaning. First, “Vedanta” is based on the Upanishads, which are literally, “the appendix to the Vedas” and the conclusion of the Vedic hymns, rites, and codes of conduct. Moreover, “Vedanta” is not merely abstract speculation, but “the aim of human life.” Supersensuous realization is beyond intellect and logic and more than an idealistic concept. It is a fact that can be directly experienced under the right conditions and does not contradict reason. Finally, “Vedanta” also refers to a genre of literature that explains, expands, and comments upon this teaching and perception.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Essay on The Freedom of the Soul, Chapter 10 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi")  

Swami Vivekananda says, “The soul is one with Freedom, and the soul is one with Existence, and the soul is one with Knowledge. The Sat-Chit-├énanda — Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute — is the nature, the birthright of the Soul, and all the manifestations that we see are Its expressions, dimly or brightly manifesting Itself…. This idea seems to be the most prominent in Vedanta, and, as I have said, it appears to me that every religion holds it. I have yet to know the religion which does not. It is the one universal idea working through all religions…. The monistic Vedanta is the simplest form in which you can put truth.” Truth will make you Free.

Swamiji’s fellow monastic Swami Abhedananda developed the work in New York and traveled in America between 1897 and 1921. He said, “Very few indeed in this world can realize we are living the life of a slave… the majority delude themselves by thinking that they are free, consequently, they like their present condition and do not care for any other.” He outlines initiation as seven steps. First, the awakening of the soul: “We must wake up and see things as they are in reality and not as they appear to be…. When the soul is awakened, it begins to see how far the animal nature leads us and what is the next step, where we are going, what we are doing, what all this means.” Second, purification of the heart by honesty, control of the senses and mind, disinterested love of humanity, and unselfish work. The third step is right discrimination; the fourth step is non-attachment. The fifth step is spiritual enlightenment. “We then understand we are not of this world. This world is not our home.” The sixth step is spiritual illumination. “Thereafter, nothing remains unknown.... Rising above the celestial pleasures then you will become divine.... all the divine qualities will reveal through you.” The seventh step is superconsciousness and the Vision of God.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Essay on Unity in Diversity, Chapter 9 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi") 

Swami Vivekananda says, “The Yoga which we are now considering consists chiefly in controlling the senses…. You will generally hear that this Vedanta, this philosophy and other Eastern systems, look only to something beyond, letting go the enjoyments and struggle of this life. This idea is entirely wrong.” Vedanta is not dry, world-negating asceticism. However, the shift of consciousness from personal sensate perception to impersonal Truth and apprehension of Reality requires austerities and discipline as a preparatory step.

Gerald Heard, author of Training for a Life of the Spirit and founder of the Trabuco College of Prayer, maps three phases of spiritual evolution: the Novice who purges for catharsis, the Proficient who is enlightened and free, and the Perfect established and integrated in the Vision of God. He writes, “To change the focus of consciousness is difficult and skilful work. It does not happen by accident nor by simply leaving the mind open.” In Pain, Sex, and Time, he outlines three ranks within a monastic society: first, the learners, who serve the senior monks without rule or direction; second, the educated, residents with a general discipline and specialization, alternating solitude with group rituals, gardening, and household duties, especially in the dining hall; third, the Doctor-Proficient who heals by teaching, a Neo-Brahmin and bodhisattva unrestricted by cloistered virtue, the incarnate good will and conscience of mankind, and the answer to the powers that hypnotize and destroy. In Five Ages of Man, he considers the evidence of the Western Esoteric Tradition and suggests five steps of initiation according to life stage, type of ordeal, and the required mode of therapy.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Essay on Realization, Chapter 8 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi") 

Swami Vivekananda says, “Religion is not in books, and temples. It is an actual perception. Only the man who has actually perceived God and soul, has religion…. Mere intellectual assent does not make us religious.” He quotes from the Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination) by Shakaracharya (788-820 AD). There are three rare advantages in Life: human birth and strength of body-mind-will, desire for freedom, and apprenticeship to an illumined Master. The teacher should be a perfect knower of Brahman, well-read in the scriptures, and free from lust and greed. The aspirant must be intelligent, learn’ed, and able to overcome doubt by reason. Through discrimination between the Real and the unreal, and non-attachment to sense pleasures and the results of actions, the seeker gains six treasures: peace, patience, perseverance, faith, wisdom, and mastery.

Shankaracharya teaches, “A clear vision of the Reality may be obtained only though our own eyes, when they have been opened by spiritual insight—never through the eyes of some other seer. Through our own eyes we learn what the moon looks like: how could we learn this through the eyes of others?” He shows how the gross body is made of the elements and slave to the senses, desire, and the three conditions of Maya (projecting, veiling, revealing). He describes four mental functions: emotions, identity-making, deliberation, and discrimination. Swami Prabhavananda’s translation states: “In the waking state of consciousness, man finds his fullest activity in the body…. The dream-state belongs pre-eminently to the subtle body…. The mental organ identifies itself with the organs of perception and of action, as well as with the physical body.” This is a false identity. “Through ignorance, man identifies the Atman with the body, taking the perishable for real. Therefore he nourishes this body, and anoints it, and guards it carefully…. When a man becomes illumined by knowledge, there arises within him perfect discrimination which clearly distinguishes the true Being, the Atman, from the external appearances.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Essay on God in Everything, Chapter 7 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi")

Swami Vivekananda says, “this life in the five senses, life in the material world, is not all; it is only a small portion, and merely superficial…. The ideal of renunciation nowhere attains such a height as in the teachings of the Vedanta. But, at the same time, dry suicidal advice is not intended; it really means deification of the world—giving up the world as we think of it, as we know it, as it appears to us,and to know what it really is. Deify it; it is God alone.” He quotes the Isha (Lord, Master, Chief) Upanishad. “Whatever exists in this universe is to be covered with the Lord.” The veil of maya is the manifestation of the Absolute, not something separate. It is sat-chit-ananda (existence-consciousness-bliss). Tat tvam asi (thou art that)!

Witness the Universe, and all that lives and moves on Earth, with the Vision of God. Ignore the temporal. Find joy in the Eternal. Purify your desires, and working without attachment, you may live a long life of freedom. Whomever denies Brahman will fall into a hell of despair and death. Without moving, Brahman is swifter than the mind and faster than you can run. The senses cannot perceive Brahman. Brahman moves yet Brahman moves not. Brahman is far and near. Brahman is within all, and beyond all. There is no fear in those who see Brahman as their own being and in all beings. What delusion and sorrow can harm the soul who perceives unity in diversity? Brahman fills all with radiance, beyond form and changes. Brahman is the witness and the thinker behind all thoughts. Brahman is omnipresent and transcendent. All things reveal Brahman and point to the Eternal.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Essay on The Absolute and Manifestation, Chapter 6 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn ("Rishi")

Swami Vivekananda says, “Time, space, and causation are like the glass through which the Absolute is seen, and when It is seen on the lower side It appears as the universe. Now we at once gather from this that in the Absolute, there is neither time, space nor causation.… The whole struggle is to get rid of this clinging on to time, space, and causation, which are always obstacles in our way.” The Absolute Reality is infinite, undivided, unchanging sat-chit-ananda (existence-consciousness-bliss), yet we experience it as a limited name-and-form (finite) bound by space (divided) and time (changing). 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 (avidya) which obstructs right discrimination.

If you throw a sheet over a chair, it takes on the shape of the chair and not something else. The relationship between maya and Brahman is the same; the Absolute Reality shows through the veil that hides It. According to John Dobson, author of Equations of Maya and The Moon is New, the infinite shows through in physics as the electromagnetism of the particles and atoms in the elemental realm, the undivided shows through as gravity which stops the scattering of the material universe, and the unchanging shows through as inertia, the tendency of matter to remain at rest. He further asserts that the infinite shows through in psyche as the quest for Freedom, the undivided shows through in our need for Love, and the unchanging shows through in the desire for Peace.