Swami Vivekananda, the celebrated propagator and progressive interpreter of Vedanta philosophy has explained his ideas of God, religion and man’s place in the spiritual practice in the book, What Religion Is:
Search for God
‘……. man, after vain search after various Gods outside himself, completes the circle and comes back to the point from which he started-the human soul; and he finds that the God whom he was searching for over hill and dale, whom he was seeking in every brook, in every temple, in churches and heavens, that God whom he was even imagining as sitting in heaven and ruling the world, is his own Self. I am he and he is I. None but I was God and this little ‘I’ never existed.’
‘What does the advaitist preach? He dethrones all the gods that ever existed or ever will exist in the universe and places on that throne the Self of man-the Atman, higher than the sun and moon, higher than the heavens, greater than this great universe itself. No books, no scriptures, no science can ever imagine the glory of the Self that appears as man-the most glorious God that ever was, the only God that ever existed, exists, or ever will exist.’
‘ I am to worship, therefore, none but my Self.'(The ‘Self’ is the soul of man.)
God of the masses
‘The religions of the unthinking masses all over the world must be, and have always been, of a God who is outside of the universe, who lives in heaven, who governs from that place, who is a punisher of the bad and rewarder of the good, and so on.’
‘The God of heaven becomes the God in nature, the God in nature becomes the God who is nature, and the God who is nature becomes the God within this temple of the body, and the God dwelling in the temple of the body, at last, becomes the temple itself, becomes the soul and man-and there Vedanta reaches the last words it can teach.’
‘Talking about God, and the Impersonal, and this and that, is all very good, but these men-Gods are the real Gods of all nations and all races. These divine men have been worshipped and will be worshipped as long as man is man. Therein is our faith, therein is our hope, of a reality. Of what avail is a mere mystical principle?’ The men-gods are only human, visible, accessible spiritual teachers to the people and not scriptural gods.
‘These great Teachers are the living Gods on this earth………They are higher than any conception of God that I could ever form.’
These ‘men-Gods’ are the great Teachers of the world- Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammad, Mahaveer, Basavanna and so on.
Swami Vivekananda emphatically preached that all religions are not contradictory, but supplementary to one another.
The twelfth-century Indian mystic, Basavanna established and spread an almost similar spiritual, humanist philosophy called lingayatism in south India. He taught that there is no heaven, no hell, no supernatural god, and so on and that we, the people could change this earth into heaven or hell. Man’s body is a temple, as it were, and man is divine. God is one and his names are many. Man can attain his ultimate spiritual goal through his own perseverance.
God of Islam
No God or prophet (‘man-God’) of any religion is the only truest God or the prophet. Swami Vivekananda stresses the mistaken view of Islam that Islamic God is the only God and Gods of other religions are not Gods and highlights a historical fact:
‘In this line, the Mohammedans were the best off. Every step forward was made with the sword- the Koran in one hand and the sword in the other. ‘Take the Koran, or you must die; there is no alternative.’ You know from history how phenomenal was their success; for six hundred years nothing could resist them. And then there came a time when they had to cry halt. So will it be with other religions if they follow the same methods.’
Religion is individualistic
Swami Vivekananda eloquently says:
‘Religion is not talk or doctrines or theories nor is it sectarianism. Religion cannot live in sects and societies. It is the relation between the soul and God; how can it be made into a society? It would then degenerate into business, and wherever there are business and business principles in religion, spirituality dies. Religion does not consist in erecting temples or building churches or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books or in words or in lectures or in organizations. Religion consists in realization.’
The spiritual leader’s words are clear, heart-touching, inspiring and convincing and awaken man from the deep and rigid grip of outdated superstitious religious beliefs. Two things stand out in the spiritual path of this revered Indian mystic:
Swami Vivekananda’s God is a ‘man-God! His God is not a supernatural God living in heaven and governing the world.
Swami Vivekananda is a staunch humanist.
Is he not one of the spiritual greats?