Wisdom from Swami Vivekananda

Look Into My Crystal Ball

The soul of man is like a piece of crystal, but it takes the color of whatever is near it. Whatever the soul touches… it has to take its color. That is the difficulty. That constitutes bondage. The color is so strong, the crystal forgets itself and identifies itself with the color. Suppose a red flower is near the crystal: the crystal takes the color and forgets itself, thinks it is red. We have taken the color of the body and have forgotten what we are. All the difficulties that follow come from that one dead body. All our fears, all worries, anxieties, troubles, mistakes, weakness, evil, are from that one great blunder — that we are bodies [the physical identity]. This is the ordinary person. It is the person taking the color of the flower near to it. We are no more bodies than the crystal is the red flower.

— Swami Vivekananda

See also: You are deathless, birthless, You are the infinite spirit (Bhagavad Gita 2.22- 30)

(Photo by Jennuine Captures)


A Karma Yogi has one pointed mind (Bhagavad Gita 2.41)

Those who are resolute in this path (of Karma Yoga) have one pointed mind. Many-branched and endless are the thoughts of the irresolute.

Bhagavad Gita 2.41

You feed your energies to whatever you pay attention to. A karma yogi knows this and s/he does not dissipate his/her energies. A karma yogi takes up a worthy purpose, puts all his/her attention into the purpose and gets it done.

Even physical science has plenty of examples to illustrate the power of focus and attention. When a paper is exposed to sunlight, nothing happens. But when the sun’s rays are focused using a lens into a single point of the paper, so much energy goes into the point that it burns. A piece of iron as such is nothing. But when the polarity of particles in the iron piece is aligned, it becomes a magnet.

We know that the objects of pleasure and pain vary from person to person and time to time, ultimately pleasure and pain have no reality, these are just notions of mind created by habitual responses of the mind and associations. But when we pay too much attention to the thoughts that try to convince us that the pleasure and pain are real, the reality of pleasure and pain grows in our life. When pursuit of pleasure and denial of pain becomes the dominant reality of one’s life, it’s one miserable life. A karma yogi knows this and so is focused only on the purpose at hand, he/she is not infatuated by the notions of pleasure and pain.

Swami Vivekananda says,

Take up one idea. Make that one idea our life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

See also: Karma Yoga (Bhagavad Gita 2.39,40) and Pleasure and pain, heat and cold (Bhagavad Gita 2.14, 15)

Duty consciousness (Bhagavad Gita 2.31-37)

After speaking about the impermanence of physical existence and the immortality of the Self, Sri Krishna now reminds Arjuna about his duty.

Even if you consider your own duty, you should not hesitate because there is nothing better for a Kshatriya than a righteous war. (Bhagavad Gita 2.31)

Happy are the Kshatriyas, O Arjuna, who are called upon to fight in such a battle that comes of itself as an open door to heaven! (2.32)

We have seen in the very beginning that the duty of Arjuna as a skilled warrior is to fight this war, defeat the evil Kauravas and protect the people of the kingdom. Nothing less than that.

But what is your duty and my duty? What are we supposed to be doing in this world?

One way of looking at this: taking into account the circumstances of your life and your skills and abilities, do whatever the work on hand to the best of your abilities without getting distracted and without giving in to infatuations. As Swami Vivekananda says, “By doing well the duty which is nearest to us, the duty which is in our hands now, we make ourselves stronger and improving our strength in this manner step by step, we may even reach a state in which it shall be our privilege to do the most coveted and honoured duties in life and in society.”

Another way I look at it: We see Bhagavad Gita preach the oneness of existence, that you are not the physical body and your true nature is the immortal Self which is also the Self of all beings and entities in existence. Knowing that there is nothing other than yourself in existence, and dropping all ideas of ‘me’ and the ‘other’, dropping all separation and selfishness, do the most appropriate thing you can do that brings good to your world. Whatever work that takes you towards realization of oneness of life is appropriate and whatever work that takes you back towards the idea of separation and selfishness is inappropriate.

Sri Krishna continues his attempts to wake up Arjuna from his slumber…

But if you don’t engage in this righteous war, forfeiting your duty and honour, you shall incur sin. (2.33)

Moreover, the world will speak ill about you forever. For a man of honour, dishonour is worse than death. (2.34)

The great warriors, who hold you in great estimation, will think that you withdraw from the battlefield out of fear. Your value will go down. (2.35)

Your enemies will speak many unkind and fabricated words and insult your ability. What’s more painful than this? (2.36)

Even if we don’t understand all the philosophies, we should shed our lethargies and get on with the work on hand at least for the sake of not losing our honour.

If you are killed on the battlefield you attain heaven, or if you are victorious in the battle you enjoy the earth. Rise therefore, O son of Kunti, and fight with determination. (2.37)

Failure is not an option. If you die in your attempt to do good, you get to heaven. If you succeed in your attempts to do good you enjoy heaven on earth. That is it.

You are deathless, birthless, You are the infinite spirit (Bhagavad Gita 2.22- 30)

This part of the Bhagavad Gita I like the most. Sri Krishna continues…

Just as a person gives up old worn-out garments and puts on new ones, the same way the Self gives up old and useless bodies and accepts new ones. (2.22)

This drives home the point that you are not the body. You are the Self and you have these bodies. Nothing more need be said about this (please refer the previous posts).

This (the Self) can never be cut into pieces by the weapons, nor burnt by fire, nor moistened by water, nor dried by the wind. (2.23)

This (the Self) cannot be broken, it cannot be burned, it cannot be dissolved, it cannot be dried, it is eternal, all pervading, immovable, unchangeable and eternally the same. (2.24)

This (the Self) is impersonal, inconceivable, unchangeable. Thus knowing This to be such, you don’t deserve to lament. (2.25)

These three verses emphatically states that the Self is non-physical and removes all illusions and fears that may arise due to identifying oneself with the physical body.

Okay, but what if you are not able to accept all such concepts of about the Self? All we see is the physical body and, after all, Krishna himself says the soul is inconceivable. So why try to convince oneself with such unthinkable concepts? You may think so, that’s fine. Sri Krishna answers…

Even if you take this to have constant birth and death, you still don’t deserve to lament, O mighty armed! (2.26)

For, certain is death for the born and certain is birth for the dead; therefore, over the inevitable you should not grieve. (2.27)

All beings are unmanifested in their beginning, O Bharata, manifested in their middle state and unmanifested again in their end. What is there then to grieve about? (2.28)

A lump of clay on the surface of the earth takes the form of the pot, retains the form for a while, and then it’s broken and gets back to being the mass of clay on the surface of the earth. Similarly all beings are unmanifested in the beginning, manifest in the middle state and unmanifested again in the end. What’s there to grieve?

Some see This (the Self) with amazement, some speak about This with amazement. Yet others hear about This with amazement and there are others, who even after hearing about This don’t know (understand). (2.29)

Perhaps, this verse implies that only a few actually experience the real non-physical Self. Others speak about the Self, hear about it from others, and there are many others who even after hearing don’t understand at all. So, even if you can’t understand the Self, don’t worry, you still don’t have a reason to grieve as long as you can understand that death is certain for everything that’s born.

Grief is just unnecessary. Accept the inevitable and do what needs to be done. That is it.

This Self, the indweller in the body of everyone, is always indestructible, O Arjuna! Therefore, you need not grieve for any creature. (2.30)

Okay, this quote from Swami Vivekananda sums it up all, in meaning and spirit.

Stand up and fight! Not one step back, that is the idea. Fight it out, whatever comes. Let the stars move from the spheres! Let the whole world stand against us! Death means only a change of garment. What of it? Thus fight! You gain nothing by becoming cowards. Taking a step backward, you do not avoid any misfortune. You have cried to all the gods in the world. Has misery ceased? … The gods come to help you when you have succeeded. So what is the use? Die game. … You are infinite, deathless, birthless. Because you are infinite spirit, it does not befit you to be a slave. Arise! Awake! Stand up and fight!

Inner light alone is the means

All that I am trying to do is to help you to discern for yourself that there is no salvation outside of yourself, that no Master, no society, can save you; that no church, no ceremony, no prayer can break down your self-created limitations and restrictions; that only through your own strenuous awareness is there the comprehension of the real, the permanent.
— J. Krishnamurti (source)

Self-knowledge or knowledge of truth is not had by resorting to a guru (preceptor) nor by the study of scripture, nor by good works; it is attained only by means of enquiry inspired by the company of wise and holy men. One’s inner light alone is the means, naught else.
— Yoga Vasishta (tr. by Swami Venkatesananda, p. 147)

Be free; hope for nothing from anyone. I am sure if you look back upon your lives you will find that you were always vainly trying to get help from others which never came. All the help that has come was from within yourselves.
— Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, vol.2, p.324)

Heaven and hell

A story about what makes heaven and hell…

Once a person died and went to the other world. He was taken to Yamaraja, the god of death. Yamaraja asked for checking up his account of merits and demerits, in order to decide if he should be sent to hell or heaven. Chitragupta, the celestial accountant of Yamaloka, who never missed recording every single act, good or bad, of every single being, was rather surprised. Here was a freak case of the man having a perfectly squared or balanced account. His merits were as much as were his demerits. Which side should he, then, go? Yamaraja seemed indecisive for a moment. His mighty intellect, however, soon came forth with a solution. He gave the choice to the man: ‘You will have to experience both [for, the Hindu tradition tells us, neither hell nor heaven, is permanent. One ‘lives’ there as long as one’s merits and demerits permit one to do so;thereafter one returns to earth again] but you can chose the sequence.’ Hence, the man was given the choice to decide as to where he wished to go first.

Accordingly, he was first taken to hell. He saw there a large group of people sitting across a dining table and eating through large bowls containing heaps of food of many varieties, and soups of all kinds. A delicious aroma filled the place. They ate through spoons with long handles — for that was the rule of the place. Despite so much of food around, however, they looked so emaciated and weak. They were so misrable. Looking at them the man wondered how were they still alive!

Then he came to heaven. Here too he saw a group of people sitting across a dining table, eating through large bowls of food and soup. The people, like the ones in hell, too ate using spoons with long handles. But unlike hell. here everyone looked well nourished and cheerful. There was an atmosphere of joy and sunshine here.

The man paused to see what made the difference despite similarities. In heaven, people ate, right, but actually they fed each other! The long handle of the spoon made its movement time-consuming and tiresome. Hence,the people had devised their own way of eating. Long handle made it easier to feed the food to the person sitting across the table than to use it for eating oneself. Everyone, thus, fed each other and that was the secret of their healthy bodies and cheerful minds.

And this is what differentiates heaven from hell too — the degree of unselfishness one has. Rightly did Swami Vivekananda say, ‘Unselfishness is God’. Where there love and concern, there is heaven. And its absence is hell. Hell, whatever be its types, is only an extension of selfishness in all its hideous forms; heaven is an extension of unselfishness in all its glory and beauty. Hell and heaven are extensions of out selfishness and unselfishness respectively.

(Story copied from the editorial of March 2009 issue of The Vedanta Kesari.)

And thanks to my brother for helping me post this story!

Be free from all dualities

Narendra — All is one, isn’t it?

Sri Ramakrishna — No, beyond one and two.


When the mind perceives duality then there is both duality and its counterpart, which is unity. When the mind drops the perception of duality there is neither duality nor unity. When one is firmly established in the oneness of the infinite consciousness, whether he is quiet or actively engaged in work, then he is considered to be at peace with himself.

— Yoga Vāsiṣṭha (tr. by Swami Venkatesananda, p.66)

The Vedas deal mainly with the subject of the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become transcendental to these three modes. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the self.

— Bhagavad Gita 2.45

Love is a substitute for everything

We may feel jealous of a successful person, but we are never jealous of the success of our own children, even though they are someone other than us. When we see ourselves in the other person, love comes naturally. And where there is love, there is no room for violence, hatred, enmity, or jealousy. Love is a substitute for everything, but there is no substitute for love. And when that love becomes divine, there is no further need to say anything!

Swami Tejomayananda

Why is somebody glad when their own child is successful but jealous when somebody else experiences success? Isn’t it the feeling of ‘mine’ and ‘other’ that makes the difference? I am happy if ‘my’ child succeeds but jealous when some ‘other’ person is successful. If a child that is born out of you is your own, then we are all children of the same God and belong to one God. We are all born out of the same source, live in the same space, and in the end go back to the same source. Ultimately, we all dissolve into each other. Then where is the question of ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’?

Swami Vivekananda says,

If a beautiful picture belonging to another is burnt, a man does not generally become miserable; but when his own picture is burnt, how miserable he feels! Why? Both were beautiful pictures, perhaps copies of the same original; but in one case very much more misery is felt than in the other. It is because in one case he identifies himself with the picture, and not in the other. This ‘I and mine’ causes the whole misery.

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol. 1, p.101.

‘I’ and ‘mine’ and ‘other’ is the cause of all misery. Drop the feeling of ‘mine’ and ‘other’ and simply enjoy success, appreciate beauty wherever you find it, and you will become the embodiment of success and beauty! ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and ‘other’ is mere illusion. When you drop ‘I and mine’, the whole world becomes yours. Then what remains is the feeling of oneness, pure Love. And when there is Love, where is the room for violence, hatred, enmity, and jealousy?

See also, How to overcome jealousy, hatred, rivalry and ego consciousness?

The one religion

“There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

“We want to lead mankind in the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this is to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of The Religion, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.” ~ Swami Vivekananda

“The candles are many, but the light is one.” ~ Rumi

“Truth is one; only It is called by different names. All people are seeking the same Truth; the variance is due to climate, temperament, and name. A lake has many ghats. From one ghat the Hindus take water in jars and call it ‘jal’. From another ghat the Mussalmāns take water in leather bags and call it ‘pāni’. From a third the Christians take the same thing and call it ‘water’. Suppose someone says that the thing is not ‘jal’ but ‘pāni’, or that it is not ‘pāni’ but ‘water’, or that it is not ‘water’ but ‘jal’, It would indeed be ridiculous. But this very thing is at the root of the friction among sects, their misunderstandings and quarrels. This is why people injure and kill one another, and shed blood, in the name of religion. But this is not good. Everyone is going toward God. They will all realize Him if they have sincerity and longing of heart.” ~ Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

“I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.” ~ M. K. Gandhi

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.” ~ Albert Einstein

How to overcome jealousy, hatred, rivalry and ego consciousness?

How to get rid of such negative emotions as hatred, jealousy, anger, etc.? We may be intellectually convinced that that these negative emotions are harmful to ourselves and everyone else, but we sometimes find that these negativities lurking around in our own minds. How do we get rid of these negativities?

Well, here’s a suggestion from God himself!

O noble soul, open thy divine sight and regard and honour all beings as myself. Wise is he who looks with an equal eye upon all beings, seeing the one indwelling God in the hearts of all. He who meditates on my divine nature as present in every man becomes free from rivalry, from jealousy, from hatred, and from the consciousness of ego.

Srimad Bhagavatam: The Wisdom of God,
Translated by Swami Prabhavananda. p. 303

Indeed, we all come from the same Source, we all ultimately go back to the same Source, and it’s the same Source or God who lives in the hearts of all beings and expresses Himself (or Herself or Itself) variously. The expressions themselves may be beautiful or distorted, but they keep changing, they are not fixed or eternal. God, the indweller,  outlives everything else, and He alone is the one eternal existence. When I recognize that the same God who lives and works through me lives in and works through the other person too, there is no question of hatred or jealousy in me. In fact, the other person is just another expression of myself, he/she is a mirror reflecting an aspect of myself and helps me discover myself. Only when we forget the oneness of existence and give too much importance to the differences, that’s when these negative emotions raise their head.

What happens when somebody else hates you and attacks you? When somebody attacks you, it’s reasonable for you to defend yourself, it’s perfectly okay to defend yourself. But even then, remembering the oneness of existence and acknowledging that the other person is the same as you in the core will prevent you from introducing further hatred. Further hatred on your part only escalates the problem, whereas when you look at the problem objectively, it always helps bring the situation under control and you can even help the other person overcome his hatred. This attitude has always worked for me. When I find myself having some problem with somebody, I internally acknowledge that we are both same in the core, it’s the same God who expresses himself through both of us differently. When I do this, the feeling of hatred immediately dies down even though the difference of opinion may persist for some time. Just that we both are looking at the same thing from different perspectives, the glasses might be of different colours, but it’s the same eye that looks through the different glasses. These differences are temporary, the clouds of misunderstanding has to pass, however dark they may be, however hopelessly overcast the conditions are, the clouds will disperse sooner or later, and suddenly, we find that the sun of understanding has always been shining resplendently. In fact, when you look at it from the perspective of the sun, the clouds have almost no existence at all!

Let me leave with you with a quote from Swami Vivekananda, who puts it in his own characteristically strong manner:

In one word, the ideal of Vedanta is to know man as he really is, and this is its message, that if you cannot worship your brother man, the manifested God, how can you worship a God who is unmanifested?