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Practical Vedanta

by Swami Sivananda

YOU must be a practical Vedantin. Mere theorising and lecturing is only intellectual gymnastics and lingual warfare. This will not suffice. If Vedanta is not practicable, no theory is of any value. You must put Vedanta in daily practice in every action of yours. Vedanta teaches oneness or unity of Self. You must radiate love to one and all. The spirit of Vedanta must be ingrained in your cells or tissues, veins, nerves and bones. It must become part and parcel of your nature. You must think of unity, speak of unity and act in unity. If you deliver a thrilling lecture on the platform on Vedanta and say, I am the all; I am the one Self in all; there is nothing but myself and show in action the next moment a different attitude of selfishness and separateness, you will not produce any impression on the public. You will be called as a dry Vedantin only. Nobody will care for you.

See how Raja Janaka lived. He lived the life of a practical Vedantin while ruling his kingdom. You cannot conceive of any man busier than Raja Janaka. He was ruling over millions of people and yet he was a sage, a deep thinker, a profound philosopher and a practical Vedantin. He had no attachment to his property or body or his family people. He shared what he had with others. He moved with all. He had equal vision and a balanced mind. He led a very busy life amidst luxuries. He was not a bit affected by external influences. He always kept up a serene mind. He held discussions with various sages on transcendental matters. That is the reason why he still lives in our hearts.

Vedanta or knowledge of Self is not the sole property of Sannyasins or recluses who live in forests or caves of the Himalayas. Study the Upanishads and you will find that many Kshatriya kings, who were very busy in their daily affairs of life, were in possession of Brahma-Jnana. They even gave instructions to Brahmin priests.

Svetaketu Aruneya (grandson of Aruna), repaired to the assembly of the Panchalas. Pravahana Jabali (the king of Panchala, a Kshatriya) asked him; Boy, has your father instructed you? Yes, Sir he replied. Do you know to what place men go from here? No, Sir, he replied. Do you know how they return again? No, Sir he replied. Do you know where the path of the Devas and the path of the fathers diverge? No, Sir he replied. Do you know why that world (that of fathers) never becomes full? No, Sir he replied. Then why did you say that you had been instructed? How could anybody who did not know these things say that he had been taught? Then the boy, troubled in mind, came to his father's place and said: Sir, thought you had not taught me, you said you had instructed me. That fellow of a Rajanya (king, Kshatriya clan) asked me five questions and I could not answer even one of them. The father said, If I had known these, why should not I have told them to you?

The Gautama (the father of Svetaketu) went to the king's place and when he reached the place, the king offered him proper respect. In the morning, he went to the king in his assembly. The king said to him: O revered Gautama, ask a boon of such things as belong to the world of men. He replied, Let such things as men possess remain with you. Repeat the same 'speech' which you addressed to my boy. The king was perplexed. He commanded: Stay here for some time. Then he said, As to what you have asked me, Gautama, this knowledge did not go to any Brahmana before this; and therefore, this teaching belonged, among all the people, to the Kshatriya alone.

Sukadeva had to go to Raja Janaka to get confirmation of his knowledge and realisation. He was tested by Janaka in the Durbar.
Raja Janaka arranged for music and dancing, all around his palace, to distract the attention of Sukadeva. There were various kinds of shows and entertainments. Sukadeva was asked to carry in his hand a cup of milk, that was filled to the very brim, round the palace and to make three such rounds without allowing even a drop to overflow and fall on the ground. Sukadeva did it successfully as he had one-pointedness of mind (Ekagrata). Nothing could distract his mind.

An Englishman, a district collector, saw a sick patient on the roadside in a dying condition. He was a very sympathetic man. He carried the patient to the neighbouring hospital on his own shoulders. Look at his feeling of oneness. He is a practical Vedantin, whether he knows Upanishads or not.

The sun, the flowers, the Ganges, the sandal, the fruit-bearing trees, the cows - all teach practical Vedanta to the world. They live for serving humanity in a disinterested spirit. The sun radiates its light alike over a cottage of a peasant and a place of a Maharaja. The flowers waft their sweet fragrance to all, without expecting any return. The cool refreshing water of the Ganges is drunk by all. The sandal tree wafts its aroma even to the man who cuts it with an axe. All fruit-bearing trees behave in the same manner. They please the gardener who nourishes them as well as the man who cuts them. The cows live to nourish babies, children, invalids and convalescents. Imagine for a moment that the world is devoid of cows for six months or the race of the cows has become extinct. How miserable and weak you will become! The world will abound with anaemic patients. O selfish ignorant man! Learn lessons from these practical Vedantins and become wise.

If a Yogi or a Sannyasi who is able to keep up serenity of mind while living in a cave in the forest complains of disturbance of mind when he lives in the bustle of a city, he has no control of mind. He has no inner spiritual strength. He is not a practical Vedantin. He has no Self-realisation. He has not attained the goal of life. He is still within the domain of Maya. A real Yogi or a practical Vedantin is one who can keep perfect calmness of mind while performing intense activities amidst the bustle of a city. This is the central teaching of the Gita. Lord Krishna says, Remember me at all times and fight. Lord Krishna imparted his instructions to Arjuna in the battle-field. Though Arjuna was despondent in the beginning, he gained spiritual strength and fought in the battlefield with perfect tranquillity of mind. He became a practical Vedantin eventually.

O Nectar's sons! Behold the one homogenous Self in all. Mentally repeat the formula or Mantra 'OM Ek Sat-Chit-Ananda Atma' whenever you perceive any form. Negate the illusory name and form and try to be one with the underlying immortal essence. Serve all with Atma Bhava. Melt all illusory differences. Annihilate separateness. Destroy all unreasonable dislikes or prejudices. Mix with all. Include all. Embrace all. Share what you have, physical, mental, moral and spiritual, with all. Never remain idle even for a moment. Lead a life of intense activity, but in the midst of it, keep always a calm mind and thus become a practical Vedantin. Glory to such practical Vedantins. May they radiate joy, peace and love everywhere! May they move about as torch-bearers of Truth, Divine Light and Divine Splendour! May they demonstrate a life of practical Vedanta by their very exemplary living!

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