Swami Vivekananda: His new monastic Order

Swami Nirvanananda Memorial Lecture


Ramakrishna Math, Bhubaneswar

on 25th July 2015

 Om sthapakaya cha dharmasya sarva dharma svarupine

Avatara varishtaya Ramakrishnaya te namaha.

Revered Secretary Maharaj, dear Mihir Maharaj and dear devotees and friends, generally, in our Order, we do not speak after our Revered Secretary Maharaj has spoken. Today I am making an exception because Revered Maharaj has himself asked me to speak after him.

I have come from Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira, Belur Math. It is a Polytechnic College where we give training to Diploma students. Belur Math, as you all know, is the headquarters of the worldwide Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, two organizations started by Swami Vivekananda.

Today’s topic for deliberation is ‘Swami Vivekananda: His new monastic Order’. The topic has the words ‘New monastic Order’. This suggests that there are at least two types of monastic orders – the old one and the new one. I will tell you some things about the old monastic order so that you will be able to appreciate the new one founded by Swamiji.

Who is a monk? Or, what is monasticism? And what is a monastic order? A monk is person who has dedicated his life for God realization. That is the single aim of his life. Monasticism is therefore a way of life, distinct from that of the majority of the people in the world. What do I mean? The majority of the people in the world are born, go to schools and colleges, learn some skills, engage in some profitable activity, earn money, get married, have children, grow old and die. The Hindu way of life has designed that all these activities be sanctified by certain rituals called ‘Samskaras’, so that by participating in these activities, he or she may also further one’s spiritual evolution. A person is born. There is a samskara to be done. Then the child is named and that has another samskara or ritual. Then the first food, weaning away from the mother’s breast and that has another ritual. Then marriage, another ritual. And so on until death, which is the final rite or ‘Antima Samskara’. Thus, society has prescribed specific rules and regulations on every person born into society.

Thousands of years ago, there arose a rebellion against being bound like this by social rituals. They claimed that they be allowed to lead a life unfettered by social bindings and their claim was based on the fact that right from childhood or youth, that is, after their formal education, they would like to delve into the method and means of God realization directly. They did not want to go through the circuitous route of the society. They would stay away from society and achieve the same goal. Society also prescribes the same goal for those who stay inside its confines. Their goal is also God realization. However, there are too many rules, regulations, duties, and responsibilities associated with life in society. Some people wanted to be freed from all those bindings and be allowed to engage in self-discovery directly, by the path known as Yoga. These were actually social outlaws. They are the monks. They perform a grand ritual known as Viraja Homa and sever all connections with society. They will not produce anything. They will not produce wealth or children. They are out of all competition. If you analyze the innumerable activities that people do in this world, you will find that all of them will fall into these two categories – production of wealth and production of progeny. A monk declares that he is out of both of these. What else is there to do? Does he not eat and wear clothes? Where does he get them?

The only activity of the monk is to realize God. His only activity is meditation. When he does not meditate, he may spend some time talking to people about his spiritual practices, his own realizations and discussing the practices and realizations of other monks of the past, which are enshrined in our holy books. That is all he is allowed to do. Society in India, even thousands of years ago, acknowledged this mode of living and said that it would support such people with bare food and clothing. That is how monks came into existence. When their numbers grew, there came about classifications among them too. There were rules worked out for them too, but these rules were mainly codes of conduct for the monks. This led to the formation of ‘Monastic Orders’. Monks who followed a certain set of rules of conduct claimed to belong to a certain monastic order. Over the centuries, [and I am speaking of a time much before the Buddha here], these monks got classified into two types – the wanderer and the settler. They were called ‘Bahudaka’ and ‘Kutichaka’.

The Hindu society did one more grand thing. When they recognized the validity of this claim of some people to be let free from the social bindings, they tried to incorporate this urge for freedom into their social structure itself. The leaders of society declared that every person would be accorded this freedom in the last stage of his life on earth. A person would study, set up a house, rear up his kids and get them settled in life and then, he and his wife could take monastic vows. This decision was a stroke of genius, for, it ensured that there wouldn’t be an exodus of people away from society into monasticism. If such an exodus occurred, society would crumble down. In due course of time, certain other conditions too got added on concerning caste. Slowly, all learning got accumulated among these forest recluses, and hence their power grew to a great extent. These subtle oppressions necessitated a transformation in monasticism that the Buddha brought about.

Buddha himself was a Bahudaka monk. He was a Vedantic monk. Later on, he brought about some vital changes into monasticism. These changes were so drastic that those monks had a tough time integrating with the mainstream Hindu monks and hence they developed as a separate type of monks called Buddhist monks.

These Buddhist monks spread all over the known world and from some of those monks, Jesus Christ was deeply influenced. And from him grew yet another category of monks called the Christian monks. We must understand that the Christian monks lived in a society that was totally different from the Indian society that had given birth to the monastic lifestyle. Hence, the Christian monks lived by working and producing things of value for the society. Of all the known religions of the world, only Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity have monastic orders. [Jainism recognizes monasticism, but then, Jains are generally considered as a part of Hinduism.]

Hindu monasticism underwent three major transformations before Swamiji. The Buddhist transformation was the first. Centuries before the Buddha, Hindu monasticism had started and had thrived in India. But, there were some criteria for allowing a person to leave the society and take up monkhood. Also, more often than not, monkhood was considered as the last stage of life. A person was directed to live a full life in society, following all its rules and regulations, contribute in terms of wealth and progeny to society and when he reached an age of retirement, he was allowed to accept monastic vows. Therefore, we find even today that the purificatory mantras one chants before becoming a monk expiates him from all sorts of sins, even the sins of killing Brahmins, warriors and fetuses! But, people were not allowed to become monks without first having lived in society and served the society by contributing wealth and progeny. So, typically, a person was supposed to have picked up some skills in life during his youth; then he was supposed to have engaged in some gainful activity and produced wealth. Then he was supposed to have married and set up house. Then he was supposed to have produced a couple of children and reared them up. When the children had married and had set up their own houses, he was given permission from society to leave his own house and all that he had created in society and retire to the forest. In the forest, he generally set up a small hut, lived with his wife, and engaged in spiritual pursuits. Often, young boys and girls would also come from society and live with him. He would teach them the various skills he knew. Sometimes, the monk would remain a wanderer, without any fixed hermitage, especially if he was a widower. This was the scene until Buddha came.

Buddha brought about a great change in Hindu monasticism by relaxing many of these norms. He allowed anyone, at any stage of life, to become a monk. This transformation was so drastic that finally Hinduism had to dissociate itself from Buddha’s ideas. But the one change that remained in Hindu monasticism was the concept of the Akhada. Before Buddha, Hindu monks either lived in small hermitages or were free wanderers. Buddha’s influence remained in Hindu monasticism in the form of Akhadas. These were very large hermitages with an Abbot. The daily activities of the Akhada were managed by the Abbot and a team of monks. Apart from this Abbot & his team, innumerable monks lived in the Akhadas, without any fixed duties, engaged in spiritual pursuits, free to come and go as they fancied. There were general rules of conduct to be followed.

Later on, Acharya Shankara brought about tremendous systematization into Hindu monasticism. He classified Hindu monks into ten different orders of monks. All the extant Vedas and Upanishads were allotted to the various orders of monks for safekeeping and cultivation of the spiritual culture. He further established four monasteries in India and gave charge to the Abbots of these monasteries for these ten orders of monks. He felt the need to start these four monasteries because in the wake of the Buddha’s revolutionary transformations, the forest hermitages had lost their relevance, and they needed to be revived.

Gradually, Islam entered into India and started persecuting the Hindu monks. Innumerable monks died in the onslaughts of Islamic rulers. Another monk called Madhusudhana Saraswati brought about another transformation at this time. He started a new wing in each of the ten orders of Vedanta monks called the Naga wing. These monks were warriors and monks at the same time. If any attack occurred on the monasteries or on wandering monks, these Naga monks would fight back for self-protection. They carried all sorts of arms but followed a policy of ‘not-attacking-first’.

Now, the traditional Hindu monasticism is as I have described until now.

As I said, the old monastic orders prescribed that the only goal of a monk was to realize God. And the path for realizing God also was prescribed. It was a complete negation of everything of this world. For, it is the things of this world that held us back from God. Hence, the monk renounced everything of this world, that is, of this society. The motto of the traditional monk was ‘Atmano mokshartha sanyasahrama grahanam’ – that is, ‘Embracing monasticism for the sake of self-liberation (i.e. God realization)’. The conception of the goal was also a very interesting thing. I told you about the three reformations in Hindu monasticism that happened before Swami Vivekananda. One of the important things that Acharya Shankara introduced into monasticism was a particular conception of the goal. He specified that the goal was Nirvikalpa Samadhi and nothing else. Until that time, the goal was quite flexible. There used to be monks who strove to obtain a vision of a particular deity; that was the proclaimed goal for which they had renounced society. But Acharya Shankara changed that. He directed that nothing less than Nirvikalpa Samadhi would the goal of monks and that all monks who wished to adopt monasticism under the Vedanta tradition would have to compulsorily accept Nirvikalpa Samadhi as the goal.

This had a strange fallout on the monastic society as well as the Indian society. Acharya Shankara, apart from proclaiming the goal of monks, also prescribed the particular path along which the monks had to tread in order to realize that goal. That path was the ‘path of negation’ in accordance with the Advaita Vedanta School of philosophy that he had rigorously established through his treatises and commentaries on the Upanishads, Gita and Brahma Sutras. As a result, everything belonging to this world had to be renounced as useless. Every pursuit or activity pertaining to this world was condemned as a distraction and hence had to be rejected. The goal was one of perfect inactivity; it was a state of pure Being; doing was a fall from that supreme state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Hence, a gradual devaluation of all kinds of activity occurred in the monastic society. This slowly rubbed itself onto the larger Indian society as a whole, since, it was these monks who taught religious pursuits to the people in the society.

The first two transformations wrought by Buddha and then by Acharya Shankara had another very detrimental repercussion on the Indian society. Before Buddha, Hindu monasticism was open mainly to persons who had lived a full life in society. By a full life, I mean, they had worked hard in some gainful activity, produced wealth, got married, begot children, strove to get their children educated and married and only then were they eligible for monastic life. In this scheme of things, the presence of these social outlaws did not affect the efficacy of the society. Buddha changed this delicate structure and declared that anyone, in any stage of life, could take monastic vows. This change had on the one hand completely disturbed the delicate balance of the economy and on the other hand had brought in unspeakable degradation into monastic society. Of course, we must understand that these detrimental changes occurred over a period of a few centuries and they were simply fallouts of Buddha’s policy and were not intended specifically by the Buddha at all! So Acharya Shankara made it a norm that only those people could become monks who decided to do so right from their childhood and not later on. Married people couldn’t become monks. Further, women were deprived of the right to become nuns, since much of the post Buddhist degradation could be traced to the free intermixing of monks and nuns.

Both these developments led to a very strange outcome in the Indian society. Firstly, the man in the society started developing an inferiority complex with respect to oneself. Secondly, marriage was considered as a compromise to one’s inability to lead a celibate’s life and hence the married man was always lower in spiritual stature compared to a monk. Thirdly, any activity, especially wealth creation was considered as unholy since all spiritual pursuits called for complete renunciation of all activity. Fourthly, women became liabilities since they were barred from all higher spiritual pursuits.

I must clarify one thing here. When I say that these problems were the fallouts of Buddha’s and Shankara’s attempts at transformation, I do not mean that these two great prophets meant it to be like that. That would be an absurd conclusion. The great ones proclaim the truth, as they perceive it. Society then starts working it out and ends up muddling it up.

This is the ‘old monastic order’ that I wanted to describe to you before starting on today’s topic. Against the background of these ideas, you will be able to appreciate what exactly Swami Vivekananda achieved by establishing the ‘new monastic order’.

Sometime in 1886, the young boy Naren lived in Cossipore Garden House with Sri Ramakrishna, where the latter was being treated for his throat cancer. Along with nursing their Guru, the young boys led by Naren engaged in spiritual practices too. One day, Naren experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. When he regained normal consciousness, he went to Sri Ramakrishna and told him that he wished to remain immersed in that blessed state of consciousness. But Sri Ramakrishna chided him, ‘Is that all! I thought you were different, but I see that you are very small minded. Let me tell you, there is a state of consciousness that lies beyond Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Aim for that.’ This state of consciousness that lies beyond Nirvikalpa Samadhi is called ‘Bhavamukha’.

Let us consider the above-mentioned event in detail. Naren had already achieved the goal of traditional monasticism. All that was left for him to do was to accept the formal vows of Sannyasa. Such monks, who accept monastic vows after achieving the goal, are called ‘Vidwat Sanyasis’. Generally, monks accept formal monastic vows and then attempt to achieve the goal throughout their lives. These monks are called ‘Vividisha Sanyasis’. Naren was a traditional vidwat sannyasin. He had already achieved his goal of personal liberation, having experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. And in such a circumstance, his Guru is exhorting him to go beyond! What indeed can be there beyond the grand goal of Nirvikalpa Samadhi?

Sri Ramakrishna too had accepted formal monastic vows from his Guru Tota Puri. Under Tota Puri’s guidance, he too had experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Having experienced that supreme state of consciousness, he remained in that blessed state for six months. His Nirvikalpa Samadhi rendered him utterly useless even to safeguard his own body! He couldn’t even eat. By a strange coincidence of events, a young man had come to Dakshineshwar at that time that recognized the supreme state in which Sri Ramakrishna lived. He realized that if this man did not eat, his body would simply fall down like a dried leaf falls from a tree. So, every day, he would take a long stick, beat Sri Ramakrishna’s body repeatedly, and bring him down to normal consciousness for a little while, during which time he would force a few morsels of food down his throat. And immediately after that, Sri Ramakrishna would merge himself in Nirvikalpa Samadhi again. This went on for about six months. Then, Sri Ramakrishna slowly started to accustom himself to coming down to a state of consciousness a bit below Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a state of consciousness that occurs when there is only one thought-wave in the mind. That thought-wave is the wave of self-consciousness. It is a state where one is completely identified with consciousness per-sé, there being no predicate for that consciousness. It is a state where one is merely “aware”, not aware of one, two, or more things; there is awareness; there is not even the awareness that I am aware. It is said to be the state where one has become awareness itself. One reaches this state only after one has rigorously renounced every thought about others and about oneself and has, for a protracted period, concentrated purely on the awareness burning within oneself. Sri Ramakrishna attained this state and lived in that state for six long months. Then, Sri Ramakrishna slowly started to accustom himself to coming down to a state of consciousness a bit below Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He wasn’t the first person to have done this. Innumerable people before him had done this. However, in this case there was a vital difference.

In all the previous cases, this coming down to normal consciousness from Nirvikalpa Samadhi was considered as a “fall” from the supreme state. This was therefore followed by an attempt to regain that state of bliss. Moreover, the exact state of consciousness in which one would remain after coming down from Nirvikalpa Samadhi was left to chance, more or less. Sri Ramakrishna made a great deviation here. On the one hand, he did not consider his coming down from Nirvikalpa Samadhi as a “fall” because he had his ‘Divine Mother” to fall back upon. He interpreted his coming down as the will of the Divine Mother. He could do this because of the unique path he had followed on the way up to Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Unlike the others before him, he hadn’t followed the path of total negation up to the top. He held on to his Divine Mother until the end. He was able to use his conception of the Divine Mother and merge everything that he perceived into Her form. Having done that, there were only two left – he and his Divine Mother. In the final step, he took the sword of knowledge that was in his Divine Mother’s hand and cleaved Her divine form into bits. With that final act, he passed on to the supreme state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. In other words, he had effectively perceived that his Divine Mother showed Herself to him in Her popular form as Kali sometimes and some other times, if it fancied Her, She would reveal Herself to him as pure awareness, without any form. After spending those six months in undifferentiated consciousness, Sri Ramakrishna learned to slowly accustom himself with states of consciousness that occur when he came down from there. He could come down all the way to the state of perceiving multiplicity like we all do. He could also come down to the state where he was aware of only himself and his Divine Mother. There was however a distinct state of consciousness just below Nirvikalpa Samadhi, but above the state where he perceived his Divine Mother alone. In this state, he was able to perceive that there was an underlying sea of consciousness that took the forms of everything that we see as individual things in our normal state of consciousness. He slowly started to dwell in this state of consciousness. He named this state as “Bhavamukha”, as I mentioned a little while ago.

While chiding Naren about his proclivity towards Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Sri Ramakrishna told Naren that “Bhavamukha” was the ideal for which people have to strive for. And he trained his young disciples like Naren, Rakhal, Baburam, Shashi, Hari and others to attain to this state and live after his demise. Further, he exhorted Naren to find out a new path for leading the masses to this ideal.

Even while he was alive, he informally conferred monasticism on these young boys. Later on, after his demise, these boys took monastic vows formally and became monks belonging to the Puri Order of Vedanta monks, in keeping with the monastic tradition of their Guru Sri Ramakrishna. Although these monks belonged to the old tradition, during their lifetime, they instituted some amazing changes in their monasteries and next generation monks.

There were two of these young monks who spearheaded this transition from the old to new state of affairs. One was Swami Vivekananda and the other was Swami Brahmananda. Swami Vivekananda realized in due course the greater implication of the chiding that Sri Ramakrishna had given him long ago when he had innocently and sincerely asked to remain immersed in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Having understood that, he set himself to work. He carefully placed before humanity the new ideal that his Guru had revealed, the state of Bhavamukha. Did he undo Acharya Shankara’s work by this? No. One may still aim for achieving Nirvikalpa Samadhi. But Swamiji said that it would be wrong to stay immersed in it. For, that would mean that Nirvikalpa Samadhi alone was the Reality. But, multiplicity is the same Reality too! One has to aim for achieving that supreme state and then further aim to come down to the state of Bhavamukha and interact with everyone in this world in myriad ways. Simultaneously, Swamiji also specified the path to be followed for achieving this new goal. The new ideal called for action. What action? Every action that springs up from society trying to sustain itself. For, the new goal is to see that society itself but another form of the Reality that reveals itself as the Divine Mother and as undifferentiated consciousness in Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

Sister Nivedita explains this most wonderfully as follows: “…as Sri Ramakrishna expressed (it), ‘God is both with form and without form. And He is that which includes both form and formlessness.’ It is this that adds its crowning significance to our Master’s (Swami Vivekananda’s) life, for here he becomes the meeting-point, not only of East and West, but also of past and future. If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realization. No distinction, henceforth, between sacred and secular. To labour is to pray. To conquer is to renounce. Life is itself religion. To have and to hold is as stern a trust as to quit and to avoid. This is the realization that makes Vivekananda the great preacher of Karma, not as divorced from, but as expressing Jnâna and Bhakti. To him, the workshop, the study, the farmyard, and the field are as true and fit scenes for the meeting of God with man as the cell of the monk or the door of the temple. To him, there is no difference between service of man and worship of God, between manliness and faith, between true righteousness and spirituality. All his words, from one point of view, read as a commentary upon this central conviction. ‘Art, science, and religion’, he said once, ‘are but three different ways of expressing a single truth. But in order to understand this we must have the theory of Advaita (Vedanta).

Swamiji wanted the masses in India and the world to espouse this new ideal of Bhavamukha. The present day world is ripe for adopting it. This ideal answers the spiritual needs of the modern man. How would he do that? He understood that unless he had a pilot team who could exhibit its efficacy, the masses would have trouble grasping it. So, he established a monastery in Belur in Howrah. Many young men had joined the fledgling Ramakrishna Math in Baranagore and Alambazar when Swamiji was in the West. Now he rallied all of them at Belur and started training them in a new way. He gave them a rallying motto ‘Atmano mokshartham jagaddhitaya cha sannyasashrama grahanam’. I quote from a lecture that is recorded in the book ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora’:

A parting Address was given to Swamiji by the junior Sannyâsins of the Math (Belur), on the eve of his leaving for the West for the second time. The following is the substance of Swamiji’s reply as entered in the Math Diary on 19th June 1899:

This is not the time for a long lecture. But I shall speak to you in brief about a few things which I should like you to carry into practice. First, we have to understand the ideal, and then the methods by which we can make it practical. Those of you who are Sannyasins must try to do good to others, for Sannyasa means that. There is no time to deliver a long discourse on “Renunciation”, but I shall very briefly characterize it as “the love of death”. Worldly people love life. The Sannyasin is to love death. Are we to commit suicide then? Far from it. For suicides are not lovers of death, as it is often seen that when a man trying to commit suicide fails, he never attempts it for a second time. What is the love of death then? We must die, that is certain; let us die then for a good cause. Let all our actions — eating, drinking, and everything that we do — tend towards the sacrifice of our self. You nourish your body by eating. What good is there in doing that if you do not hold it as a sacrifice to the well-being of others? You nourish your minds by reading books. There is no good in doing that unless you hold it also as a sacrifice to the whole world. For the whole world is one; you are rated a very insignificant part of it, and therefore it is right for you that you should serve your millions of brothers rather than aggrandize this little self. 

“With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes, heads, and mouths everywhere, with ears everywhere in the universe, That exists pervading all.” (Gita, XIII. 13)

Thus you must die a gradual death. In such a death is heaven, all good is stored therein — and in its opposite is all that is diabolical and evil.

Then as to the methods of carrying the ideals into practical life. First, we have to understand that we must not have any impossible ideal. An ideal, which is too high, makes a nation weak and degraded. This happened after the Buddhist and the Jain reforms. On the other hand, too much practicality is also wrong. If you have not even a little imagination, if you have no ideal let guide you, you are simply a brute. So we must not lower our ideal, neither are we to lose sight of practicality. We must avoid the two extremes. In our country, the old idea is to sit in a cave and meditate and die. To go ahead of others in salvation is wrong. One must learn sooner or later that one cannot get salvation if one does not try to seek the salvation of his brothers. You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to go into deep meditation now, and the next moment you must be ready to go and cultivate these fields (Swamiji said, pointing to the meadows of the Math). You must be prepared to explain the difficult intricacies of the Shâstras now, and the next moment to go and sell the produce of the fields in the market. You must be prepared for all menial services, not only here, but elsewhere also.

The next thing to remember is that the aim of this institution is to make men. You must not merely learn what the Rishis taught. Those Rishis are gone, and their opinions are also gone with them. You must be Rishis yourselves. You are also men as much as the greatest men that were ever born — even our Incarnations. What can mere book-learning do? What can meditation do even? What can the Mantras and Tantras do? You must stand on your own feet. You must have this new method — the method of man-making. The true man is he who is strong as strength itself and yet possesses a woman’s heart. You must feel for the millions of beings around you, and yet you must be strong and inflexible and you must also possess Obedience; though it may seem a little paradoxical — you must possess these apparently conflicting virtues. If your superior order you to throw yourself into a river and catch a crocodile, you must first obey and then reason with him. Even if the order be wrong, first obey and then contradict it. The bane of sects, especially in Bengal, is that if any one happens to have a different opinion, he immediately starts a new sect, he has no patience to wait. So you must have a deep regard for your Sangha. There is no place for disobedience here. Crush it out without mercy. No disobedient members here, you must turn them out. There must not be any traitors in the camp. You must be as free as the air, and as obedient as this plant and the dog.

Here Swamiji very clearly states that as compared to the old order of monastic life, he was initiating a new order of monasticism. And that these young monks would be the torchbearers of this new kind of monastic life. He placed a new ideal before the young monks. Then he prescribed a new method of achieving that new ideal. Is that ideal different from the old ideal of Nirvikalpa Samadhi? Yes, it is different. But it is not an ideal that rejects the old ideal. The new ideal of Bhavamukha subsumes the old ideal and develops on it. I am to realize that I am undifferentiated consciousness and then I am to realize that everyone else and everything else in this world around me is the same undifferentiated consciousness. Having realized that, I am to work as per my position in society. The method I am to follow is the method of ‘Man-making’ as he explains in this lecture. Elsewhere, he calls it the method of ‘Practical Vedanta’. It is a synthesis of all the spiritual practices that have been discovered till date. All of them will have to be practiced in a harmonious manner in my own life, for Reality is indeed of that nature; it is All things to All men. Thus, it is no longer the norm that only meditation and ritualistic worship of the deity are spiritual practices. Scavenging too is an act equally holy and so is every activity that society sanctions me to do. This society itself is the visible Deity for me and I will follow its dictates on me. I will discharge my duties as dictated by society in the spirit of worship, knowing that it is undifferentiated consciousness that is revealing Itself to me as everything I see and conceive.

The traditional ideal of Nirvikalpa Samadhi completely negates this world. Since it negates everything, the path towards achieving it must necessarily be world negating. The new ideal of Bhavamukha reveals that undifferentiated consciousness reveals itself as me and the world around me. Everything that exists is nothing but undifferentiated consciousness. Hence, the path towards achieving it can be world-affirming.

I wish to draw your attention to three ideas in the lecture quoted above. Firstly, Those of you who are Sannyasins must try to do good to others, for Sannyasa means that. Traditionally, Sannyasa did not mean that. How and why should a monk help others? If a monk were to help others, why didn’t he stay within the confines of society? A monk was supposed to refuse to recognize the world around him and realize the blessed state of undifferentiated consciousness and hold on to that state for as long as his body lasted. A monk was called upon to seclude himself from contact with society and meditate in silence. Here, specifically, Swamiji calls upon his young monks to “help” others, and further states that this “helping others is the raison d’être of Sannyasa”! This is something new for Hindu monasticism.

Secondly, In our country, the old idea is to sit in a cave and meditate and die. To go ahead of others in salvation is wrong. One must learn sooner or later that one cannot get salvation if one does not try to seek the salvation of his brothers. You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to go into deep meditation now, and the next moment you must be ready to go and cultivate these fields (Swamiji said, pointing to the meadows of the Math). You must be prepared to explain the difficult intricacies of the Shâstras now, and the next moment to go and sell the produce of the fields in the market. You must be prepared for all menial services, not only here, but elsewhere also. From time immemorial, the idea of personal liberation, Moksha, has been the driving force behind Hindu monasticism. This idea translates into the Nirvikalpa Samadhi when we speak in terms of mystical language. The traditional idea of monasticism has centered on individual liberation. Swamiji makes a tremendous deviation here by asserting that seeking personal salvation alone is wrong. This is a powerful statement. We can seek our own Mukti, provided we simultaneously strive for the salvation of others too. Seeking one’s own salvation has been the immense idealism that Swamiji speaks of here. Ignoring completely anything else that pertains to spiritual life and considering that this world is all we have got and all we can hope for, and therefore to make the best of this life here is the immense practicality that Swamiji speaks of in the next breath. In other words, it is materialism, as we know it today. He says we ought to combine both. Actually, this almost seems like saying ‘mix darkness and light’ or ‘mix truth and falsehood’. If Nirvikalpa Samadhi is indeed the goal before us, if pure idealism is the goal before us, wont it make better sense to completely renounce everything pertaining to this world and immerse oneself purely meditation as the monks of old times did? Surely, the goal has shifted; else, there was nothing wrong with the traditional practices of Hindu monks. The traditional practices of the Hindu monks were completely in line with the traditional goal they aimed for. Has it not produced a steady line of saints until the present day? Those methods have proven to be efficacious beyond any shadow of doubt. It is because the goal itself has changed that Swamiji is exhorting for a new method here.

We may ask then, is Swamiji hinting that we become humanitarians? Helping our fellow beings and not bothering about the ideal state of existence? Certainly not. The goal he presents before us is not a rejection of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi, neither is it a state short of it, but something “beyond” that. It is very important to clarify this point here. Else, it will look as if he is asking us to stay contented with the lives we lead and not dream about anything ideal. Living in this world, as we already do, will seem to be the method, if we miss this point. No. The point is – we need to renounce and we need to serve. It will not do to serve without renouncing. It is not a comfortable religion that Swamiji is giving here. Elsewhere he says “Our method is very easily described. It simply consists in reasserting the national life. Buddha preached renunciation. India heard, and yet in six centuries she reached her greatest height. The secret lies there. The national ideals of India are renunciation AND service. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation (of the Indian masses).” Then, are we to understand that Swamiji wants all of us to formally renounce and then come back to society to serve? Again, no. but perfect control over all our senses, emotions, thoughts and faculties are a sine qua non for service. Any interaction with others without backed up by practice of perfect Brahmacharya is falling short of the new ideal.

Lastly, “The next thing to remember is that the aim of this institution is to make men.” When did the objective of a monastery become the making of men? The objective of a monastery has always been the making of saints, persons who can demonstrate the attainment of the state of pure consciousness. What indeed does this ‘making men’ mean? This is a topic I will discuss on a later occasion. Suffice it to say that a person who achieves the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a saint, while a person who achieves the state of Bhavamukha is a ‘man’.

Swamiji started this new monastic order with the view that these monks would demonstrate to the world how this new path has to be followed and how the new ideal translates into experience. The masses were the target group that needed this ideal most of all. Once the masses caught on to this new ideal and the new path, the aim with which Swamiji started this new monastic order would stand fulfilled.

Om shantih, shantih, shantih. Sri Ramakrishnarpanamastu.



Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

1 thought on “Swami Vivekananda: His new monastic Order”

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