‘Let Us Be Gods’

My subject this morning is ‘Let Us Be Gods’—with a capital G. of course, you are not surprised at the title of my lecture, because most of you know that one of the fundamental teachings of our philosophy, Vedanta, in its monistic interpretation, is that the individual soul is the same as God himself. In one of the Upanishads it is said, Yo ha vai tat paramam brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati [Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9] –– ‘He who knows Brahman, God, becomes God.’ Now, this sentence ‘Let us be Gods,’ is found in the book Inspired Talks by Swami Vivekananda. And I would like to read you the passage in which it occurs:

‘The world for me, not I for the world. Good and evil are our slaves, not we theirs. It is the nature of the brute to remain where he is, not to progress. It is the nature of man to seek good and avoid evil. It is the nature of God to seek neither, but just to be eternally blissful. Let us be Gods! Make the heart like an ocean. Go beyond all the trifles of the world. Be mad with joy, even at evil. See the world as a picture, and then enjoy its beauty, knowing that nothing affects you. Children finding glass beads in a mud puddle, that is the good of the world. Look at it with calm complacency. See good and evil as the same, both are merely “God’s play”. Enjoy all.’

I have no doubt many of you have read this book and some of you, no doubt, have studied it. These ‘inspired talks’ were given in June, July and August of 1895, and were taken down by one of Swami Vivekananda’s American disciples, Miss Waldo. She was a distant relative of Emerson, and was, herself, a very scholarly person, and very earnest. The Swami had started his work in New York in the beginning of 1895, and had lectured and held classes there almost daily. When summer came, he felt exceedingly tired, and one of the New York students offered him the use of her cottage in Thousand Island Park, which is one of the islands in the St. Lawrence River. The Swami accepted this invitation very gladly.

Samadhi is a state in which one is able to completely withdraw the whole mind and consciousness from everything else.

A few students who wanted to continue their study were also invited to come and live in the cottage which Swamiji used. Altogether there were twelve students, not all of them were present at the same time, but the largest number was twelve. Swami Vivekananda came to Thousand Island Park about the middle of June, and he at once started his classes. It was a most wonderful time for the Swami, and, it goes without saying, for those who lived with him. It was a wonderful time because he had been tired, and having come to that place, he, as it were, received a new life.

Swami Vivekananda’s mind had been very highly lifted even before he came to Thousand Island Park. He had been the guest of one of his disciples, Mr. Leggett, in his country place in New Hampshire, a place called Camp Percy. Meditating on the bank of a small lake there, the Swami had entered into Nirvikalpa samadhi. A gardener found him seated, dead-like, and had run to the house to tell them that Swami had passed away. They all ran to where he was seated, and they called him, they shook him, but they could not bring life back to him. They thought he had actually died. And then they saw the sign of life coming back to his body, and afterwards the Swami told them that he had been in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. So you can see he was in a very high state even before he reached Thousand Island Park.

For those who do not know anything about samadhi, it is a state in which one is able to completely withdraw the whole mind and consciousness from everything else, what to speak of the outside world, even from the body—so much so that breathing stops, the heartbeat stops, the pulse stops, because none of those things would go on in the body unless there was a little part of the mind behind it. When the mind completely relinquishes the body, the body cannot function in the least. So that is one sign. Of course, from the outside, it would appear as if the person was dead. But it is different from death in that a person can come back, and again life will begin to function in the body.


In samadhi, then, no activity takes place in the body. You would not breathe, your heart would not beat, there would be no pulse, unless you have given a part of your consciousness and mind to these functions. Of course, if you have done that, it means that you have not given your whole mind and consciousness to God. And if you do not give your whole mind and consciousness to God, how can you expect to have the full vision of God? You can’t. It is said that the mind is finite. But when the mind becomes absolutely and totally concentrated on God, then the mind becomes infinite. And it is only then that the vision of God becomes reflected in the mind, and being so reflected it destroys the mind because the mind is no longer necessary.

So the spirit of man, which is different from the mind, becomes one with the other spirit, which is called God. Other spirit? Because it appears so to us in ignorance. In truth, the spirit of man is God. So, that is how full and complete knowledge of God is attained, and that state has been called, technically in our books, nirvikalpa samadhi. Samadhi means complete contemplation and meditation, and nirvikalpa means that in which there is no other thought. When there is no other thought, when there is no perception of any other thing, but only of God and God alone, then it is considered the mind has reached that desired condition.

The Swami had attained to that state even while his master, Sri Ramakrishna, was living. That was in 1886. And of course, as our books say and our tradition maintains, one has to practice again and again; one has to attain to that state again and again, until it becomes natural. If you ask, ‘If we realize God once, why should it not become natural? Why should we lose it again?’ The answer is that if you come back to this body, it means you have some prarabdha karmas left, that is to say, some of your worldly tendencies are left.

The aforesaid state is like a man who has left home and joined the monastery. Of course, he had a desire to join, otherwise he would not have gone there, but afterwards he finds he wants to go back home. It means that some desire for home life is still left in his mind, and then it pulls him back. Similarly, even when one has the vision of God some little things might remain, and so you have to realize God in samadhi again and again until that state becomes natural with you and you will never come down to a lower plane. The Swami had realized that state in India, as I told you, and then he had a second realization.

Swami Vivekananda’s work of aggressive lecturing, fighting with opponents, and so on, had mostly come to a close by 1895, and his mind, released from the responsibility of this work, had at once risen to a high state. You may ask, ‘Why did the Swami have to fight?’ If you know anything about that period, you know there had been tremendous missionary activities against India—in India and outside India.

Most awful, most abominable things were written and spoken about India, and Swami Vivekananda found that if India was to have some peace and be saved from great misunderstanding, then he had to controvert all these slanders and unfounded falsehoods. So whenever he came across this kind of thing he opposed it.

I must now tell you this, he never made it a point of directly bringing propaganda against these missionary activities. What he did directly was to teach the principles of Hinduism and Vedanta. Knowers of God do not like to indulge in any kind of fight if they can avoid it. But then, wherever he went these ministers and missionaries would all rise up and begin to howl against him, and so he had to speak. However, that period had practically ended by the end of 1894. And he settled down in New York to teach these great doctrines of Vedanta and train people practically in the teachings of this great philosophy and religion.

So, when he arrived at Thousand Island Park within a week or ten days of having attained to nirvikalpa samadhi at his disciple’s place in New Hampshire, his mind was high. We have a letter he wrote to some friends in Chicago in which he said:

‘This is a wonderful place. Here I am feeling the state of mind I used to have in India.’

Swami Vivekananda then quotes from a famous poem describing a person who has risen above all relativities and dwells in the transcendental state. In that state there is no sense of good and evil, or sin and virtue, there is only infinite peace. All sense of difference and nondifference has gone away. This is a most wonderful state, according to Hindu understanding. It is the description of the divine status, the status of God, and also the status of a person who has become one with God. So, in that most beautiful place, peaceful and quiet place, and in the company of those who were earnestly devoted to the teachings of Vedanta, he began discoursing to them.

There used to be two classes every day, one in the morning, another in the evening. After breakfast he used to conduct the morning class on the basis of a scriptural text. The first class that he held was on the Gospel of St.John. That is how the book, ‘Inspired Talks’, begins. Afterwards he took up many other books, ‘Vedanta Sutras’, ‘Upanishads’, ‘Bhagavad Gita’, and so on one after another. He would explain a little of the text, but the most interesting part was not the explanation of the texts, but his comments. He would go from one idea to another, and speak so inspiringly, that the book itself was afterwards called Inspired Talks.

As I told you, Miss Waldo took down notes of these talks. Swami Vivekananda, once hearing her read those notes to a visitor, was astonished that she had taken them so faithfully, and he told her: ‘Why, you have not only taken notes, I hear myself speaking, they are so faithful.’ So we need not have any doubt about the authenticity of this sentence, ‘Let us be Gods!’ He really meant that.

You have to get hold of the idea that you are divine, however strange it might seem to you. And you need not in your cowardice say it is blasphemy. Why do I call you a coward if you consider it as a blasphemy? Because you want to hang on to your little weak self, and you call it humility. You give it all kinds of fantastic names. But oftentimes when we do not want to face these ideas it is because we want to continue in our enfeebled state, in our state of ignorance. You see, you must take the total man. Didn’t the Bible say that man was made after the image of God? I should say man was made in the image of God. Man, the true man, is a reflection of God, the same as God Himself. There is no difference. But we do not want to face this; we want to remain the sinful man. In that there is a comfort. We don’t have to struggle. Don’t you see where the trap is? You don’t want to become any better than what you presently are.

Of course you want to kneel down before the altar of the Lord. You want to shed lots of tears, you want to read holy books, and you do all kinds of things. And, of course, you are better than the average man and the wicked man. But if it comes to the question of whether you have realized the truth––the truth about which the Christ said: ‘Thou shalt know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,’––if it comes to the question of whether you have realized the truth, you are a million miles away from that. Rest assured that that’s not the way to find the eternal truth.

You see, we sometimes feel horrified at this idea. Yet how do you think you will know God if you do not become Godlike? How? Would a brute beast understand a man? Only an intelligent man would be able to understand another man. Isn’t it true? You have to be a man to understand a man. You have to be God to understand God. And that is going to the very heart of truth. The truth about man is that he is God.

But if you don’t want to acknowledge this truth, my understanding is, it is because you want to live like something other than what you really are, what you truly are. You want to eat; you want to drink; you want to sleep; you want to be merry; you want to earn money; you want to be egotistical; you want to have the joys of the flesh. That is what you want. You would deny it, but there you are. If you are honest you will find that is what you want.

If you but begin to think that you are divine spirit, you can no longer say: ‘I am this body.’ You cannot contain these two ideas in your mind simultaneously. You cannot. And if you hold them successively, then one will kill the other. The idea that we are this body, we are finite living things, that we should eat, sleep, and so on, is so strong within us, that even if for a moment this other idea—that we are divine—arises in our mind, that consciousness is at once destroyed. You cannot entertain both these ideas in your mind. You have to learn to think in the other way.

If you ask me, ‘Is it possible to learn that idea?’ Yes, it is possible. If it is the truth of your own Self, then, not only is it possible, I say that it is now haunting you. You cannot get rid of that idea.

If you ask me, ‘How do you know it? We don’t feel that we are God.’ Well, let me ask you this: Do you ever admit that you are lesser than someone else? If I say, ‘You are good-for-nothing,’ you will flare up. That so-called egotism, which is in everyone, is an obscure sign of the fact that we are unconquerable and incomparable. Why do you think there is so much ambition in a man’s heart? Why is it that he never comes to the end of his own desiring? You will find that he continually wants one thing after another, one thing after another. That endlessness in him is a sign of his own endless nature.

Man has never found a limit to himself. To the last he holds hope for himself. He cannot think himself capable of dying. Even in thinking that, he transcends death. Swami Vivekananda used to say:

‘One proof that man is by nature immortal is that he cannot think of himself as a dead person. If he does so, he finds he is watching himself as a dead man. That’s all he can do. He can never consider the extinction of his own being. In considering that, he transcends that extinction, he lives beyond it.’ 3

There is something in man that refuses to be considered a mortal being, or a limited being. Endless, endless desires are the proof that his being is endless. Only he manifests it in a wrong way and an obscure way. That is what I would say. No, you cannot give up the idea that you are that eternal and infinite being. You cannot. It is haunting you. Only you are trying to realize it in a wrong way, and therefore you come to misery. You have taken a wrong path, and that path is full of difficulties and dangers. If you have taken the right path, you will at once realize that your true nature is divine. You will at once realize it. This is the idea.

Swami Vivekananda used to emphasize these things. He himself was a great Advaitin. Advaitin means nondualist. He believed that everything was divine. He said, ‘The suffering of man comes because he is conscious of ‘jati.’ ‘Jati’ means difference, difference between one and another. And unless a person has given up the idea of ‘jati,’ or sense of difference and separateness, he can never have salvation. Never can he attain to that highest state in which he will realize his fulfillment, and in which he will be beyond all kinds of difficulties and unhappiness and sufferings. You understand this only when you realize there is only one thing, one reality, one being. If we see there are different things, that is our wrong perception. And no wonder we perceive things wrongly, because, we are, after all, in a state of ignorance.

If you ask: ‘How do you know that we are in a state of ignorance?’ We have only to ask ourselves how much we know, and we shall be astonished to find how fully we are lacking in knowledge about everything. We do not even know ourselves. So if ignorance is so strong in us and so abundant, what is the wonder that our thought and our experiences should be wrong? And that is exactly what has happened to us. Therefore, if you start with the idea that what you now think and perceive is right, and that the only thing wanted is a little polishing here, a little correction there, you are entirely mistaken.

Spiritual knowledge is the highest knowledge. That is the knowledge that brings you eternal satisfaction.

You are so full of ignorance in your present state that everything you think, everything you perceive, is wrong. I am of course speaking from the standpoint of highest knowledge; spiritual knowledge is the highest knowledge. That is the knowledge that brings you eternal satisfaction. It is not a knowledge that is good only for certain circumstances, and not good beyond those circumstances, or for a time, and not beyond that time. No–– that kind of knowledge we have when we study in schools and colleges, for example, when we study science and philosophy and literature and art and all these things. These are true for a time under certain conditions. These are not true eternally, and these are not true under all conditions.

Spiritual knowledge alone is so true, and so I am speaking from that point of view. And I say, in our present state we do not try to know everything, or even try to take into consideration everything that is given to us every moment. I may repeat here, as I have done on other occasions, that even in our ignorance, and in and through our ignorance and wrong thinking and wrong experiencing, we are still perceiving the divine reality. But we do not pay attention to this divine reality. So what we have is ignorance, wrong perception, wrong thoughts and so on. And because of that, we are not able to perceive the truth.

You will be astonished to learn that even many philosophers have taken the view that this wrong perception is true knowledge. And then they try, on the basis of accepting this as true, to somehow teach us about that other knowledge by which God becomes known. Of course, when that kind of fantastic thing is sought to be accomplished, it goes without saying, that they have to speculate wildly, and have to propose many kinds of odd things to arrive at a final conclusion.

Even some Vedantins have done that. I have been speaking from the standpoint of Advaita Vedanta, monistic Vedanta. But even the great philosopher, Ramanuja, who represents another school of Vedanta called qualified monism, Visistadvaita, starts with this idea: the world is real; we are real; the body is real; and our present knowledge is all right. Of course, you have to make a little correction here and there, and on that basis, he had to prove that there is such a thing as Brahman, and Brahman can be known, and so on. I won’t go into the details of those things at this time.

But if things were all right, as these philosophers say, how is it that we have been finding ourselves so ignorant? And how is it that all the time we have to seek for knowledge and more knowledge and more knowledge? If you don’t go to school and college, you are a dunce. Everybody will say, ‘Here is a fool! Doesn’t know anything!’ And going to school, what a horrible thing that is. It’s a terrible ordeal. Unless students are chastised, they don’t want to learn anything. Very few want to learn any new things. And here is a word to parents: If children are still young, force them to gain knowledge. Just forget all these newfangled ideas, just force them to gain knowledge. If you say: ‘Well, that will warp the nature of the child’–– it won’t.

Don’t put in knowledge that is warped and crooked, that is to say, fanatical, dogmatic knowledge

Knowledge itself is its own corrective. Knowledge itself. Suppose a child is sick and the doctor comes to give an injection. The child doesn’t want to have the injection and you have to hold the child steady by force. Then the doctor puts the needle in. Would not this medicine do good to the child? So, put knowledge into everyone. Force knowledge into everyone, but be sure that it is true knowledge. Don’t put in knowledge that is warped and crooked, that is to say, fanatical, dogmatic knowledge—if knowledge can be called dogmatic, or dogmatism could be called knowledge. You have to be very sure that it is unadulterated knowledge, not contaminated by dogma and theology, and things like that. That’s where the harm comes, you see.

Tell the truth about everything to everyone. And even if you have to force it down their throats, you will find it will do them good. Because of our prevalent ignorance, we are unwilling to learn new things or corrective things. And that resistance has to be overcome. If you leave it to a person to overcome, he won’t.

Remember Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings about gurus—the three kinds of gurus? He used to say there are three kinds of teachers, or spiritual guides. One kind gives instruction to the disciple. Whether the disciple practises according to that, or lives up to it or not, he doesn’t care. He has given it, and forgets the disciple afterwards. The second kind gives instruction and then makes inquiries: ‘Now, are you doing what I told? Why don’t you do it?’ and he tries to persuade the student. Of course, there are disciples who don’t want to practise in spite of their teacher’s persuasions. They just won’t. Then there is the third kind of guru. When they try to persuade the disciple and still he resists, then these teachers will force the disciple to practice. Well, they’re considered the best gurus.

Disciples beware! If you fall into the hands of the third kind of guru, life will be a great misery. But you will quickly overcome your ignorance and you will attain to the Truth. And you will become like that lion who was brought up amongst lambs and sheep and used to bleat and graze on grass. Then a true lion came and dragged it to a pool, to look into the pool, to show how their faces are the same, to show that it is not a sheep, but a lion. Of course, he still whined. Then the true lion put red meat into his mouth . ‘Now, eat this.’ And this lamb-lion ate the meat and tasted blood. ‘Now, roar!’ And he roared and became a lion. The great guru does that, and we are fortunate if we ever become disciples of such a teacher.

But truth is like this. People don’t want to take to it readily. You see, that is one of the mischiefs of maya, or ignorance; it doesn’t allow you to turn towards the truth. Even if the truth is before your eyes, you turn your head away; you don’t want to look at it. Who will destroy this inertia? Somebody has to do it. So, I am not giving bad advice when I say that if you have children, give them the pure truth. Force it down their throats if necessary, for their own good. If you say, I repeat, that it will do them harm––no, it won’t! Truth itself is the energizing medicine. When truth enters into a mind, whichever way it is put there, the mind is strengthened.

But truth is like this. People don’t want to take to it readily. You see, that is one of the mischiefs of maya, or ignorance….

This is it. Swami Vivekananda was a monist. He came here [USA] in 1893 to attend the Parliament of Religions, and after having studied and travelled and having met many men, he concluded there was a great demand for the teachings of Vedanta. And he went about the country and taught this philosophy and religion. And the Swami himself was the embodiment of the spirit of that philosophy and religion. It was not a matter of belief with him, or of mere intellectual conclusions. The truths of Vedanta were living truths in his own life and people saw those truths demonstrated before their eyes, in and through the resplendent person that he was. He taught Vedanta and felt that this was the religion needed by the West, which had been brought up on the basis of science.

Yes, it is true, there are many good elements in your heritage. But if there is one thing that can claim you most, that is scientific knowledge. You can never deny it. You cannot deny it because it proves itself before your face all the time. You fly in an airplane. You cannot deny the factual basis on which airplanes are manufactured. Radio, television ––so many things have become a part of your life that are based on the facts of science. You cannot deny them. You are just putting off the evil day when you do not want to face this extraordinary kind of knowledge that is called science. You cannot say: ‘Well, I shall believe in my holy book, even if it contradicts science.’ You cannot say that without destroying yourself. You cannot divide your mind between dogmatism and experimental knowledge and yet have a strong mind. You cannot.

No wonder, therefore, that when this compromise between dogmatism and experimental knowledge was rising amongst the Western people, their creative power, their idealism disappeared from the earth. When the First World War came I was in college. The whole civilized world was horrified. And you know the watchword of that war was: ‘The war to save democracy. This is the last war of mankind.’ People felt shaken by that terrible war. They could not believe human beings could behave like that. Well, today it is nothing. The First World War is nothing. It was just only the beginning of a breakfast, what to speak of dinner. Then came the Second World War. We were all horrified by the strafing of populations by the German warplanes. Afterwards, when the Allies went to war, they outdid the Germans. It’s a tale of greatest horror, the way the Allies bombed the German cities and other places.

What made these horrors possible? What made it possible for the Germans to establish concentration camps and perpetrate such horrors upon mankind? Germany is not a bad nation. It has produced some of the greatest systems of philosophy. There have been many mystics, great scientists and musicians amongst the Germans. What made such horrors possible? For some reason idealism had died. If you lose idealism, you are as a clod of earth. You have nothing left of what you call human, what to speak of divine.

Well, my understanding is that when the mind is divided, it loses power. If you make religion a matter of mere dogmatic surrender, you are a weakling. God cannot make you an instrument of His will. You are nothing. You haven’t got anything within you. You have lost the power of thinking, you have lost the power of initiative. Modern Western man is not facing all the implications of knowledge. You are getting one knowledge from science. I won’t mention philosophy because philosophy has destroyed itself more or less. I understand that philosophy is trying to revive itself again. But it hasn’t got any individuality of its own anymore. It just follows in the footsteps of science. It has become a camp-follower; its adherents just playing with words and their significance, and in that way becoming great philosophers.

How do you explain why a formless thing appears to us as having form?

Well, so I shall speak of religion and science. Science is holding its own. People say this world is real in the face of what science has found out about the constitution of matter. Yet anybody who has read even newspaper articles, what to speak of books on science, knows that matter has become dematerialised. You cannot perceive what matter really is. You cannot. So much so, that it is now admitted that all these fine particles of matter defined by the atomic scientists cannot be seen by any means. They have to be inferred. They are so subtle and so immaterial that they have only inferential existence.

How is it then that this same original matter has clustered together and appears to us as having shape and size and form? How do you reconcile this contradiction? How do you explain why a formless thing appears to us as having form? The only thing you can say is that you are seeing wrongly. Your vision is incorrect, you see. And that is exactly what the old idealistic systems of philosophy maintained. They all maintained that, including Western idealism. Why is it called idealism? Because they say everything is idea. The so-called concrete universe is nothing but idea. That is why such systems of thought are called idealism.

In India they said that the reality of this universe is even beyond the mind; it is spirit ––invisible. It hasn’t got any form. But through our ignorance we see these things as having form. It is as simple as that. When you think about it, can you continue to live the life you are living? Can you? If what you see is all wrong, all a product of your illusion, that actually there is no world of forms, and yet you think this world of form is there, and not only that, but it is the most important thing that you can think of, does it not make you stop and think? Then, of course, science does not cover all the world of knowledge. We want to know many more things beyond the sphere of science. I say, let us think of science and religion, but bring them together.

You cannot say, ‘God made man, the sun, the moon and so on; and after studying science, find there is no such animal, sun, moon, world and man, that this is just wrong seeing. How do you reconcile these two things? You have to face this, I say. Don’t remain contented with all these little things that are meant for children. You have to be thoughtful, and when you become thoughtful, you can appreciate the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, or monistic Vedanta as taught by Swami Vivekananda. He felt that such teaching was necessary in this country, otherwise science will destroy religion.

Religion cannot destroy science. Religion tried to destroy science in the earlier centuries. When science began to rear its head in Europe, the Inquisition came and you know how many people were killed, destroyed. But it could not stop the progress of science. And the church then had to make a sort of compromise with science. So science cannot be destroyed. But there is a chance that science can destroy religion. Yes, there is a chance that people will become so embroiled in science and the findings of science, and all the other things that science is giving to men, that they will forget there is such a thing as a soul; that there is a God and so on.

You have been entrusted with a little of fire, feed it and blow on it until it begins to blaze. This is our greatest duty to mankind..

And here, my friends, is my appeal to you on this score. You all recognize that without spiritual values man will be reduced to a brute beast. Certainly we do not want to be reduced to that status. Yet merely going to church would not make a man religious. It is a matter of something within ourselves. Would you say just because a man talks like a very educated person, dresses well, that he’s a good man? It is what he has in his heart that will make him good or bad, not his outside appearance. So it is the heart of the man, the truth that is realized within himself that will make him spiritual or not spiritual, and not because of his external behaviour, whether he goes to church or not. So those who have got even a little of spiritual instinct, my appeal to them is cultivate it, cultivate it, cultivate it! You have been entrusted with a little of fire, feed it and blow on it until it begins to blaze. This is our greatest duty to mankind in the present juncture of history.

We must all become spiritual. Particularly those who have spiritual instincts may not ignore this, and may not destroy those instincts. It is so easy to destroy those things. Ignorance is strong. However intelligent a person is, he would not gain knowledge unless he goes to school. He has to make an effort to gain knowledge. Instincts and talents are not enough. Culture of these talents is very desirable, very necessary. So I say, cultivate those things. You cannot do anything better for mankind, for yourself, and for others, who will come in contact with you, than to cultivate your spiritual instincts. Let this fire blaze within you. Let others come and warm themselves at that fire and be lighted up by that fire.

Swami Vivekananda found that this is such an age of materialism. Through the grace of science, so many things have been brought to us for sense enjoyment. So much is available that we are all being swept away by these things. Here, only one thing can save us. Intellect will not save us. Intellect hasn’t got any power in itself. It cannot create will within oneself. It can give you knowledge, but it would not give you will power. The body would not give you this will power. It is only idealism, spiritual idealism, which will give you the necessary will power. How? You have to learn to think of yourselves in terms that will insure this will power, this ability to rise above the temptations of the senses. And what is that idealism? It is the recognition that I am the spirit, I am God; I am divine. Nothing short of that will do.

Of course, even when we try to affirm our divine nature, it would not become real at once. Then, if you say, ‘If it doesn’t become real at once, why be so bombastic about it? We know we are not God at the present time.’ And some of you will remind me here that it is not safe to think of oneself as God. Sri Ramakrishna, often in speaking to lay devotees would say: ‘Do not say “I am He. I am God,’ as long as you have body-consciousness.’ You understand what is meant by body-consciousness? Body-consciousness means, to begin with the crudest form, ‘I am the body.’ Of course, nobody says, ‘I am the body,’ because everybody knows they are also the mind. But, most people feel primarily that they are physical. They think of themselves in terms of the body. That is called body-consciousness.

A higher form of body-consciousness, in which a man is simply aware of the existence of his body, but doesn’t identify himself with it.

There is a higher form of body-consciousness, in which a man is simply aware of the existence of his body, but doesn’t identify himself with the body. Well, that is also called body-consciousness. But I am speaking of it in this lower sense, in which we feel we are the body, or we are essentially physical. Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘As long as you have this body-consciousness, you should not say “I am God.”‘ On the other hand, he also said, ‘He who says that he is bound, bound he becomes; he who says that he is free, free he becomes. He who says he is pure, pure he becomes. But he who says “I am sinful”, more and more sinful he becomes.’ What you think you become.

That is the practical affirmation of the divine nature of man. Once there was an argument between Swami Vivekananda and another monk, a very learned man. One day he asked Swamiji at Belur monastery, after Swamiji had returned from the West, ‘Swamiji, our Master, Sri Ramakrishna, used to say that one should not mix with women. But here I find you have got Western women as your disciples. Some of them even come here. How is it? And I see you going to them and sitting near them, and so on.’ Swamiji’s face became red, and he said,

‘He told you that. He did not tell me that, and through his grace I do not feel any difference between male and female anymore. I see the same Brahman everywhere. Everyone I see as Brahman.’

The other monk still tried to argue a little, but he got frightened, as he, himself, told that story afterwards. He said,

‘After having said this, when I found Swamiji very grave and his face became bright, I was just frightened.’ And then Swami Vivekananda said, ‘You follow what he has told you. That is good for you. But what right have you to say that that is the teaching of Sri Ramakrishna? What right? He taught me monism, and he asked me to teach that to the world, which I have done. You follow what he has told you, but don’t try to bring him down to your level, and to your idea of him. He taught many, many more things. Just remember this.’

Reading the books about Sri Ramakrishna, would say that he didn’t want householders to say, ‘I am God.’ Well, you know, psychologically there is a difference between saying ‘I am God’ and saying that ‘I am the pure spirit. I am the infinite one. I am the eternal being, ever pure, ever free.’ I mean you can describe yourself in the same terms as you describe God, and you can affirm all these things of yourself. That is one way of saying it. Another way is to say: ‘I am God.’ Although the meaning would be the same in the last analysis, yet the forms of affirmation, the sentences, make a difference.

If I want to say: ‘No, I am not mortal, I am immortal; I am not finite, I am infinite; I am not perishable being, I am imperishable; I am ever pure, ever free,’ that’s a legitimate statement or affirmation to make of myself. I create a conflict, it is true, between my present ignorant way of thinking about myself and this affirmation; I admit that, but that’s a desirable thing. Without conflict you cannot rise up. It is always through conflict that we make progress. Isn’t it so? It is easy to slide down. Something is pulling our legs. But when we climb steep hills, we have to force ourselves. We could easily let go and slide down. Sliding down is easier in life, too. But we have to pull ourselves away from that tendency, and resist it. So there are accustomed thoughts about our self, but we have to learn to resist these thoughts and put new thoughts in our mind, new ideas about ourselves in our mind.

The more I think I am not this body and mind, the more I feel myself as the spirit, and the more I perceive you as the spirit .

My friends, we have to do the same thing about others, too. If I am true to my philosophy I may not look at a person and say: ‘Oh, here is a bad man. Here is a good man. Here is an intelligent man. Here is a fool.’ I couldn’t say that. And I couldn’t merely say, ‘Here is a man and here is a woman, an old man, or a young man.’ I couldn’t say that without being false to my philosophy. I should be able to go beyond this body and this mind which present themselves to me and see beyond to the unalterable, imperishable divine spirit. I should be able to say that, and to perceive it—not only in regard to myself but in regard to others. For everyone I have to learn to do this.

Then I have to take the next step. I have to see even in dead matter the presence of the divine reality. And all this becomes possible, if I learn to ignore the form that presents itself to my senses. If I say, ‘I am not this body, I am not the senses, I am not this mind,’ it becomes very easy for me to ignore your physical presence and your mental state; just as it becomes easy to feel myself as the spirit.

The more I think I am not this body and mind, the more I feel myself as the spirit, and the more I perceive you as the spirit and not as a physical and mental being. You see, it is the same process. What I do unto myself, I also do unto others. Therefore, if I can say: ‘No, I am not this body, I am not the senses,’ then I can also look upon another as something beyond his body and beyond his mind. Everywhere you will see this wonderful divine presence. It is most excellent because it is perfect and we can see this perfect being everywhere.

And so, when a little effort is made, I can see these things. I must not contradict myself. I cannot say, ‘I am not the body. I am not the mind. I am the spirit,’ and then look at the mirror and see how magnetic I look. If I say: ‘Do I look spirited or not?’ I contradict myself. That won’t do. That just won’t do. You may not contradict yourself. This is a path in which contradiction is not permitted. Well, where is the path where contradiction is permitted anyhow? Contradiction will not take us anywhere. We shall just push ourselves back. So in this way we realise the truth.

Now, if you say: ‘Is it not very difficult? And although it might be very desirable, how few people would be able to live up to it. How much easier it is to follow the ways of devotion,’ as if the ways of devotion are the stupid ways most people think devotion is. Most people think devotion is to cry unto God: ‘Lord, give me a little wealth. Give me health. Cure my disease. Do this. I am a miserable sinner. Give me salvation.’ And they think that is devotion. Well, don’t fool yourself. Don’t ever fool yourself. That’s not devotion at all. That’s just one of those tricks that have been taught to you by the priests. That’s not devotion.

Real devotion will come in your heart when you seek God for his own sake and you have forgotten yourself.

Real devotion will come in your heart when you seek God for his own sake and you have forgotten yourself. That’s devotion. In human love, if you rush to your mother, just out of sheer affection and love, you say it is love. But you show affection to your mother because you hope to get a big check out of her, would you call that real love for her? No. Whenever there is any motive to gain from someone, there is no pure love, no pure devotion. So, although that is true, they will tell you to cultivate God anyhow, think of God anyhow. Even if it is because you want to get something out of him, still it is thinking of God, and they say it has some benefit, even if it is not the real thing, not real love or devotion. Real devotion comes when you seek God for his own sake, not because you want to get something out of him.


There is a very ancient story in India of a prince who became a very great devotee, and he’s still held up before us as an ideal of devotion. He was the eldest son of the king, and he was the son of the elder queen. But the king married a younger woman, and then his first queen became more or less forsaken. Of course, the king took care of the boy, but that great affection was no longer there. The king used to live with his new queen. The boy would sometimes go to see his father, but the new queen didn’t like it. And the father also became a little careless.

One day, the father had not paid much attention to the boy and he got deeply hurt. He came back to his mother and said: ‘Mother, father didn’t even talk to me today.’ The queen was deeply moved by that, and she said, ‘My son, there is one who never forgets anybody. Never.’ And he asked, ‘Who is that, mother?’ ‘That is the Lord. He never forgets anybody. He’s full of love for his devotees, and he will never neglect you.’

The position of the polestar never changes and that star is considered to be this devotee, Dhruva…..

The boy took it to his heart. He believed what his mother said. He was just eight years old. And he went to the woods and he began to call on the Lord. Day and night he called. At the end of the night, the Lord himself became very much disturbed because the boy’s call was so earnest, so he had to appear before his devotee. He appeared to Dhruva in the resplendent form of Vishnu, most beautiful form of Vishnu. Dhruva was the name of this boy. But Dhruva was plunged in deep meditation , calling on the Lord. His mind had become concentrated and he had lost outward consciousness.

The Lord seeing Dhruva steeped in meditation said, ‘Dhruva, open your eyes. Look. Open your eyes.’ So Dhruva opened his eyes and saw the Lord before him, and infinite, boundless was his joy as he looked at the Lord. And the Lord said, ‘Dhruva, don’t you want to ask something of me?’ ‘No, Lord. I have nothing to ask. I am filled with joy and satisfaction in having seen Thee.’ The Lord asked, ‘Didn’t you ask to get back your father’s affection for you? Didn’t you want that?’ Then Dhruva said, ‘Lord, I was seeking glass beads and now I have found a diamond. What shall I do with these glass beads?’

However, the Lord, seeing that his devotee was just a small boy, blessed him and said, ‘Your father will show great affection to you, he will be very affectionate always.’ And so, it happened like that. And eventually Dhruva became the king. After he died, the Lord put him in the sky as an example to all other men. And if you want to see him, you look for the polestar. That’s he. Dhruva means fixed, unchanging. The position of the polestar never changes and that star is considered to be this devotee, Dhruva. Yes, it happens like this, you see. That is true devotion when the mind doesn’t seek anything else. We are seeking glass beads, then we find a diamond, and we entirely forget all the glass beads. So don’t say that devotion is easy for you. Careless devotion is easy because you don’t achieve anything. It gives you some temporary satisfaction, but that’s not finding the truth. So if you want to find the truth, you have to go to the truth.

Sri Ramakrishna was not against this monistic teaching that man is God. That is also needed in India. Where from do you think the strength will come that India needs? When all other sources of power have gone and are no longer available, there remains one source which no one can assail and which no one can rob you of, and that is the strength of your own being. Infinite strength is in my soul, in my spirit, because that is its very nature. Therefore it has been called abhih, the fearless one.

Once you catch a glimpse of this source, all fear is dispelled. All doubt is dispelled. All weakness goes away. Really, really it is the shortest cut to the highest truth, although to the unaccustomed it seems to be an impossible proposition. If a person is sitting in a room and you call him by name, would he not respond? He would come out of the room. ‘You want me?’ He will respond. If it is true that there is divinity within me, and if I think in those terms, and if I use those words, then that which is hidden in me and seemed to be lost, will respond and come out. Isn’t it true?

In our true spiritual nature, we are spirit, beyond this body, beyond the mind and beyond the infinite circumstances……

In silent moments, calmly and quietly, tell yourself, ‘This is my nature.’Nitya, shuddha, buddha, mukta svabhavayam atma’. There is a custom in India that as soon as a person wakes up, leaves his bed, he recites a verse: ‘Aham deva na chainasmi brahmaivaham na sokavat satchidanandarupoham nityamuktasvabhavayam. Aham deva’: ‘I am the effulgent one. ‘Na chainasmi’ : ‘I am not anything else. ‘Brahmaiva’ : ‘I am verily God, verily Brahman.’ Nashokavat’ : ‘I have no sorrow. ‘Satchidanandarupoham’ : ‘I am of the form of Satchidananda, Being-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute.’ ‘Nityamuktasvabhavayam’ : ‘And my nature is forever free. I am eternal and free. That’s my nature.’ This is recited the very first thing after waking. It is expected that a Hindu will remind himself of this fact.

In our true spiritual nature, we are spirit, beyond this body, beyond the mind and beyond the infinite circumstances of this infinite universe; we exist above all those things. There, where we shine, there, where we are powerful and fearless, there it is where we are also full of infinite good: ‘Shivam. Tejo yat te rupam kalyanatamam tat te pasyami yo’savasau purushah, so’ham asmi’. ‘Most beneficent form.’ That’s the spirit. Infinitely good, it is. And that is where we should exist.

So, my friends, make an effort. Don’t live on your skin. Unfortunately, all of us have made ourselves identical with our skin. And what a big business has arisen out of that. Millions and millions of dollars are being spent to nourish us as skin. We are skin –– skin and hair and nails and nose and teeth and all that. What a horror! It would be indeed a great comedy, if it were not the greatest tragedy for the soul. No power above you. Remember this. The truth is there is only one. Call it by whatever name you want to call it. There is just one. Since we believe in God, therefore everything else also we have to recognize as God Himself. There is no escaping. Even the smallest insect is God. And let us follow the Swami’s advice: ‘Let us be Gods!’



1 Response to Articles

  1. BM says:

    Thank you for this!

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