Answers by Swami Vivekananda

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Q. Does Yoga serve to keep the body in its full health and vitality?

Swami Vivekananda - It does. It staves off disease. As objectification of one's own body is difficult, it is very effective in regard to others. Fruit and milk are the best food for Yogis.

Q. Is the attainment of bliss synchronous with that of Vairagya?

Swami Vivekananda - The first step in Vairagya is very painful. When perfected, it yields supreme bliss.

Q. What is Tapasya?

Swami Vivekananda - Tapasya is threefold of the body, of speech and of mind. The first is service of others; the second truthfulness; and third, control and concentration.

Q. Why do we not see that the same consciousness pervades the ant as well as the perfected sage?

Swami Vivekananda - Realising the unity of this manifestation is a question of time only.

Q. Is preaching possible without gaining perfection?

Swami Vivekananda - No. May the Lord grant that all the Sannyasin disciples of my Master and of myself be perfected, so that they may be fit for missionary work!

Q. Is the divine majesty expressed in the Universal Form of Shri Krishna in the Gita superior to the expression of love unattended with other attributes, embodied in the form of Shri Krishna, for instance, in His relation with the Gopis?

Swami Vivekananda - The feeling of love, unattended with the idea of divinity, in respect to the person loved, is assuredly inferior to the expression of divine majesty. If it were not so, all lovers of the flesh would have obtained freedom.

Q. How can Vedanta be realised?

Swami Vivekananda - By "hearing, reflection, and meditation". Hearing must take place from a Sad-guru. Even if one is not a regular disciple, but is a fit aspirant and hears the Sad-guru's words, he is liberated.

Q. Who is a Sad-guru?

Swami Vivekananda - A Sad-guru is one on whom the spiritual power has descended by Guru-parampara, or an unbroken chain of discipleship.

To play the role of a spiritual teacher is a very difficult thing. One has to take on oneself the sins of others. There is every chance of a fall in less advanced men. If merely physical pain ensues, then he should consider himself fortunate.

Q. Cannot the spiritual teacher make the aspirant fit?

Swami Vivekananda - An Avatâra can. Not an ordinary Guru.

Q. Is there no easy way to liberation?

Swami Vivekananda - "There is no royal road to Geometry" except for those who have been fortunate enough to come in contact with an Avatara. Paramahamsa Deva used to say, "One who is having his last birth shall somehow or other see me."

Q. Is not Yoga an easy path to that?

Swami Vivekananda - (Jokingly) You have said well, I see! Yoga an easy path! If your mind be not pure and you try to follow Yoga, you will perhaps attain some supernatural power, but that will be a hindrance. Therefore purity of mind is the first thing necessary.

Q. How can this be attained?

Swami Vivekananda - By good work. Good work is of two kinds, positive and negative. "Do not steal" that is a negative mandate, and "Do good to others" is a positive one.

Q. Should not doing good to others be performed in a higher stage, for if performed in a lower stage, it may bind one to the world?

Swami Vivekananda - It should be performed in the first stage. One who has any desire at first gets deluded and becomes bound, but not others. Gradually it will become very natural.

Q. Sir, last night you said, "In you is everything." Now, if I want to be like Vishnu, shall I have to meditate on the form also, or only on the idea?

Swami Vivekananda - According to capacity one may follow either way.

Q. What is the means of realisation?

Swami Vivekananda - The Guru is the means of realisation. "There is no knowledge without a teacher."

Q. Some say that there is no necessity of practicing meditation in a worship-room. How far is it true?
Swami Vivekananda - Those who have already realised the Lord's presence may not require it, but for others it is necessary. One, however, should go beyond the form and meditate on the impersonal aspect of God, for no form can grant liberation. You may get worldly prosperity from the sight of the form. One who ministers to his mother succeeds in this world; one who worships his father goes to heaven; but the worshipper of a Sâdhu (holy man) gets knowledge and devotion.

Q. Where should one meditate inside the body or outside it? Should the mind be withdrawn inside or held outside?

Swami Vivekananda - We should try to meditate inside. As for the mind being here or there, it will take a long time before we reach the mental plane. Now our struggle is with the body. When one acquires a perfect steadiness in posture, then and then alone one begins to struggle with the mind. Asana (posture) being conquered, one's limbs remain motionless, and one can sit as long as one pleases.

Q. Sometimes one gets tired of Japa (repetition of the Mantra). Should one continue it or read some good book instead?

Swami Vivekananda - One gets tired of Japa for two reasons. Sometimes one's brain is fatigued, sometimes it is the result of idleness. If the former, then one should give up Japa for the time being, for persistence in it at the time results in seeing hallucinations, or in lunacy etc. But if the latter, the mind should be forced to continue Japa.

Q. Sometimes sitting at Japa one gets joy at first, but then one seems to be disinclined to continue the Japa owing to that joy. Should it be continued then?

Swami Vivekananda - Yes, that joy is a hindrance to spiritual practice, its name being Rasasvadana (tasting of the sweetness). One must rise above that.

Q. Is it good to practice Japa for a long time, though the mind may be wandering?

Swami Vivekananda - Yes. As some people break a wild horse by always keeping his seat on his back.

Q. You have written in your Bhakti-Yoga that if a weak-bodied man tries to practice Yoga, a tremendous reaction comes. Then what to do?

Swami Vivekananda - What fear if you die in the attempt to realise the Self! Man is not afraid of dying for the sake of learning and many other things, and why should you fear to die for religion?

Q. Can Jiva-seva (service to beings) alone give Mukti ?

Swami Vivekananda - Jiva-seva can give Mukti not directly but indirectly, through the purification of the mind. But if you wish to do a thing properly, you must, for the time being, think that that is all-sufficient. The danger in any sect is want of zeal. There must be constancy (Nishtha), or there will be no growth. At present it has become necessary to lay stress on Karma.

Q. What should be our motive in work compassion, or any other motive?

Swami Vivekananda - Doing good to others out of compassion is good, but the Seva (service) of all beings in the spirit of the Lord is better.

Q. What is the efficacy of prayer?

Swami Vivekananda - By prayer one's subtle powers are easily roused, and if consciously done, all desires may be fulfilled by it; but done unconsciously, one perhaps in ten is fulfilled. Such prayer, however, is selfish and should therefore be discarded.

Q. How to recognise God when He has assumed a human form?

Swami Vivekananda - One who can alter the doom of people is the Lord. No Sadhu, however advanced, can claim this unique position. I do not see anyone who realises Ramakrishna as God. We sometimes feel it hazily, that is all. To realise Him as God and yet be attached to the world is inconsistent.

Q. Whom can we call a Guru?

Swami Vivekananda - He who can tell your past and future is your Guru.

Q. How can one have Bhakti?

Swami Vivekananda - There is Bhakti within you, only a veil of lust-and-wealth covers it, and as soon as that is removed Bhakti will manifest by itself.

Q. What is the true meaning of the assertion that we should depend on ourselves?

Swami Vivekananda - Here self means the eternal Self. But even dependence on the non-eternal self may lead gradually to the right goal, as the individual self is really the eternal Self under delusion.

Q. If unity is the only reality, how could duality which is perceived by all every moment have arisen?

Swami Vivekananda - Perception is never dual; it is only the representation of perception that involves duality. If perception were dual, the known could have existed independently of the knower, and vice versa.

Q. How is harmonious development of character to be best effected?

Swami Vivekananda - By association with persons whose character has been so developed.

Q. What should be our attitude to the Vedas?

Swami Vivekananda - The Vedas, i.e. only those portions of them which agree with reason, are to be accepted as authority. Other Shastras, such as the Purânas etc., are only to be accepted so far as they do not go against the Vedas. All the religious thoughts that have come subsequent to the Vedas, in the world, in whatever part of it have been derived from the Vedas.

Q. Is the division of time into four Yugas astronomical or arbitrary calculation?

Swami Vivekananda - There is no mention of such divisions in the Vedas. They are arbitrary assumptions of Paurânika times.

Q. Is the relation between concepts and words necessary and immutable, or accidental and conventional?

Swami Vivekananda - The point is exceedingly debatable. It seems that there is a necessary relation, but not absolutely so, as appears from the diversity of language. There may be some subtle relation which we are not yet able to detect.

Q. What should be the principle to be followed in working within India?

Swami Vivekananda - First of all, men should be taught to be practical and physically strong. A dozen of such lions will conquer the world, and not millions of sheep can do so. Secondly, men should not be taught to imitate a personal ideal, however great.

Then Swamiji went on to speak of the corruptions of some of the Hindu symbols. He distinguished between the path of knowledge and the path of devotion. The former belonged properly to the Aryas, and therefore was so strict in the selection of Adhikâris (qualified aspirants), and the latter coming from the South, or non-Aryan sources, made no such distinction.

Q. What part will the Ramakrishna Mission take in the regenerating work of India?

Swami Vivekananda - From this Math will go out men of character who will deluge the world with spirituality. This will be followed by revivals in other lines. Thus Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas will be produced. The Shudra caste will exist no longer their work being done by machinery. The present want of India is the Kshatriya force.

Q. Is retrograde reincarnation from the human stage possible?

Swami Vivekananda - Yes. Reincarnation depends on Karma. If a man accumulates Karma akin to the beastly nature, he will be drawn thereto.

Q. Does the Kundalini really exist in the physical body?

Swami Vivekananda - Shri Ramakrishna used to say that the so-called lotuses of the Yogi do not really exist in the human body, but that they are created within oneself by Yoga powers.

Q. Can a man attain Mukti by image-worship?

Swami Vivekananda - Image-worship cannot directly give Mukti; it may be an indirect cause, a help on the way. Image-worship should not be condemned, for, with many, it prepares the mind for the realisation of the Advaita which alone makes man perfect.

Q. What should be our highest ideal of character?

Swami Vivekananda - Renunciation.

Q. How did Buddhism leave the legacy of corruption in India?

Swami Vivekananda - The Bauddhas tried to make everyone in India a monk or a nun. We cannot expect that from every one. This led to gradual relaxation among monks and nuns. It was also caused by their imitating Tibetan and other barbarous customs in the name of religion. They went, to preach in those places and assimilated their corruptions, and then introduced them into India.

Q. Is Maya without beginning and end?

Swami Vivekananda - Maya is eternal both ways, taken universally, as genus; but it is non-eternal individually.

Q. Brahman and Maya cannot be cognised simultaneously. How could the absolute reality of either be proved as arising out of the one or the other?

Swami Vivekananda - It could be proved only by realisation. When one realises Brahman, for him Maya exists no longer, just as once the identity of the rope is found out, the illusion of the serpent comes no more.

Q. What is Maya?

Swami Vivekananda - There is only one thing, call it by any name matter, or spirit. It is difficult or rather impossible to think the one independent of the other. This is Maya, or ignorance.

Q. What is Mukti (liberation)?

Swami Vivekananda - Mukti means entire freedom freedom from the bandages of good and evil. A golden chain is as much a chain as an iron one. Shri Ramakrishna used to say that, to pick out one thorn which has stuck into the foot, another thorn is requisitioned, and when the thorn is taken out, both are thrown away. So the bad tendencies are to be counteracted by the good ones, but after that, the good tendencies have also to be conquered.

Q. Can salvation (Mukti) be obtained without the grace of God?

Swami Vivekananda - Salvation has nothing to do with God. Freedom already is.

Q. What is the proof of the self in us not being the product of the body etc.?

Swami Vivekananda - The "ego" like its correlative "non-ego", is the product of the body, mind etc. The only proof of the existence of the real Self is realisation.

Q. Who is a true Jnani, and who is a true Bhakta?

Swami Vivekananda - The true Jnani is he who has the deepest love within his heart and at the same time is a practical seer of Advaita in his outward relations. And the true Bhakta (lover) is he who, realising his own soul as identified with the universal Soul, and thus possessed of the true Jnana within, feels for and loves everyone. Of Jnana and Bhakti he who advocates one and denounces the other cannot be either a Jnani or a Bhakta, but he is a thief and a cheat.

Q. Why should a man serve Ishvara?

Swami Vivekananda - If you once admit that there is such a thing as Ishvara (God), you have numberless occasions to serve Him. Service of the Lord means, according to all the scriptural authorities, remembrance (Smarana). If you believe in the existence of God, you will be reminded of Him at every step of your life.

Q. Is Mayavada different from Advaitavada?

Swami Vivekananda - No. They are identical. There is absolutely no other explanation of Advaitavada except Mayavada.

Q. How is it possible for God who is infinite to be limited in the form of a man (as an Avatara)?

Swami Vivekananda - It is true that God is infinite, but not in the sense in which you comprehend it. You have confounded your idea of infinity with the materialistic idea of vastness. When you say that God cannot take the form of a man, you understand that a very, very large substance or form (as if material in nature), cannot be compressed into a very, very small compass. God's infinitude refers to the unlimitedness of a purely spiritual entity, and as such, does not suffer in the least by expressing itself in a human form.

Q. Some say, "First of all become a Siddha (one who has realised the Truth), and then you have the right to Karma, or work for others", while others say that one should work for others even from the beginning. How can both these views be reconciled?

Swami Vivekananda - You are confusing one thing with the other. Karma means either service to humanity or preaching. To real preaching, no doubt, none has the right except the Siddha Purusha, i.e. one who has realised the Truth. But to service every one has the right, and not only so, but every one is under obligation to serve others, so long as he is accepting service from others.