Excerpts from ‘Spiritual Heritage
of India’, by Swami Prabhavananda,
Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras 600 004.
The Essence of Hinduism
Although in the course of its long history, reaching far back into an unrecorded past, Indian religion has had its share of sects and doctrines, of reformations and revivals, it has nevertheless preserved at its core, unchanged, four fundamental ideas. These may be very simply expressed: God is; he can be realized; to realize him is the supreme goal of human existence; he can be realized in many ways.
God is. This tremendous proposition, though variously interpreted, is of course common, not only to the religions of India, but to all the religions of the world. In every age God-men have proclaimed it, each according to his own spiritual vision, and in every age people have asked for proofs that it is true. Many plausible demonstrations have been devised by philosophers, establishing God as a logical necessity. However, there is not a single argument substantiating God’s actuality on the basis of reason which has not been contradicted by equally plausible arguments of opposing philosophers. The only real proof that God is must be sought elsewhere.
God can be realized. That is to say, he can be known, felt, experienced, immediately, in the depths of one’s own soul. Upon this awe-inspiring fact the religions and philosophies of India, without exception, have been founded. From the dim ages of the Vedic seers, down through the many centuries to our own day, it has been consistently declared that the ultimate reality of the universe can be directly perceived-though never in normal consciousness. Through the unique, transcendent state in which the miracle happens, various names have been given–turiya, samadhi, nirvana–names that have occurred over and over again in the pages of this book.
To realize God is the supreme foal
of human existence. In this all Indian religions and philosophies
have at all times been agreed. ‘Arise, awake, approach the feet of the
master and known That,’ says the rishi of the Katha Upanisad. ‘Study
of the scriptures is fruitless,’ says the great Samkara, ‘so long as Brahman
has not been experienced.’ ‘He is born to no purpose,’ says Sri
‘who, having the rare privilege of being born a man, is unable to realize
God.’ A thousand voices have proclaimed what is for pious Hindus the one
basic rule of life. God can be realized in many ways. ‘Truth
is one,’ declares the Rig-Veda, most ancient of Hindu scriptures, ‘sages
call it by various names.’ ‘So many religions, so many paths’, declares
Sri Ramakrishna, ‘to reach one and the same goal.’
It will be observed that the cal for tolerance, harmony, universal consent, applies only to the paths, not to the goal. This, once realized, admits no diversity of opinion–admits indeed no opinion. For not only is it beyond the senses; it is beyond all thought. The Upanishads say ‘neti, neti, Atma'–the Atman, or Brahman within, is ‘not this’, ‘not that’. ‘In that ecstatic realization’, says Sri Ramakrishna, speaking out of his own abundant experience, ‘all thoughts cease..... No power of speech is left by which to express Brahman.’ If this were all, there could of course be no religious doctrines, no religious philosophies. But it is not all. The mystics sooner or later emerge from transcendental consciousness, and then, it sometimes happens, they talk–not for their own sake (they have nothing to gain that they do not already posses) but for the good of their fellow men. And in talking they may express variously the same ultimately inexpressible truth.