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Swami Vivekananda Teachings - A Collection of Swami Vivekananda Teachings

A collection of some of the important teachings of Swami Vivekananda. Teachings are mostly from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vedanta Kesari and Prabuddha Bharata magazines.

We hear ‘Be good,’ and ‘Be good,’ and ‘Be good,’ taught all over the world. There is hardly a child, born in any country in the world, who has not been told, ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not tell a lie,’ but nobody tells the child how he can help doing them. Talking will not help him. Why should he not become a thief? We do not teach him how not to steal; we simply tell him, ‘Do not steal.’

Only when we teach him to control his mind do we really help him. All actions, internal and external, occur when the mind joins itself to certain centers, called the organs. Willingly or unwillingly it is drawn to join itself to the centers, and that is why people do foolish deeds and feel miserable, which, if the mind were under control, they would not do.

What would be the result of controlling the mind? It then would not join itself to the centers of perception, and, naturally, feeling and willing would be under control. Is it possible? It is perfectly possible.

Truth, purity, and unselfishness – whenever these are present, there is no power below or above the sun to crush the possessor thereof. Equipped with these, one individual is able to face the whole universe in opposition.

I accept all religions. I worship all religions. Every religion which helps us to reach God and realize His nature is something which is very dear to me. I am not prepared to reject any of them.

Discard your creeds or formulas, do not get yourselves bound by them, do not become a prisoner of this dogma or that doctrine. Try in the pulse of your being whether you can reach God and the only test for that is the transformation that is affected in your own nature.

Let me tell you again that you must be pure and help anyone who comes to you, as much as lies in your power. And this is good Karma. By the power of this, the heart becomes pure (chitta shuddhi), and then Shiva who is residing in every one will become manifest. He is always in the heart of everyone. 

If there is dirt and dust on a mirror, we cannot see our image. So ignorance and wickedness are the dirt and dust that are on the mirror of our hearts.

Selfishness is the chief sin, thinking of ourselves first. He who thinks, ‘I will eat first, I will have more money than others, and I will possess everything’, he who thinks, ‘I will get to heaven before others; I will get mukti before others’ is the selfish man. The unselfish man says, ‘I will be last, I do not care to go to heaven, I will even go to hell if by doing so I can help my brothers.’

Spiritual knowledge is the only thing that can destroy our miseries, any other knowledge satisfy wants only for a time.

None deserves liberty who is not ready to give liberty.

Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness, but he alone is great whose character is great always, the same wherever he be.

Mind could not be attracted by anything in the world unless he allowed it to affect him.

I see god in all that exists. I see Him as completely in the least fragment as in the whole cosmos. The very greatest of men is only a clearer reflection of the sun which gleams in each drop of dew.

True, that spiritual illumination shines of itself in a pure heart, and, as such, it is not something acquired from without; but to attain this purity of heart means long struggle and constant practice.

It has also been found, on careful inquiry in the sphere of material knowledge, that those higher truths which have now and then been discovered by great scientific men have flashed like sudden floods of light in their mental atmosphere, which they had only to catch and formulate.

But such truths never appear in the mind of an uncultured and wild savage. All these go to prove that hard Tapasya, or practice of austerities in the shape of devout contemplation and constant study of a subject is at the root of all illumination in its respective spheres.

External teacher offers only the suggestions which make the internal teacher to work to understand things.

The whole ocean is present at the back of each wave.

Desire, ignorance and inequality – this is the trinity of bondage.

No man should be judged by his defects.

The man who is frightened into believing God, really does not believe in anything.

For the world can be good and pure, only if our lives are good and pure.

Everyone has to die, the saint or the sinner, the rich or the poor. The body never remains for anyone. Arise and awake and be perfectly sincere.

Every evil thought or deed or hatred, or any other thought or reaction if it is controlled, will be laid in our favor. It is not that we lose by thus restraining ourselves; we are gaining infinitely more.

Really good and evil are one and the same, and are in our mind. When the mind is tranquil neither good nor evil affects it…We must find we are beyond good and evil.

Know that every thought and word that weakens you in this world is the only evil that exists. Whatever makes men weak and makes them fear is the only evil that should be shunned.

Live in the midst of the battle of life. Anyone can keep calm in a cave or when asleep. Stand in the whirl and madness of action and reach the Center. If you have found the Center, you cannot be moved.

All search is in vain, until we begin to perceive that wisdom is within ourselves.

Through delusion we have been trying to forget our nature, and yet we could not; it is always calling upon us, and all our search after God or gods, or external freedom, was a search after our real nature.

Fly from evil and terror and misery, and they will follow you. Face them, and they will flee.

Work of your own free will, not from duty. We have no duty. The world is just a gymnasium in which we play; our life is an eternal holiday.

When we come to non attachment, then we can understand the marvelous mystery of the universe; how intense is its activity and vibration, and at the same time it is intense peace and calm; how it is work every moment and rest every moment. That is the mystery of the universe – the impersonal and the personal in one, the infinite and finite in one.

There is no righteous indignation, because indignation comes from not recognizing sameness in all things.

The remedy for weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength. Teach men the strength that is already within them...Never say “No,” never say, “I cannot,” for you are infinite. Even time and space are nothing compared with your nature.

Freedom is never to be reached by the weak. Throw away all weakness. Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind that it is strong, and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself.

No knowledge comes from outside; it is all inside. What we say a man “knows” should, in strict psychological language, be what he discovers or unveils; what a man “learns” is really what he discovers by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a min of infinite knowledge.

Never talk about the faults of others, no matter how bad they may be. Nothing is ever gained by that. You never help one by telling about his faults, but you do him an injury, and injure yourself as well.

Get up and set your shoulder to the wheel. How long is this life for? As you have come into this world, leave some mark behind. Otherwise where is the difference between you and the trees and stones?

Give up jealousy and conceit. Learn to work unitedly for others.

Those who want to help mankind must take their own pleasure and pain, name and fame, and all sorts of interests, and make a bundle and throw them into the sea and then come to the Lord. This is what all the Masters said and did.

Never quarrel about religion. All quarrels and disputes concerning religion simply show that spirituality is not present. Religious quarrels are always over the husks. When purity, when spirituality goes, leaving the soul dry, quarrels begin, and not before.

Sincerity of conviction and purity of motive will surely gain the day, and even a small minority, armed with these is surely destined to prevail against all odds.

Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus, become pure and perfect. Be grateful to the man you help, think of him as God. Is it not a great privilege to be allowed to worship God by helping our fellowmen?

What good is it, if we acknowledge in our prayers that God is the Father of us all, and in our daily lives, do not treat every man as our brother?

Religion is a realization, not talk, not doctrine, nor theories, however beautiful all these may be. Religion is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledging. It is not an intellectual assent, but one’s whole nature becoming changed into it. Such is religion. . . this being and becoming is what is religion.

What is the proof of God? Direct perception, Pratyaksha. The proof of this wall is that I perceive it. God has been perceived that way by thousands before, and will be perceived by all who want to perceive Him. But this perception is no sense-perception at all; it is super sensuous, super conscious, and all this training is needed to take us beyond the senses.

By means of all sorts of past work and bondages we are being dragged downwards; these preparations will make us pure and light. Bondages will fall off by themselves, and we shall be buoyed up beyond this plane of sense-perception to which we are tied down, and then we shall see, and hear, and feel things which men in the three ordinary states (viz. waking, dream, and sleep) neither feel, nor see, nor hear. Then we shall speak a strange language, as it were, and the world will not understand us, because it does not know anything but the senses. True religion is entirely transcendental.

God alone is eternal, everything else is transitory.

Everything dies; the angels die, men die, animals die, earths die, sun, moon, and stars, all die; everything undergoes constant change. The mountains of today were the oceans of yesterday and will be oceans tomorrow.

Everything is in a state of flux. The whole universe is a mass of change.

But there is One who never changes, and that is God.

And the nearer we get to Him, the less will be the change for us, the less will nature be able to work on us.

And when we reach Him, and stand with Him, we shall conquer nature, we shall be masters of phenomena of nature, and they will have no effect on us.

Whence comes all this bondage of action? Because we chain the soul with action. According to our Indian system, there are two existences: nature on the one side and the Self, the Atman, on the other. By the word nature is meant not only all this external world, but also our bodies, the mind, the will, even down to what says ‘I’. Beyond all that is the infinite life and light of the soul – the Self, the Atman.

Who can work without any attachment? That is the real question. Such a man is the same whether his work succeeds or fails. His heart does not give one false beat even if his whole life work is burnt to ashes in a moment.

‘This is the sage who always works for work’s sake without caring for the results. Thus he goes beyond the pain of birth and death. Thus he becomes free.’ Then he sees that this attachment is all delusion. The Self can never be attached. . . .Then he goes beyond all the scriptures and philosophies.
If the mind is deluded and pulled into a whirlpool by books and scriptures, what is the good of all these scriptures? One says this, another says that. What book shall you take? Stand alone! See the glory of your own soul, and see that you will have to work. Then you will become a man of firm will.

The watchword of all wellbeing of all moral good is not ‘I’ but ‘thou.’ Who cares whether there is a heaven or a hell, who cares if there is a soul or not, who cares if there is an unchangeable or not? Here is the world, and it is full of misery. Go out into it and struggle to lessen it or die in the attempt. Forget yourselves this is the first lesson to be learnt. The one lesson obvious to all is the destruction of the little self and the building up of the Real Self.

There comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, “Is this real?” . . . Is death the end of all these things to which we are clinging, as if they were the most real of all realities, the most substantial of all substances? . . . The hopes of a lifetime, built up little by little with all the energies of a great mind, vanish in a second. Are they real? This question must be answered.

Look here—we shall all die! Bear this in mind always, and then the spirit within will wake up. Then only, meanness will vanish from you, practicality in work will come, you will get new vigour in mind and body, and those who come in contact with you will also feel that they have really got something uplifting from you.’

From our childhood upwards, we have been taught only to pay attention to things external, but never to things internal; hence most of us have nearly lost the faculty of observing the internal mechanism. To turn the mind, as it were, inside, stop it from going outside, and then to concentrate all its powers, and throw them upon the mind itself, in order that it may know its own nature, analyse itself, is very hard work. Yet that is the only way to anything which will be a scientific approach to the subject.

The Vedanta does not in reality denounce the world — it really means deification of the world — giving up the world as we think of it, as we know it, as it appears to us and to know what it really is. . .. In life and in death, in happiness and in misery, the Lord is equally present. The whole world is full of the Lord. Open your eyes and see Him. This is what Vedanta teaches.

Our duty is to encourage everyone in his struggle to live up to his own highest ideal, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the truth.

Never approach anything except as God; for if we do, we see evil, because we throw a veil of delusion over what we look at, and then we see evil.

We shall all die! Bear this in mind always, and then the spirit within will wake up. Then only meanness will vanish from you, practicality in work will come, you will get new vigor in mind and body.

Doing good to others is virtue (Dharma); injuring others is sin.

Strength and manliness are virtue; weakness and cowardice are sin.

Independence is virtue; dependence is sin.

Loving others is virtue; hating others is sin.

Faith in God and in one’s own Self is virtue; doubt is sin.

Knowledge of oneness is virtue; seeing diversity is sin.

The different scriptures only show the means of attaining virtue.

Unselfishness is God

People are frightened when they are told that they are Universal Being, everywhere present. Through everything you work, through every foot you move, through every lip you talk, through every heart you feel.

People are frightened when they are told this. They will again and again ask you if they are not going to keep their individuality.

There is no individuality except in the Infinite. That is the only condition which does not change. Everything else is in a constant state of flux.

We are not individuals yet. We are struggling towards individuality, and that is the Infinite, that is the real nature of man.

He alone lives whose life is in the whole universe, and the more we concentrate our lives on limited things, the faster we go towards death.

Those moments alone we live when our lives are in the universe, in others; and living this little life is death, simply death, and that is why the fear of death comes.

The fear of death can only be conquered when man realizes that so long as there is one life in this universe, he is living.

I shall call you religious from the day you begin to see God in men and women…. Whatever comes to you is but the Lord, the Eternal, the Blessed One, appearing to us in various forms, as our father, and mother, and friend, and child – they are our own soul playing with us.’

Go, all of you, wherever there is an outbreak of plague or famine, or wherever the people are in distress, and mitigate their sufferings. At the most you may die in the attempt — what of that? … Die you must,. . . it is better to die with a great ideal in life.

We play our parts here — good or bad. When the dream is finished and we have left the stage, we will have a hearty laugh at all this — of this only I am sure.

Just as the intellect is the instrument of knowledge, so is the heart the instrument of inspiration.

In a lower state, it is a much weaker instrument than the intellect. An ignorant man knows nothing, but he is a little emotional by nature. Compare him with a great professor what wonderful power the latter possesses! But the professor is bound by his intellect, and he can be a devil and an intellectual man at the same time, but the man of heart can never be a devil; no man with emotion was ever a devil.

Properly cultivated, the heart can be changed, and will go beyond intellect; it will be changed into inspiration. Man will have to go beyond intellect in the end. The knowledge of man, his powers of perception, of reasoning and intellect and heart, all are busy churning this milk of the world.

This is the gist of all worship — to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, or creed, or race, or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.

Look upon every man, woman, and every one as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege. If the Lord grants that you can help any one of his children, blessed you are; do not think too much of yourselves. Blessed you are that that privilege was given to you when others had it not. Do it only as a worship.

We think that we have helped some man and expect him to thank us, and because he does not, unhappiness comes to us. Why should we expect anything in return for what we do? Be grateful to the man you help, think of him as God.

Is it not a great privilege to be allowed to worship God by helping our fellow men?

If we were really unattached, we should escape all this pain of vain expectation, and could cheerfully do good work in the world.

Unhappiness or misery will never come, if work is done without attachment. The world will go on with its happiness and misery through eternity if we work without attachment and expectations.

God is the one goal of all our passions and emotions. If you want to be angry, be angry with Him. Chide your Beloved, chide your Friend. Whom else can you safely chide? Mortal man will not patiently put up with your anger; there will be a reaction.

Where is there any enjoyment but in Him? What enjoyment can there be in little clods of earth? It is the crystallised essence of infinite enjoyment that we have to seek, and that is in God. Let all our passions and emotions go up unto Him. They are meant for Him, for if they miss their mark and go lower, they become vile; and when they go straight to the mark, to the Lord, even the lowest of them becomes transfigured.

There is a screen here, and some beautiful scenery outside. There is a small hole in the screen through which we can only catch a glimpse of it.

Suppose this hole begins to increase; as it grows larger and larger, more and more of the scenery comes into view, and when the screen has vanished, we come face to face with the whole of the scenery. This scene outside is the soul, and the screen between us and the scenery is Maya—time, space, and causation.

There is a little hole somewhere, through which I can catch only a glimpse of the soul.

When the hole is bigger, I see more and more, and when the screen has vanished, I know that I am the soul.

So changes in the universe are not in the Absolute; they are in nature. Nature evolves more and more, until the Absolute manifests Itself.

In everyone, It exists; in some It is manifested more than in others.

The whole universe is really one. . . All our struggles, exercises, pains, pleasures, tears, and smiles, all that we do and think tend towards that goal, the tearing up of the screen, making the hole bigger, thinning the layers that remain between the manifestation and the reality behind.

Our work, therefore, is not to make the soul free, but to get rid of the bondages.

Life is and must be accompanied by evil. A little evil is the source of life. The little wickedness that is in the world is very good. For, when the balance is regained, the world will end, because sameness and destruction are one. When this world goes, good and evil go with it. When we transcend this world, we get rid of both good and evil, and have bliss.

The miseries of the world cannot be cured by physical help only. Until man’s nature changes, these physical needs will always arise, and miseries will always be felt, and no amount of physical help will cure them completely. The only solution of this problem is to make mankind pure. Ignorance is the mother of all the evil and all the misery we see. Let men have light, let them be pure and spiritually strong and educated, then alone will misery cease in the world, not before.

Any fool can talk. Even parrots talk. Talking is one thing, and realizing is another.

Philosophies, and doctrines, and arguments, and books, and theories, and religions, and sects, and all these things are good in their own way; but when that realization comes, these things drop away.

For instance, maps are good, but when you see the country itself, and look again at the maps, what a great difference you find!

So those that have realized truth do not require the ratiocinations of logic and all other gymnastics of the intellect to make them understand the truth.

There is one thing which is the world and another which is God; and this distinction is very true. What they mean by world is selfishness. Unselfishness is God. One may live on a throne, in a golden palace, and be perfectly unselfish; and then he is in God. Another may live in a hut and wear rags, and have nothing in the world; yet, if he is selfish, he is intensely merged in the world.

The only true teacher is he who can convert himself, as it were, into a thousand persons at a moment’s notice. The only true teacher is he who can immediately come down to the level of the student, and transfer his soul to the student’s soul and see through the student’s eyes and hear through his ears and understand through his mind. Such a teacher can really teach and none else.’

All power is within you. You fail only when you think you are weak. If you think you are weak, weak you will be. And if you think you are strong, strong you will be.

Swami Vivekananda Teachings on OM

Is there any material sound of which all other sounds must be manifestations, one which is the most natural sound? Om (Aum) is such a sound, the basis of all sounds.

The first letter, A, is the root sound, the key, pronounced without touching any part of the tongue or palate; M represents the last sound in the series, being produced by the closed lips, and the U rolls from the very root to the end of the sounding board of the mouth.

Thus, Om represents the whole phenomena of sound producing. As such, it must be the natural symbol, the matrix of all the various sounds. It denotes the whole range and possibility of all the words that can be made. Apart from these speculations, we see that around this word Om are centered all the different religious ideas in India; all the various religious ideas of the Vedas have gathered themselves round this word Om.

Swami Vivekananda Teachings on Overcoming Bad Habits

The only remedy for bad habits is counter habits; all the bad habits that have left their impressions are to be controlled by good habits. Go on doing good, thinking holy thoughts continuously; that is the only way to suppress base impressions.

Never say any man is hopeless, because he only represents a character, a bundle of habits, which can be checked by new and better ones. Character is repeated habits, and repeated habits alone can reform character.

Swami Vivekananda on Teaching

You see, no one can teach anybody. The teacher spoils everything by thinking that he is teaching. Thus Vedanta says that within man is all knowledge – even in a boy it is so and it requires only an awakening, and that much is the work of a teacher. We have to do only so much for the boys that they may learn to apply their own intellect to the proper use of their hands, legs, ears, eyes, etc., and finally everything will become easy.

As the master wrestler proceeds with great caution and restraint with the beginner, now overpowering him in the struggle with great difficulty as it were, again allowing himself to be defeated to strengthen the pupil’s self confidence – in exactly the same manner did Sri Ramakrishna handle us . . . He would keep us under control by carefully observing even the minute details of our life. All this was done silently and unobtrusively. That was the secret of his training of the disciples and of his moulding of their lives.

His (Sri Ramakrishna’s) very method of teaching was a unique phenomenon…. He never destroyed a single man’s special inclinations. He gave words of hope and encouragement even to the most degraded of persons and lifted them up.

Swami Vivekananda on the True Sacrifice of a Bhakta

In this evanescent world, where everything is falling to pieces, we have to make the highest use of what time we have,’ says the Bhakta; and really the highest use of life is to hold it at the service of all beings.

 It is the horrible body-idea that breeds all the selfishness in the world, just this one delusion that we are wholly the body we own, and that we must by all possible means try our very best to preserve and to please it.

If you know that you are positively other than your body, you have then none to fight with or struggle against; you are dead to all ideas of selfishness.

So the Bhakta declares that we have to hold ourselves as if we are altogether dead to all the things of the world; and that is indeed self-surrender. Let things come as they may.

The perfected Bhakta’s idea must be never to will and work for himself.

‘Lord, they build high temples in Your name; they make large gifts in Your name; I am poor; I have nothing; so I take this body of mine and place it at Your feet. Do not give me up, O Lord.’ Such is the prayer proceeding out of the depths of the Bhakta’s heart.

To him who has experienced it, this eternal sacrifice of the self unto the Beloved Lord is higher by far than all wealth and power, than even all soaring thoughts of renown and enjoyment.

The peace of the Bhakta’s calm resignation is a peace that passeth all understanding and is of incomparable value.

Face the terrible, face it boldly – Swami Vivekananda

Once when I was in Varanasi, I was passing through a place where there was a large tank of water on one side and a high wall on the other. It was in the grounds where there were many monkeys. The monkeys of Varanasi are huge brutes and are sometimes surly. They now took it into their heads not to allow me to pass through their street, so they howled and shrieked and clutched at my feet as I passed. As they pressed closer, I began to run, but the faster I ran, the faster came the monkeys and they began to bite at me. It seemed impossible to escape, but just then I met a stranger who called out to me, ‘Face the brutes.’

I turned and faced the monkeys, and they fell back and finally fled. That is a lesson for all life—face the terrible, face it boldly.

Like the monkeys, the hardships of life fall back when we cease to flee before them.

If we are ever to gain freedom, it must be by conquering nature, never by running away.

Cowards never win victories.

We have to fight fear and troubles and ignorance if we expect them to flee before us.