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True Religion
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken in 1991 to the organizer of a religious conference for world peace.)

Namaskar! …sometimes occupies the mind of even so-called religious people. Even religious people work hard for material expansion of their institutions, and they want a lot of money, and name, fame comes in. This name, fame, greed are great obstacles, and they are part and parcel of human nature—like the very skin of man. Name, fame, greed are the very skin of the person, and to peel the skin is very difficult. It requires a perfection of spirit in one's own self. He should not merely be a teacher or a preacher of religion, he must be a religious person himself. You know very well—I need not tell you—what is to be a religious person. It is the planting of the consciousness of God in one's own heart.

For that, we have to bring before the minds of people what actually they mean by 'God'. What is it—a theoretical concept? Or is it a “may be or may not be” question? And is it a necessity, or has it any significance in our life? Ask religious people, all religious people: What is the significance of the presence of God in human life? Let answers come. Is it a question of tomorrow, or after death? Do we reach God after death, and not in this life?

Most of the religions, or I should say all the religions, have a peculiar notion of the otherworldly character of God.  It is a defect in human thinking. There is no otherworldly isolation of existence, because existence is a complete, organismic structure wherein we cannot distinguish between past, present and future; and if we accept God is eternal, He is not tomorrow. He is just now, and not somewhere in heaven. God is not in heaven, and He is not tomorrow. Now, if we can give up or free ourselves from this wrong notion of tomorrow and somewhere…

Look at the mind of man. “Where is God,” you ask. Where is God? At this moment, where is God? Just now when we are speaking, where is God sitting? It is difficult for the mind to accommodate itself to this question. It will shatter the whole body. The very thought will shake the whole personality. You are asking this question: Where is God just now? The whole ego of man will tremble, because the ego cannot stand this question. It can answer any question, but the ego cannot answer this question because if it starts answering this question, it will cease to exist at that very moment.

It requires purification of the heart. All religious studies, any kind of religious way of living, is preceded by a moral and ethical purificatory process. It is not easy to be religious. Going to a temple, going to a church, fasting on Sundays, sleeping late in the night, rolling the beads—this is not religion. Religion is the consciousness of God, and to the extent one is conscious of the presence of God, to that extent one is religious. It has nothing to with political activity, social welfare work and so on. Though there is no objection to it, it cannot be identified with religion. Religion is not one way of living, it is the only way of living, and it must inundate the whole personality of the person.

We must be bathed in religion, so that we are the embodiment of religious consciousness itself. We are not flesh and bone. We are not physical personalities. We are forms taken by aspiration for the Almighty. We may be regarded as representatives of God in this phenomenal world, so when we walk, we walk like ambassadors of God. The ambassador is the government represented. The entire force of the government is working through him; and if the force of God can work through us, we are incarnations, we are Krishna or Christ, we are Godmen. Such persons alone can work some benefit in this world.

Political leaders whose names are appearing in the newspapers, and who are only bookish, fundamentalist and tradition-bound—this kind of thing will not work before God.  When we go to God, we do not go as Hindus and Christians; we do not go as men and women. In what sense do we go there? Let us accept that we are going to attain God. When we go there, how do we go—as Christians, as Muslims? “I am a Muslim.” Will we say that before God Almighty?

It is necessary to convince ourselves that we are just now in the presence of God—just now. In the presence of God, what will we do? Here is ethics and morality. Whatever we do in the presence of God, that is goodness, that is ethics, that is morality. Let anyone for a few minutes close the eyes and contemplate: “I am in the presence of the Almighty, the Creator of the universe. He is seeing me.” Now, what will we do at that time? We will melt completely. We will become liquid, and we will cease to be. What we will be at that time, only the experience can say. We cannot describe it in words.

If there is such a person who can understand these significant factors in religious living, I think that person can work wonders in the world. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a person like this. We cannot call him a religious man. He was a Godman. God was dancing in his heart, and so if he thought something, it reverberated through the whole world. So was Ramana Maharishi, and so were great saints and sages who lived in this world, whether of the East or the West.

Therefore, it is necessary to free ourselves from the need to be presented before the public eye, but have a desire to convince ourselves that we are in the vicinity, in the presence of God Almighty. It not a theory, it is not a scripture speaking. It is a hundred percent fact. That God is just here and looking at us, is not a theoretical doctrine. It is not an imagination. It is a highly perfect scientific fact, and no science can be more perfect than this feeling and conviction that we are being seen by millions of eyes. Every atom is the eye of God, and He sees us from all directions.

There is a great poem in the AtharvaVeda, a prayer offered to the Almighty. It is something very touching indeed. It was translated into English by a great German orientalist, a scholar called John Muir. The translation was done beautifully, in a poetic manner. He was a great Sanskrit scholar who wrote five volumes, which are deep research on all the original Sanskrit texts. There is no Sanskrit book that he had not read and mastered. I will read to you the English translation of that prayer from Atharva Veda. This is from Atharva Veda:

The mighty Lord on high,
our deeds as if at hand espies;
The gods know all men do,
though men would feign their deeds disguise.

Whoever stands, whoever moves
 or steals from place to place;
Or hides him in his secret cell,
the gods his movement trace.

This is addressed to Varuna, which was the name of the Absolute in the Atharva Veda

Wherever two together plot,
and deem they are alone;
King Varuna is there, a third,
and all their schemes are known.

When we are talking now, there is somebody in the middle. Neither you can see it nor I can see it, but there is a third element which is making it possible for us to converse with each other.

This earth is His,
to Him belong those vast and boundless skies;
Both seas within Him rest,
and yet in that small pool He lies in the heart.

Wherever, whoever far beyond the sky
should think his way to wink;
He could not there elude
the grasp of Varuna the King.

His spies descending from the skies
 glide all this world around;
Their thousand eyes all-scanning,
sweep to earth's remotest corner, remotest bound.

Whatever exists in heaven and earth,
whatever beyond the skies;
Before the eyes of Varuna the King
unfolded lies.

The ceaseless winking all He counts,
 of every mortal's eyes;
He wields this universal frame,
as gamester throws his dice.

He plays with us. I am reminded here of a line from Shakespeare which says that gods play with men as children play with flies. This is how the gods treat us.

I feel it is not easy to be truly religious, because it is not easy to truly love God. That, again, is because it is not easy to understand what God is; and if one clearly has a concept of what God is, he will shrink into a non-entity in one minute, and he will be filled with God. “Empty thyself, and I shall fill thee.” This is the whole of religion: Empty thyself; I shall fill thee. But we are like dustbins, already filled with some rubbish. How will we have fragrance put into it?

We may talk of God but, really speaking, we have no faith in God. Sometimes there is doubt also: “Will He give something to me, or will He ignore me. Is it possible to reach Him or not? Suppose He does not respond to my request; what will happen to me? I must have my own strengths, a little bit. What is the guarantee that He will actually bless me? And He may be far away; I may not be able to reach Him in several births.” If time consciousness vanishes from us, eternity descends into our heart, and God is just now here. If there is such a person in this world, he is the protector and the savior of humanity.

If God is eternity, non-spatial, non-temporal existence, the world is not outside us. Do you catch my point? If ultimate reality is timeless eternity, the world cannot be external. If it is not external, it is identical with our personality. There is no spatial distinction between ourselves and the world. The world is a total whole, which includes me and you. So we cannot look at the world, we cannot see it, because to see it is to externalise it, to make it an alien to ourselves, which is not the fact. We are a part of the world, organically connected, inextricably related to it. How will we see the world? When we say we are seeing the world, it is a mistake. We have isolated ourselves from the total whole to which we already belong. So to think the world would be to think as the world would think itself. Do you understand me? Here is, according to me, the spirit of religion or spirituality—which is not dead. It is still alive in this world, fortunately. It may be somewhere from the point of view of quantum, but it is still alive. God is not dead, as Nietzsche said. God is not dead, He is very alive and well, and if God has created the world, as we believe, He knows also how to take care of it. And we are instruments in His hand, because we are part and parcel of this universal organism of Being.

What I am telling you just now is a kind of meditation. It is not a lecture I am speaking to you. I am just concentrating my mind on the ultimate meaning of life, which is nothing but the consciousness of the omnipresence of the Almighty, omnipotence of the Almighty, and omniscience of the Almighty, from which we cannot extricate ourselves. We are just in it and, therefore, we are well guarded. “He who is united with Me in spirit, I shall take care of that person in every way.” This is a verse from the Bhagavadgita—God speaking to man.

Ananyas cintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate tesham nityabhiyuktanam yogaksemam vahamy aham (Gita 9.22) is a verse in the middle of the Bhagavadgita, which is the Absolute speaking to the relative, Eternity speaking to time, God speaking to man, as we may say. “Whoever is undividedly conscious of Me, it is My responsibility to take care of that individual in every way.” If we want a spoon of sugar for our tea, God will give it. We may not think it a silly matter. There is no silly matter for God. He is Himself operating everywhere. Even in a cup of tea, He is operating. If we want a spoon of sugar, it will topple down. It has to come, if it is God that is wanting it. When we want, it is God wanting. Let us be sure. We should not distrust or have a lack of faith. “Oh! It cannot be. It cannot be. When I want something, it is not God wanting.” We should not say that. Then, immediately we cut ourselves apart from God. A person who is centered in God, when that person thinks, God thinks, and therefore it has to act and take effect immediately, materially. Such a person is a saint, such a person is a representative of God in this world, and these persons should form a conference as a target of religion. Bring them together; but be careful that they are really great people. You do not want twenty-five or a hundred.

Daniel: There is no number really, but it will be a small number.

SWAMIJI: Persons like Sri Aurobindo, Swami Sivananda, Ramana Maharishi, Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi—let them all sit at one table. What will they think? They will not talk much. They will not say anything. Just imagine a conference where these people are all sitting. Aurobindo, Swami Sivananda, Ramana Maharishi are sitting, and Krishna and Christ are also there. What will they speak? That is a real conference.

Daniel: Here is a question about this, because you have been speaking the very highest Vedanta.

SWAMIJI: I don't think it is Vedanta. It is the science of life. Why use such words as 'Vedanta', 'Bhakti', and so on. Let us not use any jargon. It is the principle of life; and it has no language, no tenet, and does not belong to any clan or cult or religion. It is nothing of that kind. It is the science of Being. Science is not partial; it is an inexorable law. An inexorable law cannot be diluted by any kind of human expectations. You have to raise yourself to that level, and not bring that down to your level.

Daniel: I won't put a label on it. What I am thinking of is the example of Vivekananda, who struggled to find ways to talk to the millions of people he spoke to, to rouse them to higher levels.

SWAMIJI: Because he was speaking through his spirit, it was thunder from the wisdom of God that he was enshrining in himself. He was not an ordinary lecturer.

Daniel: No, I understand, but I am thinking he was finding words because he was concerned that they'd be able to understand what he had to say, and rouse themselves.  In America, he spoke one way; when he came to India, he spoke a different way.

SWAMIJI: Of course he would have noticed the attitude of the audience. You cannot speak same way everywhere. In the railway station you will speak in one way, in the market place in another way, in the church in another way, and to intellectuals in Oxford University in another way. It is of course expected.

Daniel: So, I'm thinking there must be good ways of teaching. In the world today, a world that is saturated and preoccupied with…

SWAMIJI: The teacher should come to the level of the audience. He should neither be below them nor above them. The person who receives and the person who imparts the knowledge should be en rapport. A good teacher will not go above, nor will he go below; he will be on a par. He will be a friend of people. He will shake hands with the audience. Then good communication will take place between himself and the audience. Even if you know much more than the audience, you can speak only in that manner which can be received by the audience. You can galvanise it or sugarcoat it in whatever way you like.

You can teach philosophy even to a child; it is not impossible. Yes, it is not impossible. It all depends upon how you speak. Once I had an occasion in Delhi to speak to little kids, and afterwards I had to speak to some intellectuals. The intellectuals who heard my lecture said, “Swamiji, what you spoke to the children is much better than what you talked to us.”