by Pravrajika Sevaprana
Editor’s Note: Pravrajika Sevaprana originally came to Vedanta under Swami Prabhavananda. She joined the convent of the Northern California Vedanta Society in San Francisco in 1976. In 2004 she went to India with the permission of Revered Swami Ranganathanandaji and served in the Sevashram in Varanasi as a sannyasini–nurse in the operation theater. There she experienced Swami Vivekananda’s ideal of worshipping God in man being given practical and genuine expression. Since returning to America in 2008, she has been a member of the Sarada Convent in Hollywood.
Everything we see in this world of apparent diversity can be looked at as Satchitananda (Being, Consciousness, Bliss) and nama-rupa (Name and Form). We get caught up in the names and forms and forget the Reality, the Oneness of everything. In and through the Self all Knowledge comes, as Swamiji tells us: “How else would you teach a practical God? Where is there a more practical God than He whom I see before me—God omnipresent in every being, for you are He, the Omipresent God and Almighty, the Soul of your souls. He is the Oneness, the unity of all.”
It is only through freedom that we see this unity, and understand its nature. “Within ourselves is this eternal voice speaking of eternal freedom; its music is eternally going on. Part of this music of the Soul has become the earth, the law, this universe, but it was always ours and always will be. In one word, the ideal of Vedanta is to know man as he really is; and this is its message: If you cannot worship your brother man, the manifested God, how can you worship a God who is unmanifested?”
Swami Vivekananda repeatedly said that Vedanta must be practical. We must be able to carry it into every part of our lives. “The ideals of religion must cover the whole field of life, they must enter into all our thoughts and more and more into practice.” When he speaks the word “practical,” he always means practical in terms of the ideal. And what does he say is the ideal? He says: “This ideal is that you are Divine, ‘Thou art that.’ This is the essence of Vedanta.”
We must always elevate the life to the ideal, not bring down the ideal to the level of our lives now. He says we must always remember that “in the Vedanta there is no attempt at reconciling the present life—the hypnotized life, this false life that we have assumed—with the ideal. This false life must go and the real life, which is always existing, must manifest itself, must shine out.”
Truth has to be made practical, to be made simple (for the highest truths are always simple), so that it may penetrate every pore of human society and become the property of the highest intellects and the commonest minds, of the man, woman, and child at the same time. Truth is a powerful thing. The Truth is that all are your own, not one or two select people. All are your own. Everyone in the whole universe becomes your own relative. As Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, said: “No one is a stranger, my child. The whole world is your very own.”
Symbols are good, but better symbols already exist than any we can invent. We may invent images through which to worship God, but a better image already exists—the living man. We may build temples in which to worship God, but a much higher one already exists—the human body. The whole universe is a temple; a man can worship anywhere. Here is the greatest of altars, the living, conscious human body, and to worship at this altar is far higher than the worship of any dead symbols. This living god can be worshipped, through service, such as providing food or medicines; intellectually, through teaching; and spiritually. Swamiji says that love is the highest worship, a love that is all embracing and universal.
One of the principles Swami Vivekananda learned from his Master was Shiva Jnane, Jiva Seva, “to serve Jiva as Shiva” or “to serve an individual as the Lord.” Since man is potentially Divine, service to man is indeed service to God. Instead of looking upon a needy person as an object of pity, he is looked upon as an object of worship. Such an attitude elevates both the giver and the recipient. In this practice it is Prema, or Love, that is emphasized, seeing the Oneness behind everything. Seeing that all is, in fact, God, we worship and love God only.
This means giving an unconditioned love as Holy Mother did, knowing full well the shortcomings of each child, but loving equally anyway. This unconditioned love is perhaps the highest, most transforming of all worship.
“I shall call you religious,” Swamiji tells us, “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. . . . He is in everything, He is everything. Every man and woman is the palpable, blissful, living God. Who says God is unknown? Everywhere He is eternally known, eternally worshipped.”