One universal cry for freedom

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SWAMI VIVEKANANDA explores the nature of the soul and freedom, and shares his vision on how to bring about that freedom through meditation.


I am going to present to you my idea of practical religion. We hear all around us about practical religion, and analysing all that we find that it can be brought down to one concept – charity to our fellow beings. Is that all of religion?

What is the goal of life? Is this world the goal of life? Nothing more? Are we to be just what we are, nothing more? Is man to be a machine which runs smoothly without a hitch anywhere? Are all the sufferings he experiences today all he can have, and doesn’t he want anything more?

The highest dream of many religions is the world. … The vast majority of people are dreaming of the time when there will be no more disease, sickness, poverty, or misery of any kind. They will have a good time all around. Practical religion, therefore, simply means, “Clean the streets! Make it nice!” We see how all enjoy it.

Is enjoyment the goal of life? Were it so, it would be a tremendous mistake to become a man at all. What man can enjoy a meal with more gusto than a dog or cat? Go to a menagerie and see the wild animals tearing the flesh from the bone. Go back and become a bird! … What a mistake then to become a man! Vain have been my years – hundreds of years – of struggle only to become the man of sense-enjoyments. …

What is the goal of it all? Can senses ever be the goal? Can enjoyment of pleasure ever be the goal? Can this life ever be the goal of the soul? … If that is the fate of man, that he is going to be only the perfected machine, it would just mean that we go back to being trees and stones and things like that. Did you ever hear a cow tell a lie or see a tree steal? They are perfect machines. They do not make mistakes. They live in a world where everything is finished. …


What are we here for?
We are here for freedom, for knowledge.
We want to know in order to make
ourselves free. That is our life:
one universal cry for freedom.


What is the ideal of religion, then, if this cannot be practical religion? And it certainly cannot be. What are we here for? We are here for freedom, for knowledge. We want to know in order to make ourselves free. That is our life: one universal cry for freedom.

What is the reason the plant grows from the seed, overturning the ground and raising itself up to the skies? What is the offering for the earth from the sun? What is your life? The same struggle for freedom. Nature is trying all around to suppress us, and the soul wants to express itself. The struggle with nature is going on. Many things will be crushed and broken in this struggle for freedom. That is your real misery. Large masses of dust and dirt must be raised on the battlefield. Nature says, “I will conquer.” The soul says, “I must be the conqueror.” Nature says, “Wait! I will give you a little enjoyment to keep you quiet.” The soul enjoys a little, becomes deluded a moment, but the next moment it cries for freedom again. Have you marked the eternal cry going on through the ages in every breast? We are deceived by poverty. We become wealthy and are deceived with wealth. We are ignorant. We read and learn and are deceived with knowledge. No man is ever satisfied. That is the cause of misery, but it is also the cause of all blessing. That is the sure sign. How can you be satisfied with this world? … If tomorrow this world becomes heaven, we will say, “Take this away. Give us something else.”

The infinite human soul can never be satisfied but by the Infinite itself … Infinite desire can only be satisfied by infinite knowledge – nothing short of that. Worlds will come and go. What of that? The soul lives and forever expands. Worlds must come into the soul. Worlds must disappear in the soul like drops in the ocean. And this world to become the goal of the soul! If we have common sense, we cannot be satisfied, though this has been the theme of the poets in all the ages, always telling us to be satisfied. And nobody has been satisfied yet! Millions of prophets have told us, “Be satisfied with your lot”; poets sing. We have told ourselves to be quiet and satisfied, yet we are not. It is the design of the Eternal that there is nothing in this world to satisfy my soul, nothing in the heavens above, and nothing beneath. Before the desire of my soul, the stars and the worlds, upper and lower, the whole universe, is but a hateful disease, nothing but that. That is the meaning. Everything is an evil unless that is the meaning. Every desire is evil unless that is the meaning, unless you understand its true importance, its goal. All nature is crying through all the atoms for one thing – its perfect freedom.


All nature is crying
through all the atoms
for one thing – its
perfect freedom.


What is practical religion, then? To get to that state – freedom, the attainment of freedom. And this world, if it helps us on to that goal, is all right; if not, if it begins to bind one more layer on the thousands already there, it becomes an evil. Possessions, learning, beauty, everything else – as long as they help us to that goal, they are of practical value. When they have ceased helping us on to that goal of freedom, they are a positive danger. What is practical religion, then? Utilize the things of this world and the next just for one goal – the attainment of freedom. Every enjoyment, every ounce of pleasure is to be bought by the expenditure of the infinite heart and mind combined.

… You may pray all the time, read all the scriptures in the world, and worship all the gods there are, but unless you realize the soul there is no freedom. Not talking, theorising, argumentation, but realization. That I call practical religion.

This truth about the soul is first to be heard. If you have heard it, think about it. Once you have done that, meditate upon it. No more vain arguments! Satisfy yourself once that you are the infinite spirit. If that is true, it must be nonsense that you are the body. You are the Self, and that must be realized. Spirit must see itself as spirit. Now the spirit is seeing itself as body. That must stop. The moment you begin to realize that, you are released. …

The spirit must be realized, and that is practical religion. … The Kingdom of Heaven is within us. He is there. He is the soul of all souls. See Him in your own soul. That is practical religion. That is freedom. Let us ask each other how much we are advanced in that: how much we are worshippers of the body, or real believers in God, the spirit; how much we believe ourselves to be spirit. That is selfless. That is freedom. That is real worship. Realize yourself. That is all there is to do. Know yourself as you are – infinite spirit. That is practical religion. Everything else is impractical, for everything else will vanish. That alone will never vanish. It Is eternal. Hospitals will tumble down. Railroad givers will all die. This earth will be blown to pieces, suns wiped out. The soul endureth forever. …

Therefore to realize the spirit as spirit is practical religion. Everything else is good so far as it leads to this one grand idea. That realization is to be attained by renunciation, by meditation – renunciation of all the senses, cutting the knots, the chains that bind us down to matter. … What is meditation? Meditation is the power that enables us to resist all this. …

How is it to be attained? In a dozen different ways. Each temperament has its own way. But this is the general principle: get hold of the mind. The mind is like a lake, and every stone that drops into it raises waves. These waves do not let us see what we are. The full moon is reflected in the water of the lake, but the surface is so disturbed that we do not see the reflection clearly. Let it be calm. Do not let nature raise the wave. Keep quiet, and then after a little while she will give you up. Then we know what we are. God is there already, but the mind is so agitated, always running after the senses. You close the senses and yet you whirl and whirl about. Just this moment I think I am all right and I will meditate upon God, and then my mind goes to London in one minute. And if I pull it away from there, it goes to New York to think about the things I have done there in the past. These waves are to be stopped by the power of meditation. …

In the long run this power of meditation separates us from the body, and then the soul knows itself as it is – the unborn, the deathless, and birthless being. No more is there any misery, no more births upon this earth, no more evolution. The soul knows itself as having ever been perfect and free.


Excerpts from the talk, ‘The Practice of Religion’, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 4, Vedanta Society, USA


From a talk by SWAMI VIVEKANANDA


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