[Issue #9, Winter 2002-3]
Vivekananda: Lessons In Classical Yoga
Compiled and Edited by Dave DeLuca
Namaste Books 2002
Reviewed by Dana De Zoysa
Swami Vivekananda is relatively obscure today, yet he was one of the great
spiritual figures India bequeathed to the modern era. He was one of the
first to introduce the ancient treasures of Indian philosophy and Classical
Yoga to the world outside of India -- treasures that are commonplaces today
but sensational when Swami Vivekananda first introduced them at the world's
first Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. A shy, almost inconspicuous
persona all through the conference, when it was his turn to speak, his message
was a sensation. He quite literally made national headlines in the mainstream
media of the day. (For a stirring account of this event, see www.namastebooks.com.)
Over the next decade his international standing rose until he was reckoned
one of the great religious teachers of the day. Those who were present at
his lectures said in news reports and their later memoirs that his spiritual
puissance was unforgettable. One of those rare speakers on spiritual matters
whose oratory is matched by wisdom, he became a mahattaya, a great personage,
in the then-colonial Parliament of his homeland. To the hearts and the minds
of his Western followers, his message confirmed the stature of India as
spiritual sourcebook to the world.
After the Parliament of Religions, he passed more than four years traveling
throughout the United States, teaching to all who would listen the spiritual
philosophies and practices of India. In this he was a pioneer, the first
missionary of the wisdom of Yoga to the West. Some have said that he inspired
the renaissance -- the resurgence -- of Indian philosophy in the West. The
eloquence of his message was an antidote to Western underappreciation of
the depths and subtleties of Indian religiosity. His message was simple:
India's was a nobler legacy of thought than the image of it painted by missionaries
whose vested interest lay in keeping up the fiction that the Indian mind
knew only superstition, idol worship, and heathen ritual.
All this in itself would have been inspiring, but he was more than a popularizer,
a silvertongue who could move minds with words. Any pulpit-pounder can do
that. Far greater was Vivekananda's introduction of the Vedanta philosophy
of the Upanishads, and in this is his enduring legacy to us today.
It is useful to step back for a moment to understand why the Upanishads
are such an important part of Vivekananda's -- and through him India's --
The term Upanishad means literally "those who sit near," and indeed
the word is generally used in the context of disciples listening closely
to the doctrines of a guru or spiritual teacher. The most famous Upanishads
verse distills one of the great preoccupations underlying all Indian religiosity:
From the unreal lead me to the real.
From darkness lead me to light.
From death lead me to immortality.
Where, in what we cannot see or know, is the state called "real"?
In this delusional, tricky, world whose only guarantee is mortality, where
in it can be found a permanent, ineffable, incontrovertible truth?
The message of the Upanishads is that truth is not a state, it is a becoming.
After all, even an utterly empty void really is made of everything, for
Voidness comprises the infinite potential to be something. In the Upanishads,
Truth is the becoming aware that our spiritual essence, our soul (atman),
is at one with all things -- a Oneness which was, and is, created by Brahman.
Although Brahman can be thought of as "God" the Western three-lettered
deity is far too human to be anything but a hyperglorified mortal. Brahman
is The Creator, and given what we know today about the vast complexity of
existence, from the particle to the universe and the picosecond to eternity,
cell to plasm to three billion years of life, Brahman, the All, is a far
more appropriate concept than any human self-myth done up with a face and
beard. By knowing the One that is our atman, we know the One that is Brahman.
To sum it up into Hinduism's primal concept: atman is Brahman. We are the
One and the One is us. I am not a me, I am a we.
To Vivekananda, the Upanishads contained the most beautiful and poetic proclamations
of Oneness ever offered to humanity. His life mission was to convey his
realization to others. The path by which he did it was clearly and eloquently
explaining the Classical Yoga pathways which lead to self-realization --
pathways that are taught in the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. Vivekananda
in essence opened a treasure chest of the spiritual jewels to the world,
giving them freely in words the world would understand.
This was a gigantic gift, and it was quickly understood as such. As the
historian R. C. Majumdar explains:
Vivekananda championed the cause of Hinduism in the Parliament
of Religions held at Chicago in 1893. There, in the presence of the representatives
of all the religions from almost all the countries in the world, the young
monk from India expounded the principles of Vedanta and the greatness of
Hinduism with such persuasive eloquence that from the very first he captivated
the hearts of the vast audience. It would be hardly an exaggeration to say
that Swami Vivekananda made a place for Hinduism in the cultural map of
the modern world. The civilized nations of the West had hitherto looked
down upon Hinduism as a bundle of superstitions. Now, for the first time,
they not only greeted with hearty approval the lofty principles of Hinduism
as expounded by Vivekananda, but accorded it a very high place in the cultures
and civilizations of the world.
To that another renowned guru named Swami Siddhinathananda added:
Vivekananda's writings are a modern commentary on the Upanishads
in English. What Sri Shankara did a thousand years ago through his Sanskrit
commentaries, Swami Vivekananda did in modern times through English in propagating
the eternal values of our spiritual lore. His words are live and direct;
you feel you are hearing him straight and not simply reading his words.
They are music to the soul. They go home straight. His writings and lectures
form his greatest monument and the priceless treasure of his legacy. They
are the Gospel of the future. Swami Vivekananda's works will be considered
one of the greatest contributions of India to the world at large.
One of the devotees who knew Vivekananda personally summed up his feelings
His Divine presence spread peace and tranquillity wherever
he went. None knew him but to love him. No being lived so low, be he a man
or a beast, that Vivekananda would not salute. His was not only an appeal
to the poor and lowly, but also to kings and princes and mighty rulers of
the earth. Vivekananda shook the world of thought in all its higher lines.
Great teachers bowed reverently at his feet, the humble followed reverently
to kiss the hem of his garments; no other single human being was revered
more during his life, than was Vivekananda.
Many similar paeans are quoted in Dave DeLuca's book, but to recite them
one after another here would quickly become tedious. What is more important
is why anyone with an interest in Indian spirituality should buy this book.
Until Mr. DeLuca came along, Swami Vivekananda had all but slipped off into
history's footnotes. Who, after all, reads the proceedings of the 1893 Parliament
of Religions in Chicago? So many events have transpired over the 100 years
that not only is his memory obscured, but so is the impact he had on the
world of his day. Indeed, had the world listened to him more, perhaps the
litany of subsequent events wouldn't be so lachrymose -- two world wars
and an uncountable number of lesser ones, at least four attempts at genocide,
economic and spiritual depressions, material gluttony and spiritual poverty;
new and new-age religions and movements, some pertinent, others frivolous.
It is no surprise Vivekananda all but disappeared, that his gift of the
Yogic way survived more as arcana on the intellectual table than the feast
for the soul that Yoga really is.
And so, this great Yoga master, still celebrated in India as one of its
brightest spiritual lights, had become a flake on the sand of the Western
tide. In a phrase: neglected out of existence.
The neglect is over. Mr. DeLuca's enthusiastic and inspired edition of the
Swami's writings has been thoughtfully compiled and edited with a kind of
popularist rigor. The result is that Vivekananda: Lessons in Classical
Yoga is one of the finest books on scriptural yoga available anywhere
Mr. DeLuca sifted Vivekananda's key teachings out of the massive corpus
of writings and lectures on Classical Yoga preserved in his nine-volume
Complete Works. Mr. DeLuca then refined them into 108 really quite
personable 1- to 4-page selections. Each is presented in such a way that
it can stand on its own. As a merger of spiritual education, wisdom, and
guidance, the 108 readings resemble the works of the Hazelden Foundation,
though without the goal of recovery of some kind. Mr. DeLuca's approach
is not about recovery, it is about discovery.
In grand scheme, the book is sectioned into six parts, starting with Swami
Vivekananda's exposition of the Vedanta concept of Oneness -- the core message
of the Upanishads from which authentic Yoga is derived.
Part Two presents the Swami's teachings on the four Classical Yoga pathways
as taught in the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The remaining four parts are devoted to Vivekananda's teachings on each
of the Classical Yogas: Jnana Yoga, the pathway to Oneness through the Intellect;
Karma Yoga, the pathway to Oneness through selfless service; Bhakti Yoga,
the pathway to Oneness through love of a Personal God; and Raja Yoga, the
pathway to Oneness through the control of mind.
The writings contained in this package are inspirational and universal.
But more, they are practical (that rare quality in the doctrinal document)
and can be used by anyone for personal spiritual grounding in today's chaotic
world. These writings demonstrate why millions of people throughout the
world believe Vivekananda to be one of the greatest Yogis and Yoga teachers
who ever lived.
One has to admire that even a short-list of his students -- especially in
light of their later accomplishments -- attests to Vivekananda's lofty level
of authority. They include Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Leo Tolstoy, William
James, Jawaharlal Nehru, and many others. Gandhi himself proclaimed, "I
have gone through his works very thoroughly, and after having gone through
them, the love that I had for my country became a thousand-fold."
William James, author of the classic The Varieties of Religious Experience,
felt sufficiently moved to venture beyond his usual reserve to state, "The
paragon of all Unity systems is the Vedanta philosophy of India, and the
paragon of Vedantist missionaries was the late Swami Vivekananda who visited
our land some years ago -- the Swami is an honor to humanity." Jawaharlal
Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, extolled, "Where can you
find a man like him? Study what he wrote, and learn from his teachings,
for if you do, you will gain immense strength. Take advantage of the fountain
of wisdom, of Spirit, and of fire that flowed through Vivekananda!"
Sri Aurobindo, unquestionably one of India's great sages of the last five
centuries, commented on the pioneering work of Vivekananda's ministry this
The going forth of Vivekananda as the heroic soul destined
to take the world between his two hands and change it was the first visible
sign that India was awake -- He was a power if ever there was one, a very
lion among men. We perceive his influence still working gigantically in
something grand, intuitive, upheaving -- and we say, "Behold, Vivekananda
still lives in the soul of his Mother and her children." [In this context,
"Mother" means "Mother India" and "her children"
are all Hindus.]
Many more such expressions of reverence and gratitude pepper Mr. DeLuca's
book. As neglected as Swami Vivekananda had become a century after his death,
the neglect has now been made good. Prior to Mr. DeLuca's book, Vivekananda's
works were available only in collected lectures comprised of many lessons
each, or in out-of-context paragraphs extracted from different writings
and rearranged according to topic. The collected-lecture approach did not
elevate each teaching to a limelight of its own, and the cut-and-paste approach
deprived the reader of the Swami's two most gifted talents: lofty elocution
and vivid craftwork of meaning.
Each selection is a clear, focused guidance, as lively as if he is there
with us, spirit to spirit, illuminating us, exhorting us to spiritual action.
We come away with a much clearer synthesis of the most important Vedanta
concepts -- Oneness, yoga, meditation, karma, maya, rebirth, and many other
practices of Indian philosophy. For the first time in any compilation of
Swami Vivekananda's works, Mr. DeLuca has included the vivid account of
Swami's 1893 appearance at the world Parliament of Religions, along with
a biography of Vivekananda's life. The sum total of these make this book
an unrivaled commentary on Yoga philosophy and practice; spiritual nourishment
is here, enough to last a lifetime.
What's to say about a package such as this, aside from the obligation to
not throw on the afterburner of adjectives? Simply put, the combination
of Vivekananda's sublime wisdom and DeLuca's inspired presentation makes
Vivekananda: Lessons In Classical Yoga an unrivaled commentary on
scriptural Yoga philosophy and practice. No library of Yoga study will be
complete without the revered teachings of Swami Vivekananda, and no edition
brings them to us more beautifully. If you are thinking of buying a book
on authentic Yoga, make it this one.
Lessons In Classical Yoga from Amazon.com
Dana De Zoysa has lived for many years throughout Asia, including the Philippines,
Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and India. He has also lived in Holland and France,
and traveled throughout Europe and Northern Africa. He has published numerous
books, articles and reviews on Asia-related and developing-country topics.
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