From Questions and Answers of Volume 5 of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
Q.—Whom can we call a Guru?
A.—He who can tell your past and future is your Guru.
Q.—How can one have Bhakti?
A.—There is Bhakti within you, only a veil of lust-and-wealth covers it, and as soon as that is removed Bhakti will manifest by itself.
Q.—What is the true meaning of the assertion that we should depend on ourselves?
A.—Here self means the eternal Self. But even dependence on the non-eternal self may lead gradually to the right goal, as the individual self is really the eternal Self under delusion.
Q.—If unity is the only reality, how could duality which is perceived by all every moment have arisen?
A.—Perception is never dual; it is only the representation of perception that involves duality. If perception were dual, the known could have existed independently of the knower, and vice versa.
Q.—How is harmonious development of character to be best effected?
A.—By association with persons whose character has been so developed.
Q.—What should be our attitude to the Vedas?
A.—The Vedas, i.e. only those portions of them which agree with reason, are to be accepted as authority. Other Shâstras, such as the Purânas etc., are only to be accepted so far as they do not go against the Vedas. All the religious thoughts that have come subsequent to the Vedas, in the world, in whatever part of it have been derived from the Vedas.
Q.—Is the division of time into four Yugas astronomical or arbitrary calculation?
A.—There is no mention of such divisions in the Vedas. They are arbitrary assumptions of Paurânika times.
Q.—Is the relation between concepts and words necessary and immutable, or accidental and conventional?
A.—The point is exceedingly debatable. It seems that there is a necessary relation, but not absolutely so, as appears from the diversity of language. There may be some subtle relation which we are not yet able to detect.
Q.—What should be the principle to be followed in working within India?
A.— First of all, men should be taught to be practical and physically strong. A dozen of such lions will conquer the world, and not millions of sheep can do so. Secondly, men should not be taught to imitate a personal ideal, however great.
Then Swamiji went on to speak of the corruptions of some of the Hindu symbols. He distinguished between the path of knowledge and the path of devotion. The former belonged properly to the Aryas, and therefore was so strict in the selection of Adhikâris (qualified aspirants), and the latter coming from the South, or non-Aryan sources, made no such distinction.
Q.—What part will the Ramakrishna Mission take in the regenerating work of India?
A.—From this Math will go out men of character who will deluge the world with spirituality. This will be followed by revivals in other lines. Thus Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas will be produced. The Shudra caste will exist no longer—their work being done by machinery. The present want of India is the Kshatriya force.
Q.—Is retrograde reincarnation from the human stage possible?
A.—Yes. Reincarnation depends on Karma. If a man accumulates Karma akin to the beastly nature, he will be drawn thereto.
In one of the question-classes (1898) Swamiji traced image-worship to Buddhistic sources. First, there was the Chaitya; second, the Stupa ; and then came the temple of Buddha. Along with it arose the temples of the Hindu deities.
Q.—Does the Kundalini really exist in the physical body?
A.—Shri Ramakrishna used to say that the so celled lotuses of the Yogi do not really exist in the human body, but that they are created within oneself by Yoga powers.
Q.—Can a man attain Mukti by image-worship?
A.—Image-worship cannot directly give Mukti; it may be an indirect cause, a help on the way. Image-worship should not be condemned, for, with many, it prepares the mind for the realisation of the Advaita which alone makes man perfect.
Q.—What should be our highest ideal of character?
Q.—How did Buddhism leave the legacy of corruption in India?
A.—The Bauddhas tried to make everyone in India a monk or a nun. We cannot expect that from every one. This led to gradual relaxation among monks and nuns. It was also caused by their imitating Tibetan and other barbarous customs in the name of religion. They went, to preach in those places and assimilated their corruptions, and then introduced them into India.
Q.—Is Mâyâ without beginning and end?
A.—Maya is eternal both ways, taken universally, ask genus; but it is non-eternal individually.
Q.—Brahman and Maya cannot be cognised simultaneously. How could the absolute reality of either be proved as arising out of the one or the other?
A.—It could be proved only by realisation. When one realises Brahman, for him Maya exists no longer, just as once the identity of the rope is found out, the illusion of the serpent comes no more.
Q.—What is Maya?
A.—There is only one thing, call it by any name—matter, or spirit. It is difficult or rather impossible to think the one independent of the other. This is Maya, or ignorance.
Q.—What is Mukti (liberation)?
A.—Mukti means entire freedom—freedom from the bondages of good and evil. A golden chain is as much a chain as an iron one. Shri Ramakrishna used to say that, to pick out one thorn which has stuck into the foot, another thorn is requisitioned, and when the thorn is taken out, both are thrown away. So the bad tendencies are to be counteracted by the good ones, but after that, the good tendencies have also to be conquered.
Q.—Can salvation (Mukti) be obtained without the grace of God?
A.—Salvation has nothing to do with God. Freedom already is.
Q.—What is the proof of the self in us not being the product of the body etc.?
A.—The “ego” like its correlative “non-ego”, is the product of the body, mind etc. The only proof of the existence of the real Self is realisation.
Q.—Who is a true Jnâni, and who is a true Bhakta?
A.—The true Jnani is he who has the deepest love within his heart and at the same time is a practical seer of Advaita in his outward relations. And the true Bhakta (lover) is he who, realising his own soul as identified with the universal Soul, and thus possessed of the true Jnana within, feels for and loves everyone. Of Jnana and Bhakti he who advocates one and denounces the other cannot be either a Jnani or a Bhakta, but he is a thief and a cheat.
Q.—Why should a man serve Ishvara?
A.—If you once admit that there is such a thing as Ishvara (God), you have numberless occasions to serve Him. Service of the Lord means, according to all the scriptural authorities, remembrance (Smarana). If you believe in the existence of God, you will be reminded of Him at every step of your life.
Q.—Is Mâyâvâda different from Advaitâvada?
A.—No. They are identical. There is absolutely no other explanation of Advaitavada except Mayavada.
Q.—How is it possible for God who is infinite to be limited in the form of a man (as an Avatâra)?
A.—It is true that God is infinite, but not in the sense in which you comprehend it. You have confounded your idea of infinity with the materialistic idea of vastness. When you say that God cannot take the form of a man, you understand that a very, very large substance or form (as if material in nature), cannot be compressed into a very, very small compass. God’s infinitude refers to the unlimitedness of a purely spiritual entity, and as such, does not suffer in the least by expressing itself in a human form.
Q.—Some say, “First of all become a Siddha (one who has realised the Truth), and then you have the right to Karma, or work for others”, while others say that one should work for others even from the beginning. How can both these views be reconciled?
A.—You are confusing one thing with the other. Karma means either service to humanity or preaching. To real preaching, no doubt, none has the right except the Siddha Purusha, i.e. one who has realised the Truth. But to service every one has the right, and not only so, but every one is under obligation to serve others, so long as he is accepting service from others.