From The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume 7- Chapter 2 – Conversations And Dialogues. Taken from the Diary of a Disciple, Shri Sharat Chandra Chakravarty, B.A.
Swamiji is now in very good health. The disciple has come to the Math on a Sunday morning. After visiting Swamiji he has come downstairs and is discussing the Vedantic scriptures with Swami Nirmalananda. At this moment Swamiji himself came downstairs and addressing the disciple, said, “What were you discussing with Nirmalananda?”
Disciple: Sir, he was saying, “The Brahman of the Vedanta is only known to you and your Swamiji. We on the contrary know that “(Sanskrit)– shri Krishna is the Lord Himself.”
Swamiji: What did you say?
Disciple: I said that the Atman is the one Truth, and that Krishna was merely a person who had realised this Atman. Swami Nirmalananda is at heart a believer in the Advaita Vedanta, but outwardly he takes up the dualistic side. His first idea seems to be to moot the personal aspect of the Ishvara and then by a gradual process of reasoning to strengthen the foundations of Vedanta.
But as soon as he calls me a “Vaishnava” I forget his real intention and begin a heated discussion with him.
Swamiji: He loves you and so enjoys the fun of teasing you. But why should you be upset by his words? You will also answer, “You, sir, are an atheist, a believer in Nihility.”
Disciple: Sir, is there any such statement in the Upanishads that Ishvara is an all – powerful Person? But people generally believe in such an Ishvara.
Swamiji: The highest principle, the Lord of all, cannot be a Person. The Jiva is an individual and the sum total of all Jivas is the Ishvara. In the Jiva, Avidya, or nescience, is predominant, but Ishvara controls Maya composed of Avidya and Vidya and independently projects this world of moving and immovable things out of Himself. But Brahman transcends both the individual and collective aspects, the Jiva and Ishvara. In Brahman there is no part. It is for the sake of easy comprehension that parts have been imagined in It. That part of Brahman in which there is the superimposition of creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe has been spoken of as Ishvara in the scriptures, while the other unchangeable portion, with reference to which there is no thought of duality, is indicated as Brahman. But do not on that account think that Brahman is a distinct and separate substance from the Jivas and the universe. The Qualified Monists hold that it is Brahman that has transformed Itself into Jivas and the universe. The Advaitins on the contrary maintain that Jivas and the universe have been merely superimposed on Brahman. But in reality there has been no modification in Brahman. The Advaitin says that the universe consists only of name and form. It endures only so long as there are name and form. When through meditation and other practices name and form are dissolved, then only the transcendent Brahman remains. Then the separate reality of Jivas and the universe is felt no longer. Then it is realised that one is the Eternal Pure Essence of Intelligence, or Brahman. The real nature of the Jiva is Brahman. When the veil of name and form vanishes through meditation etc., then that idea is simply realised. This is the substance of pure Advaita. The Vedas, the Vedanta and all other scriptures only explain this idea in different ways.
Disciple: How then is it true that Ishvara is an almighty Person?
Swamiji: Man is man in so far as he is qualified by the limiting adjunct of mind. Through the mind he has to understand and grasp everything, and therefore whatever he thinks must be limited by the mind. Hence it is the natural tendency of man to argue, from the analogy of his own personality, the personality of Ishvara (God). Man can only think of his ideal as a human being. When buffeted by sorrow in this world of disease and death he is driven to desperation and helplessness, then he seeks refuge with someone, relying on whom he may feel safe. But where is that refuge to be found? The omnipresent Atman which depends on nothing else to support It is the only Refuge. At first man does not find that. When discrimination and dispassion arise in the course of meditation and spiritual practices, he comes to know it. But in whatever way he may progress on the path of spirituality, everyone is unconsciously awakening Brahman within him. But the means may be different in different cases. Those who have faith in the Personal God have to undergo spiritual practices holding on to that idea. If there is sincerity, through that will come the awakening of the lion of Brahman within. The knowledge of Brahman is the one goal of all beings but the various ideas are the various paths to it. Although the real nature of the Jiva is Brahman, still as he has identification with the qualifying adjunct of the mind, he suffers from all sorts of doubts and difficulties, pleasure and pain. But everyone from Brahma down to a blade of grass is advancing towards the realisation of his real nature. And none can escape the round of births and deaths until he realises his identity with Brahman. Getting the human birth, when the desire for freedom becomes very strong, and along with it comes the grace of a person of realisation, then man’s desire for Self – knowledge becomes intensified. Otherwise the mind of men given to lust and greed never inclines that way. How should the desire to know Brahman arise in one who has the hankering in his mind for the pleasures of family life, for wealth and for fame? He who is prepared to renounce all, who amid the strong current of the duality of good and evil, happiness and misery, is calm, steady, balanced, and awake to his Ideal, alone endeavours to attain to Self – knowledge. He alone by the might of his own power tears asunder the net of the world. “[(Sanskrit)]– breaking the barriers of Maya, he emerges like a mighty lion.”
Disciple: Well then, is it true that without Sannyasa, there can be no knowledge of Brahman?
Swamiji: That is true, a thousand times. One must have both internal and external Sannyasa — renunciation in spirit as also formal renunciation. Shankaracharya, in commenting on the Upanishadic text, “Neither by Tapas (spiritual practice) devoid of the necessary insignia”, has said that by practising Sadhana without the external badge of Sannyasa (the Gerua – robe, the staff, Kamandalu, etc.), Brahman, which is difficult to attain, is not realised. Without dispassion for the world, without renunciation, without giving up the desire for enjoyment, absolutely nothing can be accomplished in the spiritual life. “It is not like a sweetmeat in the hands of a child which you can snatch by a trick.” 
Disciple: But, sir, in the course of spiritual practices, that renunciation may come.
Swamiji: Let those to whom it will come gradually have it that way. But why should you sit and wait for that? At once begin to dig the channel which will bring the waters of spirituality to your life. Shri Ramakrishna used to deprecate lukewarmness in spiritual attainments as, for instance, saying that religion would come gradually, and that there was no hurry for it. When one is thirsty, can one sit idle? Does he not run about for water? Because your thirst for spirituality has not come, therefore you are sitting idly. The desire for knowledge has not grown strong, therefore you are satisfied with the little pleasures of family life.
Disciple: Really I do not understand why I don’t get that idea of renouncing everything. Do make some way for that, please.
Swamiji: The end and the means are all in your hands. I can only stimulate them. You have read so many scriptures and are serving and associating with such Sadhus who have known Brahman; if even this does not bring the idea of renunciation, then your life is in vain. But it will not be altogether vain; the effects of this will manifest in some way or other in time.
The disciple was much dejected and again said to Swamiji: “Sir, I have come under your refuge, do open the path of Mukti for me — that I may realise the Truth in this body.”
Swamiji: What fear is there? Always discriminate — your body, your house, these Jivas and the world are all absolutely unreal like a dream. Always think that this body is only an inert instrument. And the self – contained Purusha within is your real nature. The adjunct of mind is His first and subtle covering, then, there is this body which is His gross, outer covering. The indivisible changeless, self – effulgent Purusha is lying hidden under these delusive veils, therefore your real nature is unknown to you. The direction of the mind which always runs after the senses has to be turned within. The mind has to be killed. The body is but gross — it dies and dissolves into the five elements. But the bundle of mental impressions, which is the mind, does not die soon. It remains for some time in seed – form and then sprouts and grows in the form of a tree — it takes on another physical body and goes the round of birth and death, until Self – knowledge arises. Therefore I say, by meditation and concentration and by the power of philosophical discrimination plunge this mind in the Ocean of Existence – knowledge – bliss Absolute. When the mind dies, all limiting adjuncts vanish and you are established in Brahman.
Disciple: Sir, it is so difficult to direct this uncontrolled mind towards Brahman.
Swamiji: Is there anything difficult for the hero? Only men of faint hearts speak so. “[(Sanskrit)]– mukti is easy of attainment only to the hero — but not to cowards.” Says the Gita (VI. 35), “[(Sanskrit)]– by renunciation and by practice is the mind brought under control, O Arjuna.” The Chitta or mind – stuff is like a transparent lake, and the waves which rise in it by the impact of sense – impressions constitute Manas or the mind. Therefore the mind consists of a succession of thought – waves. From these mental waves arises desire. Then that desire transforms itself into will and works through its gross instrument, the body. Again, as work is endless, so its fruits also are endless. Hence the mind is always being tossed by countless myriads of waves — the fruits of work. This mind has to be divested of all modifications (Vrittis) and reconverted into the transparent lake, so that there remains not a single wave of modification in it. Then will Brahman manifest Itself. The scriptures give a glimpse of this state in such passages as: “Then all the knots of the heart are cut asunder”, etc. Do you understand?
Disciple: Yes, sir, but meditation must base itself on some object?
Swamiji: You yourself will be the object of your meditation. Think and meditate that you are the omnipresent Atman. “I am neither the body, nor the mind, nor the Buddhi (determinative faculty), neither the gross nor the subtle body”– by this process of elimination, immerse your mind in the transcendent knowledge which is your real nature. Kill the mind by thus plunging it repeatedly in this. Then only you will realise the Essence of Intelligence, or be established in your real nature. Knower and known, meditator and the object meditated upon will then become one, and the cessation of all phenomenal superimpositions will follow. This is styled in the Shastras as the transcendence of the triad or relative knowledge (Triputibheda). There is no relative or conditioned knowledge in this state. When the Atman is the only knower, by what means can you possibly know It? The Atman is Knowledge, the Atman is Intelligence, the Atman is Sachchidananda. It is through the inscrutable power of Maya, which cannot be indicated as either existent or non – existent, that the relative consciousness has come upon the Jiva who is none other than Brahman. This is generally known as the conscious state. And the state in which this duality of relative existence becomes one in the pure Brahman is called in the scriptures the superconscious state and described in such words as, “[(Sanskrit)]– it is like an ocean perfectly at rest and without a name” (Vivekachudamani, 410).
Swamiji spoke these words as if from the profound depths of his realisation of Brahman.
Swamiji: All philosophy and scriptures have come from the plane of relative knowledge of subject and object. But no thought or language of the human mind can fully express the Reality which lies beyond the plane of relative Knowledge! Science, philosophy, etc. are only partial truths. So they can never be the adequate channels of expression for the transcendent Reality. Hence viewed from the transcendent standpoint, everything appears to be unreal — religious creeds, and works, I and thou, and the universe — everything is unreal! Then only it is perceived: “I am the only reality; I am the all – pervading Atman, and I am the proof of my own existence.” Where is the room for a separate proof to establish the reality of my existence? I am, as the scriptures say, “[(Sanskrit)]– always known to myself as the eternal subject” (Vivekachudamani, 409). I have seen that state, realised it. You also see and realise it and preach this truth of Brahman to all. Then only will you attain to peace.
While speaking these words, Swamiji’s face wore a serious expression and he was lost in thought. After some time he continued: “Realise in your own life this knowledge of Brahman which comprehends all theories and is the rationale of all truths, and preach it to the world. This will conduce to your own good and the good of others as well. I have told you today the essence of all truths; there is nothing higher than this.”
Disciple: Sir, now you are speaking of Jnana; but sometimes you proclaim the superiority of Bhakti, sometimes of Karma, and sometimes of Yoga. This confuses our understanding.
Swamiji: Well, the truth is this. The knowledge of Brahman is the ultimate goal — the highest destiny of man. But man cannot remain absorbed in Brahman all the time. When he comes out of it, he must have something to engage himself. At that time he should do such work as will contribute to the real well – being of people. Therefore do I urge you in the service of Jivas in a spirit of oneness. But, my son, such are the intricacies of work, that even great saints are caught in them and become attached.
Therefore work has to be done without any desire for results. This is the teaching of the Gita. But know that in the knowledge of Brahman there is no touch of any relation to work. Good works, at the most, purify the mind. Therefore has the commentator Shankara so sharply criticised the doctrine of the combination of Jnana and Karma. Some attain to the knowledge of Brahman by the means of unselfish work. This is also a means, but the end is the realisation of Brahman. Know this thoroughly that the goal of the path of discrimination and of all other modes of practice is the realisation of Brahman.
Disciple: Now, sir, please tell me about the utility of Raja – yoga and Bhakti – yoga.
Swamiji: Striving in these paths also some attain to the realisation of Brahman. The path of Bhakti or devotion of God is a slow process, but is easy of practice. In the path of Yoga there are many obstacles; perhaps the mind runs after psychic powers and thus draws you away from attaining your real nature. Only the path of Jnana is of quick fruition and the rationale of all other creeds; hence it is equally esteemed in all countries and all ages. But even in the path of discrimination there is the chance of the mind getting stuck in the interminable net of vain argumentation. Therefore along with it, meditation should be practised. By means of discrimination and meditation, the goal or Brahman has to be reached. One is sure to reach the goal by practising in this way. This, in my opinion, is the easy path ensuring quick success.
Disciple: Now please tell me something about the doctrine of Incarnation of God.
Swamiji: You want to master everything in a day, it seems!
Disciple: Sir, if the doubts and difficulties of the mind be solved in one day, then I shall not have to trouble you time and again.
Swamiji: Those by whose grace the knowledge of Atman, which is extolled so much in the scriptures, is attained in a minute are the moving Tirthas (seats of holiness)– the Incarnations. From their very birth they are knowers of Brahman, and between Brahman and the knower of Brahman there is not the least difference. “[(Sanskrit)]– he who knows the Brahman becomes the Brahman” (Mundaka, III.ii.9). The Atman cannot be known by the mind for It is Itself the Knower — this I have already said. Therefore man’s relative knowledge reached up to the Avataras — those who are always established in the Atman. The highest ideal of Ishvara which the human mind can grasp is the Avatara. Beyond this there is no relative knowledge. Such knowers of Brahman are rarely born in the world. And very few people can understand them. They alone are the proof of the truths of the scriptures — the towers of light in the ocean of the world. By the company of such Avataras and by their grace, the darkness of the mind disappears in a trice and realisation flashes immediately in the heart. Why or by what process it comes cannot be ascertained. But it does come. I have seen it happen like that. Shri Krishna spoke the Gita, establishing Himself in the Atman. Those passages of the Gita where He speaks with the word “I”, invariably indicate the Atman: “Take refuge in Me alone” means, “Be established in the Atman”. This knowledge of the Atman is the highest aim of the Gita. The references to Yoga etc. are but incidental to this realisation of the Atman. Those who have not this knowledge of the Atman are “suicides”. “They kill themselves by the clinging to the unreal”; they lose their life in the noose of sense – pleasures. You are also men, and can’t you ignore this trash of sensual enjoyment that won’t last for two days? Should you also swell the ranks of those who are born and die in utter ignorance? Accept the “beneficial” and discard the “pleasant”. Speak of this Atman to all, even to the lowest. By continued speaking your own intelligence also will clear up. And always repeat the great Mantras –“[(Sanskrit)]– thou art That”, “[(Sanskrit)]– I am That”, “[(Sanskrit)]– all this is verily Brahman”– and have the courage of a lion in the heart. What is there to fear? Fear is death — fear is the greatest sin. The human soul, represented by Arjuna, was touched with fear. Therefore Bhagavan Shri Krishna, established in the Atman, spoke to him the teachings of the Gita. Still his fear would not leave him. Later, when Arjuna saw the Universal Form of the Lord, and became established in the Atman, then with all bondages of Karma burnt by the fire of knowledge, he fought the battle.
Disciple: Sir, can a man do work even after realisation?
Swamiji: After realisation, what is ordinarily called work does not persist. It changes its character. The work which the Jnani does only conduces to the well – being of the world. Whatever a man of realisation says or does contributes to the welfare of all. We have observed Shri Ramakrishna; he was, as it were “[(Sanskrit)]– in the body, but not of it!” About the motive of the actions of such personages only this can be said: “[(Sanskrit)]– everything they do like men, simply by way of sport” (Brahma – Sutras , II.i.33).