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Dear devotees and friends,
I feel always happy to visit Manila and to meet the devotees and friends of the Philippines. This is my seventh visit and I am glad that this meeting takes place in the same venue where a year ago the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of the Philippines was officially inaugurated.
I attended this morning a ritualistic Puja with some members of the Indian community, I was also very happy to meet such Indian devotees and friends and I hope that they, to whom surely the names of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and the activities of the Ramakrishna Mission are well known, may offer their help and support to this Society in the Philippines so that it may be of some real help and service to the Country of the Philippines and its people.
The theme of today's discourse may appear confusing or strange to some who believe that only one religion is true, that only Hinduism or Christianity or Islam or Buddhism is true. How then a follower of Vedanta may appreciate or even see something in common with the Sermon of the Mound?
As the founder of our Order, Sri Ramakrishna, said, we believe that "as many faiths, so many paths". So each religion is true, each religion is a true path, all roads lead to the same God. It is all H2O, but people may call it with different names: water, pani, jal, aqua or, in Filipino, tubig. The sun that rises in the Philippines is the same sun that rises in Japan, India, Europe or America. Exactly in the same way: the same sun, the same water… the same God.
Why should we fight one another?
So let us then try to see and understand from the Hindu point of view, from the Vedanta point of view, the meaning and importance of the Sermon of the Mound. Christians believe that the Sermon is the council of perfection, we followers of Vedanta also think in the same way; we also believe that the Sermon is the guidance to perfection. But I wonder some Christians may think that the ideals contained in the Sermon are very difficult if not impossible to attain. But we followers of Vedanta do not think so, we do believe that the ideals of the Sermon of the Mount can be attained and one can follow those ideals and lead a spiritual life.
There is a difference between a religious life and a spiritual life. Believing in God, going to church or visiting a temple, praying, offering flowers or lighting candles or incense, surely are indicative of a religious person, but not necessarily of a spiritual one. Unless we dive deep into religion, unless we want to establish a deep relationship with God, unless we want to know what is our real nature, unless we want to know what is the real nature of God and of this world, what is death, what is birth, what is suffering; unless we want to try and solve those problems and appreciate the philosophy behind the religion, we cannot become a spiritual person. And unless we become a spiritual person we cannot get real joy, peace and wisdom.
Being just religious we pray God for something and we feel happy if God fulfills our payer or unhappy if God does not, and God does not always fulfill our payers. We pray for solving a problem, but right after that another problem is coming up, like the waves of the ocean. Unless we learn how to maintain our peace of mind despite all the problems, troubles and tribulations of life, we shall never attain peace and joy. To attain peace and joy our mind must be "established in wisdom", as Bhagavat Gita says.
We must achieve steady wisdom, wisdom not subject to the influence of the difficulties of life.
Now, we do believe that by understanding the Sermon of the Mount we can achieve that wisdom. By practicing the teachings of Jesus of the Sermon of the Mount, we can attain eternal life, peace and joy and realize the truth.
Let me recall here that Sri Ramakrishna and the Ramakrishna Order have a long and deep relationship with Christianity. Sri Ramakrishna, the prophet of harmony of religions, practiced different faiths, including Christianity, Islam and different schools of Hinduism, including Vedanta.
After listening to readings from the Bible for three days he had a living and effulgent vision of Mother Mary with the Child. He also had a vision of a Christian church where devotees were burning incense and lighting candles.
He remained for three days under the spell of that wonderful spiritual experience. And on the fourth day, while he walked in the grove of the temple where he performed his spiritual practice in Dakshineswar, near Kolkata, he had a vision of a person of serene appearance approaching him with his eyes fixed on him. Sri Ramakrishna felt deep in his heart that such person was Jesus, the embodiment of love, who poured his blood for the redemption of mankind.
Jesus embraced Sri Ramakrishna and merged into him. And Sri Ramakrishna went into Samadhi (state of ecstatic communion with God). Since then he was convinced of the divinity of Jesus and he would tell that freely to his devotees. There are some scholars and historians that are not convinced about the historicity and divinity of Jesus, but that is not the case of us followers of Vedanta and of Sri Ramakrishna, who believe in both the historicity and divinity of Jesus as Sri Ramakrishna , the God-man, authenticated it.
After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna nine of his young disciples one night decided to light a sacred fire and make a vow to renounce the world and to become monks for the redemption of mankind. They later on realized with happiness that such night happened to be Christmas Eve, what a wonderful coincidence!
Since then in all Ramakrishna Missions, including our Society in Japan, we celebrate Christmas Eve with a ritual Puja, readings from the Bible, Christmas carols and discourses to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
So please understand that the topic of this discourse was not chosen because most of the audience here has a Christian background, but because we do appreciate and draw real inspiration from the teachings of Jesus. As the Sermon is pretty long, today I would rather concentrate on the Beatitudes portion of the Sermon
(Matthew 5: 1-12).
Jesus did not deliver his Sermon in front of the crowd, which had gathered to listen to him, but led his close disciples on the top of a hill and rendered his Sermon only for them Why?
Because not all were ready to listen to his teaching of renunciation. Also in the case of Sri Ramakrishna, who used to teach freely in front of householder devotees, he closed the door of his room and discussed only with his young, close disciples very high principles concerning renunciation. That is because for the householders there is a different path from the one of those who embrace a monastic life. Not that there was anything secret about his teachings to his disciples, who would later become monks.
But that fact is that there are different paths suitable for different persons. Particularly for the householders there is Pravittimarga, the path of enjoyment with discrimination (mind you: not indiscriminate enjoyment), where a devotee practices inner renunciation even when living an outwardly normal life. For the monks the path is that of Nivrittimarga, or total renunciation of the world, both inner and outer. So Jesus and Sri Ramakrishna made sure that they taught privately the principles of high renunciation to their close disciples as to avoid creating confusion to the householders.
In the case of the Sermon of the Mount Jesus was aware that he was teaching to disciples who would become teachers themselves and would teach to the humanity: they needed to be prepared for that.
So the first beatitude is: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom oh heaven. Who are those poor in spirit?
They are those who are aware of their limitations and imperfections and strive to become perfect. False perception about ourselves and an inflated ego are not good for spiritual life as they impede our learning from a spiritual teacher. Listen to this story. A Japanese Samurai went to a Zen Buddhist master in order to learn something.
The master saw the Samurai standing full of pride and invited him to have a cup of tea. He then started pouring the tea from the pot but did not stop when the cup was full and the tea overflowed and spilled and had wet the carpet. The Samurai wondered: "What kind of teacher this is, he does not even know how to do a simple thing like pouring tea." Nonetheless he asked the master to teach him.
At this the master said: I already started teaching you: "In the same way as a cup overflows when it is already full, in such way a pupil with an inflated ego has no space left to receive his master's teaching." Similarly, someone should not teach unless he had achieved real learning and development himself. Think of the consequences, as a Sanskrit saying puts it, of a blind guiding another blind! In that sense Jesus talked about being poor in spirit. It is those who know that they are spiritually poor that can really learn and progress.
The second beatitude is: Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. What kind of mourning does Jesus mean here? Sri Ramakrishna used to say that many people bitterly cry and mourn for worldly things such as money, family, etc., but very few cry for God.
Some of you may know that he rubbed his face against the sand on the bank of the Ganges crying and despairing for God: "O Divine Mother, another day has passed and You still did not reveal Yourself to me, another day has passed in vain! I could not get the vision of You."
Why do we not have such a longing for God?
Because we value secular, temporal things, more. We should consider that all the pleasures in life are temporary. Also, if we try to satisfy our desire for enjoyment the result is that such desire will grow more and more. Listen to the Mahabharata's ( one of the Indian epics ) story of that king that had had a lot of enjoyment in his life but still craved for more.
Having reached old age he then asked his sons to exchange their youth for his old age so that he could continue satisfying his hunger for enjoyment. One of the sons accepted such exchange and the king was then able to enjoy himself for many more years.
But finally he only found out that his desire for enjoyment was not fulfilled by enjoyment itself, it grew more and more, in the same way as by throwing fuel on a fire the fire will not be extinguished but it will actually grow.
That is why, yes, we should love our family and worldly relations, but we should know that such relationships are only for this life, whereas the relationship with God is eternal. We should always remember this fundamental truth. So by mourning, by crying for God, we shall be comforted by the vision of God.
The third beatitude says: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth People generally believe that in order to survive and to prosper in life one must be demanding, assertive, aggressive. They also believe that being humble is a weakness. On the contrary it is real humility and lack of ego that are effective in spiritual life; humility is a sign of progress and not aggressiveness. In the Mahabharata again it is said: "The gentle conquers the gentle, the gentle conquers the hard, there is nothing that gentleness cannot gain. Gentleness is the most powerful, penetrating thing."
The Chinese mystic Lao-Tzu said that among the soft and weak things of the world, none is softer than water. But nothing also equals water in overcoming that which is strong and firm. What is soft conquers the hard; rigidity and hardness are companions of death. Softness and tenderness are companions of life. Swami Turiyananda, a monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna said that we should not be like iron, stiff and subject to breaking, but rather like steel, strong and still flexible. Life is a process of continuous adjustment, humble people can manage that, becoming successful and getting peace.
Sri Ramakrishna mentioned that he was able to help anyone, including so-called sinners and persons who deviated from the spiritual path, but was not able to help egotistic persons. God is inside us. Why cannot we see Him? Because of the ego. The more we eliminate the ego, the more we can have the vision of God. Ego is the biggest problem, the greatest obstacle that we have if we want to progress in spiritual life.
The fourth beatitude is: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled What is the righteousness Jesus refers to? Does it mean it leading an ordinary ethical life? Although a moral, ethical life is a basic condition in order to develop a spiritual life, leading a moral life does not necessarily mean leading also a spiritual life, as one may live a moral life without longing for God. The righteousness mentioned here by Jesus is not ordinary righteousness; here it means a desire for the highest spiritual life, freedom from ignorance; desire for being united with God.
Sri Ramakrishna used to say that children play with toys, but every now and then they feel the strong urge to be united with their mother and start crying after her. When we have such an intense longing for God, then He will come. There is a story of a disciple asking his guru: "How can I realize God?" "Come," said the teacher "I will show you".
He took the disciple to a lake and suddenly pressed the head of the disciple under the water. After a short while he released the disciple and asked him: "How did you feel?" "Oh, I was dying for a breath of air" answered the disciple. "When you have the same feeling about God, then you will have His vision soon" was the guru's explanation.
The fifth beatitude says: Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy Mercy is another very important concept. The life of Jesus was a life of mercy. Throughout his life there were innumerable examples of his mercy.
Even in his final moments on the cross he was merciful and prayed for those who were crucifying him:" Father please forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." We expect mercy from others: our parents, our teachers, our boss; but do we have mercy for others? Sometimes we criticize our superiors and forget to consider what our inferiors may think of us. Before we criticize others we should be careful of what others may be blaming on us, and if we want mercy from others for our wrong deeds, we should also be prepared to grant it to others for theirs.
Look at what Prophets and Scriptures of different philosophies say about mercy, which is possible and becomes natural when we identify ourselves with others:
Confucius: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."
Buddha: "Harm not others, with that which pains yourself."
Zoroaster: "Do not do onto others all which is not well for yourself."
Mahabharata: "Do not to others which, if done to you, would cause you pain."
Judaism: "What is painful to yourself, do not do to your fellow men."
Christ: "Whatever you would that men should do to you, you do so to them."
So you can see that all indicate that we should be merciful.
The sixth beatitude is: Blessed are the pure in heart for the shall be called the sons of God Purity is another important concept. Unless we are pure in heart we cannot see God. It is not enough to pray, go to church or to a temple, make an offer, chant. No, the most important thing is to become perfect.
According to Hinduism there are six impurities: lust, anger, greed, delusion, vanity, jealousy.
We should try to purify our heart through discrimination, intense prayer, repetition of God's name. An interesting aspect of Hinduism and Vedanta is that we believe that we have many lives, that we inherit some mental deep inclinations from previous lives which are called samskara: by thinking or doing repeatedly good things we generate good impressions on our mind which we carry into our next lives. Conversely we generate bad samskara by thinking or doing repeatedly bad things. And a good samskara will protect us from sin into our next lives, as Swami Vivekananda used to say, even despite of ourselves.
So when we are born in this life we inherit some good samskara and some bad samskara. If we want to lead a spiritual life our challenge will be to grow good samskara and eliminate bad samskara. Hinduism also believes in the doctrine of Karma, which means both thoughts and actions. The Hindu doctrine says that in this life you will either suffer or enjoy as a result of what you have done in your previous lives. Is Hinduism fatalist? Is there not a way out of the law of Karma?
That is not the case. By meditating on God, by praying, by repeating God's name and by discriminating about what is good and what is bad we can definitely improve our samskara, we can definitely purify ourselves: that is the challenge in spiritual life. And until and unless we purify our mind and heart we cannot enter in the kingdom of God. So Jesus said: "Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect." So do not be satisfied just with the day to day life, with just going to church or the temple and pray, but dive deep into spiritual life aiming at the highest prize: purity.
The sun is there but sometimes we cannot see it because of the clouds: the clouds are like impurities. Swami Vivekananda used to say that if you want to see something valuable resting at the bottom of a lake you should make sure that the water remains steady and clean. That is what is called purification oh heart. By purifying our heart we can see what is really valuable there: God.
God is very much with us, inside us. Why cannot we see Him? Because of the impurity of our heart. Patanjali used to advise: approach the problem in a positive way. Counter jealousy with love; counter bad thoughts with good thoughts. This is a very practical suggestion, not an abstract one. Again, if you find faults in others try to see the good qualities of the person of whom you do not like.
In spiritual life both attachment and aversion are obstacles, try to overcome both.
I shall now discuss the eighth beatitude and shall conclude later with the seventh; the eighth beatitude reads:
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs if the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
How true this was! Jesus foresaw what was going to happen in the life of the Apostles, how much they would suffer for their faith and the propagation of his teachings.
Also Sri Ramakrishna was regarded by some of his neighbors as madman because of his longing for God.
When the future Swami Vijnanananda as a young man visited Sri Ramakrishna, his mother used to scold him for visiting "that crazy man". Now we worship Sri Ramakrishna as an incarnation of God, but what happened in his time, in his place!
As the saying has it: "The prophets are not honored in their own place".
So Jesus asks us to be ready to face criticism because of the special kind of life we are leading.
We are subject to be criticized and ridiculed, but should not be bothered by that. We should try to face it knowing that, as Jesus said, we shall receive our reward.
The seventh beatitude is: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. According to Hindu tradition the person in whose heart God dwells brings peace and delight everywhere such person goes. Such a person can really bring peace to the life of others.
I believe most of you know the famous, wonderful prayer of
"Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred: may be peace and love;
Where there is injury: pardon;
Where there is doubt: faith;
Where there is despair: hope;
Where there is darkness: light;
Where there is sadness: joy.
O divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much
Seek to be consoled:
As to console;
To be understood:
As to understand;
To be loved:
As to love.
For it is in giving
That we receive;
You see? It is in giving that we receive, but do not give with the expectation that you will finally receive. We should give without expecting any returns, otherwise it would be like bargaining with the Lord. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self That we are born to eternal life What does "dying to self" mean?
By not submitting to the desires of our lower self we "kill the lower self", that is the "dying to self". What a wonderful prayer for harmony! Now I would like to tell you a story about harmony which I read in a book; it is a story I like so much that I want to share it with you: When Brother Bruno, a Christian, was praying during the night, he was disturbed by the crooking of a bullfrog. So he shouted from his window: "Quiet, I am praying!"
As Brother Bruno was a saint, his command was instantly obeyed. Every living creature held its voice as to bring silence and allow Brother Bruno to pray. But now another sound intruded into Bruno's worship. It was an inner voice saying:" Maybe God is as pleased with the crooking of the frogs as He is with your praying."
Bruno retorted scornfully to the inner voice:" What is there in the crook of a frog that can please God?" But the inner voice refused to give up and said: "Why do you think God invented the sound of the frogs? Is that without a meaning?" Bruno decided to find out why; he leaned out of the window and shouted: "Sing!" The bullfrog resumed its crooking together with all the frogs in the vicinity.
And Bruno discovered that the sound had ceased to disturb him, as he had stopped to resist it, and the crooking actually enriched the silence of the night. Then he was able to pray with more intensity. With that discovery Bruno became harmonious with the universe, and for the first time he really understood the meaning of praying. This is how we can establish harmony: by sacrificing, by subduing our ego, by understanding that behind everything there is God.