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Contemporary Classics in Vedanta




Vedanta Online

This issue features "Universal Values for the World Conscience" by Shelley Brown

Vedanta Glossary
of Sanskrit and Bengali words, with guide to English pronunciation


The following article was featured in the September-October 2002 issue of VEDANTA, published by the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre, U.K. Dr. Brown lives in New York City and has been a Vedantist since 1953; she is the author of CENTRED IN TRUTH; The Story of Swami Nitya-swarup-ananda. These are her reflections on the World Trade Center tragedy.


Shelley Brown, M.D.

Since September 11, we have been living in a tinderbox of anger and confusion, anxiety and grief. Our world is much less certain these days, despite a better sense of ourselves and of those around us as capable of profound empathy and selfless deeds. We are discovering our common humanity. We are learning that everything, bad or good, has a ripple effect on our general well-being. It is at such moments that we turn to the wise, the beneficent, and the compassionate-the true well-wishers of mankind. We listen in gratitude to the peace-loving religious leaders of the world, and offer our prayers to the legion of good-hearted workers everywhere who labor in the cause of dignity and freedom. We share our stories of those who have inspired us, and who have given us hope

I was privileged to know one such benefactor of humanity, the late Swami Nitya-swarup-ananda-a legendary monk of the Ramakrishna Order. He spent a lifetime in conversation with top scientists and scholars, striving tirelessly to bring the timeless wisdom of Vedanta into the mainstream of global thought and endeavor; in the process, he inspired scholars, artists, and public figures worldwide with his scheme to promote a truly humane world civilization. The new global citizen, he said in essence, must be culturally and scientifically aware while at the same time perceiving the spiritual unity underlying all aspects of human life.

Swami Nitya-swarup-ananda was himself a global citizen, and another was his friend, the English historian Dr. Arnold Toynbee. "At this supremely dangerous moment in human history," Dr. Toynbee wrote in 1969, "the only way of salvation for mankind is an Indian way." He was pointing to the universal aspects of Indian thought that include a reverence for all life and for all religions. This teaching is right, he said, "because it flows from a true vision of spiritual reality."

This vision of spiritual reality is embodied in the Vedas, the oldest scriptures known to man; and its essence, Vedanta philosophy, has been studied in India for thousands of years. Vedanta spread in America after it was preached at the 1893 Parliament of Religions by the charismatic Swami Vivekananda. His message of universal love and the acceptance of all religions made a lasting impact at the Parliament, and later throughout the Western world.

Swami Vivekananda preached a universal religion based on Truth, and his legacy stands strong today. There are Vedanta centers, monasteries, and retreats throughout the world associated with the Ramakrishna Order that Swami Vivekananda founded in 1897, including several dozen in the United States. The numbers in this country are relatively small, but the potency of this universal teaching has not been diluted. The relevance of this ancient philosophy to the technological age came into sharp focus recently when the role of "Vedanta in the Third Millennium" was discussed at a national conference arranged by the Vedanta center in Chicago.

On the one hand, there is a natural affinity between Vedanta philosophy and modern science. Both are experimental; both demand proof. Vedanta has been called "the science of the soul" because it probes the innermost life of the human psyche, just as physics and biology probe the mysteries of the phenomenal world. It is no coincidence that the unity of matter discovered by physics echoes the unity of spirit that the ancient sages discovered eons ago.

On the other hand, Vedanta is way ahead of modern science when it comes to the universal wisdom that is needed to temper technology's tremendous power. Wondrous scientific advances have far outstripped mankind's moral capacity to cope with the misuse of science for selfish ends or its hazardous by-products. Thus, ease of communication and travel coexist with the empowerment of brutal individuals to do unprecedented harm. New energy sources coexist with stockpiles of hazardous nuclear waste. Medical miracles coexist with serious ethical dilemmas.

These and other global problems should come under the scrutiny of a moral power that is equal to the world's technological power-and in a form that is widely acceptable to diverse dogmas and creeds. Vedanta is rooted in the perennial spiritual principles that have been realized by the sages and saints of every major faith-tradition, so there is a common bond at the mystic core. In Vedanta, there is no proselytizing and no need for conversion-only a spiritual deepening within one's own faith-tradition and a heart-expanding awareness of the human community as a whole.

On an individual level, many people are experiencing a crisis of faith: "What sort of God would permit this slaughter of innocents?" In this respect, too, Vedanta offers the comfort of a universal viewpoint in that it holds God blameless. From a transcendental perspective, God is uncontaminated by the duality of the phenomenal world. Good and evil are a matter of human choice, and we reap the consequences of human actions. In times of crisis, good thoughts and actions-the stepping-stones to our enlightenment-are not so easy to come by and must be consciously sought.

Vedanta is a pragmatic philosophy that stresses the need for individual spiritual discipline, such as self-reflection and meditation, in order to balance the head and the heart and to make us more thoughtful, more loving, more giving, and more expansive-in every way more expressive of the divinity within. We may not be able to change the world, but, as the Bhagavad Gita urges, we can treat ourselves as friends rather than enemies, and lift ourselves up from within. This positive approach is a practical tool for the clergy who are counseling the bereaved while coping with communal feelings of helplessness and rage

India's perennial wisdom, which sees every soul as divine and every religion as a path, and which focuses impartially on the science of spiritual realization, has been a wellspring for today's interfaith dialogue and exploration of pluralism. It can play an equally important-indeed a crucial-role in lending its holistic spiritual perspective to our current global crisis.


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