Straight Talk on Realization,
Learning, and the Individual by Swami Vivekananda
Excerpt from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
A man may believe in all the churches in the world, he may carry in his head
all the sacred books ever written, he may baptize himself
in all the rivers of the earth, still, if he has no perception
of God, I would class him with the rankest atheist.
And a man may have never entered a church or a mosque, nor performed any ceremony,
but if he feels God within himself and is thereby lifted above
the vanities of the world, that man is a holy man, a saint,
call him what you will.
As soon as a man stands up and says he is right or his church is right, and
all others are wrong, he is himself all wrong. He does not
know that upon the proof of all the others depends the proof
of his own. Love and charity for the whole human race, that
is the test of true religiousness. I do not mean the sentimental
statement that all men are brothers, but that one must feel
the oneness of human life.
So far as they are not exclusive, I see that the sects and creeds are all
mine; they are all grand. They are all helping men towards
the real religion. I will add, it is good to be born in a
church, but it is bad to die there. It is good to be born
a child, but bad to remain a child. Churches, ceremonies,
and symbols are good for children, but when the child is grown,
he must burst the church or himself.
We must not remain children for ever. It is like trying to
fit one coat to all sizes and growths. I do not deprecate
the existence of sects in the world. Would to God there were
twenty millions more, for the more there are, there will be
a greater field for selection. What I do object to is trying
to fit one religion to every case.
Though all religions are essentially the same, they must have the varieties
of form produced by dissimilar circumstances among different
nations. We must each have our own individual religion, individual
so far as the externals of it go.
Many years ago, I visited a great sage of our own country, a very holy man.
We talked of our revealed book, the Vedas, of your Bible,
of the Koran, and of revealed books in general. At the close
of our talk, this good man asked me to go to the table and
take up a book; it was a book which, among other things, contained
a forecast of the rainfall during the year. The sage said,
"Read that." And I read out the quantity of rain
that was to fall. He said, "Now take the book and squeeze
it." I did so and he said, "Why, my boy, not a drop
of water comes out.
Until the water comes out, it is all book, book. So until your religion makes
you realize God, it is useless. He who only studies books
for religion reminds one of the fable of the ass which carried
a heavy load of sugar on its back, but did not know the sweetness
The man at whose feet I sat all my life--and it is only a few ideas of his
that I try to teach--could [hardly] write his name at all.
All my life I have not seen another man like that, and I have
traveled all over the world. When I think of that man, I feel
like a fool, because I want to read books and he never did.
He never wanted to lick the plates after other people had
eaten. That is why he was his own book.
All my life I am repeating what Jack said and John said, and never say anything
myself. What glory is it that you know what John said twenty-five
years ago and what Jack said five years ago? Tell me what
you have to say.
Mind you, there is no value in learning. You are all mistaken in learning.
The only value of knowledge is in the strengthening, the disciplining,
of the mind. By all this eternal swallowing it is a wonder
that we are not all dyspeptics. Let us stop, and burn all
the books, and get hold of ourselves, and think.
You all talk [about] and get distracted over losing your "individuality".
You are losing it every moment of your lives by this eternal
swallowing. If any one of you believes what I teach, I will
be sorry. I will only be too glad if I can excite in you the
power of thinking for yourselves.... My ambition is to talk
to men and women, not to sheep.
By men and women, I mean individuals. You are not little babies to drag all
the filthy rags from the street and bind them up into a doll!
"This is a place for learning! That man is placed in the university!
He knows all about what Mr. Blank said!" But Mr. Bland
said nothing! If I had the choice, I would ... say to the
professor, "Get out! You are nobody!" Remember this
individualism at any cost! Think wrong if you will, no matter
whether you get truth or not. The whole point is to discipline
the mind. That truth which you swallow from others will not
be yours. You cannot teach truth from my mouth; neither can
you learn truth from my mouth. None can teach another.
You have to realize truth and work it out for yourself according to your own
nature. ... All must struggle to be individuals--strong, standing
on your own feet, thinking your own thoughts, realizing your
own Self. No use swallowing doctrines others pass on--standing
up together like soldiers in jail, sitting down together,
all eating the same food, all nodding their heads at the same
time. Variation is the sign of life. Sameness is the sign
Once I was in an Indian city, and an old man came to me. He said, "Swami,
teach me the way." I saw that that man was as dead as
this table before me. Mentally and spiritually he was really
dead. I said, "Will you do what I ask you to do? Can
you steal? Can you drink wine? Can you eat meat?"
The man [exclaimed], "What are you teaching!"
I said to him, "Did this wall ever steal? Did the wall
ever drink wine?"
Man steals, and he drinks wine, and becomes God. "I know you are not
the wall, my friend. Do something! Do something!" I saw
that if that man stole, his soul would be on the way to salvation.
How do I know that you are individuals--all saying the same thing, all standing
up and sitting down together? That is the road to death! Do
something for your souls! Do wrong if you please, but do something!
You will understand me by and by, if you do not just now.
Old age has come upon the soul, as it were. If has become
rusty. The rust must be [rubbed off], and then we go on. Now
you understand why there is evil in the world. Go home and
think of that, just to take off that rustiness!