This is what Vedanta teaches: Give up the world which you have conjectured, because your conjecture was based upon a very partial experience, upon very poor reasoning, and upon your own weaknesses. Give it up. The world we have been thinking of so long, the world we have been clinging to so long, is a false world of our own creation. Give that up. Open your eyes and see that, as such, it never existed; it was a dream, maya. What existed was the Lord Himself. It is He who is in the child, in the wife, and in the husband; it is He who is in the good and in the bad. He is in the sin and in the sinner; He is in life and in death.
A tremendous assertion indeed! Yet that is the theme which Vedanta wants to demonstrate, to teach, and to preach. This is just the opening theme. We avoid the dangers of life and its evils by seeing God in everything. Do not desire anything. What makes us miserable? The cause of all the miseries from which we suffer is desire. You desire something, and the desire is not fulfilled; the result is distress. If there is no desire, there is no suffering. But here, too, there is the danger of my being misunderstood. So it is necessary to explain what I mean by giving up desire and becoming free from all misery. The walls have no desires and they never suffer. True, but they never evolve. This chair has no desires; it never suffers; but it is always a chair. There is a glory in happiness; here is a glory in suffering. If I may say so, there is a utility in evil too. The great lesson in misery we all know. There are hundreds of things we have done in our lives which we wish we had never done, but which, at the same time, have been great teachers. As for me, I am glad I have done something good and many things bad; glad I have done something right, and glad I have committed many errors; because every one of them has been a great lesson. I, as I am now, am the resultant of all I have done, all I have thought. Every action and thought have had their effect, and these effects are the sum total of my progress.
We all understand that desires are wrong; but what is meant by giving up desires? How could life go on? It would be the same suicidal advice, killing the desire and the man too. The solution is this: not that you should not have property, not that you should not have things which are necessary and even things which are luxuries-have all that you want, and more; only know the truth about property: that it does not belong to anybody. Have no idea of proprietorship, possession. You are not anybody, nor am I anybody, nor is anyone else. All belong to the Lord. The opening verse of the Isa Upanishad tells us to cover everything with the Lord. God is in the wealth that you enjoy. He is in the desire that rises in your mind. He is in the things you buy to satisfy your desire; He is in your beautiful attire, in your beautiful ornaments. This is the line of thought. All will be metamorphosed as soon as you begin to see things in that light. If you put God in your every movement, in your conversation, in your form, in everything, the whole scene will change, and the world, instead of appearing as one of woe and misery, will become a heaven.
“The kingdom of heaven is within you,” says Jesus. So says Vedanta and every great teacher. “He that hath eyes to see, let him see, and he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Vedanta proves that the truth for which we have been searching all this time is present now and was all the time with us. In our ignorance we thought we had lost it, and went about the world crying and weeping, struggling to find the truth, while all along it was dwelling in our own hearts. There alone can we find it.
If we understand the giving up of the world in its old, crude sense, then it would come to this: that we must not work-that we must be idle, sitting like lumps of earth, neither thinking nor doing anything-but must become fatalists, driven about by every circumstance, ordered about by the laws of nature, drifting from place to place. That would be the result. But that is not what is meant. We must work. Ordinary men work, driven by false desires-what do they know of work? If a man is impelled by his impulses, desires, and senses, what does he know about work? He works who is not impelled by his own desires, by any selfishness whatsoever. He works who has no ulterior motive in view. He works who has nothing to gain from work.
Who enjoys a picture-the seller or the seer? The seller is busy with his accounts, computing what his gain will be, how much profit he will realize from the picture. His brain is full of that. He is looking at the hammer and watching the bids. He is intent on hearing how fast the bids are rising. That man is enjoying the picture who has gone there without any intention of buying or selling. He looks at the picture and enjoys it. So this whole universe is a picture, and when these desires have vanished, men will enjoy the world; then this buying and selling and these foolish ideas of possession will be ended. The money-lender gone, the buyer gone, the seller gone, this world remains a picture, a beautiful painting.
I have never read of any more beautiful conception of God than the following: “He is the Great Poet, the Ancient Poet. The whole universe is His poem, coming in verses and rhymes and rhythms, written in Infinite Bliss.” When we have given up desires, then alone shall we be able to read and enjoy this universe of God. Then everything will become deified. Nooks and corners, by-ways and shady places, which we thought dark and unholy, will all be deified. They will all reveal their true nature, and we shall smile at ourselves and think that all this weeping and crying has been but child’s play, and that we were only standing by, watching.
Excerpts from Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works