This article, by Swami Tyagananda, originally was a talk given at a panel discussion organized at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, in June 2003.
I would like to focus on two issues: first, facing life’s challenges with courage; and second, negotiating the boundaries based on nationality, religion, politics, and race. The two issues are related but need to be examined separately. More specifically, I wish to offer a few insights gathered from Vivekananda’s teachings as possible pointers towards addressing these two issues.
The Utility of Interpretations
That’s the whole point—isn’t it?—of why interpretations are offered and why they are studied. It’s not so much a matter of agreeing or not agreeing with, or accepting or rejecting, any interpretation. That’s secondary. What is primary is the question: does this interpretation help me go closer to the truth, or the inner essence, of the person or the idea that is being interpreted.
Among the earliest in this class of interpretations is Max Muller’s Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings, first published in the year 1899. As a strong believer in the scientific study of religion, Muller believed that a comparative study would uncover hidden religious truths and was adamant that Christianity should be subjected to the same method of study as were employed in the study of other religions.
In Vedanta itself it is possible to view the world in at least five distinct ways: as a cosmic sacrifice (yajna), as a cosmic play (lila), as cosmic union (yoga), as a cosmic person (virat), and as a cosmic mystery (maya). There is also immense diversity in how one’s own self is understood and, of course, how the Being that lies beyond the world and the self—often expressed in English through the overused but handy word “God”—is understood.
The Bengali phrase achine gach refers to a tree that cannot be recognized or identified, a tree that is a puzzle. The more we try to figure out what tree it is, the more confused we get and the more perplexed we become. Hence it is “the tree without a name,” a mysterious tree which is seen and yet not really seen. Its existence is known but not much else. After all, what is generally recognized as “knowledge” is nothing but cataloging and assigning of names to events, things or persons and investigating their interrelationships.