In a June 1895 letter, Swami Vivekananda wrote from Thousand Island Park in upstate New York to Mary Hale in Chicago:
The more the shades around deepen and the more the ends approach, the more one understands the true meaning of life, that it is a dream; and we begin to nderstand the failure of everyone to grasp it, for they only attempted to get meaning out of meaninglessness … Desire, ignorance, and inequality—this is the trinity of bondage. Denial of the will to live, knowledge, and samesightedness is the trinity of liberation. Freedom is the goal of the universe.
It is said in the Devi Mahatmyam that the Divine Mother’s “incomparable greatness and power Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva are unable to describe.” For mortals such as ourselves, writing about Holy Mother is equally formidable because she was so successful at keeping her real nature hidden. While Sri Sarada Devi was a manifestation of the Divine Mother, she cloaked her divinity under the veil of simplicity and humility. Just as the Divine Mother covers herself with the veil of yogamaya, so did Holy Mother keep herself literally veiled, living among us as one of us. It was not for nothing that Sri Ramakrishna once jokingly described her as “a cat hidden under the ashes.”
The claim that one is “spiritual” but not “religious” has lately become so common as to be almost unnoticed. I first noticed this trend among students on college campuses but soon discovered that it was everywhere. It is found in all age groups (but more among the young and the middle aged than the elderly) and in all places (but more in urban settings than rural) and cuts across religious, social and cultural boundaries. The claim to be “spiritual” but not “religious” looks ludicrous at first sight, as if it is possible to have a religion without any spirituality, and to be spiritual without having to do anything with religion!
In this book the Dalai Lama champions the cause of interreligious understanding and harmony, a theme Vedantists will be familiar with. He begins by pointing out the dangers of religious extremism, and notes that the world is now so globalized that religions can no longer remain isolated, but have to come to terms with one another.
Prayer is the primary spiritual practice in the Western religious tradition embodied in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Westerners who come to Vedanta usually feel more comfortable with prayer than they do with meditation, because they’re more familiar with it. But prayer, japa, and meditation can be practiced together. One tends to segue into another.