A Book on the Sermon on the Mount, which is the very heart of the Christian teaching, should be no novelty in a Christian community. But when that book is written by a Hindu Swami, a follower of Vedanta and the gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, a book, moreover, not only interpreting, but extolling the Sermon as though it were a scripture of his own, that certainly is, to say the least, unusual.
Beautiful as this interpretation is in itself, it is presented by Swami Prabhavananda not as a far-off, scarcely attainable ideal, which is the way most occidentals read the Sermon, but as a practical programme of daily living and conduct. So clear is the Swami's reading of this great scripture, that many a Christian by means of it will discover a simpler approach to the teaching of his Master, more direct than any he had found heretofore.
Vedanta teaches that man's real nature is divine and that the chief, the only real goal of human life is to unfold and manifest that Divinity. To us the Sermon is a counsel of perfection. To the Vedantist, whose sole aim is God-realization, that is nothing strange. The sannyasin of the Ramakrishna Order, to which Swami Prabhavananda belongs, follows the way of perfection every day of his life. Every day meditation he prays that he may overcome the of ego, that he may. abstain from fault findit criticism of others, and that he may acquire 10 sympathy for all. The Vedantist cannot sit dox meditate until he clears his mind of all hatreds resentments. The literature of the Ramakrishna 0, as for instance the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the v ings of Swami Vivekananda, and that priceless little be by Swami Prabhavananda, The Eternal Campania all are filled with teachings similar to those of the Sermon and other parts of our Bible.
In the book of Exodus we read that when Most! came down from the mount, 'Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone'. Swami Prabhavananda ir this volume tells of seeing one of his elders, a dire disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, so transfigured. A ligt emanated from his whole body. Not only did Swat Prabhavananda see it, but crowds of -people in a temp lane where it occurred, fell back in amazemer and made way as the illumined holy man walked complete absorption in the thought of God.
Phenomena of that order are not confined' scriptures dating hundreds and thousands of years back They can and do occur today. Religion is a continuing fact in human life. The prescriptions of the Serm on the Mount can be and are lived today. It depends upon the spirit in which they are accepted. Swami Prabhavananda and his fellow- Vedantists accept them realistically. That is probably the reason that people of various creeds and Christian sects, who come to the lectures on Vedanta, often find that their own creed appears suddenly brighter and more luminous, and their understanding of it attains a deeper penetration.
Vedanta, briefly, comes to the West not to supplant any religion, but to bring a more tangible spirituality to those who seek it. Its goal is not to proselytize, but to help man realize the divinity within him. In that it claims, not without reason, to be the most practical of religious philosophies. And that practicality is what Swami Prabhavananda successfully conveys in his remarkably fine and lucid interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.
THIS book is based on lectures I have given on the Sermon on the Mount. The lectures have been revised and expanded to cover teachings not previously commented upon. To me, the Sermon on the Mount represents the essence of Christ's gospel; and it is printed here in its entirety, as it is set down, so that Christ's words may be read in sequence and the unity of his message may be clearly seen.
I am not a Christian, I am not a theologian, I have not read the Bible interpretation of the great Christian scholars. I have studied the New Testament as I have studied the scriptures of my own religion, Vedanta. Vedanta, which evolved from the Vedas, the most ancient of Hindu scriptures, teaches that all religions are true inasmuch as they lead to one and the same goal God realization. My religion therefore accepts and reveres all the great prophets, spiritual teachers, and aspects of the Godhead worshipped in different faiths, considering them to be manifestations of one underlying truth.
As a young monk, I dwelt in close association with most of the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, the founder of the order to which I belong. These holy men lived in the consciousness of God and taught us the methods by which one may reach the ultimate and blessed state of mystic union-samadhi, as it is called in Vedanta. From what I have seen in these holy men, and from whatever understanding I have gained sitting at their feet, I have tried to approach the teachings of Christ. This is why I have often turned to the words of Sri Ramakrishna and his disciples to help explain the truths of the Sermon on the Mount.
One of these disciples of Sri Ramakrishna was my master, Swami Brahmananda. Although he was not a student of the Bible, from his own spiritual experi- ence he taught in much the same way as Christ did, and often used almost the same words. My master had seen Christ in spiritual vision, and celebrated Christmas every year by offering special worship to Jesus, a custom which has been observed in all the monaster- ies of the Ramakrishna Order to the present day. On these occasions fruit, bread, and cake are offered in our Hindu way. Often there is a lecture on Christ; or the story of the Nativity or the Sermon on the Mount is read.
One of these Christmas celebrations, the first I ever attended, had great bearing on what Christ means to me. It took place in 1914 at Belur Math near Calcutta, where the headquarters of our order are situated. I had joined the monastery just a few days before. On Christ- mas Eve, we gathered before an altar on which a picture of the Madonna and Child had been placed. One of the senior monks performed worship with offerings of flowers, incense, and food. Many of Sri Ramakrishna's disciples attended the service, among them my master, who was the president of our order. While we were seated in silence, my master said: 'Meditate on Christ within, and feel his living presence.' An intense spiri- tual atmosphere pervaded the worship hall. Our minds were lifted up, and we felt ourselves transported into another consciousness. For the first time I realized that Christ was as much our own as Krishna, Buddha, and other great illumined teachers whom we revered. AB a Hindu, I was taught from childhood to respect all religious ideals, to recognize the same divine inspira- tion in all the different faiths. Thus Christ as manifest expression of divinity I could never have considered foreign. But for a living and personal experience of him I needed the tangible heightening of consciousness resulting from the worship on that memorable Christ- mas Eve.
An intimate spiritual connection between Christ and our monastic order has existed for many years, begin- ning with its founder, Sri Ramakrishna, who was accorded divine worship during his lifetime and since his passing away in 1886 has received growing recog- nition in India as an incarnation of God. Of the many saints and illumined teachers in the history of Vedanta, Sri Ramakrishna expressed in his life to greater degree than any other teacher the idea of religious universality and harmony. Not only did he undergo the disciplines of divergent sects within Hinduism but those of Mohammedanism and Christianity as well. Through each religious path he achieved the supreme realization of God, and thus was able to proclaim with the authority of direct experience: 'So many religions, so many paths to reach one and the same goal.'
It was about 1874 that Sri Ramakrishna interested himself actively in Christianity. A devotee who used to visit the Master at the Dakshineswar temple garden near Calcutta would explain the Bible to him in Bengali. One day, while Sri Ramakrishna was seated in the drawing- room of another devotee's home, he saw a picture of the Madonna and Child. Absorbed in contemplation of this picture, he saw it suddenly become living and effulgent. An ecstatic love for Christ filled Sri Ramakrishna's heart, and a vision came to him of a Christian church in which devotees were burning incense and lighting candles before Jesus. For three days Sri Ramakrishna lived under the spell of this experience. On the fourth day, while he was walking in a grove at Dakshineswar, he saw a person of serene countenance approaching with his gaze fixed on him. From the inmost recesses of Sri Ramakrishna's heart came the realization, 'This is Jesus, who poured out his heart's blood for the redemption of mankind. This is none other than Christ, the embodiment of love.' The Son of Man then embraced Sri Rarnakrishna and entered into him, and Sri Ramakrishna went into samadhi, the state of transcendental consciousness. Thus was Sri Ramakrishna convinced of Christ's divinity.
Shortly after Sri Ramakrishna's death, nine of his young disciples gathered on a winter night before a sacred fire to take their vows of formal renunciation- henceforth they were to serve God as monks. Their leader, the future Swami Vivekananda, told his brothers the story of Jesus' life, asking them to become Christs themselves, to pledge themselves to aid in the redemption of the world, and to deny themselves as Jesus had done. Later, the monks discovered that this evening had been the Christian Christmas Eve-a very propitious occasion for their vows.
Thus, since the early day of our order, Christ has been honoured and revered by our swamis as one of the greatest of illumined teachers. Many of our monks quote Christ's words to explain and illustrate spiritual truths, perceiving an essential unity between his message and the message of our Hindu seers and sages. Like Krishna and Buddha, Christ did not preach a mere ethical or social gospel but an uncompromisingly spiri- tual one. He declared that God can be seen, that divine perfection can be achieved. In order that men might attain this supreme goal of existence, he taught the renunciation of worldliness, the contemplation of God, and the purification of the heart through the love of God. These simple and profound truths, stated repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount, constitute its underlying theme, as I shall try to show in the pages to follow.
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