Vedanta is the most ancient religion of the world; but it can never be said to have become popular. Therefore the question "Is it going to be the religion of the future?" is very difficult to answer.
with all its emphasis on impersonal principles, Vedanta is not antagonistic to anything, though it does not compromise or give up the truths which it considers fundamental.
You all know that certain things are necessary to make a religion. First of all, there is the book. The power of the book is simply marvellous! Whatever it be, the book is the centre round which human allegiance gathers. Not one religion is living today but has a book. With all its rationalism and tall talk, humanity still clings to the books. In your country every attempt to start a religion without a book has failed. In India sects rise with great success, but within a few years they die down, because there is no book behind them.
The second requisite, to make a religion, is veneration for some person. He is worshipped either as the Lord of the world or as the great Teacher.
The third requisite seems to be that a religion, to be strong and sure of itself, must believe that it alone is the truth; otherwise it cannot influence people.
Vedanta does not believe in any of these teachings. First, it does not believe in a book — that is the difficulty to start with. It denies the authority of any book over any other book. It denies emphatically that any one book can contain all the truths about God, soul, the ultimate reality. Those of you who have read the Upanishads remember that they say again and again, "Not by the reading of books can we realise the Self."
Those of you who are students of Vedanta — by Vedanta is always meant the Upanishads — know that this is the only religion that does not cling to any person. Not one man or woman has ever become the object of worship among the Vedantins.
A still greater difficulty is about God. You want to be democratic in this country. It is the democratic God that Vedanta teaches.
So with the religion of Vedanta. You are all Gods. One God is not sufficient. You are all Gods, says the Vedanta.
What is the idea of God in heaven? Materialism. The Vedantic idea is the infinite principle of God embodied in every one of us. ..Body and nothing else. Forget the body, and all is spirit.
These are what Vedanta has not to give. No book.
Vedanta knows no sin. There are mistakes but no sin; and in the long run everything is going to be all right...Vedanta believes in only one sin, only one in the world, and it is this: the moment you think you are a sinner or anybody is a sinner, that is sin.
No book, no person, no Personal God. All these must go. Again, the senses must go. We cannot be bound to the senses.
What does Vedanta teach us? In the first place, it teaches that you need not even go out of yourself to know the truth. All the past and all the future are here in the present...We, with five senses, look upon this world and find it gross, having colour, form, sound, and the like.
Therefore Vedanta formulates, not universal brotherhood, but universal oneness. I am the same as any other man, as any animal — good, bad, anything. It is one body, one mind, one soul throughout.
Though they all believe in immortality, they do not know that immortality is not gained by dying and going to heaven, but by giving up this piggish individuality, by not tying ourselves down to one little body. Immortality is knowing ourselves as one with all, living in all bodies, perceiving through all minds.
Whatever you dream and think of, you create.
This forms the one great question asked by Vedanta: Why are people so afraid? The answer is that they have made themselves helpless and dependent on others.
All the time you work hard and bless somebody else, because you are superstitious, you are afraid. No more of these superstitions bred through thousands of years! It takes a little hard work to become spiritual. Superstitions are all materialism, because they are all based on the consciousness of body, body, body. No spirit there. Spirit has no superstitions — it is beyond the vain desires of the body.
What is the God of Vedanta? He is principle, not person. You and I are all Personal Gods.
God is the infinite, impersonal being — ever existent, unchanging, immortal, fearless; and you are all His incarnations, His embodiments. This is the God of Vedanta, and His heaven is everywhere. In this heaven dwell all the Personal Gods there are-you yourselves.
What is the goal? This that I have spoken of — Vedanta — is not a new religion. So old — as old as God Himself. It is not confined to any time and place, it is everywhere. Everybody knows this truth. We are all working it out. The goal of the whole universe is that. This applies even to external nature — every atom is rushing towards that goal.
The whole universe is one existence. There cannot be anything else. Out of diversities we are all going towards this universal existence.
Unity is knowledge, diversity is ignorance. This knowledge is your birthright. ..We have seemingly been divided, limited, because of our ignorance.