Hello friends, and thanks for joining me today. This week, I wanted to do a breakdown on an excerpt from Swami Vivekananda. Alan Watts would often reference The Upanishads and Vivekananda when talking about the non-dualism of the universe and aspects of Eastern philosophy that the texts influenced (i.e. Buddhism, Jainism, etc). I won’t be going into Vivekananda’s biography or significance much here, but I wanted to break down an excerpt from one of his teachings that has helped me to understand myself better. I hope you find the following helpful as well:
“But the last and greatest counsel is that you need not weep at all. You need not go through all these ceremonies, and need not take any notice of how to regain your empire, because you never lost it. Why should you go seek for what you never lost? You are pure already, you are free already. If you think you are free, free you are this moment, and if you think you are bound, bound you will be.” –Vivekananda
Caterpillars & Butterflies
There are many people today who miss and grieve their younger days being gone. But according to Vivekananda, the best advice is that we shouldn’t be sad over losing ourselves, especially if we’ve never lost it. For some of us, “younger us” felt like a different person who was happier and more full-of-life, compared to the “older us” who feel isolated and damaged by traumatic life experiences. We are miserable over losing this energetic and better part of ourselves, but the thing we fail to see is that we are still one and the same person. We haven’t lost ourselves, because we are still here!
For example, when we look at a butterfly we often don’t imagine the caterpillar from where the butterfly came; it is still the same organism at a different point in its experience. You could say that the butterfly was always in the caterpillar, and/or that the caterpillar is always within the butterfly because we could not have one without the other. Similarly, parts of our life experiences makes up one entire life. There is no need to be saddened over the person we once used to be, for that same person is still within us– there is no need for sadness.
Sometimes, we’ll do creative and silly things to regain that person (or nostalgic experience) back, and call them “rituals.” Many of us have a morning or evening “ritual” that we feel will give us some control over the day, not realizing that our perspective is truly the control over everything. When we look back at ancient cultures, we laugh at their primitive traditions because now we can see the futility of what they were doing. Every Ancient culture had something strange, and we look at them as crazy because they were attempting to influence uncontrollable things like the weather and cosmos with rituals. This is what the Ancient Aztecs did, when they sacrificed living people for a bountiful harvest. This is what the Ancient Polynesians did, when they would cannibalize their enemies to gain their power. But even though we’ve come a long way from using physical barbarism to influence the unknown, it is the same fear of the unknown that drives us to be attached to form and routine today–now in an effort to control our brains. Today, we commit the worst mental barbarism with psychoanalysis, medication and expensive self-care and gurus. Perhaps future generations will look at what we are doing today with the same disbelief as we do of our ancestors today.
The Empire Of You
Many traditional philosophers would reference “empires” in their work because many of them would work as royal advisers to Kings and Queens. Sometimes, the rulers would be philosophers themselves, people like Marcus Aurelius or Emperor Asoka. These scholars were learning how to govern themselves so that, by extension, they could rule their empire just as effectively. While we do not have rulers and empires today, if we look at the word “empire” as our own personal life, we can begin to build, improve and manage different aspects of ourselves to engineer a better life. How we see ourselves is ultimately how we see the world.