Swami Vivekananda was religious, but never a superstitious person. According to Vivekananda, religion is the manifestation of the Divinity already in man. He also told, religion is the idea which raises the brute unto man, and man unto God. In this article, we’ll make a collection of Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on religion.
What is religion?
Once Sharat Chandra Chakravarty, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, asked him, “How is it, Swamiji, that you do not lecture in this country? You have stirred Europe and America with your lectures, but coming back here you have kept silence.”[Source]
Vivekananda told him, the “ground” in “India” was not prepared at that time. He told—[Source]
In this country, the ground should be prepared first; then if the seed is sown, the plant will come out best. The ground in the West, in Europe and America is very fertile and fit for sowing seeds. There they have reached the climax of Bhoga (enjoyment). Being satiated with Bhoga to the full, their minds are not getting peace now even in those enjoyments, and they feel as if they wanted something else. In this country you have neither Bhoga nor Yoga (renunciation). When one is satiated with Bhoga, then it is that one will listen to and understand the teachings on Yoga. What good will lectures do in a country like India which has become the birthplace of disease, sorrow, and affliction, and where men are emaciated through starvation, and weak in mind?
Chakravarty’s immediate response was— “How is that? Do you not say that ours is the land of religion and that here the people understand religion as they do nowhere else? Why then will not this country be animated by your inspiring eloquence and reap to the full the fruits thereof?”
Now understand what religion means. The first thing required is the worship of the Kurma (tortoise) Incarnation, and the belly-god is this Kurma, as it were. Until you pacify this, no one will welcome your words about religion. India is restless with the thought of how to face this spectre of hunger. The draining of the best resources of the country by the foreigners, the unrestricted exports of merchandise, and, above all, the abominable jealousy natural to slaves are eating into the vitals of India. First of all, you must remove this evil of hunger and starvation, this constant anxiety for bare existence, from those to whom you want to preach religion; otherwise, lectures and such things will be of no benefit.
Chakravarty asked once again “What should we do then to remove that evil ?” and “Is there then no way out for us?”
First, some young men full of the spirit of renunciation are needed —those who will be ready to sacrifice their lives for others, instead of devoting themselves to their own happiness. With this object in view I shall establish a Math to train young Sannyâsins, who will go from door to door and make the people realise their pitiable condition by means of facts and reasoning, and instruct them in the ways and means for their welfare, and at the same time will explain to them as clearly as possible, in very simple and easy language, the higher truths of religion. The masses in our country are like the sleeping Leviathan. The education imparted by the present university system reaches one or two per cent of the masses only. And even those who get that do not succeed in their endeavours of doing any good to their country. But it is not their fault, poor fellows! As soon as they come out of their college, they find themselves fathers of several children! Somehow or other they manage to secure the position of a clerk, or at the most, a deputy magistrate. This is the finale of education! With the burden of a family on their backs, they find no time to do anything great or think anything high. They do not find means enough to fulfil their personal wants and interests; so what can be expected of them in the way of doing anything for others ?
Scope of religion
According to Swami Vivekananda, experience is the best source of knowledge. He suggested the way a chemistry or biology student reads book on those subjects, if someone wants to learn about religion, he has to read his own mind and heart—
Religion deals with the truths of the metaphysical world just as chemistry and the other natural sciences deal with the truths of the physical world. The book one must read to learn chemistry is the book of nature. The book from which to learn religion is your own mind and heart. The sage is often ignorant of physical science, because he reads the wrong book—the book within; and the scientist is too often ignorant of religion, because he too reads the wrong book—the book without.[Source]
Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on religion
- A disciple went to his master and said to him, “Sir, I want religion.” The master looked at the young man, and did not speak, but only smiled. The young man came every day, and insisted that he wanted religion. But the old man knew better than the young man. One day, when it was very hot, he asked the young man to go to the river with him and take a plunge. The young man plunged in, and the old man followed him and held the young man down under the water by force. After the young man had struggled for a while, he let him go and asked him what he wanted most while he was under the water. “A breath of air”, the disciple answered. “Do you want God in that way? If you do, you will get Him in a moment,” said the master. Until you have that thirst, that desire, you cannot get religion, however you may struggle with your intellect, or your books, or your forms. Until that thirst is awakened in you, you are no better than any atheist; only the atheist is sincere, and you are not.[Source]
- Above all, there is another thing to remember, which I am sorry we forget from time to time, that religion, in India, means realisation and nothing short of that. “Believe in the doctrine, and you are safe”, can never be taught to us, for we do not believe in that. You are what you make yourselves. You are, by the grace of God and your own exertions, what you are. Mere believing in certain theories and doctrines will not help you much. The mighty word that came out from the sky of spirituality in India was Anubhuti, realisation, and ours are the only books which declare again and again: “The Lord is to be seen”. Bold, brave words indeed, but true to their very core; every sound, every vibration is true. Religion is to be realised, not only heard; it is not in learning some doctrine like a parrot. Neither is it mere intellectual assent — that is nothing; but it must come into us. Ay, and therefore the greatest proof that we have of the existence of a God is not because our reason says so, but because God has been seen by the ancients as well as by the moderns. We believe in the soul not only because there are good reasons to prove its existence, but, above all, because there have been in the past thousands in India, there are still many who have realised, and there will be thousands in the future who will realise and see their own souls. And there is no salvation for man until he sees God, realises his own soul. Therefore, above all, let us understand this, and the more we understand it the less we shall have of sectarianism in India, for it is only that man who has realised God and seen Him, who is religious. In him the knots have been cut asunder, in him alone the doubts have subsided; he alone has become free from the fruits of action who has seen Him who is nearest of the near and farthest of the far. Ay, we often mistake mere prattle for religious truth, mere intellectual perorations for great spiritual realisation, and then comes sectarianism, then comes fight. If we once understand that this realisation is the only religion, we shall look into our own hearts and find how far we are towards realising the truths of religion. Then we shall understand that we ourselves are groping in darkness, and are leading others to grope in the same darkness, then we shall cease from sectarianism, quarrel, arid fight. Ask a man who wants to start a sectarian fight, “Have you seen God? Have you seen the Atman? If you have not, what right have you to preach His name — you walking in darkness trying to lead me into the same darkness — the blind leading the blind, and both falling into the ditch?”[Source]
- After so much austerity, I have understood this as the real truth— God is present in every jiva; there is no other God besides that. “Who serves jiva, serves God indeed.” [Source]
- All religion is to be based upon morality, and personal purity is to be counted superior to Dharma.[Source]
- All religious superstitions are vain imaginations. … This society, that I see you before me, and [that] I am talking to you — this is all superstition; all must be given up. Just see what it takes to become a philosopher! This is the [path] of [Jnâna-] Yoga, the way through knowledge. The other [paths] are easy, slow, … but this is pure strength of mind. No weakling [can follow this path of knowledge. You must be able to say:] “I am the Soul, the ever free; [I] never was bound. Time is in me, not I in time. God was born in my mind. God the Father, Father of the universe — he is created by me in my own mind….” Do you call yourselves philosophers? Show it! Think of this, talk [of] this, and [help] each other in this path, and give up all superstition![Source]
- Any sect that may help you to realise God is welcome. Religion is the realising of God.[Source]
- Beliefs, doctrines, sermons do not make religion. It is realisation, perception of God [which alone is religion.[Source]
- Books never make religions, but religions make books. We must not forget that.[Source]
- Can religion really accomplish anything? It can. It brings to man eternal life. It has made man what he is, and will make of this human animal a god. That is what religion can do. Take religion from human society and what will remain? Nothing but a forest of brutes. Sense-happiness is not the goal of humanity. Wisdom (Jnâna) is the goal of all life. We find that man enjoys his intellect more than an animal enjoys its senses; and we see that man enjoys his spiritual nature even more than his rational nature. So the highest wisdom must be this spiritual knowledge. With this knowledge will come bliss. All these things of this world are but the shadows, the manifestations in the third or fourth degree of the real Knowledge and Bliss.[Source]
- Despondency is not religion, whatever else it may be.
- Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth; or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant, it develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.[Source]
- Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy— by one or more or all of these— and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms are but secondary details.
- Every religion is only evolving a God out of the material man, and the same God is the inspirer of all of them.[Source]
- Experience is the only source of knowledge. In the world, religion is the only source where there is no surety, because it is not taught as a science of experience. This should not be. There is always, however, a small group of men who teach religion from experience. They are called mystics, and these mystics in every religion speak the same tongue and teach the same truth. This is the real science of religion.[Source]
- First bread and then religion.
- For a religion to be effective, enthusiasm is necessary. At the same time we must try to avoid the danger of multiplying creeds. We avoid that by being a nonsectarian sect, having all the advantages of a sect and the broadness of a universal religion. [Source]
- Generally speaking, human religion begins with fear. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But later comes the higher idea.[Source]
- Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, “Is this real?” To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, “Is this real?” Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer.[Source]
- I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world… That has been the difficulty all the while.[Source]
- I claim that no destruction of religion is necessary to improve the Hindu society, and that this state of society exists not on account of religion, but because religion has not been applied in society as it should have been.
- I shall call you religious from the day you begin to see God in men and women.[Source]
- If a religion cannot help man wherever he may be, wherever he stands, it is not of much use; it will remain only a theory for the chosen few. Religion, to help mankind, must be ready able to help him in whatever condition he is, in servitude or in freedom, in the depths of degradations or on the heights of purity; everywhere, equally, it should be able to come to his aid.
- In religion lies the vitality of India, and so long as the Hindu race do not forget the great inheritance of their forefathers, there is no power on earth to destroy them.[Source]
- In the domain of true religion, book-learning has no right to enter.[Source]
- Infinite strength is religion and God.[Source]
- Intellectual assent and intellectual dissent are not religion.[Source]
- It is always for greater joy that you give up the lesser. This is practical religion—the attainment of freedom, renunciation. Renounce the lower so that you may get the higher. Renounce! Renounce! Sacrifice! Give up! Not for zero. Not for nothing, but to get the higher.
- It is an insult to a starving people to offer them religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics.[Source]
- It is my belief that religious thought is in man’s very constitution, so much so that it is impossible for him to give up religion until he can give up his mind and body, until he can give up thought and life. As long as a man thinks, this struggle must go on, and so long man must have some form of religion. Thus we see various forms of religion in the world.[Source]
Again and again you hear this objection advanced:
“What good can religion do?
Can it take away the poverty of the poor?”
Supposing it cannot, would that prove the untruth of religion?
Suppose a baby stands up among you
when you are trying to demonstrate an astronomical theorem,
and says, “Does it bring gingerbread?”
“No, it does not”, you answer.
“Then,” says the baby, “it is useless.”
Babies judge the whole universe from their own standpoint,
that of producing gingerbread,
and so do the babies of the world.
- Keep the motto before you— ‘Elevation of the masses without injuring their religion’.
- Knowledge means finding this unity. I see you as men and women, and this is variety. It becomes scientific knowledge when I group you together and call you human beings. Take the science of chemistry, for instance. Chemists are seeking to resolve all known substances into their original elements, and if possible, to find the one element from which all these are derived. The time may come when they will find one element that is the source of all other elements. Reaching that, they can go no further; the science of chemistry will have become perfect. So it is with the science of religion. If we can discover this perfect unity, there cannot be any further progress.[Source]
- No one is born into a religion, but each one is born for a religion.[Source]
- No two persons have the same religion.[Source]
- One religion cannot suit all.[Source]
- Real religion begins where this little universe ends.[Source]
- Realisation is real religion, all the rest is only preparation — hearing lectures, or reading books, or reasoning is merely preparing the ground; it is not religion.[Source]
- Realisation is the soul, the very essence of religion.[Source]
- Realise your true nature. That is all there is to do. Know yourself as you are—infinite spirit. That is practical religion. Everything else is impractical, for everything else will perish
- Religion alone is all that we have and mean to have.[Source]
- Religion as a science, as a study, is the greatest and healthiest exercise that the human mind can have.
- Religion believes that there has been, and still is, one religion in the world. There never were two religions. It is the same religion [presenting] different aspects in different places.[Source]
- Religion cannot be swallowed in the form of a pill. It requires hard and constant practice.[Source]
- Religion comes when that actual realisation in our own souls begins. That will be the dawn of religion; and then alone we shall be moral.[Source]
- Religion deals with the truths of the metaphysical world just as chemistry and the other natural sciences deal with the truths of the physical world. The book one must read to learn chemistry is the book of nature. The book from which to learn religion is your own mind and heart. The sage is often ignorant of physical science, because he reads the wrong book—the book within; and the scientist is too often ignorant of religion, because he too reads the wrong book—the book without.[Source]
- Religion can be realised. Are you ready? Do you want it? You will get the realisation if you do, and then you will be truly religious.[Source]
- Religion does not live on bread, does not dwell in a house. Again and again you hear this objection advanced: “What good can religion do? Can it take away the poverty of the poor?” Supposing it cannot, would that prove the untruth of religion? Suppose a baby stands up among you when you are trying to demonstrate an astronomical theorem, and says, “Does it bring gingerbread?” “No, it does not”, you answer. “Then,” says the baby, “it is useless.” Babies judge the whole universe from their own standpoint, that of producing gingerbread, and so do the babies of the world. We must not judge of higher things from a low standpoint. Everything must be judged by its own standard and the infinite must be judged by the standard of infinity. Religion permeates the whole of man’s life, not only the present, but the past, present, and future. It is, therefore, the eternal relation between the eternal soul and the eternal God. Is it logical to measure its value by its action upon five minutes of human life? Certainly not. These are all negative arguments.[Source]
- Religion has no business to formulate social laws and insist on the difference between beings, because its aim and end is to obliterate all such fictions and monstrosities.[Source]
- Religion is a constitutional necessity of the human mind.[Source]
- Religion is a necessary thing to very few; and to the vast mass of mankind it is a luxury.[Source]
- Religion is a question of fact, not of talk.[Source]
- Religion is ever a practical science, and there never was nor will be any theological religion.[Source]
- Religion is fundamental in the very soul of humanity; and as all life is the evolution of that which is within, it, of necessity, expresses itself through various peoples and nations.[Source]
- Religion is infinite, none can go beyond it.[Source]
- Religion is manifestation of the Divinity already in man.[source]
- Religion is not a thing of imagination but of direct perception. He who has seen even a single spirit is greater than many a book-learned Pandit. [Source]
- Religion is not an imitation of Jesus or Mohammed.[Source]
- Religion is not attained through the ears, nor through the eyes, nor yet through the brain. No scriptures can make us religious. We may study all the books that are in the world, yet we may not understand a word of religion or of God. We may talk all our lives and yet may not be the better for it; we may be the most intellectual people the world ever saw, and yet we may not come to God at all.[Source]
- Religion is not going to church, or putting marks on the forehead, or dressing in a peculiar fashion; you may paint yourselves in all the colours of the rainbow, but if the heart has not been opened, if you have not realised God, it is all vain.[Source]
- Religion is not in books, nor in theories, nor in dogmas, nor in talking, not even in reasoning. It is being and becoming.[Source]
- Religion is not in doctrines, in dogmas, nor in intellectual argumentation; it is being and becoming, it is realisation.[Source]
- Religion is not only based upon the experience of ancient times, but that no man can be religious until he has the same perceptions himself.[Source]
- Religion is the highest plane of human thought and life.[Source]
- Religion is the idea which is raising the brute unto man; and man unto God. [Source]
- Religion is the manifestation of the soul nature.[Source]
- Religion is the search after the highest ideal.[Source]
- Religion, which is the highest knowledge and the highest wisdom, cannot be bought, nor can it be acquired from books.[Source]
- Religion without philosophy runs into superstition; philosophy without religion becomes dry atheism.[Source]
- Religions do not come from without, but from within.[Source]
- Religion means realisation, nothing else.[Source]
- Selfishness is the chief sin, thinking of ourselves first. He who thinks, ‘I will eat first. I will have more money than others, and I will possess everything’, he who thinks, ‘I will get to heaven before others, I will get mukti before others’ is the selfish man. The unselfish man says, ‘I will be last, I do not care to go to heaven, I will even go to hell if by doing so I can help my brothers.’ This unselfishness is the test of religion. He who has more of this unselfishness is more spiritual and nearer to Shiva.
- Talking is not religion; parrots may talk, machines may talk nowadays.[Source]
- Temples or churches, books or forms, are simply the kindergarten of religion, to make the spiritual child strong enough to take higher steps; and these first steps are necessary if he wants religion.[Source]
- That is religion which makes us realise the Unchangeable One, and that is the religion for every one.[Source]
- The aim is to get rid of nature’s control over us. That is the goal of all religions.
- The book one must read to learn natural sciences is the book of nature. The book from which to learn religion is your own mind and heart.
- The end of all religions is the realising of God in the soul. That is the one universal religion.[Source]
- The essential thing in religion is making the heart pure; the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, but only the pure in heart can see the King. While we think of the world, it is only the world for us; but let us come to it with the feeling that the world is God, and we shall have God.
- The first sign that you are becoming religious is that you are becoming cheerful.When a man is gloomy, that may be dyspepsia, but i is not religion.
- The goal of all religions is the same, but the language of the teachers differs.[Source]
- The greatest misfortune to befall the world would be if all mankind were to recognize and accept but one religion, one universal form of worship, one standard of morality. This would be the death-blow to all religious and spiritual progress. Instead of trying to hasten this disastrous event by inducing persons, through good or evil methods, to conform to our own highest ideal of truth, we ought rather to endeavour to remove all obstacles which prevent men from developing in accordance with their own highest ideals, and thus make their attempt vain to establish one universal religion.
- The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves! If you do not exist, how can God exist, or anybody else?
- The ideal of all religions, all sects, is the same — the attaining of liberty and cessation of misery. Wherever you find religion, you find this ideal working in one form or other. Of course in lower stages of religion it is not so well expressed; but still, well or ill-expressed, it is the one goal to which every religion approaches. All of us want to get rid of misery; we are struggling to attain to liberty — physical, mental, spiritual. This is the whole idea upon which the world is working.[Source]
- The man who is frightened into religion has no religion at all.[Source]
- The proof of one religion depends on the proof of all the rest.[Source]
- The proof of religion depends on the truth of the constitution of man, and not on any books.[Source]
- The secret of religion lies not in theories, but in practice To be good and to good—that is the whole of religion. ‘Not be that crieth “Lord, “Lord”, but he that doeth the will of the Father.”.
- The ultimate goal of all mankind, the aim and end of all religions, is but one — re-union with God, or, what amounts to the same, with the divinity which is every man’s true nature.
- The poor, the illiterate,
the ignorant, the afflicted
— let these be your God.
Know that services
to these alone
is the highest religion.
— Swami Vivekananda
Image source: Wikimedia CommonsThere is one impulse in our minds which says, do. Behind it rises another voice which says, do not. There is one set of ideas in our mind which is always struggling to get outside through the channels of the senses, and behind that, although it may be thin and weak, there is an infinitely small voice which says, do not go outside. The two beautiful Sanskrit words for these phenomenons are pravritti and nivritti, ‘circling forward’ and ‘circling inward’…. Religion begins with this “do not”. Spirituality begins with this “do not”. When the “do not” is not there, religion has not begun.
- There is one religion, and there are many sects.[Source]
- This universe of ours, the universe of the senses, the rational, the intellectual, is bounded on both sides by the illimitable, the unknowable, the ever unknown. Herein is the search, herein are the inquiries, here are the facts; from this comes the light which is known to the world as religion… It is a vision, an inspiration, a plunge into the unknown and unknowable, making the unknowable more than known for it can never be “known”.[Source]
- The very rich can understand truth much less than the poorer people. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” The rich man has no time to think of anything beyond his wealth and power, his comforts and indulgences. The rich rarely become religious. Why? Because they think, if they become religious, they will have no more fun in life. [Source]
- The Yogi says, religion is practical if you know first why misery exists. All the misery in the world is in the senses. Is there any ailment in the sun, moon, and stars? The same fire that cooks your meal burns the child. Is it the fault of the fire? Blessed be the fire! Blessed be this electricity! It gives light…. Where can you lay the blame? Not on the elements. The world is neither good nor bad; the world is the world. The fire is the fire. If you burn your finger in it, you are a fool. If you [cook your meal and with it satisfy your hunger,] you are a wise man. That is all the difference. Circumstances can never be good or bad. Only the individual man can be good or bad. What is meant by the world being good or bad? Misery and happiness can only belong to the sensuous individual man.[Source]
- There is to be found in every religion the manifestation of the struggle toward freedom. It is the groundwork of all morality, of unselfishness, which means getting rid of the idea that human beings are the same as this little body.
- True religion is entirely transcendental.[Source]
- Try to be pure and unselfish— that is the whole of religion.
- Unselfishness is God. One may live on a throne, in a golden palace, and be perfectly unselfish; and then he is in God. Another may live in a hut and wear rags, and have nothing in the worlds; yet, if he is selfish, he is intensely merged in the world.
- We are all in the dark; religion is to us a mere intellectual assent, a mere talk, a mere nothing.[Source]
- We must not only tolerate each others, but positively embrace them, and that truth is the basis of all religions.
- We read many books, but that does not bring us knowledge. We may read all the Bibles in the world, but that will not give us religion. Theoretical religion is easy enough to get, any one may get that. What we want is practical religion.[Source]
- We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him the best.
- When a plant is growing, it is necessary that it should be hedged round lest any animal should eat it up. But when it has become strong and a huge gigantic tree, do not care for any hedges — it is perfect in itself. So when just the seed of spirituality is growing, to fritter away the energies on all sorts of religious ideas — a little of this and a little of that: a little of Christianity, a little of Buddhism, and, in reality, of nothing — destroys the soul.[Source]
- You are the highest temple of God; I would rather worship you than any temple, image, or Bible.
- You must give your body, mind, and speech to ‘the welfare of the world’. You have read— मातृदेबो भब पितृदेबो भब— ‘Look upon your mother as God, look upon your father as God,’— but I say, दरिद्रतृदेबो भब, मूर्खतृदेबो भब— the poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted— let these be your God. Know that services to these alone is the highest religion.
Religion is the realisation of Spirit as Spirit
Swami Vivekananda told—
Religion is the realisation of Spirit as Spirit; not Spirit as matter.
Religion is a growth. Each one must experience it himself. The Christians believe that Jesus Christ died to save man. With you it is belief in a doctrine, and this belief constitutes your salvation. With us doctrine has nothing whatever to do with salvation. Each one may believe in whatever doctrine he likes; or in no doctrine.[Source]
- Hints on Practical Spirituality from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume II
- Religion and Science from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume VI
- Unity, the Goal of Religion from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume III