Sunday Service: Love as the Basis of Spiritual Community

Spiritual Services

Week of Dec 1 – Dec 7, 2013

Spiritual communities have more in common than they have in difference. The big differences among religions are more about emphasis and the culture that is wrapped around the truth to make it relevant to a particular time and place. If you approach faith with similarities in mind, you will be surprised and the connections among seemingly different religions.

One striking similarity between Vedanta and Catholicism is meditation.

In Vedanta, meditation is called raja yoga, and it is one of the four paths to reach God. For many years I thought that meditation was a distinct feature of Eastern religions such as Vedanta and Buddhism. But a conversation in 2012 with the esteemed monk, Swami Bhajananandaji, showed me that Christians have a longstanding meditation practice, too. They just call it contemplative prayer.

The differences between contemplative prayer and raja yoga are so slight that it is easy to practice one if you know the other; they are brothers if not Siamese twins. A good book on contemplative prayer is “Finding Grace at the Center,” which we have as one of our recommended books.

You may have noticed that lately we have been featuring a lot of spiritual talks with a Christian perspective. That’s because all this week I will be practicing contemplative prayer at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, the oldest Trappist monastery in the United States and the home of Thomas Merton until his untimely death in Bangkok in 1968.

Spiritual giant Sri Ramakrishna argued for the harmony or religions, and he made his case based on the firsthand experience of having deeply practiced several of them. I’m spending time at the Abbey of Gethsemani for the same reason; instead of reading about Christian meditation, I’m going to spend this coming week living it.

I’ve been preparing for the retreat for the past four months, hence American Vedanta’s recent focus on Christian mystical teachings.

Speaking of Swami Bhajananandaji, this week we are featuring a short talk by him on the reason that love should be the basis of spiritual community. He shared the essay with me several years ago, and last year we got permission to reprint it here. Enjoy!

Peter Kowalke


Brotherly loveThis Week’s Spiritual Talk

Love as the Basis of Spiritual Community

by Swami Bhajanananda

What is love? According to Swami Vivekananda, love is an expression of the unity of existence. Swamiji said, “This expression of oneness is what we call love and sympathy, as it is the basis of all our ethics and morality.”

Unity of existence is of two kinds: oneness of Prana or Life, and oneness of consciousness. It is the oneness of life that finds expression in ordinary social relationships such as the love of father, mother and children, the love of friends, the love of husband and wife and so on. This kind of love is very complex, conditional and changeable. Except in a few cases, this kind of love is associated with selfishness, emotions of different kinds, and sometimes with strong instinctual drives. As such, this kind of love causes bondage and misery.

There is, however, a higher type of love, spiritual love, which is an expression of the unity of consciousness. Beyond the body, beyond the mind, there shines in everybody the luminous Atman which is ever pure, unchanging, ever free. It is the source of consciousness in us. All individual selves are the reflections of one Supreme Self, Paramatman or God. It is this oneness of pure consciousness, the one Supreme Self dwelling in all, that is the real basis of true love. This kind of higher love is pure, unselfish, unconditional, unchanging, all-fulfilling. In this supreme love, the distinctions between love for man and love for God cease to exist. This idea is conveyed in several passages in the Upanishads, especially in the Yajnavalkya Maitreyi conversation in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad.

(read more)


Jnana-YogaBook of the Month


by Swami Vivekananda

Jnana-Yoga, the Path of Knowledge, describes the essence of Vedanta philosophy – the wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita in a modern scientific manner. Jnana-Yoga, along with Swami Vivekananda’s Karma-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, and Raja-Yoga, are considered classics and outstanding treatises on Hindu philosophy. The Swami’s deep spiritual insight, fervid eloquence, and broad human sympathy shine forth in these works and offer inspiration to all spiritual seekers.

(download the book for free)

Other books we recommend can be found in our Books section. We also recommend audio lectures and web sites, among other resources.


Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

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