SWAMI ABHEDANANDA has taught in this volume that knowledge of the Self lies at the root of all knowledge, whether of science, philosophy or religion. Men, who desire intellectual, moral, and spiritual development, must learn to discriminate between spirit and matter, soul and body and then realize the ground of the universe. This book will surely guide every sincere seeker after Self-knowledge.
About the Author:
SWAMI ABHEDANANDA, an apostle of Sri Ramakrishna-Born October 2, 1866-Spent his early life among the brotherhood in Baranagar monastery near Calcutta in severe austerity-Travelled barefooted all over India from 1888-1895-Went to London at the call of Swami Vivekananda in 1896-Acquainted with many distinguished savants including Prof. Max Mueller and Prof. Deussen-Landed in New York and took charge of the Vedanta Society in 1897-Became acquainted with Prof. William James, Rev. R. H. Newton, Prof. Josiah Royce of Harvard, Prof. Hyslop of Columbia, Prof. Lanmann, Prof. G. H. Howison, Prof. Fay, Mr. Edison, the inventor, Dr. Elmer Gates, Ralph Waldo Trine, W. D. Howells, Prof. Herschel C. Parker, Dr. Logan, Rev. Bishop Potter, Pro. Shaler, Dr. Jaynes, the chairman of the Cambridge Philosophical Conference and the Professors of Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Barkeley and Clarke Universities-Travelled extensively all through the United States, Canada, Alaska and Mexico-Made frequent trips to Europe, delivering lectures in different parts of the Continent-Crossed the Atlantic seventeen times-Was appreciated very much for his profundity of scholarship, intellectual brilliance, oratorial talents, charming personality and nobility of character-Made a short visit to India in 1906-Returned to America-Came back to India finally in 1921-On his way home joined the Educational Conference, Honolulu-Visited Japan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Kualalumpur and Rangoon -Started on a long tour and went as far as Tibet in 1922-Established centres at Calcutta and Darjeeling-Left his mortal frame on September 8, 1939.
From the Preface:
Self-knowledge is a collection of six lectures, delivered by Swami Abhedananda in America. These lectures contain mainly the rich thoughts of the Upanishads. The Self has formed the central theme of the Swami's discussion, as the Self or Atman is the fountainhead of all things of the world and lies at the root of all knowledge, whether of science, philosophy, and religion, and the attainment of the Self is the summum bonum of human life. The Upanishads teach that those who desire intellectual, moral and spiritual developments, must learn to discriminate between spirit and matter, soul and body, reality and unreality, and must realize the Self, which is immortal, eternal and divine. The Self is devoid of all kinds of change and yet it is recognized as the ground (adhisthana) of all phenomenal changes.
Swami Abhedananda has discussed in the first chapter 'Spirit and Matter'. And says that these two words have various synonyms, such as ego and non-ego, subject and object; mind and matter. In the theory of superimposition (adhyasabhasya), Acharya Sankara has said: "Yushmadashmatpratyoya-gocharayor-vishaya-vishayinostamah-prakashavad-viruddhasvabhavayo....", i.e., the material object or non-self and the shining self-matter and spirit-are contradictory to each other. Sankara says: "It being an established fact that the object and the subject (non-self or matter and self or consciousness), that are fit to be the contents of the concepts 'you' and 'we' (respectively), and are by nature as contradictory as light and darkness, cannot logically have any identity, it follows that their attributes can have it still less, as the attribute of matter is insentience, and that of the Self is consciousness. These attributes cannot have any relation of identity or non-difference. But through ignorance we try to establish a mutual relation between the reality and the unreality-the unchangeable and the changeable". The Swami says: "Some say that spirit or mind or ego is the cause of matter, while others reverse the relation and believe that matter is the cause of spirit or mind or ego. The conclusions have given foundation to the various explanations of the universe, which can be classified under three heads: the spiritualistic or idealistic, the materialistic, and monistic theories. Now, what are the viewpoints of these theories? The Swami writes:
(a) The spiritualistic or idealistic theory claims that spirit or mind is the creator of matter and energy, hence the creator of all material objects; and it denies the existence of matter as distinct from the mode or condition of spirit or mind.
(b) The materialistic theory maintains that matter produces spirit, mind, ego, or subject.
(c) The monistic theory maintains that one and second less Self or Atman is the cause and foundation of every one of the phenomenal universe and everything that evolves from that prime-cause, goes back to the cause or source after playing the role of manifestation.
Now, in India, Greece, Germany and England, there have arisen a number of spiritualists or idealists like Bishop Barkeley, who denied the existence of the external world and told that matter is inseparable from the mental ideas. In India, the Yogachara Buddhists also said that the external objects of the universe are non-existent other than the mind or consciousness (vijnana). Sometimes Sankara, the greatest exponent of Advaita Vedanta, said: "characharam bhati mano vilasam", i.e., the objective world-appearance is the representation of the mind (vijnana), Majority of the scientists, physicists, chemists, medical practitioners and evolutionists of the present time maintain the naive materialistic theory. In India, the Charvakas and many other sects were also the believers of the materialistic doctrine.. The school of Advaita Vedanta upholds the monistic theory which explains everything through the viewpoint of the unparalleled Atman which is one without the second.
Swami Abhedananda first considers the materialistic theory, which reduces everything of the world into matter and claims that spirit is the product of matter. So first of all we shall have to know the meaning of 'matter' If we ask anyone whether he has seen matter, he will answer in a negative way, and will say that when he looks at a flower, he sees first the colour of the flower and then gets the fragrance that exists in the flower The psychologists say that colour is the result of the objective and subjective elements, and, therefore, colour is the product of combination of that which comes from the outside world and is given by the subjective mental activities. Thus we see and understand that colour does not rest in the flower, but it depends upon retinue, optic nerves and brain-cells as well and so it cannot be the same as matter.
This beautiful volume of 'Self-knowledge' is reprinted for the ninth time. References of the different Upanishadic texts to which allusions have been made in the book have been supplied for the convenience of the readers. This book has proved of immense value to the earnest seekers of Self-knowledge. The teachings of the Upanishads have been presented in a nutshell. In this new edition a detailed Preface by Swami Prajnanananda has been added.
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