Does Man Really Need God? - By Swami Vivekananda

What an incalculable number of things modern man needs! One has only to go to a big department store to be convinced about this. And yet there we get only a fractional idea of the total requirements of man. Man has his basic needs, such as food, clothes, shelter, etc. He has his conventional needs, which are no less required because they are conven­tional. Then man has his luxury needs, his imaginary needs and his needless needs also.

But then, who are we to say that any par­ticular need of man is imaginary or needless? If we are allowed to say that, life may indeed become needlessly difficult. If a person needs a particular thing, however meaningless it may seem to others, he must have a reason for needing it. Whether or not that cause is reasonable is another matter. Again, 'reasonable' according to whom?

Man does not need anything which he does not need. And he gradually outgrows his 'needless' needs, if there are any.

Even if we ourselves are not aware of the cause of needing a particular thing, there are always the manufactures' agents to tell us with the nicest of rehearsed smiles (on the TV) that we need more and more of their product, of course, if we are to be accepted as truly modern, dynamic and cultivated. In economically advanced countries, today it is no longer a question of every family needing one or two cars, but of needing to change the models of their cars every now and then. We not only require clothes but we require to keep up with the changing fashions in clothes. We not only require ornaments, but the latest new designs in ornaments. We not only need an ever-increasing number of things, but the newest in things.

The 'free economy' in a democracy is euphemistically said to depend on spending more. But what does spending more actually mean? It means buying more. What does buy­ing more mean? It means a desire for more and more; in other words, turning to be slaves of those desires so that continuity of demand is kept up. In order to create an illusion of cir­cumventing the economic law of diminishing returns from the continuous supply of things, the patterns of things are changed. Thus money is kept rolling and the wheels of in­dustry moving. Getting at the root of this system of economy, we find, in the ultimate analysis, that it depends on making us want; that is to say, it depends largely on creating artificial needs.

In a society where artificial needs are constantly created, one cannot easily have an idea of how little a man really needs to live a contented life even of the noblest type. After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, it was found that his personal possessions were on­ly his spinning wheel, a few pieces of home­spun cloth, a few books, two pairs of slippers—one wooden and the other leather, a walking stick, his spectacles, a pen, a writing desk, a cup and a spoon, a watch and a rosary and the tell-tale 'Three Monkeys'. It is a real education to know how little one actually needs.

It is not always we who decide what we need. Somebody else tells us that. And it can become a terrible bondage. In a 'free economy', the manufacturer tells us what we need and cajoles us into thinking that we need it. In what is called an 'authoritarian economy', the state tells us what we need; and we just have to take it. We may need more bread and butter. But the state tells us, 'No, you need more steel'. And we are forced to agree.

As we all know, besides his physical needs, man has needs of other dimensions as well. He has emotional needs, social needs, and in­tellectual needs too. In fact, an exhaustive list of man's needs would be a staggering one.

Sometimes we don't realize the value of the fruits of civilization which come to us in the normal course, because we do not remember the great price our forebears had to pay for these.

We live in an age of unprecedented acknowledgement of various human needs. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations has endorsed the right of man to have a variety of things irrespective of nationality or color. Of course, though acknowledged by the collective conscience of the world, man's needs are not yet everywhere granted. Even today there are places in the world where a section of people think that it has a greater right to more and better things than other sections. The days are, however, gone when it could be said with impunity, with a gun, that you have no right to live. Today we acknowledge not only man's right to life but also his right to his needs.

But in these days of universal acknowledge­ment of human needs, the greatest need of man—man's spiritual need—appears to be less and less acknowledged. Man's need for God is coming to have less and less emphasis in the minds of men. Perhaps a third of humani­ty, at a very conservative estimate, is atheistic. Of the other two-thirds, perhaps one-third is indifferent to religion, though not declaring themselves irreligious. Only about one-third of humanity may care to declare itself religious in some way or other. This classification of humanity is not made on the basis of statistics, but on the general impression one receives from a study of the world today.

There is an ever-growing number of good men in this world who do not call themselves communists or atheists but who prefer the laboratory to the altar, the reactor to the tem­ple, altruism to meditation, technology to theology, statistics to Japam or other spiritual practices. They believe in the need for an ethical life, but they do not feel called upon to acknowledge the need for God on that ac­count. They even stand for a sort of morality, but reject the need for spirituality. They say: what we really need in our personal and social life is good conduct; but to be good, we do not require the policing by a God whose ex­istence has not been proved. The pursuit of God is like going after a will-o'-the wisp and creates difficulties in practical life.

These good men want a good society, of course. And they believe that good conduct is the only basis of a good society. Hence God is superfluous.

The question naturally arises: What exact­ly is good conduct? In general it consists of performing one's duties with conscientious detachment, not harming others, and in cultivating equanimity in the varying and con­flicting situations of life.

Now. what will sustain a person in good conduct? What will be the motive power behind his good conduct? what will lead him to the still higher goal of detachment? What will resolve doubts and conflicts? What will be the rationale of being good? Can one be good for selfish reasons? In times of crisis, in the face of temptation, when one's rights are challenged, what will make a person stick to the canons of morality and ethics?

Nothing. Nothing but the felt need for God can keep us rooted in good conduct and all its requirements, at all times and under all cir­cumstances. This is the verdict of our scrip­tures and saints. Sri Krishna teaches in the Gita:

The objects of the senses fall away from a man prac­tising abstinence, but not the taste thereof, but even the taste falls away when the Supreme is seen.1

Even the man practising austerity retains a taste for the objects of the senses; that is to say, he may slip back to attachment under pro­vocation. Only the pull of God gradually weans him away. He is safe only after he has seen God and all his desires have been burnt up.

Now, one who has not even felt the need for God, what will be the guarantee of his con­tinued goodness? None at all. At the slightest stress or strain his resolve of good conduct may break down, making him a victim of his lower impulses, and to that extent endanger­ing society and engendering in it the move­ment of evil forces. Therefore, Tiruvalluvar, an ancient saint and lawgiver of India, said:

Hold fast to the Lord. Keep that supreme attachment intact, so that you may be released from other at­tachments that bind the soul.2

Nammalwar, another Indian saint, said:

If attachment has left, salvation has been reached in­deed. And if that detachment is to be fixed unalterably, and attachment has to be wiped out completely, sur­render yourself to God.3

Those who seek to be good and build up a good society will find, if they think out ful­ly the practical and theoretical implications of their ideal, that they cannot rationally reject God. Let it not be thought, however, that in saying this we hold that the need for God is only as a good material for making a good society, a sort of sacred cement.

In fact, the ultimate purpose of good socie­ty is to provide man with opportunities for at­taining self-fulfillment, which, in the final analysis, he can achieve only through needing and finding God. This of course is a religious point of view and it is being constantly challenged in modern times. Quite a few substitutes for religion are in the field and claiming the allegiance of the uncommitted educated men and women of the world, who are 'victims of unwilling disbelief caused by scientific materialism.

As man cannot live and grow in the yawn­ing chasm of a total negation of faith or reason for living, these relinquishers of traditional faiths are seeking refuge in different brands of 'isms'.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, in his book, Recovery of Faith catalogues these substitutes for religion thus: Sub-humanism, Paganism, Humanism, Nationalism, Communism, Authoritarianism.

With a masterly analysis of all these substitutes for religion, he shows that none of these offers a full and adequate answer to the problems of living. Apart from the problems of living, deep in man's soul there are higher aspirations too, which these substitutes do not even seem to be aware of!

Religion is supposed to provide the link bet­ween man and God. But when religion emphasizes norm and form, creed and dogma, conformity and conduct more than God and the love for Him, then religion itself comes to stand between man and God.

Very few, even among those who would pas­sionately declare themselves to be religious, do really seek God for His sake alone. Most of the religious adopt a religion, either for the respectability attached to it, or for the solace and comfort it may bring. It is like a feather in the cap, not a flame in the head, much less an agony in the soul. Only a handful among the religious do really yearn for God, and cry for His vision.

In one place in the Gospel, describing the nature of the worldly-minded religious peo­ple, Sri Ramakrishna says that when they go to a place of pilgrimage, instead of straightaway going to the shrine to offer prayers, they go on giving alms, to make them feel good, or to be seen doing good. Nobody says that they should not be charitable but it should be done only after the primary object of offering prayer.

In another place says Sri Ramakrishna:

The universe is God's glory. People see this glory and forget everything. They do not seek God whose glory is this world. All seek to enjoy 'woman and gold'.

Even religiosity, which may have various forms, need not necessarily be an expression of true spirituality.

There is a story about Guru Govind Singh, the great spiritual leader of the Sikhs, and a rich disciple!

Guru Govind Singh was once sitting on the banks of the Jamuna saying his prayers. It was evening. Raghunath. a rich disciple, came and bowed down say­ing: 'Sir, pray, accept this trifling present in token of my love.' So saying, he laid at the feet of the Master two gold bracelets, inlaid with rare gems. The Guru accepted the ornaments, and as if to display his pleasure, he began to play with one of the bracelets, tossing it into the air and catching it in his palm. Sud­denly he let one bracelet slip and fall into the river.

Raghunath, the disciple, took it to be a sad accident. He jumped into the river to recover it. He continued to search for it while the teacher all the while remained absorbed in meditation. Late in the evening Raghunath returned from his futile search with down-cast eyes. He said: 'Master, I am sorry, I have failed to find the jewel so far, but I can possibly still get it if you will only point out the exact spot where it fell.'

Knowing as he did all that passed in the mind of his disciple, the Guru took the other bracelet and threw that too in the river saying 'Raghunath it was just there'.

Raghunath stood stunned and bewildered at this deliberate act of the teacher. He was unable to divine the Master's meaning in casting away the second Knowing as he did all that passed in the mind of his disciple, the Guru took the other bracelet and threw that too in the river saying 'Raghunath it was just there'.

Raghunath stood stunned and bewildered at this deliberate act of the teacher. He was unable to divine the Master's meaning in casting away the second

With great tenacity and determined applica­tion we keep up such screens of separation bet­ween ourselves and God!

It is possible that through many years of our life we may go about as religious, without making any spiritual progress, always staying as distant from God as ever. When we cling to religion as an ornament or an embellish­ment, a certificate of an appendage, or a show, God stays away from us for the simple reason that we do not yet need Him. When we do need Him. even the veil of religiosity is torn asunder. And then we pine for God as one whose head is set aflame seeks a lake to plunge into.

Religion is psychological necessity of man. This is today fortunately acknowledged by a section of psychologists following the leader­ship of Dr. Jung, who, in his famous book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, declared:

Among all my patients in the second half of life, that is to say, over thirty-five years, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of fin­ding a religious outlook on life.

It is good that today some psychologists acknowledge that religion is a psychological necessity of man. But it is not yet widely ad­mitted that God is the elemental need and con­stitutional necessity of man. Because God is man's elemental need, religion has become man's psychological necessity.

What exactly is meant by saying that religion or God is a necessity or elemental need? Look at a tree. It requires sunshine, air and water to reach the fulfillment of its life as a tree. Sun­shine, air and water are its elemental needs. Whether these needs are supplied in natural surroundings or artificially is another matter. But these needs are elemental.

In like manner, if man is to reach the fulfillment of his life, man must need God. Without God there is no fulfillment of life. And what is called fulfillment of life is God Himself. God is the means and God is the end too. "I am the way,. the truth and the life"8 said Christ. God is ttian's need because without holding on to God man cannot proceed a step towards the fulfillment of his life.

What is meant by the fulfillment of human life? It is that state of being in which man realizes his essential nature and through that realization, goes beyond all the bondages of life, its carvings and limitations.

If we analyze the innumerable desires that arise clamorously in human minds, we can reduce them to three fundamental ones:

1. Man does not want to die—he wants to be immortal.
2. Man wants to rise above all ignorance and know everything—that is, he wants to be omniscient.
3. Man wants to go beyond all miseries—that is, he wants to be eternally blissful.

Are not these desires fantastic? From the empirical standpoint, 'Yes'; from the absolute standpoint, 'no'.

Man, if he is only a psychophysical organism, conditioned by space, time and causality, can never become immortal, omnis­cient and ever-blissful. But as our scriptures say, this psychophysicalorganism which we know as man is only a temporary vesture put on by something inscrutable in man, called At-man. The very nature of this Atman is Sat-Chit-Ananda, existence-knowledge-bliss ab­solute. Therefore, from the absolute stand-point, these fantastic desires of man are natural ones, which are fulfilled only when man realizes Atman and finds he is It. Thus it is that man needs God; God is man's elemental necessity.

In this explanation no mention has been made of God. What is the relation of God, about whom we previously spoke, and Atman?

As Swami Vivekananda puts it:
If conformity is the law of the universe, every part of universe must have been built on the same plan as the whole. So we naturally think that behind the gross material form which we call this universe of ours, there must be a universe of finer matter, which we call thought and behind that there must be soul, which makes all this thought possible, which commands, which is the enthroned king of the universe. That soul which is behind each mind and each body is called 'Pratyagatman', the individual Atman, and that soul which is behind the universe as its guide, ruler and governor, is God.'

'How is it then', the question may be asked, 'if God is such an elemental necessity of man, that the majority of human beings can remain completely unaware of this fact?'

First, let us understand this clearly, that unawareness of this need does not disprove the need itself. Ignorance of a truth does not nullify the truth. It is a fact that the majority of human beings are not aware that they need God. Yet this is the highest truth about man. There are two reasons why man remains oblivious of the greatest need of his life. The first reason is that the Upadhis obscure our vision. The second is that the Vibhutis pre­vent our spiritual progress and keep us bound to matter. What are the Upadhis? And what are the Vibhutis?

According to Vedanta, man is essentially At-man, the principle of Divine Consciousness, which is non-different from the Ultimate Reality known as Brahman.

Even so due to the influence of Maya or nes­cience, man gets identified with his psychophysical organism. All the extraneous adjuncts of the Atman, such as body and mind, and whatever attachments man develops relating to his worldly pursuits, his family relations, academic career, position in socie­ty, economic status—all these are man's Upadhis. Lost in their trap of attractions and aversions man forgets his real nature. And this makes it possible for him not to feel the need for God.

Vibhutis, generally speaking, are the powers that come to us on the way when we are trying to realize the Truth. These powers may be psychic or material. They are like toys with which we are diverted. If we allow ourselves to be fascinated by these little powers and busy ourselves with them, then our spiritual pro­gress is stopped. We do not then feel the need for God.

When the mother wants time, she puts a toy in the baby's hand. The baby is happy with the toy, plays with it, and completely forgets the mother for a little while. But suddenly it remembers the mother, throws away the toy and begins to cry. When the baby has succeed­ed through its crying in making its need known to the mother, she comes away from her book of science-fiction, TV, or cooking and takes the baby in her arms.

Science has put so many Vibhutis of the material kind in our hands and we are fascinated by them as a child by toys. Whether we crawl on the ground as tots, or compete for world leadership with a big show of our brain and muscle, we are in both cases only playing with toys. How then can we feel the need for God?

Every one of us will have to go through our own experiences in order to find the hollowness of the Upadhis and the danger of the Vibhutis. Not until then will our spiritual consciousness awaken which will make us feel the need for God. That is to say, there is a time factor involved in every single person's feel­ing the need for God. One may feel the need at a tender age, whereas another may never feel the need at all in his life. Outwardly a man may appear to be a very religious person; in­wardly he may be far away from feeling the need for God. Again, a criminal suffering his term in jail may be pining for God. We just don't know, unless we are seers, how inward­ly ripe a man is for feeling the need for God. And if we are not seers we cannot do anything much by way of lectures or admonition to make another person feel the need for God. This feeling of the necessity for God cannot be imposed.

Is there nothing, then, to be done about it? Nothing, except to spread the message of religion to mankind as a whole, perhaps a shaft of this message will pierce a soul here and a soul there and agonize his whole being with a hunger for God. When thus ready, a slight stimulus coming from outside will awaken such souls.

One is reminded of the story of the Buddha and Brahma Sahampati. After the attainment of illumination, the Buddha remained in solitude for forty-nine days in the bliss of emancipation. At first he was not enthusiastic about preaching his doctrine. He thought that worldly people would not understand him and so he decided not to preach. Alarmed at his decision, Brahma Sahampati, it is said, descended from heaven and after worshipp­ing the Buddha urged him to give his message

There are some beings that are almost pure from the dust of worldlines. If they hear not the doctrine preach­ed, they will be lost. But if they hear it, they will believe, and be saved.10

But it is good to remember that we are not Buddhas. For us the main question is not how much hunger our wife or husband, son or daughter, friend or neighbour, feels for God. Our first question should be a poignantly per­sonal one: 'Do I myself at all feel the need for God?' We should ask this question of ourselves, leaving aside all our pretensions. We should ask the question of ourselves in the soft hours of the morning and in the deep hours of the night. We should ask this ques­tion of ourselves when we are at the height of life's prosperity and also when we face adversity.

A woman devotee told the Holy Mother about her misunderstanding with a friend. At this the Mother replied:

If you love any human being you will suffer for it. He is blessed, indeed, who can love God alone. There is no suffering in loving God.

Perhaps some of us already know from experience the burning truth of this saying. Yet we may very well ask anxiously, 'Should we then not love our dear ones, our husbands and wives, our children and friends?' Nobody says we should not. The implication of the Holy Mother's words would appear to be: love everyone, but love the God in everyone. Let us love everyone for the sake of God, then we shall not suffer. But if we reject God and then go on loving those psychophysical organisms which are not Atman, but only shadows of Atman, then there is going to be no end to our suffering. Alas! in this world how much suffering is being undergone in the name of love, which could be productive of bliss! If men only knew how to turn all their love into good account first, they would feel the need for God in their souls. Was it not for this that Christ said:

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Sri Radha, the gopi who worshipped Krishna in the attitude of the sweetheart, said: 'Krishna is a mere word of mouthwith many, but He is the very agony of my soul.' God must not be only a sound to be uttered, but the very flame of our heart. When that divine agony smoulders in a soul, when a man really needs God, he becomes a changed man. He becomes a fool for the sake of God. The values of the world become useless for him. The aspirations of this world appear futile to him. The delights of this world are like ashes in his mouth. His language, his looks, his deportment, his movements, his anxieties—his everything becomes dif­ferent. He is expectant every moment, yet he is sterile. He hopes, yet he despairs. He is disgusted with life, finding it useless without God, yet he has a furtive love of life, for in any moment of life could He not come? His ears are athirst to hear, his eyes are winkless to see the great Coming.

Feeling such need for God, Mira, the great Indian mystic, sang her heartrending Song

I wander still
In quest of Thee!
I am athirst
For Thy eternal love!
I long to make
My body a lamp—
The wick whereof will be
My tender heart
And I would fill the lamp
With the scented oil
Of my love for Thee!

Then let it burn
Day and night
At thy shrine,
I can no longer bear.
To be away from Thee.
Make me Thine own!
Make me like Thee! And make me pure
As Thou art pure

Moved by the same need for God in the form of the Divine Mother, Ramprasad, another mystic of India, once sang power­fully expressing the feeling of what one actually goes through when one intensely thirsts for God. His song, even in transla­tion, conveys to us the fire of his soul:

What is the use of this body, brother, If it is not spent in the love of Mother Divine?
Fie upon this tongue
If it does not repeat the name of Kali,
Sinful do I call these eyes
Which do not seek the vision of Mother Divine.

That mind is surely wicked
Which has not surrendered itself at
Mother's feet.
Thunder may befall that ear
Which on hearing the sweet name of the Mother

Does not make one weep.
What is the use of these hands
Which only gorge the belly
But do not bring offerings for worship?
Useless are these legs, toiling in vain
If they do not happily carry one
To the place where the Mother is Worshiped.

Completely overtaken by the same need for God, Sri Ramakrishna not only forgot all his own physical needs, but, as the evening would come, in an agony of soul which we just cannot understand, he would rub his face on the ground causing it to bleed, and weep. 'O Mother, another day has passed and still I have not realized Thee!

With this same need for God, St. Catherine of Genoa cried:

I wish not for anything that comes forth from Thee, but only for Thee, O Sweetest Love!"

Under the impact of the awareness of such an elemental need, Rabia said:

Whatever share of this world Thou dost bestow on me, bestow it on Thine enemies. And whatever share of the next world Thou dost give me, give it to Thy friends

Then how sweetly she said: 'Thou art enough for me."

Plotinus, in the same state says: "The soul longs to get 'amputed' of everything else with which it is surrendered."

Jalaluddin Rumi, the Persian mystic, in this state of mind said: "He (the seeker) looks not at the gift, but above all goods turns himself to the Giver." Such examples from the lives of the mystics of East and West amply prove this one great fact, that when one really feels the need for God, one's whole being becomes a single flame leaping Godward. Even to remember such souls is really an act of purification. We should always pray to the Lord that in His infinite mercy He may so direct our mind and intellect that we may understand that we need Him, and need Him above everything else, in the midst of everything else, in spite of everything else, and besides everything else in the world; and that we may be given that agony and energy of heart to yearn for Him in such a manner that today or tomorrow, months or years afterwards, at least at the last moments of our life, we may see Him face to face within and without, and be blessed.

- By  Swami Vivekananda

Also See:

Brief History of Swamy Vivekananda, Sayings and Quotes of Swami Vivekananda in English and Telugu with Images

What is Real Personality by Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda Inspire Wallpapers Download

Secret of Concentration by Swami Vivekananda and 10 Tips to improve your concentration
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