What Is Religion?
Readings from Selected Lectures by Swami Prabhavananda
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1.) Opening Chant (1:38) 2.) What Is Religion? (9:04) 3.) Renunciation (8:44) 4.) Self-Surrender (7:05)5.) Worship and Meditation (10:15) 6.) Grace and Self-Effort (8:40) 7.) Perfection (7:03) 8.) Closing Chant (0:13)

What Is Religion was originally released as a vinyl LP in 1967. Since that time, media has changed, but the human condition hasn’t. Swami Prabhavananda has dealt with this subject matter in the elegant way, at once both simple and profound, that has made his work so warmly received by readers and listeners and accessible at a variety of levels.

Original 1967 Liner Notes:

SWAMI PRABHAVANANDA, an ordained monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India and founder-head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, is well- known for his translations and commentaries on Indian religion and philosophy. With the assistance of Christopher Isherwood and Frederick Manchester, he has made available to Western readers particularly fresh and lucid translations of two preeminent classics of Hinduism: the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads. He has also written (with the assistance of Frederick Manchester) a scholarly and comprehensive study of Indian religions, The Spiritual Heritage of India. Swami Prabhavananda came to the United States in 1923. After two years as assistant minister of the Vedanta Society in San Francisco, he was called to Portland, Oregon to establish a center there. In 1929 he was invited to Los Angeles, where he founded the Vedanta Society of Southern California. The Society maintains a temple, bookshop, monastery, and convent at its Hollywood center, a temple and convent in Santa Barbara, and a monastery at Trabuco Canyon, near Santa Ana, and a center in San Diego. Information about the Society is available at What is religion? Certainly there is no simple answer to such an immense question - and yet it demands answering, for seldom has Western man so desperately needed spiritual strength and inner peace. On the surface, he has achieved much-scientific advancement, a higher standard of living, triumph over many diseases-but beneath this veneer, within the inner world of his own mind, he remains largely confused and unhappy. He feels alienated from nature, from his fellow man, and from God. Though his knowledge has increased, it has failed to help him abolish wars or solve the problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. What can be done? According to Swami Prabhavananda, the present illnesses of man are only to be cured by establishing in ourselves an overwhelming desire to "transcend the limitations and bondages of life." In a word, realize God. In the Swami's view, that is the meaning of religion and the ultimate purpose and goal of existence. Such a religion is not for the contented or lazy man. It will only attract the person who is admittedly dissatisfied with his present lot in life and is willing to struggle, and struggle hard, to change it. In this recording, Swami Prabhavananda discusses this struggle and its rewards. He talks simply and directly, avoiding complex philosophical language and abstruse points of logic, for Vedanta, the religion which the Swami represents, is essentially practical; and it is this aspect which he emphasizes above any other. Where do we start in the search for God? Exactly where we are. The only real requirement, Swami Prabhavananda stresses, is sincerity and a willingness to be patient. Nothing worth having comes easily, and this is nowhere truer than in religion. The joy of religious life comes only as the result of persistent inner struggle, and those who promise aspirants an easy access to Truth or spiritual experiences are deluding themselves and their followers. Religion first of all asks that we change our character, for only when our hearts and minds are purified will God become manifest. To accomplish this transformation, strength of will and a dedicated effort are unquestioned necessities. Essentials of Vedanta At its core, Vedanta contains three fundamental truths. First: it states that man's real nature is divine. If we accept any principle of an underlying Reality or Being which supports life, then it is logical that such a Reality is all-pervasive. Therefore, it is within man. In fact, says Vedanta, this Reality has its highest manifestation in man. Second: the purpose of life is to discover this divine nature. Without an infinite goal, our finite lives will remain vain and empty of purpose. It is such emptiness which creates in us frustration and aimlessness. In order to escape these negative emotions, we should be engaged in some higher aspiration than the mere striving for material comforts, fame, and wealth. The real goal for man must be God. Third: truth is universal and is therefore found in all religions. Vedanta states that there are two aspects to the Perennial Philosophy-the eternal religion (sanatana dharma), which is ever-abiding, beginningless and endless; and the religion of the age which draws upon the eternal truths and adapts them to meet the needs of the time. The word "Vedanta" literally means the end or essential teaching of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in the world and considered by Hindus to be Divine Truth itself. These teachings need not be taken on faith alone. They can be verified through experience, as they have been by countless sages and saints through the ages. The most recent spiritual exemplar to verify these truths was Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886), who is now worshiped by millions of persons in many parts of the world. This remarkable Indian saint, by following the paths of Christianity, Islam, and the various sects of Hinduism, demonstrated that all religions, if pursued sincerely, will lead to God. In this way he reaffirmed the primary teaching of Vedanta, which states, "Truth is one, though sages call it by various names." Vedanta in America The first person to bring the unifying message of Vedanta to the West was Swami Vivekananda, the dynamic and brilliant disciple of Ramakrishna. Vivekananda arrived in Chicago in 1893 as an unofficial delegate to the World Parliament of Religions. His first address electrified the audience. "Sisters and brothers of America," he began; and suddenly, as if swept by a tidal wave of emotion, the audience rose to its feet and applauded thunderously for a full two minutes. Vedanta was thus introduced to the west. In the next three years, Vivekananda lectured the length and breadth of the United States. He was entertained by professors, society matrons, social workers, and ministers. The vast majority of them came away charmed and, in many cases, profoundly moved by this learned, witty, and highly spiritual Hindu. When the Swami returned to India in January 1897, he left a land ready and willing to receive the ancient truths he had preached. He had hidden nothing. The West had been given the most precious possession of his homeland-its religion. It would now be up to others to carry on his work. The Swami made a second trip to the West in 1899 and then returned the following year to India, where he died two years later at the age of thirty-nine. Since that time, ten Vedanta centers have been founded in the United States, as well as other centers in France, England, and Argentina. Each of them is a nonsectarian, self-supporting unit, operated by its own board of trustees, under the spiritual guidance of a swami of the Ramakrishna Order. The swamis do not consider themselves missionaries. They come at the invitation of interested persons to give instruction in the philosophy and practice of Vedanta. Their main desire is to help people deepen their spiritual lives, regardless of their religious affiliation. They say, "Vedanta can make you a better Christian, a better Buddhist, or a better Hindu." In other words, Vedanta can help the sincere spiritual aspirant gain greater insight into his own faith. If that faith leads him to God, then the purpose of Vedanta is fulfilled. Those who wish to learn in greater detail about the teachings contained in this recording are advised to communicate with the Secretary, Vedanta Society of Southern California, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood, CA 90068.

Vedanta Press