Interview with Swami Chinmayananda
David Snow, Associate Features Editor, The UCSD Guardian,
University of San Diego, San Diego, CA.
During Swamiji's University Tour in 1992, when he was speaking at the University of California, San Diego, he was interviewed by the university newspaper, The UCSD Guardian. The following are excerpts from his interview.
David Snow: May I record this conversation ?
Swami Chinmayananda: I say nothing in secret.
DS: Your literature says that your teachings will lead to a greater appreciation of all religions of the world. How could this be ?
SW: Because the difference is only in the ritual or the shape of your house of God. A temple is not like a church; a church is not like a mosque. A Mullah looks totally different from a Father, and both of them are totally different from the pundit. The rituals, the altar, these are all different. But all have an altar. And all go there to try to quiet their minds in devotion and reverence.
DS: Do you think that doctrinal differences are important ?
SW:These are only important because of the different types of students. The prophets were not interested in immortalizing their own words or books. They were anxious to care for the students who were in front of them. They toned down their explanations to suit the acceptance of the students. Thus, when Jesus was talking, it was not that he never understood . . . the higher principles of life, but it so happened that his audience consisted of poor, humble, simple fishermen of Galilee. So his audience was so elementary that he tried to explain his message in an elementary way. Just as in the classroom, the teacher may know higher physics, but he will not use it in order to come down to the level of the students....
In the case of Buddhism, Buddha was addressing the highest type of intelligent (student), and therefore Buddhism is of a much higher order. So each master, when his time comes, addresses the community in front of him. And therefore the scriptures and the approaches appear to be different.
DS: And Vedanta is the one principle of truth encompassing all other religions?
DS: As the world becomes more complicated, are people becoming more interested or less interested in your message ?
SW: The world is not complicated. It is man who is complicated. The world and the sun and the moon and the stars are not complicated. The plant kingdom and the animal kingdom are not complicated. What is changing is that man is a stupid man. All the sorrows that you are seeing in the world, including the disturbances in ecology, are not because the world is bad, but because our minds are impure. Too much lawlessness, covetousness, hatred, jealousy, greed, passion, and lust are in our minds. And therefore we disturb the equilibrium and balance of nature around us.
DS: But do you think that as this condition worsens, people are turning to religion or away from it ?
SW: Nature is trying to give you more and more doses of sorrow, hoping that your rational intellect will make you pause for a moment and study. You know that in the 80's and in the 70's animal lust was rampant in this country. Boy and girl, girl and boy--you know that sort of thing. Man could not have corrected it. Rules could not have corrected it.... Who do you think made us have AIDS? Nature aided mankind. Once AIDS came, suddenly the whole country became morally strong. It is one of the greatest sorrows of this country, of the younger generation. Once that has come, morality, though artificial, has suddenly come to the country. Nobody is confident of the other. The boy is suspicious of the girl; the girl is equally suspicious of the boy.
DS: What popular philosophies today do you find most damaging to humans ?
SW: The practice of whipping up your desires. Each individual trying to fulfill all his desires-- his selfish desires. And there is no society. Each individual is separate from all the others.... The father wants his satisfaction; the mother equally wants it as well as the child. Selfless love is the remedy.
DS: Do you find this selfishness particularly intense in the United States?
SW: No. It is universal today ... Because nobody is telling anybody - in your University, did they ever tell you ? - that you must rise above selfishness and be human ? They will never say it, because it is not in the textbook. So all we have are institutes where instructors come and give you some data and information [about] ... [But] how do they feed the inner nature of man to bring him the better and higher values--[to have] the higher possibilities come out of him ? You are only told that you need a job by which you then get your own livelihood. No morality, no ethics, no principles.
So the world has become lawless. No compassion, no tenderness, no mercy. We are taught that might is right, that if you have a gun, it doesn't matter what happens to other human beings. That sort of a civilization of muggers is not really one that can bring about peace and prosperity. Today, open the world map, close your eyes, and put your finger anywhere. In any of the areas [you touch], you will find there is a war going on. To bring about . . . peace and tranquillity, the values of life must be changed. [We must study] the mighty men who have formed society. How did they live ? In what spirit of sacrifice did they live so that they could serve others ? Life's goal should not be to acquire and possess and keep and enjoy for yourself but [to see] how much you're giving to society....
DS: Do you find Americans to be very spiritual people ?
SW: They are potentially very spiritual. But at this moment ...
[laughter] they are never given a chance.
DS: Are they spiritual compared to the Europeans ?
SW: Americans are very bright. They have a hunger to know these things. When you explain it, they give all their attention and grasp the idea. But alas, even if they got the idea, they don't have the ability to live it. Why ? Temptations.
DS: Where are temptations the strongest? The United States ?
SW: All developed nations. I won't say in America only. What about Germany ? What about Paris ? What about London ? All developed, nations have these temptations all laid out. These temptations are also coming to the developing nations in Asia, to India and to Arabia also. But they have a spiritual background already and a large majority of people are still living the ancient values.
DS: If you could give one piece of advice to a frustrated and unhappy student, what would it be ?
SW: Tell the students, whatever they are doing, please bring their minds where their hands are working. You don't put your minds with your hands, and so economically America is going down. Attention is always wandering. You do one thing, but your mind is at least 10 kilometers away. So you are an automatic and mindless creature.
DS: Is that the secret of success--bringing your mind to your hands ?
SW: Not only to success, but to genius. Why is it that Einstein was such a genius? When he was in the laboratory, his mind was totally there; therefore his excellence in performance... When the mind of an individual is distracted, his efficiency goes down, and he is marked for failure in life. If such people constitute a community, that community cannot [have] pride. If it is a nation ... [laughter], it is doomed to disaster.