Our Own Chosen Way
It is a great tendency among liberal people to . . . nibble a little here and there and, in the long run, find they have nothing. In this country [America] many times it grows into a sort of disease—to hear various things and do nothing.
Here is the advice of one of our old bhaktas [lovers of God]: ‘Take the honey from all flowers, mix with all with respect, say yea, yea to all, but do not give up your seat.’ This not giving up your own seat is what is called nistha [devotion to one ideal]. It is not that one should hate, or even criticize, the ideals of other people; one knows they are all right. But, at the same time, one must stick to one’s own ideal very strictly. . . .
So mix with all, say yea, yea to all, but join none. Stick to your own ideal of worship. When you worship, worship that ideal of God which is your own Ishtam, your own Chosen Ideal. If you do not, you will have nothing. Nothing will grow.
When a plant is growing, it is necessary that it should be hedged round lest some animal should eat it up. But when it has become strong and a huge, gigantic tree, do not care for any hedges—it is perfect in itself. So just when the seed of spirituality is growing, to fritter away the energies on all sorts of religious ideas—a little of this and a little of that: a little of Christianity, a little of Buddhism, and in reality, of nothing—destroys the soul.
This [acceptance of various religious ideas] has its good side; and in the end we will come to it. Only do not put the cart before the horse.
In the first place, we are bound to become sectarians. But this should be the ideal of sectarianism: not to avoid anyone. Each of us must have a sect, and that sect is our own Ishtam—our own chosen way. However, that should not make us want to kill other people—only to hold onto our own way. Ours is sacred and theirs [also] is sacred. . . . That should be the attitude of worship of everyone. When you pray to your own ideal, your own Ishtam—that is the only God you shall have. God exists in various phases, no doubt, but for the time being, your own Ishtam is the only phase for you. Then, after a long course of training in this Ishtam, when this plant of spirituality has grown, and the soul has become stronger and you begin to realize that your Ishtam is everywhere, [then] naturally all these bondages will fall off. When the fruit becomes ripe it falls of its own weight. If you pluck an unripe fruit it is bitter, sour. . . . Simply hearing lectures. . . and undigested ideas is no good. One must have devotion to one idea; those that have this devotion will become spiritual, will see the light.
You see everyone complaining—‘I tried this,’ and ‘I tried that,’ and if you cross-question them as to what they tried, they will say they heard a few lectures in one place and another, a handful of talk in one corner and another, and for three hours, or a few days, they worshiped and thought they had done enough. That is . . . not the way to perfection, not the way to attain spirituality. Take up one idea, your Ishtam, and let your whole soul be devoted to it. Practice this from day to day until you see the result, until the soul grows, and if it is sincere and good, that very idea will spread till it covers the whole universe. Let it spread by itself; it will all come from the inside out. Then you will say that your Ishtam is everywhere, and He is in everything. Of course, at the same time, we must always remember that we must recognize the Ishtams of others and respect them, the other ideas of God; or else worship will degenerate into fanaticism. . . .
Knowing that all these ideals we see are good and true and are so many parts of the same God, and at the same time thinking that we are not yet strong enough to worship Him in all these forms, so therefore we must stick to one ideal and make that ideal our life. When you have succeeded in doing that all the rest will come.
– Swami Vivekananda, January 20, 1896, Swami Vivekananda in the West, New Discoveries, Vol. 3, Appendix A