NEW YORK — Each person views the world through a lens of their own understanding and experience, a Hindu swami told his followers at a February service at the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.

The teacher, who goes by the name Minister Swami Yuktatmananda, likened each person’s worldview to a pair of sunglasses. “If you look upon the human mind as a pair of sunglasses,” said the faith leader, “someone is wearing a set of black sunglasses, someone blue, someone green.  So we see the sun as a black sun, green, blue, et cetera.” 

This idea that we all view the world through different lenses, but are still staring at the same object, Yuktatmananda said, is the first principle of the stems of Vedanta: “The ultimate reality,” he said, was singular, no matter your approach to looking at it.

Vedanta is a branch of Hindu philosophy and religion that evolved out of the ideas of the Vedas, ancient Hindu scriptures considered to be some of the oldest religious texts in the world. While the philosophy has existed for millenia, the scriptures were explained by Ramakrishna Paramahansa to his disciple, Vivekananda, who brought his interpretation to the United States and other parts of the West in the late nineteenth century.

The Ramakrishna-Vivekananda center was established in 1933 as a Manhattan branch of a global movement centered around spreading the two men’s teachings. Years after the two namesakes passed away, their teachings lived on inside 17 East 94th Street.

“Today we are going to focus on four essential principles,” said Yuktatmananda. “These are the foundational principles of Vedenta.”

Yuktatmananda himself has been a practicing monk in India and the Himalayas since the 1980s. For nearly two decades, he has been leading students of Vedanta in Manhattan as the Minister and Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.

Around 20 congregants, mostly older men and women, were scattered in the pews of the downstairs prayer room on Sunday. Yuktatmananda, dressed in a loose, saffron robe wrapped around his waist, stood at the podium. The swami spoke into the microphone, his voice projecting across the wide, windowless room. 

“Each soul is divine,” said Yuktatmananda, outlining the second principle of Vedanta. He critiqued modern culture’s focus on materialism, and how it blinds people from embracing their spiritual potential.  “He looks for lasting happiness from objects in the world, which keeps on receding from him,” he said. “There can be no bliss in the finite,” he added.

Behind Yuktatmananda was a marble bust of Ramakrishna, surrounded by vases of flowers. Above the statue were three giant, black and white photos of Ramakrishna, his wife, Sri Sarada Devi Vivekananda, and Vivekananda, all meditating, looking down at the temple’s students from high above.

Metaphors of fish and birds led Yuktatmananda to the third principle of Vedanta: “The Oneness of Existence.” Like the animal kingdom, everything in the world had its place, both good and bad, and they were all part of the natural order of life.

Finally, Yuktatmananda arrived at the fourth principle: the harmony of religions. He explained that there was only one true divine, and that different religions used different rituals, mythology, and philosophy to try to reach different interpretations of the same divine. Therefore all religions were accepted under Vedanta.

“On a circle there are an infinite number of points, but the center is one,” he concluded, explaining his faith’s universalist, pluralistic worldview.

He stressed the importance of not just tolerating, but accepting and embracing other faiths, and also not emphasizing superiority of one faith over another. “The Chrisitan is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Chirstian become a Hindu, but each must preserve his own spirituality,” he said, paraphrasing Vivakanada’s 1893 lecture at the Parliament of Religions. 

After the sermon, Yuktatmananda led his congregants in prayer, which included praise to Allah, the name Muslims use for God, and Adonai, the name for God used by Jews. To Yuktatmananda and followers of the system of Vedanta, there was nothing blasphemous about a Hindu temple praying to the gods of other faiths. 

“Religions are not contradictory; they are complementary,” said Yuktatmananda. While faiths may differ in terms of their practical dimension, Vedanta asserts that “they are different pathways to the same goal.”