Future trends and technological advancement in Engg: Industry 4.0

Birth of Engg: Fire, water & wheel

I believe that Engg began the day man realized that he could control the starting and extinguishing of fire. The next important milestone must have been the invention of the wheel. He was always dependent on water, and hence knew very well the amazing properties water had. So, man had the three main ingredients – fire, water and the wheel. He spent many thousands of years before he took the next vital step in Engg. While continuing to use fire, water and the wheel in his daily life, he had started domesticating animals for his own assistance. Animals and the wheel could help him move things. Of course, slaves too came in handy in this work. He had also learnt how to melt different metals using water and fire. So, with the main ingredients, man waited for centuries.

Industrial revolution: Steam power, fossil fuels & machines

Then one fine day, some genius put water, fire and wheel together to get steam motive power. He must have been a lazy man, or someone who couldn’t get his animals or his slaves to do work for him. He arranged things in such a way that steam could move his vehicle. I have read that this vital disruption happened in a mine. Once man discovered steam power, he started using it in various places. Wherever he wanted to move anything, he started using steam power. By this time, man had many machines working for him. All of them were now using steam. By this time, he had also known the use of fossil fuels. He slowly started substituting fossil fuels to get motion. This enormous change in the way man worked that this introduction of steam and fossil fuel brought about has been termed as the 1st Industrial revolution.

2nd Industrial revolution: Electricity

Electricity brought in the next important disruption in our world. While it replaced steam as motive power, it brought in artificial lighting on an unprecedented scale. Man now started working during day and night. Production increased. Wealth creation reached undreamt of heights. Note how every new invention and discovery kept on adding to enhancing man’s ability to work and produce stuff. Mass production became the new order of the world. Nuclear energy and solar energy came in with man’s sustained investigation into motion and the nature of heat and electricity. By now, man had kind of found out the secret of unraveling new knowledge – keep on investigating what you already know and it opens out into newer regions. Each step gained in knowledge could be converted into making daily life easier, cheaper, more efficient, and involve more and more people in the economic activities of this world.

3rd Industrial revolution: Electronics & computers

Electronic computers and telecommunication brought in the next level of change in our world. Digital technology took all aspects of our life to the next level. If introduction of steam and fossil fuel power initiated changes that were called the 1st Industrial revolution, and introduction of electricity and mass production ushered in the 2nd Industrial revolution, the electronic computers and telephony brought in the 3rd Industrial revolution. At each of these distinct stages in our history, there have been major changes in society. Urbanization became rampant. Mechanization became the norm. Human rights became a major concern. Corporate systems or organizations became the basic unit in which human beings organized themselves in society. Improving the quality of life of all human beings became an overarching objective of society. Primacy of money as the tool of economic activities has become so ubiquitous that we tend to think it is something natural today! We are now at the stage of realizing the social and environmental impacts of our activities for the last 300-400 years, since the 1st Industrial revolution.

We are standing today at the cusp of another major revolution in the way we organize our society, and in the way we work. We shall look at it briefly.

Human tendency is to take in all that exists in society at any point of time and explore all the possibilities they extend. Man then starts applying everything that exists in the fund of knowledge available to him at any point of time to everything that concerns him. That brings in newer changes, facilitating further changes.

The 4th Industrial revolution: Industry 4.0

Digitization and automation are pervading every aspect of modern life, thought and action. Advancements in telecommunication have reached a stage where anyone can today connect to anyone else in the world in real time. So also, any machine can connect to any other machine today in real time. That also means man and machine can communicate seamlessly. If you bring in computers into the picture here, you create a situation that looks like a science fiction novel! You can today create systems that seem to be self-regulating, self-learning, self-correcting, and essentially self-reliant in every way! Of course, I have oversimplified the situation for you. At each step in this integration, there are huge fields of engineering and technology involved full time. Thus we have new fields of human endeavor such as Internet of things (IoT), industrial internet of things (IIoT), machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing, which have developed to great depths in their own rights. And now that most of these fields are sufficiently mature, people from other fields are now looking at how they can use these tools in their own fields. The innumerable combinations are spewing out amazing products, processes and systems that are positioned to change our world beyond recognition! So much of digitization and automation has been achieved today that in Japan, there is a company called Fanuc which has a factory that has been nicknamed ‘Lights out’ factory. Why that name? That factory does not need human intervention at all. It runs completely automatically, totally on its own. Since no people are required to be present, there are no lights inside that factory. Hence the nickname ‘Lights out’ factory!

Computers today have developed the ability to sift through mountains of past data and discover meaningful patterns from the data. These patterns help us in predicting the future behavior of whatever data set is presented. This field of Data Analytics has now matured sufficiently and is waiting to be applied in a hundred other areas of human interest.

By welding the fields of Data Analytics, electronics, and artificial intelligence, we can now create versions of reality that don’t actually exist. This has opened up fields of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Advances in manufacturing using non-conventional materials such as plastics and composites, adopting electronics and modern computer-aided designing have resulted in 3D printing. These three developments – VR, AR, & 3D printing – are poised to revolutionize R&D. Research has always been cumbersome, time-taking and extremely costly, with no guarantees of returns. With these developments, R&D becomes super quick, super cheap and amenable to quick commercialization.

Material science has advanced beyond imagination today. We are now able to work at the molecular level. This has opened up a whole new field called Nano technology, which also has incredible scope of application in everything that man does – manufacturing, food, pharmacology, agriculture, surgery, apparels, energy storage, and you-name-it!

Computers and electronics have penetrated every sphere of human activity today. That means data is everywhere. The ever increasing demand for interconnectedness calls for data-sharing at an unprecedented level and scale. This has called to question the security and safety of our data. Anyone having access to our data essentially gains control over our activities. This unique problem has led to the development of another of those modern miracles called ‘Block chain technology’. This is a novel method of handling data that is the epitome of transparency. In the present world, ideas are money. Any new idea has to be protected. Things and places we can own. How do we own ideas? So, tremendous changes are coming in regarding ‘Intellectual Property Rights’ (IPR). If you have followed the long drawn legal battles between Apple and Samsung, you will be able to discern this modern form of warfare over, not land or gold, but over ideas!

Sustainability issues:

There is a major churning underway in the industry today. We have very cursorily delineated the important players on the field. The specialty of the 4th Industrial revolution that is unfolding before our eyes now is the heightened sense of social responsibility. Till now, it was enough if technology made man’s life easier. Not any longer. Now, simultaneously with improving our daily life, technology has to accept responsibility of social sustainability. The climate must be protected. Wild life, flora and fauna must be protected. Air and water must be kept clean and pure. Natural resources cannot be ravaged. Human dignity must be protected and cannot be roughshod over in the momentum of urgently achieving technological advancement. At a time when enormous power is being unleashed by the amalgamation of diverse fields of human activities, awareness of sustainability is getting acute.

If we observe closely, we will see that there is an element of greed behind technology. The ideology of capitalism grew up to sustain and justify what was universally recognized as the despicable influence behind technological advancement. That element of greed has to be contained. The first attempt to control and contain that streak appeared in the form of the communist ideology on the fringes of the mainstream ideology of capitalism. Gradually, the followers of that ideology shifted party and became main stream. Although the committed followers of the fringe ideology have been discredited and their numbers and clout has dwindled and all but vanished, the same impulse to challenge and contain the inherent greed fueling technological advancement has resurfaced as climate activism and sustainability consciousness.

Trends in Industry 4.0:

The unspoken objective behind all technological advancement has been to reduce human exertions, while improving the luxury of daily life. Economic advantage lies in making a product or process available to as many people as possible. Thus, under ideal conditions, we should work as little as possible, and enjoy as many luxuries as possible, at the least possible cost in terms of money, time and energy. Long ago, there was a serious discussion regarding work. Many believed that technological advancement will lead to a situation where man will need to work lesser and lesser and a day will finally come when technology will ensure that everyone had sufficient to live on and will need to do no work! This has been the carrot that has pulled man towards greater and yet greater development. Are we there yet? No. If at all we have learnt anything from our 300 years of industrialization, it is this – it takes more work to reduce our work!

The trend for all development in the future will consist of the following characteristics:

  1. Technology, human biology and society will be integrated seamlessly. What will integrate them? Data.
  2. Data therefore becomes the fuel of the future. Generation and protection of data will assume supreme importance.
  3. Demands from the market will have to be responded to immediately. The one who responds earlier wins in the future.

Challenges in the future:

As we can foresee, there are some serious challenges associated with these changes in technology. Data security is certainly one of the most important of these challenges. Every major technological change is associated with storing, handling and sharing data. However, Governments, Industries and people would like to protect their data from falling into the wrong hands. Ideas lie at the basis of innovation. Commercialization of ideas is the foundation of business. Ownership of products and processes can be claimed and established. Doing the same for ideas is really tricky. This problem was addressed by the concept of Patents, right after the 1st Industrial revolution. But, in the present day scenario, patents don’t sufficiently address the issue. Legal problems can arise from a competitor who will wait for commercial success of a product and then claim original ownership of the idea. This happened between Apple and Samsung. In the long-drawn legal battle between these two technology giants, some battles were won by Apple, while some were won by Samsung. This is because the issue is closely linked to the rules governing Mergers & Acquisitions of business enterprises, and cross-hiring of employees across the industry. So long as the various Governments don’t re-calibrate the dynamics of doing business globally, this issue will remain a constant source of irritation. A third source of challenge for the future is the high cost of adopting new technology into a running business enterprise. Along with this cost component is the challenge of getting very highly skilled employees to manage the business of the future. Many experts are predicting the end of the road for semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The future will belong to the really high-skilled worker only. While industry has the perennial problem of getting skilled workers, Governments across the world will have to face the tremendous challenge of providing meaningful employment to millions who will become redundant due to the technological changes that will ensue in the next 20-30 years. Even if employment cannot be provided by Governments, people will expect welfare measures from their respective Governments for mere survival. Indeed, industry seems to be racing towards a situation where most people do not need to work, but the same technological advancements are not geared to ensure welfare for people! Naturally, faced with such a major socio-political challenge, it should not be a surprise to us if more and more Luddites start influencing policy making in the Governments across the world. In short, the time has come for Government regulation of technological advancement.

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Sri Sharada Devi – Paragon of Virtues

Translation of the Kannada booklet ‘Sadguna Bhushite Sri Sharada Mate’ by Swami Purushottamananda

Sri Sharada Devi & Viveka:

The year: 1885. Sri Sharada Devi was staying in Dakshineswar in Kolkata. That was period when she was immersed in serving her husband Sri Ramakrishna and in her own intense spiritual Sadhana. Sri Ramakrishna had decided to take his disciples and devotees with him to the famous Panihati Chide-mahotsava.

Situated some five miles away from Dakshineswar, Panihati hosted an annual fair called Chide-mahotsava. It would be better to call it a devotees’ convention or devotees’ extravaganza. It was a major congregation of the Vaishnava devotees. Hundreds of devotees of Lord Krishna would gather at Panihati and spend the day in chanting the Lord’s name. Everyone who came there would sing and dance in the Lord’s name. There would be endless nama-sankirtana, bhajans and dancing. Sri Ramakrishna had been attending that event for many years now. But he had been unable to attend that program the previous year (1884) due to unavoidable circumstances. Now, this year, he planned to attend the Chide-mahotsava. He was the very embodiment of bliss. One can only imagine the magical environment he would be creating in a devotees’ extravaganza like the Panihati Chide-mahotsava. Hence, innumerable disciples and devotees also wished to accompany him there. Some lady-devotees too joined the group. Thus, it became a group of some 20-25 persons. Sri Sharada Devi too desired to be a part of that group. But, Sri Ramakrishna did not make any statement on that matter. So, Sri Sharada Devi sent a lady devotee to ask of Sri Ramakrishna if she, i.e. Sri Sharada Devi, too could accompany the group. Sri Ramakrishna, who thus learnt of his wife’s wish to go to Panihati Chide-mahotsava, said, “If she wishes, she may come.”

One may ask, ‘Why? Sri Sharada Devi could have directly approached Sri Ramakrishna and asked him. Why ask through a lady-devotee?’ Well, the situation there wasn’t that simple. Sri Sharada Devi was extremely bashful. Sri Ramakrishna’s room was always full of devotees, disciples, and the who’s who of Kolkata of that period. There was no chance of Sri Sharada Devi appearing before all those people and speaking to her husband. Therefore, she sent an emissary.

Anyway, when the time for departure to Panihati arrived, some lady-devotees approached Sri Sharada Devi and asked her, “Mother, won’t you come with us?” Sri Sharada Devi, endowed with a supremely subtle intellect, and blessed with phenomenal common sense said, “You see, how could I ever accompany you all? So many people are in the group. The boat will be literally full. What to say about the fair! It would be impossible for me to move about in that ocean of people. No, you all please go ahead.”

Saying this, Sri Sharada Devi joyfully saw off the group of lady-devotees. The Fair went off very well. At night, when they had all returned, while having dinner, Sri Ramakrishna said, “My God! What a crowd! I was continuously in ecstasy. Everybody’s eyes were planted on me. And good Lord! It was very good that she did not accompany us. If she were to be with us, those people would have made fun of us saying, ‘O look! There goes the famous “Swan-couple”[1]!’ She is really very intelligent.”

When we listen to this assessment of Sri Ramakrishna, we begin to realize why Sri Sharada Devi, although she wished to attend the Panihati Fair in the beginning, later on, passed the offer. One of the lady-devotees, who was in that room during dinner time, conveyed these words of praise to Sri Sharada Devi. Then she herself said, “When he gave his permission in the morning, I understood that he did not give his wholehearted approval to my going there. If he really approved of my going there, he would have said something like ‘O sure! She should come with us!’ But when he said, ‘If she wishes, she may come’, he put the responsibility of the decision on me. I then decided that it would be better not to go there.”

Before we analyze this incident, let us see one more similar incident.

Sri Ramakrishna had a Marwari devotee called Lakshmi Narayan. He was a big businessman. He had the capacity to spend money like water. He revered Sri Ramakrishna. Once he proposed that he would keep Rs. 10,000 (in those days!) in the Bank in Sri Ramakrishna’s name, for defraying his expenses. But, would Sri Ramakrishna agree to this proposition? He was renunciation personified! Listening to Lakshmi Narayan’s words was like getting his own head sawed by a hack-saw; that was how Sri Ramakrishna described his feelings later on. But that Marwari devotee didn’t leave it at that. He tried many means of getting Sri Ramakrishna to accept his proposition. Sri Ramakrishna said in exasperation, “My good man, never ever raise this issue again, ever!” Saying this, he tried to send the Marwari away. But Lakshmi Narayan was determined. He would make Sri Ramakrishna accept his money offering. He now proposed that he would deposit that amount in Sri Sharada Devi’s name. But, if something belongs to his wife, it essentially belongs to him; hence Sri Ramakrishna shot down this proposition too. The businessman then made another plan. He said, “Let me approach Sri Sharada Devi myself and see if she agrees.”

Sri Ramakrishna immediately thought – she is my wife; living with me for this long must have rubbed off my qualities on her personality too; this would indeed be a very good opportunity to test her renunciation. So, when Sri Sharada Devi came to his room, he said, “Look here, Lakshmi Narayan wants to give me Rs. 10,000. Since I said I do not touch money, he now wants to deposit that amount in your name. If you wish, you may take that amount. What do you say?”

Immediately, Sri Sharada Devi said, without the least hesitation, “How could that be? If you rejected the amount, how could I accept it? Moreover, even if I accept it, that amount will be spent on your expenses only. It would have been essentially accepted by you! All these people love you, respect you and revere you mainly for your complete renunciation. So, there is no question of my accepting the amount.”

Sri Ramakrishna was afraid that she would have accepted the money. When he heard her reply, he was greatly pleased. It was as though a great burden was lifted from off his shoulders.

When we analyze these two incidents, we come face-to-face with Sri Sharada Devi’s extremely subtle commonsense. It is very easy to imagine how she would have reacted in both these situations if she had been like other ordinary women.

‘If she wishes, she may come’; when Sri Ramakrishna said this, any other ordinary woman would have immediately jumped at the opportunity. For, didn’t he say, ‘she may come’! Who would have normally overcome the desire[2] to go to the Fair? So, any other ordinary, normal woman would have focused on her husband’s affirmative answer and would have gone to the Fair. But Sri Sharada Devi was extremely sharp, sensitive, and capable of highly nuanced thinking. She focused on ‘If she wishes’. Now, when her husband added this clause, it clearly meant that he did not wish. Using this train of logic, she decided against her going to the Fair. If she were like any other woman, she could have very logically put forth her justification as follows: ‘Well, what is wrong? What is wrong in my accompanying my husband? Husband and wife going to the Fair isn’t something uncommon; in fact, that is the common tradition. Moreover, so many women are already accompanying him. One more woman would hardly make a difference. Furthermore, doesn’t Sri Ramakrishna himself keep saying, “Go out for a walk, now and then; your mind will be fresh.”? If I go to the Fair, it will be an outing, I will also be able to see the Lord in the Temple there, and enjoy the festivities.’

Similarly, in the Marwari’s incident too, she could have argued like this: ‘Sri Ramakrishna himself is saying, “I don’t need this money. If you wish, you may accept it.” What is wrong in my accepting this money? This Marwari devotee is giving that amount on his own. There is great devotion behind his gift. Why shouldn’t I accept it? Sri Ramakrishna is a renunciate, totally dispassionate. It is natural for him to reject that gift. But, no matter how great a renunciate he be, doesn’t he need two morsels of food during lunch-time? And I am bound to prepare those two morsels and feed him. Just look at the innumerable devotees thronging this place! Should I not arrange food for all of them? As the number of people increases, many more amenities will be needed. Only the one who manages these affairs knows the associated troubles in arranging these logistics. Therefore, what is wrong in accepting money that has come on its own? Moreover, Lakshmi Narayan wants to earn spiritual merit by making this gift. He will prosper if we accept his gift. Even from this point of view, it is but right that I should accept that money.’

Many such arguments can be put forth. And most of those arguments will appear to be logically sound, and ethically right. People around us in society will all accept most of these arguments. But, if we see very closely, both the incidents – the Panihati Fair incident and the Marwari’s donation incident – cannot be easily justified by logical arguments. Decisions like this do not emanate from the intellect that we all generally possess. These decisions can only arise from an intellect that has been purified by the light of the Spirit. In Sanskrit, we have a specific word for such an intellect. It is called ‘Viveka’. Since Sri Sharada Devi possessed this Viveka in abundance, it was impossible that she would have decided in the various ways we enumerated above.

We can clearly identify the difference between intellect and Viveka in these incidents. As intellect grows, as intellect develops and becomes sharp, it is not necessary that Viveka grows in an individual. We just need to observe the innumerable instances in the world around us, where even very intelligent people make wrong decisions and suffer the unhappy consequences thereof. When we do that, we realize how important it is to awaken Viveka in the people urgently. An intellect that has matured into Viveka alone can lead us towards our spiritual destiny. If intellect is allowed to develop in its own way, not allowing it to mature into Viveka, it will be an obstacle in the complete manifestation of our soul’s potentialities. Not only that, such an intellect will also nip the ‘still small voice’ which is inherent within all of us. The Upanishads have a wonderful way of describing this intellect: ‘Intellect hides the Supreme Lord sitting within our inner-most Self.’ Brahmanah koshosi medhaya apihitaha. Therefore, we must struggle hard to obtain this invaluable treasure called Viveka. How do we do that? We must keep company of monks and noble people; study the lives and messages of saints and prophets who were imbued with Viveka. That is the only way.

Sri Sharada Devi has demonstrated the highest Viveka at every step in her life. Each and every word of hers, each and every action of hers, is replete with the highest Viveka. Her life is an eternal lesson in Viveka! If we keep studying her pure life, and meditating on her words, Viveka will naturally awaken in us too. There can be no doubt about that.

What exactly is Viveka? Is it common sense? Is it the sense of right and wrong? Scholars translate this Sanskrit word as ‘discrimination’. Christians translate it as ‘discernment’. All these English words do not convey the entire meaning included in the Sanskrit word ‘Viveka’. The English word ‘discrimination’ must be used with caution. We must remember that this word is a loaded word today, which is primarily used to refer to situations of gender, caste, racial, and religious inequality, more than in any other sense. Yet, most spiritual literature continues to use this word to mean Viveka, in which sense, it actually refers to the ability to discriminate between what is right and what is wrong. But, in daily life, situations are never cut-and-dried, never black or white. Many situations in our daily life simply can’t be classified as right or wrong. Seldom can we decide if a particular action of ours is ethical or not. It is especially in such dilemmas that Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi’s life offers us light. But we must put in an effort – we must diligently and repeatedly study her life and message!

It is very interesting to see how Sri Sharada Devi once resolved a dilemma related to the service activities of Ramakrishna Mission. The Koalpara Ramakrishna Ashrama was running a charitable dispensary. Now, a charitable dispensary, by definition, means it will cater to the poor and indigent. But, along with the poor, some well-to-do people also came to that dispensary and availed of the free medicines. The Head of that Center approached Sri Sharada Devi, informed her about these developments and asked her, “Shouldn’t we stop these things?” What do you think she replied? ‘Well, of course! A charitable dispensary is indeed meant for the poor and needy only. What is the meaning of affluent people taking benefit from such a dispensary? This practice should stop immediately. Prepare a list of all the poor and indigent people of this area; give each of them a piece of paper; only those who can show that piece of paper will be given treatment and medicines here.’ Did she pass such a directive? Nothing of the kind! The way Sri Sharada Devi looked at this problem is unique. The sphere of the intellect is quite narrow and governed by dry logic. She, however, lived in the empyrean heights of Viveka, a sphere which is expansive and deep.

To the monk who asked her if he should prevent rich people from availing benefits of the charitable dispensary, she replied from that lofty plane, “Look here; you must consider anyone who comes begging to you. Don’t let them return empty-handed.”

What an amazing answer! Our common understanding is that one who has lots of money, land, jewelry, and such assets is a rich man. But Sri Sharada Devi is teaching us, ‘he who wants is a poor man, he who wants not is rich.’ Just look at the Viveka of this statement. Even from a purely transactional, administrative standpoint, this is an amazing decision she gave. A person comes to the dispensary for medicines. If we start investigating if he is rich or poor, imagine the logistic nightmare it will create; moreover, where will be the sacredness of the service activity? The monks of Ramakrishna Mission undertake service activities for one’s own spiritual development. Any service activity that does not lead to one’s own spiritual development is suicidal! Moreover, it is very difficult, almost impossible to determine if one is rich or poor, merely from a superficial inspection of that person. It is possible that a person dressed in ordinary clothes may have lots of money and may in fact be very rich. Conversely, one who is sharp-dressed may in fact be in dire economic conditions. Who indeed can tell? There is one more possible scenario: when an affluent person comes to a charitable dispensary, he may be impressed by the dedication of the workers and may make a hefty donation to the cause! Thus, whichever way you look at it, this decision of Sri Sharada Devi was totally amazing, worthy of emulation.

Even the ordinary actions of Holy Mother had the unmistakable stamp of Viveka on them. There are innumerable instances where her amazing interactions with people reveal her Viveka. As an example, we shall refer to one incident.

While she was in Jayrambati, she had a Brahmachari who attended on her. His name was Jnan Maharaj. He was trying various means to obtain thick, unadulterated milk for her household. He felt that milk that was meant for her household should be pure, unmixed with water. One day he told the milkman, “My good man, even if you give only eight quarts of milk for one rupee, I don’t care. I need the milk to be totally pure. Do you understand me?”

The devotion that Jnan Maharaj had for Holy Mother was unparalleled. Moreover, since there were many small children in her household, there was indeed an urgent necessity for thick milk. But, with all that, Sri Sharada Devi simply did not approve of what Jnan Maharaj did. She immediately called him aside and told him, “What are you doing? Here we get one pint for three pice (i.e. one seer for one pice, sixteen quarts for one rupee). So, even poor people are able to buy and drink milk. But you are inflating the price of milk without giving any thought for others’ plight! That fellow is after all a milkman. Milkmen will always add water to milk. Now, if you start paying more, this fellow will only add more water, that is all!” Observe how Sri Sharada Devi demonstrates her acute practical sense in this case. Furthermore, note also how she is concerned that raising the price of milk could adversely affect the poor people in her village.

Once a devotee came to Kamarpukur and wished to obtain a footprint[3] of Holy Mother. Sri Sharada Devi was worshipped by thousands in her own lifetime. She had blessed Mantra Diksha to hundreds of devotees; she was their Diksha Guru. Hence it was no surprise that a devotee asked for her footprint. And it wouldn’t have been objectionable, in the least, if she had indeed given her footprint to the devotee. But, the supremely intelligent and sensitive Holy Mother could never give a decision based on what is superficial! She did not agree. However, she did not hurt the sentiments of that devotee by directly saying ‘No’ to him. How did she manage both these requirements? Just look at her reply:

“This is not the right place for obtaining my footprint. Everyone here does not have your point of view. For instance, the Lahas; many from their family keep visiting this house; if my foot is red with the color of Agar, I will have to hide myself when they come here.”

We see here that even when the Lord incarnates as a human being, how careful the Lord needs to be in human interactions. In the Hindu tradition, only a married woman, whose husband is alive, is allowed to apply the red Agar paste to her feet. [4] Even though for the purpose of getting a footprint, if she applied the red paste to her feet, and if her village folks saw that her feet were red, it would have certainly made good food for the grist! She wouldn’t give anyone the least opportunity for any such gossip. This foresight was her Viveka! No saint is revered in one’s place of birth. Sri Sharada Devi knew this very well. Born and brought up in a village, although she was worshipped as the Divine Mother, the Mother of the Universe, as the Supreme Goddess, in the rural eyes of her village folks, she was just any other rustic village woman, just like one of them. She herself was fully aware of her divine nature; hundreds of pure-hearted devotees had recognized the divinity shining forth through her personality; yet, she took utmost care not to disturb the view of those who did not see anything more in her than a rustic village woman. Even when she is unfolding her divine sport as Sharada Devi, how much of Viveka she incorporates! This is truly amazing to observe. She was the Divine Mother herself; she was the Primal Energy of all existence; if she exhibited her power, all the worlds were bound to accept it and bow their heads to that supreme power. Notwithstanding all that, for the sake of teaching us, her children, just see how carefully she treads, just like an ordinary human being, at every step in her life!

One more similar incident; she used to live in Udbodhan at that time. A lady-devotee brought a red-bordered saree and offered it to her, praying, “You must kindly wear this saree.” In that lady’s eyes, Sri Sharada Devi was not a widow; she was the Divine Mother herself. There was no need for Sri Sharada Devi to bow down to social traditions, since she was the Mistress of the whole Universe. Hence she should wear that saree. Holy Mother did wear that saree. But only for a little while. Then she removed it and kept the saree aside and told that devotee, “come now, be reasonable; I can’t wear this saree always. People will make fun of me saying, ‘The Paramahamsa’s wife now struts around in red-bordered sarees.’ So, let this saree be with me. I will wear it only when I go to the river for bathing.”

‘What matters it if we behave in conformity with social norms? What matters is – do we behave in conformity with our own higher mind?’ This is something every religion says. True. But, in most situations, we must conform to the norms of the society we live in. we find such subtleties in Sri Sharada Devi’s life. In innumerable such instances, we clearly see Viveka bursting forth through her words and actions.

She was not like those yoginis and tapasvinis of the Vedic and Upanishadic era who lived in the caves and forests, away from society. She lived all her life in a family setting, deeply entangled in all the complications of a household which was hers and yet was not hers. There was in fact a very deep reason for her living amidst her quarrelsome relatives, as she did. And what was that reason? A person can indeed be at supreme peace, even while living in this world, within a typical household, as a full-fledged member of a family, with all the consequent trappings of trouble-makers and querulous relatives around! She wanted to give this message, loud and clear, to us. If one studies her life in depth, and imbues her thoughts, words and deeds full of Viveka in one’s own life, even the most ordinary ones amongst us can lead an exalted life, leading to life-fulfilment!

It is most note-worthy to observe how careful she was even while dealing and interacting with her nearest relatives.

She had four brothers. Her youngest brother Abhayacharan had passed away due to Cholera. On his death-bed he had beseeched his sister Sri Sharada Devi to take care of his wife and kids. She kept her word. She took great care of his wife Surabala, and her daughter Radha.

Her other three brothers, although they all had their own sources of income, sponged off liberally on their sister, depending on her for everything. None of them were young. All of them were adults. But they never matured into handling their own lives with responsibility. All three of them were utterly selfish, utterly greedy, and utterly suspicious and jealous of one another. The eldest of them, Prasanna, had two daughters, Nalini and Maku. When his wife passed away, he re-married. So, as generally happens in such situations, both Nalini and Maku started living with their aunt, Sri Sharada Devi. In this manner, Sri Sharada Devi had to bear the burden of a family that was hers, but not really hers.

Prasanna’s daughter Nalini suffered from cleanliness-mania. Her OCD behavior got on everyone’s nerves in the house and they were all fed up with her. Moreover, all the blind-beliefs and superstitions, associated with medieval, Indian rural mindset, had deep roots in her mind and were firmly lodged in her personality! Add to this the intense hatred that Nalini and Surabala had for each other! There was constant bickering, with high-volume quarrels and swear-words flying all around all the time, with both of them ready for blows! But they all belonged to one family. It was Sri Sharada Devi’s responsibility to keep such a family together. She had given a place of respect, prestige and status to even these kinds of irresponsible, immature, juvenile characters in her family. She once explained her method to a close devotee as follows:

“Look here, whatever work you do, you should consider the views of everyone in the household. Each member must have a place in the household. Each member of the household must be given some freedom to live and operate. But you must also keep a close watch on them so that they don’t commit blunders. Let me explain to you with an example. Look at this tray here. This contains all these various items that I wish to send to Radha’s husband’s house as gift for the New Year[5]. But I will be taking Nalini’s opinion on this matter. You know the relationship between Nalini and Surabala; a cat & mouse relationship! Nalini can’t stand Surabala, and similarly, there is none worse than Nalini in Surabala’s eyes. One can’t tolerate even the shadow of the other. I will show this list of items to Nalini and ask her, ‘What do you say, Nalini? Which of these items should we send to Radha’s husband’s house? Tell me your choice.’ She will then look closely at the list of items I have prepared and will probably tell me, ‘What is this, Aunt? Why so few? This is not enough. True, that Radha and her mother don’t behave properly with you. They are crazy. But you have a certain status of your own to maintain. Why should you be miserly? Why should people look down upon you? You ought to send gifts commensurate with your prestige and status.’ In this way, she herself will enlarge the list of items I give her! I laugh heartily inside. But, if I send these items to Radha’s husband’s house without taking Nalini’s opinion, and if Nalini should learn that I have sent those gifts, both of them will certainly start fighting. So, there are many benefits of maintaining a low profile of oneself and extending others a little bit of freedom to exercise and operate. When I interact with all these proud people around me, I watch their mental workings very closely. I tread very carefully in their midst. But, with all that, does their nature change? Despite all this caution from my end, every once in a while, their nature comes up, and they work up a good fight. What indeed can I do? I then think within myself, ‘All this Sri Ramakrishna’s world; he himself will take care of all these meaningless things; I have nothing to do with all this.’”

For those of us who live in a family, or in an organization, these words of Holy Mother, replete with Viveka, are invaluable advice. Every sentence in this amazing passage is worthy of our meditation. People of diverse mentalities and attitudes live together under one roof in families and organizations. If they have to live together in peace and harmony, if they have to live a quarrel-free life, these words of life-experience are most useful. We must think on these words and meditate on them. Sri Sharada Devi, who had touched the top-most peak of spiritual experience, lived like an extremely ordinary rural woman, with all the concomitants of a household life. If we ask why she did this, the answer lies in the passage we just quoted above. It was precisely because she lived in such a mundane situation that she was able to give us such life-giving, life-changing, life-exalting advice, replete with the highest Viveka.

Sri Sharada Devi’s second brother, Kalikumar, had a very bad temper and was often very rude. His very face, like his nature, was brusque. He was extremely domineering and was a control-freak. He would therefore jump at the least opportunity to take the lead in the household. Sri Sharada Devi knew his nature very well. So she knew exactly how to handle him, based on the time and circumstance. We quote the following few incidents as proof of the same.

Radha gave birth to a boy-baby. The day for Annaprashana [6] for the child was fixed. Sri Sharada Devi was getting things arranged for the ceremony. Many people have to be invited and fed sumptuously. Purchases have to be made for all that. Kalikumar was, of course, ready for taking up that responsibility. But, he had no control on the expenditure. He would spend money like water, even wastefully. Sister’s money was like public funds for him, no accountability at all! He would pay reckless amounts for trivial things and make a mess of the whole affair. So, Sri Sharada Devi called Brahmachari Varada Maharaj aside and told him, “Look, I don’t have much money with me this time. If I ask Kalikumar to do the purchases, the expenses will sky-rocket. So, all the costly items, I want you to purchase after performing due diligence. Then, some minor items I will get Kalikumar to purchase. Otherwise, he will throw a tantrum saying, ‘Sister ignored me during such an important celebration at home!’”

Just see! How practical was Sri Sharada Devi!

 It was possible for Sri Sharada Devi to manage her second brother in this manner during the Annaprashana ceremony of Radha’s child. But a few days later was Sri Sharada Devi’s birthday. She couldn’t manage him in the same manner at that time. Some days before the birthday, Kalikumar himself approached his sister and started to tell, “Sister, looking at the ever-increasing number of people in this household, I don’t think this present cook (who was a lady) will be able to handle the kitchen. I think we should appoint a male cook. Moreover, your birthday is approaching. Many devotees will assemble here. We may have to increase the quantity of purchases needed for the kitchen. Varada is but a child. He won’t be able to handle such a big affair.”

Kalikumar was hinting obliquely that he was the right person to bear the responsibility of purchasing things for the upcoming celebrations. He had missed the opportunity during Radha’s son’s Annaprashana. Brahmachari Varada had made all the important purchases! So, he has started taking precautionary measures this time! He won’t allow the opportunity to pass by. Sri Sharada Devi easily read his mind and gave him the greater portion of responsibility in arranging things for her birthday celebrations. But she did not agree to his proposal of hiring a male cook and told him, “Look here, Kali, my household is full of young girls and women. How can I keep a male cook here? You may object, ‘Why, aren’t Varada and other male members also here?’ But you must consider these young boys as the same as my young girls. You further said that the number of devotees is increasing. Well, that part is indeed true. So, things will have to be purchased accordingly from the market. But, be careful about the price. Make some inquiries in some shops and strike a good bargain.”

Having said this to Kalikumar, she called Brahmachari Varada aside and instructed him, “You see, Varada, this time, I am giving the job of making purchases to Kali. He has been planning for this for many days now. If I don’t give him some leeway, some freedom, he gets angry and creates a ruckus.”

In this incident, we get a most clear direction about how to deal with family-members with a bad temper. Tighten a bit, loosen a bit!

Sri Sharada Devi has been eulogized as ‘Embodiment of Purity’. In her own lifetime, innumerable people worshipped her as the Divine Mother of the Universe. We are not speaking of ordinary devotees here; she was literally worshipped by spiritual giants such as Swami Vivekananda, Brahmananda, and the like. More importantly, she was worshipped as ‘Adyashakti’ by the greatest Avatara Sri Ramakrishna himself. In spite of all these, just observe how she lived out her divine sport with the greatest caution, binding herself with chains of Viveka in every movement. Studying this phenomenon itself could be a powerful spiritual Sadhana for all of us. Let us look at an instance in thie regard:

Sri Sharada Devi returned to Kolkata after her tour of South India. She inquired about a monk of the Belur Math, “Where is he now? What is he doing?” The other monks replied, in a manner of praising that monk, “Mother, he has been eagerly looking forward to meeting you for the last three-four months. He is restless for seeing you. He will have no peace of mind until he meets you in person.”

Wouldn’t Sri Sharada Devi have been pleased to hear this about that monk? But that was not the case. Instead, with great pathos she said, “What nonsense! A monk has to cut asunder all personal bindings. How else will he progress? A golden chain is no less a chain. A monk must be very careful not to get caught in the illusions of this world. What indeed is this? Simply crying yourself hoarse, ‘Mother’s love, mother’s love’! Always cringing, ‘Oh! I still haven’t obtained Mother’s grace!’ What nonsense is all this! I don’t like men moving around me. After all, this is a human body I have, you see. Much before you see me as ‘Goddess’, you must acknowledge that I have a female human form. I have to confine myself to a cloistered company of young girls and lady devotees of high birth. You recall Ashu? Under the pretext of preparing sandal paste, under some pretext or the other, he would frequent the upper floor. I had to warn him.”

We must delve deep into these words of Holy Mother. If that monk’s soul was indeed really hungry for seeing her, that would have been alright. No matter how great a person be, he is but a child before the Divine Mother of the Universe. So, it was indeed most natural that the monk was eager to meet her. But Sri Sharada Devi is saying, “What nonsense! A monk has to cut asunder all personal bindings. How else will he progress? A golden chain is no less a chain. A monk must be very careful not to get caught in the illusions of this world.” We may feel disappointed with the manner in which Sri Sharada Devi, the Divine Mother herself, responded to the soul’s cry of that monk. To clearly understand her strange response, we must pay attention to one more statement she makes later on. What is that? “After all, this is a human body I have, you see. Much before you see me as ‘Goddess’, you must acknowledge that I have a female human form.” What does this mean?

A man may don the saffron robe and become a monk. But, he still retains a male body. And even when the Divine Mother of the Universe manifests as a human being like one of us, it is, after all, a female human body. Now, when male members keep moving around female members, and female members keep hovering around male members, how does it appear to onlookers? Won’t they make some snide comments from afar? So, be it monks, be it nuns, be it the Divine Mother of the Universe herself; wouldn’t it be that they gave opportunity to people to criticize them? Once criticisms start flying around, will their teaching carry power? Will people value their teachings? So, one ought not to get carried away by one’s emotions. This was what Sri Sharada Devi wanted to convey to that monk. And in conveying this message to that monk, she is educating all of us.

Moreover, there was one more reason why she said something like this. Although she herself had transcended all body-consciousness, she was surrounded by many young girls and women. How would an onlooker feel if men – be they monks, Brahmacharins, or even devoted men – were to be always hanging around her quarters? In general, the presence of a member of the opposite sex tends to create heavy imbalances in people, especially young people. They tend to become very active, very talkative. This actually reveals a lack of mental control. In the case of spiritual aspirants, this is a great weakness, a terrible obstacle. Great caution is necessary to overcome this weakness. That is why she said, “You recall Ashu[7]? Under the pretext of preparing sandal paste, under some pretext or the other, he would frequent the upper floor. I had to warn him.” Through this incident, we get a glimpse of how subtle her spiritual directions were to her disciples.

Holy Mother’s life is replete with innumerable such instances which teach us Viveka. When we study them, we can’t help but be wonderstruck by the manner in which every thought, word and action of hers sprang forth from the subtlest dynamics of Viveka! By leading a life based on the highest Viveka, she strove to awaken Viveka in all of us! Hence her life is a beacon-light, a living inspiration for humanity.

Sri Sharada Devi: Her gracefulness and simplicity

            It was 1909. The winter in Kolkata was severe that year. So, some very close devotees requested Holy Mother to wear a woolen blouse. Sri Sharada Devi never wore a blouse, which was typical of traditional Bengali rural women. She would wrap her saree all around her body. The loose end of her saree would be wound nicely under her arms. Generally this was sufficient for those village women. But that year, the cold was really severe. Added to that was the fact that Sri Sharada Devi was getting older now. So, some very close devotees lovingly insisted that, instead of suffering in the cold, she should wear a woolen blouse. Swami Saradananda obtained a ‘Guernsey Frock’ from a shop dealing in foreign clothes for her. It was a branded woolen blouse, worth Rs. 10 (which was a huge amount in those days!). Swami Saradananda was one who would go to any length for ensuring the comfort of Holy Mother! There were many, even among the monks, who criticized him when he purchased a house for Holy Mother in Kolkata. He even ran into debt during this endeavor. There was no end to his burdens, what with his having to run the daily affairs of the growing Mission. Yet, he did not flag. He got the ‘Udbodhan’ built, brought Holy Mother there, ensconced her in her own house, and worshipped her there! That was Swami Saradananda. Sri Sharada Devi herself had showered unstinted praise on him saying, ‘Sharat is my Vasuki’, ‘Sharat is my crest-jewel’, etc. In many things, she even depended solely on his service. When Swami Saradananda learnt that Holy Mother was suffering from the severe winter’s cold, he obtained the best woolen garment for her, like a dutiful and doting son. How do you think Holy Mother responded to this act? She seemed extremely pleased with the woolen blouse sent by her dearest son. But she used it for only three days. On the fourth day, she revealed her innermost thoughts to Saradananda: “My son, does a cloth like this appear proper on a person like me? But, since you gave it to me, I used it for three days, just to please you.” Saying this, she folded it and kept it away, never to use it again.

This incident reveals not only Holy Mother’s Viveka, but also her culture, sensitivity and gracefulness. ‘Wasn’t it a gift from her dearest son? Moreover, it was indeed beneficial to use. It was really effective in keeping the cold away.’ This could have been a cogent argument for her to keep using it. But it is a really fine line that differentiates the proper from the improper. It won’t do to wear anything that doesn’t fit with our personality, and with our norms and traditions. Just look at the caution she exercises at every step! A piece of clothing imported from abroad was a sure sign of pelf and luxury in those days; and it was a vulgar display of power in the eyes of beholders of those times. This was the cautionary foresight she possessed. Her close and intimate devotees might not misunderstand her. But how will it appear to others? Hence she decided that it would be wise for her not to wear that woolen blouse. However, look at the grace with which she explains to the person who made her that gift, why exactly she cannot continue using it. We should meditate on the mental culture that enables actions such as these. It appeared as though she really needed that blouse, and hence she did use it heartily for three days. Then she educates Swami Saradananda about the various ramifications of using such a costly, luxurious item. And when she has ensured that he is convinced with her arguments, she removes it and keeps it aside. We must observe and appreciate this tact.

Once more incident; it was Durga Puja. Sri Sharada Devi wished to get new clothes for her nieces. She sent one of the Brahmacharins to purchase them. That particular Brahmacharin was a staunch nationalist, being enamored by the Swadeshi movement. So he purchased only handwoven clothes. They were all coarse, without a decent, defined border, and with dull colors. Obviously none of the girls liked them. They insisted with their aunt that they must be given good clothes; these were not up to their liking. The Brahmacharin felt sad and said, “Oh my God! What you need are foreign clothes. Why should we purchase them?” Sri Sharada Devi was sitting nearby, watching and listening to this strange conversation. She called the Brahmacharin to her and said smilingly, “My son, aren’t these foreigners also my children? Shouldn’t I look upon all with the same eye? Can I afford to be preferential in my love? Go, and get the clothes these kids want.” The Brahmacharin understood Holy Mother’s feelings. Without another word, he went and carried out her orders. Even though Holy Mother got the Brahmacharin to return the indigenous products and purchase foreign goods instead, doesn’t mean she didn’t care for the Brahmacharin’s feelings. From then onwards, whenever she needed some foreign product purchased, she made it a point to send some other Brahmacharin!

Look at the lesson for us here! That Brahmacharin’s feelings of nationalism were not meant to be a universal ideal. They were his own private feelings; that was all. Yet, look at the grace in Sri Sharada Devi’s actions! She respected that Brahmacharin’s right to entertain his own feelings and never again sent him to purchase any foreign made item! Even if she had sent that very Brahmacharin again to purchase something from a foreign dealer, he would certainly not have felt bad. Yet, she did not force her own ideas on anyone. She did not obstruct his right to entertain his own ideas and feelings. Look at the extremes of grace and sensitivity in Sri Sharada Devi’s interactions that are revealed in this small incident! How endearing it is!

Sensitivity and empathy are not just the hallmarks of a mature personality, but also markers of a spiritual personality, say our scriptures. Upanishads sing praises of the ability to grasp subtle truths. Bhagavad Gita classifies sensitivity as a divine quality: Mardavam hrirachapalam. True, if the mind is not subtle, if the heart is not sensitive, it is impossible to rise to the spiritual plane. This is because spiritual truths are all extremely subtle, extremely fine. If we wish to grasp the subtlest of all subtle truths – God – then, we must religiously inculcate sensitivity and empathy in our daily behavior. We must strive to feel, recognize and understand the feelings behind the words and actions of our fellow human beings in the course of our daily life. That awakens real empathy within us. We must temper our own words and actions so as not to hurt the feelings of others. Sensitivity will then awaken naturally in us. But we must remember one important point here: Empathy, sensitivity, grace, goodness – these should not be based on weakness. Any quality arising out of weakness can never be a spiritual quality. The Mardavam that Bhagavad Gita refers to is the manifestation of infinite power! Constant service of holy men, constant study of the scriptures, and relentless spiritual Sadhana give rise to a very special quality in us, which is called Mardavam or sensitivity. Weakness and divine qualities such as sensitivity have absolutely no connection. In order to truly understand what these divine qualities such as sensitivity, empathy, grace, goodness, etc. are, we must deeply study the lives of spiritual personalities and observe how they manifest these qualities. Sri Sharada Devi’s life is a beacon light in this matter.

Each and every word and action of Sri Sharada Devi was so full of grace that there were absolutely no rough edges in any of them that could even slightly cause pain to anyone at all. Once when she was talking to some devotees, the talk veered round to the Telo-belo incident. It was something that had occurred many years ago. Sri Sharada Devi was then a young girl of 15-16 years of age.

Telo-belo was a vast, terrifying plain stretch of land. Anyone going from Jayrambati to Kolkata had to walk across this god-forsaken plain. It was home to dangerous dacoits. There was a terrifying idol of Goddess Kali standing on those plains. This terrible Goddess was the patron-deity of those dacoits! That idol exists even today, reminding us of those terrible days. These terrible plains stretched for ten long miles and were so lonely and dangerous that even during the day, no one dared to venture out alone in that region.

Shivaram and Lakshmi once accompanied Sri Sharada Devi from Jayrambati to Dakshineswar. They were Sri Ramakrishna’s nephew and niece. They were all actually part of a large contingent. While crossing Telo-belo, Sri Sharada Devi fell behind from the troop, overcome by exhaustion. She could not walk as fast as her companions. So she got separated from the group and had to experience a really dangerous situation. It was past twilight and darkness was fast approaching. Sri Sharada Devi was slowly dragging her feet. A fearsome, dark dacoit accosted her from nowhere! It was a heart-stopping moment! The way Sri Sharada Devi came out of that danger is absolutely amazing! Her biography contains all those incredible details.

The devotees wished to listen to those details directly from Holy Mother. When the Telo-belo incident occurred, was she alone, or was she accompanied by Shivaram and Lakshmi? This question came up. For, how could these two abandon their aunt in that terrifying place all alone? The devotees wanted to clarify this point directly from Holy Mother. Sri Sharada Devi’s answer is a lesson in tactfulness. She said, “My Lord! Look at the confusion raised by you all regarding this dacoit’s incident! I don’t wish to elaborate on this issue. See, Shivu and Lakkhi were indeed with me when we started the journey, but had gone ahead of me around the time we reached those plains. Now, if I start elaborating those details, it will sound very bad, put those two in a bad light, and cause lot of pain to them, if they get to hear of it. That is the reason I don’t wish to talk about that incident. Don’t keep raking up this point.”

What an amazing reply! ‘Na bhruyat satyamapriyam.’ Do not utter an unpalatable truth. Isn’t this incident the clearest example for this scriptural dictum? How exemplary is Holy Mother’s concern that our words should not hurt other people! If the mind is not disciplined, if the heart is not sensitive, can one be so cautious regarding others’ dignity? Much greater than the ‘gift of food’ or ‘gift of physical serving’ is this ‘gift of respecting the dignity of others’!

It is more than sufficient to deeply study the incidents in Sri Sharada Devi’s life that exhibit her amazing grace, empathy and sensitivity. Gradually we will find that our own callousness, our grossness, and our heartlessness would have dissolved, and our own personality will gradually get imbued with grace, empathy and sensitivity.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that these qualities – grace, empathy, sensitivity, tactfulness – reached their apotheosis in Holy Mother’s life. Sometimes, circumstances demanded her to be stern and even harsh. Even during such circumstances, there was an other-worldly gentleness in her words and actions. We shall look at one such incident, where she had to resort to stern measures to get out of a terrible situation; but underneath her sternness was an uncommon kindness, as we shall see presently. The situation was precipitated by Surabala’s father.

Surabala was the wife of Holy Mother’s youngest brother. She was mentally deranged. Once when she went to her father’s house, she had taken her jewelry box with her. Unfortunately, her own father took that box away from her! Consequently, this development aggravated her madness. She started continuously howling for her jewelry box. Sri Sharada Devi tried various means to pacify her. Suddenly the mad lady changed the tone of her voice and started blaming Holy Mother for her missing jewelry box! Holy Mother was now in a major fix. She sent a devotee to Surabala’s father house with the instruction that either he has to send the jewelry box back or at the least, he himself should come here pronto. Surabala’s father did not part with the jewels. Instead, he himself arrived – emptyhanded! “Holy Mother begged him variously, “Return the jewels back to her; spare me from this ignominy; save me from this embarrassment, please!”  The old man was adamant and said, “No. they can’t be returned back to her.” With no other alternative before her, she wrote a detailed letter to Swami Saradananda. Immediately, Swami Saradananda sent Master Mahashay and Lalitmohan Chatterjee to Jayrambati. Lalitmohan Chatterjee was livid that the old man had created so much trouble and embarrassment to Holy Mother. He decided that the old man has to be taught a good lesson. So, he came to Jayrambati with all preparations for a full show down. He went to Surabala’s father’s house in a palanquin, dressed like an officer of the British Government in hat, suit & boots, with some policemen accompanying him. No doubt he had obtained the permission of Holy Mother to go there. But Holy Mother’s heart was palpitating because she knew that Lalitmohan often got carried away in such situations. He had the tendency to be very rough, very officious and a pain in the wrong place! So, to keep things from getting out of hand, she had sent the soft-natured, calm-minded Master Mahashay to accompany Lalitmohan. Notwithstanding all that precaution, she was apprehensive that Lalitmohan would insult the old Brahmin with his over-enthusiasm! This possibility weighed down heavily on her mind.

Surabala’s old father had all but swooned seeing this ‘English officer’ with all his policemen had official paraphernalia. All his arrogance and stubbornness deserted him. Without a word, he came to Jayrambati, handed over the jewelry box, and retuned home. Some felt that is was a good charade; others were pleased that the issue got resolved without any hassles. Everyone had dinner and was sleeping. But, by around 2am, those who were sleeping outside Holy Mother’s room realized that she couldn’t sleep at all. She was suffering from great physical discomfort. Her head was reeling and she was feeling woozy and out of sorts. All got up and were greatly concerned as to why this had happened to her. Holy Mother herself then explained, “As soon as Lalitmohan left to get the jewelry box back, I went into great anxiety. I was afraid the old Brahmin would be insulted. Since I was tense and anxious the whole day, I have developed acidity and dyspepsia, that’s all. It will be alright.”

What an amazing thing this is! A Brahmin, that too, an old man should not be insulted! This feeling of Holy Mother reflects her exalted personality, and reveals her high culture. Of course, he had erred. Although he was a Brahmin, he exhibited greed, it was true. It was alright to make a show of official power, and threaten him with dire legal consequences, in order to get the jewels back. But it was not alright to insult him! Just look at the extreme sensitivity of Holy Mother. She herself called that old man to her house, explained her dilemma, and begged him to help her out of the fix. But the greedy old man did not budge. She could have become angry, used choice words on him, made a big scene and could have made him return the jewels back to his daughter. But, that would have been highly demeaning for the old Brahmin, and more so for Holy Mother. For, social norms dictate that a man getting chastised by women of high culture and noble birth is the same as death sentence. Thus, when negotiations failed, and she was constrained to use force, she was still concerned that the old man should not feel insulted!

This kind of behavior is the hallmark of Sanatana Dharma. Sri Sharada Devi has demonstrated this kind of ideal behavior in every step in her life. When we absorb the sweet fragrance of grace and gentleness wafting from her divine personality, we too can develop these qualities within our personalities. Our personality gets transformed!

Sri Sharada Devi & Gratitude

Gratitude! It is the cornerstone of culture; the surest sign of maturity in a person. The Sanskrit word for this virtue is very interesting. It is ‘Kritajna’. As is generally the case in Sanskrit, the word is formed out of two separate words – ‘Krita’ meaning ‘that which was done’, and ‘Jna’ meaning ‘knowing or remembering’. So, knowing and remembering all the acts of help and assistance that others have done for me is ‘Kritajna’ or gratitude. Gratitude is inherent in man. But when we see it in the personalities of holy men, in men and women of God, the charm of this virtue is incredible!

Sri Sharada Devi has demonstrated this virtue in many different forms in her life.

Whenever anyone gifted her something, no matter how trivial, she valued it greatly. She would praise the giver unstintingly. But, we must realize that she praised the giver not because he or she recognized her (Holy Mother’s) greatness. She praised them because she recognized that there was the ‘capacity to give’ in those persons.

Once, her brother Prasanna’s wife, Suvasini, prepared a type of toothpowder. Since she knew that Holy Mother liked that kind of toothpowder, she sent some through her husband to Holy Mother who was then in Kolkata. She was so pleased with that gesture that, after many days, when she returned to Jayrambati, she said to Suvasini, “Look here, that toothpowder you sent me? Everyone there appreciated it a lot.” How interesting that Holy Mother expresses her own appreciation of that toothpowder by saying that everyone else in her Kolkata house liked it a lot! Moreover, note that she remembered Suvasini’s gift for a long time, and made it a point to thank her for it upon her return.

When gratitude is heartfelt, there will be no barriers of caste or religion, status or prestige. But, what we see generally in the world is something different. Things or services given by those inferior to us in social standing, we don’t remember. We instead feel that it was due deference to our superiority. Then there are those proud and arrogant people who perhaps feel that helping them is a favor they do to the ones that render the service or gift! But the great ones behave differently. The way they express their gratitude is genuine, and filled with humility.

Once, a lady devotee of a low caste prayed to Holy Mother, “Mother, I wish to prepare a dish of your liking and feed you myself.” Well, the ever gracious Mother gave her consent. One day, she prepared three-four different types of snacks, packed them in small paper bags, and arrived at Mother’s house. Seeing those snacks, Sri Sharada Devi was both surprised and extremely pleased. She said, “Just see! How many things she has prepared for us! Poor thing! She must have gone to great trouble for all this!” Those food items were all served during night dinner. Holy Mother ate each one of them, and appreciated the taste. You can imagine the joy of that lady-devotee! The lady’s heart yearns to offer the fruits of her own labor to the Divine Mother. And Holy Mother is bursting with the desire to express her appreciation and gratitude, commensurate with the devotee’s efforts! It didn’t matter at all that the lady belonged to a low caste. Her devoted offering was of no less value to Holy Mother. We must keep in mind that in those medieval days, caste restrictions were very stringent in society. Yet, Holy Mother unstintingly praised her food offering before everyone! Discarding the myopic, retrograde social restrictions, look at the way Holy Mother upheld the human virtue of gratitude in this incident.

Whatever was gifted by her devotees and disciples with love, Holy Mother preserved them with great care. She once said in this connection, “It is not possible to evaluate these gifts of love. The memories of those who gave them to me, is their actual cost!”

Sometimes devotees would do some crochet work or embroidery on mats and shawls and offer them to Holy Mother. Some murals and wall-hangings also were gifted to her. Since she herself knew those skills, she appreciated them greatly. It wasn’t a perfunctory ‘thank you’ that those devotees got from Holy Mother for those gifts of love; she would appreciate the skill and effort that went into those gifts and would heartily praise them for the same. Moreover, she would exhibit them and applaud their skill before others, which would multiply the joy of the givers. The unadulterated praise and genuine appreciation that Holy Mother showered on such people is unique. And the way she did that is worthy of our special consideration.

While gratitude is a cardinal virtue on the one hand, and is therefore worthy of being inculcated for its own worth, it has enormous value in practical day-to-day interactions, on the other hand. It has the power to infuse trust between individuals and can be a source of pure and unadulterated joy, greasing the wheels of human interactions. There are those who have no ability to express gratitude, and those who are incapable of recognizing and appreciating the help rendered by others; if you observe closely, you will notice that the words and actions of such people will resemble those of a typical ‘frog-in-the-well’. The life, and personality of such people will be extremely petty and joyless; and more importantly, the cultured and refined people in society will not wish to maintain relations with such petty-minded people. If people don’t have the sensitivity of mind and heart to recognize the help that has been rendered to them, who indeed would like to deal with such gross people? In the Vedas, there is a prayer that the Rishis offered to the Lord: Punardadataghnata janata sanghame mahi. ‘O Lord, may we be able to relate ourselves with the following types of persons: those who can understand the help we render to them, those can help us in return, and those who are not wicked.’

It is good if man can sincerely cultivate this virtue of gratitude in himself. Why? In general, man is psychologically programmed to remember and recall only the harm and hurt that others have done to him! Consequently, if one has to recognize and remember the good that others have done to him, he will need a maturity of heart! It won’t be too far from truth to say that differences of opinion and incompatibility between people are important obstacles for the cultivation of gratitude. An amazing harmony is established in society when people can train themselves to be genuinely grateful for the good things that they do to one another.

Gratitude was so natural in Holy Mother that it was visible in her everyday interactions with those around her. But, there was no pretense or insincerity in the gratitude that she so constantly exhibited in her words and actions. Gratitude was the natural fragrance of her highly cultured personality! Let us elaborate this with an instance.

Sri Sharada Devi lived in the Dakshineswar Temple complex in those days. She was totally engrossed in the service of her god-like husband and in her spiritual practices. Whatever milk remained after giving to the Temple Kitchen, the milkman would give to Sri Sharada Devi free-of-cost, for Sri Ramakrishna’s use. He would say, “If I give excess milk to the Temple, those priests will give it away to, god knows, what kinds of people. But if I give it here, it will used by Sri Ramakrishna.” Indeed, he was a blessed milkman! Why do we say so? Even the little bit of gift he made, he was cautious that it shouldn’t go to unworthy people, but should rather reach the right kind of person! Moreover, he had the conviction that, if the milk had to be given for the use of Sri Ramakrishna, it was better to give it as a donation, as a gift, rather than sell it as a commodity! This mentality shows that he was indeed a blessed milkman. Anyway, even though he gave the milk gratis, Sri Sharada Devi never sent him away without giving him some sweets or fruits in return.

These may appear to be trivial things of a humdrum daily life; but we cannot overlook the human virtues – the virtue of gratitude – that Holy Mother is manifesting through these seemingly trivial interactions. We may not find anything spectacular in thanking a sister-in-law for some toothpowder, or in giving sweets or fruits to a milkman in return for a gift of milk. But, we must bow down our heads to the intensity of feeling behind these seemingly trivial actions of Holy Mother.

It was the time when Sri Sharada Devi was in Jayrambati. Devotees had not yet started to flock around her. She had only one assistant at that time. He worked strenuously to serve the Holy Mother whom he saw as equivalent to his Guru. Later on, due to various circumstances, he had to live in different places. Perhaps due to the influence of those around him, his behavior and mentality got totally changed. Some devotees complained about him to Holy Mother, saying, “He has fought with some monks in Hrishikesh. His character is not good.” Then, they asked Holy Mother, “After having served you for so long, how could he become so degenerate?” There might have been a trace of truth in what the devotees had reported. But, she did not get excited by those pinching words of the devotees. Calmly, she said what she had to say and bid farewell to them. After they all left, she explained to Brahmacharin Varada, “My son, I can neither see nor listen to anybody’s faults. Everyone has to experience the fruits of one’s actions, done in this life, or in previous ones. But, by the grace of God, the intensity of those experiences, especially the bad experiences, might reduce. For instance, where a major injury had to happen, one may escape with a pin-prick. See, they are all telling me complaints against this person now. He has indeed served me greatly once upon a time. Where were all these people then? What strain I had to undergo in my brothers’ house during that time! All my sisters-in-law were mere kids then. He was the only one who assisted me then. Ignoring his personal comforts, come rain, come sunshine, he slogged for me. His whole body would get blackened by soot; he wouldn’t care. Now, you see so many devotees here. During those days, who stood by me? Can I forget what he did to me during those days? Look here, if you help a man in a hundred ways, and do but only one act otherwise, man will refuse to see your face. People recognize others’ faults very easily. But, can you recognize the virtues? Recognize qualities in others.”

How exalting these words are! Even when some devotees told her the truth about a disciple’s degeneracy, Holy Mother did not behave like ordinary mortals do – showing repulsion or anger towards him. She fondly remembered the assistance he had rendered so long ago, and she had only her blessings and love and affection for him. How divine!

In the Vishnu Sahasranama, the Lord has been called ‘Kritajnakritiratmavan’. Man may or may not remember the service done to him, but God remembers for sure. That is why God is called ‘Kritajna’. In fact, it is precisely because God is full of this wonderful quality, that man is able to raise himself to divinity. Is there a limit to the mistakes a man does by his thought, word and deed? But that same bumbling human being, once in a rare while, does something good, either impelled by the merit of his past actions, or due to the influence of a holy man on his personality! God, who is the indwelling Spirit, recognizes those good things, even though they be inadvertent, and gives him the fruits of those good actions. That is how, in spite of the debilitating downward pull of his tendencies, man is able to rise to spiritual glory. That is why, when man is able to inculcate this virtue in himself, he endears himself to the Lord, and becomes worthy of the Lord’s grace.

Holy Mother has revealed many subtle aspects of gratitude through her life. It is common knowledge that we should be grateful to people who have helped us. But gratitude doesn’t stop there. Holy Mother teaches us that we should be respectful towards even inanimate things that help us in our life.

Once, a maid who swept the courtyard threw the broom in the corner of the wall, after her job was done. Holy Mother told her, “What is this? You flung the broom after your job was done! It takes exactly the same time to keep it properly in the corner as it takes to throw it there. No matter how trivial a thing is, one should not neglect it. If you show respect towards something, that thing also will respect you in return. Won’t you need that broom again? More importantly, that thing is also a part of this household. Even from that stand point, that broom has a pride of place in this house. You ought to look upon even a broom with respect, with a sense of sacredness.”

God Incarnate on Earth, Sri Sharada Devi is teaching us how to handle a broom stick! How amazing is her point of view that anything that is useful to us in life should be looked upon with respect and with a sense of holiness associated with it! But, today, not to speak of a broom stick, unfortunately, even the wielder of that broom isn’t treated with due respect. Against this general background of value-depreciation in our modern society, these words of Holy Mother are very important.

Then, there is the question of faith and gratitude towards gods and goddesses, and the rituals concerning those deities. Let us look at what Sri Sharada Devi has to say on that topic.

Once, when she was in Kolkata, she got the Chicken-Pox. The priest of the nearby Mother Sitala’s Temple was requested to treat her. That priest had some medical knowledge too. Every day he would come to Holy Mother and give her the Prasad and flowers of Mother Sitala. Holy Mother accepted them with complete devotion, as per tradition. Very quickly, she got cured of the Pox. Later on, one day, she called her disciple Swami Shantananda and told him, “Look here, my body is still very weak. I can’t undertake a fast now. So, on my behalf, I want you to fast for the whole day, go to the Mother Sitala’s Temple and offer Puja to her.” The Swami did has he was told. What we need to observe is this: Sri Sharada Devi had not made any resolve to offer Puja to Mother Sitala. And the priest had been given the respect and alms due to him, in full measure. Yet, she is asking that puja be offered to Mother Sitala with due procedure being followed. She had been cured by the grace of Mother Sitala. Now, she wanted to offer more Puja to Mother Sitala by way of showing her gratitude to the goddess. Look at the subtle way Holy Mother is imparting culture to us through this incident. Dialectics and arguments don’t work in matters of culture, rituals and tradition. They can’t be measured against the calculations which run social life. These are issue related to purity of heart, to sensitivity of our feelings. If anyone develops faith in these things, he will benefit from these rituals and evolve spiritually, for sure!

When holy men show gratitude, it is really out of this world. When we help people, they return that help or show heartfelt gratitude, and that human touch makes us happy. Sometimes, we may even benefit socially or financially from such reciprocity. That is by far the upper limit of gratitude with respect to ordinary people. But, the gratitude that men of God show for the least bit of service we can render to them, will lift us up to spiritual heights, and make our life fulfilled! The incident of Sri Sharada Devi blessing the devotees of Koalpara comes to mind in this connection.

It was 1911. Jagaddhatri Puja[8] was being celebrated in Holy Mother’s house in Jayrambati. Koalpara was a neighboring village. During the Puja, some devotees from Koalpara gave some baskets of vegetables. Holy Mother was so pleased with that gift that she said, “We don’t get fresh greens and vegetables here all round the year. So, quite often, we get into lot of trouble. I feel, now the Lord Himself is getting all that he needs for His Puja through you.” Listening to these words, all the physical strain those devotees had in bringing those big baskets of vegetables, simply vanished! The Jagaddhatri Puja was celebrated with great pomp. The Koalpara devotees participated in all the activities connected with the Puja. From then onwards, whenever Sri Sharada Devi would be in Jayrambati, those devotees would send fresh greens and vegetables twice or thrice a week. But they were not affluent enough to hire servants for bringing those vegetables. So one or two among them, after their own day’s work ended, would purchase vegetables from the market or directly from the farms, and lift the baskets on their shoulders, and bring them to Jayrambati. Sometimes, they would even go to markets in faraway places to purchase other things required by people in Holy Mother’s house. Holy Mother had herself trained those devotees how to properly store the items that they would have brought. In due course, those devotees themselves became the de-facto store-keepers for Holy Mother’s household. She was beside herself with joy looking at their devotion and dedication. It was as though those devotees were virtual members of her household! All the inspiration, encouragement and guidance they needed to grow in life, they obtained in full measure from Holy Mother. Whenever they would finish their work in Jayrambati and would leave for Koalpara, they would touch Holy Mother’s feet and seek her blessings. She would heartily bless them saying, “May you attain Jnana; may you attain pure Bhakti.”

What those devotees offered was nothing but menial assistance. In return, Holy Mother blessed them with spiritual treasures! Recall Sri Ramakrishna’s word: “When the Divine Mother blesses you, she doesn’t dispense trash and trinkets; she gives you spiritual treasures!”

Sri Sharada Devi & humility:

Studying Holy Mother’s life is one of best windows for studying the progressive manifestation of virtues in a human being. We get to see a blueprint of how this evolution occurs in a person. It is possible to visualize her personality as a veritable monastery, painstakingly built from the austerities involved in manifesting all the divine virtues, one by one. Again, it is also naturally possible to look at her personality as a royal garden filled with all the exotic flowers, comprising divine qualities. Modesty, honesty, simplicity, gratitude, naturalness, generosity, patience, self-control, sympathy & compassion, grace, firmness & rectitude, dignity, courage, purity, and many other divine qualities had manifested in her personality in their fullest. Of all the exotic flowers in the garden of her immaculate personality, humility is a prized flower. Even the most arrogant and haughty person will become humble for some time, at least, if he will study her unparalleled humility.

What exactly is humility? What is obedience? The general understanding is that humility and obedience refer to showing deference to our seniors and their directions. But Swami Vivekananda avers that if we have same humility towards those inferior or junior to us, as towards superiors, then that is true humility. When we delve deep into the motives behind human action, we realize the relevance of this new definition of humility that has been given by Swami Vivekananda. Observe the increasing, needless oppression that people in positions of power and authority subject the helpless people to, and you will realize how apt these words of Swami Vivekananda are! These are however academic discussions regarding humility, the semantics of humility. The humility demonstrated in Sri Sharada Devi’s life, through her actions, render all these academic discussions on that topic totally insipid! If we have to enjoy that beauty, we have to study the events of her life in detail.

It was the year 1918. By then, many devotees had already become aware of Sri Sharada Devi’s greatness. Swami Vivekananda and other monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna had by then openly spoken about her divinity. Holy men like Nag Mahashay, Gopaler Maa and others had introduced Holy Mother as the Divine Mother incarnate to people at large. Thus, during her lifetime itself, Sri Sharada Devi had been worshipped as the Mother of the Universe. Yet, these things did not bring about any change in her demeanor or personality. Her disciples and devotees were wonderstruck observing the naturalness, which was characteristic of Holy Mother, whereby she was able to digest this unimaginable adulation. An incident that occurred during the Jagaddhatri Puja of that year reveals her humility in an unprecedented manner.

Jagaddhatri Puja was a special occasion in Holy Mother’s house. The Puja was over with due pomp and as per tradition. A Brahmin by name Haldipukur was the officiating priest. Holy Mother’s Family Guru[9] was the ‘Tantradharak’[10]. Just as the Puja got over, Sri Sharada Devi offered her respects to her Family Guru by touching his feet. She then proceeded to touch the feet of the Priest. But the Priest refused to accept her respects. He said, “Mother! How can you touch my feet! All we can do is pray for your blessings!”

The Family Guru ‘woke up’ as soon as he heard these words of the Priest! It seemed to have dawned upon him then that it would have been better if he had not accepted Holy Mother’s respects. But, wouldn’t his prestige as ‘Family Guru’ get affected if he were to repair the faux pas? So, instead of feeling guilty for his transgression, he started quoting a Sanskrit verse that eulogizes the glory of the Guru: Akhandamandalakaram vyaptam yena characharam; tatpadam darshitam yena, tasmai sri Gurave namaha.

‘No matter how great Sri Sharada Devi is, am I not her Family Guru? So, what is wrong in me accepting her respects?’ This was his feeling. But, Sri Sharada Devi never felt that her Family Guru would refuse to accept her respects. Moreover, she was truly grateful to him for having borne the responsibility of ‘Tantradharak’, and ensuring the success of the Puja. So, when she touched his feet, there was genuine gratitude in her heart. But, when he chanted that Sanskrit, verse, she understood the situation. Immediately, she said, “That is true, that is indeed true’, and supported the view of her Family Guru. Thus she spared him any further embarrassment.

We must understand this incident properly. ‘I am literally worshipped as Divine Mother incarnate by thousands of devotees; will it look proper if I touch the feet of an ordinary Family Guru?’ This thought never even entered Sri Sharada Devi’s mind! Doesn’t this reveal her humility in the brightest colors? Notice one more very important thing here: by saying, “That is true, that is indeed true”, she is protecting the prestige of her Family Guru and ensuring that he doesn’t feel any further uneasiness! We must recognize that by this action of hers, she has manifested her humility in its complete form.

One day, an old man called Ganesh Ghoshal came from Kamarpukur to see Sri Sharada Devi. He was a childhood friend of Sri Ramakrishna. He and Sri Ramakrishna had actually been classmates. He was therefore about twenty years older than Sri Sharada Devi. When he came, she welcomed him heartily, and bent down to touch his feet, as a mark of her respect. But Ganesh Ghoshal had great devotion to Sri Sharada Devi, and was convinced of her divinity. So, when she proceeded to touch his feet, he objected and said, “Mother! How can that be! If mother touches her son’s feet, it spells doom for the son. Please don’t do that to me.”

Saying this, he himself went down on his knees and touched her feet instead. Why did Holy Mother try to touch this old man’s feet? And why again did the old man himself touch her feet? What is the significance of these two events?

Ghoshal was an elderly person, and her husband’s childhood friend. Isn’t it proper for us to show respect to our elders? This was Sri Sharada Devi’s feeling. Therefore she bent down to touch his feet. This shows her genuine humility. But the old man’s actions are even more meaningful. He could very well have argued like this: ‘Sharada is a woman from a neighboring village; she is much younger than me in age; I have seen her since she was small kid; it is proper that she touches my feet as a mark of her respect towards me.’ If he had argued thus and had accepted her respects, people wouldn’t have objected at all, for that was indeed the local tradition. But he objected. This reveals not only his humility, but more importantly the depth of his devotion towards Holy Mother. He had seen the Divine Mother manifested in her and worshipped that vision in Sri Sharada Devi. So, he offered his respect to her, instead of accepting her respects, as would have been right as per local customs, and returned home with satisfaction in his heart.

When the lotus blooms, bees come from far and wide and enjoy the nectar from within its depths. But the frogs that live near that lotus live blissfully ignorant of the heavenly fragrance; they don’t feel attracted to the flower, and are satisfied with eating the flies of that area. Innumerable devotees came from far and wide, attracted by the divinity of Holy Mother, worshipped her as the Divine Mother in flesh and blood, obtained spiritual treasures from her[11], and went back fulfilled. But those who lived near her always knew her only as sister, aunt, sister-in-law, etc. They were all deeply entrenched in their family relations. Hence they all never witnessed the divinity that manifested in her personality with such great intensity. But Sri Sharada Devi never tried to impress such people with the force of her divine personality. Instead, in all such interactions, she came across as an extremely ordinary lady, without the least trace of any ego regarding her exalted spiritual stature. Such interactions were the blazing examples of her deep humility.

Once, a relative asked her, “So many people, from far-away lands, are thronging here just to have a look at you! But we have been unable to truly recognize you. Why?”

Sri Sharada Devi replied, “It doesn’t matter that you all have been unable to recognize me. You are all my very own. I am your very own. That is enough.”

These were merely words of consolation; that is all it was.

Once, Ambika Bagdi, the village watchman of Jayrambati, asked her, “Mother, people call you Devi, Bhagawati, etc. But we all don’t feel like that at all!”

Sri Sharada Devi replied very naturally, in a low voice, “Look here, you don’t have to look at me like that at all. You are my elder brother Ambika, I am your younger sister Sharada; know this much; that is more than enough.”

This is yet another word of consolation, like the previous case we just saw. We must pay close attention to the way Holy Mother answered in both these cases. We can’t control the urge to display the least bit of greatness that we come to possess. But Holy Mother demonstrated how to live a normal life despite being infinitely great.

Another similar incident: Nalini, who was Sri Sharada Devi’s brother’s daughter, once asked her, “Aunt, people address you as the indwelling Goddess, Bhagawati. Are you truly the indwelling Goddess?” Sri Sharada Devi did not give any reply to this query; she merely smiled at her niece. But Nalini was insistent. Then Holy Mother replied, “People say all such things out of their devotion. What indeed can I be, my dear child? Sri Ramakrishna is everything. All of you should please pray to Sri Ramakrishna that I should never have body-consciousness.”

Observing that Sri Sharada Devi was playing down her real stature, and diverting their attention away from her divine nature, a devotee who was in ear-shot immediately pointed out, “Innumerable people are attesting that Sri Sharada Devi is the Divine Mother incarnate. But God only knows how many of them have how much Shraddha in what they say! When faithless people like us say such high-sounding words, it appears like prattle, that’s all.”

“That’s true”, said Sri Sharada Devi. That devotee then continued, “Unless Sri Sharada Devi herself reveals her real nature through her own grace, it is impossible for anyone else to understand who she really is. There isn’t the least trace of ego in her. That is the reason divinity manifests through her. Ordinary souls are so full of ego. Thousands of people come here, saying ‘You are the Goddess Lakshmi, you are the Divine Mother’, they roll at her feet. If she were an ordinary lady, she would have burst with egotism by now. Is it possible for an ordinary person to digest so much of adulation and worship?”

Smiling sweetly, Sri Sharada Devi looked at that devotee. No words; just silence.

Once Sri Sharada Devi went on a pilgrimage to Puri. Govinda Singari was a Panda[12] there. He was the family Panda of Balaram Basu, a prominent devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. This Panda came to know that Sri Sharada Devi was the wife of Balaram Basu’s Guru. He felt that in keeping with the prestige of Balaram Basu’s family, Balaram’s Guru’s wife must be taken inside the Puri Jagannath Temple in a palanquin. He spoke to Holy Mother about this matter. She did not agree; instead she said, “No, Govinda. You lead my path, explaining all the things we pass by; I shall follow behind you like a helpless woman, which in reality, I am.”

She went in exactly this manner to the Jagannath Temple and returned.

We need to think a little deeply on this incident. Sri Sharada Devi could have agreed to go by a palanquin arguing that by doing so, she would be giving an opportunity to Govinda Singari and to Balaram Basu’s family members to serve her. Even if she had gone by palanquin, nobody would have criticized her for that. But, Sri Sharada Devi did not give any thought to these specious arguments; she decided that if one were to go to the Temple for seeing the Lord, it is best to go there in all humility, in all the simplicity of a devotee. So, she walked to the Temple and back. There is a lesson for us, in every movement of an incarnation of God.

Sri Sharada Devi’s point of view was that when performing Puja or carrying out a religious vow, one should be full of humility and surrender to the Lord. Some of the readers may object and say, ‘Is it necessary to spell out the obvious? Doesn’t everyone know that while performing religious activities, one ought to be humble and do those rituals with a sense of self-surrender to the Lord?’ True; nobody shows arrogance in connection with religious activities. But, Sri Sharada Devi explains the necessary inner feeling one should have when undertaking such activities.

During one of the Jagaddhatri Puja occasions, innumerable devotees had assembled at Jayrambati to be blessed by the Holy Mother. Everyone put in their bit of effort, enthusiastically, and preparations for the Puja were made in a grand manner. It was Sri Sharada Devi’s unique ability that she would give her attention to every small detail connected with the Puja. Yet, on the day of the Puja, she went to the idol of Jagaddhatri repeatedly and prayed with all humility, “Mother Jagaddhatri, please ensure that your worship is performed without any lapses.”

We must give our special attention to what happened here. Sri Sharada Devi is herself the Divine Mother. The worship that is being organized is also of the same Divine Mother. Can there be any chance of any lapses in this unique arrangement? Notwithstanding all this, she prayed repeatedly with folded hands before the idol of the Mother that the puja may proceed without any trouble. She is explaining to all of us that when we perform Puja and similar religious activities, we must do so with great Shraddha and Bhakti, depending solely on the divine power of the Lord. Holy Mother is revealing a great secret here that Mother’s work had to be done by Mother’s divine power and grace alone!

Two devotees once came to Udbodhan. Before serving them food offered to Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother touched the food items to her mouth, thereby consecrating it. She did this, perhaps by divining the heart-felt desire of those two devotees for having Sri Sharada Devi’s Prasad. Their joy was boundless! They partook of that consecrated food with great delight. There was one more devotee who was nearby, and was watching all this. Feeling that he should not feel left out, Holy Mother gave him also some food by consecrating it as her Prasad. But that devotee was distraught! He said, “Mother, other than Sri Ramakrishna’s Prasad, I can’t take anybody else’s Prasad.”

Some of us may feel that he shouldn’t have been so blunt. But he wanted to safeguard his one-pointed devotion very jealously! All these things aside, how do you think Holy Mother reacted to this person’s strange objection? Isn’t this a situation which can aggravate the anger of ordinary self-important people? Of course, it is a text-book example of such a situation. But, Sri Sharada Devi responded in the most natural manner and simply said, “Is that so? Then you need not eat it.”

But, wonder of wonders! A few moments later, something stirred within that devotee’s heart. Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi are not different; they are identical; this spiritual truth flashed before his mind’s eye! With great feeling he burst out, “Mother! I have understood now. You are one with Sri Ramakrishna.”

Sri Sharada Devi then said with the same naturalness as before, “Is that so? Then you may now eat this Prasad.” That devotee ate that consecrated food with great devotion and returned home.

When we meditate on this supremely strange incident, we realize how natural Sri Sharada Devi’s humility was. She was the Mantra-Diksha Guru for innumerable devotees. She had imparted monastic vows to many spiritual aspirants. Great spiritual giants such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Brahmananda and others literally worshipped her as the Divine Mother incarnate! Such was Sri Sharada Devi; and out of her infinite grace, she gave that devotee food consecrated by her. And what did that hapless man do? He refused to eat her Prasad! Then, after a few moments, when he comes back and demands to have her Prasad, she doesn’t scold him, doesn’t berate him; with her natural and spontaneous love, she feeds him the Prasad! Is this her infinite compassion? Or is it her infinite grace? But one thing is very clear in this incident: and that is – the utter and complete absence of egotism, self-importance in her!

We have seen before how Sri Sharada Devi suffered from Chicken-Pox during one of her Kolkata visits. The Priest of the Sitala Temple in Baghbazar was hired to treat her. He knew a little bit of medicine too and would practice as a doctor in nearby areas. Every day he would come by and give Holy Mother the flower-offerings and Prasad of Mother Sitala. Holy Mother would touch his feet every day and take his blessings. Seeing this, a devotee asked, remonstrating, “Mother, what is this! You touching the feet of this priest?! Please don’t do that. We don’t know what sort of a person he is, what is his character; we know nothing about him.”

Very calmly, Holy Mother explained, “Whatever it be, he is a Brahmin. For that one reason alone, if not for anything else, he must be shown the respect due to him. Sri Ramakrishna did not incarnate to destroy any of the old traditions.”

This incident, again, very clearly shows Holy Mother’s incredible humility. We also get to see her impulse to protect all that is good in the age-old traditions of society. Sri Sharada Devi was worshipped by the incarnation of the new age, Sri Ramakrishna. Such a person is now touching the feet of an ordinary priest! This might look unsettling to us. Some of us may feel this is taking things a bit too far, even. Such misgivings are indeed, par for course. That is because we have never seen such natural humility in anyone. What is common in this world is either arrogance, or hypocrisy. People judge others only against their own standards. But Holy Mother is showing us how to throw aside all such pettiness and give the respect due to others, without any personal calculations. When everyone is busy in protecting and projecting one’s own self-importance, this genuine humility shown by Holy Mother is a powerful medicine to cure the arrogance in all of us!

Many Brahmacharins and Sannyasins of the Ramakrishna Order had the great good fortune of getting Mantra Diksha and Sannyasa Diksha directly from Holy Mother. So, Holy Mother was Guru for all of these monks and novices. Yet, it is amazing to observe the way she showed respect to monks and novices of the Order. By doing so, she was driving others around her to do the same. Actually, all monks, Swami Vivekananda and Brahmananda included, became like three-year old kids in front of her. How was this possible? How could spiritual giants like Swami Vivekananda and Brahmananda become literally like small children before her? It was because Sri Sharada Devi had within her heart an ocean of motherly love! So, even though these giants behaved like children before her, she did not tone down her attitude towards monks and Brahmacharins. On her part, she always showed the necessary deference that ought to be shown to these renunciates. Even though they were her disciples, even though they were all much younger to her in age, she showed the requisite respect to all of them, uniformly. It was precisely for this reason that she had not given Sannyasa Diksha to Brahmachari Varada, who was her assistant. Her point of view was – it would not be right for a monk to serve a ‘married lady’[13] like her.

An amazing incident occurred when Sri Sharada Devi was in Belur Math. One afternoon, after lunch, Brahmachari Rashbehari poured water for her hands. Holy Mother’s habit was to wash both her feet along with her hands after lunch. But rheumatism made it very painful for her to bend down and pour water over her feet. Knowing this, Brahmachari Rashbehari considered it his good fortune to wash her feet with his own hands. Holy Mother said with an alarm in her soft voice, “Oh! No, my son, no. You are all worthy of being worshipped by gods!” Saying this, even in her old age, with her painful rheumatism, she herself poured water over her feet, and wiped it with a cloth. Sri Sharada Devi was the Divine Mother incarnate. Yet, she looked upon these monks and Brahmacharins with so much reverence! This was the utmost respect she showed to the grand ideal of renunciation and monasticism. Notice also her other-worldly humility that is expressed in this incident.

A question may arise in our minds; when all the monks, including the great Swami Vivekananda, were like small kids before her, where arises the question of her showing respect to these monks? She, being the Divine Mother of the Universe, should shower her love and affection on her kids; how can she show respect to her kids? This same question tormented Holy Mother’s disciple, Swami Vishweshwarananda once. He asked Holy Mother directly, “Mother, how do you look upon all of us?” Immediately she replied, “As God in flesh and blood.” The Swami asked further, “But aren’t we all your children? If you look upon us as God, how can you consider us your kids?” Then Holy Mother clarified, “Look here, I see you all as God; then again, I look upon you all as my own children.”

Now, this is something unique! This vision is unprecedented; humanity has no record of anyone ever having entertained anything close to this vision till now! Just look at the absolute harmony between the human and the divine in Sri Sharada Devi’s vision! It is indeed one of the wonders of her personality that she was able to maintain a natural humility at every stage in her life.

Remember, however, that there was absolutely no artificiality in her humility. There was no selfish motive behind her humility, nor was there any fear for conformity in her actions. Nor, again was her humility due to an inferiority complex or social awkwardness in her personality. Her humility arose spontaneously from her extremely exalted spiritual consciousness! Vidya dadati vinayam; ‘real education culminates in humility’, says an old Sanskrit saying. As a person gets progressively educated, the awareness dawns in him that there is still so much more that he have to know. Then, instead of bloating in arrogance, he bends with humility. He becomes eager to learn more and yet more. And as he gains more knowledge, simultaneously he becomes more and more aware of his shortcomings, and he becomes more and more humble. We must note that Sri Sharada Devi was not educated in a school or college. How could she develop true humility then, which, as we saw, comes only from true education? True, she had no academic education, but she knew her spiritual nature, by direct perception. Moreover, she was knowledge incarnate! That was the reason her humility was most wonderful, other-worldly, and absolutely incredible! Studying and thinking deeply about the incidents in her life that reveal her humility are a purifying experience! Indeed, humility that arises from spiritual experience is the real humility. In this regard, Sri Sharada Devi once said, “As you go on praying and meditating on the Lord sincerely, you will begin to see clearly that ‘The same Spirit that is within me, is within everyone, even in the lowest being’; that is when you can truly be humble.”

Even though Sri Sharada Devi is the Infinite Power of the Universe, this time she has incarnated in an extremely simple form. That is the reason she was always cloaked in humility while enacting her divine play on Earth. We shall look at an incident that clarifies this assertion of ours:

This was before Sri Ramakrishna’s Mahasamadhi. He was bed-ridden in Cossipore Garden House. Like every day, that day too Sri Sharada Devi took his lunch to his room. Sri Ramakrishna was reclining on his pillow; his eyes were closed. In a very low voice, she called out, “It’s time for your lunch; will you kindly wake up?”

Sri Ramakrishna slowly opened his eyes; it seemed like he was returning from some faraway place in the spiritual planes, which were his haunts. He looked intensely into the eyes of his wife, who was standing with the plate of food in her hands, and said, “Look here; these people of Kolkata are living like worms. You should take care of them.”

Why would Sri Ramakrishna be saying something like this? He had already worshipped his wife as Goddess Shodashi and had prepared her for participating in his divine mission. Moreover, by repeated saying things like ‘She is Goddess Saraswati; she has taken birth to impart knowledge to people;’ ‘Is she an ordinary woman? She is my Power;’ he had openly declared her real stature to those around him. By all these means, he had also told Sri Sharada Devi that she had a very important role to play later on, in her life. Not only that, there were many instances when he delegated the spiritual responsibility of some disciples and devotee to her. In other words, there were instances when he sent some of his disciples and devotees to obtain Mantra Diksha and spiritual guidance from Sri Sharada Devi. In this way, he ahd tried variously to establish Sri Sharada Devi on the Guru’s spiritual pedestal even during his lifetime. But, one who was draped in modesty, one who was humility incarnate, as Sri Sharada Devi was – would she discharge her duties in the role of a spiritual Guru, while her husband was still alive? Hence, during his last days, Sri Ramakrishna was eager to handover the responsibility of the spiritual welfare of the people of Kolkata to Sri Sharada Devi, and thereby leave his mortal coil in peace. That is the background behind these strange words of Sri Ramakrishna to Sri Sharada Devi: “Look here; these people of Kolkata are living like worms. You should take care of them.”

She replied, “How is that possible? I am, after all, a woman.”

Sri Ramakrishna did not agree. He again said, “How much can I alone do? There is a lot that needs to be done by you. You shall do it.”

Now, Sri Sharada Devi replied with a grave voice, “Those things will happen when they have to happen. Now eat you lunch, please.”

Even while having his lunch, Sri Ramakrishna came back to the same issue from various angles, saying, “Do you know how much suffering I had to undergo, by incarnating as a human being? With whom, indeed, can I share those things? But, I am not to suffer them all alone; you too have a share in those sufferings.”

This is indeed an unbelievable conversation, with great spiritual significance. Even on his death-bed, Sri Ramakrishna was not concerned with his fatal disease, but with the spiritual ignorance of those around him. What compassion! Not only was he concerned with those ignorant souls, but he was goading his own wife to do something for spiritually uplifting them. Just look at the unselfishness!

Sri Sharada Devi started by giving excuses such as ‘I am after all only a woman’, but when push came to shove, she said with sufficient gravity, ‘Those things will happen when they have to happen.’ What does that mean? It means, ‘I shall cross the bridge when I get to that river’; ‘I will do it when the right time comes’. She had incarnated with the sole purpose of assisting Sri Ramakrishna in establishing spirituality in the world. She knew it only too well. There never was a moment in her life when she lost sight of that purpose. Yet, when Sri Ramakrishna asked to take care of the spiritual welfare of those ignorant souls, effectively asking her to assume the role of ‘Spiritual Guru’, her natural humility shines forth, and she says, “How is that possible? I am, after all, a woman.” This reply is so very apt, so very typical of her personality!

She could have instead replied, “Great; what’s there in that? Don’t I know about that pending work? Please rest assured, I have it all covered.” Those words would have been certainly been a direct answer to Sri Ramakrishna’s question. But what about the mind and feelings of the utterer it would have revealed?

Consider another alternate scenario. In order to pacify her husband, she could have, in all humility, answered like this: “Alright; as per your wish, I will take care of the spiritual development of these people.” But, Sri Sharada Devi’s personality was such that there was no possibility of giving breath to even that much of egotism. But, when Sri Ramakrishna was inordinately stubborn, and would not give up until he got her consent in the momentous matter, all she gave was an oblique reply: “Those things will happen when they have to happen.” We must appreciate the utter lack of ego in this reply. There is no sense of ‘I will do it.’ All we see is a supreme attitude of non-attachment: ‘when the right time comes, things will happen appropriately; I don’t have to do anything.’

We must note an important point here. This answer that Sri Sharada Devi gave – it was not to please her husband, nor was it out of her acute sense of modesty. Later on, when she indeed gave Mantra Diksha and Sannyasa Diksha, it was the same sense of non-attachment that was congealed in those actions. Spiritual aspirants thronged to her, by day and by night, attracted by her spiritual aura. Hundreds of devotees made a bee-line for her blessings. But she never once felt that this entire multitude was coming due to ‘her’ greatness. In this regard, she once said, “Sri Ramakrishna himself brings all these people here.” Again she said, “No, no; I am nobody; Sri Ramakrishna himself blesses them all through his infinite grace. I am just an instrument.”

Through these words, we get an unprecedented peek at the humility of the Divine Mother of the Universe. Sri Sharada Devi’s divine play was indeed unparalleled. Never before had the Divine Mother quelled the arrogance in man in this manner. The Puranas depict the gory battles that the Divine Mother fought in order to destroy the demons. The Kena Upanishad tells the story of how Divine Mother incarnated as Uma Haimavati in order to quell the egotism of the gods. But, what did Sri Sharada Devi do in her most recent incarnation? By herself embodying supreme humility, she is awakening humility in mankind. What a novel method, indeed! We must observe the divine fragrance of humility wafting out of every event of her unique life. Her life must be studied, repeatedly, from this point of view. Then, our personality will get formed in the real sense.

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[1] Sri Ramakrishna was famously known as the ‘Paramahamsa’. Literally it means ‘The Great Swan’. It is an honorific applied to a monk of the highest order in the Vedanta tradition. His renunciation was legendary. In such a situation, if he were to be seen publicly with his wife, common people would certainly have made fun of the couple. Since he was the ‘Great Swan’, they wouldn’t have hesitated to call them the ‘Swan-Couple’! It was due to Sri Sharada Devi’s foresight that such an embarrassing situation did not arise. Hence he was praising her intellect.

[2] We must remember that during those days, modes of communication were medieval. People seldom travelled anywhere, except under the most pressing of necessities. Women, especially, had no chance of travel. It is with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the consequent technological improvements of train and cars that people have started to travel far and wide.

[3] Footprint is an article of worship. A strong red color, made from Agar, is applied to the sole of the saint. Then a white cloth is pressed to the sole. The resulting footprint is kept as a holy souvenir, or worshipped in a personal shrine as a holy relic. It is generally done for one’s Guru.

[4] In the orthodox Hindu traditions, strict rules of conduct are laid down for women. Rules of conduct are different for the maiden and the married woman. Again, different rules existed for the married woman and the widow. We must remember that Sri Ramakrishna had passed away and Sri Sharada Devi conformed to the rules of conduct applicable to her station in life.

[5] In most Hindu families, there is a tradition of sending gifts to the daughter-in-law’s paternal house during New Year. This is a custom that developed in society to ensure healthy family relations.

[6] As per Hindu traditions and customs, a human being has to undergo certain rituals at specific stages of one’s life. These are basically rites of passage. Right from the time of conception in the mother’s womb, till death, every important stage in life is associated with a specific ritual. When the child is weaned from the mother’s breast, and starts eating cooked food, the associated ritual is called ‘Annaprashana’.

[7] Ashu is short for Ashutosh, who was a devotee of Holy Mother.

[8] In the Easter regions of India, ten days after Diwali, Jagaddhatri Puja is performed. This is actually a form of Durga Puja and has its origins in the 1700s, when a local Raja of Chandan Nagar, Kolkata was imprisoned for a few months by the Nawab of Oudh and had thus missed participating in the Durga Puja. When he was released from prison, the time for Durga Puja had passed. He then instituted the Jagaddhatri Puja as an alternative to the Durga Puja. That is the reason that people who perform the Durga Puja don’t perform the Jagaddhatri Puja.

[9] In Bengal, there is the tradition of a Family Guru. A particular Brahmin is designated as in-charge of some families. These families will belong to the Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes only. It is his responsibility to ensure that those families under his charge conform to the traditions and customs of Hinduism. He has to perform all the samskaras for all the members of those families. We must understand that although the word ‘Guru’ is used in this case, it does not refer to any spiritual responsibility on the part of the Brahmin; his scope is confined to ensuring that the families conform to the Hindu traditions. The Family Guru is a hereditary post in the Hindu society, which means that when the Family Guru dies, his son takes over the duties towards all those families who were in his father’s charge.

[10] When a major Puja, like the Durga Puja, or Kali Puja or Jagaddhatri Puja is performed, there is a very practical arrangement that is followed. The Puja is performed by a Brahmin priest called the ‘Pujari’. Since the paraphernalia is really huge, and there are a large number of rituals to be performed, with appropriate mantras to be uttered at each step, the Pujari will have a person with him, who will assist, guide and prompt him at every step. This person is called ‘Tantradharak’.

[11] Please refer to ‘Sri Sharada Devi – Bestower of spiritual treasures’ for details.

[12] In a holy place, there are people who guide devotees who come there; they make arrangements for these devotees to stay and have food and to move and see around the place. They also take care of the priestly responsibilities of these devotees. These people are called Pandas. They are present in every major pilgrimage place in India.

[13] Sri Sharada Devi’s renunciation and dispassion were greater than the greatest sannyasin; there can be no doubt about that. Yet, she had married Sri Ramakrishna with fire as her witness, as per ancient Hindu traditions. Hence she considered herself as a ‘married lady’. But her renunciation, dispassion and purity cannot be compared to anybody else in known human history. Readers may kindly refer to ‘Sri Sharada Devi – the embodiment of Purity’ for more details in this regard.

Swami Vivekananda’s message to us

Today, I wish to explain to you the central message of Swami Vivekananda, and its relevance to us in our daily lives. I will explain to you how our lives are at present, and how Swami Vivekananda’s ideas can make it better for all of us.

Hierarchy of human needs:

As human beings, we have needs. These needs have been studied in depth and the learned ones have categorized them properly. All human needs do not belong to the same category. Some needs are more basic than others. Some needs are more refined than some others. But, the needs of one category have to be fulfilled before man starts to feel the needs of the next succeeding category. That is the principle.

Take for instance, the need for basic food, clothing and shelter. These are fundamental for human existence. Human beings must be able to get daily food, minimum clothing, and a roof over their head. If these are lacking, man dies. Man cannot survive in the absence of these needs. Hence I call them Basic needs.

If a man gets a steady supply of food, and basic clothing and shelter arrangements are available in his life, is he satisfied? No. The moment these basic needs are fulfilled, the next set of human needs crop up in his life. He will now need good education, good quality healthcare, and job security. Let us say even these are given to a person. What next? Is that man happy, satisfied, and contented? Life’s experience tells us, he is far from that blessed state! He will now strive hard for achieving social prestige and status. Thereafter he will actively seek social and public acceptance; he will then seek love and affection of people he will call his own; and then he will seek actively the pursuit of knowledge and the fine arts, and will want to excel in those. Now, this latest set of needs is really subtle. It is very difficult to say that any man is fulfilled in these things – love, acquisition of knowledge, etc. Yet, instances are not rare where we find persons blessed with huge amounts of these too. Are they happy, satisfied, and contented? Unfortunately, no!

Therefore, the wise ones who studied human nature in depth in our country have said that in addition to all these needs, man will have one more need – the need to overcome all these needs! It is a kind of inversion in human nature. Yet, this is a fact. A man may have everything he desires for; and yet he will not be satisfied until he lets go of everything, until he transcends his need for fulfilling his seemingly endless needs. This state of existence is a turning point in a man’s journey to his destiny. We see the clearest expression of this state in Buddha’s life. He was born to a king, he had the love of his wife and son, he had everything a man could ever imagine, and yet, hollowness gnawed at his heart. What was that need? That is what we are speaking of – the need to transcend the very tendency to have needs in life.

The awakening of this last type of need is the beginning of religion. Real religion deals with fulfilling this need in us. We must appreciate that this last need is a very real need. Its expression in our personality is very visceral. We may not be able to appreciate the reality of this need, and that is why I emphasize it.

A bald man was once going on a boat. There were two young men on the same boat. They saw the sun shining on this man’s bald head and wanted to have some fun. One of them rolled a book he had in his hand and slammed it on the bald man’s head. A loud whack was heard. The shocked bald man rose up to beat the young man. That young man stopped the bald man and said, “Sir, before you beat me, please answer a question of mine. I hit your bald head with my book. A loud whack was heard. Now, did my book produce the sound, or was it your bald head that created the sound?” The bald man said, “The pain I am experiencing does not allow me to argue now. I am unable to philosophize. I need to beat you and get my revenge. I will have no satisfaction until I do that.”

Sri Ramakrishna tells a beautiful story. We find this story in the Bible too. A disciple approached a Guru and said that he wanted to see God. The Guru said that he would do so in due course of time. Days passed and nothing happened. The disciple started pestering the Guru. One day when they had gone to the river for a bath, the Guru pressed the disciple under water and held him there for about a minute. When the disciple came up, gasping for air, the Guru asked him, “How did you feel under water?” the disciple said, “I thought I would die if I didn’t get a breath of air.” “Well, when you feel like that for God, you will see him.”

That is what I mean by saying that this need is a very real need. Once that need arises, you will never be satisfied with some ideas or lectures or books or even rituals. You will start hankering for something very real in the spiritual realm.

It is a real need. Now, when I say that this need for transcendence is a real need, I do not mean to underestimate the reality of the other needs. What we need to understand is this – there is a clear hierarchy of needs in us. While the Vedic Rishis categorized our human needs under two heads – Abhyudaya and Nihshreyas, modern psychologists such as Abraham Maslow have fine-tuned that classification into five different categories: Physical needs, Security needs, Love & friendship needs, Esteem needs, Self-actualization needs. According to Maslow, the first four categories of needs are called ‘Deficiency needs’. Unless they are fulfilled to a certain extent, the need for Self-actualization will not arise. We may safely extrapolate this logic and conclude that unless the five categories of needs are fulfilled up to some level of satisfaction in an individual, the last need of self-transcendence will not arise.

Anomaly at present:

I wish to raise an important point here. We can safely assume that most people inside this hall today have fulfilled all the five types of needs enumerated till now. That means most people inside this hall now should have developed a burning desire to realize God. In modern psychological language, it means that most of us here today should feel a need for self-transcendence. Well, are we feeling that? Do we all feel a deep, burning desire within for self-transcendence? I am afraid, we do not. Let us accept the fact. We do not want to let go of anything that we have. Why is that so? The wise ones have told us that once the lower type of need is fulfilled, the next higher type of need will wake up in us naturally. If that is true, then why do we not feel any need for self-transcendence?

A lion was once training his young cub in the art of kingship. The lion said, “My son, we are the kings of the Jungle. We are the strongest.” The cub, with its little round eyes asked, “Is that so? Really? Are we stronger than a deer, with all its elaborate antlers and all?” The lion roared, “What! A deer? Uh! We eat that poor animal for our food!” A little distance away, in that same Jungle, there was indeed a deer grazing. The cub had seen it. The deer also had seen this father-son duo discussing something, and it was alert. The cub asked its father, “Can you show me that you are indeed stronger than that deer over there? Can you catch him?” The lion felt sorry for his little son and started running towards that deer. The deer immediately sensed the danger and started running away from the lion, and soon escaped to safety. The lion had to return to his cub, disappointed, but with its head held high. The cub could not understand the entire thing. The lion said, “Look, there is an important lesson here for you. I was running to show you that I am stronger than the deer. The deer was running for his life.”

I wish to elaborate in some detail, the reason we have now got into this state. We have built ourselves on an external locus. The center of gravity of our lives is outside us, so to say. We wish to study some course; why? Not because I like it, but because it will make me get a job and I can become rich. We wish to purchase a new car. Why? Not because I need that particular model, but because owning that model will make me appear as formidable. Things, people and situations outside of my personality drive my thoughts, feelings, actions and aspirations. That is the primary reason for this anomaly today. Again, this is because of the methods we adopt in fulfilling the other needs. Let me explain this thing to you in some detail.

Methods for fulfilling our needs are faulty:

The present world we live in has been built up on the ideas of a handful of very influential thinkers. In fact, most of the ideas on which our world is based, on which our daily activities are designed, can be reduced to the contributions of three extremely influential thinkers.

Darwinism:

The first idea is that we have evolved from dead matter. Some chemicals came together. By chance, some hydrocarbons were formed. In the right combination of heat and light, these hydrocarbons created life. From those primordial hydrocarbons came the single-celled organisms. Then by steady evolution came plants, birds, animals and finally us, the human beings. This is a very important idea that lies at the very foundation of the modern world. This entire set of ideas is called ‘Darwinism’.

Our self-concept arises from this philosophy of Darwin. We have evolved from dead matter. Our ancestors are animals. If we ask, ‘what will we become further?’, well, the modern sages have no answer. Will we evolve further? Nobody can tell. Our entire education system suffers due to this lack of direction. What should be the outcome of educating our younger generation? We don’t know.

An absent-minded professor hurriedly left his building and entered a taxi. He said, “Look here, my dear man, I am in a big hurry. I want you to drive the fastest you can. I will pay you more. Now, hit the gas!” After sometime, the professor thought, ‘Have I told him where to go?’ He asked the driver. The driver replied, “No Sir, you did not tell me where to go. But I am driving at maximum speed!” This is our present situation.

Freudianism:

The second idea on which our world is based is even more bizarre. It says that all our actions are impelled by lust! All feelings are basically lust in various forms. Now, as an idea, this may not be very dangerous. It is no doubt very stupid, or absurd, but not dangerous. What is terrible is the outcome of this idea. The outcome is that a healthy human being should always express his feelings. This is a positively dangerous idea. Many of us in this hall spent most of our lives before internet and social media entered our lives. We know how life was during those days. You ate something good. You told someone about it. They heard it and it ended there. Today, you eat something good; you post it on Facebook or Instagram. And anyone who sees it has to ‘like’ it. If they don’t ‘like’ it, it means they ‘dislike’ it. Everything you see or hear does not need your opinion or judgement. We can be indifferent to most of the things that enter our senses. But the present world does not approve of such indifference. You must have an opinion, a distinct stand on everything. It is no longer possible for us to say that we have a detached view of things. No, you have to get involved in everything! That is absurd.

This idea of the centrality of lust in the human personality is called ‘Freudianism’. It is a very basic concept that has built our present day world.

Freudianism has given rise to a much more dangerous idea called ‘instant gratification’. The idea is that if some desire comes up in our mind, we should immediately work towards achieving it. If you wait, you are repressing it. If you repress your desires, any desire for that matter, it could lead to an imbalance in your personality! This is not only absurd, it is most dangerous. Our interpersonal relations are being progressively transformed by Freudian ideas. Consequently, there remains nothing sacred or exalting in human relations anymore. When sexuality takes central position in all human impulses, feelings, thoughts and actions, it is obvious that man will become more and more like an animal, which is what we are seeing at present.

Almost all of the personality problems, behavioral problems, mental problems and social problems that we see in our society arise from these most dangerous ideas of Freudianism.

Marxism:

The third set of ideas that has deeply influenced the modern world is that all human actions have an economic reason behind them. All our activities are for getting money. Well, if not directly, but indirectly, the end result of all activities has to be money. Even thinking, even the fine arts; the only criterion applied today is – will it pay? Do people need something? Monetize it. Again, nothing is sacred anymore. All human interactions are to be calculated in monetary terms. If something, if some thought, some feeling, some sentiment doesn’t convert into money, well, we must reject those things. This set of ideas is called ‘Marxism’, although a closely related school of thought called ‘Capitalism’ also deals with the same ideas, from an opposite perspective.

Problem of Medium Maximization:

Does man work for money only? Man has always worked. History tells us that our ancestors worked more than we did, not less. Was it money that drove them to work? Human activity always had some objective. We work for achieving something tangible. But dictating that all our activities must be for getting money is absurd. Yet, we live in a world created by such absurdities. Notice how we work the whole day today and at the end of the day, what do we do? We must go to a club, or a bar, for relaxing. Work is not relaxing anymore. This was not the case all through human history. Work has been extremely relaxing and fulfilling for man. That is why man has always worked hard. But today, we do not want to work. Why? Because the joy in working has been snuffed out by this economic aspect attached to all human activities. Do you know the Sanskrit or Bengali word for vacation? There is no word in any Indian language for vacation. That is an alien concept. We never had this concept that we need to spend time to unwind after working for some time. Work was always sacred to us. The moment we started measuring work with money, the sacredness vanished.

You might remember that the Nobel Prize for Economics was won by a behavioral economist called Richard Thaler, some years ago. Do you recall why he was given the Nobel Prize in Economics? Let me explain a bit.

In the University of Chicago, Thaler and his associate Christopher Hsee conducted an experiment. They designed two tasks. One was a short task of six minutes. The other was a long task of seven minutes. The six minutes task would get you one gallon of Haagen Daaz vanilla ice cream, while the long task would get you one gallon of Haagen Daaz pistachio ice cream. (In Chicago of that time, Haagen Daaz was a very popular brand, and people were known to prefer the vanilla flavor to the pistachio flavor.) People were asked to choose the task they wished to perform. Most people chose to perform the short task since that would get them their favorite brand & flavor of ice cream. This was expected.

Then they brought in a minor change in the experiment. They announced that the same short task of six minutes would get them 60 coupons, which they could exchange for one gallon of Haagen Daaz vanilla ice cream, and the same long task of seven minutes would get then 100 coupons which could be exchanged for one gallon of Haagen Daaz pistachio ice cream. Notice that nothing has changed except that a coupon system has been introduced. People were asked to choose the task they wished to perform. But in this case, completely contrary to expectation, over 50% of the people chose the longer task, which gave them 100 coupons, which in turn could be redeemed for an unpopular flavor of ice cream!

This is the illusion of ‘Medium Maximization’. People will naturally work for outcomes. But, if you introduce a medium into the work, people will work for maximizing the medium and forget about the actual outcome! That is exactly what money has done to our work!

Our present dilemma:

We are now stuck with these ideas, which I have simplified into three main inputs – Darwinism, Freudianism, and Marxism. The present world we live in is something unique. We have never had such facilities, such creature comforts, such vast opportunities for man to grow and exercise his abilities. Everyone can aspire for great things today. Value of human life is recognized in more and more parts of the world. But, somehow, we seem to be stuck somewhere. We have indeed come very far from where we were. But we are unable to go further. It is like a maze, you see. Suppose you are walking inside a maze. After going some distance, you find you have come to a dead-end. What do you do? You must go back and start again at a crossroad in a different direction. Now, that new direction that you took does not lead you to a dead-end, but it is something worse! You are now moving in circles, walking along the same path again and again. Since the roads are very long, and very picturesque, you do not even realize that you are moving in a rut! You think you are moving, you are progressing, but it leads you nowhere. That is our present condition.

A person was walking on a road and saw two people working. One of them was digging a hole in the ground. Another came behind him and put all the dug up mud back and closed the hole. Again and again these two people were doing this. This observer saw for a long time and tried to figure out what was happening. When he couldn’t understand it at all, he went up to them and asked what they were doing. One of them replied, “Sir, we are doing a Govt project here on afforestation. I dig a hole in the ground. Another person comes and puts a sapling in that hole. A third person comes after that and fills up the hole with mud. Today, the second guy is absent!”

Swamiji’s remedy:

This is our present condition. It is pathetic. We have reached an evolutionary cul-de-sac and we are slowly beginning to realize it. Although we sometimes realize that we are going nowhere, unfortunately it does not make us re-examine our fundamental assumptions of life. Instead, we tend to think that we got it wrong somewhere; we feel that so many others are having such great fun; I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere; if only I figure it out correctly, I will still be able to get great fun from doing the same things over and over again. Some great thinker once said, ‘It is insanity to think that we will get a new result from our old approach.’ But that is what most of us are doing right now.

We need an alternative approach to this whole thing. Am I saying that we must go back to the old, medieval ways of living? Far from it! I wish to present before you just three ideas of Swami Vivekananda and show you how they remedy the entire situation in the simplest possible manner. We must realize one thing very clearly. These ideas which have shaped our world today are not entirely wrong. But, some vital ideas are missing in them. All we need to do is supply those supplementary ideas, and the whole picture stands corrected. Please allow me to explain.

As I said, Swamiji provides an alternative to this present situation. If you study the message of this great man, three ideas stand out.

  1. Concept of man: Swamiji says that we have descended from divinity. There is a spark of divinity in us. Right now. Then, is Darwinism wrong? Did we not evolve from animals mand plants and hydrocarbons? Of course, the body and the mind did evolve from dead matter. But, there is a conscious element within all of us, that is present right now in us, that is completely and utterly different from body and mind, and that divine core is the real man. The divinity in me and interact with the divinity in you. That is possible. And that kind of interaction must become a habit with us.
  • Concept of Tyaga: Swamiji says that human beings grow by Self-control. Restraint and not random expression is the path for human evolution. We must be able to get completely attached to the things and people around us. But we must simultaneously develop the ability to detach ourselves from everything around us, and be able to sit quietly for some time everyday too. Courtney Carver, in her blogsite www.bemorewithless.com says something amazing: “I love connecting with other humans, but I need them all to go away for a little while every day too!”
  • Concept of Seva: Swamiji exhorts that all our activities have to be done as Service. All work is for character-development, not just for money. Self-Improvement comes from any work done in a particular method. Work leads to an expansion of consciousness. Swamiji delineated the right method of working, and called it ‘Seva’.

Swamiji was once asked by his disciple Sister Nivedita, “Swamiji, what exactly is your message to mankind?” He replied, “My message can indeed be put into a few words; to preach unto mankind its divinity and to enable man to manifest that divinity in every movement of life.”

The way to manifest divinity in every movement of life is by Tyaga and Seva. Divinize the entire world. That means divinizing, spiritualizing all relations, all things, all processes, even one’s own personality. Then, work incessantly, as an offering to the divinity in oneself and to the divinity in others around us. That is why Swamiji once said, “The national ideals of India are Renunciation and Service. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation.”

Thus, the solution that Swamiji provides fulfils the lacunae in the present world-situation and does not call for any major changes in the world systems, or in our lives. We need to firmly drive in only three ideas – divinity of man, renunciation, and service.

Now, you may ask, aren’t we oversimplifying the issues here? Can a mere idea change our situation so much? Whether we think of man as evolving from dead matter, or descending from divinity, matter so greatly in outcomes? The unfortunate thing is that we hardly recognize the power of ideas.

An interview was going on. The interviewer asked a question, “Imagine you are on the 15th floor of a building. And the building has caught fire from the ground. There is a roaring fire in the elevators, in the staircase, even in the fire-escapes. How will you escape?” Many people tried many answers; one said, he would jump; another said he would dash through the fire along the fire-escape route, etc. None of them were correct, since in each case, the person would get burnt to death. The interviewer was asked what the correct answer was. He smiled and replied, “Stop imagining!”

So, that is the power of ideas. Swami Vivekananda offers us some very simple ideas, which can change our lives if we accept them wholeheartedly.

I thank you for patiently listening to my words. Thank you.

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Start-up Ecosystem

Before I start my deliberation on this topic, I wish to clarify two points: One – I wish to use the term ‘private business enterprise’ in place of ‘start-up’. I know there is a subtle difference between the two terms; but for the purpose of my deliberations, I think this term ‘private business enterprise’ will be better. Two – I will be speaking for India, as a whole, and not just for Bengal. I believe that this entire country has a common set of problems, and the problems in Bengal are actually symptomatic of the entire nation. Of course, Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad are exceptions and not the norm.

I must admit that I am the odd man in this entire gathering here today. We have the Managing Director of Webel, Joint Director of Dept of MSME, and the Secretary of Bengal Chamber of Commerce on the stage with me. They all belong to the industry. I however am the lone representative of the education field. I run a Polytechnic College in Belur Math. While they have all spoken about the details of various Govt schemes for start-ups and how they can hand-hold new ventures, I will be speaking to you about things that belong to a totally different realm. I will speak about what factors will lead to a vibrant ecosystem for private business enterprise in our country.

I believe that private business stands on three factors:

  • Social traditions
    • Govt policy
    • Personal attitudes

All these three factors are very closely related, as we shall presently see.

Social traditions:

We must value money:

Let us consider the first factor – social traditions. When we compare India with Europe or America, we find one glaring difference in social outlook. Money is valued very highly in those countries, while money is taboo in India. I mean, in India, even today, a rich man is scorned. Common people look upon a rich man as a thief! The first and foremost social tradition in India that is hindering the growth of a vibrant ecosystem for private business in general and start-ups in particular is this – Indian society looks down upon money. We must learn to value money. There is an honest way to earn money. If money is earned honestly, whoever earns it, we must learn to value that person as an achiever, as an asset of our society.

We must value hard work:

Next, society must learn to value hard work. We must value hard work more than deep thinking; well, if not more, at least equally. Just look at the number of working days we have in India. Amartya Sen has written an amazing article in his book ‘The country of first boys’. It is about the Indian calendar. He notes that ancient Indian society had holidays only on the days of special festivals. Again, festivals in India were regional and not national. Thus, any particular region in India, in the ancient times, stopped work only for about 10-12 days in a year. Then came the Muslims; they did not touch the holidays; but those sections of the Indian society that worked closely with the Muslim rulers started enjoying holidays on Fridays and on Muslim festivals. But the Muslim rulers, even the Mughals never imposed these holidays on a pan-India basis. Thus, the majority of the Indian society worked for over 330 days in a year. The British imposed their Sabbath on the entire nation. This was in addition to all the Indian festivals, and the Muslim festivals. Thus, when India became free country, with a five-day working week, we ended up with about 130 days without work in a year! Add to that the various kinds of leave that an employee is entitled to, and an average worker needs to officially work for only about six months in a year! Is there one other country in the whole world that works so less? Notice that only a fraction of the entire nation engages in manufacturing and services. The production of this miniscule population must sustain the humungous portion of the nation that doesn’t work, or is incapable of working. What is the per-capita productive output in India? And we are all happy about this state of things. In fact, we constantly keep making demands for more holidays, commemorating some leader’s birthday! Does it make sense to speak of a vibrant ecosystem for private business in this way?

Why did we become like this? We don’t value wealth; we don’t value hard work. Were we like this always? Of course, we were not like this always. Once upon a time, we were the richest nation in the whole world! Europeans tried every possible means to find a direct route from Europe to India, only because India was the center of all economic activity in the world then. In fact, it was because of India that America was discovered. I am not exaggerating. We were really that great. What happened?

I do not want to go into the historical reasons of what happened in this lecture. I am more interested in explaining how to get out of it now.

All economic activity in India was based on Caste system. That system is broken down now, which is good. Let everyone get as much opportunity as they wish. But what has replaced the caste system? Organization is the replacement for Caste. But we are still ignorant of organization. We can’t work in a team. We can work very well on our own, alone. But, if we put up a team, very soon, the team breaks up. Therefore, we are unable to form stable organizations. Team formation is the root of the modern organization. And unless we form strong, stable, efficient organizations, we can’t generate wealth. The Indian system of generating wealth, the caste system has broken down, and we still don’t have its alternative in functioning order. Why do you think the common Indian is so sensitive about his caste? The reason is economic. In his blood, he knows that his survival depends on economics and his economics depended on the caste system. Now that this basic framework has changed, no one has been informed or educated. We are just pushing the common man into various organizations to work. The common Indian even now is not aware that organization is now the fundamental economic unit in the country, and therefore he has to protect his organization. Caste is gone; it will never return, since it has been exposed to be economically unviable. Organization is the new mode in which all our economic activity will happen and we are ignorant of its function in our daily life, in our struggle for existence. Just see the confusion! All this fighting we are seeing in the country concerning nationalism, religions, minorities and majorities, etc. are all various faltering steps that the nation as a whole is taking in its attempt to educate itself in the new social paradigm. The violence, fighting, cacophony and chaos will end when millions of Indians will grasp this basic idea that all economic activity in India will be done through organizations, and that the caste system is dead. That grand system, which served us so well for hundreds of years in the past, has died and its funeral is yet to be performed.

We must learn to work in teams:

Why can’t we form and work in teams? The reasons are so many; I don’t even know where to begin! Half of everything that Swami Vivekananda ever spoke or wrote (which is available in nine big volumes!) concerns this one question – why can’t we work in teams? We will take up some of the important reasons in a while. The remedy has to come from our education system. I believe that people should pay for their education. This doling out business is eating into our vitals. It is making us dependent on others forever. Charity is needed; but only in the rarest of cases. Just look around and see what is happening. The really needy people are never beneficiaries of any of our Govt schemes. The benefits are all pocketed by people who are actually able to fend for themselves. But, since the able ones are actually given out doles, they grow up weak-kneed, forever dependent on doles! What a mess we have created for ourselves, indeed! Generation after generation has grown up on doles; how can they ever appreciate private business enterprise?

Listen to a story:

Thomas was out a-hunting in the forests of Belgian Congo. He stumbled upon a fox which had lost all its four legs. Yet, it looked quite healthy. It intrigued him. How could a wild animal in the thick jungles stay healthy without its limbs? He hid behind a thick bush and waited for hours, wanting to observe the habits of this strange fox. Around evening, a tiger came with a dead deer in its mouth, laid it down on the ground, ate its fill and left the remains for the fox to eat. ‘Lucky jackal’ thought Thomas and left. But this was surely a quirk of fate today, what happened between the tiger and the fox. It could not happen every day. He was determined to unravel the mystery of the limbless, healthy fox and so he returned again the next day, and again the day after. Each day he saw the same thing being repeated; that tiger came to the fox each evening with a game in its mouth, ate its fill, leaving the rest for the fox. This revelation had a terrific impact on Thomas. He understood that the Lord Almighty supplied sustenance for all His creatures. He decided to sit in a corner and wait for others to feed him. A fortnight passed and no one came by. Thomas was reduced to bones and life merely hung on to him. He was all but dead. But his faith in the Lord’s benevolence did not waver, for he had seen it in the jungle. Then, one morning, with the rising sun, Thomas heard the voice of God, booming inside his heart, “Fool! Open your eyes and see! Imitate the tiger, not the fox!”

Govt Policy:

We now take up the second factor in creating an ecosystem conducive to private business, and that is Govt policy.

Private wealth must be protected:

I do not refer to any particular act or law or even reform, when I say Govt policy. What I mean is the general line of thinking in the Govt leaders who frame the laws or initiate reforms. In my opinion, the fundamental idea that will create, foster and sustain an ecosystem for private business is – the person who creates wealth must be allowed to retain his wealth. If Govt policy does not protect earnings, if the laws of the land reflect indifference towards private wealth, no one would like to invest time and energy in private business. Govt policy in India generally tends towards re-distribution of wealth. It is rare to find a Govt in the world that has learnt to balance policy related to wealth generation and wealth re-distribution. There are Govts that lean heavily towards protecting private earnings. In all such countries, we will find great gap between the rich and the poor. Such nations will have innumerable start-ups, blossoming into successful industries. There are many other Govts that lean heavily towards re-distribution of wealth among the poor people. Incentive for private wealth generation is absent in such countries. Everyone would like to be at the receiving end of the dole, and none would like to engage in creating wealth.

I will tell you a story. I have read that this really happened in some College in America. I am not certain. But I loved the idea. So I am going to go ahead and tell you an amazing story.

There was a Professor in a College, who had repeated discussions about wealth creation and wealth re-distribution with his students. I have even read versions of this story that this discussion was with respect to Obama Care. Anyway, the Professor wished to demonstrate to his students that the policy of wealth re-distribution is wrong at a fundamental level. He said, “I will take all the grades you will earn in the tests from now on, average them, and award everyone the same grade.” “Fair enough”, said the students. In that test, some had got an A grade, some had got a B grade, and some had got a C grade. The average turned out to be B. So everyone got a B grade. In the next test, students who had previously got an A grade, didn’t study hard, since they knew it wouldn’t matter. And students who had got a C grade too didn’t bother to improve their performance, since they too knew that the A and B grades would lift up their own grades. This time, the average turned out to be D, since there was hardly any A or B grades and the C grades had deteriorated to D. In the test after that, no one really studied, for everyone felt that others had the responsibility of studying and getting the A and B grades for the sake of the entire class. This time, the average turned out to be F and the whole class failed!

Private economic activity must be trusted:

The second idea that must be translated into Govt policy is this – Govt policy must reflect trust in the citizen with regard to economic matters. If regulation, license and inspection become too strict, private business gets asphyxiated. When Govt frames policies that place too many restrictions on the economic actions of people, what happens is people will be unable to comply with all the mandated restrictions. And as a result, people will start finding our loopholes in the law, in the system, and will start exploiting them. Economic activity is intrinsic to human beings. Govt can only regulate it. And that regulation must be along feasible lines. Else, Govt policy itself will drive people to become corrupt. People will start exploiting the Govt laws and the market, in order to keep their business viable.

I used to look after a School of Ramakrishna Mission in Arunachal Pradesh, near the Chinese border. It was a large school of about 2300 students, all of them tribal boys and girls, from KG to Class XII. I used to walk along the long corridors of the school, keeping an eye on the classes. One day, I saw a small boy walk up to the teacher in the class and say something. The teacher sent him back to his seat. I stood and watched. The boy went back to his seat, but was looking out of the window instead of at the blackboard. Then after a few minutes, the same boy went to the teacher and said something. This time the teacher allowed him to go out of the classroom. The boy just ran. I followed him from a safe distance. I saw that he ran straight to the garden adjacent to the classrooms. In Arunachal Pradesh, you get butterflies that are extremely colorful and really large. The boy went to a butterfly sitting on a flower. It flew off. He chased it for some time. Then, he went to the toilet and returned to the class. Now, after the class was over, I went over to the teacher and asked him, “A boy came to you during class and said something. What was it?” The teacher said, “He said he wanted to go to the toilet.” I corrected him, “No, that was the second time. He came to you before too. What did he say then?” The teacher recalled and said, “Oh; he is a naughty child; he said he wanted to go to the garden and catch a beautiful butterfly. I scolded him and said, ‘Sit down and learn Math.’”

You saw what happened there? The boy will do what he has set his heart upon doing. If we have any practical sense, we will facilitate that boy in doing what he wishes to do within legal limits. Else, he will find out a way to circumvent our ‘restrictions’ and still achieve what he wants to do!

I won’t want to go into the urgent necessity of Govt exiting from all economic activity in our country, and not compete with private business. That would be raking up controversy. If you look closely, you will notice that Govt has no business being in business. Govt must govern; it must regulate; it must facilitate. The citizen must engage in economic activity within the limits set by the Govt. That is the ideal circumstance in which private business thrives. Look at the chaos in our country at present. Supposing I want to run an airlines industry. The economics of this business can never be worked out properly, because Govt itself is a competitor! Similarly in the telecom industry; in fact, in every sector, this is the pathetic case! How can we have a level playing field when the ‘policy-maker’, when the ‘regulator’ himself is a player? Doesn’t that violate some fundamental principle of natural justice? But we have no problems working with this skewed system, and we spend our time and energy worrying about why we don’t get our youngsters to do business!

Personal discipline:

We saw that creating a favorable ecosystem for start-ups has some social factors. Govt policy has to be conducive for private business. Even if we have both these, we still need to look into one more very important factor that controls private business.

Tremendous personal discipline is needed to start and sustain private business. People who have no routine in personal life, who have no training in thinking properly, who have no understanding of the power of the spoken word, who have no conception of excellence, can never be successful entrepreneurs. How many people do you know who have the grit and inner discipline to follow-up properly? Emotion and passion play a great role in successful business; there is no doubt about that. But, that passion must be closely tempered by an extremely acute intellect. Tremendous mental faculty is needed for understanding and balancing innumerable factors simultaneously. Tremendous capacity must be developed to store, sift, recall, and handle huge amounts of data in the mind. How can we develop all these superhuman qualities unless we have personal discipline?

A student came up to me one day and said that he would set up his own business. I encouraged him and watched him closely for one semester. Then I called him and said, “You should not become an entrepreneur. You should work under someone for at least ten years. Then, you may become fit to start your own business.” I said this because I saw that he could never be on time to classes; he had no personal routine at all; always living on his own whims; could never keep his word; if someone enters the world of entrepreneurship with these sets of habits, he or she is sure to fail.

Failure:

That brings me to the next point – failure. A large number of start-ups fail. Whenever new businesses fail, we blame the Govt. We say that Govt ought to have supported these infant business endeavors. Is that true? Of course, there is a lot lacking in the policy level in our country. But if we analyze the reasons for failures of start-ups, more often than not, we will find that they fail because the entrepreneurs enter the field without the requisite personal habits and attitudes. Someone who is incapable of working under another person, the so-called ‘boss’, someone who is incapable of putting in sincere hard labor day-after-day, can never be depended upon to work hard on his own. Most Indians lack this fundamental work ethic. If there is no one to supervise our work, how many of us will exert ourselves?

Having said that, I must point out that even when a person has most of the requisite personal qualities, many times a business endeavor might fail. Our society doesn’t value failure at all. The Indian society values success only. It doesn’t appreciate the immense educating value of failure. When we study societies in which private business thrives, we find that all of them also rate and celebrate economic success very highly. But, those societies don’t encourage a shaming attitude towards people who attempt and fail. Why speak of only start-ups? Even seasoned businessmen fear failure in India. Just recall the suicide of Café Coffee Day founder V G Siddhartha. A society which has developed the magnanimity of extending moral, psychological and financial support to a floundering business alone will foster start-ups; not a suffocating society like ours. When I am making money, everyone flocks to me; and when I am biting the dust, no one recognizes me! Is that a society that wants to encourage start-ups? But, let us not blame society alone. How do I become so strong that in the face of failure I can tap into my inner energy and bounce back? How do I keep thinking straight when everyone has deserted me and the jackals are hounding me with their legal and criminal suits?

Freedom and delayed gratification:

There is a tendency among Indians to enjoy prematurely. Even when the goal is far away, every minor milestone crossed has to be celebrated by our intrepid entrepreneur! I know a start-up that was doing well. There were four friends who started it. I knew their parents. One year after it took off with a bang, I met the parents of one of the boys. They told me he had gone to Thailand for vacation. I immediately sensed that the business would come apart very soon. It did not last one more year after that. How would it? If the founders are busy enjoying in foreign locales, how will the infant business be sustained? When you set up your own business, you have enormous freedom. But who is training our young men to handle freedom? Freedom means responsibility. Freedom actually means you have freedom to delay your gratifications.

Financial discipline:

That brings me to the next vital personal requisite for sustaining start-ups – financial discipline. I don’t even know where to begin! We Indians have very strange ideas of money. One boy came to me and said he wanted to set up his own business. He had this great idea and was really passionate about it. I asked him how he would fund it. He said he would invest his father’s retirement amount to start his business. I sighed. One more endeavor doomed to fail was sitting before me and asking me for blessings! Blessings for what? For failure? Our young entrepreneurs lack the self-control to handle money. They lack a meaningful understanding of economics, the way finance operates in a business. The Marwari, Gujarati and Chettiar families have this capability to some extent. I have seen that our young men and women, who venture into private business, more often than not, end up with cash-flow problems. All cash-flow problems boil down to improper and unscientific financial management.

Trust issues:

This opens up another important issue of Trust. Indians have problem trusting others, apart from one’s own family members. I have seen so many educational institutions, registered societies and trusts, and new business enterprises, all formed with family members. Why can’t we trust people who are strangers but have real talent in a field where we lack expertise? The psychology of the common Indian is most peculiar. We have major trust issues in our relationships. We also have major control issues in our relationships. These two issues hinder efficient and successful business enterprises. Modern economic activity depends on collaboration between people who have skills and expertise; it doesn’t matter if the people know one another or not; it is enough that they all come together for the common cause of setting up and running the business, each contributing his own share into the work. Very rarely do we find such collaborations. I have seen many such attempts. In the beginning everything seems to go well. Slowly questions arise about who contributed how much, and who has to get credit for a particular achievement. These questions pile up over time and then spill over into a financial irregularity issue, and the team breaks up. Thus the promising start-up breaks up!

I have laid down a very long list of what it takes to create an ecosystem for start-ups in India. I will end by pointing out that these changes will take time and cannot be hurried through, especially in India. We saw how China fast-forwarded that transition. But, in India we can’t do that, and perhaps we don’t want such artificial acceleration either. We should allow the society to mature, understand and initiate the changes it needs from within, from the bottom-up. We have three factors here – society, Govt, and the individual. The inputs have to increase on the individual in India. The education sector is therefore the key area. Our students have to be made into solid, hard-working, loyal, sincere, strong citizens. People who can follow rules and procedures, who have a rock solid personal ethic, must increase in number. When we have a couple of generations of such people, we will start getting young men and women who will venture out to be successful entrepreneurs. Before that, most of our efforts in this direction of entrepreneurship are bound to fail, or only partially successful.

Remember, today, in India, a college is considered good depending on how many students get a placement. Colleges are not rated on how many start-ups its students have set up. Of course, the AICTE or NBA or NAAC might be considering that parameter, but public perception still doesn’t. When we will find people, the common, aspiring people in society, rating colleges based on the number of successful start-ups that its alumni have set up, we will know that the right ecosystem for start-ups has been created in India. Till then, let us all work hard. There is still a lot to be done by us.

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Purity: the Ideal & its practice

We will not be deliberating about Purity per se in this article, because, most of us already have a rough idea of this concept. But, we have lots of gaps in our understanding of this vital idea. We will try to fill in the gaps in our understanding regarding this concept.

As we noted, we all know sufficiently enough about Purity. Yet we do not seem to grow in this character trait. Why is that?

Principle of Gradation in Ideals:

Let us place a KG kid, a School boy, a College student, a Masters scholar, and a Research scientist, say for instance, Einstein, in a line, all standing one beside the other. We ask each one the same question, ‘What are you doing?’ The KG kid will say, ‘I am studying’. The School boy will say ‘I am studying’. The College student, let us hope, says ‘I am studying’, because, now-a-days, most students take admission in Colleges, not to study, but to “set right” the College and the University! Let us hope to get a good College student, in which case, he will certainly say ‘I am here for studying’. Next, we ask a Masters student the same question, and we will surely get the same answer. You see where this is going. Lastly, a true Research scholar like Einstein will also say, ‘I am studying this universe; I am learning how it works.’

Please notice that all of them are saying the same thing. But, what a world of difference lies between a KG kid saying ‘I am studying’ and an Einstein saying ‘I am studying’!

None of them is false. All of them are correct. We understand all of them are correct because we clearly understand that there is a gradation in the act of learning. Learning is not an absolute action. It has innumerable steps, innumerable gradations, and innumerable stages. And each of them is indeed called by the same name – learning. You may qualify it with words like lower learning and higher learning, but you will all agree that each one of them is indeed doing the same thing – learning. Thus, they are all doing same thing, although there is a difference in degree and not in kind.

We urgently need to understand this concept, especially with regard to ideals such as Purity. There is a clear gradation in ideals. Ideals are not absolute. To some extent we may consider that the lowest end and the highest end (as we understand them now[1]) are absolute, but there is a spectrum of ideals in-between. They are graded.

A School Inspector visited a school once. He went to Class-X and asked the students how many districts are there in West Bengal. He wanted to hear the correct answer which is 23. Since three new districts had been recently formed, he would also have been happy with the answer 20. But the students replied, ’75, 83, 64’ etc.! The answers were way off the mark. He was angry and asked the teacher to explain. The teacher said, “Sir, you should have seen them last year. They were in 250s and 300s. I have brought them down to the 60s and 70s. In a year or two, I will bring them to the correct number.”

So, do we understand that when a student is focusing entirely on his studies, a soldier is focusing entirely on fighting the enemy and defending his country, a doctor is focusing entirely on his surgery, saving the patient and healing the sick, a mason is focusing entirely on laying bricks and constructing a building – all of them are essentially as pure and as focused as a monk practicing unbroken Brahmacharya for the sake of God Realization? We do not mean that they are all equal, but, essentially the same. They are all like that string of KG kid, School student, etc. that we lined up.

There are grades in the level of purity each one can achieve in one’s life. We must note that the action, per se, is not related to what level of purity or any other ideal is achieved. In fact, Vedanta holds that any action can assist us in manifesting the highest ideal in our personality. We shall deal with that concept some other time. Now we will try to understand this concept of gradation in ideals. Somehow we tend to think that these ideals such as Purity, Self-realization, God-vision, etc. are some absolute states of existence. They are not. They have infinite grades. You can imagine them as a continuum, or as a spectrum. On the one extreme, we exist. On the other, great souls like Buddha, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna. The in-between distance separating us from these great souls has infinite lower ideals of Purity, Self-realization and Visions of God, which we all will have to progressively conquer and move ahead. Each of these lower ideals can grow into the one next to it in the hierarchy till it culminates in the manifestation of the ideal we see in these great souls.

Sri Ramakrishna was a married man. He worshipped his own wife as the Divine Mother! We all understand this manifestation of the ideal in Sri Ramakrishna as ‘Purity’. Well, that is one extreme of the spectrum. Can you understand that raising a family, being loyal to one wife only, your entire life, is the same ideal manifested on a little lower level? Can you understand that when a student rejects a distraction of playing video games and immerses himself in single-minded study of his subjects, that is also a manifestation of the same ideal of purity, of course, on a much, much lower level? When we understand this connection, we will start making progress in manifesting these ideals in our own lives.

A man took his son to be admitted in Shantiniketan. He asked in the Office, “What all do you teach here?” The Officer was proud of his Institution and explained, “We have a school; then we have a multi-disciplinary College, where we teach the Arts, Science and Commerce; we have Masters in various disciplines; we also do Research in cutting-edge areas such as Microbiology, Nano-technology, etc.” The man was impressed. He asked his son to be admitted into the Ph.D. course in Microbiology. The Officer wanted to meet his son. He was a boy of 4 years! The boy’s father could not understand that he had to be admitted into the KG School, first of all. He would study diligently, year after year, passing each class, moving ahead into College, then Masters and then into Ph.D. course! He could not be admitted directly into the Ph.D. Course! This is the mistake we all make.

There is a beautiful Sufi story. A Sufi saint was very hungry. He went to a road-side hotel and asked for Roti and Tarka. He ate the 1st roti. He was still hungry. He ate another one, and another one till he ate the 5th Roti and he was satisfied. He went to pay the bill. Each Roti cost Rs.5, so he was asked to pay Rs. 25. He started abusing the Hotel owner, “You cheat! I will pay only Rs.5! You should have given me the 5th Roti first. In order to make money, you gave the useless 4 Rotis and now you want Rs.25?” This is the mistake we all make. The extreme form of the ideal, we all understand. It alone appeals to us. What about the intermediate steps? Who will achieve those?

A young Engineer was attending a job interview. After the interview was over, the interviewer asked him, “Do you have any questions?” The young man asked, “Sir, what will be the salary?” The interviewer said, “You are a fresher. We will put you on two years’ probation, during which period, we will pay you Rs.10,000 per month. After your probationership is completed, we will put into the Rs.16,500 scale. Understood?” The young Engineer replied, “Yes Sir. I will join after two years.”

Let us do our allotted duty, sincerely, devotedly. We shall continue to do this till the next higher stage opens out to us. This way, stage by stage, we will one day reach the highest.

Swami Vivekananda says[2], “When you are doing any work, do not think of anything beyond. Do it as worship, as the highest worship, and devote your whole life to it for the time being. Thus, in the story, the Vyadha and the woman did their duty with cheerfulness and whole-heartedness; and the result was that they became illuminated, clearly showing that the right performance of the duties of any station in life, without attachment to results, leads us to the highest realization of the perfection of the soul.

It is the worker who is attached to results that grumbles about the nature of the duty which has fallen to his lot; to the unattached worker all duties are equally good, and form efficient instruments with which selfishness and sensuality may be killed, and the freedom of the soul secured. We are all apt to think too highly of ourselves. Our duties are determined by our deserts to a much larger extent than we are willing to grant. Competition rouses envy, and it kills the kindliness of the heart. To the grumbler all duties are distasteful; nothing will ever satisfy him, and his whole life is doomed to prove a failure. Let us work on, doing as we go whatever happens to be our duty, and being ever ready to put our shoulders to the wheel. Then surely shall we see the Light!

Right now, if we desire to achieve the highest, it will end in frustration, which is what we see in most people around us. We tend to think in absolutist terms. We aim directly for the final stage. We don’t realize the value of the stages preceding the final stage. There is a reason we fail to do this.

From truth to truth, not from error from error!

Compared to the highest stage, the preceding stages look like errors. Take Purity for instance. We all understand the manifestation of this ideal in a monk’s personality. A monk looks upon all women as his own mother. He is thus able to eschew all sexuality in himself. That is the main reason why people look worshipfully at a monk. We all understand this ideal easily. This stage of the ideal of Purity is called ‘Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya’. Now, the step lower to this is – looking upon all women, except one, as your own mother. There will however be one woman, his lawfully wedded wife, with whom the person may have sexual relations. This is an ideal of Purity, recognized by our Scriptures, and called by the term ‘Eka-patni-vrata’. Now, compared to the stage of ‘Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya’, this stage of ‘Eka-patni-vrata’ appears like a compromise or an opposite state of existence, or degeneration, or even as hypocrisy or ‘adjustment’ as we call it today! Today’s child plays with dolls, and tomorrow he grows up to rule the entire nation as the Prime Minister, let us say. Do we hold the Prime Minister to be a lesser man because he played with dolls as a child? Of course, if the present day Prime Minister were to play with dolls and while away his time, that would indeed be pathetic. The ‘Eka-patni-vrata’ ideal of purity is indeed a compromise and hypocrisy, and a fall, if a monk were to adopt that ideal. But, if a married man were to realize the ‘Eka-patni-vrata’ ideal of purity and raise himself to the next higher ideal of ‘Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya’, wouldn’t that be progress?

Recall Sri Ramakrishna’s repeated exhortation as recorded in the Gospel[3]: “You should not renounce woman, completely. It is not harmful for a householder to live with his wife. But after the birth of one or two children, husband and wife should live as brother and sister.

What is most interesting to note is that our ancient scriptures speak of this kind of purity also as Akhanda Brahmacharya! In the Ramayana, there is an incident. Ravana’s son Indrajit had to be killed in battle. Indrajit had a boon that he could only be killed by one who was established in the ideal of Akhanda Brahmacharya. And do you know who killed him finally? It was Lakshmana! He was a married man, and yet he was established in this high ideal! Purity therefore has many subtle shades. We have Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya, which means the person will be pure in thought-word-deed all his life. Then we have the Urdhvaretas Akhanda Brahmacharya, which means the person has had a couple of kids and thereafter has been pure in thought-word-deed. This is the ideal that Sri Ramakrishna spells out so beautifully in the passage quoted above. The other name for this ideal is Eka-patni-vrata, or Pativrata Dharma. Then we have the Upakurvana Akhanda Brahmacharya, which means the person is pure in thought-word-deed for a certain period of his life, such as a student. This is the reason why every student was called a Brahmachari in ancient India and the words student and Brahmachari were synonyms. This person doesn’t follow Akhanda Brahmacharya all his life, which would have made him an Akhanda Naishtika Brahmachari. He follows Akhanda Brahmacharya for some time in his life. Then he marries and begets children. Thereafter, he again takes up the practice of the Akhanda Brahmacharya. And now he raises himself to the ideal of Urdhvaretas Akhanda Brahmacharya. Note however that in every case, the ideal has to be Akhanda, which means ‘unbroken’. How is it unbroken if he can get married and begets children? The Akhanda stands for alignment of thought and deed, a vital point which Sri Ramakrishna emphasized repeatedly. As and when we are practicing the ideal, our thoughts, words and deed must be in unison. You can’t have a fractured personality where thoughts are on one path and deeds are elsewhere.

Look at the following words of Sri Ramakrishna[4]: “To sit with a woman or talk to her a long time has also been described as a kind of sexual intercourse. There are eight kinds. To listen to a woman and enjoy her conversation is one kind; to speak about a woman is another kind; to whisper to her privately is a third kind; to keep something belonging to a woman and enjoy it is a fourth kind; to touch her is a fifth. Therefore a sannyasin should not salute his guru’s young wife, touching her feet. These are the rules for sannyasins. But the case is quite different with householders. After the birth of one or two children, the husband and wife should live as brother and sister. The other seven kinds of sexual intercourse do not injure them much. A householder has various debts: debts to the gods, to the fathers, and to the rishis. He also owes a debt to his wife. He should make her the mother of one or two children and support her if she is a chaste woman.

Many persons who are serious spiritual aspirants have asked us if Sri Ramakrishna is making a ‘concession’ here for the married man. Let us understand that there can be no concession in spiritual life. But there can certainly be more than one path to achieve the same ideal! So, no matter what the social status of a person is (for marriage or monasticism is indeed a social arrangement only), the culmination of the ideal of purity remains the same. But the path to realizing that ideal varies depending on the social status adopted by the person. Hence, if one is a monk, a particular path is prescribed. As Sri Ramakrishna specifies so beautifully, “To sit with a woman or talk to her a long time has also been described as a kind of sexual intercourse. There are eight kinds. To listen to a woman and enjoy her conversation is one kind; to speak about a woman is another kind; to whisper to her privately is a third kind; to keep something belonging to a woman and enjoy it is a fourth kind; to touch her is a fifth. Therefore a sannyasin should not salute his guru’s young wife, touching her feet. These are the rules for sannyasins.” If one is a married man, the path to realizing the very same ideal is a different one. Note that Sri Ramakrishna does not say that the highest ideal itself is different. But, the path for the latter is indeed very different. “But the case is quite different with householders. After the birth of one or two children, the husband and wife should live as brother and sister. The other seven kinds of sexual intercourse do not injure them much. A householder has various debts: debts to the gods, to the fathers, and to the rishis. He also owes a debt to his wife. He should make her the mother of one or two children and support her if she is a chaste woman.

Anyway, what is urgently required is this – people steadily progressing in manifesting higher and higher stages of a particular ideal. We shall have the maturity to understand that these people have struggled and succeeded and have not failed. It is progress in human evolution even on a personal level, and not retrogression and therefore not personal failure.

We say this understanding is urgently required because, today’s education system and new means of accessing information have enabled millions of people to intellectually grasp the highest ideals. However, such is the irony of human existence that this heightened intellectual understanding does not enable these millions in understanding the principle of gradation in ideals! Regarding Purity, almost every reader clearly recognizes the value of the Ideal manifested in Sri Ramakrishna or in Swami Vivekananda. But, most of us are unable to link up our present state of existence with that highest manifestation of the ideal. As a result, we spend our entire lives in frustration. We have witnessed the highest ideal, but we are unable to live up to it. So, our entire life is spent in hating ourselves for not being able to live up to the highest ideal. And that is the bane of Indian society. We have to recognize the validity of each stage of the ideal, and not get caught up in the blaze and glory of the highest ideal only. Swami Vivekananda very beautifully pointed this out repeatedly in his lectures, when he said:

If one studies the Vedas between the lines, one sees a religion of harmony; One point of difference between Hinduism and other religions is that in Hinduism we pass from truth to truth – from a lower truth to a higher truth – and never from error to truth. The Vedas should be studied through the eye-glass of evolution. They contain the whole history of the progress of religious consciousness, until religion has reached perfection in unity.[5]

I fully agree with the educated classes in India that a thorough overhauling of society is necessary. But how to do it? The destructive plans of reformers have failed. My plan is this. We have not done badly in the past, certainly not. Our society is not bad but good, only I want it to be better still. Not from error to truth, nor from bad to good, but from truth to higher truth, from good to better, best. I tell my countrymen that so far they have done well – now is the time to do better.[6]

You must remember that humanity travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth; it may be, if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth, but never from error to truth. Suppose you start from here and travel towards the sun in a straight line. From here the sun looks only small in size. Suppose you go forward a million miles, the sun will be much bigger. At every stage the sun will become bigger and bigger. Suppose twenty thousand photographs had been taken of the same sun, from different standpoints; these twenty thousand photographs will all certainly differ from one another. But can you deny that each is a photograph of the same sun?[7]

Man never progresses from error to truth, but from truth to truth, from lesser truth to higher truth – but it is never from error to truth. The child may develop more than the father, but was the father inane? The child is the father plus something else. If your present state of knowledge is much greater than it was when you were a child, would you look down upon that stage now? Will you look back and call it inanity? Why, your present stage is the knowledge of the child plus something more. Then, again, we also know that there may be almost contradictory points of view of the same thing, but they will all indicate the same thing. Suppose a man is journeying towards the sun, and as he advances he takes a photograph of the sun at every stage. When he comes back, he has many photographs of the sun, which he places before us. We see that not two are alike, and yet, who will deny that all these are photographs of the same sun, from different standpoints? Take four photographs of this church from different corners: how different they would look, and yet they would all represent this church. In the same way, we are all looking at truth from different standpoints, which vary according to our birth, education, surroundings, and so on. We are viewing truth, getting as much of it as these circumstances will permit, colouring the truth with our own heart, understanding it with our own intellect, and grasping it with our own mind. We can only know as much of truth as is related to us, as much of it as we are able to receive. This makes the difference between man and man, and occasions sometimes even contradictory ideas; yet we all belong to the same great universal truth.[8]

It is too often believed that a person in his progress towards perfection passes from error to truth; that when he passes on from one thought to another, he must necessarily reject the first. But no error can lead to truth. The soul passing through its different stages goes from truth to truth, and each stage is true; it goes from lower truth to higher truth.[9]

We do not progress from error to truth, but from truth to truth. Thus we must see that none can be blamed for what they are doing, because they are, at this time, doing the best they can. If a child has an open razor, don’t try to take it from him, but give him a red apple or a brilliant toy, and he will drop the razor. But he who puts his hand in the fire will be burned; we learn only from experience.[10]

Spiritual giants like the Avataras and Prophets reveal various stages of the spiritual ideals. The extreme ideal for the monks was revealed long ago in the Upanishads. There was however nothing similar for the married man, as such, until Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi revealed the extreme stage of the ideal of Purity for the married people. We must be very careful not to get confused here. The ideals for the monk cannot be the same as the ideals for the married man. No, that would lead to social chaos and personal degeneration. Depending on what lifestyle one wants to follow, different stages of same ideal are applicable. But, there is a clear connection in these stages of the ideals. One grows into the other and in the end, they will culminate in the monastic ideal, which is indeed the highest manifestation possible. Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi remained married throughout their life; but they were able to manifest a level of purity that was totally monastic in nature. Not only did they manifest it, they were able to get some of their disciples such as Tarak Nath Ghoshal, Rakhal Chandra Ghosh, Jogendranath, Durga Charan Nag, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Ramchandra Dutta and others to manifest the same level of the ideal of Purity.

Recall that in the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna had declared, “Dharma-aviruddho bhuteshu Kama asmi”. The Lord Himself had declared, “I am that desire in all human beings that is not opposed to Dharma[11].” Sri Krishna said it very plainly; he is himself manifesting as lust and desire, which are unopposed to Dharma; that means unopposed to a lifestyle which assists in personal evolution of man. In the scheme of evolution of human beings, personal tendencies matter. Some will be able to live without any of the major human emotions and urges playing any role in their entire life. Many there are who seek human emotional support. These people constitute human society everywhere. These people recognize and adopt rules and regulations to live by. Human beings everywhere, at all times, have exhibited this ability to conform to rules and regulations regarding personal and social life. This sort of existence leads to concrete personal growth over a period of time. That is the Dharma that Sri Krishna is speaking of here. So, basically what Sri Krishna is saying is this: there are well-defined means of experiencing all those urges in our life, which, ordinarily speaking, we would consider as ‘Impure’. Human beings have innumerable urges – hunger, sleep, recognition by peers, prestige and status in society, possessions, enjoying through various senses, procreation, etc. Strictly speaking, all these urges constitute Impurity. So, if we wish to achieve Purity, we need to eschew all of these. That is the ordinary understanding. What Sri Ramakrishna & Sri Sharada Devi showed in their lives, what Sri Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita is – we need not eschew all of these urges at once, because for most of us, it is impossible to do so at once. We shall enjoy all these urges, but strictly within the rules and regulations stipulated by every society. We must realize that these rules and regulations are ubiquitous and never universal.

So, we will be able to transcend the lower ideals and reach for the next higher ones by following this scheme of life. How do we transcend the lower ideals? We will deal with this idea in another article. Suffice it to say that deification is the central idea in this process.

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[1] We say this because the higher spiritual ideals are revealed to us in the personalities of Incarnations and Prophets. And with each new Incarnation, we get higher and yet higher ideals. Hence, we say ‘as we understand them now’. We do not know what further ideals will be revealed by the Incarnations who will come later.

[2] Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: Ch-IV: What Is Duty?

[3] See, for instance: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on 23rd Oct 1885: Chapter: The Master and Dr. Sarkar; You will find this same instruction repeated in the following entries: 9th March, 1884: Chapter: Rules For Householders And Monks; 6th Dec 1884: Chapter: Bankim Chandra; 22nd Feb 1885: Chapter: The Master’s Birthday; 23rd Oct 1885: Chapter: The Master And Dr. Sarkar; There are indeed many more places in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna mentions this idea. The constant repetition of this instruction tells us how much of importance Sri Ramakrishna gave to this idea.

[4] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on 6th Dec 1884: Chapter: Bankim Chandra

[5] Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes Taken Down In Madras

[6] Complete Works: Vol-4: A Plan Of Work For India

[7] Complete Works: Vol-4: Christ The Messenger

[8] Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta: The Way To The Realization Of A Universal Religion

[9] Complete Works: Vol-1: Vedanta As A Factor In Civilization

[10] Complete Works: Vol-9: Sayings And Utterances: Mr. Thomas J. Allan’s reminiscences

[11] Dharma is one of those Hindu terms which have multiple layers of meaning. What we have described here is one meaning.

Brahmacharya in married life

 “O Lord! Even the moon has dark spots; make my mind spotless. O Lord! Make my mind as pure as those rays of light from the moon.”

This historic prayer welled up from the heart of Sri Sharada Devi. A prayer filled with a white-hot passion that she had to be absolutely pure in every possible way. When did she make this prayer? When she was at the prime of her youth! Those were the days when she lived in the Kali Temple at Dakshineshwar, where she used to serve and nurse her husband Sri Ramakrishna. Simultaneously she also performed Japa-Dhyana-Tapas and other spiritual practices under the direction of Sri Ramakrishna. That was the time an endless stream of people came every day to meet Sri Ramakrishna, to listen to his amazing words, and to enjoy his heavenly singing. All those devotees, especially those who came from afar, had to be fed. So, Sri Sharada Devi had to cook and serve food for all such people. Then, there were the intimate disciples, and the special guests. It was Sri Ramakrishna’s habit to treat them in a very special way. And that again meant that Sri Sharada Devi would have to take care of their feeding in a special way. So, over and above the regular menu, Sri Sharada Devi would have to prepare special delicacies on a daily basis! All this meant that Sri Sharada Devi had absolutely no leisure time at all. For instance, on an average, Sri Sharada Devi had to prepare chapattis out of 7-8 pounds of wheat flour daily! But Sri Sharada Devi would do all that phenomenal amount of work joyfully, with love, with an uncommon efficiency, and in the spirit of spiritual practice. In the midst of all that phenomenal amount of work, she would relentlessly pray to the Lord in her own mind. Japa and prayer would constantly flow from her heart like the perennial river Ganga, on whose banks stood her room. On full moon nights, she would pray with tears in her eyes, “O Lord! Make my mind as pure as those rays of light from the moon.

In this unique prayer of Sri Sharada Devi, we clearly see that Sri Sharada Devi’s conception of Purity has reached its very zenith. When we study her marvelous life, we can feel the divine fragrance of Purity wafting out of every fiber of her personality. Was not it because she was so immaculate that the Paragon of Incarnations, Sri Ramakrishna, chose her to be his better half?

A question may arise here: ‘Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi were husband and wife; how can we then call her the embodiment of Purity? Or what do we mean when we still call her the embodiment of Purity?’

True. Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi were a married couple. But we cannot forget the fact that there was absolutely no trace of physical intimacy between them. That means, their relation was something that had transcended the physical realm; their relation was something that was based on one looking upon the other as the spiritual Self in oneself; it was the divine relation that exists between a Guru and his disciple. By leading such a unique kind of married life, we can say that Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi have revealed for humanity a whole new set of values within the institution of marriage. If we have to understand this phenomenon, we will have to study deeply the unique and unprecedented details of their married life.

First of all, Sri Ramakrishna was a perfected soul who had achieved the goal of all kinds of spiritual practices extant in the vast ocean called Hinduism. He had achieved Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He was established in the direct experience of Brahman. Tota Puri, his Guru who had helped him achieve that pinnacle of spiritual experiences had once told him, “He who has rooted himself in Renunciation, Dispassion, Discernment and knowledge – which arise from the direct experience of Brahman – even though living with and sleeping next to his wife, will still be established in Brahman. He who can still perceive the distinction between the two sexes, even though he be a very advanced spiritual aspirant, is still very far away from the direct experience of Brahman.”

When Sri Sharada Devi came to Dakshineshwar and started living there, Sri Ramakrishna looked upon the situation as an ideal situation for testing the depth of his own spiritual experiences. He saw that living in intimate contact with his young wife was the acid test of his purity of mind, of his knowledge and dispassion, which had resulted from his being established in the knowledge of Brahman. Fine. He now allowed his wife to serve him personally to her heart’s content. Not just that; he even allowed her to live in his own room and share his bed with him.

One day, looking at his youthful wife who was sleeping next to him, he told his own mind, ‘O mind, look at this; this is what is called a female body. The whole world is mad after this. The world considers this as the supreme object of sense enjoyment. But if you start enjoying this, you will forever get trapped in body consciousness; you will never be able to perceive God who is Truth-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. Now, you tell me, O mind, be not a hypocrite! Don’t desire one thing within you and utter something else outside. Tell me truly, do you want this sense pleasure or do you desire God? If you wish to enjoy a female body, then look here, it is right here next to you. You are free to enjoy it.’

Thinking in this way, he was just about to touch the body of his wife, when all of a sudden his mind retreated with such intensity from his senses that he entered into a very deep Samadhi! That entire night, his mind did not come down from that supernal state to his senses. The next day, his mind had to be brought back to his senses after chanting the name of God repeatedly in his ears.

Even in our wildest imagination, we cannot conceive of attempting such a trial by fire! Of course, Sri Ramakrishna tested his own dispassion and knowledge by means of this unprecedented exercise; and he came out in flying colors. But, what might have been the feelings in the mind of Sri Sharada Devi who lived in such close intimacy with her husband during those days? Could she have secretly hankered for becoming a mother, which would have been quite natural in a girl of her age? Well, it was nothing of the kind! There was not the least trace of such thoughts in her mind. Reminiscing about those wonderful days she spent with her husband, she later said, “It is impossible to describe the exalted state in which Sri Ramakrishna lived during those days. Overcome with divine bliss, he would sometimes laugh, and sometimes weep. And quite often he would remain immersed in Samadhi. Sometimes, his body would seem totally devoid of any sign of life! There were times when he would spend the entire night in such a seemingly lifeless state! …”

Human history has not heard of such a thing as this! Husband and wife, maintaining perfect sexual abstinence, even while living together, is something unique in the known history of humankind. On the one hand, it is incredible that Sri Ramakrishna lived in his own Self even while sleeping next to his lawfully wedded wife; and on the other, it is equally amazing that Sri Sharada Devicompletely dissolved her own individuality and identified herself totally with her husband’s spiritual ideal. In fact, Sri Sharada Devi’s achievement seems to be the greater of the two because, if she had so wished, she had every right to drag her husband down to the level of normal human co-habitation; and she too could have become a biological mother like every other married woman in this world. But, such was not the mind of Sri Sharada Devi. There was no chance of her relating to her husband as other women do. She was pure enough to sympathize and participate equally in the highest ideals that her husband had espoused. There was not even a trace of sensuality in her own heart. So much so that even when once her husband himself raised this issue in discussion with her, her own ideal of personal purity did notquaver! Once Sri Ramakrishna asked his wife, ‘Look here; you are my lawfully wedded wife; you have a right over me, over my body. Now tell me, do you have any wish to drag me down to a sensual life that is concomitant with marriage?’ Immediately came back Sri Sharada Devi’s reply, ‘Why would I ever do that? I have come here to assist you in your spiritual endeavors.’

What an answer! Only from a person of Sri Sharada Devi’s stature could come such a reply! There was no un-natural-ness in that reply, no artifice. They weren’t words said in order to please someone either. It was the direct outpouring of the heart that was filled through and through with the purity of the Self! She was therefore not just the legally wedded wife of Sri Ramakrishna. She was also a full-fledged partner in her husband’s unprecedented spiritual endeavors! Hence she was capable of saying, “I have come here to assist you in your spiritual endeavors.” We notice an important feature here: Sri Sharada Devi didn’t arrive in Sri Ramakrishna’s life merely to participate in his spiritual life; she was going to assist him in his spiritual efforts! What does ‘assist’ mean in this context? It means nothing short of ‘Giving a shoulder to the Greatest among Incarnations in his mission’! What is that mission? Eradicating the sensuality, removing ignorance about one’s own true nature and overcoming indiscretion; for sensuality, ignorance and indiscretion are destroying mankind; leading mankind towards God – such is the scope of the mission of an Incarnation! Which ordinary woman indeed can ‘assist’ an Incarnation of God in His divine mission on Earth? None other than the Mother of the Universe, the Primal Energy embodied! Seen in this light, we understand that Sri Sharada Devi’s purity was not something that she had achieved by means of her efforts. Rather, Purity itself had embodied as Sri Sharada Devi. The more we meditate on this incredible fact, the more will our heart be purified and so much more will our personality become exalted.

We have seen that Sri Ramakrishna asked his wife ‘do you have any wish to drag me down to a sensual life that is concomitant with marriage?’ He did this in order to understand his wife’s mind. In a similar way, Sri Sharada Devi also had once questioned Sri Ramakrishna. It is an interesting incident. Sri Sharada Devi had come to Dakshineshwar and had started living with him. Sri Ramakrishna was lying down on his cot one afternoon. The youthful Sri Sharada Devi was massaging his legs. What a romantic situation, indeed! All of a sudden, Sri Ramakrishna was asked by his young wife, ‘How do I look to your eyes now?’

A beautiful and youthful wife is questioning her young husband, ‘How do I look to your eyes now?’ The answer that Sri Ramakrishna gave to this question is something that will remain un-paralleled in the spiritual history of humankind. He replied, ‘the Divine Mother who is worshipped in the Temple (Goddess Bhavatarini of Dakshineshwar), the lady who lives in the Nahabat (his own biological mother Chandramani Devi), and you who are now pressing my legs – all are the manifestations of the same Divine Mother of the Universe. Truly I tell you, whenever I see you, I see clearly that it is the Divine Mother of the Universe that has assumed your form to be with me.’

What an answer, indeed! These words will certainly stupefy the masses that are immersed in the mire of sensuality! Sri Ramakrishna is equating his lawfully wedded wife with the woman who gave birth to him, and the Deity worshipped in the Temple! These were not calculated words aimed at projecting a manufactured image of oneself. These are sincere words coming straight from the heart of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna’s entire life is established in utter truthfulness. The spiritual ideals that manifested in his life can be understood only if we study his life and message with an unbiased mind, and if we are capable of understanding his life against the background of the truths revealed in our holy scriptures. Only then will we understand the true value of his extremely exalted life. Against the backdrop of this awareness of Sri Ramakrishna’s unique position in human history, we will realize that it is entirely Sri Sharada Devi’s credit that she assisted Sri Ramakrishna in manifesting an unprecedented ideal of marriage! Even though co-habiting with his wife, he was able to transcend the pull of the senses and remain established in his inner Self. This was a unique achievement of Sri Ramakrishna. And Sri Sharada Devi had an equal share in this achievement of his!

Sri Ramakrishna himself praised Sri Sharada Devi’s contribution towards his manifesting the ideal of marriage, ‘If she weren’t so pure, who knows, perhaps my own self-control might have succumbed to the natural temptation of a wife’s conjugal call. After my marriage, I had prayed sincerely to the Divine Mother, ‘Mother, remove the least trace of sensuality in my wife’s mind’. Later on, when I lived together with her, I realized that the Divine Mother had more than answered my prayer.’

What a marvelous phenomenon we see here! The prayer uttered by Sri Ramakrishna here in Dakshineshwar was bringing about changes in the personality of Sri Sharada Devi in far away Jayrambati. By the intense power of his mind, he was sharing the fruits of his severe spiritual practices with his better half! This is the only way we can infer these developments, discounting the possibility of a coincidence. We have to understand that by his intense prayer, Sri Sharada Devi was absorbing the results of his spiritual practices, although she was at that time, living quite far away from him.

Similarly, it was because Sri Sharada Devi was completely immersed in meditation on her husband, as it were, that she was able to meet him on his own exalted spiritual state of mind. Her own mind and heart – they were immaculate! Therefore Sri Ramakrishna was able to pour out the fruits of his spiritual practices into her even from afar. Quite often, we are unable to make the person sitting right in front of us grasp the subtle truths of spiritual life! If the mind is impure, it is impossible to grasp spiritual truths. And here we see that Sri Sharada Devi was able to grasp the finest strands of feelings arising from the mind and heart of Sri Ramakrishna, notwithstanding the enormous geographical distance separating them. What a wonder this is, indeed! If this isn’t a grand testimony to her great spiritual capability, what else is? It was for this reason that later on, while living with her husband, she was able to say, ‘I have come to assist you in your mission’.

One can’t help but raise a question here: We have seen how Sri Ramakrishna prayed to the Divine Mother, and how he wholeheartedly praised the purity of his wife. But, was there ever any real danger of his losing self-control in the face of a seduction from his youthful wife? Was he not a perfected person, who had quenched all his physical and psychological hungers, established in the bliss of his own Self? Moreover, should another person pray for the purity of a soul such as Sri Sharada Devi? Purity has itself incarnated as Sri Sharada Devi! Well, there was no way Sri Ramakrishna’s self-control could have broken down; and no one else need have prayed for Sri Sharada Devi’s purity. This divine couple had to manifest a unique ideal for humanity. That ideal had to be made intelligible for the common masses. Only the spouse can vouch for the character of the husband, or the purity of the wife. Therefore, Sri Sharada Devi elaborates the unprecedented renunciation of her husband, and Sri Ramakrishna sings praises of his wife’s immaculate purity.

Until now, we have seen the empyrean heights to which this divine couple raised the standards of their married life. This is just one aspect of purity. Sexual continence alone is not the measure of purity. Unchaste thoughts, possessive thoughts and feelings within one’s own mind, selfishness in one’s own heart – all these too degrade one’s personality. One may safely conclude that selfishness is indeed the supreme impurity. But, when we study how Sri Sharada Devi was able to remain pure in each of these aspects, we can’t but marvel at the wonderfully ideal life she led; we can’t help but feel our own minds and hearts imbuing a little of her immaculate purity.

. It is for this very reason that Swami Abhedananda sang about her, ‘Pavitram charitam yasyaaha, pavitram jeevanam tathaa, pavitrata svarupinyai, tasyai kurmo namo namaha ’ – ‘She whose personality is pure, she whose life is pure, to such a paragon of purity, we offer our repeated salutations.’

This is a most exquisite eulogy, which is today used a prayer; it also reveals a great truth. The veracity of this eulogy will be confirmed by anyone who studies the life and message of Sri Sharada Devi. Her divine bashfulness, uncommon wisdom, perfect self-control in her words and actions, incredible detachment, brilliant spiritual awareness, the terrible austerities such as ‘Pancha-tapa’ that she performed – if we study all these aspects of Sri Sharada Devi critically, we get a glimpse of her true personality.

Meditation on the Lord is the path shown to us by the ancient Rishis for purifying our mind and heart, thereby evolving ourselves spiritually. We have to meditate on the ever-pure Lord of the Universe and thereby cleanse ourselves of the dirt of ignorance that we smeared ourselves with, over innumerable lives. Taittiriya Upanishad has a wonderful prayer:

Tam tvaa bhaga pravishani svaha. Sa maa bhaga pravisha svaha. Tasmin sahasrashakhe. Ni bhagaham tvayi mrige svaha.

‘O adorable One, may I enter into you, such as you are. O venerable One, you, such as you are, enter into me. O adorable One, who are greatly diversified, may I purify my sins in you.’

The beginner in spiritual life may find it difficult to conceive of the ever-pure Lord; it will be difficult to conceive and meditate on the Lord, as the ever-pure One. But we need not worry. It is the inherent divine Power of the same ever-pure Lord that has incarnated as the Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi. We have to sincerely study her life, and think about it repeatedly. By doing that, our mind will be able to enter into the personality that was Sri Sharada Devi. When we are thus able to dwell on her immaculate personality, we will cleanse ourselves of all impurities; our entire personality will become apotheosized.

Purity: three aspects

Pavitra [Pure], Parishuddha [Pristine], Chitta Shuddhi [Mental purity], Shuddha Antahkarana [Mental purity], Shuddha Hridaya [Pure heart], Manas Shuddhi [Mental purity] – these are Sanskrit terms common to most spiritual aspirants in India. These terms occupy pride of place in the vocabulary of spiritual aspirants. Merely by uttering these words, don’t we feel a certain sense of cleanliness in our minds? Or, these terms also have a reverse psychological effect too. That is, when we utter these words, we may start recalling all the depraved things that we have done in our lives, and we may start shriveling in fear! But this much is true – the purity that arises from an impeccable life is a rarity in this world today. It is a very rare quality and a priceless acquisition too. The purity that was in Emperor Ambarisha was capable of pacifying the terrible anger of the Sage Durvasa. The immaculate purity of Savitri was capable of wrenching her husband Satyavan from Lord Yama, the god of death! The incredibly powerful King Ravana couldn’t so much as even touch Mother Sita who was imprisoned in his own Palace Garden, could he? The power of immaculate Purity is infinite. Its glory is unbounded!

If this is so, then what is purity? We need to understand the concept of purity in all its various aspects and about all its different ramifications. The Sanskrit word for purity is ‘Pavitra’. Etymologically, this Sanskrit word is declined as follows: ‘Pavi’ means sin or impurity; ‘Tra’ means to go beyond. Therefore, the word purity means achieving inner cleanliness through performing good works by which you overcome old sins and don’t allow for committing fresh sins. When one cleanses one’s mind of all its sins, along with the mind, the entire personality becomes purified, becomes clear like a crystal. Crystal is a transparent material. Similarly, a pure mind becomes transparent. If an object is kept on one side of a crystal, it is clearly visible from the other side. This is because, there is no dirt in the medium. In a similar way, a mind that is free from lust, anger, deceit, hypocrisy, duplicity, etc. is able to project the divine spark that lies inside every living being. That is the reason all spiritual aspirants strive day and night for just one thing – purification of their mind and heart. Sri Sharada Devi is today worshipped and eulogized by not just innumerable devotees all over the world, but also by thousands of monks and celibates as ‘Pavitram charitam yasyaaha…’ When Sri Sharada Devi was in the prime of her youth, what was the prayer that welled up from the bottom of her heart? “O Lord! Even the moon has dark spots; make my mind spotless. O Lord! Make my mind as pure as those rays of light from the moon.”

What again were the words of praise that Sri Ramakrishna, her husband, said about her? “If she weren’t so pure, who knows, perhaps my own self-control might have succumbed to the natural temptation of a wife’s conjugal call.”

When we observe all these incidents, a question arises in our minds, ‘Well, then, is the married life also a path to achieving purity?’ The answer is simple: The life of righteous marriage is neither an obstacle to purity, nor is it a hindrance, as is commonly understood today. Sri Ramakrishna-Sri Sharada Devi came to reveal before humanity, the total picture of Purity, one of the great ideals sought after by man. Today, when we look at the rampant westernization of Indian society, because of which the common Indian is degrading himself into unimagined perversions and sensual depravities, don’t we see the necessity of holding up before the Indian society a burning example of Purity? If the utter disregard for law and order in society continues to grow amidst the burgeoning population, we ought to dispassionately see where this will all lead us to in the near future. What sort of a land indeed is our country? It is the veritable repository of all spiritual ideals ever known to mankind! Man has realized the highest spiritual ideals in this pure and blessed land. Hence, it is the duty of India to disseminate all over the world the ideal of Purity.

Bhagavad Gita says, ‘Na hi jnanena sadrisham pavitram iha vidyate’ There is nothing comparable to Knowledge that can purify us. What does that mean? Man sins because he is ignorant; he doesn’t know, hence he commits mistakes. Ignorance is thus the root cause of sin. Man is unaware of the fact that he is ever-pure, ever-awakened, ever-free. What does it mean when we say that man is unaware of this fact? Doesn’t it mean he is ignorant? Due to this pervasive ignorance, man tries to find happiness by resorting to all sorts of wrong and devious means. This further intensifies his ignorance! Again, due to his dense ignorance, he indulges in yet more sins. Not only does he himself commit sins, he actively drags others too into his sinful activities. What is sad in this state of affairs is that he himself is blissfully unaware that he is drowning into a great abyss. His own conscience would have become so feeble. Why would it have become so feeble? Ignorance! Hence Bhagavad Gita proclaimed, ‘If man ever wants to rid himself of all his sins and become pure, he has to resort to Knowledge; there is no other way.’ Who can bring knowledge to this ignorant man? It is the knowing ones alone that can do that. But, unfortunately, such knowing ones are very rare. Nevertheless, we will have to find out at least one such knowing one, approach him, meet him again and again. We will have to approach him till our dense ignorance melts away and knowledge of our own true nature dawns in us. Katha Up says: ‘Utthishtata jagrata prapya varaan nibodhata’ Arise, awake, approach the knowing ones and learn about your true nature from them.

The Upanishad may have certainly directed man to do this. But, ignorance does not allow man to approach the knowing ones and learn from them. The strangle hold of ignorance over man is enormous! The gravitational pull of ignorance over man is so much more powerful that the uplifting attraction of the Guru! Swami Vivekananda was able to discern this terrible fact regarding human nature and said, “If the mountain does not go to Mohammad, then Mohammad will have to go to the mountain. Similarly, the knowing ones will have to go the common people, live amidst them, move from town to town, village to village and bring them to the Light that they experience. This is because, the dense covering of ignorance in the minds and hearts of people is not something that will get dispelled easily! Hence the Pure ones, the Knowing ones, instead of merely enjoying their own Bliss, should decide to move among the common people.”

Swami Vivekananda himself did not have the mind to do so, in the beginning of his life. His desire was to go to the Himalayas and remain immersed in the Bliss of his Self. But Sri Ramakrishna’s directive brought him out to bring the life-giving Light of the Eternal Religion not only among his own countrymen, but also among the foreign ones. Today, the rays of that Light are lighting up the minds and hearts of thousands of people and making them pure and whole.

Swami Vivekananda preached religion to people of all mentalities and attitudes; he preached the Four major paths of spiritual growth, the Four Yogas; he preached the synthesis of the four yogas; he also preached Practical Vedanta to the common people of the present age. At last, he summarized all his preaching in the following few words: “Try to be pure and unselfish – that is the whole of Religion”. Christ had said something similar too: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for, they shall see God.”

Purifying the heart is the single important teaching that all incarnations of God and saints and sages have emphasized upon. When we read and hear all that, a question starts forming in our mind – what does it mean to be pure? Although this question has a simple answer, this is a topic that calls for a detailed deliberation. Anyway, briefly, the answer to this question will be as follows:

  1. Bhava Shuddhi: (Purification of feelings, thoughts and imagination): We have to be careful to ensure that all the feelings that arise in our heart, all the thoughts that come to our mind, all our imaginations are exalted, pure and beneficial to us. This is because, our words and our actions, which are the most important aspects of our personality, are directly based on the feelings, thoughts and imaginations we entertain. Hence, immediate and urgent attention needs to be drawn towards purification of feelings, thoughts and imagination. This brings forth another question: ‘Without our consent, without our volition, involuntarily, gross feelings and base thoughts arise in our restless mind. What can we do about it?’ The first answer is ‘Don’t be afraid about your helplessness’. ‘By constantly keeping the company of the right kind of people, constantly studying the right kind of literature, and sincerely praying to our Ishta who lives within us and constantly observes our mind, we can lift up our mind to whatever heights we wish’ is the final answer!
  • Vak Shuddhi: (Purification of our speech): As we proceed in purifying our mind as mentioned above, our tendency to gossip and talk meaninglessly reduces. Only useful and necessary words come out of our mouth. And, those words will carry weight.

But we should note one thing here. If our words have to be pure and wholesome, purification of our feelings, thoughts and imagination alone will not suffice. We need to get trained by the right kind of people and we must have developed the habit of deep study of the right kind of literature. This effort bears a two-fold result: Firstly our language becomes beautiful, meaningful and clear. We will then be able to express our experiences and thoughts very clearly, without any ambiguity. Secondly, our thinking processes become enriched by the fund of language skills we come to possess. Wild feelings, diverse and erratic thinking are harmful to our mental health, nor do they help us in our efforts at inner purification. They only lead us to a state of impurity!

The inner workings of the mind and heart are projected out through our words. Hence special care has to be given to purification of the mind and heart. Our words reflect our feelings and thoughts. Hence special care has to be given to purification of the mind and heart.

We must always remember that purification of our speech, and purification of our feelings, thoughts and imagination lend the distinct fragrance of purity to our entire personality.

  • Kriya Shuddhi: (Purification of our actions): Aren’t all the actions we perform day-in and day-out, but a reflection of our state of mind? The actions of a person derive directly from the power of knowledge a person possesses and the power of will that he has developed. Hence our actions, more specifically, the quality of our actions, depend entirely upon our brain-power and will-power. Every act of ours should be:
    • Efficient
    • Systematic
    • Useful

The great secret is that if a person keeps on working like this, his personality becomes pure over a period of time. If one works efficiently, his personal capabilities increase. If one works systematically, the restlessness of mind gets calm. If one performs only useful work, his heart gets filled with a sense of satisfaction and contentment. His mind and heart gradually get transformed into a formidable instrument of power, raising one to the heights of purity.

Thus, purity in our personality can be achieved by gradually working towards Bhava-Shuddhi, Vak-Shuddhi and Kriya-Shuddhi. But that is not the end. There is a state that is the pinnacle of Purity. The direct perception of God requires that highest level of Purity in our personality. Swami Yatishwaranandaji used to say that the means of attaining to that highest level of purity is to pray intensely to God. God is the basis of Purity and the repository of Purity that we wish to achieve. True. We have to overcome every obstacle and temptation by praying to God who is the root of Purity. There is no other way, in fact! We have to embrace purity and make it our very nature. In this regard, the life of Sri Sharada Devi throws a new light on us. We just have to make up our mind to study very deeply her entire life, with this end in view; that’s all. Indeed, a price worth paying for the infinite returns in store for our efforts!

Real Purity:

The utility and necessity of purity, in rising to the heights of spiritual unfoldment from the stage of worldliness, can never be over-emphasized. But this world is the realm of sensuality. In this realm of sensuality, there are very few people who even know that there is such a blessed state called ‘Purity’. When such is the case, how many indeed will know or appreciate the utility of purity? Moreover, the rare few that do get to hear about this blessed state of purity generally become afraid that purity will adversely affect their married life. Hence they avoid any further inquiry into this most wonderful state that any person could raise oneself to! But then, this is a gross misconception. If you think about it a little, you will yourself realize that this line of thinking – that purity will destroy marital life – is flawed. For instance, look at this popular sloka:

Ahalya Draupadi Sita Taara Mandodari tatha!

Panchakanya smarennityam mahapaataka naashanam!!

“Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Taara and Mandodari – if you remember these five maidens every day, all your sins will be atoned for.”

Please note that these five women have been called ‘Maidens’ [Kanya] here. And it is commonly known that these five were all married women. Moreover, the lives of all these five too were more than a deviation from what is generally considered the normal life of a married woman! Despite all these, it is said that if you remember them every day, you will overcome all your sins. What does ‘overcome all your sins’ mean? Does not it mean that you will become pure? Therefore it clearly means that living a life of unbroken chastity alone is not the meaning of purity!

If this is so, then what is purity? We need to understand the concept of purity in all its various aspects and about all its different ramifications. The Sanskrit word for purity is ‘Pavitra’. Etymologically, this Sanskrit word is declined as follows: ‘Pavi’ means sin or impurity; ‘Tra’ means to go beyond. Therefore, the word purity means achieving inner cleanliness through performing good works by which you overcome old sins and don’t allow for committing fresh sins.

We need to understand what constitutes sin in this context. Which acts are sinful, and which are not? No man who commits a sin has a sense that he is sinning. Since he does not have that sense, he commits sins after sins. Now, the trouble is, if you think properly, it is impossible to classify which acts are sinful and which are virtuous. Such a classification is indeed a moral dilemma. But that act, after doing which, your mind gets peace, balance and joy, is certainly a noble act, a virtuous act. Similarly, that act, after doing which, your mind gets disturbed and gets thrown into choppy waves, is undoubtedly a sinful act, an evil act! A sinful act, whether small or big, does not leave the doer’s mind in peace. Just utter a harmless lie, and see the reaction on yourself. Your mind will go on experiencing some sort of disturbance and won’t be in peace! Now, some may point out that habitual, serial liars exist, who go on with their lives happily! But, we ask such persons, are they really able to peep inside the minds of those inveterate liars?

Let alone fibbing; there are many who indulge in hundreds of other sinful acts such as cheating, hypocrisy, treachery, robbery, etc. Is not it clear to you that such people are far, far away from the supreme ideal, the exalting ideal of purity?

But, we need to think and analyze about one important issue in this context. Generally when we say ‘Purity’, the ideal of perfect chastity comes to mind. Or one thinks of ‘sexual’ purity. This is a pervasive tendency. In India, especially, this is so pervasive that even the learned persons who are legally wedded to each other and are good, cultured people in every respect, confess that sometimes they feel a sense of guilt when they hear the word ‘Purity’. They confess that often they feel that there is some sort of ‘impurity’ in them. In order to realize that a scripturally enjoined, legally married life is absolutely no obstacle to leading a pure life, we ought to see some of the pure couples that still exist in our society. Their behavior, attitudes, demeanor and dealings must be observed. Then we will experience the cool, soothing effect that their purity has on our hearts!

Yet another incredible fact is that purity is not the monopoly of only the elite of the society, or only the academically educated people of society. Here and there, even in the lower strata of society, we come across glowing examples that diffuse the sweet, enchanting fragrance of purity in the morass of this world! Perhaps we could quote some such instances. But, much better than reading about them will be the impact we feel if we approach them and seeing with our own eyes these ‘salt of the earth’. That would be more useful, more beneficial and much more meaningful. But, we may broach one serious issue for consideration here, that is worthy of our attention. Just recall the innumerable saints and sages and prophets, of various levels of spiritual achievements and contributions, who blessed this world with their purifying impact; did they all fall from the sky? Or did they just enter this world from another dimension, passing through a membrane? Didn’t they all take birth in some blessed household or the other? The couples that gave birth to these saints and seers and prophets, what were they if not pure?!

A subtler aspect of the same issue is there. If married people can indeed lead a life of the highest purity, what status are we to ascribe to the purity seen in the life of unbroken celibacy?

It is extremely difficult to answer this question. This is indeed a very tricky question. Even after practicing celibacy, if the personality is filled with egotism and arrogance; even after practicing celibacy, if the personality shows glaring weaknesses like infatuation and jealousy; even after practicing celibacy, if the personality entertains base desires like hankering for name and fame; who indeed would call such a celibate person as pure? Not only that. Sri Ramakrishna’s monastic disciple Swami Brahmananda says that there are many so-called pure people, who develop a peculiar arrogance by feeling ‘I am pure; I live a pure life; I am heads and shoulders above all these worldly, married people’! A strange ‘holier-than-thou’ complex is developed in such people. This egotism, this arrogance arising out of purity is very subtle and very intense. Hence removing it also is very, very difficult. The spiritual growth of such people gets arrested, says Swami Brahmananda. When you see all this, don’t you realize that in order to reach the pinnacle of purity, something more than the practice of Brahmacharya is needed? Even though Ashwattama practiced unbroken celibacy and was the only son of the greatest Guru of Archery Dronacharya, why is he not hailed as the ideal of purity? On the other hand, don’t we find millions worshipping in various ways and benefitting from it, even today, Hanuman, who was not even a full-fledged human being, but only a simian?

Truly speaking, purity is something that is associated with the inner personality. That means, unless we are able to see the inner person, we won’t be able to determine if the person is really pure or impure. However, society has evolved a certain arrangement, involving a dress code, mores and habits of social behavior, etc. that is generally associated with purity. As a result, we find many people today, without the least bit of true inner austerity, parading as saints and holy men! Similarly, don’t we see any number of monks today, donning the holy saffron robe without, but utterly lacking dispassion and renunciation within? There is any number of such tigers lurking around us today in sheep’s skin. Don’t we also see the ever-growing hordes of loyal, devoted followers of such charlatans? We may call those devotees as naïve or rank idiots, but one thing we have to admit. These hypocrites have been most successful in pulling it off as paragons of purity! Therefore the masses have to wake up and realize that purity is not associated with dress or a particular color of the dress or any kind of social mores. Purity does not come with any mask either. Once during a conversation, a ‘fallen’ monk’s reference came up and Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi said, “When I see this entire charade, I feel that my white cloth is so much better!” You see, the ‘fallen’ monk used to wear saffron robes and still indulge in all sorts of immoral escapades. The saffron robe is to be worn by a person who has completely eschewed all immoral activities. Thus, if a person wears the saffron robe, it is assumed that he is incapable of any immorality whatsoever. The white robe is however not bound by any such limitation. People who wear it may be strictly moral, or may indulge in any kind of immorality. What Holy Mother meant by the above statement is that it is better to wear the ordinary white clothes and lead a pure life than wear the cloth symbolic of purity and simultaneously indulge in immoral acts! Truly, a child-like naturalness, bereft of any hypocrisy, bereft of any masks, ought to be the truest symbol of purity in society. All other masks and symbols run the risk of becoming poisonous in the hands of the hypocrites! The innocence arising out of naturalness alone is divine! What does it avail if a person wears the clothes symbolizing monasticism and saintliness if his arrogance and egotism does not reduce, if his hunger for name and fame is not quenched, and if he is secretly nourishing his petty jealousies! When people see such charades and complain as is happening right now in society, well, there is truth in their anger. But by the grace of the Lord, here and there, we still find monks of the highest caliber, truly exalted monks with pristine personalities. It is true that there are still men of the most genuine dispassion in this society. it is true that there are still men of the highest spiritual realizations in this very society. Let their blessings be upon us. May their blessings purify us and protect us.

Holy Mother’s consolation to aspirants:

It does not take long for a person to skid from the narrow path of perfection, slip from a position of purity and become a ‘fallen’ man. Jesus Christ said, “He that looks at another woman with lustful eyes has already committed adultery in his mind.” What a terrifying statement this is! The divine incarnation of the permissive west, the land filled to the brim with sensuality, to utter such words! Does not it simply chill your spine?!

But, all divine incarnations, prophets and saints have uttered statements of similar nature regarding character building and protecting one’s purity. They have all prescribed the strictest rules in this regard. Even though that is the case, spiritual aspirants of this present world find it very, very difficult to maintain such high, uncompromising standards of purity. This is mostly because of the influence of the times we live in today. Realizing this ground reality, Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi gave the greatest consolation to struggling aspirants of today. She said, “In Kali Yuga, mental sins will be pardoned.” These words were uttered by one who is recognized and worshipped all over the world as the Divine Mother Incarnate! Out of her great mother-heart, unable to see the nerve-wracking struggle of her children to attain true purity, she gave this great assurance. She found that her children, even though living with the greatest care and following the strictest rules, would sometimes commit a small, inadvertent lapse in their minds. And as a consequence of that mental lapse, their own guilt [for no one else would even come to know of it, most of the times] would condemn them as ‘fallen’! In order to protect her children from such a despicable situation, she uttered these words. And what a consolation! She has saved so many genuine aspirants from such a precarious condition!

But a word of caution is necessary here. Thinking that the Holy Mother has given us such a blanket assurance, it will be our ruin if we go on indulging in all sorts of depravities inside our minds! We have to keep in mind the sense in which she has given this assurance. When we are progressing along the path prescribed by the Guru with great sincerity, and trying to lead a pure life, by chance, if the mind wavers once or twice from the ideal, we don’t have to lose heart. That lapse will be pardoned. Using this pardon, pick yourself up, hitch yourself to the ideal again and proceed ahead along your path with great sincerity. That is the sense in which this statement of the Holy Mother has to be understood.

Purity of vision

It was the year 1961. A year back I had joined the Ramakrishna Ashrama, Bangalore, as a Brahmacharin. Most Revered Swami Yatishwaranandaji Maharaj was the President of the Ashrama. He was my Guru. This background is necessary to set the incident I am going to narrate now.

One day, afternoon, around 1.30 pm. It is needless to mention that we had all finished our lunch by then. By that time, a couple arrived at the Ashrama. I recall they were a Bengali couple. They were initiated devotees of Swami Yatishwaranandaji Maharaj. So, I duly informed him of their arrival. When he came out of his room and spoke to them, he learnt that they hadn’t had their lunch yet. Swamiji asked me if any food was still left in the kitchen. I said “Yes”. I was able to readily answer in the affirmative because I was the Bhandari in the Ashrama then. [Bhandari means the inmate who looks after the cooking and serving in the Ashrama.] I led to guests to the dining hall. I laid their plates and served them the dishes. Revered Swamiji too had come along. He too sat on the floor in front of them and was speaking to them. It was summer. The dining hall used to have innumerable house-flies during summer. Revered Swamiji asked me to fetch him a hand fan. I did. He started fanning the couple with his own hands. While driving away the flies, once in a while, he would fan the couple too, since it was quite hot. I said, “Swamiji, kindly give me the fan. I will fan them.” But he didn’t give it to me. He himself went on fanning them. They finished their lunch. After speaking to him for some more time, the couple left, blessed by their Guru.

By this time, my mind was slowly going into turmoil. I couldn’t help but think in this way: ‘This is such a great monk. Moreover he is a Guru who initiates aspirants into the spiritual path. Why did he sit in front of that couple and fan them while they had lunch? Why did he have to drive away the flies himself? What could this mean?’ This question started tormenting me. Since I had grown up in a traditional household of South India, this doubt along with some other associated questions arose in my mind. But I still didn’t have the courage to openly ask them to him. But, there was in fact no need for me to ask them, after all! Revered Swamiji himself made a statement at that juncture. He merely uttered, ‘Veritable Lakshmi and Narayana!’ That was it. Not one more word came out of his mouth. Is not that enough? What more can words convey?

It’s been over 40 years since these words fell out of Revered Swamiji’s mouth. But, their impact has grown to gigantic proportions in my mind now, and is still growing! That couple was not just a man and woman! Not even a husband and wife, as the cultured people say! Veritable God and Goddess! Was not this the paradigm of the ancient Rishis?

What a pure vision, indeed!

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Condensed from the Kannada booklet ‘Pavitrata svarupini Sharada Maate’ by Swami Purushottamananda

Swami Purushottamananda

Secretary

Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama

Belgaum

What is real Religion?

Religion is the realizing of God.[1]

A thinker once said, “More people have died in history because they gave the wrong answer to the Religion question. ‘Do you believe in God?’ ‘No.’ Bam! ‘Do you believe in God?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you believe in my God?’ ‘No.’ Bam!”

Religion has been the greatest boon of human civilization. Religion also has been the worst curse on mankind! No other idea has exalted man to heights of divinity; no other idea regresses man to the depths of devilry!

Religion is indeed an enigma. We can’t seem to live with it, nor can we live without it.

One of the greatest contributions of Swami Vivekananda to modern thought has been his exposition of what religion actually is. We shall try and understand his ideas in this regard, using his own words, as far as possible.

In India, there are said to be three hundred millions of Vedantins. But if there were one in a thousand who had actually realized religion, this world would soon be greatly changed. We are all atheists, and yet we try to fight the man who admits it. We are all in the dark; religion is to us a mere intellectual assent, a mere talk, a mere nothing. We often consider a man religious who can talk well. But this is not religion. ‘Wonderful methods of joining words, rhetorical powers, and explaining texts of the books in various ways — these are only for the enjoyment of the learned, and not religion.’ Religion comes when that actual realization in our own souls begins. That will be the dawn of religion; and then alone we shall be moral.[2]

You must open your heart. Religion is not going to church, or putting marks on the forehead, or dressing in a peculiar fashion; you may paint yourselves in all the colors of the rainbow, but if the heart has not been opened, if you have not realized God, it is all vain. If one has the color of the heart, he does not want any external color. That is the true religious realization. We must not forget that colors and all these things are good so far as they help; so far they are all welcome. But they are apt to degenerate and instead of helping they retard, and a man identifies religion with externalities. Going to the temple becomes tantamount to spiritual life. Giving something to a priest becomes tantamount to religious life. These are dangerous and pernicious, and should be at once checked. Our scriptures declare again and again that even the knowledge of the external senses is not religion. That is religion which makes us realize the Unchangeable One, and that is the religion for everyone. He who realizes transcendental truth, he who realizes the Atman in his own nature, he who comes face to face with God, sees God alone in everything, has become a Rishi. And there is no religious life for you until you have become a Rishi. Then alone religion begins for you, now is only the preparation. Then religion dawns upon you, now you are only undergoing intellectual gymnastics and physical tortures.[3]

Religion is not, and never can be, in the field of intellect. Intellectual reasoning is based on facts evident to the senses. Religion has nothing to do with the senses.[4]

There have been various poets in Bengal whose songs have passed down to the people; they are sung in the streets of Calcutta and in every village. Most of these are religious songs, and their one central idea, which is perhaps peculiar to the religions of India, is the idea of realization. There is not a book in India on religion which does not breathe this idea. Man must realize God, feel God, see God, talk to God. That is religion. The Indian atmosphere is full of stories of saintly persons having visions of God. Such doctrines form the basis of their religion; and all these ancient books and scriptures are the writings of persons who came into direct contact with spiritual facts. These books were not written for the intellect, nor can any reasoning understand them, because they were written by men who saw the things of which they wrote, and they can be understood only by men who have raised themselves to the same height. They say there is such a thing as realization even in this life, and it is open to everyone, and religion begins with the opening of this faculty.[5]

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Religion is the idea which is raising the brute unto man, and man unto God.[6]

What defines a brute, a man, and God? Is it language, dress, food-habits, living styles, race, learning, social systems, historical background? Or is it all these put together, which we give the generic name – Culture?

According to Swami Vivekananda, it is the degree of unselfishness. A brute is he who is utterly selfish. A man is one who has started to manifest a certain degree of unselfishness. God is perfectly unselfish.[7]

The soul evolves. Progressively, the soul manifests greater and greater degrees of unselfishness. The training that ensures this evolution is Religion.

Last month, we saw Swamiji define Religion as ‘realizing God’. Opening of our heart and seeing God face-to-face in the deep recesses of our heart is Religion. Here, the same Swamiji seems to be saying, ‘this realizing of God does not happen all of a sudden.[8] There is a gradual unfoldment in the soul. There is a training that is imparted to the soul. And who imparts that training? Life itself! Experiences of life teach and train the soul to move towards greater and greater levels of unselfishness, until all selfishness is washed away and the soul stands alone in its true splendor.’

‘None, O beloved, loves the husband for the husband’s sake, but for the Self that is in the husband; none, O beloved, ever loves the wife for the wife’s sake, but for the Self that is in the wife. None ever loves anything else, except for the Self.’[9] Even this selfishness, which is so much condemned, is but a manifestation of the same love. Stand aside from this play, do not mix in it, but see this wonderful panorama, this grand drama, played scene after scene, and hear this wonderful harmony; all are the manifestation of the same love. Even in selfishness, that self will multiply, grow and grow. That one self, the one man, will become two selves when he gets married; several, when he gets children; and thus he grows until he feels the whole world as his Self, the whole universe as his Self. He expands into one mass of universal love, infinite love – the love that is God.[10]

We always begin as dualists. God is a separate Being, and I am a separate being. Love comes between, and man begins to approach God, and God, as it were, begins to approach man. Man takes up all the various relationships of life, as father, mother, friend, or lover; and the last point is reached when he becomes one with the object of worship. ‘I am you, and you are I; and worshipping you, I worship myself; and in worshipping myself, I worship you.’ There we find the highest culmination of that with which man begins. At the beginning it was love for the self, but the claims of the little self, made love selfish; at the end came the full blaze of light, when that self had become the Infinite. That God who at first was a Being somewhere, became resolved, as it were, into Infinite Love. Man himself was also transformed. He was approaching God, he was throwing off all vain desires, of which he was full before. With desires vanished selfishness, and, at the apex, he found that Love, Lover, and Beloved were One.[11]

There are two things which guide the conduct of men: might and mercy. The exercise of might is invariably the exercise of selfishness.[12]

It is selfishness that we must seek to eliminate. I find that whenever I have made a mistake in my life, it has always been because self entered into the calculation. Where self has not been involved, my judgment has gone straight to the mark.[13]

But we have to begin from the beginning, to take up the works as they come to us and slowly make ourselves more unselfish every day. We must do the work and find out the motive power that prompts us; and, almost without exception, in the first years, we shall find that our motives are always selfish; but gradually this selfishness will melt by persistence, till at last will come the time when we shall be able to do really unselfish work. We may all hope that someday or other, as we struggle through the paths of life, there will come a time when we shall become perfectly unselfish; and the moment we attain to that, all our powers will be concentrated, and the knowledge which is ours will be manifest.[14]

Yet it is work through the sense of duty that leads us to work without any idea of duty; when work will become worship – nay, something higher – then will work be done for its own sake. We shall find that the philosophy of duty, whether it be in the form of ethics or of love, is the same as in every other Yoga – the object being the attenuating of the lower self, so that the real higher Self may shine forth – the lessening of the frittering away of energies on the lower plane of existence, so that the soul may manifest itself on the higher ones. This is accomplished by the continuous denial of low desires, which duty rigorously requires. The whole organization of society has thus been developed, consciously or unconsciously, in the realms of action and experience, where, by limiting selfishness, we open the way to an unlimited expansion of the real nature of man.[15]

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Religion is the manifestation of the natural strength that is in man.[16]

Look at the choice of words here! Natural strength is the word Swamiji uses. What does he mean by this? Are we to understand that there is a classification of strengths such as natural and artificial in man? Then there is the idea of manifesting that natural strength. It obviously means that this natural strength is potential in some cases, under some situations and that it can be made manifest.

A more important point to note here is: We seldom associate strength with religion! Religion is kindness, compassion, love and such ideas for most of us. As Sister Christine once exclaimed with reference to Swamiji himself, “A sickly saint everyone understands, but who ever heard of a powerful saint?[17]

We have various kinds of strength – physical, nervous, intellectual, social/political, economic/financial, and moral. Then we also have combinations of these in a single person which are denoted by terms such as grit, fortitude, and strength of personality.

Then, you see that strength, power, and courage are things which are very peculiar. We generally say, ‘A courageous man, a brave man, a daring man’, but we must bear in mind that that courage or bravery or any other trait does not always characterize the man. The same man who would rush to the mouth of a cannon shrinks from the knife of the surgeon; and another man who never dares to face a gun will calmly bear a severe surgical operation, if need be. Now, in judging others you must always define your terms of courage or greatness.[18]

What Swamiji means by ‘natural strength’ is some very, very specific. He holds Bhagawan Buddha as the epitome of this ‘natural strength’.

Well, I do not understand his (Buddha’s) doctrine – we Hindus never understood it. But I can understand the motive behind that. Oh, the gigantic motive! The Master says that selfishness is the great curse of the world; that we are selfish and that therein is the curse. There should be no motive for selfishness. You are [like a river] passing [on] – a continuous phenomenon. Have no God; have no soul; stand on your feet and do good for good’s sake – neither for fear of punishment nor for [the sake of] going (to heaven or) anywhere. Stand sane and motiveless. The motive is: I want to do good, it is good to do good. Tremendous! Tremendous! I do not sympathize with his metaphysics at all; but my mind is jealous when I think of the moral force. Just ask your minds which one of you can stand for one hour, able and daring like that man. I cannot for five minutes. I would become a coward and want a support. I am weak – a coward. And I warm to think of this tremendous giant. We cannot approach that strength. The world never saw [anything] compared to that strength. And I have not yet seen any other strength like that. We are all born cowards. If we can save ourselves [we care about nothing else]. Inside is the tremendous fear, the tremendous motive, all the time. Our own selfishness makes us the most arrant cowards; our own selfishness is the great cause of fear and cowardice. And there he stood: “Do good because it is good; ask no more questions; that is enough. A man made to do good by a fable, a story, a superstition – he will be doing evil as soon as the opportunity comes. That man alone is good who does good for good’s sake, and that is the character of the man.” [19]

This complete absence of selfishness is the ‘natural strength’ in man. Every man can manifest such complete absence of selfishness.

This is the great fact: strength is life, weakness is death. Strength is felicity, life eternal, immortal; weakness is constant strain and misery: weakness is death.[20]

Strength, strength is what the Upanishads speak to me from every page. This is the one great thing to remember, it has been the one great lesson I have been taught in my life; strength, it says, strength, O man, be not weak. Are there no human weaknesses? – says man. There are, say the Upanishads, but will more weakness heal them, would you try to wash dirt with dirt? Will sin cure sin, weakness cure weakness? Strength, O man, strength, say the Upanishads, stand up and be strong. Ay, it is the only literature in the world where you find the word ‘Abhih’, ‘fearless’, used again and again; in no other scripture in the world is this adjective applied either to God or to man. Abhih, fearless! And in my mind rises from the past the vision of the great Emperor of the West, Alexander the Great, and I see, as it were in a picture, the great monarch standing on the bank of the Indus, talking to one of our Sannyasins in the forest; the old man he was talking to, perhaps naked, stark naked, sitting upon a block of stone, and the Emperor, astonished at his wisdom, tempting him with gold and honor to come over to Greece. And this man smiles at his gold, and smiles at his temptations, and refuses; and then the Emperor standing on his authority as an Emperor, says, ‘I will kill you if you do not come’, and the man bursts into a laugh and says, ‘You never told such a falsehood in your life, as you tell just now. Who can kill me? Me you kill, Emperor of the material world! Never! For I am Spirit unborn and undecaying: never was I born and never do I die; I am the Infinite, the Omnipresent, the Omniscient; and you kill me, child that you are!’ That is strength, that is strength! [21]

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The pleasure of the Self is what the world calls religion.[22]

In Jan, we saw Swami Vivekananda define Religion as ‘realization’. In Feb, we saw him define the same term as ‘the idea that progressively raises a brute to man, and man to God.’ In March, he defined the very same term as ‘the natural strength in us’.

This month, he is taking us along a totally new path: Pleasure of the Self is Religion! This is fairly straight-forward. We all understand pleasure. We all experience pleasure from various sources. Good food, healthy body, luxurious homes, deep & meaningful relations, better & better vehicles, more & more money in the bank, loving wife and kids, the fine Arts, etc. etc. etc. So many sources of pleasure we have open before us. But, pleasure of the Self? What is that?

When man finds that all search for happiness in matter is nonsense, then religion begins. Only bliss beyond the material world can be had without loss to any. Material happiness is but a transformation of material sorrow.

Can religion really accomplish anything? It can. It brings to man eternal life. It has made man what he is, and will make of this human animal a god. That is what religion can do. Take religion from human society and what will remain? Nothing but a forest of brutes. Sense-happiness is not the goal of humanity. Jnana is the goal of all life. We find that man enjoys his intellect more than an animal enjoys its senses; and we see that man enjoys his spiritual nature even more than his rational nature. So the highest wisdom must be this spiritual knowledge. With this knowledge will come bliss. All these things of this world are but the shadows, the manifestations in the third or fourth degree of the real Knowledge and Bliss. [23] And that real Knowledge and Bliss is the real Self of man.

Selfish work is slave’s work; and here is a test. Every act of love brings happiness; there is no act of love which does not bring peace and blessedness as its reaction. Real existence, real knowledge, and real love are eternally connected with one another, the three in one: where one of them is, the others also must be; they are the three aspects of the One without a second – Existence-Knowledge-Bliss. When that existence becomes relative, we see it as the world; that knowledge becomes in its turn modified into the knowledge of the things of the world; and that bliss forms the foundation of all true love known to the heart of man. Therefore true love can never react so as to cause pain either to the lover or to the beloved. Suppose a man loves a woman; he wishes to have her all to himself and feels extremely jealous about her every movement; he wants her to sit near him, to stand near him, and to eat and move at his bidding. He is a slave to her and wishes to have her as his slave. That is not love; it is a kind of morbid affection of the slave, insinuating itself as love. It cannot be love, because it is painful; if she does not do what he wants, it brings him pain. With love there is no painful reaction; love only brings a reaction of bliss; if it does not, it is not love; it is mistaking something else for love. When you have succeeded in loving your husband, your wife, your children, the whole world, the universe, in such a manner that there is no reaction of pain or jealousy, no selfish feeling, then you are in a fit state to be unattached. [24]

The Vedantist boldly says that the enjoyments in this life, even the most degraded joys, are but manifestations of that One Divine Bliss, the Essence of the Soul.[25] When the Vedantist has realized his own nature, the whole world has vanished for him. It will come back again, but no more the same world of misery. The prison of misery has become changed into Sat-Chit-Ananda – Existence-Absolute-Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute.[26]It is this One Divine Bliss, the Essence of the Soul, that is worshipped as the God of Love by the devotee.

Are there then two Gods – the ‘Not this, not this,’ the Sat-chit-ananda, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss of the philosopher, and this God of Love of the Bhakta? No, it is the same Sat-chit-ananda who is also the God of Love, the impersonal and personal in one. It has always to be understood that the Personal God worshipped by the Bhakta is not separate or different from the Brahman. All is Brahman, the One without a second; only the Brahman, as unity or absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped; so the Bhakta chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is, Ishvara, the Supreme Ruler. [27]

What we want is the harmony of Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss Infinite. For that is our goal. We want harmony, not one-sided development. I hope we shall all struggle to attain to that blessed combination. [28]

Many want pleasure as the goal. For that pleasure they seek only the senses. On the higher planes much pleasure is to be sought; then on spiritual planes; then in himself – God within him. The man whose pleasure is outside of himself becomes unhappy when that outside thing goes. You cannot depend for this pleasure upon anything in this universe. If all my pleasures are in myself, I must have pleasure there all the time because I can never lose my Self. Mother, father, child, wife, body, wealth – everything I can lose, except my self. Bliss in the Self; all desire is contained in the Self. This is individuality which never changes, and this is perfect. [29]

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The thirst for God is religion. [30]

This is yet another amazing statement by the Prophet of this age. Let us listen to the words of his master Sri Ramakrishna in this regard. Once, Sri Ramakrishna said to the devotees assembled in his room, quoting the words of Sri Girindra Ghosh of Pathuriaghata, regarding turning our passions to God: “Since you cannot get rid of your passions – your lust, your anger, and so on – give them a new direction. Instead of desiring worldly pleasures, desire God. Have intercourse with Brahman. If you cannot get rid of anger, then change its direction. Assume the tamasic attitude of bhakti, and say: ‘What? I have repeated the hallowed name of Durga, and shall I not be liberated? How can I be a sinner anymore? How can I be bound anymore?’ If you cannot get rid of temptation, direct it toward God. Be infatuated with God’s beauty. If you cannot get rid of pride, then be proud to say that you are the servant of God, you are the child of God. Thus turn the six passions toward God.[31]

Elsewhere, he said, “A man may not know the right path, but if he has bhakti and the desire to know God, then he attains Him through the force of sheer bhakti. Once a sincere devotee set out on a pilgrimage to the temple of Jagannath in Puri; he did not know the way; he went west instead of south. He no doubt strayed from the right path, but he always eagerly asked people the way, and they gave him the right directions, saying, ‘This is not the path; follow that one.’ At last the devotee was able to get to Puri and worship the Deity. So you see, even if you are ignorant, someone will tell you the way if you are earnest.[32]

Once, while discussing with someone, he was told that Jnanis have no desires at all. Sri Ramakrishna made a marvelous statement. He said, “I have not got rid of all desires. I have the desire for love of God.[33]

But, this desire is classified as desire only for the sake of logical propriety, while it is nothing like the desires we generally deal with in our life. Just as we saw last month that the pleasure of the Self is totally different from every kind of pleasure we are generally experiencing, so also, this desire for God, the thirst for God is totally different from all other desires.

What creates these desires? The existence of external things. It was the light that made the eyes; it was the sound that made the ears. So every desire in human beings has been created by something which already existed outside. This desire for perfection, for reaching the goal and getting beyond nature, how can it be there, until something has created it and drilled it into the soul of man, and makes it live there? He, therefore, in whom this desire is awakened, will reach the goal. We want everything but God. [34]

The chief thing is to want God. We want everything except God, because our ordinary wants are supplied by the external world; it is only when our necessities have gone beyond the external world that we want a supply from the internal, from God. So long as our needs are confined within the narrow limits of this physical universe, we cannot have any need for God; it is only when we have become satiated with everything here that we look beyond for a supply. It is only when the need is there that the demand will come. Have done with this child’s play of the world as soon as you can, and then you will feel the necessity of something beyond the world, and the first step in religion will come.

There is a form of religion which is fashionable. My friend has much furniture in her parlor; it is the fashion to have a Japanese vase, so she must have one even if it costs a thousand dollars. In the same way, she will have a little religion and join a church. Religion is not for such. That is not want. Want is that without which we cannot live. We want breath, we want food, we want clothes; without them we cannot live. When a man loves a woman in this world, there are times when he feels that without her he cannot live, although that is a mistake. When a husband dies, the wife thinks she cannot live without him; but she lives all the same. This is the secret of necessity: it is that without which we cannot live; either it must come to us or we die. When the time comes that we feel the same about God, or in other words, we want something beyond this world, something above all material forces, then we may become religious. What are our little lives when for a moment the cloud passes away, and we get one glimpse from beyond, and for that moment all these lower desires seem like a drop in the ocean? Then the soul grows, and feels the want of God, and must have Him.

The first step is: What do we want? Let us ask ourselves this question every day, do we want God? You may read all the books in the universe, but this love is not to be had by the power of speech, not by the highest intellect, not by the study of various sciences. He who desires God will get Love, unto him God gives Himself. Love is always mutual, reflective. You may hate me, and if I want to love you, you repulse me. But if I persist, in a month or a year you are bound to love me. It is a well-known psychological phenomenon. As the loving wife thinks of her departed husband, with the same love we must desire the Lord, and then we will find God, and all books and the various sciences would not be able to teach us anything. By reading books we become parrots; no one becomes learned by reading books. If a man reads but one word of love, he indeed becomes learned. So we want first to get that desire.

Let us ask ourselves each day, ‘Do we want God?’ When we begin to talk religion, and especially when we take a high position and begin to teach others, we must ask ourselves the same question. I find many times that I don’t want God, I want bread more. I may go mad if I don’t get a piece of bread; many ladies will go mad if they don’t get a diamond pin, but they do not have the same desire for God; they do not know the only Reality that is in the universe. There is a proverb in our language – ‘If I want to be a hunter, I will hunt the rhinoceros; if I want to be a robber, I will rob the king’s treasury.’ What is the use of robbing beggars or hunting ants? So if you want to love, love God. Who cares for these things of the world? This world is utterly false; all the great teachers of the world found that out; there is no way out of it but through God. He is the goal of our life; all ideas that the world is the goal of life are pernicious. This world and this body have their own value, a secondary value, as a means to an end; but the world should not be the end. Unfortunately, too often we make the world the end and God the means. We find people going to church and saying, ‘God, give me such and such; God, heal my disease.’ They want nice healthy bodies; and because they hear that someone will do this work for them, they go and pray to Him. It is better to be an atheist than to have such an idea of religion. As I have told you, religion is the highest ideal; I don’t know whether we shall reach it or not in millions of years to come, but we must make it our highest ideal, make our senses aim at the highest. If we cannot get to the end, we shall at least come nearer to it. We have slowly to work through the world and the senses to reach God.[35]

Until you have that thirst, that desire, you cannot get religion, however you may struggle with your intellect, or your books, or your forms. Until that thirst is awakened in you, you are no better than any atheist; only the atheist is sincere, and you are not. [36]

Atheists and materialists can have ethics, but only believers in the Lord can have religion…The first essential is to want God honestly and intensely. We want everything but God, because our ordinary desires are fulfilled by the external world. So long as our needs are confined within the limits of the physical universe, we do not feel any need for God; it is only when we have had hard blows in our lives and are disappointed with everything here that we feel the need for something higher; then we seek God.[37]

(There is something) called Vimoka, freedom from desires. He who wants to love God must get rid of extreme desires, desire nothing except God. This world is good so far as it helps one to go to the higher world. The objects of the senses are good so far as they help us to attain higher objects. We always forget that this world is a means to an end, and not an end itself. If this were the end we should be immortal here in our physical body; we should never die. But we see people every moment dying around us, and yet, foolishly, we think we shall never die; and from that conviction we come to think that this life is the goal. That is the case with ninety-nine per cent of us. This notion should be given up at once. This world is good so far as it is a means to perfect ourselves; and as soon as it has ceased to be so, it is evil. So wife, husband, children, money and learning, are good so long as they help us forward; but as soon as they cease to do that, they are nothing but evil. If the wife help us to attain God, she is a good wife; so with a husband or a child. If money helps a man to do good to others, it is of some value; but if not, it is simply a mass of evil, and the sooner it is got rid of, the better. [38]

After initiation, there should be in the aspirant after Truth, Abhyasa or earnest and repeated attempt at practical application of the Truth by prescribed means of constant meditation upon the Chosen Ideal. Even if you have a burning thirst for God, or have gained the Guru, unless you have along with it the Abhyasa, unless you practice what you have been taught, you cannot get realization. When all these are firmly established in you, then you will reach the Goal. [39]

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Religion is a constitutional necessity of the human mind.[40]

In the previous issues of Vedanta Kesari, we saw the connection of Religion with pleasure, with strength, with meaning, with self-fulfillment.

This month, Swami Vivekananda shows us yet another facet of Religion. We know that even when man has everything, there is still a hollowness he experiences inside. What will fulfil that?

Upon the same tree there are two birds, of beautiful plumage, most friendly to each other, one on the top, the other below. The one on the top is calm, silent, and majestic, immersed in his own glory; the one on the lower branches, eating sweet and bitter fruits by turns, hopping from branch to branch, is becoming happy and miserable by turns. After a time the lower bird eats an exceptionally bitter fruit and gets disgustful and looks up and sees the other bird, that wondrous one of golden plumage, who eats neither sweet nor bitter fruit, who is neither happy nor miserable, but calm, Self-centered, and sees nothing beyond his Self. The lower bird longs for this condition but soon forgets it, and again begins to eat the fruits. In a little while, he eats another exceptionally bitter fruit, which makes him feel miserable, and he again looks up, and tries to get nearer to the upper bird. Once more he forgets and after a time he looks up, and so on he goes again and again, until he comes very near to the beautiful bird and sees the reflection of light from his plumage playing around his own body, and he feels a change and seems to melt away; still nearer he comes, and everything about him melts away, and at last he understands this wonderful change. The lower bird was, as it were, only the substantial-looking shadow, the reflection of the higher; he himself was in essence the upper bird all the time. This eating of fruits, sweet and bitter, this lower, little bird, weeping and happy by turns, was a vain chimera, a dream: all along, the real bird was there above, calm and silent, glorious and majestic, beyond grief, beyond sorrow. The upper bird is God, the Lord of this universe; and the lower bird is the human soul, eating the sweet and bitter fruits of this world. Now and then comes a heavy blow to the soul. For a time, he stops the eating and goes towards the unknown God, and a flood of light comes. He thinks that this world is a vain show. Yet again the senses drag hint down, and he begins as before to eat the sweet and bitter fruits of the world. Again an exceptionally hard blow comes. His heart becomes open again to divine light; thus gradually he approaches God, and as he gets nearer and nearer, he finds his old self melting away. This is the picture of the human soul. Man is eating the sweet and bitter fruits of this life, pursuing gold, pursuing his senses, pursuing the vanities of life — hopelessly, madly careering he goes. When he has come near enough, he sees that he is no other than God, and he exclaims, ‘He whom I have described to you as the Life of this universe, as present in the atom, and in suns and moons — He is the basis of our own life, the Soul of our soul. Nay, thou art That.’ This is what (Religion) teaches. It tells man that he is essentially divine. It shows to mankind the real unity of being, and that each one of us is the Lord God Himself, manifested on earth. All of us, from the lowest worm that crawls under our feet to the highest beings to whom we look up with wonder and awe — all are manifestations of the same Lord. [41]

Such is the career of men pursuing the vanities of life, children dreaming golden dreams only to find that they are but vain, and old men chewing the cud of their past deeds, and yet not knowing how to get out of this network. This is the world. Yet in the life of every one there come golden moments; in the midst of the deepest sorrows, nay, of the deepest joys, there come moments when a part of the cloud that hides the sunlight moves away as it were, and we catch a glimpse, in spite of ourselves of something beyond — away, away beyond the life of the senses; away, away beyond its vanities, its joys, and its sorrows; away, away beyond nature, or our imaginations of happiness here or hereafter; away beyond all thirst for gold, or for fame, or for name, or for posterity. Man stops for a moment at this glimpse and sees the other bird calm and majestic, eating neither sweet nor bitter fruits, but immersed in his own glory, Self-content, Self-satisfied. As the Gita says, ‘He whose devotion is to the Atman, he who does not want anything beyond Atman, he who has become satisfied in the Atman, what work is there for him to do?’ Why should he drudge? Man catches a glimpse, then again he forgets and goes on eating the sweet and bitter fruits of life; perhaps after a time he catches another glimpse, and the lower bird goes nearer and nearer to the higher bird as blows after blows are received. If he be fortunate to receive hard knocks, then he comes nearer and nearer to his companion, the other bird, his life, his friend; and as he approaches him, he finds that the light from the higher bird is playing round his own plumage; and as he comes nearer and nearer, lo! The transformation is going on. The nearer and nearer he comes, he finds himself melting away, as it were, until he has entirely disappeared. He did not really exist; it was but the reflection of the other bird who was there calm and majestic amidst the moving leaves. It was all his glory, that upper bird’s. He then becomes fearless, perfectly satisfied, calmly serene.[42]

It is sometimes said that religions are dying out, that spiritual ideas are dying out of the world. To me it seems that they have just begun to grow. The power of religion, broadened and purified, is going to penetrate every part of human life. So long as religion was in the hands of a chosen few or of a body of priests, it was in temples, churches, books, dogmas, ceremonials, forms, and rituals. But when we come to the real, spiritual, universal concept, then, and then alone religion will become real and living; it will come into our very nature, live in our every movement, penetrate every pore of our society, and be infinitely more a power for good than it has ever been before.[43]

The one great idea that to me seems to be clear, and comes out through masses of superstition in every country and in every religion, is the one luminous idea that man is divine, that divinity is our nature. This fire of freedom and purity is the nature of every soul, and not a quality, because qualities can be acquired and therefore can be lost. The soul is one with Freedom, and the soul is one with Existence, and the soul is one with Knowledge. The Sat-Chit-Ananda – Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute – is the nature, the birthright of the Soul, and all the manifestations that we see are Its expressions, dimly or brightly manifesting Itself. Even death is but a manifestation of that Real Existence. Birth and death, life and decay, degeneration and regeneration – are all manifestations of that Oneness. So, knowledge, however it manifests itself, either as ignorance or as learning, is but the manifestation of that same Chit, the essence of knowledge; the difference is only in degree, and not in kind. The difference in knowledge between the lowest worm that crawls under our feet and the highest genius that the world may produce is only one of degree, and not of kind. The Vedanta-thinker boldly says that the enjoyments in this life, even the most degraded joys, are but manifestations of that One Divine Bliss, the Essence of the Soul. This idea seems to be the most prominent in Vedanta, and, as I have said, it appears to me that every religion holds it. I have yet to know the religion which does not. It is the one universal idea working through all religions.[44]

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Religion is a common-sense, everyday thing.[45]

Religion is not mumbo-jumbo. It is not magic. It is not mysterious. It is not doctrine or dogma. It is not based on tradition. It is based on common-sense. If religion does not permeate the everyday life of its follower, it is not religion; it is something else! This is the view of Swami Vivekananda.

He elaborates this idea variously as follows:

Cleanse the mind, this is all of religion.[46] Just look at the beauty of this idea. Can religion be made any simpler? We believe that religion is cumbersome, with its heavy load of beliefs, rituals, ceremonies and observances. But, none of those actually constitute religion. Even if we engage in all those so-called prescribed activities, and do not cleanse our minds therefrom, it is not religion, whatever else it be!

The one objection raised here is this, that love for ceremonials, dressing at certain times, eating in a certain way, and shows and mummeries of religion like these are only external religion, because you are satisfied with the senses and do not want to go beyond them. This is a tremendous difficulty with us, with every human being. At best when we want to hear of spiritual things our standard is the senses; or a man hears things about philosophy, and God, and transcendental things, and after hearing about them for days, he asks: After all, how much money will they bring, how much sense-enjoyment will they bring? For his enjoyment is only in the senses, quite naturally.[47]

None can teach another. You have to realize truth and work it out for yourself according to your own nature…All must struggle to be individuals – strong, standing on your own feet, thinking your own thoughts, realizing your own Self. No use swallowing doctrines others pass on – standing up together like soldiers in jail, sitting down together, all eating the same food, all nodding their heads at the same time. Variation is the sign of life. Sameness is the sign of death.[48]

Therefore Swamiji says: The secret of religion lies not in theories but in practice. To be good and to do good – that is the whole of religion. ‘Not he that crieth “lord”, “Lord”, but he that doeth the will of the Father.[49] Religion is not lip-service, but a perception. From that perception arises a conviction, which becomes action. Mind you, merely running around in rut in the name of doing good to the world is not what is meant by action. There is a definite method to the action that constitutes religion.

Hence, Swamiji warns: You will find many persons in this world who will say. ‘I wanted to become religious, I wanted to realize these things, but I have not been able, so I do not believe anything.’ Even among the educated you will find these. Large numbers of people will tell you, ‘I have tried to be religious all my life, but there is nothing in it.’ At the same time you will find this phenomenon: Suppose a man is a chemist, a great scientific man. He comes and tells you this. If you say to him, ‘I do not believe anything about chemistry, because I have all my life tried to become a chemist and do not find anything in it’, he will ask, ‘When did you try?’ ‘When I went to bed, I repeated, ‘O chemistry, come to me’, and it never came.’ That is the very same thing. The chemist laughs at you and says, ‘Oh, that is not the way. Why did you not go to the laboratory and get all the acids and alkalis and burn your hands from time to time? That alone would have taught you.’ Do you take the same trouble with religion? Every science has its own method of learning, and religion is to be learnt the same way. [50]

In one word, the ideal of Vedanta is to know man as he really is, and this is its message, that if you cannot worship your brother man, the manifested God, how can you worship a God who is unmanifested?[51]

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The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature.[52]

This is a pretty simple, straight-forward statement. Being true to our own nature is the greatest religion that is or can ever be. That is it. End of story. While this is really simple, this is also, by far, the grandest statement that Swamiji has uttered on religion. Why? Let us see presently.

Our religious books mention some things about man, God and the universe. We should believe in those things. That is religion, as is generally understood. The closer these ideas are to our selfishness, the greater acceptability those ideas get. Such is the trend in religion. So long as the religious ideas do not clash with, or unsettle, our present life-style, they are considered practical.

Vedanta preaches the ideal; and the ideal, as we know, is always far ahead of the real, of the practical, as we may call it. There are two tendencies in human nature: one to harmonize the ideal with the life, and the other to elevate the life to the ideal. It is a great thing to understand this, for the former tendency is the temptation of our lives. I think that I can only do a certain class of work. Most of it, perhaps, is bad; most of it, perhaps, has a motive power of passion behind it, anger, or greed, or selfishness. Now if any man comes to preach to me a certain ideal, the first step towards which is to give up selfishness, to give up self-enjoyment, I think that is impractical. But when a man brings an ideal which can be reconciled with my selfishness, I am glad at once and jump at it. That is the ideal for me. What I think is practical, is to me the only practicality in the world. If I am a shopkeeper, I think shop keeping the only practical pursuit in the world. If I am a thief, I think stealing is the best means of being practical; others are not practical. You see how we all use this word practical for things we like and can do. [53]

When Swamiji says ‘The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature’, he completely breaks away from this kind of inertial thinking. Our own nature is that we are divine.

Vedanta does not preach an impossible ideal, however high it be, and it is high enough for an ideal. In one word, this ideal is that you are divine, ‘Thou art That’. This is the essence of Vedanta; after all its ramifications and intellectual gymnastics, you know the human soul to be pure and omniscient, you see that such superstitions as birth and death would be entire nonsense when spoken of in connection with the soul. The soul was never born and will never die, and all these ideas that we are going to die and are afraid to die are mere superstitions. And all such ideas as that we can do this or cannot do that are superstitions. We can do everything. The Vedanta teaches men to have faith in themselves first. As certain religions of the world say that a man who does not believe in a Personal God outside of himself is an atheist, so the Vedanta says, a man who does not believe in himself is an atheist.

Not believing in the glory of our own soul is what the Vedanta calls atheism. To many this is, no doubt, a terrible idea; and most of us think that this ideal can never be reached; but the Vedanta insists that it can be realized by everyone. There is neither man nor woman or child, nor difference of race or sex, nor anything that stands as a bar to the realization of the ideal, because Vedanta shows that it is realized already, it is already there.

All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark. Know that there is no darkness around us. Take the hands away and there is the light which was from the beginning. Darkness never existed, weakness never existed. We who are fools cry that we are weak; we who are fools cry that we are impure. Thus Vedanta not only insists that the ideal is practical, but that it has been so all the time; and this Ideal, this Reality, is our own nature. Everything else that you see is false, untrue. As soon as you say, ‘I am a little mortal being,’ you are saying something which is not true, you are giving the lie to yourselves, you are hypnotizing yourselves into something vile and weak and wretched.

There is this strongly conservative tendency in human nature: we do not like to move one step forward. I think of mankind just as I read of persons who become frozen in snow; all such, they say, want to go to sleep, and if you try to drag them up, they say, ‘Let me sleep; it is so beautiful to sleep in the snow’, and they die there in that sleep. So is our nature. That is what we are doing all our life, getting frozen from the feet upwards, and yet wanting to sleep.

Therefore you must struggle towards the ideal, and if a man comes who wants to bring that ideal down to your level, and teach a religion that does not carry that highest ideal, do not listen to him. To me that is an impracticable religion. But if a man teaches a religion which presents the highest ideal, I am ready for him. Beware when anyone is trying to apologize for sense vanities and sense weaknesses. If anyone wants to preach that way to us, poor, sense-bound clods of earth as we have made ourselves by following that teaching, we shall never progress. [54]

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Religion is the realization of Spirit as Spirit; not Spirit as matter. [55]

We already saw in the Jan 2019 issue how Swamiji describes religion as realization. This month, he is specifying it by saying that religion is the realization of Spirit as Spirit, and not the realization of Spirit as matter. Why would anyone attempt to realize Spirit as matter? Is it even possible? Ah, but it is! This is a recurrent theme in Swamiji’s lectures – this tendency in man to idealize the real. We saw last month Swamiji saying: There are two tendencies in human nature: one to harmonize the ideal with the life, and the other to elevate the life to the ideal. It is a great thing to understand this, for the former tendency is the temptation of our lives.[56]

So, now the idea is clear: We all have the powerful tendency in us to realize the Spirit as matter. We shall overcome this tendency. Then what? Swamiji explains:

Religion is a growth. Each one must experience it himself. The Christians believe that Jesus Christ died to save man. With the Christians, it is belief in a doctrine, and this belief constitutes their salvation. With the Hindus, doctrine has nothing whatever to do with salvation. Each one may believe in whatever doctrine he likes; or in no doctrine. What difference does it make to you whether Jesus Christ lived at a certain time or not? What has it to do with you that Moses saw God in the burning bush? The fact that Moses saw God in the burning bush does not constitute your seeing Him, does it? If it does, then the fact that Moses ate is enough for you; you ought to stop eating. One is just as sensible as the other. Records of great spiritual men of the past do us no good whatever except that they urge us onward to do the same, to experience religion ourselves. Whatever Christ or Moses or anybody else did does not help us in the least, except to urge us on.

The truly spiritual see Spirit as Spirit, not as matter. Spirit as such can never become matter. Spirit is always the same, changeless, eternal.[57]

Have you realized that you are spirit? When you say, ‘I do,’ what is meant by that – this lump of flesh called the body or the spirit, the infinite, ever blessed, effulgent, and immortal? You may be the greatest philosopher, but as long as you have the idea that you are the body, you are no better than the little worm crawling under your foot! No excuse for you! So much the worse for you that you know all the philosophies and at the same time think you are the body! Body-gods; that is what you are! Is that religion?

Religion is the realization of spirit as spirit. What are we doing now? Just the opposite, realizing spirit as matter. Out of the immortal God we manufacture death and matter, and out of dead dull matter we manufacture spirit.

You believe in God. If you do, believe in the real God. “Thou art the man, thou the woman, thou the young man walking in the strength of youth, thou the old man tottering with his stick.” [58] Thou art weakness. Thou art fear. Thou art heaven, and Thou art hell. Thou art the serpent that would sting. Come thou as fear! Come thou as death! Come thou as misery!

All weakness, all bondage is imagination. Speak one word to it, it must vanish. Do not weaken! There is no other way out. Stand up and be strong! No fear. No superstition. Face the truth as it is! If death comes – that is the worst of our miseries – let it come! We are determined to die game. That is all the religion I know.[59]

The power which works through the formative principles of every religion in every country is manifested in the forms of religion. Principles and books, certain rules and movements – standing up, sitting down – all these belong to the same category of worship. Spiritual worship becomes materialized in order that the majority of mankind can get hold of it. The vast majority of mankind in every country is never seen to worship spirit as spirit. It is not yet possible. I do not know if there ever will be a time when they can. How many thousands in this city are ready to worship God as spirit? Very few. They cannot; they live in the senses. You have to give them cut and dried ideas. Tell them to do something physical: Stand up twenty times; sit down twenty times. They will understand that. Tell them to breathe in through one nostril and breathe out through the other. They will understand that. All this idealism about spirit they cannot accept at all. It is not their fault.[60]

In this connection, there is an interesting correspondence between Mary Hale and Swamiji. Mary Hale was one of the four daughters of the Hale Family that first hosted Swamiji when he first came to Chicago to attend the World Parliament of Religions. This correspondence is interesting because it happened in the form of poems! Among other things, Mary Hale wrote to Swamiji:

The lines you sent to your sisters four

Be sure they’ll cherish evermore

For you have made them clearly see

The one main truth that “all is He”

Immediately, Swamiji replied:

Remember pray,

That God is true, all else is nothing,

This world’s a dream

Though true it seem,

And only truth is He the living!

The real me is none but He,

And never, never matter changing![61]

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To become harmoniously balanced in all these four directions is my ideal of religion.[62]

What are these four directions? Swamiji explains beautifully:

What I want to propagate is a religion that will be equally acceptable to all minds; it must be equally philosophic, equally emotional, equally mystic, and equally conducive to action. If professors from the colleges come, scientific men and physicists, they will court reason. Let them have it as much as they want. There will be a point beyond which they will think they cannot go, without breaking with reason. They will say, “These ideas of God and salvation are superstitious, give them up!” I say, “Mr. Philosopher, this body of yours is a bigger superstition. Give it up; don’t go home to dinner or to your philosophic chair. Give up the body, and if you cannot, cry quarter and sit down.” For religion must be able to show how to realize the philosophy that teaches us that this world is one, that there is but one Existence in the universe. Similarly, if the mystic comes, we must welcome him, be ready to give him the science of mental analysis, and practically demonstrate it before him. And if emotional people come, we must sit, laugh, and weep with them in the name of the Lord; we must ‘drink the cup of love and become mad’. If the energetic worker comes, we must work with him, with all the energy that we have. And this combination will be the ideal of the nearest approach to a universal religion. Would to God that all men were so constituted that in their minds all these elements of philosophy, mysticism, emotion, and of work were equally present in full! That is the ideal, my ideal of a perfect man. Everyone who has only one or two of these elements of character, I consider ‘one-sided’’; and this world is almost full of such ‘one-sided’ men, with knowledge of that one road only in which they move; and anything else is dangerous and horrible to them. To become harmoniously balanced in all these four directions is my ideal of religion. And this religion is attained by what we, in India, call Yoga – union. To the worker, it is union between men and the whole of humanity; to the mystic, between his lower and Higher Self; to the lover, union between himself and the God of Love; and to the philosopher; it is the union of all existence. This is what is meant by Yoga. This is a Sanskrit term, and these four divisions of Yoga have in Sanskrit different names. The man who seeks after this kind of union is called a Yogi. The worker is called the Karma-Yogi. He who seeks the union through love is called the Bhakti-Yogi. He who seeks it through mysticism is called the Raja-Yogi. And he who seeks it through philosophy is called the Jnana-Yogi. So this word Yogi comprises them all. [63]

The ultimate goal of all mankind, the aim and end of all religions, is but one—re-union with God, or, what amounts to the same, with the divinity which is every man’s true nature…. Both the goal and the methods employed for reaching it are called yoga, a word derived from the same Sanskrit root as the English ‘yoke’, meaning ‘to join’, to join us to our reality, God. [64]

How do we balance these four Yogas in our life? We wish to quote from an editorial of Prabuddha Bharata [65] which brings amazing clarity into this issue. Swamiji himself said that this ideal of religion can be achieved ‘By association with persons whose character has been so developed.’[66] But where will you find such persons? Hence the Editor, Swami Bhajanananda prescribes a practicable means as follows:

Even when a person is engaged in work, a part of his mind can be fixed on God or repeating His name, while his inner self is absorbed in loving adoration of the Lord and is aware of its identity with Him at a higher level. In the beginning of spiritual life the aspirant may pay greater attention to work, but as he progresses, as he learns to identify himself more and more with the higher levels of the self, he may pay greater attention to the other Yogas. Thus all the four Yogas can be simultaneously practiced without a break throughout the day. One is engaged in yoga always. If properly done, this integral awareness can be maintained even in sleep.

Swami Bhajanananda then points out yet another amazing method called ‘Collective Synthesis’. In a family or an organization, all its members may not have the same temperament and capacity. One may be active and extroverted, another introverted and contemplative, another emotional and devotional, still another intellectual and rational. To force all these people to follow one and the same method is harmful. It may happen that some of them may find it easy to practice only one yoga and almost impossible to practice the others. What is to be done under such circumstances?

If there is proper understanding and co-operation among the members of the family or an organization, then they can together achieve synthesis of Yogas as a group. Swami Vivekananda says about this possibility, ‘And if among us each one may not individually attain to that perfection, still we may get it collectively by counter-acting, equipoising, adjusting, and fulfilling one another. This would be harmony by a number of persons and a decided advance on all other forms and creeds.[67] This type of synthesis can be practiced in a family. But in modern organizations, where people of diverse temperaments and cultural backgrounds live together, it is an imperative necessity. The power and effectiveness of a group of people lies to a great extent in developing the creative talents and capacities of its members and directing them all towards a common goal.

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Religion is only between you and your God. [68]

Religion is only between you and your God, and no third person must come between you. It is interesting to note how Swamiji has systematically removed the dross from religion, and has distilled out the purest form of religion.

Religion is not going to church, or putting marks on the forehead, or dressing in a peculiar fashion; you may paint yourselves in all the colors of the rainbow, but if the heart has not been opened, if you have not realized God, it is all vain. If one has the color of the heart, he does not want any external color. That is the true religious realization. We must not forget that colors and all these things are good so far as they help; so far they are all welcome. But they are apt to degenerate and instead of helping they retard, and a man identifies religion with externalities. Going to the temple becomes tantamount to spiritual life. Giving something to a priest becomes tantamount to religious life. These are dangerous and pernicious, and should be at once checked. Our scriptures declare again and again that even the knowledge of the external senses is not religion. That is religion which makes us realize the Unchangeable One, and that is the religion for everyone. He who realizes transcendental truth, he who realizes the Atman in his own nature, he who comes face to face with God, sees God alone in everything, has become a Rishi. And there is no religious life for you until you have become a Rishi. Then alone religion begins for you, now is only the preparation. Then religion dawns upon you, now you are only undergoing intellectual gymnastics and physical tortures.[69]

Religion does not live on bread, does not dwell in a house. Again and again you hear this objection advanced: ‘What good can religion do? Can it take away the poverty of the poor?’ Supposing it cannot, would that prove the untruth of religion? Suppose a baby stands up among you when you are trying to demonstrate an astronomical theorem, and says, ‘Does it bring gingerbread?’ ‘No, it does not’, you answer. ‘Then,’ says the baby, ‘it is useless.’ Babies judge the whole universe from their own standpoint, that of producing gingerbread, and so do the babies of the world. We must not judge of higher things from a low standpoint. Everything must be judged by its own standard and the infinite must be judged by the standard of infinity. Religion permeates the whole of man’s life, not only the present, but the past, present, and future. It is, therefore, the eternal relation between the eternal soul and the eternal God. Is it logical to measure its value by its action upon five minutes of human life? Certainly not.[70]

Religion is not in books, nor in theories, nor in dogmas, nor in talking, not even in reasoning. It is being and becoming. Ay, my friends, until each one of you has become a Rishi and come face to face with spiritual facts, religious life has not begun for you. Until the superconscious opens for you, religion is mere talk, it is nothing but preparation. You are talking second-hand, third-hand, [71]

Religion is not talk, or doctrines, or theories; nor is it sectarianism. Religion cannot live in sects and societies. It is the relation between the soul and God; how can it be made into a society? It would then degenerate into business, and wherever there are business and business principles in religion, spirituality dies. Religion does not consist in erecting temples, or building churches, or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books, or in words, or in lectures, or in organizations. Religion consists in realization. As a fact, we all know that nothing will satisfy us until we know the truth for ourselves. However we may argue, however much we may hear, but one thing will satisfy us, and that is our own realization; and such an experience is possible for every one of us if we will only try. The first ideal of this attempt to realize religion is that of renunciation.[72]

Religion is not for the many; that is impossible. A sort of knee-drill, standing up and sitting down, may be suited for the many; but religion is for the few.

Religion is not in doctrines, in dogmas, nor in intellectual argumentation; it is being and becoming, it is realization.[73] Religion is here and now, in this present life.[74]

Religion is not an imitation of Jesus or Mohammed.[75] Religion is not a thing of imagination but of direct perception.[76]

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In the last 11 issues of Vedanta Kesari, we have tried to present Swami Vivekananda’s conception of religion under this series: ‘What is Religion?’ There are at least 60 different ‘definitions’ of religion peppered across Swamiji’s lectures and writing! Each month, we took up one such definitive statement and tried to explain it using his own utterances, as far as possible. This month we will wrap up the series.

While some people say that religion is losing its relevance in our lives, at least in our daily lives, there are others who say that religion is growing stronger in its relevance in our daily lives. Some say that religion is an historic relic, a sad remnant of the dark past, completely out of sync with the modern world. Many others say that never before in human history did religion have as much significance or relevance than it has at present. Some people say that religion will be phased out from daily life, since it has outlived its utility for mankind. Many contend that we need to urgently factor religion into our lives if we need to maintain our sanity and grow as individuals. Caught in this crossfire of opinions, man looks askance at anyone who can resolve this dilemma for him.

Swami Vivekananda provides the much needed resolution. Hidden in his lectures and writing, we find four predictions he makes about religion. We shall attempt to explain each of these in this article.

  • Religion will be scientific:

Science rests on two principles[77]; Occam’s razor applied to all knowledge; and the principle of perception-generalization-universalization of all knowledge.

If we have multiple explanations for a phenomenon, that explanation will be chosen which is the simplest. In other words, the explanation must proceed from within the nature of the things involved and newer entities must not be unnecessarily brought in to explain them. This is Occam’s razor.

All that we perceive can be categorized under two groups – things outside us, things within us. Religion has attempted to explain these two groups of perceptions. Religion has always recognized a third category – the perceiver. Science is a much better way of explaining the former two categories of perception, which are the external world and the internal world. For centuries, Religion was the only means of answering any questions that naturally arose in our minds, be it regarding the external world or internal world, or about the perceiver itself. Religion now ought to relinquish its interference, nay, hegemony on these two categories. Religion will confine itself to explaining the perceiver alone, for Science is unable to enter that area with the tools presently in its armory.

All religions speak of a divine being, God. All religions have a unique theory of how God created this universe. Now, no one in any of these religions ever saw God in the act of creating the universe. We must realize that it is merely a plausible theory posited by the founding fathers of these religions. We are asked to implicitly believe in these theories, which are basically stories! When we apply Occam’s razor to these theories, we end up concluding that positing a divine being engaged in creation of this universe is not necessary at all. Let us have the intellectual maturity to acknowledge that if we do away with this aspect of any religion, not one religion will vanish, for such theories are indeed irrelevant to any world-religion! The theories of origin and sustenance of this universe are better left to the scientists. We must acknowledge that they really do a better job of dealing with that aspect of the world.

The reality accessible to us really has two distinct aspects – the infinite external universe, and the largely unknown inner universe. This world within us is really amazing. A huge portion of the inner world too, especially the body, the nerves, and many layers of our mind, is better dealt with by those ‘godless’ science guys. But there is one aspect of the inner world that will forever remain the domain of religion – Consciousness. Every religion has dealt with consciousness, although some of them couch their findings in a strange language, which is largely theistic in its syntax. Consequently, they have all become largely theologies today.

The moment you apply Occam’s razor to these theologies, something magical happens with all religions! Each of these religions will reveal an Impersonal divinity enshrined in their core teachings. The Impersonal God does not negate the personal god. In fact, the Impersonal God is the only justification you can have for all the personal gods that are posited by various religions. Thus, with the revelation of this Impersonal divinity, we come to comprehend that divinity is Personal-Impersonal. Then we apply the 2nd principle on these theologies and lo & behold! We get another magical thing from each of these religions! We are divine!

Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, and every religion that has survived ups and downs till the present, did so only because it contained these two vital ideas in its labyrinthine mass of teachings: The Personal-Impersonal God, and Divinity of man. Remember that many religions just vanished from history. They did so not because of military reasons or socio-economic or political reasons, although such may indeed appear to be the immediate cause. They all disappeared from the face of Earth only because they did not enshrine these two ideas within them. In fact, the whole of religion can be summed up in these two concepts: The Personal-Impersonal God, and divinity of man.

The sooner the world religions do this homework, and refine these two ideas from within their body of truths, more will those religions become relevant in the lives of their followers, just as they were supremely relevant in the lives of the people during their periods of origin.[78]

  • Religion will be entirely personal:

Historically, religion performed social, economic and political duties. Society has reached its present stage of development as a result of the contribution that religion made in all these fields. But, society no longer needs religion to perform these functions. If you remove all social, economic and political activities from religion, what remains in religion? The essence alone remains! Religion essentially dealt with the relation of man with God. Religion will continue to perform this vital function of bringing man to God. Everything else will be taken care of by secular principles of modern, democratic government. In many religions, the secular leadership and spiritual leadership are conflated. This is the root of most of the social and political problems in human history. The time has come for that to end. The democratic organizing of social life is a necessary growth which dissolves this ‘unholy’ nexus of secular and spiritual leaderships.

Once every aspect of social, economic and political life is taken care of by secular government, religion will provide spiritual leadership on a personal basis. Each individual will approach religion directly, not as part of a group, not as a community, but as an individual establishing his own direct relationship with the divinity within himself. Of course, this kind of spiritual leadership cannot be given by priests. We need persons who have established such a direct relationship in their own lives. We obviously mean realization and not just belief in dogmas. Men of realization alone can provide the leadership we speak of. And religion will become customized to each individual.

  • Religion will inform all aspects of human life:

Once we have learnt to make religion entirely personal, we will then be able to bring religion into every aspect of our life. Making religion entirely personal means realizing the truths of religion; it means perceiving that I am divine. Once that perception has been achieved, then and then alone starts the great job of divinizing every aspect of our life.[79] Any attempt to do so before this realization will only end up in regressing to, and espousing, the social, economic and political aspects of religion. But, as humanity progresses, this is the direction all the world religions will take.

When religion will become scientific, and when religion will become entirely personal, then will dawn a glorious epoch in human history when people will be able to live truly spiritual lives.

  • Religion will break down barriers and bind us all together:

If such indeed is the destiny of religion, if such indeed be the destiny of the human soul, does it behoove us to fight amongst ourselves in the name of religion? Does it make sense to convert the other person into ‘our’ religion? Does even the term ‘our religion’ make any sense anymore? When religions will be based on scientific principles, when religions will mature into personal religions, customizing itself to the needs of the individual practicing it, where will different religions exist anymore? A grand consolidation of religion will occur in the world, something that is most essential for survival of the human race. Then will spontaneously dawn real brotherhood amongst the people of this world. All attempts to forge bonhomie between followers of different religions have been futile because these attempts were never informed by recognition of the scientific, personal religion, the essential religion; all such attempts retained the individuality of each religion, making one incompatible with other religions by its very nature. True harmony of religions proceeds from realizing these two truths: the Personal-Impersonal God, and divinity of man. Thus, we can foresee, through Swami Vivekananda’s eyes, a time when religion, having lost its divisive character and merged into a unity through personal spiritual experience, will really bind people together.

You will certainly appreciate that this is indeed a grand conception of religion, with the most practical outcomes we can expect from religion in our lives and society. When will it happen? Will it happen in our lifetime? What is the timeline we are looking at?

More importantly, what will happen to the different religions that exist now? What will happen to the priests that make a living by peddling the opium of religion? Will personal gods not remain? What about temples, mosques, churches?

Just take another look at the religion of the future, as distilled from the thoughts of Swamiji that we have described above. Is it Islam? Is it Hinduism? Is it Christianity? Of course, it is not Islam in its entirety; nor is it Hinduism or Christianity or any of the world religions entirely.

You may point out that it is Vedanta, but is Vedanta a recognized religion, independent of its mother-religion, Hinduism? Despite the complete blossoming of Vedanta, hasn’t Hinduism retained all its various forms starting from the grossest animistic ideas of religion? It is indeed a wonder that some of the greatest brains of India applied the above mentioned principles of Science to Hinduism, made Hinduism utterly personal and came up with Vedanta. But never before did anyone appear, in India or elsewhere, who had the heart to broadcast such a scientific, personalized religion to one and all! This same exercise that Hinduism performed on itself, as a result of which Vedanta came out of it, will now have to be performed by all other world religions, in order to bring out their own equivalents of Vedanta hiding now within their bosoms. And when that happens, all the religions, will regain their relevance for mankind.

All of these religions are as good a starting point to reach here as any other religion of the world. We all will have our freedom to start from any point and forge ahead to culminate in our experience of this solidarity of all existence. Note that once we render religion as scientific, and make it personal, and start incorporating divinity in every action and moment of our life, the natural outcome will be a perception of the Oneness of all existence. If this entire world is divine, and if I too am divine, doesn’t it naturally follow that there is no difference in essence between anything here? This perception of Oneness has tremendous ramifications of human society. But, the ramifications arise only from spiritual perception of Oneness, and not from an intellectual or conceptual understanding of Oneness. Swamiji says, It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do. In spite of their hatred, in spite of their brutality, in spite of their cruelty, in spite of their tyranny, and in spite of the vile language they are given to uttering, we will and must go on building churches for the Christians and mosques for the Mohammedans until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force.[80]The spiritual perception of Oneness is immediately associated with a tremendous boost of strength in personality. This is not strength that manifests itself as violence. It is strength that manifests as gentleness, yet, is capable of protecting one’s temporal existence from the onslaughts of barbaric manifestations of strength that may emanate from others. Not just protect oneself, but it can transform the barbaric manifestations on others into benign forms of strength. Notice that Hinduism, which is a non-proselytizing religion, has the strength to build mosques and churches for Muslims and Christians, while Islam and Christianity lack that strength, in the sense, you don’t find Muslims and Christians building places of worship for other religions. These things will change in the future as a result of Swamiji’s contribution to religion.

Things of the past will indeed remain. Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and all the other religions will remain. Temples, churches, mosques and other places of worship will remain. Newer ones will be added. Puja, Mass, Namaz, Roza, festivals, Vrata and other rituals will remain. Newer ones will be added. Personal gods will remain. Innumerable more personal gods will be added to the existing pantheon. Then, what new change did Swamiji bring into religion?

Each religion will come to recognize that they all have two distinct phases – the lower religion, and the higher religion. People will perforce start from any one of the existing religions. They will utilize the resources that belong to their religion – places of worship, scriptures, personal gods, rituals, etc. each religion will inaugurate and herald a higher echelon in itself, into which each of their followers will graduate. All the rudiments of all religions will be understood to serve one and only one purpose – bring spiritual realization to each of their followers. Religions will be ranked and graded in society not according to the number of followers they boast of, but by the number of followers who have graduated into spiritual realization. Religions of the world have to accommodate these persons whose eyes have opened into the perception of Spirit. Unless religions produce such persons, the existence of those religions will have no relevance.

All the religions of the world will come to recognize that the higher echelon of all religions is actually the same. While there will always remain tremendous diversity in the lower religions, the higher religion will be one. It may be likened to the education system we have in the world today. The millions of schools all over the world are engaged in preparing its multitudes of students to qualify for higher education. The cutting-edge research institutions all over the world are melting pots of the very best from all countries, all cultures, all races, and all geographies. Similar developments are already occurring in business and governance all over the world. While each country is sovereign in its own right, the political and business policies of the world are now decided in international forums. The formation of UNO and WTO has not undermined the sovereignty of any nation, has it? Something similar will be the outcome in religion as a result of Swamiji’s contribution.

We must note one more important thing here: All this violence that this world has seen, in the name of religion – how will this ever end? Who will listen to whom? Will any religion be able to establish its superiority over others? Is it not clear that the only way religions can live in peace with one another is by discovering common elements amongst their constituents? But, at the lower levels, can common elements ever be found? When the differentiating elements in the religions are exactly what distinguish one from the other, how can we even think of finding common elements at this level?[81] It is only by inaugurating the higher phase of religion, in each of the world religions, that the common ground can be found. Don’t the different rivers, which fight for right of passage while on land, mingle peacefully and harmoniously once they enter the ocean? Similar will be the case in religions as a result of Swamiji’s contribution.

Such is the religion that Swamiji conceives. Such is the religion Swamiji has bequeathed to us. It is now up to us to take up this challenge and realize it. For, our ancestors expect that from us, and the future beckons us to achieve this in our lives.

Go to the direct source. Ask God what He is. Unless He answers, He is not; but every religion teaches that He does answer.[82]

I will go to God direct; let Him talk to me. I cannot take belief as a basis; that is atheism and blasphemy. If God spake to a man in the deserts of Arabia two thousand years ago, He can also speak to me today, else how can I know that He has not died? Come to God any way you can; only come. But in coming do not push anyone down.[83]

All we know is the projection of the Self. Teach this to the children, they can grasp it. Every religion has worshipped the Self, even though unconsciously, because there is nothing else.[84]

We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.[85]

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[1] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda; Vol-5; Sayings & Utterances

[2] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda; Vol-2; Jnana-Yoga; Ch-VIII; Realization

[3] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda; Vol-3; Lectures from Colombo to Almora; The work before us

[4] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda; Vol-6; Notes of Class Talks and Lectures; Lessons On Raja-Yoga

[5] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda; Vol-4; Lectures and Discourses; My Master

[6] Complete Works: Vol-5: Sayings And Utterances

[7] Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma-Yoga: Ch-VI: Non-Attachment Is Complete Self-Abnegation

[8] See for instance Swamiji’s words: “Religion is a long, slow process”; Complete Works: Vol-4: Addresses on Bhakti-Yoga: The Need Of Symbols

[9] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 2.4.1-5

[10] Complete Works: Vol-2: Bhakti Or Devotion

[11] ibid

[12] Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: Ch-III: The Secret Of Work

[13] Complete Works: Vol-8: Sayings And Utterances

[14] Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: Ch-I: Karma In Its Effect On Character

[15] Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: Ch-IV: What Is Duty?

[16] Complete Works: Vol-8: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Man The Maker Of His Destiny

[17] Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda: Sister Christine: Swami Vivekananda As I Saw Him

[18] Complete Works: Vol-2: Hints On Practical Spirituality

[19] Complete Works: Vol-3: Buddhistic India

[20] Complete Works: Vol-2: Work And Its Secret

[21] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Vedanta In Its Application To Indian Life

[22] Complete Works: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: Entry on Tuesday, June 25th, 1895

[23] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures and Discourses: Unity, The Goal Of Religion

[24] Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: Ch-III: The Secret Of Work

[25] Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana Yoga: Ch-X: The Freedom Of The Soul

[26] Complete Works: Vol-1: Lectures and Discourses: The Vedanta Philosophy

[27] Complete Works: Vol-3: Bhakti Yoga: Ch-II: The Philosophy Of Ishvara

[28] Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana Yoga: Ch-VI: The Absolute And Manifestation

[29] Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta and other lectures: The Goal

[30] Complete Works: Vol-1: Lectures and Discourses: Practical Religion: Breathing And Meditation

[31] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on October 22nd, 1885

[32] ibid

[33] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on Monday, October 20th, 1884

[34] Complete Works: Vol-2: Bhakti Or Devotion

[35] Complete Works: Vol-4: Addresses on Bhakti-Yoga: The First Steps

[36] Complete Works: Vol-2: Bhakti Or Devotion

[37] Complete Works: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: Entry on July 31, 1895

[38] Complete Works: Vol-4: Addresses on Bhakti Yoga: The Preparation

[39] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: What Have I Learnt?

[40] Complete Works: Vol-1: Soul, God And Religion

[41] Complete Works: Vol-2: The Ideal Of A Universal Religion

[42] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Vedanta in its application to Indian life

[43] Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana-Yoga: Ch-I: The Necessity Of Religion

[44] Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana-Yoga: Ch-X: The Freedom Of The Soul

[45] Complete Works: Vol-2: The Goal

[46] Complete Works: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: Monday, July 29, 1895

[47] Complete Works: Vol-1: Vedic Religious Ideals

[48] Complete Works: Vol-6: Formal Worship

[49] Complete Works: Vol-6: Epistles – Second Series: 30th April, 1891: To Govinda Sahay

[50] Complete Works: Vol-6: The Methods and Purpose of Religion

[51] Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta: Part II

[52] Complete Works: Vol-1: Lectures and Discourses: Mohammed

[53] Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta: Part-I

[54] Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta: Part-I

[55] Complete Works: Vol-9: Notes of Lectures and Classes: The Gita — III

[56] Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta: Part I

[57] Complete Works: Vol-9: Notes of Lectures and Classes: The Gita — III

[58] Cf: Shvetashvatara Upanishad: IV:  3

[59] Complete Works: Vol-1: Lectures and Discourses: The Gita III

[60] Complete Works: Vol-6: Lectures and Discourses: Formal Worship

[61] Complete Works: Vol-8: Writings: Poems: An Interesting Correspondence

[62] Complete Works: Vol-2: The Ideal of a Universal Religion

[63] Ibid

[64] Complete Works: Vol-5: Notes from Lectures and Discourses: The Goal and Methods of Realization

[65] Prabuddha Bharata: November 1979: The Yogas And Their Synthesis (Editorial)

[66] Complete Works: Vol-5: Questions and Answers: IV: Selections from the Math Diary

[67] Complete Works: Vol-4: Writings: Prose: What We Believe In

[68] Complete Works: Vol-1: Lectures and Discourses: The Gita III

[69] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: The Work Before Us

[70] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures and Discourses: Unity, The Goal of Religion

[71] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: The Sages of India

[72] Complete Works: Vol-4: Lectures and Discourses: My Master

[73] Complete Works: Vol-2: Bhakti or Devotion

[74] Complete Works: Vol-4: Lectures and Discourses: The Claims of Religion

[75] Complete Works: Vol-1: Lectures and Discourses: Mohammed

[76] Complete Works: Vol-5: Sayings and Utterances

[77] Strictly speaking, they are more heuristics than principles. But we will enter into semantics here. For the purpose of this article, it is sufficient to consider these ideas as foundational principles of Science.

[78] This section is actually a synopsis of the two lectures Practical Vedanta-II and Practical Vedanta-III. The conclusions we have presented in this section follow from the ideas Swamiji has presented in these two lectures.

[79] Cf: According to the Vedanta, when a man has arrived at that perception, he has become free, and he is the only man who is fit to live in this world. Others are not. The man who sees evil, how can he live in this world? His life is a mass of misery. The man who sees dangers, his life is a misery; the man who sees death, his life is a misery. That man alone can live in this world, he alone can say, “I enjoy this life, and I am happy in this life”, who has seen the Truth, and the Truth in everything. Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta-II

[80] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: The Mission of the Vedanta: Kumbakonam

[81] Complete Works: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: Sunday, August 4, 1895: All the different religions are but applications of the one religion adapted to suit the requirements of different nations.

[82] Complete Works: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: Sunday, August 4, 1895

[83] Ibid

[84] Ibid

[85] Complete Works: Vol-6: Epistles – Second Series: CXLII: Written to Mohammed Sarfaraz Husain of Naini Tal from Almora,  10th June, 1898