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Swami Vivekananda & Organization

“Why is it that organization is so powerful? Do not say organization is material. Why is it, to take a case in point, that forty millions of Englishmen rule three hundred millions of people here? What is the psychological explanation? These forty millions put their wills together and that means infinite power, and you three hundred millions have a will each separate from the other. Therefore to make a great future India, the whole secret lies in organization, accumulation of power, co-ordination of wills.”

 I begin by quoting this passage from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. This passage appears in his lecture ‘Future of India’ delivered by the great Swami in Chennai on 14th Feb 1897.

We see a few interesting points in the above passage:

The first thing to note is that here we have a spiritual giant of the stature of Swami Vivekananda discussing such a mundane idea as making a nation great! Isn’t that the job of politicians and diplomats? Isn’t that the job of the leaders of political parties? Isn’t that the job of leaders who have legislative power? Should a monk speak or think on these issues?

The second thing to note is – Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really? If so, how and why? Does history mention any such development where the forty million Englishmen of the 19th century came together and decided that they would put their wills together? None of the history books mentions such a development. Why is Swamiji mentioning this here?

The third thing to note is – Swamiji says here ‘Do not say organization is material’. Who said organization is material? Most of us don’t even know what organization means! Some of us perhaps think that organization means corporations, consisting of profit-minded executives; some perhaps even think that it refers to groups of people who come together for a particular cause, such as the organization for blacks’ rights, or organization for the economically deprived. Even if we do understand this word to mean something like that, who amongst us ever felt that organization is ‘material’?

The fourth thing to note is – in order to become a great nation, India needs to do only one thing! There is no need to do many things. Only one thing is necessary, says Swamiji. And that is – ‘Coordinate the wills of the Indians’.

Let us deal with each of these points one by one.

Why is a spiritual man, a monk, and that too, one of the stature of Swami Vivekananda, talking about the future of a nation, about making India great, about organization? Shouldn’t a monk confine himself to spiritual practices, to scriptural study, to rituals and spiritual ministration? Isn’t it wrong for a monk to deal with ideas such as those mentioned in this passage?

Well, traditionally, monks have dealt with such issues. Our country has had a marvelous history.[1] The social power structure has always been managed by the two upper castes – the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas. Between them, they ruled the people of this country. When the Kshatriyas lost touch with the ground reality and became too dictatorial, the Brahmins overthrew the Kshatriyas and took power into their hands. Same thing happened when the Brahmins lost touch with the ground reality and became arrogantly powerful and oppressed the people whom they ruled. It is because of this dipole power structure in India from ancient times that class struggle (so fondly studied by the Communist historians) never arose here.

Over and above the four castes of this unique social structure, there was one more group of people who outlawed themselves from this four-caste structure and stayed outside the society. They were the monks. This group of people were quite objective in their perceptions of society and were sensitive to the tilts in the power balance of the ancient Indian society. Since the monks were self-declared outlaws, they did not need patronage from anyone, neither the Brahmins nor the Kshatriyas. They would boldly point out the flaws in their functioning and warn them to correct themselves or get ready for an upheaval and overthrowing from power. Moreover, since monks themselves were not beneficiaries in the resulting social change, their observations and advices carried a great moral value. Repeatedly, this happened in Indian history. However, the unwritten norm of the Hindu monks has been that the monk could at most point out the flaw and then hands off! The monk would not engage in actually re-structuring the power equations in society. From time immemorial, it was considered one of the activities assigned to monks to point out the corrective measures that society needed to get back on track; and it was simultaneously considered anathema for monks to directly get involved in engaging in the political activities required for bringing about the prescribed social changes.

This is what we see Swamiji do here. He was able to see why Indians lived as slaves to a foreign power. He was able to see why a foreign power was able to enslave the Indians and rule over them. He was able to see how Indians could break themselves from the shackles of such foreign domination. But, he wouldn’t involve himself directly in any political activity required for breaking India free from foreign rule. He however delineated what was required for Indians to become a great nation, which included obtaining political freedom, educational self-reliance and economic superiority in the comity of nations. If we were concerned about our country’s future, we would heed these words of Swamiji and work as directed by him.

Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really?

The rise of the Joint Stock Companies in Europe, especially in Britain was a watershed event in the history of mankind. This event fueled the Industrial Revolution as much as the scientific discoveries did, if not more. Man knew a particular type of production until then. Production activity was largely localized. And it was confined to a small group of people who held the technical knowhow as a safely guarded secret. All of a sudden, the British were engaged in a new type of production that required enormous coordination of the activities of an enormous number of people across enormous physical distances. For instance, a large number of people were engaged in one part of the world in growing cotton. Once they had grown the cotton, it was all collected by another large group of people and transported across oceans to huge mills situated in some other part of the globe. Yet another large group of people ran these huge mills. They worked day and night to manufacture standardized cotton threads. These threads were then collected by yet another large group of people who were engaged in manufacturing clothes out of those yarns. One more large group of people then transported those clothes all over the world and handed them over to a different large of people who then sold them to end-users.

This was the main reason behind the rise of the organization in Britain. The cause was economic in nature. More and more number of people joined together in a particular enterprise. Large amounts of money and resources were pooled in. Huge amounts of things were manufactured in a short time. And the things thus manufactured were more often than not, very complex. As long as man confined himself to the old style of manufacturing, all he could produce was a bullock cart, or a horse drawn carriage. Once large number of people came together, as they did in Britain, man was able to produce a motor car. It is impossible to produce a modern motor car in the old style of production.

Whatever be the reason, the British had found out a way to get a large number of people to come together, pool in their money, resources and effort, and consequently multiply their individual strengths while cancelling out their individual weaknesses. This strange form of community activity was later on given the term organization. Thus, the root of the modern organization, as we know it today, is purely economic, purely material.

The point that Swamiji is trying to make here is – granted that the western world’s organization has purely materialistic roots, but, once an organization has been formed, it no longer remains a purely materialistic entity. Why is that so? The objectives of forming an organization may be to earn money, to wage wars and kill people and to conquer new regions. But what exactly is an organization? Is any motley group of people called an organization? If a group of people is to be considered an organization, there are certain important criteria. First, there has to be a group of people, who, amongst them have a wide variety of skills, talents, experiences and abilities. This allows for division of labor amongst them. Secondly, they have jointly agreed upon a common goal, or a common set of goals to be achieved. Thirdly, all of them pool in their resources, energies and time to work together in order to achieve those commonly set goals. Fourthly, their attitudes and behaviors are conditioned by commonly accepted norms. And lastly, all of them recognize that the group has an existence of its own, just as all of the individual members have an existence independent of one another. In other words, the group is considered as a living entity, just as the individual members are. And this existence is recognized in all the individual and collective activities and decisions of the group. These criteria show one very important characteristic: the existence of the organization, therefore, is not temporal. The existence of organization is in the minds of the members. The more the individuals get identified with this mental construct, the stronger that organization becomes. The individual members pour in their life-force into the sustenance and growth of this organization. That organization now develops a life of its own, as it were. It develops individuality, as it were. Long story short, it comes into existence. All that exists has Spirit as its basis. Hence, Swamiji says that we shouldn’t write off organizations as inconsequential by thinking it is a mere material entity.

These ideas that we have explored till now in this article lead to a wonderful theory, which have enormous ramifications on our actions and on our lives. Let us try to analyze that briefly:

Swamiji said to Sister Nivedita once[2], “That is precisely my position about Brahman and the gods! I believe in Brahman and the gods, and not in anything else!”…. You see, I cannot but believe that there is somewhere a great Power that thinks of Herself as feminine, and called Kali, and Mother. And I believe in Brahman too …But is it not always like that? Is it not the multitude of cells in the body that make up the personality, the many brain-centers, not the one, that produce consciousness?… Unity in complexity! Just so! And why should it be different with Brahman? It is Brahman. It is the One. And yet and yet it is the gods too!” Elsewhere he makes a significant statement about God: “….the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls[3]” It seems fairly clear to us now that Swamiji saw God as the sum-total of souls, apart from subscribing to the Impersonal aspect. When we extend this idea to an organization, we find that when a group of people come together, putting in their wills together for a common goal, no matter how trivial or mundane that goal be, in effect, there is a spiritual entity, a god, that is created!

This is a very powerful idea.

Our actions here have a repercussion on the spiritual realm! It has always been believed to be the other way around. It has always been held that some entities somewhere in an unapproachable spiritual realm decides that something should occur on earth, in our lives, and then we human beings act out that decision of the gods. This has been the commonly held belief. When we combine these three ideas of Swamiji – first, that organization is a spiritual entity; second, Reality is Personal as well as Impersonal; third, Personal God is the sum total of souls; – we arrive at a totally different conception of human actions. Gods may or may not influence our actions. But it is of much greater importance for us that our actions here influence the spiritual realm! By our actions, we can create new spiritual entities. If we decide to get together and combine our wills, we give rise to a new god! And that god needs to be worshipped. How? By our actions, again. Take an organization such as a factory. The moment you consider yourself a part of that organization, you are in the presence of a new god, the spiritual entity associated with that organization. You will need to worship that new god. Since this new god has a strange form, unlike a stone image, consisting of buildings and machinery and people and processes, your worship will have to be in consonance with this new form. Your so-called ‘work’ in that factory will be nothing but worship that the new god demands.

Some readers may object to the line of thought presented here, saying, I am blowing a simple idea of Swamiji out of all proportions. To answer such objections, let me quote one amazing statement of Swamiji: “Now we have a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas.[4]

This brings us to the fourth point: What India needs for a bright and strong future is just this – organization. People living in the geographical confines of India should feel identified with India. That is one organization Swamiji definitely wanted to take shape. All through history, people have populated this particular geographical region but have seldom felt identified with it as a Nation. Our identity has all along been to the religious and cultural mores of the sub-regions rather than to the abstract concept of a Nation.

The historic struggle for freedom from the British Rule in the early 20th century saw the development of national sense in us. The post-independence period in India however has done little to ensure that this national sense grows in the coming generations. The national sense grows along various lines in different cultures. The Civic sense is the basis in most western countries. In India, we do not see much hope along that line. A poor nation, habituated to hunger and squalor cannot be expected to appreciate the civic sense to any decent degree. Our hope lies in spiritualizing the abstract concept of the Nation. Swamiji makes a significant observation in a letter as follows: “But, excuse me if I say that it is sheer ignorance and want of proper understanding to think like that, namely, that our national ideal has been a mistake. First go to other countries and study carefully their manners and conditions with your own eyes – not with others’ – and reflect on them with a thoughtful brain, if you have it: then read your own scriptures, your ancient literature, travel throughout India, and mark the people of her different parts and their ways and habits with the wide-awake eye of an intelligent and keen observer – not with a fool’s eye – and you will see as clear as noonday that the nation is still living intact and its life is surely pulsating. You will find there also that, hidden under the ashes of apparent death, the fire of our national life is yet smoldering and that the life of this nation is religion, its language religion, and its idea religion; and your politics, society, municipality, plague-prevention work, and famine-relief work – all these things will be done as they have been done all along here, viz. only through religion; otherwise all your frantic yelling and bewailing will end in nothing, my friend![5]

India is a living goddess and She demands our worship. Won’t we respond? Extrapolating this idea further, every sub-structure within the nation is also a goddess (or a god, if you will). Every organization constituting the national economy is a living goddess. Let us worship these goddesses with the appropriate form of rituals. While a stone or marble image of a goddess called for the ritualistic dashopachara or shodashopachara puja, these new goddesses call for meaningful, systematic labor of our hands, heads and hearts. Let us please these modern goddesses, which are organizations, and allow our Nation to reach great heights of economic and social development simultaneously achieving our own spiritual unfoldment, ‘Atmano moksha jagaddhitashcha’.

***************

[1] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Modern India: An essay written for Udbodhan magazine, wherein Swami Vivekananda delineates this history in a masterly fashion, giving ample evidences from Indian history.

[2] Cf: Complete works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-1: Master as I saw him: Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Kolkata: 1967: pg-118

[3] We can recall here the fact that Sri Ramakrishna used to go into Bhava Samadhi whenever he saw a gathering of people assembled for singing the praises of the Lord. Could it be that he perceived a vision in those cases, the vision of the spiritual entity corresponding to that group? See for instance, Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His divine play: Swami Saradananda: Vedanta Society of St. Louis: 2003: pg 235 & pg 858.

[4] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-7: Epistles: Letter No. XXXII, dated 27th April, 1896, written from Reading, USA to his brother disciples at Alambazar Math

[5] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Writings: Prose and Poems: The East And The West (Translated from Bengali) Chapter-I: Introduction

 

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Harmony of Religions – How & Why

Swami Vivekananda attended the World Parliament on Religions in Chicago from 11th September 1893 to 27th September 1893. This year we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of this event all over the world.

By far the greatest contribution of Swami Vivekananda through his participation in the Chicago World Parliament was his introduction of the life-giving concept of ‘Harmony of Religions’ to the thought-current of the world.

It is the nature of human beings to segregate themselves into groups based on identities. We have language, religion, race, geography, nationality, caste, class, and many more identities around which we consider ourselves one with some people and different from others. Of all these identities, the strongest seems to be the identity based on religion. History has shown us that religion is a terrific binding force. Religion also works as an insurmountable dividing force! The great thinker George Carlin once said that more people have been killed by wrongly answering the ‘God question’ than for any other reason in human history!

Religion is the vehicle by which the human soul evolves. Every religion will have a sacred book, which contains the wisdom that God revealed to His Chosen Messenger. God reveals a particular form of Himself to the Messenger. The Messenger then works out a set of activities called ‘Ritual’ by following which any ordinary person can also evolve spiritually. This Chosen Messenger will be considered the founder of that religion. This is the general scheme through which religions operate in our world.

A person becomes a part of a religion when he or she accepts that particular Book, that particular Messenger and that particular form of God revealed through that Book and Messenger. Since this scheme has indeed come down from God directly in each case, if one participates sincerely in it, one undoubtedly makes spiritual progress. This is seen in every religion. Where does the problem arise from, then?

Swami Vivekananda explains this through a beautiful story. [1]

A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

“Where are you from?”

“I am from the sea.”

“The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?” and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

“My friend,” said the frog of the sea, “how do you compare the sea with your little well?” Then the frog took another leap and asked, “Is your sea so big?”

“What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!”

“Well, then,” said the frog of the well, “nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.”

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.

This is a famous, old story in India. The Sanskrit term used for that frog in the well is ‘Kupa-manduka’. This mentality of the frog in the well is something that is fundamental to all human thinking. This kind of thinking is natural to us. Unless we are given special education, we are unable to correct this anomaly in our mental make-up. In fact the ancient Indian logicians termed this fundamental anomaly in human thinking as ‘Kupa-manduka-nyaya’.

How can this inherent fault in our thinking be corrected? Let us answer this question a little later.

First of all, we must understand that this kind of myopic thinking is actually a necessity for all of us. The reason why all of us have this kind of short-sightedness is because it has helped us in our evolution. It is an evolutionary necessity. In the beginning of our spiritual life, we need this kind of unquestioning faith in our beliefs. Others may say we are wrong. But, we should believe that what we believe is the final Truth. This concept is called ‘Nishta’. Unless we have Nishta, we can never grow. If we develop catholicity too early in our lives, our own spiritual life will never develop. One particular idea of God, religion, Self, Guru and Scripture protects us from confusion in the beginning of our spiritual life. But, when we have used this Nishta and achieved some amount of inner development, we should accommodate other views of God and paths to God too. That is why Swamiji said, ‘It is good to be born in a church, but it is bad to die in a church.’ We need to outgrow the bindings of religion, as we mature.

What happens if we do not correct this fault? Sri Ramakrishna paints an artless picture in one conversation as follows:

Some people indulge in quarrels, saying, ‘One cannot attain anything unless one worships our Krishna’, or, ‘Nothing can be gained without the worship of Kali, our Divine Mother’, or, ‘One cannot be saved without accepting the Christian religion.’ This is pure dogmatism. The dogmatist says, ‘My religion alone is true, and the religions of others are false.’ This is a bad attitude. God can be reached by different paths. Further, some say that God has form and is not formless. Thus they start quarrelling. A Vaishnava quarrels with a Vedantist. [2]

Intense hatred develops between two well-meaning people because of this fault. While forced inter-religious conversions and religious fundamentalism have always been the outcome of this dogmatic view, the problem has taken a whole new dimension in the present age.

In the general scheme of the spiritual development of human beings, there is actually no need for this concept of harmony of religions. That is why for thousands of years of human history, this concept never came up. The previous Avataras and Prophets did not preach this concept with the force that Sri Ramakrishna imparted to it.

Of course, serious students of religion will know that even in the past, whenever and wherever people of different religions met and interacted on a daily basis, attempts at harmonizing the religions have occurred. Take for example, the Bhagavad Gita,[3] or the Sufi school of Islam.

But the scale and speed of the present development is phenomenal. The present developments in the world, such as industrialization and globalization have brought huge swathes of people of different religions in close contact with one another. Till recently, people were confined to their geographies and did not interact much with people of another religion or country. Hence the clash of identities was never a serious issue. But, in the present age, the clash of identities has become a very serious issue. When we interact closely with people of other religions, regions, races, etc, a dilution of our identities occurs. These international interactions on an unprecedented scale have started bringing out deep insecurities in us. Hence, even the common man needs to be educated in this concept of harmony of religions, for his own survival, and for peace in the world.

For a long time in our world’s history, religion served an individual’s spiritual needs. Hence deep knowledge of the philosophy of one’s own religion or of other religions, or deep knowledge of the psychology of spiritual development of man was not necessary. Sri Ramakrishna says in a conversation: “Who can fully know the infinite God? And what need is there of knowing the Infinite? Having attained this rare human birth, my supreme need is to develop love for the Lotus Feet of God. If a jug of water is enough to remove my thirst, why should I measure the quantity of water in a lake? I become drunk on even half a bottle of wine – what is the use of my calculating the quantity of liquor in the tavern? What need is there of knowing the Infinite? [4] This attitude sufficed for a long time, when countries were not connected well, and the majority of people in the world lived their entire lives confined to their place of birth. Modern developments have brought enormous populations in contact with one another. Obviously, their identities clash and create a potentially dangerous situation. It was to address this urgent need of the present age that the compassionate Lord incarnated as Sri Ramakrishna and delivered this message of the harmony of religions.

Let us now try to answer the question we raised: How can we correct this inherent fault in our thinking? There are two ways in which this fault can be corrected, according to Sri Ramakrishna.

Let us look at the first method that Sri Ramakrishna prescribes for us to correct this inherent fault in us.

Genuine spiritual growth is required. Intellectual understanding is not religion. Experience alone is religion. In religion, experience comes by doggedly holding onto one particular aspect of God that appeals to us, and making that aspect real in our lives. Once we see God face-to-face, in that particular aspect, God will Himself clarify this issue for us. This is Sri Ramakrishna’s confirmed opinion. Let me read out a small passage from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna to you:[5]

With sincerity and earnestness one can realize God through all religions. The Vaishnavas will realize God, and so will the Saktas, the Vedantists, and the Brahmos. The Mussalmans and Christians will realize Him too. All will certainly realize God if they are earnest and sincere.

One can rightly speak of God only after one has seen Him. He who has seen God knows really and truly that God has form and that He is formless as well. He has many other aspects that cannot be described.

Once some blind men chanced to come near an animal that someone told them was an elephant. They were asked what the elephant was like. The blind men began to feel its body. One of them said the elephant was like a pillar; he had touched only its leg. Another said it was like a winnowing-fan; he had touched only its ear. In this way the others, having touched its tail or belly, gave their different versions of the elephant. Just so, a man who has seen only one aspect of God limits God to that alone. It is his conviction that God cannot be anything else.”

 (To the Goswami) “How can you say that the only truth about God is that He has form? It is undoubtedly true that God comes down to earth in a human form, as in the case of Krishna. And it is true as well that God reveals Himself to His devotees in various forms. But it is also true that God is formless; He is the Indivisible Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. He has been described in the Vedas both as formless and as endowed with form. He is also described there both as attributeless and as endowed with attributes.

Do you know what I mean? Satchidananda is like an infinite ocean. Intense cold freezes the water into ice, which floats on the ocean in blocks of various forms. Likewise, through the cooling influence of bhakti, one sees forms of God in the Ocean of the Absolute. These forms are meant for the bhaktas, the lovers of God. But when the Sun of Knowledge rises, the ice melts; it becomes the same water it was before. Water above and water below, everywhere nothing but water. Therefore a prayer in the Bhagavata says: ‘O Lord, Thou hast form, and Thou art also formless. Thou walkest before us, O Lord, in the shape of a man; again, Thou hast been described in the Vedas as beyond words and thought.’

But you may say that for certain devotees God assumes eternal forms. There are places in the ocean where the ice doesn’t melt at all. It assumes the form of quartz.

What a wonderful explanation this is! So simple and clear! We know so little and yet we make generalizations; and then we impose our faulty generalizations on others, who again are making the same mistake! So, there is no end of confusion. That is why Swamiji once said in a lecture,[6]When next you hear a man delivering great intellectual lectures against this worship of God, get hold of him and ask him what is his idea of God, what he means by ‘omnipotence’, and ‘omniscience’, and ‘omnipresent love’, and so forth, beyond the spelling of the words. He means nothing, he cannot formulate an idea, he is no better than the man in the street who has not read a single book. That man in the street, however, is quiet and does not disturb the world, while the other man’s arguments cause disturbance. He has no actual perception, and both are on the same Religion is realization, and you must make the sharpest distinction between talk and realization. What you perceive in your soul is realization.

In another lecture, Swamiji said,[7]Curiously enough the vast majority of mankind thinks, especially at the present time, that no such perception is possible in religion, that religion can only be apprehended by vain arguments. Therefore we are told not to disturb the mind by vain arguments. Religion is a question of fact, not of talk. We have to analyze our own souls and to find what is there. We have to understand it and to realize what is understood. That is religion. No amount of talk will make religion.

So, the first method of correcting the fault of religious disharmony in ourselves is to speak of only what we see, and not of what we know from reading, hearing, or thinking. How rightly Sri Ramakrishna points out, “One can rightly speak of God only after one has seen Him. He who has seen God knows really and truly that God has form and that He is formless as well. He has many other aspects that cannot be described.

Why does Sri Ramakrishna say that one can rightly speak of God only after one has seen Him? That is because, after seeing Him, we can, if we wish, ask Him what this confusion is all about, and He Himself will explain it to us! It is that simple. Unless God Himself explains the reason for this confusion among various religions, we will never be able to solve it among ourselves effectively. Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna highlights this point much more clearly:[8]

Devotee: Sir, why are there so many different opinions about the nature of God? Some say that God has form, while others say that He is formless. Again, those who speak of God with form tell us about His different forms. Why all this controversy?

Master: A devotee thinks of God as he sees Him. In reality there is no confusion about God. God explains all this to the devotee if the devotee only realizes Him somehow. You haven’t set your foot in that direction. How can you expect to know all about God?

Listen to a story. Once a man entered a wood and saw a small animal on a tree. He came back and told another man that he had seen a creature of a beautiful red color on a certain tree. The second man replied: ‘When I went into the wood, I also saw that animal. But why do you call it red? It is green.’ Another man who was present contradicted them both and insisted that it was yellow. Presently others arrived and contended that it was grey, violet, blue, and so forth and so on. At last they started quarrelling among themselves. To settle the dispute they all went to the tree. They saw a man sitting under it. On being asked, he replied: ‘Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well. All your descriptions are true. Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey, and so forth. It is a chameleon. And sometimes it has no color at all. Now it has a color, and now it has none.’ In like manner, one who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature; he alone knows that God reveals Himself to seekers in various forms and aspects. God has attributes; then again He has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can appear in various colors, and he knows, further, that the animal at times has no color at all. It is the others who suffer from the agony of futile argument. Kabir used to say, ‘The formless Absolute is my Father, and God with form is my Mother.’ God reveals Himself in the form which His devotee loves most. His love for the devotee knows no bounds. It is written in the Purana that God assumed the form of Rama for His heroic devotee, Hanuman.

 Elsewhere Sri Ramakrishna makes the same point in another context. The great Indian Freedom fighter Ashwini Kumar Sen wrote a letter to M, the chronicler of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, describing his interaction with Sri Ramakrishna, wherein he asks the Master:[9]

Myself: What is the difference between a Hindu and a Brahmo ?

Master: There is not much difference. In the serenade we have here, one flutist plays a single note right along, while another plays various melodies. The Brahmos play one note, as it were; they hold to the formless aspect of God. But the Hindus bring out different melodies; that is to say they enjoy God in His various aspects.

The formless Deity and God with form may be likened to water and ice. The water freezes into ice. The ice melts into water through the heat of jnana. Water takes the form of ice through the cooling influence of bhakti. The Reality is one. People give It various names. Take the case of a lake with four landing-ghats on its four banks. People who draw water at one ghat call it ‘jal’, and those who draw it at the second ghat call it ‘pani’. At the third ghat they call it ‘water’, and at the fourth, ‘aqua’. But it is one and the same thing water.

So the first method that Sri Ramakrishna gives us is to establish an intimate relation with the Living God. From God Himself we will learn that all religions are true.

There is another method. We can accept the discoveries of Sri Ramakrishna regarding the different religions, we can try to understand the variety in terms of the language developed by Vedanta and mould our lives according to those ideas. It is something similar to understanding the discoveries of the laws of motion by Isaac Newton; let us believe his discoveries; let us accept his discoveries; then we can put his discoveries to good use in our lives.

It will be a long time before we can ourselves achieve genuine spiritual experiences and assimilate those experiences. If we wait for that time, there is a danger that we will kill ourselves in the meantime over our differences! An intellectual knowledge of the discoveries of Sri Ramakrishna could easily avoid that terrible outcome.

It is impossible for us not to interact with people of different religions till we ourselves achieve genuine spiritual growth and learn directly from our experience that all religions are true. Hence we need to accept the conclusions of Sri Ramakrishna in this respect. The enormous documentation and universal access to information of the present age easily allow us to educate ourselves regarding the different religions, intellectually. Armed with that knowledge, against the background of Sri Ramakrishna’s discoveries, we can protect our Nishta, while avoiding fanaticism in our interactions with people all over the world.

The way the world is moving is alright. Religions and matters of this world have been effectively separated all over the world today. This separation will increase in the days to come. Secularism in the true sense will take hold over all people of this world. Democracy will take hold over all peoples of the world. Religion then will become a truly personal matter. Religion will help man to grow spiritually. And that inner growth he will be able to pour out in service to others.

The greatest help we get in this intellectual exercise is from Vedanta, according to Swami Vivekananda. He points out: In Vedanta the chief advantage is that it was not the work of one single man; and therefore, naturally, unlike Buddhism, or Christianity, or Mohammedanism, the prophet or teacher did not entirely swallow up or overshadow the principles. The principles live, and the prophets, as it were, form a secondary group, unknown to Vedanta. The Upanishads speak of no particular prophet, but they speak of various prophets and prophetesses. The old Hebrews had something of that idea; yet we find Moses occupying most of the space of the Hebrew literature. Of course I do not mean that it is bad that these prophets should take religious hold of a nation; but it certainly is very injurious if the whole field of principles is lost sight of. We can very much agree as to principles, but not very much as to persons. The persons appeal to our emotions; and the principles, to something higher, to our calm judgement. Principles must conquer in the long run, for that is the manhood of man. Emotions many times drag us down to the level of animals. Emotions have more connection with the senses than with the faculty of reason; and, therefore, when principles are entirely lost sight of and emotions prevail, religions degenerate into fanaticism and sectarianism. They are no better than party politics and such things. The most horribly ignorant notions will be taken up, and for these ideas thousands will be ready to cut the throats of their brethren. This is the reason that, though these great personalities and prophets are tremendous motive powers for good, at the same time their lives are altogether dangerous when they lead to the disregard of the principles they represent. That has always led to fanaticism, and has deluged the world in blood. Vedanta can avoid this difficulty, because it has not one special prophet. It has many Seers, who are called Rishis or sages; Seers — that is the literal translation — those who see these truths, the Mantras.[10]

 The intellectual exercise of practicing harmony of religions will start by separating the principles of spirituality from the personalities who preached them in each religion. Once we do this exercise, we immediately come face to face with a fact, which Swami Vivekananda calls ‘The Religion’, also known as ‘Universal Religion’. This Universal Religion is composed of only the most generalized principles corresponding to the fundamental nature of man, God, and the world. It is wholly impersonal. When seen intellectually, we find that there is only one Religion all over the world. When that One Religion is applied to different geographies, different communities, different races, different periods of time, we get the variety in the world religions. Hence Swami Vivekananda declared:

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.[11]

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[1] Why we disagree: Address at Parliament of Religions on 15th September, 1893

[2] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on March 11, 1883

[3] Cf: Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Thoughts on Gita: “It was the author of the Gita who for the first time tried to harmonize these. He took the best from what all the sects then existing had to offer and threaded them in the Gita. But even where Krishna failed to show a complete reconciliation (Samanvaya) among these warring sects, it was fully accomplished by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in this nineteenth century”

[4] Ibid: Entry on October 28, 1882

[5] Ibid: Entry on March 11, 1883

[6] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: The Teacher Of Spirituality

[7] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-2: Realization: (Delivered in London, 29th October 1896)

[8] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on October 28, 1882

[9] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Appendix-B: A Letter

[10] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-6: The Methods And Purpose Of Religion

[11] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-6: Epistles – Second Series: Written to Mohammed Sarfaraz Husain of Naini Tal from Almora on 10th June, 1898.

Power of imagination in Sādhana

This article deals with an important preparatory step for real meditation.

Sri Rāmakrishna continually conversed with the Divine Mother. To him, she was a living entity. He saw her, spoke to her just as a child speaks with its mother, had childish fights with her even! The Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna is an unparalleled book mainly because it faithfully records innumerable incidents from the daily life of this ‘Greatest of Avatāras’.

One of the purposes of an incarnation of God is to provide spiritual aspirants with mental and emotional props for their spiritual practices. Sādhana involves imagination. Purely fictitious imagination lacks power to engage us for long. Hence, an Avatāra provides us with situations, which we can use in our imagination. It is something similar to role-playing employed by teachers of history and literature. Avatāra energizes the spiritual environment of an epoch by providing situations for role-playing. In fact, this is the reason art, literature, poetry and music gets immense inspiration from the life of an Avatara.

The Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna is a very rich source of material for such imageries. Pure Consciousness assumed the form and personality of Sri Rāmakrishna and enacted innumerable human situations with his devotees. Some of these have been recorded in this book. We need to read those incidents. Then we need to put ourselves in the role of one of those devotees with whom Sri Rāmakrishna interacts, as described in this book. This creates a mood in us. We need to dwell in that mood for some time. This will form the content of our meditation. This kind of meditation is called ‘Līla Dhyāna’. This is one of the most powerful tools available for a spiritual aspirant. In fact, Swami Vivekānanda points out[1] that real meditation comes only by a sustained process of systematic imagination.

We cannot start our spiritual practice with meditation. It is not possible. This is because, meditation is the 7th step in a graded process of spiritual practice. It is preceded by a process called Dhārana. When the mind is limited and confined within a certain set of ideas, imageries, feelings and physical settings, it is called Dhārana. Try it out. Try to keep the mind confined to a certain set of ideas! It is almost impossible to do so beyond a few seconds in the beginning. Practice however enables us to do this for a few minutes. The greatest help in establishing Dhārana is imagination, says Swami Vivekānanda.[2]

The Vedāntic conception of the world is that it is nothing but imagination. There is a wonderful line of logical arguments to establish this conception. We need not go into that argument here. But, what follows from that conception is that our conception of our bondage is but imagination; and that our conception of spiritual practices to break free from that bondage is also imagination! So, one set of imagination will cure another set of imagination. Among the imaginations that cure us of our delusion, the greatest imagination is that of the Personal God, proclaims Swāmi Vivekānanda.[3] By Personal God is meant God with a name, form and a personality. With such God, we can interact, as persons. With the Impersonal God, how can we, as persons, interact?

Here, we may ask: If God is but imagination, then, where is truth in God, or efficacy in thinking about and meditating on God? Swāmi Yatīshwarananda points out that imagination can be of both the Real and the fictitious or Unreal; and imagination of God is actually imagination about the Real.[4] Therefore, thinking about God is really beneficial for our spiritual growth. Persons who are experts in this field have discovered that God, although an imagination in the final analysis, serves a great purpose in the evolution of the human soul. In fact, Swāmi Vivekānanda says categorically, that the Personal God can indeed be molded according to the imagination of each person.[5]

Meditation occurs only when the object of meditation is clearly visualized. When we say clearly visualized, what we mean is that the object has to be visualized as living. In order to achieve this state of visualization, we need to hone the skill of imagination. Swāmi Vivekānanda says, “The same faculty that we employ in dreams and thoughts, namely, imagination, will also be the means by which we arrive at Truth. When the imagination is very powerful, the object becomes visualized.” [6]

One important milestone in our spiritual practices is to bring alive the personality of Sri Rāmakrishna alive in our mind. The photograph of Sri Rāmakrishna is just a starting point. None of us have seen him when he lived. Hence, the photograph might be just a two dimensional picture for most of us to begin with. Gradually, we need to attach our feelings with that picture. The person, whose picture we see in the photograph, has to become living in our mind. That is why we need to weld that picture with the graphic instances recorded in the Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna, and invest them with our feelings. And we need to do this repeatedly, for a few minutes every day, for many years. The result will be truly amazing. For, our mind is indeed a most wonderful instrument.

As we noted earlier, the life of an Avatāra provides us with innumerable situations which can serve as effective imageries for sharpening our faculty of imagination. As a sample, we give below some incidents recorded in the Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna, which can be used in our daily practices by devotees of the Rāmakrishna Order.

  • Make him stainless: When it was dusk he returned to his room and sat down on the small couch. Soon he went into Samādhi and in that state began to talk to the Divine Mother. He said: “Mother, what is all this row about? Shall I go there? I shall go if You take me.” The Master was to go to a devotee’s house. Was it for this that he was asking the Divine Mother’s permission? Again he spoke to her, perhaps praying about an intimate disciple: “Mother, please make him stainless.[7]

I put myself in the role of a devotee present in that room. (It would be helpful if we have visited that room in the Dakshineswar Temple complex. Else, we can at least look at the Pictorial Biography of Sri Rāmakrishna where a good photograph of that room is given. This helps our imagination greatly.)

I can further imagine that I am that blessed devotee about whom Sri Rāmakrishna is praying to the Divine Mother. Sri Rāmakrishna himself is praying to the Mother of the Universe that I be made stainless! Can you imagine the efficacy of that prayer?

What happens when I become stainless? Elsewhere, Sri Rāmakrishna himself explains what this means: Weeping, I said to Her: “O Mother, protect me! Please make me stainless. Please see that my mind is not diverted from the Real to the unreal.”[8]

So, as a result of imagining that I am that devotee, regarding whom Sri Rāmakrishna supplicates to the Divine Mother that I be made stainless, my mind will get focused on the Real. This quality, my mind will start developing, as I progress with this imagination for an extended period of time.

  • Draw him to Thee: The evening worship began in the temples. The Master was seated on the small couch in his room, absorbed in meditation. He went into an ecstatic mood and said a little later: “Mother, please draw him to Thee. He is so modest and humble! He has been visiting Thee.” [9]

Sri Rāmakrishna went into Samādhi. His body was motionless. He remained in that state a long time. Gradually he came down to the consciousness of the outer world. Still in a spiritual mood, he began to talk, sometimes addressing the devotees, sometimes the Divine Mother. “Mother, please attract him to Thee.[10]

Just observe how Sri Rāmakrishna identifies some simple qualities in someone and recommends him to the Divine Mother! I need to put myself in the place of that devotee for whom Sri Rāmakrishna is putting in a strong recommendation! What are the qualities of that devotee? He is modest, humble and visits Sri Rāmakrishna often.

I imagine that I have these qualities in me; I sit before Sri Rāmakrishna as he sits on the small couch in an ecstatic mood. Then I imagine that he makes the request to the Divine Mother regarding me.

He doesn’t stop with just that one prayer. He knows that I really do not have those qualities such as modesty, humility, regularity and punctuality. Hence he further prays to the Divine Mother on my behalf, Mother, please attract him to Thee.

Who knew that the Divine Mother could attract people to herself, and that she actually did such a thing! Anyway, I am fortunate that Sri Rāmakrishna is himself praying on my behalf! I stay in that mood of feeling fortunate for some time.

  • Now and then: The evening worship was over in the temples. The Master returned to his room and sat on the couch, absorbed in meditation on the Divine Mother. M. sat on the floor. There was no one else in the room. The Master was in Samādhi. He began to come gradually down to the normal plane. His mind was still filled with the consciousness of the Divine Mother. In that state he was speaking to Her like a small child making importunate demands on his mother…The Master was weeping and praying to the Mother in a voice choked with emotion. He prayed to Her with tearful eyes for the welfare of the devotees: “Mother, may those who come to You have all their desires fulfilled! But please don’t make them give up everything at once, Mother. Well, You may do whatever You like in the end. If You keep them in the world, Mother, then please reveal Yourself to them now and then. Otherwise, how will they live? How will they be encouraged if they don’t see You once in a while? But You may do whatever You like in the end.” [11]

I imagine the ambience in the room when Sri Rāmakrishna is in Samādhi. There is a palpable pressure on my entire being. My own breathing has slowed down perceptibly. I look intensely at him. He is not breathing. His face has an unbelievable glow, eyes half-opened and transfixed, focused on nothing in particular. I remain in this incredible atmosphere for some time.

Then he starts coming down to the normal plane. The return to normalcy is not fast. It is haltering. Clear changes are visible in his personality with each step he takes towards becoming normal.

Then I imagine him making an amazing prayer to the Divine Mother. I imagine I too am one of the devotees for whom that unprecedented prayer was made!

  • Human relations: Sri Rāmakrishna was sitting on the small couch in his room. Rākhāl, M., and, several other devotees were present. The Master, in a happy mood, became engaged in conversation with a fair complexioned young man: “Be on friendly terms with your brothers. It looks well. You must have noticed in your theatrical performance that if four singers sing each in a different way, the play is spoiled.” [12]

I am the young man to whom Sri Rāmakrishna is speaking. Rākhāl, M and some others too are in the room and looking on. I am the center of attention of the Greatest of Avatāras! Those eyes are riveting; extreme concern for my well-being is oozing out of those eyes. That voice is the sweetest I can ever imagine.

And what is he saying to me? “Be on friendly terms with your brothers. It looks well. You must have noticed in your theatrical performance that if four singers sing each in a different way, the play is spoiled.”

Whatever be the situation we are in, we live among other people. A large number of our problems in life arise due to lack of proper understanding among ourselves. A sweet relation between us creates a social homeostasis, allowing us to concentrate our time and energies on our spiritual practices.

Recall the words of Jesus in the Bible: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”[13] “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”[14] “How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye.”[15]

  • The divine touch-1: Sri Rāmakrishna then went to Adhar’s house. M., Rākhāl, and other devotees were present. He sat down, still in an ecstatic mood. The Master said to Adhar, “My son, meditate on the Deity whose name you chanted.” With these words he touched Adhar’s tongue with his finger and wrote something on it.[16]

I put myself in the place of Adhar. Sri Rāmakrishna has come to my room. I see that he is still in a semi-conscious state. A beautiful smile is playing on his lips. he sits down on a chair in my room.

Once I am able to imagine this scene clearly, I then imagine him telling me, “My son, meditate on the Deity whose name you chanted.” I had been chanting his name. I have just finished doing Japa of my Ishta mantra. He now tells me that he is not a human being like me, but a divine being. He is a deity. I, however, see him to be just like me, a human being, but, he himself tells me this. I recall Swāmi Vivekānanda mentioning in the Math Rules, “The Lord has not yet given up the Ramakrishna form.” This is what Swamiji meant. Even as I hear Sri Rāmakrishna tell me these words, I immediately become aware that I do not understand what he means. What does he mean he is a divine being? I do not understand anything other than a human being.

That is when he suddenly gets up, comes towards me, presses my cheeks whereby my mouth opens and I instinctively throw out my tongue. He writes something on my tongue with his finger (I can’t make out which finger he uses). I am in a haze. But that touch was magical! I feel a tremendous joy welling up within me. I remain in that state for some time.

  • The divine touch-2: It was evening and the worship in the temples was over. Mahimācharan, Rākhāl, and M. were in the room. Adhar sat on the floor with the devotees. The Master said to him, “Please stroke here gently.” Adhar sat on the end of the couch and gently stroked Sri Rāmakrishna’s feet.[17]

I again put myself in Adhar’s place. I am sitting on the floor in Sri Rāmakrishna’s room.

He is reclining on his small couch, with his head and upper back resting on a cylindrical bolster. His feet are pointed towards me, while his head is slightly turned to his right side, and hence he is able to see me. There is the sweet scent of incense in the room.

All of a sudden, he asks me to stroke his feet gently.

I get up, go to his couch, sit down on the edge of his couch, and start pressing his feet. I first press his right foot, from the knee-cap down to his ankle. Then I switch to his left foot. I notice that he has very little hair on his legs. The color of the skin on his legs is uniform. There is very little flesh in his calves. The bones are easily felt. When I go on pressing like this, I hear his breathing, which is even; he seems to be drifting into a light sleep. I continue pressing his feet for some time.

  • Our real identity: Master (To M., pointing to Baburām): “You see, my own people have become strangers; Rāmlal and my other relatives seem to be foreigners. And strangers have become my own. Don’t you notice how I tell Baburām to go and wash his face? The devotees have become relatives.[18]

 

  • Complete your studies: Again for a few moments all sat in silence. Master (to Narendra, smiling): “Won’t you continue your studies? [19]

It was dusk. Sri Rāmakrishna was sitting in his room, absorbed in contemplation of the Divine Mother. Now and then he was chanting her name. Rākhāl, Adhar, M., and several other devotees were with him. Master to M: “Tell me, does Baburām intend to continue his studies? I said to him, ‘Continue your studies to set an example to others.’ After Sitā had been set free, Bibhīshana refused to become king of Ceylon. Rāma said to him: ‘You should become king to open the eyes of the ignorant. Otherwise they will ask you what you have gained as a result of serving me. They will be pleased to see you acquire the kingdom.’” [20]

Students can very nicely identify with this imagery.

A Swāmi of our Order used to tell us when we were young, that the first thing a boy does when he comes in contact with Rāmakrishna Mission is lose interest in his academic studies! A strong tradition seems to have been set by the direct disciples themselves, it seems.

Young boys however do face a real conflict within, between engaging themselves in spiritual practices such as Japa, dhyāna, adhyayana, etc. and completing their school and college studies. This conflict can be resolved by using this powerful visual and auditory imagery.

  • Brahmacharya in married life: Master: “Bhavanāth is married; but he spends the whole night in spiritual conversation with his wife. The couple passes their time talking of God alone: I said to him, ‘Have a little fun with your wife now and then.’ ‘What?’ he retorted angrily. ‘Shall we too indulge in frivolity?’” [21]

This is an essential imagery for married persons, who have a strong urge to practice Sādhana. All these words are uttered by Sri Rāmakrishna. We need to dwell on the sense of approval in his tone when he is telling these words. Sri Rāmakrishna is very happy, it is apparent in his voice, when he reproduces Bhavanāth’s angry retort, “Shall we too indulge in frivolity?

Elsewhere, Sri Rāmakrishna had told us that husband and wife should live like brother and sister after the birth of a couple of children. Here we have Bhavanāth demonstrating that teaching in reality. What was Bhavanāth’s state of mind when Sri Rāmakrishna teased him about having a little fun with his wife? We need to dwell on that incredible state of Bhavanāth’s mind. How did he get to develop such a state of mind?

We find the hint in another scene in the Gospel:

In the afternoon Bhavanāth arrived. Rākhāl, M., Harish, and other devotees were in the room. Master (to Bhavanāth): “To love an Incarnation of God – that is enough.”[22]

            We should imagine Sri Rāmakrishna telling us these words. “To love and Incarnation of God – that is enough.” Enough for what? And enough for whom? Loving an Avatāra is enough for all of us, married or monastic; for our spiritual growth.

Sri Rāmakrishna is revealing a great secret here. When he spoke such secrets, the entire atmosphere in that room would become intense! Our entire soul recognizes the value of those words. We must love Sri Rāmakrishna. That is enough for us.

 

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[1]Meditation, you know, comes by a process of imagination.” Complete Works: Vol-4: Lectures and Discourses: Meditation

[2]When the Chitta, or mind-stuff, is confined and limited to a certain place it is Dharana. This Dharana is of various sorts, and along with it, it is better to have a little play of the imagination.”: Complete Works: Vol-1: Raja-Yoga: Ch-VI: Pratyahara and Dharana

[3] “Some imaginations help to break the bondage of the rest. The whole universe is imagination, but one set of imaginations will cure another set. Those that tell us that there is sin and sorrow and death in the world are terrible. But the other set — thou art holy, there is God, there is no pain —these are good, and help to break the bondage of the others. The highest imagination that can break all the links of the chain is that of the Personal God.”: Complete Works: Vol-5: Notes from Lectures and Discourses: On Bhakti-Yoga

[4] What is the immediate goal? To get in touch with the Reality. Whatever we call real draws our whole being. So it is most essential for us to have a clear conception of what Reality is. The goal and the path must be real. Even our imaginations must be about the Real. Meditation & Spiritual Life: Pg: 644

[5] In the same man the mother sees a son, while the wife at the same time sees differently with different results. The wicked see in God wickedness. The virtuous see in Him virtue. He admits of all forms. He can be moulded according to the imagination of each person. Water assumes various shapes in various vessels. But water is in all of them. Hence all religions are true.: Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Notes Taken Down In Madras, 1892-93

[6] Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Lessons On Raja-Yoga

[7] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Pg: 283

[8] Ibid: Pg: 895

[9] Ibid: Pg: 160

[10] Ibid: Pg: 741

[11] Ibid: Pg: 381

[12] Ibid: Pg: 428

[13] New Testament: John 4:20

[14] Ibid: John 4:21

[15] Ibid: Matthew 7:4

[16] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Pg: 273

[17] Ibid: Pg: 387

[18] Ibid: Pg: 380

[19] Ibid: Pg: 935

[20] Ibid: Pg: 458

[21] Ibid: Pp: 715-716

[22] Ibid: Pg: 356

Rewriting Indian history

Honorable Minister for Culture, Government of India, Sri Mahesh Sharma, recently announced[1] that a committee had been formed comprising of 14 bureaucrats and academic scholars, headed by Sri K N Dikshit, that aimed at rewriting ‘certain portions’ of Indian history. This announcement has stirred a hornet’s nest and reactions have been really sharp and divided in the academic circles.

We believe that the effort is indeed laudable and most urgently needed. However, the agenda for such a momentous task needs to be as broad and comprehensive as this nation itself, if the efforts should not run into a cul-de-sac like the previous myopic attempts at writing Indian history by the various schools of communist, sub-altern, imperialist or nationalist historians.

Isn’t it a happy coincidence that this decision of writing an ‘Indian version’ of Indian history should gain momentum in the very period when we are celebrating Sister Nivedita’s 150th birth anniversary? We cannot fail to point this out to our readers because it was Nivedita who was the first person in recent times to recognize the urgent necessity for such an attempt. Swami Vivekananda had taught her, “…whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor to his nation.[2] If a person has a true, undiluted, unbiased, unprejudiced version of one’s national past, it is easier to develop a solid self-image of oneself along national lines.

But let us remind ourselves here that the collection and collation of facts, discerning of the cause and the effect from a study of those facts, and uncovering the historical forces acting on the people of India, must be true, uncolored by biases, uncolored by a hidden agenda of conforming to a pet theory of history, be it the left-wing theory or the right-wing one! That is indeed a mighty task, and calls for great refinement of our faculties.

Anyway, following in Swamiji’s footsteps, Sister Nivedita pointed out that “India herself is the master document[3] which we have to read in order to know Indian history. She wrote, “The country is her own record. She is the history that we must learn to read.[4] This clearly means that learning how to read India is an exercise that involves a specific method. Nivedita wanted aspiring historians to decipher “the Indian idea of India[5]. It is impossible to understand an Indian idea in terms of non-Indian concepts.[6]

 “In all that lies around us…, we may, if our eyes are open, read the story of the past.[7] The proper way of understanding Indian history, according to Nivedita, is through travel: “If India itself be the book of Indian history, it follows that travel is the true means of reading that history.[8] An important component of Nivedita’s historical thinking was the intimate connection she saw between geography and the history of place, especially the layered histories of ancient cities. She said that “History must be viewed geographically, and geography historically”.[9] Once we invoke geography to serve the cause of history, (something which has not been done till now by any school of history), it immediately becomes clear that a notion of territorial and civilizational identity was already present in pre-colonial India. It was a result of stable geographical boundaries, busy pilgrimage routes and destinations spread across the length and breadth of the country, vibrant ancient cities that acted as centers of culture, and great political empires. In other words, the unity of India was not a gift of British rule as many British imperialist historians liked to claim.

One of the key features of Indian nationhood is diversity. A true historian will have to get initiated into the unique dynamics that exist between diversity and unity in the Indian context. Sister Nivedita writes: “…India is and always has been a synthesis. No amount of analysis – racial, lingual, or territorial – will ever amount in the sum to the study of India…all the parts of a whole are not equal to the whole.[10] In other words, India as a nation is not merely the sum of different regions professing separate identities; the whole has a life of its own. There has been a national cohesion—a synthesis—as a result of historical processes. According to Nivedita, the task before the historian is precisely this, “… apart from and above, all the fragments which must be added together to make India, we have to recognize India herself, all-containing, all-dominating, moulding and shaping the destinies and the very nature of the elements out of which she is composed…No Indian province has lived unto itself, pursuing its own development, following its own path, going its way unchallenged and alone.[11]

Nivedita held European treatises on Western History in high regard because of their method — ‘the connectedness of the treatment of each life with others’ is what she appreciated most in these works. But she lamented about the history of India written during her times, “In Indian History, such a point of view is conspicuous by its absence. Some writers are interested in Buddhist India (if indeed we have any right to employ such a term) and some in various stages of Mahratta or Sikh or Indo-Islamic History or what not. But who has caught the palpitation of the Indian heart-beat through one and all of these? It is ‘India’ that makes Indian History glorious.[12]

We hope and pray that this commendable attempt by the present Government of India fulfils these heartfelt expectations of the great Sister Nivedita.

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[1] NDTV Newsdesk (with inputs from Reuters) on 6th March 2018: (web edition)

[2] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Reply to the address of Maharaja of Khetri

[3] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: Some problems on Indian research:

[6] Recall how Swamiji famously said “I would not translate this word Shraddha to you; it would be a mistake.” : Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda:Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Reply to address of welcome at Calcutta:

[7] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’

[8] Ibid.

[9] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Hints on National Education in India: ‘The Future Education of the Indian Women’.

[10] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’

[11] Ibid.

[12] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Hints on National Education in India: ‘A note on historical research’.

Addictive power of digital technology

Have you noticed how our children are getting addicted to smartphones recently? Parents and teachers are at their wits’ end dealing with this growing specter.

Psychologists are conducting researches on the impact of smartphones on teenage brains. Studies have found that a Class-8 student’s risk for depression spikes 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Kids who use their phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal. And recent research has found the teen suicide rate in the US now eclipses the homicide rate, with smartphones as the driving force.[1]

Educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, co-authors of the recent book ‘Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber’ observe that, strangely, the two biggest tech figures in recent history – Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – seldom let their kids play with the very products they helped create. What is it these wealthy tech executives know about their own products that their consumers don’t? According to a growing body of evidence, it is the addictive power of digital technology.

In 2007, Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. Steve Jobs, who was the CEO of Apple, revealed in a 2011 New York Times interview that he prohibited his kids from using the newly-released iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs had told reporter Nick Bilton.[2]

Clement and Miles make the case that wealthy Silicon Valley parents seem to grasp the addictive powers of smartphones, tablets, and computers more than the general public does – despite the fact that these parents often make a living by creating and investing in that technology. More interestingly, the authors point out that some of the best schools in USA (Waldorf School & Brightworks School) still teach using chalk and pencil, without the deleterious impact of digital technology on their students!

Technology is always disruptive. Training is needed to employ any new technology beneficially.

Consider, for instance, Nuclear Technology. It developed during World War II. USA, UK & Canada formed the Manhattan Project to research nuclear fission. This Project had two outcomes. The 1st outcome was the atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima & Nagasaki and ended the 2nd World War. The 2nd outcome was a controlled nuclear reactor. The bomb came in 1945 and the reactor in 1951. The damaging aspect of the technology came 1st and then, slowly mankind learned how to put the technology to beneficial use. Today we have nuclear power generating stations, nuclear powered ships and submarines, and nuclear medicines that can fight Cancer. The same technology that gave us the devastating atomic bombs also helps us fight cancer today! Who is to decide whether nuclear technology is harmful or beneficial, per se?

Unless a new technology is accompanied by sufficient training, it can indeed be harmful. But, with the right kind of training, any new technology can be a great boon. Same holds good for digital technology too.

The marriage of personal computers, mobile telephony and blogging has unleashed unprecedented power into our hands today. Where is the requisite training to go along with it?

In this context, what indeed is the content of training to be imparted to students? Bradley Busch[3], noted psychologist, explains it is ‘Self-control’.

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[1] https://www.businessinsider.in/Bill Gates and Steve Jobs shared a surprising philosophy about tech and it should have been a big red flag/articleshow/61192216.cms

[2] Cf: British online newspaper: ‘The Independent’ on 24th Feb 2016.

[3] Bradley Busch is a Registered Psychologist, Director at Inner-Drive and Author of ‘Release Your Inner Drive’. You can follow Busch @Inner_Drive on Twitter. See his masterly article on ‘Lessons from Research’ in the Feb 2018 issue of The Guardian for more details.

Self-Control & Student Success

Education may be the most important thing in a young person’s life, but, when faced with yet another lecture or homework assignment, nearly all students in one survey said they wished they were doing something else. This, according to a new article in the December issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggests that succeeding at “studenting” may require as much self-control as intelligence, student-freedom and joyful learning.

This study is extremely important since it flies in the face of the ideas of Education we have adopted in India for over a decade now – the idea of making the entire learning process ‘stress-free’ for the child!

Everyone’s been in this situation, where you’ve got this piece of chocolate cake in front of you and you don’t really want to eat it but you’re so compelled to, and I think students feel this way all the time with their work,” said co-author Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania known for her research on “grit” as a pathway to achievement.

In a pair of longitudinal studies following 304 eighth-graders, Duckworth and her colleagues measured students’ self-control through self-reports, questionnaires completed by parents and teachers, and a set of behavioral delay-of-gratification tasks. Based on these scores, they found that, similar to IQ, students who were rated highly for self-control also earned higher grades and standardized test scores. Unlike IQ, however, higher self-control was also predictive of fewer school absences, less procrastination, more time spent studying, and less time spent watching television.

Duckworth, who taught middle school math before becoming a university professor, said these findings aligned with her own time in the classroom.

Kids actually want to do well,” Duckworth said. “I’ve never met a kid who wants to do worse, but not all of them were able to align their behavior with studying, with homework, with paying attention in class.”

On a larger scale, a study of 1,000 students in New Zealand found that ratings of self-control in childhood were just as predictive of a person’s financial security, income, physical and mental health, substance use, and criminal convictions later in life as intelligence or socioeconomic status were.

While self-control can be grouped with conscientiousness, a Big Five personality trait, it also stands as a unique behavioral measure that may contribute to a person’s overall success.

Self-control exists on the timescale of minutes, Duckworth explained, allowing someone to resist the everyday temptations of texting in class or hitting the snooze button in the morning, whereas grit may provide the persevering passion required to accomplish long-term goals such as winning a National Contest or attending your college of choice.

Encouraging conscientious behaviors isn’t as simple as telling students to “just use some self-control,” however. Duckworth said she is most excited about the use of situational modifications that make the temptation to neglect schoolwork less powerful – for example turning off your cellphone, or even leaving it in another room, to avoid distracting texts.

Thinking about ways to avoid these conflicts strategically seems much more efficient and less torturous over time,” she said.

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References

  1. Duckworth, A. L., and M. E. P. Seligman. “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents.” Psychological Science, vol. 16, no. 12, Jan. 2005, pp. 939–944.
  1. Duckworth, Angela L., and Martin E. P. Seligman. “The Science and Practice of Self-Control.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 12, no. 5, 1 Sept. 2017, pp. 715–718.
  1. Galla B. M., Rikoon S. H., Haimm C. A., Duckworth A. (2016). Explaining the phenomenology of self-control conflict. Manuscript in preparation.
  1. Moffitt T. E., Arseneault L., Belsky D., Dickson N., Hancox R. J., Harrington H. L., Caspi A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108, 2693–2698.

 

Pocket Ventilator

We have…to gain a little in material knowledge …in bringing the best results out of the smallest of causes…some sort of materialism, toned down to our own requirements, would be a blessing to many of our brothers who are not yet ripe for the highest truths.”[1]The Western people will…be your Guru regarding practical sciences …for the improvement of material conditions, and the people of our country will be their Guru in everything pertaining to religion.[2]If we are to live at all, we must be a scientific nation.[3] Such was the prophetic vision of Swami Vivekananda.

Recently, a 25-year old Robotic Engineer from Delhi Sri Diwakar Vaish, has developed a ventilator, in collaboration with Dr Deepak Agarwal, Professor of Neuroscience at AIIMS, New Delhi. This ventilator is the smallest, as well as the cheapest one in the world! It is almost 450 times smaller than the conventional ones. It is as small as a cellphone and can slip into one’s pocket. When this pocket device hits the market after clinical trials and approval from Drug Controller General of India, it is estimated to cost between Rs. 15,000 to 20,000.

A traditional ventilator costs Rs. 5 lakhs to Rs. 15 lakhs. The cheapest portable one available in the market today costs between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh. An FDA-approved disposable ventilator costs between Rs 10,000 and 15,000, but it has a maximum life of four weeks. Most of these presently available ventilators require oxygen cylinders which cost about Rs. 4,000 per day.

This pocket ventilator will run on room air, and not oxygen. Hence the operational costs are close to zero. Traditional ventilators use oxygen cylinders. Disposable ventilators however use room air, but they push it into the lungs at a fixed frequency that does not necessarily match the patient’s breathing pattern, which may cause oxygen saturation. Controlled with an Android App, this device uses an Artificial Intelligence algorithm to adjust and synchronize air supply to normal breathing pattern of a patient.

Thousands of critically-ill patients live in hospitals today in our country, because the family cannot afford to buy a portable ventilator. Presently, India faces a huge shortage of ventilator beds needed to support critically-ill patients who cannot breathe on their own. According to norms, at least 10% of all hospital should have ventilators, but we are way too short of the demand. Nine out of ten patients, barring the ones with severe lung problems, can breathe in the normal atmospheric air because the problem is in their diaphragm, not lungs. For the 10% who need more oxygen, the pocket ventilator can also be hooked to an oxygen-supply system. This device can work on the normal power connection and comes with an additional battery backup for a couple of hours. For remote areas, it will come with additional battery for 12 hours.

It is cheap and affordable for hospitals and individuals. This will reduce shortage of ventilators in hospitals. It can reach the remotest areas for healthcare. People with paralysis can be wheeled with the ventilator. Shortage of oxygen or disruption of oxygen supply will no longer be an issue.

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[1] CW: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Reply To The Address Of Welcome At Ramnad

[2] CW: Vol-5: Conversations and Dialogues: VI: Shri Priya Nath Sinha

[3] CW: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Notes Taken Down In Madras: 1892-93

National Policy-making

The most important quality a National Policy-maker needs is Insight; insight into the future. Where will we be 50 years from now, if we implement this policy today? This ability to look into the future is the most valuable asset of a National Policy-maker. When we ourselves don’t have that ability to a marked degree, we may call in those that do have that insight and profit from their super-sense. Introspection is another quality indispensable for Policy-makers. What is promoting a particular idea or option? This idea should constantly echo in the Policy-maker’s mind.

We are talking in particular about India’s plan for all-electric cars by 2030. The Indian Auto Industry was taken by surprise after the Government announced last year that the entire Auto Industry would go electric by the turn of 2030. The announcement came on the heels of the Government skipping one stage in pollution standards, and advancing the introduction of BS-VI fuel by two years.

Mercedes-Benz India MD & CEO Roland Folger was talking to PTI in a freewheeling interaction recently[1], in which he urged the Government “not to rush with the all-electric vehicles push” and thus “foreclose better technological options” for future generations, as the rest of the world is racing to run on hydrogen, and not electricity.

Calling for better and coordinated efforts, Mr Folger said, “Ideally, regulators and policymakers should be totally aligned with what’s happening on the technology front because 5-10 years is a short period in the Auto landscape. The least policymakers can do is to take the Auto Industry into confidence.”

Pointing out that the time frame announced to go all electric is very short, given the very long-term nature of the Auto Industry, he said this would mean that all Auto Companies stop investing in or developing any more products.

“If so what will happen to the investments already made in other technologies? Our planners should know that over the next two decades or so the whole world will be driving hydrogen cars and not electric cars,” Mr Folger said.

On the huge financial burden the plan would be on the nation, he wondered whether the Government has thought about this aspect before arriving at this decision.

“Can the Government invest hundreds of billions of dollars into setting up charging stations and associated infrastructure? If not, then who will foot the bill? Definitely not the private sector! If at all Government manages to raise funds, is it worth the effort in terms of meeting the key objective of bringing down pollution?” he asked.

In fact, Mr Folger thinks that the move would be “more counter-productive in terms of additional power demand, as you are still building and supporting thermal power plants.”

“Yes, with the current coal-based power generation model, this would be more polluting as demand for electricity will jump manifold. Or do we have the finances to upgrade all our old thermal plants? Or can we go completely off polluting coal plants? If yes, what is the cost that such a plan will entail?” he wondered.

As a way out, Mr Folger suggested “plug-in hybrids” as the best option for the country despite such vehicles being costlier than e-cars.

“Yes plug-in hybrids are more costly than e-cars. But if we consider the cumulative cost of putting up nationwide infrastructure in terms of charging stations and other supporting infra for electrification, plug-in hybrids are more affordable,” he said.

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[1] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/mercedes-benz-india-chief-roland-folger-plan-for-all-electric-cars-by-2030-not-viable-1791725#pt0-219865; dated 24th Dec 2017