Swamiji’s message at the Parliament of Religions – its implications

What were the implications of Swami Vivekananda’s historic speeches at Chicago Parliament of Religions?

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Introduction:

Swami Vivekananda became world-renowned almost overnight on 11th Sept 1893. He spoke for a few minutes at the inaugural session of the Parliament of World Religions at Chicago. His reply to the welcome catapulted him to instant world-recognition. We ask why? What did that address contain? What was the content of his speech? Was the content of his speech responsible for his fame?

The reason for raising this issue is two-fold.

One, it has been seen recently that there is an upsurge in Hindu religion, especially in the form of Hindutva. This new form of Hinduism claims to be the custodian of the entire Religion of Hinduism. And more importantly, they quote Swami Vivekananda extensively, albeit very selectively, and in many cases, out of context. Many people, both within India and in the rest of the world as well, are confused about this development. A mega event was organized recently at Westin Hotel in Chicago by the World Hindu Foundation, the global wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).[1] The entire event, which was highly publicized, was purportedly organized to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Swamiji’s Chicago lectures. The rabble-rousing that followed was covered by most important news channels. One of the important speakers went on record calling all non-Hindus living in India as dogs![2] So, is such the content of this great monk’s lectures in Chicago, 125 years ago? The organizers of the WHF are very clear that they derive Hindutva, or their version of rejuvenated Hinduism, directly from the message of Swami Vivekananda. Recently, we saw a Govt approved textbook in Maharashtra mentioning that Swami Vivekananda wanted us to show the killer instinct towards people of other faiths![3] While the Swamiji’s Chicago lectures are famous for proclaiming to the world the message of Harmony of Religions, the Hindutva movement claims the same Swamiji’s message to be the fount of their version of Hinduism. The cognitive dissonance of these two developments is not lost on most people. We need to clarify these developments.

Two, what exactly are the implications of the message given by Swamiji through his Chicago lectures? This question assumes importance because 125 years after Swamiji delivered the life-giving message of Harmony of Religions at Chicago, have the different religions of the world become harmonious with one another? If not, what indeed is the impact of those lectures?

The actual event:

On 11th September 1893, Swami Vivekananda spoke at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago. It was a brief speech, actually a formal response to the welcome accorded to him and other speakers. It was not even a detailed, scholarly exposition of Hinduism. It was extempore. Yet, it was that short speech that catapulted this unknown Hindu monk into world renown, literally overnight! We know that he had addressed his audience as ‘Sisters & brothers of America’.

The gist of his opening speech[4] was as follows:

He thanked the organizers and the audience in the name of the most ancient Order of monks in the world, in the name of the mother of all religions of the world, and in the name of the millions & millions of the Hindu people of all classes and sects. He informed the gathered audience that he would be speaking the next few days about a religion that had taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. He proclaimed that he was proud to belong to a nation that had sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the world. He told the audience that he and his Hindu people believed that just as all the rivers having different sources of origin, mingle in the same water of the sea, so all religions in spite of the differences in their origin and methods lead to the same God. He ended by fervently hoping that the bells that tolled that morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism and of all persecutions by word or deed.

What actually happened?

It is recorded from multiple sources that the audience had gone into frenzy over this little speech. The audience of about 4000 people had risen to its feet and had clapped their hands in joy for full two minutes![5] What exactly was the reason for this kind of reception? Was it the content of the speech? As can be seen from the synopsis given above, the speech had no substantial content. He would, of course, be elaborating on those ideas in the days to come; but the reply to the welcome address had no such content worth applauding. Yet, these few words had done something deep inside the American psyche, and the next day, every major newspaper heralded the birth of a new prophet, so to speak.

Ida Ansell, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda notes in her diary[6]: “One day, he (Swami Vivekananda) said this startling thing to us: ‘In my first speech in this country, in Chicago, I addressed that audience as “Sisters and Brothers of America,” and you know that they all rose to their feet. You may wonder what made them do this, you may wonder if I had some strange power. Let me tell you that I did have a power and this is it – never once in my life did I allow myself to have even one sexual thought. I trained my mind, my thinking, and the powers that man usually uses along that line I put into a higher channel, and it developed a force so strong that nothing could resist it.’”

So, what actually led to the incredible reception by the American audience of Swamiji was this aspect of his personality. It was not just the content of his brief speech. We are not alluding that the content of his address was ordinary or commonplace. But, we need to get the facts right.

The world today remembers that Swamiji said something about the harmony of religions in that inaugural session and we all believe that the message was responsible for his unprecedented fame. The audience of that day, 11th Sept 1893, at the Columbus Hall of the Art Institute of Chicago, however, felt something totally different. We must try to imagine that moment, that situation, that presence. When this young man, dressed strangely, stood up to speak, the audience instinctively felt something. We do not have a word to describe that feeling. We use the word ‘holiness’ to designate all those feelings. Everyone in that Hall instinctively felt his immaculate purity of personality. The printed word available today does not convey that experience. Purity of character is what connects the speaker with his audience at the deepest level. It is not his words, nor the syntax of his lecture. It is the purity of his personality.

Sister Christine, another disciple of Swamiji, writes the following in her reminiscences[7]: When asked what preparation he (Swamiji) made for speaking, he told us none – but neither did he go unprepared. He said that usually before a lecture he heard a voice saying it all. The next day he repeated what he had heard. He did not say whose voice he heard. Whatever it was, it came as the expression of some great spiritual power, greater than his own normal power, released by the intensity of his concentration. This may have been quite unconscious. No written words can convey the vitality, the power, the majesty that came with his spoken words. What might happen to one’s ideas, values, personality, if this current of power were let loose upon them! It was great enough to move the world, let alone one little human personality, which was but as a straw upon its mighty current. It was force that could sweep everything before it. Old ideas would change, the purposes and aims of life, its values would change, old tendencies would be directed into a new channel, the entire personality would be transmuted.

What was it which emanated from him which all felt and none could explain? Was it the ojas of which he so often spoke, that mysterious power which comes when the physical forces of the body are transmuted into spiritual power? When this happens, man has at his command a power so great that it can move the world. Every word that he utters is charged. One who possesses it may say only a few sentences, but they will be potent until the end of time, while the orator who lacks it may ‘speak with the tongue of men and of angels’, but it is as nothing, ‘as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.’

Something of this power is lost in the written word, as those know well who were fortunate enough to hear Vivekananda speak. The spiritual force generated at such times was so great that some in the audience were lifted above the normal state of consciousness, so that it was possible to remember only the beginning of a lecture. After a certain point, there seemed to be a blank. The normal mind was no longer functioning: a higher state of consciousness, beyond reason and memory, had taken its place. Long after, perhaps, it would be found that during that period when the mind seemed blank, a specially deep impression had been made.

This power that a mere human being can have over others is something that is not much understood. We are all in awe of such a person of power, but, this phenomenon has been not studied at all. Swamiji himself explained this amazing phenomenon to his disciples and Sister Christine notes the following in her reminiscences[8]: There is a connection between great spirituality and chastity. The explanation is that these men and women have through prayer and meditation transmuted the most powerful force in the body into spiritual energy. In India this is well understood and yogis do it consciously. The force so transmuted is called ojas and is stored up in the brain. It has been lifted from the lowest center of the kundalini — the muladhara to the highest. To us who listened the words came to our remembrance: ‘And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.’

In the same eager way he went on to explain that whenever there was any manifestation of power or genius, it was because a little of this power had escaped up the sushumna. And did he say it? Or did we come to see for ourselves the reason why the Avataras and even lesser ones could inspire a love so great that it made the fishermen of Galilee leave their nets and follow the young Carpenter, made the princes of the clan of Shakya give up their robes, their jewels, their princely estates? It was the divine drawing. It was the lure of divinity.

How touchingly earnest Swami Vivekananda was as he proposed this subject! He seemed to plead with us as if to beg us to act upon this teaching as something most precious. More, we could not be the disciples he required if we were not established in this. He demanded a conscious transmutation. “The man who had no temper has nothing to control,” he said. “I want a few, five or six who are in the flower of their youth.”

The perspective of the message:

In 1919, after Durga Puja, Swami Keshavananda came to Jayrambati from Koalpara to pay his respects to Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi. In course of their conversation, Keshavananda asked her, “Mother, was it for the establishment of the harmony of religions that the Master came this time?” Holy Mother replied, “Look, my son, it never occurred to me that the Master practiced all religions with the intention of preaching the harmony of religions. He was always absorbed in God-consciousness. The way the Christians, Muslims, and the Vaishnavas practice spiritual disciplines and realize God, the Master also practiced those paths in the same way, and thus he enjoyed the divine play of God in various ways. He was completely oblivious of how days and nights would pass. But you see, my son, in this present age he set the ideal of renunciation. How many people recognize him as God? People were attracted to his renunciation. Only a few in his inner circle realize him as God. Has anyone ever witnessed such natural renunciation? What you have mentioned about the harmony of religions is also true. In every incarnation, a particular ideal is emphasized and other ideals remain dormant.[9]

We quote this amazing conversation between Swami Keshavananda and Holy Mother because the popular perception is that Harmony of Religions is the central message of Swami Vivekananda, and hence of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna, to the modern world. In fact, the Chicago addresses are synonymous with that message of harmony. This conversation lends the right perspective to this perception.

Holy Mother’s words are very deep. She says that Sri Ramakrishna’s central message was God realization. Renunciation alone leads to God realization. The impulse for realizing as many aspects of God as possible was unique in Sri Ramakrishna. All spiritual aspirants of the past, be they ordinary souls or Prophets and Incarnations, were satisfied with realizing one particular aspect of God. God however is infinite. Hence God has infinite aspects. In Sri Ramakrishna we see a unique, never-before-seen, urge of realizing as many aspects of infinite God as possible. It is this urge that blossoms out as the wonderful ideal of ‘Harmony of Religions’. So, we must understand one thing very clearly. Holy Mother confirms that the ideal of Harmony of Religions is indeed a special message for this age revealed by Sri Ramakrishna. However, this ideal has no meaning if we see religion as anything other than realization. If religion means realization of the spiritual ideal, only then does harmony of religions make any sense. Therefore does Holy Mother emphasize that Sri Ramakrishna’s central message to us was renunciation, which means realization of the spiritual ideal. Harmony of Religions is, no doubt, an important message of Sri Ramakrishna to us, but only in the backdrop of this ideal of renunciation.

It is important to note this point. If we do not understand this vital point, we may misunderstand Harmony of Religions to mean some kind of political idea. “Tyagenaike amritatvamaanashuhu”; Renunciation is the sole criteria for spiritual realization. Once a person realizes his true nature, he must be guided to the fact of harmony among all religious ideals. The idea of Harmony of Religions divorced from the idea of realization of one’s true nature is dangerous, and it will end up as just another political idea. This kind of development is happening and hence we felt the need of highlighting this point as a necessary course-correction. In fact, this kind of misunderstanding had happened during Swamiji’s lifetime itself. He himself suggested the correct perspective of his statements in a letter to his Madras disciple Alasinga Perumal[10]. Writing from USA on 27th September, 1894 (a year after the historic Chicago addresses), Swamiji says, “Dear Alasinga, . . . One thing I find in the books of my speeches and sayings published in Calcutta. Some of them are printed in such a way as to savor of political views; whereas I am no politician or political agitator. I care only for the Spirit — when that is right everything will be righted by itself…. So you must warn the Calcutta people that no political significance be ever attached falsely to any of my writings or sayings. What nonsense! . . . I heard that Rev. Kali Charan Banerji in a lecture to Christian missionaries said that I was a political delegate. If it was said publicly, then publicly ask the Babu for me to write to any of the Calcutta papers and prove it, or else take back his foolish assertion. This is their trick! I have said a few harsh words in honest criticism of Christian governments in general, but that does not mean that I care for, or have any connection with politics or that sort of thing. Those who think it very grand to print extracts from those lectures and want to prove that I am a political preacher, to them I say, ‘Save me from my friends.’ . . . Tell my friends that a uniform silence is all my answer to my detractors. If I give them tit for tat, it would bring us down to a level with them. Tell them that truth will take care of itself, and that they are not to fight anybody for me. They have much to learn yet, and they are only children. They are still full of foolish golden dreams — mere boys![11]

Analysis of Swamiji’s message:

Now, let us analyze the message that Swamiji conveyed to the American audience during his lectures at the Parliament of Religions.

Dissociating the essential Hinduism from its non-essentials:

Swamiji actually proclaimed a fundamental fact of religion in the Parliament[12]. All religions exhibit this fundamental characteristic. What is that? All religions have two distinct aspects to it. One is the personal aspect of religion; the other is the collective aspect of religion.

In his lecture ‘Buddhism, the fulfilment of Hinduism’[13] delivered on 26th September, 1893, Swami Vivekananda says, “The religion of the Hindus is divided into two parts: the ceremonial and the spiritual. The spiritual portion is specially studied by the monks. In that there is no caste. A man from the highest caste and a man from the lowest may become a monk in India, and the two castes become equal. In religion there is no caste; caste is simply a social institution.” Followers of every religion make the mistake of conflating both these aspects into one. The problem in Hinduism is all the more virulent. The problems generated by the collective aspect of Hinduism get ploughed back into the entire religion and people end up concluding that the entire Hindu religion is outdated and has to be rejected.

In a letter to Alasinga[14] written on 2nd Nov 1893, Swamiji says: “The Hindu must not give up his religion, but must keep religion within its proper limits and give freedom to society to grow. All the reformers in India made the serious mistake of holding religion accountable for all the horrors of priestcraft and degeneration and went forthwith to pull down the indestructible structure, and what was the result? Failure! Beginning from Buddha down to Ram Mohan Roy, everyone made the mistake of holding caste to be a religious institution and tried to pull down religion and caste all together, and failed. But in spite of all the ravings of the priests, caste is simply a crystallized social institution, which after doing its service is now filling the atmosphere of India with its stench, and it can only be removed by giving back to the people their lost social individuality. Every man born here knows that he is a man. Every man born in India knows that he is a slave of society. Now, freedom is the only condition of growth; take that off, the result is degeneration. With the introduction of modern competition, see how caste is disappearing fast! No religion is now necessary to kill it. The Brahmana shopkeeper, shoemaker, and wine-distiller are common in Northern India. And why? Because of competition. No man is prohibited from doing anything he pleases for his livelihood under the present Government, and the result is neck and neck competition, and thus thousands are seeking and finding the highest level they were born for, instead of vegetating at the bottom.

Note the words, “The Hindu must not give up his religion, but must keep religion within its proper limits and give freedom to society to grow.” What does keeping the Hindu Religion within its proper limits mean? Who will prescribe that limit? And what is the connection between allowing our society the freedom to grow and keeping our religion within proper limits? We all need to urgently think on these questions.

Do not try to merge the personal, individual aspect of religion with the collective aspect of religion. If we can do that with respect to Hinduism, we would have kept the Hindu religion within its proper limits. Religious leaders in India have always taken the liberty of prescribing upon the masses the kind of social life they need to live so that all of them can gradually come up to experience spiritual truth. These prescriptions for social life made by religion were valid for quite a long period of time in India. These social laws (which were crystallized into the institution called Caste) helped millions of common people to grow materially, intellectually, morally and spiritually for a long time. These social laws helped the Hindus to meaningfully interact with people who were not Hindus for a long time, since these laws had provisions for incorporating willing foreigners into the body politick as we saw with the Greeks or Yavanas, the Huns, the Tartars and the Kushanas. The system however broke down with the Muslim invasion during the 11th century. Hordes of Muslims came into our country with the idea of staying here. But the Hindu society could not integrate them into its body politick. This was a major setback for the Hindu society.

Didn’t the Hindu society face such situations before? A situation where a foreign group of people entered India and wanted to stay in India but would not integrate socially with the Hindus? We do not know the historic facts. But, we can safely infer two possible scenarios. One: Such people did come; but they were militarily evicted from the land by a powerful military force which has always been a part of the Hindu society, sanctioned by the social laws prescribed by the Hindu Religious leaders; that powerful military force formed the Kshatriya caste. Two: Some fringe groups did remain totally unintegrated with the body politick, obviously in very minute pockets, but they were categorized as ‘Mlechha’ and socially, there was mutual non-interference. Mlechha was the category of people living in the Indian society that could not integrate into it. Thus, Mlechha was beyond the pale of the social structure called Caste system. It is interesting to note that Swamiji once said, “No man, no nation, my son, can hate others and live; India’s doom was sealed the very day they invented the word MLECHCHHA and stopped from communion with others. Take care how you foster that idea.[15]

With the Muslim invasion, the Hindu society faced its greatest challenge. Here was a substantial group of foreigners who wished to stay in the land, refused to socially integrate, and over and above that, forced their social norms over the Hindu society. Never before had the Hindus faced a social challenge of this magnitude or intensity.

The reaction of the Hindu society was equally shocking to its leaders. Millions of Hindus belonging to the lowest caste, the Shudras, adopted the Muslim social norms. Conversion means just that; accepting the social norms of another religion. It is only the collective aspect of a religion that converts. The personal aspect of any religion cannot convert. But, the two aspects are so closely mixed up together that one leads to the other. With the Muslim invasion too, if the social norms had been imposed on the Hindu society and even if large masses of Hindus had indeed ended up adopting the Muslim social norms, it should not have been a crisis. But, adopting the Muslim social norms effectively meant that the Hindu would cease to be a Hindu in his personal life too; he would have to follow the personal aspect of the Muslim religion, eschewing the personal aspect of Hinduism!

The Hindu psyche learnt two major lessons from the Muslim invasion over a period of 800 years.

One: It had to develop its Kshatriya caste which had been destroyed by the Buddhist influence. Hindus realized that they had to develop sufficient strength in order to protect themselves. This was indeed a vital learning and was powerful enough to have rejuvenated the Hindu society long ago. But, this lesson was accompanied by another very important learning

Two: The developments following the Muslim invasion revealed major chinks in the Caste system. Even if we developed a strong military arm of Hinduism, what would it protect? A flawed system, which had so deeply hurt its members, that millions willingly jumped camp? It was this inner conflict in the Hindu psyche that had almost resolved itself during the brief two centuries of the British invasion by concluding that the Hindu religion itself was useless. It was this inner conflict in the Hindu psyche that Swamiji was addressing when he wrote immortal those words to Alasinga, ‘The Hindu must not give up his religion, but must keep religion within its proper limits and give freedom to society to grow.’

Yes, it was time we recognized that our social structure was indeed flawed and needed urgent reconstruction. But that was not the crying need to the hour. The crying need was to immediately dissociate the essential aspect of Hindu religion from the non-essential aspect of the same Hindu religion. Why? Because the forces that would reconstruct the Hindu society had already been unleashed by the impact of the British invasion on India, and there was the imminent danger of the essential Hindu religion being thrown out along with the dated, putrefying social structure sanctioned by Hinduism. That is why Swamiji wrote to Alasinga, “With the introduction of modern competition, see how caste is disappearing fast! No religion is now necessary to kill it. The Brahmana shopkeeper, shoemaker, and wine-distiller are common in Northern India. And why? Because of competition. No man is prohibited from doing anything he pleases for his livelihood under the present Government, and the result is neck and neck competition, and thus thousands are seeking and finding the highest level they were born for, instead of vegetating at the bottom.”

So, basically, Caste was one of the viable options on which society could be formed in order to lead mankind to its fulfilment. It was not the only option. It was therefore dispensable. And the social forces that had started working in India had already initiated that dismantling work. There was no need for any religious leader to do that job anymore. The main job that devolved on the religious leader in the Hindu society was the immediate dissociation of the personal aspect of religion from its collective aspect; else, there was the danger that both would be lost. That would be an irreparable loss to mankind as a whole, for, the personal aspect of the Hindu religion contained Vedanta, the science of Religion.

How did Swamiji perform this life-saving surgery for Hinduism? Swamiji did not do this exercise for Hinduism alone. He did it for all religions. But its patent impact was on Hinduism since it had the required maturity to accept the correction. We believe that all religions will in due course also accept this important correction. Sister Nivedita explains this almost poetically in her Introduction to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda[16] as follows:

Of the Swami’s address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created. The moment was ripe with this potentiality. The vast audience that faced him represented exclusively the occidental mind, but included some development of all that in this was most distinctive. Every nation in Europe has poured in its human contribution upon America, and notably upon Chicago, where the Parliament was held. Much of the best, as well as some of the worst, of modern effort and struggle, is at all times to be met with, within the frontiers of that Western Civic Queen, whose feet are upon the shores of Lake Michigan, as she sits and broods, with the light of the North in her eyes. There is very little in the modern consciousness, very little inherited from the past of Europe, that does not hold some outpost in the city of Chicago. And while the teeming life and eager interests of that center may seem to some of us for the present largely a chaos, yet they are undoubtedly making for the revealing of some noble and slow-wrought ideal of human unity, when the days of their ripening shall be fully accomplished.

Such was the psychological area, such the sea of mind, young, tumultuous, overflowing with its own energy and self-assurance, yet inquisitive and alert withal, which confronted Vivekananda when he rose to speak. Behind him, on the contrary, lay an ocean, calm with long ages of spiritual development. Behind him lay a world that dated itself from the Vedas, and remembered itself in the Upanishads, a world to which Buddhism was almost modern; a world that was filled with religious systems of faiths and creeds; a quiet land, steeped in the sunlight of the tropics, the dust of whose roads had been trodden by the feet of the saints for ages upon ages. Behind him, in short, lay India, with her thousands of years of national development, in which she had sounded many things, proved many things, and realized almost all, save only her own perfect unanimity, from end to end of her great expanse of time and space, as to certain fundamental and essential truths, held by all her people in common.

These, then, were the two mind-floods, two immense rivers of thought, as it were, Eastern and modern, of which the yellow-clad wanderer on the platform of the Parliament of Religions formed for a moment the point of confluence. The formulation of the common bases of Hinduism was the inevitable result of the shock of their contact, in a personality, so impersonal. For it was no experience of his own that rose to the lips of the Swami Vivekananda there. He did not even take advantage of the occasion to tell the story of his Master. Instead of either of these, it was the religious consciousness of India that spoke through him, the message of his whole people, as determined by their whole past. And as he spoke, in the youth and noonday of the West, a nation, sleeping in the shadows of the darkened half of earth, on the far side of the Pacific, waited in spirit for the words that would be borne on the dawn that was travelling towards them, to reveal to them the secret of their own greatness and strength.

Others stood beside the Swami Vivekananda, on the same platform as he, as apostles of particular creeds and churches. But it was his glory that he came to preach a religion to which each of these was, in his own words, ‘only a travelling, a coming up, of different men, and women, through various conditions and circumstances to the same goal’. He stood there, as he declared, to tell of One who had said of them all, not that one or another was true, in this or that respect, or for this or that reason, but that ‘All these are threaded upon Me, as pearls upon a string. Wherever thou seest extraordinary holiness and extraordinary power, raising and purifying humanity, know thou that I am there.’ To the Hindu, says Vivekananda, ‘Man is not travelling from error to truth, but climbing up from truth to truth, from truth that is lower to truth that is higher.’ This, and the teaching of Mukti — the doctrine that ‘man is to become divine by realizing the divine,’ that religion is perfected in us only when it has led us to ‘Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world, that One who is the only soul, of which all souls are but delusive manifestations’ — may be taken as the two great outstanding truths which, authenticated by the longest and most complex experience in human history, India proclaimed through him to the modern world of the West.

For India herself, the short address forms, as has been said, a brief Charter of Enfranchisement. Hinduism in its wholeness the speaker bases on the Vedas, but he spiritualizes our conception of the word, even while he utters it. To him, all that is true is Veda. ‘By the Vedas,’ he says, ‘no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times.’ Incidentally, he discloses his conception of the Sanatana Dharma. ‘From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the lowest ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu’s religion.’ To his mind, there could be no sect, no school, no sincere religious experience of the Indian people — however like an aberration it might seem to the individual — that might rightly be excluded from the embrace of Hinduism. And of this Indian Mother-Church, according to him, the distinctive doctrine is that of the Ishta Devata, the right of each soul to choose its own path, and to seek God in its own way. No army, then, carries the banner of so wide an Empire as that of Hinduism, thus defined. For as her spiritual goal is the finding of God, even so is her spiritual rule the perfect freedom of every soul to be itself.

New India, new God, new rituals:

“For India herself, the short address forms, as has been said, a brief Charter of Enfranchisement.” In one short, aphoristic statement, Sister Nivedita summarizes the most important takeaway from the Chicago addresses of Swamiji. She had the incredibly vast, immensely integrating vision of saying, “Of the Swami’s address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created.” This is indeed a very sweeping statement Sister makes. She says that as a direct consequence of Swamiji’s addresses in Chicago Parliament, Hinduism itself was created. What could she possibly mean by this? Didn’t Hinduism exist before this 11th September 1893 event?

The personal and collective aspects of the Hindu religion had got so inextricably mixed up that the case for salvaging this religion seemed all but hopeless. Swami Vivekananda, through his addresses in the Chicago Parliament of Religions and in his subsequent lectures in India from Colombo to Almora, clearly excised the pure Hindu religion from its accumulated dross. The pure Hindu religion is what we have been calling the personal aspect of Hinduism; it is a most personal affair; it consists only of soul, God and the relation between them. There is no second person involved in that affair. That is true Hinduism. In fact that is true Christianity or Islam too. All religions have that aspect. The collective aspect of Hinduism or any religion, for that matter, is politics. Tradition has given the name religion to it, but it is politics. True religion has nothing to do with it. The farther these two aspects can remain from each other, the better for society and mankind.

Hindus, including the leaders of the Hindu religion, the leaders of the Hindu society, and the masses were given a clear picture of the pure, unadulterated form of their own religion by Swami Vivekananda. And this major work, he started with his Chicago lectures. Hence Sister Nivedita said, “Of the Swami’s address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created.”

Some year later, Swamiji himself was to say, “Now we have a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas. When, O Lord, shall our land be free from this eternal dwelling upon the past?[17]

Note the use of the words, ‘a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas’. Swamiji had the vision of a Rishi. He saw clearly what he was meant to do, and also saw clearly what would be the outcome of his actions on India. Since we are followers of Swami Vivekananda, we hold that this tremendous transformation of the country, and its religion, and its society were the handiwork of Swami Vivekananda. It can however, equally be argued that Swami Vivekananda himself was the product of the deeper national forces that had awakened and had started working changes in the nation. Whatever be the case, this much is certain; India has started rejuvenating itself. It is a whole-soul transformation that is being wrought this time.

We say that Swamiji was able to see clearly the exact changes occurring in the body, mind and soul of India based on some of his own recorded observations. For instance, look at the clarity in his vision in the following conversation[18]:

“Is India conscious of the awakening that you allude to?”

Perfectly conscious. The world perhaps sees it chiefly in the Congress movement and in the field of social reform; but the awakening is quite as real in religion, though it works more silently.”

Why did Swami Vivekananda use the words ‘a new India’? This opens up a huge area of thought which we shall deal with in a separate essay. Suffice it to say for now that the changes that have occurred in India since Swamiji uttered these words are nothing less than the change seen when the phoenix rises from the ashes of its dead predecessor. The entire perception of the nation, the religion, the society, the national governance, the education, the economy, the politics, the hopes, the aspirations have all changed beyond recognition already in a span of 125 years! A country that was predicted to implode within a decade of the British leaving this land has resurrected miraculously and is vying with the world leaders for its place of pride.

Modern arrangement for society & religion in India:

            What was the arrangement for society and religion in India in the past? This issue assumes importance because India is not a small land or a small group of people; it is a very vast land, with a humungous population having an unbroken civilization of at least 5000 years of existence. One can’t initiate changes in such an entity without creating tsunamis of upheaval in society and individual lives. Although the changes wrought in India in the last 100 years is nothing less than complete, the upheaval in the body and soul of India, in the society and in individual lives has not been all that devastating; at least not commensurate with the scale of changes that have been wrought. Why is that so? Swamiji avers that India was blessed with the life of Sri Ramakrishna, who embodied the soul of India, as it were, and sustained the entire gamut of transformational shock in his own person, thereby smoothening the transition for all of us. He derives this explanation from the tenets of Vedanta: “Vedanta…tells us that we not only have to live the life of all past humanity, but also the future life of all humanity. The man who does the first is the educated man; the second is the Jivanmukta, forever free (even while living).[19]

            India was always ruled by kings. That was because the social norms dictated by religion, which held sway over the land and its people for thousands of years prescribed that governance would be done by a particular caste of people called the Kshatriyas. The Brahmins would frame the social laws, and guide the Kshatriyas to enforce them in society. That has now changed. India is a democratic republic now. Masses will elect their leaders, who will govern the land and the people based on the Constitution of India, which is the Law. This Constitution of India does not derive its sanction from Hinduism or any religion, but is based entirely on principles of natural justice and human rights. This Constitution recognizes the fact that caste-based distinctions in the Indian society will have to be phased out and replaced by meritocracy. This development is unique in India’s history. The entire responsibility of framing social laws has, for the first time in its thousands of years of existence, been taken away from the religious leaders and has been vested on the masses themselves. Religion therefore has become a truly personal affair of every Indian. Society has nothing to dictate regarding the personal religion of any individual in our nation now, just as nobody’s religion has anything to dictate about social norms, mores and interactions.

The exact amount of deviation from its past, all this entails for India, is something that is beyond our understanding.[20] When the British left India in 1947, we chose to be a democratic nation; then we framed an amazingly elaborate Constitution and placed it at the head of our society. We voluntarily chose the Rule of Law, effectively dissociating religion from politics and social life.

Of course, Swami Vivekananda was not alive when these momentous decisions were taken in India. But, we contend that each one of these decisions was directly initiated by the great Swami. He himself was aware of the extent of impact of his work on the future of India. Take a look at this amazing conversation[21]:

“Have you given any attention to the Indian National Congress movement?”

I cannot claim to have given much; my work is in another part of the field. But I regard the movement as significant, and heartily wish it success. A nation is being made out of India’s different races. I sometimes think they are no less various than the different peoples of Europe. In the past, Europe has struggled for Indian trade, a trade which has played a tremendous part in the civilization of the world; its acquisition might almost be called a turning-point in the history of humanity. We see the Dutch, Portuguese, French, and English contending for it in succession. The discovery of America may be traced to the indemnification the Venetians sought in the far distant West for the loss they suffered in the East.”

“Where will it end?”

It will certainly end in the working out of India’s homogeneity, in her acquiring what we may call democratic ideas. Intelligence must not remain the monopoly of the cultured few; it will be disseminated from higher to lower classes. Education is coming, and compulsory education will follow. The immense power of our people for work must be utilized. India’s potentialities are great and will be called forth.

Indian society was, all along, structured on the framework of the Caste system. This system of social organization is most certainly the greatest invention of the human mind. There never was a time in its incredibly long history that the Indian society did not follow this system for organizing itself. And yet, in one fell swoop, this grand superstructure was discarded when we adopted the Constitution in 1950. It is really very difficult to clearly imagine the ramifications of this change in our society. And yet, the change was so smooth, and so natural, that none of us have actually felt the shocks consequent upon such a momentous change. Swami Vivekananda explains the reason in the same conversation: “No reasonable person aims at assimilating India to England; the body is made by the thought that lies behind it. The body politic is thus the expression of national thought, and in India, of thousands of years of thought. To Europeanize India is therefore an impossible and foolish task: the elements of progress were always actively present in India. As soon as a peaceful government was there, these have always shown themselves. From the time of the Upanishads down to the present day, nearly all our great Teachers have wanted to break through the barriers of caste, i.e. caste in its degenerate state, not the original system. What little good you see in the present caste clings to it from the original caste, which was the most glorious social institution. Buddha tried to re-establish caste in its original form. At every period of India’s awakening, there have always been great efforts made to break down caste. But it must always be we who build up a new India as an effect and continuation of her past, assimilating helpful foreign ideas wherever they may be found. Never can it be they; growth must proceed from within. All that England can do is to help India to work out her own salvation. All progress at the dictation of another, whose hand is at India’s throat, is valueless in my opinion. The highest work can only degenerate when slave-labor produces it.[22]

The question that arises is this: What replaces the Caste system in India today? Swami Vivekananda believes that the British introduced certain systems of governance into our nation which have essentially demolished the Caste system. He notes that every religious leader of the past in India had to deal with the Caste system, right from the Upanishads to Buddha up to the recent ones like Nanak, Kabir & Ramanuja. He and his Guru, Sri Ramakrishna, did not have to deal with that rather unpleasant task. The British Empire did that ‘dirty job’ for him, so to speak.

But, can something introduced by a foreign civilization really work for India? Will it organically match with the national body, mind and soul of India? As Swami Vivekananda says: “No reasonable person aims at assimilating India to England; the body is made by the thought that lies behind it. The body politic is thus the expression of national thought, and in India, of thousands of years of thought. To Europeanize India is therefore an impossible and foolish task: the elements of progress were always actively present in India.” So, whatever it was that the British introduced into India, must be ‘Indianized’, so to speak, for natural assimilation by the nation. What exactly did the British introduce into the Indian society that replaced the formidable Caste system, and how exactly did Swami Vivekananda go about ‘Indianizing’ it are the topics of another essay, for they need sufficient elaboration. Suffice it to say that this gargantuan task was achieved by Swami Vivekananda for this nation by means of ‘Organization’ that the British introduced into India, complete dissociation of the personal aspect of Hinduism from its collective aspect, and prescribing Karma Yoga to the masses as the divinizing tool for organization in daily life. This triad of ideas, when put to work, supremely fulfils the purpose of the Caste system in the Indian context.[23] There is a distinctly spiritual aspect to this work, and Swamiji chose to work in that field, as he himself told the London Reporter C.S.B, “my work is in another part of the field.”

Hindutva as a logical growth in Hinduism:

Till now, we have dealt with in detail about the implications of the ideas of Swami Vivekananda in the Indian context. We still have to explain the phenomenon of Hindutva, as we pointed out in the beginning of this article.

The ideology of Hindutva has been studied deeply in recent times by scholars such as Shamsul Islam, Jyotirmaya Sharma, Walter Anderson and Shridhar Damle. The roots of the idea lie in the scholarly works of Veer Savarkar and M S Golwalkar of the RSS. The point of contention revolves around the fact that Golwalkar and the RSS leaders claim to have derived this ideology from the message of Swami Vivekananda! Is that a correct stand? What complicates the issue further is the fact that the organization started by Swami Vivekananda himself has always distanced itself from this ideology, much to the chagrin of the RSS leaders. This conscious distancing is all the more ironic given the fact that Golwalkar was a disciple of Swami Akhandananda, the 3rd President of the organization founded by Swami Vivekananda. What exactly is happening here? Most of the followers, disciples, and well-wishers of both the Ramakrishna Mission and the RSS are at a loss due to this perceptible distance between these two mighty organizations. We need to understand this issue.

It is interesting to note that one of the lectures Swami Vivekananda delivered during the Chicago Parliament was ‘Buddhism – the fulfilment of Hinduism’. He himself said that he represented the Hindu religion. Buddhism was officially represented by another person. It was common knowledge that Buddhism arose in India but was rooted out of the country. Historical forces at work in the Indian society did not find it compatible with India’s destiny to retain Buddhism. Why would he now speak of Buddhism as a fulfilment of Hinduism?

The main problem with understanding things like this with respect to India is the awful absence of recorded history of the land and its people. India has a long, unbroken existence of at least 5000 years. But that period has innumerable gaps. Today it has become almost impossible to reconstruct the exact events, uncover the exact causes for those developments, understand the exact sequence of progress of the nation, and thereby make sense of why we are what we are today. Swami Vivekananda, however, undoubtedly tapped into the memories left behind in the national mind and was able to reconstruct the history in incredible detail.

The actual causes for the rise of Hindutva lie in the unrecorded portions of India’s ancient history. In the wake of Buddhism, the Kshatriya Caste was all but emasculated in the Indian society. Overmuch emphasis on Ahimsa made the Kshatriya’s role redundant in society. Things went on quite well for a long time even after this terrible decision, but the impact was felt about a thousand years later when the Muslims came. There was no resisting power from the Indian society that could put the socially non-integrating, and socially & religiously aggressive Muslims in their place. Simultaneously, hordes of Shudras switched camps to Islam, voluntarily, right under the nose of the Hindu leaders. These two developments devastated the Hindu society and the Hindu lost his self-confidence. The Hindu leaders felt that their Caste system was found to be lacking but they had no alternative. Added to this was the discovery of the New World and the Industrial Revolution, both of which ultimately rendered the Hindu way of life meaningless politically, socially and economically. The sequence of events gave us the message that there was nothing worthwhile in the Hindu scheme of life, a feedback loop which enveloped the Hindu religion too in its death grasp.

We need to understand an important point here. What is it that the Hindu is looking for, and has been looking for in life? Why did the Hindu feel so low about himself for over 1000 years? The Hindu wants an opportunity to practice his personal religion in a social framework that will allow him to enjoy life in such a way that his life’s experiences will gradually lead him towards complete renunciation and merge him with God in Samadhi. The Hindu is congenitally a lover of life. He is also simultaneously a born believer in the Spirit. It is indeed a self-contradiction but the Hindu is programmed, as it were, to resolve these opposing forces in his own life. He needs a society organized in such a way that he is allowed to resolve this conflict for himself. Caste system had provided this social homeostasis for his personal experiments. It was imperative that he be not disturbed by others in the society regarding how he leads his personal religious life. There is a particular way of viewing Indian history in which the entire history of this land can be seen to revolve around this one vital point – the Hindu will not be disturbed regarding how he leads his personal religious life. No doubt he needs society to help him in this endeavor, for which reason, he will allow society and its leaders, lot of flexibility in manipulating social norms in their effort to provide him the one and only thing he needs – his personal religious space. If, by chance or due to ignorance, the leaders try to touch him there, the Hindu rejects the leaders and their authority.

That is the reason why Buddha and his ideas were rejected by the Hindus. Then came the Muslims. He allowed the Muslims to take care of the governance of his society, so that he could lead his personal religious life in peace. But, the Muslim turned out to be very aggressive. He would give governance at a price; he was willing to govern the Hindus only if they renounced their religion, both personal and social, and adopt Islam. The Muslim was constrained to do this because the only method he knew of governing a society was if the people accepted Sharia. The social inflexibility of the Muslim and the social inflexibility of the Hindu, both of which are wrongly conflated with their religions, have led to an impasse in their social intercourse in India. The Muslim was able to convert the Hindu by reading him the Kalima (that is how Muslims convert people.) Once the Hindu uttered the name of Allah, the Muslim was at peace thinking he had converted the Hindu and he would now be able to govern him according to the social norms of Islam, called Sharia. But, very soon, he would find the Hindu reverting back to his old Hindu ways of life! The Hindu had no way of rejecting or denouncing his own religion! There was no conceivable act by which a Hindu could cease to be a Hindu! This was one scenario that the Muslim had not encountered anywhere in the world, and he had conquered almost the entire known world by the time he turned to India. The Hindu was a tease for the Muslim. The Hindu apparently seemed to become a Muslim, but would still remain a Hindu behind his back.

Sri Ramakrishna mentions a beautiful story in the Gospel[24] in this connection: “Is it an easy thing to destroy old tendencies? Once there lived a very pious Hindu who always worshipped the Divine Mother and chanted Her name. When the Mussulmans conquered the country, they forced him embrace Islam. They said to him: ‘You are now a Muslim. Say “Allah”. From now on you must repeat only the name of Allah.’ With great difficulty he repeated the word ‘Allah’, but every now and then blurted out ‘Jagadamba’. At that, the Mussulmans were about to beat him. Thereupon he said to them: ‘I beseech you! Please do not kill me. I have been trying my utmost to repeat the name of Allah, but our Jagadamba has filled me up to the throat. She pushes out your Allah.’ (All laugh.)”

This natural disposition of the Hindu seemed like treason to the Muslim and he was dealt with violently in most cases. The Hindu simply could not make sense of this violent behavior of the Muslim. The Hindu looked up to the Muslim as his Ruler, as the administrator, as his social protector. The Hindu felt that the Muslim would take care of a vital social job for him and provide him the safety he needed to practice his personal religious life, but the protector himself turned out to be an oppressor! The Hindu had basically sub-contracted governance and protection to the Muslim, and the Muslim’s behavior did not reflect the trust that the Hindu had placed on him. Consequently, the natural disposition of the Muslim seemed like treason to the Hindu! Thus, for about 800 years, the two communities shared house with growing mutual distrust. In a sense, both the Hindu and the Muslim were innocent; each was just trying to use the other to achieve his own end.[25] There were innumerable attempts at understanding each other. Each such case ended up in denouncing the collective aspects of their religions and the end result was blasphemous to themselves. Attempts such as the Din-e-ilahi by Akbar[26] and the Sufi movements were denounced by Islam as apostasy. Attempts such as the Bhakti movement were denounced as apostasy by traditional Hinduism since no one could determine the caste to which the resulting Hindu belonged.[27]

In such a situation, came the British. They were able to give a greatly balanced, peaceful and efficient system of social governance. The only fault with the British was that they had no clue about the collective Hindu Religion. Yet, they gave a peaceful government to the Hindu through their own methods of tier-organization systems, and immediately, the Hindu started waking up. That has ever been the case with India. Swami Vivekananda says, “The elements of progress were always actively present in India. As soon as a peaceful government was there, these have always shown themselves.” The Hindu always believed that peaceful Government, in other words, a stable society could only be achieved through the Caste system, with the Kshatriya caste performing his duties properly. In this case, the British were able to achieve the same result with absolutely no clue of that intricate, age-old social system. Yet, the moment the British achieved social homeostasis, the essential Hindu started asserting himself, which we saw in Sri Ramakrishna realizing God afresh. This one single event of one man achieving success in his personal religion sent the message across to every Hindu that his own essential religion was very much valid. From then started the Hindu resurrection.

The Hindu learnt a great lesson from these developments. There was a clear distinction between the essential Hinduism and the social aspects of Hinduism. There was an alternative to the social aspect of Hinduism, as the British had demonstrated in India.

The fall of the Kshatriya had led to cascading effects on the economic condition of the land too. The Hindu had slowly lost his ability to create wealth since protection to the wealth generator did not exist. The Muslim rulers were able to provide a semblance of that protection and once again the nation became rich. But, the Muslim reign was never on a firm foothold in India since it lacked deep moorings in the society and once again, dacoits and thugs thrived on important supply lines and economy nose-dived. Barring the period of Akbar, during the rest of the period of Mughal Rule, the line of control from the Emperor’s Capital to the smallest and farthest village was very weak. At the village levels, there were revenue collecting officials, who would mark their territories. But, between two such villages, the area that fell under neither official, which was supposed to be protected by the Central forces, would lie open. These areas were infested with dacoits and thugs who were the scourge of the indigenous businessman. The British were able to provide great protection along supply lines, and once again, wealth generation peaked in this wonderful land. But, the British endeavor was geared to only siphon the wealth to Britain and the creator of wealth in India remained impoverished. Therefore, the self-dignity, that the Hindu had lost post-Buddhistic period, did not awaken fully. But, the British era was a period of intense self-introspection by the Hindu soul wherein it realized that its core was sound and healthy. From now on, the Hindu was surely on the path of regaining his entire glory. Having learnt that its core was healthy, the afflictions of the mind and body would now be cured. It was just a matter of time.

The only input that remained was financial freedom for the Hindu. He needed an environment[28] where he could freely invest capital and effort[29], and generate wealth which he would enjoy[30]. This last input was provided to the Hindu through the 1991 liberalization process. Until these policies came into force, the labor of the Hindu populace was but slave-labor. That is the reason Swami Vivekananda says the following words: At every period of India’s awakening, there have always been great efforts made to break down caste. But it must always be we who build up a new India as an effect and continuation of her past, assimilating helpful foreign ideas wherever they may be found. Never can it be they; growth must proceed from within. All that England can do is to help India to work out her own salvation. All progress at the dictation of another, whose hand is at India’s throat, is valueless in my opinion. The highest work can only degenerate when slave-labor produces it.” The economic liberalization policies unshackled the latent forces from within the masses. We must not fail to notice one more development that had occurred by the time the economy got liberalized inside India. By this time, a strong diaspora had established itself across the world, gaining critical mass especially in Europe and America. Concomitant with these developments, we see a trend emerging from within the Hindu across the country. For the first time in over 1000 years, the Hindu gained self-assurance. The Hindu started to stand up for his own safety in the Indian society!

Up until this moment in Indian history, the Hindu had to be directed by a central force, to fight for protection of the society, and consequently, for protection of the Hindu individual. But as we saw above, right from the period of Buddha, the central direction was found lacking in Indian society. The individual Hindu looked up to effete Hindu kings, Muslim rulers, and British governors for that direction. He sought their direction in guiding him in protecting himself. The Hindus had committed the foolish mistake of sub-contracting self-protection to others! Many social activities can indeed be successfully sub-contracted to others; but not protection! Now had come the time, when political and economic freedom, coupled with the message of ever-existing spiritual freedom conveyed by Swami Vivekananda[31], that the Hindu realized he had to stand up for himself. The constant irritation from the Muslim and the Christian communities towards his personal religion had to be addressed. In seemingly unconnected incidents across the country, around this period, the Hindus started defending themselves aggressively against the Christian missionaries and Muslim proselytizers. This pan-India phenomenon was termed as ‘Hindutva’ by the RSS[32], as ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ by the West, and as ‘Hindu Terrorism’ by the Communists. Whatever be the name we give to this new phenomenon, it is a natural growth within the Hindu community that can only be understood against its hoary historical background as elaborated above.

So, what the Hindu has always wanted was freedom to enjoy life, in a social structure so designed as to integrate all his life’s experiences into an overarching, living, spiritual experience of God. There are two aspects to what the Hindu wants; the personal, internal aspect of seeking for union with God; the collective, political aspect of having and wielding power over society in framing social laws to create, maintain and protect a social milieu conducive to achieve his personal goals. In Sri Ramakrishna’s experiences and Swami Vivekananda’s utterances, he recognized the continued validity of the personal aspect of his aspirations; in the recent developments of Hindu social assertion, he recognizes the renewed validity of his social and political aspirations. These two developments therefore go hand in hand and are complementary to each other.

Hindutva – its limitation: The international mission of Hinduism

As we have amply demonstrated above, this newly awakened self-assertion of the Hindu, this newly awakened self-recognition of the Hindu’s collective strength, which is manifesting as his ability to resist Muslim and Christian aggression, is a logical outcome of the overall Hindu rejuvenation. No one person, or one organization, can claim responsibility for it. Rather, it would be correct to state that persons and organizations are the results of this gigantic rejuvenation.

The immediate job is to temper this power that is awakening within the Hindu people. Why? Otherwise, the enormous power that is being unleashed will fritter itself away in mere political bickering and intrigue, and in the worst-case scenario, will devour itself up! There is a grand purpose behind this rejuvenation. It is not to be trivialized into being just a political tool, which is unfortunately what the ‘Hindutva’ movement apparently turning out to be.

What is this job of tempering that is needed to be done now? And who will do it? And who will listen to whom in this matter? Historical forces of distrust lurking beneath the surface in the Hindu mind will immediately misunderstand any such effort to be the derailing of the Hindutva movement by their age-old enemies such as the Muslims, Christians and the Communists. In fact, such efforts might also be misinterpreted as the machinations of the wily Brahmins to prevent the rise of the Kshatriyas. Swami Vivekananda very interestingly reads the entire history of India as the extended struggle for power and dominance between the Brahmin and the Kshatriya. He uses the term ‘political jealousy’[33] to describe the tension between them. (See footnote #22 above). When seen at the national level, even the extended discord between the Hindus and the Muslims or the Hindus and the Christians may be rightly situated within this perspective. Again, in many places, Swami Vivekananda seems to be in complete favor of the Caste system and seems like he wants to bring back that system into the Indian society. This has to be understood in the following lines: The Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are no doubt collectives in the Hindu society; and in that sense, they really have lost relevance in the present day. But, it is equally true that each Hindu has within himself all these four tendencies within him. Each Hindu has within himself Brahminical aspirations of God-realization through renunciation, Kshatriya traits of service, benevolence and charity, Vaishya capacities for wealth generation and distribution, and the Shudra ability for tireless labor and forbearance.

Let us recall the following conversations of Swami Vivekananda in this context:[34]

“I have only one question more to ask you. You have defined the attitude and function of your movement with regard to your own people. Could you in the same way characterize your methods of action as a whole?”

“Our method”, said the Swami, “is very easily described. It simply consists in reasserting the national life. Buddha preached renunciation. India heard, and yet in six centuries she reached her greatest height. The secret lies there. 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.”

A hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising-up – the gospel of equality.[35]

But at the same time (in rejecting Buddhism), Brahminism lost something – that reforming zeal, that wonderful sympathy and charity for everybody, that wonderful heaven which Buddhism had brought to the masses and which had rendered Indian society so great that a Greek historian who wrote about India of that time was led to say that no Hindu was known to tell an untruth and no Hindu woman was known to be unchaste.

Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism. Then realize what the separation has shown to us, that the Buddhists cannot stand without the brain and philosophy of the Brahmins, nor the Brahmin without the heart of the Buddhist. This separation between the Buddhists and the Brahmins is the cause of the downfall of India. That is why India is populated by three hundred millions of beggars, and that is why India has been the slave of conquerors for the last thousand years. Let us then join the wonderful intellect of the Brahmins with the heart, the noble soul, the wonderful humanizing power of the Great Master.[36]

Each man has a mission in life, which is the result of all his infinite past Karma. Each of you was born with a splendid heritage, which is the whole of the infinite past life of your glorious nation. Millions of your ancestors are watching, as it were, every action of yours, so be alert. And what is the mission with which every Hindu child is born? Have you not read the proud declaration of Manu regarding the Brahmin where he says that the birth of the Brahmin is ‘for the protection of the treasury of religion’? I should say that that is the mission not only of the Brahmin, but of every child, whether boy or girl, who is born in this blessed land ‘for the protection of the treasury of religion’. And every other problem in life must be subordinated to that one principal theme. That is also the law of harmony in music. There may be a nation whose theme of life is political supremacy; religion and everything else must become subordinate to that one great theme of its life. But here is another nation whose great theme of life is spirituality and renunciation, whose one watchword is that this world is all vanity and a delusion of three days, and everything else, whether science or knowledge, enjoyment or powers, wealth, name, or fame, must be subordinated to that one theme. The secret of a true Hindu’s character lies in the subordination of his knowledge of European sciences and learning, of his wealth, position, and name, to that one principal theme which is inborn in every Hindu child – the spirituality and purity of the race.

Our ideal of high birth, therefore, is different from, that of others. Our ideal is the Brahmin of spiritual culture and renunciation. By the Brahmin ideal what do I mean? I mean the ideal Brahmin-ness in which worldliness is altogether absent and true wisdom is abundantly present. That is the ideal of the Hindu race. Have you not heard how it is declared that he, the Brahmin, is not amenable to law, that he has no law, that he is not governed by kings, and that his body cannot be hurt? That is perfectly true. Do not understand it in the light thrown upon it by interested and ignorant fools, but understand it in the light of the true and original Vedantic conception. If the Brahmin is he who has killed all selfishness and who lives and works to acquire and propagate wisdom and the power of love – if a country is altogether inhabited by such Brahmins, by men and women who are spiritual and moral and good, is it strange to think of that country as being above and beyond all law? What police, what military are necessary to govern them? Why should anyone govern them at all? Why should they live under a government? They are good and noble, and they are the men of God; these are our ideal Brahmins, and we read that in the Satya Yuga there was only one caste, and that was the Brahmin. We read in the Mahabharata that the whole world was in the beginning peopled with Brahmins, and that as they began to degenerate, they became divided into different castes, and that when the cycle turns round, they will all go back to that Brahminical origin. This cycle is turning round now, and I draw your attention to this fact. Therefore our solution of the caste question is not degrading those who are already high up, is not running amuck through food and drink, is not jumping out of our own limits in order to have more enjoyment, but it comes by every one of us, fulfilling the dictates of our Vedantic religion, by our attaining spirituality, and by our becoming the ideal Brahmin. There is a law laid on each one of you in this land by your ancestors, whether you are Aryans or non-Aryans, Rishis or Brahmins, or the very lowest outcasts. The command is the same to you all, that you must make progress without stopping, and that from the highest man to the lowest Pariah, everyone in this country has to try and become the ideal Brahmin. This Vedantic idea is applicable not only here but over the whole world. Such is our ideal of caste as meant for raising all humanity slowly and gently towards the realization of that great ideal of the spiritual man who is non-resisting, calm, steady, worshipful, pure, and meditative. In that ideal there is God.[37]

Let us allow Swami Vivekananda himself to dictate the tempering to the newly awakened Kshatriyas among the Hindus. Power they shall exhibit, no doubt; power they shall wield, politically, economically and socially, no doubt. But it must be done in the sense of ‘Service’ only. It must be done as service to every Indian living in this land. It must be done with the object of achieving renunciation. Power is to be wielded and exercised with a view to achieve inner renunciation alone. All other attitudes are wrong and run against the national grain. Another way of saying the same thing is: The collective awakening of Brahmin Hindus and Kshatriya Hindus is not relevant anymore in India. What is needed immediately is the awakening of the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra within every Hindu. That is the reason Swamiji so beautifully 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.”

It is in this context that we say that Hinduism thus has an International mission to fulfil. It has a very particular duty to perform in the International level. Hinduism has to educate Islam and Christianity that they too have an essential and non-essential aspect within them. The time has come all over the world to delegate the non-essential aspects of their religions, which is basically the socio-political aspects, to the Constitutions of the respective nations. Thus the individual is left free to practice his personal religion in peace. All social, political and economic affairs have to be immediately divorced from religion. No religion, be it Hinduism, Islam or Christianity will be permitted to wield any social, political or economic power. Religion everywhere shall exist in its purest form in every person, which is the eternal relationship of the eternal soul to the eternal God [38]. Hinduism has the requisite tools to uncover this immortal aspect in every religion. This is not conversion. This is education. This is leading every person by the hand with love in the heart to recognize and implement the eternal aspect in his own religion in his own life.

Once this education is imparted worldwide, a new era will dawn in the world. What the world needs today is this education whereby the entire social process is rendered free of all religious influences. Society everywhere should run on principles of natural justice and natural rights of human beings. It has now become possible to identify and establish those principles completely independent of religious sanction in every part of the world.

The rejuvenated Hindu identity has to perform this ‘Service’ to humanity everywhere, including within India.[39] Violence is anathema to service and education. You cannot serve by being violent. You cannot teach by being violent. Tremendous love in the heart pours out as service and education. The Hindutva movement has to urgently recognize this duty that falls on its part. Their new found power has to be channeled into educating the Indians (Hindus, Muslims and Christians) about ‘rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’.[40] And this service, this education, has to be done at the international level too. Unless this direction is given to the newly awakened power, this very power will devour the Indian society. And that would be a great loss to humanity itself. Swami Vivekananda said to Sri Narendranath Sen, Editor of the Mirror, “I believe that by this cultivation of religion and the wider diffusion of Vedanta, both this country and the West will gain enormously. To me the pursuit of politics is a secondary means in comparison with this. I will lay down my life to carry out this belief practically. If you believe in any other way of accomplishing the good of India, well, you may go on working your own way.[41]

Religious education – Harmony of Religions:

Take a look at the following words of Swami Vivekananda. They set the pace and impart the direction for the awakened Hindu collective power. If these words of the great Swami do not temper this force ‘for the good of all, for the benefit of all’, bleak indeed is our national future:

We live that grand truth (Ekam sat, Vipraha bahudha vadanti) in every vein, and our country has become the glorious land of religious toleration. It is here and here alone that they build temples and churches for the religions which have come with the object of condemning our own religion. This is one very great principle that the world is waiting to learn from us. Ay, you little know how much of intolerance is yet abroad. It struck me more than once that I should have to leave my bones on foreign shores owing to the prevalence of religious intolerance. Killing a man is nothing for religion’s sake; tomorrow they may do it in the very heart of the boasted civilization of the West, if today they are not really doing so.[42]

Therefore the world is waiting for this grand idea of universal toleration. It will be a great acquisition to civilization. Nay, no civilization can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilization can grow unless fanatics, bloodshed, and brutality stop. No civilization can begin to lift up its head until we look charitably upon one another; and the first step towards that much-needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious convictions of others. Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you. 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.[43]

…We have to teach them something, and that is our religion, that is our spirituality. For a complete civilization the world is waiting, waiting for the treasures to come out of India, waiting for the marvelous spiritual inheritance of the race, which, through decades of degradation and misery, the nation has still clutched to her breast. The world is waiting for that treasure; little do you know how much of hunger and of thirst there is outside of India for these wonderful treasures of our forefathers. We talk here, we quarrel with each other, we laugh at and we ridicule everything sacred, till it has become almost a national vice to ridicule everything holy. Little do we understand the heart-pangs of millions waiting outside the walls, stretching forth their hands for a little sip of that nectar which our forefathers have preserved in this land of India. Therefore we must go out, exchange our spirituality for anything they have to give us; for the marvels of the region of spirit we will exchange the marvels of the region of matter. We will not be students always, but teachers also. There cannot be friendship without equality, and there cannot be equality when one party is always the teacher and the other party sits always at his feet. If you want to become equal with the Englishman or the American, you will have to teach as well as to learn, and you have plenty yet to teach to the world for centuries to come. This has to be done. Fire and enthusiasm must be in our blood. We Bengalis have been credited with imagination, and I believe we have it. We have been ridiculed as an imaginative race, as men with a good deal of feeling. Let me tell you, my friends, intellect is great indeed, but it stops within certain bounds. It is through the heart, and the heart alone, that inspiration comes. It is through the feelings that the highest secrets are reached; and therefore it is the Bengali, the man of feeling, that has to do this work.[44]

Consciously or unconsciously that Indian idea of the divinity within everyone is expressing itself even in other countries. And in your books is the explanation which other nations have to accept. The treatment of one man to another will be entirely revolutionized, and these old, old ideas of pointing to the weakness of mankind will have to go. They will have received their death-blow within this century. Now people may stand up and criticize us. I have been criticized, from one end of the world to the other, as one who preaches the diabolical idea that there is no sin! Very good. The descendants of these very men will bless me as the preacher of virtue, and not of sin. I am the teacher of virtue, not of sin. I glory in being the preacher of light, and not of darkness.[45]

The second great idea which the world is waiting to receive from our Upanishads is the solidarity of this universe. The old lines of demarcation and differentiation are vanishing rapidly. Electricity and steam-power are placing the different parts of the world in intercommunication with each other, and, as a result, we Hindus no longer say that every country beyond our own land is peopled with demons and hobgoblins, nor do the people of Christian countries say that India is only peopled by cannibals and savages. When we go out of our country, we find the same brother-man, with the same strong hand to help, with the same lips to say godspeed; and sometimes they are better than in the country in which we are born. When they come here, they find the same brotherhood, the same cheer, the same godspeed.[46]

Our Upanishads say that the cause of all misery is ignorance; and that is perfectly true when applied to every state of life, either social or spiritual. It is ignorance that makes us hate each other, it is through ignorance that we do not know and do not love each other. As soon as we come to know each other, love comes, must come, for are we not one? Thus we find solidarity coming in spite of itself. Even in politics and sociology, problems that were only national twenty years ago can no more be solved on national grounds only. They are assuming huge proportions, gigantic shapes. They can only be solved when looked at in the broader light of international grounds. International organizations, international combinations, international laws are the cry of the day. That shows the solidarity. In science, every day they are coming to a similar broad view of matter. You speak of matter, the whole universe as one mass, one ocean of matter, in which you and I, the sun and the moon, and everything else are but the names of different little whirlpools and nothing more. Mentally speaking, it is one universal ocean of thought in which you and I are similar little whirlpools; and as spirit it moveth not, it changeth not. It is the One Unchangeable, Unbroken, Homogeneous Atman. The cry for morality is coming also, and that is to be found in our books. The explanation of morality, the fountain of ethics, that also the world wants; and that it will get here.[47]

Take a look at this observation and prophecy by Swami Vivekananda: 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. The Hindutva movement will immediately object to these words of Swami Vivekananda. They will instantly hound us by asking how we can tolerate the aggression of the Muslims and Christians, which we have done for many centuries. The centuries of distrust that has accumulated in the national mind has started to surface as a collective paranoia in the Hindu mind that if such tolerance and acceptance continues, the Hindus will be reduced to a minority population or may even become extinct!

That is precisely the reason for pointing out that we Hindus have an urgent international duty to perform; that of urgently educating the people of all religions about two vital ideas which Swami Vivekananda had highlighted in his Chicago addresses: One: Every religion has an essential and a non-essential part; the time has come to globally delegate the non-essential part of every religion to democratic processes of social intercourse. Two: Every religion states that man is divine; realizing this divinity in the context of one’s life is real religion, and not belief in dogmas. There is an urgent need to rapidly educate every part of the world with these two ideas.

The very introduction of these two ideas into any religion will instantly remove the sting of aggression from it. We must note that this does not mean we spread Vedanta among the Muslims and the Christians. That is not possible, for the Muslims and Christians will violently reject it as an affront on their religion. Proselytizing religions will misinterpret every attempt at communication as our effort at converting them! We need to dive into the Scriptures of these religions and discover the teachings and revelations of their prophets where they clearly say that each man is divine, and that each man needs to realize that divinity in his own life, and then each man has to realize his essential relationship with God. We need to become for the time-being, a Muslim and a Christian, as it were, and discover these universal ideas within Islam and Christianity. Swami Vivekananda confirms that these ideas already exist in each of those religions. We do not need to extrapolate or re-interpret the words of Christ, Mohammad or Buddha, which will not be acceptable by their followers at all. This is a job only a Hindu is capable of doing. The proverbial synthetic intellect of the Hindu will be able to perform this task of phenomenological study of all religions. But, it requires a powerful Hindu to teach these ideas to other religions, a powerful Hindu whose heart has opened itself to the touch of the Divine, not a rancorous, argumentative, name-calling, querulous Hindu who is arrogant with a newly discovered source of strength in collective numbers.

Can we gauge the immensity of this task? The teachers of this idea to other religions cannot harbor ill-feelings towards those other religions and expect to impart this education to them! It is education, not condescension that we are speaking of here. That is the reason we mentioned, even at the risk of being trolled, that there is an urgent need to temper the forces unleashed in the Hindu society in recent times. Swami Vivekananda says, “In every nation you will have to work through their methods. To every man you will have to speak in his own language. Now, in England or in America, if you want to preach religion to them, you will have to work through political methods — make organizations, societies, with voting, balloting, a president, and so on, because that is the language, the method of the Western race. On the other hand, if you want to speak of politics in India, you must speak through the language of religion. You will have to tell them something like this: ‘The man who cleans his house every morning will acquire such and such an amount of merit, he will go to heaven, or he comes to God.’ Unless you put it that way, they will not listen to you. It is a question of language. The thing done is the same. But with every race, you will have to speak their language in order to reach their hearts. And that is quite just. We need not fret about that.[48]

Note the words, ‘There cannot be friendship without equality.’ A weak people cannot stand up straight in the world platform and expect the world to listen to their voice. A weak people can at best cry and weep about oppression and exploitation, which is what we have done for the last 1000 years. We have now, as a people, regained our strength. Do we locate this new-found strength only in our collective numbers? Will we be so shortsighted as to believe that our power is only from the physical, communal, collective source? Will the real Hindu within each of us fail to perceive that the recently manifested strength, by which we are able to regain our lost respectability in the world polity, is also from the one and only real source of all strengths, the inner-most divine core of each one of us?

Swami Vivekananda says, 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! And the more I read the Upanishads, my friends, my countrymen, the more I weep for you, for therein is the great practical application. Strength, strength for us. What we need is strength, who will give us strength? There are thousands to weaken us, and of stories we have had enough. Every one of our Puranas, if you press it, gives out stories enough to fill three-fourths of the libraries of the world. Everything that can weaken us as a race we have had for the last thousand years. It seems as if during that period the national life had this one end in view, viz how to make us weaker and weaker till we have become real earthworms, crawling at the feet of every one who dares to put his foot on us. Therefore, my friends, as one of your blood, as one that lives and dies with you, let me tell you that we want strength, strength, and every time, strength. And the Upanishads are the great mine of strength. Therein lies strength enough to invigorate the whole world; the whole world can be vivified, made strong, energized through them. They will call with trumpet voice upon the weak, the miserable, and the downtrodden of all races, all creeds, and all sects to stand on their feet and be free. Freedom, physical freedom, mental freedom, and spiritual freedom are the watchwords of the Upanishads.[49]

So, we need strength; we also need to temper it with this knowledge of the Spirit. Then, this strength will be a great boon to both ourselves and to the world. In the light of this idea, we can recognize the value of the recent WHF program, as well as its obvious shortcomings. If this Hindutva movement doesn’t deepen itself with spirituality and manifest love for all beings, in a few years, it will run out of steam and lose its relevance to society. Swami Vivekananda has the following words of caution which seem most relevant in the present developments in our country: …if a religion emphasizes the negative side too much, it is in danger of eventual destruction. Never can a reforming sect survive if it is only reforming; the formative elements alone – the real impulse, that is, the principles – lives on and on. After a reform has been brought about, it is the positive side that should be emphasized; after the building is finished the scaffolding must be taken away. [50]

The Hindutva movement professes its plans to ‘bring back’ to Hinduism all those people living in India who have converted to Islam or Christianity. The Hindutva movement claims to be backed by Swami Vivekananda’s exhortations in this regard too. These ideas of the movement are causes of great concern for the harmony, peace and security in India, which is a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. There are three important points to be understood in this regard.

One: A study of Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts clearly shows that he would never support a forcible ‘bringing back’ of anybody from any religion to Hinduism, just as he would not brook any religion forcibly ‘taking away’ any Hindu into other religions. In other words, ‘Conversion’ and ‘Re-conversion’ are not something he would support. There is nothing in his recorded works to lend credence to these ideas. People have to be given complete freedom to choose the religion they want to profess. This entire idea of ‘bringing back’ or ‘conversion’ is not religion at all. It is a social issue, and hence a political issue. The time has now come to accord every man the dignity he deserves. In the present social context, when we have clearly declared that we are a sovereign, democratic republic, why are people still categorized based on the religion they follow in their personal lives? Can’t all social, political and economic privileges attached to all religions be removed forthwith in the Indian context? For, religion really has nothing to do with social, political or economic affairs. To continue to do so is pure mischief.

Two: There are many instances where Swamiji did indeed speak of ‘bringing back Muslims and Christians back into our folds’. What was the idea? Hinduism must evolve a mechanism of welcoming people into its fold. These people may be erstwhile Hindus who left the Hindu fold for whatever reason and now voluntarily wish to come back. Or they may be entirely newcomers who wish to become Hindus. Swamiji was keenly aware of the fact that a Hindu must be born a Hindu. There are actually no universally accepted procedures for accepting people afresh into its folds. Why do other religions, especially proselytizing religions such as Buddhism, Islam and Christianity have such procedures? That was the organizational genius of their founders! If we are indeed a living, vibrant religion, why won’t we adopt new corporate, organizational procedures? Swamiji was alluding to this aspect of Hinduism when he did indeed comment on this issue. But in any case, let us make it clear that it was not out of anger at other proselytizing religions that he said those things. Nor did he encourage proactive, violent methods of ‘Reconversion’.

Three: Swami Vivekananda certainly endorses ideas of ‘conquering’ others. We saw him explaining these ideas in England to a reporter named C.S.B of the Indian newspaper in 1896.

“And is India finally to conquer her conquerors?”

Yes, in the world of ideas. England has the sword, the material world, as our Mohammedan conquerors had before her. Yet Akbar the Great became practically a Hindu; educated Mohammedans, the Sufis, are hardly to be distinguished from the Hindus; they do not eat beef, and in other ways conform to our usages. Their thought has become permeated bv ours.

“So, that is the fate you foresee for the lordly Sahib? Just at this moment he seems to be a long way off it.”

No, it is not so remote as you imply. In the world of religious ideas, the Hindu and the Englishman have much in common, and there is proof of the same thing among other religious communities. Where the English ruler or civil servant has had any knowledge of India’s literature, especially her philosophy, there exists the ground of a common sympathy, a territory constantly widening. It is not too much to say that only ignorance is the cause of that exclusive — sometimes even contemptuous — attitude assumed by some. [51]

But this ‘conquest in the world of ideas’ is not the ‘bringing back’ or ‘conversion’. It is a great job of educating the people the world over about the essentials of their own religions. It doesn’t matter if they belong to Hinduism or Islam or Christianity. Can they love God? Can they feel they are divine? Can they feel others are divine too? Can they deal with one another as divine beings do? How do really spiritual people interact with one another? Take a look at this instance:[52]

Manmatha Nath Ghosh writes in his reminiscences of Sri Ramakrishna: After I was married I could not visit the Master, as I had to go here and there looking for a job. At last I secured a position with Rally Brothers, but my monthly salary was so small that I could not afford to hire a carriage to go to the office. I had to walk back and forth from our house on Beadon Street to the office in Dharmtala via Geratala. One evening as I was passing by the Geratala mosque, I heard the loud prayer of a Muslim fakir: ‘O my beloved, please come! Please come, O my beloved!’ he was repeating this prayer with love and longing as tears rolled down his cheeks. Suddenly, I saw Sri Ramakrishna climb down from a hired carriage and rush up to the fakir. The two embraced each other. This incident happened when the Master was returning from Kalighat after visiting the Divine Mother there. What a wonderful sight it was!

The leaders of this movement ought to listen to the following words of the great Swami from whom they too claim their descent and inspiration:

Each nation has its own peculiar method of work. Some work through politics, some through social reforms, and some through other lines. With us, religion is the only ground along which we can move. The Englishman can understand even religion through politics. Perhaps the American can understand even religion through social reforms. But the Hindu can understand even politics when it is given through religion; sociology must come through religion, everything must come through religion. For that is the theme, the rest are the variations in the national life-music.[53]

The purpose and intent of what I have to say to you is this, that I have found it possible in my life to worship all of them, and to be ready for all that are yet to come. A mother recognizes her son in any dress in which he may appear before her; and if one does not do so, I am sure she is not the mother of that man. Now, as regards those of you that think that you understand Truth and Divinity and God in only one Prophet in the world, and not in any other, naturally, the conclusion which I draw is that you do not understand Divinity in anybody; you have simply swallowed words and identified yourself with one sect, just as you would in party politics, as a matter of opinion; but that is no religion at all. There are some fools in this world who use brackish water although there is excellent sweet water nearby, because, they say, the brackish-water well was dug by their father. Now, in my little experience I have collected this knowledge – that for all the devilry that religion is blamed with, religion is not at all in fault: no religion ever persecuted men, no religion ever burnt witches, no religion ever did any of these things. What then incited people to do these things? Politics, but never religion; and if such politics takes the name of religion, whose fault is that?[54]

So, when each man stands and says ‘My Prophet is the only true Prophet,’ he is not correct – he knows not the alpha of religion. Religion is neither talk, nor theory, nor intellectual consent. It is realization in the heart of our hearts; it is touching God; it is feeling, realizing that I am a spirit in relation with the Universal Spirit and all Its great manifestations. If you have really entered the house of the Father, how can you have seen His children and not known them? And if you do not recognize them, you have not entered the house of the Father. The mother recognizes her child in any dress and knows him however disguised. Recognize all the great, spiritual men and women in every age and country, and see that they are not really at variance with one another. Wherever there has been actual religion – this touch of the Divine, the soul coming in direct sense-contact with the Divine – there has always been a broadening of the mind which enables it to see the light everywhere. Now, some Mohammedans are the crudest in this respect, and the most sectarian. Their watchword is: ‘There is one God, and Mohammed is His Prophet.’ Everything beyond that not only is bad, but must be destroyed forthwith; at a moment’s notice, every man or woman who does not exactly believe in that must be killed; everything that does not belong to this worship must be immediately broken; every book that teaches anything else must be burnt. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, for five hundred years blood ran all over the world. That is Mohammedanism! Nevetheless, among these Mohammedans, wherever there has a philosophic man, he was sure to protest against these cruelties. In that he showed the touch of the Divine and realized a fragment of the truth; he was not playing with his religion; for it was not his father’s religion he was talking, but spoke the truth direct like a man.”[55]

“Could the gist of this mission of yours be summed up in a few words? Is it comparative religion you want to preach?”

It is really the philosophy of religion, the kernel of all its outward forms. All forms of religion have an essential and a non-essential part. If we strip from them the latter, there remains the real basis of all religion, which all forms of religion possess in common. Unity is behind them all. We may call it God, Allah, Jehovah, the Spirit, Love; it is the same unity that animates all life, from its lowest form to its noblest manifestation in man. It is on this unity that we need to lay stress, whereas in the West, and indeed everywhere, it is on the non-essential that men are apt to lay stress. They will fight and kill each other for these forms, to make their fellows conform. Seeing that the essential is love of God and love of man, this is curious, to say the least.

“I suppose a Hindu could never persecute.”

He never yet has done so; he is the most tolerant of all the races of men. Considering how profoundly religious he is, one might have thought that he would persecute those who believe in no God. The Jains regard such belief as sheer delusion, yet no Jain has ever been persecuted. In India the Mohammedans were the first who ever took the sword. [56]

For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam – Vedanta brain and Islam body – is the only hope. I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.[57]

Can these words of the great Prophet of the modern age be in vain? 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.[58]

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[1] World Hindu Congress-2018 was attended by 2,500 Hindus from 60 countries. It was graced by 220 speakers, including several high-achievers and experts from the world of economy, education, politics, social work, media, and blessed by revered spiritual & religious heads. But, most of all, it was the vibrant energy of the delegates traveling from far & wide and their cross-domain networking that made WHC 2018 such a unique & enriching event. It was indeed a fitting tribute to the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s historic address to the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago.

Dhanyavaad for your support and encouragement. It is this engagement of the global Hindu community that allows WHC to act as a global platform for Hindus to connect, share ideas, inspire one another, and impact the common good.

The theme of WHC 2018 was Sumantrite Suvikrante – Think Collectively, Achieve Valiantly.

[2] World Hindu Congress opens with a resounding call for unity

With a backdrop of a life-size statue of Swami Vivekananda, to the traditional clarion sound of the conch, the second World Hindu Congress attended by 2,500 Hindus from 60 countries had a resounding start  on Friday, 7th September 2018 at the Westin Lombard York Town Center in Chicago. It ended on 9th September 2018.

With luminaries from spiritual, educational, business, and political walks of life among the invited speakers, the message of Hindus coming together for the common good, with a sense of unity, reverberated the grand hall even as Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech to the World Parliament of Religions did 125 years ago at the nearby Art Institute of Chicago.

Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from Bharat, addressed the congress on the theme drawn from the Mahabharat, “Think collectively, Act Valiantly.”

Bhagwat highlighted the need for such an action now and how Hindus should work together.

“It is an opportune moment. We have stopped our descent. We are contemplating how to ascend. We are not an enslaved, downtrodden nation. People are in dire need of our ancient wisdom,” Bhagwat said.

In Hindu Dharma even a pest is not killed, but controlled. “Hindus don’t live to oppose anybody. We even allow the pests to live. There are people who may oppose us. You have to tackle them without harming them,” Bhagwat said.

“Our universal values now called Hindu values lead to the welfare of the individual, the society, the nature and the environment. It is the duty of Hindus to remind the world, the universal values from time to time.

This duty of dharma to human beings should be performed till the world exists and thus, Hindu dharma will also exist till the world exists. Hindus know the basic values, but have forgotten to practice them.”

Stressing the need for unity, Bhagwat said, “If a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy the lion. We must not forget that.”

“We want to make the world better. We have no aspiration of dominance. Our influence is not a result of conquest or colonization.”

Bhagwat said a sense of idealism is good and described himself not as “anti-modern,” but as “pro-future.” He sought to describe Hindu dharma as “ancient and post-modern.”

Hindu society will prosper only when it works as a society, he said.

One of the key values to bring the whole world in to a team is to have controlled ego and learn to accept the consensus. For example, Sri Krishna and Yudhishtra never contradicted each other, Bhagwat said.

In this context, he alluded to the war and politics in the Hindu epic Mahabharat, and said politics cannot be conducted like a meditation session, and it should be politics.

“To work together, we have to accept the consensus. We are in a position to work together,” Bhagwat said. He urged the conference attendees to discuss and evolve a methodology to implement the idea of working collectively, “Think Collectively, Act Valiantly.” (from the official website of World Hindu Conference – 2018)

[3] https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/now-controversy-over-book-on-vivekananda/article25280978.ece; The book is ‘Swami Vivekanand’ written by Shubhada Athawale-Pathak, published by Bharatiya Vichar Sadhana, an affiliate of RSS. On Pg: 12-13 of the book, it says, “Swami Vivekanand always expressed displeasure over the decreasing number of Hindus in the past few decades. He had also made a point about bringing all those Hindus who were converted by Muslims and Christians back to their original Religion. Our ancestors fought to save the religion in the past. According to Swami Vivekanand’s theory, if non-Hindus continue to trouble, then we have to show the killer instinct.” This book has been listed as miscellaneous reading material by the Maharashtra Education Department under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.

[4] Nationalistic & religious lectures by Sw. Vivekananda: condensed & retold by Swami Tapasyananda: Advaita Ashrama: Pg: 1

[5] I wish to mention an interesting incident here. Long ago, when I was a member of the Vivekananda Balaka Sangha, Bangalore Ramakrishna Ashrama, Revered Swamiji-in-Charge was explaining this incident to us during a Sunday morning class. We were some 60-odd youths in the group. He read out that the audience had clapped for two minutes continuously. We did not, obviously, register the gravity of the incident. So he asked us to start clapping and started keeping time on his watch, saying that he would indicate to us when two minutes would be over. We could not continue for over 40 seconds! The initial enthusiasm started dying down after about a minute. When the two minutes were finally over, there were hardly ten hands clapping!

[6] Swami Vivekananda in the West – New discoveries: Vol-6: Sister Gargi: Advaita Ashrama: Pg: 155

[7] Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda: Swami Vivekananda as I saw him: Sister Christine: Chapter: Swami in Detroit-1896

[8] Ibid: Chapter: Teaching at Thousand Island Park

[9] Sri Sarada Devi – Her Divine Play: Swami Chetanananda: Pp: 662-63

[10] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: XVII: to Alasinga Perumal on 27th September 1894.

[11] See also Complete Works: Vol-6: Epistles: CXXXII: to Swami Akhandananda on 30th July 1897: “Do you mean to say I am born to live and die one of those caste-ridden, superstitious, merciless, hypocritical, atheistic cowards that you find only amongst the educated Hindus? I hate cowardice; I will have nothing to do with cowards or political nonsense. I do not believe in any politics. God and truth are the only politics in the world, everything else is trash….. Do not mix in politics etc., nor have any connection with them. At the same time you need not have any quarrel with anybody. You must put your body, mind, and all you have to any work you do.

[12] Although he did not use these very words, but the implication was very much there in his addresses at Chicago. Elsewhere, he uttered these very words; for instance, Cf: Footnote #56 below

[13] Complete Works: Vol-1: Addresses at The Parliament of Religions: Buddhism, the fulfilment of Hinduism delivered on 26th September, 1893

[14] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: V: to Alasinga Perumal on 2nd November 1893

[15] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: XXI: to Alasinga Perumal on 27th October, 1894

[16] Complete Works: Introduction: Our Master and his message: by Sister Nivedita

[17] Complete Works: Vol-7: Epistles: XXXII: to members of Alambazar Math on 27th April 1896

[18] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[19] Complete Works: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: entry on August 5, 1895

[20] In his lectures, Swami Vivekananda mentions at least one such complete change in the past which is a deviation so vast that it is mind-boggling to imagine. He says that Hindus were all beef-eaters, once upon a time. Due to the changes that Buddha introduced into the Hindu society, this habit, which was so pervasive as to define a Hindu, has completely disappeared, and today, if there is anyone trait common to all Hindus, it is this – they will never eat beef! Swamiji traces this habit to the historical fact of Buddha demolishing the ancient ceremonials of the Karma Kanda of the Vedas in Hindu society: But, you see, what once dies never comes back to life, and those ceremonials of [Hinduism] never came back to life. You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it. That is disgusting now. However they may differ from each other in India, in that they are all one — they never eat beef. The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.

[21] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[22] ibid

[23] Cf: Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: What is duty?: Later on we shall find that even this idea of duty undergoes change, and that the greatest work is done only when there is no selfish motive to prompt it. 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.

[24] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Chapter: Advice to Pundit Shashadhar: Entry on Monday, 30th June 1884

[25] There are some versions of history which say that internecine struggles between the Brahmins and Kshatriyas often led the Brahmins to “invite” foreigners to topple the Kshatriya rulers. Most of the foreign invasions till the 11th century were of this nature. They all came from across the North-west borders of India. In fact, the tribes living in those regions must have been mercenaries, ‘guns for hire’. The Brahmins had no trouble in dealing with foreigners since they had a wonderful tool in their Caste system of co-opting the invading foreigner directly into the Kshatriya Caste and integrating him and his companions into their society. This arrangement went on fine till the 11th century. After the advent of Prophet Mohammad, these mercenary tribes had converted themselves to Islam. So, from then onwards, when the same mercenaries were invited, the same old people with a new, vigorous faith arrived and the Brahmins could not contain them!

Please see: Complete Works: Vol-4: Translations: Prose: MODERN INDIA: Moreover, it, the Brahmanya; power, solely devoting itself to the easy means to dupe ignorant barbarians, brought into vogue mysterious rites and ceremonies backed by its new Mantras and the like; and in doing so, itself lost its former wisdom, its former vigour and vitality, and its own chaste habits of long acquirement. Thus it turned the whole Âryâvarta into a deep and vast whirlpool of the most vicious, the most horrible, the most abominable, barbarous customs; and as the inevitable consequence of countenancing these detestable customs and superstitions, it soon lost all its own internal strength and stamina and became the weakest of the weak. What wonder that it should be broken into a thousand pieces and fall at the mere touch of the storm of Mussulman invasions from the West! That great Brahmanya power fell — who knows, if ever to rise again?

The resuscitation of the priestly power under the Mussulman rule was, on the other hand, an utter impossibility. The Prophet Mohammed himself was dead against the priestly class in any shape and tried his best for the total destruction of this power by formulating rules and injunctions to that effect. Under the Mussulman rule, the king himself was the supreme priest; he was the chief guide in religious matters; and when he became the emperor, he cherished the hope of being the paramount leader in all matters over the whole Mussulman world. To the Mussulman, the Jews or the Christians are not objects of extreme detestation; they are, at the worst, men of little faith. But not so the Hindu. According to him, the Hindu is idolatrous, the hateful Kafir; hence in this life he deserves to be butchered; and in the next, eternal hell is in store for him. The utmost the Mussulman kings could do as a favour to the priestly class — the spiritual guides of these Kafirs — was to allow them somehow to pass their life silently and wait for the last moment. This was again sometimes considered too, much kindness! If the religious ardour of any king was a little more uncommon, there would immediately follow arrangements for a great Yajna by way of Kafir-slaughter!

On one side, the royal power is now centred in kings professing a different religion and given to different customs. On the other, the priestly power has been entirely displaced from its influential position as the controller and lawgiver of the society. The Koran and its code of laws have taken the place of the Dharma Shâstras of Manu and others. The Sanskrit language has made room for the Persian and the Arabic. The Sanskrit language has to remain confined only to the purely religious writings and religious matters of the conquered and detested Hindu, and, as such, has since been living a precarious life at the hands of the neglected priest. The priest himself, the relic of the Brahmanya power, fell back upon the last resource of conducting only the comparatively unimportant family ceremonies, such as the matrimonial etc., and that also only so long and as much as the mercy of the Mohammedan rulers permitted.

In the Vedic and the adjoining periods, the royal power could not manifest itself on account of the grinding pressure of the priestly power.

[26] It would be interesting to study the Islamic analysis of Akbar. One wonders whether the Islamic scholars would call him Akbar the Great. In his attempts to govern India, he went on to float a new religion! What could be a greater apostasy than that!

[27] Take for instance the followers of Guru Nanak. The 10 Gurus would be scandalized if anyone told them they were not Hindus. But, the Hindu society refused to accept them since they could not determine as to which Caste these followers of Nanak would belong to. This led to a social impasse, which was finally regularized by the British in their Census as Sikhism, a separate religion!

[28] Dharma

[29] Artha

[30] Kama

[31] Moksha

[32] RSS had advocated this Hindu stance right from the beginning i.e. from 1940s. But we can locate the permeation of this idea into the popular mindscape of India from 1990s onwards.

[33]…on the one hand, there was the political jealousy between the priests and the kings.Complete Works: Vol-3: Buddhistic India: California: 1900

[34] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[35] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: IV: to Alasinga Perumal on 20th August, 1893

[36] Complete Works: Vol-1: Addresses at The Parliament of Religions: Buddhism, the fulfilment of Hinduism

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

[38] Complete Works: Vol-3: Unity, the goal of Religion: New York, 1896

[39] Cf: Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana-Yoga: Maya and the evolution of the conception of God: in London, 20th October 1896: We, in India, allowed liberty in spiritual matters, and we have a tremendous spiritual power in religious thought even today. You (in the West) grant the same liberty in social matters, and so have a splendid social organization. We have not given any freedom to the expansion of social matters, and ours is a cramped society. You have never given any freedom in religious matters but with fire and sword have enforced your beliefs, and the result is that religion is a stunted, degenerated growth in the European mind. In India, we have to take off the shackles from society; in Europe, the chains must be taken from the feet of spiritual progress. Then will come a wonderful growth and development of man.

[40] The Bible – New Testament: Gospel according to St. Matthew: 22:21

[41] Complete Works: Vol-6: Conversations & Dialogues: I: by Sharatchandra Chakravarty

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

[43] ibid

[44] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Calcutta Lecture

[45] Complete works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Vedanta in its application to Indian Life: Madras

[46] ibid

[47] ibid

[48] Complete Works: Vol-8: My life & mission: California, on 27th January 1900

[49] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Vedanta in its application to Indian life: delivered at Madras

[50] Complete Works: Vol-8: Buddha’s message to the World: San Francisco, on 18th March 1900

[51] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[52] Ramakrishna as we saw him: Ed: Swami Chetanananda: Advaita Ashrama: Pg: 372

[53] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Calcutta Lecture

[54] Complete Works: Vol-4: The Great Teachers of the World: California, 3rd February 1900

[55] ibid

[56] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[57] Complete Works: Vol-6: Epistles: CXLII: to Mohammed Sarfaraz Husain on 10th June, 1898

[58] ibid

God experience: As joy to be shared in our multi-faith context

Revered Father Thomas D’Souza, Archbishop & Metropolitan of Calcutta, Revered Bishops of the six Dioceses of Bengal and Sikkim, Revered Provincials and Sisters, a very good morning to all of you. I thank Sr Anna Maria for introducing me in detail. I come from Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math. I run a Polytechnic College and two Skill Development Centers there.

I deal mainly with students and teachers. A couple of months ago, when Sr Anna Maria came to me in Belur Math and said that I would have to speak in a program in Asansol, I said ‘Yes’. I agreed because, Sister is Principal of a famous school in Chandan Nagar, and I conveniently assumed that it would be a program either for students or teachers. That is the only audience I am comfortable speaking to. Two days ago, I had some email correspondence with Sister where I asked her the composition of this audience, just to confirm my assumption. I was shocked when she wrote back that the audience would be Bishops, Provincials and Sisters of Bengal and Sikkim, and that there would be no students or teachers at all! I almost decided that I wouldn’t go. But then I thought, if I did that, Sister Anna Maria would be in a soup; where would she go for a speaker at the last minute! That is the only reason I am here today.

I do not presume I can teach anything here to an audience such as yours. Nor can I speak to you all about anything that you all don’t already know. While introducing me, Sr Anna Maria said that I had experienced God and that I would share the joy of my God experience with you all. I must tell you that I haven’t yet experienced God. I am on the path. I consider you all as my fellow travelers. I have learned some lessons along the path from my teachers. If I stand here today, it is only as a student, reporting back to his teachers all that he had learnt with their help.

Sister Anna Maria asked me to speak for two hours! I believe that will be a torture for both you and me, if I speak non-stop. So what I am going to do is something like this:

Scheme of today’s program:

08.30am – 9.15am              : Lecture on Comparative Religion

09.15am – 9.30am              : Break

09.30am – 10.30am           : Lecture on spirituality

10.30am – 11.00am           : Tea break

11.00am – 11.45am           : GD & reflection

11.45am – 12.30pm          : Feedback

Comparative Study of Religion

I will begin by speaking for about 45 minutes on an important topic ‘Comparative Study of Religion’. We shall begin by defining the term ‘God’. Of course, it is meaningless to define God. I cannot be so presumptuous. But, we ought to be clear about the meaning of this term ‘God’. All of us use this word. But do we mean the same thing?

Religion & God: Boon or bane?

Religion has a very interesting feature. Is religion a boon or a curse on us? The jury seems to be still out on that! The greatest good on humanity has come from religion. The worst experiences of humanity too have come from religion. Ask anyone to name 10 of the greatest persons to have walked on Earth and they will tell you the names of 10 Holy men. Ask them again to name the worst persons to walk on Earth and again, they will tell the names of the followers of these 10 greatest Holy men! Such is the bipolar nature of Religion.

The great radical thinker and stand-up comedian George Carlin put it very graphically. He says: Religion is the greatest blessing on mankind. It is also unfortunately the worst curse on mankind! More blood has been shed in the name of religion than for any other reason. History tells us that. More people have died because of giving the wrong answer to the God question in this world.

“Do you believe in God?”

“No.” Boom!

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe in my God?”

“No.” Boom!!

That is how it is, really! You and I can be very good friends. Then I realize you don’t subscribe to my version of God. And that revelation instantly awakens hatred in me for you! All the deep friendship I had for you vanishes into thin air. Now it is a question of imposing my version of God on you. Or the other way out. So, we need to fight it out. The survivor’s version of God reigns supreme! That is the general history of all religion, everywhere, for you. I know, some people will say that they have never hurt anyone in the name of religion. Hindus and Jews are famous for saying that. But let us face facts. The blood is on all of us. All of us are equally guilty. All religions have persecuted non-believers of their version of God. All of us are guilty of having tried overtly or covertly to undermine and destroy religions other than our own. All of us are guilty of having destroyed places of worship of other religions. All of us are guilty of maligning the religious traditions, religious beliefs, and religious leaders of other religions.

Two aspects of Religion

It is against this background that comparative study of religion becomes so important for all of us. It is a new field of study; it began some 200 years ago; we found out that we can apply the rules of logic to religions and study them. Comparative Study of Religions is an intellectual exercise. We shall try to understand religions that we don’t belong to. We shall try to understand the ‘others’. Some may argue – we don’t know ourselves well, and why would we want to understand ‘others’? It is urgently required. There is too much energy being wasted in hating the ‘others’. Supposing we don’t know something; that ignorance happens to be the root of much mischief in our lives. Knowledge is redeeming. The ‘others’ that we hate, that we denigrate, will then turn out to be just like us. No difference; same as us. Right now, it doesn’t look so. But with some understanding, we shall see that is so.

We had a revered monk called Swami Subodhananda in Ramakrishna Mission. He would tell a beautiful story from his childhood. He and his many brothers and sisters were playing at home one day. They were making a lot of noise. Suddenly, the door opened and in came a person with a tiger’s mask. That scene petrified the young boy Subodhananda. When the kids had all become silent, the mask came off and his own mother stood there smiling! The Swami would say later, ‘Ever since, I realized that we should unmask the source of our fear, and we shall see our very own standing there!’

A comparative study of religions reveals that all religions have two aspects to them. One is the cultural aspect. The other is the spiritual aspect. Masses always follow the cultural aspects of religion. This is the popular version of the religion. It consists of certain rituals peculiar to that religion. It consists of rules and regulations about food, clothing, festivals, language and mythology. In this aspect, every religion will differ from every other religion. In fact, the differentiating aspect of religions is the cultural aspect. Hatred is the outcome of comparing the cultural aspects of religions. No, not just comparing; hatred arises when one person tries to judge the cultural aspects of another person’s religion; hatred arises when one person attempts to impose the cultural aspects of his own religion on another person from some other religion.

The other aspect, the spiritual aspect, is common to all religions. The strange part, the unfortunate part is that this aspect of religion appeals only to a handful, at any given point of time, in any given geography. The masses do not even recognize this aspect of religion, much less aspire for it. But, every religion has a rare few who manifest, who follow, who realize, and who personify this spiritual aspect of religion. Without an exception, every religion has such rare persons. And they all speak the same language, irrespective of which religion they originally belonged to. Listening to them, it is difficult to say which religion they belong to.

The famous Sufi saint Rabia was once asked by some people if she loved the Lord. She replied, “Yes; I love our Lord with all my heart and all my soul.” Then they asked her if she hated the Devil. Her famous reply signifies this spiritual aspect of religion, “My love for the Lord leaves me no time to hate the Devil.” Just look at this answer Rabia gave! How often do we base our self-identity on what we hate rather than on what we love!

Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer and philosopher wrote a beautiful book called ‘Twenty-three tales”. That book has an amazing story called ‘The Three Hermits’. All of you must have surely read that amazing story. A bishop and several pilgrims are travelling on a fishing boat from Archangel to the Solovetsk Monastery. During the voyage, the bishop engages the fishermen in conversation after overhearing them discuss a remote island nearby their course where three old hermits lived a Spartan existence focused on seeking ‘salvation for their souls.’ Several of the fisherman claim to have seen them once. The bishop then informs the captain that he wishes to visit the island. The captain attempts to dissuade him by saying “the old men are not worth your pains. I have heard say that they are foolish old fellows, who understand nothing, and never speak a word.” But the bishop insists, and the Captain steers the ship toward the island and subsequently sets off in a rowboat to visit where he is met ashore by the three hermits. The bishop informs the hermits that he has heard of them and of their seeking salvation. He inquires how they are seeking salvation and serving God, but the hermits say they do not know how, only that they pray, simply: “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.” Subsequently, the bishop acknowledges that they have a little knowledge but are ignorant of the true meaning of the doctrine and how properly to pray. He tells them that he will teach them “not a way of my own, but the way in which God in the Holy Scriptures has commanded all men to pray to Him” and proceeds to explain the doctrines of the incarnation and the Trinity. He attempts to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father”, but the simple hermits blunder and cannot remember the words – which compels the bishop to repeat the lesson late into the night. After he became satisfied that they had memorized the prayer, the bishop departed from the island leaving the hermits with the firm instruction to pray as he had taught them. The bishop then returned by the rowboat to the fisherman’s vessel anchored offshore to continue the voyage. While on board, the bishop notices that their vessel is being followed – at first thinking a boat was behind them but soon realizing that the three hermits had been running across the surface of the water “as though it were dry land.” The hermits catch up to the vessel as the captain stops the boat, and inform the bishop: “We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.” The bishop was humbled and replied to the hermits: “Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.” After which the hermits turned around and walked back to their island.

This is the spiritual aspect of religion. It is common to all religions of the world.

Cultural aspect of religion – a necessary evil

Why can’t we just stick to the spiritual aspect of religion? Since it is common to all religions, we all can agree to follow that aspect of religion only. It is so easy to ask questions. Answering them is next to impossible, sometimes!

When we engage in comparative study of religions, this is one question that comes up very quickly in most of us. But, the fun is – we simply cannot jump out of our own skin! It is impossible to renounce the cultural aspects of our religion. There seems to be personal preferences at play here. We all have common spiritual goals. We all also have our own preferences in how to reach that common goal. That ‘reaching’ is the cultural aspect. Goal can be common; in fact, goal is common. But is there a common path to that goal? That is the main question here. The innumerable nuances of the path, the infinite variety in the practices, the minute things of food, clothes, buildings, books, language, idols, articles of faith, mythology – these are what defines our religion. How can we renounce it? I like it this way. I like it this way. Why should I renounce it?

But the question arises, which is the correct path? Is mine the correct path? Or is yours the correct one? Ah! A million dollar question! There is no universal correct path in religion. It is personal preference that defines which path is meant for you, and which is meant for me. It is not even hereditary. My father’s path need not appeal to me at all!

As long as we all follow our own preferred paths sincerely, things are fine. There is a great job being performed by the cultural aspect of religion. It is the life, the heart, the engine, the motive power of religion. Beginners in any religion cannot afford to leave these cultural aspects. They are like the fences around the small plant. They protect the plant. Later on, when the plant grows into a huge tree, the fences have no meaning. Premature catholicity in religion is dangerous. Growth gets stunted, even stopped. In the beginning, we have to doggedly, fanatically, stick to our peculiarities of religion. Very soon, we are expected to grow out of these cultural aspects. The sad part is – all our lives we stick to the basic portions of religion. All cultural aspects of religion are supposed to catapult us to the common ground of spirituality. It is not happening. That is the crux of the problem. Anyway, we will deal with this idea later.

The problem arises when I try to impose my practices on you. What problem arises? You have perhaps not yet matured enough to let go of your ‘fences’. Before you have matured, I might try to transplant you! Your very existence seems threatened! You fight back.

I ask myself often, when one person imposes his religious practices on another, what are the possible scenarios? I can think of only two possible scenarios: Acceptance or Resistance. I am not dealing with indifference here, the atheists. They don’t have any problem. With the believers, there arise these problems, I have been explaining, upon imposing my view of God and religion on them. Suppose, the other guy accepts my view, no problem; all of us can live happily ever after. Problem comes when he resists my imposition. Then, we might have to fight; and the winner’s view prevails on everyone. (I assume we didn’t fight to death!)

A much more basic question: why do I feel the need to impose my version of religion on you? I think it is a very natural human tendency. Suppose I discover this wonderful restaurant which serves divine coffee. Won’t I drag all my friends there, one by one, and get them also to enjoy the wonderful taste of that coffee? Isn’t it natural to wish to share my joy with others?  But, am I concerned that my friend likes tea and not coffee? Further, if I do take a friend to the restaurant, get him the coffee, and he passes a light-hearted or derogatory comment on the coffee, and subsequently on my taste; what would be my reaction? What would be the future course of our friendship? I will start feeling that basic assumptions in my life are being questioned. Isn’t my liking correct? Isn’t there a universal standard of taste? If my taste is correct, how can an opposite taste be also correct?

Yet another fundamental question: which version of God and religion is the correct one? Where indeed do we get our version of God and religion? From the Book; every religion has one. The Christians have their Bible. The Muslims have their Koran. The Jews have their Talmud. The Hindus are yet to come to a consensus on which is their ‘The Book’, but the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads are hot contenders! And so on and so forth, the list goes. Every religion uses the definite article ‘The’ while talking about their holy scripture. All these books have their own copyrighted, patented, peculiar versions of God, creation, man, and the goal of human life. In every case, these ‘The Book’ are accompanied by many auxiliary books which prescribe the path that leads to the goal mentioned in those ‘The Book’. As long as you stick to one religion, there is a wonderful consistency in all of these. Trouble arises when you compare the ideas of one with the ideas of others.

So, associated with the comparative study of religions is another very interesting field called ‘Hermeneutics’, which deals with translation. It is not language translation. It is holistic. It is no use translating terms or words. Ideas have to be translated. There is the word, there is the meaning of that word, and there is the actual thing that the word tries to depict. Translations are required with respect to all three.

The great Sufi saint Jamaluddin Rumi mentions an amazing story in his book ‘Masnavi’. A merchant was walking on a road. He came across four gentlemen quarrelling. They were furiously arguing about something. He inquired what it was about. The situation was indeed very interesting. They were four businessmen, each from a different country – Persia, Arabia, Turkey and Greece. They had all partnered in a successful business deal and had made some profit. Now, they were arguing about how that money ought to be spent. The Persian wanted to buy some Angur with that money. The Arab insisted that unless some Inab was purchased with that money, he would be getting very angry. The Turk would kill anyone who didn’t want to buy some Uzum with that money. And the Greek petulantly insisted that some ripe Stafil be purchased with that money. They had reached a stalemate! That was when the merchant came across them. He was intrigued by the situation that had developed. You see, all these four persons, from different nations, from different cultural backgrounds, had sufficient translation powers to deal with one another and make some business profit. But, their translation powers were indeed very shallow. For, this merchant knew all four languages. And he understood that all of them were indicating the same thing, using four different words! All the words – Angur, Inab, Uzum and Stafil – mean Grapes![1]

Please observe one more interesting fact. We have now given the valuable information to the Persian, the Arab, the Turk and the Greek that grapes is what they want, no matter what word they use for it. Fine; but, when the Greek eats, he will still eat only Stafil, and not grapes or Angur or Inab or Uzum. Personal preferences are hard-wired into us. Suppose we insist on the Greek that he has to eat grapes and not Stafil, we will be robbing him of the joy of enjoying Stafil!

History tells us that many nations have en-masse adopted various religions at various times. For instance, take Europe. Before St. Peter went to Rome and preached Christianity, Europe did have religion. Where is it today? We don’t even know all the details of the Greek and Roman religion that preceded St. Peter in Europe. But the cultural aspects of Christianity took deep roots in Europe. We must always remember that Christianity was an oriental religion. It is easier for an Asian to adopt the cultural aspects of Christianity than it is for a European to do so. Yet, it struck deep, very deep roots in Europe. Later on, Islam spread to Europe. At one time, except for small pockets in Central Europe, the major portion of Europe had become Islamic. But, Islam did not strike roots there. Hence it was dislodged, again, later on by Christianity.

Take again the case of South-East Asia. At one point of time, a large portion of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma and Laos were Hindu. Then, they renounced Hinduism and adopted Buddhism, Islam or Christianity.

In all such cases, we find remnants of the deposed religion’s rituals, festivals, and social customs prevailing in the communities of that region. For instance, the concept of the Patron Saint in European Christianity is a remnant of the Roman religion prevalent in that region prior to the adoption of Christianity. The rituals associated with monarchy in Thailand are even today Hindu rituals.

A region may adopt a particular religion for any number of reasons. One such compelling reason is brute force, the power of the military. Another equally compelling reason is social and economic prestige. It is seen that the masses in a region decide that following a particular religion confers upon them social prestige and economic advantage. En-masse conversion occurs. Such conversions lead to important political outcomes only. However, in many such cases, the imposition of the cultural aspects of a religion did not lead to a flowering of the spiritual aspect of that religion in that region. We do not find holy men coming out of such communities. The cultural aspect of religion did not mature into blossoming of the spiritual aspect of that religion in that region. Can you name even one Islamic saint from Europe? Islam reigned supreme in Europe for several centuries! Can you name even one Hindu saint from South-east Asia? Not one!

The present usage of the word ‘God’ invariably leads to contradictions and confusion among us, as we have seen. I mean by that word, perhaps Mahadev Shiva, and you mean by that same word Jehovah. Now, these comparative religion guys seem to hint that my Mahadev Shiva and your Jehovah are the same! Somehow, that doesn’t satisfy me. I don’t know about you. It’s the same grapes and Stafil case all over again! How can Shiva and Jehovah be the same? Going further, even Allah and Ahura Mazda and the Buddha are the same as my Shiva and your Jehovah! What exactly do these guys mean when they say these are all the same? Somehow, this concept of divine equality seems to be counterintuitive.

The different meanings attached to the word ‘God’ fall under a continuum. There is a gradation in the meaning of that word. Let us collect all the different meanings of the word ‘God’ and study them. We then discover a pattern, a hierarchy, a gradation in the evolution of the meanings. One of the very first usages of this term referred to the incredible forces of Nature. We were awed by the sheer power of those forces. We called them ‘God’. Soon, we started asking ourselves, ‘if these forces exist, surely there must be someone who wields these powers.’ This gave rise to the concept of an owner of these incredible forces of Nature. First we had the zoomorphic God, which quickly graduated into an anthropomorphic God. Once we had the anthropomorphic God, we started considering him as the protector of our tribe or community. Higher than this, comes the conception of a Creator God. Once we had the Creator God, we soon climbed onto a Creator-Preserver-Destroyer God. Logic started entering into our conception in a big way now. We started asking how God can create this world out of nothing. Thus we came up with a conception of God as the efficient and material cause of this world. Up to this stage, the evolution of the conception of God seems to be logical. Suddenly we had a paradigm altering conception of God full of Love! This is paradigm altering because it is a revelation and not a logical outgrowth of the ideas we have been dealing with. The God Love is a Presence. And this revelation was given by a human being, just like us, and he was called variously as an Incarnation, Avatara, Prophet, Messenger or Messiah. Once we had this quantum jump in ideas, very soon we started conceiving of the Divine Presence in the heart of man. The final word in this wonderful framework of ideas was the conception of Unity of God and Man.

Take any religion. You will find this gradation of ideas concerning God. Even the pinnacle of this gradation is present in all religions. ‘I and my Father are one’; ‘Aham Brahmasmi’; ‘An – al – haq’; ‘I am the Buddha’.

Lateral thinking

You may have heard of a thinker called Edward De Bono. He has written some very good books on how man thinks. He identifies a technique called ‘lateral thinking’. Suppose you have four dots and you need to connect them with three lines. If you are allowed to use four lines, anyone can connect the dots. But, if we are to use only three lines, how do we connect the four dots? If we can extend ourselves beyond the four dots, not confining ourselves to only the four dots, then, using only three lines, we can indeed connect the four dots.

With regard to religion too, we need to use this technique. All of us have our four dots. We need to connect them in such a way that our four dots remain connected, but we restrict ourselves to preserving other peoples’ freedom too. We need to stretch our ideas a bit for this accommodation to take place. You must live. I too must live. We need not kill each other; neither at the idea level, nor at the physical level.

Respect diversity, but recognize the underlying unity

Let me come back to a question I raised sometime back in our deliberations: Why can’t we just stick to the spiritual aspect of religion? Why not divest our religions of all the cultural aspects all together? After all, these aspects divide us. Why not do away with them?

You know, we may not exactly divest ourselves of all the cultural aspects, but, most religions have a strange habit of ‘adapting’ to other cultures. We have seen that in history. Take the example of the Second Vatican Council. Right from Pope Pius X, followed by Pope Pius XII to Pope Paul VI, there has been a steady transition from the Latin liturgy to liturgy in vernaculars. The motive behind this idea is indeed grand. The common man in different countries must feel identified with the Christian rites. But, at what cost? Just look at the experiment conducted by Father Monchanin and Father Henri Le Seux. The latter even went up to the ridiculous stage of taking monastic vows as per Hindu tradition and assumed the name Swami Abhishiktananda. And he didn’t set up an Abbey; he set up an Ashrama! In that Ashrama, he instituted Arati for Jesus Christ, just as you have in Hindu Temples. Now, it is not that people don’t come to his Ashrama. They do come. But, what about their self-identity? Are they Christians or Hindus? No psalms or Gregorian chants in the Ashirvanam Ashrama; instead they have Bhajans, typical South Indian style! The dividing line between Christianity and Hinduism has worn so thin in that Ashrama, the followers associated there will certainly experience an identity crisis! We may have to avoid these experiments. We will be dealing with forces we do not fully understand, which may end up destroying us. I tell you this because, that is exactly what happened with Buddhism in India. India is the land of birth of this religion. In an effort to adapt itself to Hinduism, Buddhism made so many changes that in the end it lost all individuality and was finally absorbed into Hinduism! The Hindus made Buddha into one of their innumerable incarnations of God and that was the end of Buddhism! Later on, the Buddhists realized what had happened. Many attempts were made to revive that religion in India. But, Buddhism never really regained its life force in India.

Hence, it is most essential that we hold on firmly to the cultural aspects of our own religion. Else, in a few generations, we will end up losing our religion. But, we need not impose our views of religion on others. Please appreciate the dynamics at play here. When we try to impose our views on others, there will be resistance. So, we try to interpret our views as but a minor, but important variation of others’ religions. Thus starts a dangerous process of adaptation, of acculturation; a process described by the Buddha as ‘Upaya Kaushala’. Where does it lead to? Did the Buddha want that his religion should become extinct in the very land of its birth?

In a lighter vein, please read the following comic piece regarding ‘cultural adaptation’ and how it leads to loss of identity:

The European Commission has announced (of course, this was before Brexit!) an agreement that English will be the official language of the EU – rather than German. As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty’s Government conceded that English Spelling had some room for improvement, and has accepted a 5-year phase-in of new rules which would apply to the language and reclassify it as Euro-English.

The agreed plan is as follows:

In year 1, the soft ‘c’ would replaced by the ‘s’.

Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be replaced by ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan now have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome ‘ph’ is replaced by ‘f’. This will reduse ‘fotograf’ by 20%.

In the 3d year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent ‘e’s in the language is disgrasful and they should eliminat them.

By year 4, peopl wil be reseptiv to lingwistik korektions such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’ with ‘v’ (saving mor keyboard spas).

During ze fifz year, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and similar changes vud of kors be applied to ozer kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz year, ve vil have a reli sensibil riten styl. Zer vil be no more trubls or difikultis and evrirum vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer.

Actually, never mind: that would be German after all!!!

Stay away from politics

Just as important as this issue of cultural adaptation, is another issue – stay away from politics. Do not mix religion and politics. If we mix the two, the resultant is too powerful a force, and none of us are capable of handling it. Please pardon me for saying this, but I believe that Jesus Christ died on the Cross, not just for redeeming man from his original sin as you all believe, but also to educate his children not to mix religion and politics. If Jesus Christ had continued his spiritual ministrations without giving an idea that he was King in the political sense of the term, I believe the Romans would have left him free. I believe, somehow the language Jesus Christ used, the complex political situation of that region during that period, the public perception of his message, all added up to give the idea that he was out to overthrow the Roman political power. And the end result was that the Romans ended up crucifying him. The Lord suffered this gruesome punishment to show us that even the Lord Incarnate cannot manage to mix politics and religion!

Man-centric conception of God

So, by stretching our own ideas of God and religion, we all need to evolve a Man-centric conception of God and religion. This is urgently needed. Else, we will destroy ourselves. Especially, we, the custodians of religion will have to do it as quickly as possible. If we continue the way we live and work and feel, we will end up frustrated with ourselves. We have given up our entire life to a search for God; but we are stuck with fighting others on trivial issues. If we do this for long, we will become hypocrites. Outwardly, we will have the strappings of a religious person, but inwardly we will start doubting the efficacy of God and religion. Imagine the validity of a God or a religion that cannot defend itself! Imagine the strength of a God or religion that requires me to survive!

So, a Man-centric conception of God is urgently required. It is already available in all religions. We need to popularize it, that’s all. What is this conception?

Religion expounds powerful ideas of God, creation, the world, its future, and about man. The focus is generally the conception of God. We need to focus on the conception of Man. You see, we can neither be sure of God, nor religion, nor philosophy. But we are all sure of our own existence. Why don’t we start with this wonderful fact? ‘We ourselves’ – that is the starting point of our religion. I shall attempt to know myself. This leads to an amazing development within me. The more I know who I am, the more I am able to understand you, my fellow human being, my neighbor, my brother. No, not just these, I gradually start to see that there was no ‘you’; it was all along ‘me’ that I saw out there as ‘you’. This is the outcome of divesting religion of its temporal aspects, and emphasizing the human-centric aspects.

Implications of this view

‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.’ This is Jesus Christ’s promise to mankind.[2] We come across this incredible statement in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. Please note the use of the word ‘see’. Jesus doesn’t say that the pure of heart will believe in God; no; they will ‘see’ God. It is a most palpable experience, visceral. Our effort must therefore be, not just to believe in God, but to see God. It won’t do to say that I believe in the existence of God, or that I believe so-&-so is God. I must see God. That is the goal. If I haven’t seen God, nothing else is of any value, none of my theories, none of my thoughts, none of my beliefs, none of my actions. Let us not complicate things by trying to interpret this ‘seeing’ using our sophistry. That was the word Jesus Christ used. He came for simplifying religion. Let us not complicate it.

For as long as we haven’t yet seen God, let us be peaceful amongst others in this world. That is the reason Jesus Christ adds the following beatitude ‘Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ You see, Mother Teresa used to ask, “Do you know why we fight so much?” Then she would herself give the answer, “It is because we do not recognize that we belong to one another.” These are terrific words, really. Take for instance our hand. Would anyone here want to cut-off one’s own hand? No. Why not?  Because my hand belongs to me. Why would I damage something that belongs to me? Whereas that fellow over there, he doesn’t belong to me. I don’t see why I shouldn’t kill him!

So many flowering plants are there in this world, which is God’s garden. Why would we want to kill any of those plants? Each plant gives a different flower. But all of them are beautiful and serve one purpose of the other. Let us learn to enjoy this variety.

Spirituality

Like I said before, religion is ‘seeing’ God. Religion is realization. Unless we ‘see’ God, there is no question of experiencing God. Thoughts, beliefs, doctrines, dogmas, theories and feelings are not experience when it comes to God and religion!

I wish to explain the prevalent conceptions of Man in the world religions today before we go further on with our main subject of sharing God experience. There are mainly two different conceptions of Man in this world. One is the oriental view; the other is the occidental view. The occidental view is called the Dichotomous view of man, while the oriental view is called the Trichotomous view of man. The European and American view of man says man is composed of two components – the body and the mind. The Asian view of man says man is composed of three components – the body, the mind, and consciousness, that illumines both body and mind. The former view holds that consciousness is an outcome of the activities of the mind. These two views are not compatible. The philosophy of the New Testament is purely oriental. Jesus Christ was from Asia. Naturally he subscribed to the trichotomous view of man. It is present in his utterances. He deals with pure consciousness in many places. The word used is ‘Spirit’. The reason I raised this issue now is because our conception of God is closely connected to our conception of man. If we can conceive of man as Spirit, we can then conceive of God also as Spirit. Recall how Jesus Christ exhorts us to worship the Spirit by the Spirit in John 4:24.

Without meddling with unnecessary things, if we are sincere in our spiritual practices, as prescribed by our religion, we can indeed reach the supra-cultural realm of true spirituality. Sister Nivedita used to speak of an old lady who would pray in the Chapel every day, year after year. Then one day, when she was praying, the Verger of the Church awoke her from her prayer and said that it was time to go home. When she looked at that Verger, suddenly she saw that it was Jesus Christ himself that had spoken to her! That is ‘seeing’. Ever since she saw that every person was none other than Jesus Christ. All these years, she had mistaken people for people; from now on, she saw that there was only one person and that was Jesus Christ.

Monopoly on the Spirit

Which religion has a monopoly on spirituality? Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Muslims – who? All of them have produced people who have ‘seen’ God. Even if one such person has come out of a religion, that religion is true and has a valid reason to exist. Innumerable are the types of minds in this world. There is no meaning in saying my religion alone is true. Religion has only one reason for existing – can it produce a saint? If it does, it is valid.

Sometime back I raised the question of universality of spiritual practices. I said that there can be no universal spiritual practice. Each path to God will have its peculiarity, distinguishing it from all other paths. Each such path becomes a religion. There is however one component of spiritual practice that is common to all religions. That component is ‘renunciation of the senses’. The soul has to beat a retreat from the senses, no matter what religion it follows. Recall Jesus Christ’s clarion call: He who follows me can never walk in darkness (John 8:21) I personally love this statement of Jesus Christ. I remember this statement so well because it forms the opening sentence of that great book ‘The imitation of Christ’ by Thomas Kempis.

All religions prescribe this renunciation as a sine-qua-non for spiritual life. Hence, we need to go back to the roots of our spiritual practices. Poverty, Chastity and Obedience; no sooner do we become lax on this front do we start facing problems in our lives. Please listen to a story:

The Pope wanted a good monk to train his novices, a genuine, devout and learned monk who could look after his Pontifical Seminary in the Vatican. He wrote to the Grand Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. When the Papal Bull arrived, the Grand Patriarch called all his sagely Cardinals and showed them the letter. “Do you see? The Pope wants someone to train his monks. We shall send him what he wants, won’t we, Holy Fathers?” “As you decree, and as our Dear God the Lord wishes, Your Holiness” said the Cardinals in unison. The Grand Patriarch selected four young, promising, devout and learned monks and sent them to the Vatican, instructing them that they would report to the Pope, telling him that Mar Thoma, the Grand Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church had sent them. The other Cardinals all felt that when the Pope had asked for just one monk, why was their Grand Patriarch sending four? They couldn’t understand it and finally decided that old age was catching up finally on him and that he had missed that detail and by mistake he had sent four while only one would have sufficed. Meanwhile, the party of the four monks trudged along the long and arduous path from Constantinople to Vatican. On the way lay a thick forest. They saw some Bushmen hiding among the trees, peering intently at them. “Holy Brothers, look at them. They are men like us, but, not having heard about our Savior, they have sold themselves to the Devil. Let me stay among them and bring back their lost souls back to Christ” said one of them and urged all the others to move on. After some days, the party of three monks reached a village and took shelter in the house of the Chieftain. After dinner, the Chieftain wailed, “Holy Fathers, our Pastor passed away a few days ago and we are all sheep without a shepherd. Can’t one of you stay with us and guide our souls?” this speech touched the heart of one of the three monks and he stayed on tending that village church, urging the others to carry on. After some more days, the two monks reached the Tiber River. Beyond the bridge lay the Vatican. Just as they both crossed the Tiber Bridge, perhaps overcome by the cumulative exhaustion of the long journey, one of the monks collapsed and died. The monk who reached the Vatican was welcomed by the Pope and very soon endeared himself to the Pope due to his piety and wisdom. The Pope wrote a fine letter thanking the Grand Patriarch for sparing such a fine monk. When that thanks letter arrived, all the Cardinals were called and the Grand Patriarch announced, “Do you see? The Pope speaks of only one monk! Do you see now why I sent four when the Pope had asked for only one? Many of us embark on life’s journey, only to be sidetracked here and there, losing sight of our goal, getting shunted before reaching our destiny.”[3]

Help thyself first

One of the main reasons for religious bigotry and religious unrest is the extreme urge that immature people in religion have for spreading their faith. Does faith need to be spread? Indeed, it must. But who should do it? Do we have the requisite understanding for performing this greatest of all jobs? Just because we have a few fine feelings for God and have studied a couple of religious books, are we qualified to lead other souls on the Godward journey?

I quote an illuminating passage that I read some time ago. I am not sure of the author, but I think it was W Somerset Maugham: I was once going down the riverside, looking for a place to sit down for fishing. Fishing, you know, is really relaxing. Apart from listening to music, and taking long walks, it is fishing that I recommend for relaxation, although not necessarily in that order. So, here I was taking a long walk along the river side, looking for a suitable place to sit down and throw my bait, when I saw a man lifting a fish from the waters and placing it on a tree. I asked him, “What are you doing? Why place it on a tree? Why don’t you carry a basket with you to collect your catches?” His reply, still ringing in my ears, was, “Catch? What do you mean? This stupid fish was drowning in the rapid currents of the river. I was passing by when I saw it. I just saved that fish from drowning!” I hope our uncontrollable urge to serve others doesn’t end up like this idiot’s efforts!

Religion deals primarily with our own inner development. We miss the point when we make a social cause out of religion. Father Antony De Mello mentions a beautiful story in this regard: The hero had just returned from the deep Amazon forests. His lectures were all recorded and his journeys were mapped meticulously. All the flowers he saw were reproduced on paper, drawings made of the wild animals he encountered and the entire river was charted on a cartographer’s table. A group of young men approached him once to hear directly from him about the Amazon. He said, “Indeed I have tried my best to describe it all as clearly as I could. But how can I convey to you the intense joy, the exhilaration, the strange feelings that flooded my heart when I saw those exotic flowers & heard those night sounds in the forests & sensed the danger of being close to those wild animals & of paddling in those treacherous rapids! Go out and find out for yourselves, young men.” Those young fellows understood. They went out, found the master map, framed it, and using the pioneer’s lectures and drawings, became experts in interpreting the Amazon map.

Father De Mello mentions another amazing story: The discovery of fire. After many year of labor, an inventor discovered the art of making fire. He took his tool to the snow-clad northern regions and initiated a tribe into the art – and the advantages – of making fire. The people became so absorbed in this novelty that it did not occur to them to thank the inventor who one day quietly slipped away. Being one of those rare human beings endowed with greatness, he had no desire to be remembered or revered; all he sought was the satisfaction of knowing that someone had benefitted from his discovery. The next tribe he went to was just as eager to learn as the first. But the local priests, jealous of the stranger’s hold on the people, had him assassinated. To allay any suspicion of the crime, they had a portrait of the Great inventor enthroned upon the main altar of the temple; and a liturgy designed so that his name would be revered and his memory kept alive. The greatest care was taken that not a single rubric of the liturgy was altered or omitted. The tools for making fire were enshrined in a casket and were said to bring healing to all who laid their hands on them with faith. The High Priest himself undertook the task of compiling a life of the Inventor. This became the Holy Book in which his loving kindness was offered as an example for all to emulate. His glorious deeds were eulogized, his superhuman nature made an article of faith. The priests saw to it that the Book was handed down to future generations, while they authoritatively interpreted the meaning of his words and the significance of his holy life and death. And they ruthlessly punished with death or excommunication anyone who deviated from their doctrine. Caught up as they were in their religious tasks, the people completely forgot the art of making fire.[4]

Our spiritual life ought to be based on facts. The sooner it becomes so, the better for all of us. You know, a Professor once asked his class what was the length of the room in which the class was being held. One fellow said, ‘20 feet’. ‘Wrong.’ Another said, ‘19 feet’. ‘Wrong.’ Yet another said, ‘21 feet’. ‘Wrong again.’ You see, when we look at a room, we get a rough feel of its length. Then we start guessing. The number must be around 20 feet. When the Professor rejected all the answers, the students asked him what the actual length was. Do you know the Professor’s answer? He said, ‘I don’t know.’ Guess against guess creates the entire disturbance in the world. Speak of what you know from personal experience and everyone will listen and agree.[5]

It is a life of dedicated spiritual practice that is the need of the hour in religion. You know, when we joined as novices in Ramakrishna Mission, we were all made to study a small book compulsorily; ‘Practice of the presence of God’ by Br Lawrence. One of the most powerful books I have ever read. Br Lawrence says in that book, ‘I never found any difference between the work I did and praying in the chapel.’

I will end today’s long lecture by telling you four stories, which throw wonderful light on spiritual life.

A love-struck youth pressed his suit unsuccessfully, but relentlessly. He applied himself for months, but each time met with atrocious rejection. Finally, his sweetheart yielded. She said that she would meet him alone in such & such a place, on such & such a day, at such & such time. There, they sat, next to each other. The youth had brought all the letters he had written her. Burning words of love, he read them all aloud to her. The ludicrous youth was lost in his letters of longing love for the girl of his heart who now sat next to him! We need structure, we need formal procedures. But, these are only means to attain the goal. We must recognize them for what they are worth.[6]

A bald man was once crossing a river by boat. There was a prankster on the same boat. He saw the shining bald head too tempting and couldn’t resist giving it a resounding smack. The bald man got up to beat him into pulp. The prankster stopped him and asked him, “Wait! Answer my question first: Did your bald head produce the loud sound, or was it my hand?” The bald man growled, “You answer your stupid question yourself at leisure. You don’t feel the pain I feel now. I can’t theorize!”[7] This pain of having not yet ‘seen’ God is the only safeguard we have against getting lost in the thick of thin things in religion.

A question was once asked ‘How do you tell when the night has ended and the day has begun?’ Many answers were given. ‘When you see an animal from some distance and can tell whether it is a cow or a horse.’ ‘When you look at a tree from some distance and can tell if it is a neem tree or mango tree.’ Etc. All were rejected as wrong. When pressed for what was the right answer, they were told, ‘When you look into the face of any man and recognize your brother in him; when you look into the face of a woman and recognize in her your sister. If you cannot do this, no matter what time it is, it is still night!’[8] Kindly recall Mother Teresa’s statement I quoted a little while ago.

The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order. In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again” they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery. The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?” “No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.” When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the rabbi say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving –it was something cryptic– was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.” In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I? As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect. Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends. Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.[9]

We need to urgently intensify our focus on our inner life. When we do that correctly, we will find that the quality of our community life too improves. If we don’t do that, the result of leading a so-called spiritual life is a sham. We would be going through the motions, but the end result would be zero!

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 in a sapling. A third person comes after that and fills up the hole with mud. Today, the second guy is absent!”

We all have our monasteries, churches, temples, mosques, monks, followers, God, rituals, and yet, we lack peace! Neither do we experience peace, nor are we capable of giving peace to others around us. So much is there, but the one essential thing is missing. Why? It is because ‘the second guy’ is absent from our lives. Renunciation actually means love of God. Do we love God? How can we be interested then in anything of this world? As Thomas Kempis famously said, ‘Ours is a jealous God!’ Either we give our whole attention to God or He won’t take it! There is no half-way house here.

I once again thank Archbishop Father Thomas D’Souza, Sr Anita Braganza and Sr Anna Maria for having invited me to this holy gathering.

Thank you once again.

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

[1] This story is taken from ‘Caravan of Dreams’ by Idries Shah: Page 167

[2] Cf: New Testament: Matt 5:8

[3] This story is taken from https://www.scribd.com/document/82805747/Food-for-Thought

[4] This story is from “Prayer of the Frog – Part 1” by Antony De Mello

[5] This story is taken from https://www.scribd.com/document/82805747/Food-for-Thought

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] I have taken this story from ‘How shall I be?’, value-education textbook for Class-VIII by Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math

[9] Different versions of this story are available. I have taken this version from the book ‘Different Drum’ by M Scott Peck. It is also available in the book ‘The road less travelled’ by the same author.

Morality & Ethics [According to Swami Vivekananda]

 

Prefatory NoteThis tract was the result of an attempt I made in the 1990s. I wanted to use Swami Vivekananda’s own words to bring out a complete system of Morality & Ethics. Every word used in this tract was uttered by Swami Vivekananda himself! I have given the exact references from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda for every passage included here. It is to be noted that Swami Vivekananda is one of the few persons in history who has done this momentous task – work out a viable moral system that is at once rational and universal.

What is Ethics?

One idea stands out as the centre of all ethical systems, expressed in various forms, namely, doing good to others. The guiding motive of mankind should be charity towards men, charity towards all animals.[1]

Doing good to others is virtue (Dharma); injuring others is sin. Strength and manliness are virtue; weakness and cowardice are sin. Independence is virtue; dependence is sin. Loving others is virtue; hating others is sin. Faith in God and in one’s own Self is virtue; doubt is sin. Knowledge of oneness is virtue; seeing diversity is sin. The different scriptures only show the means of attaining virtue.[2]

But the basis of all systems, social or political, rests upon the goodness of men. No nation is great or good because Parliament enacts this or that, but because its men are great and good.[3]

Ethics always says, “Not I, but thou.” Its motto is, “Not self, but non-self.” The vain ideas of individualism, to which man clings when he is trying to find that Infinite Power or that Infinite Pleasure through the senses, have to be given up — say the laws of ethics. You have to put yourself last and others before you. The senses say, “Myself first.” Ethics says, “I must hold myself last.” Thus, all codes of ethics are based upon this renunciation; destruction, not construction, of the individual on the material plane. That Infinite will never find expression upon the material plane, nor is it possible or thinkable.[4]

We have been degraded down to the animal, and are now going up, to emerge out of this bondage. But we shall never be able entirely to manifest the Infinite here. We shall struggle hard, but there will come a time when we shall find that it is impossible to be perfect here, while we are bound by the senses. And then the march back to our original state of Infinity will be sounded…This is renunciation. We shall have to get out of the difficulty by reversing the process by which we got in, and then morality and charity will begin. What is the watchword of all ethical codes? “Not I, but thou”, and this “I” is the outcome of the Infinite behind, trying to manifest Itself on the outside world. This little “I” is the result, and it will have to go back and join the Infinite, its own nature. Every time you say, “Not I, my brother, but thou”, you are trying to go back, and every time you say “I, and not thou”, you take the false step of trying to manifest the Infinite through the sense-world. That brings struggles and evils into the world, but after a time renunciation must come, eternal renunciation. The little “I” is dead and gone. Why care so much for this little life? All these vain desires of living and enjoying this life, here or in some other place, bring death.[5]

Perfect self – annihilation is the ideal of ethics.[6]

Everything that we perceive around us is struggling towards freedom, from the atom to the man, from the insentient, lifeless particle of matter to the highest existence on earth, the human soul. The whole universe is in fact the result of this struggle for freedom. In all combinations every particle is trying to go on its own way, to fly from the other particles; but the others are holding it in check. Our earth is trying to fly away from the sun, and the moon from the earth…Everything has a tendency to infinite dispersion. All that we see in the universe has for its basis this one struggle towards freedom; it is under the impulse of this tendency that the saint prays and the robber robs. When the line of action taken is not a proper one, we call it evil; and when the manifestation of it is proper and high, we call it good. But the impulse is the same, the struggle towards freedom. The saint is oppressed with the knowledge of his condition of bondage, and he wants to get rid of it; so he worships God. The thief is oppressed with the idea that he does not possess certain things, and he tries to get rid of that want, to obtain freedom from it; so he steals. Freedom is the one goal of all nature, sentient or insentient; and consciously or unconsciously, everything is struggling towards that goal. The freedom which the saint seeks is very different from that which the robber seeks; the freedom loved by the saint leads him to the enjoyment of infinite, unspeakable bliss, while that on which the robber has set his heart only forges other bonds for his soul…There is to be found in every religion the manifestation of this struggle towards freedom. It is the groundwork of all morality, of unselfishness, which means getting rid of the idea that men are the same as their little body.[7]

Morality of course is not the goal of man, but the means through which this freedom is attained. The Vedanta says that Yoga is one way that makes men realise this divinity. The Vedanta says this is done by the realisation of the freedom within and that everything will give way to that. Morality and ethics will all range themselves in their proper places.[8]

Utility & Ethics: Why should we be ethical?

Utilitarian standards cannot explain the ethical relations of men, for, in the first place, we cannot derive any ethical laws from considerations of utility. Without the supernatural sanction as it is called, or the perception of the superconscious as I prefer to term it, there can be no ethics. Without the struggle towards the Infinite there can be no ideal. Any system that wants to bind men down to the limits of their own societies is not able to find an explanation for the ethical laws of mankind. The Utilitarian wants us to give up the struggle after the Infinite, the reaching-out for the Supersensuous, as impracticable and absurd, and, in the same breath, asks us to take up ethics and do good to society. Why should we do good? Doing good is a secondary consideration. We must have an ideal. Ethics itself is not the end, but the means to the end. If the end is not there, why should we be ethical? Why should I do good to other men, and not injure them? If happiness is the goal of mankind, why should I not make myself happy and others unhappy? What prevents me? In the second place, the basis of utility is too narrow. All the current social forms and methods are derived from society as it exists, but what right has the Utilitarian to assume that society is eternal? Society did not exist ages ago, possibly will not exist ages hence. Most probably it is one of the passing stages through which we are going towards a higher evolution, and any law that is derived from society alone cannot be eternal, cannot cover the whole ground of man’s nature. At best, therefore, Utilitarian theories can only work under present social conditions. Beyond that they have no value. But a morality an ethical code, derived from religion and spirituality, has the whole of infinite man for its scope. It takes up the individual, but its relations are to the Infinite, and it takes up society also — because society is nothing but numbers of these individuals grouped together; and as it applies to the individual and his eternal relations, it must necessarily apply to the whole of society, in whatever condition it may be at any given time. Thus we see that there is always the necessity of spiritual religion for mankind. Man cannot always think of matter, however pleasurable it may be.

Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and this nature is both internal and external. Not only does it comprise the laws that govern the particles of matter outside us and in our bodies, but also the more subtle nature within, which is, in fact, the motive power governing the external. It is good and very grand to conquer external nature, but grander still to conquer our internal nature. It is grand and good to know the laws that govern the stars and planets; it is infinitely grander and better to know the laws that govern the passions, the feelings, the will, of mankind. This conquering of the inner man, understanding the secrets of the subtle workings that are within the human mind, and knowing its wonderful secrets, belong entirely to religion. Human nature — the ordinary human nature, I mean — wants to see big material facts. The ordinary man cannot understand anything that is subtle. Well has it been said that the masses admire the lion that kills a thousand lambs, never for a moment thinking that it is death to the lambs. Although a momentary triumph for the lion; because they find pleasure only in manifestations of physical strength. Thus it is with the ordinary run of mankind. They understand and find pleasure in everything that is external.

But in every society there is a section whose pleasures are not in the senses, but beyond, and who now and then catch glimpses of something higher than matter and struggle to reach it. And if we read the history of nations between the lines, we shall always find that the rise of a nation comes with an increase in the number of such men; and the fall begins when this pursuit after the Infinite, however vain Utilitarians may call it, has ceased. That is to say, the mainspring of the strength of every race lies in its spirituality, and the death of that race begins the day that spirituality wanes and materialism gains ground.[9]

What is the source of Ethics?

The field of reason, or of the conscious workings of the mind, is narrow and limited. There is a little circle within which human reason must move. It cannot go beyond. Every attempt to go beyond is impossible, yet it is beyond this circle of reason that there lies all that humanity holds most dear. All these questions, whether there is an immortal soul, whether there is a God, whether there is any supreme intelligence guiding this universe or not, are beyond the field of reason. Reason can never answer these questions. What does reason say? It says, “I am agnostic; I do not know either yea or nay.” Yet these questions are so important to us. Without a proper answer to them, human life will be purposeless. All our ethical theories, all our moral attitudes, all that is good and great in human nature, have been moulded upon answers that have come from beyond the circle. It is very important, therefore, that we should have answers to these questions. If life is only a short play, if the universe is only a “fortuitous combination of atoms,” then why should I do good to another? Why should there be mercy, justice, or fellow-feeling? The best thing for this world would be to make hay while the sun shines, each man for himself. If there is no hope, why should I love my brother, and not cut his throat? If there is nothing beyond, if there is no freedom, but only rigorous dead laws, I should only try to make myself happy here. You will find people saying nowadays that they have utilitarian grounds as the basis of morality. What is this basis? Procuring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number. Why should I do this? Why should I not produce the greatest unhappiness to the greatest number, if that serves my purpose? How will utilitarians answer this question? How do you know what is right, or what is wrong? I am impelled by my desire for happiness, and I fulfil it, and it is in my nature; I know nothing beyond. I have these desires, and must fulfil them; why should you complain? Whence come all these truths about human life, about morality, about the immortal soul, about God, about love and sympathy, about being good, and, above all, about being unselfish?

All ethics, all human action and all human thought, hang upon this one idea of unselfishness. The whole idea of human life can be put into that one word, unselfishness. Why should we be unselfish? Where is the necessity, the force, the power, of my being unselfish? You call yourself a rational man, a utilitarian; but if you do not show me a reason for utility, I say you are irrational. Show me the reason why I should not be selfish. To ask one to be unselfish may be good as poetry, but poetry is not reason. Show me a reason. Why shall I be unselfish, and why be good? Because Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so say so does not weigh with me. Where is the utility of my being unselfish? My utility is to be selfish if utility means the greatest amount of happiness. What is the answer? The utilitarian can never give it. The answer is that this world is only one drop in an infinite ocean, one link in an infinite chain. Where did those that preached unselfishness, and taught it to the human race, get this idea? We know it is not instinctive; the animals, which have instinct, do not know it. Neither is it reason; reason does not know anything about these ideas. Whence then did they come? [10]

Unity is knowledge, diversity is ignorance. This knowledge is your birthright. I have not to teach it to you. There never were different religions in the world. We are all destined to have salvation, whether we will it or not. You have to attain it in the long run and become free, because it is your nature to be free. We are already free, only we do not know it, and we do not know what we have been doing. Throughout all religious systems and ideals is the same morality; one thing only is preached: “Be unselfish, love others.” One says, “Because Jehovah commanded.” “Allah,” shouted Mohammed. Another cries, “Jesus”. If it was only the command of Jehovah, how could it come to those who never knew Jehovah? If it was Jesus alone who gave this command, how could any one who never knew Jesus get it? If only Vishnu, how could the Jews get it, who never were acquainted with that gentleman? There is another source, greater than all of them. Where is it? In the eternal temple of God, in the souls of all beings from the lowest to the highest. It is there — that infinite unselfishness, infinite sacrifice, infinite compulsion to go back to unity.

We have seemingly been divided, limited, because of our ignorance; and we have become as it were the little Mrs. So-and-so and Mr. So-and-so. But all nature is giving this delusion the lie every moment. I am not that little man or little woman cut off from all else; I am the one universal existence. The soul in its own majesty is rising up every moment and declaring its own intrinsic Divinity.

This Vedanta is everywhere, only you must become conscious of it. These masses of foolish beliefs and superstitions hinder us in our progress. If we can, let us throw them off and understand that God is spirit to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Try to be materialists no more! Throw away all matter! The conception of God must be truly spiritual. All the different ideas of God, which are more or less materialistic, must go. As man becomes more and more spiritual, he has to throw off all these ideas and leave them behind. As a matter of fact, in every country there have always been a few who have been strong enough to throw away all matter and stand out in the shining light, worshipping the spirit by the spirit.[11]

Advaita and Ethics: Vedantic morality

Advaita and Advaita alone explains morality. Every religion preaches that the essence of all morality is to do good to others. And why? Be unselfish. And why should I? Some God has said it? He is not for me. Some texts have declared it? Let them; that is nothing to me; let them all tell it. And if they do, what is it to me? Each one for himself, and somebody take the hindermost — that is all the morality in the world, at least with many. What is the reason that I should be moral? You cannot explain it except when you come to know the truth as given in the Gita: “He who sees everyone in himself, and himself in everyone, thus seeing the same God living in all, he, the sage, no more kills the Self by the self.” Know through Advaita that whomsoever you hurt, you hurt yourself; they are all you. Whether you know it or not, through all hands you work, through all feet you move, you are the king enjoying in the palace, you are the beggar leading that miserable existence in the street; you are in the ignorant as well as in the learned, you are in the man who is weak, and you are in the strong; know this and be sympathetic. And that is why we must not hurt others. That is why I do not even care whether I have to starve, because there will be millions of mouths eating at the same time, and they are all mine. Therefore I should not care what becomes of me and mine, for the whole universe is mine, I am enjoying all the bliss at the same time; and who can kill me or the universe? Herein is morality. Here, in Advaita alone, is morality explained. The others teach item but cannot give you its reason.[12]

Those of you who have studied the Gita will remember the memorable passages: “He who looks upon the learned Brahmin, upon the cow, the elephant, the dog, or the outcast with the same eye, he indeed is the sage, and the wise man”; “Even in this life he has conquered relative existence whose mind is firmly fixed on this sameness, for the Lord is one and the same to all, and the Lord is pure; therefore those who have this sameness for all, and are pure, are said to be living in God.” This is the gist of Vedantic morality — this sameness for all.[13]

Oneness: What are its practical implications?

There will be various questions in connection with this, and I shall try to answer them as we go on. Many difficulties will arise, but first let us clearly understand the position of monism. As manifested beings we appear to be separate, but our reality is one, and the less we think of ourselves as separate from that One, the better for us. The more we think of ourselves as separate from the Whole, the more miserable we become. From this monistic principle we get at the basis of ethics, and I venture to say that we cannot get any ethics from anywhere else. We know that the oldest idea of ethics was the will of some particular being or beings, but few are ready to accept that now, because it would be only a partial generalization. The Hindus say we must not do this or that because the Vedas say so, but the Christian is not going to obey the authority of the Vedas. The Christian says you must do this and not do that because the Bible says so. That will not be binding on those who do not believe in the Bible. But we must have a theory which is large enough to take in all these various grounds. Just as there are millions of people who are ready to believe in a Personal Creator, there have also been thousands of the brightest minds in this world who felt that such ideas were not sufficient for them, and wanted something higher, and wherever religion was not broad enough to include all these minds, the result was that the brightest minds in society were always outside of religion; and never was this so marked as at the present time, especially in Europe.[14]

(But) this is a fact that variation exists, and so it must, if life is to be…A state of things, where all variation has died down, giving place to a uniform, dead homogeneity, is impossible so long as life lasts. Nor is it desirable. At the same time, there is the other side of the fact, viz that this unity already exists. That is the peculiar claim — not that this unity has to be made, but that it already exists, and that you could not perceive the variety at all, without it. God is not to be made, but He already exists. This has been the claim of all religions. Whenever one has perceived the finite, he has also perceived the Infinite. Some laid stress on the finite side, and declared that they perceived the finite without; others laid stress on the Infinite side, and declared they perceived the Infinite only. But we know that it is a logical necessity that we cannot perceive the one without the other. So the claim is that this sameness, this unity, this perfection — as we may call it — is not to be made, it already exists, and is here. We have only to recognise it, to understand it. Whether we know it or not, whether we can express it in clear language or not, whether this perception assumes the force and clearness of a sense-perception or not, it is there. For we are bound by the logical necessity of our minds to confess that it is there, else, the perception of the finite would not be…Therefore the absolute sameness of conditions, if that be the aim of ethics, appears to be impossible. That all men should be the same, could never be, however we might try…At the same time ring in our ears the wonderful words of morality proclaimed by various teachers: “Thus, seeing the same God equally present in all, the sage does not injure Self by the Self, and thus reaches the highest goal. Even in this life they have conquered relative existence whose minds are firmly fixed on this sameness; for God is pure, and God is the same to all…Therefore such are said to be living in God.” We cannot deny that this is the real idea; yet at the same time comes the difficulty that the sameness as regards external forms and position can never be attained.

The work of ethics has been, and will be in the future, not the destruction of variation and the establishment of sameness in the external world — which is impossible for it would bring death and annihilation — but to recognise the unity in spite of all these variations, to recognise the God within, in spite of everything that frightens us, to recognise that infinite strength as the property of everyone in spite of all apparent weakness, and to recognise the eternal, infinite, essential purity of the soul in spite of everything to the contrary that appears on the surface.[15]

The diabolical man is a part of my body as a wound or a burn is. We have to nurse it and get it better; so continually nurse and help the diabolical man, until he “heals” and is once happy and healthy.[16]

Conception of God & its relation to Morality:

The Impersonal God is a living God, a principle. The difference between personal and impersonal is this, that the personal is only a man, and the impersonal idea is that He is the angel, the man, the animal, and yet something more which we cannot see, because impersonality includes all personalities, is the sum total of everything in the universe, and infinitely more besides. “As the one fire coming into the world is manifesting itself in so many forms, and yet is infinitely more besides,” so is the Impersonal.[17]

Those who have understood and worshipped a Personal God, and those who have understood and worshipped an Impersonal God, on which side have been the great workers of the world — gigantic workers, gigantic moral powers? Certainly on the Impersonal. How can you expect morality to be developed through fear? It can never be. “Where one sees another, where one hears another, that is Maya. When one does not see another, when one does not hear another, when everything has become the Atman, who sees whom, who perceives whom?” It is all He, and all I, at the same time. The soul has become pure. Then, and then alone we understand what love is. Love cannot come through fear, its basis is freedom. When we really begin to love the world, then we understand what is meant by brotherhood or mankind, and not before.[18]

The more selfish a man, the more immoral he is. And so also with the race. That race which is bound down to itself has been the most cruel and the most wicked in the whole world. There has not been a religion that has clung to this dualism more than that founded by the Prophet of Arabia, and there has not been a religion which has shed so much blood and been so cruel to other men. In the Koran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed; it is a mercy to kill him! And the surest way to get to heaven, where there are beautiful houris and all sorts of sense-enjoyments, is by killing these unbelievers. Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs!

In the religion of Christ there was little of crudeness; there is very little difference between the pure religion of Christ and that of the Vedanta. You find there the idea of oneness; but Christ also preached dualistic ideas to the people in order to give them something tangible to take hold of, to lead them up to the highest ideal. The same Prophet who preached, “Our Father which art in heaven”, also preached, “I and my Father are one”, and the same Prophet knew that through the “Father in heaven” lies the way to the “I and my Father are one”. There was only blessing and love in the religion of Christ; but as soon as crudeness crept in, it was degraded into something not much better than the religion of the Prophet of Arabia. It was crudeness indeed — this fight for the little self, this clinging on to the “I”, not only in this life, but also in the desire for its continuance even after death. This they declare to be unselfishness; this the foundation of morality! Lord help us, if this be the foundation of morality! And strangely enough, men and women who ought to know better think all morality will be destroyed if these little selves go and stand aghast at the idea that morality can only stand upon their destruction. The watchword of all well-being, of all moral good is not “I” but “thou”. Who cares whether there is a heaven or a hell, who cares if there is a soul or not, who cares if there is an unchangeable or not? Here is the world, and it is full of misery. Go out into it as Buddha did, and struggle to lessen it or die in the attempt. Forget yourselves; this is the first lesson to be learnt, whether you are a theist or an atheist, whether you are an agnostic or a Vedantist, a Christian or a Mohammedan. The one lesson obvious to all is the destruction of the little self and the building up of the Real Self.[19]

Morality for Atheists & Agnostics: Karma Yoga:

Karma-Yoga is the attaining through unselfish work of that freedom which is the goal of all human nature. Every selfish action, therefore, retards our reaching the goal, and every unselfish action takes us towards the goal; that is why the only definition that can be given of morality is this: That which is selfish is immoral, and that which is unselfish is moral.

The same action under one set of circumstances may be unselfish, and under another set quite selfish. So we can give only a general definition, and leave the details to be worked out by taking into consideration the differences in time, place, and circumstances. In one country one kind of conduct is considered moral, and in another the very same is immoral, because the circumstances differ. The goal of all nature is freedom, and freedom is to be attained only by perfect unselfishness; every thought, word, or deed that is unselfish takes us towards the goal, and, as such, is called moral. That definition, you will find, holds good in every religion and every system of ethics. In some systems of thought morality is derived from a Superior Being — God. If you ask why a man ought to do this and not that, their answer is: “Because such is the command of God.” But whatever be the source from which it is derived, their code of ethics also has the same central idea — not to think of self but to give up self. And yet some persons, in spite of this high ethical idea, are frightened at the thought of having to give up their little personalities.[20]

Karma-Yoga, therefore, is a system of ethics and religion intended to attain freedom through unselfishness, and by good works. The Karma-Yogi need not believe in any doctrine whatever. He may not believe even in God, may not ask what his soul is, nor think of any metaphysical speculation. He has got his own special aim of realising selflessness; and he has to work it out himself. Every moment of his life must be realisation, because he has to solve by mere work, without the help of doctrine or theory, the very same problem to which the Jnani applies his reason and inspiration and the Bhakta his love.[21]

I would like to see moral men like Gautama Buddha, who did not believe in a Personal God or a personal soul, never asked about them, but was a perfect agnostic, and yet was ready to lay down his life for anyone, and worked all his life for the good of all, and thought only of the good of all. Well has it been said by his biographer, in describing his birth, that he was born for the good of the many, as a blessing to the many. He did not go to the forest to meditate for his own salvation; he felt that the world was burning, and that he must find a way out. “Why is there so much misery in the world?” — was the one question that dominated his whole life. Do you think we are so moral as the Buddha?[22]

Advaita Vedanta: The only true philosophical basis for Morality:

My idea is to show that the highest ideal of morality and unselfishness goes hand in hand with the highest metaphysical conception, and that you need not lower your conception to get ethics and morality, but, on the other hand, to reach a real basis of morality and ethics you must have the highest philosophical and scientific conceptions. Human knowledge is not antagonistic to human well-being. On the contrary, it is knowledge alone that will save us in every department of life — in knowledge is worship. The more we know the better for us.[23]

The monistic Vedanta is the simplest form in which you can put truth. To teach dualism was a tremendous mistake made in India and elsewhere, because people did not look at the ultimate principles, but only thought of the process which is very intricate indeed. To many, these tremendous philosophical and logical propositions were alarming. They thought these things could not be made universal, could not be followed in everyday practical life, and that under the guise of such a philosophy much laxity of living would arise.

But I do not believe at all that monistic ideas preached to the world would produce immorality and weakness. On the contrary, I have reason to believe that it is the only remedy there is. If this be the truth, why let people drink ditch water when the stream of life is flowing by? If this be the truth, that they are all pure, why not at this moment teach it to the whole world? Why not teach it with the voice of thunder to every man that is born, to saints and sinners, men, women, and children, to the man on the throne and to the man sweeping the streets?[24]

Two forces have been working side by side in parallel lines. The one says “I”, the other says “not I”. Their manifestation is not only in man but in animals, not only in animals but in the smallest worms. The tigress that plunges her fangs into the warm blood of a human being would give up her own life to protect her young. The most depraved man who thinks nothing of taking the lives of his brother men will, perhaps, sacrifice himself without any hesitation to save his starving wife and children. Thus throughout creation these two forces are working side by side; where you find the one, you find the other too. The one is selfishness, the other is unselfishness. The one is acquisition, the other is renunciation. The one takes, the other gives. From the lowest to the highest, the whole universe is the playground of these two forces. It does not require any demonstration; it is obvious to all.

What right has any section of the community to base the whole work and evolution of the universe upon one of these two factors alone, upon competition and struggle? What right has it to base the whole working of the universe upon passion and fight, upon competition and struggle? That these exist we do not deny; but what right has anyone to deny the working of the other force? Can any man deny that love, this “not I”, this renunciation is the only positive power in the universe? That other is only the misguided employment of the power of love; the power of love brings competition, the real genesis of competition is in love. The real genesis of evil is in unselfishness. The creator of evil is good, and the end is also good. It is only misdirection of the power of good. A man who murders another is, perhaps, moved to do so by the love of his own child. His love has become limited to that one little baby, to the exclusion of the millions of other human beings in the universe. Yet, limited or unlimited, it is the same love.

Thus the motive power of the whole universe, in what ever way it manifests itself, is that one wonderful thing, unselfishness, renunciation, love, the real, the only living force in existence. Therefore the Vedantist insists upon that oneness. We insist upon this explanation because we cannot admit two causes of the universe. If we simply hold that by limitation the same beautiful, wonderful love appears to be evil or vile, we find the whole universe explained by the one force of love. If not, two causes of the universe have to be taken for granted, one good and the other evil, one love and the other hatred. Which is more logical? Certainly the one-force theory.[25]

Ethics is unity; its basis is love. It will not look at this variation. The one aim of ethics is this unity, this sameness. The highest ethical codes that mankind has discovered up to the present time know no variation; they have no time to stop to look into it; their one end is to make for that sameness.[26]

Urgent necessity of Vedantic Morality:

What is the utility, the effect, the result, of this knowledge? In these days, we have to measure everything by utility — by how many pounds shillings and pence it represents. What right has a person to ask that truth should be judged by the standard of utility or money? Suppose there is no utility, will it be less true? Utility is not the test of truth. Nevertheless, there is the highest utility in this. Happiness, we see is what everyone is seeking for, but the majority seek it in things which are evanescent and not real. No happiness was ever found in the senses. There never was a person who found happiness in the senses or in enjoyment of the senses.

Happiness is only found in the Spirit. Therefore the highest utility for mankind is to find this happiness in the Spirit. The next point is that ignorance is the great mother of all misery, and the fundamental ignorance is to think that the Infinite weeps and cries, that He is finite. This is the basis of all ignorance that we, the immortal, the ever pure, the perfect Spirit, think that we are little minds, that we are little bodies; it is the mother of all selfishness. As soon as I think that I am a little body, I want to preserve it, to protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies; then you and I become separate. As soon as this idea of separation comes, it opens the door to all mischief and leads to all misery. This is the utility that if a very small fractional part of human beings living today can put aside the idea of selfishness, narrowness, and littleness, this earth will become a paradise tomorrow; but with machines and improvements of material knowledge only, it will never be. These only increase misery, as oil poured on fire increases the flame all the more. Without the knowledge of the Spirit, all material knowledge is only adding fuel to fire, only giving into the hands of selfish man one more instrument to take what belongs to others, to live upon the life of others, instead of giving up his life for them.[27]

Vedantic Morality – How practical is it?

Is it practical? — is another question. Can it be practised in modern society? Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient or modern. Society has to pay homage to Truth or die. Societies should be moulded upon truth, and truth has not to adjust itself to society. If such a noble truth as unselfishness cannot be practiced in society, it is better for man to give up society and go into the forest.[28]

The whole idea of ethics is that it does not depend on anything unknowable, it does not teach anything unknown, but in the language of the Upanishad, “The God whom you worship as an unknown God, the same I preach unto thee.” It is through the Self that you know anything. I see the chair; but to see the chair, I have first to perceive myself and then the chair. It is in and through the Self that the chair is perceived. It is in and through the Self that you are known to me, that the whole world is known to me; and therefore to say this Self is unknown is sheer nonsense. Take off the Self and the whole universe vanishes. In and through the Self all knowledge comes…These ideas of the ethics of Vedanta have to be worked out in detail, and, therefore, you must have patience…Do you feel for others? If you do, you are growing in oneness. If you do not feel for others, you may be the most intellectual giant ever born, but you will be nothing; you are but dry intellect, and you will remain so. And if you feel, even if you cannot read any book and do not know any language, you are in the right way…Feel like Christ and you will be a Christ; feel like Buddha and you will be a Buddha. It is feeling that is the life, the strength, the vitality…It is one of the most practical things in Vedantic morality.[29]

A last word:

A word for you. Remember always, I may not see you again. Be moral. Be brave. Be a heart-whole man. Strictly moral, brave unto desperation. Don’t bother your head with religious theories. Cowards only sin, brave men never, no, not even in mind. Try to love anybody and everybody.[30]

Renounce the lower so that you may get the higher. What is the foundation of society? Morality, ethics, laws. Renounce. Renounce all temptation to take your neighbour’s property, to put hands upon your neighbour, all the pleasure of tyrannising over the weak, all the pleasure of cheating others by telling lies. Is not morality the foundation of society? What is marriage but the renunciation of unchastity? The savage does not marry. Man marries because he renounces. So on and on. Renounce! Renounce! Sacrifice! Give up! Not for zero. Not for nothing. But to get the higher.[31]

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Reference:

[1] The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1964), Vol-2, page-82

[2] ibid, Vol-5, page-419

[3] ibid, Vol-5, page-192

[4] ibid, Vol-2, page-63

[5] ibid, Vol-2, page-173

[6] ibid, Vol-2, page-63

[7] ibid, Vol-1, page-108

[8] ibid, Vol-5, page-282

[9] ibid, Vol-2, pp: 63-65

[10] ibid, Vol-1, pp: 181-182

[11] ibid, Vol-8, pp: 138-139

[12] ibid, Vol-3, page-425

[13] ibid, Vol-1, pp: 425-426

[14] ibid, Vol-2, pp: 334-335

[15] ibid, Vol-1, pp: 430-436

[16] ibid, Vol-7, page-103

[17] ibid, Vol-2, pp: 319-320

[18] ibid, Vol-2, page-322

[19] ibid, Vol-2, pp: 353-353

[20] ibid, Vol-1, page-110

[21] ibid, Vol-1, page-111

[22] ibid, Vol-2, page-352

[23] ibid, Vol-2, page-355

[24] ibid, Vol-2, page-199

[25] ibid, Vol-2, pp: 353-355

[26] ibid, Vol-1, page-432

[27] ibid, Vol-2, pp: 83-84

[28] ibid, Vol-2, page-84

[29] ibid, Vol-2, pp: 305-307

[30] ibid, Vol-5, page-3

[31] ibid, Vol-4, page-243