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

Harmony of Religions – How & Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you from?”

“I am from the sea.”

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

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

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

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

That has been the difficulty all the while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.[11]

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

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

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

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

[4] Ibid: Entry on October 28, 1882

[5] Ibid: Entry on March 11, 1883

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Glory of the Guru

Search for a Guru:

Two kinds of knowledge exist – Secular knowledge and Spiritual knowledge. Both of these are wonderful in their own ways. Both of these ought to be sought after in our life. Secular knowledge consists of everything that concerns our present daily life. Spiritual knowledge contains the subtle secrets of the innermost core of our being. Both of these are essential for us. The true path of evolution lies in maturing from secular knowledge to spiritual knowledge. Therefore we should learn all that secular knowledge has to teach us and then progress with our lives. This necessitates approaching different teachers, each of whom is qualified to impart a particular aspect of secular knowledge. It is only when the ephemeral nature of this world is intensely felt by the heart that man can wholeheartedly turn to spiritual life. Until then, secular knowledge is everything for him. From the blessed moment when this world stops satisfying the man, he develops an inquiry into the ‘other worldly’ knowledge or spiritual knowledge. What he then needs is the powerful beacon light of a spiritual teacher, also called a ‘Guru’. A search for such a Guru has to awaken in us.

Regarding our search for a Guru who can impart knowledge about our self, we need to know that there is no guarantee that we shall find him at hand. But once the search starts, even if we get a person more advanced than us in the spiritual search, it is a very great good fortune.

Sri Ramakrishna proclaims that when the real cry of the soul for a Guru reaches a feverish pitch, the able spiritual Guru himself approaches that fit student!

Who is the Guru?

Some say “He that teaches you even one alphabet is a Guru”. But in the course of our life, so many people teach us so many things. Are all of them our Guru then? How can that be? Can we have more than one Guru? With respect to secular knowledge, we can understand many Gurus, but regarding spiritual knowledge, can we have many Gurus?

Here, we need to clarify a distinction between the two words ‘Teacher’ and ‘Guru’. In the English language, we generally use the word ‘Teacher’ to denote anyone who teaches us secular knowledge. The word ‘Guru’ is generally used with respect to one who deals with our spiritual life. Although now-a-days, we do find the frequent use of words such as ‘Management-Guru’ or ‘Technical-Guru’. In this book, however, we shall be using the two words as mentioned above.

  • Before starting any activity, as per our ancient Hindu tradition, our first step ought to be – offering our salutations to the Guru. The first step in the studies of the Vedas is uttering the mantra – ‘Sri Gurubhyo Namaha’ which means ‘Salutations to the Guru’.
  • Supposing someone makes the absurd claim that he has sufficiently praised God, we may believe him. But if someone says that he is done praising his Guru sufficiently, that is unacceptable. Because, it is the Guru who shows us and puts us on the path to God. Without the Guru to help us, there would be no God-realization.
  • There is no power greater than the power of the Guru. What is this power? What can it achieve? How and where does it operate? Our attempts to answer all these questions will fall short of reality. In order to correctly understand these subtle aspects of the Guru-Shakti, we need to see a disciple who has achieved life-fulfilment by receiving his Guru’s Grace!
  • A little reflection will show you that everyone, on whom we depend in this world, will desert us one day or the other. But the Guru’s Grace protects us and sustains us, life after life.
  • Most people look at the human form of the Guru and ask ‘He is a man just like us; what indeed can he achieve for us!’ This is but natural. He eats and drinks just like us. He experiences all joys & pains associated with the body just like us. He ages just like us. He even dies one day, just like the rest of us. Seeing all these, this conclusion that the run-of-the-mill people arrive at, is quite natural. But, a true disciple sees the Guru from a totally different perspective. Guru is All-Powerful to him. No, not just that. Guru is the veritable Infinite to him!
  • The Guru heartily welcomes the blessed soul that approaches him. However, he does not despise the wretched souls that come to him. He welcomes them too, with great compassion.
  • The Guru teaches the highest secrets of spiritual sadhana to the pure souls that approach him. However, he starts with the first lessons of basic inner purification to the impure ones that seek refuge in him.
  • Those who come to him as disciples have each their own different levels of competence, and their own distinct inner tendencies. The experienced Guru imparts training in accordance with each disciple’s inner propensities and spiritual capabilities.
  • The true Guru is one, who has not only the moral power of an austere life behind him, but also has drunk deep out of the fountain of spiritual realization. He slowly starts pouring his spiritual power into those whom he accepts as his own dear disciples. As the disciple starts performing spiritual sadhana as per the guidance of the Guru, the intensity of this flow becomes greater and greater.
  • What is spiritual sadhana? It is something similar to what a farmer does – a farmer digs a channel from the water reservoir to his own field. Guru’s Grace is like the water from the reservoir. The more enthusiastically the farmer digs the channel, the more forcefully does the water rush into his field. Even so, as the disciple performs his sadhana with great sincerity & Shraddha, the Guru Shakti infills the disciple.
  • If the disciple embarks on his Sadhana sincerely, Guru ensures that the disciple gets established on his path and progresses onwards on his path. Not only that, he also ensures that his disciple achieves fulfilment along that path.
  • We often see all kinds of teachers in India calling themselves as ‘Guru’ or ‘Guruji’. That is alright. We have no objection to that. But, if even a little bit of sense dawns in the teachers of this world, they too will start seeking a true spiritual Guru. This is but inevitable.
  • If the disciple but possesses sincerity, the Guru gladly pardons him a thousand omissions and leads him again along the disciple’s chosen path. If the disciple does not correct himself quickly, progress may be slow, but it doesn’t stop altogether. Surprisingly, stagnation is avoided because he has Guru Shakti behind him.
  • A spiritual Guru may sometimes not be revered by worldly people. They may be unable to see any speciality in him that warrants their reverence. This is because, the worldly people need the help of teachers who can show them the way to earn a livelihood. But a spiritual person will not look down upon a teacher of secular knowledge. This is because they know very well that even in those teachers, it is the same Guru Shakti that is working. But, they accord the highest place to the spiritual Guru. It is impossible for a disciple who has tasted even a little bit of true spiritual bliss, not to accord the highest place to a spiritual Guru. It is but natural.
  • A person who has no money is called poor. A person who has no food is called poor. But, there is none poorer than a person who has not received the supremely uplifting Grace of a Guru.
  • In this world, many people suffer reversals of fate in various ways. But there is no greater loss than losing the Grace of the Guru.
  • A person may somehow manage to retain the Grace of Guru even after exhibiting the grossest arrogance; a person may somehow manage to retain the Grace of Guru even after committing the greatest blunders; but a disciple with a treacherous heart, whose heart, mind & actions are not in unison, cannot retain the Grace of the Guru in himself, no matter how intelligent he considers himself to be!
  • Divine Love manifests in various forms – Mother’s love, Father’s love, Friend’s love, love of the Spouse, etc. But none of these even remotely approach the level of the Guru’s love!
  • What indeed can equal the Guru’s love that dispels the darkness of the soul, by lighting the lamp of self-consciousness within us, and enabling us to taste the ambrosial nectar of self-realization!
  • The human Guru, no matter how exalted he be today, was indeed a humble disciple, once upon a time. Isn’t it so? Then, won’t he be able to sympathize with the conflicts, doubts and troubles of the disciples who approach him today?
  • What can be the best gift from a disciple to his Guru? Enthusiastic Sadhana, filled with Shraddha, performed most sincerely by the disciple.
  • It is said that service rendered to the Guru is most beneficial and is the highest service that one can perform in this world. However, whole-heartedly believing all the advices that the Guru has given to us, and based on Shraddha in his words, performing Sadhana enthusiastically, day after day, is not in any way lesser than personal service rendered to the Guru!
  • The spiritual path is most dangerous for the person who has no devotion to his Guru. And, that same spiritual path is most enjoyable to one who has great devotion to his Guru.
  • If we consider only the external, visible man and offer our adoration to his physical frame & corporal personality, it ends up as a Personality Cult. But, the same adoration accorded by a disciple who perceives the brilliant light burning within that frail frame of the Guru culminates into a veritable ‘Shaktipuja’.
  • No matter how far a disciple be from the Guru in terms of physical distance, one thought-wave such as ‘May this person prosper’, coming out of the Guru’s heart will catapult the disciple to empyrean heights along his chosen spiritual path; the disciple thus lifted up, starts experiencing the world of Light.
  • Owing to ignorance, it is not possible to tell, how many wrong paths the disciple will be walking along. But, the Guru keeps a close watch on his footsteps. And very slowly, he changes the direction along which his disciple is walking. Oh! How wonderful it is to watch this divine ‘Cat & Mouse’ game!!
  • There are only two things that follow us across lifetimes, across many births – one is our Karma; the other is Guru’s Grace. One who hasn’t accepted a Guru, only his own Karma follows him birth after birth.
  • There are thousands of Gurus all over the world. But the power behind all of them is only one – the selfsame Guru Shakti.
  • We may accept a human Guru and obtain Mantra-Diksha from him. But the one who has actually accepted our inner surrender is the same entity – the one Guru of the whole world, the Vishwa-Guru.
  • A disciple may accept a human being saying ‘He is my Guru’. But, in reality, only the Guru knows who the real Guru is!
  • Some say that Guru is greater than God. Some others argue that God is greater than Guru. But why this meaningless argument? Guru IS God; and God IS Guru!

Diksha Guru – Shiksha Guru:

These two terms are not very common in certain parts of India. But they are very popular wherever Vaishnavism has a stronghold. The word Diksha or Initiation befuddles most of us. Most people are even afraid of this word since it has connotations of renunciation! Words such as Sannyasa-Diksha, Yajna-Diksha are also in vogue. What Diksha does a Diksha Guru give? Questions such as these will naturally arise. In Bengal, the Guru who imparts Mantra-Diksha is called Diksha Guru. What is meant by saying that a Guru gives Mantra-Diksha? It means ‘imparting the mantra’, by uttering the mantra aloud. What is meant by Mantra? The Sanskrit root for this word Mantra is – ‘Mananaat traayate’ – It is a word, which, when uttered repeatedly, has the power to take the person across the ocean of grief & sorrow. So, the Guru who imparts the mantra that has the power to ferry us across the ocean of birth & death, is the Diksha-Guru.

The Diksha-Guru imparts the Mantra, gives a few invaluable advices, and then goes elsewhere to continue his divine ministrations. The disciple starts his spiritual sadhana by doing Japa, Dhyana, Swadhyaya, etc. As he begins his sadhana, he starts facing certain problems; as he progresses further along the spiritual path, he faces more problems, obstacles & doubts. This is most natural. But how is he to solve his problems? The one who helps him at that juncture is the one who is close at hand, the Shiksha-Guru. The Shiksha-Guru explains in great detail the various stages of sadhana, brings about an understanding of the entire path in the disciple’s mind, acclimatises him with the spiritual path and makes his progress easy for him. Every once in a while, the disciple will face what has been called the ‘dark night of the soul’; he starts losing faith in the efficacy of the path he is following; he loses Shraddha; doubts assail him; fear of the unknown grips him. The Shiksha-Guru helps him cross over all these obstacles, fills him up with renewed enthusiasm and eggs him along the path to perfection.

Among sadhakas, many will be householders. Some others will be bound by the vows of perfect chastity. These two categories of sadhakas have different capabilities and necessities in spiritual life. The Shiksha-Guru watches over all these aspects with great concern and in great detail. At the right psychological time, he gives apt suggestions and makes their progress smooth.

Sadhakas have to remember one very important point here. When some progress is made along the spiritual path, the external Guru remains outside. He can no longer be of much assistance. Then, the sadhaka has to start depending more and more on his ‘inner-Guru’, also called ‘Antaryamin-Guru’. This is because, it is the Antaryamin-Guru alone who knows the inner workings of the sadhaka’s mind and consciousness.

We offer our salutations to all Gurus.

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

Translation of a small booklet called ‘Sri Guru Mahime’ by Swami Purushottamananda

Spirituality in Business & Nation’s Governance

Lecture at World Confluence of Religions

P C Chandra Gardens, Kolkata (Organised by SREI)

I will be speaking to you on spirituality in Business & National Governance. Let me begin by telling you a story:

One of our Swamis was addressing the employees of an MNC on the concept of work culture. One of the participants asked the Swamiji: “I joined this organization 25 years ago as an engineer trainee. Over the last 25 years I have gone through every experience in the organization. I am now the senior manager looking after Materials Department independently. During the initial part of my career, the job was very challenging and interesting. Every day was exciting and I looked forward to each day with lot of interest. However, since there is nothing new in my job now, I no longer find my job interesting. As I have seen and handled every conceivable situation there are no more challenges in my work. I am now feeling bored because I am doing a routine job.

However, Swamiji, I am living in the same house for over forty years. I am the same son for the same parents for over forty five years. I am the father for the same children for the past ten years and the husband for the same lady for the past twenty years. In these personal roles I do not feel bored and the passage of time has not taken away the zeal from me. Please tell me why I am bored of the routine in the office and not in the house?”

This was a very interesting question and we were all curious to know what the Swamiji had to say. He in turn asked the executive: “Please tell me for whom does your wife cook?”

The executive replied “Obviously my wife cooks for all of us – the family.”

The Swamiji pointed “Since your wife ‘serves’ others, this service-mindedness doesn’t make her feel tired or bored. Similarly, when you are at home, you do not perceive your role as the “work”.

But in an office, we ‘work’, not ‘serve’. Anything we consider as service will not make us feel bored. That is difference between serving and working.

 

Coming back to our topic ‘Spirituality in Business & National Governance’; first of all I wish to point out that there is a fine line between religion and spirituality. The dividing line is so fine that for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist. Hence we feel that it is impossible to get spirituality without the channel of one or the other of the established religions of the world. In search of spirituality we enter into one of the innumerable religions and then what happens? All religions have their own religious institutions which have vested interests. You cannot enter into a religion without having anything to do with the religious institutions associated with them. Once a business house or a Govt Official starts aligning with a religious body, an unmistakable but subtle form of corruption starts setting in. Hence it is any day better for corporate houses and the Govt to stay equidistant from all religions.

But if business and the Govt stay far away from the established religions, what about the spiritual evolution of those people engaged in businesses and in running the country?

The solution is to find out a path for the spiritual evolution of people completely independent of the established religions of the world.

Let me tell you another story to drive home this point.

A young monk went to a forest; there he meditated, worshipped, and practiced Yoga for a long time. After years of hard work and practice, he was one day sitting under a tree, when some dry leaves fell upon his head. He looked up and saw a crow and a crane fighting on the top of the tree, which made him very angry. He said, “What! How dare you throw these dry leaves upon my head?” As he looked angrily at them, a flash of fire went out of his head. Such was the monk’s power. The birds got burnt to ashes. He was overjoyed at this development of power. He could burn the crow and the crane by a look.  After some time he had to go to the town to beg his food. He went, stood at a door, and said, “Mother, give me food.” A voice came from inside the house, “Wait a little, my son.” The young monk thought, “You wretched woman, how dare you make me wait! You do not know my power yet.” While he was thinking thus the voice came again: “Boy, don’t think too much of yourself. There is neither a crow nor a crane here.” He was astonished. At last the woman came, and he fell at her feet and said, “Mother, how did you know that?” She said, “My boy, I do not know your Yoga or your practices. I am a common everyday woman. I made you wait because my husband is ill, and I was nursing him. All my life I have struggled to do my duty. When I was unmarried, I did my duty to my parents; now that I am married, I do my duty to my husband; that is all the Yoga I practice. But by doing my duty I have become illumined; thus I could read your thoughts and know what you had done in the forest. If you want to know something higher than this, go to the market where you will find a butcher who will tell you something that you will be very glad to learn.”  The monk came to the market and there he saw a big fat butcher cutting meat with big knives, talking and bargaining with different people. The butcher looked up and said, “O Swami, did that lady send you here? Take a seat until I have done my business.” And he went on with his work. After he had finished he took his money and said to the monk, “Come sir, come to my home.” On reaching home the butcher gave him a seat, saying, “Wait here,” and went into the house. He then washed his old father and mother, fed them, and did all he could to please them, after which he came to the monk and said, “Now, sir, you have come here to see me; what can I do for you?” The monk asked him a few questions about soul and about God, and the butcher gave him a lecture which forms a part of the Mahabharata, called the Vyadha-Gita. It contains one of the highest flights of the Vedanta. When the butcher finished his teaching, the monk felt astonished. He asked, “Why are you in this trade? With such knowledge as yours why are you still a butcher, and doing such filthy, ugly work?” “My son,” replied the butcher, “no duty is ugly, no duty is impure. My birth placed me in these circumstances and environments. In my boyhood I learnt the trade; I am unattached, and I try to do my duty well. I try to do my duty, and I try to do all I can to make my family and customers happy. I neither know your Yoga, nor have I become a monk; nevertheless, all that you have heard and seen has come to me through the unattached doing of the duty which belongs to my position.”

Notice here the conditions that the butcher mentions as responsible for his own spiritual growth. He did not follow any established religion. He merely performed his duties in life. And he did it in an unattached manner. This unattached manner of working is called “Service”.

Most often, we do not get the proper perspective for converting our daily work into service. That is where religious people come in and tell the corporate houses and the Govt, ‘Give some money to the work that we are doing; that is service.’ But that alone is not service. Anybody can serve. Serving is not the monopoly of any particular group of people. Any person doing any kind of work can convert it into service if he gets the right perspective. And by converting his daily work into service, he invariably achieves an expansion in his consciousness, which is what spirituality is all about – expansion of consciousness.

You are engaged in some business activity. It is not the profits that you earn that matter. Of course, I agree that profits are essential in a business enterprise. But, the profits that you or your company earns alone are not the issue that should be on your mind. What is your contribution to the national economy? You may be manufacturing a small item. But all the time you will have to keep the role your small item plays in the national economy at the back of your mind. It may be a very small item, but make it the best possible quality. This way of running your business will itself take you to the place where I will reach by my daily meditation on the Lord.

Similarly, you may be a Govt officer or a clerk or even a minister. Try to constantly keep in mind the people who are getting affected by the signature you are putting on a paper. They are all your own. Thus gradually, you will find your sphere of consciousness expanding without involvement in any religion. And by working like this, you will reach the same place that I will reach through my meditation on the Lord.

The underlying idea in this whole thing is – do not go about creating a new God and then neglect this world in pleasing that God by a series of rituals that have relevance only to you and no relevance to the world. Rather recognize the God that already exists, this vast, complex world. Immerse yourself in your daily allotted duties and thus worship the already existing God. God exists as the Nation. God exists as the national economy. Participate in it with a worshipful attitude and achieve all the spiritual growth you aspire for.

I bring my lecture to a close with these words of Swami Vivekananda, “…This, our great Mother India. Let all other vain gods disappear for the time from our minds. This is the only god that is awake, our own race – “everywhere his hands, everywhere his feet, everywhere his ears, he covers everything.” All other gods are sleeping. What vain gods shall we go after and yet cannot worship the god that we see all round us, the Virat? When we have worshipped this, we shall be able to worship all other gods… The first of all worship is the worship of the Virat – of those all around us. Worship It. Worship is the exact equivalent of the Sanskrit word, and no other English word will do. These are all our gods – men and animals; and the first gods we have to worship are our countrymen. These we have to worship, instead of being jealous of each other and fighting each other.

 

Thank you all.

 

Swami Vedatitananda

Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira

Belur Math, Howrah