The Superior Teacher

Revered Secretary Maharaj, Revered Maharajjis assembled here, distinguished speakers on the dais, and dear teachers, today is the 2nd day of the Annual Celebrations of this Ashrama. We are having a Teachers’ Convention today. Before I begin my lecture, I wish to ask you all a question. This question is for my benefit. How many of you have some teaching experience? Those of you, who have five years of teaching in a classroom, please raise your hand. (Around 70% of the audience raises their hands.) You see, the topic given to me us ‘The Superior Teacher’. Excellence in teaching requires fine-tuning of the teaching experience. You don’t start off your teaching career as a teacher-par-excellence. So, what I am going to tell you today will be addressed mainly to those of you who have already had some teaching experience. The rest of you, who are probably studying B.Ed now, may keep my ideas in mind and implement them as and when you get the opportunity in the future.

I think it was George Bernhard Shaw who was once asked which was the most dangerous profession. He had replied that the most dangerous profession was teaching. His argument was – if a doctor commits a mistake, it gets buried six feet underground; if a lawyer commits a mistake, it hangs six feet above the ground; but if a teacher commits a mistake, it destroys six hundred years of his country’s future! Our profession is that important!

I have been associated with the teaching – learning activities in Ramakrishna Mission for the last ten years. You all know that Ramakrishna Mission has pioneered nationalistic education in India and has gained enormous experience in the last 100 years. I am going to present before you the best practices of our Ramakrishna Mission teachers. We believe that the high quality of education for which Ramakrishna Mission has become synonymous today is because of the high quality of our teachers. Hence, if I explain to you the practices of our Ramakrishna Mission teachers, that would serve as pointers to you, as a benchmark, regarding how to become a superior teacher.

Analyzing the distinguishing characteristics of the superior teachers in our Institutions, I have been able to categorize them under three cardinal rules for teachers.

The first cardinal rule for being a superior teacher is ‘Patience & cheerfulness’. Enormous patience is required when dealing with students. I remember seeing a documentary once in which a very old man asks his son if it is a Sunday. The son answers that it is indeed Sunday. Sometime later, the old father again asks the same question. When the old man asks the same question for the third time, the son loses his patience and yells at him. Then the old man brings out an old diary. In it he had recorded something that had happened about 30 years ago when that son was a 5-year old boy. The old man had written: Today, my son asked me the questions ‘why is the crow black?’ a total of thirty-two times and each time I had lovingly replied that black is the natural color of the crow!

Children tend to forget very quickly. You can’t help it. They forget. We need to keep on repeating the same thing again and again, and put in processes to help them internalize the points we tell them. We need to keep this point in mind when we discipline the kids. It won’t do if we just mention the rules of behavior once and then expect the kids to remember them. They just won’t. And we shouldn’t end up concluding that the child is willfully ignoring our advice. There was a Sufi saint who was entertaining some friends one day. He had served them tea in some very costly china cups. After the tea, he called his son and asked him to carefully take the empty china cups and give them to his wife in the kitchen for cleaning. He told the boy to be careful about the china. Then he slapped him hard. His friends asked him, ‘Hey, the boy hasn’t done anything wrong. Maybe he will be careful with the china. Why did you beat him before he has committed a mistake?’ The Sufi saint replied, ‘What is the use of beating him after he drops the cups and breaks them?’ We have to take care to see that we don’t end up behaving like this.

Disciplining is a difficult job. It takes lot of patience. Lot of repetition is required. You need to clearly specify what rules you want to be followed in your class. In fact, when I was in our Along School, I had announced that the first few days of a new academic year, the teachers would concentrate on just explaining the behavior they expected out of their students in their class. The teachers would first of all have the rules clearly written down. Then they would dictate them to their students. Then they would explain those rules to their students and ensure that each student understood each rule. The underlying idea of disciplining is to train the child to enter into the complex system of processes and procedures that exist in our present day society. Just look around you. Everywhere, it is system, process & procedure that operate. Take this very convention for example. You all didn’t just walk in today. The whole thing must have started a month ago. From this office here, notices would have gone to your schools and colleges. Then your school or college would have announced appropriately for your information. Then you would have registered your name in the specified place and manner. That is how the present day world works. The child has to be trained to deal with this. The whole idea of disciplining is this training – how to adopt oneself to this ever expanding network of systems and procedures.

We teachers will have to constantly introspect whether we ourselves are the cause of indiscipline in our students. An ordinary teacher learns to correct and train his student. But a superior teacher learns to respect his student as an individual. Swami Vivekananda wrote to Swami Brahmananda once, ‘Take care of how you trample on the least rights of others.’ You all remember the famous drama written by George Bernhard Shaw called Pygmalion. In that drama, Professor Higgins undertakes to train a rustic flower-girl into a very sophisticated lady. After she becomes a lady accepted in the highest social circles in London, she explains what actually made her a lady from her humble beginnings. She says it wasn’t the meticulous training of Prof Higgins. She says she became a lady the moment Colonel Pickering called her ‘Miss Doolittle’!

We ourselves are not clear what we want the child to do. All that we know is what the child shouldn’t do. A superior teacher has a clear idea of what the student must do and not just what he shouldn’t be doing. Let me explain what I am trying to tell. A young mother was once walking on the road with her small child. She met her friend on the way. As happens when two ladies meet, they started talking. The child got bored. Children get bored very easily. So this child asked its mother, ‘Mother, can I play with that dog?’ ‘No.’ after a few minutes, ‘Mother, can I go over to that shop and see those toys?’ ‘No.’ Again, after a few minutes, ‘Mother, will you get me an ice-cream?’ ‘No, ice-cream causes sore throat.’ The child started crying. The mother tells her friend, ‘Have you seen a child like this? So difficult to control; starts crying anywhere and everywhere.’ We are always telling the child what not to do. If we specify what the child should do, maybe children will be disciplined better.

When I was in Along, I noticed something very interesting. I was on the corridor outside the classrooms and I was observing a particular class. A boy in that class was seeing outside the window. He was intrigued by a butterfly outside. You know, in the North-east, you have very large and colorful butterflies. The teacher was teaching something, perhaps mathematics. This boy got up and asked the teacher if he could go out of the class. The teacher asked why. He said he wanted to go near and see that wonderful butterfly. The teacher flew into a rage and shouted him down. After sometime, that very boy stood up and said he had to go pee. The teacher allowed him. I was observing. The boy went out, didn’t go anywhere near the toilet, went out to the garden, played around the butterfly and came back! Just see what happened here. That teacher had ‘taught’ the boy to tell a lie! So, we need to be very, very careful.

Our main problem is we forget that communicating with children is different from talking to adults. Suppose I am to address this audience here today regarding maintaining silence it is sufficient to say ‘It will be good if silence is maintained here in keeping with the decorum of the Ashrama’. Do you think this statement would mean anything to students? What idea do they have about an Ashrama’s decorum? If I were to address an audience of students I should have been much more direct. Then they would have understood. Listen to a story.

There was once a couple who had trouble handling their son. There was no way they could convince him that paper should not be torn. He had developed a strange habit. Wherever and whenever he got a piece of paper or a book or a magazine, immediately he would tear it to bits. They had consulted educational experts, counselors, doctors and even psychiatrists, but to no avail. One day, a good friend of the boy’s father came to their house and stayed with them for a week. During that time, the boy became very close to this man. One night, after dinner, the parents explained their dilemma regarding the boy’s inexplicable behavior to this man. And from the next day, the parents found that the boy had stopped tearing paper! They were shell-shocked. Where experts in the field of education and medicine and psychology had failed, this ordinary man had succeeded. They asked him about it. His reply is note-worthy. He said, “I took him on my lap, looked him in his eye and told him, ‘Look here, son. Don’t tear paper. You should use paper to write.’ You see, what happened with him is, all of you tried to do so many things with him, except tell him directly not to tear paper. If only one of you had told him explicitly what to do, the boy would have understood and the problem would have stopped long ago.”

So, the first cardinal rule is – We have to be patient and cheerful. The second cardinal rule is something that the Jesuits always say. You know the Jesuits; they have made some great contributions to education. Saint Ignatius Loyola used to say, ‘To teach Mathematics to John, you need to know two things. You need to know Mathematics. And you need to know John.’ Please try to understand this statement. You need to know your subject. You must be thorough in your understanding of your subject. You make only one statement. But, there are 40 minds in your class. All may not understand what you said. You will need to tailor your statement in as many different ways as possible so that every mind in that class understands. You must plan your class. You know, you must have your lesson plan, your evaluation schedule and all that stuff that you learn in your B.Ed class. That is a vital requisite. But the other part of the Jesuits’ saying is even more important. You must know John. You must know your student in as much detail as possible. You must know the child’s home background. You must make notes about each student in a journal. Every data, every bit of information and your observation about that child must be present in that journal. The Jesuits have another wonderful saying. They say, ‘A child that gets love at home comes to the school to learn; a child that is not loved at home comes to the school to get love & affection.’ Please remember this marvelous saying. Problems at home reflect in the behavior of the student in class. Dysfunctional family reflects as inability to concentrate or as general restlessness in the child. Then there are many other symptoms such as ADD or ADHD or Dyslexia that may also be contributing to the child’s lack of focus. Today, most school boards have mandated that schools must have a dedicated counselor who has psychological expertise. But I hold that each teacher has to be a counselor.

So the 1st Cardinal Rule is ‘Patience & Cheerfulness’. The 2nd Cardinal Rule for being a superior teacher is ‘To teach Mathematics to John, you must know Mathematics & you must know John’. Now we come to the third rule. You must love your job. You must have a sense of pride in your job as a teacher. Today, it is a matter of great pride to say that I am a space scientist in ISRO. Do we feel the same sense of pride when saying ‘I am a teacher’? That is needed. The child may not consciously understand all this pride stuff. But it will intuitively grasp whether we love our job or hate it. If we love our job, our students will start respecting us automatically.

You know, there is no such thing as a difficult subject. Some of us end up feeling – Oh! I teach history. Mathematics or Physics has prestige, but not history or civics. That is to be avoided. Listen to a story. A man once purchased a pet dog. He was greatly enamored with that pet. He purchased lots of good books on how to rear a pet dog, read all of them and patiently went about doing all those things mentioned in them. In all of them, it said that pet dogs love cod-liver-oil, and that it was absolutely essential for the pet to grow up fit and fine. Well, our man brings home a big bottle of cod-liver-oil. He pours some oil onto a large spoon, catches the dog, splices the dog between his legs, forces open its mouth and pours the oil into it. The dog pukes out the oil and runs away. The owner is flabbergasted. Something must be wrong with his pet. It simply doesn’t love cod-liver-oil. But every day, he did the same exercise. Then one day, while he was maneuvering the spoon into the dog’s mouth, the dog jerked strongly, and the bottle of cod-liver-oil fell down and broke. The owner was now livid with anger. But, he was surprised to see that the dog was greedily lapping up the oil that had spilled onto the floor, and in a few minutes, it had licked the whole floor clean!

So, the dog did not hate cod-liver-oil. It just rejected the method through which it was fed its favorite cod-liver-oil! Do we have a lesson here, as teachers aiming to be superior teachers? Let us all kindly think deeply over it.

Some of you may have a question – how to love our job? There is such a thing called Shared Vision. You need to key yourself to a larger vision in order to get pride in the small job that you do. A senior Swamiji in our Order used to say ‘You may be doing a clerk’s job; but why do you have to do it with a clerk’s mind? Do it with the mind of the President of India.’ Please think about this statement. Imagine the mind of the President of India. He may be living in a small room in Delhi. But every moment he is thinking about the whole country. Every decision he takes, he will pause and think how it will affect the remotest village of his country. So also, we may be teaching in a small class room to only 40 students. But we may be aware in our minds about the future of those students, of the 600 years of our country’s future; how my teaching will affect them.

When I was a student, I was a member of Vivekananda Balaka Sangha in our Bangalore Ramakrishna Ashrama. There was a senior Swamiji of Ramakrishna Order called Swami Ranganathanandaji who later became a President of Ramakrishna Mission. He used to visit Bangalore Ashrama once or twice every year. Once when he came, he spent some time with us. We were all school-college boys, volunteers in the Sangha. It was afternoon, after his lunch. We all sat on the ground in front of him. He asked us ‘Can you tell me which is the golden period of Indian history?’ We were all good students and we started giving our answers. One of us said it was the Ashoka’s reign. Another said it was the Gupta period, especially under Samudra Gupta & Chandragupta-II. Yet another said it was under King Harshavardhana. The Mughal period under Akbar-Shah Jehan was also said by some. Swamiji was just looking at all of us when we were giving our answers. Then one of us asked the Swamiji, ‘What is the correct answer, Swamiji?’ What he said was marvelous. He said, ‘You know, I was recently in Japan. There I met some students, just like this. I asked them the very same question – what is the golden period of Japanese history? And they all answered ‘Swami, the golden period of Japan is the future and we are going to make it.’ When I heard that, I immediately felt that those young boys couldn’t have hit upon that answer all by themselves. There must have been some teacher who must have put that amazing idea in their minds. That is what is called ‘Shared Vision’.

You have all heard of NASA, the American organization that deals with its space programmes. Sometime in the 1960s, J F Kennedy announced that NASA would put a man on the moon. That was the goal he gave. Once he was visiting NASA’s office. When he was walking down the corridor, he met a man. That man was the janitor, whose job was to clean the toilets and corridors of NASA. He shook hands with that janitor and asked him what he did in NASA. That janitor replied, ‘Mr. President, I am putting a man on the moon.’ He didn’t feel ‘I am an insignificant toilet cleaner in NASA’. Instead he was able to identify himself with the mission of the organization. A superior teacher will be able to do that with respect to his job of teaching.

Before I wrap up my lecture, I will summarize the main points I have placed before you.

A superior teacher is found to follow three cardinal rules:

  1. He/she is always patient and cheerful.
  2. He/she realizes that ‘to teach Mathematics to John, you should know Mathematics and you should know John’.
  3. He/she will love his/her job of teaching. He/she will have genuine pride in being a teacher.

I pray to Guru Maharaj that all of you may be inspired to raise yourselves from an ordinary teacher to a superior teacher. Thanks for your patient hearing.

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Sri Ramakrishna and Prayer

What is the way?

Let me start by asking a question: Sri Ramakrishna has said so many things in the Gospel pertaining to spiritual life. If we ask, what is the one spiritual practice that he has emphasized again and again for all of us, what would be your answer?

Let us take a look at the Gospel to get the answer. By far the most common question asked of Sri Ramakrishna was ‘Sir, what is the way?’ I give below a sample list of Sri Ramakrishna’s answer to this question. Let us look at the following 12 instances recorded in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and analyze the answers that Sri Ramakrishna gave to different people who asked him this momentous question:

  1. A Devotee: “Then what is the way, sir?”

Master : “Prayer and the company of holy men.[1]

  1. A Marwari Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

 Master: “There are two ways. One is the path of discrimination; the other is that of love. Discrimination means to know the distinction between the Real and the unreal. God alone is the real and permanent Substance; all else is illusory and impermanent. The magician alone is real; his magic is illusory. This is discrimination.

Marwari Devotee: “Revered sir, you just mentioned two paths. What is the other path?”

Master: “The path of bhakti, or zealous love of God. Weep for God in solitude, with a restless soul, and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Cry to your Mother Syama with a real cry, O mind! And how can She hold Herself from you? “[2]

  1. A Vaishnava goswami was seated in the room. The Master said to him: “Well, what do you say? What is the way?”

Goswami: “Sir, the chanting of God’s name is enough. The scriptures emphasize the sanctity of God’s name for the Kaliyuga.”

Master: “Yes, there is no doubt about the sanctity of God’s name. But can a mere name achieve anything, without the yearning love of the devotee behind it? One should feel great restlessness of soul for the vision of God. Suppose a man repeats the name of God mechanically, while his mind is absorbed in ‘woman and gold’. Can he achieve anything? Mere muttering of magic words doesn’t cure one of the pain of a spider or scorpion sting. One must also apply the smoke of burning cow-dung.”[3]

  1. A Brahmo Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

Master: “Attachment to God, or, in other words, love for Him. And secondly, prayer.”

Brahmo Devotee: “Which one is the way— love or prayer?”

Master: “First love, and then prayer.”[4]

  1. Devotee: “Now, sir, what is the way?”

Master: “It is extremely difficult to practise spiritual discipline and at the same time lead a householder’s life. There are many handicaps: disease, grief, poverty, misunderstanding with one’s wife, and disobedient, stupid, and stubborn children. I don’t have to give you a list of them. But still there is a way out. One should pray to God, going now and then into solitude, and make efforts to realize Him.” [5]

  1. A Devotee: “Then what is the way for those who have not seen God? Must they give up all the duties of the world?”

Master: “The best path for this age is bhaktiyoga, the path of bhakti prescribed by Narada : to sing the name and glories of God and pray to Him with a longing heart, ‘O God, give me knowledge, give me devotion, and reveal Thyself to me!’ The path of karma is extremely difficult. Therefore one should pray: ‘O God, make my duties fewer and fewer; and may I, through Thy grace, do the few duties that Thou givest me without any attachment to their results! May I have no desire to be involved in many activities!’ It is not possible to give up work altogether. Even to think or to meditate is a kind of work. As you develop love for God, your worldly activities become fewer and fewer of themselves. And you lose all interest in them. Can one who has tasted a drink made of sugar candy enjoy a drink made of ordinary molasses?”[6]

  1. A Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

Master: “Discrimination between the Real and the unreal. One should always discriminate to the effect that God alone is real and the world unreal. And one should pray with sincere longing[7]

  1. Mahendra: “Then what is the way?”

Master: “No salvation is possible for a man as long as he has desire, as long as he hankers for worldly things. Therefore fulfil all your desires regarding food, clothes, and sex. (Smiling) What do you say about the last one? Legitimate or illegitimate? (M. and Mahendra laugh.)

        Prior to this conversation, Sri Ramakrishna had answered Mahendra’s question, “Why does one slip from the path of Yoga?” as follows: While thinking of God the aspirant may feel a craving for material enjoyment. It is this craving that makes him slip from the path…”[8]

While Sri Ramakrishna goes on to tell Mahendra and M that the smaller, harmless desires for enjoyment can be fulfilled by the devotee, elsewhere, in other conversations, he instructs that the bigger ones, the really fundamental desires should be eliminated by prayer to God. For instance: Say to God with a guileless heart, ‘O God, reveal thyself to me.’ And weep. Pray to God, ‘O God, keep my mind away from “woman and gold”.’ And dive deep.[9] The obstacle to Yoga is “woman and gold”. Yoga is possible when the mind becomes pure…what are the spiritual disciplines that give the mind its upward direction? One learns all this by constantly living in holy company…In order to renounce, one must pray to God for the will-power to do so.[10]

  1. Trailokya: “What is the way to dry up the craving for worldly pleasure?”

Master: “Pray to the Divine Mother with a longing heart. Her vision dries up all craving for the world and completely destroys all attachment to ‘woman and gold’. It happens instantly if you think of Her as your own mother. She is by no means a godmother. She is your own mother. With a yearning heart persist in your demands on Her. The child holds to the skirt of its mother and begs a penny of her to buy a kite. Perhaps the mother is gossiping with her friends. At first she refuses to give the penny and says to the child: ‘No, you can’t have it. Your daddy has asked me not to give you money. When he comes home I’ll ask him about it. You will get into trouble if you play with a kite now.’ The child begins to cry and will not give up his demand. Then the mother says to her friends: ‘Excuse me a moment. Let me pacify this child.’ Immediately she unlocks the cash-box with a click and throws the child a penny.  “You too must force your demand on the Divine Mother. She will come to you without fail.[11]

  1. Host: “Revered sir, what is the way for us?”

Master: “Chanting the name and glories of God, living in the company of holy men, and earnestly praying to God.”[12]

  1. Musician: “Sir, what is the way to realize God?”

Master: ” Bhakti is the one essential thing…It is enough to have yearning for God. It is enough to love Him and feel attracted to Him: Don’t you know that God is the Inner Guide? He sees the longing of our heart and the yearning of our soul. Suppose a man has several sons. The older boys address him distinctly as ‘Baba’ or ‘Papa’, but the babies can at best call him ‘Ba’ or ‘Pa’. Now, will the father be angry with those who address him in this indistinct way? The father knows that they too are calling him, only they cannot pronounce his name well. All children are the same to the father. Likewise, the devotees call on God alone, though by different names. They call on one Person only. God is one, but His names are many.”[13]

  1. Girish: “What is the way for people like us?”

Master: “Bhakti is the only essential thing. Bhakti has different aspects: the sattvic, the rajasic, and the tamasic. One who has sattvic bhakti is very modest and humble. But a man with tamasic bhakti is like a highwayman in his attitude toward God. He says: ‘O God, I am chanting. Your name; how can I be a sinner? O God, You are my own Mother; You must reveal your-self to me.'”[14]

Notice how, in each case, Sri Ramakrishna adds that prayer is essential for us to achieve our spiritual goal.

There is a very interesting conversation recorded on 15th June 1884. There was a major celebration in Surendra’s house and many devotees had gathered. Sri Ramakrishna stayed there for the whole day. Around 2pm, Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, a co-worker of Keshab Chandra Sen in the Brahmo Samaj arrived and joined the celebrations. He asks Sri Ramakrishna a most interesting question: “Revered Sir, are those living with you making progress in spiritual life?” Sri Ramakrishna gives a wonderful reply, words which form the credo of all devotees of Ramakrishna Mission, so to say. He says, “I tell people that there is nothing wrong in the life of the world. But they must live in the world as a maidservant lives in her master’s house.  Referring to her master’s house, she says, ‘That is our house.’ But her real home is perhaps in a far-away village. Pointing out her master’s house to others, she says, no doubt, ‘This is our house’, but in her heart she knows very well that it doesn’t belong to her and that her own house is in a faraway village. She brings up her master’s son and says, ‘My Hari has grown very naughty’, or ‘My Hari doesn’t like sweets.’ Though she repeats, ‘My Hari’ with her lips, yet she knows in her heart that Hari doesn’t belong to her, that he is her master’s son.  Thus I say to those who visit me: ‘Why don’t you live in the world? There is no harm in that. But always keep your mind on God. Know for certain that house, family and property are not yours. They are God’s. Your real home is in God.’ Also I ask them to pray always with a longing heart for love of God’s Lotus Feet.[15]

We must refer to the authoritative book by Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play to understand the value of this most interesting conversation. Swami Saradananda writes:[16]

After he had attained perfection in various Sadhanas, the Master had many unique intuitive perceptions. Some of them were related to himself and others to spirituality in general:

  1. He is an incarnation of God.
  2. There is no liberation for him.
  3. He knew the time of his death.
  4. All religions are true: as many faiths, so many paths.
  5. Human beings adopt dualism, qualified non-dualism and non-dualism according to their temperaments.
  6. Ordinary people will progress through karma yoga
  7. A religious organization based on this catholic attitude should be founded.

Regarding the 6th perception, Swami Saradananda elaborates: The Master indicated the limits of action when he said, “The action of a sattvic person drops off automatically. He cannot work even if he tries to; the Lord does not allow him to work. It is just as when a young wife advances in pregnancy. She is given less and less work to do; and when the child is born, she gives up household work altogether and is busied exclusively with the infant. But an ordinary person must try to do his duties with detachment, depending on the Lord, like the maidservant who does everything for her master, knowing in her heart that her home is elsewhere. This is known as karma yoga. As far as possible one should take the name of the Lord and meditate on Him while discharging one’s everyday duties in an unattached way.”[17]

Prayer is thus an integral part of karma yoga, the path for the present age, as revealed by the Divine Mother of the Universe to Sri Ramakrishna. Prayer is therefore an integral part of Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission on earth. Everyone works in this world. What distinguishes work from karma yoga is prayer.

Further, there are instances in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna most emphatically states that prayer alone is enough for achieving one’s spiritual goal. He also very forcefully states that prayer done under certain conditions will certainly be heard by God. For instance: “Let me assure you that a man can realize his Inner Self through sincere prayer.”[18] “One should pray to God with a longing heart. God certainly listens to prayer if it is sincere. There is no doubt about it.”[19] “You will attain God if you sing His name and glories and pray to Him with a longing heart. There is not the least doubt about it.”[20]

Is this prescription of prayer only for married people? For, all the instances mentioned above seem to pertain only to householders. Well, look at what Sri Ramakrishna himself said while speaking with Pandit Shashadhar Tarkachudamani, “A devotee who can call on God while living a householder’s life is a hero indeed. God thinks: ‘He who has renounced the world for My sake will surely pray to Me. He must serve Me. Is there anything very remarkable about it? People will cry shame on him if he fails to do so. But he is blessed indeed who prays to Me in the midst of his worldly duties. He is trying to find Me, overcoming a great obstacle – pushing away, as it were, a huge block of stone weighing a ton. Such a man is a real hero.’”[21] Again while speaking with Nanda Bose, Sri Ramakrishna said, “Though you are a householder, still you have kept your mind on God. Is that a small thing? The man who has renounced the world will pray to Him as a matter of course. Is there any credit in that? But blessed indeed is he who, while leading a householder’s life, prays to God. He is like a man who finds an object after removing a stone weighing twenty maunds.”[22] So, prayer is meant for all spiritual aspirants, monastic or married.

In fact, the tremendous feeling Sri Ramakrishna had for the married devotees is simply amazing! Just look at this particular prayer he once offered to the Divine Mother on behalf of the married devotees. It is unparalleled in all religious history! I quote from the Gospel entry for 5th Jan 1884:

The Master was weeping and praying to the Mother in a voice choked with emotion. He prayed to Her with tearful eyes for the welfare of the devotees: “Mother, may those who come to You have all their desires fulfilled! But please don’t make them give up everything at once, Mother. Well, You may do whatever You like in the end. If You keep them in the world, Mother, then please reveal Yourself to them now and then. Otherwise, how will they live? How will they be encouraged if they don’t see You once in a while? But You may do whatever You like in the end.”[23]

It seems logical to conclude that prayer is indeed the universal spiritual practice that Sri Ramakrishna prescribed for all of us. Of course, he also prescribes many other spiritual practices – meditation, discrimination, chanting the names of God, Japa, singing His glories, holy company, austerity, even purascharana, etc. But the common feature in all his prescriptions is ‘Prayer’. Sri Ramakrishna seems to hold that prayer is alone necessary and sufficient means for achieving one’s goal in spiritual life. Of course, ‘conditions apply’! But let us first of all convince ourselves of the fact that prayer has been given utmost importance by Sri Ramakrishna as a spiritual practice.

He says, “It is enough to know that everything depends on the grace of God. But one must pray to God; it will not do to remain inactive. The lawyer gives all the arguments and finishes his pleading by saying to the judge: ‘I have said all I have to say. Now the decision rests with Your Honor.’”[24]

We need not complicate this simple advice of Sri Ramakrishna by analyzing further what prayer is and how to perform it. That is what scholars and philosophers do.[25] They take a simple statement or idea and complicate it so badly that people lose interest in it. Everyone knows how to pray. Everyone knows what prayer is. Sri Ramakrishna however describes some of his own prayers, which are unique in their content.[26] It is surprising to learn that he prayed for all sorts of things. We find him praying for bodily strength even! Every now and then, he would discover some habit of thought or behavior in himself, which he wanted to get rid of. What would he do? Pray to the Divine Mother! That was his method. Again, he would develop a fancy for a particular spiritual state. His method would be to pray to the Divine Mother. For anything and everything, we find Sri Ramakrishna praying to the Divine Mother. I point this out because, in most places in the Gospel, we find Sri Ramakrishna exhorting that we must pray for knowledge, devotion and Love. But he himself had prayed for anything that he wanted, not just for knowledge, devotion and Love. So, basically, prayer is the default state of mind of a spiritual aspirant; that is what we learn from Sri Ramakrishna.

How to pray?

Everyone prays. In fact, anyone who has passed through the modern education system will automatically learn how to pray! But prayer is an art that can be developed to great heights. It is a skill in which we can become better and better. Sri Ramakrishna shows the way how this can be done. He lists out a whole set of qualities of mind and heart that embellish prayer. With each of these qualities, the efficacy of our prayer increases.

  1. Spontaneous, earnest and sincere: Prayer has to be from the heart, spontaneous. Prayer cannot be tutored. You cannot copy prayer. It has to be earnest. Earnest prayer is real prayer. Sri Ramakrishna says, “There is another way: earnestly praying to God. God is our very own. We should say to Him: ‘O God, what is Thy nature? Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must show Thyself to me; for why else hast Thou created me?’[27] “One must pray earnestly. It is said that one can realize God by directing to Him the combined intensity of three attractions, namely, the child’s attraction for the mother, the husband’s attraction for the chaste wife, and the attraction of worldly possessions for the worldly man.”[28] “(The way is) chanting the names & glories of God, living in the company of holy men, and earnestly praying to God…Pray to Rama. Meditate on Him. He will certainly provide you with everything.”[29] “He who is a real devotee of God seeks nothing but God. If he finds himself entangled in too much work, he earnestly prays, ‘Lord, be gracious and reduce my work; my mind, which should think of Thee day and night, has been wasting its power; it thinks of worldly things alone.’”[30]

Prayer has to be sincere. There has to be longing in the heart that prays. That is when prayer becomes efficacious. Sri Ramakrishna says, “A man may call on God by any name; if he is sincere in his prayer he will certainly reach Him. He will succeed if he has longing.”[31] “Let me assure you that a man can realize his Inner Self through sincere prayer.”[32] “One should pray to God with a longing heart. God certainly listens to prayer if it is sincere. There is no doubt about it.”[33] “A man can realize God by following his own path if his prayer is sincere.”[34] “One should pray to God with sincere longing. God cannot but listen to prayer if it is sincere.”[35] “What will you gain by merely repeating ‘Siddhi’[36]? You will not be intoxicated even by gargling with a solution of siddhi. It must go into your stomach; not until then will you be intoxicated. One cannot comprehend what I am saying unless one prays to God in solitude, all by oneself, with a longing heart.”[37] “You will attain God if you sing His name and glories and pray to Him with a longing heart. There is not the least doubt about it.”[38] “(The way is) one should pray with sincere longing.”[39] “The best path for this age is bhakti yoga, the path of Bhakti prescribed by Narada. To sing the name and glories of God and pray to Him with a longing heart, ‘O God, give me knowledge, give me devotion, and reveal Thyself to me!’”[40] “…with love and longing in your heart pray to God, ‘O God, grant me devotion at Thy lotus feet and reduce my worldly duties. Please grant me the boon that the few duties I must do may be done in a detached spirit.’”[41]

“One must pray to God without any selfish desire. But selfish worship, if practiced with perseverance, is gradually turned into selfless worship. Dhruva practiced tapasya to obtain his kingdom, but at last he realized God. He said, ‘Why should a man give up gold if he gets it while searching for glass beads?’”[42] “You are no doubt in the world. What if you are? You must surrender the fruit of your action to God. You must not seek any result for yourself. But mark one thing. The desire for bhakti cannot be called a desire. You may desire bhakti and pray for it.”[43] “Pray to Him with a yearning heart, and weep. That will purify your heart…Pray to Brahman with attributes, who listens to your prayers, and He Himself will give you full Knowledge of Brahman; for that which is Brahman with attributes is verily Brahman without attributes, that which is Brahman is verily Sakti. One realizes this non-duality after the attainment of Perfect Knowledge. The Divine Mother gives Her devotee Brahmajnana too…God is our Inner Controller. Pray to Him with a pure and guileless heart. He will explain everything to you. Give up egotism and take refuge in Him. You will realize everything.”[44] “Whatever path you may follow, you must pray to God with a restless heart. He is the Ruler of the soul within. He will surely listen to your prayer if it is sincere. Whether you follow the ideal of the Personal God or that of the Impersonal Truth, you will realize God alone, provided you are restless for Him. A cake with icing tastes sweet whether you eat it straight or sidewise.”[45] “Why shouldn’t one realize God while living in the world? But…one must live in holy company, pray to God, weeping for His grace, and now and then go into solitude. Unless the plants on a foot-path are protected at first by fences, they are destroyed by cattle.”[46] “Can one know God through reasoning? Be His servant, surrender yourself to Him, and then pray to Him.”[47]

Once when Sri Ramakrishna had visited the house of a devotee called Devendra, the following conversation occurred: Sri Ramakrishna said, “The mother of a certain Mallick, who belonged to a very noble family, asked me if prostitutes would ever be saved. She herself had led that kind of life; that is why she asked the question. I said: ‘Yes, they too will be saved, if only they cry to God with a yearning heart and promise not to repeat their sins.’ What will the mere chanting of Hari’s name accomplish? One must weep sincerely.”[48]

Notice three things in the series of quotations made here: first, how emphatically Sri Ramakrishna insists that God does listen to prayer, if it is sincere, direct from the heart. Second, repeatedly Sri Ramakrishna points out that God can be realized while leading a married life; well, he goes much further and includes even the morally depraved! Third, he hints at a certain order regarding prayer – first of all become the Lord’s servant, then surrender to Him, and only then pray to Him. This gradation in the practice of prayer is important to note. This takes us to the next set of instructions that Sri Ramakrishna gave on prayer.

 

  1. A definite relationship with God: Sri Ramakrishna reveals a great secret regarding prayer. We need to develop a definite relationship with God for our prayers to become efficacious. There is a wonderful conversation between Pandit Shashadhar Tarkachudamani and Sri Ramakrishna recorded in the Gospel, from which I quote:

Pandit: Does God listen to our prayers?

Master: God is the Kalpataru, the Wish-fulfilling Tree. You will certainly get whatever you ask of Him. But you must pray standing near the Kalpataru. Only then will your prayer be fulfilled. (The conversation continues and then again, Sri Ramakrishna reiterates) God is the Kalpataru. One should pray standing near It. Then one will get whatever one desires.[49]

Again, during his meeting with the aristocrat of Baghbazar Nanda Bose, Sri Ramakrishna made the same statement:

Nanda: Is there no after-life? What about punishment for our sins?

Master: Why not enjoy your mangoes? What need have you to calculate about the after-life and what happens then, and things like that? Eat your mangoes. You need mangoes. You need devotion to God.

Nanda: But where is the mango-tree? Where do I get mangoes?

Master: Tree? God is the eternal and infinite Brahman. He does exist; there is no doubt about it. He is eternal. But you must remember this, that He is the Kalpataru. ‘Come, let us go for a walk, O mind, to Kali, the Wish-fulfilling Tree, and there beneath It gather the four fruits of life.’ You must go to the Kalpataru and pray. Only then will you obtain the fruits. Only then will the fruits fall from the tree. Only then will you be able to gather them.[50]

Look at this condition that Sri Ramakrishna puts for efficacy of our prayers; we need to stand near the Kalpataru; which means we need to place ourselves near God and then pray. What does this ‘standing near’ mean? Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna explains to M:

One should assume a particular attitude toward God while praying to Him – the attitude of friend or servant or son or hero. I assume the attitude of a child. To me every woman is my mother. The divine Maya, seeing this attitude in an aspirant, moves away from his path out of sheer shame. The attitude of hero is extremely difficult. The Saktas and the Bauls among the Vaishnavas follow it, but it is very hard to keep one’s spiritual life pure in that attitude. One can assume other attitudes toward God as well the attitude in which the devotee serenely contemplates God as the Creator, the attitude of service to Him, the attitude of friendship, the attitude of motherly affection, or the attitude of conjugal love. The conjugal relationship, the attitude of a woman to her husband or sweetheart, contains all the rest – serenity, service, friendship, and motherly affection. (Then he asks M) Which one of these appeals to your mind?[51]

This assuming a particular attitude towards God is what is meant by ‘standing near the Kalpataru’.

  1. Unceasing, and in secret: Sri Ramakrishna now ups the ante regarding prayer and goes one step further and exhorts that prayer ought to become continuous. Sporadic praying is but the beginning[52]. Gradually, the prayerful attitude ought to become constant in us. He uses words such as ‘always’ and ‘unceasing’ with regard to prayer. I quoted a conversation between a Brahmo devotee and Sri Ramakrishna in the beginning of this article. Let us look at that particular conversation in detail now.

A Brahmo Devotee: Sir, what is the way?

Master: Attachment to God, or, in other words, love for Him. And secondly, prayer.

Brahmo Devotee: Which one is the way – love or prayer?

Master: First love, and then prayer.

The Master sang:  Cry to your Mother Syama with a real cry, O mind! And how can She hold Herself from you? How can Syama stay away?

Continuing, the Master said: And one must always chant the name and glories of God and pray to Him. An old metal pot must be scrubbed every day. What is the use of cleaning it only once? Further, one must practice discrimination and renunciation; one must be conscious of the unreality of the world.

Brahmo: Is it good to renounce the world?

Master: Not for all. Those who have not yet come to the end of their enjoyments should not renounce the world. Can one get drunk on two annas’ worth of wine?

Brahmo: Then should they lead a worldly life?

Master: Yes, they should try to perform their duties in a detached way. Before you break the jack-fruit open, rub your hands with oil, so that the sticky milk will not smear them. The maidservant in a rich man’s house performs all her duties, but her mind dwells on her home in the country. This is an example of doing duty in a detached way. You should renounce the world only in mind. But a Sanyasi should renounce the world both inwardly and outwardly.[53]

When Sri Ramakrishna was returning to Dakshineswar after what was to be his last visit to Keshab Sen, he stopped at Jaygopal Sen’s house. Many people had gathered there. There was one neighbor of Jaygopal Sen who had an interesting conversation with Sri Ramakrishna, from which I quote:

Neighbor: You ask us, sir, to live in the world after knowing God. Can God really be known?

Master: God cannot be known by the sense-organs or by this mind, but He can be known by the pure mind, the mind that is free from worldly desires.

Neighbor: Who can know God?

Master: Right. Who can really know Him? But as for us, it is enough to know as much of Him as we need. What need have I of a whole well of water? One jar is more than enough for me. An ant went to a sugar hill. Did it need the entire hill? A grain or two of sugar was more than enough.

Neighbor: Sir, we are like typhoid patients. How can we be satisfied with one jar of water? We feel like knowing, the whole of God.

Master: That’s true. But there is also medicine for typhoid.

Neighbor: What is that medicine, sir?

Master: The company of holy men, repeating the name of God and singing His glories, and unceasing prayer. I prayed to the Divine Mother: ‘Mother, I don’t seek knowledge. Here, take Thy knowledge, take Thy ignorance. Give me only pure love for Thy Lotus Feet.’ I didn’t ask for anything else. As is the disease, so must the remedy be. The Lord says in the Gita: ‘O Arjuna, take refuge in Me. I shall deliver you from all sins.’ Take shelter at His feet: He will give you right understanding. He will take entire responsibility for you. Then you will get rid of the typhoid. Can one ever know God with such a mind as this? Can one pour four seers of milk into a one-seer pot? Can we ever know God unless He lets us know Him? Therefore I say, take shelter in God. Let Him do whatever He likes. He is self-willed. What power is there in a man?[54]

There is a marvelous conversation between some Marwari devotees and Sri Ramakrishna from which I quote:

You are merchants. You know how to improve your business gradually. Some of you start with a castor-oil factory. After making some money at that, you open a cloth shop. In the same way, one makes progress toward God. It may be that you go into solitude, now and then, and devote more time to prayer…One should always chant His name. Even while one is performing one’s duties, the mind should be left with God. Suppose I have a carbuncle on my back. I perform my duties, but the mind is drawn to the carbuncle.[55]

A closely related, but equally interesting quality Sri Ramakrishna specifies regarding prayer is secrecy! He says, “Pray to God in secret and with yearning, that you may have that passionate attachment and devotion to Him. Shed tears for Him. A man sheds a jugful of tears because his wife is sick or because he is losing money or because he is worrying about getting a job. But tell me, whoever weeps for God?’[56]

Notice how Sri Ramakrishna advices going into solitude every now and then, so that we could devote more time to prayer. This is apart from developing the habit of continuous, unceasing prayer even in the midst of our daily activities.

The reason Sri Ramakrishna exhorts us for praying unceasingly is this: If a man practices spiritual discipline before his death and if he gives up his body praying to God and meditating on Him, when will sin touch him? It is no doubt the elephant’s nature to smear his body with dust and mud, even after his bath. But he cannot do so if the mahout takes him into the stable immediately after his bath.[57] Death can catch up on us at any time. We need to face death with the Lord’s name on the top of our conscious mind. That is possible only if we have made a habit of praying ceaselessly.

What to pray for:

Again, we all know what to pray for; this knowledge is inherent in us. Or is it? There is no end to our desires. For all kinds of things, we pray. When we study the Gospel, we find that Sri Ramakrishna also has prayed for all kinds of things. But what is noteworthy is how Sri Ramakrishna emphasized that prayer is a powerful tool that should not be wasted on obtaining sundry things for ourselves. It is like using a powerful computer for only typing letters! The computer can do so much more. It can, in fact, manage the working of the entire company; while we end up only typing letters on it!

The question that comes up is this: Often we feel helpless and completely pressurized by the turn of events in our life. For instance, we have an illness, or one of our loved ones has a serious illness. We feel like praying for a cure. Or, we need a job; or need to pass an exam. Under such situations we automatically feel like praying. It might come as a surprise to you that Sri Ramakrishna endorses each of these cases!

When Sri Ramakrishna had visited Keshab Sen during his illness, Keshab’s mother had asked Sri Ramakrishna to pray for Keshab’s improvement of health. Sri Ramakrishna’s answer was quite uncharacteristic of his usual replies to such requests. He had said to Keshab’s mother, “Please pray to the Divine Mother, who is the Bestower of all bliss. She will take away your troubles.”[58] It is noteworthy that he asked Keshab’s mother to pray to God for such a mundane thing as her son’s health. There is a lesson in this for all of us. Quite often, the pressures of existence press down upon us and we feel lost. In such circumstances, it is perfectly alright to pray to God for even mundane things. Once during a conversation with Dr Mahendralal Sarkar, Sri Ramakrishna made the following observation: “Ah, what a splendid thing you said the other day! ‘We lie in the lap of God. To whom shall we speak about our illness if not to Him?’ If I must pray, I shall certainly pray to Him.” The Gospel mentions that as Sri Ramakrishna said these words, his eyes filled with tears.[59] We do not find Sri Ramakrishna castigating Dr Sarkar for making such a statement as ‘To whom shall we speak about our illness if not to Him?’ In fact, Sri Ramakrishna himself supports Dr Sarkar’s sentiment by adding “If I must pray (about curing my illness), I shall certainly pray to Him.”

A few days before shifting to Shyampukur, Dr Rakhal had come to treat Sri Ramakrishna. A conversation started in Sri Ramakrishna’s Dakshineswar room and M makes the following entry in the Gospel:

A Devotee: You will soon be cured if only you say to the Divine Mother, ‘Mother, please make me well.’

Master: I cannot ask God to cure my disease. The attitude of the servant-master relationship is nowadays less strong in me. Once in a while, I say, ‘O Mother, please mend the sheath of the sword a little.’ But such prayers are also becoming less frequent. Nowadays I do not find my ‘I’; I see that it is God alone who resides in this sheath.[60]

Most of us pray for personal things such as a job. What is Sri Ramakrishna’s instruction regarding such prayers? Although, in general, Sri Ramakrishna discouraged us from praying for jobs and such things, it is not that he was totally against such prayers. If the prayer were sincere, even if it was for such a mundane thing as a job, Sri Ramakrishna approved of it! Yes, this may sound a little off-color, but there is a reference to exactly such a thing in the Gospel.

One day, Sri Ramakrishna asks Adhar Sen, “Didn’t you get the job?” Adhar held the post of deputy magistrate, a government post that carried with it great prestige. He earned three hundred rupees a month. He had applied for the office of Vice-Chairman of the Calcutta Municipality. The salary attached to this office was one thousand rupees. In order to secure it, Adhar had interviewed many influential people in Calcutta.

Master (to M. and Niranjan ): Hazra said to me, ‘Please pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar, that he may secure the job.’ Adhar made the same request to me. I said to the Mother: ‘O Mother, Adhar has been visiting You. May he get the job if it pleases You.’ But at the same time I said to Her, ‘How small-minded he is! He is praying to You for things like that and not for Knowledge and Devotion.’ [61]

What a wonderful incident this is! Just observe the details and try to read between the lines here. How sympathetic to human weakness, Sri Ramakrishna is! Sri Ramakrishna says Hazra asked me to pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar’s promotion; later on, Adhar Sen himself asked for Sri Ramakrishna’s intervention; in both these cases, Sri Ramakrishna didn’t scold them away. He did pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar’s job! What an amazing thing! And then, an even more wonderful thing is – Sri Ramakrishna asks Adhar, “Didn’t you get the job?” You see, Sri Ramakrishna had prayed to the Mother for Adhar’s job; that prayer is certain to bear fruit; that is why he is inquiring!

But, the power of prayer would be wasted if these were all we prayed for. It is common knowledge that this world doesn’t change. We may pray for these things – good health, end of our present troubles – but soon, something new will crop up. It is an endless cycle. Hence, Sri Ramakrishna repeatedly exhorted us to pray for more lasting things. Thus we find Sri Ramakrishna generally discouraging us from praying for cure of illnesses, for a job, or for money.

So, we come back to our main question: What should we pray for? Sri Ramakrishna held prayer to be a powerful tool meant to assist us in our spiritual journey. Rest everything was important only insofar as they helped in this main objective. Look at this conversation from the Gospel:

Mahimacharan: By what kind of work can one realize God?

Master: It is not that God can be realized by this work and not by that. The vision of God depends on His grace. Still a man must work a little with longing for God in his heart. If he has longing he will receive the grace of God. To attain God a man must have certain favorable conditions: the company of holy men, discrimination, and the blessings of a real teacher. Perhaps his elder brother takes the responsibility for the family; perhaps his wife has spiritual qualities and is very virtuous; perhaps he is not married at all or entangled in worldly life. He succeeds when conditions like these are fulfilled.[62]

A study of the statements made by Sri Ramakrishna as recorded in the Gospel show us that there are two categories of things for which we should pray to God. One set of things is what we need removed from our personality. God’s intervention is needed there. The other set of things is what we need to develop in our personality. Again, God’s intervention is needed there. Both these negative and positive achievements lead to establishing the ‘favorable’ conditions that Sri Ramakrishna mentions.[63] Let us look at these two categories for which we need to pray.

Pratap Chandra Hazra is a strange character in the Gospel. He and Sri Ramakrishna had many differences of opinion. There is an interesting record in the Gospel in this regard, which clarifies our question, as to what is the aim of prayer:

Hazra entered the room and sat with the devotees on the floor. Hazra repeated now and then, “Soham! Soham!” (I am He! I am He!) To Latu and other devotees he often said, “What does one gain by worshipping God with offerings? That is merely giving Him things that are His already.” He had said this once to Narendra. The Master spoke to him about this.

Master: I explained to Latu, who the object of the devotee’s worship is.

Hazra: The devotee really prays to his own Self.

Master: What you say is a very lofty thought. The aim of spiritual discipline, of chanting God’s name and glories, is to realize just that. A man attains everything when he discovers his true Self in himself. The object of Sadhana is to realize that. That also is the purpose of assuming a human body. One needs the clay mould as long as the gold image has not been cast; but when the image is made, the mould is thrown away. The body may be given up after the realization of God. God is not only inside us; He is both inside and outside. The Divine Mother showed me in the Kali temple that everything is Chinmaya, the Embodiment of Spirit; that it is She who has become all this the image, myself, the utensils of worship, the door-sill, the marble floor. Everything is indeed Chinmaya. The aim of prayer, of spiritual discipline, of chanting the name and glories of God, is to realize just that.[64]

Thus, the one aim of prayer is to realize the divine inside and outside us.

While the overarching aim of prayer is realization of Self, Sri Ramakrishna instructs us to pray for getting rid of animal feelings and worldly attachments, for not being born again in this world, and for reducing our duties in our life so that our prayers become really efficacious.

Addressing Bankim Chandra, Sri Ramakrishna said, “…Like the swan are those who think of God, who pray day and night to get rid of their attachment to worldly things and their love for ‘woman and gold’, who do not enjoy anything except the nectar of the Lotus Feet of the Lord, and to whom worldly pleasures taste bitter…After the birth of one or two children, husband and wife should live as brother and sister and talk only of God. Then both their minds will be drawn to God, and the wife will be a help to the husband on the path of spirituality. None can taste divine bliss without giving up his animal feeling. A devotee should pray to God to help him get rid of this feeling.”[65] Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna says, “Do you know the significance of the Siva emblem? It is the worship of the symbols of fatherhood and motherhood. The devotee worshipping the image prays, ‘O Lord, please grant that I may not be born into this world again; that I may not have to pass again through a mother’s womb.’”[66] Another unique theme Sri Ramakrishna introduced is prayer for reducing our duties. For instance, “Now you should pray to God that your worldly duties may be reduced.”[67]

Now, this sense of duty is a bugbear with all of us; we can’t live with it, nor can we live without it. For most of us, a sense of duty is indispensable for our personal growth. Society prescribes two kinds of duty for all of us: duty that arises from our innate tendencies, and duty that entails upon us from our social obligations. Both of these have to be reduced so that more and more time can be devoted to spiritual practices prescribed by the Guru. To Shambhu Charan Mallik, Sri Ramakrishna famously said, “When you realize God, will you pray to Him, ‘O God, please grant that I may dig reservoirs, build roads, and found hospitals and dispensaries’? …Then mustn’t one perform acts of compassion, such as charity to the poor? I do not forbid it. If a man has money, he should give it to remove the sorrows and sufferings that come to his notice. In such an event the wise man says, ‘Give the poor something.’ But inwardly he feels, ‘What can I do? God alone is the Doer. I am nothing.’” [68]

Just observe the nuance here! The attitude we entertain towards the social obligations we have is most important. This prayer for reducing our worldly duties is meant to awaken this attitude in us.

Closely associated with this sense of worldly duties is the bond of marriage. Sri Ramakrishna’s advice in this regard is extremely valuable, and it is something that the present society stands direly in need of. Listen to Sri Ramakrishna’s words addressed to Dr Mahendralal Sarkar:

Master (To the doctor): The renunciation of ‘woman and gold’ is meant for the Sannyasin. He must not look even at the picture of a woman. Do you know what a woman is to a man? She is like spiced pickle. The very thought of pickle brings water to the tongue; it doesn’t have to be brought near the tongue. But this renunciation is not meant for householders like you. It is meant only for Sannyasins. You may live among women, as far as possible in a spirit of detachment. Now and then you must retire into solitude and think of God. Women must not be allowed there. You can lead an unattached life to a great extent if you have faith in God and love for Him. After the birth of one or two children a married couple should live as brother and sister. They should then constantly pray to God that their minds may not run after sense pleasures anymore and that they may not have any more children.[69]

Simultaneously with praying for removing these negatives traits from our personality, we ought to pray for bhakti, devotion, faith, pure love and discrimination. The references in the Gospel for such prayers or instructions for such prayers are really numerous.[70] In fact, the main strain of Sri Ramakrishna’s instructions on prayer is to obtain these things – Bhakti, devotion, faith, pure love and Discrimination.

Whom to pray to?

The last portion of our discussion concerns whom we have to address our prayers to. The obvious answer is – God. But, we who are devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission have a much more specific mandate. We can pray to Sri Ramakrishna. When Swami Vivekananda dictated the ‘Math Rules’ to Swami Shuddhananda, he included the following observation there: The Lord has not yet given up the Ramakrishna form…this Form will last until He comes again in another gross Body. Though He is not visible to all – that He is in this Sangha and is guiding it is a fact of everybody’s experience. Otherwise such a world-wide movement could never have been set on foot in so short a time by this handful of insignificant, helpless and persecuted boys. This truth forms the basis of our assertion that as devotees of Ramakrishna Sangha, we can pray to Sri Ramakrishna. Furthermore, there are recorded instances in Sri Ramakrishna’s life which lend credence to this assertion of ours. Let us look at the following three instances to understand this:

1st incident: I quote from the Gospel:

Evening worship was over in the temples…It was now late in the evening and time for M.’s departure; but he felt reluctant to go and instead went in search of Sri Ramakrishna. He had been fascinated by the Master’s singing and wanted to hear more. At last he found the Master pacing alone in the natmandir in front of the Kali temple. A lamp was burning in the temple on either side of the image of the Divine Mother. The single lamp in the spacious natmandir blended light and darkness into a kind of mystic twilight, in which the figure of the Master could be dimly seen. M. had been enchanted by the Master’s sweet music. With some hesitation he asked him whether there would be any more singing that evening. “No, not tonight”, said Sri Ramakrishna after a little reflection. Then, as if remembering something, he added: “But I’m going soon to Balaram Bose’s house in Calcutta. Come there and you’ll hear me sing.” M. agreed to go.

Master: Do you know Balaram Bose?

M: No, sir. I don’t.

Master : He lives in Bosepara.

M: Well, sir, I shall find him.

As Sri Ramakrishna walked up and down the hall with M., he said to him: “Let me ask you something. What do you think of me?” M. remained silent. Again Sri Ramakrishna asked: “What do you think of me? How many annas of knowledge of God have I?”  M: “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘annas’. But of this I am sure: I have never before seen such knowledge, ecstatic love, faith in God, renunciation, and catholicity anywhere.”  The Master laughed. M. bowed low before him and took his leave. He had gone as far as the main gate of the temple garden when he suddenly remembered something and came back to Sri Ramakrishna, who was still in the natmandir. In the dim light the Master, all alone, was pacing the hall, rejoicing in the Self — as the lion lives and roams alone in the forest.  In silent wonder M. surveyed that great soul.

Master (to M.): What makes you come back?

M: Perhaps the house you asked me to go to belongs to a rich man. They may not let me in. I think I had better not go. I would rather meet you here.

Master : Oh, no! Why should you think that? Just mention my name. Say that you want to see me; then someone will take you to me.[71]

Although this is a simple statement made by Sri Ramakrishna to M, in the context of a very particular situation, we can indeed read a whole lot of meaning into it. In fact, Swami Chetanananda makes the following observation in this regard:

‘Just mention my name – then someone will take you to me,’ is a significant, hopeful statement. He is telling not only M, but all lost and confused people of the world how to reach him. Doors will open in all directions for anyone who repeats his name – whether it is a wealthy man’s mansion, or a poor man’s cottage, or the labyrinth of the world. As a prince has free access to any room in the palace and the gatekeepers open the door for him with a salute, so Mahamaya opens the door of liberation for the disciples and devotees of an Avatar. The Avatar is the ruler of Maya.[72]

2nd incident:

On 1st January 1886 Sri Ramakrishna became the Kalpataru and blessed his devotees saying “Be illumined”. Navagopal Ghosh was not there at that time. When he came to Cossipore later on that day, Ram Chandra Dutta told him, “Hello, Sir, what are you doing? The Master has become a Kalpataru today. Please go to him right now. If you have anything to ask for, this is the right time.” Navagopal rushed to the Master and, bowing down to him, asked, “Master, what will happen to me?”

After a little pause, the Master asked, “Will you be able to practice a little Japa and Meditation?”

Navagopal replied, “I am a family man with several children. Moreover, I am very busy with my various household duties and taking care of my family members. Where is the time to practice spiritual disciplines?”

The Master kept quiet for a while and then said, “Can’t you even repeat the Lord’s name a few times regularly?”

“I don’t have time, Master.”

“All right! Will you be able to repeat my name a few times?”

“Yes, that I can do.”

Then the Master said, “That will do. You will not have to do anything else.”[73]

3rd incident:

In the life of Mathurnath Biswas, we find yet another totally unexpected aspect regarding prayer and Sri Ramakrishna. I quote from Swami Chetanananda’s book ‘They lived with God’:

Whenever Mathur was in trouble, he would go straight to Sri Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar for help. Once he ordered his guards to take part in a brutal gang fight with the guards of a rival landlord. When the news reached him that a man had been killed, Mathur came to his senses and realized that he would be prosecuted. He pleaded with the Master to save him. Sri Ramakrishna rebuked him, saying, “Rascal, you will create a row every day and come and cry, ‘Save me!’ What can I do? Go and suffer the consequences.” But at last, seeing Mathur’s deep anguish, the Master said, “Well, it will be as Mother wills.” Mathur escaped arrest.[74]

This is an amazing incident, indeed! Sri Ramakrishna is almost telling us, as it were, ‘Why don’t you inform me? Why don’t you just drop in a word? I can set things right for you!’

In this connection, we find the following observation of Swami Saradananda in Sri Ramakrishna and his Divine Play: (Mathur) also noticed that when faced with the Master’s keen insight, insincerity could not remain hidden behind its façade. If a person, after committing any sinful act – even murder – frankly and sincerely took refuge in the Master, he lovingly accepted that person and forgave all misdeeds. He endowed that person with the power to recognize and realize the higher ideal. The impossible became possible by virtue of the mysterious power that worked though the Master.[75]

We see a vivid example of this observation by Swami Saradananda in the following extract from the Gospel:

Gradually he came down to the consciousness of the outer world. Still in a spiritual mood, he began to talk, sometimes addressing the devotees, sometimes the Divine Mother.

Master: Mother, please attract him to Thee. I can’t worry about him anymore.

(To M) My mind is inclined a little to your brother-in-law.

(To Girish) You utter many abusive and vulgar words; but that doesn’t matter. It is better for these things to come out. There are some people who fall ill on account of blood-poisoning; the more the poisoned blood finds an outlet, the better it is for them. At the time when the upadhi of a man is being destroyed, it makes a loud noise, as it were. Wood crackles when it burns; there is no more noise when the burning is over.  You will be purer day by day. You will improve very much day by day. People will marvel at you. I may not come many more times; but that doesn’t matter. You will succeed by yourself.

The Master’s spiritual mood became very intense. Again he talked to the Divine Mother.

Master: Mother, what credit is there in making a man good who is already good? O Mother, what wilt Thou accomplish by killing one who is already dead? Only if Thou canst kill a person who is still standing erect wilt Thou show Thy glory.[76]

Just look at these words of Sri Ramakrishna! This is the power that he has unleashed amongst us by his unique life. He has unleashed the infinite power of God to work wonders in our lives! Let us have faith in this fact. Swami Vivekananda asks us pointedly to have faith in this unique achievement of Sri Ramakrishna. In an undated letter to his brother disciples written from USA in 1894, he writes: It won’t do merely to call Shri Ramakrishna an Incarnation, you must manifest power. This is also what Swami Shivanandaji meant when he said that Sri Ramakrishna had awakened the Brahma-Kundalini by his Sadhana.

Although Sri Ramakrishna has indeed unleashed this unprecedented power, there is one little thing we ought to do. And that is pray. I end this discussion by quoting a poignant extract from the Gospel, which reveals the innermost feelings of Sri Ramakrishna in this regard:

Master: That is why I say that work is necessary. It will not do to say that God exists and then idle away your time. You must reach God somehow or other. Call on Him in solitude and pray to Him, ‘O Lord! reveal Thyself to me.’ Weep for Him with a longing heart. You roam about in search of ‘woman and gold’ like a madman; now be a little mad for God. Let people say, ‘This man has lost his head for God.’ Why not renounce everything for a few days and call on God in solitude? What will you achieve by simply saying that God exists and doing nothing about it? There are big fish in the Haldarpukur; but can you catch them by merely sitting idly on the bank? Prepare some spiced bait and throw it into the lake. Then the fish will come from the deep water and you will see ripples. That will make you happy. Perhaps a fish will jump with a splash and you will get a glimpse of it. Then you will be so glad!  Milk must be turned to curd and the curd must be churned. Only then will you get butter. (To Mahima) What a nuisance! Someone must show God to a man, while he himself sits idly by all the while! Someone must extract the butter and hold it in front of his mouth! (All laugh.) What a bother! Someone else must catch the fish and give it to him! A man wanted to see the king. The king lived in the inner court of the palace, beyond seven gates. No sooner did the man pass the first gate than he exclaimed, ‘Oh, where is the king?’ But there were seven gates, and he must pass them one after another before he could see the king.[77]

 

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

[1] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 96

[2] Ibid: Pg.: 179

[3] Ibid: Pg.: 190

[4] Ibid: Pg.: 215

[5] Ibid: Pg.: 326

[6] Ibid: Pg.: 452-53

[7] Ibid: Pg.: 385

[8] Ibid: Pg.: 534

[9] Ibid: Pg.: 291-292

[10] Ibid: Pg.: 401

[11] Ibid: Pg.: 629

[12] Ibid: Pg.: 640

[13] Ibid: Pg.: 111

[14] Ibid: Pg.: 702

[15] Ibid: Pg.: 456-57

[16] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.:361

[17] Ibid: Pg.: 362

[18] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 256

[19] Ibid: Pg.: 257

[20] Ibid: Pg.: 171

[21] Ibid: Pg.: 471

[22] Ibid: Pg.: 821

[23] Ibid: Pg.: 381

[24] Ibid: Pg.: 599

[25] Sri Ramakrishna tells M: You have no need of many opinions and discussions. You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Enjoy them to your heart’s content. You don’t need to count the branches and leaves on the trees. Ibid: Pg.: 506

[26] There are innumerable instances in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna mentions how he used to pray. These prayers are unique in their content. A separate article dealing with them will be published shortly on http://www.scribd.com & https://wordpress.com/posts/vedatitananda.wordpress.com

[27] Ibid: Pg.: 96

[28] Ibid: Pg.: 244

[29] Ibid: Pg.: 640

[30] Ibid: Pg.: 671

[31] Ibid: Pg.: 306

[32] Ibid: Pg.: 256

[33] Ibid: Pg.: 257

[34] Ibid: Pg.: 596

[35] Ibid: Pg.: 703

[36] Siddhi: It is the colloquial name for Marijuana or Hemp, an intoxicant used liberally by Tantric spiritual aspirants.

[37] Ibid: Pg.:844

[38] Ibid: Pg.:171

[39] Ibid: Pg.:385

[40] Ibid: Pg.:452

[41] Ibid: Pg.:454

[42] Ibid: Pg.:379

[43] Ibid: Pg.:612

[44] Ibid: Pg.:636

[45] Ibid: Pg.:867

[46] Ibid: Pg.:98

[47] Ibid: Pg.:106: This was Sri Ramakrishna’s advice to Vidyasagar.

[48] Ibid: Pg.:740

[49] Ibid: Pg.:481

[50] Ibid: Pg.:820

[51] Ibid: Pg.:377

[52] Cf for instance Sri Ramakrishna’s advice: At dusk put aside all duties and pray to God. One is reminded of Him by darkness. At the approach of darkness one thinks: ‘I could see everything a moment ago. Who has brought about this change?’ The Mussalmans put aside all activities and say their prayers at the appointed times. Ibid: Pg.:588

[53] Ibid: Pg.:215

[54] Ibid: Pg.:328-29

[55] Ibid: Pg.:162

[56] Ibid: Pg.:627-28

[57] Ibid: Pg.:912

[58] Ibid: Pg.:323

[59] Ibid: Pg.:923

[60] Ibid: Pg.:846

[61] Ibid: Pg.:518

[62] Ibid: Pg.:646

[63] In this connection, please see the article A Devotee’s Contract on http://www.scribd.com, which is a translation of a Saturday evening Kannada lecture (sometime in the 1980s) at Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore by Rev Swami Purushottamanandaji Maharaj, titled ‘Yenagu Aane, ninagu aane’ on a wonderful song by Purandara Dasa.

[64] Ibid: Pg.:521

[65] Ibid: Pg.:670

[66] Ibid: Pg.:603

[67] Ibid: Pg.:506

[68] Ibid: Pg.:379

[69] Ibid: Pg.: 866

[70] Ibid: Pp: 612; 186; 542; 670; 190; 453; 454; 902; 299; 682; 138; 308; 324; 329; 371; 614; 547; 87; & 748

[71] Ibid: Pg.: 92

[72] How to live with God; Swami Chetanananda; 2008; Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata: Pg.: 110

[73] They lived with God; Swami Chetanananda; 2006; Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata: Pg.: 245-46

[74] Ibid: Pg.: 44; Also Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.: 518

[75] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.: 508

[76] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 741

[77] Ibid: Pg.: 646

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.

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

Indian History – an alternate perspective

We Indians today are in the habit of looking at our Independence Day from the perspective of the year 1947. We have trained ourselves to look at this day as the day on which we became politically free from the British Rule over us. This is true in a limited sense only. There is a larger perspective from which we ought to look at this day. Those of us who are the followers of Swami Vivekananda however look at this day from the perspective of the entire history of this glorious land. Swamiji articulated his alternative reading of our history, as opposed to the popular version instituted by the European historians, in his various writings such as Modern India, Evolution of Indian History, etc. In the following dissertation, we shall try to elaborate this alternate version, not as a comprehensive theory of Indian history, but rather as a starting point for a new discourse on our history – an Indian view of Indian history, if one may call it so.[1]

Indian history, as we know it today, from various recorded sources, can be divided into four distinct periods. Each of these periods was dominated by one major religion of the world.

The 1st period was the Vedic period of Indian history. This period led to the flowering of the Vedas & the Upanishads. Some even say this was the period when the major population actually lived between modern-day Syria and the Indus-Sarasvati Valley.

The 2nd period was the Buddhist period. By this time, the population had shifted base to the Indo-Gangetic plains. Buddha’s principles and his version of the Vedic religion formed the central vein of Indian history during this period.

This was followed by the 1000 year-long Muslim period.

And the latest period was the Christian period; the most despicable 500 years in all our history. As a nation, we touched rock-bottom during this period.

As Swami Vivekananda pointed out, religion has always been the back-bone of India. It has not always been the same religion, but it was always religion, understood as a marked path to reach the Infinite. What happened on 15th August 1947 was that we shook ourselves free of the shackles of Christian domination on our nation. We entered into a new era in our history. Extrapolating our past,[2] we can imagine that this new era will be again dominated by some other religion, perhaps one that hasn’t been tried in the past. Is it like that? Is that how Indian history will take shape? Well, let us see.

If we imagine India as a living person, with a mind of its own, we can ask the question – why did India choose a different religion for a certain period in the past? It seems India wanted to see, to what heights of perfection, man could reach with each of the established religions.

During the Vedic period, man perfected the individualistic spiritual quest. He grappled with the question of how a man could reach the Truth. He perfected the method of the Ashrama-dharma, where man enters society as a student, graduates into a social being, and then becomes a recluse, finally realizing the Truth within his own consciousness. Having perfected this method, what need was there for any other experimentation? Well, such is the Indian soul that it’s hunger for variety in the sphere of the Spirit in insatiable.

When the above mentioned path was worked out practically, it had a very strange fallout. Society got stratified into four Varnas, or castes. And the whole problem arose here, with this stratification. The distribution of population was such that a miniscule occupied the first two castes – Brahmana & Kshatriya; a little more number of people belonged to the third caste – Vaishya. The majority of the population belonged to the last caste – Shudra. The entire national drama was stage-managed by the first two castes, the upper minuscule of the national population. The Vaishya and Shudra didn’t matter at all. Although the people who mattered did not contribute to the national economy, and the people who essentially contributed to the national life did not figure anywhere in the entire national discourse! This was the main problem India had to address. Concomitant to this was the problem of mobility between the castes. Any foreigner could enter into the national life at the lowest caste only. Moving up from that caste was indeed nerve-wracking. The upper castes maintained a strict strangle-hold on the entry into their folds. [3]

Economy of India in this period was agriculture based. There was also many other activities like construction, manufacture of articles of daily use from metals, stone & wood, leisure activities, services, etc. This was similar to what was present in various parts of the world at that time. There was only one special activity in India, which was unique. That was Yajna. In due course of time, Yajna occupied the prime position in Indian economy. Any activity in Indian society had meaning only if it was linked to Yajna. How do we make sense of this strange thing? Why did the Yajna become so important in the national economy? Because, the economy was mainly agrarian. It generated enormous surplus in due course of time. Incentive for agriculture was going down since surplus started building up. The surplus had to be consumed. What better way to do that than to burn it all up in a grand fire sacrifice? Religious and social sanction was accorded by the Brahmana for this act.

One of the major problems all societies have had to deal with is the accumulation of political power. Geographies help people to settles down into colonies. Gradually, duties get distributed among the denizens of the colonies. There is always a group of people in those colonies who either take upon themselves, or is authorized by the society, the duty of protecting the rest of the people. Very soon, this group gathers power over other people. This group then starts losing touch with the multitudes that it has to govern. Benevolence gives way to tyranny. This has been the case in every human society. Take the case of the ancient civilizations of the world. The Egyptian, Babylonian, Ionian, Greek, Roman, in fact any number of them. All of them rose to great eminence for some time and then the society imploded. It imploded because the masses that actually formed that society were oppressed in due course of time. This phenomenon of one miniscule part of the society losing connect with the other major portion of itself, leading to oppression of the majority by the minority has always been the bane of human societies all over the world, all through time. India however, seems to have avoided this problem by means of a power struggle between the Brahmana and the Kshatriya castes. Whenever the King became too powerful, and his rise to power took on the shape of oppressing the Vaishya and the Shudra, the Brahmana came in and overthrew the King. Similarly, when the Brahmana’s insistence of religious observations by the masses took on the shape of social oppression over the other three castes, the Kshatriya came in and cut the Brahmana to size. This interplay between the Brahmana and the Kshatriya has kept the Indian society alive through ages, while the absence of this power balance ruined the greatest of civilizations the world over. This self-preservation mechanism of the caste system of the ancient Hindu society is something that is often not recognized by modern historians. This vital aspect of the Varna-system was pointed out by Swami Vivekananda.

The ancient literature records the historic struggle of Vishwamitra to be recognized as a Brahma-Rishi by Vashishtha. This is an example of the struggle entrenched in Indian society for upward mobility. It was possible, but required superhuman effort. The resistance to accept new comers into the Brahmana fold was phenomenal. However, it was not originally intended to be so tough. For instance, in the Chandogya Upanishad, we have the instance of a prostitute’s son Satyakama being inducted into the Brahmana fold, purely on the basis of the qualities of truthfulness that he exhibited. In course of time, this flexibility was lost and people got stuck in the caste into which they were born. Upper mobility was absent. [4]

That was when the national soul opted for a major experiment. It created a Buddha, who dissolved the problem instead of solving it. The main weapon in the hands of the Brahmana was his monopoly over the sacred literature, over the main economic activity called Yajna, and over the entire national education. Buddha proclaimed that spiritual growth was independent of any literature; it was also independent of any procedure. He opened up a new path and invited everyone into it, especially the Kshatriya, Vaishya & the Shudra. He further demolished the central economic activity of the Hindu nation – Yajna. This was aimed at destroying the monopoly of the Brahmana over the national life. Five hundred years later came a period of growth which was unprecedented in Indian history till then. This should have been the end of this civilization, for it had achieved everything and had solved all its problems. Or had it?

Within a thousand years of the Buddha’s arrival, the lower two castes, who had rejected the Varna-system and had adopted the egalitarian Buddhist monolithic system of society, started to degenerate. People require culture in order to hold on to and maintain any high spiritual impulse that they receive. The Indian society of this period consisted of a miniscule Brahmana & a very tiny Kshatriya population, with almost the entire Vaishya & Shudra population adopting the Buddhist scheme of social life. The major portion of the Kshatriya caste too had shifted base to the Buddhist scheme. So what actually happened was this – the Hindu scheme of Varna-system was totally rejected; social, economic & political power concentrated in the people who rejected the Hindu Varna system and proclaimed to follow an alternate scheme propounded by the Buddha. The Brahmana caste became the ‘outcaste’ or the ‘lower caste’ in this new dispensation. This did work for some time. This should have worked forever, but for a small aberration. Culture did not percolate to the masses. Human life consists of activity. They are of two types – activity that gives the daily food; activity that fills up leisure time. Both need to have an overarching goal. This aligning of all human activity toward the same goal is culture. Although national education was along Buddhist lines, it failed to culturally uplift the masses, who had implicitly accepted the Buddhist way of life. The Buddhist way of life was essentially the monastic life. The insistence on monastic life as the central essence of the Buddhist way of life was, in no small measure, a reason for this failure.

But most importantly, the one vital idea missing in the Buddhist scheme of life was the absence of an overarching goal in life.[5] Of course, the learned ones among the audience will at once jump up at me for this statement. Let us understand that philosophy is not powerful enough to inspire the daily life of the common man. Ritual is needed. The ritual has to be so designed as to gradually raise the brute unto civilized man and the civilized man unto a god. This aspect was missing in Buddhism. Bhagawan Buddha avoided all references to God and Spirit. As a result, the common man who had no recourse to disciplined philosophical thinking, ended up making a god of Buddha himself, and working up hideous rituals which exist now as the Left-handed Tantric practices. Buddhism became everything that the Buddha had fought against all his life! If we carefully analyze the reason for the failure of this great experiment on Indian society, the answer lies in the absence of emphasizing a comprehensible goal of human life. It is essential to spell out that goal of human life in comprehensible terms; in other words, the masses must be able to imagine the goal. An unimaginable goal of human life essentially renders society aimless and rudderless. Again, the goal must not be too easy to specify either, as we have with modern Christianity and Islam, in which case, it degenerates into an effete theology, a set of dogmas. This too is ineffective in leading society to anything higher, and man doesn’t grow. All it is effective in achieving is fights and quarrels. Buddha’s experiment and the subsequent religious experiments in India taught this valuable lesson to the Indian soul, the delicate balance while prescribing a goal for mankind.

Since Buddha categorically prohibited Yajna, the backbone of Indian economy got destroyed. Buddha did not give anything new in its place. So, gradually, Indians started engaging in new economic activities. Well, actually the activities were not new, per se. It was only that, the ways in which the activities were handled were new. People now started working for catering to non-local markets. The Yajna had the advantage of confining all economic activity to the local market. With the Yajna gone, people started trading in a big way. New economy set in. Intercourse with other nations became active.

All along its history, India was rich, created enormous amounts of wealth, and its goods and produce were in tremendous demand all over the world. Goods were transported across sea and land to all the lands in the world. The people who gave protection during this economic activity were the Kshatriyas. While the Shudra worked for producing the goods, the Vaishya arranged for their production and transportation, and the Kshatriya arranged for their safety. India was the greatest maritime power for a very long period. We have records of Indian ships sailing to Egypt and Babylon during the Harappa period too. Slowly, the maritime activities stopped. That happens when you have monopoly over the goods you produce. People from other lands could very well come down here and take what they wanted. We wouldn’t go out to sell our products there. Thus the importance of the Kshatriya reduced. [6]

If Buddhism had made a place for the Brahmana in its scheme, perhaps, we would have yet had the perfect civilization.

Social order was totally in chaos. Value of manly qualities was undermined at a national level. Military prowess reduced. Varna system was no longer in vogue. People didn’t know what they were supposed to do. A Brahmana revival was attempted during the Gupta period. Sister Nivedita proposes the theory that the Gupta Kings commissioned the writing of the Vishnu Purana around 400 AD, which marks this part of Indian history. Revolving around the Vishnu Purana, a renewed attempt was made to consolidate the peoples living south of the Indus and the Himalayas up to the Ceylon into one Nation again. Such a consolidation had occurred under King Ashoka during the Buddhist reformation period. But this time, the consolidation would be under the revived Vedic lines. The absorption of the Buddhist reformation had given rise to a highly changed religion in the land, which although called the Vedic religion or Sanatana Dharma still, had very little in common with the pre-Buddhist religion of the land.

In the wake of this development came the hordes of Muslims from Arabia and Persia, bringing with them a fresh spiritual impulse. When they stayed back in India after their initial victories, they tried to establish a new social order, based on equality. Everyone who converted to Islam was equal to every other Muslim in society. This impulse translated as unprecedented growth in literature, architecture, economy and political stability. Against the background of this new stability, the old Hindu scheme of life was once again tried out. Lead by spiritual leaders such as Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, Buddhism was completely reabsorbed into the main Hindu body politick. The entire 1000 years of Buddhist reformation turned out to be a mere cul-de-sac in Indian history. What was the Indian society like during the Islam period? Again, a handful of the Brahmana caste held onto the ancient scheme of life. The Vaishya & the Shudra thrived well under the Islamic dispensation, better than ever before in Indian history. The Kshatriya caste almost vanished. A new caste – a cross between the Kshatriya & the Vaishya arose, called Zemindar. This new caste again started monopolizing social and economic power in their own hands and the Shudra was none the better even under the Islamic dispensation in India.

The only drawback seemed to be the displeasure of the masses who were forced to convert to Islam in order to enjoy the benefits of Islamic egalitarianism. But, given a face-off between greater social freedom and adherence to his native religion, man would any day opt for social freedom. The Brahmana, the new Kshatriya-Vaishya Zemindar and the Vaishya did not yet learn that affording social freedom, social dignity and equal opportunity to one another and the Shudra was vital for national life to sustain. The Islamic rulers were actually Kshatriyas in their function.[7] If the Indian society had been flexible enough to have recognized this and if the Muslim invaders too had been flexible enough to have realized this, and had they entered into the Indian body politick, the resulting civilization would again have been the best possible. But that was not to be so. For the first time, we came across a people who insisted on living in our society and who rigidly resisted the caste system. Before the Islamic invasion, the Huns, Shakas and Kushans had come in too. But they were all absorbed into the caste system mostly at the Shudra level, but some at the higher levels, even as Kshatriya kings.[8]

Around this time came the influence of Europe, first with the Portuguese, then the Danes, followed by the French and lastly the British. The last to arrive from Europe, the British, consolidated their foothold in India and event after event led to their annexing the entire land as a colony of the larger British Empire.

This was the worst part of Indian history. No one in the entire Indian society had any freedom. The clash now was between the Indian religious weltanschauung and the European economic world-view. They simply didn’t match, apparently. But the opening out of the entire European world of thought was a new blessing on the Indians. And the oppressive missionary activities of the Christians were the greatest drawback of this period. Education was controlled by the Christian missionaries, who lacked any understanding of sociology, anthropology, psychology and history. They dogmatically drilled the morbid theology of Christianity and totally undermined the entire historical background of the Indians.

It is interesting to note the unique war tactics developed by the Muslims of Arabia. Indians never knew that before Islamic invasion. In India, war was always fought in the city outskirts. Muslims, however, entered living areas inside cities and towns and villages. Common man was attacked and killed. Surprise attacks on the common man were something that the Muslims brought. We don’t find historical evidence of Prophet Mohammed having taught this type of warfare to his followers. In all probabilities, this was a Mongol trait among the Muslims. If we study the history of Islamic Arabia, we find that the Islamic invaders into India were all actually from the Mongol stock. Genghis Khan and his descendants had exterminated the entire male Muslim population during their successive attacks on Arabia & Persia and what we now know as Muslims are actually the Mongols who lived on in that region. What exists as Islam today is the contribution of the Arabian women to the Mongol stock. The fearless Turks that had conquered half of the civilized world and ruled over it are actually from Mongol stock.

The Vaishya produced wealth with the help of the Shudra. Goods were produced that needed to be transported. The Vaishya arranged for the transportation too. However, since the means for transportation was very slow, there was great chance of being waylaid. Goods needed protection. The Kshatriya provided it. Mohammed and his followers, the Muslims, were basically Kshatriyas in this sense. They gave protection to the businessmen and their goods.

In Indian history, the Kshatriyas faced mass annihilation twice; first, by Parashurama, when he vowed to destroy Kartivirya Arjuna; and a second time in the Kurukshetra war of the Mahabharata. That brings up the question, if all the Kshatriyas had been exterminated by Parashurama, who were the Kshatriyas during the Mahabharata War? In all probabilities, what would have happened was that many Kshatriya women must have escaped the wrath of Parashurama. Some of them must have borne children in exile. Again, many weak-bodied Kshatriyas, who did not participate in the battle also must have escaped and must have propagated their clans. We however do not find any instance of the Brahmin caste being mass annihilated in Indian history. This could perhaps explain the steady weakening of the Kshatriya caste in India, which laid the grounds for the subsequent invasions by Islamic and European races on India.

The effort of the Indian mind has always been the following: Human life has the ultimate goal of Self-realization. The way to achieve this is what the Indian mind has been experimenting with, all through its history. In the Vedic period, it tried to do so by formulating a caste system, which dictated what a man should do for living, earning a livelihood, and then how he should spend his leisure time. This ran foul with the inherent principles of natural justice in the sense that one caste always tried to monopolize the entire national life and mobility among the castes was rigidly obstructed. It was like missing the forest and getting lost among the trees. The main aim of instituting the caste system was lost in the social complexities that arose from maintaining the system! Then came the Buddha’s reformation. He was an iconoclast. He broke down the entire caste system and gave nothing in its place. He did not specify what man had to do for achieving the ultimate goal. Therefore the original caste system got revived, albeit in a totally changed form. While the original system was meant to guide man from where he stood up to the ultimate realization of his true nature, the resurrected caste system was devilish in its new form. The Muslim period gave rise to a new caste – the Zemindar. But the masses, who were always included in the Vaishya and Shudra caste were still oppressed. The British period brought a new impetus. The religion they brought, as did the Muslims, was easily included in the Bhakti cults that already existed in India. But the social modes that they brought were all new to India. Having lived in India for quite some time, the Muslims had come to understand that caste was the mode of social functioning for the Indian. The British did not, or rather could not, understand this unique Indian institution. They opened up education to every one under their rule. Thus we had B R Ambedkar (a Shudra by birth) studying to be a barrister alongside Mohandas Gandhi (a Vaishya by birth) and Subhas Chandra Bose (a Kshatriya by birth) and Umesh Chandra Banerjee (a Brahmana by birth)! The universal education system, evolved by Thomas Macaulay with clear selfish aims for the British Empire, broke down the impossibly ossified caste barriers and created a level playing field. This single act has unleashed a power of unimaginable proportions, as the present condition of our country reveals very well.[9] The British rule allowed for all sorts of mobility – upwards & downwards – within the Indian society, based on meritocracy and not by birth.

The greatest contribution of the British to India however was, in our opinion, the concept of “organization”.[10] Why do we say so? Let us re-state our understanding of Indian history. Then we will be able to see the supreme importance of this British contribution.

India, as it were, has fixed the goal of complete self-realization for its citizens. This has been the main strain in its history as we have seen till now. The soul of India wants, as it were, that all Indians should realize their real nature. How are they to do this? India formulated a scheme of life such that all their activities would be wound up so as to converge towards this one goal, which is complete self-realization. Her first attempt to do so, that is, formulate a viable scheme of life for all living in India, ran afoul due to the complications arising out of the caste system. She tried to set it right through one of her most brilliant sons, the Buddha. His attempts, though seemingly very effective, backfired. The final outcome of the Buddhist experiment was that the Kshatriya caste all but disappeared from India, the Vaishya and the Shudra got a taste of social freedom which they could not sustain, and the Brahmana came back with a vengeance. But, the Brahmana who now raised his head again this time was but a caricature of the original Brahmana of the Vedic period. The original Brahmana was a God-realized soul, one who had seen God face to face, even while living in the society as one of us. Whereas, the resurrected Brahmana, in post Buddhist India was a scheming Brahmana, who cooked up an elaborate theosophy of the ten incarnations of the Godhead, the Dasha Avatara, and silently absorbed the Buddha into the Hindu pantheon of gods! The Buddha was accepted and everything he said and did was completely forgotten from the national mind. It was one of the greatest coup-de-etat staged in human history! But, a nation is unsustainable without a strong group of people who specialize in protection and governance. The Brahmana never allowed that group to rise and in due course of time, the situation was back to square one – a weak nation, which was waiting to be overrun by anyone who would care to do so. Indeed, that is what happened. The Islamic hordes came and this grandest nation among all the nations in the known world at that time was conquered, not by the glorious Arabs, but by a slave of the Arabs. He set up his empire here and that was the time the Nation decided it would run another experiment by factoring in Islam in its scheme of things. Again, the ancient Vedic religion immediately saw that Islam could easily be absorbed within the body politick, provided two things were ensured – the invading Muslim had to be absorbed into the Kshatriya caste, and in exchange, there must be a greater social freedom given to the Vaishya and the Shudra in India. The second condition was partially fulfilled by religious conversion of the lower caste people into Islam. We say partially fulfilled because unless the people converted to Islam, if they remained within the Hindu caste structure, they would not enjoy the social freedom! The first condition was not, however, fulfilled. Not only was it not fulfilled, the Islamic invaders stayed back to rule India, but never fully integrated themselves with the Vedic scheme of things that was in vogue here. The rampant dogmatism that the Muslim exhibited was something alien to the Hindu. Just as the Muslim could not learn to integrate with the idolatrous Hindu, the Hindu too could not make sense of this foreigner who resisted any intercourse with his caste system. For, we must realize one thing, and this is vital; the only way a Hindu could make sense of any human being was if he could accommodate himself in one of the four castes. Thus the Greeks and the Huns entered into the Kshatriya caste. Many Mongols were accommodated into the Shudra caste. So also were many who had rejected the Vedic religion and had opted for the Buddha’s version of religion, and had now again opted to be back with the Brahmana’s national resurgence. But this Muslim refused to enter into the caste system. If a person resists entering into any one of the castes, the Hindu is clueless about how to deal with him! That is what happened with the Islamic people. So, we had a situation where we again had a miniscule Brahmana population, no Kshatriya caste worth the name, a sizeable Vaishya population and a huge Shudra mass, alongside a sizeable population of a new type of people – the Muslims (most of whom, were converts from the Shudra caste, with only a handful of Muslims from the original Arabian & Persian stock) – who were not a part of this Varna system.

The same Indian genius that came up with the Dasha Avatara to digest Buddha within itself, now came up with the Sufi religion and the Bhakti movement, as a means of incorporating the Muslim into its body politick. But the invaders’ religion lacked the philosophical flexibility to recognize the utility of such a development and as a result, at some local levels, the integration of the Muslim into the Hindu society was indeed successfully effected by the Sufi and Bhakti attempts. But there remained a virulent strain of Islam that refused to integrate with Hinduism. This was the first time that India had faced such a situation, where it failed to integrate the invaders into its own society and align them to its religious orientation.

When the country was in this stage, there came along a fresh invader, who came in through business and commerce, not like the Muslims had come in, with a sword on a horse (the famous imagery of the incarnation after Buddha, called Kalki, as per the Brahmana!). Having entered the land for the express intent of setting up business, the European stayed back. He even started taking over administrative functions regarding this strange land, but never with the idea of ruling it per se. Every decision of the European rose from the perspective of business. While the Muslim who had entered this land exhibited clear Kshatriya qualities, this European was but a Vaishya at best!

Caste system was completely demolished by the British rule in India. We needed to re-organize Indian society immediately or we were in danger of losing our identity. That is where Swami Vivekananda comes in. He realized that the western concept of organization could fulfil the vacuum created by the demolition of caste system in India. This re-adjustment is what we are still seeing in our society today. We are still in the transition from caste to corporate organization.

One concept that we need to explore is the intimate relation between caste and religion, especially in the Indian context. Time and time again, it has seemed as though caste is a religious institution. It is however not so. Religion has nothing to do with caste, per se.[11] Then, why is it that all the religious leaders in India have worked specifically to breakdown caste system, favoring the upliftment and education of the lower castes and attempting to soften the heart of the upper castes? This is because each of our great religious leaders has tried to remain true to the vision of the founding fathers of the Indian society, the great rishis, so lost in antiquity that today, we do not even know their names for sure. But the power of their vision has driven this nation for over five thousand years, through an unbroken continuity of the institution of Caste. Ask anybody in India and you will be told that caste system is heinous and a blot on Indian society and that it must go. Most of them will even assert vociferously that the institution is now good as dead and exists mainly due to its benefits on the political parties. Caste identities make it very easy to group together and monopolize over large swathes of people, as we have seen time and again since 1947. But the greatest advantage of this institution was to be had only if every citizen had an overarching goal to achieve in his or her life. We must remember that the origin of this institution was in this idea of providing means for realization of the goal of God-realization for every member of society. If we lose that idea of God realization as the goal of our social life, then the institution of caste becomes a terrible bondage. Let me explain this a bit.

Supposing the patent aim of my life is to realize my real nature. How am I go about it? Either by renouncing social life and embracing monastic vows; or by living in society and contributing to the national economy; if I choose to live in society, participate in the national economy, how do I realize Atman? I can do that by working in such a way that my daily work becomes a worshipful offering to God. What will be the work that I will have to do? Who will decide what work I will be doing? Suppose we have a body of authoritative persons in society whose duty it is to allot work to every member of the society. Can anyone ensure impartiality in that allotment? Will such allotments of duty be wholeheartedly accepted and not be challenged? Ah! Therein lay the genius of the institution of caste! My own birth determines what work I will do in my life. The argument is simple: I can realize God by offering whatever work I do as an offering to God; what work I will do is determined by my birth; caste system prescribes and ensures the relation between birth and the work to be done; as long as I haven’t yet attained the state of inner freedom, I belong in a hierarchy in society; there are castes above me and below me; once I achieve the blessed state of real freedom, I break free from the social hierarchy. So, this is how the caste system was envisaged to function in society. This is how it did function for a long time. You will appreciate that this system will function flawlessly, so long as the aim of our life, of our work, of our living in society, is to realize our true nature as the Atman. If that is the aim of our life, then caste system is the best social arrangement imaginable. Now, the whole trouble starts if we lose our grip on that pivotal idea of self- realization. If enjoyment is the aim of life, then this institution stands as a barrier to achieving that aim to our heart’s content.

Against this simple argument, we will be better able to appreciate the reformatory steps adopted by Buddha. He found that the rigid social structure was standing as a barrier to man’s development. He wanted to allow everyone to develop fully and freely. He knew that by pulling down the super-structure, he could unfetter the human soul on its journey to its destiny. At the same time, he was aware that man needed a goal in life. No social system can give that to man. It is only a spiritual impulse that can give an overarching goal to man. He therefore did the sane thing possible; he pulled down the caste system; he prescribed that monasticism was the path to be followed; he further specified that knowledge of one’s real nature was the goal of human life. Similarly did all the other religious reformers in India do the same thing; reiterate that God realization is the goal of human life. If that is fixed, then social life automatically falls into a system that is self-regulatory. Caste system was one such self-regulatory mechanism in human society. The British domination over India opened our eyes to another such wonderful system – the corporate organization.

So, effectively, by the end of 1800 AD, India had learnt that, if God Realization were to be the goal of human life, then human society could indeed be organized into a rigid caste system, which helped everyone to achieve that supreme goal of life. India had also learnt that there will always be a great number of people in its society who will not be able to adopt God realization as the supreme goal of life. Hence India leant that, in such a case, the caste system would be an aberration, an obstacle, a detriment, instead of being a tool to further man’s development. India also learnt in the meanwhile that there were many more societies in the world which did not prescribe to its weltanschauung and that it needed to interact with those societies as well. India had tried to successively experiment with Sanatana Dharma, a variant of itself called Buddhism, then Islam and finally Christianity, with a view to finding the best fit religion for its citizens; when it would find that ideal religion, it would then work out the best means of organizing society and thereby enable all its citizens to live their lives and achieve tangible progress in their evolution. As a result, India found out that none of these religions could be imposed as the only religion on all its citizens. Human nature was too diverse for straitjacketing the human soul in such simplistic terms. India had learnt that its hoary method of caste system for integrating foreigners into its body politick was not efficient, since the Muslims and the Christians refused to enter into the Caste structure, thereby remaining as un-integrated foreign bodies within the living being of Indian society. India awoke to the fact that it needed a readjustment at the very core of its being. This readjustment would begin by redefining its goal in spiritual terms, as it has always done in its long history.

That was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to make sense of the mess that its society had ended up in; that was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to discover which religion, or what mix of the religions available, would be ideal for its citizens; That was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to articulate an overarching goal for its citizens in the modern idiom; That was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to hew out a path for multitudes to achieve that goal in their lives. That unique instrument was Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. The biographer of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Saradananda writes that Sri Ramakrishna performed unprecedented spiritual practices, which make no sense unless seen from this historical perspective. There is no need for any human being to undergo such a variety of spiritual practices for one’s own liberation. Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna’s chief disciple, mentions that in Sri Ramakrishna, the soul of India, as it were, was finding its moorings again; the soul of India was working up an essential readjustment whereby it could find a rationale for continuing its existence. What was the self-discovery that the soul of India made through Sri Ramakrishna?

All religions are true. No one religion can claim to appeal to every human being on earth. Each soul approached life in its own unique way and thereby qualifies to its own brand of religion. All the same, each of these religions, or paths of human evolution, is harmonious in their goal. The goal of every religion is perception of the consciousness that is in every human being. In fact, each soul is potentially divine. The goal of human life is to manifest that divinity. Human life itself, therefore, can be envisaged as the Universal Religion, with all the known ‘isms’ being just geographical & cultural variants of the Mother Religion.

Further, religion is realization; religion is perception; religion is not a set of beliefs or customs or traditions; religion is not thoughts, ideas or feelings, no matter how sophisticated or refined. If you don’t know your own true nature, you are not spiritual, no matter what. You are not a Hindu because you are born to a Hindu; you are not a Hindu because you believe in the Vedas and Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita; you are not a Muslim because you believe in Allah, the Prophet Mohamad and the Quran; you are not a Christian because you believe in Bible and the Immaculate Conception. If you have perceived directly the Hindu conception of God, you are a Hindu. If you have perceived directly the Islamic conception of God, you are a Muslim. If you have perceived directly the Christian conception of God, you are a Christian. Not otherwise. A Hindu who has directly perceived the Hindu conception of God will totally and completely understand and accept a Muslim who has directly perceived the Muslim conception of God or a Christian who has directly perceived the Christian conception of God.

In the light of this self-discovery, the Soul of India will now work out a new society wherein every kind of religious thought will be accorded full freedom to unleash the potential divinity within its adherents. In the light of this self-discovery, the Soul of India will work out the necessary corrections in Hinduism, Islam,[12] Christianity,[13] Buddhism and every other religious path known to man till date.[14] In the light of this self-discovery by the Soul of India, we can foresee that the future of India will be dominated by no single religion, but equal opportunity will be accorded to every religion that its citizens would like to follow; the only conditions will be mutual respect to everyone else and a dogged commitment to take one’s avowed religion to its logical conclusion which is a direct perception of one’s true nature. Thus the future of India will be dominated by a ‘Harmony of Religions’ in place of any one religion holding forth on Indian society. [15]

We would beg for a little patience at this juncture since a survey of the present situation doesn’t show anything of this kind happening in our country. The country is right now undergoing a series of vital transformations. A period of transition cannot be read correctly except by hindsight. But, our reading of Indian history, as detailed above, forces us to conclude that a society based on the harmonious existence of all religions will certainly dawn very soon. In the beginning of this article, we had said that perhaps “It seems India wanted to see, to what heights of perfection, man could reach with each of the established religions.” It is but logical to conclude that man will reached unprecedented heights of personal and collective growth under this new regime of ‘harmony of religion’.[16] You will certainly appreciate that we have started our new epoch by adopting a “Constitution”, which is unique in its scope and content. It is a blue-print which will guide how exactly the Indian society will re-organize itself in the centuries to come. The Fundamental Rights, Directive principles of State Policy, and Fundamental Duties comprise the corner stone of our Constitution. You will note how these drive our society towards a caste-free, organization-based structure enabling every citizen to enjoy the fruits of opportunity for life-fulfilment, unhindered by one’s religious affiliation. Moreover, the Constitution ensures, for the first time in India, that the State will not impose any one religion on its citizens, awarding full freedom for each citizen to choose for oneself.[17]

Moreover, Sri Ramakrishna revealed a new goal for mankind. He gave it a name called ‘Bhavamukha’.[18] The Soul of India realized through Sri Ramakrishna that the common man would reach this goal of human life by following the path of ‘Practical Vedanta’ or more specifically known as ‘Karma Yoga’,[19] the details of which were worked out by Swami Vivekananda. Karma Yoga will be the key through which will be unlocked an unprecedented spurt of human growth, such as history has never witnessed till date – such was the prophesy of Swami Vivekananda.

In fact, the present restructuring of the Indian society along the lines of corporate organization in the place of caste system presents an ideal ground for realizing the new ideal revealed by Sri Ramakrishna. Elsewhere we have shown how the civic structure of corporate organization lends itself to the mass spiritual practice of Karma Yoga by everyone in society.[20] We would do well to realize as soon as possible that the European form of organization is indeed a viable alternative to the caste system[21]; it retains the positive points of the ancient caste system in that it allows the interested people in practicing Karma Yoga and moving towards personal life fulfilment; more importantly it has the added advantage[22] of providing an avenue for those people not interested in immediate salvation, to contribute towards collective growth in such a way as to eventually lead them towards the inner life.[23]

It is important to note the course correction[24] that Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda have effected in the history of India. At the risk of appearing repetitive, let me explain this point here. India began its grand journey by specifying that individual freedom is achievable in this very life, even while living. The goal of human life was to be spiritually free while living. If that indeed were the goal, what sort of social arrangement should we have? Caste system was the answer given by our ancient sages. We tried to make it a workable arrangement. Something went wrong along the way. We sort of lost sight of the goal to be achieved and made a big issue of the social arrangement! As a result, life in India became a curse. Buddha tried to sort it out. Buddha said that the goal of human life, the raison deter of our existence was indeed to become the ‘Living Free’, the ‘Awakened One’. However, we need not enroll ourselves into any formal social arrangement for that. Renounce, become a monk and get free. That was the iconoclastic approach of the Buddha. Thus, in effect, Buddha reiterated the goal of human life prescribed by the ancient Rishis, but tore down the social structure they had erected for assisting the common man to achieve the same. He, instead, invited all and sundry into the highest path, directly. Although Buddha’s motive was the finest, such egalitarian approach is impractical, unfortunately. Very soon, the Indian society started crumbling. India tried to bring about reformations within itself from time to time, all of them ensuring only one result – each attempt merely reiterated and strengthened the original idea that the goal of human life was indeed Moksha or individual spiritual freedom. The social mess that the botched caste system experiment had resulted in was not touched in any serious measure.[25] All of the reformers ended up certifying the utility and validity of the caste system, in so far as it threw up perfected individuals from time to time in the Indian society. None seemed to bother that there could be a possibility of masses reaching up to perfection too, and that society need not be designed to effect random individual perfection here & there, now & then, alone.[26] None seemed to be bothered about the possibility, or impossibility, of designing or redesigning society into a mass manufactory of perfected individuals. For, the origin of the caste system was indeed that – to ensure that each member of the society moved forward towards spiritual perfection. In the midst of all this confusion came the Islamic invasion. India saw an opportunity to draw in some new blood into its body and see if a new way could thereby be opened up for achieving its goal – a method of living to bring about mass perfection among its members. The Islamic invasion turned out to be a disaster since the invaders could not integrate into the society they had conquered. As a result, the already confused Indian society now had to contend with an added element of confusion, a significant portion of society that refused to blend into the culture and religion of the major portion of society.[27] Even while India was coming to terms with the peculiar situation of its society consisting of two apparently irreconcilable groups of people, there came a new impulse in the form of the European invasion. The invading European stood as a mirror to the hypocrisy underlying the Indian society. The invading European, although professing to be religious, quoting the Lord Jesus Christ on and off, was patently materialistic. He believed in enjoying this life here on earth. But there is always the fear of death. He had overcome that by cooking up a very clever theology of the original sin and the son-hood of Jesus and universal emancipation by merely believing in Jesus’s status as the Son of God. It was a stroke of genius of a much higher level than the devious Brahmin could imagine! In one shot, you had it all. You could now enjoy as much as you wanted here in this life, and have a cozy passage to heaven, post-mortem! This resonated with the pleasure-seeking urges of many individuals in the Indian society. India understood that not all her children can really seek to know their true nature. Many of her children really wished to enjoy this life, this world. The means provided by the caste system did not encourage enjoyment in this life. Life was one long self-sacrifice under the older scheme of things. But then, Moksha need not be imposed as the goal of life on every member of society. Controlled enjoyment (or Dharma, as it is called in Indian terms) could indeed be prescribed as the goal of many interested individuals. “Dharma aviruddha bhuteshu kamosmi Bhatarshaba” says the Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Can we have a social arrangement for such people too in India?

The combination of the European corporate organization and Karma yoga achieves just that![28] Karma Yoga is a versatile tool for achieving both the ends of human life – personal Moksha and collective development (Atmano Mokshartham, Jagadhitaya cha, as Swami Vivekananda termed it). Karma Yoga is the ritual for the modern age. Sri Ramakrishna reminds us again and again in the pages of his recorded conversations “The Gospel of Ramakrishna” that the goal of human life is God-realization. But everyone need not renounce the pleasures of the senses and dedicate oneself to God-realization. A select few, who voluntarily opt to do so may, indeed do so. The rest of us should hold onto to God with one hand and enjoy the world with the other. This ‘holding onto God with hand and enjoying life with the other’ is called Karma Yoga.

Swami Vivekananda prophesied that this formidable combination would lead to a situation in India which he described as follows: “There were times in olden days when prophets were many in every society. The time is to come when prophets will walk through every street in every city in the world. In olden times, particular, peculiar persons were, so to speak, selected by the operations of the laws of society to become prophets. The time is coming when we shall understand that to become religious means to become a prophet, that none can become religious until he or she becomes a prophet. We shall come to understand that the secret of religion is not being able to think and say all these thoughts; but, as the Vedas teach, to realize them, to realize newer and higher one than have ever been realized, to discover them, bring them to society; and the study of religion should be the training to make prophets. The schools and colleges should be training grounds for prophets. The whole universe must become prophets; and until a man becomes a prophet, religion is a mockery and a byword unto him. We must see religion, feel it, realize it in a thousand times more intense a sense than that in which we see the wall.”

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[1]We must create a history of India in living terms. Up to the present, that history, as written by the English, practically begins with Warren Hastings, and crams in certain unavoidable preliminaries, which cover a few thousand years…The history of India has yet to be written for the first time. It has to be humanized, emotionalized, made the trumpet-voice and evangel of the race that inhabit India.” Sister Nivedita.

[2] Nowadays everybody blames those who constantly look back to their past. It is said that so much looking back to the past is the cause of all India’s woes. To me, on the contrary, it seems that the opposite is true. So long as they forgot the past, the Hindu nation remained in a state of stupor; and as soon as they have begun to look into their past, there is on every side a fresh manifestation of life. It is out of this past that the future has to be molded; this past will become the future. The more, therefore, the Hindus study the past, the more glorious will be their future, and whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor to his nation. The degeneration of India came not because the laws and customs of the ancients were bad, but because they were not allowed to be carried to their legitimate conclusions. Reply to the Address of the Maharaja of Khetri.

[3] There seem to be no written records of the history of this period available today. However, Swami Vivekananda reconstructs the main strain of the history of this period from the hints available in the Vedas, Upanishads and the Epics. His insights in this regard are available in his masterly writing ‘Modern India’, and elsewhere too. For instance, cf: Reply to the address of the Maharaja of Khetri.

[4]  Vasishtha, Narada, Satyakama Jabala, Vyasa, Kripa, Drona, Karna, and others of questionable parentage were raised to the position of a Brahmin or a Kshatriya, in virtue of their superior learning or valor; but it remains to be seen how the prostitute, maidservant, fisherman, or the charioteer class was benefited by these upliftings. Again, on the other hand, the fallen from the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, or the Vaishya class were always brought down to fill the ranks of the Shudras.: Modern India

[5] The aims of the Buddhistic and the Vedic religions are the same, but the means adopted by the Buddhistic are not right. If the Buddhistic means were correct, then why have we been thus hopelessly lost and ruined? It will not do to say that the efflux of time has naturally wrought this. Can time work, transgressing the laws of cause and effect? Therefore, though the aims are the same, the Bauddhas for want of right means have degraded India. Perhaps my Bauddha brothers will be offended at this remark, and fret and fume; but there’s no help for it; the truth ought to be told, and I do not care for the result.: East & the West

[6] The Portuguese, in the meantime, discovered a new route to India, doubling Africa. The fortune of India smiled on Portugal — then came the turn of the French, the Dutch, the Danes, and the English. Indian commerce, Indian revenue and all are now in the possession of the English; it is therefore that they are the foremost of all nations now. But now, Indian products are being grown in countries like America and elsewhere, even better than in India, and she has therefore lost something of her prestige. This the Europeans are unwilling to admit. That India, the India of ‘natives’, is the chief means and resources of their wealth and civilization, is a fact which they refuse to admit, or even understand. We too, on our part, must not cease to bring it home to them.: Memoirs of European Travels

[7] Crushing the Brahminical supremacy under his feet the Mussulman king was able to restore to a considerable extent the lost glories of such dynasties of emperors as the Maurya, the Gupta, the Andhra, and the Kshatrapa. (The Persian governors of Aryavarta and Gujarat.) : Modern India

[8] Kanishka, the famous Kushana King is an instance; he belonged to a tribe that had come in from Central Asia, and the entire tribe was absorbed into the Caste system.

[9] This power is so new, its nature and workings are so foreign to the Indian mind, its rise so inconceivable, and its vigor so insuperable that though it wields the suzerain power up till now, only a handful of Indians understand what this power is. We are talking of the occupation of India by England: Modern India.

[10] For a detailed study of Organization according to Swami Vivekananda, please see: ‘Swami Vivekananda & Organization’: http://wp.me/p8xvki-H

[11] Was anybody persecuted in India for choosing his Ishta Devata, or becoming an atheist or agnostic even, so long as he obeyed the social regulations? Society may punish anybody by its disapprobation for breaking any of its regulations, but no man, the lowest Patita (fallen), is ever shut out from Moksha. You must not mix up the two together. Reply to the Madras Address.

[12] “Whether we call it Vedantism or any ism, the truth is that Advaitism is the last word of religion and thought, and the only position from which one can look upon all religions and sects with love. I believe it is the religion of the future enlightened humanity. The Hindus may get the credit of arriving at it earlier than other races, they being an older race than either the Hebrew or the Arab; yet practical Advaitism, which looks upon and behaves to all mankind as one’s own soul, was never developed among the Hindus universally. On the other hand, my experience is that if ever any religion approached to this equality in an appreciable manner, it is Islam and Islam alone. Therefore I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind.” Letters of Swami Vivekananda: Here, we find the genius of Swami Vivekananda working out a course-correction for Islam, which may seem anathema right now, but, will certainly come to be accepted as the norm in the future. We say this because, man’s innate urge for survival will make him seek out paths and means for peaceful co-existence, in the long run!

[13]In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Hindu calls this Maya, the manifestation of God, because it is the power of God. The Absolute reflecting through the universe is what we call nature. The Word has two manifestations — the general one of nature, and the special one of the great Incarnations of God — Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Ramakrishna. Christ, the special manifestation of the Absolute, is known and knowable. The Absolute cannot be known: we cannot know the Father, only the Son. We can only see the Absolute through the ‘tint of humanity’, through Christ. In the first five verses of John is the whole essence of Christianity: each verse is full of the profoundest philosophy.: Inspired talks. Just observe how Swamiji says that the whole essence of Christianity is in these five verses. However, the present day version of Christianity doesn’t revolve around these ideas. It stands on the ideas of Immaculate Conception, Original Sin, Emancipation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Bringing it back to these five verses will be the course correction needed. Realization of Christ in our own consciousness will then define a Christian, and not adherence to dogmas.

[14] And as the Vedas are the only scriptures which teach this real absolute God, of which all other ideas of God are but minimized and limited visions; as the ‘The well-wisher to all the world.’ Shruti takes the devotee gently by the hand, and leads him from one stage to another, through all the stages that are necessary for him to travel to reach the Absolute; and as all other religions represent one or other of these stages in an unprogressive and crystallized form, all the other religions of the world are included in the nameless, limitless, eternal Vedic religion. Reply to the Madras Address.

[15] 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. Letters of Swami Vivekananda

[16]  What new revolution will be effected in India by her clash with the new giant power, and as the result of that revolution what new transformation is in store for future India, cannot be inferred from her past history.: Modern India

[17] The Fundamental RightsDirective Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties are sections of the Constitution of India that prescribe the fundamental obligations of the State to its citizens and the duties of the citizens to the State. These sections comprise a constitutional bill of rights for government policy-making and the behavior and conduct of citizens. These sections are considered vital elements of the constitution, which was developed between 1947 and 1949 by the Constituent Assembly of India. The Fundamental Rights is defined as the basic human rights of all citizens. These rights, defined in Part III of the Constitution, apply irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed, or gender. They are enforceable by the courts, subject to specific restrictions. The Directive Principles of State Policy are guidelines for the framing of laws by the government. These provisions, set out in Part IV of the Constitution, are not enforceable by the courts, but the principles on which they are based are fundamental guidelines for governance that the State is expected to apply in framing and passing laws. The Fundamental Duties are defined as the moral obligations of all citizens to help promote a spirit of patriotism and to uphold the unity of India. These duties, set out in Part IV–A of the Constitution, concern individuals and the nation. (From Wikipedia)

[18] For a detailed discussion on this new ideal, please refer “The new ideal, the new doctrine, the new life” at: http://wp.me/p8xvki-Z

[19] For a detailed discussion on Karma Yoga, please refer “The efficacy of Karma Yoga” at: http://wp.me/p8xvki-2l and “Swami Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga – the scripture of modern mankind” at http://wp.me/p8xvki-2c

[20] Please see: ‘Swami Vivekananda & Organization’: http://wp.me/p8xvki-H

[21] With us, the prominent idea is Mukti; with the Westerners, it is Dharma. What we desire is Mukti; what they want is Dharma. Here the word ‘Dharma’ is used in the sense of the Mimamsakas. What is Dharma? Dharma is that which makes man seek for happiness in this world or the next. Dharma is established on work, Dharma is impelling man day and night to run after and work for happiness….The object of the peoples of Europe is to exterminate all in order to live themselves. The aim of the Aryans is to raise all up to their own level, nay, even to a higher level than themselves. The means of European civilization is the sword; of the Aryans, the division into different Varnas. This system of division into different Varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, making one rise higher and higher in proportion to one’s learning and culture. In Europe, it is everywhere victory to the strong and death to the weak. In the land of Bharata, every social rule is for the protection of the weak.: East & the West

[22]  On the advent of Buddhism, Dharma was entirely neglected, and the path of Moksha alone became predominant. Hence, we read in the Agni Purana, in the language of similes, that the demon Gayasura — that is, Buddha tried to destroy the world by showing the path of Moksha to all; and therefore the Devas held a council and by stratagem set him at rest for ever. However, the central fact is that the fall of our country, of which we hear so much spoken, is due to the utter want of this Dharma. If the whole nation practices and follows the path of Moksha, that is well and good; but is that possible? Without enjoyment, renunciation can never come; first enjoy and then you can renounce. Otherwise, if the whole nation, all of a sudden, takes up Sannyasa, it does not gain what it desires, but it loses what it had into the bargain — the bird in the hand is fled, nor is that in the bush caught. When, in the heyday of Buddhist supremacy, thousands of Sannyasins lived in every monastery, then it was that the country was just on the verge of its ruin! The Bauddhas, the Christians, the Mussulmans, and the Jains prescribe, in their folly, the same law and the same rule for all. That is a great mistake; education, habits, customs, laws, and rules should be different for different men and nations, in conformity with their difference of temperament. What will it avail, if one tries to make them all uniform by compulsion? The Bauddhas declared, “Nothing is more desirable in life than Moksha; whoever you are, come one and all to take it.” I ask, “Is that ever possible?” “You are a householder; you must not concern yourself much with things of that sort: you do your Svadharma (natural duty)” — thus say the Hindu scriptures. Exactly so! He who cannot leap one foot, is going to jump across the ocean to Lanka in one bound! Is it reason? You cannot feed your own family or dole out food to two of your fellow-men, you cannot do even an ordinary piece of work for the common good, in harmony with others — and you are running after Mukti! The Hindu scriptures say, “No doubt, Moksha is far superior to Dharma; but Dharma should be finished first of all”. The Bauddhas were confounded just there and brought about all sorts of mischief. Non-injury is right; “Resist not evil” is a great thing — these are indeed grand principles; but the scriptures say, “Thou art a householder; if anyone smites thee on thy cheek, and thou dost not return him an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, thou wilt verily be a sinner.” Manu says, “When one has come to kill you, there is no sin in killing him, even though he be a Brahmin” (Manu, VIII. 350). This is very true, and this is a thing which should not be forgotten. Heroes only enjoy the world. Show your heroism; apply, according to circumstances, the fourfold political maxims of conciliation, bribery, sowing dissensions, and open war, to win over your adversary and enjoy the world — then you will be Dharmika (righteous). Otherwise, you live a disgraceful life if you pocket your insults when you are kicked and trodden down by anyone who takes it into his head to do so; your life is a veritable hell here, and so is the life hereafter. This is what the Shastras say. Do your Svadharma — this is truth, the truth of truths. This is my advice to you, my beloved co-religionists. Of course, do not do any wrong, do not injure or tyrannize over anyone, but try to do good to others as much as you can. But passively to submit to wrong done by others is a sin — with the householder. He must try to pay them back in their own coin then and there. The householder must earn money with great effort and enthusiasm, and by that must support and bring comforts to his own family and to others, and perform good works as far as possible. If you cannot do that, how do you profess to be a man? You are not a householder even — what to talk of Moksha for you!!: East and the West

[23] Now, this Jati Dharma, this Svadharma, is the path of welfare of all societies in every land, the ladder to ultimate freedom. With the decay of this Jati Dharma, this Svadharma, has come the downfall of our land. But the Jati Dharma or Svadharma as commonly understood at present by the higher castes is rather a new evil, which has to be guarded against. They think they know everything of Jati Dharma, but really they know nothing of it. Regarding their own village customs as the eternal customs laid down by the Vedas, and appropriating to themselves all privileges, they are going to their doom! I am not talking of caste as determined by qualitative distinction, but of the hereditary caste system. I admit that the qualitative caste system is the primary one; but the pity is qualities yield to birth in two or three generations. Thus the vital point of our national life has been touched; otherwise, why should we sink to this degraded state? Read in the Gita, “I should then be the cause of the admixture of races, and I should thus ruin these beings.” How came this terrible Varna-Samkarya — this confounding mixture of all castes — and disappearance of all qualitative distinctions? Why has the white complexion of our forefathers now become black? Why did the Sattvaguna give place to the prevailing Tamas with a sprinkling, as it were, of Rajas in it? That is a long story to tell, and I reserve my answer for some future occasion. For the present, try to understand this, that if the Jati Dharma be rightly and truly preserved, the nation shall never fall. If this is true, then what was it that brought our downfall? That we have fallen is the sure sign that the basis of the Jati Dharma has been tampered with. Therefore, what you call the Jati Dharma is quite contrary to what we have in fact. First, read your own Shastras through and through, and you will easily see that what the Shastras define as caste-Dharma has disappeared almost everywhere from the land. Now try to bring back the true Jati Dharma, and then it will be a real and sure boon to the country. What I have learnt and understood, I am telling you plainly. I have not been imported from some foreign land to come and save you, that I should countenance all your foolish customs and give scientific explanations for them; it does not cost our foreign friends anything, they can well afford to do so. You cheer them up and heap applause upon them, and that is the acme of their ambition. But if dirt and dust be flung at your faces, it falls on mine too! Don’t you see that?: East and the West

[24] Now you understand clearly where the soul of this ogress is — it is in religion. Because no one was able to destroy that, therefore the Hindu nation is still living, having survived so many troubles and tribulations. Well, One Indian scholar asks, “What is the use of keeping the soul of the nation in religion? Why not keep it in social or political independence, as is the case with other nations?” It is very easy to talk like that. If it be granted, for the sake of argument, that religion and spiritual independence, and soul, God, and Mukti are all false, even then see how the matter stands. As the same fire is manifesting itself in different forms, so the same one great Force is manifesting itself as political independence with the French, as mercantile genius and expansion of the sphere of equity with the English, and as the desire for Mukti or spiritual independence with the Hindu. Be it noted that by the impelling of this great Force, has been molded the French and the English character, through several centuries of vicissitudes of fortune; and also by the inspiration of that great Force, with the rolling of thousands of centuries, has been the present evolution of the Hindu national character. I ask in all seriousness — which is easier, to give up our national character evolved out of thousands of centuries, or your grafted foreign character of a few hundred years? Why do not the English forget their warlike habits and give up fighting and bloodshed, and sit calm and quiet concentrating their whole energy on making religion the sole aim of their life?: East and the West

[25] And, oh, how my heart ached to think of what we think of the poor, the low, in India. They have no chance, no escape, no way to climb up. The poor, the low, the sinner in India have no friends, no help — they cannot rise, try however they may. They sink lower and lower every day, they feel the blows showered upon them by a cruel society, and they do not know whence the blow comes. They have forgotten that they too are men. And the result is slavery. Thoughtful people within the last few years have seen it, but unfortunately laid it at the door of the Hindu religion, and to them, the only way of bettering is by crushing this grandest religion of the world. Hear me, my friend, I have discovered the secret through the grace of the Lord. Religion is not in fault. On the other hand, your religion teaches you that every being is only your own self multiplied. But it was the want of practical application, the want of sympathy — the want of heart. The Lord once more came to you as Buddha and taught you how to feel, how to sympathize with the poor, the miserable, the sinner, but you heard Him not. Your priests invented the horrible story that the Lord was here for deluding demons with false doctrines! True indeed, but we are the demons, not those that believed. And just as the Jews denied the Lord Jesus and are since that day wandering over the world as homeless beggars, tyrannized over by everybody, so you are bond-slaves to any nation that thinks it worthwhile to rule over you. Ah, tyrants! You do not know that the obverse is tyranny, and the reverse slavery. The slave and the tyrant are synonymous. Balaji and G. G. may remember one evening at Pondicherry — we were discussing the matter of sea-voyage with a Pandit, and I shall always remember his brutal gestures and his Kadapi Na (never)! They do not know that India is a very small part of the world, and the whole world looks down with contempt upon the three hundred millions of earthworms crawling upon the fair soil of India and trying to oppress each other. This state of things must be removed, not by destroying religion but by following the great teachings of the Hindu faith, and joining with it the wonderful sympathy of that logical development of Hinduism — Buddhism. 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. No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism. The Lord has shown me that religion is not in fault, but it is the Pharisees and Sadducees in Hinduism, hypocrites, who invent all sorts of engines of tyranny in the shape of doctrines of Paramarthika and Vyavaharika. Letter to Alasinga on 20th Aug 1893 from USA

[26] But you may ask—what is the place of Ramakrishna in this scheme? He is the method, that wonderful unconscious method! He did not understand himself. He knew nothing of England or the English, save that they were queer folk from over the sea. But he lived that great life, and I read the meaning. Never a word of condemnation for any! Once I had been attacking one of our sects of Diabolists. I had been raving on for three hours, and he had listened quietly. ‘Well, well !’ said the old man as I finished, ‘perhaps every house may have a back door. Who knows?’ Hitherto, the great fault of our Indian religion has lain in its knowing only two words – renunciation and Mukti. Only Mukti here! Nothing for the householder! But these are the very people whom I want to help. For are not all souls of the same quality? Is not the goal of all the same? And so strength must come to the nation through education. Master as I saw him;

Cf also: The wicked pay the price of the great soul’s holiness. Think of that when you see a wicked man. Just as the poor man’s labor pays for the rich man’s luxury, so is it in the spiritual world. The terrible degradation of the masses in India is the price nature pays for the production of great souls like Mira-bai, Buddha, etc. Inspired Talks

[27] What I mean to say is this – India learnt that Buddhism and Jainism, two new variants of Hinduism that sprang forth with great vitality, could be absorbed back into Hinduism, India’s avowed religion. So also with the occasional invaders such as the Greeks (both Macedonians & Ionians), the Mongols, the Huns, the Tartars, the Shakas (also known as Scythians), the Kushans, the Pahlavas (also known as Parthians), etc, all of whom were successfully absorbed into Hinduism and no trace was left of the invaders’ religion in the Indian society. With the advent of Islam in its midst, it found that it could not absorb it as it had always done in the past.

[28] The faithful householder was as essential to the Sanatana Dharma as the faithful monk. The inviolability of marriage and the inviolability of the monastic vow were obverse and reverse of a single medal. Without noble citizenship, there could be no mighty apostolate. Without the secular, no sacerdotal, without temporal, no spiritual; thus all was one, yet no detail might be willfully neglected, for through each atom shone the whole. It was in fact his own old message in a new form. Integrity of character, as he and his Master before him, had insisted, was a finer offering than religious ecstasy. Without strength to hold, there was no achievement in surrender. Master as I saw him

 

Inauguration of Vivekananda Auditorium

Inaugural Address at Chotokhelna Surendra Smriti High School, Maligram, Purba Medinipur

Honorable MLA Dr Manas Ranjan Bhunia, Respected Dignitaries on the Dais, Respected Headmaster Sri Gourishankar Maity, Learned Teachers and dear students:

Before I start, I have two special requests to you students: first, I do not want anyone of you to speak amongst yourselves. I have come all the way from Belur Math. That’s a two and half hour journey one way. I have come to speak to you specially. I have something very specific to tell you all. I do not come here again and again, you see. So I want complete attention from all of you. Secondly, I want all of you to sit straight. Do not slump your back like old men. Sit straight. If you follow these two instructions, I promise I will keep my speech short. If you don’t, I will speak for maybe one or one and half hour! Thanks.

Today, we inaugurated the beautiful Vivekananda Auditorium. You will all be using it from now onwards. Imagine, the next time you have such a program; you will not have to sit like this in the sun. You will all be sitting inside that beautiful auditorium. That is very good.

Whose name does the auditorium bear? Yes, Swami Vivekananda. Who is this man? Who is this Swami Vivekananda? Why is this Auditorium dedicated in his name? He was no freedom fighter. He was no philosopher. He was no scholar. He was neither a scientist. Then why is he revered in this fashion? You find an Auditorium coming up here. Elsewhere you have a school coming up. Somewhere else, there is a college. Yet in another place, there is a University. All dedicated to Swami Vivekananda. What was so special in him that everyone, everywhere wants his name to be associated with their work? Let me tell you a story.

A man once wanted to purchase a talking bird, something like a parrot. He went to a pet shop. The shop owner showed him a bird and said, ‘This bird costs Rs. 25,000.’

“What! That much! Why?”

“Well, Sir, this bird can talk and operate a laptop computer. But, look at that bird over there. It costs you Rs. 50,000.”

“Good Lord! Rs. 50,000?!”

“Yes. It can talk, operate a laptop and can program in C++. But, do you see that bird in the corner over there? Well, that costs you Rs. 1 lakh.”

“Don’t tell me! What does it do?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what it does. But these two birds call him ‘Boss’.”

Similar is the case with Swami Vivekananda. It is difficult to say what his specialty is. But, this much is true. The top people of every field call him their ‘Guru’. Take Netaji Subhash Bose, Gandhiji or Aurobindo Ghosh. These are some of our greatest freedom fighters. They all revered him as their Guru. Consider Sir J C Bose or S N Bose or Nikola Tesla. These great scientists of India and abroad consider him to be their Guru. President Sukarno of Indonesia, our Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi, etc. all consider him their Guru.

Swamiji said some extremely important things for you all, especially students. He had the greatest hope in you all. He used to say, “My hope is in you, the youth of India.” He also used to say to students like you, “On your work depends the coming of the India of the future.” Look at this statement. On our work depends the formation of the future India; how is that? Are we up to the mark? Are we on the right track? Just a little while ago, I saw that your teacher had to shout repeatedly over the microphone for you all to sit down and be quiet. Why did he have to repeat it? Is it his personal program? If you had felt that this program was yours too, that you too were an integral part of this school, would he have had to repeat his instruction?

I will tell you in a nutshell what Swami Vivekananda expected out of you all. He has said many things. But today, I will tell you a single statement of his, which, if you memorize, and put to action, will influence you all your life. A single statement of Swamiji. He once said, “What India needs is Western science coupled with Vedanta, with Brahmacharya as the guiding motto, and Shraddha or faith in oneself.” Repeat this statement after me. What are the four things Swamiji asks us to do? Get acquainted with Western Science. Good. Then, along with that, we must not become atheists, materialists, nihilists, or communists. We must have Vedanta. We must have our religion. You will get sufficient Western science from your school and college. That is enough. Being born in India, you will automatically get enough and more religion too. But, you must temper it with the wonderful, catholic ideas of Vedanta. Keep it in mind as something you need to do in your free time. Get acquainted with the broad ideas of Vedanta. Your conception of religion will then not become fanatical or intolerant towards others. Then there are two words he uses – Brahmacharya and Shraddha. What do these mean? I wish to spend some time on these two words.

Brahmacharya is not meant only for monks. Everyone, every student must know how to practice Brahmacharya. What does that word mean? It simply means ‘self-control’. Have you heard of the famous ‘Marshmallow Experiment’? In the 1960s, a scientist from Stanford University took some small kids and did an experiment. He took one child at a time and kept him in a room. He placed a small sweet in front of the child and said, “Look here. There is a sweet in front of you. I will be gone for about ten minutes. If you eat that sweet when I am gone, you will get nothing. If you wait till I return, then I will give you one more piece along with this.” He did this with many kids. Each case was video recorded. Some kids didn’t even wait for him to leave the room. They just gobbled up the sweet then and there. Some kids waited patiently for his return. Some displayed great conflict. ‘Will he return at all? What if he doesn’t? Will I lose even this one in my greed for another piece? What if he is a cheat? What if he does return and doesn’t keep his word?’ this man then studied the way these kids’ future unfolded over the next fifteen years. It is amazing – what he discovered. He found out that the kids that had displayed self-control and had waited for his return, all ended up as great achievers – some became senators, doctors, etc. All had sufficient higher education. All were earning a huge income. All the kids that were impulsive ended up as losers in adult life. This self-control is what Swamiji means by Brahmacharya. You are unable to sit without shaking your hands and legs for even 10 minutes. Tomorrow you will become a doctor. You expect me to get operated by you? Why, your hands could start shaking when you are trying to cut me open!

Then there is one more word – Shraddha. ‘If one man could do it, why can’t I?’ This idea is Shraddha. ‘I have done my duty. Now the result will come.’ This faith in oneself, in one’s own actions, is called Shraddha. Listen to a story. Once there was a great famine. It hadn’t rained for a long time. The village elders decided to conduct a grand Yajna to appease to rain god. Every person in the village was to participate in that yajna. In one house, the father started from his house along with his family to go to the site of the Yajna. He found that his little son ran back into the house. When he came back, he asked him why he had gone back. The little boy replied, “I went back to get an umbrella. I didn’t want to get wet in the rain.” See? That is Shraddha. The little boy believed that the Yajna would bear fruit. We all study. Then we complain that we do not remember what we read. Why is this? We lack Shraddha in our own studies. When we develop Shraddha, our life becomes interesting.

Remember these few points. You are all local boys and girls of this place. All your life, you will keep coming to this place. Each time you see this building, you will be reminded of its name ‘Vivekananda Auditorium’. Each time, you recall that name ‘Vivekananda’, you will recall this statement of Swamiji. “What India needs is Western science coupled with Vedanta, with Brahmacharya as the guiding motto, and Shraddha or faith in oneself.”

I pray to Thakur, Maa and Swamiji that each one of you grows up to be a great individual. With this prayer, I end my speech.

Did I not keep my word? I thank you all for keeping silent and listening to what I had to say. Remember, when your school program happens and guests come, these guests will be keenly observing you. Look at your Headmaster, Sri Gourishankar Maity. Not just his words, his entire body language exhibits humility. But, I am not going to judge your school by looking at him. I look at you all. I will judge your school’s quality by looking at you students. Similarly with all other guests who will come to this school. They will judge the quality of your school by observing you, your behavior, your demeanor. So, it is essential that you regulate your behavior in such a way as to impress the guests. That is what will grow tomorrow as national consciousness. Your relationship with your school today will flower into your relationship tomorrow with the entire nation. I once again pray to Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi and Swami Vivekananda that they guide you all in your life.

Om Shantih, shanthih, shantihi.

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Efficacy of Karma Yoga

Let me begin by presenting some statements regarding Karma Yoga:

  1. We are told that Karma Yoga includes efficiency in the work that we do. Also, Karma Yoga is primarily meant for a spiritual goal and not for any other sort of goal. If work-efficiency is indeed an indispensable part of Karma Yoga, although the goal is not optimum output from the work but spiritual transformation, will it not make sense to get requisite training in the particular line of working from experts in that field?

 

  1. Every path of spiritual Sadhana must have a Guru, who initiates the disciple into the secrets of the path. This initiation generally takes the form of the Guru imparting a mystic mantra or the Guru guiding the disciple through a series of vows and rituals. Doesn’t Karma Yoga too need a Guru? In what form does the Guru initiate the disciple along this path?

I mentioned these questions in order to paint a general tapestry of the ignorance and confusion surrounding Karma Yoga. I shall present you some more ideas which may help in understanding why these questions arose in the first place.

The present day society has achieved a peculiar level of complexity. All of us have to work. There is no escape from that. But, most of us attempt to work without any sort of formal training. You may ask, why is training needed at all? Hasn’t this world gone on fine with the inept kind of working that people have been doing? But I counter such arguments by pointing out: Wouldn’t the world be a better place had each worker plunged into the field of work after getting some sort of minimum training? You may further point out – we are talking of work in general, while you seem to be speaking of some Yoga. To this I counter – all of us have to work; wouldn’t it be nice if we could just tweak our working mode a little bit so as to gain a dual benefit?

With each passing day, we find that the idea of Karma Yoga is gaining greater and greater acceptance among the people all over the world. Certain aspects of the idea of Karma Yoga that is however gaining ground are not very healthy. Most votaries of Karma Yoga seem to hold that anybody and everybody can start practicing Karma Yoga. No qualifications are needed. No Guru is needed who will initiate the votary into the nuances of Karma Yoga. Frequent loss of tempers and generous use of profanities are justified given the pressure of performing Karma Yoga. As long as we frequently ejaculate ‘It’s all the will of the Lord’, we can just about do anything in the name of Karma Yoga; ends justify the means as soon as you start practicing Karma Yoga. Honesty need not be strictly adhered to; in fact, it is not at all possible to adhere to honesty in the work-field; expediency is totally justified as long as we are performing Karma Yoga. The steep increase of such ideas and persons calls for some clarification.

Karma Yoga has been quite a controversial concept in India. The origin of this Yoga is seen in one of the oldest Upanishads – Isha Upanishad. This Upanishad has a verse that says:

Kurvanneveha karmani jijeevishet shatam samaha;

Evam tvayi nanyatyetosti na karma lipyate narey.

This means: Man must aim to live a full life of a hundred years on this earth by continuously performing his duties allotted to him by his inherent tendencies and the society. Unless you design your life in such a way, you will never be able to free yourself from the tentacles of activity!

The term ‘Eva Iha Karmani’ was variously interpreted by different schools of philosophers in India and each school developed its own brand of Karma Yoga. When the Mimamsakas became popular in the Vedic period, they interpreted this term to mean the innumerable fire-sacrifices mentioned in the chapters of the Vedas preceding the Upanishads. This made sense. Why do I say this made sense? Based on this interpretation developed an entire paradigm of economy in the land. Every activity in this land revolved around the fire-sacrifice. Farming, hunting, agriculture, fishing, mining, manufacturing, governance, trading, games & sports, music & theatre, folk-arts, teaching and health care all revolved around the central activity of fire-sacrifice. In short, the entire national economy stood on the fire-sacrifice[1]. If any activity could not be integrated with the fire-sacrifice mentioned in the Vedas, that activity was rejected as non-productive.

The society got stratified into classes. The Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas & Shudras engaged in activities that were integrated with the fire-sacrifice. The Shudras however performed activities lay in the outer fringes, activities that basically amounted to cleaning up before and after the fire-sacrifice, but were still a part of the economy, more like a necessary evil, but necessary nonetheless. The rest of the people were classified under the classless class called ‘Mlecchas’. Now, the activities of these Mlecchas could not get integrated under the overall scheme of economy of the land. The ancient Rishis who evolved this marvelous system in this land had achieved the impossible! They had successfully integrated community religious activities, economy of the people and social customs & traditions into one compact package, revolving around the fire-sacrifice! This was the scene during the Vedic period here in the land that was later on called India.

Then Buddha appeared on the scene. He was an iconoclast in the sense that he undermined the entire scheme of economy of the land by banning the fire-sacrifice! He was of course justified in doing so. The scheme, according to the original planners, was that, by thus integrating daily activity with religion, each person would achieve life fulfilment in the natural course of executing his daily duties, and simultaneously, society as a whole would achieve social, economic and evolutionary progress. With the passage of time, however, this grand plan had got jeopardized because one class of people, the Brahmins, who controlled the fire-sacrifice, started tyrannizing the people, socially and economically. Thus, when Buddha saw that the scheme, which had started on a most exalted note, had now taken a devilish turn, he remedied the defect. However, his very act of benevolence destroyed the entire economy of the land. And further, he did not give an alternate viable economic model to supplant the old one. As a result, his deprecation of the fire-sacrifice did not gain popular consent in this land, which led to his entire doctrine being rejected from the land. That is the reason his ideas had to migrate to other lands like China and Japan, where they survive even to this day. And the Vedic genius swallowed him into its body-politic by considering him as an Incarnation of the Lord! Imagine the ingenuity of the Vedic Brahmin mind here. They apotheosized the Buddha; but his entire doctrine was rejected! Nowhere in the Hindu scriptures do you find any acceptance of his iconoclastic doctrines, but he himself is venerated as an Incarnation of the Lord and hence worshipped as a deity! The tremendous force he had unleashed on this society was converted to iconographic worship and his doctrine was asphyxiated! As a result, the fire-sacrifice again gained popularity in the post-buddhistic period. Quite often, it resurrected in abominable forms such as the Tantrik and Kapalika practices.

However, this transformation took some 700 years during which time, there were a couple of important developments which we shall note here. One of the important developments was that the people of this land had developed an alternate scheme of livelihood and therefore an alternate economic model which had done away with the fire-sacrifice. What was that model? It was almost the same as the one that the people of this land had picked up from the Greeks. The Greeks were basically the ‘Mlecchas[2]’. These were people who had tried to conquer this land and had failed, but had successfully rubbed off some of their life-style onto a people whose own society was in great turmoil of transition. Thus, by 700 AD, the land had the majority of people following the simplified Greek economic model and a fanatic minority that was doggedly holding onto the Vedic, Pre-Buddhistic economic model, revolving around the fire-sacrifice.

Into that social melee came Acharya Shankara. He saw a society that was struggling to reconcile its past with its present. The people were unable to decide whether they ought to stick to the simplified Greek economic model where work and commodity was measured in terms of currency, or revert to the old system, that is the fire-sacrifice model, where work and commodity was measured in terms of the value it contributed to the fire-sacrifice. The old system was indeed a very compact system, so long as the society was small and localized. As the human society started expanding, the Vedic model of economy became more and more complicated, since this model could not accommodate an enlarging society. So, when Acharya Shankara appeared on the scene, he found that society had some sections that still adhered to, and propagated the dated fire-sacrifice model of economy; alongside these sections, there were many who followed a simplistic currency based economy. While the old system of everything revolving around the fire-sacrifice could no longer be feasible [since the strict stratification of society had already been fractured in the post-buddhistic period[3]], Shankara realized one very important point: he realized the urgent need to bifurcate the economy from the religious practices of the people. This he successfully did by following a two-pronged approach. On the one hand he systematically decimated the old school of Vedic fire-sacrifice [and the various new forms it had taken such as the Tantrik schools], and on the other hand he established the supremacy of his brand of philosophical thought called Advaita Vedanta, which is built on the main premise that activity and true religion are antithetical to each other.

This achievement of Acharya Shankara produced one incredibly positive result and one extremely deleterious result for this land. Religion was preserved in its pure form. That was the incredibly positive result. The best brains of this land had dedicated their life’s energies to discovering the subtle truths of religion. The later geniuses of this land felt deeply that the common man too must have access to those emancipating truths of religion. With this impulse, they integrated religion into the daily economy of the common masses, as we described above. But the Greek influence that impacted this land led to an unhinging of the economy from the integrated package. Moreover, the grand scheme of life envisaged by the Rishis was jeopardized by the all-too-common tyranny of the Brahmins who actually controlled the fire-sacrifice. Buddha had been able to see that the scheme which was meant to be for the benefit of the common man was anything but that in its later form! But in his attempt to throw the bath water, Buddha threw out the baby too! Luckily, before permanent damage to the body-politic could be done, Acharya Shankara appeared on the scene. All those wonderful discoveries of religion would have been lost had Shankara not bifurcated religion from economy.

What about the deleterious consequence of Shankara’s decision to bifurcate religion from economy? Human activity, human endeavor, work, productive activity – these were looked down upon by the people ever since religion got divorced from the economic life of people. Religion climbed up to a pedestal so high that it was out of reach of the common masses. Added to this, the inevitable daily laboring was seen as serving no purpose, since no matter how much they labored or what kind of labor they engaged in, it would never lead them to spiritual felicity. It is important to note that the Vedic Rishis had so carefully integrated religion and economy as to confer spiritual felicity in those that labored in their station of life. That aspect was now absent. Fine; the people of this land could very well have rejected religion and taken purely to human activity, just as people in other lands like Europe or Middle Eastern Asia or South Eastern Asia had done. Well, that just didn’t happen. Why? The only plausible reason could be as Swami Vivekananda points out: To the other nations of the world, religion is one among the many occupations of life. There is politics, there are the enjoyments of social life, there is all that wealth can buy or power can bring, there is all that the senses can enjoy; and among all these various occupations of life and all this searching after something which can give yet a little more whetting to the cloyed senses — among all these, there is perhaps a little bit of religion. But here, in India, religion is the one and the only occupation of life. How many of you know that there has been a Sino-Japanese War? Very few of you, if any. That there are tremendous political movements and socialistic movements trying to transform Western society, how many of you know? Very few indeed, if any. But that there was a Parliament of Religions in America, and that there was a Hindu Sannyâsin sent over there, I am astonished to find that even the coolie knows of it. That shows the way the wind blows, where the national life is. I used to read books written by globe-trotting travelers, especially foreigners, who deplored the ignorance of the Eastern masses, but I found out that it was partly true and at the same time partly untrue. If you ask a ploughman in England, or America, or France, or Germany to what party he belongs, he can tell you whether he belongs to the Radicals or the Conservatives, and for whom he is going to vote. In America he will say whether he is Republican or Democrat, and he even knows something about the silver question. But if you ask him about his religion, he will tell you that he goes to church and belongs to a certain denomination. That is all he knows, and he thinks it is sufficient. Here is the only plausible reason why the common masses simply couldn’t reject religion even when their daily activities could not be integrated with their religious aspirations; religion was in their genes, so to speak!

Thus, for about a thousand years since Acharya Shankara, the people of this land lived a fractured life, laboring daily towards a seemingly meaningless goal, but aspiring all along for a spiritual goal that required them to renounce everything that they held dear and meaningful, a goal that simply couldn’t be integrated into their daily life at all. This deep dichotomy in the collective psyche of the people of this land made them weak, purposeless, lacking focus. As a result, any foreign ruler who chose to, could enter this land, over-run the local army and establish his hegemony over the land and its people. In fact, some of the rulers who did come here were actually failures in their own land of birth! For instance, Babur; or even Qutub-ud-din Aibak, who hailed from a slave family in Persia. This land, which was the most prosperous land in the entire civilized world, was reduced to abject poverty, what with the people lacking all initiative to work!

We must note an important point here. You will notice that I have been constantly using the word ‘people of this land’, ‘this land’, etc. instead of directly using the terms ‘country’ or ‘nation’. There is a reason for this. India did not exist until the British rule got stabilized, sometime around 1890. Right from the Vedic period up to 1890, this was a group of different kingdoms. The people living between the Himalayas in the North, the Hindu-Kush in the West, the Brahmaputra on the East and the Indian Ocean on the South, all had the same culture. That means to say, they had the same religion and social norms. But they were under different kings. The society was governed by the same laws, but the administrative control was various. The people certainly felt a social and therefore a cultural & religious kinship, but they never felt that they were one community. Language, for instance, was a great barrier. When the British Crown consolidated this entire region under its control, the people living in this region started getting the first inkling of the nationalistic sense. It was the perception of the British that we were a nation; it was never a perception of the people living here that we were a nation, to begin with. But, soon, the idea gained popularity, helped to a large extent by the insensitivity of the British in dealing with the religion of the people. But the genesis of the idea of nationalism wasn’t enough to rouse the people living in this land, unless the deep-rooted dichotomy between daily activity and their spiritual aspirations could not be reconciled.

We have painted quite a detailed picture of the history of this land and its people up until the 1850s. Let me now describe to you a development that has great bearing on the main topic of this essay.

Sometime around 1850, at Dakshineswar near Calcutta, a rich dowager named Rani Rashmoni built a magnificent temple for the Divine Mother. After some hitches, this new temple got a new priest called Ramakrishna. Actually, he and his elder brother managed the daily worship of the various temples in the huge Dakshineswar complex. The young man Ramakrishna did not have much academic learning, which is actually associated with priesthood in this land. We must remember that this priest class is the modern form of the Brahmin who was the tyrannical custodian of the fire-sacrifice during the Buddhistic Era. So, this young man, rustic in the sense he lacked the refinement that accompanies systematic academic education, however had a specialty in him. He had the exuberance of life, what is called joie de vivre, by the French writers. Like most youths, he too was extremely idealistic, with great spiritual aspirations. At the same time, the compulsions of daily life drove him to work in the Dakshineswar Temple, worshipping a Deity that was literally terrifying by any standards. Now, what I wish to point out here is this – this combination in this youth was nothing new. For centuries, such had been the fate of innumerable Brahmin youths in India. However, Sri Ramakrishna did not remain satisfied with living a lie. He achieved a tremendous integration in his personal life. He very successfully integrated his spiritual aspirations with his daily allotted work, work that he was compelled to do in order to feed himself, work that was considered as drudge for the last many centuries in this land, ever since Buddha and Shankara bifurcated religion from the economy of daily life! He achieved such an unprecedented self-integration that he started evolving as a sort of voice of the entire suffering mankind of this age. Circumstances conjured in such fortuitous ways that he got a disciple named Narendranath. This youth was an opposite of sorts to Sri Ramakrishna, in the sense that he had very high academic qualifications and hailed from a very highly cultured family from the metropolis of that time – Calcutta.

Sri Ramakrishna claimed that he was an Incarnation of God. This term ‘Avatara’ or ‘Incarnation’ is a technical term used in Hindu religious jargon to mean the flesh & blood manifestation of the Lord who created and sustains this entire universe. The term God means that – creator and sustainer of this world and also much more beyond that idea to the Hindus. The term also means the underlying principle of consciousness in everything that exists. That is also meant by the term God. So, Ramakrishna claimed that he was an Incarnation of that God. Apart from these ideas, there is one other idea that is encompassed under this term and that is the idea of power. God is power. What power? Although it includes all the various forms that power can be perceived as, it basically refers to the power that controls our lives. Ideas have power. Words have power. Actions have power. When a Hindu uses the term God, he means this power that is inherent in all ideas, words and actions, too. Ramakrishna claimed that he was an Incarnation of God in this sense too. Now, for the subject that we are dealing with here, the efficacy of Karma Yoga, this particular aspect of Sri Ramakrishna [where he claimed himself to be an Avatara of God] is a non-issue. the reason I brought it up here is – this sense of Avatarahood that he developed about himself led to a very wonderful development.

He did a very strange thing towards the end of his life. In Cossipore, which is in sub-urban Calcutta, while he was almost dying, he called Narendranath near him and exhorted him that he [i.e. Narendranath] should do something for the spiritual emancipation of the common masses. There was something inexplicable in that order. For, this exhortation drove the young man, who was strictly speaking a skeptic as regards Avatarahood and the need for spiritual emancipation of the masses, to great lengths in discovering a suitable means for spiritual emancipation of the masses.

Although there are not many details of the inner workings of the mind of this young man [who later became the renowned Swami Vivekananda], based on his letters to his disciples and colleagues, his own recorded lectures and his official biography, I have tried to roughly reconstruct the mentations that led him to design the path of Karma Yoga[4]. For, he held that Karma Yoga would be the path for the spiritual emancipation of the people now.

Swami Vivekananda clearly understood the historical developments of the Indians[5]. So, he arrived at the conclusion that the task before him was two-fold: One, to maintain the purity of the religion that took birth in India. Two, to find some means of integrating religion with the daily life of common man, so that he could once again have the wherewithal to achieve spiritual goals by means of executing his daily duties. Sister Nivedita, one of his biographers points out very forcefully that he arrived at this conclusion based on inputs from three different sources. She writes, and I quote in-extenso: The formative influence that went to the determining of his vision may perhaps be regarded as threefold. There was, first, his literary education, in Sanskrit and English. The contrast between the two worlds thus opened to him carried with it a strong impression of that particular experience which formed the theme of the Indian sacred books. It was evident that this, if true at all, had not been stumbled upon by Indian sages, as by some others, in a kind of accident. Rather was it the subject-matter of a science, the object of a logical analysis that shrank from no sacrifice which the pursuit of truth demanded.

In his Master, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, living and teaching in the temple-garden at Dakshineshwar, the Swami Vivekananda — “Naren” as he then was — found that verification of the ancient texts which his heart and his reason had demanded. Here was the reality which the books only brokenly described. Here was one to whom Samâdhi was a constant mode of knowledge. Every hour saw the swing of the mind from the many to the One. Every moment heard the utterance of wisdom gathered superconsciously. Everyone about him caught the vision of the divine. Upon the disciple came the desire for supreme knowledge “as if it had been a fever”. Yet he who was thus the living embodiment of the books was so unconsciously, for he had read none of them! In his Guru, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda found the key to life.

 Even now, however, the preparation for his own task was not complete. He had yet to wander throughout the length and breadth of India, from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, mixing with saints and scholars and simple souls alike, learning from all, teaching to all, and living with all, seeing India as she was and is, and so grasping in its comprehensiveness that vast whole, of which his Master’s life and personality had been a brief and intense epitome.

 These, then — the Shâstras, the Guru, and the Mother-land — are the three notes that mingle themselves to form the music of the works of Vivekananda. These are the treasure which it is his to offer. These furnish him with the ingredients whereof he compounds the world’s heal-all of his spiritual bounty. These are the three lights burning within that single lamp which India by his hand lighted and set up, for the guidance of her own children and of the world in the few years of work between September 19, 1893 and July 4, 1902[6].

In his attempt to open up a path for everyone to participate in the life-fulfilling spiritual journey, Swami Vivekananda first attempted to introduce Raja Yoga [the science of religion] among the masses. This would have ensured the first objective mentioned above – that of maintaining the purity of religion[7]. It would have however left the second objective unaddressed.

So, finally, Swami Vivekananda came up with a marvelous plan of action: He established the Ramakrishna Math, an organization of monks, to achieve the first objective, of maintaining the purity of religion. Then he established the Ramakrishna Mission, an organization of monks and non-monastic members of the society, with the directive that this organization would engage in vigorous activity along the lines of Karma Yoga. For, in his later, matured point of view, it was Karma Yoga that would be the path meant for the common man, which would fulfil the needs of the modern man. Why would that be so? For, hadn’t his master Sri Ramakrishna achieved everything merely by the conscientious performance of his daily duties as a priest?

This latter organization is meant to be a torch-bearer to everyone in society who is desirous of practicing Karma Yoga. People can come to the various centers of this organization and study how the monks and the other members work. For, the work that is done in this organization is a special kind of work. All the work is done as Karma Yoga and not as a drudge, or even as duty. Swami Vivekananda specified very clearly that this organization would engage in all sorts of socially productive activity, and that every activity would serve a dual purpose – while the activities would enhance the collective welfare, it would also enhance the spiritual growth of the individuals who are engaged in those activities.

In this organization one finds two kinds of workers. One set of workers are visible; their activities are directly producing benefit to the people at large and to the target audience of those activities in particular. Even though there is great visibility and lot of fanfaronade in their activities, this category of workers maintain a clear sense of divinity within them in all that they do. They know with certainty that they are divine, the people they serve are divine and the act of service they render is actually a worship of the divine by the divine. The other set of workers are invisible, behind the screen, so to speak. This latter category of workers goes on performing their daily allotted duties with a sense of sacrilization. The common aspect in both these kinds of workers is the deep sense of divinization of the whole act. Years upon years of performing their duties in this sense leads to an incredible transformation in their consciousness that is not different from the transformation that would occur by practice of meditation or practice of devotion.

It is this particular way of working that Swami Vivekananda wanted to popularize among the masses. The exact type of work doesn’t matter. It is the way in which it is performed that matters. When done in the right way, every work that we do can become a valid path for our spiritual transformation. Hence, Swami Vivekananda gave a wonderful solution to the dilemma that has been tormenting the Indian psyche for the last two thousand years! So, welcome all sorts of activities. Welcome all means of wealth generation. For, activity and wealth generation are no longer antithetical to spiritual development. Rather, activity and wealth generation can themselves become the emancipating paths, if done as Karma Yoga.

So powerful has been this solution that within fifty years of Swami Vivekananda’s enunciation of this panacea, incredible results ensued. Mass acceptance of this message first of all took shape in the form of an upsurge in nationalistic feeling in India. For the first time, the masses felt that feeling for the entire country, feeling for his/her own fellow countryman, and working to free one’s own nation from foreign domination was at the same time bounden duty and also a valid path for one’s own spiritual development. After political independence, the same acceptance of this message by the masses took shape in the form of the birth and rise of a middle class in this country.

What concerns me, however, is that at present, everyone I come across claims to be performing Karma Yoga; but I have difficulty when I am unable to perceive the resultant transformation in his/her personality! Karma Yoga is a scheme of spiritual practices. While all other schemes of spiritual practices enjoin that only particular types of activities ought to be performed as a means to one’s spiritual development, Karma Yoga claims that the type of activity is immaterial. As opposed to the other traditional schools, although Karma Yoga claims that any activity can be a valid means of one’s spiritual development, it does enjoin that there is a limitation on the way in which any activity can be performed. Further, Karma Yoga very clearly specifies that one needs a certain qualification before one can embark on practicing Karma Yoga.

Swami Vivekananda has elaborated on both these points in his small book titled ‘Karma Yoga’. He has elaborated the qualifications one needs to possess before one can start practicing Karma Yoga. He has also explained the way, the method of performing any activity, by which that activity can get metamorphosed into Yoga[8]. What is of great importance is that there are clear milestones along the path that indicate we are on the right path. I note below a few of those milestones for reference of genuine aspirants of Karma Yoga[9]:

  • As soon as a particular activity is over and before another activity is taken up, in the interim period, the mind gets filled with divine thoughts.
  • The frequency of the spontaneous rising of divine thoughts will increase.
  • Anger and jealousy will reduce. One becomes more firm but compassionate too.
  • The center of one’s consciousness starts shifting to within our own personality.
  • A zone of silence is created inside our self and it keeps on growing, encompassing wider and wider circles of our personality.
  • The sense of compulsion associated with duty reduces. Every act is seen progressively as an opportunity for self-expression. Slowly this self-expression tends towards a sense of worshipful offering to the divinity within us.
  • Our ability to digest failure increases steadily. The effort we put into any activity doesn’t get affected by the success or failure of the activity anymore.
  • Our ability to digest criticism and negative comments increases steadily. It is not that our sensitivity reduces or that we become numb to words; on the contrary, our sensitivity towards the effects that words can produce gets enhanced considerably. What happens is that we will steadily develop an ability to sympathize with the troubled, unbalanced state of mind that produced those harsh, hurtful words. Hence, instead of resenting the speaker, we sympathize with him/her.
  • The senses become extremely vivid. This happens in the beginning for a certain period of time. Later on, this vividness shifts its focus from the perceptions of the senses to the ideas in the mind. Further on, all that we see and hear and do will be seen as a metaphor of our conception of divinity.
  • We become merciless to ourselves regarding our short-comings. At the same time, we become kind towards others regarding their short-comings. Certain cases may require that we specifically point out and correct short-comings of others; in such cases, we start feeling a clear at-one-ment with the persons whom we are called upon to correct. Each act of such correction emanates from a vivid picture of perfection in the other person’s personality.
  • A sense of spontaneous joy flows in the self. This tends to have a highly concentrating effect on the mind, and if not consciously controlled, could be highly distracting from the job at hand.

Thus, while I heartily recommend the widespread acceptance of Karma Yoga at all levels of society, I really wish that people who start practicing Karma Yoga would care to go about it in a systematic manner, and not drag down the high ideal.

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

 

[1] Of course, there was no nation then; India did not exist then. It was just that the majority of the people living between the Himalayas and the Euphrates-Tigris Basin and in the Peninsula followed this kind of livelihood. They had different kings ruling them, but their economy was governed by the fire-sacrifice

[2] The term Mleccha included the Huns, the Tartars, the Mongols, the Ioneans and the Greeks. They also included the various aborigines of the land who refused to conform to the common social customs & traditions revolving around the Vedic religion.

[3] The Hindu historians call this breaking down of the social stratification as Varna Sankarya.

[4] It would be worthwhile to mention here that Swami Ashokananda has written an editorial in Prabuddha Bharata with the title Origin of Swami Vivekananda’s doctrine of service. This article is available on the internet as also in the book Ascent to spiritual illumination. In this article, he has elaborated that Swami Vivekananda had to arrive at this doctrine of Service [which is a special form of Karma Yoga] in order to give a comprehensive shape to the spiritual discoveries of Sri Ramakrishna.

[5] In fact, the historical developments & background that I have mentioned above are all culled from his Complete Works, published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.

[6] This is a part of the Introduction to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.

[7] Please refer http://www.scribd.com/doc/83776171/Swami-Vivekananda-and-Pavhari-Baba, for a detailed article on this topic.

[8] Please refer http://www.scribd.com/doc/195501244/Swami-Vivekananda-s-Karma-Yoga-The-Scripture-for-Modern-Mankind for a detailed explanation of these & related issues.

[9] I collected these from various sources. Some are from Meditation & Spiritual Life by Swami Yatishwaranandaji. Some others are from my discussions with some senior monks of our Order.

Swami Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga – the scripture of modern mankind

 

 How to understand it and design a Sadhana based on the book

‘Karma Yoga’ written by Swami Vivekananda is an important book for all spiritual aspirants. While trying to read this book, the Sadhaka will certainly face some hardship since the topic itself is very subtle. One of the difficulties is the various terms Swamiji uses again and again in the book. It would help if these terms could be explained in detail. If the aspirant understands these terms, he will be in a better position to understand the book. Another difficulty is the strange misconceptions that many aspirants have regarding Karma Yoga, especially regarding its comparative efficacy as a spiritual path. ‘Oh! I shall practice some Karma Yoga, but then, real sadhana is Japa and Dhyana, you see!’ This is a common utterance. Again, ‘Oh! You don’t think I am qualified for the real sadhana, that’s why you say I’ve got to practice Karma Yoga. Wait, let me show you!’ This is another misconception. There is a need to clear these and similar other puerile misconceptions regarding Karma Yoga. This article is an attempt to fulfill some of these needs.

Swamiji uses the following terms again and again in this treatise: Work, Character, Motive, Self-Control, Duty, Service and Non-attachment. These terms will be explained so that the student of the treatise will be able to grasp the drift of arguments therein. Further, the relationship between Work & Duty, Duty & Service will also be studied.

Requirements for Karma Yoga practice will be enumerated and the dangers that lie in the practice of Karma Yoga will be explained. Then, there will be a discussion on the role of Guru and Ishta in Karma Yoga. Lastly there will be a short study of the ideal of a Karma Yogi.

Work: Its purpose

All of us work. And our actions bring either pleasure or pain. We generally consider pleasure to be the goal of our lives. So, most of our activities is aimed to get pleasure and avoid pain. The fact however is something totally different. Pleasure cannot be the goal of our lives. Why? Pleasure is not everlasting, and something that isn’t everlasting cannot be the goal of our lives. What then is the goal of our lives? What is it then that we all work for all our lives? It is knowledge. ‘Knowledge of what?’ you may ask. Knowledge of every kind; Work causes misery and happiness. And both misery and happiness bring out different kinds of knowledge that already exists inside us. So, the goal of all our actions is this uncovering of knowledge, although it is not so apparent.

Do we really have a choice with regard to activity? I mean, can we really choose whether to work or not to work? Actually, we don’t have a choice in this matter, although apparently it looks like we may choose either as we wish. Only that blessed person who is in the Nirvikalpa Samadhi state is free from work. All the rest of us have to work.

What does Swamiji mean by work in this book? Every activity of man is work. Man performs various kinds of actions using his senses, his motor organs and his mind. Each of them is termed work. Thoughts and feelings are also work by this definition; so are prayer, worship and meditation.

Character

Each activity leaves an impression on our mind. These impressions are vectors. They either cancel one another, or add up. These impressions have the ability to accumulate. The final resultant of all mental impressions upon our personality is called ‘Character’. In common terms, this word ‘Character’ means the manifestation of the Will, its tendencies, its direction, its propensities. This Will is what directs our life. It is what impels us to further action. This ‘Character’ can be changed. If change our ‘Character’, the quality of our life changes. How can we change our ‘Character’?

If we learn to manipulate our activities suitably, we can change our character. In other words, by learning to manipulate our activities, we can change the direction in which our Will operates. Thus, we can change our entire life. So, if we wish to change our ‘Character’ and thus improve the quality of our lives, it is important to learn to manipulate our actions. This is a science called ‘Karma Yoga’.

Every person therefore has a character. What sort of a character it will have to be seen. There are certain stereotypes of character. We have various classifications such as moral character, immoral character, mature character, immature character, etc. History shows that in certain cases (E.g. Christ, Buddha, etc), the character was entirely designed for doing good to everyone around them. Such a character is called a ‘Moral Character’ or ‘Unselfish Character’. Such a bunch of accumulated impressions is a great boon to oneself and to society. The impulsion of such a character is a tremendous energy called ‘Moral Energy’.

Anyone of us can develop a Moral Character. How? As we said before, it can be done by working in a certain way.

Motive, Self Control & Non-attachment

Generally, the resultant of accumulated impressions impels our next action. The initiator of activity is the Will, produced by character. When an action is underway, a tentacle arises in the mind called ‘Motive’. During the course of action, this ‘motive’ takes possession of the performed action. This taking possession of the performed action by our mind through ‘motive’ creates the impressions associated with the act.

What we need to learn is therefore this – when an action is underway, and when ‘motive’ starts rising up in order to claim the action, we shall have to curb this claiming process. We have to learn to curb the motive from claiming the action. But, nonetheless, we have to allow the action to be performed by our body and mind. This technique of curbing the ‘motive’ and simultaneously allowing the act to be performed is called ‘Self-control’.

Work performed in this way, by ‘Self-control’, by totally restraining any claim over the action is called ‘Motiveless Action’ or ‘Work for work’s sake’. This kind of work is the highest ideal of Karma Yoga.

The mechanism of applying self control over ourselves, wherein, the act is allowed to flow through our body-mind apparatus, but the ego is curbed from claiming ownership of the act is called Non-attachment. A non-attached person is therefore not inactive. In fact, an inactive person is the opposite of a non-attached person. A non-attached man is extremely active, performing all actions that situations in life demand of him, yet, he claims no ownership for any of those actions. The perfection of this non-attachment in a person is the highest ideal of Karma Yoga.

Gradation in the ideals of Karma Yoga

Now, everyone cannot take up this highest ideal right from the beginning. So, we have to allow for many smaller ideals. The highest ideal of ‘Work for work’s sake’ has to be broken down into many smaller ideals, allowing men at different stages of development to identify with. Actually the Varna-Ashrama system of the olden days in Hindu society was designed to achieve this. We should not jump stages. We have to grow out of it naturally. Suppose we take up an ideal which is too high for us, what happens is that we fall into a vicious trap. We will not be able to achieve anything even remotely close to that ideal. Repeatedly failing to achieve the ideal, we shall start losing all confidence in ourselves. Then we generally start becoming hypocrites, knowing in the heart of our hearts that we cannot live up to the ideal, and at the same time, we continue to profess the ideal outwardly. This leads to self-hate. All further growth stops when we start to hate ourselves. Hence we have to follow the graded path of work laid out by Karma Yoga.

Suppose we consider the concept of work as a spectrum, on the one extreme lies ‘Unconscious work’. Most people perform this kind of work. They are unaware of why they act, and what they do. Animals also act in this way. Such actions are generally aimed at pure survival. And at the other end lies ‘Work for work’s sake’. Externally, the opposites look very alike. In between lie ‘Selfish work’ and ‘Unselfish work’. “Work for work’s sake’ refers to a unique kind of performing actions where there is no motive at all, neither selfish, nor unselfish. ‘Selfish work’ refers all those kinds of actions we perform for ourselves, for earning money, for earning name, fame and approbation from society, for gaining, maintaining and improving our status in the society. These actions are concerned with me even at the cost of all others. ‘Unselfish work’ refers to that kind of action which we perform for the benefit of others. We don’t have to gain anything from those actions. It is very important to note that all these are just different kinds of performing actions. They are not different actions, as such. The same action, when performed in a particular way can be unconscious work; same action performed in a different way can become selfish action, and so on.

There is one more aspect to be kept in mind. That is – no stage is intrinsically superior to any other. No kind of work is intrinsically superior to another kind of work. We should not judge the work of others at all, for judgments are traps that stop our further development.

Unconscious work does not create any impression on our mind. It does not affect our character. ‘Selfish work’ creates impressions. But again, a strong positive character need not be formed by means of this kind of work, because, as we saw before, it generally leads to formation of impressions of various kinds, due to which, the resultant is always weak and lacks force. Let us suppose we perform repeated ‘Selfish work’. What happens then? Impressions will then not cancel out. Instead they will reiterate themselves and become very strong. Then the resultant of those impressions will ne unidirectional and have great force. The character of such a man will be a tremendous energy, which will be palpably felt by oneself and by others. But, it may not be a positive energy; it may not be ‘Moral energy’. It will generally be highly selfish. Such a character need not be a blessing to others, even though it will certainly be extremely powerful.

The next higher ideal is ‘Unselfish work’. A man shall work, but he shall only perform such acts as will benefit others and not him. What is the benefit of this kind of work? The benefit is that as a result of repeatedly performing such a kind of work, a different type of character is formed, extremely powerful, and a positive, force called ‘Moral character’. Such a character exudes a great force on the man that possesses such a character, propelling him to actions which will benefit all those around him. Hence it is considered positive.

So, we notice that. Starting from ‘Unconscious work’, we have to rise to ‘Selfish work’. Then, we have to exercise ‘Self-control’ on ourselves while performing selfish works and convert it to ‘Unselfish work’. Then, upon further applying self-control over ourselves while performing unselfish work, we can reach the highest ideal of ‘Work for work’s sake’. Karma Yoga thus gives the highest ideal as well as a graded code of conduct and activity for spiritual development.

We started a study of human actions in order to discern if there was any way in which we could achieve spiritual development using our propensity for action. We have seen that there is such a way. Now, common sense tells us that spiritual development generally accompanies silence, solitude, quietness. But, all along we have been dealing with action. So, the question will arise as to how spiritual development can occur while we are engaged in intense activity. If we are always engaged in activity, where will we find rest to achieve spiritual development? Karma Yoga teaches the technique of achieving silence in the midst of intense activity.

Work & Duty

What sort of work must we take up? As we already saw before, Karma Yoga depends not on the particular act, but on the manner in which the work is performed. So any work may be taken up. Yet, there are certain rules governing the choice of work to be taken up. The work to be performed by us is given the term ‘Duty’. There doesn’t seem to be a universal definition of duty. One school of thought says that the voice of conscience determines our duty. Since conscience is not intrinsic in man, but a product of social training, we cannot have a standardization of duty based on this concept of conscience. Another school of thought says that is duty which takes us forward in our life. Again, there can be no standardization based on this view too, since too many factors are involved in deciding as what takes me forward in my life. It depends on what one considers as the goal of one’s life, on one’s social training about right and wrong, etc. Karma Yoga however says that some actions make us brutal; some others make us human, while some actions exalt us to divinity. Hence that is our duty which lifts us higher up this ladder, from brutality to humanity to divinity. Bhagavad Gita says your birth in the family and position in society determines your duty. This too cannot be totally accepted since occupation is no longer dependent on families now-a-days in India. Moreover, no foreign country neither followed nor follows family based occupations. However, position in the society even now decides our duty to a large extent.

Instead of worrying about how to define duty, we may profit by seeing how this concept of duty helps us in our spiritual growth. Performing an action haphazardly and performing it as duty has a great difference on our character. Performing our action based on the concept of duty helps us to develop the ability to restrain our senses and other selfish pulls, for duty calls for great personal sacrifice. When a person is on duty, he cannot take rest even though he feels sleepy; he cannot eat even though he is hungry. So, by grades, he learns to control and restrain himself by performing his actions as duty. Duty requires continual denial of low desires. You will notice that entire society is designed on these lines.

Under which category of work can we classify duty – is it selfish work or unselfish work? It is surely not unconscious work, since duty is that activity that you have consciously accepted to perform. Duty may be selfish or unselfish depending on the way we allow our ‘motive’ to behave.

Dangers regarding Duty

There are two dangers regarding this concept of duty. Firstly, since it is dictated on us, and not chosen by us, there is a greater chance that we shall tend to treat the activity as a drudge. ‘Oh! It is my misfortune that I have to do this damned job!’ This kind of feeling may develop. When this kind of feeling develops, all cheerfulness goes away from action. Karma Yoga can no longer be practiced. Secondly, every personal whim and fancy can be justified as duty. Since duty cannot be objectively defined, it can be extended to include anything that strikes our fancy. If this happens, we get into a trap in which we shall be forever involved only in performing selfish work and can never grow out of it.

How are we to avoid these two dangers regarding duty?

Firstly, we have to base all our duty on ‘Love’. We have to love the society in which we live. We have to love ourselves. We have to love our fellow beings. There must be love in our heart when we perform duty. Only then will there be cheerfulness. Karma Yoga gives a technique for developing love in our heart. That is called ‘Chastity’. A Karma yogi must necessarily be chaste. He must practice sexual purity and then perform his duties. Then he will always have love in his heart and be cheerful about his duty. Generally Chastity means sexual continence. Karma Yoga considers Chastity to mean looking upon the opposite sex as the representation of divine energy. For a Karma Yogi, Chastity means a lot more than mere physical continence. Even a thought of a feeling that is tinged with sexuality means he/she is unchaste. When we are chaste, there will be no competitive sense in our heart. There will be no grumbling about our work to be performed as duty.

In order to avoid the 2nd danger, we shall have to implicitly accept society’s allotment of duty for us. That saves us from this danger to some extent. Society is not perfect. But it has its own adjustments according to which it allots certain duties to us. We profit by accepting this adjustment by society.

But our effort has to be constantly towards transforming our duty from a selfish way to unselfish way. How is this to be achieved? As we saw before, by constantly exercising Self-control over ourselves, by curbing the motive from claiming the duty we perform. By devotedly performing our allotted duties in this fashion, we gather strength to perform the allotted duties in higher levels, i.e. we can experience a progression from selfish to unselfish to work for work’s sake. So, we have to accept the duty allotted to us by society. We have to perform it with cheerfulness and love, by practicing chastity. We have to thus constantly transform our duty into unselfish activity and then gradually into work for work’s sake.

Gradation in duties

Since we depend on society for our allotment of duty, it may so happen that time to time, society may allot various duties to us to perform. Since society has a hierarchy, there is a hierarchy in duties too. It may so happen that depending upon the efficiency with which we perform our presently allotted duty, there may be a progression in the hierarchy of duties allotted to us. Thus, it seems that there is a progress with respect to the duties allotted to us. But this progression in duties is not a necessary condition for Karma Yoga. In Karma Yoga, all that matters is that there is a steady progress in the method in which we perform our duties, not in the hierarchy of duties.

We saw above that ‘Moral character’ can be developed by performing our allotted duties as activities that will help others and do not necessarily benefit oneself. It is to be remembered that the particular act does not matter. It is the way in which the act is performed that determines whether we shall develop a selfish character or an unselfish character by means of our actions.

Aspects of Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga therefore deals with the training ourselves to manipulate our actions with a view of developing a desired type of character. But this aspect does not encompass the entirety of Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga also involves the use of ritualism, use of symbolism and the use of the written & spoken word. Symbolism is a part of rituals. So, knowledge of symbols is also Karma Yoga. So, according to Swamiji’s book, Karma Yoga includes the following:

  1. Performing duty for the sake of spiritual development.
  2. Doing good to the world without thought of any personal considerations.
  3. Manipulating our actions so as to develop a particular type of character.
  4. Use of ritualism and symbolism.
  5. Use of the spoken and written word.

Dangers regarding Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga presents its own set of obstacles to the practitioner. Fanaticism is a great obstacle in Karma Yoga. Expectation of rewards for our actions is another obstacle. How to avoid these?

We must clearly understand the nature of this world that we try sincerely to repair and help. This world is not our permanent habitat. It is just a passing stage. This world is a curly dog’s tail. No matter how much you help it, it will remain crooked and curled. This world is imperfect, full of inequality. Then why at all should we help this world? We need to work for the good of others because that is a very good way of helping ourselves to grow. If we work with this knowledge, then we can avoid fanaticism. Another way to avoid fanaticism is to have a faith in Ishwara. Ishwara is the Lord of this world. He has a responsibility for this world. He will take care of it finally. This shifts crushing pressure from your head and allows you to work freely. You may chip in your efforts, but your efforts are not at all indispensable. This also avoids fanaticism.

We have already seen the way to avoid expecting rewards for our actions. Self control is the way. We shall have to check our motive from claiming the rewards for our actions.

Requirements for Karma Yoga

  1. Not to hate ourselves

It must also be mentioned that Karma Yoga has its own specific requirements. Without those requirements, one cannot achieve any success in that path; no matter how long he tries. Swamiji says that our 1st requirement is not to hate ourselves. What does it mean to say ‘I hate myself’? Isn’t loving oneself something selfish and hence abhorrent? Our mind is a very strange thing. We are right now aware of just the superficial parts of our own mind. Beneath the superficial layer of our mind lie many layers of the mind which are not readily accessible to our consciousness. It is one of the strangest facts of life that our own mind works against us in most cases. A person reads a good book on spiritual life and wants to practice those precepts. When he tries to practice them, he finds that his mind militates against those practices. Now can he deny that those ideas appealed to him? Of course, the ideas were indeed appealing to him, which was why he started to practice them. But then, his own mind militates against practicing them. Why is this so? This fact of our own mind militating against our efforts is called ‘hating ourselves’. First of all, we need to recognize this great fact. And then, we need to take adequate steps to overcome this inner resistance to progress. Psychologists today even speak of a ‘Will to fail’ that is operative within us, which is responsible for our failures in life. A Karma Yogi needs to rise above this inner enemy. Else all his efforts in trying to control his actions and motives will come to naught.

  1. Be a witness

Another urgent sine-qua-non needed for Karma yoga is the ability to ‘be a witness’ of our actions and situations. We must practice working like the nurse in a rich man’s house. We must be completely involved in all our actions, in all that happens around us. We must be involved but we must remain unruffled by any of them. Deep down in our hearts we must know that we are the ever-perfect Atman that needs nothing further to perfect it. No act makes us perfect. We are perfection itself. Perfection in all its aspects is our true nature. Yet we must work hard. Our inner-most self is of a nature that needs nothing else to make it perfect. But our body and mind need activity to become more and more perfect.

Role of Guru in Karma Yoga

What is the role of Guru in Karma Yoga? Any spiritual path generally starts with a Guru. The aspirant is initiated into the path by a person who has achieved success by following that path in his own life. Guru is that person. It won’t do if the person merely has intellectual knowledge of the path. The Guru must have personal experience. No where in Swamiji’s book do we come across the need of a Guru with regard to practicing Karma Yoga. But, practice of Karma Yoga too needs a Guru, not for initiating us into the path, but more to present before us the actual form of the ideas of this grand path. It is possible to understand concepts like Chastity, Self-control, Moral character, Being a witness, non-attachment, etc merely by studying books and articles. But, unless we see these ideas manifested in a person, we may end up understanding the whole thing in a totally different way. It takes a living person to make it clear to us that chastity is something more than being an ox. Ox is continent, because it is emasculated. Emasculation is not chastity. A Karma Yogi lives and works amidst the opposite sex, yet does not allow even the least sexual thought to pass through his mind! Non-attachment is not callousness. It is possible for a person to be utterly involved in activity and yet be totally unaffected by it at heart. The subtleties of Karma Yoga become clear only when we see a living person manifest those concepts in his life. And such a person is nothing less than a Guru. Certain schools of religion in India speak of ‘Deeksha Guru’ and ‘Sheeksha Guru’. Karma Yoga seems to have done away with the need of a Deeksha Guru. But, a Sheeksha Guru is indispensable for Karma Yoga.

Ishta of a Karma Yogi

Every Yoga needs an Ishta, the chosen ideal. In Karma Yoga, our Ishta is our ‘Duty’ and it is pointed out to us by society. Generally, the Guru points out to us our Ishta. But, in Karma Yoga, we do not need a single person to point out our Ishta to us. Society has its mechanism for allotting our duty at any point of time. Thus society itself points out our Ishta to us.

Inter-relationship between Duty & Service

We have now seen the important aspects of Karma Yoga as presented by Swamiji in his book. We shall now try to highlight some points, by clarifying which, our study of Swamiji’s book will be more fruitful. We need to know the relationship between duty & service; then we shall have to see the inter-relationship between Karma Yoga and other Yogas.

Society is a gigantic being, involved in infinite activities. Those activities can be broken down into smaller parts. Each of those smaller parts is allotted to the various persons who are members of the society. Such allotted activities are called duties. Society has the tendency to create imbalances within itself from time to time, creating the haves and the have-nots among its members. A particular type of activity which mainly helps others is called Service. All duties allotted by society cannot be classified under Service. But all types of service activities are duties. Thus service is a special kind of activity devised by society to establish balance within itself. Service takes various forms. Helping others with food and clothing is one kind of service. Imparting secular education and knowledge is another. Giving health care to the sick is yet another form. Bringing peace of mind to the emotionally disturbed is a still higher kind of service. All forms of service are valuable. But helping others spiritually is the highest. So, there is an objective hierarchy in service. We have already noted that a hierarchy does exist with respect to duty.

Now, revolving around duty and service, two different kinds of Karma Yoga can be practiced. A Karma Yogi who is confined to his duty will seem like a most ordinary person, with nothing special about him, going about performing his allotted duties, living his seemingly humdrum life, but, within him, maybe burning a great flame of renunciation, taking him up and up and above the ordinary. Merely by performing his allotted duties in a purely household set-up, a person may become a Yogi. Outwardly, there will be no fanfare and show about such a Yogi, but, within, he is a totally different man.

Swamiji seems to be the first person who envisaged that service too can be taken up as Karma Yoga. And in this sense, Karma Yoga means helping others to the point of one’s death! He gives the example of the sacrifice of the Brahmin family in Mahabharata, where the mongoose rolled on the spilled floor and got half his body turned into gold.

Inter-relationship between Karma Yoga & other Yogas

Should Karma Yoga be practiced along with other Yogas or is it sufficient to bring emancipation all by itself? Swamiji says that Karma Yoga, by itself, is capable of making a man free from all bondages. But, depending on one’s disposition, a person may integrate Karma Yoga with Yoga of his choice too.

  1. With Bhakti Yoga

Supposing you are a devotee; then Karma Yoga can be integrated with Bhakti. How? Every act is considered as a flower, to be performed and offered to the feet of your Ishta. Thus, slowly, your actions get a transforming power over your personality. You go on working, but the overall effect is that your work does not directly affect you; instead your relationship with your Ishta gets strengthened as a result of working. This is the easiest way of performing Karma Yoga.

2. With Jnana Yoga

What is the relationship of Karma Yoga with Jnana Yoga? A Jnani negates this world. So how can he work? And if he doesn’t work, where does Karma Yoga arise? Jnana Yoga teaches you that Atman alone exists. You are not the body, nor the mind, but pure consciousness. And so is every being around you. Now, you may cry yourself hoarse that you not this and not that, but unless you actually perceive that you are pure consciousness in the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, you will find yourself interacting with this world, with this society. Each interaction, emanating from your body and mind, can reinforce your vision of you being non-different from others. So, if you are a Jnana Yogi, then each of your interactions with others can also be called Karma Yoga, since, your work is uniting you with the whole.

But, is there anything called ‘Pure Karma Yoga’? Yes, there is. Such a Yogi does not believe in a Personal God and hence cannot entertain devotion to God. Such a Yogi does not posit the Atman, pure consciousness, negating the world and hence cannot bother about Jnana. But, he can work; he can use his faculties of body and mind and interact meaningfully with others in society. Such a unique person works not to achieve anything for himself. By force of will, he renounces his selfishness. His main job while discharging his allotted duties is to keep himself unattached from any kind of bindings that his ego may conjure. This very act will lead to a tremendous change in his consciousness and lead him to freedom.

Ideal of Freedom

Swamiji says in more than one place that the goal of Karma Yoga is ‘Freedom’. We must try to understand what this freedom means. Human existence is full of contradictions. We think we are free. But are we really free? How far does our freedom go? Even trifles like sleep and hunger keep us bound, not to speak of the greater bondages of prejudice or fanaticism or ignorance. A Karma Yogi’s goal is to slowly grow out of each of these bondages. A question may be asked here. As of now, we are not even aware of our bondages. So, can this ideal of freedom from bondage ever be a strong force in our lives? Yes. It is indeed a very sorry state of affairs that we seem to be quite happy with our present putrid state of bondage. Karma Yoga paves the way for our realizing that we are bound. Then, it takes us out of that bondage too.

Karma Yoga tells us ‘Work, enjoy, experience and let go’. Most of us do all these except ‘letting go’. That needs training ourselves. Experience is not our goal. Our goal is freedom. For that, we need to let go. ‘Letting go’ means Non-attachment. Absolute non-attachment is infinite expansion.

Karma yoga begins with duty. Then it rises till the idea of duty ceases. In the higher stages of Karma Yoga, there is no sense of ‘ought to’. There, actions are performed because it is good to perform those actions; good for the entire world. No more are any external impulses needed to act, inner impulses of love spur a Karma Yogi to act.

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