Education for uncertain times

This is the topic I gave to the organizers of this program when they asked me what I would speak on. Let me tell you the reason I chose this topic.

Long ago, we had a great Swami in America. He was one of the pioneers in the Vedanta Movement in USA. One day he gave an advertisement in the newspapers. He would give a lecture on ‘How to make money using Vedanta’. Hundreds came. The Hall was overflowing. The Swami started speaking. He said, “I do not know how to make money using Vedanta. I gave this topic only to attract you all to come to my lecture. I know about Vedanta, about Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. I will speak on these topics. This is the only way I can force you all to come and listen to this great message.”

Of course, those were days before the Consumer Courts, else that Swami would have got sued for a refund on the entry tickets!

My case is also similar. I don’t know what education is meant for uncertain times. I just gave that topic so that your interest levels would be high for what I really have to say today! I hope I don’t get sued by you all! I know about Swami Vivekananda and what he said about Education. I will explain that briefly today.

In my opinion, all education is always meant for uncertain times. Why? Who can really predict the future? All we can do is assuming that there are these skills that are needed in the near future, say, five years max. We can impart those skills hoping that you will indeed be using those very skills in your life. But we don’t know. If there is any Board or Council or University that says that they have it all figured out, I beg to differ. They are just taking a shot in the dark. They don’t know for sure. No one can know for sure what the future will be like. Just a little while ago, Dr Subramanian told us how the entire education system is meant to keep the institutions busy and that they are really imparting nothing!

Who exactly is shaping the future of this world? Can we ask this question? Yes, we can. Can we answer this question? I don’t think we can. The factors that actually work and give shape to the future of this world are too many. That is why nobody, not even the best computers, can predict what the world will be like in twenty years’ time. When we don’t even know what the world will be like when our children will be working, how can we design a curriculum for their education today? Does this mean that all our education is in vain? Now, that is something I will deal with presently.

When I was a student, we used to study something called ‘First Order Differential Equations’. It was tough. We all struggled hard to understand it. But we all did it. We all had to do it. Later on when I used to work, I had a colleague. Every day while punching out of the office, he would tell me, ‘Ravi, one more day has passed, and I still haven’t used First Order Differential Equations in my work!’ It was a joke between us, you see.

We will teach you many things in school and college. We don’t know if they will ever be useful to you. But there is one important result we are all aiming for through all this exercise that we are all doing. We are teaching you, and you are all learning from us. The details of education, such as computers and coding, or history, or literature, etc. are beside the point here; we can argue interminably about these things. The exercise of education is meant to unleash something inside you. It is about this vital thing that Swami Vivekananda has elaborated. In all his lectures and letters, you will find him talk about education again and again. But nowhere will you find him specifying details such as what subjects should be taught. Then what did he say about education? What should be the outcome of education according to him?

I wish to highlight three important ideas today.

Firstly, you will have to learn ‘how to learn’. As a result of all this exercise that we call school and college education, what exactly are we looking for? This entire exercise should enable you all to learn about your own mind. You must be able to understand how exactly your mind understands things. You must be able to understand how you translate ideas into action. That knowledge is the outcome we are looking for. If you get this, you will be able to face the future. Whatever situation comes in your life, say thirty years from now, if you know how your mind works, you will be able to pick up new skills, whatever is relevant then, and move on with your life. A great American thinker called Henry Adams once said, “They know enough who know how to learn.

You all know that famous definition of Religion given by Swamiji. ‘Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already in man.[1] This is one of his more famous statements. You will find it on calendars, stickers, magazines, everywhere. But what you may not know is that Swamiji has given over fifty different definitions of Religion! All of them look at Religion from a different perspective. He once said, ‘My Religion is to learn.[2] We all know Swami Vivekananda to be a Hindu monk. All political parties in India today are using Swami Vivekananda to appeal to the so-called Hindu vote bank. I wonder what they have to say about this statement made by the same Swamiji! Learning is my religion, he says.

Of course, some scholars of Swami Vivekananda’s works may point out that he is just translating into English the statement ‘I belong to the Vedic Religion’. The Sanskrit work Veda means ‘learning’ also. Hence, this statement will mean ‘I believe in the Vedas and hence I am a Hindu.’ But semantics apart, learning is so important for Swamiji that he will even swear by learning!

In one place, Swamiji says “(Education) is the systematic development of the mind. To me the very essence of education is concentration of mind, not the collecting of facts. If I had to do my education over again, and had any voice in the matter, I would not study facts at all. I would develop the power of concentration and detachment, and then with a perfect instrument I could collect facts at will. Side by side, in the child, should be developed the power of concentration and detachment.[3] This is basically what I am trying to explain to you. You must learn how to learn. Today, psychology has a new word for this idea. It is called ‘Metacognition’. But the idea is the same as what Swamiji said, “If I had to do my education all over again, I would only learn how to concentrate my mind. I could use it anywhere.

Secondly, the entire exercise of education is meant to develop some faculties, some qualities, and some capabilities in you. This whole set of qualities in your personality, is called ‘Character’. Swamiji said, “It is the patient up-building of character, the intense struggle to realize the truth, which alone will tell in the future of humanity.[4] So, there you have what this great Swamiji had to say about Education for uncertain times. Develop Character. It is Character alone that enables you to face the future, a future that will forever be uncertain, unpredictable.

What qualities are we speaking of? There are so many. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics mentions so many of them. The Christian books also enumerate a whole set. They have even categorized them into cardinal and secondary.

Having worked in Education for so many years now, I wish to point out three character qualities on which we need to concentrate: Time-consciousness, Sense of duty, and Joint effort.

Time-consciousness: The essential outcome of education is to awaken a sense of time in you all. Time is a resource. You will have to use it properly. Time gets used up, whether you do something or not. Time just passes by, never to return. How did you use your time? At any moment, you will feel you are using time well. Are you? Time is one of the major connecting links between all of us. If even one of us doesn’t have time-consciousness, he will waste all of ours’ time. What right do you have to waste my time?

You may argue by saying that when you don’t even know what you need to concentrate on, how can you know if your time is being properly used or not? That brings us to the next quality I hold important in students.

Sense of duty: All of us are meant to do something very, very specific at any given moment of time. There is no vagueness about that at all! That something is called ‘Duty’. You are meant to do that. Are you doing it?

What are students meant to do? You know very well what you are all meant to do. Are you doing it? Nowadays students go to College, you know for what? To set the College right! To teach the Principal and the Professors a lesson! In most of our Universities today, we have Students’ Unions. College students feel that they are using their time most profitably by participating in Union activities. I have worked in various parts of India. In most places I have seen this disease.

I was once sitting in the chamber of the Education Commissioner of that State. Suddenly about fifteen youths entered the office. They just made themselves comfortable in his office. The Commissioner, a very senior IAS Officer, politely pointed out that he hadn’t asked them to sit. One of the youths said, “Sir, I am the President of this State’s Students Union. I have Cabinet Minister’s status!” This is education for you!

I was looking after a Higher Secondary School once. One day, when the classes ended at 3.30pm, some 6-7 students of Class-XII barged into my office and said, “Swamiji, we have planned to start a Students Union in our School. We need your permission.” They were not asking for my permission. I was experienced enough to understand that! They were just informing me. I told them that I would reply the next day during the Morning Prayer assembly. The next day, after the Morning Prayer, I told all the students, “Yesterday, some 6-7 students came to meet me. They are all here. They want to start a Students Union in our School. I know that forming a Students Union is your democratic right. So I will certainly give my permission. I must however inform you all one important thing. Any of you can approach me at any time of the day or night with any problem you may have – academic, personal, financial, or social. I am available for you. This is how it has been going on till now. You all know it. But once the Union is formed, I will not allow any of you to meet me directly. I will deal only through the Union. In a way, my work will become reduced. Now, I want you all to discuss amongst yourselves and let me know by evening.” By 3.30pm, those 6-7 students came into my office, all dejected. The students had all strongly berated them. So, no Union would be formed. But a new problem had cropped up. A couple of those boys were weeping. I asked them why. They said, “Swamiji, Mr….had given us Rs. 2 lakhs for forming the Union in our School. We have already spent about Rs. 50,000. Now, we have to return it!” Well, well, well! I then took those boys in my vehicle to the house of Mr… who was the sitting MLA of our place. He was seeking for re-election and hence this rigmarole. I explained the whole issue to him. There were some more important persons of the society in his house and they all heard it. He immediately said, “Arre, Swamiji; why did you have to come for this? Forget the whole thing. Let the boys return the remaining amount and let us forget the whole issue.” So this is education for you!

I keep getting invitations from various Colleges for speaking at their programs. They are all organized by their Students Unions. In one such program, the ‘organizers’ informed me that they had invited foreign speakers too. I told the ‘organizers’ that I would attend if they invite two important speakers from abroad. These Students Union leaders have a great sense of power, you see. They have access to huge funds. They agreed and asked me who I wanted. I said, “Invite the General Secretary of the Students Union of Harvard University and of the Oxford University.” They couldn’t invite them. Do you know why? Those Universities don’t have a Students Union! They study. They don’t waste time in bull-shit!

Swamiji repeatedly said that privileges spoil the capacity for doing hard work. The sense of duty is closely connected to working hard. I spoke so much about Students Unions. I know all students don’t do such nonsense. But, the trend is the same in almost all students. They may not participate. But they observe. They learn that if you get to a position of power, you will get privileges. Once you get that, your life is settled. No more hard work is needed. Recall that idiot’s statement: ‘I have the status of a Cabinet Minister!’ Yesterday, a beautiful museum was inaugurated in our Town Center here, you may know. There are replicas of many items that Swamiji used. There is a similar museum in Belur Math also. I saw a replica of the trunk that Swamiji used when he travelled all over the world. It is a huge trunk. This is the Prophet of the modern age. This was the trunk he used. Nowhere do you find any reference to an assistant or helper during his extensive journeys all over the world. He carried his own large suitcase everywhere! The Prophet of the modern age did not claim any privileges. He did not say, ‘I have realized the Truth. An incarnation of God, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, has certified my status as a realized soul. And he has authorized me to do good to the world. That is the reason I travel so much. Now, you can’t expect me to carry my own ugly, large trunk everywhere. What will happen to my status as a Prophet?’

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

This is what happens with privileges! You lose the edge which will actually develop you. You start searching for short-cuts, which actually don’t exist in life.

Thirdly, there is the issue of working conjointly with others. We are all very good when we work alone. As a group, we suck. There seems to be a genetic problem with us. We simply cannot work together. We are suspicious of one another. We are hypercritical of one another. We are excellent Judges of others’ faults and terrific lawyers of our own. Swamiji exhorted us again and again to develop this quality. School and college education is, in fact, a very good system for developing this quality. All we need to do is – become aware that we need to develop this quality. A mob is not an organization. We can’t form an organization out of the masses on a railway platform. Something else is required for working together meaningfully.

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

Before I end, I wish to point out one more idea given by Swamiji. I do not myself understand this idea very well. But Swami Vivekananda uttered it. It is true. I will tell you what he said. I will leave it to you to understand it in your own light. In a very important lecture he delivered in India after his return from the West, he said, “If the fisherman thinks that he is the Spirit, he will be a better fisherman; if the student thinks he is the Spirit, he will be a better student. If the lawyer thinks that he is the Spirit, he will be a better lawyer, and so on.[5] You are students. Swamiji says that if you can think that you are the Atman, you will be better students! Just give this idea some thought when you are free. How would this work? What is meant by ‘thinking you are the Atman’? This seems to be a challenge that Swamiji throws at you. Take it up and see if he is wrong.

That brings us to the end of my lecture. This is all I wanted to tell you today. You see, we have so much education in our country. Hundreds of crores of rupees are spent annually. But, what is the result? We are recognizing problems in our system. We are trying to solve them too. Yet, we seem to be stuck somewhere. And our leaders don’t seem to have a clue of what is wrong. I believe the problem lies in ignoring Swami Vivekananda’s ideas on education. There seems to be some kind of resistance to Swamiji’s ideas in us. His words appear to soothing, yet, we do not want to accept them wholeheartedly.

There was a zoo in a city. There was a fruit-garden adjacent to this zoo. One day, the owner of the fruit-garden complained to the zoo authorities that the giraffe in the zoo was eating all the fruits of his garden. The zoo authorities held a meeting and decided that the compound wall would be raised to 20 feet. That would prevent the giraffe from sticking its neck into the garden. After some more days, the owner of the fruit-garden again complained that the giraffe was still eating the fruits. This time, the zoo authorities raised the compound wall to 50 feet. There was no chance of the giraffe sticking its neck even by jumping now! But, after some days, the owner of the fruit garden again complained that the problem was still not solved. This time, a committee was formed to study the giraffe day & night to determine how it stole the fruits. Do you know what the committee found? The gate between the zoo and the fruit-garden used to be kept open. The giraffe would simply walk into the garden, eat whatever it wanted and would come back!

So, Swamiji’s ideas on education are the lock for that gate. Let us put that lock so that our efforts will bear fruit.

There was a great Swami here in Belgaum. He was the founder of this Ashrama. I went to him many years ago, when I was young. You see, I had studied Swami Vivekananda and the Upanishads in my own way. In those books, it is mentioned that if you wish to learn spirituality, you must approach the learned ones and formally apply for apprenticeship. So I went to him and said, “Swamiji, will you please train me?” He got real angry and said, “I don’t train anyone. I am not in this training business! But, there is one thing: if you wish to get trained by yourself, you are welcome to stay with me.” This, I believe, is real education. You get yourself educated. No one can make you educated. You cannot be trained. But, if you wish, you may train yourself adequately. All resources you need are available in this world.

So there is no point in finding fault with the Government or Institutions or Schools and Colleges. That is what we do. We say that we went to College for 10 years but nobody taught us anything. As if teaching you is somebody’s responsibility! Teaching yourself is your own responsibility. That is real ‘Education for uncertain times’.


[1] Complete Works: Vol-4: What We Believe In

[2] Complete Works: Vol-1: Lectures and Discourses: The Hindu Religion

[3] Complete Works: Vol-6: Lectures and Discourses: Concentration And Breathing

[4] Complete Works: Vol-8: Epistles – 4th Series: To Mr. E. T. Sturdy on 24th April, 1895

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


Purity & Concentration

I will be placing before you five ideas today. These five ideas are very important for understanding the main ideas of today’s topic – Purity & Concentration. You see, I will not be speaking to you about Purity & Concentration per se, because, most of us assembled here already have a rough idea of these two concepts. I will try to fill in the gaps in our understanding regarding these concepts.

As I said, we all know sufficiently enough about Purity and Concentration. Yet we do not seem to grow in these two character traits. Why is that?

  • Principle of Gradation in Ideals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Faith in the Law of Karma:

This brings us to the next idea I want to explain to you today. We must develop a faith in the Law of Karma. What do I mean by this? We must believe that we can put in effort and gain results commensurate with the efforts we put in. Every culture, every civilization, every society has some version or the other of this Law operative within its framework. As we sow, so shall we reap. No pain, no gain. Our efforts have a direct correlation with shaping our lives.

Do you know where the problem lies? Most of us are products are circumstances. Our Will has no role in shaping our lives. The reasons for this state of affairs in India are many. Centuries of political slavery, millennia of Caste restrictions on individual creativity and social upward mobility, millennia of social security from the Caste system independent of personal efficiency, and general weakness and laziness in individuals are some of the reasons that Swami Vivekananda identified and addressed.

It is interesting to note that Swamiji identified one more reason which has direct bearing on the topic we are discussing today. That is – the impact of Buddhist reformation of Hinduism. Swamiji opines that when Buddha said that the goal of life is Nirvana and the only path to Nirvana is through monasticism, he laid the seeds of the national degeneration that we see today! What this means is very interesting: Married life has no fundamental meaning. All the activities that people engage in – family, occupation, economic activity, political activity, wealth generation, nothing has any value, if you have to finally let go everything and embrace monastic vows! This idea has seeped deep down into the national mind. But then, not everyone can renounce everything, all at once. Desire for enjoyment is not so easily given up, no matter even if Buddha, Jesus or Sri Ramakrishna preaches it! Hence the urge to enjoy remains within, but simultaneously, the ultimate futility of all actions is also drummed into us through the ages.

As a result, we have today developed a defeatist mentality, a fatalist attitude towards life. We feel we can get a particular result only if that result is “given” to us. Our efforts do not matter. We have developed elaborate justifications for our wonderful attitude. Take the case of students. Why won’t the boys study hard? What is the use of studying! The seats/jobs are finally bagged by those who have ‘connections’; if your father is rich, you can settles properly in life, else, there is no hope. Or they talk of Fate and destiny. They bring in Astrology and similar hocus-pocus ideas! Ideas like these are the direct consequence of not having faith in the Law of Karma. Take up any situation and you will find our people giving you a dozen reasons why it can’t be solved; hardly does anyone come up with solutions. We have internalized the habit of expecting results in our lives without spending the requisite amount of energy or time for the same. Personal effort is considered meaningless. Everything in life, be it material prosperity or spiritual growth, has to come from somebody as a gift. That is the mindset right now. Naturally, the direct fallout of this national attitude is that we look down upon anyone doing well in this world. If there is a man who works hard, we make fun of him. Earning money is seen as unethical. Generating wealth by hard work is considered as immoral. When the ideal of monastic poverty is imposed upon everyone in society, when such an ideal is praised to the skies day and night, and everyone in society feels he has to either aim for that or he is a failure in life, this outcome is quite natural.

Many guardians come to me and say, “Maharaj, please place your hand on my son’s head and bless him.” I do not understand this. That boy won’t study. He had no faith in the fundamental law of cause and effect, but he has faith that my placing hand on his stupid head will lift his marks up! Amazing! Young boys come to me and say, “Maharaj, I can’t control my mind.” What the hell can I do about it? It is his mind. If he can’t control it, who can? They read some stupid thing about some holy man blessing some other yet-to-be-holy-man in some book and how that blessing led to complete control of his mind. They think we should do the same thing! What madness!

This mindset has to change urgently.

And the fun is – the opposites look alike! The fully developed man and the imbecile look very similar from outside. There is no way to distinguish superficially between a wise man and an idiot. And quite often, the wise one has to accept defeat at the hands of the fool!

Listen to a beautiful story in this connection: Many, many years ago, back in the Middle Ages, the Pope was urged by his advisors to banish the Jews from Rome. They said that it was unseemly that these people should be living unmolested in the very center of Catholicism. An edict of eviction was drawn up and promulgated much to the dismay of the Jews who knew that wherever else they went they could only expect worse treatment than was meted out to them in Rome. So they pleaded with the Pope to reconsider the edict.

The Pope, a fair-minded man, offered them a sporting proposition: Let the Jews appoint someone to debate with him in pantomime. If their spokesman won, the Jews might stay.

The Jews met to consider this proposal. To turn it down was to be evicted from Rome. To accept it was to court certain defeat, for who could win a debate in which the Pope was both participant and judge? Still, there was nothing for it but to accept. Only, it was impossible to find someone to volunteer for the task of debating with the Pope. The burden of having the fate of the Jews on his shoulders was more than anyone man could bear. Now when the synagogue janitor heard what was going on he came before the Chief Rabbi and volunteered to represent his people in the debate. “The janitor?” said the other rabbis when they heard of this. “Impossible!”  “Well,” said the chief Rabbi, “None of us is willing. It is either the janitor or no debate.” Thus for lack of anyone else the janitor was appointed to debate with the Pope.

When the great day arrived, the Pope sat on a throne in St Peter’s square surrounded by his cardinals, facing a large crowd of bishops, priests and faithful. Presently, the little Jewish delegation arrived, in their black robes and flowing beards, with the janitor in their midst. The Pope turned to face the janitor and the debate began.

The Pope solemnly raised one finger and traced it across the heavens. The janitor promptly pointed with emphasis towards the ground. The Pope seemed somewhat taken aback. Even more solemnly he raised one finger again and kept it firmly before the Janitor’s face. The janitor thereupon lifted three fingers and held them just as firmly before the Pope who seemed astonished by the gesture. Then the Pope thrust his hand into his robes and pulled out an apple. Whereupon the janitor thrust his hand into his paper bag and pulled out a flat piece of matzo-bread.

At this the Pope explained in a loud voice, “The Jewish representative has won the debate. The edict of eviction is hereby revoked.”

The Jewish leaders promptly surrounded the janitor and led him away.

The cardinals clustered around the Pope in astonishment. “What happened, your Holiness?” they asked. “It was impossible for us to follow the rapid thrust and parry of the debate.” The Pope wiped the sweat from his forehead and said, “That man is a brilliant theologian, a master in debate. I began by sweeping my hand across the sky to indicate that the whole universe belongs to God. He thrust his finger downward to remind me that there is a place called Hell where the devil reigns supreme. I then raised one finger to signify that God is one. Imagine my shock when he raised three fingers to indicate that this one God manifests Himself equally in three persons, thereby subscribing to our own doctrine of the Trinity! Knowing that it was impossible to get the better of this theological genius I finally shifted the debate to another area. I pulled out an apple to indicate that according to some new-fangled ideas the earth is round. He instantly produced a flat piece of unleavened bread to remind me that, according to the Bible, the earth is flat. So there was nothing to do but concede the victory to him.”

By now the Jews had arrived at their synagogue. “What happened?” they asked the janitor in bewilderment. The janitor was indignant. “It was all a lot of rubbish,” he said. “Look. First the Pope moves his hand like he is telling all the Jews to get out of Rome. So I pointed downwards to make it clear to him that we were not going to budge. So he points a finger to me threateningly as if to say, ‘Don’t get fresh with me.’ So I point three fingers to tell him he was thrice as fresh with us when he arbitrarily ordered us out of Rome. The next thing, I see him taking out his lunch. So I took out mine.”

Like I said before, opposites look alike! The fully developed man and the imbecile look very similar from outside. But what an ocean of difference exists between them, really!

You have heard of Henry Ford. He was a great Engineer and invented the Assembly Line Manufacturing system and revolutionized manufacturing of Cars. The General Motors Company that he founded is one of the most successful industries of the world. He had the habit of walking along the beaches of New York every morning. One day, while he was on his morning walk, he saw a young man sleeping in a boat on the shore. Ford was deeply disturbed seeing this young man snoring in the morning. He kicked him awake and shouted, “Aren’t you ashamed, sleeping into the morning?” “Well, Sir, what should I rather be doing?” asked the hapless young fellow, rubbing his eyes. “Get to work.” “And…?” “Earn money, save some money for your old age, make a name of yourself.” “And…?” “Then you can enjoy your life!” The young man said, “I was actually doing that, until you woke me up!” This is the terrible tendency I am trying to explain. We wish to achieve the final stage, bypassing all intermediate stages and that too, without any effort on our part!

Anyway, we were speaking of the importance of self-effort in shaping our own lives. If we work hard, using our brains, we can achieve what we desire. We don’t need gifts from others. The entire universe is ready to give us our results, if only we exert ourselves. Nobody has special claim or monopoly on any achievement. If we strive hard, anyone of us can achieve what any other man has already achieved. This belief in one’s own capacity to raise oneself has to be awakened within each one of us urgently in India. This belief is vital for making any progress towards the ideals of Purity or Concentration in our lives. In the ancient Indian society, this belief was called ‘Dharma’. A person who so believed was called ‘Dharmika’, a righteous man. It is in this sense we must understand Sri Krishna’s words to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Svalpamapyasya Dharmasya, trayate mahato bhayat”.

We must learn how to deal with our mind. You know, Swamiji once said, “Men are taught from childhood that they are weak and sinners. Teach them that they are all glorious children of immortality, even those who are the weakest in manifestation. Let positive, strong, helpful thought enter into their brains from very childhood. Lay yourselves open to these thoughts, and not to weakening and paralyzing ones. Say to your own minds, ‘I am He, I am He.’ Let it ring day and night in your minds like a song, and at the point of death declare ‘I am He.’ That is the Truth; the infinite strength of the world is yours. Drive out the superstition that has covered your minds. Let us be brave. Know the Truth and practice the Truth. The goal may be distant, but awake, arise, and stop not till the goal is reached.[12]

Each statement in this passage is a powerful mantra. I draw your attention specifically to the words, “Let positive, strong, helpful thought enter into their brains from very childhood.” Do you want to understand the meaning of these words? Listen to a story:

Once there was a king, who was losing his hair and was getting bald. He announced that a doctor who would cure him of his baldness would be rewarded handsomely and if a doctor tried and failed, he would be killed. Many doctors lost their lives. The situation became ridiculous. The Prime Minister then stepped in. He gave the King a bottle of oil and said, “Your Majesty, this is magical oil. It cures baldness. Use it for one month in the morning and luxurious hair will grow again on your head. There is, however, one small condition you need to manage. Never think about mangoes when you apply this oil on your head.” The King was very happy. Next morning he was about to apply the oil on his head and then remembered the advice of his Prime Minister. He must not think about mangoes. Ah! But the pictures of ripe, big mangoes came to his mind. He felt angry with himself and threw away the oil he had taken in his hand. He would try the next morning. Again the same situation! One month passed like this and he was unable to apply the oil at all!

Do you understand what happened here? The mind has a very strange characteristic. It simply cannot understand the words ‘Don’t’. It doesn’t understand negative language. Our mind responds only to positive ideas! The king went on telling his mind ‘don’t think of mangoes’ and all his mind did was to first think of mangoes and then remove the pictures of mangoes from the mind! The king could have translated that condition to ‘let me think of apples before applying this oil’, and he would have succeeded!

We must train ourselves to deal with our minds properly. Merely wishing about a particular state won’t do. We must know how to get our mind to actually work on that idea. Some boys here in the hall asked me yesterday about distractions that accompany adolescence and how to get rid of them. Look at the technique I showed you here. You can’t tell yourself ‘I will not be impure’ and become pure. That is impossible. You must not give your mind any opportunity to recognize any impurity at all. Immerse yourself in your duty, in what you are supposed to be doing in your station of life. That is the way to Purity. You must know the tricks of the trade and then you must apply yourself industriously to it. That is how growth happens. Merely wishing for growth leads only to frustration.

  • Have a clear Goal:

Many students ask me how to develop Will-power. You see, they are serious students. It is not a time-pass question they are asking me. Distractions can be overcome and one can get immersed on the job at hand only if one has sufficient Will-power. Only a clear goal can give us Will-power. Please note the words I have used: A Clear Goal. What do I mean by this? Supposing you have a vague goal such ‘I will be a good boy’, it won’t work. Nobody has an idea as to what constitutes a ‘good boy’. I enjoy reading Calvin & Hobbes cartoons. You should see the dilemma he faces during Christmas time! His parents have told him that if he isn’t a good boy, Santa Claus won’t bring him gifts on Christmas Day. And he faces dozens of temptations for mischief each day! How does he deal with them? He keeps on shifting his definition of ‘good boy’ and appoints a lawyer to plead his version of ‘good boy’ to Santa Claus!

So the goal has to be concrete. There must be clear deliverables and not vague terms in our conception of our goal. Again, the goal cannot be the highest goal we have set our eyes on. We will never be able to reach that from where we are. We will have to break down that high goal into a series of smaller, achievable goals. These smaller goals must be achievable by us on a daily basis. Daily personal victories are important. Each such victory strengthens us in our struggle. Otherwise, we will be like the Absent-minded Professor taking a taxi ride. An absent minded professor once entered into a taxi in a great hurry and told the driver, “Go as fast as you can.” After some time, the professor realized that he hadn’t told the driver the destination. He asked him, “Did I tell you where to go?” “No Sir. But I am going as fast as I can!”

  • Focus:

From the deliberations we have had till now, we understand the following points: We need ideals. Ideals are the magnets that draw our soul and consequently shape our personality. It is easy to understand the highest manifestation of any Ideal. But our drawback is that we are very often unable to connect the highest Ideal with our present state of existence. In other words, there is a clear distance, insurmountable, between the highest ideal and where we are now. So, we need to identify a dozen smaller ideals which together accumulate and build up into the highest ideal. When we do identify such smaller ideals, we are often foxed by how contradictory they all appear, and we are unable to understand how such self-contradictory ideals ever sum up to the highest ideal, which has no blemish at all! Yet, that is the only way forward for all of us. We do not have any other way forward. So we need to understand how to talk to our own mind so that we can coax out the result we want from it.

Anyway, the most important smaller ideal, the most important immediate ideal is to train ourselves to do the work that is nearest at hand. This brings us to the idea of Focus. I hold that Focus is more important than concentration in our lives at present. We need to concentrate on the smaller ideal, but never losing sight of the higher and next higher ideals at the same time.

Listen to a story: A Father went up to a mason who was doing some construction work and asked him what he was doing. He looked up with irritation and said, “Can’t you see, Father, I am laying bricks. I put one brick here, put some mortar on it, then lay another brick, and so on.” A little farther away on the same site, another mason was also working. The Father asked him the same thing. This man, however, said, “Father, I am building a wall.” Yet farther away, on the very same site, yet another mason was doing the same job. The Father asked him too, the very same question, “My man, what are you doing?” This mason replied, “Father, I am building a Cathedral.” Notice that all three masons were doing the exactly same job – put one brick in place, apply some mortar over it, check its straightness, then place another brick, and so on. But the third mason had a very clear focus on where his work was headed.

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

Focus lets us connect the small actions we do right now to ‘running for our life”, to the highest ideal. If we lose sight of the end in view, we do not make sense of what we are doing right now. We feel that our present actions are meaningless. No, they are not meaningless. Each small act we do now adds up and leads us to the highest, if we are able to correctly align our present actions to the end in view. Supposing I keep my eyes on a point A, and start moving towards that point from where I am right now; my feet have to be perfectly aligned with my line of sight. Once that alignment is done, give it time, place one foot before the other, repeatedly, and I will be at point A. Now, consider the following scenario. My eyes are on point A. but my feet are slightly turned away from that line of sight, say by a couple of degrees only. At the starting point, none of us will be able to discern this deviation. But, give it time, place one foot before the other repeatedly, and in a few hours’ time, I would have ended up at point B, which is a few kilometers away from point A! Note that the angular distance of a mere two degrees at the beginning ends up with a few kilometers separation over time.

In English, we have two words, focus and concentration. In Sanskrit however, the one word Ekagrata is sufficient for both these English words. Eka means one; agra means pointed. Thus the word refers to a mind that is one pointed. It is a mind that doesn’t have many branches. The mind thinks, it feels, it remembers, it decides and it gives the command for action. Thus a one-pointed mind will have all these different functions aligned.

Focus is what helps us evaluate whether we are moving in the right direction or not. Focus helps us diagnose whether our thoughts and actions are aligned to each other. If that alignment is missing, we may have our eyes on the highest ideal all the while, but we will end up very far away from it after a couple of years! That is what happens with many of us on the spiritual path of self-improvement.

Many guardians come to me and say, “You know, Maharaj, my son studies all the time.” But I ask, if he really studies all the time, why are his grades so poor? What exactly does studying mean? Sitting before an opened book? What about the mind? What about his attention?

Attention gets distracted. Many of you sit for studying with your mobile phones nearby. Just when you have started entering the subject matter, there is a ‘ping’ sound from your phone. Some notification has arrived. You simply can’t control the urge to see what it is. Your intentions are really very good; you will just see what it is, and close the phone, and resume studying. But, that notification opens up another world and you end up spending 30 minutes on Facebook or Twitter! Is concentration the problem here or focus?

How do we overcome distractions? This is a question asked to me by many youngsters. Have you watched how lions hunt? I haven’t seen it in real life, but I saw it on a National Geographic video long ago. Let me explain what they do. The lion marks its prey, say a deer. The deer is grazing grass peacefully. The lion walks stealthily towards the deer, crouching so that the deer doesn’t see any movement. Generally the lion walks from behind the deer. Remember, it is the Jungle this is happening. Many dried twigs are lying on the ground. The lion’s paw steps on one such dried twig, and it breaks. There is a sound that comes from that twig breaking. That is not a natural sound of the Jungle. The deer is very alert to the natural sounds of the Jungle. This was not a natural sound. This sound comes only when some animal steps on a twig and it breaks. The deer knows that. It immediately stops eating, looks up and around. The lion too realizes the mistake it made. It just freezes in its tracks. The stalemate goes on for a few minutes. When no further unnatural sound comes, the deer relaxes and goes back to its grazing. The lion then lifts its paw to its mouth and bites hard till blood comes out! Do you know why it does this? Since that paw is wounded, it will not place it fully on the ground and no further unnatural sounds from breaking twigs will scare the deer away!

This is called Tapas in our Hindu Scriptures. This is the only way to overcome distractions. Can you punish yourself for digressions? If others punish you, you become angry. Why don’t you do it yourself? That is the path for self-improvement. We saw how to deal with wrong thoughts in our mind, in the bald king’s story. Now we see here in this lion’s example how to deal with our wrong actions. This is how we slowly grow.

  • Responsibility:

The last point I wish to place before you today is – Responsibility. Let me tell you a story to explain this very important point.

You all know that Bhagawan Buddha, before he arrived at the Truth, was an earnest seeker by the name Siddhartha Gautama. One summer day he was walking in the forest and he came upon a beautiful lake. It had cool, clear water and he felt like taking a bath. He slowly entered the water, had a bath, felt refreshed and as he was about to come out of the lake, he saw some beautiful lotus flowers in bloom at the far end of the lake. He went near the flowers, bent down and smelled the heavenly fragrance of the flowers. Then he came out of the lake and started wearing clothes.

At that moment, a Yaksha, a demigod materialized before him. The Yaksha said, “Say, young monk, how dare you enter my lake without obtaining my permission?” The Yaksha berated Gautama for quite some time. Gautama’s head was bent down in shame. He wanted to say that he had no idea that the lake had a caretaker, but he never got a chance to put in a word; the Yaksha was relentless in his scolding.

In the meantime, a King’s nobleman rode up to the lake on horseback. He too saw the cool, clear waters on that hot summer day, tied his horse to a tree, tore his clothes apart and jumped into the lake. He splashed around for a long time, making the clear water all murky. When he had finished his sporting in water, as he was about to come out, he too eyed the beautiful lotus flowers in bloom. He went to the corner of the lake, roughly plucked a handful of flowers for his sweetheart at home, came out of the lake, wore his clothes and rode away.

All this while, Gautama was thinking, ‘I did nothing in comparison to what this nobleman is doing and I was berated so badly; perhaps the Yaksha will strike this man down dead any minute now!’ But, when the nobleman went away safely, Gautama said to the Yaksha, “Well, Yaksha; I now understand you. I am a gentle person and hence you scolded me to your heart’s content. I saw that you did nothing to that nobleman. Of course, how could you? He is a big, powerful man.”

The Yaksha’s reply is worthy of our meditation. The Yaksha said, “Gautama, I scolded you because you proclaim to follow a very high ideal in your life. That nobleman is an ordinary man, with simple goals in his life. I am happy that he didn’t urinate in my lake. The standards of behavior are different for you and for him.”

So, higher the ideals we aim to achieve, greater is the responsibility in our thoughts, words & deeds. This is one point we tend to miss. We wish to achieve the higher status associated with the higher ideals, but wish to enjoy the benefits of the child! Or, it may be that deep down in our heart we know the greater responsibility that entails with the higher ideals, and that may be the reason why we seldom grow! Who would want greater responsibilities in our actions? Wouldn’t it be great if we only got the higher privileges and status associated with the higher ideals without the attendant responsibilities?

So, there is a need to develop the habit of taking our responsibilities seriously. You see, we have basic problems, and we dream of big things! We cannot study properly, something that we have to do as students, and we wish to grow spiritually. That is the reason Swamiji said so beautifully, Let us work on, doing as we go whatever happens to be our duty, and being ever ready to put our shoulders to the wheel. Then surely shall we see the Light!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Dharma is one of those Hindu terms which have multiple layers of meaning. What we have described here is one meaning. Later on, we shall show that this very term also means ‘belief in the Law of Karma’ with regard to one’s own life.

[12] Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana-Yoga: Ch-II: The Real Nature of Man

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

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


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

The reason for raising this issue is two-fold.

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

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

The actual event:

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

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

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

What actually happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The perspective of the message:

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

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

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

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

Analysis of Swamiji’s message:

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

Dissociating the essential Hinduism from its non-essentials:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New India, new God, new rituals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern arrangement for society & religion in India:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where will it end?”

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

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

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

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

Hindutva as a logical growth in Hinduism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindutva – its limitation: The international mission of Hinduism

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

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

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

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

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

“Our method”, said the Swami, “is very easily described. It simply consists in reasserting the national life. Buddha preached renunciation. India heard, and yet in six centuries she reached her greatest height. The secret lies there. The national ideals of India are RENUNCIATION and SERVICE. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religious education – Harmony of Religions:

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

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

Therefore the world is waiting for this grand idea of universal toleration. It will be a great acquisition to civilization. Nay, no civilization can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilization can grow unless fanatics, bloodshed, and brutality stop. No civilization can begin to lift up its head until we look charitably upon one another; and the first step towards that much-needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious convictions of others. Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you. It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do. In spite of their hatred, in spite of their brutality, in spite of their cruelty, in spite of their tyranny, and in spite of the vile language they are given to uttering, we will and must go on building churches for the Christians and mosques for the Mohammedans until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force.[43]

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

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

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

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

Take a look at this observation and prophecy by Swami Vivekananda: It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do. In spite of their hatred, in spite of their brutality, in spite of their cruelty, in spite of their tyranny, and in spite of the vile language they are given to uttering, we will and must go on building churches for the Christians and mosques for the Mohammedans until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force. The Hindutva movement will immediately object to these words of Swami Vivekananda. They will instantly hound us by asking how we can tolerate the aggression of the Muslims and Christians, which we have done for many centuries. The centuries of distrust that has accumulated in the national mind has started to surface as a collective paranoia in the Hindu mind that if such tolerance and acceptance continues, the Hindus will be reduced to a minority population or may even become extinct!

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

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

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

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

Swami Vivekananda says, Strength, strength is what the Upanishads speak to me from every page. This is the one great thing to remember, it has been the one great lesson I have been taught in my life; strength, it says, strength, O man, be not weak. Are there no human weaknesses? – says man. There are, say the Upanishads, but will more weakness heal them, would you try to wash dirt with dirt? Will sin cure sin, weakness cure weakness? Strength, O man, strength, say the Upanishads, stand up and be strong. Ay, it is the only literature in the world where you find the word ‘Abhih’, ‘fearless’, used again and again; in no other scripture in the world is this adjective applied either to God or to man, Abhih, fearless! And in my mind rises from the past the vision of the great Emperor of the West, Alexander the Great, and I see, as it were in a picture, the great monarch standing on the bank of the Indus, talking to one of our Sannyasins in the forest; the old man he was talking to, perhaps naked, stark naked, sitting upon a block of stone, and the Emperor, astonished at his wisdom, tempting him with gold and honor to come over to Greece. And this man smiles at his gold, and smiles at his temptations, and refuses; and then the Emperor standing on his authority as an Emperor, says, ‘I will kill you if you do not come’, and the man bursts into a laugh and says, ‘You never told such a falsehood in your life, as you tell just now. Who can kill me? Me you kill, Emperor of the material world! Never! For I am Spirit unborn and undecaying: never was I born and never do I die; I am the Infinite, the Omnipresent, the Omniscient; and you kill me, child that you are!’ That is strength, that is strength! And the more I read the Upanishads, my friends, my countrymen, the more I weep for you, for therein is the great practical application. Strength, strength for us. What we need is strength, who will give us strength? There are thousands to weaken us, and of stories we have had enough. Every one of our Puranas, if you press it, gives out stories enough to fill three-fourths of the libraries of the world. Everything that can weaken us as a race we have had for the last thousand years. It seems as if during that period the national life had this one end in view, viz how to make us weaker and weaker till we have become real earthworms, crawling at the feet of every one who dares to put his foot on us. Therefore, my friends, as one of your blood, as one that lives and dies with you, let me tell you that we want strength, strength, and every time, strength. And the Upanishads are the great mine of strength. Therein lies strength enough to invigorate the whole world; the whole world can be vivified, made strong, energized through them. They will call with trumpet voice upon the weak, the miserable, and the downtrodden of all races, all creeds, and all sects to stand on their feet and be free. Freedom, physical freedom, mental freedom, and spiritual freedom are the watchwords of the Upanishads.[49]

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

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

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

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

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

“And is India finally to conquer her conquerors?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I suppose a Hindu could never persecute.”

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

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

Can these words of the great Prophet of the modern age be in vain? We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.[58]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] ibid

[23] Cf: Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: What is duty?: Later on we shall find that even this idea of duty undergoes change, and that the greatest work is done only when there is no selfish motive to prompt it. Yet it is work through the sense of duty that leads us to work without any idea of duty; when work will become worship — nay, something higher — then will work be done for its own sake. We shall find that the philosophy of duty, whether it be in the form of ethics or of love, is the same as in every other Yoga — the object being the attenuating of the lower self, so that the real higher Self may shine forth — the lessening of the frittering away of energies on the lower plane of existence, so that the soul may manifest itself on the higher ones. This is accomplished by the continuous denial of low desires, which duty rigorously requires. The whole organization of society has thus been developed, consciously or unconsciously, in the realms of action and experience, where, by limiting selfishness, we open the way to an unlimited expansion of the real nature of man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Dharma

[29] Artha

[30] Kama

[31] Moksha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[43] ibid

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

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

[46] ibid

[47] ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[55] ibid

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

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

[58] ibid

Give it a turn

…Gradually, Harinath became familiar with Ramakrishna and began to ask all sorts of personal questions. “Sir,” he asked one day, “How can one become free from lust completely?” Sri Ramakrishna replied, “Why should it go, my boy? Give it a turn in another direction….” [1]

In this simple advice of Sri Ramakrishna, “Give it a turn in another direction”, lies hidden a truly game-changing idea, if put into practice in any walk of life. Let us see how the world is catching onto it!

In 1974, McGill University physician and scientist Hans Selye[2] used the concept of eustress and distress to distinguish a positive versus a negative response to stress. In an article, The Nature of Stress[3], published after his death in 1982, Selye explained that not all stress is bad for you, that in fact some stress is good for you; it just depends on how you ‘take it’ and respond to it.

Positive stress or eustress[4] (also called good stress) is when you perceive a stressful situation as an opportunity that will lead to a good outcome. This positive expectation is in contrast to negative stress or distress when you perceive a stressor as a threat that will have a poor outcome.

A positive response to a stressor motivates you to deal with a challenge or accomplish a task. It helps you face what you have to face or fix what you have to fix. In the end, eustress can lead you to feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment, well-being and wholeness.

With a negative stress or distress perception of a stressor, your response may be one of increased anxiety, fear and despair. This can result in chronic stress, anxiety, depression and physical illnesses.

According to an article on the concept of eustress in the World Journal of Medical Sciences[5], eustress and distress may occur at the same time when you first encounter a stressor. Eustress is more likely to prevail, however, if you had positive experiences and outcomes with stress in the past. Other important factors that help you view and respond positively to a stressful situation include:

  • A belief system and mindset of hope, great expectations and a positive outlook on life
  • Belief in yourself and your ability to manage the task/stressor
  • Your perception that you have power and control over the situation
  • You expect the best of yourself and others expect the same

These factors give you positive feelings while dealing with a challenge. In a study on stress in nurses reported in Health Care Management Review[6], other signs of positive stress included hopefulness and a sense of meaning and purpose.

Once the stressor is gone, eustress leaves you upbeat or exhilarated rather than dejected. When the stress is over, your stress system is turned down and you return to your former state of balance. If, however, you stay on high alert and remain revved up instead, your good stress can evolve into the symptoms of negative stress.

Examples of eustress where you are likely to meet a situation with a positive outlook and hope includes, among others, a desired physical activity such as weight training, taking an examination, meeting a work deadline, or managing the daily, repetitive stress of a job.

Increasing eustress in the workplace is of current interest[7] because stress in the workplace is a major source of distress and poor work performance and productivity. According to experts in an article in the Harvard Business Review[8], there are specific steps you can take to build positive stress and make stress work for you.

Positive stress is a belief in a good outcome and your ability to cope and manage the stressor and the outcome. Put to good use, it can help you stay motivated to accomplish a challenge and leave you feeling hopeful and exhilarated when the stress is done.


[1] Cf: God lived with them: Swami Chetanananda: Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata: Pg: 359








Swami Vivekananda: His name & his Ideas

My name should not be made prominent; it is my ideas that I want to see realized. The disciples of all the prophets have always inextricably mixed up the ideas of the Master with the person, and at last killed the ideas for the person. The disciples of Shri Ramakrishna must guard against doing the same thing. Work for the idea, not the person. The Lord bless you.[1]

In a letter to his Madras disciple Alasinga Perumal, Swamiji wrote the above words. Why would Swamiji have written something like this? He had a horror of future generations creating a hollow, sentimental personality cult around him or his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, completely ignoring the life-transforming message they brought down as revelation from their communion with God.

Father Antony DeMello tells an amazing story that puts Swamiji’s apprehension in the correct perspective.

The hero had just returned from the deep Amazon forests. His lectures were all recorded and his journeys were mapped meticulously. All the flowers he saw were reproduced on paper, drawings made of the wild animals he encountered and the entire river was charted on a cartographer’s table. A group of young men approached him once to hear directly from him about the Amazon. He said, “Indeed I have tried my best to describe it all as clearly as I could. But how can I convey to you the intense joy, the exhilaration, the strange feelings that flooded my heart when I saw those exotic flowers & heard those night sounds in the forests & sensed the danger of being close to those wild animals & of paddling in those treacherous rapids! Go out and find out for yourselves, young men.” Those young fellows understood. They went out, found the master map, framed it, and using the pioneer’s lectures and drawings, became experts in interpreting the Amazon map. [2]

The intrepid story-teller that Father DeMello was, he tells another terrifying story, whose parallels with religious history are obvious:

After many year of labor, an inventor discovered the art of making fire. He took his tool to the snow-clad northern regions and initiated a tribe into the art – and the advantages – of making fire. The people became so absorbed in this novelty that it did not occur to them to thank the inventor who one day quietly slipped away. Being one of those rare human beings endowed with greatness, he had no desire to be remembered or revered; all he sought was the satisfaction of knowing that someone had benefitted from his discovery.

The next tribe he went to was just as eager to learn as the first. But the local priests, jealous of the stranger’s hold on the people, had him assassinated. To allay any suspicion of the crime, they had a portrait of the Great inventor enthroned upon the main altar of the temple; and a liturgy designed so that his name would be revered and his memory kept alive. The greatest care was taken that not a single rubric of the liturgy was altered or omitted. The tools for making fire were enshrined in a casket and were said to bring healing to all who laid their hands on them with faith. The High Priest himself undertook the task of compiling a life of the Inventor. This became the Holy Book in which his loving kindness was offered as an example for all to emulate. His glorious deeds were eulogized, his superhuman nature made an article of faith. The priests saw to it that the Book was handed down to future generations, while they authoritatively interpreted the meaning of his words and the significance of his holy life and death. And they ruthlessly punished with death or excommunication anyone who deviated from their doctrine. Caught up as they were in their religious tasks, the people completely forgot the art of making fire.[3]

So, it is no wonder that Swamiji felt so strongly about the dissemination of his message, even at the cost of his name. The fire his Great Master had lit had to be passed on. While previously in the lives of prophets, we saw that they had a chain of disciples, through whom, the original inspiration, the original fire, was passed down by a ‘laying on of hands’, the prophet of the present age adopted a totally different method. Look at this conversation Swamiji had with Priyanath Sinha:

I (Priyanath Sinha) asked him, “Well, Swamiji, how many disciples have you in the West?”

Swamiji: “A good many”

Priyanath Sinha: “Two or three thousand?”

Swamiji: “Maybe more than that.”

Priyanath Sinha: “Are they all initiated by you with Mantras?”

Swamiji: “Yes.”

Priyanath Sinha: “Did you give them permission to utter Pranava (Om)?”

Swamiji: “Yes.”[4]

            We must pause for a moment and realize the implications of these words of the great Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji himself distributed the immense power he had, directly among the masses, not confining it to a handful of chosen disciples. This is unprecedented in the history of mankind. Naturally the question that arises in our minds is: What has been the impact of his unprecedented act of mass-distribution of spiritual power? There has to be some visible result of this act. We are not speaking of an ordinary spiritual person here; Swamiji was a prophet of the highest order! It is impossible not to feel something of the impact of his personality upon the multitudes with whom he came in contact.

Sister Gargi presents a wonderful analysis of this issue in her magnum opus, ‘Swami Vivekananda – New Discoveries in the West’: Such people, whose lives Swamiji had touched, must, in turn, have touched the lives of others with that powerful magic, and so on, in ever-widening circles, until the impact of his thought would gradually spread on untraceable routes to every corner of the earth.

It is said that a Divine Incarnation and his apostles work on a deep level of consciousness, where they introduce, as it were, a powerful shaft of spiritual light into the collective mind of humanity; that is the very purpose of their appearance on earth, the meaning of their birth, their sadhana, and their teaching. Through their activity in human form they awaken, so to speak, the ‘cosmic  Kundalini,’ charging that state of existence called mankind with a spiritual power that will for centuries manifest itself more and more fruitfully in the world and, to a greater or lesser degree, in every individual. Swami Shivananda, one of Swamiji’s great brother disciples, would say years later: “Swami Vivekananda once said: ‘In this age the Brahma-kundalini-the Mother who is responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe has been awakened by the fervent prayers of Sri Ramakrishna. That is why we see symptoms of a great spiritual upsurge everywhere. We need have no worry this time.”

Could it not be said that Swamiji carried that tremendous power to the Western world and infused with it the deep levels of Western culture? He himself once spoke specifically of his Western work, his words recalled by another of his great brothers, Swami Saradananda: “After Swamiji returned from the West his health completely broke down. He used to say, ‘Whatever I had, I have left in that country (the West). During the lectures a power used to emanate from this body and would infuse the audience.” The thought current of the country underwent a change. That was no easy matter…I had heard that Budo Baba (Swami Satchidananda) begged Swamiji to grant him Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Swamiji said, “If I put on the loin cloth and become absorbed in spiritual practice without thinking of ways and means of maintenance, then perhaps the power to grant Nirvikalpa Samadhi may come. It has become exhausted, or lost, by giving lectures in America.”

Did not this influx of radiant power into the Western world, which is bound sooner or later to set the whole culture aglow, constitute the real significance of Swamiji’s work in England as well as in America? Yet this is but a poor attempt to understand what Swamiji did in the West. Who can really assess his accomplishment? “If there were another Vivekananda,” he was heard to say at the close of his life, “he would have understood what Vivekananda has done! And yet how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!!”

And of his last days Swami Saradananda would write to a brother disciple, “Sometimes he would say ‘Death has come to my bedside, I have been through enough of work and play, let the world realize what contribution I have made, it will take quite a long time to understand that.’”

The coming centuries will indeed be the only other true assessor of his contribution; the rest is inference and speculation. There is, however, one thing we can say even now, and this is that throughout his mission, East and West, he gave himself heart and soul to his Master’s work, awakening everywhere man’s spiritual consciousness, setting in motion a spiritual tide that no power can stem. “Before this flood,” he prophesied, “everybody will be swept off.[5]

We raise a valid query here: Should we seek for the impact of Swamiji’s mass-distribution of spiritual power only in the spiritual development of humanity? Historians, as yet, do not recognize the contribution of spiritual power in the overall development of mankind. We have reasons to believe that every significant development in any field of human endeavor, be it the Arts, the Sciences, the Economics, the Social restructuring, ultimately springs from a spiritual impetus, unleashed by a Prophet. He that ‘hath eyes to see’, will indeed see the veracity of our claim.

We wish to present, as a case in point, the contribution of Swami Vivekananda in the paradigm altering ideas of noted physicist Albert Einstein.

It is today commonly acknowledged that Einstein presented a very original idea regarding space, time and the relationship between matter and energy (commonly known as Special Theory of Relativity) on 26th September 1905 in a paper titled ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’, which spawned whole new fields of science and technology. The concepts that Einstein developed in that paper were utterly unconventional. They arose from beyond the accepted ideas of physicists of that age. His ideas were a total break from the past. It is incredible that he was able to give solid credence to such unconventional ideas among the academic circles, making the doyens of Physics accept them as valid. It was just a couple of years before this ground-breaking presentation by Einstein that Nobel Prize winning Physicist A A Michelson said in the Ryerson Physical Laboratory, University of Chicago: “While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice. It is here that the science of measurement shows its importance – where quantitative work is more to be desired than qualitative work. An eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.” So, during a period when Physics had sort of tied up all its loose ends, Einstein proposed a couple of ideas that exploded the smug complacence that prevailed among the scientific avant-garde. It is extremely interesting to study the channels of idea-flow that led to this amazing presentation by Einstein.

Swami Vivekananda had met the famous scientist Nikola Tesla in America. In a letter written to his British disciple E T Sturdy, Swamiji writes[6]: “Things are growing nobly in America. As there was no hocus-pocus from the beginning, the Vedanta is drawing the attention of the highest classes in American society. Sarah Bernhardt, the French actress, has been playing ‘Iziel’ here. It is a sort of Frenchified life of Buddha, where a courtesan ‘Iziel’ wants to seduce the Buddha, under the banyan – and the Buddha preaches to her the vanity of the world, whilst she is sitting all the time in Buddha’s lap. However, all is well that ends well – the courtesan fails. Madame Bernhardt acts the courtesan. I went to see the Buddha business – and Madame spying me in the audience wanted to have an interview with me. A swell family of my acquaintance arranged the affair. There were besides Madame M. Morrel, the celebrated singer, also the great electrician Tesla. Madame is a very scholarly lady and has studied up the metaphysics a good deal. M. Morrel was being interested, but Mr. Tesla was charmed to hear about the Vedantic Prana and Akasha and the Kalpas, which according to him are the only theories modern science can entertain. Now both Akasha and Prana again are produced from the cosmic Mahat, the Universal Mind, the Brahma or Ishvara. Mr Tesla thinks he can demonstrate mathematically that force and matter are reducible to potential energy. I am to go and see him next week, to get this new mathematical demonstration.

Swami Vivekananda translated some verses from Sanskrit to Nikola Tesla at this party in New York on the 13th February 1896. The verses said, in essence, that matter and energy, though apparently different, were actually the same in their fundamental nature. Physics of that time did not understand this idea. Newtonian physics held matter and energy to be fundamentally different. Swamiji then asked Tesla if he could show mathematically that what we see as matter can be reduced to potential energy. Tesla was able to grasp the implications of this amazing concept and promised to demonstrate it mathematically. He must have worked on it, but Tesla was primarily an Engineer. Hence his other projects must have diverted him from prioritizing this theoretical work. Tesla however shared that insight with his close friend Mileva Maric. Mileva was Einstein’s first wife. She collaborated with Einstein in his 1905 paper[7], and thus, through Mileva, Einstein put that amazing concept into the most famous equation E = mc2 that ever hit the fan. This equation essentially means that what we see as mass is only energy. John Dobson, an acclaimed physicist, associated closely with Sister Gargi explains this in an article[8] and adds, “That’s the information that I conveyed to Gargi (Marie Louise Burke), first by word of mouth, and then in writing, shortly before she died.

It has been our endeavor, through the ‘Topical Musings’ of the past eleven months to try and trace the development of significant ideas from the message of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. When Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swamiji themselves did not want their name emblazoned, why should we even attempt this exercise? It would be wrong to conclude that they did not want their names popularized at all. They did not want cheap popularity. But they do wish to be known among the right audience, appreciated by the right people. We are reminded of an incident of great significance in this connection. Swami Akhandananda was the President of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. He used to reside in a non-descript village called Sargacchi. One day when he was sleeping, Sri Ramakrishna literally shook him up from his sleep and shouted at him, “Hey, do the people know that I have come?” Just look at the concern Sri Ramakrishna has about the right people becoming aware of his incarnating on Earth!

The ‘Topical Musings’ is but a poor attempt to understand what Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swamiji did for the world. Who can really assess their accomplishment? But then again, “let the world realize what contribution we have made, it will take quite a long time to understand that.” For, the ‘Voice without a form’ continues to speak to, exhort and guide us. Shall we not recognize it?


[1] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Epistles: Letter written to Alasinga Perumal from U.S.A. on 12th January, 1895

[2] Anthony de Mello: Song of the bird

[3] Anthony de Mello: Prayer of the frog: Part-1

[4] Talks with Swami Vivekananda: Pg: 465

[5] Swami Vivekananda in the West: New discoveries: Part-IV: Marie Louise Burke: Pg: 519-521

[6] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Epistles: To E T Sturdy on 13th February, 1896.

[7] Albert Einstein (1905) ‘Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper’, Annalen der Physik 17: 891

[8] Vivekananda & the Einsteins

Gossiping is good

Hello! What’s the matter with you – gone to sleep? Have not had any news of you for a long time…How is life going on with you – grinding, as usual? Any improvements? Write a chatty letter if you feel like. I am dying to get news.” [1]

“You want a chatty letter, don’t you? I have not much to chat about. Mr. Sturdy came last two days. He goes home in Wales tomorrow.” [2]

“I begin here my promised big chatty letter…” [3]

The human aspects of a Prophet are invaluable to us. They bring him so much closer to us. It is so gladdening to see how Swamiji is being chatty with his disciples and friends! Now, some would immediately object and say that would be a wrong understanding of the great Prophet. For, did not the same Swamiji exhort his brother monks, ‘Let me write something for you all…It shall be wholly forbidden to huddle together in a room and chat the whole day away, with any number of outsiders coming and joining in the hubbub.[4]

No doubt, word on the street is that gossip is bad. It is ‘the faceless demon that breaks hearts and ruins careers.’ It is a ‘three-pronged tongue’ that kills three people: the teller, the listener, and the person being gossiped about[5]. The acclaimed Philosopher Blaise Pascal observed that ‘if people really knew what others said about them, there would not be four friends left in the world.’ However, a significant body of research suggests that gossip may in fact be healthy.

It’s a good thing, too, since gossip is pretty pervasive.[6] Children tend to be seasoned gossips by the age of five.[7] Gossip as most researchers understand it – talk between at least two people about absent others – accounts for about two-thirds of conversation![8]

In the 1980s, the journalist Blythe Holbrooke took a stab at bringing rigor to the subject by positing the Law of Inverse Accuracy in Gossip:[9] 

which means: the likelihood of gossip being circulated (C) equals its timeliness (T) times its interest (I) to the power of its unverifiability (v) minus the reluctance someone might feel about repeating it out of taste (t).

Despite gossip’s dodgy reputation, a surprisingly small share of it – as little as 4% – is actually malicious.[10] But, this little bit goes a long way and destroys fellow-feeling. Malicious gossip is what destroys any organized work. It is this aspect of gossip that Swamiji sternly warned about when he said ‘It shall be wholly forbidden to huddle together in a room and chat the whole day away, with any number of outsiders coming and joining in the hubbub.’

But, there is a positive aspect of gossip, which was studied by anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. Once upon a time, in Dunbar’s account, our primate ancestors bonded through grooming, their mutual back-scratching ensuring mutual self-defense in the event of attack by predators. But as hominids grew more intelligent and more social, their groups became too large to unite by grooming alone. That’s where language – and gossip, broadly defined – stepped in.[11] Dunbar argues that idle chatter with and about others gave early humans a sense of shared identity and helped them grow more aware of their environment, thus incubating the complex higher functioning that would ultimately yield the glories of civilization.

Like in everything else in life, gossip, per se, isn’t all bad. In fact, it is an essential ingredient in maintaining one’s sanity in the complex world we live in. Vangmaya Tapas (austerity of speech) ensures that our interactions remain on a civil level. If done at this level, gossip defuses a great amount of stress that builds up in the course of our daily life. Haven’t you noticed how socially withdrawn clinically depressed people become? So the next time you’re tempted to say ‘Hello! What’s the matter with you? Talk! I am dying to get news’, remember that the Prophet of the Modern World, Swami Vivekananda actually said those words! You are safe; go ahead; bond with others civilly, and save your sanity.


[1] Complete Works: Vol – 9 : Letters: CLXV: To Sister Christine from San Francisco, on 9th April, 1900

[2] Complete Works: Vol – 8 : Epistles: CXXXIX : To Miss Marie Halboister from England in August, 1899

[3] Complete Works: Vol – 8 : Epistles: XCIV: To Marie Halboister from Almora, on 2nd June, 1897

[4] Complete Works: Vol – 7 : Epistles: XXXII: To his brother monks at Alambazar Math from USA on 27th April, 1896

[5] The Talmud describes Gossip this way!

[6] Please see The Atlantic, July-Aug 2018 issue for a detailed article by Ben Healy on Gossip.

[7] Engelmann et al., ‘Pre-schoolers Affect Others’ Reputations Through Prosocial Gossip’: British Journal of Developmental Psychology, Sept. 2016

[8] Nicholas Emler, ‘Gossip, Reputation, and Social Adaptation,’ in Good Gossip :University Press of Kansas, 1994

[9] Blythe Holbrooke, Gossip :St. Martin’s, 1983

[10] Dunbar et al., ‘Human Conversational Behavior’ : Human Nature, Sept. 1997

[11] Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language: Harvard University Press, 1998

Importance of love in family

Duty is seldom sweet. It is only when love greases its wheels that it runs smoothly; it is a continuous friction otherwise. How else could parents do their duties to their children, husbands to their wives, and vice versa? Do we not meet with cases of friction every day in our lives? Duty is sweet only through love, and love shines in freedom alone. Yet is it freedom to be a slave to the senses, to anger, to jealousies and a hundred other petty things that must occur every day in human life? In all these little roughnesses that we meet with in life, the highest expression of freedom is to forbear. Women, slaves to their own irritable, jealous tempers, are apt to blame their husbands, and assert their own ‘freedom’, as they think, not knowing that thereby they only prove that they are slaves. So it is with husbands who eternally find fault with their wives.  –‘What is Duty?’; Karma Yoga: Swami Vivekananda

It is an established fact that parents who physically or emotionally abuse their children do them lasting damage, mainly by undermining their ability to trust others and accurately read their emotions.

But what about the children of parents who experience simple, everyday conflict? The question assumes great importance in the scenario of increased nuclearization of family.

A recent research published the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships[1] shows that the emotional processing of these children, too, can be affected, potentially making them over-vigilant, anxious and vulnerable to distorting human interactions that are neutral in tone, throwing them off-balance interpersonally as adults.

“The message is clear: even low-level adversity like parental conflict isn’t good for kids,” said Alice Schermerhorn, an assistant professor in the University of Vermont’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the lead author of the study.

Schermerhorn sees two possible interpretations of the results. If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones. In any case, they may simply present greater processing challenges. Alternatively, the children may be more tuned into angry interactions, which could be a cue for them to retreat to their room. For such kids, neutral interactions don’t offer much information, so they may not value them or learn to recognize them.

Shyness Compounds Problem

The study is also one of the first to measure the impact of temperamental shyness on the children’s ability to process and recognize emotion.

The shy children in the study, who were identified via a questionnaire given to the mothers of the study subjects, were unable to correctly identify couples in neutral poses, even if they were not from high conflict homes.

Shyness also made them more vulnerable to parental conflict. Children who were both shy and felt threated by their parents’ conflict had a high level of inaccuracy in identifying neutral interactions.

“Parents of shy children need to be especially thoughtful about how they express conflict,’ Schermerhorn said.

Implications for adulthood

The research results are significant, Schermerhorn said, for the light they shed on the impact relatively low-level adversity like parental conflict can have on children’s development.

Either of her interpretations of the research findings could spell trouble for children down the road. “One the one hand, being over-vigilant and anxious can be destabilizing in many different ways,” she said. “On the other, correctly reading neutral interactions may not be important for children who live in high conflict homes, but that gap in their perceptual inventory could be damaging in subsequent experiences with, for example, teachers, peers, and partners in romantic relationships.”

“No one can eliminate conflict altogether,” she said, “but helping children get the message that, even when they argue, parents care about each other and can work things out is important.”[2]

Couple these findings with the words of Swami Vivekananda we quoted in the beginning of this article: In all the little roughnesses that we meet with in life, the highest expression of freedom is to forbear. We might have an answer to the increased social problems (especially of youth) such as violence in India, as well as the repeated school and college mass shootings in the USA.


[1] Alice C. Schermerhorn: Associations of child emotion recognition with inter-parental conflict and shy child temperament traits. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2018; 026540751876260 DOI: 10.1177/0265407518762606

[2] Based on the article: University of Vermont: ‘Parental conflict can do lasting damage to kids.’ Science Daily: 28th March 2018. <>