Monday, December 13, 2010

Letters : Swami Vivekananda

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A Message of Sympathy to a Friend

This is from a letter that Swami Vivekananda wrote on May 23, 1893, to D. R. Balaji Rao, who was passing through a difficult period of severe domestic affliction. The extract reproduced here is from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 4: 354-55.


"Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Thus said the old Jewish saint when suffering the greatest calamities that could befall us, and he erred not.
Herein lies the whole secret of existence. Waves may roll over the surface and tempest rage, but deep down there is the stratum of infinite calmness, infinite peace, and infinite bliss. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." And why? Because it is during these moments of visitations when the heart is wrung by hands which never stop for the father's cries or the mother's wail, when under the load of sorrow, dejection, and despair, the world seems to be cut off from under our feet, and when the whole horizon seems to be nothing but an impenetrable sheet of misery and utter despair--that the internal eyes open, light flashes all of a sudden, the dream vanishes, and intuitively we come face to face with the grandest mystery in nature--Existence.
Yes, then it is--when the load would be sufficient to sink a lot of frail vessels--that the genius, a person of strength, the hero, sees that infinite, absolute, ever-blissful existence per se, that infinite being who is called and worshipped under different names in different climes. Then it is, the shackles that bind the soul down to this hole of misery break, as it were, for a time, and unfettered it rises and rises until it reaches the throne of the Lord, "where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest". Cease not, brother, to send up petitions day and night, cease not to say day and night—Thy will be done.
"Ours is not to question why,
Ours but to do and die."

Blessed be Thy name, O Lord! And Thy will be done. Lord, we know that we are to submit; Lord, we know that it is the Mother's hand that is striking, and "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." There is, Father of Love, an agony at the heart which is fighting against that calm resignation which Thou teachest. Give us strength, O Thou who sawest Thy whole family destroyed before Thine eyes, with Thine hands crossed on Thy breast. Come, Lord, Thou Great Teacher, who has taught us that the soldier is only to obey and speak not. Come, Lord, come Arjuna's Charioteer, and teach me as Thou once taughtest him, that resignation in Thyself is the highest end and aim of this life, so that with those great ones of old, I may also firmly and resignedly cry, Om Sri Krishnarpanamastu.
May the Lord send you peace is the prayer day and night of ---



Vivekananda


A Plan of Work for India

This is from a letter that Swami Vivekananda wrote from Chicago on January 3, 1895, to Justice Sir Subrahmanya Iyer in Chennai, India. The extract reproduced here is from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 4: 371-73.


It is with a heart full of love, gratitude, and trust that I take up my pen to write to you. Let me tell you first, that you are one of the few men that I have met in my life who are thorough in their convictions. You have a whole-souled possession of a wonderful combination of feeling and knowledge, and withal a practical ability to bring ideas into realized forms. Above all, you are sincere, and as such I confide to you some of my ideas.
The work has begun well in India, and it should not only be kept up but pushed on with the greatest vigor. Now or never is the time. After taking a far and wide view of things, my mind has now been concentrated on the following plan. First, it would be well to open a Theological College in Madras, and then gradually extend its scope, to give a thorough education to young men in the Vedas and the different Bhashyas and philosophies, including knowledge of the other religions of the world. At the same time a paper in English and the vernacular should be started as an organ of the College.
This is the first step to be taken, and huge things grow out of small undertakings. Madras just now is following the golden mean by appreciating both the ancient and modern phases of life.
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.

Now, take the case of caste--in Sanskrit, jati, i.e. species. Now, this is the first idea of creation. Variation (vichitrata), that is to say jati, means creation. "I am One, I become many" (various Vedas). Unity is before creation; diversity is creation. Now if this diversity stops, creation will be destroyed. So long as any species is vigorous and active, it must throw out varieties. When it ceases or is stopped from breeding varieties, it dies. Now the original idea of jati was this freedom of the individual to express his nature, his prakriti, his jati, his caste; and so it remained for thousands of years. Not even in the latest books is inter-dining prohibited; nor in any of the older books is intermarriage forbidden. Then what was the cause of India's downfall? The giving up of this idea of caste. As the Gita says, with the extinction of caste the world will be destroyed. Now does it seem true that with the stoppage of these variations the world will be destroyed?

The present caste is not the real jati, but a hindrance to its progress. It really has prevented the free action of jati, i.e. caste or variation. Any crystallized custom or privilege or hereditary class in any shape really prevents caste (jati) from having its full sway; and whenever any nation ceases to produce this immense variety, it must die. Therefore what I have to tell you, my countrymen, is this, that India fell because you prevented and abolished caste. Every frozen aristocracy or privileged class is a blow to caste and is not-caste. Let jati have its sway; break down every barrier in the way of caste, and we shall rise. Now look at Europe. When it succeeded in giving free scope to caste and took away most of the barriers that stood in the way of individuals, each developing his or her caste--Europe rose. In America, there is the best scope for caste (real jati) to develop, and so the people are great. Every Hindu knows that astrologers try to fix the caste of every boy or girl as soon as he or she is born. That is the real caste--the individuality, and astrology (jyotisha) recognizes that. And we can only rise by giving it full sway again. This variety does not mean neither inequality nor any special privilege.

This is my method--to show the Hindus that they have to give up nothing but only to move on in the line laid down by the sages and shake off their inertia, the result of centuries of servitude. Of course, we had to stop advancing during the Muslim tyranny, for then it was not a question of progress but of life and death. Now that that pressure has gone, we must move forward, not on the lines of destruction directed by renegades and missionaries, but along our own line, our own road. Everything is hideous because the building is unfinished. We had to stop building during centuries of oppression. Now finish the building and everything will look beautiful in its own place. This is my plan. I am thoroughly convinced of this. Each nation has a main current in life; in India it is religion. Make it strong and the waters on either side must move along with it. This is one phase of my line of thought. In time, I hope to bring them all out, but at present I find I have a mission in this country [USA] also. Moreover, I expect help in this country and from here alone. But up to date I could not do anything except spreading my ideas. Now I want that a similar attempt be made in India.
I do not know when I shall go over to India. I obey the leading of the Lord. I am in His hands.
"In this world in search of wealth, Thou art, O Lord, the greatest jewel I have found. I sacrifice myself unto Thee."
"In search of some one to love, Thou art the One Beloved I have found. I sacrifice myself unto Thee" (Yajurveda Samhita).
May the Lord bless you for ever and ever!



Our Duty to the Masses

This is from a letter that Swami Vivekananda wrote from Chicago on June 23, 1894, to the Maharaja of Mysore in southern India. The extract reproduced here is from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 4: 361-64.


Sri Narayana bless you and yours. Through your Highness' kind help it has been possible for me to come to this country. Since then I have become well known here, and the hospitable people of this country have supplied all my wants. It is a wonderful country, and this is a wonderful nation in many respects. No other nation applies so much machinery in their everyday work as do the people of this country. Everything is machine. Then again, they are only one-twentieth of the whole population of the world. Yet they have fully one-sixth of all the wealth in the world. There is no limit to their wealth and luxuries. Yet everything here is so dear. The wages of labor are the highest in the world; yet the fight between labor and capital is constant.
Nowhere on earth have women so many privileges as in America. They are slowly taking everything into their hands; and, strange to say, the number of cultured women is much greater than that of cultured men. Of course, the higher geniuses are mostly from the ranks of males. With all the criticism of the Westerners against our caste, they have a worse one--that of money. The almighty dollar, as the Americans say, can do anything here.
No country on earth has so many laws, and in no country are they so little regarded. On the whole our poor Hindu people are infinitely more moral than any of the Westerners. In religion they practice here either hypocrisy or fanaticism. Sober-minded people have become disgusted with their superstitious religions and are looking forward to India for new light. Your Highness cannot realize without seeing how eagerly they take in any little bit of the grand thoughts of the holy Vedas, which resist and are unharmed by the terrible onslaughts of modern science. The theories of creation out of nothing, of a created soul, and of the big tyrant of a God sitting on a throne in a place called heaven, and of the eternal hell-fires, have disgusted all the educated; and the noble thoughts of the Vedas about the eternity of creation and of the soul, and about the God in our own soul, they are imbibing fast in one shape or other. Within fifty years the educated of the world will come to believe in the eternity of both soul and creation, and in God as our highest and perfect nature, as taught in our holy Vedas. Even now their learned priests are interpreting the Bible in that way. My conclusion is that they require more spiritual civilization, and we, more material.
The one thing that is at the root of all evils in India is the condition of the poor. The poor in the West are devils; compared to them ours are angels, and it is therefore so much the easier to raise our poor. The only service to be done for our lower classes is to give them education, to develop their lost individuality. That is the great task between our people and princes. Up to now nothing has been done in that direction. Priest-power and foreign conquest have trodden them down for centuries, and at last the poor of India have forgotten that they are human beings.
They are to be given ideas; their eyes are to be opened to what is going on in the world around them; and then they will work out their own salvation. Every nation, every man, and every woman must work out their own salvation. Give them ideas--that is the only help they require, and then the rest must follow as the effect. Ours is to put the chemicals together, the crystallization comes in the law of nature. Our duty is to put ideas into their heads, and they will do the rest. This is what is to be done in India. It is this idea that has been in my mind for a long time. I could not accomplish it in India, and that was the reason of my coming to this country.

The great difficulty in the way of educating the poor is this. Supposing even your Highness opens a free school in every village, still it would do no good, for the poverty in India is such that the poor boys would rather go to help their fathers in the fields, or otherwise try to make a living, than come to the school. Now if the mountain does not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. If the poor boy cannot come to education, education must go to him. There are thousands of single-minded, self-sacrificing Sannyasins in our own country, going from village to village, teaching religion. If some of them can be organized as teachers of secular things also, they will go from place to place, from door to door, not only preaching, but teaching also. Suppose two of these men go to a village in the evening with a camera, a globe, some maps, etc. They can teach a great deal of astronomy and geography to the ignorant. By telling stories about different nations, they can give the poor a hundred times more information through the ear than they can get in a lifetime through books.
This requires an organization, which again means money. There are enough people in India to work out this plan, but alas! they have no money. It is very difficult to set a wheel in motion; but when once set, it goes on with increasing velocity. After seeking help in my own country and failing to get any sympathy from the rich, I came over to this country through your Highness' aid. The Americans do not care a bit whether the poor of India die or live. And why should they, when our own people never think of anything but their own selfish ends?
My noble Prince, this life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive. One such high, noble-minded, and royal son of India as your Highness can do much towards raising India on her feet again and thus leave a name to posterity which shall be worshipped.
That the Lord may make your noble heart feel intensely for the suffering millions of India, sunk in ignorance, is the prayer of--


Vivekananda.



Our Present Social Problems

This is translated from a Bengali letter written by Swami Vivekananda to Srimati Mrinalini Bose from Deoghar (Vaidyan√Ęth) on December 23, 1898. Reproduced from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 4: 488-92.


"The Lord whose nature is unspeakable love." That this characteristic of God mentioned by Narada is manifest and admitted on all hands is the firm conviction of my life. The aggregate of many individuals is called samashti
(the whole), and each individual is called vyashti (a part). You and I --each is vyashti, society is samashti. You, I, an animal, a bird, a worm, an insect, a tree, a creeper, the earth, a planet, a star--each is vyashti, while this universe is samashti, which is called Virat, Hiranyagarbha, or Isvara in Vedanta, or Brahma, Vishnu, Devi, etc., in the Puranas. Whether or not vyashti has individual freedom, and if it has, what should be its measure, whether or not vyashti should completely sacrifice its own will, its own happiness for samashti--are the perennial problems before every society. Society everywhere is busy finding the solution of these problems. These, like big waves, are agitating modern Western society. The doctrine that demands the sacrifice of individual freedom to social supremacy is called socialism, while that which advocates the cause of the individual is called individualism.

Our motherland is a glowing example of the results and consequence of the eternal subjection of the individual to society and forced self-sacrifice by dint of institution and discipline. In this country people are born according to scriptural injunctions, they eat and drink by prescribed rules throughout life, they go through marriage and kindred functions in the same way; in short, they even die according to scriptural injunctions.
The hard discipline, with the exception of one great good point, is fraught with evil. The good point is that people can do one or two things well with very little effort, having practiced them every day through generations. The delicious rice and curry that a cook of this country prepares with the aid of three lumps of earth and a few sticks can be had nowhere else. With the simple mechanism of an antediluvian loom, worth one rupee, and the feet put in a pit, it is possible to make kincobs worth twenty rupees a yard, in this country alone. A torn mat, an earthen lamp, and that fed by castor oil--with the aid of materials such as these, wonderful savants are produced in this country alone. An all-forbearing attachment to an ugly and deformed wife, and a lifelong devotion to a worthless and villainous husband are possible in this country alone. Thus far the bright side.
But all these things are done by people guided like lifeless machines. There is no mental activity, no opening of the heart, no vibration of life, no flux of hope; there is no strong stimulation of the will, no experience of keen pleasure, nor the contact with intense sorrow; there is no stir of inventive genius, no desire for novelty, no appreciation of new things. Clouds never pass away from this mind, the radiant picture of the morning sun never charms this heart. It never even occurs to this mind if there is any better state than this; where it does, it cannot convince; in the event of conviction, effort is lacking; and even where there is effort, lack of enthusiasm kills it out.
If living by rule alone ensures excellence, if it be virtue to follow strictly the rules and customs handed down through generations, say then, who is more virtuous than a tree, who is a greater devotee, a holier saint, than a railway train? Who has ever seen a piece of stone transgress a natural law? Who has ever known cattle to commit sin?
The huge steamer, the mighty railway engine—they are non-intelligent; they move, turn, and run, but they are without intelligence. And yonder tiny worm which moved away from the railway line to save its life, why is it intelligent? There is no manifestation of will in the machine, the machine never wishes to transgress law; the worm wants to oppose law--rises against law whether it succeeds or not; therefore it is intelligent. Greater is the happiness, higher is the individual, in proportion as this will is more successfully manifest. The will of God is perfectly fruitful; therefore He is the highest.

What is education? Is it book-learning? No. Is it diverse knowledge? Not even that. The training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education. Now consider, is that education as a result of which the will, being continuously choked by force through generations, is well-nigh killed out; is that education under whose sway even the old ideas, let alone the new ones, are disappearing one by one; is that education which is slowly making every one of us a machine? It is more blessed, in my opinion, even to go wrong, impelled by one's free will and intelligence than to be good as an automaton.
Again, can that be called society which is formed by an aggregate of people who are like lumps of clay, like lifeless machines, like heaped up pebbles? How can such society fare well? Were good possible, then instead of being slaves for hundreds of years, we would have been the greatest nation on earth, and this soil of India, instead of being a mine of stupidity, would have been the eternal fountain-head of learning.
Is not self-sacrifice, then, a virtue? Is it not the most virtuous deed to sacrifice the happiness of one, the welfare of one, for the sake of the many? Exactly, but as the Bengali adage goes, "Can beauty be manufactured by rubbing and scrubbing? Can love be generated by effort and compulsion?" What glory is there in the renunciation of an eternal beggar? What virtue is there in the sense-control of one devoid of sense-power? What again is the self-sacrifice of one devoid of idea, devoid of heart, devoid of high ambition, and devoid of the conception of what constitutes society? What expression of devotedness to a husband is there by forcing a widow to commit Sati? Why make people do virtuous deeds by teaching superstitions?
I say, liberate, undo the shackles of people as much as you can. Can dirt be washed by dirt? Can bondage by removed by bondage? Where is the instance? When you would be able to sacrifice all desire for happiness for the sake of society, then you would be the Buddha, then you would be free: that is far off.
Again, do you think the way to do it lies through oppression? "Oh, what examples of self-denial are our widows! Oh, how sweet is child-marriage! Is another such custom possible! Can there be anything but love between husband and wife in such a marriage!"--such is the whine going round nowadays. But as to the men, the masters of the situation, there is no need of self-denial for them! Is there a virtue higher than serving others? But the same does not apply to Brahmins--you others do it! The truth is that in this country parents and relatives can ruthlessly sacrifice the best interests of their children and others for their selfish ends to save themselves by compromise to society; and the teaching of generations rendering the mind callous has made it perfectly easy.
Only the brave can deny self. The coward, afraid of the lash, with one hand wipes their eyes and give with the other. Of what avail are such gifts? It is a far cry to love universal. The young plant should be hedged in and taken care of. A person can hope gradually to attain universal love by learning to love one object unselfishly. If devotion to one particular Ishta-Deva is attained, devotion to the universal Virat is gradually possible.

Therefore, when one has been able to deny self for an individual, one should talk of self-sacrifice for the sake of society, not before. It is action with desire that leads to action without desire. Is the renunciation of desire possible if desire did not exist in the beginning? And what could it mean? Can light have any meaning if there is no darkness? Worship with desire, with attachment, comes first. Commence with the worship of the little, then the greater will come of itself.
Mother, be not anxious. It is against the big tree that the great wind strikes. "Poking a fire makes it burn better," "A snake struck on the head raises its hood"--and so on. When there comes affliction in the heart, when the storm of sorrow blows all around, and it seems light will be seen no more, when hope and courage are almost gone, it is then, in the midst of this great spiritual tempest, that the light of Brahman within gleams. Brought up in the lap of luxury, lying on a bed of roses and never shedding a tear, who has ever become great, who has ever unfolded the Brahman within? Why do you fear to weep? Weep! Weeping clears the eyes and brings about intuition. Then the vision of diversity—human beings, animals, trees--slowly melting away, makes room for the infinite realization of Brahman everywhere and in every thing. Then "verily, seeing the same God equally existent everywhere, a person does not injure the Self by the self, and so goes to the Supreme Goal" (Gita, 13.28).

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