Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda - Vol-9
To Sister Christine
THE MATH, BELUR, DIST. HOWRAH,
15th June 1902.
Just now received your note. I am quite easy in my mind so long [as] you live with Mrs. [Charlotte] Sevier at Mayavati. You know, anxiety is one thing I must avoid to recover. I will be very anxious if you are in Calcutta, at Baghbazar. I am slowly recovering. Stay with Mrs. Sevier as long as you can. Don't come down with Margot [Sister Nivedita].
To Sister Christine
THE MATH, BELUR, DIST. HOWRAH,
21st June 1902.
MY DEAR CHRISTINE,
You have not the least cause to be anxious. I am getting on anyhow and am quite strong. As to diet, I find I have to restrict myself and not follow the prescription of my doctor to eat anything I like. The pills continue, however. Will you ask the boys if they can get "Amalaki" [Emblic myrobalan] fruits in the place now? We cannot get them in the plains now. They are rather sour and puckery eaten raw; but make marmalade of whole [ones] - delicious. Then they are the best things for fermentation I ever get.
No anxiety on the score of Marie Louise's arrival in Calcutta. She has not yet made any noise.
Things go on the same. I am trying to go to Monghyr - a place near Calcutta and said to be very salubrious.
We will think of your coming to Baghbazar after Nivedita has fairly started; till then keep quiet and lay on food.
With all love to yourself, the boys and Mother [Mrs. Charlotte Sevier],
PS - I am laying on adipose tissues fast - especially about the abdominal regions: "It is fearful to see!"
Lectures and Discourses
THE WOMEN OF INDIA
(New Discoveries, Vol. 2, pp. 411-26.)
The following lecture was delivered at Cambridge, December 17, 1894, and recorded by Miss Frances Willard’s stenographer.
Swami Vivekananda faced bigotry in America on several issues of Indian culture - one was the Indian woman. Naturally he sought to correct Western misconceptions. When he lectured in his own country, however, there was no greater advocate for improving the life of Indian women than the Swami.
In speaking about the women of India, ladies and gentlemen, I feel that I am going to talk about my mothers and sisters in India to the women of another race, many of whom have been like mothers and sisters to me. But though, unfortunately, within very recent times there have been mouths only to curse the women of our country, I have found that there are some who bless them too. I have found such noble souls in this nation as Mrs. [Ole] Bull and Miss [Sarah] Farmer and Miss [Frances] Willard, and that wonderful representative of the highest aristocracy of the world, whose life reminds me of that man of India, six hundred years before the birth of Christ, who gave up his throne to mix with the people. Lady Henry Somerset has been a revelation to me. I become bold when I find such noble souls who will not curse, whose mouths are full of blessing for me, my country, our men and women, and whose hands and hearts are ever ready to do service to humanity.
I first intend to take a glimpse into times past of Indian history, and we will find something unique. All of you are aware, perhaps, that you Americans and we Hindus and this lady from Iceland [Mrs. Sigrid Magnusson] are the descendants of one common ancestry known as Aryans. Above all, we find three ideas wherever the Aryans go: the village community, the rights of women and a joyful religion.
The first [idea] is the system of village communities - as we have just heard from Mrs. Bull concerning the North. Each man was his own [lord?] and owned the land. All these political institutions of the world we now see, are the developments of those village systems. As the Aryans went over to different countries and settled, certain circumstances developed this institution, others that.
The next idea of the Aryans is the freedom of women. It is in the Aryan literature that we find women in ancient times taking the same share as men, and in no other literature of the world.
Going back to our Vedas - they are the oldest literature the world possesses and are composed by your and my common ancestors (they were not written in India - perhaps on the coast of the Baltic, perhaps in Central Asia - we do not know).
Their oldest portion is composed of hymns, and these hymns are to the gods whom the Aryans worshipped. I may be pardoned for using the word gods; the literal translation is "the bright ones". These hymns are dedicated to Fire, to the Sun, to Varuna and other deities. The titles run: "such-and-such a sage composed this verse, dedicated to such-and-such a deity".
In the tenth chapter comes a peculiar hymn - for the sage is a woman - and it is dedicated to the one God who is at the background of all these gods. All the previous hymns are spoken in the third person, as if someone were addressing the deities. But this hymn takes a departure: God [as the Devi] is speaking for herself. The pronoun used is "I". "I am the Empress of the Universe, the Fulfiller of all prayers." (Vide "Devi Sukta", Rig-Veda 10.125)This is the first glimpse of women's work in the Vedas. As we go on, we find them taking a greater share - even officiating as priests. There is not one passage throughout the whole mass of literature of the Vedas which can be construed even indirectly as signifying that woman could never be a priest. In fact, there are many examples of women officiating as priests.
Then we come to the last portion of these Vedas - which is really the religion of India - the concentrated wisdom of which has not been surpassed even in this century. There, too, we find women preeminent. A large portion of these books are words which have proceeded from the mouths of women. It is there - recorded with their names and teachings.
There is that beautiful story of the great sage Yâjnavalkya, the one who visited the kingdom of the great king Janaka. And there in that assembly of the learned, people came to ask him questions. One man asked him, "How am I to perform this sacrifice?" Another asked him, "How am I to perform the other sacrifice?" And after he had answered them, there arose a woman who said, "These are childish questions. Now, have a care: I take these two arrows, my two questions. Answer them if you can, and we will then call you a sage. The first is: What is the soul? The second is: What is God?" (Brihadâranyaka Upanishad 3.8.1.-12.)
Thus arose in India the great questions about the soul and God, and these came from the mouth of a woman. The sage had to pass an examination before her, and he passed well.
Coming to the next stratum of literature, our epics, we find that education has not degenerated. Especially in the caste of princes this ideal was most wonderfully held.
In the Vedas we find this idea of marrying - the girls chose for themselves; so the boys. In the next stratum they are married by their parents, except in one caste.
Even here I would ask you to look at another side. Whatever may be said of the Hindus, they are one of the most learned races the world has ever produced. The Hindu is the metaphysician; he applies everything to his intellect. Everything has to be settled by astrological calculation.
The idea was that the stars govern the fate of every man and woman. Even today when a child is born, a horoscope is cast. That determines the character of the child. One child is born of a divine nature, another of a human, others of lower character.
The difficulty was: If a child who was of a monster-character was united with a child of a god-character, would they not have a tendency to degenerate each other?
The next difficulty was: Our laws did not allow marriage within the same clans. Not only may one not marry within his own family - or even one of his cousins - but one must not marry into the clan of his father or even of his mother.
A third difficulty was: If there had been leprosy or phthisis or any such incurable disease within six generations of either bride or bridegroom, then there must not be a marriage.
Now taking [into account] these three difficulties, the Brahmin says: "If I leave it to the choice of the boy or girl to marry, the boy or girl will be fascinated with a beautiful face. And then very likely all these circumstances will bring ruin to the family". This is the primary idea that governs our marriage laws, as you will find. Whether right or wrong, there is this philosophy at the background. Prevention is better than cure.
That misery exists in this world is because we give birth to misery. So the whole question is how to prevent the birth of miserable children. How far the rights of a society should extend over the individual is an open question. But the Hindus say that the choice of marriage should not be left in the hands of the boy or girl.
I do not mean to say that this is the best thing to do. Nor do I see that leaving it in their hands is at all a perfect solution. I have not found a solution yet in my own mind; nor do I see that any country has one. We come next to another picture. I told you that there was another peculiar form of marriage (generally among the royalty) where the father of the girl invited different princes and noblemen and they had an assembly. The young lady, the daughter of the king, was borne on a sort of chair before each one of the princes in turn. And the herald would repeat: "This is Prince So-and-so, and these are his qualifications". The young girl would either wait or say, "Move on". And before the next prince, the crier would also give a description, and the girl would say, "Move on". (All this would be arranged beforehand; she already had the liking for somebody before this.) Then at last she would ask one of the servants to throw the garland over the head of the man, and it would be thrown to show he was accepted. (The last of these marriages was the cause of the Mohammedan invasion of India.) (Vide later this chapter for the story of Samjuktâ, daughter of a Rajput prince, who became the Queen of Delhi.) These marriages were specially reserved for the prince caste.
The oldest Sanskrit poem in existence, the Râmâyana, has embodied the loftiest Hindu ideal of a woman in the character of Sitâ. We have not time to go through her life of infinite patience and goodness. We worship her as God incarnate, and she is named before her husband, Râma. We say not "Mr. and Mrs.", but "Mrs. and Mr." and so on, with all the gods and goddesses, naming the woman first.
There is another peculiar conception of the Hindu. Those who have been studying with me are aware that the central conception of Hindu philosophy is of the Absolute; that is the background of the universe. This Absolute Being, of whom we can predicate nothing, has Its powers spoken of as She - that is, the real personal God in India is She. This Shakti of the Brahman is always in the feminine gender.
Rama is considered the type of the Absolute, and Sita that of Power. We have no time to go over all the life of Sita, but I will quote a passage from her life that is very much suited to the ladies of this country.
The picture opens when she was in the forest with her husband, whither they were banished. There was a female sage whom they both went to see. Her fasts and devotions had emaciated her body.
Sita approached this sage and bowed down before her. The sage placed her hand on the head of Sita and said: "It is a great blessing to possess a beautiful body; you have that. It is a greater blessing to have a noble husband; you have that. It is the greatest blessing to be perfectly obedient to such a husband; you are that. You must be happy".Sita replied, "Mother, I am glad that God has given me a beautiful body and that I have so devoted a husband. But as to the third blessing, I do not know whether I obey him or he obeys me. One thing alone I remember, that when he took me by the hand before the sacrificial fire - whether it was a reflection of the fire or whether God himself made it appear to me - I found that I was his and he was mine. And since then, I have found that I am the complement of his life, and he of mine".
Portions of this poem have been translated into the English language. Sita is the ideal of a woman in India and worshipped as God incarnate. We come now to Manu the great lawgiver. Now, in this book there is an elaborate description of how a child should be educated. We must remember that it was compulsory with the Aryans that a child be educated, whatever his caste. After describing how a child should be educated, Manu adds: "Along the same lines, the daughters are to be educated - exactly as the boys".
I have often heard that there are other passages where women are condemned. I admit that in our sacred books there are many passages which condemn women as offering temptation; you can see that for yourselves. But there are also passages that glorify women as the power of God. And there are other passages which state that in that house where one drop of a woman's tear falls, the gods are never pleased and the house goes to ruin. Drinking wine, killing a woman and killing a Brahmin are the highest crimes in the Hindu religion. I admit there are condemnatory sentences [in some of our books]; but here I claim the superiority of these Hindu books, for in the books of other races there is only condemnation and no good word for a woman.
Next, I will come to our old dramas. Whatever the books say, the dramas are the perfect representation of society as it then existed. In these, which were written from four hundred years before Christ onward, we find even universities full of both boys and girls. We would not [now] find Hindu women, as they have since become cut off from higher education. But [at that time], they were everywhere pretty much the same as they are in this country - going out to the gardens and parks to take promenades.
There is another point which I bring before you and where the Hindu woman is still superior to all other women in the world -her rights. The right to possess property is as absolute for women in India as for men - and has been for thousands and thousands of years.
If you have any lawyer friend and can take up commentaries on the Hindu law, you will find it all for yourselves. A girl may bring a million dollars to her husband, but every dollar of that is hers. Nobody has any right to touch one dollar of that. If the husband dies without issue, the whole property of the husband goes to her, even if his father or mother is living. And that has been the law from the past to the present time. That is something which the Hindu woman has had beyond that of the women of other countries.
The older books - or even newer books - do not prohibit the Hindu widows from being married; it is a mistake to think so. They give them their choice, and that is given to both men and women. The idea in our religion is that marriage is for the weak, and I don't see any reason to give up that idea today. They who find themselves complete - what is the use of their marrying? And those that marry - they are given one chance. When that chance is over, both men and women are looked down upon if they marry again; but it is not that they are prohibited. It is nowhere said that a widow is not to marry. The widow and widower who do not marry are considered more spiritual.
Men, of course, break through this law and go and marry; whereas women - they being of a higher spiritual nature - keep to the law. For instance, our books say that eating meat is bad and sinful, but you may still eat such-and-such a meat -mutton, for instance. I have seen thousands of men who eat mutton, and never in my life have I seen a woman of higher caste who eats meat of any kind. This shows that their nature is to keep the law - keeping more towards religion. But do not judge too harshly of Hindu men. You must try to look at the Hindu law from my position too, for I am a Hindu man.
This non-marriage of widows gradually grew into a custom. And whenever in India a custom becomes rigid, it is almost impossible to break through it - just as in your country, you will find how hard it is to break through a five-day custom of fashion. In the lower castes, except two, the widows remarry.
There is a passage in our later law books [which states] that a woman shall not read the Vedas. But they are prohibited to even a weak Brahmin. If a Brahmin boy is not strong-minded, the law is applied to him also. But that does not show that education is prohibited to them, for the Vedas are not all that the Hindus have. Every other book women can read. All the mass of Sanskrit literature, that whole ocean of literature - science, drama, poetry - is all for them. They can go there and read everything, except the [Vedic] scriptures.
In later days the idea was that woman was not intended to be a priest; so what is the use of her studying the Vedas? In that, the Hindus are not so far behind other nations. When women give up the world and join our Order, they are no longer considered either men or women. They have no sex. The whole question of high or low caste, man or woman, dies out entirely.
Whatever I know of religion I learned from my master, and he learned it of a woman.
Coming back to the Rajput woman, I will try to bring to you a story from some of our old books - how during the Mohammedan conquest, one of these women was the cause of what led to the conquest of India.
A Rajput prince of Kanauj - a very ancient city - had a daughter [Samjukta]. She had heard of the military fame of Prithvi Raj [King of Ajmere and Delhi] and all his glory, and she was in love with him.
Now her father wanted to hold a Râjasuya sacrifice, so he invited all the kings in the country. And in that sacrifice, they all had to render menial service to him because he was superior over all; and with that sacrifice he declared there would be a choice by his daughter.
But the daughter was already in love with Prithvi Raj. He was very mighty and was not going to acknowledge loyalty to the king, her father, so he refused the invitation. Then the king made a golden statue of Prithvi Raj and put it near the door. He said that that was the duty he had given him to perform - that of a porter.
The upshot of the whole affair was that Prithvi Raj, like a true knight, came and took the lady behind him on his horse, and they both fled.
When the news came to her father, he gave chase with his army, and there was a great battle in which the majority of both armies was killed. And [thus the Rajputs were so weakened that] the Mohammedan empire in India began.
When the Mohammedan empire was being established in northern India, the Queen of Chitore [Râni Padmini] was famed for her beauty. And the report of her beauty reached the sultan, and he wrote a letter for the queen to be sent to his harem. The result was a terrible war between the King of Chitore and the sultan. The Mohammedans invaded Chitore. And when the Rajputs found they could not defend themselves any more, the men all took sword in hand and killed and were killed, and the women perished in the flames.
After the men had all perished, the conqueror entered the city. There in the street was rising a horrible flame. He saw circles of women going around it, led by the queen herself. When he approached near and asked the queen to refrain from jumping into the flames, she said, "This is how the Rajput woman treats you", and threw herself into the fire.
It is said that 74,500 women perished in the flames that day to save their honour from the hands of the Mohammedans. Even today when we write a letter, after sealing it we write "74½" upon it, meaning that if one dares to open this letter, that sin of killing 74,500 women will be upon his head.
I will tell you the story of another beautiful Rajput girl. There is a peculiar custom in our country called "protection". Women can send small bracelets of silken thread to men. And if a girl sends one of these to a man, that man becomes her brother.
During the reign of the last of the Mogul emperors - the cruel man who destroyed that most brilliant empire of India - he similarly heard of the beauty of a Rajput chieftain's daughter. Orders were sent that she should be brought to the Mogul harem.
Then a messenger came from the emperor to her with his picture, and he showed it to her. In derision she stamped upon it with her feet and said, "Thus the Rajput girl treats your Mogul emperor". As a result, the imperial army was marched into Rajputana.
In despair the chieftain's daughter thought of a device. She took a number of these bracelets and sent them to the Rajput princes with a message: "Come and help us". All the Rajputs assembled, and so the imperial forces had to go back again.
I will tell you a peculiar proverb in Rajputana. There is a caste in India called the shop class, the traders. They are very intelligent - some of them - but the Hindus think they are rather sharp. But it is a peculiar fact that the women of that caste are not as intelligent as the men. On the other hand, the Rajput man is not half as intelligent as the Rajput woman.
The common proverb in Rajputana is: "The intelligent woman begets the dull son, and the dull woman begets the sharp son". The fact is, whenever any state or kingdom in Rajputana has been managed by a woman, it has been managed wonderfully well.
We come to another class of women. This mild Hindu race produces fighting women from time to time. Some of you may have heard of the woman [Lakshmi Bai, Queen of Jhansi] who, during the Mutiny of 1857, fought against the English soldiers and held her own ground for two years - leading modern armies, managing batteries and always charging at the head of her army. This queen was a Brahmin girl.
A man whom I know lost three of his sons in that war. When he talks of them he is calm, but when he talks of this woman his voice becomes animated. He used to say that she was a goddess - she was not a human being. This old veteran thinks he never saw better generalship.
The story of Chand Bibi, or Chand Sultana [1546 - 1599], is well known in India. She was the Queen of Golconda, where the diamond mines were. For months she defended herself. At last, a breach was made in the walls. When the imperial army tried to rush in there, she was in full armour, and she forced the troops to go back.
In still later times, perhaps you will be astonished to know that a great English general had once to face a Hindu girl of sixteen.
Women in statesmanship, managing territories, governing countries, even making war, have proved themselves equal to men - if not superior. In India I have no doubt of that. Whenever they have had the opportunity, they have proved that they have as much ability as men, with this advantage - that they seldom degenerate. They keep to the moral standard, which is innate in their nature. And thus as governors and rulers of their state, they prove - at least in India - far superior to men. John Stuart Mill mentions this fact.
Even at the present day, we see women in India managing vast estates with great ability. There were two ladies where I was born who were the proprietors of large estates and patronesses of learning and art and who managed these estates with their own brains and looked to every detail of the business.
Each nation, beyond a general humanity, develops a certain peculiarity of character - so in religion, so in politics, so in the physical body, so in mental habitude, so in men and women, so in character. One nation develops one peculiarity of character, another takes another peculiarity. Within the last few years the world has begun to recognize this.
The very peculiarity of Hindu women, which they have developed and which is the idea of their life, is that of the mother. If you enter a Hindu's home, you will not find the wife to be the same equal companion of the husband as you find her here. But when you find the mother, she is the very pillar of the Hindu home. The wife must wait to become the mother, and then she will be everything.
If one becomes a monk, his father will have to salute him first because he has become a monk and is therefore superior to him. But to his mother he - monk or no monk - will have to go down on his knees and prostrate himself before her. He will then put a little cup of water before her feet, she will dip her toe in it, and he will have to drink of it. A Hindu son gladly does this a thousand times over again!
Where the Vedas teach morality, the first words are, "Let the mother be your God" (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11.) - and that she is. When we talk of woman in India, our idea of woman is mother. The value of women consists in their being mothers of the human race. That is the idea of the Hindu.
I have seen my old master taking little girls by the hands, placing them in a chair and actually worshipping them - placing flowers at their feet and prostrating himself before these little children - because they represented the mother God.
The mother is the God in our family. The idea is that the only real love that we see in the world, the most unselfish love, is in the mother - always suffering, always loving. And what love can represent the love of God more than the love which we see in the mother? Thus the mother is the incarnation of God on earth to the Hindu.
"That boy alone can understand God who has been first taught by his mother." I have heard wild stories about the illiteracy of our women. Till I was a boy of ten, I was taught by my mother. I saw my grandmother living and my great-grandmother living, and I assure you that there never was in my line a female ancestor who could not read or write, or who had to put "her mark" on a paper. If there was a woman who could not read or write, my birth would have been impossible. Caste laws make it imperative.
So these are wild stories which I sometimes hear - such as the statement that in the Middle Ages reading and writing were taken away from Hindu women. I refer you to Sir William Hunter's History of the English People, where he cited Indian women who could calculate a solar eclipse. I have been told that either too much worship of the mother makes the mother selfish or too much love of the children for the mother makes them selfish. But I do not believe that. The love which my mother gave to me has made me what I am, and I owe a debt to her that I can never repay.
Why should the Hindu mother be worshipped? Our philosophers try to find a reason and they come to this definition: We call ourselves the Aryan race. What is an Aryan? He is a man whose birth is through religion. This is a peculiar subject, perhaps, in this country; but the idea is that a man must be born through religion, through prayers. If you take up our law books you will find chapters devoted to this - the prenatal influence of a mother on the child.
I know that before I was born, my mother would fast and pray and do hundreds of things which I could not even do for five minutes. She did that for two years. I believe that whatever religious culture I have, I owe to that. It was consciously that my mother brought me into the world to be what I am. Whatever good impulse I have was given to me by my mother - and consciously, not unconsciously.
"A child materially born is not an Aryan; the child born in spirituality is an Aryan." For all this trouble - because she has to make herself so pure and holy in order to have pure children - she has a peculiar claim on the Hindu child. And the rest [of her traits] is the same with all other nations: she is so unselfish. But the mother has to suffer most in our families.
The mother has to eat last. I have been asked many times in your country why the [Hindu] husband does not sit with his wife to eat - if the idea is, perhaps, that the husband thinks she is too low a being. This explanation is not at all right. You know, a hog's hair is thought to be very unclean. A Hindu cannot brush his teeth with the brushes made of it, so he uses the fibre of plants. Some traveller saw one Hindu brushing his teeth with that and then wrote that "a Hindu gets up early in the morning and gets a plant and chews it and swallows it!" Similarly, some have seen the husband and wife not eating together and have made their own explanation. There are so many explainers in this world, and so few observers - as if the world is dying for their explanations! That is why I sometimes think the invention of printing was not an unmixed blessing. The real fact is: just as in your country many things must not be done by ladies before men, so in our country the fact is that it is very indecorous to munch and munch before men. If a lady is eating, she may eat before her brothers. But if the husband comes in, she stops immediately and the husband walks out quickly. We have no tables to sit at, and whenever a man is hungry he comes in and takes his meal and goes out. Do not believe that a Hindu husband does not allow his wife to sit at the table with him. He has no table at all.
The first part of the food - when it is ready - belongs to the guests and the poor, the second to the lower animals, the third to the children, the fourth to the husband, and last comes the mother. How many times I have seen my mother going to take her first meal when it was two o'clock. We took ours at ten and she at two because she had so many things to attend to. [For example], someone knocks at the door and says, "Guest", and there is no food except what was for my mother. She would give that to him willingly and then wait for her own. That was her life and she liked it. And that is why we worship mothers as gods.
I wish you would like less to be merely petted and patronized and more to be worshipped! [You], a member of the human race! - the poor Hindu does not understand that [inclination of yours]. But when you say, "We are mothers and we command", he bows down. This is the side then that the Hindus have developed.
Going back to our theories - people in the West came about one hundred years ago to the point that they must tolerate other religions. But we know now that toleration is not sufficient toward another religion; we must accept it. Thus it is not a question of subtraction, it is a question of addition. The truth is the result of all these different sides added together. Each of all these religions represents one side, the fullness being the addition of all these. And so in every science, it is addition that is the law.
Now the Hindu has developed this side. But will this side be enough? Let the Hindu woman who is the mother become the worthy wife also, but do not try to destroy the mother. That is the best thing you can do. Thus you get a better view of the universe instead of going about all over the world, rushing into different nations and criticizing them and saying, "The horrid wretches - all fit to be barbecued for eternity!"
If we take our stand on this position - that each nation under the Lord's will is developing one part of human nature - no nation is a failure. So far they have done well, now they must do better! [Applause]
Instead of calling the Hindus "heathens", "wretches", "slaves", go to India and say, "So far your work is wonderful, but that is not all. You have much more to do. God bless you that you have developed this side of woman as a mother. Now help the other side - the wife of men".
And similarly, I think (I tell it with the best spirit) that you had better add to your national character a little more of the mother side of the Hindu nature! This was the first verse that I was taught in my life, the first day I went to school: "He indeed is a learned man who looks upon all women as his mother, who looks upon every man's property as so much dust, and looks upon every being as his own soul".
There is the other idea of the woman working with the man. It is not that the Hindus had not those ideals, but they could not develop them.
It is alone in the Sanskrit language that we find four words meaning husband and wife together. It is only in our marriage that they [both] promise, "What has been my heart now may be thine". It is there that we see that the husband is made to look at the Pole-star, touching the hand of his wife and saying, "As the Pole-star is fixed in the heavens, so may I be fixed in my affection to thee". And the wife does the same.
Even a woman who is vile enough to go into the streets can sue her husband and have a maintenance. We find the germs of these ideas in all our books throughout our nation, but we were not able to develop that side of the character.
We must go far beyond sentiment when we want to judge. We know it is not emotion alone that governs the world, but there is something behind emotion. Economic causes, surrounding circumstances and other considerations enter into the development of nations. (It is not in my present plan to go into the causes that develop woman as wife.)
So in this world, as each nation is placed under peculiar circumstances and is developing its own type, the day is coming when all these different types will be mixed up - when that vile sort of patriotism which means "rob everybody and give to me" will vanish. Then there will be no more one-sided development in the whole world, and each one of these [nations] will see that they had done right.
Let us now go to work and mix the nations up together and let the new nation come.
Will you let me tell you my conviction? Much of the civilization that comprises the world today has come from that one peculiar race of mankind - the Aryans.
[Aryan] civilization has been of three types: the Roman, the Greek, the Hindu. The Roman type is the type of organization, conquest, steadiness - but lacking in emotional nature, appreciation of beauty and the higher emotions. Its defect is cruelty. The Greek is essentially enthusiastic for the beautiful, but frivolous and has a tendency to become immoral. The Hindu type is essentially metaphysical and religious, but lacking in all the elements of organization and work.
The Roman type is now represented by the Anglo-Saxon; the Greek type more by the French than by any other nation; and the old Hindus do not die! Each type has its advantage in this new land of promise. They have the Roman's organization, the power of the Greek's wonderful love for the beautiful, and the Hindu's backbone of religion and love of God. Mix these up together and bring in the new civilization.
And let me tell you, this should be done by women. There are some of our books which say that the next incarnation, and the last (we believe in ten), is to come in the form of a woman.
We see resources in the world yet remaining because all the forces that are in the world have not come into use. The hand was acting all this time while other parts of the body were remaining silent. Let the other parts of the body be awakened and perhaps in harmonious action all the misery will be cured. Perhaps, in this new land, with this new blood in your veins, you may bring in that new civilization - and, perhaps, through American women.
As to that ever blessed land which gave me this body, I look back with great veneration and bless the merciful being who permitted me to take birth in that holiest spot on earth. When the whole world is trying to trace its ancestry from men distinguished in arms or wealth, the Hindus alone are proud to trace their descent from saints.
That wonderful vessel which has been carrying for ages men and women across this ocean of life may have sprung small leaks here and there. And of that, too, the Lord alone knows how much is owing to themselves and how much to those who look down with contempt upon the Hindus.
But if such leaks there are, I, the meanest of her children, think it my duty to stop her from sinking even if I have to do it with my life. And if I find that all my struggles are in vain, still, as the Lord is my witness, I will tell them with my heartfelt benediction: "My brethren, you have done well - nay, better than any other race could have done under the same circumstances. You have given me all that I have. Grant me the privilege of being at your side to the last and let us all sink together".
THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS JNANA
[A Jnâna-Yoga class delivered in New York, Wednesday, December 11, 1895, and recorded by Swami Kripananda]
The word Jnâna means knowledge. It is derived from the root Jnâ - to know - the same word from which your English word to know is derived. Jnana-Yoga is Yoga by means of knowledge. What is the object of the Jnana-Yoga? Freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from our imperfections, freedom from the misery of life. Why are we miserable? We are miserable because we are bound. What is the bondage? The bondage is of nature. Who is it that binds us? We, ourselves.
The whole universe is bound by the law of causation. There cannot be anything, any fact - either in the internal or in the external world - that is uncaused; and every cause must produce an effect.
Now this bondage in which we are is a fact. It need not be proved that we are in bondage. For instance: I would be very glad to get out of this room through this wall, but I cannot; I would be very glad if I never became sick, but I cannot prevent it; I would be very glad not to die, but I have to; I would be very glad to do millions of things that I cannot do. The will is there, but we do not succeed in accomplishing the desire. When we have any desire and not the means of fulfilling it, we get that peculiar reaction called misery. Who is the cause of desire? I, myself. Therefore, I myself am the cause of all the miseries I am in. Misery begins with the birth of the child. Weak and helpless, he enters the world. The first sign of life is weeping. Now, how could we be the cause of misery when we find it at the very beginning? We have caused it in the past. [Here Swami Vivekananda entered into a fairly long discussion of "the very interesting theory called Reincarnation". He continued:]
To understand reincarnation, we have first to know that in this universe something can never be produced out of nothing. If there is such a thing as a human soul, it cannot be produced out of nothing. If something can be produced out of nothing, then something would disappear into nothing also. If we are produced out of nothing, then we will also go back into nothing. That which has a beginning must have an end. Therefore, as souls we could not have had any beginning. We have been existing all the time. Then again, if we did not exist previously, there is no explanation of our present existence. The child is born with a bundle of causes. How many things we see in a child which can never be explained until we grant that the child has had past experience - for instance, fear of death and a great number of innate tendencies. Who taught the baby to drink milk and to do so in a peculiar fashion? Where did it acquire this knowledge? We know that there cannot be any knowledge without experience, for to say that knowledge is intuitive in the child, or instinctive, is what the logicians would call a "petitio principii".
It would be the same [logic] as when a man asks me why light comes through a glass, and I answer him, "Because it is transparent". That would be really no answer at all because I am simply translating his word into a bigger one. The word "transparent" means "that through which light comes" - and that was the question. The question was why light comes through the glass, and I answered him, "Because it comes through the glass".
In the same way, the question was why these tendencies are in the child. Why should it have fear of death if it never saw death? If this is the first time it was ever born, how did it know to suck the mother's milk? If the answer is "Oh, it was instinct", that is simply returning the question. If a man stands up and says, "I do not know", he is in a better position than the man who says, "It is instinct" and all such nonsense.
There is no such thing as instinct; there is no such thing as nature separate from habit. Habit is one's second nature, and habit is one's first nature too. All that is in your nature is the result of habit, and habit is the result of experience. There cannot be any knowledge but from experience.
So this baby must have had some experience too. This fact is granted even by modern materialistic science. It proves beyond doubt that the baby brings with it a fund of experience. It does not enter into this world with a "tabula rasa" - a blank mind upon which nothing is written - as some of the old philosophers believed, but ready equipped with a bundle of knowledge. So far so good.
But while modern science grants that this bundle of knowledge which the child brings with it was acquired through experience, it asserts, at the same time, that it is not its own - but its father's and its grandfather's and its great-grandfather's. Knowledge comes, they say, through hereditary transmission.
Now this is one step in advance of that old theory of "instinct", that is fit only for babies and idiots. This "instinct" theory is a mere pun upon words and has no meaning whatsoever. A man with the least thinking power and the least insight into the logical precision of words would never dare to explain innate tendencies by "instinct", a term which is equivalent to saying that something came out of nothing. But the modern theory of transmission through experience - though, no doubt, a step in advance of the old one - is not sufficient at all. Why not? We can understand a physical transmission, but a mental transmission is impossible to understand.
What causes me - who am a soul - to be born with a father who has transmitted certain qualities? What makes me come back? The father, having certain qualities, may be one binding cause. Taking for granted that I am a distinct soul that was existing before and wants to reincarnate - what makes my soul go into the body of a particular man? For the explanation to be sufficient, we have to assume a hereditary transmission of energies and such a thing as my own previous experience. This is what is called Karma, or, in English, the Law of Causation, the law of fitness.
For instance, if my previous actions have all been towards drunkenness, I will naturally gravitate towards persons who are transmitting a drunkard's character. I can only take advantage of the organism produced by those parents who have been transmitting a certain peculiar influence for which I am fit by my previous actions. Thus we see that it is true that a certain hereditary experience is transmitted from father to son, and so on. At the same time, it is my past experience that joins me to the particular cause of hereditary transmission.
A simply hereditary transmission theory will only touch the physical man and would be perfectly insufficient for the internal soul of man. Even when looking upon the matter from the purest materialistic standpoint - viz. that there is no such thing as a soul in man, and man is nothing but a bundle of atoms acted upon by certain physical forces and works like an automaton - even taking that for granted, the mere transmission theory would be quite insufficient.
The greatest difficulties regarding the simple hypothesis of mere physical transmission will be here: If there be no such thing as a soul in man, if he be nothing more than a bundle of atoms acted upon by certain forces, then, in the case of transmission, the soul of the father would decrease in ratio to the number of his children; and the man who has five, six or eight children must, in the end, become an idiot. India and China - where men breed like rats - would then be full of idiots. But, on the contrary, we find that the least amount of lunacy is in India and China.
The question is, What do we mean by the word transmission? It is a big word, but, like so many other impossible and nonsensical terms of the same kind, it has come into use without people understanding it. If I were to ask you what transmission is, you would find that you have no real conception of its meaning because there is no idea attached to it. Let us look a little closer into the matter. Say, for instance, here is a father. A child is born to him. We see that the same qualities [which the father possesses] have entered into his child. Very good. Now how did the qualities of the father come to be in the child? Nobody knows. So this gap the modern physicists want to fill with the big word transmission. And what does this transmission mean? Nobody knows.
How can mental qualities of experience be condensed and made to live in one single cell of protoplasm? There is no difference between the protoplasm of a bird and that of a human brain. All we can say with regard to physical transmission is that it consists of the two or three protoplasmic cells cut from the father's body. That is all. But what nonsense to assume that ages and ages of past human experience got compressed into a few protoplasmic cells! It is too tremendous a pill they ask you to swallow with this little word transmission.
In olden times the churches had prestige, but today science has got it. And just as in olden times people never inquired for themselves - never studied the Bible, and so the priests had a very good opportunity to teach whatever they liked - so even now the majority of people do not study for themselves and, at the same time, have a tremendous awe and fear before anything called scientific. You ought to remember that there is a worse popery coming than ever existed in the church - the so-called scientific popery, which has become so successful that it dictates to us with more authority than religious popery.
These popes of modern science are great popes indeed, but sometimes they ask us to believe more wonderful things than any priest or any religion ever did. And one of those wonderful things is that transmission theory, which I could never understand. If I ask, "What do you mean by transmission?" they only make it a little easier by saying, "It is hereditary transmission". And if I tell them, "That is rather Greek to me", they make it still easier by saying, "It is the adherence of paternal qualities in the protoplasmic cells". In that way it becomes easier and easier, until my mind becomes muddled and disgusted with the whole thing.
Now one thing we see: we produce thought. I am talking to you this evening and it is producing thought in your brain. By this act of transmission we understand that my thoughts are being transmitted into your brain and your mind, and producing other thoughts. This is an everyday fact. It is always rational to take the side of things which you can understand - to take the side of fact. Transmission of thought is perfectly understandable. Therefore we are able to take up the [concept of] transmission of thought, and not of hereditary impressions of protoplasmic cells alone. We need not brush aside the theory, but the main stress must be laid upon the transmission of thought.
Now a father does not transmit thought. It is thought alone that transmits thought. The child that is born existed previously as thought. We all existed eternally as thought and will go on existing as thought.
What we think, that our body becomes. Everything is manufactured by thought, and thus we are the manufacturers of our own lives. We alone are responsible for whatever we do. It is foolish to cry out: "Why am I unhappy?" I made my own unhappiness. It is not the fault of the Lord at all.
Someone takes advantage of the light of the sun to break into your house and rob you. And then when he is caught by the policeman, he may cry: "Oh sun, why did you make me steal?" It was not the sun's fault at all, because there are thousands of other people who did much good to their fellow beings under the light of the same sun. The sun did not tell this man to go about stealing and robbing.
Each one of us reaps what we ourselves have sown. These miseries under which we suffer, these bondages under which we struggle, have been caused by ourselves, and none else in the universe is to blame. God is the least to blame for it.
"Why did God create this evil world?" He did not create this evil world at all. We have made it evil, and we have to make it good. "Why did God create me so miserable?" He did not. He gave me the same powers as [He did] to every being. I brought myself to this pass.
Is God to blame for what I myself have done? His mercy is always the same. His sun shines on the wicked and the good alike. His air, His water, His earth give the same chances to the wicked and the good. God is always the same eternal, merciful Father. The only thing for us to do is to bear the results of our own acts. We learn that, in the first place, we have been existing eternally; in the second place that we are the makers of our own lives. There is no such thing as fate. Our lives are the result of our previous actions, our Karma. And it naturally follows that having been ourselves the makers of our Karma, we must also be able to unmake it.
The whole gist of Jnana-Yoga is to show humanity the method of undoing this Karma. A caterpillar spins a little cocoon around itself out of the substance of its own body and at last finds itself imprisoned. It may cry and weep and howl there; nobody will come to its rescue until it becomes wise and then comes out, a beautiful butterfly. So with these our bondages. We are going around and around ourselves through countless ages. And now we feel miserable and cry and lament over our bondage. But crying and weeping will be of no avail. We must set ourselves to cutting these bondages.
The main cause of all bondage is ignorance. Man is not wicked by his own nature - not at all. His nature is pure, perfectly holy. Each man is divine. Each man that you see is a God by his very nature. This nature is covered by ignorance, and it is ignorance that binds us down. Ignorance is the cause of all misery. Ignorance is the cause of all wickedness; and knowledge will make the world good. Knowledge will remove all misery. Knowledge will make us free. This is the idea of Jnana-Yoga: knowledge will make us free! What knowledge? Chemistry? Physics? Astronomy? Geology? They help us a little, just a little. But the chief knowledge is that of your own nature. "Know thyself." You must know what you are, what your real nature is. You must become conscious of that infinite nature within. Then your bondages will burst.
Studying the external alone, man begins to feel himself to be nothing. These vast powers of nature, these tremendous changes occurring - whole communities wiped off the face of the earth in a twinkling of time, one volcanic eruption shattering to pieces whole continents - perceiving and studying these things, man begins to feel himself weak. Therefore, it is not the study of external nature that makes [one] strong. But there is the internal nature of man-a million times more powerful than any volcanic eruption or any law of nature - which conquers nature, triumphs over all its laws. And that alone teaches man what he is.
"Knowledge is power", says the proverb, does it not? It is through knowledge that power comes. Man has got to know. Here is a man of infinite power and strength. He himself is by his own nature potent and omniscient. And this he must know. And the more he becomes conscious of his own Self, the more he manifests this power, and his bonds break and at last he becomes free.
How to know ourselves? the question remains now. There are various ways to know this Self, but in Jnana-Yoga it takes the help of nothing but sheer intellectual reasoning. Reason alone, intellect alone, rising to spiritual perception, shows what we are.
There is no question of believing. Disbelieve everything - that is the idea of the Jnani. Believe nothing and disbelieve everything - that is the first step. Dare to be a rationalist. Dare to follow reason wherever it leads you.
We hear everyday people saying all around us: "I dare to reason". It is, however, a very difficult thing to do. I would go two hundred miles to look at the face of the man who dares to reason and to follow reason. Nothing is easier to say, and nothing is more difficult to do. We are bound to follow superstitions all the time - old, hoary superstitions, either national or belonging to humanity in general - superstitions belonging to family, to friends, to country, to fashion, to books, to sex and to what-not.
Talk of reason! Very few people reason, indeed. You hear a man say, "Oh, I don't like to believe in anything; I don't like to grope through darkness. I must reason". And so he reasons. But when reason smashes to pieces things that he hugs unto his breast, he says, "No more! This reasoning is all right until it breaks my ideals. Stop there!" That man would never be a Jnani. That man will carry his bondage all his life and his lives to come. Again and again he will come under the power of death. Such men are not made for Jnana. There are other methods for them - such as bhakti-yoga, Karma-Yoga, or Râja-Yoga - but not Jnana-Yoga. I want to prepare you by saying that this method can be followed only by the boldest. Do not think that the man who believes in no church or belongs to no sect, or the man who boasts of his unbelief, is a rationalist. Not at all. In modern times it is rather bravado to do anything like that.
To be a rationalist requires more than unbelief. You must be able not only to reason, but also to follow the dictates of your reason. If reason tells you that this body is an illusion, are you ready to give it up? Reason tells you that heat and cold are mere illusions of your senses; are you ready to brave these things? If reason tells you that nothing that the senses convey to your mind is true, are you ready to deny your sense perception? If you dare, you are a rationalist.
It is very hard to believe in reason and follow truth. This whole world is full either of the superstitious or of half-hearted hypocrites. I would rather side with superstition and ignorance than stand with these half-hearted hypocrites. They are no good. They stand on both sides of the river.
Take anything up, fix your ideal and follow it out boldly unto death. That is the way to salvation. Half-heartedness never led to anything. Be superstitious, be a fanatic if you please, but be something. Be something, show that you have something; but be not like these shilly-shallyers with truth - these jacks-of-all-trades who just want to get a sort of nervous titillation, a dose of opium, until this desire after the sensational becomes a habit.
The world is getting too full of such people. Contrary to the apostles who, according to Christ, were the salt of the earth, these fellows are the ashes, the dirt of the earth. So let us first clear the ground and understand what is meant by following reason, and then we will try to understand what the obstructions are to our following reason.
The first obstruction to our following reason is our unwillingness to go to truth. We want truth to come to us. In all my travels, most people told me: "Oh, that is not a comfortable religion you talk about. Give us a comfortable religion!" I do not understand what they mean by this "comfortable religion". I was never taught any comfortable religion in my life. I want truth for my religion. Whether it be comfortable or not, I do not care. Why should truth be comfortable always? Truth many times hits hard - as we all know by our experience. Gradually, after a long intercourse with such persons, I came to find out what they meant by their stereotypical phrase. These people have got into a rut, and they do not dare to get out of it. Truth must apologize to them.
I once met a lady who was very fond of her children and her money and her everything. When I began to preach to her that the only way to God is by giving up everything, she stopped coming the next day. One day she came and told me that the reason for her staying away was because the religion I preached was very uncomfortable. "What sort of religion would be comfortable to you?" I asked in order to test her. She said: "I want to see God in my children, in my money, in my diamonds".
"Very good, madam", I replied. "You have now got all these things. And you will have to see these things millions of years yet. Then you will be bumped somewhere and come to reason. Until that time comes, you will never come to God. In the meantime, go on seeing God in your children and in your money and your diamonds and your dances."
It is difficult, almost impossible, for such people to give up sense enjoyment. It has grown upon them from birth to birth. If you ask a pig to give up his sty and to go into your most beautiful parlour, why it will be death to the pig. "Let go, I must live there", says the pig. [Here Swami Vivekananda explained the story of the fishwife: "Once a fishwife was a guest in the house of a gardener who raised flowers. She came there with her empty basket, after selling fish in the market, and was asked to sleep in a room where flowers were kept. But, because of the fragrance of the flowers, she couldn't get to sleep for a long time. Her hostess saw her condition and said, 'Hello! Why are you tossing from side to side so restlessly?' The fishwife said: 'I don't know, friend. Perhaps the smell of the flowers has been disturbing my sleep. Can you give me my fish-basket? Perhaps that will put me to sleep'."]
So with us. The majority of mankind delights in this fish smell - this world, this enjoyment of the senses, this money and wealth and chattel and wife and children. All this nonsense of the world - this fishy smell - has grown upon us. We can hear nothing beyond it, can see nothing beyond it; nothing goes beyond it. This is the whole universe.
All this talk about heaven and God and soul means nothing to an ordinary man. He has heaven already here. He has no other idea beyond this world. When you tell him of something higher, he says, "That is not a comfortable religion. Give us something comfortable". That is to say that religion is nothing but what he is doing.
If he is a thief and you tell him that stealing is the highest thing we can do, he will say, "That is a comfortable religion". If he is cheating, you have to tell him that what he is doing is all right; then he will accept your teaching as a "comfortable religion". The whole trouble is that people never want to get out of their ruts - never want to get rid of the old fish-basket and smell, in order to live. If they say, "I want the truth", that simply means that they want the fish-basket.
When have you reached knowledge? When you are equipped with those four disciplines [i.e. the four qualifications for attainment discussed in Vedantic literature: discrimination between the real and the unreal, renunciation, the six treasures of virtue beginning with tranquillity, and longing for liberation]. You must give up all desire of enjoyment, either in this life or the next. All enjoyments of this life are vain. Let them come and go as they will.
What you have earned by your past actions none can take away from you. If you have deserved wealth, you can bury yourself in the forest and it will come to you. If you have deserved good food and clothing, you may go to the north pole and they will be brought to you. The polar bear will bring them. If you have not deserved them, you may conquer the world and will die of starvation. So, why do you bother about these things? And, after all, what is the use of them?
As children we all think that the world is made so very nice, and that masses of pleasures are simply waiting for our going out to them. That is every schoolboy's dream. And when he goes out into the world, the everyday world, very soon his dreams vanish. So with nations. When they see how every city is built upon ruins - every forest stands upon a city - then they become convinced of the vanity of this world.
All the power of knowledge and wealth once made has passed away - all the sciences of the ancients, lost, lost forever. Nobody knows how. That teaches us a grand lesson. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity and vexation of the spirit. If we have seen all this, then we become disgusted with this world and all it offers us. This is called Vairâgya, non-attachment, and is the first step towards knowledge.
The natural desire of man is to go towards the senses. Turning away from the senses takes him back to God. So the first lesson we have to learn is to turn away from the vanities of the world.
How long will you go on sinking and diving down and going up for five minutes, to again sink down, again come up and sink, and so on - tossed up and down? How long will you be whirled on this wheel of Karma - up and down, up and down? How many thousands of times have you been kings and rulers? How many times have you been surrounded by wealth and plunged into poverty? How many thousands of times have you been possessed of the greatest powers? But again you had to become men, rolling down on this mad rush of Karma's waters. This tremendous wheel of Karma stops neither for the widow's tears nor the orphan's cry.
How long will you go on? How long? Will you be like that old man who had spent all his life in prison and, when let out, begged to be brought back into his dark and filthy dungeon cell? This is the case with us all! We cling with all our might to this low, dark, filthy cell called this world - to this hideous, chimerical existence where we are kicked about like a football by every wind that blows.
We are slaves in the hands of nature - slaves to a bit of bread, slaves to praise, slaves to blame, slaves to wife, to husband, to child, slaves to everything. Why, I go about all over the world - beg, steal, rob, do anything - to make happy a boy who is, perhaps, hump-backed or ugly-looking. I will do every wicked thing to make him happy. Why? Because I am his father. And, at the same time, there are millions and millions of boys in this world dying of starvation - boys beautiful in body and in mind. But they are nothing to me. Let them all die. I am apt to kill them all to save this one rascal to whom I have given birth. This is what you call love. Not I. Not I. This is brutality.
There are millions of women - beautiful in body and mind, good, gentle, virtuous - dying of starvation this minute. I do not care for them at all. But that Jennie who is mine - who beats me three times a day, and scolds me the whole day - for that Jennie I am going to beg, borrow, cheat and steal so that she will have a nice gown.
Do you call that love? Not I. This is mere desire, animal desire - nothing more. Turn away from these things. Is there no end to these hideous dreams? Put a stop to them.
When the mind comes to that state of disgust with all the vanities of life, it is called turning away from nature. This is the first step. All desires must be given up - even the desire of getting heaven.
What are these heavens anyhow? Places where to sing psalms all the time. What for? To live there and have a nice healthy body with phosphorescent light or something of this kind coming out of every part, with a halo around the head, and with wings and the power to penetrate the wall?
If there be powers, they must pass away sooner or later. If there is a heaven - as there may be many heavens with various grades of enjoyment - there cannot be a body that lives forever. Death will overtake us, even there.
Every conjunction must have a disjunction. No body, finer or coarser, can be manufactured without particles of matter coming together. Whenever two particles come together, they are held by a certain attraction; and there will come a time when those particles will separate. This is the eternal law. So, wherever there is a body - either grosser or finer, either in heaven or on earth - death will overcome it.
Therefore, all desires of enjoyment in this life, or in a life to come, should be given up. People have a natural desire to enjoy; and when they do not find their selfish enjoyments in this life, they think that after death they will have a lot of enjoyment somewhere else. If these enjoyments do not take us towards knowledge in this life, in this world, how can they bring us knowledge in another life?
Which is the goal of man? Enjoyment or knowledge? Certainly not enjoyment. Man is not born to have pleasure or to suffer pain. Knowledge is the goal. Knowledge is the only pleasure we can have.
All the sense pleasures belong to the brute. And the more the pleasure in knowledge comes, these sense pleasures fall down. The more animal a man is, the more he enjoys the pleasures of the senses. No man can eat with the same gusto as a famished dog. No man was ever born who could feel the same pleasure in eating as an ordinary bull. See how their whole soul is in that eating. Why, your millionaires would give millions for that enjoyment in eating - but they cannot have it.
This universe is like a perfectly balanced ocean. You cannot raise a wave in one place without making a hollow in another one. The sum total of energy in the universe is the same throughout. You spend it in some place, you lose it in another. The brute has got it, but he spent it on his senses; and each of his senses is a hundred times stronger than that of man.
How the dog smells at a distance! How he traces a footstep! We cannot do that. So, in the savage man. His senses are less keen than the animal's, but keener than the civilized man's.
The lower classes in every country intensely enjoy everything physical. Their senses are stronger than those of the cultured. But as you go higher and higher in the scale, you see the power of thought increasing and the powers of the senses decreasing, in the same ratio.
Take a [brute], cut him [as it were] to pieces, and in five days he is all right. But if I scratch you, it is ten to one you will suffer for weeks or months. That energy of life which he displays - you have it too. But with you, it is used in making up your brain, in the manufacture of thought. So with all enjoyments and all pleasures. Either enjoy the pleasure of the senses - live like the brute and become a brute - or renounce these things and become free.
The great civilizations - what have they died of? They went for pleasure. And they went further down and down until, under the mercy of God, savages came to exterminate them, lest we would see human brutes growling about. Savages killed off those nations that became brutalized through sense enjoyment, lest Darwin's missing link would be found.
True civilization does not mean congregating in cities and living a foolish life, but going Godward, controlling the senses, and thus becoming the ruler in this house of the Self.
Think of the slavery in which we are [bound]. Every beautiful form I see, every sound of praise I hear, immediately attracts me; every word of blame I hear immediately repels me. Every fool has an influence over my mind. Every little movement in the world makes an impression upon me. Is this a life worth living?
So when you have realized the misery of this physical existence - when you have become convinced that such a life is not worth living - you have made the first step towards Jnana.
(New Discoveries, Vol. 3, pp. 543-54.)
[A bhakti-yoga class delivered in New York, Monday morning, January 20, 1896, and recorded by Mr. Josiah J. Goodwin]
We finished in our last [class the subject] about Pratikas. One idea more of the preparatory Bhakti, and then we will go on to the Parâ, the Supreme. This idea is what is called Nishthâ, devotion to one idea.
We know that all these ideas of worship are right and all good, and we have seen that the worship of God, and God alone, is Bhakti. The worship of any other being will not be Bhakti, but God can be worshipped in various forms and through various ideas. And we have seen that all these ideas are right and good, but the difficulty is here: If we just stop with this last conclusion, we find that in the end we have frittered away our energies and done nothing.
It is a great tendency among liberal people to become a jack-of-all-trades and master of none - to nibble a little here and there and, in the long run, find they have nothing. In this country it many times grows into a sort of disease - to hear various things and do nothing.
Here is the advice of one of our old Bhaktas: "Take the honey from all flowers, mix with all with respect, say yea, yea to all, but give not up your seat". This giving not up your own seat is what is called Nishtha. It is not that one should hate, or even criticize, the ideals of other people; he knows they are all right. But, at the same time, he must stick to his own ideal very strictly.
There is a story of Hanumân, who was a great worshipper of Râma. Just as the Christians worship Christ as the incarnation of God, so the Hindus worship many incarnations of God. According to them, God came nine times in India and will come once more. When he came as Rama, this Hanuman was his great worshipper. Hanuman lived very long and was a great Yogi.
During his lifetime, Rama came again as Krishna; and Hanuman, being a great Yogi, knew that the same God had come back again as Krishna. He came and served Krishna, but he said to him, "I want to see that Rama form of yours". Krishna said, "Is not this form enough? I am this Krishna; I am this Rama. All these forms are mine". Hanuman said, "I know that, but the Rama form is for me. The Lord of Jânaki (Janaki is a name of Sitâ.) and the Lord of Shri (Shri is a name of Laksmi.) are the same. They are both the incarnations of the Supreme Self. Yet the lotus-eyed Rama is my all in all". This is Nishtha - knowing that all these different forms of worship are right, yet sticking to one and rejecting the others. We must not worship the others at all; we must not hate or criticize them, but respect them.
The elephant has two teeth coming out from his mouth. These are only for show; he cannot eat with them. But the teeth that are inside are those with which he chews his food. So mix with all, say yea, yea to all, but join none. Stick to your own ideal of worship. When you worship, worship that ideal of God which is your own Ishta, your own Chosen Ideal. If you do not, you will have nothing. Nothing will grow.
When a plant is growing, it is necessary that it should be hedged round lest any animal should eat it up. But when it has become strong and a huge gigantic tree, do not care for any hedges - it is perfect in itself. So when just the seed of spirituality is growing, to fritter away the energies on all sorts of religious ideas - a little of this and a little of that: a little of Christianity, a little of Buddhism, and, in reality, of nothing - destroys the soul.
This [acceptance] has its good side; and in the end we will come to it. Only do not put the cart before the horse. In the first place, we are bound to become sectarians. But this should be the ideal of sectarianism - not to avoid anyone. Each of us must have a sect, and that sect is our own Ishta - our own chosen way. However, that should not make us want to kill other people - only to hold onto our own way. It is sacred and it should not be told to our own brothers, because my choice is sacred, and his [also] is sacred. So keep that choice as your own. That should be the [attitude of] worship of everyone. When you pray to your own Ideal, your own Ishta, that is the only God you shall have. God exists in various phases, no doubt, but for the time being, your own Ishta is the only phase for you.
Then, after a long course of training in this Ishta - when this plant of spirituality has grown and the soul has become strong and you begin to realize that your Ishta is everywhere - [then] naturally all these bondages will fall down. When the fruit becomes ripe, it falls of its own weight. If you pluck an unripe fruit it is bitter, sour. So we will have to grow in this thought.
Simply hearing lectures and all this nonsense - making the Battle of Waterloo in the brain, simply unadjusted [undigested?] ideas - is no good. Devotion to one idea - those that have this will become spiritual, will see the light. You see everyone complaining: "I try this" and "I try that", and if you cross-question them as to what they try, they will say that they have heard a few lectures in one place and another, a handful of talks in one corner and another. And for three hours, or a few days, they worshipped and thought they had done enough. That is the way of fools, not the way to perfection - not the way to attain spirituality.
Take up one idea, your Ishta, and let the whole soul be devoted to it. Practise this from day to day until you see the result, until the soul grows. And if it is sincere and good, that very idea will spread till it covers the whole universe. Let it spread by itself; it will all come from the inside out. Then you will say that your Ishta is everywhere and that He is in everything.
Of course, at the same time, we must always remember that we must recognize the Ishtas of others and respect them - the other ideas of God - or else worship will degenerate into fanaticism. There is an old story of a man who was a worshipper of Shiva. There are sects in our country who worship God as Shiva, and others who worship Him as Vishnu. This man was a great worshipper of Shiva, and to that he added a tremendous hatred for all worshippers of Vishnu and would not hear the name of Vishnu pronounced. There are a great number of worshippers of Vishnu in India, and he could not avoid hearing the name. So he bored two holes in his ears and tied two little bells onto them. Whenever a man mentioned the name of Vishnu, he moved his head and rang the bells, and that prevented his hearing the name.
But Shiva told him in a dream, "What a fool you are! I am Vishnu, and I am Shiva; they are not different-only in name. There are not two Gods". But this man said, "I don't care. I will have nothing to do with this Vishnu business".
He had a little statue of Shiva and made it very nice, built an altar for it. One day he bought some beautiful incense and went home to light some of the incense for his God. While the fumes [smoke] of his incense were rising in the air, he found that the image was divided into two: one half remained Shiva, and the other half was Vishnu. Then the man jumped up and put his finger under the nostril of Vishnu so that not a particle of the smell could get there.
Then Shiva became disgusted, and the man became [was turned into] a demon. He is [known as] the father of all fanatics, the "bell-eared" demon. He is respected by the boys of India, and they worship him. It is a very peculiar kind of worship. They make a clay image and worship him with all sorts of horrible smelling flowers. There are some flowers in the forests of India which have a most pestilential smell. They worship him with these and then take big sticks and beat the image. He [the "bell-eared" demon] is the father of all fanatics who hate all other gods except their own.
This is the only danger in this Nishthâ Bhakti - becoming this fanatical demon. The world gets full of them. It is very easy to hate. The generality of mankind gets so weak that in order to love one, they must hate another; they must take the energy out of one point in order to put it into another. A man loves one woman and then loves another; and to love the other, he has to hate the first. So with women. This characteristic is in every part of our nature, and so in our religion. The ordinary, undeveloped weak brain of mankind cannot love one without hating another. This very [characteristic] becomes fanaticism in religion. Loving their own ideal is synonymous with hating every other idea.
This should be avoided and, at the same time, the other danger should be avoided. We must not fritter away all our energies, [otherwise] religion becomes a nothing with us - just hearing lectures. These are the two dangers. The danger with the liberals is that they are too expansive and have no intensity. You see that in these days religion has become very expansive, very broad. But the ideas are so broad that there is no depth in them. Religion has become to many merely a means of doing a little charity work, just to amuse them after a hard day's labour - they get five minutes religion to amuse them. This is the danger with the liberal thought. On the other hand, the sectarians have the depth, the intensity, but that intensity is so narrow. They are very deep, but with no breadth to it. Not only that, but it draws out hatred to everyone else.
Now, if we can avoid both these dangers and become as broad as the uttermost liberals and as deep as the bluest fanatic, then we will solve the problem. Our idea is how that can be done. It is by this theory of Nishtha - knowing that all these ideals that we see are [good] and true, that all these are so many parts of the same God and, at the same time, thinking that we are not strong enough to worship Him in all these forms, and therefore must stick to one ideal and make that ideal our life. When you have succeeded in doing that, all the rest will come. Here ends the first part of Bhakti: the formal, the ceremonial and the preparatory.
You must remember that the first lesson in this Bhakti was on the disciple. Who is the disciple? What are the necessary qualifications for a disciple? You read in the scriptures: "Where the speaker is wonderful, so is the listener. When the teacher is wonderful, so is the taught. Then alone will this spirituality come".
Mankind generally thinks that everything is to be expected from the teacher. Very few people understand that they are not fit to be taught. In the disciple first this is necessary: that he must want - he must really want spirituality. We want everything but spirituality. What is meant by want? Just as we want food. Luxuries are not wants, but necessaries are wants. Religion is a necessary thing to very few; and to the vast mass of mankind it is a luxury. There are a hundred things in life without which they can live, until they come to the shop and see a new and artistic something and they want to buy it. Ninety-nine and nine-tenths per cent of mankind comes to religion in this way. It is one of the many luxuries they have in life. There is no harm in this. Let them have all they want; but they are entirely mistaken if they think they can fool God. He cannot be fooled. They will only fool themselves and sink down lower and lower until they become like brutes. Those therefore will become spiritual who want [spirituality] - who feel the necessity of religion, just as they feel the necessity of clothes, the necessity of work, the necessity of air to breathe.
A necessary thing is that without which we cannot live; and a luxury is that which is simply the gratification of a momentary desire.
The second qualification in the disciple is that he must be pure; and the other is that he must be persevering - he must work. Hearing is only one part; and the other part is doing.
The second necessity in Bhakti was the teacher. The teacher must be properly qualified. The main idea in that lecture was that the teacher must have the seed of spirituality. The teacher is not a talker, but the transmitter of spiritual force which he has received from his teacher, and he from others, and so on, in an unbroken current. He must be able to transmit that spiritual current.
When the teacher and the taught are both ready, then the first step in bhakti-yoga comes. The first part of bhakti-yoga is what is called the preparatory [stage], wherein you work through forms.
The next lecture was on the Name - how in all scriptures and in all religions Name has been exalted and how that Name does us good. The Bhakti-Yogi must always think that the Name itself is God - nothing different from God. The Name and God are one.
Next, it was taught how, for the Bhakti-Yogi, humility and reverence are necessary. The Bhakti-Yogi must hold himself as a dead man. A dead man never takes an insult, never retaliates; he is dead to everyone. The Bhakti-Yogi must reverence all good people, all saintly people, for the glory of the Lord shines always through His children.
The next lesson was on the Pratikas. In that it was taught that Bhakti is only when you worship God. Worshipping anyone else is not Bhakti. But we can worship anything we like if we think it is God. If we do not think it is God, that worship is not Bhakti. If you think it is God, it is all right.
There was a certain Yogi who used to practise meditation in a lonely part of the forest, on the banks of a river. There was a poor cowherd, a very ignorant man, who used to tend his herd in that forest. Every day he used to see this same Yogi meditating by the hour, practising austerities, living alone and studying. Somehow the cowherd got curious as to what he did. So he came to the Yogi and said, "Sir, can you teach me the way to God?" This Yogi was a very learned, great man, and he replied, "How will you understand God - you common cowherd? Blockhead, go home and tend your cows and don't bother your head with such things".
The poor fellow went away, but somehow a real want had come to him. So he could not rest, and he came again to the Yogi and said, "Sir, won't you teach me something about God?"
Again he was repulsed: "Oh, you blockhead, what can you understand of God? Go home". But the cowherd could not sleep; he could not eat. He must know something about God.
So he came again; and the Yogi, in order to quiet the man, as he was so insisting, said, "I'll teach you about God".
The man asked, "Sir, what sort of being is God? What is His form? How does He look?"
The Yogi said, "God is just like the big bull in your herd. That is just God. God has become that big bull".
The man believed him and went back to his herd. Day and night he took that bull for God and began to worship it. He brought the greenest grass for that bull, rested close to it and gave it light, sat near it and followed it. Thus days and months and years passed. His whole soul was there [in the bull].
One day he heard a voice, as it were, coming out of the bull. "The bull speaks!" [the cowherd thought.]"
"My son, my son."
"Why, the bull is speaking! No, the bull cannot speak."
Again he went away, and sat near meditating in great misery of his heart. He did not know anything. Again he heard the voice coming out of the bull: "My child, my child".
He went near. "No, the bull cannot speak." Then he went back again and sat despondent.
Again the voice came, and that time he found it out. It was from his own heart. He found that God was in him. Then he learned the wonderful truth of the Teacher of all teachers: "I am with thee always". And the poor cowherd learned the whole mystery.
Then he goes back to the Yogi, and when he is at some distance the Yogi sees him. The Yogi has been the most learned man in the country, practising austerity for years - meditating, studying. And this cowherd, an ignorant blockhead, never studied a book nor learned his letters. But he comes - his whole body, as it were, transfigured, his face changed, the light of heaven shining round his face. The Yogi got up. "What is this change? Where did you get this?""
Sir, you gave me that."
"How? I told you that in joke."
"But I took it seriously. And I got everything I wanted out of that bull, for is He not everywhere?"
So that bull was the Pratika. And that man worshipped the bull as his Pratika - as God - and he got everything out of it. So that intense love - that desire - brings out everything. Everything is in ourselves and the external world and the external worship are the forms, the suggestions that call it out. When they become strong, the Lord within awakens.
The external teacher is but the suggestion. When faith in the external teacher is strong, then the Teacher of all teachers within speaks; eternal wisdom speaks in the heart of that man. He need not go any more to any books or any men or any higher beings; he need not run after supernatural or preternatural beings for instruction. The Lord Himself becomes his instructor. He gets all he wants from himself. [There is] no more need to go to any temple or church. His own body has become the greatest temple in the world, and in that temple lives the Lord of Creation. In every country great saints have been born, wonderful lives have been [lived] - coming out of the sheer power of love.
So all these external forms of Bhakti - this repetition of the Name, worship of Pratika, this Nishtha, this Ishta - are but the preparations until that eternal power wakes up. Then alone comes spirituality - when one goes beyond these laws and bounds. Then all laws fall down, all forms vanish, temples and churches crumble into dust and die away. It is good to be born in a church, but it is the worst possible fate to die in a church. It is good to be born in a sect, and the worst possible thing to die in a sect with sectarian ideas.
What sect can hold a child of the Lord? What laws bind him? What forms shall he follow? What man shall he worship? He worships the Lord Himself. He Himself teaches him. He lives in the temple of all temples, the Soul of man.
So this is the goal towards which we are going - the supreme Bhakti - and all that leads up to this is but preparation. But it is necessary. It prepares the infinite Soul to come out of this bondage of books and sects and forms; these [ultimately] fly away and leave but the Soul of man. These are superstitions of an infinite amount of time. This "my father's religion", "my country's religion", or "my book", or my this and that, are but the superstition of ages; they vanish. Just as when one is pricked with a thorn he takes another thorn to get the first out and then throws both of them away, so this superstition is in us.
In many countries - even into the soft brains of little babies - are put the most horrible and diabolical nonsense, as sect ideas. Parents think they are doing good to the child, but they are merely murdering it to satisfy Mrs. Grundy. What selfishness! There is nothing that men out of fear of themselves or out of fear of society will not do. Men will kill their own children, mothers will starve their own families, brothers will hate brothers to satisfy forms - because Mrs. So-and-so will be pleased and satisfied.
We see that the vast mass of mankind is born in some church or temple of [some religious] form and never comes out of it. Why? Have these forms helped the growth of spirituality? If through these forms we step onto the highest platform of love, where forms vanish and all these sectarian ideas go away, how is it that the vast majority of men are always grovelling in some form or another? They are all atheists; they do not want any religion.
If a man comes to this country without any friend or without knowing anyone - supposing he is a blackguard in his own country - the first thing he will do in this country will be to join a church. Will that fellow ever have religion?
Do you mean to say that those women who go to churches to show their dresses will ever have religion or will come out of forms? They will go back and back. And when they die, they will become like animals.
Do you mean to say that those men who go to church to look at the beautiful faces of women will ever have religion? Those who have certain social religions - because society requires that they shall belong to Mr. So-and-so's church or because that was their father's church - will they ever have religion? They understand certain broad views, but they must keep a certain social position - and will keep it through eternity.
What you want, you get. The Lord fulfils all desires. If you want to keep a certain position in society you will do so; if you want the church, you will get that and not Him. If you want to play the fool all your life with all these churches and foolish organizations, you will have them and have to live in them all your lives. "Those that want the departed, go to the departed and get ghosts; but those that love Him, all come to Him." So those that love Him alone will come to Him, and those that love others will go to wherever they love.
That drill business in the temples and churches - kneeling down at a certain time, standing at ease, and all that drill nonsense, all mechanical, with the mind thinking of something else - all this has nothing to do with real religion.
There was a great prophet in India, Guru Nânak, born [some] four hundred years ago. Some of you have heard of the Sikhs - the fighting people. Guru Nanak was [the founder and also] a follower of the Sikh religion. One day he went to the Mohammedans' mosque. These Mohammedans are feared in their own country, just as in a Christian country no one dare say anything against their religion. . . . So Guru Nanak went in and there was a big mosque, and the Mohammedans were standing in prayer. They stand in lines: they kneel down, stand up, and repeat certain words at the same times, and one fellow leads. So Guru Nanak went there. And when the mullah was saying "In the name of the most merciful and kind God, Teacher of all teachers", Guru Nanak began to smile. He says, "Look at that hypocrite". The mullah got into a passion. "Why do you smile?"
"Because you are not praying, my friend. That is why I am smiling."
"Certainly not. There is no prayer in you."
The mullah was very angry, and he went and laid a complaint before a magistrate and said, "This heathen rascal dares to come to our mosque and smiles at us when we are praying. The only punishment is instant death. Kill him".
Guru Nanak was brought before the magistrate and asked why he smiled.
"Because he was not praying."
"What was he doing?" the magistrate asked.
"I will tell you what he was doing if you will bring him before me."
The magistrate ordered the mullah to be brought. And when he came, the magistrate said, "Here is the mullah. [Now] explain why you laughed when he was praying".
Guru Nanak said, "Give the mullah a piece of the Koran [to swear on]. [In the mosque] when he was saying 'Allah, Allah', he was thinking of some chicken he had left at home".
The poor mullah was confounded. He was a little more sincere than the others, and he confessed he was thinking of the chicken, and so they let the Sikh go. "And", said the magistrate [to the mullah], "don't go to the mosque again. It is better not to go at all than to commit blasphemy there and hypocrisy. Do not go when you do not feel like praying. Do not be like a hypocrite, and do not think of the chicken and say the name of the Most Merciful and Blissful God".
A certain Mohammedan was praying in a garden. They are very regular in their prayers. When the time comes, wherever they are, they just begin, fall down on the ground and get up and fall down, and so on. One of them was in a garden when the call for prayer came, so he knelt there prostrate on the ground to pray. A girl was waiting in the garden for her lover, and she saw him on the other side. And in her hurry to reach him, she did not see the man prostrate and walked over him. He was a fanatical Mohammedan - just what you call here a Presbyterian, the same breed. Both believe in barbecuing eternally. So you can just imagine the anger of this Mohammedan when his body was walked over - he wanted to kill the girl. The girl was a smart one, and she said, "Stop that nonsense. You are a fool and a hypocrite".
"What! I am a hypocrite?"
"Yes, I am going to meet my earthly lover, and I did not see you there. But you are going to meet your heavenly lover and should not know that a girl was passing over your body."