Monday, December 1, 2008

Vivekananda To Chennai Disciples

(This post is my longest yet. But, the contents will make you glide through it with total absorption. Such is Swamy Vivekananda's forceful language. Whoever of you wants a clear idea of what Hinduism represents, this is the answer. As a Tamil disciple I am proud that Swamy chose to write to Chennaiites, who begged from house to house to raise money for Swamiji's travel. And that travel was the turning point in nineteenth century India in projecting Hinduism as the greatest , the fountainhead of all later religious thoughts.)


(When the success of the Swami in America became well known in India, several meetings were held and addresses of thanks and congratulations were forwarded to him. The first reply which he wrote was that to the Address of the Hindus of Madras.)


It is most gratifying to me to find that my insignificant service to the cause of our religion has been accept able to you, not because it is as a personal appreciation of me and my work in a foreign and distant land, but as a sure sign that, though whirlwind after whirlwind of foreign invasion has passed over the devoted head of India, though centuries of neglect on our part and contempt on the part of our conquerors have visibly dimmed the glories of ancient Âryâvarta, though many a stately column on which it rested, many a beautiful arch, and many a marvellous corner have been washed away by the inundations that deluged the land for centuries — the centre is all sound, the keystone is unimpaired. The spiritual foundation upon which the marvellous monument of glory to God and charity to all beings has been reared stands unshaken, strong as ever. Your generous appreciation of Him whose message to India and to the whole world, I, the most unworthy of His servants, had the privilege to bear shows your innate spiritual instinct which saw in Him and His message the first murmurs of that tidal wave of spirituality which is destined at no distant future to break upon India in all its irresistible powers, carrying away in its omnipotent flood all that is weak and defective, and raising the Hindu race to the platform it is destined to occupy in the providence of God, crowned with more glory than it ever had even in the past, the reward of centuries of silent suffering, and fulfilling its mission amongst the races of the world — the evolution of spiritual humanity.

The people of Northern India are especially grateful to you of the South, as the great source to which most of the impulses that are working in India today can be traced. The great Bhâshyakâras, epoch-making Âchâryas, Shankara, Râmânuja, and Madhva were born in Southern India. Great Shankara to whom every Advâitavâdin in the world owes allegiance; great Ramanuja whose heavenly touch converted the downtrodden pariahs into Âlwârs; great Madhva whose leadership was recognised even by the followers of the only Northern Prophet whose power has been felt all over the length and breadth of India — Shri Krishna Chaitanya. Even at the present day it is the South that carries the palm in the glories of Varanasi — your renunciation controls the sacred shrines on the farthest peaks of the Himalayas, and what wonder that with the blood of Prophets running in your veins, with your lives blessed by such Acharyas, you are the first and foremost to appreciate and hold on to the message of Bhagavân Shri Ramakrishna.

The South had been the repository of Vedic learning, and you will understand me when I state that, in spite of the reiterated assertions of aggressive ignorance, it is the Shruti still that is the backbone of all the different divisions of the Hindu religion.

However great may be the merits of the Samhitâ and the Brâhmana portions of the Vedas to the ethnologists or the philologists, however desirable may be the results that the * or * or * in conjunction with the different Vedis (altars) and sacrifices and libations produce — it was all in the way of Bhoga; and no one ever contended that it could produce Moksha. As such, the Jnâna-Kânda, the Âranyakas, the Shrutis par excellence which teach the way to spirituality, the Moksha-Mârga, have always ruled and will always rule in India.

Lost in the mazes and divisions of the "Religion Eternal", by prepossession and prejudice unable to grasp the meaning of the only religion whose universal adaptation is the exact shadow of the (Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest (Katha, II. 20)) God it preaches, groping in the dark with a standard of spiritual truth borrowed second-hand from nations who never knew anything but rank materialism, the modern young Hindu struggles in vain to understand the religion of his forefathers, and gives up the quest altogether, and becomes a hopeless wreck of an agnostic, or else, unable to vegetate on account of the promptings of his innate religious nature, drinks carelessly of some of those different decoctions of Western materialism with an Eastern flavour, and thus fulfils the prophecy of the Shruti:

— "Fools go staggering to and fro, like blind men led by the blind." They alone escape whose spiritual nature has been touched and vivified by the life-giving touch of the "Sad-Guru". (The good teacher.)

Well has it been said by Bhagavan Bhashyakara:

— "These three are difficult to obtain in this world, and depend on the mercy of the gods — the human birth, the desire for salvation, and the company of the great-souled ones."

Either in the sharp analysis of the Vaisheshikas, resulting in the wonderful theories about the Paramânus, Dvyanus, and Trasarenus, (Atoms, Entities composed of two atoms, Entities composed of three atoms.) or the still more wonderful analysis displayed in the discussions of the Jâti, Dravya, Guna, Samavâya, (Genus, Substance, Quality, Inhesion or Inseparability.) and to the various categories of the Naiyâyikas, rising to the solemn march of the thought of the Sânkhyas, the fathers of the theories of evolution, ending with the ripe fruit, the result of all these researches, the Sutras of Vyâsa — the one background to all these different analyses and syntheses of the human mind is still the Shrutis. Even in the philosophical writings of the Buddhists or Jains, the help of Shrutis is never rejected, and at least in some of the Buddhistic schools and in the majority of the Jain writings, the authority of the Shrutis is fully admitted, excepting what they call the Himsaka Shrutis, which they hold to be interpolations of the Brahmins. In recent times, such a view has been held by the late great Swami Dayânanda Saraswati.

If one be asked to point out the system of thought towards which as a centre all the ancient and modern Indian thoughts have converged, if one wants to see the real backbone of Hinduism in all its various manifestations, the Sutras of Vyasa will unquestionably be pointed out as constituting all that.

Either one hears the Advaita-Keshari roaring in peals of thunder — the Asti, Bhâti, and Priya — (Exists (Sat), Shines (Chit), Is beloved (Ânanda) — the three indicatives of Brahman.) amidst the heart-stopping solemnities of the Himalayan forests, mixing with the solemn cadence of the river of heaven, or listens to the cooing of the Piyâ, Pitam in the beautiful bowers of the grove of Vrindâ: whether one mingles with the sedate meditations of the monasteries of Varanasi or the ecstatic dances of the followers of the Prophet of Nadia; whether one sits at the feet of the teacher of the Vishishtâdvaita system with its Vadakale, Tenkale, (The two divisions of the Ramanuja sect.) and all the other subdivisions, or listens with reverence to the Acharyas of the Mâdhva school; whether one hears the martial "Wâ Guruki Fateh" (Victory to the Guru) of the secular Sikhs or the sermons on the Grantha Sâhib of the Udâsis and Nirmalâs; whether he salutes the Sannyâsin disciples of Kabir with "Sat Sâhib" and listens with joy to the Sâkhis (Bhajans); whether he pores upon the wonderful lore of that reformer of Rajputana, Dâdu, or the works of his royal disciple, Sundaradâsa, down to the great Nishchaladâsa, the celebrated author of Vichâra sâgara, which book has more influence in India than any that has been written in any language within the last three centuries; if even one asks the Bhangi Mehtar of Northern India to sit down and give an account of the teachings of his Lâlguru — one will find that all these various teachers and schools have as their basis that system whose authority is the Shruti, Gitâ its divine commentary, the Shâriraka-Sutras its organised system, and all the different sects in India, from the Paramahamsa Parivrâjakâchâryas to the poor despised Mehtar disciples of Lâlguru, are different manifestations.

The three Prasthânas, ("Courses", viz, the Upanishad (Shruti), the Gita, and the Shariraka-Sutras.) then, in their different explanations as Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita, or Advaita, with a few minor recensions, form the "authorities" of the Hindu religion. The Purânas, the modern representations of the ancient Nârâsamsi (anecdote portion of the Vedas), supply the mythology, and the Tantras, the modern representations of the Brâhmanas (ritual and explanatory portion of the Vedas), supply the ritual. Thus the three Prasthanas, as authorities, are common to all the sects; but as to the Puranas and Tantras, each sect has its own.

The Tantras, as we have said, represent the Vedic rituals in a modified form; and before any one jumps into the most absurd conclusions about them, I will advise him to read the Tantras in conjunction with the Brahmanas, especially the Adhvaryu portion. And most of the Mantras, used in the Tantras, will be found taken verbatim from their Brahmanas. As to their influence, apart from the Shrauta and Smârta rituals, all the forms of the rituals in vogue from the Himalayas to the Comorin have been taken from the Tantras, and they direct the worship of the Shâkta, or Shaiva, or Vaishnava, and all the others alike.

Of course, I do not pretend that all the Hindus are thoroughly acquainted with these sources of their religion. Many, especially in lower Bengal, have not heard of the names of these sects and these great systems; but consciously or unconsciously, it is the plan laid down in the three Prasthanas that they are all working out.

Wherever, on the other hand, the Hindi language is spoken, even the lowest classes have more knowledge of the Vedantic religion than many of the highest in lower Bengal.

And why so?

Transported from the soil of Mithilâ to Navadvipa, nurtured and developed by the fostering genius of Shiromani, Gadâdhara, Jagadisha, and a host of other great names, an analysis of the laws of reasoning, in some points superior to every other system in the whole world, expressed in a wonderful and precise mosaic of language, stands the Nyâya of Bengal, respected and studied throughout the length and breadth of Hindusthân. But, alas, the Vedic study was sadly neglected, and until within the last few years, scarcely anyone could be found in Bengal to teach the Mahâbhâshya of Patanjali. Once only a mighty genius rose above the never-ending Avachchhinnas and Avachchhedakas (In Nyaya, 'Determined', and 'determining attribute'.) — Bhagavân Shri Krishna Chaitanya. For once the religious lethargy of Bengal was shaken, and for a time it entered into a communion with the religious life of other parts of India.

It is curious to note that though Shri Chaitanya obtained his Sannyâsa from a Bhârati, and as such was a Bharati himself, it was through Mâdhavendra Puri that his religious genius was first awakened.

The Puris seem to have a peculiar mission in rousing the spirituality of Bengal. Bhagavan Shri Ramakrishna got his Sannyâsâshrama from Totâ Puri.

The commentary that Shri Chaitanya wrote on the Vyâsa-Sutras has either been lost or not found yet. His disciples joined themselves to the Madhvas of the South, and gradually the mantles of such giants as Rupa and Sanâtana and Jiva Goswâmi fell on the shoulders of Bâbâjis, and the great movement of Shri Chaitanya was decaying fast, till of late years there is a sign of revival. Hope that it will regain its lost splendour.

The influence of Shri Chaitanya is all over India. Wherever the Bhakti-Mârga is known, there he is appreciated, studied, and worshipped. I have every reason to believe that the whole of the Vallabhâchârya recension is only a branch of the sect founded by Shri Chaitanya. But most of his so-called disciples in Bengal do not know how his power is still working all over India; and how can they? The disciples have become Gadiâns (Heads of monasteries), while he was preaching barefooted from door to door in India, begging Âchandâlas (all down to the lowest) to love God.

The curious and unorthodox custom of hereditary Gurus that prevails in Bengal, and for the most part in Bengal alone, is another cause of its being cut off from the religious life of the rest of India.

The greatest cause of all is that the life of Bengal never received an influx from that of the great brotherhood of Sannyasins who are the representatives and repositories of the highest Indian spiritual culture even at the present day.

Tyâga (renunciation) is never liked by the higher classes of Bengal. Their tendency is for Bhoga (enjoyment). How can they get a deep insight into spiritual things? — "By renunciation alone immortality was reached." How can it be otherwise?

On the other hand, throughout the Hindi-speaking world, a succession of brilliant Tyâgi teachers of far-reaching influence has brought the doctrines of the Vedanta to every door. Especially the impetus given to Tyaga during the reign of Ranjit Singh of the Punjab has made the highest teachings of the Vedantic philosophy available for the very lowest of the low. With true pride, the Punjabi peasant girl says that even her spinning wheel repeats: "Soham", "Soham". And I have seen Mehtar Tyagis in the forest of Hrishikesh wearing the garb of the Sannyasin, studying the Vedanta. And many a proud high-class man would be glad to sit at their feet and learn. And why not? — "Supreme knowledge (can be learnt) even from the man of low birth."

Thus it is that the North-West and the Punjab have a religious education which is far ahead of that of Bengal, Bombay, or Madras. The ever-travelling Tyagis of the various orders, Dashanâmis or Vairâgis or Panthis bring religion to everybody's door, and the cost is only a bit of bread. And how noble and disinterested most of them are! There is one Sannyasin belonging to the Kachu Panthis or independents (who do not identify themselves with any sect), who has been instrumental in the establishing of hundreds of schools and charitable asylums all over Rajputana. He has opened hospitals in forests, and thrown iron bridges over the gorges in the Himalayas, and this man never touches a coin with his hands, has no earthly possession except a blanket, which has given him the nickname of the "Blanket Swami", and begs his bread from door to door. I have never known him taking a whole dinner from one house, lest it should be a tax on the householder. And he is only one amongst many. Do you think that so long as these Gods on earth live in India and protect the "Religion Eternal" with the impenetrable rampart of such godly characters, the old religion will die?

In this country, (United States of America) the clergymen sometimes receive as high salaries as rupees thirty thousand, forty thousand, fifty thousand, even ninety thousand a year, for preaching two hours on Sunday only, and that only six months in a year. Look at the millions upon millions they spend for the support of their religion, and Young Bengal has been taught that these Godlike, absolutely unselfish men like Kambli-Swami are idle vagabonds. — "Those who are devoted to My worshippers are regarded as the best of devotees."

Take even an extreme case, that of an extremely ignorant Vairagi. Even he, when he goes into a village tries his best to impart to the villagers whatever he knows, from Tulasidâsa, or Chaitanya-Charitâmrita or the Âlwârs in Southern India. Is that not doing some good? And all this for only a bit of bread and a rag of cloth. Before unmercifully criticising them, think how much you do, my brother, for your poor fellow-countrymen, at whose expense you have got your education, and by grinding whose face you maintain your position and pay your teachers for teaching you that the Babajis are only vagabonds.

A few of your fellow-countrymen in Bengal have criticised what they call a new development of Hinduism. And well they may. For Hinduism is only just now penetrating into Bengal, where so long the whole idea of religion was a bundle of Deshâchâras (local customs) as to eating and drinking and marriage.

This short paper has not space for the discussion of such a big subject as to whether the view of Hinduism, which the disciples of Ramakrishna have been preaching all over India, was according to the "Sad-Shâstras" or not. But I will give a few hints to our critics, which may help them in understanding our position better.

In the first place, I never contended that a correct idea of Hinduism can be gathered from the writings of Kâshidâsa or Krittivâsa, though their words are "Amrita Samâna" (like nectar), and those that hear them are "Punyavâns" (virtuous). But we must go to Vedic and Dârshanika authorities, and to the great Acharyas and their disciples all over India.

If, brethren, you begin with the Sutras of Gautama, and read his theories about the Âptas (inspired) in the light of the commentaries of Vâtsyâyana, and go up to the Mimâmsakas with Shabara and other commentators, and find out what they say about the (supersensuous realisation), and who are Aptas, and whether every being can become an Apta or not, and that the proof of the Vedas is in their being the words of such Aptas if you have time to look into the introduction of Mahidhara to the Yajur-Veda, you will find a still more lucid discussion as to the Vedas being laws of the inner life of man, and as such they are eternal.

As to the eternity of creation — this doctrine is the corner-stone not only of the Hindu religion, but of the Buddhists and Jains also.

Now all the sects in India can be grouped roughly as following the Jnâna-Mârga or the Bhakti-Mârga. If you will kindly look into the introduction to the Shâriraka-Bhâshya of Shri Shankarâchârya, you will find there the Nirapekshatâ (transcendence) of Jnana is thoroughly discussed, and the conclusion is that realisation of Brahman or the attainment of Moksha do not depend upon ceremonial, creed, caste, colour, or doctrine. It will come to any being who has the four Sâdhanâs, which are the most perfect moral culture.

As to the Bhaktas, even Bengali critics know very well that some of their authorities even declared that caste or nationality or sex, or, as to that, even the human birth, was never necessary to Moksha. Bhakti is the one and only thing necessary.

Both Jnana and Bhakti are everywhere preached to be unconditioned, and as such there is not one authority who lays down the conditions of caste or creed or nationality in attaining Moksha. See the discussion on the Sutra of Vyâsa — * by Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva.

Go through all the Upanishads, and even in the Samhitas, nowhere you will find the limited ideas of Moksha which every other religion has. As to toleration, it is everywhere, even in the Samhita of the Adhvaryu Veda, in the third or fourth verse of the fortieth chapter, if my memory does not fail; it begins with *. This is running through everywhere. Was anybody persecuted in India for choosing his Ishta Devatâ, or becoming an atheist or agnostic even, so long as he obeyed the social regulations? Society may punish anybody by its disapprobation for breaking any of its regulations, but no man, the lowest Patita (fallen), is ever shut out from Moksha. You must not mix up the two together. As to that, in Malabar a Chandâla is not allowed to pass through the same street as a high-caste man, but let him become a Mohammedan or Christian, he will be immediately allowed to go anywhere; and this rule has prevailed in the dominion of a Hindu sovereign for centuries. It may be queer, but it shows the idea of toleration for other religions even in the most untoward circumstances.

The one idea the Hindu religions differ in from every other in the world, the one idea to express which the sages almost exhaust the vocabulary of the Sanskrit language, is that man must realise God even in this life. And the Advaita texts very logically add, "To know God is to become God."

And here comes as a necessary consequence the broadest and most glorious idea of inspiration — not only as asserted and declared by the Rishis of the Vedas, not only by Vidura and Dharmavyâdha and a number of others, but even the other day Nischaladâsa, a Tyagi of the Dâdu panthi sect, boldly declared in his Vichâra-Sâgara: "He who has known Brahman has become Brahman. His words are Vedas, and they will dispel the darkness of ignorance, either expressed in Sanskrit or any popular dialect."

Thus to realise God, the Brahman, as the Dvaitins say, or to become Brahman, as the Advaitins say — is the aim and end of the whole teaching of the Vedas; and every other teaching, therein contained, represents a stage in the course of our progress thereto. And the great glory of Bhagavan Bhashyakara Shankaracharya is that it was his genius that gave the most wonderful expression to the ideas of Vyasa.

As absolute, Brahman alone is true; as relative truth, all the different sects, standing upon different manifestations of the same Brahman, either in India or elsewhere, are true. Only some are higher than others. Suppose a man starts straight towards the sun. At every step of his journey he will see newer and newer visions of the sun — the size, the view, and light will every moment be new, until he reaches the real sun. He saw the sun at first like a big ball, and then it began to increase in size. The sun was never small like the ball he saw; nor was it ever like all the succession of suns he saw in his journey. Still is it not true that our traveller always saw the sun, and nothing but the sun? Similarly, all these various sects are true — some nearer, some farther off from the real sun which is our — "One without a second".

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

Work hundreds of lives out, search every corner of your mind for ages — and still you will not find one noble religious idea that is not already imbedded in that infinite mine of spirituality.

As to the so-called Hindu idolatry — first go and learn the forms they are going through, and where it is that the worshippers are really worshipping, whether in the temple, in the image, or in the temple of their own bodies. First know for certain what they are doing — which more than ninety per cent of the revilers are thoroughly ignorant of — and then it will explain itself in the light of the Vedantic philosophy.

Still these Karmas are not compulsory. On the other hand, open your Manu and see where it orders every old man to embrace the fourth Ashrama, and whether he embraces it or not, he must give up all Karma. It is reiterated everywhere that all these Karmas — "finally end in Jnana".

As to the matter of that, a Hindu peasant has more religious education than many a gentleman in other countries. A friend criticised the use of European terms of philosophy and religion in my addresses. I would have been very glad to use Sanskrit terms; it would have been much more easy, as being the only perfect vehicle of religious thought. But the friend forgot that I was addressing an audience of Western people; and although a certain Indian missionary declared that the Hindus had forgotten the meaning of their Sanskrit books, and that it was the missionaries who unearthed the meaning, I could not find one in that large concourse of missionaries who could understand a line in Sanskrit — and yet some of them read learned papers criticising the Vedas, and all the sacred sources of the Hindu religion!

It is not true that I am against any religion. It is equally untrue that I am hostile to the Christian missionaries in India. But I protest against certain of their methods of raising money in America. What is meant by those pictures in the school-books for children where the Hindu mother is painted as throwing her children to the crocodiles in the Ganga? The mother is black, but the baby is painted white, to arouse more sympathy, and get more money. What is meant by those pictures which paint a man burning his wife at a stake with his own hands, so that she may become a ghost and torment the husband's enemy? What is meant by the pictures of huge cars crushing over human beings? The other day a book was published for children in this country, where one of these gentlemen tells a narrative of his visit to Calcutta. He says he saw a car running over fanatics in the streets of Calcutta. I have heard one of these gentlemen preach in Memphis that in every village of India there is a pond full of the bones of little babies.

What have the Hindus done to these disciples of Christ that every Christian child is taught to call the Hindus "vile", and "wretches", and the most horrible devils on earth? Part of the Sunday School education for children here consists in teaching them to hate everybody who is not a Christian, and the Hindus especially, so that, from their very childhood they may subscribe their pennies to the missions. If not for truth's sake, for the sake of the morality of their own children, the Christian missionaries ought not to allow such things going on. Is it any wonder that such children grow up to be ruthless and cruel men and women? The greater a preacher can paint the tortures of eternal hell — the fire that is burning there, the brimstone - the higher is his position among the orthodox. A servant-girl in the employ of a friend of mine had to be sent to a lunatic asylum as a result of her attending what they call here the revivalist-preaching. The dose of hell-fire and brimstone was too much for her. Look again at the books published in Madras against the Hindu religion. If a Hindu writes one such line against the Christian religion, the missionaries will cry fire and vengeance.

My countrymen, I have been more than a year in this country. I have seen almost every corner of the society, and, after comparing notes, let me tell you that neither are we devils, as the missionaries tell the world we are, nor are they angels, as they claim to be. The less the missionaries talk of immorality, infanticide, and the evils of the Hindu marriage system, the better for them. There may be actual pictures of some countries before which all the imaginary missionary pictures of the Hindu society will fade away into light. But my mission in life is not to be a paid reviler. I will be the last man to claim perfection for the Hindu society. No man is more conscious of the defects that are therein, or the evils that have grown up under centuries of misfortunes. If, foreign friends, you come with genuine sympathy to help and not to destroy, Godspeed to you. But if by abuses, incessantly hurled against the head of a prostrate race in season and out of season, you mean only the triumphant assertion of the moral superiority of your own nation, let me tell you plainly, if such a comparison be instituted with any amount of justice, the Hindu will be found head and shoulders above all other nations in the world as a moral race.

In India religion was never shackled. No man was ever challenged in the selection of his Ishta Devatâ, or his sect, or his preceptor, and religion grew, as it grew nowhere else. On the other hand, a fixed point was necessary to allow this infinite variation to religion, and society was chosen as that point in India. As a result, society became rigid and almost immovable. For liberty is the only condition of growth.

On the other hand, in the West, the field of variation was society, and the constant point was religion. Conformity was the watchword, and even now is the watchword of European religion, and each new departure had to gain the least advantage only by wading through a river of blood. The result is a splendid social organisation, with a religion that never rose beyond the grossest materialistic conceptions.

Today the West is awakening to its wants; and the "true self of man and spirit" is the watchword of the advanced school of Western theologians. The student of Sanskrit philosophy knows where the wind is blowing from, but it matters not whence the power comes so longs as it brings new life.

In India, new circumstances at the same time are persistently demanding a new adjustment of social organisations. For the last three-quarters of a century, India has been bubbling over with reform societies and reformers. But, alas, every one of them has proved a failure. They did not know the secret. They had not learnt the great lesson to be learnt. In their haste, they laid all the evils in our society at the door of religion; and like the man in the story, wanting to kill the mosquito that sat on a friend's forehead, they were trying to deal such heavy blows as would have killed man and mosquito together. But in this case, fortunately, they only dashed themselves against immovable rocks and were crushed out of existence in the shock of recoil. Glory unto those noble and unselfish souls who have struggled and failed in their misdirected attempts. Those galvanic shocks of reformatory zeal were necessary to rouse the sleeping leviathan. But they were entirely destructive, and not constructive, and as such they were mortal, and therefore died.

Let us bless them and profit by their experience. They had not learnt the lesson that all is a growth from inside out, that all evolution is only a manifestation of a preceding involution. They did not know that the seed can only assimilate the surrounding elements, but grows a tree in its own nature. Until all the Hindu race becomes extinct, and a new race takes possession of the land, such a thing can never be — try East or West, India can never be Europe until she dies.

And will she die — this old Mother of all that is noble or moral or spiritual, the land which the sages trod, the land in which Godlike men still live and breathe? I will borrow the lantern of the Athenian sage and follow you, my brother, through the cities and villages, plains and forests, of this broad world — show me such men in other lands if you can. Truly have they said, the tree is known by its fruits. Go under every mango tree in India; pick up bushels of the worm-eaten, unripe, fallen ones from the ground, and write hundreds of the most learned volumes on each one of them — still you have not described a single mango. Pluck a luscious, full-grown, juicy one from the tree, and now you have known all that the mango is.

Similarly, these Man-Gods show what the Hindu religion is. They show the character, the power, and the possibilities of that racial tree which counts culture by centuries, and has borne the buffets of a thousand years of hurricane, and still stands with the unimpaired vigour of eternal youth.

Shall India die? Then from the world all spirituality will be extinct, all moral perfection will be extinct, all sweet-souled sympathy for religion will be extinct, all ideality will be extinct; and in its place will reign the duality of lust and luxury as the male and female deities, with money as its priest, fraud, force, and competition its ceremonies, and the human soul its sacrifice. Such a thing can never be. The power of suffering is infinitely greater than the power of doing; the power of love is infinitely of greater potency than the power of hatred. Those that think that the present revival of Hinduism is only a manifestation of patriotic impulse are deluded.

First, let us study the quaint phenomenon.

Is it not curious that, whilst under the terrific onset of modern scientific research, all the old forts of Western dogmatic religions are crumbling into dust; whilst the sledge-hammer blows of modern science are pulverising the porcelain mass of systems whose foundation is either in faith or in belief or in the majority of votes of church synods; whilst Western theology is at its wit's end to accommodate itself to the ever-rising tide of aggressive modern thought; whilst in all other sacred books the texts have been stretched to their utmost tension under the ever-increasing pressure of modern thought, and the majority of them are broken and have been stored away in lumber rooms; whilst the vast majority of thoughtful Western humanity have broken asunder all their ties with the church and are drifting about in a sea of unrest, the religions which have drunk the water of life at that fountain of light, the Vedas — Hinduism and Buddhism — alone are reviving?

The restless Western atheist or agnostic finds in the Gitâ or in the Dhammapada the only place where his soul can anchor.

The tables have been turned, and the Hindu, who saw through tears of despair his ancient homestead covered with incendiary fire, ignited by unfriendly hands, now sees, when the searchlight of modern thought has dispersed the smoke, that his home is the one that is standing in all its strength, and all the rest have either vanished or are building their houses anew after the Hindu plan. He has wiped away his tears, and has found that the axe that tried to cut down to the roots the (Gita, XV. 1) has proved the merciful knife of the surgeon.

He has found that he has neither to torture texts nor commit any other form of intellectual dishonesty to save his religion. Nay, he may call all that is weak in his scriptures, weak, because they were meant to be so by the ancient sages, to help the weak, under the theory of *. Thanks to the ancient sages who have discovered such an all-pervading, ever-expanding system of religion that can accommodate all that has been discovered in the realm of matter, and all that is to be known; he has begun to appreciate them anew, and discover anew, that those discoveries which have proved so disastrous to every limited little scheme of religion are but rediscoveries, in the plane of intellect and sense-consciousness, of truths which his ancestors discovered ages ago in the higher plane of intuition and superconsciousness.

He has not, therefore, to give up anything, nor go about seeking for anything anywhere, but it will be enough for him if he can utilise only a little from the infinite store he has inherited and apply it to his needs. And that he has begun to do and will do more and more. Is this not the real cause of this revival?

Young men of Bengal, to you I especially appeal. Brethren, we know to our shame that most of the real evils for which the foreign races abuse the Hindu nation are only owing to us. We have been the cause of bringing many undeserved calumnies on the head of the other races in India. But glory unto God, we have been fully awakened to it, and with His blessings, we will not only cleanse ourselves, but help the whole of India to attain the ideals preached in the religion eternal.

Let us wipe off first that mark which nature always puts on the forehead of a slave — the stain of jealousy. Be jealous of none. Be ready to lend a hand to every worker of good. Send a good thought for every being in the three worlds.

Let us take our stand on the one central truth in our religion — the common heritage of the Hindus, the Buddhists, and Jains alike — the spirit of man, the Atman of man, the immortal, birthless, all-pervading, eternal soul of man whose glories the Vedas cannot themselves express, before whose majesty the universe with its galaxy upon galaxy of suns and stars and nebulae is as a drop. Every man or woman, nay, from the highest Devas to the worm that crawls under our feet, is such a spirit evoluted or involuted. The difference is not in kind, but in degree.

This infinite power of the spirit, brought to bear upon matter evolves material development, made to act upon thought evolves intellectuality, and made to act upon itself makes of man a God.

First, let us be Gods, and then help others to be Gods. "Be and make." Let this be our motto. Say not man is a sinner. Tell him that he is a God. Even if there were a devil, it would be our duty to remember God always, and not the devil.

If the room is dark, the constant feeling and repeating of darkness will not take it away, but bring in the light. Let us know that all that is negative, all that is destructive, all that is mere criticism, is bound to pass away; it is the positive, the affirmative, the constructive that is immortal, that will remain for ever. Let us say, "We are" and "God is" and "We are God", "Shivoham, Shivoham", and march on. Not matter but spirit. All that has name and form is subject to all that has none. This is the eternal truth the Shrutis preach. Bring in the light; the darkness will vanish of itself. Let the lion of Vedanta roar; the foxes will fly to their holes. Throw the ideas broadcast, and let the result take care of itself. Let us put the chemicals together; the crystallization will take its own course. Bring forth the power of the spirit, and pour it over the length and breadth of India; and all that is necessary will come by itself.

Manifest the divinity within you, and everything will be harmoniously arranged around it. Remember the illustration of Indra and Virochana in the Vedas; both were taught their divinity. But the Asura, Virochana, took his body for his God. Indra, being a Deva, understood that the Atman was meant. You are the children of India. You are the descendants of the Devas. Matter can never be your God; body can never be your God.

India will be raised, not with the power of the flesh, but with the power of the spirit; not with the flag of destruction, but with the flag of peace and love, the garb of the Sannyâsin; not by the power of wealth, but by the power of the begging bowl. Say not that you are weak. The spirit is omnipotent. Look at that handful of young men called into existence by the divine touch of Ramakrishna's feet. They have preached the message from Assam to Sindh, from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. They have crossed the Himalayas at a height of twenty thousand feet, over snow and ice on foot, and penetrated into the mysteries of Tibet. They have begged their bread, covered themselves with rags; they have been persecuted, followed by the police, kept in prison, and at last set free when the Government was convinced of their innocence.

They are now twenty. Make them two thousand tomorrow. Young men of Bengal, your country requires it. The world requires it. Call up the divinity within you, which will enable you to bear hunger and thirst, heat and cold. Sitting in luxurious homes, surrounded with all the comforts of life, and doling out a little amateur religion may be good for other lands, but India has a truer instinct. It intuitively detects the mask. You must give up. Be great. No great work can be done without sacrifice. The Purusha Himself sacrificed Himself to create this world. Lay down your comforts, your pleasures, your names, fame or position, nay even your lives, and make a bridge of human chains over which millions will cross this ocean of life. Bring all the forces of good together. Do not care under what banner you march. Do not care what be your colour — green, blue, or red — but mix up all the colours and produce that intense glow of white, the colour of love. Ours is to work. The results will take care of themselves. If any social institution stands in your way of becoming God, it will give way before the power of Spirit. I do not see into the future; nor do I care to see. But one vision I see dear as life before me: that the ancient Mother has awakened once more, sitting on Her throne rejuvenated, more glorious than ever. Proclaim Her to all the world with the voice of peace and benediction.

Yours ever in love and labour,



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Philosophy and Science

Philosophy and Science

"Is this concept scientific ?"

I have been seeing and hearing this above question ever since I started attending school. This validating has reached such a frenzy that even religious concepts are no exception. In fact, in today’s India, religion is the first thing to be questioned.

We note that it is philosophy that is questioned since it is what makes up a religion. Is this process of validation correct ? Is philosophy below science or above it ? Let us see here.


What is science ? Science is the description of naturally occurring phenomena and of comparing the same with universal laws (like law of gravity, law of motion, etc)


Philosophy is the understanding of life, the relationship between man and the creation, finding the answers to some eternal questions like, “why am I born?” , “why am I made this way ?” “why are people not equally born ?” “ why is there so much pain in this world ?” etc and so on.


In the eighteenth century, there arose a movement in Europe, that asked for scientific proof for everything proposed including science. The Industrial Revolution had started and people thought that they had to be scientific in whatever they did. For example, the biblical theory of creation in 4004 BC was put to severe questioning and discarded. This is on the realm of mythology. But philosophy also was put to the same test.

The most suffered concept was of God Himself. Science was throwing postulates after another in the form of Big Bang theory, nebula theory and so on and was denying the concept of a creator God. Added to this was the theory of evolution which said that every organism had the capacity to evolve and suggested the possibility of evolution from a single celled organism.

Science or Philosophy ?

The plight of the common man was understandable. He was driven to despair in knowing that the religion he dearly loved is no longer scientific. He pondered over what may be truth. I was also one of such people. My convictions steadied once I saw through the history of science.

What was consistent in the history is that there have been a spate of theories one criticizing another and superseding it. The atomic concept of Dalton is no longer valid now. Newton’s laws of motion are no longer universal since Einstein proved the theory of relativity and showed that a moving clock indeed runs slower.

What do all the above indicate ? It is, that science is still on its way to finding the secrets of creation and CANNOT be in a position to decide whether a religious concept is correct or not. In other words, science itself is in evolution towards perfection.

In the 18 th century Europe, Micael Faraday loathed the term ‘scientist’ and wanted to be called as ‘natural philosopher’. Why ? The answer is, till that time, science was considered part of philosophy. It was only after that period that the scientist started to look down upon philosophy.

The greatest drawback in scientific enquiry is that it is an utter flop in matters regarding purpose of life on earth ,the reasons for creation, and the intelligent design of life on this universe. These are BIG questions of life and till date science has never even tried to answer them.

And the tragedy was that the Christian led primitive theories were simply not able to stand the scrutiny of scientific enquiry.

Christian Philosophy and science:

Christianity, with its God in heaven theory, cut a sorry figure. Swamy Vivekananda asked, if God is in Heaven , where is it ? If it is somewhere in this Universe , then you must be suggesting that the heaven is occupying space.

Whatever occupies space is matter. Matter is subject to change. It means birth and death. So the Heaven and God must be subject to birth and death. They become limited, which is absurd.

Their satan theory was far worse. The satan meant that there was another force (and in turn energy) independent of God, thus making God limited. Anything limited is not absolute and hence God , according to the semitic theories, becomes limited.

Einstein proved that the sum total of all energies in this universe at any point of time is the same. The semitic religions never could explain what happens when a man dies. They propagate the concept that this man himself is the spirit. When the creation is one man short, what happens to this universal energy balance ? Does this energy go to God ? And their God in Heaven must be so heavy with all the souls’ energy since the time of creation !

Hindu Philosophy:

On the other hand Hinduistic philosophy answered all questions effectively. Sankara’s advaita shines like a brilliant star among the religious postulates of the world. Sankara said ‘there are no two’. It means, creation and creator are not different. The name of ‘sachhidananda’ (sat-chit-ananda) meaning existence- conciousness- bliss for God is so apt. It means there is existence for none other than this trio of existence – consciousness- bliss.

There is a Vedic Hymn which reads


Purnamada: purnamidam purnAt purnamudachyate |

Purnasya purnamAdAya, purnameva avasishyate ||

(Om. That is whole. This is whole. From the whole (this) whole emerges. Even after (this) whole emerges from (that) whole, the whole alone remains.)

There is oneness only. No two. Such is the depth and subtlety of Hindu Philosophy.

Also the theory of reincarnation has fantastically explained why there will be energy balance even after death.

Science or Philosophy- which is superior ?

The God theory has one extraordinary condition. Many thinkers attained a stage from where they claim they have unravelled the secrets about themselves, God and creation in general. But without exception they all declared that that experience is beyond the human faculties of senses, mind and intellect !

But people still harp on science being the ultimate judge even in the realm of spiritual philosophy. Swamy Vivenakanda declared thus

“ When that energy from which al the energies of the universe emanate, is found, then all study in Physics will come to a close”

“When that substance is known, from which every other substance is made, Chemistry attains its completion”

“When the source of all thought is found out, psychology will see its perfection”

“When that knowledge is known, knowing which everything is known, the quest of a Gnani is fulfilled”

(the last two are mine)

That endpoint is what Hindu Philosophy calls the “Godhead” or “Realisation”. Science , with its limited tools of inquiry, can scarcely dream of such things.

So what do we conclude ? That Science is Bigger than Philosophy ? It is just the reverse. Science is just a subset of Philosophy. This gives it a due place. That is also the great Indian tradition.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Religion and Spirituality

Religion and Spirituality

Of late, one thing I see quite often see making rounds in philosophical discussions is, the mix up between the words 'spiritual' and 'religious'. Do they denote the same ? Let us analyze here. What is Spirituality ? This will be discussed in the Indian context as it was here that the first seeds of spirituality was sowed at the dawn of creation. Spirituality can be explained as a person's journey into himself in pursuit of the secrets about his own self. This has resulted in the famous discovery by the Hindu Rishis of the 'Atman' (or the Self) many many millennia ago.

They saw, through a series of subtle processes called as yogic methods, that the Self was the dweller in the sheath of body with its paraphernalia of senses, mind,and intellect. The process of inner search was called saadhnaa and the end point was called as realization.
And What is Religion ? As the seeker refined and refined his search towards this realization, he saw that his own experiment can be replicated in others too. And the Rishi started teaching this to others. For this many lifestyle changes were necessary.

Also, the student needed to be put through a different routine of growth than he previously used to. Over a period of time, many such Rishis emerged in India . They all emphasized a lifestyle suitable to self realization. These set of guidelines were later famously called as religion. Religion is the practical expression of spirituality in life.

Religion and Spirituality- Is there a conflict ?

As we saw, spirituality is the terrain on which religion flourishes. The stronger the spiritual belief the stronger is the religion. The more refined the spirituality, the more refined the religion. The universal the spirituality, the universal the religion.

Where did the misunderstanding arise ?

Since time immemorial, there was only one spiritual theory and only one religion, that is of Sanatana Dharma or Arya Dharma or Vedic Dharma. They had its roots in Bharat that is India and spread its roots across the globe. Sanatana Dharma, which came to be called as Hinduism later, gave its valuable thoughts to Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhism later gave its ideals to Judaism and Christianity. Islam evolved out of Christianity and Judaism. So, there emerged many spiritual theories. The problem with emerging theories was that they confused religion with spirituality. There was no clear marking. I would even say that religion predated spirituality in the case of Christianity and Islam. They adjusted spirituality to adjust religious practices. For example, Christianity was born as a refined version of Judaism. But Judaistic religion predated them and as a result the hold of religion on matters of spirituality was great. In Al Qoran, one will see only a great deal of commands rather than descriptions of the Self. Notice that a way to a place is spirituality and religion is only a map. The rulers of those times in Israel and Europe found that spreading religion was more profitable than infusing spirituality. Thus was born the Church culture. In other words it meant every person had to be a churchist before he is christist. So religion took a front seat.

Not even that, religion was so inseparably mixed with spirituality that the Semitic religions became a mixture of these two. This can be told like this. If one is spiritual, he automatically HAS TO BE religious and vice versa. There was no escape. And the way to salvation was wholesale.
Sentences like "the Church is my body" as being said by Jesus were added to the Bible.
The Indian context:

The scene in Bharat was and is totally different. The way to realization, called yoga, saw each human being as unique with his/her own ideosyncracies . Thus Hindu Rishis had come to a bold, divine, unprecedented conclusion that " The path to Realization is Individual". This is the single, most brilliant , and mind boggling aspect of Hinduism.

As each individual has the freedom to explore his inner self, the aspect of religion became optional or irrelevant.
That is why you see intensely spiritual people in India, who have conquered their senses, mind and intellect who are totally devoid of any religious binding. India then became home to an enormous amount of Yogis who achieved the ultimate in their own unique ways without the bondages of religion. Kapila saw the oneness of the Self with the universe, Vyasa saw the Ultimate in Himself or rather saw himself in the Absolute, Sankara saw there was no two existences between the Absolute and the individual.

Kannappa Nayanar Saw God by his violent devotion, while the refined Appar saw him with a disciplined devotion.
Even atheism is a legitimate part of Hinduism. The Indian born Nobel laureate, Sri Chandrasekar, said, "I am a Hindu atheist". In no other religion does rebels get accommodated. The reason is Hinduism is a spiritual way first. Second is it is not God centred but has God as the ultimate achievable.

The Hindu can be spiritual without being religious and vice versa
. The Hindu also has a most beautiful religion, which is coloured by an endless array of cultures, distinguished by an equally endlessly different human varieties, flavoured by more than a hundred sweet languages.

The Hindu religion- will it reinvent itself ?

Since Hinduism showed such care to its individual member, and since each member continued to refine his ways to realization, Hinduism was never a rigid body of ideas. It has, over the period, shown an enormous ability to reform itself and evolve. All this was because Hinduism was born of an effort at free enquiry. For example, over two thousand years ago, Hinduism was totally different than the present one. Vedic thoughts reigned supreme. There were no temples. People worshipped the Absolute Brahman through Yagyas .

When this Vedism developed religious rigidity, great Rishis like Sankara, Maddhwa, Ramanuja, Appar, Sambandar and a host of saints gave a new way to Hinduism. When Buddhism had all but swallowed up the whole of India, Hinduism, invented itself anew. Thus was born the new Vedantic religion as envisaged by Sankara and others. Temples came up. Gita became a new beacon light in Hinduism. Hinduism, the resurgent, had such force that it absorbed Buddhism and Jainism into itself.
Over the period, there have been many unwanted flab like casteism that have crept into the religion. But as usual, the Hindu diaspora will shrug it off and march on, giving the world newer directions.

J Venkatasubramanian

Sunday, September 21, 2008




In this divine land of Bharat, everything is dedicated to the Lord. Whenever a new dress is worn, first it is kept in front of God and kumkum applied on it and then only worn. My mother and many mothers will make a small ‘Pillayar’- even in the floor paste prepared for making Chappatti and Murrukku. My wife will murmur “Krishnarpanamastu” (Dedicated to Krishna) after every dish was prepared in the Kitchen. Such is the character of this punya bhoomi.

In the same manner, music , dance, painting and all fine arts were dedicated to the Lord only. In the entire Karnatic music, you will see almost 99% of songs are on one God or another. Ditto for Bharatanatyam.


This is the outstanding scene from the immortal movie 'Sankarabaranam'. The Thyagaraja Kriti
"Broche Varevarura...." comes alive in this beautiful sequence.

When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, the Telugu movie “ Sankarabaranam” was released. The movie made such an impact that in non Telugu areas like Kerala and Tamilnadu, it ran to packed houses for months together without dubbing.

The movie resurrected an image for the traditional music of Bharat, the Karnatic music. The story itself was such that a traditionalist singer remains uncompromising till the end even at the grave prospect of poverty. He regards his art as the ultimate music that started with God and leads to God. Finally the world rediscovers him and he leaves to the world another talent that will carry forward his tradition.


But, I was a bit unnerved at the onslaught of modern technology on every aspect of music. And I feared it will impinge on traditional music too. With many youngsters moving onto the soulless western music and the new generation Indian light music , the danger to traditional music was real.

Recently I watched in youtube, some videos during my search for songs to help train my son in his classical music classes. These videos left me stunned. These videos were of small kids of age 9, 10 and 16 singing like accomplished Vidwans.

Erode Anantaraman, a ten year old sweet kid, with his ‘Pibare Ramarasam” "பிபரே ராம ரசம்..."

Abhilash, aged nine , with his majestic ‘Ananda Nadamaduvar…” " ஆனந்த நடமாடுவார் தில்லை ......."

The 16 year old, Kashyap Mahesh, in a sublime voice, with his “Kaithala Niraikani..” "கைத்தல நிறை கனி ....."

I am now a much reassured man. I know that traditional music is in the hands of some prodigal talents. The level of performance of these kids are beyond description and is simply divine as is our very tradition.


I request every reader of this blog to make efforts to patronize our fine arts. We should let our children learn at least one art form and keep the chain of ancient arts alive. This will also help feed poor artists who will have enough to make ends meet. The whole world will be a better place when our peaceful, divine arts remain supreme.