Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Sister Nivedita’s Battle for Indian Ideals in America - 1

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

We got there at 8 [o'clock].' Nivedita wrote, 'Time and place were alike delightful. Overhead the stars, and around—the rolling Ganges; and on one side stood the dimly lighted building; with its background of palms and loft y shade-trees.'2 Nivedita, arriving by boat, waited at the landing. She wrote: 'Th e King [Swami Vivekananda] had been sitting beside the fi re under the tree ... and he came to me there, as I felt that it was a little late for a lady to visit monks.'3 Sister Nivedita had gone to the Belur Math to interview Swamiji for Prabuddha Bharata. During the interview, she brought up the subject of her girls' school: 'and it's really to be a monastic order and not a series of concessions to the feeble-hearted,' he said (ibid.). She had made a brief attempt to open her school in Calcutta but could not continue it for lack of funds. Now she was determined to make an attempt to earn money to reopen it by lecturing in the West.

Nivedita later explained to someone who interviewed her: 'My object is to educate the Hindu girl as the English and American girl is being educated, without any impertinent interference with her religious beliefs or social customs. We make a serious mistake in such interference. The Hindoos are far in advance of us in social problems. As a people they are on a much higher level intellectually and spiritually.'

Margaret Noble, to whom Swamiji fittingly gave the name Nivedita, the dedicated, in her efforts to raise funds for her educational project, was to fight a hard battle for the reputation of India in the West. Nivedita's heroic deeds in India are known: a project for the national education of the future of a whole race of women, instilling hands on help to Indian geniuses in every field, in politics, in science, literature, and in art. But what is equally amazing is the zeal with which she counterattacked the fallen image of India in the West made there by Christian Missionaries and Pandita Ramabai a generation earlier.

Nivedita lectured in America for eight months from November 1899 to June 1900. Soon Nivedita found she had a message for the West, just as Swamiji found when he arrived in the West, with a similar purpose of raising funds for his projects in India. But in trying to follow his footsteps, Nivedita found at first, that some people resented her. She found her own message only after a bitter struggle. In India her lectures had been successful. Indians were eager to hear from an eloquent English disciple of Swamiji, re-inforcing their appreciation of their own culture. In America, however, although she began to lecture where Swamiji did, and staying among his friends, thinking the audiences would have been prepared for her, she often found antagonism. It was one thing to hear defences 'of India from an Indian, but what authority did this foreign lady have?

To be continued...........

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The National Significance Of The, Swami Vivekananda's Life And Work - 5

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Seated in his retreat at Belur, Vivekananda received visits and communications from all quarters. The vast surface might be silent, but deep in the heart of India, the Swami was never forgotten. None could afford, still fewer wished, to ignore him. No hope but was spoken into his ear,—no woe but he knew it, and strove to comfort or to rouse. Thus, as always in the case of a religious leader, the India that he saw presented a spectacle strangely unlike that visible to any other eye. For he held in his hands the thread of all that was fundamental, organic, vital ; he kne .v the secret springs of life ; he understood with what word to touch the heart of millions. And he had gathered from all this knowledge a clear and certain hope.
Let others blunder as they might. To him, the country was young, the Indian vernaculars still unformed, flexible, the national energy unexploited. The India of his dreams was in the future. The new phase of consciousness initiated today through pain and suffering was to be but first step in a long evolution. To him his country's hope was in herself. Never in the alien. True, his great heart embraced the alien's need, sounding a universal promise to the world. But he never sought for help, or begged for assistance. He never leaned on any. What might be done, it was the doer's privilege to do, not the recipient's to accept. He had neither fears nor hopes from without. To reassert that which was India's essential self, and leave the great stream of the national life, strong in a fresh self-confidence and vigour, to find its own way to the ocean, this was the meaning of his Sannyasa. For his was pre-eminently the Sannyasa of the greater service. To him, India was Hinduistic, Aryan, Asiatic. Her youth might make their own experiments in modern luxury. Had they not 'the right? Would they not return? But thegreat deeps of her being were moral, austere, and spiritual. A people who could embrace death by the Ganges-side were not long to be distraced by the glamour of mere mechanical power.

Buddha had preached renunciation, and in two centuries India had become an Empire. Let her but once more feel the great pulse through all her veins, and no power on earth would stand before her newly awakened energy. Only, it would be in her own life that she would find life, not in imitation ; from her own proper past and environment that she would draw inspiration, not from the foreigner. For he who thinks himself weak is weak: he who believes that he is strong is already invincible. And so for his nation, as for every individual, Vivekananda had but one word, one constantly reiterated message:

"Awake ! Arise ! Struggle on,
And stop not till the
Goal is reached!"

To be continued...........

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The National Significance Of The, Swami Vivekananda's Life And Work - 4

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Such points, however, are only interesting as personal characteristics. Of a deeper importance is the question as to the conviction that spoke through them. What was this? Whither did it tend? His whole life was a search for the common basis of Hinduism. To his sound judgment the idea that two pice postage, cheap travel, and a common language of affairs could create a national unity, was obviously childish and superficial. These things could only be made to serve old India's turn if she already possessed a deep organic unity of which they might conveniently become an expression. Was such a unity existent or not? For something like eight years he wandered about the land changing his name at every village, learning of every one he met, gaining a vision as accurate and minute as it was profound and general. It was this great quest that overshadowed him with its certainty when, at the Parliament of Religions, he stood before the West and proved that Hinduism converged upon a single imperative of perfect freedom so completely as to be fully capable of intellectual aggression as any other faith. It never occurred to him that his own people were in any respect less than the equals of any other nation whatsoever. Being well aware that religion was their national expression, he was also aware that the strength which they might display in that sphere, would be followed before long, by every other conceivable form of strength.

As a profound student of caste,—his conversation teemed with its unexpected particulars and paradoxes!—he found the key to Indian unity in its exclusiveness. Mohammedans were but a single caste of the nation. Christians another, Parsis another, and so on ! It was true that of all these (with the partial exception of the last), non-belief in caste was a caste distinction. But then, the same was true of the Brahmo Samaj, and other modern sects of Hinduism. Behind all alike stood the great common facts of one soil ; one beautiful old routine of ancestral civilisation ; and the overwhelming necessities that must inevitably lead at last to common loves and common hates.

But he had learnt, not only the hopes and ideals of every sect and group of the Indian people, but their memories also. A child of the Hindu quarter of Calcutta returned to live by the Ganges-side, one would have supposed from his enthusiasm that he had been born, now in the Punjab, again in the Himalayas, at a third moment in Rajputana, or elsewhere. The songs of Guru Nanak alternated with those of Mira Bai and Tanasena on his lips. Stories of Prithvi Raj and Delhi jostled against those of Chitore and Pratap Singh, Shiva and Uma, Radha and Krishna, Sita-Ram and Buddha. Each mighty drama lived in a marvellous actuality, when he was the player. His whole heart and soul was a burning epic of the country, touched to an overflow of mystic passion by her very name.

To be continued...........

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The National Significance Of The, Swami Vivekananda's Life And Work - 3

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

To him, nothing Indian required apology. Did anything seem, to the pseudo-refinement of the alien, barbarous or crude? Without denying, without minimising anything his colossal energy was immediately concentrated on the vindication of .that particular point, and the unfortunate critic was tossed backwards and forwards on the horns of his own argument. One such instance occurred when an Englishman on boardship asked him some sneering question about the Puranas, and never can any who were present forget how he was pulverised, by a reply that made the Hindu Puranas, compare favourably with the Christian Gospels, but planted the Vedas and Upanishads high up beyond the reach of any rival. There was no friend that he would not sacrifice without mercy at such a moment in the name of national defence. Such an attitude was not, perhaps, always reasonable. It was often indeed frankly unpleasant. But it was superb in the manliness that even enemies must admire. To Vivekananda, again, everything Indian was absolutely and equally sacred, -"This land to which must come all souls wending their way Godward!" his religious consciousness tenderly phrased it. At Chicago, any Indian man attending the Great World Bazaar, rich or poor, high or low, Hindu, Mohammedan, Parsi, what not, might at any moment be brought by him to his hosts for hospitality and entertainment, and they well knew that any failure of kindness on their part to the least of these would immediately have
cost them his presence.

He was himself the exponent of Hinduism, but finding another Indian religionist struggling with the difficulty of presenting his case, he sat down and wrote his speech for him, making a better story for his friend's faith than its own adherent could have done! He took infinite pains to teach European disciples to eat with their fingers, and perform the ordinary simple acts of Hindu life. "Remember, if you love India at all, you must love her as she is, not as you might wish her to become" he used to say. And it was this great firmness of his, standing like a rock for what actually was, that did more than any other single fact, perhaps, to open the eyes of those aliens who loved him to the beauty and strength of that ancient poem—the common life of the common Indian people. For his own part, he was too free from the desire for approbation to make a single concession to newfangled ways. The best of every land had been offered him, but it left him still the simple Hindu of the old style, too proud of his simplicity to find any need of change. "After Ramakrishna, I follow Vidyasagar!" he exclaimed, only two days before his death, and out came the oftrepeated story of the wooden sandals coming pitter patter with the Chudder and Dhoti, into the Viceregal Council Chamber, and the surprised "But if you didn't want me, why did you ask me to come?" of the old Pundit, when they remonstrated.

To be continued...........

Friday, 15 June 2018

The National Significance Of The, Swami Vivekananda's Life And Work - 2

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

We must remember, however, that the moment has not come for gauging the religious significance of Vivekananda. Religion is living seed, and his sowing is but over. The time of his harvest is not yet. But death actually gives the Patriot to his country.

When the master has passed away from the midst of his disciples, when the murmurs of his critics are all hushed at the burning-ghat, then the great voice that spoke of Freedom rings out unchallenged and whole nations answer as one man. Here was a mind that had had unique opportunities of observing the people of many countries intimately. East and West he had seen and been received by the high and low alike. His brilliant intellect had never failed to gauge what it saw, "America will solve the problems of the Shudra, but through what awful turmoil!" he said many times. On a second visit, however, he felt tempted to change his mind, seeing the greed of wealth and the lust of oppression in the West, and comparing these with the calm dignity and ethical stability of the old Asiatic solutions formulated by China many centuries ago. His gieat acumen was yoked to a marvellous humanity. Never had we dreamt of such a gospel of hope for the Negro as that with which he rounded on an American gentleman who spoke of the African races with contempt. And when, in the Southern States he was occasionally taken for "a coloured man", and turned away from some door as such (a mistake that was always atoned for as soon as discovered by the lavish hospitality of the most responsible families of the place), he was never known to deny the imputation. "Would it not have been refusing my brother?", he said simply when he was asked the reason of this silence.

To him each race had its own greatness, and shone in the light of that central quality. There was no Europe without the Turk, no Egypt without the development of the people of the soil. England had grasped the secret of obedience with self-respect. To speak of any patriotism in the same breath with Japan's was sacrilege.

What then was the prophecy that Vivekananda left to his own people? With what national significance has he filled that Gerrua mantle that he dropped behind him in his passing? Is it for us perhaps to lift the yellow rags upon our flagpole, and carry them forward as our banner? Assuredly. For here was a man who never dreamt of failure. Here was a man who spoke of naught but strength. Supremely free from sentimentality, supremely defiant of all authority* (are not missionary slanders still ringing in our ears? Are not some of them to be accepted with fresh accessions of pride?), he refused to meet any foreigner save as the master. "The Swami's great genius lies in his dignity," said an Englishman who knew him well, "it is nothing short of royal!" He had grasped the great fact that the East must come to the West, not as a sycophant, not as a servant, but as Guru and teacher, and never did he lower the flag of his personal ascendancy. "Let Europeans lead us in Religion!" he would say, with a scorn too deep to be anything but merry. "I have never spoken of revenge," he said once. "I have always spoken of strength. Do we dream of revenging ourselves on this drop of sea-spray? But it is a great thing to a mosquito!"

To be continued...........

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The National Significance Of The, Swami Vivekananda's Life And Work - 1

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Of the bodily presence of him who was known to the world as Vivekananda, all that remains today is a bowl of ashes. The light that has burned in seclusion during the last five years by our riverside, has gone out now. The great voice that rang out across the nations is hushed in death. Life had come often to this mighty soul as storm and pain. But the end was peace. Silently, at the close of even song, on a dark night of Kali, came the benediction of death. The weary and tortured body was laid down gently and the triumphant spirit was restored to the eternal Samadhi.

He passed, when the laurels of his first achievements were yet green. He passed, when new and greater calls were ringing in his ears. Quietly, in the beautiful home of his illness, the intervening years with some few breaks, went by amongst plants and animals, unostentatiously training the disciples who gathered round him, silently ignoring the great fame that had shone upon his name. Man-making was his own stern brief summary of the work that was worth doing. And laboriously, unflaggingly, day after day, he set himself to man-making, playing the part of Guru, of father, even of schoolmaster, by turns. The very afternoon of the day he left us, had he not spent three hours in giving a Sanskrit lesson on the Vedas? External success and leadership were nothing to such a man. During his years in the West, he made rich and powerful friends, who would gladly have retained him in their midst. But for him, the Occident, with all its luxuries, had no charms. To him, the garb of a beggar, the lanes of Calcutta, and the disabilities of his own people, were more dear than all the glory of the foreigner, and detaining hands had to loose their hold of one who passed ever onward toward the East.

What was it that the West heard in him, leading so many to hail and cherish his name as that of one of the great religious teachers of the world? He made no personal claim. He told no personal story. One whom he knew and trusted long had never heard that he held any position of distinction amongst his Gurubhais. He made no attempt to popularise with strangers any single form or creed, whether of God or Guru. Rather, through him the mighty torrent of Hinduism poured forth its cooling waters upon the intellectual and spiritual worlds, fresh from its secret sources in Himalayan snows. A witness to the vast religious culture of Indian homes and holy men he could never cease to be. Yet he quoted nothing but the Upanishads. He taught nothing but the Vedanta. And men trembled, for they heard the voice for the first time of the religious teacher who feared not Truth.

Do we not all know the song that tells of Shiva as he passes along the roadside, "Some say He is mad. Some say He is the Devil. Some say—don't you know?—He is the Lord Himself!" Even so India is familiar with the thought that every great personality is the meeting-place and reconciliation of opposing ideals. To his disciples, Vivekananda will ever remain the archetype of the Sannyasin. Burning renunciation was chief of all the inspirations that spoke to us through him. "Let me die a true Sannyasin as my Master did," he exclaimed once, passionately, "heedless of money, of women, and of fame And of these the most insidious is the love of fame!" Yet the self-same destiny that filled him with this burning thirst of intense Vairagyam embodied in him also the ideal householder,—full of the yearning to protect and save, eager to learn and teach the use of materials, reaching out towards the reorganisation and re-ordering of life. In this respect, indeed, he belonged to the race of Benedict and Bernard, of Robert de Citcaux and Loyola. It may be said that just as in Francis of Assissi, the yellow robe of the Indian Sannyasin gleams for a moment in the history of the Catholic Church, so in Vivekananda, the great saint, abbots of Western monasticism are born anew in the East.  Similarly, he was at once a sublime expression of super-conscious religion and one of the greatest patriots ever born. He lived at a moment of national disintegration, and he was fearless of the new. He lived when men were abandoning their inheritance, and he was an ardent worshipper of the old. In him the national destiny fulfilled itself, that a new wave of consciousness should be inaugurated always in the leaders of the Faith. In such a man it may be that we possess the whole Veda of the future.

To be continued...........

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 6

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

In Paris in 1900 Swamiji warned Nivedita about her enthusiasm for the Scottish thinker and sociologist Patrick Geddes. She was deeply hurt, and felt that Swamiji was jealous of her new enthusiasm—not of course in a romantic sense of the word, but jealous of the professor's influence. Swamiji was cold and distant towards her, and she herself was not forthcoming. She fled from Paris to Brittany in distress. He wrote to her, 'I never had any jealousy about what friends you made. ... Only I do believe the Western people have the peculiarity of trying to force upon others whatever seems good to them, forgetting that what is good for you may not be good for others.' This also was not written just to Nivedita, words read once in the course of a private letter and addressed to her troubled mind of the time. It illustrates a universal principle and was spoken to the world.

Those who see in Nivedita's subsequent year and a half in England a distancing of herself from Swamiji, a distancing of herself from the work and methods he had assigned her, and nothing more, have not understood her, nor understood what she represents. Why had Swamiji chosen her, from all the people he had met and loved and valued? It was the depth of her inner strength. As Sri Ramakrishna had delighted in the resistance of Narendra to his teachings, seeing in that very resistance Narendra's strength of mind, so Swamiji had chosen Nivedita for her inner substance. He worked hard, and she suffered terribly, as he took her personality apart and began to rebuild it. That process had taken Sri Ramakrishna five years with Narendra, and even after the Master passed away, Swamiji wandered through the Himalayas trying to throw off the burden that Sri Ramakrishna had given him: his mission.

And so it took time with Nivedita. We shouldn't wonder at it, nor should we doubt that Swamiji had known what he was doing when he chose her. The deeper the character, the more profound the reorientation. Those alone who have gone through a similar experience of total cultural reorientation can see and identify with what went on within her. Though Swamiji was in a class of his own, even among his great brother-disciples, Nivedita was similar in temperament: strong, independent by nature, intellectually alive and brilliant, a person of contrasting moods, moving from the crest of a giant wave of ecstasy to the trough of despair and back again in quick succession.

What she needed was something real at the root of her being, something ultimately True and Significant into which she could pour herself as an oblation, plus she needed the purification necessary for that ultimate self-oblation. Swamiji gave her both, and out of that came Nivedita the power. The time has not yet come when we can fully understand her. We need more distance in time, more depth of insight. We need the ability to see her from within, not just to observe her from without to see what she did and didn't do, judged by our own standards. And if she is to be understood, it will have to be an understanding that sees her whole, not a comfortably truncated person that is artificially harmonious. It will have to include the contradictions she faced within herself and without—creative contradictions, not the petty contradictions that sap the life-force of ordinary people—for in the midst of the dramatic intensity of her life lived a great woman, a witness to the modern Buddha, his scribe and inter-preter, a disciple dedicated at his feet, the very image of renunciation, a whole-souled oblation of self into the fire of his mission, a Vajradharini or Holder of the Thunderbolt whose every act manifested power, a saint who had glimpsed the other shore, and a Light to future ages: Nivedita of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda.

And Nivedita's life has to be seen as a process. Swamiji blessed her at her initiation in 1898 thus: 'Go thou, and follow Him who was born and gave His life for others five hundred times before He attained the vision of the Buddha!' And one sees in her life a constant struggle for the ideal, a constant, insistent effort to manifest it; she was always trying to deepen her renunciation and dedication, never feeling that she was yet worthy of Swamiji's trust. This doesn't mean that she was a failure compared to those whose path was so much smoother, like the extraordinary Josephine MacLeod. It means that she was different, a difference Swamiji made absolutely clear: she was meant for the work, and so her training was different and detailed and uncompromising.

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

Monday, 11 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 5

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

As Swamiji was uniquely qualified to understand the historical significance of Sri Ramakrishna, so Sister Nivedita was uniquely qualified to understand Swamiji. The Swami's brother-disciples knew his spiritual greatness better than anyone other than Sri Sarada Devi, but even they didn't understand his historical significance as Nivedita did. It will take many centuries for humanity to unravel the meaning of her simple words in the 'Introduction' to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Thus Nivedita was more than a scribe. As Swamiji had an unprecedented role in the phenomenon of Sri Ramakrishna's incarnation, so Nivedita had an important role in the life and work of Swamiji. As long as Swamiji is known, all efforts to lock Sri Ramakrishna inside of a temple, all efforts to keep him the property of a sect, all efforts to contain him within a narrow understanding, all efforts to turn him into one more image in the shrine where he can safely be worshipped, will fail. And as long as Sister Nivedita is known, all efforts to see Swamiji as one more saint or yogi to be remembered in calendars and photos, all efforts to see him as someone who watered down the Vedanta tradition to make it palatable to Westerners who were fit for no more, all efforts to present him as an innovator who formed a so-called neo-Vedanta which is untrue to the tradition, all efforts to interpret his mission as parallel to St Paul's through which he travelled around the world trying to make Hindu converts and establish Vedanta Societies, all efforts to show that he was a master at exaggeration, full of hyperbole, who made reckless statements on his own frail authority—all these and other small-minded interpretations, interpretations which one already hears, will fail.

It was discipleship, more than her life as a scribe that defined her very being after her initiation. But here also she was much more than a disciple. We have mentioned how the meeting between Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna will reveal its cosmic significance in time. So with the life of Sister Nivedita. We are not equating her with Swamiji. But those so closely associated with Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, and Swamiji are themselves lifted into the mythic. She was not just a saintly woman who lived and died and left an inspiring story for others to admire: she also had a role to play in the cosmic lila, as Swamiji himself saw after meeting her. As Christ called the fishermen to be fishers of men, so Swamiji called this teacher of English children to be a teacher of the ages.

The meeting of Margaret Noble with Swamiji was the meeting of the West with the East—the two civilisations had already met physically, and not too happily; even the minds of the two civilisations were gradually becoming acquainted; but here was a meeting between the Soul of the West and the Soul of the East. Later Nivedita reminisced about her initial reaction to Swamiji's words when she first heard him at a private gathering in London; she spoke of 'the coldness and pride with which we all gave our private verdicts on the speaker at the end of our visit. "It was not new", was our accusation, as one by one we spoke with our host and hostess before leaving. All these things had been said before.' Such was not just the hubris of Nivedita and her friends, it was the hubris of cultivated, sophisticated Western society, which sat, as they thought, at the centre of the universe.

When Nivedita gradually submitted to Swamiji as his disciple, it was the submission of the conquering and colonising West to the spiritual wisdom of India. This may not be evident now. In a hundred years it will be. As she was to dedicate her life to Swamiji's work in India, he insisted that she become Indian Hindu even in her smallest actions, using, for example, lemon juice and powered lentils to wash her hands. And when she returned with him to England to raise money for her work, he told her to forget what she had learned in India and to return to her Western customs. This will in time also reverberate through the world, becoming the model for working in other countries—respecting the integrity of each culture, not trying to turn Africans into Europeans or Afghanis into Americans or Japanese into Indians. A new age of cultural respect will flow from Swamiji's attention to the details of her handwashing in India.

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 4

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Because the story of a child born in a manger, his parents denied a room at the inn, is no longer just a simple story of strange events that happened long ago. It isn't a fairy tale. Every image in the story has been etched in beautiful, nay, magical script into the minds of the devout, so that it speaks volumes, and the narration evokes the same wonder every Christmas Eve.

That evocative power didn't manifest overnight. It took several centuries. As the focus shifted from the actual life of the Great Teacher to the Teacher Universal—from Jesus of Naz areth to the Logos, the 'Word' and Wisdom of God—and as it shifted from the humble mother Mary to the 'Portal Whence the Light of the World Has Arisen', these images took on cosmic significance.

And so now, when we, the followers of Sri Ramakrishna, read about the first meeting between Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna, we find it beautiful and inspiring. But in time we will see in it so much more. Narendra was not just one more English-educated young Indian who came to the almost unlettered village priest. He was Nara, as Sri Ramakrishna said, the sage of Indian mythology. Nara means 'man', and Narendra was not a man, but Maniconic Man, the incarnation of Man, the Ideal Man behind manifest men; and he was meeting Sri Ramakrishna, the incarnation of Narayana.

Admittedly, that sounds like primitive mythological thinking. It is mythological thinking, but not primitive; it is living mythology, based on the considered belief that in time, people around the world will see that Swami Vivekananda represents something universal, as did Sri Ramakrishna, call them what one will—Nara and Narayana or something else. The idea is, they represent universals—the Human and the Divine—and will be recognised as such in time.

And so the meeting between Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna will reveal the meeting of Man with God, the meeting of the Modern World with Ancient Wisdom, the meeting of the seeking Soul within each of us with the Divine Response, the meeting of a world lost in materiality with its Divine Source. The meeting itself will convey rich and endless overtones which blend into the Infinite. Narendra's first question to Sri Ramakrishna—'Have you seen God?'—will be our question. Sri Ramakrishna's response will be his response to us. Even small incidents will reveal great truths.

Sister Nivedita also was lifted into this cosmic lila of the Ramakrishna phenomenon, transformed into one of the actors on stage. First of all, and easiest to describe, she was a witness to Swamiji, in the West and in India, over several years. More than a witness, she was a scribe who wrote down much of what she saw and heard, in far greater detail and more systematically than other close witnesses. More than a scribe, she gave a vast context within which to understand Swamiji. Therefore Swami Ramakrishnananda once said that Nivedita had understood Swamiji more than anyone else.

Sister Nivedita, perhaps more than anyone else of her time, more than those of our time, saw the historical significance of Swamiji, as he had been the one to see the historical significance of Sri Ramakrishna. Other disciples knew Sri Ramakrishna's spiritual greatness, but no one else saw, as Swamiji did, the vast historical context of his life. Swamiji once said that even Sri Ramakrishna himself was not conscious of it: 'He did not understand himself ... But he lived that great life—and I read the meaning.' Swamiji did know the significance of his own life, saying on the day that he died: 'If there were another Vivekananda, he would have understood what Vivekananda has done! And yet, how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!!' But he didn't elaborate. Sister Nivedita did.

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

Friday, 8 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 3

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

As generations pass in a new religious movement, stories of the continuing self-revelation of the Great Teacher accumulate in the collective mind of the movement, stories of people—who have never heard of the Teacher being awakened by him, people transformed by him before they even know a name for him, stories of devotees seeing him come for them on their deathbed, stories of visions, intercessions, revelations, and examples of realisation
mediated through the repetition of his name and dwelling on his form. And thus the ever-present, ever-living, ever-active, omnipresent, and universal aspect of the Great Teacher comes to the fore, not by disconnecting from the historical, but by seeing the historical in a much larger context: by seeing the historical as an expression of the universal.

As this happens, the historical becomes meta historical, the historical image becomes a mythic Image burned into the consciousness of humanity, the person becomes the Person in the heart of every being, the historical happenings take on cosmic significance, the words once spoken are no longer 'once spoken' but become the voice of the Eternal, revelations to the immediate disciples become revelations to all people for all time, a simple anecdote reveals endless, timeless wisdom. Let us take an example before we see what this has to do with Sister Nivedita.

When I was a brand new novice—less than three weeks after joining one of our American monasteries—we had the annual Christmas Eve celebration in the temple. There was a little singing, a reading, and then the swami, who was from India, spoke. As we were dispersing after the swami's talk, a devotee passed me and said with dismay, 'Well, the swami ruined Christmas for us once again!' After only three weeks in the monastery, I already knew this devotee as a dependable voice of negativity; and the swami had spoken well and sincerely; yet I immediately knew what the devotee meant, because I also had been disappointed in the swami's talk. Why?

The swami spoke to us about the Sermon on the Mount, about the nature of an Incarnation of God, and so on: all good, all beautiful, not a negative note. But none of that is Christmas to one brought up in a Christian home and society, as in those days almost everyone was in our Western centres, other than those from a Jewish home. Christmas is about the extraordinary holiness of a timeless moment when a child is born in the stable of a wayside inn, a child who is a window into the Infinite, a window opened by his birth for humanity for all time to come; it's about a holy young woman, his mother Mary, who knows this, and rocks him with the heart of a new mother and yet with the adoration of one who is beholding God; it's about the shepherds out in the field at night seeing a great star coming and standing over the nearby town, and looking in wonder as a host of angels come and address them about the great event that has just happened; it's about three wise men coming from afar and offering gifts to the newborn, recognising him to be Saviour of all.

Christmas for a Christian has nothing to do with the Sermon on the Mount and the later activities of Jesus. To one not brought up in a Christian home or society, on the other hand, the story of the Nativity is just that: a story, very simple, not very interesting, certainly nothing there to talk about: a star, a bunch of angels, and a baby; what is a poor swami supposed to do with that? Yet year after year, every year of every century, century after century for two thousand years, Christians still want to hear and dwell on the same story. Why?

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 2

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

For those of us who see the Ramakrishna Movement as a budding world religious movement, it is helpful to look at the history of Buddhism and Christianity to understand a little of the present and future of our own movement. At the beginning of these two traditions, we see that the life and thought and practice of the nascent movement centred around the human aspect of the Teacher for one or two centuries after the Teacher's passing. We also see that, though the disciples and their disciples knew that the Teacher was no ordinary saint, most didn't understand the full historical significance of the Teacher's life and message. Much of the early work of forming the movement went into codifying and studying and understanding the basic life and teachings, in an effort to be true to the historical Person.

In Christianity, for instance, you see a tension between St Paul and the direct disciples after the death of Jesus. St Paul never saw Jesus, except in vision, and yet he was the one who understood the historical importance—the world importance of Jesus. The apostles who had known Jesus, knew him to be divine, but didn't know what that meant to the world at large. They still thought of themselves as a Jewish sect devoted to their great Teacher, not as a world movement. In his epistles, Paul repeatedly insists that they have a universal treasure that must be opened to the larger world outside of Jewish society, with its strict tribal identity and cultural laws.

The same is observed in the beginnings of our own religious movement, the Ramakrishna Movement. The disciples of the Great Teacher thought of him as they had known him: a Human-Divine Being. They remembered his words, his beatific smile, his jokes and laughter, his unfathomable love, the ecstasy they witnessed in him multiple times a day, and the ecstasy that they felt in his presence. They also knew and experienced him to be a living, present reality even after his mahasamadhi, guiding them still, drawing them towards himself, revealing to them more and more of the Infinite and Its infinite Manifestations, even after their own liberation.

Their disciples and their disciples' disciples 'grew up' hearing about Sri Ramakrishna with an immediacy that made a profound impression. Even a latecomer like the present author had the great blessing of meeting someone who had known and served Sri Ramakrishna, and whose marriage was arranged by him, and also the great blessing of knowing five people who had seen Swamiji. And thus the historical person remains very much in the fore, even as people recognise that the Teacher has entered a new phase of being: his body is gone but he remains—still living, a tangible Reality, active in the lives of devotees.

The tension seen between St Paul and the other disciples of Christ was seen between Swamiji and the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, monastic and lay. Swamiji spent years convincing the other disciples that Sri Ramakrishna and his mission were far larger than anything they had conceived, sometimes uncer-emoniously smashing their limited conceptions. Thankfully, Sri Ramakrishna had established such a deep bond between Narendra and the other disciples, that the tension was contained by this bond of love.

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 1

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

A mong the western women who played essential roles in the life of Swami Vivekananda, there were three who, following their diff erent paths of life, found them selves drawn into the orbit of Swamiji, and who through him became intimate friends for life. To think of them is to think of the great Swamiji; and as long as Swamiji is known to the world, thinking of him will call them to mind as well. Sister Nivedita, Josephine MacLeod, and Sara Bull were apostles, their lives and destinies in extricably intertwined with Swamiji's and with each other, each important in her own individual way to Swamiji's work. Th ey each felt that their meeting with Swamiji was anything but random: it was their destiny, the meeting that not only gave meaning to their birth but which seemed to be the very purpose of their birth, the goal towards which their early lives had guided them.

And each of them was individual, so finely chiselled a personality. According to Josephine MacLeod, 'It was to set me Free that Swamiji came, that was as much a part of his mission as it was to give Renunciation to Nivedita'.1 Nivedita, she said, was 'very much the disciple,' but 'I never was a disciple, only a friend' (242–3). 'Only a friend' is one of the great understatements of history: Josephine MacLeod was a Friend of the
New Buddha,2 lifted from the first sight of him into his orbit forever.

As for Sister Nivedita, there is no doubt that she was the disciple. Her name, given by Swamiji at her initiation, means 'the Dedicated'. Discipleship became the central fact of her life. But she was far more than just a disciple. She too was swept up into the orbit of this world teacher, and thus her life, like his, took on a historical significance. She is not one more of the many interesting people that met Swamiji. She is not just an early interpreter of India to the West and to India herself. She is not primarily  a pioneer in girls' education in India, nor one more figure in the stirrings of Indian nationalism. Yes, she is all of these, but these roles merely ornament her true importance. In time it will be seen that she has become universalised: through her the cosmic drama of the Great Teacher continues to play out, because she represents something much larger than the strictly historical person, much more than the Irish woman who met Swamiji and dedicated her life to the welfare of India. And that is why it is natural to celebrate Nivedita's one-hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary. Her birth will be celebrated for ages to come. There are three dominant notes in the melody of her life, without understanding which we can't possibly understand her. Josephine MacLeod mentions two of them above: Renunciation and discipleship. A third was made crystal clear by Swamiji himself: Dedication to 'the Work',3 that is, the work of Swami Vivekananda, the mission which Sri Ramakrishna had left him to accomplish, a work which will continue its forward trajectory for at least fifteen hundred years, according to Swamiji.

-Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Nivedita : The Queen of the Indian Freedom Movement - 4

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

She died at an early age of 44 at Darjeeling after fourteen years of total stay in India. The legendary pioneer revolutionary and founder of the INA in Japan, Rashbehari Ghosh, wrote after her death: 'If the dry bones India was beginning to stir, it was because Nivedita breathed life into them. If we are conscious of a budding national life, it is because of her. If our young men were inspired with a burning passion of a purer, nobler life, the credit should go to the lady.'

Netaji Subhas Bose wrote: 'I loved India after reading Vivekananda and I could know Vivekananda after reading Nivedita.' Rabindranath Tagore called her 'Lokmata'—mother of the people. So there cannot be any doubt about the immense contribution Nivedita made to the Indian freedom struggle. Her contributions seem outstanding when compared with any other women of the pre-independence era. Unfortunately no comparative study on the role and contributions of the women freedom fighters in India has been undertaken so far. The point on which Nivedita scored much above all others was that she inspired a generation of top leaders of the country and legendary revolutionaries. The well-known parliamentarian, Samar Guha, who was a revolutionary during his youth, once wrote in an article that 'Vivekananda made the pedestal for revolution and Nivedita ignited the fire'.

Swami Devendrananda in his book writes that if ever an independent and unbiased history of Indian independence movement is written, then her name will feature at the top. I would like to add that her name will be right on top of all women freedom fighters. Therefore there is no problem in giving the crown of the 'queen' of the Indian freedom movement to this much-forgotten 'Sister'—Nivedita.

- Udit Bhanu Dasputa

Friday, 1 June 2018

Nivedita : The Queen of the Indian Freedom Movement - 3

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Nivedita was well aware of the need of the Hindu-Muslim unity. Swamiji had earlier said that what India needed was Vedantic brain and Islamic body. So Nivedita also thought in the same line. She addressed quite a few Muslim gatherings. In one such meeting she remarked that the Muslims should be a great force of national cohesion. The duty of the Indian Muslims today was not to relate themselves with distant Arabia. Their duty was to relate themselves with India which was their home by blood—the heritage to which they had been born. It was for this reason that a leading advocate of Lucknow once remarked 'There were very few Indians, who were more devoted to the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity than her.' The famous South Indian poet and revolutionary, Subramanium Bharati was so inspired after meeting her that he dedicated his first book to Nivedita.

The great revolutionary Hem Chandra Ghosh (who was the founder of Bengal Volunteers) met her a number of times and organized her lecture tours. In her lectures Nivedita kept spreading the man-making gospel of Swami Vivekananda across India. Swamiji told Hem Chandra that man-making was the mission of his life.

Swamiji could neither get directly involved in politics nor had much truck with the revolutionaries although his constant dream was independent India. This dream always electrified Nivedita and she had taken up the cause. Swamiji made her a 'Brahmacharini', never a 'Sannyasini'. One of the reasons behind this action could be that he had seen the fire in his disciple. He realized perhaps that after his death, Nivedita cannot remain content within the confines of the girls' school. It is worthwhile to mention here what Swami Vivekananda expected from Sister Nivedita. This expectation was expressed in his 'A Benediction' written to Nivedita.

Swamiji wrote:
Be thou to India's future son
The mistress, servant, friend in one.

So, Nivedita was absolutely clear about what her Guru wanted from her regarding India, and how deeply he felt about the freedom of India. Nivedita was so inspired by Vivekananda's love for India, she once told the legendary revolutionary Hem Chandra Ghosh that 'India was Swamiji's greatest passion. The thought of India was virtually an obsession with him. India throbbed in his breast, India beat in his pulse, India was his day-dream, India was his nightmare. He was the embodiment of India in flesh and blood. He was India, he was Bharat, the very symbol of her spirituality, her wisdom, her power and her destiny.'

Nivedita made two trips to Europe and USA after Vivekananda's death, in 1907 and 1910. Wherever she went she highlighted the problems of India. She helped scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose draft his paper and supported him when a team of Western scientists ganged up to challenge his discovery. She wrote several books, 'Kali the Mother', 'Cradle Tales of Hinduism', 'Web of Indian Life' and regularly wrote articles in newspapers and journals on Indian freedom struggle and the memorable volume on Swami Vivekananda titled 'The Master as I Saw Him'. Veteran journalist Ramananda Chatterjee wrote about Nivedita: She was a pronounced nationalist with radical political ideas. She could never forgive partisanship or faction fights in Indian politics. She believed in the great need of efficacy of presenting a united front; the promotion of the cause of the nation was with her as much a mission and a passion as was women's education.

To Be Continued..

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Nivedita : The Queen of the Indian Freedom Movement - 2

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

The man who does not strike because he is afraid is a coward'. Nivedita attended Benaras Congress in December 1905, where Balgangadhar Tilak was the President. She never came in front but worked from behind as a correspondent of The Statesman. The Congress session became a 'Nivedita show'. She tried her best to forge an understanding between the radicals and the moderates. Soon afterwards she came under police surveillance. Next, the 'Alipore Bomb Case' (1909) came up involving Aurobindo Ghosh and others. She arranged the escape of Bhupendra Nath Dutta (brother of Vivekananda) after his conviction for revolutionary activities. The British government accused her of treacherous action.

Nivedita felt that various fragmented groups of firebrand revolutionaries are to be brought under one umbrella. She also travelled to various corners of India and gave inspiring speeches to young people to rouse them to action. She realized from the teaching of Swami Vivekananda that unless a sense of nationalism is developed, India can never get her freedom. However, while working to kindle the spirit of nationalism, she did not neglect the school she founded. Though she had to dissociate herself officially from the Ramakrishna Mission after the death of Vivekananda, she maintained her deep personal relations with the monks of the Math and the Mission, and Holy Mother Sarada Devi. Nivedita not only advised the national leaders and patriots but she always tried to inspire a generation of young people in her own ways. Her methodology was quite different. Once she spread a huge map of undivided India (6 ft x 4 ft) in front of a large number of young people and said passionately: 'Look at your mother, she is chained. Now you decide what you should do'.

Nivedita tried her best to ignite the spirit of the revolutionaries in ways which were common in Ireland and Russia. During her visit to Ireland, she had asked her brother, Richard, to secretly send her the Irish revolutionary periodicals. She, in turn, used to distribute them among the Bengal revolutionaries. After the arrest of Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh, many protest meetings were held in and around Calcutta and Nivedita was always the main speaker. She used to quote passages from the Gità, where Krishna inspired reluctant Arjuna to start the battle, to encourage the youths to wage their battle against the British empire.

When a team of revolutionaries under the leadership of Ullaskar Dutta were at the finishing stage of developing bombs desperately needed a sophisticated laboratory, they approached Nivedita. Nivedita, who was a close friend and mentor of Jagadish Chandra Bose, the great scientist, requested the latter to talk to his friend, another leading chemist P. C. Ghosh, to allow Ullaskar and his team to use the chemistry laboratory of the Presidency College. The approval was obtained and the young men started their experiments in the late evening. By morning there was no trace of any objectionable chemicals. The rest is history—the famous Alipore Bomb Case. Ullaskar and many others were subsequently sentenced to long imprisonment in the Andamans. But the knowhow of bomb-making was developed. Nivedita always wanted the revolutionaries to have access to bombs in line with the Irish revolutionaries.All the leading revolutionaries of the first decade of the 20th century used to visit Nivedita regularly for inspiration and guidance.

To Be Continue..