And the purity which gave Swamiji this spiritual insight was something extraordinary. It was not the fragile purity that can protect itself by keeping itself away from all corrupting influences. It had long outgrown the need of the citadel of isolation. But that was not all. It became aggressive, taking a sort of delight in encountering its enemies on their own grounds and winning them over to its side. In other words, it could not only keep itself untouched amidst corrupting influences, but could turn them into positive powers for good. Gentlemen, I cannot go into personal details on a subject like this. But my knowledge of Swamiji's marvellous achievements in this direction compels me to lay at his feet my deepest reverence; this one element of perfection in Swamiji would have been quite enough to compel me to give him the highest place in my heart.
...There was one more prominent feature of Swamiji's life which speaks to me volumes about his renunciation. I mean his dealing with rich men. Many of you are aware that among his foreign disciples some are very wealthy and a few of them came out to India to help Swamiji in his work. The treatment which he used to give them did not in the least differ from that given to his most insignificant Indian disciples. He was kind and loving by nature to all, but his love did not make him blind to their flaws and defects which needed mending.
Gentle speech would not always serve the purpose, and Swamiji would have to be at times hard. And in this apparently unpleasant treatment, his wealthy disciples would have exactly the same fate as his begging sannyasins. At times, this would be too much for persons born and brought up in the lap of luxury and accustomed to hear words of praise and flattery From a worldly point of view, Swamiji paid dear for it. But did he ever regret? Far from it. The perfect unconcern which he showed whether rich people would stick to him or give him up is truly unprecedented.
...Of the few pregnant proverbs and epigrammatical expressions which Swamiji would never be tired of repeating, one was "— The giver of the head is alone the leader", that is, he atone can be a leader who is ready to die for others. And Swamiji's own life determines his place among his fellow beings. I have already told you that Swamiji was not only kind and soft but was very hard also at times. He could not only lay down his life for others, but could take arms against others if needed. Whatever he would think or feel he would do so with wonderful vehemence and intensity. And this whole-souledness was another marked feature of Swamiji's life. One evening in the course of a talk that Swamiji was giving to one of his disciples, opening his eyes to the fact that the disciple's inability to manage the servants of the Math (which was one of his duties then) and make them do their respective duties was a weakness and did not proceed from love, he said, "Don't think that your heart is full of love, because you cannot give them a little scolding now and then. Can you give your life for them? I know, you can't, because you do not love them. This minute I can die for them; but also I can hang them on this tree this minute if need be. Can you do that? No, my boy, namby-pamby is not love. Remember the words of the poet, —'Harder than the thunderbolt and softer than the flower', this is the ideal, No, love is not weak sentimentality."
I have seen no man who could be so soft as Swamiji. The death of a gurubhai or a disciple would rob him of rest and consolation for days and days together. Some time in the year 1898, it pleased the Lord to take away one of his gurubhais. The pang of bereavement was so intense in Swamiji that for week he remained exceedingly heavy and absent-minded keeping as much away from others as possible. On the evening of the seventh or eighth day he came to the temple-room of the Math, and began to talk to those that were present there, like a simple child: "I did not come to the temple these days because I was very angry with my Master for having deprived me of my dear brother. I love them so much because I have lived longer and more intimately with them than even with my own brothers.... But why should I be angry with my Master? Why should I expect that all things will be ordained according to my wishes? And why should I be sad at all? Am I not a hero? My Master used to say laying his arm upon my shoulder: Naren, you are a hero; the very sight of you inspires me with courage.' Yes, I am a hero. Why should I then give way to grief?"
...Ask each one of his disciples, American or English, Bengali or Madrasi, and you will hear the same thing from all that their hearts were won by Swamiji's wonderful love and sympathy. Swamiji's marvellous intellectual powers, no doubt, evoked the awe of all. But this awe would have kept at a distance all unintellectual people like myself and would have proved more a barrier than a help to them to come in direct touch with him and drink from the fountain of his soul. Heaps of instances could be cited to show Swamiji's wonderful heart.
...And how can universal love be without the ever present consciousness of the closest kinship with the universe, without the realization that whatever is is mine, nay, whatever is is me? And this is brahmajnana (knowledge of Self) as our holy books describe it. This is the very core of Swamiji's teaching — The Selfhood of all — the Divinity of man. And this is, I am fully convinced, the key to his wonderfully versatile nature. He was a lover of all, because he was a jnani. And here I must tell you that the fatal illusion under which I had long laboured that jnana and bhakti are destructive of each other, dispersed in the presence of Swamiji as darkness before the sun. Swamiji was a tremendous worker because he was a bhakta and jnani. The tremendous energy that shook the whole world and is still at work awakening many a slumbering soul to its innate Divinity, instilling life into dead bones, bringing sunshine in the darkness of despair and love in dry, arid souls –, this tremendous energy owes its origin to his realization of brahman in all. Here too, I must tell you that the fatally-erroneous idea that karma is antagonistic to jnana and bhakti is dispelled at once by the life of Swamiji.
I told you at the outset that before I met Swamiji I did not, on account of my limited religious views, expect to see in him anything of the warrior, the poet, the philosopher, or the philanthropist. But I found that he was all these and more than these. He was as much a poet as a philosopher; as much a sentimental visionary as a man of action. And he was all these, not in spite of his religion but on account of it.
I have learnt that a religion which does not call forth into vigorous activity and chasten and elevate the moral, intellectual, and aesthetic faculties of man, make him humane and self-sacrificing and at the same lime self-absorbed and meditative is an imperfect religion. But I have also learnt that even such imperfect religions have their great purpose to serve in helping the growth of persons less evolved and that our attitude towards them all should he one of extreme sympathy and love. I have learnt that I should hesitate thrice before I condemn any form of religious faith, however repellent it may appear to me. For I have seen forms of worship, generally condemned as superstitious, yield treasurers of infinite beauty and holiness touched by the magic wand of Swamiji. I have learnt that every individual, however degraded he may appear in my eyes, is God involved, and therefore cannot be lost for ever. We should look upon him with respect and if possible give him a lift Godward, not by condemning his perverted ideal and by cruelly tearing it away from his heart but by gently replacing it by a true one suited to his temperament and culture. I have learnt that under peculiar circumstances even hardness and cruelty become a virtue, stubborn resistance. and excellence, and that activity is as much a help to spiritual growth as contemplative calmness. I have learnt that God can be enjoyed both within ourselves and outside of ourselves; within ourselves by effacing completely from our consciousness all impression of the world of senses and making me Spirit touch Spirit. Outside ourselves by seeing God in everything and pouring out our hearts unto His feel in the shape of loving service. I have learnt the incalculable value of great personalities in the scheme of individual, national, and universal redemption. I have also learnt that I have learnt all these only intellectually and am yet far from getting them woven into my nature. And all these I have learnt from the life of Swamiji. One thing more: My conviction that Swamiji's spiritual realization was of the highest order came to me not only from his intense purity, fearlessness, love of truth, and universal sympathy, but also from those subtler personal manifestations described in our shastras. I have seen him weep like a child and becoming disconsolate at the name of God. I have seen him go into such deep meditation that even the function of the lungs stopped. Last of all came his own words to give the finishing touch to my conception of his spiritual greatness....
To Be Continue..
(Source : Vedanta Kesari, January-February 1923)
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