Wednesday 1 November 2023


Modern India has produced a profusion of religious teachers,—showing thereby that her genius and instincts are in especial tune with the spiritual side of man's nature and that she can best be influenced in all other directions through the efficient working of that side in all its manifold divisions and aspects. The question for consideration is whether the religious views, aims, and methods of these teachers are calculated to bring to her those healthy influences which, while preserving to her the unique gains and products of her special genius and character and thereby enabling her to influence the world through them, will also give to her a future development bringing her into line with the evolution of secular power and riches the attainment of which has enabled the West to overpower her ancient civilisation and polity. When Swami Vivekananda came to Trivandrum in the course of his travels in December 1892 and was directed to my home as the one where he could find accorded to him in ungrudging measure the obeisance and hospitality due to his holy and exalted rank as a Hindu Sannyasin, almost the first topic of our conversation, when I learned that he was a Bengalee, was the eminent status as a religious teacher of Keshub Chunder Sen and other great Brahmo leaders of Bengal. At once the Swami replied that India's im­mediate wants to-day were not religious but economic, that Keshub Chunder Sen, Dayananda Sarasvati and other modern religious teachers were simply feeble and misleading echoes— however disguised—of foreign religious ideas which were far below the lofty level and the rich products of India's own spiritual genius, that their work was calculated to destroy her mission in the world as the spiritual leader and saviour of the human race and its unique and marvellous fruits, that Sri Ramakrishna alone had taught the true ideal of unity of thought, work and aim for Modern India to strive after, and that he intended to proclaim his great Guru's message to the world regarding the truth and harmony of all religions at the Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicago. Swami Vivekananda, alone of all India's modern teachers and guides, has, under the impelling force of the inspiration he received from Sri Ramakrishna, brought it frequently home to us that India had long ago taught to the world, and even presented in the maturity of their logical developments, all the forms and stages of the religious consciousness which were possible of enunciation or realisation by the human mind, that their harmony and unity of aim had also already been formulated in India and placed on an irrefragable basis of reasoned discussion and polemical triumph, and that Modern Indians have only the duty cast on them of realising, in a broader and healthier measure of practice than hitherto, the wealth and completeness of our spiritual inheritance and also of utilising it for the spiritual elevation of humanity at larger and for the attainment of a completer national life and a large measure of national potency and national self-respect for the British India of the future.

There are many of us who in these days assert, with an egotistic assurance worthy of a better cause, that the much-vaunted Indian spirituality is a mere phrase or name with no reality at its back and that its insistence in certain quarters can only deceive the unwary. This assertion has been frequently met, and may here be briefly replied to. When we speak of Indian spirituality, we must not be understood as denying the existence, among Western people, of spirituality of a kind, though not consonant with Indian conceptions of the same. Nor do we mean that Indian spirituality in all its phases is necessarily associated either with the cessation of bread-winning activities, or with the realisa­tion of the Atman in its purity and perfection as "the One only without a second." We do not also wish it to be understood that we are prepared to assert that the ideal form of Indian spirituality exists in Modern India anywhere except among a few scattered saints and sages of whose very existence, work, or worth the noisy world knows nothing and cares nothing. I am prepared, on my own behalf, to make the confession that, till the great Swami Vivekananda himself revealed them to me, I had no knowledge of the message and ministry of Sri Ramakrishna, or even of his very existence,—though now I know that there are others like him, more or less advanced, though not his equals in eminence or celebrity. The ideal still exists as it has existed in the past, and consists in the practical observance in daily life of the traditional knowledge and discipline of Dharma, Viveka, and Vairagya— each influencing the others and all together leading to the goal of the realisation of " the One only without a second." Says the Kaivalya Upanishad : — "श्रद्धाभक्तिध्यानयोगादवैहि न कर्मणा न प्रजया धनेन त्यागेनैके अमृतत्वमानशुः ॥" "Do thou know it by sraddha, bhakti, dhyana, and yoga; not by work, nor by progeny, nor by wealth but by renunciation (tyaga) alone the great ones attained immortality." The crown of Indian spirituality consists in the practical observance in daily life of sraddha, bhakti, dhyana and yoga. Social service and philanthrophy constitute, in Vivekananda's happy phrase, mere "social scavengering" and are brought into existence, as they are in the new Indian life of to-day, by the action of purely secular motives and national aspirations.

India will surely lose all that is valuable in her past and present—all that is calculated to win for her the respect and allegiance of higher men—if she loses her love and practice of spirituality as above defined and resolves to sit at the feet of Western teachers to learn their notions of what are the essentials of religion and spirituality which to us who have received the gift of practical Vedantic illumination seem little less than, or but next door to, the creed of ethical agnosticism or reasoned dogmatism. In Modern India, as elsewhere, the age we live in is one which abounds in personal forces which cause a good deal of perplexity in regard to men's moral ideals and standards of conduct. A living writer, Professor Royce, of America, says:— "This perplexity is not wholly due to any waywardness of our time, or to any lack of moral seriousness. It is just our moral leaders, our reformers, our prophets who most perplex us. Whether these revolutionary leaders are right or wrong, they beset us, they give us no rest, they call in doubt our moral judgments, they undertake to transmute values." Modern India, as I have already said, has produced a fertile crop of these perplexing and perplexed personalities, of prophets, leaders, reformers who have mercilessly striven to disturb the foundations of Indian social and moral life, to deprive many men of their confidence in social standards and religious beliefs, and to paralyse the activity and efficiency of many men, good and true. Under their perplexing and often pernicious influence, several have either become converts to alien creeds under the pressure of missionary propagandism or, yielding to subtle and even subterranean influences, abandoned the discipline of Indian ideals of mental, physical and social purity known as Chitta-suddhi, ahara-suddhi, samsarga-suddhi, etc. They even make a boast of their so-called emancipation from all those barriers of tradition which find a place in our great Manu,—from even such of them as have survived the revolutions of untold ages and discerning men of genius here and there even now regard with approval and admiration. Even the example of the great Asiatic Nation—the Japanese—which has gained such memorable national triumphs in her recent annals, goes counter to their ideas of our present-day obligations under the imperative call of Indian national patriotism. In a volume just published, a Japanese writer, Mr. Okakura-Yoshisaburo, says:—"Japan, in spite of such mod­ern developments as the feminist or anarchist movements still remains in spirit very much the same as she ever was in days of yore." "Many of the so-called mental peculiarities of the Japanese owe their origin to the love of purity and its complementary hatred of defilement" "We remain to this very day the very same old set of harmless islanders with practically the same physical and men­tal traits that characterised our fathers at the dawn of authentic history." "We are not yet so civilised as to think with some of the Western people that all is fair in war and business." "By means of those two processes of personification and deification, which are still very active among us, we continue to this very day to endow natural powers and great men with divine qualities." "The Japanese spirit has so far suffered hardly any material change from the various alterations that have taken place in its environ­ment." They have even a class, called the Eta, corresponding to our Pariahs, of whom the author says:—"The origin of the Japanese pariah is altogether obscure . . . So far as linguistic and eth­nological evidences are concerned they betray no particular traces of foreign origin." He also speaks of "the disdain of a class of people chiefly concerned in the so-called 'filthy' branch of human occupation." If all this is true of Japan, why should we be in un­due haste to alter our conceptions of purity and renunciation at the call of those who, in the words of India's greatest living poet, Ravindranath Tagore, "seem to take a pride in thinking that they are subduing nature,—as if we are living in a hostile world where we have to wrest everything we want from an unwilling and alien arran­gement of things!" According to the same authority, "India put all her emphasis on the harmony that exists between the individual and the universal." "With meditation and service, with a regulation of her life, she cultivated her consciousness in such a way that everything had a spiritual meaning for her." "To find out the One is to possess the All; there, indeed, is our last and highest privilege." "As in the region of Knowledge so in that of Consciousness, man must clearly realise some central truth which will give him an out­look over the widest possible field. And that is the object which the Upanishad has in view when it says, Know thine own soul. Or, in other words, realise the one great principle of unity that there is in every man."

To be continued..

(Vedanta Kesari May 1914)

The main theme of my life is to take the message of Sanatana Dharma to every home and pave the way for launching, in a big way, the man-making programme preached and envisaged by great seers like Swami Vivekananda. - Mananeeya Eknathji

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