Part III – Social
By Swami Vivekananda.
WE cannot divide the rights of the universe. To
talk of ” right ” implies limitation. It is not ” right ” but ” responsibility.” Each is responsible for the evil anywhere in the world. No one can separate himself from his brother. All that unites with the universal is virtue. All that separates is sin. You are a part of the Infinite. 4 This is your nature. Hence you are your brother’s keeper. ,
The first end of life is knowledge; the second end of life is happiness. Knowledge and happiness lead to freedom. But not one can attain liberty until every being (ant or dog) has liberty. Not one can be happy until all are happy. When you hurt anyone you hurt yourself, for you and your brother are one. He is indeed a Yogi (saint) who sees himself in the whole universe and the whole universe in himself. Self-sacrifice, not self-assertion, is the law of the highest universe. The world is so evil because Jesus’ teaching ” Resist not evil ” has never been tried. Selflessness alone will solve the problem. Religion comes only with intense self-sacrifice. Desire nothing for yourself. Do all for others. This is to live and move and have your being in God.
* From Class Talks in America.
By Swami Vivekananda.
WHEN the Mahomedans first came to this country, there were, according to their historical statistics, sixty crores of Hindus in India. But to-day those Hindus have dwindled into twenty crores. Over and above that, with the advent of the Christian power-about two crores of people have become Christians, and about a lakh of people are turning Christians every year. The advent of Bhagavan Sri Rama* krishna, the embodiment of mercy, has been specially for the preservation of this Hindu race and religion.
Our society is built upon the division into castes. All societies are built like that. But then, there is some difference between our society and other societies.
Two great forces are constantly working throughout nature. It is the struggle between these two mighty forces that brings about all the play of diversity and change in this world. In human society also these two forces are continually creating the diversity of caste and will continue to do so. Side by side with the diversity, the distinction of privilege is coming upon human society, like the shadow of death.
* First published in the ” Prabhuddha Bharata.”
Of these two forces, one makes for the distinction of privilege, while the other, rising in opposition to it, is trying to destroy it.
Diversity is the very life of the world, and this diversity of caste is never to be destroyed. In other words, according to difference in intelligence and power, there is bound to be a difference in work among individuals. For instance, one is skilled in ruling society, while another is capable of sweeping the dust of the street. But the principal cause of social evil is, if for this reason, it is claimed that the man who can rule society will have the exclusive right to all the enjoyments of the earth, while the sweeper of the street-dust dies of starvation. If there be a hundred thousand more castes than there are now in. our country, it will lead to good rather than evil. For, the more castes there are in a country, the richer is it in crafts and industries. But the fight is going on against that form of caste which, like the shadow of death on society, consists in difference in privilege- * The more is a race defeated in this struggle, the more does it come to misery; and the more is it victorious in this, the more does it rise in the scale of progress.
What is called politics in society is nothing but the struggle between the privileged and non-privileged classes, brought on by this difference in enjoyments. ‘ .
Vanquished in this gigantic struggle of difference in privilege, India has fallen – almost lifeless.
Therefore it is a far cry for India to establish relations of equality with foreign nations, – until she succeeds in restoring equality within her own bounds, she has no hope for reviving.
In other words, the gist of the thing is, that the division into castes, such as the Brahmana and the Kshatriya, is not at fault, but it is the difference in privilege that has proved the great bane of our society.
Hence our object is not to destroy caste distinctions, but to equalise the distinction of privilege. Our chief vow of life is to see that everyone, down to the Chandala, is helped to attain the right to Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha (Virtue, Wealth, Desire and fLiberation).
India shall again awake, and the tidal wave that has emanated from this centre will, like a great inundation, overflood the whole of mankind and heave it forward to the gates of Mukti. * * *
The lustre of Western light is now illumining India to a certain extent. Slowly the report of the effort and life-struggle, among the great nations of the West, for abolishing the distinction and inequality of privillege, is finding its way into this sleeping nation and kindling a ray of hope in the depressed hearts of the people of our country even. The^ majesty of the Atman, the common right of mankind, is slowly entering into the arteries of this country through various channels, good or bad. The non-privileged classes *are demanding Backtheir forfeited rights. If at this juncture, learning and religion, etc., remain confined! to a particular class or classes, that learning and that religion will die.
Three dangers are confronting us ; i. the nonBrahmin classes will unite and create a new religion like Buddhism in the olden times: 2. They will embrace a foreign religion ; or 3. all religious ideas will disappear from India for good.
In the first alternative, all the efforts for the realisation of its goal by this most ancient civilisation will be rendered fruitless. This India will be again reduced to puerile inanity, will forget all her past glories and advance towards progress at a snail’s pace, after long periods. In the second alternative, Indian civilisation and the Aryan race will very soon be extinct. For, whenever anyone steps out of the fold of Hinduism, we not only lose him, but have an enemy the more. * * * In ‘the third alternative, great danger lies in this, that whenever that special object on which rests the foundation of an individual’s or a nation’s life is destroyed, the individual or that nation is also destroyed. The life of the Aryan race is founded on religion, and when that is destroyed, the downfall of the Aryan race is inevitable.
A running stream chooses the line of least resistance, by itself. The current of social well-being also flows along the line of least resistance, of its own ac cord. Hence we must lead* society also along that line..
India is full of many races and religions, indigenous and of foreign importation. The Aryan
religion and Aryan ideas have not yet found their way into most of them.
Therefore we shall avert this great danger by first Aryanising India and giving her Aryan rights, and by inviting all without distinction to the Aryan scriptures and modes of spiritual practice. For this reason, we must first accord full rights to the Aryan religion to those castes which have slightly fallen away from it for want of the necessary Samskaras, by giving them Samskaras again. A man feels interest in things to which he has a right. Otherwise the non-Brahmin castes will discard the Aryan religion, on the ground that it is the special monopoly of the Brahmins. Similarly, we must broaden Hindu society by giving Samskaras to all classes down to the Chandala, and alien races such as the Mlechchhas as well.
But we must proceed in this slowly. For the present, we should give Samskaras to those who, though qualified according to t;he Shastras, are devoid of the necessary Samskaras through their own ignorance.
In this way there shall be an extensive preaching of the scriptures and religion, and numerous preachers thereof. *
The ideal of this world is that state when the whole world will again be Brahmana in nature. When there will be no necessity of the Sudra, Vaisya and Kshatriya powers; when man will be born with Yoga powers; when spiritual force will completely
triumph over material force; when disease and grief will no more overtake .the human body, the sense-organs will no more be able to go against the mind; when the application of brute force will be completely effaced from men’s memory, like a dream of primeval days; when love will be the only motive power in all actions on this earth; – then only the whole of mankind will be endowed with Brahminicai qualities and attain Brahmanahood. Then only the distinction of caste will be at an end, ushering in the Satya-Yuga [Golden Age] visualised by the ancient Rishis. We must adopt only that kind of caste-division which gradually leads to this goal. That division into caste which is the best way to the abolition of caste should be most cordially welcomed.
WOMAN’S PLACE IN HINDU RELIGION* By Swami Abhadananda.
4‘ Where women are honored, there the Devas (gods) are-pleased ; but where they are not honored no sacred rite yields rewards.”
“Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes: but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.” – Laws of Manu, III, 56, 57.
WELL has it been said by Louis Jaccoliot, the celebrated French author of ” The Bible in India,’* that ” India of the Vedas entertained a respect for women amounting to worship; a fact which we seem little to suspect in Europe when we accuse the extreme East of having denied the dignity of woman and of having only made of her an instrument of pleasure and of passive obedience.** He also said: “<Vhat I Here is a civilization which you cannot deny to be older than your own, which places the woman on a level with the man and gives her an equal place in the family and in society.” As on the one hand, the dawn of civilization first broke on the social horizon of India, so on the other, India is a country where the highest ideals of religion were understood, the noblest philosophy was taught, and an unparalleled code of ethical
* A lecture delivered under the auspices of the Vedanta Society, New York, December 16, 1900.
laws had been handed down, from a time when the barbarous customs of savage tribes prevailed among the nations that surrounded the mother-land of the moral, spiritual and God-loving nation of the Aryans. Long before the civil laws of the Romans, which gave the foundation for the legislation of Europe and of America, were codified by Justinian, nay, many centuries before Moses appeared as the Law-giver of the Semitic tribes, the Hindu laws of Manu were closely observed, and strictly followed by the members of Hindu society in general. Many of the Oriental scholars; having compared the digest of Justinian and the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament with the Hindu laws, have arrived at the conclusion that the Code of Manu was related to them as a father is to his child. The Hindu law-givers repeated and codified only those ethical principles which were entertained by the Hindus of the Vedic period. Following the teachings of the Vedas, the Hindu legislator gives equal rights to men and women by saying, “ Before the creation of this phenomenal universe, the firstborn Lord of all creatures divided his own Self into two halves, so that one half should be male and the other half female.” This illustration has established in the minds of the Hindus the fundamental equality of man and woman. Just as the equal halves of a fruit possess the same nature, the same attributes and the same properties in equal proportion, so man and woman, being the equal halves of the same siibstance, possess equal rights, equal privileges and equal 20 powers. This idea of the equality of man and woman was the corner-stone of that huge structure of religion and ethics among the Hindus which has stood for so many ages the ravages of time and change defying the onslaughts of the short-sighted critics of the world. Therefore in India whatever is claimed for the man may also be claimed for the woman; there should be no partiality shown for either man or woman, according to the ethical, moral and religious standard of the Hindus. The same idea of equality was most forcibly expressed in the Rig Veda (Book 5th, hymn 61, verse 8). The commentator explains this passage thus : ” The wife and husband, being the equal halves of one substance, are equal in every respect; therefore both should join and take equal parts in all work, religious and secular.” No other Scriptures of the- world have ever given to the woman such equality with the man as the Vedas of the Hindus. The Old Testament, the Koran, and the Zend-Avesta have made woman the scapegoat for all the crimes committed by man. The Old Testament, in describing the creation of woman and fall of man, has established the idea that woman was created for man’s pleasure, consequently her duty was to obey him implicitly. It makes her an instrument in the hands of Satan for the temptation and fall of the holy man with whom she was enjoying the felicity of paradise. Adam’s first thought on that occasion was to shift the burden of guilt on to the shoulders of the woman. St. Paul, in the New Testament, shows that, through Adam’s fall, woman was the means of bringing sin, suffering and death into the world. Popular Christianity has been trying lately to take away this idea, but in spite of all the efforts of the preachers the same idea still lurks behind the eulogies that have been piled upon the conception of womanhood in Christian lands. How is it possible for one who believes the accounts given in Genesis to be literally true, to reject the idea there set forth that woman was the cause of the temptation and fall of man, thereby bringing sin and suffering and death into the world ? For one who accepts the biblical account there is no other alternative left.
In India such ideas never arose in the minds of the Vedic seers, nor have kindred notions found expression in the writings of the law-givers of later days. The Hindu legislators realized that both sexes were equal, and said before the world that women had equal rights with men for freedom, for the acquirement of knowledge, education and spirituality. It is for this reason that we find in the Rig Veda the ‘names of so many inspired women who attained to the realization of the highest spiritual truths. These inspired women are recognized by all classes as the Seers of Truth, as spiritual instructors, divine speakers and revealers equally with the inspired men of Vedic hymns. Those who believe that the Hindu religion debars women from studying the Vedas or irom acquiring the religious ideas ought to correct
these erroneous notions by opening their eyes to the* facts which are indelibly written on the pages of the religious history of India. The one hundred and twenty-sixth hymn of the first book of the Rig Veda was revealed by a Hindu woman whose name was Romasha ; the one hundred and seventy-ninth hymn of the same book, by Lopamudra, another inspired Hindu woman. I can quote at least a
dozen names of such women revealers of the
Vedic wisdom, such as Aditi who instructed’ Indra, one of the Devas, in the higher knowledge of Brahman, the Universal Spirit, Visvavara, Shashvati, Gargi, Maitreyi, Apala, Ghosha, etc. All of these are the names of inspired women revealers of the spiritual wisdom. Every one of them lived the ideal life of spirituality, being untouched by the things of the world. They are called in Sanskrit Brahmavadinis,. the speakers and revealers of Brahman – the Infinite Source of spirituality. They were devout performers of the religious rites, singers of holy hymns, and often discussed with great philosophers the most subtle problems of life and death, the nature of the soul and of God, and their inter-relation, and sometimes, in the course of these discussions, they defeated the most advanced thinkers among their opponents.
Those who have read the Upanishads, the philosophical portions of the Vedas, know that Gargi and Maitreyi, the two great women Seers of Truth, discoursed philosophical topics with Yajnavalka, who Was one of the best authorities in the Vedic lore.
There are many instances of women acting as umpires on such occasions. When Sankaracharya, the great commentator of the Vedanta, was discussing this philosophy with another philosopher, a Hindu lady, well versed in all the scriptures, was requested to act as umpire.
If, in the face of such facts, the Christian missionaries say that the Hindu religion prevents women from studying the Vedas or denies them a place in religion, we can only console ourselves by thinking that the eyes of our missionary brothers and sisters are not open to truths which exist outside the boundary line of their own particular creed and religion. It is the especial injunction of the Vedas, however, that no married man shall perform any religious rite, ceremony, or sacrifice without being joined in it by his wife ; should he do so, his work will be incomplete and half finished, and he will not get the full results; because the wife is considered to be a partaker and partner in the spiritual life of her husband; she is called in Sanskrit, Sahadharmini, ” spiritual helpmate.” This idea is very old, as old as the Hindu nation. It is true that there were certain prohibitions for some women against certain studies and ceremonies, which were prescribed for those only who were in a different stage of spiritual development, just as a certain class of men were proscribed from the studies of some portions of the Vedas or from performing certain ceremonies simply because they were not ready for them.
Coming down from the Vedic period to the time when the Pur anas and Epics were written, we find that the same idea of equality between men and women was kept alive, and that the same laws were observed as during the time of the Vedas. Those who have read the Ramayana, one of the great Epics of India, will remember how exemplary was the character of Sita, the heroine. She was the ideal wife, the ideal mother and the ideal queen ; she was the embodiment of purity, chastity and kindness, the personification of spirituality. She still stands as the perfect type of ideal womanhood in the hearts of Hindu woman of all castes and creeds. In the Whole religious history of the world a second Sita will not be found. Her life was unique. She is worshipped as an Incarnation of God, as Christ is worshipped among the Christians. India is the only country where prevails a belief that God incarnates in the form of a woman as well as in that of a man.
In the Mahabharata we read the account of Sulabha, the great woman Yogi, who came to the court of King Janaka and showed wonderful powers and wisdom, which she acquired through the practice of Yoga. This shows that women were allowed to practise Yoga; even to-day there are many living Yoginid in India who are highly advanced in spirituality. Many of these Yoginis become spiritual teachers of men. Sri Ramakrishna, the greatest
Saint of the nineteenth century, was taught spiritual truths by a Yogini.
As in religion the Hindu woman of ancient times enjoyed equal rights and privileges with men, so in secular matters she had equal share and equal power with men. From ancient times, women in India have had the same right to possess property as men; they could go to the courts of justice, plead their own cases and ask for the protection of the law.
Those who have read the famous Hindu drama called Sakuntala, which stands as high as the best dramas of Shakspeare in tone and quality, know that Sakuntala pleaded her own case and claimed her rights in the court of King Dushyanta. Similar instances are mentioned iu the Rig Veda, the most ancient writing of the Hindus, in the one hundred and eighth hymn of the tenth book. As early as 2oooB.C. Hindu women were allowed to go to the battle-fields to fight against enemies. Sarama, one of the most powerful women of her day, was sent by her husband in search of robbers. She discovered their hiding-place and afterwards destroyed them.
In the fifth book of the Rig Veda we read that King Namuchi sent his wife to fight against his enemies. She fought and eventually conquered them. There have been many instances of women holding high political powers, governing States, making laws and administering justice to all. Throughout the history of India are to be found the names of many women who have governed their own territories.
Some women of later dates resisted foreign invaders. The history of India records the wonderful generalship of the Rant of Jhansi, who held a portion of the British army in check during the famous mutiny of 1857-58. She headed her troops against the British, dressed like a cavalry officer, and after a hard fight she fell in battle and died in June, 1858. Sir Hugh Rose declared that the best man on the enemy’s side was the Rani of Jhansi, not knowing that the Rani was not a man, but the Queen herself.
Not long ago a Hindu lady, Aus Kour by name, was elevated by the Hindus, with the help of the British government, to the disputed throne of the disorganized and revolted State of Patiala, m the northwest of India. She has been described by English historians as the most competent person to govern that State. In less than a year she brought peace and security into all parts of her dominions.
Ahalya Bai, the Queen of Malwa, governed her kingdom with great success for twenty years, devoting herself to the rights and comforts of her people and the happiness of her subjects ; she was so great and popular that both the Mahomedans and the Hindus united in prayers for her long life; so little did she care for name and fame that when a book was written in her honor she ordered it to be destroyed, and took no notice of the author.
America boasts of her civilization and the freedom of her women, but we know how little power and how few privileges have been given to women. The cause
of this is deeply rooted in the biblical conception of womanhood. It is claimed that Christianity has elevated the condition of women ; but, on the contrary, history tells us that it is Christianity that’has stood for centuries in the way of the religious, social and political freedom of women. Think of the women’s suffrage societies, and how hard they are struggling to win recognition of the rights of their sex. Roman law and Roman jurisprudence gave woman a place far more elevated than that given to her by Christianity. The Christians learned to honor the women from the pagans. The Teutonic tribes believed, like the Hindus, in the perfect equality of both sexes in all domestic and social relations, and held that a queen was as good as a king. Even to-day the Christain nations fail to see this equality between man and woman.
The Hindu law allows the I women a much greater share in the management of property than most of the statutes of the Christian nations.
In family affairs, religious or secular, especially in business or trade, a husband in India cannot take any step without consulting the female members of the family.
It is often said that Hindu women are treated like slaves by their husbands but it is not a fact. On the contrary, the Hindu women gel better treatment than the majority of the wives of Englishmen or of Americans endowed with the spirit of an English husband. Sir M. M. Williams says : ” Indian wives
often possess greater influence than the wives of
Europeans.’* The number of wife-beaters is considerably smaller in India than in Europe or America. He is not a true Hindu who does not regard a woman’s-body as sacred as the temple of God. He is an out-caste who touches a woman’s body with irreverence,, hatred or anger. ” A woman’s body,” says Manu,
the law-giver, ‘ must not be struck hard even with a flower, because it is sacred.” It is for this reason that Hindus do not allow capital punishment for women. The treatment of woman, according to Hindu religion, will be better understood from some of the quotations which I will append from the laws of Manu and other law-givers. Manu says: –
1. The mouth of a woman is always pure.” V. 130.
2. “Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers,. / husbands, brothers, and brothers-in-law, who desire their own
3. ” Where women are honored, there the Devas (gods), are pleased; but where they are dishonoured, no sacred rite yields rewards.” Ill, 56.
4. ” Where female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes ; but that the family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.” Ill, 57.
5. In like manner, care must be taken of barren women,, of those who have no sons, of those whose family is extinct, of wives and widows faithful to their lords, and of women afflicted with diseases.” VIII, 28.
6. ” A righteous king must punish like thieves those relatives who appropriate the propertv of such females during their lifetime.” VIII, 29
7. ” In order to protect women and Brahmins, he who kills in the cause of right, commits no sin.” VIII, 349.
8. “One’s daughter is the highest object of tenderness; hence, if one is offended by her, one must bear it without resentment.” IV, 185. *
* Compare this with the statements of the missionaries-that the Hindu religion sanctions the killing of girls.
9. ” A maternal aunt, the wife of a maternal uncle, a mother-in-law, and paternal aunt, must be honored like the wife of one’s spiritual teacher: they are equal to the wife of one’s spiritual teacher.” II, 131.*
10. “Towards the sister of one’s father and of one’s, mother and towards one’s elder sister, one must behave as towards one’s mother; but the mother is more venerable than they:” II, 133.
11. ” But the teacher is ten times more venerable than the-sub-teacher, the father a hundred times more than the teacher, but the mother a thousand times more than the father.” II,.. 145.
12. “A chaste wife, who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste, reaches heaven though she have no son, just like those chaste men.”
Compare this with the statements of the missionaries that the Hindu widows are cursed by their leligion.
13. ” In that family where the husband is pleased with his; wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting.” Ill, 60.
14. ” Offspring, the due performance of religious rites, faithful service, highest conjugal happiness, and heavenly bliss for the ancestors and one’s self, depend upon the wife alone.” IX, 28.
15. ” Let mutual fidelity continue till death ; this may be-considered as a summary of the highest law for husband and wife.” IX, 101.
From other Hindu laws : –
” Women possess an unequalled means of purification they never become (entirely) foul.” #
” Women are [pure in, all limbs.”
1, ” Man is strength, woman is beauty ; he is the reason, that governs and she is the wisdom that moderates.”
2. ” He who despises woman despises his mother,”
3. ” He who is cursed by a woman is cursed by God..”
4, The tears of a woman call down the fire of heaven on those who make them flow.”
* (In India, the wife of a spiritual teacher is regarded asa living goddess.)
5. Evil to him who laughs at a woman’s sufferings ; God shall laugh at his prayers.”
6. ” The songs of women are sweet in the ears of the Lord ; men should not, if they wish to be heard, sing the praises of God without women.”
7. ” There is no crime more odious than to persecute women, and to take advantage of their weakness to despoil them of their patrimony.”
8. ” The woman watches over the house, and the protecting divinities (Devas) of the domestic hearth are happy in her presence. The labors of the field^should never be assigned to her.”
9. ” When relatives, by some subterfuge, take possession of the property of a woman, her carriages or her jewels, such evil doers shall descend into the infernal regions.”
10. ” The virtuous woman should have but one husband, as the right-minded man should have but one wife.”
Here is the definition of a wife given in the Mahabharata : –
” A wife is half the man, his truest friend;
A loving wife is a perpetual spring Of virtue, pleasure, wealth ; a faithful wife Is his best aid in seeking heavenly bliss;
A sweetly speaking wife is a companion.
In solitude, a father in advice,
A mother in all seasons of distress,
A rest in passing through life’s wilderness.”
The Christian missionaries say that these laws are most horrible ! To-day in some parts of Europe women are yoked together with horses and cattle in the field, and objiged to do the roughest labor.
The unmarried daughter, not the son, inherits the mother’s estate. This is the Hindu law. The special property of the wife which she gets as dowry cannot be used by the husband. A wife in India is not responsible for the debts of her husband, or son. The mother in India owns her children as much as the iather does.
Mrs. F. A. Steele, who has written several novels-on Indian life, and who resided in India for twenty-five years, writes of Indian women :
“In regard to the general position of women in India, I think it is rather better than our own. Women in India can hold property, and a widow always I gets a fixed portion of her-husband’s estate.”
Some American ladies who lived in India, not as missionaries but as impartial observers, have corroborated these statements. It is generally said that the Hindu law makes no provision for the Hindu widows. Let us see what an English historian says:
“In the absence of direct male heirs, widows succeed to a life-interest in real, and absolute interest in personal property. The daughters inherit absolutely. Where there are sons, mothers and daughters are entitled to shares, and wives hold peculiar property from a variety of sources over which a husband has no control during their lives, and which descend to their own heirs, with a preference to females.” – Mill’s History of India, vol. I, p. 248.
Much has been said against the marriage customs of the Hindus. I have heard a great deal of objection to them, in this country especially. It is true that marriage by courtship is not considered by the Hindus to be the highest and best * system ; they say this method generally proceeds from selfish desires, for the mere gratification of passion. Marriage according to the Hindu ideas must be based on the ideal of the spiritual union of the souls, and not on the lower desires for sense pleasures. It must be a sacred bond. The Hindus were the first to recognize marriage as an indissoluble holy bond between two souls. Even death does not dissolve it ; and this idea prevails in the hearts of many Hindu wives, who do not care to
remarry after the death of their husbands, but prefer to devote their lives to fulfilling spiritual duties.
Mrs. Steele says: ” I have seen many a virgin
widow who gloried in her fate.” Marriage is not considered to be the only aim of life. There are nobler and higher purposes, and they must be accomplished before death comes. The whole spirit of the marriage laws in India is in favor of the legal union between one man and one woman ; but they allow a little latitude for the preservation of the race. It is said that a man may marry a second wife for progeny alone, with the consent of his first wife, in case she should be barren.
The aim of Hindu lawgivers was to build a society where the moral and spiritual evolution of the individual should be free from legal interference. Therefore they divided society into classes, and set forth laws for each class ,* the marriage laws in India have been many-sided in order to suit the different tendencies which prevailed among different classes. Hindu lawgivers understood that one law would not do for all people. The higher the class in society, the more restricted are their laws ; for instance, the same lawgiver who allows the marriage of widows amongst the lower classes, sets forth arguments against its practice among women of a higher class. ‘Nearly all Hindu widows of the lower classes can remarry after the death of their husbands ; but it depends upon the choice both of the husband and the -wife. The Hindu law provides for the remarriage of
widows and of divorced women in the same way as for the remarriage of widowers and divorced men. According to the law, a wife may abandon her husband (if she choose) if he be criminal, insane, impotent, outcast or afflicted with leprosy ; also because of his long absence in foreign lands, and can take another husband. The Roman law gives no other causes of divorce than these. Similarly, a husband may abandon his wife if she be drunken or adulterous, afflicted with leprosy, or cruel towards husband and children, and can remarry. But the Hindu law does not allow a divorce simply for .incompatibility of temper, nor because of the simple desire in either party to marry another.
It is said that the greatest curse is the child-mar-.riage in India, and that it is sanctioned by religion ; but this is not true. Religion distinctly forbids it, and in many parts of India the so-called child-marriage is nothing but a betrothal. The betrothal ceremony takes place some years before the real marriage ceremony ; sufficient cause may prolong the period of betrothal for even three or four years. In Northern India the real marriage does not take place until the parties are of proper age ; it is attended with music, feasting, and the presentation of gifts. A betrothed wife stays in her father’s house until the time of her real marriage. In Southern India, customs are not the same; many abuses have crept in, and ^child-wives are often given to their husbands at too tender an age. The Hindu law does ‘not prevent the remarriage of
the betrothed wife after the death of her betrothed husband; but it says that under such circumstances the parents of the betrothed wife commit a sin as of giving false witness before the court of justice.
According to the Hindu law it is better for a girl of a high caste to remain unmarried for life than to marry one who is not of noble birth or from a family of the same caste, or one who is unqualified and illiterate.
Eight different kinds of marriages are described and discussed by Hindu legislators, among which marriage with the consent of the parents of both parties, and not a sentimental love contract, is considered to be the highest. In ancient times,, when the country was governed by Hindu kings, the Svayambara system of marriage was very common. It was the system of free choice of a husband by the maiden. Those who have read ” The Light of Asia,” by Sir Edwin Arnold, wil4 remember how Buddha was married. But when the Hindus lost their political freedom they would have been unable to prevent the intermixture of races had such liberty been continued; so they abandoned that system of marriage and adopted that of betrothing their sons and daughters in their youth. The betrothal, however, is not practised in all parts of the country.
Christian missionaries have brought false charges against the moral character of Hindu women, and some of your own country-women, having enlisted
their names as Christian converts, have, I regret to say, joined these missionary detractors in bringing false charges against Hindu women. If you wish to know the true condition of the women in India, you will have to reject ninety-nine per cent, of the statements which you hear from the missionaries, or from Christian converts who come from India. There are immoral women in India, as there are in every other country, but it is more than wicked to make such sweeping statements as that there is no morality among Hindu women. “ Pandita Ramabai said: I would not trust one of my girls in any ‘ Indian home. The immorality in that country is horrible ! ” – Fitchburg Sentinel, 18th April, 1898.
Self-burning of widows was not sanctioned by the Hindu religion, but was due to other causes, the fact being that when the Mahommedans conquered India they treated the widows of the soldiers so brutally that the women preferred death, and voluntarily sought it. It is often said that the ” Christian Government ” has suppressed Sati; but the truth is that the initiative in this direction was taken by that noble Hindu, Ram Mohan Roy, who was however, obliged to secure the aid of the British Government in enforcing his ideas, because India was a subject nation. The educated classes among the Hindus had strongly protested against the priests who supported this custom (which prevailed only in certain parts of India), and efforts had been made to suppress the evil by force ; but as it could not be done without official
help, appeal was made to the Viceroy, Lord Ben-tinck, and a law against Sati was passed. Thus the evil was practically suppressed by the Hindus themselves, aided by the British Government.
Sir. M. M. Williams says:
” It was principally his (Raja RamJMohan Roy’s) vehement denunciation of this practice, and the agitation against it set on foot by him, which ultimately led to the abolition of Sati throughout British India in 1829.” – “Brahmanism and Hinduism,” p. 482.
The exclusion of women from the society of men, which we find in some parts of India, is not due to their religion but to other causes. It came into practice merely for self-defence against Mohammedan brutality. The Purda system, that is, the custom of not allowing women to appear in public without a veil, was not of Hindu origin, but was introduced into India by the Mohammedans. There are many parts of India where the Purda system does not exist at all, where men mix freely with women, travel in the same vehicle, and appear in public with the women unveiled. Sir Monier M. Williams writes: –
” Moreover, it must be noted that the seclusion and ignorance of women, which were once mainly due to the fear of the Mohammedan conquerors, do not exist in the same degree in provinces unaffected by those conquerors.”
Every one has heard the old missionary tale of the Hindu mothers throwing their babies to the crocodiles in the Ganges. Touching pictures of a black mother with a white baby in her arms calmly awaiting the advent of a large crocodile have adorned many Sunday-school books. Perhaps this story arose from the fact that in certain places poor Hindu mothers place the dead bodies of their, little ones by the riverside because they cannot afford the expense of cremating them.
The zeal of the pious missionaries for Christianizing India was the cause of the story of the car of Jagannath. Sir M. M. Williams says : –
” It is usual for missionaries to speak with horror of the self-immolation alleged to take place under the car of Jagannath. But if deaths occur they must be accidental, as selfdestruction is wholly opposed both to the letter and spirit of their religion.” – “Brahmanism and Hinduism,” p. 118.
As regards female infanticide,. Papdita Ramabai herself wrote : – »
” Female infanticide, though not sanctioned hy religion and never looked upon as right by conscientious people, has nevertheless in those parts of India mentioned been silently passed over unpunished by society in general.” – High-Caste Hindu Women,” p. 26. J
The Pandita does not perhaps know that numbers of dead bodies of illegitimate babies are picked up every year in the streets and vacant lots of New York and other large American cities. What does American society do about such criminals ? Is it not equally reasonable to charge these .evils, to the Christian religion as to lay all the sins of India at the door of the Hindu religion ? *
High-caste Hindu .women generally learn to read and write in their own vernacular, but they do not pass public examinations. Hindu religion does not prevent any woman from receiving education; on the contrary, it says that it is the duty ofr the parents; brothers, and husbands to educate- their daughters, sisters, and wives. So. if there,.be ignorance among
Hindu women it is not the fault of their religion, but rather of their poverty.
Malabar boasts of seven great poets, and four of them were women. The moral sentiments uttered by one of them (Avvayar) are taught in the schools as the golden rules of life. (The writings of Lilavati, a great woman mathematician,) still form the text-book in the native schools of the Hindus.
It is often said by Christian missionaries that Hindu religion teaches that women have no souls, and that they are not entitled to salvation. On the contrary, all the sacred books of the Hindus testify against such outrageous falsities. Those who have read the Bhagavad Gita or the Upanishads know that according to Hindu religion the soul is sexless,, and that all men and women will sooner or later reach the highest goal of religion. It was in India that women were first allowed to be spiritual teachers and to enter into the monastic life. Those who have read the life of Buddha know that his wife became the leader of the Buddhist nuns. There are to-day hundreds of Hindu Sanrtyasinis [nuns who are recognized as spiritual teachers by the Hindus.] The wife of Sri Ramakrishna, the great Hindu saint of the nineteenth century, has become a living example of the great honor and reverence that are paid by Hindus to a woman of pure, spotless-and spiritual life.
Lastly, the position of women in Hindu religion can be understood better by that unique idea of the
Motherhood of God which is nowhere so strongly expressed and recognized as in India. The mother is so highly honoured in ‘.India that the Hindus are not satisfied until they see divinity in the form of earthly mother. They say that one mother is greater than a thousand fathers, therefore the Hindus prefer to call the Supreme Being the Mother of the Universe. According to Hindu religion each woman, whether old or young, is the living representative of the Divine Mother on earth. The Divine Mother is greater than the ” Creator ” of other religions. She is the Producer of the Creator, or the First-born Lord of all creatures. There is no other country in the world where every living mother is venerated as an incarnation of the Divine Mother, where every village has a guardian mother who protects all as her own children.
Listen to the prayer that rises every day to the Almighty Mother of the universe from the hearts of Hindu worshippers: –
” O, Mother Divine, Thou art beyond the reach of our-praises; Thou pervadest every particle of the universe; all knowledge proceeds from Thee, O, Infinite Source of wisdom ! Thou dwellest in every feminine form, and all women are Thy * living representatives upon earth.”
THE IDEALS OF THE INDIAN WOMEN.* By Sister Nivedita.
As the light of dawn breaks on the long curving street of the Indian village, the chance passerby may see at every door some kneeling woman busied with the ceremony of the Salutation of the Threshold. A pattern drawn on the ground in lines of white rice-floor with blossoms placed within it at central points remains for a few hours to mark the fact that cleansing and worship have been performed. The joy of home finds silent speech in the artistic zest of the design. Wealth or poverty is betrayed according as the flowers are a bright network of winter gourd blossoms, a stiff little row of two or three white daisies or some other offering, more or less humble as the case may be. But everywhere we read a habit of thought to which all things are symbolistic ; the air upon the door-sill full of dim boding and suggestiveness as to the incomings and the outgoings which the day shall witness ; and the morning opening and setting-wide the door, an act held to be no way safe unless done by one who will brood in doing it upon the divine security and benediction of her beloved.
Such thought was the fashion of a very ancient world – the world in which myths were born, out of * From the Prabhuddha Bharatha.
which religions issued and wherein vague- and mysterious ideas of ” luck ” originated. The custom bears its age upon its brow. For thousands of years must Indian women have risen at dawn to perform the Salutation of the Threshold. Thousands of years of simplicity and patience like the patience of the peasant, like that of the grass, speak in the beautiful rite. It is this patience of woman that makes civilizations. It is this patience of the Indian woman mingled with this large power of reverie, that has made and makes the Indian nationality.
For the habit of the country, in and by itself, is complete and organic. The steps by which it manifests its orderly unfolding are sequent and harmonious* and imply none of those violent digressions known as progress and reform. The women of Bengal worship their husbands and serve their children and their households, with the rapt idealism of the saints. The women of Maharashtra are as strong and determined as any in the West. The Rajputana queen prides herself on the unflinching courage of her race that would follow the husband even into the funeral fire, yet will notallow a king to include his wife amongst his subjects. The women of Madras struggle even with agony to reach the spiritual Pole-Star, and build up* again and again like some careful beaver, any fragment of their wall of custom that the resistless tides’of the modern world may attempt to break away. And the daughters of Gujarat are, like the women of merchant peoples everywhere, soft and silken and flower-like, dainty and clinging as a dream. Or we may penetrate into the Moslem zenana, to find the same graceful Indian womanhood, sometimes clad in the Sari, sometimes in the short Turkish jacket, but ever the self-same gentle and beautiful wifehood and motherhood, though here it beats its breast and cries upon Ali and Husain instead of prostrating itself before some image.
Nor is there any real monotony of type. Every order of woman finds its strong individual representation. Brunehild herself was not more heroic than thousands of whom the Rajput chronicles tell. Nay, in the supreme act of her life, the mystic death on the throne of flame beside the dead Siegfried, many a quiet little Bengalee woman has been her peer; Joan of Arc was not more a patriot than the wonderful Queen of Jhansi, who in the year 1857 fought in person against the British troops. The children of men who saw it talk to this day of the form of this woman’s father, swinging on the gibbet high above the city walls, hanged there by his daughter’s orders after she had killed him with her sword, for the crime of making a treaty with the English to deliver the keys into their hands. They talk, too, of her swift rush across the drowsy midday camp at the head of her troops, her lance poised .to pierce, her mare Lakshmi straining every muscle, the whizz of the charge so unexpected that only here and there a dazed white soldier could gather presence of mind to fire a shot at the cavalcade already passed. And old
men still sing her glory with tears choking their voice. >
The Rani of Jhansi was no purdah woman. She was a Maratha with a passion1 for^her country, and practised, since girlhood, in the chase. She had been the real head of the kingdom ever since her marriage, for her husband was only a handsome figure-head, who spent in making feeble poetry the time he might have given to rule or to his wife. Her life had been in fact as solitary as that of a mediaeval saint. And her ostensible reason for fighting was the right to adopt an heir. There has always indeed been a great development of the political faculty amongst Maratha women. It is well known that long before the time of Jhansi, the great Sivaji owed the inspiration that led to the national reawakening to his mother, rather than his father.
The custom of secluding women is thus not nearly so universal in India as is imagined by people who gather their ideas from unreliable accounts of the woes of high-caste women in Bengal. The lower classes move freely in all countries, for household work and the earning of their livelihood compel; and in thev aristocratic closeness of her retreat, the Mohammedan woman ranks first, the Rajput second, and only thirdly the Bengali. The screen is always more easily lifted for the Hindu than for the Moslem. A thousand considerations intervene to mitigate its severity in the case of the former. And in the South and West it is actually non-existent. By this it is not to be understood that
any Hindu women ‘meet men outside their kindred with the same freedom and frankness as their Western sisters. Very old adaptations of the Ramayana shew us the brother-in-law who has never looked higher than the heroine’s feet, and the wife who-blushes rather than mention her husband’s name. But this power of the individual to isolate himself in the midst of apparently unrestrained social intercourse is necessary in all communities, and has its correspondences in Western society itself. Freedom is granted only to those who are self-disciplined. It might be added too that a true wife has as little occasion to realize the possible jealousy of her husband in the East as in the West and that an unreasonable fit of suspicion would be considered the same weakness and insult by the one society as by the other. Yet the liberty of Madras and Bombay for all its limitations is a reality and in the province of Malabar woman is actually in the ascendancy. The curious country of learned matriarchs and kings who rule as the regents of their sisters will have many disclosures to make to the world, when India shall have produced a sufficient number of competent sociologists of her own blood. It is commonly said to be characteristically polyandrous, but it is not so in the same sense as Tibet. For no woman regards herself as the wife of two men at once. The term matriarchal is more.’ accurate in as much as the husband visits his wife in her own home and the right of inheritance is through
Thus, far from India being the land of the uniform oppression of women, it represents the whole cycle of feminist institutions. There is literally no theory of feminine rights and position, that does not find illustration somewhere within its limits. If we ask for the dominion of individual beauty and charm, there is the queen to whom the Taj was built. Or the ” four perfect women ” of Islam – the fostermother of Moses, Mary the Madonna, Khadija and Fatima – Offer a world in themselves including each of the main types of grave, sweet womanhood, according as her power is temporal or spiritual, individualistic “or communal in its display.
But if we look for the unique dignity of ethical’ achievement for the translation of wifehood not into a novel, but into a religion, we must turn to the Hindu, life, suffused as that is with the pursuit of the ideals, of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana,* and the Puranas. Savitri, the Indian Alcestis; Sati, who gave up the body as one carelessly throws aside a mantle, because it had been guilty of hearing her father abuser her husband; Uma, who wooed the great God with penances ; and Sita, the divine embodiment of steadfastness and strength; all these are held as the -great Hindu exemplars from Malabar to Nepal.
Throughout Asia where social theory has never bfeen confused by the existence of a privileged class regarded as the type, labour, rising linto Government,
stands side by side with prayer and motherhood as the main opportunities of:woman. The cow-house, the dairy, the kitchen, the granary, the chapel, with a hundred other offices, divide the attention ofr the ladies of the household. A rich family will have its large cooking room for the cooks, and in addition, not one, but a series of kitchens, for the use of wife and daughters. Old houses are built with their finest gardens and orchards accessible only from the zenana. Nothing is more noticeable in the lives of Indian women than the readiness and spontaneity with which work is sub-divided and the peaceable way in which it is carried out. This is most striking in regard to the preparation of food. Every Indian woman-is a cook, often highly skilled, and some years ago there was no compliment so great as, an invit- % ation from a neighbouring family, on the occasion of some important festivity, to come and help with the cuisine. Even Hindu society, however, is affected by the ideals of Western organization and emergency. Work nowadays tends more and more to be laid on the shoulders of Brahman servants, imported for the occasion.
Modern sociologists say that the theory of the equality of man and woman is essentially a phenomenon of coast life and fisher communities. It is interesting to note in this regard that in the fishing villages outside Calcutta, the wife buys his take from the husband and sells it in the market at her own risk. If on his way home her man has disposed of
his load to some merchant, she will follow the matter up and buy it Backfor her own trade. Possibly the same process of keeping an account against the husband is gone through in Madras, in Bombay also, for in all parts of India, it is the woman who brings the fish to the bazaar. In this class, there is noquestion of seclusion, and the fisher-wife in the matter of her freedom and responsibilities is a European woman.
A like liberty obtained, however, amongst the women of the Sanskrit drama. Whatever be the date of the play of Kalidasa, it is evident that that traditional story of Shakuntala round which it is constructed, must have pictured her as studying with the boy disciples of her father and receiving his guests during his absence in unquestioned propriety. It is to be inferred then that such a code of manners-was not inconsonant with the memories and the general ideas of the race who transmitted the tale, and if this be so, it cannot be natural to the Hindus, to cloister and veil their womankind. ,
But we cannot on the other hand admit that the seclusion of woman is a custom introduced into* India by a kind of Mohammedan contamination. This thoughtless explanation, even if historical, would only drive the question a point further, – what induced the Mussalman to screen his women ? It is-unfortunate, for those who hold the theory, that Islam derives the religious sanction of its social institutions from Arabia and that the Arab woman is said
to enjoy considerable freedom and power. Hence it would seem that even the Mohammedan adopted the practice from Persia, from China or from Greece. If he, again, had been responsible for the custom in India, we might have expected that in the neighbourhood of Delhi and Agra, ,the capitals of the Mogul empire, Hindu purdah would have been the strictest. This however, is not the case, RajputaDa and Bengal being far more deeply permeated by the habit. The degradation of attempting to explain away a reproach by fastening it on some one else is surely obvious. We must seek elsewhere for the reason of a convention that seems almost instinctive in certain parts of the Orient.
There is some degree of truth in the supposition that society in a military state tends to seclude its women. The mistake probably lies in thinking that this is the only factor in moral evolution that affects their position in this way. Rather it would appear that amongst the primary occupations of mankind, – x hunting, fishing, tillage and what not, – there is a distinct tendency to promote different types of institutions. Other things being equal, those occupations that imply a sustained and arduous conquest of Nature tend to equality of .rights and similarity of manners for men and women, whereas, under long-settled conditions, from which anxiety is somewhat x eliminated, there is a progressive inclination towards divergence of their lines of activity, accompanied by the more complete surrender of womap to the
protection of man. Thus an important feature of the Hindu as of the Anglican wedding ceremony is the fact that her father ” gives away ” the bride into the keeping of her husband.
The tendency to divergence of function would be accelerated in Asia by the nature of the climate which makes stillness and passivity the highest luxury. This fact again combines with military prepossessions to make the custom of seclusion especially characteristic of royal households and having once achieved such social prestige, it speedily extends over wide areas. It may be pointed out that even in Europe, the freedom of woman differs widely with her nationality, and that in England and America the accumulation of fortune is often an influence towards restricting the social intercourse’of the women of the wealthy family.
If this theory be correct, it would explain the freedom of woman .in India during the first Aryan period as an outcome of the struggle with earth and forest. The early immigration of agricultural races across the Himalayas from Central Asia must have meant a combat with Nature of the severest kind. It was a combat in which the wife was the helpmate of the husband. If he cleared the jungle and hunted the game, she had to help in field and garden. The Aryan population was scanty and she must be ready to take his place. Vicissitudes were many. At a moment’s notice she must be prepared to meet an -emergency, brave, cheerful and self-helpful. In such
a life, woman must move as easily as man.
It was far otherwise however when the country was cleared, agriculture established on the Aryan scale and when the’energy of the race was concentrated on the higher problem of conserving and extending its culture of the mind and spirit. It is doubtful Whether Indian philosophy could ever have been, completed on any other terms than those of the seclusion of woman. ” This world is all a dream : God alone is real,” – such an ultimatum could hardly have been reached in a society like that of Judaism where love and beauty were avowed before all as the seal of divine approval on a successful life. Not that India despises these happy gifts. But they are the joys of the householder in her eyes, not of the spiritual seer. ” The religion of the wife lies in serving her husband: the religion of the widow lies in serving God,” say the women, and there is no doubt in their minds that the widow’s call is higher.
But while we talk of the seclusion of woman as if it were a fact, we must be careful to guard against misconception. In society and in the streets of Indian cities, it is practically true that we see men alone. This fact makes it a possibility for the religious to pass his life without looking on the face of any woman save such as he may call e< mother.” Inside the home, if we penetrate so far, we shall probably meet with none but women. But if we live there, day after day, we shall find that every woman has familiar intercourse ! with some man or men in the
family. The relation between brothers and sisters-in-law is all gaiety and sweetness. Scarcely any children are so near to a woman as the sons of her husband’s sisters. It is the proud prerogative of these, whatever be their age, to regard her as their absolute slave. There is a special delicacy of affection between the husband’s father and the daughter-in-law. Cousins count as brothers and sisters. And from the fact that every woman has her rightful place in some family, it follows that there is more healthy human intercourse with men in almost every Hindu woman’s life than in those of thousands of single women living alone or following professional career in the suburbs ,of London and other Western cities. It is a social intercourse, too, that is full of a refined and delicate sense of humour. Men who have been to Europe always declare that the zenana woman stands unrivalled in her power of repartee. English fun is apt to strike the Indian as a little loud. How charming is the Bengali version of the ” bad penny that always turns up ” in ” I am the broken / cowrie that has been to seven markets,” that is, ” I may be worthless, but I am knowing.”
We are apt to think only of that towards which we aspire, as an ideal. We rarely think of those assimilated ideals that reveal themselves as custom.
Yet if we analyse the conventions that dominate an Indian woman’s life, we cannot fail to come upon a great ideal of self-control. The closeness and intimacy of the family life, and the number of the
interests that have to be considered, have no doubt made strict discipline necessary for the sake of peace. Hence a husband and wife may not address each other in the presence of others. A wife may not name her husband, much less praise him, and so on. Only little children are perfectly untrammelled and may bestow their affection when and where they will. All these things are for the protection of the community, lest it be outraged by the parading of a relationship of intimacy, or victimised by an enthusiasm which it could not be expected to share.
This constant and happy subordination of ourselves to others does not strike the observer only because it is so complete. It is not the characteristic of the specially developed individual alone, for it is recognised and required, in all degrees of delicacy, by society at large. Unselfishness and the desire to serve stand out in the Western personality against a background of individualistic institutions, and convey an impression of the eagerness and struggle of pity, without which the world would certainly be the poorer. But the Eastern woman is unaware of any defiance of institutions. Her charities are required of her. Her vows and penances are. unknown, even to her husband, but were they told, they would excite no remark in a community where all make similar sacri-. fices. This is only to say that she is more deeply self-effacing and more effectively altruistic than any Western. The duty of tending the sick is so much a matter of course that it would not occur to her to -erect a hospital or to attempt to learn nursing. Here she misses something doubtless, for the modern organisation of skill has produced a concentration of attention on method that avails to save much suffering. Still, we must not too readily assume that our own habit of massing together all the sick and hungry and insane and isolating them in worlds visited throughout with like afflictions to their own proceeds entirely from a sense of humanity on our part, though it has not failed to secure some excellent results.
Much is sometimes made of the fact that Gautama Buddha, brought face to face with weariness, disease and death, went forth to find for man a new religion, whereas the Christ put out His hand to heal the leper and raise the dead. It would be cruel at such a juncture to point out that both these great personages were orientals, manifesting different phases of the Asiatic attitude towards pain. It is better, leaving to Europe her unaccountable assumption that she has some exclusive right in the Teacher of Galilee, to enter into the question as it appears to the Eastern mind, on its own merits. So viewed, it would be pointed out that the dead raised must still die again, that the leper healed was still in danger of disease, whereas Nirvana means release as it were into a new dimension, whereon no consciousness of either health or sickness can ever intrude. Again taking the story of Buddha as it stands, we must remember its background of the JataJca Birth – Stories. .And here we see that the Great Renunciation is only accounted
for in the eyes of the’ Indian people by the inwrought power of the sacrifice of his own life repeated five hundred times for the immediate good of others. The establishment of hundreds of hospitals for men and beasts, nay, the filling of countless hearts with pity and with peace, are only some of the results of prince Siddhartha’s choice.
Women are the guardians of humanity’s ethical ideals. The boy would not volunteer to carry the dead to the burning ghat, if his mother had not brought him up from babyhood to admire the deed. The husband would not be so strenuous to return home at his best, if his wife did not understand ‘and appreciate his noblest side. But more than this, they are themselves the perpetual illustrations of those ideals. The words, ” He that will be chief among you, let him be your servant,” fall on Western ears with a certain sense of sublime paradox. But the august speaker uttered the merest truism of that simple Eastern world in which He moved. He roused no thrill of surprise in the minds of His hearers. For to teach, his own mother was chief and yet servant of all.
Those who, knowing the East, read the list of the seven corporal works of mercy, may well start to imagine themselves Backin the Hindu home, watching its laborious, pious women as they move about their daily tasks, never forgetting that the first necessity is to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to harbour the homeless, and the Hike, and that till these things are done, their own
wants must not be met. Truly the East is eternally the mother of religions, simply solely because she has assimilated as ordinary social functions, what the West holds to be only the duty of officialism, or the message of the Church. To those who deeply understand, it may well seem that Christianity in Europe is neither more nor less than a vast mission of the Asiatic Life.
MONASTIC LIFE IN INDIA.*
[By Sister Devamata]
IN India the religious life is not a distinct vocation-taken up here and there by an isolated member of the community. It is the basis of all living. Every child born into a Hindu family may be said to be born into the religious life; every act thereafter is directly or indirectly a religious act; and each new step in the earthly career is marked off by a religious ceremony. The songs that lull him on his mother’s lap fare sacred songs; the stories that stimulate his awakening mind are of the great saints^ and spiritual heroes. Has he perchance a toy ? It is a miniature sacred image. Does he play ? It is at worship with bits of a broken earthen-pot as his sacramental vessels. The songs and games of his school-room are most often of the shepherd days of Sri Krishna at Vrindavan or of Lord Rama in his forest exile; and even the scavenger boy as be drives his ill-smelling cart along the country road sings gaily of Divine things.
The first lessons in literature or history are learned in a temple porch or on a school verandah in the cool stillness of the evening, when some itinerant pandit chants to the vibrant notes of the tambour the ringing metres of the Tgreat Epics, the
From the Message of the East America.
Mahabharatam or the Ramayanam. Or perhaps in the hushed hours before dawn, the father will rouse his little sleeping brood from their last slumber, and while the mother busies herself about the house, he will teach them of their saints and scriptures. As the boys pass out into active life, it is the monastery more often than the club which draws them at the close of their day’s work ; and busy doctors, lawyers and government officials will gather at the feet of some simple, holy man to hear him expound the Vedas or to chant together the praises of the Lord. With coming age more and more is the daily routine permeated with religious thought and practice; until the man or woman who began by bringing religion into every part of life, ends by taking the whole of life into religion.
Along the way, the Hindu declares, human existence falls naturally into four stages: – child-life, student life, the householder’s life and forest life (or a life of religious retirement), each with its special duties and opportunities for spiritual development. Yet it is not believed that every soul must necessarily pass through all these stages in each birth. Since to the Hindu, life is nob merely a stretch of seventy years, but a consecutive journey through many earth lives Backto God, it is quite possible that a man may have learned all the lessons of the earlier stages and be born here with a natural tendency to the forest life. Whether it come at the beginning or at the end, however, to every Hindu this is the
highest point to be attained, the culmination of all human effort and achievement; and the man who has entered on the life of renunciation so far transcends all social and caste restrictions that even a king comes down from his throne to bow and touch his feet – though perhaps the beggar monk was once a pariah.
In India, however, taking up the monastic life means a very different thing from what it means in the West. It is not passing from a home into an institution, from a family into a larger household. It is going out into the open, the sky the only roof, the ground the only bed, and chance alms from door to door the only food. Caste, kinship, name, fortune, all are merged in a larger measure of things. The whole human race becomes the family of the Sannyasi or monk, every living being must be equally dear to his heart, every part of the world must be equally his home. Because he seeks to rise above body and ego and realize his soul, he must renounce all that is related to the body and little self, – comfort, ease, money, the special community and associations of his birth. He must transcend the physical, if he would reach the spiritual. Yet all this must be done with no sense of giving up. As a mountain climber reduces his luggage to a minimum and rejoices in the . lightness of his kit, so must the Sannyasi feel. He is setting out on a journey and he must not weight himself with material possessions and concerns. The wrench of renunciation must be forgotten in the joy
of expanding spiritual consciousness. He must be like the man who, having found the pearl of great price, sells all he has to buy it. And when this call comes no Hindu dares gainsay it, for it is the voice of the Lord, before which every human voice must be silent.
Nor are these acts of sudden and complete renunciation rare in India. A religious play at the theatre, a chance word in the street, a vision of higher things in meditation, the touch of a holy man, are even to-day sending men out from offices, counting rooms and palaces to search for God. The story is told of a rich man in Bengal, who, while taking his evening bath after a day of pleasure in his garden house on the Ganges, overheard a dhobi or washerman chiding his wife, because ” the day was nearly gone and she had not yet burned her banana stalk to ash.” The word “banana stalk” and “desire” closely resemble each other in Bengalee, and Lala Babu, understanding, ” The day has nearly gone and you have not yet burned your desires to ashes,” started as if suddenly awakened from a sound sleep. Tearing his rich cloth into a narrow strip, he bound it about his loins, went out from his house, travelled to Vrindavan (the birthplace of Sri Krishna) as a beggar and from that day no money ever touched his hand. He lived on alms, gave himself up to prayer and earnest practice of that purity or singleness of heart which brings the vision of God, until he became a great saint, noted for his lowliness and spiritual wisdom.
Only a few years ago while I was in Calcutta,, there came a married couple from the South. They were of the merchant caste, rich and still in their thirties, yet the husband was bringing his wife to take her first vows in religion. “ I cannot give myself up to the forest life,” he said, ” because my brothers have been less successful than I and their families are dependent on me. But my wife has fulfilled her duties. Our two daughters are well married; and I should feel it a great sin to keep her from following out the deep religious longing she has always had. I have taken the first vows of Brahmacharya (godliness and continence) with her. Now we shall go home together and wait two years. Then I shall bring her Backand leave her with the Order. I know that her life of spiritual consecration will bring blessing to the whole family.” In entering the monastic life, all initiation is given by the individual Guru, or spiritual teacher, who must himself be a Bannyasi, or monk. Is he a member of a special monastic Order ? Then the neophyte may be regarded as a member of the same Order; but this is a secondary consideration. The initiation is primarily not into an institution but into a new life of selfless devotion to Truth ; not into an association with a brotherhood or sisterhood, but into direct companionship with God. His daily prayer becomes : ” O Supreme Lord ! Thou art my Mother. Thou art my Father. Thou art my Friend and Companion. Thou art all my learning. Thou art all my wealth. Thou art my all in all.”
The first initiation, into Brahmacharya, vows the disciple to a life of spotless purity, of absolute simplicity and above all of service. It is believed that only through constant service, perhaps the most menial,_ can body and mind be purified and prepared to receive the Truth. In the old days the disciple went to his Guru in some quiet hermitage hid away in the heart of the forest, and his daily duties were to bring firewood from the jungle, water from the stream, to cut fresh bamboo poles to rebuild the hut or collect dried palm leaves to mend the thatch. And when< these simple tasks were finished the boy would sit at-the feet of his Master and learn from him the Sacred: Teachings of the Scriptures. The chief lessons, however, were given not in words but through hourly contact with an enlightened soul. It was the Kindergarten system applied to spiritual training. The disciple was taught what holiness was by watching a holy life. He learned of purity and unselfishness by living with a pure and selfless character ; just as a little child growing up in daily association with a naturalist comes to know all the birds and flowers, without apparent effort or study. Often days passed, by in perfect silence, when the Guru was so wrapped-in contemplation that none could approach him. The sincerity and earnestness of the neophyte were also tested in this way. It is on record that a disciple served the great Sankara eleven years before the Master even spoke to him; and in the Upa-nishads we read of this service Stretching over
long periods of time before the ultimate Truth was revealed.
Outer conditions may have changed since then, but the fundamental principles, methods and ideals for the period of Brahmacharya remain the same today as in Vedic times. It is a life of humble, loving service near the Master, learning through obedience and devotion the lessons of the spirit. Throughout there is no violence of enforced discipline. There is * as much of play and simple gaiety as there is of work and grave study. It is told of Sri Ramakrishna that one day a stranger, coming to the Temple to see him, was amazed to find the great Paramahamsa (enlightened soul) playing leap-frog with his disciples; and frequently was he heard to say : ” I would not have anything to do with a religion that had not a laugh in it.” Those who enter upon the life of Vairagyam (non-attachment) must feel the joy of the Lord, the freedom and light-heartedness that come through renunciation. It is believed that no one should renounce the world and take up the life of the spirit unless he feels that he is exchanging a baser thing for a greater, that his “loss’* is literally “again,” as Saint Paul declares. Does he feel this ? Then he need not be driven to any rigid training, any more than an eager student has to be driven to his books. God, he is told, is most easily perceived where opposites meet hence the best hours for meditation are at dawn when night melts into day, or at sunset when day fades into night. Does the neophyte care too much
for his sleep or comfort to remember these hours – then what use to ring a bell to remind him ? His ear is not yet open to the Divine call, so let him go home and serve God in the world. Does he heed more the hunger of his body than the hunger of his soul, so that of his own accord he does not curb his appetites – then of what avail to lock him in a cloister ? Better for him to live a godly married life at his own fireside. Yet he is not made to feel any sense of failure or degradation in returning to the householder’s life. It is equally honorable, he is told,, and if properly lived, may lead to high spiritual attainment; but the ideal remains none the less iclear in every Hindu mind that the highest state is, as Christ put it, not to keep all the commandments as a member of the social body, but to “sell all thou hast, give to the poor, take up thy cross and follow me.” He who goes away sorrowing is not yet ready to pass on to higher things but he who hears the call, and with a heart aflame with eager longing follows it, for him all the discipline and denial which the vocation itself involves, become a blessed privilege, which, without need of coercion, he practises for himself.
When months or years of selfless service have subdued the ego and a first vision of the Divine has. fortified the Brahmacharin in his life of detachment, then the Gurn bids him make ready to set out on the ruder way of the Sannyasi – one who renounces all. Mixing a special natural clay or powdered rock with water, he dyes his cloth the bright orange, typical of
the flame of wisdom and renunciation ; he shaves his head ; and receiving a begging bowl from his Master’s hand, he sets out to beg food, which he cooks and offers to his Guru. He then receives the last solemn rites of Sannyasa (complete renunciation) and taking his begging bowl and staff, he goes forth alone, with the parting injunction from his Guru to follow his staff, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and never remaining more than three days in any one place, lest some new bondage of attachment seize upon him. Through this first period this staff becomes the symbol of renunciation ; and since in shape it suggests the Christian bishop’s crozier, one is tempted to ask whether it was not the cross or crozier of renunciation which Christ bade the man take up to follow Him.
The first thought of the young Sannyasi, or monk, thus thrown out upon himself, is to make a pilgrimage on foot to all the holy shrines of India. Fulfilling literally the injunction of Jesus to his disciples, he wanders under the burning heat of the sun or beaten by the storm, carrying ” neither purse nor scrip.” One such Swami known to me, while crossing the great desert of Gujarat in the dense darkness of a tropical night, was overtaken by a band of rude hill men who searched him in vain for money. Wishing to see what manner of man it could be thus alone in the vast waste of sand with not even a pice (one-sixth of a cent) *on his person, they struck a light, and when they saw the youthful face under the
shorn head, the orange robe and the little Gita in his hand, they prostrated before him in humble apology and begged to carry him in safety across the desert. For even the worst criminal in India bows down before the Sannyasi, and no one commands so much respect as one who has renounced all for the sake of the Ideal. Still to-day, when many go clothed in the yellow cloth who do not wear it worthily, the Hindu welcomes, honors and feeds worthy and unworthy alike, saying : ” It is the state of renunciation which
I honor. If the monk is not a true Sannyasi, that lies between him and God. It is not for me to judge.”
Nor are these wholly selfish days thus spent in humble’ pilgrimage. Through every village and hamlet unconsciously the Sannyasi carries the messsge of the Lord, and they are the God-appointed teachers of the people. As Swami Vivekananda declares, in his ” Inspired Talks,” ” The beggar monk carries religion to every door.” Has any one a doubt or question ? At once he brings it to some Sannyasi resting under a tree by the road-side or in a shaded temple porch; and often a householder will beg such a holy man to live with him for months at a time and become the teacher of himself and his family. Not men only but women, too, thus wander, so safe that the most timid have gone on pilgrimages of two years’ duration, or more, fearless and joyous in the companionship of the Lord. The married ‘woman may go veiled, but the Sannyasini, who has
consecrated herself to God, walks freely with face uncovered, for no one looks upon her except with deepest reverence. Many of them, too, have been teachers. Some of the great Vedic Scriptures were indeed written by women, and it was from such a learned and pious Sannyasini that Sri Ramakrishna took his first lessons.
The early monastic system of India was free from the trammels of organization. It was Buddha who first created the fixed institution of the monastery ; and nearly all the monastic systems of the West can be traced to Buddhism. Having broken the crystallization in which hereditary caste had imprisoned society, he laid the foundation of a new and equally dangerous social crystallization in making the cloister the one sure refuge from the ills of life. No one ever preached a loftier ethical ideal than he; but as time went on and thousands gathered within convent and monastery walls, the old ideal of Vairagyam was lost, corruptions crept in one by one, until India was sinking under the weight of them and a mighty reformer – Sankaracharya – sprang up, swept the degenerated refiinants of Buddhism out of India and raised aloft once more the pure ideals of the Vedas. The monastery, however, remained, cleansed and purified, and still remains. Not a monastery, however, as in the West, with Gothic cloisters killed with hooded monks, but a simple, barren house, where the one fixed resident is God, while the other inmates go and come, scarcely a
handful there at any one time. It is the worship and service of God which determines the whole routine of the day and all is done for Him as if He were an actual Presence in the house. All food is prepared for Him and offered to Him first, all flowers grown in the garden are solely to be laid at His feet at the hours of worship. Is a new <3ass to be begun ? The text-book is first laid on the altar and the Lord’s blessing asked. Is a new work to be undertaken ? The plan is first told to God in the chapel. No one leaves the monastery without taking ” the permission of God ” ; no one returns without coming to the shrine to tell Him of it. The monks live like children in the Mother’s house – going off for long periods in solitary wandering or in loving service to others, then coming Backat intervals to rest and pray at the Divine Mother’s feet. It is a life of true freedom, in which renunciation and service are the watchwords and God-vision the goal.
THE ELEVATION OF THE MASSES. By Swami Vivekananda.
SWAMI Vivekananda’s epistles to his numerous friends and admirers contain many pathetic appeals for the elevation of the masses. The following extracts are scattered over a number of epistles published in the fifth volume of the Mayavati Edition of the Swamiji’s cpmplete works : –
To what a ludicrous state are we brought ! If a bhangi comes to anybody, as a bhangi, he would be shunned as the plague; but no sooner does he get a cupful of water poured upon his head with some mutterings of prayers by a Padri, and get a coat to his back, no matter now threadbare, and come into the room of the most orthodox Hindu – I don’t see the man who then dare refuse him a chair and a hearty shake of the hands !! Irony can go no farther. And come and see what they, the Padris, are doing here in the Dakshin (Deccan). They are converting the lower classes by lakhs ; and in Travancore, the most priest-ridden country in India – where every bit of land is owned by the Brahmans, and the females, even of the royal family, hold it as high honour to
live in concubinage with the Brahmans – nearly one-fourth has become Christian ! And I cannot blame them; what part have they in David and what in Jesus ? When, when, O Lord, shall man be brother to man ?
India wants the sacrifice of at least a thousand other young men – men, mind, and not brutes. The English Government has been the instrument brought over here by the Lord, to break your crystallised civilisation, and Madras supplied the first men who helped in giving the English a footing. How many men, unselfish, thorough-going men, is Madras ready now to supply, to struggle unto life and death to bring about a new state of things – sympathy for the poor – and bread to their hungry mouths – enlightenment to the people at large – and struggle unto death to make men of them who have been brought to the level of beasts by the tyranny of your forefathers ?
And, oh, how my heart ached to think of what we think of the pqor, the low in India. They have no chance, no escape, no way to climb up. The poor, the low, the sinner in India have no friends, no help – they cannot rise, try however they .may. They sink lower and lower every day, they, feel the blow, showering upon them by a cruel society, and they do not know whence the blow comes. They have forgotten that they too are men. And the result is
slavery. Thoughtful people within the last few years, have seen it, but unfortunately laid it at the door of the Hindu religion, and to them, the only way of bettering is by crushing this grandest religion of the world. Hear me, my friend, I have discovered the secret through the grace of the Lord. Religion is not at fault. On the other hand your religion is not at fault. On the other hand your religion teaches you that every being is only your own self-multiplied. But is was the want of practical application, the want of sympathy – the want of heart. The Lord once more came to you as Buddha and taught you how to feel, how to sympathise with the poor, the miserable, the sinner, but heard Him not. Your priests invented, the horrible story that the Lord was here for deluding, demons with false doctrines! True, indeed, but we are the demons, not those that believed. And just as the Jews denied the Lord Jesus and are since that day wandering over the world as homeless beggars,, tyrannised over by everybody, so you are bond-slaves to any nation that thinks it worth while to rule over you. Ah, tyrants ! you do not know that the obverse is tyranny, and the reverse, slavery. The slave and the tyrant are synonymous.
B-and G–may remember one evening at Pondicherry, we are discussing the matter of sea-voyage with a Pandit, and I shall always remember his brutal gestures and Kadapina never ! They do not know that India is a very small part of the world, xtnd the whole world looks down with contempt upon
the three hundred millions of earth-worms crawling upon the fair soil of India and trying to oppress each other. This state of things must be removed, not by destroying religion but by following the great teachings of the Hindu faith, and joining with it the wonderful sympathy of that logical development of Hinduism – Buddhism.
A hundred thousand men and women, fixed with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the down-trodden will go over the length and breadth of the land preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising-up – the gospel of equality-.
No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the neck of the poor and the low*in such a fashion as Hinduism. The Lord has shown me that religion is not at fault, but it is the Pharisees and Sadducees in Hinduism, hypocrites, who invent all sorts of engines of tyranny in the shape of doctrines of Paramarthic and Vya-vaharic.
Despair not, remember the Lord says in the Gita : “To work you have the right, but not to the result.” Give up your .loins, my boy. I am called by the Lord for this. I have been dragged through a whole life full of crosses and tortures, I have seen the nearest and dearest die, almost of starvation – I have been ridiculed, distrusted, and have suffered for my
sympathy for very men who scoff and scorn. Well, my boy, this the school of misery, which is also the school for great souls and prophets for the cultivation of sympathy, of patience, and above all, of an indomitable iron will which quakes not even if the universe be pulverised at our feet. I pity them. It is not their fault. They are children, yea, veritable children, though they be great and high in society. Their eyes see nothing beyond their little horizon of a few yards – the routine work, eating, drinking, earning and begetting, following each other in mathematical precision. They know nothing beyond, happy little souls! Their sleep is never disturbed. Their nice little brown studies of lives never rudely shocked by the wail of woe, of misery, of degradation and poverty that has filled the Indian atmosphere – the result of centuries of oppression. They little dream of the ages of tyranny^ mental, moral and physical, that has reduced the image of God to a mere beast of burden ; the emblem of the Divine Mother, to a slave to bear children; and life itself, a curse. But there are others who see, feel, and shed tears of blood in their hearts, who think that there is a remedy for it, and who are ready to apply this remedy at any costs, even to the giving up of life. And ” Of such is the kingdom of Heaven.'” Is it not then natural, my friends, that they have no time to look down from their heights to the vagaries of these contemptible little insects, ready every moment to spit their little venoms ?
Trust not to the so-called rich, they are more dead than alive. The hope lies in you~in the meek, the lowly, but the faithful. Have faith in the Lord ; no policy, it is nothing. Feel for the miserable and look up for help – it shall come. I have travelled twelve years with this load in my heart and this idea in my head. I have gone from door to door of the so-called rich and great. With a bleeding heart I have crossed half the world to this strange land, seeking for help. The Lord is great. I know he will help me. I may perish of cold or hunger in this land, but I bequeath to you, young men, this sympathy, this struggle for the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed. Go now this minute to the temple of Parthasarathi, and before Him who was friend-to the poor and lowly cowherds of Gocool, who never shrank to embrace the pariah Guhak, who accepted the invitation of a prostitute in preference to that of the nobles and saved her in His incarnation as Buddha – yea, down on your faces before Him, and make a great sacrifice; the sacrifice of a whole life for them, for whom He comes from time to time, whom He loves above all, the poor, the lowly, the oppressed. Vow then to devote your whole lives to the cause of the redemption of these three hundred millions, going down and down every day.
It is not the work of- a day, and the path is full of the most deadly thorns. But Parthasarathi is ready to be our Sarathi, we know that, and in His name and with eternal faith in Him, set fire to the
mountain of misery that has been heaped upon India for ages – and it shall be burned down. Come then,. look it in the face, brethren, it is a grand task and we are so low. But we are the sons of Light and children of God. Glory unto the Lord, we will succeed. Hundreds will fall in the struggle – hundreds will be ready to take it up. I may die here unsuccessful, another will take up the task. You know the disease, you know the remedy, only have faith. Do not look up to the so-called rich and great; do not care for the heartless intellectual writers, and their cold-blooded newspaper articles. Faith – sympathy, fiery faith and fiery sympathy ! Life is nothing, death is nothing – hunger nothing, cold nothing. Glory unto the Lord – march on, the Lord is our General. Do not look to see who falls – forward – onward ! Thus and thus we shall go on, brethren. One falls, and another takes up the work.
See R – and others from time to time and urge them to sympathise with the masses of India. Tell them how they are standing on the neck of the poor, and that they are not fit to be called men if they do not try to raise them up. Be fearless, the Lord is with you, and He will yet raise the starving and ignorant millions of India.
If any is born of a low caste in our country he is gone for ever, there is no hope for him. Why, what a tyranny it is! There are possibilities, opportunities
and hope for every individual in this country. Today he is poor, to-morrow he may become rich and learned and respected. Here every one is anxious to help the poor. In India there is a howling cry that we are very poor, but how many charitable associations are there for the well-being of the poor ? How many people really weep for the sorrows and sufferings of the millions of poor in India ? Are we men ? What are we doing for their livelihood, for their improvement ? We do not touch them, we avoid their company ! Are we men ? Those thousands of Brahmans – what are they doing for the low, downtrodden masses of India ? ” Don’t touch,” ” Don’t touch,” is the only phrase that plays upon their lips ! How mean and degraded has our eternal religion become at their hands ! Wherein does our religion lie now? In ” Don’t-touchism” alone, and nowhere else! 1
I have received K—‘s letters. With the
question whether caste shall go or come I have nothing to do. My idea is to bring to the door of the meanest, the poorest, the noble ideas that the human race has developed both in and out of India, and let them think for themselves. Whether there should be caste or not, whether women should be perfectly free or not, does not concern me, ” Liberty of thought and action is the only condition of life, or growth and well-being.” Where it does not exist, the man, the *race, the nation must go down.
Caste or no caste, creed or no creed, any man, or class, or caste, or nation, or institution which bars the power of free thought and the action of an individual – even so long as that power does not injure others – is devilish and must go down.
My whole ambition in life is, to set in motion a machinery which will bring noble ideas to the door of everybody, and then let men and women settle their own fate. Let them know what our forefathers as well as other nations have thought ontthe most momentous questions of life. Let them see specially what others are doing now, and then decide. We are to put the chemicals together, the crystallisation will be done by Nature according to her laws. Work hard, be steady and have faith in the Lord. Set to work, I am coming sooner or later. Keep the motto before you – ” Elevation of the masses without injuring the religion.”
Preach the idea of elevating the masses by means of a central college, and bringing education as well as religion to the door of the poor by means of missionaries trained in this college. Try to interest everybody.
I am no metaphysician, no philosopher, nay, no saint. But I am poor, I love the poor. I see what they call the poor of this country, and how many there are who feel for them I What an immense difference in India! Who feels there for the two hundred millions of men and women sunken for ever in poverty and ignorance ? Where is the way out ? Who feels for them ? They cannot find light or education. Who will bring the light to them – who will travel from door to door bringing education to them ? Let these people be your God – think of them, work for them, pray for them incessantly – the Lord will show you the way. Him, I call a Mahatman, whose heart bleeds for the poor, otherwise he is a Duratman. Let us unite our wills in continued prayer for their good. We may die unknown, unpitied, unbewailed, without accomplishing anything – but not one thought will be lost. It will take effect sooner or later. My heart is too full to express my feeling; you know it, you can imagine it. So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor, who having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them ! I call those men – who strut about in their finery, having got all their money by grinding the poor~wretches, so long as they do not do anything for those two hundred millions who are now no better than hungry savages! We are poor, my brothers, we are nobodies, but such have been always the instruments of’ the Most High. The Lord bless you all.
When you have succeeded in this paper, start vernacular ones on the same lines in Tamil, Telugu, Canarese, etc. We must reach the masses. The Madrassis are good, energetic, and all that, but the
land of Sankaracharya has lost the spirit of renunciation, it seems.
A press representative asked the Swamiji: –
** What are your views with regard to the Indian masses? “
” Oh, we are awfully poor, and our masses are very ignorant about secular things. Our masses are very good because poverty here is not a crime. Our masses are not violent. Many times I was near being mobbed in America and England, only on * account of my dress. But I never heard of such a thing in India as a man being mobbed because of peculiar dress. In every other respect our masses are much more civilised than the European masses.”
” What will you propose for the improvement of your masses ? “
” We have to give them secular education. We have to follow the plan laid down by our ancestors, that is, to bring all the ideals slowly down among the masses. Raise them slowly up, raise them to equality. Impart even secular knowledge through religion.”
” But do you think, Swamiji, it is a task that can be easily accomplished ? ” .
” It will, of course, have gradually to be worked out. But if there are enough self-sacrificing young fellows, who I hope may work with me, it can be done to-morrow. It all depends upon the zeal and the self-sacrifice brought to the task.”
” But if the present degraded condition is due to their past Karma, Swamiji, how do you think they could get out of it easily, and how do you propose to help them ? “
The Swamiji readily answered: “Karma is the eternal assertion of human freedom. If we can bring ourselves down by our Karma, surely it is in our power to raise ourselves by it. The masses besides have not brought themselves down altogether by their own Karma so that we should give them better environments to work in. I do not propose any levelling up of castes. Caste is a very good thing. Caste is the plan we want to follow. What castejreally is, not one in a million understands. There is no country in the world without caste. In India, from caste we reach to the point where there is no caste. Caste is based throughout on that principle. The plan in India is to make everybody Brahman, the Brahmin being the ideal of humanity. If you read the history of India you will find that attempts'” have always been made to raise the lower classes. Many are the classes that have been raised. Many more will follow till the whole will become Brahman. That is the plan. We have only to raise them without bringing down anybody. And this has mostly to be done by the Brahmans themselves, because it is the duty of every aristocracy to dig its own grave; and the sooner it does so, the better for all. No time should be lost. Indian caste is better than the caste which prevails in Europe or America. I do not say it is absolutely good. Where will you be if there were no caste ? Where would be your learning and other things, if there were no caste ? There would be nothing left for the Europeans to study if caste had never existed! The Mohamedans would have smashed everything to pieces. Where do you find-the Indian Society standing still ? It is always on the move. Sometimes, as in the times of foreign invasions, the movement has been slow, at other times quicker. This is what I say to my countrymen. I do not condemn them. I look into their past. I find that under the circumstances no nation could do more glorious work. I tell them that they have done well. ¥ only ask them to do better.”
THE HINDU IDEAL OF NATIONALISM.*
By Swami Sharvananda.
OF all the forces that work to build up the unity of a nation the most potent are – race, culture, religion, government and, country or geographical position. But besides these there is another force too subtle to be detected in the apparent aspect of a nation’s life,’yet its all-absorbing potent existence is perceived all the more when we go to understand the destiny of the nation as is deciphered in the concluding pages of its life-history. The Western sociologist is yet to understand this formative energy in the life of a nation; he is yet to detect this original force that collects other forces and binds fabric to fabric in building up the grand body of the nation. This force, in the language of the Indian Philosophers, is the collective Karma of the people.
No true social philosophy can accept the birth of’ a nation as a pure accident through chanced concourse of the formative forces ennumerated above. In this world of cause and effect, there is room neither for chance, nor for accident. So the birth of a nation is sequential to some purposiveness which guides the whole course of its life till its reaching the destiny. As the seed of a particular kind of tree assimilates all that its environments have to offer it and brings .forth
* From the Vedanta Kesari.
only the particular kind of tree- and thus fulfils the purpose of its being in the economy of Nature, just so a nation is ushered into existence to serve a particular purpose in the evolution of mankind. This ultimate purpose of a nation’s life is what is called the collective Karma of the nation. It is the seed of the nation. All its members or earlier generations may not be quite conscious of the fact, yet all the same, every one has to conform to the general tendency of the life and fulfil its ultimate destiny. History reveals the fact that every one of the ancient nations, through all its Mfe effort, gave birth to one or more ideas and unlocked a mass of gigantic energy which bore the whole of humanity onward on the path of evolution. Some of the modern social philosophers like Benjamin Kid and others have come to recognise this fact, but their recognition reflects at best a superficial pragmatic view and thus fails to comprehend the formative spiritual force in the creation of a nation.
History tells us that a nation is hewn out of a race, (or even races) chiselled by culture, religion and government and installed in a country. But close scrutiny reveals another fact; the shapes and destinies of nations vary according to the stress laid qn one of these three chisels. Almost all the Western nations have been shaped with the hard chisel of government^ and culture and religion have played only an auxiliary part. Modern America presents us the most glaring example of the truth. For the matter of that we find
all European and American nations basing themselves upon huge political organisations. With them it is the government that sustains the national unity, and politics is their life-blood. Culture, religion and everything else must come, through government. If a nation has to grow or expand, that too must come through the government. As President Wilson puts it, ” Nation is the organism, government the organ, and the organism can work only through the organ.” This is the typical view of the Western Nationalism.
This supersession of politics over culture and religion in the West has all its concomitant evils. It has made the Western nations arrogant, aggressive and imperial. We hear much of the Christian ethics from the theologians, but Ingersoll’s verdict stands there ever unchallenged, – ” Christ is never recognised in our legislature, Parliaments or Congress.” The law of expediency rules them all.
Nietzsche, you are too true, – “true Christian was he who died on the cross.”
But history presents a different spectacle when we come to the oriental nations, specially to India. Here through unnumbered ages the feeling of unity of the people was evolved, not with the help of government, but through the sweet and gentle persuasion of education, culture and religion, – through Dharma. Even in the prehistoric days of the Vedas when all the modern nations of Europe were yet unconceived in fhe womb of futurity, we mark the feeling of unity among the Indo-Aryans. Their common traditions, and common culture created a communal consciousness in them the like of which is not found anywhere else even to-day. They called themselves Aryas and followed their Sanatana Dharma. This Arya-con-sciousness is the keynote of Indian Nationalism. As an Englishman is aglowed with national pride when he says, ‘ I am an Englishman,* just so an Indian evinced his national pride by saying ” I am an Ary a, I follow the rules of conduct of an Arya.” And who is an Arya? –
” An Arya is he who performs what ought to be done and refrains from what ought not to be done and observes the proper rules of conduct.’*
Rig Veda tells us, ” Those who are not Aryas are Dasyus.”
From the above it becomes clear that the ancient Indo-Aryans tried to build up their nationalism on culture, imbued with deep ethical and spiritual fervour. In this nationalism government did play but little part; the people’s communal feeling needed no ministration from politics.
The whole country might have been torn into innumerable shreds of principalities and governments, but that did not touch the compactness of the cultural communalism of the people. There was free brotherly intercourse all over the land, – the Arya-varta. Even the poorest of the Aryas would consider himself superior to the greatest of the Mlechchas and Yavanas in culture and yielded palm to none in religion. Their whole life was cast all over the land in one mould, the mould of Dharma.
Even to-day the soul of the Hindu is deeply wedded to the cultural communalism of his ancient forefathers. Just ask.even the poorest Brahmin cringing in abject poverty to accept food from a nonHindu, and you would mark the warm expression of his national pride rising within his heart. He would rather die than accept food from what he considers polluted hands ! They may call it superstition. But is not all nationalism a superstition ? Are not the colour bar and ” white man’s burden ” offspring of worse, nay more heinous, superstition ? A Hindu recognises at once his kinship with his brother-Hindu, wheresoever he may meet him. Is it not a true mark of nationalism ?
Sometimes it is urged how there can exist any communal feeling among the people when there is so much of discordant elements ^ike different castes, creeds, etc. But none save those who have no real knowledge of practical operations of social life can put such questions. As it actually obtains, we find castes and creeds existing in every Human Society. If we remember aright, it was the late Mr. W. T. Stead who once observed in reference to America, ” I have never seen any country where people are so free as in America, and also so caste-ridden, again, as in America.” Even European nations are not free from castes and creeds.
The next point may be urged that the ancient Hindu India might have been a nation, but modern India is not. India of to-day is not the abode of the
Hindus only. They form only sixty.eight per cent, of the whole population. The remaining thirty-two per cent, is filled up by other religionists. So Hindu culture and Hindu tradition are not and cannot be the cementing factor for the whole of the people. A little sifting of the question will expose the weakness of the argument. The Mohamedans and Christians who form the bulk of the non-Hindu population of India to-day, are chiefly native converts; and so the ancient Hindu culture is still coursing through their veins. Even a superficial observer can notice the similarity of temperaments among the children of this* sacred soil though professing different religions. And again one would not fail to notice the dissimilarities-between an Indian Mohamedan or Christian and, say, a Turkish Mohamedan or a European Christian* Sister Nivedita observes with her characteristic keenness of insight, ” with all alike, love of home, pride of race, idealism of woman, is a passion. With every one, devotion to India as India, finds some characteristic expression. To the Hindu of all provinces, his Motherland is the seat of holiness, the chosen home of righteousness, the land of the seven sacred rivers,
the place to which, sooner or later, must come all souls in the quest of God. To the son of Islam, her earth is the dust of his saints. She is the seal upon his greatest memories. Her villages are his home. In her future lies his hope.” In another place she says, <( when Egypt was building her Pyramids, India was. putting a parallel energy into the memorising of the
Vedas, and the patient elaboration of the philosophy of the Upanishads. The culture begun so early, has proceeded to the present day without a break, holding its own on its own ground and saturating Indian Society with a standard of thought and feeling, far in advance of those ‘ common in another countries. A profound emotional development and refinement is the most marked trait of Indian personality, and it is common to all the races and creeds of the vast sub-: continent, from those of the highest civilisation to those of the lowest and most primitive. Again, the keystone of (he arch of family devotion, alike for Hindu and Mohamedan, lies in the feeling of the son for his mother. Whatever may change or fluctuate, here our feet are on a rock. There can be no variation in the tenderness and intensity of this relationship. In it, personal affection rises to the height of religious passion.” Moreover, we find the existence -of perfect amity between Hindus and Mohamedans where there is no interested party to sow the seed of disruption and cleavage, as is the case in H. H. Nizam’s Dominions. There, the current saying, (One son-in-law is Raja, another son-in-law is Nabab), speaks eloquently of the social cordiality between the two classes.” Moreover, we may say in passing, that the religious differences are no index of want of nationalism. In that case, America, England, France, Japan, and even Germany should be no nations at all. In all these countries people profess various denominations of Christianity, Bahhaism, Mohamedanism, Atheism,
Buddhism, etc. Even among the Christian denominations, the differences are sometimes felt more bitterly than between Hindus and Mohamedans.
So, it spells only ignorance and self-interestedness to assert with a few shibboleths that India is not a nation in the true sense of the word.’ India was, and still is, a nation in the true sense of the word. Only her nationalism neither was, nor is, political, but cultural. She never felt her communal unity in politics, but in the consciousness of common culture and Dharma.
This nationalism of culture and Dharma carries, always within it the seed of internationalism and universal brotherhood. That is why we mark that unlike the nation-worshippers of the West, its votaries never developed, in the words of Ravindranath, “that political and commercial ambition which is but the ambition of cannibalism,” and which always ends in the ” carnival of suicide.” It never made them think* as Swami Vivekananda puts it, that ” the quickest way of becoming rich is to rob the neighbour and exploit the weak.” This cultural nationalism of India alone has saved her from making the material prosperity as the be-all and-end-all of life. It alone has made it possible by giving them most congenial environment for innumerable godly-souls of unparalleled spiritual genius to be born in this country and to raise by their life-effort man the brute into man the divine.. Will Modern India thoroughly comprehend this cultural nationalism of hers, and cry * halt ‘ to the headlong rush for imitating the ideal of the West ?