INVIGORATING CULTURAL LIFE
Preservation of Cultural Integrity
We must grow according to our nature. Vain is to attempt the lines of action that foreign societies have engrafted upon us; it is impossible. Glory unto God, that it is impossible, that we cannot be twisted and tortured into the shape of other nations. I do not condemn the institutions of other races ; they are good for them, but not for us. W-ith other sciences, other institutions, and other traditions behind them, they have got their present system. We, with our traditions, with thousands of years of karma behind us, naturally can only follow our own bent, run in our own grooves, and that we shall have to do.
We cannot become Westerns, therefore imitating the Western is useless. Suppose you can imitate the Westerns, that moment you will die, you will have no more life in you. A stream is taking its rise, away beyond where time began, flowing through millions of ages of human history ; do you mean to get hold of that stream, and push it Backto its source, to a Himalayan glacier? Even if that were practicable it would not be possible for you to be Europeanised. If you find it is impossible for the European to throw off the few centuries of old culture which there is in the West, do you think it is possible for you to throw off the culture of shining scores of centuries ? It cannot be. To Europeanise India is therefore an impossible and foolish task.
There are two great obstacles on our path in India, the Scylla of old orthodoxy, and the Charybdis of modern European civilization. Of these two, I vote for the old orthodoxy, and not for the Europeanised system; for the old orthodox man may be ignorant, he may be crude but he is a man, he has a faith, he has strength, he stands on his own feet; while the Europeanised man has no backbone, he is a mass of heterogenous ideas picked up at random from every source – and these ideas are unassimilated, undigested, unharmonised. He does not stand on his own feet, and his head is turning round and round. Where is the motive power of his work ? In a few patronising pats from the English people. His schemes of reforms, his vehement vituperations against the evils of certain social customs have, as the mainspring, some European patronage. Why are some of our customs called evils ? Because the Europeans say so. That is about the reason he gives. I “would not submit to that. Stand and die in your strength; if there is any sin in the world, it is weakness; avoid all weakness, for weakness is sin, weakness is death. These unbalanced creatures aTe not yet formed into distinct personalities; what are we to call them – men, women, or animals ? While those old orthodox people were staunch and were men.
Therefore, between these two, the case of the orthodox man who has the whole of that lifespring of the race, spirituality, and the other man, whose hands are full of Western imitation-jewels but who has no hold on the life-giving principle, spirituality, – of these, I do not doubt that everyone will agree that we should choose the first, the orthodox, because there is some hope in him. He has the national theme, something to hold to, so he will live, but the other will die. If you give up that spirituality and go after the materializing civilization of the West, the result will be that in three generations you will be an extinct race; because the backbone of the nation will be broken, the foundation upon which the national edifice has been built will be undermined, and the result will be annihilation all round.
If anyone preaches in India the ideal of eating and drinking and making merry, if anyone
wants to apothesise the material world into a God, that man is a liar; he has no place in this holy land, the Indian mind does not want to listen to him. Aye, in spite of the sparkle and glitter of Western civilization, in spite of all its polish and its marvellous manifestation of power, I tell them to their face, that it is all vain. It is vanity of vanities. God alone lives. The soul alone lives. Spirituality alone lives. Hold on to that.
Broadening of Cultural Outlook
We cannot do without the world outside India; it was our foolishness that we thought we could, and we have paid the penalty by about a thousand years of slavery. We have paid the penalty; let us do it no more. All such foolish ideas that Indians must not go out of India, are childish. They must be knocked on the head; the more you go out and travel among the nations of the world, the better for you and your country. If you had done that for hundreds of years past you would not be here to-day, at the feet of every nation that wants to rule India. The first manifest effect of life is expansion. You must expand if you want to live. The moment you have ceased to expand} death is upon you, danger is ahead.
Several dangers are in the way, and one is that of the extreme conception that we are the
people in the world. With all my love lor India and with all my patriotism and veneration for the ancients, I cannot but think that we have to learn many things from other nations. We must be always ready to sit at the feet of all, for, mark you, everyone can teach us great lessons. Says our great law-giver, Manu: “Re
ceive some good knowledge even from the lowborn and from the man of lowest birth, learn by service the road to heaven.” We, therefore, as true children of Manu, must obey his commands, and be ready to learn the lessons of this life, or the life hereafter from anyone who can teach us.
It is Greece that speaks through everything in Europe. Every building, every piece of furniture has the impress of Greece upon it; European science and art are nothing but Grecian. To-day the ancient Greece is meeting the ancient Hindu on the soil of India. Thus, slowly and silently the leaven has come, the broadening out, the life-giving, and the revivalist movement, that we see all around us, has been worked out by these forces together. ‘A broader and more generous conception of life is before us, and although at first we have been deluded a little and wanted to narrow things down, we are finding out to-day that these generous impulses which are at work, these broader conceptions of life, are the logical interpretation of what- is in our ancient books. They are the carrying out to the rigorously logical effect of the primary conceptions of our own ancestors. To become broad, to go out, to amalgamate, to universalize, is the end of our aims.
We have many things to learn from the West. We should learn from the West her arts and sciences. We have to gain a little in material knowledge, in the power of organization, in the ability to handle powers, organizing powers, in bringing the best results out of the smallest of causes. This perhaps to a certain extent we may learn from the West.
We must travel, we must go to foreign parts. We must see how the engine of society works in other countries, and keep free and open communication with what is going on in the minds of other nations, if we really want to be a nation again. Stand on your own feet, and assimilate what you can; learn from every nation, take what is of use to you.
But remember that as Hindus everything else must be subordinated to our own national ideals. The secret of a true Hindu’s character lies in the subordination of his knowledge of European science and learning, of his wealth, position and name, to that one principal theme which is inborn in every Hindu child – the spirituality and purity of the race.
Two View-points, Eastern and Western
The voice of ‘Asia has been the voice of religion. The voice of Europe is the voice of politics. Each is great in its own sphere. The voice of Europe is the voice of ancient Greece. To the Greek mind, his immediate society was all in all. Beyond that it is Barbarian, – none but the Greek has the right to live. Whatever the Greeks do is right and correct; whatever else there exists in the world is neither right nor correct, nor should be allowed to live. It is intensely human in its sympathies, intensely natural, intensely artistic, therefore. The Greek lives entirely in this world. He does not care to dream. Even his poetry is practical. His gods and goddesses are not only human beings, but intensely human with all human passions and feelings almost the same as with any of us. He loves what is beautiful, but, mind you, it is always external nature; the beauty of the hills, of the snows, of the flowers; the beauty of forms and of figures; the beauty in the human face, and, more often, in the human form, – that is what the Greeks like. And the Greeks being the teachers of all subsequent Europeanism, the voice of Europe is Greek.
There is another type in Asia. The Oriental love of the beautiful and of the sublime developed itself in another direction. It looked inside
and not outside. There is also the thirst for Nature ; and there is also the same thirst for power ; there is also the same thirst for excellence, the same idea of the Greek and Barbarian; but it has extended over a huge circle. In Asia, even to-day, birth or colour or language never makes a race. That which makes a race is its religion. No matter if a Buddhist is a Chinaman, or is a man from Persia, they think that they are brothers, because of their professing the same religion. Religion is the tie, the unity of humanity. And then again, the Oriental, for the same reason, is a visionary, is a born dreamer. The ripples of the waterfalls, the songs of the birds, the beauties of the sun and moon and the stars and the whole earth, are pleasant enough; but they are not sufficient for the Oriental mind. He wants to dream a dream beyond. He wants to go beyond the present. The present, as it were, is nothing to him.
The Orient has been the cradle of human race for ages, and all the vicissitudes of fortune are there. Kingdoms succeeding kingdoms; empires succeeding empires; human power, glory and wealth, all rolling down there: a Golgotha of power, and learning. That is th^ Orient: a Golgotha of power, of kingdoms, of learning. No wonder, the Oriental mind looks with contempt upon the things of this world and naturally wants to sec something that changeth not, something which dieth not, something which in the midst of this world of misery and death is eternal, blissful, undying. An Oriental Prophet never tires of insisting upon these ideals; and, as for Phophets, you may also remember that without one exception, all the Messengers were Orientals.
If those whose eyes have been blinded by the glamour of material things, whose whole dedication of life is to eating and drinking and enjoying, whose ideal of possession is lands and gold, whose ideal of pleasure is that of the senses, whose God is money, and whose goal is a life of ease and comfort in this world and death after that, whose minds never look forward, and who rarely think of anything higher than the sense objects in the midst of which they live: – if such as these go to India, what do they see ? Poverty, squalor, superstition, darkness, hideousness everywhere. Why ? Because in their minds enlightenment means dress, education, social politeness. Whereas Occidental nations have used every effort to improve their material position, India has done differently.
There, live the only men in the world, who, in the whole history of humanity, never went beyond their frontiers to conquer anyone, who never coveted that which belonged to anyone else, whose only fault was that their lands were so fertile, and they accumulated wealth by the hard labour of their hands, and so tempted other nations to come and despoil them. They are contented to be despoiled, and to be called Barbarians, and in return, they want to send to this world, visions of the Supreme, to lay bare for the world the secrets of human nature, to rend the veil that conceals the real man, because they know the dream, because they know that behind this materialism lives the real, divine nature of man which no sin can tarnish, no crime can spoil, no lust can taint; which fire cannot burn, nor water wet, which heat cannot dry, nor death kill ; and to them this true nature of man is as real as is any material object to the senses of an Occidental.
There it is, that when a man declares that this is a world of ideas, that it is all a dream, he casts off clothes and property to demonstrate that what he believes and thinks is true. There it is that a man sits on the bank of a river, when he has known that life is eternal, and wants to give up his body just as nothing, just as you can give up a bit of straw. Therein lies their heroism, that they are ready to face death as a brother because they are convinced that there is no death for them. Therein lies the strength Lhat has made them invincible through hundreds of years of oppression and foreign invasion and tyranny. The nation lives to-day, and in that nation even in the days of the direct disaster, spiritual giants have never failed to arise. Asia produces giants in spirituality, just as the Occident produces giants in politics, giants in science.
You people of the West are practical in your own department, in military affairs, and in managing political circles and other things. Perhaps, the Oriental is not practical in those ways, but he is practical in his own field: he is practical in religion. Just as you are brave to jump at the mouth of a cannon with a hurrah, just as you are brave in the name of patriotism, to stand up and give up your lives for your country, so are they brave in the name of God. If one preaches a philosophy, to-morrow there are hundreds who will struggle their best to make it practical in their lives. If a man preaches that standing on one foot would lead to salvation, he will immediately get five hundred to stand on one foot. You may call it ludicrous; but, mark you, beneath that is their philosophy, – that intense practicality.
In the West, plans of salvation mean intellectual gymnastics, plans which are never worked out, never brought into practical life. In the West, the preacher who talks the best is the greatest preacher. It will take a long time for the Westerners to understand the higher spirituality. Everything is pound, shilling and pence to them. If a religion brings them money or health or beauty, or long life, they ‘will all flock to it, otherwise not. Just as the Western ideal is to keep up luxury in practical life, so ours is to keep up the highest form of spirituality, to demonstrate that religion is not merely frothy words, but can be carried out, every bit of it, in this life.
Liberty is the first condition of growth. Your ancestors gave every liberty to the soul, and religion grew. They put the body under every bondage and society did not grow. The opposite is the case in the West – every liberty to society, none to religion. The West wants every bit of spirituality through social improvement. The East wants every bit of social power through spirituality.
Spiritual knowledge is the only thing that can destroy our miseries for ever; any other knowledge satisfies wants only for a time. It is only with the knowledge of the
spirit that the faculty of want is annihilated for ever. Great indeed are the manifestations of muscular powder, and marvellous the manifestations of intellect, expressing themselves through machines by the appliances of science; yet, none of these are more potent
than the influence which spirit exerts upon the world.
Machines never made mankind happy, and never will make. He who is trying to make us believe this, will claim that happiness is in machine, but it is always in the mind. The man alone who is the lord of his mind can become happy, and none else. And what, after all, is this power of machinery ?
Why should a man who can send a
current of electricity through a wire be called a very great man, and a very intelligent man ? Does not Nature do a million times more than that every moment ? Why not then fall down and worship Nature? What avails it if you have power over the whole of the world, if you have mastered every atom in the universe ? That will not make you happy unless you have the power of happiness in yourself, until you have conquered yourself.
Man is born to conquer Nature, it is true, but the Occidental means by ‘Nature’, only physical or external Nature. It is true that external Nature is majestic, with its mountains, and oceans, and rivers, and with its infinite powers and varieties. Yet there is a more majestic internal Nature of man, higher than the sun, moon and stars, higher than this earth ol ours, higher than the physical universe, transcending these lives of ours; and it affords another field of study. There the Orientals excel, just as the Occidentals excel in the other.
Both Necessary for Human Progress
To the Oriental, the world of spirit is as real, as to the Occidental is the world of senses. In the spiritual, the Oriental finds everything he wants or hopes for; in it he finds all that makes life real to him. To the Occidental he is a dreamer; to the Oriental the Occidental is a dreamer, playing with ephemeral toys and he laughs to think that grown-up men and women should make so much of a handful of matter which they will have to leave sooner or later. Each calls the other a dreamer. But the Oriental ideal is as necessary for the progress of the human race as is the Occidental, and I think it is more necessary.
Therefore, it is fitting that, whenever there is a spiritual adjustment it should come from the Orient. It is also fitting that when the Oriental wants to learn about machine-making, he should sit at the feet of the Occidental and learn from him. When the Occident wants to learn about the Spirit, about God, about the soul, about the meaning and the mystery of this universe, he must sit at the feet of the Orient to learn.
This world of ours is on the plan of the division of labour. It is vain to say that one man shall possess everything. Yet how childish we are ! The baby in its ignorance, thinks that its doll is the only possession that is to be coveted in this whole universe. So a nation which is great in the possession of material power, thinks that that is all that is to be coveted, that that is all that is meant by progress, that that is all that is meant by civilization, and if there are other nations which do not care for possession, and do not possess that power, they are not fit to live, their whole existence is useless! On the other hand, another nation may think that mere material civilization is utterly useless. From the Orient came the voice which once told the world that if a man possesses everything that is undci the sun and does not possess spirituality, what avails it ? This is the Oriental type ; the other is the Occidental type. Each of these types has its grandeur, each has its glory. The present adjustment will be the harmonizing, the mingling of these two ideals.
Propagation of Indian Culture
The only condition of national life, of awakened and vigorous national life, is the conquest of the world by Indian thought. Indian thought, philosophical and spiritual, must once more go over and conquer the world. There have been great conquering races in the world. We also have been great conquerors. The story of our conquest has been described by that noble Emperor of India, Asoka, as the conquest of religion and spirituality. Once more the world must be conquered by India.
They will tell you every day that we had better look to our own homes first, and then go to work outside. But I will tell you in plain language that you work best when you work for others. The best work that you ever did for yourselves was when you worked for others, trying to disseminate your ideas, in foreign languages, beyond the seas.
Let foreigners come and flood the land with their armies, never mind. Up, India, and conquer the world with your spirituality. Aye, as has been declared on this soil first, love must conquer hatred, hatred cannot conquer itself. Materialism and all its miseries can never he conquered by materialism. Armies when they attempt to conquer armies only multiply and make brutes of humanity. Spirituality must conquer the West.
Slowly they are finding out that w’hat they wrant is spirituality to preserve them as nations. They are waiting for it, they are eager for it. Where is the supply to come from ? Where are the men ready to go out to every country in the world with the messages of the great sages of India? Where are the men who are ready to sacrifice everything, so that this message shall reach every corner of the world ? Such heroic souls are wanted to help the spread of truth. Such heroic workers are wanted to go abroad and help to disseminate the great truths of the Vedanta.
The world wants it ; without it the world will be destroyed. The whole of the Western world is on a volcano which may burst tomorrow, go to pieces to-morrow. They have searched every corner of the world and have found no respite. They have drunk deep of the cup of pleasure and found its vanity. Now is the time to work so that India’s spiritual ideas may penetrate deep into the West.
Therefore we must go out, exchange our spirituality for anything they have to give us ; for the marvels of the region of Spirit we will exchange the marvels of the region of matter. We will not be students always, but teachers also. There cannot be friendship without equality, and there cannot be equality when one party is always the teacher and the other party sits always at his feet. You will have to teach as well as to learn, and you have plenty yet to teach to the world for centuries to come.
At the same time you must not forget that what I mean by the conquest of the world by spiritual thought, is the sending out of the lifegiving principles, not the hundreds ol superstitions that we have been hugging to our breasts for centuries. They have to be weeded out even on this soil, and thrown aside, so that they may die for ever.
By preaching the profound secrets of the Vedanta religion in the Western world, we shall attract the sympathy and regard of these mighty nations, maintaining for ever the position of their ‘ teacher in spiritual matters, and they will remain our teachers in all material concerns. The day when, surrendering the spiritual into their hands, our countrymen would sit at the feet of the West to learn religion, that day indeed the nationality of this fallen nation will be dead and gone for good.
Nothing will come of crying day and night before them, ‘Give me this or give me that’. When there will grow a link of sympathy and regard between both nations by this give-and-take intercourse, there will be then no need for these noisy cries. They will do everything of their own accord. I believe that by this cultivation of religion and the wider diffusion of Vedanta, both this country and the West will gain enormously. To me the pursuit of politics is a secondary means in comparison with this. I will lay down my life to carry out this belief practically.