Swami Vivekananda on India’s Caste Problem

[Editor’s Note: I don’t recall from which of his books I found this extract. It’s been sitting in my Drafts folder for 4.5 years and is eminently worth a read.]

Casteist_Quates_of_Vivekanand-3A man from the highest caste and a man from the lowest may become a monk in India and the two castes become equal. The caste system is opposed to the religion of Vedanta.

In spite of all the ravings of the priests, caste is simply a crystallized social institution, which after doing its service is now filling the atmosphere of India with its stench, and it can only be removed by giving back to people their lost social individuality. Caste is simply the outgrowth of the political institutions of India; it is a hereditary trade guild. Trade competition with Europe has broken caste more than any teaching.

There is no country in the world without caste. Caste is based throughout on that principle. The plan in India is to make everybody Brahmana, the Brahmana 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 Brahmana. That is the plan.

Take a man in his different pursuits, for example : when he is engaged in serving another for pay, he is in Shudra-hood; when he is busy transacting some some piece of business for profit, on his account, he is a Vaishya; when he fights to right wrongs then the qualities of a Kshatriya come out in him; and when he meditates on God, or passes his time in conversation about Him, then he is a Brahmana. Naturally, it is quite possible for one to be changed from one caste into another. Otherwise, how did Viswamitra become a Brahmana and Parashurama a Kshatriya?

If you teach Vedanta to the fisherman, he will say, “I am as good a man as you, I am a fisherman, you are a philosopher, but I have the same God in me, as you have in you.” And that is what we want, no privilege for anyone, equal chances for all; let everyone be taught that the Divine is within, and everyone will work out his own salvation. The days of exclusive privileges and exclusive claims are gone, gone for ever from the soil of India.

The Brahmana-hood is the ideal of humanity in India as wonderfully put forward by Shankaracharya at the beginning of his commentary on the Gita, where he speaks about the reason for Krishna’s coming as a preacher for the preservation of Brahmana- hood, of Brahmana-ness. That was the great end. This Brahmana, the man of God, he who has known Brahman, the ideal man, the perfect man, must remain, he must not go. And with all the defects of the caste now, we know that we must all be ready to give to the Brahmanas this credit, that from them have come more men with real Brahmana-ness in them than from all the other castes. We must be bold enough, must be brave enough to speak their defects, but at the same time we must give credit that is due to them.

The duty of every aristocracy is to dig its own grave, and the sooner it does so, the better. The more he delays, the more it will fester and the worse death it will die. It is the duty of the Brahmana, therefore, to work for the salvation of the rest of mankind, in India. If he does that and so long as he does that, he is a Brahmana.

It seems that most of the Brahmanas are only nursing a false pride of birth; and any schemer, native or foreign, who can pander to this vanity and inherent laziness, by fulsome sophistry, appears to satisfy more. Beware Brahmanas, this is the sign of death! Arise and show your manhood, your Brahmana-hood, by raising the non-Brahmanas around you – not in the spirit of a master – not with the rotten canker of egoism crawling with superstitions and charlatanry of East and West – but in the spirit of a servant.  As Manu says, all these privileges and honors are given to the Brahmana because, “with him is the treasury of virtue”. He must open that treasury and distribute to the world.

It is true that he was the earliest preacher to the Indian races, he was the first to renounce everything in order to attain to the higher realization of life, before others could reach to the idea. It was not his fault that he marched ahead of the other castes. Why did not the other castes so understand and do as they did? Why did they sit down and be lazy, and let the Brahmanas win the race?

To the non-Brahmana castes I say, wait, be not in a hurry. Do not seize every opportunity of fighting the Brahmana, because as I have shown; you are suffering from your own fault. Who told you to neglect spirituality and Sanskrit learning? What have you been doing all this time? Why have you been indifferent? Why do you now fret and fume because somebody else had more brains, more energy, more pluck and go than you? Instead of wasting your energies in vain discussions and quarrels in the newspapers, instead of fighting and quarreling in your own homes – which is sinful – use all your energies in acquiring the culture which the Brahmana has, and the thing is done. Why do you not become Sanskrit scholars? Why do you not spend millions to bring Sanskrit education to all the castes of India? That is the question. The moment you do these things, you are equal to the Brahmana! That is the secret power in India.

The only safety, I tell you men who belong to the lower castes, the only way to raise your condition is to study Sanskrit, and this fighting and writing and frothing against the higher castes is in vain, it does no good, and it creates fight and quarrel, and this race, unfortunately already divided, is going to be divided more and more. The only way to bring about the leveling of castes is to appropriate the culture, the education which is the strength of the higher castes.

 

The Guide’s trouble with the Censor Board

Guide copy_rknarayanIf you thought Bollywood’s troubles with the Censor Board are a recent phenomenon, think again. R.K. Narayan recounts, in The Writerly Life, his experience with the movie making process of The Guide. He appropriately titles that episode in his book as The ‘Misguided’ Guide. He devotes 13 pages to that episode, fine Narayan reading of course. I have transcribed the extract pertaining to the interactions to the Censor Board ‘Ministry’.

Next: trouble at the governmental level. A representation was made to the Ministry dealing with films, by an influential group, that The Guide glorified adultery, and hence was not fit to be presented as a film, since it might degrade Indian womanhood. The dancer in my story, to hear the arguments, has no justification for preferring Raju the Guide to her legally-wedded husband. The Ministry summoned the movie principals to Delhi and asked them to explain how they proposed to meet the situation. They promised to revise the film script to the Ministry’s satisfaction.

In my story the dancer’s husband is a preoccupied archaeologist who has no time or inclination for marital life and is not interested in her artistic aspirations. Raju the Guide exploits the situation and weans her away from her husband. That is all there is to it — in my story. But now a justification had to be found for adultery.

So the archaeological husband was converted into a drunkard and womanizer who kicks out his wife when he discovers that another man has watched her dance in her room and has spoken encouragingly to her. I knew nothing about this drastic change of my characters until i saw the ‘rushes’ some months later. This was the point at which I lamented most over my naivete: the contract that I had signed in blind faith, in the intoxication of cheques, bonhomie, and back-slapping, empowered them to do whatever they pleased with my story, and I had no recourse.

 

Minimalist in a maximal world

[Editor’s Note: I’ve been meaning to write this post for sometime. This needs mention because this post has the rare distinction of having only a 2 week gestation period (the median post is more like 3-6 months). On a flight back from Delhi, I started writing. The battery went kaput after two paragraphs. Undeterred, I pulled out my trusty ‘paper’ notebook and continued. An hour later I was done with 95%. The remaining 5% I finished this evening.]

Pic courtesy talentedreader.blogspot.com

Pic courtesy talentedreader.blogspot.com

I once had a farm in Africa.

Remember that Meryl Streep movie where she talked about farms and donderstorms? Her nostalgic recollections of a bygone era were always prefaced with I once had a farm in Africa.

For the past six years, I’ve been having my own I once had a farm moment.  Every time I’d near a bookstore, I’d wistfully mutter to a companion: I was pathologically incapable of passing one of these without buying at least one book.

I have finally made peace with the fact that my best reading years are behind me.

As a kid with a voracious appetite for reading, I dreamed of being in a house full of books or someday having the “largest collection of books”. After acquiring a formidable collection of books across genres in my 16 years in US, I unexpectedly reached a point where I stopped buying books. When we sold our house in California, we sold (or gave away to Salvation Army) practically everything except four suitcases and an Apple Mac G4.

There were also sixteen boxes of books that remained with us! These sixteen boxes contained our “Noah’s Ark of books”. I surprised myself by selling at least 40-50 pulp fiction titles (Ludlum, Cussler, Jeffrey Archer, etc.). Selling ANY book would have been anathema in a former life but here I was doing it with ease.

What about them sixteen boxes? Half of them were stowed away in my sister’s garage and the other half in my cousin’s attic. Over the years, my friends and family have kindly shipped a subset (maybe 30%) of those books as they made trips to Bangalore.

And here was my next surprising learning… I had not missed my books all those years!

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In our first year in Bangalore, we made it to the annual Book Fair at Palace Grounds.  Returned with a dozen books.  The damage could have been more if our younger son didn’t need to go to the bathroom. Twice.

Turns out that book fair binge (a mere dozen!) is the high water mark of my Bangalore years.

Wow. How things changed in the past 8 years. Not buying books anymore. Selling books. Stowing away my precious books in people’s attics for a seemingly eternal duration. And NOT MISSING THEM!

When I bought my first set of books from Amazon.com, they sent a purple-blue fridge magnet with this quote from Cicero – A room without books is like a body without a soul.

Had I become soulless?

Sometime last year, as I sauntered into a friend’s study, I was struck by the eerie resemblance to one of my childhood dreams – two (or was it three?) walls adorned with book cases from floor to ceiling and stacked cheek-to-jowls with books. You’d need a ladder to access half the books (even if you were Hakeem Olajuwon).

My instinctive reaction was ‘Wow!’ but as I walked back to my apartment, I thought to myself, that’s SO not me anymore!

I was a packrat no more. I was a hoarder no more. I was a book collector no more.

I still remember that chap (during my Arlington Heights, Chicago years) who borrowed Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and never returned it but that’s a whole different story.

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Squash was the love of my sporting life… until I moved to Bangalore and (through a strange combination of circumstances) switched to running.

I played two games of squash in 2009 and spent the next 5 years harboring illusions of ‘returning to squash’. I finally exorcised that illusion last year when a squash marker (from a local club) came over to pick up my complete squash gear – 1 Black Knight titanium racquet, 1 Dunlop graphite racquet, a dozen Dunlop balls, a tournament bag, a pair of well-maintained Prince non-marking sole shoes. The only thing I retained as a keepsake was a pair of protective eyewear (outdated prescription if I may add!)

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Last month I attended a runner couple’s wedding reception at the Koramangala Club. Mahindra had recently released this e2o testimonial video (featuring me) and my friends very well and truly tickled. One of my friends was particularly curious. Here’s how that conversation went:

(Fr)iend: So how did that video come about? How did they ‘find’ you?

Me: Well, I’ve been active on Twitter for a while. Every now and then I’d tweet something delightful about the Reva-i (owned it for 3 years) and eventually about the e2o (we sold our petrol car also in the process). As you know, I’ve also been blogging and tweeting about barefoot running and minimalism. So I popped up on Mahindra’s social media agency’s radar. They contacted me… one thing led to another and before I knew it the e2o marketing team was in my office interviewing me about all things e2o, minimalism and sundry. It eventually led to a photoshoot (at their factory in Bommanahalli) and later to the video shoot that became this video.

Fr: So what is this minimalism thing all about?

Me: Basically consume less. In every possible way. The Reduce. Reuse. Recycle mantra applied to every facet of your life. Eat less food, preferably plant-based. Buy less clothes. Use them longer. Reduce gadget purchases and make them last longer.

Fr: Hmm…

Me: (just about warming up) You know Gandhi was a minimalist, right?

Fr: Yeah sure but that was for a purpose. To secure freedom for India. What is the point of minimalism for minimalism’s sake?

Me: But what is wrong with minimalism as an end in itself?

I reckon my friend either tuned out by this time or we got interrupted because I don’t recall what else I added. I know I invoked Dhruva (the world’s original and baddest minimalist stud) but that’s a separate blog post.

Here’s how I’d have continued…

We are living in a bad ass maximal world. You lift a rock, move a twig, open your Facebook page or scan your Twitter feed, and it’s hard to miss the Type A go-getters (are there any non-Type A’rs left in this world?) emoting some version of the following:

  • One life. Do MORE.
  • Just DO it!
  • Why run a marathon when you can run an ultra?
  • Why run a triathlon when you can run an Ironman?
  • Bucket lists and BUCKET LISTS!
  • I have traveled to 52 countries but I HAVE to check off 25 more dream destinations before I f@#$# die!
  • I HAVE to see every movie that gets released on the FIRST weekend (however crappy the reviews might be) otherwise my life wouldn’t be complete.
  • I HAVE to checkout that new restaurant that’s trending on Zomato.
  • I want EVERY dine-out to be the most magical and gourmet experience ever.
  • I HAVE to watch EVERY match of the FIFA World Cup AND the Cricket World Cup AND every Tennis Grand Slam match AND every golf tournament that McIllroy (or Tiger or whoever) is playing AND live-tweet/FB every f@#$#$ ‘notable’ moment.
  • I HAVE to take at least two annual vacations and post 62 pictures of glorious vistas and breathtakingly ecstatic family visages
  • I HAVE to be at the heart of an all-consuming startup AND be a model father AND spend quality time with my family

I have thought long and hard on why minimalism has captured my imagination. Picture the ultimate minimalist and the ultimate maximalist as two extremes on the multi-dimensional experience spectrum. The former needs nothing (not even breath) and there’s no greater personification than the sage Dhruva. The latter has experienced everything and either desires more or (maybe) sees the wisdom of the other extreme.

The path to maximalism is a cycle of consumption experiences that keep spawning never-ending Hydras of new consumption patterns that can only end when you die. My maximalist friends will present as Exhibit A a Facebook infographic on the lines of live life to the fullest and crash land into your coffin.

I rather fancy walking towards a point. Peeling and shedding along the way. Crazy for sure. Painful for sure. But in the theoretical realm of probability, no?

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Last Friday night, I was on MG Road. I had some time to kill so wandered into the iconic bookstore Book Worm. My last visit was around six years ago but it might as well have been yesterday. My nonchalant gaze caught a few new titles, classics like Bronte and Hardy, a few beat-up Biggles, a stack of Wodehouses. Normally the last would bring a smile to my face and I would invariably reach for ONE of them – it didn’t matter whether it was the Psmith title I had somehow not read or the Lord Elmsworth story I had read a dozen times. But this day was different. My scan went uninterrupted like the inexorable lighthouse beam. I finally picked up one book to set it right on the shelf (can you believe I forgot what it was already?)

I started walking out and glanced one last time at the row of books close to the exit. It was the Murakami section that made me stop. I knew Murakami “the runner” (via his What I talk about when I talk about running) but I had only heard about Murakami “the fiction writer”. I picked up a title. It was Sputnik Sweetheart. Opened to a page randomly and started reading. A few minutes later I thought “Hmm.. that’s an interesting twist right there in one page. Wonder where it leads to.”

I walked out of the store. Who’s got time for a Murakami fiction title? Not me. At least not in 2015. Maybe next year or maybe never.

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Related posts:

How Hinduism is different from all other religions

Pic courtesy uttaranchal.org.uk

Pic courtesy uttaranchal.org.uk

[Editor’s Note: Swami Vivekananda opines on how Hinduism is different from all other religions. The emphasis in the excerpts are all mine. This is but a partial extract and has been languishing in my Drafts folder for a year. Thanks to the Doniger/Penguin fracas, I remembered. Here you go.]

You hear claims made by every religion as being the universal religion of the world. Let me tell you in the first place that perhaps there never will be such a thing, but if there is a religion which can lay claim to be that, it is only our religion and no other, because every other religion depends on some person or persons. All the other religions have been built round the life of what they think a historical man; and what they think the strength of religion is really the weakness, for disprove the historicity of the man and the whole fabric tumbles to ground. Half the lives of these great founders of religions have been broken into pieces, and the other half doubted very seriously. As such, every truth that had its sanction only in their words vanishes into air. But the truths of our religion, although we have persons by the score, do not depend upon them. The glory of Krishna is not that he was Krishna, but that he was the great teacher of Vedanta. If he had not been so, his name would have died out of India in the same way as the name of Buddha has done. Thus our allegiance is to the principles always, and not to the persons. Persons are but the embodiments, the illustrations of the principles. If the principles are there, the persons will come by the thousands and millions. If the principle is safe, persons like Buddha will be born by the hundreds and thousands. But if the principle is lost and forgotten and the whole of national life tries to cling round a so-called historical person, woe unto that religion, danger unto that religion! Ours is the only religion that does not depend on a person or persons; it is based upon principles. At the same time there is room for millions of persons. There is ample ground for introducing persons, but each one of them must be an illustration of the principles. We must not forget that. These principles of our religion are all safe, and it should be the life-work of everyone of us to keep then safe, and to keep them free from the accumulating dirt and dust of ages. It is strange that in spite of the degradation that seized upon the race again and again, these principles of the Vedanta were never tarnished. No one, however wicked, ever dared to throw dirt upon them. Our scriptures are the best preserved scriptures in the world. Compared to other books there have been no interpolations, no text-torturing, no destroying of the essence of the thought in them. It is there just as it was first, directing the human mind towards the ideal, the goal.

We must, therefore, remember that our religion lays down distinctly and clearly that every one who wants salvation must pass through the stage of Rishihood — must become a Mantra-drashta, must see God. That is salvation; that is the law laid down by our scriptures. Then it becomes easy to look into the scripture with our own eyes, understand the meaning for ourselves, to analyse just what we want, and to understand the truth for ourselves. This is what has to be done. At the same time we must pay all reverence to the ancient sages for their work. They were great, these ancients, but we want to be greater. They did great work in the past, but we must do greater work than they. [Strangely, this reminds me of Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End] They had hundreds of Rishis in ancient India. We will have millions — we are going to have, and the sooner every one of you believes in this, the better for India and the better for the world.Whatever you believe, that you will be. If you believe yourselves to be sages, sages you will be tomorrow. There is nothing to obstruct you. For if there is one common doctrine that runs through all our apparently fighting and contradictory sects, it is that all glory, power, and purity are within the soul already; only according to Ramanuja, the soul contracts and expands at times, and according to Shankara, it comes under a delusion. Never mind these differences. All admit the truth that the power is there — potential or manifest it is there — and the sooner you believe that, the better for you. All power is within you; you can do anything and everything. Believe in that, do not believe that you are weak; do not believe that you are half-crazy lunatics, as most of us do nowadays. You can do anything and everything without even the guidance of any one. All power is there. Stand up and express the divinity within you.

—————-

A more contemporary piece :  A Hindu was flying from JFK to SFO

 

The Zoo-enslaved Panther’s Ritual Dance

Pic courtesy vanwageningen.net

Pic courtesy vanwageningen.net

I forget where I found the extract below. But it instantly transported me to the last trip to Mysore Zoo – the description couldn’t be more spot-on.

The desperation of a life in captivity is perhaps conveyed best in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “The Panther”: As the animal “paces in cramped circles, over and over,” he seems to perform “a ritual dance around a center / in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.” Unlike the dogs in the Seligman experiment, the panther displays his paralysis not by lying still, but by constantly moving. Just like the helpless dogs, however, he cannot see past his confinement: “It seems to him there are / a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.” Whether the bars are real or metaphorical, when one has no control, it is as if nothing exists beyond the pain of this loss.

The full text of The Panther below:

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Solzhenitsyn and the Struggle for Russia’s Soul

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by George Friedman, Founder of Stratfor, after the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Aug 2008. I received it as part of the free Stratfor subscription. I have two Solzhenitsyn volumes in my book collection but.. they haven’t yet made it home. When I forwarded this article to my Ukrainian friend in Chicago, he had this to say – Solzhenitsyn has been a great educator to me. His dark and brutal experiences in Soviet Russia illustrated history that everyone eluded to but nobody discussed. The honesty and power of his language is mesmorising. I treasure his books bought in a 2nd-hand store on Devon Ave years ago. Looking at the fragile covers, I’d like to believe the books have meant as much to their previous owners as they do to me.]

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Pic courtesy kitmantv.blogspot.com)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Pic courtesy kitmantv.blogspot.com)

There are many people who write history. There are very few who make history through their writings. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died this week at the age of 89, was one of them. In many ways, Solzhenitsyn laid the intellectual foundations for the fall of Soviet communism. That is well known. But Solzhenitsyn also laid the intellectual foundation for the Russia that is now emerging. That is less well known, and in some ways more important.

Solzhenitsyn’s role in the Soviet Union was simple. His writings, and in particular his book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” laid bare the nature of the Soviet regime. The book described a day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet concentration camp, where the guilty and innocent alike were sent to have their lives squeezed out of them in endless and hopeless labor. It was a topic Solzhenitsyn knew well, having been a prisoner in such a camp following service in World War II.

The book was published in the Soviet Union during the reign of Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev had turned on his patron, Joseph Stalin, after taking control of the Communist Party apparatus following Stalin’s death. In a famous secret speech delivered to the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his murderous ways. Allowing Solzhenitsyn’s book to be published suited Khrushchev. Khrushchev wanted to detail Stalin’s crimes graphically, and Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of life in a labor camp served his purposes.

It also served a dramatic purpose in the West when it was translated and distributed there. Ever since its founding, the Soviet Union had been mythologized. This was particularly true among Western intellectuals, who had been taken by not only the romance of socialism, but also by the image of intellectuals staging a revolution. Vladimir Lenin, after all, had been the author of works such as “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.” The vision of intellectuals as revolutionaries gripped many European and American intellectuals.

These intellectuals had missed not only that the Soviet Union was a social catastrophe, but that, far from being ruled by intellectuals, it was being ruled by thugs. For an extraordinarily long time, in spite of ample testimony by emigres from the Soviet regime, Western intellectuals simply denied this reality. When Western intellectuals wrote that they had “seen the future and it worked,” they were writing at a time when the Soviet terror was already well under way. They simply couldn’t see it.

One of the most important things about “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was not only that it was so powerful, but that it had been released under the aegis of the Soviet state, meaning it could not simply be ignored. Solzhenitsyn was critical in breaking the intellectual and moral logjam among intellectuals in the West. You had to be extraordinarily dense or dishonest to continue denying the obvious, which was that the state that Lenin and Stalin had created was a moral monstrosity.

Khrushchev’s intentions were not Solzhenitsyn’s. Khrushchev wanted to demonstrate the evils of Stalinism while demonstrating that the regime could reform itself and, more important, that communism was not invalidated by Stalin’s crimes. Solzhenitsyn, on the other hand, held the view that the labor camps were not incidental to communism, but at its heart. He argued in his “Gulag Archipelago” that the systemic exploitation of labor was essential to the regime not only because it provided a pool of free labor, but because it imposed a systematic terror on those not in the gulag that stabilized the regime. His most telling point was that while Khrushchev had condemned Stalin, he did not dismantle the gulag; the gulag remained in operation until the end.

Though Solzhenitsyn served the regime’s purposes in the 1960s, his usefulness had waned by the 1970s. By then, Solzhenitsyn was properly perceived by the Soviet regime as a threat. In the West, he was seen as a hero by all parties. Conservatives saw him as an enemy of communism. Liberals saw him as a champion of human rights. Each invented Solzhenitsyn in their own image. He was given the Nobel Prize for Literature, which immunized him against arrest and certified him as a great writer. Instead of arresting him, the Soviets expelled him, sending him into exile in the United States.

When he reached Vermont, the reality of who Solzhenitsyn was slowly sank in. Conservatives realized that while he certainly was an enemy of communism and despised Western liberals who made apologies for the Soviets, he also despised Western capitalism just as much. Liberals realized that Solzhenitsyn hated Soviet oppression, but that he also despised their obsession with individual rights, such as the right to unlimited free expression. Solzhenitsyn was nothing like anyone had thought, and he went from being the heroic intellectual to a tiresome crank in no time. Solzhenitsyn attacked the idea that the alternative to communism had to be secular, individualist humanism. He had a much different alternative in mind.

Solzhenitsyn saw the basic problem that humanity faced as being rooted in the French Enlightenment and modern science. Both identify the world with nature, and nature with matter. If humans are part of nature, they themselves are material. If humans are material, then what is the realm of God and of spirit? And if there is no room for God and spirituality, then what keeps humans from sinking into bestiality? For Solzhenitsyn, Stalin was impossible without Lenin’s praise of materialism, and Lenin was impossible without the Enlightenment.

From Solzhenitsyn’s point of view, Western capitalism and liberalism are in their own way as horrible as Stalinism. Adam Smith saw man as primarily pursuing economic ends. Economic man seeks to maximize his wealth. Solzhenitsyn tried to make the case that this is the most pointless life conceivable. He was not objecting to either property or wealth, but to the idea that the pursuit of wealth is the primary purpose of a human being, and that the purpose of society is to free humans to this end.

Solzhenitsyn made the case — hardly unique to him — that the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself left humans empty shells. He once noted Blaise Pascal’s aphorism that humans are so endlessly busy so that they can forget that they are going to die — the point being that we all die, and that how we die is determined by how we live. For Solzhenitsyn, the American pursuit of economic well being was a disease destroying the Western soul.

He viewed freedom of expression in the same way. For Americans, the right to express oneself transcends the content of the expression. That you speak matters more than what you say. To Solzhenitsyn, the same principle that turned humans into obsessive pursuers of wealth turned them into vapid purveyors of shallow ideas. Materialism led to individualism, and individualism led to a culture devoid of spirit. The freedom of the West, according to Solzhenitsyn, produced a horrifying culture of intellectual self-indulgence, licentiousness and spiritual poverty. In a contemporary context, the hedge fund coupled with The Daily Show constituted the bankruptcy of the West.

To have been present when he once addressed a Harvard commencement! On the one side, Harvard Law and Business School graduates — the embodiment of economic man. On the other side, the School of Arts and Sciences, the embodiment of free expression. Both greeted their heroic resister, only to have him reveal himself to be religious, patriotic and totally contemptuous of the Vatican of self-esteem, Harvard.

Solzhenitsyn had no real home in the United States, and with the fall of the Soviets, he could return to Russia — where he witnessed what was undoubtedly the ultimate nightmare for him: thugs not only running the country, but running it as if they were Americans. Now, Russians were pursuing wealth as an end in itself and pleasure as a natural right. In all of this, Solzhenitsyn had not changed at all.

Solzhenitsyn believed there was an authentic Russia that would emerge from this disaster. It would be a Russia that first and foremost celebrated the motherland, a Russia that accepted and enjoyed its uniqueness. This Russia would take its bearings from no one else. At the heart of this Russia would be the Russian Orthodox Church, with not only its spirituality, but its traditions, rituals and art.

The state’s mission would be to defend the motherland, create the conditions for cultural renaissance, and — not unimportantly — assure a decent economic life for its citizens. Russia would be built on two pillars: the state and the church. It was within this context that Russians would make a living. The goal would not be to create the wealthiest state in the world, nor radical equality. Nor would it be a place where anyone could say whatever they wanted, not because they would be arrested necessarily, but because they would be socially ostracized for saying certain things.

Most important, it would be a state not ruled by the market, but a market ruled by a state. Economic strength was not trivial to Solzhenitsyn, either for individuals or for societies, but it was never to be an end in itself and must always be tempered by other considerations. As for foreigners, Russia must always guard itself, as any nation must, against foreigners seeking its wealth or wanting to invade. Solzhenitsyn wrote a book called “August 1914,” in which he argues that the czarist regime had failed the nation by not being prepared for war.

Think now of the Russia that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev are shaping. The Russian Orthodox Church is undergoing a massive resurgence, the market is submitting to the state, free expression is being tempered and so on. We doubt Putin was reading Solzhenitsyn when reshaping Russia. But we do believe that Solzhenitsyn had an understanding of Russia that towered over most of his contemporaries. And we believe that the traditional Russia that Solzhenitsyn celebrated is emerging, more from its own force than by political decisions.

Solzhenitsyn served Western purposes when he undermined the Soviet state. But that was not his purpose. His purpose was to destroy the Soviet state so that his vision of Russia could re-emerge. When his interests and the West’s coincided, he won the Nobel Prize. When they diverged, he became a joke. But Solzhenitsyn never really cared what Americans or the French thought of him and his ideas. He wasn’t speaking to them and had no interest or hope of remaking them. Solzhenitsyn was totally alien to American culture. He was speaking to Russia and the vision he had was a resurrection of Mother Russia, if not with the czar, then certainly with the church and state. That did not mean liberalism; Mother Russia was dramatically oppressive. But it was neither a country of mass murder nor of vulgar materialism.

It must also be remembered that when Solzhenitsyn spoke of Russia, he meant imperial Russia at its height, and imperial Russia’s borders at its height looked more like the Soviet Union than they looked like Russia today. “August 1914” is a book that addresses geopolitics. Russian greatness did not have to express itself via empire, but logically it should — something to which Solzhenitsyn would not have objected.

Solzhenitsyn could not teach Americans, whose intellectual genes were incompatible with his. But it is hard to think of anyone who spoke to the Russian soul as deeply as he did. He first ripped Russia apart with his indictment. He was later ignored by a Russia out of control under former President Boris Yeltsin. But today’s Russia is very slowly moving in the direction that Solzhenitsyn wanted. And that could make Russia extraordinarily powerful. Imagine a Soviet Union not ruled by thugs and incompetents. Imagine Russia ruled by people resembling Solzhenitsyn’s vision of a decent man.

Solzhenitsyn was far more prophetic about the future of the Soviet Union than almost all of the Ph.D.s in Russian studies. Entertain the possibility that the rest of Solzhenitsyn’s vision will come to pass. It is an idea that ought to cause the world to be very thoughtful.

Besides the email newsletter, this Friedman article was also published on Stratfor.

 

Swami Vivekananda on Spiritual Conquest (Part 2)

[Editor’s Prelude] This is Part 2 of a two-part blog series on Swami Vivekananda’s ideas on spiritual conquest – from a talk titled The Work Before Us delivered at the Triplicane Literary Society, Madras. In the excerpts below, he elaborates on spiritual conquest – “conquest of the world by spiritual thought is the sending out of the life-giving principles, not the hundreds of superstitions that we have been hugging to our breasts for centuries.” Part 1 is here.]

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 of spirituality. Once more the world must be conquered by India. This is the dream of my life, and I wish that each one of you who hear me today will have the same dream in your minds, and stop not till you have realised the dream. 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, and this very meeting is proof how the attempt to enlighten other countries with your thoughts is helping your own country. One-fourth of the effect that has been produced in this country by my going to England and America would not have been brought about, had I confined my ideas only to India. This is the great ideal before us, and every one must be ready for it — the Conquest of the whole world by India — nothing less than that, and we must all get ready for it, strain every nerve for it. Let foreigners come and flood the land with their armies, never mind. Up, India, and conquer the world with your spirituality! Ay, as has been declared on this soil first, love must conquer hatred, hatred cannot conquer itself. Materialism and all its miseries can never be 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 what they want 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 spurs 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 tomorrow. They have searched every corner of the world and have found no respite. They have drunk deep of the cup of pleasure and found it vanity. Now is the time to work so that India’s spiritual ideas may penetrate deep into the West. Therefore young men of Madras, I specially ask you to remember this. We must go out, we must conquer the world through our spirituality and philosophy. There is no other alternative, we must do it or die. The only condition of national life, of awakened and vigorous national life, is the conquest of the world by Indian thought.

At the same time we must not forget that what I mean by the conquest of the world by spiritual thought is the sending out of the life-giving principles, not the hundreds of superstitions that we have been hugging to our breasts for centuries. These have to be weeded out even on this soil, and thrown aside, so that they may die for ever. These are the causes of the degradation of the race and will lead to softening of the brain. That brain which cannot think high and noble thoughts, which has lost all power of originality, which has lost all vigour, that brain which is always poisoning itself with all sorts of little superstitions passing under the name of religion, we must beware of. In our sight, here in India, there are several dangers. Of these, the two, Scylla and Charybdis, rank materialism and its opposite arrant superstition, must be avoided. There is the man today who after drinking the cup of Western wisdom, thinks that he knows everything. He laughs at the ancient sages. All Hindu thought to him is arrant trash — philosophy mere child’s prattle, and religion the superstition of fools. On the other hand, there is the man educated, but a sort of monomaniac, who runs to the other extreme and wants to explain the omen of this and that. He has philosophical and metaphysical, and Lord knows what other puerile explanations for every superstition that belongs to his peculiar race, or his peculiar gods, or his peculiar village. Every little village superstition is to him a mandate of the Vedas, and upon the carrying out of it, according to him, depends the national life. You must beware of this. I would rather see every one of you rank atheists than superstitious fools, for the atheist is alive and you can make something out of him. But if superstition enters, the brain is gone, the brain is softening, degradation has seized upon the life. Avoid these two. Brave, bold men, these are what we want. What we want is vigour in the blood, strength in the nerves, iron muscles and nerves of steel, not softening namby-pamby ideas. Avoid all these. Avoid all mystery. There is no mystery in religion. Is there any mystery in the Vedanta, or in the Vedas, or in the Samhitâs, or in the Puranas? What secret societies did the sages of yore establish to preach their religion? What sleight-of-hand tricks are there recorded as used by them to bring their grand truths to humanity? Mystery mongering and superstition are always signs of weakness. These are always signs of degradation and of death. Therefore beware of them; be strong, and stand on your own feet. Great things are there, most marvellous things. We may call them supernatural things so far as our ideas of nature go, but not one of these things is a mystery. It was never preached on this soil that the truths of religion were mysteries or that they were the property of secret societies sitting on the snow-caps of the Himalayas. I have been in the Himalayas. You have not been there; it is several hundreds of miles from your homes. I am a Sannyâsin, and I have been for the last fourteen years on my feet. These mysterious societies do not exist anywhere. Do not run after these superstitions. Better for you and for the race that you become rank atheists, because you would have strength, but these are degradation and death. Shame on humanity that strong men should spend their time on these superstitions, spend all their time in inventing allegories to explain the most rotten superstitions of the world. Be bold; do not try to explain everything that way. The fact is that we have many superstitions, many bad spots and sores on our body — these have to be excised, cut off, and destroyed — but these do not destroy our religion, our national life, our spirituality. Every principle of religion is safe, and the sooner these black spots are purged away, the better the principles will shine, the more gloriously. Stick to them.

Update: My friend Deepika commented (on Facebook) that Americans are becoming more Hindu in the way they think of God, life and death so perhaps the conquest is not that far off. Which reminded me of this other post I wrote last year – Err… Could we stop the conversions please?

Swami Vivekananda on Spiritual Conquest

[Editor’s Prelude] Was Swami Vivekananda the first ambassador of Hinduism to the West? The more one reads of his writings and lectures, one begin to realize that he was possibly Hinduism’s first (and most forceful) evangelist. I’ve used evangelist deliberately because it’s hardly used in the same sentence with Hinduism. In his talk at The Triplicane Literary Society in Madras, he holds forth on the subject of spiritual conquest. One normally associates passion, charisma and vociferousness with Swami Vivekananda but when you read The Work Before Us (a talk delivered at the Triplicane Literary Society, Madras) you’ll want to add the word thunderous as well. Without letting the cat out of the bag, let me mention that evangelism and conquest below are very different from mainstream definitions of these words. I’ve picked the most interesting excerpts in this two-part blog series.]

Then for good or evil, the English conquest of India took place. Of course every conquest is bad, for conquest is an evil, foreign government is an evil, no doubt; but even through evil comes good sometimes, and the great good of the English conquest is this: England, nay the whole of Europe, has to thank Greece for its civilization. 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. Today the ancient Greek is meeting the ancient Hindu on the soil of India. Thus slowly and silently the leaven has come; the broadening, 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 today 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 universalist, is the end of our aims. And all the time we have been making ourselves smaller and smaller, and dissociating ourselves, contrary to the plans laid down our scriptures.

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 for 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, every one can teach us great lessons. Says our great law-giver, Manu: “Receive some good knowledge even from the low-born, and even 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 any one who can teach us. At the same time we must not forget that we have also to teach a great lesson to the world. 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. That we did not go out to compare things with other nations, did not mark the workings that have been all around us, has been the one great cause of this degradation of the Indian mind. 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 for your country. If you had done that for hundreds of years past, you would not be here today 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. I went to America and Europe, to which you so kindly allude; I have to, because that is the first sign of the revival of national life, expansion. This reviving national life, expanding inside, threw me off, and thousands will be thrown off in that way. Mark my words, it has got to come if this nation lives at all. This question, therefore, is the greatest of the signs of the revival of national life, and through this expansion our quota of offering to the general mass of human knowledge, our contribution to the general upheaval of the world, is going out to the external world.

Again, this is not a new thing. Those of you who think that the Hindus have been always confined within the four walls of their country through all ages, are entirely mistaken; you have not studied the old books, you have not studied the history of the race aright if you think so. Each nation must give in order to live. When you give life, you will have life; when you receive, you must pay for it by giving to all others; and that we have been living for so many thousands of years is a fact that stares us in the face, and the solution that remains is that we have been always giving to the outside world, whatever the ignorant may think. But the gift of India is the gift of religion and philosophy, and wisdom and spirituality. And religion does not want cohorts to march before its path and clear its way. Wisdom and philosophy do not want to be carried on floods of blood. Wisdom and philosophy do not march upon bleeding human bodies, do not march with violence but come on the wings of peace and love, and that has always been so. Therefore we had to give. I was asked by a young lady in London, “What have you Hindus done? You have never even conquered a single nation.” That is true from the point of view of the Englishman, the brave, the heroic, the Kshatriya — conquest is the greatest glory that one man can have over another. That is true from his point of view, but from ours it is quite the opposite. If I ask myself what has been the cause of India’s greatness, I answer, because we have never conquered. That is our glory. You are hearing every day, and sometimes, I am sorry to say, from men who ought to know better, denunciations of our religion, because it is not at all a conquering religion. To my mind that is the argument why our religion is truer than any other religion, because it never conquered, because it never shed blood, because its mouth always shed on all, words of blessing, of peace, words of love and sympathy. It is here and here alone that the ideals of toleration were first preached. And it is here and here alone that toleration and sympathy have become practical it is theoretical in every other country, it is here and here alone, that the Hindu builds mosques for the Mohammedans and churches for the Christians.

So, you see, our message has gone out to the world many a time, but slowly, silently, unperceived. It is on a par with everything in India. The one characteristic of Indian thought is its silence, its calmness. At the same time the tremendous power that is behind it is never expressed by violence. It is always the silent mesmerism of Indian thought. If a foreigner takes up our literature to study, at first it is disgusting to him; there is not the same stir, perhaps, the same amount of go that rouses him instantly. Compare the tragedies of Europe with our tragedies. The one is full of action, that rouses you for the moment, but when it is over there comes the reaction, and everything is gone, washed off as it were from your brains. Indian tragedies are like the mesmerist’s power, quiet, silent, but as you go on studying them they fascinate you; you cannot move; you are bound; and whoever has dared to touch our literature has felt the bondage, and is there bound for ever. Like the gentle dew that falls unseen and unheard, and yet brings into blossom the fairest of roses, has been the contribution of India to the thought of the world. Silent, unperceived, yet omnipotent in its effect, it has revolutionised the thought of the world, yet nobody knows when it did so. It was once remarked to me, “How difficult it is to ascertain the name of any writer in India”, to which I replied, “That is the Indian idea.” Indian writers are not like modern writers who steal ninety percent of their ideas from other authors, while only ten per cent is their own, and they take care to write a preface in which they say, “For these ideas I am responsible”. Those great master minds producing momentous results in the hearts of mankind were content to write their books without even putting their names, and to die quietly, leaving the books to posterity. Who knows the writers of our philosophy, who knows the writers of our Purânas? They all pass under the generic name of Vyâsa, and Kapila, and so on. They have been true children of Shri Krishna. They have been true followers of the Gita; they practically carried out the great mandate, “To work you have the right, but not to the fruits thereof.”

Thus India is working upon the world, but one condition is necessary. Thoughts like merchandise can only run through channels made by somebody. Roads have to be made before even thought can travel from one place to another, and whenever in the history of the world a great conquering nation has arisen, linking the different parts of the world together, then has poured through these channels the thought of India and thus entered into the veins of every race. Before even the Buddhists were born, there are evidences accumulating every day that Indian thought penetrated the world. Before Buddhism, Vedanta had penetrated into China, into Persia, and the Islands of the Eastern Archipelago. Again when the mighty mind of the Greek had linked the different parts of the Eastern world together there came Indian thought; and Christianity with all its boasted civilisation is but a collection of little bits of Indian thought. Ours is the religion of which Buddhism with all its greatness is a rebel child, and of which Christianity is a very patchy imitation. One of these cycles has again arrived. There is the tremendous power of England which has linked the different parts of the world together. English roads no more are content like Roman roads to run over lands, but they have also ploughed the deep in all directions. From ocean to ocean run the roads of England. Every part of the world has been linked to every other part, and electricity plays a most marvellous part as the new messenger. Under all these circumstances we find again India reviving and ready to give her own quota to the progress and civilisation of the world. And that I have been forced, as it were, by nature, to go over and preach to America and England is the result. Every one of us ought to have seen that the time had arrived. Everything looks propitious, and Indian thought, philosophical and spiritual, roast once more go over and conquer the world. The problem before us, therefore, is assuming larger proportions every day. It is not only that we must revive our own country — that is a small matter; I am an imaginative man — and my idea is the conquest of the whole world by the Hindu race.

Wait a minute… “conquest of the whole world by the Hindu race”? Shocking, no? What exactly did he mean? Read more in Part 2 – Swami Vivekananda on Spiritual Conquest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding Rama’s Sita Conundrum – view from Swami Vivekananda

Most Hindus probably learned the numerous stories in Ramayana from Amar Chitra Katha comics. If you’ve been a reasonably voracious reader in your youth, you might have also read C. Rajagopalcharya’s version which gets into Ramayana in a fair bit of detail.

Recently, the controversial lawyer Ram Jethmalani and Rajya Sabha MP (suspended) observed that “Lord Ram was a bad husband.” It’s a view that’s shared by many Hindus. An even larger number of Hindus (myself included) have been genuinely puzzled by this aberration in what could otherwise have been a perfect life as king, protector, and man. Why oh why?

During a recent perusal of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, I came across a speech he gave in 1900 in Pasadena, California where he summarized Ramayana. His recounting of Sita’s chastity tests (there were multiple clamors for them, not one) cast fresh light on the subject for me.

Here’s that first extract after Rama and his army had vanquished Ravana and installed Vibheeshana as the King of Lanka.

Then Rama with Sita and his followers left Lanka. But there ran a murmur among the followers. “The test! The test!” they cried, “Sita has not given the test that she was perfectly pure in Ravana’s household.” “Pure! she is chastity itself” exclaimed Rama. “Never mind! We want the test,” persisted the people.

Subsequently, a huge sacrificial fire was made ready, into which Sita had to plunge herself. Rama was in agony, thinking that Sita was lost; but in a moment, the God of fire himself appeared with a throne upon his head, and upon the throne was Sita. Then, there was universal rejoicing, and everybody was satisfied.

Who are these “followers” I wonder.. they couldn’t be part of Rama’s army since that was largely the Vanara sena, were never part of Dasharatha’s (or Rama’s) kingdom. They “left Lanka” but didn’t reach Ayodhya yet.. an advance party from Ayodhya?

Anyway, after Rama and Sita return to Ayodhya, the second clamor for the “test” begins..

After Rama regained his kingdom, he took the necessary vows which in olden times the king had to take for the benefit of his people. The king was the slave of his people, and had to bow to public opinion, as we shall see later on. Rama passed a few years in happiness with Sita, when the people again began to murmur that Sita had been stolen by a demon and carried across the ocean. They were not satisfied with the former test and clamoured for another test, otherwise she must be banished.

In order to satisfy the demands of the people, Sita was banished, and left to live in the forest, where was the hermitage of the sage and poet Valmiki. The sage found poor Sita weeping and forlorn, and hearing her sad story, sheltered her in his Âshrama. Sita was expecting soon to become a mother, and she gave birth to twin boys. The poet never told the children who they were. He brought them up together in the Brahmachârin life. He then composed the poem known as Ramayana, set it to music, and dramatised it.

Then came the time to perform the Ashwamedha sacrifice. It marks the first time that Rama goes “against the wishes” of his people (the subjects) – read below.

There came a time when Rama was going to perform a huge sacrifice, or Yajna, such as the old kings used to celebrate. But no ceremony in India can be performed by a married man without his wife: he must have the wife with him, the Sahadharmini, the “co-religionist” — that is the expression for a wife. The Hindu householder has to perform hundreds of ceremonies, but not one can be duly performed according to the Shâstras, if he has not a wife to complement it with her part in it.

Now Rama’s wife was not with him then, as she had been banished. So, the people asked him to marry again. But at this request Rama for the first time in his life stood against the people. He said, “This cannot be. My life is Sita’s.” So, as a substitute, a golden statue of Sita was made, in order that the; ceremony could be accomplished.

The third clamor for the “test” begins..

They arranged even a dramatic entertainment, to enhance the religious feeling in this great festival. Valmiki, the great sage-poet, came with his pupils, Lava and Kusha, the unknown sons of Rama. A stage had been erected and everything was ready for the performance. Rama and his brothers attended with all his nobles and his people — a vast audience. Under the direction of Valmiki, the life of Rama was sung by Lava and Kusha, who fascinated the whole assembly by their charming voice and appearance. Poor Rama was nearly maddened, and when in the drama, the scene of Sita’s exile came about, he did not know what to do. Then the sage said to him, “Do not be grieved, for I will show you Sita.” Then Sita was brought upon the stage and Rama delighted to see his wife. All of a sudden, the old murmur arose: “The test! The test!” Poor Sita was so terribly overcome by the repeated cruel slight on her reputation that it was more than she could bear. She appealed to the gods to testify to her innocence, when the Earth opened and Sita exclaimed, “Here is the test”, and vanished into the bosom of the Earth. The people were taken aback at this tragic end. And Rama was overwhelmed with grief.

The ‘message from the gods’ and Rama joining Sita in the other world…

A few days after Sita’s disappearance, a messenger came to Rama from the gods, who intimated to him that his mission on earth was finished and he was to return to heaven. These tidings brought to him the recognition of his own real Self. He plunged into the waters of Sarayu, the mighty river that laved his capital, and joined Sita in the other world.

Several fresh takeaways for me personally..

  • While I knew that Rama lived the life of a normal mortal (a Prince -> exiled Prince -> King but a mortal all through), I had always assumed that he ‘knew’ he was a God (avatar of Vishnu). Apparently not.
  • In Rama (the King’s) operating philosophy, what the ‘subjects wanted’ from their king was higher than his own personal wants (as a man/husband/King). Depending on your perspective, this could come across as “democracy at work” (where the King rules on “behalf of the people”) or a mobocracy “gone wild”.
  • Rama genuinely seemed to be in love with Sita. Besides expressions of remorse, his ultimate act of love was his ‘plunging into the waters of Sarayu’ moment.
  • If you buy into Rama’s operating philosophy and his strong sense of ‘duty’ (you don’t have to agree with it), then one can’t help but respect him and feel sympathetic for doing things that went against his ‘personal’ interest.

 

Backstory on John D. Rockefeller’s First Public Donation

John D. Rockefeller (Pic courtesy storiesofusa.com)

My most inspired Kindle purchase in 2012 (for a ‘princely’ sum of $1.99) was The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Last night I learnt that John D. Rockefeller’s first meeting with Swami Vivekananda (as recorded in Madame Verdier’s journey in New Discoveries) served as a trigger to the former’s first ever donation for public good – wow! The Rockefeller Foundation is celebrating its centennial this year. Below is the fascinating story as recounted by Madame Emma Calvé to Madame Drinette Verdier.

Mr. X, in whose home Swamiji was staying in Chicago, was a partner or an associate in some business with John D. Rockefeller. Many times John D. heard his friends talking about this extraordinary and wonderful Hindu monk who was staying with them, and many times he had been invited to meet Swamiji but, for one reason or another, always refused. At that time Rockefeller was not yet at the peak of his fortune, but was already powerful and strong-willed, very difficult to handle and a hard man to advise.

But one day, although he did not want to meet Swamiji, he was pushed to it by an impulse and went directly to the house of his friends, brushing aside the butler who opened the door and saying that he wanted to see the Hindu monk.

The butler ushered him into the living room, and, not waiting to be announced, Rockefeller entered into Swamiji’s adjoining study and was much surprised, I presume, to see Swamiji behind his writing table not even lifting his eyes to see who had entered.

Swami Vivekananda (Pic courtesy jnanajyoti.com)

After a while, as with Calvé, Swamiji told Rockefeller much of his past that was not known to any but himself, and made him understand that the money he had already  accumulated was not his, that he was only a channel and that his duty was to do good to the world — that God had given him all his wealth in order that he might have an opportunity to help and do good to people.

Rockefeller was annoyed that anyone dared to talk to him that way and tell him what to do. He left the room in irritation, not even saying goodbye. But about a week after, again without being announced, he entered Swamiji’s study and, finding him the same as before, threw on his desk a paper which told of his plans to donate an enormous sum of money toward the financing of a public institution.

“Well, there you are”, he said. “You must be satisfied now, and you can thank me for it.”

Swamiji didn’t even lift his eyes, did not move. Then taking the paper, he quietly read it, saying: “It is for you to thank me”. That was all. This was Rockefeller’s first large donation to the public welfare.