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To Deoghar Vaidyanath
(This is a letter of Swami Vivekananda that we found published in a book called the Bible Review. To the best of our knowledge, it's not found in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda).
Deoghar Vaidyanath. Dec. 23, 1900.
I am very glad to receive your letter. What you have underÂÂstood is right. "The Lord whose nature is unspeakable love", that this characteristic of God mentioned by Narada is manifest and admitted on all hands is the firm conviction of my life. The aggregate of many individuals is called Samashti (the whole), and each individual is called Vyashti (a part). You and Iâeach is Vyashti, society is Samashti. You, I, an anÂÂimal, a bird, a worm, an insect, a tree, a creeper, the earth, a planet, a star,âeach is Vyashti, while this universe is Samashti, which is called Virat, Hiranyagarbha or Ishwara in Vedanta, and Brahma, Vishnu, Devi, etc., in the Puranas. Whether or not Vyashti has individual freedom, and if it has, what should be its measure, whether or not Vyashti should comÂÂpletely sacrifice its own will, its own happiness for Samashti,â are the perennial problems before every society. Society everyÂÂwhere is busy finding the solution of these problems. In modern Western society these loom large. The doctrine which demands the sacrifice of individual freedom to social supremacy is called Socialism, while that which advocates the cause of the individÂÂual is called Individualism.
Our motherland is a glowing example of the results and conÂÂsequences of the eternal subjection of the individual to society and forced self-sacrifice by dint of institution and discipline. In this country men are born according to shastric injunctions, they eat and drink by rule throughout life, they go through marriage and kindred functions in the same way; in short, they even die according to shastric injunctions. This hard discipline, with the exception of one great good point, is fraught with evil. The good point is that men can do one or two things easily and well, havÂÂing practiced them every day through generations. The delicious rice and curry which a cook of this country prepares with the aid of three lumps of earth and a few sticks can be had nowhere else. With the simple mechanism of an antediluvian loom worth one Re. 1 and the feet put in a pit, it is possible to make kin-cobs worth Rs. 20 a yard in this country alone. A torn mat, an earthen lamp and that fed by castor oil,âwith the aid of mateÂÂrials as these, wonderful savants are produced in this country alone. An all-forbearing attachment to an ugly and deformed wife and a lifelong devotion to a worthless and villainous husband are possible in this country alone. Thus far the bright side.
But all these are done by people led like lifeless machines; there is no mental activity, no unfoldment of the heart, no vibraÂÂtion of life, no flux of hope; there is no strong stimulation of the will, no experience of keen pleasure nor the contact of intense sorrow; there is no stir of inventive genius, no desire for novelty, no interest for new things. Clouds never pass away from this mind, the radiant picture of the morning sun never charms this heart. It never even occurs to the mind if there is any better state than this; where it does, it cannot convince; in the event of conviction, effort is lacking; and even where there is effort, lack of enthusiasm kills it out.
If living by rule alone ensures excellence, if it be virtue to strictly follow the customs handed down through generations, say then, who is more virtuous than a tree, who is a greater devotee, a holier saint than a railway train? Who has ever seen a piece of stone transgress a natural law? Who has ever known cattle to commit sin?
The huge steamer, the mighty railway engineâthey are non-intelligent, they move, turn and run, but they are without intelligence. And yonder tiny worm which moved away from the railway line to save its life, why is it intelligent? There is no manifestation of will in the machine, the machine never wishes to transgress law; the worm wants to oppose law, rises against law whether it succeeds or not; therefore it is intelligent. HapÂÂpiness is greater, jida is higher, in proportion as this will is more successfully manifest. The will of God is perfectly fruitÂÂful, therefore He is the highest.
What is education? Is it book-learning? No. Is it diverse knowledge? Not even that. The training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitÂÂful, is called education. Now consider, is that education, which resulting in a continuous checking of the will by force through generations has now well-nigh killed it, under whose swayâ why mention new ideasâeven the old ones are disappearing one by one, is that education which is slowly making man a maÂÂchine? It is more blessed, in my opinion, to go wrong impelled by one's free will and intelligence than to be good as an automaÂÂton. Again, can that be called a society which is formed by an aggregate of men who are like lumps of clay, like lifeless maÂÂchines, like heaped up pebbles? How can such society fare well? Were good possible, then instead of being slaves for hundreds of years we would have been the greatest nation on earth, and this soil of India, instead of being a mine of stupidÂÂity, would have been the eternal fountain-head of learning.
Is not self-sacrifice, then, a virtue? Is it not the one virtuous deed to sacrifice the happiness of one, the wellfare of one for the sake of many? Exactly, but as the Bengali adage goes, "Can beauty be manufactured by rubbing and scrubbing? Can love be generated by effort and compulsion?" What glory in the renunÂÂciation of an eternal beggar? What virtue in the sense-control of one devoid of sense-power? What again is the self-sacrifice of one devoid of idea, devoid of heart, devoid of ambition and deÂÂvoid of the conception of society?ÂÂ ÂÂ What expression of devotedness to husband by forcing a widow to commit suttee! Why make people do virtuous deeds by teaching superstitions? I tell you, liberate, undo the shackles of people as much as you can. Can dirt be washed by dirt? Can bondage be removed by bondage? Where is the instance? When you would be able to sacrifice all desire for happiness for the sake of society, then you would be the Buddha, then you would be free; that is far off. Again, do you think the way to it lies through oppression? "Oh, what examples of self-denial are our widows! Is another such custom possible? Oh, how sweet is child-marriage! Can it be otherÂÂwise than love between husband and wife in such marriage?"â is the whine going around nowadays. But as to the males, the masters of the situation, there is no need of denial for them. Is there a virtue higher than serving others? But the same does not apply to Brahmansâyou, others do it! The truth is, that in this country parents and relatives can ruthlessly sacrifice the best interests of their children and others for their own selfÂÂish ends, to save themselves a compromise in society, and the teachings of generations rendering the mind callous has made it perfectly easy. The brave alone can deny self. The coward, afraid of the lash, with one hand wipes his eyes and gives with the other. What avail such gifts? It is a far cry to love uniÂÂversal. The young plant should be hedged in and taken care of. One can hope to gradually attain to universal love, if one can learn to love one object unselfishly. If devotion to one parÂÂticular Ishtadeva is attained, devotion to the universal Virata is gradually possible.
Therefore, when one has been able to deny himself for an inÂÂdividual, one should talk of self-sacrifice for the sake of society, not before. Actions with desire lead to actions without desire. Is the renunciation of desire possible, if it did not exist in the beginning? And what could it mean? Can light have any meaning if there is no darkness?
Worship with desire, with attachment comes first. Commence with the worship of the little, then the greater will come of itself.
Be not anxious. It is against the big tree that the great wind strikes. "Poking a fire makes it burn better; a snake struck on the head raises its hood," and so on. When there comes afÂÂfliction in the heart, the storm of sorrow blows all around, and it seems light will be seen no more, when hope and courage are almost gone, it is then in the midst of this great spiritual temÂÂpest, the light of Brahman within gleams. Brought up in the lap of luxury, never shedding a drop of tear, who has ever beÂÂcome great, has ever unfolded the Brahman within? Why do you fear to weep? Weep. Weeping clears the eyes and brings about intuition, then the vision of diversity, man, animal, tree, slowly melting away, makes room for infinite realization of Brahman. Then, "Verily, seeing the same God equally existÂÂent everywhere, he does not injure self by self, and so goes to the supreme goal."ÂÂ (Gita. xiii. 28.)
Ever your well-wisher,
From Prabuddha Bharata.