Letters written from Belur Math
To Josephine MacLeod
The Math, Belur,
11th Dec., 1900.
I arrived night before last. Alas! my hurrying was of no use.
Poor Captain Sevier passed away, a few days ago — thus two great Englishmen gave up their lives for us — us the Hindus. Thus is martyrdom if anything is. Mrs. Sevier I have written to just now, to know her decision.I am well, things are well here — every way. Excuse this haste. I will write longer ere long.
Ever yours in truth,
The Math, Belur,
Howrah Dist., Bengal, India,
15 December, 1900.
My Dear Mother,
Three days ago I reached here. It was quite unexpected–my visit, and everybody was so surprised.
Things here have gone better than I expected during my absence, only Mr. Sevier has passed away. It was a tremendous blow, sure, and I don’t know the future of the work in the Himalayas. I am expecting daily a letter from Mrs. Sevier who is there still.
How are you? Where are you? My affairs here will be straightened out shortly, I hope, and I am trying my best to straighten them out.
The remittance you send my cousin should henceforth be sent to me direct, the bills being drawn in my name. I will cash them and send her the money. It is better the money goes to her through me.
Saradananda and Brahmananda are much better and this year there is very little malaria here. This narrow strip on the banks of the river is always free from malaria. Only when we get a large supply of pure water the conditions will be perfected here.
THE MATH, BELUR, HOWRAH,
19th Dec., 1900.
Just a voice across the continents to say, how do you do? Are you not surprised? Verily I am a bird of passage. Gay and busy Paris, grim old Constantinople, sparkling little Athens, and pyramidal Cairo are left behind, and here I am writing in my room on the Ganga, in the Math. It is so quiet and still! The broad river is dancing in the bright sunshine, only now and then an occasional cargo boat breaking the silence with the splashing of the oars. It is the cold season here, but the middle of the day is warm and bright every day. But it is the winter of Southern California. Everything is green and gold, and the grass is like velvet; yet the air is cold and crisp and delightful.
(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 understood 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 I—each is Vyashti, society is Samashti. You, I, an animal, a bird, a worm, an insect, a tree, a creeper, the earth, a planet, a star,—each 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 completely sacrifice its own will, its own happiness for Samashti,— are the perennial problems before every society. Society everywhere 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 individual is called Individualism.
Our motherland is a glowing example of the results and consequences 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, having 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,—with the aid of materials 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 vibration 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 engine—they are non-intelligent, they move, turn and run, but they are without intel-
ligence. 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. Happiness is greater, jida is higher, in proportion as this will is more successfully manifest. The will of God is perfectly fruitful, 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 fruitful, 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 sway— why mention new ideas—even the old ones are disappearing one by one, is that education which is slowly making man a machine? It is more blessed, in my opinion, to go wrong impelled by one’s free will and intelligence than to be good as an automaton. Again, can that be called a society which is formed by an aggregate of men who are like lumps of clay, like lifeless machines, 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 stupidity, 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 renunciation 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 devoid of the conception of society? What expression of devoted-
ness 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 otherwise than love between husband and wife in such marriage?”— 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 Brahmans—you, 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 selfish 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 universal. 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 particular Ishtadeva is attained, devotion to the universal Virata is gradually possible.
Therefore, when one has been able to deny himself for an individual, 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 affliction 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 tempest, the light of Brahman within gleams. Brought up in the lap of luxury, never shedding a drop of tear, who has ever become 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 existent everywhere, he does not injure self by self, and so goes to the supreme goal.” (Gita. xiii. 28.)
Ever your well-wisher, Vivekananda.
From Prabuddha Bharata.
26th December, 1900.
I got all the news from your letter. If your health is bad, then certainly you should not come here; and also I am going to Mayavati tomorrow. It is absolutely necessary that I should go there once.
If Alasinga comes here, he will have to await my return. I do not know what those here are deciding about Kanai. I shall return shortly from Almora, and then I may be able to visit Madras. From Vaniyambadi I have received a letter. Write to the people there conveying my love and blessings, and tell them that on my way to Madras I shall surely visit them. Give my love to all. Don’t work too hard. All is well here.
THE MATH, BELUR, HOWRAH,
26th Dec., 1900.
This mail brought your letter including that of Mother and Alberta. What the learned friend of Alberta says about Russia is about the same I think myself. Only there is one difficulty of thought: Is it possible for the Hindu race to be Russianised?
Dear Mr. Sevier passed away before I could arrive. He was cremated on the banks of the river that flows by his Ashrama,à la Hindu, covered with garlands, the Brahmins carrying the body and boys chanting the Vedas.
The cause has already two martyrs. It makes me love dear old England and its heroic breed. The Mother is watering the plant of future India with the best blood of England. Glory unto Her!
Dear Mrs. Sevier is calm. A letter she wrote me to Paris comes back this mail. I am going up tomorrow to pay her a visit. Lord bless her, dear brave soul!
I am calm and strong. Occasion never found me low yet Mother will not make me now depressed.
It is very pleasant here, now the winter is on. The Himalayas will be still more beautiful with the uncovered snows.
The young man who started from New York, Mr. Johnston, has taken the vow of a Brahmachârin and is at Mayavati.
Send the money to Saradananda in the Math, as I will be away in the hills.
They have worked all right as far as they could; I am glad, and feel myself quite a fool on account of my nervous chagrin.
They are as good and as faithful as ever, and they are in good health. Write all this to Mrs. Bull and tell her she was always right and I was wrong, and I beg a hundred thousand pardons of her.
Oceans of love for her and for M—
I look behind and after
And find that all is right.
In my deepest sorrows
There is a soul of light.
All love to M—, Mrs. C—, to Dear J.B.— , and to you, Dear Joe, Pranâms.
YOUR HIGHNESS —
Very glad to learn that you and the Coomar [the Royal Prince] are enjoying good health. As for me, my heart has become very weak. Change, I do not think, will do me any good, as for the last 14 years I do not remember to have stopped at one place for three months at a stretch. On the other hand, if by some chance I can live for months in one place, I hope it will do me good. I do not mind this, however; I feel that my work in this life is done. Through good and evil, pain and pleasure, my life-boat has been dragged on. The one great lesson I was taught is that life is misery, nothing but misery. Mother knows what is best. Each one of us is in the hands of Karma — it works out itself, and no nay. There is only one element in life which is worth having at any cost — and it is love. Love immense and infinite, broad as the sky and deep as the ocean. This is the one great gain in life. Blessed is he who gets it.
Ever yours in the Lord,
To Swami Turiyananda
(Translated from Bengali)
I am glad to hear that your leg is all right and that you are doing splendid work. My body is going on all right. The thing is, I fall ill when I take too much precaution. I am cooking, eating whatever comes, working day and night, and I am all right and sleeping soundly!
I am going over to New York within a month. Has Sarada’s magazine gone out of circulation? I am not getting it any longer. Awakened also has gone to sleep, I think. They are not sending it to me any more. Let that go. There is an outbreak of plague in our country; who knows who is alive and who is dead! Well, a letter from Achu has come today. He had hidden himself in the town of Ramgarh in Sikar State. Someone told him that Vivekananda was dead; so he has written to me! I am sending him a reply.
All well here. Hope this finds you and all others well.