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To a Friend

(Rendered from a Bengali poem composed by Swami Vivekananda)

Where darkness is interpreted as light,
Where misery passes for happiness,
Where disease is pretended to be health,
Where the new-born’s cry but shows ’tis alive;
Dost thou, O wise, expect happiness here?

Where war and competition ceaseless run,
Even the father turns against the son,
Where “self”, “self”–this always the only note,
Dost thou, O wise, seek for peace supreme here?

A glaring mixture of heaven and hell,
Who can fly from this Samsar of Maya?
Fastened in the neck with Karma’s fetters,
Say, where can the slave escape for safety?

The paths of Yoga and of sense-enjoyment,
The life of the householder and Sannyas,
Devotion, worship, and earning riches,
Vows, Tyaga, and austerities severe,
I have seen through them all. What have I known?

–Have known there’s not a jot of happiness,
Life is only a cup of Tantalus;
The nobler is your heart, know for certain,
The more must be your share of misery.

Thou large-hearted Lover unselfish, know,
There’s no room in this sordid world for thee;
Can a marble figure e’er brook the blow
That an iron mass can afford to bear?

Couldst thou be as one inert and abject,
Honey-mouthed, but with poison in thy heart,
Destitute of truth and worshipping self,
Then thou wouldst have a place in this Samsar.

Pledging even life for gaining knowledge,
I have devoted half my days on earth;
For the sake of love, even as one insane,
I have often clutched at shadows lifeless;

For religion, many creeds have I sought,
Lived in mountain-caves, on cremation-grounds,
By the Ganga and other sacred streams,
And how many days have I passed on alms!

Friendless, clad in rags, with no possession,
Feeding from door to door on what chance would bring.
The frame broken under Tapasya’s weight;
What riches, ask thou, have I earned in life?

Listen, friend, I will speak my heart to thee;
I have found in my life this truth supreme–
Buffeted by waves, in this whirl of life,
There’s one ferry that takes across the sea.

Formulas of worship, control of breath,
Science, philosophy, systems varied,
Relinquishment, possession, and the life,
All these are but delusions of the mind–
Love, Love–that’s the one thing, the sole treasure.

In Jiva and Brahman, in man and God,
In ghosts, and wraiths, and spirits, and so forth,
In Devas, beasts, birds, insects, and in worms,
This Prema dwells in the heart of them all.

Say, who else is the highest God of gods?
Say, who else moves all the universe?
The mother dies for her young, robber robs–
Both are but the impulse of the same Love!

Beyond the ken of human speech and mind,
It dwells in weal and woe; ’tis that which comes
As the all-powerful, all-destroyer
Kali, and as the kindliest mother.

Disease, bereavement, pinch of poverty,
Dharma, and its opposite Adharma,
Are but ITS worship in manifold modes;
Say, what does by himself a Jiva do?

Deluded is he who happiness seeks,
Lunatic he who misery wishes,
Insane he too who fondly longs for death,
Immortality–vain aspiration!

For, far, however far you may travel,
Mounted on the brilliant mental car,
‘Tis the same ocean of the Samsar,
Happiness and misery whirling on.

Listen O Vihangam, bereft of wings,
‘Tis not the way to make good your escape;
Time and again you get blows, and collapse,
Why then attempt what is impossible?

Let go your vain reliance on knowledge,
Let go your prayers, offerings, and strength,
For Love selfless is the only resource;–
Lo, the insects teach, embracing the flame’

The base insect’s blind, by beauty charmed,
Thy soul is drunken with the wine of Love;
O thou Lover true, cast into the fire
All thy dross of self, thy mean selfishness.

Say–comes happiness e’er to a beggar?
What good being object of charity?
Give away, ne’er turn to ask in return,
Should there be the wealth treasured in thy heart.

Ay, born heir to the Infinite thou art,
Within the heart is the ocean of Love,
“Give”, “Give away”–whoever asks return,
His ocean dwindles down to a mere drop.

From highest Brahman the yonder worm,
And to the very minutest atom,
Everywhere is the same God, the All-Love;
Friend, offer mind, soul, body, at their feet.

These are His manifold forms before thee,
Rejecting them, where seekest thou for God?
Who loves all beings without distinction,
He indeed is worshipping best his God.

– Swami Vivekananda