Massimo Scaligero - Swami Vivekananda

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    e, ?tt. 5b.~'f-/- ,.' , SW A 'M I 'V IVEKANANDA '

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    -Some authorities on Indian metaphysicaltradition allege that there are serious reas!>ns. to charge Swami Vivekananda with havingcompromised the orthodoxy and purity of tra-dition in his attempt to divulge Hindu doctrin.es in America and the Western world.This might be made to seem a plausible

    criticism on the ground that the great meta-physics stemming from the ancient Rishi andexpounded in the Vedas , the Upani shad andthe Gita cannot be mad~ comprehensible toreaders representing a much later and verydifferent civilisation,' unless the risk is takenof' altering their original meaning. It may,however; be 'contended that the present. dayWestern public, are too much permeated withpositivism and the rationalistic, materialisticspirit to be able to appreciate in its originalform an essentially spiritual doctrine every'word of which is mysteriously identified withmexpressible values not to be. reconciled withthe prevailing' trends of modern Westernthought.Hence ,the necessity of interpreting and

    translating into modern terms a teaching whichhad hitherto remained beyond the understand-ing 'of Western scholars, its splendid isolationsecure behind an impenetrable rampart of'symbols, myths and secret doctrines. To spanthe chasm- of so deep an antithesis was asingularly audacious undertaking, the aecomp-. lishment of which must be acknowledged asa most advantageous contribution, to. modernculture, proving the unchanging meaning and.power of tradition. Tradition" in fact, doesnot belong to the past, the present, or thefuture; '~t posaesses an ageless driving power,capable of exerting its influence in all periodsof 'time by assuming in every succeeding

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    period a formal garb suited to contemporary'cultural U:ends.' 'As w'e shal] see in the course of the brief

    remarks that follow, the truth is that Viveka'.nanda was able tQ look beyond the' formal li-mits of- t radition because he had mastered itsdeepest meaning. This gave him a wider andmore uni~ersal outlook, to which he boldlyada pted .the old mode of expression," that samemode which fanatical zealots of all schools andsects would have wished to '~em~~ for everfrozen in an unyielding mould.He was, thus, succ~ssful in bridging the

    chasm -hetween .East and West by makingavailable to the Western world, and inthe language best suited to its mechanistic andrationalistic mentality, the' .earliest doctrinalrevelations of Oriental wisdom.One cannot, therefore, agree with the view

    that Vivekananda has misrepresented theprinciples of Ario.Vedic tradition. merely he-cause he poured them into the mould ofmodern dialectics and modern language.Those who have acquired a spiritual as wellas a school-book knowledge of those principles~ easily identify them in their modern ver-sion. The original, perennial spirit of thework has suffered no alteration. The greatHindu ascetic, far from venturing into' a meremodern interpretation of Hindu doctrine, hasbrought the message of that doctrine straightto the mind and soul of the contemporary,..reader who has thus been prompted .to explorethe depths of ~ doetrine which no dialectics'can ever fully convey' to those who. are notspiritually qualified to apprehend -it, .The .innermost secret of that doctrine can-

    not he grasped through teaching .and scholar-ship alone, for it 'lies beyond the boundariesof the human world.' Metaphysical truth,

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    pure wisdom, the Yoga, must be felt beforethey can be comprehended. One may holdphilosophical discourses on the mystery of thePurusha and the Atrn

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    intended to expound ri n terms easily under-stood by scholars of every race and _country.And when his work was completed, If I haveaccomplished anything at all , he said, byword of mouth or by actual action, if someman has been helped on his way by some ofthe words I have spoken, I deserve no praisefor it; the merit belongs entirely to Rama-krishna. M"ineare the jmperfeetions ; whateveris strong, sound, life-giving in my utterance,is all his own . One must not forget, in thisconnection, that Ramakrishna. was wont topoint to Vivakananda as the best of his dis-ciples, and the man who would one day carryout in the world of men the mission he himselfhad looked forward to only as a great hope.As the young ascetic uttered his message to

    the modern world, thousands of proselytesfr-o-mboth America and 'Europe came forward,ready to follow and support him in his doubletask of spiritualizing Western materialism andworking at the same time for the moral ant:material redemption of the peoples of India.But a very few only were deemed worthy

    tv work with him. This man, inflexibly at-tached to his ideal principles, disdained thehelp of the rich who would willingly have supplied him with dollars and sterling. AmongOriental thinkers, he was first in opposingplutocracy and its pretentious belief in money1 1 5 the healer of all wordly ills.With regard to his OW11 country, he contends

    tLat India's redemption can only he achievedthrough. self-aware heroism and self-denial.India, he says, does not require dollars orpounds which are only symbols of thematerialism and the frautic sensualism chaoracteriaing the so-called modern civilisa-tion. As the inventor and the trustee of theloftiest religious doctrines and the upholderof a metaphysical tradition of paramountvalue, India can be regenerated both sociallyand materially by a thorough revival of those'doctrines and that tradition.Ramakrishna's mystical wisdom thus be-

    comes a working social force thanks to Vive-kananda 's efforts. The RamAlkrishnu Mission,founded by him, is a cultural-religious crgan-isation whose object consists in assisting thehumble whose poverty and meekness are theliving and suffering expression of the divinewill. This Mission soon became the embodi-ment of the Master's doctrine, i. e. , theinstrument by means of which an universalideal embracing all religions was applied to

    practical purposes. 'Gradually, the RaIlUL-krishna Mission came to act as a healing forcein India. offering to conflicting religious be-liefs a common ground for that understandingand brotherly reconciliation which is the ul-timate goal aimed at by Vivekananda. It isindeed, his fervent hope to see regeneratedIndia turning into ((an Islamic body with aVedantic heart ,His spiritual charity naturally rekindles his

    love for the peoples of LIdia and their Mother.land. Margaret Noble, one of his faithfuldisciples, .known under the Indian name ofNivedita, once asked him what she might do tomake herself more useful to the cause. LoveIndia , was Vivekananda' s curt reply. Thisis, in fact, the ruling principle he is constantlyinstilling into his followers' minds. In orderfaithfully to serve the cause of such a peopleas the Indian, he teaches, one must renounceevery 'personal interest and ambition; me-taphysical knowledge and the practice of Yogaand its beneficent effects must be valued onlyin accordance with the indirect benefit accruingtr. the community from the increased useful-ness of the social worker. No worse mistakecan be conceived than the practice of mysticisma~ an end into itself, namely, as a form ofexoteric individualism, totally divorced fromthe interests and vicissitudes of living men. Itis only among the humble poor and the sinnersthat ignorance and error can be overcome hythe ascetic, whose spiritual insight must bepressed into service as a metaphysical con-tribution to the good of humanity at large.India can be saved only by the revival oforiginal tradition even though that traditionhas been all but lost in a maze of sectarianmysticisms and cultural forms. It is Vive-kananda's prevailing belief that India mustbe regenerated by the thundering rhythm ofth~ Vedas. The ancient Arian spirit relivesill him. The Brahmanic and the heroic prin-cipled constituting the very essence of Hinduspirituality blend into a universal synthesis iuthis man's mind, as a result of his socialas well as of his metaphysical 'experiences.Well he knows that the divorce of the Indianpriesthood from the life of the people was afatal error of decadent India. Those mysticistsand philosophers who thought they would bestfind their way to heaven by setting themselvesapart from the living world and their Motherland, have long since forfeited their title toeternal bliss. The ancient synthesis must now

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    be reintegrated. You should end eavour ,says Vivekananda to his .o.isciples, ( to turnyour active life ,into a bind of broad idealismand practical sense. You must at all times beready to sit in deep meditation and rise fromit to go to the field and till the soil; you musthe prepared to explain the subtleties of theShastras and then run to market to sen thefruit of your labour ... Religious seclusion isintended to add to your practical usefulnessas men of the world ... A real man is one whois as strong as strength itself and yet has theheart of a woman ... D.

    *A constant effort to spiritualize every-dayhuman life by applying to the world, of reality

    the force arising from the mystery of the spi-rit, is the motive power of all Yivekananda'swork. Some people say)), he writes, thatreligions are falling into decay whi1e spiritualideas are fading out of the world of men. Onthe contrary, it seems to me that religions arenow entering the path that will lead them totheir final fulfilment... As long as relizion isin the hands of an elite of priests it \ : i I l reomain confined within the narrow boundariesof a temple, a church, a book of prayers, aritual and a formulary. But let its reach heextended aDd its ritualism purified, let it bepermeated throughout by the spirit of theuniversal Lrotherhood of men; it will then bea live force once again' inB uencing every aspectof community life and the life of the individ-ual; an ill finitely more efficient dispenser ofgood than it has ever been ).An ability to understand our fellow-men, to

    serve society, to help our neighbour is, toVivekananda, the clearest proof of a man'sspiritual progress and the true measure ofGod's active presence among his living crea-tures; for it is the ability to cherish and serveour neighbour that proclaims man's victoryover, its own egotism while tangibly attestinghis subservience to the divine will.Everything one posses.es must be given up

    tr- one's needy neighbour, since a marr'apos-sessions are not given him for his own selfishenjoyment hut to enable him to play God"game.At a time when the Ramakrishna Missionwas in: the throes' of a serrous financial crisis

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    during one ofl those epidemics so sadlyfrequent in India, Vivekananda ordered hisfollowers to sell everything if necessary , We 'are Samniasis , he added, and mustbe ready at ,any moment to sleep beneath a . 1tree and live on alms D. .At bottom, his concept of action as the

    means to link the idea of Divinity to all aspectsof human life, including instinctive forces ofrajas and tamas, is a modern version of theVedantic expression I InHe or In verytruth all exterior reality, including Maya, isBrahman, and Brahman is the Ego ) . It is,in fact, the acknowledgement, of th~ divinequality as the secret core of all that exists (not,however, in a pantheistic or theosophic hut,rather, in a transcendent sense). The greatMotive Power- is One, and the object to be..chieved is implicit in It. Thus the universalforce underlying every action, is the divineforce, ~ust as the spiritual impulse driving usto action also is divine, and whatever we areoffered is only one of the numberless possiblemanifestations of Divinity. The giver of almsmay be the divine spirit himself, and everyaction is but a visible token of the divine pre-sence at work,. while+the object aimed at bythe alms-giver is itself divine.. 'This is, of course, the ultimate significance

    of the , advaitistic ) formula .in theF edanla,now revived 'and divulged as a doctrine ofsocial regeneration hy Vivekananda. To aman who has acquired this universal form ofreligious awareness (the word knowledgecarries the meaning' of interior realisation to the traditional Hindu mind), no actionexists, apart from its spiritual motive power,or can be claimed by the Ego as its ownexclusive creation, The divine Purusha aloneexists, s~cure against the influence of Prakritiand the sole inspirer of' Prakrili activitiesunder the divine direction which is inherent toit as the immediate expression of the Eternal,This .is, again, the ultimate meaning of .he

    wen known comment to Patanjalis Yoga-SulTanow adopted by Vivekananda as a complementto his Rcija . Yoga. Meta.physical vision prac-tically inspires Yoga in 'all its forms as wellas all spiritual life, so that every action andevery inclination {)-fman becomes a pathwayin the fulfilment of the Yoga, allowing the fullknowledge and practice of the materialities oflife to be constantly illumed by the highest,spirituality. Since every faculty is called forth,

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    to accomplish this task, the vital forcewhich produces action may become an in-strument for the purposes of Karma-Yoga;and emotional or passionate impulses mayopen .a way to Bhakti- Yoga, while humanthought acquires through Jiiiinii,- Yoga an es-sentially creative quality, leading to the fullcomprehension and expression of transcendentTruth.The Jiiana- Yoga should equip man to ac-

    quire knowledge through his own reasoningpower restored to its original, self-reliant free-dom; and this is the reason for Vivekall3uda'Econtention that what we work for is the im-provement of man. No theoretical tea-ching , he goes on to say, bas ever madeama~ better. Our possibilities of self-improv-ement lie within our own selves. We mustlearn to realise the truth, and this can onlybe'done by the power of thought. Let manthink!... His thinking power is the glory ofman... I am a believer in the power of reason,and it is on my reason that I rely, ha:ving beenborn in a country where one soon learns toknow the perils of following the dictates ofauthority.As we have seen, Vivekananda's teaching

    \eads on to, a praxis of universal reach, hisfundamental idea being that every individualaction or thought must he lived through as a function of the divine Whole of whichit is all expression; and that this constant re-ference of the 'finite to 'the Infillite of' whatis mortal to the Immortal, of the individualLothe universal, in every-day life as well as inthe secluded realms of thought, is the neces-sary premiss to the spiritual serenity and thesocial peace of the individual. 'The Ecclesia Magna of Western tradition,

    conceived as the aggregate expression of everyman's longing towards divinity, corresponds byclose analogy to Vivekananda' s idea of anuniversal 'religion conceived as an essentialaspect of the lives of all peoples on earth,irrespective of nationalistic bias. This is, afterall, a present. day interpretation of the De-vaYf!1Ul, the path to the gods , which lies,according to Vedic tradition, in the hearts ofmen. The Master's thought is perfectly cleariil this connection too: I accept , he says,((all the religions of the past and the present,and am content to worship God in any church,whatever its ritual. I go to the Moslem mos-que, I euterChristian churches and knee] at

    the feet of the Crucifix, I attend Buddhist tem-ples and seek shelter in the shadow of Buddhaand His law, Igo into the forest and sit be-neath a tree, losing myself in meditation nextto the Hindu who is striving to perceive thelight of divine grace burning in our hearts .To find the pathway to Universalism really

    is a secret desire, even' though unconscious,of every living man. All that is suffered onthis earth is intended to open out a passage,through man's conscious mind and his naturalinclinations, to the concept of the universalityof maukind under God. It is the only ideathat, being a direct revelation of the divinepower, can offer a solution of every problemconfronting mankind, whether in the moraland political or in the social and. scientificspheres.The man who more strenuously opposes the

    fulfilment of the divine design that lives withinhis breast will undergo the greater sufferingsand misfortunes, from which, however, he willdraw an increasingly clear awareness of him-self as well as of the supreme Truth-an aware-ness that will eventually effect his final li-beration.The present confusion and the hardships it

    inflicts on mankind will be followed by won-derful events.Unknown to most people, many a long stepj,; being taken towards the reconciliation of

    men to men and the peaceful unification of allmankind. We see how Science is tending tobecome an instrument of Truth, while thehorizon of knowledge widens out, and Tradi-tion opens th. minds of men to a better under-standing of the spiritual world. What is mostimportant of all isthe avoidance of self-con-tained formulas and systems, withiu whosecoils men are bound and imprisoned.

    The Bible, the Vedas, the Koran and allthe other Shastra consist of a great number ofpages many. of which, Doone can tell howmany, have still to be properly understood andassimilated. I wish all those pages were alwaysavailable to everybody, for we who live i n thepresent must find our way to the timelessfuture .

    Massimo Scaligero

    Writer. journalist. is an authority on Orientalmetaphysics and tne author of a nu rnber ofessays On Mediterranean tradition. The latterinclude La Stirpe di Roma (!938).

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