October 30, 2017


April 12, 2017





sacred thread

1. WHY WEAR UPAVITA, THE SACRED THREAD? यज्ञोपवीतात् बलमस्तु तेजः (yajnopavitāt balamastu tejah) A person becomes more glorious and shines due to the sacred thread. How? Suppose the teacher has a stick in his hand. He need not do anything. All children become quiet. So with the sacred thread. Another example: People use lanyards to hang their identity card, admission scanner, etc round their necks. They are not shy but are proud about it. Not just in their office, even while travelling they proudly display the lanyards. It is a matter of status,–glory, tejas! Unfortunately, this lanyard is only to earn bread.But the Sacred Thread is different. It is not a matter of status but of knowledge.
2. IT IS ANCIENT: Krishna Yajurveda (2:5:11) says: निवीतं मनुष्याणां प्राचीनवीतं पितृणां उपवीतं देवानां …(nivītam manushyānam, prāchīnavītam pitr-nām, upavītam devānām). You should wear Nivīta when doing works related humans, Prāchina-vīta when you are performing rites to ancestors, and Upavīta when you are serving God. Nivita is when you wear the sacred thread the reverse way, Prachina-Vīta is when you wear it round your neck like a necklace, and Upaviīta when you wear it as it is worn—from left shoulder down to the right side. (there are some religious groups which wear the upavita from right shoulder to left side. These are minor differences).
4. SIGNIFICANCE. The sacred thread (yajno-pavita, upavita, paite, jenevu) is invested on the young boy of 6, 8 or 10 years (and not on the day of marriage like today). It gives the boy the right to study the Vedas and to perform yajnas. The essence of the Vedas is in the Gayatri mantra, and this secret code is handed over to the boy–the best key to know the universe! Gayatri tells us daily: The physical universe, the subtle universe, and the causal universe are united in Reality. We pray to the Glorious Light, giver of supreme Knowledge, to awaken our intellect to know this Reality.”
5. “Oh, nowadays we don’t study Vedas, and don’t perform sacrifices. Why should we wear the sacred thread? It is a headache and sometimes a shame.” NOT THAT. Even today you study Vedas, and perform Yajnas. How?

6. Yajna is not merely pouring ghee into fire. Yajna means self-sacrifice for the good of society. Yajna means participating in the cosmic sacrifice going on—by cleaning, sweeping, teaching, working in office, etc. Upavita is not just tradition but a living symbol of service and seeking knowledge. “Ok, but why this upavita for doing all this modern-day yajna?” Upavita gives sanctity to your work. Your work will not be labour but seva to God. How?
7. You will work with knowledge. What knowledge? Knowledge that there is something Higher and not just your boss. What is true knowledge? All scientists are struggling to know the origin of the universe and the fundamental element of the universe. So big bang, atom, quark, etc. THE VEDAS SPEAK ABOUT this very knowledge. Scientists are still searching. But the Vedas have found it out.
The origin of the Universe is Vibration according to the Vedas. Vibration is called प्रन् (pran) in Sanskrit. The VEDAS speak about the fundamental elements of the universe. They are not ONE, but three—sattva, rajas, and tamas. Three together vibrate to form Kriti (कृति) or creation. This कृति, is also called pra-kriti, and is the source of everything. The vi-kriti of this pra-kriti is creation.
8. The sacred thread has three threads—sattva, rajas, and tamas. They are tied together into a knot, the sacred knot, the brahma-granthi. That means Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are held together in the Source of Creation. Imagine the greatness of ancient Indian sages! They would give highest knowledge to tiny children. The sacred thread and one of the best keys to supreme knowledge, the Gayatri. The boy holds the sacred knot daily and repeats: “Om (Reality), Bhuh (physical universe), Bhuvah (subtle universe), Svah (Causal universe) Tat (are Reality itself)”. That is, the physical, subtle and causal universes have One Source—Reality. Multiplicity leads to Unity. This is fundamental knowledge for which we are born.
9. What does this mean? A simple thread hangs quietly around your neck. It is not prominent like the skull-cap or a beard. It is hidden. But this thread contains the knowledge of the universe! It always reminds you about the source of the Universe and fundamental elements. It tells you always about everything. Imagine how great our ancient Rishis were!
10. In the past, the three varnas wore sacred thread. Swami Vivekananda made a prophetic statement which is becoming true: “The Shudra caste will exist no longer — their work being done by machinery.(complete works vol. 5). So, no more shudras in the world now. The present world has no fourth caste. Thus ALL MEN CAN WEAR upavita. No restriction. What about women? Women also can wear but generally after marriage men wear double on behalf of their wives. They wear ornaments. Finally, why do some temples still insist on your removing your shirt and showing your thread? Temples had to be careful because for centuries, invaders destroyed them.



April 3, 2014



Holy Mother on Panchatapas

 Do you think the austerity called Panchatapas that Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi performed was one of the many ordinary incidents in her life? Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s the most important, epoch-making incident, at least from the mythological viewpoint. This article studies that. For one thing, Holy Mother’s nature was to downplay everything in her own life, hide herself and present herself as the most ordinary person in the world. She would explain away all extraordinary events and incidents in her life as mere trivialities. Yet, the world knows how important each single event was. Consider, for instance, this little incident. Holy Mother would bathe in the Ganga early morning, at 3 am. Once it was dark and she put her foot on a crocodile; the crocodile jumped into the river. Ramakrishna heard this and said that she should carry a lamp. For the student of mythology, it is not a trivial incident, for it is known that Mother Ganga has a “vehicle” (vâhana), the crocodile (makara). It’s also known that the crocodile’s form is a combination of the forms of several animals, and that the crocodile is an ancient symbol of significance in several cultures. Thus, every little thing that happened in Holy Mother’s life is amazing and has a deep significance. And thus, the incident of her performing the five-fire austerity has enormous importance from the mythological and mystical viewpoints. We shall see how.

In 1893, Holy Mother performed this five-fire austerity, popularly known as panchatapas. “Panchatapas” is sitting amidst pancha-tâpas (five scalding fires). Here are her own words about this: “Sometime after the passing away of the Master, I began to see the vision of a bearded Sannyasin who asked me to perform panchatapa. In the beginning I didn’t pay much attention to it. I hardly knew what panchatapa was. But the Sannyasin gradually put pressure on me. So I asked Yogin about panchatapa, and she said, Very good, Mother, I shall also perform it.’ Arrangements were made for panchatapa. I was then living in Nilambar Babu’s house. Blazing fires of dried cow-dung were lighted on four sides, and there was the intense heat of the sun above. After my morning bath I approached the fires and saw them burning brightly. I was seized with much fear. I wondered how I would be able to enter the area and remain seated there until sunset. But repeating the name of the Master, I entered the area and the fires seemed to have lost their heat. I practised this discipline for seven days. But, my child, it made my complexion dark like black ash. After this I didn’t see that figure of the Sannyasin again.’[1]

 Importance of Mythology

About mythology, first. From mythos (Greek, ‘divinely inspired’) comes the word myth. ‘Myth’ means a narrative—a story, either long or short. Myths are almost always sacred, being connected to religion.  Indian Puranas, Roman stories, and stories from the Old Testament are mythological narratives. ‘Mythology’ has two meanings: a collection of sacred stories and the study of myths. Just as ritual and philosophy are important for any religion, mythology too is important. In fact, according to scholars studying mythology, especially William Smith, myth and ritual are deeply interconnected. A ritual has a mythological connotation and vice versa.

All cultures have their mythologies. For a religion to survive, continue, and spread amongst the masses, mythology is imperative. We have all grown up with mythological stories ringing in our ears, filling our imaginations, and inspiring our religious pursuit. Most of us take them at their face value, some think of their philosophical significance and a few go deeper to discover what these stories have to do on different aspects of life and living. While they say, generally, that since philosophy is terse, ritual is complex and mysticism is beyond our reach, mythology is always considered near and dear to the heart. However, not many of us are aware that interpretation is necessary to discover the hidden significance of stories. Sometimes, great truths are hidden behind simple stories.

Interpretation of mythology is a big subject now. There have been “mythologists” since quite some time—of whom Carl Jung, Lévi-Strauss, Joseph Campbell and a few others are well known. There have been several scholars who have identified the different important functions of mythology. Of them, Joseph Campbell identifies four functions[2]: the metaphysical, cosmological, sociological and pedagogical. The metaphysical function of mythology is to make us, common people, comprehend the incomprehensible through simple stories. Its cosmological function is to give some sort of science to the science-less times of the world. The sociological function of mythology is to give credence to right social behaviour. The pedagogical function of mythology is to give the individual the right method of living to attain higher goals. A fifth function of mythology, which Campbell does not mention, is the religious function in its highest sense. Religion in its true sense should harmonize and unite and mythology, especially its comparative aspect, does that.

Meaning of Mother’s Austerity

It was 1893. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi was staying at the Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House in Belur. There, she performed panchatapas for seven days, sitting amidst fires from dawn to dusk. Yogin Ma, her companion, too sat with her. Two points about the seven-day duration. One, the intensity. The intensity of aspiration and seeking of a mere mortal and that of an avatar are worlds apart. So, what the Divine Mother accomplishes in seven days is beyond the imagination of mortals.the Swami Vivekananda says that an incarnation lives a million lives in just one life: ‘…take the whole of the animal creation, man and the lower animals, as one whole. There is an end towards which the whole is moving. Let us call it perfection. Some men and women are born who anticipate the whole progress of mankind. Instead of waiting and being reborn over and over again for ages until the whole human race has attained to that perfection, they, as it were, rush through them in a few short years of their life.’[3] Two, the genesis story. According to the Old Testament, God made the world in six days and ‘on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.’[4]  So, if God could make the world in seven days, Holy Mother could change the world, could bring about the new millennium, the Satya Yuga, in seven days. Indeed, history has been created. Here is how.

Daksha’s Horse Sacrifice

The Puranas and the Mahabharata (see Shanti Parva—Mokshadharma, chapters 287 and 289) narrate the story of a horse sacrifice that Daksha performed in a beautiful, rich and excellent place.[5] Horse sacrifices are performed to conquer the world. Daksha invited everyone to his sacrifice, but conveniently forgot his own daughter, Umâ, and son-in-law, Shiva. And that, despite Sage Dadîchi’s warning. Daksha disliked Shiva or Rudra. He would say that he knew several Rudras but not this Maheshwara Rudra.[6] Daksha’s daughter, Dâkhâyani or Umâ, came to know about her father’s sacrifice, and was extremely sad (atîva duhkhamutpannam)[7] that her husband was not invited to it. According to Mahabharata, Umâ expressed her sorrow before Shiva and Shiva explained to her that non-contemplatives cannot understand him. Yet, Umâ’s intense sadness awakened annoyance in him too.[8] And he created an extremely strong personality, Virabhadra, from his mouth. Shiva told Virabhadra of extraordinary capabilities to go to Daksha’s empire, and destroy Daksha’s sacrifice. From the Divine Mother’s feelings was born Bhadrakali, she sought Umâ’s permission to go to the sacrifice. Virabhadra and Bhadrakali went to the city where the sacrifice was taking place and destroyed it.[9]

According to another, sadder, version from the Puranas like the Vâyu Purana, Umâ herself went to the sacrificial hall and demanded from her father why he had humiliated his son-in-law that way. When Daksha replied arrogantly, insulted Umâ and even insulted Umâ’s husband, Umâ was deeply hurt. Unable to tolerate the humiliation anymore, Umâ jumped into the sacrificial fire and thus the sacrifice was destroyed.

The Mahabharata version, though, has a happy ending. Daksha realised his folly and prayed fervently to Shiva. Shiva appeared before him in all splendour. Daksha sang a great hymn in Shiva’s praise. Shiva was pleased and blessed Daksha and granted him all the boons worth a thousand horse sacrifices. What if one sacrifice was destroyed, Daksha got everything he needed. Shiva also restored all the items of sacrifice which Daksha wanted to be restored. Further, Shiva assured Daksha that Daksha should never be sad (‘daksha daksha na kartavyo manyuh vighnam imam prati’[10]). Shiva then says something important: “O Daksha, your sacrifices in earlier epochs too had to be destroyed in a similar fashion.”[11]

This is important. In every epoch, Shiva has destroyed Daksha’s efforts at world conquest. Why? Shiva explains: ‘The gods and demons have extracted their own types of religions from the Vedas. They struggle hard to attain happiness. But I have given to the world the path of liberation from fetters, which is opposed to the usual duties of caste and status of life.’[12] The long and short of this mythological story is that Daksha was about to conquer the world on several occasions and Shiva stopped it.

Daksha: The World Maker


Who is Daksha? Daksha is Prajâpati, the originator of living beings, the lord of the earth. In the Mahabharata, Daksha is called Prajâpati, the creator and the progenitor of creatures, by Shiva Himself.[i] He has been called Brahmanaspati, Prajâpati, etc, in the Vedas. For those interested in technical details, J. Gonda’s extraordinary research work, Prajapati’s Relations with Brahman, Brihaspati and Brahmâ (1989)will help. Gonda shows how Purusha (of the Purusha Sukta), Brahmâ and Brahman have all been equated with Prajâpati. The Rg Veda says that Brahmanaspati resorted to the mountains. He is all-powerful and is the giver of wealth and progeny.[ii] He created all these, even the gods, as it was in the previous cycles.[iii] HeHeDaksha, according to the Rg Veda, gave birth to Aditi[iv], meaning that he is the creator of all the gods. Several Puranas mention Daksha as the creator, as Prajâpati, as Brahmâ, etc. It was this creator who came to meet Ramakrishna’s mother, sweating profusely during the winter months, while Sri Ramakrishna was still in the womb. Creation is Brahmâ’s concern.

Creation means the One becoming many—the soul being conditioned to the senses. Creation is materialism. It is involvement (pravritti). Creation binds the soul to the world. The horse sacrifice of the Creator symbolises the desire of matter to be victorious over the Spirit, of pravritti over nivritti and of the world over God. No spiritual culture or civilization has ever seconded the life of the senses. The life of the senses leads to unending desire for sense enjoyment, creation of newer objects of sense pleasure, and ends in suffering only. However, let alone living beings, even the gods are after pleasures. When the gods were pleased with their supposed victory once, it was Umâ who gave them Atman knowledge, says Kena Upanishad. This Umâ is Daksha’s daughter. Umâ is the Divine Mother, the source of Self-knowledge. While Shiva symbolizes renunciation and detachment, Daksha Prajâpati symbolizes involvement and attachment: the two extremes. The one who chooses Daksha gets the world and its sorrow, and is bound. The one who chooses Shiva gets Umâ’s grace: divine knowledge and liberation.


Mother’s Concern for the World


Just as no mother is happy if her children suffer due to ignorance, Umâ is sad if living beings suffer in the name of seeking happiness in the world. For, ‘no servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’[v] So, while worldliness seems to be winning and godliness disappearing, Umâ intervenes. Mother goes to any extent to save her children from ignorance, sorrow and existential suffering. Swami Vivekananda writes: ‘Great things are done only by great sacrifices. … Throughout the history of the world you find great men make great sacrifices and the mass of mankind enjoy the benefit.’[vi] So Umâ makes great sacrifice.

Unfortunately, though God’s creation is initially perfect, it tends towards imperfection. Thus there are cycles and epochs, ups and downs. While things begin well with Satya Yuga, the Golden Age, it turns to Kali Yuga, the age of worldliness soon. And in every age, sincerity gives way to laxity, spirituality to worldliness, God to senses. So the Divine Mother intervenes. Through Her austerity, she burns the worldliness and awakens spirituality. When the living beings are awakened from slumber, they slowly struggle to know their true nature and become free.[vii] Hence Her sacrifices as Umâ in the past and as Sarada Devi in the present are vital.

We know less about the ancient past but more about the recent past. But before Sri Ramakrishna’s advent, the world was certainly in an extremely sad situation. While India was in slavery, ignorance and darkness, the world had ignored spirituality. Sri Ramakrishna came, practised intense sadhanas, and disappeared in 1886. His message had to be given to the world. Holy Mother was intensely pained. Years were passing after Sri Ramakrishna’s disappearance, but yet the world was not waking up from slumber. She went on a pilgrimage and returned. She saw the situation of the world with her divine eyes, felt intensely, and wept silently.  She was pained that the embodiment of renunciation, Sri Ramakrishna, had not found place in the heart of the world. She was pained that Ramakrishna’s aspiration for seeking God through diverse paths and knowing that all paths lead to the same goal was yet to find place in the heart of the world. She prayed fervently for the world to change. Sri Ramakrishna had requested her to do something because the people were living like worms. He knew she would accomplish a stupendous task. Her pain at not being to do what she wanted was growing.

It was at this time that a “bearded sannyasin” repeatedly requested her to perform the austerity of five fires. She did it in 1893.  Her golden complexion turned “dark like black ash”. But this sacrifice took effect soon. And then the world began to change. It never looked back. How?


Daksha’s New Plans Cancelled

It was the World Fair at the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, in 1893. About 27 million people saw the World Fair. It was a huge sacrifice by Daksha, as it were, to conquer the world. At this juncture, Holy Mother performed a great sacrifice. The result? A world-renouncing monk, unknown and unheard of before, became the most famous person of the Chicago event.

Swami Vivekananda sought Holy Mother’s blessings. With her blessings, the heroic Vivekananda went to the United States, conquered worldliness with spirituality in Chicago. The world changed forever that year. The age of worldliness in religion’s name, isolation of religions, superstitions, ignorance, narrowness and selfishness ended. The epoch of mutual understanding, harmony and love was born. Just as ripples in a pond move outwards from the centre, changes always begin in the world of religions first and spread to other areas. The new millennium of harmony and understanding has begun in 1893. Since that year, a lot has been accomplished. Vivekananda himself spread the message in two continents, gave the world the four yogas, founded centres and the Ramakrishna Mission, established Belur Math, and did a hundred other things. Vivekananda wrote one year later:  ‘To me, Mother’s grace is a hundred thousand times more valuable than Father’s. Mother’s grace, Mother’s blessings are all paramount to me. . . . Please pardon me. I am a little bigoted there, as regards Mother. If but Mother orders, her demons can work anything. Brother, before proceeding to America I wrote to Mother to bless me. Her blessings came, and at one bound I cleared the ocean. Brother, faith is very difficult to achieve. Brother, I shall show how to worship the living Durga and then only shall I be worthy of my name. I shall be relieved when you will have purchased a plot of land and established there the living Durga, the Mother.’[viii] By her grace, Swami Vivekananda had understood and realized by 1893 that Holy Mother was Umâ or Durgâ, who had come to save the world.

After 1893, the world is not same anymore. Speaking of religious unity, Swamiji had remarked thus: ‘…if any one here hopes that this [religious] unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the other, to him I say, “Brother, yours is an impossible hope.” … For, upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”’[ix] And that is coming true. Religions are changing. They are broadening. With religions changing, other fields too are changing. The world is waking up. No ordinary power could have brought about this change. One more thing. Destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice or spirituality’s conquest of worldliness should not be misunderstood as religion’s being against scientific development and so on. That is not the idea. Daksha’s sacrifice means ignoring spirituality and being attached to the sense world. This means endless suffering. This suffering is eliminated through the awakening of spiritual consciousness. That is all.


A few doubts need to be answered here. One. If Holy Mother’s austerity amidst the five fires was so important, why was she prompted to do so by others? The answer is, Jesus Christ died on the cross for removing the sin of the world. But Judas Iscariot became instrumental in his crucifixion. Two. Wasn’t Holy Mother sad about her husband’s passing?  Was she sad about the state of the living beings? The answer is, we read the lives of incarnations like we read novels. We think they are like us. Their minds, their actions, their mission are all beyond our understanding. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi was no ordinary being, but the Divine Mother. Her actions are divine. Three. Like Holy Mother, others too have performed Panchatapas. Was hers special?  The answer is, like Jesus Christ, many others have been crucified in the past. Many women have performed Sati. But these mortals did not change the world. As we have said, the intensity of the avatar in doing anything is beyond our imagination. Further, Holy Mother never took a single breath for herself. Ordinary mortals are self-centred even as their little sacrifices are. Holy Mother lived every second for the good of others. Four. Does it look good to think that Shiva destroys sacrifices every time? Aren’t sacrifices holy? The answer is, the so-called “destruction” is a must if construction is to take place. They say our bodies change every seven years. Old cells die and new ones are born. Suppose the old ones hadn’t died; what then? Shiva is not the “destroyer” but the “transformer”. He cleans. He takes us back to the Truth. He cuts asunder the bonds that bind us to the world and this appears as destruction. Five. Isn’t the story we read in Puranas different from that which happened in Holy Mother’s life? The answer is, it is not imperative that every time, Daksha’s sacrifice should be destroyed the same way. But it is true that after the destruction of each of Daksha’s intention to conquer the world with worldliness, a new age begins. Thus, the Satya Yuga has begun, thanks to Holy Mother’s sacrifice. Six. Are not the Daksha narrative and others merely stories? Have they any realistic connection with our world? The answer is yes. While on a pilgrimage, Swami Yogananda took seriously ill. In a delirious state, he saw the figure of a hideous-looking woman, who said that his fever was due to her, and had it not been for Ramakrishna’s grace, Yogananda would not have survived. She said that Yogananda should feed a certain goddess some sweets. That very moment, Yogananda was cured. Subsequently, Yogananda discovered that the goddess was Mother Shîtala in Jaipur. He offered sweets to that image. So the stories of gods are true.

Like the ancient Umâ’s self-sacrifice, Holy Mother’s Panchatapas has brought a new world to us. Like the Biblical God’s creating a new world in seven days, she has offered us a new world of peace, love and harmony. This is from the mythological viewpoint. Now it is for us to utilize this opportunity.


[i] Shânti Parva, Mokshadharma, 289.24 “daksho nâma mahâbhâge prajânâm patir uttamah »

[ii] Rg Veda, 2.24

[iii] Rg Veda, 10.72.3 Devânâm pûrve yuge satah sad ajâyata

[iv] Rg Veda, 10.72.4

[v] St Luke, 16:13

[vi] Complete Works, vol. 6, p. 280

[vii] Jnâtvâ devam muchyate sarva-pâshaih shvetashvatara Upanishad, 1.8

[viii]Complete Works, vol. 7, p. 485

[ix]Complete Works, vol. 1, p. 24



[1] The Gospel of Holy Mother, p. 319

[2] Campbell, Joseph. Creative Mythology (Penguin: 1991)


[4] Genesis, 2.2.3

[5] Daksho nâma mahâbhâge prajânâm patir-uttamah

Hayamedhena yajate tatra yanti divoukasah. Mahâbhârata, Shânti Parva, 274.23

[6]Nâham vedmi maheshvaram, 289.19

[7]Shânti Parva, 289.29

[8]Devyâh manyu-vyapohârtham hato dakshasya vai kratuh. Shânti Parva, 290.31

[9] Complete Works, vol. 2, pp. 18-9

[10] Shânti Parva, 290.190

[11] Aham yajna-haras-tubhyam drishtam etat purâtanam. Shânti Parva 290.190

[12] Varnâshrama-kritaih dharmaih viparîtam kvachit-samam Shânti Parva 290.193

[13] Shânti Parva, Mokshadharma, 289.24 “daksho nâma mahâbhâge prajânâm patir uttamah »

[14]Rg Veda, 2.24

[15]Rg Veda, 10.72.3 Devânâm pûrve yuge satah sad ajâyata

[16]Rg Veda, 10.72.4

[17]St Luke, 16:13

[18]Complete Works, vol. 6, p. 280

[19] Jnâtvâ devam muchyate sarva-pâshaih shvetashvatara Upanishad, 1.8

[20]Complete Works, vol. 7, p. 485

[21]Complete Works, vol. 1, p. 24

March 7, 2014


 Did you know about this great soul? Perhaps not much. Yes, he was a great soul because he had revolutionary ideas, because he searched for the Self all his life, because he was Swami Vivekananda’s friend, and also because he met the Prophet! He was two years older than Sri Ramakrishna. He was born in 1834. He was called a lion. He was a Unitarian, but his ideas were beyond all churches and limitations.


 He concluded one of his sermons with these words: “Stand upon your feet, you in whose soul the lamp of faith is dying, you from whose spirit the love of religious comradeship is departing. Stand upon your feet, and let the spirit speak to you.”

 “I advise the superior people who are free from superstition and delusion to leave a little room for discovery, to avoid the bigotry of unbelief which  is often little better and not much wiser than the  bigotry of ‘orthodoxy,’ and to be patient with all  seekers in this direction if they can. The world,  before now, has been greatly indebted to its  ‘ impostors,’ its ‘ idiots,’ its ‘ dreamers,’ and its  ‘ fools,’ and it is just possible that it is destined to  be indebted to them again.”


 His ideas were called “controversial”. He was some sort of a revolutionary. He said that the soul will not die. He said that the body will not be resurrected. He wanted cremation of the body instead of burial. He was described, in part, thus: “surely one of the most winning personalities that ever went forth to battle with the wrong and point to weary, world-pressed souls, something better—something brighter.”

 And when he died in 1911, it was said of him : “The sword and the shield fell from  the tired hand, and the old warrior laid him down  to rest.” 

 Reverend Henry Gow said at his funeral service: “This man meant what he said with all his heart and mind when he spoke of God and of the  soul. His religion was absolutely real. He lived by it and trusted in it to the last. He had no dread of death. He looked forward with eager joy—to what God had in store for man beyond the gates of death. He was certain, beyond all other certainties, that death was only the beginning of a new and higher life.”

 Sydney Gimson, the secularist, writes about him: “I came much under his influence, with his fine, strong and sympathetic character. It was, however, his broad radicalism rather than his religion which drew me to him, for, as I reached ‘years of discretion’ I was beginning to understand and value the Secularism for which my father worked.”


 For him there was an ever-present consciousness of the unseen; he had a none-too-common awareness of spiritual realities; he saw death as but the semblance thereof.  

 True. He was interested in spiritualism too, but with an intention. He wanted to know about the soul. He was interested, deeply, in spirituality. He told the Church to give up superstition. He did not know Vedanta. What could he do? How could he get proper ideas about the subtle and causal bodies, the Atman, and the existence of life beyond death? So, he studied and supported spiritualism. But with an open mind.

  He said: “I want to get myself and others accustomed to the thought that if people exist in another world they exist there as people, not as fantastic, stately, solemn, or dreamy spectres: that if a man exists beyond the change called death, he is still a man, unchanged except that he has put off his body, and glided behind the veil; for a future life can mean one thing, if it is to be a reality, and not a mere sentiment and solemn self-delusion—it can only mean the actual going-on of the human being in spite of the incident called  death.”

 He sympathized with all progressive movements. Even as early as in 1870, he expressed sympathy with Women’s Suffrage movement, subscribed to this movement, and chaired meetings. When a Women’s Suffrage meeting was held in 1887 inLeicester, he bore all the expenses. He also was a promoter of Irish Home Rule.

 He was President of Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, founded in 1835, for one year, between 1886-1887.


 (He wrote many prayers. Some are according to the popular religious beliefs, while some others, according to his own religious beliefs. One of them, a famous prayer for children, is this one.)

  Father, lead me day by day,

Ever in Thine own sweet way;

Teach me to be pure and true,

Show me what I ought to do.


When in danger, make me brave,

make me know that thou canst save;

keep me safe by thy dear side,

let me in thy love abide.


When I’m tempted to do wrong,

make me steadfast, wise and strong;

and when all alone I stand,

shield me with thy mighty hand.


When my heart is full of glee,

help me to remember thee,

happy most of all to know

that my Father loves me so.


May I do the good I know,

be thy loving child below;

then at last go home to thee,

evermore thy child to be.


 He wrote many books and hymnals. Pilgrim Songs, Beside the Still Waters,   Personal Prayers, The Children’s Hymn Book (compilation),  The Young People’s Book of Hymns (compilation) etc are some of his works.


From the year of Swami Vivekananda’s birth (1863) to 1887, he edited a monthly magazine called The Truth Seeker.  From 1891 to 1911 (the year of his death), he edited The Coming Day.

 And who was he?  He was the radical, “revolutionary”, Reverend John Page Hopps. He headed the Free Christian Church of West Croydon.



 Nothing is known about how he came in touch with Swami Vivekananda in person. But he must have heard Vivekananda several times before inviting him to his Church.

 Like all Unitarians in the United States, Rev Hopps in the United Kingdom too was liberal and came to know about Swami Vivekananda during the latter’s visits to the United Kingdom. Perhaps his obsession with spiritualism and spirits, for want of a better philosophy, left him immediately with his contact with Vivekananda. Without hesitation, Reverend Hopps opened his Church to Vivekananda. He invited Vivekananda to speak at his church on all Sundays. Of course, Vivekananda could afford only Sundays, as he was busy.

 So, Vivekananda gave lectures for FIVE    SUNDAYS in the Free Christian Church of West Croydon. The first lecture was excellent, reported Goodwin. It was supposedly published by the Church. Swami Vivekananda spoke in this Church on the Sundays of November 8, 15, 22, 29 and December 6. Just imagine, to allow a “pagan” from their colony to speak continuously, on Sundays!

 Unfortunately, not one of these talks are available for us. Everything is lost. Marie Louise Burke wrote: “As far as is known, however, none of the West Croydon “sermons” have been published, though very likely at least one was taken down, for we know that Goodwin went along at least once. He remarked that “The (first) Croyden sermon is being printed by (the Unitarian Church):’” (New Discoveries, vol. 4, p. 476). However, nothing is available.


 On the walls of the church at Croydon in which the Rev. John Page Hopps preached from 1892 to 1903 there was a brass memorial tablet commemorating him as fearless in thought and speech, original, eloquent, one who stood for truth and  progress.

 According to his beliefs and desire, he was cremated and nor buried!


 Swami Sunirmalananda

March 7, 2014








      12 December 1899. The Southern California Academy of Sciences had arranged a lecture by Swami Vivekananda at the UnityChurch in Los Angeles that evening.[1]

    More than 1000 people listened with rapt attention to Swamiji’s exposition of the Vedic concept of the Universe. It was highly appreciated. The missionaries became attentive. They began to ‘think’.

      Here is a newspaper clipping from Los Angeles Herald (24 December 1899) to show their method of thinking.


Swami Vivekananda was unaware or, rather, uninterested in all these matters. He was busy: he had to give a number of talks in Los Angeles—morning and evening.

 While the missionaries went on with their agenda, hundreds of people were becoming attracted to universal ideals. Mrs Blodgett, for instance. She had purchased a big poster of Swami Vivekananda in Chicago after hearing him speak there, and had hung it in her house. Eventually, Swamiji became her guest.[2]

Next, the Mead Sisters need special mention. Two of the three sisters, Mrs Hansbrough and Helen Mead, met Swamiji in December 1899. They proposed to arrange for his lectures on 19, 21 and 22 December 1899, which they did in the BlanchardBuilding first. BlanchardBuilding was small. So the Director of the Home of Truth, J. Ransome Bransby, suggested his place, The Home of Truth. That was gladly accepted. In all, Swami Vivekananda gave eight thrilling talks at the Home of Truth, the main theme being ‘Applied Psychology’. That was when psychology was in its infancy.



 The Home of Truth and Swami Vivekananda

 Apart from the missionaries, there were others who were uncomfortable with Swami Vivekananda’s presence and talks—let alone those forgotten ones, Ramabai, Mazumdar, and others. Ransome Bransby, the Director of the Home of Truth, was one. He was a man with human frailties. Mrs Hansbrough, one of the Mead Sisters, remarked: “The missionaries were not the only ones who opposed Swamiji. There were many teachers of metaphysics and many pseudo-teachers who resented him or maliciously condemned him either because he was so far superior to them or because he exposed their shallowness and ‘spoiled their business’ by teaching true metaphysics. Mr. Bransby was one of these, more or less. He was constantly finding fault with Swamiji. One of his criticisms was that Swamiji was breaking the rules of his Order by taking money. I later told this to Swamiji. He was chanting something at the time, and he stopped, smiled, and said, ‘Yes, it is true; but when the rules don’t suit me, I change them.’ ”  That was Swamiji!

 Bransby, however, seems to have changed eventually. The website on Swamiji, Vivekananda.net, shows that Bransby appreciated Swamiji later.[3]

 For one thing, the founder of the Home of Truth Spiritual Center, Mrs Annie Rix Militz, was influenced by Swami Vivekananda.  Harriet Hale is, of course, familiar. Harriet was one of Swamiji’s four sisters, who eventually married Clarence Woolley, and died in 1929. She was into healing, etc.

  The Home of Truth website gratefully acknowledges Vivekananda’s influence on their movement even now. Their website writes: ‘In 1893, Sister Annie met Swami Vivekananda, of the Vedanta tradition, at the Parliament of Religion (sometimes known as the First World Conference on Religion) in Chicago. Later, in 1900 he visited Annie in Los Angeles & Harriet in Alameda. He gave eight lectures in Los Angeles and spoke to thousands in San Francisco where he stayed a month and visited the Alameda Home of Truth at the close of those lectures. In the New Thought movement there was a willingness to explore the value of other spiritual traditions. This was a founding principle of the Home of Truth.’


Here is a screenshot of the history page of their website:






The Mead Sisters


Swami Vivekananda continued to give lectures morning and evening to crowded halls through December 1899 and January 1900. A silent revolution was taking place in Los Angeles. The Mead Sisters, Mrs Hansbrough especially, invited Swami Vivekananda to their house at 309, Montery Road. Swamiji moved there on 24th January 1900.


Swamiji at the Mead Sisters’ House. Mrs Hansbrough stands on the veranda.


One of the ladies in this photo is Mrs Hansbrough.

 This great lady, Mrs Hansbrough, was courageous. She was witness to this awkward and strange incident. Here is that incident.

 This incident shows the trials which Swamiji had to endure.




Shakespeare Club, Pasadena

 (All the following material is from  New Discoveries)

 January 18, 1900. Shakespeare Club, Pasadena. Swamiji declared at the outset that his chief difficulty that evening was that he did not know what subject he was to lecture on. “If you, ladies and gentlemen, will suggest anything,” he said, “I will be very glad.”

 At this point, Mrs. Hansbrough related, she noticed several women and a man conferring together. The man finally stood up and asked Swamiji if he would speak on Hindu women. The request was put in a goading way: “We would like to know the result of your philosophy,” the gentleman said. “Has your philosophy and religion lifted your women above our women?”

  This was a trap into which Swamiji was certainly not going to step. “You see,” he replied, “that is a very invidious question: I like our women and your women too.”

 The questioner was not to be put off. “Well,” he said, “will you tell us about your women, their customs and education, and the position they hold in the family?”

  “Oh, yes,” Swamiji replied, “Those things I would be very glad to tell you. So you want to know about Indian women tonight and not philosophy and other things?”

          Thereupon Swamiji gave, extemporaneously as always, one of his most beautiful and comprehensive talks on Hindu women that we possess. He placed before his audience the age-old ideal of Hindu womanhood – the ideal of motherhood -“that marvellous, unselfish, all-suffering, ever-forgiving mother.”

And at the close of the lecture, he spoke forcibly, eloquently of the great spiritual ideal underlying the life of his country: “The ideal of the Indian race is freedom of the soul. This world is nothing. It is a vision, a dream. This life is one of many millions like it. The whole of this nature is Maya, is phantasm, a pest house of phantasms.”

    [PLEASE NOTE: The 19th century was a century of differences. Those were the days of sharp differences between the so-called “East” and the so-called “West”. We should read the following comments by Swamiji keeping that in mind. Prophets come, and things change. Jesus Christ criticized Chorazin and Bethsaida, for instance. But today they have no meaning at all. He used harsh words: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.(St John, 11.21).  –Su]

 Mindful that in the audience sat critics of India, Swamiji did not spare them. “Western people,” he thundered, “say what you have to say. This is your day. This is the day of the babies, to prattle. We have learned our lesson, and are quiet. …Says the Hindu, ‘Yes, we have buried all the old nations of the earth and stand here to bury all the new races also, because our ideal is not this world, but the other. Just as your ideal is, so shall you be. If your ideal is mortal, if your ideal is of this earth, so shalt thou be. If your ideal is matter, matter shalt thou be. Behold! Our ideal is the Spirit. That alone exists. Nothing else exists, and like Him, we live for ever.’

              Certain members of Swamiji’s audience were undoubtedly squirming in their seats.

         During the question period that followed, it became more than clear, Mrs. Hansbrough related, “that the group who had asked for this subject had done so in an attempt to trap Swamiji into saying something that would discredit him. We learned later,” she added, “that they belonged to some church that had missionaries in India.”

          The questions these people asked were the same old questions he had answered time and time again throughout his tour of the Middle West in 1894. They touched upon the alleged mistreatment of Hindu women, child marriages, early motherhood, infant-eating crocodiles, and so on.


  “One of the women in particular set out to corner Swamiji,” Mrs. Hansbrough recalled. “She started talking about how the English are trying to reform his country, and he simply said, ‘Madam, I am a monk. What do I know about politics?’ He answered several of the questions relating to Hindu marriage directly; then finally he said that the relationship between the husband and wife in India, where the basis of marriage was not physical enjoyment, was so entirely different from that between a married couple in the West that he did not think Western people could understand it.”

 Mrs Hansbrough continued: “As the questioner continued to press him, Swamiji became really angry. It was the only time I ever saw him angry on the platform. At one point, to emphasize a statement he hit his knuckles on the table so hard that I really feared he would break the skin.

          “Finally the woman openly called him a liar. ‘Madam,’ Swamiji replied, ‘you evidently know more about India than I do. I am leaving the platform; please take it yourself!’

 “He was thoroughly aroused. We had already gotten up, for we feared anything might happen now, and our only thought was to see him safely out of the building and home.

 “Swamiji started up the middle aisle, but the woman blocked him and, with her friends, tried to continue the argument. Again he told her to take the platform herself.

 “At last we got through, but as I passed her, the woman turned on me and exclaimed, ‘You little fool! Don’t you know he hates you?’ I said no, I hadn’t found that out yet.”



 Swamiji also spoke at the Green Hotel of Pasadena in the mornings, while giving talks at the Shakespeare Club in the evenings.

 Swami Vivekananda also gave a lecture on Persian Art. Nothing of this gem of a talk is available. 

“The Shakespeare Club had the largest attendance of the year at its reception this afternoon [Saturday, January 20, 1900]. Swami Vivekananda gave an exceedingly interesting lecture on Persian art, dwelling particularly on the architecture, the decorative art, the manufacture of shawls and carpets by the Persians, and also speaking of the philosophy of art.[4]





[1] The UnityChurch was located at the intersection of Third Street and Hill Street. This church was built as the First Congregational Church in 1883, sold to Central Baptists in 1889, and then to the Unitarians. Thus it was called UnityChurch.


[2] This poster, hanging incredibly over her dying brother’s bed, had greeted Miss MacLeod when she had arrived from Ridgely Manor. Astounded, she had asked Mrs. Blodgett, “What do you know about him?” and Mrs. Blodgett had told her story. “I know him,” Miss MacLeod had said, and then, “Why don’t you ask him here?” “To my cottage?” “He will come.”— Gargi, New Discoveries,  vol. 5, p. 199

[4] New Discoveries, vol. 5, p. 274

May 25, 2013

Dhaniya Sutta: An Introduction


Swami Sunirmalananda

Swami Akhandananda was in Tibet then, enduring terrible cold of the coldest months of the year. While there, he translated the ‘Gandâra Sutta’ and sent it to Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji was then in Ghazipur.  He was pleased with Akhandananda’s translation and wrote these famous words in February 1890: ‘The Lord Buddha is my Ishta — my God. He preached no theory about Godhead — he was himself God, I fully believe it.’ Further, he wrote: ‘The translation of the Gandâra-Sutta that you have made from the Suttanipâta is excellent. In that book there is another Sutta — the “Dhaniya-Sutta” — which has got a similar idea.’[1]

 This is an introduction to this wonderful Sutta.  ‘Dhaniya Sutta’ is a poem in Pali containing seventeen verses. It forms part of the ‘Uraga Vagga’ of Sutta Nipata. Buddhist monks, nuns and scholars attach great importance to this Sutta, and Venerable Thanissaro Bhikku and others have translated it into English. There are also several commentaries on this Sutta (Sukta). Though a small sutta, the Dhaniya Sutta has deep meaning. The author of this sutta has combined poetic imagination with spiritual depth, renunciation with involvement, simple narrative with profound philosophy, all in one little Pali poem. The ‘Dhaniya Sutta’ is thus a remarkable piece of art. What greater certificate does its author need when Swami Vivekananda, the greatest prophet and the embodiment of the Buddha,  has himself liked this Sutta!

‘Dhaniya Sutta’ is an interesting narrative of two situations in which two individuals are. Dhaniya, the Gopa or cowherd is one; and the Buddha, the other. The worldly cowherd and the enlightened Buddha are the heroes of this song. They both speak to the God of rains. The Sutta is a dialogue–not between two individuals, but two individuals, the Buddha and Dhaniya, talking to the God of rains indirectly. There’s also a verse in which Mâra enters the field.

Dhaniya is a Gopa, a cowherd. He is deeply attached to the world. His words in the initial stages appear to show that he leads a prosperous, happy and contented life. So he is not bothered if it rains. The other person is the Buddha, the supremely illumined one.  The Buddha too is contented, but his contentment is of a different order altogether. So he is not bothered if it rains. Since both are not bothered if it rains, they say, “atha yadi patthayasi pavassa deva, so if you wish, pour down, o Lord.’ The Sutta arranged in such a way that the reader is initially made to feel that the cowherd, Dhaniya, is blissful and happy while the Buddha is alone on the dark banks of the River Mahi, without a hut, without help, and it might rain. Tables turn only towards the end.

This Sutta is mystical. While the cowherd symbolizes worldliness, the Buddha symbolizes renunciation and spirituality. Rains symbolize fate, difficulties and problems. While the cowherd’s vision is very limited and cannot see farther than that moment, and foolish enough not to understand whereto heavy rains lead, the Buddha is not concerned about problems. Therefore both the Gopa and the Buddha address the rain god and ask him to shower if he so wishes.

The first verse of Dhaniya Sutta says (in Pali):

Pakkodano duddhakhiro hamasmi (iti dhaniyo gopo)

Anutīre mahiyā samānavāso

Channā kuṭi āhito ‘gini

Atha ce patthayasi pavassa deva.

A simple Sanskrit rendering could perhaps be this:

Pakvodānah dogdha-kshrīah ahamasmi (iti dhaniyo gopah)

Anutīre mahiyāh svagriha-vāsah

Chādito kutīrah āhito’gnih

Atha yadi pipatishâsti pavasva deva

Venerable Thanissaro Bhikku’s translation reads as follows:

 ‘The rice is cooked, my milking done. I live with my people along the banks of  the Mahi; my hut is roofed, my fire lit:             so if you desire, rain-god, go ahead and rain.’

The cowherd is confident. He is happy that his family is doing well. He lives permanently on the banks of the River Mahi. He has a good hut, an excellent family with helpful wife and children. He is affluent as he has hundreds of milk-giving cows. He thinks he is quite safe, and so wishes that it might as well rain.

The next verse is from the Buddha.  He says (in Pali):

Akkodhano vigatakhīlo hamasmi (iti bhagavā)

Anutīre mahiyekarattivāso,

Vivaṭā kuṭi nibbuto ‘gini

Atha ce patthayasi pavassa deva.

A somewhat close Sanskrit version could perhaps read thus:

Akshobhanah vigata-khilah ahamasmi (iti bhagavân)

Anutire mahiyāh eka-ratri-vāsah

Vivrita-kutīrah nibhrto’agnih

Atha yadi pipatishâsti pavasva deva


Thanissaro Bhikku’s translation reads thus: ‘Free from anger, my stubbornness  gone, I live for one night along the banks of the Mahi; my hut’s roof is open, my fire out: so if you want, rain-god, go ahead & rain.’ The Buddha has attained supreme calmness and tranquillity. He is little concerned about the world and its changes. He knows life is momentary and does not have a hut—his place is here one day, and elsewhere the other. So, he is not worried if it rains.

  In the next two verses each, we see the cowherd, Gopa Dhaniya, and the Buddha explaining their positions further. According to the Gopa the area around is full of green grass, which shall not be disturbed by heavy rains. Then there are no flies to disturb, and the situation is favourable and prosperous.  In his subsequent verse, the Gopa adds that he is free from problems as his wife is in excellent health and wonderful state of mind. The Buddha says in his two verses that he has crossed the river and has overcome the flood of worldliness. So he has no need of a raft anymore. He also adds in the subsequent verse that he has controlled his mind, has overcome evil, and is free; so if it rains, it may do so. 

The Buddha is not concerned about rains, i.e., misery and misfortune, as he has crossed the ocean of life and has attained illumination. The Gopa does not see problems and misfortunes because he is blinded by his apparent prosperity. This shows that apparent prosperity blinds our vision of the future.

In another verse, the Gopa says: ‘Atta-vetana-bhatohamasmi, Puttâ ca me samâniyâ arogâ. Tesâm na sunâmi kinci pâpam. Atha ce patthayasi pavasva deva.’ The Sanskrit version of this Pali text could read thus: ‘Âtma-vetana-bhrtohamasmi. Putrâh ca mama vidheyâh nîrogâh ca. atha yadi pipatishâsti, pavasva deva.’ Gopa Dhaniya is happy that he is not dependent on anybody for anything. He has his own, good income. His children are hardworking, obedient and good. A good, prosperous, and happy family. If it rains, he is not concerned now, he says.

The Buddha says now that he is independent in the spiritual sense of the term. He moves about in all the worlds freely. He lives on alms and is not in need of any money. So, whether it rains or not is immaterial to him.

In subsequent verses, Dhaniya gives a list of his wealth and property to show how secure his life has been: he has a number of cows and calves (thousands according to one commentator), bulls and breeding cows, a fertile field full of munja grass, the fences being strong and well maintained. Everything is in order. So, says the Gopa, there would not be any problem if it rained. The next verse is from the Buddha. He says has neither bulls nor cows nor calves. He has no possessions. So, he has nothing to bother about if it rains. We saw the cowherd being proud of the strong fences protecting his fields. But the Buddha says (in Pali):

“Usabhoriva chetva bandhanâni,

nâgo putilatam va dâlayitvâ,

nânaham puna upessam gabbhaseyyam,

atha ce patthayasi pavassa deva.”

The Sanskrit version would be somewhat like this:

Vrishabha iva chitvã bandhanâni,

naga iva pûti-latân dalayitvâ,

nâham punah pravishyâmi garbhâshayam

Atha yadi pipatishâsti pavasva deva.

 ‘Having broken all my bonds as the Bull breaks the bonds or the elephant cuts asunder rotten creepers, I am free. I shall never again enter the womb. So what worry is there for me about the future or the past?’

 This extraordinary verse is like the song of the liberated of the Upanishads. Sage Trishanku (in the Taittiriya Upanishad), for instance, sings immediately after his attainment of supreme Knowledge that he is beyond all bonds and is free.


With both the cowherd Dhaniya and the Buddha having declared their positions, it rains. It rains heavily. ‘…ninnân ca thalân purayanto mahâmegho pâvassi tâvad eva.’ Rendered in Sanskrit, it would be something like this: “nimnân sthalân ca pûrayanto mahâmegho plâvati tâvad eva.”  Torrential rains start immediately, flooding the high and the low areas. When this happens, the tune of the Gopa’s song changes. He becomes wise. He changes completely. His confidence in all his belongings, family and wealth vanishes. And he along with his wife meet the Buddha, who is on the same banks of the River Mahi.

‘Dhaniya Sutta’ just says this much: Dhaniya Gopa sees the God of rains showering, and says: “We are blessed; our fortune is beyond limit, for we have seen the Buddha. O Lord! We have surrendered to you! Please teach us.” Not just that. The cowherd Dhaniya understands the vanity of everything, and renounces the world with his wife: “brahmachariam Sugate charâmase (Pali), Brahmacharyam Sugate charâmvahe—we shall lead a mendicant life following  the Sugata (the Buddha).” They want to do this in order to overcome the torment of births and deaths. So heavy rains awaken the ignorant cowherd and his wife, and make them know the futility of the world.

Mâra, the tormenter, however, is not to give up so easily. He tries to instigate and induce the Gopa to return to the world with these words: “Those who have a good family, wealth, children, etc rejoice always and live a contented life. They are the ones who are truly happy. Those without anything are in misery.”

The Buddha silences Mâra and replies: “Sochati puttaihi puttimâ (iti Bhagavâ), gomiko gohi tatheva sochati. Upâdhi hi narasasa sochanâ. Na hi so sochati yo nirupâdhi”  The Buddha says: He who has progeny has misery. He who has wealth has misery. All these—wealth, progeny, cattle, and so on—are mere superimpositions and bondages. He alone is free from sorrow who has no such bondages or superimpositions.’

This, then, is the Dhaniya Sutta. A person who thought he was comfortable with his wealth and worldly security is reminded by the Buddha of the momentary nature of the world. He is also taught the truth of renunciation and freedom from bondages.

[1] Complete Works, Vol. 6, p. 227

January 9, 2013

A Bengali Article on Swami Vivekananda

A great Kannada poet wrote a poem on Swami Vivekananda, titled Brahmasmi, in 1963. This poem is very interesting and depicts the personality of Swami Vivekananda, his teachings and mission beautifully. That poem is the theme of this article.


December 25, 2012


Who or What is Santa Claus? santa2 santa3 santa4 santa5 santa7 santa8 santa9 santa10

December 15, 2012


 Swami Sunirmalananda

      Three aspects of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi surprise postmodernists: her illiteracy, her ignorance of scientific things and her simple, rustic appearance. Holy Mother is considered the ideal of the present and future ages. She is said to represent the ideal and glory of perfect womanhood in particular and of the ideal of motherhood in general. Yet in a few aspects like those mentioned above, she appears to be different from the present and future generations of women. We are not going to discuss here her traits like purity, character and spirituality, but shall concentrate only on her secular education and simplicity.

 Holy Mother and Education

      One of the surprising aspects of Holy Mother is her so-called lack of secular learning. She did not have the basics of schooling. With some effort, she could just manage to read. But she could not write. (1) If at all, she is said to have written ma in Bengali once – that is all. How could she be the ideal of the ultramodern woman then? Or is the ideal of the future woman such rural simplicity and lack of secular knowledge? Perhaps not. Considering the present information revolution, the way education is spreading everywhere and the fact that women’s education is gaining tremendous boost the world over, it is rather surprising that the ideal of future womanhood herself should have been virtually illiterate.

     Several reasons are put forth for Holy Mother’s illiteracy. One, she strove to learn but was dissuaded by ignorant relatives. However, she stealthily learnt the Bengali alphabet initially and, later, learnt to read from a little girl. (2) This urge to learn is presented as the urge of the modern woman to learn. Two, the reason why women of modern times should be educated is because the ideal of the modern age, Holy Mother, suffered so much and showed how learning could help in certain situations of life. Three, her own desire to learn being unfulfilled, and because of her awareness that learning is vital to life, Holy Mother initiated several institutions like the Nivedita School and the school at Badanganj, near her village, so that women could learn. Four, Holy Mother need not have to learn because she is Sarasvati herself, the goddess of learning. Five, her lack of learning and her innocence appear as a sweet sport of the Divine Mother for the devotee.

      These are good reasons and may appeal to devotees and admirers. But as an ideal, it is a different matter. Devotees may accept the ideal as it is, for they know. For the modern and future generations to accept this ideal, however, we should present reasons. Moreover, it is not that she should be selectively accepted. An ideal is an ideal. Therefore the modern woman – computer savvy, learned, English-speaking, cellphone-waving, vehicle-driving, college-educated – and Holy Mother, an innocent villager, cannot perhaps go together. Is Holy Mother outdated then? How should one reconcile her lack of learning with her being the ideal of the future woman?

      The above five reasons apart, there are also two methods of reconciliation: the ‘computer method’ and the ‘philosophy method’.

      Computer Method: Time was when people thought knowledge of typing was indispensable for learning computers. However, with the advent of voice mail, the recorder and so on, we can imagine future generations seeing our keyboards in museums. They may wonder that to express our thoughts we ancients used fingers. So there is no harm if one does not know typing now. But what about writing? Like typing, writing on paper with pen or pencil, too, could become obsolete. It is true that the time is imminent when computers will replace exercise books and white sheets. How many literate and working people use pen and paper now as they did before? Even personal signatures are going digital. Already we hear of schools in several countries using computers to train even kindergarten children. So writing is not absolutely needed now. We don’t know what the Silicon Valley has in store for us for the future. Therefore Holy Mother was ahead of her times in not being able to write, but able to communicate verbally, and through thought. Language, as we know, was not a barrier for her to express herself or to understand her disciples and admirers from different regions of India and abroad. Regarding language, we shall speak presently.

      Philosophy Method: Post-structuralism is the latest trend in Western philosophy. Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and others are the pioneers in this field. Most of them are French, Derrida being the most famous of them; he has made major contributions in the field of post-structuralism and deconstruction.

      Structuralism was the hope of philosophy, language, anthropology, literature and so on, because they all sought a scientific ground or a rational basis for their existence. Structuralism was developed in order to seek meaning or the common ground of things. According to the dictionary, structuralism is a theory ‘that considers any text as a structure whose various parts only have meaning when they are considered in relation to each other’. That is, when we read various things in a book, we seek their central meaning. Derrida argued against structuralism. He says that when we believe in structuralism, we believe in what the text ought to mean rather than what it actually means. That is, we are pre-conditioned. So his theory was destructuralism, based on Martin Heidegger’s Destruktion. Derrida argued that whenever you think of structuralism, you seek the centre of something, which is wrong. By seeking the centre, we ignore the other things; we sideline the binary opposites. He was for the ignored things rather than the central figure put on the pedestal. Generally understood, deconstruction, then, is reading things without seeking the centre or the rock bottom or the foundation; it is giving importance to the sidelined things too.

      In 1966, Derrida gave a lecture at Johns Hopkins University, USA, that became revolutionary according to Jim Powell (Derrida for Beginners). Here, Derrida showed that the whole of Western philosophy is dependent on this theory of structuralism. How is that? Derrida said that because the God of Christianity was centralized by all post-Greek philosophers, certain other things were excluded. What were the things excluded? God, according to Christianity, is the Word, Logos. ‘In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Derrida calls the Word or God the ‘Transcendental Signified’. ‘Signified’ and ‘signifier’ are two terms commonly used in Derrida literature. We have their equivalents in rupa (form) and nama (name), respectively. The signified is form, like cowness, while the signifier is the name given to it. The real cow is the referent. So God is the Transcendental Signified. The popular (transcendental) signifiers are Truth, God, supreme Spirit and so on. These are names but they don’t fully describe It or God. Yet Western philosophers have depended on them, which have become central to philosophy. When it comes to God, we cannot have a referent. So He or It is transcendental. So He or It is called the Transcendental Signified. This is like Vedanta: according to Vedanta, God is the innermost experience of the soul. What God is cannot be explained.

      Derrida argues that the Transcendental Signified cannot have a signifier or nama. Can words express Him or It? Even Vedanta asks the same question. He is beyond everything. His best expression is Logos or the Word. God expressed Himself through the Word. That became the Son. It is like speech, where one expresses one’s self directly. Somewhat speaking in the language of the Indian Sphota theory, where there are the four stages of speech (para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari), Derrida says that when we speak, we speak our soul out. That is, the innermost self is speaking itself – para becomes vaikhari. There is the presence of the speaker in speech. Writing, however, is different. A person may write something and die. So there is absence. Speech is soul poured out in presence, whereas writing signifies absence. Writing, according to Derrida, is ‘less immediate’. It is corruption. It is said that Socrates too spoke of writing being secondary to speech. Derrida says that when writing was developed the word or speech was ignored. Writing became central, and speech was sidelined.

      There was a time when things were natural. We did not know how to write. We were pure then. We heard truths from the lips of experienced elders. There was presence then, not absence. Nowadays a person need not have any experience but may write. So it is not the soul speaking. Once we began to write we became corrupt, says Derrida. His On Grammatology, according to Jim Powell, is a classic which argues in favour of speech. Modern philosophers are fast accepting Derrida’s view that speech is natural and has the personal touch, while writing is formal.

      We have used this to show that even from the philosophical point of view, Holy Mother was extremely modern because she considered speech as better than writing. One may say she did not know how to write. Yes, but suppose Holy Mother really had wished to learn the art of writing. Who could have stopped her? Yet she did not learn the art of writing. She spoke. And that transformed everyone. Therefore Holy Mother is ultramodern and a perfect ideal for the future woman. Then again, we believe the Satya Yuga has begun with the advent of Sri Ramakrishna. Perhaps, in order to be in tune with that age, the ideals of the age (and of future ages) – Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi – chose to remain illiterate, as it were. Calligraphy and the art of writing are comparatively recent. Our sages transmitted knowledge verbally, and that has in fact came down intact. Can we say the Vedic sages were ignorant? They knew far better than all of us put together.

 Holy Mother and Technology

       In the modern world of gadgets and the Internet, Holy Mother belongs nowhere, so it would seem. She appears outmoded and in no way linked to our technological world. She did not know that air trapped in a water pipe made the tap hiss; she did not know how to wind a clock; she did not know anything about science. She was scared to ride in a car. Yet she has to be the ideal. How can this be possible?

     The answer to this puzzle is simple: Even Newton and Einstein, the pioneers of modern scientific development, would look quite unscientific, when placed in present circumstances. They knew less than today’s schoolboy does, because the schoolboy is computer savvy, while the computer is a strange thing for them. They are out of date.

     But the point is, the scientific spirit shows in the way of thinking and not in the lifestyle. One may be perfectly unscientific amid all the gadgets in the world, and a rustic could be scientific in the absence of such gadgets. One may be a professional scientist and yet be perfectly unscientific in thinking. As a matter of fact, even in this so-called age of science most people think in a surprisingly primitive way. Really, are we rational? Are we open to newer ideas? Are we unbiased? Are we ready to give up our pet notions when new truths are revealed, or do we raise impregnable walls against new ideas? That is the test. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi passes the test admirably. Though she came with a purpose, she never imposed her ideas on anyone.

      Another thing that appears unscientific in Holy Mother is her faith in strange remedies, in which modern people do not trust, for example the clay of the Simhavahini temple. In 1875, when Holy Mother was twenty-two years old, she had a severe attack of dysentery. While she was suffering intensely, the village goddess Simhavahini suggested the cure to her mother Shyamasundari, which relieved her of her suffering. (55-6) Since then Holy Mother believed in the clay of the precincts of the Simhavahini temple. That became a regular medicine.

      The second treatment was not her invention, but was a local practice that she too abided by. When someone had malaria, the only medicine the villagers of those parts knew was to heat an iron rod and apply it on the region over the spleen. The singeing, they believed, would cure people of malaria. Even Ramakrishna underwent this treatment. But unlike others, Holy Mother did not wish to be tied or held down by others; she had such control over herself that she simply lay down and endured the torture.

      How does one explain such strange beliefs? We shall not discuss the second cure, as Holy Mother must have been a helpless victim of her circumstances. But regarding the first, Mother’s trust in the Simhavahini clay, it is perfectly scientific. The question here is of faith. Says Swami Vivekananda:

      It is not the sign of a candid and scientific mind to throw overboard anything without proper investigation. Surface scientists, unable to explain the various extraordinary mental phenomena, strive to ignore their very existence. They are, therefore, more culpable than those who think that their prayers are answered by a being, or beings, above the clouds, or than those who believe that their petitions will make such beings change the course of the universe. The latter have the excuse of ignorance. … The former have no such excuse. (2)

      Moreover, faith heals better than any drug. And there is a God who looks into our affairs all the time.

      There was a time when the medical world pooh-poohed prayer and faith as factors in healing. Several years ago Reader’s Digest published an article from an official medical journal, saying that prayers are as effective as medicines in curing diseases. The thing in itself, like medicine, is of some importance, true; but of greater importance is the mindset receiving the thing. Holy Mother came to instil faith in human beings. Not that we should believe in spooks and hobgoblins, but the great quality of simple faith has been destroyed in the name of science. All of Ramakrishna’s and Holy Mother’s work was centred around restoring that faith once again in human minds. Faith can achieve anything.

      Nowadays there is a rush to the Simhavahini temple, from where people take a little clay hoping to cure ailments. During Holy Mother’s time, there were no other means in that remote village. But whenever doctors were available, Holy Mother resorted to them with full faith.

 Holy Mother’s Simplicity

      These days appearance is everything. What you are may be different; but what you seem is vital. All that glitters is gold. That is why our postmodern world needs ideals like movie stars, who glitter and shine, and that is why the true and the genuine suffer.


     Holy Mother can in no way come near such modern-day ideals. Far, far from them. If one looks at her photographs, one sees her attired in a cheap, simple, white sari. All her jewels are a pair of bangles – perfectly old-fashioned. In only three photographs we see her seated on a chair. In all the rest, she is her simple self. She definitely knew she would be worshipped for all time to come, yet she did not care for external glitter. So Holy Mother is not appealing in that sense of the word. Can such a simple woman appeal to the glittering present and future ages?


     Suppose some modern people do not find much appeal in Holy Mother. That is perfectly all right. As Sri Ramakrishna used to say, the Divine Mother does not want the play to end. She wishes that it should continue. If all the players touch the granny in the play of hide­and-seek, the play will end. That the Divine Mother does not want. So she hides herself. If the children want the glitter, let them go for it. Let them play with the toys of the world. When they get tired, they will cry for Mother. And Mother is, of course, always there for those who want her.


     The second reason why Holy Mother appears so simple is that she is the ideal and harbinger of the future. And surprisingly enough, the future will be nothing but the glorious past of India, only even more glorious. Says Swamiji:

      “Many times have I been told that looking into the past only degenerates and leads to nothing, and that we should look to the future. That is true. But out of the past is built the future. Look back, therefore, as far as you can, drink deep of the eternal fountains that are behind, and after that, look forward, march forward and make India brighter, greater, much higher than she ever was. Our ancestors were great. We must first recall that”. (3.285-6)

      We move in circles, not straight lines. The future will most certainly take us back to the simplicity of the past. Swamiji says:

      “On one side, new India is saying, ‘If we only adopt Western ideas, Western language, Western food, Western dress, and Western manners, we shall be as strong and powerful as the Western nations’; on the other, old India is saying, ‘Fools! By imitation, others’ ideas never become one’s own; nothing, unless earned, is your own. Does the ass in the lion’s skin become the lion?” (4.477)

      Originality will be the watchword of the future, and Holy Mother is a best example of that. Further, purity is the greatest ornament, and that was what Holy Mother came to demonstrate. We should quote Swamiji again because he is eloquent in the praise of Sita:

      “Sita is unique; that character was depicted once and for all. … [She was] purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering. She who suffered that life of suffering without a murmur, she the ever-chaste and ever-pure wife, she the ideal of the people, the ideal of the gods, the great Sita, our national God she must always remain. And every one of us knows her too well to require much delineation. All our mythology may vanish, even our Vedas may depart, and our Sanskrit language may vanish for ever, but so long as there will be five Hindus living here, even if only speaking the most vulgar patois, there will be the story of Sita present. Mark my words: Sita has gone into the very vitals of our race. She is there in the blood of every Hindu man and woman; we are all children of Sita. Any attempt to modernise our women, if it tries to take our women away from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failure, as we see every day. The women of India must grow and develop in the footprints of Sita, and that is the only way”. (3.256)

      Just replace the word Sita with Sarada and re-read the above lines, for both were one.

      Tired of the glamour of the past century, the world is slowly reverting to natural ways of life. The old simplicity and naturalness is becoming the ideal once more. Everywhere we hear of ecology, nature cure, alternative lifestyles and so on. This trend is bound to continue. Holy Mother came to show that through her life. This does not mean technology will go. It will remain. But life on earth itself will become simple – for our own survival. The naturalness and simplicity of Holy Mother’s life indeed give us a foretaste of things to come.





     1. Swami Gambhirananda, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1977), 30-1.


     2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.121


December 10, 2012


Since ages, we have been hearing that ignorance and desire cause bondage and misery. Philosophers and saints have said that we are bound, and suffer consequently, owing to ignorance and desires. Now Swami Vivekananda adds one more: inequality. In his letters, Swami Vivekananda writes that desire, ignorance, and inequality cause bondage and misery.  That inequality causes misery is something new.  More so, because, of the various types of inequality — economic, social, religious, etc — economic inequality was not considered wrong, at least by economists. Far from causing misery, inequality was considered good for developing economies, and healthy for manifesting talents. Further, some thought that ‘Government intervention aimed at ensuring more equality or social justice would, paradoxically, lead to an unfair result’ (Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 1960).  The idea of some economists was that ‘strategies to reduce inequality would undermine the power of the market mechanism to generate the most efficient outcomes, because they would reduce incentives to engage in the economic process’ (Friedman and Friedman, Free to Choose, 1980). Pope Leo XIII also said: “People differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts….”

So when Vivekananda said that inequality causes misery, didn’t he know this? Of course he did! He says: “Why is there this inequality? Who made it? We. Because we have more or less powers, more or less brain, more or less physical strength, it must make a difference between us. Yet we know that the doctrine of equality appeals to our heart.”

If inequality is natural, what’s the problem? The problem is in the vision—our short-sightedness. Vivekananda gives an example: “There is the same pure white light – an emission of the divine Being – in the centre of each, but the glass being of different colours and thickness, the rays assume diverse aspects in the transmission. The equality and beauty of each central flame is the same.” Highlighting only the outer covering is myopia and that causes misery — for you are not your coat, however costly it might be. So we are making a fundamental mistake, and that is causing misery.

If it’s helping economy, why is inequality not good? Inequality is not helping world economy, for this reason: “…several recent analyses suggest that some of the main causes of the global financial crisis – including private over-indebtedness and the dominance of an unregulated financial sector over the real sector of the economy – are linked to growing   income inequality.’ The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published its Trade and Development Report, 2012, in Geneva, Switzerland, towards the end of September 2012. This report mentions the problems inequality has created and suggests ways of overcoming it. The recent recession and the escalating eurozone crisis bring great economists to reconsidering their theories on inequality.

According to the UNCTAD-2012 report, ‘The World Bank (in its world development report, 2006) also analysed the negative social and economic consequences of high inequality. It noted that … “high levels of economic and political inequality tend to lead to economic institutions and social arrangements that systematically favour the interests of those with more influence. Such inequitable institutions can generate economic costs … [and] the inequality of opportunity that arises is wasteful and inimical to sustainable development and poverty reduction”’.  So inequality causes misery, and Vivekananda was right!

What is the way out? The UNCTAD-2012 report concentrates on reducing, if not removing, inequality. It suggests various means of reducing financial inequality—like progressive taxation of the high-income group, “an incomes policy, a social safety net for unemployment and other hardships, and the provision of basic services, such as a good education for all….” Excellent! But people love their money. So whether these ideas shall succeed should be seen. However, such measures, though good, are not deep enough to have lasting impact. Further, man does not live by bread alone. A fundamental change is necessary.

Vivekananda shows solutions for this existential problem of inequality. He knew there is variety in nature, and that inequality is the very basis of creation. Natural variety, called jati in Sanskrit, is good—like having a variety of fruits. Yet, “this variety does not mean inequality, nor any special privilege,” he said. Misery is not due to Nature-made inequality but manmade, artificial inequality: we don’t see Light behind appearances due to ignorance. While this external cover that creates variety already exists, human beings create yet another strong barricade between man and man using wealth, power, privilege and politics, and so things go terribly wrong. So Vivekananda declared: “If there is inequality in nature, still there must be equal chance for all – or if greater for some and for some less – the weaker should be given more chance than the strong.”

How to achieve this? First, as Vivekananda said, “More bread, more opportunity for everybody!… Liberty does not certainly mean the absence of obstacles in the path of misappropriation of wealth etc by you and me, but it is our natural right to be allowed to use our own body, intelligence, or wealth according to our will, without doing any harm to others; and all the members of a society ought to have the same opportunity for obtaining wealth, education, or knowledge.” Second, handling our ignorance.  Value-based education removes ignorance and brings self-control. So Vivekananda insisted on “man-making” education.

Yet this is not all. For a permanent solution to the problem of inequality, for peace and happiness of all, something more and powerful is required.  And that is attitude change. Differences and inequality are not outside, they are within us. We discriminate, we create barriers. Laws cannot change hearts, attitudes can. So, Vivekananda suggests attitudinal change. He suggests same-sightedness (samadarshitvam). Remove your goggles that restrict your vision only to a few yards. Look deep and you shall see the Light behind the glass coverings. Thus, you not only take care of economic inequality but other forms of inequality as well.

Finally, manmade inequality can certainly go, as that which we create is destroyed in time. Coming this far to make our world a global village, coming to live as next-door neighbours with all races, we can certainly develop same-sightedness through knowledge and thus superficial inequality can go. That is the road to prosperity.