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Myths about the Swami – Part II (Quotable Quotes)

Arun Shourie


 

 

    This article is a sequel to the one on ‘Myths about the Swami’ and was published in the Sunday (7-13 Feb., 1993).


    The depths to which society had pushed sections of its own induced the latter to convert to Islam, for them the conversion was a liberation, and the people who even today do not see this are "lunatics", says Swami Vivekananda (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume III, page 294-5 and page 298. In all subsequent references to these books, the number of the volume is given first followed by the page number). That is one fact, which accounts for the conquests of Islam. There are others, says the Swami. For instance, there is the fact that the Hindu kings adhered to some self-imposed codes of war, while the invaders did not:

    " The most curious thing was the code of war of those days; as soon as the battle for the day ceased and evening came, the opposing parties were good friends, even going to each other’s tents; however, when the morning came, again they proceeded to fight each other. That was the strange trait that the Hindus carried down to the time of the Mohammedan invasion. Then again, a man on horseback must not strike one on foot; must not poison the weapon; must not vanquish the enemy in any unequal fight, or by dishonesty; and must never take undue advantage of another and so on. If any deviated from these rules he would be covered with dishonour and shunned. The Kshatriyas were trained in that way. And when the foreign invasion came from Central Asia, the Hindus treated the invaders in the same way. They defeated them several times, and on as many occasions sent them back to their homes with presents etc. The code laid down was that they must not usurp anybody’s country; and when a man was beaten, he must be sent back to his country with due regard to his position. The Mohammedan conquerors treated the Hindu kings differently, and when they got them once, they destroyed them without remorse." (IV. 93-4)

    The aim of the Bhakti movement was not just an ecumenical one of picking the best in all traditions. The aim, the Swami says, was to prevent wholesale conversion to Islam:

    "The movements in northern India during the Mohammedan period are characterized by their uniform attempt to hold the masses back from joining the religion of the conquerors – which brought in its train social and spiritual equality for all... The friars of the orders founded by Ramananda, Kabir, Dadu, Chaitanya, or Nanak were all agreed in preaching the equality of man, however differing from each other in philosophy. Their energy was for the most part spent in checking the rapid conquest of Islam among the masses, and they had very little left to give birth to new thoughts and aspirations. Though evidently successful in their purpose of keeping the masses within the fold of the old religion, and tempering the fanaticism of the Mohammedans, they were more apologists, struggling to obtain permission to live." (VI. 165-6).

    Nor is India the only country on which, on Swami Vivekananda’s reckoning, Islam brought down such consequences. The Turks were tolerant and humane, till Islam came, says the Swami for instance:

    "In very ancient times, this Turkish race repeatedly conquered the Western provinces of India and founded extensive kingdoms. They were Buddhist, or would turn Buddhists after occupying Indian territory. In the ancient history of Kashmir there is mention of these famous Turkish Emperors, Hushka, Yushka and Kanishka. It was this Kanishka that founded the Northern School of Buddhism called the Mahayana. Long after, the majority of them took to Mohammedanism and completely devastated the chief Buddhistic seats of Central Asia such as Kandahar and Kabul. Before their conversion to Mohammedanism they used to imbibe the learning and culture of the countries they conquered, and by assimilating the culture of other countries would try to propagate civilisation. But ever since they became Mohammedans, they have only the instinct for war left in them; they have not got the least vestige of learning and culture. On the contrary, the countries that come under their sway gradually have their civilisation extinguished. In many places of modern Afghanistan and Kandahar etc. there yet exist wonderful Stupas, monasteries, temples and gigantic statues built by their Buddhistic ancestors. As a result of Turkish admixture and their conversion to Mohammedanism, those temples are almost in ruins, and the present Afghans and allied races have grown so uncivilised and illiterate that far from imitating those ancient works of architecture, they believe them to be the creation of supernatural spirits like the Jinn, etc. and are firmly convinced that such great undertakings are beyond the power of man to accomplish.

    "The principal cause of the present degradation of Persia is that the royal line belongs to the powerful, uncivilized Turkish stock, whereas the subjects are the descendants of the highly-civilized ancient Persians, who were Aryans. In this way the Empire of Constantinople -- the last political arena of the Greeks and Romans, the descendants of civilized Aryans -- has been ruined under the blasting feet of powerful, barbarous Turkey. The Moghul Emperors of India were the only exceptions to this rule; perhaps that was due to an admixture of Hindu ideas and Hindu blood. In the chronicles of Rajput bards and minstrels, all the Mohammedan dynasties which conquered India are styled as Turks. This is a very correct appellation, for, of whatever races the conquering Mohammedan armies might be made up, the leadership was always vested in the Turks alone... What is called the Mohammedan invasion, conquest, or colonisation of India means only this that, under the leadership of Mohammedan Turks who were renegades from Buddhism, those sections of the Hindu race who continued in the faith of their ancestors were repeatedly conquered by the other section of that very race who also were renegades from Buddhism or the Vedic religion and served under the Turks, having been forcibly converted to Mohammedanism by their superior strength." (VII. 394-5).

    Not quite the reading of history our communists and secularists would find quotable!

    Indeed, while these personages would find Swami Vivekananda’s exhortations to tolerance and broad-mindedness and love appropriate and quotable, the words in which he urges these, the activities of Christian missionaries and Muslim conquerors he contrasts these with will make the passages highly unquotable. Here is a typical exhortation:

    "Therefore the world is waiting for this grand idea of universal toleration. It will be a great acquisition to civilisation. Nay, no civilisation can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilisation can grow unless fanaticism, bloodshed and brutality stop. No civilisation can begin to lift up its head until we look charitably upon one another; and the first step towards that much-needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious conviction of others. Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but also positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you. It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do. In spite of their hatred, in spite of their brutality, in spite of their cruelty, in spite of their tyranny, and in spite of the vile language they’re given to uttering, we will and must go on building churches for the Christians and mosques for the Mohammedans until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force." (III. 187-8).

    On others as well.

    Please do not get me wrong. Swami Vivekananda did not single Islam out for harsh words -- in fact he almost always talked of it in the past tense, as something that had faded away. He did not attribute our miserable condition to Muslim rule: that he attributed to our own divisions and sloth, as in the following:

    "Remember the old English proverb, ‘Give every man his due’. Therefore, my friends, it is no use fighting among the castes. What good will it do? It will divide us all the more, weaken us all the more, and degrade us all the more. The days of exclusive claims are gone, gone are forever from the soil of India, and it is one of the great blessing of the British rule in India. Even to the Mohammedan rule we owe that great blessing, the destruction of exclusive privilege. That rule was, after all, not all bad; nothing is all bad; and nothing is all good. The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans. It was not the sword that did it all. It would be the height of madness to think it was all the work of sword and fire. And one-fifth to one-half -- of our Madras people will become Christians if you do not take care. Was there ever a sillier thing before in the world than what I saw in Malabar country? The poor Pariah is not allowed to pass through the same street as the high-caste man, but if he changes his name to a hodge-podge English name, it is alright; or to a Mohammedan name, it is alright. What inference would you draw except that these Malabaris are all lunatics, their homes so many lunatic asylums, and that they are to be treated with derision by every race in India until they mend their manners and know better. Shame upon them that such wicked and diabolical customs are allowed; their own children are allowed to die of starvation, but as soon they take up some other religion they are well fed. There ought to be no more fight between the castes." (III. 194-5).

    And it is this trough of wretchedness out of which he endeavoured to life us. But not only was the goal to which he sought to turn us the exact opposite of what the communists and secularists have peddled, his method was the exact opposite too. These worthies have kept themselves aloof from our culture; they have sought to heckle it down as outsiders looking down at something rotten in a pit. Contrast their denunciations with this way:

    "Did India ever stand in want of reformers? Do you read the history of India? Who was Ramanuja? Who was Shankara? Who was Nanak? Who was Chaitanya? Who was Kabir? Who was Dadu? Who were all these great preachers, one following the other, and a galaxy of stars of the first magnitude? Did not Ramanuja feel for the lower classes? Did he not try all his life to admit even the Pariah to his community? Did he not try to admit even Mohammedans to his own fold? Did not Nanak confer with Hindus and Mohammedans, and try to bring about a new state of things? They all tried, and their work is still going on. The difference is this. They had not the fanfaronade of the reformers of today; they had no curses on their lips as modern reformers have; their lips pronounced only blessings. They never condemned. They said to the people that the race must always grow. They looked back and they said, ‘ O Hindus, what you have done is good, but, my brothers, let us do better’. They did not say, ‘You have been wicked, now, let us be good’. They said, ‘You have been good, but let us now be better’. That makes a whole world of difference. We must grow according to our nature. Vain is it to attempt the lines of action that foreign societies have engrafted upon us; it is impossible. Glory unto God, that it is impossible, that we cannot be twisted and tortured into the shape of other nations." (III. 219).

    His entire life was premised on one conviction: that India had a message of inestimable worth to give to the world. He had the confidence of course that the ways and message of India – and not the Church or the Prophet, nor of Marx or Lenin – would in the end prevail:

    "All religions have struggled against one another for years. Those which were founded on a book, still stand. Why could not the Christians convert the Jews? Why could not they make the Persians Christians? Why cannot any impression be made upon China and Japan? Buddhism, the first missionary religion, numbers double the number of converts of any other religion, and they did not use the sword. The Mohammedans used the greatest violence. They number the least of the three great missionary religions. The Mohammedans have had their day. Every day you read of Christian nations acquiring land by bloodshed. What missionaries preach against this? Why should the most blood-thirsty nations exalt an alleged religion which is not the religion of Christ? The Jews and the Arabs were the fathers of Christianity, and how they have been persecuted by the Christians! The Christians have been weighed in the balance in India and have been found wanting. I do not mean to be unkind, but I want to show the Christians how they look in others’ eyes. The missionaries who preach the burning pit are regarded wit horror. The Mohammedans rolled wave after wave over India waving the sword, and today where are they?" (VIII. 217-8).

    He was in addition filled with a passion against the scorn and falsehood which was being heaped on India and its tradition by the very ones whose doctrine and slander our communists and secularists have internalised, and which they regurgitate. Will they quote the following in their pamphlets? Better still, will they spot how much of it applies to them?

    "One thing I would tell you, and I do not mean any unkind criticism. You train and educate and clothe and pay men to do what? To come over to my country to curse and abuse all my forefathers, my religion and everything. They walk near a temple and say, ‘You idolaters, you will go to hell’. But they dare not do that to the Mohammedans of India; the sword would be out. But the Hindu is too mild; he smiles and passes on, and says, ‘Let the fools talk’. That is the attitude. And then you, who train men to abuse and criticise, if I touch you with the least bit of criticism, with the kindest of purpose, you shrink and cry, ‘Don’t touch us; we are Americans. We criticise all the people in the world, curse them and abuse them, say anything; but do not touch us; we are sensitive plants’. You may do whatever you please; but at the same time I am going to tell you that we are content to live as we are; and in one thing we are better off – we never teach our children to swallow such horrible stuff: ‘Where every prospect pleases and man alone is vile’. And whenever your ministers criticise us, let them remember this: if all India stands up and takes all the mud that is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and throws it up against the Western countries, it will not be doing an infinitesimal part of that which you are doing to us. And what for? Did we ever send one missionary to convert anybody in the world? We say to you, ‘Welcome to your religion, but allow me to have mine. You call yours religion, but allow me to have mine’. "

    "You call yours an aggressive religion. You are aggressive, but how many have you taken? Every sixth man in the world is a Chinese subject, a Buddhist; then there are Japan, Tibet, and Russia, and Siberia, and Burma, and Siam; and it may not be palatable, but this Christian morality, the Catholic Church, is all derived from them. Well, and how was this done? Without the shedding of one drop of blood! With all your brags and boastings, where has your Christianity succeeded without the sword? Show me one place in the whole world. One, I say, throughout the history of the Christian religion -- one; I do not want two. I know how your forefathers were converted. They had to be converted or killed; that was all. What can you do better than Mohammedanism, with all your bragging? ‘We are the only one!’ And why? 'Because we can kill others.' The Arabs said that; they bragged. And where is the Arab now? He is the Bedouin. The Romans used to say that, and where are they now? Blessed are the peace-makers; they shall enjoy the earth. Such things tumble down; it is built upon sands; it cannot remain long." (I. 211-3).

    Did they -- that is, the quoting communists -- not brag as much? Did they not proclaim that their victories too were forever? Were their victories based any the less on the sword and on falsehood? And where are they today?

    Conclusions

    In brief, lessons upon lessons for friends who suddenly find Swami Vivekananda so quotable:

    Stray quotations cannot be set up to counter the entire life and work of such a man;

    As that life and work is the exact opposite of what you have been propagating, the more you lean on Vivekananda, the more he will recoil on you;

    Never forget what you have been saying about a man when you suddenly find him handy, others are not likely to have forgotten;

    And finally, never proclaim your intention to quote a man before you have read him!

    Myths about the Swami – Part I


    Sunday
    February 7-13, 1993




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