The Swami had once asked Pavhari Baba of Ghazipur, “What was the secret of success in work?” and had been answered, “To make the end the means, and the means the end.”
This is a saying that one penetrates now and again for a moment at long intervals. But if it signifies that the whole energy of the worker should be concentrated on the means, as if these were the end, while that end itself is for the time being forgotten or ignored, then it may be only another way of preaching the great lesson of the Gita, “To action man has a right: he has no right to the fruits of action.”
Our Master possessed, in a wonderful degree, the secret of inspiring his disciples to attempt this ideal. He had his own reasons – which every Hindu will perhaps understand – for feeling that a European who was to work on his behalf for India must do so in the Indian way. And in this demand, while he never confused essentials and non-essentials, he regarded no detail as too trivial to be important.
To eat only of approved foods, and to do this with the fingers, to sit and sleep on the floor, to perform Hindu ceremonies, and bind oneself strictly by the feelings and observances of Hindu etiquette, were all, to his thinking, means of arriving at that Indian consciousness which would afterwards enable one to orientate oneself truly to the Indian aspects of larger questions. Even so trifling a matter as the use of lime-juice and powdered lentils, instead of soap, appeared to him worthy of thought and effort. Even the caste-feelings that seemed crude must be appreciated and assimilated. It was tacitly understood that the time might someday come, when one would be free of all these, even as he was free; but the emancipation won by going through an experience is very different from the blindness that ignores or despises!
The Swami was remarkable, however, in his power of imparting the ideal with a custom. To this day, one shudders at the impurity and roughness of blowing out a light; while to put on a sari, and veil the head, is always to strive for the mood of passive sweetness and acceptance, rather than that of self-confident aggression. For in how far this symbolism of externals is a fact of common Indian perception, we are not, perhaps, quite prepared to understand. “Never neglect to lower it!” said the monk Sadananda to me once, of this particular garment. “Remember that in that white veil lies the half of saintliness!”
In all this, one was led along the path that one knew already to be right. If the student was to solve any problem of Indian education, it was essential that there should first be experience of the humbler routine of teaching; and for this the supreme and essential qualification was to have looked at the world, even if only for a moment, through the eyes of the taught. Every canon of educational science proclaims this fact. ‘From known to unknown,’ from simple to complex,’ ‘from concrete to abstract,’ and the very term ‘education’ itself, are all words only, on the lips of those who can form no idea of the world as the pupil sees it, or the aims to which he would fain be aided to climb. To teach against the aspirations of the taught, is assuredly to court ill results instead of good.
What was startling in the Swami’s discipline was his instinctive assumption that the Indian consciousness was built up on the thousand and one tiny details of Indian daily life. Looking closer, one saw that this had been the method pursued by Sri Ramakrishna. Whenever he desired to apprehend a new idea, he had adopted the food, clothes, language, and general habits of those who held it. He had not merely attempted to approximate to them in the use of a few religious formula.
But Vivekananda was too great an educator to disregard the freedom of the disciple, even in such matters as these. The aim was revealed only little by little, and always on the basis of some attempt already made. It was true that he was perpetually testing purity of motive, always on his guard against the possible intrusion of self-interest, in himself or in others. “I trust no one,” he said, “because I do not trust myself. How do I know what I may become, tomorrow?” But it was also true that it was not in his nature, as he said once, to interfere with liberty, even to prevent mistakes. It was for him to point out the source of an error, only when it had been committed.
During the first six months of 1899, I dined occasionally with people of various classes, both Indian and European, in Calcutta. This fact always caused the Swami uneasiness. He feared a revulsion, probably, against the extreme simplicity of orthodox Hindu life. Undoubtedly also he thought a strong reaction possible, in favour of the associations of one’s birth. He had seen a great religious movement shattered in the West, by the petty social ambition of a woman of over-much refinement. Yet he never interfered with me in this matter, though a single word of authority would have been enough at any time to have ended it. Nor did he ever show his disapproval. He took an interest, on the contrary, in every experience that one brought to his notice. He would in a general way express his fear, or utter a grave warning, not at the time understood, about ‘loaves and fishes.’ But seeing, perhaps, that there was a genuine need to form a concept of the whole synthesis of classes and interests in Modern India, he gave way completely to his disciple, and allowed the course of enquiry to pursue its own path.
It was only on the ship, during the voyage to England, that he fully expressed the ideal that was in him. “You must give up all visiting, and live in strict seclusion,” he said one day, as he discussed the future of the women’s work. “You have to set yourself to Hinduise your thoughts, your needs, your conceptions, and your habits. Your life, internal and external, has to become all that an orthodox Hindu Brahmin Brahmacharini’s ought to be. The method will come to you, if only you desire it sufficiently. But you have to forget your own past, and to cause it to be forgotten. You have to lose even its memory!”
Never was monk more passionately monastic than Vivekananda, for all his apparent ease and fearlessness. Yet here, in the case of a worker, he knew how to substitute for the walls of a convent, the Indian people and their life. This has sometimes appeared to me the greatest manifestation he gave, of his genius. “We shall speak to all men,” he said once, “in terms of their own orthodoxy!” and went on to picture a branch of the Indian Orders in the English Church, wearing the yellow garb, going barefooted, practising the extreme of asceticism, and standing always for the supreme truth of the inter-relatedness of all religions.
In the special case of the Indian consciousness, however, his ideal was by no means limited to a strenuous aspiration. Step by step, point by point, he gave, as details of Hindu etiquette, those instructions which it is customary in Europe to offer the religious novice. It was in this way that he laboured to overcome that restlessness and emphasis of Western manners, which appears to the Eastern mind so crude.
The constant expression of feeling, whether of pain, admiration, or surprise, was to him shocking. It was not necessary to stigmatise it as irreligious, for it was ill-bred. The oriental expects of a man that he should feel, and keep his feeling to himself. Any constant pointing-out of the curious or the beautiful appears to him an unwarrantable intrusion on the privacy and self-directedness of thought. Yet that the desired repose of manner is not conceived of as merely idle, is seen in the case of that sage who was asked by a certain king to tell him about God. “What is He like? What is He like?” And the saint replied, “All this time I was telling you, O king! For silence is His name!”
This was a point on which the Swami was exacting. He would impose on the European disciple long periods of severe restraint. “Struggle to realise yourself,” he said on a certain occasion, “without a trace of emotion!”
Watching the fall of dead leaves once, in the stillness of an autumn evening, he did not deny that there was poetry in the sight, but he declared that mental excitement, roused by what was merely an event of the external sense-world, was childish and out of place. All Western people, he said, had to learn the great lesson, of holding experience and emotion apart. “Watch the fall of the leaves, but gather the sentiment of the sight from within, at some later time!”
This is neither more nor less than the conventual doctrine of recollectedness and peace, as known in Europe. Is it also a subtle method of evoking creative faculty? Does it point to a poetry which holds the world as a vast symbol, yet thrones the intellect high above the senses?
Carrying the question out of the sphere of mere good-breeding, and mental discipline, and framing the same truth again in terms of the spiritual life alone, the Swami would speak with horror of that bondage which shows itself in the quest of subtle meta-physical pleasures. In all idealism, he would say, lies the danger of idealising merely what we have reached. Such “covering of a corpse with flowers” would sooner or later mean, when realised in practice, the abandonment of the People, and the destruction of the work. Only they could be faithful who were beyond temptation, followers of the pure idea, regardless of self.
“Mind!” he said, as he talked of future methods, ‘No loaves and fishes! No glamour of the world! All this must be cut short. It must be rooted out. It is sentimentality, – the overflow of the senses. It comes to you in colour, sight, sound, and associations. Cut it off. Learn to hate it. It is utter poison!”
Thus the common routine of the Hindu home became eloquent, on the Swami’s lips, of a world of deeper truths, characteristically apprehended by the Hindu mind. He himself had been interested, from his baby-hood, in monastic organisation. He had once had a copy of the Imitation, in which there was a preface describing the monastery and the rule followed by Jean de Gerson, the supposed author, and this preface, to his imagination, had been the jewel of the book. Not contented with reading it over and over till he knew it off by heart, it filled the dreams of his boyhood; till with a kind of surprise he awoke, in middle age, to find himself organising another monastic order, on the banks of the Ganges, and realised that the fascination of his childhood had been a foreshadowing of the future.
Yet it was not the conventualism of authority, or of the school, but that of the Hindu widow, following her rule freely, in the midst of the family, that he held up to a European disciple for a model. “An orthodox Hindu Brahmin Brahmacharini” was his ideal for the woman of character, and no words can convey the delight with which his voice lingered over the phrase.
“Lay down the rules for your group, and formulate your ideas,” he said once, dealing with this very point, “and put in a little universalism, if there is room for it. But remember that not more than half a dozen people in the whole world are ever at any one time ready for this! There must be room for sects, as well as for rising above sects. You will have to manufacture your own tools. Frame laws, but frame them in such a fashion that when people are ready to do without them, they can burst them asunder. Our originality lies in combining perfect freedom with perfect authority. This can be done, even in monasticism. For my own part, I always have an horizon.”
He broke off here to follow another line of thought, which always interested him, and always appeared to him fruitful of applications. “Two different races,” he said, “mix and fuse, and out of them rises one strong distinct type. This tries to save itself from admixture, and here you see the beginning of caste. Look at the apple. The best specimens have been produced by crossing, but once crossed, we try to preserve the variety intact.”
A few days afterwards, the same reflection came uppermost again, and he said with great earnestness, “A strong and distinct type is always the physical basis of the horizon. It is all very well to talk of universalism, but the world will not be ready for that for millions of years!”
“Remember!” he said again, “if you want to know what a ship is like, the ship has to be specified as it is, – its length, breadth, shape, and material. And to understand a nation, we must do the same.
India is idolatrous. You must help her as she is. Those who have left her can do nothing for her!”
The Swami felt that there was no task before India which could compare in importance with that of woman’s education. His own life had had two definite personal purposes, of which one had been the establishment of a home for the Order of Ramakrishna, while the other was the initiation of some endeavour towards the education of woman. With five hundred men, he would say, the conquest of India might take fifty years: with as many women, not more than a few weeks.
In gathering widows and orphans to be trained, he was of opinion that the limitations of birth must be steadfastly ignored. But it was essential to success that those who were chosen should be young and unformed. “Birth is nothing!” he would say, “Environment is everything!” But above all else, he felt that impatience was inexcusable. If in twelve years any result were visible, this fact would constitute a great success. The task was one that might well take seventy years to accomplish.
For hours he would sit and talk of details, building castles in the air of an ideal school, dwelling lovingly on this point and that. None of it would ever, perhaps, be carried out literally, yet all of it, surely, was precious, since it showed the freedom he would have given, and the results that, from his standpoint, would have appeared desirable.
It was natural – if only in view of my own pre-occupation at the time with the religious ideas of Hinduism – that all these plans should wear a religious colour. They were more conventual than scholastic. The temper of the teaching was more the burden of his thought than the learning to be imparted.
Except for a sudden exclamation once, “We must turn out the greatest intellects in India!” I scarcely remember that he ever said anything directly affecting the secular side of the woman’s education scheme. He took for granted that anything deserving of such a name must needs be measured in terms of depth and severity. He was no believer in that false idealism which leads to modification of knowledge or dilution of truth, in the name of sex.
How to make the home-background against which the work of education must be carried on, at once thoroughly progressive and thoroughly Hindu, was the problem that engrossed him. There was the task of so translating the formula of the old regime, moreover, that they might continue to command the reverence of the modernised.
The moral and ethical failures which result from too easy an adoption of foreign ideas, without regard to their effects on social continuity and cohesion, were ever before his eyes. He knew instinctively that the bonds by which the old society had been knit together, must receive a new sanction and a deeper sanctification, in the light of modern learning, or that learning would prove only preliminary to the ruin of India.
But he never made the mistake of thinking this reconciliation of old and new an easy matter. How to nationalise the modern and modernise the old, so as to make the two one, was a puzzle that occupied much of his time and thought. He rightly saw that only when it had been pieced together, could national education be in a fair way to begin.
The way in which the existing obligations of Hindu life might be re-interpreted to include the whole of the modern conception of duty to country and history, suddenly struck him one day, and he exclaimed “How much you might do, with those five Yajnas!* What great things might be made of them!”
The light had broken in a flash, but it did not leave him. He took up the thread of the idea, and went into every detail. “Out of that old ancestor-pu/a, you might create Hero-worship.”
“In the worship of the gods, you must of course use images. But you can change these. Kali need not always be in one position. Encourage your girls to think of new ways of picturing Her. Have a hundred different conceptions of Saraswati. Let them draw and model and paint their own ideas.”
“In the chapel, the pitcher on the lowest step of the altar, must be always full of water, and the lights – in great Tamil butter-lamps – must be always burning. If, in addition, the maintenance of perpetual adoration could be organised, nothing could be more in accord with Hindu feeling.”
“But the ceremonies employed must themselves be Vedic. There must be a Vedic altar, on which at the hour of worship to light the Vedic fire. And the children must be present to share in the service of oblation. This is a rite which would claim the respect of the whole of India.”
“Gather all sorts of animals about you. The cow makes a fine beginning. But you will also have dogs and cats and birds and others. Let the children have a time for going to feed and look after these.”
“Then there is the sacrifice of learning. That is the most beautiful of all. Do you know that every book is holy, in India? Not the Vedas alone, but the English and Mohammedan also? All are sacred.”
“Revive the old arts. Teach your girls fruit-modelling with hardened milk. Give them artistic cooking and sewing. Let them learn painting, photography, the cutting of designs in paper, and gold and silver filigree and embroidery. See that everyone knows something by which she can earn a living, in case of need.”
“And never forget Humanity! The idea of a humanitarian man-worship exists in nucleus in India, but it has never been sufficiently specialised. Let your women develop it. Make poetry, make art, of it. Yes, a daily worship of the feet of beggars, after bathing and before the meal, would be a wonderful practical training of heart and hand together. On some days, again, the worship might be of children, of your own pupils. Or you might borrow babies, and nurse and feed them. What was it that Mataji said to me? ‘Swamiji! I have no help. But these blessed ones I worship, and they will take me to salvation!’ She feels, you see, that she is serving Uma in the Kumari, and that is a wonderful thought, with which to begin a school.”
* These are: (1) to the Rishis, by learning; (2) to the Ancestors, by family honour (3) to the Gods, by religion; (4) to the Animals; and (5) to Mankind. These five sacrifices are to be performed daily by every Hindu
But while he was thus prepared to work out the minuti& of the task of connecting old and new, it remained always true that the very presence of the Swami acted in itself as a key to the ideal, putting into direct relation with it every sincere effort that one encountered. It was this that made evident to the crudest eye the true significance of ancient rites. It was this that gave their sudden vividness and value to the fresh applications made spontaneously by modernised Hindus.
Thus the reverence of a great Indian man of science for the heroes and martyrs of European science, seemed but the modern form of the ancient salutation of the masters. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake without regard to its concrete application, seemed an inevitable greatness in the race that had dreamt of Jnanam. Serene indifference to fame and wealth proved only that a worker was spiritually the monk, though he might be playing the part of citizen and house-holder.
Of this element in his own life, by which all else that was noble and heroic was made into a recognition, a definite illustration, of an ideal already revealed, the Swami was of course unconscious. Yet this was, as one imagines, the very quintessence of his interpretative power. With regard to the details of his educational suggestions, their pedagogic soundness had always been startling to me.
Nor did I feel that this had been accounted for, even when he told me of a certain period of hardship and struggle, when he had undertaken to translate Herbert Spencer’s ‘Education’ into Bengali, and had gone on, becoming interested in the subject, to read all he could find about Pestalozzi also, ‘though that was not in the bond.’
In fact so deeply is the Hindu versed in psychological observation, and so perfect an example of the development of faculty has he always before him, in the religious practices of his people, that he enters the field of educational theory with immense advantages. Nor is there any reason why the very centre of scientific thought on the subject should not someday be found with him.
Meanwhile, the first step towards so desired a consummation will lie in apprehending the vast possibilities of existing formula. Indian educators have to extend and fulfil the vision of Vivekananda. When this is done, when to his reverence and love for the past, we can add his courage and hope for the future, and his allegiance to the sacredness of all knowledge, the time will not be far distant that is to see the Indian woman take her rightful place amongst the womanhood of the world.