“Our Greatest National Sin” by Sw. Vivekananda

Nandalal Bose, Mother and Child

In this essay, Swamiji enjoins Indians to unite in loving brotherhood in protection of their sisters, wives, and daughters. He emphasizes that the uplift of India is impossible so long as the nation’s leaders ignore the inherent worth of women and the poor. The causes of their ongoing oppression lie in foreign conquests, the dishonoring of womanhood (shakti), the abuse of caste, and above all, materialism. The “don’t touchism” of puritannical untouchability is the bane of India’s progress, Swamiji argued; “The chief cause of India’s ruin has been the monopolising of the whole education and intelligence of the land, by dint of pride and royal authority, among a handful of men…Ay, in this country of ours, the very birthplace of the Vedanta, our masses have been hypnotised for ages into that state. To touch them is pollution, to sit with them is pollution! […]” It does not help if we think of women as polluting agents, as “‘despicable worms,’ ‘gateways to hell,’ and so forth.” His guru, Sri Ramakrishna, though advising chastity to his fellow sanyasins, always said that all women, irrespective of class, religion, or caste, are manifestations of the Divine Mother, Shakti. Affirming this truth, Vivekananda avers, “The Lord has said, “Thou are the woman, Thou art the man, Thou are the boy and the girl as well. And we on our part are crying, –‘Be off, thou outcaste!’–Who has made the bewitching woman?” (Our Greatest National Sin, Rebuild India)

As a result of man’s surrender to the lower instincts, the caste system has been exploited for personal and familial gain in India, particularly in the modern period. For instance, even as the Brahmin, the teacher of teachers, is held as the ideal of humanity in Vedic Hinduism, Swamiji points out that “in Travancore, the most priest-ridden country in India–where every bit of land is owned by Brahmins,” prompting mass conversions to Islam and Christianity amongst the masses. Kerala, he maintained, was a “madhouse of castes,” with each caste being subdivided into even minute “high” and “low” sub-castes within castes (OGNS). He points out that in cases of egregious land-grubbing and abuse of the downtrodden, the upper castes amongst the Hindus behaved like the “Pharisees and Saduccees,” incapable of seeing that every man, woman, and child is a soul, and thus, an aspect of Brahman, as the Hindu scriptures affirm (OGNS).

Mahaprabhu Chaitanya, Nandalal Bose
Nandalal Bose, Esraj Player

The problem, he concluded, was not the caste system, which is merely a way of dividing work, but the absence of love and an utter disregard of the inherent dignity of every form of labor that contributes to the welfare of all in India, whether one is a raja or a chandala, a businessman or a bhangi, a scientist or a shoe-maker. As he puts it, “I can mend a pair of old shoes, but that is no reason why you are greater than I, for can you mend my shoes? You are clever in reading Vedas, but that is no reason why you should trample on,my head. Why if one commits murder should he be praised, and if another steal an apple why should he be hanged?

Nandalal Bose, The Bangle Seller

This will have to go. If you teach Vedanta to the fisherman, he will say, I am a fisherman, you are a philosopher, but I have the same God in me as you have in you” (The Nation Lives in Cottages). It is this mutual recognition, as co-workers in the kingdom of heaven on earth that we want, as African-American writer James Baldwin puts it. Swamji clarifies his ideal for rebuilding India in this image of Shakti in the following terms: “no privilege for any one, equal chances for all,” with everyone being taught that the divine is within, and every one will work out his own salvation.”

One finds striking parallels in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideals for the uplift of black America; Dr. King points out in his great sermon, delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” “If it is for the uplifting of humanity, it has cosmic significance, however small it is. If you are called to a little job, seek to do it in a big way. If your life’s work is confined to the ordinary, seek to do it in an extraordinary way. If you discover that you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michaelangelo painted pictures, like Beethoven composed music, and like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well’” (King, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” 24 January 1954). Indeed, Dr. King’s wife, the honorable Coretta Scott King, became a disciple of Sw. Vivekananda, remarking that Swamiji had delivered “the most definitive statement of religious tolerance and interfaith unity in history.” Under her leadership, the King Center observed the Centenary of the World Parliament of Religions in 1993, which included an interfaith tribute at the United Nations. On this auspicious occasion, she recalled her husbands words in affirmation of Vivekananda’s message to America and the world, noting that “My husband, Martin Luther Jr. said “Our loyalties must become ecumenical, rather than sectional…This called for world-wide fellowship is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all..that force which all the greatest religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”

Letter from Corretta Scott King to Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of new York, Interfaith Tribute at the United Nations
Nandalal Bose, Tiller of the Soil

“It was the Brahmins,” Sw. Vivekananda, himself of the scribal and ministerial Kayastha caste, acknowledges, “who made a monopoly of the religious books and kept the question of sanction and prohibition in their own hands. And repeatedly calling the other races of India low and vile, they put this belief into their heads that they were really such” (OGNS). Rather than opposing the division of social labor altogether, which would leave India wide open for chaos and conquest, he recommends that aptitude for certain forms of labor are inherent to every human being and in recognizing these aptitudes in all irrespective of their caste position, each individual can rise higher in proportion to his learning and culture. He points out in another essay, “The Nation Lives in Cottages” that “when he is engaged in serving another for pay, he is in Shudrahood; when he is busy transacting some business for profit, on his own account, he is a Vaishya; when he fights to right wrongs, then the qualities of a Kshatriya come out in him; and when he meditates on God, or passes his time in conversation about Him, then he is a Brahmin” (TNLIC). While these duties have been obscured by the vanity of caste pride and the dint of materialism in this Kali Yuga, particularly in the wake of Western imperialism, Vivekananda points out that in truth, “it is quite possible for one to be changed from one caste into another. Otherwise, how did Vishvamitra become a Brahmin and Parashurama a Kshatriya? The son of a Brahmin is not necessarily always a Brahmin; though there is every possibility of his being one, he may not become so” (TNLIC). Social division of labor is obviously necessary for the organization of society and the progress of civilization, Vivekananda suggests. It is the motive which produces the quality of the action, which may be good or bad depending on how one performs one’s duty and for whom, the highest purpose being, the service of the God in Man, for each soul is potentially divine. When the motives of men are purified such that the aim is mutual service to mankind, caste is not inherently evil, and certainly preferable to the materialistic and color-based caste system of Western imperialism, which presumes all those not possessed of the boon of fair skin, “weak’ and “subject” races.

These points are echoed by Gandhiji, who said that the four varnas mark out “four universal occupations,” which include imparting knowledge (the office of the teacher), defending the defenseless (the duty of the warrior), carrying on agriculture and commerce (the role of the farmer and husbandman), and performing service through physical labour (the role of service and industry). While these occupations are common to all settled civilizations, like the Egyptians, Greeks, the Sumerians, the Chinese, and the Romans since its origins amongst humanity,

Bullfighter, Nandalal Bose

Gandhi underscored that Hinduism was amongst the first religions of the world to conceive of the four varnas–the four major orders of human labor comprised of the teachers and priests; the rulers,warriors, administrators; the agriculturalists and merchants; and the laborers and service providers–as the guiding purpose of our work in this fleeting world. The varna system was a way of regulating social relations, ensure production and survival, and promote good conduct and the cultivation of knowledge in human society. However, Gandhiji points out, like Swamiji, that “When Hindus were seized with inertia, abuse of varna resulted in innumerable castes, with unnecessary and harmful restrictions as to inter-marriage and inter-dining. These restrictions may be necessary in the interest of chastity and hygiene. But a Brahmana who marries a Shudra girl, or vice versa, commits no offence against the law of varnas. (Young India, 4-6-1931, p129). Gandhi did not, therefore, see the caste system, a form of social organization, as the cause of untouchability; rather the cause of untouchability was hatred, hypocrisy, greed, and rigidity. As he puts it, in 1933, “Untouchability is the product, therefore, not of the caste system, but of the distinction of high and low that has crept into Hinduism and is corroding it. The attack on untouchability is thus an attack upon this ‘high-and-low’-ness. The moment untouchability goes, the caste system itself will be purified, that is to say, according to my dream, it will resolve itself into the true Varnadharma, the four division of society, each complementary of the other and none inferior or superior to any other, each as necessary for the whole body of Hinduism as any other. (Harijan, 11-2-1933, p3).

Chaitanya and Haridas, Nandalal Bose

Likewise, Swamiji pointed out that “The degeneration of India came not because the laws and customs of the ancients were bad, but because they were not allowed to be carried to their legitimate conclusions” (TNLIC). He maintained that “Our castes and our institutions…have been necessary to protect us as a nation, and when this necessity of self-preservation will no more exist, they will die a natural death,” adding that “Indian caste is better than the caste system which prevails in Europe or America,” where society is organized on the basis of the color line and the worth of a person is defined in terms of their material wealth.

Sw. Vivekananda ends the following essay, “Our Greatest National Sin,” with a piece of advice that may prove crucial to the development of twenty-first century India, a land where religion continues to animate the movement of civilization even as the lure of a deadening neo-utilitarian materialism, and an empty, self-seeking, neo-liberal secularism encroaches upon its spiritual inheritance. Those seeking to profit from India’s misery, those who see no respite beyond the sense-objects will only see poverty and squalor when they look upon India, only see her in terms of her putative lack, “Because in their minds enlightenment means dress, education, social politeness.” However, “Utilitarian standards cannot explain the ethical relations of men, for, in the first place, we cannot derive any ethical laws from considerations of utility.” So long as the ideals of a civilization are bound by such finite and limited parameters, it will remain stagnant, incapable of transcending its own ego. Does the dress of a man have any bearing on his character? Is it not ludicrous to judge the greatness of Bhagvan Ramakrishna, a God-man scantily clad in but a few folds of fabric, by his dress? Moreover, what is an education but the enlightenment of the soul, which is beyond this “two-days life,” this body, which is but a few pounds of ashes, as Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother so often said? What is politeness, that distinctive hallmark of civilization, but the “beauty of conduct” as Rabindranath Tagore reminds us in Creative Unity? If we follow these ideals of development, we will be led to believe that the apparent is the real and the real, that is the Effulgent One, the One without a Second, is unreal. After attending school as a child, Sri Ramakrishna quickly discovered that most secular education was about money-making rather than God realization, assimilation to the false notion that this world and the perceptions we receive through our senses is reality, rather than a distortion of it. He did not bother with the study of letters much and in his short earthly life, he gained the discipleship of some of the greatest thinkers of the modern world.

Never mind these illusions, says Swamiji! The wealth of India’s spiritual inheritance as Shankaracharya opined, is endless. However, there are “two curses” we must reverse through sincere devotion and renunciation in order to renew our commitment to this ideal, which has its basis, the concept of infinity and oneness: “first, our weakness, secondly, our hatred, our dried-up hearts.” We may talk of scientific, theological, artistic, doctrines by the millions, till we are blue in the face, splinter into warring sects “by the hundreds of millions,” and yet, nothing will manifest, until we “have heart to feel” for fellow brothers and sisters. “Feel for them as your Veda teaches,” Swamiji sang, “till you find they are parts of your own bodies, till you realise that you and they, the poor and the rich, the saint and the sinner, are all parts of the One Infinite Whole, which you call Brahma.”

Introductory essay by R. Divya Nair


I consider that the great national sin is the neglect of the masses, and that is one of the causes of our downfall. In India there are two great evils. Trampling on the women and grinding the poor through caste restrictions […]

Sw, Vivekananda, Sw. Tadatmananda

Those uncared-for lower classes of India–the peasants and weavers and the rest, who hae been conquered by foreigners and are looked down upon by their own people–it is they who from time immemorial have been working silently, without even getting the remuneration of their labors.

Where are they through whose physical labour only are possible the influence of the Brahmin, the prowess of the Kshatriya, and the fortune of the Vaishya? What is their history , who, bbeing the real body of society, are designated at all time in all countries as ‘base-born’? Ye labouring classes of India, as a result of your silent, constant labours, Babylon, Persia, Alexandria, Greece, Rome, Venice, Genoa, Baghdad, Samarqand, Spain, Portugal, France, Denmark, Holland, and England have successively attained supremacy and eminence! And you?– Well, who cares to think of you?

Engrossed in the struggle for existence, they had not the opportunity for the awakening of knowledge. They have worked so long uniformly like machines guided by human intelligence and the clever educated section have taken the substantial part of the fruits of their labour. In every country, this has been the case. But times have changed. The lower classes are gradually awakening to this fact and making a united front against this, determined to exact their legitimate dues […]

The root of all evils in India is the condition of the poor…Priest-power and foreign conquest have trodden them down for centuries, and at last the poor of India have forgotten that they are human beings….The poor, the low, the sinner in India have no friends, no help–they cannot rise, try however they may. They sink lower and lower every day, they feel the blows showered upon them by a cruel society, and they do not know whence the blow comes. They have been compelled to be merely hewers of wood and drawers of water for centuries, so much so, that they are made to believe that they are born as slaves, born as hewers of wood and drawers of water […]

The mass of Brahmin and Kshatriya tyranny has recoiled upon their own heads with compound interest; and a thousand years of slavery and degradation is what the inexorable law of Karma is visiting upon them.

They who sucked the life-blood of the poor, whose very education was at their expense, whose very power was built on their poverty, were in their turn sold as slaves by hundreds and thousands, their wives and daughters dishonored, their property robbed for the las 1,000 years and do you think it was for no cause? […]

If anybody is born of a low caste in our country, he is gone for ever, there is no hope for him. And come and see…in Travancore, the most priest-ridden country in India–where every bit of land is owned by Brahmins…nearly one-fourth has become Christian! Just see, for want of sympathy from the Hindus, thousands of Pariahs in Madras are turning Christians. Don’t think this is simply due to the pinch of hunger; it is because they do not get any sympathy from us.

Why amongst the poor of India so many are Mohammedans? It is nonsense to say, they were converted by the sword. It was to gain their liberty from the…zemindars, and from the…priest, and as a consequence, you find in Bengal there are more Mohammedans than Hindus amongst the cultivators, because there were so many zemindars there.

Who reduced the Bhangis and the Pariahs to their present degraded condition? Who is responsible? And the answer comes every time; Not the English, no, they are not responsible; it is we who are responsible for all our misery and all our degradation, and we alone are responsible. It is the Pharisees and Sadducees in Hinduism, hypocrites, who invent all sorts of engines of tyranny in the shape of doctrines of Paramarthika and Vyavaharike […]

We speak of many things parrot-like, but never do them; speaking and not doing has become a habit with us. What is the cause of that? Physical weakeness. That physical weakness is the cause of at least one-third of our miseries. We are lazy, we cannot work; we cannot combine, we do not love each other; we are intensely selfish, not three of us can come together without hating each other, without being jealous of each other […]

Our nation is totally lacking in the faculty of organisation. It is this one drawback which produces all sorts of evil. We are altogether averse to making a common cause for anything. The first requisite for organisation is obedience.

There are two curses here: first, our weakness, secondly, our hatred, our dried-up hearts. You may talk doctrines by the millions, you may have sects by the hundreds of millions; ay, but it is nothing until you have heart to feel. Feel for them as your Veda teaches, till you find they are parts of your own bodies, till you realise that you and they, the poor and the rich, the saint and the sinner, are all parts of the One Infinite Whole, which you call Brahma.

From Sw. Vivekananda Rebuild India

Portrait of Nandalal Bose, artist and freedom fighter

Bose was a key figure in the Indian Satyagraha for Freedom, pupil of Abindranath Tagore, and Gandhi’s favorite artist. He also sketched the emblems for the Government of India’s awards, including the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Shri, per Nehru’s request, in addition to decorating the Constitution of India

Mahatma Gandhi in Sudan

“In 1935, Mahatma Gandhi stopped over in Port Sudan (on his way to England through sea) and was welcomed by the Indian community there. In 1938, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru stopped over in Port Sudan on his way to Britain and was hosted through a function at the home of Chhotalal Samji Virani. The Graduates General Congress of Sudan formed in 1938 drew heavily on the experience of the Indian National Congress.”

“British Indian troops fought alongside Sudanese in Eritrea in 1941 winning the decisive battle of Keren (Bengal Sappers won a Victoria Cross for mine clearance in Metemma, now on the Sudan-Ethiopia border). The Sudan Block at India’s National Defence Academy was partly funded with a gift of one hundred thousand pounds from the Sudanese Government in recognition of the sacrifices of Indian troops in the liberation of Sudan in the North African Campaign during World War II.”

“At the 1955 Bandung Conference, the delegation from a still not independent Sudan did not have a flag to mark its place. Taking out his handkerchief, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote “Sudan” on it, thus reserving a place for Sudan in the international community.”

Source: http://www.eoikhartoum.gov.in/India-Sudan-Bilateral-Brief.php

Ahimsa as a Science Of Love and Social Action

Impure means result in an impure end. Hence, prince and the peasant will not be equaled by cutting off the prince’s head, nor can the process of cutting off equalize the employer and the employed. One cannot reach truth by untruthfulness. Truthful conduct alone can reach truth.


The artist of this untitled piece, K.H. Ara, was a satyagrahi who was imprisoned for his participation in the famous Salt Satyagraha. The production of salt, a dietary staple, was heavily taxed by the British colonial administration. Satyagrahis marched for nearly a month on foot to the sea. More than 80, 000 were arrested. Not a single weapon was in their hands. Martin Luther King Jr. would preach about Gandhi’s strategy and leadership of the Salt March upon his return to the United States from his trip to the Land Of Gandhi in a sermon entitled “Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi remarking

And you have read of the Salt March, which was a very significant thing in the Indian struggle. And this demonstrates how Gandhi used this method of nonviolence and how he would mobilize his people and galvanize the whole of the nation to bring about victory. In India, the British people had come to the point where they were charging the Indian people a tax on all of the salt, and they would not allow them even to make their own salt from all of the salt seas around the country. They couldn’t touch it; it was against the law. And Gandhi got all of the people of India to see the injustice of this. And he decided one day that they would march from Ahmadabad down to a place called Dandi.

We had the privilege of spending a day or so at Ahmadabad at that Sabarmati ashram, and we stood there at the point where Gandhi started his long walk of two hundred and eighteen miles. And he started there walking with eighty people. And gradually the number grew to a million, and it grew to millions and millions. And finally, they kept walking and walking until they reached the little village of Dandi. And there, Gandhi went on and reached down in the river, or in the sea rather, and brought up a little salt in his hand to demonstrate and dramatize the fact that they were breaking this law in protest against the injustices they had faced all over the years with these salt laws.

Gandhi’s method of protest, it should be remembered, was a scientific method based on sociology, psychology, law, economics, as well as theology. It draws on all these methods of knowing the truth in order to heal the human personality, which he recognized had become inured to the notion that it is human nature to be violent. Like Socrates, who averred that humanity tended towards justice rather than injustice, love rather than hatred, Gandhi too maintained that in the end, any Republic founded on the “interest of the stronger” would not last, for the arc of the moral universe, as Dr. King also said, bends towards justice. Such is the genius of Gandhiji’s science of Ahimsa, which, he insisted, was the science of love. Love strives to rise above nature, to transform nature in its image. Gandhi, it should be noted, took love as a force in the universe, as an animating primum mobile capable of effecting measurable change in the order of universe. In the Salt Satyagraha, we see a concrete social example of human action anchored in the philosophy of Ahimsa; the Indian people transmute the quotient of their moral discipline and physical suffering into energy that is in turn dedicated to the production of a necessity seized by the imperialist. satyagraha is rooted in renunciation and self-sacrifice, which is a philosophical idea integral to the practice of Hinduism. This forceful collective renunciation powered the movement for swaraj because in impelling the masses to forego attachment to their physical reality even unto death, Gandhi emphasized that they would be redeemed in the love of their children for whom they struggled.

The soul-force is infinitely greater than the physical form and the revolutionary, in particular, must learn this truth if he or she is striving to overcome the fear of death, which is really a fear of love because if we love from the soul force we will know that we never truly die. We we will return again and again, like the universe sucking into itself until at last we are at the center of that which is changeless, formless, that which is beyond space, time, and causality, the perfect stillness which the Christians call the peace which passeth understanding and the Hindus call Brahman, which represents the totality of the soul force.

As an energetic force, love represents more than willpower for Gandhi as Schoepenhauer had claimed; rather, love is an acknowledgement of the ephemerality of the physical form itself; it can work as a physical principle because it cuts across time. It is the understanding that desire produces suffering and that we are responsible for our misery because we are too attached to our material life at the grave expense of our spiritual life. Consequently, we are bound to the rigors of mortality, bogged down by the petty crimes and frustrations of everyday life which keep us further distracted from the truth: that all is maya and that in truth, we are energetic forms that are merely taking new shape and new intervals navigating the great force field that is the universe. We depend on light for life but where does it come from and does it come from us, if the kingdom of God is inside us? The search for “scientific truth” has taken modern Western man outward; and yet as our sages and leaders have told us, to seek truth, we must indeed go inward–the inward journey, in the words of the great Howard Thurman. In the form of Hinduism Vivekananda emphasized, when one escapes rebirth, one returns to complete unity with the universal soul or the Atman. In truth, he argues, we are all perfect; it is just that we have become inured to ignorance as a result of our attachment to illusions of reality. To truly achieve the freedom of the soul, both Gandhi and Vivekananda suggest, one must overcome these illusions and confront the truth of one’s soul force. The soul force is ancient as it is new. It represents the embedded unity of past, present, and future because it is time itself. Time would not exist without the soul in this epistemology for it is the karma of the soul which impels causality in time-space.

The Salt Satyagraha reveals that Ahimsa is more than a concept: it is an actual perception capable of being shared by a large mass of people and uniting them in common purpose and action, in karma and dharma. It represents a new epistemology that compels man to overcome the brute in him by recognizing the grand illusions and painful distortions of reality that hold us in bondage to suffering.

Fundamental to the Gandhian epistemology is a rejection of the rigid empiricism characteristic of Western science. Rather, it embraces the central message of peace underlying all of the world’s religions and sees them as temporally dialogical to Science. We might remember here that even Western science began in African and Asian religious and scientific texts, which acknowledged, as it is revealed in the Vedas, the unity in the plurality of forms. The distinction that has arisen between Religion and Science in the West is dispelled in the thought of Vivekananda and Gandhi, revealed as something of a false dichotomy, for the real question is the relation of humanity to nature and this question takes us to both science and religion; this theoretical legacy is indebted to with the teachings of the Vedanta as well as the sacred texts of other religions.However, this idea of non-injury as the highest ideal of civilization is reiterated most impactfully in the modern epoch in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his greatest disciple Swami Vivekananda, both of whom Gandhiji admired greatly. Again, we are entering a new epistemology here because historically in the West Science has been emptied of moral purpose and Religion has unfortunately been declared, even by great social scientists like Marx, as a deviation from scientific truth. Like Vivekananda, who insisted upon the unity of all of the world’s religions, Gandhi recognizes “a perfect unity in the plurality of designs.” Thus he did not see a contradiction between Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths and science. It is for this reason that he defends his theory of Ahimsa as scientific; as he maintained

Nevertheless, I do feel, as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is not a blind law, for no blind law can govern the conduct of living being and thanks to the marvelous researches of Sir J. C. Bose it can now be proved that even matter is life

Salt of the earth

The Heroism of Satyagraha

Our heroes must be spiritual.

–Swami Vivekananda

What does the method and philosophy of Satyagraha reveal? It exposes the heart of human nature, in all of its contradictions. The law of satyagraha compels us to act with soul force, which necessitates activation of our soul memory, our spirit consciousness.

If it follows that we were still born though we do not remember our babyhood, then it is also true that our soul-force stores memories from many lifetimes through which we have traveled. Just because we do not remember our babyhood, for example, does not mean we did not exist. This line of thought was illumined in the teachings of Swami Vivekananda; it also drove the pedagogy of Gandhiji’s satyagraha. the soul is infinite, a persistent energetic impulse perambulating the universe. It merely changes form as it morphs through time. Moksha, when the soul liberates itself from rebirth, is not unlike supernova. The soul achieves unity with space and time and does not need to resolve its contradictions in earthly life; it is free to join with Brahman. The soul-force or the Atman is our direct connection to the force we know as God or Brahman. This is why those souls who attain this unity with Brahman, mahasamadhi, escape the illusion of physical life and experience a perfect bliss. It is the peace of godly love, the peace which transcends understanding as posited in Christian doctrine.

In satyagraha, the soul force must be compelled to take refuge in this truth: that the soul being eternal, the body is merely a vessel, as frail as it is powerful. This realization gives the satyagrahi immense soul confidence, the authority to act with the superhuman courage that brings forth the great men and women of an epoch. The soul is time itself, for it bears a record of its rebirths and so is conscious of its antiquity and its future at the same time. It is a force in the universe comparable to other forces such as gravity.

If it follows that the purpose of human civilization is to evolve a culture of absolute peace, in our progress from our primitive origins, then ahimsa or the way of non-violence that is revealed when one seeks the truth of the soul force is the only pathway forward in a time that desperately demands such soul-awakening. Satyagraha is often portrayed as a weaker cousin of the “real” revolution. However, lest we misconstrue its true intent: satyagraha is entirely active if we take human will and conscience to be acting forces in nature.

Satyagraha thus demands a fierce courage and loyalty to the call of soul-truth, which may necessitate imperilment even of the physical body in the fight, paradoxically, to save one’s soul. The satyagrahi’s consciousness of her capacity to renounce the law of self-preservation and embrace self-immolation creates the courage to sacrifice even the body if necessary in the pursuit of love, freedom, and justice. The soul is not free in conditions where untruth and decadence prevail.

The soul force then is the voice within us that cries out for justice of God, an seething energy capable of defeating the evil lurking in the heart of man. it compels us to be killed rather than be moved to kill ourselves. We have been taught in Western civilization that the drives of human nature cannot be overcome, that we are victims of our natures, that the causes of our problems are due to external rather than internal factors. In this paradigm, desire becomes misconstrued as need and we are forever using this tragic misconception to justify the illusion of reality that keeps us trapped behind loveless masks. We are trapped because we are afraid to let go and because we are afraid to let go, we cannot love. We become stronger when we learn to discern the differences between one and the other, between genuine need and frivolous desire.

Western psychoanalysis holds that we cannot overcome our base instincts due to certain uncontrollable factors or complexes that mandate certain inevitabilities in our social relations to each other. Consequently, the allegories of Oedipus and Electra are invoked to justify certain sexual impulses in man and woman. And yet, what of those who manage to transcend such impulses through the unity of mind and heart?… Pained by the condition of his people, Gandhiji began to ask himself how he could change the capricious heart of man. He did not find answers in Freud (neither did Dr. King, interestingly). Rather, he turned to scripture, producing copious translations and notes of the Gita, the Bible, The Quran, and other gospels. Slowly, he began to see that the only way he could change the world was by changing himself.

We remain victims in the Western conception of reality and human nature because we are forever blaming forces beyond ourselves instead of taking charge of our inner drives, which more often than not lead us astray from the marrow of existence, which is the soul-force or prana. The psychoanalytic seems an impoverished view of the human personality to me; we are human precisely because we take responsibility, on our best days, for our actions. Human beings are also capable of transcending their conditions. A poor man can make something of nothing; genius overcomes struggle by gaining mastery of it; both a rich man and a poor man can be enslaved to their natures.

Taking responsibility requires humility and patience with one’s limitations. It takes immense inner strength and willpower to say no to that which restricts one’s growth and well-being. It takes greater strength to exemplify in your response to this force, whose origin is the fiend who roams the world bloodlustily, that you will not mimic his behavior and dishonor your soul force by retaliating.

In your resistance to evil, however, you must paradoxically not resist and so this is why Jesus said resist not evil. Only the ancient sages and prophets have managed to detach from maya, the illusion that keeps us attached to the physical body. we must overcome these lower urges which today most tragically suffuse the values of a decaying Western empire. Like the Buddha, Mohandas K. Gandhi saw the profound misery accompanying the self-indulgence of worldliness. He sought to educate, clothe, and feed the sons and daughters of India. He strove mightily to cure the blight of caste oppression. He fought to free the soul of India from the unbearable agony of three hundred years of imperialism, which had orchestrated immense suffering in India. Under the English, Bharat Mata was raped and exploited, her wealth looted, her education neglected and her future darkened. Pained by the condition of his people, Gandhiji began to ask himself how he could change the capricious heart of man. Slowly, he began to see that the only way he could change the world was by changing himself. This is why he renounced meat, sex, wealth, luxury, and other distractions which keep us attached to the illusions we tragically mistake for reality.

Like Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji’s renunciations awakened the West as the Buddha had awakened the East. In the United States, the African-American people who were making triumphs in their long march to freedom began to hear of Gandhiji’s political agitations in South Africa as well as India. Many African-American leaders, like Howard Thurman, Benjamin E. Mays, William Nelson, and James Lawson, would make pilgrimages to study the Indian anti-colonial movement and the power of the soul-force in the progress of our struggle. They shared with Indians the spirituals of their church, many met with Gandhiji, others organized their people using methods they learned during their pilgrimage. Musicians like Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, and others riffed and improvised on the Eastern theme, awakening the slumbering spirit of the Afro-Asiatic sound. Black universities began teaching courses on satyagraha and Ahimsa as political tactics in the struggle for civil rights. In a manifestation of Gandhi’s prophecy to Howard Thurman that it would be through the American Negro that the the message of non-violence would bear fruit, black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama committed satyagraha by refusing to ride the segregated bus lines. And so, Sermon on the Mount united with the eternal Song of the Gita yielding to satyagraha in America.

Love Songs for the Prince Of Peace

I. Prelude: the Search

Your smile is warming and knowing;

It traps me like magnolias writhing

against a garden gate. You lure me,

in your promise of love lingering,

the greatness of love.

For you, the marshland sings with frogs,

Turning a sharp green at the last wane of dusk,

all quietly beckoning the truth of the lucid night;

when death’s boatmen roam and deal in their deathly trades,


beauty is a dark woman’s eyes


against the moon of the waning night.

II. Encomium: May I never stray far from your lotus feet, my Lord!

Dare I share my wrongest deeds with your privy ear, so that love once more beckons near: men fear seed sprouting, shaking itself into blossoming life,

these truths are chastened like my trespassing lips against the chastity of thine.

I loved you like petals struggling to stay open amidst late summer grasses,

if I have seen you in a blade of grass, I have also seen you in a lump of clay, And if I have seen you thus tightly coiled in nature, I have seen myself,

for I am one and the same, when found in the splendor of you.

now the time of letter-writing has passed and we are left with that haunting,

that pausing, heaving, that fever in the matter, that prayerful jaunting,

that chitter chatter and pitter patter,

of the voice that says thou shall not get caught,

the warm embrace of the law that says thou shall not be bought,

By the graves of the lost and in the arms of the longing, I sing this song:

Oh man, you are meant for greater things than war,

And so May I never stray far from thy Lotus Feet, my Lord.

III. Coda:

love is like the slow roll of a tabla gliding across a taal; in the monsoon,

it shakes itself free like a wet branch, sagging with the weight of rain,

in the winter it burrows underground,

like a rich vegetable vein

the pain of losing it escapes me,

a whispering wind in midnight forest, when sweet rapture cuts

like violin bow against supine string,

in perfect subjection shall I sing hymns of joy in the city of gods.

Like the seed sprouting in this Bitter Earth is your Love


spring, purple like the cabbage in a secret garden,

ancient and new, it awakens long slumbering souls, shaking them to life with the passion of its bodiless consummation, its timeless consciousness.

Losing it is like

losing a needle in the haystack;

We are forever in search to stitch ourselves back together again.

Pattachitra art form, artist unknown

Letter to the students and faculty of Vanderbilt Divinity School about the expulsion of James Lawson, March 15, 1960


March 15, 1960
To the Faculty and Students of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School:
We, faculty members and students of the Yale University Divinity
School Association, are deeply concerned with the events that have
recently placed you in a position of difficult decision and decisive
witness. We fully support you in your protests against the action of
the Executive Committee of the Board of Trust, by which the Reverend
James . Lawson was expelled, and in your continuing to work constructively in the situation.
We consider the action of the Executive Committee in the expulsion
of Mr. Lawson to be unjust. We feel that the position to which Vanderbilt
University has been committed by the action of these officials stands in
stark contrast to the respect which the University has come to command.
Furthermore, we consider that the decision of the Executive Committee
was based upon a prejudgment of legal transgression on the part of the.
defendant, before any final verdict has been rendered by the courts.
Also involved, we feel, was a violation “of the right of the Divinity
School faculty to be fully consulted in the case.
While it is impossible for us to judge from here the complexity
of your situation, we can and do, unequivocally and wholeheartedly,
support the right for non-violent public protest when basic human
rights are ‘ violated. It is our conviction that the right of peaceful
protest is a necessary right in any democracy, and that any denial of
the free exercise o this right to any individual inevitably works
damage upon the very structure of democracy. Still more, the witness
of the Church is severely handicapped by such attempts to limit the
free exercise of Christian conscience. Under such limitation theological education is threatened with shallowness and irrelevance.

Specifically, we recognize the terrible plight in which the
Negro citizens of the United States have been kept, and we deplore
the fact that widespread demonstrations have currently become necessary in order for men to seek justice. We admire the courageous action that men have taken in order to call attention to injustice and their willingness to submit to the consequences of this action. In this matter of racial inequality we stand judged with our society,
and we also feel urgently called upon to act in a responsible manner.

Thus we, in our common brotherhood as Christians, make ourselves
available for whatever concrete assistance we can render. To this
end we would appreciate any specific suggestions and further information regarding current developments. Please know that, with continued concern, we keep you in our prayers.
For the Association*
Merle Allshouse, President

Mahatma Gandhi on Satanic Civilization

IT IS my firm belief that Europe today represents not the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan. And Satan’s successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips. Europe is today only nominally Christian. In reality, it is worshipping Mammon.

Young India, 8-9-1920

Neither railways nor hospitals are a test of a high and pure civilization. At best they are a necessary evil. Neither adds one inch to the moral stature of a nation.

Young India, 26-1-1921

I wholeheartedly detest this mad desire to destroy distance and time, to increase animal appetites and go to the ends of the earth in search of their satisfaction. If modern civilization stands for all this, and I have understood it to do so, I call it satanic…. 

(YI, 17-3-1927, p. 85)

This industrial civilization is a disease because it is all evil. Let us not be deceived by catchwords and phrases. I have no quarrel with steamships or telegraphs. They may stay, if they can, without the support of industrialism and all that it connotes. They are not an end. We must not suffer exploitation for the sake of steamships and telegraphs. They are in no way indispensable for the permanent welfare of the human race. Now that we know the use of steam and electricity, we should be able to use them on due occasion and after we have learnt to avoid industrialism. Our concern is, therefore, to destroy industrialism at any cost. 

(YI, 7-10-1926, p. 348

A time is coming when those, who are in the mad rush today of multiplying their wants, vainly thinking that they add to the real substance, real knowledge of the world, will retrace their steps and say: ‘What have we done?’ Civilizations have come and gone, and in spite of all our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again, ‘To what purpose?’ Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin, has said the same thing. Fifty years of brilliant inventions and discoveries, he has said, have not added one inch to the moral height of mankind. So said a dreamer and visionary if you will–Tolstoy. So said Jesus, and the Buddha, and Mahomed, whose religion is being denied and falsified in my own country today.

By all means drink deep of the fountains that are given to you in the Sermon on the Mount, but then you will have to take sackcloth and ashes. The teaching of the Sermon was meant for each and every one of us. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. God the Compassionate and the Merciful, Tolerance incarnate, allows Mammon to have his nine day’s wonder. But I say to you…fly from that self-destroying but destructive show of Mammon. 

(YI, 8-12-1927, p. 414)

Formerly, when people wanted to fight with one another, they measured between them their bodily strength; now, it is possible to take away thousands of lives by one man working behind a gun from a hill. This is civilization. Formerly, men worked in open air only as much as they liked. Now thousands of workmen meet together and, for the sake of maintenance, work in factories or mines. Their condition is worse than that of beasts. They are obliged to work, at the risk of their lives, at most dangerous occupations, for the sake of millionaires….This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed. 

HS, pp. 36-37

I would have our leaders teach us to be morally supreme in the world. This land of ours was once, we are told, the abode of the gods. It is not possible to conceive gods inhabiting a land which is made hideous by the smoke and the din of mill chimneys and factories and whose roadways are traversed by rushing engines, dragging numerous cars crowded with men who know not for the most part what they are after, who are often absentminded, and whose tempers do not improve by being uncomfortably packed like sardines in boxes and finding themselves in the midst of utter strangers who would oust them if they could and whom they would, in their turn, oust similarly. I refer to these things because they are held to be symbolical of material progress. But they add not an atom to our happiness. 

(SW, pp. 354-5)

I am humble enough to admit that there is much that we can profitably assimilate from the West. Wisdom is no monopoly of one continent or one race. My resistance to Western civilization is really a resistance to its indiscriminate and thoughtless imitation based on the assumption that Asiatics are fit only to copy everything that comes from the West. I do believe, that if India has patience enough to go through the fire of suffering and to resist any unlawful encroachment upon her own civilization which, imperfect though it undoubtedly is, has hitherto stood the ravages of time, she can make a lasting contribution to the peace and solid progress of the world. 

(YI, 11-8-1927, p. 253)