INDIA DIES NOT

We have an idea that we Indians can do something, and amongst the Indians we Bengalis may laugh at this idea; but I do not. My mission in life is to rouse a struggle in you. Whether you are an Advaitin, whether you are a qualified monist or dualist, it does not matter much. But let me draw your attention to one thing which unfortunately we always forget: that is — “O man, have faith in yourself.” That isle the way by which we can have faith in God. Whether you are an Advaitist or a dualist, whether you are a believer in the system of Yoga or a believer in Shankarâchârya, whether you are a follower of Vyâsa or Vishvâmitra, it does not matter much. But the thing is that on this point Indian thought differs from that of all the rest of the world. Let us remember for a moment that, whereas in every other religion and in every other country, the power of the soul is entirely ignored — the soul is thought of as almost powerless, weak, and inert — we in India consider the soul to be eternal and hold that it will remain perfect through all eternity. We should always bear in mind the teachings of the Upanishads.


Remember your great mission in life. We Indians, and especially those of Bengal, have been invaded by a vast amount of foreign ideas that are eating into the very vitals of our national religion. Why are we so backwards nowadays? Why are ninety-nine per cent of us made up of entirely foreign ideas and elements? This has to be thrown out if we want to rise in the scale of nations. If we want to rise, we must also remember that we have many things to learn from the West. We should learn from the West her arts and her sciences. From the West we have to learn the sciences of physical nature, while on the other hand the West has to come to us to learn and assimilate religion and spiritual knowledge. We Hindu must believe that we are the teachers of the world. We have been clamouring here for getting political rights ant many other such things. Very well. Rights and privileges and other things can only come through friendship, and friendship can only be expected between two equals When one of the parties is a beggar, what friendship can there be? It is all very well to speak so, but I say that without mutual co-operation we can never make ourselves strong men. So, I must call upon you to go out to England and America, not as beggars but as teachers of religion. The law of exchange must be applied to the best of our power. If we have to learn from them the ways and methods of making ourselves happy in this life, why, in return, should we not give them the methods and ways that would make them happy for all eternity? Above all, work for the good of humanity. Give up the so-called boast of your narrow orthodox life. Death is waiting for every one, and mark you this — the most marvellous historical fact — that all the nations of the world have to sit down patiently at the feet of India to learn the eternal truths embodied in her literature. India dies not.

-Swami Vivekananda

Natchiketas and Yama

Hymn to Kali

Mother, if our Soul is Timeless, and its glimmering knowledge of Your eternal existence is Time, then You are keeper of both Time and Timelessness, pirouetting along the outer rim of the great bowl of your starred universe—causeless yet causing and primal yet final. The eternal vibration of your dancing feet pattering reach this little world and beats against my eardrums, as a drummer’s fingers strike a mrindagam, yet it is beyond sound as it is beyond thought, even as the pulsating luminescence of your ever-presence and the long night of your ever-absence is beyond sight.

Ever-seeking our weary soul, you are, ever-knowing its decisions and indecisions, ever-moving through its lifetimes, ever-witnessing our suffering, in your carefully-wrought labyrinth of desire, though it is your compassion that bids us to suffer, to break through the shackles of our bondage.

Atomic Mother, uniting all forms animate and inanimate, your universal light probes all that is near and far, How easily I forget that you are the invisible force running through all, the evidence of things unseen. You are the morning mist rising above a lonely lake in the hills , yet you are also the womb of earth holding lakewater itself, and so too you are the tiny waves created by the skip and shimmy of fish and fowl whose little hearts you now palpitate, now silence; in a flash of your mighty sword you taketh what you maketh.

How like a poem struggling to break free of the chains of mind you are, Mother, a prayer formed against trembling lips in the hour of death and trial, a thought on the precipice of perdition before pen meets paper, a villager’s waving lantern across a wooded path on a winter’s eve, a laughing maid’s lotus footfalls disappearing into the night, a solitary whistle echoing through a forsaken canyon, a madman’s silent elegy to the straitjacket of sanity, a teacher’s infinite mercy on his prodigal student, salvation eddying against sin in a whirlpool of samsara.

inscrutable you are, Mother, hidden in the very beads of time, in the sheath of each atom you hold in place, in-dwelling as the soul of all souls, sometimes breaking forth as a smile on the face of a passer-by, other times climbing out of the pages of a book with your thousand faces and arms, still yet, coloring the tint of a memory pressing against the brain, here, a friend who surrenders to me his last morsel amidst a famine, and there, guiding the kindness of my dearest enemy, and in the long meanwhile of it all, pulsing as the very blood coursing through these veins, simmering as the air in my lungs.

When I gaze into a mirror, you appear through it, impressively strange and yet beloved, as though your countenance were plunging out of its pool of light and meeting mine own, before melting back into the speechless effulgence whence you came, leaving me, leaving me in my own darkness, where your indelible impression nevertheless remains, like lingering birdsong in my child’s mind.

Cosmos in Turiya

Howard Thurman, “Knowledge . . . Shall Vanish Away”

There is a sense of wholeness at the core of man
That must abound in all he does;
That marks with reverence his ev’ry step;
That has its sway when all else fails;
That wearies out all evil things;
That warms the depth of frozen fears
Making friend of foe,
Making love of hate,
And lasts beyond the living and the dead,
Beyond the goals of peace, the ends of war!
This man seeks through all his years:
To be complete and of one piece, within, without.

Portrait of Rev. Howard Thurman

— “Knowledge . . . Shall Vanish Away,” in The Inward Journey

Swami Vivekananda in Egypt

The Egyptians entered into Egypt from a southern country called Punt, across the seas. Some say that that Punt is the modern Malabar, and that the Egyptians and Dravidians belong to the same race. 

“The ship is steadily sailing north. The borders of this Red Sea were a great centre of ancient civilisation. There, on the other side, are the deserts of Arabia, and on this — Egypt. This is that ancient Egypt. Thousands of years ago, these Egyptians starting from Punt (probably Malabar) crossed the Red Sea, and steadily extended their kingdom till they reached Egypt. Wonderful was the expansion of their power, their territory, and their civilisation. The Greeks were the disciples of these. The wonderful mausoleums of their kings, the Pyramids, with figures of the Sphinx, and even their dead bodies are preserved to this day. Here lived the ancient Egyptian peoples, with curling hair and ear-rings, and wearing snow-white dhotis without one end being tucked up behind. This is Egypt — the memorable stage where the Hyksos, the Pharaohs, the Persian Emperors, Alexander the Great, and the Ptolemies, and the Roman and Arab conquerors played their part. So many centuries ago, they left their history inscribed in great detail in hieroglyphic characters on papyrus paper, on stone slabs, and on the sides of earthen vessels.

This is the land where Isis was worshipped and Horus flourished.”

–Vivekananda’s Memoirs of European Travel


This extraordinary man was a Hindu monk of the order of the Vedantas. He was called the Swami Vivi Kananda, and was widely known in America for his religious teachings. He was lecturing in Chicago one year when I was there; and as I was at that time greatly depressed in mind and body, I decided to go to him, having seen how greatly he had helped some of my friends.

An appointment was arranged for me, and when I arrived at his house I was immediately ushered into his study.   Before going, I had been told not to speak until he addressed me. When I entered the room, therefore, I stood before him in silence for a moment. He was seated in a noble attitude of meditation, his robe of saffron yellow falling in straight lines to the floor, his head, swathed in a turban, bent forward, his eyes on the ground. After a brief pause, he spoke without looking up.

“My child,” he said, “what a troubled atmosphere you have about you!   Be calm!   It is essential!”

(…)

With the Swami and some of his friends and fol­lowers, I went upon a most remarkable trip, through Turkey, Egypt and Greece. Our party included the Swami, Father Hyacinthe Loyson, his wife, a Bostonian, Miss McL. of Chicago, ardent Swamist and charming, enthusiastic woman, and myself, the song bird of the troupe.

What a pilgrimage it was! Science, philosophy and history had no secrets from the Swami.  I listened with all my ears to the wise and learned dis­course that went on around me. I did not attempt to join in their arguments, but I sang on all occa­sions, as is my custom. 

(…)

One day we lost our way in Cairo. I suppose we had been talking too intently.   At any rate, we found ourselves in a squalid, ill-smelling street, where half-clad women lolled from windows and sprawled on doorsteps.

The Swami noticed nothing until a particularly noisy group of women on a bench in the shadow of a dilapidated building began laughing and calling to him. One of the ladies of our party tried to hurry us along, but the Swami detached himself gently from our group and approached the women on the bench.

“Poor children!” he said. “Poor creatures! They have put their divinity in their beauty. Look at them now!”

He began to weep, as Jesus might have done be­fore the woman taken in adultery.

The women were silenced and abashed. One of them leaned forward and kissed the hem of his robe, murmuring brokenly in Spanish, “Hombre de dios, hombre de diosr (Man of God!) The other, with a sudden gesture of modesty and fear, threw her arm in front of her face, as though she would screen her shrinking soul from those pure eyes.

This marvellous journey proved to be almost the last occasion on which I was to see the Swami. Shortly afterward he announced that he was to return to his own country. He felt that his end was approaching, and he wished to go back to the community of which he was director and where he had spent his youth.

A year later we heard that he had died, after writing the book of his life, not one page of which was destroyed. He passed away in the state called Samadhi, which means, in Sanscrit, to die voluntarily, from a “will to die,” without accident or sickness, saying to his disciples, “I will die on such a day.”

(From ‘My Life’ by Emma Calve. Translated by Rosamond Gilder)

ഭൂമിദാനം / भूदान / Bhoomidan

Bhoomidanam (“land gift”) was a movement led by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, an Indian sage and Gandhian disciple who walked hundreds of miles through India for 13 years with the mission of convincing landlords to renounce some of their holdings, for the social uplift of the poor and downtrodden and in order to promote village self-sufficiency. Chief amongst his many accomplishments was the founding of the Brahma Vidya Mandir, an ashram where women practiced agriculture, prayer, and nonviolence in order to achieve self-sufficiency.

Like Gandhiji, he sought peace, freedom, and self-determination for the Indian people from the tyranny of the British Empire through the method of ahimsa (non-violence). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met with him in 1959 during his trip to “the Land of Gandhi,” where he engaged in a deep study of the tradition of nonviolence in Indian philosophy and its practical application in the freedom struggle of his people here in the United States.

I painted this portrait because last year, we undertook a celebration of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi in the United States in an effort to raise national and world consciousness about Gandhiji, a singular personality whose example of perpetual truth-seeking, humility of conduct, depth of intellect and perception, compassionate action and eloquence of tongue and thought, brought together the starving multitudes of India, who were left destitute by more than three hundred years of British exploitation. Gandhiji taught us that education was not simply the assimilation of books and theorems but cultivation of the human personality, the sum total of a man’s actions which together constitute his character.

It behooves us to celebrate such a world historical personality in the twenty-first century as a new beast slouches towards India, the American Empire, which has arguably caused even more ruinous consequences to Indian industry, agriculture and folkways albeit in a much shorter span of time. Education has deviated from the Gandhian ideal as Indian labor is forced to work for Western powers for a mere pittance, while corporations greedily devour India’s intellectual and physical products, sucking out the very lifeblood of the Indian man and woman.

Central to this terrible saga is the aggressive advance of the Indian elite and petty bourgeoisie in America, which enjoys the fruits of exploited Indian labor along with the white bourgeoisie and indeed, the bourgeoisie of every race. Together they even suppress the working poor here, particularly the black poor, who are exploited in ways quite similar to the poor and downtrodden in India, denied education, housing, and basic civil rights. All the while these personalities claim to be “experts” on India and South Asia. It was for these rights that Dr. King and Vinoba Bhave were fighting.

America, which is presently facing a grave crisis of governance and an even graver crisis of violence, must return to Dr. King’s prognostication that the choice today is not between nonviolence and violence but in fact, between nonviolence or non-existence. As superpowers like Russia and China, along with the fast-failing behemoth of Europe, contend for power with the capsizing American Empire, the masses are once again left floundering and bewildered.

In his report about his trip to the Land of Gandhi, Dr. King observes that “the bourgeoise—white, black or brown—behaves about the same the world over.” He implores the American people to partake of the gifts of Mother India “in a spirit of international brotherhood, not national selfishness.Herein lies the significance of Dr. King’s two-day meeting with Sri Vinoba Bhave during his trip to Ajmer, pictured below: the desire to join the Satyagraha of African-Americans who had recently desegregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama with the Satyagraha of the Indians, who had newly won independence after having successfully ejected the British from Indian soil.

Bhave was a disciple of Gandhiji who continued to transmit Gandhiji’s message of peace after the physical form of the Mahatma was assassinated. Vinoba ji is said to have been admired by Gandhi, particularly for his strict and sincere observance of brahmacharya or the law of celibacy, which was a key component of the Satyagraha program.

Rev. King visited with Vinoba Bhave for two days on March 2 and 3, 1959. During their meeting, Vinoba referred to King as the American Gandhi; he himself was known amongst followers as the “Second Gandhi.” Sadly in the recent years, the city of Ajmer, where King visited with Vinoba ji has been neo-colonized by the Americans. Thus, whereas Dr. King’s pilgrimage to the city and visit with Vinobaji was an effort to fight Western imperialism through the method of ahimsa, President Barack Obama’s visit in 2010 was its very antithesis–history as a consequence became farce and nonviolence has degenerated into mere rhetoric in the hands of the neoliberal class, who have coopted the language of nonviolence for the perpetuation of war, poverty, and injustice rather than their ultimate eradication.

Obama and his ilk might be best served to remember Dr. King’s advice, to quote an article of his about Gandhiji in an issue of Bhoodan magazine, “Gandhi’s method of nonviolence and the Christian ethics of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity…His spirit is a continual reminder that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.”

जय जगत्

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

Mahatma Gandhi observing the leprosy bacteria, 1942, Sevagram Ashram

What is this? Where is weakness? Who is strong? What is great and what is small? What is high and what is low in this marvellous interdependence of existence where the smallest atom is necessary for the existence of the whole? Who is great and who is small? It is past finding out! And why? Because none is great and none is small. All things are interpenetrated by that infinite ocean; their reality is that infinite; and whatever there is on the surface is but that infinite. The tree is infinite; so is everything that you see or feel — every grain of sand, every thought, every soul, everything that exists, is infinite. Infinite is finite and finite infinite. This is our existence.

—Swami Vivekananda, Practical Vedanta

My art derived from a desire to find the common ground between the religions of the world, which all share an abiding faith in the possibility of love, truth, and peace in liberating humankind from the bondage to suffering. As a Hindu, who is a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and Holy Mother Sarada Devi, I believe that God exists in us all and so, acts through us all. Sri Ramakrishna said that we must look for God in all for we are all His creations and in Him we are One. Accordingly, I believe that a work of art should strive to render this purity of the soul force, which is none other than God himself working through us.

Pictured below is a painting of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s apostle of peace, observing the leprosy bacteria under a microscope in 1942, rendered in oil, acrylic, and ink on a 16 x 20 canvas. Gandhi prophesied that the choice that we face today is not between nonviolence and violence but nonviolence and self-annihilation. Though our present pandemic affects all, the poor of oppressed nations are most debilitated by its economic and political consequences. I wondered as I painted this what Gandhi might say of our own times, a time where modern medicine has discovered marvelous remedies for all manner of ailments and yet, arguably, we are, on the whole, in poorer shape healthwise. As the world teeters on the brink of war and as our immune systems struggle against the stress of modernity, we might humbly return to his message of peace delivered not just to those seeking freedom from the brutalities of racial oppression under colonial rule but to all humankind seeking deliverance from its own brute nature, as we stumble and fumble our way towards God.