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)

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

Howard Thurman – A Meditation on Thanksgiving

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:

The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;

The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;

The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;

The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;

The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never reached for the highest;

The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.

All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,

I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,

Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

Ghana Calls by W.E.B Du Bois

Dedicated to Kwame Nkrumah

I was a little boy, at home with strangers.   
I liked my playmates, and knew well,   
Whence all their parents came;
From England, Scotland, royal France   
From Germany and oft by chance
The humble Emerald Isle.
But my brown skin and close-curled hair
Was alien, and how it grew, none knew;
Few tried to say, some dropped a wonderful word or stray;
Some laughed and stared.
And then it came: I dreamed.   
I placed together all I knew
All hints and slurs together drew.   
I dreamed.
I made one picture of what nothing seemed   
I shuddered in dumb terror
In silence screamed,
For now it seemed this I had dreamed;
How up from Hell, a land had leaped
A wretched land, all scorched and seamed   
Covered with ashes, chained with pain   
Streaming with blood, in horror lain   
Its very air a shriek of death
And agony of hurt.
Anon I woke, but in one corner of my soul   
I stayed asleep.
Forget I could not,
But never would I remember   
That hell-hoist ghost   
Of slavery and woe.
I lived and grew, I worked and hoped
I planned and wandered, gripped and coped   
With every doubt but one that slept   
Yet clamoured to awaken.
I became old; old, worn and gray;   
Along my hard and weary way
Rolled war and pestilence, war again;   
I looked on Poverty and foul Disease   
I walked with Death and yet I knew
There stirred a doubt: Were all dreams true?   
And what in truth was Africa?
One cloud-swept day a Seer appeared,   
All closed and veiled as me he hailed
And bid me make three journeys to the world   
Seeking all through their lengthened links   
The endless Riddle of the Sphinx.
I went to Moscow; Ignorance grown wise taught me Wisdom;
I went to Peking: Poverty grown rich
Showed me the wealth of Work
I came to Accra.
Here at last, I looked back on my Dream;   
I heard the Voice that loosed
The Long-looked dungeons of my soul
I sensed that Africa had come
Not up from Hell, but from the sum of Heaven’s glory.
I lifted up mine eyes to Ghana
And swept the hills with high Hosanna;
Above the sun my sight took flight   
Till from that pinnacle of light
I saw dropped down this earth of crimson, green and gold
Roaring with color, drums and song.
Happy with dreams and deeds worth more than doing   
Around me velvet faces loomed   
Burnt by the kiss of everlasting suns
Under great stars of midnight glory   
Trees danced, and foliage sang;
The lilies hallelujah rang
Where robed with rule on Golden Stool   
The gold-crowned Priests with duty done   
Pour high libations to the sun
And danced to gods.
Red blood flowed rare ’neath close-clung hair   
While subtle perfume filled the air   
And whirls and whirls of tiny curls   
Crowned heads.
Yet Ghana shows its might and power   
Not in its color nor its flower   
But in its wondrous breadth of soul   
Its Joy of Life
Its selfless role
Of giving.
School and clinic, home and hall   
Road and garden bloom and call   
Socialism blossoms bold
On Communism centuries old.
I lifted my last voice and cried   
I cried to heaven as I died:
O turn me to the Golden Horde   
Summon all western nations   
Toward the Rising Sun.
From reeking West whose day is done,   
Who stink and stagger in their dung   
Toward Africa, China, India’s strand   
Where Kenya and Himalaya stand   
And Nile and Yang-tze roll:
Turn every yearning face of man.
Come with us, dark America:
The scum of Europe battened here   
And drowned a dream
Made fetid swamp a refuge seem:
Enslaved the Black and killed the Red   
And armed the Rich to loot the Dead;   
Worshipped the whores of Hollywood   
Where once the Virgin Mary stood
And lynched the Christ.
Awake, awake, O sleeping world   
Honor the sun;
Worship the stars, those vaster suns   
Who rule the night
Where black is bright
And all unselfish work is right   
And Greed is Sin.
And Africa leads on:   
Pan Africa!

Dandi Satyagraha

In early March of 1930, Gandhiji began his padayatra to mine salt from the brackish waters lapping the coastal village of Dandi in northwestern India. Britishers had declared Indian production of salt illegal and foisted an imperial tax on the necessity, rendering it a commodity and thus alienating the substance from the common Indian laborer, who was starving and physically ill as a result of the abuses inflicted upon him by the white man. Witnessing the suffering of his people, Gandhiji said, “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life” and marched hundreds of miles for twenty-four days to reaffirm his commitment to satyagraha, the law of Love-unto-Truth, and swaraj, the complete independence of India from Europe.

Gandhi’s Views on War and Peace

Being a confirmed war resister, I have never given myself training in the use of destructive weapons in spite of opportunities to take such training. It was perhaps thus that I escaped direct destruction of human life. But so long as I lived under a system of Government based on force and voluntarily partook of the many facilities and privileges it created for me, I was bound to help that Government to the extent of my ability when it was engaged in a war, unless I non-co-operated with the Government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity the privileges it offered me.


It is worse than anarchy to partition a poor country like India whose every corner is populated by Hindus and Muslims living side by side. It is like cutting up a living body into pieces. No one will be able to tolerate this plain murder. I do not say this as a Hindu. I say this as a representative of Hindus, Muslims, Parsees and all. I would say to my Muslim brethren, ‘Cut me to pieces first and then divide India.’… If we continue to fight among ourselves, the shackles of slavery will never be removed. The British are bound to quit this country. They are a nation of businessmen. They calculate the profit and loss from every transaction. They have realized this, it is no longer profitable to rule India. But what good will that freedom be to us if we continue to fight among ourselves after the British leave?


When two nations are fighting, the duty of a votary of AHIMSA is to stop the war. He who is not equal to that duty, he who has no power of resisting war, he who is not qualified to resist war, may take part in war and yet whole-heartedly try to free himself, his nation and the world from war.


All activity for stopping war must prove fruitless so long as the causes of war are not understood and radically dealt with. Is not he prime cause of modern wars the inhuman race for exploitation of the so-called weaker races of the earth? (Young India, 9-5-1929, p. 148)


What is happening today is disregard of the law of non-violence and enthronement of violence as if it were an eternal law… We see today a mad race for outdoing one another in the matter of armaments.


Personally, I think the end of this giant war will be what happened in the fabled Mahabharata war. The MAHABHARATA has been aptly described by a Travancorean as the Permanent History of Man. What is described in that great epic is happening today before our very eyes. The warring nations are destroying themselves with such fury and ferocity that the end will be mutual exhaustion. The victor will share the fate that awaited the surviving Pandavas. The mighty warrior Arjuna was looted in broad daylight by a petty robber. And out of this holocaust must arise a new order for which the exploited millions of toilers have so ling thirsted. The prayers of peace-lovers cannot go in vain. Satyagraha is itself an unmistakable mute prayer of an agonized soul. (Harijan, 15-2–1942, p. 40)


W.E.B Du Bois, The Hands Of Ethiopia

Here are the beginnings of a modern industrial system: iron and steel for permanent investment, bound to yield large dividends; cloth as the cheapest exchange for invaluable raw material; liquor to tickle the appetites of the natives and render the alienation of land and the breakdown of customary law easier; eventually forced and contract labor under white drivers to increase and systematize the production of raw materials. These materials are capable of indefinite expansion: cotton may yet challenge the southern United States, fruits and vegetables, hides and skins, lumber and dye-stuffs, coffee and tea, grain and tobacco, and fibers of all sorts can easily follow organized and systematic toil.


Those who do believe in men, who know what black men have done in human history, who have taken pains to follow even superficially the story of the rise of the Negro in Africa, the West Indies, and the Americas of our day know that our modern contempt of Negroes rests upon no scientific foundation worth a moment’s attention. It is nothing more than a vicious habit of mind. It could easily be overthrown as our belief in war, as our international hatreds, as our old conception of the status of women, as our fear of educating the masses, as our belief in the necessity of poverty. We can if we inaugurate on the Dark Continent a last great crusade for humanity. With Africa redeemed Asia would be safe and Europe indeed triumphant.


Twenty centuries before Christ a great cloud swept over seas and settled on Africa, darkening and well-nigh blotting out the culture of the land of Egypt. For half a thousand years it rested there, until a black woman, Queen Nefertari, “the most venerated figure in Egyptian history,” rose to the throne of the Pharaohs and redeemed the world and her people. Twenty centuries after Christ, Black Africa,—prostrated, raped, and shamed, lies at the feet of the conquering Philistines of Europe. Beyond the awful sea a black woman is weeping and waiting, with her sons on her breast. What shall the end be? The world-old and fearful things,—war and wealth, murder and luxury? Or shall it be a new thing,—a new peace and a new democracy of all races,—a great humanity of equal men? “Semper novi quid ex Africa!”

The Garland March: From Selma to Montgomery, 1965

The flash and flutter of a lens can capture a moment in eternity. In the photograph below, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., second from left, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, second from right, wear garlands in the Hindu tradition. It is 1965 and they are marching from Selma to Montgomery. I am unsure which of three marches this photo is taken from. Protestors marched 87 kilometers to the state capital, where King delivered his speech “Our God is Matching On.” In the sermon, he reaffirms the people’s faith in God as love, truth, and peace, compelling them to test their faith in peaceful non-cooperation so as to win the protracted struggle for civil rights. In 1930, Gandhi would lead a similar kind of march, leading thousands of people from Sabarmati to the sea to make their own salt in protest of British taxation of the mineral.

The wreaths encircling the marchers’ necks recall the garlands with which the nascent government of independent India greeted the King Embassy, which would visit Gandhi’s tomb. Witnessing this example, I heed Gandhi’s advice about faith—that it transcends reason, that the precipitate of this transcendence is none other than love.

Like King, Gandhi was assassinated by reactionary elements in the struggle against imperialism and white domination. Recognizing the Indian leader’s martyrdom, King proclaimed that “Christ showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work” at a a gathering in Brooklyn, New York following the Supreme Court’s ruling that Montgomery’s bus segregation was unconstitutional.

The significance of these words must be weighed in light of the Thurman delegation’s visit to India in 1935-1936, which was central meditation in the latter’s seminal work, Jesus and the Disinherited (1949)? Jesus and the Disinherited is a moral inquiry into the condition of Christian civilization in the modern epoch, which witnessed a deplorable distortion of the faith, as the loving teachings of Christ–who stood with the poor and the disinherited–were twisted into a diabolical defense of colonialism, black enslavement, and the psycho-social subordination of the darker races to the white masters of the world . King carried the book with him everywhere.

Above, King removes his shoes at the Gandhi Memorial, to pay homage to India’s fallen Mahatma known to the people and his loved ones as Bapu. If a camera illuminates the truth by flooding light into the aperture of a lens, then the revolutionary prophecies of these great leaders illuminated the world by flooding it with love, chiseling into presence a grand legacy of peace and culture amongst humanity over the course of their lifetimes which we now inherit in our own. Contacts between India and African-America in the twentieth century germinated a cultural renaissance, manifesting a new plane of human understanding and civilization—aesthetically, politically, scientifically, and above all, spiritually. Where will these liaisons lead in the fulfillment of our common destiny in the twenty-first century of the Prince of Peace?

The African Roots Of War

First Anglo-Ashanti War (1823-1831)

In this essay, W.E.B Du Bois lays out the true causes of World War I, showing that the origins of internecine rivalry amongst the bourgeois nations of Europe lay in their colonial scramble for the Dark Continent. Du Bois’s revolutionary insight into the modern discipline of history confirmed that Europe’s degradation and collapse in the twentieth century was the immanent effect of its systematic looting of African resources and its colonial exploitation of African labor over the course of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

The piece was published in the May 1915 issue of Atlantic Monthly , just a year before Vladimir Lenin completed his groundbreaking treatise, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. As we study America and Europe’s ongoing war on Africa today, we might continue to mount the Du Boisian challenge, posed more than a hundred years ago, and relentlessly query why these facts remain suppressed in the historical record as we enter the second millennium of the Prince of Peace.

http://scua.library.umass.edu/digital/dubois/WarRoots.pdf

The Star Of Ethiopia

In 1913, Du Bois wrote and presented The Star Of Ethiopia, a historical pageant chronicling the history of black civilization and its contribution to world history at the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in New York City. In many ways, the play is an early enactment of the story he so painstakingly documents in the idiom of social science in his 1946 monograph, The World and Africa. Foregrounding African-American drama’s connection to African dramatic and spiritual traditions as well as its historical distinctions, his chief purpose in imagining it was to create a complete work of art, one capable of educating and uplifting the masses. As he put it, “The great fact has been demonstrated that pageantry among colored people is not only possible, but in many ways of un­ surpassed beauty and can be made a means of uplift and education and the beginning of a folk drama.”

Towards the fulfillment of this mission, The Star of Ethiopia progresses in six movements that detail the origins of humanity in Africa, the contributions of African civilizations to the ancient world, and the struggle of the black worker for freedom from American slavery and imperialism in the modern period. Originally imagined for an ensemble of three hundred to a thousand performance artists, the play premiered in Washington, D.C. in 1915 and made its Philadelphia debut in 1916 (see below for pictures of cast and the playbill). It was revived in a 1925 performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

“Hear ye, hear ye! All them that sing before the Lord and forget not the Vision of the Eldest and Strongest of the Races of Men whose faces be Black. Hear ye, hear ye! And remember forever and one day the Star of Ethiopia, All-Mother of Men, who gave the world the Iron Gift and Gift of Faith, the Pain of Humility and Sorrow Song of Pain, and Freedom, Eternal Freedom, underneath the Star. Arise and go, Children of Philadelphia—the Play is done—the Play is done.”