(New Discoveries, Vol. 1, pp. 366-69.)
[Detroit Tribune, February 18, 1894]
ITS RECENT EXPRESSION BY VIVE KANANDA.
HIS MISSION WORTHY THE SERIOUS ATTENTION
THE TWO REMARKABLE THINGS IN THE UNITED STATES
WHICH GRATIFIES THE DISTINGUISHED PAGAN — WHAT
ENVIRONMENT WILL DO FOR ANY PEOPLE — RAP AT
There has seldom been such a sensation in cultured circles in Detroit, as that created by the advent of Swami Vive Kananda, the learned Hindu monk, whose exceptional command of our own language has enabled us to receive impressions concerning ourselves from an oriental standpoint and to acquire knowledge of a people of whose peculiar civilization and philosophy we have heard so much.
Both in public and private the Hindu brother has talked freely and frankly. He acknowledges that the masses in India are very poor, very ignorant and are divided into a diversity of sects, with forms of worship varying from downright idolatry to the broadest and most liberal form of divine conception based on the brotherhood of man and the oneness of God. His mission, he says, is not to proselyte us — to try and make us think as he does — but to get means to start a college in India for the education of teachers who are to go among the common people and work a reform of existing evils, of which there are many. He states that India is priest-ridden to a harrowing degree. It is priest-craft that distorts truth and perpetuates ignorance. It is priest-craft that substitutes its own crude and narrow interpretations for truth, which perverts the people and prevents their moral progression. The Swami regards all sects and creeds from a broad basis. He even sees good in idolatry. It is an ideal, he thinks, for the ignorant whose mental capacity is insufficient to grasp abstract ideas, and who require a direct personification in some material form. He frankly states that we of the occident are also retarded in our progression by too much priest-craft, and that we are not free from idolatrous practices, in that some of our sects worship shrines, figures and pictures and even the sanctity with which the rostrum and pulpit of a modern church is regarded is an ideal idolatry.
Two Remarkable Things in This Country
The Swami notes two most remarkable things in this country, when asked his frank opinion of us: First, the superiority of our women, as regards influence in position and intellect. Second, in our charities and treatment of the poor, he says, we have almost solved the problem as to what shall be done with them. Not only in this, in the direction of hospitals and charitable institutions, but in our tremendous development of labor-saving machinery. He has no admiration for our material progress, as it does not make man better, nor for our boasted civilization, as we only ape and imitate the customs and manners of the English — sometimes to a very ridiculous extent. We are yet too young, to have a distinctive civilization; we have yet to assimilate the human sewerage of Europe we have allowed to be poured upon us, before we produce a distinct American type.
[The writer goes on to say that the Swami’s Indian background makes it difficult for him to understand that Western competitiveness is not undesirable but a primal law of nature itself — the survival of the fittest — and that inasmuch as “the dreamy and sentimental philosophy of the Hindoos” accounts for their poverty, degradation, and domination by a “mere handful of Englishmen,” the Swami would do well neither to ignore nor to despise the materialism of the West. Having thus editorialized, he continues:]
His Criticism of Missionaries
If what he states is true about the results accomplished by foreign missions in India, the various boards of these various organizations would do well to consult him and follow his advice. It is for the betterment of his people he is here. But he says missionary work does no good; only adds additional sects and creeds to an already sect-ridden country; that the teachings of the Vedas, with which every Hindoo is familiar, is identical with the teachings of Christ. He makes the reasonable plea that foreign creeds and dogmas are not consonant with their inherited proclivities or civilization, and are consequently difficult to propagate.
The mission of Kananda is, however, one that should commend it[self] to every lover of humanity. He hopes to see the best of our material philosophy and progress infused into Hindoo civilization, and that, also, we may take lessons from them, until we shall all become, as we once were in ages past, brother Aryans, possessing a common civilization — the exalted philosophy of non-self, being alike without sect or creed in oneness with God.
FRED H. SEYMOUR.1
- ^One of the guests at Charles L. Freer’s dinner party given in honour of Swami Vivekananda, on Saturday, February 17, 1894.