(Translated from Bengali )
[Place: The Belur Math (under construction). Year: 1899.]
Disciple: Why is it, Swamiji, that our society and country have come to such degradation?
Swamiji: It is you who are responsible for it.
Disciple: How, sir? You surprise me.
Swamiji: You have been despising the lower classes of the country for a very long time and, as a result, you have now become the objects of contempt in the eyes of the world.
Disciple: When did you find us despising them?
Swamiji: Why, you priest-class never let the non-Brahmin class read the Vedas and Vedanta and all such weighty Shastras — never touch them even. You have only kept them down. It is you who have always done like that through selfishness. It was the Brahmins 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. If you tell a man, “You are low, you are vile”, in season and out of season, then he is bound to believe in course of time that he is really such. This is called hypnotism. The non-Brahmin classes are now slowly rousing themselves. Their faith in Brahminical scriptures and Mantras is getting shaken. Through the spread of Western education all the tricks of the Brahmins are giving way, like the banks of the Padmâ in the rainy season. Do you not see that?
Disciple: Yes, sir, the stricture of orthodoxy is gradually lessening nowadays.
Swamiji: It is as it should be. The Brahmins, in fact, gradually took a course of gross immorality and oppression. Through selfishness they introduced a large number of strange, non-Vedic, immoral, and unreasonable doctrines — simply to keep intact their own prestige. And the fruits of that they are reaping forthwith.
Disciple: What may these fruits be, sir?
Swamiji: Don’t you perceive them? It is simply due to your having despised the masses of India that you have now been living a life of slavery for the last thousand years; it is therefore that you are the objects of hatred in the eyes of foreigners and are looked upon with indifference by your countrymen.
Disciple: But, sir, even now it is the Brahmins who direct all ceremonials, and people are observing them according to the opinions of the Brahmins. Why then do you speak like that?
Swamiji: I don’t find it. Where do the tenfold Samskâras or purifying ceremonies enjoined by the Shastras obtain still? Well, I have travelled the whole of India, and everywhere I have found society to be guided by local usages which are condemned by the Shrutis and Smritis. Popular customs, local usages, and observances prevalent among women only — have not these taken the place of the Smritis everywhere? Who obeys, and whom? If you can but spend enough money, the priest-class is ready to write out whatever sanctions or prohibitions you want! How many of them read the Vedic Kalpa (Ritual), Grihya and Shrauta Sutras? Then, look, here in Bengal the code of Raghunandana is obeyed; a little farther on you will find the code of Mitâkshâra in vogue; while in another part the code of Manu holds sway! You seem to think that the same laws hold good everywhere! What I want therefore is to introduce the study of the Vedas by stimulating a greater regard for them in the minds of the people, and to pass everywhere the injunctions of the Vedas.
Disciple: Sir, is it possible nowadays to set them going?
Swamiji: It is true that all the ancient Vedic laws will not have a go, but if we introduce additions and alterations in them to suit the needs of the times, codify them, and hold them up as a new model to society, why will they not pass current?
Disciple: Sir, I was under the impression that at least the injunctions of Manu were being obeyed all over India even now.
Swamiji: Nothing of the kind. Just look to your own province and see how the Vâmâchâra (immoral practices) of the Tantras has entered into your very marrow. Even modern Vaishnavism, which is the skeleton of the defunct Buddhism, is saturated with Vamachara! We must stem the tide of this Vamachara, which is contrary to the spirit of the Vedas.
Disciple: Sir, is it possible now to cleanse this Aegean stable?
Swamiji: What nonsense do you say, you coward! You have well-nigh thrown the country into ruin by crying, ‘It is impossible, it is impossible!’ What cannot human effort achieve?
Disciple: But, sir, such a state of things seems impossible unless sages like Manu and Yâjnavalkya are again born in the country.
Swamiji: Goodness gracious! Was it not purity and unselfish labour that made them Manu and Yajnavalkya, or was it something else? Well, we ourselves can be far greater than even Manu and Yajnavalkya if we try to; why will not our views prevail then?
Disciple: Sir, it is you who said just now that we must revive the ancient usages and observances within the country. How then can we think lightly of sages like Manu and the rest?
Swamiji: What an absurd deduction! You altogether miss my point. I have only said that the ancient Vedic customs must be remodelled according to the need of the society and the times, and passed under a new form in the land. Have I not?
Disciple: Yes, sir.
Swamiji: What, then, were you talking? You have read the Shastras, and my hope and faith rest in men like you. Understand my words in their true spirit, and apply yourselves to work in their light.
Disciple: But, sir, who will listen to us? Why should our countrymen accept them?
Swamiji: If you can truly convince them and practise what you preach, they must. If, on the contrary, like a coward you simply utter Shlokas as a parrot, be a mere talker and quote authority only, without showing them in action — then who will care to listen to you?
Disciple: Please give me some advice in brief about social reform.
Swamiji: Why, I have given you advice enough; now put at least something in practice. Let the world see that your reading of the scriptures and listening to me has been a success. The codes of Manu and lots of other books that you have read — what is their basis and underlying purpose? Keeping that basis intact, compile in the manner of the ancient Rishis the essential truths of them and supplement them with thoughts that are suited to the times; only take care that all races and all sects throughout India be really benefited by following these rules. Just write out a Smriti like that; I shall revise it.
Disciple: Sir, it is not an easy task; and even if such a Smriti be written, will it be accepted?
Swamiji: Why not? Just write it out. “कालो ह्ययं निरवधिर्विपुला च पृथ्वी — Time is infinite, and the world is vast.” If you write it in the proper way, there must come a day when it will be accepted. Have faith in yourself. You people were once the Vedic Rishis. Only, you have come in different forms, that’s all. I see it clear as daylight that you all have infinite power in you. Rouse that up; arise, arise — apply yourselves heart and soul, gird up your loins. What will you do with wealth and fame that are so transitory? Do you know what I think? I don’t care for Mukti and all that. My mission is to arouse within you all such ideas; I am ready to undergo a hundred thousand rebirths to train up a single man.
Disciple: But, sir, what will be the use of undertaking such works? Is not death stalking behind?
Swamiji: Fie upon you! If you die, you will die but once. Why will you die every minute of your life by constantly harping on death like a coward?
Disciple: All right, sir, I may not think of death, but what good will come of any kind of work in this evanescent world?
Swamiji: My boy, when death is inevitable, is it not better to die like heroes than as stocks and stones? And what is the use of living a day or two more in this transitory world? It is better to wear out than to rust out — specially for the sake of doing the least good to others.
Disciple: It is true, sir. I beg pardon for troubling you so much.
Swamiji: I don’t feel tired even if I talk for two whole nights to an earnest inquirer; I can give up food and sleep and talk and talk. Well, if I have a mind, I can sit up in Samadhi in a Himalayan cave. And you see that nowadays through the Mother’s grace I have not to think about food, it comes anyhow. Why then don’t I do so? And why am I here? Only the sight of the country’s misery and the thought of its future do not let me remain quiet any more! — Even Samadhi and all that appear as futile — even the sphere of Brahmâ with its enjoyments becomes insipid! My vow of life is to think of your welfare. The day that vow will be fulfilled, I shall leave this body and make a straight run up!
Hearing Swamiji’s words the disciple sat speechless for a while, gazing at him, wondering in his heart. Then, with a view to taking his leave, he saluted Swamiji reverently and asked his permission to go.
Swamiji: Why do you want to go? Why not live in the Math? Your mind will again be polluted if you go back to the worldly-minded. See here, how fresh is the air, there is the Ganga, and the Sadhus (holy men) are practising meditation, and holding lofty talks! While the moment you will go to Calcutta, you will be thinking of nasty stuff.
The disciple joyfully replied, “All right, sir, I shall stay today at the Math.”
Swamiji: Why “today”? Can’t you live here for good? What is the use of going back to the world?
The disciple bent down his head, hearing Swamiji’s words. Various thoughts crowded into his brain and kept him speechless.