(Translated from Bengali )
[Shri Priya Nath Sinha]
Arrangements were being made for Swamiji’s leaving India for America for the second time (1899 A.D.). He had gone to Calcutta to see one of his friends, and returning from there stopped for a few minutes at Balaram Babu’s house at Baghbazar. He then sent for another friend to accompany him to the Math. The friend came, and the following conversation took place between him and Swamiji:
Swamiji: A very funny thing happened today. I went to a friend’s house. He has had a picture painted, the subject of which is “Shri Krishna addressing Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra”. Shri Krishna stands on the chariot, holding the reins in His hand and preaching the Gita to Arjuna. He showed me the picture and asked me how I liked it. “Fairly well”, I said. But as he insisted on having my criticism on it, I had to give my honest opinion by saying, “There is nothing in it to commend itself to me; first, because the chariot of the time of Shri Krishna was not like the modern pagoda-shaped car, and also, there is no expression in the figure of Shri Krishna.”
Q. — Was not the pagoda-chariot in use then?
Swamiji: Don’t you know that since the Buddhistic era, there has been a great confusion in everything in our country? The kings never used to fight in pagoda-chariots. There are chariots even today in Rajputana that greatly resemble the chariots of old. Have you seen the chariots in the pictures of Grecian mythology? They have two wheels, and one mounts them from behind; we had that sort of chariot. What good is it to paint a picture if the details are wrong? An historical picture comes up to a standard of excellence when after making proper study and research, things are portrayed exactly as they were at that period. The truth must be represented, otherwise the picture is nothing. In these days, our young men who go in for painting are generally those who were unsuccessful at school, and who have been given up at home as good-for-nothing; what work of art can you expect from them? To paint a really good picture requires as much talent as to produce a perfect drama.
Q. — How then should Shri Krishna be represented in the picture in question?
Swamiji: Shri Krishna ought to be painted as He really was, the Gita personified; and the central idea of the Gita should radiate from His whole form as He was teaching the path of Dharma to Arjuna, who had been overcome by infatuation and cowardice.
So saying Swamiji posed himself in the way in which Shri Krishna should be portrayed, and continued: “Look here, thus does he hold the bridle of the horses — so tight that they are brought to their haunches, with their forelegs fighting the air, and their mouths gaping. This will show a tremendous play of action in the figure of Shri Krishna. His friend, the world-renowned hero, casting aside his bow and arrows, has sunk down like a coward on the chariot, in the midst of the two armies. And Shri Krishna, whip in one hand and tightening the reins with the other, has turned Himself towards Arjuna, with his childlike face beaming with unworldly love and sympathy, and a calm and serene look — and is delivering the message of the Gita to his beloved comrade. Now, tell me what idea this picture of the Preacher of the Gita conveys to you.”
The friend: Activity combined with firmness and serenity.
Swamiji: Ay, that’s it! Intense action in the whole body, and withal a face expressing the profound calmness and serenity of the blue sky. This is the central idea of the Gita — to be calm and steadfast in all circumstances, with one’s body, mind, and soul centred at His hallowed Feet!
कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म यः।
स बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु स युक्तः कृत्स्नकर्मकृत्॥ (Gita IV.18).
He who even while doing action can keep his mind calm, and in whom, even when not doing any outward action, flows the current of activity in the form of the contemplation of Brahman, is the intelligent one among men, he indeed is the Yogi, he indeed is the perfect worker.
At this moment, the man who had been sent to arrange a boat returned and said that it was ready; so Swamiji told his friend, “Now let us go to the Math. You must have left word at home that you were going there with me?”
They continued their talk as they walked to the boat.
Swamiji: This idea must be preached to everyone — work, work, endless work — without looking at results, and always keeping the whole mind and soul steadfast at the lotus feet of the Lord!
Q. — But is this not Karma-Yoga?
Swamiji: Yes, this is Karma-Yoga; but without spiritual practices you will never be able to do this Karma-Yoga. You must harmonise the four different Yogas; otherwise how can you always keep your mind and heart wholly on the Lord?
Q. — It is generally said that work according to the Gita means the performance of Vedic sacrifices and religious exercises; any other kind of work is futile.
Swamiji: All right; but you must make it more comprehensive. Who is responsible for every action you do, every breath you take, and every thought you think? Isn’t it you yourself?
The friend: Yes and no. I cannot solve this clearly. The truth about it is that man is the instrument and the Lord is the agent. So when I am directed by His will, I am not at all responsible for my actions.
Swamiji: Well, that can be said only in the highest state of realisation. When the mind will be purified by work and you will see that it is He who is causing all to work, then only you will have a right to speak like that. Otherwise it is all bosh, a mere cant.
Q. — Why so, if one is truly convinced by reasoning that the Lord alone is causing all actions to be done?
Swamiji: It may hold good when one has been so convinced. But it only lasts for that moment, and not a whit afterwards. Well, consider this thoroughly, whether all that you do in your everyday life, you are not doing with an egoistic idea that you yourself are the agent. How long do you remember that it is the Lord who is making you work? But then, by repeatedly analysing like that, you will come to a state when the ego will vanish and in its place the Lord will come in. Then you will be able to say with justice “Thou, Lord, art guarding all my actions from within.” But, my friend, if the ego occupies all the space within your heart, where forsooth will there be room enough for the Lord to come in? The Lord is verily absent!
Q. — But it is He who is giving me the wicked impulse?
Swamiji: No, by no means. It would be blaspheming the Lord to think in that way. He is not inciting you to evil action, it is all the creation of your desire for self-gratification. If one says the Lord is causing everything to be done, and wilfully persists in wrong-doing, it only brings ruin on him. That is the origin of self-deception. Don’t you feel an elation after you have done a good deed? You then give yourself the credit of doing something good — you can’t help it, it is very human. But how absurd to take the credit of doing the good act on oneself and lay the blame for the evil act on the Lord! It is a most dangerous idea — the effect of ill-digested Gita and Vedanta. Never hold that view. Rather say that He is causing the good work to be done while you are responsible for the evil action. That will bring on devotion and faith, and you will see His grace manifested at every step. The truth about it is that no one has created you — you have created yourself. This is discrimination, this is Vedanta. But one does not understand it before realisation. Therefore the aspirant should begin with the dualistic standpoint, that the Lord is causing the good actions, while he is doing the evil. This is the easiest way to the purification of the mind. Hence you find dualism so strong among the Vaishnavas. It is very difficult to entertain Advaitic (non-dualistic) ideas at the outset. But the dualistic standpoint gradually leads to the realisation of the Advaita.
Hypocrisy is always a dangerous thing. If there is no wilful self-deception, that is to say, if one sincerely believes that the most wicked impulse is also prompted by the Lord, rest assured that one will not have to do those mean acts for long. All the impurities of the mind are quickly destroyed. Our ancient scriptural writers understood this well. And I think that the Tantrika form of worship originated from the time that Buddhism began to decline and, through the oppression of the Buddhists, people began to perform their Vedic sacrifices in secret. They had no more opportunity to conduct them for two months at a stretch, so they made clay images, worshipped them, and consigned them to the water — finishing everything in one night, without leaving the least trace! Man longs for a concrete symbol, otherwise his heart is not satisfied. So in every home that one-night sacrifice began to take place. As Shri Ramakrishna used to say, “Some enter the house by the scavenger’s entrance”, so the spiritual teachers of that time saw that those who could not perform any religious rite owing to their evil propensities, also needed some way of coming round by degrees to the path of virtue. For them those queer Tantrika rites came to be invented.
Q. — They went on doing evil actions thinking them to be good. So how could this remove their evil tendencies?
Swamiji: Why, they gave a different direction to their propensities; they did them, but with the object of realising the Lord.
Q. — Can this really be done?
Swamiji: It comes to the same thing. The motive must be right. And what should prevent them from succeeding?
Q. — But many are caught in the temptation for wine, meat, etc. in trying to get along with such means.
Swamiji: It was therefore that Shri Ramakrishna came. The days of practising the Tantra in that fashion are gone. He, too, practised the Tantra, but not in that way. Where there is the injunction of drinking wine, he would simply touch his forehead with a drop of it. The Tantrika form of worship is a very slippery ground. Hence I say that this province has had enough of the Tantra. Now it must go beyond. The Vedas should be studied. A harmony of the four kinds of Yogas must be practised and absolute chastity must be preserved.
Q. — What do you mean by the harmony of the four Yogas?
Swamiji: Discrimination between the real and the unreal, dispassion and devotion, work and practices in concentration, and along with these there must be a reverential attitude towards women.
Q. — How can one look with reverence on women?
Swamiji: Well, they are the representatives of the Divine Mother. And real well-being of India will commence from the day that the worship of the Divine Mother will truly begin, and every man will sacrifice himself at the altar of the Mother. . . .
Q. — Swamiji, in your boyhood, when we asked you to marry, you would reply, “I won’t, but you will see what I shall become.” You have actually verified your words.
Swamiji: Yes, dear brother, you saw how I was in want of food, and had to work hard besides. Oh, the tremendous labour! Today the Americans out of love have given me this nice bed, and I have something to eat also. But, also, I have not been destined to enjoy physically — and lying on the mattress only aggravates my illness. I feel suffocated, as it were. I have to come down and lie on the floor for relief!