Salutation to Bhagavan Ramakrishna!
C/O GEORGE W. HALE, ESQ.,
541 DEARBORN AVENUE, CHICAGO,
19th March, 1894.
MY DEAR SHASHI (RAMAKRISHNANANDA),
I have not written to you since coming to this country. But Haridas Bhai's1 letter gives me all the news. It is excellent that G. C. Ghosh2and all of you have treated him with due consideration.
I have no wants in this country, but mendicancy has no vogue here, and I have to labour, that is, lecture in places. It is as cold here as it is hot. The summer is not a bit less hot than in Calcutta. And how to describe the cold in winter! The whole country is covered with snow, three or four feet deep, nay, six or seven feet at places! In the southern parts there is no snow. Snow, however, is a thing of little consideration here. For it snows when the mercury stands at 32° F. In Calcutta it scarcely comes down to 60,° and it rarely approaches zero in England. But here, your mercury sinks to minus 4° or 5°. In Canada, in the north, mercury becomes condensed, when they have to use the alcohol thermometer. When it is too cold, that is, when the mercury stands even below 20°F, it does not snow. I used to think that it must be an exceedingly cold day on which the snow falls. But it is not so, it snows on comparatively warm days. Extreme cold produces a sort of intoxication. No carriages would run; only the sledge, which is without wheels, slides on the ground! Everything is frozen stiff — even an elephant can walk on rivers and canals and lakes. The massive falls of Niagara, of such tremendous velocity, are frozen to marble!! But I am doing nicely. I was a little afraid at first, but necessity makes me travel by rail to the borders of Canada one day, and the next day finds me lecturing in south U.S.A.! The carriages are kept quite warm, like your own room, by means of steam pipes, and all around are masses of snow, spotlessly white. Oh, the beauty of it! I was mortally afraid that my nose and ears would fall off, but to this day they are all right. I have to go out, however, dressed in a heap of warm clothing surmounted by a fur-coat, with boots encased in a woollen jacket, and so on. No sooner do you breathe out than the breath freezes among the beard and moustache! Notwithstanding all this, the fun of it is that they won't drink water indoors without putting a lump of ice into it. This is because it is warm indoors. Every room and the staircase are kept warm by steam pipes. They are first and foremost in art and appliances, foremost in enjoyment and luxury, foremost in making money, and foremost in spending it. The daily wages of a coolie are six rupees, as also are those of a servant; you cannot hire a cab for less than three rupees, nor get a cigar for less than four annas. A decent pair of shoes costs twenty-four rupees, and a suit, five hundred rupees. As they earn, so they spend. A lecture fetches from two hundred up to three thousand rupees. I have got up to five hundred.3 Of course now I am in the very heyday of fortune. They like me, and thousands of people come to hear me speak.
As it pleased the Lord, I met here Mr. Mazoomdar. He was very cordial at first, but when the whole Chicago population began to flock to me in overwhelming numbers, then grew the canker in his mind! . . . The priests tried their utmost to snub me. But the Guru (Teacher) is with me, what could anybody do? And the whole American nation loves and respects me, pays my expenses, and reveres me as a Guru. ... It was not in the power of your priests to do anything against me. Moreover, they are a nation of scholars. Here it would no longer do to say, "We marry our widows", "We do not worship idols", and things of that sort. What they want is philosophy, learning; and empty talk will no more do. Dharmapala is a fine boy. He has not much of learning but is very gentle. He had a good deal of popularity in this country.
Brother, I have been brought to my senses. . . . ये निध्नन्ति निरर्थकं परहितं ते के न जानीमहे — We do not know what sort of people they are who for nothing hinder the welfare of others" (Bhartrihari). Brother, we can get rid of everything, but not of that cursed jealousy. . . . That is a national sin with us, speaking ill of others, and burning at heart at the greatness of others. Mine alone is the greatness, none else should rise to it!!
Nowhere in the world are women like those of this country. How pure, independent, self-relying, and kindhearted! It is the women who are the life and soul of this country. All learning and culture are centred in them. The saying, "या श्री: स्वयं सुकृतिनां भवनेषु — Who is the Goddess of Fortune Herself in the families of the meritorious" (Chandi) — holds good in this country, while that other, "अलक्ष्मीः पापात्मनां — The Goddess of ill luck in the homes of the sinful" (ibid.) — applies to ours. Just think on this. Great God! I am struck dumb with wonderment at seeing the women of America. "त्वं श्रीस्त्वमीश्वरी त्वं ह्रीः — Thou art the Goddess of Fortune, Thou art the supreme Goddess, Thou art Modesty" (ibid.), "या देवी सर्वभूतेषु शक्तिरूपेण संस्थिता — The Goddess who resides in all beings as Power" (ibid.) — all this holds good here. There are thousands of women here whose minds are as pure and white as the snow of this country. And look at our girls, becoming mothers below their teens!! Good Lord! I now see it all. Brother, "यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः — The gods are pleased where the women are held in esteem" — says the old Manu. We are horrible sinners, and our degradation is due to our calling women "despicable worms", "gateways to hell", and so forth. Goodness gracious! There is all the difference between heaven and hell!! "याथातथ्यतोऽर्थान् ब्यदधात् — He adjudges gifts according to the merits of the case" (Isha, 8). Is the Lord to be hoodwinked by idle talk? The Lord has said, "त्वं स्त्रि त्वं पुमानसि त्वं कुमार उत वा कुमारी — Thou art the woman, Thou art the man, Thou art the boy and the girl as well." (Shvetâshvatara Upa.) And we on our part are crying, "दूरमपसर रे चण्डाल — Be off, thou outcast!" "केनैषा निर्मिता नारी मोहिनी etc. — Who has made the bewitching woman?" My brother, what experiences I have had in the South, of the upper classes torturing the lower! What Bacchanalian orgies within the temples! Is it a religion that fails to remove the misery of the poor and turn men into gods! Do you think our religion is worth the name? Ours is only Don't touchism, only "Touch me not", "Touch me not." Good heavens! A country, the big leaders of which have for the last two thousand years been only discussing whether to take food with the right hand or the left, whether to take water from the right-hand side or from the left, ... if such a country does not go to ruin, what other will? "कालः सुप्तेषु जागर्ति कालो हि दुरतिक्रमः — Time keeps wide awake when all else sleeps. Time is invincible indeed!" He knows it; who is there to throw dust in His eyes, my friend?
A country where millions of people live on flowers of the Mohuâ plant, and a million or two of Sadhus and a hundred million or so of Brahmins suck the blood out of these poor people, without even the least effort for their amelioration — is that a country or hell? Is that a religion, or the devil's dance? My brother, here is one thing for you to understand fully — I have travelled all over India, and seen this country too — can there be an effect without cause? Can there be punishment without sin? सर्वशास्त्रपुराणेषु व्यासस्य वचनं ध्रुवम् । परोपकारः पुण्याय पापाय परपीडनम् ॥
— "Amidst all the scriptures and Purânas, know this statement of Vyâsa to be true, that doing good to others conduces to merit, and doing harm to them leads to sin." Isn't it true?
My brother, in view of all this, specially of the poverty and ignorance, I had no sleep. At Cape Comorin sitting in Mother Kumari's temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock — I hit upon a plan: We are so many Sannyasins wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics — it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva use to say, "An empty stomach is no good for religion"? That those poor people are leading the life of brutes is simply due to ignorance. We have for all ages been sucking their blood and trampling them underfoot. . . . Suppose some disinterested Sannyasins, bent on doing good to others, go from village to village, disseminating education and seeking in various ways to better the condition of all down to the Chandâla, through oral teaching, and by means of maps, cameras, globes, and such other accessories — can't that bring forth good in time? All these plans I cannot write out in this short letter. The long and the short of it is — if the mountain does not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. The poor are too poor to come to schools and Pâthashâlâs, and they will gain nothing by reading poetry and all that sort of thing. We, as a nation, have lost our individuality, and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality and raise the masses. The Hindu, the Mohammedan, the Christian, all have trampled them underfoot. Again the force to raise them must come from inside, that is, from the orthodox Hindus. In every country the evils exist not with, but against, religion. Religion therefore is not to blame, but men.
To effect this, the first thing we need is men, and the next is funds. Through the grace of our Guru I was sure to get from ten to fifteen men in every town. I next travelled in search of funds, but do you think the people of India were going to spend money! . . . . Selfishness personified — are they to spend anything? Therefore I have come to America, to earn money myself, and then return to my country and devote the rest of my days to the realisation of this one aim of my life.
As our country is poor in social virtues, so this country is lacking in spirituality. I give them spirituality, and they give me money. I do not know how long I shall take to realise my end. ...These people are not hypocrites, and jealousy is altogether absent in them. I depend on no one in Hindusthan. I shall try to earn the wherewithal myself to the best of my might and carry out my plans, or die in the attempt. "सन्निमित्ते वरं त्यागो विनाशे विनाशे नियते सति — When death is certain, it is best to sacrifice oneself for a good cause."
You may perhaps think what Utopian nonsense all this is! You little know what is in me. If any of you help me in my plans, all right, or Gurudeva will show me the way out. ... We cannot give up jealousy and rally together. That is our national sin!! It is not to be met with in this country, and this is what has made them so great. Nowhere in the world have I come across such "frogs-in-the-well" as we are. Let anything new come from some foreign country, and America will be the first to accept it. But we? — oh, there are none like us in the world, we men of Aryan blood!! Where that heredity really expresses itself, I do not see. ...Yet they are descendants of the Aryans?