LOVE RELIGION’S ESSENCE
(Ray and Wanda Ellis, “Swami Vivekananda in Washington D.C.”, The Vedanta Kesari, 1991, pp. 370-73.)
Vive Kananda, a Brahmin Monk,
Preaches at the People’s Church
[Washington Times, Monday, October 29, 1894]
Vive Kananda, the Brahmin monk, spoke to the congregation of the People’s Church, No. 423 G Street northwest, at 11:00 a.m. yesterday. (On Sunday, October 28, 1894, Swami Vivekananda delivered two talks at the People’s Church, of which there are no verbatim transcripts available. Cf. Complete Works, II: 497-99 for an interview with the Swami given after this morning sermon.) . . . Dr. Kent introduced the monk. . . .
Vive Kananda, coming forward, said as a boy at the university he studied comparative religion. In India are many religions. One-fifth are Mahomedans. A million are Christians. He studied all. He listened to a great Hindoo preacher, and when he had finished, said:
“My brother, have you seen God?
“The preacher looked up in surprise.
“How, then, do you know these things are true?”
“My father told me.”
“Who told your father?”
“His father,” and so on through his ancestors to the clouds.
He heard a Christian preacher of great eloquence. This man told the seeker for truth that if he was not immersed in water at once he was in great danger to be roasted alive. Upon further questions this Christian also, through the records of his books, went back to his ancestors, and so back to the clouds.
The Student Not Satisfied
This did not satisfy the student. He set about praying. He prayed sometimes three days and nights with much weeping and without food. He finally found a man who knew no books, not even to write his own name. This sage was preaching his religion. When asked the old question, he replied:
“Yes, I see God now and I will teach you to see Him.”
This man bore the stamp of God in his features. It was the same certificate that came to the man of Nazareth when the dove descended upon Him at Jordan. He made his hearer to believe that God lives and religion is not a mockery.
For twelve years Kananda sat at this man’s feet. He was the master. He said one day, “Take up this book.” Kananda took up the book and read. It was a calendar. He read in it where the rainfall was foretold. It said that within a certain time so many tons of rain would fall in a certain district. “Now,” said the teacher, “close the book and press it.” He did so. “Squeeze it very hard.” He obeyed. “Did any water come from the book?” “None.” So are all books. The true religion is here, at the heart.
The truth is people do not want God. Far from it. Religion is largely fashionable. My lady has a fine parlor, elegant furniture, a piano, beautiful jewelry, well-fitting, costly dresses, a hat that is the latest thing out. She cannot get along without a dash of religion to keep up with her set. There is much of this religion, but it is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is the root of all evil. This sort of religion is not of God. It is only the shadow. People with such religion sometimes grow to be in earnest and talk about religious things as if they had some reality. So talking about religion without having it these people fall to quarreling and fighting. “Mine, mine,” is the cry, never “thine, thine.” “My religion is best.” “No, mine,” and so they fight as did the savage tribes about their rival gods, Mambo and Jumbo. Competition in religion, as in business, is the bane of all.
Your own Paul says “all else shall perish, but love abideth.” That is the great truth. That false doctrine that my nation shall be aggrandized at the cost of every other nation is not of God.
A youth went to his master and said, “I want to know God.” The master paid little attention, but the youth persisted and would not be put off. Finally one day the master said: “Let us go down to the river and have a bath.” So they went down and the youth plunged in. The master followed and falling upon him held him under. The youth struggled, but the master would not let him up. Finally, when he seemed to be almost dead he desisted, drew him from the water and revived him. “What did you most want when in the water?” the master asked. “Breath,” was the answer. “Then you don’t want God.”
So it is with men, what do you want? You want breath, without it you cannot live; you want bread, without it you cannot live; you want a house, without it you cannot live. When you want God as you want these things, He manifests himself to you. It is a great thing to want God.
A majority of men and women in this world want the enjoyments of sense. They have been told that there is a God afar off and if they will send him a cartload of words he will help them get these good things of this world. But in every land there are a few persons who want God. They would be one with the essence of good and truth. Religion is not shopkeeping. Love asks no return; love begs not; love gives.
Religion is not an outgrowth of fear; religion is joyous. It is the spontaneous outburst of the songs of birds and the beautiful sight of the morning. It is an expression of the spirit. It is from within an expression of the free and noble spirit.
If misery is religion, what is hell? No man has a right to make himself miserable. To do so is a mistake; it is a sin. Every peal of laughter is a prayer sent to God.
To go back, what I have learned is this: Religion is not in books, not in forms, not in sects, not in nations; religion is in the human heart. It is engraved there. The proof of it is in ourselves.
I make two points. There are sects. Let them go on increasing in number till each is a sect by himself. None can see God exactly as another; each must believe in Him and serve Him as he sees Him. Then I want a harmonizing of the sects. Individuality is not in a fight with universality.
Let each for himself and all together fight evils. If you have a power of eight and I a power of four, and you come and destroy me, you have lost at least four. You have only four left to conquer evil. It is love alone that can conquer hatred. If there is power in hate there is infinitely more power in love.