Vivekananda and England

What Vivekananda, as a boy, despised and obstinately refused to learn, proved, in his glorious youth, a mighty instrument of victory in his hands. Apart from his towering spiritual personality, his hold on the English tongue facilitated his hold on the mind, heart and soul of East and West. His obstinacy failed to reverse God’s Will, which was shaping his destiny.

“… Vivekananda has forged from it [the English language] a thrilling clarion of the Vedanta calling both the East and the West…,” so writes K.D. Sethna in his The Indian Spirit and the World’s Future.

I hope it will not be out of place to cite a few momentous lines from that book just to make my readers intimate with the significance and necessity of the English language in India:

“We shall be underestimating the significance of the English language in India if we think that it is only a valuable means of promoting our political, economic and technological interests in the democratic world. English is, above all, an immensely cultural asset. And it is such an asset not simply because it renders available to us magnificent countries of the mind, but also because it renders possible to us the most magnificent expression of our soul.”

It will be no exaggeration to say that by virtue of the English language alone India stands in the vanguard of the political history of mankind.

As each individual has a distinct place to fill in the world, even so every language has an important role. And it has been an established fact that no other European tongue has so much power of assimilating elements from foreign languages as does the English language.

The English language was brought into Britain by Teutonic invaders. These invaders were of three types: Jutes, Saxons and Angles. Modern English has undergone a considerable change. It is no more the language brought into Britain by the Saxons and the Angles.

Grimm, a German linguist, writes in his famous book On the Origin of Languages that “English possesses a veritable power of expression such as perhaps never stood at the command of any other language of men. Its highly spiritual genius and wonderfully happy development and condition have resulted from a surprisingly intimate union of the two noblest languages in modern Europe, the Teutonic and the Roman.”

Not only in his boyhood, but also in the prime of his youth, while his feet were touching the alien shores, Vivekananda’s ruthless contempt for England was almost unbelievable. As regards the English national life, a strong suspicion was then haunting his mind.

To quote him: “No one ever landed on English soil with more hatred in his heart for a race than I did for the English.” But with what result? He had to revise his feeling overnight. In the following lines we shall observe his excessive love for England disclosed by himself before a multitude of people at Calcutta:

“There is none among you here present, my brothers, who loves the English people more that I do now.” We may as well ask him why and how could the English have won his heart? His immediate reply is: “The more I lived among them, saw how the machine was working — the English national life — and mixed with them, I found where the heartbeat of the nation was, and the more I love them.”

"I am not ashamed to confess that I am ignorant of what I do not know."
  — Cicero

Had we been able to share this lofty truth of Cicero’s, there would not have existed the giant wall of misunderstanding between England and India. The arrow of England is Matter. The arrow of India is Spirit. The victory of either can never be the true fulfilment of human birth. Both the arrows must be united to pierce the veil of Ignorance. Lo, the victory of victories, the fulfilment of fulfilments is at our disposal. Vivekananda’s supremely pathetic voice speaks:
"The difficulties that arise between us and the English people are mostly due to ignorance; we do not know them, they do not know us."

Obedience and self-respect are the two divine qualities in a human being. If one can combine these two unique virtues, then truly one has achieved something invaluable. Of the greatest achievement of the English, Vivekananda’s lofty appreciation is this: “They have known how to combine obedience with self-respect.”

I am sure I will lose much in this humble attempt of mine if the ever-inspiring memory of Nivedita does not echo in my heart. In sending his spiritual daughter Nivedita’s supreme sacrifice into the world, Swami Vivekananda declared: “Nivedita is the fairest flower of my work in England.”

The presiding Deity of England not only claps her hands with delight, but also burns herself, as it were, in the flames of ecstasy to hear from a spiritual Giant of the East, “My work in England has been more satisfactory than anywhere else. I firmly believe that if I should die tomorrow, the work in England would not die, but would go on expanding all the time.”

The disciple of Sri Ramakrishna was a live spring of spiritual force. No hyperbole, he was the Recoverer and Vivifier of the submerged soul of India. It was with his Master’s immortal teachings that he vitalised the sinews of India and illumined her darkened soul. Vivekananda was not only a great Indian figure, but also a world influence. What we actually learn from him is to fight while there is life within our limbs. Fight against what? Fight against Weakness, fight against Ignorance.