The Good News of Giving and Receiving Books, 6.26.2017

by Mark Chmiel

Ten years ago, because of a Social Justice theology class, I got to know Melissa Banerjee, a Bengali-American.  It made sense to me to give her a hardback edition of the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Later on, after staying several weeks in India, she brought back to me Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna’s foremost disciple. Melissa inscribed the book this way: “Dr C., Hope this brings  you a small ‘piece’ of the peace I experienced at Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission and Math at Belur, Kolkata.”

This selection of Vivekananda’s letters  range from 1888 to 1902, and address members of his community as well as  Westerners eager to learn more about Indian spirituality.   The following is a small sample  of passages I noted of the swami’s observations, advice, exhortation, and insight…

On the Buddha: His greatness lies in his unrivaled sympathy. 18

Have faith in yourselves, great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.  64

Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance, the difference between soul and soul is due to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.  69

There will be no spiritual strength unless one renounces the world.  144 (One of Gandhi’s characteristic and concise maxims was, “Renounce and enjoy.”)

Be jealous of none. Be ready to lend a hand to every worker of good. Send a good thought for every being in the three worlds.  167

Work on as if I never existed. Work as if on each of you depended the whole work. Fifty centuries are looking on you, the future of India depends on you. 175

Study Sanskrit diligently as well as practice devotion. 187

On Sri Ramakrishna: The books were theories, he was the realization. This man had in fifty-one years lived the five thousand years of national spiritual life, and so raised himself to be an object-lesson for future generations.  185 (This reminds me of  philosophers and scholars  who said to the Bengali saint, Sri Anandamayi Ma: “We have studied dry scriptures. But, we now see before us, a living embodiment of all that is contained in our holy books of wisdom.”)

Patience, purity, and perseverance will prevail.  191

Love makes the whole universe as one’s own home.  224

Want of sympathy and lack of energy are at the root of all misery, and you must therefore gives these two up. 280 (In Waiting for God, Simone Weil writes, The love of our neighbor in all its fulness simply means being able to say to him: ‘What are you going through?’  It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled ‘unfortunate,’ but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is enough, but it is indispensable, to know how to look at him in  certain way.)

Teach principles through stories.  285

Don’t enter into wrangles with anybody—always maintain a calm attitude.  325

Everything in this world is like a banyan-seed, which, though appearing tiny  as a mustard-seed, has yet the gigantic banyan tree latent within it. 354

Letters of Swami Vivekananda, published by Swami Bodhasarananda. Advaita Ashrama, 2008.

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