Tuesday, January 1, 2008

On this first day of the new year, when many people take the opportunities for new beginnings, I am thinking of a personality with whom I had always been awed and impressed with since I was a child - Swami Vivekananda. In the famous poem "Archaïscher Torso Apollos" or "The Archaic Torso of Apollo" by the German Poet Rainier Maria Rilke, the last line is "Du mußt dein Leben ändern" - You must change your life! Swami Vivekananda's advice is one step further - he said that we can make the world to be good and pure only if we ourselves are good and pure - therefore he says, let us purify ourselves. "Let us make ourselves perfect." Reading the collected works of Swami Vivekananda is something I might get to do if I live to an old age, but until then, I have satisfied myself by reading his delectable small essays and speeches. One of the speeches that I like a lot is called "Work and it's Secret", available at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_2/Work_and_its_Secret

Vivekananda speaks about the tremendous difficulty we face in escaping our lot as human beings, subject to desires which bring us suffering, and he says, break away from it - it will require superdivine strength, not just superhuman strength, but this is what you must do - "Du mußt dein Leben ändern".

"I know the difficulties. Tremendous they are, and ninety per cent of us become discouraged and lose heart, and in our turn, often become pessimists and cease to believe in sincerity, love, and all that is grand and noble. So, we find men who in the freshness of their lives have been forgiving, kind, simple, and guileless, become in old age lying masks of men. Their minds are a mass of intricacy. There may be a good deal of external policy, possibly. They are not hot-headed, they do not speak, but it would be better for them to do so; their hearts are dead and, therefore, they do not speak. They do not curse, not become angry; but it would be better for them to be able to be angry, a thousand times better, to be able to curse. They cannot. There is death in the heart, for cold hands have seized upon it, and it can no more act, even to utter a curse, even to use a harsh word.

All this we have to avoid: therefore I say, we require superdivine power. Superhuman power is not strong enough. Superdivine strength is the only way, the one way out. By it alone we can pass through all these intricacies, through these showers of miseries, unscathed. We may be cut to pieces, torn asunder, yet our hearts must grow nobler and nobler all the time."

- Swami Vivekananda, Speech delivered in Los Angeles, California, January 4, 1900