We live in acrimonious times. All around us we see people trying to rise up by pulling another down. Personal success at the expense of the other seems to be the mantra of today. Everywhere we look this saga is being played out. We see it in the corporate world, in national and international politics, in Bollywood and the TV serials and even in our own family lives.
Living in such times it is common that many of us too, would have gone through instances when someone insulted us, belittled us in front of others or spread false and malicious rumours about us.
In such trying situations, what must be our response? Should we pay back in kind? Return blow for blow and insult for insult?
In the following exchange with a disciple, Swami Vivekananda answers this very question!
For Swamiji too was not a stranger to verbal abuse. In his life-time he faced many insults, slander and vilification, not just at the hands of foreigners but from his very own fellow Indians as well.
The Many Insults that Swami Vivekananda Had to Bear
After his incredible success at the World’s Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda had endeared himself to the American public and many Christian ministers became his warm friends. But alongside this incredible success, Swamiji also attracted vicious attacks from many quarters.
Chief amongst his opponents were sections of the Christian priestly class. For Swami Vivekananda had spoken many frank words in America, exposing the “un-Christ-like” activities of the missionaries in India.
Many of these missionaries had gone against Christ’s fundamental teachings of love, compassion and truth; and had been treating Hindus with utter contempt and hatred, openly disparaging Hinduism and its customs, spreading malicious lies about the Hindu religion (such as Hindu mothers throwing their new born babies in the Ganges) – all with the aim of provoking the sentiments of gullible Americans, so that they would part with money to fund religious conversions and other missionary activities.
Swamiji rallied against this hypocrisy and as a result earned much enmity.
Apart from this some Indian delegates at the Parliament of Religions became intensely jealous of Swamiji’s widespread fame and joined in the missionary vilification. In these bitter attacks, a few Hindu organizations in India, as well as the Theosophists lent their hearty support. (For more see: Vivekananda a Biography – Chapter: The Parliament of Religions.)
In the following insightful and historic conversation, Swami Vivekananda details how he dealt with insults and slander heaped at him by those who were attempting to pull him down and derail his work.
How to Deal With Insults and Slander? Advice from Swami Vivekananda
Disciple: Well, sir, did not the bigoted (prejudiced) Christians oppose you?
Swami Vivekananda (Swamiji): Yes, they did. When people began to honour me, then the Padris (Christian priests) were after me. They spread many slanders about me by publishing them in the newspapers.
Many asked me to contradict these slanders. But I never took the slightest notice of them. It is my firm conviction that no great work is accomplished in this world by low cunning; so without paying any heed to these vile slanders, I used to work steadily at my mission.
The upshot I used to find was that often my slanderers, feeling repentant afterwards, would surrender to me and offer apologies, by themselves contradicting the slanders in the papers.
Sometimes it so happened that learning that I had been invited to a certain house, somebody would communicate those slanders to my host, who hearing them, would leave home, locking his door. When I went there to attend the invitation, I found it was deserted and nobody was there. Again a few days afterwards, they themselves, learning the truth, would feel sorry for their previous conduct and come to offer themselves as disciples.
The fact is, my son, this whole world is full of mean ways of worldliness. But men of real moral courage and discrimination are never deceived by these. Let the world say what it chooses, I shall tread the path of duty — know this to be the line of action for a hero. Otherwise, if one has to attend day and night to what this man says or that man writes, no great work is achieved in this world.
Do you know this Sanskrit Shloka (verse): “Let those who are versed in the ethical codes praise or blame, let Lakshmi, the goddess of Fortune, come or go wherever she wisheth, let death overtake him today or after a century, the wise man never swerves from the path of rectitude (righteousness).”
Let people praise you or blame you, let fortune smile or frown upon you, let your body fall today or after a Yuga, see that you do not deviate from the path of Truth.
How much of tempest and waves one has to weather, before one reaches the haven of Peace! The greater a man has become, the fiercer ordeal he has had to pass through. Their lives have been tested true by the touchstone of practical life, and only then have they been acknowledged great by the world.
Those who are faint-hearted and cowardly sink their barks near the shore, frightened by the raging of waves on the sea. He who is a hero never casts a glance at these. Come what may, I must attain my ideal first — this is Purushakara, manly endeavor; without such manly endeavor no amount of Divine help will be of any avail to banish your inertia.
– Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 7
Lessons We Can Learn
From the above talk of Swami Vivekananda some wonderful lessons can be drawn:
#1 – Be Detached and Do Not React
The first is what Swamiji has explicitly stated i.e. be detached and do not react. When someone insults us, humiliates us or says derogatory things about us, our normal reaction is to hit back in kind, return blow for blow, insult for insult.
“Think of the slavery in which we are bound. Every sound of praise immediately attracts me. Every word of blame immediately repels me.
Every fool has an influence over my mind. Is this a life worth living?”
– Swami Vivekananda
But these types of reactions do us no good because they only pull us down into a poisonous spiral of increasing animosity and hatred, creating in our minds great anger, hurt, anxiety and turmoil.
The person in front abuses us, we hit back; the opponent doubles down; we responds even more bitterly…and the chain continues. The mind’s balance is thoroughly disturbed. Instead of focusing on work and other constructive activities, its energies are diverted towards bringing down the opponent.
Possessing such a reactionary mind what can we hope to achieve in life? Absolutely nothing.
And so every great teacher of Vedanta has said – the source of all our misery lies in the way in which we react to outside provocations. The external world we cannot hope to control. It will do and say exactly as it pleases. But the inside world – our mental world, we can with hard-work and practice, fully control. This is the aim of Yoga. When no reaction comes from inside, when we are perfectly detached to what another person says or thinks about us, then we will finally be at peace.
#2 – Do Not Vilify Other Religions
The second lesson to learn is that no religion can be saved by the vilification of another. Many well-meaning souls (Christians, Muslims and Hindus) who feel that their respective religion is under attack, dedicate great energy to vilifying other religions.
But real religion is in self-reformation – in transforming our own inner nature so that we become more and more like our chosen Ideal (be it Jesus or Allah or Krishna). Heaping abuse or trying to vilify another person’s chosen religious path, will not lead us to God, instead it will take us in the opposite direction.
#3 – Let Us Separate the Teachings of the Master from the Activities of the Followers
“In truth, had I lived in the days of Jesus, I would have washed His feet, not with my tears, but with my heart’s blood!”
– Swami Vivekananda
The third is that even though Swamiji came under severe attack from certain quarters of the Christian priestly class, he did not let this experience cloud the intense love and devotion that he felt for Christ.
Swami Vivekananda could separate the activities of some misguided followers of Christ, from the life and teachings of the great Master himself. We too must learn to make this distinction, whenever we set out to examine religions other than our own.
For each misguided soul who attacked Swamiji, there were several other generous and godly Christians in America and England, who came forward to help his work. Much of the money to construct the Belur Math and to found the Ramakrishna Mission came from donations of these great people.
Also before Swamiji went to America, Indians (even rich Maharajahs) did not really come forward with monetary support to help his cause. It was for this reason that he decided to go to America. It was only after Christian Americans appreciated his message of Vedanta that his own countrymen recognized his worth. For the making of Swami Vivekananda therefore each Indian owes a debt of gratitude to our American brethren. If they had not recognized Swamiji’s intellectual genius, we certainly would have missed out learning from this great guru.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – The whole world truly is one interlinked family!
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