We live in trying times. These days not just India, but much of the world is battling corruption and moral degradation, which have taken firm root across all levels of society.
In such times, the following lesson from the life of Swami Vivekananda is especially pertinent, as it brings with it the much needed antidote to the wide-spread poison – namely, standing up for what is right, for what is the truth, even if one has to bear unfavorable consequences as a result.
The following incident took place in the late 1800’s, when India was not a free democratic country; being divided into small princely states, which in turn came under the over-arching rule of the British crown. Hundreds of years of rule by profligate Maharajas, followed by ruthless colonial exploitation by the British, had pushed the Indian masses into the arms of mind-numbing poverty and frequent famines.
With their spirits crushed, the common man’s mentality had become one of extreme fear and deference towards their Indian and British rulers. In those trying circumstances Vivekananda dared to boldly speak the truth, as recounted in this story by Swami Nikhilananda, in his must read book “Vivekananda a Biography” (page 107) (World, India).
Once Swami Vivekananda was visiting the city of Bangalore, in the then princely State of Mysore. Greatly impressed by Vivekananda’s brilliance, charm and wide learning, the Maharaja invited him to be a guest at his palace.
One day, in front of his high officials, the Maharaja asked the Swami, “What do you think of my courtiers?”
“Well,” came the bold reply, “I think Your Highness has a very good heart, but you are unfortunately surrounded by courtiers who are generally flatterers. Courtiers are the same everywhere.”
“But,” the Maharaja protested, “my prime minster is not such. He is intelligent and trustworthy.”
“But, Your Highness, the prime minister is the one who robs the Maharaja and pays the political agent.”
The Maharaja changed the subject, and afterwards warned the Swami to be more discreet in expressing his opinion of the officials; otherwise those unscrupulous people might even poison him.
But the Swami burst out: “What! Do you think an honest sannyasin (sage) is afraid of speaking the truth, even though it may cost him his very life?”
“I can never tell a lie.”
“It was the great King Bhartrihari¹ who said – “Let the sages blame or let them praise; let the goddess of fortune come or let her go wherever she likes; let death come to-day, or let it come in hundreds of years; he indeed is the steady man who does not move one inch from the way of truth.”
“So stand up men and women, dare to believe in the truth, dare to practice the truth!”
Note 1: According to Indian lore, King Bhartrihari, was the older brother of the legendary Indian king, Vikramaditya, who ruled Ujjain in 1 BC. Bhartrihari is said to have renounced his princely existence and become a Yogi. He is credited with having composed the profound spiritual verses of the “Vairagya Satakam” or “The Hundred Verses on Renunciation”.
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