The Present Situation

Sri Aurobindo Ghose

(A speech delivered in Bombay on 19 January 1907 at the invitation of the Bombay National Union)

My fellow countrymen, Mr. Ranade has said that there is no President here, but that God Himself is our President. I accept that remark in the most reverent spirit, and before addressing you, I ask Him first to inspire me. I have been asked to speak on the `Needs of the Present Situation'. What is the present situation? What is the situation of this country today? Just as I was coming in, this paper [showing a copy of the `Bande Mataram' newspaper] was put into my hands, and looking at the first page of it, I saw two items of news, `The ``Yugantar'' Trial, Judgement delivered, the Printer convicted and sentenced to two years' rigorous imprisonment.' The other is `Another Newspaper Prosecution, the ``Navasakti'' office sacked and searched, Printer let out on a bail of Rs. 10,000.' This is the situation of the country today. Do you realise what I mean? There is a creed in India today which calls itself Nationalism, a creed which has come to you from Bengal. This is a creed which many of you have accepted, and you accepted it when you called yourselves Nationalists. Have you realised, have you yet realised what that means? Have you realised what it is that you have taken in hand? Or is it that you have merely accepted it in the pride of a superior intellectual conviction? You call yourselves Nationalists. What is Nationalism? Natinalism is not a mere polotical programme; Nationalism is a religion that has come from God; Nationalism is a creed in which you shall have to live. Let no man dare to call himself a Nationalist if he does so merely with a sort of intellectual pride, thinking that he is more patriotic, thinking that he is something higher than those who do not call themselves by that name. If you are going to be a Nationalist, if you are going to assent to this religion of Nationalists, you must do it in the religions spirit. You must remember that you are the instrument of God for the salvation of your own country. You must live as the instruments of God. What is this that has happened in Bengal? You call yourselves Nationalists, but when this happens to you, what will you do? This thing is happening daily in Bengal, because, in Bengal, Nationalism has come to the people as a religion, and it has been accepted as a religion. But certain forces which are against that religion are trying to crush its rising strength. It always happens when a new religion is preached, when God is going to be born in the people, that such forces rise with all their weapons in their hands to crush this religion. In Bengal too a new religion, a religion divine and satwic has been preached, and this religion they are trying with all the weapons at their command to crush. By what strength are we in Bengal able to survive? Nationalism has not been crushed. Nationalism is not going to be crushed. Nationalism survives in the strength of God and it is not possible to crush it, whatever weapons are brought against it. Nationalism is immortal; Nationalism cannot die; because it is no human thing. It is God who is working in Bengal. God cannot be killed, God cannot be sent to jail. When these things happen among you, I say to you solemnly, what will you do? Will you do as they do in Bengal? [Cries of `Yes'] Don't lightly say `yes'. It is a somen thing; and suppose that God puts you this question, how will you answer it? Have you got a real faith? Or is it merely a political aspiration? Is it merely a larger kind of selfishness? Or is it merely that you wish to be free to oppress others, as you are being oppressed? Do you hold you political creed from a higher source? It is God that is born in you? Have you realised that you are merely the instruments of God, that your bodies are not your own? You are merely instruments of God for the work of the Almighty. Have you realised that? If you have realised that, then you are truly Nationalists; then alone will you be able to restore this great nation. In Bengal it has been realised clearly by some, more clearly by others, but it has been realised and you on this side of the country must also realise it; then there will be a blessing on our work, and this great nation will rise again and become once more what it was in the days of its spiritual greatness. [Applause] You are the instruments of God to save the light, to save the spirit of India from lasting obscuration and abasement.

Let me tell you what it is that has happened in Bengal. You all know what Bengal used to be; you all know that `Bengali' used to be a term of reproach among the nations; when people spoke of Bengal, with what feelings did they speak of it? Was it with feelings of respect? Was it with feelings of admiration? You know very well what people of other countries used to say of the Bengali. You know well what you yourselves used to say of the Bengali. Do you think that now? If anybody had told you that Bengal would come forward as the saviour of India, how many of you would have believed it? You would have said, `No. The saviour of India cannot be Bengal; it may be Maharashtra; it may be Punjab; but it will not be Bengal; the idea is absurd.' What has happened then? What has caused this change? What has made the Bengali so different from his old self? One thing has happened in Bengal, and it is this, that Bengal is learning to believe. Bengal was once drunk with the wine of European civilisation and with the purely intellectual teaching that it received from the West. It began to see all things, to judge all things through the imperfect instrumentality of the intellect. When it was so, Bengal became atheistic, it became a land of doubters and cynics. But still in Bengal there was an element of strength. Whatever the Bengali believed, if he believed at all - many do not believe - but if he believed at all, there was one thing about the Bengali, that he lived what he believed. If he was a Brahmo, or if he was a social reformer, no matter whether what he believed was true or not, but if he believed, he lived that belief. If he believed that once thing was necessary for the salvation of the country, if he believed that a thing was true and that it should be done, he did not stop to think about it. He would not stop to consider from all intellectual standpoints whether the truth in it was merely an ideal and to balance whether he would do honestly what he believed or whether he could hold the belief intellectually without living it, but without regard to consequences to himself, he went and did what he believed. And if he was not a Brahmo, if he was an orthodox Hindu, still if he really believed what the Hindu shastras taught then he never hesitated to drive even his dearest away, rather than aid by this weakness in corrupting society. He never hesitated to enforce what he believed to the uttermost without thinking of the consequences to himself.

Well, what was the one saving element in the Bengali nature? The Bengali has the faculty of belief. Belief is not a merely intellectual process, belief is not a mere persuasion of the mind, belief is something that is in our heart, and what you believe, you must do, because belief is from God. It is to the heart that God seeks, it is in the heart that God resides. This saved the Bengali. Because of this capacity of belief, we were chosen as the people who were to save India, the people who were to stand foremost, the people who must suffer for their belief, the people who must meet everything in the faith that God was with them and that God is in them. Such a people need not be politically strong, it need not be a people sound in physique, it need not be a people of the highest intellectual understanding. It must be a people who can believe. In Bengal there came a flood of religious truth. Certain men were born, men whom the educated world would not have recognised if that belief, if that God within them had not been there to open their eyes, men whose lives were very different from what our education, our Western education, taught us to admire. One of them, the man who had the greatest influence and has done the most to regenerate Bengal, could not read and write a single word 1. He was a man who had been what they call absolutely useless to the world. But he had this one divine faculty in him, that he had more than faith and had realised God. He was a man who lived that many would call the life of a mad man, a man without intellectual training, a man without any outward sign of culture or civilisation, a man who lived on the alms of others, such a man as the English-educated India would ordinarily talk of as one useless to society; even if he does not call him a bane to society, he will call him useless to society. He will say, `This man is ignorant. What does he know? What can he teach me who have received from the West all that it can teach?' But God knew what he was doing. He sent that man to Bengal and set him in the temple of Dakshineshwar in Calcutta, and from North and South and East and West, the educated men, men who were the pride of the university, who had studied all that Europe can teach, came to fall at the feet of this ascetic. The work of salvation, the work of raising India has begun.

Consider the men who are really leading the movement. One thing I will ask you to observe and that is that there are very few who have not been touched by the touch of the sadhu. If you ask who influenced Babu Bipin Chandra Pal, it was a sadhu2. Among other men who lead in Bengal is the man who started this paper which is being prosecuted3. He is also one of the leading men. You may not know his name here, but he is well-known throughout Bengal, and he had done much to forward this movement [cries of `Bande Mataram']; he is a man who has lived the life of a sadhu, and taken his inspiration and strength from that only source from which inspiration and strength can come. I spoke to you the other day about national education, and I spoke of a man who had given his life to that work, the man who really organised the National College in Calcutta, and that man also is a disciple of a sannyasin4, that man also though he lives in the world lives like a sannyasin, and if you take the young workers in Bengal, men that have come forward to do the work of God, what will you find? What is their strength? What is the strength which enables them to bear all the obstacles that come in their way and to resist all the oppression that threatens them? Let me speak a word to you about that. There is a section of thought in India which regards Nationalism as `madness'. The men who think like that are men of great intellectual ability, men who have studied deeply, who have studied economics, who have studied history, men who are entitled to respect, men from whom you would naturally accept leading and guidance, and they say that Nationalism will ruin this country. What is it that makes them talk like this? Many of them are patriots, many of them are thoroughly sincere and honest, many of them desire the good of the country. What is it that is wanting in them? This is wanting. They are men who have lived in the pure intellect only and they look at things purely from the intellectual standpoint. What does the intellect think? What must it tell you if you also consult the intellect merely? Here is a work that you have undertaken, a work so gigantic, so stupendous, the means for which are so poor, the resistance to which will be so strong, so organised, so disciplined, so well-equipped with all the weapons that science can supply, with all the strength that human power and authority can give, and what means have you with which to carry out this tremendous work of yours? If you look at it intellectually, and these men look at it form the intellectual standpoint, it is hopeless. Here are these men who are being prosecuted. How are they going to resist? They cannot resist. They have to go straight to jail. Well, these gentlemen argue and they are arguing straight from the intellect, they ask, `How long will you be able to resist like that? How long will this passive resistance work? All your leaders, all your strong men will be sent to jail, you will be crushed, and not only will you be crushed, the nation will be completely crushed.' If you argue from the intellect, this seems to be true. I cannot tell you of any material weapon with which you will meet those who are commissioned to resist your creed of Nationalism when you try to live it. If you ask what material weapons we have got, I must tell you that material weapons may help you no doubt but if you rely wholly upon material weapons, then what they say is perfectly true, that Nationalism is a madness.

Of course there is another side to it. If you say that Nationalism cannot avail, then again I ask the intellect of these people, what will avail? Intellectually speaking, speaking from the Moderate's standpoint, what will avail? What do they rely upon? They rely upon a foreign force in the country. If you do not rely upon God, if you do not rely upon something mightier than material strength, then you will have to depend solely upon what others can give. There are men who think that what God cannot give for the salvation of India, the British Government will give. What you cannot expect from God, you are going to expect from the British government. Your expectation is vain. Their interests are not yours, their interests are very different from yours, and they will do what their interests tell them. You cannot expect anything else. What then does this intellectual process lead you to? This intellectual process, if it is used honestly, if it is followed to the very end, leads you to despair. It leads you to death. You have nothing which can help you, because you have no material strength at present which the adversary cannot crush, and the adversary will certainly not be so foolish as to help you, or to allow you to develop the necessary strength unmolested. What then is the conclusion? The only conclusion is that there is nothing to be done. That is the conclusion to which this intellectual process will lead you.

I was speaking at Poona on this subject, and I told them of my experience in Bengal. When I went to Bengal three or four years before the swadeshi movement was born, to see what was the hope of revival, what was the political condition of the people, and whether there was the possibility of a real movement, what I found there was that the prevailing mood was apathy and despair. People had believed that regeneration could only come from outside, that another nation would take us by the hand and lift us up and that we have nothing to do for ourselves. Now that belief has been thoroughly broken. They had come to realise that help cannot come from this source, and then they had nothing to rely upon. Their intellects could not tell them of any other source from which help could come, and the result was that apathy and despair spread everywhere, and most of the workers who were really honest with themselves were saying that there was no help for this nation and that we were doomed. Well, this state of despair was the best thing that could have happened for Bengal, for it meant that the intellect had done its best, that the intellect had done all that was possible for it, and that the work of the unaided intellect in Bengal was finished. The intellect having nothing to offer but despair became quiescent and when the intellect ceased to work, the heart of Bengal was open and ready to receive the voice of God whenever He should speak. When the message came at last, Bengal was ready to receive it and the nation rose, the whole nation lifted itself out of delusions and out of despair, and it was by this sudden rising, by this sudden awakening from dream that Bengal found the way of salvation and declared to all India that eternal life, immortality and not lasting degradation was our fate. [Applause] Bengal lived in that faith. She felt a mightier truth than any that earth can give, because she held that faith from God and was able to live in that faith.

Then that happened which always happens when God brings other forces to fight against the strength which He Himself has inspired. Because it is always necessary for the divinely appointed strength to grow by suffering; without suffering, without the lesson of selflessness, without the moral force of self-sacrifice, God within us cannot grow. Sri Krishna cannot grow to manhood unless he is called upon to work for others, unless the Asuric forces of the world are about him and work against him and make him feel his strength. Therefore in Bengal there came a time, after the first outbreak of triumphant hope, when all the material forces that can be brought bear against Nationalism were gradually brought into play, and the question was asked of Bengal, `Can you suffer? Can you survive?' The young men of Bengal who had rushed forward in the frenzy of the moment, in the inspiration of the new gospel they had received rushed forward rejoicing in the new-found strength and expecting to bear down all obstacles that came in their way, were not called upon to suffer. They were called upon to bear the crown, not of victory, but of martyrdom. They had to learn the real nature of their new strength. It was not their own strength, but it was the force which was working through them, and they had to learn to be the instruments of that force.

What is it that we have learned then? What is the need of the situation of which I am to tell you today? It is not a political programme. I have spoken to you about many things. I have written about many things, about swadeshi, boycott, national education arbitration and other subjects. But there was one truth that I have always tried, and those who have worked with me have also tried to lay down as the foundation stone of all that we preached. It is not by any mere political programme, not by national education alone, not by swadeshi alone, not by boycott alone, that this country can be saved. Swadeshi by itself may lead to a little more material prosperity, and when it does, you might lose sight of the real thing you sought to do in the glamour of wealth, in the attraction of wealth and in the desire to keep it safe. In other subject countries also, there was material development; under the Roman Empire there was material development, there was industrial progress, but industrial progress and material development did not bring life to the nation. When the hour of trial came, it was found that these nations which had been developing industrially, which had been developing materially, were not alive. No, they were dead and at a touch from outside they crumbled to pieces. So, do no think that it is any particular programme or any particular method which is the need of the situation. These are merely ways of working; they are merely particular concrete lines upon which the spirit of God is working in a nation, but they are not in themselves the one thing needful. What is the one thing needful? What is it that has helped the older men who have gone to prison? What is it that have been their strength, that has enabled then to stand against all temptations and against all dangers and obstacles? They have had one and all of them consciously or unconsciously one over-mastering idea, one idea which nothing can shake, and this was the idea that there is a great power at work to help India, and that we are doing what it bids us. Often they do not understand what they are doing. They do not always realise who guides or where he will guide them; but they have this conviction within, not in the intellect but in the heart, that the power that is guiding them is invincible, that it is almighty, that it is an immortal and irresistible power and that it will do its work. They have nothing to do. They have simply to obey that power. They have simply to go where it leads them. They have only to speak words that it tells them to speak, and to do the thing that it tells them to do. If the finger points them to prison, to the prison they go. Whatever it bids them to endure, they gladly endure. They do not know how that enduring will help, and the worldly-wise people may tell them that it is impolitic, that by doing this they will be wasting the strength of the country, they will be throwing the best workers away, they are not saving up the forces of the country. But we know that the forces of the country are other than outside forces. There is only one force, ad for that force, I am not necessary, you are not necessary, he is not necessary. Neither myself nor another, nor Bipin Chandra Pal, nor all these workers who have gone to prison. None of them is necessary. Let them be thrown as so much substance, the country will not suffer. God is doing everything. We are not doing anything. What he bids us suffer, we suffer because the suffering is necessary to give others strength. When He throws us away, He does so because we are no longer required. If things become worse, we shall have not only to go to jail, but give up our lives and if those who seem to stand in front or to be absolutely indispensable are called upon to throw their bodies away, we shall then know that that also is wanted, that this is a work that God has asked us to do, and that in the place of those who are thrown away, God will bring many more. He Himself is behind us. He Himself is the worker and the work. [Applause] He is immortal in the hearts of His people. Faith then is what we have in Bengal. Some of us may not have it consciously; some may not call it by that particular name. As I said, we have developed intellectuality, we have developed it notably and we are still much dominated by it. Many have come to this belief through the longing to live for their countrymen, to suffer for their countrymen, because God is not only here in me He is within all of you, it is God whom I love, it is God for whom I wish to suffer. [Applause] In that way many have come to do what God bade them to do and He knows which way to lead a man. When it is His will, He will lead him aright.

Another thing, which is only another name for faith, is selflessness. This movement in Bengal, this movement of Nationalism is not guide by any self-interest, not at the heart of it. Whatever there may be in some minds, it is not, at the heart of it, a political self-interest that we are pursuing. It is a religion which we are trying to live. It is a religion by which we are trying to realise God in the nation, in our fellow-countrymen. We are trying to realise Him in the three hundred millions of our people. We are trying, some of us consciously, some of us unconsciously, we are trying to live not for our own interests, but but to work and to die for others. When a young worker in Bengal has to go to jail, when is is asked to suffer, he does not feel any pang in that suffering, he does not fear suffering. He goes forward with joy. He says, `The hour of my consecration has come, and I have to thank God now that the time for laying myself on His altar has arrived and that I have been chosen to suffer for the good of my countrymen. This is the hour of my greatest joy and the fulfillment of my life'. [Loud applause] This is the second aspect of our religion, and is the absolute denial of the idea of one's separate self, and the finding of one's higher eternal Self in the three hundred millions of people in whom God Himself lives.

The third thing, which is again another name for faith and selflessness is courage. When you believe in God, when you believe that God is guiding you, believe that God is doing all and that you are doing nothing, what is there to fear? How can you fear when it is your creed, when it is your religion, to throw yourself away, to throw your money, your body, your life and all that you have, away for others? What is it that you have to fear? There is nothing to fear. Even when you are called before the tribunals of this world, you can face them with courage. Because your very religion means that you have courage. Because it is not you, it is something within you. What can all these tribunals, what can all the powers of the world do to that which is within you, that Immortal, that Unborn and Undying One, whom the sword cannot pierce, whom the fire cannot burn, whom the water cannot drown? Him the jail cannot confine and the gallows cannot end. What is there that you can fear when you are conscious of Him who is within you? Courage is then a necessity, courage is natural and courage is inevitable. If you rely upon other forces, supposing that you are Nationalist in the European sense, meaning in a purely materialistic sense, that is to say, if you want to replace the dominion of the foreigner by the dominion of somebody else, it is a purely material change; it is not a religion, it is not that you feel for the three hundred millions of your countrymen, that you want to raise them up, that you want to make them all free and happy. It is not that, but you have got some idea that your nation is different from another nation and that these people are outsiders and that you ought to be ruling in their place. What you want is not freedom for your countrymen, but you want to replace the rule of others by yours. If you go in that spirit, what will happen when a time of trial comes? Will you have courage? Will you face it? You will see that is merely an intellectual conviction that you have, that is merely a reason which your outer mind suggests to you. Well, when it comes to be put to the test, what will your mid say to you? What will your intellect say to you? It will tell you, `It is all very well to work for the country, but in the meanwhile, I am going to die, or at least be given a great deal of trouble, and when the fruit is reaped, I shall not be there to enjoy it. How can I bear all this suffering for a dream?' You have this house of yours, you have this property, you have so many things which will be attacked, and so you say, `That is not the way for me.' If you have not the divine strength of faith and unselfishness, you will not be able to escape from other attachments, you will not like to bear affliction simply for the sake of a change by which you will not profit. How can courage come from such a source? But when you have a higher idea, when you have realised that you have nothing, that you are nothing and that the three hundred millions of people of this country are God in the nation, something which cannot be measured by so much land, or by so much money, or by so many lives, you will then realise that it is something immortal, that the idea for which you are working is something immortal and that it is an immortal power which is working in you. All other attachments are nothing. Every other consideration disappears from your mind, and as I said, there is no need to cultivate courage. You are led on by that power. You are protected through life and death by One who survives. In the very hour of death, you feel your immortality. In the hour of your worst sufferings, you feel you are invincible.

Now I have told you that these three things are the need of the present situation, because, as I said, the situation is this: You have undertaken a work, you have committed yourselves to something which seems to be materially impossible. You have undertaken a work which will raise the mightiest enemies whom the earth can bring forward. As in the ancient time, when the avatars came, there were also born the mightiest daityas and asuras to face the avatars, so it always is. You may be sure that if you embrace this religion of Nationalism, you will have to met such tremendous forces as no mere material power can resist. The hour of trial is not distant, the hour of trial is already upon you. What will be the use of your intellectual conviction? What will be the use of your outward enthusiasm? What will be the use of your shouting `Bande Mataram'? What will be the use of all the mere outward show when the hour of trial comes? Put yourselves in the place of those people who are suffering in Bengal, and think whether thy have the strength, and whether, if it comes to you, you have the strength to meet it. With what strength shall we meet it? How can we work invincibly? How can meet it and survive? Can you answer that question? I have tried to show you that not by your material strength can you meet it. Have you the other strength in you? Have you realised what Nationalism is? Have you realised that it is a religion that you are embracing? If you have, then call yourselves Nationalists; and when you have called yourselves Nationalists, then try to live your Nationalism. Try to realise the strength within you, try to bring it forward so that everything you do may be not your own doing, but the doing of that Truth within you. Try so that every hour that you live shall be enlightened by that presence, that every thought of yours shall be inspired from that one fountain of inspiration, that every faculty and quality in you may be laced at the service of that immortal power within you. Then you will not say, as I have heard so may of you say, that people are so slow to take up this idea, that people are so slow to work, that you have no fit leaders, and that all your great men tell you a different thing and none of them is ready to come forward to guide you in the path that is pointed out. You will have no complaints to make against others, because then you will not then need any leader. The leader is within yourselves. If you can only find Him and listen to His voice, then you will not find that people will not find that people will not listen to you, because there will be a voice within the people which will make itself heard. That voice and that strength is within you. If you feel it within yourselves, if you live in its presence, if it has become yourselves, then you will find that one word from you will awake an answering voice in others, that the creed which you preach will spread and will be received by all and that it will not be very long, as in Bengal it has not been very long, it has not taken a century of fifty years, it has only taken three years to change the whole nation, to give it a new spirit and a new heart and to put it in front of all the Indian races. From Bengal has come the creed of Nationalism, and from Bengal has come the example of Nationalism. Bengal which was the least respected and the most looked down on of all the Indian races for its weakness has within these three years changed so much, simply because the men there who were called to receive God within themselves were able to receive Him, were able to bear, to suffer and to live in that power, and by living in that power, they were able to give it out. And so in three years the whole race of Bengal has been changed, and you are obliged to ask in wonder, `What is going on in Bengal?' You see a movement which no obstacle can stop, you see a great development which no power can resist, you see the birth of the avatar in action in the nation, and if you have received God within you, if you have received that power within you, you will see that God will change the rest of India in even a much shorter time, because the power has already gone continue its work with ever greater and greater rapidity. It will continue its work with the matured force of Divinity until the whole world sees and until the whole world understands Him, until Sri Krishna who has now hid himself in Gokul, who is now among the poor and despised of the earth, who is now among the cow-herds of Brindaban, will reveal Himself, will declare the Godhead, and the whole nation will rise, the whole people of this inspiration of the Almighty, and no power on earth shall resist it, and no danger or difficulty shall stop it in its onward course. [Loud and continued applause] Because God is there, and it is His Mission, and He has something for us to do. He has a work for his great and ancient nation. Therefore He has been born again to do it, therefore He is revealing Himself in you, not that you may be like other nations, not that you may rise merely by human strength to trample underfoot the weaker peoples, but because something must come out from you which is to save the whole world. That something is what the ancient rishis knew and revealed, and that is to be known and revealed again today, it has to be revealed to the whole world, and in order that He may reveal Himself, you must first realise Him in yourselves, you must shape your lives, you must shape the life of this great nation so that it may be fit to reveal Him and then your task will be done, and you will realise that what you are doing today is no mere political change, but that you have been called upon to do God's work. [Loud and continued applause]

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The Present Situation

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