From an early stage of her life in India Sister Nivedita was Closely in touch with the student community, especially in Bengal where her work lay. She was at the call of almost any group, so long as she was satisfied that there were sincere seekers among them, and her influence spread widely and rapidly, alike through her public addresses, which were eagerly welcomed, and through the exercise of her personal sympathy and counsel. When "The Web of Indian Life was published, in 1904, the enthusiasm of the national movement was rising in Young India. Sister Nivedita was among the most forceful and devoted of its spiritual leaders, and the services of her voice and pen were in demand from every side. So far as the exacting claims of other work permitted, she yielded to request for newspaper and magazine articles, and produced a good deal of occasional writing, besides more laborious studies which first appeared in the magazines. She gave cordial encouragement to such ventures of educational journalism as the Modern Review of Calcutta, then as now, directed by Mr. Ramananda Chatterjee. To the pages of this admirable monthly she contributed the greater part of the paper afterwards collected in "Studies from an Eastern Home" and practically the whole of those in the "Footfalls of Indian History," At the same time she was writing, month by month, in the editorial columns of the Modern Review a series of notes and brief articles suggested chiefly by the ethical and religious aspect of the advancing national movement. It is from those pieces that the present volume has been compiled.
None saw more clearly than Sister Nivedita, from the beginning, the possibilities and the perils of Indian nationalism as then understood and preached. There were many, both Indian and European, to insist upon the difficulties, or the futility, of the nationalist conception and aim; to argue that it was but one more expression of the chaos wrought by the working of the West upon the East. The confusion was not to be denied; but Sister Nivedita had no doubt as to the capacity of the Indian mind and character to emerge. To her, the striking characteristic of the Transition was the speed with which, in the nineteenth century, the ancient social order of India had adjusted itself to the demands of a modern alien civilization. The later steps should be not more, but less, difficult since they would be conscious and controlled. They must, in Sister Nivedita's view, be taken by India itself. There could, she held, be no question as to the power of the Indian consciousness to absorb the contribution of the West and to transmute it; and the way to that she saw through an exchange of organics ideals between East and West. For India it would mean a renascence of Dharma : In other words, a re-interpretation in modern terms of the faith and practice of the past; a fresh conception of worship and of sacrifice to the ideal; the monastic ideal expressed in social service; the recovery of the civic sense, and its re-establishment in a fuller understanding of the Indian social order; the exaltation of work, of positive character, and of knowledge, in which alone could lie the mastery of the future.
Such is the theme of these papers. In fairness to the memory of the author, and for their right understanding, they should be read with a recollection of the circumstances amidst which they were thrown off with great rapidity in the midst of a crowded and arduous life of service in India. The reader will not fail to remark, as an illustration of the completeness with which Sister Nivedita identified herself with India and its spirit, her constant use of "we" and "ours"
Some readers may wonder at the implied antithesis in the title between an English and a Sanskrit word which are frequently taken to be practically identical in meaning. Dharma, however, is a word that o the Hindu has a larger and more complex significance than that of Religion as commonly used among us. It includes the whole social conception of law and conduct and worship. Dharma is the force or principle that binds together; the union of traditional thought and faith of common custom loyalty, and understanding, that makes of society an organics or religious unity. "This patience, this steadfastness, this sincerity," Sister Nivedita wrote, "is Dharma - the substance, the self-ness, of things and of men." She preferred to translate the word as the National Righteousness, and on the whole perhaps that is as close to an equivalent term in English as we may hope to achieve.
Viscount Haldane, in the address delivered before the American Bar Association in 1913,2 has some remarks on the principle of Higher Nationality which bear upon the matter. Law in the greater sense, he said, imports something more than the code of rules laid down by the State; it has a relation to the obligations of conscience and the General will of Society. The field of individual conduct is covered, in the case of the citizen, only to a small extent by legality on the one hand and the dictates of the individual conscience on the other. "There is a more extensive system of guidance which regulates conduct and which differs from both in its character and sanction." Lord Haldane continues:-
In the English language we have no name for it, and this is unfortunate, for the lack of a distinctive name has occasioned confusion both of thought and of expression. German writers have, however, marked out the system to which I refer and have given it the name of Sittlichkeit
Sittlichkeit is the system of habitual customary conduct, ethical rather than legal, which embraces all those obligations of the citizen which is it "bad form" or "not the thing" to disregard.
Sitte is the German for custom, and Sittlichkeit implies custom and a habit of mind and action; let us say, the blend of social morality and social sanction embodying the ideal the ideal of the conduct of people towards each other and towards the community to which they belong.
Without such conduct and the restraints which is imposes there could be no tolerable social life, and real freedom from interference would not be enjoyed. It is the instinctive sense of what to do and what not to do in daily life and behavior that is the source of liberty and ease. And it is this instinctive sense of obligation that is the chief foundation of society. Its reality takes objective shape and displays itself in family life and in our other civic and social institutions. It is not limited to any one form, and it is capable of manifesting itself in new forms and of developing and changing old forms. Indeed the civic community is more than a political fabric. It includes all the social institutions in and by which the individual life is influenced - such as are the family, the school, the church, the legislature, and the executive. None of these can subsist in isolation from the rest; together they and other institutions of kind form a single organic whole, the whole which is known as the Nation.
Sister Nivedita would have accepted every word of this exposition as covering a great part of the life of citizenship. And she would have added, with truth, that Dharma is a finer and more satisfying word for the living principle of conduct and society - finer and more satisfying in the measure of the infinitely more rich and profound conception which the Indian has of religion than the conception reached by the people from whom Lord Haldane borrowed his word.
About the Book
Readers may wonder at the implied antithesis in the title between on English and a Sanskrit word which are frequently taken to be practically identical in meaning. Dharma, however, is a word that to the Hindu has a larger and more complex significance than that of Religion as commonly used among us. It includes the whole social conception of law and conduct and worship. Dharma, is the force or principle that binds together; the union of traditional thought and faith of common custom, loyalty, and understanding, that makes of society an organic or religious unity. 'This patience, this steadfastness, this sincerity,' Sister Nivedita writes, 'is Dharma - the substance, the self-ness of things and of men,'
Brahma Sutras (77)
Yoga Vasistha (81)
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