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Swami Vivekananda

THE GREAT TEACHERS OF THE WORLD

(Delivered at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California,
February 3,1900)The universe, according to the theory of the
Hindus, is moving in cyclesof wave forms. It rises, reaches
its zenith, then falls and remains in thehollow, as it were,
for some time, once more to rise, and so on, in waveafter
wave and fall after fall. What is true of the universe is
true of every part of it. The march of human affairs is like
that. The history of nations is like that: they rise and
they fall; after the rise comes a fall,again out of the fall
comes a rise, with greater power. This motion isalways going
on. In the religious world the same movement exists. Inevery
nation’s spiritual life, there is a fall as well as a rise.
The nationgoes down, and everything seems to go to pieces.
Then, again, it gainsstrength, rises; a huge wave comes,
sometimes a tidal wave–and alwayson the topmost crest of
the wave is a shining soul, the Messenger.Creator and
created by turns, he is the impetus that makes the wave
rise,the nation rise: at the same time, he is created by the
same forces whichmake the wave, acting and interacting by
turns. He puts forth histremendous power upon society; and
society makes him what he is.These are the great
world-thinkers. These are the Prophets of the world,the
Messengers of life, the Incarnations of God.Man has an idea
that there can be only one religion, that there can beonly
one Prophet, and that there can be only one Incarnation; but
thatidea is not true. By studying the lives of all these
great Messengers, wefind that each, as it were, was destined
to play a part, and a part only;that the harmony consists in
the sum total and not in one note. As in thelife of
races–no race is born to alone enjoy the world. None dare
sayno. Each race has a part of play in this divine harmony
of nations. Eachrace has its mission to perform, its duty to
fulfil. The sum total is thegreat harmony.So, not any one of
these Prophets is born to rule the world for ever.None has
yet succeeded and none is going to be the ruler for ever.
Eachonly contributes a part; and, as to that part, it is
true that in the long run

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every Prophet will govern the world and its
destinies.Most of us are born believers in a personal
religion. We talk of principles, we think of theories, and
that is all right; but every thoughtand every movement,
every one of our actions, shows that we can onlyunderstand
the principle when it comes to us through a person. We
cangrasp an idea only when it comes to us through a
materialised idealperson. We can understand the precept only
through the example.Would to God that all of us were so
developed that we would notrequire any example, would not
require any person. But that we are not;and, naturally, the
vast majority of mankind have put their souls at thefeet of
these extraordinary personalities, the Prophets, the
Incarnationsof God–Incarnations worshipped by the
Christians, by the Buddhists,and by the Hindus. The
Mohammedans from the beginning stoodagainst any such
worship. They would have nothing to do withworshipping the
Prophets or the Messengers, or paying any homage tothem;
but, practically, instead of one Prophet, thousands
uponthousands of saints are being worshipped. We cannot go
against facts!We are bound to worship personalities, and it
is good. Remember thatword from your great Prophet to the
query: “Lord, show us the Father”,”He that hath seen me hath
seen the Father.” Which of us can imagineanything except
that He is a man? We can only see Him in and
throughhumanity. The vibration of light is everything in
this room: why cannotwe see it everywhere? You have to see
it only in that lamp. God is anOmnipresent
Principle–everywhere: but we are so constituted at
presentthat we can see Him, feel Him, only in and through a
human God. Andwhen these great Lights come, then man
realises God. And they comein a different way from what we
come. We come as beggars; they comeas Emperors. We come here
like orphans, as people who have lost theirway and do not
know it. What are we to do? We do not know what isthe
meaning of our lives. We cannot realise it. Today we are
doing onething, tomorrow another. We are like little bits of
straw rocking to andfro in water, like feathers blown about
in a hurricane.But, in the history of mankind, you will find
that there come theseMessengers, and that from their very
birth their mission is found andformed. The whole plan is
there, laid down; and you see them swerving not one inch
from that. Because they come with a mission, they comewith a
message, they do not want to reason. Did you ever hear or
readof these great Teachers, or Prophets, reasoning out what
they taught?No, not one of them did so. They speak direct.
Why should they reason?They see the Truth. And not only do
they see it but they show it! If youask me, “Is there any
God?” and I say “Yes”, you immediately ask mygrounds for
saying so, and poor me has to exercise all his powers
toprovide you with some reason. If you had come to Christ
and said, “Isthere any God?” he would have said, “Yes”; and
if you had asked, “Isthere any proof?” he would have
replied, “Behold the Lord!” And thus,you see, it is a direct
perception, and not at all the ratiocination of reason.
There is no groping in the dark, but there is the strength
of direct vision. I see this table; no amount of reason can
take that faithfrom me. It is a direct percep-tion. Such is
their faith–faith in theirideals, faith in their mission,
faith in themselves, above all else. Thegreat shining Ones
believe in themselves as nobody else ever does. Thepeople
say, “Do you believe in God? Do you believe in a future
life? Doyou believe in this doctrine or that dogma?” But
here the base iswanting: this belief in oneself. Ay, the man
who cannot believe inhimself, how can they expect him to
believe in anything else? I am notsure of my own existence.
One moment I think that I am existing andnothing can destroy
me; the next moment I am quaking in fear of death.One minute
I think I am immortal; the next minute, a spook appears,and
then I don’t know what I am, nor where I am. I don’t know
whetherI am living or dead. One moment I think that I am
spiritual, that I ammoral; and the next moment, a blow
comes, and I am thrown flat on myback. And why?–I have lost
faith in myself, my moral backbone isbroken.But in these
great Teachers you will always find this sign: that theyhave
intense faith in themselves. Such intense faith is unique,
and wecannot understand it. That is why we try to explain
away in variousways what these Teachers speak of themselves;
and people inventtwenty thousand theories to explain what
they say about theirrealisation. We do not think of
ourselves in the same way, and,naturally, we cannot
understand them.

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down, nor will it let us be toned down. We have all
“caught Tartars”.We all say, be quiet, and peaceful, and so
forth. But every baby can saythat and thinks he can do it.
However, that is very difficult. I have tried.I threw
overboard all my duties and fled to the tops of mountains;
Ilived in caves and deep forests–but all the same, I
“caught a Tartar”,because I had my world with me all the
time. The “Tartar” is what Ihave in my own mind, so we must
not blame poor people outside.”These circumstances are good,
and these are bad,” so we say, while the”Tartar” is here,
within; if we can quiet him down, we shall be all
right.Therefore Krishna teaches us not to shirk our duties,
but to take them upmanfully, and not think of the result.
The servant has no right toquestion. The soldier has no
right to reason. Go forward, and do not paytoo much
attention to the nature of the work you have to do. Ask
yourmind if you are unselfish. If you are, never mind
anything, nothing canresist you! Plunge in! Do the duty at
hand. And when you have donethis, by degrees you will
realise the Truth: “Whosoever in the midst of intense
activity finds intense peace, whosoever in the midst of
thegreatest peace finds the greatest activity, he is a Yogi,
he is a great soul,he has arrived at perfection.”Now, you
see that the result of this teaching is that all the duties
of theworld are sanctified. There is no duty in this world
which we have anyright to call menial: and each man’s work
is quite as good as that of theemperor on his throne.Listen
to Buddha’s message–a tremendous message. It has a place
inour heart. Says Buddha, “Root out selfishness, and
everything thatmakes you selfish. Have neither wife, child,
nor family. Be not of theworld; become perfectly unselfish.”
A worldly man thinks he will beunselfish, but when he looks
at the face of his wife it makes him selfish.The mother
thinks she will be perfectly unselfish, but she looks at
herbaby, and immediately selfishness comes. So with
everything in thisworld. As soon as selfish desires arise,
as soon as some selfish pursuit isfollowed, immediately the
whole man, the real man, is gone: he is like abrute, he is a
slave, he forgets his fellow men. No more does he say,”You
first and I afterwards,” but it is “I first and let everyone
else look

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out for himself.”We find that Krishna’s message has also
a place for us. Without thatmessage, we cannot move at all.
We cannot conscientiously and withpeace, joy, and happiness,
take up any duty of our lives withoutlistening to the
message of Krishna: “Be not afraid even if there is evilin
your work, for there is no work which has no evil.” “Leave
it unto theLord, and do not look for the results.”On the
other hand, there is a corner in the heart for the other
message:Time flies, this world is finite and all misery.
With your good food, niceclothes, and your comfortable home,
O sleeping man and woman, doyou ever think of the millions
that are starving and dying? Think of thegreat fact that it
is all misery, misery, misery! Note the first utterance of
the child: when it enters into the world, it weeps. That is
the fact–thechild weeps. This is a place for weeping! If we
listen to the Messenger,we should not be selfish.Behold
another Messenger, He of Nazareh. He teaches, “Be ready,
forthe Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” I have pondered over
the messageof Krishna, and am trying to work without
attachment, but sometimes Iforget. Then, suddenly, comes to
me the message of Buddha: “Takecare, for everything in the
world is evanescent, and there is alwaysmisery in this
life.” I listen to that, and I am uncertain which to
accept.Then again comes, like a thunderbolt, the message:
“Be ready, for theKingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Do not
delay a moment. Leave nothingfor tomorrow. Get ready for the
final event, which may overtake youimmediately, even now.
That message, also, has a place, and weacknowledge it. We
salute the Messenger, we salute the Lord.And then comes
Mohammed, the Messenger of equality. You ask,”What good can
there be in his religion?” If there were no good, howcould
it live? The good alone lives, that alone survives; because
thegood alone is strong, therefore it survives. How long is
the life of animpure man, even in this life? Is not the life
of the pure man muchlonger? Without doubt, for purity is
strength, goodness is strength. Howcould Mohammedanism have
lived, had there been nothing good in itsteaching? There is
much good. Mohammed was the Prophet of equality,

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of the brotherhood of man, the brotherhood of all
Mussalmans.So we see that each Prophet, each Messenger, has
a particular message.When you first listen to that message,
and then look at his life, you willsee his whole life stands
explained, radiant.Now, ignorant fools start twenty thousand
theories, and put forward,according to their own mental
development, explanations to suit theirown ideas, and
ascribe them to these great Teachers. They take
theirteachings and put their misconstruction upon them. With
every greatProphet his life is the only commentary. Look at
his life: what he didwill bear out the texts. Read the Gita,
and you will find that is exactlyborne out by the life of
the Teacher.Mohammed by his life showed that amongst
Mohammedans thereshould be perfect equality and brotherhood.
There was no question of race, caste, creed, colour, or sex.
The Sultan of Turkey may buy aNegro from the mart of Africa,
and bring him in chains to Turkey; butshould he become a
Mohammedan and have sufficient merit andabilities, he might
even marry the daughter of the Sultan. Compare thiswith the
way in which the Negroes and the American Indians are
treatedin this country! And what do Hindus do? If one of
your missionarieschance to touch the food of an orthodox
person, he would throw itaway. Notwithstanding our grand
philosophy, you note our weakness inpractice; but there you
see the greatness of the Mohammedan beyondother races,
showing itself in equality, perfect equality regardless of
race or colour.Will other and greater Prophets come?
Certainly they will come in thisworld. But do not look
forward to that. I should better like that each oneof you
became a Prophet of this real New Testament, which is made
upof all the Old Testaments. Take all the old messages,
supplement themwith your own realisations, and become a
Prophet unto others. Each oneof these Teachers has been
great; each has left something for us; theyhave been our
Gods. We salute them, we are their servants; and, all
thesame, we salute ourselves; for if they have been Prophets
and childrenof God, we also are the same. They reached their
perfection, and we aregoing to attain ours now. Remember the
words of Jesus: “The Kingdom

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of Heaven is at hand!” This very moment let every one of
us make astaunch resolution: “I will become a Prophet, I
will become amessenger of Light, I will become a child of
God, nay, I will become aGod!”

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