From Volume 8 of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, chapter -II, ‘Writings: Prose And Poems’
Translated from an original Bengali writing of the Swami in 1889. The passage is the preface to his Bengali translation of The Imitation of Christ which he contributed to a Bengali monthly. He translated only six chapters with quotations of parallel passages from the Hindu scriptures.
The Imitation of Christ is a cherished treasure of the Christian world. This great book was written by a Roman Catholic monk. “Written”, perhaps, is not the proper word. It would be more appropriate to say that each letter of the book is marked deep with the heart’s blood of the great soul who had renounced all for his love of Christ. That great soul whose words, living and burning, have cast such a spell for the last four hundred years over the hearts of myriads of men and women; whose influence today remains as strong as ever and is destined to endure for all time to come; before whose genius and Sâdhâna (spiritual effort) hundred of crowned have bent down in reverence; and before whose matchless purity the jarring sects of Christendom, whose name is legion, have sunk their differences of centuries in common veneration to a common principle—that great soul, strange to say, has not thought fit to put his name to a book such as this. Yet there is nothing strange here after all, for why should he? Is it possible for one who totally renounced all earthly joys and despised the desire for the bauble fame as so much dirt and filth—is it possible for such a soul to care for that paltry thing, a mere author’s name? Posterity, however, has guessed that the author was Thomas à Kempis, a Roman Catholic monk. How far the guess is true is known only to God. But be he who he may, that he deserves the world’s adoration is a truth that can be gainsaid by none.
We happen to be the subjects of a Christian government now. Through its favour it has been our lot to meet Christians of so many sects, native as well as foreign. How startling the divergence between their profession and practice! Here stands the Christian missionary preaching: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Take no thought for the morrow”—and then busy soon after, making his pile and framing his budget for ten years in advance! There he says that he follows him who “hath not where to lay his head”, glibly talking of the glorious sacrifice and burning renunciation of the Master, but in practice going about like a gay bridegroom fully enjoying all the comforts the world can bestow! Look where we may, a true Christian nowhere do we see. The ugly impression left on our mind by the ultra – luxurious, insolent, despotic, barouche-and-brougham-driving Christians of the Protestant sects will be completely removed if we but once read this great book with the attention it deserves.
All wise men think alike. The reader, while reading this book, will hear the echo of the Bhagavad-Gitâ over and over again. Like the Bhagavad-Gita it says, “Give up all Dharmas and follow Me”. The spirit of humility, the panting of the distressed soul, the best expression of Dâsya Bhakti (devotion as a servant) will be found imprinted on every line of this great book and the reader’s heart will be profoundly stirred by the author’s thoughts of burning renunciation, marvellous surrender, and deep sense of dependence on the will of God. To those of my countrymen, who under the influence of blind bigotry may seek to belittle this book because it is the work of a Christian, I shall quote only one aphorism of Vaisheshika Darshana and say nothing more. The aphorism is this: आप्तॊपदॆशवाक्यं शब्दः—which means that the teachings of Siddha Purushas (perfected souls) have a probative force and this is technically known as Shabda Pramâna (verbal evidence). Rishi Jaimini, the commentator, says that such Âpta Purushas (authorities) may be born both among the Aryans and the Mlechchhas.
If in ancient times Greek astronomers like Yavanâchârya could have been so highly esteemed by our Aryan ancestors, then it is incredible that this work of the lion of devotees will fail to be appreciated by my countrymen.
Be that as it may, we shall place the Bengali translation of this book before our readers seriatim. We trust that the readers of Bengal will spend over it at least one hundredth part of the time they waste over cart-loads of trashy novels and dramas.
I have tried to make the translation as literal as possible, but I cannot say how far I have succeeded. The allusions to the Bible in several passages are given in the footnotes.