From REPLIES TO CLASS QUESTIONS chapter, delivered at Golden Gate Hall, Sunday, January 25, 1903

Please give the line of demarcation between virtue and vice.

Here is a ladder. If you go up the ladder, that is virtue, and if you go down the ladder, then that is vice.

In Mathematics, we come across different coordinate axioms. There is no position of an axiom designated as positive or negative by itself. Positive and negative are relative terms.

Similarly according to the Vedanta, virtue and vice are relative terms. There is no point where you can say, here vice stops and virtue begins.

Here is a line whose vertex is X in Mathematics. The motion of a point is called positive if in one direction, and negative if in another or opposite direction; but the same position of the point may be called positive from the stand – point of the negative or negative from the stand – point of the positive or other side. Similarly if you are making your way onward and upward, if you are approaching nearer the truth by a particular kind of action, then that becomes a virtue. If by some particular kind of action, you are led astray from die truth, then that action is poison to you. If by marriage relation, you are approaching nearer the Universal Love, the Universal Light which permeates the world, then marriage ties are good for you; if by marriage relation, you are not approaching nearer the Universal Love and Light, Oh, then they are poison to you, they are sinful, then marriage ties are a curse to you.

According to the Vedanta, everybody has to pass through these animal desires. This is the doctrine of Karma. All people are evolving, progressing on lines of Evolution, going onward and onward.

There are some people who have recently come from the animal body, and stepped into a human body, and they must necessarily have animal desires predominant. They have recently left the bodies of wolves, tigers, dogs, hogs, &c, and must have more of those desires in them. By the Law of Inertia, everybody remains in uniform motion in a straight line so long.

If the Law of Inertia be taken away from this world, the world will be in “state of chaos; if the Law of Inertia be taken away, those people who have come up from animals, must have that animal nature. We should not blame these people any more than we should hate the flowing rivers. We have no right to look down upon them as sinners. We have no right to hate those people whom we call vicious or jealous. We have the right to love these so called sinners. Jesus says, “Love the sinner.” This is what the Vedanta shows that there is no earthly reason for them to be hated. It is natural for them to be sinners.

What is there for these people to aim at by themselves? They must advance. The Law of Inertia is not the only law which governs this world. If they are alive, they must overcome that Inertia.

All force is marked by the change it brings about in the original Inertia. If the original line of motion is not changed, there is no force, no life there. Now if these people wished to be called living, they must manifest that living force, must extricate themselves, must change the force in them, and by this changing force or spiritual force, they are to change their natural tendency through and through. Here comes the word “natural., It ought to be explained in as much as this word ‘natural’ is the cause of misleading thousands, nay, millions of people: under the word ‘ natural,’ all sorts of vices and miseries are entertained and encouraged.

Some people think “natural ‘ means all the animal passions and desires which come up in the mind; they say, “Let us loose the horses of our passions; let us give up the reins which keep our true character under control; let us be free.” But by this freedom is meant nothing else but worldly, animal life.

Here is a toy-car, running at full speed. Withdraw the pulling force, and the car runs on by itself for a distance. Why? Because it is natural for the car to run that way, because the force or its velocity wanted it to go on and on. It is natural; in other words, natural means Inertia, and Inertia wanted the car to run that way. When a stone is projected into the air, it is natural for it to move on and on because of Inertia.

There is a child’s top turning round and round through its speed or velocity, it is natural for it to turn round and round.

Similarly you have been running in a particular direction when in the bodies of animals. While in the bodies of animals, people ran in the direction of gratifying the animal passions, it was natural. Then it was naturally imparted to you and at the same time these acts were quite becoming for you, because by those acts and desires you were elevated, those acts and desires were virtues to you, through them you rose, you gained the required knowledge.

Never call a dog sinful because he does doggish things, nor a hog sinful because he does hoggish things.

When you came into man’s body, it was natural for you to go on having animal desires in the way to which you were habituated while in the bodies of animals. Here is a human body. These acts are brought about naturally, and are due to Inertia in you; they are due to past natural actions while in the animal bodies. Thus the word ‘natural’ means nothing else but Inertia. But Inertia is not a thing which shows or reveals to you your true nature. It reveals the dead elements in you; it does not reveal the Divinity.

Man is a real man when he conquers and vanquishes this Inertia, when he rises above it. These animal desires and passions are quite natural for animals and also for some kind of men who have recently stepped into man’s body. They may be free to pursue these desires, but

After a certain period, they must leave them, must rise above them, and get beyond them.

Just hear a story which will not be out of place. In East India there was a saint Tulsi Das by name, an ancestor of Rama’s, who was very fond of his wife; he loved his wife as no other man ever loved before. At one time it happened that his wife had to go to her father’s house which was located in another village, some seven or eight miles distant from the village in which the saint lived. The saint could not bear the separation and so he left his house and went in search of her. It was about eleven o’clock at night when he learnt of her departure, and in his desperation he ran from his own house like a mad man. A river separated the two villages and at that time of night, it was very difficult to cross owing to the very rapid current of the river, and besides, there was nobody available at that hour. On the bank of the river he found a rotten corpse, and through his mad love, through his desperation to reach his wife he clasped the corpse tightly and swam across the river, safely reaching the other side. He ran on and on and when he reached the house where his wife was, he found all the doors closed, he could not gain entrance, nor could he arouse any of the servants or inmates, for they were all sleeping in some of the innermost rooms. Now what was he to do? You know they say if a river is in the way, love crosses it; if mountains are in the way, love climbs them. So, on the wings of love he had to reach his wife. While puzzling his brain, he found something dangling from the house and he thought it was a rope; he thought his wife loved him so dearly that she had hung this rope from the house for him to climb up. He was overjoyed. Now this rope was not a rope but a long snake. He caught hold of the snake and it did not bite him, and by that means he climbed to the upper story of the house and gained entrance to the room in which his wife was lying. She got up astonished, and exclaimed, “How did you get here, it is very strange?” He shed tears of joy and said, “It was you yourself, O blessed one, who made my passage here so easy. Did you not place a kind of canoe by the river for me to cross over, and did you not hang that rope on the wall for me to climb up?” He was crazy, love had made him mad. The wife began to shed tears of pity and joy. She was a learned woman, a goddess of Divine wisdom, and she then said, “O Divine One! Sweet one! Had you only entertained the same intense love for the Reality, the Divinity which keeps up and supports and is embodied in this apparent self, this body of mine, you would have been God; you would have been the greatest prophet in the world. You would have been the greatest sage on the earth; you would have been the worshipped Lord of the whole universe.”

When the wife was teaching the idea of the Divinity to him, and was teaching him that she was one with the Divinity, she said, “O dear husband; do you love this body of mine; this body is only transitory; it left your house and came to this house. In the same way this body may leave this earth today or tomorrow; this body may become sick today and all its beauty be gone in a second. Now see,’ what is it that gives bloom to my cheeks, what is it that lends lustre to my eyes, what is it that lends glory to my person, what is it that shines through my eyes, what is it that gives this golden colour to my hair, what is it that lends life and light and activity to my senses and my body? See, that which has fascinated you is not this skin, not this body of mine. Mark please, see please, what is it? It is the true Self, the Atma which charms and fascinates and bewitches you. It is the Divinity in me and nothing else; it is God, nothing else; it is that Divinity, that God within me, nothing else. Feel that Divinity, see that Divinity everywhere. Is not that same Divinity, God, present in the stars, does it not look you in the face, in the moon?”

This saint rose above sensuality, above carnal desires, and worldly attachments. This saint, as he was originally extraordinarily in love with one wife, realized that Beloved one, that Divinity everywhere in the world; so much so that this saint, a lover of God, this holy man drunk in Divinity, this pious man while one day walking through the woods approached a man who held a hatchet in his hand, and was about to cut down a beautiful cypress tree. When the blows of the hatchet fell upon the roots of the beautiful cypress tree, the saint was about to faint away. He ran up to the man and cried, “These blows of yours hurt me, they are piercing my bosom; please refrain from doing this.” “How is that, saint?” asked the man. The saint said, “O sir, this cypress, this beautiful tree is my beloved one; in it I see my true Divinity, in it I see God.”

Now, God became his bride, his husband, his child, his mother, his sister, and everything to him. All his energy, all his love was thrown at the feet of the Divinity, was given to the Divinity, the Truth, and thus the saint said to the man, “I see my beloved one there, I cannot bear blows on my beloved Divinity.”

One day a man was about to kill a stag or deer, and the holy saint saw him. He came up and threw his body at the feet of the man who was about to kill the stag. “How is this, saint?” asked the man. He exclaimed, “O, please spare the deer, behold my beloved one looking out through those beautiful eyes. Oh I kill this body of mine, sacrifice this body in the name of Divinity, in the name of God, sacrifice my body, I perish not, but spare, O, spare the beloved one.”

All the attractiveness you see in this world is nothing else but the true Divinity, the same which appears to you in the body of a beloved one, puts on a different dress in trees, in mountains and hills. Realize this, for this is how you can rise above all worldly passions and desires. This is the way to make spiritual use of worldly desires and to make use of them for their own sake. You are making spiritual wrecks of yourselves, you are becoming sinners. But if you raise these worldly desires by using them properly, you can make these same acts virtuous.