From Writings: Prose and Poems of Volume 5 of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
(Letter written by Swamiji, to accompany the First Report of the Ramakrishna Home of Service, Varanasi, February, 1902.)
We beg your acceptance of the past year’s Report of the Ramakrishna Home of Service, Varanasi, embodying a short statement of our humble efforts towards the amelioration, however little, of the miserable state into which a good many of our fellow-beings, generally old men and women, are cast in this city.
In these days of intellectual awakening and steadily asserting public opinion, the holy places of the Hindus, their condition, and method of work have not escaped tile keen eye of criticism; and this city, being the holy of holies to all Hindus, has not failed to attract its full share of censure.
In other sacred places people go to purify themselves from sin, and their connection with these places is casual, and of a few day’s duration. In this, the nicest ancient and living centre of Aryan religious activity, there come men and women, and as a rule, old and decrepit, waiting to pass unto Eternal Freedom, through the greatest of all sanctifications, death under the shadow of the temple of the Lord of the universe.
And then there are those who have renounced everything for the good of the world and have for ever lost the helping hands of their own flesh and blood and childhood’s associations.
They too are overtaken by the common lot of humanity, physical evil in the form of disease.
It may be true that some blame attaches to the management of the place. It may be true that the priests deserve a good part of the sweeping criticism generally heaped upon them; yet we must not forget the great truth—like people, like priests. If the people stand be with folded hands and watch the swift current of misery rushing past their doors, dragging men, women and children, the Sannyâsin and the householder into one common whirlpool of helpless suffering, and make not the least effort to save any from the current, only waxing eloquent at the misdoings of the priests of the holy places not one particle of suffering can ever be lessened, not one ever be helped.
Do we want to keep up the faith of our forefathers in the efficacy of the Eternal City of Shiva towards salvation?
If we do, we ought to be glad to see the number of those increase from year to year who come here to die.
And blessed be the name of the Lord that the poor have this eager desire for salvation, the same as ever.
The poor who come here to die have voluntarily cut themselves off from any help they could have received in the places of their birth, and when disease overtakes them, their condition we leave to your imagination and to your conscience as a Hindu to feel and to rectify.
Brother, does it not make you pause and think of the marvellous attraction of this wonderful place of preparation for final rest? Does it not strike you with a mysterious sense of awe—this age-old and never-ending stream of pilgrims marching to salvation through death?
If it does—come and lend us a helping hand.
Never mind if your contribution is only a mite, your help only a little; blades of grass united into a rope will hold in confinement the maddest of elephants—says the old proverb.
Ever yours in the Lord of the universe,