Christ the Messenger by Swami Vivekananda
(Delivered at Los Angeles, California, 1900)
The wave rises on the ocean, and there is a hollow. Again another wave rises,
perhaps bigger than the former, to fall down again, similarly,
again to rise--driving onward. In the march of events, we
notice the rise and fall, and we generally look towards the
rise, forgetting the fall. But both are necessary, and both
are great. This is the nature of the universe. Whether in
the world of our thoughts, the world of our relations in society,
or in our spiritual affairs, the same movement of succession,
of rises and falls, is going on. Hence the liberal ideals,
are marshaled ahead, to sink down, to digest, as it were,
to ruminate over the past--to adjust, to conserve, to gather
strength once more for a rise and a bigger rise.
The history of nations also has ever been like that. The great soul, the Messenger
we are to study this afternoon, came at a period of the history
of his race which we may well designate as a great fall. We
catch only little glimpses here and there of the stray records
that have been kept of his sayings and doings; for verily
it has been well said, that the doings and sayings of that
great soul would fill the world if they had all been written
down. And the three years of his ministry were like one compressed,
concentrated age, which it has taken nineteen hundred years
to unfold, and who knows how much longer it will yet take!
Little men like you and me are simply the recipients of just
a little energy. A few minutes, a few hours, a few years at
best, are enough to spend it all, to stretch it out, as it
were, to its fullest strength, and then we are gone for ever.
But mark this giant that came; centuries and ages pass, yet the energy that
he left upon the world is not yet stretched, nor yet expended
to its full. It goes on adding new vigour as the ages roll
Now what you see in the life of Christ is the life of all the past. The life
of every man is, in a manner, the life of the past. It comes
to him through heredity, through surroundings, through education,
through his own reincarnation--the past of the race. In a
manner, the past of the earth, the past of the whole world
is there, upon every soul.
What are we, in the present, but a result, an effect, in the hands of that
infinite past? What are we but floating wavelets in the eternal
current of events, irresistibly moved forward and onward and
incapable of rest? But you and I are only little things, bubbles.
There are always some giant waves in the ocean of affairs,
and in you and me the life of the past race has been embodied
only a little; but there are giants who embody, as it were,
almost the whole of the past and who stretch out their hands
for the future.
These are the sign-posts here and there which point to the march of humanity;
these are verily gigantic, their shadows covering the earth--they
stand undying, eternal! As it has been said by the same Messenger,
"No man hath seen God at any time, but through the Son."
And that is true. And where shall we see God but in the Son?
It is true that you and I, and the poorest of us, the meanest even, embody
that God, even reflect that God. The vibration of light is
everywhere, omnipresent; but we have to strike the light of
the lamp before we can see the light.
The Omnipresent God of the universe cannot be seen until He is reflected by
these giant lamps of the earth--the Prophets, the man-Gods,
the Incarnations, the embodiments of God.
We all know that God exists, and yet we do not see Him, we do not understand
Him. Take one of these great Messengers of light, compare
his character with the highest ideal of God that you ever
formed, and you will find that your God falls short of the
ideal, and that the character of the Prophet exceeds your
conceptions. You cannot even form a higher ideal of God than
what the actually embodied have practically realised and set
before us as an example.
Is it wrong, therefore, to worship these as God? Is it a sin to fall at the
feet of these man-Gods and worship them as the only divine
beings in the world? If they are really, actually, higher
than all our conceptions of God, what harm is there in worshipping
them? Not only is there no harm, but it is the only possible
and positive way of worship. However much you may try to struggle,
by abstraction, by whatsoever method you like, still so long
as you are a man in the world of men, your world is human,
your religion is human, and your God is human. And that must
Who is not practical enough to take up an actually existing thing and give
up an idea which is only an abstraction, which he cannot grasp,
and is difficult of approach except through a concrete medium?
Therefore, these Incarnations of God have been worshipped
in all ages and in all countries.
We are now going to study a little of the life of Christ, the Incarnation
of the Jews. When Christ was born, the Jews were in that state
which I call a state of fall between two waves; a state of
conservatism; a state where the human mind is, as it were,
tired for the time being of moving forward and is taking care
only of what it has already; a state when the attention is
more bent upon particulars, upon details, than upon the great,
general, and bigger problems of life; a state of stagnation,
rather than a towing ahead; a state of suffering more than
Mark you, I do not blame this state of things. We have no right to criticise
it--because had it not been for this fall, the next rise,
which was embodied in Jesus of Nazareth would have been impossible.
The Pharisees and Sadducees might have been insincere, they
might have been doing things which they ought not to have
done; they might have been even hypocrites; but whatever they
were, these factors were the very cause, of which the Messenger
was the effect. The Pharisees and Sadducees at one end were
the very impetus which came out at the other end as the gigantic
brain of Jesus of Nazareth.
The attention to forms, to formulas, to the everyday details of religion,
and to rituals, may sometimes be laughed at; but nevertheless,
within them is strength. Many times in the rushing forward
we lose much strength. As a fact, the fanatic is stronger
than the liberal man. Even the fanatic, therefore, has one
great virtue, he conserves energy, a tremendous amount of
As with the individual so with the race, energy is gathered to be conserved.
Hemmed in all around by external enemies, driven to focus
in a centre by the Romans, by the Hellenic tendencies in the
world of intellect, by waves from Persia, India, and Alexandria--hemmed
in physically, mentally, and morally--there stood the race
with an inherent, conservative, tremendous strength, which
their descendants have not lost even today. And the race was
forced to concentrate and focus all its energies upon Jerusalem
and Judaism. But all power when once gathered cannot remain
collected; it must expend and expand itself.
There is no power on earth which can be kept long confined within a narrow
limit. It cannot be kept compressed too long to allow of expansion
at a subsequent period.
This concentrated energy amongst the Jewish race found its expression at the
next period in the rise of Christianity. The gathered streams
collected into a body. Gradually, all the little streams joined
together, and became a surging wave on the top of which we find standing out the character of Jesus
Thus, every Prophet is a creation of his own times, the creation
of the past of his race; he himself is the creator of the
future. The cause of today is the effect of the past and the
cause for the future. In this position stands the Messenger.
In him is embodied all that is the best and greatest in his
own race, the meaning, the life, for which that race has struggled
for ages; and he himself is the impetus for the future, not
only to his own race but to unnumbered other races of the
We must bear another fact in mind: that my view of the great Prophet of Nazareth
would be from the standpoint of the Orient. Many times you
forget, also, that the Nazarene himself was an Oriental of
Orientals. With all your attempts to paint him with blue eyes
and yellow hair, the Nazarene was still an Oriental. All the
similes, the imageries, in which the Bible is written--the
scenes, the locations, the attitudes, the groups, the poetry,
and symbol,--speak to you of the Orient: of the bright sky,
of the heat, of the sun, of the desert, of the thirsty men
and animals; of men and women coming with pitchers on their
heads to fill them at the wells; of the flocks, of the ploughmen,
of the cultivation that is going on around; of the water-mill
and wheel, of the mill-pond, of the millstones. All these
are to be seen today in Asia.
The voice of Asia has been the voice of religion. The voice of Europe is the
voice of politics. Each is great in its own sphere. The voice
of Europe is the voice of ancient Greece. To the Greek mind,
his immediate society was all in all: beyond that, it is Barbarian.
None but the Greek has the right to live. Whatever the Greeks
do is right and correct; whatever else there exists in the
world is neither right nor correct, nor should be allowed
to live. It is intensely human in its sympathies, intensely
natural, intensely artistic, therefore. The Greek lives entirely
in this world. He does not care to dream. Even is poetry is
practical. His gods and goddesses are not only human beings,
but intensely human, with all human passions and feelings
almost the same as with any of us. He loves what is beautiful,
but, mind you, it is always external nature; the beauty of
the hills, of the snows, of the flowers, the beauty of forms
and of figures, the beauty in the human face, and, more often,
in the human form--that is what the Greeks liked. And the
Greeks being the teachers of all subsequent Europeans; the
voice of Europe is Greek.
There is another type in Asia. Think of that vast, huge continent, whose mountain-tops
go beyond the clouds, almost touching the canopy of heaven's
blue; a rolling desert of miles upon miles where a drop of
water cannot be found, neither will a blade of grass grow;
interminable forests and gigantic rivers rushing down to the
sea. In the midst of all these surroundings, the oriental
love of the beautiful and of the sublime developed itself
in another direction. It looked inside, and not outside.
There is also the thirst for nature, and there is also the same thirst for
power; there is also the same thirst for excellence, the same
idea of the Greek and Barbarian, but it has extended over
a larger circle.
In Asia, even today, birth or color or language never makes a race. That which
makes a race is its religion. We are all Christians; we are
all Muslims; we are all Hindus, or all Buddhists. No matter
if a Buddhist is a Chinaman, or is a man from Persia, they
think that they are brothers, because of their professing
the same religion. Religion is the tie, unity of humanity.
And then again, the Oriental, for the same reason, is a visionary,
is a born dreamer.
The ripples of the waterfalls, the songs of the birds, the beauties of the
sun and moon and the stars and the whole earth are pleasant
enough; but they are not sufficient for the oriental mind.
He wants to dream a dream beyond. He wants to go beyond the
present. The present, as it were, is nothing to him. The Orient
has been the cradle of the human race for ages, and all the
vicissitudes of fortune are there--kingdoms succeeding kingdoms,
empires succeeding empires, human power, glory, and wealth,
all rolling down there; a Golgotha of power and learning.
That is the Orient: a Golgotha of power, of kingdoms, of learning.
No wonder, the oriental mind looks with contempt upon the things of this world
and naturally wants to see something that changeth not, something
which dieth not, something which in the midst of this world
of misery and death is eternal, blissful, undying. An oriental
Prophet never tires of insisting upon these ideals; and, as
for Prophets, you may also remember that without one exception,
all the Messengers were Orientals.
We see, therefore, in the life of this great Messenger of life, the first
watchword: "Not this life, but something higher";
and, like the true son of the Oriental, he is practical in
You people in the West are practical in your own department, in military affairs,
and in managing political circles and other things. Perhaps
the Oriental is not practical in those ways, but he is practical
in his own field; he is practical in religion. If one preaches
a philosophy, tomorrow there are hundreds who will struggle
their best to make it practical in their lives. If a man preaches
that standing on one foot would lead one to salvation, he
will immediately get five hundred to stand on one foot. You
may call it ludicrous; but, mark you, beneath that is their
philosophy--that intense practicality. In the West, plans
of salvation mean intellectual gymnastics--plans which are
never worked out, never brought into practical life. In the
West, the preacher who talks the best is the greatest preacher.
So, we find Jesus of Nazareth, in the first place, the true son of the Orient,
intensely practical. He has no faith in this evanescent world
and all its belongings. No need of text-torturing, as is the
fashion in the West in modern times, no need of stretching
out texts until they will not stretch any more. Texts are
not India rubber, and even that has its limits. Now, no making
of religion to pander to the sense vanity of the present day!
Mark you, let us all be honest. If we cannot follow the ideal, let us confess
our weakness, but not degrade it; let not any try to pull
it down. One gets sick at heart at the different accounts
of the life of the Christ that Western people give. I do not
know what he was or what he was not! One would make him a
great politician; another, perhaps, would make of him a great
military general; another, a great patriotic Jew; and so on.
Is there any warrant in the books for all such assumptions? The best commentary
on the life of a great teacher is his own life. "The
foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the
Son of man hath not where to lay his head." That is what
Christ says as the only way to salvation; he lays down no
Let us confess in sackcloth and ashes that we cannot do that. We still have
fondness for "me and mine". We want property, money,
wealth. Woe unto us! Let us confess and not put to shame that
great Teacher of Humanity! He had no family ties. But do you
think that, that Man had any physical ideas in him? Do you
think that, this mass of light, this God and not-man, came
down to earth, to be the brother of animals? And yet, people
make him preach all sorts of things.
He had no sex ideas! He was a soul! Nothing but a soul--just working a body
for the good of humanity; and that was all his relation to
the body. In the soul there is no sex. The disembodied soul
has no relation to the animal, no relationship to the body.
The ideal may be far away beyond us. But never mind, keep
to the ideal. Let us confess that it is our ideal, but we
cannot approach it yet.
He had no other occupation in life, no other thought except that one, that
he was a spirit. He was a disembodied, unfettered, unbound
spirit. And not only so, but he, with his marvelous vision,
had found that every man and woman, whether Jew or Gentile,
whether rich or poor, whether saint or sinner, was the embodiment
of the same undying spirit as himself. Therefore, the one
work his whole life showed was to call upon them to realise
their own spiritual nature. Give up he says, these superstitious
dreams that you are low and that you are poor. Think not that
you are trampled upon and tyrannized over as if you were slaves,
for within you is something that can never be tyrannized over,
never be trampled upon, never be troubled, never be killed.
You are all Sons of God, immortal spirit. "Know", he declared, "the
Kingdom of Heaven is within you." "I and my Father
are one." Dare you stand up and say, not only that "I
am the Son of God", but I shall also find in my heart
of hearts that "I and my Father are one"? That was
what Jesus of Nazareth said. He never talks of this world
and of this life. He has nothing to do with it, except that
he wants to get hold of the world as it is, give it a push
and drive it forward and onward until the whole world has
reached to the effulgent Light of God, until everyone has
realised his spiritual nature, until death is vanished and
We have read different stories that have been written about him; we know the
scholars and their writings, and the higher criticism; and
we know all that has been done by study. We are not here to
discuss how much of the New Testament is true, we are not
here to discuss how much of that life is historical. It does
not matter at all whether the New Testament was written within
five hundred years of his birth, nor does it matter even,
how much of that life is true.
But there is something behind it, something we want to imitate. To tell a
lie, you have to imitate a truth, and that truth is a fact.
You cannot imitate that which never existed. You cannot imitate
that which you never perceived. But there must have been a
nucleus, a tremendous power that came down, a marvelous manifestation
of spiritual power--and of that we are speaking. It stands
Therefore, we are not afraid of all the criticisms of the scholars. If I,
as an Oriental, have to worship Jesus of Nazareth, there is
only one way left to me, that is, to worship him as God and
nothing else. Have we no right to worship him in that way,
do you mean to say? If we bring him down to our own level
and simply pay him a little respect as a great man, why should
we worship at all?
Our scriptures say, "These great children of Light, who manifest the
Light themselves, who are Light themselves, they, being worshipped,
become, as it were, one with us and we become one with them."
For, you see, in three ways man perceives God. At first the undeveloped intellect
of the uneducated man sees God as far away, up in the heavens
somewhere, sitting on a throne as a great Judge. He looks
upon Him as a fire, as a terror. Now, that is good, for there
is nothing bad in it. You must remember that humanity travels
not from error to truth, but from truth to truth; it may be,
if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth, but
never from error to truth.
Suppose you start from here and travel towards the sun in a straight line.
From here the sun looks only small in size. Suppose you go
forward a million miles, the sun will be much bigger. At every
stage the sun will become bigger and bigger. Suppose twenty
thousand photographs had been taken of the same sun, from
different standpoints; these twenty thousand photographs will
all certainly differ from one another. But can you deny that
each is a photograph of the same sun? So all forms of religion,
high or low, are just different stages toward that eternal
state of Light, which is God Himself. Some embody a lower
view, some a higher, and that is all the difference.
Therefore, the religions of the unthinking masses all over the world must
be, and have always been, of a God who is outside of the universe,
who lives in heaven, who governs from that place, who is a
punisher of the bad and a rewarder of the good, and so on.
As man advanced spiritually, he began to feel that God was
omnipresent, that He must be in him, that He must be everywhere,
that He was not a distant God, but clearly the Soul of all
souls. As my soul moves my body, even so is God the mover
of my soul. Soul within soul. And a few individuals who had
developed enough and were pure enough, went still further,
and at last found God. As the New Testament says, "Blessed
are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." And they
found at last that they and the Father were one.
You find that all these three stages are taught by the Great Teacher in the
New Testament. Note the Common Prayer he taught: "Our
Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name," and
so on--a simple prayer, a child's prayer. Mark you, it is
the "Common Prayer" because it is intended for the
uneducated masses. To a higher circle, to those who had advanced
a little more, he gave a more elevated teaching: "I am
in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you."
Do you remember that? And then, when the Jews asked him who he was, he declared
that he and his Father were one, and the Jews thought that
that was blasphemy. What did he mean by that? This has been
also told by your old Prophets, "Ye are gods and all
of you are children of the Most High." Mark the same
three stages. You will find that it is easier for you to begin
with the first and end with the last.
The Messenger came to show the path: that the spirit is not in forms, that
it is not through all sorts of vexations and knotty problems
of philosophy that you know the spirit. Better that you had
no learning, better that you never read a book in your life.
These are not at all necessary for salvation--neither wealth,
nor position nor power, not even learning; but what is necessary
is that one thing, purity. "Blessed are the pure in heart,"
for the spirit in its own nature is pure. How can it be otherwise?
It is of God, it has come from God. In the language of the
Bible, "It is the breath of God." In the language
of the Koran, "It is the soul of God."
Do you mean to say that the Spirit of God can ever be impure? But, alas, it
has been, as it were, covered over with the dust and dirt
of ages, through our own actions, good and evil. Various works
which were not correct, which were not true, have covered
the same spirit with the dust and dirt of the ignorance of
ages. It is only necessary to clear away the dust and dirt,
and then the spirit shines immediately. "Blessed are
the pure in heart, for they shall see God." "The
Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Where goest thou to
seek for the Kingdom of God, asks Jesus of Nazareth, when
it is there, within you? Cleanse the spirit, and it is there.
It is already yours. How can you get what is not yours? It
is yours by right. You are the heirs of immortality, sons
of the Eternal Father.
This is the great lesson of the Messenger, and another which is the basis
of all religions, is renunciation. How can you make the spirit
pure? By renunciation. A rich young man asked Jesus, "Good
Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
And Jesus said unto him, "One thing thou lackest; go
thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor,
and thou shalt have treasures in heaven: and come, take up
thy cross, and follow Me." And he was sad at that saying
and went away grieved; for he had great possessions.
We are all more or less like that. The voice is ringing in our ears day and
night. In the midst of our pleasures and joys, in the midst
of worldly things, we think that we have forgotten everything
else. Then comes a moment's pause and the voice rings in our
ears: "Give up all that thou hast and follow Me."
"Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever
shall lose his life for My sake shall find it." For whoever
gives up this life for His sake, finds the life immortal.
In the midst of all our weakness there is a moment of pause
and the voice rings: "Give up all that thou hast; give
it to the poor and follow me."
This is the one ideal he preaches, and this has been the ideal preached by
all the great Prophets of the world: renunciation. What is
meant by renunciation? That there is only one ideal in morality:
unselfishness. Be selfless. The ideal is perfect unselfishness.
When a man is struck on the right cheek, he turns the left
also. When a man's coat is carried off, he gives away his
We should work in the best way we can, without dragging the ideal down. Here
is the ideal. When a man has no more self in him, no possession,
nothing to call "me" or "mine", has given
himself up entirely, destroyed himself as it were--in that
man is God Himself; for in him self-will is gone, crushed
out, annihilated. That is the ideal man.
We cannot reach that state yet; yet, let us worship the ideal, and slowly
struggle to reach the ideal, though, maybe, with faltering
steps. It may be tomorrow, or it may be a thousand years hence;
but that ideal has to be reached. For it is not only the end,
but also the means. To be unselfish, perfectly selfless, is
salvation itself; for the man within dies, and God alone remains.
One more point. All the teachers of humanity are unselfish. Suppose Jesus
of Nazareth was teaching, and a man came and told him, "What
you teach is beautiful. I believe that it is the way to perfection,
and I am ready to follow it; but I do not care to worship
you as the only begotten Son of God."
What would be the answer of Jesus of Nazareth? "Very well, brother, follow
the ideal and advance in your own way. I do not care whether
you give me the credit for the teaching or not. I am not a
shopkeeper. I do not trade in religion. I only teach truth,
and truth is nobody's property. Nobody can patent truth. Truth
is God Himself. Go forward."
But what the disciples say nowadays is: "No matter whether you practise
the teachings or not, do you give credit to the Man? If you
credit the Master, you will be saved; if not, there is no
salvation for you." And thus the whole teaching of the
Master is degenerated, and all the struggle and fight is for
the personality of the Man.
They do not know that in imposing that difference, they are, in a manner,
bringing shame to the very Man they want to honor--the very
Man that would have shrunk with shame from such an idea.
What did he care if there was one man in the world that remembered him or
not? He had to deliver his message, and he gave it. And if
he had twenty thousand lives, he would give them all up for
the poorest man in the world. If he had to be tortured millions
of times for a million despised Samaritans, and if for each
one of them the sacrifice of his own life would be the only
condition of salvation, he would have given his life. And
all this without wishing to have his name known even to a
Quiet, unknown, silent, would he work, just as the Lord works. Now, what would
the disciple say? He will tell you that you may be a perfect
man, perfectly unselfish; but unless you give the credit to
our teacher, to our saint, it is of no avail. Why? What is
the origin of this superstition, this ignorance? The disciple
thinks that the Lord can manifest Himself only once. There
lies the whole mistake. God manifests Himself to you in man.
But throughout nature, what happens once must have happened
before, and must happen in future. There is nothing in nature
which is not bound by law; and that means that whatever happens
once must go on and must have been going on.
In India they have the same idea of the Incarnations of God. One of their
great Incarnations, Krishna, whose grand sermon, the Bhagavad-Gita,
some of you might have read, says, "Though I am unborn,
of changeless nature, and Lord of beings, yet subjugating
My Prakriti, I come into being by My own Maya. Whenever virtue
subsides and immorality prevails, then I body Myself forth.
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the
wicked, and for the establishment of Dharma, I come into being,
in every age."
Whenever the world goes down, the Lord comes to help it forward; and so He
does from time to time and place to place. In another passage
He speaks to this effect: Wherever thou findest a great soul
of immense power and purity struggling to raise humanity,
know that he is born of My splendour, that I am there working
Let us, therefore, find God not only in Jesus of Nazareth, but in all the
great Ones that have preceded him, in all that came after
him, and all that are yet to come. Our worship is unbounded
and free. They are all manifestations of the same Infinite
God. They are all pure and unselfish; they struggled and gave
up their lives for us, poor human beings. They each and all
suffer vicarious atonement for every one of us, and also for
all that are to come hereafter.
In a sense you are all Prophets; every one of you is a Prophet, bearing the
burden of the world on your own shoulders. Have you ever seen
a man, have you ever seen a woman, who is not quietly, patiently,
bearing his or her little burden of life? The great Prophets
were giants--they bore a gigantic world on their shoulders.
Compared with them we are pigmies, no doubt, yet we are doing
the same task; in our little circles, in our little homes,
we are bearing our little crosses. There is no one so evil,
no one so worthless, but he has to bear his own cross.
But with all our mistakes, with all our evil thoughts and evil deeds, there
is a bright spot somewhere, there is still somewhere the golden
thread through which we are always in touch with the divine.
For, know for certain, that the moment the touch of the divine
is lost there would be annihilation. And because none can
be annihilated, there is always somewhere in our heart of
hearts, however low and degraded we may be, a little circle
of light which is in constant touch with the divine.
Our salutations go to all the past Prophets whose teachings and lives we have
inherited, whatever might have been their race, clime, or
creed! Our salutations go to all those Godlike men and women
who are working to help humanity, whatever be their birth,
colour, or race! Our salutations to those who are coming in
the future--living Gods--to work unselfishly for our descendants.