When Swami Vivekananda warned that worship could become fanaticism
Swami Vivekananda gave a bhakti-yoga class in New York on the morning of January 20, 1896, in which he told stories of Lord Shiva. It was recorded by Josiah J Goodwin and was taken from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume IX. Each of us has to have a sect, and that sect is our own Ishta – our own chosen path… Ishta, and let the whole soul be devoted to it. Practice this day by day until you see the result, until the soul grows. And if it is sincere and good, this very idea will spread until it covers the whole universe. Let it spread on its own; everything will come from within. Then you will say that your Ishta is everywhere and it is in everything. Of course, at the same time, we must always remember that we must recognize the Ishtas of others and respect them – other ideas of God – or else worship degenerate into fanaticism. There is an old story of a man who was a worshiper of Shiva. There are sects in our country who worship God like Shiva, and others who worship him like Vishnu. This man was a great worshiper of Shiva, and to this he added enormous hatred for all worshipers of Vishnu and would not hear Vishnu’s name spoken. There are a large number of Vishnu worshipers in India, and he couldn’t avoid hearing the name. So he drilled two holes in his ears and attached two little bells to them. Whenever a man mentioned Vishnu’s name, he moved his head and rang the bells, which prevented him from hearing the name. But Shiva said to him in a dream, “What a fool you are! I am Vishnu and I am Shiva; they are not different – only in name. There aren’t two gods.” But this man said, “I don’t care. I won’t have anything to do with this Vishnu thing.” beautiful, built an altar for her. One day he bought some beautiful incense and went home to light some for his god. As the fumes (smoke) of his incense rose through the air, he discovered that the image was split in two: one half remained Shiva, and the other half was Vishnu. Then the man jumped up and put his finger under Vishnu’s nostril so that no particle of the smell could reach it. So Shiva became disgusted, and the man became (was transformed into) a demon. He is known as the father of all fanatics, the “bell-eared” demon. He is respected by the boys of India, and they adore him. It is a very special cult. They make an image out of clay and worship it with all sorts of horrible smelling flowers. There are flowers in the forests of India which have a most pestilential smell. He (the “bell-eared” demon) is the father of all fanatics who hate all other gods except their own. Excerpted with permission from Shiva: Lord of the Cosmic Dance, edited and with an introduction by Karan Singh, Speaking Tiger.