Swami Vivekananda in China (An Interview with Professor Wang Zhicheng)

Swami Vivekananda in China Interview with Professor Wang Zhicheng
Swami Vivekananda in China : Interview of swami ji by Professor Wang Zhicheng. A motivation for youngsters, Way to live life by Swami Ji
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Swami Vivekananda in China : Interview of swami ji by Professor Wang Zhicheng. A motivation for youngsters, Way to live life by Swami Vivekananda in China

Swami Vivekananda in China :

Author: Alan Hunter
Publication: Sri Ramakrishna Math
Date: October 2007
URL: http://www.sriramakrishnamath.org/magazine/vk/2007/10-3-3.asp

Swami Vivekananda in China: One of the outstanding scholars and translators of contemporary China, Professor Wang Zhicheng of Zhejiang University, agreed to undertake the translation and to find a publisher. Readers of Vedanta Kesari might be interested to know why Professor Wang undertook this great task, and so I interviewed him as follows:

Question: When did you come into contact with Indian philosophy?

Answer: In the early 1990s, I read the Bhagavad Gita and some works by Shankara, some were available in Chinese but most in English. I enjoyed Shankara’s philosophy, but I found the Gita especially spiritual and philosophical. And what surprised me was that at that time I was having certain difficulties in my personal life, and I found that I could solve them by studying the Gita! So I had the personal experience that it was a kind of guide in life, not just an abstract philosophical book.

Question: Have you had any spiritual experiences? Or is it mainly an interesting theory for you? Or professional interest?

Answer: I would say that I have not been ‘successful’ in any religious study, not in the way that some monks, for example, seem to be successful. But what I do is read the scriptures carefully, try to understand them and perhaps, just a little, go beyond the words into a deeper level of meaning. But I do not accept any scriptures really literally, nor will I let my judgment be overwhelmed. I want to remain a free thinker. Incidentally, I don’t see why this kind of deep thinking should be any kind of contradiction to socialism. We can still retain our belief in justice and other values.

Question: What did you think when I asked you if you would translate Vivekananda?

Answer: Actually I was quite nervous because I was already too busy! But when I started to read Vivekananda, I found: what an amazing book! It is an easy, clear statement of profound philosophy. He expresses himself directly and truthfully. Yoga and meditation are rather abstruse, difficult topics with thousands of different explanations and mystical ideas. I find that Vivekananda just cuts through all the confusion, and explains things in an honest way that most people could understand. So the first thing is clarity, and I find the second thing is energy. He writes with a lot of energy, and one can feel it when one reads also.

Question: Is Vivekananda known at all in China?

Answer: Until now, barely known at all. But we do have an excellent Chinese name for Vivekananda; we follow the same model as when we translate Buddhist monks’ names. There is a Chinese Buddhist term ‘Bian’ which means ‘spiritual discrimination’ or ‘Viveka’; and another term ‘Xi’, which is a direct translation of ‘ananda’ or bliss. And the word ‘Fashi’ means monk or spiritual teacher. Put together, it becomes ‘Bian Xi Fashi’, which is very convenient for Chinese people to remember and pronounce, of course they can also read a transliteration of the original name. We already have names in Chinese for the two Hindu gods Rama and Krishna, so we simply put them together with an honorific title to give ‘Sri Ramakrishna’.

Question: In China, to those who practise yoga, is it well-known?

Answer: Yes, in a general sense, mind-body cultivation it is extremely popular. There are several strands to it. First, you know in Chinese tradition there is Buddhist meditation, which thousands of Chinese practise as part of their daily life, apart, of course, from the monks who practise intensively in the monasteries and mountains. Then, there are Chinese traditions like martial arts, health exercises, and breathing exercises. Many young people practise hatha-yoga for health. But it happens that when people start to practise slow breathing, or yoga postures, or meditation, sometimes their way of thinking starts to change also. Then they may continue their practice for other reasons, they start to read more about the philosophy and even change their way of life.

Question: Who are the teachers?

Answer: Some people learn from books or videos or DVD, and there have been some good programmes on the television. Also, teachers have come from India, some Chinese have gone to India to learn yoga and come back to teach. For meditation, some people may go to monks to ask for advice.

Question: Does the Chinese government have any objection to these activities?

Answer: No, not at all as far as I know. Two reasons: one, we basically have religious freedom in China, unless somebody uses religion to stir up tensions or disorder. Second, the great majority of people don’t take these activities as religion anyway; they are more like a spiritual-mental practice, a way of thinking, or a way of keeping healthy and happy.

Apart from that, Chinese culture very much appreciates the ‘cultivation of character’, which is basically a humanist idea although it can be applied within any religion. The idea is that from childhood on, one should train oneself to be honest, hardworking, kind to others, generous, tolerant and so on. We all admire people who can undertake this kind of character self-improvement.

Question: How do you think the Chinese feel about Indian spirituality and will they accept it in the future?

Answer: China has for thousands of years been a multi-cultural and multi-religious nation. I don’t think that will ever change. In China, people are free to be non-believers, or to be Confucianist, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian or whatever. So I think that the spirit of India will also find a place in China. But probably not many people will be interested in the Hindu formal religion and ceremonies as such.

Question: Have you heard about aspects of Vedanta like mantra and initiation?

Answer: I have heard about them, but mainly as a theory, and my understanding would have been influenced by the Gita and by Buddhist texts. On a simple, physical level, I think that chanting could make one’s mind settle down and become quieter. And then one could observe that one’s thinking is chaotic, and perhaps by observing more closely and making the chanting more subtle, one could adjust to a more clear level of consciousness. That is just how I understand it.

About initiation, we also have it within Chinese Buddhism, a kind of spiritual heritage from former great teachers, passed down through generations. I think some family members may just receive it as a kind of family tradition, but serious people do go for it to obtain a deeper understanding of spiritual life. I guess it may be similar to the Hindu culture.

Question: What appeals to you about Vedantic philosophy?

Answer: I appreciate several aspects. One of my main interests is inter-religious co-operation, and I think Vedanta is very useful in this respect. It seems quite clear to me that as people experience–or try to experience–an Ultimate or a God, they are going to have many different experiences. Even if what they are searching is one and the same, their process of search is based in different languages, with different culture, different words, music, art, architecture, different theology and so on. It is inevitable that their spiritual experiences will be different. This has been recognized in China for thousands of years, and Vedanta acknowledges the same.

Now, today especially we live in a globalized world, and we have to live very closely together and try to co-operate with each other and respect each others’ beliefs. We need a high level of tolerance. So my idea is that when people of different faiths come together, yes by all means we should have a dialogue, we should exchange ideas, compare notes and discuss our different experiences. But we should never criticize any other persons’ beliefs or try to persuade them that ours are better.

There are so many conflicts between religions today, even between different sects within the same religion! We need a much more tolerant approach, and Chinese culture and Vedanta both provide models for that.

Question: Finally can you tell us something about the publication of Vivekananda that you have just completed?

Answer: It is published by Zhejiang University Press in 2006. I think they have printed 5000 copies, and can print more if it sells out. About 320 pages long, it has three introductory chapters especially written by Alan Hunter [the interviewer], and some 200 pages of Swami Vivekananda’s texts, all translated into modern Chinese. It is printed on good quality paper, and has four photographs: two of Swami Vivekananda, and one each of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi. The book sells for about 30 yuan in China (around US $ 3 in 2006) per copy, and people outside China could buy it for about $5 by mail order. One of the best things is that the President of the Ramakrishna Order, Revered Swami Gahananandaji, wrote an interesting preface especially for the publication, which we have also translated and included.

As mentioned above, many Chinese are interested in meditation, so in 2005 we also translated the Patanjali Yoga- sutras, with commentary by Swami Prabhava-nanda and Christopher Isherwood and an introduction by Alan Hunter. This appeared in a handy paperback format, the first edition of which was sold out within a month.

Swami Smarananandaji’s visit

Following this positive response, in April 2007 we were able to arrange a visit to China by Revered Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Order, Swami Smarananandaji. He was invited to deliver a paper at an academic conference on inter-cultural dialogue in Zhejiang University (rated as the number three university in China), and he also gave talks at Beijing University, the Indian Embassy in Beijing, and other locations. He seemed especially pleased to meet so many young people who evidently had a serious interest in Vedanta and Indian philosophy. They raised many relevant questions, and some asked permission to keep in touch by mail after his visit. His trip was facilitated by the generous assistance of devotees from China and Singapore.

I think we all feel a kind of door was opened during this visit, and hopefully the cultural and spiritual exchanges between China and India will flourish in the future, as it did so many centuries ago. The next project is to translate the ‘Abridged Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’ into Chinese: a daunting task but one with splendid implications.

(Alan Hunter currently works at the Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Coventry University, U.K. He was formely Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Leeds University. He has contributed articles to The Vedanta Kesari on the Culture and Civilization of Various nations. In 2000, Alan and his wife Joy opened a centre known as Sarada Vedanta Centre’ in Coventry, UK.)

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