Our Society Needs Swamiji’s Guidance Today
For any nation the youth is precious, and for a country like India that boasts of the highest number of young people in the world, it is even more so. No doubt, the numerical strength of the young people is a contributing factor to the demographic dividend; however if one did not know how to harness this power and the appropriate guidance is either not available or is not made use of, there is always an apprehension that the society and the nation as a whole would suffer immeasurably on account of the same force that would have brought in a great fortune to the people at large. If one casts even a cursory look at the goings-on around the educational institutions of today, the plight of our society and the times would be self-evident : the crimes against women; gross indiscipline (leading to violence ever so often) in our institutions of education where the teachers and the taught have very little time and respect for each other; hatred between communities; and the ruthless exploitation of nature leading to catastrophic climatic conditions….. the list is practically unending. In short, as a spiritual leader once described our society as one in which “ missiles are getting guided and the youth, more and more misguided !” This is surely a sad state of affairs.
To make things more complex, we are living in a globilised world today and cannot be insulated from the influence of the outside, which has made us more and more self-centered, oblivious of the needs of the other members of the society and the planet. In a way, the advances of globalization have also accentuated a sense of claustrophobic powerlessness, which many feel is an inevitable outcome of blindly following the path of materialism where the only motive is profit making. The future may be even bleaker, unless one takes the right measures in time.
One of the major problems appears to be that, the role-models that ought to have provided a sense of purpose and direction to the youth in general, appear conspicuous by their absence. It is at this critical juncture that the thought of India’s own guiding light, indeed a beacon to the whole world, Swamiji comes spontaneously in seeking solutions to our predicament. The life he led, words that came from his leaps and pen, and the deeds that he did, have the power to show the path to peace and prosperity for tomorrow.
One may start by recalling that the date on which the world was shaken by an act of sheer audacity of the violence and destruction wreaked on the twin towers of WTC in USA ( September11, 2001 ) was the same date much earlier ( September 11, 1893 ) and in the same land, when a saffron-clad youth from India was dwelling on the special Vedantic brand of religions raising a new spectre of peace and hope among the common men and women of USA at the Parliament Religions in Chicago. His speech, in many ways, was also audacious, based on the intrinsic nobility of soul, tolerance and universal acceptance of all religions, pronouncements that were practically unheard of by the common man in the west and was in conflict with the beliefs and contentions he had grown with. One would indeed be struck by the coincidence of dates as well as by the contrast in the messages emanating from the two occasions !
Any simple analysis of the malady of the society would have to begin with the thought processes of the people at all levels : the people that govern, that teach, that engage themselves in various other professions, and of course the young people that get a chance to be in educational institutions supposedly engaged in studies and the millions of youth that are outside the formal institutions; for all of us, it is more of an issue with the state of our mind, and more importantly, the issue of mind-sets which many believe is the major obstacle on the path of progress. Thus, one could look into the factors that could bring about a genuine change in the mind of our youth of today for a sustainable prosperity of our society . In this article, an appraisal of the same would be presented based on the life and work of Swamiji.
The life of Swamiji presents a case study of how, given the right attitude, one could start setting one’s goals in life and if singularly pursued, could achieve its destination. Swami Vivekanada, born Narendranath Dutta ( on January 12, 1863 in Calcutta ) into a family that was rich, respectable and was known for its charity, leaning and for its spirit of independence. Narendranath’s father Viswanath was an attorney-at-law at the Calcutta High Court, was proficient in English and Persian and enjoyed studying Hindu scriptures as well as Bible. Interestingly, although he was charitable to an extravagant degree and was very kind towards the poor, he was also rationalistic and progressive in matters pertaining to religion and social customs. The mother, Bhuvaneswari Devi was accomplished in multiple fields and was of regal bearing. Young Narendranath imbibed many qualities of his parents and traits such as courage, sympathy for the poor, and attraction towards the religious scriptures came naturally to him.
The point to note here is that a strong character gets built at a young, impressionable age and it is imperative that the parents, in particular the mother spend quality time with the children at this time of growing, explaining to them the intrinsic values of life. In the later period, this would act as a vaccination against any evil, degrading influence from the surroundings. The example also shows the importance of female education in building a society. Today, the female child is still neglected in all respects, in particular in matters of education. Significantly, wherever the female child has gone to the school, college and even into the professional or higher education, she has proved her worth and in most instances, has out-performed her male counter-part. This would reveal to the parents and to the planners ( of education ) that by allowing the females to remain outside the orbit of education, the country at large is deprived of a very large fraction of its resources that would have been otherwise available for nation-building, apart from perpetrating injustice against to the women . Now, let’s go back to young Narendra’s progress in life. He distinguished himself in athletics, studies (particularly, Philosophy) and music. He studied and was absorbed in analyzing the western thought process that created a spirit of critical enquiry in his mind. Endowed with a sharp intellect, coupled with a spirit of enquiry, he could develop the power to discern the finer points of a theory and contextualize it with the ground realities. It was at this stage that he came across and explored the socio-religious movement of the time, the Brahmo Samaj that believed in a formless God and deprecated the worship of icons. These features of the Samaj initially attracted the attention of young Narendranath. Once however he started delving deeper into the basic question of the existence of God through the tenets of the Brahmo Samaj and discussed with several leaders of this group the queries in his mind about God , he did not get the answer that satisfied him. He therefore started looking for other religious leaders who could quench his thirst for the truth.
At this point he remembered what his professor, William Hastie had said about one sadhu at Dakshineswar. Thus, the historic meeting between the great saint Ramakrishna of Dakshnineswar and the young intellectual Narendranath took place in 1881.Perhaps both, in their own ways, started testing the genuineness of the other. To the question put forth by Narendra as to whether Ramakrishna had seen God, the latter answered very spontaneously that indeed he had, just as he was seeing him, only “more intensely’. This created the right emotions in the young mind as he found some one who could relate his own experience with God. Even then, Narendranath was still testing the genuineness of the experience of the saint. In the year 1884, after the passing away of Narendranath’s father, the family was going through serious privations and Ramakrishna advised Narendranath to pray to the Goddess Kali in his temple who would fulfill all his worldly needs. Several times would Narendra attempt to do so, but every time he would end up praying for knowledge and devotion once he would be alone in front of the Goddess . This provided the requisite proof to Narendranath about the presence of the Supreme Creator, the God and also about the greatness of the seer Ramakrisna, a ‘Mantra Drashta’. Gradually, the rebellious spirit of the young man could me calmed down.
However, along with the spiritual guidance, it was pure, unmixed love by Ramakrishna for the young disciple that own him over completely and Narendranath was converted into an ardent devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, reciprocating the love in equal measure and surrendering himself to his Teacher and accepted him as his Master. Burning with the spiritual fire deep within him, Narendranath was now seeking the blessings of His Master for his own Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the salvation of the highest order. Interestingly, the Master Ramakrishna reacted by admonishing Narendranath for his attempts to strive for his own salvation, while the Master was expecting his disciple to lead the entire populace of the country to liberation and salvation of the countrymen. Ramakrishna then is believed to have transmitted his spiritual powers to his dear Narendranath and desired that the latter lead the group of disciples of Ramakrishna and all of them take together on the mission of preaching the path of purposeful life to the common man and in the process bring about a religious regeneration of the India, That is how Narendranath, along with his fellow disciples, who all were leading a life of intense austerity and spiritual practices, took the vow of Sanyasa (renunciation), and laid the foundation of the Ramakrishna brotherhood after the passing away of Ramakrishna in August 1886. They became the wandering monks, and went ahead with the task commanded by their Master.
Narendranath himself started moving from place to place in India in order to know the country and its people. In course of his visits, he across numerous places and people, including persons of great spiritual ability; the princes and the kings; the common men and women and more importantly, the poor and the down-trodden people whose plight caused in him great agony and pain. He took the resolve to bring succor and the light of education to them. At the end of nearly three years of this arduous journey for knowing India first hand, he came to Kanyakumari Temple in the South. Here in front of the deity, the Mother Kumari, he had this great feeling that he was coming close to his first phase of his mission set by his Master. He then swam across the sea to a rock ( now known as ‘Vivekananda Rock Memorial’) and sat there a whole night in d eep meditation. He visualized through his mind’s eye, what he had seen across India, the cause of the misery of his countrymen and the future course of action for the resurrection; all the time concentrating on the image of his Master whose words and advice giving him the necessary strength of mind It is here that he took the momentous decision of going to the West with the great message of India, that of the Vedantic Philosophy as a solution to the conflicts between the various religions and sects, and seek their support and assistance in alleviating the poverty of the poor in India. Now he started giving shape to his grand plan. A number of people, foremost among them the Maharaja of Khetri, came forward to help him fulfilling his mission to go the West. He went to Khetri to attend a personal function in the house of the Maharaja; and at the suggestion latter Narendranath assumed the name of Swami ‘Vivekanda’. The plans for Vivekananda’s trip to the West, to attend the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, were then finalized.
His journey to America commenced on 31 May, 1893. He traveled by the ship, via China, Japan, Canada and reached Chicago by the middle of July, 1893. He saw the dazzling material prosperity of the West, fuelled by their inventive power and was quite puzzled to begin with, almost as a child. He learnt that the Parliament of Religions would not start until September, therefore went over to Boston which was less expensive. Without any designated place to stay and meet the basic needs etc. how his managed to continue makes for an amazing story. In short, a number of persons, who were struck by his erudition and clarity of thought came to his help. He returned to Chicago a couple of days before the Parliament began on September 11, 1893. Initially, he did not have the formal invitation to attend the Parliament of Religions which was arranged, with the help of generous organizers.
After he delivered his speech before the seven thousand people that had gathered there, there was no stopping the great Swamiji; all the news papers hailed him as the greatest figure at the Parliament. The ordinary Monk with practically a begging bowl became the centre of attraction and on all the subsequent days when he spoke, people listened to him great respect attention. Through his lectures, he delivered the message of the Vedanta as the universal principle, that of acceptance and respect, for all religions. He now received offers of several contracts lecture tours through the USA; however, once he knew of the commercial exploitation of such contracts, he severed ties with them although that would have provided him enough monetary comfort. Several Americans now became his disciples; a Vedanta Society was formed in New York. He also undertook trips to Europe in 1895; in Germany met the great savant Max Mueller; the famous orientalist scholar Paul Deussen and so on. From London he set sail for India via Italy in December 1896; reached Colombo in January 1897. Here in Ceylon, Swami Vivekananda attracted thousands of people who became his admirers. He preached the language of the ‘Spiritual Oneness of the Whole Universe’ that would take care of many maladies.
He returned to Calcutta in February, 1897. On reaching his home-town, he paid a touching tribute to his Great Master by pronouncing that whatever he had achieved was only due to the direct blessings of Ramakrishna and that if this country has to rise , it has to rally round the name of Sri Ramakrishna. The Rama Krishna Mission was formed in May 1897. The basic tenets of the Mission were pronounced as spiritual and humanitarian ( atmanam mokshartham, jagat hitay cha). The terrible plague that broke out in Calcutta in May,1898 experienced the organized relief work by the members of the Ramakrishna Monastery. Several western disciples, especially Sister Nivedita were trained to undertake missionary work.
He undertook a journey to Kashmir in June which was significant as he visited the shrine of Amarnath where he went through great mystical experiences. This also brought to him tremendous mental strength. In June 1899, Vivekananda undertook a journey to London, arriving there with a noted monk Turiananda and Sister Nivedita. Thereafter, they went to New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco as well as to Chicago and Detroit. At this point, he was convinced that the West and the East must work together for mutual help; the materialistic splendour of the West could not bring to their people peace of mind nor was India able to go forward with its abject poverty and illiteracy. In August 1900, he arrived in Paris to participate in the Congress of the History of Religions held there on the occasion of the Universal Exposition. He also visited Hungary, Rumania, Serbia, Bulgaria before coming to Constantinople. He then visited Athens and Cairo and finally returned to Calcutta in December 1900. Under his guidance, the Mission was now fully operational in many towns and cities in India, helping the poor and needy, providing them with nursing help, education and so on. The centres of the Mission in the West also were in sight. In a way, Vivekananda’s dream of setting up a large net-work for the people was becoming a reality. On July 4, 1902 Swami Vivekananda, at the young age of 39, breathed his last. His words however, continued to reverberate across the country; some of these are :
“ Give me a few men and women who are pure and self-less and I shall shake the world. ….”
“ What we want are the western science coupled with Vedanta, brahmacharya as the motto, and also sraddha
and faith in one’s own self. …Vedanta says says that within a man all knowledge – even in a boy it is so – and it
reqires only an awakening, and that much is the work of a teacher. ….”
“My idea of Education is personal contact with the teacher. Without the personal life of a teacher, there would be no
Education . ….”
“ Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient and modern. Society has to pay homage to Truth or die. …Societies should be moulded upon truth and truth has not to adjust itself to society ….”
“ Three things are necessary to make every man great and every nation great :
• Conviction of the power of Goodness
• Absence of jealousy and suspicion
• Helping all and doing good
One could say from the life-story of Swamiji the youth in our country have the potential to rise to great heights. They have to build the competence and capability that the modern industrial society today offers; but along with that they have to cultivate a strong character that would give them the mental strength so as not to be swept off their feet by the materialistic temptations. They have to remember their responsibilities towards their fellow beings in the society who are less privileged and extend a helping hand. Equally important, they should be fully aware of the problems facing the world, in particular the planet we live in. Thus, the hazards of climatic deterioration that has set in; the dangers of alienations in the society arising out of the ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots; the divisive forces and the violence perpetrated based on gender, language, religion and view-points and so on. If one is focused, has his work-plans clear, if his target is based on the good of the man, and he has confidence in himself with full knowledge that he is a part of the super creator called God, then nothing shall prevent him from achieving what he wants and in the process, the country prospers.
In conclusion, with such a huge man-power, with a wonderful past of greatness and achievements in all spheres of human activity such as liberal arts, science, technology and philosophy, with the recent strides and reputation in nuclear and space technology, information science and management, India is poised for a great leap forward, if and only if the youth of our country understand the meaning of life from the example of a great phenomenon, called Swamiji, who walked this planet only for less than forty years.