Swami Vivekananda and his words were so rich with wisdom and pragmatic lessons of life thatwell-known scholar and Nobel Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore, once said “if you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him, everything is positive and nothing is negative”.
Swami Vivekananda (born as NarendranathDutta)in an affluent family in Kolkata on 12 January 1863,was endowed with deep patriotism, spiritual devotion and strong character. Mature for his age, Narendra excelled in his studies, music, and gymnastics. In his youth, Narendra passed through a period of spiritual crisis when he was assailed by doubts about the existence of God.He found clarity through his guru Sri Ramakrishna who emphatically told him “Yes, I have seen Him (God) as clearly as I see you, only in a much more intense sense.”
In one of the many life defining moments, once Sri Ramakrishna asked Swami Vivekananda, what would you ask God if he appeared before you? To this Swami Vivekananda replied, “I shall ask him to keep me in a state of Samadhi”. Sri Ramakrishna gently rebuked him,“Shame on You, Naren!You are asking for such an insignificant thing. I thought you would be like the Banyan tree where thousands of travellers would rest in your shade”. He also told him of the great destiny that lay ahead for him. Sri Ramakrishna noted many a times that Narendra would have to do the great work of themother. Narendra at that time did not understand what was meant by “work of mother”.
In the middle of 1890,Swamiji left Baranagar Math and embarked on a long journey of exploration and discovery of India.During his travels all over India, Swami Vivekananda was deeply impacted by the appalling poverty and backwardness of the masses. He was the one of the first religious leaders in India to understand and openly declare that the real cause of India’s downfall was the neglect of the masses.
After travelling through different states, Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari the southernmost extremity of India. After taking blessings from Mata Kanyakumari temple,he swam to a rock which was separated from the mainland. There, sitting on the southernmosttip of India, he deeply meditated upon the present and the future of his country. Meditation as a tradition in India has a long cultural heritage. The Pashupati seal, circa 2350-2000 BCE,which wasdiscovered at the Mohenjo-daro, archaeological site of the Indus Valley Civilization,‘’shows a seated figure of a Yogi, probably Shiva Pashupati’’[i],a seated figure,crossed legs, spine erect in a yogic posture and surrounded by animals.’’ Swami Vivekananda sitting in deep contemplation from December 25-27, 1892 reflects the continuity in this tradition of meditation. The name given to the seal, “Pashupati“, has been associated with the Vedic god Rudra, generally regarded as an early form of Shiva.[ii]
In a letter later to Swami Ramakrishnanda from Chicago on 19th March 1894, Swami Vivekananda recounted his meditation in the following words, “my brother, in view of all this,especially of the (country’s) poverty and ignorance,I had no sleep. At Cape Comorin, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock, I hit upon a plan”.[iii]This plan was a realization of his life’s mission to arouse the nation from slumber of a thousand years of slavery and rediscover its inherent glory.
Swami Vivekananda, at the time, started his journey to the west on 31 May 1893, and visited several cities in Japan, China and Canada en route to the United States. He reached Chicago on 30July 1893, where the iconic Parliament of Religions would take place. It was in the same year, Mahatma Gandhi went to South Africa.
He started his speech at the Parliament of Religions with acknowledging ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’. At these words, Swami Vivekananda received a two- minutes standing ovation from the crowd of seven thousand people. He further mentioned that “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true… I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering remnant Zoroastrian nation.”[iv]
After the Parliament, Swamiji spent nearly three and a half years spreading the ancient philosophy of Vedanta in eastern parts of the United States and later in London. He returned to India in January 1897. In response to the warm welcome and thronging audiences that received him everywhere, he delivered a series of lectures in different parts of India, which created a great stir all over the country.
Swamiji altogether gave a new and a different understanding of religion. His precept was serving God is to serve man. He expounded the need to let all other vain gods disappear for the time from our minds. He reiterated the futility of the vain gods that most people go after and yet not worship the divinity that we see all around us.
While being a proud Indian, Swami Vivekananda was respectful and accommodative of other cultures. He mentioned that “learn everything that is good from others, but bring it in, and in your own way absorb it; but do not become others. Do not be dragged away out of this Indian life, do not for a moment think that it would be better for India if all the Indians dressed, ate, and behaved like another race”.[v]
Swami Vivekananda lay great emphasis on education as the primary means for empowering the people. He once said, “the education which does not help the common mass of people to equip themselves for the struggle for life, which does not bring out strength of character, a spirit of philanthropy, and the courage of a lion – is it worth the name? Real education is that which enables one to stand on one’s own legs.”[vi] For him, education meant learning that built character and instilled human values in students.
Swamiji had great faith in the potential and transformative power of the younger generation. He mentioned that “my faith is in the younger generation, the modern generation, out of them will come my workers. They will work out the whole problem, like lions.”
As an inspirational mentor and youth icon for the current generation, he highlighted the need to have goals and a mission-oriented life.He enthusiastically expressed that “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”[vii]
Swamiji’s focus was on overall development of a person wherein man making was equivalent to nation building and included the physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of a person. For him physical strength was preeminent. He advised that “be strong, my young friends… You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. These are bold words; but I have to say them, for I love you. I know where the shoe pinches. I have gained a little experience. You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger. You will understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little of strong blood in you. You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of the Atman when your body stands firm upon your feet, and you feel yourselves as men. Thus we have to apply these to our needs.”[viii]
In the late 19th Century, after the failed Indian Uprising in 1857, India stood in disaster. The great and prosperous ancient Indian civilization, had become a slave to the unending greed of the British Empire. The brutal British taxation system had laid waste to one of the most fertile, and abundant agricultural lands in the world. The 19th Century was beset with one famine after another in India. At the time, India was captive by a handful of British population on its own land, who cleverly maintained their power, as Indians had entirely forgotten their roots and identity. That lost identity was reminded by a man who would be born six years after the 1857 Rebellion. In a life of just 39 years, Swami Vivekananda brought eons of lost wisdom back into the Indian discourse. His life and messages still echo even after more than one and a half centuries .
Writer – Nikhil Yadav is a State Youth Head at Vivekananda Kendra , Uttar Prant .
He obtained his Masters in History from University Of Delhi and is pursuing COP in Vedic Culture from Jawaharlal Nehru University .
- [iii] Bhide , Nivedita. “Vivekananda Rock Memorial – A Perennial Source of Inspiration ‘’.Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan Trust :Publisher, July 2019 and The complete Works of Swami Vivekananda , Volume 6 , Epistles – Second Series /XLI Shashi ).
- Ranade ,Eknath. “Rousing Call to Hindu Nation‘’,Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan Trust :Publisher 2017 (11th Edition )
- Selections From the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda –Advaita Ashram :Publisher , March 2017