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Swami Vivekanand: His Global Vision

Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi - 2/17/2013


Swami Vivekanand’s birth was an exceptional phenomenon and India, was certainly graced by his birth and eventful life-journey. In fact, India has produced a galaxy of prophets, saints & seers, mystics, philosophers, poets, revolutionaries and patriots who, by their rare intellect, unblemished character, spirit of selfless service and compassion for humanity, dedication and devotion for their motherland and with so many unique and unparalleled qualities have not only made India proud but also a land of wonders inspiring a renowned Western historian and philosopher A. L. Basham to define India as The Wonder that was India.

Swami Vivekananda, known in his pre-monastic life as Narendra Nath Datta, was born in an affluent and aristocratic but traditional Bengali Kayasth family in Kolkata on 12 January 1863 during Makarsankaranti festivals. A precocious boy, Narendra excelled in music, gymnastics and studies. By the time he graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history. He refuted the theories mentioned in the religious scriptures that man and the whole universe was the creation of God.

In fact, he wanted real progress, peace and spiritual development for welfare of millions of poverty ridden, hungry, and ignored hapless common people characterised by him as daridranarayan - a term later used by Mahatma Gandhiji – who were indeed made scapegoats for centuries by the so-called agents of God or religion in the name of such archaic religious customs and conventions or superstitions. This universal conception frees religion from the hold of superstitions, dogmatism, priestcraft and intolerance, and makes religion the highest and noblest pursuit – the pursuit of supreme Freedom, supreme Knowledge and supreme Happiness. Yet, born with a yogic temperament, he used to practise meditation even from his boyhood and was inclined towards spirituality and realisation of God.

He left this world on July 4, 1902, at the age of 39 years, five months and 24 days. In such a short span of life, he immensely contributed to arousing his countrymen not only against the foreign rule but also for making a better world wherein all could live happily and in harmony without any discrimination and exploitation. Since the prevalent morality, in both individual life and social life, is mostly based on fear – fear of the police, fear of public ridicule, fear of God’s punishment, fear of Karma, and so on and the current theories of ethics also do not explain why a person should be moral and be good to others, he gave a new theory of ethics and new principle of morality based on the intrinsic purity and oneness of the Atman.

At the threshold of his youth, Narendra had to pass through a period of spiritual crisis pertaining to the very existence of God. It was at that time he first heard about Sri Ramakrishna from one of his English professors at college. One day in November 1881, Narendra went to meet Sri Ramakrishna who was staying at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar. He straightaway asked the Master a question which he had put to several others but had received no satisfactory answer: “Sir, have you seen God?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Sri Ramakrishna replied: “Yes, I have. I see Him as clearly as I see you, only in a much intenser sense.” Apart from removing doubts from the mind of Narendra, Sri Ramakrishna won him over through his pure, unselfish love with serene blessings and mystical aura. He taught him Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism); that all religions are true and that service to man was the most effective worship of God. Thus began a guru-disciple relationship which is quite unique in the history of spiritual masters. After the death of his Guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, extensively touring the Indian Subcontinent and acquiring first-hand knowledge of conditions in India.

In India Vivekananda is regarded as a patriotic saint of modern India and his birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day. In Swami Vivekananda's own words, he was "condensed India". William James, the Harvard philosopher, called Vivekananda the "paragon of Vedantists". Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's suggestion to Nobel Laureat Romain Rolland was: "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative.”

After establishing the new monastic order, Vivekananda heard the inner call for a greater mission in his life. While most of the followers of Sri Ramakrishna thought of him in relation to their own personal lives, Vivekananda thought of his Guru in relation to India and the rest of the world. As the prophet of the present age, what was Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world and to India in particular? During his travels all over India, Swami Vivekananda was deeply moved to see the appalling poverty and backwardness of the masses. He was the first religious leader in India to understand and openly declare that the real cause of India’s downfall was the neglect of the masses. The immediate need was to provide food and other bare necessities of life to the hungry millions.

Visiting World’s Parliament of Religions at Chicago

Meanwhile, Vivekanandiji heard about the World’s Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. His friends and admirers in India wanted him to attend the Parliament. He too felt that the Parliament would provide the right forum to present his Master’s message to the world, and so he decided to go to America. Another reason which prompted Swamiji to go to America was to seek not only financial assistance for his project of uplifting the masses but also to popularise Indian knowledge and culture and its unique metaphysical richness all over the world so that real India may come out before them. However, Swamiji, wanted to have an inner certitude and divine call regarding his mission. Both of these he got while he sat in deep meditation on the rock-island at Kanyakumari. With the funds partly collected by his Chennai disciples and partly provided by the Raja of Khetri, Swami Vivekananda left for America from Mumbai on 31st May 1893. His speeches at the World’s Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 made him famous as an ‘orator by divine right’ and as a ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world’. After the Parliament, Swamiji spent nearly three and a half years spreading Vedanta as lived and taught by Sri Ramakrishna, mostly in the eastern parts of USA and also in London. He returned to India in January 1897. In response to the enthusiastic welcome that he received everywhere, he delivered a series of lectures in different parts of India, which created a great stir all over the country. Through these inspiring and profoundly significant lectures Swamiji attempted to do the following: to arouse the religious consciousness of people and self-respect and self-pride about their rich cultural heritage particularly the metaphysical advancement in India; to bring about unification of Hinduism by pointing out the common bases of its sects, particularly to remove their mutual differences for common benefit for entire humanity.

Bridging Indian and Western culture

It may be mentioned here that in the West many people were influenced by Swami Vivekananda’s life and message, particularly due to his relentless efforts to build a bridge between Indian culture and Western culture. He did it by interpreting Hindu scriptures and philosophy and the Hindu way of life and institutions to the Western people in an idiom which they could understand. He made the Western people realize that they had to learn much from Indian spirituality for their own well-being. He showed that, in spite of her poverty and backwardness, India had a great contribution to make to world culture. In this way he was instrumental in ending India’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world and was rightly accorded as India’s first great cultural ambassador to the West.

Some of them became his disciples or devoted friends. Among them the names of Margaret Noble (later known as Sister Nivedita), Captain and Mrs Sevier, Josephine McLeod and Sara Ole Bull, deserve special mention. Nivedita dedicated her life to educating girls in Kolkata. Swamiji had many Indian disciples also, some of whom joined Ramakrishna Math and became sannyasis. In June 1899 he went to the West on a second visit. This time he spent most of his time in the West coast of USA. After delivering many lectures there, he returned to Belur Math in December 1900. The rest of his life was spent in India, inspiring and guiding people, both monastic and lay. Incessant work, especially giving lectures and inspiring people, told upon Swamiji’s health. His health deteriorated and the end came quietly on the night of 4th July 1902. Before his Mahasamadhi he had written to a Western follower: “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.” Indeed, his chequered life events reflect his true global vision.

Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi is Associate Professor of Political Science in M.D.P.G. College, Pratapgarh (UP), India.

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