Swami Vivekananda- How relevant is he today?
An Inspirational Monk
His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like
‘The March of Handel Choruses’, I cannot touch his sayings without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero. Romain Rolland
If you want to know India, read Vivekananda. -- Rabindranath Tagore
he world today is passing through a very difficult period, characterized by a widespread feeling of insecurity caused by global terrorism unleashed by Al Qaeda. The volume of violence and unrest prevailing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Palestine, has cast dark shadows on the future of mankind. Even great advances in knowledge of science and technology, including the humanities have failed to arrest the social and economic confusion, leading to rapid decline of moral and ethical values.
Relevance of Vivekananda
At such a time, one feels the need to turn to people like Swami Vivekananda, in order to find peace of mind. Had the world taken seriously to what this great son of India had said that “if every religion conceded that every other religion could help a person reach the same God that they are trying to reach, harmony alone would prevail”, we would not have witnessed one of the most heinous examples of cultural conflict in the form of 9/11, exactly 108 years after Swami’s historic call in Chicago.
Thus, harmony of religions, universal solidarity, and human being as the highest manifestation of Spiritual Consciousness are the basic fundamentals one should not lose sight of in reading or understanding Swami Vivekananda. The practical aspects of these teachings reflect in renunciation and service. This forms the twin ideal of Swami Vivekananda's emphasis for the modern man and woman to strive for. Along with excellence and perfection in every field of human endeavor, one should follow these ideals, lest the person should miss the aim.
Cyclonic Hindu Monk
A ‘Cyclonic Hindu Monk’ as he was then called, was, indeed, a true globalist as every true Hindu is. ‘Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam’ (the whole world is one family) was his credo. He had foreseen that a global situation is developing and that the time has come when even local problems have to be seen in the context of the global perspective and solutions to be sought from that point of view. “Think globally and act locally” was not a concept which was strange or unknown to him. In fact he followed that dictum.
Some of the most pressing problems of the day threatening the very survival of human civilization were foreseen by Vivekananda. Religious intolerance, cultural exclusiveness and blind fanaticism were identified by him as dangerous portents. In his famous Chicago address he very forcefully brought out that these dark forces had deluged the world with rivers of human blood and brought beautiful civilizations to extinction.
Bane of Exclusivity
"Our watch-word then,”, he said, “will be acceptance, and not exclusion. What we call toleration means that one just allows another to live, even if one is wrong. It is a blasphemy to think that you and I are allowing others to live?”
He told the Parliament of Religions, “I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all, I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form they worship Him. I shall go to the mosque of the Mohammedan; I shall enter the Christian’s church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhist temple, where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his Law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindus, who is trying to see the Light which enlightens the heart of every one.”
Continuing, he said, “not only shall I do all these but I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future. Is God’s book finished? Or is it still a continuous revelation, going on? It is a marvelous bookthese spiritual revelation of the world. The Bible, the Vedas, The Koran and all other sacred books, are but so many pages, and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded. I would leave it open for all of them. We stand in the present, but open ourselves to the infinite future. We take in all that has been in the past, enjoy the light of the present and open every window of the heart for all that will come in the future. Salutation to all the prophets of the past, to all the great ones of the present, and to all that are to come in the future.”
Vivekananda spelt out his mission, “We want to lead mankind to the place where there is harmonization of the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of the Religion, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.”
The Two Civilizations
Affirming that there existed two civilizations, which had developed and thrived upon two different approaches to life, Vivekananda said, the Western approach was based upon the quest as to how much a man needed to acquire and possess in order to be happy and the Easternthe Hinduapproach was a quest as to what is the minimum that a man requires to possess in order to remain happy.
The West developed a mighty civilisation of ‘Bhoga’ (consumerism), while India produced a civilization based on ‘Tyaga’, (renunciation). In the name of globalization the Bhoga inspired approach is today engulfing the whole world causing grave threat of environmental degradation and possible ruin of all living species on earth. The only remedy is Tyaga inspired philosophy of life preached and practiced by Hinduism, taking into consideration every aspect and aspiration of human beings. The west has failed to evolve such a comprehensive view of life that could harmonize the individual with society, man with Nature,
Vedanta believes in the unity of existence. Man, nature and universe are all one, inter related, interconnected and interdependent. One cannot exist without the other. There is a rhythm and a delicate balance in the universe, which sustains it in its totality. When man exploits nature, there is bound to be a backlash and consequent chaos. This makes it imperative that man and nature replenish each other and both attain maximum well-being.
At the Parliament of Religions
The Parliament of Religions opened on Monday, September 11, 1893. The spacious Hall of the Art Institute was packed with nearly 7,000 people and every organized religion from all corners of the world had its representatives seated on the platform.
And when his turn to address the august assembly came, Vivekananda, a young man of 30, rose like the morning sun and created almost a sensation when he addressed the audience as “Sisters and Brothers of America” and said “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given me. I thank you in the name of the Mother of Religions and in the name of the millions and millions of Hindus of all classes and sects.”
Vivekananda continued: “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 that 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 the remnants of the grand Zoroastrian nation.”
His stirring message of oneness of religions came like the breath of fresh air to a suffocated people. Rising above cramping creeds and dwarfing dogmas, Vivekananda spoke of harmony, understanding and universalism in his address at the final session of the Parliament on 27th September,
Vivekananda roared, “If anything, the Parliament of Religions has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world. Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilizations, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come. I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death- knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.” In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written: ‘Help and not fight,’ ‘Assimilation and not Destruction,’ ‘Harmony and Peace and not Dissension'.”
Like a true Hindu, Vivekananda envisioned religions as different radii leading to the center of the circle. Each religion, he pleaded passionately, must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve its individuality and grow according to its own law of growth.
Vivekananda would often recall few lines of a Vedic hymn that in nutshell provided the essence of lofty Hindu thought. The hymn declared: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’
He did not limit his concept of God to any one religion or faith but defined it as the worship of the Virat Purusha, the cosmic form of God, the Transcendental Reality that embraced the whole of humanity. This principle of the Universal Oneness of the Self formed the basis of his inherent belief in the equality of all people, irrespective of the considerations of three Cs-caste, creed or color. "Each soul”, he said, “is potentially divine, and the purpose of life is to realize that potential and manifest its essential nature of divinity."
Concern for the Lowly and the Lost
As a man of religious experience, Vivekananda had few parallels. Instead of seeking personal salvation by means of contemplation, he turned all his energy to the amelioration of the suffering humanity. “I do not care for liberation”, said he once, “I would rather go to hundred thousand hells doing well to others. This is my religion.”
His heart ached at the plight of the poor and the downtrodden. He was upset at the fact that his people lacked physical vigor and mental energy and were weighed down by barren customs, sterile traditions, priest-craft and caste-ism. The crying evil in the developing world, he said, was not want of religion but want of bread. “It is an insult to a starving people to offer them religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics.”
The philosophy of service advocated by this giant among men emanated from his chore belief that "Jiva is Shiva”. He would thunder in his lectures exhorting youth to “see Shiva in the lowliest and the lost". The worship of Narayana has to be through service to Daridra-Narayana, the poor, the needy and the homeless, he said.
*A journalist by profession, a scholar by temperament and a writer by choice, Gopinath Raina was inclined to the study of religion from his very young age. It was Swami Vivekananda’s dynamic exposition of Hindu thought that fired his imagination while he was still at school, and by the time he entered college, he had been drawn to the writings of Gandhi, Aurobindo, Narayana Guru, Radhakrishnan and Bertrand Russel.
After retiring from Indian Information Service (I.I.S.) in 1983 where he distinguished himself as an editor, correspondent, commentator and administrator in All India Radio, he edited, AICC Journal, Varnika, (Jan.'84-Dec.'90), Koshur Samachar (March'91-Oct'95, Sanatana Sandesh,(1997-2005) and KASHEER (2003-2004),
He has been writing profusely on various aspects of Hindu thought. He enjoys writing, particularly on saints and sages, not only of Kashmir, but of the other parts of India as well. Presently he lives in Miami, and spends his time writing personal memoirs.
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