Recently I was on a long journey with my US returned friend who asked me whether I have studied any other person in depth as I have done with Swami Vivekananda. He also wanted to know why I think Swami Vivekananda has the maximum influence and why he is ‘the’ role model.
I feel it is a good question to attend to, for some of my own conceptions will become clear, and secondly, this is something that I wanted to go deeply into.
My initial attraction to Swami Vivekananda was about 14 years back when I came across his literature. By then I had studied a lot of best selling books. All in all most of these books had one or two points to say and they kept on explaining it for about 300+ pages. That is what I found out. When I first got the small booklet containing the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, I found that he completed in one paragraph what these best selling books were trying to tell you in one complete book. So you see, I started to like his books. I have gone through his Complete works couple of times. This is the personal perspective. It is quite possible that many of you have found your Heroes in other great men and women. I am not going to debate that part.
Now the debate is whether Swami Vivekananda is the Role Model for India and whether we should all follow in his footsteps and whether it is the best thing for us.
My answer is an ‘Yes’ and I have my reasons for it. There is no doubt that India had many people of great spiritual attainments. That has been our History. Our history is full of sages who attained to highest spiritual perfection. Our whole national life was centered around the concept of Moksha. I am not going to compare Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual attainments with that of other great spiritual men. From a social perspective, that debate is not needed and I am not qualified to do that either. Our debate is about the Man, his Life, his Teachings and the method He formulated to build the India and the Humanity of the future.
Swami Vivekananda as a Person
As a person, Swami Vivekananda was very gracious, accommodating, liberal, compassionate and scientific. It can be said that these qualities were manifest in him in the fullest measure. There are instances in his life where if he just said that He was not a Negro, he would have got his food served in a Hotel and a barber would cut his Hair, two services that were denied to him in US many times taking him to be a Negro. But he never wanted to raise at the expense of another. Such was his love and respect for human dignity, an ideal great in itself for the future of mankind. I can’t believe that 113 years since he passed away still we can’t get over this superiority and ‘holier than thou’ mania. Think of a man who was honored by the Kings, by the greatest of scientists and philosophers of the East and the West talking to construction workers enquiring about their lives and serving food to them with his own hands and shedding tears thinking of their upliftment! He wouldn’t sleep and would say to his followers, “This world is burning in misery, how can you sleep?.” Can there be a better ideal for the Society? I am not discussing religion or even spirituality as it is understood but about what we require to grow as a nation.
Those people who are immersed in selfishness, who never think one good thought for others will never believe that there was a man who lived solely for others and whose actions were for the good of the world. But Swami Vivekananda was such a man. That is a great ideal for everyone to have. Just think of the great good that can happen to the country if people possess such a spirit.
Swami Vivekananda as a nation builder
You don’t start a new creation. The creation is there, scattered all around. India had an history dating back to thousands of years and had its own reasons for all the good and the bad that was there in our Society. There arose Swami Vivekananda who took the path that would cause least unrest in the Society, the path which he chose to call as the “line of least resistance” which was in tune with our national life. He didn’t disturb the equilibrium that we had but gave it a new inspiration. He only said, “Brothers! We have done well in the past. But let us do better.” He had no words of condemnation for this Society but only Help. We get great revolutionaries every now and then who start a movement and who try to address an issue or two but nation builders like Swami Vivekananda address all issues – religious, educational, scientific and humanitarian. So they naturally cover a much larger ground than the issue based revolutionaries. He made character as the underlying foundation for all the great undertakings, combined science with religion which would lead to harmonious development of all sides in a person. His message -“Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”, is something that the humanity and our nation in particular needs very badly today.
My friend gave me an example of Osho who, apparently has given wonderful thoughts about Society etc. I know we have many books which give us most wonderful theories but such books never reach people. Swami Vivekananda was practical. He reached out to the people and gave out noble ideas in all directions possible and for all eternity. Therein lies a big difference between Swami Vivekananda and other great leaders.
The biggest contribution of Swami Vivekananda to India was in setting up a channel which is playing a critical role in shaping the destiny of this country. He was one of those earliest leaders who took it upon himself to rebuild India. He went deep into history, understood current challenges and devised a plan for the nation’s future – a plan that is definitely seeing the light of the day. It was him who inspired JRD Tata to start a Science Institute in India which is now known as the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. His whole mission was to build an army of youth who would go about solving the problems of our land. There is an Institute in Allong in Arunachal Pradesh where the Ramakrishna Mission started by Swami Vivekananda is educating the tribal children, there is an institute in H D Kote, Mysore which has educated and brought into the mainstream of life, the whole tribal. This institution was inspired by Swami Vivekananda. There are countless examples. Today, if I visit even the remotest corners of India, I can see the influence of Swami Vivekananda in most of these places. Remember – this is an unfinished task. It is becoming all the more stronger. When the full effect of his thought and labor are manifest, India would have become a nation that he dreamt of. Such is the power of these great prophets – they conceive a thing and set up a machinery to accomplish that task and they invariably succeed in their mission. There are countless Hospitals, Schools, Computer Training centers, vocational training centers and what not! Just think, one person starts a school in a village and in about 20 years, a noticeable change will come in the life of villagers. Here was a man who has inspired the founding of thousands of schools and hundreds of health care centers, the numbers are only going up, think of his contribution to this great country and how he has, once for all, defined the destiny of our country.
There are other things like the quality of people whom he has been able to engage in his mission – Qualified Doctors, Engineers, PhD holders and people like Anna Hazare who stand above all by the sheer virtue of their character. Getting such large number of educated and committed people to build the country is the way of building a great nation. He was not antagonistic to other religions and nations. He wanted all the religions and nations to share what good they have with others and live in harmony. He was the embodiment of the future ideal of Humanity. I see some people going to the extremes of denying science and some to the extreme of denying religion and both fancy that they alone are right. They don’t seem to have the basic understanding that by excluding a thing which many people have found to be true and verifiable, be it religion or science, they are going away from the ideal of universal brotherhood. Swami Vivekananda struck the right chord when he said what we want is Western Science, the comforts that it can bring with the ideal of Vedanta, the spiritual ideal of oneness.
Patriotism, love of humanity, scientific temper, compassion and reaching out to people to help them lead a better life – very few people are born who can conceive of such a great mission and it appears to me that aligning ourselves with such a man and his mission is one of the better things that we can do for our country and to this world. The effect of our little labor can be associated with that great mission and the results can be verified and we would have played our part.