By Ananya S. Guha
Swami Vivekananda was moved into spirituality by religion. Religion was only the via media for his quintessential spirituality – the oneness of mankind, the all-encompassing Sanatan Dharma, the spirit of suffering in India, and the intrinsic desire to know the real India, its suffering masses, its range and diversity and, its topography. He intuited the spiritual essence of India, but he also comprehended it as a land of suffering. Reason and feeling converged in his mind as he attained the beatific heights of samadhi.
To respond to the call of God, the Swami attended the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Miracle after miracle took place and the unknown monk started travelling all over the world and the country. Depending on Vedanta philosophy for his spiritual foresight and intellectual strength, he blended these with a pragmatic outlook towards poverty, aiming to ameliorate it with a social zeal. His Godhead was Kali, his master Ramakrishna, but his heart was on human suffering. Vivekananda combined three things; intellect, spirit, and pragmatism. He emphasized on physical endurance. He was no social reformer, but an intellectual and spiritual giant, who was deeply moved by a suffering humanity. In advocating the doctrine of oneness, Vivekananda shunned dualism in God. In the Goddess Kali, he perceived equanimity transcending disturbance. His desire to visually see God was a desire to combine natural with the supernatural. His organization, founded on the principles of Sri Ramakrishna, is a worldwide phenomenon today, giving testimony to the words of the poet, William Blake:
To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
Vivekananda performed the absolute task of holding “Eternity in an hour”, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. His ‘death’ sowed the seeds for a national and international movement in social transformation in the domains of education, social work, and culture. Swami Vivekananda continues to symbolize the youth and their harnessing of intellectual and spiritual potentialities. Sensitiveness was the overarching cornerstone of this towering personality. He was a man of both prodigious intellect and sensitiveness. ‘Do you feel, feel, feel? …’ he once asked. The Belur Math stands today as a symbol of spiritual and social reconnaissance.
Vivekananda should be understood as a man who intuited the concept of a nation, bonded by oneness, long before the freedom movement. He wanted to explore each and every corner of the country. He was enamored of its depth and diversity, its essentials meaningfulness as a nation-state; he also marveled at its ancient heritage of a resonant spiritualism, and a wakeful wisdom. He saw, in men like Jesus Christ, the continuation of the oneness of God and man. Why did Vivekananda continually harp on oneness or Sanatan Dharma? He saw in oneness an actualization of social and religious goals. He saw in oneness the unifying spirit of this vast country. But he was deeply troubled by issues such as poverty and apathy, if not antipathy towards the masses. Even as early as the nineteenth century, he perceived the masses constituting the true or archetypal reality. Like Gandhiji later, he loved people individually and in masses. Thus, Vivekananda gave an unknowing thrust to the polity of India, much before the founding fathers of the nation. He anticipated that India was a nation in the making and prescient mind saw how poverty would be a curse in future.
Vivekananda had already set up nodal points for his mission abroad in the UK and the US, as he knew that the goals of his missions would be the sea of humanity. He wanted to spread Hinduism to the world, a notion of Hinduism embedded in oneness in an all-embracing and fundamental God. This philosophy of a fundamental look at religion, society, philosophy, and spirituality is the crux of the Ramakrishna Mission, which has worked through education, social work, and religion/spirituality without drawing a sharp divide between mind and matter and unflagging in totality, moving towards a complete self.
There is the ultimate knowledge – Ved – anta. He was not a mystic philosopher or saint, but rather a mediator of practical wisdom and spirituality.
Vivekanand’s emphasis on the oneness of the divine was an inner contemplation of reality, the real. His accent on the external world of action was again the idea of putting precepts into practice. And, he never created a mystique or myth. He was firmly grounded in realities of both the past and present. His harking back to the ancient wisdom of India was his unique and spectacular way of connecting past and present, hoary traditions with contemporary affluence. What he saw was a yawning gap between the two, a hiatus.
Vivekananda foregrounded a vision for the future where education and social work would be at perfect tandem. This unity of spirit, mankind and God, made his spiritual thinking transcend godliness or mere rituals. His spirituality lay in action-oriented goals, where walking, talking, and exercising physically mattered. Thus, he advocated harmony of mind, body, spirit, and matter. His phenomenal intellectual gifts were the source of his working for the poor and the impoverished. He was not a Renaissance man, but a man of the times, a man ahead of his times. He envisaged an India of its various manifestations, culture, and geography. The tip of the Kanyakumari attracted him spiritually, although he savored its physical touch. He even swam across a part of it! He saw the infinity of a country before his finite self. But he believed that when he died, the soul would remain.
Vivekananda explicated Hindu thought in simple, intelligible ways to take it to the common man. But his beliefs were grounded in traditions of ancient knowledge of the seer. In articulating an all-embracing oneness or unity of the cosmos, Vivekananda preached monism, because this was also a historical coincidence for a unified and un-fettered vision of the ancient. The ancient appealed to him as a spiritual repository from where one could draw rivers of sustenance. He was an ‘ancient’ fully alive to modern imperatives. Vivekananda spoke of sustenance and sustainability of religion via oneness of mankind and of a nation (in the making). One wonders as to the kind of savant – prophet – he was; a true philosopher – spiritual – king. In his spreading of vedantic doctrine, Swami Vivekananda flouted mysticism, but took Indian spirituality by its stranglehold to shape it into a devastating cosmos of unity, not proliferation of dogmas.
Swami Vivekananda was a prophet, a messiah perhaps born ahead of his times, with a rounded personality and photogenic personality and memory. He used his genius for spirituality. He himself embodied a unified vision in his personality, oneness of spiritual and intellectual vision. His thoughts and his words, translated into action, have relevance for the world continuing through ages. His plea for a suffering humanity is egalitarian in all respects. He was a monk of the world, not an ascetic; his focus was a world or country in crisis. Human suffering was his greatest concern complemented with a personal God, the Mother Goddess.
It is not only the youth but the country as a whole must emulate him, especially his endeavor to strive for perfection and unity in a cosmos riddled with disunity and disparity. He conceded that in striving for perfection, man must strive for an ideal balance between the physical and the mental. This unity in personality of man foregrounded his religious, spiritual, and even cultural thinking.
M.N. Gupta, a householder, biographer, and spiritual devotee of Ramakrishna, highlights the principles of the Swami thorough the words of the Master: “Narendra is a very big receptacle, one that can hold many things.” This was the diversity of Vivekanda’s thought process. Beneath it, he discovered unity, a vision of life and God. But he was also a Karma Yogi, moved into action and doing something for the suffering and the poor. If God manifested himself to one unique way, then serving Man was akin to serving God. These principles of Man, God, and Humanity were the cornerstone of his religious, spiritual, and moral convictions. Swami Vivekanda embodied an ideal of renunciation to serve God and Man. He was an ascetic, a Vedantist, and a spiritual thinker, all enfolding into action to serve the underlying concept of man. If Rabindranath believed in ‘Religion of Man’, Swami believed in ‘Men of Religion’, who practiced what they preached. The spiritual blessings that he received from Ramakrishna moved him into the world of actuality and action.
Mahendra Nath Gupta, The Recorder of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, ed Swami Chetanananda, Advaita Ashram, Kolkata, 2011.
Great Thinkers on Ramakrishna Vivekananda Ramakrishna, Institute of Culture, Kolkata, 1983.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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