January 12, 2013 is the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. The three-year-long celebration was launched on January 12, 2012, with a series of lectures, events and programmes in remembrance of the monk’s inspiring philosophy that has motivated youth for more than a century. Naturally, the focus of the celebrations is youth and their potential to bring about positive change. These include all-India online contests and a hi-tech exhibition on Swamiji at the Ramakrishna Mission in Delhi.
The curator of the exhibition observed that even if 20 per cent of Swamiji’s teachings are followed, our country could be transformed into a role model — yet that has not happened. I had to admit that those of us who profess to be followers of Swamiji have to accept the responsibility for the state of affairs since we have not really stretched ourselves in taking his message to the youth in a major way.
When I address young audiences, I often pose a question, ‘How relevant do you feel are the messages of Swamiji to your generation?’ I ask because I feel that our youth have not been able to connect to Swamiji in a real and powerful way. So, let us try to make an honest assessment of this idea.
Anyone who goes through the details of Swami Vivekananda’s life, particularly the youth, has a lot to learn and gain. Although born in a very affluent family, Narendra Nath (Swamiji’s pre-monastic name) had to suffer poverty and deprivation even before the age of 20. He could not land an ordinary job to feed his widowed mother and siblings. But, with extraordinary courage, conviction and sincerity of purpose, he forged ahead in life. Endowed with brilliant intellect and a powerful and rational mind, he would not accept anything that did not stand the test of reason or logic. Several incidents in his life, including his acceptance of Sri Ramakrishna as his guru — after a process of deep inquiry — stand witness to this quality. Hence, he is regarded as a youth icon.
Swami Vivekananda was not only an erudite philosopher and motivational speaker, he was also a great patriot. M K Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have paid glowing tributes to his patriotism. But, more remarkable is the observation of Sister Christine, a western admirer: “Our love for India was born, I think, when we first heard him say the word, ‘India’, in that marvelous voice of his. It seems incredible that so much could have been put into one small word of five letters. There was love, passion, pride, longing, adoration, tragedy, chivalry, heimweh, and again, love. Whole volumes could not have produced such a feeling in others. It had the magic power of creating love in those who heard it. Ever after, India became the land of your heart’s desire….”
Following Swamiji’s popularity at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions in 1893, some of the wealthiest people of America became his hosts. But, he could never enjoy such luxuries. He would often sleep on the floor. He was a keen student of history and a great visionary. He had traveled the length and breadth of India practically on foot. He had firsthand knowledge of India’s culture, tradition, its past and degradation that was evident in his times and is true even now.
But, at the same time, he was absolutely sure that India would experience a glorious regeneration. He said, ‘I see in my mind’s eye the future-perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible with Vedanta brain and Islamic body’. He was emphatic that uplift of the people would play a major role in the process of regeneration. He had great faith in youth and said that the young would work out all the problems like lions. His words were soul-stirring: “You are all born to do it. Have faith in yourselves; great convictions are the mothers of great deeds. Onward forever! Sympathy for the poor, the less privileged, even unto death — this is our motto. Onwards, brave youngsters!”
India seems to be in a state of transition. While we boast of a high percentage of youth in our population and project robust economic growth, yet society is in a state of turmoil where there is free play of corruption and brutalization of women. Our economic growth only seems to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. If the country is to emerge unscathed out of the current chaos, youth need a powerful role model. Do they need to look beyond Swami Vivekananda? While other leaders can inspire the youth in limited ways, Swamiji’s inspiration is universal. Anyone, particularly youth, wishing to excel in any area or dimension of life can adopt Swamiji as his role model. His life and message is capable of inspiring all-round and inclusive excellence because his inspiration is based on fundamental and foundational principles such as shraddha or dedication, courage, sacrifice and service. He said, ‘I want each one of my children to be a hundred times greater than I could ever be. Everyone of you must be a giant — must, that is my word. Obedience, readiness, and love for the cause — if you have these three, nothing can hold you back.’ He added, ‘Work unto death — I am with you, and when I am gone, my spirit will work with you.’ How true his assurance is!
A couple of months back, I had gone to address a group of principals from CBSE schools. There I met a lady who is a heritage specialist. After her inspiring address, she started narrating her life story. She said after struggling for two decades, she had to call off her marriage in 2005. Soon after, she visited our Belur Math RK Mission headquarters in Kolkata with a group of students. Standing on the banks of the Ganga behind the temple of Swami Vivekananda — where his mortal remains were consigned to flames — she closed her eyes and stood in silence for two minutes. When she opened her eyes, she ‘saw’ Swami Vivekananda standing by her side. He placed his hand on her head and blessed her. She said that since then, she has not looked back. Even recalling the experience seemed to move her to tears and new resolve.
Swami Shantatmananda is secretary, RK Mission, Delhi.