Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo were the two towering figures of the Indian renaissance who contributed most to the regeneration of the Indian mindscape and consequent reflowering of the Indian culture. About the former whose birthday falls on January 12, the latter had recorded: ?British rule has been the record success in history in the hypnosis of a nation. It persuaded us to live in a ?death of the will?, creating in ourselves the condition of morbid weakness the hypnotist desired, until the Master of a mightier hypnosis laid his finger on India'seyes and cried, ?Awake?. Then only the spell was broken, the slumbering mind realised itself and the dead soul lived again.?
This awakening created a great turning point in the Indian history. For about a thousand years, after the fall of Harsha'sempire, decay and degeneration had set in, and the Indian mind had suffered a long spell of drought and desertification with a few meadows of green appearing here and there. The lofty thoughts produced by the once powerful and profound mind were submerged in the desert sand of the times. And the society got riddled by scores of evils?superstitions, fatalism, caste oppression, sati, child marriage, callousness towards women, etc.
In the early phase of the British rule, an influential section of leadership even attempted to bury altogether the few strands of the Indian culture that were still visible from underneath the desert sand. Lord Macaulay made the intentions clear in his well-known Minute of 1835: ?We must have a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.? He went to the extent of saying: ?Who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India.? At that time, even a large section of educated Hindus openly denounced Hinduism and said that they were ashamed of their origin.
It was in those dreary and depressing circumstances that Vivekananda appeared on the scene like a hurricane, blowing out the desert sand and bringing to surface the treasures of the Indian thoughts. In a voice ringing with poetic perception and passion, he declared: ?Here is the same India whose soil has been trodden by the feet of the greatest sages that ever lived. Here first arose the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, the existence of a supervising God, an immanent God in nature and in man? We are the children of such a country.?
Such stirring declarations, made by Vivekananda, during his extensive tours in the country, generated a wave of self-confidence in the nation and also a will to stand up and be counted. An intellectual and spiritual environment conducive to the growth of national freedom movement was created.
Being a cultured savant par excellence, Vivekananda did not denounce the western civilisation or the Indian baiters like Macaulay but showed them the deep chinks in their civilisational armoury: ?You, Christians, who are fond of sending out Christian missionaries to save the souls of Heathens, why do you not try to save their bodies from starvation. It is an insult to a starving man to offer him religion.?
At the same time in a dignified tone and tenor, Vivekananda brought home to the outside world how superior was the pattern of the Indian thought and how unique was the Hindu religion. In his famous address to the Chicago World Parliament of Religions, delivered in September 1893, he expounded the essence of Indian civilisation and culture with an unmatched eloquence and clarity: ?I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance? The Hindus regard all religions as so many attempts of the human soul to realise the Almighty, determined by the conditions of its birth and association and each of these marked a stage of progress. Every other religion lays down certain fixed dogmas and tries to force society to adopt them. It places before society only one coat which must fit Jack and John and Henry, all alike. If it does not fit John or Henry, he must go without a coat to cover his body.
The impact of his speech was tremendous. The Indian civilisation and culture was put on the highest pedestal. How high did go the prestige of Indians could be seen from an American press comment: ?We send missionaries to Vivekananda'speople. It would be more fitting that they should send missionaries to us.? Later on, reflecting upon Vivekananda'svisit to America, Sri Aurobindo observed: ?It was the first visible sign that India was awake, and she was awake not only to survive but also to conquer.?
Sri Aurobindo expanded the ambit of Vivekananda'sthoughts and took the movement for cultural regeneration to a greater heights. Functioning from his somewhat secluded ashram in Pondicherry, he served the country as a powerful lighthouse of inspiration, showing to its people the right way?the way of emancipating the soul of India and building a great future for her on the foundation of her great past. He infused confidence in the otherwise diffident nation by constantly reminding: ?Ours is the eternal land, the eternal people, the eternal religion, whose strength, greatness and holiness may be overloaded but never, even for a moment, cease?. Time and again, he said: ?India of the ages is not dead, nor has she spoken the last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human people.?
What did Sri Aurobindo mean when he talked of India'sdestiny and India religion? He himself provided the answer: ?When it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that Indian shall be great, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great. That which we call the Hindus religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal. A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can live only for a limited time and limited purpose.?
Such views propagated through his extensive writings, thrilled a good part of the nation and created new confidence, new urges and a new sense of mission. They also made the Western world take greater interest in India and look at her with greater respect.
Sri Aurobindo wanted Poorna Swaraj, complete freedom, for India. This, he thought, was absolutely necessary not only for the well-being of India but also for the well-being of the rest of the world. She alone could ?free the world from its enslavement to materialism and to point out the way towards a dynamic integration of Spirit and Matter and to make life perfect with Divine Perfection.?
Unfortunately, only a few strands of great movement for cultural regeneration of India are visible now. Today, she is without any great inspiration, without any elevating philosophy which could serve as a guiding star for activities in various walks of life.
Where do we go from the present moment of our history? What does the future hold for India? Having frittered away the opportunity to regenerate herself in the first sixty-two years of her Independence and earn a distinct place amongst the comity of nations, on the civilisational strength of what Arnold Toynbee called the unique Indian way, would she learn a lesson from the lapses of these years and make a new beginning?
Whenever I ask myself these questions, the best answer that I can think of is that India today needs another spiritual and intellectual giant like Swami Vivekananda who, like towering lighthouse, could show the right course to her tottering ship which finds itself on a rocky and stormy sea. The way the country'smind is being enslaved by the ?gurus? of exploitative capitalism and consumerism, only a leader of Vivekananda'sverve and vision could save it from committing spiritual suicide. His birthday, January 12, seems to be an appropriate occasion to spell out the framework on which my thinking is based.
Few realise that Vivekananda was one of the principal architects to cut a new cultural stream that watered the parched soil of India and produced a rich harvest of men and women who brought her freedom. In a voice ringing with ?passionate intensity?, he declared: ?Here is the same India whose soil has been trodden by the feet of the greatest sages that ever lived. Here first arose the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, the existence of a supervising God, an immanent God in nature and in man?We are the children of such a country?.
These inspiring words removed the spell of diffidence caused by the colonial rule and created a wave of self-respect and self-confidence which brought men of sterling eminence like Gandhiji and Tilak on the scene.
Do we not again need another Vivekananda to arrest the increasing desertification of Indian mind and break the spell that is being cast by the emerging ?new masters??
India today is a pale shadow of what it should have been. She should have led the world in life-nurturing ideas; instead, she is being led by the crass materialism of others. Her economy should have been the care and culture of her people; instead, it has been dehumanised by reckless consumerism of the rich and degrading passiveness of the poor. She should have recreated and strengthened her tradition of unities in diversities?unity in the diversity of man, unity in the diversity of religion, unity in the diversity of nature; instead, she has been torn asunder by conflicts and confusion. Who has brought all this about?
In the second half of the 19th century, when dense clouds of social and cultural degeneration appeared to have engulfed the Indian horizon, almost in perpetuity, there arose Vivekananda with a dynamic mission to purge the Indian soul. Pointing to the main culprits, he thundered: ?You, the upper classes of India, do you think you are alive? You are but mummies ten thousand years old?In the world of Maya, you are the real illusion. You merge yourself in the void and disappear. Let a new India arise in your place.?
If another Vivekananda were to appear on the scene today, I am sure he would speak to the present-day ruling elites with the same tenor and tone. He would tell them: ?You have betrayed the country. You have stifled the inspiration which underpinned our constitutional goals. You have proceeded to set up political and administrative institutions, but failed to create the mind and motivation that would have given life and meaning to them. You have built bodies without souls. You have ignored ?the ancient nobility of temper? engendered in tyaga and tapasya and started worshipping the new gods of power and pelf. From the great storehouse of the past, you should have picked up the gems and thrown out the stones. You did exactly the opposite. You threw out the gems and picked up the stones. And they now hang around the country'sneck like a dead albatross. You have done enough damage. Go; in the name of Mother India, go.?
Vivekananda knew that in building a healthy India, spiritual traditions had to play a crucial role. He said: ?Each nation, like each individual, has one theme in life, which is at its centre. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, that nation dies. In India, religious life forms the centre.? But his concept of religion revolved around worship of man. In his inimitable style, he said: ?May I be born again and again, suffer thousands of miseries, so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls, and above all, my God the wicked, my God the miserable, my God the poor of all races of all species.? For him, Jiva is Shiva: service to the poor, the sick or any other person in distress is the true service to the God.
Vivekananda advocated what he called practical Vedanta. ?One ounce of practice?, he used to say, ?was worth twenty thousand tons of big talks.? When some of his fellow ashramites asked him how his proposal of setting up the Ramakrishna Mission for practical service was reconcilable with the ?Sanyasi? tradition, he answered with a great deal of fervour: ?Who cares for your Bhakti and Mukti? Who cares what the Scripture says? I will go into a thousand hells cheerfully if I can arouse my countrymen to stand on their own feet and be men inspired by Karma-yoga. I am not a follower of Rama-Krishna or anyone. I am follower of him only who serves and helps others without caring for his own Bhakti or Mukti.?
On another occasion, Vivekananda questioned his own class: ?What have we done, we the so-called men of God, the ?Sanyasins?? What have we done for the masses?? He was no less blunt with the Christian Missionaries.
All in all, Vivekananda, to borrow the expression of Romain Rolland, ?was a born king and energy personified Earthly cries, the suffering of the ages, fluttered around him like a flight of the famished gulls.? He was, unquestionably, the most luminous star of the Indian renaissance of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
Under the impact of the renaissance, India, ? the sleeping giant?, as Vivekananda called her, woke up . But, unfortunately, after a few correct steps, she started moving on the wrong course. Another Vivekananda is now very much needed?a Vivekananda who could hold the errant ?giant? by the scruff of her neck, point to her the right path and make her replace the current culture of casualness, callousness, corruption and conceit by the culture of care, compassion, catholicity and commitment. Then alone, India would discover her true destiny and, as Sri Aurobindo visualised, would harmonise ?all religions, all sciences and philosophies and make mankind one soul.?
(The writer is former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and former Union Minister.)