Vivekananda : His Gospel of Man-Making Compiled and edited by Swami Jyotirmayananda, Chennai,
Pp1000, Rs 300.00
January 12, 2013 marks the birth centenary of probably the greatest Indian the country had given birth in the last two centuries and that, let it be said, inciudes Mahatma Gandhi. Actually, there can be no comparison between the two. They belonged to two different worlds. If the Mahatma fought for freedom—and that is a precious contribution—Vivekananda restored India's self-confidence as no other person before him has done. The Mahatma himself was to say that after having gone through Vivekananda’s works, the love he himself had for his country increased “a thousand-fold”.
Vivekananda was born at a time when India had lost its self-confidence and was struggling to regain its identity. He helped it to understand its own greatness. He did so by sticking to his aim in life: man-making. And he succeeded beyond measure and one can’t be sufficiently grateful to him. He not only enlightened his own countrymen, but he made even the Western world aware of India’s past and glory and spiritual attainments. After a few hours of disecussions with him, Prof JH Wright of Harvard University was to tell Swamiji: “Swami, to ask you for your credentials (to address the World Conference of Religions) is like questioning the ever-bright sun his right to shine”. The year was 1893 – the year when, at Chicago, American leaders were organising the Parliament of Religions. In a letter to Rev Barrows, who was organising the Parliament, Prof Wright was to say: “Here is a man who is more learned than all the Professors of America put together”.
Vivekananda indeed went on to prove it. When he first addressed the Parliament with the line: “Brothers and Sisters of America” over 6,000 people who were listening to him rose up like one man and cheered him for full five minutes! Nothing like that had ever happened before – or after. Vivekananda had, in those five words, captured the hearts of America! Of course, Christian missionaries came to be very jealous of him and spread all kinds of dirty stories about him, and about Hinduism. They failed miserably.
This book, in its sixth and enlarged edition, is divided into six parts and is remakable in many ways. Part I quotes generously from the writings and speeches of Vivekananda and in effect tells us more about him, his life, his views and thinking than any orthodox biography would have done. It gives us Swamiji’s views on Education and Religion and the tributes he received from savants and saints. An American academician said of him: “Here is a man who knows what he is talking about. He is not relating what he thinks, he is telling what he knows. When I was asked what sort of man he was, I replied: ‘He is not a man, he is God!”. Vivekananda once said: “Man-making is my mission in life. I never make plans. Plans grow and work themselves”.
Part II is a chronicle of important events in Swami’s life in the context of the times in which he lived – and that is important”. Part III portrays Vivekananda as a bridge between the East and the West, recording events in his life and times from 1863 to 1902 – something unique in the writing of a biography. It is interesting to learn that the Swami was born in the same year as the US Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg – the same year in which Henry Ford, father of the four-wheeled car, was born. But what is profonndly moving throughout the pages are the tributes paid to him literally by scores of a long list of admirers and devotees, both Indian and western and among the Indians are Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Dr Radhakrishnan, KM Munshi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, C Rajagopalachari, not to speak of Subhash Chandra Bose.
Nehru is quoted as saying: “He (Vivekananda) came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralised Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance… there was fire in his heart….many of my generations were powerfully influenced by him….” Prof AL Basham was to write: “It is very difficult to evaluate his (Vivekananda's) importance in the acale of world history. It is certainly far greater than any western historian or most Indian historians would have suggested at the time of his death… he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world… and as one of the most significant figures in the whole history of Indian religion….”
Vivekananda’s impact was not just on ordinary citizens or religious leaders. He made a fabulous impact on the likes of Jamsetji Tata and John D Rockefeller. It is claimed that Aldous Huxley, the philosopher, took “formal initiation” from Swami Prabhavananda and “did as much as any other individual to introduce Vedanata to western culture”. Vivekananda defined India. Not many know, but he put the ideal of Guru Govind Singh before every Indian to follow.
To say this book is fabulous is to make an under-statement. It is almost the final education on attaining the bliss of self-understanding. There has never been such a book before and it is unlikely that it will ever be surpassed. Finally, it gives one additional bonus: a portfolio of eighty pictures of the Swami! And those who want to know even more about him are provided with a long list of past publications. But this work. surely, must be considered the last word on the subject.
(Swami Jyotirmayananda, 38/1400, ‘H’ Block, 15th Main Road, Annanagar, Chennai)