WHAT can one say of a man – just one man – who, when India was down and out and had all but lost its self-respect, took upon himself to save it, and in the process helped it fight for its independence? That he was obsessed? That he was God-sent? That he was what Fate decided to promote the restoration of India’s greatness? Perhaps he was all that. Here was a young man, born on 12 January 1863 – just six years after India’s War of Independence – in a religious, middle class family who went on to conquer the world and, by the time he passed away had succeeded in no small measure to put India back on the spiritual and intellectual map.
His role as the saviour of India has been so impressive that no less a leader than C. Rajagopalachari was to say, long after the man himself had passed away that he “saved Hinduism and saved India and but for him, we would have lost our religion and would not have gained our freedom”. And who, by the way, is he? It is Narendranath Dutta who was in the years to come to be known as Swami Vivekananda. Right from his childhood in Calcutta, it is said, he had a fancy for the wandering monk, one who himself had to become in the years to follow. It was in November 1881 when he was hardly eighteen that he met Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa who was to become his ultimate guru. Though, to begin with, Narendranath was a sceptic, it was the spiritual power of Sri Ramakrishna that turned him on. And that is a story in itself.
Narendra himself was known for his extra-ordinary desire to serve mankind, but it was Sri Ramakrishna who put him on his path. Narendra was a scholar par excellence, he studied hard and was too often deeply immersed in the study of the Vedas and the Upanishads. It was to come to his aid once at a crucial period. Wandering as a monk, without a penny in his pocket he had come to know the abysmal poverty of his fellow countrymen and all their weaknesses. It was during his final days of endless travel that he had come to the decision that something needed to be done to help his fellow countrymen get back on their feet. And he thought that the only country that could help would be the United States. During his stay in what then was Madras Presidency he managed to convince some rich admirers of his to help him go to the New World where, to his good luck, a Parliament of Religions was due to be held.
He managed to reach America in time but then he had to get an invitation from the sponsors of the Parliament. It was at this point that Fate came to his rescue. An American academician had heard him speak, only to be impressed. At one point the two were together and the well-known professor felt that the Swami would be the ideal person to speak on Hinduism. Vivekananda demurred saying that he had no credentials. To that Prof. Wright was to say – words that were to make history “To ask you, Swamiji for credentials is like asking the sun to state its rights to shine!” Influential that he was, Prof. Wright did manage to get Swami Vivekananda to address the Parliament. The rest is history. What, in the end did Vivekananda succeed in achieving? Firstly he showed that India and culture were not something to be taken lightly. Secondly, he showed that Hinduism was the most tolerant of religions.
Thirdly, he was determined to lead India to its days of glory. His one desire was what he described as ‘Man-making’. And he knew how that could be achieved. He told his countrymen! “Be bold and fear not….Life is short, rouse yourself….Look out for life-building, character making, assimilation of ideas….Call up the divinity within you…. lay down your comforts, your pleasures, your names, fame or position, nay, even your lives and make a bridge of human chains over which millions will cross the ocean of life…. Do not neglect the masses…. Be a servant of all….” His message was to become the motto of the Sri Ramakrishna Order: Aatmano Mokshartham jagat hitayacha (For your personal moksha as for the good of the world). Another was: Utthishtatha jagrata prapya varannibodhata (Arise, awake! And stop not till the goal is reached)
He wanted every young Indian to have a vision, a goal and work diligently and unselfishly towards it. He had faith in India and more than anything else, had full faith in the validity of Hinduism. He once said: “Those that think that the present revival of Hinduism is only a manifestation of patriotic impulse, are deluded…. India will be raised, not with the power of the flesh, but with the power of the spirit”. In the early years of the 20th century Christian missionaries were running rampant, in the process running down India. Right from the very beginning Vivekananda was standing up to them with courage and determination.
At the final session of the Parliament of Religions he openly said: “If this parliament has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any Church in the world and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character”. A week earlier, on 20 September 1893, obviously provoked he had hit out in stronger language. Of that incident, the Chicago Tribune had this to report:
Dr. Noble then presented Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk, who was applauded loudly as he stepped forward to the centre of the platform. He wore an orange robe, bound with a scarlet sash and a pale yellow turban. The customary smile was on his handsome face and his eyes shown with animation. Said he: “We, who have come from the East, have sat here day after day and have been told in a patronising way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and we see England, the most prosperous Christian nation in the world, with her foot on the neck of 250,000,000 Asiatics. We look back in history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain.
Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindu will not have prosperity.
I have sat here today and I have heard the height of intolerance…. blood and the sword are not for the Hindu whose religion is based on the law of love.”
According to the paper “when the applause had ceased, Vivekananda went on to read his paper. What is amazing is the Swami’s courage of conviction. He was willing to stake his popularity by telling the truth. According to his biographer, “never catering to popularity, the Swami could assume a severely critical attitude. But his love was too deep and sincere to be misunderstood, and his rebukes were accepted by a large majority of the audience in the same spirit of brotherhood in which he gave them. So also was accepted his valiant defence of Hindusim. He found that India and her spiritual ideas had indeed been misrepresented and felt he must constantly reveal and uphold the merits of the Hindu religion. He always sought to give Hinduism its rightful status in the West. And, to the incredulous jubilation of the Indian people, he succeeded”.
Today, as never before we require a Swami Vivekananda who had the courage of his convictions and what is more, had the strength to tell his critics right in their face, what he thought about them. Of course, he was very severely reviled by missionaries and their sponsors. Vivekananda couldn’t care less. There were times when he was assaulted on the roads, but he had the strength to fight back. In the end, his saintliness, his utter fearlessness, won him more friends.
At the Parliament of Religions was the famous Annie Besant who, in her own way, had helped India fight for its freedom. Of Vivekananda’s stand at the Parliament she had this to say:
“Off the platform, his figure was instinct with pride of country, pride of race – the representative of the oldest of living religions… India was not to be shamed before the hurrying arrogant West…. Purposeful, virile, strong, he stood out, a man among men, able to hold his own.
“On the platform another side came out. The dignity and the inborn sense of worth and power still were there, but all was subdued to the exquisite beauty of the spiritual message which he had brought, to the sublimity of that matchless truth of the East which is the heart and life of India…The huge multitude hung upon his words, not a syllable must be lost, not a cadence missed!”
Today, our country is ruled by bogus secularists out to destroy Hinduism. What kind of leadership can India get when it is ruled by a non-Indian Congress President and a stick-in-the-mud Prime Minister who has no concern for spiritual values. The UPA government must be thrown out massively, bag and baggage and never again allowed to come anywhere near power. We have to look for the values Hinduism has always cherished, and which the secularists have ruthlessly spat upon. What happened in Delhi is a reflection of the valueless government and the evil that Western thought has encouraged on a materialist generation. We need a new Vivekananda to bring sanity to a generation that has been ruthlessly deprived of spiritualism in the name of secularism. And the time is NOW!