For the divided
Vivekananda’s message of a united India is particularly relevant in these divisive times
It has become a fashion these days to quote Swami Vivekananda to strengthen one's arguments. Politicians, management gurus and wellness experts are often found to be quoting Swamiji. Thousands of rallies will be taken out and symposiums and seminars will be held on his life and work on his birthday on January 12.
It is unfortunate that during the past seven decades since Independence, no serious attempt has ever been made at the government level to study Swamiji's philosophy and take steps to fulfil his dreams of making India into an economically self-reliant and truly liberal nation.
It is unfortunate that many people are misquoting Swamiji and projecting him as a mere Hindu monk to satisfy their narrow vested interest. It has been found that those who claim themselves to be the ardent followers of Vivekananda have misrepresented him most as they have failed to understand the message of equality and peace as propagated by Swamiji.
Swamiji was the first Indian who had travelled extensively in the country. During his tour, he came in contact with the native kings, some of whom became his followers, alongside high government officials, students and common people. He saw how the caste system and narrow religious beliefs had crippled the Indian society. The common people were living in hapless condition and had nowhere to go to raise their demand. The vast experience had helped Swamiji to understand the pulse of the people.
He left for the United States via Japan in 1893 and after his success at the World Parliament of Religions which was held in Chicago on September 11, he came in contact with the educated Americans. There were college teachers like Professor JH Wright of Harvard University, progressive American women like Kate Sanborn and successful entrepreneurs like John D Rockefeller and Francis Leggett among others. Educationist William James and scientist Nikola Tesla also became Swamiji's friends.
He then went to England where he met Professor Max Muller at Oxford University. He became friends of Madame Ema Calve, the famous opera singer and actress Sarah Bernhardt.
His mingling with these people had helped Swamiji who was then a young man of 35 years to understand Western society better than the back of his right-hand palm. He came to conclude that to set up a better world, it was mandatory that West should accept Indian spirituality. On the contrary, India for its development must import technology from the West. Rabindranath Tagore, in an article published in Bharati magazine in Bengali in 1909, seven years after Swamiji's premature death, had commented that he had sacrificed his life to exchange the fruits of Indian thoughts to the West and vice versa.
But what was Swamiji's ideal India? In a letter written to Mohammed Sarfaraz Hussain of Nainital on June 10, 1898 " I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind. We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran, yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of the religion which is oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best."
He further commented, " For our own motherland, a junction of the two systems, Hinduism and Islam- Vedanta brain and Islam body is the only hope." Swamiji then maintained " I see in my mind's eye, the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta and Islam body."
Swamiji's was India's first cultural ambassador to the West. He tried hard to propagate India's message of tolerance and universal acceptance to the educated Western mind.
At the inaugural session of the World Parliament of Religions which was held at Chicago on September 11, Swamiji said " I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but also accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud that I belong to a religion in whose sacred language, Sanskrit, the word exclusion is untranslatable." Swamiji's speech received wide acceptance and he immediately became the hero of the Parliament of Religions.
At the final session of the Parliament which was held on September 27, 1893, Swamiji was invited to address the gathering. He said " The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve their own individuality and grow according to one's own law of growth." Swamiji further said, " Upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: Help and not Fight, Assimilation and not Destruction, Harmony and Peace and not Dissension."
Swamiji again visited the West and stayed there for nearly one and a half years, from August 1899 to the first week of December 1900. He delivered around 170 lectures and took innumerable classes and attended interactive sessions. He addressed the Parliament of Religions in Paris in September 1900 and delivered two lectures in French. In all the speeches, he talked about universal acceptance and said the service to man is service to god. " I am the servant of that God whom the ignorant by mistake calls man," he said.
Swamiji urged his countrymen to give up narrow ideas and severely criticised their cooking pot religion. He stood by the poor Indians belonging to the lower caste whose entry to the temples was denied. He emphatically said the new India will come from the huts of the farmers from the houses of common people who had been oppressed by their own fellow-countrymen belonging to the upper caste for generations. Swamiji believed that the masses should be educated and talked about "mass education, mass consciousness and mass organisations." He was the first person to talk about forming cooperatives with like-minded businessmen who will not run after money and take initiative to showcase the products of artisans. Swamiji had travelled with Jamsetji N Tata during the voyage in 1893 and requested him to set up an institution where the Indian students should be taught and given the opportunities to carry on research. Swamiji was the key person behind the setting up of the Indian Institute of Science in Mangaluru.
Swamiji wanted the youths to work for India to remove oppression in the name of religion and caste, where free expression will be honoured and there will be a perfect blend between eastern and Western thoughts. In a letter to Alasingha Perumal, one of his disciples gave his message to the future generation: Feel my children, feel. Feel for the poor, feel for the outcast, feel for the downtrodden. Feel in such a way that your heart stops, your head reels and you feel as if you will go mad." Time has come to implement his ideas to set up new India which is free from hatred, bigotry and fanaticism.
Tarun Goswami is Resident Editor, Millennium Post, Kolkata. Views expressed are strictly personal