Symbol of unity
On the occasion of his 158th birth anniversary, remembering Swami Vivekananda’s profound vision for a modern, unified and self-reliant India
On June 10, 1898, Swami Vivekananda wrote a letter from Almora to Mohammed Sarfaraz Hussain, a local school teacher of Nainital. Swamiji wrote "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 and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but varied expressions of 'The Religion', which is 'Oneness', so that each may choose that path that suits him best. For our motherland, a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body is the only hope."
The letter is a must reading for those who want to understand the philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. It has become a fashion to partially quote and often misquote Vivekananda these days and project him in narrow lights to satisfy the needs of some people with a vested interest.
After returning from the west in 1897, Swamiji while speaking on a topic titled "The future of India", said "Our lifeblood is spirituality. If it flows clear, if it flows strong and pure and vigorous, everything is right; political, social, any other material defects, even the poverty of the land, will all be cured if the blood is pure. For if the disease germ is thrown out, nothing will be able to enter into the blood." Swamiji's spirituality has nothing to do with the institutional religion that many of his fanatic admirers are preaching these days. His concept of spirituality is oneness.
When Swamiji was returning to India after his second visit to the west in December 1900 in an Italian ship liner the Rubattino he met Reeves Calkins, a clergyman on board. Calkins initially did not like Vivekananda but later they became close friends. He recalled his meeting with Swamiji on the last night before the Rubattino reached Mumbai. He wrote "The last night before the Rubettino reached Mumbai we were standing on the forward deck. Vivekananda was smoking a short sweet- briar pipe. He laid his hand on my shoulder and said Sir, they may talk about their Buddhas, their Krishnas and their Christ, but we understand, you and I; we are segments of the 'All-One'."
Swamiji had a first-hand experience of the reign of terror that had been unleashed by the British in India. They had divided the society in a very calculated way and had spread the venom of communalism subtly. To weaken the Indian society. Swamiji was alive when the first state-sponsored riot took place at Barisal in April 1902 with Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka and Lord Curzon being present in the district. At the same time, he saw the potential of the Indian masses. It was Swamiji's firm belief that a new India can be achieved if the masses are given food, education and shelter.
Vivekananda always dreamt of a free India. In Dhaka, he met a group of young people led by Hemchandra Ghosh, founder of Bengal Volunteers in 1901 and told them that they should drive the British first from the country.
To make India self-reliant there should be universal education. "If the mountain does come to Mohammed, Mohammed should go there" he used to say. In a letter written to his brother monks at Baranagar from the United States in summer 1894, Swamiji advised them to find a big place to set up a non-formal school to provide education to the poor children of the neighbourhood with the help of magic lantern and globe. He requested Ajit Singh, the Raja of Khetri to open a school in his princely state.
Swamiji was against English education as its sole purpose was to make successful clerks. While addressing a gathering at Ramnad on January 25, 1897, he said "There are two great obstacles in India, the Scylla of old orthodoxy and the Charybdis of modern European civilisation. "The Europeanised man has no backbone, he is a mass of heterogeneous ideas picked up at random from every source and these ideas are unassimilated, undigested, unharmonised. He does not stand on his own feet and his head is turning round and round." He believed that education should help the students to develop original ideas and it is not the mere gathering of information or cramming. In a letter written on April 24, 1897, to Sarala Devi Choudhurani, editor of Bharati, Vivekananda wrote that only education can infuse self-confidence and self-respect in individuals. But this education is never copied from the west as Swamiji was against imitation. With this idea, he invited Margaret Elizabeth Noble, later Sister Nivedita, a well-known teacher in London to come to India and set up a school where girls from middle-class families could come and have an education based on the mixing of the concepts of east and west. Jamsetji N Tata wrote a pellet to Swamiji who was his co-passenger during their trip to America from Japan in 1893 to write a pamphlet for the institution which Tata had proposed to set up. This institute later became the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
Swamiji's concept of religion is so very different from others. His religion is basically ethics. "Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already in a man," he wrote in a letter. While addressing people at Rameswar temple in early 1897 he said "He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased really worships Shiva. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him without thinking his caste or creed, or race or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees him only in temples."
At the concluding session of World's Parliament of Religions which was held on 27 September 1893, Swamiji 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."
It is India's tragedy that no government has yet included his speeches and views on Vedanta in the academic curriculum. After India became free in 1947, national leaders came and joined Swamiji's birthday celebration and other functions that had been organised by the Ramakrishna Mission at its centres across the country. Unfortunately, no one took any steps to sincerely propagate his views to make India a self-reliant country which will be intellectually, ethically and morally free and where the copycats and imitators will be shunned.
On his 158th birth anniversary let us request the leaders of the country across party lines to include Swamiji's views in school and college syllabus and see how it inspires the youths to build modern, self-reliant India where violence and hatred will be things of the past.
The writer is the Resident Editor of Millennium Post, Kolkata. Views expressed are personal