Swami Vivekananda did not seem to belong to this world but appeared to be a radiant being descended from another and higher sphere for a definite purpose. He was a seer, an illumined soul, very much different from the ordinary run of mankind. A Western admirer once described Swami Vivekananda as being ‘young in years but eternal in wisdom’. If we accept this statement at its face value, it establishes the relevance of Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy today. He had a brief life of less than 40 years; he passed away just as the 20th century was beginning. Since then two world wars have taken place and there has been a lot of progress in science and technology. As a result, the world as a whole has changed, so has man in his outlook and style of living. India, the country which was “the queen of his adoration” (in the words of sister Nivedita) is now an independent country and like the world, India today faces problems unknown in his time but still Swamiji’s thoughts and teachings are relevant today.
Man-Making (His Mission):
Swami Vivekananda used to say Man-making is my mission. According to him, a country’s future depends upon its people how good, intelligent and capable they are. Any country can produce a very few geat men, but there is no guarantee that the country will be great. It may prove the countries’ potential, but unless the level of the average men and women in a country is high that country never be considered to be great. Vivekananda used to say that one Buddha a Christ did not determine a country’s fate, it was the common people who decided what the country’s future would be like. As per his belief, the real power of the country lay with the masses. He described the neglect of the masses as a national sin. Most of the ills, he said, were due to this. He described the masses a sleeping leviathan possessed of infinite power, but they were never given a chance to play their role in tackling national problems. While the destiny of the nation was being decided by a handful of the so-called intelligentsia who knew nothing about the problems of the common people and whose only claim to the authority they exercised was that they possessed university degrees. They, infact, were more concerned about their own share in ruling the country and if they grumbled it was because they felt that they did not enjoy the amount of power they deserved. What happened to the common people – their exploitation by the upper castes, their ignorance, poverty – all these were no concern to them. Yet they claim to speak for the whole nation. They were spineless people who owed no allegiance to the country or its people, who had no courage to stand up to those who insulted them or their country. Swami Vivekananda described these people as “mummies”, who had ceased to exist and yet continued to influence people as symbols of glory they once possessed.
The above picture has not yet been changed even after 66 years of India’s independence. At present also the urban-middle-class still dominates in India. The masses hardly have much say in all that is going on the country. They neither plan nor implement though the need for their involvement in nation-building process is recognised. In his vision of new India, Swami Vivekananda wanted that the ‘sudras’ (This is the word he applied to the working people in India) should be on top for India, which indicated that he preferred a process of evolution for its gradual change. He did not want a violent change in India because he was aware of the price a country paid when it went through a revolution. He wanted a process of “leveling-up and not leveling down”. He wished the working people to have opportunities enough to catch up with the intelligentsia of the country. But it was his conviction that the intelligentsia have not to go down to make room for the working people.
View on Education for Character Building:
He wanted that he working people, who had long been neglected and had no access to education, should received special attention so that they could quickly overcome their initial drawbacks. He wanted education to reach out to them rather than they come to education. Swamiji laid great stress on education. He considered it the panacea of all the ills India was suffering from. But according to him education did not mean book learning, passing examinations, getting degrees and certificates. Education to him was not information but something more meaningful; it was man-making, life-giving and character building, it was assimilation of ideas. It included also acquisition of skills so that it could be productive. He wanted an education for India which would combine her idealism with western efficiency. India had produced many high thoughts but a few of those had ever been put practice. He attributed all her social evils to this lacuna. He pointed to the caste system as an example. What he understood is that the caste system in India was based on the principle of division of labour, which was an ideal institution. It was intended to give each individual a chance to grow as best he could according to his capacity, but when it became stratified and hereditary, it was most stultifying and therefore self-defeating. No one has condemned the caste practices of India in more scathing terms than Swami Vivekananda. At the same time Swamiji stated its remedy that is education. Given good education, those who are backward now would come into their own.
Spiritual Power to Rescue India:
Swami Vivekananda gave the call “Deluge the country with spiritual ideas”. What in particular had he in mind ? Obviously, the ideas which have influenced Indian culture most-truth, justice, love, peace, harmony and so on. These ideas have induced the Indian mind a natural revulsion against violence. Swami Vivekananda’s great concern was that kind of a social change he envisaged should cause no hurt to Indian traditions rather it should uphold them. His priority was the continuity of these traditions. In them lay India’s strength. So long as India remained true to those traditions, she was safe. India should preserve those traditions not only for her own sake but also for the sake of the world. No country in the world had the distinction of possessing such traditions which she had nurtured and cherished over the centuries.
Swami Vivekananda on Science and Technology:
The poverty of India troubled Vivekananda’s mind. While touring India, he had seen the misery of the people. He had, at the same time, been struck by their noble character. He hated the British because they had drained the country’s wealth. He also hated the so-called upper-class Indians no less for their selfishness and callousness about the confitions of their own countrymen. To him problem of poverty in India was solvable. He thought the solution of the problem lay in science and technology. He was of the opinion that India must make wide use of western science and technology to create an industrial revolution in the country. He had seen how the west had own its battle against poverty through science and technology. He wanted that in fighting poverty India should follow the footsteps of the west, but in no other matter should she imitate it.
He advised Jamshedji Tata to set up an Institute where advanced research could be made. They were traveling abroad in the same ship, Tata for Japan and he was for USA. Tata was trying to import industrial products from Japan. Swamiji did not like the idea. He wanted Tata not only to act as a pioneer in industrialising India, but also to have a research center so that a continuous frow of know-how might keep up the tempo of industrial expansion. Tata followed Swamiji’s advice. He did set up an institute of Research which is well known throughout the world as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
None of the preachings of Swami Vivekananda is outdated. He preached modern thoughts, but he was a far-sighted man. He was interested in everything concerning man – not only religion, but also science, art, literature, history, politics or in short everything. His view on some of these subjects were also radical. For example, He wanted India to have a classless and caste-less society. He said that India should have an “Islamic body with vedantic brains”. He was an admirer of Islam to the extent that it did not encourage any class or caste distinction. But, according to him, the ideal society was not only caste-less and classless, but one which aimed at the kind of spiritual development which the Vedanta provides. That is why he advocated a society which had an Islamic character but also a thrust towards maximum spiritual growth.
Swami Vivekananda’s Vision:
Swami Vivekananda had made three predictions, two of which have come true. The first one was about India’s freedom. Way back in the last decade of the 19th century he had said, India would be free within the next fifty years in unforeseen circumstances. When he had said this a few heard it, and no one attached any importance to it. It seemed least likely that this happened. People, at large were happy to be ruled by the British. To them British rule meant the rule of law, the rule of equality and justice. There was hardly any political consciousness as such among the people. The concept of political freedom was unknown to them. Even the intelligentsia were not sure what they wanted. A handful of them wanted better jobs and the role of a junior partner in the administration of the country, if possible. The thought of independent India never crossed their minds. Some of them even thought British rule was a blessing. It is against this backdrop that Swami Vivekananda had made the prediction that the country would be free within the next fifty years.
His second prediction was that the first proletariat revolution would take place in Russia, which no one thought that it could happen. Karl Marx the protagonist of the proletariat revolution had said that it would happen where the trade union movement was pretty strong. On this token, he predicted that it would happen in Germany. Yet, contrary to Marx’s prediction, the first proletariat revolution took place in Russia, basically an agriculturist country, without any organised labour movement. How did it happen ? How, could Swami Vivekananda make these correct predictions ? It is known that he had been a good student in history and his perception of historical forces was very sound.
Swami Vivekananda’s third prediction which we are waiting to happen that India would some day rise to great heights of prosperity and power, far more than she had done in the past.
Science and Religion:
Vivekananda knew that the strength of a nation lay not in its size or wealth, but in its character. It was his hope that India would set an example of how science and religion could meet, science taking care of man’s physical needs and religion of his moral and spiritual needs. A rich man is not necessarily a moral man. Man-making is my business. “He realised that no society could survive unless its human element was good and strong. He was impressed by the west’s dynamism, power of organisation and its achievements in science and technology. But he also noticed its preoccupation with sensual pleasure and indifference about moral development. He knew that there could be no peace for the individual and no progress for the society as whole unless there was a proper balance between the material prosperity and the moral advancement.
Swami Vivekananda was a great nationalist of India, who wanted to revitalise the nation through the vitality of religion. He believed that religion constituted the “Centre, the keynote or the whole music of national life of India”. In him the Hindu renaissance became self-conscious and adolescent. He was born at a critical period in the history of India, when all the higher impulses were overborne by the onrushing tide of materialism. The educated people were imitating foreign habits as they felt that the real solution to the problems of India and her progress lay in the acceptance of western methods and institutions. Swami Vivekananda tried to stem this tide, and placed before his countrymen the splendid and invigorating message of the Vedanta which combined the spirituality of East with spirit of social service and the organisational capacity of the west. This is what his philosophy of neo-vedantism stands for, and which the used to effect a synthesis of cultures of the East and the West, and thereby to find out the real salvation of humanity.
With time passing by India is slowly winning its battle against poverty. In the food front, Indian’s achievement is remarkable. Immediately after independence, she had to depend largely upon imports to give her people a square meal a day. Today she is on her way to achieving self-sufficiency in food production. India has gone through a Green Revolution. In spite of floods and droughts or earthquakes she is able to feed her people without any aid from outside. Her progress in science and technology has also been remarkable, today with India holding a rank among the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
But still there are pockets of poverty in the country. Also social injustice is not completely eliminated and illiteracy is still a problem. How can Swamiji’s prediction of India becoming a super power will be a reality so long as these problems remain unsolved ? He was a man with tremendous foresight. He knew that, what India needed was courage and self confidence. The problems are of India, and India has to find the solutions herself. She was not to follow the path of other countries. She must, by her own efforts, solve her problems, the current ones as well as those that may come in her way in the years ahead.
1. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
2. Vivekananda, Lectures from Calambo to Almora.
3. The complete works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. VII.
4. Prophets of New India, By Romain Rolland.
5. An Idealist view of life, S. Radhakrishnan.