“They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.”
By Kanchan Banerjee
This writing is an attempt to educate the world about the phenomenon called Swami Vivekananda whose 150th birth anniversary is celebrated this year. This is an effort to explore and understand his multifaceted personality. It is not a biographical project, nor is it intended for any particular audience. It aims to explore how he has impacted lives of all people in the past and will continue to influence the evolution of people and societies.
From a global perspective, his contributions stand on many spectacular pillars. The most important ones are his role in bridging the East and the West, Harmonizing Science and Spirituality, giving new meaning to Spirituality and Service and the inter-connectedness of the entire creation.
That lays the philosophical foundation for cooperation among humans, cultures and all elements of Mother Nature.
Finally he gave mankind a direction in pursuing the goal of life itself to evolve to the highest potentials with a civilizational projectile culminating over the millennia into a legendary Golden Era or Satya Yuga for mankind, with divinity within and the use of the inner and external sciences for sustainable progress of the societies of our world.
He has also warned that material science must work hand in hand with the inner science of spirit for the prevention of harm to the world resulting from the discovery of nature’s secrets and developing various technologies.
His effort to free India from colonial rule was an essential part of his mission following which numerous other countries shook off the curse of colonialism as well, and were able to free their own people from the shackles of poverty, illiteracy and misery and then allowing free India to share the ancient wisdom of its sages for peace and the message of harmony for the progress of the world.
A historical perspective
Will Durant, the great American historian and author of ‘Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization wrote:
“India was the mother of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages. She was the mother of our philosophy, mother through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics, mother through Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother through village communities of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”
India’s antiquity is yet to be fully discovered by modern day scholars. Durant’s statement said this, it indicates that the nation had a glorious past and imagining from today’s condition, it’s evident that the land went through great upheavals of time.
Although modern images of India often depict poverty and lack of development, India was one of the richest countries on earth for a long time and till early 17th century. Christopher Columbus was attracted to India for her wealth.
According to economic historian Angus Maddison in his book The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective, India was the richest country in the world and had the world’s largest economy during the 1st and 11th centuries.
Even in the 17th century it held nearly 25% of world GDP. When the British occupied India around 1760 the currency conversion rate was 2.8 pounds per Indian Rupee. As a result of continuous exploitation of the land when the British left India in 1947, the rate had dropped to 1 Pound per 5 Rupees.
From 327 BCE onwards the invasions of the Greeks, the Huns and the Sakas destroyed many parts of the civilization, including the oldest university in the world – Taxasila.
Then came the Islamic invasions beginning around 711 CE which resulted in the massive destruction of Institutions, Temples and loss of millions of lives. Nalanda University stands as a monument of that past which was a global center for learning continuously for over 800 years until its destruction in the 1400s.
The Somnath temple in Gujarat bears testimony of how India withstood innumerable invasions and attacks on its vital institutions, yet every time, India rejuvenated and resurrected from the ruins.
In the late 17th century came the European merchants who turned into British imperial rulers and became the most oppressive colonial power on earth, looting the wealth of India and other colonized countries.
Again, India lost most of its indigenous institutions which were still surviving after 1000 years of Muslim rule that included education and industry. British rulers treated Indian people like animals and slaves.
An India which gave so much to the world was forced to surrender; it lost its political power, knowledge base, original innovations, industries, businesses – virtually everything it had.
India was stripped off of her wealth, self-worth and self-esteem worse yet, she lost her identity as a nation, as her people became slaves and despondency engulfed the psyche of the masses.
This was the condition of India during the 19th century.
However, Indians fought the British since the early day of the British Raj. Few notable revolts which took place are: Indigo Revolution, Santhal Revolt, Farmers’ revolt and the Sannyasi revolt, followed by the first full revolt to overthrow the British power in 1857, the ‘first war of independence’.
Each of these revolts failed to overthrow the British Raj and were unable to change the course of history until this point.
In this dark period of Indian history, a great personality was born on January 12, 1863 true to India’s age-old heritage of the arrival of an Avatar personality when delusion and darkness, crime and sin engulf the society. Soon we will learn that his arrival was for the welfare of the entire mankind.
The Making of a Swami
Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa is worshipped as the yugavatar or the prophet of the modern era by many around the world.
He had a dream that Lord Shiva had been born in the form of Narendranath Dutta who would later become his main vehicle to fulfill a divine mission.
While Narendranath or Naren was educated in the British system, he was in a way an atheist, at least on the surface.
Professor Hastie of Scottish Church College in Calcutta, who while lecturing in a class on Wordsworth’s poem The Excursion, had spoken of experience of higher consciousness, remarking that such ecstasies were the result of purity and concentration. ‘I have known,’ he had said, ‘only one person who has realized that blessed state, and he is Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar.
You will understand if you visit the saint.’ Naren had also heard about Sri Ramakrishna .Young Naren had the deep urge to meet someone who had the direct experience of supreme divinity.
Ramakrishna had been waiting for this day he would meet Naren and transformed him via the practice of yoga into a ‘cyclonic monk’ with the purpose of awakening the Indian masses to fight for their freedom and to restore India’s glory, and to give the world hope and new direction in pursuing the higher goals of life on an evolutionary path. Naren had many major tasks to accomplish during his short life of only 39 years to fulfill his Guru Ramakrishna’s mission. He earned the spiritual name Swami Vivekananda.
The word Swami means the master and ascetic who has control over self and nature. Typically, when people use the word “Swamiji”, if a full name is not mentioned it represents only Swami Vivekananda.
After the passing of Sri Ramakrishna, Swamiji first traveled all of India by foot trying to get to know India and her people first hand.
He finally landed on the southernmost cape and tip of India which is called today Kanykumari. He jumped into the ocean and swam across to the last visible large rock, where he meditated and envisioned a free and awakened India. Today the Kanyakumari temple has been built there to commemorate the spot as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial.
(This is part 1 of a 9 part series)