“They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.”
By Kanchan Banerjee
Bridging the East and the West
British colonial oppressive rule had two distinct effects on Indian minds. Many, due to getting advantageous opportunities and positions were very friendly to the ruling class and adopted western lifestyle. However the vast majority resented the presence of western people in India and virtually had hatred towards the West because of the horrific treatment meted out towards them.
But Swamiji wanted to build a bridge between Indian and Western people, culture and societies. He presented Indian thoughts in a way that would be easy to understand by the West and showed that, in spite of India’s horrific economic and social conditions, India had much to contribute to make the world a better place. This ultimately resulted in ending India’s isolation from the rest of the world.
On one hand, after long historical gap he was India’s first great cultural ambassador to the West in the modern era. On the other hand, he told his countrymen that they had to learn and gain much from the West – namely science and technology, ideals of freedom and democracy and the power of organization.
“Swamiji harmonized the East and the West, religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our countrymen have gained unprecedented self-respect, self-reliance and self-assertion from his teachings.” said Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, India’s legendary leader of independence movement.
‘Swami Vivekananda wanted to find a harmony, a kind of synthesis between the Eastern and Western” – U Thant – Former Secretary-General of the United Nations
Rabindranath Tagore said of Vivekananda, “He sacrificed his life into a bridge between East and West.”
True meaning of service
Swami Vivekananda was one of very few religious leaders of India who formulated a definite philosophy of service, the reason and foundation for helping others. He gave the mantra:
‘’AtmanomoksharthamJaggatharthiyya” – Serving the world will give individual salvation.
It was in fact a unique contribution for the creation of a new India through organized large scale social service. In his famous Bengali poem ‘Jive premkorejeijon’ he wrote:
From highest Brahman to the yonder worm And to the very minutest atom
Everywhere is the same God, the All-Love
Friend, offer mind, soul, body at their feet,
These are His manifold forms before thee,
Rejecting them where seekest thou for God? Who loves all beings without distinction,
He indeed is worshipping best his God.
“After so much austerity, I have understood this as the real truth; God is present in every Jiva, there is no other God besides that. Who serves Jiva serves God indeed.”
“Doing good to others out of compassion is good, but the Seva of all beings in the spirit of the Lord is better.”
Years of ascetic practices and non-stop work had undermined his health and he went to Darjeeling to rest. However, in 1898, there was an outbreak of plague in Calcutta, and he immediately returned to the heart of the plague districts, where he organized efforts to clean out the sewers in the slums where the contagion had originated. Within days the plague subsided.
He inspired all with his message of Karma Yoga: “Even the least work done for others awakens the power within; even thinking of the least good of others gradually instills into the heart the strength of a lion.”
It is well-known now that contemporary world’s richest and most famous philanthropist John D. Rockefeller was influenced by Swamiji. His first charity began after few meetings with Swamiji.
Swamiji used to say: “This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.” That echoed in the life of Rockefeller in his later years.
The poor and the downtrodden
Swamiji was one of the first spiritual leaders to speak for the masses, the poor, the weak and the downtrodden in modern history. Long before Karl Marx was known to India, Swamiji presented his socialistic views to uplift the masses. In his idea of Seva as service to god, Education as the manifestation of perfection within man and ‘Man making’ ideals based on man’s inherent divinity, he formulated a clear philosophy on social reform and rescuing people from poverty and all forms of oppression by rich and powerful.
Swamiji, being a monk, spoke almost blasphemously – so much he had love for the poor, the weak, the downtrodden and the helpless: ‘I don’t believe in the religion which cannot feed the poor’.
He coined the word “Daridranarayana” or ‘god dwells in poor’ an idea that was used later on by Mahatma Gandhi.
He said: ‘’So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who ,having been educated at their expenses ,pays not the least heed to them’’.
Swamiji was the first great leader of India to diagnose the cause of India’s downfall as the neglect of the poor, downtrodden masses of India, and to declare boldly: “No amount of politics will be of any avail until the masses of India are once more well educated, well fed and well cared for.”
Peace and harmony, man making and a new scientific humanism with divine strength
In conclusion of his historical speech in Chicago he thundered:
“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now? But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
108 years later on the same day America saw one of the biggest tragedies of its history – the attack on the World Trade Centers in New York!
Swami Vivekananda’s biographer, Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland, wrote: “Earthly cries, the suffering of the ages, fluttered round him like a flight of famished gulls. The passions of strength (never of weakness) were striving within his lion’s heart. He was energy personified and action was his message to men.”
While our civilization has made great strides in discovering nature’s laws and converting those into technologies for better life, our societies and homes are not the happiest ones in history. In this modern era of information with the shrinking of distance, transformed into a global village, the world needed a new type of humanism to balance between the usage of technology and yet not neglecting and hurting our inner self.
Swamiji introduced Vedantic concept each person to be ‘potentially divine’ and introduced a humanism whose foundation is the science of spirituality which entails that each life should be lived with a purpose This new humanism with Dharma as the guiding principle, blessed with spiritual power will help the degradation and downfall of humanity by divinizing our relationship with the world at large, with nature and all humans.
His essential message was the empowerment of the people: through education, collective thought and action but above all, realizing the underlying unity of all human existence.
(This is part 6 of a 9 part series)