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Swami Vivekananda and Spiritual Renaissance

Every nation-state has a particular role to play in the making (or breaking!) of the world order according to the task it inherits in the process of evolution of human intellect and thought. Politics and organizational skills, economy and commerce, statesmanship and visionary qualities, art and literature, religion and spirituality are a few tasks or onuses that we can cite. In this division of 'world labour,' it can be said, to India's lot has come the last mentioned responsibility. As we can see easily, the British and the Europeans, the Americans and the first world nations have had scientific and technological, political and military clout, and they are respected for that in today's world order. Similar is the Indian role in the field of spirituality.

This is corroborated by the fact that giant wave after waves of spiritual power come to surface in this vast ocean, we call India. Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, Lord Buddha, Bhagavan Mahavir, Guru Nanak, Acharya Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, Jnaneshwar, Kabir, Raman Maharshi and Aurobindo, and of late Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Ma Saradadevi, but to name a few, have made this land the storehouse of spirituality. They did not talk of politics, or of poverty and social reforms; they talked of the basis beyond all these, the Self. They empha-sized the need to lift ourselves higher than mere worldly concerns so as to reach the still higher stages of human evolution.

They talked of the highest Principle (Knowledge-Bliss-Truth Absolute or Self or Consciousness) as God for want of better word. This is because, in course of intermingling of cultures and civilizations by way of Mogul and British invasion and occupation of India, the concept of God got mixed up in dual and nondual aspects. While, although Indian thought accepts duality of personal-impersonal Being, its main concern and teaching was Advaita monism, which the Christianity and other religions did not take into due consideration. These religious faiths, and the in-stitutions based on these faiths, genuinely considered Hinduism as backward and primitive when they saw millions of Hindus engrossed in the worship of clay, stone, and wooden idols that were grotesque and even terrifying. Such images of gods and goddesses brought intense feeling of disgust in the hearts of these foreign rulers who could not understand the philosophy behind such worships and rituals.

They found faults with the Hindu way of religious practices, when in fact they should have attempted to broaden their vision and psyche to learn and understand the glittering treasure of knowledge behind such practices. They never delved deeper to understand the concept and the principle behind such gross and crude symbolism of Hindu religious ways. But as the rulers they were powerful to distract and injure the Hindu ways of worship; at least put a doubt in the minds of certain sections of Indian society. This indeed happened. In addition to damaging quite a few Hindu temples, they also converted many Hindus under duress. The British rulers sent missionaries to bring about the change of heart and thinking of the masses, in addition to force their own system of education that alienated the Hindus from their religious traditions.

Under such circumstances many great religious and spiritual teachers incarnated in this land to keep the flame of religious-spiritual knowledge burning in the hearts and minds of the Indians. One such Avatar Purusha was Sri Ramakrishna, born on 18 February 1836, and with him came his messenger and interpreter Swami Vivekananda. We shall see in brief their role in safeguard-ing and revival of Hinduism in its purest form: The Vedanta.

During the last decade of 19th century, when Swami Vivekananda was active in spreading the message of Vedanta to the world, the scientific discoveries and inventions of the time, the attempt to introduce modern methods in education, the impact of 'progressive' materialism, and contempt of religion as the 'opium of masses', such and similar concepts created confusion in the minds of thousands of educated youths of India and the world around. That there is a larger dimension to human consciousness was not thought of. The only aim was to treat and accept sense-comfort as the fulfillment of life. The truth that manifestation of Divine Consciousness is a natural and logical culmination of human endeavour was about to be forgotten in the din and bustle of modernism.

This is probably the meaning of decline of dharma (righteous way of leading life and to keep God realization as the aim in life) talked of in the Gita. To make people aware of the true aim in life and enlighten the masses about the true meaning of spirituality, Swami Vivekananda came to earth. 'As the lotus blooms, so come bees around it to taste the nectar.' Similarly, when spiritual dimensions in the life of Swami Vivekananda were fully realized the breeze containing the nectar of his divine knowledge spread all around. Many people in America, Europe and in India were attracted by the divine exuberance of this prophet of modern age. From different directions many feet converged on to the venue of his lecture halls. Like the musk deer, these visitors were unaware of the hidden light of God in their hearts. The touch of Master Magician brought the Divinity of Soul in these men and women to surface.

Whosoever listened to him was impressed by his one-pointed spiritual zeal. Their shaky faith in scriptures and Indian religious traditions found stabilizing support in the life and message of Swami Vivekananda. Many of the visitors were married, engaged in earning money, and leading a worldly life, but his unsurpassed cordiality and humility attracted them towards him. His teachings and sayings convinced the devotees that God should always come first, before worldly concerns. Human life becomes drudgery, boring, and painful if materialistic longing is the goal, but the same life becomes meaningful, joyous, and inspiring, if spirituality is the goal.

No religion can survive for long unless it incorporates the final Truth, i.e. "each being is potentially divine". And the very fact that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and a few more religions thrive, and continue to inspire millions of people today, the principle of 'Divinity of Being' must be embedded in the teachings of these religions as well. The problem is that these highest truths are not visible, are not apparent due to our ignorance, and infatuation with the body and mind. In his life and teachings Sri Ramakrishna pointed out the aim of religion by way of purity of thought and simplicity of living, and gave the message: 'As many faiths (or opinions) so many paths'. He undertook spiritual disciplines of both Muslim and Christian faiths, in addition to sadhanas of various Hindu disciplines, and showed the future world the commonality of all faiths and sects, and thus paved the way for the harmony of religions. He never said this by way of differences in fundamental teachings of various religions, but instead maintained that every religion leads us to the same highest Truth.

'Not compassion for others, but service to others as God,' such mantras come only when one feels the truth of divinity in each being, it is not a mere rhetoric, but a fact that one has experienced. Sri Ramakrishna was the epitome of spiritual realizations; in his life he had experienced every spiritual truth directly. Nothing was left to imagination or conjectures, or to philosophy. Swami Vivekananda was quick to pick up this essence of his Master's teaching. The ability to grasp the essential and invaluable contribution of his Guru made Swami Vivekananda the right person to propagate the message of universal solidarity and divine brotherhood.

Thus, while in America, Swami Vivekananda talked and lectured on such novel ideas of seeing Advaita in one's own religion: "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 his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth." Every one should follow his religion as the repository of the highest truth and try to experience that truth therein. In India also Swami Vivekananda preached to the masses to rise above the narrow sectarianism and follow the path of 'service and renunciation,' the twin ideal of Vedanta that was most suitable to India in its regeneration, and as a necessary precondition for spreading the universal message of spirituality and Vedanta.

India was at that time under the British rule and it is quite natural to interpret his message as patriotism. But his patriotism was of the highest order, where national boundaries stretched to the farthest limits of the world as a whole. National boundaries hinder spiritual renaissance, he maintained, and accordingly, he always talked from the universal perspective. These facts are obscured by the change in the interpretation and priorities of his messages. Thus, while political and narrow-minded party bosses labeled him as 'Hindu Patriotic Monk' others, particularly the monastic followers, took him as the preacher of Advaita alone. Thus, his personality stretches like the vastness of the ocean, from one end to the far end that cannot be seen or comprehended fully. Whosoever goes to him finds something useful for his thought according to his or her level of understanding. No wonder, Swami Vivekananda is the most popular but at the same time the least understood saint of modern India.

Swami Vivekananda forcefully maintained that we should become broad in our outlook and try to see religion as a process or a method to reach the goal of experiencing inner Divinity. 'Religion is realization,' he was never tired of repeating this truth. Realization of our nature as divine is true religion. In the final analysis we are none other than God, but our attachment to the transient body and senses, and erroneous belief of thinking ourselves less privileged, acts as a stumbling block that prevents us to reach/realize/manifest this Truth in our daily life. He introduced the concept of Practical Vedanta as the religion of the day, the aim of which was to manifest Vedantic Truth of oneness of all beings interconnected by that one 'all pervading divinity'.

"Consciously or unconsciously, therefore, the whole universe is going towards that goal. ...But those who consciously strive to get free hasten the time. ...All are our fellow passengers, our fellow travelers - all life, plants, animals; not only my brother man, but my brother brute, my brother plant; not only my brother the good, but my brother the evil, my brother the spiritual and my brother the wicked. All are going to the same goal; hurrying towards that infinite freedom..." Swami Vivekananda.
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