Swami Vivekananda was another important social reformer who also brought spiritual reawakening among the Indians in the 19th century. Popularly known as the “Intellectual Monk of India”, he went a long way in influencing the cultural heritage of India. His interpretation of the Vedanta’s, synthesis of the East and the West, universality and catholicity not only brought him closer to the masses but also established several milestones in the cultural pavement of India.
Swami Vivekananda was another important social reformer who also brought spiritual reawakening among the Indians in the 19th century. Popularly known as the “Intellectual Monk of India”, he went a long way in influencing the cultural heritage of India.
His interpretation of the Vedanta’s, synthesis of the East and the West, universality and catholicity not only brought him closer to the masses but also established several milestones in the cultural pavement of India.
Vivekananda was born in Calcutta on Monday, 12th January 1863, in a rich, respectable and renowned family. He was called Naren in his pre-monastic days. His father Viswanath Dutta was an attorney- at-law in the Calcutta High Court and his mother Bhubaneswari Devi was a pious lady. It is said that she dreamt of Lord Shiva who promised to be born as her son. Accordingly. Naren or Narendranath was born to her.
From his childhood Narendranath was a loveable character who loved fun and frolic. But at the same time he was a bit different from others. After graduating from Calcutta University, he developed great interest in spiritual affairs. In 1881, he came in contact with Ramakrishna Paramahansa, a saint who lived at Dakhineswar, just outside Calcutta.
The historic meeting of these two great souls was of great significance. For the master Ramakrishna, he got the disciple of his choice to carry out his spiritual desires. For the ward Narendranath, the meeting entirely changed the course of his life. Narendranath surrendered himself to the master and the master with his spiritual guidance and support implanted the message of universalism and catholicity within him.
It was in 1888, two years after the master’s death, the young Swami began his life of wandering all over the country with his message of ‘Awakened India’ or Prabuddha Bharat. He represented Hinduism in the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago on 11th September, 1893.
His short but emphatic speech struck the keynote of the Parliament of Religions, namely the note of universal tolerance based on the Hindu belief that all religions are pathways to the same God. His preaching’s attracted the Westerners. Many became his disciples. On his return to India he opened the Ramakrishna Mission on 1st May, 1897. The rest of his life he spent in preaching the messages of the Vedas in India and abroad. He breathed his last in 1902 at a premature age of thirty-nine.
Vivekananda’s teachings have left tremendous impacts towards the enrichment of Indian socio-cultural traditions. His teachings can be summarized as follows.
Exposition of Vedanta:
Vivekananda was a great exponent of Vedanta. His teachings centered round the themes of Vedas and Upanishads. He thought them to be the great sources of energy, wisdom and strength.
He, therefore, emphasized upon the following characteristics of Vedanta in his discourse:
1. its impersonality
2. its universality
3. its rationality
4. its catholicity
5. Its optimism.
His exposition of Vedanta gave a new lease of life to traditional Hinduism. Hindu religion with new interpretation and vigour established its greatness in the cultural firmament of India.
Emphasis on Potentiality of Man:
Man is the maker of his own density. In the words of Swamiji, “The whole world has been made by the energy of man, by the power of enthusiasm, by the power of faith.” So each human being with his own potentiality can guide himself and at the same time can play an active role in society. All healthy social changes are the manifestations of the spiritual forces working within and if these are strong and well adjusted, society will arrange itself accordingly.
For him each soul is potentially divine. The aim is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature, both external and internal. This emphasis on individual potentiality still inspires the youngsters to play an active role in social as well as cultural life of India.
Education and Society:
Vivekananda rightly realized education as the manifestation of the perfection already in man. Rightly for him the real education is that which enables one to stand on his own legs. It helps in life-building, man-making and character-making. As knowledge is inherent in man, the external world only gives suggestion.
Education provides a better standard of life to the society. If the social life of the country will improve it will be a boon to national life. So Vivekananda in his teachings had attached great significance to the role of education in society-building. Indian society has its own fundamental characteristics since the beginning which should be maintained at any cost. We should not be blind imitators of the West. Our own individuality and uniqueness will help us to be the pioneers in every front.
Service to Mankind:
A humanist to the backbone, he regarded “Jiva as Siva“. It is through the service of ‘Jiva’ or human being, ‘Siva’ or God can be attained. His call to the people was “Go all of you, where there is outbreak of plague or famine or wherever the people are in distress; mitigate their sufferings. I do not believe in a God or a religion that cannot wipe the widow’s tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan’s mouth. If we want to rejuvenate India, we must work for them. So as long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold each man a traitor.” Such a call of Swamiji had inspired his followers as well as youngsters to serve the suffering humanity.
Ideas on Nationalism:
Vivekananda was a patriotic monk. He had genuine feelings of love and attachment for the land and people of the land. He specially inspired the young masses to free India from foreign yoke. In his own words, “What our country now wants are muscles of iron and nerves of steel and granite wills that nothing can resist.” Only the young men can play an active role in this regard and on their shoulders rests the future of the land.
“Arise, Awake and Stop not till the goal is achieved”, he declared. The intense feelings for the country, attachment for the soil and closeness to its people inspired the monk to spread the spirit of nationalism. Setting the example of American revolutionaries who had already tasted the fruits of freedom, Swamiji indirectly instilled into the minds of the Indian people inspirations for freedom struggle.
Religion and Ethics:
Being a socio-religious reformer Vivekananda gave a new touch to existing religions and ethical system. In one of his letters, Swamiji says, “We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Veda nor the Bible nor the Koran, yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions.”
Thus he believed in the harmonious existence of all religions. Religions should be free from dogmas and superstitions to make human beings more rational. The social evils of child marriage, widowhood, lack of education etc. can be removed only through rational approach. The work must proceed from the bottom and not from the top.
Ramakrishna Mission is a philanthropic organisation. It was founded by Swami Vivekananda in memory of his teacher Ramakrishna Paramahansa in 1897. It propounds the Vedantic ideals along with socio-religious reforms. Other religious movements like Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj which preceded the Ramakrishna movement were inadequate representations of the great religion of the Hindus. So Vivekananda inaugurated the Ramakrishna movement to spread the gospels of Vedanta in all countries and to apply them in our practical lives and national problems.
The movement has another aspect to its credit: its missionary approach. The Mission has its branches within India and in countries like U.S.A., Germany, England, Switzerland and other places. They carry on works of public utility and render valuable service at the time of natural calamities like flood, famine, earthquake etc. Further, the non-sectarian character of the organisation is a matter of attraction which develops a high sense of discipline in spiritual as well as practical life.
The spiritual and humanitarian touch of the organisation survives till today. Thus with Swami Vivekananda the Indian Renaissance of 19th century became self-conscious and full-fledged. His teachings had their natural reflections in popular minds with socio-cultural regeneration of India.
Rightly he had told after his triumphant return from Chicago:
“Bold has been my message to the West, bolder to those at home.” As a matter of fact his simple but emphatic teachings produced the required result. Indians woke up from medieval slumber and realised the importance of their glorious cultural heritage.
Sister Christine remarks:
“Blessed is the country in which he was born, blessed are they who lived on this earth at the same time and blessed, thrice blessed, are the few who sat at his feet.”