The Tree of Knowledge

The Tree of Knowledge

Swami Vivekananda: 150 and going strong

150 years ago, the world saint Swami Vivekananda was born. He died at the age of 39 on July 4, the American independence day. It was in US that Swamiji spread the world’s spiritual fire on in 1893. That fire, ignited in Chicago in the world’s first ever Parliament of Religions, continues. He said: “As the different streams mingle their water in the sea, different paths which men take, various though they appear, all lead to the same god… Upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, ‘Help and not Fight’, ‘Assimilation and not Destruction’.” Swamiji mesmerized the 4,000-strong American audience. The standing ovation appeared unending and the 4000 followers have today swelled into billions!

Swami Vivekananda centralised his message in one concept: bring out the latent goodness hidden in every soul. The human soul, Swamiji said, is immortal, infinite, omniscient, pure and does not die with the death of the body. Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. This could be done by work or worship or psychic control or philosophy. This is the whole of religion. Doctrine or dogmas or rituals or temples or forms are only secondary details. The soul, Swamiji said, is a circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose centre is in some body. The so-called death is only a shift in this centre to another body.

God, similarly, is a circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose centre is in every body. It is only when we can get out of this narrow centre of the body that we shall realise God, that is our true self. This stage is called Nirvana. Swamiji said you don’t have to die in order to achieve Nirvana. This can be achieved even in this life. If one can achieve Nirvana for even a moment, the entire mirage of body and this present hypnotised life will disappear and the person will enjoy bliss even in this life. Swamiji said the human soul is the repository of infinite wisdom. No external agency can illuminate it. This infinite wisdom is never lost, and man is not ordinarily conscious of this, because a veil has fallen over it on account of his evil deeds, but as soon as the veil is removed, it reveals itself. Swamiji’s teachings on practical Vedanta is relevant in today’s world where sectarianism, bigotry and fanaticism have been destroying civilisation. The ideal of practical Vedanta is to know man as he really is.

If one cannot worship his brother man, the manifested God, how can he worship a God who is unmanifested? So, we must not look down on others. All of us are going toward the same goal. The difference between weakness and strength is one of degree. The difference between heaven and hell, life and death is only of degree, not of kind. Oneness is the secret to everything… He observed that development of science and technology had brought about a great change in people’s outlook, intensifying their desire for material prosperity. But, at the same time, Swamiji had recognised that all our struggle is for freedom, not for material prosperity. We seek neither misery nor happiness, but freedom. If we don’t have freedom, then we always fear. Fear, said Swamiji, is the greatest sin that any religion teaches. He alone is fearless who has given up everything and is free.

He said one great lesson he learnt was that life was nothing but misery. Only one element in life was worth having at any cost, and it was love, immense and infinite, broad as the sky and deep as the ocean. He continued, “In this hell of a world, if one can bring a little joy and peace even for a day into the heart of a single person, that alone is truth, rest is moonshine!” Swamiji’s words at the fag end of his life were, “May I be born again and again, and suffer thousands of miseries, so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls.”

Swamiji also poured his heart out for the poor, saying: “I call him a traitor who, having being educated, nursed in luxury by the heart’s blood of the downtrodden millions of toiling poor, never even takes a thought for them.” He added: “They only live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.” Swamiji was a scholar and a great exponent of scriptures. Throughout his life, he propounded the message of Upanishads. He used to say that the primary teaching of the Upanishads is “Abhi”, that is, “Be fearless”. Katha Upanishad was closest to his heart and Nachiketa was his hero. He wanted youths to attain immense self-confidence and be fearless like Nachiketa. A person commits crime when he gets overpowered by weaknesses — at physical or psychological level. Swamiji said: “Have faith that you are all born to do great things.”

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What makes Swami Vivekananda tick among the youth and what makes him the most sought after guiding force for millions of youngsters?

Swami Vivekananda through his life and message exhorted the youth to develop their personality and work for the nation. He understood the limitations and travails of the youth of the country and gave the mantra of holistic personality development. He spoke of Vyaktitva vikaas (personality development) in a new paradigm while acknowledging that whatever he has said is not new but was part of our scriptures. His views gained more impact because he lived what he spoke.

1. Annamaya Kosha Vikas: Developing Strength (Shakti )The development of a strong body falls in the realm of the Annamaya kosha. He famously exhorted the youth, saying “You will understand the Gita better with your muscles stronger.” Strength is Life. The Gita preaches: “Paritranay Saadhunam, Vinashaya Dushkrutan, Dharma Samsthapan” — protection of good persons, punishment of the wrong-doers and protection of Dharma. How can we achieve this without being strong ourselves? Everything that can weaken us as a race we have had for the last thousand years. My friends, as one of your blood, as one that lives and dies with you, let me tell you that we want strength, strength, and every time strength.”

2. Pranamaya Kosha Vikas: The control of prana, steadfastness, the training of the mind and building a strong character fall in the realm of the Pranamaya and Manomaya kosha. He says: “To me the very essence of education is concentration of mind, not the collecting of facts. If I had to do my education over again, and had any voice in the matter, I would not study facts at all. I would develop the power of concentration and detachment, and then with a perfect instrument I could collect facts at will. Side by side, should be developed the power of concentration and detachment.” He demonstrated this in his personal life by an incident whereon he not only read the ‘Encyclopedia Britannica’ but also answered many questions on difficult and varied topics/subjects, from different volumes. Swamiji not only replied each correctly, but in many instances he quoted the very language of the books! Later he greatly emphasized to cultivate power of mind in the form of purity and concentration for spiritual gains, so also perfection in many arts and studies in science and other branches of education.

3. Manomaya Kosha Vikas: Developing Strong Character & a Strong Mind – A strong body with sound knowledge must have a healthy character. He says: “The basis of all system, social or political, rests upon the goodness of men. No nation is great or good because Parliament enacts this or that, but because its men are great and good. Fill the brain with high thoughts, highest ideals, place them day and night before you, and out of that will come great work. Take up an idea, devote yourself to it, struggle on in patience, and the sun will rise for you…” If a man thinks good thoughts and does good works, the sum total of these impressions will be good, and they will force him to do good even in spite of himself.

4. Vignanamaya Kosha Vikas: The process of acquisition of knowledge, both Para and Apara Vidya (worldly and spiritual) form the realm of the Vignanamaya Kosha. Swamiji said that Indians need to equip themselves with both modern scientific knowledge and at the same time strive for the knowledge of the Atman. This is clearly demonstrated when he inspired Jamshedji Tata to start the Tata Institute of Science and personally encouraged Sir J.C.Bose in all his experiments. At the same time he said: “Realize that understanding human nature is the highest knowledge.”

5. Anandamaya Kosha – The Sheath of Bliss: The acquisition of strength, knowledge and concentration is complete only when we identify ourselves with the larger society, when our qualities are useful to the nation. The process of merging our individuality for the greater good of the nation and humanity is the way to bliss – development of the Anandamaya kosha. This development of this sheath leads to bliss and true happiness. Swamiji says: “Feel, my children, feel; feel for the poor, the ignorant, the downtrodden; feel till the heart stops and the brain reels and you think you will go mad; then pour the soul out at the feet of the Lord, and then will come power, help and indomitable energy.”

Moving Forward: “The challenges before the country will have to be answered only by introspective youth who want to make a change. There are questions each of us has to ask ourselves. What are the challenges facing me and my country ? Where is my nation heading to? Where am I heading ? What is my life’s compass ? What is my dream of a strong & vibrant country and how can I contribute for it ? Out of this introspection will arise the answers and the ideal. The next phase would be to stick to an ideal inspite of pressures from all quarters, both internal and external. That is the hallmark of a hero.”

Swamiji adds: “Hold up an ideal – Never mind failures; they are quite natural, they are the beauty of life, these failures. Hold the ideal a thousand times, and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more.”

Out of these individual and collective goals and ideals, we would all be able to bring to reality the dream of Swamiji. Swami Vivekananda, who was said to have the intellect of Shankaracharya and heart of Buddha, now looks into our eyes and makes us realize that his messages are much more relevant today than ever before.

Extracts from article by Biswajit Bhattacharya and Arise Bharat –

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