"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell












PRABUDDHA BHARATA Transcending All "Isms" | Dr. Lekshmi  





               Transcending All "Isms"



                   Dr. Lekshmi



     Man, manliness, man-making, man-making religion, man-making education, man-making theories, Naranarayana, Daridra-narayana - thus go the evervibrating mantras on the lips of a great sannyasin and yuga acharya, the like of whom the world has never seen before. Unlike other great spiritual illuminators, his object of meditation was neither a God enshrined in the temples nor the One far above the heavens; unlike other sannyasins, one very rarely saw him in crossed legs and closed eyes but with his eyes open, wandering, worshipping and serving the living God in and around him. That great yuga acharya is none other than Swami Vivekananda, the wandering monk who, by his life and teachings, has opened new vistas for an epoch-making humanism.



     Beyond All Isms



     In fact, Swamiji paid the least attention to finding out a catching ideology for his message. He said once, I will neither Hinduise my message, nor Christianise it, nor make it any ise in the world. I will only my-ise it and that is all. (1) He plainly my-ised his humanism, calling it, among other things, man-making religion. (2) He always exhorted, It is a man-making religion that we want. It is man-making theories that we want. It is man-making education all round that we want. (3) Thus one can say that humanism is the catching ideology for Swamijis teachings, though on deeper analysis one realizes that it goes far beyond all isms.



     Swamijis Humanism



     Humanism is the sound idea which holds that man is the chief concern and centre of all our thinking and activities. Its roots can be traced to the philosophical traditions of India, China, Greece and Rome. In Western humanism mans quest for the dignity of the individual is the central theme. The main thrust of Chinese humanism is the codification of social ethics. The Vedantic, spiritualistic humanism of the Indian tradition holds that man is integrated with the cosmos, which gives him the capacity to see life as a whole. It goes beyond all sectarian views, believes in human freedom, dignity, responsibility and reason, and summons man to attain the eternal and permanent Reality, which lies both within and without. Thus Indian spiritual humanism offers a clear and stable foundation for the harmonious existence of many nations and civilizations. The humanism of Swamiji, which is metaphysically rooted in the Vedantic vision of man as Atman, is thus essentially rational, spiritual, universal and integral.


     Swamijis humanism is nothing but a spontaneous outflow of his own inner realization of the oneness of all existence. He realized that divinity is both outside and inside and that it is both physically and spiritually omnipresent. Unity was the background of his philosophical learning. To him, the many and the One were the same Reality, the same Truth perceived by the mind at different times and with different attitudes. He could well demonstrate in the most convincing manner that that the three systems of Advaita, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita are but three phases or stages in the development of the soul. He held that pluralistic vision must end in monistic vision. Such a seer sees unity in diversity, and God, self and the universe as one.



     Oneness with All Life



     Swamiji could feel his oneness with all life, under whatever appearance it revealed itself. His thoughts and feelings were universal. He felt in himself the needs and sufferings of every individual. Romain Rolland, a biographer of Swamiji, observes, there was no single hour of his life when he was not brought into contact with the sorrows, the desires, the abuses, the misery and the feverishness of living men, rich and poor, in town and field; he became one with their lives; the great Book of Life revealed to him what all the books in the libraries could not have done.



     Trained by His Illustrious Master



     In fact, this Advaitic consciousness was aroused in Swamiji by none other than his own master Sri Ramakrishna. With his grace Advaitic truths became first-hand experience for the disciple. He importuned Sri Ramakrishna to lead him to nirvikalpa samadhi and expressed his longing to remain in that state for ever. Nothing seemed more unfortunate to the master than this, because he had visualized his beloved disciple to be the spiritual rejuvenator and redeemer of suffering humanity. He burst out, You are a fool. There is a higher state than that even. Dont you sing - Whatever is, is Thyself? Come here after making provision for your family, and you shall get a higher state than even Samadhi. (4) This incident opened the eyes of the disciple and made him dedicate his life to the spiritual rejuvenation of humanity.


     Once, in an ecstatic mood Sri Ramakrishna gave an important message that formed the seeds for the genesis of Swamijis doctrine of service to humanity. While explaining the Vaishnava cult to his disciples, Sri Ramakrishna said that the cult enjoins compassion for all living creatures. This expression at once took him to the state of samadhi and in that state of divine consciousness he uttered, Compassion for creatures! Compassion for creatures! You fool! An insignificant worm crawling on earth, you to show compassion to others! Who are you to show compassion? No, it cannot be. Not compassion for others, but rather the service of man, recognizing him to be a veritable manifestation of God. (5) This message of humanism was fulfilled through the life mission of Swamiji.



     A Heart that Bled for Others



     A total transformation came over Swamiji under the training of his great master. His mind was completely absorbed in the thought of the uplift of suffering humanity. As he came closer and closer with his countrymen, his concern for them grew deeper and his heart bled at the thought of the misery of India and her people. Swami Turiyananda, one of his brother disciples, recalls:


     I vividly remember some remarks made by Swamiji. The exact words and accents, and the deep pathos with which they were uttered, still ring in my ears. He said, Haribhai, I am still unable to understand anything of your socalled religion. Then with an expression of deep sorrow on his countenance and intense emotion shaking his body, he placed his hand on his heart and added, But my heart has expanded very much, and I have learnt to feel. Believe me, I feel intensely indeed. (6)


     It is true that Swamiji loved India and her people, but this love was only a part of his universal love. He loved India deeply, but he also loved humanity at large with equal passion. His programme of human development in his own country was thus designed to be achieved not in an isolated, exclusive, national context but in the broadest context of international cooperation.



     Man-making Was His Chief Task



     A most authentic man with an inner vision, Swamiji wanted to awaken what is most authentic in every human being: the Atman, mans divine nature. That was his method. He wanted to work from grass-roots level and not on the peripherals so that something enduring could be done for the alleviation of human suffering. He held man-making as his central task, for he saw a logic behind it. If the manhood of man is not awakened, whatever else is done for him is of no use. If manhood could be inspired among the millions, and from among them a hundred thousand specially trained for the same task to be carried forward, then there would be nothing unachievable in the world. Therefore he pointed out, One must admit that law, government, politics are phases not final in any way. There is a goal beyond them where law is not needed. (7) And that is why religion is of deeper importance than politics, since it goes to the root, and deals with the essentials of conduct. (5.200)


     The man-making message was delivered by Swamiji at the turn of the nineteenth century. But its openness, rationality, practicality, universality and authenticity make it evergreen in the living force-fields of man-making. The divinity and dignity of man, freedom, the power of his will in making his own destiny, love for others, service to humanity, self-confidence, courage, truth, perseverance, concentration of mind, continence, cheerfulness, positive attitude towards life, absence of jealousy, absence of selfishness and narrowmindedness, the power of sacrifice and renunciation, the ability to appreciate any form of goodness in others, self-restraint, charity, dedication, obedience, strength, humility - these are some of the beautiful ideals of Swamijis man-making humanism.


     He magnified and fructified his ideas of man-making through two important channels: religion and education. Both these fundamentally aim at man-making. He defined religion as the manifestation of the Divinity already in man and education as the manifestation of the perfection already in man. (4.358) Thus both these ideals aim at bringing out what is excellent in man, calling for the manifestation of total human excellence.



     True Individuality Only in the Spirit



     The concept of divinity of man cuts across all creeds and nationalities and embraces within its ambit the entire human race. To enlighten the spirit of humanism it is necessary that man should strive hard to eliminate the little I in every respect. But man is fearful of losing his little I, for he thinks that it will destroy his individuality. The only individuality worth of the name, Swamiji held, must be universal. He alone lives whose life is in the whole universe, and the more we concentrate our lives on limited things, the faster we go towards death. It is only the Spirit that is the individual, because it is infinite. (2.80-1) The divinity of man carries with it the message of the dignity of the individual. It assures him the power of the will to mould his own destiny. Remembrance of ones inner, infinite, divine nature charges one with the power of strength, self-confidence, courage, truth, unselfishness, continence, the power of sacrifice and renunciation. Thus Self-knowledge has the power of imparting and bringing into expression all the excellent aspects of an individual.



     All-round Excellence



     Perhaps, the most significant aspect of Swamijis humanism is his call for total human excellence. He stood for the integration of human personality. He wanted material development, intellectual progress as well as spiritual advancement by the application of the power of the Spirit at all levels of life. He found education to be the most effective tool for bringing this about. He viewed education as man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas. (3.302) He said, What we want are Western science coupled with Vedanta, Brahmacharya as the guiding motto, and also Shraddha and faith in ones own self. (5.366) These constitute the mechanism by which perfection or goodness is realized in individual and social life. His educational scheme implied a perfect harmony of body, mind and soul in their properly developed state.


     In the context of the life of an individual, Swamijis gospel takes the shape of a powerful call to the person to arise, awake and move on constantly towards the highest state of his being. But he held that one has to move towards the highest state in a manner that will help others also move in the same direction. The true evolution of humanity, as he elucidated, must be in doing good to others. His concept of a bhakta emerged out of this sense of God in man, Nara-narayana or Daridra-narayana. He always urged for a new man who is pure in heart, scientific in temper and unselfish in motive. In his view, such a new man is the only hope of the world.



               ~ ~ ~



     Man-making, the primary need of the hour, has been kept before us by Swamiji in his scheme of religion and education. Modern times demand an integral humanism that aspires for the fullest development of man in all spheres of life. It stresses the need for achieving a balance between the inner and outer needs of life. This brings us to the need of the harmony of spirituality and science, which is the central message of Swamijis humanism.


     Humanism should be propounded in thought, word and deed - all three in perfect unison. What is needed is not so much the advocating humanist, but the practising humanist. Swamiji the humanist belongs to the second category. His thought, word and deed - in fact, his whole life was dedicated to humanity. His was the message not for one time but for all times, not for one aspect of life but for all aspects of existence, penetrating the walls of all isms.






     1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 5.72.

     2. Dorothy Madison, The Humanist Forging of Vivekanandas New People in The Vedanta Kesari, August 1990, 302.

     3. CW, 3.224.

     4. Life of Sri Ramakrishna (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1990), 446.

     5. His Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda, 2 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, vol. 1, 2000; vol. 2, 2001), 1.138.

     6. Ibid., 1.388.

     7. CW, 5.193.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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