Relevance of Vivekananda Jayanti

published on January 12, 2010

V.N. Gopalakrishnan

Vivekananda Jayanti is an occasion to celebrate the birthday of a great spiritual leader of the19th century. Swami Vivekananda is regarded as the patriot saint of modern India and an inspirer of her dormant national consciousness. He came in the unbroken line of spiritual teachers who brightened the sky of India from the Vedic period to the modern age. They imparted the spiritual energy and direction characteristic of Indian culture.  His span of earthly life was hardly forty years, but within this short period, he lived an intense life, first as a student, then as the foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the mystic yogi who demonstrated the essential unity of all religions, then as a wanderer across the length and breadth of India and lastly as the spiritual teacher of East and West.

Swami Vivekananda was born on the Makarasamkranti day on January 12, 1863. As per the traditional Hindu calendar, his birth anniversary is being celebrated on January 6 though according to the English calendar his birthday falls on January 12, 2010.

Swami Vivekananda’s vast knowledge of Eastern and Western culture and his deep spiritual insight, fervid eloquence, brilliant conversation, broad human sympathy, colourful personality, and handsome figure made an irresistible appeal to many who came into contact with him. To the Hindus, he preached the ideal of a strength-giving and man-making religion. “As a lover of mankind, he strove to promote peace and human brotherhood on the spiritual foundation of the Vedantic Oneness of existence. A mystic of the highest order, Swami Vivekananda had a direct intuitive experience of Reality. He derived his ideas from that unfailing source of wisdom and presented them in the soul-stirring language of poetry.”

One great idea Swami Vivekananda presented on Practical Vedanta is that, through spiritual growth, a spirit of service will inspire man all the time. He emphasized Tyaga (renunciation) and Seva (service) as the warp and woof of Practical Vedanta. It is the renunciation of the lower self and manifestation of the higher self.

Swami Vivekananda’s teachings inspired India to fight for political freedom, and continues to inspire all people to make that freedom meaningful to the people at large. This wisdom of India, and the eternal message of human dignity and freedom of the Sruti constituent of the Indian tradition, has found expression in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution.
Swami Vivekananda was born in a Kayastha family in Shimla Pally, a suburb of Kolkatta as the son of Vishwanath Dutt and Bhuvaneshwari Devi. He was named Narendranath and loving called Naren. From childhood Naren had extraordinary intellect and inclination towards spirituality. As a precocious boy, Naren excelled in everything he touched. In no time he mastered music, gymnastics and studies. He graduated from Calcutta University and by that time he had immense knowledge on various subjects. He was expert in practicing yoga and meditation and was associated with Brahma Samaj (Society of Brahma) for some time, but as his yogic temperament grew with time, he felt the need of a Guru. He met Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa at the Kali temple in Dakshineshwar, near Kolkatta in November 1881 and chose him as his spiritual master. Young Naren encountered many difficulties after his father’s demise. He took household responsibilities but never neglected his spiritual life. After the death of Sri Ramakrishna in August 1886, Naren became the leader of fifteen disciples of his Guru. They formed a new monastic brotherhood and in 1887 they took the vow of sanyasa. Naren was named Swami Vivekananda and took the life of a wandering monk.

Swami Vivekananda’s public teaching commenced with his speech at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago, USA in 1893 and he was the first person to represent India. As a Hindu spiritual leader and reformer, he attempted to combine Indian spirituality with Western material progress. He focused on the universal and humanistic side of the Vedas and attempted to infuse vigour into the Hindu thought. Later, he became the focal force behind the Vedanta movement in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Vedanta Society of the City of New York incorporated in 1898 is the oldest branch of Ramakrishna Mission in the U.S. In the 1980s, the order operated 13 branches in the U.S. and had centres in Argentina, Bangladesh, Fiji, France, Mauritius, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and the United Kingdom which are devoted exclusively for promoting Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings.  

On his return to India, Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 at the Belur Math. It was founded with the purpose of spreading the teachings of Vedanta as embodied in the life of Sri Ramakrishna and to improve the social conditions of the people of India. Ramakrishna Mission is a religious society that carries out extensive educational and philanthropic work through over 90 Math and Mission centres. It is the foremost exponent of a modern version of Advaita Vedanta in Western countries. Swami Vivekananda was the pioneer in bridging the gap between the East and the West. He taught the universal principle of seeing God in all living beings. His greatest contribution was towards the youth whom he taught their potential and his clarion for youth was: “Arise, Awake! And stop not until the goal is reached.”

In the course of a short life of 39 years of which only ten were devoted to public activities. He left for posterity four classics-Jnana yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja yoga-which are outstanding treatises on Hindu philosophy. His life and teachings are of inestimable value to the West for an understanding of the mind of Asia. Max Muller and Paul Deussen, renowned Orientalists held him in respect and affection. Romain Rolland has stated: “His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethovan, stirring rhythms like the march of Handel choruses…” William James, the Harvard philosopher called him the “paragon of Vedantists”.
“For centuries to come, people everywhere will be inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s message: “Oh man! First realize that you are one with Brahman- Aham Brahmasmi and then realize that the whole Universe is verily the same Brahman- Sarvam kalvidam Brahma”.

(Author is a social activist and Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting. He can be contacted on [email protected])

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