Today is the 150th glorious birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda – one of the most illustrious sons of India who stood strongly for spiritual universalism.
His Life and Teachings have become a fountain source for drawing inspiration for ever. His ideals have been shaping the minds of sincere people and serious thinkers. Comity of Nations are looking forward to celebrate his anniversary in a much solemn and useful manner. Thousands of young men and hundreds of young women leave their hearth and home in search of a goal that he has fashioned for this new age. What could be better said of his teaching as ultimate is nothing but his own coined aphorism “aatmano mokshaartham jagat hitaaya cha” – For one’s own liberation and the good of the world ?
Through this blog, I salute every one who has taken Swamiji’s ideals and tried to implement them in practical lives. May this grand year be an enviable memory in every one’s life!
To be or not to be
A teacher in a Primary School in Durban was asking the pupils the other day what they would like to become in the future. Well, every child has its own aspiration and was giving vent to his/her feelings. The Ma’m was quiet happy to listen to the replies that ran in the expected lines. But one child gave an unusual answer that alarmed her. He said that he would like to become a monk! She instantly contacted the parents and told them that there was something wrong with their child. She wanted to interview the parents as ‘proper grooming’ was not done in the home!
This is a typical reaction of anyone in the world that shows utter surprise if any child wants to become a ‘sannyasin’. Becoming a ‘good devotee’ is fully acceptable in the society but not becoming a ‘renunciate’!
This is in spite of our learning from the scriptures and the hoary Hindu tradition that of the four ashramas, ‘sannyasa ashrama’ is the ultimate. But how many of us believe in that? How many parents actually encourage their child, if he wants to don ochre robes? And it has become so common to think that there are ‘better’ things to do in Life than to become a mere monk.
Song on sannyasa
Herein comes a rare gem from the works of Swami Vivekananda that inspired many to become monk and has been a source of inspiration to many even today. That is a poem ‘The Song of the Sannyasin’. It has 13 verses. These verses came out from his pen in an inspired mood when Swamiji stayed seven weeks in a cottage at Thousand Island Park on the St. Lawrence River in New York State. He composed this magnificent, eloquent Song paying tribute to the supremacy of the sannyasa ashram.
I remember how when I was a school-goer, how I would intently listen to one of our wonderful teachers, ‘Mandiram Sir‘ as we used to address him, chanting this Song in tune and explain every verse, every word to the great delight of me! This Sir was a veritable encyclopedia on Swamiji who would enchant the listening students to the all-absorbing renunciate ideas of Swamiji. He would always present me and a few other students who would gather around him to learn about Swamiji, other quotes that deeply impressed our young minds.
The Cottage Call
His oft-repeat quote to me was from Sister Nivedita’s famous book “Notes on Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda” wherein she recounts the most inspiring words of Swamiji : “Never forget, to say to yourself, and to teach to your children, as the difference between a firefly and the blazing sun, between the infinite ocean and a little pond, between a mustard-seed and the mountain of Meru, such is the difference between the householder and the Sannyasin.”
Hundreds of monks today acknowledge the wonderful effect of these words on their evolving minds. When I attended the Probationers’ Training Centre in Belur Math, a senior monk took a private class to me and a few ‘selected’ students on this great poem of Swamiji. Its poetic beauty makes a compelling reading, its flowing idea makes radiant impression, its mystical words make a life bloom well. It is said that Swamiji, surprisingly never told anyone about this writing. In 1947 the Cottage where Swamiji stayed went under renovation. Strangely the carpenters who were removing the old wooden walls found a hand-written manuscript, hidden from the world for 52 years after it was penned.
Listen and learn
When Swamiji visited the Park, he was barely 32 years old (or young?). He had already become world celebrity. Two years before he had made that electrifying address in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Newspapers commented that “he is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament.” His whirlwind tour of USA brought him the title ‘cyclonic monk’. Resting at the Park, well-rejuvenated, Swamiji taught 12 students the intricate aspects of spiritual life. His extempore words were noted and transcribed into a book “Inspired Talks”. Swamiji used to say that he was “at his best” in Thousand Island Park. It can be safely concluded that ideas and visions that Swamiji had at this Park later paved the way for his work in India and elsewhere.
The Song undoubtedly is a masterpiece. I listen to this Song intermittently. It is sung so beautifully by Kumuda, an American admirer of Swamiji. She was kind to let me download this Song to my computer. I am glad to reproduce, with her permission of course in this blog, a link which I believe that everyone listening to this song would also joyously learn. Here below is the audio:
A few years ago (2009), one of our close devotees in India, Late Bharat Churiwala while commenting on one of my posts – Boon or Bane? – lamented that he could not get a Hindi translation and its recording though he has listened to the Kannada version sung so beautifully by Late Swami Purushottamanandaji. Another reader Shubhanan desired to listen to this wonderful poem in its Hindi version. Thanks to brother Swami Nityatriptananda of Balaram Mandir, Kolkata, I have received a musical rendering of this great Song sung so melodiously by brother Swami Kripakarananda. Well, Kripakarananda is an accomplished classical musician and I am indebted to him for acceding to my request for composing a fitting tune to this Song in Hindi. Here below is the audio:
The Song is beacon light to the youth especially to those who still wonder whether anything ‘extra’ this life holds for and something ‘more’ that life can unfold. Are you one of the ‘earth’s bravest and best’?
|| Aum tat sat Aum ||
Song of the Sannyasin
composed by Swami Vivekananda
Wake up the note! the song that had its birth Far off, where worldly taint could never reach, In mountain caves and glades of forest deep, Whose calm no sigh for lust or wealth or fame Could ever dare to break; where rolled the stream Of knowledge, truth, and bliss that follows both. Sing high that note, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Strike off thy fetters! bonds that bind thee down, Of shining gold, or darker, baser ore– Love, hate; good, bad; and all the dual throng. Know slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free; For fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind. Then off with them, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Let darkness go, the will-o’-the-wisp that leads With blinking light to pile more gloom on gloom. This thirst for life forever quench; it drags From birth to death, and death to birth, the soul. He conquers all who conquers self. Know this and never yield, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
“Who sows must reap,” they say, “and cause must bring The sure effect: good, good; bad, bad; and none Escapes the law. But whoso wears a form Must wear the chain.” Too true; but far beyond Both name and form is âtman, ever free. Know thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
They know not truth who dream such vacant dreams As father, mother, children, wife and friend. The sexless Self–whose father He? whose child? Whose friend, whose foe, is He who is but One? The Self is all in all–none else exists; And thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
There is but One: the Free, the Knower, Self, Without a name, without a form or stain. In Him is mâyâ, dreaming all this dream. The Witness, He appears as nature, soul. Know thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Where seekest thou? That freedom, friend, this world Nor that can give. In books and temples, vain Thy search. Thine only is the hand that holds The rope that drags thee on. Then cease lament. Let go thy hold, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Say, “Peace to all. From me no danger be To aught that lives. In those that dwell on high, In those that lowly creep–I am the Self in all! All life, both here and there, do I renounce, All heavens and earths and hells, all hopes and fears.” Thus cut thy bonds, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Heed then no more how body lives or goes. Its task is done: let karma float it down. Let one put garlands on, another kick This frame: say naught. No praise or blame can be Where praiser, praised, and blamer, blamed, are one. Thus be thou calm, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Truth never comes where lust and fame and greed Of gain reside. No man who thinks of woman As his wife can ever perfect be; Nor he who owns the least of things, nor he Whom anger chains, can ever pass through mâyâ’s gates. So, give these up, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Have thou no home. What home can hold thee, friend? The sky thy roof, the grass thy bed, and food What chance may bring–well cooked or ill, judge not. No food or drink can taint that noble Self Which knows Itself. Like rolling river free Thou ever be, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Few only know the truth. The rest will hate And laugh at thee, great one; but pay no heed. Go thou, the free, from place to place, and help Them out of darkness, mâyâ’s veil. Without The fear of pain or search for pleasure, go Beyond them both, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Thus day by day, till karma’s power’s spent, Release the soul forever. No more is birth, Nor I, nor thou, nor God, nor man. The “I” Has All become, the All is “I” and Bliss. Know thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Today is the birthday of Swami Vivekananda. This is celebrated as National Youth Day in India. For the benefit of the readers who have not yet visited our Belur Math website, the following article from it, is happily reproduced here. This gives a bird’s eye-view of the Contributions made by the great Swamiji to World Culture, to India and to Hinduism.
Vivekananda’s contributions to World Culture
Making an objective assessment of Swami Vivekananda’s contributions to world culture, the eminent British historian A L Basham stated that “in centuries to come, he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world…” Some of the main contributions that Swamiji made to the modern world are mentioned below.
1. New Understanding of Religion
One of the most significant contributions of Swami Vivekananda to the modern world is his interpretation of religion as a universal experience of transcendent Reality, common to all humanity. Swamiji met the challenge of modern science by showing that religion is as scientific as science itself; religion is the ‘science of consciousness’. As such, religion and science are not contradictory to each other but are complementary.
This universal conception frees religion from the hold of superstitions, dogmatism, priestcraft and intolerance, and makes religion the highest and noblest pursuit – the pursuit of supreme Freedom, supreme Knowledge, supreme Happiness.
2. New View of Man
Vivekananda’s concept of ‘potential divinity of the soul’ gives a new, ennobling concept of man. The present age is the age of humanism which holds that man should be the chief concern and centre of all activities and thinking. Through science and technology man has attained great prosperity and power, and modern methods of communication and travel have converted human society into a ‘global village’. But the degradation of man has also been going on apace, as witnessed by the enormous increase in broken homes, immorality, violence, crime, etc. in modern society. Vivekananda’s concept of potential divinity of the soul prevents this degradation, divinizes human relationships, and makes life meaningful and worth living. Swamiji has laid the foundation for ‘spiritual humanism’, which is manifesting itself through several neo-humanistic movements and the current interest in meditation, Zen etc all over the world.
3. New Principle of Morality and Ethics
The prevalent morality, in both individual life and social life, is mostly based on fear – fear of the police, fear of public ridicule, fear of God’s punishment, fear of Karma, and so on. The current theories of ethics also do not explain why a person should be moral and be good to others. Vivekananda has given a new theory of ethics and new principle of morality based on the intrinsic purity and oneness of the Atman. We should be pure because purity is our real nature, our true divine Self or Atman. Similarly, we should love and serve our neighbours because we are all one in the Supreme Spirit known as Paramatman or Brahman.
4. Bridge between the East and the West
Another great contribution of Swami Vivekananda was to build a bridge between Indian culture and Western culture. He did it by interpreting Hindu scriptures and philosophy and the Hindu way of life and institutions to the Western people in an idiom which they could understand. He made the Western people realize that they had to learn much from Indian spirituality for their own well-being. He showed that, in spite of her poverty and backwardness, India had a great contribution to make to world culture. In this way he was instrumental in ending India’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world. He was India’s first great cultural ambassador to the West.
On the other hand, Swamiji’s interpretation of ancient Hindu scriptures, philosophy, institutions, etc prepared the mind of Indians to accept and apply in practical life two best elements of Western culture, namely science and technology and humanism. Swamiji has taught Indians how to master Western science and technology and at the same time develop spiritually. Swamiji has also taught Indians how to adapt Western humanism (especially the ideas of individual freedom, social equality and justice and respect for women) to Indian ethos.
Swamiji’s Contributions to India
In spite of her innumerable linguistic, ethnic, historical and regional diversities, India has had from time immemorial a strong sense of cultural unity. It was, however, Swami Vivekananda who revealed the true foundations of this culture and thus clearly defined and strengthened the sense of unity as a nation.
Swamiji gave Indians proper understanding of their country’s great spiritual heritage and thus gave them pride in their past.
Furthermore, he pointed out to Indians the drawbacks of Western culture and the need for India’s contribution to overcome these drawbacks. In this way Swamiji made India a nation with a global mission. Sense of unity, pride in the past, sense of mission – these were the factors which gave real strength and purpose to India’s nationalist movement. Several eminent leaders of India’s freedom movement have acknowledged their indebtedness to Swamiji. Free India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “Rooted in the past, full of pride in India’s prestige, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems, and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present … he came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralized Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance and some roots in the past.”Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose wrote: “Swamiji harmonized the East and the West, religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our countrymen have gained unprecedented self-respect, self-reliance and self-assertion from his teachings.”
Swamiji’s most unique contribution to the creation of new India was to open the minds of Indians to their duty to the downtrodden masses. Long before the ideas of Karl Marx were known in India, Swamiji spoke about the role of the labouring classes in the production of the country’s wealth. Swamiji was the first religious leader in India to speak for the masses, formulate a definite philosophy of service, and organize large-scale social service.
Swamiji’s Contributions to Hinduism
It was Swami Vivekananda who gave to Hinduism as a whole a clear-cut identity, a distinct profile. Before Swamiji came Hinduism was a loose confederation of many different sects. Swamiji was the first religious leader to speak about the common bases of Hinduism and the common ground of all sects. He was the first person, as guided by his Master Sri Ramakrishna, to accept all Hindu doctrines and the views of all Hindu philosophers and sects as different aspects of one total view of Reality and way of life known as Hinduism. Speaking about Swamiji’s role in giving Hinduism its distinct identity, Sister Nivedita wrote: “… it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created.”
Before Swamiji came, there was a lot of quarrel and competition among the various sects of Hinduism. Similarly, the protagonists of different systems and schools of philosophy were claiming their views to be the only true and valid ones. By applying Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrine of Harmony (Samanvaya) Swamiji brought about an overall unification of Hinduism on the basis of the principle of unity in diversity. Speaking about Swamiji’s role in this field K M Pannikar, the eminent historian and diplomat, wrote: “This new Shankaracharya may well be claimed to be a unifier of Hindu ideology.”
Another important service rendered by Swamiji was to raise his voice in defense of Hinduism. In fact, this was one of the main types of work he did in the West. Christian missionary propaganda had given a wrong understanding of Hinduism and India in Western minds. Swamiji had to face a lot of opposition in his attempts to defend Hinduism.
4. Meeting the Challenges
At the end of the 19th century, India in general, and Hinduism in particular, faced grave challenges from Western materialistic life, the ideas of Western free society, and the proselytizing activities of Christians. Vivekananda met these challenges by integrating the best elements of Western culture in Hindu culture.
5. New Ideal of Monasticism
A major contribution of Vivekananda to Hinduism is the rejuvenation and modernization of monasticism. In this new monastic ideal, followed in the Ramakrishna Order, the ancient principles of renunciation and God realization are combined with service to God in man (Shiva jnane jiva seva). Vivekananda elevated social service to the status of divine service.
6. Refurbishing of Hindu Philosophy and Religious Doctrines
Vivekananda did not merely interpret ancient Hindu scriptures and philosophical ideas in terms of modern thought. He also added several illuminating original concepts based on his own transcendental experiences and vision of the future. This, however, needs a detailed study of Hindu philosophy which cannot be attempted here.