This book consists of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings which provide a perennial source of inspiration to youths to attain success in life by overcoming problems and difficulties, to lead a moral and spiritual life, and to make one’s meaningful by rendering service to fellowmen, especially the poor and the sick. In commemoration of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary, the book is made available at a subsidized price.
IThis was the Exquisite and highly comprehensive response from Harriet Monroe,
editor of Poetry journal. It points to a timeless moment in which and effortless
blending of flawless language, infinite power of thought, and depth of emotion
made it a monument of enduring, far-ranging significance. Behind that eloquence
was the experience which made the words flaming, fiery carriers of touch. When
Vivekananda (1863-1902) addressed the vast variegated gathering at the Parliament
of Religions, Chicago in 1893, as ‘Sister and Brother’ and the audience rose
to its feet with a thunderous applause, obviously the words transcended the
communicative dimension and transformed the mselves into modes of irresistible
communion. Yes, ‘we are all sisters and brothers!’ and the submerged layers
of innate oneness surfaced unmistakably. The impact is perennial.
It is not a casual pacing and privileging of ‘Sisters’ as the first word. One can transfigure it as Shakti, the empowered shakti which propels every activity. And, we know, it was American sisters of that time who0 played the most crucial role in institutionalizing the Remakrishna-Vivekanand Vedanta in India and the East. Moreover, who would have imagined, in colonial rule itself, that Vivekananda could begin a revolution of putting the colonisers’ language to uses which we now realise, strengthened the initiative of oneness of humanity through spiritual traditions, a togetherness which is imperative for humanity, now facing several threats to it.
Swami Vivekananda’s life, though short, gave a tremendous impetus to the spiritual and philosophical forces of the world, an impetus which is just beginning to gather momentum. His thoughts have become more relevant today when we are trying to grapple with the thread of unity amidst various doctrines. Writers like Philip Goldberg are now describing the evolving Vedanta movements in the US, as the crystallization of an ‘America Veda’. Obviously, Swami Vivekananda’s discourses in America in general and at the Parliament of Religions, in particular, constitute the new Vedic texts, the Shrutis. It is also no flash in the pan that the Kanthastha texts of Vivekananda only later constituted granthastha which outline social, political, economic, and ethical issues for a rapidly enduring agendas in consonance with the logic of cultures and nationalities.
Behind and before is Ramakrishna’s honing of Vivekananda in both Shruti and Smriti. We find a clue in Swami Vivekananda’s explanation: ‘By the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual law discovered by different persons in different times.’ Sri Ramakrishna revitalized these truths but, gave them experienced orientations of pluralism of faiths based on their essential unity. Swami Vivekananda himself put this comprehensive ‘agenda’ of Ramakrishna’s advent: ‘The time was ripe for one to be born, who in one body would have the brilliant intellect of Shankara and the wonderfully expansive infinite heart of Chaitanya; one who would see in every act the same spirit working, the same God; one who would see God in every being; one whose heart weep for the poor, for the weak, for the outcast, for the downtrodden, for everyone in this world, inside and outside India; and at the same time, whose grand brilliant intellect would conceive of such noble thoughts as would harmonise all conflicting sects, not only in India but outside India and bring a marvellous harmony, the universal religion of head and heart into existence.’
It is this brief that the Great Master entrusted to Vivekananda who was his chief emissary. He had to implement and integrated map of redefined, contemporised, context-oriented ethics, economics, enjoyment, and emancipation.
This Reader is designed to embody these concerns. Quite a few Vivekananda Readers exist. But the present one appears, obviously, in a global ethos, exposed to and affected by economic uncertainties, rampant consumerism, hedonistic ideologies, ethical conundrums in contexts of affluence on one side and intolerable poverty on the other, above all, strident political ideologies of varied hues. Alongside visible empowerment of women and youth, and the IT revolution have shrunk the globe. But, though it is common notion that the world has shrunk into a neighbourhood, it does not seem to have broadened into a brotherhood. In empowering women Swami Vivekananda saw in the Holy Mother a radiant embodiment of Shakti and a unique balancing of familial duties and spiritual ministration. We find the philosophy taking the form of the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission in both India and the west nurturing a remarkable number of women saints whom scholars call ‘daughters of the goddess.’
This Reader, broadly, addresses these issues both explicitly and implicitly. The passages chosen are relatively short in tune with the current trend of reader-friendly, compact texts. Swami Vivekananda’s volumes address almost every issue we face today and this guided the selections. Moreover, we have also included the creative dimension of his exceptional genius; his racy narratives, poems, and for those who enjoy his ‘dialectics’, there are conversations, interviews, and letters. The most fascinating, of course, are his poems-a cross-section of which can be found here. Empowering youth and women constitutes Swami Vivekananda’s alternatives to the present ideologies, as is evident in the extracts included.
Vivekananda’s insights are of immense relevance to the existing dynamic world order. These themes can be identified easily; First, at the apex is the palpable interconnectedness of all creation, the fulcrum of which is spiritual oneness. Technologically connected, we live with alarming differences. Yet, restoration of balance is integral to creation, a restoration achieved in the resilience and unity of spiritual traditions. The second theme is : functionally vertical, intrinsically horizontal structures of living. As Vivekananda puts it in his trigger-like words, ‘Each soul is potentially divine.’ This potential needs to be actualised. There are equal chances that the potential energy could be channelled in ways of incredible political hegemony, economic imperialism, and mis-measurement of development in terms of growth and not of access. Yet, if multinational, multicultural business and trade, even ‘outsourcing’ are the order of the day, it could also be seen as a dimension of togetherness.
Perhaps, the Institution of a Vivekananda Chair in the University of Chicago is a step in the direction of serious, holistic academic engagement. It signals the possibility of realising that Vivekananda’s perceptions affirm that if there is, as economists say, fortune at the bottom of the pyramid of wealth, there is also at its core the inestimable jewel of self-realization that Vivekananda’s exposition of the four yogas lays bare in language which is transparent, evocative, and invariably pragmatic.
Swami Vivekananda’s luminous exegeses of the power of mind and thought are earliest pointers to the western expositions of thought are earliest pointers to the western expositions of thoughts as a system. In Vivekananda’s ‘system’ there is a rigorous emphasis on both the ends and means. The explosion of interest in Yoga is welcome but, Swami Vivekananda offers checks and balances without which it is bound to slide slyly into a gay ababdon to what Sri Ramakrishna condenses into the two snares : ‘lust and greed’.
The third most vital theme that suffuses Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Woks is the autonomy of each faith. Each individual, each nation must grow according to their own laws of growth. Vivekananda’s perception of unity stems from an awareness of the irreplaceable individual elements of cultures and religions. For him, the assertion of unity is not a bulldozing of differences. In that case, the unity achieved, if at all, is an anaemic child doomed to dissolution from its inherent impoverishment. The unity is organic, not a mechanical admicture of elements derived from text-torturing.
The fourth and final theme is what Vivekananda described as ‘the spectrum of tyrannies’ which can see to it that even religion and spitituality function as agents of perpetuating fundamentalism, ideological conflicts, economic irregularities, and social imbalances. This is specially the case with economic growth and justice. Vivekananda asks forthrightly,’ why in India, a man should not have the goods of this life and make money? Yes, one can. But, then, our experience in ‘developing’ nations shows that, by and large, money is the most powerful weapon from which a whole spectrum of tyranny emerges.
In words, which are instant triggers of explosive truths, Swami Vivekananda says that there is ‘the tyranny of the sages…..the tyranny of the great, tyranny of the spiritual, tyranny of the intellectual, tyranny of the wise’. And, what is more, ‘the tyranny of the wise is much more powerful than the ignorant. The wise, the intellectual take to forcing their opinions upon others, know a hundred thousand ways to make bonds and barriers which is not in the power of the ignorant to break’.
Almost all nations are victims of such tyrannies. Swami Vivekananda saw the emergence of knowledge societies as a welcome developments. He also saw and warned against the hegemony of development itself in one part of the globe as contingent on the continuing existence of perpetually ‘developing’ societies. Perhaps, he felt that the intolerable appropriation of all development by a few was responsible for the continuing existence of deprivation. The agonising concern he constantly expressed led him to even marginalise spirituality. In a haunting passage, he declares: ‘There is no use in sacrificing millions and millions of people to produce one spiritual giant. If it is possible to make a society where the spiritual giant will be produced and all the rest of the people will be happy as well, that is good; but, if the missions of people have to be ground down, then, it is unjust. Better that the one great man should suffer for the salvation of all world.’
Vivekananda himself, surely, is such a unique towering being who did suffer joyously, vibrantly literally for the salvation of the whole universe. This Reader has before it the tall order of giving a glimpse of Vivekananda thought. Such a glimpse will leave a lasting impression on us which will make us strive to see the entire canvas of which only a glimpse was caught. May the context of 150th year of his advent become memorable for our rededication to the ideals Vivekananda exhorted all of us to achieve.
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