Swami Vivekananda was a sage whose teachings will continue exerting a boundless impact on Indian masses and his other foreign disciples. With a deep and profound study of Upanishadas, Vedas and other Indian scriptures, he could quote innumerable verses from holy texts to expound his ideals before his followers at a very tender age and kept on guiding other monks of Ramakrishna mission. Following the Indian tradition of entering the layers of knowledge, enlightenment and religious epiphanies leading to self realization and manifestation of the divine through a learned ascetic—the guru, he felt blessed for having a religious teacher like Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna reveals it to his disciples that he won’t uplift veils of Maya from the eyes of Narendra and wants the divine power to offer him momentary realization of the supreme as he expected other noble deeds from him. This , however doesn’t underestimate the divine prowess of the man who made the world accept higher ideals of divinity and showcased the rich philosophical realms of Hinduism through his lectures on Vedanta.
Hinduism with all its varied branches exerted a strong influence on his mind but Bhagwad Gita reigned supreme over all these. Though the sacred text is transcendental in the sense that it is considered beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals yet this exclusive dialogue between the supreme God and his loved devotee and friend Arjuna is a message for Hindus to help them understand the doctrine of Karma and achieve Mukti or attain spiritual bliss. The present paper is a modest attempt to unfold and analyse some teachings of Bhagwad Gita and their impact on Swami Vivekananda.
It is not an easy task to interpret Gita. The text has been widely translated into other languages and hugely commented upon by scholars yet it eludes complete grasping of the meaning. Still I would take two main teachings of Gita for my purpose. The first one is doctrine of Karma-Yoga and the second one is the division of human beings’ nature i.e. svabhava, food, qualities, penance and behaviour etc. into three categories or gunas namely satvik, rajasi and tamsik.
The third chapter of Gita which is entitled Karma –Yoga clearly states that no one can remain even for a moment without doing work because’ not by abstention from work does a man attain freedom from action, nor by mere renunciation does he attain to his perfection’ (Radhakrishnan). Vivekananda shares similar thoughts when he says, ‘We may work through all eternity, but there will be no way out of this intricate maze’ and ‘that work alone brings unattachment and bliss wherein we work as masters of our own minds’ (CW, Vol.5, 241). In a letter to Ms. Macleod he writes, ‘Work is always difficult. Pray for me that my work stops for ever and my whole soul be absorbed in Mother . . . Works and activities, doing good and so forth are all super-impositions – I have long given up my place as the leader’ (Rao, 127).
Another significant feature that comes out of his discourses is that he uses very simple imagery and examples to bring home his pint before his audience which in most cases is Western. Taking an example of unconsciously digesting our food, he expounds that ‘We should work through concentration (Yoga) and the consciousness of the lower ego is absent in action performed with this concentration’ (CW, Vol. 5, 247). In another lecture ‘Work and its Secret’ delivered in Los Angeles in 1900, Swamiji remarked, ‘But whenever failure comes, if we analyse it critically in ninety nine per cent of cases we shall find that it was because we did not pay attention to the means. Proper attention to the finishing, strenghthening of the means is what we need’.
The Europeans and Americans turned his followers in large numbers because he was a man with charismatic personality, totally humble and like a true sanyasin welcomed the benedictions of others if they willingly performed charity and this helped him stay longer abroad and dispel the ignorance of people whom he finds satiated with worldly desires and here he praises American women for their generosity and large heartedness. He praised European intellectuals like Max Muller the translator of Gita and remarked, ‘He is a holy soul that is getting Brahminised every day, he has a heart that is melting into great God every moment’ (Bhatia,90).
Here one cannot ignore the fact that Vivekananda was upset over the work of Christian missionaries who were converting many Hindus of this country. In his epistles to Alasinga, he implores him to maintain calm over the alarming rate of Hindu converts. He for himself did not force his religion onto the westerners but emphasized taking examples from other religions and philosophers including Buddhism and Christianity that all religions work for the upliftment of men and attainment of higher goals. This again was a setback to missionaries. Gita is against professing the sacred word before non-believers. Radhakrishnan opines that ‘modern anthropologists advise us that we should not in our anxiety to “uplift” the aborigines, deprive them of their innocent joys, their songs and dances, their feasts and festivals. Whatever we should like to do for them, we should do with love and reverence’.
In most of his classes, he elaborated the concepts of Raja-Yoga and Jnana- Yoga. ‘he taught his students the path of practicalspirituality by the inner control of the senses, to still the mind and subordinate the sense impulses to reason’ (Rao, 85). The whole message of Gita can be condensed in a few verses and Swamiji expounded these in different lectures. Some of these are:
‘This soul the sword can not cut, nor the spear pierce, the fire can not burn, nor water melt it, indestructible, omnipresent is this soul. Therefore weep not for it’ ( On the Vedanta Philosophy, CW< Vol.5, 281).
‘Of Him we say that He is Existence, Knowledge and Bliss Absolute” (CW, 282).
‘I was never born, never shall I die. I am the atman. I am Brahman’ (Bhatia, 62).
‘Mukti is the highest situation’ (Bhatia, 103).
And the verses are inexhaustible like the teachings of Gita. The gist of Gita is made up of three words ‘Aum tat sat’. Aum expresses the absolute supremacy, tat the universality and sat the reality of Brahman. Quoting from the Taittiriya Upanishad, Radhakrishnan writes that ‘sat is which is existent and tat which is beyond’ and stands for the three states of consciousness, waking (jagrat), dream (svapna) and sleep (sushupti) leading up to the transcendental state’ (349).
Yoga, according to him, was the union of man’s soul with the supreme soul. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that yoga is trying to attain goal by positively utilizing all your faculties in sadhana. For Vivekananda, the goal is to manifest the divine within, by controlling nature, external and internal’. Swami Bhaskarananda believes that Sri Ramakrishna’s life is a glowing example of all-round spiritual growth that integrated all the four Yogas and Vivekananda followed him inherently.
Hinduism also cites a suitable path for emotional persons that is the Yoga of Devotion or Bhakti- Yoga. Vivekananda was a rational man. His discourse often echoes of scientific temper as he illustrates his teachings by taking examples of matter and cosmos but the devotees know nothing of cosmic power. For them, the face of the beloved is everything. The Bhakti poets and sufis knew much about the cosmos but found solace in their beloved only’. Vivekananda seemed to despise this Radha-prema. He remarked at one place,’ Through the preaching of that love, broadcast, the whole nation has become effeminate—a race of women! (CW, Vol. 5, 345). He didn’t much praise namakirtana that he considered the dancing of Vaishnavas and for him householders knew religion only as they take God as beloved or wife.
Talking of Samyasa as Vivekananda was a sanyasin, he considered it ‘a complete renunciation of all worldly position, property and name’ for a ‘life of self-sacrifice to seek spiritual knowledge’ (CW, 260). The sanyasins of India prefer Himalayas once they renunciate the material pursuits of this world and seek personal salvation and spiritual solace in the abode of God. Vivekananda, on the contrary travelled to the south, spent much time at Kanyakumari where he got divine revelation and then voyaged forth to the west because as per the design of his Guru, his aim was to show path of salvation to millions of others. His feelings for motherland can be discerned from the fact that he suffered greatly for the por and the downtrodden of this country and strived to provide them bread and joy. He said, ‘I donot believe in a God or religion which cannot wipe the widow’s tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan’s mouth’ (CW, 50). The Lord said, ‘O, blameless one, in this world a two-fold way of life has been taught of yore by Me, the path of knowledge for men of contemplation and that of works for men of action’ (Bhagwadgita, 132). Vivekananda had mastered the both triumphantly. After realizing God, he worked for the poor and it is no surprise that the money he earned from the lectures was meant to feed hungry mouths back in India and to sustain his mission.
A believer in Brahmacharya, he perhaps ignored the Janaka, a householder considered as chaste and dharmaima as a sanyasin who ruled giving up his personal sense of being the worker. He attained ‘perfection by doing works for maintenance of the world’ (Bhagvadgita, 139).
The final chapter of Gita talks of three gunas—satvik, rajas and tamas and about three kinds of knowledge, work, doers, penance, steadiness, happiness and understanding. Sattva Guna is associated with purity, knowledge and happiness, rajas with attachment, activity and pain and tamas with impurity, ignorance and indolence. By overcoming tamas by rajas, rajas by sattva, the aspirant comes to know the transcendent self and attains immortality’( The Vedanta Kesari, 100). The same chapter elucidates the various duties determined by one’s nature (svabhava) and station (svadharma) that forms the basis of varna system. Vivekananda was against the practice of humiliation, inhuman behavior meted out to untouchables and believed that the qualities of all the varnas are inherent in every man and dominate at one time or another. In a conversation with Priya Nath Sinha, he remarks that when a man serves another for pay, he is in shudrahood, transacts business for profits, becomes a Vaishya, fights to right wrongs, manifests the qualities of a kshatriya and becomes a Brahmin when he meditates on God’ (377).
To conclude Vivekananda admitted that Shraddha has been lost in India due to poverty and ignorance and felt the utter need of its revival. The colonial India actually needed reforms as it was forgetting its native culture and religion partly under the impact of Western education, partly under the manipulating techniques employed by Christian missionaries and partly due to the greed, selfishness, treachery of some fellow Indians.he was aware that westerners and invaders have distorted Indian reality to a large extent as Brahmins of India never used to travel. On the whole, he was a true missionary of Hinduism, who fired with the zeal of spreading God’s all embracing love strived to bring human beings from all over the globe under His canopy of benedictions till he breathed his last. Salutations to the great soul!
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