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The Man and His Mission - 2
|by Dr. Neria H. Hebbar|
Continued from Previous Page
When Narendranath had protested for having given such a responsibility, the Master had whispered in his years in his weak voice, “Teaching my gospel to others is in your bones, Narendra!” Before his death Ramakrishna had transferred his spiritual powers to Vivekananda and told him to take care of the disciples as well as continue to teach them his gospel. He also whispered, “By the force of the powers transferred by me, great things will be done by you.”
This world is in chains of superstition.
But Narendranath was restless and decided to tour India and feel the love of the people of India. He went on foot, bullock carts or by train (when some generous person paid for his ticket). He stayed with whoever invited him to stay with them as long as they wanted him to stay. He went by the name Vividishananda or sometimes Satchidananda. He wanted to undertake this journey alone without the other disciples. In 1890 he permanently left Baranagore and for the next five years (until he went to America in May of 1893) wandered the entire country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Other than a change of ochre robes and a water jug (komandalu), he also carried one copy each of the Bhagavad-Gita and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas ' Kempis.
He befriended many people during his epic journey. Some were rich and many were poor. People were enamored by his knowledge as well as his command over many languages. His magnificent countenance added to the mystery and intrigue. He also befriended a Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri, ruler of a small kingdom who was very supportive of his cause. It was the Raja who gave Narendranath the name Vivekananda.
Vivekananda's travels took him all over the country. He did this at a leisurely pace, not hurrying through his discovery of India. In his journey he truly felt the heart and the pulse of India. His travels as the wandering monk (parivrajaka) consolidated his beliefs. Witnessing the plight of the poor and the state of religion (especially Hinduism) in India he made his decision as to what was ailing in India. When he saw the reality of the degradation of India compared to its glorious past, he was moved to tears.
First and foremost, he blamed the upper class Hindus for discriminating based on caste in the so called 'don't touchism,' a phrase coined by Vivekananda to describe the degradation of this class. When the poor untouchable class is considered as polluted, there is little hope for them. 'Hopelessly they were born, hopelessly must they remain' he observed. The upper class Hindus misused the theory of karma to explain the birth status of the unfortunate lower classes of people. Exploitation of this servant class had gone on unopposed leading to ignorance of an entire segment of people belonging to the Hindu religion.
Secondly, Swami Vivekananda felt that to uplift the lower classes and bring them out of their miserable plight, the only solution was education. 'Priest-power and foreign conquests have trodden them down for centuries, and at last the poor of India have forgotten that they are human beings' In serving the poor and the masses, Vivekananda found the 'Shiva' he was looking to serve for the rest of his life. He felt that education was willfully confined to the privileged few, deliberately creating an underclass of people who then can be easily relegated to the servitude of the very same privileged class. The cycle had to be broken if there was any hope for India.
Thirdly, he was distressed as to how Indians had willingly adopted the ritualism but not the substance, the form of worship but not its meaning. Even among his brother-monks he feared the message of his Master had been lost to some extent.
Swami Vivekananda thus became a proponent of practical, workable Vedanta called the 'living Vedanta.' Other reformers of the late 19th century were sending mixed messages to the people and failed to live by their own examples. Pundits had distorted the meanings of Upanishads to their own advantages. Vivekananda challenged them all.
Swami Vivekananda was passionate about 'bringing it al together.' For criticizing Hinduism he was criticized in return, as advancing western style 'socialism' in India. But he did not back down in the face of powerful opposition from the establishment. He was relentless in pursuing his 'work' as he had promised his guru Sri Ramakrishna. He also went against the establishment by criticizing Hindu treatment of Muslims. He derided the term mlechchha, a term used to describe the people who practiced Islam or Christianity and thus not worthy of associating with.
At the same time Vivekananda defended Hinduism against Christianity. He showed the Christian monks that they had understood little about Christ and Christianity. He felt Christian missionaries were dishonest. Of all the foreign rulers India had endured in its history, the British had done the most disservice to India and Hinduism, he felt.
Vivekananda had practiced two fundamental principles taught to him by Sri Ramakrishna. One was to maintain a peaceful nature and the other was absence of pride. Swami Vivekananda was proud of his inheritance of knowledge he had been bequeathed. To this he had added massive knowledge he had gathered on his own. He was proficient in Sanskrit grammar to challenge any scholar. At the same time he could discuss Darwin's theory of evolution with much eloquence. He was able to compare philosophy of the west with that of Upanishads because of his extensive reading of world philosophy.
In his speeches he was known to switch from a calm melodious rendition of philosophy to an emotional speaker especially when he was talking about the poor in India. From a picture of peaceful countenance, radiating tranquility, sometimes he would transform into an angry and sad man flushed with tears that could surprise the listeners. Onlookers were able to feel the level of emotion the Swami felt while discussing topics which were close to his heart.
Along the way Vivekananda developed intimate friendship with many people. He kept in touch with them through letters. Most of those letters have been published and this gives us an insight into this sannyasin's mind and heart. Just because he had taken the vow of renunciation, he did not feel he should be devoid of all feelings. He did not consider himself a 'dry monk.' During his wanderings he also had seriously considered a total renunciation and complete withdrawal from the world. His mind was very conflicted because such an act would be contrary to
what his life's mission of helping the downtrodden demanded.
Vivekananda developed a close relationship with a stationmaster, who later became his disciple. His name was Sharat Chandra Gupta. He felt closeness to this man that he had not felt for any one else, not even his fellow monks. Later Sharat Chandra Gupta was initiated to a life of renunciation by Swami Vivekananda and was named Swami Sadananda. Another close friendship he had developed was with Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri, whom he had first met in Mt. Abu. It was the Raja who not only bore his expenses for his travel to America but also took the welfare of Vivekananda's mother and brothers who were living under wretchedly poor conditions in Calcutta (Vivekananda felt guilty that he was not able to provide for his mother and brothers and asked the Raja for help, showing how close their friendship had been). Vivekananda expressed immense sadness at a later date, when the Raja died in a freak accident (1901).
Vivekananda attracted an extraordinary following as he travelled through the country. People gathered not only to hear him talk on Vedanta or about the pathetic conditions of the poor, for whose causes he championed, but also to see him. His majestic personality and his deep voice and calm demeanor attracted as many people as his message did. When he left the town or village he had stayed in, there was a sense of loss among the people. They would come in a procession and follow him as long as they could, sometimes for miles and then reluctantly bid him goodbye.
His relationships with people both of higher status in life as well as the most downtrodden and his spiritual energy and love, were the basis of his 'living Vedanta.' Vedanta was not an abstract, unattainable goal pursued only by the intellectuals by reading scriptures. It is something that can be practiced daily, in greater or lesser dimensions, during everyday life.
During his travels in India, he also had to endure much sad news. Some of his friends and benefactors had died, some of his brother monks had fallen ill. The news inevitably reached Vivekananda much later than the events. Whenever he could he rushed to see them but many times he was too far away to make the trip. One of the most shocking news was that his favorite younger sister had committed suicide. Vivekananda mourned her death and expressed his grief in many of his letters to his friends and acquaintances. The event took place in 1891 and it is surrounded by mystery. There are some indications that she had committed sati, in her husband's funeral pyre. Vivekananda was always sympathetic to the plight of Hindu widows and this news did strike a blow close to his heart.
Let distinctions of sex, caste, wealth, learning and the whole host of them, which are so many gateways to hell, be confined to the world alone.
On his southward journey, while he was in Kathiawar, Vivekananda heard of the upcoming Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September of 1893. While in Belgaum he definitely showed interest in attending the meeting. But when the ruler of Mysore, Chamaraja Wadeyar offered to bear the expenses, he refused as he was still uncertain. Then he had an epiphany like experience during his three days of meditation in Kanyakumari (on a rock abutting the ocean ' now called the Vivekananda rock). There he felt he came face to face with the Goddess at the famous shrine, he made up his mind once and for all that he would go to Chicago.
My ideal indeed can be put into a few words and that is:
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