Swami Vivekananda’s Message for the 21st Century India
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Swami Vivekananda’s 155th birth anniversary is being celebrated throughout the country today. Though already recognized in Bengal for his enlightenment and as a patriotic saint, he burst into international fame at the World Parliament Religion at Chicago on 11 Sep 1893 where he gave a speech which made him immortal. The speech is being quoted discussed for its stirring message and content to this date.

The Parliament of Religion opened on 11 Sep 1893 in Chicago. Nearly 7000 people representing different religions and countries attended the conference. Swamiji opened his speech with the words, “Sisters and Brothers of America”. The speech opened the eyes of the West of the depth of Indian civilisation and Hinduism. It made a remarkable impression on the listeners. In the words of Angarika Dharampala, the then General Secretary of Mahabodhi Society who also attended the parliament of religion, “Our good brother Swami Vivekananda has done a great and inestimable service not only in bringing forward the pure doctrine of Hindu philosophy but has succeeded in convincing the intelligent and enlightened portion of the American public of the fact that India is the mother and seat of all true philosophy and metaphysics”. Swamiji became a global celebrity overnight. He came to be seem as a true representative of Indian Civilization. The pictures of Swami Vivekananda were displayed all over the cities of Chicago. Shri Aurobindo noted, “The going forth the Vivekananda to the West was the first visual sign to the world that India was awake … not only to survive but to conquer”.

When Swamiji went to Chicago, India was colonised and steeped in poverty. Its culture was looked down upon. Followers of Hinduism was seen as superstitious and uncultured. Yet, Swamiji had the courage and boldness to declare to the world about the greatness of Hindu philosophy and religion. He dwelt at length upon the basic unity of all religions. He told them about the philosophy of Vedanta which taught that every individual was a reflection of God. His message to his fellow Indians was “Arise! Awake!! Stop not till the goal is reached!!!” The message electrified the nation then. It is relevant even today as India has the opportunity to realise its destiny as a great civilizational state.

Vivekananda is an iconic figure in modern Indian history ranking with the greatest. He has provided inspirations to the countless generations of Indian.

Swami Vivekananda’s messages delivered at the end of 19th Century are positive, universal and inspirational. He believed in India’s ability to guide and lead. He said,

“When the real history of India will be unearthed, it will be proved that, as in matters of religion, so in fine arts, India is the primal Guru of the whole world”.

And further,

“History itself bears testimony to the fact. All the soul-elevating ideas and the different branches of knowledge that exist in the world are found on proper investigation to have their roots in India”.

He placed service at the core of one’s actions,

"If I had a thousand lives, every moment of the whole series would be consecrated to your service, my countrymen, my friends."

He was a staunch believer in action,

“I have given you advice enough; now put at least something in practice. Let the world see that your reading of the scriptures and listening to me has been a success”.

How can a man and a nation become great? His recipe was simple but profound,

“Conviction of the powers of goodness, Absence of jealousy and suspicion, Helping all who are trying to be and do good”.

He was aware that India was fragmented and divided. This came in the way of her rise. He was convinced that India should end her fragmentation,

“For our national welfare, India must gather up of its scattered spiritual forces. India must be a union of those whose hearts beat to the same spiritual tune."

He had strong faith in the youth. To the young his advice was,

"When you are doing any work, Do it as worship, as the highest worship, and devote your whole life to it for the time being".

"Anything that makes you weak physically, intellectually and spiritually, reject as poison”.

“Do not lower your goals to the level of your abilities. Instead, raise your abilities to the height of your goals”.

“If you can think that infinite power, infinite knowledge and indomitable energy lie within you, and if you can bring out that power, you also can become like me”.

“Perfect sincerity, holiness, gigantic intellect, and all-conquering will. Let only a handful of men work with these, and the whole world will be revolutionised”.

“Jnâna, Bhakti, Yoga and Karma—these are the four paths which lead to salvation. One must follow the path for which one is best suited; but in this age special stress should be laid on Karma-Yoga”.

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life, think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. This is the way to success.”

How will India be built? He wanted Indians to dedicate themselves to the cause of the well-being of their countrymen. He had this to say,

"Then only will India awake, when hundreds of large-hearted men and women, giving up all desires of enjoying the luxuries of life, will long and exert themselves to their utmost, for the wellbeing of the millions of their countrymen".

His faith in India was unshaken,

“Let New India arise…let her arise-out of the peasant's cottage, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fisherman, the cobbler, and the sweeper. Let her emanate from the factory, from marts, and from the markets and from groves and forests, from hills and mountains”.

How will the task of regeneration of India be achieved. He gave a roadmap:

“Do not destroy… break not, pull not everything down, but build”.

“Elevate the masses …the fate of a nation… depends upon the … condition of the masses…can you give them back their lost individuality without making them lose their innate spiritual nature”.

“Know your past … out of the past is built the future. Look back, therefore, as far as you can, drink deep of the eternal fountains that are behind, and after that, look forward, march forward and make India brighter, greater, much higher than she ever was”.

“Respect the great men of the country…we have to introduce the worship of the great saints… Shri Ramachandra, Sri Krishan, Mahavira, Sri Rama Krishana among others”.

Education … the primary need … education, education, education alone! ... through education comes the faith in one’s own self, and through faith in one’s own self the inherent Brahaman is waking up in them, while the Brahaman in us is gradually becoming dormant”.

He realized that India’s strength lies in spirituality,

“The Indian nation cannot be killed. Deathless it stands, and it will stand so long as that spirit shall remain as the background, so long as her people do not give up their spirituality”.

He recognised that there were differences in the world but he believed that the differences can be overcome,

"All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything".

He emphasised the role of education. He said,

"The very reason for nature's existence is for the education of the soul … If the poor boy cannot come to education, education must go to him”.

He knew that the future of India was in the hand of the younger generation,

“My faith is in the younger generation, the modern generation, out of them will come my workers. They will work out the whole problem, like lions”.

He had immense faith in the capability of women. He has this to say,

“Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. No one can or ought to do this for them. And our Indian women are as capable of doing it as any in the world”.

Swamiji spoke about rejuvenation of India. India needs another round of rejuvenation. India should no doubt have material wealth and physical power; no one takes meek and weak seriously. But India’s confidence must come from its ancient civilisation and deep spirituality. Intractable problems of today can be dealt better if principles of spirituality were applied to these.

In Swamiji’s messages lies the secret of character building and nation building. They are as relevant today as they were in his lifetime. They were not esoteric and unintelligible. Swamiji laid down the essentials of success,

"Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love."

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)


too good to learn about India


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