Our journey with Swami Vivekananda
(Conclusion of the Indian High Commissioner's account of celebrations and activities marking the 150 birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. Part I was published yesterday.)
AT City Hall in San Fernando, we showed some films carrying the powerful message and excerpts from the life of the great Hindu monk who had renounced home with the mission to embrace humanity with deeds and words, flowing out of the age-old philosophy of Hinduism, simple, yet powerful and straight to the heart. The Mahavakyas (great sayings from the Upanishads) repeated themselves again and again as I narrated the life of the great master to the audience and a strong current of adrenaline coursed through me.
We assembled the next day at the Divali Nagar auditorium for yoga. Swamiji's discourses on Raja Yoga along with his expositions on all the three other paths of yoga—Karma, Jnana and Bhakti—expounded marvellously in the Bhagavad Gita, pervaded the space as the participants were led through two rounds of Ashtanga Yoga.
In the evening the curtains opened with two well known narrators. And Narendranath Dutta came alive. It was the evolution of an agnostic who, with his rational disposition and Brahmo Samaj temperament, questioning everyone whom he met with "Have you seen God", had stopped in his tracks one day when the illiterate priest of the Kali temple of Dakshineswar looked straight into his eyes and said, "Of course, I see Him more clearly than I see you".
Naren's world whirled before him. His gaze unsteady, his body shaking from head to toe. He was at last finding the light at the end of the tunnel. There he was, seated before his master, having received the alchemy of knowledge to be added to experience, passing through the dirt and grime, poverty and grandeur, ultimately to repose on the rock before 'Bharatavarsha' (India), meditating for one full week. And then his journey within was complete. It was time for him to carry the elixir to the distant shores of the West. The parliament of Chicago beckoned him and the rest was history. Never again would the materialistic West be beholden to the cliched images of a dying India. If at all, it was a spiritual and regenerating India which could provide succour and comfort to the world at large.
The universality and all-embracing nature of Hinduism had never been advocated by any spiritual leader of India with such vigour and force. It was as if Sri Aurobindo's later-day "supramental mind'' had found full fruition in Swamiji, to give India its inner dynamism while making every Indian proud of his spiritually inherited strengths. If ever India was to stand out in the pantheon of nations for its innate spiritual strength and continuing civilisational attributes, it was now. The curtains came down to a standing ovation by a packed audience.
The next day the inter-faith Parliament of Religions became an enactment of the Chicago parliament 120 years ago. This time Swami Ishtananda donned the role of Vivekananda and spoke about the relevance of the master for today's society. It was a veritable dialogue thereafter, much as Swamiji would have liked it, with the distinguished representatives of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam speaking of their individual experiences of how they would relate from their own perspectives to Swami Vivekananda.
Swamiji had this wonderful affinity with Christ, that he saw in Him one of the greatest souls of mankind along with the Buddha, and felt that in Christ consciousness could be found the supreme mission of brotherhood, love and compassion, all Vedantic virtues, though he was hard-hitting on proselytisation and did not approve of the Christian missionary's eagerness to convert his fellow brethren to his faith. In Islam, Vedanta has found perfect moorings, in the ideals of service and sharing, of forging ties of brotherhood and love. As Swamiji said, the Hindu shall not be a Christian or a Buddhist or a Christian a Hindu or a Buddhist but each shall remain true to his own religion.
In his very first address to the Parliament of Religions he had quoted a verse from the Upanishads "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, though they appear crooked or straight, all lead to Thee". The opening line of the most ancient of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, says "Truth is one, the wise speak it in different languages". Nothing can reaffirm Hinduism's universality more.
Swami Ishtananda had, in his discourse, spoken about the extreme tendencies in the society today, either an atheist not prepared to believe in God or a fanatic believing only in his God to the detriment or damage to others.
The next and final day we moved on to the intellectual milieu of UWI where Swami Ishtananda gave a lucid address on "Values Education''. Swami Vivekananda defined education as the realisation of perfection in man, as man realised his divinity as the goal of his existence and thus the divinity in others, breaking the superficial differences created to reaffirm his vain and brutish power. Earlier in the day a group of motivated youth had a lively participative session with Swamiji on television vetting their curiosity on matters pertaining to the soul and society.
It was clear. The message of the Master for today's society is to recognise all of us as equally divine and therefore equal in the final instance. Knowledge and experience of the same constituted religion, nothing more.
An empowered people, a motivated youth and a galvanised leadership raring to go, we have thought it best to keep alive the ideals and message of Swami Vivekananda, so very relevant to contemporary times.