Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary on Sunday: his message remains relevant

Swami Vivekananda’ birth anniversary on January 12 is observed as the National Youth Day since 1984. But while RSS and the BJP seek to appropriate his legacy, what did the Swami believe in?

Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary on Sunday: his message remains relevant
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Bharat Dogra

• I am a socialist not because I think it is a perfect system, but half a loaf is better than no bread. The other system has been tried and found wanting.

• No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism.

As we celebrate the birthday of Swami Vivekanand as National Youth Day on January 12, it is important to recall what he spoke in his speech at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893.

“I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth,” he had said before adding, “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendent, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.”

As a counter to these trends, Swami Vivekanand held forward the alternative view of tolerant religions which are happy to accept each other.

He said, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true.”

In the same speech, Swami Vivekanand recalled a hymn which he said he had repeated since childhood.

“As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee,” the hymn invoked.

Ridiculing those who had an isolationist and exclusivist view of their religion, Vivekananda said, “If anyone dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart.”

He said the world needs a ‘death-knell of all fanaticism’ and of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen.” Swami ji concluded his speech by saying that on the banner of every religion it should be written, “Harmony and Peace and Not Dissension.”

In place of the intolerant attitude of religions which placed any one religion in opposition or rivalry to others, Vivekananda emphasised service of other human beings and other forms of life as the basis of all religions.

Pranab Mukherjee, former President of India wrote in a review of Swami Vivekananda’s work, “Service to humanity is service to God was the main principle of his gospel to social service.”

Swamiji said, “After so much tapasya and austerity, I’ve known that the highest truth is this: He is present in all beings. These are all the manifested forms of Him. There is no other God to seek for. He alone is worshipping God who serves all beings.”

While Swami Vivekananda has made many-sided contributions to philosophy, education and other important areas, the essence of his message is that of universal love, harmony of all religion, selfless service of the distressed, removal of injustice and exploitation and getting rid of all forms of obscurantism and superstitions to pave the way for progress. Another essential and related aspect of Swamiji’s message which is increasingly relevant is that he drew a
clear relationship between retardation of national development on the one hand and the neglect of weaker sections and women on the other hand.

In a review of Swami Vivekananda’s ideas and contributions, Pranab Mukherjee said, “Swamiji concluded that the real cause of India’s backwardness was the neglect and exploitation of the masses who produced the wealth of the land... He (Vivekananda) held the neglect of the masses and the subjugation of women to be the two causes of India’s downfall.”

Therefore, his first message to educates sections, particularly youth, was to serve the poor and the neglected people. He went to the extent of saying, “So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them.”

Not many people know that Swami Vivekananda even wrote a pamphlet titled ‘I Am A Socialist’.

Swamiji was ahead of his times in not only emphasising the education of women but also encouraging them to decide their our priorities of social reform. He chastened some overreaching men in strong words.“Educate women first and leave them to themselves, then they’ll tell you what reforms are necessary for them. In matters concerning them, who are you? Swami Vivekananda rejected the idea of “writing down smritis and binding them (women) by hard rules.”

At a time when communal elements are trying to misrepresent the teachings Swami Vivekananda, it is all the more important to carefully present his views in the right perspective.

(The writer has written extensively on freedom fighters and social activists. His latest book is ‘Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and the Struggle Against Tehri Dam in Garhwal Himalaya’)

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