Idea of India according to Swami Vivekananda - August 2019
Updated: Aug 18, 2022
“The individual is the external expression of an ideal to be embodied. The collection of such individuals is the nation, which also represents a great ideal; towards that it is moving. And, therefore, it is rightly assumed that to understand a nation you must first understand its ideal, for each nation refuses to be judged by any other standard than its own.”
As a student, one comes across many different approaches of looking at anything; events,
persons, to mention just a few. Fully aware of the limitations of putting oneself or one’s
subject of study in separately carved out boxes, a person falls for what she considers the
best one as per her own judgement. It is not to deny the positives of having different approaches; it has been duly recognized. As the ‘Cyclonic Hindu’ professed, though in a different context, “that is a glorious thing, that there should be so many paths, because if
there were only one path, perhaps it would suit only an individual man. The more the
number of paths, the more the chance for every one of us to know the truth.”
The other side however, shows a gloomy picture, for people, according to their whims
and fancies, and worse enough, for their personal and collective interests, end up doing
what has been known as ‘selective appropriation’. As such, many personalities find things
ascribed to them without their knowledge. It is more the case with famous historical figures whose sayings, ideas and works and moreover, they themselves have been (mis) used, in a way they themselves perhaps would never have wanted. Swami Vivekananda remains one such figure. His tremendous service to his land of birth by bringing out the depth of Indian thought and the nature of India and Indians completely opposite to what had been painted by the British Imperialists not only aided the motherland with a changed portrait in front of the world (a land with as much civility as any other country), it also served a great cause by providing his fellow Indians with a renewed self-confidence, with a determination to assert themselves in national and international arena. It is not hidden as to how many leaders were inspired and influenced by this monk and his mission. The man pleaded to give him a hundred energetic youth with grit determination and burning passion and as he said, he would transform India.
There was not an iota of doubt then that his nation would cherish such a colossal figure.
His birthday is looked upon as the National Day of the Youth. There was a belief in the
destiny of India through the youth in him, and as we emerge as a youthful country, his
message needs to be spread again. As Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose put it, “in this mortal
world, everything perishes and will perish-but ideas and ideals and dreams do not.” This
is totally in tune with the ideas of the ‘Eastern Light’. The youth of India needs to think
again about the seemingly endless path which awaits them. Here, through this piece of
writing, we at the FORWARD try to humbly present the idea of India according to Swami
Vivekananda, the man at whose feet Netaji had been if the great soul were still living dur-
ing the times of his spiritual disciple, for Netaji himself acknowledged that he came to see
India through the eyes of the ‘patriot monk’.
Swamiji earned fame with a talk with his ‘sisters and brothers of America’ and he emerged
as theman whose knowledge and intellect was lionised and opinion sought after on issues as
varied as religious and spiritual, political, economic and social. This brings to the fore the pat-
tern he followed; he gave religious and spiritual discourses (of what the Vedantic philosophy,
ideas of a universal religion and austere belief in Indian thought were perhaps his favourite),
but the questions of other worldly affairs did not leave the Sanyassin. He found time to talk
and reflect about the great task that lay in front, in terms of India. As it was, the thought of
India hardly left his mind and the misery of his people under the colonial regime made him
think about the future of the country. The great civilization that India was, its past glory which he and many others prized was to be regained again.
Swami Vivekananda was not pleased with the reformers in India. That said, he certainly appreciated any move to raise India from her wretchedness. The roots of the not so appreciative approach can be traced to the methods implied. As he correctly claimed, even a child could stand on a platform and lecture about the negatives of the society. The real social worker therefore, was one who did not loiter around counting the evils India had in her bosom, rather one who had the solutions. Such a person was the real friend of humanity. To go back to his example, those on-board a ship should not fuss about the holes it has, but save and dedicate their energies towards mending those, trying to save the ship and sinking with it proudly in the process if need be than just moving around and cursing. This could only be achieved by women and men of substance.
A human being is a conglomeration of body and mind. The mind along with its conscious-
ness, Vivekananda professed, was intimately connected with the body and its extension, its
consciousness. Having said that, the perfect or the ideal person was one who truly had bal-
anced these two aspects of human nature;the society itself was to him, a divine institution.
His idea of society was no doubt, derived from his ‘Vedantic’ philosophy; in its practicality,
however, it depended on the manifestation of truth. Trying to create a continuum, Indian society was to integrate both the spiritualistic and materialistic needs of man. Swamiji, ashe declared occasionally, was a socialist. The materialistic aspect was an important part of his philosophy and condemnation of industrialisation and the call for going back to the old economy (the ideas of economy as propounded later by Gandhi) invited only bitterness, which he termed as ‘sour grapes’ for the Indians. The social life, he admitted, was shackled by tyranny; of the priests in the East, and of Shylocks in the West. Complementary to each other, both needed to keep the other in check.
The Indian Society needed a thorough overhauling. As much as he was a nationalist and loved his country, Vivekananda could not but accept that India had a lot to learn from other countries. True to his religious core, the neglect of the masses was to him, not just a tyranny but a great national sin and a main reason for the downfall of the country. But again to add, he was the last person to curse the Indian civilization. He proposed a programme which was far from destructive; the reformers needed to tell the people that they had done good. The time now was to do better, to go for the best. The forward march was not to be based upon a path from error to truth but from truth to higher truth. As it was and still remains for all those interested to see, the ‘ascetic’ (one who is supposed to be over and above worldly affairs,
interests and favouritisms) was full of mohaand mayawhen it came to hisland and people.
This mohahowever, did not blind him completely. He was fully aware of the many different
customs, myths and superstitions, and practices which were detrimental for the national life
of the people and their future. It was thus a duty to acknowledge these open sores. He con-
sidered it a shame on humanity that men should spend their time inventing allegories to ex-
plain these rotten superstitions and practices in the name of religion. These customs were a
black spot on the national body and it was better they were cut off. The sooner they were purged away, the better the real principles would shine. He derided the evils done in the name of religion so much that he asked the people to be rank atheists than be mute followers of the evils, which meant only degradation and death. For the evils to be excised, what better way than the spread of education? It is to their credit that the Indian intelligentsia understood the real nature of the exploitative regime of the Colonial State and raised an awareness and struggle against it. As one of the early graduates of the Calcutta University, Vivekananda never did shake off his intellect. The synonym of education was never simply the spread of literacy. To quote him, “if education is identical with information, the libraries are the greatest sages in the world and the encyclopaedia-s are the Rishis.” The requirement was the spread of ideal education; that is to say, moral and ethical needed to be an integral part of the curriculum. The lack of a competent structure was well evident and was noticed in his plan. Vivekananda wanted to open a college each in each of the presidencies where along with modern necessities, ancient phases were to be valued as well. A knowledge of religions of the world was also to be imparted to the students. It would enable them to understand the values intended and curb the sectarian ill-feelings and conflicts. Great results and huge things as he used to say, come out of even the small undertakings,if the first needful step is rightly taken. But what about the millions of poor Indians who could not afford to leave their homes and work and attain such or any other college? The very practical answer was in the form of preachers. A committed band of these preachers were to be trained. They were held in high esteem in the spiritual Indian society and such trained preachers of all religious orders were to preach high ideals, basic nature of social aspects, technical education, agriculture and industry, the past glory of India and the vision of India of future.
The greatest service was to give the people education and develop their lost individuality.
Downtrodden for centuries, the poor in India were forgotten as human beings. Ideas there-
fore needed to be given to them, they were to be fed with dreams and the reality of what was
going around in the world. Their true worth, irrespective of who they were, was to be taught.
Arguably, evil of the caste system was the spine of such oppression. Vivekananda agreed that the system inherently was not bad but it was the inherent nature of the strict occupational nature which grew evil in time. But what fighting among the castes would bring? Nothing else, but it would weaken and further divide the already divided Indian society. The only way to bring about the levelling of the castes was not frothing and fighting, but the appropriation of the culture and the education which still remain the strength of the higher classes. That done, he said, the country will have what it wanted. The doctrine still can be applied vigorously for its ideal nature. The solution of the differences and discrimination lie not in pulling down the higher, but in bringing the lower up to the level of the higher. His heart ached thinking about the low of India, for there was no hope for the low born in India. It was a great mockery to him then, for the intellectuals to ask for freedom from British slavery. As the monk sternly called out, “none deserves liberty, who is not ready to give liberty.” Another important aspect inherited by the current Indian state is the struggle between the adherents of different languages. As Vivekananda put it, a common language indeed was very desirable but that would destroy the vitality of the various existing ones.
The Indian society remains deeply trenched in religion and spirituality. The three gunas of
Sattva, Rajas and Tamas form one of the core ideas of Indian philosophy. Himself a monk, Vivekananda was quite vocal about the limitations of crying out falsity under the grab of religion. Indian society was crying about its possession of the Sattvik but was actually bereft of it. What the society was reeling under was the Tamas or darkness. The monk instead professed a calculated search for the rajas and as he said, having the worldly needs fulfilled and armed with ethical education, Sattva would automatically follow. Where else in the world, Vivekananda lamented, would the brother slit another for a mere few rupees. The English were not the only one to blame for the misery of India. It was the Indians themselves. One good did come out of the foreign rule, India was again being met with the community of the nations and expansion was good. Contraction on the other hand, was a sign of death.
The Indian mind was the inheritor of the ancestral fire which once had led India to the top of
the world, as the land of knowledge and spirituality, a land where people marched with a hope of better life. This fire, when manifest again, would result into what remains speculative. It was the same with Swami Vivekananda. But one underlying fact was certain, it was the culture, and not mere the simple mass of information which withstood the shocks from centuries and would remain once that fire rose from beneath the ash.
The aim of his ‘Udbodhana’ was the intermingling of the ideas of West and the East. True,
there was a danger of losing everything hard earned through ages in the whirlpool of Western spirit. But to protect ourselves from the calamity of mere imitation, the wealth of own land needs to be kept in front. The windows need to be opened, let the rays come in, and ‘the weak and corrupt is liable to die’. But the strong and invigorating is immortal. Nothing can destroy that. So he said, agitate for the rights and privileges, but to remember that so long as the country does not truly elevate itself by rousing intensely the feeling of self-respect in the nation, the hope of gaining high esteem was like the day-dream. There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. As he preached, it was not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing. The uplift of the women, the awakening of the masses therefore need to come and only this could bring any real good for the country, for India. And thus, he roared to the Indians to proclaim on the top of their voice that the Indian is their brother, the Indian is their life, the soil of India is the greatest heaven and the good of India is the personal good.
India, for him was a living organism. Mere criticism without arriving at true knowledge
is useless and shows the hollowness of philosophy. In India, the need was for, him,
both spiritual individualism and social communism. What else was and still is needed is the spirit of valor and self-sacrifice, to learn self-defense. For all those who had eyes to see, he proclaimed, would find India having a luminous history. A nation that had no history of its own, had nothing in the world and for the Swami, that history needed to be rewritten. To quote him,“It should be restated and suited to the understanding and ways of thinking which our men have acquired in the present age through Western education.” All narrowness and selfishness to him, was a slow suicide for a nation. It was not the only time in the history of India that everything seemed slow. “Periods of depression and degradation had occurred but India had always triumphed in the long run and so would she, once again in the future.That India still lives, Sturdy, India of undying love, of everlasting faithfulness, the unchangeable, not only in manners and customs, but also in love, in faith, in friendship.”
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