A Rousing Call to Youth

Sushree Nivedita Bhide

As an ardent devotee sees only God’s grace wherever he goes; Swami Vivekananda saw only the youth in his audience whether he was addressing the gathering in the South, East, or North India. He being the master communicator he addressed variously the youth at different places as the Young men of Madras, Young men of Bengal or You young men of Lahore or You young Alwaris etc. While appreciating their unique characteristics and pinning his hopes on them, he exhorted them for national cause as his ultimate aim was that the whole humanity should get the spiritual light from awakened India. As the work in India was supposed to be in global context, he wanted to ‘work among the English educated young men’. (Volume VI 276)  He told his followers,

“Act on the educated young men, bring them together, and organise them. Great things can be done by great sacrifices only. ..Work, work the idea, the plan, my boys, my brave, noble, good souls — to the wheel, to the wheel put your shoulders! Stop not to look back for name, or fame, or any such nonsense. Throw self overboard and work.” (Volume V 34)

Swami Vivekananda addressed the ‘young men’ in his speeches as we can imagine that in those days only men must be coming for the public lectures. But Swamiji’s call was for both – men and women. He wanted,

“…fiery young men intelligent and brave, who dare to go to the jaws of Death, and are ready to swim the ocean across. Do you follow me? We want hundreds like that, both men and women. “(Volume VI 296)

Youth came in thousands to listen to him. Here was a man who gave them dreams, far more loftier dreams than just becoming a clerk or lawyer. Here was a hero for them who gave them a call to become heroes.

Swami Vivekananda gave rousing call to the youth to work for immediate concern as well as a long-ranged plan in the interest of India as well as whole world.

To Serve the Masses

First and foremost he wanted the masses to be raised. Their condition had pained him. That pain had propelled him to go to USA. In one of his letters he had written,

“With a bleeding heart I have crossed half the world to this strange land, seeking for help. The Lord is great. I know He will help me. I may perish of cold or hunger in this land, but I bequeath to you, young men, this sympathy, this struggle for the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed…. It is not the work of a day, and the path is full of the most deadly thorns. But Parthasarathi is ready to be our Sarathi — we know that. And in His name and with eternal faith in Him, set fire to the mountain of misery that has been heaped upon India for ages — and it shall be burned down. Come then, look it in the face, brethren, it is a grand task, and we are so low. But we are the sons of Light and children of God. “(Volume V page 16)

Swami Vivekananda was very particular that the service should not be at the cost of the religion or innate spirituality of the people. Inspired by him many youth came forward and started various service activities.

To Educate the Masses

Swami Vivekananda felt that the right type of education was the solution to all the problems. He wanted us to have hold on the spiritual as well as secular education. According to him the cause of our fall was neglect of the masses. In one of his letters too full with emotion he wrote,

“Who will bring light to them-who will travel from door to door bringing education to them? Let these people be your God-think of them, work for them, pray for them incessantly –the Lord will show you the way. Him I call a Mahatman whose heart bleeds for the poor, otherwise he is a Duratman. Let us unite our will in continued prayer for their good. We may die unknown, unpitied, unbewailed, without accomplishing anything-but not one thought will be lost. It will take effect sooner or later. My heart is too full to express my feelings…

Our masses are gods as compared with those of other countries. This is the only country where poverty is not a crime. They are mentally and physically handsome; but we hated and hated them till they have lost faith in themselves. They think they are born slaves. Give them their rights, and let them stand on their rights.” (Volume V page 223)

During the freedom movement many of the political and social leaders were particular about national education. Many educational institutions came up. Masses who got educated rose and asserted for their rights. The awakening process in the field of education was set in by Swami Vivekananda.

To improve the Commerce and Industry

Swami Vivekananda during his conversation with Sri Jamshetji Tata had discussed with him not only to bring the technology from other countries to start indigenous industries but also to establish an institute which would work on material sciences and be leading in developing indigenous technology. Swamiji had felt that the natural ascetic spirit of people of India should be channelized for the worship of the living god ie society. If the persons thus work objectively, unselfishly, with full devotion in the field of science, trade, commerce, media, education etc then the regeneration of India would be faster. Later, when Tata was to start IISC at Bangalore he wanted Swami Vivekananda to lead it. He wrote to Swamiji,”I trust you remember me as your fellow traveler on the voyage from Japan to Chicago. I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels. I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read. …I am of the opinion that, if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science, and good name of our common country, and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda.”

Swami Vivekananda also advised some of his disciples that they should start some business, become entrepreneurs, and promote trade with other countries. When a disciple asked what could he sell to Americans? Swamiji replied him, “Take, for example, such excellent fabric as the Varanasi-made Sâris of India, the like of which are not produced anywhere else in the world. Go to America with this cloth. Have gowns made out of this fabric and sell them, and you will see how much you earn.” The importance of media – in those days of running good magazines- was understood well by Swami Vivekananda. Thus he exhorted his disciples to start the magazines and gave all help to it. Many nationalist during freedom movement started news papers and magazines. But some more tasks that he had in mind for the youth, we are yet to take up in all earnestness.

Rebuild nation on its common grounds and cherished values 

Swami Vivekananda stressed the need of identifying the unifying threads of our society and thus unify and strengthen the society. He said. ‘The national union in India is gathering of its scattered spiritual forces whose hearts beat to the same spiritual tune.’ Through many of his lectures he did try to focus on these common grounds or the unifying principles as he called it. Unless the identity of our country is focused upon, the unity is not possible and also the course to be taken by the nation remains un-decided. Thus he could rouse the national consciousness which helped in working for freedom movement.

 In confused condition of identity, youth feels lost, nothing to hold on, and also then nation cannot address to the problems like corruption, inefficiency, and dealing with divisive forces. We can appreciate what Swamiji was trying to do then if we look at similar efforts in current USA and Britain when they are faced with the divisive sirens of multiculturalism.

 United States of America, a relatively young nation created by an influx of immigration from diverse countries; scholars felt the need to define the identity of an American. Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington in a book titled Who Are We? [Penguin Books, India 2004] defines the American’s identity as a “White Anglo-Saxon Christian who speaks English”. Huntington’s contribution is in seeing the two components of this identity that define it: Salience, which is the importance that the citizen attributes to national identity over the other many sub-identities. Second, Substance, which he calls as the “American Creed”, is what the citizens think they have in common, and which distinguishes them from others of other countries. Paraphrasing Dr.Huntington, the ‘American creed’ is identified as (i) Anglo-Protestant work ethic (such as sticking to contracts, punctuality, word as bond, etc.). (ii) Christianity-religious belief in God, in good being rewarded and evil being punished by Him. (iii) English language. (iv) Rule of law and equality before it. (v) Individualism and the pursuit of happiness.

Similarly, the British Prime Minister Cameron on December 17, 2011 was quoted by BBC as stating at Oxford that “UK is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so”. Addressing a meeting on the 400th Anniversary of the King James’s Bible, he called for a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain’s “moral collapse”, adding the slogan “live and let live” has too often come to mean “do what you please”. Significantly, he also said that it was wrong to hold that “standing up for Christianity was somehow doing down other faiths”.

Now – What is Indian identity? What do Indians stand for? There are some who say that India is a nation in making. That is they deny that the Indians have an overriding identity of salience and substance. But that is not the experience of all great persons like Swami Vivekananda Sri Aurbindo, Gandhiji or the scores of foreign travelers who visited India since time immemorial. Eminent philosophers and observers have also held so. India has thus always existed because of the Indian-ness of the people which Swami Vivekananda told is Hinduism. [In Huntington’s language - Substance of India] Dr.Radhakrishnan in his work on Indian Philosophy writes, “In all the fleeting centuries of history, in all the vicissitudes, through which India has passed, a certain marked identity is visible. It has held fast to certain psychological traits which constitute its special heritage, and they will be the characteristic marks of the Indian people so long as they are privileged to have a separate existence”.

Even Jawaharlal Nehru, acknowledged this fact in on two occasions: First in his 1948 Convocation Address to the Aligarh Muslim University wherein he averred that Hindus and Muslims have the same ancestry, and Second, in his foreword to one of Dr.Karan Singh books as follows: “It is significant to note that great political mass movements in India have had a spiritual background behind them”.

Dr.Ambedkar from his paper presented in the Department of Anthropology seminar of Columbia University in 1916, and titled “Castes in India, Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development”[ published in Indian Antiquary, Vol XLI, May 1917, p81-85]. On page 84, he concludes as follows, “Ethnically all people [may] be heterogeneous. [But] it is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture. It has not only a geographic unity, but it has over and above all a deeper and much more fundamental unity—the indubitable cultural unity that covers the land from end to end”

Swami Vivekananda had told that Dharma is life-center of India. Dharma not in the sense of religion devoted to any specific god, but in the sense of certain norms that awaken the common inner bond, restrain the selfishness and keep people in harmony without external authority. Dharma where a smaller unit works, sacrifices for the good of the bigger unit and the bigger unit cares for the smaller unit. A social philosophy based thus on dharma is vitally needed at this moment in our history, because there is a dimension to the current national crisis, namely, the moral decay and the decline of character in our society which if not stemmed, will slowly poison to death our nation. This decay and decline is visible in every aspect of our life—politicians defecting for office and cash, bureaucrats taking bribes, teachers selling exam questions, students passing by cheating, businessmen adulterating products, lawyers cheating clients, doctors betraying their patients, going soft on terrorism etc. Consequent to this decay is the wave of dangerous cynicism amongst the youth. A renaissance of values in society has thus to take place.

That is what Dr Swami said in his Key-Note address to World Congress on Vedanta at JNU Delhi that, ‘These then are the core task today: to know the philosophical and civilisational basis of our identity, through a correct perception of our history, and to reform our society on that basis.’ And in that Swami Vivekananda comes to our help. We would have to know our past, understand India and lot of de-conditioning also would be required. But that would have to be done. You cannot go against the Truth. As told by Swami Vivekananda, “Truth does not pay homage to the society – ancient or modern. Society has to pay homage to truth or perish”.

The destined mission of India

 Apart from these immediate concerns Swami Vivekananda had a great vision for the whole humanity. He could foresee that human society based on the Cartesian, Freudian, Darwinian and Newtonian model of determinism, reductionism, individualism etc was heading towards crass materialism, extreme selfishness, consumerism, materialism, and licentiousness. The way of life based on the vision of Oneness ie Vedanta could alone help humanity. He was thus talking of interconnectedness, interrelatedness and interdependence of existence before the quantum physics could come to it. The essential divinity of man or oneness of the existence, acceptance of diversity or other’s right to be different – these were the eternal principles on which family, educational, village systems were based in India. Today the world is realizing that for the sustainability of the human society these truths are essential. ‘What my relations with others are’ is more important than ‘what I am’. Fritjoff Capra writes in his book ‘Turning Point’, Subatomic particles, then, are not ‘things’ but are interconnections between ‘things’, and these ‘things’ in turn, are interconnections between other ‘things’, and so on. In quantum theory you never end with ‘things’; you always deal with interconnections. …This is how modern physics reveals the basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated basic blocks, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole. Heisenberg expresses it, “The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole. …Henry Strapp, of the University of California, writes, ‘An elementary particle is not an independently existing unanalyzable entity. It is, in essence, a set of relationships that reach outward to other things.

Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall write in their book SQ: The Ultimate Intelligence. They say, “We cannot draw a boundary between the waves and the pond, nor can we draw any hard and fast boundary between ourselves and other ‘waves’. I am inside you and inside every creature and inside every speck of stardust. And each of these is inside me. And all of us are individual forms that contain the same centre. A person high in SQ knows that when he harms others he harms himself. When I pollute the atmosphere with my garbage or my anger, I pollute my own lungs or psyche. When I selfishly or unnecessarily cause suffering to others, that suffering comes back as a pain in my own being, as something that distorts me, makes me ‘ugly’….The high SQ requires me to use my deep spontaneity to respond to all other and to all existence, and to take responsibility for my role in caring for these things. When I cause unnecessary harm I abdicate this responsibility, which is the deepest purpose and meaning of my life. (SQ: The Ultimate Intelligence,p. 291)’

India has this destined mission of spiritualization of human race. For this the youth have to come forward, rebuild the nation first on her philosophical and spiritual basis. The gigantic plan of Swami Vivekananda for the regeneration of Bharat could be actualized only if hundred thousand men and women came forward to offer themselves for the work. Thus wherever Swami Vivekananda went, his call was to the youth of Bharat.

He called to the youth, “This is the time to decide your future — while you possess the energy of youth, not when you are worn out and jaded, but in the freshness and vigour of youth. Work — this is the time; for the freshest, the untouched and unsmelled flowers alone are to be laid at the feet of the Lord, and such He receives. Rouse yourselves, therefore, for life is short. There are greater works to be done than aspiring to become lawyers and picking quarrels and such things. A far greater work is this sacrifice of yourselves for the benefit of your race, for the welfare of humanity. …Life is short, but the soul is immortal and eternal, and one thing being certain, death, let us therefore take up a great ideal and give up our whole life to it. (Volume III 304)

Where are the men ready to go out to every country in the world with the messages of the great sages of India? Where are the men who are ready to sacrifice everything, so that this message shall reach every corner of the world? Such heroic souls are wanted to help the spread of truth. Such heroic workers are wanted to go abroad and help to disseminate the great truths of Vedanta. The world wants it; without it the world will be destroyed.”

Even today we can feel the pull, the magic in the call of Swami Vivekananda. We can imagine what lightening effect his call must have had on the youth while listening to it directly from Swami Vivekananda. Many came forward to be one among his hundred thousand. His call still beckons us; his faith in us still propels us to come forward to offer ourselves. Today, on the eve of 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda the question that each youth should ask oneself is “Am I one Among His Hundred Thousand”?

(Author is the Vice President, Vivekananda Kendra. And can be reached at nivedita@vkendra.org)
[Text of Speech delivered at Think India 2013 Convention on 2nd & 3rd March 2013]