Swami Vivekananda’s clarion call to the Youth

Dr Varadraj Bapat

Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902) was one of the most influential spiritual leaders who played a seminal role in re-articulating Hinduism for modern times, defending Hindu beliefs from the attacks of Christian missionaries, introducing Hinduism to a North American audience. He worked to combine the spirituality with technological progress. Influenced by Ramakrishna’s teaching of seeing Parameshwar in all beings, Vivekananda believed that spirituality should encompass social service toward others as a form of worship.

Swami Vivekananda’s teachings combine devotion, spirituality, and philosophy with his own practical emphasis on service to humankind. He believed that philosophy should not merely focus on personal salvation, but should be applied in everyday actions. He generally advocated the Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy. It states that individual Jeevas (beings or souls) are not separate or different from one another, but are all part of an eternal, conscious, irreducible, infinite, omnipresent, unchanging reality known as Brahman. Thus, if everything that appears to exist is essentially part of a greater reality, service toward others is essentially service to Brahman. Swami Vivekananda cites Advaitic teachings as his philosophical basis for philanthropy.
Swamiji’s Contributions to Bharat
In spite of her innumerable linguistic, ethnic, historical and regional diversities, Bharat has had from time immemorial a strong sense of cultural unity. It was, however, Swami Vivekananda who revealed the true foundations of this culture and thus clearly defined and strengthened the sense of unity as a nation. Swamiji gave proper understanding of great spiritual heritage of Bharat and thus gave Bharatiyas a pride in their past. Furthermore, he pointed out the drawbacks of Western culture and the need for Bharat’s contribution to overcome these drawbacks. In this way Swamiji made Bharat a nation with a global mission.
Sense of unity, pride in the past, sense of mission – these were the factors which gave real strength and purpose to India’s nationalist movement. Several eminent leaders of Bharat’s freedom movement have acknowledged their indebtedness to Swamiji. Free Bharat’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “Rooted in the past, full of pride in India’s prestige, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems, and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present … he came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralized Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance and some roots in the past.” Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose wrote: “Swamiji harmonized the East and the West, religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our countrymen have gained unprecedented self-respect, self-reliance and self-assertion from his teachings.”
Swamiji’s most unique contribution to the creation of new Bharat was to open the minds of Indians to their duty to the downtrodden masses. Swamiji spoke for the masses, formulated a definite philosophy of service, and took lead in organizing large-scale social service.
Swami Vivekananda wanted the youth of India to be strong. “Make your nerves strong. What we want are muscles of iron and nerves of steel. We have wept long enough. No more weeping, but stand on your feet and be men. It is man-making theories that we want. It is man- making education all round that we want.”
While making an appeal to the youth of India, Swami Vivekananda says, “Men, men, these are wanted: everything else will be ready, but strong, vigorous, believing young men, sincere to the backbone, are wanted. A hundred such and the world become revolutionized.” “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. I have formulated the idea and have given my life to them. They will spread from centre to centre, until we have covered the whole of India.” “Put yourself to work, Swami Vivekananda, says, “and you will find such tremendous power coming to you that you will feel it hard to bear. Even the least work done for others awakens the power within: even thinking the least good of others gradually installs into the heart the strength of a lion. I love you all ever so much, but I wish you all to die working for others…….. I should rather be glad to see you do that!”
His clarion call to the youth was to focus their collective energies towards Nation Building. Amongst the many inspirational writings of his, one that conveys what the youth can do is his call to focus on the 3 ‘H’s. The first ‘H’ that he writes about is the ‘Heart’ to feel. He wanted everyone to feel for the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalized. However, our response to solve real-life problems cannot be emotional. We need to think through, strategize and then arrive at a workable, well thought-out solution. Swamiji called this cognitive phase as the second ‘H’ – the ‘Head’ to think. Further, merely feeling for the poor and thinking through a solution is by itself a meaningless exercise. One needs to be able to implement the plans and strategies that we conceive of. This is the third ‘H’ that Swamiji wrote about. We need the ‘Hands’ to work too. We must have the discipline and willingness to apply ourselves to the task of translating them into pragmatic action.
Year 2013-14, being 150th birth anniversary year of Swami Vivekananda, is being celebrated all over the world. It’s a great opportunity for youth of Bharat to respond to Swamiji’s call and be torch-bearers for tomorrows Bharat. Several talented and courageous youngsters have come forward by deciding to devote anything from 1 week to 1 year. Think India has developed internship opportunities for committed youth. We call upon every young mind to be a part of this mission.

(Author is a member, Advisory Council to Think India and Faculty at SJMSOM, IIT Bombay. And tweets at @varadrajb)

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