Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Voice of Sanity

Continuing Relevance Of Swami Vivekananda
~Swami Sunirmalananda
DAN Brown’s words in The Lost Symbol are unforgettable. “Since the beginning of Time, the ignorant had always screamed the loudest, herding the unsuspecting masses and forcing them to do their bidding. They defended their worldly desires by citing scriptures they did not understand’ (p. 327).
By standing in any public square, one gets to know how sheep are herded: frenzied, high-pitched shouts as well as gesticulation act like music to their ears. But this is only a metaphor. The objective of that shouting, since time immemorial, has been to threaten the almost sheepish slaves. But without slavery, they can’t survive. Previously, they would do little or no work because the salary was low. These days, they are taxpayers, holding stable jobs. Therefore, they can idle away their time with no questions asked. And life goes on. Since time immemorial, the ‘unsuspecting masses’ have been herded in this way. We the people of the world have paid the price by following the ignorant. Yet we are stubborn; we never listen to the voice of the wise. The wise do not yell and howl to make their point. Their voice is gentle; they speak the language of love. Their message is addressed to the heart. We must be attentive. Otherwise, we will have to pay the price.During the last 100 years, we the people of the world have often behaved in an abnormal manner. We listened to a few world ‘leaders’, one a psychological case, another a deeply frustrated soul, the third a megalomaniac, the fourth a tyrant. They howled and we listened. So we turned violent ~ we killed our own people. We tormented millions; we left millions on the streets to fester and die, helpless and weeping. All this happened because we did not listen to the sane voice. That voice echoed not in some remote, hidden place in a forest, but in the open. It warned us gently. Thereby hangs a sad tale. In his veryfirst address to the world from  Chicago, Swami Vivekananda surprisingly remembered the Jews. That talk has had an abiding importance. “I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny’ (Complete Works, 1:3).
It was a very significant statement, and historians are realizing its importance now. Strange as it might seem, it might have appeared to some that Vivekananda was proudly recalling an ancient Indian achievement. He was not the kind of person to brag. To him, this world was a lump of clay. And he had said it on purpose.
Vivekananda said that he had heard the word ‘toleration’ being used on a number of occasions ~ the pride of the cat in tolerating the rat in its trap. To tolerate somebody is not a big deal; on the contrary, it has a negative connotation. It means suppressing one’s hatred for the neighbour. So Vivekananda declared: ‘We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.’A more important concept is “acceptance”.Accepting, however, does not mean appeasement for political gains. He reminded the world that day that India had accepted the Jews and “gathered them in our bosom”. The Swamiji wanted the military powers to learn the lesson in order to avoid an imminent catastrophe.
The Swamiji is credited with Bharat-parikrama. He had also undertaken the visva-parikrama. A prophet needs only a few minutes to understand things while we need years. Vivekananda had understood the nature of the world. And his warnng was unambiguous. “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, 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’ (1:3).
It was a wake-up call delivered in course ofhis first address to the world. The venue was a religious parliament. Perhaps some bookworm might have remarked: ‘Ah, he could have spoken on meditation, realization, Brahminism! Why about violence?’ But the prophet had grasped the seriousness of the situation. His was the voice of God ~ the representative of true religion. Hence the urgency.The rest is history. We couldn’t avoid the Second World War. On the one hand was Swami Vivekananda; while on the other stood several ‘leaders’ whom we have indicated. The masses preferred the latter and their strident cries. As a result,discrimination, hatred and wickedness had intensified in the hearts of the ‘gentle, tolerant’ races, and the Jews were hounded up and killed. In historical texts, this has been referred to as the “holocaust”. Thousands cried in the gas chambers. A line in the Encyclopedia underscores the urgency of  Vivekananda’s address. “The 40,000,000-50,000,000 deaths during World War II make it the bloodiest conflict as well as the largest war in history.”  Decades ago,the voice of sanity had warned: “The whole of Western civilization will crumble to pieces in the next fifty years if there is no spiritual foundation”. (3:159). And it did crumble. He had despaired the same day that but for such insanity, ‘human society would be far more advanced than it is now.’ And yet,potential scientists and inventors were led to the gas chambers.This connection between Swami Vivekananda and the Second World War might appear to be incidental. It bears recall that he had warned about the First World War and in writing. He had visited Vienna just for three days and had grasped the terrible situation. He wrote: “There is the possibility of a dreadful war and that catastrophe may take place very early”. This might lead one to wonder why he was thinking in terms of war while addressing a seemingly tolerant Europe? Francis Joseph II, the Austrian emperor, died in 1916. So explosive was the situation in Germany at that point in time that he declared that the war was imminent. “In  the present times a huge wave of nationalism is sweeping over Europe, where people speaking the same tongue, professing the same religion, and belonging to the same race want to unitetogether. Wherever such union is being effectively accomplished, there is great power being manifested; and where this is impossible, death is inevitable.”
And he added: “After the death of the present Austrian Emperor, Germany will surely try to absorb the German-speaking portion of the Austrian Empire. Russia and others are sure to oppose her; so there is the possibility of a dreadful war’ (7:389). Swamiji had also written at length about Serbia, Turkey, Bulgaria. Leo Tolstoy read him. But World War I became inevitable.

The Twin Messages Of Education And Harmony
There is another major example of Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy. He wrote to the King of Mysore in 1894: “Within fifty years the educated of the world will come to believe in the eternity of both soul and creation, and in God as our highest and perfect nature, as taught in our holy Vedas.’ Sylvia Cranston and Carry Williams wrote inReincarnation (1999): “In the 1940s a British fact-finding organisation called Mass Observation conducted a study in popular attitudes to religion, ethics, progress and politics in a London borough. Perhaps the least expected, and in some ways the most significant fact, which came to light was the extent of belief in reincarnation [which is the eternality of the soul]’ (p. 11).
Despite such developments, the ignorant masses still listen to the ‘loud voices’because they are so conditioned. An instance of such conditioning is glaring on the streets. Some of our drivers keep honking until the red traffic signal turns green. They honk while driving along deserted streets even at 2 in the morning. Why? They are conditioned by reading the police notice ~ ‘please sound horn’ constantly. The nation is becoming crazy day by day. Education can solve the problem. Similarly, the world is conditioned to think in terms of vanity and pride, of self-hatred and depression, of megalomania and hatred for others. The world has been witness to the activities of Pol Pot, the Hutu-Tutsi genocide, the conflicts in Yugoslavia, Uganda, and Russia. The list is long. Not all all these aberrations were inevitable. One need not necessarily kill one’s brother to sit on a chair, and then to be hanged in due course of time.
Can’t we change? What should we do if we wish to change? The simple answer can be that the world has to listen to the true leader. Jesus declared that he was the messiah; but the world followed Caesar and Herod initially not knowing who Jesus was. Swami Vivekananda also declared at the parliament of religions: “The star rose in the East; it travelled steadily towards the West, sometimes dimmed and sometimes effulgent, till it made a circuit of the world; and now it is again rising on the very horizon of the East…a thousand fold more effulgent than it was before’ (1:20). ‘I have a message for the world,’ (3:213) he declared later. Different races should look at this star for guidance to attain peace and bliss.
Swamiji had a simple message for the world ~ the message of ‘harmony’. He had a one-word message for his own country ~ education. Thus, while his bharat parikrama brought the message of ‘education’ for us, his vishva parikarma brought the message of ‘harmony’ to the world.
The two may apparently seem to be different. Yet harmony and education lead to the same goal. Unfortunately, harmony is often misinterpreted as merely religiousharmony; likewise, there is a misconception that education signifies seculareducation, however important. Not quite. By education, the Swamiji meant all-round development, which makes us stand on our own feet. This, again, does not mean securing a good job ~ that would be temporary. One’s “feet” denotes oneself, the need to attain one’s inner potential, indeed to free ourselves from slavery.
Similarly, when Vivekananda referred to harmony, he meant harmony of civilisation. He said: “In modern Europe, Christianity and civilisation are two different things.” Civilisation is now ready to overthrow dogmatic religions. He had wanted to create aworld civilisation with the flag of harmony. “A flag is needed to lead the herd. It is not dipping one’s hands in the neighbour’s blood or becoming rich by robbing one’s neighbours, but to march in the vanguard of civilisation with the flag of harmony.”
Swamiji travelled all over India and was appalled at the callousness, ignorance, stupidity, differences, mutual hatred, meanness, and superstitions ~ all in the name religion. There were reformers all right, but he wanted a drastic overhaul. And this involved diagnosis of the ailment and its subsequent treatment. Vivekananda realised that ignorance was the root cause, and hence laid emphasis on education. But how does the system go about the task of education? Education must aim at all-round development, with equal opportunities for all. It must provide full freedom for individual growth. Both the boy in a village and the rich man’s son in the city must get the same opportunity to acquire knowledge. Assimilation and development will of course depend on individual potential. In order to surmount the hurdle of rich and poor, big and small, Swamiji suggested the concept of “acceptance” as the remedy.We must accept all as our own, or see “Shiva in jiva”. Can education help? Education removes superstitions and ignorance. An instance of education is the modern awakening in the West. Education is spreading the world over and people are asking questions. At the moment, religion is in turmoil in the West. Education is, therefore, vital; true education brings maturity and enlightenment. This leads to removal of the differences and helps bring about social harmony.In his message to the West, Vivekananda stressed the importance of harmony. Hating others would neither lead to peace nor tolerance. For effective harmony, the world needs universality and acceptance. In order to accept others or people from other religions, the people must know what others do. This means education. Harmony and education are the two remedies which Swami Vivekananda gave to the distressed world.
His words possess an immortal value. “Everything must be sacrificed, if necessary, for that one sentiment, universality. Whether I live or die, whether I go back to India or not, remember this specially, that universality ~ perfect acceptance, not tolerance only ~ we preach and perform. Existence without knowledge and love cannot be; knowledge without love and love without knowledge cannot be. We want harmony, not one-sided development’ (2:143). Vivekananda was rational, open, and truthful in his approach and sincerely wanted everyone’s well-being. Reading his life one knows how much he had to struggle and endure, only to advance certain noble ideas.
Now is the time to make a beginning, as the world gears up to celebrate Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary in 2012. Just as  George V  was crowned in New Delhi in 1911, so too must  Vivekananda be crowned in the hearts of all. Those false ‘loud-speakers’ of false ‘emperors’ must be discarded. The world can unite under the flag of Vivekananda.The song that Rabindranath Tagore had composed in 1911 in praise of the Supreme, the Divine, explains what Vivekananda had sought to achieve. Aha-raho tabo aahvano prachaarito, shuni tabo udaaro bani; hindu bauddha shikho jaino parasiko musalmano cristaani. Purabo paschimo ashe, tabo singhaasano pashe, premo haro hoye gatha…Jana gana aikyo bidhaayako jaya he bharata bhagya bidhaata. (Your rousing call of welcome is spreading everywhere day and night; we the people of the world listen to your universal message. The Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees, Muslims and Christians, listen to you. The East and the West come to you with the garland of love. Oh! Glory unto you, who bring in the unity amongst races and are the benefactor ofIndia.’)(*)
[The above is the next para to India’s National Anthem: Jana-gana-mana]
The writer is with the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Gol Park, Kolkata

* So, this is in the core of what India’s ancient but timeless philosophy, history and civilization are all about~ universality, enlightenment, acceptance.

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