Place :New Delhi, Date :20-05-2010
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
You shall no doubt have understood the context alluded to in the previous line. The famous Chicago address of 1893, the event which marked the arrival of Swami Vivekananda in America, was opened with a very similar line, and what an opening it was. I do not refer to the applause that the line got, but rather the sentiment associated with the line. In five words, Swamiji had managed to encapsulate the essence of our country, our openness, be it in terms of openness of thought or openness in terms of lending a welcoming hand to others. Our country has always prided itself on its capability to provide not just a shelter, but rather a home to other people and other disciplines. And this has been made possible only through pure love, trust and a general sense of concern for others.
We are here now to discuss and understand how we can commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. I welcome the setting up of this committee, and I thank you all for inviting me to this meeting to share my ideas. However, since we are talking about none other than Swamiji himself, the biggest way in which we can commemorate his 150th birth anniversary, the greatest homage we can pay to this great man would be by implementing some of his ideas for social reform, and see that they get implemented correctly the way he would have liked it.
When we talk about Swami Vivekananda we are not just talking about a monk, we are in fact talking about one of the greatest intellectuals and champions of social justice the world had ever seen, a person who was born much before his time and sowed the seeds of the future in his present. When we talk about Swami Vivekananda, we are not merely restricting ourselves to a religion; we are in fact talking about humankind as a whole, a land free of caste, creed and colour. When we talk about Swami Vivekananda, we are not merely talking about ideas for the betterment of people, we are talking about the implementation of those ideas, down to the grassroots, down to the lowest levels, for if change has to begin, it has to begin from the people who need it the most.
In his lifetime Swamiji tried to bring about many changes in society and the irony is that while we are here discussing how to commemorate 150 years of his birth most of the evils that plagued society then still affect our society. In this context Swamiji's teachings hold as much relevance today as they held a hundred years earlier. He realized that there was more to the world than ‘Me, Myself and I'. He understood that there was a common soul running through all of nature, a common tie that binds us all, and he believed in his strand of Vedanta which held that no one can be truly free until everyone is free. At a base level, this can be categorized as the spirit of greater good. However this is not merely good for others. This is about freedom for everyone, including the self. In today's world, which reeks of corruption, selfishness and putting the self above the rest, the philosophy of impersonal enlightenment taught by Swami Vivekananda can be an antidote. He said that that the individual cannot be free unless everyone is, and that puts a collective responsibility on all of us to strive for a better world.
Swamiji's ideas are not mere idle philosophies. We must remember that he was the man who gave us the gift of "Practical Vedanta". His entire philosophy revolved around the concept of social justice and his idea of service was service to the Daridra Narayans, the outcastes. His mission was to serve the suffering, and he saw to it that this happened. He mobilized the Ramakrishna Math as well as the Ramakrishna Mission, and brought about an organized movement to reduce the suffering of the masses through educational, cultural, medical and humanitarian relief work. This sort of holistic approach to ameliorate society is something we can derive inspiration from, for it is not merely the open wound that has to heal, it is the scabs left on the mind that are not reopened. Swamiji spoke of bringing about a radical transformation that would change the very social fabric of this country, a revolution that would lead to the awakening of a nation, and bring about social justice for all. Putting this cause in his own words, he said:
"My whole ambition in life is to set in motion a machinery which will bring noble ideas to the door of everybody"
However, given the limited time that he spent on earth, one cannot be sure if such machinery had indeed been put in place. And hence it is up to us. We, as political leaders, as heads of state governments and the government of India, can make this change happen in its true sense, throughout the land. If one man could do so much in such a short span of time to alleviate the suffering of so many, should we not try to honour this achievement and the man himself by trying our best to bring about this change? Given that people are still suffering, poverty is still rampant, and division on the basis of caste and creed still common, is it not our duty to realize this dream of creating a system that will help to alleviate and gradually eradicate this suffering and pain?
We, the people of India, have tried to provide as much education to as many people as possible and it truly is our duty to do so. However, as Swamiji had put it, education is not a means of imparting knowledge from the outside; rather it is the manifestation of the perfection already within human beings. Education does not end with school or college, or with textbooks; education is a lifelong process, and we will do well to keep learning to the very last moment of our lives. The world itself is a huge book, and it is up to us to read the pages that are presented before our eyes, to learn from our everyday experiences and then try to apply this learning for the betterment of society. As Swami Prabhananda pointed out, Swami Vivekananda's concept of education consisted of Capacity, Propensity and Capability: that which makes learning possible, the development of learning, and self-development or self-empowerment. In the words of Swamiji himself:
"The education which does not help the common mass of people to equip themselves for the struggle of life, which does not bring out strength of character, a spirit of philanthropy, and the courage of a lion – is it worth the name? Real education is that which enables one to stand on one's own legs"
In the light of these words, it is up to us to ponder: is the education that is being imparted to our children in accordance with the real sense of the term? And if it is not, then how can such a change in the education system be brought about to make education more relevant and pertinent in a rapidly changing world? And this is not a new question which I am putting forth before you; today I am merely re-iterating the question which had been asked over a hundred years ago.
In order to bring about true and meaningful changes in the pages of our times, we not only have to look at it in the short run and the changes we might bring about with immediate effect, we also have to seriously consider some long-term programs to mobilize the vision of Swami Vivekananda and convert his dream of an emancipated India into tangible reality. While the proposals themselves deal with short-term awareness creation activities meant to introduce a large mass of people, especially the youth, to the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, there is a real need to create permanent institutions which can take on the baton and provide a sense of continuity to the interests kindled by the IEC activities. For a man who believed actions speak more louder than words the least we can do to honour him is to provide some sort of a permanent platform to keep his message alive for the present as well as for generations to come.
Today, the average age of our countrymen is around 25 years. It is heartening to see that the future of the country lies in such young hands, and we should do all that we can to provide facilities for the betterment of these youth. The first thing we have to do is to make our youth strong both in mind and body. And for this, we need not look westwards for inspiration. All we have to do is a bit of soul-searching. We should remember that we were the ones who gave the West the gift of Yoga, which aims at attaining the body-mind continuum. While people pour in from the West into our land to learn this ancient and beneficial art, we, the creators of this form are well on our way to forgetting it. It is time we used our own nectar for our own benefit. It is time that we look beyond fads and fleeting trends and recognize the value of our own heritage. It is time that we brought back this ancient system, and make it available to the masses and especially the youth in a scientific, systematic and widespread manner.
As I have mentioned earlier, Swamiji was a great advocate of the adoption of Yoga, as it not only strengthens the body but also helps in giving us better control over our minds. He was responsible for popularizing all four folds of Yoga -- Gyan, Bhakti, Raj and Karma. In accordance with his belief Yoga should be promoted in a big way in India reaching out to the masses and not just be restricted to the elite. Gujarat has already made Yoga compulsory for all children in schools from the first to the ninth standard. To make Yoga a nationwide phenomenon, the Government of India can announce that Yoga should be taught compulsorily in all schools of India from the year 2013, which marks Swamiji's 150th birth anniversary. The creation of four Yoga Universities in the name of Swami Vivekananda for research and practice would be a fitting tribute to this great man's vision, and it is up to us to realize and maintain this vision. Apart from these, in the future, the Yoga universities should have branches all over the globe, as this creates a better touch-point for imparting the teachings of Swamiji to a greater audience. Yoga itself can also be propagated as a sort of stress management system, to create more awareness about the benefits of this art form, and increase its desirability across the world. Great universities and centres of excellence, such as Nalanda and Takshashila, existed on this land, and these Yoga Universities should follow suit and become leading lights in their field, making a name for themselves on the global educational map.
As for the serious practitioners of Yoga, they should be incentivized to look at Yoga as a form of employment, with post graduate qualification in Yoga being recognised for recruitment of PT teachers in schools. Finally, in order to set standards in the practice of Yoga, the Government can set up a regulatory body in the country for standardization of Yoga Techniques and for accreditation of Yoga Institutes in the country. The practice of Yoga itself should also be rewarded with awards such as the Best Yoga Practitioner award in order to incentivise the practice of Yoga. With all these measures in place, I firmly believe that India can become the Yoga capital of the world, and all the wealth of knowledge that we posses in this field will turn out to be India's USP, in turn attracting even more global attention and fanfare.
Furthermore, it is shocking, and in a way appalling, that there exists no educational institution or university devoted to the study of Swamiji's teaching. Given the fact that we are talking about a man who was far ahead of his time and whose teachings are still relevant, we should set up a centre of excellence in one of our universities to deal exclusively with the study of Swami Vivekananda's teachings and their relevance to our everyday lives. If such a centre is set up in Gujarat, I am willing to provide land and infrastructure to further this noble cause. This centre of excellence can study his teachings and their application in varied fields such as education, management, and human resource development.
The major point of difference between Swami Vivekananda and other monks, gurus and spiritual leaders is that according to Swamiji, God was not the centre of religion, Man was. And it was only through the service of man and mankind that one could attain the sublime heights of spirituality. For the realization of this dream, Swamiji saw tremendous potential in the youth, whose energies could be harnessed and channelized in the right direction for the welfare of all. He saw through the fact that it was mainly the youth of the country who had the power to transform and convince other youth, having a sort of multiplier effect on the state of affairs and bringing about quick and effective change. India is a young country, with tremendous potential in terms of manpower. However, in today's world, we see the youth living in a hyper real world of constant excitement. In this era of globalization, in this world of infinite choices, it is necessary to channelize this abundant energy of the youth, and we now have the opportunity to provide the youth the right direction so that they can take their country to greater heights.
Swamiji gave us the concept of "Daridra Narayan Seva" – the service of God through the service of the poor. This was meant to liberate not only individuals but also the entire society as a whole. Sadly, in today's world, we find the youth constantly being bombarded and stifled with the message of individual glory and success. Today's world compels them to be self-centred and inward looking rather than doing something for the common good of society. It is important for us to remember the words of wisdom that have been passed on to us over the years, and not forget them in our quest to reach for the stars. Hence it would be in the fitness of things to start a poverty alleviation program in Swamiji's name or to rename an existing program to spread the message of Daridra Narayan Seva. Swamiji had said: "India wants the sacrifice of at least a thousand of her young men" when he pledged himself to the cause of serving the poor. Today, we need more than just thousand people to achieve the goal set by Swamiji. A special program can be implemented, which involves the educated youth of our country, and requires them to work for a year or two, devoting their time to rural upliftment and service to the poor. In doing this, they can realize the philosophy of spiritual humanism that formed the core of the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. One should remember what Swami Vivekananda said with regard to the proper use of the body carefully cultivated through Yoga;
"Let this body go in service of others."
In order to protect and preserve the memory of Swami Vivekananda and his teachings, we can create memorials in his honour. All places where Swamiji stayed for a period of more than a week in the entire country during his journey across the nation can have memorials erected in the name of Swamiji. Four places in Gujarat: Rajkot, Vadodara, Limbdi and Porbandar: have already established such memorials. Apart from these spots, a statue of Swamiji can be erected at Somnath, which was the first place in his itinerary when he set forth on his Bharat Yatra. These memorials, apart from being a homage to the great man, will also serve as a permanent reminder of who the Swamiji was, and what he stood for.
It is imperative that we get the message of Swamiji across to as many people possible across the nation. To meet this end, we can broadcast the teachings of Swamiji in television and radio, or depict an episode pertaining to teachings. This "Vivek Vani" program has to be done on a daily basis to increase the reach as well as the frequency of users across these mediums, and also to create a greater impact on the people tuning in to these programs.
The essence of Swami Vivekananda should be kept alive not by mere words, but by actions. To this effect, places where Swamiji lived and taught such as Kolkata, Kanyakumari, Somnath, Porbandar, Kutch etc. should be developed as part of the "Vivekananda Tourist Circuit and Education Sphere", and necessary facilities should be provided to enable people to visit the places where Swami Vivekananda lived and taught.
Efforts should be made to propagate Swami Vivekananda as a role model for the youth of today, as Swamiji's main concern was to mobilise the youth of the country to join the movement. Also, given the fact that Swami Vivekananda achieved all that he had to at a very young age, and also chose to be different from the rest around him, it might strike a chord with the youth of today. To achieve this aim, the Government of India can institute awards for "Ideal Youth Personality of the Year" in the name of Swami Vivekananda. Apart from this, the recently introduced Model School Scheme of the Government of India can be named after Swamiji. Also, in order to strike a patriotic chord with the youth, the National Service Scheme, which is a Government of India Scheme, can be named after him, considering he was in favour of doing service to the country.
The works of Swami Vivekananda should be disseminated and distributed to as large an audience as possible. Swamiji's works are currently available in print only in English and a few other languages. For greater understanding of Swamiji and his efforts, the complete works of Swami Vivekananda should be made available in other Indian as well as foreign languages, and they should be made affordable at a reasonable price after their translation. Apart from the print medium, the film based on Swami Vivekananda should also be dubbed in foreign languages to extend the reach and impact of Swamiji's teachings across the globe.
Swamiji's works and ideas cannot be restricted to the shores of one land alone, and it is important that we create a sort of global consciousness about the Swamiji's teachings and ideas. To make this happen, we can enlist the help of our Indian embassies across the globe. Committees can be formed, which will consist of local leaders who will take it upon themselves to spread the word of Swamiji. Initiatives such as conversion of Swamiji's works into the language of the land, and holding seminars and conferences related to Swamiji and his teachings can be organized to effectively bring about an increased interest in Swami Vivekananda in foreign shores.
Swami Vivekananda paid a great deal of emphasis on education and self-reliance through education. To reward this spirit of self-reliance through education, the Central Government should institute fellowships for excellence in higher education and research to such scientists and researchers who have with their critical research and contributions, made India self-reliant.
Apart from these measures, Swamiji was also a passionate advocate of women's rights and women's equality. He had said:
"It is very difficult to understand why in this country(India) so much difference is made between men and women, whereas the Vedanta declares that one and the same conscious Self is present in all beings. You always criticize the women, but say what you have dome for their upliftment? Writing down Smritis etc., and binding them by hard rules, the men have turned women into manufacturing machines! If you do not raise the women, who are the living embodiment of the Divine Mother, don't think that you have any other way to rise."
Following this strain of thought, it is time for us to act upon these words and do something concrete for the women of our country. The empowerment envisaged by Swamiji can be realized only through education of women. In this context, the Government of India should set up scholarships schemes named after Swami Vivekananda to encourage the education of girl children. Such a measure will increase the enrolment of girls into schools, and also provide families an incentive to raise their girl child in the best possible manner. As for the results, this will not only create awareness about the Swamiji himself, but also attach his name with the cause that he felt so deeply and passionately about.
What sort of human being did Swamiji envisage? His poem to Miss Alberta Sturges captures this wonderfully:
The Mother's heart, the hero's will,
The softest flowers' sweetest feel;
The charm and force that ever sway
The altar-fire's flaming play;
The strength that leads, in love obeys;
Far-reaching dreams, and patient ways,
Eternal faith in Self, in all,
The light Divine in great, in small;
All these and more than I could see
It is my appeal to all of you that if we are to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of this great man, we should do it with deeds and not words to usher in a better tomorrow. We can indeed do a lot. We can make a real difference. We have the voice to bring about a change. Let us honour this great man by trying to realize his dream of a better India, a brighter India, by following in his footsteps. The concept of Daridra Narayan Seva holds as true today as it did then with community service paving the way for the greater good of mankind. The art of Yoga can lead to the general well-being of both the mind and the body and with India at the forefront of this movement can garner global recognition and acclaim. Projection of Swami Vivekananda as a youth icon will lead to more social consciousness in the youth of today. The dissemination of the works of Swamiji will lead to greater awareness about the life, times and efforts of this great man towards ameliorating the poor plight of our countrymen. All in all the commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary should be a reason for all of us to rise to the occasion in our own small ways, to take a step forward in the right direction. In Swamiji's words, it is time for us to "Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached."