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THE INDIAN MINDSCAPE: Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Jawaharlal Nehru's Contribution Towards Regeneration of India







Swami Vivekananda And Sri Aurobindo's Contribution Towards Regeneration of India


By Jagmohan 

Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo were the two towering figures of the Indian renaissance who contributed most to the regeneration of the Indian mindscape and the consequent reflowering of the Indian culture. About the former, whose birth anniversary was observed on 12 January, the latter had recorded: “British rule has been the record success in history in the hypnosis of a nation. It persuaded us to live in a ‘death of the will’, creating in ourselves the condition of morbid weakness the hypnotist desired, until the master of a mightier hypnosis laid his finger on India’s eyes and cried, ‘Awake’. Then only was the spell broken, the slumbering mind realised itself and the dead soul lived again.”


This awakening created a great turning point in Indian history. For about a thousand years after the fall of Harsha’s empire, decay and degeneration had set in, and the Indian mind had suffered a long spell of drought and desertification with a few meadows of green appearing here and there.

The lofty thoughts produced by the once powerful and profound mind were submerged in the desert sand of the times. And society was plagued with scores of evils ~ superstitions, fatalism, caste oppression, sati, child marriage, callousness towards women, etc.


In the early phase of British rule, an influential section of leadership even attempted to bury the few strands of the Indian culture that were still visible from underneath the desert sand. Lord Macaulay made the intentions clear in his well-known Minute of 1835: “We must have a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” He went to the extent of saying: “Who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India.” At that time, even a large section of educated Hindus openly denounced Hinduism and said that they were ashamed of their origin.


It was in those dreary and depressing circumstances that Swami Vivekananda appeared on the scene like a hurricane, blowing out the desert sand and bringing to surface the treasures of Indian thought and philosophy. In a voice ringing with poetic perception and passion, he declared: “Here is the same India whose soil has been trodden by the feet of the greatest sages that ever lived. Here first arose the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, the existence of a supervising God, an immanent God in nature and in man ... We are the children of such a country.”


Such stirring declarations, made by Swami Vivekananda, during his extensive tours in the country, generated a wave of self-confidence in the nation and also a will to stand up and be counted. An intellectual and spiritual environment conducive to the growth of the freedom movement was created.


Being a cultured savant par excellence, Swami Vivekananda did not denounce the western civilisation or the Indian baiters like Macaulay but showed them the deep chinks in their civilisational armoury: “You, Christians, who are fond of sending out Christian missionaries to save the souls of heathens, why do you not try to save their bodies from starvation. It is an insult to a starving man to offer him religion.”


At the same time in a dignified tone and tenor, Swami Vivekananda brought home to the outside world how superior was the pattern of Indian thought and how unique was the Hindu religion. In his famous address to the Chicago World Parliament of Religions, delivered in September 1893, he expounded the essence of Indian civilisation and culture with unmatched eloquence and clarity: “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance... The Hindus regard all religions as so many attempts of the human soul to realise the Almighty, determined by the conditions of its birth and association and each of these marked a stage of progress.


Every other religion lays down certain fixed dogmas and tries to force society to adopt them. It places before society only one coat which must fit Jack and John and Henry, all alike. If it does not fit John or Henry, he must go without a coat to cover his body”.


The impact of his speech was tremendous. Indian civilisation and culture was placed on the highest pedestal. So too was the prestige of Indians. This is evident from a comment in the American press: “We send missionaries to Vivekananda’s people. It would be more fitting that they should send missionaries to us.” Later, reflecting upon Swami Vivekananda’s visit to America, Sri Aurobindo observed: “It was the first visible sign that India was awake, and she was awake not only to survive but also to conquer.”


Sri Aurobindo expanded the ambit of Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts and took the movement for cultural regeneration to greater heights. Functioning from his somewhat secluded ashram in Pondicherry, he served the country as a powerful lighthouse of inspiration, showing to its people the right way ~ the way of emancipating the soul of India and building a great future for her on the foundation of her great past. He infused confidence in the otherwise diffident nation by constantly reminding the people: “Ours is the eternal land, the eternal people, the eternal religion, whose strength, greatness and holiness may be overloaded but never, even for a moment, cease”. Time and again, he said: “India of the ages is not dead, nor has she spoken the last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human people.”


What did Sri Aurobindo mean when he talked of India’s destiny and India’s religion? He himself provided the answer: “When it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal. A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can live only for a limited time and limited purpose.”


Such views, propagated through his extensive writings, thrilled a good part of the nation and created new confidence, new urges and a new sense of mission. They also made the Western world take greater interest in India and look at her with greater respect.


Sri Aurobindo wanted Poorna Swaraj, complete freedom, for India. This, he thought, was absolutely necessary not only for the well-being of the country but also for the well-being of the rest of the world. She alone could “free the world from its enslavement to materialism and to point out the way towards a dynamic integration of Spirit and Matter and to make life perfect with Divine Perfection”.

Unfortunately, only a few strands of the great movement for the cultural regeneration of India are visible now. Today, she is without any great inspiration, without any elevating philosophy which could serve as a guiding star for activities in various walks of life.


The writer is a former Governor of J&K and a former Union minister.



Swami Vivekananda’s speech


By Madhu


Swami Vivekananda (January 12 1863 -July 4 1902), whose pre-monastic name was Narendranath Dutta (Narendranath Dut-tta), was one of the most famous and influential spiritual leaders of the philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga. He was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. He is a major figure in the history of the Hindu reform movements.


 While he is widely credited with having uplifted his own nation, India, he simultaneously introduced Yoga and Vedanta to America and England with his seminal lectures and private discourses on Vedanta philosophy. Vivekananda was the first known Hindu Sage to come to the West, where he introduced Eastern thought at the World’s Parliament of Religions, in connection with the World’s Fair in Chicago, in 1893. Here, his first lecture, which started with this line “Sisters and Brothers of America,” made the audience clap for two minutes just to the address, for prior to this seminal speech, the audience was always used to this opening address: “Ladies and Gentlemen”. It was this speech that catapulted him to fame by his wide audiences in Chicago and then later everywhere else in America, including far-flung places such as Memphis Boston, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and St. Louis.


The following is a link  that seems has Audio of Swami Vivekananda’s Speech at Chicago in 1893:





by: Jawaharlal Nehru

(Excerpts about Swami Vivekananda)


  About the same period as Swami Dayananda, a different type of person lived in Bengal and his life influenced many of the new English-educated classes. He was Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a simple man, no scholar but a man of faith, and not interested in social reform as such. He was in a direct line with Chaitanya and other Indian saints.

Essentially religious and yet broad-minded, in his search for self-realization he went to Moslem and Christian mystics and lived with them for years, following their strict routines. He settled down at Dakshineshwar near Calcutta, and his extraordinary personality and character gradually attracted attention.


People who went to visit him, and some who were even inclined to scoff at this simple man of faith, were powerfully influenced, and many who had been completely westernized felt that here was something they had missed. Stressing the essentials of religious faith, he linked up the various aspects of the Hindu religion and philosophy and seemed to represent all of them in his own person. Indeed he brought within his fold other religions also.


Opposed to all sectarianism, he emphasized that all roads lead to truth. He was like some of the saints we read about in the past records of Asia and Europe; difficult to understand in the context of modern life, and yet fitting into India's many-collared pattern and accepted and revered by many of her people as a man with a touch of the divine fire about him. His personality impressed itself on all who saw him, and many who never saw him have been influenced by the story of his life. Among these latter is Romain Rolland, who has written a story of his life and that of his chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda.


Vivekananda, together with his brother disciples, founded the non-sectarian Ramakrishna Mission of service. Rooted in the past and full of pride in India's heritage, 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 was a powerful orator in Bengali and English and a graceful writer of Bengali prose and poetry. He was a fine figure of a man, imposing, full of poise and dignity, sure of himself and his mission, and at the same time full of a dynamic and fiery energy and a passion to push India forward. He came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralized Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance and some roots in the past. He attended the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, spent over a year in the U.S.A., travelled across Europe going as far as Athens and Constantinople, and visited Egypt, China, and Japan. Wherever he went, he created a minor sensation not only by his presence but by what he said and by how he said it.


Having seen this Hindu sanyasin once, it was difficult to forget him or his message. In America he was called the ``cyclonic Hindu.'' He was himself greatly influenced by his travels in Western countries; he admired British perseverance, and the vitality and spirit of equality of the American people. ``America is the best field in the world to carry on any idea,'' he wrote to a friend in India. But he was not impressed by the manifestations of religion in the West, and his faith in the Indian philosophical and spiritual background became firmer. India, in spite of her degradation, still represented to him the Light.


He preached the monism of the Advaita philosophy of the Vedanta, and was convinced that only this could be the future religion of thinking humanity. For the Vedanta was not only spiritual but rational and in harmony with scientific investigations of external nature. ``This universe has not been created by any extra-cosmic God, nor is it the work of any outside genius. It is self-creating, self-dissolving, self-manifesting, One Infinite Existence, the Brahma.''


The Vedanta ideal was of the solidarity of man and his inborn divine nature; to see God in man is the real Godvision; man is the greatest of all beings. But the abstract Vedanta must become living-poetic-in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms; and out of bewildering Yogi-ism must come the most scientific and practical psychology.'' India had fallen because she had narrowed herself, gone into her shell and lost touch with other nations, and thus sunk into a state of ``mummified'' and ``crystalled'' civilization.


Caste, which was necessary and desirable in its early forms, and meant to develop individuality and freedom, had become a monstrous degradation, the opposite of what it was meant to be, and had crushed the masses. Caste was a form of social organization which was and should be kept separate from religion. Social organizations should change with the changing times. Passionately Vivekananda condemned the meaningless metaphysical discussions and arguments about ceremonials, and especially the touch-me-notism of the upper castes. ``Our religion is in the kitchen. Our God is the cooking-pot, and our religion is: `don't touch me, I am holy.''


He kept away from politics and disapproved of the politicians of his day. But again and again he laid stress on the necessity for liberty and equality and the raising of the masses. ``Liberty of thought and action is the only condition of life, of growth and well-being. Where it does not exist, the man, the race, the nation must go.'' ``The only hope of India is from the masses. The upper classes are physically and morally dead.'' He wanted to combine Western progress with India's spiritual background: ``Make a European society with India's religion....


Become an Occidental of occidentals in your spirit of equality, freedom, work and energy, and at the same time a Hindu to the very backbone in religious culture and instincts.'' Progressively Vivekananda grew more international in outlook: ``Even in Politics and Sociology, problems that were only national twenty years ago can no longer be solved on national grounds only. They are assuming huge proportions, gigantic shapes. They can only be solved when looked at in the broader light of international grounds. International organizations, international combinations, international laws are the cry of the day. That shows solidarity.


 In science, every day they are coming to a similar broad view of matter.'' And again: ``There cannot be any progress without the whole world following in the wake, and it is becoming every day clearer that the solution of any problem can never be attained on racial, or national, or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humanity, nay the whole of life, within its scope.''


 All this fitted in with Vivekananda's view of the Vedanta philosophy, and he preached this from end to end of India. ``I am thoroughly convinced that no individual or nation can live by holding itself apart from the community of others, and wherever such an attempt has been made under false ideas of greatness, policy or holiness-the result has always been disastrous to the secluding one....


The fact of our isolation from all the other nations of the world is the cause of our degeneration and its only remedy is getting back into the current of the rest of the world. Motion is the sign of life.'' He once wrote: ``I am a socialist not because I think it is a perfect system, but half a loaf is better than no bread. The other systems have been tried and found wanting. Let this one be tried, if for nothing else, for the novelty of the thing.''


Vivekananda spoke of many things, but the one constant refrain of his speech and writing was abhaya - be fearless, be strong. For him man was no miserable sinner but a part of divinity; why should he be afraid of anything? ``If there is a sin in the world it is weakness; avoid all weakness, weakness is sin, weakness is death.''


That had been the great lesson of the Upanishads. Fear breeds evil and weeping and wailing. There had been enough of that, enough of softness. What our country now wants are muscles of iron and nerves of steel, gigantic wills which nothing can resist, whith can penetrate into the mysteries and the secrets of the universe, and will accomplish their purpose in any fashion, even if it meant going down to the bottom of the ocean and meeting death face to face.'' He condemned occultism, and mysticism... these creepy things; there may be great truths in them, but they have nearly destroyed us....


And here is the test of truth - anything that makes you weak physically, intellectually and spiritually, reject as poison, there is no life in it, it cannot be true. Truth is strengthening. Truth is purity, truth is all-knowledge....


These mysticisms, in spite of some grains of truth in them, are generally weakening....


Go back to your Upanishads, the shining, the strengthening, the bright philosophy, and part from all these mysterious things, all these weakening things. Take up this philosophy; the greatest truths are the simplest things in the world, simple as your own existence.'' And beware of superstition. ``I would rather see everyone of you rank atheists than superstitious fools, for the atheist is alive, and you can make something of him. But if superstition enters, the brain is gone, the brain is softening, degradation has seized upon the life....


Mysterymongering and superstition are always signs of weakness.’ Most of these extracts have been taken from Lectures from Colombo to Almora by Swami Vivekananda (1933) and Letters of Swami Vivekananda (1942) , both published by the Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Almora, Himalayas. In the Letters, P-390, there is a remarkable letter written by Vivekananda to a Moslem friend. In the course of this he says:


``Whether we call it Vedantism or any ism, the truth is that Advaitism is the last word of religion and thought and the only position from which one can look upon all religions and sects with love. We believe it is the religion of the future enlightened humanity. The Hindus may get the credit of arriving at it earlier than other races, they being an older race than either the Hebrew or the Arab; yet practical Advaitism, which looks upon and behaves to all mankind as one's own soul, is yet to be developed among the Hindus universally.


``On the other hand our experience is that if ever the followers of any religion approach to this equality in an appreciable degree in the plane of practical work-a-day life-it may be quite unconscious generally of the deeper meaning and the underlying principle of such conduct, which the Hindus as a rule so clearly perceive - it is those of Islam and Islam alone....


``For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam.-Vedanta brain and Islam body-is the only hope.


``I see in my mind's eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.''


This letter is dated Almora, 10th June, 1898 - footnote


So Vivekananda thundered from Cape Comorin on the southern tip of India to the Himalayas, and he wore himself out in the process, dying in 1902 when he was thirty-nine years of age.

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