LOVE FOR THE OLD, REGARD FOR NEW

Swami Vivekananda laughed at facile explanations of Indian unity and argued instead that these things could only be made to serve old India’s turn if she already possessed a deep organic unity that went beyond issues such as a common language of affairs

Swami Vivekananda’s call to make the greatness of India the keynote of our civilisational aspirations never ceases to inspire. “For the next 50 years, this alone shall be our keynote — this, our great Mother India”, he had told his mesmerised audience when speaking on the future of India. The uplift and worship of India was, in a sense, his own life’s intrinsic and essential message.

Living at a time “when men were abandoning the old” and unquestioningly turning their minds away from their civilisational moorings, Vivekananda, while being fearless of the “new”, continued to remain an “ardent worshipper of the old”. For him, it was the nation’s “own life, proper to her own background” that would eventually act as the fountain of regeneration. She would find life in her “own life…not in imitation”. It was from “her own proper past and environment that she would draw inspiration”. While it was true that the “future would not be like the past, yet it could be only firmly established in a profound and living reverence for that past”.

Such a conviction led Vivekananda to “persistently, pertinaciously” try and discover “the essentials of national consciousness”. In this quest of his, no smallest anecdote, no trifling detail of person or custom, ever came amiss to his intellectual net; he was certain that a “still greater future” had to be “built upon the mighty past”. The meaning of his sanyasa then was to “reassert that which was India’s essential self, and leave the great stream of the national life, strong in a fresh self-confidence and vigour, to find its own way to the ocean”.

Faith and invincibility were the other keynotes of his life. When the Indian intellect stood subjugated, when her traditions stood denigrated and a sense of weakness and confusion overshadowed the national psyche, here was a man who never dreamt of failure. Here was a man who spoke of naught but strength. To many a close observer he seemed supremely free from sentimentality, supremely defiant of all authority, refusing to meet any foreigner save as the master. To an Englishman who knew him well, the Swami’s great genius lay in his dignity; it was nothing short of royal. In an age when the prevailing perception of India was that of a perpetual receiver of Western enlightenment, the Swami was firm in his conviction that “the East must come to the West, not as a sycophant, not as a servant, but as guru and teacher”.

The central deity of his adoration and spiritual identification, however, was India. To a generation of the Indian intelligentsia who grew up on and propounded the notion of an externally inspired and evolving Indian unity, Vivekananda came as a mighty non-conformist. To him the idea that “two pice postage, cheap travel, and a common language of affairs could create a national unity, was…childish and superficial”. He laughed at such facile explanations of Indian unity and argued instead that “these things could only be made to serve old India’s turn if she already possessed a deep organic unity of which they might conveniently become an expression”. His stand came, not from a mental assessment of that unity but rather from a profoundly empirical experience of it. For something like eight years, Vivekananda had wandered about the land changing his name at every village, learning of every one he met, gaining a vision of the land that was at once accurate and minute as it was profound and general. It had enabled him to firmly grasp and absorb the uniting dimensions of this vast land. But his perception of this unity was not merely meant for articulation or verbal explication; he lived and was an embodiment of this diversity in oneness.

Through his intimate interactions and ceaseless travels he had learnt, not only the hopes and ideals of every sect and group of the Indian people, but their memories also. He held the entire land, her traditions, her people, their ways and their sense of the past, as it were, in his soul, and radiated that national unity.

As an indefatigable defender of his land and his people, Swami Vivekananda was second to none. Never did his zeal falter when it came to defending and presenting India to the world at large. Often portrayed as an uncompromising critic of a stagnant India, the Swami was equally one of her most ardent and articulate worshippers and standard bearers. When the national mind wallowed in a tendency of habitually issuing cringing-apologia, he, on the contrary, firmly felt that nothing Indian required an apology.

And if anything Indian seemed barbarous or crude to the pseudo-refinement of the alien, he sprang to the defence and without denying, without minimising anything his colossal energy was immediately concentrated on the vindication of that particular point, and the unfortunate critic was tossed backward and forward on the horns of his own argument. On such occasions there was no friend that he would not sacrifice without mercy…in the name of national defence. To Vivekananda, everything Indian was absolutely and equally sacred. India, for him, as he once said, was the land to which “must come all souls wending their way godward!”

He demanded such an adherence to India from all those who came to him, especially the Westerners. “Remember”, he told them, “if you love India at all, you must love her as she is, not as you might wish her to become.” It was this firmness of his, standing like a rock for what actually was, that did more than any other single fact…to open the eyes of a vast multitude to the beauty and strength of that ancient poem — the common life of the common Indian people.

But what attracted most, among all those who saw and followed Vivekananda closely, was his ceaseless and immediate responsiveness to everything concerning India, and his supreme faith and confidence in the destiny of this land. He never dreamt of failure for his people…to him India was young in all her parts, to him the country was young and the India of his dreams was in the future. He was firm in his conviction that despite all passing appearances the great deeps of India and of her people would forever remain moral, austere and spiritual.

Like the religio-cultural, the socio-political too strongly attracted and interested Vivekananda. In his expressions of concern for India, this aspect often distinctly flowed out through his talks, conversations and letters. The mighty urge to see India liberated, self-reliant and spiritually conscious and vibrant continuously occupied his being and he attempted to work this out not as a politician, but as a nationalist. He was no politician: he was [rather] the greatest of nationalists and, therefore, to him the destiny of the people was in their own soil, and the destiny of the soil was no less in its own people.

 

The essence and significance of Swami Vivekananda lay in that: An unwavering nationalist who offered an epochal and liberating vision for his land and his people.

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