Swami Vivekananda is yugacharya, the prophet of this age, not only for India but for the whole world. His message is the same as the eternal message of India, the sanatana dharma taught by the rishis (seers) of yore, cast in a mold suitable for the modern age. Thus, this message is eternal and unique at the same time. Vivekananda said he had come to bring out the truth of Advaita left in the hills and forests and scatter it broadcast before the work-a-day world and society. Advaita or non-dualism teaches ‘sarvam khalvidam brahma’—all this is indeed Brahman. Swamiji says that the one central idea of Vedanta is oneness.

By Dr Arpita Mitra

A life led according to the truth of Advaita is a life where one differentiates least between oneself and others. With the passage of time, these grand ideas remained confined to ideas alone amongst us. Vivekananda came to show us how to make Vedanta practical, how to live Vedanta, that is, how to manifest the inherent divinity within us in every walk of life, for ‘religion is the manifestation of the divinity already in man.’ He said: ‘God is in everything, where else shall we go to find Him? He is already in every work, in every thought, in every feeling.’

His bold words are: ‘I am, God is and everything is in me.’

Vivekananda wrote: ‘If you want any good to come,…worship the living God nara-narayana—God who has taken the human form, Virat and Swarat. The Virat form of God is this world, worshipping it means serving it—this is called karma (work)…’ To one of his Indian disciples he wrote: ‘Where should you go to seek for God—are not all the poor, the miserable, the weak, gods? Why not worship them first? Why go to dig a well on the shores of the Ganga?’If this universe is nothing but God manifest, then the logical conclusion is that by serving it, we are  serving God.

This ideal is expressed through the maxim ‘shiva jnane jiva seva’ or serving every living being, knowing him/her to be Shiva. This is the teaching Vivekananda received from his guru Sri Ramakrishna and this is what he in turn taught us. This is worship of God in the human tabernacle. This kind of service uplifts both the servitor and the one who is served. Swamiji said that the masses have lost their individuality, that is, they have forgotten that they are human beings. Through our service that looks upon them as living God, their sense of dignity will be restored, and they will start feeling that they are human, nay, divine.

Vivekananda came to remind us the true meaning of religion. We have reduced religion to barter and shop-keeping. We are milking God to satisfy our endless desires. This is not religion, but selfishness in another form. Swamiji said: ‘Are you unselfish? That is the question. If you are, you will be perfect without reading a single religious book, without going into a single church or temple.’ Swamiji said that even asking for one’s own mukti (liberation) is selfishness, especially when there is so much suffering, poverty, hunger and ignorance all around.

He once wrote in a letter: ‘This lack of peace of mind, this means you have no work…Go from village to village, door to door; work for the welfare of the world—go to hell yourself, let others attain mukti—the father of my own salvation is without progeny. Whenever you think of your own well-being…, you will have no peace of mind. Why do you need peace? You have renounced all; now renounce even the desire for peace and salvation. Do not keep any concern; hell, heaven, devotion, liberation—don’t care for anything…One’s own welfare occurs only by other’s welfare, one attains liberation and devotion only by helping others attain the same…’ He wrote to his disciple: ‘…I believe in God and I believe in man. I believe in helping the miserable, I believe in going even to hell to save others.’

Our education has made us selfish, arrogant and heartless; whereas it is the responsibility of the educated people to look after the well-being of their poor brothers. Vivekananda wrote: ‘Him I call a Mahatman (great soul) whose heart bleeds for the poor, otherwise he is a Duratman (wicked soul)…So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them!’ The responsibility lies even more on women because they are the embodiment of shakti. Swamiji had such tremendous faith in the capacity of women that he believed the work men could accomplish in probably years women could achieve it in a few weeks. His earnest plea to Miss Margaret Noble (later Sister Nivedita) was: ‘Bold words and bolder deeds are what we want. Awake, awake, great ones! The world is burning with misery. Can you sleep? Let us call and call till the sleeping gods awake, till the god within answers to the call.’

Vivekananda showed the futility of high philosophy if we cannot carry that out in our practical lives. Hence, he wrote to his disciple: ‘I do not believe in a God or religion which cannot wipe the widow’s tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan’s mouth. However sublime be the theories, however well-spun may be the philosophy—I do not call it religion so long as it is confined to books and dogmas…Move onward and carry into practice that which you are very proud to call your religion, and God bless you!’

Swamiji came to build a new world order. We are yet to be civilized. We are the children of immortal bliss. Civilization will come only when we are able to manifest our inherent divinity. He came ‘to preach unto mankind their divinity, and how to make it manifest in every movement of life.’ Swamiji’s expectation from us is: ‘we have to become Vedantists and live this grand thought; the masses must get it…In India these ideas were brought out by individuals like Buddha, Sankara, and others, but the masses did not retain them. The new cycle must see the masses living Vedanta…’ The religion of the rishis is an unfinished project which we must carry to fruition.

This article first appeared in www.vifindia.org and it belongs to them.