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SWAMI VIVEKANANDA CHOSE AMERICA
TO GIVE HIS MESSAGE

Book  stop.gif (845 bytes) Weekly Message Archive

WEEKLY MESSAGES

In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.

 

 

 

 

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA CHOSE AMERICA TO GIVE HIS MESSAGE

Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual mission to America, for which the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 furnished the impetus, fulfilled a deep-seated need of our times for the welfare of India, America, Europe, and humanity in general. What he preached has been slowly entering into the thought-current of both the East and the West.

            The immediate compelling purpose of his visit was the improvement of the material condition of Indian humanity. His wide travel in India as a wandering monk after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, his intimate contact with people of all classes – high and low, educated and illiterate, maharajas and pariahs – revealed to his highly sensitive mind the pitiable condition of the Indian masses. They lacked the basic needs of food, education, health, and economic security. The descendants of the once proud Indo-Aryans, whose achievements in religion, philosophy, literature, art, science, and the evolution of an enduring social system still draw the admiration of thoughtful people everywhere, were groveling in the dust. Forgetful of their inner strength, they had become the target of exploitation of the rich and the powerful – both indigenous and foreign. “It is for them,” Swami Vivekananda said to his devotees in Madras, “that I am going to the West – for the people and the poor.” To two of his brother disciples he remarked in the same strain: “I traveled all over India. But, alas, it was agony to me, my brothers, to see with my own eyes the terrible poverty of the masses, and I could not restrain my tears. It is now my firm conviction that to preach religion among them, without first trying to remove their poverty and suffering, is futile. It is for this reason – to find means for the salvation of the poor of India – that I am going to America.”

            Night after night he spent without sleep, brooding over India’s problems. Many other ideas came to his mind. First and foremost, he realized that religion was not the cause of India’s downfall. On the contrary, it was religion which created and stabilized the Indian culture, integrated the divergent elements in the nation, and preserved the Hindus from total disintegration in spite of ruthless domination for nearly a thousand years by alien rulers, giving people the patience and fortitude to remain calm in the vicissitudes of fortune. No amount of poverty could take away their faith in dharma and providence.

                Secondly, he saw that India would rise again through religion, occupy her rightful place in the comity of nations, and fulfill the expectation of many Western people: Ex Oriente lux. How well it has since been recognized that the modern revival of India started from Dakshineswar.  [Dakshineswar Temple Garden, where Sri Ramakrishna lived and communed with God. ]

            Thirdly, Swami Vivekananda realized that the fundamental truths of Hinduism could be resuscitated by an intense study of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and other secondary writings. The ignorance of the people regarding these basic works made it possible for unscrupulous priests to exercise their power over them. This also accounted for the encrustations of the external truths of Hinduism with many superstitions. The ancient wisdom must be made accessible to the ignorant and the educated alike.

            Fourthly, the great swami clearly saw that no philosophy or religion could be understood if the stomach was empty and the body sick. Everyone needs a certain amount of protein and carbohydrate for higher thinking. How to build the sound body and mind through which spiritual truths could be manifested? His insight at once told him that this could be done with the help of science and technology, which had been highly developed in the West during the past three hundred years. The method of science based upon reasoning, experimentation, observation and verification would enable Indians to understand rationally the nature of the physical universe. By means of technology they would apply these scientific truths for the material welfare of the individual and society. The swami felt he must go to the West and appeal to its conscience. He would tell the people of the West that the sickness and health of India were the concern of the whole world.

            But Swami Vivekananda was a proud man. He hated begging. He would not go to the West as a beggar. His penetrating mind realized the plight of the West; though of another kind, it was no less poignant. Science and technology no doubt gave the West material prosperity, but they did not give it inner peace. A materialistic culture contains the seeds of its own destruction. In a competitive society, clamoring for material gain, brother raises his hand against brother. The West must deepen its spiritual outlook, and in this it could be helped by the ancient wisdom of India. Hinduism, Swami Vivekananda thought, could especially teach the West universal compassion, the ideal of seeing unity in diversity, and the harmony of religions.

            The swami clearly recognized the achievements and limitations of the culture of both East and West. The Indian climate has, it is true, produced a Buddha, a Shankara, a Chaitanya, a Ramakrishna – something which perhaps it alone can do; but Indian history also reveals the tragic facts of how high an individual can rise and how low a nation can fall. The history of the West, too, reveals the fact that a nation as a whole can attain, through science and technology, a high level of physical comfort and intellectual knowledge, but in the absence of knowledge regarding God, the soul, and the spiritual basis of the universe, it can become a victim of anxiety, fear, and suspicion. India has no doubt discovered many eternal spiritual truths, but she has kept them buried in heaps of filth. There is no appropriate jewel box to preserve them. The West has created a jewel box in the form of a wonderful social, political, and economic organization, but where are the jewels? India often worships a phantom in the name of a soul, and the West a corpse from which the spirit has fled. Thus Swami Vivekananda keenly felt that both the West and India needed each other for their mutual welfare and for the ultimate good of humanity. His message was both national and international. His expanding soul could not be cribbed or confined in any narrow cage.

            Swami Vivekananda chose America as the place to give his message.

 

From “Swami Vivekananda: India and America” by Swami Nikhilananda,  in “VIVEKANANDA, WORLD TEACHER: His Teachings on the Spiritual Unity of Humankind”, Edited and with an Introduction by Swami Adiswarananda.

 

 

Book  stop.gif (845 bytes) Weekly Message Archive