Vivekananda And Gandhi :
(A thought on Gandhi’s Birth Day 2nd Oct- by Shri Jagmohan)
Reawakening the Slumbering Soul of India.
What is there in common between Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi? it is both interesting and instructive to reflect upon the bonds that existed between the spiritual emancipator and the political emancipator of India and also upon their overall contribution of putting “the Indian way” at the centre- stage of world thought. On Swami Vivekananda,s birthday, an elegant Vivekananda Centre is being opened at Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. This is an appropriate occasion to recall the great contribution made in reforming the Indian religion and society by these two great prophets of the Indian Renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Both Vivekananda and Gandhi had an original and powerful mind. Both had innate faith in the inherent strength of Indian culture. Both believed in practical Vedanta and viewed Hinduism as a service-oriented way of life based upon the highest principles of ethics and morality. Both thought that the modern man must realise that he “cannot hope, from outward forms, to win the passions and life whose fountains are within”.
Both argued that a great social and moral order could be built on the shoulders of great individuals alone. “If there is no purity, fairness and justice in your heart, these qualities will not be in your home; if they are not in your home, they will not be in your society; and if they are not in your society, they will not be in your state”. Both Vivekananda and Gandhi, in essence, presented a new design for life, a model of contentment, compassion, balance and harmony. They wanted to create an Indian nation that could teach the world, as Will Durant believed “tolerance and gentleness of the mature mind, the quiet content of the unacquisitive soul, the calm of the understanding spirit, and a unifying, pacifying love for all living things”.
In order to elaborate Vivekananda and Gandhi’s belief that religion was a positive and elevating force and Hinduism was nothing but spiritual secularism, it would be best to let them speak for themselves. Dr S Radhakrishnan, in connection with his study of religion, posed three questions to Gandhi. These questions were:
“What is your religion? How are you led to it? What is its bearing on social life?”
Gandhi replied the first question thus: “My religion is Hinduism which, for me, is the religion of humanity and includes the best of all religions known to me.” In response to the second question, Gandhi said: “I take it that the present tense in this question has been purposely used, instead of the past. I am led to my religion through truth and non-violence. I often describe my religion as religion of truth. Of late, instead of saying God is truth, I have been saying, truth is God… Denial of truth we have not known… We are all sparks of truth. The sum total of these sparks is indescribable, as yet unknown truth, which is God. I am daily led nearer to it by constant prayer”.
Service to all
To the third question, Gandhi replied: “The bearing of this religion on social life is, or has to be, seen in one’s daily social contact. To be true to such religion, one has to lose oneself in continuous and continuing service of all in life.
Realisation of truth is impossible without a complete merging of oneself in and identification with this limitless ocean of life. Therefore, for me there is no escape from social service; there is no happiness on earth beyond or apart from it.
Social service here must be taken to include every department of life. In this scheme, there is nothing low, nothing high. For all is one, though we seem to be many.
Gandhi went on to elaborate: “The deeper I study Hinduism, the stronger becomes the belief in me that Hinduism is as broad as the universe. Something within me tells me that, for all the deep veneration I show to several religions, I am all the more a Hindu, nonetheless for it. “Gandhi also made it clear: “My devotion to truth has drawn me to politics… Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means”.
For Vivekananda, too, religion in India was a pivotal force. He said: “Each nation, like each individual, has one theme in life, which is at its centre. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, that nation dies. In India, religious life forms the centre”.
The first observation which Vivekananda made on 25 December 1892, after his wide travels all over the country and after meditating deeply on the Kanyakumari rock for three days was: “Religion is the blood of the nation’s body; the impurities of the blood are responsible for all our great maladies, and the nation can rise again if this blood is purified”. Vivekananda’s message is simple. “Jiva is Shiva”; that is, in the service of man lies the service of God.
Vivekananda gave pre-eminent place to the idea of serving “the outcast Narayanas, the starving Narayanas and the oppressed Narayanas”. He posed the question to his own class: “What have we done, we the so called men of God, the Sanyasis? What have we done for the masses?” He also criticised the common folk for being fatalist. He urged them to have faith in themselves: “The old religion said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is an atheist who does not believe in himself… It is the coward and the fool who says this is his fate. But it is the strong man who stands up and says I will make my own fate”.
Pointing to the main culprits, he thundered: “You, the upper classes of India, do you think you are alive? You are but mummies ten thousand years old… In the world of Maya, you are the real illusion. You merge yourself in the void and disappear. Let a New India arise in your place.”
And a New India did arise! Both Vivekananda and Gandhi reawakened the slumbering soul of India. “The sleeping giant”, as Vivekananda put it, woke up. But, unfortunately, after taking a few steps in the right direction, “the giant” took a wrong turn. Today, it finds itself on a slippery path, surrounded by a dense fog emanating from the culture of consumerism, corruption, callousness and confusion.
If “the giant” has to find its moorings once again and extricate itself from the cold and clumsy fog around, it must seek light and warmth from the torch that Vivekananda and Gandhi provided to it. This torch shed light not merely for Indians but for the entire humanity.