SWAMI VIVEKANANDA ON THE FUTURE OF INDIA
DR K. VENKATASUBRAMANIAN
In December 1892, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock at Kanyakumari, where the three seas meet, Swami Vivekananda dived into deep meditation and came to a clear conclusion about the work that lay ahead. From Kanyakumari, walking most of the way, he arrived in Madras in January, 1893.
Swamiji was moved by the great earnestness of the devotees – particularly the young men – of Madras, and their enthusiasm to send him to attend the Chicago Parliament of Religions. He had great hopes in the people of Tamll Nadu, in a letter from America, he wrote feelingly:
“My blessings on all. Tell all the noble souls in Madras who have helped our cause that I send them my eternal love and gratitude...”
Today, a hundred years have rolled by since Swamiji’s first visit to South India. This is the time for us to look within, renew ourselves with the inspiration his words give and rededicate ourselves to the task he set before us.
The lectures that Swami Vivekananda delivered from Colombo to Almora after his return from the West carried a special significance as they reflected not only his spiritual realisation, but also his secular experience in the West. It was in Colombo that he delivered his first public lecture on January 15, 1897, while returning to India from the West. After Colombo, he delivered public lectures at Jaffna, Pamban, Rameshwaram, Ramnad, Paramakudi and other places as he was moving towards the north of India via Madras and Calcutta. In all his lectures, he emphasised (1) the role of religion in India. (2) the distinction between the essentials and the nonessentials in Hinduism. (3) the oneness of reality and the different approaches thereto. (4) upliftment of the masses through education and culture and (5) the futility of secular knowledge without spiritual knowledge. The future of India as envisaged by Swamiji must be based upon these basic principles and he suggested a plan of campaign with a view to realising the goal.
While delivering a lecture at the Victoria Hall in Madras, Swami Vivekananda highlighted, for example, the special significance of religion in the Indian context. His thesis was that, like every individual, every nation has its own specialty and it is necessary to develop it to the full to derive the maximum benefit out of it. In the words of the Swami: “I see that each nation, like each individual, has one theme in this life. which is its centre, the principal note round which every other note comes to form the harmony ... In India, religious life forms the centre, the key-note of the whole music of national life, and if any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality – the direction which has become its own through the transmission of centuries – that nation dies if it succeeds in the attempt.” So, all reformers, planners and political and social leaders should bear this in mind when they formulate any scheme of action for the betterment of India. If they fail to do, their endeavour, according to Swamiji, will be in vain.
A distinction has to be made between the essentials and the non-essentials in every religion. This is as much true with regard to Hinduism as it is with regard to other religions. The “essential” principles are those which abide forever. They are perennial for the simple reason that they are, declares Swami Vivekananda, “built upon the nature of man, the nature of the soul, the soul’s relation to God, the nature of God; perfection, and so on.” The “non-essentials” of a religion are concerned with the day-to-day practices, religious observances, and so on which vary from time to time and place to place. In the case of Hinduism, this distinction between the ‘essentials” and the “non-essentials” is based upon the distinction between the teachings of Sruthi and those of Smriti. According to Swami Vivekananda, religious quarrels arise when people, ignoring the “essentials”, pay attention only to the “non- essentials.”
Swami Vivekananda was never tired of repeating one of the central teachings of Sruthi– “That which exists is one; sages call it by various names.” Supreme reality, which is by definition infinite, eternal, immutable, must be one. It makes no sense to speak of a plurality of reality. However, this supreme reality, can be spoken about in different ways, as Siva, Vishnu, God, the Absolute and so on. Whatever be the name that one uses, it refers to the same reality. Also, this reality, according to Swamiji, can be approached in different ways. The example that his Master, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, used to give, is relevant here. There are many steps in the four directions of the tank to reach the water in it. Whatever be the direction through which people proceed to reach the water, the one and the same water is attained by all of them. Even so there are many paths to one and the same ultimate reality. It is against this background that one must try to understand the differences, for example, between non-dualism and dualism. If one realises that the core of all religions is the same, there will be, according to Swamiji, religious harmony. To quote Swamiji: “That is religion which makes us realise the unchangeable one, and that is the religion for everyone.”
Reference has already been made to the lecture that the Swami delivered at the Victoria Hall, Madras, in which he outlined his plan of action. That service to the people – the poor and the down-trodden – is service to God, is one of the basic principles of the practical Vedanta of Swami Vivekananda. Nothing short of radical reform, says Swamij, will help India to progress. What is urgently required is education for the poor and the downtrodden and unless the education of the masses is taken care of, the country will not progress. To the question, “Why does not the nation move?” Swami Vivekananda’s answer is: “First, educate the nation.” Reformation of the superstructure is no reformation at all. On the contrary, reformation of the substructure is real reformation. Going down to the basis of the thing, to the very root of the matter – this is what Swamiji called “radical reform.” It is a pity that this first step in what Swamiji characterised as “My plan of Action” has not been taken care of and fully implemented even after the independence of the country. The problem of “adult illiteracy” will not stare at us today if every child born after independence had been given the benefit of education. Mere talk will not do. Reform calls for action and not for talk. The Swamiji has nothing but contempt for those who would talk and not act.
If the upliftment of the masses has to be achieved only through education, then what kind of education is needed? According to Swami Vivekananda, “The gems of spirituality that are stored up in our books” have to be made available to the masses have to be the common property of all. Swamiji was convinced that for achieving this, Sanskrit education was necessary for all. Mere economic and social upliftment without cultural upliftment will not help the masses. In the words of Swamiji: “Teach the masses in the vernaculars; give them ideas; they will get information; but something more is necessary; give them culture. Until you give them that, there can be no performance in the raised condition of the masses.”
In the course of his talk on “The Future of India.” Swami Vivekananda draws a distinction between the right type of education for the cultural upliftment of the masses and the wrong one which does not promote cultural upliftment. Ideal education, according to Swamiji, is life-building, man-making, and character-making, and cultural upliftment can be achieved only through ideal education. Commenting on the present day education, Swami Vivekananda observed: “In the first place, it is not man-making education; it is merely and entirely a negative education. A negative education or any training that is based on negation, is worse than death. The child is taken to school, and the first thing he learns is that his father is a fool; the second thing, that his grandfather is a lunatic; the third thing, that all his teachers are hypocrites; the fourth, that all the sacred books are lies! By the time he is sixteen, he is a mass of negation, lifeless and boneless...”
What, then, is the alternative to this negative education? According to Swami Vivekananda, we must think in terms of life-building, man-making and character-making education as the alternative. The Swami spells out what we should avoid and also what we should aim at in our education. He says: “If education is identical with information, the libraries are, the greatest sages in the world, and the encyclopaedias are the Rishis. The ideals, therefore, is that we must have to whole education of our country spiritual and secular, in our own hands, and it must be on national lines, through national methods as far as practical.”
This observation of Swamiji requires careful consideration. Swamiji refers to (1) the content, (2) the administration, (3) the scope and (4) the method of education in this statement. An educational system which is satisfactory in all these four aspects can be looked upon as the ideal one. Let us first consider the content of education. Swamiji is against the dichotomy between secular and spiritual education. Secular education, however useful, will not be beneficial when it is divorced from spiritual education. On the basis of the Upanishadic distinction between the pleasant (Preyas) and the good (Sreyas), we could say that, while secular education is concerned with the former, spiritual education aims at the latter. If we impart only one of these two, that is, either secular or spiritual education, we are not providing according to Swami Vivekananda, whole education. As for educational administration, Swamiji says that it must be “in our own hands.” It means that Swami Vivekananda was against the foreigners controlling and administering the educational set-up in India. We must have total freedom in educational administration. Thirdly, education should foster national spirit; it should be conducive to the development of the ideal of unity of the nation. Swami Vivekananda quotes one of the Rigveda texts which says: “Be thou all of one mind, be thou all of one thought...” Commenting on this text, he says that “Being of one mind is the secret of society.”
Lastly, the methods of education should be national. The methods that an educationist follows should be suitable to the people to whom education is imparted. It will not be helpful to import the methods which are successful elsewhere. Our education will be ideal, i.e., will be life-building, man-making, and character-making, only if we have control over the content, administration, scope and method of education.