The advent of Yugavatar Sri Ramakrishna, according to Swami Vivekananda, once again marked the commencement of Satyayuga ~ an era in which truth prevails. Swami Vivekananda, through his life and teachings, was a living illustration of all that this new era stands for and the cornerstones of which are education that builds character, service to humanity and renunciation of the selfish self, in other words, a studied transformation that ultimately leads to realisation of the true self as the reflection of the Universal Soul.
More than external stimulus, Swami Vivekananda considered the gradual positive transformation of the brute man to be the guiding principle of this new era. He believed that as the “Son of the Immortal”, everyone had the inherent capability to strive for perfection and each one of us was always moving from a plane of lesser truth to a plane of higher truth. The process may be slow but certain and once the goal is reached, there is no going back. It is necessary that spread of education that builds character expedites the process of this social transformation by uplifting the individual.
According to Swami Vivekananda, only education can infuse character with energy. In this regard, he defined education not as something that merely aided in assimilation of information but that built in individuals the ability to face challenges with their heads held high. He defined it as the ability to think creatively and interpret independently; as the ability to break free from all bondages ~ physical, intellectual and spiritual; and as the ability to provide solace and comfort to those in distress and to leave footprints on the sands of time for future generations.
Every individual is born with the seeds of perfection and true education in him. Swamiji emphasised the utmost importance of this soul-enriching education that enabled one to realise one’s true potential and eventually equipped one with the wherewithal to face the world.
Service to humanity as service to God as propounded by Sri Ramakrishna, is but an expression of the concept of Bhaktiyoga as encapsulated in Bhagwad Gita. It originates from the Vedantic principle of “Ekong sat, bipra bahuda badanti (there is only one reality; only people have different names for it).” Swamiji elaborated on the idea in Practical Vedanta. According to him, serving others is serving no one else than the self, since there is no duality of existence. Such jagaddhitaya (service) uplifts the self and selfless service becomes the means to attain godliness which is, in a way, a sum of all essential human goodness.
Conflict arises whenever the ego is hurt. Renunciation, in effect, means effacing this lower self. Once all inner conflict is resolved, there is peace and harmony sans distractions and one is in a position to pay undivided attention to one’s duties. This helps one to achieve excellence. As Sri Ramakrishna used to say: “Ami mole ghuchibe janjal (when the mortal self is effaced, all that is redundant is flushed out).” Again, this is an elaboration of the Gita’s concept of Karmayoga ~ selfless work without striving for the fruit. Swami Vivekananda’s ideas contained in Practical Vedanta inspires us to achieve excellence in our day-to-day work by practising studied detachment without dissociating ourselves from our duties.
Swamiji in his Chicago address referred to the scientific principle of cause and effect which is equally relevant to the principles of Sanatan Dharma or eternal religion. Based on this scientific reasoning, Swamiji asserted it was well within our means to break free from the cycle of life and death by doing our duties dispassionately. He even said that this was a means to achieve moksha or salvation. Thus, according to Swamiji, there is or conflict between material gain and spiritual gain. Swamiji’s spirituality is based on the same principles of scientific reasoning and experiences as applicable to the physical world.
Swami Ranganathananda used to talk about the three dimensions of a human being ~ the physical, the intellectual and the spiritual. He said that man was constantly evolving to move from a lower dimension to a higher dimension. Swamiji defined civilisation as man’s ability to master nature ~ both external and internal. To conquer the self or to become a Sthitapranja (as referred to in Gita) is a most challenging task. At the same time, attainment of such a state signals the noblest stage in the process of human evolution. Swamiji said the world in Satyayuga would be dominated by people who were atmajit (one who has conquered himself), who were full of bliss and who had nothing more to gain as they had attained the very source of all bliss. Kathopanisad describes this state as sa modote modoniyang hi labdha.
Swamiji visualised a new world order based on “assimilation and not destruction; harmony and peace and not dissension.” One cannot but agree that the goal, though it may look distant at this hour of crisis and conflict, is not altogether unachievable. It is not a Utopian world that Swamiji had envisaged. What is necessary is that we reorient our institutions to internalise Swamiji’s teachings so that we can start moving step by step towards that goal of establishing a new world order where, like Tagore says, “the heart is without fear, head held high and knowledge is without bounds...”