Saturday, 18 May 2013

Vivekananda's Spirituality as Seva

ॐ वीरेश्वराय विद्महे विवेकानन्दाय धीमहि । तन्नो वीर: प्रचोदयात् ।

Vivekananda was probably the first Hindu thinker who proposed the removal of the distinctions of an unequal society in practice and bringing it into line with the philosophical ideal of complete equality among sentent beings.  Apart from stressing the need for human equality he even affirmed that "so long as even a single dog in my country is without food my whole religion is to feed it and serve it, anything excluding that is nonreligious".
 

Vivekananda often recalled the teaching he received from Ramakrishna, which was "Jiva is Shiva" meaning each individual is divinity itself. He further developed this idea into the noble concept of 'Daridranarayan Seva".  It signified that the service of God is in our context is firstly achieved through service of the poor."If there truly is the unity of Brahman underlying all phenomena, then on what basis do we regard ourselves as better or worse, or even as better-off or worse-off, than others?"
 
Vivekananda's interpretation of Vedanta proposed that no one can be truly free until all of us are. Self centered liberation has to be given up, and only dedicated work for the salvation of others is the real indicator of the enlightened one. The Ramakrishna Math and Mission was founded by him on the values of "Atmano Mokshartham Jagat-hitaya cha" meaning 'for one's own salvation and for the welfare of the World'. Vivekananda's moral sentiment is similar to the Buddhist ideal of 'Bodhisatva' who postpones his liberation and dedicates the  life to service until all beings are uplifted out of their misery and ignorance. 
 

He exhorts us; In everyone of you lies that Eternal Power, and try to wake it up. What will you do with individual salvation? That is sheer selfishness. Throw aside your meditation, throw away your salvation and such things! put your whole heart and soul in the work to which I have consecrated myself".Sacrifices, genuflexions, mumblings and mutterings are not religion. They are only good if they stimulate us to the brave performance of beautiful and heroic deeds and lift our thoughts to the apprehension of the divine perfection.”
 

Vivekananda urges us; "Does not our Vedanta also teach us to see all with an equal eye? Why then do you cherish the idea that the wife and children are your own, more than others? at your very threshold, 'Narayana' Himself, in the form of a poor beggar, is dying of starvation! Instead of giving him anything, would you only satisfy the appetite of your wife and children with delicacies?.
 

Mahatma Gandhi later in history also emphasised the service of the poor and the low caste or Harijan ( people of God), as service to God, because there was potential Godhood in them too. When Gandhi visited Belur Math which Vivekananda founded, he is reported to have said that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda. Rabindranath Tagore whose own awareness of Hinduism was inspired by the poets of the Bhakti Movement and their egalitarian spirituality, told Romain Rolland, the French writer; "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative"
 

Vivekananda was probably the first Indian thinker in modern times to advocate altruism and service for the poor as a core value of religion or as a kind of Hindu humanism. He then put his ideas into practice by setting up the Ramkrishna Mission as a social work institution to orient Hinduism towards the idea of 'seva' as spirituality. This was a new orientation to the Hindu value system which still remains to be fully fulfilled today.