Today's Quote

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Atheist to the last

The martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev was a moving issue from the beginning. Netaji Subhas Bose has recorded his reactions in his book The Indian Struggle after he received that shocking news while in a train proceeding to Karachi congress, Anger and emotion swept through the country, Bose referred to his insistence on Gandhi ji that he should not sign the pact with the then Viceory, Lord Irwin, withdrawing the civil disobedience movement till the death sentence on Bhagat Singh and his colleagues was commuted. The pact was signed on 18 March 1931 only five days before the hanging. It should be recalled that Bhagat Singh and Batu Keshwar Datta were arrested after dropping the bomb in the Delhi Assembly on 4 April 1929. It was a grim decision, which was taken not suddenly at the spur of the moment but after a long debate. Dropping the bomb in the Assembly meant sure arrest and arrest meant death for Bhagat Singh who had already been named the accused in the Saunders murder case. The expected happened. Bhagat Singh and Batu Keshwar Datta were awarded life imprisonment for dropping bomb in the Assembly and the death sentence on Bhagat Singh was pronounced in the Lahore conspiracy case.
What was astounding was even in such condition Bhagat Singh did not forget the problems of communalism in the country and the complicated question of religion and politics. Whereas many staunch atheists became believers of God before death, Bhagat Singh wrote his last and perhaps his best article, ?why I am an Atheist?? on 6 October 1930 ie, hardly five months before his hanging. His last article was a unique comination of politics, theology and science, which referred even to Darwain?s Origin of species, which can educate many social scientists even today. This was written not in a cool library room but in a condemned cell of a jail.

Communalism and communism

Bhagat Singh believed in separating religion from politics and state. In his article referring to the Gadr movement, Bhagat Singh wrote: ?the martyrs of 1941-15 kept religion outside politics. Their conception was that religion was the private matter of individuals. Other should not interfere in that nor should it be injected into politics.? So the movement of the Gadr party remained united both in mind and heat where the Sikh took the lead in making sacrifices and the Hindu and Muslims did not lag behind. Today after, mixing religion with politics we get Khalistan in Canada in place of the Gadr party.
In the country secularists are defensive and communalist are aggressive. This is because only class struggle can resist communal riots which even the communists have abandoned long ago, except for a symbolic exercise before wage and bonus negotiations. There was a time when Congress, the party of the ruling bourgeoisie, had to talk of socialistic pattern of society but now even the Marxists are shy of mentioning socialism in their election manifesto and name their youth organization ?democratic?.
Bhagat Singh was very forthright in his views. Unlike the apologetic secularists Bhagat Singh was aggressive in accusing the exploitative system and declared: ?Producers and Laborers are robbed by the exploiter of the fruits of their labour and deprived of their elementary sights. Radical change, therefore, is needed and it is the duty of those who realize this to reorganize society on a socialist basis in accordance with the principle of Karl Marx?. Bhagat Singh dropped a bomb when the Delhi Assembly was discussing the Trade Dispute Bill to chain the working class in the British days. In these days of WTO many bills are waiting in Parliament to facilitate the ?exit policy? for the workers and to liquidate the public sector but there is no Bhagat Singh to thunder.

Scientific ideology

The revolutionaries of those days under the leadership of Bhagat Singh and chandra Shekhar Azad resolved to avenge the murder. The police officer, Mr. Saunders who had led the assault on Lala Lajpat Rai was shot dead on 17 December before his office itself.
What is striking is that even during these waves of events, Bhagat Singh?s pen did not rest. What is more, he pointed out in clear terms the danger of communal divide and peril of mixing religion with politics in his two famous articles after the communal riot in Lahore. One of the brightest sides of Bhagat Singh was the that he did not become a revolutionary because he was swayed by emoti9n as was expected at his age and in his era but because he was committed to some scientific ideology and with a rational thinking. This was evident in his speeches and writing. So Bhagat Singh did not remain a shaheed but became a Shaheed-a-Azam.


In an article written in May 1928 at the age of 21 under the heading ?Religion and our freedom struggle?, Bhagat Singh brilliantly analysed the views of Tolstoy dividing religion into three parts: ethics, theology and rituals.
He interpreted their implications in the contemporary political reality of that day which can be a guide to the political leaders even today. In that article Bhagat Singh stressed the need of communal harmony and feeling of communal harmony and feeling of brotherhood amongst communities concluding, ?the meaning of our full independence is not only to get out of the grip of the British but to create a condition where all communities would live like brothers and be free from mental slavery (to all orthodox and blind faith)?.
This is the theme, which Tagor enshrined, in his famous poem, ?where mind is without fear and head is held high, where the knowledge is free, where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary desert sand of dead habits.? However, the country is now going in the opposite direction practicing religious bigotry and under economic reforms deforming the society to get wealth quick.

Short life

Even otherwise, India?s Independence movement was never confined to wresting power. It was a struggle for emancipation ?to wipe every tear from every eye? as the pledge of Independence on 26 January 1930 spelt out. Though that pledge is now nearly forgotten or mortgaged with the World Bank to get new loans to make a few rich, the consensus that developed during the freedom struggle was clear. That consensus that developed during the freedom struggle was clear. That consensus was for secularism, socialism and self-reliance as opposed to communalism, capitalism and foreign dependence. Now we are crawling in a reptile era where greed is good and borrowing is best. To put the country on right track, a Bhagat singh is needed.
It was a short life of 24 years from 1907 to 1931 with the last two years in jail. In 1925 at the age of 18 Bhagat Singh founded Bharat Navjawan Sabha and in 1927 the Hindustan republican association to which he added the word ?socialist? the following year. In Indian politics that was the first use of the term ?socialist? in the name of any organization. In 1928 there was a nationwide call to boycott the Simon Commission, and all white Commission to decide the political fate of India. On 30 October 1928, Lala Lajpat rai was assaulted by the police while demonstrating against the simon Commission in Lahore in Lahore. He succumbed to his injuries on 13 November.


[The Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan had organised an essay competition on the above subject in 1923. It was for that competition that Bhagat Singh wrote this article. The General Secretary of Sahitya Sammelan, Shri Bhim Sen Vidyalankar (now expired) liked the article much and preserved it. Bhagat Singh got a prize of Rs. 50 for this article. Subsequently, it was published in Hindi Sandesh on February 28, 1933]

Monday, October 1, 2007

Hard Labour

Hard labour is hard, and made infinitely harder by the warder who stands over you and forces you to work beyond your endurance, beyond human endurance. Gandhi, like us, had plenty of hard labour, and both his comrades and mine, survived to tell our tales. He describes a particular day in Volksrust prison.
"The day was very hot, all the Indians set to work with great energy. The warder was rather short of temper. He shouted at the prisoners all the time to keep on working. The more he shouted, the more nervous the Indians became. I even saw some of them in tears. One, I noticed, had a swollen foot. I went on urging everyone to ignore the warder and carry on as best he could. I too, got exhausted. There were large blisters on my palms and the lymph was oozing out of them. I was praying to God all the time to save my honour so that I might not break down. The warder started rebuking me. He did so because I was resting. Just then I observed Mr. Jhinabhai Desai fainting away. I paused a little, not being allowed to leave the place of work. The warder went to the spot. I found that I too must go and I ran." (Indian Opinion, 09-01-1909).
They splashed water on the fainted Jhinabhai and revived him. Jhinabhai was taken to his cell by cab. That hot day repeated itself on Robben Island in the early sixties.
We, like Gandhi's Indians, had been working at a brisk pace for three hours one day, when fatigue set in and some of us stopped to stretch our bodies. The warder was on to us, swearing and shouting. Then he turned to Steven Tefu, old enough to be his grandfather, very erudite, highly educated, and shouted at him, "Get on boy!"
Tefu drew together his dignity and reprimanded the warder in high Dutch, thoroughly confusing him. The outcome for Tefu was better than that for Jhinabhai.
As was the experience of Gandhi, we were marched off to work in groups of 30. He writes,
"At seven, work starts. On the first day, we had to dig up the soil in a field near the main road for purposes of cultivation." (Indian Opinion, 29-5-1909).
They quarried stones and carried them on their heads. We worked on the lime quarries, and the sun shining on the whiteness blinded our eyes. There were times when Gandhi agonised and wondered whether he had done the right thing by exposing his compatriots to the pain and indignity, but his firm conviction came to his rescue.
"If to bear suffering is in itself a kind of happiness, there is no need to be worried by it. Seeing that our sole duty was to break free from our fetters by enduring every hardship rather than remaining bound for life, I felt light in the heart and tried to instill courage in the others."

Prison Conditions

There is great similarity in the conditions of imprisonment during our days and Gandhi's. Prison conditions changed dramatically only in the 1980s, despite the pressures exerted at the beginning of the century by Gandhi and his colleagues, and in the latter decades by my colleagues and myself. Access to newspapers, radio and television were allowed, in stages, only in the last decade as, too, were beds. In a sense, I was eased into the prison routine.
My first time in a lock-up was on June 26th, 1952 while I was organising the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. I was held for a few days in a police cell before being released on bail. Gandhi's first imprisonment was without hard labour, in January 1908, and though sentenced to two months, he was released within 19 days. General Smuts, fearful of the momentum the passive resistance struggle was gathering, had him brought by train, from Johannesburg, to his offices in Pretoria to work out a settlement.
I too, was called out with a view to a settlement by the then head of state, Mr. P.W. Botha. They drove me to Groote Schuur, but that was in my twenty-sixth year of imprisonment - when the Nationalist Government saw that they could no longer govern the country on their own. Gandhi spent his first term of imprisonment in the Fort in Johannesburg, so did I - in the hospital section as an awaiting trial prisoner in 1962.
Gandhi describes his apprehension on being first convicted: "Was I to be specially treated as a political prisoner? Was I to be separated from my fellow prisoners?" he soliloquized. He was facing imprisonment in a British Colony in 1908, and he still, at the time, harboured a residue of belief in British justice. My colleagues and I faced imprisonment in the cells of apartheid; we had no expectations that we would be given privileges because we were political prisoners. We expected the reverse - greater brutality because we were political prisoners. My first conviction was for five years in 1962, following my incognito African "tour". I began serving in Pretoria. Like Gandhi, we experienced the insides of the major Transvaal prisons. Gandhi, however, was never on Robben Island in the Cape, and we were never in Volksrust in the Transvaal.
Gandhi's approach was to accommodate to the prison conditions since, as a satyagrahi, suffering in the path of freedom and justice was part of his creed: We were never satyagrahis in that sense. We did not accept suffering, we reacted against it. I was as unco-operative on my first day of prison as I possibly could be. I refused to wear the prison shorts and I refused to eat the prison food. They gave me long trousers, and food that was somewhat more palatable, but at a heavy price. I was placed in solitary confinement where I discovered that human company was infinitely more valuable than any material advantage.


Gandhi threatened the South African Government during the first and second decades of our century as no other man did. He established the first anti-colonial political organisation in the country, if not in the world, founding the Natal Indian Congress in 1894. The African People's Organisation (APO) was established in 1902, the ANC in 1912, so that both were witnesses to and highly influenced by Gandhi's militant satyagraha which began in 1907 and reached its climax in 1913 with the epic march of 5,000 workers indentured on the coal mines of Natal. That march evoked a massive response from the Indian women who in turn, provoked the Indian workers to come out on strike. That was the beginning of the marches to freedom and mass stay-away-from-work which became so characteristic of our freedom struggle in the apartheid era. Our Defiance Campaign of 1952, too, followed very much on the lines that Gandhi had set.
So in the Indian struggle, in a sense, is rooted the African. M.K. Gandhi and John Dube, first President of the African National Congress, were neighbours in Inanda, and each influenced the other, for both men established, at about the same time, two monuments to human development within a stone's throw of each other, the Ohlange Institute and the Phoenix Settlement. Both institutions suffer today the trauma of the violence that has overtaken that region; hopefully, both will rise again, phoenix-like, to lead us to undreamed heights.
During his twenty-one years in South Africa, Gandhi was sentenced to four terms of imprisonment, the first, on January 10, 1908 to two months, the second, on October 7, 1908 to three months, the third, on February 25, also to three months, and the fourth, on November 11, 1913 to nine months hard labour. He actually served seven months and ten days of those sentences. On two occasions, the first and the last, he was released within weeks because the Government of the day, represented by General Smuts, rather than face satyagraha and the international opprobrium it was bringing the regime, offered to settle the problems through negotiation.
On all four occasions, Gandhi was arrested in his time and at his insistence - there were no midnight raids, the police did not swoop on him - there were no charges of conspiracy to overthrow the state, of promoting the activities of banned organisations or instigating inter-race violence. The State had not yet invented the vast repertoire of so-called "security laws", that we had to contend with in our time. There was no Terrorism Act, no "Communism Act", no Internal Security Act, or detentions without trial. The control of the State was not as complete; the Nationalist police state and Nationalist ideology of apartheid were yet to be born. Gandhi was arrested for deliberately breaching laws that were unjust because they discriminated against Indians and violated their dignity and their freedom. He was imprisoned because he refused to take out a registration certificate, or a pass in terms of the Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act (TARA), and "instigated" others to do likewise.
When apartheid was still in its infancy, we too, like Gandhi, organised arrests in our own time through the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign, but by the end of the sixties, the violence of the State had reached such intensity that passive resistance appeared futile. We were literally pulled out of our beds and dragged into prison. Our Defiance, instead of bringing relief, provoked the Government into passing the so-called security laws in a bid to dam up all resistance. This should not mislead the reader into thinking that Gandhi's resistance did not provoke harsh measures against him and his followers. The Indians suffered terrible reprisal - they were deported to India and several groups spent time navigating back and forth, between the ports of Bombay and Durban in third class steerage because they refused to disembark in India, insisting they would only do so on their mother soil, South Africa.
Most of those deportees had in fact been born in South Africa and India was for them, a foreign country. Others like Ahmed Cachalia and E.I. Asvat lost their lucrative businesses and were forced into insolvency by their white creditors, not because their businesses were not doing well, but because they resented their 'defiance' and forced them to liquidate their assets and pay them back. Others had their property auctioned, just so that the government could extract the fines the satyagrahis refused to pay for defying unjust laws. Gandhi himself was treated with utmost indignity on several occasions, the like of which was not heaped on us. On two occasions, while being moved from Volksrust to Johannesburg and Pretoria respectively, he was marched from the gaol to the station in prison garb, handcuffed, with his prison kit on his head. Those who saw him were moved to anger and tears. For Gandhi, it was part of his suffering, part of the struggle against inhumanity.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar in Gujarat. After university, he went to London to train as a barrister. He returned to India in 1891 and in 1893 accepted a job at an Indian law firm in Durban, South Africa. Gandhi was appalled by the treatment of Indian immigrants there, and joined the struggle to obtain basic rights for them. During his 20 years in South Africa he was sent to prison many times. Influenced primarily by Hinduism, but also by elements of Jainism and Christianity as well as writers including Tolstoy and Thoreau, Gandhi developed the satyagraha ('devotion to truth'), a new non-violent way to redress wrongs. In 1914, the South African government conceded to many of Gandhi's demands.
Gandhi returned to India shortly afterwards. In 1919, British plans to intern people suspected of sedition - the Rowlatt Acts - prompted Gandhi to announce a new satyagraha which attracted millions of followers. A demonstration against the acts resulted in the Amritsar Massacre by British troops. By 1920, Gandhi was a dominant figure in Indian politics. He transformed the Indian National Congress, and his programme of peaceful non-cooperation with the British included boycotts of British goods and institutions, leading to arrests of thousands.
In 1922, Gandhi himself was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. He was released after two years and withdrew from politics, devoting himself to trying to improve Hindu-Muslim relations, which had worsened. In 1930, Gandhi proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience in protest at a tax on salt, leading thousands on a 'March to the Sea' to symbolically make their own salt from seawater.
In 1931, Gandhi attended the Round Table Conference in London, as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress, but resigned from the party in 1934 in protest at its use of non-violence as a political expedient. He was replaced as leader by Jawaharlal Nehru.
In 1945, the British government began negotiations which culminated in the Mountbatten Plan of June 1947, and the formation of the two new independent states of India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines. Massive inter-communal violence marred the months before and after independence. Gandhi was opposed to partition, and now fasted in an attempt to bring calm in Calcutta and Delhi. On 30 January 1948, he was assassinated in Delhi by a Hindu fanatic.

Why Was Gandhi Never Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Up to 1960, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded almost exclusively to Europeans and Americans. In retrospect, the horizon of the Norwegian Nobel Committee may seem too narrow. Gandhi was very different from earlier Laureates. He was no real politician or proponent of international law, not primarily a humanitarian relief worker and not an organiser of international peace congresses. He would have belonged to a new breed of Laureates.There is no hint in the archives that the Norwegian Nobel Committee ever took into consideration the possibility of an adverse British reaction to an award to Gandhi. Thus it seems that the hypothesis that the Committee's omission of Gandhi was due to its members' not wanting to provoke British authorities, may be rejected.In 1947 the conflict between India and Pakistan and Gandhi's prayer-meeting statement, which made people wonder whether he was about to abandon his consistent pacifism, seem to have been the primary reasons why he was not selected by the committee's majority. Unlike the situation today, there was no tradition for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to try to use the Peace Prize as a stimulus for peaceful settlement of regional conflicts.During the last months of his life, Gandhi worked hard to end the violence between Hindus and Muslims which followed the partition of India. We know little about the Norwegian Nobel Committee's discussions on Gandhi's candidature in 1948 – other than the above quoted entry of November 18 in Gunnar Jahn's diary – but it seems clear that they seriously considered a posthumous award. When the committee, for formal reasons, ended up not making such an award, they decided to reserve the prize, and then, one year later, not to spend the prize money for 1948 at all. What many thought should have been Mahatma Gandhi's place on the list of Laureates was silently but respectfully left open.

1947: Victory and Defeat

In 1947 the nominations of Gandhi came by telegram from India, via the Norwegian Foreign Office. The nominators were B.G. Kher, Prime Minister of Bombay, Govindh Bhallabh Panth, Premier of United Provinces, and Mavalankar, the President of the Indian Legislative Assembly. Their arguments in support of his candidacy were written in telegram style, like the one from Govind Bhallabh Panth: "Recommend for this year Nobel Prize Mahatma Gandhi architect of the Indian nation the greatest living exponent of the moral order and the most effective champion of world peace today." There were to be six names on the Nobel Committee's short list, Mohandas Gandhi was one of them.
The Nobel Committee's adviser, the historian Jens Arup Seip, wrote a new report which is primarily an account of Gandhi's role in Indian political history after 1937. "The following ten years," Seip wrote, "from 1937 up to 1947, led to the event which for Gandhi and his movement was at the same time the greatest victory and the worst defeat – India's independence and India's partition." The report describes how Gandhi acted in the three different, but mutually related conflicts which the Indian National Congress had to handle in the last decade before independence: the struggle between the Indians and the British; the question of India's participation in the Second World War; and, finally, the conflict between Hindu and Muslim communities. In all these matters, Gandhi had consistently followed his own principles of non-violence.
The Seip report was not critical towards Gandhi in the same way as the report written by Worm-Müller ten years earlier. It was rather favourable, yet not explicitly supportive. Seip also wrote briefly on the ongoing separation of India and the new Muslim state, Pakistan, and concluded – rather prematurely it would seem today: "It is generally considered, as expressed for example in The Times of 15 August 1947, that if 'the gigantic surgical operation' constituted by the partition of India, has not led to bloodshed of much larger dimensions, Gandhi's teachings, the efforts of his followers and his own presence, should get a substantial part of the credit."

The First Nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize

Among those who strongly admired Gandhi were the members of a network of pro-Gandhi "Friends of India" associations which had been established in Europe and the USA in the early 1930s. The Friends of India represented different lines of thought. The religious among them admired Gandhi for his piety. Others, anti-militarists and political radicals, were sympathetic to his philosophy of non-violence and supported him as an opponent of imperialism.
In 1937 a member of the Norwegian Storting (Parliament), Ole Colbjørnsen (Labour Party), nominated Gandhi for that year's Nobel Peace Prize, and he was duly selected as one of thirteen candidates on the Norwegian Nobel Committee's short list. Colbjørnsen did not himself write the motivation for Gandhi’s nomination; it was written by leading women of the Norwegian branch of "Friends of India", and its wording was of course as positive as could be expected.

Mahatma Gandhi – Who Was He?

Mohandas Karamchand – known as Mahatma or "Great-Souled" – Gandhi was born in Porbandar, the capital of a small principality in what is today the state of Gujarat in Western India, where his father was prime minister. His mother was a profoundly religious Hindu. She and the rest of the Gandhi family belonged to a branch of Hinduism in which non-violence and tolerance between religious groups were considered very important. His family background has later been seen as a very important explanation of why Mohandas Gandhi was able to achieve the position he held in Indian society. In the second half of the 1880s, Mohandas went to London where he studied law. After having finished his studies, he first went back to India to work as a barrister, and then, in 1893, to Natal in South Africa, where he was employed by an Indian trading company.
In South Africa Gandhi worked to improve living conditions for the Indian minority. This work, which was especially directed against increasingly racist legislation, made him develop a strong Indian and religious commitment, and a will to self-sacrifice. With a great deal of success he introduced a method of non-violence in the Indian struggle for basic human rights. The method, satyagraha – "truth force" – was highly idealistic; without rejecting the rule of law as a principle, the Indians should break those laws which were unreasonable or suppressive. Each individual would have to accept punishment for having violated the law. However, he should, calmly, yet with determination, reject the legitimacy of the law in question. This would, hopefully, make the adversaries – first the South African authorities, later the British in India – recognise the unlawfulness of their legislation.
When Gandhi came back to India in 1915, news of his achievements in South Africa had already spread to his home country. In only a few years, during the First World War, he became a leading figure in the Indian National Congress. Through the interwar period he initiated a series of non-violent campaigns against the British authorities. At the same time he made strong efforts to unite the Indian Hindus, Muslims and Christians, and struggled for the emancipation of the 'untouchables' in Hindu society. While many of his fellow Indian nationalists preferred the use of non-violent methods against the British primarily for tactical reasons, Gandhi's non-violence was a matter of principle. His firmness on that point made people respect him regardless of their attitude towards Indian nationalism or religion. Even the British judges who sentenced him to imprisonment recognised Gandhi as an exceptional personality

Friday, September 28, 2007

Swami Vivekananda Arrives In America

Swami Vivekananda began to plan his visit to America, and on 31st May 1893 he set sails for that far off land; the ochre robed sadhu planning to conquer the scientific reason of the West with Vedantic intuition of the East. Simple in life style, even unaware of exact dates of the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda reached Chicago much ahead of the commencement of the Parliament. He had no letter or credentials from any society or organization; he was not aware what religion he would represent at the Parliament, and most importantly he was short of money. In the Chicago Science Fare he was impressed by the advances America had made in the field of science and technology in comparison to which India was very poor and backward as far as material progress was concerned. The glamour, the innovative application of electricity, telephone, communication, applied aspects of physics for the welfare and comfort of the masses, all filled his heart with amazement and excitement. He used to think: Oh, how much India needs to learn and acquire!...

The Soul Wants to Soar High

Swami Vivekananda's realization of the highest Truths, both in its formless and personal aspects, acted as 'theoretical' confirmation of the highest Vedantic principles as laid down in the Upanishads. They remained confined in the heart of Narendra making him aglow with effulgent divinity, but the condition of his mind was like a bird trapped in a golden cage. It wanted to spread its mighty wings all over, strengthened now with the power of nondual realizations and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. It wanted to soar high in limitless sky to cover the whole humanity under its massive wings and make it aware of those invaluable truths. The restlessness reached the stage when Swami Vivekananda could no longer confine himself to the four walls of Baranagore monastery. He intently desired to go into open world to learn more about practicality of Vedanta. How can Vedanta be applied in day-to-day life to alleviate the sufferings of the masses? Is it possible? Such and many similar questions crowded his mind from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn. And one day, alone, sometime in July 1888, Swami Vivekananda left Calcutta telling his brother disciples not to follow him. Thus started the second important phase in the life of Swami Vivekananda, the Parivrajaka Monk, wandering years of the Swami. He went to Varanasi, Ayodhya, Vrindavan, Lucknow, Agra, and the Himalayas, thus covering the entire north of India. These are the great places of historical, socio-religious, and spiritual importance. These are the places connected with life and teachings of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, Sita and Radha who glorified divine love and dharma as the final culmination of spiritual quest. The great Himalayas attracted him, where loneliness prevailed and called the sadhaka to be ready to merge in the glory of Infinite. This was a short trip and the Swami returned to Calcutta in a few months' time. For sometime he remained in the company of his brother disciples trying to devise the means and the ways to propagate their Master's message to every nook and corner of India and the world, but his future plans could but be sketchy, for he didn't understand how to go about it. The force of knowledge was very great in his heart, acting like a silent bomb; when and where would it burst, no one knew. The restlessness could not be contained in the narrow confines of his head and heart; it must come out to cover all the sky. And hence, for the second time in around July 1891, he left his brothers to wander all over the country, after seeking blessings from Ma Saradadevi.

Learning Through Hardships

Death of Narendra's father and his subsequent prayer to Ma Kali No one knows the complexities of divine play. Inscrutable are the ways of the Lord that only a few can understand; others call it fate. Such a life-shattering event occurred in the life of Narendra when he had passed his degree course in the college (he was about 21 years of age then). Everything was going on smoothly for him at home and at Dakshineswar, when his father suddenly died due to massive heart attack. The liberal attorney, Vishwanath Dutta, although outwardly appeared well off, was in fact in severe debt. His unusual generosity and carelessness in handling money-matters had put him in a situation where nothing was left as savings. The debtors took away their share, leaving the bereaved family in utter poverty and want. Narendra's uncles also shied away in this hour of crisis and, instead of helping him, they also took their share and kept aloof. It was difficult for Narendra to make two ends meet. To add to the difficulty, even after trying hard Narendra could not get a job. In this situation of utter emergency and despair, he took the decision to leave his home and walk out in the unknown world as a sannyasin. Here at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna in his spiritual mood came to know about the secret resolve of his beloved disciple to leave the world, which caused much anguish and concern in his heart. In such a situation Sri Ramakrishna met Narendra at one of the devotee's house. In his deep emotional voice, Sri Ramakrishna sang a song, which ran somewhat like this: 'I am afraid to speak, and equally afraid not to speak,The doubt rises in my mind, lest I should lose you' Immediately the meaning was clear to Narendra; he knew that Sri Ramakrishna had come to know his secret resolve to become sannyasin, and that the song was meant for him to reconsider his decision. Tears flowed down the cheeks of both the Guru and the disciple. All other devotees present there were surprised to see such an unusual behaviour of Sri Ramakrishna and Narendranath; no one could know the real cause behind this emotional outburst. After some time the emotions calmed down and Sri Ramakrishna forced Swami Vivekananda to accompany him to Dakshineswar. There Sri Ramakrishna inquired about the problem and requested Narendra not to desert him till his death. Narendra had to promise, for he could not disobey the sincerity in Sri Ramakrishna's appeal. Then Narendra said to Sri Ramakrishna, "Sir, please pray to the Mother so that my family is supplied with coarse grain and clothes. I know the Mother listens to you and definitely grants your prayers." But Sri Ramakrishna had different plans, if we can say so. Sri Ramakrishna said, "Look my boy, I have given everything to the Mother; how can I ask back anything from her now? But one thing I can tell you, why don't you go and pray to the Mother to fulfill your wish? My Mother is very kind and gracious and, I am sure, she will not disappoint you." Thus, Narendra was forced to pray to Mother Kali for fulfilling his wants. That night Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna were alone in the Kali Temple, when Narendra went to the Mother's shrine to pray and ask for material things of urgent necessity. However, as he entered the shrine all that he could say was, "O Mother, please give me Jnana and Bhakti." Having prayed thus, Narendra returned to where Sri Ramakrishna was waiting for him. Sri Ramakrishna inquired, "Naren, have you asked for food and money required for your family?" Swami Vivekananda, surprised as he was as well, replied, "Why, no sir. I asked for Jnana and Bhakti." "You naive," said Sri Ramakrishna, "Go and ask for wealth and the things you actually need now." Thrice Swami Vivekananda went to Ma Kali, but could not utter a word about money, clothes, food, and etc.; instead every time he prayed for Jnana and Bhakti. As soon as Swami Vivekananda used to enter the temple, his mind would rise to such a wonderful state of consciousness that the whole world, including money, material comfort, and food, lost its value, and in its place there shone forth the radiant face of divine and blissful Mother, gracious enough to grant highest Jnana and Bhakti. What fool would ask for transient and useless things when Mother was ready to grant Jnana? Who would ask for pebbles when someone was distributing the gems! Who would ask for vegetables to the king, when he was willing to grant his whole kingdom! Now Swami Vivekananda understood the deep meaning and significance of Sri Ramakrishna's word that formless God and God with form as Mother were but one. Swami Vivekananda accepted Mother as the highest embodiment of spiritual virtues, power, and knowledge. Exhausted, but satiated with inner knowledge of divinity in all of its aspects, he bowed down at the holy feet of Sri Ramakrishna and said, 'O Lord, today I came to know who you are. You are all, everything in this universe. I do not want anything anymore from the Mother. It is all your wish.' Embracing his disciple, the master assured, "Go my son, be at peace. From today onwards you and your family would ever be provided with simple clothes, food, and shelter. This much I guarantee for you."

Teachings of Vedanta

Through the talks and stories, parables and devotional songs (bhajana) concerning Sri Krishna, Radha, Gopis of Vrindavan, Mother Kali, and Chaitannya, Narendra realized that the essence of religion was to 'realize the highest spiritual Truth' in our lives. As he was opposed and reluctant to accept idol or image worship, and believed in formless God with attributes, Sri Ramakrishna explained to him the subtle points about Brahma, Atman, and Unified Consciousness - the one without the second. Thus, Sri Ramakrishna persuaded Narendra to read to him Ashtavakra Gita and similar texts on Advaita Vedanta, and explained finer points therein, which were otherwise difficult to comprehend. Sri Ramakrishna preferred to tell these nuances in total privacy, when no one else would be present in the room. It was all Jnana and Yoga to begin with. Later Bhakti and Karma were added, which we shall subsequently touch upon. Sri Ramakrishna also instructed his disciples about the importance, ways, methods, and means about meditation and spiritual disciplines. Thus, between 1881 and 1886, for five years, Narendra was groomed to become a great yogi with unparalleled sharpness of intellect, reason, and spiritual knowledge. No one could stand his incisive power of critical analysis based on scientific reason and rationality in the matters of Vedanta. Added to this was the gracious gift of Sri Ramakrishna to his beloved Naren, the gift of Nirvikalpa Samadhi -highest nondual consciousness- through which Swami Vivekananda realized the truths of superconscious states. He was face to face with Atman, the God of Sri Ramakrishna. Therefore, as is said, 'nothing else remained for Swami Vivekananda to be realized now'. He had realized the Highest Truth. But was that the case, indeed! No. For, he still had to realize the truth of the Personal God, still had to accept that both impersonal and personal aspects of God are one and the same thing, as Shiva and Shakti are the two aspects of one Reality. God with form and God without form had relationship like that of fire and its power to burn, sun and its rays, milk and its whiteness, or diamond and its lustre. One cannot be separated from the other. On his way to the realization of ultimate Truth, one passes through various stages, which Swami Vivekananda later elaborated in one of lectures in the USA as, 'It is like taking photographs of the sun from different locations or stations in orbit; all the photographs would appear different, but the essence of each photograph would be the same one Sun.'

Change of Views

After this meeting Narendra was forced to change many of his preconceived notions about God, divinity, and perfected souls. He had formerly a great objection, as most of us have, to accept another man as a Guru or a spiritual guide. This is because we think that the person whom we accept as our Guru might turn out to be an ordinary man full of inherent weaknesses of lust and gold. But after coming in contact with Sri Ramakrishna, Narendra understood that such great souls with complete renunciation, selflessness, and compassion, though rare, actually are born in the world - souls with extraordinary purity, love, and penance - that shake the limited conception about God and God-Man existing in the little mind and intellect of we ordinary people. Therefore, if they are accepted as Gurus, ordinary men are benefited, and not harmed. Consequently Narendra was ready to accept Sri Ramakrishna as his Guru, but still he could not go so far as to accept indiscriminately whatever Sri Ramakrishna said. As Swami Saradananda writes, "A powerful mind feels strong resistance from within when, at the time of accepting new truth, it has to change its former convictions. Narendranath was in that predicament. Though acquainted with Sri Ramakrishna's wonderful powers, he could not completely accept him, and though feeling attracted, he tried to stand aloof from him." Narendra started visiting Sri Ramakrishna more frequently. Soon he got acquainted with a few more sincere disciples who had already decided to dedicate their lives at the Holy feet of Sri Ramakrishna. These meetings with the Master were full of fun and joy, pleasure and gaiety, and there was never a shadow of gloom, dejection, despair, or worry. It was always 'Ananda Mela' (joyous gathering) at Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna used to 'teach' in simple language through parables and stories. There was no feeling that Sri Ramakrishna was the Guru, and all the disciples looked upon him as their wise friend with huge spiritual knowledge born out of innumerable spiritual experiences.

The Teacher and the Disciple

The great soul in Narendranath readily recognized the extraordinary greatness in Sri Ramakrishna in the form of true love for God and great renunciation. However, his skepticism and logical mind was not ready to accept the 'powers' manifested in Sri Ramakrishna. He thought that the 'simple insane' Brahmin might be playing tricks with others in the form of hypnotism or mesmerism. His trance and samadhi were thought to be the whims and play of mind rather than divine superconscious states. In fact Swami Vivekananda postponed his second visit to Dakshineswar for about one month, although he had promised Sri Ramakrishna to visit him soon. But at last the call of Divine was far too powerful for Narendra to resist anymore. And one afternoon, alone on foot, he started for the second meeting with his mentor, and would be Guru. And what did he say? He asked, "Sir, have you seen God?" Calmly Sri Ramakrishna replied, "Yes, I see Him as clearly as one sees an apple over the palm; nay, even more intently. And not only this, you can also see Him." This unusual and most confident answer turned Narendra to more perplexity and surprise. He had been asking the same question 'Sir, have you seen God' to many a great religious and noble person, but he never got such clear cut answer from any one of them. Many religious Pundits, Devendranath Tagore and scholars of Brahmo Movement were reluctant to answer his question with any authority or resoluteness. But that day he got the most emphatic answer in positive. Sri Ramakrishna was sitting all alone. He was very pleased to receive Narendranath and called him near his tiny bedstead. Sri Ramakrishna went into a divine mood and touched Narendra with his right foot. Immediately Narendra had a wonderful experience, which is given in his own words: "I saw with my eyes open that all the things of the room together with the walls were rapidly whirling and receding into an unknown region, and my I-ness together with the whole universe was, as it were, going to vanish in an all devouring great void. I was then overwhelmed with terrible fear. I knew that the destruction of I-ness was death, so I thought that death was before me, very near at hand. Unable to control myself, I cried out loudly, saying, 'ah. What is it you have done to me? I have my parents, you know.'" Laughing loudly at his words, Sri Ramakrishna touched Narendra's chest with his hand and said, "Let it then cease now. It need not be done all at once. It will come to pass in course of time." Swami Vivekananda was amazed to notice how that extraordinary experience vanished as quickly as it had come. He came to normal state and saw things inside and outside the room standing still as before.


Swami Vivekananda was born in an educated and well-to-do family of Calcutta on 12th January 1863. His father, Vishwanath Dutta, was a famous lawyer with progressive, liberal, and scientific outlook. He was widely travelled and knew many languages including Persian and English. Swami Vivekananda's mother, Bhuvaneshawaridevi, was a pious and wise lady devoted to God. She inspired the latent virtues of fearlessness, honesty, justice, and devotion in her son, Narendra (as Swami Vivekananda was called in his childhood). She told him the stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the two great Indian Epics, which influenced later life of Swami Vivekananda. From his early childhood Narendra was naughty, brave, and fearless. He did not approve of injustice or sycophancy. But his peculiar tendencies in the childhood were 1) the ease with which he could get absorbed in deep meditation, and 2) the unusual capacity of intense mental concentration, which made him learn and remember the essence of his studies even by reading just once. As an example, let me cite the following incident from his later life: Once Swami Vivekananda was reading 'Encyclopedia Britannica'. His disciple (Sharatchandra Chakravarti), seeing those twenty-odd volumes, remarked, "It is difficult to master the contents of so many volumes in one life." He did not know at the time that the Swami had already finished ten volumes and was reading the eleventh. "What do you mean?" said Swamiji. "Ask me whatever you like from those ten volumes and I can tell you all about it." The disciple, out of curiosity, brought down the books and asked Swamiji many questions on difficult and varied topics, selecting from different volumes. Swami Vivekananda not only replied each correctly, but also in many instances quoted the very language of the books. At other time, Swami Vivekananda happened to turn the pages of a book in quick succession after looking at them just once. The disciple asked as to what Swamiji was doing. Swami Vivekananda replied, "Why, I am reading the book." The disciple was greatly surprised to see such odd method of reading the book. Then the Swami explained: Just as a child reads every letter of a word, and most of adults read a cluster of words or a part of a sentence, one can read paragraph to paragraph. Thus, just three glances and he could read the whole page. Later he greatly emphasized the need to cultivate powers of mind in the form of purity and concentration for spiritual gains. Concentration of mind also led to perfection in many other branches of knowledge including art and science, he maintained.


Rarely does humanity witness a combination of a great Guru (Spiritual Teacher) and equally capable Shishya (spiritual disciple) as Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda were. The Upanishads and the Gita do mention of such noble pairs, when a yearning aspirant seeking higher knowledge humbly bows down to the Teacher and says, 'Sir, please tell me: Which is that thing which having been known, all this becomes known, and nothing else remains to be known? Give me that, acquiring which all desires nullify. O gracious one, I surrender at your feet; please tell me what is right for me.' And the compassionate Teacher describes the nature of Self or Atman, starting as external reality and culminating into the true knowledge of our inner Self. As the Guru speaks, so does the aspirant (sadhaka) experience the Truth contained in those words. It is as if a film on Brahman is being run in front of the yearning aspirant. One such pair flourished in the last but one decade of nineteenth century, when Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa sculpted the most wonderful masterpiece in the form of Swami Vivekananda out of skeptical and rational, but fearless and dynamic Narendranath. Their association has unleashed a tremendous spiritual force that has started destroying dreary ignorance covering the minds and hearts of mankind all over the globe. Then, scientific knowledge based on reason and rationality was ushering in the era of Industrial Revolution; however, it also brought skepticism and contempt for religion. Science appeared to be partial and sectarian in its study of various phenomena, for it tried to leave religion out of its purview. As a result, the majority of people started believing that the goal of life was material progress alone. Religion was on the defensive in the face of clattering advances of modern technology. Decline in religion (Dharma Glani) manifested as ritualistic monotony, crass materialism, and excessive engagement in sense pleasures with resultant lack of discrimination and renunciation. Values of kindness and generosity, of forbearance and simplicity were relegated to the back seat. The priests and the rulers, the rich and the privileged became the custodians of religious truths. Selfishness replaced altruism, and religious fanaticism erupted as a legitimate weapon to spread "true religion" and destroy "false beliefs". Such states of decline in Dharma come in cycles. However, as the Gita says, a Man of God also comes on the scene to destroy wickedness and to reestablish the path of spirituality. These great seers and teachers come to 'set in motion the wheel of dharma,' as did Lord Buddha 2500 years ago. Such incarnations come from time to time, in every era, in every land, and help revive the noble path of transcendental realization as the source and proof of Knowledge and Truth. They give the sagging wheel of spirituality a powerful push for moving it again in right direction. In recent times world faced such a situation when, to revive the declining faith in religion and to instill knowledge of the true goal of humankind, Swami Vivekananda entered the world arena as a great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Vivekananda revived Hinduism on the basis of the interpretations and meaning given to the philosophy of Vedanta by great Rishis at various time-periods of history. The externals of Hinduism appear to change from Sri Rama to Sri Krishna, from Sri Chaitannya to Sri Ramakrishna, but the core of Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Religion) remains the same. Swami Vivekananda preached the essence of religion by way of finding newer insights in and application of Eternal Religion as per the requirement of modern times and global perspective. He highlighted the truth of the 'divinity of each soul' and the constant struggle and evolution of an individual to manifest this divinity fully. Transcendental realization of our true nature, i.e. pure consciousness, is what Hinduism (Vedanta) preaches right through the eternity. This is the essential teaching mentioned and elaborated in the Upanishads, the Gita, and the Brahma-sutras. The attempt to realize this truth is the beginning of religion, and getting established in transcendental divine state is the aim of human birth. Every person succeeding in this attempt is the basis and hope for fresh human endeavour and struggle for self-realization in future.

swami vivekanand's life

Ramakrishna suffered from cancer and passed away in 1886. During his illness, a group of select young men had gathered round him and began to nurse him while receiving spiritual guidance from him. Naren was the leader of this group. Ramakrishna had wanted that they take to monastic life and had symbolically given them Gerua cloth. They accordingly founded a monastery at Baranagar and began to live together, depending upon they got by begging. Sometimes they would also wander about like other monks. Naren also would sometimes go travelling. It was while he was thus travelling that he assumed the name of Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda travelled extensively through India, sometimes on foot. He was shocked to see the conditions of rural India-people ignorant, superstitious, half-starved, and victims of caste-tyranny. If this shocked him, the callousness of the so-called educated upper classes shocked him still more. In the course of his travels he met many princes who invited him to stay with them as their guest. He met also city-based members of the intelligentsia-lawyers, teachers, journalists and government officials. He appealed to all to do something for the masses. No one seemed to pay any heed to him-except the Maharaja of Mysore, the Maharaja of Khetri and a few young men of Madras. Swami Vivekananda impressed on everybody the need to mobilize the masses. A few educated men and women could not solve the problem of the country the mass power had to be harnessed to the task. He wanted the masses educated. The ruler of Mysore was among the first to make primary education free within his State. This, however, was not enough in Swamiji's view. A peasant could not afford to send his children to school, for he needed help in his field. He wanted education taken to the peasant's door-step, so that the peasant's children could work and learn at the same time. It was a kind of 'non-formal' education which perhaps he visualized. His letters to the Maharaja of Mysore on the subject show how much he had given to the subject and how original he was. Other princes, or the intelligentsia as a whole, were impressed by Swamiji's personality, but were much too engrossed with their own affairs to pay any heed to his appeals. Some of the young men of Madras, Perumal specially, dedicated himself to the ideas Swamiji propounded and his contributions to the success of his mission were significant. Swamiji could guess the reason why the so-called leaders of the society ignored him. Who was he ? A mere wandering monk. There were hundreds of such monks all over the country. Why should they pay any special attention to him ? By and large, they followed only Western thinkers and those Indians who followed the West and had had some recognition in the West by so doing. It was slave mentality, but that was what characterized the attitude of the educated Indians over most matters. It pained Swamiji to see Indians strutting about in Western clothes and imitating Western ways and manners, as if that made them really Western. Later he would call out the nation and say, 'Feel proud that you are Indians even if you're wearing a loin-cloth'. He was not opposed to learning from the West, for he knew the Western people had some great qualities and it was because of those qualities that they had become so rich and powerful. He wanted India to learn science and technology from the West and its power to organize and its practical sense, but, at the same time, retain its high moral and spiritual idealism. But the selfishness of the so-called educated people pained him more. They were happy if they could care for themselves and they gave a damn to what happened to the people. Swamiji wanted to draw their attention to the miserable condition of the masses-illiterate, always on the verge of starvation, superstitious and victims of oppression by the upper castes and the rich landlords.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KEEP IN MIND 1. Love Is The Law Of Life: All love is expansion, all selfishness is contraction. Love is therefore the only law of life. He who loves lives, he who is selfish is dying. Therefore, love for love's sake, because it is law of life, just as you breathe to live. 2. It's Your Outlook That Matters: It is our own mental attitude, which makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds. Learn to see things in the proper light. 3. Life is Beautiful: First, believe in this world - that there is meaning behind everything. Everything in the world is good, is holy and beautiful. If you see something evil, think that you do not understand it in the right light. Throw the burden on yourselves! 4.It's The Way You Feel: Feel like Christ and you will be a Christ; feel like Buddha and you will be a Buddha. It is feeling that is the life, the strength, the vitality, without which no amount of intellectual activity can reach God. 5. Set Yourself Free: The moment I have realised God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him - that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free. 6. Don't Play The Blame Game: Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way. 7. Help Others: If money helps a man to do good to others, it is of some value; but if not, it is simply a mass of evil, and the sooner it is got rid of, the better. 8. Uphold Your Ideals: Our duty is to encourage every one in his struggle to live up to his own highest idea, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the Truth. 9. Listen To Your Soul: You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul. 10. Be Yourself: The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves! 11. Nothing Is Impossible: Never think there is anything impossible for the soul. It is the greatest heresy to think so. If there is sin, this is the only sin - to say that you are weak, or others are weak. 12. You Have The Power: All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark. 13. Learn Everyday: The goal of mankind is knowledge... now this knowledge is inherent in man. No knowledge comes from outside: it is all inside. What we say a man 'knows', should, in strict psychological language, be what he 'discovers' or 'unveils'; what man 'learns' is really what he discovers by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge. 14. Be Truthful: Everything can be sacrificed for truth, but truth cannot be sacrificed for anything. 15. Think Different: All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.