Swami Vivekananda, who was born this day 147 years ago is an inspirational figure of India’s renaissance in the modern era.
While asserting India’s spiritual message through the gnostic wisdom of the Vedanta, the Swami correlated the concept of an all-pervading divinity to the need to raise the Indian masses from the poverty and privations they were going through under British rule.
He was the guiding force in welding together the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, whose prime disciple he was, into the Ramakrishna Mission. The potentiality for ‘divinity’ of all human beings, the harmony of all religions, and serving mankind in the spirit of serving God are among the important ideals of the Ramakrishna Math (monastic order) and Mission (service organisation).
Sri Aurobindo, the Cambridge educated classical scholar who returned to India and became ultra nationalist, was about nine years younger than Vivekananda. Yogi, mystic and poet, he ‘evolved a new method of spiritual practice called the ‘Integral Yoga’, and put it into practice in the ashram at Pondicherry through his spiritual collaborator, The Mother.
The ultimate aim of Sri Aurobindo’s discipline, who envisaged all life as yoga, is the divine transformation of human nature. Pondicherry, where the Sri Aurobindo ashram is located is the centre of the movement. The Aurobindo Society, and Auroville, the international city of dawn, also carry the impress of Sri Aurobindo’s thought and Mother’s action.
The organisations connected with these two seminal personalities of the great Indian renaissance have ostensibly different aims and objectives. But Sri Aurobindo had great respect and reverence both for Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, and even saw them in yogic visions. He expressed his sentiments regarding both in no uncertain terms.
When Sri Aurobindo was in Alipore prison (1908-09), charged with treason by the British government, he constantly heard the voice of Vivekananda speaking to him for a fortnight. He felt the presence of Vivekananda. ‘‘The voice spoke only on a special and limited but very important field of spiritual experience and it ceased once it had finished saying all that it had to say on the subject’’.
According to Sri Aurobindo, he had also received messages from Swami Vivekananda’s guru, Sri Ramakrishna. While Sri Aurobindo was at Baroda (1893-1906), the message was, ‘’Arobindo..Mandir Karo…Mandir Karo’’. The second, soon after Sri Aurobindo landed in Pondy (1910), was ‘a direction to form the higher self in the lower self’. The third message from Sri Ramakrishna came on 19 Oct. 1912: It said : ‘ Make complete sanyaasa of karma, Make complete sanyaasa of thought, Make complete sanyaasa of feeling, This is my last utterance.’
Sri Aurobindo looked upon Swami Vivekananda as a mighty spiritual force, and perceived ‘‘his influence still working gigantically’’ on the soul of the Mother (India) and in the souls of her children. He was certain that Ramakrishna had expected him to be a great power to change the world mind in a spiritual direction. Aurobindo interpreted Vivekananda’s rise, ‘his going forth into the world as marked out by the Master’, as the first visible sign to the world the ‘‘India was awake not only to survive but also to conquer’’.
The sayings of Ramakrishna and the writings and speeches of Vivekananda’s were Sri Aurobindo’s first introduction to Indian spiritual experience, though their influence on him was ‘purely mental’ .
The view of Vivekananda on the diversity of religious expressions in India was greatly admired and reiterated by Sri Aurobindo. The European mind ‘cherished the aggressive and quite illogical’ idea of a single religion for all mankind…and so it considered the endless variety of Indian philosophy and religion as not only bewildering and wearisome but also useless. But Vivekananda came and asserted not only the unity of all religions (based on Ramakrishna’s realisations), but also that this unity must necessarily express itself in an increasing variety of forms.
Sri Aurobindo own realisations underscored this fact. Along with Vivekananda he asserted that the perfect state of the unity of all religions would come when each man had his own religion (for spiritual upliftment suited to his nature).
Sri Aurobindo goes on to say that Vivekananda came to assert that in every one of the three hundred million men (and women, of India at the time), from the Raja on his throne to the coolie at his labour, from the Brahmin absorbed in his Sandhya to the Pariah walking shunned of men, God Liveth. ‘’We are all gods and creators, because the energy of God is within us and all life is creation’’.
Like Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo too had the vision that India must be reborn, because ‘‘in her rebirth is the future of the world’’. With Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo too held that India has the undisputed right to extend spiritual sway over the world. This must not of course be understood as some sort of spiritual imperialism…it is the reading of India’s destiny based on deep introspection.
Only a yogi of Sri Aurobindo’s intuitive grasp, could put Swami Vivekananda’s life in proper perspective. He quotes an incident from the Swami’s life to underscore the latter’s spiritual authority and power.
The reference is to a retort by Vivekananda to a Madras pundit’s objection on the basis that ‘Shankara does not say so’’. The swami shot back saying, ‘But I, Vivekananda, say so’.
Sri Aurobindo points out that that ‘I Vivekananda’ may seem to the ordinary eye as the Himalaya of egotism. But it is not what it seems. It is the truth of Vivekananda’s spiritual experience, and the attitude of the fighter who as the representative of something great cannot allow himself to be put down or belittled, says Sri Aurobindo.
Sri Aurobindo is not a mere apologist of the Swami. He is a fraternal yogi, whose deep intuitions make him singularly suited to understand Vivekananda in correct light.
The teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo asserted, combine the full light of the knowledge of the Upanishads with all life and action in a unique synthesis.
Sri Aurobindo compares Vivekananda with Buddha (the latter indeed was a favourite of the Swami!), saying that just as the Buddha, after discovering Nirvana, turned back to open the way for others, Vivekananda, ‘’drawn by the Absolute, feels the call of the disguised Godhead in humanity and most the call of the fallen and the suffering, the call of the self to the self in the obscure body of the universe’’.
(The All India Magazine, a monthly magazine of Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry has published a culling of Sri Aurobindo’s references to Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. Through Mother’s blessings it was my good fortune to translate it into Tamil and get it published. It was one of the most heartening experiences of my life).