Swami Vivekananda Jayanthi : Taking Advaitha Vedanta to the Common Man
“Shankara left this Advaita philosophy in the hills and forests, while I have come to bring it out of those places and scatter it broadcast before the workaday world and society. The lion-roar of Advaita must resound in every hearth and home, in meadows and groves, over hills and plains” proclaims Swami Vivekananda.
Advaita means non-dual or “not two.” This oneness is a fundamental quality of everything. Everything is a part of and made of one non-dual consciousness. Often the question arises, “If it is all one thing, why don’t I experience it that way?” This is confusing oneness for the appearance of sameness. Things can appear different without being separate. Just look at your hand for a moment. Your fingers are all different from each other, but are they separate? They all arise from the same hand. Similarly, the objects, animals, plants and people in the world are all definitely different in their appearance and functioning. But they are all connected at their source—they come from the same source. This one Being that is behind all life has an infinite number of different expressions that we experience as different objects.
Swamiji’s new approach of presenting Vedanta for the modern age is unique in the history of humanity; never before had anyone tried so boldly to teach Advaita to everybody irrespective of caste, creed, race, religion, ashrama of life (student, house-holder, recluse, monk), and adhikara-bheda (level of competency to grasp spiritual truths).
Advaita Vedanta was regarded in India as an esoteric philosophy meant for only a few all-renouncing monks, never to be practiced by the majority in day-to-day life. Swamiji’s advent changed that scenario.
Swami Vivekananda’s Approach towards Advaita
Swamiji emphasizes the all-pervasive nature of Reality and the divinity of man, thus making it the primary base for all functions of life. The new stress—on the omnipresence of Spirit rather than on the negative principle of maya—releases tremendous reserves of energy trapped in millions of people, especially among the working class masses.
Swamiji’s Practical Vedanta approach is also most appropriate for the modern spiritual aspirant whose intellect is sharpened by the technological education he/she receives in society. Never before in history were human beings so exposed to the dominance of reason over faith, and never was practical demonstration given so much preference over the intangible source of values. The scientific revolution initiated in the West swept the entire globe in a couple of centuries and in the process brought in new ways of not only education but also value assessment. This process in the West caused religion to be looked upon initially as a great obstacle to human progress and later as a harmless pastime. In the East similar confusion regarding religion could have prevailed if not for the efforts of Swami Vivekananda’s exposition of religion. Swamiji foresaw the trends of the modern age and interpreted religion on scientific lines.
A study of world history of the last two centuries reveals the slow but sure influence of Swami Vivekananda’s ideas. If we look particularly at Indian history, with special attention to it after the advent of Swamiji, we can observe the penetrating effect of his message in all fields of life. Swamiji’s message first breathed new life in the dead bones of India and made it struggle for political freedom, inspiring many self-sacrificing martyrs. After attaining freedom, the nation started moving slowly but visibly toward a more activity-oriented temperament, till in last couple of decades it has picked up much speed and promises to “make India brighter, greater, much higher than she ever was” as the great Swami had prophesied. Slowly but surely Swamiji’s ideas have penetrated the Western world too, and one can see a steady but tremendous upheaval in areas like religion, inter-faith understanding and psychology. We are indeed fortunate to play our roles in this human revolution initiated by Swamiji’s Practical Vedanta.
Taking Advaita to People
Swamiji was in favour of teaching Advaita Vedanta to every person of the nation including kids and women. Women, at those times, didn’t have rights and couldn’t enjoy as much benefits as they do it today.
Advaita Vedanta, isn’t a religious book. It doesn’t talk about a mysterious being who resides in the seventh heaven, and controls every action on this planet and sends his messenger (or comes down himself) to save lives, once in a while. It is a philosophy. Philosophy based on spirituality as well as practicality. Anyone who has an idea of Advaita will understand that he/she is much beyond the concepts of materialism or spirituality. Advaita combines yoga (not asanas) of the highest order with practical living to earn bread and butter.
So, if someone learns Advaita, he is not turning Hindu. If someone prefers teaching Advaita to his kids/students, he isn’t a fanatic. Our lecturer used to teach us a lot about the Holy Bible, during his lectures on “Machine Design”. At the end, we ended up learning a lot, and no one became a Christian. So, to conclude, yes, it would help if students are taught about the principles of Vedanta.
Shankara & Vivekananda’s Advaita
According to Asim Banerjee, renowned expert in Advaita philosophy: Adi Shankaracharya, the great exponent of Advaita Vedanta and a reformer of Hindu religion who is also credited with reviving and restoring the Vedic religion to its pristine purity can possibly be compared only with Swami Vivekananda, considering the enormous contribution of the both in the fields of religion, philosophy and spirituality. A. L. Basham, the reputed British historian and Indologist, while dwelling on Vivekananda’s contribution observed that “in centuries to come he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world, especially as far as Asia is concerned, and as one of the most significant figures in the whole history of Indian religion, comparable in importance to such great teachers as Sankara and Ràmànuja.” Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, while on the contribution of Vivekananda, observed: “If you really believe in the divine spark in man, do not for a moment hesitate to accept the great tradition which has come to us, of which Swami Vivekananda was the greatest exponent.”
There were striking similarities between the two spiritual titans of India. Both had profound respect and sense of duty to their mother, so much so that they did not care for the traditional monastic norm of complete separation of tie with her. They both travelled through the length and breadth of the country after Sannyas (monkhood). Both of them were exponents of Advaita Vedanta. Both were against the rigours of caste system. Both revolted against ritualistic religion, exploitation, and superstitions and both were out and out non-conformists. Both gave their own interpretation about Brahman and the Vedanta and both gave a new direction to the contemporary society. Last but not the least, both are remembered and revered as the saviour of Hindu religion in the face of grave crisis and threat of near extinction.
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