Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863. His 150th Birth Anniversary was celebrated for last two to three years all over the world by his devotees and admirers.
As time passes, people forget people. Generations after generations simply fade away in time. But, for personalities like Swami Vivekananda, as time passes, more and more people understand the importance of their lives, teachings and/or their contributions.
According to the Hindu calendar, Sunday, February 3, 2013 was Swami Vivekananda’s actual 150th Birthday. I was fortunate to be invited by Revered Swami Yuktatmananda, Spiritual Head of Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, 17 East, 94th St., New York, as one of the four speakers to share my thoughts. My topic was “The Essential Spiritual Message of Swami Vivekananda.”
Revered Swami Yuktatmananda was kind enough to give me the audio of my speech delivered at the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center.
Simply enjoy it by clicking on the following arrow:
If you cannot get all the words, then please read the following lecture prepared from the audio with some minor changes.
The Essential Spiritual Message of Swami Vivekananda
(Lecture given at Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, New York, on February 3, 2013, on the occasion of 150th Birthday Celebration of Swami Vivekananda)
Revered Swami Yuktatmanandaji, honorable speakers and friends:
I sincerely thank Swami Yuktatmanandaji for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts on this special occasion, celebrating Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary. This is a very special occasion as it is on the exact birthday of Swami Vivekananda according to the Hindu calendar. My topic is, “The Essential Spiritual Message of Swami Vivekananda.”
After listening to and learning from revered Swami Adiswaranandaji for many years, listening to Swami Yuktatmanandaji and others, and also reflecting upon Swami Vviekananda’s teachings, I am fully convinced that the essential spiritual message of Swami Vivekananda is this:
“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest that divinity within by controlling nature: external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy-by one, or more, or all of these-and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms are but secondary details.”
Why Divinity and what is divinity? We all want to be happy, but various disturbances and miseries come and make us unhappy. We say, Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti! Om Peace! Peace! Peace! Three times because there are three kinds of disturbances: from the environment, from people, and from our own minds. We have no control over the natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, and storms like Sandy. But the question is what can we do about the internal disturbances?
If we examine life more closely, what do we find? We find more misery than happiness. Babies are born crying. Toddlers cry for food and discomfort. Teens are unhappy because they cannot do what they want to do and cannot get what they want. Adults are worried about finding good jobs and life partners. Then, there are the three rings: engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering. Adulthood passes in carrying the heavy workload of their job and household. It follows by old age, disease, and death.
Suppose everything is fine – one has a good job, a good spouse, and a good family. But, then the mind changes and they are not good anymore. A person’s mind gets bored or unhappy with what he or she has. One day the job and the boss look great, and another day you hate both of them. The husband, who was sweet like honey before marriage, now becomes a bitter pill to swallow. Someone once said, one day the wife looked as though moon-faced (Chandramukhi), another day as though sun-faced (Suryamukhi), and another day as though volcano-faced. Same people, but the mind changed. Or one can say, “As the mind changes, people change. The house which was once a heaven on earth, now looks like a prison. We suffer because we are helpless. We are slaves of our past actions. We cannot get out of their consequences. There are physical limitations. No one asked me before my birth where I wanted to be born, what would be the color of my skin and eyes. I want to be in New York, in Los Angeles and in Delhi at the same time. But, I can’t. I want to enjoy food, but doctors say, “No. It is not good for you.” I know someone who was dieting because of health problems. After ten days of fasting, he was passing by a bakery and smelled a cheese cake. He controlled himself, went a few steps further. All of a sudden, he turned back, went into the bakery, bought the cheese cake and ate the whole right there. We make resolutions, but we cannot keep them. People say that it is good to make resolutions on January 1st, so we have the joy of breaking them in February. Shankaracharya says that a fish gets caught because of craving for food, an elephant because of its desire to enjoy touch, a moth by the beauty of fire, deer by sound, and a bee by smell. Human beings are slaves of all five senses, and we suffer.
Next is the fundamental question of life, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Is there any purpose? If a near and dear one dies, then we think, “Is that all? The life is gone? He or she was there a while go, and now is no more. One day I will be gone and it is all over.” Buddha had all the pleasures of the world, but similar thoughts came to his mind and he could not enjoy the palaces, the parties and the flashy desires. Someone may say, “Uncle, you are looking at the negative side of life. You are looking at half empty glass. Look at the positive side of life; see that the glass is half full.” But, aren’t the “half empty” and “half full” both partial views of life? Isn’t it wise to look at the whole glass? Is it not good to have a realistic view of life? Swami Vivekananda said that we do not have the clear picture of the universe because it is based upon little experience, poor reasoning and our weaknesses.
What is the way out? Some people say, ‘Don’t think too much. Occupy your mind with something: art, science, sports, and parties. Some say, keep changing: change your hair–if you have any, change your house, job, friends, spouse, country etc. Some say that this is what the world is. Learn to live with it. Get used to it. Think positive and keep hope alive. But these are mere patch-works. These are not solutions. Running away from the problem or pretending that the problem does not exist is not going to solve the problem. We have to face the problem. Swami Vivekananda said, “Face the brute.” He learned this lesson from a sadhu when he was being chased by monkeys. Rishis, Sages and saints faced the fundamental problems of life. Swami Vivekananda said that only by facing the forces of nature and not giving in, human beings have manifested their power.
So, what is the way out? After seeing old age, disease and death, Buddha saw a mendicant. He was serene and filled with happiness. Upon enquiry he found out that this mendicant had realized something that brought all this peace and bliss. Buddha set out to find that something. He set out in search of that Truth or God which removes all sorrows and brings true happiness. Swami Vivekananda wanted that happiness and answers to these fundamental questions of life. He also wanted to know the truth. He wanted to know God. That is why he was asking all people, “Sir, Have you seen God?” No one said, “Yes.” Finally, he met Sri Ramakrishna who said, “Yes my son! I have seen God and I see God more clearly than I see you.” Swami Vivekananda found in that voice, the echo of the Truth that he was searching and he followed him. What Swami Vivekananda learned from Sri Ramakrishna about God and what he himself realized later, he beautifully described in his poem “Quest for God.” He wrote:
O’ver hill and dale and mountain range,
In temple, church, and mosque,
In Vedas, Bible, Al Koran
I had searched for Thee in vain.
(He searched God everywhere.)
Years then passed in bitter cry,
Each moment seemed an age,
Till one day, midst my cries and groans
Some one seemed calling me.
A gentle soft and soothing voice
That said ‘my son’ ‘my son’,
That seemed to thrill in unison
With all the chords of my soul.
A flash illumined all my soul;
The heart of my heart opened wide.
O joy, O bliss, what do I find!
My love, My love (God), you are here
And you are here, my love (God), my all!
Swami Vivekananda found that the God he was searching for everywhere resided within. God is the divinity lying within that makes us look for God outside. That is why he said, “Each person is potentially divine and the goal of our life is to realize this divinity and manifest it in our thoughts, speech, and actions.”
How do we realize this divinity? Swamiji said, “Realize this divinity by controlling nature: external and internal.” We can control the external nature partially by science, social reform, and proper actions. But how do you control the internal nature? Note that the external behavior is a reflection of our inner mind-set. So, most important is to control our internal nature. Swamiji said control your internal nature by either work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy.
These are four Yogas of the Bhagavad Gita: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga. The series of lectures given by Swami Vivekananda on these four Yogas in this New York City around 1894-1895 are one of the greatest contributions of his to humanity. He said both Monks and householders can realize this divinity within. Offer the results of actions to God, meaning perform all actions unselfishly, not for name, fame, or other ulterior benefit. Think that everything belongs to God, the Creator, and we are just care-takers. By doing work this spirit, our actions will purify our minds and our divine nature will manifest from within. He said that we must have intense passion to realize God. Sri Ramakrishna said that we have to combine the intensities of three kinds of love: the love that mother has for her child, a greedy person has for money, and a passionate person has for one’s spouse – combine the intensity of all these three kinds of love for God and then one can realize God. When one realizes God, one’s mind will be filled with bliss and love. With that love of God, even miseries of life seem blessings of God in disguise. Swami Vivekananda said that learn to control senses by mind and mind by intellect. Then, focus the mind on God or the inner divinity. Study scriptures. Learn the essence of the teachings of the scriptures from holy people. Reflect upon them. Practice them. and realize that the support of our body and mind is the Soul, our divine self. Body and mind changes, but the blissful soul is eternal. Realize that this constantly changing world cannot give us the eternal bliss and peace. Only through realizing our inner divinity we acquire true happiness and become free from all bondages. These Four Yogas cover all our four faculties: intellect, mind, heart and hands. All four yogas are necessary.
Finally, Swami Vivekananda said that see God everywhere; see God in all; respect all and love all. Ultimately we have to realize that God has become everything. He asked us to worship the living God — the God that walks through all feet, who works through all hands, sees through all eyes, speaks through all mouths, and listens through all ears. He encouraged us to worship this living God by serving humanity unselfishly.
Swami Vivekananda had a robust physic. But, in serving humanity, he had worn out his body and passed away at the age of 39. He practiced what he preached and left a glorious example for all of us to follow. Million salutations to Swami Vivekananda and salutation to you all! Thank you.
(My sincere thanks to Nisha Parikh for her help in editing this article.)