India celebrates National Youth day on January 12 in the memory of a visionary par excellence, Swami Vivekananda. Born as Narendranath Datta into an aristocratic family, Swami Vivekananda lost his father at an early age and had to strive to support his family. Through his journey of struggles, he often questioned the purpose of life. Deeply affected by the poverty-stricken lives of many Indians, he began to enquire about the presence of God.
After initially rejecting the philosophy of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, he finally accepted him as his Guru, when he discovered the truth for himself. Datta renounced the world and joined the monastic order of Ramakrishna as Vivekananda to serve humanity. He was not just a spiritual leader but a leader who made India rise from its stupor and awaken from a long slumber which makes him a youth icon relevant even today and for ages to come.
Inquisitiveness and questioning
Swami Vivekananda was a modern and rational man. He studied various beliefs in Hinduism, western philosophies of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill, and Christianity. His inquisitiveness led him to join the Freemasons and the Brahmo Samaj. His quest for knowledge and discovering the purpose of life made him contemplative about himself and life. His undying attitude towards finding the answer is a quality worth imbibing. This made him a man of vision and values.
Actions speak louder than words
The onus of heading the monastery and monks fell on Swami Vivekananda after the passing of Ramakrishna. He helped build the Baranagar Math, which became the first building of the Ramakrishna Math. Vivekananda travelled extensively across India, met scholars and philosophers. His natural compassion for people drove him to uplift their lives. After travelling world over, he gave a series of lectures around India to inspire people, and remind them of their cultural heritage as well as their abilities. And that’s when India awakened to the call of unity, and with a will to progress.
India on the world stage
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda addressed the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, US. He bagan his address with ‘Brothers and sisters of America’ ending with the world getting a piece of India’s greatness.
“I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth,” he said. The world perceived India as a poor country in the hands of the British, but Vivekananda’s lectures and speeches in the US, England, France and other countries changed the perspective of the West. His persistent emphasis on India, as a spiritual ambassador made him the ideal ambassador that the country needed.
Education is the key
Vivekananda vowed to help his fellow Indians through education. He felt the need to teach agricultural and industrial skills to the unskilled, and provide a wholesome education. He believed secular education would uplift the economic situation of the masses and knowledge of the atman i.e. self-discovery would induce faith and responsibility in people. To promote this, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission with the sole purpose of educating India which expanded to rural development, healthcare and rehabilitation for the people.
A life of contribution
In his life of 39 years, Swami Vivekananda managed to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western philosophy, also emphasising that science and religion or spirituality could be complimentary. His message that religion is not about superstitions, rituals and rigidity but a journey of self-discovery and a pursuit of happiness, is something that India and the world should think about. In spite of his deteriorating health, he did not stop his contribution to the world and beloved motherland. His life is a perfect example of life lived in deeds rather than years.