“It is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics”

This one quote by Swami Vivekanada even as early as the nineteenth century sums up the situation of the common man in India. Swamiji’s compassion to the poor stemmed from his real life experiences of seeing them roam pathetically the length and breadth of cities and towns trying to eke out one square meal each day. Swamiji was convinced that real freedom would be gained only when each and every one of the teeming masses would be clothed and fed to their hearts content and can go about in pursuit of other things if this basic instinct of hunger could be satiated. Alas even after sixty six years of independence India has not been able to fulfill this basic survival need of man and the poor have been left behind as the country marches on ahead seeking development and prosperity. A country can be said to be truly developed only if all its citizens are carried towards this surge of progress.

Swamiji thundered “So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them! I call those men who strut about in their finery, having got all their money by grinding the poor wretches, so long as they do not do anything for those two hundred millions who are now no better than hungry savages! We are poor, my brothers, we are nobodies, but such have been always the instruments of the Most High. The Lord bless you all”

Swami Vivekanada had his finger on the pulse on the real problem that had afflicted this country. He was a Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya, a realized soul who travelled throughout this great country trying to absorb influences and understand the problems first hand. He was not an arm chair monk doling out wise lessons from the relative comfort of his monastery. His heart sympathized for the impoverished. During these travels he saw for himself the appalling conditions in which the poor lived and their backwardness troubled him. Swami Vivekananda was perhaps the first religious leader who proclaimed that ‘Manava Seva is actually Madhava Seva’ that is, service to a fellow man was actually service to god. The immediate solution he felt was to provide food and other basic necessities of survival for these daridra narayanas. Swamiji understood the crux of the problem, that owing to centuries of neglect and oppression, the masses had lost faith in their capacity for self improvement. Therefore they had to be infused with self confidence. Spirituality would certainly provide the answer but how about economic upliftment. Secular knowledge or knowledge of some skill like agriculture, industry whatever they could choose to eke out a living was necessary to help them build their self confidence.

His panacea to mitigate poverty was to remove ignorance for if a man had access to education he would develop self esteem and self confidence and would be able to lift himself out of the rut and elevate not just himself but his entire family, nay the entire society and through that the entire nation can fulfill its destiny. Swamiji said “The only service to be done for our lower classes is to give them education, to develop their lost individuality…They are to be given ideas; their eyes are to be opened to what is going on in the world around them; and then they will work out their own salvation. Every nation, every man, and every woman must work out their own salvation. Give them ideas — that is the only help they require, and then the rest must follow as the effect. Ours is to put the chemicals together, the crystallization comes in the law of nature. Our duty is to put ideas into their heads, they will do the rest. This is what is to be done in India.”

Swami Vivekananda believed that India with its ancient civilization and Vedic wisdom could collaborate with the developed West to forge a symbiotic relationship which could be mutually beneficial. “Let knowledge come to us from all sides”. Swamiji believed in this Upanishadic wisdom and his spirit of enquiry and open mindedness was phenomenal. What was the education that he believed in? A man making education and not just a money making one. “Money does not pay, nor name; fame does not pay, nor learning. It is love that pays; it is character that cleaves its way through adamantine walls of difficulties.” He stressed on character building and affirmed that an education that was merely for transmitting information would do no good. Education has to focus on the transformation of an individual where he would blossom into a complete personality filled with compassion and love for fellow human beings. “Feel, my children, feel; feel for the poor, the ignorant, the downtrodden; feel till the heart stops and the brain reels and you think you will go mad — then pour the soul out at the feet of the Lord, and then will come power, help, and indomitable energy.” Such was the master’s compassion and empathy for his fellow beings. He wanted the youth of the country to have muscles of iron and nerves of steel. He galvanized the energy of the youth in the Order that he founded ‘The Ramakrishna Mission’ and engaged them in various service projects. It is only in sharing and caring can we achieve our common goals. The Master’s message is universal and timeless and many youth were in the forefront of his mission. He stressed upon patriotism though he did not directly take part in the National Movement. Pride for one’s country is a recurring theme of his discourses. He wanted the young men and women of this country to be proud of their brilliant heritage and not ape the west in its pursuit of materialism. Character building, he stressed should start from a very early age and he exhorted all those who came under his magnetic appeal using the powerful Vedic benediction ‘Arise, awake and Stop not till the goal is reached.’

Swami Vivekananda blazed into the history of India when the world needed his message of unity, love, compassion, service and empathy and these remain as relevant in the present times as it was during his times. It is indeed a clarion call for the restless youth of India.