“The Good for Nothing Boy” of Calcutta!

Swami Vivekananda had to reply to the welcome at Calcutta, in front of the people where he was born and grew as a boy so his tone was different. Generally though the people feel proud if a boy from there place achieves something, still seeing him in a light as a great preacher etc becomes difficult. (It seems for the expenses of welcome given to Swami Vivekananda, the people of Calcutta arranged public speech of Swami Vivekananda on payment whereas in all other places the expenses were borne by the people.) Swamiji was very nostalgic when he spoke at Calcutta.

He started, “One wants to lose the individual in the universal, one renounces, flies off, and tries to cut himself off from all associations of the body of the past, one works hard to forget even that he is a man; yet, in the heart of his heart, there is a soft sound, one string vibrating, one whisper, which tells him, East or West, home is best. Citizens of the capital of this Empire, before you I stand, not as a Sannyasin, no, not even as a preacher, but I come before you the same Calcutta boy to talk to you as I used to do. Ay, I would like to sit in the dust of the streets of this city, and, with the freedom of childhood, open my mind to you, my brothers. Accept, therefore, my heartfelt thanks for this unique word that you have used, "Brother". Yes, I am your brother, and you are my brothers. …

Citizens of Calcutta -- my brothers -- I cannot express my gratitude to you for the kindness you have shown, or rather I should not thank you at all, for you are my brothers, you have done only a brother's duty, ay, only a Hindu brother's duty; for such family ties, such relationships, such love exist nowhere beyond the bounds of this motherland of ours.”

For Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna was ‘Avatarvarishthay’ the greatest incarnation of God. He used to say that if Sri Ramakrishna wanted, he could have created thousands of Vivekananda from speck of a dust. And yet Swamiji refrained from referring to Sri Ramakrishna each and every place. He was very selective about it. He knew he had to spread his message, name was not that important. But there must be one more reason for his being very selective. He was very sensitive that the name of Sri Ramakrishna could be mentioned only if the audience was mature, knowledgeable and elevated enough to revere it. Thus in Calcutta, he was very happy to talk about him and exult in his memory.

So, further he continued, “…….Brothers, you have touched another chord in my heart, the deepest of all, and that is the mention of my teacher, my master, my hero, my ideal, my God in life -- Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. If there has been anything achieved by me, by thoughts, or words, or deeds, if from my lips has ever fallen one word that has helped anyone in the world, I lay no claim to it, it was his. But if there have been curses falling from my lips, if there has been hatred coming out of me, it is all mine and not his. All that has been weak has been mine, and all that has been life - giving, strengthening, pure, and holy, has been his inspiration, his words, and he himself. Yes, my friends, the world has yet to know that man. We read in the history of the world about prophets and their lives, and these come down to us through centuries of writings and workings by their disciples. Through thousands of years of chiselling and modelling, the lives of the great prophets of yore come down to us; and yet, in my opinion, not one stands so high in brilliance as that life which I saw with my own eyes, under whose shadow I have lived, at whose feet I have learnt everything -- the life of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.”

Swami Vivekananda would start with words which would appeal to the audience, touch their heart and then he would come to the point of renunciation or sacrifice, working for the country. As audience differed, the words differed, even the style differed but the message remained the same. At Calcutta to enthuse the youth, he calls himself as a ‘good for nothing’ boy of Calcutta and says that if he could achieve this much, how much more the intelligent strong and energetic men of Calcutta can achieve. It is like Hanuman who after destroying Ravana’s favourite garden told Sita that, ‘If an ordinary monkey like me could give such thrashing to Rakshasa, think how much more Sri Rama’s army could do which has many great monkeys.’ For Karya, a person has to diminish and lower oneself. The whole reply of Swami Vivekananda at Calcutta is marked with utter humility.

His address continues, “Arise, awake and stop not till the desired end is reached. Young men of Calcutta, arise, awake, for the time is propitious. Already everything is opening out before us. Be bold and fear not. It is only in our scriptures that this adjective is given unto the Lord -- Abhih, Abhih. We have to become Abhih, fearless, and our task will be done. Arise, awake, for your country needs this tremendous sacrifice. It is the young men that will do it. "The young, the energetic, the strong, the well - built, the intellectual"-- for them is the task. And we have hundreds and thousands of such young men in Calcutta. If, as you say, I have done something, remember that I was that good - for - nothing boy playing in the streets of Calcutta. If I have done so much, how much more will you do! Arise and awake, the world is calling upon you … enthusiasm is only in my motherland. That must come out; therefore arise, young men of Calcutta, with enthusiasm in your blood. Think not that you are poor, that you have no friends. Ay, who ever saw money make the man? It is man that always makes money. The whole world has been made by the energy of man, by the power of enthusiasm, by the power of faith.”

As if a tired soul has reached mother’s lap or a seeker has reached the destination, Swami Vivekananda felt at Almora. As usual, his prose becomes a poem full of elevating emotions, “This is the land of dreams of our forefathers, in which was born Parvati, the Mother of India. This is the holy land where every ardent soul in India wants to come at the end of its life, and to close the last chapter of its mortal career. On the tops of the mountains of this blessed land, in the depths of its caves, on the banks of its rushing torrents, have been thought out the most wonderful thoughts, a little bit of which has drawn so much admiration even from foreigners, and which have been pronounced by the most competent of judges to be incomparable. This is the land which, since my very childhood, I have been dreaming of passing my life in, and as all of you are aware, I have attempted again and again to live here; and although the time was not ripe, and I had work to do and was whirled outside of this holy place, yet it is the hope of my life to end my days somewhere in this Father of Mountains where the Rishis lived, where philosophy was born. Perhaps, my friends, I shall not be able to do it, in the way that I had planned before -- how I wish that silence, that unknownness would be given to me -- yet I sincerely pray and hope, and almost believe, that my last days will be spent here, of all places on earth.”

But then even at Almora, the place which Swami Vivekananda sees as the final destination, he again comes to the focus of his message that this land and our Sanatana Dharma have to guide the world. He continues, “Inhabitants of this holy land, accept my gratitude for the kind praise that has fallen from you for my little work in the West. But at the same time, my mind does not want to speak of that, either in the East or in the West. As peak after peak of this Father of Mountains began to appear before my sight, all the propensities to work, that ferment that had been going on in my brain for years, seemed to quiet down, and instead of talking about what had been done and what going to be done, the mind reverted to that one eternal theme which the Himalayas always teach us, that one theme which is reverberating in the very atmosphere of this place, the one theme the murmur of which I hear even now in the rushing whirlpools of its rivers -- renunciation! [Sanskrit]--"Everything in this life is fraught with fear. It is renunciation alone that makes one fearless." Yes, this is the land of renunciation.

The time will not permit me, and the circumstances are not fitting, to speak to you fully. I shall have to conclude, therefore, by pointing out to you that the Himalayas stand for that renunciation, and the grand lesson we shall ever teach to humanity will be renunciation. As our forefathers used to be attracted towards it in the latter days of their lives, so strong souls from all quarters of this earth, in time to come, will be attracted to this Father of Mountains, when all this fight between sects and all those differences in dogmas will not be remembered any more, and quarrels between your religion and my religion will have vanished altogether, when mankind will understand that there is but one eternal religion, and that is the perception of the divine within, and the rest is mere froth: such ardent souls will come here knowing that the world is but vanity of vanities, knowing that everything is useless except the worship of the Lord and the Lord alone.

Friends, you have been very kind to allude to an idea of mine, which is to start a centre in the Himalayas, and perhaps I have sufficiently explained why it should be so, why, above all others, this is the spot which I want to select as one of the great centres to teach this universal religion. These mountains are associated with the best memories of our race; if these Himalayas are taken away from the history of religious India, there will be very little left behind. Here, therefore, must be one of those centres, not merely of activity, but more of calmness, of meditation, and of peace; and I hope some day to realise it. I hope also to meet you at other times and have better opportunities of talking to you. For the present, let me thank you again for all the kindness that has been shown to me, and let me take it as not only kindness shown to me in person, but as to one who represents our religion. May it never leave our hearts! May we always remain as pure as we are at the present moment, and as enthusiastic for spirituality as we are just now!”

The study of the talks and message of Swami Vivekananda is a very great lesson in how a person in any situation should remain focused on one’s goal; a lesson in art of communication so as to take people along with oneself; a lesson in total self-effacement to the extent of calling oneself ‘good for nothing’ boy; and also a lesson in how while fulfilling one’s responsibility one should never forget the One who is everything. Let the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda be a great opportunity for all to enlighten their lives by the study and practice of his message.

published date: 
Wed, 02/29/2012
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