The Work Before Us
The Role of Vivekananda Kendra International
Vivekananda Kendra International is the third step in the growth and evolution of the great mission initiated by Mananeeya Eknathji Ranade . The first was the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari. The second was the work of Vivekananda Kendra at the National level. Today we are celebrating the fruition and fulfilment of the third step -- Vivekananda Kendra International. These remind us of the three long strides taken by Vishnu, 'the Trivikrama', in his Vamana Avatara. The parallel is highly significant.
Vivekananda Kendra International at Chanakyapuri is an excellent concept, brilliant idea; Swami Vivekananda was a great practical philosopher who called his philosophy ' Practical Vedanta'. Arya Chanakya was one of the world's greatest strategists and statesman who successfully utilized his ideas to build up a powerful Hindu empire the most powerful in his times.
In a sense, Vivekananda Kendra International will function as a centre of strategic studies in order to explore how the practical Vedantic philosophy of Swami Vivekananda could be applied to the present global scenario, so that , as Swamiji had predicted " We will then go to every country under the sun, and our ideas will before long be a component of the many forces that are working to make up every nation in the world. We must enter into life of every race in India and abroad ; we shall have to work to bring this about".
Vivekananda Kendra International is a Centre of activity rooted in and centered around the life and Message of Swami Vivekananda. Though headquartered in Delhi its sphere of activities is global.
It is the immortal message of Sanathana Dharma that VKI is new packaging and broadcasting all over the world. The message is beyond time and clime, and absolutely impersonal. Then, why the name Vivekananda? Vivekananda is the brand name that has irresistible appeal transcending cultural boundaries, national identities and ideological differences. It is through him that the relevant and basic ideas can be effectively and persuasively propagated. This is evidenced by the fact that every year lot of new literature dealing with different aspects of Swamiji are being brought out in every language. So Swami Vivekananda is the vehicle that can carry the message all over the now globalised world.
But,that does not mean that VKI is trying to confine its activities to the one single personality of Swami Vivekananda. Even Swamiji would not have approved it. He never approved of any personality cult. It is striking that in all his innumerable lectures in the East and the West, he very rarely eulogized the personality of his great Guru although he had the highest reverence for him whom he considered God incarnate. But he used to say that he only preached the eternal and the universal principles of the Upanishads. VKI will do the same, bringing of Advaita to the crucial issues faced by the contemporary humanity.
VKI is essentially an ideological forum where there would be continuous dialogue between representatives of the various civilizational thought currents. Even after the collapse of the Communist experiment, Marxist intellectuals continue to repackage the materialistic thought in ever so many new forms, changing labels in order to market it better. Even in India this process is being systematically followed by academicians, deeply entrenched in various universities and centres of cultural activities. VKI is never afraid of any thought patterns new or old. We are ready to engage with them. But our basic difference towards the Marxist intellectuals is this: We say, connect yourself to the past, keep the life current intact and then march forward into the promised land of the future. Swamiji has said, "Look as far back into your past as you can, derive inspiration and then go forward to build up a far brighter future". An absolutely positive approach. But the leftist intellectuals say," Cut-off your umbilical cord into the past because they are all obscurantist superstitions and take a leap into the darkness of the future". This is suicidal, as recent history has amply demonstrated. So VKI looks upon Swami Vivekananda as the role model for communicating with the rest of the world.
Vivekananda lived at a time when imperial powers from the West were bringing the countries of the world under their domination. He had a message for them, appropriate to the prevailing situation. Empires were the forerunners of the present global set up.
Today as we stand at the dawn of the 'Global Millennium' Swamiji`s life and message are extremely relevant, perhaps more relevant than at the time he lived. Swami Vivekananda was one of the most prominent internationalists thrown up by Modern India.
He was the most authentic spokesperson of Hinduism as is evidenced by the fact that his lectures at the 'Parliament of Religions' were most heartily and unanimously welcomed as the authentic voice of Hinduism. More than a century afterwards it is only Swami Vivekananda and his speeches that are gratefully remembered, preciously treasured and widely propagated all over the word.
His pronouncement of the eternal and universal principles of Hinduism welled out of the depth of his own personal realization. He was not preaching any dogma or doctrine received second-hand from any religious text or scripture . He carried conviction because to him " Religion is realization. Religion is Being and Becoming . It is verifiable and hence absolutely scientific" . He was bold enough to say that it is better to be an honest atheist or rationalist than a blind believer or fanatic.
Swami Vivekananda said , as the Vedic Rishis had told much earlier, that " Truth is one , sages call it by various names". There is only one God which people call by different names . The same God - the ultimate goal of all - can be approached following different paths. Swamiji said various religions are various paths leading to the same goal. There need be no quarrel or conflict among the various routes different men adopt. He was the preacher and practitioner of true and genuine harmony.
Vivekananda Kendra International is set up with the intention of making it a powerful centre of this most authentic Hindu thought which alone can bring about cultural and religious harmony in a strife - torn and struggling world, mutually intolerant and violently aggressive.
About one and a quarter century have elapsed since Swamiji made his debut at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago and delivered his life giving, historic message. Much has changed since then, changed beyond recognition. But the sense and essence of his teachings are so relevant even today, since they provide answers for the most crying needs of the present world situation.
Swamiji was a "Patriotic Hindu" , a ' Cyclonic Hindu Monk' as he was then called. At the same time he was a true globalist as every true Hindu is. 'Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam' was his credo. He had foreseen that a global situation is developing and that the time has come when even local problems have to be seen in the context of the global perspective and solutions to be sought from that point of views . "Think globally and act locally" was not a concept which was strange or unknown to him. In fact he followed that dictum. Some of the most pressing problems of the day threatening the very survival of human civilization were foreseen by Swami Vivekananda. He had warned us about them religious intolerance, cultural exclusiveness and blind fanaticism were identified by him as dangerous portents . In his famous Chicago address he had forcefully brought out that these dark forces had deluged the world with rivers of human blood and brought beautiful civilisations to extinction. He quoted profusely from Hindu scriptures to show how ' Sanatana Dharma' has established a cultural and civilizational pattern for spontaneous and principled co-operation among people following different religions and how it was actually practiced on a country wide scale for centuries together. India was the model for harmony among civilizations instead of clash of civilizations.
Swamiji preached Practical Vedanta as the Universal Religion of the future which will gladly accept every religion into its loving embrace and also provide space for such religions as will be born in the future. He visualized a spiritually comprehensive philosophy which will ultimately take man beyond every creedal religions and every written text, to the infinite realm of a transcendental spiritual experience.
"Our watchword, then, will be acceptance, and not exclusion. Not only toleration , for so-called toleration is often blasphemy, and I do not believe in it. O believe in acceptance. Why should I tolerate? Toleration means that I think that you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. Is it not a blasphemy to think that you and I are allowing others to live ? I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all; I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form they worship Him. I shall go to the mosque of the Mohammedan; I shall enter the Christian's church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddistic temple , where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his Law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu, who is trying to see the Light which enlightens the heart of every one.
Not only shall I do all these but I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future. Is God's book finished ? Or is it still a continuous revelation, going on? It is a marvellous book - these spiritual revelation of the world. The Bible, the Vedas, the Koran and all other sacred books, are but so many pages , and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded. I would leave it open for all of them. We stand in the present, but pen ourselves to the infinite future. We take in all that has been in the past, enjoy the light of the present and open every window of the heart for all that will come in the future. Salutation to all the prophets of the past, to all the great ones of the present, and to all that are to come in the future." (Swami Vivekananda`s Works--Universal Religion: Its Relation Pages 371-372)
We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suitshim best. (Swami Vivekananda)
Another very important threat to human survival is man's insatiable greed and rank selfishness. Greed leads to mindless exploitation of natural resources and selfishness prompts man to establish domination over other peoples and Nations of the world. Economic exploitation and political and cultural domination are playing havoc, threatening peaceful co-existence among the Nations of the world.
Exploitation of Mother Nature by man blinded by craze for vulgar consumerism is a major threat to human survival. Swamiji said there were two civilizations which had developed and thrived upon two different approaches to life. The Western approach was based upon the quest as to how much a man needed to acquire and possess in order to be happy. The Eastern - the Hindu - approach was a quest as to what is the minimum that a man requires to possess in order to remain happy. The West developed a mighty civilization of 'Bhoga', consumerism while India produced a civilization based on 'Tyaga', renunciation. In the name of globalization the Bhoga inspired approach is today engulfing the whole world causing grave threat of environmental degradation and possible ruin of all living species on earth ending biodiversity. The only remedy is Tyaga inspired philosophy of life which will provide the need of all but not the greed 'Yayathi' and 'Dadheechi' are the two poles around which these two kinds of civilization evolved.
Hinduism preached and practised a philosophy and a way of life, holistic and fully integrated, taking into consideration every aspect and aspiration of human beings and balancing and fulfilling each of them within a comprehensive framework. The West has failed to evolve such a comprehensive view of life . They have not evolved a way of life that could harmonize the individual with society, man with Nature , Bhoga with Tyaga , Nations with one another, 'Samutkarsha with Nishreyasa.’
Vedanta believes in the unity of existence. Multiplicity is the manifestation of One Basic Unity. Man, Nature and Universe are all one, interrelated, interconnected and interdependent. One cannot exist without the other. There is a rhythm and a delicate balance in the universe which sustains it in its totality. Each has its Dharma. When man exploits nature , there is bound to be a backlash and consequent chaos. This makes it imperative that man and nature replenish each other and both attain maximum well-being. ' Parasparam Bhavayanta' 'Sreyaha paramavapsyadha' - This is the philosophy behind Vedantic approach to Nature, unlike in the West where environmental protection is only a matter of expediency arising out of unavoidable compulsions.
Swamiji believed that the East and the West must learn from each other, complement each other and develop a new global culture which will flourish on the basis of freedom for all humanity and respect for pluralism. Unity and diversity will be the principle on which man will be able to evolve further and man could be able to express fully the divinity that he potentially is.
The advent of such a global order was a commitment and a conviction with Swamiji. He firmly believed that a golden age a Satya Yuga-- was bound to emerge, an age of peace, prosperity, justice and true happiness for all, based on the eternal and unshakable foundation of Dharma. Swamiji had actually stated that with the advent of Sri Ramakrishna, the rule of Kali has ended and Satya Yuga has commenced. It is to the fulfilment of this global vision that Vivekananda Kendra International stands committed.
Vivekananda Kendra International is to develop into a powerful centre for dialogue among various civilizations of the world and also into a full-fledged laboratory where the scope and manner for the evolution of future mankind could be explored.
Having said all these, I will be failing in my duty if I do not sound a note of warning, lest we assume that the task ahead is an easy one. In fact, it is much more difficult than one would imagine. Great optimism was expressed by Swami Vivekananda in his concluding remarks at the end of the Parliament of Religions, Chicago. With poetic imagination and a prophetic vision he had expressed the memorable words : -" I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal. Upon the banner of every religion will soon be written , in spite of resistance: " Help and not fight," "Assimilation and not Destruction," " Harmony and Peace and not Dissension." " ( The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Vol 1- Page 4, 24)
But we all know as a matter of history that this sanguine expectation has not yet been fulfilled . On the other hand things have become much more difficult, complicated and conflict-ridden. Today the world is confronted with the menacing Scenario of crusaders on one side and jihads on the other prepared for a bitter war with no holds barred . No country on earth can be considered a safe place to live. Even India, the land that produced Swami Vivekananda, has become home to Islamic terrorists on the one hand and Christian evangelists on the other, bent upon annexing this beautiful land to their respective empires by any means what soever.
Bharat is the only land and Hindu Dharma the only way of life which can bring about real and lasting harmony among the peoples of the world. History and destiny together have endowed India with necessary tools of wisdom and experience to achieve this. But as things stand today we do not seem prepared to effectively play this role and the world does not appear to be in any mood to accept India as capable of playing such a historic role . The leader at the top of the country apparently is not confident.” The tryst with destiny" speech delivered at the Red Fort at the crucial hour heralding our independence seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The present mindset should change. India should once again equip herself with all the requirement, both spiritual and material, in such an efficient and enlightened manner that India's message - the message which Swami Vivekananda delivered at the Chicago Parliament of Religions – would ring loud and clear across the world with an irresistible force and compelling effect. Vivekananda Kendra International can play its true role successfully only on the basis of Vivekananda Kendra National.
(Speech delivered by Mananeeya P.Parameswaranji, President, Vivekananda Kendra, on the occasion of Grihapravesham held at Vivekananda Kendra International, New Delhi, on 20th March)