Today is the birthday of this essential spiritual leader of India. Among many other philosophers in Indian soil, Swami Vivekananda (1863- 1902) was quite exception whose life was surprisingly short but the influence is remarkably big.The glowing ray of his short-termed arrival in the mundane world is incredibly enjoyed by his innumerable devotees both in India and abroad equally. He reiterates the eternity of Hinduism and Vedanta philosophy in particular and leaves precious philosophical ideas for the next Indian people. As a result, he becomes a spiritual master in modern India who combined Vedanta philosophy with its practical accountability. Here, I will try to sketch out some basic ideas of his philosophy, especially his philosophy of spiritual monism.
Spiritual monism, as a philosophical thought, is very popular in India since ancient period which only advocates one spirit and one-stuff behind the whole phenomena. It declares oneness and avers that the entire universe is predominated by the Absolute spirit. But, at the same time Vivekananda doesn’t forget the manifestation of the supreme soul which virtually accentuated the victory of humanity. Vivekananda’s monism does centre not only on God but, of course, human being; as a result he should also be called spiritual humanist. His faith in spiritual truth was never unshaken. Upanishads which is alternatively called Vedanta becomes the centre of his religious thoughts but it is assured with practicability. So, his practical Vedanta teaches: how life can be more effective in practice by the teachings of Vedanta.
Monism is an ontological view that only expresses one ingredient as the constituent of the world. Spiritual monism or Idealistic monism, unlike materialistic monism, declares spiritual stuff which must be one as the basis of the world. Indeed, ‘spirit’, ‘idea’, ‘ideal’ or ‘absolute’ is commonly held to explain the world according to this theory. Pluralism on the contrary declines one stuff theory and says this is not one but more than one are responsible for framing up the world. Swami Vivekananda unhesitatingly declares the supremacy of one absolute being whose nature is purely spiritual in all his writings. In his famous address at the parliament of religion on 19th September 1893 in Chicago he says, ‘here are two parallel lines of existence –one of the mind, the other of matter. If matter and its transformations answer for all that we have, there is no necessity for supposing the existence of soul. But it cannot be proved that thought has been evolved out of matter; and if a philosophical monism is inevitable, spiritual monism is certainly logical and no less desirable than a materialistic monism.’ (p.5)
By declaring one stuff theory, Vivekananda provokes the most debatable philosophical issue in the world’s parliament of religions, Chicago—whether mater or spirit constitutes the world. Vivekananda out rightly rejects materialistic interpretation of the world and explains the world in the context of Veda, which he believes, has never been created because those are without beginning and without end. Vivekananda makes a clarification and says ‘but by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times. Just as the laws of gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with laws that govern the spiritual world’. (p.4)
The essence of Gita is absorbed and completely assimilated by Swami Vivekananda. This is prominently expressed in his writings. The absolute goal of human being is to realise the supreme soul, he believes. And, there are many paths to reach the goal but truly whatever the path is the ultimate end of all is to surrender unto the foot of the supreme personality of godhead—lord Krishna. In his Chicago address he says, ‘As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’
Modern world which is now ravaged by bigotry and sectarianism all along remembers him respectfully because his doctrine of peace is prominently discussed in the present day. To be sure, Vivekananda represents and leaves true philosophical heritage of India that declares only one spirit, one soul and that is absolute and imperishable. And, religion which is much talked phenomena in the present world had been presented with sufficient arguments to the world community. In the first session of the parliament of religion, Chicago on 11th September 1893, he underscored the need to understand the causes of religious impatience and do away with those causes. He says, ‘Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendent, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be for more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in the 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.
Romain Rolland, famous French dramatist and essayist, says, ‘his words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Handel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings of his, scattered as they are through the pages of books at thirty years’ distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks, what transports must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!’
Narendranath Datta or Naren was his ordinary family name, but before leaving India for United States Maharaj Khetri, Maharaj of Mysore, named him Vivekananda. When the people of Kolkata, at that time, were culturally influenced by European ideas and Christian’s missionary, a movement was formed to modernise Hinduism under the banner of Brahmo Samaj. Naren joint it for a short time and was influenced by European philosophers like Hume, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer etc. Sometimes in those days he called himself an agnostic—a philosophically sceptics—which was much closer to the ideas of atheists. But, suddenly he came across with a great religious devotee Ramkrishna – devotee of Mother Kali at Dakshineswar Temple. In 1881, he had an opportunity to meet with Ramkrishna and had a brief conversation and was invited to meet again. Meanwhile, many Indian spiritual and political leaders including Kesab Chandra Sen used to visit Dakshineswar Temple and received valuable advices from this devotee. Certainly, Naren was mentally divided – one part of his mind was constructed by nationalism, devotion, and self-renunciation – another part was built by western ideals, logical and philosophical arguments and of course internationalism. With close association by several meetings, Naren comes very close to Ramkrishna on unusual manner. Ramkrishna was an almost half-educated devotee who had a spiritual power to push one to a super-conscious level by his enchantment.
This level of the consciousness is called Samadhi. Naren has had the experience during the shut door meeting with his master but terribly frightened at the outset.
Ramkrishna had a high state spiritual experience and it is claimed to have the experience of God more intensely like the experience of other objects. During the meeting with Ramkrishna, Naren was conscious and refused to accept all told by his master. It is the common characteristic of a philosopher not to accept anything without doubt.
Naren did it and lastly accepts him through experiments. In 1886 Ramkrishna died and embraced the final Samadhi with much satisfaction that his Naren takes his full teachings.
The teaching of Vivekananda inspires innumerable Indians. His true message can only save the world. Indeed, his idea of synthesis becomes thus a wonderful philosophy in human cognition.
The writer is the Chairperson, Department of Philosophy, Jagannath University, Dhaka