Swami Vivekananda's Anguish

While speaking of Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita says (in 'The Master as I Saw Him'), "There was one thing deep in the Master's nature, that he himself never knew how to adjust. This was his love of his country and his resentrnent of her suffering. Throughout the years in which I saw him almost daily, the thought of India was to him like the air he breathed."

Vivekananda had undertaken the bridging of the East and the West and that task seemed to go against the basic Indian idea of spirituality. It was the organizing capability of the West that he wanted to introduce in India, both in education and religion. Of his many disciples, Sister Nivedita was the one whom Swamiji considered fit to work in India, for the women's education. "I have plans for the women of my country in which you, I think, could be of great help to me", he said to Sister Nivedita, when he met her in England. To him, the education of the women of India was one of the most important tasks, which his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, had entrusted to him. And he was very keen to find a woman who could be of help to him in this endeavour. When Sister Nivedita showed eagerness to come to India and help him, he welcomed her.

However, when she presented herself on arriving in Calcutta in 1898, she saw that there was great conflict in his mind. She had seen him in a different light in England. At that time she had not understood the depth of his struggle ro revive Indian civilization from the degradation that had taken place due to various historical causes. One of these causes was the British dominatioa of India. Vivekananda was a sannyasin,a monastic, and thus traditionally, was not supposed to be involved in social problems of a society. But he had realized that without rejuvenating society, there was no way in which the spirituality of ancient India could be revived. In her candid writings of 'The Master as I Saw Him', Sister Nivedita gives her readers an insight into "The Conflict of Ideals". As she says, "In the 'West, the Swami had revealed himself to us as a religious teacher only. . .. It was as an apostle of Hinduism, not as a worker for India, that we saw the Swami in the West.... From the moment of my landing in India, however, I found something quite unexpected uaderlying all this. . . It was the personality of my Master himself, in all the fruitless torture and struggle of a lion caught in a net. For, from the day that he met me at the ship's side, till the last serene moment, when, at the hour of cow-dust he passed out of this village of this world, leaving the body behind, like a folded garment, I was always conscious of this element inwoven with the other, in his life."

Again and again, Sister Nivedita questioned, where did this struggle lie? Where did this sense of being, 'baffled and thwarted" come from? What exactly was the struggle due to? "Was it the terrible effort of translating what he has called the 'super-conscious' into the common life? Undoubtedly he had been born to a task which was in this respect of heroic difficulty."

While describing 'His doubt of the present', Nivedita has explained that, long prior to this moment, Swamiji had defined the mission of the Order of Ramakrishna, as that of realizing and exchanging the highest ideals of the East and the West. But it was inevitable that he himself should from time to time go through the anguish of revolt... "Has anyone realized the pain endured by the sculptor of a new ideal?"

In India, traditionally, spirituality meant that you left society and wandered and meditated in the singular quest to find God. But he wanted a combination of the best of the East and the best of the West, which meant that he was trying to chisel a marble to a new kind of sculpture... and that was taking its toll. What he had undertaken acnually frightened him, and as Nivedita says, in his passive moments, when he thought about it or reflected on it, he started having doubts. He doubted whether it was actually possible and whether he could do it. He was entirely alone in this thinking; even his brother disciples did not understand or support him, to begin with. It was therefore, a terrible task that he had undertaken. "Nothing in this world is so terrible as to abandon the safe paths of accepted ideals, in order to workout some new realisation, by methods apparently in conflict with the old," says Sister Nivedita.

Even when he was brutally criticised, he insisted that this change or shift in outlook was necesary. He believed that the more the opposition, the more would be the power that comes up. I wouldn't even say it was 'doubt'. I would say it was the awareness of the enormity of the task that he had undertaken, and that he was ieft alone to do it, that was overwhelming.

Where Do I We Stand Today?

The West had very new ideas, which even today, we don't reaily understend. Though we are imitating, and there is a lot of the 'West' in India, we don't understand what exactiy they tried to prove as in contrast to what the ancient Indian mind tried to assert. These two threads are very difficuit to weave together and if it is left to the unconscious or subconscious mind to do it, there is chaos... as we can see today. We do not understand how exactly we are supposed to tie these threads together without losing the sense of propriety and by holding on to the real meaning. This is a personal challenge, for each of us. Hardly anyone wants to take up the challenge, For Swamiii it was that much of a greater challenge because he was introducing this merging of threads very consciously and at the very grass-root level of Indian society.

Right now there is tremendous transition and confusion. The deepest reaction is coming from fundamentalist religion, where, in the name of religion, people are ready to kill the 'other'. Everyone may not be actually 'killing', but there is resistance all the same. This resistance is unconscious or subconscious. The younger generations are completely out of their depth. That is leading to depression on the one hand and frenzy on the other. The rajoguna (the desire to rise above passivity) is connected with greed, ambition, and frenzy and where that momentum is over, it will automatically lead to depression, which means falling to the tamasic level (the state of inertia) as it is the outcome of living at an unthinking superficial level. The present tendency, to give up, shows that the human mind is not ready to face realiry as it is. The ability to motivate oneself to move on is inherent in every creature, but due to the lack of any understanding of life itself, the motivation of facing challenges is missing. This level of ignorance leads to self-destruction along with the destruction of the 'other'. The 'rage' that we are throwing at each other, is the result of this tendency to 'self-destruction'.

The Rising of the Unconscious

All these extreme reactione are coming from the unconscious. If we go to the root cause we will understand why Swamiji tried to bridge the East and West. This decision was not from his conscious level either. The 'bridge, has come from the Mother of the Universe in the form of Universal Energy. She wants these currents to meet and show the next level of civiiization. Swamiji provided the spark for the flames to spread. Being obsessed with the superficial and outer levels is blindiag everyone. If we want a wide-angle point of view we need to understand and only then can we remain motivated to take the correct steps.

Advaita Vedanta, which Swamiji gave to the west as a means of comprehending and dealing with the problems of this Age, tells us to first understand, and only after that can we move forward with faith and activity. At least intellectually, we need to find the relevance of causation to modern-day problems. If we opt out of society then it is a different situation. But, can we opt out? How many people can move out of society? Merely running away or using religion or spiritualify as an escape route is not a conscious 'moving out'. As long as we are within society we need a wide-angle point of view, which will come with reflection, otherwise we feel crushed and confused. That confusion leads to rage or depression. Each individual has to choose the path, within sociery, but with understanding so that we don't look at life from the narrow, selfish perspective. The need to find that bridge and see the connection is important.

As Swamiji said to Nivedita, "Maybe I too am caught in the glare of this flashlight of your modern civilizarion, which is only for a moment...I have become entangled." We are all in that web today as we try to bridge the gap berween the two civilizations of the East and West. We can perceive the resistance and the struggle. The flash of light is attractive to us but we do not know how to proceed. The masses rising from one form of thinking and way of life, attracted by the flashes of light from another culture, and wanting to adopt that life, are naturally aggressive and ready to 'kill' for that. On the other hand the followers of traditional religions, perceive the influences of opening up of points of view, riding on the waves of scientific discoveries as 'evil', and they react. There are reactions from all sides. These uprisings are inevitable, and then alone can we choose our paths so that our lives are meaningful. The mental and physical attitudes cannot be separated, and that seems to be the endeavour of the modern-day people.

The East and the West have to understand each other; whether we do it consciously or subconsciously, it has to be done. This is the desire of the Mother of the Universe. It is a kind of force that is rising everywhere-on the one hand there is the need to bridge the gap and on the other hand we do not know how to do this so that it does not become harmful or destructive. This turbulence of today has to rise so that the 'poison' is thrown out and a new level of understanding emerges. Almost a new global civilization has to emerge.

There are no individual problems here; this disharmony and discord that we see around us is a universal problem, although we may perceive it as localized when individuals here and there are the targets. But the problem is global. And in this Age the answer comes to us from Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

Swamiji wanted an Order that would fuIfil the individual's spiritual quest and at the same time stay in an organized manner so as to give support to sociery. But to harmonize the two paths was the challenge. Nivedita says, "Often dogged by a sense of failure, often overtaken by loathing of the limitations imposed alike by the insrument and the material, he dared less and less as years went on, to make determinate plans, or to dogmatize about the unknown." Vivekananda often said, "What do we know? Morher uses it all for we are only fumbling about." This means trying ro recogaize that there is a Power, a force, which knows, and we don't know. 0r we cannot know. That 'not knowing' is torture for a mind iike Swamiji's. In a lesser degree it is a torrure for us also but we do not have that acute sense of failure, because what we want to achieve, our ideal, is never as extreme. The semi-darkness or semi-light, which a person like Swamiji perceived, as he came down from the highest level of inwardness was in itself a torture because he had to come down to the ordinary level so as to be in touch with this world. Otherwise, he could not possibly explain to the world what his teacher had himself demonstrated. Sri Ramakrishna did not explain anything. He made statements. It was left to Swamiji to expiain.

The Ramakrishna Order

This basic Hindu urge to go away and realize God, still exists. But Swamiji set up the Order believing that the goal had changed. He was trying to make the people aware that this is a New Age and it demands a change in every way. For the monastics he wanted an Order with the goal of Service of God in Man; of 'Work is Worship'. For the householder it was to look beyond oneself and one's small world of family, and perceivethe condition of everyone around, with the spirit of sacrifice.

The impulse came from Sri Ramakrishna. The impulse is from what he says, that we have to serve 'Jiva as Shiva'. That is the impulse that Swamiji was following and he wanted to give it shape and reality through an 'organization', as otherwise it would not be possible. Till that time, those who renounced social life and walked away, thought only of themselves and of their goal of God-realization. He wanted to give such a structure to the organization that would consider work and service as the sadhana and the highest goal. This was, at that point of time, a very revolutionary concept for India. The idea that this is what will lead human beings to the ultimate freedom is very difficult to understand. And it is equally difficult to make it practical with the attitude of action or karma as a path to freedom. It isn't as if work is supposed to have any other goal than individual and social evolution. Approaching everything with an attitude of tapasya has to be the mind-set of every person, as that is the only way that society moves forward. This was the goal that Swamiji perceived because in this day and age, isolation is not feasible for the majority. It is next to impossible to practice in complete isolation. It may be possible for a few rare people but by and iarge it is not. Everyone needs some support system. Again, this is in the context of this Age because the faith in God has gone. There was a time when people could completelY isolate themselves, go into caves and mountains with the faith that they had a connection with a greater Power and their goal was this search.

Swamiji wanted to follow that impulse and give it an organized form' But an organized form depends on the people who have to run the organization...and as Sister Nivedita indicates, his brother disciples weren't very happy with this idea. They had their own ideas, which were mainly to continue with the worship of Sri Ramalrishna and with pursuing individual practices for God-realization. While one was content observing all rituals, another was almost an atheist; another was logical and rational... and so on. It was therefore difficult to gather all such minds and make them believe that they had to come together to make an organization, and to believe that the highest ideal for this Age was 'work is worship'. This kind of service could of course only come from those who cherished a great love for humanity... and Swamiji was fuil of this love'

Work itself gives concentration if it is carried out with an attitude of sacrifice and with the view of Service of God in Man. The Indian word is ekagrata meaning one-pointedness, on the work or activity wtrictr gives us that concentration... but behind all that is the living ideal, or personality, which inspires. If that does not happen then it is very hard' This Age demands this kind of tapasya

We have legends in our mythology, of the Earth crying and suffering and appealing to Lord Vishnu to come down and relieve her. Psychologieally, this Age demands that 'relief'. From the depth of Divinity, something rises in the human form and shows us how to live in this Age. Unfortunately though, the majority is not ready. And because of that an organization became a necessity. There had never been such an organization before. This new idea, that the common people could have an opportunity to come forward and work with the organization for the good of society, not with an attitude of doing charity but as part of their individual sadhana, is psychologically revolutionary. Sri Ramakrishna asserted that all paths reach the same goal; that any activity can help us to evolve, so long as we realize that our birth is meant for a deep purpose. It is not to be frittered away, and there are many options of how we can achieve the final goal.

An incarnation comes only when there is a new wave or idea to be broadcast, otherwise why would He come? Sri Ramakrishna is not just another manifestation of the Divine for the sake of itself; He is an incarnation for the Age. If we study the life of any incarnarion, including Jesus Christ and the Buddha, we find that they are responding to a particular demand of the Age. It is amazing how even today, many people in India have great interest or fascination in singing and chanting and reciting the scriptures, and following the rituals of worship, but they do not have the same interest in the message of Swami Vivekananda---of the attitude of service as a way of worship. And this is what Sister Nivedita is bringing out in her observations of her Master. People don't want to leave the old path, as that seems easier. So for a sadhu or a monastic person, it may seem that walking out of sociery and then living for himself or herself, and trying to evolve in his or her personal journey is relatively easier than berng part of an organization and dedicating himself or herself to the service of others. Similarly, for the common people, following the traditional methods of religion, worship, and living their lives enclosed in their own narrow point of view within the family is far easier than looking ar the wide-angle view and developing an attitude of service and sacrifice with society in mind. This change is in life itself, whether within the monastic order or within the family life in society. Sri Ramakrishna did not come just for his disciples and the Order. He came for the ordinary individual, and it is up to the individual to understand what is demanded of him or her. This organization was created so that those who joined it, and those who were connected with it from the outside, found a common ground of communication. Everyone needs some support system. The real understanding and practice today is within sociery.

Finally, if one has to believe that all activity is individual sadhana and that one has to work for the good of all, and that alone is our tapasya, and if we have some ideals in fronr of us, then it is very inspiring. The Order gives us these ideals, Sri Ramakrishna, the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. The visible symbol is very important, as is the knowledge of their living presence. That encourages having a deep connection with them and the Organization.