‘Awakening the World’ through an ‘Awakened India’

— Swami Vireshananda —

The title of this write-up may look paradoxical. How is India’s awakening connected to the awakening of the world? But this precisely is the goal of this journal, which has been serving humankind for the last 125 years without deviating from the core vision of its illustrious founder Swami Vivekananda. What was that vision? That vision was to carry the spiritual message of Bharat all over the world to enlighten the human race.

Swamiji himself was a ‘buddha’, an enlightened or spiritually awakened man. He awakened the world to the Vedantic message of ‘oneness of existence’ and ‘eternal freedom of the Soul’. And also, as Sister Nivedita aptly points out in one of her writings, he was a ‘condensed India’. Hence, at an individual level, it is appropriate to state that Swami Vivekananda himself represents the idea of ‘Prabuddha Bharata’, or ‘awakened India’; and the mission of this awakened India is to awaken the world. The glorious journey of this journal for the last 125 years is but the perpetuation of Swamiji’s lifetime mission which he proclaimed in the following words: ‘It may be that I shall find it good to get outside of my body—to cast it off like a disused garment. But I shall not cease to work! I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with God.’[1]

From the nation’s point of view, Swamiji envisaged a strong and resurgent awakened India flooding the world with her spiritual ideas, which he expressed in his reply to a public reception given to him at Ramnad on 25 January 1897: ‘In this land are, still, religion and spirituality, the fountains which will have to overflow and flood the world to bring in new life and new vitality to the Western and other nations, which are now almost borne down, half-killed, and degraded by political ambitions and social scheming’ (3.148).

Prabuddha Bharata, Swamiji’s dream journal, stands for this idea of ‘Awakening the world’ through an ‘Awakened India’. Its singular purpose is to spread the life-giving message of Vedanta all over the globe and also to prepare every Indian to this enormous task by reminding her or him of the glorious spiritual heritage of India. The idea is that an ‘enlightened India’ will ‘enlighten the world’.

What is meant by ‘Prabuddha Bharata’?

Why Swamiji named this journal as Prabuddha Bharata? Though this pertinent question has already been answered by eminent monks and scholars, it is educative as well as interesting to find out its meaning in Sanskrit and how it is closely connected with the core ideal this journal embodies. In Sanskrit, the word prabuddha is derived from the root word ‘budh’, which means understanding or comprehending. Prefixed with pra, it becomes ‘prabuddha’ which means a higher type of knowing or understanding endowed with elation, intensity, splendour, contentment, power, peace, and adoration or reverence.

In substance, ‘prabuddha’ means ‘enlightened’. And what does ‘bhārata’ mean? Literally, ‘bhārata’ means ‘one devoted to the light of knowledge’ or ‘one who is engaged in the search of knowledge’. Historically, ‘Bhārata’ is the name of the great land, today known as India, where such aspirants of knowledge resided. Thus, in a literal sense Prabuddha Bharata means ‘one devoted to the light of knowledge becomes enlightened or awakened’, and in an historical or geographical sense, it means ‘awakened India’. This journal justifies its name in both these senses, firstly because it is dedicated to the light of Self-knowledge resulting in spiritual awakening, and secondly because it stands for the idea of an ‘awakened India’ in the national and historical sense. In short, the journal and the meaning of its title—both are deeply rooted in eternal spiritual tradition of India.

A Buddhistic Perspective of the term ‘Prabuddha’

In the Buddhistic tradition, the idea of enlightenment is conveyed through an important word: Bodhi. The term Bodhi is used both in Sanskrit and Pali, which means knowledge or wisdom, or ‘the awakened intellect’ of the Buddha. The verbal root of Bodhi is budh which means ‘to awaken’. This term is used to denote the state of ‘Nirvāṇa’ or ‘Prajñā’, which is tantamount to the attainment of Buddhahood, explained as samyak sambodhi, the highest awakening which is exemplified by Gautama Buddha.

This state of enlightenment is graphically described in Buddhist literature. Sri R R Diwakar says that ‘Infinite peace, a complete sense of fulfilment, full and clear knowledge of Reality and ineffable bliss may be said to be the characteristics of Sambodhi.’[2] He also opines that Sambodhi goes far beyond body-mind consciousness and is full of wakeful illumination. Buddha remained in the state of Nirvāṇa or Nibbāna, after the enlightenment. According to Ananda Coomaraswamy, an eminent scholar, Nibbāna is one of the many names for the goal and summum bonum to which all other purposes of Buddhist thought converge. In the Milinda Panha, an ancient Buddhist text, Nibbāna is compared to a glorious city, deathless, stainless, secure and undefiled, pure and white, ageless, deathless, calm, and happy. However, it is far from even heaven, which good men attain after death.[3]

The literal meaning of Nirvāṇa is ‘dying out’ or ‘extinction’, as that of fire. In the Buddhist tradition, the simile of a flame is employed in many places. Gautama Buddha says: ‘The whole world is in flames. By what fire is it kindled? It is by the fire of lust (rāga), of resentment (doṣa), of glamour (moha); by the fire of birth, old age, death, pain, lamentation, sorrow, grief and despair it is kindled’ (108). ‘Nirvāṇa’ is the dying out or extinction of the flames of lust, hate, and glamour.

In this way, in Buddhistic tradition, the word ‘Prabuddha’ indicates enlightenment signified by wakeful illumination and dying out of the flames of affliction. The mission of Prabuddha Bharata, from its inception in 1896, has been the dissemination of such exalted knowledge, which will make one ‘Buddha’ or ‘Prabuddha’.

Awakened India

Swamiji has given a clear idea of a resurgent India, through which the world will be spiritually benefited. He said: ‘Arise and awake and see her seated here on her eternal throne, rejuvenated, more glorious than she ever was—this motherland of ours.’[4] He believed in the immense inherent strength India has, not only to revitalise herself but also to guide the humanity towards the path of enlightenment. He would say that India should once again become awakened, not only for her own sake, but for the sake of the whole world.

The degenerate condition of India of his time did not unnerve him and make him a pessimist. Though pained to the core to see his motherland languish in darkness, he clearly saw the bright future. That’s the reason why we find, ‘in him everything is positive’,[5] as stated by Tagore. Being pragmatic in his approach, he studied the Indian situation objectively and came out with workable solutions to raise India from her state of downfall. He was optimistic of India’s glorious future. He wrote to Shrimati Sarala Ghoshal, the Editor of Bharati:

O you of great fortune! I too believe that India will awake again if anyone could love with all his heart the people of the country—bereft of the grace of affluence, of blasted fortune, their discretion totally lost, downtrodden, ever-starved, quarrelsome, and envious. Then only will India awake, when hundreds of large-hearted men and women, giving up all desires of enjoying the luxuries of life, will long and exert themselves to their utmost for the well-being of the millions of their countrymen who are gradually sinking lower and lower in the vortex of destitution and ignorance. I have experienced even in my insignificant life that good motives, sincerity, and infinite love can conquer the world. One single soul possessed of these virtues can destroy the dark designs of millions of hypocrites and brutes.[6]

Swamiji wanted Indians to become such prabuddhas, enlightened persons, to transform this country into awakened india, so that the world could be awakened. For this, one of the methods that he proposed and actualised was the publication of journals. He encouraged Alasinga Perumal and Dr M C Nanjunda Rao in this direction and the two journals came into existence, Brahmavadin and Prabuddha Bharata, the former in 1895 and the latter in 1896. In short, Prabuddha Bharata stands for Swamiji’s vision of transforming India into a world teacher and bringing enlightenment to the human race.

Glimpses from the Glorious Past

This special issue, being brought out on the occasion of the 125th year of Prabuddha Bharata, is dedicated to the numerous stalwarts who carried the burden of editing, publication, and distribution of this journal for the last 125 years. We present here to our readers the story of Prabuddha Bharata, a dear child of Swamiji, which is a saga of sweat and toil of monks and well-wishers who have contributed in several ways towards the uninterrupted dissemination of ennobling ideas through the medium of this journal. This special issue is meant for remembering all those pious souls who, out of their love for Swamiji and his mission, worked hard, sacrificing their personal interests for this longest running English magazine of India.

We in this issue present to the readers a kaleidoscopic view of the great intellectual and spiritual treasure that Prabuddha Bharata has hidden in itself.


[1] The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989; 9, 1997), 5.414.

[2] R R Diwakar, Bhagavan Buddha (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1960), 69.

[3] See Ananda Coomaraswamy, Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal,1974), 107.

[4] Complete Works, 3.154.

[5] Swami Tathagatananda, Journey of the Upanishads to the West (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2005), 209.

[6] Complete Works, 5.127.

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