It is a divine coincidence that when India celebrated its 75 years of freedom from colonial rulers, the Ramakrishna Mission, the foremost organisation in India’s resurgence leading to the freedom movement, also celebrated its 125 years of fruitful and enriching existence. Sister Nivedita beautifully points out the importance of the Indian nation in the life and works of Swami Vivekananda when she says:
The Shastras, the Guru, and the Motherland—are the three notes that mingle themselves to form the music of the works of Vivekananda. These are the treasure which it is his to offer. These furnish him with the ingredients whereof he compounds the world’s heal-all of his spiritual bounty. These are the three lights burning within that single lamp which India by his hand lighted and set up, for the guidance of her own children and of the world.1
The history and achievements of the Ramakrishna Mission are intertwined with the legacy and accomplishments of the Indian nation. The Ramakrishna Mission is primarily founded on the exalted spiritual principles that have sustained this most ancient of nations and is wholeheartedly devoted to serving the ‘images of God’ in the form of its people.
Soul of India
The unity of existence and the divinity of humans—these two principles form the soul of the Indian psyche. The Indian ideal is to see all beings in the Self and the Self in all. The popular culture and national polity of India are not based on temporal empirical philosophy, but on the spiritual philosophy, which vouches for the existence of one unitary Reality—the substratum and essence of the whole existence. Sri Krishna calls it adhyātma vidyā, a broad term encompassing the religion and philosophy of India.
Sri Ananda Coomaraswamy says in his book Dance of Shiva that an inseparable unity of the material and spiritual world has made the foundation of India and determines the whole character of her social ideas. It means both mundane and spiritual thoughts that shape an individual as well as whole society in the Indian milieu, have a common source in the unity of existence, which is essentially a spiritual foundation. The sun shining on the Indian horizon is emitting a spiritual light and it is what guides and invigorates all the fields—secular and religious—in which India has attained its excellent achievements for more than five thousand years. The engagement with the world and the effort to create wealth by following the path of ethics are not considered outside the purview of spirituality. It is called pravṛtti mārga. However, India has placed a still higher ideal of renunciation before the world, which ultimately takes one to absolute spiritual freedom. This is known as nivṛtti mārga. India finds no contradiction between these two, as the former is a step towards the latter—renunciation being the utmost national ideal of India. That is why we find in the Indian scene, emperors bowing down to all-renouncing monks, who represent the lofty ideal of renunciation and the treasure of knowledge that India possesses.
Values of India
The highest possible goal for a human to achieve is mokṣa, freedom from the series of births and deaths. However, Hinduism accommodates all sections of people, including those who are striving for fulfilling their desires (kāma) and accumulating wealth for a prosperous life (artha). The former is the spiritual value and the latter two are material values. However, one should adopt a righteous path and means to achieve both kinds of values. This is in general called Dharma, which is the gateway to both spiritual and material goals.
The whole national character of India is condensed into this single word, Dharma. It is for the sake of Dharma that the great warriors sacrificed their lives on the battlefields; it is for the sake of Dharma that the rustic ascetics lived a life of penance and austerity; and again, it is for the sake of Dharma that kings ruled the kingdoms, merchants traded with far-off countries, and common people served the society through their professions. The national goal of India is to lead a life of Dharma while engaged in one’s respective profession.
A famous saying in Sanskrit declares: ‘Dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ; Dharma protects those who protect it.’ Though it seems to be an anomalous statement, it has deeper spiritual and practical significance. Protecting Dharma means shaping our life and conduct along the guiding ethical principles formulated in our ancient scriptures. When one follows Dharma, one would be saved from making one’s life insipid, meaningless, and evil. When we study the history of India, we find its national life is but the persistent conflict between those forces which are in favour of Dharma and those which are opposed to it. The Mahabharata, the great encyclopaedic work on the tenets of Dharma, declares: ‘Yato dharmaḥ tato jayaḥ; where there is Dharma, there is victory.’ The whole national life of India has run for all these hundreds of years on this great hope and assurance.
Sri Aurobindo in his book The Renaissance in India says: ‘What strikes us next is her (India’s) stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginable prolific creativeness.’2 According to him, India, keeping her essential spirit, is shaping for herself a new body of new philosophical, artistic, literary, cultural, political, and social forms by the same rejuvenescent will. This periodical reinventing and reconstruction of India in its external expressions, keeping its spiritual essence intact, is one of the primary reasons for the survival of Indian culture even in this modern times.
India was never stagnant in its mundane, intellectual, and spiritual pursuits throughout its history. Even one thousand years of subjugation under Mughal and British rulers did not dampen her zeal for innovative creativity in various fields of life. This abundance of energy and joy of life along with spiritual intuition, which has remained consistent for the last five thousand years, is what makes this great country the historically most vibrant country in the comity of the nations.
Social Disparity and Economic Downfall
However, India faced an existential crisis when she had to face the onslaught of foreign invasions incessantly for more than one thousand years. Though the spiritual current underneath was flowing unhindered all these centuries, the social fabric of ancient India took a severe pounding resulting in the influx of social evils, inertia, and superstitious practices in the religious and societal turfs. Another catastrophic effect of the foreign rule, especially of the British, was the severe commotion in the economic conditions, which threw hundreds of thousands of people, including artisans, farmers, and other vulnerable sections of society into the dire condition of poverty and deprivation. The recurrent drought situations, especially in Bengal, and the apathy of the British administration in providing relief to the people transformed these natural calamities into man-made crises, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives and leaving their dead bodies scattered across the entire land.
India has not yet fully recovered from a steep decline in societal and economic conditions, even after 75 years of independence from British misrule, despite the persistent efforts by the succeeding governments. However, of late, a recent UN report on India gives us a glimpse of hope. It says that ‘Over the past two decades, India has made remarkable progress in reducing extreme poverty. Between 2011 and 2019, the country is estimated to have halved the share of the population living in extreme poverty—below $2.15 per person per day.’3 Another report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace based in the US states that a leading power is synonymous with a great power. However, India will only acquire this status when its economic foundations, state institutions, and military capabilities are truly robust. It will take a concerted effort to reach this pinnacle.4
Contemporary India is full of contradictions and disparities. While the rich echelons of society are enjoying the benefits of the economic progress of the country, the poor and vulnerable classes, who are the real creators of the national wealth through their hard work, are deprived of decent living and dignity. Though modern technology and thought processes have penetrated Indian society, a large section of people still thinks and lives a life ridden with superstition, casteism, and mutual mistrust. Religion has been reduced to be the cause of fissures and conflicts, severely damaging social harmony and peaceful co-existence.
The solution lies in going back to the spiritual roots that sustained this great nation for hundreds of years. Religion should be freed from narrow-mindedness and blind beliefs, and at the same time, spiritual awareness—the crux of religion—should be brought into the light. Discarding spirituality, the essential core of religion, is the main cause of degradation in every field of life on the Indian scene. As Swami Vivekananda repeatedly says, it is not the fault of religion, but the failure of Indian society to comprehend the true nature of religion and values it disseminates, that have brought decadence and widespread frustration.
Despite this, spirituality continues to thrive in India but without realising its potential to transform the lives of the millions of common masses. The spiritual accomplishments of several saints are highly appreciated and and their message has been able to produce attitudinal changes as well as instil pride in the country’s spiritual heritage—at least in some sections of the society. However, in comparison with the vast population of India of nearly 1.42 billion, the number of such enlightened citizens is meagre.
Swami Vivekananda’s Call to India
Among the savants of modern India, Swami Vivekananda stands apart in dissecting India’s problems and finding solutions in the light of her spiritual heritage and culture. According to Swamiji, for the present decadence of India, nobody is to blame except the Indians themselves. Several factors contributed to the all-pervading lethargy and deleterious predisposition we are seeing today in India. Ignoring the past, narrowness of outlook, perverting religious tenets, tyrannizing over the masses, and neglecting the condition of women are some of the factors that Swamiji lists as the causes of the degradation of Indian society.
The symptoms of such bleak situations which are very much evident—according to Swamiji—are cultural heresy and fanaticism, physical weakness, laziness, selfishness, jealousy, lack of faith, lack of self-help, lack of obedience, lack of organising capacity, lack of business integrity, and lack of love for the fellow countrymen.
The remedies that Swamiji suggested to alleviate these national maladies are revolutionary even in the modern context, as they were more than 125 years ago when he spoke about them. Swamiji says that training should be given for sincere workers who preach eternal values enshrined in our scriptures, and common people should be freed from all kinds of bigotry and sectarian views. Swamiji dreamt of deluging the land with spiritual ideas full of strength and fearlessness as a remedy for all evils. A political system and other empirical methods won’t be able to solve the problems that India suffers from.
Historically, reform movements are of the nature of denunciation and destruction of present social and religious institutions; they have done more harm than good in the Indian scenario. Hence, Swamiji says: ‘I do not believe in reform; I believe in growth.5 … My ideal is growth, expansion, development on national lines.’6
It was Swami Vivekananda who identified the spreading of education among the masses as the panacea for all social evils troubling Indian society. He condemned the educational system prevalent at that time to be nothing but ‘a perfect machine for turning out clerks’.7 True education should have ‘man-making’ and ‘character building’ as the main purpose. That is why Swamiji asserts: ‘The training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education.’8
The upliftment of the masses to revitalise India is another mode of work in Swamiji’s mission. Engrossed in the struggle for existence, the Indian masses did not have the opportunity to acquire the required secular or spiritual knowledge. Swamiji laments that ‘no religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism’.9 The solution to this age-old social evil is to give the masses secular education first and raise them slowly up to equality by imparting noble ideas of religion and spirituality.
As we can see, all the problems that Swamiji recognised and gave solutions to, are still haunting India in this 21st century. Unfortunately, even the leaders of independent India failed to a great extent in this respect. The only hope of light in these straightened circumstances lies in espousing Swamiji’s methods and means of invigorating India on national lines, instead of blindly imitating Western ways.
Role of the Ramakrishna Order
Ramakrishna Mission is the concrete form of the nationalistic and spiritual ideas of Swami Vivekananda, guided by the exemplary life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi. This organisation is an enlightened community engaged in serving India through various means with a spiritual motive. Ramakrishna Mission is an illustration of how India can transform itself from the most populous country in the world to the most prosperous country. Not only amassing an abundance of material wealth for its own welfare and that of the world, India could continue to inspire and lead its citizens and humanity at large to the inexhaustible and precious spiritual treasure, which this great nation has preserved in its pristine form for hundreds of years.
Ramakrishna Mission embodies in itself all that is noble and best of both Eastern and Western cultures, at the same time sustained by the eternal fountain of Upanishadic wisdom, enlivened by Sri Ramakrishna in recent times. Although its scope and outreach among the immense Indian population are constrained by its monastic structure and limited human and other resources, Ramakrishna Mission serves as an organic prototype for all such organisations who work with the noble intention of uplifting India to be once again strong and prosperous and, at the same time, become a powerful dynamo of spirituality benefitting the entire humanity.
India Moves On…
The supreme Lord of the universe has a definite purpose and destiny for the Indian nation. It is for this very reason that the spiritual culture of this most ancient of nations continues to make its unique presence and extend its overbearing effect on the entire world. As Swami Vivekananda emphatically states, India has a global mission and that is to broadcast the spiritual ideals of selfless service and renunciation. As long as India is striving on that path, it will survive and continue to inspire people belonging to all races and nations to pursue an enlightened life dedicated to the loving devotion of God, along with the knowledge of the effulgent Atman which is the inner spiritual core of every being, as well as to continue dispassionate and selfless work guided by eternal moral principles.
The spirit of India stands for the eternity of Brahman, the infinite Reality. There is no extinction for India as the spiritual ideals and goals of this great nation go beyond the boundaries of time, space, and causation. Shall India die? Swami Vivekananda answers this queer question with his indomitable energy, zeal, and wisdom, characteristic to him:
Shall India die? Then from the world all spirituality will be extinct, all moral perfection will be extinct, all sweet-souled sympathy for religion will be extinct, all ideality will be extinct; and in its place will reign the duality of lust and luxury as the male and female deities, with money as its priest, fraud, force, and competition its ceremonies, and the human soul its sacrifice. Such a thing can never be. The power of suffering is infinitely greater than the power of doing; the power of love is infinitely of greater potency than the power of hatred. Those that think that the present revival of Hinduism is only a manifestation of patriotic impulse are deluded.10P
1 . Sister Nivedita, ‘Introduction: Our Master and His Message’, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.xvii.
2 . Sri Aurobindo, The Renaissance in India (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1997), 7.
3 . See <https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/india/overview>.
4 . See <https://carnegieendowment.org/2016/04/04/india-as-leading-power-pub-63185>.
5 . Complete Works, 3.213.
6 . Ibid., 3.195.
7 . Ibid., 5.364.
8 . Ibid., 4.490.
9 . Ibid., 5.15.
10. Ibid., 4.348.