News - Vivekananda: The torch still burns
by Maria Wirth
India owes its resurgence to Vivekananda: a true son of the soil The young man with fire in his belly, realised this and wanted to give Indians back their selfrespect and pride in their tradition. In December of 1892 Swami Vivekananda had swum to a rock, off the coast of Kanya Kumari in South India to meditate. His guru, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, had died in Calcutta six years earlier. On this rock, it dawned on him that he should participate at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago in 1893, and represent Advaita Vedanta, one of the highest flowerings among the different Indian philosophical systems. Advaita Vedanta postulates that basically, everything is a unity (a-dwaita = not two) – a view to which modern science now subscribes. Swami Vivekananda went to Chicago.
On September 11, 1893, he stood on the dais, a young man of 30, and began his talk by saying, “Sisters and brothers of America.” Thunderous applause greeted this address for several minutes. Why? “He was the only one who meant what he said,” a commentator explained at that time. This young man became world-famous. He contributed significantly to the renaissance of Indian wisdom in India and in the West. Vivekananda did not hesitate to tell his American audience frankly what he thought about their society. He considered it hypocritical. “What is the use of your proud talk about your society, if truth has no place in it?” he asked. “What you call progress is according to me nothing more than the multiplication of desires. And if one thing is clear to me it is this: desires bring misery.” He was also critical of religion. He admitted that it was helpful for weak people, but asked, “Are not all prevalent religious practises weakening and therefore wrong?” He wanted strong human beings who would worship the spirit by the spirit. His ideal was to preach unto mankind their divinity and how to make it manifest in every movement of life. Swami Vivekananda was given a triumphal welcome on his return to India. Yet his health had suffered badly during his early wanderings across India, and he died in 1902, nine years after his spectacular success at the Congress. Nevertheless, Swami Vivekananda achieved great things. He restored pride of Indians in India’s wisdom and put the West, philosophically and socially, in its place. “Spirituality is as much a science as any in the world,” the Swami had declared. “It is about enquiry, analysis and finally intimately knowing and directly experiencing the truth.”
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