The modern mind frowns upon hero worship. Worshipping an ideal man, historical or mythical, is perceived as a psychological weakness that has to be outgrown sooner than later. I recall a personality development training session I had undergone when I was working as an employee in a leading software firm. The trainer asked the participants whether they had a personal idol and then went on to explain that no man is perfect and that looking up to a role model for perfection is a naive belief!
This attitude of cynicism towards ideals is undoubtedly at the root of the degeneration
of personal values we see all around us today. It is unnecessary to mention the depressing long list of problems plaguing humanity in general today and in Indian society in particular, to convince ourselves that we are in the midst of a crisis of values and leadership.
The Indian youth are restless for change today. They have had too much of theoretical philosophising and hair splitting discussions. They are thirsting for leadership, for a man of action who can bring the change they much
desire. They are fed up with the ubiquitous hypocrites who talk too much and do too little. They are thirsting for an icon, a leader who can walk the talk and reverse this steep fall.
If this is the scenario today, imagine how much more depressing the scenario must have been in the times Swami Vivekananda was born in. And yet Swami Vivekananda stood up to the most difficult challenges of his time and became a beacon light of hope and inspiration for millions of people across the world and continues to inspire millions of people, 112 years after his Mahasamadhi. What made him a source of limitless inspiration to seekers of truth, young freedom fighters, social reformers, religious leaders? And what draws youth today towards Swami Vivekananda like bees to honey?
Courage to Defy Death Itself
Sister Nivedita remarks that the young Bhima is a better role model for the youth (even if with some faults) than the old Bhishma, ideal and wise. What defines youth is the ability to take risks in life which seems to mellow with age. Young people do not like to be told what to do and what not to do. Nothing attracts young people better than a spirited call for sacrifice and dynamic action coupled with the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them. Swami Vivekananda personifies this fiery spirit of youth. We find in him the ability to make immense sacrifices in life, a life full of energy, enthusiasm and spirited action and added to them is the free spirit of the bold and fearless sannyasin, unfettered by any compromises of the world and ready to defy death itself. This is what makes the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda such an explosive combination of inspiration and motivation for the youth. Courage and fearlessness seem to be the ‘shruti’ note which pervades all other aspects of Swami Vivekananda’s personality—his courage in testing the character of his guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, courage with which he withstood the sufferings his family went through after his father’s untimely demise, courage in choosing the austere life of a monk despite his personal struggles, courage with which he spoke out fearlessly against the evils of his own society as well as the atrocities committed by the British.
Imagine the fearless Vivekananda standing up to a British man who criticized his beloved Mother India, the young wandering monk who was willing to give up his body as food for an old tigress, the bold Swami who composed ‘The Song of the Sannyasin’ as a response to those who wanted to fetter him with chains of money, power and fame.
It is this courage of the Swami which appeals to the youth and makes him a bold icon for the youth. Subash Chandra Bose caught a spark of the Swami’s courage and made the British tremble with his Indian National Army. Sri Aurobindo imbibed the Swami’s fearlessness and came to be feared as the ‘most dangerous man’ by the British.
Relentless Pursuit of Truth
Imagine the young Narendranath who was willing to pursue his spiritual quest relentlessly, who was not satisfied till his spiritual austerities, tore away the veils of ignorance, revealing the crystal clear vision of Satyam and Brahman.
It is this uncompromising commitment to the Truth that appeals to youth. Mahatma Gandhi caught a spark of his commitment to Truth and made Satyagraha his sole weapon in fighting imperialism. Bala Gangadhara Tilak imbibed his clarity and gave us the Gita Rahasya, the great treatise on the Karma Yoga of the Gita.
Swami Vivekananda’s pursuit of Truth was equipped with two potent weapons— sharp scientific mind and an independent rational intellect. His passion for scientific inquiry touched the heart of Jamshedji Tata and led to the founding of the Indian Institute of Science which continues to produce many brilliant young scientists.
‘They Alone Live who Live for Others’
Visualize the young Vivekananda who wrote in one of his letters, ‘Life is short and the vanities of the world are transient. They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.’ He wept for his poor countrymen and decided to go to foreign shores alone, to seek a way out for their upliftment. He added a new fragrance of selfless action to the ochre robe of the sannyasin and created a band of monks who continue to dedicate their lives not only for moksha but also for jagat hita. His compassion was so intense that he could physically feel the pain and suffering of people who died in an earthquake in the Pacific Islands thousands of miles away.
It is this intense compassion and selfless spirit of Swami Vivekananda which appeals to the youth.
The young Margaret Noble heard his call for service and dedicated her life for the upliftment of Indian women and became the glorious Sister Nivedita. A young soldier Kisan Baburao Hazare caught a spark of this spirit of service and became Anna Hazare, the champion of India’s fight against corruption. A young doctor, Hanumappa Sudarshan Reddy, imbibed this spirit of compassion and dedicated his life for the upliftment of the tribal communities in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and founded the NGO called Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra. 19 year old Babar Ali, inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s message of selfless service, started a free evening school for the poor children of his village and became the youngest school Principal in the world. Inspired by the same force, a young revolutionary freedom fighter, Eknath Ramkrishna Ranade, launched a spiritually oriented service mission called Vivekananda Kendra which is today providing purpose to the lives of many dedicated and selfless young men and women.
Unfolding the Real MAN out of Man
A liberating aspect of Swami Vivekananda’s life and message is his dislike for emotional dependence on personalities and cults. He wanted his disciples to become Vivekanandas and not simply worship or adore Vivekananda.
It is this emotionally independent and impersonal approach of Swami Vivekananda which appeals to the youth. They are fed up of personality centred cults which collapse when the leader is exposed or compromised. Young people are in search of abiding principles which they can cherish and practice in their own lives and uplift themselves from ignorance to knowledge, from dependence to independence.
Shankaran Kutty, a 17 year old young boy from Thrissur, inspired by the lifeand teachings of Swami Vivekananda, got transformed into a spiritual giant called Swami
Ranganathananda and spread the message of Swami Vivekananda to more than a hundred countries as India’s spiritual ambassador. He coined the terms ‘Human Excellence’ and ‘Enlightened Citizenship’ and inspired thousands of young men and women to strive for all round excellence.
Rama Tirtha, a young professor of mathematics was transformed into one of India’s shining spiritual leaders after a chance meeting with Swami Vivekananda. Swami Rama Tirtha popularized Vivekananda’s concept of ‘practical Vedanta.’ He proposed bringing young Indians to American universities and helped establish scholarships for Indian students.
Icon before the Modern Youth
In the year 1984, the Government of India declared 12th January, Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, as the National Youth Day. His universal message cuts across all barriers of identity and his teachings address the deepest problems of human existence. His personality has an everlasting charm and appeal for the modern youth of all nationalities. As we celebrate his 150th birth anniversary, it would not be an exaggeration to demand that it is now time to declare Swami Vivekananda’s birthday as International Youth Day.