In his book, The Discovery of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote,” Rooted in the past and yet modern in his approach to life’s problems, Vivekananda was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present.” Later, in one of his speeches in Delhi ,he said, “ I do not know how many of the younger generation have read the speeches and the writings of Swami Vivekananda. But I can tell you that many of my generation were very powerfully influenced by him and I think that it would do a great deal of good to the present generation if they also went through his writings…. I think he was one of the great founders of the modern national movement of India and many drew inspiration from him”.
In one of his letters written in 1893 to a disciple, Swami Vivekananda said, “ Do you love your fellow men ? Do you love your country ? Then come, let us struggle for higher and better things. Look not back, but forward ! India wants the sacrifice of at least a thousand of young men to struggle unto life and death to bring about a new state of things – sympathy for the poor and bread to their hungry mouths, and enlightenment for the people at large”.
The source of Swami Vivekananda’s call for service to the poor was his spiritual belief in Advaita philosophy of non-dualism according to which all matter ( nature ) and all living beings are interconnected and interdependent. That is the reason why we should practice universal sympathy and universal love. Selfless service of the poor is therefore a service of the spirit by the spirit, which also leads to self-enlightenment. Thus the goal of self-realization unifies the power of the human spirit with practice of compassion and love for all. Mahatma Gandhi manifested the power of the human spirit (derived by deep meditation, and service of the poor) for social transformation and for launching a successful non-violent mass movement to liberate India from the mighty force of the British power.
Both Vivekananda and Gandhi emphasized the importance of character-building education that is badly needed even today to solve the problems of massive poverty, environmental degradation, and corruption in all spheres of Indian society. I happen to believe that voluntary organizations led by individuals inspired by a political ideology or religious fundamentalism, do not have the lasting power to achieve large-scale social transformation in India. On the other hand, men and women who develop and manifest the power of the human spirit, will have the wisdom, calmness, inner strength, and unconditional love for all – the attributes that are needed to transform society.
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