A nation is an entity that is built by its people with the aim to serve their overall wellbeing. People are the essential bricks that build a nation and are its benefactors and eventual beneficiaries. It is the quality of people we have in a nation which by and large constitute the characteristics of the nation. The leaders of a nation surely know where the strength of a nation lies. They also have a duty to retain that strength and develop other strengths. This reinforcing of complementary strengths builds a strong nation. Unfortunately, that disciplined approach has been missing in India, largely due to the lack of morality and discipline in our leadership.
Western education has taught us to work as a team. It has also taught us that materialistic well-being is important. This new knowledge must be blended with that of our traditional knowledge of spiritual well-being. Only then we will have balanced people in our society. As a nation, we are still not aware of this balanced approach. As a result, the spread of literacy has not achieved the purpose of building up the strong character which our society direly needs. Just as people of strong character build a strong society, similarly a strong society gives rise to a stable, unified, and powerful nation. Today this lack of morality and character has put us in a grave crisis on all fronts. We must introspect if we have done justice to our collective wisdom. Have we done for our masses what they needed on a priority basis from the time that India first flew on its free wings? Can India emerge as a strong nation if we have 75% of our people earning below $1 a day? If not, where have we failed? Why have we failed?
This responsibility cannot be just left to the leaders themselves in a democratic nation. In a democratic republic, every citizen bears the responsibility of contributing positively to make the collective dream a reality. Our contributions must start by taking care of our elderly and the needy around us. If we cannot feel for our parents and children, is it possible that we will feel for others? If each one of us achieved this sensitivity, honesty, sincerity and faith, it will be just a matter of time before our nation leads the world.
Every one of us wants a better life in the days to come. We want better clothes, better food, better homes, better friends… the list will never end. But unless I become a better person tomorrow from what I am today, will the society change? What about me becoming a better person in order to benefit people and the society? This is where we all love to turn a blind eye.
An age-old parable says that every citizen of a town was asked to contribute a mug of milk for some charity. Everyone thought, ‘let others do their job, nobody will even notice if I alone pour water instead of milk’. So, at the end of the day, the contribution was all water and no milk. This is the sad reality of our nation. We have accepted all the sacrifices which brought us freedom, and are now not willing to sacrifice anything to live up to it. Why? – Because we have not been able to be (or produce) men of character. Yet we claim to have produced a fantastic software industry, a great film industry, great consumer market etc. But when push comes to shove we find whatever we have boils down to naught. And when this malignancy spreads wide into our society everyone is affected. Problems like Satyam, Adarsh, 2G, CWG etc. keep on surfacing without any respite. No responsibility gets executed with its due honor, whether it is that of a child towards his aged parents, the parent towards their young children, a professional towards his work, a doctor towards his patient, or a leader towards his following.
The man who understood this malignant syndrome very early was Swami Vivekananda. That is why he first wanted the nation to focus on man making. Having traversed the greater Indian landmass on foot, he saw how the morality-deficient masses of India were going down the path of decadence due to lack of character. They were weak in mind, spirit and in body. He bluntly told them that until they developed enough physical strength (played enough football); they would never understand the message of the Gita. He saw how the messages of the Vedic scriptures were distorted into dogmatic ideas which were doing the society more harm than good. In this desperate situation, he declared: ‘You say “मातृदेवो भवः, पितृदेवो भवः, आचार्यदेवो भवः” (Mother, Father and Teacher are manifestations of God). Today I am adding to it “दरिद्रदेवो भवः, मुर्खदेवो भवः” (God is manifested in the poverty-stricken and in the uneducated masses).’ He thundered: ‘Go and serve the masses, if you want to serve God.’
For a mendicant whose sole bread came from alms, this was a daring statement to make, especially at a time when caste-ism was at its worst and was equated to religion itself. And yet with this one statement he brought together the spiritual and the secular. This was the greatest watershed that spiritual India experienced after the rise of Shankaracharya (who through his works made the highest principles of Vedanta available to the common man). Swami Vivekananda thus introduced to the world the tenets of Practical Vedanta.
Swamiji had very high regard for the youth. He wanted young people to fearlessly question everything and arrive at their own conclusion with self-confidence. He announced, ‘The old religion said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is an atheist who does not believe in himself.’ He thus made it clear that as a Vedantin he firmly believed that self-confidence and strong character are the main ingredients to Success – Spiritual or Material.
Swamiji insisted that a nation’s future lay in the principles of “man-making”. This is what India needs today. This is what the world needs today. The nation and the entire human civilization need people of strong values and a sensitized heart who will be ready to sacrifice everything for their conviction. These young people will lead the nation and the world. They will lead society on every front – as entrepreneurs, as professionals, as teachers, as social workers…. They will be absolutely fearless, physically strong, but mentally stronger, and strongest by their conviction in themselves – this is the character Swamiji wanted to see in India’s youth.
In the last 65 years, India has impressed the world by achieving certain milestones of sporadic progress. But after 65 years of independence when we look at the state of her masses – their lack of potable water (and highly polluted rivers), lack of food and shelter, women dying of childbirth, rampant child labor, female foeticide etc., we wonder if we have made any genuine progress at all. Basic development at the grassroots is what India needs today. The eye-washing deeds of hypocrisy, claims of tall successes must be challenged. Only fearless souls can challenge these citadels of hypocrisy that vested interests have built up over hundreds of years. And that is why Swamiji put his trust in the youth of the country. He knew that the youth of a nation were fearless and would never fear to challenge sycophants and hypocrites.
Swamiji said, ‘I have a great mission to fulfill and I am in despair at the smallness of my capacity. I have an injunction from my Guru to carry out this mission. It is nothing less than the regeneration of my motherland….’ A brother disciple once recounted a conversation Swamiji had with him: ‘He said, “… I am still unable to understand anything of your so-called religion.” Then with an expression of deep sorrow on his countenance and intense emotion shaking his body, he placed his hand on his heart and added, “But my heart has expanded very much, and I have learnt to feel. Believe me, I feel intensely indeed.” His voice was choked with feeling; he could say no more. For a time profound silence reigned, and tears rolled down his cheek.’ This is the sensitivity we all need today.
We must be fearless and full of sensitivity and conviction. All of us who love Swamiji must learn to feel intensely for the less-privileged beings around us. Only then will we be able to express those intense feelings through our actions. We must remember that an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of words. Reading and discussing Swamiji or worshipping him is useless if we do not follow his words. We have to commit ourselves to breathing life into Swamiji’s dreams. Each one of us has a different strength. The one with the power of money can donate for a good cause. The one with the capability to teach can take up spreading literacy and so on. Each one of us must work in his own way without seeking to criticize the other. It is wrong to think that without an organization Swamiji’s work is not possible. Any good that we can do for anyone around us is doing Swamiji’s work. And that would make us true Vedantins of the 21st century, who will proudly be able to say:
ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयः|
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु माकश्चित् दुःखभाग्भवेत||