Dutta, D. (2014), "Swami Vivekananda and his quest for sustained human development in both East & West", International Journal of Development Issues, Vol. 13 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJDI-06-2014-0049Download as .RIS
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Swami Vivekananda and his quest for sustained human development in both East & West
Article Type: Editorial From: International Journal of Development Issues, Volume 13, Issue 3
Swami Vivekananda is widely credited with introducing Yoga and Vedânta to America and Europe with his seminal lectures and private discourses on Vedânta philosophy, which is based on ancient India’s philosophical/religious literature. At the age of 30, Vivekananda was the first known Indian monk to come to the West. In his first lecture at the first World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago on 11 September 1893, he addressed the audience by addressing “Sisters and Brothers of America”, instead of the conventional one: “Ladies and Gentlemen”. About 7,000 people in attendance rose to their feet for an ovation and clapped for two minutes or so just to the address and before his seminal speech. In his brief but eloquent speech, he celebrated toleration and condemned fanaticism and its ills:
I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Swami Vivekananda (January 12, 1863-July 4, 1902) in Chicago, 1893
It was this speech that was an instant success. Subsequently, Vivekananda was invited to speak all over America and then in Europe.
Swami Vivekananda’s life and teachings have inspired countless great leaders, scholars and artists in both the East and the West, such as following selective ones:
My homage and respect to the very revered memory of Swami Vivekananda […] after having gone through [his works], the love that I had for my country became a thousandfold (Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the modern Indian nation).
[Vivekananda’s] whole life and teaching inspired my generation […] he brought his great spirituality to bear upon his patriotism and thus his message was not confined to India only, but was for the whole world. I pray my homage to his memory (Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India).
Swami Vivekananda, as most of you are aware, was the greatest spiritual ambassador of India, if I may say so, in the history of India. And for that matter, the history of Asia [U Thant, the third Secretary General of the United Nations (1962-1971)].
The renowned Swami Vivekananda […] said that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character (Barack Obama, the 44th and current President of the USA).
[Vivekananda] had great foresight and I feel I am a follower, trying to implement his dream of creating inter-religious harmony in the world (Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1989).
I cannot touch these sayings of [Vivekananda], scattered as they are through the pages of this book at thirty years’ distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shock, what transport, must have been produced when, in burning words, they issued from the lips of the hero! (Romain Rolland, the French savant, novelist, dramatist, essayist, mystic and a Nobel Laureate in Literature in 1915).
[Vivekananda is] one of the very greatest historical figures that India has ever produced. When one sees the full range of his mind, one is astounded (Christopher Isherwood, an English novelist, playwright, screen-writer, auto-biographer and diarist).
The man [Vivekananda] is simply a wonder for oratorical power […] the Swami is an honor to humanity (William James, an American philosopher and the “Father of American psychology”).
(T)he neo-Hinduism of Vivekananda, in its many developments, is the most potent religious influence in modern India, and adapted by the genius of Mahatma Gandhi, has provided the ideology of the Indian independence movement (A.L. Basham, a noted historian and indologist).
Swami Vivekananda said if there is a God, we must see Him and if there is a soul we must perceive it. Otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite. At last I found someone who made sense and I wanted to go deeper into it (George Harrison, an English musician, singer and songwriter who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of the Beatles.)
Early day motion 976 – UK Parliament (Session: 2012-13 Date tabled: 28.01.2013): That this House, on the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda:
* recognises the valuable contribution made by him to interfaith dialogue at international level, encouraging and promoting harmony and understanding between religions through his renowned lectures and presentations at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, followed by his lecture tours in the USA, England and mainland Europe;
* notes that these rectified and improved the understanding of the Hindu faith outside India and dwelt upon the universal goodness found within all religions;
* further notes that he inspired thousands to selflessly serve the distressed and those in need and promoted an egalitarian society free of all kinds of discrimination; and
* welcomes the celebrations of his 150th birth anniversary in the UK and throughout the world.
Figure 2. Swami Vivekananda (January 12, 1863-July 4, 1902)
The above tributes of the leading thinkers and institutions to Swami Vivekananda show a consensus of opinion that he was a unique personality in the history of mankind, the formidable bridge between the East and the West, as well as the first and foremost promoter of the interfaith dialogue at the international level Figure 2).
This unique special issue captures a perennial human endeavour that was first explored by sages and scholars in ancient India during the Vedic period roughly from 6000 BC to 2000 BC, and then was consolidated over the subsequent millennia into Vedânta philosophy that affirms eternal/universal truths for their application in human life under all conditions.
Meanwhile a number of earlier Western philosophers and scholars such as the eighteenth-century British orientalist and jurist, William Jones; the nineteenth-century American philosopher and Father of American psychiatry, William James; the nineteenth-century German-born philologist and orientalist, Max Müller; and a few others had, after been acquainted with the Vedântic philosophy and thought, expressed unreservedly its relevance for the understanding and development of inner human nature.
In his University of Cambridge lectures titled “What can India teach us?” (December 1882), Max Müller writes:
True, there are many things which India has to learn from us; but there are other things, and, in one sense, very important things, which we too may learn from India. […] If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most full developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant – I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life – again I should point to India.
Subsequently within a decade, after Max Müller’s call for the West’s attention to India’s universal philosophy of human development, it was Swami Vivekananda who made Vedânta philosophy along with Yoga system a common heritage of mankind since the last decade of the nineteenth century.
In celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, University of Sydney’s South Asian Studies Group in association with its School of Economics and Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies, and also with Society for Philosophy & Culture, Victoria University, NZ; RSV Society of NSW; and Vedanta Centre of Sydney, organised an international workshop on Swami Vivekananda and his quest for sustained human development in both East & West on 16 September 2013. In addition to the participants from Australia, others were from Germany, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and North America. This special issue is an outcome of the workshop.
Apart from an introduction on the workshop theme given by the editor himself, six full papers had been presented by four practitioners (three monks and one nun) of and two experts on Vedânta philosophy. One practitioner monk (Purnatmananda) has afterwards kindly contributed an additional manuscript relevant to the theme. Because all the seven papers are somewhat more on specific aspects of the overall workshop theme, although with overlapping to some extent in a few cases, the editor felt a need for adding two papers expanded on his introductory note – one at the beginning and the other at the end of this special issue – particularly for the benefit of the Western readers.
The paper by Dutta – Sustained human development as a psycho-social evolution from individuality to personality – has a brief review of the historical background of the development of Vedânta philosophy in relation to the workshop theme, and it also includes short notes (either in the text or in footnotes) on a number of concepts that have been subsequently used in other papers.
The paper by Sarvapriyananda – Vivekananda’s interpretation of Vedanta philosophy & values for sustained human development – highlights that the doctrine of “the One and the many” being the same reality is the philosophical core of the vast and varied treasury of Vivekananda’s teachings and indeed of his life, which can, therefore, serve as the foundation of values for sustained human development.
The idea behind the paper by Vivekaprana – Vivekananda and the inner quest of humanity – is of the most intrinsic truth that a human being has to discover his or her own divinity and inner strength by going beyond the laws of instinct and impulse, and rising to better and conscious levels of struggle for ensuring harmony with others and therefore sustained human development.
In the paper – Human Development and Transcendence: A Vivekananda View – Tyagananda wishes to locate the highest stage of “human development” in a state of transcendence, even higher than Samadhi, when one is in total absorption in God as a direct experience and simultaneously without being disturbed by the surrounding world.
In the paper by Purnatmananda – Vivekananda’s Message of Human Excellence – he draws our attention to Vivekananda’s call: “Be honest, be pure, be good, be unselfish”, for character excellence constituting the moral and ethical foundation of human excellence, and also Vivekananda’s two grand equations, namely, equation of man and God, and equation of work and worship, for spiritual foundation of human excellence.
In the next paper – Vivekananda and Bertrand Russell on conception and development of human being – Shaw argues that while Russell’s emphasis is on the humanistic elements of freedom, vitality, courage and love for one’s moral education and the training of human character, Vivekananda insists on “harmonious development” of all faculties, or dimensions of one’s life, including one’s attitude towards living beings or nature at large, and service to “living God”, and therefore Vivekananda’s view would supplement Russell’s quest for human excellence.
Brown’s paper – The Power of Karma Yoga in Human Development – adapts Vivekananda’s prophetic insight in modern language to the age-old concept of Karma Yoga, and shows, using contemporary illustrations of its ideals and practice, how it can create enlightened citizens who, in turn, can contribute to sustained human development in both the East and the West.
In his paper – Towards Eradication of Poverty and Inequality: Vivekananda’s Perspective for Sustained Human Development – Baneshananda first highlights Vivekananda as a social philosopher with a clear and deep understanding of Vedânta philosophy; knowledge of modern science of his time; wonderful grasp of world history; and direct experience and study of mass-life particularly of India, all of which together provided him with materials and insights of humanity’s experimentation with life, its success and its failures; and then notes the pivotal to Vivekananda’s social philosophy:
Sharp as the blade of a razor, long and difficult and hard to cross, is the way to freedom […]. Yet do not let these weaknesses and failures bind you[…]. We will then certainly cross the path, sharp as it is like the razor, and long and distant and difficult though it may be. Man becomes the master of gods and demons.
The final paper by Dutta – “Surplus in Man” & the Capability-Based Sustained/Total Human Development – is focused on:
* the concept of “surplus in Man” as the basic source for achieving the Vedântic ideal of transcendence;
* a brief literature review on the capability approach to sustained/total human development and the underlying philosophy;
* a general answer to the question: How to apply the holistic approach to our daily life?;
* the role of Yoga and meditation as the key initial bridging forces between the Western and Eastern concept of mental health; and
* the recent trend in a morally demanding lifestyle of a section of people in the Western societies.
Dilip Dutta - School of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
1. Vivekananda (CW, vol. 1, p. 342).
The editor would like to thank all the contributors in the special issue for their valuable time and efforts, and all sponsors of the workshop, particularly University of Sydney’s South Asian Studies Group & School of Economics, as well as Vedanta Centre of Sydney and RSV Society of NSW. Finally, the editor thanks Vanessa Holcombe, the editorial assistant of the International Journal of Development Issues, and the people at Emerald Group Publishing Limited for their interest in publishing the special issue, their professionalism and patience: Sarah Roughley, Ruth Bailey, Chris Harris, Andrea Watson Lee, Virginia Chapman and colleagues.