This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A Book Summary
Presented by Devatanu Banerjee
Swami Ranganathananandji, the Vice President of the Ramakrishna Mission, delivers a memorable lecture on ‘Swami Vivekananda and Human Excellence’ at the Harvard University in 1985. This paperback published by the Advaita Ashram compiles his speech into ten chapters that, in the most lucid way, capture the essence of what Swami Vivekanada’s synthesized view of Human Excellence. In this paper, our group hopes to summarize each chapter in an effort to learn from the lecture and Vivekananda’s message as a whole.
Chapter 1: Introduction
In a quick acknowledge, Swami Ranganathananandji thanks the organizers of the lecture and his excitement at the prospect of dealing with the subject of ‘human excellence’ especially with reference to Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.
Chapter 2: Vivekananda – The Harmony of All Human Energy
The chapter talks of the influence of the four yogas as well as the ancient Greeko Roman essence of philosophy on Swami Vivekananda’s and goes on to trace a brief biography of Swamiji. Under the tutelage of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda not only conveyed something unique, but went on to propound the synthesis of Indian and Western excellence, calling it ‘Human Excellence’. Swami Vivekananda is projected is equated to the Buddha and Sankaracharya in that at the very young age he was able to make a lasting impact on the minds of both the East and the West. The chapter also introduces the importance of education on not only knowledge but also character development. Vivekananda is also referred to as the harmony of all human energy because he identified that neither western nor eastern culture were perfect and that both had a lot to offer. Therefore he chose to assimilate both their ‘excellences’.
Chapter 3: The Upanishads on Efficiency
Faith / Conviction
Figure 1: Constituents of Supreme Excellence By combining knowledge (Vidya) with the other two virtues, one can build character. Quoting from the lecture, “The educated citizen is the source from which a modern democratic society receives nourishment”. He believed that knowledge seeking in educational institutions and social interactions, leads to character building, which he terms – Manliness. Vivekanada seems to be especially impressed by the west’s tremendous inner faith and daring to overcome all odds – called the Promethean Spirit. This he compares to the story of Bhagiratha who brings down the Ganges from heaven. Based on Aristotle saying – “Man is a social animal”, he goes on to suggest western philosophy’s political view of man, which has both positive and negative sides.
Positive societal goals Political Achievements Economic Achievements Social Achievements
Permitted negative behavior Aggressive
Political view of man
Educated citizen (who has) Promethean spirit (but is) Ethically limited Sense bound (and is) Communal
wars Colonial mentality Social exploitation
Figure 2: Political view of man
Chapter 4: Greek Specialization in Human Excellence: Its Limitations
In this chapter, we find the Greek emphasis on external political dimension of man. In spite of this, the crucial drawback of Greek philosophy is that it does not address the finality of death. This is where the Indian thought process has been able to develop an inward spiritual dimension of man that addresses the concept of death. He concludes the chapter by sympathizing with Socrates, whose attempt to bring the higher level into the thought process of the Greeks led to him being declared a corruptor of youth and eventually his death. He also goes on to suggest that the individual and society was left unsatisfied by this stagnation of human creative energy at the sensate level. He tries to further bolster this point by attributing a similar treatment of Jesus by the Jews.
Chapter 5: Indian Specialization in Human Excellence: It’s Limitations
Vivekananda suggests that lured by divine dimension, India steadily neglected the political and sensorial dimension of man. Thus, he urges Indians to wake up from the sleep of centuries and to act with courage and achieve total human development. He encourages us to be filled with an intense spirit of activity (Rajas), and adopting the Bhagiratha spirit (India’s equivalent of the Promethean spirit).
Chapter 6: Vivekananda’s Education in Total Human Excellence under Sri Ramakrishna
The author talks about the relationship between Narendra (Vivekananda) and Sri Ramakrishna, and how Vivekanada is urged to seek the higher in not just samadhi but in every day life. It is also mentioned that people’s convictions lead to their character fruits, which range in quality from sweetness to bitterness. However, in stead of viewing
this as a duality, Sri Ramakrishna coins a new term – Vijnana for the comprehensive philosophical and view of Advaita (the philosophy of duality existing as one). The author goes on to reveal how Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda created a philosophic symphony and evolved a message that would have a great impact on the east as well as the west. The meeting of these two seemingly opposite individuals and creation of such a unity is also used as a symbolic justification of the unity that they propounded.
Chapter 7: Vivekananda’s Message of Man’s Spiritual Dept Dimension
While western thought sought control over the environment, Indian though placed emphasis on the organism. So while the west set out to conquer the environment, India set out to strengthen the inner to endure the environment. Vivekanada talks about the virtues of both and how they are both needed for completed human development.
Intrinsic Value of Man
Complete excellence model Higher value of
spiritual freedom and equality
Lower positional value for society
Figure 3: Complete excellence model based on intrinsic value Vivekananda also mentions that the goal of life is to manifest the divine within by controlling nature (using science, technology, politics) and internally (ethics / arts / spiritualism/ inward thought).
He goes on to suggest that true freedom emanating from the manifestation of the divine can be done using one, many or all of the following – 1. Work 2. Worship 3. Physic control
Chapter 8: Vivekananda Educates India to Achieve Total Human Excellence
When he says “Today the ancient Greek is meeting the ancient Hindu on the soil of India”, Vivekanada places the utmost importance on both positivistic thought and spiritual development shaping character. He believes that India has strayed away by years of neglecting the external development and hence sinking into poverty, injustice, sham religiosity, illiteracy and other ills. Quoting Vivekananda – “Education is the manifestation of the perfection that is already in man… The end of all education and all training should be manmaking”. Thus he emphasizes that it is strong external development and deep internal growth simultaneously that will allow Indians to “accomplish their purpose in any fashion”.
Chapter 9: Vivekananda on India’s Scientific Approach to Religion and Its Sweet Fruits
Here Vivekanada stresses that there are two aspects of human excellence – 1. Harmony and peace - Being able to tolerate other regions and views 2. Strength and fearlessness – One who is feared (respected by others) While we have come to except that these two aspects are exclusive, Vivekananda believes that we should strive to combine strength and gentleness to achieve human excellence. Vivekananda also urges the world to follow India’s example and separate religious dogma and intolerance from faith and tolerance. He uses the example of India being alone (with the exception of the British and Mughal rule) in not having an aggressive / expansionist past. It is also stated this India is the only country where
all religions are tolerated. (This can be debated however does not form part of the scope of this paper). Swami Ranganathananandji also quotes many examples from Jewish and Greco Roman history to drive home the point that there are many forms in which God is worshiped; however there is only one God.
Chapter 10: Conclusion
Vivekananda believed that human excellence was the harmony of all human energy. He personified this himself. Focusing on “learning to do” (Greek / Western ideal of character excellence) as well “learning to be” (Indian ideal of excellence) is what his synthesis is about. Vivekanada stresses that modern society educate itself productive efficiencies of externals life as well as spiritual efficiencies of the inner being. Awakening both powers was Vivekananda’s message of the means of achieving total human excellence.