Men! Men are wanted! Where are they?

„Renunciation and Service are the twin ideals of our country‟ said Swami Vivekananda. He also specified „Keep Religion in India strong and vibrant; then everything will be alright here‟. Very few nations have had the great good fortune to have their national life spring so clearly defined by their leaders. Swami Vivekananda has done that for us. During his lifetime itself Swamiji started the Belur Math and a couple other Ashramas which were designed to preserve religion in its pure form. In fact, under specific instructions from his Guru Sri Ramakrishna, he started an organisation to preserve Religion. It was the Ramakrishna Math. Practise of religion, in India, has always been considered to be individualistic. Some hold that spirituality cannot be for the masses. Swamiji however held a different view and started collective spiritual practice in India. We need to understand that in our country, religion has always had two aspects to it. The individual side of religion, called Spirituality or Adhyatmikata, consisted of the grand universal truths about human nature. This was doggedly preserved, mainly through the institution of monasticism. The Indian monks democratized spirituality and as a result, all over India, since time immemorial, every Indian knows something about the spirit or Adhyatma. Since the Indian monks had no centralisation into a Church, and were mainly hermetic, this individualistic aspect of religion was brought to the very door steps of the masses. People had not to go in search of spiritual teachings. Spiritual teachings were brought to the people wherever they were, at the market-place, at the house-yards, at the schools and even on the road-side. The other aspect of religion, called Dharma, seems to be unique to the Indians. This word has not been satisfactorily translated into English, because there is no equivalent to this term in the other societies. Whatever a person does in relation to his community, in relation to the society, draws its sanction from the religion, in India. This social aspect of religion, seen mainly as Duty, or Ethics, slowly got congealed into an institution called Caste or Jati. Even later, this noble institution degenerated into stereotypes, and it is basically in this form that we encounter caste today in India. It is interesting to note the transition of this social aspect of religion from the grand universalizations of human nature to the institution of Caste and thence to its putrid form of stereotypes. This has been one of the most ambitious experiments ever attempted by mankind, although it is seldom seen in that light. It is possible to read the entire history of this wonderful people in the light of this transition of the social aspect of religioni. It will then become clear that the decline of India as a nation happened simultaneously with the degeneration of this sociological experiment. Some may ask the question – if this experiment was doomed, why then was a correction not effected in the Indian society? There have been innumerable corrective measures. But most of them failed because they never even approached anywhere near the crux of the problem. The central issue was – what would be the social form of the grand truths that were so satisfactory at the individual level. Most of the attempts at correcting the erroneous sociological experiment aimed at making cosmetic changes in the institution of caste. What was needed was an outlet for people to work out, to practice, the grand truths of spirituality on the collective level. Caste was originally designed to do that, and it was the much publicised claim to that effect, that sustained even a failing endeavour for so many centuries. What was needed was a paradigm for action, for human striving, for collective achievement, for morality; and that paradigm had to be consistent with the truths ensconced in the individual aspect of religion. Page 1 of 6

Such a monumental effort was made by Swami Vivekananda in the recent past. With this aim in view, he started another organisation – the Ramakrishna Mission. This organisation conducts missionary activities. But unlike the previous historic attempts at missionary activities conducted by Christians and Buddhists, this Hindu Mission does not proselytise its religion. If a Mission does not make converts, then what is the meaning of calling it as Mission? Swamiji envisaged this Mission as a platform for putting the religious ideals into practice. He envisioned that these two organisations would together preserve and propagate religion in its purest form. In fact, in his ideal conception of this scheme, it must certainly have been that he conceived one organisation preserving Religion in its purest form while the other would act as a ground on which pure religion would be put to collective practice. Hence he constituted a common Governing Body for both organizations. While preserving religion is the prerogative of monks, practising religion is the duty of every human being. Hence again, only monks can be the members of Ramakrishna Math, while both monks and men of society can be members of Ramakrishna Mission. But the question still remains - If this Mission does not make converts in the way other religions do, then what is the meaning of calling it a Mission? Ramakrishna Mission too makes converts, but with a difference. And what a difference! Our converts put spiritual ideas into collective practice. More specifically, our converts or followers put monistic spiritual ideas into collective practise. Swamiji expressed this idea in very precise words – „Atmano Mokshartham jagaddhithaya cha‟. In India, the terms Mission, Sangha and Order have always denoted this concept – putting spiritual ideas into practice. But, with the passage of time and natural degeneration of ideas and ideals, the term Mission and conversion have today gained a dark, fundamentalist colour. Making converts today is understood as a numbers-game. The central aspect of conversion (as a permanent turn towards the spirit) is lost. In Ramakrishna Mission, however, conversion does not entail any change in social status, religious status, economic status or ethnicity. Our followers take pride in finding their calling in spiritual life. In fact, generally, it is because they have found their inner vocation, their spiritual path, that they are accepted as members of the Ramakrishna Mission and not vice-versa. It is asked often what the future will consider as the most vital contribution of Swamiji to mankind. His contributions to Hindu monasticism have been vital. His contribution to the Hindu religion itself is unprecedented as noted by Sister Nivedita.ii He was undoubtedly the initiator of nationalism in India. He will also be ever remembered as the main man that brought back India into the comity of nations in the international arena after its centuries-old self-imposed exile. Many more such vital contributions can be enumerated. But his most vital contribution, some learned ones say, is something that is as yet not widely understood and appreciated. And that is his conception of Practical Vedanta. Practical Vedanta is, in the most common terms, putting monistic spiritual ideas into collective practise in everyday life in society. While the philosophy of monism has been the topic of deliberation in our country for about 1000 years, thinking on the collective practise of monism is a new venture, initiated by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. Since then, valuable thought on this topic has been invested by illustrious monks of the Ramakrishna Order such as Swami Ashokananda, Swami Yatishwarananda, Swami Premeshananda, Swami Ranganathananda & Swami Bhajanananda.

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The philosophy of monism uses a particular type of dry, precise language. However, when put into collective use, the very texture of language used to express it changes. The more we deliberate on Practical Vedanta, the more it becomes clear that monism makes sense only in collective terms, i.e. social, national and international terms. Never before in our country have people considered spiritual practice, much less the practise of monism, to be possible in any but an individual sense. Take, for instance, any of the moral imperatives insisted upon by Monism, such as Truthfulness or non-covetousness. Truthfulness makes sense only when we deal with people. There is no meaning in being truthful when one is cloistered and alone. So also with non-covetousness. Whose things will you covet when you are alone, cut off from other people. But, when we deal with other people‟s belongings, or public funds, non-covetousness is of vital importance. Practical Vedanta thus refines the personality of the aspirant, as he is situated in the world. Putting Vedanta into practice thus stands on the important context of the collective, the community. There is not much sense in Practical Vedanta in the cloistered life. We can recall the interesting incident that occurred between Sri Ramakrishna and his Guru Tota Puri at Dakshineshwariii. One evening, while the Guru and disciple were engrossed in discussing the nature of the Self, a Temple worker came stealthily to the fire that Tota had lit. It was his wont to light a blazing fire and sit in front of it in meditation. As soon as he saw that someone was stealing a cinder from his sacred fire, he picked up his tongs and threatened to beat up the hapless worker. Seeing this, the disciple started laughing loudly. “Really fine Vedanta you practice, I should say. Just now you were holding forth on the spiritual nature of the Self, that indwells every being. And the very next moment, you start to beat up the worker who needed but a cinder for lighting his smoking pipe! Truly grand, your brand of putting Vedanta into practise is!” Tota Puri understood it in a shock. He started wondering why he had been unable to see the same spirit indwelling the stealing worker too. Practical Vedanta stands on the following five main concepts: 1. Brahmacharya: in its general conception means spiritualising everyday life. In its specific conception it means sexual continence. In modern terms, it can be understood as the science of human energy. Human beings have a fund of energy, which expresses through their body and mind. Entire history of mankind can be understood as the variegated play of this energy. Energy has a tendency to express itself. It resists conservation. It tends to dissipate. When the expenditure can be controlled by human will, it is called Brahmacharya. While sexual continence allows us to conserve our energies, channels have to be opened up to expend the so-conserved energy. This entire process is called Brahmacharya. Thus Brahmacharya consists of two mutually-related aspects. On the one hand, there must be conscious sexual continence and on the other hand, sublimating channels must be operationalised.iv

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2. Karma Yoga (or Yoga Samucchaya): is the science of work. It is the main aspect of the praxis of Practical Vedanta. In Bhagavad Gita, there is lot of deliberation on Karma Yoga. There, the emphasis is mainly on evolving a paradigm for our inevitable nature to act. The Gita evolves two separate paradigms for this, one is Yajna and the other is a Personal God. An entire school of Indian philosophy called Purva Mimamsa is dedicated to work. But, that work is confined to rituals, most of which have no sense in today‟s changed world. A particular world-view is required for those rituals to be performed, a world-view which has today been entirely changed. Buddha initiated the breakdown of the world-view of Purva Mimamsa and the destruction was completed by Shankaracharya. The Karma Yoga of Swamiji is all together different from these two bodies of thought. This Karma Yoga is a particular way of working. What work is considered here? Any activity that a person today has to perform, maybe to express his creativity, or as duty allotted by society. What is the goal of that work? Karma Yoga aims at a double goal – personal emancipation and welfare of the world. Atmano Mokshartham jagaddhithaya cha. Karma Yoga is a science of integrating all the human faculties of feeling, willing, rational thinking and controlling of personal energies.v 3. Personal-Impersonal God: is the conception of divinity that allows one to put Vedanta into practice. Every spiritual path is associated with a specific conception of divinity. While most conceive of a personal God, some rare schools like Vedantic Monism and Islamic Sufism conceive of an Impersonal God. The conception of divinity confines the bounds of the associated spiritual path. Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna held before us a unique conception of the Godhead which is personal and yet impersonal at the same time.vi & vii 4. Bhavamukha: is the spiritual ideal to be achieved by Practical Vedanta. We hold that Sri Ramakrishna was an Incarnation of the Godhead. What is the basis of our belief? One of the signs marking the advent of a divine incarnation is that he opens up a new spiritual ideal for mankind. A very powerful saint may energise the spiritual life of many around him. But a new spiritual ideal can be discovered and held before mankind only by an Avatara. We hold that Sri Ramakrishna did that. The new spiritual ideal he placed before us is called Bhavamukha or Vijnana.viii 5. Universal Religion: is the broad framework in which Practical Vedanta operates. The ideal which is aimed at by Practical Vedanta is such that it cannot be just one more ideal among ideals present before mankind. The ideal of Bhavamukha or Vijnana is the „Mother of all Ideals‟. Hence, it is important that adherents of Practical Vedanta do not form a sect of their own. These adherents of Practical Vedanta need to conform to the Universal aspects of Religion, sympathising with every religious sentiment, in the true sense of the term „Catholicity‟. Universal Religion stands on the „Principle of Gradation‟. All spiritual ideals can be seen as stages in a ladder of idealsix. All spiritual practises can also be seen as a part of a continuum of practises. All scriptures can be understood as individual chapters of a Universal Scripture. Similarly with Mythology, Soteriology and Eschatology. Thus the entire life of a man will be seen as sacred. The goal of life being the manifestation of divinity through his personality, and all his actions as means of manifesting divinity. Thus human life gets apotheosised into Religion and all human actions into spiritual practise. Page 4 of 6

Swamiji‟s chroniclers and biographers have mentioned that he started the Advaita Ashrama in the Northern Himalayas which would be dedicated solely to the personal practice and preaching of Monism. The Ramakrishna Order started a Centre in the Eastern Himalayas, at Along in Arunachal Pradesh to impart academic education to the tribal children of the region. Thus, this Centre was started with the express idea of providing a platform for Practical Vedanta, for the collective practise of Monism. For the last forty years, this Centre has functioned well, trying its best to live up to the dreams of its founders. However, during these four decades, it has been noticed that the only persons who have validated the claims of this Centre being ideal for the practice of Practical Vedanta, have been its monastic inmates. It is a large Centre catering to about 2300 tribal children. Such a large establishment needs about 400 workers, while the monastic workers count up to not more that 10 at any time. These remaining workers have been paid employees. Driven by the passion to show to the world, and to prove to themselves, that such a place can indeed be sustained, the monks of the Ramakrishna Order have been constrained to recruit paid employees to manage the educational establishment. Of course, this process of recruitment was backed by a tacit agreement with the Govt regarding steady funding of the ever mounting salaries of the employees. Since the last 10 years, especially, due to various factors, there has been a steady decline in Govt funding, which has led to many not-so-happy situations between the employees and the monastic management. Although various remedial measures have been, and are being worked upon, to overcome these management problems, it has led some of us to think along certain more radical lines. It is over 100 years since Swami Vivekananda spelled out his ideas on Practical Vedanta. Thousands of the best brains of this country have given sufficient thought to his ideas. Can‟t a few such come forward, dedicate one life for showing that this grand experiment is possible? Doesn‟t this grand Nation of ours have atleast a few, who will come to Along, stay here for the rest of their life, spend all their time and energy educating and training these children, braving all odds, befriended by none but criticised by all as is generally the case with medieval tribal societies, impelled purely by their love of Swami Vivekananda, using their work as a means for personal emancipation as well as for the good of the world around them? Surely a few should come. ********************
i

See G S Ghyurye‟s works on Indian Sociology for an interesting study on this topic.

ii

Complete works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume-1, Introduction pages 3-7: Of the Swami's address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of "the religious ideas of the Hindus", but when he ended, Hinduism had been created. For India herself, the short address forms, as has been said, a brief Charter of Enfranchisement.
iii

Sri Ramakrishna and his divine play by Swami Chetanananda, page 538: The exact words of Sri Ramakrishna to Tota Puri were: “I am observing the depth of your Brahmajnana! Just now you were telling me that Brahman alone exists and all objects and beings in the universe are its manifestation. Yet, in the next moment, you forget all that and are ready to beat that poor man!”
iv

For further details on the 1st aspect of Brahmacharya, please refer „Youth and Vitality‟ by Swami Purushottamananda. For further details on the 2nd aspect of Brahmacharya, please refer to „Meditation and Spiritual Life‟ by Swami Yatishwarananda.

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v

For details on Yoga Samucchaya, please refer 1. Prabuddha Bharata, November 1979 Editorial by Swami Bhajanananda – “The Yogas and their synthesis”. 2. Article called “„Meditate while you work; a new path for a new age” by Swami Ashokananda in Meditation, Ecstasy and Illumination. 3. Karma Yoga by Swami Vivekananda.

vi

Letter No. 320 on page 235 of Go Forward, Vol-1 by Swami Premeshananda: ‘Knowing the truth that Kali is one with Brahman, we have discarded both dharma and adharma.’ In the homes of Brahmins, there are small salagrams-symbols of personal God. In our homes, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda are our symbols of Personal God and Sri Ramakrishna is our symbol of Impersonal God. After realising Brahman, both as formless and with form, within this small figure called Ramakrishna, we have become free from worry and experience joy with him. We have understood tad asya anubhah (it is His light). The whole of Brahman, with attributes and without attributes is nothing but the radiance emanating from the body of our Sri Ramakrishna.
vii

Please refer to Chapter No..... Master as I saw him by Sister Nivedita.

viii

Sri Ramakrishna‟s thought in a Vedantic perspective by Swami Tapasyananda; pages 159-163; (A Vijnani) has the experience of the relative world, but at the same time he is in tune with the Absolute. It is therefore possible for him to engage himself in works of the relative world like any ordinary man, but the whole meaning and impulsion behind his activities is different...we refer to Bhavamukha as the state of permanent enrichment of consciousness...Bhavamukha is not the type of spiritual perfection attainable by a master of either the relative or the Absolute levels of reality of one or the other alone, but it is the broadening and intensification of consciousness resulting from the direct grasp of them both, and the consequent elimination of the limited individual ego and establishment in the cosmic ego... Also refer Prabuddha Bharata, March 1982 Editorial by Swami Bhajanananda – „Three aspects of the Ramakrishna Ideal‟.
ix

Refer pages 542-544; Meditation and Spiritual Life by Swami Yatishwarananda. The Editor‟s note is particularly illuminating on the topic of gradation of spiritual ideals and experience.

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