This is an excerpt of the talk given at the Bharatiya Adhyatmika Sammilana at Sri Ramakrishna Vidyashala, Mysore on 23rd April 2012. Over 200 monks and 2000 delegates from the four southern states attended this 4-day event.
Revered Swamijis, fellow devotees and friends,
It is indeed a privilege and an extremely difficult task to stand before you and share with all of you a few thoughts on what Swami Vivekananda and his influential thought means to me. For the last three decades, ever since an accident of fate introduced Swamiji to me, I have been trying to understand and internalize him and his message. Each passing day demonstrates to me the enormity and complexity of this task. It was as a young, impressionable 17 year-old that I first came across Swamiji. I had just completed my 2nd PUC and having scored very high marks, was confident of getting into a college and course of my choice. Little was I to realize that fate had other plans for me and I was disappointed at not being able to do so. I settled for an engineering seat in BMS College in Bangalore and very hesitatingly attended the first day of college. I am indeed glad that I was subjected to very bad ragging on that day. It was so demotivating that I lost all courage to go to the college the next day. Coming from a typical middle class family, I had very little options and had to seek refuge in a place that was both safe and inexpensive. To my good fortune, the Ramakrishna Ashrama at Basavanagudi was next door to this college and it became my home for the next 2 months. I started visiting the library to be seen to be busy and serious, and also justify the love and food that the monks at the center showered on me. These two months was the time that I managed to read the complete works of Swami Vivekananda. I say ‘read’ very consciously as that is all I did. I neither understood nor realized anything of what was being said by Swamiji. It was like just opening a window and letting him in. The rest was left to the handiwork of this extraordinary phenomenon that I would like to call Swami Vivekananda. Two of his books – ‘His call to the Nation’ and ‘To the youth of India’ changed my life and were instrumental in me starting the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, two years later in 1984 as a medical student.
Thirty years down the road – how does one see Vivekananda and understand him? It is like asking someone to describe how sweet was the sweet that one has been eating! Language and words are inadequate to describe something that is indescribable. Vivekananda cannot by truly defined or described; he needs to be experienced. He means so many things to so many different people that description will surely be limited by one’s own personal experience and the subsequent interpretation. Is he the social reformer that I first saw him as, or the humanist that he subsequently became for me, or the manager par excellence who set up one of India’s greatest institutions, or a leader whose life is the closest definition that one can have of leadership itself, or is he the walking encyclopedia of Sanatana Dharma and spirituality or the perfect representative of India or a Saint or God himself? Asking one to define Swamiji is like asking a novice to describe time, space and causation. We will surely be limited by what we think we see. Swamiji to me is all this and something beyond. He is a force, a concept that gives meaning to the very purpose of human existence itself. He is something that one can only experience as one tries to give meaning to this mundane existence of ours. This experiential message of Swamiji is timeless, endless, limitless, ever relevant, and ever pragmatic. This ‘concept’ is not something that can be limited by geography or by the other limitations that a human mind can conceive of. This force can only be felt and experienced fully and meaningfully by surrendering oneself to the instrumentality called Swami Vivekananda.