‘Do you know who Swami Vivekananda is?’

I asked the group of little children sitting in the classroom of a humble Panchayat Union Primary school in a remote village in a southern district of Tamil Nadu. I expected a stony silence in return. But to my pleasant surprise, the tiny hands of almost half the class shot up. I looked around, selected the tiniest of them all, and the little girl stood up.

‘Well, what do you know about Swamiji?’ I asked the little one. She was about five years old and cute.

‘Ayya! Swamiji wears orange clothes and stands like this.’ She threw her arms across her chest and looked up at me, taking the stance of Swamiji as seen in a number of photographs. Her face had acquired a rare glow of pride and fearlessness.

This happened at one of my regular outings to address schoolchildren in different parts of Tamil Nadu during Swamiji’s 150th Birth Anniversary celebrations. It was an eyeopener. Not only has the great teaching of Swamiji influenced the youth of our country, but even his looks and stance have made such an impact that a child from an obscure corner of our country has imbibed his spirit and strength without any tutorial assistance.

I have been talking about Swamiji’s life and message to students from primary to tertiary levels for more than four decades now—a rare privilege by the grace of Sri Ramakrishna. Never has there been an instance when the name of Swamiji failed to invoke a special interest among students.


Classes in moral instruction at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai, are always fondly remembered by the graduates. These classes are held during the first hour of every week, and students are taught the lives and messages of the Holy Trinity through lectures and songs. At the end of the year there is a written test; the three students who score highest receive prizes. One of my less bright students from the first year told me that he would not take the test, as he was not doing well even in his regular subjects. I told him, ‘Look! There is no connection between this and your other subjects. This is different. I can spare you a book on Swamiji. You read it and then decide.’

The student then went back and took the test the following week. He scored second place among the fifty students who took the test. This gave him confidence that he started doing well in his other subjects, and was one of the top students by the time he reached the final year. On his last day, as he was leaving, he confided to me that the turning point had been the book about Swamiji.

Quotations and Lessons

Quotations from Swamiji and lessons from his life are the spice of personalitydevelopment and motivational classes. ‘Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached’ is perhaps one of the best statements from the Upanishads that Swamiji made universally popular. Chased by fierce monkeys when he was a wandering monk, Swamiji conquered his fear by ‘facing the brutes’. This is an incident in his life that never fails to inspire young students to overcome their own fear and shyness.

‘Sisters and brothers of America!’ is a magical phrase of Swamiji that opened his first speech at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. It has always evoked a sense of universal brotherhood in the young minds I chanced to meet. Once a student asked, ‘Sir! Why did this opening statement receive such a thundering response from the audience? Had no one else ever begun a speech in this manner?’ That was a very good question. I replied, ‘It was not just the words. It was the difference between talking from the lips and talking from the heart.’ The student promised me that he would always remember to speak from the heart.

Speed Reading

Institutes of Speed Reading function in large numbers in the West. They cater to clients who may come from backgrounds ranging from small colleges to big corporations. This is becoming popular in India now as part of the training required for academic excellence and corporate success. When I meet students taking such training, I tell them the incident from the life of Swamiji in which the librarian who loaned him books could not believe that Swamiji could read so many voluminous books overnight. A few students found this interesting and started reading the entire life of Swamiji.

One-Teacher Schools

Recently I happened to address around six hundred teachers who are working in six hundred one-teacher schools located in Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts of Tamil Nadu. These schools were conceptualised and are managed by a non-profit organisation which is a unit of the Swami Vivekananda Rural Development Society. They have taken to heart Swamiji’s message, ‘If children can’t go to school, why not bring the school to the children?’

These schools function during evening hours and serve students from class 1 to class 5. Each school has a single teacher who has to look after the interests of about twenty to thirty children of different age groups and standards. Apart from teaching the regular syllabus, the teachers run health-awareness programs, teach personal hygiene, yoga, music in the form of bhajans and songs, and Tamil poetry.

All the teachers I addressed were rural women coming from very humble academic backgrounds. But to my astonishment I found that their accomplishments were impressive, and they took pride in what they were doing. At the end of my lecture I asked them, ‘You are all doing so much in the field of primary education without much academic experience. What makes this possible?’ Almost the entire auditorium reverberated with their answer in unison: ‘It is Swami Vivekananda’s message that provides us with all the necessary spirit, solution, and strength.’

Having gone through many such experiences, I am of the opinion that Swami Vivekananda’s life and message will always do wonders for the progress of our younger generation. As he himself said, he will continue to inspire mankind as a voice without form.


Source : Vedanta Kesari, December, 2016