Of Travels and Teachings


The world is the great
gymnasium where we come
to make ourselves strong

Swami Vivekananda once quoted “The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong”. The quote couldn’t be more plausible looking at the life that he has lived. Narendranath Datta or Swami Vivekananda as he is remembered was a magnanimous luminary not only in the Indian subcontinent but all across the world. In his brief lifespan of 40 years he achieved great recognition as an avid traveler, a philosopher and a leader.

Born into an aristocratic Bengali family, Swami Vivekananda had an unconventional childhood, having been part of a western style education system and coming from an atypical family where his grand-father renounced worldly possessions and became a monk at the early age of 25. Swami Vivekananda, who is credited for starting the Ram Krishna Mission in honor of his guru, also focused his efforts on other causes like eradication of illiteracy, elimination of child marriage and spreading the emphasis of education for women and lower castes.

The Ramakrishna Math and the Mission, both of which are highly recognized organizations are prevalent even today and are known for their empowering and spiritual movements. In the current times, these organizations have gained tremendous traction with the Gen Next, as the integration of spirituality in everyday life for a better quality of living is something that we all crave. The Art of Living program which talks about these philosophies and teachings has gained momentum not only in India, but all across the world.

Swami Vivekananda was an avid traveler and being blessed with a prodigious memory he strived to learn about different cultures and religions often imbibing their values and beliefs. Within India he travelled extensively, frequently taking refuge in the homes of the locals be it kings, ministers, farmers or Paraiyars (lower caste workers in the Indian subcontinent). During his voyages outside India, he visited Japan, the United States, Canada, Greece, Egypt, France and the United Kingdom where he enlightened westerners about Indian culture, Hinduism and the Yoga sutras. He also held discourses on Theosophy and Transcendentalism which being esoteric subjects were not popularly discussed at the time, neither in western countries nor in India. He amalgamated these discussions with Hinduism and its teachings.

“Arise, awake and do not stop until the goal is reached”, was a noteworthy philosophy that Vivekananda not only preached but also practiced. In the late nineties he gave a memorable speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions held at the Chicago Art Institute where he commenced his speech by addressing the audience as “sisters and brothers of America” for which he received a two minute long standing ovation. Further along in his speech, he spoke eloquently about India and its many religions and canvassed the teachings of Hinduism. Hinduism as a religion lays emphasis on tolerance and universal acceptance. These were the dominant highlights of his speech. He also touched upon the Vedic scriptures, their plethora of research and their relevance in contemporary times. Although the speech was brief it was invigorating and conveyed the sentiment of the parliament.

Being well versed with the Indian scriptures – the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, he blended his learnings and observations from his travels with the Indian scriptures and had a unique way of merging the two in his sermons and speeches. He held a certain fascination towards ascetics and monks and held them in high regard. Swami Vivekananda being a spiritual being had many a profound insight on Karma and Dharma.

His translations and works are worth a read if you prefer subjects that are immersed in spirituality, religion and the art of living. One often finds hustling passengers at busy airport terminals clutching books written by him. After a few pages the gravitating topics and their depth can be seen on their face. Today National Youth Day is celebrated in his remembrance as a gesture of honoring the great man that he was!

“We are what our thoughts have made us, so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live, they travel far.”- Swami Vivekananda

This truly portrays the potential of pragmatic thinking and we can understand why millennials are often gushing about the “positive vibes only” philosophy.

Apurva Shrikant Kulkarni

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