THE VALUES WE SHOULD LEARN FROM
Those who capture the hearts of the common people are of two kinds-there are those who like fireworks in the sky, catch the attention of the masses and make them to follow. These men are like the comets that light up the vast sky for a few minute and then disappear. The other kind is like the Sun who shine in the sky forever.
Swami Vivekananda is like the Sun. In this article, we try to understand some good manners, qualities and habits from Swamiji in his Maha Samathi day.
- An adorable personality,
- Fight against Evil,
- The company of the Noble,
- Foolishness never helps,
- Culture of the Educated,
- Pattern of Education,
- The householder and the Sannyasin]
AN ADORABLE PERSONALITY
According to the tradition in our country it is said that each person who belongs to the Hindu community can trace his ancestry, his source to a Rishi. Swami Vivekananda derived great pleasure and pride in referring to Hindus as the descendents of Rishis. Rishis were those who had really seen and appreciated the great truth behind the origin and purpose of life in this universe. People should bear in mind that they are descendents the fact that selfless service and sacrifice and not material wealth and pleasure are the ideals of this country.
An incident happened in the last century. It is a school in Kolkata. The teacher is teaching a lesson. But some students are not listening to him and are talking among themselves. On seeing this, the teacher gets angry and asks the boys to repeat what he has taught. The boys are unable to answer because they have not been listening to the teacher. One of the boys who talking was Narendra Nath. He is a very intelligent boy. He looks strong and beautiful. He has attractive face. The teacher is unhappy that Narendran also has joined the company of these bad boys. He knows that Narendran is a good boy. Still he cannot let him off without punishment. So the teacher asks Narendran also whether he can tell the class what was taught.
To the surprise of everyone Narendran repeats whatever was taught by the teacher without omitting anything. The other boys are astonished because Narendran was the one who was talking more than anyone else! Those boys did not know that Narendran was no ordinary person. Though he looked like any other boy of his age he possessed great powers. He could concentrate his mind on several matters at the same time. The other boys could not hear what the teacher taught when they were talking with each other. But, on the otherhand, Narendran had the extra ordinary power of listening and understanding what the teacher was teaching even while he was talking with the other boys.
Since Narendran had answered correctly, the teacher asks him to sit down. He then asks the other boys to remain standing as a punishment. But Narendran keeps standing and tells the teacher that as he was the one who talked much he was also to be punished like the others. So, Narendran also remains standing, accepting his misbehaviour.
To err is human. But it is cowardly not to accept one’s mistake. A courageous, manly person, will, however, accept his fault without any hesitation. The boy Narendran grew to be Swami Vivekananda, the famous saint of our country.
Swami Vivekananda used to tell the people of our country, “Be always strong and courageous. If a person is brave and manly I will honour him even if he is wicked. This is because he will have the courage to change his wicked nature and become a good man in course of time.”
A weak and cowardly person will not have the mental courage to accept his faults. This quality, the honesty is considered divine. It is called ‘Aarjavam’. The person who possesses this quality will be honest and straight-forward in his thoughts. words and deeds.
FIGHT AGAINST EVIL
As a young boy, Swami Vivekananda studied in a school where one of the teacher was a very angry person by nature. He strongly believed that the only way to make students when they misbehaved. One day he started beating a boy severely for a minor offence. The punishment was so cruel that the boy Narendran could not bear looking at it. He was so affected that he smiled mockingly to show his anger.
On seeing this, the teacher started beating Narendran asking him to apologies for his action. When Narendran kept silent the teacher caught him by the ears, lifted him on to the bench and started pinching his ears. One ear started bleeding. Still the little Narendran did not plead with the teacher to stop beating him. Instead he looked at the teacher angrily and said, “How dare you punish me? Take your hand off my ears”. At that moment Pandit Eswara Chandra Vidyasagar, the Headmaster of the school, came into the room. A weeping Narendran took his book and left the classroom saying that he would not attend school again. The Headmaster, however, took the young boy to his room and consoled him with kind words. The Headmaster then instructed the teachers that thereafter the students should not be punished in such a severe way. On hearing about the incident Narendran’s mother begged him not to attend that school. But the courageous boy started going to that school from the next day itself as if nothing had happened. It, however, took six months for the wound in his ear to heal.
THE COMPANY OF THE NOBLE
Even as a young man Swami Vivekananda was a great intellectual. He had read numerous books on varied topics and subjects and thus was equal in knowledge to the greatest men of learning in those days. It was rare to find so much knowledge in an young man.
But if his growth as a perfect human being was dependent purely on his scholarship, he would have perhaps shone as a professor in a college, as a public speaker or as a writer and passed away. But what brought out his manliness and extraordinary qualities, was his association with Sri Ramakrishna as his student.
Sri Ramakrishna was an illiterate person. One might even say that he had never read any book. But when the scholarly Vivekananda surrendered at the feet of that unlettered Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda acquired a new glow, like clay turning into shining gold. And Swami Vivekananda was able to achieve the great task of reforming and rejuvenating not only our country but also the whole world.
Sri Ramakrishna was, of course, and illiterate; but he was holy, virtuous and a personification of absolute knowledge – Gnanam. His mind was always calm and serene and remained totally absorbed in the contemplation of God. Narendra remained with Sri Ramakrishna for six years. As a result of that holy association the intellectual Narendra blossomed forth into Maharshi Vivekananda. This transformation was due to the knowledge of the absolute that Vivekananda received from Sri Ramakrishna, the saint.
But Sri Ramakrishna did not impart this knowledge either through a systematic plan of coaching or through lectures. The very life of Sri Ramakrishna served as a great book of knowledge. His very association served as a great teaching. Sri Ramakrishna taught very little through words. But his very smile, his songs, his peculiar ways of moving with people and even the way he walked and talked all these captured and purified the hearts of people, taught them the truth about this worldly life, moulded their character and transformed them into noble souls. That the noble life of a virtuous, holy person could help others to reach the highest goal of life is evident from the life of Sri Ramakrishna. He thus shone as an institution by himself – a source of divinity and absolute knowledge.
Swami Vivekananda used to say that he considered living with one’s teacher as the ultimate goal of education. Perhaps the great benefits that he gained by living with his guru, Sri Ramakrishna, made him say these words. Here we should recall that was the system of education, that was being followed in our country in olden days.
The rough pebble in a stream becomes smooth and rounded by merely remaining in contact with the fast flowing water. Similarly the defects and deficiencies in a student’s character get removed and he grows to be a disciplined, good natured individual through his contact with a noble person.
Even from one’s boyhood days one should associate and live with a person of high character. That link would bring about a remarkable change in that person’s mind and set him firmly on the path of righteous living. In the olden days, students who lived with their teachers had many opportunities, for coming into contact with great scholars and men of virtue. One cannot expect to get such opportunities in all the schools of today. But it is still possible to find such men of character and wisdom in our country. It is the duty of people who wish to acquire such good qualities to search for such great men and grow in their country.
FOOLISHNESS NEVER HELPS
Mature people are always patient. But they cannot tolerate meanness and would be very angry with such persons. But their anger is not harmful. It is like the knife of the surgeon which though it gives pain to the patient, cures his disease.
Swami Vivekananda was a saint, a Sanyasi, a renunciate. Hence he had the qualities of calmness, peace of mind and impartiality, love for everyone and a capacity for deep meditation. At the same time he was a brave person also. He was like a majestic bull, like the king of the forest, the male lion. Hence wherever he came across pettiness or evil tendency, he would fight against them with great vigour and crush them. His talks on spiritual matters were like sweet nectar to the pious people. But to the wicked, the cunning and the petty, he was like a powerful hurricane that can uproot and destroy anything in its way.
He was a king among Rishis. He possessed a deep knowledge of the Vedas; his mind was always calm. But he was like a king also. He had the personality and authority of a king. He had the qualities of a leader of people. He could be gentle and soft when he behaved like a Rishi. But when he had to fight against evil he was like a forest fire that burns away everything. In this he was like Lord Rama – Lord Rama was extremely kind and gentle even to a squirrel. But when he got angry and tool up his powerful bow he could even dry up the ocean. Swami Vivekananda was also like him.
Swami Vivekananda was returning to India after a tour of the Western countries. Two Christians priests began talking with the Swamiji about the difference between Hindu religion and the Christian religion. Those priests did not have a good knowledge of either Christianity or Hinduism. Swamiji, on the other hand, possessed a deep knowledge of both religions. He had great love for Jesus Christ. Swamiji always worked for equal respect and treatment for all religions.
Swamiji was thus able to give a proper reply for all the arguments raised by the priests against the Hindu religion. When the priests realised that they could not win, they started talking ill of Hindu religion. They abused Hindu Gods and customs. Swamiji bore all these patiently for sometime. But when the priests exceeded a limit Swamiji could not bear it any longer. Taking hold of the collar of one of the priests, Swamiji thundered, half mockingly, half seriously, “If you continue to criticise my religion I will throw you into the ocean”.
Trembling with fear the priest pleaded, “Please let me go. I will never criticise your religion”.
Like Swamiji, people also should develop the quality of fighting against all pettiness, meanness and crookedness. They should try to remove these bad tendencies from their own hearts as well as from those with whom they come into contact in their life. A sweeper sweeps away garbage wherever he finds them. He does a great service to the society. Similarly people also should actively work to remove all types of evils in the society, in the behaviour of individuals and organisations. Then only they will be considered fit for growing to be noble persons.
CULTURE OF THE EDUCATED
Swami Vivekananda had just returned to India in the year 1897 after a successful lecture tour of the U.S.A. and Europe. He was given a grand reception by the people of Calcutta. One day a few Gujarati Pandits came to see the Swamiji. These Pandits were great scholars and had a deep knowledge of Vedanta, scriptures and the Sanskrit language. They wished to discuss about our ‘sastras’ with Swamiji. But these Pandits were proud of their knowledge of Sanskrit. They thought that since Swami Vivekananda had stayed in foreign countries for a long time he would not be able to talk fluently and correctly in Sanskrit. Hence they wished to confuse Swamiji by talking to him in Sanskrit.
The Pandits began their discussion with the Swamiji with great vigour. Swami Vivekananda answered all their queries patiently and calmly. His Sanskrit was chaste and faultless. The Pandits themselves accepted this fact later on. But in the course of his talk, Swamiji, due to a slip of the tongue, said ‘Asthi’ instead of saying ‘Swasthi’. At once all the Pandits laughed mockingly at the Swamji. But Swami Vivekananda did not get angry. Instead he most politely said to the Pandits, “I am a disciple of Pandits. Hence I request you all to pardon this mistake!”. The Pandits were much surprised at this praise-worthy humility of the Swamiji; They praised Swamiji’s great scholarliness, sharp intellect, command of the language and debating skills.
After the Pandits had left, Swami Vivekananda said to his disciples, “These Pandits are all great scholars. But they lack culture. The educated people in western countries will pay attention to the other person’s views only when taking part in a debate. They will not waste their time in finding fault with the way the other person talked or the minor grammatical errors in his speech. But our Pandits always try to magnify such small faults and neglect to pay attention to the useful points in the other man’s arguments”.
Those who are always eager to humiliate their opponent somehow, only reveal the immaturity of their mind. Cultured people will never adopt such mean methods to defeat their opponents.
PATTERN OF EDUCATION
During one of his tours of our country Swami Vivekananda stayed in the princely State of Jaipur for some time. There he met a Pandit who was well-read in Sanskrit grammar. The Swamiji wished to study the well-known Sanskrit grammer book ‘Ashtadyayi’ written by Panini.
Though that Pandit had very good knowledge of Sanskrit grammer, he was not good at teaching it. Though he took three days to explain the meaning of the first Sutra, he could not do so clearly. On the fourth day the Pandit said, “Swamiji! I think you may not benefit by being my student. Though three days have passed I have not been able to make you understand even the first sutra”.
The Swamiji felt a bit hurt on hearing these words. He resolved that he would not eat food or sleep till he read and understood the meaning of the first sutra by his own effort. He sat for three hours studying the book and understood the sutras fully. Thus he achieved in just three hours what he could not in three days. When he went back to the Pandit and explained the meaning of the sutras with great clarity, the Pandit was simply astonished.
Talking about this incident to his disciples in later years the Swamiji said, “There is nothing that you cannot accomplish if you have a firm resolve. You can even make a mountain crumble to pieces”.
The Swamiji visited Khetri after a fewdays. There he met another Pandit by name Narayana Das. The Swamiji wanted to learn Sanskrit grammar from this Pandit also. The Pandit was much happy to have the Swamiji as his student. He taught him the commentary of saint Patanjali for the sutras of Panini. Swamiji learnt everything so quickly and thoroughly that he would not only repeat whatever was taught on the previous day but also explain clearly the meaning of the difficult sutras. After a few days the Pandit told Swamiji that there was nothing more for him to teach Swamiji as he had learnt and grasped everything well. Infact the Pandit learnt some details from Swamiji.
From the above two incidents in the life of Swamiji we learn a few lessons. These are, to quote the Swamiji,
- Knowledge is something that every one possesses within himself. It does not come from outside.
- The truth is that no one learns anything from others. One has to learn by himself. The teacher just kindles the knowledge which is already residing in the mind of the students. Thus the teacher wakes up the teacher within our own mind and helps us to learn.
- A plant will grow by itself according to its own nature. Similarly every child learns, in keeping with its own natural abilities.
- Some teachers do not realise the above truth. They do not realise the fact that knowledge is already there in the mind of the students. It is only necessary for a teacher to kindle it.
- For learning, one has to possess a single-pointed mind.
After his return from foreign countries Swami Vivekananda went on a tour of our country. Wherever he went thousands welcomed him with much live and reverence.
When he was in Lahore, one Motilal bose, came to see the Swamiji. Motilal and Narendranath(This was Swamiji’s name in his younger days) had been close friends in their school days. When Motilal entered the room where Swamiji was sitting surrounded by several others, Motilal was a little taken aback to see the great respect with which Swamiji was being treated by others.
Hence, approaching Swamiji with some hesitation, Motilal asked, “How am I to address you – as Swamiji or as Naren?”. Swamji just laughed and with great friendliness said: “Hey Moti! Are you mad? I am the same Naren that you know so well. And don’t you know that you are the same Moti that I know so well” he then heartily embraced his boyhood friend and talked with him for a long time.
Another day, a gentleman by name Upendra Bapu came to see Swamji. He and Swamiji had studied together in their younger days. When Upendranath came, Swamiji was talking with nearly fifty men of eminence. But the minute he saw his boyhood friend Swamiji rose from his seat with extended arms and warmly embraced Upendra. Those present were thrilled to see this display of love and friendship.
Students even in their school days should dream of a glorious future. Even as a young boy Swami Vivekananda had a firm resolve in his mind that he would achieve something great when he grew up. That ambition got translated into action in later years. There must be at least a few students in every school who develop a strong bond of friendship among themselves based on their common goal of achieving great ideals in their life. Students should not remain satisfied with just being classmates, schoolmates, roommates or playmates; they should try to be mind-mates also; this is, they should have friendship based on common ideals. A friendship founded on shared ideals will last forever.
Schools and colleges are not like market places. They should serve as centres for the growth of good families. Just as there is love and affection between members of a family so also there must be a deep feeling of friendship between the students who study together in a school. This bond of friendship should not be affected in any way because of differences in status in society or wealth. Schools should aim to develop such groups. Otherwise these schools will remain as just buildings where hundreds of students assemble for some time and then disperse.
THE HOUSE HOLDER AND THE SANNYASIN
Nowadays people criticised sannyasins, saying “Sannyasins are selfish. A house-holder takes the responsibility of taking care of his family; he makes use of his energy and earnings solely for their sake. A house-holder is thus making a sacrifice for the sake of others. He is shouldering the responsibility of taking care of a part of the society. The sannyasi is interested in his spiritual progress only and thus rejects the responsibility of taking care of others. Hence taking up the sannyasi way of life is selfishness.”
It will be most improper if such an opinion enters the mind of several people. It will do great harm to the welfare of our society. It is a perverse, false argument.
You all know that Lord Buddha became a sannyasi at an young age. Suppose, for the sake of his loving parents, his wife and his young son Buddha had not taken to sannyasa, do you think that it would have benefited the society? or take the case of Swami Vivekananda. He lost his father at an young age and his family suffered much because of poverty. The responsibility of earning money for the family fell on Vivekananda’s shoulders. Suppose Vivekananda, for the sake of his grief-stricken mother and helpless brothers, had taken up a job in Calcutta, led the life of an ordinary house holder and died, do you think it would have been a great benefit or a loss to the society.
A sannyasin is not a selfish person; nor is he hard-hearted. He disowns his family; but he considers the entire world as his own. His goal is not only Moksha for himself but also the good of the world. There may be only a single flower in a garden which has blossomed with all its petals open. Is that flower selfish or is it serving the society?
Sri Sankara, one of the greatest sannyasins of our country, lived several hundred years ago. In those times people did not have an international outlook. They did not posses a broad, national outlook or national consciousness also. Those were times when our country was being ruled by 56 kings, each reigning over a small state. It was during such a period that Sankara declared in a ringing tone “The three worlds are my own country”. Swami Vivekananda also declared loud and clear, “TRUTH IS MY GOD AND THE UNIVERSE MY COUNTRY.”
A householder who lives within the four walls of his home may take care of his own kith and kin but he may not care about the countless poor and needy people outside his home. Is he fit to be compared to a sannyasi? Who cares for and embraces the entire world? There is water in a small pool as well as in an ocean. But a pool stands nowhere in comparison to an ocean. This does not mean that a pool has to feel ashamed of itself; but if should not arrogantly think that it is equal to an ocean. Keeping this truth in his mind Swami Vivekananda once cautioned one of his disciples, “The light emitted by a glow-worm is insignificant in the dazzling light of the sun; a pebble is nothing when compared to a huge mountain. In the same way the life of a householder is nothing compared to the life of a sannyasi. Never forget to stress this fact when you preach dharma to others.”
Many young men of today have a broad outlook; they are eager and enthusiastic about doing service to the society. They are putting to use their energy and talents in diverse fields of activity such as politics, literature, economic developments, education, service to the poor etc. But there is a field which is much more important than all the above and that is the field of religion and spirituality. A country needs many young men to dedicate themselves to this field. By doing so they can bring immortal benefit not only to themselves but also to the society. Unless at least a few such persons come forward to engage themselves in spiritual activity no society can hope to survive and flourish.
Swami Vivekananda called upon the young men of India to take to the path of spirituality thus: “Before educating the people of this country about socialism and political science, try to spread spirituality among them. I do not have any faith in political debates. The only things I value are the Almighty and truth; the rest are just useless trash. I need men – men with valour; the rest will come by themselves. We need young men who are full of strength, vigour and confidence – they alone will be sincere and hard working. If there are just such hundred young men, I shall revolutionize the world. Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna dedicated his entire life for the good of the world. I shall also do so. When we shed our blood in the service of the country courageous men ready to do religious service to the society will arise.”
Again in a letter he wrote from America to Sri Brahmananda Swami, one of his brother disciples, Swami Vivekananda said “We should electrify and strengthen our society. We should electrify and strengthen the whole world. We need two thousand sannyasins – no, a sixteen thousand, why even a twenty thousand – we need both men and women. Please note that I am not referring to the householder disciples. We need sannyasins. Let each one of you have a hundred heads tonsured – young, educated men, not fools.”
Tonsuring the head is an external sign of having taken up the sannyasa way of life. That is the first ritual, symbolic of the snapping away of one’s attachment to one’s body.
Swami Vivekananda’s words are ringing even now. Young men of today should pay heed to his words.
(These messages are collected from the book ‘My Dear Students… A Counsel’ translated by N. Subramanian, Coimbatore from the original ‘Manavarukku oru sol’ [மாணவருக்கு ஒரு சொல்] in Tamil by Swami Chidbhavananda.)