Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

Speech of Jawaharlal Nehru at Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, 20 March 1949.

Swami [Ranganathananda] Ji, Brothers and Sisters,

I am in a great dilemma because arrangements have been made to record my speech and broadcast it abroad. But since you are gathered here, it is but proper that I should speak in Hindi because it is possible that many of you may not understand English. Not that you will miss much if you do not understand what I say. But anyhow, I say something with the intention that it should be understood by you. So it is somewhat difficult for me to look at you and address people in the United States.

I have come here today with great alacrity and am grateful to Swamiji for inviting me on such an occasion because I have observed the working of the Ramaknshna Mission for a long time with great respect. My experience during the last 25 years of its work, both in India and abroad, has been that not only is it good but it is also done without any fanfare or show which is very rare. There are other instances of such selfless devotion but they are few and far between.

I have seen a number of institutions and there are good as well as bad people in all of them. But I cannot think of a single one which has impressed me with its quality of pure, selfless spirit of work, with no thought of gain or fanfare, as the Ramaknshna Mission has done. Therefore, whenever I get an opportunity to speak about its work I do so with alacrity.

Today is an auspicious day dedicated to the memory of Shri Ramaknshna Paramahamsa. Perhaps I am not really qualified to say very much about him except that he has once again made the ancient Indian tradition of great savants and seers come alive. Silently, he generated a new trend which continues to make an impact in India. He showed us once again something that has been a tradition from time immemorial in our country, that the search for truth has been the real and fundamental goal of our great men and in achieving it they do not tolerate any barriers. They have gone where the search has led them undeterred by barriers of religion and caste. From very ancient times, it has been the practice in India to welcome new thoughts and ideas with open arms. Indian thought and philosophy made a tremendous impact upon the world and remained unshaken by the fresh breeze which was allowed to blow in. Our great thinkers have always tried to keep narrowmindedness at bay. They remained firm and unshaken in their ideas and beliefs. But it has never been the tradition in India to denigrate anything merely because it did not form part of our religion or ideas. This was the greatness and strength of India.

Unfortunately a great deal of narrowmindedness has crept in among us which is belittling the country’s stature. At a time like this it is befitting that we should pay homage to the memory of a great man like Ramaknshna Paramahamsaji and keep before us his life and work, his long search for truth and his teachings. He made a tremendous impact upon the people around him. None of us have seen him. But we learn from books that he was a simple, innocent human being. What then was the charisma, the magic of his personality that he drew people to him and made an indelible impression upon them. Scholars and people in high office used to bow down their heads before him. He had a number of illustrious disciples, the most famous of them being Swami Vivekananda. Now Swami Vivekananda’s name starts a new train of thought.

I have read Swami Vivekananda’s books and lectures for years and been profoundly impressed by his personality. Whatever he said was no doubt right and proper. Others have said them too. But there was a fire in his words and writings, and a great stress on India’s ancient culture, thoughts and ideals imbued all his works. At the same time, it may be said of him that he was a modem man who understood the times that we are living in. He was not shackled by old shibboleths and dogma. Therefore his writings were relevant not only when he wrote them fifty or sixty years ago but continue to be so even today. They have not grown stale because he has caught the essence of Indian culture which like all fundamental truths can never become stale. It has a vitality and freshness of its own.

Swami Vivekananda did not enter the field of politics. But there is no doubt about it that he was one of the great men who started the freedom movement in the sense that he infused new life into a crushed nation and enabled it to recognize its own strength. One thing that he detested above all was fear and weakness. Fearlessness is the highest achievement for any human being. This was the role played by Swami Vivekananda in his very short life and he made a tremendous impact upon the country. 

I do not know how many youth today read his articles and speeches or how much they know about him. But I would say that if they read him even today they would benefit a great deal. They would imbibe a part of Swamiv Vivekananda’s vitality because the words of great men have a magic, an electricity which galvanize the hearts and minds of the readers. He electrified the country without the fanfare of politics but with a quiet strength which made a tremendous impact on the elite and the common man alike. 

It can be said that he was our first ambassador abroad for he presented to the world an image of India’s real strength and assets. Not that he tried to hide India’s weaknesses. If you read his speeches and letters, you will find that he pointed them out time and again. He wanted to get rid of them, not hide them. He presented both sides of the picture, India’s basic strength, her high ideals as well as the weaknesses, the disunity and fissiparousness, narrowmindedness and fear which held us in their grip. He thundered against these weaknesses from every platform.

Therefore, it is fitting that we should refresh our memories once again on this day, particularly about the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Vivekananda. Both taught the same things in different ways. On the one hand, they drew attention to the highest ideals and goals that a human being could aspire to. Swami Vivekananda pointed out how, keeping these goals in view, the people can put them into practice in day to day life.

We need both in this world of ours today. So it is right that we should dedicate ourselves once again to those values.


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