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Special Article-41

Relevance of Swami Vivekanand for Youth in 21st Century

Swadesh Singh

Swami Vivekanand is the greatest youth icon produced by India and one that influenced millions of youth across the world. With his Chicago speech in 1893, he became the beacon of Indian philosophy and spiritualism for the Western world. Since then, he has been a perennial source of inspiration for the youth. In the 21st century, when the youth of India are facing new problems, pushing boundaries and aspiring for a better future, thoughts of Swami Vivekanand have become more relevant.

A successful life is nothing if it is not meaningful. The greatest quest of the youth is for a meaningful life that inspires the heart, liberates the mind and ignites the soul. Swami Vivekanand understood this. His ideas can be understood by this four fold mantra to live a meaningful life - Physical, Social, Intellectual and Spiritual quest . By physical quest he meant, taking care of the human body and undertaking activities to mitigate physical sufferings. This was aimed at physically preparing the youth to take up any task. The next level is social quest which involves undertaking activities to mitigate physical sufferings. Running hospitals, orphanages and old-age homes qualify for this level. The next higher level is of intellectual quest. Running schools, colleges and awareness and empowerment programs come under this. Raising one's intellectual level, gaining knowledge and spreading and sharing it with society is the objective at this level. For those looking for something deeper, he prescribed the highest level of spiritual service - one of dhyan and sadhna. However, these levels are not water tight. Seekers involved at one level can work at another depending on their quest, stamina and reach. They can also move to other levels as their quest transforms.

Physical Quest
Vivekananda understood that while most youth aspire to achieve a meaningful existence not all are equipped with the mental and physical stamina to pursue such a goal. Swami, therefore, asked the youth to overcome fears and become stronger physically and mentally. He said, "Be not afraid of anything. You will do marvellous work. The moment you fear, you are nobody. It is fear that is the great cause of misery in the world. It is fearlessness that brings heaven even in a moment. Power is within you; you can do anything and everything. Believe in that, do not believe that you are weak; Stand up and express the divinity within you. Therefore, arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached."

Vivekananda was of the view that the youth can lead a successful life for themselves or for others only when they are physically fit. He believed that working for social change requires energy and spirit. Hence, he asked the youth to work on both - mental energy and physical fitness. What Vivekananda wanted from the youth was 'muscles of iron' and 'nerves of steel'. He said, "You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita." He was a staunch supporter of human strength and said "strength is life, weakness is death" and one cannot enjoy material life without strength.

Social Quest
Vivekanand wanted the young to undertake social activities, not merely for the betterment of society but also for their individual evolution and growth. He saw the 'means' of serving society leading on to the 'end' of social and spiritual growth of the person doing it. He advised the youth to 'Serve God in man'. Vivekanand clubbed spiritualism with social service. He said, "For the next fifty years this alone shall be our keynote - this, our great Mother India. Let all other gods disappear for the time from our minds." He talked about worship of common man in place of god for the purification of the heart and betterment of the society. Vivekanand said that what is needed is "Chittashuddhi" or purification of the heart which can be achieved through worship of those all around us. He taught that the men and animals around us are our gods deserve our worship and services. He asserted that "the first gods we have to worship are our countrymen. These we have to worship, instead of being jealous of each other and fighting each other."

The most unique contribution of Swami Vivekanand towards the creation of a new Bharat was opening the minds of Indians to their duty to the downtrodden. He spoke for the masses, formulated a definite philosophy of service, and took lead in organising large-scale social service. While making an appeal to the Indian youth for social service, Vivekananda said, "Everything else will be ready, but strong, vigorous, believing young men, sincere to the backbone, are wanted. A hundred such and the world become revolutionised."

Intellectual Quest
Swami Vivekanand had immense faith in the youth of the nation and had great expectations from them. He said, "It is the young, the strong, and healthy, of sharp intellect that will reach the Lord. This is the time to decide your future - while you possess the energy of youth, not when you are worn out and jaded, but in the freshness and vigour of youth. There are greater works to be done than aspiring to become something. A far greater work is this sacrifice of yourselves for the benefit of your race, for the welfare of humanity."

Vivekanand supported physical fitness and social service but also asked the youth to rouse their intellectual strength to understand both the worlds. He emphasised on education for all. He said, "Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas." He also spoke about a national education system, "The ideal is that we must have the whole education of our country, spiritual and secular, in our own hands, and it must be on national lines, through national methods."

Among the various ways which Swami Vivekananda suggested to rebuild the Indian society, education was the primary means for empowering the people. He once said, "The education which does not help the common mass of people to equip themselves for the struggle for life, which does not bring out strength of character, a spirit of philanthropy, and the courage of a lion - is it worth the name? Real education is that which enables one to stand on one's own legs." For him, education meant a process of learning that built character and instilled human values in youth.

Spiritual Quest
Swami Vivekanand admired the Western civilisation but he was in love with Indian philosophy and spirituality. He suggested that youth could learn many things from the West but must have faith in our own spiritual heritage. He said, "The thoughtful men of the West find in our ancient philosophy, especially in the Vedanta, the new impulse of thought they are seeking, the very spiritual food and drink for which they are hungering and thirsting."

Today, when our youth find themselves gripped by increasing isolation, purposelessness, depression and mental fatigue, despite material success, Vivekanand's precepts about greater goals in life emerge vindicated. He asked the youth to go for a spiritual quest and achieve greater goals. He said, "Life is short, but the soul is immortal and eternal, and one thing being certain, death, let us therefore take up a great ideal and give up our whole life to it."

Once while delivering a lecture on difficulties in life, Vivekananda called for a nationwide renovation with the ideals of 'tyaga' or sacrifice and 'seva' or selfless service, the most imperative aspects of shaping the life of young people. Swami made the point that this way of life is what can be called 'spiritual pursuit'. The transience of triumph and material wealth were central to this philosophy. He challenged the youth to live for a noble reason, a lofty ideal and a higher state so that they were able to transcend the impermanence.

Nation Building
Vivekanand advised these four quests as an ideal and goal for the youth. The purpose of these services was to raise the individual and national consciousness as a whole. He trusted the civilizational value system of this land known as Bharat. That's why he called upon the youth to focus their collective energies towards nation building (Rashtra-Nirman). His vision of India was that of a transformed society inspired by dignity, freedom and individuality and rooted in strength, love and service. He dreamed that such a Bharat would be an egalitarian society that would have broken out of the notions of high or low. He also talked about the unity of society, something that finds an echo in today's world when we witness conflict at various levels. Swami Vivekanand said, "The solution of the caste problem in India is not to degrade the higher castes but to raise the lower up to the level of the higher."

Swami Vivekanand is often aptly described as a karma yogi. He exemplified his teachings through his own life. He chose the path of spiritual consciousness and tried to assuage the mental and physical sufferings of others in this physical world. He worked among the most downtrodden and considered them as his god, much in line with his own teachings. He aroused his social consciousness and translated it into social action while serving the most marginalised class.

The relevance of Swami Vivekanand today is with the ideals and goals that he devised for the youth. He also propounded the scientific way to achieve these goals through physical, social, intellectual and spiritual quests. Youth have the option to choose from any of the four paths shown by him and achieve peace, prosperity and happiness. The freedom to choose, irrespective of gender, birth, caste or other identifiers is what increases the appeal of this path manifold today.

Understanding Swami Vivekananda and his message and putting it across our youth can be the simplest way to address many problems faced by India today. Each individual can begin with himself by preparing himself for the greater cause. She needs to ensure that her physical, mental, social and psychological faculties are well tuned to the work ahead.

Vivekanand was a great observer of the human mind and the human society at large. He understood that undertaking any social change calls for enormous energy and will power. Hence, he called upon the youth to not only build up their mental energies, but their physical ones as well.
The responsibility now lies with the youth to walk the path shown by Swami Vivekanand and realise his dream of making Bharat the Vishwa Guru once again. It is high time for the youth to come forward once again by shedding their fears, as Vivekanand said, and take up the cudgels to shape up Bharat by turning the decaying into vibrant, bringing health to the sick, making the weak strong, bringing stability where there is volatility and sowing meaning where it is lost.
(Swadesh Singh teaches in Delhi University and associated with youth activism since last 18 years)