“In Buddha we had the great, universal heart and infinite patience, making religion practical and bringing it to everyone’s door. In Shankaracharaya we saw tremendous intellectual power, throwing the scorching light of reason upon everything. We want today that bright sum of intellectuality joined with the heart of Buddha, the wonderful infinite heart of love and mercy. The union will give us the highest philosophy. Science and religion will meet and shake hands. Poetry and philosophy will become friends…” -Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda [1863, 12 January–1902, 4 July], was a great Vedic-Hindu thinker-philosopher, reformer and revolutionary saint of contemporary-modern times, who dedicated his entire life to the spiritual and social upliftment of the common man. His socio-religious approach and ideas were quite clear and universal as is evident from his own short statement quoted at commencement of this discussion. Moreover, he worked till his last breath for the welfare of the masses according to his approach and ideas. This distinctiveness of Swami Vivekananda makes him matchless on the one hand and to a large extent it becomes a mammoth task to analyze his works and views.
As already mentioned, Swami Vivekananda was a great Vedic-Hindu thinker, scholar and saint; he was one of the best elucidators and propagators of the Vedanta. In his lifetime he was true and the best representative and exponent of the Vedanta that speaks of the Divyata [divinity] of the self to remind us of the potential of man.* In a nutshell, Swami Vivekananda was the leading messenger and ambassador of the Vedanta in contemporary India. To quote one of his noteworthy statements on the Vedanta:
“The Vedanta recognizes no sin, it only recognizes error. And the greatest error, says the Vedanta, is to say that you are weak, that you are a sinner, a miserable creature, and that you have no power and you cannot do this and that.”
The Vedanta believes in a Supreme Authority [Power], who is the Creator and all-pervading [universal]. He is the Supreme Soul having universal consciousness, and is called by different names including Brahman, Parbrahman, Ishwara, Isam, Parmatama, Prabhu and Purushottama by the Vedic people or the Hindus. Swami Vivekananda himself admitted:
“As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God.”
Further, he accepted Him as the ever gold. He called on each and every human being to fully develop self-confidence in him and through this to recognize God. He desired man to realize and grow from inside, to identify the self and its power**, and to make constant efforts to become the gold accepting it be the goal of life. This is the glorification of the Supreme Authority –God in one way or the other.
All the Vedantic concepts, or in other words the basics of the Vedanta, and particularly pertaining to God, soul [self], Jagata [world],Karma, and simultaneously the great Vedantic ideas like human-unity, the highest sense of harmony among people or the responsibilities and duties of man, became the basis of Swami Vivekananda’s ideas. He put forth these ideas before all and called for their adoption in day-to-day practices to make life worthy and meaningful.
While doing so, he, quite interestingly, stressed on accepting and adopting love and mercy, i.e., Karuna [in wider sense the union of pity and friendliness] of Gautama Buddha. In fact, this is the real and concrete message of the Vedanta itself. The broadness, practicability and straightforwardness like that of Gautama Buddha and intellectual power like that of the great expounder of the Vedanta, Shankaracharaya, could convey the true message of the Dharma [duty-bound righteousness]. According to Swami Vivekananda this was the way to overcome the wary and weary world. This is still the need of the hour to make man realize self, be conscious and self-reliant.
The Atman [self]*** emerges as the most important concept in the philosophy of the Vedanta. In the Kothopnishad [hymn-20] is has been glorified as the greatest of the great. The purpose behind this glorification is for humans to acquire ability and power, to encompass and realize his duties and responsibilities to achieve the most important goal in life; to make him perceive clarity and truth, and through this to develop the spirit of universalism in him so that the pathway of universal welfare could transform into reality. Isavasya Upanishad’s stress that “the person who indeed clearly perceives all creatures and objects in the Atman [soul] only, and accepts in all creatures and objects the [presence of] Atman [soul], he does not wish or want concealment”, could be observed in this very perspective.
It has been mentioned there:
“Yastu Sarvani Bhutanyatmanyevanupasyati
Sarvabhutesu Catmanam Tato Na Vijugupsate”
To realize and identify the self and to move forward for universal welfare in fact is the essence of the message of the Vedanta. For its proper understanding and also grasping this in life, the way shown by Gautama Buddha, which is full of Karuna [compassion], immeasurable patience and practicability [imbued by the law of change] is inevitable. Simultaneously, tremendous intellectual power found in Shankaracharaya is required to overcome all suspicions and superstitions.
Hence, the goal of life could be achieved by self-realization and soul-force. Further, dedication to the welfare of humanity could be ascertained. This is the message of the Vedanta, which Swami Vivekananda put forth beautifully in the prevailing circumstances in his lifetime. He practiced these till his last breath, which is itself the best introduction of his approximately thirty-nine years’ of worldly life and views. Swami Vivekananda also emphasized the need of refinement of ideas in prevailing situation of space and their adoption as per the demand of time, which distinguish his message and vision.
*Swami Vivekananda himself admitted, “Vedanta says that within man is all knowledge even in a boy it is so and it requires only an awakening and that much is the work of a teacher.”
**In this regard he said, “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
***Ātman is in fact a Sanskrit word which means self' [soul in general]. In the Vedic-Hindu philosophy, in the Vedanta school of thought in particular denotes to one's true self beyond identification with phenomena. In order to attain Moksha [liberation] a human being must acquire self-knowledge [atma-jnana], is to say realize experientially that one's true self is identical with the transcendent permanent -self [God], Brahman.