The Still Sad Music of Humanity – Unity of Perception in Swami Vivekananda

October 17, 2017 India , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS


Ananya S Guha


Swami Vivekananda was moved into spirituality by religion. Religion was only the viable media for his quintessential spirituality – the oneness of mankind, the all-encompassing Sanatan Dharma, the spirit of suffering in India and the intrinsic desire to know the real India, its suffering masses, its range and diversity and, its topography. He intuited the spiritual essence of India, but he also comprehended it as a land of suffering. Reason and feeling converged in his mind as he attained the beatific heights of Samadhi.

The Swami responded to the call of God, to attend the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Miracle after miracle took place and the unknown monk started travelling all over the world and the country. Depending on Vedanta philosophy for his spiritual foresight, intellectual strength, he blended these with pragmatic outlook towards poverty, amelioration of it with a social zeal. His Godhead was Kali, his master Ramakrishna, but his heart was on human suffering.

Vivekananda combined three things; intellect, spirit and pragmatism. He emphasized on physical endurability. He was no social reformer, but an intellectual and spiritual giant, who was deeply moved by a suffering humanity. In advocating the doctrine of oneness, Vivekananda shunned dualism in God, and wanted to take this religious postulate world over. In the Goddess Kali he perceived equanimity transcending disturbance. His desire to visually see God was a desire to combine natural with the supernatural. That his organization founded on the principles of Sri Ramakrishna, is worldwide today gives testimony to these words of the poet, William Blake:

To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.”

Vivekananda performed the absolute task of holding “Eternity in an hour” in the nineteenth and early twentieth, centuries. His ‘death’ sowed seeds for a national and international social transformation in education, social work and culture. Swami Vivekananda continues to symbolize the youth and their harnessing of intellectual and spiritual potentialities.

Sensitiveness was the overarching sensibility in the mind of this towering personality. He was a man of both prodigious intellect and sensitiveness. Do you feel, feel, feel?…. he once asked. The Belur Math stands today as a symbol of spiritual and social reconnaissance.

Vivekananda should be understood as a man who intuited the concept of a Nation, bonded by oneness, long before the freedom movement. He wanted to taste each and every corner of the country, he was enamored of its depth and diversity, its essentials meaningfulness as a nation state, but he also marveled at its ancient heritage of a resonant spiritualism, and a wakeful wisdom. He saw, in men like Jesus Christ, the continuation of the oneness of God and man.

Why did Vivekananda continually harp on oneness, or Sanatan Dharma? He saw in oneness, an actualization of social and religious goals. He saw in oneness, the unifying spirit of this vast country. But, he was deeply troubled by issues such as poverty and apathy if not antipathy towards the masses. Even as early as the nineteenth centuries he perceived the masses, constituting the true or archetypal reality. Like Gandhiji later, he loved people individually and in masses.

Thus, Vivekananda gave an unknowing thrust to the polity of India, much before the founding fathers of a Nation. He anticipated that this was a Nation in the making, poverty distressed him as his prescient mind saw that this would be a curse in future.

Vivekananda had already set up nodal points of his mission, abroad in UK and the US, as he knew that the goals of his missions would be the Sea of humanity. He was taking the religion of man to the world – embedded in oneness; All Embracing and fundamental God. This philosophy of a fundamental look at religion, society, philosophy and spirituality is the crux of the work of the Ramakrishna Mission which has worked through education, social work and religion/spirituality without drawing a sharp circle of spirit, mind and matter and, unflagging in totality, in harmony towards the complete self.

There is the ultimate knowledge – Ved – anta. He was not a mystic philosopher or saint, but rather a mediator of practical wisdom and spirituality.

His emphasis on oneness of the divine, was an inner contemplation of reality, the real. His emphasis again on the external world of action, was again the idea of putting practice into precept. And, he never created mystique or myth. He was firmly grounded in realities of both past and present. His harking to the ancient wisdom of India was his unique and spectacular way of connecting past and present, hoary traditions with contemporary affluence. What he saw was a yawning gap, a hiatus.

Swami Vivekananda foregrounded a vision for the future where education and social work would be at perfect tandem.

This unity of spirit, mankind and God, made his spiritual thinking transcend godliness or mere rituals. His spirituality lay in action oriented goals, where walking, talking and exercising physically mattered. Thus he advocated harmony of mind, body, spirit and matter. His phenomenal intellectual gifts were the source of his working for the poor and the impoverished.

He was not a Renaissance man, but man of the times, man ahead of his times. He envisaged an India of its various manifestations, culture and geography. The tip of the Kanya Kumari attracted him spiritually, although he savored its, physical touch. He even swam across a part of it! He saw the infinity of a country before his finite self. But he believed that when he died, the soul would remain.

Swami Vivekananda explicated Hindu thought in simple, intelligible ways, to take it to the common man. But his beliefs were grounded in traditions of ancient knowledge of the seer. In articulating an all-embracing oneness or unity of the cosmos, Vivekananda preached monism, because this was also a historical coincidence for a unified and un-fettered vision of an ancient, which appealed to him as a fount of spiritual wisdom. The ancient appealed to him as spiritual repository, from where one could draw rivers of sustenance. Vivekananda was an ‘ancient’ fully alive to modern imperatives.

Swami Vivekananda then spoke of sustenance and sustainability of religion via oneness, of mankind and of a nation (in the making). One wonders’ as to the kind of savant – prophet – seer, that he was, a true philosopher – spiritual – king. In his spreading of vedantic doctrine, Swami Vivekananda flouted mysticism, but took Indian spirituality by its stranglehold to shape it into a devastating cosmos of unity, not proliferation of dogmas.

And that must shape all destinies of a future India, unity of well-being, unity of education and unity of social and cultural development. For that is not what this gargantuan personality dreamt passionately of.

Swami Vivekananda was a prophet, a messiah perhaps born ahead of his times, with a rounded personality and photogenic personality and memory. He used his genius for spirituality. He himself embodied a unified vision in his personality a oneness of spiritual and intellectual vision.

His thoughts, his words translated into action has a relevance for the world continuing through ages. His plea for a suffering humanity is egalitarian in all respects. He was a monk of the world, not an ascetic but the prima donna of a world or country in crisis, human suffering was his greatest concern complemented with a personal God, the Mother Goddess.

It is not only the youth who must emulate him, but the country as a whole; his striving for perfection and unity in a cosmos riddled with disunity and disparity. He upheld the glory of India, but he was not blind to realities of human suffering and poverty.

He thundered in his speeches and writing, but he was moved by the ‘still sad music of humanity’.

I have tried to argue through this essay that the bedrock of Vivekananda’s thoughts lay on the unity of life, world and religion. He saw, ‘heaven in a wildflower’. He was no mystic, but a realist who wooed the beauty, efficacy and transparency of a world, and wanted to live life to its ethical, moral and spiritual fullest. Yet he conceded that in striving for perfection, man must be a balance, an ideal one of the physical and the mental. This unity in personality of man, fore grounded his religious, spiritual and even cultural thinking.

M.N. Gupta, a householder, biographer and spiritual devotee of Ramakrishna also highlights the principles of the Swami thorough the words of the Master:
“Narendra is a very big receptacle, one that can hold many things.” This was the diversity of Vivekanda’s thought process. But beneath it he discovered unity, a vision of life and God. But he was also a Karma Yogi, moved into action and doing something for the suffering and the poor. If God manifested himself to one unique way then serving Man was serving God. These principals of Man, God, and Humanity were the cornerstone of his religious, spiritual and moral convictions.

Swami Vivekanda manifested an ideal of renunciation to serve God and Man. He was an ascetic, a Vedantist and a spiritual thinker, all swung into action to serve the underlying concept of man. If Rabindranath believed in Religion of Man, Swami believed in Men Of Religion, who practised what they preached. The spiritual blessings that he received from Ramakrishna moved him into the world of actuality and action. He was action and contemplation blended despite initially a see saw battle with flesh and spirit.

After his father’s death he and his family were penurious but job hunting was converted to God hunting. But at the base of all things Swami Vivekanda saw man positioned to be a mediator between Heaven and the Earth. This cosmic unity he marveled at, and chose Man for right thinking and doing. If I have entitled this article as “The Still Sad Music Of Humanity…’’ borrowing Wordsworth’s phrase, I have done so to highlight his humanism, god-centered.

The crossing of the intellectual and the spiritual embodied in the personality of the man. He used his spiritual gifts to complement his intellectual ardor. Thus this was a unity of thought and feeling, emotion and intellect, physical and mental. Very few in the world have reached such an ennobled state of mind, flicker of universal contemplation and divine attainment.





Mahendra Nath Gupta, The Recorder Of The Gospel Of Sri Ramakrishna, ed Swami Chetanananda, Advaita Ashram, Kolkata, 2011.

Great Thinkers On Ramakrishna Vivekananda Ramakrishna Institute Of Culture, Kolkata, 1983.





Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha was born and brought up in Shillong, North East India. He has seven collections of poetry and his poems have been published worldwide. They have also been featured in several anthologies. He is also a columnist, critic and editor. He now is a Regional Director at the Indira Gandhi National Open University and holds a doctoral degree on the novels of William Golding.

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