As an adolescent iconoclast, I was inspired by Narendra Datta’s scepticism towards faith. I told my parents, who were terribly disturbed by my atheism, that while Naren’s arguments were plausible, how Ramakrishna Paramahansa responded to such logic was a matter of faith. “How can I be sure about what you say Ramakrishna made him see?” I shot back not only at my parents but also at several elderly people they referred me to with the belief that I needed some serious counselling. Finally, the elders would resort to a cliché: “You are too young and immature to understand what we say.”
After years I realised that the journey from Narendra to Vivekananda was one’s own. You cannot convince somebody through debates. You cannot transmit the experience either ― unless you are that evolved a soul. And yet you can persuade people with arguments once you have arrived, provided it’s a real-life interaction and not an interface between a writer and his readers or a speaker and his audience. Study Swami Vivekananda’s exchanges with cynics, and you see that the interlocutors were always speaking one-on-one, face-to-face.
Ergo, what transmits is the confidence; these are vibes that pervade; if you are sure, it’s your trust that permeates through the membrane of disbelief, penetrates the listener, fills and absorbs him. Thereafter, he is as certain as you are cocksure.
But there is a realm beyond this intimate circle of speaker and listener where dwell naysayers. They are a legion. It does not matter. Why would you be concerned with the number of followers of your faith, especially when yours is not a religion? As said before, none other than Narendra Datta himself could have traversed his journey on his behalf to emerge as Swami Vivekananda. It’s a caterpillar-to-butterfly story. Millions of caterpillars cannot get into one cocoon, form a unified pupa and come out as a collective butterfly. Sorry, Buddha, “sangham sharaNam gachchhAmi” does not work. A crowd can at best agree; it cannot feel and live the discourse.
I realised it all over again at work and, more so, during my stint in activism. If one of the reasons that India cannot witness a revolution is the nation’s passivism, the other reason is what you see across the world: there is no dharma of society as a whole. Few, very few are spiritual ― even less than those who are ethical. So, at the heat of the moment ― Anna Hazare’s 2011, for example ― the society is ready to do anything, embracing several evils, big and small, for a Utopia. Thus, while India has never seen a revolution, the revolutions in the West, from French to Russian, finally failed to deliver as well. Sorry, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Sangh and their followers. There, you fall, too. Within a timeframe, there is no Integral Humanism. The sages see through the machinations and shenanigans of the demagogues first. The crowd realises its folly years, decades and centuries later.
In an office, it is worse. Because business, while being necessary for the economy and the individual alike, is a manifestation of materialism, which comes with a fair share of compromises with ethics. You do things wrong, knowing they are wrong. For competition with colleagues before competing in the market. You are an animal out to prove Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest.
Ditto in politics. Within a party, you have greater enemies than those outside it.
But Vivekananda lives. For, his idea was not a revolution, not a business, not a stupid belief that an organisation can have such membership where 100% are devoted to a common goal, brushing aside mutual differences. At best, when the idea was re-established, a general agreement with the ideal spread across the nation. Yet without turning the whole nation as enlightened as the swami. His was an act of reiterating and underscoring the eternal reality after delving deep into it all on his own, with his guru as the catalyst. That mettle is rare, though. If you have it in you, you will have to walk that road all by yourself.
The best tribute to Swami Vivekananda is the realisation that you are a struggling, unsure, cynical Narendra Datta who has an individual journey to undertake.