Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA: Let's us sustain the flame and the light

Hello and firstly thanks for finding time to read this! Without the eyes of readers any writing cannot even be conceived.

Today it is high time to talk about a certain flame and its light. Swami Vivekananda! A champion of spiritual reformation in India and the world! 12th January 2014 was Swamiji's 151th anniversary and therefore reflection on him is timely. Swamiji was an Indian monk who impressed everyone with his unique interpretation of essence of Indian philosophy. Swamiji (1863- 1902) lived a short life; but what he achieved is significant even today. The aim of this write up is not to throw light on his biography. Rather, the aim is to interpret it in modern context and try to explore some cues on the path shown by him. Swamiji mainly came in focus when he excelled at the World Religion Conference held in 1893 in Chicago. Then he did not look back and in remaining years of his life, he succeeded in forming a wave of spiritual reformation in India and in the West. His message was practical: “Be brave, keep aside all your gods and just serve the nation. Realize the divine spark within you. Carry the entire responsibility on your own shoulders and stop not till the goal is achieved.” He was the greatest proclaimer of Vedanta in modern context. 

Here we are mainly discussing what seems relevant to our frame of reference. It is now more than a hundred years since he left us. Therefore it becomes vital to think about his message in contemporary context. In one sentence, his message was to realize the divine spark within us and prioritize the nation, the poor and the deprived before everything else. There are certain organizations and people who tried to follow this path. But more or less they sticked to old ways and systems which Swamiji advocated during his times.

In order to think about essence of Swamiji's thoughts in modern context, we need to look a little deeper and go back a little. Swamiji was the most influential disciple of his guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa. It is interesting to see what was the message given by Ramakrishna (1836- 1886), an illiterate fakir in Bengal. He tried and found truth from all paths- Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism and Islam. He himself tried and achieved seeking from all these paths. And like a peak, he discovered that there are many roads to go to the peak, but the peak is the same. Ramakrishna did not have as much public interactions as Vivekananda had. But his message was clear that one reaches the peak from all paths.

If we look at Vivekananda, it can be said that he gave more focus to Hinduism. And arguably it can be said that his future work suffered from this. Everyone in India knows that Vivekananda was a great sage and a great saint. But issues concerning his practical life are not discussed greatly. Although he was worshiped like a god-man and a saint, he was denied admission in a temple as he had crossed seas and crossing seas was a sin for orthodox priests. Vivekananda struggled to find hundred able men and women to take his work further. But he died a frustrated man not getting those people.

Perhaps its reason could be that he deviated from a more practical approach of his guru, Ramakrishna. Hence when we think about relevance of his work in contemporary world, a more practical and broader approach seems significant. Whatever may be one's way- any religion or any intellectual discipline and environment, he or she can reach the peak. Every path merges with the peak. Hence the stress should not be on the choice of path. Rather, the stress should be on the journey and respect for each path.

Serving humanity, serving the country and all charity activities are needed. There cannot be a second opinion about them. But with such works, realizing the self- realizing the divinity within each of us- is also crucial. Hence the focus should also be given on realizing the self through certain sadhana and meditation in a rather personal manner as per whatever religion/ environment the seeker may have.

While celebrating Vivekananda, chanting his name or praising him would not work. What is needed is journey on our own path with that spirit and inspiration in mind. There are as many ways as many seekers are there. As per upbringing and nature of each individual, he or she can choose the right path for him or her in relation to his/ her passion, interests, skills and perspectives. Some can reach to the peak through arduous hard work, through sports, through charity, through service, through yoga and meditation, through some other sadhana or another medium. All these are interfaces. What is significant is the fact that everybody who takes first step deserves the ability to take the last step. Hence, let us hope that everyone takes at least one step on his or her own path.

Aldous Huxley: A Veteran Torch- bearer


A little more than fifty years has been passed since Aldus Huxley, a worldwide famous novelist and philosopher had died. Huxley was used to spend more than twelve hours a day for writing, reading and reflecting and no wonder he was a profound intellectual legend. His personality was dynamic. In 'Brave new world', a long back published work of him; he had depicted that the due to excessive consumerism humanity was marching towards its lowest side and as a result, certain disorders were creeping. Today we are witnessing it as a reality.

Huxley had a tremendous readership along with a rare recognition by the critics.  He would say, “I write only to decipher my thoughts on various subjects.” He ably handled all types of literature such as story, novel, essay, critique, biography, travelogue in his journey encompassing four decades and generated a massive work.  He would read volumes of 'Encyclopedia Britannica' in his leisure!

He himself was an encyclopedia. A famous writer, Sir Robert Sitwell has said this about Huxley: “He thoroughly knows all subjects on earth. Religion, literature, philosophy, economics, drawing, psychology, science, sociology. It is facile for him to comment on any new research in all these subjects. There is no such a topic in this world which is unknown to him. We assume that it is God who is omniscient; but Huxley goes even beyond Him.'

Early Life

Huxley was born in England on 24 July 1894. Huxley family itself was a hub of intellectuals. An advocate of Darwin's theory of evolution and a scientist, T. H. Huxley was his grandfather and a professor of Greek and a famous biography writer Leonardo Huxley was his father. Aldous' elder brother- Sir Julian Huxley was a scholar in botany. His mother Julia was an educationalist. Matthew Arnold, a famous poet and art- critic was her maternal uncle! Hence it was not a wonder when all this intellectual environment influenced Aldous' upbringing. And he was even more intelligent than all these.

When he was schooling, he had a desire towards medical research. But when he was completing his college- education in Etan, a defect was found in his eyes. His left eye got permanently defunct and the right eye became partially blind. Therefore he had nothing but quit the thought of medical education. This life threatening stroke of fortune did not make Huxley miserable or idle. Rather he engaged himself totally in exploration of new things thinking that any moment he could turn blind and he even learned Braille anticipating coming blindness so that he continue his exploration.

Huxley begin his literature with poetry. He was an editor of the periodical 'Oxford Poetry.' His first poetry- 'Leda' was published in 1920. In the same year his stories were published in 'Limbo.'  'Mortar Coil' (1923), 'Little Mexican' (1924), 'Brief Candles' (1930) were some more stories of him. His first novel 'Chrome Yellow' was published in 1921. It had limited success. His name became famous with 'Antic' published two years later on. With 'Point counter point' (1928) he settled himself as a novelist.

Brave New World!

'Brave new world' was published in 1932 and it was glorious in all ways. In fact this novel has almost become synonymous with Huxley's name. In this novel, Huxley has depicted a graph of future scenario of mechanized man. It is true that some practical problems in human life have been solved with a wonderful advancement in science and technology; but due to excessive consumerism, humanity is marching towards its lowest extreme. If the direction remains the same, then the man is likely to face some disorders in future. This shocking picture was drawn by Huxley in 'Brave new world.' Extreme focus and insistence on uniformity, equality and stability will result in a situation where beauty, liveliness and innovation would reduce to make the life monotonous and at the same time values of love, gratitude, faith, aesthetics and morality would cease to exist. While elaborating on all this, Huxley's narration has a combination of both irony and compassion. 'Imagination kissing high skies' is a phrase used so much that it looks equivalent to currency which has lost its relevance. But the true essence of this phrase is showcased by this novel. 'Eyeless in Gaza' (1932), 'After many a summer' (1939), 'The Genius and the Goddess' (1943), 'Ape and Essence' (1949) and 'The island' (1962) are some more largely appreciated novels of Huxley.

Huxley was equally able in expressing himself in various types of literature. He had made lasting impressions mainly in the world of novels and essays. He hardly had any attraction for the past! He sharply predicted the graph of the future by analyzing the present. For this, he befriended various topics. Huxley had impeccable knowledge of modern science! Scientific progress and modern technology has enhanced standard of aggregate society and it reduced work- hours of workforce. Huxley analyzed problems created by this situation in a radical way.  Thinkers such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells had thought that advancement in science- age would give men free time and it would result in a parallel progress in arts, philosophy and civilization so that the humanity as a whole would move towards holistic development.

But Huxley warned, 'Scientific advancement will help the humanity even for small tasks through mechanical power and therefore human time and drudgery will be saved. But inevitably, the man will use this additional energy and leisure time in gratification of all luxuries, delinquent behaviour or hazardous activities. As the time progresses, the man will become more introvert and this will be the harmful outcome of the scientific progress.'

We are witnesses of this reality. If we look at tasteless programmes aimed at fulfilling common man's desires and popularity of vulgar stories highlighting the crime world and pre- marital and post- marital physical intercourses, it is easy to understand how this additional time given by the modern technology is used. We are having unwanted excess of diseased entertainment with unworthy programmes and similar content and as a result, we cease to think. If we commit our lives to one condition- no thinking please- then it creates a psychological vacuum and it inevitably results in deformation.

Roots of various social and individual diseases in the second half of the Twentieth Century and current times can be traced in this extravagant and rather leisure life systems. But this is the case of economically better off and the middle class! Those who are not able to receive these facilities developed by scientific progress due to their economic conditions are bound to develop a longing and a desire to obtain these facilities at all costs (including unethical ways). That is to say obtaining luxuries is the objective of the life- and those who are not able to fulfill even this would not have any other alternative than committing wrongful activities. Now if we would be downgrading this much thanks to technology and scientific measures, then it is loud and clear that our future is in danger.

Phenomenon of Collective Human

In a similar way Huxley has attracted our attention to another serious issue threatening future of human life also. Technological advancement in the Twentieth Century resulted in large scale expansion of industries and thus acceleration of urbanization. Tremendous growth in the population coupled with exponential industrialization resulted in a organizational life and thereby a dangerous behavioural instinct.

Huxley calls that instinct 'collective human.'

Incessant industrialization and hugely populous metros have made our life organizational. There are many associations right from housing societies to labour unions. Also there are various organizations in the name of religion, polity and castes! Membership of such organizations means a kind of surrender. This dependence suppresses individuality. Also unworthy but efficient media such as television and large- selling newspapers pervert our likings and trends and make them almost uniform. Equality fed by behaviour, thoughts, emotions and taste for entertainment of the collective man is nothing but a stress on additional uniformity. Not only it is harmful to democracy, it also destroys individual freedom. In such a collective mentality and collective social construct, individual thinking, independent liking and individual personality has no place.

The rise of collective man changed colour of the entire civilization. People with independent personality started feeling submerged in this collective framework and the democracy itself endangered. Its reason is that the mob is always illogical and it cannot think. The mob only seeks dictatorship. Many a times this collective man has welcomed and supported polities suppressing independent individuality under the label of dictatorship. History tells us that conservation and consolidation of cultural, intellectual, social, economic and artistic values always have been done by individual men with independent personalities and never by the collective!

The Veteran Torch- bearer who could not shatter darkness

Huxley was a philosopher. His area of writing was close to philosophical spheres. 'On the margin' (1923), 'Ends and means' (1937), 'The perennial philosophy' (1946), 'Science, liberty and peace' (1947), 'Proper studies' (1947), 'On art and artists' (1948), 'Themes and variations' (1952), 'The doors of perception' (1955) are some collections of essays which are evidence for his intellectual treasure and brilliance. Many thoughts given by him in these essays have been proved as 'principals' on the test of the time. In this context, his work called 'Ends and means' can be seen. In one essay from this collection, he has brought forth the thought of 'means- ends'. Here Huxley says, “Means and ends are closely related in personal and social life. Any ends cannot be achieved with the help of any means. The means have to be chosen as per the ends! All thinkers, religions and philosophers have agreed equality, freedom and fraternity as ultimate ends. But as everyone proposes different means a chaos is there and as a result no end has been fulfilled.' Huxley tells us that the traditional path of non- attachment and non- insistence would free us from this chaos and would take us to the means. He has given its elaboration in 'the perennial philosophy.' 

Despite of such an intellectual brain, Huxley was equally at home with people and he would love to be in company of people from many fields. While studying in Baliol College as a student, Huxley had friendship with talented figures such as Cathrin Mansfield and Bertrand Russel. In later times, he had warm relations with R. K. Narayan, George Orwell, Graham Green, Arthur Koestler among few others. Greta Garbo, the famous actress was a ardent follower of his writing. An interesting fact is that she was Hitler's favourite actress! Huxley could simultaneously and easily relate with controversial novelist D. H. Lorens and a philosopher of the calibre of J. Krishnamurthy. (One character from Huxley's 'After many a summer' is based on J. Krishnamurthy and Krishnamurthy's 'First and last freedom' has Huxley's preface.)

Huxley's grasping capacities knew no limits. He had a strong opinion that support or opposition are those reactions which do not stand with knowledge. Therefore he never adopted any social, political or religious path. Unto last he depended only on the experiential knowledge. He was constantly absorbed in seeking knowledge like a sage. He was always aware about the practical harsh life.

The burning problem with entire humanity is population explosion, he had stated. Due to this explosion, the number of low- level people would increase greatly and thus quantity would be given more importance than quality thereby resulting in more intense struggles in living, he had warned. He had added that in such a case even the progress achieved by the science and modern technology would prove to be futile. Almost all the nations on earth have realized meaning in this prediction. Huxley strongly opposed unethical aspects and luxuriousness that would inevitably emerge from all possibilities of scientific advancement. Huxley was worried about conscious destruction of natural assets with the help of science and its resultant environmental degradation. He was always worried as disproportionate dependence on science is leading to loss of art, spirituality and ethics. Therefore he had become skeptical about science as a whole.

'Island' is his last novel published in 1962. He had depicted futuristic ideal society in this novel. After this, he died within a year due to cancer. Before dying, he had completely become blind and his thinking capacity had also perished. Huxley's death was largely unnoticed by the public media as on the same day, the then President of the U. S. J. F. Kennedy had assassinated. The eventful 22th November 1963!

Any evergreen writer always remains in the memory of the readers through his works. Huxley is no exception. His predictions have proved true even fifty years after his death. The mechanized world he depicted in 'Brave new world' has largely come into being. The life- struggle has only worsened due to population explosion and even the scientific advancement is also inadequate to help this population gratify its fundamental needs. The natural resources are being destroyed day by day and entire the humanity is staring at serious environmental issues. Degradation of values such as ethics, art, freedom and humanity are subjects of worry for all. Conscious warnings given by Huxley in this relation were always neglected. But this is the case of almost all intellectuals of the world who cry, 'I go on warning you, why no one is listening?' Here also Huxley is no exception!


This man belongs to one of the rare class of intellectuals who had the unique ability to see the unforeseen. If we wish to learn something from him and his warnings, we will have to think now and think deep. In the contemporary world marked by 'multi- tasking', instant 'likes' or 'surfing'; perhaps such a knowledgeable and visionary personality tries hard to wake us. Are we going to respond to it?


This article is a reflection based on a Marathi article from daily Loksatta published here