The modern phase of Vedanta was inaugurated by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda in the 19th century. During this impromptu ideas period Vedanta was transformed from an ethnic religious philosophy into a universal philosophy of life.
The main transformations brought about by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda are given below: Rejuvenation: Sri Ramakrishna is the real link between ancient India and modern India. Through stupendous spiritual efforts Sri Ramakrishna relived the entire range of spiritual experiences of the sages and saints of the past from Vedic times to his times. He thereby revalidated the truths of Vedanta. He traversed the paths of Vedic, Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishnava traditions, including obscure and forgotten paths. He brought about the purification of spiritual life by emphasizing its moral foundation, and rejecting occultism, esoterism and miracle-mongering. He made God realization possible for all even in the midst of the distractions of the modern world. He imparted tremendous fervour to the efforts to realize God. All this has resulted in a thorough rejuvenation of Vedanta in modern times. Modernization: Swami Vivekananda’s great work was to make ancient Vedantic concepts acceptable to modern minds by interpreting the eternal truths in the light of modern rational thought and science. This modernized version is what most of the present-day educated Hindus understand by Vedanta. Integration write my phd dissertation of Philosophical Schools: Vedanta had split into different schools in the Middle Ages. Swami Vivekananda brought about the reintegration of these schools. He did this by stressing the common ground of different schools, especially the principle of Atman, and by showing that the different schools represent different stages of realization of the ultimate Reality. Unification of Religious Sects: Sri Ramakrishna taught, from his realization, that all spiritual paths lead to the same ultimate goal, Yato mat tato path. “As many views, so many paths to God”. This principle, which forms the basis of his doctrine of dharma-samanvaya or Harmony of Religions, came to be applied within Hinduism itself in due course. This has given rise to a sense of unity among Hindu sects in modern times, in spite of many differences in customs and traditions. Meeting of Challenges: Till the eleventh century A.D. the only challenges Vedanta had to face were internal; these came mainly from Buddhism and Jainism and from dissensions of different schools of Vedanta and sects of Hinduism each of different parts of India and responded to the Islamic challenge by spreading the ideas of oneness of God, brotherhood of man and social equality among the common people. However, the greatest challenge Indian society ever faced came from Western culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Western culture posed three major challenges to Indian society: — by revitalizing Vedantic spirituality, — by interpreting the eternal truths of Vedanta, discovered by the ancient sages, in the light of modern rational thought, and — by introducing a new gospel of social service based on the practical application of Vedantic principles in day-to-day life. Practical Vedanta: By “Practical Vedanta” is meant the practical application of the basic principles of Vedanta in solving the problems of day-to-day life. For centuries Vedantic principles were intended only to help people to attain Mukti or liberation. Swami Vivekananda, however, showed that the highest principles of Vedanta can be applied even in ordinary life to solve the day-to-day problems of life. Vedantic principles can be applied not only in individual life but also in social life. In fact, Swamiji held that India’s downfall took place mainly because the eternal spiritual principles were not applied in collective life. Universalization of Vedanta: For many centuries the essential, basic truths of Vedanta remained bound up with innumerable beliefs, myths, customs, castes, etc. Moreover, the higher truths of Vedanta were available only to a small group of privileged people, and it was believed that to follow the principles of Vedanta one had to be born in a certain Hindu caste. Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda separated the essential truths of Vedanta from the non-essentials. Swamiji showed that the essential truths of Vedanta constitute the eternal, universal truths of the spiritual world which form the rationale and basis of all the religions of the world. As a matter of fact, the eternal principles of Vedanta themselves constitute the Universal Religion of all mankind, and the different religions of the world are only manifestations of this Universal Religion in different places and times. Furthermore, through his lectures and books and through the Vedanta Centres which he founded, Swamiji made the life-giving principles of Vedanta available to all people without any which claimed superiority over the others. From the thirteenth century Islam began to exert its influence on Indian society in a big way. Many great saints then arose in distinction of caste, creed or race. In this way, through the pioneering efforts of Swami Vivekananda, Vedanta has crossed the boundaries of India and has now become the common property of all mankind. The work started by Swamiji is now being carried on by many teachers and organizations around the world.
The story of Sri Ramakrishna is the story of religion in practice. His life enables us to see God face to face. Sri Ramakrishna is today regarded as an incarnation of God of the Modern Age. His whole life was literally an uninterrupted contemplation of God. He reached a depth of God-consciousness that transcends all time and place and has a universal appeal. Seekers of God of all religions feel irresistibly drawn to his life and teachings. Sri Ramakrishna, as a silent force, influences the spiritual thought currents of our time.
Through his God-intoxicated life Sri Ramakrishna proved that the revelation of God takes place at all times and that God-realization is not the monopoly of any particular age, country, or people. In him, deepest spirituality and broadest catholicity stood side by side. He was unique in that he practised in turn the spiritual disciplines of all the sects of Hinduism, and of Christianity and Islam, and attained God-realization in each one. At the end of it all, he proclaimed to the world: “As many faiths, so many paths.” His realization and proclamation of the fundamental unity of all religions is a message relevant to our contemporary world, torn by religious conflicts and dissensions, and separated by high walls of sectarian dogmas.
One of the important contributions of Sri Ramakrishna is the reestablishment of the ideal of God realization in the modern world. In a world in which people’s faith in traditional religions has been considerably reduced by the relentless attack of the forces of atheism, materialism and scientific thinking, Sri Ramakrishna established the possibility of having direct experience of transcendent Reality. His life has enabled thousands of people to gain or regain faith in God and in the eternal verities of religion. As Mahatma Gandhi has stated: “No one can read the story of his life without being convinced that God alone is real and that all else is an illusion.”
Drawn by the magnetism of Sri Ramakrishna’s divine personality, people flocked to him from far and near — men and women, young and old, philosophers and theologians, philanthropists and humanists, atheists and agnostics, Hindus and Brahmos, Christians and Muslims, seekers of truth of all races, creeds and castes. His small room in the Dakshineswar temple garden on the outskirts of the city of Kolkata became a veritable parliament of religions. Everyone who came to him felt uplifted by his profound God-consciousness, boundless love, and universal outlook.
Here is an incarnation whose life can harmonize all the apparently contradictory religious ideals, and the various national and social ideals of different races and countries, thus uniting humanity by the ties of love and toleration into a single brotherhood.
Sri Sarada Devi
Sri Sarada Devi, or the Holy Mother — as she is popularly called, was the illustrous consort of Sri Ramakrishna. To her came countless men and women seeking spiritual solace. By her maternal solicitude, winsome simplicity, and purity of character, she transformed the lives of many devotees. She nurtured the Ramakrishna Movement in its initial stages. In and through her Sri Ramakrishna sought to give India and the world a myriad-faceted gem of the ideal of womanhood at its noblest and best. We find in her life reincarnate all those ideals for which the greatest of Indian women stood for in the ages past — Sita’s unswerving devotion and service to her lord through all the vicissitudes of fortune, Savitri’s chastity and dauntlessness, Gargi’s grasp of spiritual truths, and Maitreyi’s scorn of wealth and yearning for Immortality.
Sri Ramakrishna recognized in Sri Sarada Devi the Divine Energy (Shakti) usually known as Divine Mother in Hinduism. This Divine Energy was manifested in and through Sri Sarada Devi for the welfare of the world. In Hinduism the Divine Mother represents a great spiritual power, a conscious and living power that acts in diverse ways and even takes a human form. Sri Ramakrishna believed that Sri Sarada Devi represented this very power. Sri Ramakrishna is considered by many to be the modern prophet of India. Sri Sarada Devi played a key role in continuing the work of this extraordinary religious teacher. She was an extraordinary teacher — a teacher that not only kindled the spiritual power of the disciples, but who also continued to help them until they attained liberation. She won their heart through her affectionate and loving nature. No one could escape her love and affection.
The outstanding virtues of Indian womanhood are courage, serenity, self-control, sweetness, compassion, wisdom, and an intuitive relationship with God. Holy Mother possessed all these virtues. Since the acquisition of such gifts is the dream of all women, Holy Mother may aptly be seen as the symbol of aspiration of women everywhere. As time passes, more and more people from all over the world, from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and from diverse religious traditions, are taking an interest in understanding her, in knowing her, in discovering her supreme moral and spiritual excellence, and in coming in contact with her divine nature.
Swami Vivekananda was a spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power whose inspiring personality is now well known all over the world. To introduce the life of Swami Vivekananda is to introduce the subject of spiritual life itself. All the intellectual struggle, all the doubts, all the burning faith, all the unfolding process of spiritual illumination were revealed in him. As a man and as a Vedantist he manifested the manliness that is sanctity, and the sanctity that is manliness; he manifested the patriotism that proceeds from the vision of the Dharma and the universality that comes when God is seen in everything; and through the true insight of divine wisdom, he lived a life of both intense activity and Supreme Realization. Indeed, his life revealed throughout, the glory of the supersensuous life.
The unknown monk of India suddenly leapt into fame at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, at which he represented Hinduism. His vast knowledge of Eastern and Western culture as well as his deep spiritual insight, fervid eloquence, brilliant conversation, broad human sympathy, colourful personality, and handsome figure made an irresistible appeal to the many types of Americans who came in contact with him. People who saw or heard Vivekananda even once still cherish his memory after a lapse of more than half a century.
In America Swami Vivekananda’s mission was the interpretation of India’s spiritual culture, especially in its Vedantic setting. He also tried to enrich the religious consciousness of the Americans through the rational and humanistic teachings of the Vedanta philosophy. In America he became India’s spiritual ambassador and pleaded eloquently for better understanding between India and the New World in order to create a healthy synthesis of East and West, of religion and science.
In his own motherland Vivekananda is regarded as the patriot saint of modern India and an inspirer of her dormant national consciousness, To the Hindus he preached the ideal of a strength-giving and man-making religion. Service to man as the visible manifestation of the Godhead was the special form of worship he advocated for the Indians, devoted as they were to the rituals and myths of their ancient faith. Many political leaders of India have publicly acknowledged their indebtedness to Swami Vivekananda.
The Swami’s mission was both national and international. A lover of mankind, he strove to promote peace and human brotherhood on the spiritual foundation of the Vedantic Oneness of existence. A mystic of the highest order, Vivekananda had a direct and intuitive experience of Reality. He derived his ideas from that unfailing source of wisdom and often presented them in the soul-stirring language of poetry.
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