At 30, Swami Vivekananda was the voice of Vedantic philosophy and in 19th Century America he was pursued in the same way as Justin Timberlake. He brought a message of universality, tolerance and respect to the West and mesmerised business elite, leaders, intellectuals, social reformers and activists when he took to the stage in the Hall of Columbus at the Art Institute of Chicago at the Parliament of Religions held in September 1893.
More than 150 years later his influence is still relevant and his beliefs valued world over. Reflecting on his teachings our Managing Director Manish Tiwari addressed the audience at the Vivekananda Festival 2018 in London.
Riches to Reverence
John D Rockfeller – the wealthiest man of his times, and even regarded as the richest today, was an icon of a hardcore entrepreneur – but the persona and spiritual calibre of Vivekananda managed inspiring the shrewd businessman as well.
Being coaxed by friends to meet the extraordinary Indian monk Rockefeller decided to go and meet Swami. He went to Vivekananda’s Chicago house and was asked to wait at the living room, but Rockefeller ignored the request and decided to go to study room directly. Rockefeller found Vivekananda writing on his table and went forward and stood in front of him. After a while, Vivekananda, without lifting his eyes from his writing papers, started telling Rockefeller about his past, secret events and incidents, his anxieties and then told him that the huge amount of wealth he had accumulated was not his own, but that was only an opportunity for him, given by God, by which he could serve the society by helping poor and distressed people and suggested he spend his money for the welfare of society.
Rockefeller was annoyed and left without a farewell. A week later Rockfeller returned with a copy of a newspaper which mentioned his pledge to donate a huge amount of money to a public institution and asked Vivekananda if he must be satisfied now to which Swami replied: “Why should I thank you? Rather you should thank me for providing the suggestion.”
This was the turning point in Rockfeller’s life, where he devoted his second half of his life to impact philanthropy through the initiatives and work of the Rockefeller Foundation. Despite his grand riches, he loved a life of freedom, moderation and extreme simplicity. Rockefeller finally got to understand that the principles for physical health are deeply interconnected with spiritual virtues that unlock the constant stream of well being.
While Swami Vivekananda inspired many, he ensured that all the donations he received he gave up, leaving nothing for himself. So, while he was instrumental in the setting up of the Rockfeller Foundation, he struggled financially towards the later part of his life.
Swami Vivekananda on success: Take up one idea, make that one idea your life. Think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.
“One of the most exciting, original, and best equipped giants of this century I have ever run into; my personal sympathy for him will never be outgrown or exhausted as long as I live, mark my words; I would easily give 10 years of my life, possibly more, if I could have shaken his hand.”
Those were the words of writer JD Salinger author of Catcher of the Rye on Swami Vivekananda. Though a literary celebrity, Salinger became a recluse. Struggling for peace he wrote to an Indian swami; “In the forest-tract of sense pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for Liberation never go there. I suspect that nothing is truer than that and yet I allow myself to be mauled by that old tiger almost every wakeful minute of my life.” It was this mauling of the tiger which made him depressed till Swami Vivekananda promised hope and solace—writing that the “same mind, when subdued and controlled, becomes a most trusted friend and helper, guaranteeing peace and happiness.” It was precisely the consolation that Salinger so desperately sought. And by 1965 he was ready to renounce his once gritty pursuit of literary celebrity.
These are just two examples on how Swami Vivekananda influenced lives through his teachings. At the Vivekananda Festival 2018 organised byRamchandra Saha – his teachings surrounding human excellence, unity in diversity, universal tolerance, harmony and peace were shared with a captive audience.
In today’s globalised times, with political lines drawn on the basis of gender, race and religion, his teachings are more imperative than ever.
On religion he once said: “As many faiths, so many paths,” though touted as a Hindu monk, he respected all faiths but stood for the need of man to be religious and not for organised religion. Staying away from preaching, he spoke common sense and said: “If you have faith in all the 330 million of your mythological Gods…. and still have no faith in yourselves, there is no salvation for you. Have faith in yourselves and stand up on that faith and be strong, that is what we need.”