Talk about inspiring speeches, perhaps there is no one better than Swami Vivekananda who not only united many of his followers but also got them to develop fire in their bellies. Just reading Swami Vivekananda’s books is said to inspire and help troubled souls. I remember my mother mentioning a relative of mine who in her days of anguish years ago (ill-treatment by her husband) was advised to read a book on Swami Vivekananda’s life and work and how she developed courage and fortitude after doing so and wended her way through the journey called life. Today, she is a happy grandmother busy with her grandchildren and proud, I’m sure, to have her sons and daughters-in-law loving her and taking good care of her. But perhaps if it were not for that book she had read, her life might have been different.
I remembered about this instance when I was listening to a tape that had a youngster dwell with great authority on the aspect of human excellence. Vijay Menon, who calls himself an academician and competency enabler, started his talk by giving the audience (at the Confederation of Indian Industry TIDES Summit in Coimbatore) the example of a conversation between a disciple and his guru, with the disciple asking the guru what the difference was between success and failure and happiness and sorrow.
The guru replied that as far as happiness and sorrow was concerned, the difference was only one second; and that between success and failure, one step. The guru’s reply reflected the “profundity” of Indian culture and the depth in terms of conceptualisation and thinking, Menon said, adding, “The human body is an amazing thing. The flow of blood happens at a sub-consciousness level; one second of impediment in the flow of blood can be disastrous.”
Menon provided the example of Hitler conquering nine countries in less than three years, countries such as France, Poland and Czechoslovakia that tottered under his might, finally ending in Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia and Operation Barbarossa, which signaled his death-knell. The invasion of Russia made all the difference – it was a single step that led to failure, he said.
Menon gave yet another example – of two children in hospital, one critically ill. The one that was reasonably well was none too happy though. When asked the reason for the “bleak countenance”, the child said: “In my case there is a postponement of the inevitable. I’m not showing my happiness because my happiness at this point of time is acceptable but not justified.” “Excellence dawns the moment thought reaches that level of sublimity and grace,” the speaker said, “This is the tradition of our country. We never looked at outer personification alone. It has always valued, respected and acknowledged the quality of thought.”
Urging the audience to look at the life of Swami Vivekananda with dispassion, Menon spoke about the young monk in a robe with only five dollars to spare, who “goes all the way from Bengal to Chicago to participate in the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893, who represents India that was not known, an India that was misunderstood, misconstrued, an India that was looked upon with tremendous amount of disdain, contempt and skepticism.”
Menon went on about the “penniless wanderer who has come to represent the cause of India in Chicago” meeting a young woman, Katherine Abbot Sanborn, on a train to Boston (Chicago, Swamiji found too expensive to stay) and her inviting him home after being impressed by his noble bearing and charming conversation. There Swamiji meets Prof John Henry Wright, a professor of Greek at Harvard University, supposed to represent the mighty American intellect. Eventually, the professor saw in the mendicant a lot of originality, a person of candour and honesty, and they ended talking for about four hours. So impressed was the professor that he took it upon himself to arrange for Swami Vivekananda’s admittance to the Parliament of Religions. When Swamiji said he had no credentials to cite, the professor said: “To ask you, Swami, for credentials, is like asking the sun to state its reason to shine.” Writing to the chairman of the committee for selection of delegates, the Prof Wright wrote: “Here is a man who is more learned than all our professors put together.”
“We are so obsessed with the Western world, we have neglected, abused, and undermined the great heritage of this country. Go back to the Puranas, scriptures, epics, itihasas, we find people who stand head and shoulders above the rest – because of nobility and sacrifices. Our small acts of kindness radiate the person we are,” Menon said, giving the example of Jamsetji Tata for whom success was laced with purpose.