People of our country are, by tradition, religion-minded and this country is therefore described as a land of religion and spirituality. Swami Vivekananda used to say that the soul of our country is in religion. The highest and the ultimate goal or Purushartha aspired for by the people of this country is Mukti, so much so that the traditional treatises dealing with even mundane arts and sciences, including those on Ayurveda and even statecraft, strive to tell, in their prefatory remarks, how the ultimate purpose behind them is to facilitate progress of every human being towards the common spiritual goal — Moksha.
If going to temples, visiting places of pilgrimage, participating in Bhajans, Yagnyas and Anushthanas as also listening to philosophical and religious discourses by millions of people of the presence of numerous religious teachers, Gurus and such other men of God all over the country are the manifestations of a growing religiosity, our country, perhaps, is more religious today than it ever was at any time in the past.
But, unfortunately, the natural impact of this apparent Godwardness on the general society is little in evidence today. Purposeful living, discipline, character, truthfulness, fellow-feeling, fearlessness, subordination of the self and a zest for works of public good, which are some of the traits that develop in a Godward society and which, we have enough evidence to say, existed in a good measure in our country in the past, are seen fast disappearing from our midst. Ironically enough, with the apparent religious fervour presently on the increase, general corruption, indiscipline and other kinds of moral degradation are also in the ascendant. How is this paradox to be explained? Certainly, it will not be reasonable to ascribe all these evils solely to inefficient governance of the country. Because, after all, the people, especially in modern democracies, get the government they deserve!
So, what is wrong with us and what is the way to save the country from the impending social disintegration that seems to be fast overtaking us? Any discerning mind will be able to see that a distorted conception of religion is the root cause of most of our evils for the last several centuries which persist even today. It is rightly said that religion is the soul of our country. But as that itself is blurred, we have the sorry spectacle of deterioration all round.
Religious awakening means experiencing the presence of God in one’s self and the world. That makes one conscious of the divine within and urges one to work for its unfoldment and to grow spiritually. Simultaneously it generates in one a sense of oneness with God’s creation and, consequently, an intense fellow-feeling for the members of one’s own species — the human race — and prompts one to work with zest for human welfare and progress. If, and as long as, the religious awakening intensifies on these lines, it is dynamic and full of tremendous potentialities for the transformation of humanity into higher and higher planes of existence. But, if it remains limited to rituals, forms of worship and offerings to God, or prayers and praises addressed to Him, it becomes static and has hardly a role to play in human advancement.
Swami Vivekananda was the foremost among the modern religious teachers who strove to take out religion from that static condition into which it had degenerated over the centuries, and drew the attention of the people to its real role. He pointed out in no uncertain terms that ceremonies and forms are not the essence of religion, but it is rather the realisation of a higher life. He said, “We may study all the books that are in the world, yet we may not understand a word of religion or of God. Temples and churches, books and forms are simply the kindergarden of religion, to make the spiritual child strong enough to take the higher steps. Religion is not in doctrines or dogmas, nor in intellectual argumentation. It is realisation in the heart of hearts; it is touching God; it is feeling, realising that I am a spirit in relation with universal spirit and all its great manifestations”. To those who lost themselves only in forms and rituals, turning their back on the people and the misery that had befallen them, he said, “What vain gods shall we go after and yet cannot worship the god that we see all around us, the Virat (Janata Janardan)? When we have worshiped this, we shall be able to worship all other gods”.
The remedy for the ills of our country, therefore, lies in launching a mighty movement of right thought flooding the entire country, it has to be a two-pronged move. It is to be aimed, on the one hand, at (1) transforming our people’s inherent God-wardness into right spiritual urge rising out of the Vedic teachings, namely, (i) each soul is potentially divine and (ii) faith in God, in turn, means faith in one’s self, i.e., in one’s potentiality to rise to divine heights. On the other hand, it is (2) to convert the spiritual fervour thus released into works of national reconstruction.
The movement described above has recently been born and the name it bears is Vivekananda Kendra. The seed of this movement was in fact sown as far back as three quarters of a century ago by Swami Vivekananda himself, when he brought into being the Sannyasi Order of the Ramakrishna Mission. This Order has been preparing the ground since then by propagating the twin ideals of renunciation and service, especially among the intellectuals. The time is now ripe and the present conditions also demand that enlightened people of this country yoke themselves to these ideals, and rouse the masses to intense activity towards national reconstruction. The coming into being of the Vivekananda Kendra is only an expression of that deep urge felt in the country.(Editorial written by Mananeeya Eknathji Ranade which appeared in Yuva Bharati, September 1973 is being republished now).