Everyday, the world challenges the Vedantin’s values. Materialist mantras decorate the billboards. The media shout their empty promises of fame and pleasure. Lust poses on the magazine covers and every television commercial proclaims the gospel of more, more. Even one’s dearest, even friends and family, may scoff at renunciation and spiritual practice. The world is on fire with the thirst for fulfillment, and we try to quench it with the oil of indulgence.
Some days, it takes a heroic effort just to crawl out of bed.
I watch my mind and don’t like what I see. Clinging and restlessness, and the constant temptations of the senses. And sometimes they sneak in, like a viper in the night, and I don’t even know they’ve bitten me before the venom has done its work. I tell myself every weekend that this one will be different, this time I’ll stand upon my dedication and do what needs doing, but I rarely do. Most days, by mid-morning, I have it all worked out, and my life is going to change. I’ll take charge, take the bull by the horns. And by the evening, I’m tired just from living through the day.
Swami Vivekananda was a relentless sannyasin. Calling for fearlessness and nerves of steel in his followers, he himself had both in full measure. Perfect in renunciation, unmoved by any of the things of the world, no one has ever been more certain. In the face of disbelief even from his fellow disciples, Swamiji was strong and courageous. He would have moved the world had no one supported him. By the sheer strength of his will, the world have known the name “Vivekananda.”
“This is a great fact,” Swamiji said. “Strength is life; weakness is death. Strength is felicity, life eternal, immortal; weakness is constant strain and misery: weakness is death.”
“If there is one word that you find coming out like a bomb from the Upanishads, bursting like a bombshell upon masses of ignorance, it is the word ‘fearlessness.'”
“You may meditate on whatever you wish, but I shall meditate on the heart of a lion. That gives strength.”
Swamiji grew to such proportions, that he burst through the net of Maya. Taking the world in his hand, he could have shaken it to its foundations; he left us a legacy of bravery in the war against mankind’s greatest enemy: ignorance. He died young because the world simply could not endure his majesty for long.
When I think about the example set for us by Swami Vivekananda, I also remember that he gave the best years of his life and the greatest part of his phenomenal energy to the people of America. When my great-grandparents were breaking their backs picking cotton, a hurricane of spiritual power swept across their country. Generations later, I still feel its wind. And what religious heritage did Swamiji plant in the States? Freedom. No sentimental devotionalism, no dogmatic creeds, no pointless rituals. Only the highest ideal of the brightest illumination.
“Each soul is potentially divine.The goal is to manifest this divinity by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy – by one, or more, or all of these – and be free. This is the whole of religion.”
Swamiji made tremendous efforts for me. He planted the tree of perfection that I could rest in its shade. Through his work, I too may glimpse the glory of my own divinity, and that in all Creation. Through the years, he beckoned to me, challenging me to Arise, and to Awake.
But Swamiji did not charge me with an easy task, for as I said, some days arising from bed itself requires enormous effort. Some days, I am afraid to even turn on my bedroom light. It isn’t depression, it isn’t anxiety, it isn’t lethargy. I think anyone who thinks deeply will admit this: the world scares the hell out of me. So how do we make this effort? How do we even hope to reach the goal?
Some of us thrive in silence and solitude, cherishing the warmth of the winter sun through a window and the inspiration of a good book. Hours pass in meditation and prayer. There is inner struggle, no doubt, but the face carries a radiant smile and the voice a ready laugh.
Others live to sing the Lord’s praises and worship Him in elaborate rituals. Lamps and flowers, sweet incense and music. Holy company, lively spiritual discussion, chanting God’s sacred names, and pilgrimages to sacred places. It is a life of abundant love.
But some take a martial view of the spiritual struggle. The ego is the Great Enemy, to be slain by the sword of Viveka and burned upon the pyre of Vairagya. The world is Kurukshetra. The sadhaka is Arjuna, the conqueror of enemies. The taunts and jeers of lust and greed inspire the devotee to battle, wielding the Mantra like Hanuman’s mace.
I grew up on punk rock and hardcore. I may have been a rebel without a cause, but I still admire the non-conformists, screaming out of frustration at the ignorance and corruption surrounding them. Swimming upstream, going against the grain, and an uncompromising certitude that things are not meant to be this way. This is the idiom I understand, the language that I speak. Born a Gen-Xer, the paradigms of my predecessors failing my generation, I grew up surrounded by kids who grew angrier and more dissatisfied every year. Our music was a sonic sledgehammer because we felt we needed to bludgeon the world into understanding. We wanted a weapon to defeat the apathy we saw in every school and on every news channel. We took our fight to the streets, never realising that we were waging the war in the wrong direction.
When I feel weighed down by doubt, and want nothing more than to pull the dark around me and hide, what good will it do me to burn some incense? But if I am a freedom fighter of Vivekananda…
Sometimes when I sit for meditation, I feel surrounded by hordes of desires. How can I fend them off by sitting? Am I a Buddha that I can defeat Mara’s army with the sheer force of my purity? But if Swamiji’s call to Arise and Awake is my battle cry…