by Susan Walters
remarked to an Indian holy man that India was the only country in the world that
produces holy men. He smilingly replied, 'it's the only thing it produces!' Of
course that statement, as he well knew, was an exaggeration, but what is
actually true is that holy men are the only thing India produces that other
countries cannot produce.
And it is these holy men
who have kept alive, and are keeping alive, the great spiritual traditions of
India though not for the sake of India alone, but for the sake of the whole
world. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, 'India's gift to the world is the
light spiritual.' He also said, 'Our sacred motherland is a land of religion and
philosophy-- the birthplace of spiritual giants-- the land of renunciation,
where and where alone, from the most ancient to the most modem times there had
been the highest ideal of life open to man."
At the very base of
India's spirituality are the four mahavakyas, the condensed truths of the Vedas,
one of which is tat tvam asi, 'That thou art.' This tells us that we are in
reality the innermost Self-the eternal, divine Atman, and not the body-mind
complex, which is always changing and is perishable. This truth, when through
the teaching of an enlightened Indian holy man we learn to make our own, gives
us great strength and peace. It weans us away from our desire for worldly
pleasures and possessions and makes our life a blessing to ourselves and others.
Today we need this teaching more than ever before.
This brings us to the
subject of this paper, two holy men of india who have something in common
besides the spiritual message of India that both have taught. They are Swami
Vivekananda and Bhagawaan Gopinathji. And what they have in common is that the
'Centenary' of both is being celebrated in 1997 and 1998.
One hundred years ago, in
1897, Swami Vivekananda returned to India as a conquering hero from the West
where he had captured many people with his message of Vedanta. He was given a
reception all over India befitting such a great hero. And in Kashmir, around the
same year, a baby was born who was to become the great saint and spiritual
leader, Bhagawaan Gopinathji. Both of these events are being celebrated this
year in 1997 and next year, 1998, with great eclat.
The arrival of Swami
Vivekananda in Columbo on 15 January 1897 and his triumphal procession from
there to Calcutta, and then on to northwestern India has been re-enacted this
year, with thousands of people greeting him (in his life-size image) with cheers
and flower-offerings on his train journey from Rameswaram to Madras (Chennai)
where he boarded a ship for Calcutta. Tens of thousands of people welcomed him
in Calcutta, the city of his birth, where many celebrations were held before he
continued his journey to Almora. Almora greeted him with the same wild
enthusiasm as it had a hundred years ago.
(In 1897, Swami
Vivekananda had received an invitation to tour the Punjab and Kashmir, and had
gone to Kashmir with a group of his disciples where he stayed for over a month,
leaving Jammu in early November. It is not known whether the Punjab and Kashmir
will be re-enacting his stay in those places this year.)
The birth centenary of
Bhagawaan Gopinathji is also being celebrated this year with many activities
being planned by his disciples and followers. Among them are: holding seminars
on spirituality, the printing of rare manuscripts to preserve precious ancient
writings, the publication of a commemorative magazine, issuing a postal stamp in
his memory, and other projects. These activities will continue in 1998.
The followers of Bhagawaan
Gopinathji have all along been 'celebrating' his birth (and holy life) by
keeping alive the spirituality he represented, in the face of great hardship in
Kashmir. Driven from the city of Srinagar, they have built ashrams in Janunu,
Delhi, and Bangalore. Here, besides performing the daily arati, work for the
poor and suffering is being carried out as before, and other activities such as
essay competitions for students are being initiated.
At a time when India is
going through difricult times, and it seems that corruption and violence are
holding sway in this holy land, all these activities and the dedication of these
devoted disciples of Bhagawaan Gopinathji inspire us not to lose heart, and to
remember Swami Vivekananda's words:
'In the midst of our
misery, our poverty and degeneration, the heart beats as warm as of yore, when
the "wealth of Ind" was the proverb of nations and India was the land
of the "Aryas", and 'Thou blessed land of the Aryas, thou wast never
1. Complete Works of Swami
Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1990, III p. 109
[The author is a learned
scholar from America, engaged in useful literary work at the Institute of
Culture, Ramakrishna Mission, Gol Park, Calcutta-700029]
2. Ibid III p. 137.
3. Ibid V, p. 122.
4. Ibid IV, p. 314.