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 A Tribute to Swami Vivekananda: Leader Extraordinary

 

“On the seventh of August 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished but he left behind a legacy… that no fire can ever consume…”

That was the baritone, sonorous voice of Satyajit Ray in his documentary titled ‘Rabindranath’ created as a tribute to Rabindranath (a project mandated on Ray, the genius in film making, arts and literature, commissioned by Ministry of Culture, Government of India) on the occasion of the birth centenary of the another genius, Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel laureate poet, musician, novelist, dramatist, artist and philosopher. The first scene of the documentary depicted the last and final journey of Tagore to the burning ghat (crematorium).

Ray’s portrayal of Tagore began with the scene finale. But where do we start in our odyssey with the volcanic monk of India whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrated earlier in this decade?

“Let’s start from the very beginning/ a very good place to start…” (The Sound of Music)

Naren or rather Bile (Narendranath Datta) was storm or turbulence personified from childhood in the premises of the Datta household in North Calcutta. Never obedient to seniors, ever an enigma to peers (his local friends), he would relish his father’s hookas (smoking pipes) or throw away his mother’s clothes from the windows to the beggars on street even while he was locked up in a room for his erratic unmanageable behaviour.  But when the time of crisis came, his friends would run away at the sight of a snake. But he would remain seated, immersed in meditation while the snake rustled away leaving him in peace. Trained in the art of physical mastery, he would combat the white man for speaking ill of Indians. He showed the promise of a Life Exemplary and Leader Extraordinary!

“His pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. Wherever he went he was the first.’ (Romain Rolland).

Narendranath was a born leader, never ‘made’ – only refined and directed by his great master Shri Ramakrishna.

A good leader accepts the situation at hand and tries to find a way out. But a great leader is ever in discomfort with the commonplace and the hackneyed reality. Naren began his quest for the beyond with burning questions on the existence of God and purpose of Life – only to be answered clear and direct by Sri Ramakrishna, who was to become his master though in appearance, upbringing and otherwise his direct antithesis. But this was not by any devout dedication but through a series of questioning he hurled upon his master. And then came the hour of consecration.

Ei jonmo ei shorir oi murkho bamun kine niyeche”. (This life, this body is consecrated to that old illiterate Brahmin!) – He wrote to a brother disciple later.

By the way, Narendranath was projected as the leader of tomorrow by his master – not by himself!

Naren shikshe debe” (Naren will teach the world) – was the prophecy of Shri Ramakrishna in the Master’s own writing.

A great leader emerges out of stormy crisis from various fronts – death of father, deprivation of mother from family property, futile search for a job. But he had the fortitude to stick to his master’s promise that he would never be plagued with basic sustenance. His primary preoccupation became an immersion into the self, deep in meditation. “Mon cholo nijo niketone…’ (O Mind! Return to thy own repose!). It was for his Master to turn him towards the world with the message of service, love, education to humanity. He was destined to be a leader –a banyan tree for one and many.

Storm as in crises for him was lifetime companion – severe hardship n Baranagar Math in North Calcutta after the death of his Master, hunger and uncertainty during his parivrajaka (the wandering monk) life in India, anxiety about funds for the America trip, spending sleepless and shivering night in Chicago railway station, lampooned and maligned by his opposition religious groups in the West and even from his close quarters back home.

But the fire in him was never to extinguish.

Vivekananda stood for the principles of acceptance and assimilation of diverse opinions, values and cultures. A true global leader in thoughts, words  and action, he became a fiery inspiration to men and women from the East and West from myriads of background – businessmen like Rockefeller and Jamshetji Tata, European women like Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita) and Emma Calve, scientists like Acharya J C Bose and many more. His style of communication was different for each according to the nature and character of individuals. His was an enlightened universal mind a century ahead of his times. But never did he lose his anchor in India.

“India was his daydream. India was his nightmare.” (Sister Nivedita)

And his thundering voice rose: “He Bharat bhuliona…” (O India! Forget not…). He never disowned the past and ever cherished the golden heritage of India. But he was ever stretching out his hand and heart of welcome to the West as well, to a future that is different and diverse yet mutually and globally enriching for one and all.

Je somonnvoy kore sei lok” (The one who can synthesize is truly a human) said his Master. Swamiji lived this message throughout life – a grand synthesis of the best from all parts of the world that he had visited during his brief life span.

Srinvantu Vishwe Amritasya Putrah’ (Listen! O Children of Immortality, world over!). This was the invocation of the rishis of the Upanishads. The voice of Swamiji in Chicago Parliament of Religions resonated; “Sisters and brothers of America…” He was a modern incarnation of the ancient rishis (sages and seers) in the attire of a monk.

Back home he chose ‘atmanomoksharatham jagat hitaya cha’ as the motto of the Ramakrishna Mission – (For the liberation of the self and the welfare of the world)  on the foundation of the philosophy and principle of action ‘Siva jnana jivaseva’ (To serve man is to serve God n Man) as he learnt from his Master.

His last life in Belur Math was like that of a child – playing with animals and enjoying the company of tribal people while giving lessons on Upanishads to brother monks. In fact his was a life of a child-like leader yearning for fresh air and new light and learning forever. He learnt from all possible sources including a low caste ‘bhangee’ (one from a low caste) with whom he had smoke and also a dancing girl who, in Rajasthan at the palace of Maharaja of Khetri, taught him the message of non-discrimination among humans.

Jabot bnachi tabot shikhi” (I learn as long as I live) – was the message of Shri Ramakrishna. Following this precious teaching from his Master Swamiji lived, loved, learnt and left a legacy that is lasting and growing even beyond a century! Ramakrishna Mission is sustaining and flourishing every day all over the world for the service of humanity at large – spiritual, social and educational.

His funeral pyre was lit on the bank of the Ganges on the fifth of July 1902. The body of the monk inferno Swami Vivekananda was stretched on pyre in his chosen place under the bilwabrikshwa (The Bengal Quince tree) in Belur Math. His mother Bhubaneshwari Devi was sitting and watching the rising flames from the body of his eldest son. A speck of his saffron robe flew in the wind to Sister Nivedita, the devout disciple of the monk. She collected and preserved that ‘memento’ for her inspiration to action in the days to come.

Thus was the mortal consummation of the Swami, the Prince among men –the volcanic monk who shook the world with the fiery message of the Upanishads under the spiritual umbrage of his ‘seraphic master’ Sri Ramakrishna and ignited the spirit of India towards freedom.

Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) accepted him as his fiery guru in mortal absentia. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, it was like “baptism with blood and fire”. Netaji described Swamiji as a leader extraordinary in the following words:

“Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, profound and versatile in his wisdom, boundless in his love, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks and yet as simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours.

If Swamiji had been alive today he would have been my guru.”

I have ransacked the history of leadership and management literature in my voyage through Human values and Indian Ethos in Management, Spirituality and Leadership for nearly three decades but never found such a detailed, succinct yet most powerful and accurate assessment in these seven leadership qualities of one genius of a world leader by another of no mean stature.

We began with a tribute to Tagore by Satyajit Ray. And here we find a tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and Leader Extraordinary by none other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. They remain with us as fountainhead of boundless inspiration in a world ruled and dictated by leaders who at best belong to the class of mediocrity in academia and otherwise!

But the fire in the volcanic monk still remains alive and aflame in those who are willing and ready to be ignited.

Agne twam hridayam agachha’ – Oh Fire Eternal! Come and set our hearts ablaze!

Amar modhye je agun jwolchhe tomader modhye o sei agun jwole uthuk… Ei sodai Vivekanandar prarthana.”

(The fire that is burning within me may set all your hearts aflame! This will ever be the eternal prayer of Vivekannada.)

May we live up to his prayers!

It was high in the snowy Himalayas. Swamiji was on pilgrimage with a few chosen disciples. His intense meditation led him to a vision of the Mother Kali, the Black Goddess, the mighty Destroyer and Time Eternal, lurking behind the veil of life. During one evening in a state of high fever he wrote a famous poem that concludes thus:

“Who dare misery loves,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes.”

He said to her chosen disciple Nivedita (an Irish lady of noble origin): “Meditate on death. Only by the worship of The Terrible can The Terrible itself be overcome…There could be bliss in torture too…The Mother Herself is Brahman…The heart must be a cremation ground – pride, selfishness, desire, all burnt to ashes. Then and then alone, will the Mother come!”

Vivekananda exemplified an authentic synthesis of the East and the West, the past and the present, Science and Religion, contemplation and action, spiritual pursuit and service to humanity. He was the messenger of dynamism and hope to India and the world. Could it be that he was under a spell of so-called negative thinking when he wrote the above verse? Or did he want to convey a pertinent message in a different mood that might be useful for all in moments of turbulence and uncertainty?

Leaders of tomorrow in business or otherwise, when shall we learn from death and destruction of old orders that we need creative quantum breakthroughs in our leadership principles, roles and practices to shake the very foundation of our outdated models and worn out concepts, our tunnel vision and fossilized values, by keeping alive and aflame just one precious element within our hearts – the passion to transform and infuse new life in our organizations and the planet at large?

Millennia ago, Socrates exhorted us to think and look within ourselves: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”   Closer in time, the voice of Nietzsche sounded even more daring and adventurous: “If one is to live, one is to live dangerously.”

 

{Tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and leader extraordinary on The Foundation Day (May 1st, 1897) of The Ramakrishna Mission, the first Indian international organization with headquarters in India (Belur Math, Howrah – Kolkata on the bank of the Ganges) but outreach all over the world with more than 200 centres and still thriving in glory for almost more than a century and a quarter dedicated to the service of suffering humanity. An entrepreneurial venture of timeless significance even in times of crisis as in the present, this institution remains and grows as the ever expanding  global vision of this great master as an inexhaustible source of energy and inspiration, firmly rooted in Indian culture, ethos and heritage but with appeal reaching all over the world. At a level of Philosophy in Practice (Practical Vedanta, a term coined by himself that he spread like wild fire in the West even within the short span of his life of less than forty years) he gave a new turn to the ideal of monkhood with simultaneous emphasis on pursuit of salvation of the self through evolution of Consciousness and welfare of humanity at large.The Ramakrishna Mission that embodies the ideals of globalization and sustainability propounded by its founder a century before the pioneers of management in the West could even conceive of these ideas and principles. Even at a functional level the structure of the main temple of Shri Ramakrishna in Belur Math represents a grand synthesis of the East and the West – of Christian, Islamic and ancient Indian architecture.]

(Sanjoy Mukherjee (58) is Faculty of the Sustainability, CSR and Ethics academic group at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong. He is the Chairperson of the Institute’s Annual International Sustainability Conference (SUSCON) and also the Chairperson of Student Affairs, Placement and Public Relations.

His detailed profile can be accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sanjoy-mukherjee-72b18823

Permission to publish this tribute here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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