Enthusiasm reached its height at Madras. The city erected for him seventeen triumphal arches, presented him with twenty-four addresses in various languages, and suspended her whole public life at his arrival. Here he gave an eloquent utterance to his message to India in a series of magnificent lectures comprising 'My Plan of Campaign', 'The Mission of Vedanta', and 'The Future of India'. 'Each nation, like each individual', he said, 'has one theme in this life, which is its centre, the principal note with which every other note mingles to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, the direction which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, that nation dies. In India religious life forms the centre, the keynote of the
whole music of national life. Social reform has to be preached in India by showing how much more spiritual a life the new system will bring, and politics has to be preached by showing how much it will improve the one thing that the nation wants— its spirituality. Therefore before flooding India with socialistic or political ideas the land should first be deluged with spiritual ideas. The first work that demands our attention is that the most wonderful truths confined in our Upanishads, in our scriptures and Puranas, must be brought out from the books, the monasteries, and the forests and scattered broadcast over the land so that these truths many run like fire all over the country, from north to south, and east to west, from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, from the Indus to the Brahmaputra.'
'Ay, let every man and woman and child without respect of caste or birth, weakness or strength, hear and learn that behind the strong and the weak, behind the high and the low, behind everyone, there is that Infinite Soul, assuring the infinite possibility and the infinite capacity of all to become great and good. Let us proclaim to every soul: Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached. Arise, awake! Awake from this hypnotism of weakness. None is really weak; the soul is infinite, omnipotent, and omniscient. Stand up, assert yourself, proclaim the God within you, do not deny Him.' 'It is a man-making religion that we want.? It is man-making education all round that we want. It is man-making theories that we want. And here is the test of Truth: Anything that makes you weak physically, intellectually, and spiritually, reject as poison; there is no life in it, it cannot be true. Truth is strengthening. Truth is purity, truth is all knowledge.?Give up weakening mysticisms, and be strong?the greatest truths are the simplest things in the world, simple as your own existence.'
While delivering this inspiring message to his countrymen the Swami was not oblivious of his duty to emphasize the need of uplifting the sunken millions from the slough of torpor and degradation. He struck a sharp note of warning to his compatriots and gave vent to his own ideal of patriotism in the following stirring words:
'It is we who are responsible for all our degradation. Our aristocratic ancestors went on treading the common masses of our country underfoot, till they became helpless, till under this torment the poor people nearly forgot that they were human beings. They have been compelled to be merely hewers of wood and drawers of water for centuries.?Feel, therefore, my would-be reformers, my would-be patriots! Do you feel? Do you feel that millions and millions of the descendants of gods and of sages have become next-door neighbours to brutes? Do you feel that millions are starving today, and millions have been starving for ages? Do you feel that ignorance has come over the land as a dark cloud? Does it make you restless? Does it make you sleepless??Have you forgotten all about your name, your fame, your wives, your children, your property, even your own bodies? Have you done that? That is the first step to become a patriot—the very first step.?Instead of spending your energies in frothy talk, have you found any way out, any practical solution, some help instead of condemnation, some sweet words to soothe their miseries, to bring them out of this living death? Yet, that is no all. Have you got the will to surmount mountain-high obstructions? If the whole world stands against you, sword in hand, would you still dare to do what you think right??If you have these three things, each one of you will work miracles.'
'For the next fifty years?let all other vain gods disappear?from our minds. This is the only God that is awake, our own race: everywhere His hands, everywhere His feet, everywhere His ears, He covers everything. All other gods are sleeping. What vain gods shall we go after and yet cannot worship the God that we see all round us—the Virat??The first of all worship is the worship of the Virat—of those all around us.?These are our Gods—men and animals—and the first gods we have to worship are our own countrymen.?'
Bengal did not lag behind. She also vied with other provinces in giving a fitting reception to her favourite and distinguished son. Hardly had the Swami reached Calcutta when hundreds of people came to pay their personal respects to him and to hear his exposition of Vedanta. In the day-time he made his headquarters generally in the palatial building of Gopal Lal Seal at Baranagore and at night he stayed at the Math which was then at Alam-bazar. The City's Address of Welcome took place on 28 February 1897, at the magnificent residence of Raja Sir Radhakanta Dev Bahadur at Shobhabazar. The meeting was presided over by Raja Binoy Krishna Dev Bahadur, who introduced the Swami as the foremost national figure in the life of India. There were present Rajas and Maharajas, Sannyasins, a group of distinguished Europeans, many well-known Pandits, illustrious citizens, and hundreds of college students. The speech which the Swami gave in reply to the address of welcome has become famous as a masterpiece of oratory and of fervent patriotism.
During the Swami's stay in Calcutta he was constantly visiting one devotee of Sri Ramakrishna or another. Many distinguished people, persons of various professions and callings as well as hundreds of enthusiastic youths used to come daily to the Seal garden. The questioners were invariably charmed with his knowledge and interpretation of the Shastras, and even great masters of philosophy and university professors were amazed at his genius. But his heart was with the educated, unmarried youths, with whom he was never tired of speaking. He was consumed with the desire of infusing his own spirit into them and to train some of the more energetic and religious among them, so that they might devote their lives to the salvation of their own souls and to the good of the world. He deplored their physical weakness, denounced early marriage, admonished them for their lack of faith in themselves and in their national culture and ideals. But all this was done with such unmistakable love and kindness that they became his staunchest disciples and followers.
It goes without saying that the main interest of the Swami's stay in Calcutta centred round the Alambazar monastery. No words can describe the joy of the monks when their beloved leader was with them again. Memories of the olden days were revived, the days with the Master (Sri Ramakrishna) and the innumerable experiences of the wandering life of everyone were recalled, and the Swami entertained his Gurubhais (brother-disciples) and the devotees of the Master with hundreds of tales and episodes of his life and work in the distant West.
Of the Swami's numerous achievements one of the greatest was the conversion of his Gurubhais from the individualistic to the universal idea of religious life in which public spirit and service to fellow-men occupied a prominent place. Up to this time the ideal of the monks of the Math was to strive for personal Mukti (liberation) and realization of the Supreme Atman by severe penance and meditation, remaining as much as possible aloof from the world, its cares and sorrows, in consonance with the old conception of monastic life. But with the appearance of the Swami among them a new order of things was inaugurated. He railed at them for their lack of faith in themselves and in the great mission of the Master, for their failure to organize themselves into an active body, and for their neglect in preaching the gospel of liberation to others. The age demanded, he said, that they should carry the new light unto others, that they themselves should show by their example how to serve the poor, the helpless, and the diseased, seeing God in them, and that they should inspire others to do the same. The mission of his life, he declared, was to create a new order of Sannyasins in India who would dedicate their lives to help and serve others. Thus the Swami interpreted his Master's message in a new light, showing them that their supreme duty lay in the carrying on of the Master's mission, the bringing about of a religious rejuvenation by raising the condition of the masses through loving service, and spreading the life-giving ideas of the Master over the entire world. Even while in the West he had conveyed to his Gurubhais this message again and again through his inspiring letters. Now, his personal presence and passionate appeals as also his brilliant exposition of his Master's mission completely bore down all opposition and he electrified their imagination with the synthetic ideal which combined in it a life of renunciation and service —a course of strict moral discipline, contemplation, and study as also of self-dedication at the altar of humanity for the attainment of the highest goal of human existence.
Out of their profound faith in their leader, his brother-disciples bowed their heads in acquiescence, knowing his voice to be the voice of their Master; all girded up their loins to do anything and to go anywhere, for the good of their fellow-beings at the bidding of the Swami. Swami Ramakrishnananda, who had never left the precincts of the Math for twelve years, went to Madras at the behest of Swami Vivekananda to open a centre there to propagate the teachings of the Vedanta in Southern India. Swamis Saradananda and Abhedananda had already gone to the West at the call of the Swami to help him in the work there. And full of the same spirit, Swami Akhandananda went to the district of Murshidabad to start famine relief work for the people dying from starvation in the villages. The other Gurubhais of the Swami were also ready to take up, as occasion demanded, any work of religious and philanthropic utility launched by him, or to further his ideas and plans of work in India and abroad. A brilliant group of young men inspired by the Swami's life and teachings soon joined the Order and now gallantly stood by his side to sacrifice their lives for others, to provide the ignorant and the depressed masses with the ways and means for the struggle for existence and make them stand on their own feet, to preach the highest message of the scriptures to one and all. Gradually there came into existence the various monastic centres, Homes of Service, and the relief centres in times of plague, famine, and flood, under the charge and with the co-operation of his Gurubhais and his disciples.
The Swami had long thought of bringing about a co-operative effort among the monastic and the lay disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and of organizing in a systematic way the activities, both spiritual and philanthropic, of his Gurubhais. In response to the Swami's intimation of his desire to hold a meeting for the purpose of founding an association, a representative gathering of all the monastic and lay disciples of Sri Ramakrishna took place at the house of a devotee—Balaram Bose—in the afternoon of 1 May 1897. With the unanimous consent of the assembled devotees an organization was formed under the name of the Ramakrishna Mission Association.
The duty of the Mission would be to conduct in the right spirit the activities of the movement inaugurated by Sri Ramakrishna for the establishment of fellowship among the followers of different religions, knowing them all to be so many forms only of one underlying Eternal Religion. Its methods of action would be (1) to train men so as to make them competent to teach such knowledge or sciences as are conducive to the material and spiritual welfare of the masses; (2) to promote and encourage arts and industries; (3) to introduce and spread among the people in general Vedantic and other religious ideas in the way in which they were elucidated in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. It was further resolved that the activities of this Mission should be directed to the establishment of Maths and Ashramas in different parts of India for the training of Sannyasins and such of the householders as may be willing to devote their lives to educate others. Its work in the foreign department should be to send trained members of the Order to countries outside India to start centres there for the preaching of Vedanta in order to bring about a close relation and better understanding between India and foreign countries.3
A practical Vedantist, Swami Vivekananda wanted one and all to translate the Upanishadic doctrines into action in everyday life. The Swami himself practised the ideal in his own life; he flung himself whole-heartedly into the whirlpool of activity and thus inspired others to follow in his footsteps and render service to the suffering humanity even under the most trying circumstances.
From May 1897 to January 1898, he went like a whirlwind through the historic cities of Northern India, sowing the seed with his characteristic boldness and zeal. Whether at Almora, Kashmir, and the Punjab, or at Khetri, Alwar, Ajmer, and other principal states of Rajputana — in every place the Swami was the recipient of spontaneous homage of his countrymen from the highest to the lowest. He mixed and talked as freely and intimately with the Rajas and Maharajas as with other sections of the Indian people—always placing before them the vital needs of their motherland.
He was never tired of showing to his countrymen the value and significance of the culture they had inherited from their ancestors—a culture in comparison with which any other civilization, past or present, paled into insignificance—till their hearts throbbed at the very name of India. He clearly pointed out that Indian nationalism was to be based on the greatness of the past though various new ideas also had to be assimilated in the process of growth. If we have to be true to the genius of the race, if we have to appeal to the soul of the nation, we have to drink deep of the fountain of the past and then proceed to build the future. This heritage from the past, he pointed out, was essentially a religious heritage. The fundamental problem in India, therefore, was to organize the whole country round the spiritual ideal. By religion he meant the eternal life-giving principles as taught by the Shrutis and not the mass of superstitions and local customs, which are mere accretions requiring a weeding out with a strong hand. Above all, he showed that the nation depended upon the character and qualities of its individual members. On the strength of the individuals lay the strength of the whole nation. So each individual, he urged, if he desired the good of the country as a whole, should try, whatever might be his walk of life, to build character and acquire such virtues as courage,strength, and self-respect, and practice the national ideals of renunciation and service.