-Sister Nivedita Raghunath Bhide
(Born: 1914 Nov. 19
Died: 1982 Aug. 22)
The granite memorial for Swami Vivekananda on the mid-sea rock is well known in our country. But all may not know that it was under the dynamic leadership of Sri Eknathji Ranade this memorial rose to be a magnificent national memorial in spite of apparently insurmountable difficulties on the way. That is not the only contribution of Mananeeya Eknathji. Very few are aware that he was the one who in those days realized the appeal of service and re-established its spiritual meaning.
When the work of the Rock Memorial was taking shape, Eknathji through his interactions with the people in the country increasingly felt that the memorial for Swami Vivekananda cannot be limited to only a granite memorial. The real memorial for Swami Vivekananda has to be in the lives of young men and women who would work for the regeneration of nation as envisaged by him. Thus he started Vivekananda Kendra a spiritually oriented service mission. Eknathji was a visionary. He could see far ahead in time and thus became a path-finder in many ways. Some of those areas can be seen as below.
Recognition of the Appeal of Service and establishing it with its full significance
Since Colonial rule and Christian missionaries combine started working in India the meaning of Seva -service got distorted to running of orphanages, destitute homes, and leprosy homes, or got limited to running of hospitals, schools etc. This has been their method – Destroy the traditional communities, their traditional methods of caring and sharing, of education and Medicare and then open orphanages etc to take credit, as well as to convert. The foreign sponsored Christian missionaries so to say distorted the meaning of service and then appropriated credit for service. They became the ‘licensed’ persons who rendered ‘service’ to the needy.
The Indian method was to make persons aware of their duties, sensitive towards the needs of others and thus evolve a self-propelled internally organized system in which the needy are taken care of. In such an evolved society there is no need of orphanages or destitute or old age homes as there would be no orphans, or destitute or uncared for old people. Thus the real service that we should be doing in our country is to re-establish the dynamic meaning of Dharma as a duty with feeling of oneness towards those around us. Dharma is not to be confused with religion or any specific Upasana practice. Sri Guruji defines Dharma very beautifully. He says, ‘Dharma is the universal code of right conduct that awakens the Common Inner Bond (oneness), restrains selfishness, and keeps the people together in that harmonious state even without external authority. If Dharma prevails in the society then there will be no selfishness, no hoarding and all men will live and work for the whole (the society, nation and whole creation).’
Thus working for the establishment of Dharma ie the above mentioned universal norms would take care of the need of all. This is what our nation had been working for and had achieved it to a large extent but the invasions interfered. But now again we have to work to establish the strife-less, harmonious, caring society based on oneness. In short we have to re-build our nation. Working for such a society or nation building is the supreme-most act of service. But alas! This work was not considered as service. Eknathji a very keen observer of society noticed that service word is very appealing but it had lost its comprehensive Indian meaning. Not only that unfortunately many intellectually blind people associated service with only Christian missionaries. That perception needed to be corrected.
Eknathji termed Vivekananda Kendra as a Spiritually Oriented Service Mission. He wanted Vivekananda Kendra to render a spiritually oriented service in the society. Eknathji used to explain the concept of service during the training of Karyakartas. These lectures are available in a book titled as “Sadhana of Service” and are widely read by the Karyakartas of many organizations and general people. Service has two aspects
- Magnitude, scale and sustainability of act of service.
- The attitude with which it is rendered by a person.
Supreme-most act of service is working for establishing the caring and harmonious Society:
While explaining acts of service Eknathji says, “Giving food to the hungry, providing medical aid to the sick and imparting secular knowledge or information to the ignorant are generally taken to be the acts of service to be rendered to others by a person who is service-minded. Offering any other help to the needy can also be included in this. But providing the basic or the primary needs to the others is only a preliminary type of service. There is a higher level of service when somebody imparts knowledge to the needy and also training to the person to make him independent and self-reliant, and thus making him stand on his own legs. But there exists a still higher level of service when a higher and deeper knowledge is imparted which can be described as enlightenment or inward illumination. In the two earlier cases, we enable a person to gain pleasure but here we equip a person to attain real happiness. We draw his attention to the deeper human problems and strengthen his means of understanding to realize what happiness is and how it can be enjoyed individually and collectively…”
But this is only one to one service but suppose we have such an evolved society in which there is an in-built system that the needy is taken care of; each one gets meaningful education and training to earn a respectable livelihood and the atmosphere within the society is such that the thirst for illumination is awakened in people and there are such evolved souls who can quench that thirst; then all the above three types of acts of service are taken care of in such an ideal social order. Creation of such a society would be the best service. The mission of India is to create such a Dharmik society where all are taken care of physically, mentally and spiritually as part of Dharma.
Eknathji explained, “As Swamiji has nicely put it, ‘every nation has a destiny to fulfill; it has a message to deliver and a mission to accomplish.’ …This mission is not created or produced, it is handed over to the nation from generation to generation. The ancient seers had given up their entire worldly life and devoted themselves to this thought of the mission. It was through their austerity and penance, discrimination and thorough search that the mission dawned upon them and they have given it to us. People who aspire and desire to serve this nation must learn this mission, goal, destiny, and message and must realize the field of their work. They should be conscious of the arena in which they have to work.”
What is that mission? – To establish an ideal society. Eknathji further explains, “The ideal society must fulfill the needs of the body-mind complex; at the same time it must satisfy the yearnings of the inner being of man. Our ancestors had evolved such a society and with great confidence they could proclaim and invite the people of the world to come and visit this society and to follow, its precepts for their well-being…People in the world are striving for such an ideal society. They want it. …It is India’s traditional ever-existing mission to show the way… This is why ours is a nation-building service mission. The nation has lost its mission, it is to be re-instated, the nation is to be built, and perhaps it is to be reconstructed. …It is ordained duty for this land to deliver this message even today to the world. Strife-less society will be the supreme and most precious gift that India can give to the world. It will be an un-paralleled and inconceivable act of SERVICE”.
Thus, the supreme most act of service is Nation-building. Nation building is nothing but the formation of Dharma based society. Dharma is an interaction with others based on oneness. It is doing our duty towards our larger forms of existence like family, community, society, nation and the whole creation. Establishing of such Dharma based society for the world has been the mission of India. The service with spiritual orientation means awakening the faith of the individual in his/her potential divinity and also the divinity around so that he/she is motivated to work for the society with the feeling of Oneness. Thus, Man-Making is enriching the man in all dimensions and also making him aware of his duty to his nation.
Attitude of total surrender to God makes an act of service a spiritual Sadhana:
As important as the act of service, is the attitude, with which service is rendered. Eknathji says, in “Spiritualizing Life” “Service everybody does, you see if I go to the market, I want soap, and then a merchant, grocery shopkeeper gives me soap. I give him money. I wanted soap within half an hour. I wanted to wash my clothes. So I get out of this compound and he provides me with soap. It is a service. No doubt, it is service. That merchant, that grocer, the shopkeeper, has done me the service. No doubt.And that service I will certainly value. If I want something for a price, I don’t mind giving the price, but I must get the thing at beck and call. I get it. It is a service. So in all your activities you will find you do service. But there is a difference in service and selfless service. Merchant when he gives you soap and gets 50 np for it, it is not a selfless service. It is a bargain. This is a trade. It is commerce. It is a commercial service. There is give-and-take, a barter, a mathematical precision in receiving the returns approximately for the service rendered.”
So if something in return is the motive then it is not service. But then what should be the prime mover in service? Eknathji says, “That service is the best and the noblest which is performed with the attitude of total surrender to God. …It is the divine design that I should render service on His behalf. He desires the betterment of the world and I am being used as a tool or a means to carry out His design. I am just an instrument in His hands …the action must be performed without any attachment but sincerely and honestly to the best of our ability with an attitude of being a tool only. We have been called upon to execute whatever is essential and possible as willed by God. This is SERVICE. We are doing his work. Such work elevates us and leads to Self-realization, which is the supreme goal of human life”.
An act of service with some expectation makes it barter, a trade but an act of Service with surrender alone makes it Sadhana. Eknathji says, ‘The entire life becomes a Sadhana. Entire life becomes Sadhana morning to night. You don’t have to sit for Sadhana. Life becomes Sadhana. You may not be required to say, ‘Now I have done this work. Now I will do Sadhana. Now I have done this work for others. Now I shall do something for my own liberation’
For further spiritual evolution of man India has to give her message of Oneness to the world. Message of Oneness is given by living example of a society which is based on Oneness. To develop such a society is God’s desire. We are His instruments. When we do that work with total feeing of Instrumentality – SadhanBhava then that great act of service becomes spiritual Sadhana. One may be a teacher, a student, a house wife, a banker, a social worker, a politician or anything but if we are doing our duties with national consciousness ie to rebuild, to organize the society based on Oneness and also with total acceptance of one’s role then that is great service.
During those days Eknathji would tour all over the country explaining in press conferences, public meetings the need of ‘spiritually oriented service’ that Vivekananda Kendra would be doing. It caught attention of many youth. Whether they could join Vivekananda Kendra or not but they were charmed with the idea, it went deep into them. Even today there are many persons who say that they were inspired and wanted to join Kendra.
If natural calamities come of course one should rush to help for relief and rehabilitation. But we do not have to pray that such calamities should come so that we can render service or there should be orphans, destitute, uncared for elderly persons so that we can serve them. That is only mending the symptoms of the disease. The disease is when many persons in the society become selfish, individualistic, insensitive to others’ sufferings or others traditions, and extreme consumerist then in such a society the number of orphans, uncared for women, elderly persons would keep on increasing. So someone may ask, ‘then should we not help orphans, destitute and others?’ We have to respond to the immediate need but in order that such issues do not arise, we have to work for Dharma based society.
The real and sustainable act of service is to create a society in which most of the persons are evolved spiritually; respond with feeling of oneness to the sufferings of others; have fellow feelings, and they are aware of the mission of India and work for fulfilling it. In such a society there would be no orphans; women would be respected to bring out the best in them; the elderly persons would be gratefully taken care of; moreover the people would long to know and will know the real meaning of life and would be rooted in their inner being. It is a great act of service and great Sadhana when we work with surrender.
Service in its full meaning is being rendered through ages in our country that is why Swami Viveknanda had said that renunciation and service are our national ideals. ButEknathji in his times perhaps was the first person who understood the appeal of service and incorporated it in Vivekananda Kendra by terming it as spiritually oriented service mission. Since then gradually the society also realized it and many organizations started service activities as well as some used the name service in the name of the organization itself. Hindu society responded to the needs of society in the field of basic service so well that today Hindus have left the Christian missionaries far behind in rendering of services which fulfill primary needs.
To give as example: In Chennai in the Hindu Spiritual and Service Fair which is being conducted since last 8 years many Hindu organizations participate. The organizers display the work of all the organizations as well as present a consolidated work of all in the central hall of the exhibition. The figures of some of the service activities of last year are
Hospitals run 17,766 with patients treated annually over – 12 crores; Medical camps 52,881; Educational institutions run 29,198. Single teacher schools 1,45,410; Scholarship distributed Rs 118.6 crores, Rural and Tribal development projects 55,600 with beneficiaries 81,94,180and villages covered 1,19,451(this is apart from schools and hospitals); Orphanages, old age homes and homes for differently abled – 1,465. Annadanam – No of people fed 44,90,96,763
Service to inculcate values etc (apart from schools activities)
No of centers of Hindu organization – 2, 77, 147; Workers (Karyakartas) involved – 1,10,32,730; No of training centers – 7038; No of environmental awareness programs 2,795; No of water conservation programs – 871; No of trees planted – 2,34,73,63,066. Goshalas–63,837; No of programs to promote respect for parents – 12,216.No of programs to promote respect for teachers-13140. No of programs to promote respect for women – 8,243; To instill patriotism – 13,673; Activities to promote arts – 8441; Magazines, periodicals and News Letters – 3,01,952. Yoga Centers – 14,526. Books /literature sold – 6,52,25,013. No of literature distributed free – 1,80,75,994.
It is one of the greatest contributions of Eknathji that he took lead in focusing the attention of our Hindu society on service. Since ages, our Hindu society is internally organized to serve the needy. But it has also very ably taken the challenge of rendering service in changed social context too.
Sister Nivedita Raghunath Bhide is the Vice President of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari.