What are the various places you have visited? What are your observations?
Earlier I visited America, Europe, and South East Asia. Recently I visited Switzerland, Germany and Rome.
I have observed during my stay in Europe and America, and in South East Asia that neatness and cleanliness is a way of life. People know how to maintain their cities. In Switzerland, I particularly noticed that there is not even a piece of paper or plastic on the street or anywhere. The conveniences – tram, bus, train – are so well maintained, neat and clean.
From their very childhood, people in these countries develop a kind of civic sense.
This civic sense is lacking in India.
In India, on a boat in Kashmir, I saw an Indian tourist was throwing some eatable and wrappers in a public space. A foreigner was there. He held the hand of the Indian tourist and asked him – why are you throwing these things here?! You can keep it with you and put it in a waste basket later.
I have often wondered how they maintain everything neat & clean?
The first reason seems to be the “population size”. India is so thickly populated, that it is not possible to maintain anything properly. The population of Switzerland is 8 million people, whereas Mumbai’s population alone is more than double of that!
The second reason is “love for one’s country”. In Europe, America, and in other Western countries – people are always conscious that their country should develop. How can I contribute to my country? How to preserve, protect and develop our nation? They try to answer these questions in different ways.
In India, this love for country and this sense of sacrifice and service to nation is not adequate and needs to be developed.
You have spoken of their material achievements. What do you think of the state of spirituality in these countries?
I must say that India is a land of spirituality and Swamiji has also praised India. But, Western people are also spiritual in their own way.
Spirituality doesn’t only mean that we go to the temple and make pranams to the deity and offer something. Spirituality is also to develop sterling human qualities. For example, Western people have qualities like punctuality, sincerity, love for the country, and hard work in abundance. They love their country, respect rules and regulations, abide by the law of the country and care about national welfare.
So, in one way, they are spiritual. A kind of transparency, accountability and credibility is there, in individuals as well as collectives.
Once I asked one of our Swamis in Germany: “what about the people’s impression about India? What do they think about India?” He replied: “They say, yes, India is a good country, but a very poorly managed country. There are resources. But the country is so poorly managed that you won’t find discipline anywhere. Everywhere you will find indiscipline and unrest!”
So at this level, we may have something to learn from the West.
Having said all this, it is still true that Western countries are extremely materialistic.
What about the Ramakrishna Vivekananda movement? What is the level of understanding over there?
In Western countries not too many people know the philosophy of Sri Ramakrishna or Vivekananda.
But at the intellectual level, some people do appreciate and understand the rich and ancient culture of the Indian civilization. They know about some spiritual leaders from India – particularly Swami Vivekananda. So you will find some influences in some intellectual circles.
You may raise the question that Swamiji went to the West and delivered lectures, influenced the people. So what is the effect after 100 years? How are Swamiji’s ideas and philosophies influencing the people there?
My answer is, it is percolating slowly and steadily.
But those who do know about them, what is their response?
My observation is that whenever Western people take up or accept anything, they pursue it very sincerely. Of course, some people come to the Vedanta Center, and do it seriously for some time – say 2-3 years – and then leave. But those who do pursue it, practice it very sincerely. I should say, that some of them pursue and practice Vedanta more sincerely than Indians. However, their number is very few.
But, number or quantity of devotees is not everything. Quality of spiritual aspirant is also very essential.
In Switzerland, I was giving a talk to an audience of 20-30 people. I mentioned the same point: If even one person can imbibe Swamiji’s ideas or the Indian philosophy to some extent, it is more than enough. If you can transform one person, that is enough.
This spiritual movement is not like any other movement. Outwardly you won’t see many changes. But it works slowly and steadily. Swamiji has said that these spiritual ideas work like dew drops. When dew drops fall on the flower, they help the flower to blossom. But these dew-drops are unheard of and unseen. Very quietly, without anybody noticing them, they work, influence. This spiritual movement spreads slowly.
Do you see Swami Vivekananda’s as relevant to the West?
His message is very much relevant to the West. When Swamiji was in the West he said:
Yes, you are developing, progressing in science and technology. You also have material prosperity – there is no doubt about it. But you must maintain a balance and equilibrium in your life. To maintain that balance, there must be a flavor of spirituality. If it continues like this for long – with only material prosperity and sensual enjoyment – then the materialistic civilization of the West will crumble into pieces.
So along with material prosperity and wellbeing, spirituality must be practiced. Both should go hand in hand. Only then any culture and civilization can survive and sustain.
You will find that many civilizations came and went, but Indian civilization still continues. Why is that so? Because the foundation of Indian culture and civilization is based on spiritual values.
It is spirituality that is the foundation of a culture and civilization that has an unbroken history for several thousand years.
18 December 2015