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On the Footsteps of Swami Vivekananda – India’s Foremost Tourism Ambassador

On the Footsteps of Swami Vivekananda – India’s Foremost Tourism  Ambassador
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Vivekannada article, On the Footsteps of Swami Vivekananda – India’s Foremost Tourism Ambassador,

At a time when the Ramakrishna Math & Mission with its headquarters at Belur Math is on the verge of making its presence felt in the competitive international tourism landscape, it is imperative to cast a glance at modern India’s foremost tourism ambassador – the one and only Swami Vivekananda.

Let us remind ourselves that the genesis of Ramakrishna Math & Mission traces its origin to the untiring efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna who made his mark on the world stage with his soul stirring speech as an ambassador of Hindu religion in the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in the year 1893. This unheard of monk was for all practical purposes India’s first tourism ambassador to the West and keeping in sync with his Master’s philosophy of –“Harmony of World Religions”, contributed admirably towards enriching the overall spiritual consciousness of the Western world.
The Ramakrishna Math & Mission believes that Swami Vivekananda’s mission of “Harmonious Cultural Synthesis Between India and the Rest of the World” is an ongoing process and see the present world tourism scenario as an opportunity to showcase the very best of India’s 5000 year old spiritual heritage. As the Ramakrishna Math & Mission plunges dedicatedly on their mission to take the new age traveler on a journey of discovery, courtesy the Integrated Tourism Circuit of Gar Mandaran-Kamarpukur-Joyrambati, it is of utmost importance to draw some strength and vitality out of Swami Vivekananda’s forays in the world of tourism.
Today we are facing the age of great transformation, caused by the end of World War III. Everybody is well aware of the consequences of World War I and II; however, the other important war that many people have not yet come to recognize is the Cold War between the East and the West, which is what the World War III was all about. There are many phenomena occurring in this rapidly transforming world and at the same time we are facing another crisis, that is, the beginning of World War IV.
The Second World War was fought between the fascist regimes and the free world and the Third World War was the fight between the East and the West. Now the Fourth World War might be fought between the North and the South. Under this situation, the global community is trying to build a “New World Order” and the United Nations is at the center of this movement. The Ramakrishna Math & Mission feels that the “New World Order” will not be established by the United Nations alone.
The world is grappling with millions of problems and searching for a new civilization; otherwise we might face a very dangerous era in the coming decades. Modern civilization is based on mass production and mass consumption. If the people of the industrialized countries continue with their present life style as they do today, then by mid 21st century we will have used up all of the resources available. On the light of the above observations, what the world really needs is the creation of a totally new civilization, which can supersede the modern civilization. Now who will take the initiative in creating such a new civilization?
Drawing succor from Swami Vivekananda’s predictions, the Ramakrishna Math & Mission believes that the new civilization will be created by Asian countries. The economies of USA and Europe are on the decline; however, the Asian economies are rapidly expanding and growing and all the leading international organizations like the United Nations, The World Bank, The World Trade Organization etc…. are unanimous in their opinion that in the 21st century Asia will continue to lead the global economy.
At least a century back, the great “Cyclonic Monk” Swami Vivekananda had predicted that Asia will lead the world not only in terms of economics but also in terms of culture and in the creation of a new civilization.
It is only logical to believe that an organization like the Ramakrishna Math & Mission, whose founder was Swami Vivekananda, to follow in his hallowed footsteps and in the process of creating a new civilization, the Ramakrishna Math & Mission has identified tourism to play the role of a catalyst. The tourism industry has now grown into a global phenomenon, which has enough power to change the world.
Do we have to rely solely on politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats, scholars or journalists to bring change to the world? As per the latest statistical data of the World Tourism Organization, by the year 2010, the number of tourists is expected to touch the magic figure of 1 billion. Even a decade back, the people from the “North Block” formed the bulk of the tourist traffic but now there seems to have occurred a complete role reversal as more and more people from the developing countries are also beginning to travel frequently.
With the advent of modernity, a new human breed has emerged whose beliefs correspond very little in the heritage of their forefathers. As a consequence, religion and spirituality – the kingpins of that heritage has been marginalized, both intellectually and politically. Progress has turned into something of a nightmare. According to Huston Smith, a leading figure in the study of comparative religions, “it is discouraging to discover that not only are we no wiser than our forefathers were; we may be less wise for having neglected value questions while bringing nature to heel”. Also, it is a fact that the three hundred year old tension between science and religion shows no sign of easing; for science continues to be what modernity believes in. Science still can’t deal with values and existential meanings.
Another aspect that humanity faces in the present times is religious disharmony. Though the truth of religious harmony has been affirmed and proclaimed by the enlightened few in every generation, humanity as a whole has not yet come to terms with it. In today’s world, religious differences still rankle and continue to produce disharmony, misunderstanding and mutual distrust.
Questions arise: How do we deal with all these differences? Would these vanish in course of time or are they here to stay? Are they in any way reconcilable? Is it possible to discover some thread of harmony connecting them? What is the significance of the presence of so many religious traditions in the history of the world? Such are the questions that every serious student of religion and spirituality has to reckon with.
It is here that the Ramakrishna Math & Mission, founded by the great Swami Vivekananda has to step in, courtesy the “Harmonious Approach” propounded by his Master Sri Ramakrishna, which was sermonized extensively in USA, UK and other parts of the world by Swami Vivekananda and his brother monks of the Ramakrishna Order.
Sri Ramakrishna’s “Harmonious Approach” developed not through scholarship but through direct spiritual experience. He did not set out to “prove” the harmony of religions. He was a God-intoxicated soul. Having tasted supreme, transcendent bliss as a result of intense longing for God as the Divine Mother, he became eager to know how God was worshipped in different ways. His all-consuming love for God made him take up the disciplines of different Hindu sects and also of other religions. This was a unique experiment and its results were extraordinary. Sri Ramakrishna found to his childlike wonder and joy that all these paths led to the ultimate awareness of God as the Supreme Spirit. Thus, through direct spiritual experience Sri Ramakrishna proved the equal validity of all religions. This led him to formulate the following three fundamental principles, which form the cornerstone of his “Harmonious Approach” to the phenomenon of religious plurality –
1. All religions have the same ultimate purpose, namely, God-realization; everything else in religion is secondary. Stripped of all theological trappings, every religion has for its goal the transcending of human limitations to contact the Reality beyond.
2. There is only one transcendent, ultimate Reality, which manifests in various forms, with various attributes, and even as formless, and is known by various names.
3. The Ultimate Reality can be realized through various ways developed by the world religions. Every religion has the inherent power to take its followers to the supreme consummation of human life.
Swami Vivekananda put it succinctly when he said in a lecture in USA – “The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth”.
In another instance he explained the idea of “Harmony of World Religions” beautifully in a lecture he gave at the Universalist Church, Pasadena in the year 1900, which is quoted hereby – “Take four photographs of this church from different corners: how different they would look, and yet they would all represent this church. In the same way, we are all looking at truth from different standpoints, which vary according to our birth, education, surroundings and so on. We are viewing the truth, getting as much of it as these circumstances will permit, coloring the truth with our own heart, understanding it with our own intellect and grasping it with our own mind. We can only know as much of truth as is related to us, as much of it as we are able to receive. This makes the difference between man and man, and on occasions sometimes even contradictory ideas; yet we all belong to the same great universal truth”. How nice a summation for the doctrine of “Harmony of Religions”.
With the advent of globalization and India’s relentless march towards attaining the tag of a “Developed Nation”, India has become one of the most preferred holiday destinations as per the latest reports from the National Geographic Traveler and a slew of other renowned global travel publications. With the opening up of the Tourism and Civil Aviation industries, there has been a three fold increase in tourist traffic and tourists from affluent countries like USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, France etc….are increasingly opting for India as their preferred holiday destination. They are driven primarily by the element of “Exoticism” and India’s 5000-year-old spiritual heritage.
The Ramakrishna Math & Mission with its headquarters at Belur Math view the present tourism scenario as an opportunity to showcase the very best of India’s spiritual heritage and to take an active part in the formation of a “New World Order” based on the “Harmony of World Religions” as propounded by the Holy Trinity - Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.
The Ramakrishna Math & Mission does not believe in talks or doctrines, or theories; nor is it sectarianism… It is the relation between soul and god. Religion does not consist in erecting temples or building churches or attending public prayer congregations. It is not to be found in books or in words, or in lectures, or in organizations. Religion consists in realization. Humanity must realize god, feel god, see god and talk to God. That is what is the essence of religion according to Swami Vivekananda.
To herald the dawn of organized tourism activity, the Ramakrishna Math & Mission has chosen the pilgrim circuit of Gar Mandaran-Kamarpukur-Joyrambati for extensive infrastructure development. To compliment the spiritual ethos of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda, the concept of Sustainable Rural Tourism has been preferred as it is the best medium to promote ethical values common to humanity along with folklore, tradition and culture.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of our organisation
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