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The Swami, the selfie, the self!~ Sudeep Ghosh

Swami vivekananda

As we celebrate the National Youth Day on 12 January to mark the 157th birth anniversary of the radical thinker, poet-philosopher and youth icon, Swami Vivekananda, let us try to understand the plot structure of two narratives – the ‘selfie-narrative’ and the ‘self-narrative’.

The ‘selfie-narrative’ is the genre of Post-truth literature. Here, the madness of megalomania and the paranoia of prejudices run riot. It is the world, glossy and glittery, gyrating in the rhythm of hair-splitting logic of ‘me and mine’; it clamours for the ear-splitting lyric of ‘more’; it is ravenous to parrot the premise of instant gratification being sly, obsessive and inflated beyond infinity.

In this ‘selfie-narrative’, meaning is magnified, manipulated, mortified till it reaches rigor mortis. Youths are consumed with the spumes of the self where meaning is churned out at frenzied pace. To seize the moment in maddening impatience seems to be the raison d’être of today’s youth. Youthful energy is dissipated by the world of technology, the omnipresent internet, with its devouring appetite to bare the self and the youths, sadly enough, are wallowing in the maniac fallacy of progress which speaks the lingo of profit.It is unabashedly a single version of hedonistic materialism where one’s propriety is appropriated, where one’s privacy is meddlesome, where one’s integrity is smeared with the shallow jargon of the social media mouthing cheap sentimentality to whip up the pervasive demon of money.

The ‘self-narrative’, conceived by the Swami, is the genre of personal knowledge aimed at nurturing the inner helpline as the youths find themselves reeling and stifling under hydra-headed siege- intolerance, aggression, repression and violence. The Swami’s ruminative voice echoes the timeless joy of the discovery of the self. The ‘self’ is an inner expedition, peeling the layers off one’s mundane existence. It is a retreat into the undiscovered ‘me’ as the Swami sings in his exuberant lyric ‘The Song of the Sannyasin’:

 

Sing high that note, Sannyasin bold! Say–

“Om Tat Sat, Om!”

Strike off thy fetters! Bonds that bind thee down,

Of shining gold, or darker, baser ore;

Love, hate–good, bad–and all the dual throng,

Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free;

For fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind;

Then off with them, Sannyasin bold! Say–

“Om Tat Sat, Om!”

 

The ‘self-narrative’ is a gentle tap on the door of one’s conscience. It is the voice springing from a deeper source of disinterestedness. It is an opportunity to self-critique with blatant honesty. It is transformative as one studies one’s action and behaviour; it is defiant as one tries to wrest power from the lures of the materialistic world and its surreal farce. The Swami claims: ‘The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature.’ The strength of character, a prerequisite for self-actualisation, is underscored when the Swami advocates: ‘Anything that brings spiritual, mental, or physical weakness, touch it not with the toes of your feet.’

To leave the din and bustle and embrace the rich finery of silence is an important thread of ‘self-narrative’. It is meditative. It sets off an expedition where one ploughs a lonely furrow like a seeker of truth- truth which is elusive, truth which is epiphanic, truth which is enigmatic. It is the aesthetics of silence where contemplation is cultivated to study the contour of one’s spiritual configuration. The Swami says: ‘You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.’ He wants the youths to embrace the beauty and benediction of silence to enable themselves to write their ‘field notes’ as they embark on a journey, a journey inwards to tap into perpetual motion of thoughts, tossing about till the shore of self-knowledge is visible.

The Swami’s notion of silence is  a polysemous version laced with purple passages of possibilities – to judge oneself, to put oneself on trial, to listen to one’s longings, to wrestle with dilemmas , to redress one’s grievances, to fire off honest questions to oneself, to heal one’s emotional anguish  and to take a leap beyondto invoke the cosmic grace of the higher Self. This Vedantic seclusion is also a mystic craving the Swami learnt from his master, Sri Ramakrishna, the spiritual giant who, to quote the words of Romain Rolland, ‘summarised and harmonised hundreds of musical elements of the past like Beethoven and Wagner, Raphael and Mozart.’.

The other side of the Swami’s silence is the commitment to boldness; boldness to harness undaunted, moral courage with a view to withstanding the savagery of hypocrisy, bigotry and deceit. The Swami’s vision of the youth, ‘Iron nerves with an intelligent brain’, calls for the study of the‘self-narrative’ to challenge and surmount what the Swami identifies as ‘desire, ignorance, and inequality –this is the trinity of bondage’. His emphatic words reward close reading: ‘If there is one word that you find coming out like a bomb from the Upanishads, bursting like a bombshell upon masses of ignorance. It is the world of “fearlessness”’ to break the barriers of human minds and spirit.

To be ‘self-bound’ is to embrace a new dawn where the triple culture of the head (Jnana- yoga) , the heart (Bhakti-yoga)  and the hands (Karma-yoga) can  attain the fulfilment of human existence. As the age of ‘toxic’ [the Oxford Word of the Year 2018] spreads its tentacles, as the double bind of ennui and angst infects the youths, as the moulds of morality begin to fall way, let the youths of today be lit up by the Swami’s luminous words, which embody the unified truth of youth-consciousness, to recoup their loses – emotional, mental, cultural and spiritual:

‘Arise! Awake! And stop not till the goal is reached!

 

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Sudeep Ghosh is ToK Coordinator and faculty in the English department at The Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad (India). His pedagogical articles, poems, research papers, translations and art criticisms have appeared in national and international journals. Aesthetica Magazine (UK), Le Dame Art Gallery (UK), The Canadian Literature (University of British Columbia, Canada), Wasafiri (Open University, London), Teacher Plus (India), The Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademy, India), Penguin (India), The Knowledge Review (India) to name a few.  He can be reached at sudeepmailsu@gmail.com

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