Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) developed a distinctively Indian template of virtue ethics. With an over-emphasis on Moksha, liberation from the cycle of reincarnation, the idea of how to live virtuously took a back seat in India, as if. People were told to renounce instead of flourish in their lives. Indians paid heavily for this when the invaders arrived, and a 1000-year foreign rule followed. Religious conversion – first in Islam and later in Christianity – happened at a mass scale and a narrative was created about the inferiority of the Hindu religion itself.
There are no Ten Commandments in Hindu scriptures for the emphasis is on the realization of the innate presence of God within from which virtuous conduct must flow. Beyond a broad classification of society into four groups and a lifetime in stations, people are left free to decide what is good for them. Swami Vivekananda took upon himself the task of redeeming a wounded civilization by defining ethics as a code of conduct to live a good life rather than striving for an afterlife in heaven. Rather than “God outside” he called for striving for purity and allowing our true nature, which is “God present inside”.
Taking a cosmopolitan stand, Swamiji explained every religion as a path to the eternal best – the highest freedom, ultimate knowledge, and utmost happiness. And rather than living by dogma, he placed a high value on education. India can only regain its glory by spreading education among the masses.
Swami Vivekananda wrote, “Without the supernatural sanction as it is called, or the perception of the superconscious as I prefer to term it, there can be no ethics. Without the struggle towards the Infinite, there can be no ideal. Any system that wants to bind men down to the limits of their own societies is not able to find an explanation for the ethical laws of mankind.” (Complete Works 2: 63–64).
Blessed are the sportspersons, artists, and musicians as while pursuing excellence in their chosen field they are striving for perfection. The same is true for craftsmen, teachers, doctors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals. What all of them need to be watchful about is the purity of their conduct, which Swamiji taught comes from the realization of the God inside.
But how do I realize the God within? The big claim of yogis remains a fantasy as yogic practices are beyond the capacity of most people. All said and done about the great benefits of meditation, how many people are sitting quietly watching their minds even for 10 minutes a day? Swami Vivekananda gave the practical and doable way of realizing God through service to others. As God has manifested Himself as the world and its creatures, your mind will become pure as you serve all beings as God.
So, follow this most powerful and yet simplest antidote to all your problems and miseries in life – serve others wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and in whichever way it is possible “here and now”. In the popular phrase “Give and take”, giving precedes taking. Once you start giving whatever is possible – a little help, support, even courtesy – you will start feeling good. When you do something good for someone else, your brain’s pleasure centres light up, generating feelings of satisfaction. Just be good to others and life will be good to you.