Vivekananda for Covid Times
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

The Covid crisis has spread gloom and despair. Despondency is natural. So many people have died. The bad news is pouring in from all sides. In many families, several members have passed away within a few days. The virus is spreading to rural populations. There is a shortage of vaccines, medicine, hospital needs. The health infrastructure is overwhelmed.

The country is trying to come to grips with the pandemic. But the unstoppable wrangling between political parties at this time of crisis presents a poor picture. Instead of uniting, the political discourse is dividing the country. On earlier occasions, when the country faced difficult moments, we always came together. We need to do so again.

Yet, in this hour of gloom, society is finding ways to deal with the crisis with or without government help. The ‘oxygen langars’organised by Sikh groups have helped countless people with oxygen cylinders. Numerous social media groups are offering help and solace to each other. Young startups are coming up with technological solutions. The health workers have tirelessly soldiered on saving lives without expectation of reward. Many doctors, nurses and paramedics have lost their lives in the line of duty. Delivery boys, risking their lives, have been the unsung heroes of the covid crisis. Essential services have been kept running without any disruptions. The best doctors and experts have come on the TV and offered their advice to the public. Doctors have also set up social media groups to help those affected by loneliness and helplessness. Young students have come forward to do help society. This shows that society is strong and untied.

The crisis cannot be handled if everyone turns negative and pessimistic. We have to face the reality as it is but not give up hope. Crisis tests the character of an individual, society and nation. Mental toughness and spirituality provide strength during difficult times.

As always, Swami Vivekananda's eternal words offer guidance and hope during the pandemic time too. He is an eternal source of strength. His vision of a strong and capable India, the divinity in existence dispel the gloom and generate hope. We will not be able to handle the crisis if we give in to despair. That will make us weak. Vivekananda’s famous words should guide us, “Be not in despair; the way is very difficult, like walking on the edge of a razor; yet despair not, arise, awake, and find the ideal, the goal.”1

India’s experience shows that our best comes out during the crisis. Vivekananda said that experience shows that it was “misery that taught more than happiness, it was poverty that taught more than wealth, it was blows that brought out their inner fire more than praise.”

This is the time to do good, be empathetic and kind. Everyone needs to come out of the bubble one lives in. Every act of kindness and service will make a big difference. Acts of kindness and service purify one’s self. In Swamiji’s words, “Every act of charity, every thought of sympathy, every action of help, every good deed, is taking so much of self-importance away from our little selves and making us think of ourselves as the lowest and the least, and, therefore, it is all good.” Here is another quote that tells us how the act of giving brings liberation and uplifts oneself. Vivekananda says, “You will be free in a moment if you starve yourself to death by giving to another. Immediately you will be perfect, you will become God.”

The covid crisis is an opportunity for India to reinvent itself. We need fresh energy to overcome the crisis and come out better. Swami Vivekananda said, “What India wants is a new electric fire to stir up a fresh vigour in the national veins.” More than ever, it is true even today.

Culture plays an important part in shaping our responses to the crisis. For example, the Sikh culture of Sewa has been inspirational in this crisis. Numerous civil society groups have sprung up overnight. Youngsters are coming forward to help out. Every Indian saint and seer has placed service over self. Our efforts must be rooted in our culture. It has helped us withstand many crises. Swami Vivekananda said so vividly, “It is culture that withstands shocks, not a simple mass of knowledge. You can put a mass of knowledge into the world, but that will not do it much good. There must come culture into the blood.”

The people in power and authority have a special responsibility and obligation to bring the country out of the crisis. They will do well to remember what Swamiji said, “Whenever you promise to do any work, you must do it exactly at the appointed time, or people lose their faith in you.” The lesson is obvious. To be credible, promises must be fulfilled. A lot of work has to be done and done well.

Despite the enormity of the crisis, this is not the time to panic. One has to believe in oneself, one’s strengths and not fall prey to weakness. In Swamiji’s words, “If there is sin, this is the only sin; to say that you are weak, or others are weak.”

Swami Vivekananda reminds us, “The great national sin is the neglect of the masses, and that is one of the causes of our downfall.”2 One of the painful learnings of the pandemic has been the neglect of public health in this country. A vast majority of Indians have been deprived of access to reasonable health facilities. This needs to be addressed urgently.

Our faith in India’s ability to handle the crisis should not be shaken. But we will have to work hard and to a plan. Swamiji had given a formula for greatness. He said, “Three things are necessary to make every man great every nation great: 1. Conviction of the powers of goodness. 2. Absence of jealousy and suspicion. 3. Helping all who are trying to be and do good.” It is necessary to invoke all three. In particular, we should suspend jealousy and suspicion during the time of the pandemic.

So taking the guidance of Vivekananda, we can overcome the crisis if we do the following:

Let weakness, despair, helplessness not overtake us. This is the time to believe in oneself, one’s culture and one’s ability. It is necessary to rise above envy and suspicion.

Equally, it is necessary to shed selfishness and believe in the power of goodness. Give and do service. This will heal oneself from the ego and ahankara. It will also infuse new energy to do one’s karma.

There ought to be unity of purpose and effort. Let us not be distracted by useless frictions and discords. This is the time to be united.

The pandemic will not go away by mere preaching. All-round action is needed. Swamiji says, “The secret of success is there, pay as much attention to the means as to the ends”. The means deployed to overcome the crisis should be effective and pure. A shoddy effort will not yield the desired result.

Om Shanti.

Endnotes
  1. This and other quotes of Swami Vivekananda have been taken from the VIF’s daily tweets available at www.vifindia.org and its twitter ahndel @vifindia
  2. This quotation is from Nandita Krishna, editor, Belive in Yourself: Life Lessons from Swami Vivekananda, Aleph, 2020, p. 86.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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