Bose and Vivekananda: An era when knowledge trumped wealth
The Higgs boson particle experiment has dominated headlines over the last couple of days. It has also triggered various debates ranging from science, religion, god and even human existence. While all these debates were raging, there were also a couple of things that went unnoticed initially on the July 4th, 2012.
First, it was unnoticed initially that eminent Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose was the man behind the "boson" name. Second, it was also relatively unnoticed that the very same day was also the death anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, the great saint who was the epitome of spiritual excellence in his era and thereafter.
Let me at the outset mention that this is not going to be a discussion on religion and its merits. I neither have the age or the wisdom to comment and debate on such an issue at this juncture. Moreover, it is subjective and my opinions are reserved to myself. However, I am not going to shy away from what I found curious about the social aspect of these two phenomena. One is someone who explored the world of science, the external world and the macroscopic effect on human existence.
Another was a person who had the courage and intellectual ability to explore the inner world within him. Both had goals that were seeking to find the eternal truth and both were respected by society at large on their own merit. This, surprisingly, in a presumptuously backward social framework that we are so used to be preached about. At the heart of both their success in their respective fields lies a social order that emphasised the importance of knowledge at various levels.
Knowledge in the erstwhile context was an ability to explore the unknown. In essence, this would put both science and spirituality under this bracket. Whether it was a Satyendra Bose, Sir CV Raman or even the late RK Narayanan, all of them reached the pinnacle of greatness in their field due to their relentless pursuit of the unknown. Contrary to public belief, pre-Independence, these legends were very well regarded and respected within India. In fact, Rabindranath Tagore had penned his only scientific book as an ode to the late Satyendra Bose.
At the heart of this respect, lied a profound understanding of the need for intellectual expression of minds and thoughts through debate and discussions. Oppression might have been the mantra for the British but the Indian people had high regard for people who had knowledge. How else can someone like Mr Bose produce such authentic research without money, without technology and without even proper facilities? How could he have done it considering the oppressive nature of the British empire?
This was primarily because people did not equate knowledge to wealth. If there was license for freedom in scientific expression and artistic intelligence, Swami Vivekananda's works displayed the same on the spiritual front.
My limited and humble knowledge about the great saint shows me two major reasons why he traverses across generations and eras.
One was the tolerance for all forms of religious existence performing their own specific roles that they were ordained for.
Second was the ability to challenge intellectually and with reason, his spiritual renaissance. This was a rare quality since reasoning out spiritual understanding to the common person is no easy task. Most of Swami Vivekananda's arguments had a scientific outlook to it, it had reason, it had debate and it won over individuals neither by force nor brutality but by sheer intellectual superiority and knowledge.
This was because of his global vision and also because the society then was willing to view things from an intellectual point of view, much better than what it is today. At the core of the genius of both Bose and Swami Vivekananda was a society that placed knowledge on top of its priorities in the social order, much more than materialism.
In today's India, after more than 50 years of Independence, do we have the same emphasis on knowledge as before? I am not saying we are not technologically progressive, I am not saying we are not as advanced as before and I am not saying our living standards are not higher. While our thrust for knowledge might have increased, simultaneously our thrust for money has also moved leaps and bounds. This penchant for money has overridden the search for knowledge and undermined its importance in day to day affairs. The purpose and pursuit is money, knowledge seems to be the means towards it in today's India, not the other way around. This has created an environment where the purpose is to somehow make money irrespective of the knowledge involved in it.
In addition, the lack of intellectual debates and an increasing trend of aggressive methods to impose one's ideas has further weakened the importance of the intellect.
Comparing todays India and the India before is not an easy ask considering that those years had their negatives too. However, with the limited resources and technology at hand, the respect the people of that era had for knowledge was commendable.
Considering the limited resources, the achievements of both Bose and Swami Vivekananda stand out tall in both their quest for the truth. Both of them have stood the test of time, both of them have had the vision to see the unknown and both of them have won over people with knowledge and not blank cheques.
One looked inward for the eternal truth, the other outward to understand the eternal truth and quest for supreme knowledge was their common denominator in an era where knowledge trumped wealth.
(The author can be reached on his Facebook page)
More about Sriram Balasubramanian
Sriram Balasubramanian is a Journalist, voracious reader, avid Blogger, social enthusiast and a believer in excellence not mediocrity. With an inherent passion towards journalism and writing, he believes in playing the "Straight Drive" all the time. Besides this, he has a MS in Engineering Management and has played Chess for Singapore.
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