Swami Vivekananda, the great sage and yogi, credited with raising the status of Hinduism to a major world religion, found his heart melting in sympathy for the poor and neglected masses.

Vivekananda once confessed to disciples that he “actually saw God” in the “simple, guileless” poor. 

It is reported that sometime in the later part of the year 1901 when a number of Santhal labourers were working on levelling the grounds of Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Vivekananda “felt an especial joy in talking to them,” listening to the “accounts of their misery with great compassion.”

Swami Vivekananda

One day Vivekananda arranged a feast for them and “served them with delicacies that they had never before tasted.” After the meal, he said to them, “’You are Narayanas. Today I have entertained the Lord Himself by feeding you,” Swami Nikhilananda writes in his biography of Vivekananda.

Later, addressing the residents of Belur Math, Vivekananda said: “See how simple-hearted these poor, illiterate people are! Will you be able to relieve their miseries to some extent at least? Otherwise of what use is our wearing the ochre robe of the sannyasin?”

He added: “To be able to sacrifice everything for the good of others is real monasticism. Sometimes I think within myself: ‘What is the good of building monasteries and so forth? Why not sell them and distribute the money among the poor, indigent Narayanas?'”

Vivekananda took his plaint to Divine Mother and asked, “Mother, shall there be no redress for them?”

The kind-hearted yogi went on commiserating with the plight of the poor, asking “Alas! How can we have the heart to put a morsel into our mouths, when our countrymen have not enough wherewith to feed or clothe themselves?”

Vivekananda said one of the purposes of his going out to preach religion to the West was to see if he could find any means of providing for the people of his country.

Nikhilananda writes in Vivekananda’s biography that seeing the poverty and distress of the masses, the yogi would sometimes think: “Let us throw away all the paraphernalia of worship — blowing the conch and ringing the bell and waving the lights before the image (of God) …. Let us throw away all pride of learning and study of the scriptures and all spiritual disciplines for the attainment of personal liberation. Let us go from village to village, devoting ourselves to the service of the poor.”

Nikhilananda further quotes Vivekananda as saying: “Let us, through the force of our character and spirituality and our austere living, convince the rich about their duties to the masses, and get money and the means wherewith to serve the poor and the distressed.”

Oswald Pereira

Vivekananda lamented that nobody in the country thinks about the poor, whom the sage believed are the “backbone of the nation, whose labour produces food, those whose one day’s absence from work raises a cry of general distress in the city.”

The sage ended on a sad note, asking: “Where is the man in our country who sympathises with them, who shares in their joys and sorrows?”

More than 120 years since Vivekananda’s death in 1902, most of the rich or better off in the country don’t really care about the sorrows of the poor masses, leave alone seeing the face of God in them.

This harsh reality, however, doesn’t make Vivekananda irrelevant. He continues to inspire many silent givers, who quietly work for the poor, seeing them as children of God.

Oswald Pereira, a senior journalist, has also written eight books, including The Newsroom Mafia, Chaddi Buddies, The Krishna-Christ Connexion, How to Create Miracles in Our Daily Life and Crime Patrol: The Most Thrilling Stories. Oswald is a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, and practises Kriya Yoga.

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Featured Image: Belur Math