A prevalent assumption about Vedanta is that since it says the nature of the reality of the world is mithya (not absolutely real), it thereby encourages human being to discard any activity in the world and even disconnect oneself from it. The other misconception is also that Vedanta is a tradition which is concerned only with one’s personal liberation and therefore very egoistic. How true are these assumptions?
First of all, this understanding of mithya has to be corrected. Mithya does not mean false or illusory and therefore devoid of value, but is an ontological term revealing our understanding of an object in terms of its reality. Vedanta does not say the whole universe is an illusion, and hence one should run away it; rather it emphasizes that the world is nothing but the manifestation of one and non-dual reality, appearing as many because of all- power and all- intelligence (Isvara).
Second, Vedanta repeatedly affirms that in order to gain the knowledge of the reality of oneself, one should grow as a human being in terms of compassion and widen our narrow perspective of things. The initial view of ourselves as a individual separated from everything and confronted to a hostile world of events and people is to be replaced by the view that all that is here is Isvara, manifesting in the form of an order at all levels (physical, biological, psychological, dharma and karma, etc.) thereby connecting at a very fundamental level all living beings within the entire universe. As a result of understanding interdependence and interconnectedness of everything, an individual is expected to grow to become aware of what is to be done by him in different situations he is placed in and contribute whatever is in his or her domain of influence to this world,. This clearly entrusts human beings with more responsibility towards the universe rather than disconnecting him from it.
Also, as one becomes more objective and grows as an individual, one become much more efficient and lucid in one’s actions. Because actions do not stem anymore from a subjective and egoistic view of the world driven by accomplishments of mere personal ends but out of one’s understanding of what is.
Thus, the person who is pursuing freedom, as well as the one who knows the reality unfolded in Vedanta, can very well be involved in various activities meant for the well being of others. As Bhagavad Gita V-25 says:
Sages whose impurities have been destroyed, whose doubts have been resolved, who have self-mastery (and) who are happily engaged in the good of all beings, gain liberation.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who is an unparalleled teacher of Vedanta, is a living example of the person who has proper assimilation of the teaching, conducts in this world. Besides being a teacher, his is involved in various activities such as social service, promotion of peace and dialogue between religions at a global level, preservation of Indian culture and traditions, etc. The most significant areas in which he has been working for more than 40 years are summarized here below:
- Teaching of Vedanta
- Research and Publications
- Establishing organizations for providing education and health care for people in rural India
- Several initiatives to bring world thinkers together to promote peace and harmony within India as well as internationally.
Go further with the following links to Discover Vedanta, Being alive to what is
 Article in pdf format, The vision of Vedanta
 Maturity & knowledge, The individual and the total
 Action and result, What is karma yoga?
For those who want to have more details about the work our teacher is engaged in at various levels, I have inserted here some excerpts of an interview of him, done on 7 Sept 2008 in Saylorsburg by Dr. V. Swaminathan. (Source : http://www.arshavidya.in/) :
VS: Swamiji, this is an incredible amount of work! Let us begin with teaching, that being an area very dear to you. Can Swamiji please speak about his work in this area and about the Gurukulams set up in India and overseas?
Swamiji: I have been teaching Vedanta for almost fifty years now. Currently, I teach courses and hold camps for about 5 to 6 months each year and also deliver public talks in a number of cities in India and overseas. As a student I recognized that for a mumuksu to study Vedanta is not simple – one needs a good teacher, a place to stay, bhiksha – each one of these requires grace. Therefore, I created facilities for a three-year program of study at Rishikesh, Saylorburg, Anaikatti and lastly in Nagpur. The long-term study program has a syllabus that includes study of Vedanta prakaranas, Bhagvad Gita, Upanisads and finally chatussutri. All these imply the study of Sankara Bhashya in the original. Along with these studies, the Sanskrit language is also taught with Paninian grammar. Besides all this, there are daily meditation and satsangas (which are often question and answer sessions). I along with my students have taught ten of these three-year programs (eight in India and two in the United States) and many of my students from these programs are now teaching all over India and abroad. My students are totally free to pursue what they like after the course. I encourage them to share their knowledge and be contributors wherever they are.
In addition to these, the Arsha Vidya Centre for Research and Publication based in Chennai is publishing a number of books on the teachings. About 20 books have been published so far. There are different series of books, like the series on ‘Public Talks,’ ‘Moments with oneself,’ ‘Vakya Vicara,’ ‘Mantras and Stotras’ and ‘Upanisad’ series. In addition to these series, there are other books like ‘Visnu Sahasranama,’ ‘Collection of essays’ etc. published else where. All these books are available at the bookstores in our Gurukulams and so are a number of DVDs, CDs and tapes on various topics.
Q: Swamiji, can you tell us about the AIM for Seva, a unique movement initiated by you and its activities and the necessity for such a movement?
Swamiji: Ours is a culture in which there is no place for competition. A child inherited the profession of its father. The competition was only how well you are able to do whatever you did and what your commitment is. Therefore it is a spiritual society. The duties called svadharma, were well defined. Duties remain the same for everyone. The inner composition, disposition alone undergoes transformation.
Competition means you have to follow norms. Without rules there is no competition. Whether it is a game or business, you need to follow rules. The rules have to grow upon you. The competition that we see now is thrown upon us. Therefore people are insecure and you find the symptoms of the insecurity in terms of grabbing and hoarding and taking advantage of each situation. This is a society which is unknown to us, and now it is seen to be very rampant.
Therefore, I thought we should create a new chemistry. In our culture there is such a thing as daanam, sharing, caring. We are caring people. We do not throw our elders to old age homes. We have homes and we keep them with us and we respect them. Therefore, we have to emphasize some of these very important values in our own being and these values have to surface. For this, a movement is necessary. You need a movement and therefore I started this movement called, All India Movement for Seva.
I started doing various things in the villages around Anaikatti, Coimbatore, where we have our Gurukulam. I was looking for one thing that can really initiate this movement. I asked one of the women in the village, ‘What do you expect us to do? What do you want?’ She said, ‘Please start a home for the children. We want our children to study. Now we cannot send the children to school because the school is 5 miles away. Since there are wild animals around, we cannot send the children to school. Please start a home.’ That struck me as this is what we should do. Our Chairman was Sri R. Venkataraman, ex-president of India, and he said that we will start one Student Home (Chatralaya) in every district to begin with. That was the commitment with which we started. There are now almost 62 Chatralayas in 13 states.
Then we started schools, hostels, hospitals, mobile medical services. There are 5 hospitals located in Tamilnadu, Gujarat, U.P and Bihar. We are even running a Government hospital and it is functioning well. In Mathura there is an eye-hospital. 7 Health care centers are functioning in Tamilnadu, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Mobile Out Reach Programmes─where a mobile unit equipped with medical facilities visits the villages─are functioning in Gujarat, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. There are Day Care Centres for children below 5 years. In Anaikatti alone there are 170 of them. Bengal is the only state where we do not have anything.We hope that we will be able to do something there also.
As part of Tsunami activity, 3 desalination plants have been set up in Pazhaverkadu area near Chennai. We have also provided boats, fishing nets, new homes and also renovated old homes for fishermen. Kofi. A. Annan – Secretary General, UNO recognized our activities and AIM for Seva was mentioned in his report. All this has happened within these few years. So we have a good track record within a short span of a few years. I could do all this because of my disciples.
I have told all the acharyas of Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha that in their name I am doing all these activities of AIM for Seva. They should also do this work. Individually they are all doing now. There is a certain awareness that has been created and we need to do this work.
Any movement needs to reach a critical point and from that point alone it will take off. I think we are somewhere around. The new chemistry has to come – CARING. Just to CARE. Why? Because there is no other way a person can really mature. The whole process of maturing implies the transformation from being a consumer to a contributor, even though one continues to be a consumer. The one who contributes more than what one consumes is a grown up person. Otherwise, the person is still a child. Therefore one has got to discover oneself as a contributor and that inner transformation has to take place. That is India. Giving is India. We have to therefore, emphasize this caring – programmes of caring. We should get the people involved because, the problems are so enormous. Even the people who see the problems cannot do anything, because they are emotionally paralyzed. They cannot think of doing anything. Therefore we have to create an avenue for the people to pitch in. It maybe small help, but when there are a lot of people pitching in, then that becomes a movement. So that’s the whole vision. All our sadhus are also engaged in this work. There are also a lot of people who are quietly doing small things individually. But all of them have to be brought together in a movement. This is the movement.
VS: Can you shed some light on your activities in the area of education?
Swamiji: I established the Dayananda Educational Trust to provide quality education to the economically backward sections of rural Tamil Nadu, particularly Manjakudi and surrounding villages. The Trust has enabled a model for rural education. Nearly 3,500 students attend schools/college daily and we provide in one campus pre-grade to post-graduation education. Both the school and college offer co-education. The trust has also under it the management, two other schools in nearby villages (Semmangudi and Mudikondan). Overall, the schools and college serve the need of ~ 200 villages within a 30 km radius. By and large the student body consists of 1st generation students. We have both commuting as well as residential students. The schools and college are run with high efficiency.
The facilities include a hygienic canteen and adequate toilet facilities. Over the years, there is a steady increase in the enrollment of girls in the college, indicating the progressive empowerment of women. More parents are sending their children to schools and there is a greater awareness of the importance of education leading to economic well being and improved standard of living. Further, there is also an increased awareness of health, hygiene, and nutrition in families through students. The Manjakudi schools and college are indeed a good model for replication in other similar rural areas.
I should also mention about Krupa, an institution for the mentally challenged that was established in 1998. The Dayananda – B.D. Goenka Seva Trust is managing the institution. Krupa was started with the aim of helping mentally challenged children to get proper care and give their parents a better quality of life. Krupa is an institution of caring. It has 25 residents currently and the aim is to grow the number gradually.
VS: Swamiji, you have been participating and taking a lead role in several global initiatives for promoting harmony among religions and world peace. Please tell us about them.
Swamiji: I have been participating in several global initiatives to further the cause of peace between nations. Some of these include:
The International Inter-religious Encounter, held at Monterrey, Mexico, Sept 2007
World Youth Peace Conference, Nairobi, Kenya, 2004
World Youth Peace Conference, Kyoto, Japan 2003
Dharma Conference in New Jersey, July 2003
Conference on preservation of religious diversity held at New Delhi
(inaugurated by Prime Minister Sri A.B.Vajpayee and attended by the Dalai
Llama among others)
Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, Geneva,
Switzerland, Oct 2002
World Council for Preservation of Religious Diversity Bangkok, June 2002
International Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity in Delhi, 2001.
Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations in 2000 in which I led the
The fifth Global Peace Initiative of Women convened in Geneva by Ms. Dena
Merriam held in Jaipur, India during March 2008
Upcoming Hindu-Buddhist meet in Cambodia under the auspices of the World Council of Women religious leaders in Feb 2009
VS: (…)Swamiji, Thank you very much for taking the time to tell us about the important activities you are currently engaged in. I am sure people will find this very informative and will come forward in larger numbers to support these initiatives. Pranams Swamiji.