Swami Vivekananda to Dalai Lama: A legacy marches on

DNA, Yogesh Pawar, 9 August 2017

Current geopolitical equations in South Asia may have created quite a buzz around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s arrival at the Mumbai campus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences to deliver the inaugural lecture and launch a special course in ‘Secular Ethics’ on August 14. However, insiders at TISS point out how this visit brings the journey begun by Jamshetji Tata in 1890 under the guidance of Swami Vivekananda when they travelled together from Tokyo to Chicago for the Parliament of World Religions in 1893, a full circle.

TISS Director S Parsuraman was ecstatic as he spoke exclusively to DNA underlining the contours of the institute’s journey. “On May 31, 1893, Swami Vivekananda and Jamshetji Tata sailed together on a ship from Japan to the United States. Interactions between these visionaries created the germ of the idea in Jamshetji to set up an institute of higher learning with a difference for which he had set up a trust a year ago. He saw philanthropy as a way of nation building long before the Rockefeller Trust, the Andrew Carnegie Trust, the Ford Foundation, and even the Lord Leverhulme Trust came into being in the 1900s,” Parsuraman said.

A letter written by Jamshetji (on November 23, 1898, from Esplanade House, Bombay) to Swami Vivekananda gives us a glimpse into how the founding father of the Tata empire thought of the seer. “…It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency, and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences – natural and humanistic. I am of opinion that if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science, and the good name of our common country; and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda. Do you think you would care to apply yourself to the mission of galvanising into life our ancient traditions in this respect?”

Accordingly, in September 1898, Jamshetji pledged half his personal wealth of Rs 30 lakh (then £ 200,000) to make his dream of a “university or institute of research” come true. His original proposal for an institute where philosophy, metaphysics, psychology and ethics would be taught along with natural science and biological science was rejected by the then British viceroy Lord Curzon on December 31, 1898, barely a day after his arrival in India.

Dr Parsuraman lamented how in 1900, a second attempt saw the British government appointee Sir William Ramsay echo Curzon’s observation. “He shot down the proposal to set up departments of Philosophy and Education in a Science university,” and adds, “Ultimately growing support from around the World and India saw the British come around in 1905. Thanks to a generous land donation by the Maharaja of Mysore in 1907 the Research Institute of Science for India (now Indian Institute of Science) was created.”

Vivekananda then told Jamshetji to create another centre of learning and research in the field of humanities too. That is how TISS came into being in 1936. Swami Vivekananda whose vision was to create a mass consciousness through service and education has in fact written: “We want that education, by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded and by which one can stand on one’s own feet.”

Pointing out how the new course at TISS on Secular Ethics represented just that the director said: “The Dalai Lama’s guidance to the institute is a throwback to that meeting of minds and a conversation for the future of India that began 121 years ago. Once again we are speaking of the role and responsibility of corporate captains and individuals to society.”

Parsuraman also pointed out how Magsaysay awardee Carnatic musician TM Krishna is slated to perform on the ocassion.