Arise! Awake!
The Vedanta Kesari|March 2021
The Katha Upanishad states, “Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the excellent ones. The wise ones describe that path to be as impassable as a razor’s edge, which when sharpened, is difficult to tread.”1
SWAMI SATYAPRIYANANDA
In Sri Shankara’s commentary on this verse, it is held that this verse is addressed to “creatures who are sleeping in ignorance.” They are to ‘arise’ or turn towards the knowledge of the Self, and ‘awake’ or put an end to the sleep of ignorance which is terrible by nature and is the seed of all evil. As to how to go about this, it is stated, ‘learn by approaching the excellent ones’, who know that Self.

This verse captured the imagination of Swami Vivekananda who used it in the context of the sleeping leviathan, the masses of India of those times who were under a thousand years of foreign subjugation and quite content to be so, imitating western culture and manners, and believing that the prosperity of the western nations was due to Christianity and that Hinduism was no match to it being ridden with image worship, polytheism, practice of sati, child marriage, etc.

The nation had to be awakened to the sublime Indian heritage, which Vivekananda placed before the western world and which had a resounding echo on the Indian soil.

When a person is sleeping, he is practically dead to the outside world. In the Chhandogya Upanishad we come across King Ajatasatru instructing Gargya. He takes him by the hand, and walking up to a sleeping man calls him using various words such as ‘O Great One’, ‘O White-robed One’, ‘O Radiant One’, ‘O Soma’ etc. But the sleeping man does not get up. The king pushes the sleeping man again and again with his hand until he awakens.

A sleeping man has first to be aroused from his deep slumber which requires him to be pushed for long. Thereafter he opens his eyes and looking around, gradually comes to understand the situation: where he is, what is the day, what are the works to be done, etc. Immediately on waking up one is not aware of all these and it takes its own time.

This was the situation of India as a whole: slumbering for a thousand years under the hypnotism of foreign rule, neglecting the masses and the women, forgetful of her Vedantic realisations both in theory and practice. The nation had to be aroused from this hypnotism and awakened to the need to become free, to elevate the masses and women by applying the truths of Vedanta in daily life, and to spread this nectarine message of Vedanta to the entire world. A hypnotised nation has first to be ‘aroused’ from the state of hypnotism and then ‘awakened’ to its real greatness and the contributions it can make to the rest of the world. This is the significance of “Arise! Awake!” Furthermore, this awakening should not be given up until the goal is reached. This is Swami Vivekananda’s modified interpretation of the rest of the first line of the verse.

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