From The Times of India
The recently concluded FIFA World Cup football in South Africa caused worldwide excitement. Indians were overtaken by the passion of the game even though India was not participating in the event. It is easy to get infected with the spirit of the game in a globalised world with its vast media networks that enable people to watch the game even at odd hours. Often such infectious spirit drives us to indulge ourselves on the material plane and remain immersed in superficial aspects of life. Drinking beer and watching football in Germany might have temporarily taken its people away from the humdrum business of life and made them feel elated for some time. But every sphere of life, including the sphere of sports and games, must explore the infinite dimensions which impact human existence and about which we are not adequately aware.
When Swami Vivekananda returned to India in 1897 after his historic trip to America where he addressed the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, he delivered a series of lectures. In one of them he linked the attainment of spirituality to football. He said to the youth: “You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Bhagavad Gita”. Good health is the first step to strive for perfection. It involves overcoming weakness and acquiring confidence and spiritual dignity. It means cultivating self-esteem. Scripture-reading is not sufficient if we are driven by frailties and temptations. Exercise is the key to achieve higher and finer objectives. Vivekananda was giving precedence to the individual’s right to quality health which can provide access to many other wonderful realms. He said that Indians remained lazy because they were deprived of strength and energy. He explained our inability to work in terms of our physical weakness. He even painfully noted that the root cause of selfishness and disunity among Indians was our weakness manifested in fragile body and spirit. He earnestly pleaded for measures to strengthen our physical and mental health.