What Swami Vivekananda Thought About Hinduism Would Surprise Many Of His Followers Today

By Suresh Suresh:

Source: Wikipedia.

Hindutva is a word that flares up the emotions of many in the country and initiates the discussion about being ‘nationalist’ or ‘anti-national’. Hindutva is a political ideology and is aimed at achieving political power by directing the majority of Indians in the wrong direction. There is a danger of it completely taking over Hinduism which, like any other religion, is a way of life and is in no way related to politics. Hindutva, a term coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an ‘atheist’, in 1929 is aimed at forming a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and is equal in my view to ethnic nationalism. It has been adopted by right-wing organisations.

I feel that it is alright to think that Hinduism as a way of life is great but it’s not alright to think that only Hinduism ‘as we understand it’ is superior to any other way of life. It is very important now, more than it ever was, to disconnect Hindutva, the political ideology, from Hinduism, which is a way of life.

It would only be fair to point out a 1995 judgment of the Supreme Court of India where it said, “Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism…it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption…that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion…”

This might complicate the whole issue but I feel that when we talk about Hinduism, it’s hard to find a better person to describe it’s meaning and prescribe the right way of life than a famous Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda. Yes, the same monk whose pre-monastic name Narendra is shared by our dear Prime Minister and whose name is invoked by right-wing activists repeatedly.

Swami Vivekananda was a no ordinary monk. He was a graduate of philosophy and a very intense thinker. He was part of the Brahmo Samaj which questioned social evils. His intense desire to know God was paralleled by his intense compassion for his country. Its people and its mindset, he thought, had become degraded. This was the time when he was a wandering monk travelling the length and breadth of the country examining the people. He meditated for three days and three nights in Kanyakumari and the object of his meditation was the past, present and the future of India. The amount of things he did from then on and the issues he touched upon are still relevant to our time. In fact, they are very relevant.

He attended the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. It is important to note what he said in the concluding speech of this meeting. “The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.

At Parliament of Religions, 1893. Source: Wikipedia.

If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.””

These were his beautiful words. His dream for India and the world was not to make it a Hindu or Christian or Islamic. His plan was to assimilate the positive things of all and grow accordingly. Another beautiful incident in his life is worth mentioning.

Swami Vivekananda visited Kashmir in the year 1898 on the 30th of September. While visiting the ‘Mother Kshira Bhavani’ temple he saw all the destruction the Islamic invaders had done to the statues and the temple. Swami was hurt and was angry at the invaders, he prayed to Mother Kshira Bhavani asking her, “Mother, why do you let them do this? Why did you let them destroy your own temple and your own statue?”

Immediately, as a response, Swamiji heard his inner voice/or the Goddess told him, “How is it your business? Why do you bother with ‘why I let the invaders do this?’ Is it you who protects me? Or is it me who protects you?”

At around the same time he wrote to someone in a letter“We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas nor the Bible nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of the Religion which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.”

These are some things that all his followers, who put up his picture and invoke his name in all their meetings but fail to understand the greatness of this life and his message to mankind, should always remember. Islam is a part of India now. India has the most peace loving Muslims than anywhere else in the world. Pakistan was formed as a result of the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British and it is unfortunate that the scars of Partition still haven’t healed. It is important now to see beyond religion and stand for humanity on both sides of the border and realise that slogans like “Musharraf Bhagao” and “Bharat ki barbaadi tak, jung rahegi!” do not help progress. India is developing and there is a lot that people of the subcontinent could achieve if only there was better understanding between the countries. There is an opportunity here that will be missed if we continue to see each other as enemies and let trivial matters destroy us.

The next most important issue that Swamiji touched upon was caste and untouchability. He agreed that the caste system is reprehensible. This is what he felt: “If the Brahmin has more aptitude for learning on the ground of heredity than the Pariah, spend no more money on the Brahmin’s education, but spend all on the Pariah. Give to the weak, for there all the gift is needed. If the Brahmin is born clever, he can educate himself without help. If the others are not born clever, let them have all the teaching and the teachers they want. This is justice and reason as I understand it.”

In another of his writings, talking about faith, he says, “For the next fifty years let all other vain Gods disappear from our minds. This is the only God that is awake: our own race — everywhere His hands, everywhere His feet, everywhere His ears, He covers everything. All other Gods are sleeping. Why should we vainly go after them, when we can worship the God that we see all around us, the Virat? The first of all worships is the worship of the Virat, of those all around us. These are all our Gods — men and animals; and the first Gods we have to worship are our own countrymen.”

Our poor people, the downtrodden masses of India, therefore, require to hear and to know what they really are. These words of Swamiji explain it well: “Ay, let every man and woman and child, without respect of caste or birth, weakness or strength, hear and learn that behind the strong and the weak, behind the high and the low, behind every one, there is that Infinite Soul, assuring the infinite possibility and the infinite capacity of all to become great and good. Let us proclaim to every soul: उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत — Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached. Arise, awake! Awake from this hypnotism of weakness. None is really weak; the soul is infinite, omnipotent, and omniscient. Stand up, assert yourself, proclaim the God within you, do not deny Him!”

Let me also say what Swamiji’s opinion was on food and eating habits which is a very sacred topic for our present day ‘Hindu’ activists.

“But there is yet time to change our ways. Give up all those old discussions, old fights about things which are meaningless, which are nonsensical in their very nature. Think of the last six hundred or seven hundred years of degradation when grown-up men by hundreds have been discussing for years whether we should drink a glass of water with the right hand or the left, whether the hand should be washed three times or four times, whether we should gargle five or six times. What can you expect from men who pass their lives in discussing such momentous questions as these and writing most learned philosophies on them! There is a danger of our religion getting into the kitchen. We are neither Vedantists, most of us now, nor Pauranics, nor Tantrics. We are just “Don’t-touchists”. Our religion is in the kitchen. Our God is the cooking-pot, and our religion is, “Don’t touch me, I am holy”. If this goes on for another century, every one of us will be in a lunatic asylum. It is a sure sign of softening of the brain when the mind cannot grasp the higher problems of life; all originality is lost, the mind has lost all its strength, its activity, and its power of thought, and just tries to go round and round the smallest curve it can find.”

These were his thoughts in the 19th century. We are now in 21st century but the minds of right-wing activists have gone so crazy that they would lynch a man for his food habits. There are monks and certain priests that eat fish. Will these activists decide next that because Lord Vishnu who once took the form of a fish, it is no longer supposed to be eaten and attack people. Aghoris, who follow an extreme path of devotion to Lord Shiva, as a part of their spiritual practice often indulge in eating human flesh. Are they going to judge them as well? Do they even have the mental capacity to understand the thoughts of different relgious schools, let alone seeing the unity of all religions.

Swamiji established the Ramakrishna Mission where irrespective of your caste/religion, if you have a genuine interest in knowing God and if you are willing to serve humanity, you can become a monk. It was a revolution at a time when monasteries like the Sankara mutt and Jeeyar mutt needed you to be brahmin by birth to become a monk.

My appeal to all those who call themselves the torch bearers of Hinduism/Hindutva, and play majority politics or ‘temple construction’ politics, is simple. Realise what this ‘Hindu’ monk stood for. It is not just enough to put his picture in your offices. One needs to try and live like him embracing the whole of humanity and work for the upliftment of everybody rather than dividing people into ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s high time that we disconnected religion from politics in India. We have a government that was elected by a majority and the world is looking upon us to develop. If we lose this opportunity by trying to play petty politics on ‘nationalism’ the resulting losses will be severe.

India has been a land where ideas have flowed and flourished for so long. India has seen many diferent schools of thought like Advaita, Vishisht Advaita, Tantra, etc. It is the origin of other great religions like Buddism and Jainism. With the arrival of Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam to this land, it only added to the diversity of thoughts in India. In this great land, ideas were always exchanged and shared freely. Even at the peak of Mughal rule, Emperor Akbar’s courtyard had Hindu intellectuals that participated in open discussions on varied topics like religion, art, culture, politics. Akbar came to be influenced by Sufi mystics and built a hall called Ibadat Khana (‘house of worship’) where theologians, mystics and philosophers belonging to different schools of thought had discussions on varied topics.

My appeal to general public and politicians is to not to be fooled by the so-called protectors of Hinduism who invoke the name of God in the Parliament and declare themselves as devotees. Please do not carry your religion into the political domain. It’s a dangerous example you will be setting for the general public. The Islamic State invokes the name of God when they behead innocent people. That does not make them holy. They are still enemies of humanity. If by your actions or letters supporting ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), an innocent child was pushed to kill himself, it would still count as a crime against humanity. It does not matter whose devotee you are, you would still be guilty.

The ABVP, a right-wing organisation was involved in the two important incidents that took place recently, the JNU row and the events at University of Hyderabad. It acted as if it is the protector of the nation. This is not the way to carry the country and its people forward. People need to disconnect and disown any such organisation that acts as a ‘protector of the nation’.

There is no difference in crimes against Muslims, Hindus, Dalits, or Christians. All crime is crime against humanity and should be seen like that. It is not just because we are a secular country or it is some pseudo secular theory. It is because we are human beings before being anything else.

There is a lot of scope for mutual respect, growth and progress in India if only we learn from our past mistakes and try to get inspired by the teachings of our forefathers. We need to see India as a pluralistic society that values humanist values. We have been long hypnotised to look at others through the lens of caste and religion. Let good sense prevail again in this land and all this stupidity end. It is possible. We just have to be ‘intolerant’ to religious fanatism in any form.

Update: In a previous draft Swami Vivekananda had been described as a “graduate of economics”. This has been changed to “graduate of philosophy”.

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