Swamiji’s message at the Parliament of Religions – its implications

What were the implications of Swami Vivekananda’s historic speeches at Chicago Parliament of Religions?

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Introduction:

Swami Vivekananda became world-renowned almost overnight on 11th Sept 1893. He spoke for a few minutes at the inaugural session of the Parliament of World Religions at Chicago. His reply to the welcome catapulted him to instant world-recognition. We ask why? What did that address contain? What was the content of his speech? Was the content of his speech responsible for his fame?

The reason for raising this issue is two-fold.

One, it has been seen recently that there is an upsurge in Hindu religion, especially in the form of Hindutva. This new form of Hinduism claims to be the custodian of the entire Religion of Hinduism. And more importantly, they quote Swami Vivekananda extensively, albeit very selectively, and in many cases, out of context. Many people, both within India and in the rest of the world as well, are confused about this development. A mega event was organized recently at Westin Hotel in Chicago by the World Hindu Foundation, the global wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).[1] The entire event, which was highly publicized, was purportedly organized to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Swamiji’s Chicago lectures. The rabble-rousing that followed was covered by most important news channels. One of the important speakers went on record calling all non-Hindus living in India as dogs![2] So, is such the content of this great monk’s lectures in Chicago, 125 years ago? The organizers of the WHF are very clear that they derive Hindutva, or their version of rejuvenated Hinduism, directly from the message of Swami Vivekananda. Recently, we saw a Govt approved textbook in Maharashtra mentioning that Swami Vivekananda wanted us to show the killer instinct towards people of other faiths![3] While the Swamiji’s Chicago lectures are famous for proclaiming to the world the message of Harmony of Religions, the Hindutva movement claims the same Swamiji’s message to be the fount of their version of Hinduism. The cognitive dissonance of these two developments is not lost on most people. We need to clarify these developments.

Two, what exactly are the implications of the message given by Swamiji through his Chicago lectures? This question assumes importance because 125 years after Swamiji delivered the life-giving message of Harmony of Religions at Chicago, have the different religions of the world become harmonious with one another? If not, what indeed is the impact of those lectures?

The actual event:

On 11th September 1893, Swami Vivekananda spoke at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago. It was a brief speech, actually a formal response to the welcome accorded to him and other speakers. It was not even a detailed, scholarly exposition of Hinduism. It was extempore. Yet, it was that short speech that catapulted this unknown Hindu monk into world renown, literally overnight! We know that he had addressed his audience as ‘Sisters & brothers of America’.

The gist of his opening speech[4] was as follows:

He thanked the organizers and the audience in the name of the most ancient Order of monks in the world, in the name of the mother of all religions of the world, and in the name of the millions & millions of the Hindu people of all classes and sects. He informed the gathered audience that he would be speaking the next few days about a religion that had taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. He proclaimed that he was proud to belong to a nation that had sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the world. He told the audience that he and his Hindu people believed that just as all the rivers having different sources of origin, mingle in the same water of the sea, so all religions in spite of the differences in their origin and methods lead to the same God. He ended by fervently hoping that the bells that tolled that morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism and of all persecutions by word or deed.

What actually happened?

It is recorded from multiple sources that the audience had gone into frenzy over this little speech. The audience of about 4000 people had risen to its feet and had clapped their hands in joy for full two minutes![5] What exactly was the reason for this kind of reception? Was it the content of the speech? As can be seen from the synopsis given above, the speech had no substantial content. He would, of course, be elaborating on those ideas in the days to come; but the reply to the welcome address had no such content worth applauding. Yet, these few words had done something deep inside the American psyche, and the next day, every major newspaper heralded the birth of a new prophet, so to speak.

Ida Ansell, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda notes in her diary[6]: “One day, he (Swami Vivekananda) said this startling thing to us: ‘In my first speech in this country, in Chicago, I addressed that audience as “Sisters and Brothers of America,” and you know that they all rose to their feet. You may wonder what made them do this, you may wonder if I had some strange power. Let me tell you that I did have a power and this is it – never once in my life did I allow myself to have even one sexual thought. I trained my mind, my thinking, and the powers that man usually uses along that line I put into a higher channel, and it developed a force so strong that nothing could resist it.’”

So, what actually led to the incredible reception by the American audience of Swamiji was this aspect of his personality. It was not just the content of his brief speech. We are not alluding that the content of his address was ordinary or commonplace. But, we need to get the facts right.

The world today remembers that Swamiji said something about the harmony of religions in that inaugural session and we all believe that the message was responsible for his unprecedented fame. The audience of that day, 11th Sept 1893, at the Columbus Hall of the Art Institute of Chicago, however, felt something totally different. We must try to imagine that moment, that situation, that presence. When this young man, dressed strangely, stood up to speak, the audience instinctively felt something. We do not have a word to describe that feeling. We use the word ‘holiness’ to designate all those feelings. Everyone in that Hall instinctively felt his immaculate purity of personality. The printed word available today does not convey that experience. Purity of character is what connects the speaker with his audience at the deepest level. It is not his words, nor the syntax of his lecture. It is the purity of his personality.

Sister Christine, another disciple of Swamiji, writes the following in her reminiscences[7]: When asked what preparation he (Swamiji) made for speaking, he told us none – but neither did he go unprepared. He said that usually before a lecture he heard a voice saying it all. The next day he repeated what he had heard. He did not say whose voice he heard. Whatever it was, it came as the expression of some great spiritual power, greater than his own normal power, released by the intensity of his concentration. This may have been quite unconscious. No written words can convey the vitality, the power, the majesty that came with his spoken words. What might happen to one’s ideas, values, personality, if this current of power were let loose upon them! It was great enough to move the world, let alone one little human personality, which was but as a straw upon its mighty current. It was force that could sweep everything before it. Old ideas would change, the purposes and aims of life, its values would change, old tendencies would be directed into a new channel, the entire personality would be transmuted.

What was it which emanated from him which all felt and none could explain? Was it the ojas of which he so often spoke, that mysterious power which comes when the physical forces of the body are transmuted into spiritual power? When this happens, man has at his command a power so great that it can move the world. Every word that he utters is charged. One who possesses it may say only a few sentences, but they will be potent until the end of time, while the orator who lacks it may ‘speak with the tongue of men and of angels’, but it is as nothing, ‘as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.’

Something of this power is lost in the written word, as those know well who were fortunate enough to hear Vivekananda speak. The spiritual force generated at such times was so great that some in the audience were lifted above the normal state of consciousness, so that it was possible to remember only the beginning of a lecture. After a certain point, there seemed to be a blank. The normal mind was no longer functioning: a higher state of consciousness, beyond reason and memory, had taken its place. Long after, perhaps, it would be found that during that period when the mind seemed blank, a specially deep impression had been made.

This power that a mere human being can have over others is something that is not much understood. We are all in awe of such a person of power, but, this phenomenon has been not studied at all. Swamiji himself explained this amazing phenomenon to his disciples and Sister Christine notes the following in her reminiscences[8]: There is a connection between great spirituality and chastity. The explanation is that these men and women have through prayer and meditation transmuted the most powerful force in the body into spiritual energy. In India this is well understood and yogis do it consciously. The force so transmuted is called ojas and is stored up in the brain. It has been lifted from the lowest center of the kundalini — the muladhara to the highest. To us who listened the words came to our remembrance: ‘And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.’

In the same eager way he went on to explain that whenever there was any manifestation of power or genius, it was because a little of this power had escaped up the sushumna. And did he say it? Or did we come to see for ourselves the reason why the Avataras and even lesser ones could inspire a love so great that it made the fishermen of Galilee leave their nets and follow the young Carpenter, made the princes of the clan of Shakya give up their robes, their jewels, their princely estates? It was the divine drawing. It was the lure of divinity.

How touchingly earnest Swami Vivekananda was as he proposed this subject! He seemed to plead with us as if to beg us to act upon this teaching as something most precious. More, we could not be the disciples he required if we were not established in this. He demanded a conscious transmutation. “The man who had no temper has nothing to control,” he said. “I want a few, five or six who are in the flower of their youth.”

The perspective of the message:

In 1919, after Durga Puja, Swami Keshavananda came to Jayrambati from Koalpara to pay his respects to Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi. In course of their conversation, Keshavananda asked her, “Mother, was it for the establishment of the harmony of religions that the Master came this time?” Holy Mother replied, “Look, my son, it never occurred to me that the Master practiced all religions with the intention of preaching the harmony of religions. He was always absorbed in God-consciousness. The way the Christians, Muslims, and the Vaishnavas practice spiritual disciplines and realize God, the Master also practiced those paths in the same way, and thus he enjoyed the divine play of God in various ways. He was completely oblivious of how days and nights would pass. But you see, my son, in this present age he set the ideal of renunciation. How many people recognize him as God? People were attracted to his renunciation. Only a few in his inner circle realize him as God. Has anyone ever witnessed such natural renunciation? What you have mentioned about the harmony of religions is also true. In every incarnation, a particular ideal is emphasized and other ideals remain dormant.[9]

We quote this amazing conversation between Swami Keshavananda and Holy Mother because the popular perception is that Harmony of Religions is the central message of Swami Vivekananda, and hence of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna, to the modern world. In fact, the Chicago addresses are synonymous with that message of harmony. This conversation lends the right perspective to this perception.

Holy Mother’s words are very deep. She says that Sri Ramakrishna’s central message was God realization. Renunciation alone leads to God realization. The impulse for realizing as many aspects of God as possible was unique in Sri Ramakrishna. All spiritual aspirants of the past, be they ordinary souls or Prophets and Incarnations, were satisfied with realizing one particular aspect of God. God however is infinite. Hence God has infinite aspects. In Sri Ramakrishna we see a unique, never-before-seen, urge of realizing as many aspects of infinite God as possible. It is this urge that blossoms out as the wonderful ideal of ‘Harmony of Religions’. So, we must understand one thing very clearly. Holy Mother confirms that the ideal of Harmony of Religions is indeed a special message for this age revealed by Sri Ramakrishna. However, this ideal has no meaning if we see religion as anything other than realization. If religion means realization of the spiritual ideal, only then does harmony of religions make any sense. Therefore does Holy Mother emphasize that Sri Ramakrishna’s central message to us was renunciation, which means realization of the spiritual ideal. Harmony of Religions is, no doubt, an important message of Sri Ramakrishna to us, but only in the backdrop of this ideal of renunciation.

It is important to note this point. If we do not understand this vital point, we may misunderstand Harmony of Religions to mean some kind of political idea. “Tyagenaike amritatvamaanashuhu”; Renunciation is the sole criteria for spiritual realization. Once a person realizes his true nature, he must be guided to the fact of harmony among all religious ideals. The idea of Harmony of Religions divorced from the idea of realization of one’s true nature is dangerous, and it will end up as just another political idea. This kind of development is happening and hence we felt the need of highlighting this point as a necessary course-correction. In fact, this kind of misunderstanding had happened during Swamiji’s lifetime itself. He himself suggested the correct perspective of his statements in a letter to his Madras disciple Alasinga Perumal[10]. Writing from USA on 27th September, 1894 (a year after the historic Chicago addresses), Swamiji says, “Dear Alasinga, . . . One thing I find in the books of my speeches and sayings published in Calcutta. Some of them are printed in such a way as to savor of political views; whereas I am no politician or political agitator. I care only for the Spirit — when that is right everything will be righted by itself…. So you must warn the Calcutta people that no political significance be ever attached falsely to any of my writings or sayings. What nonsense! . . . I heard that Rev. Kali Charan Banerji in a lecture to Christian missionaries said that I was a political delegate. If it was said publicly, then publicly ask the Babu for me to write to any of the Calcutta papers and prove it, or else take back his foolish assertion. This is their trick! I have said a few harsh words in honest criticism of Christian governments in general, but that does not mean that I care for, or have any connection with politics or that sort of thing. Those who think it very grand to print extracts from those lectures and want to prove that I am a political preacher, to them I say, ‘Save me from my friends.’ . . . Tell my friends that a uniform silence is all my answer to my detractors. If I give them tit for tat, it would bring us down to a level with them. Tell them that truth will take care of itself, and that they are not to fight anybody for me. They have much to learn yet, and they are only children. They are still full of foolish golden dreams — mere boys![11]

Analysis of Swamiji’s message:

Now, let us analyze the message that Swamiji conveyed to the American audience during his lectures at the Parliament of Religions.

Dissociating the essential Hinduism from its non-essentials:

Swamiji actually proclaimed a fundamental fact of religion in the Parliament[12]. All religions exhibit this fundamental characteristic. What is that? All religions have two distinct aspects to it. One is the personal aspect of religion; the other is the collective aspect of religion.

In his lecture ‘Buddhism, the fulfilment of Hinduism’[13] delivered on 26th September, 1893, Swami Vivekananda says, “The religion of the Hindus is divided into two parts: the ceremonial and the spiritual. The spiritual portion is specially studied by the monks. In that there is no caste. A man from the highest caste and a man from the lowest may become a monk in India, and the two castes become equal. In religion there is no caste; caste is simply a social institution.” Followers of every religion make the mistake of conflating both these aspects into one. The problem in Hinduism is all the more virulent. The problems generated by the collective aspect of Hinduism get ploughed back into the entire religion and people end up concluding that the entire Hindu religion is outdated and has to be rejected.

In a letter to Alasinga[14] written on 2nd Nov 1893, Swamiji says: “The Hindu must not give up his religion, but must keep religion within its proper limits and give freedom to society to grow. All the reformers in India made the serious mistake of holding religion accountable for all the horrors of priestcraft and degeneration and went forthwith to pull down the indestructible structure, and what was the result? Failure! Beginning from Buddha down to Ram Mohan Roy, everyone made the mistake of holding caste to be a religious institution and tried to pull down religion and caste all together, and failed. But in spite of all the ravings of the priests, caste is simply a crystallized social institution, which after doing its service is now filling the atmosphere of India with its stench, and it can only be removed by giving back to the people their lost social individuality. Every man born here knows that he is a man. Every man born in India knows that he is a slave of society. Now, freedom is the only condition of growth; take that off, the result is degeneration. With the introduction of modern competition, see how caste is disappearing fast! No religion is now necessary to kill it. The Brahmana shopkeeper, shoemaker, and wine-distiller are common in Northern India. And why? Because of competition. No man is prohibited from doing anything he pleases for his livelihood under the present Government, and the result is neck and neck competition, and thus thousands are seeking and finding the highest level they were born for, instead of vegetating at the bottom.

Note the words, “The Hindu must not give up his religion, but must keep religion within its proper limits and give freedom to society to grow.” What does keeping the Hindu Religion within its proper limits mean? Who will prescribe that limit? And what is the connection between allowing our society the freedom to grow and keeping our religion within proper limits? We all need to urgently think on these questions.

Do not try to merge the personal, individual aspect of religion with the collective aspect of religion. If we can do that with respect to Hinduism, we would have kept the Hindu religion within its proper limits. Religious leaders in India have always taken the liberty of prescribing upon the masses the kind of social life they need to live so that all of them can gradually come up to experience spiritual truth. These prescriptions for social life made by religion were valid for quite a long period of time in India. These social laws (which were crystallized into the institution called Caste) helped millions of common people to grow materially, intellectually, morally and spiritually for a long time. These social laws helped the Hindus to meaningfully interact with people who were not Hindus for a long time, since these laws had provisions for incorporating willing foreigners into the body politick as we saw with the Greeks or Yavanas, the Huns, the Tartars and the Kushanas. The system however broke down with the Muslim invasion during the 11th century. Hordes of Muslims came into our country with the idea of staying here. But the Hindu society could not integrate them into its body politick. This was a major setback for the Hindu society.

Didn’t the Hindu society face such situations before? A situation where a foreign group of people entered India and wanted to stay in India but would not integrate socially with the Hindus? We do not know the historic facts. But, we can safely infer two possible scenarios. One: Such people did come; but they were militarily evicted from the land by a powerful military force which has always been a part of the Hindu society, sanctioned by the social laws prescribed by the Hindu Religious leaders; that powerful military force formed the Kshatriya caste. Two: Some fringe groups did remain totally unintegrated with the body politick, obviously in very minute pockets, but they were categorized as ‘Mlechha’ and socially, there was mutual non-interference. Mlechha was the category of people living in the Indian society that could not integrate into it. Thus, Mlechha was beyond the pale of the social structure called Caste system. It is interesting to note that Swamiji once said, “No man, no nation, my son, can hate others and live; India’s doom was sealed the very day they invented the word MLECHCHHA and stopped from communion with others. Take care how you foster that idea.[15]

With the Muslim invasion, the Hindu society faced its greatest challenge. Here was a substantial group of foreigners who wished to stay in the land, refused to socially integrate, and over and above that, forced their social norms over the Hindu society. Never before had the Hindus faced a social challenge of this magnitude or intensity.

The reaction of the Hindu society was equally shocking to its leaders. Millions of Hindus belonging to the lowest caste, the Shudras, adopted the Muslim social norms. Conversion means just that; accepting the social norms of another religion. It is only the collective aspect of a religion that converts. The personal aspect of any religion cannot convert. But, the two aspects are so closely mixed up together that one leads to the other. With the Muslim invasion too, if the social norms had been imposed on the Hindu society and even if large masses of Hindus had indeed ended up adopting the Muslim social norms, it should not have been a crisis. But, adopting the Muslim social norms effectively meant that the Hindu would cease to be a Hindu in his personal life too; he would have to follow the personal aspect of the Muslim religion, eschewing the personal aspect of Hinduism!

The Hindu psyche learnt two major lessons from the Muslim invasion over a period of 800 years.

One: It had to develop its Kshatriya caste which had been destroyed by the Buddhist influence. Hindus realized that they had to develop sufficient strength in order to protect themselves. This was indeed a vital learning and was powerful enough to have rejuvenated the Hindu society long ago. But, this lesson was accompanied by another very important learning

Two: The developments following the Muslim invasion revealed major chinks in the Caste system. Even if we developed a strong military arm of Hinduism, what would it protect? A flawed system, which had so deeply hurt its members, that millions willingly jumped camp? It was this inner conflict in the Hindu psyche that had almost resolved itself during the brief two centuries of the British invasion by concluding that the Hindu religion itself was useless. It was this inner conflict in the Hindu psyche that Swamiji was addressing when he wrote immortal those words to Alasinga, ‘The Hindu must not give up his religion, but must keep religion within its proper limits and give freedom to society to grow.’

Yes, it was time we recognized that our social structure was indeed flawed and needed urgent reconstruction. But that was not the crying need to the hour. The crying need was to immediately dissociate the essential aspect of Hindu religion from the non-essential aspect of the same Hindu religion. Why? Because the forces that would reconstruct the Hindu society had already been unleashed by the impact of the British invasion on India, and there was the imminent danger of the essential Hindu religion being thrown out along with the dated, putrefying social structure sanctioned by Hinduism. That is why Swamiji wrote to Alasinga, “With the introduction of modern competition, see how caste is disappearing fast! No religion is now necessary to kill it. The Brahmana shopkeeper, shoemaker, and wine-distiller are common in Northern India. And why? Because of competition. No man is prohibited from doing anything he pleases for his livelihood under the present Government, and the result is neck and neck competition, and thus thousands are seeking and finding the highest level they were born for, instead of vegetating at the bottom.”

So, basically, Caste was one of the viable options on which society could be formed in order to lead mankind to its fulfilment. It was not the only option. It was therefore dispensable. And the social forces that had started working in India had already initiated that dismantling work. There was no need for any religious leader to do that job anymore. The main job that devolved on the religious leader in the Hindu society was the immediate dissociation of the personal aspect of religion from its collective aspect; else, there was the danger that both would be lost. That would be an irreparable loss to mankind as a whole, for, the personal aspect of the Hindu religion contained Vedanta, the science of Religion.

How did Swamiji perform this life-saving surgery for Hinduism? Swamiji did not do this exercise for Hinduism alone. He did it for all religions. But its patent impact was on Hinduism since it had the required maturity to accept the correction. We believe that all religions will in due course also accept this important correction. Sister Nivedita explains this almost poetically in her Introduction to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda[16] as follows:

Of the Swami’s address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created. The moment was ripe with this potentiality. The vast audience that faced him represented exclusively the occidental mind, but included some development of all that in this was most distinctive. Every nation in Europe has poured in its human contribution upon America, and notably upon Chicago, where the Parliament was held. Much of the best, as well as some of the worst, of modern effort and struggle, is at all times to be met with, within the frontiers of that Western Civic Queen, whose feet are upon the shores of Lake Michigan, as she sits and broods, with the light of the North in her eyes. There is very little in the modern consciousness, very little inherited from the past of Europe, that does not hold some outpost in the city of Chicago. And while the teeming life and eager interests of that center may seem to some of us for the present largely a chaos, yet they are undoubtedly making for the revealing of some noble and slow-wrought ideal of human unity, when the days of their ripening shall be fully accomplished.

Such was the psychological area, such the sea of mind, young, tumultuous, overflowing with its own energy and self-assurance, yet inquisitive and alert withal, which confronted Vivekananda when he rose to speak. Behind him, on the contrary, lay an ocean, calm with long ages of spiritual development. Behind him lay a world that dated itself from the Vedas, and remembered itself in the Upanishads, a world to which Buddhism was almost modern; a world that was filled with religious systems of faiths and creeds; a quiet land, steeped in the sunlight of the tropics, the dust of whose roads had been trodden by the feet of the saints for ages upon ages. Behind him, in short, lay India, with her thousands of years of national development, in which she had sounded many things, proved many things, and realized almost all, save only her own perfect unanimity, from end to end of her great expanse of time and space, as to certain fundamental and essential truths, held by all her people in common.

These, then, were the two mind-floods, two immense rivers of thought, as it were, Eastern and modern, of which the yellow-clad wanderer on the platform of the Parliament of Religions formed for a moment the point of confluence. The formulation of the common bases of Hinduism was the inevitable result of the shock of their contact, in a personality, so impersonal. For it was no experience of his own that rose to the lips of the Swami Vivekananda there. He did not even take advantage of the occasion to tell the story of his Master. Instead of either of these, it was the religious consciousness of India that spoke through him, the message of his whole people, as determined by their whole past. And as he spoke, in the youth and noonday of the West, a nation, sleeping in the shadows of the darkened half of earth, on the far side of the Pacific, waited in spirit for the words that would be borne on the dawn that was travelling towards them, to reveal to them the secret of their own greatness and strength.

Others stood beside the Swami Vivekananda, on the same platform as he, as apostles of particular creeds and churches. But it was his glory that he came to preach a religion to which each of these was, in his own words, ‘only a travelling, a coming up, of different men, and women, through various conditions and circumstances to the same goal’. He stood there, as he declared, to tell of One who had said of them all, not that one or another was true, in this or that respect, or for this or that reason, but that ‘All these are threaded upon Me, as pearls upon a string. Wherever thou seest extraordinary holiness and extraordinary power, raising and purifying humanity, know thou that I am there.’ To the Hindu, says Vivekananda, ‘Man is not travelling from error to truth, but climbing up from truth to truth, from truth that is lower to truth that is higher.’ This, and the teaching of Mukti — the doctrine that ‘man is to become divine by realizing the divine,’ that religion is perfected in us only when it has led us to ‘Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world, that One who is the only soul, of which all souls are but delusive manifestations’ — may be taken as the two great outstanding truths which, authenticated by the longest and most complex experience in human history, India proclaimed through him to the modern world of the West.

For India herself, the short address forms, as has been said, a brief Charter of Enfranchisement. Hinduism in its wholeness the speaker bases on the Vedas, but he spiritualizes our conception of the word, even while he utters it. To him, all that is true is Veda. ‘By the Vedas,’ he says, ‘no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times.’ Incidentally, he discloses his conception of the Sanatana Dharma. ‘From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the lowest ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu’s religion.’ To his mind, there could be no sect, no school, no sincere religious experience of the Indian people — however like an aberration it might seem to the individual — that might rightly be excluded from the embrace of Hinduism. And of this Indian Mother-Church, according to him, the distinctive doctrine is that of the Ishta Devata, the right of each soul to choose its own path, and to seek God in its own way. No army, then, carries the banner of so wide an Empire as that of Hinduism, thus defined. For as her spiritual goal is the finding of God, even so is her spiritual rule the perfect freedom of every soul to be itself.

New India, new God, new rituals:

“For India herself, the short address forms, as has been said, a brief Charter of Enfranchisement.” In one short, aphoristic statement, Sister Nivedita summarizes the most important takeaway from the Chicago addresses of Swamiji. She had the incredibly vast, immensely integrating vision of saying, “Of the Swami’s address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created.” This is indeed a very sweeping statement Sister makes. She says that as a direct consequence of Swamiji’s addresses in Chicago Parliament, Hinduism itself was created. What could she possibly mean by this? Didn’t Hinduism exist before this 11th September 1893 event?

The personal and collective aspects of the Hindu religion had got so inextricably mixed up that the case for salvaging this religion seemed all but hopeless. Swami Vivekananda, through his addresses in the Chicago Parliament of Religions and in his subsequent lectures in India from Colombo to Almora, clearly excised the pure Hindu religion from its accumulated dross. The pure Hindu religion is what we have been calling the personal aspect of Hinduism; it is a most personal affair; it consists only of soul, God and the relation between them. There is no second person involved in that affair. That is true Hinduism. In fact that is true Christianity or Islam too. All religions have that aspect. The collective aspect of Hinduism or any religion, for that matter, is politics. Tradition has given the name religion to it, but it is politics. True religion has nothing to do with it. The farther these two aspects can remain from each other, the better for society and mankind.

Hindus, including the leaders of the Hindu religion, the leaders of the Hindu society, and the masses were given a clear picture of the pure, unadulterated form of their own religion by Swami Vivekananda. And this major work, he started with his Chicago lectures. Hence Sister Nivedita said, “Of the Swami’s address before the Parliament of Religions, it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created.”

Some year later, Swamiji himself was to say, “Now we have a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas. When, O Lord, shall our land be free from this eternal dwelling upon the past?[17]

Note the use of the words, ‘a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas’. Swamiji had the vision of a Rishi. He saw clearly what he was meant to do, and also saw clearly what would be the outcome of his actions on India. Since we are followers of Swami Vivekananda, we hold that this tremendous transformation of the country, and its religion, and its society were the handiwork of Swami Vivekananda. It can however, equally be argued that Swami Vivekananda himself was the product of the deeper national forces that had awakened and had started working changes in the nation. Whatever be the case, this much is certain; India has started rejuvenating itself. It is a whole-soul transformation that is being wrought this time.

We say that Swamiji was able to see clearly the exact changes occurring in the body, mind and soul of India based on some of his own recorded observations. For instance, look at the clarity in his vision in the following conversation[18]:

“Is India conscious of the awakening that you allude to?”

Perfectly conscious. The world perhaps sees it chiefly in the Congress movement and in the field of social reform; but the awakening is quite as real in religion, though it works more silently.”

Why did Swami Vivekananda use the words ‘a new India’? This opens up a huge area of thought which we shall deal with in a separate essay. Suffice it to say for now that the changes that have occurred in India since Swamiji uttered these words are nothing less than the change seen when the phoenix rises from the ashes of its dead predecessor. The entire perception of the nation, the religion, the society, the national governance, the education, the economy, the politics, the hopes, the aspirations have all changed beyond recognition already in a span of 125 years! A country that was predicted to implode within a decade of the British leaving this land has resurrected miraculously and is vying with the world leaders for its place of pride.

Modern arrangement for society & religion in India:

            What was the arrangement for society and religion in India in the past? This issue assumes importance because India is not a small land or a small group of people; it is a very vast land, with a humungous population having an unbroken civilization of at least 5000 years of existence. One can’t initiate changes in such an entity without creating tsunamis of upheaval in society and individual lives. Although the changes wrought in India in the last 100 years is nothing less than complete, the upheaval in the body and soul of India, in the society and in individual lives has not been all that devastating; at least not commensurate with the scale of changes that have been wrought. Why is that so? Swamiji avers that India was blessed with the life of Sri Ramakrishna, who embodied the soul of India, as it were, and sustained the entire gamut of transformational shock in his own person, thereby smoothening the transition for all of us. He derives this explanation from the tenets of Vedanta: “Vedanta…tells us that we not only have to live the life of all past humanity, but also the future life of all humanity. The man who does the first is the educated man; the second is the Jivanmukta, forever free (even while living).[19]

            India was always ruled by kings. That was because the social norms dictated by religion, which held sway over the land and its people for thousands of years prescribed that governance would be done by a particular caste of people called the Kshatriyas. The Brahmins would frame the social laws, and guide the Kshatriyas to enforce them in society. That has now changed. India is a democratic republic now. Masses will elect their leaders, who will govern the land and the people based on the Constitution of India, which is the Law. This Constitution of India does not derive its sanction from Hinduism or any religion, but is based entirely on principles of natural justice and human rights. This Constitution recognizes the fact that caste-based distinctions in the Indian society will have to be phased out and replaced by meritocracy. This development is unique in India’s history. The entire responsibility of framing social laws has, for the first time in its thousands of years of existence, been taken away from the religious leaders and has been vested on the masses themselves. Religion therefore has become a truly personal affair of every Indian. Society has nothing to dictate regarding the personal religion of any individual in our nation now, just as nobody’s religion has anything to dictate about social norms, mores and interactions.

The exact amount of deviation from its past, all this entails for India, is something that is beyond our understanding.[20] When the British left India in 1947, we chose to be a democratic nation; then we framed an amazingly elaborate Constitution and placed it at the head of our society. We voluntarily chose the Rule of Law, effectively dissociating religion from politics and social life.

Of course, Swami Vivekananda was not alive when these momentous decisions were taken in India. But, we contend that each one of these decisions was directly initiated by the great Swami. He himself was aware of the extent of impact of his work on the future of India. Take a look at this amazing conversation[21]:

“Have you given any attention to the Indian National Congress movement?”

I cannot claim to have given much; my work is in another part of the field. But I regard the movement as significant, and heartily wish it success. A nation is being made out of India’s different races. I sometimes think they are no less various than the different peoples of Europe. In the past, Europe has struggled for Indian trade, a trade which has played a tremendous part in the civilization of the world; its acquisition might almost be called a turning-point in the history of humanity. We see the Dutch, Portuguese, French, and English contending for it in succession. The discovery of America may be traced to the indemnification the Venetians sought in the far distant West for the loss they suffered in the East.”

“Where will it end?”

It will certainly end in the working out of India’s homogeneity, in her acquiring what we may call democratic ideas. Intelligence must not remain the monopoly of the cultured few; it will be disseminated from higher to lower classes. Education is coming, and compulsory education will follow. The immense power of our people for work must be utilized. India’s potentialities are great and will be called forth.

Indian society was, all along, structured on the framework of the Caste system. This system of social organization is most certainly the greatest invention of the human mind. There never was a time in its incredibly long history that the Indian society did not follow this system for organizing itself. And yet, in one fell swoop, this grand superstructure was discarded when we adopted the Constitution in 1950. It is really very difficult to clearly imagine the ramifications of this change in our society. And yet, the change was so smooth, and so natural, that none of us have actually felt the shocks consequent upon such a momentous change. Swami Vivekananda explains the reason in the same conversation: “No reasonable person aims at assimilating India to England; the body is made by the thought that lies behind it. The body politic is thus the expression of national thought, and in India, of thousands of years of thought. To Europeanize India is therefore an impossible and foolish task: the elements of progress were always actively present in India. As soon as a peaceful government was there, these have always shown themselves. From the time of the Upanishads down to the present day, nearly all our great Teachers have wanted to break through the barriers of caste, i.e. caste in its degenerate state, not the original system. What little good you see in the present caste clings to it from the original caste, which was the most glorious social institution. Buddha tried to re-establish caste in its original form. At every period of India’s awakening, there have always been great efforts made to break down caste. But it must always be we who build up a new India as an effect and continuation of her past, assimilating helpful foreign ideas wherever they may be found. Never can it be they; growth must proceed from within. All that England can do is to help India to work out her own salvation. All progress at the dictation of another, whose hand is at India’s throat, is valueless in my opinion. The highest work can only degenerate when slave-labor produces it.[22]

The question that arises is this: What replaces the Caste system in India today? Swami Vivekananda believes that the British introduced certain systems of governance into our nation which have essentially demolished the Caste system. He notes that every religious leader of the past in India had to deal with the Caste system, right from the Upanishads to Buddha up to the recent ones like Nanak, Kabir & Ramanuja. He and his Guru, Sri Ramakrishna, did not have to deal with that rather unpleasant task. The British Empire did that ‘dirty job’ for him, so to speak.

But, can something introduced by a foreign civilization really work for India? Will it organically match with the national body, mind and soul of India? As Swami Vivekananda says: “No reasonable person aims at assimilating India to England; the body is made by the thought that lies behind it. The body politic is thus the expression of national thought, and in India, of thousands of years of thought. To Europeanize India is therefore an impossible and foolish task: the elements of progress were always actively present in India.” So, whatever it was that the British introduced into India, must be ‘Indianized’, so to speak, for natural assimilation by the nation. What exactly did the British introduce into the Indian society that replaced the formidable Caste system, and how exactly did Swami Vivekananda go about ‘Indianizing’ it are the topics of another essay, for they need sufficient elaboration. Suffice it to say that this gargantuan task was achieved by Swami Vivekananda for this nation by means of ‘Organization’ that the British introduced into India, complete dissociation of the personal aspect of Hinduism from its collective aspect, and prescribing Karma Yoga to the masses as the divinizing tool for organization in daily life. This triad of ideas, when put to work, supremely fulfils the purpose of the Caste system in the Indian context.[23] There is a distinctly spiritual aspect to this work, and Swamiji chose to work in that field, as he himself told the London Reporter C.S.B, “my work is in another part of the field.”

Hindutva as a logical growth in Hinduism:

Till now, we have dealt with in detail about the implications of the ideas of Swami Vivekananda in the Indian context. We still have to explain the phenomenon of Hindutva, as we pointed out in the beginning of this article.

The ideology of Hindutva has been studied deeply in recent times by scholars such as Shamsul Islam, Jyotirmaya Sharma, Walter Anderson and Shridhar Damle. The roots of the idea lie in the scholarly works of Veer Savarkar and M S Golwalkar of the RSS. The point of contention revolves around the fact that Golwalkar and the RSS leaders claim to have derived this ideology from the message of Swami Vivekananda! Is that a correct stand? What complicates the issue further is the fact that the organization started by Swami Vivekananda himself has always distanced itself from this ideology, much to the chagrin of the RSS leaders. This conscious distancing is all the more ironic given the fact that Golwalkar was a disciple of Swami Akhandananda, the 3rd President of the organization founded by Swami Vivekananda. What exactly is happening here? Most of the followers, disciples, and well-wishers of both the Ramakrishna Mission and the RSS are at a loss due to this perceptible distance between these two mighty organizations. We need to understand this issue.

It is interesting to note that one of the lectures Swami Vivekananda delivered during the Chicago Parliament was ‘Buddhism – the fulfilment of Hinduism’. He himself said that he represented the Hindu religion. Buddhism was officially represented by another person. It was common knowledge that Buddhism arose in India but was rooted out of the country. Historical forces at work in the Indian society did not find it compatible with India’s destiny to retain Buddhism. Why would he now speak of Buddhism as a fulfilment of Hinduism?

The main problem with understanding things like this with respect to India is the awful absence of recorded history of the land and its people. India has a long, unbroken existence of at least 5000 years. But that period has innumerable gaps. Today it has become almost impossible to reconstruct the exact events, uncover the exact causes for those developments, understand the exact sequence of progress of the nation, and thereby make sense of why we are what we are today. Swami Vivekananda, however, undoubtedly tapped into the memories left behind in the national mind and was able to reconstruct the history in incredible detail.

The actual causes for the rise of Hindutva lie in the unrecorded portions of India’s ancient history. In the wake of Buddhism, the Kshatriya Caste was all but emasculated in the Indian society. Overmuch emphasis on Ahimsa made the Kshatriya’s role redundant in society. Things went on quite well for a long time even after this terrible decision, but the impact was felt about a thousand years later when the Muslims came. There was no resisting power from the Indian society that could put the socially non-integrating, and socially & religiously aggressive Muslims in their place. Simultaneously, hordes of Shudras switched camps to Islam, voluntarily, right under the nose of the Hindu leaders. These two developments devastated the Hindu society and the Hindu lost his self-confidence. The Hindu leaders felt that their Caste system was found to be lacking but they had no alternative. Added to this was the discovery of the New World and the Industrial Revolution, both of which ultimately rendered the Hindu way of life meaningless politically, socially and economically. The sequence of events gave us the message that there was nothing worthwhile in the Hindu scheme of life, a feedback loop which enveloped the Hindu religion too in its death grasp.

We need to understand an important point here. What is it that the Hindu is looking for, and has been looking for in life? Why did the Hindu feel so low about himself for over 1000 years? The Hindu wants an opportunity to practice his personal religion in a social framework that will allow him to enjoy life in such a way that his life’s experiences will gradually lead him towards complete renunciation and merge him with God in Samadhi. The Hindu is congenitally a lover of life. He is also simultaneously a born believer in the Spirit. It is indeed a self-contradiction but the Hindu is programmed, as it were, to resolve these opposing forces in his own life. He needs a society organized in such a way that he is allowed to resolve this conflict for himself. Caste system had provided this social homeostasis for his personal experiments. It was imperative that he be not disturbed by others in the society regarding how he leads his personal religious life. There is a particular way of viewing Indian history in which the entire history of this land can be seen to revolve around this one vital point – the Hindu will not be disturbed regarding how he leads his personal religious life. No doubt he needs society to help him in this endeavor, for which reason, he will allow society and its leaders, lot of flexibility in manipulating social norms in their effort to provide him the one and only thing he needs – his personal religious space. If, by chance or due to ignorance, the leaders try to touch him there, the Hindu rejects the leaders and their authority.

That is the reason why Buddha and his ideas were rejected by the Hindus. Then came the Muslims. He allowed the Muslims to take care of the governance of his society, so that he could lead his personal religious life in peace. But, the Muslim turned out to be very aggressive. He would give governance at a price; he was willing to govern the Hindus only if they renounced their religion, both personal and social, and adopt Islam. The Muslim was constrained to do this because the only method he knew of governing a society was if the people accepted Sharia. The social inflexibility of the Muslim and the social inflexibility of the Hindu, both of which are wrongly conflated with their religions, have led to an impasse in their social intercourse in India. The Muslim was able to convert the Hindu by reading him the Kalima (that is how Muslims convert people.) Once the Hindu uttered the name of Allah, the Muslim was at peace thinking he had converted the Hindu and he would now be able to govern him according to the social norms of Islam, called Sharia. But, very soon, he would find the Hindu reverting back to his old Hindu ways of life! The Hindu had no way of rejecting or denouncing his own religion! There was no conceivable act by which a Hindu could cease to be a Hindu! This was one scenario that the Muslim had not encountered anywhere in the world, and he had conquered almost the entire known world by the time he turned to India. The Hindu was a tease for the Muslim. The Hindu apparently seemed to become a Muslim, but would still remain a Hindu behind his back.

Sri Ramakrishna mentions a beautiful story in the Gospel[24] in this connection: “Is it an easy thing to destroy old tendencies? Once there lived a very pious Hindu who always worshipped the Divine Mother and chanted Her name. When the Mussulmans conquered the country, they forced him embrace Islam. They said to him: ‘You are now a Muslim. Say “Allah”. From now on you must repeat only the name of Allah.’ With great difficulty he repeated the word ‘Allah’, but every now and then blurted out ‘Jagadamba’. At that, the Mussulmans were about to beat him. Thereupon he said to them: ‘I beseech you! Please do not kill me. I have been trying my utmost to repeat the name of Allah, but our Jagadamba has filled me up to the throat. She pushes out your Allah.’ (All laugh.)”

This natural disposition of the Hindu seemed like treason to the Muslim and he was dealt with violently in most cases. The Hindu simply could not make sense of this violent behavior of the Muslim. The Hindu looked up to the Muslim as his Ruler, as the administrator, as his social protector. The Hindu felt that the Muslim would take care of a vital social job for him and provide him the safety he needed to practice his personal religious life, but the protector himself turned out to be an oppressor! The Hindu had basically sub-contracted governance and protection to the Muslim, and the Muslim’s behavior did not reflect the trust that the Hindu had placed on him. Consequently, the natural disposition of the Muslim seemed like treason to the Hindu! Thus, for about 800 years, the two communities shared house with growing mutual distrust. In a sense, both the Hindu and the Muslim were innocent; each was just trying to use the other to achieve his own end.[25] There were innumerable attempts at understanding each other. Each such case ended up in denouncing the collective aspects of their religions and the end result was blasphemous to themselves. Attempts such as the Din-e-ilahi by Akbar[26] and the Sufi movements were denounced by Islam as apostasy. Attempts such as the Bhakti movement were denounced as apostasy by traditional Hinduism since no one could determine the caste to which the resulting Hindu belonged.[27]

In such a situation, came the British. They were able to give a greatly balanced, peaceful and efficient system of social governance. The only fault with the British was that they had no clue about the collective Hindu Religion. Yet, they gave a peaceful government to the Hindu through their own methods of tier-organization systems, and immediately, the Hindu started waking up. That has ever been the case with India. Swami Vivekananda says, “The elements of progress were always actively present in India. As soon as a peaceful government was there, these have always shown themselves.” The Hindu always believed that peaceful Government, in other words, a stable society could only be achieved through the Caste system, with the Kshatriya caste performing his duties properly. In this case, the British were able to achieve the same result with absolutely no clue of that intricate, age-old social system. Yet, the moment the British achieved social homeostasis, the essential Hindu started asserting himself, which we saw in Sri Ramakrishna realizing God afresh. This one single event of one man achieving success in his personal religion sent the message across to every Hindu that his own essential religion was very much valid. From then started the Hindu resurrection.

The Hindu learnt a great lesson from these developments. There was a clear distinction between the essential Hinduism and the social aspects of Hinduism. There was an alternative to the social aspect of Hinduism, as the British had demonstrated in India.

The fall of the Kshatriya had led to cascading effects on the economic condition of the land too. The Hindu had slowly lost his ability to create wealth since protection to the wealth generator did not exist. The Muslim rulers were able to provide a semblance of that protection and once again the nation became rich. But, the Muslim reign was never on a firm foothold in India since it lacked deep moorings in the society and once again, dacoits and thugs thrived on important supply lines and economy nose-dived. Barring the period of Akbar, during the rest of the period of Mughal Rule, the line of control from the Emperor’s Capital to the smallest and farthest village was very weak. At the village levels, there were revenue collecting officials, who would mark their territories. But, between two such villages, the area that fell under neither official, which was supposed to be protected by the Central forces, would lie open. These areas were infested with dacoits and thugs who were the scourge of the indigenous businessman. The British were able to provide great protection along supply lines, and once again, wealth generation peaked in this wonderful land. But, the British endeavor was geared to only siphon the wealth to Britain and the creator of wealth in India remained impoverished. Therefore, the self-dignity, that the Hindu had lost post-Buddhistic period, did not awaken fully. But, the British era was a period of intense self-introspection by the Hindu soul wherein it realized that its core was sound and healthy. From now on, the Hindu was surely on the path of regaining his entire glory. Having learnt that its core was healthy, the afflictions of the mind and body would now be cured. It was just a matter of time.

The only input that remained was financial freedom for the Hindu. He needed an environment[28] where he could freely invest capital and effort[29], and generate wealth which he would enjoy[30]. This last input was provided to the Hindu through the 1991 liberalization process. Until these policies came into force, the labor of the Hindu populace was but slave-labor. That is the reason Swami Vivekananda says the following words: At every period of India’s awakening, there have always been great efforts made to break down caste. But it must always be we who build up a new India as an effect and continuation of her past, assimilating helpful foreign ideas wherever they may be found. Never can it be they; growth must proceed from within. All that England can do is to help India to work out her own salvation. All progress at the dictation of another, whose hand is at India’s throat, is valueless in my opinion. The highest work can only degenerate when slave-labor produces it.” The economic liberalization policies unshackled the latent forces from within the masses. We must not fail to notice one more development that had occurred by the time the economy got liberalized inside India. By this time, a strong diaspora had established itself across the world, gaining critical mass especially in Europe and America. Concomitant with these developments, we see a trend emerging from within the Hindu across the country. For the first time in over 1000 years, the Hindu gained self-assurance. The Hindu started to stand up for his own safety in the Indian society!

Up until this moment in Indian history, the Hindu had to be directed by a central force, to fight for protection of the society, and consequently, for protection of the Hindu individual. But as we saw above, right from the period of Buddha, the central direction was found lacking in Indian society. The individual Hindu looked up to effete Hindu kings, Muslim rulers, and British governors for that direction. He sought their direction in guiding him in protecting himself. The Hindus had committed the foolish mistake of sub-contracting self-protection to others! Many social activities can indeed be successfully sub-contracted to others; but not protection! Now had come the time, when political and economic freedom, coupled with the message of ever-existing spiritual freedom conveyed by Swami Vivekananda[31], that the Hindu realized he had to stand up for himself. The constant irritation from the Muslim and the Christian communities towards his personal religion had to be addressed. In seemingly unconnected incidents across the country, around this period, the Hindus started defending themselves aggressively against the Christian missionaries and Muslim proselytizers. This pan-India phenomenon was termed as ‘Hindutva’ by the RSS[32], as ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ by the West, and as ‘Hindu Terrorism’ by the Communists. Whatever be the name we give to this new phenomenon, it is a natural growth within the Hindu community that can only be understood against its hoary historical background as elaborated above.

So, what the Hindu has always wanted was freedom to enjoy life, in a social structure so designed as to integrate all his life’s experiences into an overarching, living, spiritual experience of God. There are two aspects to what the Hindu wants; the personal, internal aspect of seeking for union with God; the collective, political aspect of having and wielding power over society in framing social laws to create, maintain and protect a social milieu conducive to achieve his personal goals. In Sri Ramakrishna’s experiences and Swami Vivekananda’s utterances, he recognized the continued validity of the personal aspect of his aspirations; in the recent developments of Hindu social assertion, he recognizes the renewed validity of his social and political aspirations. These two developments therefore go hand in hand and are complementary to each other.

Hindutva – its limitation: The international mission of Hinduism

As we have amply demonstrated above, this newly awakened self-assertion of the Hindu, this newly awakened self-recognition of the Hindu’s collective strength, which is manifesting as his ability to resist Muslim and Christian aggression, is a logical outcome of the overall Hindu rejuvenation. No one person, or one organization, can claim responsibility for it. Rather, it would be correct to state that persons and organizations are the results of this gigantic rejuvenation.

The immediate job is to temper this power that is awakening within the Hindu people. Why? Otherwise, the enormous power that is being unleashed will fritter itself away in mere political bickering and intrigue, and in the worst-case scenario, will devour itself up! There is a grand purpose behind this rejuvenation. It is not to be trivialized into being just a political tool, which is unfortunately what the ‘Hindutva’ movement apparently turning out to be.

What is this job of tempering that is needed to be done now? And who will do it? And who will listen to whom in this matter? Historical forces of distrust lurking beneath the surface in the Hindu mind will immediately misunderstand any such effort to be the derailing of the Hindutva movement by their age-old enemies such as the Muslims, Christians and the Communists. In fact, such efforts might also be misinterpreted as the machinations of the wily Brahmins to prevent the rise of the Kshatriyas. Swami Vivekananda very interestingly reads the entire history of India as the extended struggle for power and dominance between the Brahmin and the Kshatriya. He uses the term ‘political jealousy’[33] to describe the tension between them. (See footnote #22 above). When seen at the national level, even the extended discord between the Hindus and the Muslims or the Hindus and the Christians may be rightly situated within this perspective. Again, in many places, Swami Vivekananda seems to be in complete favor of the Caste system and seems like he wants to bring back that system into the Indian society. This has to be understood in the following lines: The Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are no doubt collectives in the Hindu society; and in that sense, they really have lost relevance in the present day. But, it is equally true that each Hindu has within himself all these four tendencies within him. Each Hindu has within himself Brahminical aspirations of God-realization through renunciation, Kshatriya traits of service, benevolence and charity, Vaishya capacities for wealth generation and distribution, and the Shudra ability for tireless labor and forbearance.

Let us recall the following conversations of Swami Vivekananda in this context:[34]

“I have only one question more to ask you. You have defined the attitude and function of your movement with regard to your own people. Could you in the same way characterize your methods of action as a whole?”

“Our method”, said the Swami, “is very easily described. It simply consists in reasserting the national life. Buddha preached renunciation. India heard, and yet in six centuries she reached her greatest height. The secret lies there. The national ideals of India are RENUNCIATION and SERVICE. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation.”

A hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising-up – the gospel of equality.[35]

But at the same time (in rejecting Buddhism), Brahminism lost something – that reforming zeal, that wonderful sympathy and charity for everybody, that wonderful heaven which Buddhism had brought to the masses and which had rendered Indian society so great that a Greek historian who wrote about India of that time was led to say that no Hindu was known to tell an untruth and no Hindu woman was known to be unchaste.

Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism. Then realize what the separation has shown to us, that the Buddhists cannot stand without the brain and philosophy of the Brahmins, nor the Brahmin without the heart of the Buddhist. This separation between the Buddhists and the Brahmins is the cause of the downfall of India. That is why India is populated by three hundred millions of beggars, and that is why India has been the slave of conquerors for the last thousand years. Let us then join the wonderful intellect of the Brahmins with the heart, the noble soul, the wonderful humanizing power of the Great Master.[36]

Each man has a mission in life, which is the result of all his infinite past Karma. Each of you was born with a splendid heritage, which is the whole of the infinite past life of your glorious nation. Millions of your ancestors are watching, as it were, every action of yours, so be alert. And what is the mission with which every Hindu child is born? Have you not read the proud declaration of Manu regarding the Brahmin where he says that the birth of the Brahmin is ‘for the protection of the treasury of religion’? I should say that that is the mission not only of the Brahmin, but of every child, whether boy or girl, who is born in this blessed land ‘for the protection of the treasury of religion’. And every other problem in life must be subordinated to that one principal theme. That is also the law of harmony in music. There may be a nation whose theme of life is political supremacy; religion and everything else must become subordinate to that one great theme of its life. But here is another nation whose great theme of life is spirituality and renunciation, whose one watchword is that this world is all vanity and a delusion of three days, and everything else, whether science or knowledge, enjoyment or powers, wealth, name, or fame, must be subordinated to that one theme. The secret of a true Hindu’s character lies in the subordination of his knowledge of European sciences and learning, of his wealth, position, and name, to that one principal theme which is inborn in every Hindu child – the spirituality and purity of the race.

Our ideal of high birth, therefore, is different from, that of others. Our ideal is the Brahmin of spiritual culture and renunciation. By the Brahmin ideal what do I mean? I mean the ideal Brahmin-ness in which worldliness is altogether absent and true wisdom is abundantly present. That is the ideal of the Hindu race. Have you not heard how it is declared that he, the Brahmin, is not amenable to law, that he has no law, that he is not governed by kings, and that his body cannot be hurt? That is perfectly true. Do not understand it in the light thrown upon it by interested and ignorant fools, but understand it in the light of the true and original Vedantic conception. If the Brahmin is he who has killed all selfishness and who lives and works to acquire and propagate wisdom and the power of love – if a country is altogether inhabited by such Brahmins, by men and women who are spiritual and moral and good, is it strange to think of that country as being above and beyond all law? What police, what military are necessary to govern them? Why should anyone govern them at all? Why should they live under a government? They are good and noble, and they are the men of God; these are our ideal Brahmins, and we read that in the Satya Yuga there was only one caste, and that was the Brahmin. We read in the Mahabharata that the whole world was in the beginning peopled with Brahmins, and that as they began to degenerate, they became divided into different castes, and that when the cycle turns round, they will all go back to that Brahminical origin. This cycle is turning round now, and I draw your attention to this fact. Therefore our solution of the caste question is not degrading those who are already high up, is not running amuck through food and drink, is not jumping out of our own limits in order to have more enjoyment, but it comes by every one of us, fulfilling the dictates of our Vedantic religion, by our attaining spirituality, and by our becoming the ideal Brahmin. There is a law laid on each one of you in this land by your ancestors, whether you are Aryans or non-Aryans, Rishis or Brahmins, or the very lowest outcasts. The command is the same to you all, that you must make progress without stopping, and that from the highest man to the lowest Pariah, everyone in this country has to try and become the ideal Brahmin. This Vedantic idea is applicable not only here but over the whole world. Such is our ideal of caste as meant for raising all humanity slowly and gently towards the realization of that great ideal of the spiritual man who is non-resisting, calm, steady, worshipful, pure, and meditative. In that ideal there is God.[37]

Let us allow Swami Vivekananda himself to dictate the tempering to the newly awakened Kshatriyas among the Hindus. Power they shall exhibit, no doubt; power they shall wield, politically, economically and socially, no doubt. But it must be done in the sense of ‘Service’ only. It must be done as service to every Indian living in this land. It must be done with the object of achieving renunciation. Power is to be wielded and exercised with a view to achieve inner renunciation alone. All other attitudes are wrong and run against the national grain. Another way of saying the same thing is: The collective awakening of Brahmin Hindus and Kshatriya Hindus is not relevant anymore in India. What is needed immediately is the awakening of the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra within every Hindu. That is the reason Swamiji so beautifully said, “The national ideals of India are RENUNCIATION and SERVICE. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation.”

It is in this context that we say that Hinduism thus has an International mission to fulfil. It has a very particular duty to perform in the International level. Hinduism has to educate Islam and Christianity that they too have an essential and non-essential aspect within them. The time has come all over the world to delegate the non-essential aspects of their religions, which is basically the socio-political aspects, to the Constitutions of the respective nations. Thus the individual is left free to practice his personal religion in peace. All social, political and economic affairs have to be immediately divorced from religion. No religion, be it Hinduism, Islam or Christianity will be permitted to wield any social, political or economic power. Religion everywhere shall exist in its purest form in every person, which is the eternal relationship of the eternal soul to the eternal God [38]. Hinduism has the requisite tools to uncover this immortal aspect in every religion. This is not conversion. This is education. This is leading every person by the hand with love in the heart to recognize and implement the eternal aspect in his own religion in his own life.

Once this education is imparted worldwide, a new era will dawn in the world. What the world needs today is this education whereby the entire social process is rendered free of all religious influences. Society everywhere should run on principles of natural justice and natural rights of human beings. It has now become possible to identify and establish those principles completely independent of religious sanction in every part of the world.

The rejuvenated Hindu identity has to perform this ‘Service’ to humanity everywhere, including within India.[39] Violence is anathema to service and education. You cannot serve by being violent. You cannot teach by being violent. Tremendous love in the heart pours out as service and education. The Hindutva movement has to urgently recognize this duty that falls on its part. Their new found power has to be channeled into educating the Indians (Hindus, Muslims and Christians) about ‘rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’.[40] And this service, this education, has to be done at the international level too. Unless this direction is given to the newly awakened power, this very power will devour the Indian society. And that would be a great loss to humanity itself. Swami Vivekananda said to Sri Narendranath Sen, Editor of the Mirror, “I believe that by this cultivation of religion and the wider diffusion of Vedanta, both this country and the West will gain enormously. To me the pursuit of politics is a secondary means in comparison with this. I will lay down my life to carry out this belief practically. If you believe in any other way of accomplishing the good of India, well, you may go on working your own way.[41]

Religious education – Harmony of Religions:

Take a look at the following words of Swami Vivekananda. They set the pace and impart the direction for the awakened Hindu collective power. If these words of the great Swami do not temper this force ‘for the good of all, for the benefit of all’, bleak indeed is our national future:

We live that grand truth (Ekam sat, Vipraha bahudha vadanti) in every vein, and our country has become the glorious land of religious toleration. It is here and here alone that they build temples and churches for the religions which have come with the object of condemning our own religion. This is one very great principle that the world is waiting to learn from us. Ay, you little know how much of intolerance is yet abroad. It struck me more than once that I should have to leave my bones on foreign shores owing to the prevalence of religious intolerance. Killing a man is nothing for religion’s sake; tomorrow they may do it in the very heart of the boasted civilization of the West, if today they are not really doing so.[42]

Therefore the world is waiting for this grand idea of universal toleration. It will be a great acquisition to civilization. Nay, no civilization can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilization can grow unless fanatics, bloodshed, and brutality stop. No civilization can begin to lift up its head until we look charitably upon one another; and the first step towards that much-needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious convictions of others. Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you. It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do. In spite of their hatred, in spite of their brutality, in spite of their cruelty, in spite of their tyranny, and in spite of the vile language they are given to uttering, we will and must go on building churches for the Christians and mosques for the Mohammedans until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force.[43]

…We have to teach them something, and that is our religion, that is our spirituality. For a complete civilization the world is waiting, waiting for the treasures to come out of India, waiting for the marvelous spiritual inheritance of the race, which, through decades of degradation and misery, the nation has still clutched to her breast. The world is waiting for that treasure; little do you know how much of hunger and of thirst there is outside of India for these wonderful treasures of our forefathers. We talk here, we quarrel with each other, we laugh at and we ridicule everything sacred, till it has become almost a national vice to ridicule everything holy. Little do we understand the heart-pangs of millions waiting outside the walls, stretching forth their hands for a little sip of that nectar which our forefathers have preserved in this land of India. Therefore we must go out, exchange our spirituality for anything they have to give us; for the marvels of the region of spirit we will exchange the marvels of the region of matter. We will not be students always, but teachers also. There cannot be friendship without equality, and there cannot be equality when one party is always the teacher and the other party sits always at his feet. If you want to become equal with the Englishman or the American, you will have to teach as well as to learn, and you have plenty yet to teach to the world for centuries to come. This has to be done. Fire and enthusiasm must be in our blood. We Bengalis have been credited with imagination, and I believe we have it. We have been ridiculed as an imaginative race, as men with a good deal of feeling. Let me tell you, my friends, intellect is great indeed, but it stops within certain bounds. It is through the heart, and the heart alone, that inspiration comes. It is through the feelings that the highest secrets are reached; and therefore it is the Bengali, the man of feeling, that has to do this work.[44]

Consciously or unconsciously that Indian idea of the divinity within everyone is expressing itself even in other countries. And in your books is the explanation which other nations have to accept. The treatment of one man to another will be entirely revolutionized, and these old, old ideas of pointing to the weakness of mankind will have to go. They will have received their death-blow within this century. Now people may stand up and criticize us. I have been criticized, from one end of the world to the other, as one who preaches the diabolical idea that there is no sin! Very good. The descendants of these very men will bless me as the preacher of virtue, and not of sin. I am the teacher of virtue, not of sin. I glory in being the preacher of light, and not of darkness.[45]

The second great idea which the world is waiting to receive from our Upanishads is the solidarity of this universe. The old lines of demarcation and differentiation are vanishing rapidly. Electricity and steam-power are placing the different parts of the world in intercommunication with each other, and, as a result, we Hindus no longer say that every country beyond our own land is peopled with demons and hobgoblins, nor do the people of Christian countries say that India is only peopled by cannibals and savages. When we go out of our country, we find the same brother-man, with the same strong hand to help, with the same lips to say godspeed; and sometimes they are better than in the country in which we are born. When they come here, they find the same brotherhood, the same cheer, the same godspeed.[46]

Our Upanishads say that the cause of all misery is ignorance; and that is perfectly true when applied to every state of life, either social or spiritual. It is ignorance that makes us hate each other, it is through ignorance that we do not know and do not love each other. As soon as we come to know each other, love comes, must come, for are we not one? Thus we find solidarity coming in spite of itself. Even in politics and sociology, problems that were only national twenty years ago can no more be solved on national grounds only. They are assuming huge proportions, gigantic shapes. They can only be solved when looked at in the broader light of international grounds. International organizations, international combinations, international laws are the cry of the day. That shows the solidarity. In science, every day they are coming to a similar broad view of matter. You speak of matter, the whole universe as one mass, one ocean of matter, in which you and I, the sun and the moon, and everything else are but the names of different little whirlpools and nothing more. Mentally speaking, it is one universal ocean of thought in which you and I are similar little whirlpools; and as spirit it moveth not, it changeth not. It is the One Unchangeable, Unbroken, Homogeneous Atman. The cry for morality is coming also, and that is to be found in our books. The explanation of morality, the fountain of ethics, that also the world wants; and that it will get here.[47]

Take a look at this observation and prophecy by Swami Vivekananda: It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do. In spite of their hatred, in spite of their brutality, in spite of their cruelty, in spite of their tyranny, and in spite of the vile language they are given to uttering, we will and must go on building churches for the Christians and mosques for the Mohammedans until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force. The Hindutva movement will immediately object to these words of Swami Vivekananda. They will instantly hound us by asking how we can tolerate the aggression of the Muslims and Christians, which we have done for many centuries. The centuries of distrust that has accumulated in the national mind has started to surface as a collective paranoia in the Hindu mind that if such tolerance and acceptance continues, the Hindus will be reduced to a minority population or may even become extinct!

That is precisely the reason for pointing out that we Hindus have an urgent international duty to perform; that of urgently educating the people of all religions about two vital ideas which Swami Vivekananda had highlighted in his Chicago addresses: One: Every religion has an essential and a non-essential part; the time has come to globally delegate the non-essential part of every religion to democratic processes of social intercourse. Two: Every religion states that man is divine; realizing this divinity in the context of one’s life is real religion, and not belief in dogmas. There is an urgent need to rapidly educate every part of the world with these two ideas.

The very introduction of these two ideas into any religion will instantly remove the sting of aggression from it. We must note that this does not mean we spread Vedanta among the Muslims and the Christians. That is not possible, for the Muslims and Christians will violently reject it as an affront on their religion. Proselytizing religions will misinterpret every attempt at communication as our effort at converting them! We need to dive into the Scriptures of these religions and discover the teachings and revelations of their prophets where they clearly say that each man is divine, and that each man needs to realize that divinity in his own life, and then each man has to realize his essential relationship with God. We need to become for the time-being, a Muslim and a Christian, as it were, and discover these universal ideas within Islam and Christianity. Swami Vivekananda confirms that these ideas already exist in each of those religions. We do not need to extrapolate or re-interpret the words of Christ, Mohammad or Buddha, which will not be acceptable by their followers at all. This is a job only a Hindu is capable of doing. The proverbial synthetic intellect of the Hindu will be able to perform this task of phenomenological study of all religions. But, it requires a powerful Hindu to teach these ideas to other religions, a powerful Hindu whose heart has opened itself to the touch of the Divine, not a rancorous, argumentative, name-calling, querulous Hindu who is arrogant with a newly discovered source of strength in collective numbers.

Can we gauge the immensity of this task? The teachers of this idea to other religions cannot harbor ill-feelings towards those other religions and expect to impart this education to them! It is education, not condescension that we are speaking of here. That is the reason we mentioned, even at the risk of being trolled, that there is an urgent need to temper the forces unleashed in the Hindu society in recent times. Swami Vivekananda says, “In every nation you will have to work through their methods. To every man you will have to speak in his own language. Now, in England or in America, if you want to preach religion to them, you will have to work through political methods — make organizations, societies, with voting, balloting, a president, and so on, because that is the language, the method of the Western race. On the other hand, if you want to speak of politics in India, you must speak through the language of religion. You will have to tell them something like this: ‘The man who cleans his house every morning will acquire such and such an amount of merit, he will go to heaven, or he comes to God.’ Unless you put it that way, they will not listen to you. It is a question of language. The thing done is the same. But with every race, you will have to speak their language in order to reach their hearts. And that is quite just. We need not fret about that.[48]

Note the words, ‘There cannot be friendship without equality.’ A weak people cannot stand up straight in the world platform and expect the world to listen to their voice. A weak people can at best cry and weep about oppression and exploitation, which is what we have done for the last 1000 years. We have now, as a people, regained our strength. Do we locate this new-found strength only in our collective numbers? Will we be so shortsighted as to believe that our power is only from the physical, communal, collective source? Will the real Hindu within each of us fail to perceive that the recently manifested strength, by which we are able to regain our lost respectability in the world polity, is also from the one and only real source of all strengths, the inner-most divine core of each one of us?

Swami Vivekananda says, Strength, strength is what the Upanishads speak to me from every page. This is the one great thing to remember, it has been the one great lesson I have been taught in my life; strength, it says, strength, O man, be not weak. Are there no human weaknesses? – says man. There are, say the Upanishads, but will more weakness heal them, would you try to wash dirt with dirt? Will sin cure sin, weakness cure weakness? Strength, O man, strength, say the Upanishads, stand up and be strong. Ay, it is the only literature in the world where you find the word ‘Abhih’, ‘fearless’, used again and again; in no other scripture in the world is this adjective applied either to God or to man, Abhih, fearless! And in my mind rises from the past the vision of the great Emperor of the West, Alexander the Great, and I see, as it were in a picture, the great monarch standing on the bank of the Indus, talking to one of our Sannyasins in the forest; the old man he was talking to, perhaps naked, stark naked, sitting upon a block of stone, and the Emperor, astonished at his wisdom, tempting him with gold and honor to come over to Greece. And this man smiles at his gold, and smiles at his temptations, and refuses; and then the Emperor standing on his authority as an Emperor, says, ‘I will kill you if you do not come’, and the man bursts into a laugh and says, ‘You never told such a falsehood in your life, as you tell just now. Who can kill me? Me you kill, Emperor of the material world! Never! For I am Spirit unborn and undecaying: never was I born and never do I die; I am the Infinite, the Omnipresent, the Omniscient; and you kill me, child that you are!’ That is strength, that is strength! And the more I read the Upanishads, my friends, my countrymen, the more I weep for you, for therein is the great practical application. Strength, strength for us. What we need is strength, who will give us strength? There are thousands to weaken us, and of stories we have had enough. Every one of our Puranas, if you press it, gives out stories enough to fill three-fourths of the libraries of the world. Everything that can weaken us as a race we have had for the last thousand years. It seems as if during that period the national life had this one end in view, viz how to make us weaker and weaker till we have become real earthworms, crawling at the feet of every one who dares to put his foot on us. Therefore, my friends, as one of your blood, as one that lives and dies with you, let me tell you that we want strength, strength, and every time, strength. And the Upanishads are the great mine of strength. Therein lies strength enough to invigorate the whole world; the whole world can be vivified, made strong, energized through them. They will call with trumpet voice upon the weak, the miserable, and the downtrodden of all races, all creeds, and all sects to stand on their feet and be free. Freedom, physical freedom, mental freedom, and spiritual freedom are the watchwords of the Upanishads.[49]

So, we need strength; we also need to temper it with this knowledge of the Spirit. Then, this strength will be a great boon to both ourselves and to the world. In the light of this idea, we can recognize the value of the recent WHF program, as well as its obvious shortcomings. If this Hindutva movement doesn’t deepen itself with spirituality and manifest love for all beings, in a few years, it will run out of steam and lose its relevance to society. Swami Vivekananda has the following words of caution which seem most relevant in the present developments in our country: …if a religion emphasizes the negative side too much, it is in danger of eventual destruction. Never can a reforming sect survive if it is only reforming; the formative elements alone – the real impulse, that is, the principles – lives on and on. After a reform has been brought about, it is the positive side that should be emphasized; after the building is finished the scaffolding must be taken away. [50]

The Hindutva movement professes its plans to ‘bring back’ to Hinduism all those people living in India who have converted to Islam or Christianity. The Hindutva movement claims to be backed by Swami Vivekananda’s exhortations in this regard too. These ideas of the movement are causes of great concern for the harmony, peace and security in India, which is a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. There are three important points to be understood in this regard.

One: A study of Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts clearly shows that he would never support a forcible ‘bringing back’ of anybody from any religion to Hinduism, just as he would not brook any religion forcibly ‘taking away’ any Hindu into other religions. In other words, ‘Conversion’ and ‘Re-conversion’ are not something he would support. There is nothing in his recorded works to lend credence to these ideas. People have to be given complete freedom to choose the religion they want to profess. This entire idea of ‘bringing back’ or ‘conversion’ is not religion at all. It is a social issue, and hence a political issue. The time has now come to accord every man the dignity he deserves. In the present social context, when we have clearly declared that we are a sovereign, democratic republic, why are people still categorized based on the religion they follow in their personal lives? Can’t all social, political and economic privileges attached to all religions be removed forthwith in the Indian context? For, religion really has nothing to do with social, political or economic affairs. To continue to do so is pure mischief.

Two: There are many instances where Swamiji did indeed speak of ‘bringing back Muslims and Christians back into our folds’. What was the idea? Hinduism must evolve a mechanism of welcoming people into its fold. These people may be erstwhile Hindus who left the Hindu fold for whatever reason and now voluntarily wish to come back. Or they may be entirely newcomers who wish to become Hindus. Swamiji was keenly aware of the fact that a Hindu must be born a Hindu. There are actually no universally accepted procedures for accepting people afresh into its folds. Why do other religions, especially proselytizing religions such as Buddhism, Islam and Christianity have such procedures? That was the organizational genius of their founders! If we are indeed a living, vibrant religion, why won’t we adopt new corporate, organizational procedures? Swamiji was alluding to this aspect of Hinduism when he did indeed comment on this issue. But in any case, let us make it clear that it was not out of anger at other proselytizing religions that he said those things. Nor did he encourage proactive, violent methods of ‘Reconversion’.

Three: Swami Vivekananda certainly endorses ideas of ‘conquering’ others. We saw him explaining these ideas in England to a reporter named C.S.B of the Indian newspaper in 1896.

“And is India finally to conquer her conquerors?”

Yes, in the world of ideas. England has the sword, the material world, as our Mohammedan conquerors had before her. Yet Akbar the Great became practically a Hindu; educated Mohammedans, the Sufis, are hardly to be distinguished from the Hindus; they do not eat beef, and in other ways conform to our usages. Their thought has become permeated bv ours.

“So, that is the fate you foresee for the lordly Sahib? Just at this moment he seems to be a long way off it.”

No, it is not so remote as you imply. In the world of religious ideas, the Hindu and the Englishman have much in common, and there is proof of the same thing among other religious communities. Where the English ruler or civil servant has had any knowledge of India’s literature, especially her philosophy, there exists the ground of a common sympathy, a territory constantly widening. It is not too much to say that only ignorance is the cause of that exclusive — sometimes even contemptuous — attitude assumed by some. [51]

But this ‘conquest in the world of ideas’ is not the ‘bringing back’ or ‘conversion’. It is a great job of educating the people the world over about the essentials of their own religions. It doesn’t matter if they belong to Hinduism or Islam or Christianity. Can they love God? Can they feel they are divine? Can they feel others are divine too? Can they deal with one another as divine beings do? How do really spiritual people interact with one another? Take a look at this instance:[52]

Manmatha Nath Ghosh writes in his reminiscences of Sri Ramakrishna: After I was married I could not visit the Master, as I had to go here and there looking for a job. At last I secured a position with Rally Brothers, but my monthly salary was so small that I could not afford to hire a carriage to go to the office. I had to walk back and forth from our house on Beadon Street to the office in Dharmtala via Geratala. One evening as I was passing by the Geratala mosque, I heard the loud prayer of a Muslim fakir: ‘O my beloved, please come! Please come, O my beloved!’ he was repeating this prayer with love and longing as tears rolled down his cheeks. Suddenly, I saw Sri Ramakrishna climb down from a hired carriage and rush up to the fakir. The two embraced each other. This incident happened when the Master was returning from Kalighat after visiting the Divine Mother there. What a wonderful sight it was!

The leaders of this movement ought to listen to the following words of the great Swami from whom they too claim their descent and inspiration:

Each nation has its own peculiar method of work. Some work through politics, some through social reforms, and some through other lines. With us, religion is the only ground along which we can move. The Englishman can understand even religion through politics. Perhaps the American can understand even religion through social reforms. But the Hindu can understand even politics when it is given through religion; sociology must come through religion, everything must come through religion. For that is the theme, the rest are the variations in the national life-music.[53]

The purpose and intent of what I have to say to you is this, that I have found it possible in my life to worship all of them, and to be ready for all that are yet to come. A mother recognizes her son in any dress in which he may appear before her; and if one does not do so, I am sure she is not the mother of that man. Now, as regards those of you that think that you understand Truth and Divinity and God in only one Prophet in the world, and not in any other, naturally, the conclusion which I draw is that you do not understand Divinity in anybody; you have simply swallowed words and identified yourself with one sect, just as you would in party politics, as a matter of opinion; but that is no religion at all. There are some fools in this world who use brackish water although there is excellent sweet water nearby, because, they say, the brackish-water well was dug by their father. Now, in my little experience I have collected this knowledge – that for all the devilry that religion is blamed with, religion is not at all in fault: no religion ever persecuted men, no religion ever burnt witches, no religion ever did any of these things. What then incited people to do these things? Politics, but never religion; and if such politics takes the name of religion, whose fault is that?[54]

So, when each man stands and says ‘My Prophet is the only true Prophet,’ he is not correct – he knows not the alpha of religion. Religion is neither talk, nor theory, nor intellectual consent. It is realization in the heart of our hearts; it is touching God; it is feeling, realizing that I am a spirit in relation with the Universal Spirit and all Its great manifestations. If you have really entered the house of the Father, how can you have seen His children and not known them? And if you do not recognize them, you have not entered the house of the Father. The mother recognizes her child in any dress and knows him however disguised. Recognize all the great, spiritual men and women in every age and country, and see that they are not really at variance with one another. Wherever there has been actual religion – this touch of the Divine, the soul coming in direct sense-contact with the Divine – there has always been a broadening of the mind which enables it to see the light everywhere. Now, some Mohammedans are the crudest in this respect, and the most sectarian. Their watchword is: ‘There is one God, and Mohammed is His Prophet.’ Everything beyond that not only is bad, but must be destroyed forthwith; at a moment’s notice, every man or woman who does not exactly believe in that must be killed; everything that does not belong to this worship must be immediately broken; every book that teaches anything else must be burnt. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, for five hundred years blood ran all over the world. That is Mohammedanism! Nevetheless, among these Mohammedans, wherever there has a philosophic man, he was sure to protest against these cruelties. In that he showed the touch of the Divine and realized a fragment of the truth; he was not playing with his religion; for it was not his father’s religion he was talking, but spoke the truth direct like a man.”[55]

“Could the gist of this mission of yours be summed up in a few words? Is it comparative religion you want to preach?”

It is really the philosophy of religion, the kernel of all its outward forms. All forms of religion have an essential and a non-essential part. If we strip from them the latter, there remains the real basis of all religion, which all forms of religion possess in common. Unity is behind them all. We may call it God, Allah, Jehovah, the Spirit, Love; it is the same unity that animates all life, from its lowest form to its noblest manifestation in man. It is on this unity that we need to lay stress, whereas in the West, and indeed everywhere, it is on the non-essential that men are apt to lay stress. They will fight and kill each other for these forms, to make their fellows conform. Seeing that the essential is love of God and love of man, this is curious, to say the least.

“I suppose a Hindu could never persecute.”

He never yet has done so; he is the most tolerant of all the races of men. Considering how profoundly religious he is, one might have thought that he would persecute those who believe in no God. The Jains regard such belief as sheer delusion, yet no Jain has ever been persecuted. In India the Mohammedans were the first who ever took the sword. [56]

For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam – Vedanta brain and Islam body – is the only hope. I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.[57]

Can these words of the great Prophet of the modern age be in vain? 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 harmonizing 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 that path that suits him best.[58]

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[1] World Hindu Congress-2018 was attended by 2,500 Hindus from 60 countries. It was graced by 220 speakers, including several high-achievers and experts from the world of economy, education, politics, social work, media, and blessed by revered spiritual & religious heads. But, most of all, it was the vibrant energy of the delegates traveling from far & wide and their cross-domain networking that made WHC 2018 such a unique & enriching event. It was indeed a fitting tribute to the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s historic address to the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago.

Dhanyavaad for your support and encouragement. It is this engagement of the global Hindu community that allows WHC to act as a global platform for Hindus to connect, share ideas, inspire one another, and impact the common good.

The theme of WHC 2018 was Sumantrite Suvikrante – Think Collectively, Achieve Valiantly.

[2] World Hindu Congress opens with a resounding call for unity

With a backdrop of a life-size statue of Swami Vivekananda, to the traditional clarion sound of the conch, the second World Hindu Congress attended by 2,500 Hindus from 60 countries had a resounding start  on Friday, 7th September 2018 at the Westin Lombard York Town Center in Chicago. It ended on 9th September 2018.

With luminaries from spiritual, educational, business, and political walks of life among the invited speakers, the message of Hindus coming together for the common good, with a sense of unity, reverberated the grand hall even as Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech to the World Parliament of Religions did 125 years ago at the nearby Art Institute of Chicago.

Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from Bharat, addressed the congress on the theme drawn from the Mahabharat, “Think collectively, Act Valiantly.”

Bhagwat highlighted the need for such an action now and how Hindus should work together.

“It is an opportune moment. We have stopped our descent. We are contemplating how to ascend. We are not an enslaved, downtrodden nation. People are in dire need of our ancient wisdom,” Bhagwat said.

In Hindu Dharma even a pest is not killed, but controlled. “Hindus don’t live to oppose anybody. We even allow the pests to live. There are people who may oppose us. You have to tackle them without harming them,” Bhagwat said.

“Our universal values now called Hindu values lead to the welfare of the individual, the society, the nature and the environment. It is the duty of Hindus to remind the world, the universal values from time to time.

This duty of dharma to human beings should be performed till the world exists and thus, Hindu dharma will also exist till the world exists. Hindus know the basic values, but have forgotten to practice them.”

Stressing the need for unity, Bhagwat said, “If a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy the lion. We must not forget that.”

“We want to make the world better. We have no aspiration of dominance. Our influence is not a result of conquest or colonization.”

Bhagwat said a sense of idealism is good and described himself not as “anti-modern,” but as “pro-future.” He sought to describe Hindu dharma as “ancient and post-modern.”

Hindu society will prosper only when it works as a society, he said.

One of the key values to bring the whole world in to a team is to have controlled ego and learn to accept the consensus. For example, Sri Krishna and Yudhishtra never contradicted each other, Bhagwat said.

In this context, he alluded to the war and politics in the Hindu epic Mahabharat, and said politics cannot be conducted like a meditation session, and it should be politics.

“To work together, we have to accept the consensus. We are in a position to work together,” Bhagwat said. He urged the conference attendees to discuss and evolve a methodology to implement the idea of working collectively, “Think Collectively, Act Valiantly.” (from the official website of World Hindu Conference – 2018)

[3] https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/now-controversy-over-book-on-vivekananda/article25280978.ece; The book is ‘Swami Vivekanand’ written by Shubhada Athawale-Pathak, published by Bharatiya Vichar Sadhana, an affiliate of RSS. On Pg: 12-13 of the book, it says, “Swami Vivekanand always expressed displeasure over the decreasing number of Hindus in the past few decades. He had also made a point about bringing all those Hindus who were converted by Muslims and Christians back to their original Religion. Our ancestors fought to save the religion in the past. According to Swami Vivekanand’s theory, if non-Hindus continue to trouble, then we have to show the killer instinct.” This book has been listed as miscellaneous reading material by the Maharashtra Education Department under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.

[4] Nationalistic & religious lectures by Sw. Vivekananda: condensed & retold by Swami Tapasyananda: Advaita Ashrama: Pg: 1

[5] I wish to mention an interesting incident here. Long ago, when I was a member of the Vivekananda Balaka Sangha, Bangalore Ramakrishna Ashrama, Revered Swamiji-in-Charge was explaining this incident to us during a Sunday morning class. We were some 60-odd youths in the group. He read out that the audience had clapped for two minutes continuously. We did not, obviously, register the gravity of the incident. So he asked us to start clapping and started keeping time on his watch, saying that he would indicate to us when two minutes would be over. We could not continue for over 40 seconds! The initial enthusiasm started dying down after about a minute. When the two minutes were finally over, there were hardly ten hands clapping!

[6] Swami Vivekananda in the West – New discoveries: Vol-6: Sister Gargi: Advaita Ashrama: Pg: 155

[7] Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda: Swami Vivekananda as I saw him: Sister Christine: Chapter: Swami in Detroit-1896

[8] Ibid: Chapter: Teaching at Thousand Island Park

[9] Sri Sarada Devi – Her Divine Play: Swami Chetanananda: Pp: 662-63

[10] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: XVII: to Alasinga Perumal on 27th September 1894.

[11] See also Complete Works: Vol-6: Epistles: CXXXII: to Swami Akhandananda on 30th July 1897: “Do you mean to say I am born to live and die one of those caste-ridden, superstitious, merciless, hypocritical, atheistic cowards that you find only amongst the educated Hindus? I hate cowardice; I will have nothing to do with cowards or political nonsense. I do not believe in any politics. God and truth are the only politics in the world, everything else is trash….. Do not mix in politics etc., nor have any connection with them. At the same time you need not have any quarrel with anybody. You must put your body, mind, and all you have to any work you do.

[12] Although he did not use these very words, but the implication was very much there in his addresses at Chicago. Elsewhere, he uttered these very words; for instance, Cf: Footnote #56 below

[13] Complete Works: Vol-1: Addresses at The Parliament of Religions: Buddhism, the fulfilment of Hinduism delivered on 26th September, 1893

[14] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: V: to Alasinga Perumal on 2nd November 1893

[15] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: XXI: to Alasinga Perumal on 27th October, 1894

[16] Complete Works: Introduction: Our Master and his message: by Sister Nivedita

[17] Complete Works: Vol-7: Epistles: XXXII: to members of Alambazar Math on 27th April 1896

[18] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[19] Complete Works: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: entry on August 5, 1895

[20] In his lectures, Swami Vivekananda mentions at least one such complete change in the past which is a deviation so vast that it is mind-boggling to imagine. He says that Hindus were all beef-eaters, once upon a time. Due to the changes that Buddha introduced into the Hindu society, this habit, which was so pervasive as to define a Hindu, has completely disappeared, and today, if there is anyone trait common to all Hindus, it is this – they will never eat beef! Swamiji traces this habit to the historical fact of Buddha demolishing the ancient ceremonials of the Karma Kanda of the Vedas in Hindu society: But, you see, what once dies never comes back to life, and those ceremonials of [Hinduism] never came back to life. You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it. That is disgusting now. However they may differ from each other in India, in that they are all one — they never eat beef. The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.

[21] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[22] ibid

[23] Cf: Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: What is duty?: Later on we shall find that even this idea of duty undergoes change, and that the greatest work is done only when there is no selfish motive to prompt it. Yet it is work through the sense of duty that leads us to work without any idea of duty; when work will become worship — nay, something higher — then will work be done for its own sake. We shall find that the philosophy of duty, whether it be in the form of ethics or of love, is the same as in every other Yoga — the object being the attenuating of the lower self, so that the real higher Self may shine forth — the lessening of the frittering away of energies on the lower plane of existence, so that the soul may manifest itself on the higher ones. This is accomplished by the continuous denial of low desires, which duty rigorously requires. The whole organization of society has thus been developed, consciously or unconsciously, in the realms of action and experience, where, by limiting selfishness, we open the way to an unlimited expansion of the real nature of man.

[24] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Chapter: Advice to Pundit Shashadhar: Entry on Monday, 30th June 1884

[25] There are some versions of history which say that internecine struggles between the Brahmins and Kshatriyas often led the Brahmins to “invite” foreigners to topple the Kshatriya rulers. Most of the foreign invasions till the 11th century were of this nature. They all came from across the North-west borders of India. In fact, the tribes living in those regions must have been mercenaries, ‘guns for hire’. The Brahmins had no trouble in dealing with foreigners since they had a wonderful tool in their Caste system of co-opting the invading foreigner directly into the Kshatriya Caste and integrating him and his companions into their society. This arrangement went on fine till the 11th century. After the advent of Prophet Mohammad, these mercenary tribes had converted themselves to Islam. So, from then onwards, when the same mercenaries were invited, the same old people with a new, vigorous faith arrived and the Brahmins could not contain them!

Please see: Complete Works: Vol-4: Translations: Prose: MODERN INDIA: Moreover, it, the Brahmanya; power, solely devoting itself to the easy means to dupe ignorant barbarians, brought into vogue mysterious rites and ceremonies backed by its new Mantras and the like; and in doing so, itself lost its former wisdom, its former vigour and vitality, and its own chaste habits of long acquirement. Thus it turned the whole Âryâvarta into a deep and vast whirlpool of the most vicious, the most horrible, the most abominable, barbarous customs; and as the inevitable consequence of countenancing these detestable customs and superstitions, it soon lost all its own internal strength and stamina and became the weakest of the weak. What wonder that it should be broken into a thousand pieces and fall at the mere touch of the storm of Mussulman invasions from the West! That great Brahmanya power fell — who knows, if ever to rise again?

The resuscitation of the priestly power under the Mussulman rule was, on the other hand, an utter impossibility. The Prophet Mohammed himself was dead against the priestly class in any shape and tried his best for the total destruction of this power by formulating rules and injunctions to that effect. Under the Mussulman rule, the king himself was the supreme priest; he was the chief guide in religious matters; and when he became the emperor, he cherished the hope of being the paramount leader in all matters over the whole Mussulman world. To the Mussulman, the Jews or the Christians are not objects of extreme detestation; they are, at the worst, men of little faith. But not so the Hindu. According to him, the Hindu is idolatrous, the hateful Kafir; hence in this life he deserves to be butchered; and in the next, eternal hell is in store for him. The utmost the Mussulman kings could do as a favour to the priestly class — the spiritual guides of these Kafirs — was to allow them somehow to pass their life silently and wait for the last moment. This was again sometimes considered too, much kindness! If the religious ardour of any king was a little more uncommon, there would immediately follow arrangements for a great Yajna by way of Kafir-slaughter!

On one side, the royal power is now centred in kings professing a different religion and given to different customs. On the other, the priestly power has been entirely displaced from its influential position as the controller and lawgiver of the society. The Koran and its code of laws have taken the place of the Dharma Shâstras of Manu and others. The Sanskrit language has made room for the Persian and the Arabic. The Sanskrit language has to remain confined only to the purely religious writings and religious matters of the conquered and detested Hindu, and, as such, has since been living a precarious life at the hands of the neglected priest. The priest himself, the relic of the Brahmanya power, fell back upon the last resource of conducting only the comparatively unimportant family ceremonies, such as the matrimonial etc., and that also only so long and as much as the mercy of the Mohammedan rulers permitted.

In the Vedic and the adjoining periods, the royal power could not manifest itself on account of the grinding pressure of the priestly power.

[26] It would be interesting to study the Islamic analysis of Akbar. One wonders whether the Islamic scholars would call him Akbar the Great. In his attempts to govern India, he went on to float a new religion! What could be a greater apostasy than that!

[27] Take for instance the followers of Guru Nanak. The 10 Gurus would be scandalized if anyone told them they were not Hindus. But, the Hindu society refused to accept them since they could not determine as to which Caste these followers of Nanak would belong to. This led to a social impasse, which was finally regularized by the British in their Census as Sikhism, a separate religion!

[28] Dharma

[29] Artha

[30] Kama

[31] Moksha

[32] RSS had advocated this Hindu stance right from the beginning i.e. from 1940s. But we can locate the permeation of this idea into the popular mindscape of India from 1990s onwards.

[33]…on the one hand, there was the political jealousy between the priests and the kings.Complete Works: Vol-3: Buddhistic India: California: 1900

[34] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[35] Complete Works: Vol-5: Epistles: IV: to Alasinga Perumal on 20th August, 1893

[36] Complete Works: Vol-1: Addresses at The Parliament of Religions: Buddhism, the fulfilment of Hinduism

[37] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: The Mission of the Vedanta: Kumbakonam

[38] Complete Works: Vol-3: Unity, the goal of Religion: New York, 1896

[39] Cf: Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana-Yoga: Maya and the evolution of the conception of God: in London, 20th October 1896: We, in India, allowed liberty in spiritual matters, and we have a tremendous spiritual power in religious thought even today. You (in the West) grant the same liberty in social matters, and so have a splendid social organization. We have not given any freedom to the expansion of social matters, and ours is a cramped society. You have never given any freedom in religious matters but with fire and sword have enforced your beliefs, and the result is that religion is a stunted, degenerated growth in the European mind. In India, we have to take off the shackles from society; in Europe, the chains must be taken from the feet of spiritual progress. Then will come a wonderful growth and development of man.

[40] The Bible – New Testament: Gospel according to St. Matthew: 22:21

[41] Complete Works: Vol-6: Conversations & Dialogues: I: by Sharatchandra Chakravarty

[42] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: The Mission of the Vedanta: Kumbakonam

[43] ibid

[44] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Calcutta Lecture

[45] Complete works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Vedanta in its application to Indian Life: Madras

[46] ibid

[47] ibid

[48] Complete Works: Vol-8: My life & mission: California, on 27th January 1900

[49] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Vedanta in its application to Indian life: delivered at Madras

[50] Complete Works: Vol-8: Buddha’s message to the World: San Francisco, on 18th March 1900

[51] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[52] Ramakrishna as we saw him: Ed: Swami Chetanananda: Advaita Ashrama: Pg: 372

[53] Complete Works: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Calcutta Lecture

[54] Complete Works: Vol-4: The Great Teachers of the World: California, 3rd February 1900

[55] ibid

[56] Complete Works: Vol-5: Interviews: India and England: (in the India, 1896) by a reporter named C.S.B

[57] Complete Works: Vol-6: Epistles: CXLII: to Mohammed Sarfaraz Husain on 10th June, 1898

[58] ibid

Harmony of Religions – How & Why

Swami Vivekananda attended the World Parliament on Religions in Chicago from 11th September 1893 to 27th September 1893. This year we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of this event all over the world.

By far the greatest contribution of Swami Vivekananda through his participation in the Chicago World Parliament was his introduction of the life-giving concept of ‘Harmony of Religions’ to the thought-current of the world.

It is the nature of human beings to segregate themselves into groups based on identities. We have language, religion, race, geography, nationality, caste, class, and many more identities around which we consider ourselves one with some people and different from others. Of all these identities, the strongest seems to be the identity based on religion. History has shown us that religion is a terrific binding force. Religion also works as an insurmountable dividing force! The great thinker George Carlin once said that more people have been killed by wrongly answering the ‘God question’ than for any other reason in human history!

Religion is the vehicle by which the human soul evolves. Every religion will have a sacred book, which contains the wisdom that God revealed to His Chosen Messenger. God reveals a particular form of Himself to the Messenger. The Messenger then works out a set of activities called ‘Ritual’ by following which any ordinary person can also evolve spiritually. This Chosen Messenger will be considered the founder of that religion. This is the general scheme through which religions operate in our world.

A person becomes a part of a religion when he or she accepts that particular Book, that particular Messenger and that particular form of God revealed through that Book and Messenger. Since this scheme has indeed come down from God directly in each case, if one participates sincerely in it, one undoubtedly makes spiritual progress. This is seen in every religion. Where does the problem arise from, then?

Swami Vivekananda explains this through a beautiful story. [1]

A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

“Where are you from?”

“I am from the sea.”

“The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?” and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

“My friend,” said the frog of the sea, “how do you compare the sea with your little well?” Then the frog took another leap and asked, “Is your sea so big?”

“What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!”

“Well, then,” said the frog of the well, “nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.”

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.

This is a famous, old story in India. The Sanskrit term used for that frog in the well is ‘Kupa-manduka’. This mentality of the frog in the well is something that is fundamental to all human thinking. This kind of thinking is natural to us. Unless we are given special education, we are unable to correct this anomaly in our mental make-up. In fact the ancient Indian logicians termed this fundamental anomaly in human thinking as ‘Kupa-manduka-nyaya’.

How can this inherent fault in our thinking be corrected? Let us answer this question a little later.

First of all, we must understand that this kind of myopic thinking is actually a necessity for all of us. The reason why all of us have this kind of short-sightedness is because it has helped us in our evolution. It is an evolutionary necessity. In the beginning of our spiritual life, we need this kind of unquestioning faith in our beliefs. Others may say we are wrong. But, we should believe that what we believe is the final Truth. This concept is called ‘Nishta’. Unless we have Nishta, we can never grow. If we develop catholicity too early in our lives, our own spiritual life will never develop. One particular idea of God, religion, Self, Guru and Scripture protects us from confusion in the beginning of our spiritual life. But, when we have used this Nishta and achieved some amount of inner development, we should accommodate other views of God and paths to God too. That is why Swamiji said, ‘It is good to be born in a church, but it is bad to die in a church.’ We need to outgrow the bindings of religion, as we mature.

What happens if we do not correct this fault? Sri Ramakrishna paints an artless picture in one conversation as follows:

Some people indulge in quarrels, saying, ‘One cannot attain anything unless one worships our Krishna’, or, ‘Nothing can be gained without the worship of Kali, our Divine Mother’, or, ‘One cannot be saved without accepting the Christian religion.’ This is pure dogmatism. The dogmatist says, ‘My religion alone is true, and the religions of others are false.’ This is a bad attitude. God can be reached by different paths. Further, some say that God has form and is not formless. Thus they start quarrelling. A Vaishnava quarrels with a Vedantist. [2]

Intense hatred develops between two well-meaning people because of this fault. While forced inter-religious conversions and religious fundamentalism have always been the outcome of this dogmatic view, the problem has taken a whole new dimension in the present age.

In the general scheme of the spiritual development of human beings, there is actually no need for this concept of harmony of religions. That is why for thousands of years of human history, this concept never came up. The previous Avataras and Prophets did not preach this concept with the force that Sri Ramakrishna imparted to it.

Of course, serious students of religion will know that even in the past, whenever and wherever people of different religions met and interacted on a daily basis, attempts at harmonizing the religions have occurred. Take for example, the Bhagavad Gita,[3] or the Sufi school of Islam.

But the scale and speed of the present development is phenomenal. The present developments in the world, such as industrialization and globalization have brought huge swathes of people of different religions in close contact with one another. Till recently, people were confined to their geographies and did not interact much with people of another religion or country. Hence the clash of identities was never a serious issue. But, in the present age, the clash of identities has become a very serious issue. When we interact closely with people of other religions, regions, races, etc, a dilution of our identities occurs. These international interactions on an unprecedented scale have started bringing out deep insecurities in us. Hence, even the common man needs to be educated in this concept of harmony of religions, for his own survival, and for peace in the world.

For a long time in our world’s history, religion served an individual’s spiritual needs. Hence deep knowledge of the philosophy of one’s own religion or of other religions, or deep knowledge of the psychology of spiritual development of man was not necessary. Sri Ramakrishna says in a conversation: “Who can fully know the infinite God? And what need is there of knowing the Infinite? Having attained this rare human birth, my supreme need is to develop love for the Lotus Feet of God. If a jug of water is enough to remove my thirst, why should I measure the quantity of water in a lake? I become drunk on even half a bottle of wine – what is the use of my calculating the quantity of liquor in the tavern? What need is there of knowing the Infinite? [4] This attitude sufficed for a long time, when countries were not connected well, and the majority of people in the world lived their entire lives confined to their place of birth. Modern developments have brought enormous populations in contact with one another. Obviously, their identities clash and create a potentially dangerous situation. It was to address this urgent need of the present age that the compassionate Lord incarnated as Sri Ramakrishna and delivered this message of the harmony of religions.

Let us now try to answer the question we raised: How can we correct this inherent fault in our thinking? There are two ways in which this fault can be corrected, according to Sri Ramakrishna.

Let us look at the first method that Sri Ramakrishna prescribes for us to correct this inherent fault in us.

Genuine spiritual growth is required. Intellectual understanding is not religion. Experience alone is religion. In religion, experience comes by doggedly holding onto one particular aspect of God that appeals to us, and making that aspect real in our lives. Once we see God face-to-face, in that particular aspect, God will Himself clarify this issue for us. This is Sri Ramakrishna’s confirmed opinion. Let me read out a small passage from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna to you:[5]

With sincerity and earnestness one can realize God through all religions. The Vaishnavas will realize God, and so will the Saktas, the Vedantists, and the Brahmos. The Mussalmans and Christians will realize Him too. All will certainly realize God if they are earnest and sincere.

One can rightly speak of God only after one has seen Him. He who has seen God knows really and truly that God has form and that He is formless as well. He has many other aspects that cannot be described.

Once some blind men chanced to come near an animal that someone told them was an elephant. They were asked what the elephant was like. The blind men began to feel its body. One of them said the elephant was like a pillar; he had touched only its leg. Another said it was like a winnowing-fan; he had touched only its ear. In this way the others, having touched its tail or belly, gave their different versions of the elephant. Just so, a man who has seen only one aspect of God limits God to that alone. It is his conviction that God cannot be anything else.”

 (To the Goswami) “How can you say that the only truth about God is that He has form? It is undoubtedly true that God comes down to earth in a human form, as in the case of Krishna. And it is true as well that God reveals Himself to His devotees in various forms. But it is also true that God is formless; He is the Indivisible Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. He has been described in the Vedas both as formless and as endowed with form. He is also described there both as attributeless and as endowed with attributes.

Do you know what I mean? Satchidananda is like an infinite ocean. Intense cold freezes the water into ice, which floats on the ocean in blocks of various forms. Likewise, through the cooling influence of bhakti, one sees forms of God in the Ocean of the Absolute. These forms are meant for the bhaktas, the lovers of God. But when the Sun of Knowledge rises, the ice melts; it becomes the same water it was before. Water above and water below, everywhere nothing but water. Therefore a prayer in the Bhagavata says: ‘O Lord, Thou hast form, and Thou art also formless. Thou walkest before us, O Lord, in the shape of a man; again, Thou hast been described in the Vedas as beyond words and thought.’

But you may say that for certain devotees God assumes eternal forms. There are places in the ocean where the ice doesn’t melt at all. It assumes the form of quartz.

What a wonderful explanation this is! So simple and clear! We know so little and yet we make generalizations; and then we impose our faulty generalizations on others, who again are making the same mistake! So, there is no end of confusion. That is why Swamiji once said in a lecture,[6]When next you hear a man delivering great intellectual lectures against this worship of God, get hold of him and ask him what is his idea of God, what he means by ‘omnipotence’, and ‘omniscience’, and ‘omnipresent love’, and so forth, beyond the spelling of the words. He means nothing, he cannot formulate an idea, he is no better than the man in the street who has not read a single book. That man in the street, however, is quiet and does not disturb the world, while the other man’s arguments cause disturbance. He has no actual perception, and both are on the same Religion is realization, and you must make the sharpest distinction between talk and realization. What you perceive in your soul is realization.

In another lecture, Swamiji said,[7]Curiously enough the vast majority of mankind thinks, especially at the present time, that no such perception is possible in religion, that religion can only be apprehended by vain arguments. Therefore we are told not to disturb the mind by vain arguments. Religion is a question of fact, not of talk. We have to analyze our own souls and to find what is there. We have to understand it and to realize what is understood. That is religion. No amount of talk will make religion.

So, the first method of correcting the fault of religious disharmony in ourselves is to speak of only what we see, and not of what we know from reading, hearing, or thinking. How rightly Sri Ramakrishna points out, “One can rightly speak of God only after one has seen Him. He who has seen God knows really and truly that God has form and that He is formless as well. He has many other aspects that cannot be described.

Why does Sri Ramakrishna say that one can rightly speak of God only after one has seen Him? That is because, after seeing Him, we can, if we wish, ask Him what this confusion is all about, and He Himself will explain it to us! It is that simple. Unless God Himself explains the reason for this confusion among various religions, we will never be able to solve it among ourselves effectively. Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna highlights this point much more clearly:[8]

Devotee: Sir, why are there so many different opinions about the nature of God? Some say that God has form, while others say that He is formless. Again, those who speak of God with form tell us about His different forms. Why all this controversy?

Master: A devotee thinks of God as he sees Him. In reality there is no confusion about God. God explains all this to the devotee if the devotee only realizes Him somehow. You haven’t set your foot in that direction. How can you expect to know all about God?

Listen to a story. Once a man entered a wood and saw a small animal on a tree. He came back and told another man that he had seen a creature of a beautiful red color on a certain tree. The second man replied: ‘When I went into the wood, I also saw that animal. But why do you call it red? It is green.’ Another man who was present contradicted them both and insisted that it was yellow. Presently others arrived and contended that it was grey, violet, blue, and so forth and so on. At last they started quarrelling among themselves. To settle the dispute they all went to the tree. They saw a man sitting under it. On being asked, he replied: ‘Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well. All your descriptions are true. Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey, and so forth. It is a chameleon. And sometimes it has no color at all. Now it has a color, and now it has none.’ In like manner, one who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature; he alone knows that God reveals Himself to seekers in various forms and aspects. God has attributes; then again He has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can appear in various colors, and he knows, further, that the animal at times has no color at all. It is the others who suffer from the agony of futile argument. Kabir used to say, ‘The formless Absolute is my Father, and God with form is my Mother.’ God reveals Himself in the form which His devotee loves most. His love for the devotee knows no bounds. It is written in the Purana that God assumed the form of Rama for His heroic devotee, Hanuman.

 Elsewhere Sri Ramakrishna makes the same point in another context. The great Indian Freedom fighter Ashwini Kumar Sen wrote a letter to M, the chronicler of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, describing his interaction with Sri Ramakrishna, wherein he asks the Master:[9]

Myself: What is the difference between a Hindu and a Brahmo ?

Master: There is not much difference. In the serenade we have here, one flutist plays a single note right along, while another plays various melodies. The Brahmos play one note, as it were; they hold to the formless aspect of God. But the Hindus bring out different melodies; that is to say they enjoy God in His various aspects.

The formless Deity and God with form may be likened to water and ice. The water freezes into ice. The ice melts into water through the heat of jnana. Water takes the form of ice through the cooling influence of bhakti. The Reality is one. People give It various names. Take the case of a lake with four landing-ghats on its four banks. People who draw water at one ghat call it ‘jal’, and those who draw it at the second ghat call it ‘pani’. At the third ghat they call it ‘water’, and at the fourth, ‘aqua’. But it is one and the same thing water.

So the first method that Sri Ramakrishna gives us is to establish an intimate relation with the Living God. From God Himself we will learn that all religions are true.

There is another method. We can accept the discoveries of Sri Ramakrishna regarding the different religions, we can try to understand the variety in terms of the language developed by Vedanta and mould our lives according to those ideas. It is something similar to understanding the discoveries of the laws of motion by Isaac Newton; let us believe his discoveries; let us accept his discoveries; then we can put his discoveries to good use in our lives.

It will be a long time before we can ourselves achieve genuine spiritual experiences and assimilate those experiences. If we wait for that time, there is a danger that we will kill ourselves in the meantime over our differences! An intellectual knowledge of the discoveries of Sri Ramakrishna could easily avoid that terrible outcome.

It is impossible for us not to interact with people of different religions till we ourselves achieve genuine spiritual growth and learn directly from our experience that all religions are true. Hence we need to accept the conclusions of Sri Ramakrishna in this respect. The enormous documentation and universal access to information of the present age easily allow us to educate ourselves regarding the different religions, intellectually. Armed with that knowledge, against the background of Sri Ramakrishna’s discoveries, we can protect our Nishta, while avoiding fanaticism in our interactions with people all over the world.

The way the world is moving is alright. Religions and matters of this world have been effectively separated all over the world today. This separation will increase in the days to come. Secularism in the true sense will take hold over all people of this world. Democracy will take hold over all peoples of the world. Religion then will become a truly personal matter. Religion will help man to grow spiritually. And that inner growth he will be able to pour out in service to others.

The greatest help we get in this intellectual exercise is from Vedanta, according to Swami Vivekananda. He points out: In Vedanta the chief advantage is that it was not the work of one single man; and therefore, naturally, unlike Buddhism, or Christianity, or Mohammedanism, the prophet or teacher did not entirely swallow up or overshadow the principles. The principles live, and the prophets, as it were, form a secondary group, unknown to Vedanta. The Upanishads speak of no particular prophet, but they speak of various prophets and prophetesses. The old Hebrews had something of that idea; yet we find Moses occupying most of the space of the Hebrew literature. Of course I do not mean that it is bad that these prophets should take religious hold of a nation; but it certainly is very injurious if the whole field of principles is lost sight of. We can very much agree as to principles, but not very much as to persons. The persons appeal to our emotions; and the principles, to something higher, to our calm judgement. Principles must conquer in the long run, for that is the manhood of man. Emotions many times drag us down to the level of animals. Emotions have more connection with the senses than with the faculty of reason; and, therefore, when principles are entirely lost sight of and emotions prevail, religions degenerate into fanaticism and sectarianism. They are no better than party politics and such things. The most horribly ignorant notions will be taken up, and for these ideas thousands will be ready to cut the throats of their brethren. This is the reason that, though these great personalities and prophets are tremendous motive powers for good, at the same time their lives are altogether dangerous when they lead to the disregard of the principles they represent. That has always led to fanaticism, and has deluged the world in blood. Vedanta can avoid this difficulty, because it has not one special prophet. It has many Seers, who are called Rishis or sages; Seers — that is the literal translation — those who see these truths, the Mantras.[10]

 The intellectual exercise of practicing harmony of religions will start by separating the principles of spirituality from the personalities who preached them in each religion. Once we do this exercise, we immediately come face to face with a fact, which Swami Vivekananda calls ‘The Religion’, also known as ‘Universal Religion’. This Universal Religion is composed of only the most generalized principles corresponding to the fundamental nature of man, God, and the world. It is wholly impersonal. When seen intellectually, we find that there is only one Religion all over the world. When that One Religion is applied to different geographies, different communities, different races, different periods of time, we get the variety in the world religions. Hence Swami Vivekananda declared:

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 harmonizing 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 that path that suits him best.[11]

*******************

[1] Why we disagree: Address at Parliament of Religions on 15th September, 1893

[2] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on March 11, 1883

[3] Cf: Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Thoughts on Gita: “It was the author of the Gita who for the first time tried to harmonize these. He took the best from what all the sects then existing had to offer and threaded them in the Gita. But even where Krishna failed to show a complete reconciliation (Samanvaya) among these warring sects, it was fully accomplished by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in this nineteenth century”

[4] Ibid: Entry on October 28, 1882

[5] Ibid: Entry on March 11, 1883

[6] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: The Teacher Of Spirituality

[7] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-2: Realization: (Delivered in London, 29th October 1896)

[8] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on October 28, 1882

[9] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Appendix-B: A Letter

[10] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-6: The Methods And Purpose Of Religion

[11] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-6: Epistles – Second Series: Written to Mohammed Sarfaraz Husain of Naini Tal from Almora on 10th June, 1898.

Indian History – an alternate perspective

We Indians today are in the habit of looking at our Independence Day from the perspective of the year 1947. We have trained ourselves to look at this day as the day on which we became politically free from the British Rule over us. This is true in a limited sense only. There is a larger perspective from which we ought to look at this day. Those of us who are the followers of Swami Vivekananda however look at this day from the perspective of the entire history of this glorious land. Swamiji articulated his alternative reading of our history, as opposed to the popular version instituted by the European historians, in his various writings such as Modern India, Evolution of Indian History, etc. In the following dissertation, we shall try to elaborate this alternate version, not as a comprehensive theory of Indian history, but rather as a starting point for a new discourse on our history – an Indian view of Indian history, if one may call it so.[1]

Indian history, as we know it today, from various recorded sources, can be divided into four distinct periods. Each of these periods was dominated by one major religion of the world.

The 1st period was the Vedic period of Indian history. This period led to the flowering of the Vedas & the Upanishads. Some even say this was the period when the major population actually lived between modern-day Syria and the Indus-Sarasvati Valley.

The 2nd period was the Buddhist period. By this time, the population had shifted base to the Indo-Gangetic plains. Buddha’s principles and his version of the Vedic religion formed the central vein of Indian history during this period.

This was followed by the 1000 year-long Muslim period.

And the latest period was the Christian period; the most despicable 500 years in all our history. As a nation, we touched rock-bottom during this period.

As Swami Vivekananda pointed out, religion has always been the back-bone of India. It has not always been the same religion, but it was always religion, understood as a marked path to reach the Infinite. What happened on 15th August 1947 was that we shook ourselves free of the shackles of Christian domination on our nation. We entered into a new era in our history. Extrapolating our past,[2] we can imagine that this new era will be again dominated by some other religion, perhaps one that hasn’t been tried in the past. Is it like that? Is that how Indian history will take shape? Well, let us see.

If we imagine India as a living person, with a mind of its own, we can ask the question – why did India choose a different religion for a certain period in the past? It seems India wanted to see, to what heights of perfection, man could reach with each of the established religions.

During the Vedic period, man perfected the individualistic spiritual quest. He grappled with the question of how a man could reach the Truth. He perfected the method of the Ashrama-dharma, where man enters society as a student, graduates into a social being, and then becomes a recluse, finally realizing the Truth within his own consciousness. Having perfected this method, what need was there for any other experimentation? Well, such is the Indian soul that it’s hunger for variety in the sphere of the Spirit in insatiable.

When the above mentioned path was worked out practically, it had a very strange fallout. Society got stratified into four Varnas, or castes. And the whole problem arose here, with this stratification. The distribution of population was such that a miniscule occupied the first two castes – Brahmana & Kshatriya; a little more number of people belonged to the third caste – Vaishya. The majority of the population belonged to the last caste – Shudra. The entire national drama was stage-managed by the first two castes, the upper minuscule of the national population. The Vaishya and Shudra didn’t matter at all. Although the people who mattered did not contribute to the national economy, and the people who essentially contributed to the national life did not figure anywhere in the entire national discourse! This was the main problem India had to address. Concomitant to this was the problem of mobility between the castes. Any foreigner could enter into the national life at the lowest caste only. Moving up from that caste was indeed nerve-wracking. The upper castes maintained a strict strangle-hold on the entry into their folds. [3]

Economy of India in this period was agriculture based. There was also many other activities like construction, manufacture of articles of daily use from metals, stone & wood, leisure activities, services, etc. This was similar to what was present in various parts of the world at that time. There was only one special activity in India, which was unique. That was Yajna. In due course of time, Yajna occupied the prime position in Indian economy. Any activity in Indian society had meaning only if it was linked to Yajna. How do we make sense of this strange thing? Why did the Yajna become so important in the national economy? Because, the economy was mainly agrarian. It generated enormous surplus in due course of time. Incentive for agriculture was going down since surplus started building up. The surplus had to be consumed. What better way to do that than to burn it all up in a grand fire sacrifice? Religious and social sanction was accorded by the Brahmana for this act.

One of the major problems all societies have had to deal with is the accumulation of political power. Geographies help people to settles down into colonies. Gradually, duties get distributed among the denizens of the colonies. There is always a group of people in those colonies who either take upon themselves, or is authorized by the society, the duty of protecting the rest of the people. Very soon, this group gathers power over other people. This group then starts losing touch with the multitudes that it has to govern. Benevolence gives way to tyranny. This has been the case in every human society. Take the case of the ancient civilizations of the world. The Egyptian, Babylonian, Ionian, Greek, Roman, in fact any number of them. All of them rose to great eminence for some time and then the society imploded. It imploded because the masses that actually formed that society were oppressed in due course of time. This phenomenon of one miniscule part of the society losing connect with the other major portion of itself, leading to oppression of the majority by the minority has always been the bane of human societies all over the world, all through time. India however, seems to have avoided this problem by means of a power struggle between the Brahmana and the Kshatriya castes. Whenever the King became too powerful, and his rise to power took on the shape of oppressing the Vaishya and the Shudra, the Brahmana came in and overthrew the King. Similarly, when the Brahmana’s insistence of religious observations by the masses took on the shape of social oppression over the other three castes, the Kshatriya came in and cut the Brahmana to size. This interplay between the Brahmana and the Kshatriya has kept the Indian society alive through ages, while the absence of this power balance ruined the greatest of civilizations the world over. This self-preservation mechanism of the caste system of the ancient Hindu society is something that is often not recognized by modern historians. This vital aspect of the Varna-system was pointed out by Swami Vivekananda.

The ancient literature records the historic struggle of Vishwamitra to be recognized as a Brahma-Rishi by Vashishtha. This is an example of the struggle entrenched in Indian society for upward mobility. It was possible, but required superhuman effort. The resistance to accept new comers into the Brahmana fold was phenomenal. However, it was not originally intended to be so tough. For instance, in the Chandogya Upanishad, we have the instance of a prostitute’s son Satyakama being inducted into the Brahmana fold, purely on the basis of the qualities of truthfulness that he exhibited. In course of time, this flexibility was lost and people got stuck in the caste into which they were born. Upper mobility was absent. [4]

That was when the national soul opted for a major experiment. It created a Buddha, who dissolved the problem instead of solving it. The main weapon in the hands of the Brahmana was his monopoly over the sacred literature, over the main economic activity called Yajna, and over the entire national education. Buddha proclaimed that spiritual growth was independent of any literature; it was also independent of any procedure. He opened up a new path and invited everyone into it, especially the Kshatriya, Vaishya & the Shudra. He further demolished the central economic activity of the Hindu nation – Yajna. This was aimed at destroying the monopoly of the Brahmana over the national life. Five hundred years later came a period of growth which was unprecedented in Indian history till then. This should have been the end of this civilization, for it had achieved everything and had solved all its problems. Or had it?

Within a thousand years of the Buddha’s arrival, the lower two castes, who had rejected the Varna-system and had adopted the egalitarian Buddhist monolithic system of society, started to degenerate. People require culture in order to hold on to and maintain any high spiritual impulse that they receive. The Indian society of this period consisted of a miniscule Brahmana & a very tiny Kshatriya population, with almost the entire Vaishya & Shudra population adopting the Buddhist scheme of social life. The major portion of the Kshatriya caste too had shifted base to the Buddhist scheme. So what actually happened was this – the Hindu scheme of Varna-system was totally rejected; social, economic & political power concentrated in the people who rejected the Hindu Varna system and proclaimed to follow an alternate scheme propounded by the Buddha. The Brahmana caste became the ‘outcaste’ or the ‘lower caste’ in this new dispensation. This did work for some time. This should have worked forever, but for a small aberration. Culture did not percolate to the masses. Human life consists of activity. They are of two types – activity that gives the daily food; activity that fills up leisure time. Both need to have an overarching goal. This aligning of all human activity toward the same goal is culture. Although national education was along Buddhist lines, it failed to culturally uplift the masses, who had implicitly accepted the Buddhist way of life. The Buddhist way of life was essentially the monastic life. The insistence on monastic life as the central essence of the Buddhist way of life was, in no small measure, a reason for this failure.

But most importantly, the one vital idea missing in the Buddhist scheme of life was the absence of an overarching goal in life.[5] Of course, the learned ones among the audience will at once jump up at me for this statement. Let us understand that philosophy is not powerful enough to inspire the daily life of the common man. Ritual is needed. The ritual has to be so designed as to gradually raise the brute unto civilized man and the civilized man unto a god. This aspect was missing in Buddhism. Bhagawan Buddha avoided all references to God and Spirit. As a result, the common man who had no recourse to disciplined philosophical thinking, ended up making a god of Buddha himself, and working up hideous rituals which exist now as the Left-handed Tantric practices. Buddhism became everything that the Buddha had fought against all his life! If we carefully analyze the reason for the failure of this great experiment on Indian society, the answer lies in the absence of emphasizing a comprehensible goal of human life. It is essential to spell out that goal of human life in comprehensible terms; in other words, the masses must be able to imagine the goal. An unimaginable goal of human life essentially renders society aimless and rudderless. Again, the goal must not be too easy to specify either, as we have with modern Christianity and Islam, in which case, it degenerates into an effete theology, a set of dogmas. This too is ineffective in leading society to anything higher, and man doesn’t grow. All it is effective in achieving is fights and quarrels. Buddha’s experiment and the subsequent religious experiments in India taught this valuable lesson to the Indian soul, the delicate balance while prescribing a goal for mankind.

Since Buddha categorically prohibited Yajna, the backbone of Indian economy got destroyed. Buddha did not give anything new in its place. So, gradually, Indians started engaging in new economic activities. Well, actually the activities were not new, per se. It was only that, the ways in which the activities were handled were new. People now started working for catering to non-local markets. The Yajna had the advantage of confining all economic activity to the local market. With the Yajna gone, people started trading in a big way. New economy set in. Intercourse with other nations became active.

All along its history, India was rich, created enormous amounts of wealth, and its goods and produce were in tremendous demand all over the world. Goods were transported across sea and land to all the lands in the world. The people who gave protection during this economic activity were the Kshatriyas. While the Shudra worked for producing the goods, the Vaishya arranged for their production and transportation, and the Kshatriya arranged for their safety. India was the greatest maritime power for a very long period. We have records of Indian ships sailing to Egypt and Babylon during the Harappa period too. Slowly, the maritime activities stopped. That happens when you have monopoly over the goods you produce. People from other lands could very well come down here and take what they wanted. We wouldn’t go out to sell our products there. Thus the importance of the Kshatriya reduced. [6]

If Buddhism had made a place for the Brahmana in its scheme, perhaps, we would have yet had the perfect civilization.

Social order was totally in chaos. Value of manly qualities was undermined at a national level. Military prowess reduced. Varna system was no longer in vogue. People didn’t know what they were supposed to do. A Brahmana revival was attempted during the Gupta period. Sister Nivedita proposes the theory that the Gupta Kings commissioned the writing of the Vishnu Purana around 400 AD, which marks this part of Indian history. Revolving around the Vishnu Purana, a renewed attempt was made to consolidate the peoples living south of the Indus and the Himalayas up to the Ceylon into one Nation again. Such a consolidation had occurred under King Ashoka during the Buddhist reformation period. But this time, the consolidation would be under the revived Vedic lines. The absorption of the Buddhist reformation had given rise to a highly changed religion in the land, which although called the Vedic religion or Sanatana Dharma still, had very little in common with the pre-Buddhist religion of the land.

In the wake of this development came the hordes of Muslims from Arabia and Persia, bringing with them a fresh spiritual impulse. When they stayed back in India after their initial victories, they tried to establish a new social order, based on equality. Everyone who converted to Islam was equal to every other Muslim in society. This impulse translated as unprecedented growth in literature, architecture, economy and political stability. Against the background of this new stability, the old Hindu scheme of life was once again tried out. Lead by spiritual leaders such as Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, Buddhism was completely reabsorbed into the main Hindu body politick. The entire 1000 years of Buddhist reformation turned out to be a mere cul-de-sac in Indian history. What was the Indian society like during the Islam period? Again, a handful of the Brahmana caste held onto the ancient scheme of life. The Vaishya & the Shudra thrived well under the Islamic dispensation, better than ever before in Indian history. The Kshatriya caste almost vanished. A new caste – a cross between the Kshatriya & the Vaishya arose, called Zemindar. This new caste again started monopolizing social and economic power in their own hands and the Shudra was none the better even under the Islamic dispensation in India.

The only drawback seemed to be the displeasure of the masses who were forced to convert to Islam in order to enjoy the benefits of Islamic egalitarianism. But, given a face-off between greater social freedom and adherence to his native religion, man would any day opt for social freedom. The Brahmana, the new Kshatriya-Vaishya Zemindar and the Vaishya did not yet learn that affording social freedom, social dignity and equal opportunity to one another and the Shudra was vital for national life to sustain. The Islamic rulers were actually Kshatriyas in their function.[7] If the Indian society had been flexible enough to have recognized this and if the Muslim invaders too had been flexible enough to have realized this, and had they entered into the Indian body politick, the resulting civilization would again have been the best possible. But that was not to be so. For the first time, we came across a people who insisted on living in our society and who rigidly resisted the caste system. Before the Islamic invasion, the Huns, Shakas and Kushans had come in too. But they were all absorbed into the caste system mostly at the Shudra level, but some at the higher levels, even as Kshatriya kings.[8]

Around this time came the influence of Europe, first with the Portuguese, then the Danes, followed by the French and lastly the British. The last to arrive from Europe, the British, consolidated their foothold in India and event after event led to their annexing the entire land as a colony of the larger British Empire.

This was the worst part of Indian history. No one in the entire Indian society had any freedom. The clash now was between the Indian religious weltanschauung and the European economic world-view. They simply didn’t match, apparently. But the opening out of the entire European world of thought was a new blessing on the Indians. And the oppressive missionary activities of the Christians were the greatest drawback of this period. Education was controlled by the Christian missionaries, who lacked any understanding of sociology, anthropology, psychology and history. They dogmatically drilled the morbid theology of Christianity and totally undermined the entire historical background of the Indians.

It is interesting to note the unique war tactics developed by the Muslims of Arabia. Indians never knew that before Islamic invasion. In India, war was always fought in the city outskirts. Muslims, however, entered living areas inside cities and towns and villages. Common man was attacked and killed. Surprise attacks on the common man were something that the Muslims brought. We don’t find historical evidence of Prophet Mohammed having taught this type of warfare to his followers. In all probabilities, this was a Mongol trait among the Muslims. If we study the history of Islamic Arabia, we find that the Islamic invaders into India were all actually from the Mongol stock. Genghis Khan and his descendants had exterminated the entire male Muslim population during their successive attacks on Arabia & Persia and what we now know as Muslims are actually the Mongols who lived on in that region. What exists as Islam today is the contribution of the Arabian women to the Mongol stock. The fearless Turks that had conquered half of the civilized world and ruled over it are actually from Mongol stock.

The Vaishya produced wealth with the help of the Shudra. Goods were produced that needed to be transported. The Vaishya arranged for the transportation too. However, since the means for transportation was very slow, there was great chance of being waylaid. Goods needed protection. The Kshatriya provided it. Mohammed and his followers, the Muslims, were basically Kshatriyas in this sense. They gave protection to the businessmen and their goods.

In Indian history, the Kshatriyas faced mass annihilation twice; first, by Parashurama, when he vowed to destroy Kartivirya Arjuna; and a second time in the Kurukshetra war of the Mahabharata. That brings up the question, if all the Kshatriyas had been exterminated by Parashurama, who were the Kshatriyas during the Mahabharata War? In all probabilities, what would have happened was that many Kshatriya women must have escaped the wrath of Parashurama. Some of them must have borne children in exile. Again, many weak-bodied Kshatriyas, who did not participate in the battle also must have escaped and must have propagated their clans. We however do not find any instance of the Brahmin caste being mass annihilated in Indian history. This could perhaps explain the steady weakening of the Kshatriya caste in India, which laid the grounds for the subsequent invasions by Islamic and European races on India.

The effort of the Indian mind has always been the following: Human life has the ultimate goal of Self-realization. The way to achieve this is what the Indian mind has been experimenting with, all through its history. In the Vedic period, it tried to do so by formulating a caste system, which dictated what a man should do for living, earning a livelihood, and then how he should spend his leisure time. This ran foul with the inherent principles of natural justice in the sense that one caste always tried to monopolize the entire national life and mobility among the castes was rigidly obstructed. It was like missing the forest and getting lost among the trees. The main aim of instituting the caste system was lost in the social complexities that arose from maintaining the system! Then came the Buddha’s reformation. He was an iconoclast. He broke down the entire caste system and gave nothing in its place. He did not specify what man had to do for achieving the ultimate goal. Therefore the original caste system got revived, albeit in a totally changed form. While the original system was meant to guide man from where he stood up to the ultimate realization of his true nature, the resurrected caste system was devilish in its new form. The Muslim period gave rise to a new caste – the Zemindar. But the masses, who were always included in the Vaishya and Shudra caste were still oppressed. The British period brought a new impetus. The religion they brought, as did the Muslims, was easily included in the Bhakti cults that already existed in India. But the social modes that they brought were all new to India. Having lived in India for quite some time, the Muslims had come to understand that caste was the mode of social functioning for the Indian. The British did not, or rather could not, understand this unique Indian institution. They opened up education to every one under their rule. Thus we had B R Ambedkar (a Shudra by birth) studying to be a barrister alongside Mohandas Gandhi (a Vaishya by birth) and Subhas Chandra Bose (a Kshatriya by birth) and Umesh Chandra Banerjee (a Brahmana by birth)! The universal education system, evolved by Thomas Macaulay with clear selfish aims for the British Empire, broke down the impossibly ossified caste barriers and created a level playing field. This single act has unleashed a power of unimaginable proportions, as the present condition of our country reveals very well.[9] The British rule allowed for all sorts of mobility – upwards & downwards – within the Indian society, based on meritocracy and not by birth.

The greatest contribution of the British to India however was, in our opinion, the concept of “organization”.[10] Why do we say so? Let us re-state our understanding of Indian history. Then we will be able to see the supreme importance of this British contribution.

India, as it were, has fixed the goal of complete self-realization for its citizens. This has been the main strain in its history as we have seen till now. The soul of India wants, as it were, that all Indians should realize their real nature. How are they to do this? India formulated a scheme of life such that all their activities would be wound up so as to converge towards this one goal, which is complete self-realization. Her first attempt to do so, that is, formulate a viable scheme of life for all living in India, ran afoul due to the complications arising out of the caste system. She tried to set it right through one of her most brilliant sons, the Buddha. His attempts, though seemingly very effective, backfired. The final outcome of the Buddhist experiment was that the Kshatriya caste all but disappeared from India, the Vaishya and the Shudra got a taste of social freedom which they could not sustain, and the Brahmana came back with a vengeance. But, the Brahmana who now raised his head again this time was but a caricature of the original Brahmana of the Vedic period. The original Brahmana was a God-realized soul, one who had seen God face to face, even while living in the society as one of us. Whereas, the resurrected Brahmana, in post Buddhist India was a scheming Brahmana, who cooked up an elaborate theosophy of the ten incarnations of the Godhead, the Dasha Avatara, and silently absorbed the Buddha into the Hindu pantheon of gods! The Buddha was accepted and everything he said and did was completely forgotten from the national mind. It was one of the greatest coup-de-etat staged in human history! But, a nation is unsustainable without a strong group of people who specialize in protection and governance. The Brahmana never allowed that group to rise and in due course of time, the situation was back to square one – a weak nation, which was waiting to be overrun by anyone who would care to do so. Indeed, that is what happened. The Islamic hordes came and this grandest nation among all the nations in the known world at that time was conquered, not by the glorious Arabs, but by a slave of the Arabs. He set up his empire here and that was the time the Nation decided it would run another experiment by factoring in Islam in its scheme of things. Again, the ancient Vedic religion immediately saw that Islam could easily be absorbed within the body politick, provided two things were ensured – the invading Muslim had to be absorbed into the Kshatriya caste, and in exchange, there must be a greater social freedom given to the Vaishya and the Shudra in India. The second condition was partially fulfilled by religious conversion of the lower caste people into Islam. We say partially fulfilled because unless the people converted to Islam, if they remained within the Hindu caste structure, they would not enjoy the social freedom! The first condition was not, however, fulfilled. Not only was it not fulfilled, the Islamic invaders stayed back to rule India, but never fully integrated themselves with the Vedic scheme of things that was in vogue here. The rampant dogmatism that the Muslim exhibited was something alien to the Hindu. Just as the Muslim could not learn to integrate with the idolatrous Hindu, the Hindu too could not make sense of this foreigner who resisted any intercourse with his caste system. For, we must realize one thing, and this is vital; the only way a Hindu could make sense of any human being was if he could accommodate himself in one of the four castes. Thus the Greeks and the Huns entered into the Kshatriya caste. Many Mongols were accommodated into the Shudra caste. So also were many who had rejected the Vedic religion and had opted for the Buddha’s version of religion, and had now again opted to be back with the Brahmana’s national resurgence. But this Muslim refused to enter into the caste system. If a person resists entering into any one of the castes, the Hindu is clueless about how to deal with him! That is what happened with the Islamic people. So, we had a situation where we again had a miniscule Brahmana population, no Kshatriya caste worth the name, a sizeable Vaishya population and a huge Shudra mass, alongside a sizeable population of a new type of people – the Muslims (most of whom, were converts from the Shudra caste, with only a handful of Muslims from the original Arabian & Persian stock) – who were not a part of this Varna system.

The same Indian genius that came up with the Dasha Avatara to digest Buddha within itself, now came up with the Sufi religion and the Bhakti movement, as a means of incorporating the Muslim into its body politick. But the invaders’ religion lacked the philosophical flexibility to recognize the utility of such a development and as a result, at some local levels, the integration of the Muslim into the Hindu society was indeed successfully effected by the Sufi and Bhakti attempts. But there remained a virulent strain of Islam that refused to integrate with Hinduism. This was the first time that India had faced such a situation, where it failed to integrate the invaders into its own society and align them to its religious orientation.

When the country was in this stage, there came along a fresh invader, who came in through business and commerce, not like the Muslims had come in, with a sword on a horse (the famous imagery of the incarnation after Buddha, called Kalki, as per the Brahmana!). Having entered the land for the express intent of setting up business, the European stayed back. He even started taking over administrative functions regarding this strange land, but never with the idea of ruling it per se. Every decision of the European rose from the perspective of business. While the Muslim who had entered this land exhibited clear Kshatriya qualities, this European was but a Vaishya at best!

Caste system was completely demolished by the British rule in India. We needed to re-organize Indian society immediately or we were in danger of losing our identity. That is where Swami Vivekananda comes in. He realized that the western concept of organization could fulfil the vacuum created by the demolition of caste system in India. This re-adjustment is what we are still seeing in our society today. We are still in the transition from caste to corporate organization.

One concept that we need to explore is the intimate relation between caste and religion, especially in the Indian context. Time and time again, it has seemed as though caste is a religious institution. It is however not so. Religion has nothing to do with caste, per se.[11] Then, why is it that all the religious leaders in India have worked specifically to breakdown caste system, favoring the upliftment and education of the lower castes and attempting to soften the heart of the upper castes? This is because each of our great religious leaders has tried to remain true to the vision of the founding fathers of the Indian society, the great rishis, so lost in antiquity that today, we do not even know their names for sure. But the power of their vision has driven this nation for over five thousand years, through an unbroken continuity of the institution of Caste. Ask anybody in India and you will be told that caste system is heinous and a blot on Indian society and that it must go. Most of them will even assert vociferously that the institution is now good as dead and exists mainly due to its benefits on the political parties. Caste identities make it very easy to group together and monopolize over large swathes of people, as we have seen time and again since 1947. But the greatest advantage of this institution was to be had only if every citizen had an overarching goal to achieve in his or her life. We must remember that the origin of this institution was in this idea of providing means for realization of the goal of God-realization for every member of society. If we lose that idea of God realization as the goal of our social life, then the institution of caste becomes a terrible bondage. Let me explain this a bit.

Supposing the patent aim of my life is to realize my real nature. How am I go about it? Either by renouncing social life and embracing monastic vows; or by living in society and contributing to the national economy; if I choose to live in society, participate in the national economy, how do I realize Atman? I can do that by working in such a way that my daily work becomes a worshipful offering to God. What will be the work that I will have to do? Who will decide what work I will be doing? Suppose we have a body of authoritative persons in society whose duty it is to allot work to every member of the society. Can anyone ensure impartiality in that allotment? Will such allotments of duty be wholeheartedly accepted and not be challenged? Ah! Therein lay the genius of the institution of caste! My own birth determines what work I will do in my life. The argument is simple: I can realize God by offering whatever work I do as an offering to God; what work I will do is determined by my birth; caste system prescribes and ensures the relation between birth and the work to be done; as long as I haven’t yet attained the state of inner freedom, I belong in a hierarchy in society; there are castes above me and below me; once I achieve the blessed state of real freedom, I break free from the social hierarchy. So, this is how the caste system was envisaged to function in society. This is how it did function for a long time. You will appreciate that this system will function flawlessly, so long as the aim of our life, of our work, of our living in society, is to realize our true nature as the Atman. If that is the aim of our life, then caste system is the best social arrangement imaginable. Now, the whole trouble starts if we lose our grip on that pivotal idea of self- realization. If enjoyment is the aim of life, then this institution stands as a barrier to achieving that aim to our heart’s content.

Against this simple argument, we will be better able to appreciate the reformatory steps adopted by Buddha. He found that the rigid social structure was standing as a barrier to man’s development. He wanted to allow everyone to develop fully and freely. He knew that by pulling down the super-structure, he could unfetter the human soul on its journey to its destiny. At the same time, he was aware that man needed a goal in life. No social system can give that to man. It is only a spiritual impulse that can give an overarching goal to man. He therefore did the sane thing possible; he pulled down the caste system; he prescribed that monasticism was the path to be followed; he further specified that knowledge of one’s real nature was the goal of human life. Similarly did all the other religious reformers in India do the same thing; reiterate that God realization is the goal of human life. If that is fixed, then social life automatically falls into a system that is self-regulatory. Caste system was one such self-regulatory mechanism in human society. The British domination over India opened our eyes to another such wonderful system – the corporate organization.

So, effectively, by the end of 1800 AD, India had learnt that, if God Realization were to be the goal of human life, then human society could indeed be organized into a rigid caste system, which helped everyone to achieve that supreme goal of life. India had also learnt that there will always be a great number of people in its society who will not be able to adopt God realization as the supreme goal of life. Hence India leant that, in such a case, the caste system would be an aberration, an obstacle, a detriment, instead of being a tool to further man’s development. India also learnt in the meanwhile that there were many more societies in the world which did not prescribe to its weltanschauung and that it needed to interact with those societies as well. India had tried to successively experiment with Sanatana Dharma, a variant of itself called Buddhism, then Islam and finally Christianity, with a view to finding the best fit religion for its citizens; when it would find that ideal religion, it would then work out the best means of organizing society and thereby enable all its citizens to live their lives and achieve tangible progress in their evolution. As a result, India found out that none of these religions could be imposed as the only religion on all its citizens. Human nature was too diverse for straitjacketing the human soul in such simplistic terms. India had learnt that its hoary method of caste system for integrating foreigners into its body politick was not efficient, since the Muslims and the Christians refused to enter into the Caste structure, thereby remaining as un-integrated foreign bodies within the living being of Indian society. India awoke to the fact that it needed a readjustment at the very core of its being. This readjustment would begin by redefining its goal in spiritual terms, as it has always done in its long history.

That was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to make sense of the mess that its society had ended up in; that was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to discover which religion, or what mix of the religions available, would be ideal for its citizens; That was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to articulate an overarching goal for its citizens in the modern idiom; That was the time when the Soul of India worked up an instrument through which it would try to hew out a path for multitudes to achieve that goal in their lives. That unique instrument was Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. The biographer of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Saradananda writes that Sri Ramakrishna performed unprecedented spiritual practices, which make no sense unless seen from this historical perspective. There is no need for any human being to undergo such a variety of spiritual practices for one’s own liberation. Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna’s chief disciple, mentions that in Sri Ramakrishna, the soul of India, as it were, was finding its moorings again; the soul of India was working up an essential readjustment whereby it could find a rationale for continuing its existence. What was the self-discovery that the soul of India made through Sri Ramakrishna?

All religions are true. No one religion can claim to appeal to every human being on earth. Each soul approached life in its own unique way and thereby qualifies to its own brand of religion. All the same, each of these religions, or paths of human evolution, is harmonious in their goal. The goal of every religion is perception of the consciousness that is in every human being. In fact, each soul is potentially divine. The goal of human life is to manifest that divinity. Human life itself, therefore, can be envisaged as the Universal Religion, with all the known ‘isms’ being just geographical & cultural variants of the Mother Religion.

Further, religion is realization; religion is perception; religion is not a set of beliefs or customs or traditions; religion is not thoughts, ideas or feelings, no matter how sophisticated or refined. If you don’t know your own true nature, you are not spiritual, no matter what. You are not a Hindu because you are born to a Hindu; you are not a Hindu because you believe in the Vedas and Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita; you are not a Muslim because you believe in Allah, the Prophet Mohamad and the Quran; you are not a Christian because you believe in Bible and the Immaculate Conception. If you have perceived directly the Hindu conception of God, you are a Hindu. If you have perceived directly the Islamic conception of God, you are a Muslim. If you have perceived directly the Christian conception of God, you are a Christian. Not otherwise. A Hindu who has directly perceived the Hindu conception of God will totally and completely understand and accept a Muslim who has directly perceived the Muslim conception of God or a Christian who has directly perceived the Christian conception of God.

In the light of this self-discovery, the Soul of India will now work out a new society wherein every kind of religious thought will be accorded full freedom to unleash the potential divinity within its adherents. In the light of this self-discovery, the Soul of India will work out the necessary corrections in Hinduism, Islam,[12] Christianity,[13] Buddhism and every other religious path known to man till date.[14] In the light of this self-discovery by the Soul of India, we can foresee that the future of India will be dominated by no single religion, but equal opportunity will be accorded to every religion that its citizens would like to follow; the only conditions will be mutual respect to everyone else and a dogged commitment to take one’s avowed religion to its logical conclusion which is a direct perception of one’s true nature. Thus the future of India will be dominated by a ‘Harmony of Religions’ in place of any one religion holding forth on Indian society. [15]

We would beg for a little patience at this juncture since a survey of the present situation doesn’t show anything of this kind happening in our country. The country is right now undergoing a series of vital transformations. A period of transition cannot be read correctly except by hindsight. But, our reading of Indian history, as detailed above, forces us to conclude that a society based on the harmonious existence of all religions will certainly dawn very soon. In the beginning of this article, we had said that perhaps “It seems India wanted to see, to what heights of perfection, man could reach with each of the established religions.” It is but logical to conclude that man will reached unprecedented heights of personal and collective growth under this new regime of ‘harmony of religion’.[16] You will certainly appreciate that we have started our new epoch by adopting a “Constitution”, which is unique in its scope and content. It is a blue-print which will guide how exactly the Indian society will re-organize itself in the centuries to come. The Fundamental Rights, Directive principles of State Policy, and Fundamental Duties comprise the corner stone of our Constitution. You will note how these drive our society towards a caste-free, organization-based structure enabling every citizen to enjoy the fruits of opportunity for life-fulfilment, unhindered by one’s religious affiliation. Moreover, the Constitution ensures, for the first time in India, that the State will not impose any one religion on its citizens, awarding full freedom for each citizen to choose for oneself.[17]

Moreover, Sri Ramakrishna revealed a new goal for mankind. He gave it a name called ‘Bhavamukha’.[18] The Soul of India realized through Sri Ramakrishna that the common man would reach this goal of human life by following the path of ‘Practical Vedanta’ or more specifically known as ‘Karma Yoga’,[19] the details of which were worked out by Swami Vivekananda. Karma Yoga will be the key through which will be unlocked an unprecedented spurt of human growth, such as history has never witnessed till date – such was the prophesy of Swami Vivekananda.

In fact, the present restructuring of the Indian society along the lines of corporate organization in the place of caste system presents an ideal ground for realizing the new ideal revealed by Sri Ramakrishna. Elsewhere we have shown how the civic structure of corporate organization lends itself to the mass spiritual practice of Karma Yoga by everyone in society.[20] We would do well to realize as soon as possible that the European form of organization is indeed a viable alternative to the caste system[21]; it retains the positive points of the ancient caste system in that it allows the interested people in practicing Karma Yoga and moving towards personal life fulfilment; more importantly it has the added advantage[22] of providing an avenue for those people not interested in immediate salvation, to contribute towards collective growth in such a way as to eventually lead them towards the inner life.[23]

It is important to note the course correction[24] that Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda have effected in the history of India. At the risk of appearing repetitive, let me explain this point here. India began its grand journey by specifying that individual freedom is achievable in this very life, even while living. The goal of human life was to be spiritually free while living. If that indeed were the goal, what sort of social arrangement should we have? Caste system was the answer given by our ancient sages. We tried to make it a workable arrangement. Something went wrong along the way. We sort of lost sight of the goal to be achieved and made a big issue of the social arrangement! As a result, life in India became a curse. Buddha tried to sort it out. Buddha said that the goal of human life, the raison deter of our existence was indeed to become the ‘Living Free’, the ‘Awakened One’. However, we need not enroll ourselves into any formal social arrangement for that. Renounce, become a monk and get free. That was the iconoclastic approach of the Buddha. Thus, in effect, Buddha reiterated the goal of human life prescribed by the ancient Rishis, but tore down the social structure they had erected for assisting the common man to achieve the same. He, instead, invited all and sundry into the highest path, directly. Although Buddha’s motive was the finest, such egalitarian approach is impractical, unfortunately. Very soon, the Indian society started crumbling. India tried to bring about reformations within itself from time to time, all of them ensuring only one result – each attempt merely reiterated and strengthened the original idea that the goal of human life was indeed Moksha or individual spiritual freedom. The social mess that the botched caste system experiment had resulted in was not touched in any serious measure.[25] All of the reformers ended up certifying the utility and validity of the caste system, in so far as it threw up perfected individuals from time to time in the Indian society. None seemed to bother that there could be a possibility of masses reaching up to perfection too, and that society need not be designed to effect random individual perfection here & there, now & then, alone.[26] None seemed to be bothered about the possibility, or impossibility, of designing or redesigning society into a mass manufactory of perfected individuals. For, the origin of the caste system was indeed that – to ensure that each member of the society moved forward towards spiritual perfection. In the midst of all this confusion came the Islamic invasion. India saw an opportunity to draw in some new blood into its body and see if a new way could thereby be opened up for achieving its goal – a method of living to bring about mass perfection among its members. The Islamic invasion turned out to be a disaster since the invaders could not integrate into the society they had conquered. As a result, the already confused Indian society now had to contend with an added element of confusion, a significant portion of society that refused to blend into the culture and religion of the major portion of society.[27] Even while India was coming to terms with the peculiar situation of its society consisting of two apparently irreconcilable groups of people, there came a new impulse in the form of the European invasion. The invading European stood as a mirror to the hypocrisy underlying the Indian society. The invading European, although professing to be religious, quoting the Lord Jesus Christ on and off, was patently materialistic. He believed in enjoying this life here on earth. But there is always the fear of death. He had overcome that by cooking up a very clever theology of the original sin and the son-hood of Jesus and universal emancipation by merely believing in Jesus’s status as the Son of God. It was a stroke of genius of a much higher level than the devious Brahmin could imagine! In one shot, you had it all. You could now enjoy as much as you wanted here in this life, and have a cozy passage to heaven, post-mortem! This resonated with the pleasure-seeking urges of many individuals in the Indian society. India understood that not all her children can really seek to know their true nature. Many of her children really wished to enjoy this life, this world. The means provided by the caste system did not encourage enjoyment in this life. Life was one long self-sacrifice under the older scheme of things. But then, Moksha need not be imposed as the goal of life on every member of society. Controlled enjoyment (or Dharma, as it is called in Indian terms) could indeed be prescribed as the goal of many interested individuals. “Dharma aviruddha bhuteshu kamosmi Bhatarshaba” says the Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Can we have a social arrangement for such people too in India?

The combination of the European corporate organization and Karma yoga achieves just that![28] Karma Yoga is a versatile tool for achieving both the ends of human life – personal Moksha and collective development (Atmano Mokshartham, Jagadhitaya cha, as Swami Vivekananda termed it). Karma Yoga is the ritual for the modern age. Sri Ramakrishna reminds us again and again in the pages of his recorded conversations “The Gospel of Ramakrishna” that the goal of human life is God-realization. But everyone need not renounce the pleasures of the senses and dedicate oneself to God-realization. A select few, who voluntarily opt to do so may, indeed do so. The rest of us should hold onto to God with one hand and enjoy the world with the other. This ‘holding onto God with hand and enjoying life with the other’ is called Karma Yoga.

Swami Vivekananda prophesied that this formidable combination would lead to a situation in India which he described as follows: “There were times in olden days when prophets were many in every society. The time is to come when prophets will walk through every street in every city in the world. In olden times, particular, peculiar persons were, so to speak, selected by the operations of the laws of society to become prophets. The time is coming when we shall understand that to become religious means to become a prophet, that none can become religious until he or she becomes a prophet. We shall come to understand that the secret of religion is not being able to think and say all these thoughts; but, as the Vedas teach, to realize them, to realize newer and higher one than have ever been realized, to discover them, bring them to society; and the study of religion should be the training to make prophets. The schools and colleges should be training grounds for prophets. The whole universe must become prophets; and until a man becomes a prophet, religion is a mockery and a byword unto him. We must see religion, feel it, realize it in a thousand times more intense a sense than that in which we see the wall.”

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[1]We must create a history of India in living terms. Up to the present, that history, as written by the English, practically begins with Warren Hastings, and crams in certain unavoidable preliminaries, which cover a few thousand years…The history of India has yet to be written for the first time. It has to be humanized, emotionalized, made the trumpet-voice and evangel of the race that inhabit India.” Sister Nivedita.

[2] Nowadays everybody blames those who constantly look back to their past. It is said that so much looking back to the past is the cause of all India’s woes. To me, on the contrary, it seems that the opposite is true. So long as they forgot the past, the Hindu nation remained in a state of stupor; and as soon as they have begun to look into their past, there is on every side a fresh manifestation of life. It is out of this past that the future has to be molded; this past will become the future. The more, therefore, the Hindus study the past, the more glorious will be their future, and whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor to his nation. The degeneration of India came not because the laws and customs of the ancients were bad, but because they were not allowed to be carried to their legitimate conclusions. Reply to the Address of the Maharaja of Khetri.

[3] There seem to be no written records of the history of this period available today. However, Swami Vivekananda reconstructs the main strain of the history of this period from the hints available in the Vedas, Upanishads and the Epics. His insights in this regard are available in his masterly writing ‘Modern India’, and elsewhere too. For instance, cf: Reply to the address of the Maharaja of Khetri.

[4]  Vasishtha, Narada, Satyakama Jabala, Vyasa, Kripa, Drona, Karna, and others of questionable parentage were raised to the position of a Brahmin or a Kshatriya, in virtue of their superior learning or valor; but it remains to be seen how the prostitute, maidservant, fisherman, or the charioteer class was benefited by these upliftings. Again, on the other hand, the fallen from the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, or the Vaishya class were always brought down to fill the ranks of the Shudras.: Modern India

[5] The aims of the Buddhistic and the Vedic religions are the same, but the means adopted by the Buddhistic are not right. If the Buddhistic means were correct, then why have we been thus hopelessly lost and ruined? It will not do to say that the efflux of time has naturally wrought this. Can time work, transgressing the laws of cause and effect? Therefore, though the aims are the same, the Bauddhas for want of right means have degraded India. Perhaps my Bauddha brothers will be offended at this remark, and fret and fume; but there’s no help for it; the truth ought to be told, and I do not care for the result.: East & the West

[6] The Portuguese, in the meantime, discovered a new route to India, doubling Africa. The fortune of India smiled on Portugal — then came the turn of the French, the Dutch, the Danes, and the English. Indian commerce, Indian revenue and all are now in the possession of the English; it is therefore that they are the foremost of all nations now. But now, Indian products are being grown in countries like America and elsewhere, even better than in India, and she has therefore lost something of her prestige. This the Europeans are unwilling to admit. That India, the India of ‘natives’, is the chief means and resources of their wealth and civilization, is a fact which they refuse to admit, or even understand. We too, on our part, must not cease to bring it home to them.: Memoirs of European Travels

[7] Crushing the Brahminical supremacy under his feet the Mussulman king was able to restore to a considerable extent the lost glories of such dynasties of emperors as the Maurya, the Gupta, the Andhra, and the Kshatrapa. (The Persian governors of Aryavarta and Gujarat.) : Modern India

[8] Kanishka, the famous Kushana King is an instance; he belonged to a tribe that had come in from Central Asia, and the entire tribe was absorbed into the Caste system.

[9] This power is so new, its nature and workings are so foreign to the Indian mind, its rise so inconceivable, and its vigor so insuperable that though it wields the suzerain power up till now, only a handful of Indians understand what this power is. We are talking of the occupation of India by England: Modern India.

[10] For a detailed study of Organization according to Swami Vivekananda, please see: ‘Swami Vivekananda & Organization’: http://wp.me/p8xvki-H

[11] Was anybody persecuted in India for choosing his Ishta Devata, or becoming an atheist or agnostic even, so long as he obeyed the social regulations? Society may punish anybody by its disapprobation for breaking any of its regulations, but no man, the lowest Patita (fallen), is ever shut out from Moksha. You must not mix up the two together. Reply to the Madras Address.

[12] “Whether we call it Vedantism or any ism, the truth is that Advaitism is the last word of religion and thought, and the only position from which one can look upon all religions and sects with love. I believe it is the religion of the future enlightened humanity. The Hindus may get the credit of arriving at it earlier than other races, they being an older race than either the Hebrew or the Arab; yet practical Advaitism, which looks upon and behaves to all mankind as one’s own soul, was never developed among the Hindus universally. On the other hand, my experience is that if ever any religion approached to this equality in an appreciable manner, it is Islam and Islam alone. Therefore I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind.” Letters of Swami Vivekananda: Here, we find the genius of Swami Vivekananda working out a course-correction for Islam, which may seem anathema right now, but, will certainly come to be accepted as the norm in the future. We say this because, man’s innate urge for survival will make him seek out paths and means for peaceful co-existence, in the long run!

[13]In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Hindu calls this Maya, the manifestation of God, because it is the power of God. The Absolute reflecting through the universe is what we call nature. The Word has two manifestations — the general one of nature, and the special one of the great Incarnations of God — Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Ramakrishna. Christ, the special manifestation of the Absolute, is known and knowable. The Absolute cannot be known: we cannot know the Father, only the Son. We can only see the Absolute through the ‘tint of humanity’, through Christ. In the first five verses of John is the whole essence of Christianity: each verse is full of the profoundest philosophy.: Inspired talks. Just observe how Swamiji says that the whole essence of Christianity is in these five verses. However, the present day version of Christianity doesn’t revolve around these ideas. It stands on the ideas of Immaculate Conception, Original Sin, Emancipation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Bringing it back to these five verses will be the course correction needed. Realization of Christ in our own consciousness will then define a Christian, and not adherence to dogmas.

[14] And as the Vedas are the only scriptures which teach this real absolute God, of which all other ideas of God are but minimized and limited visions; as the ‘The well-wisher to all the world.’ Shruti takes the devotee gently by the hand, and leads him from one stage to another, through all the stages that are necessary for him to travel to reach the Absolute; and as all other religions represent one or other of these stages in an unprogressive and crystallized form, all the other religions of the world are included in the nameless, limitless, eternal Vedic religion. Reply to the Madras Address.

[15] 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 harmonizing 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 that path that suits him best. Letters of Swami Vivekananda

[16]  What new revolution will be effected in India by her clash with the new giant power, and as the result of that revolution what new transformation is in store for future India, cannot be inferred from her past history.: Modern India

[17] The Fundamental RightsDirective Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties are sections of the Constitution of India that prescribe the fundamental obligations of the State to its citizens and the duties of the citizens to the State. These sections comprise a constitutional bill of rights for government policy-making and the behavior and conduct of citizens. These sections are considered vital elements of the constitution, which was developed between 1947 and 1949 by the Constituent Assembly of India. The Fundamental Rights is defined as the basic human rights of all citizens. These rights, defined in Part III of the Constitution, apply irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed, or gender. They are enforceable by the courts, subject to specific restrictions. The Directive Principles of State Policy are guidelines for the framing of laws by the government. These provisions, set out in Part IV of the Constitution, are not enforceable by the courts, but the principles on which they are based are fundamental guidelines for governance that the State is expected to apply in framing and passing laws. The Fundamental Duties are defined as the moral obligations of all citizens to help promote a spirit of patriotism and to uphold the unity of India. These duties, set out in Part IV–A of the Constitution, concern individuals and the nation. (From Wikipedia)

[18] For a detailed discussion on this new ideal, please refer “The new ideal, the new doctrine, the new life” at: http://wp.me/p8xvki-Z

[19] For a detailed discussion on Karma Yoga, please refer “The efficacy of Karma Yoga” at: http://wp.me/p8xvki-2l and “Swami Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga – the scripture of modern mankind” at http://wp.me/p8xvki-2c

[20] Please see: ‘Swami Vivekananda & Organization’: http://wp.me/p8xvki-H

[21] With us, the prominent idea is Mukti; with the Westerners, it is Dharma. What we desire is Mukti; what they want is Dharma. Here the word ‘Dharma’ is used in the sense of the Mimamsakas. What is Dharma? Dharma is that which makes man seek for happiness in this world or the next. Dharma is established on work, Dharma is impelling man day and night to run after and work for happiness….The object of the peoples of Europe is to exterminate all in order to live themselves. The aim of the Aryans is to raise all up to their own level, nay, even to a higher level than themselves. The means of European civilization is the sword; of the Aryans, the division into different Varnas. This system of division into different Varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, making one rise higher and higher in proportion to one’s learning and culture. In Europe, it is everywhere victory to the strong and death to the weak. In the land of Bharata, every social rule is for the protection of the weak.: East & the West

[22]  On the advent of Buddhism, Dharma was entirely neglected, and the path of Moksha alone became predominant. Hence, we read in the Agni Purana, in the language of similes, that the demon Gayasura — that is, Buddha tried to destroy the world by showing the path of Moksha to all; and therefore the Devas held a council and by stratagem set him at rest for ever. However, the central fact is that the fall of our country, of which we hear so much spoken, is due to the utter want of this Dharma. If the whole nation practices and follows the path of Moksha, that is well and good; but is that possible? Without enjoyment, renunciation can never come; first enjoy and then you can renounce. Otherwise, if the whole nation, all of a sudden, takes up Sannyasa, it does not gain what it desires, but it loses what it had into the bargain — the bird in the hand is fled, nor is that in the bush caught. When, in the heyday of Buddhist supremacy, thousands of Sannyasins lived in every monastery, then it was that the country was just on the verge of its ruin! The Bauddhas, the Christians, the Mussulmans, and the Jains prescribe, in their folly, the same law and the same rule for all. That is a great mistake; education, habits, customs, laws, and rules should be different for different men and nations, in conformity with their difference of temperament. What will it avail, if one tries to make them all uniform by compulsion? The Bauddhas declared, “Nothing is more desirable in life than Moksha; whoever you are, come one and all to take it.” I ask, “Is that ever possible?” “You are a householder; you must not concern yourself much with things of that sort: you do your Svadharma (natural duty)” — thus say the Hindu scriptures. Exactly so! He who cannot leap one foot, is going to jump across the ocean to Lanka in one bound! Is it reason? You cannot feed your own family or dole out food to two of your fellow-men, you cannot do even an ordinary piece of work for the common good, in harmony with others — and you are running after Mukti! The Hindu scriptures say, “No doubt, Moksha is far superior to Dharma; but Dharma should be finished first of all”. The Bauddhas were confounded just there and brought about all sorts of mischief. Non-injury is right; “Resist not evil” is a great thing — these are indeed grand principles; but the scriptures say, “Thou art a householder; if anyone smites thee on thy cheek, and thou dost not return him an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, thou wilt verily be a sinner.” Manu says, “When one has come to kill you, there is no sin in killing him, even though he be a Brahmin” (Manu, VIII. 350). This is very true, and this is a thing which should not be forgotten. Heroes only enjoy the world. Show your heroism; apply, according to circumstances, the fourfold political maxims of conciliation, bribery, sowing dissensions, and open war, to win over your adversary and enjoy the world — then you will be Dharmika (righteous). Otherwise, you live a disgraceful life if you pocket your insults when you are kicked and trodden down by anyone who takes it into his head to do so; your life is a veritable hell here, and so is the life hereafter. This is what the Shastras say. Do your Svadharma — this is truth, the truth of truths. This is my advice to you, my beloved co-religionists. Of course, do not do any wrong, do not injure or tyrannize over anyone, but try to do good to others as much as you can. But passively to submit to wrong done by others is a sin — with the householder. He must try to pay them back in their own coin then and there. The householder must earn money with great effort and enthusiasm, and by that must support and bring comforts to his own family and to others, and perform good works as far as possible. If you cannot do that, how do you profess to be a man? You are not a householder even — what to talk of Moksha for you!!: East and the West

[23] Now, this Jati Dharma, this Svadharma, is the path of welfare of all societies in every land, the ladder to ultimate freedom. With the decay of this Jati Dharma, this Svadharma, has come the downfall of our land. But the Jati Dharma or Svadharma as commonly understood at present by the higher castes is rather a new evil, which has to be guarded against. They think they know everything of Jati Dharma, but really they know nothing of it. Regarding their own village customs as the eternal customs laid down by the Vedas, and appropriating to themselves all privileges, they are going to their doom! I am not talking of caste as determined by qualitative distinction, but of the hereditary caste system. I admit that the qualitative caste system is the primary one; but the pity is qualities yield to birth in two or three generations. Thus the vital point of our national life has been touched; otherwise, why should we sink to this degraded state? Read in the Gita, “I should then be the cause of the admixture of races, and I should thus ruin these beings.” How came this terrible Varna-Samkarya — this confounding mixture of all castes — and disappearance of all qualitative distinctions? Why has the white complexion of our forefathers now become black? Why did the Sattvaguna give place to the prevailing Tamas with a sprinkling, as it were, of Rajas in it? That is a long story to tell, and I reserve my answer for some future occasion. For the present, try to understand this, that if the Jati Dharma be rightly and truly preserved, the nation shall never fall. If this is true, then what was it that brought our downfall? That we have fallen is the sure sign that the basis of the Jati Dharma has been tampered with. Therefore, what you call the Jati Dharma is quite contrary to what we have in fact. First, read your own Shastras through and through, and you will easily see that what the Shastras define as caste-Dharma has disappeared almost everywhere from the land. Now try to bring back the true Jati Dharma, and then it will be a real and sure boon to the country. What I have learnt and understood, I am telling you plainly. I have not been imported from some foreign land to come and save you, that I should countenance all your foolish customs and give scientific explanations for them; it does not cost our foreign friends anything, they can well afford to do so. You cheer them up and heap applause upon them, and that is the acme of their ambition. But if dirt and dust be flung at your faces, it falls on mine too! Don’t you see that?: East and the West

[24] Now you understand clearly where the soul of this ogress is — it is in religion. Because no one was able to destroy that, therefore the Hindu nation is still living, having survived so many troubles and tribulations. Well, One Indian scholar asks, “What is the use of keeping the soul of the nation in religion? Why not keep it in social or political independence, as is the case with other nations?” It is very easy to talk like that. If it be granted, for the sake of argument, that religion and spiritual independence, and soul, God, and Mukti are all false, even then see how the matter stands. As the same fire is manifesting itself in different forms, so the same one great Force is manifesting itself as political independence with the French, as mercantile genius and expansion of the sphere of equity with the English, and as the desire for Mukti or spiritual independence with the Hindu. Be it noted that by the impelling of this great Force, has been molded the French and the English character, through several centuries of vicissitudes of fortune; and also by the inspiration of that great Force, with the rolling of thousands of centuries, has been the present evolution of the Hindu national character. I ask in all seriousness — which is easier, to give up our national character evolved out of thousands of centuries, or your grafted foreign character of a few hundred years? Why do not the English forget their warlike habits and give up fighting and bloodshed, and sit calm and quiet concentrating their whole energy on making religion the sole aim of their life?: East and the West

[25] And, oh, how my heart ached to think of what we think of the poor, the low, in India. They have no chance, no escape, no way to climb up. The poor, the low, the sinner in India have no friends, no help — they cannot rise, try however they may. They sink lower and lower every day, they feel the blows showered upon them by a cruel society, and they do not know whence the blow comes. They have forgotten that they too are men. And the result is slavery. Thoughtful people within the last few years have seen it, but unfortunately laid it at the door of the Hindu religion, and to them, the only way of bettering is by crushing this grandest religion of the world. Hear me, my friend, I have discovered the secret through the grace of the Lord. Religion is not in fault. On the other hand, your religion teaches you that every being is only your own self multiplied. But it was the want of practical application, the want of sympathy — the want of heart. The Lord once more came to you as Buddha and taught you how to feel, how to sympathize with the poor, the miserable, the sinner, but you heard Him not. Your priests invented the horrible story that the Lord was here for deluding demons with false doctrines! True indeed, but we are the demons, not those that believed. And just as the Jews denied the Lord Jesus and are since that day wandering over the world as homeless beggars, tyrannized over by everybody, so you are bond-slaves to any nation that thinks it worthwhile to rule over you. Ah, tyrants! You do not know that the obverse is tyranny, and the reverse slavery. The slave and the tyrant are synonymous. Balaji and G. G. may remember one evening at Pondicherry — we were discussing the matter of sea-voyage with a Pandit, and I shall always remember his brutal gestures and his Kadapi Na (never)! They do not know that India is a very small part of the world, and the whole world looks down with contempt upon the three hundred millions of earthworms crawling upon the fair soil of India and trying to oppress each other. This state of things must be removed, not by destroying religion but by following the great teachings of the Hindu faith, and joining with it the wonderful sympathy of that logical development of Hinduism — Buddhism. A hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising-up — the gospel of equality. No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism. The Lord has shown me that religion is not in fault, but it is the Pharisees and Sadducees in Hinduism, hypocrites, who invent all sorts of engines of tyranny in the shape of doctrines of Paramarthika and Vyavaharika. Letter to Alasinga on 20th Aug 1893 from USA

[26] But you may ask—what is the place of Ramakrishna in this scheme? He is the method, that wonderful unconscious method! He did not understand himself. He knew nothing of England or the English, save that they were queer folk from over the sea. But he lived that great life, and I read the meaning. Never a word of condemnation for any! Once I had been attacking one of our sects of Diabolists. I had been raving on for three hours, and he had listened quietly. ‘Well, well !’ said the old man as I finished, ‘perhaps every house may have a back door. Who knows?’ Hitherto, the great fault of our Indian religion has lain in its knowing only two words – renunciation and Mukti. Only Mukti here! Nothing for the householder! But these are the very people whom I want to help. For are not all souls of the same quality? Is not the goal of all the same? And so strength must come to the nation through education. Master as I saw him;

Cf also: The wicked pay the price of the great soul’s holiness. Think of that when you see a wicked man. Just as the poor man’s labor pays for the rich man’s luxury, so is it in the spiritual world. The terrible degradation of the masses in India is the price nature pays for the production of great souls like Mira-bai, Buddha, etc. Inspired Talks

[27] What I mean to say is this – India learnt that Buddhism and Jainism, two new variants of Hinduism that sprang forth with great vitality, could be absorbed back into Hinduism, India’s avowed religion. So also with the occasional invaders such as the Greeks (both Macedonians & Ionians), the Mongols, the Huns, the Tartars, the Shakas (also known as Scythians), the Kushans, the Pahlavas (also known as Parthians), etc, all of whom were successfully absorbed into Hinduism and no trace was left of the invaders’ religion in the Indian society. With the advent of Islam in its midst, it found that it could not absorb it as it had always done in the past.

[28] The faithful householder was as essential to the Sanatana Dharma as the faithful monk. The inviolability of marriage and the inviolability of the monastic vow were obverse and reverse of a single medal. Without noble citizenship, there could be no mighty apostolate. Without the secular, no sacerdotal, without temporal, no spiritual; thus all was one, yet no detail might be willfully neglected, for through each atom shone the whole. It was in fact his own old message in a new form. Integrity of character, as he and his Master before him, had insisted, was a finer offering than religious ecstasy. Without strength to hold, there was no achievement in surrender. Master as I saw him

 

Efficacy of Karma Yoga

Let me begin by presenting some statements regarding Karma Yoga:

  1. We are told that Karma Yoga includes efficiency in the work that we do. Also, Karma Yoga is primarily meant for a spiritual goal and not for any other sort of goal. If work-efficiency is indeed an indispensable part of Karma Yoga, although the goal is not optimum output from the work but spiritual transformation, will it not make sense to get requisite training in the particular line of working from experts in that field?

 

  1. Every path of spiritual Sadhana must have a Guru, who initiates the disciple into the secrets of the path. This initiation generally takes the form of the Guru imparting a mystic mantra or the Guru guiding the disciple through a series of vows and rituals. Doesn’t Karma Yoga too need a Guru? In what form does the Guru initiate the disciple along this path?

I mentioned these questions in order to paint a general tapestry of the ignorance and confusion surrounding Karma Yoga. I shall present you some more ideas which may help in understanding why these questions arose in the first place.

The present day society has achieved a peculiar level of complexity. All of us have to work. There is no escape from that. But, most of us attempt to work without any sort of formal training. You may ask, why is training needed at all? Hasn’t this world gone on fine with the inept kind of working that people have been doing? But I counter such arguments by pointing out: Wouldn’t the world be a better place had each worker plunged into the field of work after getting some sort of minimum training? You may further point out – we are talking of work in general, while you seem to be speaking of some Yoga. To this I counter – all of us have to work; wouldn’t it be nice if we could just tweak our working mode a little bit so as to gain a dual benefit?

With each passing day, we find that the idea of Karma Yoga is gaining greater and greater acceptance among the people all over the world. Certain aspects of the idea of Karma Yoga that is however gaining ground are not very healthy. Most votaries of Karma Yoga seem to hold that anybody and everybody can start practicing Karma Yoga. No qualifications are needed. No Guru is needed who will initiate the votary into the nuances of Karma Yoga. Frequent loss of tempers and generous use of profanities are justified given the pressure of performing Karma Yoga. As long as we frequently ejaculate ‘It’s all the will of the Lord’, we can just about do anything in the name of Karma Yoga; ends justify the means as soon as you start practicing Karma Yoga. Honesty need not be strictly adhered to; in fact, it is not at all possible to adhere to honesty in the work-field; expediency is totally justified as long as we are performing Karma Yoga. The steep increase of such ideas and persons calls for some clarification.

Karma Yoga has been quite a controversial concept in India. The origin of this Yoga is seen in one of the oldest Upanishads – Isha Upanishad. This Upanishad has a verse that says:

Kurvanneveha karmani jijeevishet shatam samaha;

Evam tvayi nanyatyetosti na karma lipyate narey.

This means: Man must aim to live a full life of a hundred years on this earth by continuously performing his duties allotted to him by his inherent tendencies and the society. Unless you design your life in such a way, you will never be able to free yourself from the tentacles of activity!

The term ‘Eva Iha Karmani’ was variously interpreted by different schools of philosophers in India and each school developed its own brand of Karma Yoga. When the Mimamsakas became popular in the Vedic period, they interpreted this term to mean the innumerable fire-sacrifices mentioned in the chapters of the Vedas preceding the Upanishads. This made sense. Why do I say this made sense? Based on this interpretation developed an entire paradigm of economy in the land. Every activity in this land revolved around the fire-sacrifice. Farming, hunting, agriculture, fishing, mining, manufacturing, governance, trading, games & sports, music & theatre, folk-arts, teaching and health care all revolved around the central activity of fire-sacrifice. In short, the entire national economy stood on the fire-sacrifice[1]. If any activity could not be integrated with the fire-sacrifice mentioned in the Vedas, that activity was rejected as non-productive.

The society got stratified into classes. The Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas & Shudras engaged in activities that were integrated with the fire-sacrifice. The Shudras however performed activities lay in the outer fringes, activities that basically amounted to cleaning up before and after the fire-sacrifice, but were still a part of the economy, more like a necessary evil, but necessary nonetheless. The rest of the people were classified under the classless class called ‘Mlecchas’. Now, the activities of these Mlecchas could not get integrated under the overall scheme of economy of the land. The ancient Rishis who evolved this marvelous system in this land had achieved the impossible! They had successfully integrated community religious activities, economy of the people and social customs & traditions into one compact package, revolving around the fire-sacrifice! This was the scene during the Vedic period here in the land that was later on called India.

Then Buddha appeared on the scene. He was an iconoclast in the sense that he undermined the entire scheme of economy of the land by banning the fire-sacrifice! He was of course justified in doing so. The scheme, according to the original planners, was that, by thus integrating daily activity with religion, each person would achieve life fulfilment in the natural course of executing his daily duties, and simultaneously, society as a whole would achieve social, economic and evolutionary progress. With the passage of time, however, this grand plan had got jeopardized because one class of people, the Brahmins, who controlled the fire-sacrifice, started tyrannizing the people, socially and economically. Thus, when Buddha saw that the scheme, which had started on a most exalted note, had now taken a devilish turn, he remedied the defect. However, his very act of benevolence destroyed the entire economy of the land. And further, he did not give an alternate viable economic model to supplant the old one. As a result, his deprecation of the fire-sacrifice did not gain popular consent in this land, which led to his entire doctrine being rejected from the land. That is the reason his ideas had to migrate to other lands like China and Japan, where they survive even to this day. And the Vedic genius swallowed him into its body-politic by considering him as an Incarnation of the Lord! Imagine the ingenuity of the Vedic Brahmin mind here. They apotheosized the Buddha; but his entire doctrine was rejected! Nowhere in the Hindu scriptures do you find any acceptance of his iconoclastic doctrines, but he himself is venerated as an Incarnation of the Lord and hence worshipped as a deity! The tremendous force he had unleashed on this society was converted to iconographic worship and his doctrine was asphyxiated! As a result, the fire-sacrifice again gained popularity in the post-buddhistic period. Quite often, it resurrected in abominable forms such as the Tantrik and Kapalika practices.

However, this transformation took some 700 years during which time, there were a couple of important developments which we shall note here. One of the important developments was that the people of this land had developed an alternate scheme of livelihood and therefore an alternate economic model which had done away with the fire-sacrifice. What was that model? It was almost the same as the one that the people of this land had picked up from the Greeks. The Greeks were basically the ‘Mlecchas[2]’. These were people who had tried to conquer this land and had failed, but had successfully rubbed off some of their life-style onto a people whose own society was in great turmoil of transition. Thus, by 700 AD, the land had the majority of people following the simplified Greek economic model and a fanatic minority that was doggedly holding onto the Vedic, Pre-Buddhistic economic model, revolving around the fire-sacrifice.

Into that social melee came Acharya Shankara. He saw a society that was struggling to reconcile its past with its present. The people were unable to decide whether they ought to stick to the simplified Greek economic model where work and commodity was measured in terms of currency, or revert to the old system, that is the fire-sacrifice model, where work and commodity was measured in terms of the value it contributed to the fire-sacrifice. The old system was indeed a very compact system, so long as the society was small and localized. As the human society started expanding, the Vedic model of economy became more and more complicated, since this model could not accommodate an enlarging society. So, when Acharya Shankara appeared on the scene, he found that society had some sections that still adhered to, and propagated the dated fire-sacrifice model of economy; alongside these sections, there were many who followed a simplistic currency based economy. While the old system of everything revolving around the fire-sacrifice could no longer be feasible [since the strict stratification of society had already been fractured in the post-buddhistic period[3]], Shankara realized one very important point: he realized the urgent need to bifurcate the economy from the religious practices of the people. This he successfully did by following a two-pronged approach. On the one hand he systematically decimated the old school of Vedic fire-sacrifice [and the various new forms it had taken such as the Tantrik schools], and on the other hand he established the supremacy of his brand of philosophical thought called Advaita Vedanta, which is built on the main premise that activity and true religion are antithetical to each other.

This achievement of Acharya Shankara produced one incredibly positive result and one extremely deleterious result for this land. Religion was preserved in its pure form. That was the incredibly positive result. The best brains of this land had dedicated their life’s energies to discovering the subtle truths of religion. The later geniuses of this land felt deeply that the common man too must have access to those emancipating truths of religion. With this impulse, they integrated religion into the daily economy of the common masses, as we described above. But the Greek influence that impacted this land led to an unhinging of the economy from the integrated package. Moreover, the grand scheme of life envisaged by the Rishis was jeopardized by the all-too-common tyranny of the Brahmins who actually controlled the fire-sacrifice. Buddha had been able to see that the scheme which was meant to be for the benefit of the common man was anything but that in its later form! But in his attempt to throw the bath water, Buddha threw out the baby too! Luckily, before permanent damage to the body-politic could be done, Acharya Shankara appeared on the scene. All those wonderful discoveries of religion would have been lost had Shankara not bifurcated religion from economy.

What about the deleterious consequence of Shankara’s decision to bifurcate religion from economy? Human activity, human endeavor, work, productive activity – these were looked down upon by the people ever since religion got divorced from the economic life of people. Religion climbed up to a pedestal so high that it was out of reach of the common masses. Added to this, the inevitable daily laboring was seen as serving no purpose, since no matter how much they labored or what kind of labor they engaged in, it would never lead them to spiritual felicity. It is important to note that the Vedic Rishis had so carefully integrated religion and economy as to confer spiritual felicity in those that labored in their station of life. That aspect was now absent. Fine; the people of this land could very well have rejected religion and taken purely to human activity, just as people in other lands like Europe or Middle Eastern Asia or South Eastern Asia had done. Well, that just didn’t happen. Why? The only plausible reason could be as Swami Vivekananda points out: To the other nations of the world, religion is one among the many occupations of life. There is politics, there are the enjoyments of social life, there is all that wealth can buy or power can bring, there is all that the senses can enjoy; and among all these various occupations of life and all this searching after something which can give yet a little more whetting to the cloyed senses — among all these, there is perhaps a little bit of religion. But here, in India, religion is the one and the only occupation of life. How many of you know that there has been a Sino-Japanese War? Very few of you, if any. That there are tremendous political movements and socialistic movements trying to transform Western society, how many of you know? Very few indeed, if any. But that there was a Parliament of Religions in America, and that there was a Hindu Sannyâsin sent over there, I am astonished to find that even the coolie knows of it. That shows the way the wind blows, where the national life is. I used to read books written by globe-trotting travelers, especially foreigners, who deplored the ignorance of the Eastern masses, but I found out that it was partly true and at the same time partly untrue. If you ask a ploughman in England, or America, or France, or Germany to what party he belongs, he can tell you whether he belongs to the Radicals or the Conservatives, and for whom he is going to vote. In America he will say whether he is Republican or Democrat, and he even knows something about the silver question. But if you ask him about his religion, he will tell you that he goes to church and belongs to a certain denomination. That is all he knows, and he thinks it is sufficient. Here is the only plausible reason why the common masses simply couldn’t reject religion even when their daily activities could not be integrated with their religious aspirations; religion was in their genes, so to speak!

Thus, for about a thousand years since Acharya Shankara, the people of this land lived a fractured life, laboring daily towards a seemingly meaningless goal, but aspiring all along for a spiritual goal that required them to renounce everything that they held dear and meaningful, a goal that simply couldn’t be integrated into their daily life at all. This deep dichotomy in the collective psyche of the people of this land made them weak, purposeless, lacking focus. As a result, any foreign ruler who chose to, could enter this land, over-run the local army and establish his hegemony over the land and its people. In fact, some of the rulers who did come here were actually failures in their own land of birth! For instance, Babur; or even Qutub-ud-din Aibak, who hailed from a slave family in Persia. This land, which was the most prosperous land in the entire civilized world, was reduced to abject poverty, what with the people lacking all initiative to work!

We must note an important point here. You will notice that I have been constantly using the word ‘people of this land’, ‘this land’, etc. instead of directly using the terms ‘country’ or ‘nation’. There is a reason for this. India did not exist until the British rule got stabilized, sometime around 1890. Right from the Vedic period up to 1890, this was a group of different kingdoms. The people living between the Himalayas in the North, the Hindu-Kush in the West, the Brahmaputra on the East and the Indian Ocean on the South, all had the same culture. That means to say, they had the same religion and social norms. But they were under different kings. The society was governed by the same laws, but the administrative control was various. The people certainly felt a social and therefore a cultural & religious kinship, but they never felt that they were one community. Language, for instance, was a great barrier. When the British Crown consolidated this entire region under its control, the people living in this region started getting the first inkling of the nationalistic sense. It was the perception of the British that we were a nation; it was never a perception of the people living here that we were a nation, to begin with. But, soon, the idea gained popularity, helped to a large extent by the insensitivity of the British in dealing with the religion of the people. But the genesis of the idea of nationalism wasn’t enough to rouse the people living in this land, unless the deep-rooted dichotomy between daily activity and their spiritual aspirations could not be reconciled.

We have painted quite a detailed picture of the history of this land and its people up until the 1850s. Let me now describe to you a development that has great bearing on the main topic of this essay.

Sometime around 1850, at Dakshineswar near Calcutta, a rich dowager named Rani Rashmoni built a magnificent temple for the Divine Mother. After some hitches, this new temple got a new priest called Ramakrishna. Actually, he and his elder brother managed the daily worship of the various temples in the huge Dakshineswar complex. The young man Ramakrishna did not have much academic learning, which is actually associated with priesthood in this land. We must remember that this priest class is the modern form of the Brahmin who was the tyrannical custodian of the fire-sacrifice during the Buddhistic Era. So, this young man, rustic in the sense he lacked the refinement that accompanies systematic academic education, however had a specialty in him. He had the exuberance of life, what is called joie de vivre, by the French writers. Like most youths, he too was extremely idealistic, with great spiritual aspirations. At the same time, the compulsions of daily life drove him to work in the Dakshineswar Temple, worshipping a Deity that was literally terrifying by any standards. Now, what I wish to point out here is this – this combination in this youth was nothing new. For centuries, such had been the fate of innumerable Brahmin youths in India. However, Sri Ramakrishna did not remain satisfied with living a lie. He achieved a tremendous integration in his personal life. He very successfully integrated his spiritual aspirations with his daily allotted work, work that he was compelled to do in order to feed himself, work that was considered as drudge for the last many centuries in this land, ever since Buddha and Shankara bifurcated religion from the economy of daily life! He achieved such an unprecedented self-integration that he started evolving as a sort of voice of the entire suffering mankind of this age. Circumstances conjured in such fortuitous ways that he got a disciple named Narendranath. This youth was an opposite of sorts to Sri Ramakrishna, in the sense that he had very high academic qualifications and hailed from a very highly cultured family from the metropolis of that time – Calcutta.

Sri Ramakrishna claimed that he was an Incarnation of God. This term ‘Avatara’ or ‘Incarnation’ is a technical term used in Hindu religious jargon to mean the flesh & blood manifestation of the Lord who created and sustains this entire universe. The term God means that – creator and sustainer of this world and also much more beyond that idea to the Hindus. The term also means the underlying principle of consciousness in everything that exists. That is also meant by the term God. So, Ramakrishna claimed that he was an Incarnation of that God. Apart from these ideas, there is one other idea that is encompassed under this term and that is the idea of power. God is power. What power? Although it includes all the various forms that power can be perceived as, it basically refers to the power that controls our lives. Ideas have power. Words have power. Actions have power. When a Hindu uses the term God, he means this power that is inherent in all ideas, words and actions, too. Ramakrishna claimed that he was an Incarnation of God in this sense too. Now, for the subject that we are dealing with here, the efficacy of Karma Yoga, this particular aspect of Sri Ramakrishna [where he claimed himself to be an Avatara of God] is a non-issue. the reason I brought it up here is – this sense of Avatarahood that he developed about himself led to a very wonderful development.

He did a very strange thing towards the end of his life. In Cossipore, which is in sub-urban Calcutta, while he was almost dying, he called Narendranath near him and exhorted him that he [i.e. Narendranath] should do something for the spiritual emancipation of the common masses. There was something inexplicable in that order. For, this exhortation drove the young man, who was strictly speaking a skeptic as regards Avatarahood and the need for spiritual emancipation of the masses, to great lengths in discovering a suitable means for spiritual emancipation of the masses.

Although there are not many details of the inner workings of the mind of this young man [who later became the renowned Swami Vivekananda], based on his letters to his disciples and colleagues, his own recorded lectures and his official biography, I have tried to roughly reconstruct the mentations that led him to design the path of Karma Yoga[4]. For, he held that Karma Yoga would be the path for the spiritual emancipation of the people now.

Swami Vivekananda clearly understood the historical developments of the Indians[5]. So, he arrived at the conclusion that the task before him was two-fold: One, to maintain the purity of the religion that took birth in India. Two, to find some means of integrating religion with the daily life of common man, so that he could once again have the wherewithal to achieve spiritual goals by means of executing his daily duties. Sister Nivedita, one of his biographers points out very forcefully that he arrived at this conclusion based on inputs from three different sources. She writes, and I quote in-extenso: The formative influence that went to the determining of his vision may perhaps be regarded as threefold. There was, first, his literary education, in Sanskrit and English. The contrast between the two worlds thus opened to him carried with it a strong impression of that particular experience which formed the theme of the Indian sacred books. It was evident that this, if true at all, had not been stumbled upon by Indian sages, as by some others, in a kind of accident. Rather was it the subject-matter of a science, the object of a logical analysis that shrank from no sacrifice which the pursuit of truth demanded.

In his Master, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, living and teaching in the temple-garden at Dakshineshwar, the Swami Vivekananda — “Naren” as he then was — found that verification of the ancient texts which his heart and his reason had demanded. Here was the reality which the books only brokenly described. Here was one to whom Samâdhi was a constant mode of knowledge. Every hour saw the swing of the mind from the many to the One. Every moment heard the utterance of wisdom gathered superconsciously. Everyone about him caught the vision of the divine. Upon the disciple came the desire for supreme knowledge “as if it had been a fever”. Yet he who was thus the living embodiment of the books was so unconsciously, for he had read none of them! In his Guru, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda found the key to life.

 Even now, however, the preparation for his own task was not complete. He had yet to wander throughout the length and breadth of India, from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, mixing with saints and scholars and simple souls alike, learning from all, teaching to all, and living with all, seeing India as she was and is, and so grasping in its comprehensiveness that vast whole, of which his Master’s life and personality had been a brief and intense epitome.

 These, then — the Shâstras, the Guru, and the Mother-land — are the three notes that mingle themselves to form the music of the works of Vivekananda. These are the treasure which it is his to offer. These furnish him with the ingredients whereof he compounds the world’s heal-all of his spiritual bounty. These are the three lights burning within that single lamp which India by his hand lighted and set up, for the guidance of her own children and of the world in the few years of work between September 19, 1893 and July 4, 1902[6].

In his attempt to open up a path for everyone to participate in the life-fulfilling spiritual journey, Swami Vivekananda first attempted to introduce Raja Yoga [the science of religion] among the masses. This would have ensured the first objective mentioned above – that of maintaining the purity of religion[7]. It would have however left the second objective unaddressed.

So, finally, Swami Vivekananda came up with a marvelous plan of action: He established the Ramakrishna Math, an organization of monks, to achieve the first objective, of maintaining the purity of religion. Then he established the Ramakrishna Mission, an organization of monks and non-monastic members of the society, with the directive that this organization would engage in vigorous activity along the lines of Karma Yoga. For, in his later, matured point of view, it was Karma Yoga that would be the path meant for the common man, which would fulfil the needs of the modern man. Why would that be so? For, hadn’t his master Sri Ramakrishna achieved everything merely by the conscientious performance of his daily duties as a priest?

This latter organization is meant to be a torch-bearer to everyone in society who is desirous of practicing Karma Yoga. People can come to the various centers of this organization and study how the monks and the other members work. For, the work that is done in this organization is a special kind of work. All the work is done as Karma Yoga and not as a drudge, or even as duty. Swami Vivekananda specified very clearly that this organization would engage in all sorts of socially productive activity, and that every activity would serve a dual purpose – while the activities would enhance the collective welfare, it would also enhance the spiritual growth of the individuals who are engaged in those activities.

In this organization one finds two kinds of workers. One set of workers are visible; their activities are directly producing benefit to the people at large and to the target audience of those activities in particular. Even though there is great visibility and lot of fanfaronade in their activities, this category of workers maintain a clear sense of divinity within them in all that they do. They know with certainty that they are divine, the people they serve are divine and the act of service they render is actually a worship of the divine by the divine. The other set of workers are invisible, behind the screen, so to speak. This latter category of workers goes on performing their daily allotted duties with a sense of sacrilization. The common aspect in both these kinds of workers is the deep sense of divinization of the whole act. Years upon years of performing their duties in this sense leads to an incredible transformation in their consciousness that is not different from the transformation that would occur by practice of meditation or practice of devotion.

It is this particular way of working that Swami Vivekananda wanted to popularize among the masses. The exact type of work doesn’t matter. It is the way in which it is performed that matters. When done in the right way, every work that we do can become a valid path for our spiritual transformation. Hence, Swami Vivekananda gave a wonderful solution to the dilemma that has been tormenting the Indian psyche for the last two thousand years! So, welcome all sorts of activities. Welcome all means of wealth generation. For, activity and wealth generation are no longer antithetical to spiritual development. Rather, activity and wealth generation can themselves become the emancipating paths, if done as Karma Yoga.

So powerful has been this solution that within fifty years of Swami Vivekananda’s enunciation of this panacea, incredible results ensued. Mass acceptance of this message first of all took shape in the form of an upsurge in nationalistic feeling in India. For the first time, the masses felt that feeling for the entire country, feeling for his/her own fellow countryman, and working to free one’s own nation from foreign domination was at the same time bounden duty and also a valid path for one’s own spiritual development. After political independence, the same acceptance of this message by the masses took shape in the form of the birth and rise of a middle class in this country.

What concerns me, however, is that at present, everyone I come across claims to be performing Karma Yoga; but I have difficulty when I am unable to perceive the resultant transformation in his/her personality! Karma Yoga is a scheme of spiritual practices. While all other schemes of spiritual practices enjoin that only particular types of activities ought to be performed as a means to one’s spiritual development, Karma Yoga claims that the type of activity is immaterial. As opposed to the other traditional schools, although Karma Yoga claims that any activity can be a valid means of one’s spiritual development, it does enjoin that there is a limitation on the way in which any activity can be performed. Further, Karma Yoga very clearly specifies that one needs a certain qualification before one can embark on practicing Karma Yoga.

Swami Vivekananda has elaborated on both these points in his small book titled ‘Karma Yoga’. He has elaborated the qualifications one needs to possess before one can start practicing Karma Yoga. He has also explained the way, the method of performing any activity, by which that activity can get metamorphosed into Yoga[8]. What is of great importance is that there are clear milestones along the path that indicate we are on the right path. I note below a few of those milestones for reference of genuine aspirants of Karma Yoga[9]:

  • As soon as a particular activity is over and before another activity is taken up, in the interim period, the mind gets filled with divine thoughts.
  • The frequency of the spontaneous rising of divine thoughts will increase.
  • Anger and jealousy will reduce. One becomes more firm but compassionate too.
  • The center of one’s consciousness starts shifting to within our own personality.
  • A zone of silence is created inside our self and it keeps on growing, encompassing wider and wider circles of our personality.
  • The sense of compulsion associated with duty reduces. Every act is seen progressively as an opportunity for self-expression. Slowly this self-expression tends towards a sense of worshipful offering to the divinity within us.
  • Our ability to digest failure increases steadily. The effort we put into any activity doesn’t get affected by the success or failure of the activity anymore.
  • Our ability to digest criticism and negative comments increases steadily. It is not that our sensitivity reduces or that we become numb to words; on the contrary, our sensitivity towards the effects that words can produce gets enhanced considerably. What happens is that we will steadily develop an ability to sympathize with the troubled, unbalanced state of mind that produced those harsh, hurtful words. Hence, instead of resenting the speaker, we sympathize with him/her.
  • The senses become extremely vivid. This happens in the beginning for a certain period of time. Later on, this vividness shifts its focus from the perceptions of the senses to the ideas in the mind. Further on, all that we see and hear and do will be seen as a metaphor of our conception of divinity.
  • We become merciless to ourselves regarding our short-comings. At the same time, we become kind towards others regarding their short-comings. Certain cases may require that we specifically point out and correct short-comings of others; in such cases, we start feeling a clear at-one-ment with the persons whom we are called upon to correct. Each act of such correction emanates from a vivid picture of perfection in the other person’s personality.
  • A sense of spontaneous joy flows in the self. This tends to have a highly concentrating effect on the mind, and if not consciously controlled, could be highly distracting from the job at hand.

Thus, while I heartily recommend the widespread acceptance of Karma Yoga at all levels of society, I really wish that people who start practicing Karma Yoga would care to go about it in a systematic manner, and not drag down the high ideal.

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[1] Of course, there was no nation then; India did not exist then. It was just that the majority of the people living between the Himalayas and the Euphrates-Tigris Basin and in the Peninsula followed this kind of livelihood. They had different kings ruling them, but their economy was governed by the fire-sacrifice

[2] The term Mleccha included the Huns, the Tartars, the Mongols, the Ioneans and the Greeks. They also included the various aborigines of the land who refused to conform to the common social customs & traditions revolving around the Vedic religion.

[3] The Hindu historians call this breaking down of the social stratification as Varna Sankarya.

[4] It would be worthwhile to mention here that Swami Ashokananda has written an editorial in Prabuddha Bharata with the title Origin of Swami Vivekananda’s doctrine of service. This article is available on the internet as also in the book Ascent to spiritual illumination. In this article, he has elaborated that Swami Vivekananda had to arrive at this doctrine of Service [which is a special form of Karma Yoga] in order to give a comprehensive shape to the spiritual discoveries of Sri Ramakrishna.

[5] In fact, the historical developments & background that I have mentioned above are all culled from his Complete Works, published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.

[6] This is a part of the Introduction to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.

[7] Please refer http://www.scribd.com/doc/83776171/Swami-Vivekananda-and-Pavhari-Baba, for a detailed article on this topic.

[8] Please refer http://www.scribd.com/doc/195501244/Swami-Vivekananda-s-Karma-Yoga-The-Scripture-for-Modern-Mankind for a detailed explanation of these & related issues.

[9] I collected these from various sources. Some are from Meditation & Spiritual Life by Swami Yatishwaranandaji. Some others are from my discussions with some senior monks of our Order.