Swami Vivekananda: From a Bible-seekers and social liberty perspective
Swami Vivekananda, was born as Narendranath Dutta in 1863 and lived for a short but profound life of 39 years. He was given his new name by king of Khetri, Rajasthan. He gained much fame due to his eloquence of speech and his great depth of Hindu religion. Much of his glory came after his impressive speeches at Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 where he presented himself as an Indian monk clad in saffron (bhagwa) clothes and spoke of harmony of all religions. Swami Vivekanand talked about universality, equality of religions and social liberty.
Swami Vivekanand had said once –
“Do not believe a thing, because you have read it in a book.
Do not believe a thing because another has said it is so.
Find out the truth for yourself.
That is revelation.”
Going by this saying, I do not wish to believe anything written in his books or because many others have spoken about it. I will rather try to put my thoughts here for you and me to investigate and accept the truth only upon revelation.
Firstly, I am proud as an Indian for his great achievement for our country presenting us at such a great platform; however, at the same time, I have my own reservations to believe why he was able to impress a crowd of intellectuals of those times so heavily that many instantly decided to follow his path, including sister Nivedita and many others. The reasons I identified below do not apply to me:
- Until that time, Americans and representatives of other religions did not get any chance to hear the intellectual things from Indians and they were also not accustomed to believe that Indians can have profound knowledge of religion and science. This gave them a great shock so much so that many gave up their present faith or gave in to new philosophy and followed Swami Vivekananda. However, I find it similar to many other testimonies where people have also converted to Islam. Muslims were considered and told to be the violent, illiterate and terrorist community but when one innocent person with such impression of muslims came across a civilized, educated, well-mannered, friendly and non-fanatic muslim, he or she met it with much surprise. In order to learn more about their philosophy, they heard their doctrines with much amazement which later led to his/her conversion to Islam. I do not find it surprising and mesmerizing at all.
- His knowledge and intellect at the age of 30 was commendable. He had got a good grip on various aspects of science and religion. He was a devotee of the principle of vedanta and Hinduism presented to him by Ramakrishna Paramhansa and his wife Sarada Devi. He carried forward the same ideology. In addition, his knowledge in science and meta-science was incredible at such a young age. I guess the credit goes to his near-photographic memory which allowed him to learn and remember so much in such a short time. He was able to make a parallel between science and Vedas to much extent which convinced many intellectual philosophers about the great knowledge of Swami and Hindu religion.
- He spoke of common aspects of ‘religion’ such as service of humanity and universality of God and religion. Such common themes could not have been completely disregarded at such a platform where he was speaking. After all, it was a parliament of World’s religions where everybody had a freedom to speak of its religion and what can be better subject than talking of common denominators instead of dividing numerators. This added to his popularity as a proponent of a tolerant and assimilating faith system.
Swami Vivekanand gave emphasis to concept of Hindu tolerance which assumes the equality of all religions and the superiority of none. His views were to promote a dialogue with other religions, with the hope of assimilating the best teachings from each. He believed that the goal of all religions is union with God, affirming all religions to be equally viable roads to reaching God. This view has become almost universal among educated Hindus today and so Hinduism claim to be the most tolerant (you may read assimilating) religion on the earth. Having said that, I must also state that being a strong advocate of Hinduism, he was also a great promoter of CASTE system in the hinduism and while he believed in the universality of the Hindu religion for all, he did not believe in the equality of mankind but preached and practised inequality based on the caste. Hindutvawadis are, however, breaking away with this longstanding tradition of tolerant Hinduism. Various extremist organizations today have become the protector of religion and has started inciting violence by using force and provocation to resist other religions/faiths. They believe in aggressive form of Hinduism which puts it on the top of heirarchy and sets itself different and better from others, therefore, promotes hatred and communalism today, unfortunately.
Sri Guruji Golwalkar, the second supreme leader of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) was a disciple of Swami Akhandanad who was a disciple/colleague of Swami Vivekananda. Whilst talking about this sensitive subject, I am aware that I am putting my feet on a live scorpion and may have to face consequences. While my intention is not to hurt the sentiments of any individual or community or organization, I must be ready to take the brunt for writing this blog. Great reformer Krantiba Jyotirao Phule and undeniably the greatest man of India, Dr Ambedkar said that standing for the truth has a price which we must be ready to pay.
I read the Bible, in which I see that Jesus also stood for stating the spiritual truth against the traditions, culture and religion of his time and had to face crucifixion. While in a worldly way, this is the only perspective we see; nevertheless, spiritually, we know that Jesus, who was God incarnated as man, had the spiritual reason to accept such a horrible death. Despite being the author of the whole creation – he wanted to pay the price of the sins of the mankind by his death because the unholy generation was unable to do so by itself. By his death and resurrection, he paved the path of salvation of the whole mankind.
RSS and other hindutvawadi organizations propagates an ideology of one religion and hindu-rashtra. Such notion is in direct contradiction with Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, whom they allege to revere. Swamiji shared a story as an anecdote during the parliament of world religions about a frog. This frog had lived lifelong in a well and found it the largest place ever. It could not accept the idea of a bigger and beautiful world other than his well which was brought as a news from a frog coming from a sea. He rejected him and pushed him out of the well. While at that time, Swami Vivekananda put all religions equally in the metaphor of the frog-in-a-well; however, today, Christian faith having spread all over the world cannot fall in the same category whereas other faith systems may. Especially I feel the hindutva ideology which behaves in a closed system of self-righteousness, opposes brotherhood and universality practically in the democratic republic nation like India. Today’s hindutva promotors seem to forget the very idea which was spun by Swami Vivekanand, due to which he won accolades in the parliament of the world’s religions.
Swami ji believed in idol worship and hindu deities in his childhood days when he was better known as Narendra. Later also, while believing in Vedas too, which promote adwait – formless God, he never rejected doctrine of idol-worship, instead he gave various explanations to justify it. Once when he met the King Mangal Singh (Rajasthan) who did not believe in idol worship, Swamiji asked one of the courtiers to bring the painting of the king and asked him to spit over it. The courtier did not dare to do any such thing. By this example, he said to the king that while the picture was not the king yet it was king in a sense that it commanded respect from the citizens of the country. He proved it and said, “See your Highness, though this is not you in one sense, in another sense it is you. One glance at it makes them see you in it. Thus it also is with the devotees who worship stone images of gods and goddesses.”
Now, while this idea could represent one side of the story, had I been there, I would have liked to ask if that painting truly could rule on behalf of the king, could it hear the cases, could it make policies or could it bring reforms, could it pass judgements, could it participate in daily administrative activities, could it go for battles, could the picture or painting itself be a true representation of the living king. I am sure, the answer would have come a reassuring NO. Now in addition, giving another twist to the situation, may I ask if it is possible to make a picture or a painting of an invisible king. NO! Therefore, this example is not fitting for God, who is unseen unlike an earthly king. God is an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient being whom no body has seen ever. It is impossible to make his painting or picture or idol to honour him in any way. Whatever idol or painting or image thus created would be totally imaginary and art of the imagination of a creative person. Now talking about existence of God himself – could he be imaginary figure or not – is not a point of discussion here, which can be answered though in the same manner.
Bible rather presents God as a living, intellectual creator as well as a Father figure who does not expect people to start a religion with any rituals or practices but to start a relationship and live in this relationship. It is a relationship of a child to his father. Just like a child is not afraid of his father that he would punish him to death upon a mistake, we do not have to live in fear of eternal punishment all the time. Instead, Bible presents God as a father who forgives its children and pays the penalty on their behalf because they are unable to do so. As a father provide and protect, God the creator, does not differentiate between people of different religion but provides for all; however, only those who seek forgiveness of sins and reciprocate his love, he allows them to become his children, all those who reconcile and establish that relationship by believing in his Son Jesus Christ to be made holy like God, through his blood shed on the cross of calvary.
Swami Vivekanand could be rightly put as a total sum of Hinduism; however, he never totally agreed with many forms of Hinduism either. We do not see much overlap or agreement with his contemporary philosophy of ‘Arya Samaj’ started by Dayanand Saraswati. The main point of difference between the two were as follows. Dayanand Saraswati (and his Arya Samaj) gave highest importance to four Vedas, worshipped only the formless omnipresent God, gave importance to teachers as mere humans and rejected incarnation theory whereas Swami Vivekanand (and his Ramakrishna Mission) gave importance to Upnishads and all other form of hindu scriptures including Vedas equally without any superiority to Vedas, worshipped idol forms of various gods and goddesses including Kali (because of Bengali roots probably) and his teacher Ramakrishna Paramhansa whom he believed to be God and he believed in the incarnation theory. The common religious denominator between the two was – rejecting the other scriptures such as Bible.
Bible talks about Swami Vivekanand’s two concepts of service of humanity and universality of faith across religions, race and geography, yet surprisingly, he rejected the Bible. During one of his various speeches at the conference in Chicago in 1893, he shared that Vedas are not created but revealed and is an compilation of different knowledge gained by different individuals over the course of time and put together. According to him, like the laws of gravity existed much before its discovery, even the spiritual laws of Vedas existed in nature before their discovery as Vedas. While this explains why there can be various common concepts in the Vedas and the Bible; however, in the same row, I would like to raise a question – why should such spiritual laws revealed by God which already existed in nature should be attributed to Vedas alone and why not to accept the Bible as the collection of such spiritual laws. Why not to accept Bible as the total truth since it puts together full spiritual knowledge (some may be contrary to the Hindu philosophy though) because the Bible is known to be a direct revelation from God to certain individuals of different intellectual capability – 40 in total, in various times over a course of 1500 years, in different places, written down in different languages and yet putting forward a singular thread of omnipotent God’s love for fallen and sinful mankind and his plan of their salvation. Of course, it lays down the principle of judgment of unbelievers, who reject the love of God manifested on the cross for each individual, including you, my dear reader.
Swami Vivekanand also underlined that calling a human-being ‘a sinner’ is a sin in itself. He said during the speech at conference in Chicago – “The Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth-sinners! It is a sin to call man so.” While this may sound a nice cliché, this is strange and impractical and I do not agree with it after having read the Bible. What do we call a person who steals? What do we call a person who kills somebody for selfish reasons? What do we call a person who fornicates? A Thief, a Murderer and adulterer, respectively. Right? But what is common among them all. They violate social, moral and spiritual laws and therefore the common factor is ‘sin’. So what should we call them instead of calling them by different crimes – ‘sinner’. Isn’t it? While error and mistakes are to the individuals, crime to the law, sin is against the God which makes us morally and spiritually accountable to God. How does calling a sinner ‘sinner’ make the speaker a sinner?
Also, taking into consideration the divinity of all concept, if all man are holy and perfect even along with their baggage of all the misdeeds, crimes and sins they have committed, then what would remain the standard of morality and where would the society go. Bible says that we are Holy God’s creation, created in his image and likeness. We humans drifted apart after committing sin by misusing the free will given to us to love God and alienated ourselves. Therefore we all have become sinners. We all are equally fallen regardless of quantity and quality of sin because for God, sin is sin. It makes us unholy and unreachable to God. Yet we sinners can be reconciled to God the father, through his Son Jesus Christ, who paid the price of our sins by his death on the cross and gave assurance of salvation through his resurrection. In John 1:12 it says that as many as believed in Christ, he gave them the right to become the children of God.
Bible; however, asks us to admit ourselves as sinners and accountable to God. The holy God demands us to repent from our sins and seek forgiveness. Bible says that God loves all mankind and therefore anyone who believes that God came as human to pay the price of his/her sins, is forgiven and when the individual professes his faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, he received eternal life. While we need to examine ourselves mercilessly, we must see others inflicted by sin and therefore not condemn them but lead them to the savior. Leading a blind to a doctor who can make his eyes whole is a noble idea. Isn’t it?
Swami Vivekananda after his 3 days’ meditation in south India, at the shores of Kanyakumari, realized that “India shall rise only through a renewal and restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness that has made her, at all times, the cradle of nations”. He believed that this can be achieved by inculcating the spirit of service to the mankind and upliftment of the downtrodden classes of India (Dalits or Shudras), however, we do not see any reforms brought in practical sense by Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Vivekananda both believed in the abolition of castes and were also influenced by the Brahmo Samaj, which was again active for the same cause. However, as Dr Ambedkar said in his work called ‘Castes in India’, Hinduism does not exist without casteism or yet in other words – Hinduism is casteism and casteism is Hinduism; therefore to eradicate this curse from Hinduism, basically we will have to rise above the boundaries of the religion. Brahmo Samaj was established by Keshab Chandra Sen, who was an Indian Bengali Hindu philosopher and social reformer (1838-1884) who attempted to incorporate Christian theology within the framework of Hindu thought.
My question is – instead of making parallels or incorporating biblical views within the hindu framework of religion, why not to accept the biblical faith itself. Christian faith builds the framework of an egalitarian society based on three major concepts – (a) free salvation without works, (b) equality of all, and (c) freedom of marriage regardless of any group or class. These three factors are in direct conflict with Hindu philosophy which thrives on the karmas, caste-heirarchy and endogamy marriage within the castes; therefore, they may sound (and explains their fear of preaching of bible in India) as a threat to their existence. I will explain this in my another blog.
Equality and abolition of caste system was the common proposition of Swami Vivekanand, Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Brahmo Samaj. Should we not expect from the great grandsons of such a great philosopher to inculcate such teachings into their manifesto today and allow the spiritual revival and upliftment of downtrodden classes, even if they do not wish to embrace the biblical faith? This however, seems a difficult paradigm for the current ideology of hindutvawadis which tries to maintain social hierarchy by casteism and does not allow the downtrodden class to be uplifted. Instead, its political wing, moral police wing etc are trying to inculcate the totally opposite feelings of hatred towards each other and promoting the one religion hindu-rashtra ideology which is in direct conflict with the spirit of Indian Constitution and the fundamental rights of citizens written therein. If it was not for the efforts of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule who promoted education of Dalits, his wife Savitri Phule who stood for woman education and Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, Indian untouchable class would still be struggling for equality. Indian constitution has given them rights to be treated equal but it has not fully changed yet after 69 years of independence because the spiritual-religious mindset of Hindu would not allow so. Only Christian faith opens the doors of truly egalitarian society where all are equal regardless of their birth, work, gender or geography.
Swami Vivekananda during his speech at the conference in Chicago, said, “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths whilch men take, through different tendencies, various though they may appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” If Swami Vivekananda is revered by Hindus and Hindutvawadis alike, they must accept his thoughts which allows all faith systems as tributaries reaching to an ocean and therefore not undermine, curb or hate any Bible-based faith system so as to prohibit, persecute and threaten its followers from preaching it in the country where the constitution gives it as a fundamental right to be able to do so. We see a lot of atrocities and fearful tactics played upon the followers of Jesus Christ in India. We have seen a growing graph of preacher-persecution, church-attacks, vendalism etc in the last few years. Is it justified in the country of Swami Vivekanand – a time to think about it!
The other two sayings of Swami Vivekanand – (a) Service to the humanity is service to God, and (b) Leading others to bhakti and mukti helps one attain them for oneself – must give an inspiration to the narrow minded religious people of today, to allow people of all faith to do good to the society and lead them to bhakti and mukti, in whatever spiritual ways they feel fit, keeping in mind the universality concept and brotherhood handy with humility.
Swami Vivekanand contributed greatly to raise the bar of Indians in the international society, which cannot be forgotten ever; however, his noble idea ‘searching the truth until revealed’ must lead us to look for the TRUTH beyond the Hindu books and sayings. Is it wrong to say that the search of the absolute truth may go beyond our religious sayings and books included? Would it not be a noble idea to keep looking for the truth even in the books written in different corners of the globe? Is the truth limited to some geography?
Looking and knowing only the western form of Christianity, he disapproved of the claim that Christianity is the only universal religion, he argued that it is Vedanta. Vivekananda’s thoughts toward Christ were of great respect. He considered Christ to be a great Yogi, an ascetic, who had attained his divine status by the way of sadhana – a spiritual discipline. He continued to emphasize that as Jesus attained his status over many years of discipline and concluded that it is possible for all of us to be christs. To him, the greatness of Christ was not found in providing salvation for mankind but in pointing beyond himself to that which lies within. This was according to his Vedantic thinking that every person is in essence a god (Atul Y. Aghamkar, 2008); however, his perception is evidently in total contradiction to the teachings of the Bible. When you see the biblical faith in today’s context, you can see that Bible is universal, its teachings apply in all corners of the World, it assimilates people of all nations and shows them the path of salvation.
In fact, Hinduism cannot open itself to all because it is a closed system of hierarchy and rituals. The original Hinduism cannot invite people of external faith to embrace it because it shall create a problem of segregation of Caste. Which caste will a new convert belong? The cultivated hindutva although seeks ghar-wapasi and other efforts which are futile. In reality, if Hinduism has to invite and accept people of other faiths, it has to restructure itself by shelling off many of its traditional principles. If so, it will not remain Sanatan Dharm anyway.
Jesus said in the book of John, chapter 14 and verse 6 – I am the TRUTH, the WAY and the LIFE and no one can reach to the Father except through me. Our Birth in this world is a truth, life along with its difficulties is a truth, death is a truth, and judgment is also a truth. We must prepare ourselves before the time expires. If you know the number of years, you are going to live, you may procrastinate this task; however, if you do not know how many days you are left with – now is the time to seek the truth and attain salvation (forgiveness of sins and eternal life) because certainly, we will not be able to face the TRUE, HOLY and LIVING God in heaven if we carry the filth of various sins committed in our journey of life.
God bless you.