Saffron ideology is contrary to Vivekananda’s ideals

  • Capt. Praveen Davar

It was forty years ago, soon after taking over as Prime Minister in 1984, that Rajiv Gandhi announced Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary will be celebrated as National Youth Day. It was on January 12, 1985, that the country celebrated officially its first National Youth Day by organizing a grand function at Vigyan Bhavan, N. Delhi. In a message three years later, on January 12, 1988, India’s youngest ever Prime Minister paid him an apt tribute: “He was a person of overflowing dynamism. His was a magnetic personality and a magnificent presence. He was a speaker of compelling power. He could be described as a cyclone in a monk’s garb... He made a crucial contribution to the evolution of our national principles of freedom, human equality, secularism, self-reliance...let us draw strength from his invigorating message. The youth of India can have no better guide than him in cultivating character, devotion and dynamic action.”

Though he died young, at the age of 39 in 1902, Vivekananda exercised a powerful influence on the leaders of India’s freedom movement who read his speeches, letters and other works during the course of their struggle, mostly in jail and otherwise. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru writes in The Discovery of India: “Rooted in the past and full of pride in India’s heritage, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present... He preached the monoism of the Advaita philosophy of the Vedanta and was convinced that only this could be the future religion of thinking humanity. For the Vedanta was not only spiritual but rational and in harmony with scientific investigation of external nature.” The future Architect of Modern India, himself fearless, andrationalist with an abiding faith in science and scientific outlook, quotes Vivekananda on similar traits in his internationally renowned magnum opus: Vivekananda spoke of many things but the one constant refrain of his speech and writing was ‘abhay’ - be fearless, be strong. He condemned ‘occultism and mysticism....these creepy things..there may be great truths in them, but they have nearly destroyed us.... And beware of superstition.’ I would rather see everyone of you rank atheists than superstitious fools, for the atheist is alive, and you can make something of him. But if superstition enters, the brain is gone, the brain is softening, degradation has seized upon the life... Mystery mongering and superstition are always signs of weakness.

Vivekananda laid the highest emphasis on the service of humanity: “He who wants to serve Siva must serve His children, must serve all creatures in the world first.... He who sees Siva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Siva; and if he sees Siva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Siva in him without thinking of his caste, creed or race, or anything, with him Siva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.” If Jawaharlal Nehru could say ‘I can tell you that many of my generation were very powerfully influenced by him’, Subash Chandra Bose, who hailed from Bengal, was perhaps more so : ‘ The harmony of all religions, which Ramakrishna Paramhansa accomplished in his life’s endeavour, was the keynote of Swamiji’s life. And the ideal again is the bed - rock of the nationalism of future India. Without this concept of humanity of religions and toleration of all creeds, the spirit of national consciousness could not have been built up in this country of ours full of diversities.’

Vivekananda earned the epithet ‘Cyclonic Hindu’ after his famous Chicago address, and speeches that followed in over a dozen towns and cities of America, including Massachusetts, Baltimore, New Hampshire, New York and Washington. The oft quoted Chicago address concluded with his belied hope: “I fervently believe that the bell that tolled this the death knell to all fanaticism…. and all uncharitable feelings between brethren wending their way to the same goal.” However, it is the beginning portion of the speech that remains as inspiring as it surely was to a live audience over 130 years ago: I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance… We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true..the present in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him, all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.’...If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: it has proved to the world that holiness, purity, and the charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character.

Govind Krishna, the author of Vivekananda: The Philosopher of Freedom writes in his recently released book: ‘According to Vivekananda, the more highly evolved a person is spiritually, the less she had needs of rituals and customs. Vivekananda understood well enough that most people need religious symbols in order to visualize the divine, which is not only abstract but beyond conceptualization. He did not expect every Hindu to turn into a yogi or mystic overnight. But he was acutely aware of the danger that the symbol could get mistaken for the object of symbolism and that this would lead to a regress of religion.’ This is what Vivekananda had stated:

Religion is not going to church, or putting marks on the forehead, or dressing in a peculiar fashion; you may paint yourselves in all the colours of the rainbow, but if the heart has not been opened, if you have not realized God, it is all in vain. If one has the colour of the heart, he does not want any external colour. That is the true religious realization. We must not forget that colours and all these things are good so far as they help; so far they are all welcome. But they are apt to degenerate and instead of helping, they retard, and a man identifies religion with externalities. Going to the temple becomes tantamount to spiritual life. Giving something to a priest becomes tantamount to religious life.

The phrase ‘identifying religion with externalities’ is an apt definition of the RSS-BJP project of Hindutva. People of India, especially Hindus, must realise that the ideology of the saffron parivar is far removed from the ideals of Vivekananda who, inarguably, was a perfect Secular Swamy.

Speaking during the times when the British imperialism was at the height of its power, Vivekananda traces the downfall of India to the continued neglect of our women and of our masses: ‘In India there are two great evils, trampling on the women, and grinding the poor through caste restrictions.’ In one of his letters from America, he speaks in agony ‘of the ages of tyranny- mental, moral and physical- that has reduced the image of God to a mere beast of burden; the emblem of the Divine Mother to a slave to bear children; and life itself a curse. Emancipation of women and upliftment of the masses formed the two most important items in Swami Vivekananda’s programme of national regeneration. Male domination over women was abhorrent to him as is evident from many letters he wrote to his followers both in India and abroad.

To conclude, it may be appropriate to quote Sister Nivedita, the British disciple of the Swami: ‘It was the realization of the spiritual oneness of humanity and the resulting equality of vision that made Swami Vivekananda the powerful friend and guardian angel of the rights of the weak, the lowly, and the lost. He was the first monk in history to affirm and to defend without any reservation the rights and liberties of woman; he is extremely sensitive to this was one thought, too, with which he would turn to..whenever he felt himself nearer than usual to death.’

There can be no greater tribute to Vivekananda on his 161st birth anniversary than ensuring for the women of India a life of security, safety and dignity. Those in power, in Centre and States, at all levels, have a special moral responsibility.

(The writer, a former Army Officer, is ex. Secretary AICC and ex. Secretary AICC Ex-Serviceman Department)