Thursday 24 January 2013

The prophet of enlightened liberalism (Organiser)

MD Nalapat, 19 January 2013 edition

$img_titleSWAMI Vivekananda made an extraordinary impression across the world, and this would not have been possible but for the way in which he was assisted by women and men from different countries and of varied faiths. In the US,in particular, several idealistic ladies ensured that the Swami was provided with both the repose as well as the logistics to enable him to spread his message of Enlightened Liberalism. 

Very few of such assistants adopted the faith into which Swami Vivekananda was born into,almost all remained true to the faiths of their ancestors. And this did not matter in the least to Swami Vivekananda,who was clear in standing by Sanatan Dharma,the central tenet of which is that there may be multiple paths,but the objective of Faith was the same. To bring a human being closer to that supreme Divine Force expressed so eloquently in the Gayatri Mantra,as well as in the Bible and the Quran. Since the rapid metastisis of Wahabbism across the globe that began in the 1980s, psuedo-theologians have souht to differentiate people adopting different faiths from each other. There is,for example,a considerable body of opinion which separates “the faiths of the Book” with the rest.Thus,while Christianity and Islam are classified as “religions of the Book”, faiths such as Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism are not.

All the great faiths of humankind - Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, to name a few - have as their central tenet the invisible presence of the Supreme Being,the Almighty. In the case of Hinduism,this single force has been separated into different “component divinities”,such as Saraswati for learning or Lakshmi for wealth. 

Rather than spending time on the surface of faith,Vivekananda entered its core,and discovered that as he progressed deeper and deeper in his intellectual quest,the different faiths got subsumed into a common insight related to the universality and omniscience of the Divine. As he said at Chicago in 1893,”We accept all religions as true”,adding that “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies,various though they appear,crooked or straight,all lead to Thee (the Supreme Being”. 

We are all children of the Almighty,no matter that we be called Hindus or Muslims or Christians,being born from the same immutable anfd unconquerable force which created all.

Given the incontestable fact of this common origin,it is clear that those seeking to divide humanity on the basis of superficial attributes of faith are guilty of disobedience to the unifying tendency of the Supreme Being,and that in an afterlife,they will - to their surprise and sorrow - find themselves not within the gates of Paradise but inside the eternal prison of Hell. As Vivekananda pointed out in that same Chicago speech,”Sectarianism,bigotry,and its horrible descendant fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth”. He hoped that “this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism,of all persecutions”. Would that the world had listened to the words of the Swami.Had it done so,the horros of slavery,of colonialism and the two World Wars of the first half of the last century could have been avoided 

Swami Vivekananda saw,in the words of Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene Lepers Colony,that “all men are brothers”. He was eloquent multiple times about the baleful effects of the caste system as it was practiced in his time,calling Kerala for example “a madhouse” of caste. Indeed there are different strengths and chemistries within human beings,but these come not from nature but from nurture,not from birth but by breeding. 

To Swami Vivekananda,the ideal society was one where every participant reached the exalted state of the Brahmana.In his own words,”from caste,we reach to the point where there is no caste”.In other words,a return to basics, to the society which saw what in Swami Vivekananda’s time a “backward” caste write the immortal epic of Valmiki Ramayana, and where a Yadava,Lord Krishna,became the foremost exponent of Dharma and an example to all.

This writer is firm in the belief that Rama and Sita, Lakshmana and Krishna,are not “myths” as the colonial masters of India classified them to be,but actually “walked the earth in flesh and blood” (in Einstein’s words on Mahatma Gandhi). The Greeks are proud of Homer’s epics and of Alexander,as the Italians are of Julius Caeser. Why then are the epics of the past in India not part of the curricula in schools across the country? The Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita belong to the whole of India,to all the people of this wondrous country,and not just to those of a single faith,the way they became relegated during the time of the British and its replacement with Nehruism after 1947.

However,if this essentially Indian character of epics and the heroes celebrated in them is to be accepted,there is a need for those who claim to be the Swami’s followers to understand that it goes against the core of belief in the principles enunciated by him to divide the country into Hindu,Muslim,Sikh or Christian. 

Each of us shares her or his origin in the paternity of a common Supreme Being,just as each of us shares the literary and historical treasures of the past. It is a measure of how little basic change there has been that to this day,the bulk of textbooks in school and college follow the currcula created by colonial rulers to 

(a) deny the people of Indsia the pride natural in people belonging to one of the oldest continuing civilisations in the world and 

(b) ensure that society remain fractured and dysfunctional rather than united in national spirit and resurgence. It is a grotesque travesty of his teachings that Vivekananda is being characterised by some as “Hindu” rather than “Indian” (or, more accurately,as a World Citizen) and therefore his words are ignored as “coming from an alien faith”. Swami Vivekanda’s teachings are of relevance to those going to mosques,churches or temples,as even a cursory understanding of his thoughts would prove
Illiberalism is in the air.

Those claiming to be wise ask the women of India to either hide themselves at home (the way they do in Taliban-controlled territories) or to wear dresses which conceal all except a bit of their physical selves. In a democracy,women have the right to wear what they please,and to get the protection of the state while exercising this discretion. 

Swami Vivekanada would be distressed to find that many parts of India still manifest vigorous attributes of caste,community and region,so strong that it divides the people. Women in particular are the targets of the clones of the Taliban who daily lecture them on dress and deportment. Swami Vivekananda celebrated lands were the women were free and independent,and by implication came down hard on locations which sought to curtain their energies and their freedoms. The Swami was caustic about the numerous ways in which society got divided,seeing with his sagacious mind the reality of the unity of humankind. A liberal India is the best testament to Swami Vivekananda. 150 years later,the fact that this goal is still distant is testimony to the failure of our society to follow the teachings of this grat sage.

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