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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 4, January 14, 2023

Swami Vivekananda Respected All Religions | M R Narayan Swamy

Saturday 14 January 2023, by M R Narayan Swamy

Swami Vivekananda may be the poster boy of the Hindu right but the revered Hindu monk and philosopher was a vociferous exponent of religious unity and fiercely opposed to aggression in religion.

In numerous speeches and places, the Swami spoke highly of not only Hindu religion but also Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad even as he disagreed with some actions of Muslims as well as Hindus.

He underlined that quarrels over religion arise from the thinking that one alone has the truth and whoever does not believe it must be a fool.

Vivekananda, whose conduct and words gave immense dignity to the saffron robes he wore, was always at peace with various religions.

“In every religion there have been men good and able, thus making the religion to which they belonged worthy of respect, and as there are such people in every religion, there ought to be no hatred for any sect whatsoever,” he said in a speech at Sialkot in undivided Punjab (now in Pakistan).

Hatred, he added, greatly impedes the course of Bhakti.

The “man of wisdom” from India – as the American media described him – stole the thunder at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September 1893.

His now famous speech focused on similarities in human thought process while talking of religion, thereby linking one religion with another.

From Chicago, Vivekananda travelled to different American cities, addressing tens of thousands. The Columbia University offered him the Chair of Sanskrit but as a ‘sanyasi’ he politely declined the honour.

“We accept all religions as true.” Vivekananda uttered these immortal words in Chicago. He warned against sectarianism, bigotry and fanaticism. “They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.”

In a speech in California on April 1, 1900, Vivekananda spoke about “a great deal of similarity” between the lives of Jesus and Hindu god Krishna. “There are a great many similarities in the New Testament and the Gita.” This was a theme echoed by Paramhansa Yogananda as well.

A month earlier, speaking in the San Francisco Bay area, Vivekananda said the ancient message of Krishna was one of harmonising Buddha’s, Christ’s and Mohammad’s. He described Mohammad as “the great Arabian prophet”.
On another occasion, in California, the Swami noted that Mohammad showed by his life that there should be perfect equality and brotherhood among Muslims, regardless of race or colour. In contrast, he demanded to know what Hindus do? If someone were “to touch the food of an orthodox person, he would throw it away. Notwithstanding our grand philosophy, you note our weakness in practice”.

At the same time, Vivekananda found fault with sectarian Muslims. “Their watchword is: There is one God, and Mohammad 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.”

In the same breath, he pointed out a key difference between religion and its practice by its followers.

“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?”

The monk firmly believed that various religions differ in the form of worship but “are really one… All are true, for, if you look to the real spirit, the real religion, and the truths in each of them, they are all alike”.

The Swami was bitterly opposed to Christians embracing Hinduism or Hindus or Buddhists becoming Christians. Simply put, he was against religious conversion.

Speaking on September 27, 1893, he insisted that holiness, purity and charity were not the exclusive possession of any church. “If anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart.”

The monk touched upon hate while dwelling on the greatness of the Bhagwat Gita at San Francisco on May 29, 1900: “If loving your own people means hating everybody else, it is the quintessence of selfishness and brutality, and the effect is that it will make you brutes.”

Religion ties humanity, he told a gathering at San Francisco. “We are all Christians; we are all Mohammedans; we are all Hindus, or all Buddhists.”

The Hindu, the monk said in an undated speech, was free to worship the Incarnations of all the countries. “The Hindu can worship any sage and any saint from any country whatsoever, and as a fact we know that we go and worship many times in the churches of the Christians, and many, many times in the Mohammedan mosques, and that is good. Why not?”

Once when some representatives of a cow protection society sought financial contribution, he remarked: “If ever I get money in my possession, I shall first spend that in the service of man… If any money is left after attending to all these (food, education and spirituality), then only will something be given to your society.”

Vivekananda, who died when he was only 39 after becoming an outstanding figure in religious and spiritual history, actively countered dogmas and meaningless rituals to put Hindu religion on a higher pedestal, earning widespread accolades.

Born Narendranath Dutta on January 12, 1863 in Calcutta, he initially chose his name as Swami Vividhishananda and later Sachchidananda. It was Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri, a friend and devotee, who gave him the name Vivekananda – and it stuck.

He covered almost the whole of India during his wanderings spanning over seven years. Many a time he did not have a proper place to stay. As he had vowed not to touch money during travels, he covered great distances on foot. All this seriously affected his health. Vivekananda passed away on July 4, 1902.

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