Mainstream, VOL LIV No 34 August 13, 2016 [Independence Day Special 2016]
Vivekananda against Hindutvavadi Obscurantism
Monday 15 August 2016
by Jayanta Kumar Ghosal
The Hindu fundamentalist forces in India are now very active to destroy the secular and democratic fabrics of our country as enshrined in the Constitution. As a part of their agenda these forces have let loose a cultural offensive which is actually fascist in nature. In this process they have taken Swami Vivekananda as one of their educators and guides. But is this true? Do Vivekananda’s teachings and ideas help the Hindu fundamentalists who have killed Dr Narendra Davolkar, Govind Pansare, Prof M.M. Kalburgi for their rationalist and secular views? Actually these religious forces have thus allowed the spectre of fascism to loom over the country.
It is of no doubt that Vivekananda was a Hindu monk who preached Hinduism. But at the same time it is crystal-clear from many of his writings and speeches that he was not a mere traditional Hindu monk as the religion’s fundamentalist forces of the present day, the Sangh Parivar in particular, make him out to be. Beside his religious teachings and ideas he also advocated the ideas that are to be taken through the rationalist mind. The obscurantist forces like the RSS, VHP have always highlighted Vivekananda’s religious teachings, which is just one side of the coin. He had expressed in many of his writings and speeches his views on religion, rationalism, women’s emancipation, caste system and scientific outlook and socialism and one can definitely realise that these thoughts go against the ideas preached by the Sangh Parivar and its allies.
Vivekananda was greatly influenced by utopian socialists like Robert Owen and others. He was also very much aware of the other systems of his time. Preferring socialism among them as the best system, he declared: ‘I am a socialist.’ He was also aware of the faults of the system and marked them. This was the proof of his rationalist mind. This sense of rationality led him to advice, ‘Do not believe in anything blindly.’ Proceeding further he said, “We do not recognise such a thing as miracle... most of the strange things which are done in India and reported in the foreign papers are sleight-of-hand tricks or hypnotic illusions. They are not the performances of the wise man.” From this conviction he described that miracles ‘do not prove anything. Matter does not prove Spirit. What connection is there between the existence of God, Soul or Immortality, and the working of miracles? ... Do not disturb your head with metaphysical nonsense and do not disturb others by your bigotry.’ He did not hesitate to declare astrology, mystical things or calculating the stars for better living etc. as all bogus. These are mere superstitions which were being spread mainly by the Brahmins and priests. These are ‘injurious and weakening to humanity.’
In a hard-hitting letter to his disciples he said: ‘Kick out the priests who are always against progress, because they would never mend, their hearts would never become big. They are the offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny.” What would the present-day Manubadis say.?
Vivekananda called upon the people to give up blind faith and believe in reason because, according to him, “Books are not an end-all. Verification is the only proof of religious truth.” Quoting Lord Buddha he said: “Believe no book; the Vedas are all humbug. If they agree with me, so much the better for the books.” Who other than a rationalist can convey such strong views? Unhesitatingly he declared: “I do not believe in a God or religion which cannot wipe the widow’s tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan’s mouth?” Do the present-day Babas and Gurus possess such a humanist outlook about God?
Vivekananda defined religion in a very simple way. As a Hindu saint of non-traditional path, his views on religion completely go against the Hindu fundamentalist forces who are vehe-mently trying to project him as their guide quoting his religions speeches or writings to create hatred towards other religions. As per Vivekananda’s simple definition, religion is “to devote your life to the good of all and to the happiness of all”. And to him, “The ideal of all religions ... is same—the attaining of liberty and cessation of misery.” He also preached respect and dignity for all religions: “What is needed is a fellow feeling between the different types of religion, seeing that they all stand or fall together, a fellow feeling which springs from mutual esteem and mutual respect.” The same was echoed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted in December 1966 by the UN General Assembly nearly seven decades later. As a true follower of the history of mankind he described Mohammed as ‘‘the messenger of equality and the ‘Prophet’... of the brotherhood of man” and genuinely under-stood the historical role of Islam.
Vivekananda warned people against the attempts made by religious fundamentalists to propagate all kinds of myths and divide Hindus and Muslims. Such a false propaganda is about forcible conversions. Vivekananda firmly opined in this regard that in this country “religious conversions have not taken place because of atrocities by Christians and Muslims, but because of atrocities by the upper castes”. So the teachings of Vivekananda are exactly opposed to all that the Sangh Parivar stands for.
The religious fundamentalist forces, both Hindus and Muslims, always speak against the liberation of women. But Vivekananda stated: “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.” Again, he said: “In India there are two great evils. Trampling on the women, and grinding the poor through caste restrictions.”
In letters to his American disciples, he wrote that America is prosperous, learned and energetic because its women are free. “But why is it that we are slavish, miserable, and dead? The answer is obvious ... Can you better the condition of your women? Then there will be hope for your well-being. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now.” What would the followers of ‘Manu Samhita’ say?
Vivekananda properly understood the nature of freedom and democracy of the Western world and stated that a handful merchants, industrialists and moneylenders are the actual beneficiaries of the system, not the downtrodden. He clearly observed: “The wealth and power of a country are in the hands of a few men who do not work but manipulate the work of the millions of human beings. By this power they can deluge the whole earth with blood. Religion and all things are under their feet; they rule and stand supreme. The Western world is governed by a handful of Shylocks. All those things that you hear about—constitutional government, freedom, liberty and parliaments—are but jokes.” These are not the voices of a mere religious monk but of a highly socially conscious person who really wanted to bring about a change in society.
He had great faith in the masses because their suffering had given them fortitude, the energy and patience to bring about the desired transformation of the society. He observed: ‘These common people have suffered oppression for thousands of years; suffered it without a murmur, and as a result have got wonderful fortitude. They have suffered eternal misery, which has given them unflinching vitality. Living on a handful of grains, they can convulse the world; give them only half a piece of bread, and the whole world will not be big enough to contain their energy, they are endowed with the inexhaustible vitality of a Raktabija.” Not religion, only social upliftment of the down-trodden (Shudras) of the country can guarantee India’s progress. So he said to his countrymen: “So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them.” What would the present ‘Gurus’ and ‘Babas’ wondering about the Delhi Masnad say about Vivekananda who declared: “I consider that the great national sin is the neglect of the masses, and that is one of the causes of our downfall. No amount of politics would be of any avail until the masses in India are once more well educated, well fed and well cared for. They pay for our education, they build our temples, but in return they get kicks. They are practically our slaves. If we want to regenerate India, we must work for them.”
Let these teachings of Vivekananda guide us all along.
[All sources: Collected Works of Vivekananda]
The author is a social activist associated with the literacy movement.