Swami Vivekananda’s vision of National Integration through inter-religious harmony

Source: News Bharati English05 Oct 2013 15:13:07

undefinedSwami Vivekananda’s vision of National Integration through inter-religious harmony

Arun Karmarkar


In this same month of October in 1892, swamiji, during his Bharat Parikrama, had arrived at Madgaon and held deliberations with the clergymen of Rachol Seminary. He also visited Shantadurga, Mangeshi and Madkhol temples during his short stay at Goa. And within just two months from then, he reached at the southern tip of India, on the famous rock of Kanyakumari where he had a solitary dialogue with his own self and with the almighty for three days and three nights in the month of December, 1892. And now at this same place we are celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.

Friends, each of us have a day and date of birth. Many of us celebrate their birth days among their family members, friends and well wishers. But does anybody of us remember or even know the birth date of one’s grandfather or great grandfather? And here is a man, a Sanyasi whose birth anniversary is being celebrated even after 150 years and that too not only in all parts of our country but even in many other countries in the world. In Chicago University, at Westminster, at Colombo, in Australia, Germany, Argentina, Dubai, Egypt…various programs have been and are being organized to salute the memory of Swami Vivekananda. The Malaysian Govt. has published a special postal stamp in the memories of Swamiji. Swamiji’s preachings, teachings and memories have been inspiring generations after generations as his life and work have left an eternal stamp of the Universal brotherhood.

Swami Vivekananda lived for just over 39 years. (1863 to 1902.)If we consider the period after the demise of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans in 1886, the independent journey of Swamiji happens to be only of 16 years. During this shortest span, Swamiji strived hard for the upliftment of humanity and could leave everlasting footprints on the thousands of years to come. So impressive was his personality, that great men from all the walks of human social life mentioned him as their source of inspiration. Yogi Aurobindo Ghosh, renowned authors and poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland, Leo Tolstoy, scientists like Nobel laureate Sir Jagadishchandra Basu, Nicolas Tesla, industrial bigwigs like John D Rockefeller, Sir Jamshedji Tata…are few of the names who dedicated their work to the memories of Swami Vivekananda. Learned ladies from the west like Margarett Nobel (who later on became Bhagini Nivedita) chose to follow his footsteps and came to India to lead a life devoted to spiritual pursuit.

Coming to the theme of today’s seminar – Swami Vivekananda’s vision of National Integration through inter-religious harmony – let us have a brief look at his speech before the Parliament of Religions, Chicago. He quoted a couplet from the Vedic script to underline the spirit of Indian Tradition. “As the different streams having their sources in different places, all mingle their water in the sea, So, O, Lord the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee…!” Swamiji went on to say in the same speech, “We believe not only in universal tolerance, but we accept that all religions are true.” This was and is the beauty of Vedic teachings inculcated in the Indian minds since time immemorial. Swamiji took an extensive journey throughout Bharat for about five years (1888 to 1892). During this journey he had understood well that these Vedic teachings are not merely a bookish idea, but a practice rehearsed by even the commonest of the common Indian in his day to day life. During his Parikrama he keenly observed (as was suggested by his Guru) the life and plight of the Indian folklore. He was overwhelmed when he realized that even while living under much pathetic condition, the Bharatiya psyche in general is utterly religious, spiritual and Dharmik. I have deliberately used both the terms ‘religious’ and ‘dharmik’ separately. Because, usually even in the intellectual discourses the term Dharma is mistakenly deemed to be synonymous to the term Religious. In actual sense Dharma denotes the way of life based on certain set of values. Truthfulness, non-violence, perseverance, integrity, patriotism, honesty, dutifulness are the values which form the essence of Dharma. It indicates a faith in duty, e.g. many times we say, to study is the Dharma of a student or to be loyal to one’s wife is the Dharma of a husband. The term Religion however, means the way of worship. Thus an individual may follow a way of his choice to worship the God or the Creator or the Almighty, whatever he wants to call & regard him. But as a social entity, he is bound by his duty unto others, towards the social wellbeing. Therefore, in this vast and far flung land of our motherland people follow hundreds and thousands of ways of worship. In north eastern India, tribes symbolize the concept of God in Sun, or in tree or even in stone. However Dharma encompasses all these ways of worship. It is because of this fact that one easily experiences the strong under-current of unity in the superficial religious diversity. The apparent differences do not create a conflict as Dharma unifies them all. The higher the level of consciousness about Duty, the is stronger the bond of Unity, Oneness and Integrity.

Therefore when Swamiji says that Dharma is the inner soul of Bharat, he actually hints at the religious harmony being the bond of integrity. In the same vein he easily underlines the irrelevance of conversion. During his journey in Bharat before he proceeded to Chicago for the world convention of religions, he had a deep study of Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagawadgeeta. On the basis and as a result of this study in depth, he had realized the universality of the ancient Indian literature. He also had realized that the principles proclaimed by Vedas were being ardently put into practice by Bharat. During his Parikrama he had observed from close quarters the lives of downtrodden, working class and even the thieves. He could see that even undergoing a hard struggle for survival, the common Indians are thoroughly pious. Considering this integrity of thoughts and actions, he emphatically declared in his speech at Chicago, “I am proud to belong to the nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all the religions and all the nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom, the purest remnants of Israelis who came to southern India and took refuge with us in the same year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces. I am proud to belong to the Nation which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant Zorastrians.”

Swamiji’s own realization about the generous nature of Bharatiya philosophy and its practice makes him proud of being a Vedantee. But at the same time, he didn’t fall short of pin pointing and attacking the ills and evils that prevailed in the Indian social life in those days. The ignorance, poverty, the pathetic condition of the working class and the downtrodden, the inhuman tradition of untouchability, influence of superstitions…all this touched his heart to the bottom. So, while on one hand he was defending the fortress of true ‘Bharatiyata’ before the western listeners in no uncertain terms, on the other hand he didn’t spare words while severely criticizing the so called upper class before the Indian audience. He reminded them that it is the poor and working class that has sacrificed a lot to defend and protect the Dharma during the long and treacherous period of aggression. He also reminded them that it is from the hutments of farmers, fishermen and scavengers, that tomorrow’s Bharat will be rising.

Swami Vivekananda being a great visionary was thinking ahead of his times. In the year 1893 en-route to Chicago, he happened to meet another visionary- Sir Jamshedji Tata, the father of the Indian industry. The dialogue between these two great persons clearly indicates the varied and modern approach of Swamiji. When sir Jamshedji told about the purpose of his visit to London, when he told that he is going to London to get more information about the steel industry, the message given by Swamiji shows the long range of his vision. Swamiji said, “What you can bring from there is the material technology. But I would like to give you a small caution. Whatever amount you spend to get the process of making steel, simultaneously you should learn the metallurgical science of making steel. Also I would prefer you to start an institute, a laboratory to do advanced research on that subject. Subsequent to this message, Swamiji requested to Maharaja of Mysore through a letter to donate land for the institute. Maharaja happily agreed to it and the pioneer science research institute- The Institute of Science, Bangalore- came into existence some years later.

Swamiji had an astonishingly thorough understanding of science and its relation with the spirituality. He employed his understanding to explain to his western audience about philosophy- using examples, comparisons from sciences such as physiology, cosmology, biology, physics and medicine to elucidate Vedanta and yoga. From the Chicago conference onwards, he set out on a tour of western world as if on a pilgrimage of humanity. The aim behind his tour, (the wanderer in the words of Romain Rolland) was integrating the humanity. Making of a universal Man- a Vishwamanav – was his mission. This mission was the only path which would take him to the fulfillment of his dream of National Reconstruction. Therefore on return from the west, he insisted before the Indian audience the need to follow the examples of Japanese and western industriousness. In a way he was a bridge between the spiritual East and the industrious west. But at the same time he underlined the importance of character building. “Neither money pays, nor name nor fame. It is character only that breaks the adamantine walls of destruction…” he reminded. His thoughts and teachings about science and technology, about Education, about the approach towards women comprise every aspect of pragmatism. Essence of his every thought, action and message reflects his most modern outlook as well as revolves around his emphasis on character building.

Education, he said, should be a process by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased and intellect is sharpened as a result of which one becomes self-reliant, capable to stand on his own feet. Awakening man to his spiritual self is the basic purpose of education. Swamiji reiterated that education which can’t propagate character, which can’t prepare the man for struggle for life, which is not able to inspire youth for bravery and social service is not an education at all.

Most important and perhaps the most relevant in the present situation in the country today are his thoughts regarding the glory of the womanhood. He believed that ‘with 500 men, conquest of India might take 50 years, but with as many women, not more than a few weeks. The idea of womanhood is the idea of independence. Soul, that is, Atman has neither gender nor caste. Welfare can’t be achieved without improvement in the condition of women. Then and then only India’s lost pride and honour can be re-achieved.’ He reminded everybody that every woman contains an Ansh of Aadishakti. A society in which women are undermined can never progress.

The emphasis on the social service (SEWA) was the crucial part of Vivekananda’s message. ‘Service to mankind is service to self’ was his motto. He could remind to John D Rockefeller, perhaps the wealthiest man in the western world, that it is not the receiver who is blessed, but the giver. Everyone is potentially divine and therefore to be good and to do good unto others is the essence of the religion. Religion is the idea which raises the brute to man and the man to God. (Vanar se nar aur nar se narayan)

All of his messages regarding spirituality were clearly derived from his deepest study and understanding of Vedanta. Therefore he played an important role in introducing India and her spiritual culture to the western world and in reviving and refining Hinduism in India.

However hr never neglected the importance of material welfare and the progress the west had achieved in that respect. He therefore, while addressing especially the youth of the country, said, “Follow Vedanta in your day to day life and at the same time, master the western science & technology. Philosophy presented by Vedanta, is philosophy of universal brotherhood.’ Swamiji had the greatest hope and faith in the youth of the nation. He urged them to forget all other gods other than our beloved Bharatmata. He advised youth to follow the message of Upanishad which according to him could be narrated in one word – Fearlessness.

Now, let us in brief, consider the present situation in the world in general and in India in particular to understand the relevance of Swamiji’s message in today’s times. One cannot deny that during the last 66 years after independence, India has progressed in remarkably in many ways. The spirit and system of Democracy in our country has no doubt set an example for other nations- especially for our neighbouring countries. Effective steps have been taken to uplift life of our downtrodden brethren. Our progress in the field of science and technology surely deserves to be appreciated. However there is other side of the story also. And that side has to be taken more seriously. The entire world is presently passing through the most volatile and troubled situation. Consumerism has become the watchword of the day. Violence, fundamentalism is rampant. If we look at the conditions in various sectors in our country, ‘Deplorable’ can be the only word that can describe the reality today. The distribution of wealth is highly uneven & the gap between the have’s and have not’s is ever and alarmingly widening. It has a natural adverse effect on the social fabric and harmony between the various income groups. Studies and statistics tell us that ten percent of the income groups are bagging forty percent of the total income. Conditions in the sector of child education are pathetic. Still about forty percent of children do not reach to the doors of even the primary education. Those who reach do not sustain even up to secondary level. The overall percentage of the dropouts at the primary level is over fifty percent.

Sectarian violence is another serious disease that is corroding the social harmony. Terrorism of various types such as Jihad, Maoism, infiltration, and insurgency is on the rise at galloping speed. Day in and day out the crimes and brutality against women are taking the ugliest form and increasing in alarming proportions. Corruption and generation of black money at the highest level of public life is rampant. Moral, ethical human values are on the decline. Caste, religious conflicts are eating into the National Integration as well as individual character. In short, stark materialism, consumerism and permissivism are the vices which seem to have dominated our day to day life. One need not say that the effective antidote lies in the pondering over Swamiji’s life and mission.

Following the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda and spreading his message especially among the youth is the only effective solution out of the current crisis. As Swamiji himself had said every young man and woman should be guided through the promise & proclamation “I have come to fulfill and not to destroy…!”

In an emphatic manner Swami Vivekananda had thundered in one of his speech at Madras ( My plan of campaign ), “ Each Nation, like each individual has one theme in his life which is at its center, the principal note round which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any one nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, the direction which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, that Nation dies! In one nation, political power is its vitality like England, artistic life in another and so on. In India religious life forms its center, the key note of the whole music of our national life. And therefore if you succeed in the attempts to throw off your religion and take up either politics or society; the result will be that you will become extinct. Social reform and politics has to be preached through that national vitality (i.e. through religious faith which believes in harmony, synthesis and unity in diversity). Every man has to make his own choice, so has every nation. We made our choice ages ago. And it is the faith in that immortal soul…I challenge anyone to give it up. How can you change the nature?

In the end I would like again to return to Swamiji’s speech at Chicago. He had said, “Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant fundamentalism have long possessed this beautiful earth, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent the whole nations to despair. Had it not been these horrible demons, human society should be far more advanced than it is now. But their time has come and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecution with sword or with pen, and all the uncharitable feelings between persons, wending their way to the same goal!”

Let us all understand the challenge thrown and the dream shown by Swami Vivekananda 120 years ago. Resolving to strive for the fulfillment of his dream is the need of the hour. None other than this resolve would be the befitting tribute to the memories of the warrior monk in the 150th year of his birth…!

Bharat Mata ki Jay.

This article is a Key Note Address delivered by Mr. Arun Karmarkar, at the Seminar organized jointly by Rachol Seminary, Pilar Seminary & Bharat Vikas Parishad. Mr. Arun Karmarkar is an ex Chief Editor of