This volume brings together sixteen essays written by philosophers and social scientists on different aspects of Swami Vivekananda's thoughts. Well researched and lucid in their style, the essays cover Swamiji's views on religion, society, ethics and nature of man, creativity, language and art. They also seek to contextualise his ideas within the broader framework of Indian philosophical systems.
The essays reflect Vivekananda's emphasis on harmony between theoria and praxis. Since Swamiji saw no dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, his sources of philosophizing did not lie merely in religion and religious doctrines, or rituals and modes of worship, but extended to fields as diverse as aesthetics, sociology, ethics, musicology, psychology and science.
About the Author
Rekha Jhanji, until recently a Professor of Philosophy at Panjab University, was also the Coordinator of the UGC Center for Swami Vivekananda Studies. She has authored six books, including The Human Condition in the Mahabarata (1995), The Sensuous in Art: Reflections on Indian Aesthetics (1989), and Aesthatic Communication: The Indian Perspective (1985). She has also published numerous scholarly articles in reputed national and international journals in fields such as Comparative Aesthetics, Contemporary European Philosophy and Philosophy of Mind. She has maintained an abiding interest in elucidating the relevance of Indian Philosophy for our times. She is presently working on a UGC major research project on Two Dimensions of Embodiment in the Indian Tradition.
It is a Herculean task to write something on a personage like Swami Vivekananda. It is like measuring ocean. His depth of vision cannot be fathomed by an ordinary human mortal but since his message is for ordinary beings like us, it is important to talk about it so that we can imbibe his ideals in our lives. Romain Rolland compared his life to the music of Beethoven.
He was the living embodiment of the harmony of four yogas propounded by him. His actions give one a clear testimony of the Karma Yoga of Bhagwad Gita. His devotion of God and the emotive sensitivity to the divine in the poorest of poor-the Daridra Narayana is a clear sign of his perfection in Bhakti Yoga. His final detachment from all his projects towards the last part of his life shows how deeply entrenched he was in Jnana Yoga. His passing away in samadhi shows his mastery of Raja Yoga.
How can an ordinary mortal fathom the depth of such a multifaceted personality like Vivekananda? Nag Mahashaya's statement would help us to see our limitations in understanding this dynamic personality. He said to Vivekananda:
Who will understand you? Unless the inner vision opens, nobody can understand this great stalwart. The title of this book may seem incongruous because Vivekananda was not a philosopher in the sense in which the term philosophy is seen in our times.
For the last half a century philosophy in India is essentially seen in its Anglo-Saxon connotation- a critical enquiry into the different dimensions of our knowledge of the world based on conceptual and linguistic analysis. Indian philosophy as it is seen in the traditional sense is essentially regarded as a darsana- a vantage point to see Reality. Such a vision of reality transforms one's being. As Swami Nikhilananda puts it:
In the Western world a student of philosophy is expected to cultivate truthfulness about facts and intellectual integrity, his aim being to acquire knowledge. But the goal of a student of Indian philosophy is not only to know Reality but to realize it and mould his life according to Reality.
Vivekananda's life is an exemplar for students of Indian philosophy. It was him mission to establish coherence between theoria and praxis. Summarising his whole life's task Vivekananda writes:
The abstract Advaita must become living-poetic in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms; and out of bewildering yoti-ism must come the most scientific and practical psychology and all this must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it. That is my life's work.
His philosophy is deeply embedded in a spiritual quest that was his life-long mission. He did not see it solely as an analytical study of concepts. He was by no means lacking in critical and analytical thinking but he did not see it as an end in itself. Since the purpose of human existence is self-knowledge, analytical thinking was useful for him only to the extent it helped in achieving that objective. He was well aware that the path of self-knowledge couldn't be pursued by cowards. That is why he laid so much emphasis on being courageous. He wanted the Indian youth to be manly. Manliness for him is not gender-related but it stands for courage, vigour, enthusiasm, love and compassion. He put his paradigm of manliness clearly to his disciples:
You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to explain the intricacies of scriptures now, and the next moment to sell the produce of the fields in the market. The true man is he who is strength itself and yet possesses a woman's heart.
The first section of this book is devoted to an exposition of Vivekananda's views on religion and ethics and their significance for Indian society and nation. Sister Nivedita says that the Shastra, the Guru and the Motherland are the three notes that mingle themselves to form the music of the works of Vivekananda.
To give a sample of this music we thought it would be better to start with Vivekananda's views on religion and society. The first paper in this volume is devoted to an historical account of the emergence of Swami Vivekananda in the 19th century India caught up in the exigencies of British rule. Prof. Bhagwan Josh has given a detailed historical background of those times, the impact of Raja Rammohan Roy and Keshav Chandra Sen on Vivekananda and his emergence as sanyasi through his relationship with his guru Ramakrishna Paramhamsa.
Prof. Dharmendra Goel's paper also focuses on the state of Indian society in the 19th century. He has tried to highlight the internal tensions in the Indian society in those times, even the struggle for independence was not seen by different segments of Indian society with a sense of solidarity. He states that it is not due to multi-culturalism but due to the fact that different ideologies that flourished non-contemporaneously prevented the fusion of a common objective. He emphasizes Vivekananda's role in critiquing the casteism of Indian society. However, he holds that Vivekananda's Daridra Narayana does not fascinate the subaltern imagination. We need to note here that the fault does not lie with Vivekananda, but with us who did not live up to the ideal of the worship of Daridra Narayana. That is why the poor and the low castes in India feel that these sublime ideas have remained only at the level of ideation. Raghunath Ghosh's paper on Vivekananda and Youth Forces, highlights the significance of Vivekananda's message for the young generations.
Since Swami Vivekananda's central message is related to the need for experiencing religion in its essential sense, four of the articles in this volume focus on his conception of religion. Pabitra K. Roy's article, "The Religion is, the Religions are", is based on Vivekananda saw reality and unity in coeval terms. He upholds that all religions are in essence one but diverse in manifestation. Vivekananda's concept of religion is realization of oneness of the humankind based upon love. He advocates the idea of practical spirituality.
Vivekananda's concept of real and apparent religion has an oblique reference to the twofold nature of man. The real man is the eternal atman while his apparent form is the ego bound by space, time and causality. Religion in the real sense is the religion of the atman. This needs to be experienced. Here the author compares Vivekananda's concept of unity of religions with Dalai Lama's exposition of the possibility of inter-faith understanding based on the pervasive condition of human suffering and the need to come out of it.
While the relativist would agree with Vivekananda's account of the diversity of religions, he would not accept his idea of the primordial essence manifesting itself in diverse forms. The author does not decide the issue between relativists and absolutists he holds that Vivekananda's reasons for essentialism are no less important that the relativist's for no answer is possible to satisfy all the contenders. Geeta Manaktala's article on universalizing universal religion highlights the equivocal character of the concept of religion by citing several conceptions of religion propounded by different thinkers. Swami Vivekananda saw an inherent oneness in the diversity of religious practices. He advocated the ideal of a universal religion that transcended all these limitations. She points out that it is the religious sense within the various religions that can help to free people from the feeling of absoluteness of any particular religion. But world religions have not united human beings despite their common goals. She is doubtful of the contemporary relevance of this universalizing tendency.
In her article on "Religion as Foundation of Morality", Indu Sarin also focuses on Vivekananda's conception of unity of religions and its significance in inculcating values in human beings. Indu Sarin refers to the four yogas and then moves on to a discussion of Vivekananda's views on God. Vivekananda rejects the possibility of giving any proofs for the experience of God because God is not a fact that can be proved or disproved. He rejects both natural and revealed theology. For Vivekananda religion and morality cannot be separated from one another. Morality for him lies in unselfishness. In the moral sphere the center is "thou" not I. If one has an awareness of divinity this faith spontaneously generates moral actions. To be religious means having faith in oneself, and this faith breaks the gap between theory and practice thus overcoming all moral weakness.
Like Indu Sarin, Veena Kapoor also highlights the significance of religion in ethics. In her article "Realising Perfection through Self-Abnegation". The quest after perfection is actually motivated by the search after our true self. The real self can be realized only by going beyond the ego. Only unselfishness can generate purity. The quest for personal interest separates one from others while selflessness generates unity. She also gives an exposition of Vivekananda's critique of utilitarian ethics and emphasizes the need of religious basis of ethics. In no other way can the pursuit of good be justified. All these papers highlight Vivekananda's holistic approach to life. For him virtuous life is based on the belief in the essential oneness of all creation. The pursuit of virtue is seen as identical with the quest of perfection. To know what perfection means, one has to explore the purpose of human existence because that alone can give one an idea of the direction one needs to take to achieve perfection. For Vivekananda the purpose of human existence is the attainment of knowledge and not pleasure. He lays down four paths for the attainment of knowledge-karma (action), bhakti (devotion), Jnana (knowledge) and raja yoga (silencing the mind through psychological and physical discipline). All these four yogas aim at freeing the individual from the clutches of there limited psychophysical being and realizing the oneness of all existence. This knowledge generates freedom from suffering. Vivekananda's concept of the essential oneness of all existence is in tune with the Vedantic view of Brahman and the doctrine of pratitiyasamutpada in Buddhism.
Pankaj Srivastava has highlighted the role of religious symbols in the realization of divinity. He distinguishes between sign and symbol. While the former points to something other than itself, the latter participates in that which it symbolizes. He points out the distinctive character of religious symbols from all other symbols because they are replicas of the personal journey of individuals. Seen in this light they can lead to inner transformation. Vivekananda recognized the importance of religious symbols. That is way he also emphasized the need of understanding their real meaning.
The second section of this volume contains papers focusing on Vivekananda's concept of human nature and its manifestation in different forms of culture like language, art and literature. Our understanding of Vivekananda's concept of religion cannot be clear without going deeper into his view of human nature. In his paper on the "Nature of Man in Vivekananda", Swami Brahmeshananda elucidates the different definitions of man in the Western tradition, which range between Homo sapiens, homosexualis and homo-economicus. As against these Swami Vivekananda highlighted the divinity of man. This is a concept of man that liberates a human being from narrow identities. However, it is difficult to experience our divinity and impart it to others. Swami Brahmeshananda points out the difficulties involved in the realization of the divinity. Each individual has his own concept of divinity. Vivekananda preached this divinity of man to bring out the best in all human beings. Despite the turmoil, it is better to struggle for realizing a higher concept of ourselves than to accept a degraded concept and become brutes.
In her paper "Self: Appearance and Reality", Asha Maudgil highlights the need to realize one's real nature. She has drawn parallels between Vivekananda and Wittgenstein's thought: both see the self as apart from the mundane world. In my paper on Vivekananda's aesthetics I have tried to bring out his creative in the arts and his deep understanding of world art. Vivekananda had the strong conviction that to visualize God it is necessary to appreciate the beauty and sublimity of nature and art. For only then is one capable of realizing the divine which is the manifestation of the highest sublimity and beauty. He compared great art to a lily, which springs from the ground but is untainted by it. He saw art as a pursuit of the beautiful, the grotesque having no place in it. Vivekananda was both a critic and an artist. His music and poetry give one a glimpse of his exquisite aesthetic sense. Kuldip Dhiman has highlighted the power of Vivekananda's language. He combined in it a modern idiom with the metaphors and similies from the epics. Despite the criticism of his language by contemporary writers and critics, he continued with his ideal of simplicity in communication because he was convinced that to address the masses he needed to use simple colloquial language. Through his powerful language he inspired to strive for political and spiritual freedom. We can see the impact of his language on many of the leaders of the movement of India's independence as well as on spiritual aspirants. His impact on the youth is noteworthy. His mantra "Arise, Awake and stop not till the goal is reached" has such a charismatic power that one immediately gets charged with energy on hearing it. Raghunath Ghosh has focused on Vivekananda's role in arousing the youth forces. He points out that Vivekananda aroused the youth to realize their spiritual power for he was convinced that they alone can save India and liberate her from the tyranny of blind materialism.
The last section of this volume is devoted to an exposition of Vivekananda's views on traditional Indian philosophies. Vivekananda's views on traditional Indian philosophies. Vivekananda has a deep understanding of different schools of classical Indian philosophy. However, he did not look upon these philosophies merely as theoretical exercises but saw in them possibilities of realization. C.V. Babu's article "Sages of ages" attempts to see Vivekananda's study of Srutis in terms of a continuous revelation of eternal truths. Manjulika Ghosh's article is based on Vivekananda's comments on Buddha and Buddhism. He looked upon the Buddha as a true Karma Yogi. She points out that the real antagonism was not between the Buddha and Samkara but between him and Kumarila Bhatta, the latter found the Buddha's repudiation of the Vedas as ignoble. Samkara did not repudiate the Buddha though he did have some animus against his followers. Similarly, both Vivekananda and Ramakrishna had great admiration for the Buddha. Vivekananda's study of Buddhism is based on Pali Buddhism. He was critical of Tantric Buddhism because he was not sympathetic towards esoteric religious ideas. Godabarish Mishra's paper "Vivekananda: An Advaitin" delineates Vivekananda's innovative interpretation of Advaita Vedanta and distinguishes it from Samkara's view of Advaita. He points out that Vivekananda's brilliance lays in the practical application of Vedanta to one's mundane life an society. The Vedantic view of the individual's identity with God is interpreted by him in its true spirit, which implies that the real worship of God is the worship of mankind. Unlike Samkara who emphasized the transcendence of Brahman, Vivekananda laid stress on the immanence of Brahman. My article on Vivekananda's Raja Yoga is based on his exposition of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Raja Yoga as a means of realization is particularly relevant for the present times because we are living in times dominated by a body centric vision of the world. Yoga does not deny this vision but alleviates it. It begins with the body and helps one to become a witness of the body-mind complex.
All these papers show the multi-faceted personality of Vivekananda and his genius in creatively understanding Indian religion, society and art. But to my mind the real greatness of Vivekananda lies in his power in helping his readers to enlighten their existential journey through wisdom. Even to this day there are people all over the world who are guided by his spiritual vision. He learnt from his guru the need to accept and respect religious diversity. This needs to be practiced the world over. Only then can we overcome religious bigotry. His emphasis on the need to cultivate selfless service and sacrifice is the only way to overcome tensions and depressions generated in interpersonal relationships.
Some of the contributors to this volume have pointed out the contradictions and inconsistencies in Vivekananda's views. I have already stated that Vivekananda was not a philosopher in a purely theoretical sense. That is also the reason why for him theoretical consistency was not a value in itself for that is a purely rational approach. Vivekananda's writings and speeches show that he was a great admirer of rationality but he was also aware of the limits of reason. That is why did not feel hesitant to acknowledge inconsistencies in his views. His position is similar to that of Walt Whitman who says in his "Song of My Self":
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
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