“Just as there is an individuality in every man, so there is a national individuality. Each nation has a destiny to fulfil, each nation has a message to deliver, and each nation has a mission to accomplish. Therefore, from the very start, we must have to understand the mission of our own race, the destiny it has to fulfil, the place it has to occupy in the march of nations, and the note which it has to contribute to the harmony of races”, thus exhorted Swami Vivekananda to his countrymen more than a century ago. His clarion call to India to rediscover herself had been the defining moment in the great Indian Revival of the early twentieth century which culminated in the freedom of the country. Unfortunately, the freedom came with a good deal of sorrow in it. The most unnatural division was forced upon our sacred country by the diabolical forces of communalism and politics engendered by the sinister policy of the British. We unwittingly succumbed to the very evils which our great leaders had warned us against and the consequences of thwarting the natural destiny of our beloved motherland have been continuing to haunt us ever since. Now, seven decades after independence, the country is facing grave challenges both from within and without, threatening once again the unity and integrity of the country. While magnifying the surface differences of race, religion, sect, caste, language, province etc. we fail to notice the underlying unity that binds us all together. The time calls for urgent and calm introspection on our part in a bid to know who truly we are and what binds and holds us together as a society and as a nation.
Because India’s uniqueness and identity lie in its all-inclusive, all loving, universal religion and culture, these have been the special targets of attack by the forces inimical to the country. Swami Vivekananda, whom Sister Nivedita called ‘the condensed India’ and who had identified himself with the Soul of India, asserted that spirituality was the bed rock and foundation on which this nation was built, and that the “national union in India must be a gathering up of its scattered spiritual forces. A nation of India must be a union of those whose hearts beat to the same spiritual tune.” Unfortunately, precious little has been done towards strengthening national consciousness and emotional integration of our people on these lines since independence, due to the colonial mind set of most of our leaders and the ‘secular’ intellectuals, all round moral degradation, vote bank politics and communal pressures. What is more, the cause of many of our problems is even attributed to the religion of the land!
A doubt is often expressed in certain quarters whether in these days of globalisation and communication revolution, when the whole world is becoming ‘smaller and borderless’, the concept of nationalism has not lost its relevance and significance? Strange as it may seem, not only nationalism has not receded but has now emerged as one of the most potent and increasingly salient factors both in domestic and global affairs of every country. The need for people living in particular geographical spaces sharing distinctive cultural, religious and historical traditions, to be held together by a strong emotional bond, is felt stronger than ever. Each nation strives to achieve a high degree of unity, integration and equality within its community so as to maintain its distinct identity, both to protect itself and, if necessary, to resist the evils of globalisation. It is also evident that narrow and aggressive form of nationalism, thriving on isolation, insecurity and intolerance, can lead to militant radicalism, religious fundamentalism and terrorism.
It is significant in this connection to know that even a nation such as the United States of America, which has a history of only 250 years or so, and which prided itself as ‘the land of immigrants’, ‘a melting pot’ of many different cultures, traditions, races, sects and ideals, now finds it prudent to define and defend its national identity in order to protect it from the onslaught of multi-culturalism, fundamentalism and globalisation. Samuel Huntington, the famous American political scientist and historian, in his much talked about book ‘The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order’ (1996), asserts that the core of American identity is ‘Anglo protestant culture’ and so is their nationalism. Americans, says he, are “essentially religious and America is a nation with the ‘soul of a church’, which in turn is defined by the common history, traditions, culture, heroes and villains, victories and defeats, enshrined in its ‘mystic chords of memory’”. Huntington forcefully argues that America will cease to be itself and its creed is unlikely to retain its salience if Americans abandon the Anglo-protestant culture in which the nation is rooted. He laments that today America is faced with a serious identity crisis because of the demographic imbalances resulting from the influx of non-white, non-Anglo Protestant immigrants and by the global rise of militant Islam. In the context of worldwide resurgence of religion, “it should not be surprising”, he states that “if Americans again turn to religion to find their national identity and their national purpose.”
In his subsequent book ‘Who are we? The Challenges to America’s National Identity’ (2004), he points out that sub-national groups, vote bank politics, group loyalties at the cost of national loyalty, personal ambitions of leaders, populist measures, racial and ethnic rivalries, large scale immigration especially from Mexico etc. pose serious threats to American national identity. These findings of Huntington have been confirmed by the ‘Report of the Bradley Project on American National Identity’ (2008), which has recommended a number of urgent measures, chief of which being educational reforms, to make Americans proud of their country. The ‘Report’ defines the prevailing identity crisis in America thus, “A nation whose citizens no longer feel national pride or a unique allegiance to their own country is a nation that has lost its sense of national identity, and perhaps its will to survive. This is an identity crisis” and Americans by and large are concerned about it. Attempts are now made to remedy the situation.
This concern of Americans for their identity has immediate relevance to us Indians now, despite our very long unbroken history and culture. Dr. Subash C.Kashyap, former Secretary-General of Lok Sabha and a well-known political scientist, Constitutional expert and a distinguished scholar and writer, makes this significant comment: “Following the Americans, if we pose ourselves the question ‘Who are we?’ or ‘What is India’s national identity?, the thesis that emerges would perhaps be immediately frowned upon as diabolical Hindu chauvinism, because all that is necessary is to substitute ‘American’ by ‘Indian’ and ‘Anglo-Protestant’ or ‘Protestantism’ by ‘Hindu’ or ‘Hinduism’”. He adds, “if the most powerful and advanced democracy in the world, supposedly committed to secularism, can unabashedly talk of Americans being essentially a religious people, of worldwide resurgence of religion, of American identity being threatened by demographic imbalances and global rise of militant Islam, and of Americans turning to religion to find their national identity, no alarm bells should ring anywhere, if Indians also talk of threat from demographic imbalances and global rise of militant Islam and if they also try to rediscover their identity on the basis of the core ethos and culture by which India has been known for thousands of years.”
What then are the ‘core ethos and culture of India’? It must be borne in mind that the term ‘Hindu’ or ‘Hinduism’ was used not in any narrow sense as contra-distinguished from Christianity and Islam. In fact, strictly speaking, the word ‘Hindu’ did not truly indicate any religion. It is a geographical identity, the land lying between the mighty Himalayas and the Hind Mahasagar. The name ‘Hindu’ was given by foreigners at a later date to denote the people of India. To her own children, the land marked out by nature as a region by itself, encircled as it is by seas and mountains, was ‘Bharathavarsha’, named after the Rajachakravarti Bharata, the representative of a great and liberal culture and civilisation, and a symbol of the fundamental unity of the country. Its religion, if it can be called a religion at all, is ‘Sanatana Dharma’, an all comprehensive, all-inclusive and universal way of life, the Eternal and Perennial Natural Law, embodying the immutable moral, ethical and spiritual Truths governing the lives of all beings and the universe they reside in, realised from the Rishis of yore down to the sincere seekers of today. Bharat’s long, unbroken history and culture (longer than any other existing country or culture), its immense size (almost a continent), its teeming millions (next only to China), its bewildering diversity and plurality of religion, caste, community, language, custom, climate etc. make this land ‘the greatest museum of living cultures’ and the ‘greatest living wonder’. Westerners with their materialistic outlook and analytical mind could not fathom beyond the surface appearances and so missed the inner unity and spiritual basis. Accustomed as they were to administrative and political unity in their nations, they surmised that Bharat was not a country but ‘a collection of countries’, ‘an agglomeration of regions’ with no single unifying factor. But for the children of this country, the consciousness that they constituted a nation, and a great nation at that, was present right from the Vedic times like ‘the inner golden thread that joins the pearls of a necklace’. The Motherland was sacred and divine to them, living and organic, the great Goddess, who was to be adored and served. The land was Her body, its social, economic and political life and institutions Her mind and its religion and culture Her soul.
Sanatana Dharma or ‘Hinduism’, truly speaking, is ‘a meta religion, life affirming, self-enlarging system of spiritual culture in the alchemy of which all religions can meet in harmony’, according to the philosopher educationist, Dr. Kireet Joshi. It does not believe in mere doctrines or dogmas but in realisation, in ‘being and becoming’. All are ‘children of Immortality’, religion being the means to manifest the potential divinity. Its quality of synthesising, assimilating and harmonising of what is good in other cultures and traditions while retaining its core values and vital essence is often commented upon. The principles of ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘secularism’ in its noblest sense are ingrained in the Hindu psyche. The Vedic hymns like “The Reality is one, but the sages call it variously”, and ‘all the world is one family’ are articles of faith in Hinduism. The supreme tolerance of the Indian culture can accept even atheism as a religion and a path to God. No country in the world can boast of such an all absorbing, all accommodating, all-inclusive and all pervasive cultural heritage, which surprisingly enough, predates all other living cultures and religions and hence Swami Vivekananda calls it ‘the mother of all religions’ in his Chicago Address. Gautier highlights the immense role of Hinduism in shaping Christianity and its Gospels. He says that ‘if only the West knew that the source of much European science was Hinduism and Buddhism, it would look at India differently.”
No wonder, no less a person than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru himself, as early as in 1948, during his Convocation Address at the Aligarh Muslim University, had said, “You are a Muslim and I am a Hindu. We may adhere to different religious faiths or even to none, but that does not take away from the cultural inheritance that is yours as much as it is mine”. The ancient Rishis, the authors of Vedas and Upanishads, ‘The Ramayana’, ‘The Mahabharata’ and ‘The Geetha’ as also the great national icons like Sri Rama and Sri Krishna were neither Hindus nor Muslims nor Christians, but were the venerable common ancestors of all of us, inhabitants of this Holy land. The great achievements in every field of human endeavour, both material sciences, humanities and spirituality are our proud common heritage. Justice Chagla has put it feelingly, “in true sense, we are all Hindus although we may practise different religions. I am Hindu because I trace my ancestry to my Aryan forefathers and I cherish the philosophy and the culture which they handed down to successive generations.”
The near millennium foreign subjugation by the Islamic and Western powers, though had its positive impact on certain spheres of national life, had mostly engendered inferiority complex and an attitude of self-reproach in the people. It had stagnated the Indian culture, benumbed the Indian psyche and made its people sink into ‘tamas’. While the Islam invaders ruled through the sword, the British, more clever and shrewd, ruled the minds through their education. Both, however, treated the natives with contempt and encouraged conversion to swell their ranks. According to the scholar historian K.M. Panicker, “Indian society was divided on a vertical basis due to the introduction of Islam and Muslim rule. Before the 13th century Hindu society was divided only horizontally. Islam split Indian society into two distinct divisions from top to bottom – Hindus and Muslims,” ultimately leading to the partition. The British hegemony, according to Panicker, however, “is the most serious, persistent and planned effort to effect a mental and spiritual conquest as supplementing the political authority.” They considered ‘the natives’ ‘primitive, barbarous, idolatrous and superstitious’ and thought it their bounden duty to ‘civilize’ them and ‘save their souls’. Note the ‘tribute’ paid to Macaulay, the architect of English education in India, by his biographer G.D.Trevelyan for his ‘wonderful’ achievement: “A new India was born on 1835. The very foundations of her ancient civilisation began to rock and sway. Pillar after pillar in the edifice came crashing down.” As Gandhiji lamented, ‘the beautiful tree’ alas! was pulled out to dry and wither.
It is against this background that one has to understand the Reform Movement initiated by Raja Ram Mohun Roy and others. It was Swami Vivekananda who awakened the dormant national consciousness and made the people aware of the true genius of their motherland, arousing them from their self-forgetfulness and making them self-confident and proud of their heritage. Though he did not enter politics, he inspired and motivated almost all our freedom fighters, including Gandhiji. His formula of ‘elevating the masses without injuring their religion’ and his exhortation to practise religion by serving the poor as the living manifestation of God caught the imagination of the people. As Rajagopalachari, the elder statesman and the first Indian Governor General, observed: Swami Vivekananda “saved Hinduism and saved India. But for him we would have lost our religion and would not have got our independence.”
Our national leaders like Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and Aurobindo, had not merely visualised the freedom of the country, but had a clear vision of what the nation ought to be after gaining freedom. They all wanted the country to evolve and grow in accordance with its genius, while of course accepting, assimilating and adapting what is good from other cultures to keep abreast of the changing times. In other words, while learning science and technology from the West to improve the material conditions of our people, they enjoined spirituality, the life force of the nation with its attendant moral and ethical values, to be given its due place in the scheme of things. They insisted on a ‘life giving, character making and nation building’ education to replace ‘the negative education’ that was in vague then, in order to bring out the right type of citizens endowed with the best qualities of head and heart and with a social commitment to serve the country and its teeming millions selflessly. For them Religion or spirituality should be the core of every human endeavour. Gandhiji insisted that politics without religion or morality is ruinous. “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is” he said.
After independence, however, we miserably failed to follow the teachings of our great leaders, which were borne out of ‘the Wisdom of India’. Koenraad Elst, a Catholic scholar from Belgium and a learned Orientalist, in his thought provoking book,’ Decolonising the Hindu Mind’, thinks that the Indians are yet to come out of their colonial mind-set. We are the least patriotic people and our ignorance of our own country and its heritage is abysmal. After all, “in the final analysis the process of creating the consciousness that we constitute a nation is an educational effort”. The task of national integration is basically “one of creating a national mind rooted in reason, a national heart steeped in compassion and a national soul prepared to soar to the heights rather than grovel in the mud,” and this has to be done through the right type of education. But our commitment to foreign, distorted doctrines and the political and communal pressures prevent us from taking the right steps. Swamiji’s warning to be wary of ‘grafting a foreign character of a few hundred years to replace a national character evolved out of thousands of centuries’ sounds relevant.
The widespread popularity and acceptance of Indian spirituality, especially Vedanta, in the West, begun by Swami Vivekananda’s whirlwind tours of the West and followed by others have awakened the world at large to the relevance and significance of the age old Indian wisdom in solving the manifold problems of modern man, ensuring peace and harmony both within and without. Great writers, thinkers, historians, psychologists, scientists and philosophers like Max Muller, Romain Rolland, Will Durant, William James, Aldous Huxley, Isherwood, William James and many others were drawn to Indian spirituality because of its universal truth, all-embracing love and usefulness, and did much to popularise it. Toynbee went to the extent of saying that the world which is on the brink of extinction can survive only if it turns to this life affirming, pacifying perennial wisdom.
Since 1950s, however, there has been a renewed and concerted effort by a powerful section of the Western academia and their faithful Indian followers to denounce and even condemn Hinduism to alienate further Indian youth from their religions and nation and also to counter the growing acceptance of Indian spirituality globally. They have now refurbished the theory of ‘Neo Hinduism’ or ‘Neo Vedanta’ (‘Hindutva’ for them is its modern, aggressive and militant form) for the purpose. According to this thesis, “what is popularly now considered Hinduism is a myth concocted by Vivekananda who supposedly appropriated the repackaged Western concepts and practices as a part of nationalist or political project resulting in many of the evils now.” In other words, the Hinduism that we know now is not the authentic, naturally evolved religion, but an artificial, synthetic construct forged out of Western science, religion and organisation, giving Sanskrit names to make it attractive to Indians and to win the favour of the West and that its purpose is primarily to create national and political unity. Exploded myths and theories, which were proved false, are once again resurrected to ‘prove’ that India was never a nation and the present day Hinduism a pseudo religion having nothing to do with the traditional Hinduism with its multiplicity of gods, traditions and practices. What is more, they even exhume from its grave the Aryan Invasion/migration Theory to buttress their claims of multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-national nature of the country and to justify all the invasions of the past and, what is worse, to make a wedge between the higher castes and the lower castes including dalits and tribals, whom they consider the true ‘sons of the soil’, besides trying to resurrect the defunct Aryan-Dravidian divide. Since Swami Vivekananda has been primarily responsible for reawakening the national consciousness and for creating global respectability for India and its culture, a vicious campaign of calumny is unleashed against him with the ulterior motive of denouncing him and thereby discrediting Hinduism. For one who has even a superficial acquaintance with Swamiji’s life and works, the ‘learned treatises’ of these scholars cannot but appear as nothing more than ‘vile reflections of the blinkered, ideologically compromised and academically suspect works’. Misquoting, quoting out of context, suppressing words and facts or imputing their own meanings to words, they accuse Swamiji of being a Hindu supremacist, a caste votary, a defender of Brahmin supremacy and a promoter of Sanskrit at the cost of regional languages and not a true follower of Sri Ramakrishna and his universality and all-inclusiveness. All the present day ills of the country, they attribute to this modern brand of Hinduism! The recent three day global academic virtual conference, co-sponsored by Departments of over 50 US Universities titled ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’, which sought to look into “issues relating to the Hindu supremacist ideology” and Hindu nationalism by ‘scholars’ from India and abroad is the latest instance of this all out propaganda against Hinduism in the guise of ‘Hindutva’.
Although those who know and understand Hinduism and Swamiji may dismiss these diabolic and downright false theories with the contempt these deserve, these, however, can create confusion and misunderstanding among the youth who by and large are ignorant of the treasure they are inheritors of and foolishly look towards the West for the fulfilment of their aspirations.
The right answer to these wild allegations is to encourage our youth to study Swamiji’s life and teachings as also our scriptures in right earnest so that they may know for themselves who Swamiji truly was and what truly he stood for. “My ideal”, Swamiji often says, “indeed can be put into a few words and that is to preach unto mankind their divinity and how to make it manifest it in every movement of life.” There is nothing narrow or limited about him. When he talks of Vedanta as the Universal Religion, he is not referring to any particular religion, but the essence and goal of all religions. He aims at leading ‘mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran, yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.’
Only those who are blind to the history of Hinduism can charge modern Hinduism an artificial construct of Swamij. Hinduism has always been evolving, adapting and modifying to changing conditions, without however compromising with its basic, eternal values. It is this trait that makes it vibrant, living and beneficial. As Swamiji reiterates, all his ‘man making’ theories, including Practical Vedanta, are derived from the Upanishads, which in turn are based on Realisation of Truth.
As for the charge that Swamiji was a votary of caste system, the least said the better. Being a living Vedantin, who has realised the oneness of all, he was dead against discrimination and privileges of all kinds. He makes it abundantly clear that caste has become the main hindrance to progress. His abundant sympathy and superhuman compassion for the toiling and starving masses; his calling them ‘daridrya narayanas’ and his exhorting all to serve them as living Gods, his fierce indignation towards the upper castes with ‘their monumental ignorance and pride’ for ‘treading upon the necks of the poor and the low, his all-out revolt against the abominable practice of untouchability are too well-known to be repeated. Note his vision of new India: “let new India arise out of the peasants’ cottages, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fishermen, the cobber, and the sweeper’.
Swamiji speaks both sides of every issue. Only one who has little knowledge of Swamiji or who has sinister design can see the reflection of Hindu superiority in him. The bitterest criticism he has reserved for the then Hinduism, calling it ‘kitchen religion’, making it adherents ‘next door neighbour to brutes’. He praises Christianity and Islam for their merits like their organisational skill, work culture, equality, social sense etc. and advises us to follow them. He wants to harmonise Western Science and Eastern spirituality to ensure human progress and happiness.
Swamiji with his unified vision, all comprehensiveness and universal love is so beyond the pettiness and prejudices of those allied with vested interests that they find out only faults where there are none.
Time has come for us to rise above partisan politics and narrow selfish considerations and to study and understand our country, its culture and religion in all their ramifications with an open and unprejudiced mind. As Swami Vivekananda has observed, “It is when the national body is weak that all sorts of disease germs, in the political state of the race or in its social state, in its educational or intellectual state, crowd into the system and produce disease. To remedy it, therefore, we must go to the root of this disease and cleanse the blood of all impurities” and gain health and strength. Let it be understood that being pro-Hindu or pro-India is not being anti-Muslim or anti-Christian. The national ideals of India are renunciation and service and instead of indulging in conflicts and mutual accusations at the behest of sinister forces, let us realise the unalterable truth that we are all proud children of this Holy land of universal and eternal wisdom. The impassioned appeal of Shri Chagla, made in the Rajya Sabha a couple of decades back, is more relevant now than ever before: “I appeal to the Muslim community and other minority communities also to join the national main stream. What we want is that all of us, the Hindus, Muslims, Christians should feel, and think as Indians and should not get into separate compartments.”
The Preamble to our Constitution begins with the significant words, “We, the people of India.” It is for us to know our identity and once we “teach ourselves, teach everyone, his real nature … Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come when this sleeping Soul is roused to self-conscious activity”, Swami Vivekananda assures us. To know our country and religion what better guide can there be for us than Swamiji’s own Works. In the words of Tagore, “If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive, nothing negative.” Let the youth of the country listen to this impassioned appeal and turn to Swamiji to know India and through her the world at large.