Letters to the editor

Readers’ comments: ‘Comparing Swami Vivekananda with Modi was unnecessary and stupid’

Readers respond to an article arguing that the Ramakrishna Mission founder laid the ideological foundation for the politics of sectarianism and bigotry in India

Like no other

The author has presented a warped account of the ideas of one of the most celebrated philosophers of pre-modern India and has placed him in the same bracket as Narendra Modi to exemplify his misgivings about the present state of the country (“Role model: How Vivekananda laid the foundation for India’s politics of sectarianism”).

“The most ancient order of monks” he refers to does not bear any relation to the Ramakrishna order. Swami Vivekananda was initiated into monkhood well before the foundation of the Ramkrsihna Order in 1886. The order he refers to is the monastic order in which he was initiated.

The words “Hindu nation” and “Hindu race” had a much different connotation than than they do now. The early colonial period, after centuries of Islamic and then English (Christian) rule was a time when Hindus faced an identity crisis. While the author may not hold religion in great esteem (a lot of people don’t) he should at least historically acknowledge the fact that the Swami’s acclaim in the West was marked by revival of nationalistic pride, as Tilak, Gandhi, Tagore and other nationalist leaders have attested to. His portrayal of a sublime religion stemmed from his own belief and knowledge. It is right to be proud of one’s heritage, while never advocating inferiority of any other system.

I agree with the author on his comments on the synthesis of religion and science, though I am well aware that, being a student of medical science, I remain ignorant of philosophy and theology. The trend however is dangerous.

It pains me to find such a flippant article using flimsy arguments, such as the similarities of Narendranath Datta and Modi’s names, or their affinity for being photographed, to justify his criticism. If deploring the communal intolerance was the authors motto, he hardly not have brought Swami Vivekananda into the debate. He is the last person who would have condoned the present anarchy.
I would also appreciate if the author educates us on which major international religion of the present era is historically than Hinduism. – Saikat Prasad Datta

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The order of monks that Vivekananda referred to was the ancient Vedantic order of sanyasins, not to the Ramakrishna order. Vivekananda was not quite the fool or the devil he is being made out to be in this write up. – Sanjoy Sankar Guha

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It seems that the author is wrongly superimposing Narendra Modi’s attributes on Swami Vivekananda. The author stooped so low that he made personal attacks on the Swami, like his fondness for being photographed. Even Shri Ramakrishna got his photographs taken. What is wrong with that? Conversely, Gandhi or any public figure for that matter does not automatically become great by not looking at the camera.

The author has not even studied Vivekananda’s complete works and instead talks about his Collected Works. A little learning is a dangerous thing, as the adage goes. The author is completely unaware of the Swami’s knowledge and appreciation of whatever is good and praiseworthy in other cultures. The author referred to a letter that Vivekananda wrote to the Raja of Khetri, Ajit Singh, and concluded “The idea of the Middle Ages as an era of Hindu slavery is a central tenet of Hindutva, and ignores developments in architecture, mathematics, the arts and music in those centuries.”

In contrast, Vivekananda got Muslim architecture incorporated in the structure of the temple of his Ishta Devata Shri Ramakrishna at Belur Math, which was constructed under the supervision of Engineer Swami Vijnanananda later on. – Pulak Taraphdar

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I think the author is not taking context into account while presenting his views. He is just quoting some lines from Vivekananda’s speeches to establish his argument. But by that logic, if we take bits of Gandhi’s quotes out of context, he will definitely sound racist and sexist. A man goes evolves throughout his life. We can’t take some of Vivekananda’s statements and label him as someone who spreads sectarianism. – Narendra Rautela

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We understand your dislike of the prime minister. But please read about Swami Vivekananda’s life, his teachings and the work done by him first before writing something just to please pseudo-seculars. – Soumen Garain

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To really understand what Swami Vivekananda was all about, one needs to study his and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s life. One needs to have some basic knowledge of the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta to really understand his ideology.

People are so flustered by Modi’s antics that they’re writing half-baked articles on such an eminent personality just because he wore saffron and spread the message of the Upanishads, or because the prime minister chose to glorify him on his birth centenary!

Of course the invasions have devastated our knowledge and culture which is a fact. Some religions and war-mongering cultures have destroyed so much of our knowledge and heritage time and again! Indians are so conditioned to a distorted history that they find it difficult to accept what really happened. But as its name suggests, the Sanatan Dharma has managed to live one through everything.

This is a shallow interpretation of Vivekananda’s words. When he said “worlds oldest order of monks,” it was a much deeper reference, to the ancient rishis who came up with the Advaita philosophy, a legacy he continued. And if you understand what Advaita Vedanta is, you will clearly see how even associating the word “sectarianism” with his philosophy is a joke and associating Modi with him is pure stupidity.

Modern Hindus should be proud of the fact that what modern neuroscience, consciousness studies and quantum physics are now trying to grapple with, our ancient rishis had already discovered ages ago (including the fact that earth is round). It’s sad that most Hindus know nothing ( or don’t bother to know anything) about their accomplishments and heritage. – Prasun Chatterjee

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Shahane’s article on Vivekananda is a fun read. He should go after Ramakrishna next. Then Tagore and Satyendra Nath Bose. – Sugata Mitra

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Thank you for this insightful article on Swami Vivekananda. It shall stay with me for a long time. – Afsar Raza

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Whoever has criticised Swami Vivekananda doesn’t seem to have comprehended his words. The Swami’s words and messages were for humanity and not for a particular religion. – Omprakash Singh

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This article reflects bias and hatred. Your extreme narrow mindedness shows in the lack of empathy in whatever little you have read of Swami Vivekananda. Please go through Chaturvedi Badrinath’s book on him, which is very factual.
Please read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or The Science of Getting Rich; you will hate to see Swami Vivekananda’s indirect influence here too. – Ramakant Tiwari

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The author has not understood the meaning and context of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago speech. He spoke for all of humanity. The audience weren’t fools to clap for him for five minutes on an international platform. You seem to be only attacking the Right-wingers. – Muthuramanan

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I was drawn to this article because I have read books written by Swamiji and have not depended on second-hand commentaries alone.

Normally I would turn a blind eye to such ignorance and let the natural course prevail. It is fair to assume that the piece doesn’t deserve the reader’s precious attention because of its incompetence and insinuations. But it’s important to address this.

Let’s talk about the Chicago speech. The metaphors of language and the understanding of Swami Vivekananda’s ideals are lost on the writer. To conclude that he was misleading the audience by distorting facts is not just a myopic take on the wordings but also an example of terrible oversight.

Sadhus with or without affiliation were a great source of inspiration for Swami Vivekananda, for they were single-minded in their devotion towards the soul. To seek truth, serve fellow humans through a lifetime of action was what Sadhus were, and it is this order of (sadhus) monks that he alluded to when he spoke of representing them.

Hinduism being the mother of religions is a statement that is not to be interpreted through the lens of chronological accuracy because what the Swami meant (and this you can only understand if you follow his first-hand writings and works) was that Hinduism advocates values that are universal, that go beyond the relationships of individuals towards fellow humans and material objects, and advocates values that are timeless because there is no ultimatum for good deeds nor an expiry date of values – with these qualifications of universalism and timelessness as a background, “mother of religions” is a handy moniker at best.

It is clear that the writer has not introspected on the character of Vivekananda. As a boy he was feisty and audacious. Very early on he identified fear as our greatest enemy and his mantr was that fear should be vanquished by nurturing body, mind and soul. Overcome fear head-on with the profound powers of the soul he would have thought looking straight into cameras. The image that the public loves is the image that lasts, and Swami Vivekananda’s unbridled love for life comes through, even if one had taken the photograph from another angle. He did not have a team of publicists who have ensured he had the right public image, the one that lasted was the image that people love.

Inferences from his private letters have been made without taking into account context, and coming to conclusions without reading them in whole is deplorable. Swami Vivekananda’s ideals were about service to the soul and one’s faith or religious leanings had no place in this path. Religion was not an agenda for him, serving fellow humans was, whatever be their affiliation – and even as you read this, his mission is serving people of all faith. – Abhi Sen

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