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The Idea of ‘Being Hindu’


Swami Vivekananda on 9/11 of 1893 presented the core-values of Hindu, Bharat and Dharma to the West, in a language which they understood. It required him to call ‘Hindutva’ as ‘Hinduism’, but simultaneously he questioned all the limitations of various “isms”

Wright met Vivekananda in Boston in August 1893.About Vivekananda, Wright commented – “Here is a man who is more learned than all our learned professors put together”

An American lady introduced Swami Vivekananda to Professor John Henry Wright of the Greek Department in Harvard University. The Swami discussed all manner of subjects with the learned Professor for four hours. Wright became so deeply impressed with Swamiji’s rare ability that he insisted that he should represent Hinduism in the Parliament, saying, ‘This is the only way you can be introduced to the nation at large.’ The Swami explained his difficulties and said that he had no credentials. Professor Wright, recognising his genius, said, ‘To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine!’

John Henry Wright

John Henry Wright (1852 – 1908) was an American classical scholar born at Urumiah (Rezaieh), Persia. In 1887, he became a professor of Greek at Harvard University. Some of Wright’s most notable works are A History of All Nations from the Earliest Times (1905), a 24–volume history of the world; the translations Masterpieces of Greek literature (1902); and The Origin of Plato’s Cave (1906). He was active in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philological Association, and similar organisations. From 1889 to 1906 he co-edited the Classical Review (later Classical Quarterly) and from 1897 to 1906 he was chief editor of the American Journal of Archaeology. In 1893 Wright met the Swami Vivekananda, who greatly influenced him.

The Professor wrote at once to his friend, Dr Barrows, the Chairman of the Committee on the selection of delegates stating, ‘Here is a man who is more learned than all our learned professors put together.’ He further presented him with a ticket to Chicago, and gave him letters of introduction to the Committee.

And thus, began the journey of representing Hindu thought, and hence, Bharat as a whole to the world. A Sanyasi who was a proud son of Bharat Mata was going to talk about her through her primary identity of ‘Being Hindu’.

  • “Jesus Christ was a Jew, and Shâkya Muni was a Hindu. The Jews rejected Jesus Christ, nay, crucified him, and the Hindus have accepted Shâkya Muni as God

Swamiji in his introductory address made a ground, somewhat a preface note, to highlight the long tradition of acceptance and harmony of thoughts in Hindutva. He quoted Gita, saying, “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.”

Then he goes on to explain that why we really disagree as human beings. He argued about the disagreement over the conception of Truth, and how different religious sects have undermined the supremacy of Truth and its reach by arguing over it in their limited head space. Swamiji retold the story of a frog which lives in a well and considers that well as the all space available in the world. He then informed the Parliament that, “I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.”

  • Upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension”
Being Hindu

In this way, Swamiji clarified the misconception regarding ‘Being Hindu’. Since identifying oneself as a Hindu, in sectarian terms, only makes someone think that the whole world is their “little well”. However, since Hindu thought, Darsana, and the way of life is about transcending any such limiting four walls, Swamiji went on to describe in a greater detail that what Hindu and Hindutva means.

In his address called ‘Paper on Hinduism’, read at the Chicago Parliament of Religions on September 19, 1893, Swamiji came to the “main text” of the Bharatiya civilisational ethos. He introduced the open-mindedness and infinite space for various thoughts in the Hindu thought by remarking that, “From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu’s religion.”

It must not be forgotten that even thought, for the easiness and sake of a Western audience, Swamiji called Hindu Darsana as “Hinduism” and Dharma as “religion”, he never meant them to be so. He persistently talked about the limitations of “isms” simultaneously. Before talking about the openness in the Hindu Dharma, Swami ji commenced his address by talking about the narrowness in the other religions such as, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. He remarked that, “While Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations, but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith.”

This description of being “absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith”, and therefore, the infinite and encompassing nature of the “mother faith” i.e. Hindutva, has been time and again highlighted by Swami Vivekananda.

Differentiating Hindu Dharma again from various “isms” like Christianity and Islam, Swamiji made it clear that the emphasis on “the Book” is really not so crucial. He stated that, “The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. They hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound ludicrous to this audience, how a book can be without beginning or end. But by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times.”

Critiquing Christianity

Many times during his address, Swami Vivekananda, evoked the question of self-realisation through the manifestation of the spirit. He welcomed the Christians to think with him. He remarked, “Superstition is a great enemy of man, but bigotry is worse. Why does a Christian go to church? Why is the cross holy? Why is the face turned toward the sky in prayer? Why are there so many images in the Catholic Church? Why are there so many images in the minds of Protestants when they pray?”

He continued his appeal, saying, “My brethren, we can no more think about anything without a mental image than we can live without breathing. By the law of association, the material image calls up the mental idea and vice versa. This is why the Hindu uses an external symbol when he worships. He will tell you, it helps to keep his mind fixed on the Being to whom he prays. He knows as well as you do that the image is not God, is not omnipresent. After all, how much does omnipresence mean to almost the whole world? It stands merely as a word, a symbol. Has God superficial area? If not, when we repeat that word “omnipresent”, we think of the extended sky or of space, that is all.”

In his address on September 20, 1893, he again tried to have a dialogue with the Christians. Here, a Sanyasi, who was also a patriot par excellence, evoked the political realities of that colony from where he had come to America. Commenting on the activities of Christian missionaries in Bharat, Swami Vivekananda remarked, “You Christians, who are so fond of sending out missionaries to save the soul of the heathen—why do you not try to save their bodies from starvation? In India, during the terrible famines, thousands died from hunger, yet you Christians did nothing. You erect churches all through India, but the crying evil in the East is not religion—they have religion enough— but it is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out for with parched throats. They ask us for bread, but we give them stones.”

Taking a dig at the reality, Swamiji observed that, “It is an insult to a starving people to offer them religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics. In India a priest that preached for money would lose caste and be spat upon by the people. I came here to seek aid for my impoverished people, and I fully realised how difficult it was to get help for heathens from Christians in a Christian land.”

Appeal for Unity

In the same continuation, in his address on September 26, 1893, Swami Vivekananda made it clear that how there are no ambiguities in the Hindu Bharat on the question of faith and Dharma vis-à-vis other sects. Talking about Buddhism, he informed the Parliament of Religions, “I am not a Buddhist, as you have heard, and yet I am. If China, or Japan, or Ceylon follows the teachings of the Great Master, India worships him as God incarnate on earth. You have just now heard that I am going to criticise Buddhism, but by that I wish you to understand only this. Far be it from me to criticise him whom I worship as God incarnate on earth.”

Swamiji again accentuated the fact that the Hindu Dharma and Hindutva is all about acceptance and embrace. He reminded the Western audience that, “Jesus Christ was a Jew, and Shâkya Muni was a Hindu. The Jews rejected Jesus Christ, nay, crucified him, and the Hindus have accepted Shâkya Muni as God and worship him.”

Finally in his address at the final session on September 27, 1893, Swami Vivekananda talked about the real goals in front of the human race. On the question of religious unity, he remarked, “The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”

He continued, in the conclusion, appealing for the peaceful co-existence and harmonious survival, saying that, “In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

Courtesy: Organiser


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