Vivekananda, Gandhiji and their concept of service-oriented Hinduism By Jagmohan
On Swami ‘Vivekananda's’ birthday, January 12, it may be both interesting and instructive to recall how he and Mahatama Gandhi viewed Hinduism as a service-oriented cultural force and how virtual abandonment of their views by the Indian State and society have cost the country dearly.
Both Vivekananda and Gandhiji had an original and powerful mind and also an innate faith in the inherent strength of Indian culture. Both believed in practical Vedanta and considered Hinduism as nothing but spiritual secularism based upon the highest principles of ethics and morality. Both argued that a great social and moral order could be built on the shoulders of great individuals alone. “If there is no purity, fairness and justice in your heart, these qualities will not be in your home; if they are not in your home, they will not be in your society; and if they are not in your society, they will not be in your State.”
Both Vivekananda and Gandhiji, in essence, presented a new design for life, a model of contentment, compassion, balance and harmony. They wanted to create an Indian nation that could teach the world, as Will Durant believed “tolerance and gentleness of the mature mind, the quiet content of the unacquisitive soul, the calm of the understanding spirit, and a unifying, pacifying love for all living things”.
In order to elaborate Vivekananda and Gandhiji’s belief that Hinduism was a positive and elevating force, it would be best to let them speak for themselves. S Radhakrishnan, in connection with his study of religion, posed three questions to Gandhiji. These questions were: “What is your religion? How are you led to it? What is its bearing on social life?”
Gandhiji replied to the first question thus: “My religion is Hinduism which, for me, is the religion of humanity and includes the best of all religions known to me.”
In response to the second question, Gandhiji said: “I take it that the present tense in this question has been purposely used, instead of the past. I am led to my religion through truth and non-violence. I often describe my religion as religion of truth. Of late, instead of saying God is Truth, I have been saying, Truth is God…Denial of Truth we have not known…We are all sparks of Truth. The sum total of these sparks is indescribable, as yet unknown Truth, which is God. I am daily led nearer to it by constant prayer”.
To the third question, Gandhiji replied: “The bearing of this religion on social life is, or has to be, seen in one’s daily social contact. To get true to such religion, one has to lose oneself in continuous and continuing service of all in life. Realisation of Truth is impossible without a complete merging of oneself in and identification with this limitless ocean of life. Therefore, for me there is no happiness on earth beyond or apart from it. Social service here must be taken to include every department of life. In this scheme, there is nothing low, nothing high. For all is one, though we seem to be many.”
Gandhiji went on to elaborate: “The deeper I study Hinduism, the stronger becomes the belief in me that Hinduism is as broad as the universe… Something within me tells me that, for all the deep veneration I show to several religions, I am all the more a Hindu, nonetheless for it.”
Gandhiji also made it clear: “My devotion to Truth has drawn me to politics… Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”
For Vivekananda, too, religion in India was a pivotal force. He said: “Each nation, like each individual has one theme in life, which is at its centre. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, that nation dies. In India, religious life forms the centre.”
The first observation which Vivekananda made on December 25, 1892 after meditating deeply on the Kanyakumari rock for three days was: “Religion is the blood of the nation’s body; the impurities of the blood are responsible for all our great maladies, and the nation can rise again if this blood is purified.”
Vivekananda’s message is simple. Jiva is Shiva—in the service of man lies the service of God. One must not forget that if one serves the sick, the poor or any other person in distress, one would be following ‘practical Vedanta’ and offering prayers to God in the highest form.
Vivekananda gave pre-eminent place to the idea of serving “the outcast Narayanas, the starving Narayanas and the oppressed Narayanas”. He posed the question to his own class: “What have we done, we the so-called men of God, the sanyasis? What have we done for the masses?” He bewailed: “India’s doom was sealed the very day it coined the word melechha”. He also criticised the common folk for being fatalist. He urged them to have faith in themselves. “The old religion said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is an atheist who does not believe in himself…It is the coward and the fool who says this is his fate. But it is the strong man who stands up and says I will make my own fate.”
Tragically, apart from paying lip-service, the post-1947 India has all but forgotten what Vivekananda and Gandhiji stood for. Consequently, today the Indian State is a soulless entity and the society is riddled with superstitions and caste and communal prejudices. The rich have become excessively rich and the poor have largely resigned themselves to what they call is their fate. The spiritual vacuum has rendered almost all the organs of governance weak, wayward, casual and even callous and corrupt. The country is facing a huge moral deficit. The conditions have deteriorated to such an extent that there is one molestation case every 15 minutes, one rape case every 29 minutes, one dowry death every 77 minutes and one case of sexual harassment every 53 minutes. Is it not time that the nation should attend to what Vivekananda and Gandhiji had preached and practiced and rebuild itself on the basis of ethics, morality and spiritual secularism which they embodied? If we continue with the business as usual, whatever little remains of Indian culture and civilisation would be extinct, sooner rather than later.
(The writer is a former governor of Jammu and Kashmir and former Union Minister)