Free E-Book: Swami Vivekananda’s Ideas on Hindu Reform

‘Our vigor, our strength, nay, our national life is in our religion… for good or evil.’ At a time when everybody who was anybody in India had a theory on the reasons for British colonialism and how to get out of it, Swami Vivekananda was absolutely sure that religion was the key. To ‘the Indian mind there is nothing higher than religious ideals’. Whether you like this fact or not, ‘You are bound by it, and if you give it up, you are smashed to pieces.’ Religion was not only the highest ideal but also the ultimate unifying force in India—he was speaking at a time when the country could certainly use some—before which ‘race difficulties, linguistic difficulties, social difficulties, national difficulties, all melt away.’

svivekebook

‘Our vigor, our strength, nay, our national life is in our religion… for good or evil.’ At a time when everybody who was anybody in India had a theory on the reasons for British colonialism and how to get out of it, Swami Vivekananda was absolutely sure that religion was the key. To ‘the Indian mind there is nothing higher than religious ideals’. Whether you like this fact or not, ‘You are bound by it, and if you give it up, you are smashed to pieces.’ Religion was not only the highest ideal but also the ultimate unifying force in India—he was speaking at a time when the country could certainly use some—before which ‘race difficulties, linguistic difficulties, social difficulties, national difficulties, all melt away.’

It wasn’t as if this unifying force lay on the shelf waiting for the right person to pick it up at the right time and flag off the melting process. The religion in question had its own difficulties that begged melting. Hinduism had itself to be unified first. The ‘first plank in the making of a future India’, declared Vivekananda, ‘is unification of religion.’ His idea of Hindu reform was essentially this unification, and as I gather from his speeches and writings, it involved work on three vectors: (1) denominational unification via Advaita, (2) linguistic unification via Sanskrit, and (3) caste unification via uplift to ideal Brahminhood.

Download the full e-book (14 pages), from my website, http://kiranbatni.com.

The irrelevance of atheism for the Upanishadist

Feeling depressed about the Paris attacks, I was browsing around when I found Richard Dawkins’s statements. A couple of hyperlinks led me to an interview of Dawkins by Mehdi Hasan in which I was surprised to find Dawkins not even acknowledge Hasan’s questions about Hinduism. I tweeted to Hasan and asked him about it and he told me it must be there in The God Delusion, which is a book by Dawkins.

Since I don’t have the book, I decided to watch the free documentary with the same title on YouTube. It’s a wonderful piece of work in which he makes a good case against God. I am totally impressed by what Dawkins has to say — and convinced. It’s a must watch for those who want to understand atheism.

But there’s a catch – a very important one. Dawkins doesn’t mention India or Indic religions even once in the entire documentary. This supports my point, once again, that atheism is not the negation of the Indic concept of Brahman (or, for example, Buddhist or Jain teachings, but let me leave that aside for the moment). As I’ve written before, denying the Brahman of the Upanishads is impossible. Yes, even for Richard Dawkins, and I am willing to debate with him about it.

From this point of view, I can appreciate S N Balagangadhara’s idea that only Christianity, Judaism and Islam are religions. If Dawkins could spend ninety minutes talking about religion without mentioning Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., why should Indians invite themselves into this word? Powerful.

But I still don’t think it’s necessary to call only Christianity, Judaism and Islam as religions. If we bring Hinduism, etc., also under the umbrella of the word religion, comparisons become possible. It is only because of this word that I take a look at what Dawkins has to say, a lot of which is indeed applicable to most Hindus.

It is only because I think I too belong to a religion that I listen to what the Christians, the Muslims, etc., have to say, a lot of which is, again, wonderful and applicable. If I were to look at the people of these religions as aliens, as it were, I’d build thicker walls between me and them, which is not good at all.

The Balagangadhara Problem

Prof S.N.Balagangadhara, in The Heathen in his Blindness, says ‘religion is what Christianity, Islam and Judaism are’ and goes on to argue that Hinduism is not a religion. Given this definition of religion, anyone can arrive at this result. I don’t see the point in trying to make it impossible to compare Hinduism with the above religions in any manner whatsoever.

I understand that Hinduism is not a religion according to the above definition, but I reject that definition. Yes, Christians, Muslims, and Jews would, in all likelihood, agree with Balagangadhara’s definition, but that should be no inducement for me or anyone to follow suit. Yes, Balagangadhara’s definition might have been the working definition of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but that doesn’t require us to refuse to redefine it.

I don’t understand why Balagangadhara and his research group seem to find it impossible to come to a definition of ‘religion’ which includes all the above religions. I know that they claim that they don’t even want to try, but I don’t understand why. It’s like claiming that one doesn’t want to try to arrive at homo sapiens as a category.

I offer, as a definition of the word religion, ‘a set of methods for spiritual uplift’, and I think it sits well in all the situations in which the word ‘religion’ has been used. Religions differ with respect to what the method is and what spiritual uplift is, and with respect to the intended and unintended effects on society, but every religion of the world falls under the umbrella of this definition. In short, I don’t think the Balagangadhara problem exists.