Vanity thought #1103. Good times

My local newspaper has carried a couple of opinion pieces on the direction India is taking under their new Prime Minister Narendra Modi and some readers responded. Some say that Hindu nationalism is benign and there’s nothing there to worry about. The reasons for this are to be found in its spiritual roots, particularly Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.

It starts with Ṛg Veda’s ekam sat vipra bahudhā vadanti – “one truth exists, sages call it by different names”. That axiom was later emphasized by Ramakrishna who was a student of many religions and found truth in them all. Vivekananda then took the torch and cited Bhagava Gīta’s ye yathā māḿ prapadyante verse (BG 4.11).

Hindu nationalism, therefore, must start with this universal truth and be accepting and accommodating of all religious paths, and any deviations must be declared deviations from Hinduism itself.

Well, it’s an optimistic view and I hope this time around there will be less violence than in the past, but this whole line of reasoning needs commenting.

First of all, to my knowledge, Śrīla Prabhupāda has never quoted that Ṛg Veda’s statement. It sounds like something he would say when criticizing others and we can easily imagine how it can be subverted by impersonalists to fit their own agenda.

Yes, Absolute Truth is one and sages do call it different names but we know that this diversity comes from different levels of their realization – brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti śabdyate (SB 1.2.11).

It doesn’t mean that all different names are the same though one could easily see how this misunderstanding might come about. Should learn from the authorities, then it will all be clear.

Ramakrishna was right when he said that God gives every society some form of the [same] religion and that all paths ultimately lead to the same truth but, again, one should learn these things from a proper authority. These paths are not equal, some are superior and some are inferior. We claim to belong to the superior tradition but have these distinctions internally, too – rāgānugā-bhakti is superior to sādhana.

Equating these paths lead one to justifying anything he does, losing all sense of perspective, and eventual stagnation on his spiritual path. For any serious student there’s always something higher, God is not just a ritually offered piece of meat, He is so much more than that.

Vivekananda’s Gīta’s quote is particularly faulty. He said, in his famous speech at the Congress of World Religions: “Whosoever comes to me, through whatever form, I reach him” but that is not even the accurate translation (let’s leave the second part out for now).

    ye yathā māḿ prapadyante
    tāḿs tathaiva bhajāmy aham

means “As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly.” The *accordingly* part is completely missing from Vivekananda’s rendering. You can see it stressed in commentaries of three out of four major sampradāya ācāryas here, and the fourth talks about reciprocation “as they are capable of”, which is the same thing, still missing from Vivekananda.

He should have learned from proper authorities, not from self-made “guru” Ramakrishna.

These differences from proper understanding are very important to us but probably are missing on the large public. It’s important for us to propose the highest worship of the Lord, learn of Him as Kṛṣṇa, and serve Him as shown by Lord Caitanya, but general public, swayed by frauds like Ramakrishna et al will think that it’s all the same, whatever you do, you’ll achieve the same results, so keep doing whatever you are doing and it will turn out alright.

It won’t. This is Kali yuga, you will turn up in hell. All paths eventually lead to Kṛṣṇa, correct, but the current course, good for the next four hundred thousand years, lies through demoniac atheism and the court of Yamarāja. Nothing good will come out of going with the flow in this age, it’s a real danger.

Coming back to Hindu nationalism – I would argue that it’s a social, not religious phenomenon. I mean that religious arguments about non-violence and co-existence will not stop Hindu mobs from good old-fashioned Muslim bashing.

Actually, it’s not a light-hearted matter. Just over ten years ago thousands of Muslims were brutally killed in Gujarat and there’s a general consensus that Modi’s state government was complicit in the violence. Subsequently, Modi was denied visa to the US, if it ever means anything.

Hopefully, there will be no repetition this time and a ten year cycle is broken for good (1983 Nellie massacre, 1992 – Babri Mosque, 2002 – Gujarat). I think this will be due to continuous exposure to the global culture and economy rather than any spiritual insights by Hindu nationalists. Trying to integrate into the global world must have taught Indians that mob rule has no place in solving religious disagreements.

I would also argue that influence of pacifist ideas of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda on modern Indian history is overstated, too. The reason for this is simple – Vivekananda was the first to bring Hinduism to the West and so he became the only medium for western thinkers to understand religious roots of Indian politics. They simply didn’t know any better. Western scholars of Sanskrit and Vedas didn’t have enough reach to put Vivekananda into a proper perspective and probably didn’t care for subtle (for them) differences in interpretations of Vedānta.

It’s easy to find quotes from prominent Indians leaders at that time praising Vivekananda, too, but if you know Indians, they praise people professionally, it doesn’t mean anything in particular.

Ramakrsishna never registered on Indian leaders radar anyway. He was a “people’s saint” but his beef eating ways of “Muslim period” locked him out of any respect by Hindu orthodoxy of any kind. Indian intellectual leaders, otoh, were raised on Western ideas and movements like Brahmo Samaj, Ramakrishna was an outsider in those circles.

Vivekananda started with Brahmo Samaj as well and later he extensively wrote and commented on Vedanta (unlike Ramakrishna who relied solely on his personal visions) so he was a reasonably respected figure but his success in the West didn’t matter much back at home.

The group of future leaders who said they were influenced by Vivekananda formed Congress party which in the beginning was pro-Muslim and so followed Vivekananda’s teachings (though how of it is owed to Vivekananda is debatable). Later on they became secular and this is who modern Hindu nationalists are fighting against.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has roots in a movement also influenced by Vivekananda but that one, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has always been fiercely nationalist and extremist in its practices and outlooks and their “respect” for Vivekandna is a perfect example of typical Indian adoration for someone they never have a serious intention of following.

As I said, if BJP’s current rule passes peacefully it would not be due to their spiritual roots just as any violence would not be due to them reading too much of Bhagavad Gīta.

Should we welcome their reign? I think so, they might not be perfect but they do try to establish some sort of Vedic order in the society. It’s much better for the society than rule by the secular (read atheistic) Congress. Of course the society will judge the results by far less lofty ideas, like the state of the economy, but we, as Prabhupāda’s followers, should know better.

Still, one thing we should remember very well – even in Gandhi’s Gita thumping times Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī paid no attention to it. They don’t know the first thing about Bhagavad Gīta and their goals have nothing to do with spiritual progress. That’s basics. Practically, however, Śrīla Bhaktisiddānta engaged the rulers of the day in his preaching mission, too.

Perhaps our current “strategic GBC leaders” need to carefully study that period of Gauḍīyā history to avoid falling into a trap of ISKCON becoming a Hindu movement, but that is a whole other story.

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