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Understanding Vivekananda

Much of Vivekanandas mystique rests on his perceived


liberality with respect to other faiths, says Jyotirmaya
Sharma, in Cosmic Love and Human Apathy: Swami
Vivekanandas restatement of religion (Harper).
There is a clear identification, he adds, between
Vivekananda and the view that religions might differ in
word, ritual, doctrine and emphasis but all faiths are
ultimately paths to the same God. In many of his public
pronouncements, he explicitly seeks to convey that his
message was one of peace and a united religion and not of antagonism.
Having studied comparative religions, he finds all faiths to have had the
same foundations as his own faith.
Going a step further, Vivekananda wants a plurality of faiths in the world to
suit a variety of contexts, elaborates the author. He notes that, in a world
constantly contending with religious strife and the violence that is the
inevitable consequence of such conflict, such words and thoughts can be
seductively reassuring. However, what disturbs the author is that
Vivekananda saw the plurality of faiths or sects being limited to the

March 28, 2013

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externals. Remove the externals and what will emerge is a universal faith
defined by Vivekananda, based entirely on his reading of the Vedanta. The
Vedantic ideal of Oneness and the Universal Soul would ultimately prevail.
Any critical evaluation of Vivekananda has to contend with scattered islands
of reasonableness periodically emerging in the vast ocean of a singular,
uncompromising and stridently Vedic-Vedantic vision, observes Sharma.
The staggering plurality of Indian religions, sects, rituals and customs
bewilders many outside India; and, to Vivekananda, this complexity is a
source of conflict, chaos and absence of clarity, says Sharma. It also was
an impediment in the way of fostering his political agenda of religious
nationalism as the basis for national unity. In dealing with the intractable
question of diversity, Vivekananda begins by acknowledging the diversity of
races, languages, manners and customs that had the potential for creating
more differences between two Indian races than between the European and
the Eastern races. Amidst this diversity and complexity, he identifies
religion as the common ground around which national unity could be built.
The first step towards the future of India, according to Vivekananda, was to
ensure unity of religion, bringing together the dualists, qualified monists,
and so forth, on the plank of common ideas, the author describes.
Provokes discussion.

March 28, 2013

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