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Swami Vivekananda’s approach to religions

November 4, 2012

Much has been written about Swami Vivekananda’s views on other religions. He was said to have carried two books with him on most of his travels – one was a copy of the Bhagawad Gita and the other was a book titled ‘The Imitation of Christ’ written by the devout Christian, Thomas Kempis. His guru Sri Ramakrishna had tried to understand and practice all religions and had categorically declared that all different paths lead to the same God. In line with this dictum, Swamiji too believed and practiced the oneness of all religions. People around him could not decipher this extraordinary Swami who was not only conversant with the subtleties of Advaita but also with the texts of other religions. He could quote from the Gita, Bible and the Koran at the same time.

Swamiji was very clear on what religious tolerance meant and what it was to accept all religions as one and the same. He writes, “Our watchword then, will be acceptance and not exclusion. Not only toleration, for so-called toleration is often blasphemy, and I do not believe in it. I believe in acceptance. Why should I tolerate? Toleration means that I think that you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. Is it not a blasphemy to think that you and I are allowing others to live? I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all. I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form they worship him. I shall go to the mosque of the Mohammedan; I shall enter the Christian’s church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhist temple, where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu, who is trying to see the light which enlightens the heart of every one. Not only shall I do all these, but I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future. Is God’s work finished? Or is it still a continuous revelation going on? It is a marvelous book – these spiritual revelations of the world. The Bible, the Vedas, the Koran, and all other sacred books are but so many pages, and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded. I would leave it open for all of them. We stand in the present, and open ourselves to the infinite future. We take in all that has been in the past, enjoy the light of the present, and open every window of the heart for all that will come in the future. Salutation to all the prophets of the past, to all the great ones of the present, and to all that are to come in the future!”

This broad and open-minded approach is what our Nation requires today. Our country today is being torn and divided by narrow religious and sectarian beliefs and views. Leaders of all religions are dividing the masses instead of bringing them all together. Each one is trying to prove that his is the most valid religion and his is the only true God. What the nation needs is this approach of Swami Vivekananda which is pragmatic, inclusive, all-embracing and accepting of different views of God and religion. It is this unifying thought which can heal and hold a diverse Nation like India together. As the Nation gets ready to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, we must all try and live upto this ideal of his. That would indeed be a fitting way to celebrate his life and times.

Kannada version in Prajavani (08-Nov-12)

Balu