Brahmo Samaj, Dayananda Saraswati, Debendranath Tagore, Keshub Chunder Sen, Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Vivekananda
Part three of my early historic review toward Hindu nationalism, undertaken when I first arrived in India in an effort to understand her.
To large for one post, here is part three, from Debendranath Tagore to Vivekananda, revealing my thinking from the past. Click here to see Part 1 Akhbar to Derozio , or Part 2 Ram Mohan Roy to Macaulay.
Debendranath Tagore continued the spirit of Roy’s Brahmo Samaj with its monotheistic creed. Orthodox Hinduism teaches “The supremacy of the worship of Brahma, enjoining image worship for help of those who are incapable of grasping its highest truth.”
The Brahmo rejected any ”mediums, symbols or idols of any description” denying that any “book, man or image be in the way of direct communion with God.” Tagore increasingly used his intuition, arguing that the bodiless soul was in direct communion with God.
“By the soul shalt thou know the supreme soul.”
Rather, it taught ‘loving him and doing deeds pleasant in His sight … is worship” without rites and ceremonies deemed essential in religions.
He who adores God and loves man is ‘a saint’ live with good deeds and refuse to contend with others.
“Not by wealth, nor by children, but by renunciation alone, is immortality attained” he quotes explaining “renunciation is not renunciation of the world by becoming an anchorite, dwelling in the wilderness, but dwelling at home, and living in the world, all lusts of the heart should be cast out.”
Attaining God here on earth can be attained when lusts are cast out.
‘By example and precept” the Brahmo was to “hold up a beacon the highest truths of the Hindu shastras” to purify ‘our heritage’ by acting consistent with true faith we must respond sympathetically to our ‘orthodox brethren’ and ‘make every allowance for, and abstain from persecuting or alienating, those who think different from us.’
Our motherland is dear to us, he said, but religion is dearer. “Dharma is our friend in the Lord, and dharma is our guide to the next”
More radically proactive the Bengali Keshub Chunder Sen took Roy’s openness and Tagore’s intuition to and bought the Brahmo to its peak but also irrevocably damaged it. He said he was ‘baptized’ in the ‘religion of fire’ and the ‘doctrine of enthusiasm.’
Britain was divinely providential for India, claimed Sen, and self government will come to India when she is ready and able to make a reciprocal contribution to Britain. Loyalty required allegiance to queen Victoria and to the ‘sacred book’ of British paternal rule, he described as a ‘most sacred religious ceremony’ when Victoria took the title Empress of India.
“The Hindu notion of god is sublime” Kechub preached, an ‘infinite spirit‘ ‘dwelling in His glory, pervading all space, full of peace and joy” worshipped in “quiet contemplation”. The “Mohomeden” describe God as “infinite in power, governing the universe in supreme authority as Lord of all’, who is worshipped with “constant excitement and active service” as a ‘soldier, crusading against evil.”
He desired a ‘crusade’ against the caste system of India and the ‘obnoxious distinction between Brahmin and Sudra’.
Kechub dreamed of a religion that blended these qualities. He taught a New Dispensation, an Indian National church that could unite Hindu, Muslim and Christian.
India eats, thinks and breathes in an all pervasive Christian atmosphere, and Jesus and the apostles were Asians, he said.
Just as Jesus followed Moses, Paul and Peter drank the blood of Jesus and imparted it to other Christian saints, and ‘modern’ India has ‘eaten, assimilated and absorbed, making their ideas and character our own.’
“How Asia eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Europe. How the Hindu absorbs the Christian; how the Christian assimilates the Hindu!” proclaimed Kechub. “Cultivate the communion … and continuously absorb what is good and noble of each other.”
Keshub would leave the Brahmo Samaj, taking many with him, founding the BrahmoSamaj of india, but would later scandalize this group claiming it was Gods will his 13 year old daughter marry a Hindu prince contrary to the policy he formerly advocated of minimum age for Brahmo marriage.
Just as energetic was the stern Bengali Vedic reformer, Dayananda Saraswati who rejected idolatry after practicing a Parthiva Puja. This ‘hideous emblem of Shiva’ “allows mice to run upon its body”. “I could not bring myself to believe that the idol and Mahadeva (Great God) were one and the same God”
He argued a reformist return to the four Vedas, “the sanhita – Mantra portions only”, which he described as “the repository of knowledge and religious truth” and “are the word of God.”
“They are absolutely free from error and are an authority unto themselves” he wrote.
He called for a return to the ’primeval eternal religion’ above the ‘hostility of creeds’ rejecting what was “objectionable and false”. He forcefully attacked idolatry, stating child marriage, untouchability, the subjugation and inequality of women were not sanctioned in the Vedas.
A man’s caste should be determined by his merit and not his birth, he said. Religious knowledge should be available for all, and not just the Brahmin.
Worship should be directed to the supreme spirit Brahma who permeates the entire universe, perfection of existence, consciousness and bliss, holy omniscient, formless, unborn, infinite, almighty, just and merciful.
“Mukti or salvation means deliverance … to get rid of all suffering, and to realize god, to remain happy and free from rebirth” he argued in debate with a Christian and Muslim. This attained by practicing truth, before God and ones conscience, to know and follow the Vedas, associate with men of ‘truth and knowledge’ practicing yoga to eliminate untruth from the mind, reciting and meditating on the qualities of God, and to pray to god ‘to be steadfast in truth(gyana), realization of the reality of dharma, to keep one away from untruth, ignorance and adharma, and to free one from the woes of birth and death and obtain mukti.”
Man suffers because of his own sins and not because of Adam. Christianity limits god to that of as man who is either responsible for evil, or powerless with Satan, or Adam, he said. The Christian and Muslim God is “like a man’ with limited knowledge.
But God is unlimited, argued Saraswati, and is in no need of a prophet.
Still Saraswati could praise Western rejection of child marriage, and marriage by personal choice, the education of both boys and girls, representative assemblies and action following consultation, sacrifice for the nation, and faithfulness to duty, supporting fellow British in trade and keeping to their own fashion rather than being swayed by exotic fashion unlike English copying Indians.
At times extravagant – he claimed electricity was mentioned in the Vedas – and extremely strong, he could be acrimonious and was forced to defend himself from cobras, swordsman and thugs eventually killed when he attacked a Prince’s loose living and the woman in question had his milk laced with ground glass.
His militancy was continued by the Arya Samaj that he founded.
Perhaps the most saintly was Bengali Shri Ramakrishna (1836 – 1886) who retained his simplicity and devotion to Kali preaching a gentle faith of selfless devotion to god and ultimate ecstatic absorption in the divine. He lived in near constant meditative ecstasy, seeing meaning in the smallest incidents or seeing sita in a seeing a harlot. He experienced his first mystical trance at seven.
After 12 years of discipline at the new Hooghly river temple at Calcutta he experienced God as the Divine mother, Sita, Rama, Krishna, Mohammad and Jesus worshipping each according to their tradition.
He advised to live in the world but to fix your mind on God.
The Vedas claim ‘this world is like a chandelier, and each jiva (individual soul) is like a light in it.’
“Everything is the mind” said Ramakrishna “you can dye the mind with any colour you wish.”
“If you keep your mind in evil company, your thoughts ideas and words will be coloured with evil; but keep in the company of Bakhtas, then your thoughts ideas and words will be on God.”
If you are bitten by a snake and assert with strong conviction you are cured you will be cured.
He criticized a Christian book “in it there as only one them – sin and sin, from beginning to end” claiming the same ‘main topic’ for KeshubSen’sBrahmo-Samaj. ‘He who repeats day and night: “I am a sinner, I am a sinner,” becomes a sinner indeed.’
God dwells in us all, so we should love all mankind, but to the wicked you ‘bow at a distance” remaining calm at all times and “it is necessary … to keep occasionally the company of holy men”.
Ramakrisna used many ‘parables’: He compared our belief that we have dependant power to a child thinking boiling vegetables are alive in a pot, or a marionette. We should nor elevate ourselves because we are god, because god is also in the elephant blocking our way, or the elephant driver.
Holy men are like observers of a game of chess – better able to assess the play than the comp[editors attached to the games outcome.
A man convinced in the power of his gurus name, used it and walked on water. Hearing this the guru thought he was ‘very great and powerful, entered the water and drowned.
“When a wound is perfectly healed, the slough falls off itself; but if the slough be taken off earlier, it bleeds. Similarly, when the perfection of knowledge is reached by a man, the distinction of caste fall off from him, but it is wrong for the ignorant to break such distinctions.”
Ramakrisna’s western educated, Calcutta born disciple Narendranath Datta (1863-1902) became Swami Vivekananda. Born to a Kayastha family of lawyers he gave up material pursuits and studied as a sannyasi for 12 years.
In 1893 he spoke at the first world Parliament of Religions in Chicago, then toured Britian and the USA for four years. He returned India a hero setting out to regenerate his fellow Indians, enhance cultural pride and calling on them to become great by living by the highest of Indian values.
The world goes through changes in the material and spiritual planes and Europe had reached a material height and it was time for a spiritual adjustment. “In no distant date” he alleges, Indian oriental spiritual truths will “bring unto mankind once more the memory of his real nature.”
“To the Oriental the world of spirit is as real as to the Occidental is the world of the senses.” Each claims that the other is dreaming.
Man is to conquer nature, wrote Vivekananda to the Maharajah of Mysore in 1894, not just the external, physical nature, as seen by the occident, but also the “ majestic, internal nature of man, higher than the sun, moon and stars”.
“Spirituality must conquer the West” and “everyone must be ready for the conquest of the world by India” aided by ‘heroic workers’ who self sacrificingly ‘disseminate the great truths of Vedanta.’
Spiritual truth of Vedanta must be given to the West so that each nation and individual may work his own salvation.
While “no country in the world has so many laws” as the USA ‘in no country are they so little regarded.’ Rejecting their own traditions, many ‘learned priests’ are now interpreting the Bible in light of the Vedas teaching of ‘the eternity of both soul and creation, and God as our highest and most perfect nature.”
However, the material Westerners “never think beyond their own selfish ends” and could not care if Indians live or die.
His zeal to serve the downtrodden helped breach the divide between other nationalist leaders who were perceived as Western setting a pattern for later leaders like Gandhi.
He calls for independence of the unmanly aping of Western standards with rich and poor embracing pride in their heritage to strengthen their nation. Many Indians idealize the West but have never lived there to experience its problems. Some Indians ashamed of their poverty are like lesser European nations dressing like the British and ignoring their cultural nobility.
India has observed Western science ‘dazzling the yes with brilliance of Western suns’ with ‘rank materialism, plentitude of fortune, accumulation of gigantic power’ is also heard ‘discordant sounds’ in low ‘unmistakable accents, the heart rendering cries of ancient gods, cutting her to the quick.’
The contrast to the ‘shameless freedom’ of Western independence to the Indian goal of Mukti (renunciation) with stern vows , fasting’s, retreat, samadhi and the ‘search after self’ leads to the question “Here, in this world, of death and change, O man, where is thy happiness?’
New India is torn between the right to choose one’s spouse and the old idea that marriage is ‘not for sense enjoyment’, but ‘perpetuation of the race.’ This is responsible for society’s future and so society should be able to dictate marriage choice.
Blindly imitating an others ideas prevents these ideas from becoming India’s own. Western success is like the brilliant success of a short lightening strike. Nor is India perfect, and it must also learn.
Vivekananda illustrates India’s aping of the West with a short of told by Ramakrishna of a man who faulted the Hindu shastras but then suddenly one day praised the Bhagavad Gita. “Me thinks some European pandit has praised the Gita, and so has also followed suit.”
‘What is good or bad is not decided by reason, judgment, discrimination or reference to the shastras” but whether it is praised by ‘a white man’. While religious customs should be discussed, throwing our ‘Gods and Goddesses into the river Ganges’ because of ‘the disapproval of Westerners’ is not.
According to Vivekananda the ‘caste system is good. That is the only natural way of solving life.’ Isis natural that man will form themselves in groups. ‘There will always be caste.’ God is within a both a man who mends shoes or governs a country.”But that does not mean that there should be these privileges. They should be knocked on the head.”
There should be equal chances for all. Vedanta should be taught equally so that ‘everyone will work out his own salvation.’
He refused to condemn idolatry, arguing for religious reform ‘which truly means to be made ready or perfect by necessary cleaning or repairs, not by demolishing the whole thing.’
‘If you are fit to worship God-without-Form discarding any external help, do so, but why do you condemn others who cannot do the same.’
Part 4 will discuss y rise of Indian Middle class nationalism .