Social philosophy of Swami Vivekananda

by Baruah Debajit | 2017 | 87,227 words

This study deals with Swami Vivekananda’s social philosophy and his concept of religion. He was the disciple of the 19th-century Indian mystic Ramakrishna. Important subjects are discussed viz., nature of religion, reason and religion, goal of religion, religious experience, ways to God, etc. All in the context of Vivekananda....

Chapter 4.3 - The only Recognition of Universality according to Vivekananda

Since there is no universality it seems not possible to be there a universal religion. All these widely different religions can not alike be true. If one is true, its contradictory must be false. But according to Vivekananda universal religion exists just as universal brotherhood exists. All religions are not really contradictory. With regard to the externalities of religion which are only the non-essential parts, religions may differ from one another. There is no doubt difference in the languages and the forms used by each religion. In his view different religions are not contradictory. They are supplementary. Each religion takes up one part of great universal truth. Each spends its whole force in embodying and typifying that part of the great truth. Hence it is addition, not exclusion. Besides this, every religion has a soul, its peculiarly unique feature, and even this differs as far as each religion is concerned. But this difference is not contradictory but supplementary. He says “Each religion, as it were, takes up one part of the great universal truth and spends its whole force in embodying and typifying that part of the great truth. It is therefore addition and not exclusion.”[1]

Secondly, even if one attaches greater importance to one’s own religion, it must be remembered that man never travels from untruth to truth, but from truth to higher truth. The lessons we get on a scientific subject, say electricity, at an advanced stage of study will be entirely different from lessons at earlier stages, but the former are only a development and not a contradiction of the latter. So the ideas that all religions differing from one another are contradictory and cannot therefore be true, is not correct.

Thirdly, there can be diversity of views, all of them alike referring to the same thing and revealing different phases of it. For example we can take photographs of the same building from four or five corners or angles, and can get widely varying pictures, all however referring to the same edifice. Their apparent differences cannot be called contradictions, but only show the many-sidedness of a single unique entity. Not apprehending this is tantamount to confounding a part with the whole, a limb of an elephant with the whole animal, like the blind men in the story Jaina philosophy. “We are viewing truth, getting as much of it as circumstances will permit, colouring the truth with our own intellect and grasping it with our own mind. We can only know as much of truth as is related to us, as much of it as we are able to receive. This occasions sometimes even contradictory ideas; yet they all belong to the same great universal truth… they are forces in the great economy of God, working for the good of mankind.”[2] says Vivekananda.

According to Vivekananda diversity in all fields of life is an obvious fact. This diversity is found in religion also. In fact this diversity is a sign of life. When all diversities are eliminated, we get only the peace and uniformity of a graveyard. The law of life is unity in variety. For example all men differ from one another, but there is an abstract humanity which is common to all. We may not find it when we try to grasp it, but yet we are certain it is there. For, it is through this generalized humanity that we see and recognize individual man. So is the universal element running as a thread through all individual religions. This element, according to Vivekananda is the idea of God, and it exists through eternity. To put Vivekananda “So it is with the universal religion, which runs through all the various religions of the world in the form of God; it must and does exist through eternity. ‘I am the tread that runs through all these pearls,’ and each pearl is a religion or even a sect thereof. Such are different pearls, and the Lord is the thread that runs through all of them;only the majority of mankind are entirely unconscious of it.”[3] Thus it is the one universal religion which runs through various religions of the world in the form of God. God is the center of all religions. God is the Centre of the whole universe. The universal existence is God, the ultimate unity in the whole universe. In Him we are all one. But at the same time in manifestation all these differences must remain. So if by universal religion any one means that a set of doctrines should be believed in by all mankind, or that there should be one universally accepted system of mythology or rituals, it is an impossibility.

Vivekananda opines that we must learn that truth may be expressed in a hundred thousand ways and that each one of these ways is true as far as it goes. We must learn that the same thing can be viewed from a hundred different standpoints, and yet be the same thing. According to him through philosophy, high or low, through the most exalted mythology or the grossest, through the most refined ritualism or arrant fetishism, every religion is struggling upwards towards God. Every vision of truth that man has, is a vision of God only. This point is explained by Vivekananda with the help of the following example. Suppose a few people go with vessels in their hands to fetch water from a lake. One has a jar, another has a bucket, another has a pitcher, and they all fill their vessels. The water in each case naturally takes the form of the vessel carried by each of them. Vivekananda applied the same logic in case of religion too. He compares our minds with these vessels. Each one of us is trying to arrive at the realization of God. According to him God is like that water filling these different vessels, and in each vessel the vision of God comes in the form of the vessel. Yet God is one. He is God in every case. And according to Vivekananda this is the only recognition of universality that we can get. We must realize that there is no contradiction among us in following any one of the different roads or all the roads to realize God. Along with this we must remember the fact that since each road will lead us to the same goal so no road is inferior to others.

But this is only a theoretical possibility of universal religion with which Swami Vivekananda was not content. He always tried to give us practical solution of the problems. The above mentioned lines only show us the theoretical possibilities of universal religion. Only theoretical importance is not sufficient for us. We find that this recognition, that all the various views of religion are true, has been very old. Hundreds of attempts have been made in different parts of the world to formulate a harmonious religious creed, to make all religions come together in love. They have all failed, because they did not adopt any practical plan. Many have admitted that all the religions of the world are right, but they show no practical way of bringing them together, so as to enable each of them to maintain its own individuality in the conflux. That plan alone is practical which does not destroy the individuality of any man in religion, and at the same time shows him a point of union with all others.

Vivekananda has also his own plan. In the first place he would ask mankind to recognize this maxim-‘Do not destroy’. This means that we should not destroy anyone’s religious feelings. We should help them if we can, and if not we should fold our hands and stand by and see things go on. We should not say any word against any man’s convictions. Secondly, we should take man where he stands, and from there we need to give him a lift. If it be true that God is the center of all religions, and that each of us is moving towards Him along one of these radii, then it is sure that all of us must reach that center. And at the center, where all the radii meet, all our differences will cease. But until we reach the center, differences there must be. All these radii converge to the same center. Each religion is a radius, travelling towards that center. One, according to his nature, travels along one of these lines, and another, along another. And if we all push onward along our own lines, we shall surely come to the center, because, ‘All roads lead to Rome.’ Each of us is naturally growing and developing according to our own nature. Each will in time come to know the highest truth, for after all, men must teach themselves.

In society we see so many different nature’s of people. There are thousands of varieties of minds and inclinations. A thorough generalization of them is impossible, but for our practical purpose it is sufficient to have them characterized into four classes. First, there is the active man, the worker; he wants to work, and there is tremendous energy in his muscles and his nerves. His aim is to work; to build hospitals, do charitable deeds, make streets, to plan and to organize. Then there is the emotional man, who loves the sublime and the beautiful to an excessive degree. He loves to think of the beautiful, to enjoy the aesthetic side of nature, and adore Love and the God of Love. He loves with his whole heart the great souls of all times, the prophets of religions, and the incarnations of God on earth. He does not care whether reason can or cannot prove that Christ or Buddha existed; he does not care for the exact date when the Sermon on the Mount was preached, or for the exact moment of Krishna’s birth. What he cares for is their personalities, their lovable figures. Such is his ideal. This is the nature of the lover, the emotional man. Then, there is the mystic, whose mind wants to analyse its own self, to understand the workings of the human mind, what the forces are there that are working inside, and how to know, manipulate, and obtain control over them. This is the mystical mind. Then, there is the philosopher, who wants to weigh everything and use his intellect even beyond the possibilities of all human philosophy.

Now a religion, to satisfy the largest portion of mankind, must be able to supply food for all these various types of minds; and where this capability is wanting, the existing sects all become one-sided. What Vivekananda wants to propagate is a religion that will be equally acceptable to all minds; it must be equally philosophic, equally emotional, equally mystic, and equally conducive to action. According to Vivekananda religion must be able to show how to realize the philosophy that teaches us that this world is one, that there is but One Existence in the universe. Similarly, if the mystic comes, we must welcome him, be ready to give him the science of mental analysis, and practically demonstrate it before him. And if emotional people come, we must sit, laugh, and weep with them in the name of the Lord. If the energetic worker comes, we must work with him, with all the energy that we have. And this combination will be the ideal of the nearest approach to a universal religion. An ideal man is he, according to Vivekananda in whom all these harmoniously balanced. To put Vivekananda “Would to God that all men were so constituted that in their minds all these elements of philosophy, mysticism, emotion, and of work were equally present in full! That is the ideal, my ideal of a perfect man. Everyone who has only one or two of these elements of character, I consider ‘one-sided’; and this world is almost full of such ‘one-sided’ men, with knowledge of that one road only in which they move, and anything else is dangerous and horrible to them. To become harmoniously balanced in all these four directions is my ideal of religion.”[4] Such is religion is however attained in India and this is called Yoga-Union. To the philosopher it is the union of all existence. To the lover it is the union between himself and the God of love. Again to the mystic it is the union between lower and the higher self and to the worker it is the union between men and the whole humanity. The man who seeks after this kind of union is called a Yogi. The worker is called the Karma-Yogi. He who seeks the union through love is called the Bhakti-Yogi. He who seeks it through mysticism is called the Raja-Yogi. And he who seeks it through philosophy is called the Jnana-Yogi. So this word Yogi comprises them all.

The view that anyone religion should be raised to the status of universal religion is vehemently repudiated by Vivekananda. Neither Hinduism, nor Christianity however broad, comprehensive they may be ought to be made a universal religion at the cost of others. He boldly asserts, “I accept all religions that were in the past and worship them all….I shall go to the Mosque of the Mohemmedans, I shall enter the Christian’s Church and kneel before the crucifix. I shall enter the Buddhist Temple and take refuge in Buddha. I shall go the forest and sit down with a Hindu for meditation.”[5]

Thus Vivekananda admits that the universal religion exists. Just as universal brotherhood of man is there, although some people fails to notice it, so also universal religion is there, though many of us are not aware of it. The element of universal religion would consist in recognizing that there may be various and different ways of approach to the religious objects and it gives perfect liberty to the individual in this regard. The one watchword for universal religion, according to Vivekananda is ‘acceptance’, it is not just tolerance. To put Vivekananda, “Our watchword, then, will be acceptance, not exclusion. Not only toleration, for so-called toleration is often blasphemy, I do not believe in it. I believe in acceptance.”[6]

Footnotes and references:


Tapasyananda, Swami (Retold), Philosophical and Religious Lectures of Swami Vivekananda, p-29.


Ibid, p-29.


[Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda], VOL. 2, p-381.


Ibid, p-388.


Ibid, p-374.


Ibid, p-373-374.

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