The monk who gave Hinduism a new identity

One of the most significant contributions by Swami Vivekananda was his fresh interpretations of Hinduism. Vivekananda gave Hinduism a whole new clear cut identity.

Before Swami Vivekananda came in, Hinduism was basically a confederation of different sects. Vivekananda was the first Hindu leader who spoke about the need of a common ground for all the Hindu sects and thereby he successfully brought in a unification of Hinduism.

“…it may be said that where he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended Hinduism had been created,” said Sister Nivedita, the Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda.

At a time when the Christian missionary propaganda was spreading canards about Hinduism, it was Swami Vivekananda who came to its rescue. Vivekananda presented Hinduism as a man-making religion at the international stage and successfully positioned it as the most revered religion of the world.

“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”

This was what Swami Vivekananda had said in his model speech dated September 11, 1893 at the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago. His Chicago speech marked the beginning of Western interest in Hinduism and Indianness.

Swami Vivekananda was a missionary in true sense. He never converted people away from their native faith. It was during one of his lectures in the US, he said: “I do not come to convert you to a new belief. I want you to keep your own belief; I want to make the Methodist a better Methodist; the Presbyterian a better Presbyterian; the Unitarian a better Unitarian. I want to teach you to live the truth, to reveal the light within your own soul.”

Vivekananda had said addressing the final session of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, “Holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character.”

Another significant contribution of Swami Vivekananda was his interpretation of religion as a universal experience of the transcendent reality, common to humanity. He propounded a philosophy which in his words, “can serve as a basis to every possible religious system in the world”. He taught the world that in essence all religions are true, and service to mankind is the most effective form of worship of God.

Vivekananda was the first religious leader of the world to use religion as a scientific experience. He said, “All science has its particular methods; so has the science of religion. It has more methods also, because it has more material to work upon. The human mind is not homogeneous like the external world. According to the different nature, there must be different methods. As some special sense predominates in a person – one person will see most, another will hear most – so there is a predominant mental sense; and through this gate must each reach his own mind. Yet through all minds runs a unity, and there is a science which may be applied to all. This science of religion is based on the analysis of the human soul. It has no creed.”

Swami Vivekananda’s teachings will inspire the lives and times for generations to come. His legacy will stay on to guide Hinduism, India and the world.

Perhaps these words of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose are the best to describe the persona called Swami Vivekananda.

“Swamiji harmonised East and West, religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our countrymen have gained unprecedented self-respect, self-confidence and self-assertion from his teachings.”

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