“If the Parliament of religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that 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. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help not Fight, “Assimilation and not Destruction”, “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension”.
More than a century has passed since swami Vivekananda’s sonorous voice echoed these immortal words, resplendent with the never diminishing shine of eternal Truth. In fact, these words were a short commentary on the inexplicably sweet utterance he made at the opening of the Parliament of Religions: “Sisters ad Brothers of America”. These words fell like the first rain drops on the thirsty ‘chataka birds/ who had thronged the opening session of the Parliament earning for a new message, a new vision, a new impulse and a new command that would make not only their lives fruitful but also bring the very much needed new silver lining on the dark clouds that were gathering over the worlds horizon. Nobody could imagine that a silver line would be drawn by that attractive ‘Prince among Saints’ who sat deeply absorbed in himself. There was none among the audience who could have gone behind his eyes and shared the vision that he was seeing – ONE in the many and the many in the ONE. It was this vision that translated itself into the words Sisters and Brothers of America’ as he stood up and began his address to the Assembly.
The sound vibrations that emanated from him have merged and become part of the Universal Sound. But the soul stirring expressions that poured out of him over the next nine and a half years still remain with us as his own commentary on the vision he had nurtured , thanks to his realisation of the Self within. Those commentaries fortunately remain with us distributed in the volumes of Vivekananda literature. In living form they remain in the monasteries and mission centres for which he laid the foundation in his own life time and in the hearts of millions of Indians for whom they form a never ending source of inspiration and guidance. The only place where they are lacking today is alas our Indian political sphere, where Swamiji’s wisdom has been cast aside paving the way once again for a lack- lustre Indian nationalism.
The point worth contemplating n this context, which provides a vision of the Indian Religious approach centred on Universal acceptance and tolerance is that while all the other religious leaders presented views from the stand point of their particular religion stressing its uniqueness, Swamiji alone presented a vision of the universal dimensions of Sanatana Dharma, global in its sweep and at the same time centered in each individual.1 What enabled him to achieve this soul transforming miracle? For this we have to go back to the wonderful spiritual heritage, the elixir of which flowing through his arteries and veins since childhood had set him on the journey towards Self-Realisation We have to go back to the years he spent with that unusual ‘Best among Avatars” whose life experiences had transformed even the most intricate religious ideas and experiences into his very life’s breath.
It is from this Immaculate Teacher that Swamiji learned that the first ideal of religious realisation is renunciation. Secondly, that “the religions of the world are not contradictory or antagonistic. They are but various phases of one eternal religion……. One infinite religion existed all through eternity and will ever exist and this religion s expressing itself in various countries in various ways. Therefore we must respect all religions and we must try to accept them all as far as we can.”
One idea Swamiji was emphatic about in this connection was the need to recognise “that each one of them has the same saving power as the other Firmly rooted in his realisation of the one Ultimate Truth he firmly reiterated that the same God answers all……… the same Almighty God is responsible for all”. To attain realisation of this God are needed “tremendous purity and renunciation which is the one secret of spirituality” .He considered ‘renunciation as the background of all religions and if senses crept into the field of religion spirituality decreased in the same ratio’. Again and again he voiced his Master’s words “Do not care for doctrines ,do not care for dogmas/, or sects or churches or temples; they count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man, and the more this is developed in a man the more powerful is he for good.
This was also voice of Mother India, who from time immemorial had kept the gates of her home open to all those who approached her for refuge from the tyrannies in their homelands be it racial, religious or political.
What is so special in the voice of India that is absent in others? To quote Swamiji’s own words, “This is the ancient land where wisdom made its home before it went into any other country, the same India whose influx of spirituality is represented, as it were, on the material plane, by rolling rivers like oceans, where the eternal Himalayas, rising tier above tier with their snow caps, look as it were into the very mysteries of Heaven. Here is the same India whose soil has been trodden by the feet of the greatest sages that ever lived. Here first sprang up inquiries into the nature of man, and into the internal world. Here first arose the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, the existence of a supervising God, an immanent God in nature and in man, and here the highest ideals of religion and philosophy have attained heir culminating points………. It is the same land which stands firmer than any rock in the world, with its undying vigour, indestructible life. Its life is of the same nature as the soul, without beginning and without end, immortal, and we are the children of such a country.” Thanks to the multitude of peoples and cultures that got assimilated in our country we alone could formulate a Universal Religion” as well as originate the idea of VasudhaivaKutumbakam, Universe as one family..
What is so unique in Hinduism that is absent in other religions? ”Hinduism is a true religion because it teaches that God alone is true, that this world is false and fleeting, that all your gold is but as dust, that all your power is finite and that life itself is oftentimes an evil” Hinduism is a true religion because it teaches renunciation and stands up with the wisdom of ages to tell and to declare to the nations not to be ruined by the senses, to renounce the love of the senses and of the world. That is the way of religion. Through renunciation is the way to the Goal and not the enjoyment”.
Swamiji could think, talk and act as he did because he was a, a true Hindu. aVedantin. Vedanta is built on principles, not personalities, Sages discovered them who tried to become illustrations of the principles they preached. Because of this Vedanta s a most impersonal religion- based on principles and yet with infinite scope for the play pf persons.
Hinduism recognises that “unity in variety is the plan of the universe.’ “That Universal Existence is God, the Ultimate Unity in the Universe. In Him we are all one. At the same time in manifestation, these differences must all remain’”. We must learn that Truth may be expressed in a hundred thousand ways and each of the ways is true as far as it goes. We must realise that the same thing can be viewed from a hundred different stand points, and yet be the same thing.”
“It is in vain that we try to gather all the peoples of the world around a single personality. It is difficult to make them gather together even around eternal and universal principles. If it ever becomes possible to bring the largest portion of humanity to one way of thinking in regard to religion, mark you, it must always be through principles and not through persons. We must gracefully accept the fact that through high philosophy or low exalted mythology or refined ritualism or arrant fetishism , every sect, every soul, every nation every religion, consciously or unconsciously is struggling upward towards God, every vision of Truth that man has , is a vision of Him and of none else.”
Swamiji intuitively felt that the world is waiting for this ‘grand idea of universal tolerance. It will be a great acquisition for civilisation. Nay, no civilisation can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilisation can grow unless fanatics, bloodshed and brutality stop. No civilisation can begin to lift up its head until we look charitably upon one another; and the first step towards that much needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious convictions of others. Nay, more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but positively helpful to each other., however different our religious ideas and convictions may be………Love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred , it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify and not mere brutality and physical force’
The other great idea that the world wants from us today…….. is the eternal grand idea of the spiritual oneness of the whole world. “Swamiji refers to it as a life giving idea and was convinced that this was what the world wants from us today and which the mute masses of India want for heir uplifting, for none can regenerate this land of ours without the practical application and effective operation of the idea of the Oneness of things.
Another more scientific and appealing rationale which Swamiji offers in this connection is with regard to that most highly priced ethics in human society. The West is desperately seeking the raison d etre of all its philosophy and its ethics other than mere sanction of any personage, however great and Dive he may have been “would finally settle on the ethical and moral code based on some eternal principles of truth. This eternal sanction can be in the only Infinite Reality that exists in every one as their own self in the soul.
“The infinite oneness of the Soul is the eternal sanction of all morality and you and I are not only brothers – every literature voicing man’s struggle towards freedom has prescribed that for you-but that you and I are really one. This is the dictate of Indian philosophy. This oneness is the rationale of all ethics and all spirituality”.
Swamiji preached Advaita not as a sectarian philosophy but because of its universal and widely acceptable grounds. He felt that Advaita aspect of Vedanta is necessary to rouse up the hearts of man, to show them the glory of their own souls. Mark his words: Teach yourselves, teach everyone his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come and everything that is excellent will come when his sleeping soul is roused to self conscious activity This was his clarion call, calling upon man ”to discover the innate potential divinity of his soul, by controlling nature external and internal” This can be done through work or worship, psychic control or philosophy, by one or more or all of these. This alone can take him to his ultimate freedom.
Harmony of science and religion
Harmony of science and religion was another very important aspect of Indian approach that he upheld before his Western audience to prove the science behind his statements. ”Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further growth, because it would reach the goal”. So is with religion. The science of religion becomes perfect “when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever changing world. One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but manifestations Thus is it, through multiplicity and duality, the ultimate unity is reached. Religion can go no farther. This is the goal of all science.
The sooner this knowledge of the harmony of Science and Religion enters into the comprehension of mankind, the nearer will we be to peace and understanding at the global level. Religion will not then be ‘blind’ nor science ‘lame’ any more. Religion of the future will have to be modeled on the basis of this mighty confluence of science and spirituality. The result, the world will get a faith which is not afraid of truth, which is not afraid of ‘others’ which is also not afraid of a God sitting above us in Heaven judging us. Rooted in fearless pursuit of Truth man will attain a new dignity, strength and sense of fullness and freedom. Swami Vivekananda’s teachings foreshadow this inevitable coming together of the objective scientific truth and subjective Spiritual Reality. Out of this synthesis should emerge a universal religion urging man to manifest the ‘Universal Self’ in him in place of his limited individual self. That would indeed be the crowning glory of religion and science.
Swamiji often spoke of ‘Universal Brotherhood’. How can we ordinary beings conceive of this brotherhood, when our minds are so filled with Jealousy, hatred, intolerance and so on. How to get rid of the negative impulses in our mind? Swamiji wants us to take a good look at religion as he firmly believed that religion is the highest plane of human thought and life. No doubt religion has created very many negative forces in the society. But again “the intense love that humanity has ever known has come from religion. The noblest word of peace that the world has ever known has been uttered by religious men”. Therefore we must concentrate on those aspects which shall enhance in us positive qualities by which we can create better humans. Swamiji underscores this by defining religion as “the manifestation of the Divinity which is already in man”.
“The time has come for renunciation and then you will see the harmony in all the religions of the world. You will know that there is no need of any quarrel and then only will you be ready to help humanity. To proclaim and make clear the fundamental unity underlying all religions was the mission of my Master. Other teachers have taught special religions which bear their names, but this great teacher of the nineteenth century made no claim for himself. He left every religion undisturbed because he had realised that in reality they are all part and parcel of the one eternal religion”. In Sri Ramakrishna the world saw Universal Symphony of Religions. It was this symphony that Swami Vivekananda so effectively replayed in the Parliament of Religions. Knowledge of the Unity in diversity was the secret behind his unified vision which brought out those unforgettable words- ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’
We in India need this vision today most urgently so that we can write in bold golden letters in our Nation’s banner “HELP NOT FIGHT”, ASSIMILATION AND NOT DESTRUCTION’, HARMONY AND PEACE AND NOT DISSENSION’.’
Post-Doctoral Research at the Institute of Micro Biology, Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kiev. USSR (1968-1970)
Professor of Botany in Sri Padmavathy Women’s College, Tirupati (1966-1968). Micro-biologist in Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi (1970-1982)
At Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari
Joined Vivekananda Kendra in 1981 as a whole time worker and became its Joint General Secretary and later it’s Working President. After the passing away of the Founder President of Vivekananda Kendra, MananeeyaEknathjiRanade, was unanimously elected as the All India President of Vivekananda Kendra in the year 1984. She continued as its president till 1995 when she stepped down to devote more time to spiritual pursuits.
To help her in this Vivekananda Kendra formed a new Trust, Vivekananda Kendra Vedic Vision Foundation with Dr. Lakshmi Kumari as its lifetime Chairman. The Foundation is presently functioning from Kodungallur, Trissur District, Kerala.
As the President of Vivekananda Kendra she has extensively toured the country spreading the message of Swami Vivekananda in addition to her duties as the President giving form and content to Swami Vivekananda’s ideal of social service as envisaged by Ma. Eknathji. In 1992 when Kendra organised a marathon year long Vivekananda BharataParikrama she participated in it for the full time of 353 days. In 1993 she represented Vivekananda Kendra at all the three major World Parliaments of Religions at Washington, Chicago and Calcutta and in 1995 at the World Hindu Conference, at Durban, South Africa. In 1999 again she spoke at the World Parliament of Religions, Cape Town, South Africa. She has the unique honourof having participated in all the ten major centenary celebrations connected with Swami Vivekananda’s life from 1963 to 2002.
As the Chairman of Vivekananda Kendra Vedic Vision Foundation, presently she is engaged in encouraging Vedic studies in different ways through promoting Sanskrit, publishing Vedic literature, conducting seminars, study classes and so on.
Currently a new experiment in value based education, SandeepaniGurukulam, has been taken up at Kodungallur. A nursery school, SandeepaniSishuvihar, functions at Kodungallur where tiny tots get acquainted with Sanskrit from the nursery level onwards.
Dr. Lakshmi Kumari has been a prolific writer as the Editor of Vivekananda Kendra Patrika and YuvaBharati from 1982-95 in addition to various other cultural and spiritual magazines in Malayalam and English. Some of her articles have been compiled as books – Snake and Ladder (based on Bhagavad Gita) Sita must live (devoted to women) VandeMataram (Patriotic ideas) and Swami Vivekananda and Bhagavad Gita, Vivekananda charanangalil (Malayalam).