Book Excerpt COMMENTS
Swami Vivekananda: Social reformer or caste votary? Religious inclusivist or Hindu supremacist?

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Daily Mail
Feb 04, 2013
The Monk’s Colours

Jyotirmaya Sharma’s reading of Vivekananda is partial and incomplete (Dharma for the State?, Jan 21). There are a number of links he has left out in his eagerness to poke flaws in his teachings. Firstly, it’s puzzling why Sharma thinks Swamiji saw Christianity and Islam as ‘sects’, being someone who said, “I think and dream of an India with an Islamic body and Vedantic soul.” Secondly, Sharma should know that in Indology, ‘dharma’ is not religion but ‘conduct’, one determined by behaviour and nothing else. Sharma has really tried to enter a zone unknown to him, he is neither an expert on it nor passionate about it.

Nirmalya Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sri Ramakrishna had said: “The pundits are like vultures; their minds soar high, but their sights are focused on charnel pits looking for rotten carcasses”. Sharma has constructed a false theory by quoting out of context, distorting meanings and coming up with bizarre interpretations of innocuous statements. Swamiji described Islam and Christianity as sects not derisively, but to distinguish the external practices of a faith from true religion, which he said was a manifestation of divinity. He also believed that all faiths were valid paths that led to the same transcendental reality. Sri Ramakrishna had come to the same realisation. Unlike many teachers, Vivekananda is easy to understand. By distorting his message, Sharma is looking to serve a political purpose.

Devashis Mukherjee, Gurgaon

We either create impossibly high pedestals for our heroes, or horribly vilify our adversaries. Moreover, we love to hate people who try to show our icons as mere mortals, with all too human indiscretions. It has happened with recent books on Gandhi, and it will now happen to Jyotirmaya.

Meraj Uddin Khan, Lucknow

Funnily, the subtitle under the photo of the book cover reads ‘Cosmic Love and Human Empathy’, yet the photo clearly shows it to be ‘Cosmic Love and Human Apathy’! Sabotage by the swami’s right-wing fan?

Ajit Hegde, Bangalore

Sharma says Vivekananda was casteist. Wrong. In his lecture ‘The Future of India’, published in Lectures from Colombo to Almora, he says: “The days of exclusive privileges and exclusive claims are gone, gone forever from the soil of India.... The solution is not by bringing down the higher caste, but by raising the lower up to the level of the higher.”

Sharmila Lal, Delhi

Vivekananda talked about Brahminhood and Shudrahood as qualities within the self, not as Jyotirmaya Sharma claims to understand it.

Aditya Raghavan, Bangalore

It’ll only be a matter of time before Jyotirmaya is offered a position in the divinity or political science department of a US university. As a professor in the US told me, the modern academic is all about strategy and working towards where the lobbies are the strongest in the media and in terms of funding. JS is on his way, with a one-way ticket to US universities.

Gajanan, Sydney

“Those to whom religion is a trade are forced to become narrow and mischievous by their introduction into religion the competitive, fighting and selfish methods of the world.” So said Swamiji in a letter to Dharmapala from the US in 1894.

Subrah Katakam, Chennai

Anyone who has depth in reading will realise that Vivekananda was indeed a Hindu supremacist and casteist, whose teachings had little resemblance to the teaching of greats like Ramakrishna Paramhansa. He upheld the Manusmriti, which truly great Hindu philosophers never championed.

Deepak, US

The article is simply atrocious, and a classic example of a pea-brained person trying to assess a great personality.

Vaibhav Srivastava, Calcutta

A majority of Islamic nations won’t allow a Hindu temple; those which do demolish them at a whim. Put that in the context of a Hindu majority country in which a great Hindu philosopher gets a bad name for calling Islam a ‘sect’!

Vikram Rathore, New York

Jyotirmaya Sharma reveals himself to be a talentless hack whose only claim to fame are his outrageous claims.

Kiran, Grenoble

I have a serious problem with Jyotirmaya Sharma and not because I think he belongs to this or that side of the ideological spectrum. I am a student of philosophy and strongly believe he has set himself a task bigger than he’s capable of accomplishing. Does he even know the epistemology behind the various words/phrases of different philosophers-scholars? He seems to transpose the sociological definitions of different words to interpret Vivekananda’s teachings. Certainly an intellectual understanding of the sayings of a monk or mystic is shallow without knowing what metaphysics, mysticism, philosophy and religious experience is like. The very fact that Sharma accepts Ramakrishna and rejects Vivekananda makes his scholarship suspect.

Viswanath V., Kurnool, AP

The author should be commended for his painstaking and scholarly work as well as the courage to write such a book in the current Indian environment. Instead of the irrational attacks, let’s see if anybody can provide reasoned evidence that any of Vivekananda’s quotes have been misrepresented.

H.M. Siddhanti, Richmond

Despite all the dissent and criticism, Swami Vivekananda will remain an icon for moderate Hindus.

G. Anuplal, Bangalore

Vivekananda was part of a 19th-century reform movement that focused on monism and the context of the time. And that is a crime in the eyes of 21st century political scientists like Jyotirmaya Sharma!

Priya Madhavan, Rochester

Men like Sharma are intellectual terrorists who cause immeasurable damage to a people’s culture by killing its soul.

Shyam Sarvodey, Mysore

Sharma should read Swami Saradananda’s The Great Master where he discusses the Master’s Islamic sadhana. He quotes Ramakrishna as saying that in the absence of unity at the Vedantic level, there is little in common between Hindus and Muslims. Where then is the contradiction between him and Vivekananda?

Rakhal Ghosh, Philadelphia

To me Jyotirmaya is as serious as Banta Singh or Santa Singh!

Mahesh Babbar, Delhi

Feb 11, 2013
Dream Ideologue

It’s the chronic Indian habit of sentimentalising our past and deifying figures from the past that is to blame for the misinterpretation of Swami Vivekananda. We are blind to the factual realities of such personages. And who wants to hear his gods criticised? I thank Jyotirmaya Sharma (Dharma for the State?, Jan 21) for providing a fresh perspective on the Swami in his book excerpted by Outlook.

Sarah Hafeez, Calcutta

Subverting anything that brings solace to some and does not harm others—in Jyotirmaya Sharma’s case, the great work of Swami Vivekananda—seems futile, unless done as an academic exercise, in which case it should be published in an academic journal, and not a popular format like this.

Dr Shyamala Vatsa, on e-mail

Feb 18, 2013
Selective Reading

In the excerpt from his book on Swami Vivekananda (Dharma for the State, Jan 21), Jyotirmaya Sharma says that the vast majority of people who believe Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa is a catholic Hindu seer are wrong; that he really wasn’t so broad-minded after all; and that it is Swami Vivekananda’s distortion that gives his guru universal appeal. Sharma then goes into long passages which do not adva–nce his claim but are bluntly dismissive of Swami Vivekananda for calling Christianity, Islam and other religions sects under a universal religion called Vedanta. Sharma also has some aversion to the use of the terms ‘Sanatana Dha­rma’, ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Vedanta’. Let me point out that Swami Vivekananda seldom used the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’, often used the term ‘Hindu/Hinduism’ and even more often used the non-equivalent term ‘Vedanta’. When he says all sects are within Vedanta, he doesn’t mean that Christianity, Islam etc are within Hinduism; he means they are within the universal religion which also subsumes what is commonly called Hinduism, with its many sects such as Vaishnavism etc. If anyone says the author is indulging himself by writing shoddy, meandering passages glued together by fuzzy logic under a sensational headline, he would not be off-target.

Swami Sampurnananda, Thiruvananthapuram

Had Sharma only understood the true meaning and spirit of Swamiji’s speeches, he would not have ventured to write his 300-page book.

Anupam Sarkar, on e-mail