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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

Jan 12, 2013
02:09 PM

>> " it is Vivekananda, who considered only Hinduism to be worthy of the epithet ‘religion’ and thought of Islam and Christianity to be merely sects."

Such religious supremacist trends can be seen in Christianity and Islam also. It is as if some religious leaders are afraid that if theirs is not the universal religion, it is nothing. The fact that religions can co-exist as co-equals never dawned on them.

Dallas, United States
Jan 12, 2013
02:18 PM

Nothing wrong in analyzing some of Vivekanand’s observation in modern context. He was social philosopher. His intense connect to Indian problems and thoughtful explanations to challenges faced by India are result of rare intellectual mind. .

Despite that, his understanding of certain aspects of Indian life of his time can not be fit in contemporary India.

He died early. Had he lived longer perhaps he would have realized the importance of change and never-ending evolution of collective social understanding where equality and human rights come to play major role in deciding the next state of evolution.

Outlook has come out with this issue on Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary.Fine! But that is only the reason or it also has Modi angle because of Modi’s successful Vivekanand Yatra before Gujarat election which he can replicate in similar pan-Indian format before next Loksabha election?

Thar, India
Jan 12, 2013
02:20 PM

As I understand from these excerpts, It  seems Vivekanada was more interested in extolling Hinduism as it exists within the framewoprk of Manusmruti and not as a reformer like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others                                      

R V Subramanian
Gurgaon, India
Jan 12, 2013
02:26 PM

> "Caste helped one to express one’s Jati.... Its death too was an explanation for Vivekananda for India’s downfall."

Vivekanand's views on caste are complex. There is something that I can admire, namely that he does not consider higher castes to be closed systems and he supports an individual's freedom to full realization of his/her potential. But at the same time he seems to create blocks with his idea that only the whole caste can rise en masse.

Dallas, United States
Jan 12, 2013
02:52 PM

We know why Vivekananda is under attack now. It is only because one CM of a western state considers him has his guru. While this was public knowledge, the rest of the liberal leftie loony cabal only discovered it after a successful yatra!

Delhi, India
Jan 12, 2013
03:15 PM


>> We know why Vivekananda is under attack now. It is only because one CM of a western state considers him has his guru.

Further evidence of your paranoia! Do get some help, please.

Dallas, United States
Jan 12, 2013
05:57 PM

>>Further evidence of your paranoia! Do get some help, please.

The resident mullah who sees 'my religion better than yours' in every post just could not stop himself from making another asinine comment.

Delhi, India
Jan 12, 2013
06:09 PM

@Hindus: Outlook thinks you & me are a bunch of complete and utter rednecks. They troll you & me every issue with a 'provocative' article or book launch and you & me give them 500 comments in return.

Let us think about this. DO you see the advertisements on this page and throughout outlook's site.
YOU fund this expression of their ideology. Mr.Sharma(the author) also doesn't distinguish between Hindutva and Hinduism. One is a specifically defined term by the SC in the 90s whereas the other too, atleast by our constitution, is specifically defined as a non christian,non muslim and non jew etc etc. basically all pagans are Hindus(Esp. The Hindu Mariiage Act).
Apparently there is no distinction.
So Gandhi was a Hindutva vadi. So was Athavale. Ambedkar? Yeah, as per Sharma, he would qualify too even with all his rhetoric against Hinduism. As per our constitution, Ambedkar and the neo buddhists are Hindu. No wait, not Buddhism.
You see Buddhism as it is called, is seen by residents of Maonagar & Stalinpur(twin urban villages) as opposed to evil Hinduism. The central asians who created the term Hindu used it to describe all 'pagans' in India. Later, islamic invading groups that popularised it, used it for all infidels and pagans in India. They ended Buddhism, as per Ambedkar. The people living in the areas where the Buddha was born, educated and attained Parinirvana don't distinguish between what is called Buddhism and what is called Hinduism.
But still, buddhists can't be hindus because Jyotirmay Sharma [pronounced to sound  1)sexual,2)vulgar & 3)like a kind of food- Chod-erm-muiy Sshhormaa ] believes there is NO distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism. Hence, if buddhists are hindus, they are also Hindutvavadis. The dalits are neo-buddhists/buddhists. Hence, Dalits are hindutvavadis.
Hence, Ambedkar was Hindutvavadi. and there you have ladies and gentlemen-Blasphemy as per the Marxist religion.
So it is perfectly possible to perform a vulgar form of yoga asanas(Beautiful HINDU physical and mental disciplining techniques?) - where you have to bend over backwards so beautifully & so much, that you MUST thrust your head straight up your backside - to somehow create the impression that 1)Hindutva in all it's forms is the most evil ideology in the world, 2)that Hinduism is the same & 3)That, still, Buddhism is different.

Also, as I posted in the other thread on Vivekananda where Sharma is interviewed, He(The Swami) was quite left wing. But you see, anyone that associates with CM Modi or vice versa becomes an untouchable for the doyens of Stalinpur. Moreover, anyone that doesn't think he is jesus or satan, and is relatively neutral in their stance, is also a dirty communal fanatic in Stalinpur. They are disgusted by untouchability and practise it beautifully themself.

Christian figures like Jesus himself, forget little ole Teresa, have come under question and been spit at. Mohammed himself has not been spared. Let us welcome Vivekananda to the club. EVERYONE will be questioned and criticised. NO ONE stops us from doing the same. We know, Vivekananda was supremacist like Teresa was supremacist. Also, he was a lot more practical than her and didn't disallow modern medicine claiming catholic compassion(oxymoron as per western marxists), faith and God in ascending order, would save these poor people. These trolls have had their prophet(Marx) and their religion(Marxism) been questioned and degraded by history. There is frustration within and it will come out. Yes, I know, I know, Akbar, is considered a 'secular' and beautifully tolerant leader by the same people and they love that epitome of morality, Chairman Mao. Still!! I know, I know, they call you chauvinists and fascists. Still, no one stops you from doing the same. Isn't hinduism primarily about the 'self'. Let us be good hindus and help our-'self'. Forgive me for the bad sense of humour, I just heard Rameez Raja's commentary some time ago and the effects are showing. He is another evil man with Hindu Rajput ancestry. We are all evil. Anyway,  I want you hindus to know that you make these people, rich by visiting this page more than once & commenting here multiple times.
I am largely a capitalist. I read the two posts on the Swami in this issue. Both didn't impress me.
And I am now moving on. I am not the designated market of this mental midget, Shorma. I make that CHOICE. These two posts & his book, are for people who are fat,frustrated and rejected by society[like the author, who I suspect is the SAME guy that posed for the cover of the Ram Guha Hindu Fundamentalism issue & was supposed to represent the average 'internet hindu'. I had posted even then that the chap in question looks like a typically depressed Marxist who lives alone with 15 cats, like Saba Naqvi for example] a long time ago, for not opening up to deodorant use post 90s economic liberalisation. Please think before making these choices and justifying them as another opportunity to kick marxist or jihadi ass. Our time is better spent watching grass grow. You kick this Marxist's ass by not coming BACK to comment here. By NOT giving a flying toss. That is an asskicking if there were any. 
 Please, do the same. Comment & Move on! Or else you shall willingly be victims of a troll.
Thank you, my good fellow Hindus
In the spirit of Fascism that we learn as Hindus, let us destroy the infidels(Wait, Are there any infidels in the violent fascist philosophy that is Hinduism? Can't remember any. Maybe Ganesh's rat?)
Heil Hitler!!
And Heil Mogambo!!
Heil Gandhi!!
Heil Athavale!!
Heil Adi Shankara!!
Heil Patanjali!!
Heil possible Atheist Kapila!!
And Heil Vivekananda!!

Just Joe King
Gotham, India
Jan 12, 2013
07:19 PM

Even if he made few faulty observations, Vivekanand’s contribution to awake demoralized and sloppy India is enormous.

In modern times he is perhaps the only cultural and spiritual legend who has widespread reach and immense respect among masses. His message strikes chord to anyone seeking spiritual and moral guidance. He is inspiration to youth whom he called to attain self confidence with knowledge and arise.

Basically we don’t have to elevate Vivekanand to God’s level. Accept him as humane with his extra ordinary work which is remains huge motivational source for Indians and that gives answers to many queries of a curious mind.

Thar, India
Jan 12, 2013
08:00 PM

“The book is no better than any ‘Masala Bollywood Remake’ – which are made when producers start running out-of-original-ideas.”

Rajneesh Batra
New Delhi, India
Jan 12, 2013
11:04 PM

The author is a professor in Central university at Hyderabad, a big name among Hinduism hatters! A man who has devoted all his writting abusing all Hindu icons.............his bile is speewed in anti Hindu publications like Outlook & Hindu............may go bless him with wisdom at least in the near future! Miracles can always happen!

hyd, India
Jan 13, 2013
12:22 AM

Poorly argued. Badly written and not worth attention. I would rather continue with my       . P.G.Wodehouse and laugh a bit.

Madrid, Spain
Jan 13, 2013
12:34 AM

 Here comes another Hindu hater 'intellectual'.

Their is a concerted campaign being run by the alliance of jihadis, McCaulay's children, and Marxist fascists to spew venom against Hindus and Bharat. Outlook provides a plateform to these  warriors bereft of head and bereft of heart only totally certain in their rotten beliefs whose central tenet is the blind hatred for the Hindu.

Pradip Singh
STAFFORD, United Kingdom
Jan 13, 2013
01:52 AM


A "re-look" is not going to detract from Vivekananda's greatness. Nothing hurts Vivekananda more than attempts by the likes of Modi to expropriate him for political advantage.

Dallas, United States
Jan 13, 2013
02:15 AM