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Insights into Editorial: The monk who shaped India’s secularism

Insights into Editorial: The monk who shaped India’s secularism


The practice of Indian secularism, despite its pitfalls, has distinguished the country from many of its neighbours.

India is the nation with the third-highest number of Muslims in the world. Its ability to consolidate democracy and surrounded by unprecedented diversity could teach a lesson or two even to advanced industrial economies that have operated along the lines of a classic monocultural nation.

The country’s secular ideals have their roots in its Constitution, promulgated by its people, a majority of whom are Hindus.


Indian mode of Secularism:

Indian secularism has always attempted, however imperfectly, to respect the credo of sarva dharma sama bhava (all religions lead to the same goal), which translates to an equal respect for all religions.

However, the early-day Hindu nationalists were clearly at odds with the idea. This was the reason Nathuram Godse assassinated one of its strongest proponents, Mahatma Gandhi.


Indian Secularism having its roots from Swami Vivekananda Ideology:

It is necessary to understand what Vivekananda’s life and world view said about Indian nationalism.

His Chicago lectures (1893) marked the beginning of a mission that would interpret India’s millennial tradition in order to reform it and he later spent about two years in New York, establishing the first Vedanta Society in 1894.

He travelled widely across Europe and engaged Indologists such as Max Mueller and Paul Deussen.

He even debated with eminent scientists such as Nicola Tesla before embarking on his reformist mission in India.


Tolerance and Universal acceptance had propounded by Swami Vivekananda:

  • Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that tolerance and universal acceptance have been two of the most noteworthy aspects of the Indian culture.
  • Naidu’s remarks came while addressing the concluding ceremony of the 2nd World Hindu Congress, which was organized on the eve of 125th Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s Historic Speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 at Chicago.
  • As Swami Vivekananda said in his inaugural speech at Chicago on September 11, 1893, ours is a country that has “taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” India believes “not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true.”
  • Asserting that India is a treasure house of ideas, values, and attitudes, Naidu said that the country could provide honey of wisdom in this bitter world.


All religions lead to the same goal: Swami Vivekanada:

One of the key elements of his message, based on the experiments of his spiritual mentor Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, was that all religions lead to the same goal.

Paramahansa is unique in the annals of mysticism as one whose spiritual practices reflect the belief that the ideas of personal god and that of an impersonal god as well as spiritual practices in Christianity and in Islam all lead to the same realisation.


Important Facets of Hindu Life:

While in Chicago, Vivekananda stressed three important and novel facets of Hindu life.

First, he said that Indian tradition believed “not only in toleration” but in acceptance of “all religions as true”.

Second, he stressed in no uncertain terms that Hinduism was incomplete without Buddhism, and vice versa.

Finally, in the words of swami Vivekananda, at the last meeting he proclaimed: “If anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of 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 and not fight’; ‘Assimilation and not destruction’, and ‘Harmony and peace and not dissension’.


Religion and rationality go hand in hand appreciated by Vivekananda:

  • Vivekananda’s interpretation of India’s past was radical and, when he returned from the West, he had with him a large number of American and European followers.
  • These women and men stood behind his project of establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897.
  • Vivekananda emphasised that India needed to trade Indian spirituality for the West’s material and modern culture and was firmly behind India’s scientific modernisation.
  • He supported Jagadish Chandra Bose’s scientific projects.
  • In fact, Vivekananda’s American disciple Sara Bull helped patent Bose’s discoveries in the U.S.
  • He also invited Irish teacher Margaret Noble, whom he rechristened ‘Sister Nivedita’, to help uplift the condition of Indian women.
  • When she inaugurated a girls’ school in Calcutta, Vivekananda even requested his friends to send their girls to this school.
  • Vivekananda also inspired Jamsetji Tata to establish the Indian Institute of Science and the Tata Iron and Steel Company.


Vivekananda’s Influence on Gandhi, Nehru:

Vivekananda made a remarkable impact on the makers of modern India, who later challenged the two-nation theory, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose.

He used the term ‘Daridra Narayan’ to imply that ‘service to the poor is service to god’, many years before Gandhiji addressed the socially oppressed as ‘Harijan’ (children of god).

The Mahatma in fact opined that his love for India grew thousand-fold after reading Vivekananda.

It is for these reasons that the Vivekananda’s birthday was declared as the National Youth Day.



True nationalism is the preservation of this invaluable heritage.

We should live the values we espouse and present the bouquet of ideas in the correct perspective so that the world has the most authentic perspective.

This will prevent some distortions and erroneous perceptions from gaining ground. In fact, this is what Swami ji had achieved through his lectures in Chicago and in other parts of the world.

We have also to guard against the aberrations that have tended to creep into Hindu society.

India needed a secular monastery from where scientific and technological development would uplift India’s material conditions, for which his ideals provided a source of inspiration.

Paying rich tributes to Swami Vivekananda, Naidu said that it was the former’s speech that helped the world at large to know the significance of the tenets of the Hindu religion.