"Jagat satya!"

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri Aug 2 11:06:34 CDT 2002

Ashish Chandra wrote:

> You should really ask why, and how, Jagannath thinks Swami Vivekananda's
> views differed from the early teachers. Why do you take his word for it
> without your own enquiry?

Please.  Do you think I would have even entered into this topic without
doing my own research?  Jagannath just gives some outside corroboration in
case someone thinks this is just my personal obsession.  I thank him for
his honesty.

Jagannath Chatterjee wrote:

> Upanishads, Veda's and Bhagavad Gita. Swamiji did not
> invent the altruistic approach, he only rediscovered
> it from the sources mentioned above. He did differ
> from Sri Shankaracharya when he led stress on seeing
> the self in all and serving them as such. Swamiji
> praised Sri Shankaracharya to dizzying heights but he
> also accused him of distorting the scriptures to
> project his own brand of advaita.

Prabhupada did the same kind of thing.  He calls his commentary on the
Gita "Bhagavadgita As It Is" with the implication that he alone is giving
the pristine interpretation of the Gita whereas all others have distorted
it.  This is good propoganda but doesn't measure up.  If you actually read
it, you see he distorts with abandon when it suits him.

The same thing is going on here.  In the 19th century people thought that
with new disciplines like critical philology, they would be able to come
up with definitive and accurate statements of meaning.  Today we are more
likely to believe that everything is a matter of interpretation.
Shankaracharyas interpretation is the best because it makes the most out
of a wide and disparate set of thoughts.

Jagannath Chatterjee wrote:

> The need for "reforming the reforms" of Swami
> Vivekanada appears only to those who oppose him for
> the following;

0. Misrepresenting the true source of his ideas and how much it diverges
from what has always been understood as Advaita Vedanta.  Basing his
interpretations on ideas which may have been cutting edge in the 19th
century, but are obsolete, dangerous and downright backward today.

> 1. His catholicity in accepting the inherent truth of
> all religions and sects. Ekam sad vipra bahudha
> vadanti.

Are you aware that Ekam sad... means something other than what you think it

> 2. His concept of the monks staying out of politics
> and serving the masses without any hope of return.

In the 19th century the traditionalist monks believed in staying out of
politics too but their sympathies were with those who wanted to see the
British out of India.  Especially after 1857, the colonial authorities
were quite suspicious of followers of the ancien regime as potential
sources of sedition which is why they started their "Brown Englishmen"
policy.  So the reformers had a delicate balancing act to follow.  On the
one hand they had to convince the authorities "We are not a threat to your
rule." and they had to convince their compatriots "We are not traitors to
our culture."  One way to do this was just to proclaim disinterest in
politics altogether.  But as you mention below they did have a political

> 3. His strong opposition to the Brahministic class who
> did nothing but exploit the poor in the name of
> religion.

This is an example.  This is totally the kind of Marxist political
interpretation which was in vogue in the 19th century.  Like most
political propoganda it doesn't hold water on closer inspection.

First of all many Brahmans were (and are) poor themselves.  In fact the
more religious they are the more likely they are to be poor.

Second the scapegoating of an entire group for the supposed sins of a few
is immoral.  I can't speak for any other members of the Brahminist class
(including yourself) but my conscience is clean.  I haven't oppressed
anyone and neither have the last several generations of my family.  So I
regard this as vile slander nothing more.

Third, this is just a convenient fig leaf to hide the fact that all the
reform movements have been made up of "bhadra log" none of them has ever
had much success amongst the masses they claim to be championing.  They
try and delegitimize the traditional establishment because they are its
competitors for social and political power not any noble sentiment.

Ashish Chandra wrote:

> But the VHP also quotes Shankaracharyas. What does that prove?

Jagannath Chatterjee wrote:

> Regarding certain quasi-religio-political
> organisations, they are an oppurtunistic lot.
> sometimes they fall at the feet of Swami Vivekananda
> and sometimes they hold closed door meetings with the
> Shankaracharyas.

If you examine the rhetoric of the Hindutva partisans (which I agree is
opportunistic) when they invoke Shankaracharya or his successors (Do
they really do this?  I haven't seen too many examples myself.)  it is for
different reason then when they quote Vivekananda.  For the latter it is
show how "modern" Hinduism is which was my only point.

Ashish Chandra wrote:

> People who follow Vivekananda today do so because he was made famous by
> his speech in 1893 in the Parliament of Religions.

If celebrity status is a good reason for following a philosopher maybe we
should start Hritik-Roshan-L :)

> If he had not made that speech, would
> Vivekananda have thought differently even though no one followed him?

Please understand my purpose in all this is not to "blame" Vivekananda.
As I said in one of my first mails, what he did and said may have been
appropriate for his particular circumstances.  My concern is for today.
Based on what I know about the history and philosophy of our religion and
other religions, I think our classical tradition provides a much firmer
basis for continued growth and vitality in the long run than any of the
reform movements.

Jagannath Chatterjee wrote:

> But the enquiring mind keeps on hitting some aspects of the old school

You should feel free to frankly express your doubts on this list.  I am
confident that Advaita Vedanta is rock solid.

Ashish Chandra wrote:

> So it does not matter to you "why" we should be compassionate? Where is
> the automatic acceptance coming from if not due to faith in the words of
> the Vedas and/or the Guru? Where is the logic? I am not against logic but
> there are certain things that we just cannot know right now, today. It is
> upto us whether or not we accept them on faith in the words of the Guru or
> we just keep running around in circles. That is what I had meant to convey.

This is a question which cannot be solved once and for all but I feel
practice is more important than ideology.  First one does by imitation and
then one thinks about what one is doing and starts doing consciously.
E.g. you tell a child it's not nice to hit people.  They do it to please
you (or to avoid being punished.)  Then when they grow up they start to
think about why nonviolence is better than violence.

> Logic is for today. It is not for tomorrow.

This message is being sent today, not tomorrow. :)

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list