Uniting Religions the Vivekananda Vedantic Way, By Om Prakash Sharma

Posted on May 28th, 2009 | Filed under Faith and Politics

The Swami Vivekananda

On a recent visit to a mosque in Amman, Jordan, Pope Benedict XVI expressed regret that instead of uniting people and bringing them closer to each other, religion often sowed the seeds of discord among them. This, he maintained, was mainly due to ‘ideological manipulation.’

Swami Vivekananda, the nineteenth-century ‘Prophet of New India,’ as Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland hailed him,1 however, held different views. He believed that conflicts and misunderstandings among the followers of different faiths stemmed from a flawed conception of religion itself and all that constituted its sacred pursuit. According to the Swami, religion did not consist merely in going to church or any other place of worship, fulfilling certain formalities, and upon getting exposed to doctrine and dogma, coming to feel that your religion was the ‘one and only true one...’2

Instead, the Swami maintained that religion is essentially ‘realisation.’ That is, it is realisation of the highest truths contained in the scriptures and the work of putting them into practice.  It entails the utmost approximation of oneself to one’s divine ideal; in fact, it entails ‘total transformation.’ As examples, we may recall how Angulimal, the dreaded dacoit of ancient India, became, through inner conversion, the venerable Sage Valmiki, the author of the religious classic Ramayana; how Girish Ghosh, a thoroughly debased individual, turned into a saint under the influence of his spiritual mentor, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. To quote the definition of the subject given by the Swami, in toto, “Religion is realisation; not talk, nor doctrine, nor theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming; not hearing or acknowledging; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes.”3

Some time ago, a political leader in the West, who is also a committed religious practitioner, talked about ‘our national religion,’ as though people of other countries necessarily had their own different ‘national religions.' It is precisely this breaking-up of the One Universal Religion into several parts that irked the Swami. He had encountered the phenomenon himself in the West at the time of the first World Parliament of Religions, which was held in Chicago in 1893, and felt that it contributed, in no small measure, to ‘sowing the seeds of discord among men.’ Providing us with a corrective to this vision, he had argued, indirectly addressing the bigots and fanatics of all faiths: “There never was my religion or yours, my national religion or your national religion; there never existed many religions, there is only the one. One Infinite Religion existed all through eternity and will ever exist, and this Religion is expressing itself in various countries in various ways.”4

But this universal approach to religion of Vivekananda, which reminds you of the RigVedic 1-164-46 pronouncement, ekam sat vipra bahuda vandanti,5 that is, the One Truth is described by different men of religious learning in different ways, should not be confused with the attempt to attain universal acceptance for one’s own faith which is characteristic of proselytizing activities. The former entails expansion of one’s religious outlook, whereas the latter seeks expansion of one’s religious fold. No wonder, the Swami succinctly observed, “expansion is life, contraction is death; love is life, hatred is death…”6

By accepting the Prophet of New India’s religio-philosophy, a Christian, without abandoning his own faith, stands to become a better Christian; a Hindu, without ceasing to be a Hindu, will become a better Hindu. Likewise, the Buddhist and the rest.7 Indeed, no religion is denied; rather it is fulfilled by means of Vedanta.

By Om Prakash Sharma, Mission Compound, Jaipur India .


1. His Prophets of New India, which was published several years back in England and which dealt with the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his disciple, Swami Vivekananda, has been brought out again by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, under the titles, The Life of Ramakrishna and The life of Vivekananda and  the Universal Gospel, respectively.

2. See Eleanor Stark’s profound inter-religious study, The Gift Unopened: A  New American Revolution,  published by Peter E. Randall, Portsmouth , NH . It says there (p. 21) that the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in Sept. 1893, had declined to attend the international interfaith meeting because of his firm belief that his particular faith was the only true one and his going there would indirectly amount to according recognition to the other ‘false religions’ whose representatives would also be coming there.

Swami Vivekananda, who was one of the representatives, later, in one of his lectures, caustically rejoined, “I do not understand how people declare themselves to be believers in God, and at the same time think that God has handed over to a little body of men all truth, and they are the guardians of the rest of humanity.” (The Complete Works of  Swami Vivekananda, Mayavati Memorial Edition [hereafter CW], published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, IV. 182.)

In another of his discourses, the Swami had said, touching upon a very important point, viz., going beyond religion to realisation, “It is very good to be born in a church, but it is  very bad to die in a church” (CW,II.39).

The implication is that one must spiritually grow up, and become a universal human, or, rather, a divine, being, with love and sympathy or all (see the Bhagavada-Gita, V. 25, and other relevant slokas in the book).

Such a character, described above, will have necessarily risen above all barriers of caste, creed, race, religion, color, sex, nationality, etc., and become a jivanmukta. (This last is Sanskrit  for a ‘free – while – living’ soul--- and this not merely in the social or political sense, as we have seen before.) To quote the words of the Swami, “He is a Jivanmukta who can live in this world without being attached. He is like the lotus leaves in water, which are never wetted by the water. He is the highest of human beings, nay, the highest of all beings, for he has realised his identity with the Absolute; he has realised that he is one with God” (CW, III. 10-11).

3. CW, II.396.

4. CW, IV. 180. Those interested in pursuing the subject further may go  through the Swami’s ‘supremely enlightened’, as they have been described, discourses on  Universal Religion contained in his Complete Works--- CW, II. 359 – 75. One may also contrast his Vedantic, all-comprehensive approach with that of the proselytizer’s that he disapproves of (CW, V. 291 – 2).

5. See the Swami’s exposition of this significant Vedic richa, that may be said to indirectly promote not just tolerance but acceptance of the other man’s faith, religious pluralism, in fact,   in CW, I. 348, 350. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the celebrated guru of Swami Vivekananda, had proved the veracity of the RigVedic observation by  successfully practising the various leading religions, one at a time, and attaining God-realisation through them all.   Subsequently, he had declared that each religion, sincerely practised, is a valid path to the Highest; no one should think that his path alone is the true one, and the rest are all ‘false faiths.’ (See Claude Alan Stark’s scholarly inter-religious study, God of All: Sri Ramakrishna’s Approach to Religious Pluralism.)

6.  CW, IV. 366.

7.CW, I, 24.

8. Source of photo used in this article: http://mohanchandran.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/swami-vivekananda.jpg.

6 Responses to “Uniting Religions the Vivekananda Vedantic Way, By Om Prakash Sharma”

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  3. Alan Tuthill says:

    Om Prakash Sharma is someone I knew many years ago and the impact of our meetings is still with me. He has a great understanding of the meaning of life and he maintains a great humility. He called me special and made me special just by saying that.
    I wonder how different my life would be if I would have followed his path.

  4. Mrs. Zenaida Hashim says:

    Hello Om Prakash Sharma,

    I am Mrs. Zenaida Hashim, I read your article and noted the messages and information’s therein. I think you re doing a good work and the Almighty will sure reward you deligently and keep healthy.

    Many More Regards!
    Mrs. Zenaida Hashim.

  5. nayan priyadarshi says:

    the hero of indian youth

  6. A.P.Durai says:

    Excellent distillation of Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts on religious pluralism and acceptance of current religions as manifestations of one universal religion. All followers of exclusive or absolutist approaches to religion must read your article and the speeches of the great Swami