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Ramakrishna Movement and Vivekananda

Ramakrishna Movement and Vivekananda

  • The reformist organisations like the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal, which was more modernist in its approach, was weakened after the 1870s by internal dissent and divisions.
    • This was followed by the emergence of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda movement in the 1880s.
  • While Brahmo Sarnaj‘s appeal was to intellect and its didactic rationalism appealed more to the intellectual elite appeal of Rama-krishna Paramahansa was to the mind and emotions.

Ramakrishna Paramhans (1834-86)

  • Ramakrishna Paramahansa  was a poor priest at the Kali temple in Dakshineswar near Calcutta.
  • His thinking was rooted deeply in Indian thought and culture, although he recognised the Truth in all religions.
    • He considered and emphasised that Krishna, Hari, Rama, Christ, Allah are different names for the same God.
  • He was completely untouched by Western rationalist education.
  • He stood for selfless devotion to God with a view to the ultimate absorption in Him. This spirituality and compassion for suffering humanity inspired those who listened to him.
  • He offered simple interpretations of Hinduism, which became immensely popular among the Western-educated Bengalees, tormented by their subjection to the drudgery of clerical jobs in foreign mercantile or government offices.
  • He offered the possibility of an escape into an inner world of bhakti, despite the binding disciplines of alien jobs.
  • Thus, although in his teachings there is hardly any direct reference to colonial rule, there is however an open rejection of the values imposed by Western education and the routine life of a time-bound job or chakri.
  • The educated middle class in the nineteenth century often found the domain of reason to be oppressive, as it implied the historical necessity of the “civilising” colonial rule.
    • Therefore, in the teachings of this uneducated saint at Dakshineswar, this subordinated middle class found the formulation of a new religion, which “appropriated”, “sanitized” and “classicized” the popular traditions into a national religious discourse.
  • Ramakrishna was not a revivalist per se, for he inculcated a form of religious eclecticism, which did not however involve the preaching of an open and fluid syncretism.
    • There are various ways to achieve god, he argued; but one must stick to one’s own path in a world of fairly rigid divisions.
    • Ramakrishna’s catholicity therefore soon came to be projected as an essence of Hinduism and became for his disciple, Vivekananda, a ground for claiming the superiority of Hinduism over all other religions.”

Swami Vivekananda (Narendranath Datta, 1862–1902) and Ramakrishna Mission

  • It was left to Swami Vivekananda (Narendranath Datta, 1862–1902) to give an interpretation to the teachings of Ramakrishna and render them in an easily understandable language to the modern man.
    • It was Vivekananda who infused into this discourse a missionary zeal.
  • He condemned the other reform movements as elitist.
  • Invoked the ideal of social service. The best way to serve god, he emphasised, was to serve the poor people.
  • Ramakrishna Mission:
    • Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 (eleven years after the death of Ramakrishna) as a philanthropic organisation, getting inspiration from Ramakrishna Paramhans.
    • It aimed at protecting India from the materialistic influences of western culture. It idealized Hinduism and the spiritual genius of India.
    • It strove for the spiritual conquest of the world through resurrected Hinduism.
    • To the founder, the Vedanta as the grand, universal and super-religion of the world.
    • It actively worked for social reforms humanitarian service and imparting education through a network of Ramkrishna schools.
    • Besides it emphasized self-help and building-up of man strength.
    • Unlike the Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission recognizes the utility and value of image worship in developing spiritual fervour and worship of the Eternal Omnipotent God.
    • Ever since its inception the Ramakrishna Mission has been in the forefront of social reform in the country.
      • It runs a number of charitable dispensaries and hospitals, offers help to the afflicted in times of natural calamities like famines, floods, epidemics.
  • Vivekanand emerged as the preacher of neo-Hinduism.
    • He attended the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893 and made a great impression by his learned interpretations.
    • The keynote of his opening address was the need for a healthy balance between spiritualism and materialism.
    • He envisaged a new culture for the whole world where the materialism of the West and the spiritualism of the East would be blended into a new harmony to produce happiness for mankind.
  • The swami decried untouchability and the caste system.
    • He strongly condemned the touch- me-not attitude of Hindus in religious matters.
    • He regretted that Hinduism had been confined to the kitchen.
  • He frowned at religion’s tacit approval to the oppression of the poor by the rich.
    • He believed that it was an insult to God and humanity to teach religion to a starving man. Once he said, “Him I call a Mahatma whose heart bleeds for the poor, otherwise he is a Duratma. So long as millions live in hunger and ignorance I hold every man a traitor who whilę educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to man“.
    • Thus, Vivekanand emphasised the fundamental postulate of his Master that the best worship of God is through service of humanity.
    • In this way he gave a new social purpose to Hinduism.
  • Vivekananda introduced the idea of an “alternative manliness“, which combined Western concepts of masculinity with the Brahmanic tradition of spiritual celibate ascetism.
    • A physical culture movement started with great enthusiasm with gymnasiums coming up in various parts of Bengal to reclaim physical prowess; but the emphasis remained on spiritual power and self-discipline that claimed superiority over body that was privileged in the Western idea of masculinity.
  • Vivekanand never gave any political message.
    • All the same, through his speeches and writings he infused into the new generation a sense of pride in India’s past, a new faith in India’s culture and a rare sense of self-confidence in India’s future.
    • He was a patriot and worked for the uplift of the people. “So far as Bengal is concerned’ writes Subhas Bose “Vivekanand may be regarded as the spiritual father of the modern nationalist movement.
  • Was Vivekananda a revivalist?
    • To describe him as a revivalist is to ignore the “universalistic” aspects of his teachings.’
      • Nevertheless, the fact that he:
        • drew inspiration from the Vedantic tradition,
        • followed some of the orthodox Hindu rituals,
        • exhibited an intrinsic faith in the glories of Hindu civilisation and
        • nurtured a belief that it had degenerated in recent times, made it possible for the revivalists to appropriate him.
      • His evocation of Hindu glory mixed with patriotism, which sought to restore the masculinity of the Indian nation denied to them by their colonial masters, had a tremendous impact on the popular mind.
      • His message was therefore misused and misinterpreted to give a revivalist slant to nationalism in Bengal.
        • His evocation of the glories of a Hindu past was popularised, while his trenchant condemnation of the evils of Hinduism was conveniently forgotten.
        • His philanthropic activities were hardly ever emulated;
        • his criticism of the Brahmanical and gender oppression was scarcely ever taken seriously.
      • But he became the “patron prophet” for a whole generation of extremist leaders and militant revolutionaries, dreaming the resurrection of a glorious Hindu India.

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