Sunday, August 17, 2014

Six orthodox rules in Hinduism broken by Swami Vivekananda

Liberalization of Hinduism (shifting from orthodox to liberal)

Very few know about it and without these we would have lost our glory.

Six major orthodox rules in Hinduism were broken by Swami Vivekananda. This was a shift of Orthodox Hinduism to liberal one in nineteenth century.

We can appreciate his contribution if we evaluate his work based the circumstances and situations of the society during that time.

1. Buddha’s compassion:

People are very creative while worshipping and invoking God on stones and images. But when it comes to poor and down trodden, they escape by saying it is their Prarabdha(past life Karma), so they should suffer. And God will take care of them, why should we? There are many scriptures (smritis) mentioning the donation to priests to gain Punyam. Rarely do these inspire to donate to poor and downtrodden. More peculiar to it, they distinguish Vyavaharika and Paramarthika reality. They say Vyavaharika reality is Maya(false), and there will be difference and division among people and we need to accept suffering due to it. Mostly they apply this logic to other’s suffering, not for their own. Swami Vivekananda criticized these attitudes of people. He said God is present in everybody’s heart. So service to mankind is service to God.  He insisted on serving the living God present in human temple. Don’t waste your energy in stone temples. He said intellectuality should go with Buddha’s compassion. He further goes ahead quoting his Guru Sri-Ramakrishna "who are you the insignificant, crawling on earth, to show compassion to others? Not compassion, rather worship the poor through service, the living God."

Swami Vivekananda writes in a letter, 1894 - "If you want any good to come, just throw your ceremonials overboard and worship the Living God, the Man-God — every being that wears a human form — God in His universal as well as individual aspect. The universal aspect of God means this world, and worshipping it means serving it — this indeed is work, not indulging in ceremonials. Neither is it work to cogitate as to whether the rice-plate should be placed in front of the God for ten minutes or for half an hour — that is called lunacy. Millions of rupees have been spent only that the temple doors at Varanasi or Vrindaban may play at opening and shutting all day long! Now the Lord is having His toilet, now He is taking His meals, now He is busy on something else we know not what. ... And all this, while the Living God is dying for want of food, for want of education! The banias of Bombay are erecting hospitals for bugs — while they would do nothing for men even if they die! You have not the brain to understand this simple thing — that it is a plague with our country, and lunatic asylums are rife all over. ... Let some of you spread like fire, and preach this worship of the universal aspect of the Godhead — a thing that was never undertaken before in our country. [CW-6]"             

2. Caste breaker:
First time in Indian Hinduism history Swami Vivekananda allowed Sudra (the 4th varna) to join as monks in asram and worship in temple. Even He initiated many untouchables into Gayatri mantra in Kolkata and converted them into Brahmin. Earlier Veda, Upanishads study were prohibited for Surda. Smriti holds that Veda is not to be read in the vicinity of a Sudra. “Put molten lead in his ears if he hears Veda; His tongue is to be slit if he pronounces it; his body is to be cut through if he preserves it.” Swamiji broke this tradition and published Upanishads for the access of all. It was not a simple task to break this old age tradition. Swamiji was highly criticized in time by orthodox Brahmins and many of his good friends deserted him. But He did not care for the consequence and decided to clean Hinduism single handedly without any fear.

3. Women freedom:
Earlier women were not allowed to chant Veda and to join as a monk. They were considered impure due to menstrual cycle they incur. Swamiji removed these two rules and allowed women to chant Vedic manta. He also established a separate women asram specially dedicated for women. Even today in most of the orthodox temples women priests are not allowed. But Swami Vivekananda initiated a lot of women disciples including women from foreign countries to conduct worship with Vedic chanting. He took a lot of pain even to convince Indian women that they have equal eligibility for all Vedic rites. His famous disciple sister Nivedita helped him to train Indian women to overcome these superstitions. 

To quote Swami Vivekananda - "The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence. Liberty is the first condition of growth.... The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women. There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of woman is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing....Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. No one can or ought to do this for them."

4. Travel oversea to foreign land:
The first Hindu monk to cross ocean was Swami Vivekananda.

During the time of Swami Vivekananda(1863-1902), travelling oversea to foreign lands like USA and UK was considered as a sin. If you travel across the 'black waters' then you lose your caste and will be out of Hinduism. So Hindu orthodox people were afraid to cross ocean. For this reason initially Gandhi family was hesitating to sent Mahatma Gandhi to study law in London, thereby losing his caste.  

Swami Vivekananda did not accept this age long superstition and became the 'first Hindu monk' to travel outside India crossing ocean. Earlier only Buddhist monks went out of India. No Hindu monk had ever crossed the sea because of above fear. Swamiji even used to eat with foreigners and made many disciples in foreign lands including women disciples like Sister Nivedita.  But he got his punishment on returning back to India. After returning from USA, Swamiji was not allowed to enter into Dakshineswar Kali temple in Kolkata where his Guru Sri Ramakrishna had lived a major part of his life. The temple management denied his entry into temple because Swamiji had lost his Hindu status while eating with foreigners. After that Swamiji did not find any interest to visit Jagannatha temple and other temples in Odisha. Such was our foolish Indian temple management!

Only due to Him currently many Hindu monks are able to travel abroad to spread Hinduism without any violence. Today there is no social restriction for anybody to travel outside India for business reason, tourism etc.

Interestingly honourable Supreme Court of India took Swamiji as a model to give a historical verdict on foreign travel. Regarding the prohibition of the government on a person’s going abroad(specially IITian) the court discussed the importance of travel across the world as said by Swami Vivenananda. Court iterated in Verdict - "Swami Vivekananda, that saintly revolutionary who spanned East and West, exhorted, dwelling on the nation’s fall of the last century: ‘My idea as to the keynote of our national downfall is that we do not mix with other nations—that is the one and sole cause. We never had the opportunity to compare, notes. We were Kupa Mandukas (frogs in a well).’" Link for details on verdict -

5. Vedanta in common:
Vedanta is the last part of Veda, known as Upanishads. Earlier Upanishads were studied only by monks in forest. Those texts were not published outside for common house-holders. Swamiji decided to spread these texts in common masses and published these books with the help of his foreign devotees. Even He had to fight with orthodox Pundits during that time to get original manuscripts.  Today very few have access to Upanishads and very few know that Upanishads are the original scripture of Hinduism.

6. Influential freedom fighter:

Swamiji was both a religious leader and a patriot. Usually monks in traditional sense never bother about social issues. Swamiji was an exceptional in this case. Though he was a monk dedicated for religious reform, He inspired many freedom fighters in due course. Few famous names are Subhas chandra bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc. His notable book “Lectures from Colombo to Almora” was so popular that, all freedom fighters in jail had one copy with them to ignite the patriotism in their mind. The situation was such influential that, British govt wanted to ban and close Ramakrishna mission.  It was saved due to the divine intervention of holy mother Sarada. She clarified British people that this is a religious organization and nothing to do with politics. Please see below link:-


  1. Another link of Swamiji influence on freedom struggle -

  2. "He did not care for the consequence and decided to clean Hinduism single handedly without any fear."

    His actions are still chiseling the rigidity in the Hindu society. We owe him a lot.