OVERVIEW OF HINDU PHILOSOPHY

Swami_Vivekananda_1893_Scanned_ImageThis is an excerpt from an ongoing study towards my doctoral thesis, based on the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. I just thought I’d share this, as I have been asked many times about my opinion regarding what I consider ‘Hinduism’ today to actually stand for. It is a fairly self-contained portion of the thesis, and as such can be read and appreciated in that light.

OVERVIEW OF HINDU PHILOSOPHY

Introduction

Broadly speaking, Hindu philosophy can be divided into two main branches, each comprising six sub-schools, which are further divided into various schools. The finer details can be quite intricate, so what is presented here is simply a superficial overview with the purpose of contextualizing the current study and explaining where the philosophy and teachings of Swami Vivekananda fit in.

Orthodox vs heterodox Hinduism

The two main branches are the heterodox and the orthodox systems (nastika and astika in Sanskrit). The primary distinguishing feature of these two systems is that the former does not accept the authority of the Vedas, whereas the latter does, with varied interpretations. Hence, for our purposes, the emphasis is on the latter, not the former, since Vivekananda (as indeed, does modern-day Hinduism) uses that as the basis for his teachings.
There are six heterodox systems of philosophy, viz.:
1. The materialistic school of Charvaka;
2. The system of the Jainas;
3. The school of presentationists;
4. The school of representationists;
5. The school of idealism; and lastly
6. The school of nihilism.
The six orthodox schools are as follows:
1. The Nyaya;
2. The Vaiseshika;
3. The Sankhya;
4. The Yoga;
5. The Mimamsa; and
6. The Vedanta.
How the Hindu scriptures fit into these schools of thought can depicted graphically as follows:

As mentioned, the criterion for orthodoxy here is acceptance of the Vedas and Vedic literature as the ultimate authority. In fact, most Hindus would not recognize the tenets premised on heterodoxy as being part and parcel of Hinduism. In fact, there are mutually exclusive doctrines within the orthodox schools as well. Even within the Vedic tradition, there is a distinction between srutis (that which is revealed via direct perception) and smiritis (that which is interpreted and remembered). The former constitute that body of literature which always takes precedence of the latter since the smiritis are written for a particular society at a particular time, and therefore not necessarily applicable to all people for all time.

Before going on to explain they key tenets of each school, it would be worth noting that the Hindu mind advocates tolerance not only within the context of intra-Hindu pluralism, but also in an inter-religious context. This is often explained via an analogy with rivers flowing into the sea: just as each river will eventually reach the sea, so will all followers of whatever path they are on eventually ‘reach’ God. Sivananda (1977: 217) says that they are “like the six different roads which lead to one city”. This concept needs to be spelt out a bit for it to make sense, but the point I would like to make for now is that these systems are best understood as different perspectives of the same truth, not as different cults within the Hindu tradition. However, it is said that “No student of Hinduism ought to be satisfied without acquiring a clear and accurate knowledge of the principle distinguishing characteristics of the six philosophical schools” (Sivananda 1977: 217).

Since these six orthodox schools of thought are all premised on Vedic literature, it is necessary to understand exactly what this refers to. The word ‘Veda’ simply means knowledge, and some would not even want to commit to using this term in any sense which would classify a certain body of work. However, for our purposes, it would be necessary to do so. A study of the Vedas forms “generally the beginning of an advanced learning in the philosophical and religious literature of India” (Krishnananda 1973: 3).

The hymns in the Vedas are intended to invoke certain aspects of Divinity, represented by deities, which resonate different energies and are thereby able to synchronise with different aspects of life. Hence, these energies can be summoned for executing an ideal.

The deities which represent various aspects of both God and mankind are interpreted differently by followers of Hinduism. Some see them as purely symbolic – like Lord Vishnu representing God as preserver, yet having no autonomous existence if His own – whereas others indeed see them an actual entities who ought to be propitiated. Others still do not see these as being mutually exclusive, and the comparison used is that of someone looking at a wave and focusing only on that aspect of the ocean. Someone may ignore the wave and focus on the ocean as the only reality, or accept that it is ephemeral, or splash about in it and enjoy it for what it is at that point in time. Nonetheless, this does not preclude someone from knowing that the wave is, in a sense, unreal, and yet still indulge in it in whatever way he deems fit.

The various schools of thought are there to cater for the different ways in which people interpret God. It is interesting to note that the tantras and the agamas deify and spiritualise aspects of the world and of human nature which many would find appalling, offensive and even perverse. However, one could argue that the Hindus believe that all is part and parcel of the Cosmic Consciousness we call God, and therefore all people, regardless, should be given a recipe for spiritual edification. Tantric texts, for example, would not stigmatise the prostitute for being what she is, but instead prescribe a way to use sex to transcend body-consciousness. However, this philosophy falls under the heterodox schools, and nevertheless it would require a more exhaustive discussion which is beyond the scope of this thesis.

Getting back to the Vedas: the Vedic hymns are means of connecting with the denizens of the celestial world who perform various functions in various planes of existence. These may be gods, deities, ancestors or even disembodied spirits. These entities are propitiated in various ways, sometimes because the belief is that if they are not, some kind of misfortune will ensue; sometimes, these entities are called upon to assist with various problems, sometimes mundane, sometimes not. Ancestor worship is very much part and parcel of the Hindu tradition as well, as it is in various traditional African and pagan cultures. There are also mantras addressed to “the Universal Being or the Absolute” (Krishnananda 1973: 4). The worshipper has carte blanche in deciding which aspect of Divinity he wishes to tap into. In this context, Divinity does not preclude ancestors, even though they were once embodied beings. In fact, within the non-dual school of Hinduism, nothing is seen as separate from anything else, and all things are seen as manifestations of an underlying, pervasive spirit – it just happens to be the case that this spirit reveals itself in varying degrees from subtle to gross. This will be discussed in more detail below when the various schools of Vedantic philosophy are expounded upon.

There are four main Vedas: the Rig-Veda (comprising 10 chapters and 10 589 mantras), the Yajur Veda (comprising 40 chapters and 1 976 mantras), the Sama Veda (comprising 29 chapters and 1 875 mantras), and the Atharva Veda (comprising 20 chapters and 5 977 mantras). The Rig Veda is concerned with panegyrics to the deities. The Yajur Veda is divided into the ‘black’ and ‘white’ portions (as is the Atharva Veda). It contains sacrificial formulae, in both prose and verse, to be chanted at the performance of a sacrifice. The Sama Veda, actually, comprises sections from the Rig-Veda in song form, meant to be sung during various sacrificial rites. The Atharva Veda, said to be the ‘youngest’ of the four, comprises mainly spells and incantations.

The literal meaning of the word Veda denotes knowledge, but as it pertains to spirituality, actually connotes a superior, transcendent kind of knowledge. Traditionally, one associates the word Veda with the above-mentioned distinctions. These scriptures belong to the ancient Indo-Aryans who crossed the Indus River around 5000 BC, though scholars disagree on the exact dates, given that many contend that Vedic literature ante-dates the arrival of the said people (Nowbath et al 1960). These books are transcribed in classical Sanskrit, and are said to be a direct revelation from God. They are believed to embody supreme and sublime truths beyond the ken of the human mind. These truths were communicated to certain seers, saints and sages during their moments of supra-normal consciousness, which they committed to writing for posterity. Hindus believe that anyone can attain to this state of consciousness, if they follow certain steps and edify themselves spiritually such that they are able to transcend this ephemeral world and material- or body-consciousness.

The Puranas are ex post facto texts written by various saints for specific times, and attempted to fill various lacunae or ambiguities inherent in the original Vedas. As can be expected, there were multiple interpretations (and of course, misinterpretations), because different scholars tailored and interpreted the texts for various climes, and for this reason, the Puranas are to be read with a ‘pinch of salt’; they fall under the category of smriti, scriptures which were written for a particular purpose within a particular socio-cultural climate – not strictly meant to apply to all persons at all times. For example, most Hindus would agree that a scripture like the Manu Smriti, is largely anachronistic. For instance, in Chapter 5, verse 30 of the Manu Smriti, it is said that:

“It is not sinful to eat meat of edible animals, for Brahma has created both the eaters and the eatables.”

Later on it does qualify such statements by restricting it to ritualistic contexts, and elsewhere it is condemned – but this obviously creates a degree of ambiguity and confusion.

Gandhi (1957: 42) says that:
“The Manu Smriti at any rate did not teach me ahimsa. I have told the
story of my meat-eating. Manu Smriti seemed to support it.”

Of course Gandhi’s philosophy on meat-eating is no secret, as is the fact that most Hindus today would advocate vegetarianism as the ideal diet. Saints like Manu also spoke of the four classes of which society should comprise, based on one’s predilections, intelligence, etc., with rules and regulations for each class – which is where the caste system comes from. “But these can be modified according to circumstances, and in fact, history records many such adjustments” (Vedalankar 1965: 131).

As an aside, it is recorded in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Nikhilananda 1974: 59) that Ramakrishna ate fish:
“In my present state of mind I can eat a fish if it has been offered to
the Divine Mother beforehand.”

Later in the text, he is asked about animal sacrifice (Nikhilananda 1974: 119):
Adhar (to the Master): “Sir I have a question to ask. Is it good to sacrifice
animals before the Deity? It certainly involves killing.”

Master: “The sastra prescribes sacrifice of certain occasions. Take, for instance, the sacrifice of a goat on the eight day of the full or new moon”.

He later recommends that disciples do not go too deeply into it, and actually forbade the reading of certain scriptures, and says that “too much study of the scripture does more harm than good” (ibid: 194), and illustrates with the example of someone who goes to a pool of water to drink: someone who scoops the top-most part gets clean, fresh water to enjoy, whereas if you try to dig deeper you spoil the whole pool by making it muddy.
Few appreciate that Ramakrishna was very unorthodox in his teachings, and that his teachings differ greatly from that of Vivekananda, as documented in books by Dhar (1976) and Ananyananda (1979), for example. M., the pen name of the disciple of transcribed the Gospel, was very uncomfortable with Vivekananda’s emphasis on social welfare and service, and many of Ramakrishna’s other disciples questioned his interpretation of Ramakrishna’s teachings. M. confronted him directly on the issue, and was not happy with the response. His guru-bhais were very happy about his success, but “when the content of his teachings there became known”, there was a lot of dissension (Dhar 1976: 912), mostly because they thought fame was getting to his head, and that Ramakrishna’s teachings were being suppressed in favour of Vivekananda’s. This matter was settled, partly because it was Ramakrishna himself who named Vivekananda as his successor. At one stage, Vivekananda simply told them that the people ought to understand Vivekananda first before they even begin to understand Ramakrishna.

Ramakrishna even went so far as to say that “Even should Naren live on beef and pork, it could not harm in the least the great power of spirituality within him” (Ananyananda 1979: 134). It is a well-known fact that Vivekananda ate meat and smoked, as did Ramakrishna: “Shri Ramakrishna was about to smoke when Narendra hurriedly interrupted […]” (Ananyananda 1979: 130). When Vivekananda was taken to task on this issue by the orthodox priests and scholars, who tried to slander his name by claiming that he was breaking the rules and vows of monk-hood, he simply wrote in a letter:
“I am surprised you take so seriously the missionaries’ nonsense. . . . If the people in India want me to keep strictly to my Hindu diet, please tell them to send me a cook and money enough to keep him” (CW-5: 64), and later added that chastity and poverty are the two important vows for a monk to adhere to, and that he has never broken that.
There is a lot more to be said on this point, but as it is a digressive point, perhaps this would not be the forum to dilate upon this topic.

My point is that in one such Purana, namely the Vishnu Purana, which speaks of the significance of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of all aspects of the universe, it is said that the original Vedas comprised 100 000 verses and had fours divisions. As time went on, these divisions got confused and fell into veritable obscurity. Lord Krishna, who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, then “resuscitated the study of the Vedas and classified them into four books” (Nowbath et al 1960: 25). This is how we came to know these texts by those names and those divisions today.

It is worth noting that some authorities do not accept the Atharva Veda as an authentic division. Some point to the grammar used, claiming that it is a much later form, others infer this from the fact that the word ‘trayi’ is often used to refer to Vedic literature in the ancient scholarship, which denotes a tripartite distinction. This interpretation is not categorically accepted either, since Vedalankar (1965: 128) claims that this could refer to the fact these texts deal with “the three aspects of human nature: Jnana, Karma and Upasana”. In other words, those who prefer hands-on activities would prefer the path of karma, or work; those who are of an intellectual bent, would prefer the path of Jnana, or knowledge – philosophical contemplation on the Divine; and those who are of a mystic temperament would prefer the path of worship and meditation. These are all described as different paths to the same goal.

As mentioned earlier, if one reads the Atharva Veda, one would certainly understand why orthodox scholars would want to discount this as being part and parcel of Hindu sacred literature – it is filled with spells and sacrificial rituals, many of which are for worldly gain, like wooing a lover, material success, along with charms and spells to drive away diseases and “to injure the enemy” (Nowbath et al 1960: 27); furthermore, there are certain portions of the Atharva Veda and the Yajur Veda which “are concerned with black magic” (ibid 26). There are also certain mantras to bind your lover to you, which seem to be adaptations from the mantras of the Rig Veda, used during marriage ceremonies (another reason some think this scripture must have come into the literature at a much later stage). However, despite the ritual aspect, it must also also be noted that the 15th chapter (there are 20 in this Veda) is highly philosophical and speaks of the glories of the Supreme Being.

Now, each Veda has another four divisions, known as the Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad respectively. The Samhita portion comprises various hymns for the deities. The Brahmanas detail how sacrificial rites ought to be carried out. These are loosely designated as Karmakanda, the ritualistic portion. The Samhitas and the Brahmanas are meant to complement each other, since the hymns from the former are generally meant to be chanted during the latter’s rites. The Aranyakas is known as the portion dealing with mystical contemplation. The rites mentioned in the Vedas can be performed for material gain on earth, or for spiritual edification, for which the practitioner will be rewarded in the ‘hereafter’. For example, many Hindus will perform a ceremony to propitiate Mother Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, for monetary gain. Emphasis upon the latter, however, is what lead to the philosophic mysticism of the Upanishads, which is why this portion is referred to as Jnanakanda, the portion dealing with supreme knowledge.

The Vedas deal with just about every aspect of inquiry, from the mundane to the sublime. Topics like geography, logic and mathematics are dealt with. Science and astrology are too. As an aside, the 33rd chapter of the Yajur Veda talks of phenomena only recently ‘discovered’ (or perhaps proven would be a more accurate word), like space-time being conflated as one entity, resulting in gravitational force, the fact that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and that the earth revolves around it, the statement that only massless entities can transcend the speed of light, and a very accurate statement on how old the universe is. All these have been borne out in recent findings. In Naicker (2004) I tease this out in more detail.

The six aforementioned schools of thought are to be understood as being inter-related, even though they may seem to be ostensibly premised on mutually exclusive doctrines. Furthermore, these systems are paired together as follows:
i) The Nyaya and the Vaiseshika;
ii) The Sankhya and the Yoga;
iii) The Mimamsa and the Vedanta.
The understanding is that the Vaiseshika is seen as supplementary to the Nyaya; Yoga is a supplement to the Sankhya, etc.
A study of all these systems are actually “necessary to understand the Vedanta” (Sivananda 1977: 218). The Nyaya, for example, sharpens the intellect and enables the seeker to grasp the fine philosophical precepts found in the Vedanta. Many would consider the Nyaya a fundamental prerequisite for all philosophical inquiry.
There are very few followers of the Vaiseshika system today. Sankhya is also seen as an anachronistic system, since Yoga is said to be based on the Sankhya principles, and has, in a sense, taken its place. Yoga is practiced by many in its practical form, though there is an over-emphasis of Hatha Yoga, which is the physical aspect of it based on certain asanas (postures), and has regrettably been equated with Yoga in its entirety in Western popular culture.

The Nyaya and the Vaiseshika gives an analysis of the physical world. The world is arranged into various categories, and God is said to have made the universe out of atoms and molecules. After doing this, they prescribe various methods for knowing God.
The Sankhya outlines the Hindu concept of the mind. Yoga deals with thought control and meditation techniques, and various methods of disciplining the mind and senses and senses are outlined in the various Yogic texts.

The Vedanta philosophy explains in detail the nature of God (Brahman, in Sanskrit), and argues that the individual soul is, in essence, identical with God. Of course, there are three schools of Vedantic thought, which will be explained further below, but the culmination of all Vedic and Vedantic thought is said to be a true understanding of our one-ness with the Cosmic Consciousness which we call God, and furthermore that the material manifestation is actually an illusion (called Maya in Sanskrit) which will only be understood when we reach a state of spirituality whereby we have purified our minds and perfected our character to the point of becoming one with God – this is what is understood as Enlightenment (Samadhi in Sanskrit – aka Nirvana, Satori, etc). In fact, it is not so much to be understood as becoming one with God as a recognition of the fact that we are. Spiritual practice is simply a method of reclaiming that lost identity that we have forgotten: like a wave that, though it has a name and a form of its own, is really one with the ocean.
Hindus worship in various places, including natural environments like the seaside, rivers and mountain-tops. Almost every Hindu has an altar in his home. However, broadly speaking, the two formal places of worship are categorized under temples and ashrams. The former is where ritualistic worship rites take place, and often temples are dedicated to a particular god, goddess or avatar (incarnation of God on earth). For example, there are temples where a nine-Saturday fast is offered to the planets, meant to offset the negative influence the various celestial bodies have on us at various times, like when Saturn is in our birth house, as modern astrologers would put it. A temple priest would advise that the planets are negatively affecting your life, so after a fast for nine consecutive Saturdays, Hindus would go to a temple and offer various things to the planets (represented by nine stones, set around a tenth stone, representing the sun), which is believed to counteract adverse effects. It is also not uncommon for Hindus to worship the sun, ‘whom’ they refer to as Surya, by waking up early in the morning and saluting ‘it’ with various mantras and even postures, the most common of which is known as Surya Namaskar, which means something like ‘salutations to the sun’. Some break coconuts and offer it as prasad (blessed food), etc.

The idea is that God with form, represented in various symbols and images, is meant for temples and temple-worship. Ashrams, on the other hand, are ideally meant to dispense with this ritualistic aspect to Hinduism, and is meant for meditative practices which appreciates that God is not only a Formless entity, but it in fact the only reality. In practice, most ashrams still have a ritual element to them, but it is understood that this is a means to an end. Swami Vivekananda founded a famous ashram in the Himalayan mountains, called Mayavati Ashram, which completely dispenses with any kind of ritual-based worship, and does not have any image representing any aspect of God.

Furthermore, rituals performed for self-gain actually defeat the purpose of spiritual life. Hindus believe that we are trapped in what would be an endless cycle of births and deaths, and more materialistic we are, the more we would be dragged down into the world. The idea is to perfect oneself by loving everything equally, controlling the desires, etc. – and when one has done this, there would be no need for rebirth. We are born in this world to learn certain lessons, and if we fail in those lessons, we would have to come back until we have indeed learnt what we needed to learn. The more money we desire, the more earth-bound karma we generate, which ties us to the world more, meaning we would have to be reborn time and time again until we learn to renounce our love for Mammon. However, there are rituals meant to propitiate the goddess Lakshmi, who presides over wealth, and the belief is that she would grant material prosperity to those who pray to her. In many temples, there is a special kind of tree, to which you tie a red cloth and walk around eleven times – once a week. After the eleventh week, a special prayer is done. This is done specifically to find your special love and get married.

Now, it might seem contradictory that a tradition which prides itself in the advocacy of abstinence in every sense has these rituals – one to get more money, and one to get a wife/husband, but as mentioned from the Vedantic point of view this is to be understood as a means to an end. Material needs and desires are not frowned upon totally because different people have different predilections, and there are various aspects to Hinduism which caters for this. In fact, there are four stages in Hindu life, known as brahmacharya, grihastha, varnaprashta and sannyas. The first is the life of the student, where one is required to be celibate; the second is the householder life; the third, is when one is expected to engage in selfless service to humanity (after having completed the duties of a householder, when the children are independent, and the married couple purify themselves by becoming more spiritual); and the latter entails complete renunciation of the world by donning the ochre robe, following a strict vegetarian diet and cutting off all ties with family – relying completely on God for everything. It is believed that every person is meant to go through these stages. Each stage of life has certain recommendations in order to be successful at it. For example, chastity and obedience to your teacher are important to being a good student. Sublimation of your veerya (explained only recently as sublimation in modern psychology) is important as your semen contains very concentrated and pure energy, which will be wasted if used sexually, and will be transformed into a profound creative force if not. Aside from ethical considerations, the eating of meat is also forbidden because it dulls the mind, and induces laziness. There are various scriptures meant to be specifically for students, with concomitant rules and regulations. Just as school students find appeal in the universal charm of story-telling, some scriptures are in the form of stories, which is why we have so many epics, and the richness in symbolism is there simply because students appreciate the symbolism in a more sophisticated manner the more advanced they get.
Likewise, in the stage of married life, which is the second one mentioned above, there are various scriptures which tell of how to conduct yourself as a householder. This includes the rites and rituals that ought to be performed during the wedding ceremony, what being a good mother entails (summarised quite nicely by Sivananda [2001]), what being a good father entails, etc. Of course, there is guidance on being a good husband and a good wife as well, together with the duties and prayers each has to do to maintain a spiritual atmosphere in the home. Key to a healthy marriage is a healthy sex life, which is what a part of what the Kama Sutra is meant to address.
Scriptures like the Upanishads, upon which Vedantic philosophy is based, are meant for the final two stages of life, when you have gathered life experience, with more than just a bookish knowledge of your profession, have passed the stage of material acquisition to the point where you see its futility, have conquered sexual desire, etc. It is only in this context that a reading of the said scriptures, together with their moral implications, makes any sense. This is why Vedanta entails having a rather sophisticated view of the world, and requires standards of discipline not otherwise expedient.

My point here is that there are scriptures dedicated to each and every aspect of life, even one with advice on how to fulfill your partner sexually (known as the Kama-Sutra: kama meaning ‘sexual love’ and sutra meaning ‘precepts’). Furthermore, there are four wings to every person’s psyche, known as artha, kama, dharma and moksha, somewhat analogous to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This aspect of human nature is also not neglected. The tantric scriptures, for example, advocate using the pleasures of the world to heighten your awareness and therefore your consciousness. This is not very different to the Shamans who use peynote during various rituals to get more in touch with nature. In addition to other worldly pleasures, tantra advocates using sex as a means to heighten your energy levels. It claims that by concentrating on a particular whilst engaged in sex, you exchange and heighten your energy levels to such an extent that you experience exactly what you would experience during conventional meditation, but at a much faster rate. The trick is, however, to not only delay orgasm, but to not take the experience to orgasm at all. I’m obviously summarising and therefore compromising the subtleties and complexities of the technique and philosophy behind the practice. It exists, and is actually more widely practised than one would assume. In his book, which he by the way regards as one of his masterpieces, Essays in Life and Eternity he dedicates a very terse chapter to tantra, chapter 25, entitled “Tantra Sadhana”. He says in the said work, for example, that ‘greatest obstacles to spiritual perfection are wealth, power and sex, and it is these that the Tantra intends to harness’ (Krishnananda 1989).

Hinduism, then, being described as a ‘way of life’ is not as clichéd as one might imagine, since every aspect of human life is catered for, but I mention this to make the point that Vedanta is to be understood as not only the culmination, but also the transcendence of everything else.

This is why it is said that the Vedantic ideal is to completely do away with ritualistic tendencies of any form. Vivekananda describes this ideology very boldly and unambiguously as such:

This is the religion of non-dual philosophy. It is difficult. Struggle on!
Down with all superstitions! Neither teachers nor scriptures nor gods exist.
Down with temples, with priests, with gods, with incarnations, with God
Himself! I am all the God that ever existed! There, stand up philosophers!
No fear! Speak no more of God and [the] superstition of the world.
Truth alone triumphs, and this is true. I am the Infinite
(CW-1: 502).

An outline of the Vedanta philosophy

The word Vedanta can be broken up into two constituent words: veda and anta. As mentioned, veda means knowledge, and anta can be translated as end of. Hence, we could take the word ‘vedanta’ to literally refer to the end section of the Vedas, namely the Upanishads, or some scholars like to give it a more poetic connotation, and explain it as the culmination of all others philosophies within the Hindu tradition, as mentioned.

Some of the doctrines of the Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya and Yoga and Mimamsa are opposed to the teachings of the Vedas, due partly to the fact that they are based only superficially on Vedic principles. The Nyaya and Vaiseshika rely too much on human reason, which is limited and fallible. When applying logic using the human mind to transcendental matters, it is sure to fall short, since essentially they try to fathom the infinite using finite means. The Vedas and the Upanishads were transcribed by seers who, it is believed, acted as mere conduits and wrote from direct inspiration. Furthermore, these saints are believed to be enlightened beings who have transcended body consciousness. They did not rely on deductive logic and rationalistic philosophizing.

The Mimamsa school has laid great stress of rituals. They take the ritualistic aspect as being the ‘be all and end all’ in the Vedas. Worship and scriptural study are seen as peripheral. This is refuted by the Vedantins, as we have seen above: realization of the Self (ie. of our one-ness with God and the universe) is the foremost thing, and rituals are assessories.

Scriptures are said to be either revealed (sruti) or interpreted (smriti). Those that belong to the latter are less authoritative because they are essentially commentaries written for various saints or scholars at various points in time. In a sense, those which rely more on apologetics can be seen as less reliable than those borne as a result of Divine intuition.

Adi Shankara was the founder of Advaita Vedanta. During his time, all six systems flourished. Hence, he had to refute these other systems in order to establish his monistic theory. Today, however, Sankhya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa and Nyaya are virtually not practised. Hence, it is a pointless exercise to go into too much detail expounding the nuances of these systems – that in itself would require a thesis.
Suffice to say, then that the Vedanta is the most satisfactory system of philosophy, and in fact, Vivekananda is of the opinion that what we refer to as Hinduism today is tantamount to Vedanta.

One of the distinguishing features of Vedantic philosophy, according to Vivekananda, is the idea that “nothing in the universe is permanent”, and he adds that “Satan did not have much chance in India” (CW-1: 496), meaning that the belief in a devil which functions as the antithesis of God did not and still does not make sense to the Eastern mind. Nature comprises two components: Âkâsha, which a very fine substance, and the other is called Prâna, which is the animating force behind the Âkâsha. All material substances manifest as a result of Akashic actions, some finer (like the mind) and some grosser (like solid objects). Both these aspects pervade the entire cosmos. One can imagine Akasha as the ocean, and Prana as the force which gives form to ‘portions’ of this otherwise formless mass, creating something like blocks of ice in various shapes and animating it. In fact, “the whole universe is a combination of Prâna and Âkâsha” (CW-1: 223).

If one conceptualises the universe as such, it is obvious why there is little room Satan and its concomitant upshots: evil, damnation, etc. – hence Vivekananda’s comment (that “Satan did not have much chance in India”) simply means that it never was part of the Hindu belief system. It has never been a fear-based, ‘do-as-I-say’ type philosophy.

An ancient sage by the name of Vyasa is said to be the founder of the Vedanta school of thought. This system is based on the writings to be found in the Upanishads, and, as explained earlier, it contains the doctrines set forth in the “closing chapters of the Vedas”, which is literally what the Upanishads are (Sivananda 1977: 270). There are 108 Upanishads, and of these there are 12 principle Upanishads.

There are three main sub-schools of thought which grew out of Vedantic thinking. Each proponent commented on the Upanishads in his own way and built his own philosophy. Vyasa was very critical of the Vaiseshika and Sankhya systems especially.

The three main schools of metaphysical thought within Vedantic philosophy
According to Vivekananda himself, “The Vedanta philosophy, as it is generally called at the present day, really comprises all the various sects that now exist in India” (CW-1: 357). He later goes in the same discourse, entitled The Vedanta Philosophy, he goes on to say that Vedanta really has become one and the same as Hinduism itself. The Vedanta, then, from a practical purview, forms the scriptures of the Hindus, and all systems of philosophy that are orthodox have to take it as their foundation, as mentioned above. “All our commentators, when they want to quote a passage from the scriptures, as a rule, quote from the Vedanta” (CW-1: 357). The most well-known commentators on the Vedanta are Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. They founded the schools known as Advaita, Visishtadvaita, and Dvaita Vedanta. These may be translated roughly as ‘non-dualism’, ‘qualified non-dualism’ and ‘dualism’. The conventional Hindu mind does not see a tripartite arrangement which perceives the world in three different ways, but rather as rungs on a ladder, each one necessary for understanding the other. A simple illustration would be someone who looks at the ocean and sees a massive body of water. The Advaita Vedantin would openly declare that there is only one ocean, and that the waves are ephemeral, constantly changing and certainly not real; the only reality is the ocean, from which the various waves emanate. The Visishtadvaita Vedantin would say that though the waves may have an ephemeral existence, as long as they are there in that from, we have to acknowledge their existence, short-lived as it may be. The Dvaita Vedantins would tell us that it is silly to imagine that waves and the ocean are the same thing. This might be true in some sense, but a surfer cannot go to the depth of the ocean and expect to surf – he needs to waves, and for him, their ontological status is given as axiomatic. The same goes for people studying wave-patterns, or for children who go to the beach especially to splash in the waves. Hence, the latter is a more pragmatic philosophy.

These different Vedanta systems have one common psychology, and that is, the psychology of the Sankhya system. The Sankhya psychology is very much like the psychologies of the Nyaya and Vaisheshika systems, differing only in minor particulars. This is why the latter two systems are seen as redundant today. As mentioned earlier, the Vedanta and the Sankhya are to be seen as complementary.
The Vedantists agree on three points:
– They believe in God,
– They see the Vedas as Divine revelations, and
– They believe in cycles.
The belief about cycles is as follows: all matter throughout the universe is the result primal matter (Âkâsha), and all the forces acting upon each other, is the outcome of one primal force (Prâna). Prâna acting on Akasha is projecting the universe. The word ‘creating’ in this context would be inaccurate, because the eastern concept of creation is not the same as that of the western one – whereby there was a big bang and something manifested out of nothing. No sect in India advocates such a belief, which is why projection is preferred since Hindus believe that there was an underlying stratum to all creation which has always existed, but manifests itself cyclically through the process expansion and contraction ( or ‘creation and destruction’, or ‘the big bang’ and ‘big crunch’, or ‘evolution’ and ‘involution’).
At the beginning of a cycle, Akasha is motionless, unmanifested. Then Prana begins to act, more and more, creating grosser and grosser forms out of Akasha — plants, animals, men, stars, and so on. After some time this evolution stops and involution begins, everything being resolved back through finer and finer forms into the original Akasha and Prana, when a new cycle follows. This parallels the claims of modern physics, which postulate red shift and blue shift, and holds that the universe started with a ‘big bang’, and is therefore expanding, but will eventually stop expanding and start contracting, resulting in a big crunch, which will once again expand, starting with another big bang… (Hawking 1995).

Within the Vedantic context, however, there is something beyond Akasha and Prana. Both can be resolved into a third thing called Mahat, the Cosmic Mind. This Cosmic Mind does not create Akasha and Prana, but changes itself into them. It ought to be evident now why the English word ‘God’ is problematic within the Vedantic context, but suffice to say, Mahat would either be a key property of your conventional God, or even tantamount to it.

According to Sankhya psychology, in perception there are, for example, the instruments of vision – the eyes. Behind the eyes is the organ of vision, namely the optic nerve, together with its centres. The point here is that the ‘organ’ of vision is not exclusively the external eyeball. We obviously require other things for perception to take place – it is indeed a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. The mind must attach also itself to the organ. Furthermore, the sensation must be transmuted to the intellect. When this is done, there is a reaction which come from the intellect, and along with it flashes the external world and egoism. This is when the individual will comes in; but still, this not complete the picture. Just as every picture, being comprised of consecutive impulses of light, something stable must be there to create what Kant would call the ‘transcendental unity of apperception’; hence, all the notions formed in the mind ought to be garnered and projected on something that is not moving, relative to the body and mind, and this is what is called the Soul, in conventional parlance, or Purusha, in Sankhya, or Atman, in Vedanta.
According to the Sankhya philosophy, the reactive state of the mind is the intellect (Buddhi), which is an extension or an upshot of the mind. This, in turn, is seen as a certain manifestation of the Cosmic Mind (known as Mahat). The Mahat manifests as matter in its various forms: the universe in nothing less than a synthesis of this entire process.

Behind even Mahat, the Sankhya conceives of a certain state which is called Avyakta or unmanifested, where even the manifestation of mind is not present, but only the causes exist. It is also called Prakriti. Beyond this Prakriti, and eternally separate from it, is the Purusha, the soul of the Sankhya which is without attributes and omnipresent. The Purusha is not the doer but the witness. The illustration of the crystal is used to explain the Purusha. The latter is said to be like a crystal without any colour, before which different colours are placed, and then it seems to be coloured by the colours before it, but in reality it is not. The Vedantists reject the Sankhya ideas of the soul and nature, partly because Sankhya scholars do not equate the Purusha with God, and in fact dispense with the idea in general (Sivananda: 1977). Hence, there is a gulf to be bridged over between the Purusha and the Prakriti (the immaterial and the material). How can these different colours, as the Sankhya calls them, be able to act on that soul which by its nature is colourless? This separation is not something which Vedantins would agree with, because the latter affirm that this soul and nature are one. It must be noted again that the Vedanta and Sankhya systems are not antagonistic to each other. The Vedantic God developed out of the Sankhya’s Purusha. All the systems are actually premised on the psychology of the Sankhya. The Vedanta and the Sankhya believe in the infinite soul, except that the latter postulates a multiplicity of souls, and assumes that the universe does not require any extrinsic explanation, hence the general interpretation that the Sankhya is an atheistic school of thought. Vedanta, on the other hand, believes that there is only one Soul (which the Vedantin would equate with God), which has the appearance multiplicity.

Of course there is a branch of Vedanta which is dualistic (Dvaita Vedanta), but in this philosophy it is clearly stated that there must be a God which pervades the universe, and is indeed the material cause of such. The difference between this approach and Advaita Vedanta is that they postulate a tripartite distinction, namely: God, soul, and nature. Though ‘nature’ and ‘soul’ can be construed as extensions of God, they are distinct and shall remain so forever more.

These forms manifest themselves at the inception of each age, and when it ends they still coexist in a subtle state, but maintain their separate identities as it were. The non-dualists will not agree that this is the case.

Advaita philosophy is premised on the notion of inductive inference. Just as by knowing the constitution of a piece of paper, one can infer things about every other piece of paper, so to the question is asked: what is it that knowing which, all else is known? Of course, this presupposes that there is indeed an underlying entity that imbues and pervades all of creation, and is yet very subtle – but if one can understand what this is, all else will be understood for this is the material of which everything else is constituted.

Hence, the belief (of the non-dualists) is that this one underlying substance manifests itself in ostensibly different forms, and by the process of negation and elimination, one can get to the underlying ‘form’ using various means.
In Sankhya, what is referred to as nature is accepted in the Vedanta, except that nature is seen as a different manifestation of God – one that is necessarily ephemeral.

Now, this Being manifests itself as the various components of the universe. This is not, however, to be misconstrued as a pantheistic theory, especially since Hinduism is stigmatised with the apparent worship of various deities. It would have to be explained how an infinite, subtle unperishable Being manifests itself into that which is precisely the opposite: a material universe which is finite, gross and perishable. Here, Advaita Vedantins postulate the concept of Vivarta Vâda (apparent manifestation). This means that whilst the dualists (both the Dvaita Vedantins and the Sankhya followers) see the world as an evolution of God and/or nature, strict Advaita Vedantins see the universe as only an apparent evolution of God. So whilst God is the material cause of the universe in one sense, it only appears as such, much like the crystal placed in front of a red cloth would appear red. It is not that the ‘redness’ of the crystal does not exist – it’s there as long as your senses are duped. Some may in fact still choose to enjoy the chromatic play for whatever reason, though knowing that it is, in a sense, unreal. This is, crudely put, the paradigm adhered to by the qualified non-dualists.

These changes are initiated by space, time and causation (Desha, Kâla and Nimitta respectively in Sanskrit). This gives rise to various names and forms (Nâma and Rupa). It is this which causes differentiation amongst various things in the universe (or apparent differentiation, in keeping with non-dualistic parlance). Kantian philosophy draws a distinction between the noumenon and the phenomenon. Roughly, the former is the underlying unknowable reality behind the universe, whereas the latter is our human-specific perception of the universe, conditioned by the spatio-temporal nature of our perceptual organs. The Vedanta would agree with this, except that Kant argues that we can never transcend our spatio-temporal nature and therefore we can never comprehend the noumenon, which is beyond space and time. Vedanta would disagree in that the Reality is indeed knowable: Kant presupposes that we can never perceive the world outside of space and time, whereas Vedanta does. For example: it is typically taken as axiomatic in the physical sciences that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. However, this is premised on the assumption that everything has a mass. Contemporary quantum theory not only questions this, but also goes so far as to postulate negative mass! Stephen Hawking explains that black holes have an ‘event horizon’, which delineates its entry point. The obvious question is: why does the border itself not get sucked into the black hole? Hawking claims that the border must be constituted of material which has no mass, or even has a negative mass and is therefore being ‘spewed out’ in small amounts, which means that it is in a state of constant flux (Hawking 1995). The point is simply that transcending the speed of light is indeed impossible with regards to objects which have mass, not otherwise. Hence, it would be inaccurate to claim that the special theory of relativity is wrong, and more accurate to state that it applies in a limited sphere. Likewise, Kant was not wrong: he is correct in that the noumenon will indeed be unknowable whilst we are caught up within space-time, and as long as we rely on our limited physical senses. However, according to Eastern philosophy, the mind is a tool which can be used to transcend even that. The world is often described as Maya, sometimes translated as magic or illusion, and compared to the dream-state, whereby upon waking we understand that what we saw, experienced, etc was completely false – yet…true whilst it was happening. It was as a result of ignorance that we thought the dream was real while it was happening. It is said that advanced souls are aware of the fact that they are dreaming, and can even manipulate event within the dream. Likewise, advances saints, seers and prophets can do so in this world, hence the numerous stories of miracles.
It would be a mistake to see the various schools of thought as contradictory or mutually exclusive. It would be more accurate to see these as complementary: they are meant to be graded in a series of spiritual experiences.

The dualists see man as a servant of God. The qualified non-dualists want to elevate man to a divine state such that he is worthy to serve in the house of God, which presupposes that one needs to edify oneself in various ways in order to attain that state. The non-dualists hold as their ideal a complete merging with God, thereby becoming one with Him. The latter holds that the entire cosmos is essentially a manifestation of that primal energy called God, and not at all separate – God pervades every aspect of the cosmos, yet also transcends it. One can imagine and ice-block in the ocean, which happens to be shaped like the universe. The ocean is basically made of the same substance, but the ice is ‘different’ in that it does have some kind of form, which will eventually melt away and merge with the ocean.

All the orthodox systems of Indian philosophy have one goal in view, the liberation of the soul through perfection. The soul is seen as trapped in a body, therefore separated from its source.

Within the non-dualistic philosophy, everything is God, and God is everything, so in the context of this study, any metaphor that used with the intention of getting the mind focused on God or some aspect of Divinity, which really is your own latent spirituality manifesting, would be deemed an apt metaphor for conceptualizing God. Vivekananda often illustrates this point with the example of someone who sees a rope but perceives it to be a snake: initially, his reaction will be one of fear, but when he discovers that it is merely a rope, all this dissipates. He points out that “the mind which saw the rope is not deluded […] One thing is taken for another, not as something that does not exist” (CW-1: 505). Likewise, he concludes, we see matter, and mistake that as the only reality – we mistakenly identify the underlying, “Infinite as matter” as being the only reality; this is not unsurprising as we can only “perceive one thing at a time”, but actually, it must all “be one thing” (ibid: 505).
The Universal Soul (Paramatman) becomes individualised as various individual souls (jivatma), yet, it ought to be said that the individualisation of souls seems contradictory, and indeed it is said that this individuality is also created by ignorance or illusion. An ice block thrown into the ocean is understood to exist as a separate entity, but only in a limited sense. The soul, ego, intellect, mind, body and matter are not to be seen as separate entities: it is the same thing, in descending order of ‘subtlety’. The individual soul (jivatman) is qualitatively the same as the Great Soul, God (paramatman), like a drop of sea water, compared to the sea, except that the embodied soul is tainted with desires, like a drop of sea water that has sand/dust particles mixed with it. One needs to cleanse one’s soul by various spiritual practices, then when it is ready it can merge with the Super Soul – like the droplet being placed back in the ocean after being separated from the dust particles. “What is meant by the world is God as seen as all things by our senses” (CW-1: 505 – my italics).

Advaita Vedantins do not see any contradiction in simultaneously practicing various approaches, or even in switching between the three. In fact, there is nothing strange about embracing all paths – no Hindu would see a problem with the fact that I attend various churches, sometimes fast for Ramadaan, and attend esoteric workshops on paganism, as well as read their various lores and scriptures. Of course the belief is that one path should be adhered to, but knowing of and studying the other paths can only be a good thing. The only caveat being that if one wants to attain a certain goal, one should follow a particular and stick to it. One could think of driving down to Durban in a car, but then halfway there, decide to take another car, or a train, or a bus. It just complicates things, and delays one’s progress on the journey. However, one could take a car the first time, and the next time, take a bus – and see which method suites him best. This is why there are various methods prescribed for various things even within the Hindu tradition, yet other methods are not frowned upon, and are often assimilated into the culture and tradition. In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, it is documented that Ramakrishna himself (who was Swami Vivekananda’s guru, guide and mentor) underwent various spiritual practices for periods of time, where he lived as a Muslim, a Christian, a tantrika, etc (Nikhilananda 1974). Ramakrishna would point out that whilst living as a Muslim, he could not enter the Kali temple, of which he was the presiding priest.

It is therefore said of Vivekananda that he regarded his movement as “dedicated to the service of Shri Ramakrishna, and that he held up Ramakrishna before his brother-servants as a divine manifestation, incarnate for the good of all mankind, were in no way incompatible with his unflinching adherence to Advaita as the movement’s philosophy, inspiration and fulfillment. It was indeed Shri Ramakrishna himself who taught him to experience the ultimate truth of Advaita whilst being at the same time a lover of God” (Ananyananda 1979: 541).

Scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayan are meant to be interpreted allegorically, and one would find that they tally nicely with the precepts espoused in the Vedantic school of thought. Hence, these texts, known as the itihasas in Sanskrit (epics), are to be seen as story-like illustrations of abstruse philosophical tenets for the layman (this term being used very loosely here).

As an aside, belief in a God is not even fundamental to the Hindu religion, any more than (assuming sea-creatures were cognisant) one fish would require another fish to acknowledge the existence of the ocean – one may choose to acknowledge the life-giving force which surrounds it, whilst another not. For example, Vivekananda says that a Karma-Yogi (vide ante) “need not believe in any doctrine whatever. He may not believe even in God, may not ask what his soul is, nor think of any metaphysical speculation. He has got his own special aim of realizing selflessness; and he has to work it out for himself” (CW-1: 111).

Vivekananda summarises the whole of Hindu philosophy quite nice nicely in the following excerpt, from his talk entitled The Hindu Religion:
“We believe in a God, the Father of the universe, infinite and omnipotent.
But if our soul at last becomes perfect, it also must become infinite. But
there is no room for two infinite unconditional beings, and hence we believe
in a Personal God, and we ourselves are He. These are the three stages which
every religion has taken. First we see God in the far beyond, then we come
nearer to Him and give Him omnipresence so that we live in Him; and at last
we recognise that we are He. The idea of an Objective God is not untrue —
in fact, every idea of God, and hence every religion, is true, as each is but a
different stage in the journey, the aim of which is the perfect conception of the Vedas.
Hence, too, we not only tolerate, but we Hindus accept every religion, praying in the
mosque of the Mohammedans, worshipping before the fire of the Zoroastrians, and
kneeling before the cross of the Christians, knowing that all the religions, from the
lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism, mean so many attempts of the human soul
to grasp and realise the infinite, each determined by the conditions of its birth and
association, and each of them marking a stage of progress. We gather all these
flowers and bind them with the twine of love, making a wonderful bouquet of worship”
(CW-1: 331).

Swami Vivekananda’s reputation

There have been many influential modern sages and saints who taught Hindu philosophy (defined as Vedanta), like Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharishi, Swami Sivananda, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Neem Karuli Baba, Satya Sai Baba and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. These sages also teach yoga within the context of Advaita Vedanta, so at least their philosophy is premised on the same ideals as that of Vivekananda. They all have massive followings worldwide, but none would dispute the status of Swami Vivekananda as a God-man, saint and scholar, and they have formally paid homage to him. I would contend that Hindus all over the world over share the sentiment. I hope to find concurring views in my interviews with various Hindu scholars and swamis from different organizations.

Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, 12th January 1863, has been declared as National Youth Day by the Indian government, and is obviously celebrated the world-over, especially by disciples of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, which Vivekananda founded in his guru’s honour (Sri Ramakrishna). It is documented that at one stage there were 68 branches in South Africa alone (le Roux: 1965).

Whilst abroad, Vivekananda also corresponded with famous philosophers like Herbert Spencer and politicians like Robert Ingersoll, and on more than one occasion “discussed religious and philosophical matters with him [Spencer]” (Ananyananda 1979: 448). After his talks at the World Parliament of Religions, where he first gained a reputation as a world teacher, he was invited for dinner by the famous scientists Lord Kelvin and Hermann von Hemholtz. He also befriended famous singers like Emma Calvé, Emma Thursby, and Antoinette Sterling; and most notably, he was visited by J.D. Rockefeller, whom Vivekananda inspired in an admonitory manner to share his wealth with the needy – resulting in “his first large donation to the public welfare” (CW-9: 329).

This is to mention but a few. From this, it is evident that Vivekananda’s influence would necessarily be spread far wider than that of other teachers of Hindu philosophy.
Vivekananda was also reputed to have had a phenomenal memory: he knew the entire contents on Encyclopaedia Britannica by heart, such that he could cite anything from any page, and could even tell which page and volume a particular excerpt was from when arbitrarily read to him. It is recorded that nobody could outdo Vivekananda in debate, even though he was challenged by the greatest intellectuals from the best universities in America and the United Kingdom. In fact, he was even offered the position of chair of Oriental Philosophy at Harvard, which he declined since he felt it was inappropriate for a monk to assume such a position.

Aside from what the literature says, the current study was meant to have incorporated in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Hindu monks from various orders, but the data proved too ‘thick’ for the current study, and warrants a separate study. It is mentioned here because what was said in response to the question asking about their opinion regarding Swami Vivekananda’s reputation is quite telling, since not all the monks interviewed were from the Ramakrishna Order. Here are some of the responses recorded:
S1: “Hinduism, I don’t believe, has ever has a better spokesman. I think Swami
Vivekananda would be acknowledged by all to be supreme; not just in the
Ramakrishna Math, but amongst all Hindus as the greatest exponent.”
S2: “He is one of the greatest souls on earth, not just for Hindus. He was fearless
going to the world, and he had a Divine command from within to inspire the world.
People who don’t even know much about him will agree with closed eyes [that he is
one of the greatest and most influential Hindu saints].”
S3: “Swamiji embodied true humility and simplicity, and from that we all have a
universal lesson to learn. What stands out for me is the kind of language he used.
It is fresh and accessible, giving us the pearls of wisdom from the ancient
scriptures.”
S4: “He simplified and presented ancient wisdom in modern language to a Western
audience. He quoted from the srutis, and in that sense authenticated his message,
so yes in that sense he was an authoritative voice of God; these truths were
revealed to him in meditation.”
S5: “That is not an exaggeration at all; he was truly an authentic voice [of God] for
the modern age for sure.”
S6: “[He was] a dynamic world leader. He had a mission to fulfil, and Ramakrishna was
to be the guide and mentor in getting him started on that mission.”
S7: “Vivekananda was a real ‘crest jewel of discrimination’. Aside from being a great
saint, he was also a great intellectual. He approached the study of religion very
scientifically and intellectually.”
S8: “He was the first one to bridge the gap between East and West, and he made us
truly proud as a nation interacting amongst the intelligentsia of the Western
world.”
S9: “Yes, of course; otherwise Ramakrishna would not have been hand-picked him as a
leader, with specific instructions to his other disciples to follow Naren’s lead.”
S10: “Vivekananda was the most important saint in modern times, a spiritual giant. One
of his most important contributions was not only to bring Vedanta to the layman,
but to bring it to the West, where materialism and hedonism was becoming so
rampant. He also inspired a sense of patriotism in his countrymen, not in a
nationalistic sense, but in a spiritual sense.”
S11: “[…] there are a few things to be said. One is that he was the Master’s chosen
leader, and my first allegiance is to him, Sri Ramakrishna. Of course, he has a
great intellect as well, and was perhaps chosen for that reason too, amongst
others. Regardless, he is indeed an authentic voice of the Divine, and I think few
would disagree.”
S12: “We forgot the life eternal, and Swamiji brought it back. That’s not only for
Hinduism, but for the whole of life and to all religions. Surely God spoke through
him, just as He did through Shankaracharya; he brought the truth, and Vivekananda
updated it and brought it to the common people.”
The swamis labeled S1, S2, S6, S7, S8, and S10 were not monks of the Ramakrishna Order, and were mostly (with the exception of one) full time residents in ashrams not belonging to the Ramakrishna Mission; it is therefore telling that they, as the religious leaders of the Hindu community, would hold Swami Vivekananda in such high regard. The others were monks of the Ramakrishna Mission, and serving full time in that capacity in ashrams around the world.

In conclusion:
[…] his greatest service was to India, for by revealing the unity of Indian religious
ideals, a unity that had not yet found self-conscious expression in the communal
consciousness of Hinduism, he conferred a great dignity upon the Hindu outlook on
life. Definitely stated, the principle contribution to Hinduism […] was: first his
philosophical and religious synthesis of the faith of his forefathers; second the idea
of the Mother-Church, embracing all the forms, from the lowest to the highest, of
its religious vision; and third, though not least, the unshakeable position that he won
for Hinduism by his scholarly and spiritual interpretation, thus giving it prestige
among the enlightened thinkers and theologians of the West and raising it in the
estimation of the whole Western world. And the most eloquent elements in all these
triumphs were his commanding personality, his supreme personal realization, and
the unimpeachable authority of his statements
(Ananyananda 1979: 422).

This overview provided a very broad overview of Hinduism, with the intention of contextualizing the Vedanta philosophy within what otherwise could have been seen as a veritable quagmire of abstruse philosophy. This is important since Vivekananda explicitly aligns himself with the Vedanta, and even says that what is considered Vedanta today ought to be seen as tantamount to Hinduism, meaning that the heterodox as well as the non-Vedantic Vedic texts (the ‘karma kanda’ section of the Vedas dealing with ritual worship) ought to be seen as inapplicable, obsolete and anachronistic within contemporary Hinduism. Vivekananda therefore helped shift the focus of modern-day Hinduism. Finally, Swami Vivekananda’s standing within the context of modern-day Hinduism was discussed, and it is fair to conclude that he is indeed one of the most influential Hindu scholars in the history of Indian philosophical thought.

Reference list
Ananyananda, S. ed. (two volumes). 1979. The life of Swami Vivekananda by his eastern and
western disciples. Mayavati: Advaita Ashram Press.
Dhar, S.N. 1976. (two volumes) A comprehensive biography of Swami Vivekananda. Madras:
Jupiter Press.
Gandhi, M.K. 1957. The story of my experiments with truth. New Delhi: Jaico Books.
Hawking, S. 1995. A Brief History of Time. London: Bantam Books.
Krishnananda, S. 1989. Essays in life and eternity. Divine Life
Society Press: Rishikesh.
Krishnananda, S. 1973. A short history of religious and philosophic thought in India. Divine Life
Society Press: Rishikesh.
le Roux, C.P. 1965. The Ramakrishna movement in South Africa. Doctoral thesis: University of
Stellenbosch.
Naicker, S. 2004. Science and Vedanta. Religio, August 2004, issue 2, pp. 8–10.
Nikhilananda, S. (tr.). 6th edition. 1974. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Madras: Jupiter Press.
Nowbath, R.S., Chotai, S. & Lalla, B.D. (eds). 1960. The Hindu heritage in South Africa.
Durban: The South African Hindu Maha Sabha.
Sivananda, S. 2001. Sthree Dharma – the ideal of married life. Rishikesh: World Wide Web
edition – http://www.sivanandadlshq.org: accessed on 5 May 2012.
Sivananda, S. 1977. All about Hinduism. Divine Life Society Press: Rishikesh.
Vedalankar, P.N. 1965. A glimpse into the Vedas. Bombay: Vindayar Books.

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