Vivekananda &c.

Robert J. Zydenbos zydenbos at BLR.VSNL.NET.IN
Thu Mar 19 11:58:08 UTC 1998

Charles wrote on Tue, 17 Mar 1998 22:45:30 -0800:

> Do you really mean what you wrote about Vivek�nanda ?


> presenting him as a racist third-rate
> thinker does seem a bit, shall I say, unscholarly.

I hope you are keeping in mind that on the Indology list there is a
general request to limit messages to 2 screens: even though I too sin
against this, I do not want to upload all the material I have collected.
V.'s collected writings are easily available for all who care to have a
look, if you want documentation. You will also have noticed that I have
already given one random example in another message to this list.

I was collecting such quotes from V. enthusiastically for a while, 
until I found that his statements on racial groups, religious 
groups etc. were _so_ many and so inconsistent, and many of them so 
bizarre (like claiming that marriage does not exist among
Buddhists in Tibet), that I tired of this. So now this bit of work 
has been moved to the background in favour of studies of more 
serious things. (This may come as a solace to Vivekananda fans on 
the list.) That he is inconsistent, sloppy and racistic is not a great
discovery; but I am looking for an underlying pattern in his
boisterousness, which I think is there, and that will take some more
time yet to find.

> Wether or not one
> agrees with him, it is hard to deny the quality and the importance
> of Vivek�nanda's writings.

Quality? That is precisely my contention. As for 'importance': a thing
can be important in many different ways. As statements of religious /
philosophical truth, a good part of his writings are fourth- /
fifth-rate. His importance and relevance today are just what I stated
earlier: in certain political circles, and for utterly unreligious
reasons. True, he served some time as a promotor of Indian (Hindu,
rather) self-respect, which was good, even if most of his arguments for
such self-respect, if we look back, turn out to be largely false and /
or absurd. Still his ideas provide the metaphysical basis of Hindutva
(so, yes, he is 'important' in a way).

Let it be very clear: V. is not mainstream Hinduism; scholars in Mysore
assure me that the Ramakrishna Maths actually had themselves legally
declared non-Hindu in court several years ago. V. is a figurehead for
urbanised, Anglicised, well-to-do Indians who are partly alienated from
traditional Hinduism. In rural India, as per my own observations, he is
never more than a picture on a wall, 'the man through whom Hinduism
conquered the world' and a protagonist in myths without substance, a
writer the bulk of whose writings are read by none. (Sorry if this
sounds crude or 'unscholarly', but I've already reached my third
screenful.) Hardly anybody, besides the residents of Ramakrishna Maths
and Hindutva ideologues, has any idea of what he stood for. (Why? For
that extremely common reason: popular myths are easy to lap up;
critically reading the man takes time, effort, and may produce results
one doesn't want to see. I surely did not want to see them! but what to
do? turn a blind eye and join the mob of uncritical eulogists?)


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