Vivekananda &c.

Charles cponcet at IPROLINK.CH
Sat Mar 21 05:41:22 UTC 1998

Robert J. Zydenbos wrote:
> Charles wrote on Tue, 17 Mar 1998 22:45:30 -0800:
> > Do you really mean what you wrote about Vivekânanda ?
> Yes.
> > 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 Vivekânanda'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?)
> RZ
Gee, I thought Indologists were a bunch of rather dry and at times
boring scholars ! You certainly do not qualify for that description !
Thank you for pointing out forcefully what is wrong with Vivekânanda in
your view. It was very interesting to hear that view and I will
certainly keep it in mind.
I would think that the discussion of the last few days showed that the
interaction between specialists and generalists - or even amateurs in my
case - can be quite positive and fruitful.

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