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Clearing misconceptions: A light of truth on ISKCON monk Amogh Lila Das’s “false and derogatory remarks” on Swami Vivekananda

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Throughout history, the world witnessed many civilizations evolving and falling, but it is only Indian culture and civilization which has withstood the shocks and tests of time. This has been possible because of its great spiritual leaders who lived and sacrificed their lives for Mother India. When one shrugs responsibility towards society, one either projects those spiritual leaders as a god’s incarnation or criticizes the great personalities with some exceptions.

Recently, a controversy started with ISKCON monk’s remarks on Swami Vivekananda, a great yogi of Bharat Mata. Although ISKCON put a one-month ban on the monk, the foolish critic sowed a few seeds of misconception among many people in the society. Ours is not the work to counter anyone, but it is clear to the wrong conceptions.

The first allegation is about the fish eaten by Swami Vivekananda. That, “how Swamiji was a “Sidhapurush” if he ate fish”? So, firstly Swami ji originated in Bengal, where fish eating is a standard cultural norm and food habit. India is a country of vast diversity with different eating habits and food norms, which is widely acceptable to all.

Primarily, a north-eastern region where it is society’s common long practice to eat fish and non-veg, which can be attributed to weather, geographic conditions, and demography. So, can we disregard that part of our culture and society because of their different food habits and customs? Can a “diversified unity” of India be generalized in such a way?

Swami Vivekananda ate fish but in adverse circumstances. Can we imagine a penniless monk in a foreign land who does not know where the next meal will come from? When Swami Vivekananda went to America, he was not in a pre-booked hotel with a long list of food menus. He had to face starvation and was compelled by destiny to pass cold winter nights in a roadside box in America. Swamiji did all this for “Dharma”; he sacrificed his likes and dislikes for the more significant entity, for his Dharma towards society.

At the time, he did not care for his food choice of veg or non-veg. He did everything to accomplish his mission of Bharat Mata while facing all criticism of caste, creed, dress, and color. In a discourse in America, he said, “the beginner must pay particular attention to dietetic rules,” but he must disapprove of what he called ‘extravagance and fanaticism’ in maintaining them.

Swami Vivekananda said, “I myself may not be a strict vegetarian, but I understand the ideal. Even if I am bound to eat under certain circumstances I know it’s cruel.”

Critiques may highlight Swami Vivekananda’s fish-eating habit, but very few know about an incident by which Swami ji disapproved of all kinds of superstitions and hesitations. Once when Swami Ji’s Guru Thakur Ramkrishna Paramhansa was in a later stage of his life and suffering from throat cancer. Devotees and people were hesitant to meet the Master.

Seeing this, Swami Vivekananda ate a whole bowl of suji porridge partaken by the Master mixed with the Master’s saliva and pus. He had no fear of his own life. After this, all attendees and people became bolder to face the Master. However, questions were raised only about his fish-eating under adverse circumstances, and in this way, the teachings of this great spiritual leader were disregarded.

The questions were raised on Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s realized teaching of “Yato Mat Tatho Path,” which means ‘whatever you believe, just hold onto that.’ Thakur Ramkrishna Paramhansa, who had a vision of the divine Mother Kali, preached that all paths lead to thee, whichsoever path we follow. Ramkrishna advocated that religion is not only a belief and faith but realization; it is being and becoming with the one reality, ‘God.’

Ramkrishna realized god through the practice of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity and found the same truth everywhere. He used to give an example that ‘like different rivers coming from different directions ultimately goes to the ocean, in the same way, all religions and faith are different ways to reach god.’

Swami Vivekananda was also attacked on the ground that he emphasized playing football over reading Bhagwat Gita. Knowing the essence is essential here rather than taking a railway station view of his sayings. Swamiji said, “You will be nearer to heaven through football than by studying Gita. We want vigor in the blood, strength in the nerves, iron muscles, and nerves of steel, not softening namby-pamby ideas.

The god is not to be reached by the weak. The essence of Swamiji’s teaching is that be physically and mentally strong first. Then, the jewels of Gita will reach your mind. We must have a solid body to hold onto great ideas because only a healthy body dwells in a strong mind.

Swami Vivekananda was the torch-bearer of the Indian national freedom movement. Many revolutionaries jumped into the freedom movement by his teachings only. How can this great yogi be confined to small quarrels and fanaticism? These critics are, as Swamiji once said, frogs in the well, totally unaware of the ocean, unlimited.

These false allegations of ISKCON’s renowned monk are condemnable, breaking the Hindu unity. Confining a great yogi in small ideologies and fanaticism will not serve anything because Swami Vivekananda was the true son of Bharatvarsha and preached only the message of India’s spirituality to the world.

Satish Kumar is Vibhag Yuva Pramukh, Vivekananda Kendra, Delhi Branch and Post-graduate in Commerce from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.

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