September 12, 2006

Vivekananda modifies classical Vedanta

For the discerning historian, it is apparent that Vivekananda significantly modifies the classical Vedanta, and that his modifications are not derivative of the traditional interpretations; no, they appear as the expression of something new...Hacker also occasionally used the term "Neo-Vedanta" to refer to the writings of religious thinkers and writers within Neo-Hinduism whose orientation was more specifically Vedantic, figures such as Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950), and the noted intellectual historian and statesman, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975).
During his time at college, Narendra became acquainted with European philosophy. He studied the positivism of John Stuart Mill and Auguste Comte, the scepticism of David Hume, and the agnostic thought of Herbert Spencer. The works of these European philosophers had been exerting their influence in Bengal for some time. Comte was particularly well known in Bengal. Enthusiasts in Europe had sent positivist "missionaries" to Bengal at one time to spread the word, and Comte came to have a dedicated following there. Thomas Paine's Age of Reason (1794) had, over a period of time, been translated into Bengali. Hume was taught at the Hindu College in Calcutta. And the empiricism and Utilitarianism of J.S. Mill were well known among Bengali intellectuals. Rammohan Roy himself had corresponded with Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart's mentor.
Throughout most of his youth, Narendra maintained a belief in God, a belief that was in part shaped by the teachings of the Brahma Samaj. But as a result of his study of European positivism, in particular Mill's Three Essays on Religion, his faith in theism collapsed. This shattering of his faith was a significant event in the life of young Narendra, and it eventually helped orient him away from theism and motivate him to move toward the Vedanta and Yoga...
Some time after these events, one of Narendra's friends, Bajendranath Seal, introduced him to the metaphysical monism of Advaita Vedanta and to the Hegelian concept of reason ("the real is the rational, and the rational is the real"). With Bajendra's help, Narendra was able to construct a philosophical perspective that allowed him to ameliorate the effect that positivism and scepticism had exerted upon him. This perspective combined Vedanta with elements of rationalism. This amalgam remained with Narendra throughout his life, and he eventually came to understand Advaita Vedanta as particularly capable of resisting the Enlightenment critique of religion...
While in the West, he experienced American and European civilization and culture. This exposure to Western lifestyles, and culture in general, was another formative factor in the thought of Vivekananda. Throughout Vivekananda's writings we find stereotyped descriptions of the "West." Most typically, the West is "materialistic" and dominated, as he puts it, by the ideals of "eating and drinking." But he acknowledges that Europe and America have mastered the "outer world," and he contrasts this with the Indian mastery of the "inner world." Like Keshab Chandra Sen, Vivekananda speaks of the value of an exchange of learning between the two "complementary" cultures...
posted by kelamuni at 11:35 AM Canada Explorations in Neo-Vedanta and Perennialism Further Reading From Paul Hacker, Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern Hinduism, Wilhelm Halbfass, editor

1 comment:

  1. AnonymousJuly 07, 2007

    interesting article. swami vivekananda was so wise. check out for more quotes by vivekananda.