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Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Swami Dayananda, The Patriot Saint
Swami Dayananda, The Patriot Saint
By S Gurumurthy
Published: 25th September 2015 06:00 AM
Last Updated: 25th September 2015 03:12 AM
Swami Dayananda Saraswati — a master exponent of the inclusive Hindu
philosophy who declared there was not ‘ONE GOD,’ but ‘ONLY GOD,’ a
teacher of Vedanta who created hundreds of teachers to continue the
ancient Indian tradition, a great organiser who founded the Hindu Dharma
Acharya Sabha as the representative body of unorganised Hindu religious
traditions, a philosopher who harmonised and validated, from the Hindu
perspective of theo-diversity, all forms of worship from paganism to
monism, an intellectual who re-articulated and established that
religious conversion, regarded as the right of evangelist religions, is
itself violence, and finally a patriot saint who, like Maharishi
Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda did, saw, in the ancient nation of
India, the very manifestation of all that he had learnt and taught — is
no more. Indeed he was the latest incarnation in the tradition of
nationalist saints of India.
Endowed with unparalleled intellectual skills and unlimited knowledge
base, Dayananda first made it a mission of his life to teach and did
take Vedanta to a vast elite audience in India and outside, which would
otherwise have been half-westernised in world view and as much
Christianised culturally. He aligned Vedanta to India as a national
entity and cultural phenomenon and to Indians as the chosen people
entrusted with the sacred duty to live, sustain and protect it not only
for them but also for the good of the world. In his exposition, Vedanta
was not just a philosophy but it found expression in the culture and
life of India founded on the idea of dharma — in its arts and music,
literature and sculpture, society and family, and in the Indian
traditional respect for elders, teachers and women and ultimately in the
reverence for this nation itself as sacred and in the love of the
entire creation, both animate and inanimate. Starting off as student and
disciple of the redoubtable Swami Chinmayananda, the originator of the
contemporary school of exposition of Vedanta, Dayananda Saraswati
rapidly grew up as an accomplished scholar and unparalleled teacher.
After having worked for decades and succeeded in his mission to teach
and create teachers of Vedanta, he turned his attention to some critical
issues of contemporary importance which would have long-term and
adverse implications for the very purpose and soul of this ancient
nation. With this new turn, in the late 1990s a paradigm shift took
place in his entire course of thought and action and this led to his
founding of the Dharma Rakshana Samiti in Chennai in 1999. It was in
that unique event, a confluence of some highly regarded saints,
spiritualists, and intellectuals, that Swami Dayananda made one of his
most memorable speeches where he declared that the very concept of
religious conversion itself was violence — a spiritual, mental and
cultural violence. This redefined the very notion of conversion which
till then had some acceptability among non-Gandhian secularists as a
right of religions — which in effect meant only the proselytising
religions — to convert others to their faith. Gandhiji’s contempt for
religious conversion is too well-known for the secularists to
appropriate Mahatma Gandhi to support conversion as integral secularism.
This is amongst the greatest contributions of Swami Dayananda to global
inter-religious discourse. The redefinition of religious conversion as
violence robbed the concept of conversion of benignity and exposed its
In 1999 when the then Pope visited India, Swami Dayananda constituted
and led a group of multi-religious scholars and intellectuals and
welcomed but asked him to declare that he was happy to visit a nation
which has respected all faiths and that he also respected all faiths.
But the Pope preferred not to accept Swami Dayananda’s suggestion.
However, with his unmatched intellectual prowess Swami Dayananda took
the battle against conversion in world fora. He proposed self-discipline
among faiths in the Millennium summit of the United Nations in the year
2000, calling upon religions to respect each other, not to abuse one
another and not to convert the faithfuls of other religions by force or
by inducement to one’s fold.
There was consensus on his view but finally the proselytising faiths did
not agree and the Millennium harmony proposal therefore did not
succeed. But it took just eight more years for Swami Dayananda to
convince the world religious leaders of the need for trans-religious
In the human rights declaration of world religious leaders in Amsterdam
on December 10, 2008 on the 60th anniversary of the UN Human Rights
Declaration, all world religious leaders, including the proselytising
faiths, accepted the Dayananda approach — namely that religions should
mutually respect and accept each other, that they should not abuse or
trivialise one another’s faiths or symbols, that they should recognise
the right of a person to be in the religion of his birth, and that there
should be no conversion by force or by inducement — and signed the
historic declaration. It is the substance of the Amsterdam declaration
which Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopted as the approach of his
government to different faiths when he addressed the Christian religious
meet in Delhi to celebrate the canonisation of saints from Kerala.
In this period from 1999 to 2008, Swami Dayananda undertook some
far-reaching initiatives, which included the constitution of the Hindu
Dharma Acharya Sabha — one of his greatest achievements and equally a
great contribution to the Indian civilisation. The Acharya Sabha has
given the diverse and unorganised Hindu religions, which had long
suffered disadvantage relative to the organised and proselytising
faiths, a platform to come together as Dharma religions and participate
in the global discourse. Till then, any secularist masquerading as a
religious person would sign on the dotted line on behalf of Hinduism in
the global fora.
His next big move was to bring together elders of all indigenous faiths —
whether from South America or North America, Africa or Europe — at
Delhi. Swami Dayananda declared that all faiths are sacred and valid and
no faith can and should be allowed to claim to be superior to other
faiths. He articulated religious diversity, which is the strongest point
of Hinduism, in the most acceptable, rational and logical manner and
challenged and debunked the claim that some faiths are only true faiths
and others false faiths, which, he argued, is the cause for the
widespread hate and violence today.
The great successes of this great sanyasi, moulded in the ancient
traditions of India, is not, however, as well-known as he himself was.
That also demonstrated the high point of his personality — humility.
Maharishi Aurobindo said that the greatest achievements have been least
noisy. This aptly applied to Swami Dayananda’s work and life. In his
demise, the Hindu philosophy has lost its greatest exponent of recent
times, Hindu religion one of its staunchest defenders, and the nation a
great patriot saint.
The author is a commentator on political, economic and cultural affairs.