Things Godmen teach in Hindu Nationalist Leader Narendra Modi’s Maninagar

Modi with Swami Vivekananda in the backdrop       —PTI

Joining the dots
The neighbourhood of Maninagar in Ahmedabad has, for its sitting MLA, Narendra Modi of the BJP. It is as pucca a Modi bastion as you are likely to find anywhere in India. Among the many institutions located here is the Ramakrishna Mission, the Hindu religious order founded by Swami Vivekananda, who Mr Modi is said to revere.

Perhaps for that very reason, the Swami, who died in 1902, has been subject to political attacks from some of Mr Modi’s many haters in recent years.
On a visit to Ahmedabad on the eve of elections in Gujarat, I decided to visit the Ramkrishna Mission in Maninagar to see what they were up to. Would the place have any Modi posters up? Were they involved in the elections in any visible way? And what kind of Hinduism were they teaching? Was it Hindutva, or the syncretic Hinduism of Sri Ramkrishna, after whom the mission is named?

Walking in unannounced — my visit to the mission was unplanned, the result of finding an evening unexpectedly free — I discovered a swami clad in saffron sitting on stage in the basement auditorium. He was in the midst of a discourse being delivered in chaste Gujarati. Before him, on the ground and on a few plastic chairs, a mixed crowd of men and women, mostly middle-aged, sat listening in rapt attention. There was not a single political poster anywhere. For that matter, there was not even a picture of Swami Vivekananda.

The swami was reciting a Kabir doha, something about water being the same, even if the pots holding the water are different. He went on to a Sanskrit shloka from one of the Upanishads about God being “nirakar”, meaning formless. “The paths differ, god is the same,” he said. All religions are different paths to the same god, was the message — one closely associated with Sri Ramkrishna.
Then he asked, “God is everywhere, so why the arguments?” The rhetorical question was followed with an actual question. “Is there ghee in the milk?” Yes, said the crowd. Similarly, said the swami, God is everywhere in the universe, but only those who are “tattva darshis,” seers of the essence of things, can see this.

“Such a person is a pandit, regardless of whether he or she is Brahmin or Chandala,” the swami declared.
He went on to denounce rituals as unnecessary for gyan yogis and encouraged the audience to cultivate good thoughts. The famed dacoit Angulimala became a great Buddhist sage. Another highwayman became the sage Valmiki, author of the Ramayan. Change is possible, he said, but “You can’t meditate with a cellphone stuck to your ear.” He scolded his audience further: “You sit in your AC room with TV on, watching Modi’s rallies, but you don’t come for satsang.”

The discourse became more philosophical and esoteric. Now it went into the aim of meditation, which is to become nirguna, free of all gunas. Hinduism by and large recognizes three gunas or qualities — tamas, rajas and sattva. The words are hard to translate. Tamas is associated with dark energies, or lethargy. Rajas is associated with action and sattva with creative energies and clarity. A meditator is expected to move from tamasik to rajasik to sattvik, but eventually to a state beyond all of this. God, the life force of the universe, is described as nirguna and nirakar, and the meditator aspires to attain unity with this force.

I waited till the end of the discourse, fascinated by the philosophy, and the unexpectedness of finding it here. I did not even know who the swami was. I wanted to speak to him but he was surrounded by an eager crowd after the talk ended. I could only gather from others that he was called Kevalanand Saraswati, and he was not attached to the Ramkrishna Mission but had been given use of the auditorium by the Mission to deliver discourses.
A lot has been said and written about Hindutva and Hinduism in these elections because of Mr Modi’s candidature. From my experience, I would venture that Hinduism as it is being taught, even in the Ramkrishna Mission in Mr Modi’s Maninagar, is not the awful thing that some people have projected it as. In their enthusiasm to demonise those guilty of the 2002 riots, they have unfortunately tarred the whole faith. The attitude towards Hindus now is similar to the one that Muslims experienced after 9/11 and Sikhs during the days of the Punjab insurgency; anyone who shows any signs of association with the faith is looked upon with suspicion.

This cannot be good for India. We are a country of 1.2 billion people, and most of them are adherents of one faith or another. We are not a country of godless communists like China or godless capitalists like Western Europe. We will not become like either in the foreseeable future, no matter how much our Westernised elites, composed mainly of Lord Macaulay’s Indians, may wish it.

Our secularism is not the secularism of the dictionary. It is not the secularism of France, which banned the burqa and the Sikh turban. I would personally wish we could go that way, banning public displays of all religions, but I don’t consider it possible. We have to live with our gods. And so, if we do not regard tikas, beards, skullcaps and turbans as normal, we will be left with 1.2 billion people constantly regarding one another with mutual suspicion.

Source: Asianage