An Irreverent Look at Some of India's Most Revered Figures
By Aparthib Zaman
An aura of sublime, super-humanlike image has always surrounded most of India's revered philosophical and religious figures. It has been almost a taboo to question or criticize the great icons of Indian philosophy and Hinduism. Prabir Ghosh, the premier rationalist of India and founder of Indian Science and Rationalist Association, is one of the few to break the taboo and has taken an irreverent but realistic look at these venerable figures, exposing their fallibility and limitations, and in the process debunking the aura of sublimity that the popular view hold in regard to their mystical sayings, reducing them to human level. Through his writings we come to know about some surprizing facts about these great icons. Those who have like me, read all his works attentively, will agree that Prabir does that with utmost integrity, inspired only by a desire to seek the truth using rationalism as the sole guiding principle. He doesn't make cavalier observations. He has done scholarly research and provides exact references from the authentic works on the revered figures. He serves no vested interest, is not motivated by any selfish motive or desire to gain in any way by doing this. He does this to create a sense of critical and independent thinking in the minds of ordinary citizens so they can develop a skeptical mind and not accept in blind faith all that are widely believed or propagated. Centuries of uncritical veneration of these legendary figures have apotheosized them and elevated them to a high pedestal in a way that to subject them to a critical scrutiny is considered a sacrilege. Prabir tries to show that there is no reason to apotheosize these revered figures, that they were not infallible, that despite their mystical and religious charisma they lacked scientific knowledge or insight, there was nothing exceptionally profound in their sayings and they were susceptiblle to flaws and pitfalls.
I will try to share with the readers what I have learned from reading his Bangla books in the series "Aloukik Noi Loukik" (Natural, not Supernatural) in five volumes and the books "Ami Keno Ishwarey Bishwash Kori Na" (Why I don't believe in God), "Probad, Shongskar o kushongskar" (Idioms, traditions and superstitions), praphrasing in English quotes from his books. I will refer to "Aloukik Noi Loukik" as ANL, and ANL-1, ANL-2 will refer to volumes 1, 2 etc of "Aloukik Noi Loukik"
In ANL-4, p-19,20 Prabir quotes Swami Vivekananda in "Vivekanando Rachana Shamagro, Akhando Bangla Shongskaran (Complete works of Vivekananada, Bangla edition in single volume), published by Nabopatro, p-264" as saying that " mind and matter are interchangeable, depending on frequency. If you add enough energy to a piece of steel, the steel will first sound a hum, then glow as more energy is added to it, will eventually disappear and become mind" ! Commenting on the above Prabir says(p-19): "Only those Vivekanando fanatics who vocally declare him as the mother of all scientists in prestigious magazines, and fasionable seminars can try to establish this revolutionary "mind without brain and neuron" theory of Vivekanando!"
On p-68 of ANL-4 he quotes "Nijer Katha" by Rishi Aravinda, a Bangla translation of "Sri Aurobindo on himself" published by Sri Aurobindo Asram, Pondicherry, 1990, pages-37,38 where Aurobindo claims that he stopped Hitler and Japan from being victorious during second world war by applying the spiritual energy of his "supermind" !
On p-69, Prabir commenting on the above, wondered, if such a formidable army of Germany and Japan could be defeated by his spiritual energy, how come he did not or could use the same spiritual energy to defeat the much less formidable British to win India's freedom!.
He also quotes from page 88 of Aurobindo's book as saying: "I don't think from my brain or head anymore. My thoughts come from the sublime vastness that resides over my head"
Prabir then goes on to quote an internationally reputed psychologist as saying that "If any eductated person made such remark today, any doctor would seriously doubt his mental sanity".
He mentions on p-126, ANL-4 about Physicist S.N. Bose's belief in supernatural and that he was a devotee of many God men!
On p-162, ANL-4, referring to the veneration and awe shown by people of all walks of life towards Ramkrishna, Aurobindo, and Vivekanando, Prabir observes that actually these spiritual spokesmen(Addhattik probokta) never developed a well-established, well-formulated, distinct school of thought, nor did they care to engage in dialectics, proof, explanation etc. Their sole task was to repeat, in all its variations, the same platitudinous remarks like "faith brings gains" (Bishshashey Milaey Bostu), "All except Brahma is illusion", "Soul(Atma) is truth", etc all based on the ancient religious texts. He also referred to the logical positivists' opining that all the philosophical views of early philosophers were nothing but narratives, playing with words. Ghosh wondered if these early philosphers are viewed this way, where would Aurobindo-Vivekanando-Ramkrishhna stand vis a vis this critique?
On p-67 of "Probad, shongskar o kushongskar", Prabir points out the discrepancy in the thoughts and words of Gandhiji and Vivekananda He wonders, while pointing out that Gandhiji wanted a Ram Rule (Ram Rajya) and at the same time emancipation of Harijan, how an educated politician like Gandhi failed to realize that Harijans cannot be emancipated under Ram rule, rather the untouchables would lose honour, life to the upper caste under such a rule.
Referring to Vivekanando's philosophy Prabir says: "Swami Vivekanando spoke on one hand about chandals, sweepers, cobblers and on the other hand has eulogized Sanatan(Ancient) Hindu religion and its caste system. Is this self- contradiction of Vivekanando a hypocriciy of a politician? Was he a politician-saint? Is this why he is the symbol of BJP today?
Radha Krishnan is revered as the top exponent of Indian philosophy. Here's what Prabir has to say on RK. On p-35, ANL-5, he Questions Radha Krishnan's claim that Hinduism is fundamentally monotheistic. He thinks that was due to inluence of British rule, causing them to believe in the superiority of chritian monotheism and thus did not hesitate to distort history. Prabir asserts that Vedic literature is polyheistic and places Jajna (ritual worship) over any God in achieving one's goals.
On p-23,26 of "Why I don't believe in God" Prabir, while refering to the remark of Gandhiji, the father of the nation, that the loss of lives and properties in Bihar earthquake was due to God's wrath provoked by the sin and lack of belief in God by the local people, commented that the above remark of our father of the nation reflects ignorance in such a big way that does not merit any further discussion.
(My note: Tagore also was critical of Gandhi's remarks on the Bihar quake tragedy)
On p-64-72 of "Why I don't believe in God" he debunks, in the light of modern psychology and neurology, the claim that Ramkrishna and other religious mystics have "seen" God, explaining such claims as being the result of various states of brain, specifically refers to five stages of "religious mysticism" as a neurological illusion citing from the book "Modern Synopsis of Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatrist" By Kaplan and Sadock.
On p-96 of "Why I don't believe in God" he mentions that Vivekananda said yes to the question of whether any religon othetr than Hinduism is like a germ that will cause suffering in life after, and that the advent of Islam in India is like the attack of a bacteria on human body (Bani o Rochona, Swami Vivekananda, vol-5, page-43)
(My Note: In a striking similarity, Nazis said that Jews are like an infectious bacilus that had to be eradicated to control a contagious disease, ss quoted on p-154 of the book "The Blank Slate" by MIT psychologist Steven Pinker)
On p-117, ANL-5, Prabir exposes the hypocrisy of Vivekanada:
He contrasts the saying of Vivekanada: "Those who shows kindness to animals, serve God" with his introduction of animal sacrifice in Barahnagar Moth(Temple). He also exposes the shrewed calculativeness of Vivekananda in serving the poor. In one of his letter to Swami Brahmananda he (Vivekananda) instructed "After spending for the Calcutta meeting, whatever money is left over spend it to feed the famine victims, or help the poor in the lanes of Calcutta, Domrapara, Haripara. Only then they will believe in Hindutya, only then they will listen" (Potraboli, letter number 363).
On one hand Vivekananda sang "India, don't forget your sweepers, cobblers, Chandals, you are all brothers", "There can be no relgion in empty stomach", "Let India emerge from the peasant's hut" etc and on the other hand he wrote letters to his disciples instructing them not to create strife between the rich and the poor, not to criticize the rich" etc. (Potraboli, letter number 476)
On child marriage Vivekananda had contradictory views. He said "I hate child marriage very much" (In Bharotio Nari, published by Udbodhon Karjyaloy, p-90), while on page-15 he is quoted as saying "Sometimes children are married at early age, because that is mandated by the Varna. If one has to be married off without their opinion, they better be married in childhood before they develop any romantic feelings"
Quoting Vivenkakanda on the British: "There is none here who loves the British more than I do" (quoted from Vivekananda and samakalin bharotborsho, vol-4 p-12).
He quotes Vivenkakanda in his Vani and Rachana, p-253: "Everyone says to British, give us more. How much more do they want from the British? They have given us rail, telegram, order and discipline in the state, driven away the robbers, given science education.. What more can they give? I say, they have given you so much, what have you given them?"
He also mentions Vivekananda's support of widow self- immolation and opposition to widow marriage.
On p-251, ANL-5, he says that to know the self-contradictory nature of Vivekananda and Aurovinda it is enough to read their books. But unfortunately the educated uppper and middle class buy plenty of their books only to decorate their showcase, but don't read them. Truth would have been exposed had they read them.
12 August, 2003
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