Swami Vivekananda renewed people's interest in religion by bringing religion to center stage after infusing it with a new meaning. He promoted inter-faith harmony. Hence his teachings are of great relevance, particularly in the current context.
For Vivekananda, service to God meant service to the disadvantaged. He coined a new word, Daridra Narayana - seeing God in the less privileged - and it was upheld as a religious axiom. Like Buddha, Vivekananda promoted rationality in human conduct so that religion relates to intellectual conscience and rational thinking. That way, it would appeal to a wider audience.
Any religion that divides people or exalts privileges, encourages exploitation and instigates wars cannot be justified. Hence his was a gender-neutral espousal of lofty religious values that he believed would help expand human consciousness. According to Vivekananda, we need to renounce hatred and cultivate love and compassion for all; only then can we begin to live in peace and harmony.
It is not possible to live an isolated life. As more and more people migrate to urban areas, an increasingly greater number of people of different faiths live side by side. Hence there is the need for greater understanding of each other's aspirations, faiths and beliefs as well as practices.
To Vivekananda, Vedanta was not Brahmanism or Buddhist, Christian or Muslim. Vedanta was the sum total of all of these. In his historic address to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago on September 11, 1893, Swami Vivekananda clarified as follows: "The Christian is not to become a Hindu or Buddhist, or a Hindu or a Buddhist to become Christian; each must assimilate the spirit of the other and yet preserve individuality and grow accordingly." Paramahansa Ramakrishna said: "Jato mat, tato path" - that is, "As many opinions, that many ways". Swamiji greatly valued plurality of approach in human affairs and spoke against uniformity that ends any kind of diversity.
Vivekananda said: "The greatest misfortune would be if all were to recognise and accept but one religion, one universal form of worship, one standard of morality. This would be the death-blow to all religious and spiritual progress." The Ramakrishna Order takes care of each and every member's food, clothing, shelter and healthcare needs. It motivates its personnel through rigorous training and idealism.
We are living in a world which is marked by hatred and violence, terrorism and suicide squads. Terrorists are using religious slogans to justify their gross deeds. But how could a man of religion be a terrorist? How could a religious person join a suicide squad if he believes in service of the disadvantaged? Swamiji's answer was to encourage plurality of faiths and harmony among religions.
Swami Vivekananda declared in the Parliament of Religions that "If anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: 'Help and not Fight', 'Assimilation and not Destruction', 'Harmony and Peace and not Dissension." As we celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, let's also celebrate all that the young monk stood for.