To Swami Vivekananda, Religion is not just a talk and doctrines or theories, nor is it sectarianism. Religion can not live in sects and societies. It is a relationship between soul and God.
He explains that religion does not consist in erecting temples or building churches or attending public worship. As well as it can not find in the books or in words or in lectures or in organizations. Religion consists on realization. Religion does not consist in subscribing to a particular creed or faith but in spiritual realization.
Therefore, spiritual realization is religion. He said that “I shall try to bring before you the Hindu theory that religions do not come from without, but from within. It is my belief that religious thought is in man’s very constitution, so much so that it is impossible for him to give up religion until he can give up his mind and body, until he can give up his thought and life.” Religion is inseparable with man and his life. Another thing is that, it is within the man. Each and every one should understand God within their soul through self-realization.
Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already within man. Therefore, it is not necessary to have doctrines or dogmas and intellectual argumentation. It is realization in the heart of our hearts. It is touching God; it is feeling God and realizing that I am a spirit in relation with the universal spirit and all its great manifestations.
In a simple manner, his way of understanding of religion is that man must realize God, feel God, see God, and talk to God. That is the religion. To him material prosperity and wealth is not an important thing. But the wealth of the spiritual thought in brain that is needed to the human progress.
To him, religion has been a great healer as well as cruel killer. In this he try to explain if one religion given a true and bless to the people, it has capacity to heal evil thoughts in human mind, as well the false religion has a capacity to bring darkness in human mind. So that, Vivekananda’s message was that man must occupy the highest place.
Hence, the true welfare of man is his predominant impulse, and a true religion is the only agent for that purpose. He further said that the supreme reality is the only source of happiness. True religion teaches us that the goal of life has to be sought in Ātman only. The world is a vale of tears, but through such experience an ardent seeker has to find that the world is a vale of soul’s growth too.
Swami Vivekananda said that, man is like an infinite spring, coiled up in a small box, and that spring is trying to unfold. His ideal of religion is a spiritual concept. So that without inner growth religion has no value. The very soul of religion is experience. To realize it his suggestion was the yoga system. Through practices of yoga, people can achieve the inner divinity.
Needs for Universal Religion
He realized the nature of man, according to that mankind in the whole world has been trying to look beyond in the quest of his ultimate destiny or search for God. Therefore, whole of the world community is expecting a religion, which is acceptable to the whole world
Humanity in the society with different social organizations are representing different needs of the man. Man and his spiritual aspiration and struggles are represented by the various religions of the world. The various world religions have been indulging in mutual criticisms, vilification, and persecutions. We can see in the world several religions claiming universal empire in the field of religion over all mankind and engaged themselves in ruthless wars and bloodshed to achieve this end.
To parallel this situation, some intellectuals and peace workers are searching a way to establish peace among these. SwamiVivekananda told that “we must understand all of those religions have proved their strength, their worth, and their necessity for mankind.”
Therefore, he understood the equal status of all the religions and the religious plurality in human society. But he did not just jump into this conclusion. He questioned the truth and the religious plurality. Because if we say that one religion is true, automatically the rest of other religions become false.
According to him, all religions are not really contradictory but supplementary. He said that “each religion, as it were, takes up one part of the great universal truth and spends its whole force in embodying and typifying that part of the great truth. It is, therefore, an addition and not exclusion”. That was his identification of equal status of all the religions.
Then he questioned the diversity of views, all of them alike by referring to the same thing and revealing different phases of it. He explained it by giving an example. If, someone takes photography of some building from different angles, we can see different faces of the same object.
But those differences apparent can not be called contradictions, but only shows the many-sidedness of a single unique entity. Therefore, according to him “we are viewing truth, getting as much of it as circumstances will permit, colouring the truth with our own intellect and grasping it with our own mind.
We can only know as much of truth as is related to us, as much of it as we are able to receive. This occasion sometimes even contradictory ideas; yet they all belong to the same universal truth”. Thus, Vivekananda gave equal importance to the all of the religions in the world. He illustrates from the Islam. The followers of Islam are equal. This is the special excellence of that religion. What comes to preach to the world is the brotherhood of all belonging to their faith. Therefore, this ideal is necessary for the development of social harmony.
In Hinduism, spirituality is its soul. Swami Vivekananda pointed out that “in no other religion, in no other sacred books of the world will you find so much energy spent in defining the idea of God. They tried to define the idea of soul, so that no earthly touch might mar it.
The spirit must be divine; and the spirit understood as spirit must not be made into a man. The same idea of unity, of the realization of God, the omnipresent, is preached throughout. They think it is all nonsense to say that he lives in heaven, and all that. Therefore, spirituality is one of the main essences in Hinduism. Christianity also has same kind of ideals which is very much needed for the mankind.
In the above sense, Swami Vivekananda identified the need for universal religion. Then he searched for, the way to form that universal religion. He realized under the circumstances of universal religion can not be established by any one of world religions converting the followers of all others into theirs.
It is possible only to the extent of having a conception of universalism in which there is a place for all religions suited to different types of humanity. Therefore, he gave a place for the humanity in society. There may be different types of people with different mentality, with a different habits, rituals, and beliefs in world. Each and every one has one’s own place. All of these various minds and various types of people are needed to the society. That was his liberal idea on formation of universal religion. He explained it in a following way:
“Our watchword, there will be acceptance and not exclusion. Not only toleration, but acceptance. I accept all religions that were in the past and worship with them all; I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form they worship Him. I shall go to the mosque of the Mohammedan; I shall enter the Christian’s church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhists temple where I shall take refuge in the Buddha and in the law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu who is trying to see the light that enlightens the heart of everyone.” Therefore, religion must be studied on a broader basis than formally.
Swami Vivekananda continued: As human mind broadens, its spiritual steps broaden too. The time has already come when a man can not record a thought without its reaching all corners of the earth; by merely physical means we have come into touch with the whole world; so the future religions of the world have to become as universal and as wide. The religious ideals of the future must embrace all that exists in the world and is good and great, and at the same time, have infinite scope for future development.
Concept of Universal Religion by Swami Vivekananda
According to Swami Vivekananda, it is the direct realization of the truths of the spiritual world that forms the real essence of religion. True religion is a direct, transcendental experience of the Ultimate Reality. This idea of direct realization is common to all religions.
The end of all religions is the realizing of God in the Soul, and this is the one Universal Religion. If there is one Universal Truth, in all religions, according to Vivekananda, it is the realizing God. Ideals and methods may differ, but this is the main point to be noted.
Swami Vivekananda built his theory of the Transcendental Unity of all religions based on the direct experience of the Ultimate Reality. He spoke on the oneness of all religions with regard to the transcendental aspect of each religion. Differences among religions would not be the cause of conflict; we have to understand them to be mutually complementary.
For Swami Vivekananda, religion is a total concept. All the religions of the world together constitute one whole. For him, there existed only one Eternal Religion of which all other religions were only variations. Each religion has a special bent, a unique trait, some good points and this uniqueness is not the different buildings, languages, rituals, books etc employed in various religions, but…… the internal soul of every religion.
Every religion has a soul behind it, and that soul may differ from the soul of another religion. He continues ‘my idea, therefore, is that all these religions are different forces in the economy of God, working for the good of mankind’.
All the religions of the world together constitute one whole. All religions are valid means to the same end. It is not necessary to change ones religion. To enrich one’s life, one can accept some of the good points in other religions.
Jyotirmayananda, Vivekananda; His Gospel of Man Making, Madras
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kollkata
Tapasyananda, S. The Philosophical and Religious Lectures of Swami Vivekananda , Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata