Vivekananda Castigates the Disciples of Christ

By: Puneetchandra Sharma

It was 1830. The 1st anglicist missionary Alexander Duff arrived in Calcutta, India. He was a great proponent of English language in India, for, he believed that English would bring the native Indians closer to the religion and culture of the ruling race, exactly like the muslims, who initially introduced Persian and then Urdu.

  • Alexander Duff

Hindu college and other educational institutions were already established about a decade earlier by the British, controlled by the missionaries and after observing the Indian students, Alexander was convinced that he would be able to demolish Hinduism completely.

In an address delivered in 1835 to a General Church Assembly he proclaimed that knowledge of Western literature and science would “demolish the huge and hideous fabric of Hinduism” brick by brick till “the whole will be found to have crumbled into fragments.”

Then came Thomas Babington Macaulay and his famous “Macaulay Minute” in 1835 and the Western system of Education was officially adopted.

  • Thomas Babington Macaulay

In 1836, in a letter written to his father, Macaulay wrote,

“My dear Father….It is my firm belief that, if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytise, without the smallest interference with religious liberty, merely by the natural operation of knowledge and reglection. I heartily rejoice in this prospect….”

[The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay, ed. by Thomas Pinney, vol. 3 (January 1834-August 1841). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.]

Friedrich Max Müller had already introduced the “Aryan Theory” in 1881 and was busy mistranslating Vedic texts along with his friend Horace Hayman Wilson.

Left: Friedrich Max Müller
Right: Horace Hayman Wilson

How do we know they mistranslated the sacred Hindu texts?

The real intention of Max Mueller is revealed through the letters he wrote to and received from his friends, mother, father, wife, mentors and other important people. Some of these letters were published in 1976 and some of them were published by his wife ‘Georgina Adelaide Müller’ in 1902.

On April 17, 1855, Bunsen to thank Max Müller for an article on his Outlines (Chapter IX), wrote :

“You have so thoroughly adopted the English disguise that it will not be easy for anyone to suspect you of having written this ‘curious article.’ It especially delights me to see how ingeniously you contrive to say what you announce you do not wish to discuss, i.e. the purport of the theology. In short, we are all of opinion that your cousin was right when she said of you in Paris to Neukomm, that you ought to be in the diplomatic service!”

Bishop of Calcutta Dr. E.B. Pusey to Max Mueller (Chapter XII, Ravenwood, Shimla, July, 13, 1860), wrote :

“I feel considerable interest in the matter, because I am sure that it is of the greatest importance for our missionaries to understand Sanskrit, to study the philosophy and sacred books of the Hindus, and to be able to meet the pundits on their own ground.

Among the means to this great end, none can be more important than your edition and Professor Wilson’s translation of the Rigveda. It would be most fitting in my opinion for a great Christian university to place in its Sanskrit chair the scholar who has made the Sanskrit scriptures accessible to the Christian missionary.”

When all these heavy artillery attacks on Hinduism were underway, unknown to everyone, a child was born in 1863. He was named Narendranath Datta. He would grow up into one of the greatest Hindu sages of modern times – Swami Vivekananda, who would undo everything the missionaries did and more.

Narendranath would soon meet his Guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who himself was a celebrated sage. Missionaries tried their best to get him under the Jesus umbrella and once gave him a Bible and his reaction on knowing the details were of utter repugnance.

“Once someone gave me,” he said on October 27, 1882, “a book of the Christians. I asked him to read it to me. It talked about nothing but sin.” Turning to Keshub Chunder Sen, who was present, he continued, “Sin is the only thing one hears at your Brahmo Samaj too… He who says day and night, ‘I am a sinner, I am a sinner’, verily becomes a sinner…

Why should one only talk about sin and hell, and such things?” Thus he knocked the bottom out of Christianity. Without sin, there was no need for the atoning death of a historical saviour.”

And in this scenario, enters the giant – Swami Vivekananda.

His views on Christianity were similar to his Guru but more detailed. He completely rejected Christianity as Avidya.

“The greatest error,” he said, “is to call a man a weak and miserable sinner. Every time a person thinks in this mistaken manner, he rivets one more link in the chain of avidyA that binds him, adds one more layer to the “self-hypnotism” that lies heavy over his mind.” He compared the Hindu and Christian concepts of the soul. “One of the chief distinctions,” he said, “between the Vedic and the Christian religion is that the Christian religion teaches that each human soul had its beginning at its birth into this world, whereas the Vedic religion asserts that the spirit of man is an emanation of the Eternal Being and has no more a beginning than God Himself.”

He hailed humans as Children of Immortal Bliss – amritasya putrAH – in the language of the Upanishads. “Ye are the children of God,” he proclaimed while addressing the Parliament of Religions, “the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth – sinners! It is a sin to call man so; it is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, lions! and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal.”

Vivekananda repudiated the idea of vicarious saving also. He proclaimed the Hindu doctrine that everyone has to work out his own salvation. “The Christians believe,” he said, “that Jesus Christ died to save man. With you it is belief in a doctrine, and this belief constitutes your salvation. With us doctrine has nothing whatever to do with salvation.

Each one may believe in whatever doctrine he likes; or in no doctrine. What difference does it make to you whether Jesus Christ lived at a certain time or not? What has it to do with you that Moses saw God in the burning bush? The fact that Moses saw God in the burning bush does not constitute your seeing him, does it?… Records of great spiritual men in the past do us no good whatever except that they urge us onward to do the same, to experience religion ourselves. Whatever Christ or Moses or anybody else did, does not help us in the least, except to urge us on.”

He was aware that the historicity of Christ had become highly controversial among scholars of the subject. “There is a great dispute,” he wrote, “as to whether there ever was born a man with the name of Jesus. Of the four books comprising the New Testament, the Book of St. John has been rejected by some as spurious. As to the remaining three, the verdict is that they have been copied from ancient books; and that, too, long after the date ascribed to Jesus Christ.

Moreover, about the time that Jesus is believed to have been born, among the Jews themselves there were born two historians, Josephus and Philo. They have mentioned even petty sects among the Jews but not made the least reference to Jesus or the Christians or that the Roman judge sentenced him to death on the cross. Josephus’ book had a single line about it, which has now been proved to be an interpolation. The Romans used to rule over the Jews at that time, and the Greeks taught them all arts and Sciences.

They have all written a good many things about the Jews but made no mention of either Jesus or the Christians.” He also knew that doubts had been raised whether Jesus had himself said what was attributed to him in the gospels. “Another difficulty,” he continued, “is that the sayings, precepts, or doctrines which the New Testament preaches were already in existence among the Jews before the Christian era, having come from different quarters, and were being preached by Rabbis like Hillel and others.”

The miracles of Christ also failed to impress Vivekananda. In fact, they repelled him strongly. “What were the great powers of Christ,” he asked, “in miracles and healing, in one of his characters? They were low, vulgar things because he was among vulgar beings… Any fool could do those things. Fools heal others, devils can heal others. I have seen horrible demoniacal men do wonderful miracles. They seem to manufacture fruits out of the earth. I have known fools and diabolical men tell the past, present and future. I have seen fools heal at a glance, by the will, the most horrible diseases. These are powers, truly, but often demoniacal powers.” And he was not at all interested in the historical Jesus. “One gets sick at heart,” he said, “at the different accounts of the life of the Christ that Western people give. One would make him a great politician; another, perhaps, would make of him a great military general, another a great patriotic Jew; and so on.”

Vivekananda was aghast at the mushrooming of so many churches and all of them filled with hate for each other and wanting to kill the other, it made him wonder if there was any Christ left in them or were the teachings of Christ were as peaceful as they were made out to be.

Most men remained the same after baptism as they were before it. What was worse, the mere sprinkling of water over them and muttering of formulas by a priest made them believe that they were better than other people. He quoted the Kenopanishad in this context:

“Ever steeped in the darkness of ignorance, yet considering themselves wise and learned, the fools go round and round, staggering to and fro like the blind led by the blind.”

His opinion about the ritual of symbolic cannibalism, the Eucharist was one of disgust.

The Eucharist was nothing more than the survival of a savage custom.

“They sometimes killed their great chiefs,” said Vivekananda, “and ate their flesh in order to obtain in themselves the qualities which made their leaders great.” Human sacrifice was a Jewish idea which was borrowed by Christianity “in the form of atonement.” This seeking for a “scapegoat” had made Christianity “develop a spirit of persecution and bloodshed.”

Christian missionaries would single out some passages from the Puranas which were somewhat obscene according to the Victorian morality and would try to target Hinduism.

Vivekananda had studied the Bible and knew that it contained a lot which was downright pornography. But he had his own method of exposing the Bible. “The Chinese,” he wrote, “are the disciples of Confucius, are the disciples of Buddha, and their morality is quite strict and refined. Obscene language, obscene books, pictures, any conduct the least obscene – and the offender is punished then and there.

The Christian missionaries translated the Bible into Chinese tongue. Now in the Bible there are some passages so obscene as to put to shame some of the Puranas of the Hindus. Reading those indecorous passages, the Chinamen were so exasperated against Christianity that they made a point of never allowing the Bible to be circulated in their country… The simple minded Chinese were disgusted, and raised a cry, saying: Oh, horror! This religion has come to us to ruin our young boys, by giving them this Bible to read… This is why the Chinese are very indignant with Christianity. Otherwise the Chinese are very tolerant towards other religions. I hear that the missionaries have printed an edition, leaving out the objectionable parts; but this step has made the Chinese more suspicious than before.”

Then there was the history of Christianity -bloody, rapacious and genocidal. And this horrified the Swami. He wrote,

“The ancient Greeks, who were the first teachers of European civilization attained the zenith of their culture long before the Christians.

Ever since they became Christians, all their learning and culture was extinguished.”

When he was passing by Egypt on his way to Europe, a missionary mentioned to him the miracles which, according to the Bible, Moses had performed in that country. But Vivekananda had read history. He knew the record of Christianity in Egypt.

“Here was the city of Alexandria,” he said, “famous all over the world for its university, its library, and its literati – that Alexandria which, falling into the hands of illiterate, bigoted and vulgar Christians suffered destruction, with its library burnt to ashes and learning stamped out. Finally, the Christians killed the lady savant, Hypatia, subjected her dead body to all sorts of abominable insult, and dragged it through the streets, till every bit of flesh was removed from her bones.”

Christianity had spread with the help of the sword since the days of Constantine and tried to suppress science and philosophy. He asked,

“What support has Christianity ever lent to the spread of civilisation, either spiritual or secular? What reward did the Christian religion offer to the European Pandit who sought to prove for the first time that the Earth is a revolving planet? What scientist has ever been hailed with approval and enthusiasm by the Christian Church?”

Coming to modem times, Vivekananda found Christianity very vindictive:

“The great thinkers of Europe Voltaire, Darwin, Buchner, Flammarion, Victor Hugo and a host of others like him – are in the present time denounced by Christianity and are victims of vituperative tongues of its orthodox community.”

Christian missionaries in India were crediting to Christianity the rise and progress of modern Europe. This was a great falsehood.

“Whatever heights of progress Europe has attained,” continued Vivekananda, “every one of them has been gained by its revolt against Christianity – by its rising against the Gospel. If Christianity had its old paramount sway in Europe today, it would have lighted the fire of the Inquisition against such modern scientists as Pasteur and Koch, and burnt Darwin and others of his school at the stake.

In modern Europe Christianity and civilization are two different things. Civilization has now girded up her loins to destroy her old enemy, Christianity, to overthrow the clergy and to wring educational and charitable institutions from their hands. But for the ignorance-ridden rustic masses, Christianity would never have been able for a moment to support its present despised existence, and would have been pulled out by its roots; for the urban poor are, even now, enemies of the Christian Church!”

Christian missionaries were citing the prosperity of the modern West as an example of the superiority of Christianity. Much of that prosperity, however, was derived from the plunder of other peoples.

“We who have come from the East,” he said in an interview to a U.S. newspaper on September 29, 1893, “have sat here day after day and have been told to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and see England, the most prosperous Christian nation in the world, with her foot on the neck of 250,000,000 Asiatics.

We look back into history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindu will not have prosperity. I have sat here and heard the height of intolerance. I have heard the creed of Moslems applauded, when the Moslem sword is carrying destruction into India. Blood and sword are not for the Hindu, whose religion is based on the laws of love.”

The newspaper described it as a “savage attack on Christian nations.” Vivekananda had a lot to say on Western colonialism and the massacre of natives in America, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. But that is not the subject at present.

What really amazed him was the utter lack of logic in Christian propaganda.

“On metaphysical lines,” he wrote on his return to India in 1897, “no nation on earth can hold a candle to the Hindus; and curiously all the fellows that come over here from Christian lands have that one antiquated foolishness of an argument that because the Christians are powerful and rich and Hindus are not, so Christianity must be better than Hinduism. To which the Hindus very aptly retort that, that is the very reason why Hinduism is a religion and Christianity is not; because in this beastly world, it is blackguardism and that alone which prospers, virtue always suffers.”

Hindus have nothing to gain from Christianity as it is only a system of superstitions. Hindus should not get frightened when the missionaries threaten them with hell; in fact, hell is better than the company of a Christian missionary. “There came a Christian to me once,” recalled Vivekananda, “and said, ‘You are a terrible sinner.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am. Go on.’ He was a Christian missionary.

That man would not give me any rest. When I see him I fly. He said, ‘I have very good things for you. You are a sinner and you will go to hell.’ I said, ‘Very good, what else?’ I asked him, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘I am going to heaven,’ he answered. I said, ‘I will go to hell.’ “That day he gave me up.” If Christ could help people become good, why has he failed in the Christian countries where he has been worshipped for so long? “Here comes a Christian man,” continued Vivekananda, “and he says, ‘You are all doomed; but if you believe in this doctrine, Christ will help you out.’ If this were true – but of course it is nothing but superstition – there would be no wickedness in Christian countries. Let us believe in it – belief costs nothing – but why is there no result? If I ask, ‘Why is it that there are so many wicked people?’ They say, ‘We have to work more.’ Trust in God but keep your power dry!”

Swami Vivekananda saw through the hypocrisy of the Church to gain members in the name of Jesus while caring 2 hoots for the poor and starving. He spoke in the Parliament of Religions on September 29, 1893.

“You Christians, who are so fond of sending out missionaries to save the soul of the heathen why do you not try to save their bodies from starvation?… You erect Churches all through India but – the crying evil in the East is not religion – they have religion enough – but it is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out for with parched throats… It is an insult to a starving people to offer them religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics.”

When Vivekananda found out that all priests were paid for their missionary work, he was horrified.

“In India,” he said, “a priest who preached for money would lose caste and be spat upon by the people.” He spoke in the same vein when he addressed the Parliament of Religions on October 11, 1893. “Christian missionaries,” he said, “come to offer life but only on condition that the Hindus became Christians, abandoning the faith of their fathers and forefathers. Is it right?… If you wish to illustrate the meaning of ‘brotherhood’, treat Hindus more kindly even though he be a Hindu and is faithful to his religion. Send missionaries to teach them how better to earn a piece of bread, and not teach them metaphysical nonsense.”

The Detroit Free Press dated February 21, 1894 reported a lecture which he had delivered on ‘Hindus and Christians’. Coming to Christian missionaries he said,

“You train and educate and pay men to do what? To come over to my country to curse and abuse all my forefathers, my religion, and everything.

They walk near a temple and say, ‘You idolators, you will go to hell.’ But they dare not do that to the Mohammedans of India; the sword would be out. But the Hindu is too mild… And then you who train men to abuse and criticise, if I just touch you with the least bit of criticism, with the kindest purpose, you shrink and cry: ‘Don’t touch us; we are Americans. We criticise all the people in the world, curse them and abuse them, say anything, but do not touch us, we are sensitive plants?’… And whenever your ministers criticise us let them remember this:

If all India stands up and takes all the mud that is at the bottom of the Indian ocean and throws it up against the Western countries, it will not be doing an infinitesimal part of that which you are doing to us. And what for? Did we ever send one missionary to convert anybody in the world? We say to you: ‘Welcome to your religion, but allow me to have mine?’… With all your brags and boastings, where has Christianity succeeded without the sword? Show me one place in the whole world. One I say, throughout the history of the Christian religion – one; I do not want two. I know how your forefathers were converted. They had to be converted or killed; that was all. What can you do better than Mohammedanism, with all your bragging?”

The Atrocity Literature and the spin on narratives was in full swing even during his time.

As he heard the malicious propaganda against Hinduism which missionaries were mounting in America and saw ‘their methods of raising money’, he hit them hard. “What is meant,” he asked, “by those pictures in the school-books for children where the Hindu mother is painted as throwing her children to the crocodiles in the Ganga? The mother is black but the baby is painted white to arouse more sympathy, and get more money. What is meant by those pictures which paint a man burning his wife at a stake with his own hands, so that she becomes a ghost and torments the husband’s enemy?

What is meant by the pictures of huge cars crushing over human beings? The other day a book was published for children in this country, where one of these gentlemen tells a narrative of his visit to Calcutta. He says he saw a car running over fanatics in the streets of Calcutta. I have heard one gentleman preach in Memphis that in every village of India there is a pond full of the bones of little children. What have the Hindus done to these disciples of Christ that every Christian child is taught to call the Hindus vile, and ‘wretches’ and the most horrible devils on earth? Part of the Sunday School education for children here consists in teaching them to hate everybody who is not a Christian, and the Hindu especially, so that from their very childhood they may subscribe their pennies to the missions.”

His bristling attacks infuriated the missionaries.

“The Christian missionaries,” wrote The Indian Mirror on June 23, 1897, “rage and fume over the success of Swami Vivekananda’s mission in America. In its impotent fury, the ‘Missionary Review of the World’ says that ‘Swami Vivekananda is simply a specimen of the elation and inflation of a weak man over the adulation of some silly people. If America ever gives up Christ, it will be for the devil, not Buddha or Brahma or Confucius. It will be lapse into utter apostasy, unbelief and infidelity.’ The writer, when penning these lines, was evidently under a fit of insanity brought on by the unlooked for spectacle of a Hindu preacher making disciples among American members of the Christian Church.”

The missionaries then raged a full frontal attack of Swami ji and his Guru Paramahansa by calling him a shudra who is not qualified to teach Vedanta.

The Christian Literature Society which had its headquarters in London and a branch in Madras published a book, Swami Vivekananda and his Guru with letters from prominent Americans on the alleged programme of Vedantism in United States, in 1897.

The book was reviewed by The Indian Mirror which wrote,

“The object of the first part of this book is to show that, on account of his Shudra birth and for his want of knowledge as well as on the part of his Guru, Vivekananda is not qualified for teaching the Vedanta; that he, in consequence of his doings, is not entitled to be called a ‘Swami’; that Schopenhauer, the admirer of the Upanishads, was a bad man, and that Professor Max Muller (in connection with his opinion of Vedantic books) is a ‘man having two voices’.”

Some of the writers say, that the Swami made no impression on the people, while some others asserted that the Swami may have made a few converts, but such converts were vaccilators and seekers of novelty. All of them consoled the enquirers with the assurance that Christianity had made a firm footing in America and there was no fear of its being Supplanted by any other religion.”

Swami ji made it clear that he was not interested in converting anyone to Hinduism, but he firmly advocated the return of the converted back in to Hindu fold.

His thoughts on the subject were expressed in an interview he gave to the representative of the Prabuddha Bharata, a monthly magazine started by his disciples in Madras. The interview, published in the April 1899 issue of the monthly, deserves to be reproduced at some length:

“I want to see you, Swami,” I began, “on this matter of receiving back into Hinduism those who have been converted from it. Is it your opinion that they should be received?”

“Certainly,” said the Swami, “they can and ought to be taken.” He sat gravely for a moment, thinking, and then resumed. “Besides,” he said, “we shall otherwise decrease in numbers. When the Mohammedans first came, we are said – I think on the authority of Ferishta, oldest Mohammedan historian – to have been six hundred millions of Hindus. Now we are about two hundred millions. And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.

“Again, the vast majority of Hindu converts to Islam and Christianity are converts by the sword, or the descendants of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on.

“In my own opinion, this statement not only applies to aboriginal tribes, to outlying nations, and to almost all our conquerors before the Mohammedan conquest, but also to all those castes who find a special origin in the Puranas. I hold that they have been aliens thus adopted.

“Ceremonies of expiation are no doubt suitable in the case of willing converts returning to their Mother-Church, as it were; but on those who were alienated by conquest – as in Kashmir and Nepal – or on strangers wishing to join us, no penance should be imposed.”

“But of what caste would these people be, Swamiji?” I ventured to ask. “They must have some, or they can never be assimilated into the great body of Hindus. Where shall we look for their rightful place?”“Returning converts,” said the Swami quietly, “will gain their own castes, of course. And new people will make theirs. You will remember,” he added, “that this has already been done in the case of Vaishnavism. Converts from different castes and aliens were all able to combine under that flag and form a caste by themselves,- and a very respectful one too.

From Ramanuja down to Chaitanya of Bengal, all great Vaishnava teachers have done the same.”

“And where should these new people expect to marry?” I asked. “Amongst themselves as they do now,” said the Swami quietly.

“Then as to names,” I enquired, “I suppose aliens and converts who have adopted non-Hindu names should be named newly. Would you give them caste-names, or what?” “Certainly,” said the Swami, thoughtfully, “there is a great deal in a name” and on this question he would say no more.

“But my next enquiry drew blood. ‘Would you leave these newcomers, Swamiji, to choose their own forms of religious belief out of many visaged Hinduism, or would chalk out a religion for them?’ “Can you ask that?” he said. “They will choose for themselves. For unless a man chooses for himself, the very spirit of Hinduism is destroyed. The essence of our Faith consists simply in this freedom of the Ishta.”

Swami Vivekananda had not just stemmed the tide of the missionaries, he had taken the war to their stronghold and gave them a hiding of their lives.

The spark that Bankim Chandra had lit was turned into a massive blaze by the Swami which engulfed the whole of India. The steady stream of illustrious men who took the cudgels against Christianity never dimmed from there on. And those who thought of converting the Hindus were in turn being converted into Hinduism by the magic of Vedanta.

Recently, the war of conversion has mutated into a monstrous octopus with many tentacles. Today we need political intervention along with an army of dedicated local intellectual warriors who would stop the menace of making men believe they are sinners.

We’re after all, divine beings!

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