Swami Vivekananda and Adhikarawada1
(An article by Mangesh Buwa in American Vedantist, May 2017 issue.
Swami Vivekananda came among us to put the ancient message of Vedanta in simple language so that vast number of people can apply it to their lives; 'his life's work', as he famously said, was:
'… to put the Hindu ideas into English and then make out of dry philosophy and intricate mythology and queer startling psychology, a religion which shall be easy, simple, popular, and at the same time meet the requirements of the highest minds - is a task only those can understand who have attempted it. The dry, abstract Advaita must become living -- poetic -- in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms; and out of bewildering Yogi-ism must come the most scientific and practical psychology -- and all this must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it. That is my life's work.'2
For centuries the traditional wisdom in India, on authority of scriptures said that highest spiritual truths are not to be distributed
among masses; only competent spiritual aspirants should hear them. Thus Swami Vivekananda's actions appear contradictory to this
traditional practice. Is it so? And if it is, what are the possible reasons behind this approach? Let us try to analyze and understand this.
'… adhikara conveys a cognate group of ideas, such as right, claim, capacity, domain etc.; and this principle demands that a man has a right to that kind and amount of work done, for which he has got the necessary capacity and aptitude.'3
Many ancient scriptures in India have taken care to formulate their teachings according to the mental makeup of the listeners. Traditional Vedanta categorizes spiritual aspirants into three categories based on the refinement of their antahkarana (inner psyche/mind) as, uttama adhikari (highest competency), madhyama adhikari (medium competency), and adhama adhikari (lowest competency). Each type of adhikara requires different method of explaining the same Truth e.g. aspirant with highest competency - i.e. one who has pure and subtle mental grasping powers - may just be needed to hear the words 'Thou Art That' to realize the Truth; whereas aspirant with lowest competency - i.e. one who has gross and dull mental powers - may need elaborate practice of rituals and chantings. In fact, the whole society in ancient India was structured, into four varnas and human life was divided, into four ashramas, based on society's gradual evolution towards the highest Truth; Swami Vivekananda says, 'This system of division into different Varnas is the stepping-stone to civilisation, making one rise higher and higher in proportion to one's learning and culture'4. Thus we find various scriptures laying down different rules, defining qualifications for aspirants, prohibiting uninitiated from listening to Truth, enjoining various dos & don'ts etc. Vedantasara - the introductory text of Vedanta - refers to the qualifications required by a mumukshu (one desirous of Liberation), before he/she embarks on the journey towards Self-Realization, as:
'The competent student is an aspirant who, by studying in accordance with the prescribed method the Vedas and vedangas (books auxiliary to the Vedas), has obtained a general comprehension of the entire Vedas; who, being absolved from all sins in this or in previous life by the avoidance of the actions known as kamya (rites performed with a view to attaining a desired object) and nishiddha (those forbidden in the scriptures) and by the performance of actions called nitya (daily obligatory rites)'5
Then there are many verses which specifically warn that highest truths should not be told to people 'with no faith' or 'with immature minds', such as:
न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां
(na buddhibhedam janayedajñanam karmasanginam)
Many such verses can be found in various scriptural texts. For thousands of years Indian religious/spiritual traditions followed
this doctrine to ensure that highest truth is gradually introduced to masses; and in rare case of a matured aspirant, it can be
'With all my respects for the Rishis of yore, I cannot but denounce their method in instructing the people. They always enjoined
upon them to do certain things but took care never to explain to them the reason for it. This method was pernicious to the very
core; and instead of enabling men to attain the end, it laid upon their shoulders a mass of meaningless nonsense. …
Also in London, while delivering the lectures, 'Vedanta and Privileges' and 'Privilege', he said:
'…None can be Vedantists, and at the same time admit of privilege to anyone, either mental, physical, or spiritual; absolutely no
privilege for anyone. The same power is in every man, the one manifesting more, the other less; the same potentiality is in
everyone. Where is the claim to privilege? …'
Sri Ramakrishna too, in a divine mood, is reported to have declared that this time 'He' would bless all expect those with no essence in them; also, once when he had doubts about 'English-men' like Keshavchandra Sen accepting his teachings, he asked his 'Divine Mother' about it and She replied that in this age the teachings would be for all! Sri Sarada Devi said that it is easier to realize God in this age than in olden days. So spiritual giants like Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi also indicate the mass proclamation of Truth in this age.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, another spiritual giant of last century, too advocated the path of 'Self-Enquiry' to one and all. Traditionally
this method of Self-enquiry is considered suitable only for advanced spiritual aspirants and was not advocated to masses; Sri Ramana
also seems to go against the old injunctions. Swami Muktananda of Siddhayoga Movement granted shaktipata Initiation to
innumerable people without insisting on any prior preparation on part of the aspirant; in ancient times this initiation was granted
after carefully selecting the suitable aspirant and was not given in mass. Here too we see a clear departure from tradition. Similarly
many saints of this age like Srila Prabhupada, Paramahamsa Yogananda and others have gone for mass proclamation of their spiritual
paths. Thus it becomes clear that, for more than hundred years, many spiritual masters - starting with Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada
Devi and Swami Vivekananda - disregarded the Adhikarawada doctrine and distributed spiritual gems for one and all.
What could be the reason of this deviation?
'The right and correct means is that of the Vedas - the Jati Dharma, that is, the Dharma enjoined according to the different
castes - the Svadharma, that is, one's own Dharma, or set of duties prescribed for man according to his capacity and position -
which is the very basis of Vedic religion and Vedic society. …
So long as varnashrama system was functioning smoothly in India there was no need to proclaim Advaita to masses; the system ensured that proper adhikari is produced, who in turn finds Advaita in natural course of events. The collapse of varnashrama system necessitated another way to make people find their jatidharma or svadharma (i.e. another way to make people find the profession which is suitable to their psycho-physical makeup). Swamiji wanted to apply Vedanta principles as a remedy to all problems - social, national, political and individual; he rightly saw that unless this approach of 'proclaiming Truth to one and all' is taken, Indian society cannot find it's balance. Advaita points out the supreme 'Pure Consciousness-Bliss Self', which is the underlying basis for apparent diversity of phenomenon. If this principle of 'unity in diversity' is realized then it will lead to proper and smooth functioning of real jatidharma or svadharma; it will also address the evils, crept in the system, due to Adhikarawada! This Swamiji explains as:
'The work of ethics has been, and will be in the future, not the destruction of variation and the establishment of sameness in the external world - which is impossible for it would bring death and annihilation - but to recognise the unity in spite of all these variations, to recognise the God within, in spite of everything that frightens us, to recognise that infinite strength as the property of everyone in spite of all apparent weakness, and to recognise the eternal, infinite, essential purity of the soul in spite of everything to the contrary that appears on the surface. This we have to recognise.'16
Proclaiming the highest truth to all so that they can themselves figure out their svadharma, their place in universal
varnashrama! Thus, disregarding the requirement of spiritual maturity of the aspirant and instead proclaiming highest truth
to all - becomes an indirect way to arrange society into varnashrama! An apparently reverse method to suite the changing
scenario of modern world! This could be the first reason.
Still another factor which helps us understand this deviation is confluence of East and West. Historically, these two sides of human
civilization have come in contact again and again, as explained by Swamiji, 'These two gigantic rivers (Aryans and Yavanas), issuing
from far-away and different mountains (India and Greece), occasionally come in contact with each other, and whenever such confluence
takes place, a tremendous intellectual or spiritual tide, rising in human societies, greatly expands the range of civilisation and
confirms the bond of universal brotherhood among men.'19 And the period of history
between these meetings of East and West is marked by the rise of darkness of ignorance, social seclusion, selfishness etc. India
experienced political fall, social degradation and slavery in such a period. During that period India cut off itself from other
civilizations and stopped communicating with other nations; Swami Vivekananda powerfully puts this as, 'India's doom was sealed the
very day they invented the word MLECHCHHA and stopped from communion with others.'20
Communication of spiritual knowledge was prohibited for other civilizations; in fact when Swami Vivekananda was thinking of visiting
West, traditional Brahmins of South strongly condemned the idea! But spread of spiritual ideas across whole humanity was the need
of the age and Swami Vivekananda was to tool in the hands of Universal Consciousness to bring about its fructification. In this
connection it is interesting and insightful to note Swamiji's observation: 'This Moksha - path is only in India and nowhere else.
Hence is true the oft-repeated saying that Mukta souls are only in India and in no other country. But it is equally true that in
future they will be in other countries as well; that is well and good, and a thing of great pleasure to us'21.
This could be the third reason.
1. Doctrine of Special Rights and Privileges