Dec 02, 2023
Dec 02, 2023
Swami Vivekananda was one of the greatest sons of India. He has been largely described as a great ambassador of the Hindu religion. He was a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world [and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, and bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion. All these are true. However, it is important to note that he was not a hard-core Hindu. He did not unconditionally accept all aspects of the Hindu religion. He did master all Vedanta and the Upanishads and critically and rationally analyzed all the contents and filtered out undesirable aspects and propagated only those aspects which appealed to him rationally and morally. He did not believe in personal Gods and did not subscribe to idol worship. For Swami, the real God was the “God within”. To me, he was not just a spiritual leader. He was also a moral leader for the youth f India.
His lifespan was sadly very small. He left this world before touching the age of forty. In this brief period, he traveled extensively in India, Europe and America. All his travels were undertaken with the sole purpose of giving talks and speeches. Here, I refer to one such talk he gave at Rameswaram temple to a group of devotees. It was a brief talk and the theme of the talk was “real worship” and the emphasis was on having a clean mind while going to temples. See
I quote here two sentences from the talk as they are relevant to the topic of this article.
People have become so degraded in this Kali Yuga that they think they can do anything, and then they can go to a holy place, and their sins will be forgiven. If a man goes with an impure mind into a temple, he adds to the sins that he had already and goes home a worse man than when he left it.
In saying the above Swami did not mince his words. He was just being blunt. The first sentence tells us of two issues associated with the Hindu religion. The first is the concept of “sin” which happens to be the outcome of all bad deeds and which keeps on accumulating during one’s lifetime. The second is the belief that one can get rid of all the accumulated sins through one or more approaches. There are three popular modes of getting rid of the committed sins.
Visiting holy places: This is a very popular indulgence among the Hindus. Though temples are to be found everywhere, a few selected ones are believed to be holier than others and the deities of such temples are believed to be more powerful. Haridwar, Rishikesh, Varanasi, Mathura, Prayag, Gaya, etc are among the famous pilgrimage destinations in North India. Similarly, we have Madurai, Srirangam, Rameswaram, Tirupati, etc among the famous places of pilgrimage in South India. In addition to the holy temples, Many rivers and lakes are also believed to be having powers to wash away one’s sins. The river Ganga is the foremost among these. Bathing in such rivers is often stated as “having the holy dip”. In addition, these rivers are also believed to be holier on certain festival days such as Makara Sankranti. We may also mention events such as Kumbh Mela which is celebrated once in twelve years. The beneficial effects of holy dips on special occasions are believed to be much more as compared to ordinary days.
Swami Vivekananda uttered the above-cited statement more than one hundred twenty years back. Compared to those days, Indians have become more affluent and traveling has become much easier. Consequently, the number of people visiting such pilgrimage places has been steadily increasing. The increase has been much more during the last few decades.
Chanting Stotrams or Hymns: While performing daily Poojas or worship people chant Stotras. The contents of such Stotras are mostly adulatory praising and glorifying the deity concerned. Many of them contain lines that focus on the benefits that the devotee would enjoy just by chanting. Quite often, one of the benefits is that the person would be absolved of all sins. Here are a few examples.
Krishna Ashtakam (Vasudeva sutam devam…) ends with the following line.
kOTi janma kritaM pApaM smaraNEna vinaSyati.
This means that the sins committed during the preceding millions of births would disappear just by reciting the Stotram.
Lakshmi Ashtakam (namastestu mahaamaaye…) has the following line in the last stanza.
Dvikaale paThE nityam mahaa papa vinaaSanaM
The meaning is that one can get rid of grave sins by chanting the Stotram twice a day.
Likewise, the last lines of paMcAyudha stOtram (pura sahasraadri…) are
Samasta duhkhAni bhayAni sadyah, pApAni naSyaMti, sukhAni saMti
The meaning is that all worries and fears will disappear, the sins will be forgiven and only happiness ensues.
The original composers of these hymns included such lines as inducements and to encourage people to worship God by chanting them. In the context of SwamyVivekanada’s quote, the lines as the ones quoted may also make people bold enough to commit wrong or wrong deeds with the confidence that they can get rid of their sins by chanting the Stotrams.
We all know that Bhagavad-Gita is considered to be the most sacred of all the Hindu scriptures. Gita is a compilation of a long dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, incidentally one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, at the start of the Kurukshetra war in the great epic Mahabharata. In Gita, the sayings of Krishna are prefixed “Sri Bhagawan Uvacha” meaning the words of God. At many places in Gita, one can come across Krishna’s advice to people to pray, worship and love Lord Vishnu. There are assurances that such people will be well protected.
In this regard, it is relevant to talk of “Gita Mahatmyam (the greatness of Gita)”. This is a sort of preface to the Bhagavad-Gita and contains twenty-eight verses glorifying the scripture and emphasizing the benefits that would accrue by reading Gita. Here again one of the benefits that accrues is that the sins will be forgiven. The eighteenth stanza conveys this: “Even a person who has committed most serious sins can reach Vaikuntam, the abode of Lord Vishnu, after death just by showing keen interest in the meaning and message of the Gita”.
This article of mine was inspired by a bold quote by Swami Vivekananda dating back to the end of the nineteenth century. The customs and beliefs inherent in the Hindu religion are noble and at the same time, they can be pernicious. They make good people more virtuous. They can also have a negative influence on “bad persons”.