Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati was a great visionary and global leader who transcended the confines of a sect, religion, or a nation. His many contributions in various arenas will be analyzed and appreciated as time goes on. Swamiji (as we affectionately call him) will be remembered for his bequests to India and the world during the last 15 years of his life: he founded the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha – a platform uniting all Hindu Sampradayas (traditions) so that they can speak with one voice; he started the Aim-for-Seva movement – a unique social enterprise bringing free education and healthcare to the children living in the rural and tribal areas of India; he challenged proselytizing institutions by rendering that ‘religious conversion is violence’ – which resulted in a resolution adopted by the United Nations that called upon all religious organizations to mutually respect each other. Pujya Swamiji initiated the Hindu-Jewish and the Hindu-Buddhist Summits – both transformative theological dialog s; He steered the rescue of Rama-Sethu bridge from certain desecration; He was a tireless champion of Hindu and Vaidika Dharma through countless other initiatives and projects.
However, above and beyond all of these contributions, Swamiji loved to teach. For more than 50 years, those who have been listening to Swamiji’s discourses and who have been his students, knew Swamiji at his best – when he was teaching. His lectures and writings have been published in more than 60 titles in English, and some of them have been translated to other languages of the world.
Those who studied and grasped his teachings will recognize that Swamiji’s unfoldment of Vedanta as the most profound and irrevocable gift to mankind in centuries. His emphatic exposition that Vedanta is pramāṇa – “a means of knowledge,” enabled his students to inquire into and understand the nature of the Self through the mirror of Vedanta. It became the crux of his teaching. It changed everything both for him and his students. It fundamentally transformed the study of Vedanta into an inquiry into the Self and changed the spiritual landscape for all sincere seekers of the truth.
Historically, many of the inhuman atrocities of wars, terror, famine, slavery of all forms, and colonization were perpetrated in the name of belief systems or in a personified god. Instead of religious institutions emancipating humanity, they became instrumental in perpetrating untold human suffering throughout millennia. Given this history of violence, many a modern existential thinker, armed with scientific reasoning, viewed religion and other forms of belief systems with skepticism and relegated them to the realm of superstition and meaningless ritualism. Science became the de facto standard with which everything had to be empirically substantiated or logically explained. Humanity has been caught in a seemingly irreconcilable schism between Science and Religion.
Instead of dismissing the demand for “scientific verification” Swamiji rationally demonstrated the limits of Science. Any scientific proof remained limited to the realms of the five senses and thus limited in scope and domain. By unfolding Vedanta as a valid means of knowledge for understanding the Self, he introduced a pivotal shift that demonstrated that the foundation of belief which many religious institutions depend upon, was also unnecessary. Unfolding Vedanta as a pramāṇa i.e. a self-sufficient means of knowledge was Swamiji’s ingenious stroke that made both the demand for empirical scientific verification, as well as the demand for implicit and unquestioning belief, superfluous to the process of self-inquiry guided by the Vedanta Shastra. This method of teaching Vedanta has profound and astonishing implications. It goes beyond presenting Vedanta as the testimony of Realized beings of the past, whose realization has to be verified by one’s own experience of enlightenment here and now.
Swamiji, in his understated manner, would say, “you have to give a chance for the pramāṇa to work.” “It ‘works’ when the student sees what the teacher sees,” he would add. A student had to employ pramāṇa, to see what Swamiji saw, which was simply the Self underlying all creation. Then and only then, the vision of Vedanta became real; the teaching became real; it came alive, validating not only the pramāṇa and the methodology of teaching that the pramāṇa represented but also the entire teaching tradition (sampradāya), and ultimately, the Guru – Sishya parampara. Swamiji made a process of guided Self-Inquiry accessible to thousands around the world, regardless of religious or cultural background, and enabled them to legitimately embark upon the pursuit of mokṣa. It can be said that Swamiji gave humanity a definitive means of knowledge that fundamentally transforms the way one sees oneself and one’s relationship with the world and God. Hundreds of his students became teachers in their own right, some of whom continue to teach what he taught. Rather than build a hierarchical organization of teachers, he created a movement, by producing hundreds of independent teachers around the world, who in turn, will continue to teach and change the thinking paradigm of future generations around the world.
Swamiji was that extraordinary quintessential Guru as described by the Veda, who said with unpretentious humility that he was a traditional teacher. Endowed with rare insight, Swamiji made Self-Inquiry through the lens of Vedanta accessible to the wider world, by seamlessly integrating contemporary English and ancient Sanskrit – which is a highly complex and refined language. Demonstrating great wizardry with words, Swamiji’s synthesized the two mismatched languages with such versatile dexterity without tampering or dumbing down the meaning of Sanskrit terms. He remained true to the teaching and the teaching methodology, without compromising the tradition. He found it unnecessary to use any kind of props – no bombastic verbiage, no acronyms, no boards, no charts, no power-point presentations and no gimmicks. Just an earnest dialogue between a Guru and a Shishya (disciple), and in that dialogue Swamiji relied entirely upon the Śastra pramāṇa to work. Thousands have been enthralled by his enlightening lectures enveloped in humorous story-telling and hilarious anecdotes. He showed that if the pramāṇa is skillfully handled by a traditionally trained teacher, there is no need to resort to any other auxillary tools or techniques for the student to see what the teacher sees and the vision that the Vedanta Shastra unfolds.
This particular contribution of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati will continue to reverberate across the globe, and across the generations, transcending cultures and civilizations, to profoundly transform mankind for the better.
A garland of tributes !
Kalyan ViswanathanREAD TRIBUTE
Anantanand RambachanREAD TRIBUTE
Jewish AppreciationREAD TRIBUTE