Religion is not for tinkering and twisting. Neither is it for any racial or communal discord and discrimination. Nor it is a weapon of politics for winning an exclusive right to power. It is completely for self-purification and spiritual realization.

Emperor Asoka is a glowing example of what happens to a ruler when he becomes a serious seeker of religion. His respect for all other faiths is famously depicted in one of his proclamations. He says in it: “All sects deserve reverence for one reason or another. By thus acting a man exalts his own sect and at the same time does service to the sects of other people.”

Asoka’s is a clear case of “being and becoming” which is indeed the effect of religion on one, whether king or commoner, if one prefers to practise it with the heart.

There is a gulf of difference between Asoka before the Kalinga war and Asoka after the Kalinga war. It doesn’t happen by fluke. Asoka’s earnest desire to transform himself from a heinous autocrat to a compassionate monarch takes a lot of inner struggle. He assiduously believes in the words of Lord Buddha that one isn’t invincible when he wins a hundred battles, but when one conquers oneself. Following this, he evidently emerges victorious in his fight against evil tendencies. A committed Buddhist, Asoka then obviously harbours a feeling of love and concern for all people, cutting across faiths and nations.

Becoming deeply religious in this way, he proves that “religion is not the outcome of the weakness of human nature”. He also simultaneously proves, as Swami Vivekananda has said, “Religion as a science, as a study, is the greatest and the healthiest exercise that the human mind can have.” Asoka’s later demeanour is an object lesson as well as a perennial source of inspiration to those who aspire to be moral and inclusive rulers.

However, the moot question is: Could religion be always so reliable as Asoka thinks? Why not, if one understands properly what religion is actually and what its real consequence on man is? For our basic understanding Swamiji tells us first significantly: “The evils exist not with, but against religion. Religion therefore is not to blame, but men.”

To show that it is foolish to quarrel over religion, he then says: “One infinite religion existed all through eternity and will ever exist, and this religion is expressing itself in various countries in various ways.” But, ironically, whatever is being perpetuated by a section of priests and politicians today is travesty of religion brazenly bent upon bigotry and belligerency, though they claim themselves as followers of Swamiji! We have to remember here that like politics, priest-craft is also reprehensible to Swamiji for the miseries it has caused to man all through history. Swamiji reminds us emphatically that caste has no bearing on religion.

It has now lost all its relevance. It was there for a time, in view of a social need. He says it had its natural death after establishing an order in society in terms of individual quality and competence. He argues citing the instance of a Brahmin selling shoes to show its impertinence in our time. He also points out how priests and politicians in collusion sometimes do not allow its purging from society. They instead keep society deliberately sick and weak to their benefit. Dividing people by caste to rule is an “evil”, hence “against” religion. This is a blot on our country’s character.

Hatred has no room in religion, for religion is love itself. Swamiji says, “Love opens the most impossible gates; love is the gate to all the secrets of the universe.” He says this only to impress upon us the fact that if a man is truly religious, he can do nothing but love alone and contribute astoundingly for human progress. Swamiji saw his Master Sri Ramakrishna as religion personified and describes him as L O V E in blood and flesh. Sri Ramakrishna says: “One should not think, ‘My religion alone is the right path and other religions are false.’ … Infinite are the paths and infinite the opinions.”

Swamiji learnt this truth from him in the beginning. He heard his Master say how he had correctly known it by his sadhana. He said: “I had to practise each religion for a time ~ Hinduism, Islam, Christianity. Furthermore, I followed the paths of Saktas, Vaishnavas, and Vedantists. I realized that there is only one God towards whom all are travelling, but the paths are different.” Swamiji subsequently scanned him to see that his words were in perfect agreement with his behaviour. Sri Ramakrishna’s unequivocal reply against caste is embedded in his immortal saying: “A Brahmin without this love (of God) is no longer a Brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah.” Swamiji observed Sri Ramakrishna demonstrating the ideal of eternal religion to which India subscribed for millennia. It gave him to understand the fact that Sri Ramakrishna is indeed an embodiment of India’s spirit which is ever accommodating and ever expanding.

He was therefore convinced that, if India wished, she could once again rise sitting at Sri Ramakrishna’s feet. Some honestly religious politicians thought the same after him, Netaji being the foremost among them. Swamiji proclaimed: “He (Sri Ramakrishna) had lived in one life the whole cycle of the national religious existence in India.” Swamiji has said: “Only freedom can produce true morality.” Freedom in ancient India was at its best because the kind of rational faith people practised in it had absolutely no place for parochialism. Its hallmark was an amazingly high moral standard, regarding which scholar travellers from Persia, Greece, China, Arabia and other countries had documented with great respect and praise.

India discovered that man “is born with religion in his soul”. So she developed her civilization taking refuge in religion. She believed religion within resonating with religion without could fetch unprecedented prosperity spontaneously.

Therefore, religion was the tenor of her life. Its resultant effect was that she grew exponentially in social, intellectual and spiritual matters, for the kind of liberty her people enjoyed as given by the religion they practised. Due to it, she even became a safe and sound haven for the persecuted people from other parts of the world.

India then flourished in every walk of life ~ science, art, literature, music and other important things necessary to make a race advance spectacularly. Above all, she produced numerous spiritual giants who brought light to humanity. Making an in-depth study of India’s past, the well-known, 19th-century British scholar Monier Williams writes: “Indeed, the Hindus were Spinozists 2,000 years before the birth of Spinoza, Darwinians centuries before the birth of Darwin, and evolutionists centuries before the doctrine of evolution had been accepted by the Huxleys of our time, and before any word like evolution existed in any language of the world.”

Indians received the name Hindu for their race from outsiders, resorting to which was given the nomenclature Hinduism to their distinctive civilization and culture based on the principle of unity in diversity. Hinduism had, accordingly, colourfully flowered with a Universal Religion, having recourse to the essence of man. Swamiji says: “Temples or churches, books or forms, are simply the kindergarten of religion.” He tells this in view of the non-sectarian religion of the creedless Upanishads, the beauty of which has been eulogized by thinkers of various faiths from all over the globe.

For instance, a deeply devout Christian Max Muller writes of the Upanishads that “human speculation” seems to him “to have reached its very acme” in them. He frankly confesses: “They are like the light of the morning, like the air of the mountains ~ so simple, so true, if once understood.”

When Swamiji establishes religion as a science he also precisely defines that science intelligibly, employing minimum number of words for a robust and rich idea: “Religion is the science which learns the transcendental in nature through the transcendental in man.”

Everything else is dispensable to him when he focuses on the religion of man, in order to make man rationally, intellectually, morally and spiritually powerful. For, he firmly believes, “Religion is the manifestation of the natural strength that is in man.”

He believes “true civilization should mean the power of taking the animal-man out of his” personality. Watching the changing social scenario, he has sternly reminded us: “No civilization can grow unless fanaticism, bloodshed and brutality stop.”

The Hinduism which is preached and propagated these days is crafty with political motives. It ostensibly sacrifices truth and morality at the altar of untruth and subterfuge. It is in naked contravention of the Hinduism Ramakrishna and Vivekananda advocate for.

We, who adore them as our pathfinders, must, therefore, punctiliously ponder to remain purposely aloof from its detrimental influence. We can illafford to ignore Swamiji’s exhortation: “A nation in India must be a union of those whose hearts beat to the same spiritual tune.”