Sree Narayana Guru, Messiah of human unity

By Ashok Vohra

Swami Vivekanada on his travels through the state of Kerala prophesied that ‘the suffering of the millions of the suppressed classes of the state would see an end only through a Guru, who had been born in Kerala’. The prophecy came true in the teaching and action of Sree Narayana Guru.

Sree Narayana Guru was a staunch supporter of Sri Shankaracharya’s doctrine of Advaita Vedanta – non dualism. He applied the Vedic and Upanishadic principle of Ahm Brahmasmi, Tat Tvam Asi – I am Brahmn, and so are you. He made this principle the foundation of his egalitarian teaching of social equality and universal brotherhood.

To demonstrate the abstract and abstruse principle that self alone is the true object of our worship and contemplation, in a temple at Kalavancode, the Guru, instead of deities, installed a mirror for worship. This was to emphasise that God is within oneself and one should find salvation by accessing the inner Self. In another temple at Murikkumpuzha, in place of a deity, a bright light illuminated the words “Truth, Duty, Kindness, Love”. His temples were open to all without any discrimination of class, caste or creed.

Sree Narayana Guru’s meditation revealed to him the metaphysical and transcendental unity of all mankind. However, at the empirical level, he observed that due to caste discrimination, people around him were divided sharply on caste lines. As a consequence, they, especially the downtrodden, lived in wretched conditions. The Guru decided to return to the world he had withdrawn from, and dedicated his life for entire humanity and especially for the suppressed.

Even as a child, he did not like caste distinctions and segregation and he always protested against injustice. ‘Ask not, say not and think not caste’ was his motto. He had deep sympathy towards those who were being discriminated against and he resolved to help society correct this situation.

The Guru was aware that spirituality cannot be taught to the starving. He believed that other than freedom from the curse of lower caste, the oppressed needed education and resources. So, he gave a clarion call to ‘educate that you may be free; organise that you may be strong; industrialise that your financial status may improve’.

To create opportunities for education and employment he made it a point to attach educational institutions to all his ashrams. He authored many inspirational works in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit. His words and deeds ignited sparks of revolution that led to cultural renaissance in Kerala.

In a conference held in 1921, he proclaimed, ‘One Caste, One Religion and One God for humankind’. It was a call to unite, instead of breaking down in the name of caste and religion. He gave the slogan ‘Not to argue and win, but to know and to make known’. He conveyed the universal message that the ultimate aim of all religions was the same, so there is no scope for religious conflict.

The Guru interpreted several verses of the Quran, and Muslims were in agreement with his interpretation. When a young Christian evangelist asked the Guru to convert to Christianity, he chuckled ‘Why? I am already a Christian’.

Gandhiji accepted the Guru’s points of view about the need to uplift the oppressed class. After meeting Narayana Guru in 1922, Rabindranath Tagore said, ‘I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Swami Sree Narayana Guru – nay, a person who is on par with him in spiritual attainment’.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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