Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda
স্বামী বিবেকানন্দ स्वामी विवेकानन्द

Swami Vivekananda in 1893
Born 12 January 1863(1863-01-12) Monday
Kolkata, Bengal, India
Died 4 July 1902(1902-07-04) (aged 39) Friday
Belur Math near Kolkata
Birth name Narendranatha Dutta
Founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission
Guru Ramakrishna Paramahansa
Philosophy Vedanta
Literary works Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga
Prominent Disciple(s) Swami Sadananda, Sister Nivedita
Quotation Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter.[1]

Swami Vivekananda (Bengali: স্বামী বিবেকানন্দ, About this sound Shami Bibekānondo ; Hindi: स्वामी विवेकानन्द) (12 January 1863 – 4 July 1902), born Narendranath Dutta (Bengali: নরেন্দ্রনাথ দত্ত, Hindi: नरेन्द्रनाथ दत्त ),[2] was the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Ramakrishna Paramahansa and the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.[3] He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Hindu philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the "Western" World, mainly in America and Europe[3] and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the end of the 19th century C.E.[4] Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India.[5] He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech beginning with "Sisters and Brothers of America",[6][7] through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicago in 1893.[2]

Swami Vivekananda was born in an aristocratic Bengali kayastha family of Calcutta on January 12, 1863. Swami's parents influenced his thinking—the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament. From his childhood, he showed inclination towards spirituality and God realization. As a guru, Ramakrishna taught him Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) and that all religions are true, and service to man was the most effective worship of God. After the death of his Guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, touring the Indian subcontinent and getting first-hand knowledge of India's condition. He later sailed to Chicago and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating Vedanta and Yoga in America, England and a few other countries in Europe. He also established the Vedanta societies in America and England.


Early life (1863-1888)

Birth and childhood

Bhuvaneshwari Devi (1841-1911).
"I am indebted to my mother for the efflorescence of my knowledge."[8]—Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda was born in 3, [9], Shimla Pally, Calcutta (presently known as Kolkata) on 12 January 1863, Monday at 6:49 A.M.,[10] during the Makara Sankrantifestival in a traditional Kayastha family,[11] and was given the name Narendranath Dutta.[12] His father Viswanath Dutta[13] was an attorney of Calcutta High Court. He was considered generous, and had a liberal and progressive outlook in social and religious matters.[14] His mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi was pious and had practiced austerities and prayed to Vireshwar Shiva of Varanasi to give her a son. She reportedly had a dream in which Shiva rose from his meditation and said that he would be born as her son.[11] Narendranath's thinking and personality were influenced by his parents—the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament.[15][16] From his mother he learnt the power of self-control.[16] One of the sayings of his mother Narendranath quoted often in his later years was, "Remain pure all your life; guard your own honor and never transgress the honor of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart."[12] He was reportedly adept in meditation and could reportedly enter the state of samadhi.[16] He reportedly would see a light while falling asleep and he reportedly had a vision of Buddha during his meditation.[17] During his childhood, he had a great fascination for wandering ascetics and monks.[16]

The 3, Gour Mohan Mukherjee street, Kolkata, where Narendranath was born, now it is maintained by the Ramakrishna Mission.

Narendranath had varied interests and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects.[18] He evinced much interest in the Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He was also well versed in classical music, both vocal and instrumental and is said to have undergone training under two Ustads, Beni Gupta and Ahamad Khan.[19] Since boyhood, he took an active interest in physical exercise, sports, and other organizational activities.[18] Even when he was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste[20] and refused to accept anything without rational proof and pragmatic test.[15]

When his father moved to Raipur in 1877 for 2 years then Narendranath along with the whole family shifted there. At that time there were no good schools in Raipur so he spent his time with his father and had discussions on spiritual topics. Narendranath learned Hindi in Raipur and for the first time the Question of existence of God came to his mind. It is believed that once he experienced an ecstasy during this period of life. The family returned to Calcutta in 1879 but it is believed that these 2 years were the turning point in his life. Raipur is sometimes termed as the "Spiritual Birthplace" of Swami Vivekananda.[citation needed]

College and Brahmo Samaj

Narendranath started his education at home, later he joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871[21] and in 1879 he passed the entrance examination for Presidency College, Calcutta, entering it for a brief period and subsequently shifting to General Assembly's Institution.[22] During the course, he studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations.[20] In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he passed the Bachelor of Arts.[23][24]

Narendranath is said to have studied the writings of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin.[25][26] Narendra became fascinated with the Evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, and translated Spencer's book on Education into Bengali for Gurudas Chattopadhyaya, his publisher. Narendra also had correspondence with Herbert Spencer for some time.[27][28] Alongside his study of Western philosophers, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works.[26] According to his professors, student Narendranath was a prodigy. Dr. William Hastie, the principal of Scottish Church College, where he studied during 1881-84, wrote, "Narendra is really a genius. I have travelled far and wide but I have never come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, among philosophical students."[25] He was regarded as a srutidhara—a man with prodigious memory.[29][30] After a discussion with Narendranath, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar reportedly said, "I could never have thought that such a young boy had read so much!"[31]

Narendranath became the member of a Freemason's lodge and the breakaway faction from the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshab Chandra Sen.[22] His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which include belief in a formless God and deprecation of the worship of idols.[32] Not satisfied with his knowledge of Philosophy, he wondered if God and religion could be made a part of one's growing experiences and deeply internalized. Narendra went about asking prominent residents of contemporary Calcutta whether they had come "face to face with God".[33] but could not get answers which satisfied him.[34]

His first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly's Institution, when he heard Principal Reverend W. Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem The Excursion and the poet's nature-mysticism.[35] In the course of explaining the word trance in the poem, Hastie told his students that if they wanted to know the real meaning of it, they should go to Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar. This prompted some of his students, including Narendranath to visit Ramakrishna.[22][36][37]

With Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna Paramahansa

"The magic touch of the Master that day immediately brought a wonderful change over my mind. I was astounded to find that really there was nothing in the universe but God! … everything I saw appeared to be Brahman. … I realized that I must have had a glimpse of the Advaita state. Then it struck me that the words of the scriptures were not false. Thenceforth I could not deny the conclusions of the Advaita philosophy."[38]

Narendranath's meeting with Ramakrishna in November 1881 proved to be a turning point in his life.[39] About this meeting, Narendranath said, "Ramakrishna looked just like an ordinary man, with nothing remarkable about him. He used the most simple language and I thought "Can this man be a great teacher?". I crept near to him and asked him the question which I had been asking others all my life: "Do you believe in God, Sir?" "Yes", he replied. "Can you prove it, Sir?" "Yes". "How?" "Because I see Him just as I see you here, only in a much intenser sense." That impressed me at once. […] I began to go to that man, day after day, and I actually saw that religion could be given. One touch, one glance, can change a whole life."[39][40] Even though Narendra did not accept Ramakrishna as his guru initially and revolted against his ideas, he was attracted by his personality and visited him frequently.[41] He initially looked upon Ramakrishna's ecstasies and visions as, "mere figments of imagination",[15] "mere hallucinations".[42] As a member of Brahmo samaj, he revolted against idol worship and polytheism, and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali.[43] He even rejected the Advaitist Vedantism of identity with absolute as blasphemy and madness, and often made fun of the concept[42]

Though at first Narendra could not accept Ramakrishna and his visions, he could not neglect him either. It had always been in Narendra's nature to test something thoroughly before he would accept it. He tested Ramakrishna, who never asked Narendra to abandon reason, and faced all of Narendra's arguments and examinations with patience—"Try to see the truth from all angles" was his reply.[41] During the course of five years of his training under Ramakrishna, Narendra was transformed from a restless, puzzled, impatient youth to a mature man who was ready to renounce everything for the sake of God-realization. In time, Narendra accepted Ramakrishna as guru, and when he accepted, his acceptance was whole-hearted and with complete surrendering as disciple.[41]

In 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from throat cancer and he was shifted to Calcutta and later to Cossipore. Vivekananda and his brother disciples took care of Ramakrishna during his final days. Vivekananda's spiritual education under Ramakrishna continued there. At Cossipore, Vivekananda reportedly experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi.[44] During the last days of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and some of the other disciples received the ochre monastic robes from Ramakrishna, which formed the first monastic order of Ramakrishna.[45] Vivekananda was taught that service to men was the most effective worship of God.[15][46] It is reported that when Vivekananda doubted Ramakrishna's claim of avatar, Ramakrishna reportedly said, "He who was Rama, He who wasKrishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body."[47] During his final days, Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda to take care of other monastic disciples and in turn asked them to look upon Vivekananda as their leader.[48] Ramakrishna's condition worsened gradually and he expired in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.[48]

Founding of the Ramakrishna Math

After the death of their master, the monastic disciples led by Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half-ruined house at Baranagar near the river Ganges, with the financial assistance of the householder disciples. This became the first building of the Ramakrishna Math, or the monastery of the disciples who constituted the first monastic order of Sri Ramakrishna.[39]

The dilapidated house at Baranagar was chosen because of its low rent and proximity to the Cossipore burning-ghat, where Ramakrishna was cremated. Narendra and other members of the Math often spent their time in meditation, discussing about different philosophies and teachings of spiritual teachers including Ramakrishna, Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, and Jesus Christ.[49] Narendra reminisced about the early days in the monastery as follows-[49]

We underwent a lot of religious practice at the Baranagar Math. We used to get up at 3:00 am and become absorbed in japa and meditation. What a strong spirit of detachment we had in those days! We had no thought even as to whether the world existed or not.

In the early part of 1887, Narendra and eight other disciples took formal monastic vows. Narendra took the name of Swami Bibidishananda. Later he was coronated with the name Vivekananda by Ajit Singh, the Maharaja of Khetri.[50]

In January 1899 the Baranagar Math was shifted to a newly acquired plot of land at Belur in the district of Howrah, now famous as the Belur Math.

As a wandering monk in India (1888-1893)

Swami Vivekananda
First known photo of Swami Vivekananda as a wandering monk at Jaipur[51]
Swami Vivekanand
The Wandering Monk

Later, In 1888, Vivekananda left the monastery as a Parivrâjaka—the Hindu religious life of a wandering monk, "without fixed abode, without ties, independent and strangers wherever they go."[52] His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff, and his two favorite books—Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ.[53] Narendranath travelled the length and breadth of India for five years, visiting important centers of learning, acquainting himself with the diverse religious traditions and different patterns of social life.[54][55] He developed a sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the masses and resolved to uplift the nation.[54][56] Living mainly on Bhiksha or alms, Narendranath traveled mostly on foot and railway tickets bought by his admirers whom he met during the travels. During these travels he gained acquaintance and stayed with scholars, Dewans, Rajas and people from all walks of life—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Pariahs (low caste workers) and Government officials.[56]

Northern India

In 1888, he started his journey from Varanasi. At Varanasi, he met pandit and Bengali writer, Bhudev Mukhopadhyay and Trailanga Swami, a famous saint who lived in a Shiva temple. Here, he also met Babu Pramadadas Mitra, the noted Sanskrit scholar, to whom the Swami wrote a number of letters asking his advice on the interpretation of the Hindu scriptures.[57] After Varanasi he visited Ayodhya, Lucknow, Agra, Vrindavan, Hathras and Rishikesh. At Hathras he met Sharat Chandra Gupta, the station master who later became one of his earliest disciples as Sadananda.[58][59] Between 1888-1890, he visited Vaidyanath, Allahabad. From Allahabad, he visited Ghazipur where he met Pavhari Baba, a Advaita Vedanta ascetic who spent most of his time in meditation.[60] Between 1888-1890, he returned to Baranagore Math few times, because of ill health and to arrange for the financial funds when Balaram Bose and Suresh Chandra Mitra, the disciples of Ramakrishna who supported the Math had expired.[59]

The Himalayas

In July 1890, accompanied by his brother monk, Swami Akhandananda, he continued his journey as a wandering monk and returned to the Math only after his visit to the West.[59][61] He visited, Nainital, Almora, Srinagar, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haridwar and the Himalayas. During this travel, he reportedly had a vision of macrocosm and microcosm, which seems to be reflected in the Jnana Yoga lectures he gave later in the West, "The CosmosThe Macrocosm and The Microcosm". During these travels, he met his brother monks —Swami Brahmananda, Saradananda, Turiyananda, Akhandananda and Advaitananda. They stayed at Meerut for a few days where they passed their time in meditation, prayer and study of scriptures. At the end of January 1891, the Swami left his brother monks and journeyed to Delhi alone.[61][62]


At Delhi, after visiting historical places he journeyed towards Alwar, in the historic land of Rajputana. Later he journeyed to Jaipur, where he studied Panini's Ashtadhyayi with a Sanskrit scholar. He next journeyed to Ajmer, where he visited the palace of Akbar and the famous Dargah and left for Mount Abu. At Mount Abu, he met the maharaja, Ajit Singh of Khetri, who became his ardent devotee and supporter. Swami Tathagatananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and the Head of Vedanta Society, New York wrote as follows :

At Khetri, he delivered discourses to the Raja, became acquainted with the pandit Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasu, and studied Mahābhāṣya on sutras of Panini. After two and a half months there, towards the end of October 1891, he proceeded towards Rajasthan and Maharastra.[56][63]

Western India

Continuing his travels, he visited Ahmedabad, Wadhwan, Limbdi. At Ahmedabad he completed his studies of Muslim and Jain culture.[56] At Limbdi, he met Thakore Sahed Jaswant Singh who had himself been to England and America. From the Thakore Saheb, the Swami first got the idea of going to the West to preach Vedanta. He later visited Junagadh, where he was the guest of Haridas Desai, the Dewan of the State, who was so charmed with his company that every evening he, with all the State officials, used to meet the Swami and converse with him until late at night. From there he also visited Girnar, Kutch, Porbander, Dwaraka, Palitana, Nadiad where he stayed at Diwan Haridas Desai's house Nadiad ni haveli and Baroda. At Porbander he stayed three quarters of a year, in spite of his vow as a wandering monk, to perfect his philosophical and Sanskrit studies with learned pandits; he worked with a court pandit who translated the Vedas.[56]

He later traveled to Mahabaleshwar and then to Pune. From Pune he visited Khandwa and Indore around June 1892. At Kathiawar he heard of the Parliament of the World's Religions and was urged by his followers there to attend it. He left Khandwa for Bombay and reached there on July 1892. In a Pune bound train he met Bal Gangadhar Tilak.[64] After staying with Tilak for few days in Poona,[65] the Swami travelled to Belgaum in October 1892. At Belgaum, he was the guest of Prof. G.S. Bhate and Sub-divisional Forest officer, Haripada Mitra. From Belgaum, he visited Panjim and Margao in Goa. He spent three days in the Rachol Seminary, the oldest convent-college of theology of Goa where rare religious literature in manuscripts and printed works in Latin are preserved. He reportedly studied important Christian theological works here.[66] From Margao the Swami went by train to Dharwar, and from there directly to Bangalore, in Mysore State.[67]

Southern India

At Bangalore, the Swami became acquainted with Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore state, and later he stayed at the palace as guest of the Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wodeyar. Regarding the Swami's learning, Sir Seshadri reportedly remarked, "a magnetic personality and a divine force which were destined to leave their mark on the history of his country." The Maharaja provided the Swami a letter of introduction to the Dewan of Cochin and got him a railway ticket.[68]

Vivekananda Temple on Vivekananda rock at Kanyakumari, India

From Bangalore, he visited Trichur, Kodungalloor, Ernakulam. At Ernakulam, he met Chattampi Swamikal, contemporary of Narayana Guru in early December 1892.[69] From Ernakulam, he journeyed to Trivandrum, Nagercoil and reached Kanyakumari on foot during the Christmas Eve of 1892.[70] At Kanyakumari, the Swami reportedly meditated on the "last bit of Indian rock", famously known later as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, for three days.[71] At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda had the "Vision of one India", also commonly called "The Kanyakumari resolve of 1892".[72] He wrote,

"At Cape Camorin sitting in Mother Kumari's temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock—I hit upon a plan: We are so many sanyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics—it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva use to say, 'An empty stomach is no good for religion?' We as a nation have lost our individuality and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to raise the masses."[72][73]

From Kanyakumari he visited Madurai, where he met the Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Setupati, to whom he had a letter of introduction. The Raja became the Swami's disciple and urged him to go to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. From Madurai, he visited Rameshwaram, Pondicherry, he travelled to Madras and here he met some his most devoted disciples, who played important roles in collecting funds for Swami's voyage to America and later in establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras. With the aid of funds collected by his Madras disciples and Rajas of Mysore, Ramnad, Khetri, Dewans and other followers Vivekananda left for Chicago on 31 May 1893 from Bombay assuming the name Vivekananda—the name suggested by the Maharaja of Khetri.[74][75]

Visit to Japan (1893)

On his way to Chicago, Vivekananda visited Japan in 1893. He first reached the port city of Nagasaki, and then boarded a steamer to Kobe. From here to took the land route to Yokohama, visiting along the way, the three big cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. He called the Japanese "one of the cleanest people on earth", and was impressed not only by neatness of their streets and dwellings but also by their movements, attitudes and gestures, all of which he found to be "picturesque".[76]

This was a period of rapid military build-up in Japan - a prelude to the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. These preparations did not escape the attention of Vivekananda, who wrote - "The Japanese seem now to have fully awakened themselves to the necessity of the present times. They have now a thoroughly organized army equipped with guns which one of their own officers has invented and which is said to be second to none. Then, they are continually increasing their navy". About the industrial progress he observed, "The match factories are simply a sight to see, and they are bent upon making everything they want in their own country.".[76]

Contrasting the rapid progress of Japan with the situation back in India, he urged his countrymen - the "offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny" - to come out of their narrow holes and have a look abroad -

Only I want that numbers of our young men should pay a visit to Japan and China every year. Especially to the Japanese, India is still the dreamland of everything high and good. And you, what are you? … talking twaddle all your lives, vain talkers, what are you? Come, see these people, and then go and hide your faces in shame. A race of dotards, you lose your caste if you come out! Sitting down these hundreds of years with an ever-increasing load of crystallized superstition on your heads, for hundreds of years spending all your energy upon discussing the touchableness or untouchableness of this food or that, with all humanity crushed out of you by the continuous social tyranny of ages – what are you? And what are you doing now? … promenading the sea-shores with books in your hands – repeating undigested stray bits of European brainwork, and the whole soul bent upon getting a thirty rupee clerkship, or at best becoming a lawyer – the height of young India’s ambition – and every student with a whole brood of hungry children cackling at his heels and asking for bread! Is there not water enough in the sea to drown you, books, gowns, university diplomas, and all?[76]

First visit to the West (1893-1897)

His journey to America took him through China, Canada and he arrived at Chicago in July 1893.[77] But to his disappointment he learnt that no one without credentials from a bona fide organization would be accepted as a delegate. He came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University.[78] After inviting him to speak at Harvard and on learning from him not having credentials to speak at the Parliament, Wright is quoted as having said, "To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens." Wright then addressed a letter to the Chairman in charge of delegates writing, "Here is a man who is more learned than all of our learned professors put together." On the Professor, Vivekananda himself writes "He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation."[79]

Parliament of World's Religions

Swami Vivekananda on the Platform of the Parliament of Religions

The Parliament of Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago. On this day Vivekananda gave his first brief address. He represented India and Hinduism.[80] Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America!".[78][81] To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance."[82] And he quoted two illustrative passages in this relation, from the Bhagavad Gita—"As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!" and "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me."[82] Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.[82][83]

Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, "India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors."[81] He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the "Cyclonic monk from India". The New York Critique wrote, "He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them." The New York Herald wrote, "Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation."[84] The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekananda as "the greatest figure in the parliament of religions" and "the most popular and influential man in the parliament".[85]

He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism. The parliament ended on 27 September 1893. All his speeches at the Parliament had one common theme—Universality—and stressed religious tolerance.[86]

Lecturing tours in America and England

"I do not come", said Swamiji on one occasion in America, "to convert you to a new belief. I want you to keep your own belief; I want to make the Methodist a better Methodist; the Presbyterian a better Presbyterian; the Unitarian a better Unitarian. I want to teach you to live the truth, to reveal the light within your own soul."[87]

After the Parliament of Religions, held in September 1893 at The Art Institute of Chicago, Vivekananda spent nearly two whole years lecturing in various parts of eastern and central United States, appearing chiefly in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. By the spring of 1895, he was weary and in poor health, because of his continuous exertion.[88] After suspending his lecture tour, the Swami started giving free and private classes on Vedanta and Yoga. In June 1895, for two months he conducted private lectures to a dozen of his disciples at the Thousand Island Park. Vivekananda considered this to be the happiest part of his first visit to America. He later founded the "Vedanta Society of New York".[88]

During his first visit to America, he traveled to England twice—in 1895 and 1896. His lectures were successful there.[89] Here he met Miss Margaret Noble, an Irish lady, who later became Sister Nivedita.[88] During his second visit in May 1896, while living at a house in Pimlico, the Swami met Max Müller a renowned Indologist at Oxford University who wrote Ramakrishna's first biography in the West.[83] From England, he also visited other European countries. In Germany he met Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist.[90]

He also received two academic offers, the chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University[91] and a similar position at Columbia University. He declined both, saying that, as a wandering monk, he could not settle down to work of this kind.[88]

Swami Vivekananda in London

He attracted several sincere followers. Among his other followers were, Josephine MacLeod, Miss Müller, Miss Noble, E.T. Sturdy, Captain and Mrs. Sevier—who played an important role in the founding of Advaita Ashrama and J.J. Goodwin—who became his stenographer and recorded his teachings and lectures.[88][90] The Hale family became one of his warmest hosts in America.[92] His disciples—Madame Louise, a French woman, became Swami Abhayananda, and Mr. Leon Landsberg, became Swami Kripananda. He initiated several other followers into Brahmacharya.[93]

Swami Vivekananda's ideas were admired by several scholars and famous thinkers—William James, Josiah Royce, C. C. Everett, Dean of the Harvard School of Divinity, Robert G. Ingersoll, Nikola Tesla, Lord Kelvin, and Professor Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz.[15] Other personalities who were attracted by his talks were Harriet Monroe and Ella Wheeler Wilcox—two famous American poets, Professor William James of Harvard University; Dr. Lewis G. Janes, president of Brooklyn Ethical Association; Sara C. Bull, wife of Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist; Sarah Bernhardt, the French actress and Madame Emma Calvé, the French opera singer.[94]

From West, he also set his Indian work in motion. Vivekananda wrote a stream of letters to India, giving advice and sending money to his followers and brother monks. His letters from the West in these days laid down the motive of his campaign for social service.[95] He constantly tried to inspire his close disciples in India to do something big. His letters to them contain some of his strongest words.[96] In one such letter, he wrote to Swami Akhandananda, "Go from door to door amongst the poor and lower classes of the town of Khetri and teach them religion. Also, let them have oral lessons on geography and such other subjects. No good will come of sitting idle and having princely dishes, and saying "Ramakrishna, O Lord!"—unless you can do some good to the poor."[97][98] Eventually in 1895, the periodical called Brahmavadin was started in Madras, with the money supplied by Vivekananda, for the purpose of teaching the Vedanta.[99] Subsequenly, Vivekananda's translation of first six chapters of The Imitation of Christ was published in Brahmavadin (1889).[100]

Vivekananda left for India on 16 December 1896 from England with his disciples, Captain and Mrs. Sevier, and J.J. Goodwin. On the way they visited France, Italy, seeing Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, and set sail for India from the Port of Naples on December 30, 1896.[101] Later, he was followed to India by Max Müller and Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita devoted the rest of her life to the education of Indian women and the cause of India's independence.[88][102]

Back in India (1897-1899)

Swami Vivekananda at Chennai 1897

Colombo to Almora

Vivekananda arrived in Colombo on January 15, 1897 and received an ecstatic welcome. Here, he gave his first public speech in East, India, the Holy Land. From there on, his journey to Calcutta was a triumphal progress. He traveled from Colombo to Pamban, Rameshwaram, Ramnad, Madurai, Kumbakonam and Madras delivering lectures. People and Rajas gave him enthusiastic reception. In the procession at Pamban, the Raja of Ramnad personally drew the Swami's carriage. On way to Madras, at several places where the train would not stop, the people squatted on the rails and allowed the train to pass only after hearing the Swami.[103] From Madras, he continued his journey to Calcutta and continued his lectures up to Almora.While in the West he talked of India's great spiritual heritage, on return to India the refrain of his 'Lectures from Colombo to Almora' was uplift of the masses, eradication of the caste virus, promotion of the study of science, industrialization of the country, removal of poverty, the end of the colonial rule.These lectures have been published as Lectures from Colombo to Almora. These lectures are considered to be of nationalistic fervor and spiritual ideology.[104] His speeches had tremendous influence on the Indian leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Bipin Chandra Pal and Balgangadhar Tilak.[105][106]

Founding of the Ramakrishna Mission

Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, a branch of the Ramakrishna Math, founded on March 19, 1899, later published many of Swami Vivekananda's work, now publishes Prabuddha Bharata journal

On 1 May 1897 at Calcutta, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission—the organ for social service. The ideals of the Ramakrishna Mission are based on Karma Yoga.[107][108] Its governing body consists of the trustees of the Ramakrishna Math- the organ to carry out religious works.[109] Due to the close association between the two, both have their headquarters at Belur, near Calcutta. This was the beginning of an organized social and religious movement to help the masses through educational, cultural, medical and relief work.[83]

Two other monasteries were founded by him- one at Mayavati on the Himalayas, near Almora called the Advaita Ashrama and another at Madras. Two journals were also started, Prabuddha Bharata in English and Udbhodan in Bengali.[110] The same year, the famine relief work was started by Swami Akhandananda at Murshidabad district.[83][109]

Vivekananda had inspired Sir Jamshedji Tata to set up a research and educational institution when they had travelled together from Yokohama to Chicago on the Swami's first visit to the West in 1893. About this time the Swami received a letter from Tata, requesting him to head the Research Institute of Science that Tata had set up. But Vivekananda declined the offer saying that it conflicted with his spiritual interests.[111][112]

Visit to Punjab

He later visited western Punjab with the mission of establishing harmony between the Arya Samaj which stood for reinterpreted Hinduism and the Sanatanaists who stood for orthodox Hinduism. At Rawalpindi, he suggested methods for rooting out antagonism between Arya Samajists and Muslims.[113] His visit to Lahore is memorable for his famous speeches and his inspiring association with Tirtha Ram Goswami, then a brilliant professor of Mathematics, who later graced monasticism as Swami Rama Tirtha and preached Vedanta in India and America.[109] He also visited other places, including Delhi and Khetri and returned to Calcutta in January 1896. He spent the next few months consolidating the work of the Math and training the disciples. During this period he composed the famous arati song, Khandana Bhava Bandhana during the event of consecration of Ramakrishna's temple at a devotees' house.[114]

Second visit to the West and last years (1899-1902)

Vivekananda once again left for the West in June 1899, amid his declining health.[115] He was accompanied by Sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda. He spent a short time in England, and went on to America. During this visit, he founded the Vedanta societies at San Francisco and New York. He also founded "Shanti Ashrama" (peace retreat) at California, with the aid of a generous 160-acre (0.65 km2) gift from an American devotee.[116] Later he attended the Congress of Religions, in Paris in 1900.[117] The Paris addresses are memorable for the scholarly penetration evinced by Vivekananda related to worship of Linga and authenticity of the Gita. From Paris he paid short visits to Brittany, Vienna, Istanbul, Athens and Egypt. For the greater part of this period, he was the guest of Jules Bois, the famous thinker.[116] He left Paris on October 24, 1900, and arrived at the Belur Math on December 9, 1900.[116]

The Swami Vivekananda temple at Belur Math, on the place where he was cremated.

Vivekananda spent few of his days at Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati and later at the Belur Math. Henceforth till the end he stayed at Belur Math, guiding the work of Ramakrishna Mission and Math and the work in England and America. Thousands of visitors came to him during these years including The Maharaja of Gwalior and in December 1901, the stalwarts of Indian National Congress including Lokamanya Tilak. In December 1901, he was invited to Japan to participate in the Congress of Religions, however his failing health made it impossible. He undertook pilgrimages to Bodhgaya and Varanasi towards his final days.[118]


His tours, hectic lecturing engagements, private discussions and correspondence had taken their toll on his health. He was suffering from asthma, diabetes and other physical ailments.[119] A few days prior to his demise, he was seen intently studying the almanac. Three days before his death he pointed out the spot for this cremation—the one at which a temple in his memory stands today. He had remarked to several persons that he would not live to be forty.[119]

On the day of his death, he taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda to some pupils in the morning at Belur Math.[120] He had a walk with Swami Premananda, a brother-disciple, and gave him instructions concerning the future of the Ramakrishna Math.

Vivekananda died at ten minutes past nine P.M. on July 4, 1902 while he was meditating. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.[121] Afterward, his disciples recorded that they had noticed "a little blood" in the Swami's nostrils, about his mouth and in his eyes.[122] The doctors remarked that it was due to the rupture of a blood-vessel in the brain, but they could not find the real cause of the death. According to his disciples, Brahmarandhra — the aperture in the crown of the head — must have been pierced when he attained Mahasamadhi. Vivekananda had fulfilled his own prophecy of not living to be forty years old.[120]

Teachings and philosophy

Swami Vivekananda believed that the essence of Hinduism was best expressed in the Vedanta philosophy, based on the interpretation of Adi Shankara. He summarized the Vedanta's teachings as follows,[123]

  • Each soul is potentially divine.[123]
  • The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal.[123]
  • Do this either by work, or worship, or mental discipline, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free.[123]
  • This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.[123]
  • So long as even a single dog in my country is without food my whole religion is to feed it and serve it, anything excluding that is nonreligious.

According to Vivekananda, an important teaching he received from Ramakrishna was that "Jiva is Shiva" (each individual is divinity itself).[124] This became his Mantra, and he coined the concept of daridra narayana seva - the service of God in and through (poor) human beings. "If there truly is the unity of Brahman underlying all phenomena, then on what basis do we regard ourselves as better or worse, or even as better-off or worse-off, than others?" - This was the question he posed to himself. Ultimately, he concluded that these distinctions fade into nothingness in the light of the oneness that the devotee experiences in Moksha. What arises then is compassion for those "individuals" who remain unaware of this oneness and a determination to help them.[citation needed]

Swami Vivekananda belonged to that branch of Vedanta that held that no one can be truly free until all of us are. Even the desire for personal salvation has to be given up, and only tireless work for the salvation of others is the true mark of the enlightened person. He founded the Ramakrishna Math and Mission on the principle of "Atmano Mokshartham Jagat-hitaya cha" (आत्मनॊ मोक्षार्थम् जगद्धिताय च) (for one's own salvation and for the welfare of the World).[125]

Vivekananda advised his followers to be holy, unselfish and have shraddha (faith). He encouraged the practice of Brahmacharya (Celibacy). In one of the conversations with his childhood friend Priya Nath Sinha he attributes his physical and mental strengths, and eloquence to the practice of Brahmacharya.[126]

Vivekananda did not advocate the emerging area of parapsychology and astrology (one instance can be found in his speech Man the Maker of his Destiny, Complete-Works, Volume 8, Notes of Class Talks and Lectures) saying that this form of curiosity doesn't help in spiritual progress but actually hinders it.

Vivekananda and science

In his book Raja Yoga, Vivekananda explores traditional views on the supernatural and the belief that the practice of Raja Yoga can confer psychic powers such as 'reading another's thoughts', 'controlling all the forces of nature',[127] become 'almost all-knowing', 'live without breathing', 'control the bodies of others' and levitation. He also explains traditional eastern spiritual concepts like kundalini and spiritual energy centres (chakras).[128]

Vivekananda advocated to test thoroughly before making your decision of accepting or denying something:

It is not the sign of a candid and scientific mind to throw overboard anything without proper investigation. Surface scientists, unable to explain various extraordinary mental phenomena, strive to ignore their very existence.[129]

He further says in the introduction of the book that one should take up the practice and verify these things for oneself, and that there should not be blind belief.

What little I know I will tell you. So far as I can reason it out I will do so, but as to what I do not know I will simply tell you what the books say. It is wrong to believe blindly. You must exercise your own reason and judgment; you must practise, and see whether these things happen or not. Just as you would take up any other science, exactly in the same manner you should take up this science for study.[130]

In his paper read at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago (1893), Vivekananda also hinted about the final goal of physics:

Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further progress, because it would reach the goal. Thus Chemistry could not progress farther when it would discover one element out of which all other could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all others are but manifestations..

All science is bound to come to this conclusion in the long run. Manifestation, and not creation, is the word of science today, and the Hindu is only glad that what he has been cherishing in his bosom for ages is going to be taught in more forcible language, and with further light from the latest conclusions of science.[131]

The great electrical engineer, Nikola Tesla, after listening to Vivekananda's speech on Sankhya Philosophy, was much interested in its cosmogony and its rational theories of the Kalpas (cycles), Prana and Akasha. His notion based on the Vedanta led him to think that matter is a manifestation of energy. After attending a lecture on Vedanta by Vivekananda, Tesla also concluded that modern science can look for the solution of cosmological problems in Sankhya philosophy, and he could prove that mass can be reduced to potential energy mathematically.[132][133]


Several leaders of 20th Century India and philosophers have acknowledged Vivekananda's influence. The first governor general of independent India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, said "Vivekananda saved Hinduism, saved India."[134] According to Subhash Chandra Bose, Vivekananda "is the maker of modern India"[135] and for Mohandas Gandhi, Vivekananda's influence increased his "love for his country a thousandfold." National Youth Day in India is held on his birthday, January 12.[136]

Swami Vivekananda is widely considered to have inspired India's freedom struggle movement.[citation needed] His writings inspired a whole generation of freedom fighters including Subhash Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghose and Bagha Jatin.[citation needed] Vivekananda was the brother of the revolutionary freedom fighter, Bhupendranath Dutta. Subhash Chandra Bose, one of the most prominent figures in Indian independence movement said[137]

I cannot write about Vivekananda without going into raptures. Few indeed could comprehend or fathom him even among those who had the privilege of becoming intimate with him. His personality was rich, profound and complex... Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, boundless in his love, profound and versatile in his wisdom, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks but yet simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours

Aurobindo Ghose considered Vivekananda as his spiritual mentor.

Vivekananda was a soul of puissance if ever there was one, a very lion among men, but the definitive work he has left behind is quite incommensurate with our impression of his creative might and energy. We perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive, upheaving that has entered the soul of India and we say, "Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of her children.
Swami Vivekananda Statue near Gateway of India

At the Belur Math, Mahatma Gandhi was heard to say that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda.[138]

Many years after Vivekananda's death, Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel Poet Laureate told Romain Rolland,[139]

"If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative."

The French Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland writes[140] ,

"His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Händel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings of his, scattered as they are through the pages of books, at thirty years' distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks, what transports, must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!"

Vivekananda inspired Jamshedji Tata[141] to set up Indian Institute of Science, one of India's finest Institutions. Abroad, he had some interactions with Max Müller. Scientist Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of the Swami Vivekananda. On November 11, 1995, a section of Michigan Avenue, one of the most prominent streets in Chicago, was formally renamed "Swami Vivekananda Way".[142]

In many institutes, students have come together and formed organizations meant for promoting discussion of spiritual ideas and the practice of such high principles. Many of such organizations have adopted his name. One such group also exists at IIT Madras and is popularly known as Vivekananda Study Circle. Another one exists at IIT Kanpur by the name Vivekananda Samiti. Additionally, Swami Vivekananda's ideas and teachings have carried on globally, being practiced in institutions all over the world.

In 2011, during the anti-corruption Lokpal bill movement, the prominent figure and Gandhian activist Anna Hazare repeatedly mentioned that he was greatly inspired by Swami Vivekananda's thoughts.[143]


Vivekananda left a body of philosophical works (see Vivekananda's complete works). Vivekananda observed that the billions of people on the earth could be classified into four basic types- those who were in constant activity, or the worker; those who were driven by their inner urge to achieve something in life, or the lover; those who tended to analyze the working of their minds, or the mystic and those who weighed everything with reason, or the philosopher. His books (compiled from lectures given around the world) on the four Yogas (Karma yoga for the worker, Bhakti yoga for the lover, Raja yoga for the mystic , and Jnana yoga for the philosopher) are very influential and still seen as fundamental texts for anyone interested in the Hindu practice of Yoga. His letters are of great literary and spiritual value. He was also considered a very good singer and a poet.[144] By the time of his death, He had composed many songs including his favorite Kali the Mother. He used humor for his teachings and was also an excellent cook. His language is very free flowing. His own Bengali writings stand testimony to the fact that he believed that words - spoken or written - should be for making things easier to understand rather than show off the speaker or writer's knowledge.

See also


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  2. ^ a b Justice, Phyllis G. (2003), Holy People of the World, ABC-CLIO, pp. 899 
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  4. ^ Clarke, Peter Bernard (2006), New Religions in Global Perspective, Routledge, p. 209 
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  7. ^ Harshavardhan Dutt (2005), Immortal Speeches, p. 121 
  8. ^ Eastern and Western disciples 2006a, p. 21
  9. ^ Sahoo, Srijata. "Ancestral Home Birthplace Of Vivekananda". Datta Ancestral Home - Birthplace of Vivekananda. Government of India. http://www.vivekananda.net/HistoricalPreservation/PressInformationBureau.html. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
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  107. ^ Thomas, Abraham Vazhayil (1974), Christians in Secular India, p. 44, "Vivekananda emphasized Karma Yoga, purposeful action in the world as the thing needful for the regeneration of the political, social and religious life of the Hindus." 
  108. ^ Miller, Timothy, "The Vedanta Movement and Self-Realization fellowship", America's Alternative Religions, p. 181, "Vivekananda was adamant that the social worker should never believe that she or he was actually improving the world, which is, after all, illusory. Service should be performed without attachment to the final results. In this manner, social service becomes karma yoga, the disciple of action, that ultimately brings spiritual benefits to the server, not to those being served." 
  109. ^ a b c Banhatti 1995, pp. 34–35
  110. ^ Kraemer, Hendrik, "Cultural response of Hindu India", World Cultures and World Religions, p. 151 
  111. ^ Prabhananda 2003, p. 235
  112. ^ LULLA, ANIL BUDUR (September 3, 2007). "IISc looks to Belur for seeds of birth". The Telegraph. 
  113. ^ Eastern and Western disciples 2006a, p. 291
  114. ^ Banhatti 1995, pp. 35–36
  115. ^ Eastern and Western disciples 2006b, p. 450
  116. ^ a b c Banhatti 1995, pp. 41–42
  117. ^ "The Paris Congress of the History of Religions", Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 4, Advaita Ashrama, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_4/Translation:_Prose/The_Paris_Congress_of_the_History_of_Religions 
  118. ^ Banhatti 1995, pp. 43–44
  119. ^ a b Banhatti 1995, pp. 45–46
  120. ^ a b Eastern and Western disciples 2006b, pp. 645–662
  121. ^ A.P. Sen (2006), "Editor's Introduction", The Indispensable Vivekananda, p. 27 
  122. ^ M.V. Kamnath (2005), "p.241", Philosophy of Life and Death 
  123. ^ a b c d e Jackson, Carl T (1994), "The Founders", Vedanta for the West, Indiana University Press, pp. 33–34 
  124. ^ Y. Masih (1991), "Introduction to Religious Philosophy", Introduction to Religious Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, p. 68 
  125. ^ Agarwal, Satya P. (1998), The social role of the Gītā: how and why, Motilal Banarsidass, p. ix 
  126. ^ Priya Nath Sinha, "Conversations and Dialogues : VI - X Shri Priya Nath Sinha", Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 5, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_5/Conversations_and_Dialogues_(Recorded_by_Disciples_-_Translated)/Volume_5/VI_-_X_Shri_Priya_Nath_Sinha 
  127. ^ Here nature is not referred as mother nature, but as prakriti or maya as described in Bhagavad Gita's cosmology
  128. ^ Vivekananda's Raja Yoga (Hinduism)
  129. ^ The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Raja-Yoga/Preface
  130. ^ The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Raja-Yoga/Introductory
  131. ^ s:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Addresses at The Parliament of Religions/Paper on Hinduism
  132. ^ Eastern and Western disciples 2006b, p. 68
  133. ^ Vivekananda also mentioned this to E.T.Sturdy in one of his epistles
  134. ^ Prabuddha Bharata: 112, 1983. 
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  136. ^ "National Youth Day". National Portal of India. Government Of India. 10 January 2009. http://india.gov.in/allimpfrms/alldocs/2539.pdf. Retrieved 5 October 2011. 
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  138. ^ Campbell, Joseph; Robin Larsen, Stephen Larsen, Antony Van Couvering (2002), "Travels with the Swami", Baksheesh & Brahman, New World Library, pp. 74, ISBN 9781577312376, http://books.google.com/?id=VySPqLx1DucC&pg=PA74 
  139. ^ "Article on Swami Vivekananda". http://www.isical.ac.in/~econophys/swamiji.html. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  140. ^ Nikhilananda (1953). "Vivekananda A Biography". http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda_biography/01_preface.htm. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  141. ^ IISC
  142. ^ July 13, 1998 Press Release From the Consulate General of India, Chicago
  143. ^ "स्वामी विवेकानंदांच्या पुस्तकांची विक्रमी विक्री". Sakal. 22 August 2011. http://www.esakal.com/esakal/20110822/5707081137403404595.htm. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  144. ^ G. S. Banhatti, The Quintessence of Vivekananda, p. 276, "A singer, a painter, a wonderful master of language and a poet, Vivekananda was a complete artist." 


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