Vivekananda was a Hindu monk and direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna.
Vivekananda played a key role in the introduction of Indian yoga and
Vedanta philosophy in the West. He made a strong impression at the
inaugural World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, 1893 giving a
powerful speech on the underlying unity of world religions. He taught a
philosophy of traditional meditation and also selfless service (karma
yoga). He advocated emancipation for Indian women and an end to the
worst excess of the caste system. He is considered an important
figurehead of India’s growing self-confidence and later nationalist
leaders often said they were inspired by his teachings and personality.
succeed, you must have tremendous perseverance, tremendous will. “I
will drink the ocean”, says the persevering soul; “at my will mountains
will crumble up”. Have that sort of energy, that sort of will; work
hard, and you will reach the goal.
– Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda was born Narendra Nath Datta on 12th January 1863 in Calcutta, Bengal, India.
a child, the young Narendra had boundless energy and he was fascinated
with many aspects of life – especially wandering ascetics. He received a
western education at the Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Metropolitan
Institution. He became well versed in Western and Eastern philosophy.
His teachers remarked he had a prodigious memory and tremendous
by his father’s rationality, Narendra joined the Brahmo Samaj – a
modern Hindu organisation, led by Keshab Chandra Sen, which rejected
1881, Narendra went to Dakshineswar with a friend to meet Sri
Ramakrishna – who was widely considered a great saint and spiritual
felt attracted to the magnetic personality of Sri Ramakrishna and
became a regular visitor. At first his mind could not accept the ways
and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna followed a simple ‘bhakti’
(devotional) path, and was particularly devoted to Mother Kali (the
Divine Mother). But, overtime, Narendra’s spiritual experiences in the
presence of Ramakrishna caused him to wholeheartedly accept Ramakrishna
as his Guru, and he gave up the Brahmo Samaj.
1884, Narendra’s father died, leaving the family bankrupt. Narendra
became responsible for trying to feed his family, with limited means. He
later said he would often go hungry as he could not afford enough food.
To the annoyance of his mother, Narendra was often too absorbed in his
spiritual disciplines to make earning money a priority.
1886, Sri Ramakrishna, passed away – just five years after meeting
Narendra. Ramakrishna had chosen Narendra to be the leader of the
monastic disciples. Vivekananda decided to found a math (monastery) in
Vivekananda then threw himself into intense spiritual practices. He
would spend many hours in meditation and japa. In 1888, he left the
monastery to become a wandering sannyasin, visiting various holy places
around India. Vivekananda lived from day to day, begging for food, being
immersed in his own spiritual quest. In his Completed Works, he writes
of his experience
times I have been in the jaws of death, starving, footsore, and weary;
for days and days I had no food, and often could walk no further; I
would sink down under a tree, and life would seem to be ebbing away. I
could not speak, I could scarcely think, but at last the mind reverted
to the idea: “I have no fear nor death; never was I born, never did I
die; I never hunger or thirst. I am It! I am It!
began accepting disciples, and in 1893, accepted an invitation to speak
at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He set sail from
Bombay in May, sailing first to Japan and then on to US. He set sail
with little money and few contacts. But, helped by Professor John Wright
of Harvard University and others, Vivekananda arrived in Chicago as a
representative of the Hindu religion.
World Parliament of Religions
September 11th, 1893, Vivekananda gave a short speech at the opening
day of the conference. After getting up on the stage, Vivekananda bowed
to Saraswati (the goddess of learning), then Vivekananda began with the
greeting “Sisters and Brothers of America!” – Something in Vivekananda’s
address and persona, caused the crowd of seven thousand to stand in
ovation for two minutes, before he continued his speech.
fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and
cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in name of the
most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the
mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and
millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.”
dominant theme of Vivekananda’s speeches was the universality and
harmony of the world religions. The press covering the event frequently
stated that Vivekananda was the star performer – captivating the
audience with his personality and powerful speeches.
spent two years giving speeches in American and accepting disciples to
follow his Vedanta philosophy. In 1894, he founded the Vedanta Society
of New York.
1895, he travelled to England, where he met Professor Max Muller of
Oxford University, and also Margaret Noble (later Sister Nivedita) who
would become one of Vivekananda’s closest disciples.
the US, Vivekananda began an increasing correspondence with his brother
disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. He exhorted his fellow sanyasins to throw
themselves into social service, helping the poorest to gain an
education. This dynamism was a new strand to Indian spirituality – and a
break from the older tradition of retreating from the world.
Vivekananda wanted his mission to help the world both materially and
1897, he returned to India to a rapturous welcome. News of his success
in the West was greeted with joy and pride in India. Vivekananda was now
a well known figure. Vivekananda spoke passionately about India’s
immense spiritual heritage, and also, at the same time, criticised the
degeneration of India’s status, due to the caste system, lack of
education, subjugation of women and old failed traditions. Vivekananda
was a clarion call for India to make progress.
be men ! Kick out the priests who are always against progress, because
they would never mend, their hearts would never become big. They are the
offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny. Root out
priest-craft first. Come, be men ! Come out of your narrow holes and
have a look abroad. See how nations are on the march ! Do you love man ?
Do you love your country ? Then come, let us struggle for higher and
better things ; look not back, no, not even if you see the dearest and
nearest cry. Look not back, but forward!” – Volume 5, Epistles – First
Series, “III Alasinga” (15 May 2010)
created strong feelings of national pride and national fervour, and was
influential amongst later Indian leaders, like Netaji, Gandhi, Pal and
1899, Vivekananda returned for another visit to America to continue
spreading Vedanta societies. Vivekananda then returned to India and
after failing health passed away on 4 July 1902.