Swami Vivekananda – one of most admired spiritual geniuses of India is regarded by Indians as the patriot saint of modern India, a Vedantic Guru with global impact, a nation builder, a source of wisdom, dynamism and spiritual power. About this great monk, India’s Nobel Laureate and Poet Rabindranath Tagore had said, "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative”.
This dynamic Indian monk born on the January 12 1863, embraced monk-hood at the young age of 23 after being in the company of a great 19th century Indian mystic Ramakrishna Paramahansa, became world famous outside India when he was just 30 years. He attained Mahasamadhi at 39 and inspired a generation of intellectuals including everyday people during and after his time. The 147th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda falls on the 12th of January this year.
Many of us know about the Swami from our school text books which mention his famous ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ speech to the parliament of religions in Chicago on 11th September 1893. According to reports, when the Swami began with the address "Sisters and Brothers of America" the entire audience of some 7000 people feeling the depth of his sincerity, rose to their feet, went into a baffling rapture and clapped that lasted for more than three minutes.
He went on to say, “It 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 the 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....”
While other delegates spoke of their own faiths and creeds, Vivekananda spoke of the one God of all, the source and spiritual science behind every faith. The entire speech was like a crash course on Vedic principles to Americans. The result of his fiery and eloquent speeches resulted in the western press calling him ‘The Cyclonic Hindu’.
Says Swami Prabhavananda who was one of the pioneer Swamis of Ramakrishna order in America “Vivekananda’s tour of the United States also had a revitalizing effect on India. Previously, those who had gone to the West from India were full of apologies for the state of their country. He was not.”
All in all he made two trips to the West, and both of these trips were remarkable for the stir and fervour they caused due to the dispelling of ignorance about an incorrectly perceived India especially her spiritual wisdom. During his lifetime, he traveled widely from the U.S. across to Europe going as far as Athens, Constantinople (Istanbul), Egypt, China, and Japan.
All his speeches, instructions, interviews, writings, letters, poems are available in 9 volumes titled ‘The complete works of Swami Vivekananda’ which is simply a Bharat Darshan of India’s philosophies and her ancient wisdom traditions. Reading these volumes, one finds out why he made such a huge impact globally and why the collected works are considered as an Indian spiritual encyclopedia. There is not a generation that he hasn’t inspired.
For Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda's influence increased his "love for his country a thousandfold. Gandhi said, "Swami Vivekananda's writings need no introduction from anybody. They make their own irresistible appeal." At the Belur Math, Gandhi was heard to say that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda”. Pandit Nehru remarked: “Rooted in the past and full of pride in India's heritage, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life's problems and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present.”
Among his other achievements, Swami Vivekananda was the first Indian to be invited to accept the chair of Oriental Philosophy at Harvard. The Jamshedpur Township where Jamshedji Tata established his steel factory was indicated by Swami Vivekananda. He also inspired Tata to set up the India’s finest scientific institution ~ ‘Indian Institute of Science’ in Bengaluru.
What made Swami Vivekananda so appealing globally to everyone despite their race or nationality? What was the philosophy that Swami Vivekananda propounded? According to Swami Adiswarananda from the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, “The message of Swami Vivekananda was the message of Vedanta”. When asked about the ‘Vedas - the main scripture of the Hindus’, Swami Vivekananda replied, “The Vedas, i.e. only those portions of them which agree with reason, are to be accepted as authority. Other Shastras, such as the Puranas etc., are only to be accepted so far as they do not go against the Vedas. All the religious thoughts that have come subsequent to the Vedas, in the world, in whatever part of it have been derived from the Vedas.”
About his philosophy, in his own words Swami Vivekananda said: "I propound a philosophy, which can serve as a basis to every possible religious system in the world, and my attitude is one of extreme sympathy - my teaching is antagonistic to none. I direct my attention to the individual, to make him strong, to teach him that he himself is divine, and I call upon men to make themselves conscious of this divinity within."