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Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda in Chicago, 1893
On the photo, Vivekananda has written in Sanskrit (in Bengali script), : "One infinite pure and holy—beyond thought beyond qualities I bow down to thee" - Swami Vivekananda
Date of Birth 12 January 1863(1863-01-12)
Place of birth Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
Birth Narendranath Dutta
Date of death 4 July 1902 (aged 39)
Place of death Belur Math near Kolkata
Guru/Teacher Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Quote 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, Shami Bibekānondo) (January 12, 1863–July 4, 1902), born Narendranath Dutta[2] is the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of Ramakrishna Mission.[3] He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America[3] and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the end of the 19th century.[4] Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India.[5] He is 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 in 1863. His parents influenced the Swami's 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. While searching for a man who could directly demonstrate the reality of God, he came to Ramakrishna and became his disciple. As a guru, Ramakrishna taught him Advaita Vedanta 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 a first-hand account of India's condition. He later sailed to Chicago and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. An eloquent speaker, Vivekananda was invited to several forums in United States and spoke at universities and clubs. He conducted several public and private lectures, disseminating Vedanta, Yoga and Hinduism in America, England and a few other countries in Europe. He also established Vedanta societies in America and England. He later sailed back to India and in 1897 founded the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, a philanthropic and spiritual organization.

In a short span of 39 years (39 years, 5 months and 24 days) he awakened and inspired great many souls that followed his precepts. His most famous statement was "Arise, Awake and stop not till the goal is achieved." Today many people of different nationalities, religions, races, colors, sects and creeds follow the teachings of Vedanta he introduced in late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is most popular among young adults. Present day youth and many aspiring souls seek inspiration from his teachings and messages even to date. While still alive, Swami Vivekananda proclaimed that though he would leave his body like discarding his clothes but would continue to work towards the upliftment of all humanity. After departing from his mortal coils, Swami Vivekananda is believed to have interacted with great souls to fulfill his work. He gave a new direction to religion by transcending ritual concepts of religions and promoted formless and nameless meditative practices like Raja Yoga and Spirituality. Swami Vivekananda is regarded as one of India's foremost nation-builders. His teachings influenced the thinking of other national and international leaders and philosophers, like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghosh, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.





Birth and Childhood

Bhuvaneshwari Devi (1841-1911).
"I am indebted to my mother for the efflorescence of my knowledge."[9]—Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda was born in Shimla Pally, Calcutta at 6:33 a.m on Monday, 12 January 1863, during the of Makra Sankranti festival[10] and was given the name Narendranath Dutta.[11] His father Vishwanath Dutta was an attorney of Calcutta High Court. He was considered generous, and had a liberal and progressive outlook in social and religious matters.[12] 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.[10]

Narendranath's thinking and personality were influenced by his parents—the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament.[8][13] From his mother he learnt the power of self-control.[13] One of the sayings of his mother Narendra 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."[11] He was reportedly adept in meditation and could reportedly enter the state of samadhi.[13] He reportedly would see a light while falling asleep and he reportedly had a vision of Buddha during his meditation.[14] During his childhood, he had a great fascination for wandering ascetics and monks.[13]

Narendranath had varied interests and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects.[15] He evinced much interest in scriptural texts, Vedas, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, 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.[16] Since boyhood, he took an active interest in physical exercise, sports, and other organizational activities.[15] Even when he was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste[17] and refused to accept anything without rational proof and pragmatic test.[8]

College and Brahmo Samaj

Narendranath started his education at home, later he joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871[18] 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.[19] During the course, he studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations.[17] In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he passed the Bachelor of Arts.[20][21]

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.[22][23] 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.[24][25] Alongside his study of Western philosophers, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works.[23] 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."[22] He was regarded as a srutidhara—a man with prodigious memory.[26][27] After a discussion with Narendranath, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar reportedly said, "I could never have thought that such a young boy had read so much!"[28]

Narendranath became the member of a Freemason's lodge and the breakaway faction from the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshab Chunder Sen another Freemason.[19] His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which include belief in a formless God and deprecation of the worship of idols.[29] 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".[30] but could not get answers which satisfied him.[31]

His first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly Institute, when he heard Principal Reverend W. Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem The Excursion and the poet's nature-mysticism.[32] 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.[19][33][34]

With Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

"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."[35]

His meeting with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in November 1881 proved to be a turning point in his life.[36] About this meeting, Narendranath said, "He [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."[36][37]

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.[38] He initially looked upon on Ramakrishna's ecstasies and visions as, "mere figments of imagination",[8] "mere hallucinations".[39] As a member of Brahmo samaj, he revolted against idol worship and polytheism, and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali.[40] He even rejected the Advaitist Vedantism of identity with absolute as blasphemy and madness, and often made fun of the concept[39]

Though 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.[38] 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.[38]

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.[41] 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.[42] Vivekananda was taught that service to men was the most effective worship of God.[8][43] It is reported that when Vivekananda doubted Ramakrishna's claim of avatara, Ramakrishna reportedly said, "He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body."[44] 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.[45] 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.[45]

Baranagar Monastery

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 Ganga, with the financial assistance of the householder disciples. This became the first Matha or monastery of the disciples who constituted the first Ramakrishna Order.[36]

The dilapidated house at Baranagore 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, Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, and Jesus Christ.[46] Narendra reminisced about the early days in the monastery as follows, "We underwent a lot of religious practice at Baranagore Math. We used to get up at 3:00 am and become absorbed in japa and meditation. What a strong spirit of dispassion we had in those days! We had no thought even as to whether the world existed or not"[46] In the early part of 1887, Narendra and eight other disciples took formal monastic vows. Narendra took the name of Swami Vividishananda.[47]

Parivrâjaka—Wandering monk

Swami Vivekananda's first photo as a Wandering monk at Jaipur.[48]

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."[49] His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff, and his two favorite books—Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ.[50] 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.[51][52] He developed a sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the masses and resolved to uplift the nation.[51][53] 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), Government officials.[53]

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.[54] After Varanasi he visited Ayodhya, Lucknow, Agra, Vrindaban, Hathras and Rishikesh. At Hathras he met Sharat Chandra Gupta, the station master who later became one of his earliest disciples as Sadananda.[55][56] 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.[57] Between 1888-1890, he returned to Baranagore Math few times, because of ill health and to arrange for the financial funds when Balram Bose and Suresh Chandra Mitra, the disciples of Ramakrishna who supported the Math had expired.[56]

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.[56][58] He visited, Nainital, Almora, Srinagar, Dehra Dun, Rishikesh, Hardwar 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, Advaitananda. They stayed at Meerut for few days where they passed their time in meditation, prayer and study of scriptures. In the end of January 1891, the Swami left his brother monks and journeyed to Delhi alone.[58][59]


At Delhi, after visiting historical places he journeyed towards Alwar, in the historic land of Rajputana. Later he journeyed to Jaipur, where he studied Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi from 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 Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri, who became his ardent devotee and supporter. He was invited to Khetri, where he delivered discourses to the Raja. At Khetri, he also became acquainted with Pandit Narayandas, and studied Mahabhashya on Sutras of Pāṇini. After two and half months at Khetri, towards end of October 1891, he proceeded towards Rajasthan and Maharastra.[53][60]

Western India

Continuing his travels, he visited Ahmedabad, Wadhwan, Limbdi. At Ahmedabad he completed his studies of Mohammedan and Jain culture.[53] At Limbdi, he met Thakore Sahed Jaswant Singh who had himself been to England and America. From the Thakore Saheb, the Swami got the first idea of going to the West to preach Vedanta. He later visited Junagadh, Girnar, Kutch, Porbander, Dwaraka, Palitana, 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.[53]

He later traveled to Mahabaleshwar and then to Pune. From Poona 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.[61] After staying with Tilak for few days in Poona,[62] 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.[63] From Margao the Swami went by train to Dharwar, and from there directly to Bangalore, in Mysore State.[64]

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, Shri Chamarajendra Wadiyar. Regarding 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.[65]

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.[66] From Ernakulam, he journeyed to Trivandrum, Nagercoil and reached Kanyakumari on foot during the Christmas Eve of 1892.[67] At Kanyakumari, the Swami reportedly meditated on the "last bit of Indian rock", famously known later as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial for three days.[68] At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda had the "Vision of one India", also commonly called "The Kanyakumari resolve of 1892".[69] 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 used 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."[69][70]

From Kanyakumari he visited Madurai, where he met 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 and he travelled to Madras and here he met some his most devoted disciples, like Alasinga Perumal, G.G. Narasimhachari, who played important roles in collecting funds for Swami's voyage to America and later in establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras. From Madras he travelled to Hyderabad. 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.[71][72]

First visit to the West

His journey to America took him through China, Japan, Canada and he arrived at Chicago in July 1893.[73] 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.[74] After inviting him to speak at Harvard and on learning of his not having credential 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."[75]

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.[76] Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America!".[74][77] 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."[78] 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."[78] Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.[78][79]

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."[77] 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."[80] 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".[81]

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.[82]

Lecturing tours in America, 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."[83]

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.[84] 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 the happiest part of his first visit to America. He later founded the "Vedanta Society of New York".[84]

During his first visit to America, he traveled to England twice—in 1895 and 1896. His lectures were successful there.[85] Here he met Miss Margaret Noble an Irish lady, who later became Sister Nivedita.[84] 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.[79] From England, he also visited other European countries. In Germany he met Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist.[86]

He also received two academic offers, the chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University 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.[84]

He attracted several sincere followers. Among his other followers were, Josephine MacLeod, Miss Muller, 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.[84][86] The Hale family became one of his warmest hosts in America.[87] His disciples—Madame Louise, a French woman, became Swami Abhayananda, and Mr. Leon Landsberg, became Swami Kripananda. He initiated several other followers into Brahmacharya.[88]

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.[8] 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.[89]

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.[90] He constantly tried to inspire his close disciples in India to do something big. His letters to them contain some of his strongest words.[91] 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."[92][93] Eventually in 1895, the periodical called Brahmavadin was started in Madras, with the money supplied by Vivekananda, for the purpose of teaching the Vedanta.[94] Subsequenly, Vivekananda's translation of first six chapters of The Imitation of Christ was published in Brahmavadin (1889).[95]

Vivekananda left for India on 16 December 1896 from England with disciples, Capitan 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.[96] Later, he was followed to India by Miss Muller and Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita devoted the rest of her life to the education of Indian women and the cause of India's independence.[84][97]

Back in India

Swami Vivekananda at Chennai 1897

Colombo to Almora

Vivekananda arrived in Colombo on January 15, 1897 and received a grand 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.[98] 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.[99] His speeches had tremendous influence on the Indian leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Bipin Chandra Pal and Balgangadhar Tilak.[100][101]

Founding of Ramakrishna Math and 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 Math"—the organ for propagating religion and "Ramakrishna Mission"—the organ for social service.[102] This was the beginning of an organized socio-religious movement to help the masses through educational, cultural, medical and relief work.[79] The ideals of the Ramakrishna Mission are based on Karma Yoga.[103][104] Two monasteries were founded by him, one at Belur, near Calcutta, which became the Headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the other at Mayavati on the Himalayas, near Almora called the Advaita Ashrama and later a third monastery was established at Madras. Two journals were started, Prabuddha Bharata in English and Udbhodan in Bengali.[105] The same year, the famine relief work was started by Swami Akhandananda at Murshidabad district.[79][102]

Vivekananda had inspired Sir Jamshetji 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.[106][107]

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.[108] 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.[102] 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.[109]

Second visit to the West

He once again left for the West in June 1899, amid his declining health.[110] He was accompanied by Sister Nivedita, 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 gift from an American devotee.[111] Later he attended the Congress of Religions, in Paris in 1900.[112] 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, Constantinople, Athens and Egypt. For the greater part of this period, he was the guest of Jules Bois, the famous thinker.[111] He left Paris in October 24, 1900 and arrived at the Belur Math in December 9, 1900.[111]

Last years

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.[113]

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.[114] 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.[114]

On the day of his death, he taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda to some pupils in the morning at Belur Math.[115] He had a walk with Swami Premananda, a brother-disciple, and gave him instructions concerning the future of the Ramakrishna Math. Vivekananda expired at ten minutes past nine P.M. on July 4, 1902 while he was meditating. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.[116] Afterward, his disciples recorded that they had noticed "a little blood" in the Swami's nostrils, about his mouth and in his eyes.[117] 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.[115]

Teachings and philosophy

Part of a series on
Hindu philosophy


Samkhya · Yoga · Nyaya · Vaisheshika · Purva Mimamsa · Vedanta (Advaita · Vishishtadvaita · Dvaita · Achintya Bheda Abheda)



Gautama · Jaimini · Kanada · Kapila · Markandeya · Patañjali · Valmiki · Vyasa

Adi Shankara · Basava · Dnyaneshwar · Chaitanya · Gangesha Upadhyaya · Gaudapada · Jayanta Bhatta · Kabir · Kumarila Bhatta · Madhusudana · Madhva · Namdeva · Nimbarka · Prabhakara · Raghunatha Siromani · Ramanuja · Vedanta Desika · Tukaram · Tulsidas · Vachaspati Mishra · Vallabha

Aurobindo · Coomaraswamy · Dayananda Saraswati · Gandhi · Krishnananda · Narayana Guru · Prabhupada · Ramakrishna · Ramana Maharshi · Radhakrishnan · Sivananda · Vivekananda · Yogananda

Vivekananda believed that the essence of Hinduism was best expressed in the Vedanta philosophy, based on the interpretation of Shankaracharya. He summarised the Vedanta's teachings as follows,[118]

  • Each soul is potentially divine.[118]
  • The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal.[118]
  • Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free.[118]
  • This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.[118]

According to Vivekananda, an important teaching he received from Ramakrishna was that "Jiva is Shiva" (each individual is divinity itself).[119] 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 Sri 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).[120]

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, eloquence to the practice of Brahmacharya.[121]

Vivekananda did not advocate the emerging area of parapsychology, 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.


Several leaders of 20th Century India and philosophers have acknowledged Vivekananda's influence. The first governor general of independent India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, once observed that "Vivekananda saved Hinduism, saved India."[122] According to Subhas Chandra Bose, Vivekananda "is the maker of modern India" 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, to commemorate him. This was a most fitting gesture as much of Swami Vivekananda's writings concerned the Indian youth and how they should strive to uphold their ancient values whilst fully participating in the modern world.

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

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 Ghosh 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.
—Sri Aurobindo in Vedic Magazine(1915)

The French Nobel Laureate, Romain Rolland writes, "His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Handel 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[123] to set up Indian Institute of Science, one of India's finest Institutions. Abroad, he had some interactions with Max Müller. Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of the Swami Vivekananda.

Above all Swami Vivekananda helped restore a sense of pride amongst the Hindus, presenting the ancient teachings of India in its purest form to a Western audience, free from the propaganda spread by British colonial administrators, of Hinduism being a caste-ridden, misogynistic idolatrous faith. Indeed his early foray into the West would set the path for subsequent Indian religious teachers to make their own marks on the world, as well herald the entry of Hindus and their religious traditions into the Western world.

Swami Vivekananda's ideas have had a great influence on the Indian youth. 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 the name Vivekananda Study Circle. One such group also exists at IIT Madras and is popularly known as (VSC). Additionally, Swami Vivekananda's ideas and teachings have carried on globally, being practiced in institutions all over the world.

Mahatma 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.[124] Many years after Vivekananda's death, Rabindranath Tagore a Nobel Poet Laureate had said, "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative."

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[125]', 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).[126]

However, Vivekananda takes a skeptical approach and in the same book states:

It is not the sign of a candid and scientific mind to throw overboard anything without proper investigation. Surface scientists, unable to explain the various extraordinary mental phenomena, strive to ignore their very existence.[127]

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.[128]

Vivekananda (1895) rejected ether theory before Einstein (1905), stating that it cannot explain the space itself.[129]

In his paper, read at the World Parliament of Religions (1893), Vivekananda also hinted about the final goal of Physics, what in these days, is attempted by theories like the String Theory.

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.[130]

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.[131][132]


Vivekananda left a body of philosophical works (see Vivekananda's complete works) which Vedic scholar[citation needed] Frank Parlato has called, "the greatest comprehensive work in philosophy ever published." His books (compiled from lectures given around the world) on the four Yogas (Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga) 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.[133] 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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  10. ^ a b Eastern and Western disciples 2006a, p. 11
  11. ^ a b Swami Chetanananda. "Swami Vivekananda". God lived with them. p. 20. 
  12. ^ Amiya Sen 2003, p. 19
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  122. ^ Prabuddha Bharata: 112. 1983. 
  123. ^ IISC
  124. ^ Campbell, Joseph; Robin Larsen, Stephen Larsen, Antony Van Couvering (2002). "Travels with the Swami". Baksheesh & Brahman. New World Library. pp. 74. 
  125. ^ Here nature is not referred as mother nature, but as prakriti or maya as described in Bhagavad Gita's cosmology
  126. ^ Vivekananda's Raja Yoga (Hinduism)
  127. ^ The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Raja-Yoga/Preface
  128. ^ The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Raja-Yoga/Introductory
  129. ^ The Ether
  130. ^ s:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Addresses at The Parliament of Religions/Paper on Hinduism
  131. ^ Eastern and Western disciples 2006b, p. 68
  132. ^ Vivekananda also mentioned this to E.T.Sturdy in one of his epistles
  133. ^ 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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From Wikiquote

To devote your life to the good of all and to the happiness of all is religion. Whatever you do for your own sake is not religion.

Swami Vivekananda (12 January 18634 July 1902) was a teacher of the Vedanta philosophy, and one of the most famous and influential spiritual leaders of Hinduism.

This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.


Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda

  • Many 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! The whole of nature cannot crush me; it is my servant. Assert thy strength, thou Lord of lords and God of gods! Regain thy lost empire! Arise and walk and stop not!" And I would rise up, reinvigorated; and here I am today, living! Thus, whenever darkness comes, assert the reality and everything adverse must vanish. For after all, it is but a dream. Mountain-high though the difficulties appear, terrible and gloomy though all things seem, they are but Maya. Fear not, and it is banished. Crush it, and it vanishes. Stamp upon it, and it dies.
    • Practical Vedanta
  • Let us calmly and in a manly fashion go to work, instead of dissipating our energy in unnecessary frettings and fumings. I, for one, thoroughly believe that no power in the universe can withhold from anyone anything he really deserves.
  • The whole life is a succession of dreams. My ambition is to be a conscious dreamer, that is all.
    • Letter to Mary Hale. From New York: February 10, 1896. Complete Works, 5.100.
  • "The mother's heart, the hero's will
The sweetness of the southern breeze,
The sacred charm and strength that dwell
On Aryan altars, flaming, free;
All these be yours and many more
No ancient soul could dream before-
Be thou to India's future son
The mistress, servant, friend in one."

- A benediction written to Sister Nivedita by Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works vol.6[1]

Viveka Vaani

  • Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy - by one, or more, or all of these—and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.
  • The whole universe is one. There is only one Self in the universe, only One Existence.
  • You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.

Pearls of Wisdom

  • In a day when you don't come across any problems—you can be sure that you are traveling in the wrong path.
  • Arise, Awake and Stop not till the Goal is Reached.
  • To 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.
  • Let positive, strong, helpful thoughts enter into your brains from very childhood. Lay yourselves open to these thoughts, and not to weakening and paralysing ones.
  • Never mind failures; they are quite natural, they are the beauty of life, these failures. What would life be without them? It would not be worth having if it were not for struggles. Where would be the poetry of life? Never mind the struggles, the mistakes. I never heard a cow tell a lie, but it is only a cow—never a man. So never mind these failures, these little backslidings; hold the ideal a thousand times, and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more.
  • Say, ‘This misery that I am suffering is of my own doing, and that very thing proves that it will have to be undone by me alone.’ That which I created, I can demolish; that which is created by someone else, I shall never be able to destroy. Therefore, stand up, be bold, be strong. Take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders, and know that you are the creators of your own destiny. All the strength and succour you want is within ourselves.
  • We must overcome difficulty by constant practice. We must learn that nothing can happen to us unless we make ourselves susceptible to it.
  • Take up an idea, devote yourself to it, struggle on in patience, and the sun will rise for you.
  • Education is the manifestation of perfection present already in man.
  • Give me few men and women who are pure and selfless and I shall shake the world.
  • Strength is Life, Weakness is death.
  • Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way.
  • This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.
  • You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.
  • When we really begin to live in the world, then we understand what is meant by brotherhood or mankind, and not before.
  • External nature is only internal nature writ large.
  • The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.
  • Feel like Christ and you will be a Christ; feel like Buddha and you will be a Buddha. It is feeling that is the life, the strength, the vitality, without which no amount of intellectual activity can reach God.
  • The will is not free—it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect—but there is something behind the will which is free.
  • The more we come out and do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified, and God will be in them.
  • There is nothing beyond God, and the sense enjoyments are simply something through which we are passing now in the hope of getting better things.
  • The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him—that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.
  • Our duty is to encourage every one in his struggle to live up to his own highest idea, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the Truth.
  • That man has reached immortality who is disturbed by nothing material.
  • You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.
  • The goal of mankind is knowledge. . . . Now this knowledge is inherent in man. No knowledge comes from outside: it is all inside. What we say a man "knows," should, in strict psychological language, be what he "discovers" or "unveils"; what man "learns" is really what he discovers by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge.
  • If money help a man to do good to others, it is of some value; but if not, it is simply a mass of evil, and the sooner it is got rid of, the better.
  • All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.
  • To devote your life to the good of all and to the happiness of all is religion. Whatever you do for your own sake is not religion.
  • The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves!
  • The spirit is the cause of all our thoughts and body-action, and everything, but it is untouched by good or evil, pleasure or pain, heat or cold, and all the dualism of nature, although it lends its light to everything.
  • It is our own mental attitude which makes the world what it is for us. Our thought make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds. Learn to see things in the proper light. First, believe in this world -- that there is meaning behind everything. Everything in the world is good, is holy and beautiful. If you see something evil, think that you are not understanding it in the right light. throw the burden on yourselves!
  • In one word, this ideal is that you are divine.
  • All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.
  • If faith in ourselves had been more extensively taught and practiced, I am sure a very large portion of the evils and miseries that we have would have vanished.
  • Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being.
  • The Vedanta teaches that Nirvana can be attained here and now, that we do not have to wait for death to reach it. Nirvana is the realization of the Self; and after having once known that, if only for an instant, never again can one be deluded by the mirage of personality.
  • The Vedanta recognizes no sin it only recognizes error. And the greatest error, says the Vedanta is to say that you are weak, that you are a sinner, a miserable creature, and that you have no power and you cannot do this and that.
  • Never think there is anything impossible for the soul. It is the greatest heresy to think so. If there is sin, this is the only sin — to say that you are weak, or others are weak.
  • Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.
  • "I am the thread that runs through all these pearls," and each pearl is a religion or even a sect thereof. Such are the different pearls, and God is the thread that runs through all of them; most people, however, are entirely unconscious of it.
  • “Comfort” is no test of truth; on the contrary, truth is often far from being “comfortable.”
  • “Face the brutes.” That is a lesson for all life—face the terrible, face it boldly. Like the monkeys, the hardships of life fall back when we cease to flee before them.
  • A few heart-whole, sincere, and energetic men and women can do more in a year than a mob in a century.
  • A tremendous stream is flowing toward the ocean, carrying us all along with it; and though like straws and scraps of paper we may at times float aimlessly about, in the long run we are sure to join the Ocean of Life and Bliss.
  • All is the Self or Brahman. The saint, the sinner, the lamb, the tiger, even the murderer, as far as they have any reality, can be nothing else, because there is nothing else.
  • All knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in our own mind.
  • All that is real in me is God; all that is real in God is I. The gulf between God and me is thus bridged. Thus by knowing God, we find that the kingdom of heaven is within us.
  • All truth is eternal. Truth is nobody’s property; no race, no individual can lay any exclusive claim to it. Truth is the nature of all souls.
  • All who have actually attained any real religious experience never wrangle over the form in which the different religions are expressed. They know that the soul of all religions is the same and so they have no quarrel with anybody just because he or she does not speak in the same tongue.
  • Anything that brings spiritual, mental, or physical weakness, touch it not with the toes of your feet.
  • Anything that is secret and mysterious in these systems of yoga should be at once rejected. The best guide in life is strength. In religion, as in all other matters, discard everything that weakens you, have nothing to do with it.
  • Are great things ever done smoothly? Time, patience, and indomitable will must show.
  • Are you unselfish? That is the question. If you are, you will be perfect without reading a single religious book, without going into a single church or temple.
  • As body, mind, or soul, you are a dream; you really are Being, Consciousness, Bliss (satchidananda). You are the God of this universe.
  • As long as we believe ourselves to be even the least different from God, fear remains with us; but when we know ourselves to be the One, fear goes; of what can we be afraid?
  • As soon as I think that I am a little body, I want to preserve it, to protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies; then you and I become separate.
  • As soon as you know the voice and understand what it is, the whole scene changes. The same world which was the ghastly battlefield of maya is now changed into something good and beautiful.
  • Astrology and all these mystical things are generally signs of a weak mind; therefore as soon as they are becoming prominent in our minds, we should see a physician, take good food, and rest.
  • Be a hero. Always say, “I have no fear.” Tell this to everyone—“Have no fear.”
  • Be perfectly resigned, perfectly unconcerned; then alone can you do any true work. No eyes can see the real forces; we can only see the results. Put out self, forget it; just let God work, it is His business.
  • Blows are what awaken us and help to break the dream. They show us the insufficiency of this world and make us long to escape, to have freedom.
  • Both the forces of good and evil will keep the universe alive for us, until we awake from our dreams and give up this building of mud pies.
  • Come out into the broad light of day, come out from the little narrow paths, for how can the infinite soul rest content to live and die in small ruts?
  • Come out into the universe of Light. Everything in the universe is yours, stretch out your arms and embrace it with love. If you every felt you wanted to do that, you have felt God.
  • Delusion will vanish as the light becomes more and more effulgent, load after load of ignorance will vanish, and then will come a time when all else has disappeared and the sun alone shines.
  • Desire, ignorance, and inequality—this is the trinity of bondage.
  • Despondency is not religion, whatever else it may be.
  • Do any deserve liberty who are not ready to give it to others? Let us calmly go to work, instead of dissipating our energy in unnecessary fretting and fuming.
  • Do not look back upon what has been done. Go ahead!
  • Don't look back—forward, infinite energy, infinite enthusiasm, infinite daring, and infinite patience—then alone can great deeds be accomplished.
  • Each work has to pass through these stages—ridicule, opposition, and then acceptance. Those who think ahead of their time are sure to be misunderstood.
  • Even the greatest fool can accomplish a task if it were after his or her heart. But the intelligent ones are those who can convert every work into one that suits their taste.
  • Every action that helps us manifest our divine nature more and more is good; every action that retards it is evil.
  • Every individual is a center for the manifestation of a certain force. This force has been stored up as the resultant of our previous works, and each one of us is born with this force at our back.
  • Every step I take in light is mine forever.
  • Everything must be sacrificed, if necessary, for that one sentiment: universality.
  • Fear is death, fear is sin, fear is hell, fear is unrighteousness, fear is wrong life. All the negative thoughts and ideas that are in the world have proceeded from this evil spirit of fear.
  • Fill the brain with high thoughts, highest ideals, place them day and night before you, and out of that will come great work.
  • First get rid of the delusion “I am the body,” then only will we want real knowledge.
  • First, believe in the world—that there is meaning behind everything.
  • Freedom can never be reached by the weak. Throw away all weakness. Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind that it is strong, and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself.
  • Go on saying, “I am free.” Never mind if the next moment delusion comes and says, “I am bound.” Dehypnotize the whole thing.
  • God is merciful to those whom He sees struggling heart and soul for realization. But remain idle, without any struggle, and you will see that His grace will never come.
  • God is self-evident, impersonal, omniscient, the Knower and the Master of nature, the Lord of all. He is behind all worship and it is being done according to Him, whether we know it or not.
  • God is very merciful to those whom He sees struggling heart and soul for spiritual realization. But remain idle, without any struggle, and you will see that His grace will never come.
  • Great work requires great and persistent effort for a long time. … Character has to be established through a thousand stumbles.
  • Have you got the will to surmount mountain-high obstructions? If the whole world stands against you sword in hand, would you still dare to do what you think is right?
  • He whom the sages have been seeking in all these places is in our own hearts; the voice that you heard was right, says Vedanta, but the direction you gave to the voice was wrong.
  • Hold to the idea, “I am not the mind, I see that I am thinking, I am watching my mind act,” and each day the identification of yourself with thoughts and feelings will grow less, until at last you can entirely separate yourself from the mind and actually know it to be apart from yourself.
  • However we may receive blows, and however knocked about we may be, the Soul is there and is never injured. We are that Infinite.
  • I fervently wish no misery ever came near anyone; yet it is that alone that gives us an insight into the depths of our lives, does it not? In our moments of anguish, gates barred forever seem to open and let in many a flood of light.
  • I, for one, thoroughly believe that no power in the universe can withhold from anyone anything he really deserves.
  • If a piece of burning charcoal be placed on a man’s head, see how he struggles to throw it off. Similar will be the struggle for freedom of those who really understand that they are slaves of nature.
  • If superstition enters, the brain is gone.
  • If there is one word that you find coming out like a bomb from the Upanishads, bursting like a bombshell upon masses of ignorance, it is the word “fearlessness.”
  • If you think that you are bound, you remain bound; you make your own bondage. If you know that you are free, you are free this moment. This is knowledge, knowledge of freedom. Freedom is the goal of all nature.
  • If you want to have life, you have to die every moment for it. Life and death are only different expressions of the same thing looked at from different standpoints; they are the falling and the rising of the same wave, and the two form one whole.
  • Impurity is a mere superimposition under which your real nature has become hidden. But the real you is already perfect, already strong.
  • Is there any sex-distinction in the Atman (Self)? Out with the differentiation between man and woman—all is Atman! Give up the identification with the body, and stand up!
  • It is feeling that is the life, the strength, the vitality, without which no amount of intellectual activity can reach God.
  • It is the cheerful mind that is persevering. It is the strong mind that hews its way through a thousand difficulties.
  • It is the patient building of character, the intense struggle to realize the truth, which alone will tell in the future of humanity.
  • Karma is the eternal assertion of human freedom. If we can bring ourselves down by our karma, surely it is in our power to raise ourselves by our own karma.
  • Knowledge can only be got in one way, the way of experience; there is no other way to know.
  • Learning and wisdom are superfluities, the surface glitter merely, but it is the heart that is the seat of all power.
  • Learning and wisdom are superfluities, the surface glitter merely, but it is the heart that is the seat of all power. It is not in the brain but in the heart that the Atman, possessed of knowledge, power, and activity, has its seat.
  • Let us not depend upon the world for pleasure.
  • Let us worship the spirit in spirit, standing on spirit. Let the foundation be spirit, the middle spirit, the culmination spirit.
  • Look upon every man, woman, and everyone as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege.
  • Nature, body, mind go to death, not we. We neither go nor come. The man Vivekananda is in nature, is born and dies; but the Self we see as Vivekananda is never born and never dies. It is the eternal and unchangeable Reality.
  • Neither seek nor avoid; take what comes. It is liberty to be affected by nothing. Do not merely endure; be unattached.
  • No authority can save us, no beliefs. If there is a God, all can find Him. No one needs to be told it is warm; all can discover it for themselves. So it should be with God. He should be a fact in the consciousness of every person.
  • One who leans on others cannot serve the God of Truth.
  • Our first duty is not to hate ourselves, because to advance we must have faith in ourselves first and then in God. Those who have no faith in themselves can never have faith in God.
  • Our supreme duty is to advance toward freedom—physical, mental, and spiritual—and help others to do so.
  • Perfection does not come from belief or faith. Talk does not count for anything. Parrots can do that. Perfection comes through selfless work.
  • Perfection is always infinite. We are the Infinite already.You and I, and all beings, are trying to manifest that infinity.
  • Please everyone without becoming a hypocrite or a coward.
  • Pray all the time, read all the scriptures in the world, and worship all the gods there are ...but unless you realize the Truth, there is no freedom.
  • Pray all the time, read all the scriptures in the world, and worship all the gods there are …[but] unless you realize the Self (atman), there is no freedom.
  • Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love.
  • Religion as a science, as a study, is the greatest and healthiest exercise that the human mind can have.
  • Religion has no business to formulate social laws and insist on the difference between beings, because its aim and end is to obliterate all such fictions and monstrosities.
  • So long as there is desire or want, it is a sure sign that there is imperfection. A perfect, free being cannot have any desire.
  • Soft-brained people, weak-minded, chicken-hearted, cannot find the truth. One has to be free, and as broad as the sky.
  • Stand as a rock; you are indestructible. You are the Self (atman), the God of the universe.
  • Stand up, be bold, be strong. Take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders, and know that you are the creator of your own destiny. All the strength and succor you want is within yourself. Therefore make your own future.
  • Stand upon the Self, only then can we truly love the world. Take a very high stand; knowing our universal nature, we must look with perfect calmness upon all the panorama of the world.
  • Strength is the sign of vigor, the sign of life, the sign of hope, the sign of health, and the sign of everything that is good. As long as the body lives, there must be strength in the body, strength in the mind, strength in the hand.
  • Superstition is our great enemy, but bigotry is worse.
  • Tell the truth boldly, whether it hurts or not. Never pander to weakness. If truth is too much for intelligent people and sweeps them away, let them go; the sooner the better.
  • Thank God for giving you this world as a moral gymnasium to help your development, but never imagine you can help the world.
  • The essence of Vedanta is that there is but one Being and that every soul is that Being in full, not a part of that Being.
  • The essential thing in religion is making the heart pure; the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, but only the pure in heart can see the King. While we think of the world, it is only the world for us; but let us come to it with the feeling that the world is God, and we shall have God.
  • The first sign that you are becoming religious is that you are becoming cheerful.
  • The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves!
  • The human soul has sojourned in lower and higher forms, migrating from one to another according to the samskaras or impressions, but it is only in the highest form as a human being that it attains to freedom.
  • The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence.
  • The important thing is: how much less you think of the body, of yourself as matter—as dead, dull, insentient matter; how much more you think of yourself as shining immortal being.
  • The less passion there is, the better we work. The calmer we are, the better for us and the more the amount of work we can do. When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work.
  • The mind is but the subtle part of the body. You must retain great strength in your mind and words.
  • The mistake is that we cling to the body when it is the spirit that is really immortal.
  • The more you think of yourself as shining immortal spirit, the more eager you will be to be absolutely free of matter, body, and senses. This is the intense desire to be free.
  • The past was great no doubt, but I sincerely believe that the future will be more glorious still.
  • The power is with the silent ones, who only live and love and then withdraw their personality. They never say “me” and “mine”; they are only blessed in being instruments.
  • The powers of the mind are like the rays of the sun when they are concentrated they illumine.
  • The power of purity—it is a definite power.
  • The powers of the mind should be concentrated and the mind turned back upon itself; as the darkest places reveal their secrets before the penetrating rays of the sun, so will the concentrated mind penetrate its own innermost secrets.
  • The Self when it appears behind the universe is called God. The same Self when it appears behind this little universe—the body—is the soul.
  • The Soul is not composed of any materials. It is unity indivisible. Therefore it must be indestructible.
  • The varieties of religious belief are an advantage, since all faiths are good, so far as they encourage us to lead a religious life. The more sects there are, the more opportunities there are for making a successful appeal to the divine instinct in all of us.
  • The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you free.
  • The whole universe is one. There is only one Self in the universe, only One Existence.
  • The world is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow. The strength and force of the blow come through concentration.
  • There cannot be friendship without equality.
  • There is no help for you outside of yourself; you are the creator of the universe. Like the silkworm you have built a cocoon around yourself…. Burst your own cocoon and come out as the beautiful butterfly, as the free soul. Then alone you will see Truth.
  • There is one thing to be remembered: that the assertion—I am God—cannot be made with regard to the sense-world.
  • There is only one sin. That is weakness.... The only saint is that soul that never weakens, faces everything, and determines to die game.
  • There is to be found in every religion the manifestation of the struggle toward freedom. It is the groundwork of all morality, of unselfishness, which means getting rid of the idea that human beings are the same as this little body.
  • This earth is higher than all the heavens; this is the greatest school in the universe.
  • This I have seen in life—those who are overcautious about themselves fall into dangers at every step; those who are afraid of losing honor and respect, get only disgrace; and those who are always afraid of loss, always lose.
  • This is no world. It is God Himself. In delusion we call it world.
  • This is the first lesson to learn: be determined not to curse anything outside, not to lay the blame upon anyone outside, but stand up, lay the blame on yourself. You will find that is always true. Get hold of yourself.
  • This is the great lesson that we are here to learn through myriads of births and heavens and hells—that there is nothing to be asked for, desired for, beyond one’s spiritual Self (atman).
  • This life is a hard fact; work your way through it boldly, though it may be adamantine; no matter, the soul is stronger.
  • Those who grumble at the little thing that has fallen to their lot to do will grumble at everything. Always grumbling, they will lead a miserable life, and everything will be a failure. But those who do their duties as they go, putting their shoulders to the wheel, will see the light, and higher duties will fall to their share.
  • Those who work at a thing heart and soul not only achieve success in it but through their absorption in that they also realize the supreme truth—Brahman. Those who work at a thing with their whole heart receive help from God.
  • To believe blindly is to degenerate the human soul. Be an atheist if you want, but do not believe in anything unquestioningly.
  • Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient or modern. Society has to pay homage to Truth or die.
  • Understanding human nature is the highest knowledge, and only by knowing it can we know God. It is also a fact that the knowledge of God is the highest knowledge, and only by knowing God can we understand human nature.
  • Watch people do their most common actions; these are indeed the things that will tell you the real character of a great person.
  • We are ever free if we would only believe it, only have faith enough. You are the soul, free and eternal, ever free, ever blessed. Have faith enough and you will be free in a minute.
  • We believe that every being is divine, is God. Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance; the difference between soul and soul is owing to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.
  • We came to enjoy; we are being enjoyed. We came to rule; we are being ruled. We came to work; we are being worked. All the time, we find that. And this comes into every detail of our life.
  • We have to go back to philosophy to treat things as they are. We are suffering from our own karma. It is not the fault of God. What we do is our own fault, nothing else. Why should God be blamed?
  • We must approach religion with reverence and with love, and our heart will stand up and say, this is truth, and this is untruth.
  • We must be bright and cheerful. Long faces do not make religion. Religion should be the most joyful thing in the world, because it is the best.
  • We must have friendship for all; we must be merciful toward those that are in misery; when people are happy, we ought to be happy; and to the wicked we must be indifferent. These attitudes will make the mind peaceful.
  • We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise.
  • We want to know in order to make ourselves free. That is our life: one universal cry for freedom.
  • What do you gain in heaven? You become gods, drink nectar, and get rheumatism. There is less misery there than on earth, but also less truth.
  • What the world wants is character. The world is in need of those whose life is one burning love, selfless. That love will make every word tell like a thunderbolt.
  • When we come to nonattachment, then we can understand the marvelous mystery of the universe: how it is intense activity and at the same time intense peace, how it is work every moment and rest every moment.
  • When we have become free, we need not go mad and throw up society and rush off to die in the forest or the cave; we shall remain where we were but we shall understand the whole thing. The same phenomena will remain but with a new meaning.
  • When we have become free, we need not go mad and throw up society and rush off to die in the forest or the cave; we shall remain where we were, only we shall understand the whole thing.
  • Whenever we attain a higher vision, the lower vision disappears of itself.
  • Who makes us ignorant? We ourselves. We put our hands over our eyes and weep that it is dark.
  • Why are people so afraid? The answer is that they have made themselves helpless and dependent on others. We are so lazy, we do not want to do anything ourselves. We want a Personal God, a Savior or a Prophet to do everything for us.
  • Woman has suffered for eons, and that has given her infinite patience and infinite perseverance.
  • Women will work out their destinies—much better, too, than men can ever do for them. All the mischief to women has come because men undertook to shape the destiny of women.
  • Work and worship are necessary to take away the veil, to lift off the bondage and illusion.
  • Work on with the intrepidity of a lion but at the same time with the tenderness of a flower.
  • Worship of society and popular opinion is idolatry. The soul has no sex, no country, no place, no time.

Address the 1893 World Parliament of Religions

  • Sisters and Brothers of America. [At this moment came the three minute standing ovation from the audience of 7,000]
    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 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.
  • My thanks also to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration.
  • I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.
  • I will quote to you brethren a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest childhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: '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.'
  • The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: 'Whosoever comes to me, though whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.'
  • Sectarianism, bigotry, and it's horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.
    But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.
The powers of the mind are like the rays of the sun when they are concentrated they illumine.

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Swami Vivekananda
See biography, media, quotes, indexes. One of the most famous and influential spiritual leaders of the Vedanta philosophy
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Swami Vivekananda


Works about Swami Vivekananda

  • Vivekananda a Biography
  • The Life of Swami Vivekananda, by his eastern and western disciples.
  • Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda
PD-icon.svg Works by this author published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago. Translations or editions published later may be copyrighted. Posthumous works may be copyrighted based on how long they have been published in certain countries and areas.
Flag of India.svg Works by this author are now in the public domain because it originates from India and its term of copyright has expired. According to The Indian Copyright Act, 1957, all documents enter the public domain after sixty years counted from the beginning of the following calendar year (ie. as of 2010, prior to 1 January 1950) after the death of the author.


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