Swami Vivekananda (January 12, 1863-July 4, 1902), born Narendranath Dutta is the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He is credited with raising inter-faith awareness and bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the end of the 19th century. Best known for his inspiring speech beginning with “sisters and brothers of America”, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893, Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India.
In a short span of 39 years, Swami Vivekananda awakened and inspired great many souls that followed his precepts. His most famous statement was “Arise, Awake and Rest not till the goal is achieved.” 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. He is also regarded as one of India’s foremost nation-builders, whose teachings influenced the thinking of other national and international leaders and philosophers including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghosh, and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
At The Parliament of World Religions, which opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago, Vivekananda represented India and Hinduism. His short speech voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality. He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the “Cyclonic monk from India”. Such was the impact of the orange-monk’s speech that 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.”
Vivekananda believed that the essence of Hinduism was best expressed in the Vedanta philosophy, based on the interpretation of Shankaracharya. According to him, each soul is potentially divine and the goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. The whole of religion is to achieve this goal either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.
See God in all—is the gist of all worship. It means being pure and doing good to others. He who sees God in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships him, and if he sees God only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing God in him, without thinking of his cast, creed, or race, or anything, with him God is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.
God is within you. So, it is impossible to find God outside of ourselves. Our own souls contribute all of the divinity that is outside of us. We are the greatest temple. The objectification is only a faint imitation of what we see within ourselves.
Persevere in your search for God. It requires tremendous perseverance, energy, hard work and will to succeed and reach the goal.
Trust completely in God. Stand up for God; let the world go.
Love of God is essential. Worship God, giving up all other thoughts, with the whole mind—day and night. Thus being worshipped day and night, God reveals himself and makes His worshippers feel His presence.
Vivekananda coined the concept of daridra narayana seva – the service of God in and through (poor) human beings. He concluded that distinctions fade into nothingness in the light of the oneness that the devotee experiences in Moksha. He 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 (for one’s own salvation and for the welfare of the World).
Vivekananda advised his followers to be holy, unselfish and have shraddha (faith). He encouraged the practice of Brahtmcharya (Celibacy). He 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 and Christian missionaries, of Hinduism being a caste- ridden, misogynistic idolatrous faith.
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. His ideas have had a great influence on the Indian youth and hence, his birthday, January 12 is commemorated in India as National Youth Day.