Swami Vivekananda is one of most admired spiritual leaders of India. The world knows him as an inspiring Hindu monk, his motherland regards him as the patriot saint of modern India, and Hindus consider him as a source of spiritual power, mental energy, strength-giving and open-mindedness. An avid scholar of Western and Hindu philosophy and ever thirsty for the mystery of Creation and the law of Nature, Swami Vivekananda found his guru in Sri Ramkrishna Paramhamsa. He toured across India to know his country and people, and found his spiritual alma mater at the Kanyakumari rock in Cape Comorin at the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula. The Vivekananda memorial is now a landmark for tourists and pilgrims, and a tribute to him by his countrymen. “Art, science, and religion”, Swami Vivekananda said once, “are but three different ways of expressing a single truth. But in order to understand this we must have the theory of Advaita.”The formative influence that went to the determining of his vision may perhaps be regarded a threefold. These are the treasure which it is his to offer. These furnish him with the ingredients whereof he compounds the world’s heal-all of his spiritual bounty. To him, there is no difference between service of man and worship of God, between manliness and faith, between true righteousness and spirituality. All his words, from one point of view, read as a commentary upon this central conviction.
Swami Vivekananda was the chief disciple of Ramkrishna Paramhamsa. Ramkrishna Paramhamsa’s first spiritual teacher was an ascetic woman skilled in Tantra and Vaishnava bhakti. Later an Advaita Vedantic ascetic taught him non-dual meditation, and according to Ramakrishna, he experienced nirvikalpa samadhi under his guidance. Swami Vivekananda expanded on this knowledge and he is considered a key figure in the introduction of Hindu philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the “Western” World.
According to Swami Vivekananda, three religions now stand in the world which has come down to us from time prehistoric Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. They have all received tremendous shocks and all of them prove by their survival their internal strength. But while Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations, but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an allabsorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith. From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu’s religion. Where then, the question arises, where is the common centre to which all these widely diverging radii converge? Where is the common basis upon which all these seemingly hopeless contradictions rest? And this is the question one shall attempt to answer.
The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. They hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound ludicrous to this audience, how a book can be without beginning or end. But by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times. Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical, and spiritual relations between soul and soul and between individual spirits and the Father of all spirits, were there before their discovery, and would remain even if we forgot them. So then the Hindu believes that he is a spirit. Him the sword cannot pierce — he the fire cannot burn — he the water cannot melt — he the air cannot dry. The Hindu believes that every soul is a circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose centre is located in the body and that death means the change of this centre from body to body. Nor is the soul bound by the conditions of matter. In its very essence it is free, unbounded, holy, pure, and perfect. But somehow or other it finds itself tied down to matter, and thinks of itself as matter. A man he attains perfection when he lives a life of bliss infinite. He enjoys infinite and perfect bliss, having obtained the only thing in which man ought to have pleasure, namely God, and enjoys the bliss with God. So far all the Hindus are agreed. This is the common religion of all the sects of India; but, then, perfection is absolute, and the absolute cannot be two or three. It cannot have any qualities. It cannot be an individual. And so when a soul becomes perfect and absolute, it must become one with Brahman, and it would only realise the Lord as the perfection, the reality, of its own nature and existence, the existence absolute, knowledge absolute, and bliss absolute. We have often and often read this called the losing of individuality and becoming a stock or a stone. “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”
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, and the science of religion become perfect when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world. One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestation? Thus is it, through multiplicity and duality, that the ultimate unity is reached. Religion can go no farther. This is the goal of all science.
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. Superstition is a great enemy of man, but bigotry is worse. My brethren, we can no more think about anything without a mental image than we can live without breathing. By the law of association, the material image calls up the mental idea and vice versa. This is why the Hindu uses an external symbol when he worships. He will tell you, it helps to keep his mind fixed on the Being to whom he prays. He knows as well as you do that the image is not God, is not omnipresent. He saw that, in spite of poverty, the masses clung to religion, but they had never been taught the life-giving, ennobling principles of Vedanta and how to apply them in practical life. Thus the masses needed two kinds of knowledge: secular knowledge to improve their economic condition and spiritual knowledge to infuse in them faith in themselves and strengthen their moral sense.
The next question was how to spread these two kinds of knowledge among the masses? Through education this was the answer that Swamiji found. One thing became clear to Swamiji: to carry out his plans for the spread of education and for the uplift of the poor masses, and also of women, an efficient organization of dedicated people was needed. As he said later on, he wanted “to set in motion machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.” It was to serve as this ‘machinery’ that Swamiji founded the Ramakrishna Mission a few years later. It was when these ideas were taking shape in his mind in the course of his wanderings that Swami Vivekananda heard about the World’s Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. His friends and admirers in India wanted him to attend the Parliament. He too felt that the Parliament would provide the right forum to present his Master’s message to the world, and so he decided to go to America. Another reason which prompted Swamiji to go to America was to seek financial help for his project of uplifting the masses.
Swamiji, however, wanted to have an inner certitude and divine call regarding his mission. Both of these he got while he sat in deep meditation on the rock-island at Kanyakumari. With the funds partly collected by his Chennai disciples and partly provided by the Raja of Khetri, Swami Vivekananda left for America from Mumbai on 31 May 1893.
Through these inspiring and profoundly significant lectures Swamiji attempted to do the following:
to rouse the religious consciousness of the people and create in them pride in their cultural heritage;
to bring about unification of Hinduism by pointing out the common bases of its sects;
to focus the attention of educated people on the plight of the downtrodden masses, and to expound his plan for their uplift by the application of the principles of Practical Vedanta
Swami Vivekananda’s popular Chicago speech delivered at the ‘Parliament of the World’s Religions’. He played an important role in introducing Hinduism to the western world. His historic speech in Chicago on September 1893 delivered with crisp logic and scientific insight attracted major attention. The speech earned him a two-minute standing ovation from the present dignitaries and the title of ‘the cyclonic monk of India’. Though the speech was delivered 125 years ago it is relevant even today.
Some Impressive Lessons from the Famous Chicago Speech:
Love for all religion- The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.
Being patriotic- We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.
Analysis of religions-I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.
Acquaintance with science- The Vedas teach us that creation is without beginning or end. Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same.
Goal of science- 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.
Faith in god- Whatever may be the position of philosophy, whatever may be the position of metaphysics, so long as there is such a thing as death in the world, so long as there is such a thing as weakness in the human heart, so long as there is a cry going out of the heart of man in his very weakness, there shall be a faith in God.