SWAMI VIVEKANANDA'S inspiring personality was well known both in India
and in America during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of
the twentieth. The unknown monk of India suddenly leapt into fame at the Parliament of
Religions held in Chicago in 1893, at which he represented Hinduism. His vast knowledge of
Eastern and Western culture as well as his deep spiritual insight, fervid eloquence,
brilliant conversation, broad human sympathy, colourful personality, and handsome figure
made an irresistible appeal to the many types of Americans who came in contact with him.
People who saw or heard Vivekananda even once still cherish his memory after a lapse of
more than half a century.
In America Vivekananda's mission was the interpretation of India's
spiritual culture, especially in its Vedantic setting. He also tried to enrich the
religious consciousness of the Americans through the rational and humanistic teachings of
the Vedanta philosophy. In America he became India's spiritual ambassador and pleaded
eloquently for better understanding between India and the New World in order to create a
healthy synthesis of East and West, of religion and science.
In his own motherland Vivekananda is regarded as the patriot saint of
modern India and an inspirer of her dormant national consciousness, To the Hindus he
preached the ideal of a strength-giving and man-making religion. Service to man as the
visible manifestation of the Godhead was the special form of worship he advocated for the
Indians, devoted as they were to the rituals and myths of their ancient faith. Many
political leaders of India have publicly acknowledged their indebtedness to Swami
The Swami's mission was both national and international. A lover of
mankind, he strove to promote peace and human brotherhood on the spiritual foundation of
the Vedantic Oneness of existence. A mystic of the highest order, Vivekananda had a direct
and intuitive experience of Reality. He derived his ideas from that unfailing source of
wisdom and often presented them in the soulstirring language of poetry.
The natural tendency of Vivekananda's mind, like that of his Master,
Ramakrishna, was to soar above the world and forget itself in contemplation of the
Absolute. But another part of his personality bled at the sight of human suffering in East
and West alike. It might appear that his mind seldom found a point of rest in its
oscillation between contemplation of God and service to man. Be that as it may, he chose,
in obedience to a higher call, service to man as his mission on earth; and this choice has
endeared him to people in the West, Americans in particular.
In the course of a short life of thirty-nine years (1863-1902), of
which only ten were devoted to public activities-and those, too, in the midst of acute
physical suffering-he left for posterity his four classics: Jnana-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga,
Karma-Yoga, and Raja-Yoga, all of which are outstanding treatises on Hindu philosophy. In
addition, he delivered innumerable lectures, wrote inspired letters in his own hand to his
many friends and disciples, composed numerous poems, and acted as spiritual guide to the
many seekers, who came to him for instruction. He also organized the Ramakrishna Order of
monks, which is the most outstanding religious organization of modern India. It is devoted
to the propagation of the Hindu spiritual culture not only in the Swami's native land, but
also in America and in other parts of the world.
Swami Vivekananda once spoke of himself as a "condensed
India." His life and teachings are of inestimable value to the West for an
understanding of the mind of Asia. William James, the Harvard philosopher, called the
Swami the "paragon of Vedantists." Max Muller and Paul Deussen, the famous
Orientalists of the nineteenth century, held him in genuine respect and affection.
"His words," writes Romain Rolland, "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!''
January 5, 1953
in America Tributes