Swami Vivekananda was a teacher on a grand scale. He tried to teach us how to be a great nation. Like many great men, he is often quoted and rarely studied. He is frequently referred to as the maker of modern India. The phrase was coined by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. According to Mahatma Gandhi, he maintained this Hindu religion in a state of splendor by cutting down the dead wood of tradition. Rabindranath Tagore said, ‘If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him, everything is positive, nothing negative.’
Vivekananda taught India how to be modern by making our ancient philosophies relevant to the modern world. In the nineteenth century, the three schools of Vedantic philosophy, Dvaita, Visistadvaita and Advaita, often contradicted each other. Swami Vivekananda synthesized them. He defined them as three stages of the same phenomenon, with Advaita, or the non-duality or oneness, as the apex. “Man must love others because those others are himself.” he said, “There is but one.” Thanks to his emphasis on rationality, and recognition of the self, he made our ancient philosophies relevant to the modern world.
Vivekananda connected spirituality with social service. He saw a role for both in the evolution of India as a nation. His approach to religion was robust, energetic and kind. In his letter to his associate Akhandananda, he wrote ‘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. On another occasion he said; In India there are two great evils — trampling on women and grinding of the poor... There is no hope for the rise of that family or nation where there is no estimation of women or where they live in sadness.”
Vivekananda was aware that the future of India was in the hands of its youth. He calls them to action often in his lectures and writing. He was the first great leader to encourage work ethic amongst them. ‘What we want are young men who will work, not tomfools’, he said. ‘Fiery young men, intelligent and brave, who dare to go to the jaws of Death, and are ready to swim the ocean across’.
In his honour, his birthday, January 12th, is now the National Youth Day.
His vision for Modern India is most clearly defined in his famous essay, Bartaman Bharat, published in 1899. He traces the past, present and future with the simple logic that is the hallmark of his thought process. In the beginning, he said, it was the rule of the Brahmins, supported by kings. This is now giving way to the rule of the Vaishyas, or the business classes. In the future, he predicted, India would be ruled by the shudras, or the downtrodden. Any observer of politics in India can vouch for how accurate he has been.
He supported Science. He believed in the scientific approach. It was after a conversation with him that Jamshed Tata was inspired to set up the Indian institute of Science. He was a great admirer of Japan, often pointing out their focus on Science and industry.
Swami Vivekananda was clear in his mind that this unique combination of spirituality, kindness, hard work and logic would take India forward. He showed us the way. It is up to the rest of us to catch up with him.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (work in progress, updated regularly).
A rare archive of 95 pictures of Swami Vivekananda, courtesy the Vedanta Society of St. Louis.
The Top 10 quotes of Swami Vivekananda, ready to share on social media.
What Mahatma Gandhi said about Swami Vivekananda
What Netaji said about Swami Vivekananda
Selected quotations of Swami Vivekananda on Youth
The complete text of the essay Bartaman Bharat (Modern India), translated from Bengali.
An interesting perspective on Gandhi and Vivekananda, from americanvedantist.org.