The world celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda now. From a simple, unassuming monk in Calcutta who had reached the culmination of spiritual experience in the 1890s to the propounder of Hinduism and Vedanta on the global stage at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, as well as the inspirer of thousands in different parts of the globe subsequently, Vivekananda is a household name today. His spiritual brilliance, absolute purity, vast learning, love for humanity, sympathy for the suffering and a hundred other noble qualities have made him a universal symbol of spiritual unfoldment of the human race and an inspiration not only for the youth, but for everyone—from the erstwhile leaders of India to world thinkers, from the unlettered peasant to the learned pundit, from little children to the advancing in age. Vivekananda brought respect for his country and for Sanatana Dharma, instilled faith in the hearts of Indians, and has already established her on the pedestal of the world teacher as of old. He, however, did not come for any country in particular: he came for the whole world and thus gave to the world the wonderful knowledge of Vedanta, and of the four yogas. In less than a decade of his intense public life, Vivekananda singlehandedly accomplished what a huge army of men perhaps could not have accomplished. Apart from rousing the sleeping and suffering India, he travelled extensively and awakened the enlightened people of advanced nations to lead a spiritual life so as to attain inner peace, established the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission, founded journals, established monasteries, wrote books, inspiring letters and articles, gave classes and discourses, gave interviews, trained young men, and did a thousand other things for the good of humanity. In short, he changed the course of human civilization—from an earth-bound, dark, miserable, pleasure-seeking, soul-less culture to a bright, spiritual civilization. All within the 39 years of his extraordinary life!
In India, Vivekananda is regarded as the patriot saint and the inspirer of her dormant national consciousness. To the Indians he preached the ideal of a strength-giving and man-making religion. Service to human beings as the visible manifestations of the Divine was the special form of worship he advocated for the emancipation of the human soul. While centuries of slavery of Indians were put to an end owing to his efforts and inspiration, in the West, Vivekananda’s mission was the teaching of the spiritual culture of India, especially in its Vedantic setting. He enriched the religious consciousness of the West through the rational and humanistic teachings of Vedanta, based on personal experience. He heralded a synthesis of the East and West, of the glorious Old and the dazzling New.
Swamiji’s mission was both national and international. He strove to promote peace and harmony by stressing on the spiritual oneness of existence. Swami Vivekananda once spoke of himself as ‘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!’