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Vivekananda

Vivekananda

Vivekananda (1863-1902) was an Indian reformer, missionary, and spiritual leader who promulgated Indian religious and philosophical values in Europe, England, and the United States, founding the Vedanta Society and the Ramakrishna mission.

Vivekananda was born in Calcutta of high-caste parents. His family name was Narendranath ("son of the lord of man") Datta. His father was a distinguished lawyer, and his mother a woman of deep religious piety. The influence of both parental figures clearly affected Vivekananda's early life and mature self-conception. He was a fun-loving boy who also showed great intellectual promise in the humanities, music, the sciences, and languages at high school and college. At the age of 15 he had an experience of spiritual ecstasy which served to reinforce his latent sense of religious calling—through he was openly skeptical of traditional religious practices. He joined the liberal Hindu reforming movement, the Brahmo Samaj (Association of God). But his deeper religious aspirations were still unsatisfied.

In 1881 Vivekananda met the great Hindu saint Ramakrishna, who recognized the young man's immense talents and finally persuaded him to join his community of disciples. After Ramakrishna's death in 1885, Vivekananda assumed leadership of the Ramakrishna order. He prepared the disciples for extensive missionary work, which he himself undertook throughout India—preaching both on the spiritual uniqueness of Indian civilization and on the need for massive reforms, especially the alleviation of the poverty of the Indian masses and the dissolution of caste discrimination. In 1893 his fame and brilliance gained him the nomination as Indian representative to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago.

Vivekananda's successes there led to an extended lecture tour. He stressed the mutual relevance of Indian spirituality and Western material progress—both, in his view, were in need of each other. In Boston he found much in common with the philosophy of the transcendentalists— Emerson, Thoreau, and their followers. After touring England and Europe, Vivekananda returned to the United States, founding the Vedanta Society of New York in 1896. His lectures on the Vedanta philosophy and yoga systems deeply impressed William James, Josiah Royce, and other members of the Harvard faculty. Vivekananda then went back to India to promote the Ramakrishna mission and reforming activities.

Seemingly indefatigable, Vivekananda traveled once again to the United States, in 1898, where he established a monastic community, the Shanti Ashrama, on donated land near San Francisco. In 1900 he attended the Paris Congress of the History of Religions, speaking extensively on Indian religious and cultural history. He returned to India in December of that year, his health much undermined by his strenuous activities. His work is still maintained today internationally by the many organizations which he founded.

Further Reading

Vivekananda's writings and speeches are collected in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (7 vols., Almora, Advaita Ashrama, 1918-1922). A useful study of Vivekananda is Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: A Biography (1953). Other studies include Romain Rolland, Prophets of the New India (trans. 1930); Christopher Isherwood's biographical introduction to Vivekananda's What Religion Is in the Words of Swami Vivekananda edited by John Yale (1962); and Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, ed., Swami Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Volume (Calcutta, 1963).

Additional Sources

Burke, Marie Louise, Swami Vivekananda in the West: new discoveries, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, [1985 ]-1987.

Chetanananda, Swami, Vivekananda: East meets West: a pictorial biography, St. louis, MO: Vedanta Society of St. Louis, 1994.

The Life of Swami Vivekananda, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1979. □

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Vivekānanda

Vivekānanda (1863–1902). A devout follower of Ramakrishna, and founder of the Ramakrishna Mission which now has more than a hundred centres throughout the world. After a meeting with Keshab Chandra Sen, he joined the Brahmo Samāj. All his life he acted on the principle that all people hold within themselves the means to achieve their full potential.

It was after becoming a disciple of Ramakrishna that Vivekānanda received his new name, and the honourable title of ‘swāmi’. After six years of contemplation in the Himālayan region he carried out, with missionary zeal, tours of S. and W. India, becoming the most noteworthy teacher of modern Vedānta. In 1893 a World's Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago. Swami Vivekānanda represented Hinduism with outstanding success, and, through the power of his oratory and his impressive appearance, became known worldwide.

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Vivekananda

Vivekananda (vē´vəkənŭn´də), 1863–1902, Hindu mystic, major exponent of Vedanta philosophy. He was born of a well-to-do family in Calcutta (now Kolkata), and his given name was Narendra Nath Datta. As a young man he met Ramakrishna and thereafter devoted himself completely to his teachings. After Ramakrishna's death in 1886, he traveled throughout India as a wandering monk. In 1893 he went to the United States where he represented Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. After four years of teaching in the West he returned to India, where he organized the Ramakrishna Mission and engaged in a strenuous campaign to encourage a national renaissance.

See his Complete Works (7 vol., 1922–31); biography by R. Rolland (5th ed. 1960); study by S. L. Mukherji (1971).

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Vivekananda

Vivekananda (1863–1902) Indian religious and social reformer, b. Narendranath Datta. The most prominent disciple of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda founded the Vedanta movement in the West. Vivekananda inspired many people to convert to Hinduism in the United States and Britain. In 1893 he captivated the audience at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Illinois. In 1897 Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission near Calcutta, e India, to serve the poor and needy.

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