Teachings and philosophy of Swami Vivekananda

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Swami Vivekananda – his teachings and philosophy stressed on different aspects of religion, youth, education, faith, character building as well as social issues pertaining to India."

Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk from India. He played significant role in the growing Indian nationalism of the 19th and 20th century, reinterpreting and harmonising certain aspects of Hinduism. His teachings and philosophy applied this reinterpretation to various aspects of education, faith, character building as well as social issues pertaining to India, and was also instrumental in introducing Yoga to the west.

According to Vivekananda a country's future depends on its people, stating that "man-making is my mission."[1] Religion plays a central role in this man-making, stating "to preach unto mankind their divinity, and how to make it manifest in every movement of life."[2]

Indian nationalism[edit]

Vivekananda played a major role in the growing Indian nationalism in the late 19th and the 20th century, encouraging many Indians with his success and appeal in the west. His example helped to build pride in India's cultural and religious heritage, and to stand up against the British colonial system.

Swami Vivekananda believed that India is the blessed punyabhumi, the "land of virtue":

".. the land where humanity has attained its highest towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, above all, the land of introspection and of spirituality - it is India. "[3]

According to Swami Vivekananda it is coordinated willpower that leads to independence. He gave the British colonial system as an example, with forty millions of Englishmen ruling three hundred millions of people in India. According to Vivekananda, the forty millions put their wills together and that resulted infinite power, and that was the reason of their success. Vivekananda prescribed, to make a great future India the whole serest will lie in organization, accumulation of power, co-ordination of wills.[4]

According to Vivekananda the Indian race never cared about physical wealth, although they acquired immense wealth.[5]


Religion played a major role in Vivekananda's ideas. To Vivekananda religion was not only talk or doctrine or theory, but realization of the best and strongest powers within oneself. He said,

[I]t is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledging; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes."[2] He also felt religion is the gist of all worship is to be pure and to do good to others.[6]

According to Swami Vivekananda, religion is the idea which is raising the brute into man, and man into God.[7]


Vivekananda was deeply influenced by the Brahmo Samaj, and by his guru Ramakrishna, who regarded the Absolute and the relative reality to be nondual aspects of the same integral reality. According to Michael Taft, Ramakrishna reconciled the dualism of form and formless,[8] regarding the Supreme Being to be both Personal and Impersonal, active and inactive. Ramakrishna

The Personal and Impersonal are the same thing, like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre, the snake and its wriggling motion. It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.[9]

Vivekananda in Chicago, September 1893. On the left, Vivekananda wrote: "one infinite pure and holy – beyond thought beyond qualities I bow down to thee".[1]
Religion Hinduism
Founder of Ramakrishna Mission (1897)

Ramakrishna Math

Philosophy Modern Vedanta,[2][3] Rāja yoga[3]
Nationality Indian
Born Narendranath Datta

12 January 1863

Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India (present-day Kolkata, West Bengal, India)

Died 4 July 1902 (aged 39)

Belur Math, Bengal Presidency, British India (present-day West Bengal, India)

Guru Ramakrishna
Disciple(s) Ashokananda, Virajananda, Paramananda, Alasinga Perumal, Abhayananda, Sister Nivedita, Swami Sadananda
Literary works Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, My Master, Lectures from Colombo to Almora
Vivekananda Welcome Speech

Swami Vivekananda (12 January 1863 – 4 July 1902), born Narendranath Datta, was an Indian Hindu monk, a chief disciple of the 19th-century Indian mystic Ramakrishna. [4][5] He was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world[6][7] and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the late 19th century.[8] He was a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India, and contributed to the concept of nationalism in colonial India.[9] Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.[7] He is perhaps best known for his speech which began, "Sisters and brothers of America ...,"[10] in which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893.

Born into an aristocratic Bengali family of Calcutta, Vivekananda was inclined towards spirituality. He was influenced by his guru, Ramakrishna, from whom he learnt that all living beings were an embodiment of the divine self; therefore, service to God could be rendered by service to mankind. After Ramakrishna's death, Vivekananda toured the Indian subcontinent extensively and acquired first-hand knowledge of the conditions prevailing in British India. He later travelled to the United States, representing India at the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions. Vivekananda conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating tenets of Hindu philosophy in the United States, England and Europe. In India, Vivekananda is regarded as a patriotic saint and his birthday is celebrated there as National Youth Day.

He belonged to a traditional family and was one of nine siblings. His mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, was a devout housewife. The progressive, rational attitude of Narendra's father and the religious temperament of his mother helped shape his thinking and personality.

In 1880 Narendra joined Keshab Chandra Sen's Nava Vidhan, which was established by Sen after meeting Ramakrishna and reconverting from Christianity to Hinduism. The same search for direct intuition and understanding can be seen with Vivekananda. Not satisfied with his knowledge of philosophy, Narendra came to "the question which marked the real beginning of his intellectual quest for God."[39] He asked several prominent Calcutta residents if they had come "face to face with God", but none of their answers satisfied him.[49][31] At this time, Narendra met Debendranath Tagore (the leader of Brahmo Samaj) and asked if he had seen God. Instead of answering his question, Tagore said "My boy, you have the Yogi's eyes."[39][36] According to Banhatti, it was Ramakrishna who really answered Narendra's question, by saying "Yes, I see Him as I see you, only in an infinitely intenser sense."[39] Nevertheless, Vivekananda was more influenced by the Brahmo Samaj's and its new ideas, than by Ramakrishna.[48] It was Sen's influence who brought Vivekananda fully into contact with western esotericism, and it was also via Sen that he met Ramakrishna.

In 1881 Narendra first met Ramakrishna, who became his spiritual focus after his own father had died in 1884. Narendra's first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class at General Assembly's Institution when he heard Professor William Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem, The Excursion. While explaining the word "trance" in the poem, Hastie suggested that his students visit Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar to understand the true meaning of trance. This prompted some of his students (including Narendra) to visit Ramakrishna.

According to Banhatti, "[a] singer, a painter, a wonderful master of language and a poet, Vivekananda was a complete artist",[195] composing many songs and poems, including his favourite, "Kali the Mother". Vivekananda blended humour with his teachings, and his language was lucid. His Bengali writings testify to his belief that words (spoken or written) should clarify ideas, rather than demonstrating the speaker (or writer's) knowledge.


  • 24 January 1857 -University of Calcutta
  • 20 January 1817 -Presidency University, Kolkata
  • 13 July 1830 -Scottish Church College

Born on 12 January 1863 at Calcutta in the West Bengal, Vivekananda was the son of Viswanath Datta and Tarini Devi. His mother became his first teacher and taught her English and Bengali. Vivekananda listened from his mother the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Being attached with the educational institutions like the Presidency College and General Assembly’s institution, he passed B.A. and became a member of the Brahmo Samaj. His curiosity increased on the question of the existence of God and he asked one question to all whom, he met – “Have you seen God?” At last he met Rama Krishna Parmahamsa, a priest of the Dakshineswar Kali temple and accepted him as his Guru. He was known then Vivekananda. His address in the parliament of Religions at Chicago as “Sisters and Brothers of America” astonished all. He visited different parts of Europe and many foreigners including sister Nivedita became his disciple. Later on Vivekananda established Ramakrishna Mission on social, religious and cultural foundation. He wrote several books like ‘Jnanayoga’, ‘Bhaktiyoga’, ‘Rajayoga’, ‘To the youth of India’ etc. His divinity was greatly feel by the Indians through his speech and works. He breathed his last in 1902.


Hinduism-Universal Religion[edit]

Vivekananda considered Hinduism to be the mother of all religions. He established through historical sequence. He showed that Vedic religion had influenced Buddhism which again was instrumental in influencing Christianity. He told that all the religions of the world have the same value and importance. In the Parliament of Religions he told—

” …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 ….Upon the banner of every religion soon be written … ‘Help and not fight’,‘Assimilation and not Destruction’,‘Harmony, and peace and not Dissension.

Thus, through his universal religion, Vivekananda preached the unity of God. He told that though the paths are different for different religions but the goal is same. He attached great importance to the unity of all religions and their fusion into one universal religion.

Advaita Vedantism[edit]

Swami Vivekananda was a great lover of Vedantic philosophy. He believed in monism. He had firm faith on one God. His motto, as reflected earlier, was to establish a link among different religions. He had told that as water of different rivers mingle in the sea, similarly every religion finds itself at the feet of God. He did not see any difference between a Veda or Koran or Bible. Temple, Mosque and Church were equal for him.

He preferred to meditate at any place without any inhibition in his mind. By his personal example he preached monism or Advaita Vedantism. By that he showed his toleration towards every religion. He spoke the message of Vedanta regarding the world unity and to believe shapeless God.

Caste System[edit]

A striking contrast was noticed in the idea of Vivekananda regarding the caste system. Strangely enough, he supported the Varna system as described in the Vedas. Unfolding the advantages of the caste system, he told that division of labour is a great blessing of this system. It would lead to excellence in any profession.

This division, of course, will lead to a caste on the path of progress. However, he also exposed the evils of this system. Untouchability was its worst part. So, Vivekananda criticized this type of “Don’t touches”. He wanted to curb out this type of dogmatism from the society.


Of course, Vivekananda was criticized for his idea regarding the caste system. His idea of internationalism was regarded as a platonic utopia. However, criticisms are only for criticisms sake. Swami Vivekananda’s constituent endeavor to free religion from superstitions really establishes him as a great reformer. His synthesis of the materialism and spiritualism is another remarkable feature of his philosophical thought. Thus, he was a great spiritual, nationalist, internationalist and so on.

Renaissance and reformation were the two peas of Vivekananda’s personality. He really brought a reawakening of the Indian culture. By his sharp intellect and reformative attitude he made Hinduism a progressive force in the world. A rare gem he was in the treasure of Indian wisdom. Undoubtedly he dazzled as a shining star in the cultural horizon of India and attracted the attention of the people of the world.

Yoga and meditation[edit]

Swami Vivekananda compared human mind with a monkey who is always restless and incessantly active by his own nature.[10] He noticed, the human mind naturally wants to get outside, to peer out of the body, as it were, through the channels of the organs.[11] So, he stressed on practice of concentration,[12] as he felt there is no limit to the power of the human mind, the more concentrated it is, the more powerful it becomes.[13] Swami Vivekananda suggested not to do anything which disturbs the mind or makes it restless.


Although embracing and propagating Universalism, he regarded Hinduism the best of all religions, and Advaita Vedanta the best of what Indian religious thought had to offer. According to Vivekananda the greatest misfortune of the world is we do not tolerate and accept other religions. In his lecture in Parliament of religions on September 15, 1893, he told a story of a frog who lived in a well for a long time, he was born there and brought up there and he used to think that nothing in the world can be bigger than that. Swami Vivekananda concluded the story:

According to Vivekananda we must not only tolerate other religions, but positively embrace them, since the truth is the basis of all religions.[15]


Social service[edit]

Social service was an essential aspect of Vivekananda's ideas, and an innovation which deviated from both Advaita Vedanta and Ramakrishna. He nevertheless attributed these ideas to both, trying to reconcile them with his own ideas.

According to Vivekananda, an important teaching he received from Ramakrishna was that Jiva is Shiva (each individual is divinity itself). So he stressed on Shiva Jnane Jiva Seva, (to serve common people considering them as manifestation of God). According to Vivekananda, man is potentially Divine, so, service to man is indeed service to God.[16]


Swami Vivekananda called Jain monks the first great ascetics.[17] He praised their ancient knowledge of presence of low form of life in water:[18]

A terrible thing, killing these low forms of life. So these monks, if they died of thirst, they would never kill these animals by drinking water. How all that we call ethics they simply bring out from that one great principle of non-injury and doing good.[19]

Personal development[edit]

In line with the influence of western ideas, Vivekananda stressed the importance of individual development.

Character building[edit]

Swami Vivekananda realized three things are necessary to make every man great, every nation great:[20]

  • Conviction of the powers of goodness;
  • Absence of jealousy and suspicion;
  • Helping all who are trying to be and do good.

Swami Vivekananda suggested to try to give up jealousy and conceit and learn to work unitedly for others. He told that purity, patience and perseverance overcome all obstacles. He suggested to take courage and work on. Patience and steady work, according to Swami Vivekananda, this is the only way to get success.

According to Swami Vivekananda "faith in ourselves and faith in God- this is the secret of greatness. Swami Vivekananda observed the history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves, and it is faith which calls out divinity within. So he told, if people have faith in three hundred and thirty millions of Hindu mythological gods, and in all the gods which foreigners have now and still have no faith in themselves, there will be no salvation.[21]


Vivekananda believed education is the manifestation of perfection already in men.[2] He thought it a pity that the existing system of education did not enable a person to stand on his own feet, nor did it teach him self-confidence and self-respect. To Vivekananda, education was not only collection of information, but something more meaningful; he felt education should be man-making, life giving and character-building. To him education was an assimilation of noble ideas.[1]

Education is not the amount of information that we put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life building, man making, character making assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, you have more education than any man who has got by heart a whole library...[22][23]

Swami Vivekananda felt that the education that young boys and girls receive is very negative. He thinks they do not gain confidence or self-respect from these education, so according to Swami Vivekananda only positive education should be given to children.[24] Swami Vivekananda told, if young boys and girls are encouraged and are not unnecessarily criticized all the time, they are bound to improve in time.[25]
He also told the youth:

Set yourselves to the task of spreading education among the masses. Tell them and make them understand, "You are our brothers—a part and parcel of our bodies, and we love you and never hate you."[26]


Swami Vivekananda warned it is completely unfair to discriminate between sexes, as there is not any sex distinction in atman (soul), the soul has neither sex, nor caste nor imperfection. He suggested not to think that there are men and women, but only that there are human beings.[27] Swami Vivekananda felt, The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women[27] and it is impossible to get back India's lost pride and honor unless they try to better the condition of women.[28] Vivekananda considered men and women as two wings of a bird, and it is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing. So, according to him, there is no chance for welfare of the world unless the condition of woman is improved.

Swami Vivekananda noticed almost everywhere women are treated as playthings. In modern countries like America, women have more independence, still, Vivekananda had noticed, men bow low, offer a woman a chair and in another breath they offer compliments like "Oh, how beautiful your eyes.." etc. Vivekananda felt, a man does not have any right to do this or venture so far, and any woman should not permit this as well. According to Swami Vivekananda such things develop the less noble side of humanity. They do not tend to noble ideals.[29]

According to Vivekananda, the ideal of womanhood in India is motherhood – that marvelous, unselfish, all-suffering, ever-forgiving mother.[30] Vivekananda felt, in India, there are two great evils – trampling on the women, and grinding through the poor through caste restrictions.[31]

According to Swami Vivekananda, Sita is typical of India – the idealized India. Swami Vivekananda assured if world literature of the past and world literature of the future are thoroughly exhausted, yet, it'll not be possible to find out another Sita, because Sita is unique, the character was depicted once for all. Swami Vivekananda felt there may have been several Ramas, perhaps, but never more than one Sita.[32][33]

Vivekananda felt:

Sita was a true Indian by nature, Vivekananda concluded, who never returned injury.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vivekananda, Swami (1996). Swami Lokeswarananda, ed. My India: the India eternal (1st ed.). Calcutta: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. pp. 1–2. ISBN 81-85843-51-1.
  2. ^ a b c Swami Vivekananda: Life and Teachings, Belur Math, archived from the original on 30 March 2012, retrieved 30 March 2012
  3. ^ "Vivekananda's Lankan connection". Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  4. ^ "The future of India". ramakrishnavivekananda.info. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  5. ^ "My life and mission". ramakrishnavivekananda.info. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  6. ^ "Universal teachings of Swami Vivekananda". ramakrishna.org. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  7. ^ "Swami Vivekananda Sayings". abuddhistlibrary.com. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  8. ^ Taft 2014.
  9. ^ "Sri Ramakrisha The Great Master, by Swami Saradananda, (tr.) Swami Jagadananda, 5th ed., v.1, pp.558-561, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras".
  10. ^ "The mind is like a monkey". psychokhemia.com. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  11. ^ "The Cosmons- The Microcosm". ramakrishnavivekananda.info. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  12. ^ "Concentration, its practice". ramakrishnavivekananda.info. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  13. ^ "Why Control Mind?". greenmesg.org. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  14. ^ "Why we disagree". Archived from the original on 9 June 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  15. ^ s:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 5/Epistles - First Series/XXII Alasinga
  16. ^ "IDEOLOGY of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission". belurmath.org. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  17. ^ BUDDHISTIC INDIA Para 22-23
  18. ^ BUDDHISTIC INDIA Para 24
  19. ^ http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/buddhistic_india.htm
  20. ^ "Swami Vivekananda Ebook" (PDF). consciouslivingfoundation.org. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  21. ^ Vivekananda, Swami (1996). My India: the India eternal (1st ed.). Calcutta: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. pp. 110–111. ISBN 81-85843-51-1.
  22. ^ s:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 3/Lectures from Colombo to Almora/The Future of India
  23. ^ "Swami Vivekananda quotes". jnanagni.com. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  24. ^ s:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 4/Translation: Prose/The Education that India needs
  25. ^ s:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 7/Conversations And Dialogues/X
  26. ^ Narasimhananda, Swami (2012). "Vivekananda Reader". Advaita Ashrama. p. 335. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  27. ^ a b "Thoughts on Women". writespirit.net. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  28. ^ "Vivekananda's letters". Angelfire. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  29. ^ Vivekananda, Swami (1996). My India: the India eternal (1st ed.). Calcutta: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. pp. 68–69. ISBN 8185843511.
  30. ^ "Swami Vivekananda". rkmdelhi.org. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  31. ^ "Letters written from Chicago January 1895, To Mrs. Ole Bull". vivekananda.net. Archived from the original on 21 January 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  32. ^ "Valmiki's Sita". hindupedia.com. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  33. ^ Swami Yogeshananda. "A Vedantist's View of Mary". vedanta-atlanta.org.
  34. ^ "The ideal of womanhood, Sita". yabaluri.org. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  35. ^ s:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 4/Lectures and Discourses/The Ramayana