Around two decades ago, when I was growing up in a boarding school run by monks of Ramakrishna Mission, January was the best month of the year. The days were no more frigid, the yellow marigold and calendulas dotted the massive school campus and there were a lot of festivals lined up; Makar Sankranti, Saraswati Puja, Netaji’s birthday and my favourite Swamiji’s Tithi Puja (oh… how I miss those mishtis).
Swamiji, or Swami Vivekananda, is more than just a Hindu monk or another ochre-robed Guru from the East. If you read his works, you will realize that he understood the true essence of Hinduism (specifically, the Advaita Vedanta stream of it) and the true potential of India (as a national as well as a spiritual entity) more than anyone else and it was no surprise that when he went to the West, he shattered myths and inspired visionaries unlike ever before. With his charismatic persona, deep knowledge & ability to influence, if there was a rockstar of religion, Swamiji would have to be it.
If 19th century was a scientific revolution, I believe that 20th century was a philosophical revolution, as the world rid itself of ‘narrow walls’ of imperialism, slavery and segregation. Most of the leaders of these revolutions, from Gandhi to Tesla to Che, have acknowledged the influence of Swami Vivekananda even though he had already died a premature death at the wake of the century. Today’s Needull, a 2012 article from The WSJ, looks at the continued global influence of this great soul, even in this century.
Vivekananda’s genius was to simplify Vedantic thought to a few accessible teachings that Westerners found irresistible. God was not the capricious tyrant in the heavens avowed by Bible-thumpers, but rather a power that resided in the human heart.