Swami Vivekananda

“’...why not sometimes dance like Shiva, and sometimes remain immersed in superconsciousness?’”*

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) was the founder of the Ramakrishna Order and the first native Hindu practitioner of yoga to address an American audience. He introduced the philosophy and practice of Yoga and Vedanta to the West. Before Vivekananda, this tradition had been an object of “scientific” anthropological study rather than of first-person knowledge. Because yoga’s paradigm of objectivity and conception of the self are so radically at odds with those of the West, the resources and profound insights of Yoga and Vedanta had been inaccessible before Vivekananda’s galvanizing address at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 in Chicago. During the next ten years, he founded Vedanta Societies throughout the United States and lectured extensively there and in Europe, delivering “The Philosophy of Vedanta” to my alma mater graduate philosophy department on March 25, 1896, and later declining Harvard’s professorial Chair in Eastern Philosophy. Nikhilananda’s excellent biography narrates how “[Vivekananda] never resented being mistaken for a negro [in the U.S.]. … When the Swami related these incidents to a Western disciple, he was promptly asked why he did not tell people that he was not a negro but a Hindu. ‘What!’ the Swami replied indignantly. ‘Rise at the expense of another? I did not come to earth for that.’ … He was scornful in his repudiation of the pseudo-ethnology of privileged races.” Vivekananda was a pioneer, a warrior, a cross-cultural ambassador, a widely read intellectual and rationalist, as well as an unconventional and visionary thinker and poet, an illuminated yoga master, and a profoundly spiritual personality. I admire his brilliance, fearlessness and depth. His transcribed talks all follow the same format: After warming you up with a few familiar platitudes, he eloquently gains your trust, and then punches you out with the deep doctrines, no holds barred. You emerge boggled but grateful. His complete works are available at www.vedanta.com. Learn more about him in *Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: A Biography(New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1953) and at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/vivekananda.