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Biographies > Swami Vivekananda - Vedantic Pioneer

by Peter Holleran


"Science and religion are both helps to get us out of bondage, only religion is the more ancient and we have the superstition that religion is holy."

    The illustrious Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) combined in himself a tough-minded adherence to discriminative non-dualism (Advaita Vedanta) with a fierce devotion to the Divine Mother in her aspect as the goddess Kali, an inheritance from his master, Sri Ramakrishna. His passionate oratory and incisive writings continually warned against religious narrow-mindedness and complacency, and one-sided world views of both east and west. He spoke of a fusion of ideals, and his pioneering work set the stage for many eastern teachers to spread the dharma in foreign lands.


Before his birth Vivekananda’s mother had a dream in which Lord Shiva promised to be born as her son. Narendra, as Vivekananda was then known, showed unusual signs of spiritual development from his early boyhood. When he went to sleep he would see a light appear between his eyebrows that eventually spread to envelop his entire body; then he would lose consciousness. Only years later (when questioned by Ramakrishna as to whether he saw a light before he fell asleep) did he come to realize that his experience was not the common occurrence for everyone.


According to Swami Nikhilinanda, young Naren began meditating at age seven and claimed to have experienced his first samadhi by age eight. He considered himself a brahmachari or celibate student of the Hindu tradition who worked hard, practised ascetic disciplines, held holy things in reverencial regard, and enjoyed clean words, thoughts, and deeds. (1)


On their first meeting together, when Vivekananda was eighteen, Ramakrishna asked him to sing and himself became absorbed in samadhi. Therein he saw that Naren was a sage whom he had called forth from a subtle plane to join him in this world. After he came out of trance he confessed, amidst profuse tears:

   “Ah, why have you taken so long to come? I have been waiting for you for such a long time! My ears are well-nigh burnt with listening to the profane talk of worldly people. Oh, I am panting to unburden my mind to one who can appreciate my innermost experiences....Lord, I know that you are that ancient sage, Nara, the incarnation of Narayana - born on earth to remove the misery of mankind.” (2)


Ramakrishna later revealed that he and Vivekananda had been born together many times before, trading roles; sometimes he was the master, and Vivekananda the disciple, and sometimes Vivekananda was the master and Ramakrishna the disciple.


Restless and fun-loving as a boy, Vivekananda was active in athletics, music, and debating. He was extremely intelligent, and was later called an “unsheathed sword” by Ramakrishna, in reference to his razor-sharp discrimination and forthright boldness. He came to speak of the sad plight of his country with its “dyspeptic babajis”, and he affirmed the virtues of what he called “practical religion”:


“The Vedanta, therefore, as a religion must be intensely practical. We must be able to carry it out in every part of our lives..For, if a religion cannot help man wherever he may be, wherever he stands, it is not of much use: it will remain a theory of the chosen few.”


When he met Ramakrishna he was extremely sceptical: having been schooled in philosophy (not only did he attain a mastery of the Hindu classics and western philosophy, but he had almost verbatim familiarity with the Encyclopedia Brittannica) Vivekananda doubted the claims of the saint, and even went so far as to question whether his visions were only “caprices” of the brain. He was also not keen on advaita vedanta. His Master never ceased praising his virtues of purity and strength of character, however, and encouraged him to ask questions and debate issues. He put an end to much of his scepticism, however, by granting him spiritual experiences of a profound sort on several occasions. On Vivekananda’s second visit, Ramakrishna placed his foot on his body, with the result that the room vanished and Vivekananda felt like he was about to merge into a void; this apparently far surpassed any of his childhood experiences:


“I was terribly frightened and thought I was facing death, for the loss of individuality meant that. Unable to control myself, I cried out, ‘What is this that you are doing to me? I have my parents at home!’ He laughed at this and stroking my chest said, ‘All right, let it rest now. Everything will come in time.’ No sooner had he said this than that strange experience vanished. I was myself again and found everything...as it had been before. All this..revolutionized my mind. I thought what it could possibly be. It came and went at the mere wish of this wonderful man!”


On another occasion Vivekananda was remarking to a friend that it was absurd to say that everything was God. Although he had studied Vedanta and been active in the Brahmo Samaj he mocked the Advaita philosophy when Ramakrishna taught it to him. His understanding was quickened, however, when by a touch of his Master he was catapulted into a state of continual God-communion for days on end. He found himself helplessly swooning in the vision of everything as God (an exhalted form of savikalpa samadhi). Even so he would not accept Ramakrishna as an avatar.


As his love for his Master grew, so did his yearning for spiritual realization. At one point he asked Ramakrishna to put him in nirvikalpa samadhi for three days and nights without a break, but the sage answered him with a rebuke, saying:


“You fool! There is a state much higher than that...I thought you would grow like a huge banyan tree, sheltering thousands from the scorching misery of the world. But now I see that you seek your own liberation.”


Ramakrishna, like most genuine gurus, tested his most intimate disciples, with Vivekananda being no exception. Swami Lokeswarananda writes:


“The Master was greatly pleased with Narendra’s inquiring mind. Sri Ramakrishna also tested Narendra in an unusual way. Without explanation, whenever Naren visited Sri Ramakrishna, the Master would not speak to him, although he spoke with other devotees. Every time Naren came to visit Sri Ramakrishna, the Master ignored him. When he arrived, Sri Ramakrishna did not even greet him; similarly when he left, Sri Ramakrishna was silent. This continued for nearly a month. At last Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘Why do you still come here when I do not speak to you?’ Narendra replied, ‘Do you think I come to listen to you? I love you, and that is why I come.’ At his response the Master said, ‘I was testing you. Only a great person such as you could endure such treatment. Any other person would have gone away.’ Narendra’s attitude was: I love you and so I come to you, But this does not mean that I will accept all of your words.”


Ramakrishna predicted that once Vivekananda recognized his true spiritual identity he would leave his body by an act of will. It is alleged that he therefore kept the “keys” to higher consciousness away from Vivekananda so that the later could accomplish his teaching mission. This assumes he had the power to do so; after my time spent with Sant Kirpal Singh, I have to agree that such a thing is definitely possible, whether by the Master himself or the higher power working through Him). Three days before passing away Ramakrishna looked Vivekananda in the eyes and transferred a current of force to him and said:


“O Naren, today I have given you my all and have become..a penniless beggar. By the force of the power transmitted by me, great things will be done by you; only after that will you go from where you came.”


This transmission did not result in giving spiritual powers to Vivekananda, who denied ever having any when later asked for. Initiation by some of his female followers. What it did was give him the power to initiate a world-changing teaching mission and inspire thousands.


Before he died Ramakrishna had given Vivekananda the experience of nirvikalpa samadhi, but his faith was still not complete. The day before Ramakrishna’s mahasamadhi (death) he had the thought: “if, in the midst of his agonies, the Master says that he is God incarnate, then I will believe him.” In that very moment Ramakrishna turned to him and confessed his avataric status by saying:


“O my Naren, are you still not convinced? He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body; not in your Vedantic sense, but actually so.”


Despite this rendition from the disciples of Vivekananda, the fact is that of all of Ramakrishna's disciples only Vivekananda was singled out for training in pure advaita from the Ashtavakra Gita which Ramakrishna hid from the view of all others.


Vivekananda appeared to have a stability quite unlike the emotionally sensitive Ramakrishna, who continually passed in and out of different spiritual states. Yet his speech and writing were on fire with religious dedication, and as a man he was possessed with abundant vitality. Even as a boy he would not be restrained:


“In my childhood I used to observe an inexhaustible force arising in me, overflowing my body, as it were. I used to become restless and could not keep quiet...If I had nothing to read, I would turn to making mischief. If I had been made to sit quietly for three or four days, I’d had either become seriously ill or have gone mad.”


After Ramakrishna’s death he took over leadership of the Ramakrishna Order, and for several years, fueled with dispassion for the world, he led the life of a wandering monk. He later came to question the usefulness of such a life, however, and near the end confessed that “more and more, the true greatness of life seems to be that of the worm doing its duty, silently and from moment to moment.” He had a ruling passion for service, and sometimes rebuked his own disciples for their incorrect ideas about spiritual life:


“You are sentimental fools! What do you understand of religion? You are only good at praying with folded hands ‘O Lord! How beautiful is your nose! How sweet your eyes!’ and all such nonsense...and you think your salvation is secured and Sri Ramakrishna will come at the final hour and take you by the hand to the highest heaven..As if God is such an easy thing to be achieved!...You think jnana is dry knowledge to be attained by a desert path, killing out the tenderest faculties of the heart! Your bhakti is sentimental nonsense, which makes one impotent. You want to preach Ramakrishna as you understand him which is mighty little. Hands off! Who cares for your Ramakrishna? Who cares for your bhakti or mukti? Who cares what your scriptures say? I will go into a thousand hells cheerfully if I can rouse my countrymen immersed in tamas to stand on their own feet and be men inspired with the spirit of karma yoga... I am not the servant of Ramakrishna or anyone, but of him only who serves and helps others without caring for his own bhakti or mukti.”


And again:


“What I want to propagate is a religion that will be equally acceptable to all minds, it must be equally philosophic, equally emotional, equally mystic, and equally conducive to action.”


After six years wandering throughout India Vivekananda concluded that his mission henceforth would be to inspire his countrymen from their lethargy. He was saddened by the wretchedness and poverty he saw everywhere, and he was especially emphatic that the condition of India’s women needed to improve.


In 1893 he journeyed to Chicago to represent India at the World Parliament of Religions. He arrived without a ticket, but happened to meet someone who knew a professor at Harvard University who wrote him a recommendation. He gave a short, impromptu speech, beginning with the words, “Brothers and sisters of America,” and seven thousand people rose to their feet and applauded. He enthralled the crowd with his charged words., and thus began a nine-year period of teaching and missionary work on three continents. The message he carried on his travels was “religion is realization, not talks nor doctrines nor theories, however beautiful they may be.” (11)


V.S. Iyer wrote:


"Swami Vivekananda often used the word religion when he meant pure philosophy.
[Note: this may have been one reason for the use by other vedantists of the term "Neo-advaita" in reference to the work of Swami Vivekananda]. This was partly because in those days the West was much more religious and could be more easily reached - by a pioneer propagandist like him - through religious terms and partly because of this difficulty of translating abstract Sanskrit words into English. Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda lived the life of realized beings; their knowledge of things was so profound, that they could express grand truths in such simple ways drawing common illustrations from the life around:


"Here and hereafter are words to frighten children."


"It is a child's talk that a man goes to Heaven."


"We never come or go. We are where we are."


"Religion cannot give a better explanation of the universe than through God and Heaven and all that; that is why religion is failing."


"It is better that mankind should become atheists rather than believing blindly in 200 million Gods."


"No amount of books will purify you. Thinking and thinking correctly (i.e., reason) is of the highest value. The glory of man is that he is a thinking being. I believe in reason, having seen the evils of authority, Vedas, etc. Why was reason given to us if we are only to believe? Is it not blasphemous to believe against reason?"


According to Narasingha P. Sil, at one point Swami Vivekananda claimed to be the reincarnation of the great Sankara. (13)


Despite all this, Swami Vivekananda had a very devotional nature which was the equal to the strict rationality of his Vedanta. This was evidenced by his reaction to a significant vision he had in 1896 while sailing on a ship from Naples to Colombo:


"One night, somewhere between Naples and Port Said, he saw in a vivid dream a venerable, bearded old man, like a rishi of India, who said: 'Observe carefully this place. You are now in the Island of Crete. This is the land where Christianity began. I am one of the Therapeutae who used to live here.' The apparition uttered another word, which the Swami could not remember. It might have been 'Essene,' a sect to which John the Baptist belonged. Both the Therapeutae and the Essenes had practised renunciation and cherished a liberal religious outlook. According to some scholars, the word Therapeutae may be derived from the Buddhist word Sthaviraputtra or theraputta, meaning the sons or disciples of the Theras, or Elders, the superiors among the Buddhist monks. The word Essene may have some relation with Isiyana, meaning the Path of the Lord, a well-known sect of Buddhist monks. It is now admitted that the Buddhists at an early time had monasteries in Asia Minor, Egypt, and generally along the eastern part of the Mediterranean.


The old man in the dream concluded his statement by saying: 'The truths and ideas preached by us were presented as the teachings of Jesus. But Jesus the person was never born. Various proofs attesting this fact will be brought to light when this place is dug up.' At that moment — it was midnight — the Swami awoke and asked a sailor where the ship was; he was told that it was fifty miles off Crete.


The Swami was startled at this singular coincidence. The idea flashed in his mind that the Acts of the Apostles might have been an older record than the Gospels, and that Buddhist thought, coming through the Therapeutae and the Essenes, might have helped in the formulation of Christianity. The person of Christ might be a later addition. He knew that Alexandria had been a meeting-place of Indian and Egyptian thought. Later, when the old sites in Crete were excavated, evidence was found connecting early Christianity with foreign sources.


But Swami Vivekananda never refused to accept the historical Christ. Like Krishna, Christ, too, has been revealed in the spiritual experiences of many saints. That, for Vivekananda, conferred upon him a reality which was more real than historical realities. While travelling in Switzerland, the Swami one day plucked some wild flowers and asked Mrs. Sevier to offer them at the feet of the Virgin in a little chapel in the mountains, with the remark, 'She too is the Mother.' One of his disciples, another day, gave him a picture of the Sistine Madonna to bless. But he refused in all humility, and piously touching the feet of the child said, 'I would have washed his feet, not with my tears, but with my heart's blood.' "


Vivekananda went to America twice. The first time, from 1893-1896, he toured many cities including Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, New York, teaching and lecturing day in and day out. Women in particular were attracted to him. One who became one of his closest disciples later confessed disappointment when he told her he had no such powers such as to grant samadhi or spiritual experiences. As mentioned earlier, his skill was chiefly in spreading the message of vedanta to the masses. In doing so he sometimes had to water down the teachings of non-duality and mix in some yoga as well, paradoxically spreading the notion that super-conscious samadhi was more important than the advaita vedanta he learned from his studies of the Ashtavakra Samhita under Ramakrishna. This adaptation of his was in keeping with the aim of vedanta which is to benefit all by giving them what they are capable of making use of. The second trip (after going to Europe in 1896 and India in 1897) took him to the west coast, where he spent considerable time in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Stopping again in Europe, he returned once more to India, where he directed his attention to the instruction of young monks under his charge. He undertook a grueling mid-winter sojourn to the Himalayas, and the cumulative effect of all of his strenuous endeavors undermined his health.


Vivekananda said that he had experienced, in 1898, a vision of Shiva Himself, and “had been granted the grace of Amarnath, the Lord of Immortality, not to die until he himself willed it.” (15)   On the last day of his life he meditated three hours in the morning, taught a Sanskrit class for three more hours, and then walked two miles. In the evening he sat again for meditation. Hours later he lay down with his gaze fixed between the eyebrows and left his body; a heavenly glow was on his face. At the age of thirty-nine, Swami Vivekananda fulfilled his own prophecy that he would not live to be forty. Upon his death, Swami Brahmananda said, “It seems like the Himalayas have disappeared.” Some of his last thoughts were embodied in these forceful words:


“It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body - to cast it off like a worn garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with God.”


V.S. Iyer felt that with this universal attitude Vivekananda embodied the ideal of the vedantic sage. The following by Paul Brunton found within his copy of Iyer's Comentaries is worth noting:


"When the time of death approaches for a gnani he expresses the will to return to earth again and again and be reborn. Now he has achieved liberation from all his Karma. Why then should he take on the old bondage of the human body again? Answer: Because he realizes his unity with all mankind, he considers their welfare as his own. Therefore when that further incarnation comes to a close he will again express his determination to be reborn a second time. This process will go on ad infinitum, with the result that the gnani is born again and dying again just like all other human beings. So from the external viewpoint he is to share the same joys and sorrows as all unenlightened men for countless number of incarnations despite the fact that he has achieved Nirvana. The definition usually given by Pundits and yogis in India of the word Moksha as meaning liberation from the cycle of transmigration pertains to the lower or purely religious sphere. This doctrine is on the lower level because it is based on the reality of the ego. The Vedantic interpretation of the world is "liberation from ignorance." Similarly the word Nirvana is interpreted in Buddhist countries as meaning release from the cycle of births and deaths. This too is the popular interpretation, not the philosophical which is precisely the same as the Vedantic. it is quite true that Buddha constantly taught that man should seek release from transmigratory existence but we must remember however that what a sage knows is known only to himself in its fullness and that he gives out to the public only so much as they could grasp and no more.


Of course, the gnani will have a different attitude towards his pleasures and pains from that of the ordinary man by reason of his refusal to identify himself with the body. Thus Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda expressed the desire to be born again and again for the salvation of humanity. Buddha too has told of numerous previous births wherein he descended to help mankind. Thus the startling fact must now emerge that all the sages in the history of mankind who had ever attained Truth, Moksha or Nirvana by virtue of such attainment have identified themselves with the whole of mankind and its sufferings and have therefore, all without a single exception, willed to return to earth in constantly repeated births and deaths. This they have done without a necessity or compulsion on their part, but solely in order to serve others because of their feeling of unity with them and pity for their sufferings. This does not mean that all the sages of history are at the present moment living on this earth because they need not necessarily be reborn immediately after each death. They may need a period of rest and recuperation after each incarnation and therefore some may be on earth, and others not, but the latter will surely be reborn later.


The sage will not hide himself in the cave or forest or on top of the Himalayas far from the people who need help, because he knows that he must go amongst them in order to remove their ignorance and set an example to place higher ideals before them and to work for their material welfare. Those who say that sages can give this help by telepathic or by spiritual thought-waves from a distance are refuted by the evidence of all history."


It is interesting that Vivekananda at one time questioned whether he had received sufficient spiritual transmission and wisdom from Ramakrishna. During his wandering after the latter’s death, Vivekananda spent time with a great saint and raja yogi named Pavhari Baba. As the people in the area believed he lived solely on air he acquired the name ‘Pavhari Baba’, meaning ‘air-eating father’. The disciples of Vivekananda tried to lure him away, imploring him to return and guide them. One brother monk even went so far as to seek out Vivekananda and accuse him of abandoning Ramakrishna for Pavhari Baba. This infuriated the Swami, who sent the monk away. He later wrote:


“My motto is to recognize good no matter where I may come across it. This leads my..brother to think I may lose my devotion to the Guru. [This is an idea] of lunatics and bigots; for all gurus are one, fragments and radiations of God, the Universal Guru.”

    “Oh, it is as if hell-fire were burning [me] day and night...I feel quite helpless as to what to do. The Babaji throws out honeyed words [and so I stay]...my brother-disciples think me very cruel and selfish. Oh, what can I do? Who will see deep down into my mind? Who will know how much I am suffering day and night?”


Just before his initation into raja yoga by Pavhari Baba (note: others say it was only hatha yoga in order to cure a stomach ailment; see "Touched by God" by Swami Chetanananda) Vivekananda had a series of visions of Sri Ramakrishna in which it was implied that he did not need to take initiation from another guru. Lokeswarananda writes:


“The night before he was to take initiation, Swamiji (Vivekananda) saw Sri Ramakrishna standing before him. The Master did not say a word - he just looked at him, but he appeared to be troubled and unhappy. This happened again and again. Sri Ramakrishna would appear before Swamiji, not saying a word. Finally Swamiji came to his senses, and felt ashamed. He gave up the idea of being initiated by Pavhari Baba. As he wrote in a letter about this incident, ‘I am not going to any other person. No one is equal to Sri Ramakrishna.’”


Still, he hung on for a time, torn between his allegiance to the guru-less disciples of Ramakrishna and his desire for a living source of spiritual transmission. Brahmananda, the second most famous of Ramakrishna's disciples (of whom Ramakrishna said both were born with God-knowledge and were of the class of the "Ever-Perfect" or Isvarakotis), also sought out another guru after his Master's death, an aged Vaishnava saint in a temple in Vrindiban. [While such a practice of visiting and studying with other teachers was and is normal in the Ch'an and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, in Hindu circles one's loyalty and fidelity are more likely to be questioned]. Although he had frequent spiritual experience under Ramakrishna, after ten more years of intense spiritual effort and a final touch by the Vrindavan saint Brahmananda said he achieved perpetual samadhi, such that, even in periods of normal consciousness, he had a "fullness of God in his heart, and all around him nature vibrating with joy." He referred to the Mundaka Upanishad for his view on samadhi: "The knot of the heart, which is ignorance, is loosed, all doubts are dissolved, all evil effects of deeds are destroyed, when he who is both personal and impersonal is realized." Of Nirvikalpa Samadhi he remarked, "some say that that state is the end of spiritual experiences, but I believe it is the beginning." [Others, such as PB, might say that Sahaj was the true beginnning]


Vivekananda embodied the ideal of the celibate yogi, and for a time after the death of Ramakrishna he was outspoken about the virtues of such a path. A number of importent incidents in his life, however, modified his position regarding the absolute nature of differing moral systems, and his views on women, which some have accused of being misogynistic and provincial (see Sil, Narasingha P., Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment). In 1891 the Maharaja of Khetri, who was a disciple of Vivekananda, brought a dancing girl in to please him. When the swami started to leave in disgust, the girl began to sing a devotional song by the Vaishnavite saint, Suradas. This profoundly moved Vivekananda, who stayed to instruct the Maharaja, letting the girl fan him. He later said that this incident transformed him greatly. (19) Another time, while staying with a family of six brothers in Tibet who shared one wife, Vivekananda was brought up short when, after trying to explain the evil of their ways, he was answered, “What selfishness, to wish to keep one woman all to oneself!” (20)


Thus, Swami Vivekananda seemed perhaps to be softening from his strenuous, masculine approach to spiritual life, as exemplified by his words at the Parliament of World's Religions in years before, where he had said,


" The whole object of the Hindu religion is, by constant struggle, to become perfect, to become divine, to reach God, and see God..."


and his arguments elsewhere against the notion that spirituality was for weaklings, either moral or physical, in which he stressed the importance of the development of a strong body as a foundation for spiritual life:


“Physical weakness is the cause of at least one-third of our miseries..First of all our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends, that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger. You will understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little strong blood in you. You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of the Atman, when your body stands firm on your feet and you feel yourselves as men.”


In other words, he seemed in his travels to preach little of the more easeful approach to sahaj samadhi that Ramakrishna appeared to have tried to teach him through his readings from the Ashtravakra Gita. Perhaps the time was just not right yet for such a message to be widely spread. The groundwork had not yet been laid sufficiently nor would his audience have been receptive to it.


Vivekananda said that social life in the West was like a peal of laughter but underneath a wail and a sob, while in India it was sad and gloomy on the surface, but underneath carelessness and merriment. His life work was to bring forth the ancient Vedic dharma as a universal religion to unite all in the way of truth.


Click here for the The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.





James Schwarz (http://www.shiningworld.com) has an interesting discussion on the development of the different yogas. Much of it in the modern age, he said, is due to the neo-vedanta of Swami Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Mission, which V.S. Iyer, with respect, termed "vedanta yoga" as opposed to true classical "vedanta philosophy." This was because the Mission placed greater emphasis on attaining super-conscious samadhi than was found in traditional vedanta. This very important topic is discussed in the excellent article, The Question of the Importance of Samadhi In Modern and Classical Advaita Vedanta, by Michael Comans, PhD.   Schwartz himself writes:


"I do not know at what time Bhakti came to be considered a separate path, perhaps four or five hundred years ago when Chaitanya was alive.  It is not clear, however, that Chaitanya thought of himself as a Bhakti Yogin.  The name suggests that he didn’t, in so far as it means Consciousness…which suggests that he was a jnani.  In Vedic culture the choice of name reveals one’s spiritual inclination or path or identity.  It is a fact that people love to define themselves in very limited ways so that as the spiritual world developed ritualists wanted their own special ‘yoga’ and affixed the word yoga to bhakti to distinguish themselves from the intellectuals and the doers.  It may also be that because of the many possible meanings that a single Sanskrit word can have people thought that Bhakti was a ‘yoga’ because in the Bhagavad Gita one Chapter is called Bhakti Yoga.  However, usage determines the meaning of yoga in this case as ‘topic.’  So the meaning is that Chapter 12 considers the topic of bhakti."


"By the time we get to Vivekananda, bhakti has been enshrined alongside jnana and karma as one of the major paths.  Vivekananda also included Raja Yoga as a separate path but Raja Yoga is based on Patanjali Yoga and Patanjali yoga is karma yoga.  It is for doers who want to achieve Self realization by exhausting their vasanas (chitta vritti nirodha).  This is the first English formulation of four paths and constitutes what is called in India as ‘Modern Vedanta’ and in the West as ‘Neo-Vedanta.’   Swami Chinmayananda who had huge impact on Indian spirituality in the last half of the last century was perhaps the most famous ‘Modern Vedantin’ although the Swamis in the Ramakrishna Mission were also Modern Vedantins owing to their respect for Vivekananda.  Now the Ramakrishna Mission is basically Bhakti Yoga."


"If you read the Narada Bhakti Sutras, which is the definitive Pauranic text on Bhakti, but is considered to belong to the tradition of jnana yoga, there is no mention of Bhakti Yoga.  Bhakti is considered to be of two types: guna bhakti and para Bhakti.  Guna bhakti is devotion according to the psychology of the individual and Parabhakti is synonymous with jnana."


Kabir: “Everyone knows that the drop merges in the ocean. That is bhakti. But few know that the ocean merges in the drop; that is parabhakti.”


See also The Neo-Vedanta of Swami Vivekananda, Parts One and Two


1. Nikhilananda, Swami, Vivekananda: A Biography (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1996), p.

2. Life of Ramakrishna, compiled from various authentic sources, 2nd ed. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashram, 1928, rep. 1964), p. 332

3.The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. II (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1976), p. 291, 300

4. Life of Ramakrishna, op. cit., p. 334

5. Swami Lokeswarananda, The Way to God As Taught by Srti Ramakrishna (Calcutta, India: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1992), p. 384

6. The Life of Swami Vivekananda, by his Eastern and Western Disciples, Vol 1, 5th ed.,
    2 Vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1979), p. 182

7. Ibid p. 183

8. Ibid, p. 32

9. Ibid, Vol. II, pp. 616-617

10. The Complete Works, Vol II, p. 389

11. The Complete Works, Vol. I, p. 322-323

12. V.S. Iyer, Commentaries, Vol. 1 (edited by Mark Scorelle, 1999), p. 203-204

13. (Sil, Narasingha P., Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment (Mississauga, ON: Associated University Presses, 1997), p.

14. Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: a Biography, Experiences in the West )1953, p.

15. V.S. Iyer, op. cit., p. 143

16. The Life of Swami Vivekananda, Vol I, op.cit, pp. 235-236

17. Nikhilinanda, Swami, op. cit., p.

18. Swami Lokeswarananda, op. cit., p. 388

19. Romain Rolland, The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1931 reprinted 1975), pp. 24-25

20. Ibid

21. Swami Vivekananda, Education (Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press)