For six years following Sri Ramakrishna's death, Swami Vivekananda travelled as a wandering monk throughout India, from the snow-clad Himalayas to Cape Comorin often on foot, sometimes living in palaces with Maharajas, sometimes discussing the scriptures and philosophy with erudite scholars, and sometimes sharing meager meals and lodgings with the poor and lowly, but always particular about the practice of spiritual disciplines. At this time he was perhaps not quite sure of the central purpose of his life. Naturally the desire often flashed in his mind to strive for personal salvation, following the traditional disciplines of meditation, solitude, and the practice of austerities. But somehow the idea did not strike a response from his deepest soul. Then he remembered the admonition of Sri Ramakrishna to forego the joy of personal salvation and dedicate himself to the service of humanity. He must act as a large steamship to carry weary souls across the pain-fraught ocean of the world to the other shore of freedom and joy.
The pitiable condition of India's common man, descended from the great seers and saints who had once walked free with head up-raised, touched Swami Vivekananda deeply. He saw how, as a result of the exploitation of ruthless foreign rulers, powerful landlords, and selfish priests, his very soul was crushed by ignorance, illness, and poverty. But the Swami also remembered the great service rendered by the priests in preserving Hinduism under the most trying circumstances during the foreign domination of India. The priests in Hindu temples are, by and large, in a pitiable condition at the present time on account of ignorance and poverty. But when their economic condition improves and when they are properly trained about their duties, they will discharge them with dignity and understanding. The priests and ministers in the Catholic and Protestant churches assume their offices only after being trained. As long as rituals remain an integral part of religion, the office of priest cannot be abolished.
Swami Vivekananda was amazed to find that, notwithstanding persecution and poverty, the Indian masses were patient, gentle, and God-fearing passion by day and his ever-haunting dream by night. Once this huge leviathan was awakened from its slumber, no power on earth could stop India's onward march along with other progressive nations of the world.