Many years after Vivekananda's death, Rabindranath Tagore told French author Romain Rolland, “If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative.”
Free India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote: “Rooted in the past, full of pride in India’s prestige, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems, and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present … he came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralised Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance and some roots in the past.”
Vivekananda’s writings motivated a whole generation of freedom fighters including Subhash Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghose (later Sri Aurobindo, the great spiritual master of Pondicherry) and Bagha Jatin. Sense of unity, pride in the past, sense of mission – these were the factors which gave real strength and purpose to India’s nationalist movement. Several eminent leaders of India’s freedom movement have acknowledged their indebtedness to Vivekananda. At the Belur Math, Mahatma Gandhi was heard saying that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda.
Subhash Chandra Bose, one of the most prominent figures in the Indian Independence Movement, said, “I cannot write about Vivekananda without going into raptures. Few indeed could comprehend or fathom him even among those who had the privilege of becoming intimate with him. His personality was rich, profound and complex... reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, boundless in his love, profound and versatile in his wisdom, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks but yet simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours.”
Netaji added, “Swamiji harmonised the East and the West, religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our countrymen have gained unprecedented selfrespect, self-reliance and self-assertion from his teachings.” Vivekananda did it by interpreting Hindu scriptures, philosophy and the Hindu way of life to the Western people in an idiom which they could understand. He made the West realise that they had to learn much from Indian spirituality in spite of her poverty and backwardness and ended India’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world. On the other hand, Swamiji taught Indians to adopt Western science and technology and their concept of humanism (especially the ideas of individual freedom, social equality and justice and respect for women) to the Indian ethos.
Swami Vivekananda was perhaps the first master to interpret religion as a universal experience of transcendent Reality, common to all humanity. He met the challenge of modern science by showing that spirituality was as scientific as science itself; and was in fact the ‘science of consciousness.’ Religion and science were not contrary to each other but were complementary. This all-encompassing concept freed religion from the hold of superstitions, dogmas, priest craft and intolerance, and made it the highest and noblest pursuit.
Said Sri Aurobindo, “Vivekananda was a soul of puissance if ever there was one, a very lion among men, but the definitive work he has left behind is quite incommensurate with our impression of his creative might and energy. We perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive, upheaving that has entered the soul of India and we say, 'Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of her children.'"
Eminent British historian, A L Basham, stated: “In centuries to come, he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world…”
Vivekananda’s reintroduction of the Vedic concept of ‘potential divinity of the soul’ gave a new lease of life to human beings in his time. He laid the foundation for ‘spiritual humanism’, rejecting the Christian idea of humans as sinners seeking the pardon of a judgmental God which was prevalent in both the Eastern and Western worlds. “Religion is the manifestation of the Divinity already in man. Strength, it is that we want so much in this life, for what we call sin and sorrow have all one cause, and that is our weakness. With weakness comes ignorance, and with ignorance comes misery,” he said.
He demolished the theory of ethics based on fear, punishment and reward. “We should be pure because purity is our real nature, our true divine self or Atman. Similarly, we should love and serve our neighbours because we are all one in the Supreme Spirit known as Paramatman or Brahman,” he said.
Before Swami Vivekananda came, Hinduism was a loose confederation of many different sects. He was the first religious leader to speak about the common basis of Hinduism and the common ground of all sects. He was the first person, as guided by his Master Sri Ramakrishna, to accept all Hindu doctrines and views of all Hindu philosophers and sects as different aspects of one total view of Reality. K M Pannikar, the eminent historian and diplomat, wrote: “This new Shankaracharya may well be claimed to be a unifier of Hindu ideology.”
Religion which was perceived as passive, dormant, escapist or the occupation of the old and retired became a dynamic, zealous and goal-oriented philosophy because of Vivekananda.
Jamshedji Tata was reportedly influenced by Vivekananda to establish the Indian Institute of Science, India's well known research university, during their conversation as fellow travellers on a ship from Japan to Chicago in 1898. Abroad, Vivekananda had some interactions with Max Müller, the well known educationist. Scientist Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of Swami Vivekananda. On November 11, 1995, a section of Michigan Avenue, one of the most prominent streets in Chicago, was formally renamed ‘Swami Vivekananda Way’.
The French Nobel Laureate, Romain Rolland, is ecstatic in his praise of Vivekananda’s fiery speeches, “His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Händel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings of his, scattered as they are through the pages of books, at 30 years' distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks, what transports, must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!”
Todays-Special 14-June in Swami Vivekananda Life
Dear Dhira Mata,
. . . In my opinion, a race must first cultivate a great respect for motherhood, through the sanctification and inviolability of marriage, before it can attain to the ideal of perfect chastity. The Roman Catholics and the Hindus, holding marriage sacred and inviolate, have produced great chaste men and women of immense power. To the Arab, marriage is a contract or a forceful possession, to be dissolved at will, and we do not find there the development of the idea of the virgin or the Brahmacharin. Modern Buddhism--having fallen among races who had not yet come up to the evolution of marriage--has made a travesty of monasticism. So until there is developed in Japan a great and sacred ideal about marriage (apart from mutual attraction and love), I do not see how there can be great monks and nuns. As you have come to see that the glory of life is chastity, so my eyes also have been opened to the necessity of this great sanctification for the vast majority, in order that a few lifelong chaste powers may be produced. . . .
I wanted to write many things, but the flesh is weak . . . "Whosoever worships me, for whatsoever desire, I meet him with that." . . .