Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda

Arun Joshi

Jan 13, 2012, 12:28 AM | Updated May 02, 2016, 04:08 PM IST

This post was earlier published by me at

1893, Chicago, The World Parliament of Religions

A young monk from India, dressed in orange robes, stood up to address the gathering. He bowed nervously to Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, and started with “Sisters and Brothers of America”. The 7000 strong audience, stood up to a man, and gave him a standing ovation for 3 minutes. None had ever spoken to them like before. When he finished his speech, the people in the gathering rushed over to congratulate him. For the first time, Hinduism, was not seen as an exotic Oriental oddity, but as a philosophy with immense depth, from which the West could learn. The man was Swami Vivekananda .

My introduction to Vivekananda was through my grandmother. She had lost her husband and her eldest son( my father’s brother) around the same time. In order to get over the trauma, she had joined the Ramakrishna Mission , and became actively involved in it’s activities. Growing up with her, she often narrated many tales of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda to me. While I was too young to comprehend the philosophy, I was still captivated by some of the events in his life. There was the story of his courage, when a sailor was injured, and he alone tended to him, when others ran away. There was the story of his unwillingness to take things at face value, when he climbed a reportedly haunted tree, to prove that no spirits existed there. His large heartedness in not sending people empty handed away from his place.

But most of all the image of Swami Vivekananda , standing hands folded, with the turban, would be something that I would carry all m life with him. The face radiated a glow, a sort of conviction, that comes from deep within. I was inspired by his most famous quote “ Arise, Awake and stop not, till you reach your goal”. As I grew older, I admired this man more for his beliefs, his character and his conviction. I had been to most of the places, associated with his life, his birth place at Kolkata, the Belur Math, started by him, the Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari , where he meditated, and received enlightenment. And the Ice House at Chennai( now Vivekananda Illam) , where he spent some time before leaving for US. While I had already had some knowledge of Swami Vivekananda’s life, it was his complete works which enabled me to gain more perspective on this great soul.

 The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda , is in effect a set of 9 volumes, which I received from my grandmother some time back. This entire set of works, deals with in detail his philosophy, his travels, his experiences. It took me quite some time to finish this entire set of volumes. Finished as in reading it fully. Because the philosophy and his thoughts are so deep like the ocean, you keep going in and in, but you never find the end. Every time I read one of those volumes, I feel like I have missed out something before. It’s a never ending journey, you keep going on and discovering continuously. Even if I spend my life time, reading those volumes, I can still never claim to have known it fully.

 That’s because a person of Swami Vivekananda’s intellect and caliber, is born very rarely. He was not a armchair philosopher, nor is his the quick fix brand of chicken soup philosophy . His philosophy and his thoughts, were based on his experiences in India and West. He was not a drawing room philosopher, who read some Western works and then claimed to be an intellectual. This was a man who traveled the length and breadth of India. He mingled with ordinary people, slept with the masses, witnessed first hand the oppression and poverty of ordinary Indians , dined with the kings. That is why when you read his works, you find that Indianness resonating in them. And that is what makes these books a fascinating read, of how he actually drew upon real life experiences for his thoughts. And yes he did not just restrict himself to mere thoughts. He once claimed “ I hold him a traitor, who having been educated at expense of the masses, does nothing to better their status”.

He started the Ramakrishna Mission which has grown into an organization rendering yeoman service to the masses in fields of education, health and child welfare. I have been associated with this organization, and have volunteered first hand for many of their social activities. I had seen the sheer dedication of the monks to their job. I had also closely interacted with many of the senior monks, and was amazed at their immense knowledge of current affairs and the world around them. I also had the privilege of listening to one of their most prominent members, Swami Ranganathananda.

Volume 1 deals with his by now famous address to Parliament of Religions . He also expounds the philosophy of Karma Yoga, of how fate address our duty and Raja Yoga the highest form of Yoga. It also contains a series of lectures and discourses on Hinduism by him.
In Volume 2, he speaks of the means being as important as the ends, in a lecture at California. In another lecture at Los Angeles , he speaks of the immense powers of the mind and he further dwells on the Jnana Yoga .
Volume 3 contains lecturers he delivered at New York on the Unity of all religions as well as on Bhakti Yoga , where he describes the significance of Om . It also has a series of his lectures on his return to India, where he spoke at places like Colombo( then part of India), Rameswaram, Ramnad, Madras, his hometown Kolkata and Almora. Ramnad is significant, as it was the Rajah of that place, who gave him the financial support needed to travel to US.
Volume 4 shows us his profound thoughts on Indian culture and tradition. We find his deep analysis on Ramayana and Mahabharata , as well as his thoughts on the Gita . He also expounds the essence of Islam and Christianity . Swami Vivekananda was a true secularist, while he had immense respect for all religions, he never ran down his own religion. That was because he was a man who sought the true essence of all religions. In a lecture at Detroit , we see the way, he handles queries about India, and we can only cringe over today’s pseudo intellectuals, who think nothing of running down the country. Vivekananda was against the my country good or bad way of thinking, but at the same time, he hated the Westernized intellectuals, who took pleasure in running down the country. Sadly that is what our intelligentsia, has become today. We also find some wonderful poems written by him, as well as translations of Bengali poems.
In Volume 5, we find a series of letters addressed by him to some of his close friends and acquaintances. Prominent among them was Mrs Hale , a Chicago socialite. When Vivekananda, arrived in Chicago, he was penniless, and had also lost the letter of recommendation. He had to spend the nights in the freezing Chicago cold, in rail cars. It was then that Mrs Hale, took pity on him, gave him shelter, and on hearing his story, arranged for him to go the Parliament. Another lady impressed by his teachings was Mrs Ole Bull , who remained a life long devotee of Swami Vivekananda. It also has transcripts of his dialogues with some of his followers in Kolkata like Surendra Nath Gupta and Sarat Chandra Chakraborty.
Volume 6,7 and 8 also follow the same pattern. These 3 volumes primarily highlight his correspondence and his discourses with prominent people.
Volume 9 again has a series of his lectures as well as his thoughts on Islam. It also has a series of clippings from newspapers in India, US and Europe on his speeches. These volumes also give us an insight into Swami Vivekananda’s tours across US and Europe, and his observations on life there. In order to have a really good understanding of Indian philosophy, tradition and culture, these volumes offer a good insight. While Vivekananda is openly critical of many practices like untouchability and child marriage, he never uses that as an excuse to defame Hinduism in general. He exhorts us to learn the good things from West, yet advises us not to lose our roots.

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