More than a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore wrote “If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative”. Romain Rolland, the French Nobel Laureate had this to say: “I cannot touch these sayings of his…without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock…what transports must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero”. Romain Rolland is known to have expressed that his greatest regret in life was not to have met Swami Vivekananda and learnt at his feet. Understanding Swami Vivekananda and his personality is more than a life-time study for many. Gauging his intellectual prowess is not something that all and sundry can indulge in. One needs to study his life, understand his message and try to live it – before one can even come close to commenting on them. I have always been fascinated on how Swamiji who lived more than a hundred years ago continues to inspire people even today.
In August 1893, Swami Vivekananda met with Prof John Henry Wright of Harvard University to request him for an introduction to enable him to get invited to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. After a brief interaction with him, Prof Wright told Swami Vivekananda “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine”. One also needs to recall that Swami Vivekananda was the first Indian to be invited to chair the Department of Oriental Philosophy at the Harvard University, though he politely turned it down saying ‘as a wandering monk, he could not settle down to work of this kind’.
We see examples of Swamiji’s brilliant intellect and the way he could explain the complexities of Vedanta and Advaita philosophy in simple and understandable English. He himself had this to say about it (in his letter to Alasinga Perumal, dated 17-Feb-1896):
To put the Hindu ideas into English and then make out of dry philosophy and intricate mythology and queer startling psychology, a religion which shall be easy, simple, popular, and at the same time meet the requirements of the highest minds – is a task only those who have attempted it can understand. The dry, abstract Advaita must become living – poetic – in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms; and out of bewildering Yogi-ism must come the most scientific and practical psychology – and all this must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it. That is my life’s work.
Such was the extraordinary genius of Swamiji that he could not only teach his many disciples about it, but has also left behind huge collections of his writings that are both relevant and necessary for mankind even today.