Social philosophy of Swami Vivekananda

by Baruah Debajit | 2017 | 87,227 words

This study deals with Swami Vivekananda’s social philosophy and his concept of religion. He was the disciple of the 19th-century Indian mystic Ramakrishna. Important subjects are discussed viz., nature of religion, reason and religion, goal of religion, religious experience, ways to God, etc. All in the context of Vivekananda....

Chapter 1.1 - Influences that Shaped Swami Vivekananda’s Philosophy

The philosophy of Swami Vivekananda was shaped by three sources. These three sources are the Philosophy of Vedanta, teachings of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and Vivekananda’s own experience of life. These three combined to influence his thought. Vivekananda thoroughly studied Indian Philosophy and Indian scriptures during his student life. He was lured by Vedanta and at this juncture he went to meet the Great Soul Ramakrishna. Ultimately, the Philosophy of Vedanta entered deep into his heart and soul. These three sources have been very briefly discussed below.

‘Vedanta’ means ‘the end or final portion of Vedas’. The Vedas are the oldest extant literary monument of the Aryan mind. In the Vedas the origin of Indian Philosophy may be easily traced. In the history of Indian Philosophy the Vedanta Philosophy has been playing a vital role since Vedic period till contemporary period. Again Vedanta’s Philosophical ideals have variously influenced Indian religiouscultural life style. The founder of the Vedanta, Badarayana gave a formal but very brief explanation of this Philosophy in Brahmasutra. After him Sankaracharya, commented on Brahmasutra. As a matter of fact, many commentators at different ages wrote commentaries on Brahmasutra. Consequently, various schools of Vedanta Philosophy are formed according to various commentaries. Out of the various schools, some have played important role in the history of Vedanta philosophy. These are-Advaitavada of Sankara in Sankarabhasya, Visistadvaitavada of Ramanuja in Sribhasya, Bhedabhedavada in Bhaskarbhasya by Sri Bhaskaracharya and Dvaitavada of Madhva in Purnaprajnabhasya. Of these schools the main are discussed very briefly.

(i) Sankara Vedanta (9788-820 A.D.)-

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan says, “It is impossible to read Sankara’s writings, packed as they are with serious and subtle thinking, without being conscious that one is in contact with a mind of a very fine penetration and profound spirituality… His Philosophy stands forth complete needing neither a before nor an after… whether we agree or differ, the penetrating light of his mind never leaves us where we were.”[1] Ultimate Reality, according to Sankara, is Atman or Brahman. Brahman is pure consciousness, Jnana-svarupa, Nirguna and Nirvishesa. Individual self or Jiva is a subject-object complex. Its subject element is Pure consciousness or Saksin and the object element is antahkarana. Brahman, associated with maya appears as the qualified Brahman or Isvara. This Isvara is the creator, preserver and destroyer of this universe. Maya or Avidya is not pure illusion; it is not only absence of knowledge but also positive wrong knowledge. The relation between Brahman and jiva is nondifference. When right knowledge dawns, this unity of jivas with Brahman is realized. Maya Vanishes at the dawn of right knowledge. This is called liberation.

(ii) Visistadvaitavada of Ramanuja (1017-1137 A.D.)-

According Ramanuja, there is no undifferentiated pure consciousness. Pure difference and pure identity are alike unreal. Brahman is saguna and savishesa. The self is the eternal substratum of consciousness, but not pure consciousness. Jivas or Individual souls are real spiritual substances. In liberation they do not merge in God, but only become similar to Him. Ramanuja’s view is non-dualism qualified by difference or Visistadvaitavada. He recognizes three ultimate real things-soul (chit), matter (achit), and God (Isvara).God is a perfect personality. He is full of Existence, knowledge, Bliss, Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Lustre, Love and Power.

(iii) Madhva-Vedanta(1179)-

Madhva is the champion of unqualified dualism(dvaita). He advocates the reality of five-fold differences-between-God and soul, soul and soul, soul and matter, God and matter and matter and matter. Madhva, like Ramanuja believes God, soul and matter as eternal and absolute, but God alone is independent. God possesses infinitely good qualities. Individual soulsareatomic and numberless. The Individual soul is essentially conscious and blissful.

Swami Vivekananda does not favour a fragmentation of Vedanta into different systems. But he has been most profoundly influenced by Sankara’s Advaitavada. The monistic nature of Sankara’s philosophy has attracted Vivekananda most. According to Vivekananda, all the systems of Vedanta are valid. But according to him Advaitavada is the highest altitude of spiritual life. Others are only steps towards it.

It is impossible to write about Swami Vivekananda without going back to Sri Ramakrishna. It isunder Ramakrishna Vivekananda learned spiritual lessons and whose message Vivekananda propagated. Sri Ramakrishna wasa great mystic sannyasi who lived as a brahmachari even in his married life. Ramakrishna had in himself a reservoir of great religious inspiration. He wanted a mouthpiece to preach his message, and in Swami Vivekanandahe found it. Hence for a clear understanding of Vivekananda’s Philosophy it is necessary to go back to the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. It was really a unique combination. We may say, Sri Ramakrishna was thought;Vivekananda was expression of that thought.“Now all the ideas that I preach are only an attempt to echo his ideas. Nothing is mine originally except the wicked ones. But every world that I have ever uttered which is true and good, is simply an attempt to echo his voice.”[2] Vivekananda made this statement at the Shakespeare Club in California on 27th January, 1900. On the whole, it may be said that Vivekananda found the key to life in his teacher Ramakrishna, The teachings of Sri Ramakrishna most profoundly influenced the mind of Vivekananda. In fact, Vivekananda’s life-mission was to put the teachings of Ramakrishna into practice. The chief object of Ramakrishna was the realization of God. According to him, it can be attained only by the development of high spiritual life. This was possible only when one controlsone’s desires for physical luxury, and turn all actions, thoughts towards God. For this it does not require renunciation of worldly life.

According to Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, all religions are trueand lead to salvation. Just as water is called by different names in different languages, similarly different religions call God by different names, yet all denote the same God. Ramakrishna himself practiced different modes of sadhana of different religions knowing this truth. One God is worshipped differently and called by various names as Hari, Siva, Christ, Allah etc. This catholicity of views of Ramakrishna is a very significant contribution to the world. He was visible embodiment of the spiritual regeneration of India. This spirit of tolerance and harmony of different religions was the main subject of the discourse of Vivekananda in the Parliament of Religions.

The third source of Vivekananda’s Philosophy was his own life-experience. Vivekananda had travelled throughout India from Himalayas to Cape Comorin, mixing with all types of people. Not only in India, he also went to different European, Asian nations as well as to America. His extensive journey gave him the opportunity to comprehend the life and culture of many countries and to strip off the illusion about them. He witnessed the real condition of Indian masses. He compared it with the glorious past of India and set before himself the task of resurrecting them with the help of ancient Indian culture and western technology. We may say that, the philosophy of Vivekananda is originated from the degenerated social condition of the 18th and 19th century’s India and his philosophy has its root in the Vedanta philosophy, specially in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Sankarachrya and it was guided by Sri Ramakrishna.

Footnotes and references:


Radhakrishnan, S, Indian Philososphy, Vol. II p-446-447.


Quoted from Devi, Pranita, Vivekananda’s Philosophy of Man, p-21.

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