A hundred years after Swami Vivekananda’s oratory, essays and philosophical offered substantial modifications and refinements to modern Hinduism he remains a key figure in any proper understanding of the religion of India’s largest majority. This anthology showcases those aspects of Vivekananda that seem indispensable even today.
In his introduction the editor provides first a general idea of the life and works of the swami and seconds a critical appraisal of the various aspects of his social and philosophical ideas.
The second half of the book contains selections from Vivekananda’s writings organized around topics dealing with contemporary India and her Problems. Religion and he Human Revolution Vedanta and the Future of Mankind and the Spiritual Ends of Man. A list of suggested readings concludes this volume.
Amiya P. Sen. Is Tagore Professor Rabindra Bharati Santiniketan. He is the author revivalism in Bengal: Some Essays in Interpretation (1993); Swami Vivekananda (2000); Three Essays on Sri Ramakrishna and His times (2001) and as editor Social and Religious Reform; The Hindus of British India (2003).
The idea of putting together a selection of some representative writings and speeches of Swami Vivekananda first occurred to me as I was working on my biography of the Swami since published. As I recall even at the time several friends and colleagues could be persuaded to acknowledge the fact that of the important modern Hindu thinkers whose works had appeared in representative collections Vivekananda was a surprising omission. To some of us it did look odd that a leading publishing house which had brought our readers in respect of raja Rammohun Roy and Sri Aurobindo somehow did not give a thought to Swami Vivekananda who in terms of both his historical location and the manner in which he interpreted the Hindu tradition has great significance for our times.
However while working on the present volume I have come to be aware of at least two Vivekananda readers one published by the Advaita Asharma (Selection form the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda). While these works are in themselves pioneering and useful they appear to lack certain features that I thought were critical to any compilation. For one they lacked careful editing of the selected texts. Here it is important to remember that a substantive part of the complete works comprises spontaneously delivered speeches random conversations or interviews and class notes taken down by the Swami’s close followers and disciples. Evidently none of these posses the organization structure or coherence of a well thought out essay. Hence reproducing a particular piece in toto. I feared would unnecessarily add to the bulk if this volume without making a comparable contribution towards its overall quality. It also emerges that the Swami delivered talks on similar or closely related themes at several places. This poses the problem of negotiating with repetitiveness and makes the choice of a suitable piece that much more difficult. In putting together this volume therefore I have had to substantially reduce the length of the chosen passages so as to bring out greater coherence and internal consistency. This selection also deliberately leaves out texts that are particularly abstract or replete with esoteric terminology. Particularly with respect to Vivekananda religious and philosophical discourse, I have focused on lucid and self explanatory passage which allow the Swami to speak to us in a manner he himself would have chosen to adopt before untutored audiences.
A second distinctive feature of this selection is the arrangement by theme of the various subjects on which Vivekananda chose to write and speak often and passionately. Admittedly this does not entirely overcome the problem of repetition but does I think provide the anthology with a structure and organization.
Finally this work included a substantive introduction to the life and work of Swami Vivekananda which will I hope enable the reader to place selected passage from the Swami in their proper perspective. The introduction however is deliberately thin on matters of biographical detail. For reasons of brevity and practical relevance. I have chosen to outline the life of the Swami in its broadcast understanding of the historical and cultural contexts in which the selected texts may be situated.
Ideally a selection of this kind ought to have maintained some parity between talks or addresses delivered in the West and those delivered back in India Indeed that would be one way of arguing that following Rammohun and Keshab Chandra Sen. Vivekananda had actually to handle two different kinds of audience and adapt his presentations in keeping with the particular requirements of each. Operatively how ever those could not be quite achieved. In the course of preparing this volume, I have struck by the fact perhaps more forcefully than ever that the larger part of Vivekananda’s active and productive life coincides with his residence in the west. Of the nine years that separate his meteoric rise to fame (in 1893) and his premature death (in 1902). Vivekananda spent barely four among his people including the period after January 1901 when he was frequently taken ill and gave up writing and public lecturing. Other than the series of lectures collectively known as from Colombo to Almora that he delivered after his return to India in December 1896, there is not much published material to go by so far as Vivekananda’s Indian experience are concerned. A lot more might have survived nut for the untimely death of his personal stenographer J.J. Goodwin and the loss of untranscribed notes and jottings. Thankfully this problem is partly overcome by the greater use of his correspondence copiously available after the years 1893-4. It was no less a revelation to me that a very large part of Vivekananda’s speeches and writings relate to religious and philosophical subjects as a historians one had somehow taken the rather complacent view that the Swami Deliberated mostly on social and cultural matters.
Selecting representative passages from material that now runs into nine Selecting and over 4500 pages was not easy especially for a reader of this length. Hence it is entirely possible that the present book is only a partial representative of a life as rich and varied as Vivekananda’s was. Yet it does bring me some happiness to think that I too have contributed however insignificantly to recapturing that life in some of its most prophetic and poignant moments.
Part B comprises selections form Swami Vivekananda. This has been thematically subdivided into three sections. However this is purely a schematic and synthetic division and by no means eliminates recurring sectional overlaps. Arguable Vivekananda understanding pf religious or metaphysics was considerably influenced by practical observations on life as also deep sensitivity towards the pressing requirements of his times. Thus his recommendations for moral responsibilities in this world (Section II) are never far separated from his sharp criticism of the several ills and abuses affecting his own society (Section I). There is similarly something topical and contemporaneous about his religious and philosophical discourse. The Swami claimed to represent not sectarian Hinduism but universal Vedanta rejecting what was intolerant and insular in favor of that which was timeless and never culturally conditioned. It is however that Swami Vivekananda viewed problems at home abroad in the light of certain cultural and philosophical presuppositions. That the west steeped in material culture was in serious need of spiritual of self reflection and also this had to be Indian’s gift to the west was one such pre supporting Again though regarding Vedanta to be the future religion of mankind Vivekananda was never oblivious of its origins in India.
This volume might never have appeared but for the support and encouragement of number of individuals and institutions. I am happy are being able to persuade Swami’s Smaranananda and Bodhasarananda General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission and Manager. Advaita Ashram (Publications Division) respectively to agree to the need fro such a work notwithstanding comparable works produced earlier. Now that the project has been completed I hope that I can count on their blessings and good wishes.
I have been reason to be grateful also to Professor R.K. Das Gupta once a familiar figure at Delhi and currently holding the Vivekananda Chair in indology at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture Kolkata. He was kind enough to give me sound practical advice on just how this project might be best pursued. I trust he will enjoy reading this volume as he says he ahs enjoyed reading my earlier works on the intellectual history of modern Bengal.
Finally my sincere thanks to Rukun Advani and Permanent Black for standing by me through difficult and depressing times and for exemplary generosity.
Needless to say the responsibility for errors of facts or argument are entirely mine.
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