A Biography by His Eastern and Western Disciples



'It is now ten years since Swami Vivekananda entered Final Illumination; it is fifty years since his personality was ushered upon earth. It is, therefore, befitting that these events should be conterminous with and celebrated by the publishing of the life he lived. For years it has been the desire of the Eastern disciples at the Advaita Ashrama to publish an authoritative biography of their teacher so as to present to the world at large and to posterity the vision, the ideas, the work and the greatness of that personality which the Swami’s life embodied.

In the beginning it was planned to incorporate a biographical sketch in the last volume of the Mayavati Memorial Edition of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, but both by reason of the supreme import of the Swami’s life to the world and the vast collection of biographical facts of the most interesting nature and of far-reaching significance, gathered during the last seven years, this idea was abandoned. Instead, the life is now presented in three separate volumes.

Much has been written in this work in the way of interpretation, for many of the facts in the Swami’s life, without explanation of the Hindu religious and social ideals and without some reference to the psychology of the mystical consciousness, would confuse the casual reader and might even seem improbable. The world knows the Swami as a giant intellect, a great scholar and orator, a patriotic Hindu and a powerful preacher of the Vedanta. But that is knowing only one phase of this many-sided genius. Even to those who knew him personally, the Swami, both as a lad and as a man, was too complex a character to be readily understood. He was a man of original thoughts and numerous moods, each a world in itself, and when any single one of them came upon him he was so intense that for the time being he would identify himself solely with that particular state of mind above all others. Thus it happened that many persons saw him from widely varying angles and spoke of him chiefly in the sense in which they personally understood him. This accounts for the many differing presentations of the Swami. Efforts have been made in this work to present the Swami in all his moods and varied illumination so as to reveal the man as he was.

Great pains have been taken to authenticate all the private and public sources of information in connection with the biographical facts, and much discretion has been exercised in embodying these, so as to offer to the public a complete and reliable work. An excellent advantage was that most of those who knew the Swami intimately are still alive. There are many disciples, both of the Swami himself and of his Master Shri Ramakrishna, whose reminiscences by means of talks and writings, and whose private diaries and published works have given every opportunity for ascertaining the accuracy of statements. Then there are the numerous letters and writings, published and unpublished, of the Swami himself from which to verify the character and the development of his mind and his entire personality. We heartily acknowledge our indebtedness to all these valuable authorities and sources of information, too numerous to mention individually here. Everything in the way of illuminating anecdote and interpretation has been included, and all accounts have been diligently studied so as to keep within the bounds of legitimate biographical treatment.

In order to facilitate the reading and to render the treatment of the lengthy history of the life easier of approach, it has been presented in a series of short chapters under descriptive headings. The attempt throughout has been to portray the elements of life, character, growth and work in as simple and direct a manner as possible and to picture, in particular, the conditions under which the Swami’s life was developed and expressed. This necessitated an exposition of the ideas and activities of the modern transition in India, and a comprehensive sketch of the life and teachings of Shri Ramakrishna who is regarded as the unique spiritual character of Modern India; it necessitated also the recital of the modern religious transition in the West, because of the Swami’s multifarious work there, and also the rise and development of the monastic order of which lie was the moving spirit, and of the great philanthropic organisation, known as the Ramakrishna Mission, which he founded.

The first volume presents the narrative of his personality until his twenty-fourth year and the training he underwent at the feet of his Master for the attainment of spiritual insight and realisation, it takes into account the theme around which the Swami’s life is drawn — the theme of Hinduism, its setting, its basis and its structure. It reveals the growth of a gigantic mind through modern agnosticism into complete saintship. It presents the character of the Swami’s Master in the light in which the Swami himself understood him. The reader will become familiar with the Swami in the first volume as “Naren” or “Narendra”, the name by which he was known both to the Master and to his brother-disciples and friends, as his proper name was Narendra Nath Datta. The first volume shows how Naren, having become de-Hinduised became re-Hinduised through his perception of the synthesis of Hinduism as lived and realised by his Master. For the sake of a clear understanding of the process by which this was effected, several chapters of the first volume are devoted to the elucidation of the Hindu religious and philosophic consciousness. One sees in the first volume the man, the saint and the prophet in the making.

The second volume deals with the narrative of the Swami’s life as the wandering monk, and later on as the bearer of the message of Hinduism to the West. It takes the reader through the scenes of the Swami’s life of intense austerities and Sadhanas in the Baranagore Math, of his travels and silent preaching throughout the length and breadth of Hindusthan, prior to his departure for America, and of his triumphant public career as the apostle of Vedantism during his sojourn in the West. It shows how at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, in 1893, the Swami became a world-wide figure and the Prophet of Hinduism. And it dwells on the momentous significance of his ideas and of his work as the spiritual teacher.

The third volume speaks of the Swami’s attempts at remodelling the Indian thought-world, of his restating the entire contents of the Sanatana Dharma and the ancient Aryan culture, and of his bringing about a religious revival in India. It reveals him as the founder of monasteries and centres of public service, as the Man of Sorrows, whose heart bled for the millions of India's poor and distressed, and also as the Man of Joys, thundering at all times in the hearing of his co-religionists the glories of Hinduism and the bright Inline of his race. It records his activities during his second visit to the West, and gives a vivid picture of his subsequent life in India. Finally, it speaks of the Swami’s influence on Indian life, and of his message and mission as a whole and it also speaks of the cud.

The publishers are well aware that this great life has been lived too recently for the public to gauge fully the import and the possibilities it represents; they know that many of the statements and interpretations concerning the Swami recorded in this work not meet with universal acceptance, but they are firmly convinced that time will substantiate their value. It matters not in what light the present generation, by reading this life, may regard the Swami, be it as a teacher, patriot, prophet or saint; it matters not whether they accept his teachings and his ideas only partially or in their entirety; but all will have to admit that in his life then was made manifest a tremendous force for the moral and spiritual welfare and uplifting of humanity, irrespective of caste, creed, nationality or time, and that as such it commends itself for careful study and reflection.

Those who have produced this work are the Swami’s outspoken followers; nay, more than that, they are his disciples and co-workers, representing as they do the Brotherhood of the Advaita Ashrama founded by the Swami himself. They have made every endeavour to give a true and comprehensive revelation of their Master. They fully realise that theirs is an enormous undertaking and responsibility. They realise, also, how difficult it is to bring the man into the narrow compass of a biography. This is true of every great life, but it is particularly true of Swami Vivekananda. The limitations of biographical treatment and description have been constantly before them.

On the other hand, even the telling of this life is sufficiently inspiring, as of itself it affords a Revelation. They earnestly believe that the more the life and teachings of the Swami are made known, the more will the spiritual perspective of humanity be widened and the more will the Hindus take up the methods set forth by him for the reorganisation of their Dharma in consonance with modern needs and modern problems. They therefore make no apologies as to their understanding of him or for the method in which they have presented him. They have been actuated by the spirit of discipleship. In sending out this work into the world, they are guided by the hope that many a seeker after Truth, having a deeper knowledge of this great life, may be helped to solve the problem of existence, and having an entrée into a world of richer spiritual insight may be inspired to follow his example to travel upon that Path of Righteousness which the Swami pointed out, in the words of the Vedas, to be — Atmano Mokshartham Jagaddhitaya cha — “for the Salvation of one's own soul and for the good of the world.”

The Eastern and Western Disciples

Advaita Ashrama
Mayavati, Himalayas
The 4th of July, 1912


The second edition of the Life of Swami Vivekananda comes out after a long pause due to unavoidable circumstances. In this edition the volumes have come under a thorough revision and some inaccuracies which had crept in in the first edition have been corrected in the light of later investigations. Much that was superfluous by way of extensive descriptions of Hindu religious and social ideals, with most of which the Indian reader is already conversant, has been cut short. Only that much has been preserved which is necessary for a Western reader to understand the full significance of the life. So too the chapters dealing with the elucidation of religious and philosophical consciousness have undergone much abridgement. In effecting these alterations, however, care has been taken to see that no fact of importance was omitted and that none of the numerous aspects of that marvellous character was neglected. On the other hand new information has been added, which was not available at first.

Chapters VI — XI, which throw light on the relation between Naren and Shri Ramakrishna, and on Naren, the man in the making, have been rewritten in accordance with that excellent work, in Bengali, of Swami Saradananda, Shri Ramakrishna Lila Prasanga, written after the publication of the first edition of this work. We need hardly say anything about the value of these new facts, coming as they do from a rationalistic mind like that of Swami Saradananda, who above all is a direct disciple of the Master. In spite of such additions the condensation above referred to has reduced the bulk of the work to two volumes, thus bringing it within the reasonable limits of a biography for the busy general reader. The price too has been considerably lowered.

We hope the work in its new garb will be heartily welcomed by the reading public.

January 18, 1933


This edition is practically a reprint of the earlier one; but the two volumes are now offered to the public in one volume of handy size and good get-up. The price of the book has been lowered to bring it within the reach of a wider public.

Mayavati, September 1, 1949