Swami Vivekananda (originally Narendranath Datta 1863 – 1902) was a Hindu holy man who advocated worldly action to overcome the severe poverty of India.
He was the favored disciple of the Hindu saint, Ramakrishna. More of an intellectual and activist than his master, Vivikenanda studied Western philosophy.¹
Vivekananda spoke out about the “emaciated” Indian masses. He felt that the Indian nation had become falsely proud and hypocritical. Accordingly, he downplayed spiritual experience,² parapsychology and siddhis (spiritual powers) in favor of his view of practical development. India can’t claim to be the guru of the world, he argued, if it hasn’t mastered the building blocks of universal nutrition, uncontaminated water and basic hygiene.³
Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission and was the first Hindu to be received by major audiences in the West.
¹ The following from Wikipedia:
Narendra was an avid reader and was interested in a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, religion, history, social science, art and literature. He was also interested in Hindu scriptures, including the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. Narendra was trained in Indian classical music, and regularly participated in physical exercise, sports and organised activities.
Narendra studied Western logic, Western philosophy and European history at the General Assembly’s Institution (now known as the Scottish Church College). In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination, and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884. Narendra studied the works of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin. He became fascinated with the evolutionism of Herbert Spencer and corresponded with him, translating Spencer’s book Education (1861) into Bengali. While studying Western philosophers, he also learned Sanskrit scriptures and Bengali literature. William Hastie (principal of General Assembly’s Institution) wrote, “Narendra is really a genius. I have travelled far and wide but I have never come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, among philosophical students”. Some accounts have called Narendra a shrutidhara (a person with a prodigious memory).
² By way of contrast, his master Ramakrishna spoke at length about purification, the inner life, and how this apparently relates to others.
³ In our hyper-industrialized world, one could argue that the so-called “developed” countries haven’t really mastered these either, albeit in a different way.