“Swami Vivekananda’s ‘Message for the West,'” By Om Prakash Sharma

Posted on November 30th, 2009 | Filed under Best Practices/Non-Profit, Faith and Politics

In honor of the upcoming Parliament of the World's Religions this week in Melbourne, we have chosen to feature this interViews article about the Swami Vivekananda, who so greatly impacted the original 1893 gathering of religious leaders in Chicago. While many of us struggle with the concepts of relativism and universalism, his views are well worth grappling with.

Swami Vivekananda, the famous nineteenth-century Hindu Monk from India, exhorted for Westerners to go beyond conventional approaches to religion and attain what he thought to be spiritual enlightenment and realisation. A "narrow and limited" approach to religion, he averred, makes for "exclusiveness," whereas spirituality is universal and subsumes all faiths. There is no distinction in it on the basis of caste, creed, color, or nationality. To quote his words, “There never was my religion or yours, my national religion or your national religion; there never existed many religions, there is only the one. One Infinite Religion existed all through eternity and will ever exist, and this religion is expressing itself in various countries in various ways.”1 The direct realisation of the essential spirit of this Religion and ordering one’s life accordingly constituted spirituality for the Swami.

The realised soul sees the One in the many, says the Bhagavad-Gita. Furthermore, he sees himself in all and all in himself -- there is no ‘other’ for him. So he knows that in hurting or harming others, he is actually hurting and harming himself; in helping and serving others (in the right spirit), he is helping and serving himself. Therefore, says the Swami Vivekananda, "you are your brother’s keeper, because you and your brother are one."2 He goes on to proclaim, “The God in you [as one’s innermost Self] is the God in all. If you have not known this, you have known nothing. How can there be difference? It is all one. Every being is the temple of the Most High; if you can see that, good, if not, spirituality has yet to come to you [because you are still mired in ‘separateness,’ in ‘mine and thine,’ and not attained the ‘Universal’].3

As for a code of ethics that should be acceptable to all enlightened individuals the world over, the Swami Vivekenanda ventures to suggest: “All that unites with the universal is virtue [that is, whatever is conducive to your mental and spiritual expansion, to your self-realisation]. All that separates is sin. You are a part of the Infinite. This is your nature.”4 Verily, no man is an island unto oneself.


1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Mayavati Memorial Edition (Kolkata, Advaita Ashrama) IV. 180.

2.      Ibid., VI. 83.

3.      Ibid., I. 429.

4.      Ibid., VI. 83. See also IV. 366.

Om Prakash Sharma lives in the Mission Compound of Gautam Marg in Jaipur, India and has long studied the works of the Swami Vivkenanda

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