(1863—1902) Hindu religious leader

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A teacher and saṃnyāsin, he was the best-known and the most influential disciple of Rāmakṛṣṇa, and the driving force behind the Rāmakṛṣṇa Mission. Born Narendranath Dutta, he was a member of the Brahmo Samāj, and training to be a lawyer, when he encountered Rāmakṛṣṇa, and as the result of an intense religious experience became one of his disciples. After his master's death he became a saṃnyāsin, travelling the length and breadth of India on foot, meditating and propagating his interpretation of Rāmakṛṣṇa's teaching. This he regarded as essentially a form of Advaita Vedānta (subsequently dubbed Neo-Vedānta), conceptualized as the essence of both Hinduism and every other religion. He promoted this ‘Hinduism’ as a world religion (in a sense, the world religion), based on what he perceived to be universally valid, and scientifically consonant, ethical principles. It was this proposal—that, beneath their apparent diversity, all religions are really one, combined with a plea for universal tolerance, which attracted so much attention at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions in 1893 (where he had been sent, by a local prince, as the ‘Hindu’ delegate), and gave Vivekānanda a worldwide reputation. Building on a receptivity to his ideas in the West, he established the Vedānta Society in New York in 1895, before returning to India in 1897, where he transformed the monastic order, which had been established after Rāmakṛṣṇa's death by his disciples, into the Rāmakṛṣṇa Mission, a charitable and educational organization, based at the Rāmakṛṣṇa Maṭha in Calcutta, but active throughout the subcontinent and beyond. Vivekānanda, Rāmakṛṣṇa, and Śāradā Devī, continue to be revered as the ‘Holy Trio’ of the contemporary Mission. A key figure in the development of what has become known as Neo-Hinduism, Vivekānanda's teachings had a considerable appeal amongst the English educated middle-classes, and he was among those who prepared the way for the Independence movements of the early 20th century. His shaping of the popular Western view of Hinduism as synonymous with Advaita Vedānta has cast a long and, according to many academics, distorting shadow.

Subjects: Hinduism.

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