Swami Vivekananda’s complete works are compiled in books of 9 volumes. It’s also available online for free here. But if you want to have just one book which is comprehensive then “Swami Vivekananda on Himself” seems to stands alone.
It’s a “diary” plus other writings, a compilation, by Vivekananda about himself, his travels, his thoughts on people of different countries and his efforts to raise money to set up monasteries in India and also others parts of the world. It’s not clear when Vivekananda started penning his thoughts as a diary and the first recorded date in the book is 2nd March, 1884, when he was 21 years of age. The last diary entry is on 15th May 1902 when he knew his end was near. He died on 04th July 1902.
Vivekananda’s story starts when he meets Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the head priest of Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Calcutta. Ramakrishna recognises Vivekananda as an evolved being and chooses him to mentor him and to take Ramakrishna’s work and words forward to the world. But, Vivekananda, initially, considered Ramakrishna as a crackpot and a monomaniac. There were several arguments between them, on religion and philosophy, but Ramakrishna, through his patience and persistence and some “miracles,” was able to show Vivekananda the efficacy of his thoughts and actions.
Once Vivekananda is won over on Ramakrishna’s side, there was no stopping him. Ramakrishna dies in 1886 and Vivekananda took his monastic vow in 1887 and by 1902, he has published, lectured, taught, established institutions, and travelled the world, all in whirlwind 15 years. His last two years were spent in bad health.
Vivekananda writes clearly, perceptively, sharply and sometimes, humorously. Also Humanly.
There is one diary entry which is like kick-in-the-butt; “Going around the whole world, I find that people of this country (India) are immersed in great Tamas (inactivity), compared with people of other countries. On the outside, there is simulation of the Sattvika (calm and balanced) state, but inside, downright inertness like that of stocks and stones. What work will be done in the world by such people?…So my idea is first to make the people active by developing their Rajas, and thus make them fit for struggle for existence. With no strength in the body, no enthusiasm at heart, and no originality in the brain, what will they do, these lumps of dead matter!“
And this by Vivekananda is a remark which, I believe, is a genesis of Globalization. He spoke these words in 1894, much before the world or the word became a fashion 100 years later: “I am thoroughly convinced that no individual or nation can live by holding itself apart from the community of others, and whenever such an attempt has been made under false ideas of greatness, policy, or holiness — the result has always been disastrous to the secluding one.“
And here is one diary entry which is caustic but hilarious too; “Western music is very good; there is in it a perfection of harmony, which we (Indians) have not attained. Only, to our untrained ears, it does not sound well, hence we do not like it, and think that the singers howl like jackals. I also had the same sort of impression, but when I began to listen to the music with attention and study it minutely, I came more and more to understand it, and I was lost in admiration.” I’ve also heard similar remarks from our late filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
By early 1902, Vivekananda seems to be in pain and his diary entries reflect his inner state. “If ever a man found the vanity of things, I have it now. This is the world, hideous, beastly corpse. Who thinks of helping it is a fool! But we have to work out our slavery by doing good or evil; I have worked it out, I hope. May the Lord take me to the other shore! Amen! I have given up all thoughts about India or any land. I am now selfish, want to save myself! (The bold letters are omitted from the book, but I got the full version here.)
In the very last days of his diary entries he writes how the rains have poured and poured and the river has broken its banks and flooded his “Ashram” and he had gone out to dig a canal to drain off the waters. Well, I’ve myself stood on that river bank and I had watched the Ganga several times, emotionless. Next time when I will visit the Belur Math in Calcutta I know I will not be alone. And I’ll have the memory of this book with me.