Category Archives: S. Significant Figures and Organizations in Hinduism

The Divine Life Society


According to its mission statement, the Divine Life Society, founded in in 1936 by Swami Sri Sivananda, caters to the cultural and spiritual needs of all people irrespective of class, credo, nationality, or gender (Chidananda et al 15). The monastic and lay movement of Sivanada’s teachings are known throughout India and in many parts of the world (Miller 342). Seeking to achieve the noble mission of its founder, the Society strives to generate a spiritual transformation in humankind, to eradicate the animalistic behaviours of the human race and unfold the Divinity within each atman (inner-soul, or self) to perfection (Chidananda et al 30). The objectives of the Divine Life Society are accomplished through the publication of books, pamphlets and magazines which convey Sivananda’s beliefs concerning yoga (physical, mental, and spiritual discipline originating in ancient India) and Vedanta (ancient religious philosophy, translated directly as ‘the goal of knowledge’), the concept of universal religion and spiritual philosophy, and ancient medicinal practices (Chidananda et al 30). The Society also develops training centres for the practice of yoga and the revival of spiritualism and true culture (Chidananda et al 30). The Divine Life Society maintains the central objective of the dissemination of spiritual knowledge to all people of the world (Eilers and Eilers).

Sivananda Ashram, the Headquarters of the Divine Life Society, is located in Shivanandanagar, on the right back of the river Ganga. The ashram is three kilometres outside of Rishikesh town, twenty-four kilometres from the great pilgrimage centre of Haridwar, and serves as the ideal retreat for spiritual rejuvenation, wherein one may renew and refresh his or her Self physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. At the ashram, a group of renunciates (Sannyasins) and spiritual practitioners (Sadhakas) strive to work with dedication to the service of all humanity, learning to practice the Yoga of Synthesis and to actively operate as centres of ideal spirituality (Chidananda et al 30). Visitors to the ashram are received at any time, although those intending a prolonged visit are obliged to make a written request and receive permission from the General Secretary of the Divine Life Society (Chidananda et al 31).

Membership with the Divine Life Society is open to all people of the world. A devotee must uphold the ideals of truth, non-violence, purity of atman and spiritualism (Chidananda et al 32). The Society is non-sectarian and embodies principles of all world religions and ways of spiritual life. Within the Society, there is no distinction between or disruption of varying traditions and religious affiliations (Chidananda et al 32). Ideally, the Divine Life Society endeavours to impart the mystery of spiritual action within the knowledge of the true Self and the effacement and transcendence of human ego; the primary teaching of Sivananda is that each soul maintains the potential to be divine and that the goal of every human being is to strive for the manifestation of Divinity within by “being good and doing good” (Chidananda et al 32).

The Divine Life Society aims to popularize the values of health, culture, and physical fitness as taught and established by Sri Swami Sivananda, through the daily practices of yoga asanas (postures) and surya-namaskara (sun salutation). The focus on health-building has set the Divine Life Society apart from most institutions devoted to spiritualism. From its inception, the Society has focused on the world-wide yoga practice of founder Sivananda, one of the earliest movements in the modern direction of yogic practice embedded in the heart of achieving Divinity. The spiritual teachers of The Divine Life Society have been welcomed internationally as cultural and spiritual ambassadors, whose dedication to service and authenticity in the field of yoga has enticed followers throughout the world. (Chidananda et al 32). Sri Swami Sivananda composed several texts on yoga, which have been translated into various international languages and propagate the dissemination of one of the most precious aspects of Indian spiritual heritage (Chidananda et al 33) [Sri Swami Sivananda composed hundreds of books on the practice of yoga and its relation to spirituality, culture, and religion. The most popular among these books is a collection of volumes named The Science of Yoga].

According to Sri Swami Sivananda and the Divine Life Society, daily meditation sessions are vital to the reconstruction of human spirituality (Chidananda et al 25). They permit the mind and soul of an individual to work toward the ultimate goal of Divinity within the atman (Chidananda et al 37). In the story of his attainment of spirituality and the Divine Life, Sivananda denied himself all food, company, and talk, dove deeper into Samadhi (superconscious state), wherein he remained behind closed doors for several days without relaxation from his devotion to meditation (The Divine Life Society 8). He renounced all contact with the outside world and stripped away all elements of duality in severe meditation (Miller 360). This piety resulted in his merging with the Divine, freed from all limitations and chains of materialistic life (The Divine Life Society 8). Dedication to meditation is important to Sivananda, who throughout his life meditated for eight to sixteen hours per day with great commitment (The Divine Life Society 10). The ideal of meditation is to aid the human mind in concentrating its energy, turning it within itself, and focusing it upon the Divinity that resides within the atman. It is through deep and devoted meditation that the human mind may realize the truth of Divinity: that he is and always has been God Himself, in the reality of the world (Chidananda et al 18).

In his teachings, Sivananda maintains that meditation and yoga practice, and devotion to the Divine Life may lead an individual to the discovery of true religion. His stress is upon the unity of all religions (The Divine Life Society 12). According to Sivananda, religion is the practical aspect of philosophy while philosophy acts as the rational aspect present in religious practice (Sivananda 315). His Divine Life establishes that religion is not merely speaking or displaying the beliefs of the individual, but living by the truths expounded by those beliefs. The religious affiliation one follows, the prophet one adores, the language or nation of the individual, or age and gender are not considered a part of true religion. With devotion to tapas (any form of self-control), one may be considered religious (Chidananda et al 2). Since real religion is deemed to be the religion of one’s heart, purification of the heart is viewed as the primary goal of seekers of the Divine Life. To discover the basis of true religion, one should strive to live a life of truth, love, and purity; demonstrating control over dishonourable or immoral behaviours, conquering and controlling the mind, and serving all of humanity in goodwill and fellowship (Chidananda et al 3). The discovery of true religion occurs within the heart.

Sri Swami Sivananda teaches his students that living in spiritual attainment is the highest goal of human life. Spiritual living constitutes the continual eradication of the animalistic nature within the human mind and heart, refining and purifying the education of the human nature so that consciousness begins a vertical movement toward the Divine (Eilers and Eilers). Considering that spiritual life is the elimination of the animalistic tendencies and awakening of the Divine, all spiritual practices such as brahmacharya (celibacy) become natural aspects of the achievement of true Divine Life. If the human heart and mind are consumed with the realization of pleasure and sense satisfaction, it is difficult to attain true Divinity within (Eilers and Eilers). Sivananda declares that spiritual realization must be achieved with committed and genuine prayer (sadhana), a vital endeavour for all of humankind. Through sadhana, the human mind achieves a realm above the baser instincts of animals and maintains the power of understanding and reasoning, which aids in distinguishing between such dichotomies as good and bad, true and false, right and wrong (Chidananda et al 10). In the eyes of the Divine Life Society members, Swami Sri Sivananda is a guru who envisions all of humanity as one in the Vedantic sense of unity and spiritual attainment (Miller 354). Sivananda teaches that through prayer and the striving for this realization, one may achieve Divinity within the soul. Spirituality transcends the worship of deities within temples, ritual performances, codes of behaviour and conduct, and the practices of any regular cult, creed, or religion. It is, rather, the comprehension of true values by which unity may be recognized within the self, the atman (Chidananda et al 29)

The Divine Life Society advances these spiritual teachings of Sivananda among its students and members by conducting classes on yoga, Vedanta and the traditions of Indian Culture including lessons in the Sanskrit language, music, and physical culture (Chidananda et al 34). The Society has developed intense training camps for its devotees in which participants are educated on yoga asanas, pranayama (extension of the breath), and meditation (Chidananda et al 35). Courses in yoga are offered throughout India, outside the ashram, and in other institutions and organizations, and remain inspirational to students, members, officials, and the general population. The Society carries the principles of Sivananda’s yoga through its instructors as they travel across the nation to conduct courses and maintain the practice of yoga among the people. The Divine Life Conferences, held regularly in varying locations throughout India, have become effective means of summoning the moral and cultural forces of people and gathering them for the sole purpose of achieving both individual and social harmony through meditation and seeking after The Divine (Chidananda et al 36).

The Society endeavours to live by Sivananda’s perpetual philosophy that “goodness is the face of Godliness” (Chidananda et al 3), and therefore induces the unity of all religions and goodwill among communities, promoting harmony and peaceful relationships throughout Indian society (Chidananda et al 32). At the ashram, no being that arrives in distress is turned away without aid; no hungry person is refused a meal; no homeless individual is denied shelter for at least one night (Chidananda 34). To endorse charity and goodwill among humankind, The Divine Life Society has created several sects within the institution which strive to serve Indian society and aid the poor, the derelict, the sick, and those lacking in spiritual practice. The founding of the humanitarian Social Welfare Project has assisted in the development of charitable sections within The Society (Chidananda 33). The Society provides assistance to government programs and national funds, such as the Small Savings Fund, the National Savings Certificates, Defence Bonds, and other collection drives such as relief funds for natural disasters, famine, and health epidemics (Chidananda et al 34).

As taught by Sivananda, education is a vital part of personal development and a means of attaining Divinity within the individual.  He propounds that education and culture are necessary elements to allow one to sufficiently grasp his or her position in the world, to allow the ideal and the real to live in close proximity within consciousness (Chidananda et al 4). Education of the jiva (empirical self) allows the human mind to recognize the notion of the self in reality and realize that although the self exists within the world, it is not actually of this world. It is this acknowledgement that allows the human mind to transcend consciousness and ultimately achieve unity with the Divine through devout prayer, meditation, and yoga practices (Chidananda 10). Education allows the individual to develop personality, knowledge of the physical world, an adjustment of the self within society, and a realization of true and permanent values (Chidananda et al 11).

Trained as a doctor prior to his induction into the Sankarachya order, Sri Swami Sivananda consistently extolled the benefits of providing medical assistance to the poor and sick of India. The Divine Life Society offers free medical services year-round through the hospital at the ashram, including Eye Camps for free surgical and medical treatment of the public, annual Women and Children’s Medical Treatment Camps, First Aid Training Courses, and Child and Maternity Welfare Camps (Chidananda et al 33). To provide further medical relief to the public, the Society also runs three specific sections within the ashram hospital: the Allopathic Section, the Ayurvedic Section, and the Leprosy Relief Section (Chidananda et al 35). The Allopathic Section is equipped with a clinical laboratory, x-ray machine, physiotherapy facilities, and twenty hospital beds. The hospital at the ashram treats more than 30,000 patients annually. The Ayurvedic Section offers care according to the science of Ayurveda (a medicinal practice native to India), in keeping with its injunctions. The medicines prepared in the Ayurvedic Section are manufactured from pure Himalayan herbs and distributed free of charge from the ashram dispensary to patients seeking treatment (Chidananda et al 35). The Leprosy Relief Section, through its work, is regarded as indicative of the love and charity extended by the Divine Life Society. Two hundred or more leprosy patients are rehabilitated and cared for at the ashram (Chidananda et al 37). Just as with membership within the Divine Life Society, all services of the ashram hospital are free to patients irrespective of caste, race, or wealth.

The Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy of The Divine Life Society trains those who seek greater knowledge of Indian culture and the practice of yoga as the discipline by which personal integration and human welfare may be maintained. The Forest Academy prints cultural and spiritual books, journals, and other literature of the Society, disseminating spiritual and cultural knowledge to the masses, which are then distributed by the Free Literature Section (Chidananda et al 36). The intentions of the printing and publication sections of the Divine Life Society are to carry out the educational programme of the Society and its teachings, and to propagate knowledge of Divinity and the importance of spirituality within each individual soul by contacting man through literary discourse on various topics: metaphysics, ethics, religion, mysticism, psychology, parables, stories, catechism, yoga, prayer, and ritual (Chidananda et al 13).

Within the ashram, there are several additional distinct sections that assist in the charitable efforts of the Divine Life Society. The Annapurna Annakshetra, the common kitchen of the ashram, feeds its 250 permanent residents, sannyasins and sadhakas, as well as visiting sadhakas and varying numbers of other guests and pilgrims to Rishikesh (Chidananda et al 36). The Guest House fulfils the needs of those who visit the ashram for spiritual guidance and training in the physical practice of yoga. Temples of Worship accommodate prayer services for world peace, conduct worship and the recitation of the Divine Name throughout the twenty-four hours of every day. The Library holds hundreds of volumes of the most precious and important books in yoga philosophy and practice, and Indian culture. The Correspondence Section of the ashram replies to the innumerable queries and requests from people throughout the world (Chidananda et al 36). The Social Service Wing of the ashram organizes the services of medical and financial aid to the poor and needy, relief works of India, and abundant gestures of charity by the Divine Life Society to ease the sufferings of all people from poverty, disease, and ignorance of spiritual realization (Chidananda et al 37).

The Divine Life Society continues to service the citizens of India and the world through the dissemination of its literature and propagation of the routes to achieving spiritual life and unity of the atman with Divinity. The Society maintains that the human is at once a physical embodiment, mental phenomenon, and spiritual entity which strives to attain Divinity and liberation from the material and animalistic world and achieve divine love based on proper understanding of the world (Chidananda et al 14). Divine Life is a system of religious life which is beneficial and suitable to all people, from all walks of life. It is practiced by the office-goer and the recluse alike, in all stages and phases of life (Chidananda et al 3). The mission of humankind is to realize that all people are the immortal Spirit, Divinity, in mortal form. The mind and intellect of the human being function in light of the Divine Spark dwelling within each individual (Chidananda 17). [For a listing of characteristics defining the Divine Life as taught by Sri Swami Sivananda, see Swami Sivananda and the Divine Life Society, pp. 16 – 19]. Since its inception, the Divine Life Society has endeavoured to maintain itself as a physical location for training of suitable devotees striving for the acquisition of higher knowledge of human life (Chidananda et al 30). The fundamental aims and objects of The Divine Life Society remain purely spiritual and cultural, non-sectarian, universally applicable, and flawlessly tolerant (Chidananda et al 37).


Chidananda, Krishnananda, Sivananda, Venkatesananda (2000) Swami Sivananda and The Divine Life Society. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. E-Book.

Eilers, Bill and Eilers, Susan (1998) “The Divine Life: An Interview with Swami Chidananda”. In Enlightenment Magazine. Cohen, Andrew (ed.). EnlightenNext, Inc.

Miller, David (1997) “The Spiritual Descent of the Divine: The Life Story of Swami Sivananda”. In Hindu Spirituality Volume II. Sundararajan and Mukerji (ed.). Delhi: The Crossroad Publishing Company. Print.

Sivananda, Swami (1981) Science of Yoga. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. Print.

The Divine Life Society (2000) Swami Sivananda: A Modern Sage. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. E-Book.

Related Topics for Further Investigation




Sivananda Ashram

Sri Swami Sivananda




Yoga of Synthesis




Sankarachya Order

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by Krista Conrad (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.


Abhinavagupta was said to be one of the greatest philosopher of his kind in his life time (Dupuche 3). Abhinavagupta was born into a Brahmin family in Srinagar, in the Indian state of Kashmir. His family was renowned for their profound dedication towards God, religion and for their partiality to intellectual pursuits. In other words they were, as a family, devoted to learning and gaining knowledge.  He lived from about 950 AD to 1020 AD and accomplished a great deal in his fields of study over those 70 years (Muller-Ortega 45).

Abhinavagupta believed his parents, Narasimhagupta his father and Vimala his mother, when they claimed that we was conceived through their union as Siva and Sakiti, which in turn produced a yogini-child meaning the “depository of knowledge” in whom this yogini-child had the form of Siva (Dupuche 4).

Abhinavagupta’s name is quite interesting when explained by its Hindu meaning and it is thought that Abhinavagupta was given his name by one of his masters. His name can be summarised as:

“That person is ‘Abhinavagupta’ who remains vigilant in the course of everyday activities; who is present everywhere (abhi), in the objective domain as much as in the subjective domain, and dwells there without limitation. He sings the praise (nu) without ceasing to concentrate on the energies of knowledge and activity. He is protected (gupta) by this praise even though he lives under the presser of temporal affairs.” (Dupuche 4)

In other words, Abhinavagupta was born with knowledge and had the means to share it as a philosopher, teacher, poet, musician, exegete, logician, dramatist and a theologian [to learn more about Abhinavagupta’s name, see Dupuche (2003)]. He also believed strongly in the power of language and speech, as a great asset, to spread his immense knowledge (Isayeva 164-165).

When looking into Abhinavagupta’s ancestry an important fact comes to light. An ancestor of his named Atrigupta, who was born in Madhyadesa (now most likely Kannauj) India, traveled to Kashmir on the request of a great king named Lalitaditya around the year 740 AD. The importance of this is that Atrigupya’s move from Madhyadesa to Kashmir brought Abhinavagupta’s family blood line to Kashmir (Dupuche 4).

As a young child Abhinavagupta was pained greatly by the death of his mother, and her death had a great effect on the rest of his life. His first teacher was his father Narasimhagupta. His father began by teaching him Sanskrit grammar so that he could then go on to read, write and teach himself.  Abhinavagupta would often travel through Kashmir to visit teachers. Not only did he study under Hindu teachers but also with Buddhist and Jain teachers (Muller-Ortega 45).  His love for learning brought him to study any and everything that he could learn under his different teachers, this included: literature, drama and aesthetic theory, traditional texts of dualistic and monistic Saivism, darsana, Krama, Trika, and the doctrines and practices of Kaula (Muller-Ortega 45).

Abhinavagupta himself was a great teacher and his students held him on high regards. They saw him as an incarnation of Siva. They would describe him in ways that made him seem more God like than human (Muller-Ortega 45).  He also took great joy in discussing philosophical arguments with his fellow knowledge seekers (Gerow 188).

Eventually, his studies took him out of Kashmir to Jalandhara where he found Sambhunatha who was a tantric master in the Kaula traditions (Muller-Ortega 45). The Kuala tradition is a reformed version of Kula which refers to families or groupings of the yoginis and of the mothers; however the mothers are also considered a group of goddesses.  Holistically, Kuala refers to the corporeal body, body of power, the cosmic body and the totality of things. The Kuala tradition incorporates the idea of overcoming dualism of impure and pure/divine and human or good/evil and the understanding that ordinary life is the expression of Siva in union with his Sakti (Dupuche 16).  Abhinavagupta’s knowledge and texts contributed greatly to the traditions of this practice (Muller-Ortega 48).

There are many books with writings by Abhinavagupta that have been translated to English but there are still many of his works that are very complicated and make it difficult to translate; in order to properly translate the rest of his works it would take persons with knowledge in not only all of the six systems of Indian philosophy but also knowledge in Buddhism, Tantra and more (Marjanovic 13).

Abhinavaguta wrought two important texts on the topic of aesthetics, these being the Dhvanyaloka-locana and the Abhinava-bharati ((Muller-Ortega 47).

Among the most popular of Abhinavagupta’s works is the Gitarthasamgraha; this additionally goes by the name Bhagavadagitartha-samgraha. The English translation of this Gita text outlines the non-dualistic philosophy of Kashmir Saivism as described by Abhinavagupta; it also explains the nature of the highest reality in Kashmir Saivism.

It details the process of creation, and explains the theory of causation (karyakaranabhava), insights into Jnana-karma-sammuccayavada and descriptions on what is occurring in the last moments as a soul is leaving the body and in addition it has some descriptions of the practice of yoga (Marjanovic 14-22).

Abhinavagupta wrote Tantraloka (Light on the Tantras) which falls in with tradition of tantric Saivism.  It differs from the orthodox Vedic tradition which Abhinavagupta demotes to the lowest position in Siva’s hierarchy of revelations to mankind.  He suggests that Vaisnavas do not come to know the supreme category due to pollution of impure knowledge (Dupuche ii). The Tantraloka is the most voluminous of all the literature written by Abhinavagupta; it comprises of twelve volumes, and includes a commentary by Jayaratha called Viveka (Muller-Ortega 47).

Abhinavagupta lived about 70 years and in his lifetime he never married.  This is said to be due to his great dedication to his religious practices (Muller-Ortega 45). In order to posses the findings and knowledge of Saivism, Abhinavagupta had to reach the highest state of consciousness. This is characterized by jnanasakti (power of knowledge). Once this is reached the knowledge will flow through the individual so they can then share it, teach it, write it etc. (Singh 14). This dedication to finding the knowledge within would have taken an extensive amount of time. Over his life Abhinavagupta wrote many works, thus far twenty-one are available for reading but there are as many as twenty-three other writings that have been lost. His major period of writing occurred mainly between 990 AD and 1014 AD. It seems that he split his works into separate time periods based on the three topics of texts. The first was the Alankarika period, with all of the texts dealing with aesthetics. The second was the Tantrika period with all of the texts on Tantra, and lastly, was the Philosophical period with all of the texts dealing with philosophy. With this being said it has still been very difficult to date most of his writings, due to them not containing historical information that can be used to date the piece (Muller-Ortega 45). Abhinavagupta was a highly influential thinker in his time and his literature is still significant to this day.


Dupuche, John R. (2003) Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Gerow, Edwin (1994) Abhinavagupta’s Aesthetics as a Speculative Paradigm: Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114: 186 – 208

Isayeva, Natalia (1995) From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Marjanovic, Boris (2003) Gitartha-samgraha: Abhinavagupta’s  Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Varanasi: Indica Books

Muller-Ortega, Paul E (1989) The Triadic Heart of Siva. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications

Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: A Tradition of Wisdom. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: Para-trisika-Vivarana The Secret of Tantric Mysticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBook An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Related Topics for Further Investigation









Kashmir Shaivism



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Sarah Nielsen (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati



A doctor, a pharmacist, a healer of body and soul. Swami Sivananda Saraswati had always been destined for greatness, ever since a young age where he excelled and others marveled at his intelligence. Though he has moved on to another life, his legacy of kindness and spiritual guidance still remains fresh in the minds and hearts of many across the globe.

Though there are many very similar biographies of different qualities published as David Miller notes, the material from them stems from two main sources, the auto-biography of Swami Sivananda as well as Swami Venkatsenanda’s biography of Sivananda. (Miller 2003:343) The material in this article which pertains to Swami Venkatesenanda’s biography of Swami Sivananda is solely the commentary of David Miller’s.

Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati was born in the village of Pattamadai in Southern India, to a pair of devotees of the god Siva. They named their son Kuppuswamy. His father P.S. Vengu Iyer was a revenue officer and his mother Srimati Parvati Ammal was a stay at home mother/wife who birthed three boys, Kuppuswamy being the youngest. According to biographers, he was a mischievous young boy who showed some signs of a renouncer at a young age. Kuppuswamy loved helping those less fortunate and dedicated much of his own rewards or delights to others rather than simply enjoying them himself. He later went on to the Rajah’s High School in Ettayapuram, where he excelled, receiving many commendations for his good grades and hard work. Once he completed his Matriculation examination he moved on to the S.P.G. College in Tiruchirapalli. At the college in Tiruchirapalli he dabbled in debate and theatre even taking part in a staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It is here that his medical career began, commencing with his education at a medical school in Tanjore. There Kuppuswamy enjoyed a thorough education, being at the top of his class in all subjects. He spent much of his vacation time at the hospital observing and studying as much as possible.

After completing his medical education he began a medical journal named The Ambrosia while practicing medicine in Tiruchi. This medical journal lasted approximately three or four years until Kuppuswamy tired of his simple work as a journal writer. Craving a broader window for his journal and also his life, he managed to set himself down in Malaysia at an Estate Hospital in or near Seremban. The hospital to which he would be the new manager and head physician was in a state of disarray Kuppuswamy arrived. His employer Mr. A. G. Robins was a very headstrong man and refused to let Kuppuswamy resign when he was bestruck with misfortune or when he felt that he could not manage any longer: Robins was fully aware of Kuppuswamy’s importance at the hospital as well as in the community. Kuppuswamy had established himself as a caring individual as well as a capable doctor, and his aid extended beyond simple medical help. At times Kuppuswamy would give entire paychecks or pawn his own property to help those in need around him. However, it seems that as Kuppuswamy became more comfortable in his career, he began to realize that spirituality and his hunger for cosmic understanding were burgeoning. This caused Kuppuswamy great unease at his job in Malaysia and eventually he returned to India, where he began a new life as a renouncer. David Miller suggests that in his last years as a doctor in Malaysia that Kuppuswamy had begun to read the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita prompting him to question much of the world; which in his experience as a doctor, he believed that life for many ended in pain, suffering and sorrow (Miller:355). It is likely that in witnessing some of the most fragile states endured by people in the hospital which he managed led him to seek deeper meanings to the world which science and medicine failed to answer.

Leaving all his worldly possessions in Malaysia 1923, Kuppuswamy renounced the life of ease and became a sramana. Wandering around India Kuppuswamy visited various sites of religious worship. At the end of his search for a guru he rested in Rishikesh. Here he received his initiation into an ascetic life by Paramahamsa Visvananda Saraswati on. Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj performed the Viraj Homa ceremonies and later named Kuppuswamy, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. For a while he opened and operated a free dispensary, helping travelers on their pilgrimages or attending wholeheartedly to those who were ill or injured. Although his service to the sick and the poor continued during his Sadhana, Sivananda knew that his own truths lay in the attainment of self-realization.

During the years 1925-1930 Swami Sivananda ventured out on a pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath, in the mountains north of Rishikesh. Sivananda writes very little about this experience in his auto-biography and even his dedicated sevak (servant) Swami Venkatesananda wrote very little about what transpired in those years. Venkatesananda’s only accounts were that Sivananda ate only bread and drank Ganges water, observed intense meditation daily with little time for rest and relaxation. Sivananda’s realization, the goal of his Sadhana, occurred sometime between 1929 – 1930, the exact date Sivananda kept to himself. It is common for many Hindu ascetics to do just that, as well as keeping their realization and its details private. After his Sadhana Sivananda became social once again. He attended many religious conferences, performed rituals and still attended to people’s medical needs. Unlike before his pilgrimage, Sivananda now had deeper understanding of what his purpose was and he did not question himself at the foot of the masses. Instead he basked in the love they gave him and attempted to repay them with whatever service he could.

Many people followed Swami Sivananda’s life and work. Sivananda published many works, ranging anywhere from commentary on the Vendantas to a ten part publication on the Science of Yoga. His commentary on the Vedantas is truly one of the most important works Swami Sivananda has published. These works have gone on to inspire people all over the world to more profoundly analyze the sources of their knowledge. His nearly 300 publications, which vary in subject, are only the begging of the influence to which Sivananda exerts on modern Hindus today. Much of his following started when he began the Divine Life Society in a small cow shed on the bank of the Ganges in Rishikesh 1936. The society grew exponentially, and is currently operating in dozens of countries across the world. Through the practice of yoga as well as monastic asceticism he captured the attention of much of India as well as the western world.



References and Further Resources

Miller, David (2003)“The spiritual descent of the Divine: The Life Story of Swami Sivananda” :In Hindu Spirituality:Postclassical and Modern edited by R.Sundararajan and B. Mukerji. (2003) Delhi: Crossroad Publishing Company.

No author. His holiness Sri Swami Sivananda Sarawatswi Maharaj. (Updated Oct. 2004) The Divine Life Society.

Sivananda, Sri Swami.Science of Yoga; Volume Eight. (undated) Tehri-Gharwal: The Divine Life Trust Society.

Sivananda, Swami. Autobiography of Swami Sivananda(World Wide Web edition 2000). : The Divine Life Society.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Durga Puja









Viraj Homa

Article written by: Daniel Meller (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Rabindranath Tagore

In 1912, Tagore’s own English translation of his Bengali work, Gitanjali was published in Great Britain (Bose 140). It immediately attracted the attention of poets like Yeats and Pound and within a year the Swedish Academy awarded Tagore the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first non-European to claim this honour (Atkinson 25). Almost immediately he gained world-wide fame, which ironically drew attention to him across the Indian sub-continent. Prior to his winning of the Nobel Prize he had been a distinguished figure in his native Bengal, but nowhere else, since none of his writings had been translated into either English or any Indian languages (Narvane 8).

Now, at the age of 52 he became an international figure and for the next twenty years he travelled extensively reading his poems and lecturing on a wide variety of topics which reflected his polymath nature. By the mid-1930s however, his star power had faded in the West, much like that of the Theosophical Society whose promotion of Hinduism had helped, albeit indirectly, to fuel Tagore’s rise to celebrity status (Roy-Chowdhury 22). This loss of prominence, however, never happened in India or Bangladesh where to this day he is held in high regard and viewed as a progressive mind whose insights are still relevant with regard to many contemporary issues (Sen 90).

The sheer magnitude of Tagore’s contribution to humanity is staggering. He wrote voluminously penning thousands of poems, over twelve  hundred songs, most of which featured music that he composed, thirty-eight plays, a dozen novels and nearly two hundred short stories. He also wrote many essays and commentaries on social, cultural and political issues.

In the last twelve years of his life he took up painting and produced more than twenty-seven hundred pictures (Narvane 6). He also created a school, Santiniketan, which he oversaw and taught at for decades. Nearby he also created an experimental farm and agricultural college, Sriniketan, where he carried out his ideas concerning rural education and reconstruction (Jana 3). If nothing else he was prolific, a characteristic which seemed to tie in with his joy of life.

To understand his energy and creative genius it is necessary to examine his family roots and his childhood milieu. The Tagores were a Bengali Brahmin family that capitalized on the arrival of the British on the Hughli River in the eighteenth century.  Rabindranath’s grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore (1794-1846) invested in the manufacturing of sugar, tea, and indigo. He also owned a coal mine, a shipping company and he founded a bank (Tinker 33). Dwarkanath grew fabulously wealthy and was known for the extravagant parties that he threw. He had a philanthropic side which included funding the activities of his best friend, Ram Mohan Roy, the catalyst of the Bengali renaissance. When Dwarkanath died suddenly on his second trip to Britain, the family fortune was left to his oldest son Devendrath (1818-1905) who in temperament, was the exact opposite of his father (Tinker 34).  Devendrath gradually disentangled himself from the family businesses in order to live less in Calcutta and more on the large estates the family owned in Bengal. Here he could follow his major passion which was pursuit of the spiritual life. He revived Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj and generally became known for his saintliness and the fifteen children he fathered (Tinker 34).

The youngest of these children, was Rabindranath, born in 1861. All of the children were gifted, none more so than Rabindranath, who quickly became a favourite of his father and his older siblings. Rabi’s earliest memories of his father were of him chanting the Upanishads every morning. Many evenings the young boy would sing devotional hymns for his father’s enjoyment and to aid his meditations (Roy-Chowdhury 32). During the day, his education consisted of tutored home studies in Bengali, Sanskrit, and English, as well as various sciences (Roy-Chowdhury 32). Rabindranath was the only child to travel with his father in the summer of 1873 on a trip that took several months and covered much of north India. Father and son ended their travels with a prolonged stay in Dalhousie, a hill town in the western Himalayas (Narvane 14).  This trip seemed to open young Rabi’s eyes to the wider world and its possibilities, a feeling that would remain with him for the rest of his life.  He began composing poems at the age of eight and by thirteen he had translated MacBeth into Bengali. After spending eighteen months in England, ostensibly to prepare for a career in law, Tagore returned home in 1880, with no degree but, with a respect and admiration for English literature (Narvane 17).


At the age of twenty-two Tagore experienced a mystical vision which proved to be a pivotal point in his life. His vision-like experience revolved around the beauty of nature and lasted for four intense days. It left him with a feeling of joy and freedom that was expressed in much of his subsequent writings, which also seemed to increase in frequency after this seminal event (Bose 116 and Narvane 18).  In his early fifties Tagore described this event as one of the most important in his life and in a conversation with his friend, the Indiaphile Charlie Andrews, the latter observed that this experience marked the emergence of Tagore as a real poet (Bose 118).

Another development that greatly impacted Tagore was his father’s request, in 1891, that he manage the family estates in North Bengal and Orissa (Bose 125). This tenure served many purposes not the least of which was providing many uninterrupted hours to write. In this rural setting he explored the Padma River and its environs, which drew him even closer to nature. This increasing respect and love of nature was subsequently reflected in his poetry. He also spent much time in peasant villages learning about lower caste social and economic issues and in devising methods to improve the lives of farmers (Narvane 20).  He would later build on these community development initiatives at Sriniketan.

Though primarily known for his mystical literature Tagore created a multi-faceted life, each aspect of which displayed his spiritual nature (Dutta and Robinson 1).  This spiritual outlook on life is however hard to define because it has several strands. It is in fact as complex as the man himself. Tagore is hard to categorize, and according to Sen the fact that his literature would not fit neatly into the boxes that poets like Yeats and others wanted to place him, was the cause of some of the negative reaction that befell him in Europe in the 1930’s (Sen 95.)


Growing up, Tagore heard passages from the Upanishads recited in his home on almost a daily basis reflecting the importance that his father attached to them (Narvane 30). Early on Tagore identified with the Upanisads and many scholars of his literature view his entire spiritual outlook as being guided by them (Bose 110). In particular, his mystic philosophy echoes the transcendentalism of the Upanisads (Bose 139).  Others see Tagore’s emphasis on joy in his poems as an expression of the significance of Vaisnava thought in the theistic tradition of Bengal.  Some scholars have contended that in Tagore’s poetry the opposing pulls of Upanisadic and Vaisnava theology are displayed, but this belief seems to have declined over the years (Narvane 31).

Rather than opposing forces within Hinduism, what seems to characterize Tagore’s philosophy and spiritual outlook was his tendency to pick what he liked best in each religious tradition and to unify those beliefs into his own world view (Atkinson 33). Always looking for harmony in humanity, Tagore combined Buddhist ethics with Upanisadic universalism (Bose 112). In fact, Tagore is given credit for reviving interest in Buddhism in India, through many of his early essays and poems (Narvane 32).  From his father, Tagore acquired the monotheism of Ram Mohan Roy (Atkinson 125). In his studies of Christianity Tagore came to admire the self worth and dignity of the individual that was championed by Jesus. He also liked the idea of “social progress in time” that characterizes Christianity, as opposed to the indifference to history and time which he saw in Indian religions (Narvane 33). Clearly Tagore was non-sectarian (Sen 90) and he in fact describes his family as being impacted by three cultures, those of Hinduism, Islam and that of the British (Tagore 168).

What emerges from all of this mixing of religious values and concepts is a unified philosophy that Tagore expounded upon in the Hibbert Lectures which he delivered at Oxford in May of 1930.  These addresses were published in a book entitled The Religion of Man, which more than any other work, explains the world view he had developed as he was about to enter the eighth decade of his life.  In essence, he uses the non-poetical language of a lecture to reflect the philosophical and spiritual views that he had developed over a lifetime and deployed in his poems and literature.

To Tagore the development of human consciousness has, over time, increased the reality of humankind’s immortal being.  This has in turn inspired humanity to create aspects of themselves which illuminate the “divinity within” (Tagore 14).  This would help to explain Tagore’s comment that his personal religion, was a “poet’s religion” (Tagore 91).

He was an ardent admirer of Zarathustra and devoted one of his Hibbert Lectures to “The Prophet.” What he saw in the sage was the first attempt by humanity to free up religion from the constraints of tribal gods by offering spirituality to “the universal Man” (Tagore 78). This universalism seems to permeate all of Tagore’s thoughts and actions. More than that, the ultimate Being, “who is the infinite in Man” is only “realized through serving all mankind” (Tagore 70). This philosophy of service to humanity appears in many aspects of Tagore’s life and actions.  What Tagore hoped for was that Western humanity, as represented in Christ’s teachings could be combined with the Eastern concept of the “universal soul” (Tagore 175). He explained his concept of the “religion of Man” as that situation where “the infinite becomes defined in humanity” (Tagore 95).

Another key spiritual concept for Tagore was mukti, which can be defined as freedom or the liberation of the soul. Tagore found this freedom for himself in nature and in spiritual love (Tagore 177).  This concept of freedom which he experienced in his vision was a recurring theme in his literature and in the school that he founded. In an illuminating conversation that Tagore had with Albert Einstein, which is tucked away in the appendix of his book, Tagore summed up The Religion of Man, his religion, as “the reconciliation of the Human Spirit in my own individual being” (Tagore 225).

Tagore was not a politician in any way, but because of his public profile and his penchant for speaking out on contemporary issues that impacted him, his intermittent forays into the political sphere are worth exploring, if only because they mirror his spiritual and philosophical views. His first notable sortie occurred in 1905 when the British Government partitioned Bengal into a largely Hindu western zone and a largely Muslim eastern territory. Tagore gave anti-partition speeches at several public meetings, as well as penning many patriotic Bengali songs (Narvane 21). He followed this up by opening a swadeshi store, featuring products from around India (Atkinson 42).  The same freedom and spiritual unity that he sought for mankind, he called for in his native Bengal (Atkinson 42).

In 1913, the now internationally prominent Tagore, reached out to an unknown Indian in South Africa with an encouraging letter of introduction that wished him well in his non-violent struggle against racism (Narvane 23). Thus began his friendship with the man he popularized as the Mahatma or “Great Soul,” Mohandas Gandhi.

The First World War caused Tagore to become greatly disillusioned. He wrote poignantly against the evils of nationalism, which he saw as the root cause of the conflict (Atkinson 43). He also saw the potential dangers of nationalism for India being reflected in the politics of the independence movement and he was greatly disturbed by the growing tensions between Hindus and Muslims over the future of the sub-continent (Atkinson 44).

Tagore and Gandhi developed a close and respectful relationship and although they were to meet often and agree on much, they also had profound philosophical differences that included nationalism, the role of rationality and science, and how to develop rural India. Tagore, was much less bound by tradition than Gandhi, which was shown in his championing of science and his interest in ideas emanating from the rest of the world (Sen 92). Tagore was particularly opposed to Gandhi’s promotion of the carka and the concept of spinning cotton at home.  He saw this tie with the past as totally unrealistic for the needs of the emerging country and for him it also lacked any relevant symbolic value (Sen 100).

Tagore felt this way about Gandhi’s traditionalism and lack of interest in science because of his lengthy involvement in the education of children and his efforts to lift the lot of the peasants of Bengal.  In 1901, Tagore began a school on one of the family estates at Santinektan, about 100 miles north of Calcutta (Jana 51). He wanted this school to reflect the Upanisadic tradition that he had learned from his father and he wanted it to be expansive enough to contain “all the elements of an East-West cultural synthesis” (Sarkar 147).

His inspiration for the school was the Montessori-like education that he received at home, under the guidance of his father who also utilized the scholarly traditions of India. These included the tapovana or “forest schools” as found in the Ramayana, as well as the Buddhist centres of learning such as Nalanda (O’Connell 983). Central to the philosophy of the school would be a spiritual relationship between the teacher and the student (Sarkar 147) and the concept of mutki or freedom as applied to learning (O’Connell 987 ).

Tagore not only founded the school but he taught there as well and it was during this phase of his life that his students and friends began to call him Gurudeva, the “revered teacher” (Narvane 159). Within his school, Tagore wanted to create a specific culture, the sadhana of self discovery (Sarkar 159). Like many private schools it had issues around funding, (Sen 114), but by 1921 it had grown to the point where the farsighted Tagore wanted Santiniketan to expand.  A part of the campus was cordoned off to became a university which attracted teachers and scholars from around the world (Jana 61). This university was later taken over by the Indian government with the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, becoming the first chancellor (Jana 62).

As much as he was known for his poetry and literature, Tagore saw Santinektan as “the boat which carries the best cargo of my life” (Narvane 151). He once called Santinektan, “my tangible poem” (Narvane 151). Clearly he was proud of his school and its success led him to extend the school in another direction to encompass another life-long concern. In 1922, on an adjacent property to Santinektan, he established Sriniketan, a centre for rural development that would sometime after Tagore’s death, in 1941, become an agricultural college (Jana 65). The goal of this initiative was to improve rural life by making villagers self-reliant. Cooperative principles were employed and scientific agriculture was stressed. In addition, crafts and trades were taught so that villagers could make extra money when the volume of work was low on their farms. Starting with three villages the scheme eventually encompassed seventy-six villages (Jana 65). The concept of Sriniketan was decades ahead of its time as was much of Tagore’s thought concerning education. An early environmentalist, Tagore deplored deforestation and in 1928 he inaugurated an annual festival of tree planting in and around Santinektan and Srineketan (Sen 118).

It is challenging to adequately measure Tagore’s legacy given his voluminous writings and plethora of interests.  Tagore was a visionary whose belief and writings about spiritual joy, the infinite and universalism sets him apart as not just a singular figure of his time, but as one whose message will endure for centuries. He was however, much more than a mystic and Nobel Prize winning poet. The citizens of India and Bangladesh have Tagore to thank for both the lyrics and the melodies of their respective national anthems (Narvane 21 and Sen 90).  Many would see him as a great philosopher of education and mentor of students. As the Gurudeva of Santinektan,  he shaped students the likes of filmmaker Satyajit Ray, economist Amartya Sen and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Sen 115 and 117). It is ironic that the Bengal of Tagore’s birth has produced two other Nobel Prize winners in recent years, both who claim to have been inspired by Tagore. The life work of these recipients is not poetry or education; in fact they are closer to Tagore, the rural reconstructionist. Amartya Sen won for economics, in 1998, in the main for his scholarship on the causes of rural poverty around the world. In 2006, micro-credit founder Muhammad Yunus earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work in empowering the women of rural Bangladesh and subsequently poor women throughout the developing world [For Sen’s views on Tagore see his chapter entitled “Tagore and His India” in The Argumentative Indian (see reference section for publishing details). For the views of Yunus on Sen see the article “High Five With Muhammed Yunus” from Forbes Magazine, Oct. 28, 2008.]

Tagore classified himself in the broadest sense of the word as a “singer” (Tagore 86). He certainly sang, he sang often and he sang for all of his life.  His “songs” still resonate throughout India, Bangladesh and wherever people are attracted to the idea of “the Religion of Man” (Tagore 7).


Alberts, Hana R. (2008) “High Five With Muhammed Yunus,” Forbes, Oct. 28.

Atkinson, David W. (1989) Gandhi and Tagore: Visionaries of Modern India. Hong Kong: Asia  Research Service.

Bose, Abinash (1970) Three Mystic Poets: A Study of W.B. Yeats, A.E. and Rabindranath Tagore. Folcroft, PA: The Folcroft Press.

Dutta, Krishna and Robinson, Andrew (1997) Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology. New York: St.Martin’s Griffin.

Jana, Mahindranath (1984) Education For Life: Tagore And Modern Thinkers. Calcutta: Firma KLM.

Narvane, Vishwanath S. (1977) An Introduction to Rabindranath Tagore. Madras: The MacMillan Company of India.

O’Connell, Kathleen M. (2008) “Freedom, Creativity, and Leisure in Education: Tagore in Canada, 1929.” University of Toronto Quarterly 77, no. 4: 980-991.

Roy, Nityananda (2008) Tagore’s Thought On Rural Reconstruction And Role Of Village Development Societies. Delhi: Abhijeet Publications.

Roy-Chowdhury, Sumitra (1982) The Gurudev and The Mahatma. Pune: Shubhada-Saraswat Publications.

Sarkar, Sunil (1961) Tagore’s Educational Philosophy and Experiment. Santiniketan, West Bengal: Santiniketan Press.

Sen, Amartya (2005) The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. London: Penguin Books.

Tagore, Rabindranath (1931) The Religion of Man. New York: The MacMillan Company.

Tinker, Hugh (1982) “Tagore And The Indian Renaissance.”  History Today 32, no. 4: 32-38.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Andrews, Charlie

Brahmo Samaj

Gandi, Mohandas


Hibbert Lectures




Roy, Ram Mohan

Roy, Satyajit


Sen, Amartya



Tagore, Devendrath

Tagore, Dwarkanath


Theosophical Society

The Religion of Man


Vaishnava poetry

Yeats, W. B.

Yunus, Muhammad


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Ron MacTavish (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content

Jorasanko Thakurbari, Tagore’s Home, Kolkata, India.

Swami Vivekananda

Narendranath Datta was born on July 12, 1863 in Calcutta, India. His father was Vishwanath Datta, who was an attorney in the Calcutta High Court, while his mother Bhuwaneshwari Devi, was an intelligent and pious woman. His biographers tend to portray him in superlatives; according to these accounts, his early education began from home and had him learning Bengali, English and Sanskrit before he joined the Metropolitan Institution at the age of 7 (Arora 2). There he began to develop into a genius while still finding time to pursue other hobbies such as rowing, swimming and classical Indian music (Sil 29). As he grew so did his exceptional thirst for knowledge and it propelled him to the post-secondary institutions of Presidency College and the General Assembly’s Institution, where he originally had his sights set on becoming a barrister (Gokhale 36).  But in 1881 Naren’s life would change forever as he joined the Brahmo Samaj Society and met Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

The Brahmo Samaj was a movement of universalism that supported the religion of humanity and attempted to synthesize ideas from the East and West. It also protested against aspects within Hinduism, such as the caste system, polytheism and idol worship (Arora 4). Once a part of this group Naren met Ramakrishna for the first time where they began a close relationship. Naren became Ramakrishna’s favourite disciple which drew him into a world of religion as opposed to a world of law. This movement into religious thought had Naren by Ramakrishna’s side until his death in 1886, where he then took it upon himself to act in the name of the late Ramakrishna and spread his philosophies to a wider audience (Schneiderman 64). This was a challenging task considering just two years prior Naren’s father died suddenly of heart disease and left the family in extreme debt (Arora 6). But Naren progressed.

He continued to devote himself to the order of monks that were assembled by Ramakrishna before his death. Datta, their leader, encouraged an inner spiritual life but an external program of humanitarian and cultural activities (Arora 9).  It would later be the basis for the Ramakrishna order. But before the Order was assembled Naren and his supporters moved to Baranagore to live in an alleged “haunted house” where they could practice their ascetic way of life (Sil 47). The dilapidated building was one of the few places that they could afford after the death of their famous teacher. But Narendra was only there for a brief period of time, as he would soon take up renunciation and roam through all of India, and eventually most of the world.  He began a now renowned two-year journey throughout India in February of 1891, spanning from Varanasi and Mumbai to the Himalayas. Along his journies Narendra changed his name on several occasions before settling on his final monastic name of Swami Vivekananda in the city of Khetri (Arora 12).  Although he went by a new alias, Vivekananda continued to promote acceptance of the Vedanta, the spread of patriotism, and the acceptance of a harmony among different religious affiliations (Sil 52). He planned to carry on these teachings after his two-year trip by attending the Parliament of Religions meeting in Chicago in the fall of 1893.

While travelling to the United States, Vivekananda chose to pursue new experiences in countries like Japan, China, and Canada. Once he arrived he ran into the obstacle of not being registered as a delegate to take part in the Parliament, but with his charismatic personality and overt intelligence he befriended professors on the committee who chose the delegates (Arora13). In a short time he was recommended to be a speaker. When Vivekananda spoke he was not representing any specific religion or sect, he was representing India (Arora 14).  In the words of some bibliographers he was able to take all of the scholars and religious men to a place they had never been, where his words connected all religions and articulated the “oneness” of God and creed.

“if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time, which will be infinite like the God it will preach . . . which will not be Brahmanic, the Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these and still have infinite space for development.” (Teelucksingh 412).

Vivekananda’s words of wisdom evidently captivated many people, and he was asked, and agreed, to speak all across the United States and England. After three years of touring he finally returned to India in 1897, where he received a grand reception. Upon his arrival he called together his many disciples to complete the creation of a philanthropic association called the Ramakrishna Order, named after his main mentor (Gokhale 37). It is the combination of twin groups called the Ramakrishna Math and Mission which were initially established to combat the major issues in India, such as illiteracy, inequality among classes, female education, the economy, and cultural synthesis (Arora 19). The Math began in Barangore when the disciples of the dead Ramakrishna started their own monastic group before Narendranath Datta became the well-renowned Swami Vivekananda. But in 1897 the Mission was formed and eventually merged to create one great organization. Presently extensions of the group can be found all across the world; their main objectives continue to exist and are now present in more than the just Indian culture.

In 1899 Vivekananda left for the West again but was only gone for approximately a year, and upon his return he was stricken with illness that lasted for almost two years. Then suddenly in July of 1902 he passed away at the very young age of 39 (Miller 121). His life was short but focused, so he managed to express his and Ramakrishna’s views of the world. He continues to be recognized for his love of knowledge and religion. This enabled him to immerse himself in the sruti [divinely heard or revealed] literature of the Vedas and Upanisads, while still mastering other things such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The lectures he gave in India and around the world about Vedanta and Yoga stressed concepts that were absent in the modern world and helped to change preconceived notions of India that were held in the West (Teelucksingh 415). Vivekananda’s philosophies were used by future figureheads in India such as Gandhi and allowed them to act as ambassadors of India. Therefore, it can be assumed that his teachings played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence, and that it received an improved appraisal from the rest of the globe (Teelucksingh 417).

References and Recommended Readings

Arora, V.K. (1968) The Social and Political Philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. Calcutta: ……….. …………Punthi Pustak.

Gokhale, B.G. (1964) “Swami Vivekananda and Indian Nationalism.” Journal of Bible and …………Religion, 32(1), 35-42.

Miller, David (1999) “Modernity in Hindu Monasticism: Swami Vivekananda and the …………Ramakrishna Movement.” Journal of Asian & African Studies, 34(1), 111-126.

Nikhilananda, Swami (1953) Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works. New York: …………Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center.

Schneiderman, Leo (1969) “Ramakrishna: Personality and Social Factors in the Growth of …………Religious Movement.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 8(1), 60-71.

Sil, Narasingha Prosad (1997) Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment. London, ON: Associated …………University Presses.

Teelucksingh, Jerome (2006) “The Legacy of Swami Vivekananda.” Peace Profile, 18(3), 411-…………417.

Vivekananda, Swami (1956) The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda 6th ed. Calcutta: Advaita ………….Ashrama.

Related Research Topics

  • Ramakrishna Order
  • Brahmo Samaj
  • Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
  • Parliament of World Religions
  • Vedanta
  • Yoga Sutras
  • Bhagavad Gita
  • Patanjali

Notable Websites

Article written by: Terra Kaskiw (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.


Kalidasa was a brilliant Indian poet and playwright known for his sharp wit, rich humor and brilliant writing style. While little is known about where he was from, scholars believe that the exquisite detail he uses in describing the region of Ujjayini suggests that he was either born there or had spent much of his life there (Anderson, 10). Once again the details of when he lived are not known for sure either, which adds to the mystery surrounding this great figure, but his work is consonant with the geographic, historical and linguistic factors that support the Indian tradition that puts Kalidasa’s life sometime before, after or during the reign of Candragupta the 2nd, who ruled North India from about 375 C.E. to 415 C.E. (Smith, 15). [For more on the Candragupta the 2nd and the Gupta dynasty, see Majumdar (1971)]. His name, which translated means “Kali’s Slave” shows that he was a devout follower of Kali, who is a consort of Siva. His devotion to Siva is quite evident in his plays and poetry as he often brings in the natural world as an integral part and Siva is known through the 8 elements. Although little is known for certain about his life, a popular legend about how he came to possess his talents is still popular to this day. Briefly, the legend goes as follows: Kalidasa was a very good looking man and as such caught the eye of a princess who married him. After marrying him she realized he was ignorant and uneducated and was ashamed by that. Kalidasa was distraught by this and while contemplating committing suicide called upon his patron goddess Kali, who gave him the gift of extraordinary wit (Miller, 4).

Today 6 major works are attributed to Kalidasa because “The coherent language, poetic technique, style and sentiment the works express seem to suggest they are from a single mind” (Miller, 5) but many more short prose works exist that are likely to have been written by him. The 6 attributed to him are 3 plays; Malavikagnimitra (Mlavikā and Agnimitra), Abhijnanasakuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala) and Vikramorvasiya (Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi), 2 epic poems Raghuvamsa (The Lineage of Raghu) and Kumarasambhava (Birth of Kumara), as well as one shorter poem Meghaduta (The Cloud Messenger), which is not an epic but a description of the seasons through narration of the experience of two lovers (Smith, 15). Ornge

While some have suggested that Kalidasa’s works, like most Sanskrit drama, find their origins in the Vedas, it is also probable that the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata had their influences on the style and content of his works (Anderson, 12). In all of his dramas, and for that matter all Indian drama from the period, plot is not the central focus of the play but emphasis is put on flavor and emotion [for more on drama in India as a form of religious realization, see Wulff (1984)]. He conveys senitment not only through clever dialogue, of which there is an abundance, but also through stylized enactment involving dancing, body, hand and facial gestures, make-up and the introduction of natural props such as flowers (Anderson, 13). Throughout Kalidasa’s work, love and sensuality play a central role, and following suit all three of his plays involve a love story as its central theme. This being said, he also brings to the forefront other traits and ideas, espoused through his characters, such as honor, dharma and the virtuous ruler.

Out of all of Kalidasa’s works his most popular and arguably greatest play was Abhijnanasakuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala) (Smith, 17), one that continues to be performed across India and the world to this day. The story centers on the young woman Shakuntala who is the daughter of a sage but is abandoned at birth and raised in the fashion of a humble life in a secluded hermitage. While the virtuous king, Dushyanta, who shows himself to be so many times throughout the play, is on a hunting trip he comes across the hermitage after following a deer injured by his arrow. There he sees Shakuntala attending to the injured deer, is amazed by her beauty and poise and falls in love. He then courts her in a way that is becoming of a virtuous king and they are married. Soon after the king is called away to the capital and gives her his signet ring as a sign of his love. He tells her that when it is shown in the court she will be able to take her place as queen. Shakuntala was also in love with Dushyanta and spent much of her time day dreaming about her new husband. Just as she was in one of these daydreams a powerful sage Durvasa came to the hermitage, and because she did not notice him and greet him properly he was enraged. He then cursed her so that whoever she was dreaming about would never recognize her, but at the begging of Shakuntala’s friends he lessened the curse so that when she showed a present given to her by the person they would remember.

After a while Shakuntala began to wonder why Dushyanta had not come for her and so she and a couple others headed out for the capital city. Along the way Shakuntala’s signet ring, given to her by the king, fell off while running her hands through the water. When she arrived at the court she was saddened and hurt that the king did not recognize her and went out into the forest with her son Bharat, who was also Dushyanta’s son. She spent many years there as Bharat grew very strong and bold.

Sometime later a fisherman found a ring inside the belly of a fish and realizing the royal seal took it to king Dushyanta. Immediately the king’s memories of his lovely wife Shakuntala came flooding back and he went out searching for her. During his search he came across a young boy who had forced open the mouth of a lion and was amazed by the child’s strength. Feeling somehow drawn to him Dushyanta asked the boy his name. He replied “Bharata, son of king Dushyanta”. The boy then took him to his mother and immediately Dushyanta recognized Shakuntala and the family was reunited (Miller, 85-176).

Although this is only a brief overview of Abhijnanasakuntalam, it should give the reader an idea of how Kalidasa’s works tend to play out. As important as the plot is to the story, just as important is the sentiment and underlying themes that are ever present. Throughout Kalidasa’s plays these themes tend to be parting and reconciliation, young love and maternal love, the king as a patron, the heroine and the king and the duties and pleasures of the warrior, among other things. In Abhijnanasakuntalam specifically, the tone of the play is set by the virtue and piety of Dushyanta while the underlying message is seen through Shakuntala, a woman who is purified by patience and fidelity and is ultimately rewarded with virtue and love (Anderson, 17).

Kalidasa’s works echo the sentiments of Indian society during his life, which were in all aspects religious. Never divorced from his plays are Hindu values, and they are readily apparent in everything he writes (Anderson, 9). Through his wit and humor as well as his genius he has been able to captivate the minds of readers and viewers for the past 1500 years, and his works, being some of the first to be translated from Sanskrit, have played an important part in western understanding of ancient Indian literature.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Anderson, G. L. (1966) The Genius of the Oriental Theater: The Complete Texts of Ten Great Plays from the Traditional Indian and Japanese Drama. New York: The New American Library.

Majumdar, R. C., Raychaudhuri H. C. and Datta Kaukinkar (1946) An Advanced History of India. London: Macmillan.

Miller, Barbara S. (1984) Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa. New York: Columbia University Press.

Smith, David (2005) The Birth of Kumara by Kalidasa. New York: New York University Press.

Wulff, Donna M. (1984) Drama as a Mode of Religious Realization: The Vidagdhamadhava of Rupa Gosvami. Chico, California: Scholars Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Chandragupta II

The Gupta Dynasty





Written by Mike Kopperud (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


Kabir, also known as Kabir the Great, is one of the most famous saints in the Indian tradition (Partin 191). He is a unique saint because both Hindus and Muslims are attracted to his teachings as well as in his sayings (Vaudeville 5052). Some may say he was kind of a mystic poet due to his teachings. His teachings mainly consisted of poems and songs, which were in a language that most Hindus understood. He belongs in the category of the first generation Hindi poets, which contained a Hindi dialect. This dialect is not “amenable” to the classifications of linguists (Partin 191). His works are in the form of mystical poetry of various strengths, which allow the literary aspects to come across with philosophical and religious significance (Stahl 141). Kabir is an individual who was able to give expression to personal experiences of inner divine or absolute reality (Heehs 1).

There is little on the history of Kabir, such as what his personality was like, as well as a detailed biography on him. What is known is that Kabir was born as a low-caste Muslim, also known as a Julaha, around the city of Banaras during the fifteenth century (Vaudeville 5052). He was born in 1440, and passed away in 1518 (Stahl 141). It has been claimed that Kabir was born into a family with a Muslim father who greatly influenced his life (Stahl 141). We know that Kabir was born into a caste of weavers, who had recently become Muslim converts, and was raised in a Muslim lifestyle. It is also believed that Kabir was married, with children, and made his living as a weaver, as the rest of his caste did (Bly ix). However, it is unknown how many children Kabir fathered or who his wife was. Kabir’s family belonged to a caste of married “Jogis” or “Jugis”, which are devotees or performers of jog. By practicing this sect of yoga, they believed they may attain a union with the Supreme Being (Bailey 1). Kabir was also involved in the bhakti movement, which was a reaction against Buddhism, as well as parts of the Vedanta philosophy (Stahl 142). Bhakti was related to Vishnuite devotion, where God is seen as the main object of devotion (Partin 194).

Kabir viewed the world as a moment fading between two deaths in a world of transmigration. He discusses self interest, the woman as ‘a pit of hell’, and man turning to his innermost self in order to find what is true (Vaudeville 5053). He did not see the significance in bonds between family members, because he believed those relations rested on self-interest (Vaudeville 2052). Another main belief of Kabir was that death encompasses all, and there would be no escape for one except to its own heart. For example, the only way to rid one’s self of negatives in life, such as egoism, would be to search one’s own soul to find the answers (Vaudeville 2052). Only those who find the answers or the “diamond” within oneself, has a chance at achieving eternity. This is relatable to the idea of jivatma in Hinduism, which is representative of the individual soul. It was believed by Kabir that if man turned away from the outside world, and focused only on the interior world, then one could be drawn to his innermost conscience. One’s innermost consciousness is related to the status of God, according to Kabir (Partin 196).

The words of Kabir appear to be very tragic, but also show his uniqueness as a poet. The tragedy is present when he discusses the insignificance of family, and how many things remains a mystery in life (Vaudeville 5053). His words are full of metaphors and various rhymes. The works of Kabir are regarded for both their literary qualities, as well as their spiritual qualities (Heehs 26). As a person, as well with his words, he is compared to the Buddha, due to his great voice in India (Vaudeville 2053). Rather than having a positive outlook on the world like many do, Kabir was very pessimistic and focused on intrinsic actions. Some may call him ungodly, but he seems to be one of the masters of “interior religion” (Partin 192). There are many words of Kabir, also known as Kabirvanis. However, there is not a book or authoritative version of them (Vaudeville 2052). The poems, verses and songs recited orally by Kabir were collected by his disciples, as well as various followers (Hess 3). It is believed that Kabir had been illiterate and was unable to ever write anything down. Many followers and critics of his work say, “I don’t touch ink or paper, this hand has never grasped a pen. The greatness of four ages Kabir tells with his mouth alone,” in order to describe what Kabir may have been like, and why his works were orally passed on through generations (Hess 3). There is no way to prove that Kabir was illiterate. However, it is known that Kabir preferred his words to be passed on orally, rather than by paper. His message was so popular that they were widely imitated before they could be written down. Kabir’s works were largely an oral tradition in the beginning, and in most instances, still are. The main topic of Kabir’s songs seems to be that God is the ultimate truth (Dass preface). The oldest dated words of Kabir are found in the Guru Granth of the Sikhs, compiled by Guru Arjun in the Punjab around 1604 (Vaudeville 5052). The poetry was also a union of both the Islamic and Hindu traditions (Stahl 143).

There are many stories about Kabir, but the most famous one involves his death and cremation. It happened in the city of Magahar. As Kabir was about to die, two different groups gathered in order to fight over what would happen to Kabir’s body. The two groups were the Muslims and the Hindus. It is said that after Kabir went into his tent to die, his body vanished, and all that was left was a heap of flowers (Vaudeville 2052). The flowers were divided between the two parties as a way of symbolizing both groups’ possession over the body. The Muslims buried their half of the flowers, whereas the Hindus cremated theirs, and arisen a memorial tomb, also known as samadhi, over it. Since the time of his death, a story has circulated claiming that Kabir was born to a Brahman virgin widow, who committed him to the Gangas, and he was later saved and raised by Julahas. This story attempted to “Hinduize” the saint (Vaudeville 2052).

Some Muslims in the past viewed Kabir as being a Sufi because many of his “words” are similar to those of a traditional Sufi (Vaudeville 2052). Even though Kabir was opposed to some practices of the Islamic religion, he still associated himself with Sufi groups (Partin 195). Modern Muslims and Hindus, however, accept the “words” of Kabir. He is also seen as the unifying force between the two religions, even though he himself expressed rejection of “two religions”. Kabir was also against idol worship and caste distinctions, this was because he used several Vaisnava names to speak of God. He, in turn, saw the idols as lifeless stones (Partin 192). Kabir also discusses the importance of purity, fasting, pilgrimages and other ritual practices throughout his various works. A verse Kabir’s pertaining to the ritual washing, discusses the importance of physical and spirtual cleansing. Kabir states, “What is the good of scrubbing the body on the outside, If the inside is full of filth? Without the name Ram, one will not escape hell, even with a hundred washings!” (Kabir 192). His notion of God also seemed to be more than that of worshipping a personal god, as he alludes to a reality that is beyond words, rather than a god (Vaudeville 2052).

Another interesting fact about Kabir, and his poems, is that he sometimes speaks as a man, and other time speaks as a woman. An example is, “This woman weaves threads that are subtle, and the intensity of her praise makes them fine. Kabir says: I am that woman” (Bly xv). This is interesting because it gives Kabir various identities through his literature.

Kabir, who does not have much of a bibliography is seen as being very popular in various religions. He is one who, through his own intimate experience, believed that God is “the One,” “the True,” and “the Pure” (Partin 201). According to Kabir, God is the only one who is able to meet the challenge of death, because he is the perfect guru (Partin 201). Kabir believed the only way one can interact with God, was to delve into the very depths of one’s own soul, and only then, would God be able to speak with one. Even though Kabir may have rejected the teachings of other religions, he was still followed by many, and created his own group.


Bailey, Jan (2006) Jogis

Bly, Robert (2007) Kabir: Ecstatic Poems. Boston: Beacon Press.

Heehs, Peter (2002) Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience. New York: New York University Press.

Hess, Linda Beth (2001) The Bijak of Kabir. New York: Oxford University Press.

Partin, Harry and Charlotte Vaudeville (1964) “Kabīr and Interior Religion.” History of Religions 3: pp. 191-201.

Stahl, Roland (1954) “The Philosophy of Kabīr” Philosophy East and West 4: pp.141-155.

Vaudeville, Charlotte (2005) Kabīr Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Vol. 8. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. p5051-5053

Related Topics








Guru Granth

Related Websites

Article written by: Megan Heck (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.


Sankara is a name that stands for auspicious and merciful. Historians suggest that Sankara was born either in 568 AD or 805 AD (Isayeva 83). According to legend, (Isayeva 72) many signs were given prior to the birth of Sankara that he would be an incarnation of Siva. Siva promised the other gods to go down to earth to restore Vedanta and to reestablish the state of self-realization. Meanwhile, Sankara’s parents, Sivaguru (the teacher Siva) and Sivataraka (Siva’s eye), had great protection from Siva. They were trying to conceive, and after having no luck for quite some time decided to seek blessings for a child. They traveled to Trichur, a Saivite sanctuary for this blessing. While there, Siva appeared to the couple separately in dreams. To Sivaguru, Siva appeared as an old man, and offered the choice of having a son whose destiny it was to become a great sage with a short and brutal life span, or 100 happy, successful sons. To Sivataraka, Siva was revealed to her in a dream, undisguised, and pronounced the fact that her forthcoming child was to be a great Vedanta teacher. Once sharing these dreams with each other, Siva’s voice was heard, declaring that he himself would be born as their son. (Isayeva 83)

Throughout Sankara’s childhood, he achieved many great things. By the age of one, it is said that Sankara could read and speak Sanskrit. His belief in monotheism was first apparent when he settled a dispute among classmates (Isayeva 74). He pronounced that the number of gods who created the universe was to be the same as the number of seeds in this particular melon that they were bickering over. They opened it to find only one. After his father passed away, he was old enough to take part in the sacred thread ceremony, and start studying the Vedas. This bright child was asked for guidance and advice by neighbors and travelers from nearby villages. Sankara felt the need to become a sannyasin, but was held by his mother from taking the vows. At the age of eight, Sankara was taken by a crocodile and dragged into a river and most likely would have died. However, if his mother allowed young Sankara to become a sannyasin, he would be reborn and given a second chance at life. This would in turn rescue him from a durmarana (evil/bad death), which was so awful it could be considered a sin. She of course made this promise, and Sankara was released, with new life. (Isayeva 75)

Sankara then proceeded to travel to the banks of the Narmada River, where a Saivite sanctuary was located. Here he found his teacher, Govinda. Govinda had been waiting for Sankara for quite some time. Sankara stayed under the discipline of Govinda for around 2 years. It is believed that it was during this time, Sankara composed many of his works, including Saivite hymns, philosophical treatises, and a commentary on Brhadaranyakopanisad (Isayeva 76). Badarayana had given a prophecy to Govinda, stating that the one to tame a wild river would be the one who would write the best commentary on his text, the Brahmasutra. Sankara, as predicted, composed a commentary on the Brahmasutra, which ended up being Sankara’s main work. While Sankara and Govinda were meditating, the Narmada River flooded into the cave they were in. Sankara then said an incantation and pushed his bowl forward. The river then proceeded to fill the small bowl, and disappear. The river then purported to have receded back to its original size. (Isayeva 77)

After receiving Govinda’s blessings, Sankara set off on a voyage to the sacred mountain Kailasa. It was here that he met Siva for the first time, who was in the form of Daksinamurti (Giver of true knowledge) (Isayeva 77). Here Sankara stayed, on the edge of the Ganga river until he received word that his mother was ill. When Sankara first set off as a sannyasin, he promised his mother he shall return when she was upon her deathbed. Therefore, he returned to his mother’s side to comfort her and let her die in peace. A sannyasin is considered to be above any worldly attachments such as family, and therefore the sannyasin vow did not allow for the regular ritual of the eldest son preparing the death rituals (Isayeva 77). However, Sankara disobeyed these vows and performed his mother’s death rituals. Once his mother passed, Sankara received word that Govinda had fallen ill, and was also dying. He then headed back to say his tidings to Govinda, accompanied by a follower of his own, Padmapada.

In regards to Sankara’s beliefs, he relied on the Upanisads to support his monistic philosophy of Brahman. Brahman [derived from Brh, meaning growing; not to be confused with Brahmin, the priestly class or Brahmanas, the ritual texts] is without any cause and effect, and remains unaffected by anything (Masih 64). Sankara’s monistic beliefs are in favor of the Mahavakyas (foundational texts of Vedanta, sayings from Upanisads), using them to gain Brahman. By becoming Brahman, one can conquer daily life. To become Brahman, one must know Brahman. Passages from the Upanisads, such as “This everything, all is that self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, II.4.7), and “Brahman alone is all this” (Mundaka Upanisad, II.2.11) support Sankara’s beliefs. The basis of Sankara’s teachings can be summed into one sentence: Brahma satyam, jaganmithya jivo brahmaiva na parah, (Brahman alone is real, the world is illusory and the jiva is identical with Brahma) (Masih 66).

Sankara teaches that to realize Brahman, one must achieve bodhi (awakening) (Masih 102). Karma, in this sense, is disregarded from the process of obtaining liberation. Karma is a temporary achievement, therefore cannot be associated with the attainment of Brahman, since liberation through Brahman is eternal. In no way does Sankara support the belief of karma. He does not even support the doctrine of jnana-karma-samuccayavada, in which Brahma-jnana and karma are combined (Masih 102). In order to gain liberation, one must gain purification of the mind (Sattva-Suddhi), by concentrating to the point where the mental stream is steadily flowing wards off disturbing thoughts. It is only then that one can fully attain enlightenment and followed by liberation.

Throughout the thirty-three years of life that Sankara attained (presumed death in either 600 or 837 AD) (Isayeva 83), he brought new beliefs to the world.


Isayeva, Natalia (1993); Shankara & Indian Philosophy. Albany: State University

of New York Press.

Masih, Y. (1987); Shankara’s Universal Philosophy of Religion. New Delhi:

Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Related Topics

– Prasthana-traya

– Nirvikaplaka pratyaksa

– susupti

– turiya

– Sanksepa-sankara-vijaya

– Upanisads

– Brhat-sankara-vijaya

– Vedanta

Related Websites

Written by Katie Duffin (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Ramana Maharsi


Venkataraman (later shortened to Ramana) Maharsi was born on December 30, 1879 to a couple from the brahmin class in Tirucculi, South India (see Herman 8). It may have been his family’s “curse” which led Maharsi to liberation and renunciation of normal life. “His household, according to tradition, was ‘cursed’ into surrendering one member of the family in each generation to become a monk or sannyasi (a ‘renunciate’) who would break all attachments to the world and live a life of holy solitude” (see Herman 8-9). After the death of Ramana’s father in 1891, the Maharsis moved to Madurai to live with the boy’s uncle (see Herman 9 and Godman 1). Here Ramana attended Scott’s Middle School and the American Mission High School, learned English and participated in outdoor sports and games (see Herman 9).

At the young age of sixteen Ramana underwent the sudden and irreversible transformation to a jivanmukta (“one who is liberated while still alive”) (see Herman 9-10 and Forsthoefel 246). On August 29, 1896 he was sitting alone in a room when he was abruptly struck with an overwhelming fear of death (see Herman 9 and Godman 1). He promptly lay down and essentially became “a corpse” by “stopping his breathing and closing his eyes” (see Herman 9). It was in this state that he became aware of the true nature of the Self. His attainment of moksa (“release” or “liberation”) drastically altered the rest of his life as he also realized the futility of carrying out everyday tasks (see Godman 2). Six weeks after his liberation, Ramana followed what he considered to be his destiny, left his family, threw away his money and worldly possessions and made his way to the sacred mountain of Arunacala (see Godman 1-2 and Sharma 1984:616). It was here that he spent the rest of his life “attracting loving attention, admirers and devotees from around the world…” (see Herman 10).

The first two or three years of his new life were spent in a state of intense absorption into his realized awareness. So much so that parts of his body were eaten away by insects, his fingernails and hair grew to incredible lengths and he scarcely ate. Slowly, over a period of several years he regained a state of physical normalcy without ever losing touch with his liberated consciousness which began to manifest itself as an “outer spiritual radiance” (see Godman 1). As word spread about the Hindu sage, people came from the far reaches of the world with their “questions, problems and concerns” (see Herman 11). Most of his teachings were conducted in a non-verbal manner. Ramana sent out a “silent force or power which stilled the minds of those who were attuned to it” and gave insight into the liberated state (see Godman 2). He felt this was the way in which people could understand his lessons in the most concentrated and forthright manner (see Godman 2). However, for those who were unable to understand his silent knowledge, Ramana occasionally gave verbal teachings (see Godman 2). He made himself available to visitors twenty-four hours a day and spent the rest of his life living in a small communal hall and delivering spiritual guidance (see Godman 3). In 1950, Ramana Maharsi contracted cancer and passed away at the age of 71 (see Herman 10).

Beliefs and Teachings

The attainment of Self-realization and liberation is the ultimate goal of the teachings of Ramana Maharsi (see Sharma 1984:619). The process by which this is to be achieved was one of the distinctions of Ramana’s beliefs. He advocated the importance of an individual “inward quest” to realize the “ultimate source of the limited ego” (see Forsthoefel 243-246). This quest was centered around the constant search into the question “Who am I?” (see Forsthoefel 246). Earnest inquiry into this question would bring a person to the awareness that the ego, or “I”, does not exist, thus destroying it (see Godman 53). In other words, “when the mind unceasingly investigates its own nature, it transpires that there is no such thing as the mind” (see Godman 50).

During one’s quest for liberation, and once Self-realization occurred, Ramana advocated assuming a “still” or “silent” mental state (see Herman 34 and Godman 13). Stillness during meditation on the question “Who am I?” allows for concentration on this topic only. This creates a “firm base for liberation” (see Godman 160). Once Self-awareness is known, an individual will have a “still mind which is adorned with the attainment of the limitless supreme Self” (see Godman 156). In other words, silence and stillness allow the identity of the Self to become assured (see Herman 13). Stillness is also strongly connected to Ramana’s emphasis on the individuality of the path to liberation.

Ramana insisted on the importance of personal experience in gaining liberation. He taught that learning from books was ultimately useless due to the fact that “no words, categories or concepts can apprehend the limitless Self” (see Forsthoefel 248). He also deemed the guidance of a spiritual guru (including himself) to be superficial and futile because a guru could not give an individual anything which they did not already have (see Godman 32). Each person has the ability to gain liberation; “all that is needed is that you give up your realization of the not-true as true” (see Godman 12). For Ramana, spiritual truth was unaffected by social and cultural differences. He promoted the thought that liberation is “here and now, available to any person, regardless of caste, stage, nationality or religion” (see Forsthoefel 245). On the subject of non-Hindu traditions he believed that “…their expression is the same. Only the modes of expression differ…” (see Forsthoefel 251).

Ramana’s teachings are considered to exemplify the jnana yogic path (see Godman 34 and Sharma 1984:623). Jnana yoga is “the way of knowledge” which is exactly what is gained through the destruction of the mind: true knowledge of the divine Self (see Herman 120 and Forsthoefel 247). However, this knowledge is not separate from the knower, nor is it an experience, it is “a direct and knowing awareness of the one reality in which subjects and objects have ceased to exist” (see Godman 10).

Ramana Maharsi’s life took place in the context of the Indian Independence Movement. However, his views on social activism did not match other Hindu sages alive at that time (ie. Mohandas Gandhi). Ramana did not support Indian nationalism nor did he support any kind of social involvement (see Sharma 1999:102). It was of his opinion that individuals should focus on Self-realization instead of on social action (see Herman 14 and Godman 213). It was in this way that they would realize that the world is not different from Themselves and ultimately, “there are no others to be helped” (see Herman 14). This is a view which Ramana had to defend many times (see Sharma 1999:100).


Ramana Maharsi is the only modern Hindu sage who is widely considered to be a genuine jivanmukta and who has spoken about this enlightened state at great length (see Sharma 1999:93). The sage “embodied the supreme excellence, the highest ideal represented in so many epic accounts, mythologies, and philosophical texts in the history of Hinduism” (see Forsthoefel 243). This gave him incredible appeal to not only the elite Indian classes but to lower castes and non-Hindus alike (see Forsthoefel 251). He represented an intense spirituality which seemed to manifest itself in a radiating “presence” (see Forsthoefel 255). This presence provided legitimacy for Ramana’s religious teachings, added to his popularity and quickened the spread of his ideas (see Forsthoefel 252 and Herman 10). In this way, he was extremely important wealth of information for students and scholars interested in the state of a jivanmukta (see Forsthoefel 257).

In addition, Ramana was influential in that his religious philosophy was accessible to all people, in their present lifetime (see Forsthoefel 242, 248). These ideas were particularly progressive during the time period and thus were highly influential to Hinduism as a whole (see Forsthoefel 248, 257). The cross cultural aspect of Ramana’s ideas also added to the attention he received from other religious groups around the world (see Forsthoefel 250). His ideas and unique life experience inspired many people and were highly regarded on a worldwide scale (see Forsthoefel 251).


Brunton, Paul (1952) Maharsi and His Message. London: Rider & Co.

Forsthoefel, Thomas A. (2002) “Weaving the Inward Thread to Awakening: The Perennial Appeal of Ramana Maharshi (sic).” In Horizons. Erie: Mercyhurst College. pp. 240-59.

Ganapatimuni, Vasishtha (1998) Sri Ramana Gita: being the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (sic). Tiruvannamalai : Sri Ramanasramam.

Godman, David (ed.) (1985) Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (sic). Boston: Arkana.

Herman, A.L. (1991) A Brief Introduction to Hinduism: Religion, Philosophy and Ways of Liberation. Boulder: Westview Press.

Maharsi, Ramana (1970, c1959) The collected works of Ramana Maharshi (sic). Arthur Osborne (ed.). New York: S. Weiser.

Sharma, Arvind (1999) “Jivanmukti in Neo-Hinduism: the case of Ramana Maharsi.” In Asian Philosophy. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Sharma, Arvind (1984) “Predetermination and Free Will in the Teaching of Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950).” In Religious Studies. London: Cambridge University Press.

(1995) Ramana Maharshi (sic) Part 1. New Delhi: Library of Congress Office.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Mount Aruncala

Jnana Yoga

Indian Independence Movement



Mohandas Gandhi





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Marie Robertson (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Aurobindo Ghose

Sri Aurobindo was an Indian nationalist, yogin, philosopher, scholar, and poet. Following his brief political career, during which he vehemently fought for India’s outright independence, Sri Aurobindo began to explore the ancient Hindu practices of yoga (Heehs 88). Sri Aurobindo subsequently developed his own style of yoga which he called “Integral Yoga,” because it “takes up the essence and many processes of the old yogas” with a new approach of “aim, standpoint and the totality of its method” (Minor 4). Sri Aurobindo believed that enlightenment came from the Divine, but that human beings possess a spiritual “supermind” that allows them to reach upward toward awareness. Spiritual perfection is achieved through Yoga practices that lead to “a change of life and existence” through the development of a new power of consciousness, which he called the “supramental” (Heehs 96).

Sri Aurobindo was born Aurobindo Ghose in Calcutta, India, on 15th August, 1872. At the age of seven, Sri Aurobindo and his two elder brothers went to England to pursue their studies. Initially, Aurobindo was tutored privately in Latin, French, history, geography and arithmetic. His proficiency in Latin allowed him to gain admission into St. Paul’s School in London, where he was awarded a Foundation Scholarship (Heehs 11). At St. Paul’s, Aurobindo began studying the Latin and Greek classics, writing poetry and prose in both languages, and reading English and French literature. At the age of fifteen, his studies ceased to interest him and his teachers began to lament that he was wasting his “remarkable gifts” because of laziness (Heehs 12). However, two years later, Aurobindo decided to try for one of the Open Scholarships offered by King’s College, Cambridge. He took the examination and finished at the top of the list. One of the examiners commented that Aurobindo’s classical papers were “the best I have seen in thirteen years as an examiner” (Heehs 14). In 1893, after two years at King’s College, during which he devoted much of his time to writing, Aurobindo returned to India.

Aurobindo became interested in political work amidst the anti-partition movement in the early 1900s. Between 1905 and 1910 Aurobindo acted as a political journalist for the revolutionary newspaper Bande Mataram, and as a leader of the advanced nationalist party known as the Extremists (Heehs 38). In 1908, Aurobindo was arrested on suspicion of his involvement in a bomb plot and was remanded in Alipore Central Jail (Heehs 56). Although he was later acquitted and released, his conversion from political action to spirituality occurred while he was incarcerated, where he was inspired by his meditation on the Bhagavad Gita. After reading it, he was able “not only to understand intellectually but to realize what Sri Krishna demanded of Arjuna and what He demands of those who aspire to do His work…to renounce self-will and become a passive and faithful instrument in His hands” (Heehs 93-94). This realization would become one of the preliminary steps towards Aurobindo’s ultimate awareness of the Divine.

Sri Aurobindo once wrote that there were “four great realizations on which his Yoga and his spiritual philosophy are founded” (Heehs 93). The first occurred in 1907 when Aurobindo encountered a yogin named Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, who introduced him to “the awareness of some sole and supreme Reality” – an experience Aurobindo would later identify as the “passive Brahman” (Heehs 89). Lele instructed Aurobindo to “sit in meditation, but do not think, look only at your mind; you will see thoughts coming into it; before they can enter throw these away from your mind till your mind is capable of entire silence” (Heehs 89). Aurobindo wrote that, “I flung them [thoughts] before they could enter and take hold of the brain and in three days I was free” (Heehs 89). However, Aurobindo also wrote that he was left with “a cleft of consciousness between the passive and active Brahman” (Heehs 99).

The second realization was achieved as Aurobindo regained his personal harmony by taking refuge with the Divine within him during his solitary confinement in Alipore jail. Aurobindo read the Bhagavad Gita and his initial realization regarding Sri Krishna soon blossomed into an all-encompassing awareness of the Divine, seen as Krishna in the form of Vasudeva, “as all beings and all that is” (Heehs 94). Aurobindo wrote that “I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there holding over me his shade” (Heehs 94). This universal vision of the Divine was followed by Sri Aurobindo’s awareness into what he called the “cosmic consciousness” (Heehs 94).

As mentioned above, Aurobindo’s first realization left him with “a cleft of consciousness” between the passive and active Brahman. This “cleft” was closed with Aurobindo’s third realization that the two aspects of the supreme Reality were the static and dynamic Brahman (Heehs 99).

Three years later, Sri Aurobindo reached his fourth realization through a “prolonged dwelling in Parabrahman” (the supreme Reality) (Heehs 99).

Armed with these four fundamental realizations, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual development grew into his “yoga of self-perfection” or integral yoga. The aim of the yoga of self-perfection is to enable one to attain conscious identity with the Divine – the true Self – and to transform the mind and body into an instrument for a divine life on earth (Minor 121). Sri Aurobindo emphasized surrender as the most important requisite of integral yoga. He wrote, “Surrender is giving oneself to the Divine – to give everything one is or has to the Divine and regard nothing as one’s own, to obey only the Divine will and no other, to live of the Divine and not for the ego” (Minor 122). Sri Aurobindo’s “yoga of self-perfection” had four constituent elements: shuddhi or purification, mukti or liberation, bhukti or beatitude, and siddhi or perfection (Synthesis of Yoga 38).

Sri Aurobindo believed that the essence of purification was the organization of the chaotic action of the various parts of man’s nature such as the mind to thought. Ultimately, perfect purification loosens the bonds of nature, specifically the bond of ahankara or ego, which allows actions to be performed without the incentive of personal satisfaction. This liberation, mukti, leads to perfection of the individual nature, siddhi, and enjoyment of the delight of being, bhukti (Synthesis of Yoga 61).

The culminating objective of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is the remolding of the body, “even here upon earth” into a fit vehicle of the transformed consciousness. Sri Aurobindo believed that Nature must “evolve beyond Mind and manifest a consciousness and power of our existence free from the imperfection and limitation of our mental existence, a supramental or truth-consciousness…Into that [spiritual] truth we shall be free and it will transform mind and life and body” (Heehs 104-105). In his later years, Sri Aurobindo’s practice of yoga was directed towards achieving the effective transformation of the physical in pursuit of freedom of the truth-conscious spirit (Heehs 104-105).

Sri Aurobindo wrote prolifically in English on his spiritual philosophy and practice. Most notably, he introduced the concept of evolution into Vedantic thought (Minor 104). Although Samkhya philosophy had suggested a similar idea centuries earlier, Sri Aurobindo rejected the materialistic tendencies of both Darwinism and Samkhya, and proposed an evolution of spirit which led to the evolution of matter.

In essence, Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary philosophy centers on the idea that humankind as an entity is not the last rung on the evolutionary ladder, but can evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations to a future state of supramental existence. This spiritually evolutionary step would lead to a divine life on Earth characterized by a realization of the supermind (Heehs 104).

Sri Aurobindo did not believe that the ultimate goal of his yoga – a divine life on earth – could be achieved so quickly. Nor did he foresee a day when a multitude of people would practice and study his philosophies and method of yoga (Heehs 151). Sri Aurobindo wished to bring the Divine into all aspects of life. Although his teachings may be seen as an attempt to re-institute the “spiritual practicality” that he regarded as the great discovery of ancient India, Sri Aurobindo was arguably one of India’s most fascinating and enigmatic leaders (Heehs 152).

References and Related Readings

Chakravarty, Satyajyoti (1991) The Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited.

Chaturvedi, B.K. (2002) Sri Aurobindo. New Delhi: D.K. Publishers Distributors Pvt. Ltd.

Heehs, Peter (1989) Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Heehs, Peter (1998) The Essential Writings of Sri Aurobindo. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kaul, H. Kumar (1994) Aspects of Yoga. Calcutta: South Asia Books.

Minor, Robert Neil (1978) Sri Aurobindo: The Perfect and the Good. Calcutta: South Asia Books.

Nikhilananda (1992) Hinduism: Its Meaning for the Liberation of the Spirit. New York: Ramakrishna Vivekanada Center.

Nikhilananda (1994) Upanishads. New York: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center.

Rama (2005) Fearless Living: Yoga and Faith. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Himalayan Institute Press.

Sri Aurobindo (1996) Synthesis of Yoga. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press.

Yogananda, Paramahansa (2001) The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India’s Universal Science of God-Realization. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Mother


Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary philosophy

Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of involution

Sri Aurobindo’s vision for the future

Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of social evolution

The Vedas

Bhagavad Gita

Sri Aurobindo’s poetry













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Article written by Lewis Chong (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.