Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) was an Indian philosopher, student of the Hindu saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Vivekananda is generally considered to be the person responsible for the revival of Hinduism in modern India, and for the introduction of the western society to the ideas of Vedanta, Yoga, and Hinduism at The Parliament of Religions in 1893 and subsequent lectures.
Veneration of every human being as an equal to gods was the centerpoint of his religious philosophy, something he had learned from his teacher Ramakrishna. Deriving philosophical conclusions from this religious statement, Vivekananda saw service to gods equal to the service to the other human beings. Thus, he advocated the ideas of selfless service to the society, especially to those worse off than oneself. He held that no one can be truly free until all people are, and that the selfish desire for personal salvation has to be given up, and that only tireless work for the salvation of others was the true mark of the enlightened person. He said that a person who cannot see God in poor and unhealthy people, but claims to see God in an idol, is not a true believer.
From the same premise, he called for unification of religions: he said “Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas, or sects, or churches, or temples; they count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man, which is spirituality; [...] criticize no one, for all doctrines and creeds have some good in them”.
In his search for unity of doctrines, Vivekananda also attempted to reconcile Western science with Vedanta philosophy, pointing out that, in principle, reasoning is present in Vedanta methodology, the particular is explained by the general, the general by the more general, until the universal is reached, and the explanations of all things must come from within the things and not from outside. In his view, science was nothing other than the search of the perfect Unity, which, once reached, would be the end of science. Thus, he said, physics will end when it discovers the one energy of which all others are but manifestations (which, curiously, is exactly the premise of the Unified Field Theory). Nevertheless, Vivekananda was firmly spiritual and rejected materialism and utilitarianism in any part of life, including science, insisting that those who study matter only are “denying their own existence”.
Vivekananda’s impact went further than restoration of Hunduism and Vedic philosophy to their prominent place in Indian society. By his lectures and speeches, which attracted great numbers of young listeners all over India, by reminding the nation of its identity, by attracting attention to the struggle of the poor, he jumpstarted the chain of events that led to India’s independence, after Mahatma Gandhi stepped into the picture 15 years later. Vivekananda’s birthday is celebrated in India as National Youth Day.