Swami Vivekananda’s Western Antaranga

Swami Vivekananda’s Western Antaranga

Swami Vivekananda introduced the West to the universal principles of Vedanta beginning in the United States in 1893. Although hundreds and thousands attended lectures and were awed by him, a small group of dedicated people came forth to devote themselves to the principles of Vedanta and to help Swamiji spread its universal message.  Among his closest Western disciples were women and men who served in various ways to assist Swamiji and his brother disciples establish the work of the Ramakrishna Order and secure it for future generations. India and the West continue to reap the benefits of their sacrifices.  Among the most notable of this antaranga are Sister Nivedita, Josephine MacLeod, Sara Bull, Christine Greenstidel, Charlotte and Henry Sevier, J. J. Goodwin, Miss S.Ellen Waldo, Mrs. Mary Funke, and others.

Sister Nivedita of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
Honoring 150 years since her birth: 1867 – 2017

The story of Sister Nivedita, arguably the most well-known of Swami Vivekananda’s Western disciples, is tremendously captivating and inspiring.  Her life, before and after meeting Swami Vivekananda, was intensely varied.  Her great intelligence, wide-ranging interests, powerful writing and speaking abilities, capacity for self-sacrifice, renunciation, and surrender to her guru has left its mark all over India, and also in the Ramakrishna Order.  She and her life’s activities are so complex, so full of nuances, it is no wonder that she is often described according to only one or another aspect of her life.  The Complete Works of Sister Nivedita consist of five volumes, which include all her books, many of her lectures and published articles, reviews, etc.  In addition, there exist hundreds of letters written to Swami Vivekananda’s other Western disciples, his monastic brothers, Western intellectuals, Indian artists, educators, scientists, politicians, nationalists, and others.

Taken together, her writings and activities are a chronicle of the early days of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the growing national response to Swami Vivekananda’s call to the youth of India to sacrifice their lives to raise the masses and fully embrace the spiritual Ideals of Mother India.  Nivedita’s life is set within the context of the wave of scientific, psychological, religious, and spiritual experimentation and openness occurring in American, British, and European societies at the turn of the last century.  It can also be said that the advent of Swami Vivekananda in America and England, along with the discipleship and powerful pen of Nivedita, instigated the beginning of the end of England’s domination of India. For, the Truth of Vedanta, India’s treasure for humanity, was transmitted by an Indian Rishi to the West, and the earthly truth of England’s cultural and economic tyranny of her peoples was exposed to an increasingly open-minded public.

Each phase of Nivedita’s life is worth exploring in depth.  The biography, Sister Nivedita, by Pravrajika Atmaprana, does great justice to the complexity of Nivedita’s life and aspirations and the Guru-Disciple relationship between her and Vivekananda. Only those who have walked the spiritual path of renunciation, wisdom, devotion, and meditation, combined with selfless service, can truly represent a character like that of Sister Nivedita.  Below, in brief, are some highlights of her life, with the intent to inspire readers to read Nivedita’s biography and writings.