Swami Vivekananda, America’s Favorite Monk

How a Bengali man sold the West on Hinduism and altered the course of Indian history.

vivekananda-reclining Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda (Vedanta Society)

Ayesha Le Breton

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May 15, 2024

On September 11, 1893, a 30-year-old Swami Vivekananda landed in Chicago, turbaned and donning ochre robes. He had little money after a two-month journey from Bombay. Despite sleeping in a box car the night before, the young man delivered an electrifying speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. “Sisters and brothers of America,” he began, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance…we accept all religions as true.”

Vivekananda was on a mission to introduce Hinduism to Americans. “I want to give them dry, hard reason, softened in the sweetest syrup of love and made spicy with intense work, and cooked in the kitchen of yoga,” he once said. “So that even a baby could easily digest it.” That he did, becoming one of the most influential commentators of Hinduism in the West. Over a century later, people still eat up his legacy, whether they know it or not.

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