A spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power, Swami Vivekananda crammed immense labor and achievement into his short life (1863–1902). Born Narendranath Datta, Vivekananda in his youth was fascinated by the agnostic Western schools of philosophy.
At the same time, vehement in his desire to know the truth about God, he questioned people of holy reputation, asking them if they had seen God. He found such a person in Sri Ramakrishna, who became his master, allayed his doubts, guided him on the spiritual path, and transformed him into sage and prophet with authority to teach.
After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing in 1886, Vivekananda renounced the world and crisscrossed India as a wandering monk. His mounting compassion for India’s people drove him to seek material help from the West. Accepting an opportunity to represent Hinduism at Chicago’s Parliament of Religions in 1893, Vivekananda won instant celebrity in America and a ready forum for his spiritual teaching.
For three years he spread the Vedanta philosophy and religion in America and England and then returned to India to found the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. He passed away on July 4, 1902, after a brief second visit to the West. His lectures and writings have been gathered into nine volumes of his Complete Works.
Most of the Vedanta Societies which were founded in America and Europe up through the 1930s can trace their origins directly to Swami Vivekananda or the people who heard him speak from 1893 through 1900.