Swami Vivekananda is relatively obscure today, yet he was one of the great spiritual figures India
bequeathed to the modern era. He was one of the first to introduce the ancient treasures of Indian
philosophy and Classical Yoga to the world outside of India -- treasures that are commonplace today
but sensational when Swami Vivekananda first introduced them at the world's first Parliament of
Religions in Chicago in 1893. A shy, almost inconspicuous persona all through the conference, when
it was his turn to speak, his message was a sensation. He quite literally made national headlines
in the mainstream media of the day.*
Over the next decade his international standing rose until he was reckoned one of the great
religious teachers of the day. Those who were present at his lectures said in news reports and
their later memoirs that his spiritual puissance was unforgettable. One of those rare speakers on
spiritual matters whose oratory is matched by wisdom, he became a mahattaya, a great personage, in
the then-colonial Parliament of his homeland. To the hearts and the minds of his Western
followers, his message confirmed the stature of India as spiritual sourcebook to the world.
After the Parliament of Religions, he passed more than four years traveling throughout the United
States, teaching to all who would listen the spiritual philosophies and practices of India. In
this he was a pioneer, the first missionary of the wisdom of Yoga to the West. Some have said that
he inspired the renaissance -- the resurgence -- of Indian philosophy in the West. The eloquence of his
message was an antidote to Western underappreciation of the depths and subtleties of Indian
religiosity. His message was simple: India's was a nobler legacy of thought than the image of it
painted by missionaries whose vested interest lay in keeping up the fiction that the Indian mind
knew only superstition, idol worship, and heathen ritual.
All this in itself would have been inspiring, but he was more than a popularizer, a silvertongue
who could move minds with words. Any pulpit-pounder can do that. Far greater was Vivekananda's
introduction of the Vedanta philosophy of the Upanishads, and in this is his enduring legacy to us
It is useful to step back for a moment to understand why the Upanishads are such an important part
of Vivekananda's -- and through him India's -- legacy. The term "Upanishad" means literally "those who sit near," and indeed the word is generally used in
the context of disciples listening closely to the doctrines of a guru or spiritual teacher. The
most famous Upanishads verse distills one of the great preoccupations underlying all Indian
"From the unreal lead me to the real.
From darkness lead me to light.
From death lead me to immortality."
Where, in what we cannot see or know, is the state called "real"? In this delusional, tricky,
world whose only guarantee is mortality, where in it can be found a permanent, ineffable,
The message of the Upanishads is that truth is not a state, it is a becoming. After all, even an
utterly empty void really is made of everything, for Voidness comprises the infinite potential to
be something. In the Upanishads, Truth is the becoming aware that our spiritual essence, our soul
(atman), is at one with all things -- a Oneness which was, and is, created by Brahman. Although
Brahman can be thought of as "God," the Western three-lettered deity is far too human to be
anything but a hyperglorified human. Brahman is The Creator, and given what we know today about
the vast complexity of existence, from the particle to the universe and the picosecond to
eternity, cell to plasm to three billion years of life, Brahman, the All, is a far more
appropriate concept than any human self-myth done up with a face and beard. By knowing the One
that is our atman, we know the One that is Brahman. To sum it into Hinduism's primal concept:
atman is Brahman. We are the One and the One is us. I am not a me, I am a we.
To Vivekananda, the Upanishads contained the most beautiful and poetic proclamations of Oneness
ever offered to humanity. His life mission was to convey his realization to others. The path by
which he did it was clearly and eloquently explaining the Classical Yoga pathways which lead to
self-realization -- pathways that are taught in the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. Vivekananda in
essence opened a treasure chest of the spiritual jewels to the world, giving them freely in words
the world would understand.
This was a gigantic gift, and it was quickly understood as such. As the historian R. C. Majumdar
"Vivekananda championed the cause of Hinduism in the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in
1893. There, in the presence of the representatives of all the religions from almost all the
countries in the world, the young monk from India expounded the principles of Vedanta and the
greatness of Hinduism with such persuasive eloquence that from the very first he captivated the
hearts of the vast audience. It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that Swami Vivekananda made
a place for Hinduism in the cultural map of the modern world. The civilized nations of the West
had hitherto looked down upon Hinduism as a bundle of superstitions. Now, for the first time, they
not only greeted with hearty approval the lofty principles of Hinduism as expounded by
Vivekananda, but accorded it a very high place in the cultures and civilizations of the world."
To that, another renowned guru named Swami Siddhinathananda added,
"Vivekananda's writings are a modern commentary on the Upanishads in English. What Sri Shankara
did a thousand years ago through his Sanskrit commentaries, Swami Vivekananda did in modern times
through English in propagating the eternal values of our spiritual lore. His words are live and
direct; you feel you are hearing him straight and not simply reading his words. They are music to
the soul. They go home straight. His writings and lectures form his greatest monument and the
priceless treasure of his legacy. They are the Gospel of the future. Swami Vivekananda's works
will be considered one of the greatest contributions of India to the world at large."
One of the devotees who knew Vivekananda personally summed his feelings this way:
"His Divine presence spread peace and tranquillity wherever he went. None knew him but to love
him.No being lived so low, be he a man or a beast, that Vivekananda would not salute. His was not
only an appeal to the poor and lowly, but also to kings and princes and mighty rulers of the
earth. Vivekananda shook the world of thought in all its higher lines. Great teachers bowed
reverently at his feet, the humble followed reverently to kiss the hem of his garments; no other
single human being was revered more during his life, than was Vivekananda."
Many similar paeans are quoted in Dave DeLuca's book, but to recite them one after another here
would quickly become tedious. What is more important is why anyone with an interest in Indian
spirituality should buy this book.
Until Mr. DeLuca came along, Swami Vivekananda had all but slipped off into history's footnotes.
Who, after all, reads the proceedings of the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago? So many
events have transpired over the 100 years that not only is his memory obscured, but so is the
impact he had on the world of his day. Indeed, had the world listened to him more, perhaps the
litany of subsequent events wouldn't be so lachrymose -- two world wars and an uncountable number of
lesser ones; at least four attempts at genocide; economic and spiritual depressions; material
gluttony and spiritual poverty; new and new-age religions and movements, some pertinent, others
frivolous. It is no surprise Vivekananda all but disappeared, that his gift of the Yogic way
survived more as arcana on the intellectual table than the feast for the soul that Yoga really is.
The neglect is over. DeLuca's enthusiastic and inspired edition of the Swami's writings has
been thoughtfully compiled and edited with a kind of popularist rigor. The result is that
Vivekananda: Lessons in Classical Yoga is one of the finest books on scriptural yoga available
DeLuca sifted Vivekananda's key teachings out of the massive corpus of writings and lectures
on Classical Yoga preserved in his nine-volume Complete Works. DeLuca then refined them into
108 really quite personable one- to four-page selections. Each is presented in such a way that it can
stand on its own. As a merger of spiritual education, wisdom, and guidance, the 108 readings
resemble the works of the Hazelden Foundation, though without the goal of recovery of some kind.
DeLuca's approach is not about recovery, it is about discovery.
In grand scheme, the book is sectioned into six parts, starting with Swami Vivekananda's
exposition of the Vedanta concept of Oneness -- the core message of the Upanishads from which
authentic Yoga is derived. Part Two presents the Swami's teachings on the four Classical Yoga pathways as taught in the
Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The remaining four parts are devoted to Vivekananda's teachings on each of the Classical Yogas:
Jnana Yoga, the pathway to Oneness through the Intellect; Karma Yoga, the pathway to Oneness
through selfless service; Bhakti Yoga, the pathway to Oneness through love of a Personal God; and
Raja Yoga, the pathway to Oneness through the control of mind.
The writings contained in this package are certainly stirring, inspirational-indeed universal. But
more, they are practical (that rare quality in the doctrinal document) and can be used by anyone
for personal spiritual grounding in today's chaotic world. These writings demonstrate why millions
of people throughout the world believe Vivekananda to be one of the greatest Yogis and Yoga
teachers who ever lived.
One certainly has to admire that even a short-list of his students -- especially in light of their
later accomplishments -- attests to Vivekananda's lofty level of authority. They include Mahatma
Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Leo Tolstoy, William James, Jawaharlal Nehru, and many others. Gandhi
himself proclaimed, "I have gone through his works very thoroughly, and after having gone through
them, the love that I had for my country became a thousand-fold."
William James, author of the classic The Varieties of Religious Experience, felt sufficiently
moved to venture beyond his usual reserve to state, "The paragon of all Unity systems is the
Vedanta philosophy of India, and the paragon of Vedantist missionaries was the late Swami
Vivekananda who visited our land some years ago. The Swami is an honor to humanity." Jawaharlal
Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, extolled, "Where can you find a man like him? Study what
he wrote, and learn from his teachings, for if you do, you will gain immense strength. Take
advantage of the fountain of wisdom, of Spirit, and of fire that flowed through Vivekananda!"
Sri Aurobindo, unquestionably one of India's great sages of the last five centuries, commented on
the pioneering work of Vivekananda's ministry this way:
"The going forth of Vivekananda as the heroic soul destined to take the world between his two
hands and change it was the first visible sign that India was awake . He was a power if ever there
was one, a very lion among men. We perceive his influence still working gigantically in something
grand, intuitive, upheaving.and we say, 'Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his
Mother** and her children.'"
Many more such expressions of reverence and gratitude pepper DeLuca's book. As neglected as
Swami Vivekananda had become a century after his death, the neglect has now been made good. Prior
to DeLuca's book, Vivekananda's works were available only in collected lectures comprised of
many lessons each, or in out-of-context paragraphs extracted from different writings and
rearranged according to topic. The collected-lecture approach did not elevate each teaching to a
limelight of its own, and the cut-and-paste approach deprived the reader of the Swami's two most
gifted talents: lofty elocution and vivid craftwork of meaning.
Each selection is a clear, focused guidance-stirring, as lively as if he is there with us, spirit
to spirit, illuminating us, exhorting us to spiritual action. We come away with a much clearer
synthesis of the most important Vedanta concepts -- Oneness, yoga, meditation, karma, maya, rebirth,
and many other practices of Indian philosophy. For the first time in any compilation of Swami
Vivekananda's works, DeLuca has included the stirring account of Swami's 1893 appearance at
the world Parliament of Religions, along with a biography of Vivekananda's life. The sum total of
these make this book an unrivaled commentary on Yoga philosophy and practice -- spiritual nourishment
is here, enough to last a lifetime.
What's to say about a package such as this, aside from the obligation to not throw on the
afterburner of adjectives? Simply put, the combination of Vivekananda's sublime wisdom and
DeLuca's inspired presentation makes Vivekananda: Lessons In Classical Yoga an unrivaled
commentary on scriptural Yoga philosophy and practice. No library of Yoga study will be complete
without the revered teachings of Swami Vivekananda, and no edition brings them to us more
beautifully than Dave DeLuca's Vivekananda: Lessons In Classical Yoga. If you are thinking of
buying a book on authentic Yoga, make it this one.
*For a stirring account of the Swami Vivekananda's presentation at the 1893 Parliament of
Religions, see www.namastebooks.com.
**In this context, "Mother" means "Mother India" and "her children" are all Hindus.