Editor’s note: Below is an important article Rajiv wrote on Swami Vivekananda that shows his not-so-well known influence and his importance to western philosophy today. This is one of the few articles selected by the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission in their official book commemorating Swami Vivekananda’s 150th anniversary. That book was launched recently in Belur Math by the President of India. .. read on at the PDF linked at:

Vivekananda’s Ideas – Two revolutions in Western Thought






“No rational man can possibly quarrel with these evolutionists. But we have to learn one thing more. We have to go one step further, and what is that? That every evolution is preceded by an involution. “

Swami Vivekananda’s impact on Western intellectuals was revolutionary, transforming such diverse fields as religion, psychology, philosophy, literature and popular culture. For decades after Swamiji’s death, his influence snowballed. Each successive generation of Western thinkers internalised his ideas, reframed them to fit occidental vocabulary, and applied them to ever-increasing domains of human activity. The objective of this paper is to critically evaluate this phenomenon and present to the readers the influence of Vivekananda’s ideas on Western thought.


Swamiji’s contributions to Western thought can be divided into two broad movements. Of these, the first is reasonably well-appreciated, at least among those familiar with his work today. The second has had an even deeper impact; yet, seldom is Swamiji cited or mentioned in relation to the ideas it engendered. These two movements, which we may call Swamiji’s Western thought revolutions, are:


1) A First Revolution that includes the immediate impact of Swamiji’s ideas during his lifetime, as well as their subsequent dissemination after his death, via three channels: a) Monks of the Ramakrishna Mission and its affiliates; b) Western disciples and followers; and c) Westerners who, though influenced by Swamiji, have remained formally unaffiliated with his movements.

2) A Second Revolution, currently under way, which consists of his ideas as transmitted through multiple generations of thinkers. At each stage, these ideas have been reformulated into new guises and propagated by the intermediaries as “original” concepts. While some intermediaries have acknowledged their debt to Swamiji, others style themselves as “pioneers”, developing new vocabularies to conceal the Indian origins of what they purvey. This not only precludes an accurate historical account of how these ideas were transmitted into what is seen as “Western thought”, but it often causes distortion or dilution of the original ideas themselves, and hence limits their usefulness.

One particular idea of Swamiji which triggered this second revolution is that of “involution”. This idea challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution and Judeo-Christian axioms of creation equally, by encompassing both science and religion within a single harmonious framework.

Involution is mentioned and explained repeatedly in Swamiji’s collected works. In Prabuddha Bharata, spanning a century of later writings by his disciples and admirers, the term occurs 157 times. Yet its migration into recent Western thought is hardly ever credited to Swamiji.

Most recently, the American author Ken Wilber has appropriated involution to formulate what he has trademarked as “Integral Theory”, while avoiding any mention of Swami Vivekananda. Later in this article we shall see how Swamiji introduced the concept of involution into modern discourse; how it took root in the West; how it was adopted by Swamiji’s ardent follower and admirer Sri Aurobindo, among others; and how, through a variety of new Western intermediaries, it has become a cornerstone of 21st-century Western thought. I will set the stage by summarising the First Revolution Swamiji engendered.

{read on at the PDF linked at Vivekananda’s Ideas – Two revolutions in Western Thought }


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