24 March 2014

William Ernest Hocking On Swami Vivekananda

Image source: Boston University
William Ernest Hocking (10 August 1873  – 12 June 1966) was a renowned philosopher of the United States of the twentieth century. He was an idealist philosopher and worked at the Harvard University. Some of his notable works are— The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912), Morale and Its Enemies (1918), Types of Philosophy (1929), Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen's Inquiry After One Hundred Years (1932), Living Religions and a World Faith (1938), The Coming World Civilization (1956). A detailed biography of William Ernest Hocking is available at Wikipedia. In this article you will find William Ernest Hocking's quotes and comments on Swami Vivekananda.

William Ernest Hocking told—
... We all carry about with us unsolved problems of adjustment to this many-angled world—without formulating questions, we are living quests, unless by some rare chance our philosophy of life is entirely settled. And to meet some person may resolve a quest wholly without his knowledge; it may be simply mode of being that brings the release.

This was in some measure the story of my first encounter with Swami Vivekananda, though I was only one of an immense audience. ...I was a casual visitor at the [1893 Chicago World’s] Fair, just turning twenty, interested in a dozen exhibits on the Midway. ...But aside from all this, I had a quietly rankling problem of my own.

I had been reading Herbert Spencer, all I could get of his works. ...I was convinced by him;...but it was somehow a vital injury to think of man as of the animals—birth, growth, mating, death—and nothing more—finis. I had had my religion— Methodism—an experience of conversion with a strange enlightenment which gave me three days of what felt like a new vision of things, strangely lifted up; Spencer had explained that all away as an emotional flurry—the world must be faced with a steady objective eye. The Christian cosmology was fancy.

But still, Christianity was not the only religion. There were to be speakers from other traditions [at the Parliament of Religions]. They might have some insight that would relieve the tension. I would go for an hour and listen. I didn't know the programme. It happened to be Vivekananda’s period.

... He spoke not as arguing from a tradition, or from a book, but as from an experience and certitude of his own. I do not recall the steps of his address. But there was a passage toward the end, in which I can still hear the ring of his voice, and feel the silence of the crowd—almost as if shocked. The audience was well-mixed, but could be taken as one in assuming that there had been a 'Fall of man' resulting in a state of 'original sin', such that 'All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' But what is the speaker saying? I hear his emphatic rebuke : 'Call men sinners? It is a SIN to call men sinners!'

...Through the silence I felt something like a gasp running through the hall as the audience waited for the affirmation which must follow this blow. What his following words were I cannot recall with the same verbal clarity : they carried the message that in all men there is that divine essence, undivided and eternal reality is One, and that One, which is Brahman, constitutes the central being of each one of us.

For me, this doctrine was a startling departure from anything which my scientific psychology could then recognize. One must live with these ideas and consider how one’s inner experience could entertain them. But what I could feel and understand was that this man was speaking from what he knew, not from what he had been told. He was well aware of the books; but he was more immediately aware of his own experience and his own status in the world; and what he said would have to be taken into account in any final world-view. I began to realize that Spencer could not be allowed the last word. And furthermore, that this religious experience of mine, which Spencer would dismiss as a psychological flurry, was very akin to the grounds of Vivekananda's own certitude.


  • Swami Vivekananda in the West : New Discoveries by Maries Louise Burke, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1992, Vol: I, pp: 117–118.

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