International Journal of Yoga - Philosophy, Psychology and Parapsychology

: 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 53--55

Unearthing the upanishadic roots for "The Song of Sanyasin" of Swami Vivekananda

Rajesha Halekote Karisetty, Ramachandra G Bhat 
 Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Ramachandra G Bhat
Dean of Academics, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Eknath Bhavan, #19, Gavipuram Circle, K.G. Nagar, Bengaluru - 560 019, Karnataka


The vigorous life of a Sannyasin, an ascetic, seems to be practically difficult in this modern age. But Swami Vivekananda affirms that a life of spiritual enlightenment is very much possible in his �DQ�The Song of Sannyasin�DQ�, which he had composed with 13 stanzas in July 1895 at Thousand Island Park, New York. The powerful words of Swamiji echoes the profound wisdom base from the Upanishads motivating even a normal man towards renunciation to attain the higher goal of spiritual perfection. A scholar of Vedanta, who reads this poem, will be fascinated to see how the Upanishad mantras have got translated into English through the poetic words of Swamiji. Hence this research tried to bring out the Upanishadic connection for all 13 stanzas of this poem and to establish the relevance and practical application of the age old Upanishadic wisdom.

How to cite this article:
Karisetty RH, Bhat RG. Unearthing the upanishadic roots for "The Song of Sanyasin" of Swami Vivekananda.Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2013;1:53-55

How to cite this URL:
Karisetty RH, Bhat RG. Unearthing the upanishadic roots for "The Song of Sanyasin" of Swami Vivekananda. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2024 Mar 2 ];1:53-55
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Swami Vivekananda was an extraordinary and revolutionary saint with a profound vision who brought out the pragmatic relevance and significance of ancient Vedic wisdom in the modern age of unbridled hedonism. [1] He remains the source of inspiration for millions, starting from the spiritual master like Maharshi Aurobindo to modern youth. Though his soul-stirring thoughts were novel and path-breaking, they were always rooted in the Vedic lore, especially the Upanishads.

The twin significant messages of Swamiji [2] -("Renunciation and Service") that of Vedanta to the world at large and patriotic fervor and zealous service-mindedness to his own nation under the yoke of foreign rule-were orchestrated through the entire corpus of his rich literature consisting of his lectures, letters, poetry and other writings. Vivekananda's emotional outpourings and expositions are highly poetic. Not only in the melody, music and rhythm of words, but at the very core of each and every idea, his infectious passion and fervor bubble up, making every one of his expressions an immortal poem.

Swamiji had composed an immortal poem, "The Song of Sannyasin," [3] at Thousand Island Park, New York, July 1895. The picturesque poem highlights all his ideas on Practical Vedanta, echoing the Upanishads, to be followed by a sincere seeker of spirituality. Over the years, this Song has remained a great source of inspiration for millions. The impact of the Song has been so far-reaching that it has been translated into all major Indian languages and even a good number of foreign languages too.

The Upanishads represent the transcendental lore arising out the profound dialogues between a guru, essentially a brahmanishta (one anchored in Brahman-experience) and one or more sishyas, essentially mumukshus (aspirants yearning for spiritual release).

The focus of the sublime dialogs was more the Inner Spirit (Pratyagatman) than the objective universe of name and form. This fund of spiritual wisdom, embedded in the Upanishads, is known as Vedanta. A Sannyasin is supposed to follow the teachings of Vedanta in his daily life. However, this idealistic life of a Sannyasin seems to be practically difficult in this modern age of hedonism and skepticism. But, Swami Vivekananda affirms in his "Song of Sannyasin" (consisting of thirteen graceful stanzas) that a life of spiritual voyage and the quest is very much possible in this scientific age.

The powerful words of Swamiji distil the quintessence of Upanishadic wisdom and exert a wholesome impact on the common man, sowing in his mind the seeds of renunciation that constitute the infallible means to reach the highest goal of spiritual perfection. A scholar of Vedanta, who reads this poem, is sure to be fascinated and enthralled by the lucidity and charm of Swamiji's enunciation, in English poetry, of the arcane ideas contained in the mantras of Upanishads. The composition of the Song is so unique and brilliant that it serves the double purpose of the author's own spiritual self-education and also of the spiritual edification and redemption of eager aspirants.

 'Om Tat Sat'

The quintessence of Upanishads is distilled in the four Mahavakyas (major texts). A Sanyasin is initiated into one of these Mahavakyas by his Guru. It becomes the sacred duty of the initiated Sanyasin to constantly repeat the Mahavakya with implicit faith and cogitate and deeply meditate on its mystic import so that he can explore its deeper meanings and endeavor to actualize the same through his pure life. Swamiji has attempted to delineate this obligatory spiritual exercise of the newly-initiated recluses in his Song by making the Mahavakya "Thou art that-[INSIDE:1] "as the concluding refrain of each stanza. This Mahavakya originally finds its place in the Chandogya Upanishad and is repeated nine times by father Uddalaka in the course of his spiritual instruction to his son Shwetaketu.


Translation: 'That being which this subtle essence (cause) is, all this has got that as the Self. That is truth. That is the self (Atman) that thou art, O Svetaketu.'

In his Song, we see that Swamiji is admirably echoing the same lofty ideas articulated by Uddalaka in the Upanishad.

Another relevant and interesting point can be seen at the very outset of the song where Swamiji gives a clarion-call to the embodied self, viz. "Wake up the note!" where one is reminded of his famous quote "Arise, awake! Stop not till the goal is reached!"


Swamiji says here, "Wake up that which is sleeping and dreaming, while the opportunity for a conscious higher spiritual life passes by. Hear the note, the Song of the Spirit, crying for and beckoning towards the great Liberation for itself and for all living beings. Listen to that sweet inner harmony coming from the deepest recesses of the mind, body and spirit. It is time to satisfy a craving for Realization that no external experience or achievement can satisfy."

We find that this rousing call of Swamiji has its inspiration from the mantra of Katha Upanishad quoted below:


Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the excellent ones. The wise ones describe that the path to be as difficult to tread as a razor's sharp edge.

Another very significant relevance of the theme of the "Song of a Sanyasin" can be seen from its remarkable resemblance to that of the popular "Sanyasa Suktha" from the Maha Narayana Upanishad which brings out the qualities of a Sanyasin.


Not by work, not by progeny, not by wealth, they have attained Immortality. Some have attained Immortality by renunciation. That which the hermits attain is laid beyond the heaven; yet it shines brilliantly in the (purified) heart.

Having attained the Immortality consisting in the identity the Self (Atman) with the Supreme (Paramatman), all those aspirants who strive for self-control, who have gained unshakable conviction of the truths taught by the Vedanta through direct knowledge, and who have attained purity of mind through the practice of the discipline of yoga and steadfastness in the knowledge of Brahman preceded by renunciation, get themselves released into the region of Brahman at the dissolution of their final body.

In our tradition, Shastras (Shruti-Vedas) are believed to be the supreme authorities on the sublime subject of the spiritual journey leading to the tremendous terminus of Self-finding towards the supreme goal. In this context, we can see that the concept of Ashrama Dharma is unanimously accepted by all our ancient seers. This system is an excellent arangement, consciously evolved and instituted, to reach the Goal of Final Beatitude viz. Self-realzation, by gradual ascent of the four rungs of the spiritual ladder. In this regard, among the four stages of ashrama system, the Sanyasa, the path of self-denial and renunciation will enhance a seeker's credentials to strive for entry into the august portals of Moksha or Liberation. If analysed deeply, the Sanyasa Sukta clearly proclaims that no one can attain the supreme state by non-renunciation of karma (the path of renunciation of actions-karma sannyasa), by progeny or even by wealth. Renunciation of work should not be confused with wilful withdrawal from all actions (which is nothing but the tamasic state of lethargy and laziness) It is the lofty mental state of absolute equipoise and dispassion in which non-attachment to the fruits of action is the key element. The same sentiment is echoed by Swamiji. Swamiji's Song is a booming clarion call to himself as well to all aspirants who are on the path of Self-discovery. He has not only emphasized the importance of the attainment of the supreme spirtual goal but also the pivotal place of service in the spiritual scheme.

The 12 th stanza clearly reflects the motto of sanyasa dharma as put forth by Swamiji as [INSIDE:2]


Ignore the jeers and taunts of the majority who are steeped in spiritual nescience because you belong to the precious cream of the minority who have come by the treasure of spiritual awakening to the Truth. Disdain the warped opinions of the mentally-distorted masses that are not with you on your Spiritual Odyssey of Self-finding. March ahead freely unencumbered by demeaning worldly interests and pursuits. Be a peripatetic ascetic and strain your every nerve to rescue people caught in the quagmire of worldliness. Help them to rip off Maya's veil and to emerge out of spiritual darkness into the bright meadows of spiritual enlightenment where neither the fear of pain will unsettle and threaten you nor the hunt of sense-pleasure will agitate and excite you. Be equanimous in situations of honor and dishonor, of applause and affront and of warm approval and violent dissent. Your own inner self-satisfaction in the spiritual life you are leading is the barometer of the progress of your spiritual endeavor.


Thus the avowed object of this article is to bring out scriptural basis and bedrock on which one of the major compositions of Swami Vivekananda rests viz. "The Song of Sanyasin." Though daringly novel in his perspective, vision and work, Swamiji had rock-like faith in the ancient traditional shastras and was unshakably anchored in scriptural traditions. At the same time, we can see how insightfully he interprets and enunciates Bharat's hoary spiritual wisdom in the modern idiom to make it intelligible to the teeming citizens of the world. Swamiji's inspiring words in this poem constitute a veritable magna carta of spiritual life and continue to guide many more on the path of spirituality with its twin ideals of "Renunciation and Service." [2],[9]


1Great thinkers on Swami Vivekananda, e-book from
2Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Tadrupananda Swami, 1978, Vol. V, p. 228.
3Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Tadrupananda Swami, 1978, Vol. IV, p 392.
4Chandogya Upanisht, Gita press, Gorakhpur, code 582, (ISBN 81-293-0249-7) p. 604.
5Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Tadrupananda Swami, 1978, Vol. IV, p 392.
6Mantra Pushpam, the President, Ramakrishna Math, 2007, p 181.
7Mantra Pushpam, the President, Ramakrishna Math, 2007, p 42.
8Mantra Pushpam, the President, Ramakrishna Math, 2007, p 43.
9Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Tadrupananda Swami, 1978, Vol. IV, p 395.