1 . Biography
Swami Vivekananda was one of the most influential spiritual leaders of Vedanta philosophy. He was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa and was the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. Swami Vivekananda was the living embodiment of sacrifice and dedicated his life to the country and yearned for the progress of the poor, the helpless and the downtrodden. He showed a beacon of light to a nation that had lost faith in its ability under British rule and inspired self confidence among Indians that they are second to none. His ringing words and masterful oratory galvanized the slumbering nation. Swami Vivekananda real name was Narendranath Dutta. He was born on January12, 1863 in Calcutta. His fathers name was Vishwanath Dutta and his mothers name Bhuvaneswari Devi. Narendranath acquired the name of Swami Vivekananda when he became a monk. As a child Narendra was very lively and naughty. He was good in studies as well as in games. He studied instrumental and vocal music and also practiced meditation from a very early age. Even when Narendra was young he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste and religion. As a child Narendra had great respect for sanyasis (ascetics). He would give away anything to anybody if asked for. Whenever a beggar asked for alms, he would give him anything he had. Thus from childhood Narendra had the spirit of sacrifice and renunciation. In 1879, Narendra passed matriculation and entered Presidency College, Calcutta. After one year, he joined the Scottish Church College, Calcutta and studied philosophy. He studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations. As he advanced in his studies, his thinking faculty developed. Doubts regarding existence of God started to arise in Narendras mind. This made him associate with the Brahmo Samaj, an important religious movement of the time, led by Keshab Chandra Sen. But the Samajs congregational prayers and devotional songs could not satisfy Narendras zeal to realise God.
During this time Narendra came to know of Sri Ramakrishna Pramahans of Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna was a priest in the temple of Goddess Kali. He was not a scholar. But he was a great devotee. It was being said of him that he had realized God. Once, Narendra went to Dakshineswar to with his friends see him. He asked Ramakrishna, whether he had seen God. The instantaneous answer from Ramakrishna was, Yes, I have seen God, just as I see you here, only in a more clear sense. Narendra was astounded and puzzled. He could feel the mans words were honest and uttered from depths of experience. He started visiting Ramakrishna frequently. It was in Narendras nature to test something thoroughly before he could accept it. He would not accept Ramakrishna as his guru without a test. Ramakrishna used to say that, in order to realize God, one should give up the desire for money and women. One day Narendra hid a rupee under his pillow. Sri Ramakrishna, who had gone out, came into the room and stretched himself on the cot. At once he jumped up as if bitten by a scorpion. When he shook the mattress, the rupee coin fell down. Later he came to know that it was the doing of Narendra. Narendra accepted Sri Ramakrishna as his guru and took training under him for five years in the Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of non dualism. Sri Ramakrishna passed away in 1886 and nominated Narendra as his successor. After his death Narendra and a core group of Ramakrishnas disciples took vows to become monks and renounce everything, and started living in a supposedly haunted house in Baranagore. In 1890, Narendra set out on a long journey. He covered the length and breadth of the country. He visited Varanasi, Ayodhya, Agra, Vrindavan, Alwar etc. Narendra acquired the name of Swami Vivekananda during the journey. It is said that he was given the name Vivekananda by Maharaja of Khetri for his discrimination of things, good and bad. During his journey, Vivekananda stayed at kings palaces, as well as at the huts of the poor. He came in close contact with the cultures of different regions of India and various classes of people in India. Vivekananda observed the imbalance in society and tyranny in the name of caste. He realised the need for a national rejuvenation if India was to survive at all.
Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent on December24, 1892. He swam across the sea and started meditating on a lone rock. He meditated for three days and said later that he meditated about the past, present and future of India. The rock is presently popular as Vivekananda memorial and is a major tourist destination. In 1893, Swami Vivekananda went to America to attend the Conference of World Religions in Chicago. He earned wild applause for beginning his address with the famous words, Sisters and brothers of America. Swamiji mesmerized everyone in America with his masterful oratory. Wherever he went, he dwelt at length on the greatness of Indian Culture. He spoke with spontaneous ease on every topic, be it History, Sociology, Philosophy or Literature. He deplored the malicious propaganda that had been unleashed by the Christian missionaries in India. Swami Vivekananda also went to England. Many people became his disciples. Most famous among them was Margaret Nivedita. She came to India and settled here. Swami Vivekananda returned to India in 1897 after four years of touring in the West. He started disseminating the message of spiritual development among Indians. He realized that social service was possible only through the concerted efforts on an organized mission. To achieve this objective, Swami Vivekananda started Sri Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 and formulated its ideology and goal. During the next two years he bought a site at Belur on the banks of the Ganga, constructed the buildings and established the Ramakrishna Math. He once again toured the West from January 1899 to December 1900. Swami Vivekananda died on July4, 1902 at Belur Math near Calcutta.
2 . Early Days
Swami Vivekananda, or Narendranath Datta, or simply Narendra or Naren as was known during his pre monastic days, was born to Vishwanath Datta and Bhuvaneshwari Devi on Monday, 12th January 1863, at Calcutta.Naughty and restless though Narendranath was by nature, and given to much fun and frolic, he was greatly attracted towards spiritual life even in childhood. The stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which his mother told him left on him an indelible impression. Play delighted Narendranath, and one of his pastimes as a child was to worship and meditate on the image of Rama, Sita or Shiva. Every night, before he fell asleep, there appeared to him between his eyes a wonderful spot of light of changing hues. That light would gradually expand until it burst and bathed his whole being in a white radiance. He had full faith in Hindu mythology. Once he went to hear an exposition of the Ramayana in the course of which he heard the pundit describe the great devotion of Hanuman. At the end of the exposition, he approached the pundit and said he would like to know the whereabouts of Hanuman. The pundit said that he might be in some plantain grove. So Narendranath waited at a plantain grove till late at night expecting to meet Hanuman, and his people could find him only after a great search.
Even in his early boyhood, Narendranath demanded intellectually convincing arguments for every proposition. He often used to swing on the branches of a champaka tree in a neighbours compound. This irritated the owner, an old man, and he warned Narendranath and his companions that the tree was haunted by a bad ghost who would some day break their necks. This frightened the other boys ; but Narendranath argued that if the old man were right, their necks would have been broken long ago. And he continued to swing on the branches of the tree as before.
Narendranath was gifted with a multiplicity of talents and he cultivated them all. His leonine beauty was matched by his courage ; he had the build of an athlete, a delightful voice, and a brilliant intellect. His interests ranged from fencing, wrestling, rowing, games, physical exercise, cooking and organising dramas to instrumental and vocal music, love of philosophic discussion, and criticism. In all these he was an undisputed leader. These and other traits in his character soon attracted the notice of his teachers and fellow students. The principal of his college, Professor Hastie, once remarked: Narendra is a real genius. I have travelled far and wide, but have not yet come across a lad of his talents and possibilities even among the philosophical students in the German universities. He is bound to make his mark in life.
3 . In College
At college Narendranath began to interest himself more seriously in studies. Apart from the usual college curriculum, he avidly studies western logic, the abstruse philosophy of Herbert Spencer, the systems of Kant and Schopenhauer, the mystical and analytical speculation of the Aristotelian school, the positivist philosophy of Comte, and John Stuart Mills Three Essays on Religion. He also mastered the ancient and modern history of Europe and the English poets like Shelley and Wordsworth. He even took a course in physiology with a view to understanding the functioning of the nervous system, the brain, and the spinal cord. But this contact with western thought, which lays particular emphasis on the supremacy of reason, brought about a severe conflict in Narendranath. His inborn tendency towards spirituality and his respect for the ancient traditions and beliefs of his religion which he had imbibed from his mother, on the one side, and his argumentative nature coupled with his sharp intellect which hated superstition and questioned simple faith on the other, were now at war with each other. Under a deep spiritual urge, he was then found observing hard ascetic practices, staying in his grandmothers house, away from his parents and other relatives, following a strict vegetarian diet, sleeping on the bare ground or on an ordinary quilt, in accordance with the strict rules of brahmacharya. From youth, two visions of life had presented themselves before him. In one, he found himself among the great ones of the earth, possessing riches, power, honour, and glory, and he felt himself capable of renouncing all worldly things, dressed in simple loin cloth, living on alms, sleeping under a tree, and then he felt that he had the capacity to live thus like the Rishis of ancient India. It was, however, the second vision that prevailed in the end, and he used to sleep with the conviction that by renunciation alone could man attain the highest bliss.
In his eagerness for spiritual illumination he went to Devendranath Tagore, the leader of the Brahmo Samaj, and asked him: Sir, have you seen God? The old man was embarrassed by the question, and replied, My boy, you have to eyes of a Yogi. You should practice meditation. The youth was disappointed, but he received no better answer from the leaders of other religious sects whom he approached with the same question. At this critical juncture he remembered the words of his professor, William Hastie, who, while speaking of trances in the course of his lectures, had said, Such an experience is the result of purity of mind and concentration on some particular object, and is rare indeed, particularly in these days. I have seen only one person who has experienced that blessed state of mind, and he is Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. You can understand if you go there and see for yourself. … now in his trouble, the young seeker decided to have yet one more try to solve his problem. Approaching him (Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar), Narendranath asked him the question which he had asked others often before: Sir, have you seen God? Yes, answered Sri Ramakrishna, I see Him just as I see you here, only I see Him in a much intenser sense. God can be realised; one can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you. But who cares to do so? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children for wealth and property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him. He surely manifests Himself. This startling reply impressed Narendranath at once. For the first time he had found a man who could say that he had seen God, and recognised that religion was a reality to be felt. As he listened, he could not but believe that Sri Ramakrishna spoke from the depths of his own realisations
4 . Next few years
The second time Narendranath went to Dakshineswar, a month later. Sri Ramakrishna was alone, sitting on his bedstead. As soon as he saw Narendranath, he received him cordially and asked him to sit near himself on the bed. In a moment, overcome with emotion, the Master drew closer to him. Muttering something to him, and with eyes fixed on the young aspirant, he touched him with his right his foot. The magic touch produced a strange experience in Narendranath. With his eyes open, he saw the walls and everything in the room, nay, the whole universe and himself within it, whirling and vanishing into an all encompassing void. He was frightened as he thought he might be on the verge of death; and cried out: What are you doing to me? I have my parents at home. Sri Ramakrishna laughed aloud at this, and stroking Narendranath chest said: All right, let us leave it there for the present. Everything will come in time. Surprisingly, as soon as he uttered these words, Narendranath became his old self again. Sri Ramakrishna, too, was quite normal in his behaviour towards him after the incident, and treated him kindly and with great affection. Drawn by this kindness and, even more, by the need to fathom the mystery, Narendranath went to Dakshineswar for a third time, probably a week later. He was determined not to allow the previous experience to repeat itself, and was fully on his guard. But with all his critical faculties alert, he fared no better. Sri Ramakrishna took him to the adjacent garden belonging to Jadunath Mallik. After a stroll, they sat down in the parlour. Soon, Sri Ramakrishna fell into a spiritual trance and touched Narendranath. Despite his precautions Narendranath was totally over whelmed adn he lost all outward consciousness. When he regained consciousness, he found Sri Ramakrishna stroking his chest.
Referring to his incident, Sri Ramakrishna said later on: I put several questions to him while he was in that state. I asked him about his antecedents, and where he lived, his mission in this world and the duration of his mortal life. He gave fitting answers after diving deep into himself. The answers only confirmed what I had seen and inferred about him, These things shall remain a secret, but I came to know that he was a sage who had attained perfection, a past master in meditation, and the day he know his real nature, he will give up the body by an act of will, through Yoga.Of all the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, Narendranath alone doubted the Master and critised any of his teachings that appeared irrational. Firmly poised as he was in the knowledge of the highest truth, Sri Ramakrishna, however, did not upset the intellectual outbursts of Narendranath. He rose equal to the occasion. He never asked Narendranath to abandon his reason. On the other hand, he enjoyed his criticisms, and even encouraged them. He told him: Test me as the money changers test their coins. You must not accept me until you have tested me thoroughly. Narendranath was bitterly against the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta which Sri Ramakrishna was eager to explain to him. The Advaita idea of the identity of the individual soul and the Supreme Self appeared to him as bizarre and blasphemous. Sri Ramakrishna tried his best to bring home to the disciple the truth of Advaita by reason and argument, but without success. One day after a trying discussion, he found Narendranath speaking about the doctrine disparagingly to a friend and in a light vein. Sri Ramakrishna, in a semi conscious mood, approached him and just touched him, and immediately a wonderful change came over Narendranath. He was filled with the consciousness that everything around him was God. The impression persisted even when he reached home, at the end of the day. He did not relish his food. He ate too much or too little, to the consternation of his mother. He felt that the food, the materials, the server and he himself were all God. In the street, he did not feel like moving out of way of the swiftly, moving cabs, thinking they were God Himself. In the public park, he struck his head against the railing to see if they were real. This feeling lasted for many days. Henceforth he could not deny the truth of Advaita.In 1884, Vishwanath Datta (Narendranaths father) suddenly passed away, plunging the whole family into grief and poverty. He was the only earning member of the family, and being of a prodigal nature, he spent lavishly and left the family in debt.
Everywhere the door was slammed in his (Vivekanandas) face. Friends turned into enemies in an instant. Creditors began knocking at the door. Temptations came. Two rich women made proposals to him to end his poverty, and he turned them down with scorn. Often he went without food so that others at home might have a better share. He was face to face with realities and the world appeared to him to be the creation of a devil. Nevertheless, the prot
5 . The Baranagore days
After the death of the Master. One of the lay disciples of Shri Ramakrishna offered to contribute towards the maintenance of a monastery where the young disciples of the Master could stay and continue their spiritual and devotional exercises, and where the householder disciples might now and then go for peace and solace. Accordingly, an old dilapidated house was rented at the Baranagore, and two of the monastic disciples went to live there. Narendranath who was busy conducting a law suit pending at the court, used to spend the night at the monastery. He exhorted the others to join the brotherhood.Lest this devotion should become dammed up within the narrow limits of a creed or cult, the leader forced them to study the thought of the world outside. He himself instructed them in western and eastern philosophy, comparative religion, theology, history, sociology, literature, art, and science. He read out to them the great books of human thought, explained to them the evolution of the universal mind, discussed with them the problems of religion and philosophy, and led them indefatigably towards the wide horizons of the boundless truth which surpassed all limits of schools and races, and embraced and unified all particulars truths. In the light of the teachings of Shri Ramakrishna, he reconciled the apparent contradictions between the various systems.
6 . The wandering monk
Between the closing of 1888, when Narendranath first left on his temporary excursions, and the year 1891, when he parted from his brethren alone and as an unknown beggar, to be swallowed up in the immensity of India, there came over him a remarkable change in outlook. When he first left in 1888, it was mainly to fulfill the natural desire of an Indian monk for a life of solitude. But when he left the monastery in 1891, it was to fulfill a great destiny. By then he had realized that his was not to be the life of an ordinary recluse struggling for personal salvation. Many times he had tried it: he had entered the deepest of Himalayan forests to lose himself in the silent meditation of the absolute. Every time he had failed. Something or other brought him back from the depths of meditation to the midst of the suffering masses, beset with a thousand and one miseries. The sickness of a brother monk, or the death of a devotee, or the poverty at the Baranagore monastery, was enough to disturb him. More than all, the fever of the age, the misery of the time, and the mute appeal issuing from the millions in oppressed and downtrodden Indian pained his heart. He lived in anguish during that period, in a seething cauldron as it were, and carried within himself a soul on fire whose embers took years to cool down. As he moved from place to place in the north, and later on in the south, studying closely the life of the people in all strata of society, he was deeply moved. He wept to see the stagnant life of the Indian masses crushed down by ignorance and poverty, and the spell of materialistic ideas among the educated who blindly imitated the glamour of the West but who never felt that they were the cause of Indias degeneration and downfall. Spirituality was at a low discount in the very land of its birth. The picture of ancient India, once the envy of the world, came before his eyes vividly in all its grandeur and glory. The contrast was unbearable. Things should not be allowed to drift in this way. He visualized that India must become dynamic in all spheres of human activity and effect the spiritual conquest of the world, and he felt that he was the instrument chosen by the Lord to do it.
7 . Sister and Brothers of America
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from Orient, have told you that these men from far off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, sources in different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee. The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me. Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.
8 . Why We Disagree 15th September 1893
I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, Let us cease from abusing each other, and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance. But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our storys sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well. Where are you from? I am from the sea. The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well? and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other. My friend, said the frog of the sea, how do you compare the sea with your little well? Then the frog took another leap and asked, Is your sea so big? What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well Well, then, said the frog of the well, nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out. That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.
9 . Address at the final session 27th September 1893
The Worlds Parliament of Religions has become an accomplished fact, and the merciful Father has helped those who labored to bring it into existence, and crowned with success their most unselfish labour.My thanks to those noble souls whose large hearts and love of truth first dreamed this unfearful dream and then realized it. My thanks to the shower of liberal sentiments that has overflowed this platform. My thanks to this enlightened audience for their uniform kindness to me and for their appreciation of every thought that tends to smooth the friction of religions. A few jarring notes were heard from time to time in this harmony. My special thanks to them, for they have, by their striking contrast, made general harmony the sweeter. Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if anyone here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of anyone of the religions and the destruction of others, to him I say, Brother, yours is an impossible hope. Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant, it develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, not a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: Help and not Fight, Assimilation and not Destruction, Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.
10 . The Parliament of Religions
At Porbandar, where he arrived after visiting Verawal and Somnath (Prabhas), he stayed for eleven months, and helped the Dewan of the place, Pandit Shankar Pandurang, in translating the Vedas. He completed his study of the Mahabhashya, and learnt French at the instance of the Dewan, who suggested to him to go to the West, where his ideas were likely to be better appreciated. Hearing about the Parliament of Religions to be held at Chicago he expressed to his host at Porbander his desire to attend it. The Swami found himself the guest of the Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wadiar. In his talk with the Maharaja, he unburdened the heavy load he was, as it were, carrying on his head, and expressed his intention of going to the West to get funds to ameliorate the material condition of India. The Maharaja offered to bear the expenses. While arrangements were being made for sailing, a sudden invitation came from the Maharaja of Khetri to go to his place, with the assurance that he would do everything for the trip. The Swami agreed to this. With the Maharaja he went to Jaipur, and from there he left for Bombay alone. On the way to Bombay he halted for a night at the house of a railway employee, one of his hosts during his wandering days. At Mt. Abu he met Swamis Brahmananda and Turiyananda, to whom he said with great feeling: