Great people are born for the greatest good for the greatest number. They appear for the good of society. They do not follow the customary traditions of society. They change the society. Universally reversed the brave ascetic Swami Vivekananda was such a person. He laid the foundation of present-day Bharat. He inspired new life into Bharat which was then only a lifeless skeleton of her old self.
Date of Birth: January 12, 1863
Place of Birth: Calcutta, Bengal Presidency (Now Kolkata, West Bengal).
Parents: Vishwanath Dutta (Father) and Bhuvaneshwari Devi (Mother)
Childhood Name: Narendranath Dutta
Education: Calcutta Metropolitan School; Presidency College, Calcutta
Institutions: Ramakrishna Math; Ramakrishna Mission; Vedanta Society of New York
Religious Views: Hinduism
Philosophy: Advaita Vedanta
Guru: Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa
Literary works: Raja Yoga (1896), Karma Yoga (1896), Bhakti Yoga (1896), Jnana Yoga, My Master (1901), Lectures from Colombo to Almora (1897)
Death: July 4, 1902
Place of Death: Belur Math, Belur, Bengal
Memorial: Belur Math, Belur, West Bengal
Swami Vivekananda was born in a Bengali family at his ancestral home at 3 Gourmohan Mukherjee Street in kolkata, on 12 January 1863 during the Makar Sankranti festival. Before he became an ascetic, Vivekananda’s name was Narendranath Dutta.
His father Vishwanath Datta was a respected lawyer and mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi was a cheerful devotional and deeply religious women. She was a devotee of lord Shiva. Before the birth of Narendranath, she reportedly saw Shiva in her dream. When Narendranath was born, she considered the child as a blessing of Shiva and suggested to name him Vireshwar (a name of Shiva).
Swami Vivekananda was a Sweet Child but also had incredible energy. He was prone to fits of restlessness at the tender age of 3. His mother could only calm him by pouring cold water on his head and chanting the name of Shiva in his ears. He needed two nurses just to take care of him.
Swami Vivekananda also had great affection and Fantasy for wandering monks. He would always give anything he had to sadhus asking for blessings, and once gave away his dhoti as he had nothing else with him. Even after being locked-up in his room he would throw things from his window to travelling Sadhus as an offering to them.
By age 8 he was in the second standard attending the Metropolitan Institute of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. However, studying was hardly something Narendra had to spend a lot of time in, so he spends much of his time in other activities. Occasionally he would gaze authentic space, drifting seemingly into some other world and would proclaim by reading his own palm that he was destined to become a monk.
He had his spirit of adventure and fearlessness and once spend hours on a Tree to prove that no ghost existed in it, as an old man nearby had told him.
He later said-
“ Do not believe a thing, because you have read it in a book
Do not believe a thing, because another has said it so
Find out the truth for yourself, that is realisation ”.
Swami Vivekananda attended the Scottish Church College between 1881 and 1884. He joined the Brahmo Samaj a Hindu social reform organisation against certain orthodox practices in Hinduism. The desired know the ultimate truth became stronger. He asked many people whether they had seen God but no one gave a satisfactory answer to him.
Meeting with the Master
One of his professors mentioned that the great Saints Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa was not too far away. So Narendra and two of his friend decided to go and meet him. The meeting was a strange one, as if they had known each other for years. Narendra immediately ask the question as to whether Sri Ramakrishna had seen God.
And he replied
“ Yes, I see him just as I see you here, only in a much more intense sense. If one weeps sincerely for him, he surely manifests himself ”.
Swami Vivekananda was totally taken by Sri Ramakrishna’s direct response. He knew that there was something special in him, it was not long, before he surrendered himself completed to this wise sage.
Spiritual Awakening and Departure of the Master
After completing college he was drawn back to Ramakrishna and grew tremendously under his guidance. His spiritual training went on for 4 years. It included fun and frolic as well as intense discussions and teachings of Vedanta, Bhakti yoga and Jnana yoga. By 1885 Sri Ramkrishna was tragically diagnosed with cancer and everyone knew that his end was not far away. Narendra meditation intensified at this time and just before Sri Ramakrishna passing. Narendra had his first experience of Nirvikalpa Samadhi-(the total dissolution of oneself into the Brahmin or Supreme divinity).
Just before passing away on 16th August 1886 Sri Ramakrishna passed out saffron ropes for all disciples and established Narendra as the next head of the Ramakrishna Order. By 1887 Narendra and the remaining disciple establish math or monastery at Baranagar near Calcutta where he gives each of the new names as monks. Among them was Gangadhar who received the name Swami Akhandanand. Swami Akhandananda later became the Guru of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar the second head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Although Narendra initially took the name of Swami Vidyadhishananda, it was rarely used so he eventually took the name of Swami Vivekananda.
In 1888 Swami Vivekananda began to travel in different parts of India. During his visit to Rajasthan, he met Mangal Singh a local king who firmly believe that worshipping a stone was foolish. Swamiji knew that there was no way to intellectually convince him. So he asked kings, minister, to take a picture of the King that was hanging on the wall and Spit on it. The Minister was shocked by the suggestion and immediately refused to do so.
Vivekananda said to the king –
“ See your highness, though this is not you in one sense, in another sense it is you. One glance at it makes them see you in it. Thus it also is with the devotees who worship stone images of Gods and Goddesses”.
This was a bold and direct way of Swamiji that brought a change in everyone he met. It was here in Rajasthan Swamiji met the Raja of Khetri who gave him the name Vivekananda. Afterwards, he visited Gujarat and travelled through many places of South of Bharat as well.
The decision to attend Parliament of Religion
During his journey, he had seen in great depth the kind of poverty and hunger and degeneration of our ancient Hindu practices all over India. He eventually reached the shore of Kanyakumari where in frustration he dove into the water and swim to a large Rock where he meditated for 3 days. Why has Bharat reached this state, in his meditation he realised.
“Bharat Shall Rise only through a renewable and Restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness that has made her at all time the cradle of the nation”
He knew that this could only be done however by inculcating a spirit of service and by uplifting Bharat’s downtrodden masses. But how could he take this message to everyone? In this moment of calling he looked out to the ocean and realised he would have to go to the west and spread the message of Vedanta.
Journey to the west
On May 31, 1893, with the help of money collected by Raja of Khetri and other disciples, Swami Vivekananda set sales for America by ship. After passing through East Asia the ship eventually landed at a port in Vancouver, from there he took a train to Chicago. American people were unaccustomed to see Hindu monks in Saffron clothing. Thus he was mocked and discriminated against by the local populous on several occasions.
In the middle of July 1893 he also found out that the deadline had passed for signing up as a delicate for the world parliament of religion. On multiple occasions he thought that he may have to return to India. But he knew that the message of Hindu dharma and universal oneness had to come to the west. His Guru Sri Ramakrishna had already given him this directive in his meditation.
Meeting with John Henry Wright
In his efforts to save money Swamiji moved from Chicago to Boston. There he met the famous professor J.H wright of Harvard University. Professor wright was so impressed with Swamiji that he insisted him to represent Hinduism in the parliament of religion professor wright stated-
“ To ask you Swamiji for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine”.
The professor wrote to a friend who was the chairman of the committee of the Parliament.
“Here is a man who is more learn then all our professors put together”.
The professor sends Swamiji to Chicago with a train ticket to stay with his friend Dr Barrows. Unfortunately upon reaching Chicago Swami Ji realized that he had lost the address and went asking around Dr Barrows. Unable to find him Swamiji spends some night homeless, finding only a railway freed box to sleep in. One day while roaming the city a lady Mrs George Hail asked him where he was from? Realising his unique background and need, she asked Swamiji to stay at their home.
Lecture at the World Parliament of Religion
The parliament of religion was held in Chicago from September 11 to September 27 1893. It included representation from various Christian denominations. Swamiji finally came forth to speak, he gazed at the audience for a movement and began-
“Sisters and Brothers of America”,
Just with that, the whole audience rose up shouting their Applause after Full 2 minute Swami Vivekananda continued.
“As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea. So O’ Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they may appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee”.
Later on during the Parliament, he said-
“The Hindu refuses to call you sinners, ye are the children of God, the shares of Immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings, Ye divinities on Earth sinners!. It is a sin to call man soo”.
The New York Herald wrote-
“Swami Vivekanand is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the parliament of religion, after hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation”.
Swamijis word’s reflected his direct experience of the divine and thus penetrated deep into the minds of his audience. His sheer earnestness, sincerely emotion and spirit of universality took the Parliament by storm.
His popularity was described aptly by the Boston evening transcript a local newspaper which stated-
“Four thousand people in the Hall Of Columbus would sit smiling and expectant waiting for an hour or two of other men speeches to listen to Vivekananda for fifteen-minute. The chairman new the old rule of keeping the best until last”.
Journey and Struggle Thereafter
News of Swami Vivekananda’s popularity spread to India as well. Editorials of various American writers praised Swamijis unique contribution, even thanking Bharat for having sent him to Chicago. Swamiji’s doors were now open to travel about as he was invited to speak in a variety of public events. He was invited to the homes of many prominent and wealthy individuals, especially near Chicago and the east coast.
Swami Vivekananda continued to tour various parts of American including Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and other parts of the Midwest. He sometimes would be mistaken as an African American and would be rejected to stay in hotels or barbershops. Upon finding out the next day in a newspaper who Swamiji was, they would go to him and apologize. Later on when a western disciples asked Swamiji how come he didn’t explain who he was Swamiji replied-
“What? Rise at the expense of another? I did not come to earth for that”.
Swamiji even faced a situation where he was invited to a small town in the Midwest. Whereupon commencing his speech someone in the audience proceeded to fire bullets past him to scare him off. But Swamiji continued undisturbed and the Cowboy who had shot the bullet called him a right good fellow, since he did not show any fear throughout.
Meeting with John D Rockefeller
Mr John D Rockefeller the famous Industrialist met Swami Vivekananda in Chicago. During the conversation, Vivekananda tried to inspire him into social action. Rockefeller was visibly annoyed, Swamiji explained to him that he was the Trustee of the money and his duty was to do good to the world. Rockefeller did not seem to be impressed. A few days later he returned with changed mind and heart. In his hand was a document that had his plans to donate money by creating a public institution. This was Rockefeller first large donation to public welfare. Later on as the richest man in the world, he also become a legendary philanthropist and defined the structure of modern philanthropy.
Meeting with Nikola Tesla
By 1895 Vivekananda had set up a private lecture class in New York, where he discussed different spiritual fact particularly on Gyan yoga and Raj yoga. He then travel to England and had a lecture tour there as well. During the winter of 1895, Swamiji met Nikola Tesla the father of electricity and a well-known scientist. Tesla had attendant some of Swamiji’s talks during the parliament of religion and was keenly interested in the Vedantic perspective on the relationship between energy and matter.
Founding of Ramkrishna Mission
In England Swami Vivekananda met Margret Noble who became his disciple and took the name Sister Nivedita. She was a rare example of a woman with the deep spiritual Quest as well as profound Love and compassion and for the people of India. During this time Swamiji also sent a series of letters to brother disciples in the Baranagar. He asked them to develop a moment wherein spirituality would not just be about one’s own salvation but about serving mankind. In one letter to his brother disciple he stated-
“ You have renounced everything. Come, now is the turn for you to banish the desire for peace too. Don’t worry in the least, heaven or hell. Don’t care for anything but go my boy and spread the name of the lord from door to door. It is only by doing good to others that one attains to one’s own good and it is by leading others to Bhakti and Mukti that one attains them oneself”.
These words provided the inspiration that ultimately lead to the founding of the Ramakrishna Mission.
By 1897 Swami Vivekananda left America and arrived in Colombo Sri Lanka. He was given an ecstatic welcome there by thousands of people. His voyage continued through India and was filled with earnest devotees and people waiting to hear Swami Vivekananda inspiring words. He spoke on the great spiritual heritage of India as well as the need for the social upliftment of India’s masses. He said-
“Service to humanity is Service to God”.
The series of lectures he gave through this journey gave rise to the book- “Lectures from Colombo to Almora” which encompass the patriotic favour and spiritual intensity that he charge everyone with. In 1899 Swami Ji took a second trip to America visiting the West Coast and establishing Vedanta society in San Francisco and New York. He also visited Europe as well as Japan attending various conferences on religion. By 1901 he returned to India.
Tragically his health was declining severely due to asthma and diabetes. He had told several people that he would not live to be forty. Swamiji passed away attaining Maha-samadhi while he was meditating on July 4 1902, and was cremated on the banks of Ganga. Swami Vivekananda life was a tribute Hindu dharma a dedication to the spirit of Universal peace and an inspiration for all. He spoke both of the need to develop an indomitable will in the face of difficulty as well as the need to imbibe deep humility and serve your fellow human beings.
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