Swami Vivekananda - The passion of Vivekananda
by Shivi Verma
Vivekananda. Hardly has there been an idealistic person who has not been inspired by the aching youthfulness and revolutionary zeal of this iconic figure. His flaming patriotism, conviction in universal brotherhood, worship of God in the weak and downtrodden, and dynamic, forward marching spirituality have made him one of the most towering icons of modern times.
Best remembered for his Chicago speech that started with ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’, and which roused a standing ovation unprecedented in history, he still remains one of the most popular role models of our times.
How many have dreamed of modelling themselves around this enigmatic personality! Today, 150 years since his birth, he stays as irresistibly attractive to young men and women , as he had been to the youth of the world in his time. I became aware of this legend at the age of eight, when I casually bought an old, thin, worn-out, paperback edition of his life history from a nondescript shop near a temple. He became a habit. Almost every night before going to bed, I would read an excerpt and imagine myself as the child Vivekananda. I would close my eyes and pretend to see the same colourful concentric circles forming in the centre of my forehead as they had formed on Narendra’s. I would romanticise about becoming a great leader whose trail would be followed by thousands and who would re-establish the rule of truth and dharma in this world. He fired in me an ardour no matinee idol could kindle. Perhaps this was the aim and purpose of Vivekananda’s advent: To leave such a deep impact on society that his vision will continue to affect generations. Two principles solidly became the foundation of my conduct, and they were honesty and idealism. I strongly felt that unless youth was spent in the service of humanity, it was a wasted youth.
Life and times Though his life story is so popular that it does not merit repetition, it is only befitting to recap the milestones of his inspiring life. Known in his pre-monastic life as Narendra Nath Datta, he was born in an affluent family in Kolkata on January 12, 1863. His father, Vishwanath Datta, was a successful attorney with interests in a wide range of subjects, and his mother, Bhuvaneshwari Devi, was endowed with deep devotion, strong character and other qualities. A precocious boy, Narendra excelled in music, gymnastics and studies. By the time he graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history. Born with a yogic temperament, he used to practise meditation from boyhood, and was associated with the Brahmo Movement.
At the threshold of youth, Narendra passed through a spiritual crisis when he was assailed by doubts about the existence of God. It was at that time that he first heard about Sri Ramakrishna from one of his English professors at college. One day in November 1881, Narendra went to meet Sri Ramakrishna who stayed at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar. He straightaway asked the master, “Have you seen God?” Sri Ramakrishna replied: “Yes, I have. I see Him as clearly as I see you, only with more intensity.” Apart from removing doubts from the mind of Narendra, Sri Ramakrishna won him over through his pure, unselfish love. Thus began a guru-disciple relationship quite unique in the history of spirituality. At Dakshineshwar, Narendra also met several young men who were devoted to Sri Ramakrishna, and they all became close friends. After a few years his father died suddenly in 1884. This left the family penniless, and the responsibility of supporting his mother, brothers and sisters fell upon him. Soon after that, Sri Ramakrishna was diagnosed with cancer of the throat. The young disciples nursed the master with devoted care. In spite of poverty and inability to find a job, Narendra joined the group as its leader.
One day, Sri Ramakrishna distributed ochre robes among them and sent them out to beg for food. In this way he laid the foundation of a new monastic order. In the small hours of August 16, 1886, Sri Ramakrishna gave up his mortal body. After the master’s passing, 16 of his young disciples formed a new monastic brotherhood, and in 1887 they took the formal vows of sanyasa, thereby assuming new names. Narendra now became Swami Vivekananda.
Discovery of India
In the middle of 1890, he left Baranagar Math and embarked on a long journey of exploration and discovery of India. During his travels, Swami Vivekananda was deeply moved to see the appalling poverty and backwardness of the masses. Vivekananda concluded that owing to centuries of oppression, the masses had lost faith in their capacity to improve their lot. It was necessary to imbue into their minds faith in themselves through life-giving, inspiring messages. He found this message in the doctrine of the potential divinity of the soul, taught in Vedanta, the ancient system of religious philosophy of India. He saw that the masses clung to religion, but had never been taught the life-giving principles of Vedanta and how to apply them in practical life.
The Belur Math: Standing testimony to
LVivekananda's commitment to human upliftment One thing became clear to Vivekananda; in order to uplift the poor masses and women through education, an efficient organisation of dedicated people was needed. He wanted to set in motion, machinery which will bring the noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest. While these ideas were taking shape in his mind in the course of his wanderings, Vivekananda heard about the World Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. His friends and admirers in India urged him to attend it. He too felt that the Parliament would provide the right forum to present Ramakrishna’s message to the world. Vivekananda, however, wanted an inner certitude and an assurance that his mission was nothing less than a divine call. Both of these he got while he sat in deep meditation on the rock island at Kanyakumari.
He set sail for America from Mumbai on May 31, 1893. His speech at the World Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 made him famous as an ‘orator by divine right’ and as the ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world.’ After the Parliament, Vivekananda spent nearly three-and-a-half years spreading Vedanta as lived and taught by Sri Ramakrishna, mostly in the Eastern parts of USA and also in London.
He returned to India in January 1897. In response to the enthusiastic welcome that he received everywhere, he delivered a series of lectures in different parts of India, which created a great stir all over the country. Through these inspiring and profoundly significant lectures, Vivekananda roused the consciousness of the people and created in them, pride in their cultural heritage. He brought about unification of Hinduism by pointing out the common basis of its sects and focussed the attention of educated people on the plight of the downtrodden masses. He expounded his plan for their upliftment by the application of the principles of practical Vedanta.
Soon after his return to Kolkata, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission on May 1, 1897. The various missions soon became an avenue through which monks and lay people would jointly undertake propagation of practical Vedanta, and various forms of social service, such as running hospitals, schools, colleges, hostels, and rural development centres. In addition, they conducted massive relief and rehabilitation work for victims of earthquakes, cyclones and other calamities, in different parts of India and other countries.
In early 1898, Swami Vivekananda acquired a big plot of land on the Western bank of the Ganga in Belur, and got it registered as the Ramakrishna Math. Here he established a new, universal pattern of monastic life which adapted ancient monastic ideals to the conditions of modern life. It gives equal importance to personal illumination and social service, and is open to all men without any distinction of religion, race or caste. “So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them,” he said.
In June 1899, he went to the West on a second visit. There he spent most of his time in the West coast of USA. After delivering many lectures there, he returned to Belur Math in December 1900. The rest of his life was spent in inspiring and guiding people. Incessant, untiring work of relentless guiding, speaking, motivating people took a toll on Swamiji’s health and he passed away on July 4, 1902. Before his Mahasamadhi, he had written to a Western follower: “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”
Quite true. Young Vivekananda sowed the seeds of India’s liberation through the high values birthed from her own soil and awakened the Western world to the immense spiritual knowledge of the East. The coming leaders built the edifice of India, on the foundation of spiritual and ethical values propounded by Vivekananda as her fundamental make-up. His focus on the scientific study of religion created a bridge between the East and the West, which were poles apart on these matters. While it compelled the Western man to consider the human possibility of attaining godhood, it unshackled the Eastern man from enslavement to rituals, dogmas, and stratified thinking. The Hindu soul, long suppressed into self-deprecation and self-loathing, shed the garb of wretchedness and emerged resplendent, glowing in its own light after Vivekananda rescued it from oblivion.
Many years after Vivekananda's death, Rabindranath Tagore told French author Romain Rolland, “If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative.”
Free India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote: “Rooted in the past, full of pride in India’s prestige, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems, and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present … he came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralised Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance and some roots in the past.”
Vivekananda’s writings motivated a whole generation of freedom fighters including Subhash Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghose (later Sri Aurobindo, the great spiritual master of Pondicherry) and Bagha Jatin. Sense of unity, pride in the past, sense of mission – these were the factors which gave real strength and purpose to India’s nationalist movement. Several eminent leaders of India’s freedom movement have acknowledged their indebtedness to Vivekananda. At the Belur Math, Mahatma Gandhi was heard saying that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda.
Subhash Chandra Bose, one of the most prominent figures in the Indian Independence Movement, said, “I cannot write about Vivekananda without going into raptures. Few indeed could comprehend or fathom him even among those who had the privilege of becoming intimate with him. His personality was rich, profound and complex... reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, boundless in his love, profound and versatile in his wisdom, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks but yet simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours.”
Netaji added, “Swamiji harmonised the East and the West, religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our countrymen have gained unprecedented self-respect, self-reliance and self-assertion from his teachings.” Vivekananda did it by interpreting Hindu scriptures, philosophy and the Hindu way of life to the Western people in an idiom which they could understand. He made the West realise that they had to learn much from Indian spirituality in spite of her poverty and backwardness and ended India’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world. On the other hand, Swamiji taught Indians to adopt Western science and technology and their concept of humanism (especially the ideas of individual freedom, social equality and justice and respect for women) to the Indian ethos.
Swami Vivekananda was perhaps the first master to interpret religion as a universal experience of transcendent Reality, common to all humanity. He met the challenge of modern science by showing that spirituality was as scientific as science itself; and was in fact the ‘science of consciousness.’ Religion and science were not contrary to each other but were complementary. This all-encompassing concept freed religion from the hold of superstitions, dogmas, priest craft and intolerance, and made it the highest and noblest pursuit.
Said Sri Aurobindo, “Vivekananda was a soul of puissance if ever there was one, a very lion among men, but the definitive work he has left behind is quite incommensurate with our impression of his creative might and energy. We perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive, upheaving that has entered the soul of India and we say, 'Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of her children.'"
Eminent British historian, A L Basham, stated: “In centuries to come, he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world…”
Vivekananda’s reintroduction of the Vedic concept of ‘potential divinity of the soul’ gave a new lease of life to human beings in his time. He laid the foundation for ‘spiritual humanism’, rejecting the Christian idea of humans as sinners seeking the pardon of a judgmental God which was prevalent in both the Eastern and Western worlds. “Religion is the manifestation of the Divinity already in man. Strength, it is that we want so much in this life, for what we call sin and sorrow have all one cause, and that is our weakness. With weakness comes ignorance, and with ignorance comes misery,” he said.
He demolished the theory of ethics based on fear, punishment and reward. “We should be pure because purity is our real nature, our true divine self or Atman. Similarly, we should love and serve our neighbours because we are all one in the Supreme Spirit known as Paramatman or Brahman,” he said.
Before Swami Vivekananda came, Hinduism was a loose confederation of many different sects. He was the first religious leader to speak about the common basis of Hinduism and the common ground of all sects. He was the first person, as guided by his Master Sri Ramakrishna, to accept all Hindu doctrines and views of all Hindu philosophers and sects as different aspects of one total view of Reality. K M Pannikar, the eminent historian and diplomat, wrote: “This new Shankaracharya may well be claimed to be a unifier of Hindu ideology.”
Religion which was perceived as passive, dormant, escapist or the occupation of the old and retired became a dynamic, zealous and goal-oriented philosophy because of Vivekananda.
Late Capt Sameer Roy Choudhury:
inspired by Vivekananda he laid down
his life for the nation Jamshedji Tata was reportedly influenced by Vivekananda to establish the Indian Institute of Science, India's well known research university, during their conversation as fellow travellers on a ship from Japan to Chicago in 1898. Abroad, Vivekananda had some interactions with Max Müller, the well known educationist. Scientist Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of Swami Vivekananda. On November 11, 1995, a section of Michigan Avenue, one of the most prominent streets in Chicago, was formally renamed ‘Swami Vivekananda Way’.
The French Nobel Laureate, Romain Rolland, is ecstatic in his praise of Vivekananda’s fiery speeches, “His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Händel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings of his, scattered as they are through the pages of books, at 30 years' distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks, what transports, must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!”
Even today, when greed, corruption and all manner of venality dominate public discourse, there are millions whose values have been shaped by those deathless words.
Anna Hazare is a marked example. Born into a humble family on June 15, 1938, in Ahmadnagar district in Maharashtra, circumstances forced Anna to join the armed forces. He was deeply influenced by the ideology of Swami Vivekananda, whose book; Call to the Youth For Nation Building initiated him into social service. This desire to go beyond narrow self-interest later drove him to seek voluntary retirement from the Army in 1975 and come back to serve his own village. In 2011, Anna Hazare led a movement for passing a stronger anti-corruption Lokpal bill in the Indian Parliament which saw huge support from the masses.
Sophia Roy, resident of Hyderabad, and mother of the late Captain Sameer Roy Choudhury, reminisces, “Swami Vivekananda was my son’s hero. In fact when he was a child, he resembled Vivekananda. Many of our friends would address him as Vivek. As he grew he read a lot about Vivekananda and inculcated many of his qualities as his own.”
Sameer belonged to the Corps of Signals in the Indian Army and was on deputation to 19 Assam Rifles in Imphal as part of the counter insurgency operation named Hifazat, where he was killed during a fight with the ULFA insurgents.
Says Sophia, “When his possessions were sent home it was Vivekananda's biography and a copy of Panchtantra tales that we received.”
Raju M Thakkar, a CEO of Maruti Gases and a resident of Halol in Gujarat, considers Vivekananda his mentor. He says, “Since my high school days whenever I used to read a lesson on his life or see his photograph I used to feel energised and inspired by his heroic glance. When I joined the Air Force on June 2 1979, I read one of his sayings which made a huge impact on me: ‘Strength is life and weakness is death’.”
When the Government of India declared Swamiji’s birthday as National Youth Day in 1986, Thakkar celebrated by walking from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 132 days, a feat which won him a place in the National Limca book of Records. These padayatras have now become part of his campaigns to draw attention to the environment. He has accomplished some 52 of them.
Mumbai-based Management Consultant Suresh Pundit, says, “I came in touch with the teachings of Vivekananda in my early 40s. The main thing that attracted me about his teachings was empowering the youth, which I use in my practice of motivating people. Vivekananda said that human beings have infinite power.
|When the Government of India declared Swamiji’s birthday as National Youth Day in 1986, Raju Thakkar celebrated by walking from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 132 days|
Indu Muralidharan, a software engineer and writer from Chennai, says. “One of my earliest memories is of a large painting of Vivekananda standing by the Kanyakumari seashore on the walls of our home altar. Even though it was a painting, it evoked his presence, through his eyes which seemed to blaze with inner strength. His posters and quotes, including my favourite, 'Conquer yourself and the whole world is yours' filled my walls when I was a student. I had a gang of room mates in the college hostel, all of whom were fervent admirers of the Swami's teachings. We spent many Sundays plotting and planning on how to improve the world. Among the first books that I bought when I started working were the complete works of Swami Vivekananda. I think of him as an ideal seeker who grew into an enlightened master and whose very name inspires a seeker."
Says Jamuna Rangachari, former assistant editor of Life Positive,“I was deeply inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s quote, ‘Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced.’”
In many institutes, students have come together and formed organisations meant for promoting discussion of spiritual ideas and the practice of Swamiji’s high principles. Many such organisations have adopted his name. One such group also exists at IIT Madras and is popularly known as Vivekananda Study Circle. Another one exists at IIT Kanpur by the name Vivekananda Samiti. Additionally, Swami Vivekananda's ideas and teachings have carried on globally, being practised in institutions all over the world. Famous author Narendra Kohli, who authored the Hindi novel called Todo Kara Todo based on Vivekananda’s life, says, “For a person to love Swami Vivekananda, it is necessary for him to have the basic elements of high values and idealism. Only those who have the will, follow his trail. Yet Vivekananda is highly relevant in today’s times because the darker the night, the greater the need for light. Personally, I found his complete surrender to God, commitment to carry out His will and capacity to synthesise nationalism and spirituality fascinating. For him they were the same. Serving Mother India was akin to serving the Divine Mother and service to humanity was considered service to God.”
Swami Sarvalokananda, President, Ramakrishna Math (RKM), Mumbai, says,“Vivekananda’s message is a universal message. It is not bound by any time limit. I think it is much more relevant today than before because the present scenario is very fearful and dreadful, where there is tremendous erosion of values in human life. As a young boy I was impressed by his saying: ‘He alone lives who lives for others.’ I was attracted by his humanism. I feel proud that RKM has been at the forefront of humanitarian work through schools, hospitals, colleges, orphanages, blind boys’ academy and rendering relief to the victims of any kind of natural calamity. RKM, Pune and Aurangabad are actively engaged in drought relief work. So many organisations are celebrating his 150th anniversary all over India and abroad. It is the right time to recall his teachings.”
For a country which is the birthplace of Vivekananda, we have an even bigger obligation to live up to those deathless ideals and move along the path to godhead that he pointed towards. His voice can be heard booming through the dense dark cloud of animalism, despair, waywardness and fearfulness... “Arise! Awake and stop not till the goal is reached.” Yes, India...arise and awake. See more articles on Swami Vivekananda : http://www.lifepositive.com/Articles/SwamiVivekananda
Subject: NATIONAL HOLIDAYS - 21 June 2013
I fully agree with Param singh‘s view.We don‘t need holydays to remeber such personalities but dedication to walk in their path.
by: VENKKATTRAMAN SOMESWRAN IYER
Subject: inspiring - 17 June 2013
why do we need national holidays just to roam around or to rest at home. everyone should contribute something good to the community in the remembrance of what these special personalities did for us everyday.
by: param singh
Subject: national holiday on the name of vivekananda and subhas chandra - 16 June 2013
No - Lets mark every Sunday and holiday as - Bhagat singh, vivekananda and subhas chandra bose day !! How ? Work for at least 1 hour for social , national causes , projects , do shram dawn etc. and remember /apply their ideals. --
Subject: national holiday - 7 June 2013
why there is no national holiday on the name of vivekananda and subhas chandra bose? shall we fight for it?
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