Swami Vivekananda

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Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk and one of the most cel­e­brated spir­i­tual lead­ers of In­dia. He was more than just a spir­i­tual mind; he was a pro­lific thinker, great or­a­tor and pas­sion­ate pa­triot. He car­ried on the free-think­ing phi­los­o­phy of his guru, Ra­makr­ishna Paramhansa for­ward into a new par­a­digm. He worked tire­lessly to­wards bet­ter­ment of the so­ci­ety, in servi­tude of the poor and needy, ded­i­cat­ing his all for his coun­try. He was re­spon­si­ble for the re­vival of Hindu spir­i­tu­al­ism and es­tab­lished Hin­duism as a revered re­li­gion on world stage. His mes­sage of uni­ver­sal brother­hood and self-awak­en­ing re­mains rel­e­vant es­pe­cially in the cur­rent back­drop of wide­spread po­lit­i­cal tur­moil around the world. The young monk and his teach­ings have been an in­spi­ra­tion to many, and his words have be­come goals of self-im­prove­ment es­pe­cially for the youth of the coun­try. For this very rea­son, his birth­day, Jan­uary 12, is cel­e­brated as the Na­tional Youth Day in In­dia.

Early Life and Ed­u­ca­tion

Born Naren­dranath Dutta, into an af­flu­ent Ben­gali fam­ily in Cal­cutta, Vivekananda was one of the eight chil­dren of Vish­wanath Dutta and Bhu­vanesh­wari Devi. He was born on Jan­uary 12, 1863, on the oc­ca­sion of Makar Sankranti. Fa­ther Vish­wanath was a suc­cess­ful at­tor­ney with con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence in so­ci­ety. Naren­dranath’s mother Bhu­vanesh­wari was a woman en­dowed with a strong, God-fear­ing mind who had a great im­pact on her son.

As a young boy, Naren­dranath dis­played sharp in­tel­lect. His mis­chievous na­ture be­lied his in­ter­est in mu­sic, both in­stru­men­tal as well as vo­cal. He ex­celled in his stud­ies as well, first at the Metropoli­tan in­sti­tu­tion, and later at the Pres­i­dency Col­lege in Cal­cutta. By the time he grad­u­ated from the col­lege, he had ac­quired a vast knowl­edge of dif­fer­ent sub­jects. He was ac­tive in sports, gym­nas­tics, wrestling and body build­ing. He was an avid reader and read up on al­most ev­ery­thing un­der the sun. He pe­rused the Hindu scrip­tures like the Bhag­vad Gita and the Upan­ishads on one hand, while on the other hand he stud­ied west­ern phi­los­o­phy, his­tory and spir­i­tu­al­ity by David Hume, Jo­hann Got­tlieb Fichte and Her­bert Spencer.

Spir­i­tual Cri­sis and Re­la­tion­ship with Ramkr­ishna Paramhansa

Al­though Naren­dranath’s mother was a de­vout woman and he had grown up in a re­li­gious at­mos­phere at home, he un­der­went a deep spir­i­tual cri­sis at the start of his youth. His well-stud­ied knowl­edge led him to ques­tion the ex­is­tence of God and for some time he be­lieved in Ag­nos­ti­cism. Yet he could not com­pletely ig­nore the ex­is­tence of a Supreme Be­ing. He be­came as­so­ci­ated with Brahmo Move­ment led by Ke­shab Chan­dra Sen, for some time. The Bramho Sa­maj recog­nised one God

un­like the idol-wor­ship­ping, su­per­sti­tion-rid­den Hin­duism. The host of philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions re­gard­ing the ex­is­tence of God roil­ing through his mind re­mained unan­swered. Dur­ing this spir­i­tual cri­sis, Vivekananda first heard about Sri Ra­makr­ishna from Wil­liam Hastie, the Prin­ci­pal of the Scot­tish Church Col­lege.

Ear­lier, to sat­isfy his in­tel­lec­tual quest for God, Naren­dranath vis­ited prom­i­nent spir­i­tual lead­ers from all re­li­gions, ask­ing them a sin­gle ques­tion, “Have you seen God?” Each time he came away with­out a sat­is­fy­ing an­swer. He put for­ward the same ques­tion to Sri Ramkr­ishna at his res­i­dence in Dak­shinewar Kali Tem­ple com­pounds. With­out a mo­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion, Sri Ra­makr­ishna replied: “Yes, I have. I see God as clearly as I see you, only in a much deeper sense.” Vivekananda, ini­tially unim­pressed by the sim­plic­ity of Ramkr­ishna, was as­ton­ished with Ra­makr­ishna’s re­ply. Ra­makr­ishna grad­u­ally won over this ar­gu­men­ta­tive young man with his pa­tience and love. The more Naren­dranath vis­ited Dak­shi­nesh­war, the more his ques­tions were an­swered.

Life of a Monk

Dur­ing the mid­dle of 1885, Ra­makr­ishna, who had been suf­fer­ing from throat can­cer, fell se­ri­ously ill. In Septem­ber 1885, Sri Ra­makr­ishna was moved to Shyam­pukur in Cul­cutta, and a few months later Naren­dranath took a rented villa at Cos­si­pore. Here, he formed a group of young peo­ple who were ar­dent fol­low­ers of Sri Ra­makr­ishna and to­gether they nursed their Guru with de­voted care. On 16 Au­gust 1886, Sri Ra­makr­ishna gave up his mor­tal body.

Af­ter the demise of Sri Ra­makr­ishna, around fif­teen of his dis­ci­ples in­clud­ing Naren­dranath be­gan to live to­gether in a di­lap­i­dated build­ing at Barana­gar in North Cal­cutta, which was named Ra­makr­ishna Math, the monas­tic or­der of Ra­makr­ishna. Here, in 1887, they for­mally re­nounced all ties to the world and took vows of monk­hood. The brother­hood rechris­tened them­selves and Naren­dranath emerged as Vivekananda mean­ing “the bliss of dis­cern­ing wis­dom”.

The brother­hood lived off on alms do­nated vol­un­tar­ily by pa­trons dur­ing holy beg­ging or ‘mad­hukari’, per­formed yoga and med­i­ta­tion. Vivekananda left the Math in 1886 and went on a tour of In­dia on foot as a ‘Parivra­jak’. He trav­elled the breadth of the coun­try, ab­sorb­ing much of the so­cial, cul­tural and re­li­gious as­pects of the peo­ple he came in con­tact with. He wit­nessed the ad­ver­si­ties of life that the com­mon peo­ple faced, their ail­ments, and vowed to ded­i­cate his life to bring re­lief to these suf­fer­ing.

Death

Swami Vivekananda had pre­dicted that he will not live till the age of forty. On July 4, 1902, he went about his days’ work at the Belur Math, teach­ing San­skrit gram­mar to the pupils. He re­tired to his room in the evening and died dur­ing med­i­ta­tion at around 9. He is said to have at­tained ‘Ma­hasamadhi’ and the great saint was cre­mated on the Banks of river Ganga.

Legacy

Swami Vivekananda re­vealed to the world the true foun­da­tions of In­dia’s unity as a na­tion. He taught how a na­tion with such a vast di­ver­sity can be bound to­gether by a feel­ing of hu­man­ity and brother­hood. Vivekananda em­pha­sized the points of draw­backs of west­ern cul­ture and the con­tri­bu­tion of In­dia to over­come those. Ne­taji Sub­hash Chan­dra Bose once said: “Swamiji har­mo­nized 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 was suc­cess­ful in con­struct­ing a vir­tual bridge be­tween the cul­ture of East and the West. He in­ter­preted the Hindu scrip­tures, phi­los­o­phy and the way of life to the West­ern peo­ple. He made them re­al­ize that in spite of poverty and back­ward­ness, In­dia had a great con­tri­bu­tion to make to world cul­ture. He played a key role in end­ing In­dia’s cul­tural iso­la­tion from the rest of the world.

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