Ramakrishna Paramahamsa revived the ancient Vedantic religion and showed by practical example the greatness of the Hindu way of life which stands for the principles of tolerance and peace. But the lamp cleaned of the soot of disbelief and external influences had to be taken out from Dakshineshwar into the world. This mighty task fell rightly upon the able shoulders of Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda’s magnetic personality and keen compassion resounded in his every utterance and action. His concept on Vedanta was utmost practical. The ideal society according to him was that which combined the spiritual culture of India with the secular culture and social justice and freedom of the west.
“If I can show the world one glimpse of my Master through my life, I shall not have lived in vain.”
Swami Vivekananda was the foremost disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, and he founded the Ramakrishna Mission to spread the teachings of his Guru throughout the world. He travelled to the west and introduced Hinduism, Yoga and Vedanta to seekers there. His address at the Parliament of Religions touched the hearts of many and won him ardent admirers in that country.
Swami Vivekananda or Narendra Nath Datta as he was known in his pre monastic days was born to Vishwanatha Datta and Bhuvaneshwari Devi in Calcutta in 1863. He was a born leader and from a young age he displayed signs of greatness and maturity. His spirit of questioning and a keen sense of observation stood out even from his childhood. He was extremely kind hearted and would give away in charity anything that came into his hand whenever the poor would accost him for alms. He grew up on a diet of stories from the Puranas and itihasas fed by his loving mother and these made an indelible impression on the young mind.
Naren grew up to be a restless youth and he excelled in music, athletics, philosophy and debates. He was the undisputed leader in college. He was against superstitions and blind beliefs and was drawn to the Brahmo Samaj as they advocated a rationalistic approach. He was blessed with a sharp intellect and devoured literature of both the East and the West. However none of these could provide answers to his restlessness and he wandered in quest of God asking all those whom he met if they had seen God. One day his professor, William Hastie during one of his lectures on the poem The Excursion described the ecstatic experience of the poet William Wordsworth and unwittingly remarked that he had heard of the God mad Ramakrishna, Saint of Dakshineswar experiencing such a state. That was the trigger that Naren was waiting for. He rushed to Dakshineswar to meet the priest and this meeting between the master and his disciple in 1881 altered the course of destiny.
Meeting Ramakrishna and Renunciation
“Sir, have you seen God”, asked the young Naren to Ramakrishna and the great master replied calmly “Yes, I see him just as I see you even more intensely”. The transparent sincerity of the words pierced through his heart and young Naren knew that his search ended here. No one had spoken so convincingly before. A further meeting reinforced his belief in the Guru. He met Ramakrishna once or twice every week and often stayed with him for some days during this period of discipleship of five years. And from week to week his illumination grew and he was steadily being groomed to take over as His master’s spiritual heir. He came to the master as an intellectual seeker but soon realized that it was the spiritual plane that gave answers to his restlessness. After the passing away of his master Narendranath along with his brother disciples took the vow of sanyasa and emerged as Swami Vivekananda.
In July 1890, Narendra started his journey as a wanderer, a parivrajaka, roaming around the country and learning about her rich diversity. He was the guest of a king one day and the next he would be begging for alms as a mendicant. He was able to fathom the great unity of India amidst her diversity of races, sects, languages, customs and manners. These travels helped him amass a great deal of experience and knowledge about his country which he was able to harness later on as he emerged as a world leader and a great teacher. But it was the poverty of the masses that disturbed him. ‘It is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics’ he said. Travelling the length and breadth of the country he arrived at Kanyakumari where he had a spiritual vision. The famous Vivekananda Rock at Kanyakumari bears testimony to his visit there. He soon heard about the Parliament of Religions and preparations were made to facilitate his trip to the United States of America.
On the World Stage
The Parliament of Religions opened on 11th September 1893 in Chicago. Seven thousand people representing the culture of the country filled the Art Institute and on the platform, representatives from every organized religion from all over the world were present. Vivekananda was there, not merely representing Hinduism but something far more profound and universal, he was representing humanity. He was standing for the ancient Indian doctrine of the Universality of Spiritual Truth.
He began his speech with the words
“Brother and Sisters of America.” … There was a thunderous applause that lasted for full two minutes. They were taken in by the warmth and sincerity of the words. It was a short speech that lasted for four minutes but he had conquered the audience, the monk from India had truly arrived.
He stayed in America for about three years after his Chicago success. He gave discourses almost every day and spoke about the spirituality of India and the materialism of the West and said that both had to learn from each other, India would do well to assimilate the energy and initiative of the west while the west can imbibe spirituality from India. He returned to India after visiting England enroute.
Birth of Ramakrishna Mission
The Ramakrishna Mission was formed on 1st May 1897 with purely spiritual and humanitarian ideals. He stressed on the principle of service to man being service to God. Belur Math was constructed and became the headquarters of the Mission.
The Journey’s End
In one of his letters to his disciple, Swamiji spoke of his impending end. “My boat is nearing the calm harbor from which it is never more to be driven out.”
On 4th July 1902, he meditated from 8 to 11 in the morning and spent the day in meditation and prayer. The same evening he passed into Eternal Rest.
“If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive—-” said Tagore.