Swami Vivekananda is an important figure. He is regarded as a spiritual teacher, Hindu monk, philosopher and author who introduced Vedic philosophies like dharsanas such as Bhagwat Geeta Upanishads, Vedanta and yoga to the western world. He was a man with a great spiritual presence and tremendous intellect. In America, he is well known for his famous speech in "The World Parliament of Religions" which was held in 1893 in Chicago, USA. It began with the words "Sisters and Brothers of America". At this event, his speech was at last, and he was given the least time (that is just 2 minutes) to speak. But he left a remarkable impression on the audience.
His guru Ramkrishna Paramhans introduced spirituality to him. He learnt many things from him. One of the things he learnt was all living beings were an embodiment of the divine self. Therefore service to God could be rendered by service to humankind. After his guru's death, he toured the Indian subcontinent extensively. He acquired first-hand knowledge, and then he travelled all across the globe. He is well known for his inspiring quotes and spiritual wisdom. In this article, we discuss the life of the great saint Swami Vivekananda from his early life to death along with his contributions to the world.
Vivekananda was born on 12 January 1863 during the Makar Sakranti festival in a traditional Bengali family at his ancestral home in Calcutta as Narendranath Datta. During his childhood, he used to be very naughty and restless. His parents often had difficulty controlling him.
There was an incident from his childhood when he was 8 years old. Narendra and his friends used to love to dangle heads down from a champak tree in his friend's compound. One day he and his friends were climbing a tree, and an old man approached them asking them not to climb the tree. The old man was probably scared that Narendra and his friends would shed all the beautiful Chamapaka flowers from dangling. So to stop these children old man told them that ghosts live in this tree and it would hurt them and break their necks if they climbed the tree again. After listening to this story his friends were scared but Narendra was not convinced by the story of the old man. So at that time Narendra and his friends nodded, and the old man walked away. The not-so-convinced 8-year-old climbed the tree again. All of his friends were scared and asked him why he was doing it despite knowing that he would be hurt. Narendra laughed and said never believe everything just because someone tells you! If the old man's story was true then my neck would have been broken long ago.
He was one of nine siblings. His father was a rational thinker, and his mother was a religious lady. It helped Narendranath to shape his thinking and personality. He was interested in spirituality from a young age and used to meditate before the images of deities such as Shiva, Rama, Sita and Hanuman. He was fascinated by wandering monks and ascetics.
From Childhood, Vivekananda was a brilliant student. At the age of 8, he went to school. He was an avid reader of a wide range of subjects including history, philosophy, religion, social science, art and literature. He was also interested in Hindu scriptures like Bhagwat Geeta, Upanishads, Vedas, Puranas, Mahabharata etc. His teachers also call him a genius who is bound to make his mark in life. Swami was known for his prodigious memory and his ability to speed reading. There was an incident Once, he requested some books written by Sir John Lubbock from a library and returned them the very next day, claiming that he had read them. The librarian refused to believe him until cross-examination about the contents convinced him that Vivekananda was being truthful.
Narendra was first influenced by Brahmo Samaj and later by Ramakrishna.
Influence of Brahmo SamajHis initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which denounce polytheism and caste restriction, and a "streamlined rationalized, monotheistic theology strongly coloured by a selective and modernistic reading of the Upanisads and of the Vedanta. After remaining in Brahmo Samaj for a considerable time a question arise in the mind of Vivekananda which marked the real beginning of his intellectual quest for God." He asked several prominent Calcutta residents if they had come "face to face with God", but none of their answers satisfied him. At this time, Narendra met Debendranath Tagore (the leader of Brahmo Samaj) and asked if he had seen God. Instead of answering his question, Tagore said "My boy, you have the Yogi's eyes. Later it was Ramakrishna who really answered Narendra's question by saying, "Yes, I see Him as I see you, only in an infinitely intenser sense.
Influence of RamakrishnaRamakrishna has been a major spiritual guide in the life of Vivekananda after his father's death. He was introduced to Ramakrishna in his class during a lecture of English when his teacher was explaining the word "trance" in William Wordsworth's poem. His teacher told in order to understand the real meaning of the word "trance", he must visit Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar. From here, Vivekananda started visiting Dakshineswar. After several visits, once Ramakrishna noticed young Narendra and asked him to sing. Impressed by his singing talent, he asked Narendra to come to Dakshineshwar. Later in early 1882, Narendra went to Dakshineswar with his two friends and met Ramakrishna. This meeting proved to be a turning point in his life. Although he did not initially accept Ramakrishna as his teacher and rebelled against his ideas, he was attracted by his personality and began to frequently visit him at Dakshineswar.
He initially saw Ramakrishna's visions as "mere figments of imagination" and "hallucinations". As a member of Brahmo Samaj, he opposed idol worship, polytheism and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali. He first considered his actions as pure madness and blasphemy. He tested Ramakrishna several times, who faced his arguments patiently. And replied, "Try to see the truth from all angles".
On the other hand, a major Incident took place in the life of Narendra which was his father's sudden death in 1884. It left his family bankrupt, and problems were knocking from all directions. On one side relatives were threatening to evict the family from their ancestral home, and on the other side, creditors began demanding the repayment of loans. In this turbulent period Narendra, once a son of a well-to-do family, became one of the poorest students in his college. He unsuccessfully tried to find work and questioned God's existence, but found solace in Ramakrishna and his visits to Dakshineswar increased. One day when Vivekananda saw his family's financial struggle he requested Ramakrishna to pray to Goddess Kali for the welfare of his family. Ramakrishna listened to him patiently and suggested, "go to the temple and pray." He did the same and went to the temple thrice. But he failed for any kind of materialistic necessities and ultimately prayed for true knowledge and wisdom. Later on, when Narendra realized that worldly necessities are insignificant, he gradually grew ready to renounce everything for the sake of realising God and accepted Ramakrishna as his Guru.
Journey of Swami Vivekananda -
Travels in India (1888-1893)— After the death of his guru Swami Ramkrishna Paramhans, he established a monastery. And in 1888 Narendra decided to leave the monastery and live a life of a Wandering monk("Parivrajaka") with no attachments and ties to anyone/anything. His sole possessions were two of his favourite books ' Bhagavad-Gita' and 'The Imitation of Christ' along with a kamandalu(water pot) and staff. He extensively travelled all across India for five years. Meeting every section of society. And acquainting and learning himself with diverse religions, traditions and social patterns. In his journey, he developed sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the people and resolved to uplift the nation. In his journey, he lived on bhiksha and travelled on foot and by railway (with tickets bought by admirers). During his travels, he met and stayed with Indians from all religions and walks of life. And on 31 May 1893, he left for Chicago with his new name "Vivekananda". which means "the bliss of discerning wisdom," taken from Sanskrit Viveka and ānanda.
His first visit to the west(1893- 1897)— On the way to Chicago, United States. Swami visited several cities in Japan, China, and Canada. And finally reached Chicago on 30 July 1893, where the "Parliament of Religions" took place in September 1893. At first, he was disappointed when he heard only members of well-known bona- fide organisations are only eligible to enter as a delegate. But somehow by hook or by crook, he managed to enter the "Parliament of Religions".
Speech at the parliament of the world's religions —
Parliament of the world's religion was one of the important incidents of his life. After this event, he got worldwide fame and respect. This event was started on 11 September 1893 on this particular day Vivekananda got his chance to speak and he represented both India and Hinduism. He began his speech with "Sisters and brothers of America!" In his speech, he represented Sanatan Dharma and its deep philosophies. A way of life which has taught the world tolerance, universal acceptance and moral values. Vivekananda also quoted and explained two passages of 'Shiva Mahima stotram' which means different steams of water which originate at different places, all mingle at the end in the sea. Like this O lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies and experiences. All paths lead to Thee(ultimate truth or God). All reach ultimately to God or ultimate truth with constant struggling in their individual distinct paths.
He has also explained various other intellectual philosophies of Sanatan Dharma just like this above passage. His speech was the shortest among all participants but was the most effective. After his speech he attracted widespread attention in the press, which called him the "cyclonic monk from India". And after this event intellectual people in the west started discussing how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation". After this particular speech, Vivekananda got more chances to speak at various places such as at receptions, the scientific section, and private homes" on topics related to Hinduism, Buddhism and harmony among religions until the parliament ended on 27 September 1893. His tour to the West created a huge impression in the minds of intellectual people.