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Swami Vivkananda

Biography

Swami Vivekananda Swami Vivekanand's name was Narendra Nath Dutta in his pre-monastic life. He was born in an affluent family in Kolkata on 12th January, 1863. His father, Vishwanath Datta, was a successful attorney with interest in varied subjects, and his mother, Bhuvaneshwari Devi, was endowed with qualities like deep devotion, strong character etc. The precocious boy, Narendra mastered music, gymnastics and studies. By the time he completed his graduation from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history. He had a yogic temperament and used to practice meditation even from his boyhood, and was also involved in 'Brahmo Movement' for time being.

Meeting the Mentor

At the threshold of youth, Narendra had to undergo a period of spiritual crisis when he was confused by doubts about the very existence of God. And at that time, he came to know about Shri Ramakrishna from his English professor at college. In November 1881, one day Narendra went to meet Shri Ramakrishna at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar. He straight away asked him a question, which he had asked to several others but had received no satisfactory answer, "Sir, have you seen God?"

Without a moment's hesitation, Shri Ramakrishna replied, "Yes, I have. I can see Him as clearly as I see you, only in a much deeper sense."

Shri Ramakrishna not only removed doubts from the mind of Narendra, but also won him over through his pure, selfless love. And thus began a unique Guru-disciple relationship in the history of spiritualism. Narendra now started visiting Dakshineshwar frequently and, under the guidance of the Guru, made rapid progress on the spiritual path. At Dakshineshwar, Narendra also met many youngsters who were devoted to Shri Ramakrishna, and they all became close pals.

Tough Times

After a few years two incidents distressed Narendra considerably. One was the sudden death of his father in 1884, leaving his family in miserable condition. Hence, Narendra had to bear the burden of supporting his mother, brothers and sisters. The second event was the illness of Shri Ramakrishna which was diagnosed as throat cancer. In September 1885, Shri Ramakrishna was taken to a house at Shyampukur, and a few months later to a rented villa at Cossipore. At these two places the young disciples nursed their Guru with utmost care. Though there was poverty at home, as he was unemployed, Narendra had lead his fellows.

Beginning of Monastic Fraternity

Beginning of a monastic brotherhoodShri Ramakrishna instilled the spirit of renunciation and brotherhood in these youngsters. One day he distributed ochre robes among them and sent them out to beg food. He specifically instructed Narendra about the formation of the new monastic Order. In the wee hours of 16th August 1886, Shri Ramakrishna left his mortal body. After the Guru's demise, all his fifteen young disciples began to live together in a decrepit building at Baranagar in North Kolkata. Under the leadership of Narendra, they formed a new monastic fraternity and in 1887 and took the formal vows of Sanyasa, consequently acquiring new names, Narendra now became Swami Vivekanand, although this name was actually assumed much later.

Cognizance of Life

Awareness of Life's MissionAfter establishing the new monastic order, Vivekanand heard the voice of his soul for a greater mission in his life. While most of the disciples of Shri Ramakrishna thought about him in relation to their own personal lives, but Vivekanand thought of the Guru in relation to India and the rest of the world. As the prophet of the present era, what was Shri Ramakrishna's message to the modern world and to India in particular? This question and the awareness of his own intrinsic powers urged Vivekanand to explore the whole world. So, in the middle of 1890, he received the blessings of Shri Sarada Devi, the divine companion of Shri Ramakrishna, known to the world as Holy Mother, who was then staying in Kolkata and left Baranagar Math and set out for a long journey to explore and discover the real India.

Exploring the Real India

During his travels across India, Swami Vivekanand was deeply touched by the terrible poverty and backwardness of the people. He was the first religious leader in India to understand and openly declare that the real cause of India's ruin was the neglect of the masses. The urgent need was to provide food and other bare requirements of life to the starving millions. For this, they should be trained about improved agricultural techniques, village industries, etc. It was in this context that Vivekanand grasped the core problem of poverty in India, which had never attracted the attention of social reformers of those days. Because of centuries of repression, the exploited masses had lost the confidence in their ability to improve. The priority was to instill into their minds the faith in themselves and for this they needed a revitalizing and inspiring message. Vivekanand could find this message in the principle of the Atman, the doctrine of the potential divinity of the soul, taught in Vedanta, the ancient system of religious philosophy of India. He saw that, in spite of poverty, the masses adhered to religion. But they had never been enlightened by the stimulating principles of Vedanta and how to apply them in practical life. Thus, the people needed two kinds of knowledge, firstly, secular knowledge to improve their economic condition and secondly, spiritual knowledge to infuse self-confidence and reinforce their morality. The challenge was to spread these two kinds of knowledge among the people. Education was the only answer that Vivekanand found.

Need for an Organization

Vivekanandji was very clear that to carry out his plans for the spread of education for the strengthening of the poor people, including women, an efficient organization of committed people was required. As he stated later on that he wanted to set in motion, a mechanism, which could bring the noblest of ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest. A few years later, Swamiji founded the Ramakrishna Mission to serve as a part of this 'mechanism'.

Decision to attend the Parliament of Religions

It was when these ideas were taking shape in his mind in the course of his wanderings that Swami Vivekananda heard about the World's Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. His friends and admirers in India wanted him to attend the Parliament. He too felt that the Parliament would provide the right forum to present his Master's message to the world, and so he decided to go to America. Another reason which prompted Swamiji to go to America was to seek financial help for his project of uplifting the masses.

Swamiji, however, wanted to have an inner certitude and divine call regarding his mission. Both of these he got while he sat in deep meditation on the rock-island at Kanyakumari. With the funds partly collected by his Chennai disciples and partly provided by the Raja of Khetri, Swami Vivekananda left for America from Mumbai on 31 May 1893.

The Parliament of Religions

Swami Vivekanand came to know about the World's Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893 while he was touring in the country to spread the message of his Guru. His admirers and comrades wanted him to attend the Parliament. He too felt that the Parliament would provide the right platform to present his Guru's message to the world, and thus he decided to go to America. Another reason, which prompted Vivekanandji to go to America, was to seek financial help for his mission of uplifting the masses. He, however, wanted to have an inner conviction and divine call about the mission, which he got while sitting in deep meditation on the rock-island at Kanyakumari. His Chennai disciples managed to collect some funds for his visit to America and rest was provided by the Raja of Khetri, and finally, Swami Vivekanand left for America to participate in the World Parliament of Religions on 31st May, 1893 from Mumbai.

After the Parliament of Religions

He became famous as an 'Orator by Divine Right' and as a 'Messenger of Indian Wisdom to the Western World', after his speeches at the World's Parliament of Religions held in September, 1893 at Chicago, America. After the Parliament, Vivekanandji spent about three and a half years mostly in the eastern parts of USA and also in London to spread the concept of Vedanta as practiced by Shri Ramakrishna.

Awakening of the Countrymen

On returning to India in January 1897, he got enthusiastic welcome everywhere. He delivered a series of lectures in different parts of India, which lead to a great movement all over the country. Vivekanandji's efforts were to do the following through his inspiring and overwhelming lectures :

  • to stir up the religious awareness of the masses and generate pride in their legacy.
  • to amalgamate Hinduism by highlighting the common bases of its sects.
  • to focus the attention of educated people on the plight of the oppressed masses, and to elaborate his plans for their uplift by applying the principles of Practical Vedanta.

Foundation of Ramakrishna Mission

Immediately after returning back to Kolkata, Swami Vivekanand accomplished one of the most important tasks of his mission. He established Ramakrishna Mission on 1st May 1897, a foundation to propagate Practical Vedanta and to carry out various forms of social service, like running hospitals, educational institutes, hostels, rural development centers etc. and conducting massive relief and rehabilitation work for victims of earthquakes, cyclones and other calamities in different parts of India and other countries, jointly by monks and lay people.

Belur Math – The symbol of unity of all religions

In early 1898, Swami Vivekanand acquired a big plot of land on the western bank of the Ganga, at a place known as Belur, to build a monastery as a permanent habitat for the monks, open to all men without any discrimination of religion, race or caste. He got it registered as 'Ramakrishna Math' after two years. Here, Swamiji recognized a new, universal pattern of monastic life which adapts ancient monastic ideals to the conditions of modern life, giving equal importance to personal enlightenment and social service.

Disciples

Many people in the West were influenced by the life and message of Swami Vivekanand. Some of them even became his disciples or devoted fellows. Among them, some of the names that may be specially mentioned are of Margaret Noble (later known as Sister Nivedita), Captain and Mrs. Sevier, Josephine McLeod and Sara Ole Bull, etc. Sister Nivedita dedicated her life for the education of girls in Kolkata. Some of his Indian disciples also joined Ramakrishna Math and became Sanyasis.

Last Days

During his second visit to the West in June 1899, he spent most of his time on the west coast of USA. He delivered many lectures there and returned to Belur Math in December 1900 and spent rest of his life in India, inspiring and guiding people, both monastic and lay. Constant work, especially giving lectures to motivate people, had an adverse effect on Vivekanand's health and his it started deteriorating. Eventually, he breathed his last on the night of 4th July, 1902. Prior to his 'Maha Samadhi', he had written to a Western follower that, "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 stop working and keep inspiring men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is mingled with God."

Chronology of Important Events in the life of Swami Vivekanand


Year Month Events
1863 12th January Birth in Kolkata
1879 Joins Presidency College
1880 Transfers to General Assembly Institution
1881 November First meeting with Shri Ramakrishna
1882-1886 Association with Shri Ramakrishna
1884 Passes B.A. Examination
Demise of Father
1885 Last Days of Shri Ramakrishna
1886 16th August Sri Ramakrishna passes away
Fall Establishes Baranagar Math
24th December Informal vow of Sanyasa at Antpur
1887 January Formal vows of Sanyasa at Baranagar Monastery
1890-1893 Travels all over India as itinerant monk
1892 24th December At Kanyakumari, South India
1893 13th February First public lecture, Secunderabad, South India
31st May Sails for America from Mumbai
25th July Lands at Vancouver, Canada
30th July Arrives in Chicago
August Meets Professor John Ft. Wright of Harvard University
11th September First address at Parliament of Religions, Chicago
27th September Final address at Parliament of Religions
20th November Begins mid-western lecture tour
1894 14th April Begins lectures and classes on East Coast
16th May Speaks at Harvard University
July-August At Green Acre Religious Conference
November Founds Vedanta Society of New York
1895 January Begins classes in New York
4-18th June At Camp Percy, New Hampshire
June-August At Thousand Island Park on St. Lawrence river, N.Y.
August-September In Paris
October-November Lectures in London
6th December Sails for New York
1896 22-25th March Speaks at Harvard University, offered Eastern Philosophy chair
15th April Returns to London May-July Gives classes in London
28th May Meets Max Muller in Oxford
August-September In the Europe for six weeks
October-November Gives classes in London
30th December Leaves Naples for India
1897 15th January Arrives in Colombo, Sri Lanka
6-15th February In Chennai
19th February Arrives in Kolkata
1st May Establishes Ramakrishna Mission Association, Kolkata
May-December Tours northwest India
1898 January Returns to Kolkata
May Begins North India pilgrimage with Western devotees
2nd August At Amarnath, Kashmir
9th December Consecrates Belur Math
1899 19th March Establishes Advaita Ashrama at Mayavati
20th June Leaves India for second visit to the West
31st July Arrives in London
28th August Arrives in New York City
August-November At Ridgely Manor, New York
3rd December Arrives in Los Angeles
1900 22nd February Arrives in San Francisco
14th April Founds Vedanta Society in San Francisco
June Final classes in New York City
26th July Leaves for Europe
3rd August Arrives in Paris for International Exposition
7th September Speaks at Congress of History of Religions at Exposition
24th October Begins tour of Vienna, Constantinople, Greece and Cairo
26th November Leaves for India
9th December Arrives at Belur Math
1901 January Visits Mayavati
March-May Pilgrimage in East Bengal and Assam
1902 January-February Visits Bodh Gaya and Varanasi
March Returns to Belur Math
4th July Maha Samadhi
Right to Information
Teachings and Philosophy
About Swamiji

Last updated on : 20/03/2014 Visitors :  180117
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