Swami Vivekananda : The Great Man of India 12 January

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Swami Vivekananda, renowned as /ˈswɑːmi ˌvɪveɪˈkɑːnəndə/; Bengali: [ʃami bibekanɔndo] ⓘ; IAST: Swāmī Vivekānanda; born on 12 January 1863 and transcended on 4 July 1902, originally named Narendranath Datta (Bengali: [nɔrendronatʰ dɔto]), stood as a distinguished Indian Hindu monk, philosopher, author, religious teacher, and the chief disciple of the Indian mystic Ramakrishna. Hailing from an aristocratic Bengali Kayastha family in Calcutta, Swami Vivekananda early inclinations leaned towards religion and spirituality. His journey led him to his spiritual guide, Ramakrishna, and ultimately, he embraced the life of a monk.

Swami Vivekananda : The Great Man of India 12 January
Ai Images of Swami Vivekananda

Following Ramakrishna’s passing, Swami Vivekananda embarked on extensive travels throughout the Indian subcontinent, gaining firsthand insights into the living conditions of people in then British India. Motivated by empathy for his countrymen, he resolved to make a difference and found a path to the United States. It was there, at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, that he captivated audiences with his memorable opening words: “Sisters and brothers of America…” while introducing Hinduism to the American audience. His impact was profound, earning him the description in an American newspaper as “an orator by divine right and undoubtedly the greatest figure at the Parliament.”

Post his remarkable success at the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda continued to deliver numerous lectures across the United States, England, and Europe, spreading the fundamental tenets of Hindu philosophy. He established the Vedanta Society of New York and the Vedanta Society of San Francisco (now Vedanta Society of Northern California), both laying the groundwork for Vedanta Societies in the Western world. In India, he founded the Ramakrishna Math, providing spiritual training, and the Ramakrishna Mission, focused on charity, social work, and education.

Swami Vivekananda emerged as one of the most influential philosophers and social reformers in contemporary India, playing a pivotal role in the missionary efforts of Vedanta in the Western world. His influence extended to Hindu reform movements and the shaping of nationalist ideals in colonial India. Widely regarded as one of the most impactful figures in modern India, he is honored as a patriotic saint, with his birthday celebrated as National Youth Day.

Swami Vivekananda birthday :

A statue of Swami Vivekananda stands proudly at the Ramakrishna Mission, overlooking Swami Vivekananda Ancestral House and Cultural Centre.

Swami Vivekananda, originally named Narendranath Datta (commonly known as Narendra or Naren), entered this world in a Bengali family, specifically at his ancestral residence on 3 Gourmohan Mukherjee Street in Calcutta, the capital of British India. His birth coincided with the Makar Sankranti festival on 12 January 1863. Growing up in a traditional setting, he was one of nine siblings in a family led by his father, Vishwanath Datta, an attorney at the Calcutta High Court.

Narendra’s grandfather, Durgacharan Datta, was a noteworthy Sanskrit and Persian scholar who, at the age of twenty-five, chose the path of a monk, leaving his family behind. His mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, was a devout housewife, and the amalgamation of his father’s progressive, rational stance and his mother’s religious temperament significantly influenced Swami Vivekananda thoughts and character.

Even in his early years, Narendranath displayed an interest in spirituality. He would engage in meditation before the divine images of Shiva, Rama, Sita, and Mahavir Hanuman. The allure of wandering ascetics and monks captured his imagination. Described as mischievous and restless during childhood, Narendra’s parents often found it challenging to rein in his exuberance. His mother once remarked, “I prayed to Shiva for a son, and he has sent me one of his demons.”

Swami Vivekananda scholarship

In 1871, at the tender age of eight, Narendranath began his educational journey at Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Metropolitan Institution. He remained there until 1877 when his family relocated to Raipur. Upon their return to Calcutta in 1879, Narendranath stood out by being the sole recipient of first-division marks in the prestigious Presidency College entrance examination.

An avid reader from an early age, he delved into a myriad of subjects, spanning philosophy, religion, history, social science, art, and literature. His intellectual curiosity extended to Hindu scriptures, encompassing the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Puranas. Besides his academic pursuits, Narendra received training in Indian classical music and actively participated in physical exercise, sports, and organized activities.

His academic journey continued at the General Assembly’s Institution, now known as the Scottish Church College. There, he studied Western logic, Western philosophy, and European history. By 1881, he had passed the Fine Arts examination, culminating in the completion of a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884. His intellectual scope expanded to encompass the works of influential Western philosophers, including David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin.

Narendra’s fascination with Herbert Spencer’s evolutionism led to a correspondence with Spencer and the translation of Spencer’s book “Education” (1861) into Bengali. Simultaneously, he diligently studied Sanskrit scriptures and Bengali literature alongside Western philosophical pursuits.

His exceptional memory and speed reading abilities were well-noted. William Hastie, the principal of Christian College, Calcutta, expressed, “Narendra is really a genius. I have travelled far and wide, but I have never come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, among philosophical students. He is bound to make his mark in life.”

Narendra’s prodigious memory was evident in various instances, quoting extensive passages from “Pickwick Papers” during a talk and engaging in a debate with a Swedish national about Swedish history. In another incident, he astounded Dr. Paul Deussen in Germany by reciting and interpreting verses from a text, showcasing his remarkable feat of memory. His voracious appetite for reading was exemplified when he requested and promptly returned books by Sir John Lubbock, claiming to have read them, a claim verified upon cross-examination of the content.

Swami Vivekananda old vs new

Embarking on the Spiritual Path

In the year 1880, Narendra became associated with Keshab Chandra Sen’s Nava Vidhan, an institution established by Sen following his encounter with Ramakrishna and his return to Hinduism from Christianity. During this period, Narendra joined a Freemasonry lodge, approximately before 1884, and also became a member of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in his twenties. This was a splinter group of the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshab Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore. Between 1881 and 1884, he actively participated in Sen’s Band of Hope, a movement aimed at discouraging youth from engaging in smoking and drinking.

Within this cultic environment, Narendra was introduced to Western esotericism, and his early beliefs were influenced by Brahmo concepts that rejected polytheism and caste restrictions. His theological outlook evolved into a streamlined, rationalized, and monotheistic stance, strongly influenced by a modernistic interpretation of the Upanishads and Vedanta. Rammohan Roy, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, had a universalistic interpretation of Hinduism influenced by unitarianism. Debendranath Tagore, however, altered these ideas by taking a romantic approach and questioning central Hindu beliefs such as reincarnation and karma, along with rejecting the authority of the Vedas.

Tagore’s approach aligned “neo-Hinduism” with Western esotericism, a shift furthered by Sen’s influence. Sen, inspired by transcendentalism, a philosophical-religious movement connected with unitarianism, emphasized personal religious experience over mere reasoning and theology. His efforts aimed at fostering an accessible, non-renunciatory form of spirituality introduced lay systems of spiritual practice, foreshadowing the teachings later popularized by Vivekananda in the West.

Despite his extensive knowledge of philosophy, Narendra sought deeper answers about God. He queried prominent residents of Calcutta about their personal encounters with God, finding none of their responses satisfying. It was during this time that he encountered Debendranath Tagore, the leader of Brahmo Samaj, and posed the same question to him. Rather than providing a direct answer, Tagore remarked, “My boy, you have the Yogi’s eyes.”

However, it was Ramakrishna who, according to Banhatti, truly responded to Narendra’s question by stating, “Yes, I see Him as I see you, only in an infinitely intenser sense.” While De Michelis emphasizes the influence of Brahmo Samaj on Vivekananda, Swami Medhananda suggests that it was Narendra’s pivotal encounter with Ramakrishna that redirected his path away from Brahmoism. De Michelis further posits that it was Sen’s influence that fully immersed Swami Vivekananda in Western esotericism, ultimately leading him to meet Ramakrishna through Sen’s connection.

Ramakrishna Mission

In 1881, Narendra’s initial encounter with Ramakrishna transpired during a literature class at General Assembly’s Institution. Professor William Hastie, while elucidating William Wordsworth’s poem, The Excursion, mentioned the word “trance” and suggested that students, including Narendra, visit Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar to grasp the true essence of trance. This led Narendra and his peers to make their first visit to Ramakrishna, possibly in November 1881.

Their formal meeting might have occurred during preparations for Narendra’s upcoming F. A. examination when Ram Chandra Datta accompanied him to Surendra Nath Mitra’s house for a lecture by Ramakrishna. At this gathering, Ramakrishna, impressed by Narendra’s singing talent, invited him to Dakshineswar. In late 1881 or early 1882, Narendra, along with two friends, visited Dakshineswar, marking a significant turning point in his life.

Initially skeptical of Ramakrishna’s teachings, Narendra resisted accepting him as a teacher. Despite viewing Ramakrishna’s ecstasies and visions as imaginative figments and hallucinations, Narendra found himself drawn to Ramakrishna’s personality and began frequenting Dakshineswar. As a member of Brahmo Samaj, Narendra opposed idol worship, polytheism, and Ramakrishna’s worship of Kali. He even challenged the Advaita Vedanta philosophy as blasphemy and madness.

In 1884, Narendra’s father’s sudden demise plunged the family into financial distress. Narendra, once part of an affluent family, became one of the poorest students in college. Struggling to find employment and grappling with existential questions, he sought solace in Ramakrishna, intensifying his visits to Dakshineswar.

During this challenging time, Narendra requested Ramakrishna to pray for the family’s financial well-being. Instead, Ramakrishna advised him to visit the temple and pray himself. Following this guidance, Narendra visited the temple three times, eventually praying not for worldly necessities but for true knowledge and devotion. Gradually, he became willing to renounce everything for the realization of God and accepted Ramakrishna as his Guru in 1885.

In 1885, Ramakrishna’s battle with throat cancer prompted his transfer to Calcutta and later to a garden house in Cossipore. Narendra, along with other disciples, cared for him during his final days, and his spiritual education continued. At Cossipore, Narendra experienced Nirvikalpa samadhi. This period marked the formation of Ramakrishna’s first monastic order, with Narendra and fellow disciples receiving ochre robes. Ramakrishna emphasized the importance of serving humanity as the most effective worship of God. Before his passing on 16 August 1886, Ramakrishna entrusted Narendra with the care of his monastic disciples, cementing his role as a leader among them.

Swami Ramakrishna Mission

Following Ramakrishna’s demise, financial support from his devotees waned, leaving his disciples, including Narendra, in a precarious situation. Unpaid rent accumulated, forcing them to seek alternative living arrangements. Many disciples returned home, embracing a family-oriented lifestyle. In contrast, Narendra, displaying unwavering commitment, opted to transform a run-down house in Baranagar into a new monastery for the remaining disciples.

The Baranagar Math, supported by funds raised through “holy begging” (mādhukarī), marked the genesis of the Ramakrishna Math. This monastery became the foundational structure for the monastic order of Ramakrishna. Narendra and his fellow disciples dedicated extensive hours to meditation and religious practices daily. Reflecting on those early days, Narendra later expressed the profound detachment they embodied, entirely absorbed in their spiritual pursuits, indifferent to the existence of the external world.

In 1887, Narendra collaborated with Vaishnav Charan Basak to compile a Bengali song anthology named “Sangeet Kalpataru.” Though Narendra initiated the collection and arrangement of most songs, unforeseen circumstances prevented him from completing the work.

In December 1886, the mother of Baburam extended an invitation to Narendra and his brother monks to Antpur village. Accepting the invitation, they spent a few days in Antpur. On the Christmas Eve of 1886, Narendra and eight other disciples formalized their commitment to monastic life. Choosing to emulate their master, they adopted a lifestyle aligned with Ramakrishna’s teachings. It was during this ceremony that Narendranath assumed the name “Swami Vivekananda,” marking a significant moment in his spiritual journey.

Swami Vivekananda Images
11 September 1893

he Parliament of the World’s Religions commenced on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago, coinciding with the World’s Columbian Exposition. On this momentous day, Vivekananda, representing India and Hinduism, delivered a brief yet impactful speech. Initially, he felt nervous, but upon bowing to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, he commenced his address with the iconic words, “Sisters and brothers of America!” This declaration resonated profoundly, eliciting a two-minute standing ovation from the seven-thousand-strong audience.

As the applause subsided, Vivekananda continued his address, extending greetings on behalf of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” Quoting passages from the “Shiva mahimna stotram,” he conveyed the universal nature of spirituality: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!” and “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me.”

Parliament President John Henry Barrows acknowledged Swami Vivekananda representation of India, describing him as the “Orange-monk” who wielded remarkable influence. The press, captivated by Vivekananda, dubbed him the “cyclonic monk from India.” The New York Critique praised his oratory skills and striking presence, while The New York Herald declared him the “greatest figure” in the Parliament of Religions, questioning the need for missionaries in the face of such erudition.

American newspapers echoed similar sentiments, hailing Vivekananda as the “greatest figure” and “the most popular and influential man” in the Parliament. The Boston Evening Transcript noted his popularity, stating that he received applause even for merely crossing the platform. Vivekananda continued to speak at various forums during the Parliament, addressing topics related to Hinduism, Buddhism, and religious harmony. His speeches consistently emphasized universality and religious tolerance, earning him the moniker of a “handsome oriental” and establishing him as a remarkable orator at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Swami Vivekananda Speech (United State and United Kingdom)

Following the Parliament of Religions, Vivekananda embarked on an extensive tour across the United States as a distinguished guest, bringing his message of life and religion to thousands. His popularity afforded him the opportunity to expand on these themes and engage with diverse audiences. During a question-answer session at the Brooklyn Ethical Society, he drew parallels between his mission to the West and Buddha’s message to the East, emphasizing the universality of his teachings.

Over nearly two years, Vivekananda lectured in the eastern and central United States, making significant stops in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. In 1894, he founded the Vedanta Society of New York. By the spring of 1895, the taxing schedule had taken a toll on his health. Consequently, he concluded his lecture tours and began offering free, private classes in Vedanta and yoga. In June 1895, Vivekananda conducted private lectures for a select group of disciples at Thousand Island Park, New York, lasting for two months.

During his initial sojourn to the West, Vivekananda made two trips to the UK in 1895 and 1896, delivering successful lectures. In November 1895, he met Margaret Elizabeth Noble, an Irish woman who later became Sister Nivedita. His second visit to the UK in May 1896 included a meeting with Max Müller, a renowned Indologist from Oxford University. From the UK, Swami Vivekananda extended his journey to other European countries, meeting scholars such as Paul Deussen in Germany.

Despite offers for academic positions at Harvard University and Columbia University, including the chair in Eastern Philosophy at Harvard, Swami Vivekananda declined, as these roles conflicted with his commitment as a monk. His success prompted a shift in mission towards establishing Vedanta centers in the West. To make Hindu ideas more accessible to his Western audience, Vivekananda adapted traditional concepts and religiosity, incorporating elements from Western esoteric traditions like Transcendentalism and New Thought.

A pivotal aspect of his adaptation was the introduction of the “four yogas” model, including Raja yoga, his interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras. This model provided a practical means for realizing the divine force within, aligning with modern Western esotericism. In 1896, his book “Raja Yoga” was published, rapidly gaining influence and significantly shaping Western perceptions of yoga. Elizabeth de Michelis views this publication as marking a crucial moment in the understanding of yoga in the West.

come back in India :

Returning to India in 1897,Swami Vivekananda received a warm welcome in Colombo, British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he delivered his first public speech in the East. His triumphant journey to Calcutta included stops in Pamban, Rameswaram, Ramnad, Madurai, Kumbakonam, and Madras, where he captivated audiences with his lectures. The reception was so enthusiastic that people would sit on the railway tracks to halt the train, eager to hear him speak.

Continuing from Madras to Calcutta and Almora, Swami Vivekananda

speeches in the West focused on India’s spiritual heritage, while in India, he addressed pressing social issues. His talks emphasized uplifting the people, abolishing the caste system, promoting science and industrialization, alleviating poverty, and ending colonial rule. These lectures, compiled in “Lectures from Colombo to Almora,” reflected his blend of nationalistic fervor and spiritual ideology.

On May 1, 1897, in Calcutta, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission for social service, rooted in the ideals of Karma Yoga. The governing body comprised trustees of the Ramakrishna Math, which engaged in religious work. Both entities have their headquarters at Belur Math. Swami Vivekananda established two additional monasteries: one in Mayavati in the Himalayas, named Advaita Ashrama, and another in Madras (now Chennai). Two journals, Prabuddha Bharata in English and Udbhodan in Bengali, were also founded. Swami Akhandananda initiated famine-relief work in the Murshidabad district.

During his travels in the West in 1893, Vivekananda had inspired Jamsetji Tata to establish a research and educational institution. Tata later offered him the leadership of his Research Institute of Science, but Swami Vivekananda declined, citing a conflict with his “spiritual interests.” He visited Punjab, aiming to mediate an ideological conflict between Arya Samaj (a reformist Hindu movement) and sanatan (orthodox Hindus). After brief visits to Lahore, Delhi, and Khetri, Vivekananda returned to Calcutta in January 1898. He dedicated his time to consolidating the work of the math and training disciples. In 1898, Vivekananda composed “Khandana Bhava–Bandhana,” a prayer song dedicated to Ramakrishna.

Swami Vivekananda scholarship

Vivekananda played a pivotal role in synthesizing and popularizing various strands of Hindu thought, particularly classical yoga and Advaita Vedanta. Influenced by Western ideas, including Universalism through collaboration with Unitarian missionaries, his initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, emphasizing a formless God and the rejection of idolatry. Vivekananda propagated the idea that the divine exists within all human beings, irrespective of social status, fostering love and social harmony.

While influenced by Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda interpretation of Vedanta included both immanence and transcendence, in contrast to traditional Advaita Vedanta. He reconciled dualism and non-dualism, viewing Brahman as both qualified (saguna) and qualityless (nirguna). His emphasis on nirvikalpa samadhi, influenced by medieval yogic ideas, aligned with the goal of liberation.

Vivekananda introduced the notion of involution, drawn from Theosophy and Darwin’s evolution, linking it to the descent of divine consciousness into matter. He associated spirit with prana or purusha, integrating Samkhya and classical yoga concepts.

Morality, for Swami Vivekananda, was tied to mind control, with truth, purity, and unselfishness strengthening the mind. He advocated holiness, unselfishness, and faith (shraddhā) and supported brahmacharya, considering it a source of physical and mental strength.

In Western esoteric circles, Swami Vivekananda adaptation of Hindu religiosity, introduction of the four yogas model, and publication of “Raja Yoga” in 1896 garnered significant success. Nationalism was a prominent theme in his teachings, emphasizing human development for a country’s future. He aimed to bring noble ideas to every doorstep, irrespective of social status.

Swami Vivekananda quotes

  1. “Arise, awake, and stop not until the goal is achieved.”
  2. “In a conflict between the heart and the brain, follow your heart.”
  3. “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, 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.”
  4. “The greatest sin is to think yourself weak.”
  5. “You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.”
  6. “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
  7. “Feel nothing, know nothing, do nothing, have nothing, give up all to God, and say utterly, ‘Thy will be done.’ We only dream this bondage. Wake up and let it go.”
  8. “Stand up, be bold, be strong. Take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders, and know that you are the creator of your own destiny.”
  9. “The fire that warms us can also consume us; it is not the fault of the fire.”
  10. “The more we come out and do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified, and God will be in them.”
  11. “It is our own mental attitude which makes the world what it is for us. Our thought make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds.”
  12. “Do not wait for anybody or anything. Do whatever you can, build your hope on none.”
  13. “Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love.”
  14. “Anything that makes weak – physically, intellectually and spiritually, reject it as poison.”
  15. “Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way.”
  16. “All power is within you; you can do anything and everything. Believe in that, do not believe that you are weak.”
  17. “They alone live who live for others.”
  18. “Do not be afraid of a small beginning. Great things come afterwards. Be courageous. Do not try to lead your brethren, but serve them. The brutal mania for leading has sunk many a great ships in the waters of life.”
  19. “The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.”
  20. “The more you think of yourself as shining immortal spirit, the more eager you will be to be absolutely free of matter, body, and senses.”
  21. “Take care about the means, and the end will take care of itself.”
  22. “Neither seek nor avoid, take what comes.”
  23. “You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.”
  24. “All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.”
  25. “The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him – that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.”
  26. “He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary.”
  27. “The world is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow. The strength and force of the blow come through concentration.”
  28. “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
  29. “To devote your life to the good of all and to the happiness of all is religion. Whatever you do for your own sake is not religion.”
  30. “You are the creator of your own destiny.”
death day :

On July 4, 1902, the day of his passing, Swami Vivekananda began his morning by awakening early and heading to the monastery at Belur Math, where he meditated for three hours. Throughout the day, he imparted teachings on Shukla-Yajur-Veda, Sanskrit grammar, and the philosophy of yoga to his pupils. In discussions with colleagues, plans for a Vedic college in the Ramakrishna Math were considered. At 7:00 pm, Swami Vivekananda retired to his room, expressing a desire not to be disturbed. At 9:20 pm, while in meditation, he passed away.

According to his disciples, Vivekananda achieved mahasamādhi, and a possible cause of his death was reported as the rupture of a blood vessel in his brain. His followers believed that the rupture occurred when his brahmarandhra (an opening in the crown of his head) was pierced during his attainment of mahasamādhi. Swami Vivekananda had foretold that he would not live beyond forty years, and with his passing, he fulfilled this prophecy. His cremation took place on the banks of the Ganga in Belur, using a sandalwood funeral pyre, mirroring the location where Ramakrishna had been cremated sixteen years earlier.

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