VIVEKANANDA A Biography
VIVEKANANDA A Biography
Have you seen God? This is the question that Swami Vivekananda asked as a young boy.He renounced all worldly pleasures.He wandered all over India with just a staff and a begging bowl.He wanted to see God, and soon he succeeded.In this book, you will learn about the life of Swami Vivekananda.Who was he as a child.How did he become a great leader? What led him to be the most admired person in America? What is his legacy? You will learn about these and more from this book.
Swami Vivekananda often found himself lost, alone, and hungry. All he had was his faith.Until one day, he finally saw God.He realized his goal in life. It became clear to him, and soon he was able to achieve it.Swami Vivekananda chose to do good deeds, and so the good things also came to him.
Swami Vivekananda was born on the day of Makar sankranti.It was January 12, 1863. Millions of worshippers were along the Ganga River. The prayers and songs of devotees could be heard from the Swami’s home.His mother was very religious.She prayed and fasted so that she would be blessed with a son who would give honor to her family.One night, Bhuvaneswari Devi dreamt of Siva.She saw that the great deity stands up from meditation and tell her that he would be born again as her child.The mother woke up with tears in her eyes. She was filled with joy.
Bhuvaneswari wanted to name his son Vireswara from Vireswara Siva. But the family chose the name Narendranath instead.He was fondly called Naren for short.Naren would grow up to be the honorable Swami Vivekananda. His devotion to Hinduism was evident since childhood.He was born into the Datta family in Calcutta.His family was known for honor, scholarship, and philanthropy. Naren’s father was a lawyer.He served on the High Court of Calcutta.
Naren was unlike his father, who enjoyed worldly life.He was more like his grandfather, who followed a monastic life.His first teacher was his mother.She taught him the alphabet and some English words.She also told him stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.Young Naren loved the story of the hero Rama and his love Sita.As a boy, he always had visions in his sleep.Naren thought that every child experienced it and that there was nothing extraordinary about it. In his dream, he saw a bright ball of light that was changing its colors every time.
He watched the ball as it expanded slowly.A point would come when the ball would burst.Then the light coming from it showered upon him and covered him in white radiance.Naren questioned the differences of people in belief and social status even when he was young.One day, he saw the boxes of tobacco pipes in his father’s law office. These were offered to the clients—one box each for the different Hindu castes and also one box for the Muslims.
Naren smoked from all the pipes. He tried all of them. Naren’s father saw him and reprimanded him. But the boy said, “I do not see the difference between all of them.”He was a very curious boy.There was one instance when Naren asked his father. “What have you done for me?” His father was wise.He made Naren see his own reflection. “Look at yourself in the mirror and see what I have done for you.”He also asked on another day. “Father, how shall I present myself to the world?” The old man replied, “Son, never show surprise at anything.” That was how Naren learned how to behave himself and not to offend others. When he became a monk, he remained calm when visiting a prince’s palace or a beggar’s straw hut.
At the Feet of Ramakrishna
When he was a student, Naren sees two visions before he fell to sleep.The first one was of an educated man who enjoyed riches and high status in society. He had a nice home, a good wife, and beautiful children. The second vision was of a wandering monk.He lived simply.He was not attracted by worldly pleasures.The monk seeks to be close to God.Naren knew that he could become either of the two. But he reflected within himself and realized that he wanted to follow the life of a monk.The milestones of the world meant nothing to him.
Naren soon had a clear goal. He wanted to experience God.He wanted to be under the guidance of a man who had seen God.In his search for spiritual guidance, Naren joined the Brahmo Samaj.One day, he asked the leader of the group, “Sir, have you seen God?” The Devendranath was surprised. He gave Naren a vague answer.He said, “My boy, you have the spirit of a yogi.It is best that you practice more meditation.”Naren was disappointed.He felt that the Devendranath was not the teacher he needed.
He asked otherwise men, but still, he couldn’t find what he was looking for.Then he heard of Ramakrishna, the man who experienced religious trances because of extreme concentration and purity of heart.Naren met Sri Ramakrishna in the Dakshineswar temple. The Master was instantly impressed by Naren.The boy sang spiritual songs from the heart.The Master could see that he was different from the other students.Naren’s eyes seemed to be always in a meditative mood.He was careless about his clothes and his appearance.
The Master was delighted to finally see a student to whom he could share his strong faith.No teacher had ever admitted that they had seen God, only Sri Ramakrishna.Naren knew then that he had found what he was looking for. “Sir, have you seen God?” He asked.The Master replied, “Yes, I have seen God.I see Him as I see you here.God can be seen.One can talk to him. People cry for their families, for their wealth and property. But who cries for a vision of God? If a person truly desires for God, he can surely see Him.” After that, Naren found inner peace.
Training of the Disciple
The young monks were left homeless when Sri Ramakrishna died. Naren was already 23 years old.It became his responsibility to teach and look after the younger monks.A follower of Ramakrishna offered to rent a house for all of them.That was how Baranagar Math started.Naren devoted his whole self to the training of the young disciples.On the day, he performed his duties as the eldest man in his family.At night, he went to the monastery to guide his brothers.In Baranagore, the disciples of Ramakrishna formed a stronger bond.They were like beads in a necklace that were bound together by a strong thread, which was Ramakrishna’s teachings.
The young disciples fully accepted monastic life.They spent their days in worship, study, meditation, or devotional music.It was quite often that they forgot to have their meals.They were too absorbed with what they were doing that they didn’t feel hungry.At times they do; the monks only eat rice.They did not even use salt for flavor.Despite this, the monks were contented.They consider delicious food as a worldly pleasure, and they could not partake in that.For months, the Ramakrishna order sustained themselves with boiled rice. Sometimes they put in salt or bitter herbs.
Even their clothing was very simple.Each member owned two pieces of loincloth.They shared among themselves some regular clothes, which they used only if they had to leave the monastery.When it was time for sleep, they layout straw mats on the floor.Just a few images of gods, goddesses, and saints are pinned on the wall.Naren didn’t want his brothers’ actions to be lacking in philosophy.He educated them with plenty of knowledge.He read books from all over the world.Naren taught the younger monks about the histories and political systems of other countries.
He taught them about Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Hegel, Kant, and others. He enlightened them in the concepts of Karma, Yoga, Bhakti, and Jnana. If the session became dull, the monks relaxed through devotional music.
As a Wandering Monk
The time came when Naren wanted to test his inner strength.He also wanted the younger monks to learn how to be independent.He decided to set off on his journey.Naren fulfilled his longing to be a wandering monk.He had nothing with him except for a begging bowl and a staff.Naren just kept ongoing.This was how he was transformed from being an ordinary monk to the Swami Vivekananda that Hindus are proud of.
He first went to Varanasi, which is the holiest place in India.This is where prophets like Buddha and Sankaracharya received the commandment of God.Naren felt uplifted by this sacred place.He was inspired by the spiritual leaders who came there.One day, while walking in the streets of Varanasi, Naren was chased by a troop of monkeys.They kept following him and clawing at him.Naren ran as fast as he could.Then he heard one old monk calling out to him. “Face the beasts! Face the beasts!”That was when Naren stopped and turned around.
He gathered all his courage.He looked angrily at these aggressive monkeys.He showed himself ready to attack.True enough, the animals backed down.They finally left him alone.Later on, as Swami Vivekananda, he taught his audience this lesson.You must learn to face the challenges of life.No matter how scary it is, you should gather your strength and choose not to run away from obstacles.From Varanasi, Naren made his way to Ayodhya, which is the hometown of Rama.Then he went to Lucknow, a city of Muslim palaces and gardens.
Next, he visited the Taj Mahal; the magnificence brought tears to his eyes.Then in Vrindavan, he was inspired by the life of Krishna. All along, Naren was walking barefoot and penniless.One day, he came upon an untouchable man who was smoking tobacco.Naren asked him for a puff.The untouchable readily declined as it was against the Hindu custom. Naren walked away with bitterness.He thought to himself, “What a shame to be caught in this rigid caste system.”What Naren did was return to the man by the roadside.He begged the untouchable to lend him the smoking pipe.The man still disagreed, but Naren could not be dissuaded.
He had one healthy puff from the untouchable’s tobacco.In the following days, Naren found himself in Northern India.He was in Aryavarta, or the sacred land of Aryans. It is where the spiritual tradition of India developed.The Upanishads and the Vedas originated from there.People from other cultures such as the Huns, Greeks, and Moguls contributed to the sacred texts.That is how the branches of Tantras and Puranas were created. India is truly a unique civilization of diversity.
Trip to America
It is amazing to know that Swami Vivekananda made it to Kanyakumari or Cape Comorin.His desire for adventure brought him from the northern parts to the southernmost tip of India.In Rameswaram, Swami met the Raja of Ramnad.The Raja became one of his disciples.It was the Raja who encouraged Swami to go to Chicago in America so that he could represent Hinduism in the Parliament of Religions.The Raja pledged to help with the expenses.The Swami dived through the waters of Cape Comorin.He was so happy to complete his journey.
He became wiser by traveling all throughout the subcontinent.Most importantly, he became aware of the suffering of his fellow Indians.The masses are burdened with poverty.The landlords, the rulers, and the priests were being oppressive.The caste system was making life very difficult for the people.Swami Vivekananda knew that as a sannyasin, it was his duty to lay himself in the service of God.But Swami realized that God manifests himself through the people.It became clear to him that in order to serve God, he must serve humanity.
Swami decided that he would use his abilities to serve God, who reveals himself in man.How can he do it? Swami himself was a beggar.All his followers were poor.That’s when he realized that he could appeal to the outside world.He could share the suffering of India with the Westerners.
Swami saw America as a land of optimism and opportunity.There was no caste system there.The Parliament of Religions would be a great occasion to seek help for the Indian people.Through Swami’s voice, the West could have the ancient wisdom of India. In return, India could have modern technology.
From Cape Comorin, Swami went to Madras.People already recognized him by then.The story of the wandering monk spread in Madras.Young men greeted Swami at the city.He announced to them his intention of traveling to America.Swami began having devotees in Madras.They gathered money among themselves to fund Swami’s trip.It was also in Madras where Swami would start organized work years later. When the people gave him the money, the Swami did not accept it.He told them to distribute the funds among the poor people.
In Hyderabad, Swami did his first public lecture.He entitled it “My Mission to the West.” Plenty of people came to hear him.They were impressed by his wisdom.Swami realized that he could be good at public speaking.One night, he had a prophetic dream.Swami saw Sri Ramakrishna walking to the ocean.The Master was inviting him to follow.He also heard the Sarada Devi saying, “Go!” This was in response to the letter Swami wrote about his trip to America.Now, he knew that he had the blessing of Ramakrishna and the Holy Mother.Swami Vivekananda knew that it was a calling.
The Parliament of Religions
It was a long journey from Bombay to Chicago.Swami Vivekananda traveled by sea.He had many adventures and met many interesting people.He saw the ports of Singapore and Hong Kong.He visited some temples in China and Japan.The ship crossed the Pacific Ocean. Swami took a train from Vancouver, Canada, to Chicago.Swami found out that he was one month early for the Parliament of Religions.The devotees, ministers, and rajas who helped him were unaware of it.Meanwhile, the Swami was raising curiosity with his orange robes and turbans.Children followed him as he walked in the streets.
There were times when Swami got lost; he lacked money for food, transportation, and lodging.But there were always good strangers to help him.Swami realized that God was by his side and watching him.He was sending these people as instruments to help Swami in accomplishing his mission.The Parliament of Religions was officially opened in September 1983.This gathering was part of the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was an event to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America.
The goal of the exposition was to exhibit the progress in Western science and technology.But since religion was a major factor in humanity, it was included as well.Seven thousand people were inside the big hall.Religious leaders came from all over the world.There were delegates from Islam, Christianity, Shintoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.Each of them was to stand in front and make a speech.Swami Vivekananda was nervous.He didn’t have a prepared speech.He didn’t know that he needed one.It was his first time attending this kind of gathering.He asked the organizers to call him last.But soon, it was time for his speech.
Swami’s first words were “Sisters and Brothers of America.” The audience was endeared.The Westerners gave him a standing ovation.They all stood up and applauded.Finally, there came a delegate who was sincere in his words.Swami decided to talk about acceptance and universal tolerance.He talked about how India, even in ancient times, became the refuge of Zoroastrians and Israelites.He explained that people of different religions are like small streams leading out to the sea.The water flows from different sources, but they all end up at sea.That great sea is God.
He spoke not only about his own religion but about all religions of the World.That was what made Swami Vivekananda stand out in the gathering.He also made out a call to the modern world to stop discrimination and to accept all creeds, all colors, and all castes.The Swami said that we are all the same.Each of us should be incorporated into single humanity.What also made Swami stand out was that he never criticized other religions.He didn’t try to prove that this or that religion was the ultimate truth.He believed that all religions lead to God.He said that there were many doors to enter a mansion.
On the last day of the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda concluded that the Parliament of Religions has proved to the world that charity, purity, and holiness were present in every religion.He said, “If there is one religious leader who desires his own to dominate over all the rest, I will pity him.” He also said that soon every religion would have this banner “Harmony and Peace, not Destruction.”Almost overnight, the strange young monk from India became a celebrity.People admired his words and holiness.There were life-sized portraits of Swami Vivekananda posted all over Chicago.
Below his image were the words “The Monk Vivekananda.”Those who passed by his poster would stop to bow their heads.The news about the Parliament of Religions reached India. Swami’s speeches were published in newspapers and magazines.The Hindus all over the country became proud of Swami Vivekananda.His brothers at the monastery could not believe that it was him.When he wrote a letter to them, that’s when the young monks realized that it’s really Naren.
Swami did not want to depend on the generosity of his new Western friends.He accepted invitations to lecture all over America so he could earn money. He spread his messages of kindness and acceptance.Swami Vivekananda had lectures in New York, Boston, Washington, and Cambridge, among others.He once had a goal, and now he has reached it.He has made Hinduism known to the whole world.He can finally help his poor brothers and sisters in India.
Vedanta in America
A group of poor students rented a cheap apartment in New York.They raised the money so that Swami Vivekananda could have regular lectures there.He usually sat on the floor.The audience occupied any space they could find.The door was always left open.The lectures were always free.There was one session in the morning and again in the evening.The Swami was very happy to educate these young students.They were eager to learn.They didn’t mind if it was crowded or if there was no place to sit.They just listened intently to Swami’s words.
Swami taught them about Jnana yoga so that they would know the truths of Vedanta.He also taught them raja yoga so that they would master concentration, meditation, and self-control.The students also followed his vow of simplicity and chastity.There were more serious students with whom he meditated every day.He showed them how from intense concentration, a person could free himself from bodily consciousness.It was in America where Swami Vivekananda was able to publish his four classics, which were the Raja-Yoga, Jnana-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, and Karma-Yoga.They were well-received by his followers. Among them were professors, doctors, businessmen, and church leaders.
Return to India
Thousands of people were waiting for Swami Vivekananda at the port. They were filled with joy when they finally saw his robes.They were cheering out for him.All of them flung themselves to the ground to respect him.The Swami was welcomed back by the leaders of Ceylon.A huge procession was prepared for him.There was an Indian band. Flowers were thrown on his path.He was sprinkled with rosewater and holy water from Ganga.The smell of incense filled the air.The people offered him fruits and other gifts.Swami appreciated this warm welcome.He accepted everything that the people did for him. In his speech, he commended the spirituality of the Hindus.
He was not a prince or a wealthy man.He was not an army general either.Yet, he was given much respect and honor.He is a sannyasin, a beggar, and a homeless monk. What the people did for him is a high indication of spirituality. For that, he was very thankful.Swami went to Madras and then to Calcutta.Everywhere he went, people waited for him.They were eager to see him and hear his teachings.One follower asked him if he ever got tired in all his activities.Swami replied that a man never gets tired of spiritual activities.There were those who came to debate with him or to challenge his teachings.
There were also those who came to test this knowledge.The Swami still received them.But he chose to focus on the young men who desired to be trained by him.He had always been passionate about educating the youth.There was one frustrated young man who came to Swami.He complained that he could not find spiritual awakening.The young man said that he had tried everything.He followed all the advice of his teacher.He worshipped images the best way he could.
He shut all the doors in his room. He kept his eyes closed.He willed himself to sit still in meditation.But still, the young man could not achieve peace of mind. “What should I do?” He asked the Swami.The voice of Swami was full of sympathy. “My son, you should open all the doors and open your eyes as well. Look around you.” He told the young man to see the many poor and helpless people in his community.He should give all his efforts in serving them.“If they are hungry, give them food.If they are sick, give them medicine.If they are ignorant, give them an education.Dedicate yourself to taking care of your poor neighbors.If you offer yourself fully in serving them, it is only then that you will have peace of mind.”
In Northern India
The doctors advised the Swami to go to the North, where the climate was better.He was suffering from asthma.Swami obliged because the people of Northern India were also requesting for him. In his letter to a friend, he expressed a mood of weariness.Part of Swami’s letter read, “I feel content. I have awakened the good in many people.That was all I hoped for.Karma should now take its course.I have no ties left here.I have seen life.I am content that I lived as selfless as I can.”
Swami had lectured in all the provinces of Northern India.He has been to Almora, Jammu, Lahore, and the others.In all these places, he spread the message of individual character.Swami taught that the strength of the whole nation relies on the strength of every individual.He said that whatever your path may be in life, it is best to build your character.Strengthen yourself with virtues such as love, self-respect, courage, and service to others.He also encouraged the people to spread the knowledge of Sanskrit so that the Hindu culture would remain strong.
Swami promoted unity by preaching about the intermarriage between castes.He also called upon the universities to hone students to be true patriots rather than just clerks, diplomats, and lawyers.He also taught about the co-existence of Islam and Hinduism in India.Both Koran and the Vedas can lead the people to progress.Many young men were inspired by Swami’s ability to lead a monastic life.They came to him to train as sannyasin.Swami dedicated himself to teach them how to experience God and serve humanity.
A new monastery called Belur Math was built with the help of Swami’s Western friends.It became the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order.Visitors poured in to meet Swami every day.He also received hundreds of letters.People were seeking his help for spiritual guidance.
Towards the End
Towards the end, Swami Vivekananda was staying at the Belur Math.His asthma was getting worse.The doctors requested for him to retire.Swami spent his days mostly inside the monastery.Sometimes, he walked around the grounds in his loincloths.Sometimes, he went to the kitchen to oversee the preparations.Sometimes, he cooked some meals himself.At other times, he joined the younger monks in performing devotional music.Swami occupied himself in deep study.He also lectured about the sacred texts as well.
His body was getting weaker every day, but his mind was as sharp as ever.When a young monk suggested for him to rest, he could not will himself to do so. Swami Vivekananda took a liking to the Encyclopedia Britannica.The young monk said that it was impossible to master all 25 volumes.But Swami was already in the 11th volume by then.He told the young monk to ask him any question about the 10 volumes he had read.The young monk was surprised that Swami knew all the answers.He even quoted some texts from the books.
There was ongoing construction work near the Belur Math.Swami Vivekananda saw the poor, illiterate workers.It seemed society had turned its back on them.The Swami felt deep sympathy for them.He talked to them and listened to their life stories.One day, he had a feast prepared for the poor workers.He served delicious meals that they had never tasted in their life.After the feast, Swami Vivekananda said to the workers that they were Narayanas.He said that he was happy because he has served God by feeding them.Swami also told his disciples that “I really saw God in them.See how simple and honest they are.”
Swami had a prophecy that he would not reach 40 years old.He was already 39 years and 5 months old by then.He also consulted the almanac and studied when his time to leave the mortal body would be.Swami told his fellow senior monk where he wanted his funeral pyre to be.It was in a certain spot along the monastery grounds.It was a Friday evening. At 7 PM, the bell rang, signifying worship.The Swami went to his room to pray and meditate.He asked his attendant that he was not to be disturbed.He stayed there for an hour.
After that, Swami called out his attendant to help him.They opened all the windows to let the breeze in.Swami lay down on his bed.The attendant thought that he was just sleeping.He laid there still.There was a calm expression on his face.He had long, deep breaths.His hands trembled a little.Blood dripped from his nose, from his eyes, and from his mouth.According to the Yoga texts, the soul of an illumined yogi goes through the opening in the head, which causes bleeding.The great ecstasy happened around 9 PM.The doctors said that the cause of death was apoplexy or sudden heart failure.
But the monks knew that Swami Vivekananda has purposely casted his body in Samadhi.They covered him in orange robes and surrounded him with flowers.The procession was done the next day.The monks carried his body through the courtyard towards the tree where Swami wanted to be cremated.They prayed as the funeral pyre burst into flame.They remembered the words spoken by Swami.“The time will come that I will cast off this body like a worn-out garment.But that will not stop me from work.I will continue to inspire people everywhere until they realize that they are one with God.”
“May I be born time and time again, may I be born so that I could suffer thousands of miseries. In this way, I could worship the only God that I believe in, the only God that exists, the only God which is the sum of all souls.”
Swami Vivekananda saw God in his fellow human beings.He believed that God reveals himself to his people.Swami realized that in order to serve God, he must serve his poor brothers and sisters.He used his voice and his strength to seek help for the poor Indian people.He saw poverty everywhere when he wandered all over the country. And he used his spiritual gifts to serve the people.It is this clear goal that made him succeed. It is this determination that made him respected in Europe and America.You learned about Swami Vivekananda.You learned about his sincerity, his strong faith and his kindness.He is truly a great person to be admired.We owe it to him to spread the message of acceptance, tolerance, and love.