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About Swami Vivekananda


Swami Vivekananda, known in his premonastic life as Narendranath Dutta, was born in an aristocratic family if Calcutta on 12 January 1863. He inherited the rational mind of his father, Viswanath Dutta, and the devotional mind of his mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi.

About Swami Vivekananda

A precocious boy, Narendranath excelled in music, gymnastics and learning. By the time he graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially western philosophy and history. Born with a yogic temperament, he used to practise meditation even from his boyhood, and was associated with the Brahmo Movement for some time. At the threshold of youth he had to pass through a period of spiritual crisis when he was assailed by doubts about the existence of God. It was at that time that he first heard about Sri Ramakrishana.

Sri Ramakrishna, who is now worshipped by thousands of people as the Prophet of the modern Age, was born in 1836 in a remote village in Bengal. He acquired only the rudiments of education but had a passionate longing for God from his boyhood. At the age of nineteen he became a priest at the newly built temple of Kali in Dakshineswar which served as his home for the rest of his life. The major part of his youth was spent in practicing the various spiritual disciplines of Hinduism and, later on, of Islam and Christianity. Through direct, transcendental experience he arrived at the conclusion that the ultimate Reality, though one, was known under different names, that It could be realized through different paths, and that this realization was the goal of human life. Endowed thus with the spiritual wealth of centuries, Sri Ramakrishna became the centre of attraction for spiritual seekers who included some of the distinguished religious leaders of the time.

It was probably in the middle of December, 1881, that Narendranath went to meet Sri Ramakrishna. Almost the first thing he did was to ask him the question which he had earlier asked several others, ‘Sir, have you seen God?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, the Master replied: ‘Yes, I have. I see Him as clearly as I see you – only in a much intenser sense.’ This event may be said to symbolize the meeting of the ancient world and the modern world, as well as the dialogue between the East and the West. For Sri Ramakrishna represented the ancient India characterized by asceticism, contemplation and transcendental wisdom, whereas Narendra represented the modern world characterized by skepticism, rationalism and activism.
From the first meeting, Sri Ramakrishna, who could fathom the extraordinary potentialities of young Narendra, won him over though his pure and unselfish love with an intensity unparalleled in hagiography. Narendra became a frequent visitor to Dakshineswar and, under the guidance of the Master, began to make rapid strides on the spiritual path. In July 1884 his father died unexpectedly, leaving his family in straitened circumstances. The hardships that the family had to undergo opened his eyes to the stark realities of life and made him think deeply about fundamental ethical questions, especially the problem of evil.
Close on the heel of these misfortunes came another calamity – Sri Ramakrishna’s falling ill with cancer of the throat. The Master was removed to a rented villa at Cossipore, which was then on the outskirts of Calcutta. There the young disciples, including Narendra, rallied round to nurse him with the financial help provided by householder devotees. The Master instilled in these young men the spirit of renunciation and brotherly love for one another. One day he distributed the ochre robe among some of them and sent them out to beg food, thereby sacralizing an incipient monastic brotherhood. After the passing away of the Master in August 1886, fifteen of these young men (one more joined them a few years later) under the leadership of Narendranath took formal vows of Sannyasa or monkhood and, assuming new names, began to live together in a dilapidated house at Baranagore in Calcutta. The reliquary containing the mortal remains of Sri Ramakrishna was preserved in the new monastery and, centred on it, there began the worship of Sri Ramakrishna. It was from these humble beginnings that the Ramakrishna Math, which has now branches all over the world, developed.

January 12
Birth in Kolkata

Enters Presidency College

Transfers to General Assembly Institution
First meeting with Sri Ramakrishna

Association with Sri Ramakrishna

Passes B. A. Examination

Father passes away

Sri Ramakrishna’s last illness
August 16
Sri Ramakrishna passes away

Establishes Baranagar Math

December 24
Informal vow of sannyasa at Antpur
Formal vows of sannyasa at Baranagar Monastery

Travels all over India as itinerant monk
December 24
At Kanyakumari, South India
February 13
First public lecture, Secunderabad, South India

May 31
Sails for America from Mumbai

July 25
Lands at Vancouver, Canada

July 30
Arrives in Chicago

Meets Professor John Ft. Wright of Harvard University

September 11
First address at Parliament of Religions, Chicago

September 27
Final address at Parliament of Religions

November 20
Begins mid-western lecture tour
April 14
Begins lectures and classes on East Coast

May 16
Speaks at Harvard University

At Green Acre Religious Conference

Founds Vedanta Society of New York
Begins classes in New York

June 4-18
At Camp Percy, New Hampshire

At Thousand Island Park on St. Lawrence river, N.Y.

In Paris

Lectures in London

December 6
Sails for New York
March 22-25
Speaks at Harvard University, offered Eastern Philosophy chair

April 15
Returns to London

Gives classes in London

May 28
Meets Max Muller in Oxford

In the Europe for six weeks

Gives classes in London

December 30
Leaves Naples for India
January 15
Arrives in Colombo, Sri Lanka

February 6-15
In Chennai

February 19
Arrives in Kolkata

May 1
Establishes Ramakrishna Mission Association, Kolkata

Tours northwest India
Returns to Kolkata

Begins North India pilgrimage with Western devotees

August 2
At Amarnath, Kashmir

December 9
Consecrates Belur Math
March 19
Establishes Advaita Ashrama at Mayavati

June 20
Leaves India for second visit to the West

July 31
Arrives in London

August 28
Arrives in New York City

At Ridgely Manor, New York

December 3
Arrives in Los Angeles
February 22
Arrives in San Francisco

April 14
Founds Vedanta Society in San Francisco

Final classes in New York City

July 26
Leaves for Europe

August 3
Arrives in Paris for International Exposition

September 7
Speaks at Congress of History of Religions at Exposition

October 24
Begins tour of Vienna, Constantinople, Greece and Cairo

November 26
Leaves for India

December 9
Arrives at Belur Math
Visits Mayavati

Pilgrimage in East Bengal and Assam
Visits Bodh Gaya and Varanasi

Returns to Belur Math

July 4

Narendranath now became Swami Vivekananda (although this name was actually assumed only a few years later). In July 1890 Vivekananda (as he was known to those who were close to him) set out on a journey which took him al over India. During his travels, he lived like a mendicant monk, sometimes having his meal cooked by a cobbler, sometimes sharing his pipe with a sweeper, sometimes living in the places of kings and princes. But his travels had a definite purpose – to discover the real India and to find out ways and means of restoring the glory and grandeur that she had lost.
These travels gave him firsthand knowledge of the socio – economic condition of the people and the cultural and historical forces operating in society. He was deeply moved at the utter poverty and backwardness of the masses. It was clear to him that neglect of the masses was one of the main causes of India’s downfall. Owing to centuries of priestcraft and caste tyranny, the poor masses had lost the sense of individual worth and faith in their inherent powers and had been reduced to the state of being mere cogs in the wheel of exploitation set in motion by upper castes and classes. Vivekanand, however, understood that this condition was not due to ‘religion’ in the true sense of the term. For, the essence of true religion consisted of nothing but the eternal truths and laws of the spiritual world. These principles had been discovered by the sages of ancient India and were collectively known as the Vedanta. The degradation of India took place because these life – giving principles of Vedanta had not been applied in practical life to solve social and national problems and the poor masses had been denied access to these enlightening principles. Vivekananda gained the conviction that if these spiritual principles were spread among the poor masses, it would awaken the dormant powers in them, and then they would be able to solve their problems themselves.
It was, of course, obvious to Vivekananda that what the masses immediately needed was food and it was not possible to produce enough food by following primitive methods of agriculture. Indians must master western science and technology and methods of organization.
Thus Vivekananda saw the necessity of spreading both spiritual knowledge and secular knowledge among the masses. And he believed that this could be done through a proper system of education. As may be gathered from his letters, what Vivekananda wanted was a mass awakening effected through an intensive educational programme. To carry out such a huge, nation –wide educational plan would need an efficient organization of selfless workers and financial support.
It was when tse ideas had already begun to take shape in Swami Vivekananda’s mind that he heard about the World’s Parliament of Religions to be held in 1893 – most probably in the course of his travels in Gujarat. The first record we have of his wish to attend the Parliament is his expression of it at Khandwa in June 1892. Several distinguished people urged him to go to the West, and at least two or three Hindu princes and a Muslim nobleman offered financial assistance for his trip. But he would not accept the offer until his mission was entirely clear to him.
It may be seen that Vivekananda looked upon the Parliament of Religions only as a doorway to a larger field of work awaiting him in the West. In some of his letters and lectures he has stated that his purpose in going to the West was to raise money for his project for the uplift of the poor in India. But that was only a part of a larger mission that he felt he had in the West. As he later expressed it, ‘I have a message for the West, as Buddha had a message for the East.’ Vivekananda was convinced that India had an active role to play in the commonwealth of nations. Western people needed India’s spiritual wealth to solve the existential problems of life and make life meaningful. In exchange for this contribution to world culture, Indians should learn from the West science and technology. Vivekananda saw that this kind of cultural exchange was vitally necessary for India’s socio - economic development, for, the nation’s isolation from world culture was one of the causes of her downfall.
All these ideas must have crystallized in Swami Vivekanada’s mind as he journeyed through Maharashtra, Goa and South India. It was, however, at Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, where he meditated on a rock in the sea for three days and nights (from 24th December to 26th, 1892) that the total picture of his future mission unfolded before his inner eye. He got the deep conviction that there was a divine plan behind the organization of the Parliament of Religions, and that he was destined to play the role of messenger and pathfinder in the inauguration of new epoch in the history of mankind by Sri Ramakrishna, the Prophet of the modern Age.
Strengthened with this certitude, radiant with the new vision, Swami Vivekananda travelled from Kanyakumari to Madras. There a group of educated and idealistic young men became his ardent followers. Coming to know of his intention to attend the Parliament of Religions, these young men, under the leadership of Alasinga Perumal, started collecting money for Vivekanda’s passage to America. But at the earnest request of his devoted disciple, the Raja of Khetri, Swamiji had to goto Khetri again in the middle of April 1893. At last, with the rest of the passage money provided by the Raja, Swami Vivekananda set sail from Bombay on 31-May-1893.
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