Biography

Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12th, 1863. This day is celebrated all over India as 'National Youth Day' in remembrance of the dynamic message of Swamiji to the youth of India.

Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi

Born in an well-to-do family, he was well-schooled in the best schools of his day. His sharp intellect coupled with his prodigious memory stood him in good stead throughout his life. An excellent athlete, Narendranath Dutta, as he was called,was a born leader and commanded respect of his peers, right from his childhood. His melodious voice was soul-entralling and would often immerse Sri Ramakrishna in Samadhi.

Naren, as he was fondly known amongst his relatives and friends, grew up to be a idealistic teenager with profound leadership skills and a broad-minded, liberal heart. His schooling in Western Philosophy seemed to alienate his roots in Indian spirituality and these ideological differences created a fierce tug-of-war in his mind. During the same time, Brahmo Samaj, the organization founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, was then firing up the youth of Bengal under the leadership of Keshab Chandra Sen and Devendranath Tagore. Rejecting and questioning the roots of the modes of devotional worship and existing social conditions of then Bengal, the Brahmo Samaj was weaning many youth from all walks of life. Naren, like the rest of the youth, easily fit into the revolutionary ideas of the Brahmo Samaj. He temporarily found some satisfaction on the intellectual levels that this new-found association was based on. But his drive to find God and actually know whether God could be intimately known soon found him knocking at the doors of renowned Bengal leaders. None could satisfy him and some one suggested him to visit the sage of Dakshineshwar, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

Holy Mother Sri Sarada DeviNaren met Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar and the famous incidents regarding these meetings, a conversation between the new and old schools, has been described in many books. Despite his initial reservations, Naren found himself visiting the Saint, despite himself. A deep bond of love which surpassed all relationships was established between the Guru and the disciple. Sri Ramakrishna could fathom the potential of the young man and slowly, but surely, he led Naren on the steep and difficult paths of Sadhana. Under Sri Ramakrishna, Naren's budding spirituality blossomed into a wonderful bloom and he soon became established in the heights of Advaita Vedanta -Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

Many youth began visiting Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar. Some were inspired by reading about Sri Ramakrishna's teachings which were slowly being published by organs of the Brahmo Samaj and other private devotees. Of these youth, some were recognised by Sri Ramakrishna as part of his 'Inner Circle' as he used to say. He assumed the attitude of a Guru and began giving them instructions in spiritual life, encouraging their latent spiritual lives. He banded the bunch of youngsters into a tight group under the leadership of Naren. On his deathbed, Sri Ramakrishna instructed Naren to look after them and he had also instructed them individually and in groups to look up to Naren for inspiration.

Sri Ramakrishna left his mortal coil on August 16, 1886, leaving behind a small group of youth who had no place to go. Slowly things looked up and under the leadership of Naren and under the loving motherly eyes of the Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, this group gradually grew in strength. When they were together, the love of Sri Ramakrishna was their common thread and thus was formed the Baranagore Math, the first monastery. This was later shifted to the Alambazar Math. The disciples, stricken with a resolve to realize God, began wandering all over the country as was expected of itinerant monks. Naren himself, who had now assumed monastic vows with the name Swami Vivekananda, also began wandering all over the country.

It is this which adds its crowning significance to our Master’s life, for here he becomes the meeting point, not only of East and West, but also for past and future. If the many and the one be indeed the same reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realization. No distinction, henceforth, between sacred and secular. To labour is to pray. To conquer is to renounce. Life is itself religion. To have and to hold is as stern a trust as to quit and to avoid.

~Excerpts from “Introduction to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda” by Sister Nivedita.

Wandering from the east, he reached the Himalayas, then went on towards the north, then to Rajputana, Gujarat and wended his way to the South of India. On Christmas Eve, 1892, he was found seated meditating on the southern-most point of India, at Kanya-Kumari. He had wandered all over India, faced all types of people and situations. He had been at the door-steps of the grinding poverty of the poor as well as the lavish royalty of kings. His heart ached for the many poor of the nation, whose lives were being crushed due to poverty and illiteracy. The wide social chasm in Hindu caste society disgusted him and he was deeply anguished to see the pathetic conditions of the poor people. Sitting on the rock, meditating for three days, he arrived at momentous answers to his questions. He knew that religion was the backbone of India and this is what has to be the bed-rock of modern India. By religion, he understood that it meant not the Brahminical customs of the day, but the eternal Vedantic truths found in the ancient scriptures of India, the Vedas. Only by looking up every being as a part of the One, beyond the confines of race, creed, colour or caste, could true character be moulded. And who else, but the hundreds of wandering monks, perennial guests of society, to preach this great Vedantic truths. Thus he recognised the need for an organization of monks who would dedicate their lives to the uplift of society and by doing so with such personal self-sacrifice, would themselves rise to be spiritual giants. But who would listen to him, a simple wandering monk? He had already heard of a great session of world religious leaders who would be participating in the 'World Congress of Religions' to be held in Chicago in faraway USA. Many of the Swami's well-wishers had also urged him on to take part in the same. With the nod of the Holy Mother, Swamiji decided to participate in the same.

Swami Vivekananda represented Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions on September 11th, 1893 and this day could be said to be day when the West was connected to the East. Since Swamiji's time, innumerable spiritual Gurus and organizations have spread all over the US and continue to do so even today. Yoga, Zen, Meditation, Eastern studies, Ayurveda etc. have found sincere and devout following all over the world thanks to this advent of Swamiji. Swamiji, of course, blazed through the US church scene with his brilliant discourses. His talks were crowded and people had to be turned away at times. Swamiji next visited England and other European nations and had talks with renowned intellectuals of that time like Max Mueller and Paul Duessen etc. He arrived in India to a hero's welcome.

If a nation woke up to receive someone, it can be said that India has never before and never after received anyone with the immense sense of gratitude and respect that was accorded to Swami Vivekananda on his return from the West. On his part, Swami Vivekananda delivered a series of lectures, now published as 'Lectures from Colombo to Almora', in which he poured out his ideas to enthusiastic crowds. Youth were roused to the ideas of character-building and social-service. Swamiji's concept of service of the poor considering them as Daridra Narayana, fired a section of youth in Benares and they formed a 'Home of Service' which is even now functioning as the famous Sri Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission Home of Service (Sevashrama).

The Ramakrishna Mission came into existence in 1897 and Swamiji created the formal rules and regulations of the new organization. A big plot of land was purchased in the village of Belur, on the banks of the Ganga (Hoogly) and on this he planned the construction of a huge temple dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna. He wished that this would be the epicentre of all the activities of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, from which India shall recover her long-forgotten ideals of renunciation and service. In 1937, under the expertise of the then President, Swami Vijnananandaji, a beautiful temple,drawing inspiration from all the major religions of the world, with a beautiful marble image of Sri Ramakrishna was established. This is the headquarters of the world-wide Ramakrishna Math and Mission.

Swamiji visited the West again for a smaller period and this time concentrated more on instructing smaller groups and laying the foundations for long-lasting centres in the West itself. Swamis Turiyananda, Abhedhananda and many others put aside their personal qualms and took up the yoke of Swami Vivekananda. Today, there are many centres all over the US, Europe and South America.

Swamiji spend the last days of his life in Belur itself, instructing and teaching the inmates of the Math, with ideals that he himself was as the role model. He left his mortal coil on July 4, 1902. He was yet to touch his 40th year. On analysing Swamiji's life, his message from September 9, 1893 to his last day, a mere 9 years, has lasted more than a century, firing youth with inspiration and hope.

A beautiful temple dedicated to Swami Vivekananda is at Belur Math. His room, where Swamiji stayed for the last few months, has been kept as it was during his time.

Words of Swami Vivekananda

  • Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy - by one, or more, or all of these - and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.

  • The one theme of the Vedanta philosophy is the search after unity. The Hindu mind does not care for the particular; it is always after the general, nay, the universal. "what is it that by knowing which everything else is to be known." That is the one search.

  • Look upon every man, woman, and everyone as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege.

  • Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.

  • This is the gist of all worship - to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Siva (God) in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Siva, and if he sees Siva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Siva in him, without thinking of his caste, creed, or race, or anything, with him Siva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.

  • It is a tremendous error to feel helpless. Do not seek help from anyone. We are our own help. If we cannot help ourselves, there is none to help us.

  • All power is within you, you can do anything and everything. Believe in that, do not believe that you are weak... You can do anything and everything, without even the guidance of any one. All power is there. Stand up and express the divinity with you... Arise, awake, sleep no more. With each of you there is the power to remove all wants and all miseries. Believe in this, that power will be manifested.

  • Allow me to call you; brethren, by that sweet name - heirs of immortal bliss - yea,.... Ye are the children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth - sinners! It is a sin to call a man so; it is standing libel on human nature.

  • He alone lives who lives for others. The rest are more dead than alive.

 

Glimpses of Swami Vivekananda

Watch out this space for more glimpses!

Swami Vivekananda's Love

A young man had just then come from the country [to Varanasi]. Having no other means of subsistence he joined the ashrama work. He was weak and sickly. One day he went to have Swami Vivekananda’s darshan. … Finding him sickly and thin Swamiji felt sad and worried and said to him sweetly, ‘Son, your body is rather weak; you must come and have your lunch here everyday. It is not possible to work unless you have had your fill; so you come here daily and have your lunch with me.’ The youth would sometimes get held up by the Sevashrama work. Swamiji was not keeping well; any irregularity in his routine aggravated his illness. … But love is a power that overrides all rules, regulations, and physical discomforts and asserts its primacy. Swamiji’s mind would be anxious for the young man at lunchtime. He would keep pacing about in anticipation, his eyes fixed on the door and the approach path. He would anxiously enquire of anyone at hand, ‘Has the boy come? Why is he so late today? He has not had anything till now; he is sickly, and young, and has to cope with bone-breaking labour.’ Just as any big work requiring special effort and attention would leave Swamiji serious and preoccupied, the delay in this young man’s lunch would elicit a similar reaction from him. … Tasks, small and big, were not different for him. Lecturing in public, discussing Vedanta with pandits, deep meditation, and feeding this boy were all the same to him. … At long last the boy arrived in a hurry. Just as a mother cow is pleased to find her lost calf, Swamiji’s face was filled with a similar joy on seeing the boy at the door. The worry, tension, and anxiety disappeared, and he began smilingly questioning the boy in a sweet voice, ‘What happened son, why are you so late? Did you have a lot of work? Did you have something in the morning? I have been waiting for you and have not had anything as yet; come, wash yourself, let’s quickly have our lunch.’… Swamiji went for his lunch, with the boy following. When all were seated, Swamiji kept a watch over the boy, passing the best dishes from his own plate to the boy’s.… He kept feeding the boy with items from his own plate till he was full. Not once did Swamiji think about his own lunch. He probably ate less than usual; but to serve the homeless poor—and feeding this young boy, knowing him to be young and without support—was a big work in Swamiji’s view. Filled with the joy derived from this work, Swamiji forgot his own food.

Source: Prabuddha Bharata

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Swamiji’s Anger

Was the swami a hot head, always getting angry? He can appear that way when we read about him, or when we read his letters. He could be fierce in his scoldings. That also we have to see in context.

Swami Akhandananda said:

Among us, there was none equal to Swamiji. He was truly ‘one without anger and the embodiment of supreme bliss’. When I was in Rajputana, a barber was once shaving me and he said, ‘Maharaj, your Swamiji is incomparable. We are illiterate. How can we appreciate his scholarship? But I have hardly seen in anyone else such patience and the ability to control one’s anger. Some scholars came to defeat him in a debate. They were insulting him, while he, in turn, was answering them and smiling all the while. In the end, his vilifiers became his slaves.’ 19 The swami could be engaged in debate and yet not be controlled by anger. The swami could scold severely, but the severity came not from anger, it came from throwing the whole force of his being into the scolding. Such was his concentration that there was no division in his will, such was his purity that there was no conflict in his desires to sap his strength, and so there was power in all of his actions, all of his thoughts.

Source: Prabuddha Bharata

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The Boston Evening Transcript, September 30, 1893

The most striking figure one meets in this anteroom is Swami Vivekananda, the Brahmin monk. He is a large, well - built man, with the superb carriage of the Hindustanis, his face clean shaven, squarely moulded regular features, white teeth, and with well - chiselled lips that are usually parted in a benevolent smile while he is conversing. His finely poised head is crowned with either a lemon colored or a red turban, and his cassock (not the technical name for this garment), belted in at the waist and falling below the knees, alternates in a bright orange and rich crimson. He speaks excellent English and replied readily to any questions asked in sincerity.

Along with his simplicity of manner there is a touch of personal reserve when speaking to ladies, which suggests his chosen vocation. When questioned about the laws of his order, he has said, "I can do as I please, I am independent. Sometimes I live in the Himalaya Mountains, and sometimes in the streets of cities. I never know where I will get my next meal, I never keep money with me. I come here by subscription." Then looking round at one or two of his fellow - countrymen who chanced to be standing near he added, "They will take care of me," giving the inference that his board bill in Chicago is attended to by others. When asked if he was wearing his usual monk's costume, he said, "This is a good dress; when I am home I am in rags, and I go barefooted. Do I believe in caste? Caste is a social custom; religion has nothing to do with it; all castes will associate with me."

It is quite apparent, however, from the deportment, the general appearance of Mr. Vivekananda that he was born among high castes -- years of voluntary poverty and homeless wanderings have not robbed him of his birthright of gentleman; even his family name is unknown; he took that of Vivekananda in embracing a religious career, and "Swami" is merely the title of reverend accorded to him. He cannot be far along in the thirties, and looks as if made for this life and its fruition, as well as for meditation on the life beyond. One cannot help wondering what could have been the turning point with him.

"Why should I marry," was his abrupt response to a comment on all he had renounced in becoming a monk, "when I see in every woman only the divine Mother? Why do I make all these sacrifices? To emancipate myself from earthly ties and attachments so that there will be no re - birth for me. When I die I want to become at once absorbed in the divine, one with God. I would be a Buddha."

Vivekananda does not mean by this that he is a Buddhist. No name or sect can label him. He is an outcome of the higher Brahminism, a product of the Hindu spirit, which is vast, dreamy, self - extinguishing, a Sanyasi or holy man.

He has some pamphlets that he distributes, relating to his master, Paramhansa Ramakrishna, a Hindu devotee, who so impressed his hearers and pupils that many of them became ascetics after his death. Mozoomdar also looked upon this saint as his master, but Mozoomdar works for holiness in the world, in it but not of it, as Jesus taught.

Vivekananda's address before the parliament was broad as the heavens above us, embracing the best in all religions, as the ultimate universal religion -- charity to all mankind, good works for the love of God, not for fear of punishment or hope of reward. He is a great favorite at the parliament, from the grandeur of his sentiments and his appearance as well. If he merely crosses the platform he is applauded, and this marked approval of thousands he accepts in a childlike spirit of gratification, without a trace of conceit. It must be a strange experience too for this humble young Brahmin monk, this sudden transition from poverty and self - effacement to affluence and aggrandizement. When asked if he knew anything of those brothers in the Himalayas so firmly believed in by the Theosophists, he answered with the simple statement, "I have never met one of them," as much as to imply, "There may be such persons, but though I am at home in the Himalayas, I have yet to come across them."

Source: Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda

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The New York Herald

Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation." Herald (the greatest paper here).

Source: Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda

 

Great Thinkers on Swami Vivekananda

 

 

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

It is doubtful if there is any Hindu who does not know the name of Sri Vivekananda Swami. There has been extraordinary advancement of material science in the nineteenth century. Under the circumstances, to present the spiritual science prevailing in India for thousands of years by wonderful exposition and then to kindle admiration and respect among the Western scholars, and, at the same time, to create a sympathetic attitude for India, the mother of spiritual science, can only be an achievement of superhuman power. With English education, the flood of material science spread so fast that it required extraordinary courage and extraordinary genius to stand against that phenomenon and change its direction. Before Swami Vivekananda the Theosophical society began this work. But it is an undisputed fact that it was Swami Vivekananda who first held aloft the banner of Hinduism as a challenge against the material science of the West. ... It was Swami Vivekananda who took on his shoulders this stupendous task of establishing the glory of Hinduism in different countries across the borders. And he, with his erudition, oratorical power, enthusiasm and inner force, laid that work upon a solid foundation. ... Twelve centuries ago °a´karÓcÓrya was the only great personality, who not only spoke of the purity of our religion, not only uttered in words that this religion was our strength and wealth, not only said that it was our sacred duty to preach this religion in the length and breadth of the worldŚbut also brought all this into action. Swami Vivekananda is a person of that stature—who appeared towards the last half of the nineteenth century

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Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

Swami Vivekananda saved Hinduism and saved India. But for him we would have lost our religion and would not have gained our freedom. We therefore owe everything to Swami Vivekananda. May his faith, his courage and his wisdom ever inspire us so that we may keep safe the treasure we have received from him!

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Christopher Isherwood

Vivekananda was, as I said, profoundly moved by the realization of India's poverty and the state of her oppression under the British colonial rule. And he proposed a revolution. The spirit of this revolution enormously influenced Gandhi and influences Indian political thought to this day. Vivekananda in this sense is a great figure in Indian history, one of the very greatest historical figures that India has ever produced. But it must always be noted that Vivekananda's revolution, Vivekananda's nationalism, were not like the kind of revolution, the kind of nationalism, which we associate with other great leaders, admirable and noble as they may be. Vivekananda was far greater than that. In fact, when one sees the full range of his mind, one is astounded. Vivekananda looked toward the West, not simply as a mass of tyrants exploiting various parts of Asia, and other undeveloped areas, but as future partners, people who had very, very much to offer. At the same time, without any false humility, he faced the West and said, 'we have fully as much and more to offer you. We offer you this great tradition of spirituality, which can produce, even now, today, a supremely great figure such as Ramakrishna. You can offer us medical services, trains that run on time, hygiene, irrigation, electric light. These are very important, we want them, and we admire some of your qualities immensely.'

One of the most enchanting things about Vivekananda is the way he was eternally changing sides when he was speaking to different people ; he could denounce the British in words of fire, but again he would turn on the Indians and say, 'You cannot manufacture one pin, and you dare to criticize the British !' And then he would speak of the awful materialism of the United States, and on the other hand, he would say that no women in the world were greater, and that the treatment of women in India was absolutely disgraceful. And so in every way, he was integrating, he was seeing the forces for good, the constructive forces, in the different countries, and saying, 'why don't we exchange ?' So Vivekananda's revolution was a revolution for everybody, a revolution which would in the long run be of just as much use to the British as to India. Vivekananda's nationalism, the call to India to recognize herself—this again was not nationalism in the smaller sense, it was a kind of supernationalism, a kind of internationalism sublimated. You all know the story that Vivekananda was so fond of, about the lion that was brought up with a lot of sheep. Now another lion comes out of the forest and the sheep all run away, and the little lion that had been brought up thinks it's a sheep and runs away too, and now the pursuing lion grabs it, takes it over to a pool of water and says, 'Look at yourself, you're a lion.' This is what Vivekananda was doing to the Indian people. He remarks in one of his letters, that the marvellous thing about all of the Western nations is that they know that they are nations. He said jealousy is a curse of India. Indians cannot learn to co-operate with each other. Why can't they learn from the co-operation of Western nations with each other? I'm quoting all this because by considering all these different attitudes that Vivekananda took, one sees the immense scope and integrity of his good will. He was really on everybody's side, on the side of the West, and on the side of India, and he saw far, far into the future ; his political prophecies are extremely interesting, and he said repeatedly, that the great force, which would finally have to be reckoned with, was China. He also remarked on visiting Europe for the last time in 1900 that he smelled war everywhere, which was more than most professional statesmen did, at that time.

* * *

[When I heard message of Vedanta as Vivekananda preaches it], I heard it with an almost incredulous joy. Here, at last, was a man who believed in God and yet dared to condemn the indecent grovelings of the sin-obsessed Puritans I had so much despised in my youth. I loved him at once, for his bracing self-reliance, his humour, and his courage. He appealed to me as the perfect anti-Puritan hero: the enemy of Sunday religion, the destroyer of Sunday gloom, the shocker of prudes, the breaker of traditions, the outrager of conventions, the comedian who taught the deepest truths in idiotic jokes and frightful puns. That humour had its place in religion, that it could actually be a mode of spiritual self-expression, was a revelation to me; for, like every small boy of Puritan upbringing, I had always longed to laugh out load and make improper noises in church. I didn't know, then, that humour has also had its exponents in the Christian tradition. I knew nothing, for example, about, St. Philip Neri.

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D. S. Sarma

He [Vivekananda] raised India in the eyes of the world, gave Hinduism a new turn and put a new spirit in the hearts of his countrymen. ...He was destined to be a pioneer. He broke new ground and led his people across and sighted the Promised Land. ... ...Three religious movements that immediately preceded the Ramakrishna Movement were rather poor and inadequate representations of the great historic religion of the Hindus. The religion of the Bràhmo Samàj was mere eclecticism, more Christian than Hindu in character. The religion of the ârya Samàj was mere Vedism, which ignored all the later developments in Hinduism. The religion of the Theosophical Society, with its Tibetan Masters its occult phenomena and its esoteric teachings, was looked upon by most Hindus as a kind of spurious Hinduism. On the other hand, the fourth religious movement, of which Swami Vivekananda was the great apostle, was doubtless not only a full, but also authentic manifestation of Hinduism.

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Suggested Books

Life

  • A Short Life of Swami Vivekananda by Swami Tejasananda
  • Swami Vivekananda on Himself by Swami Vivekananda
  • Vivekananda: A Biography by Swami Nikhilananda
  • Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern and Western Disciples
  • Life of Vivekananda by Romain Rolland
  • Swami Vivekananda in the West : New Discoveries by Marie Louise Burke

Reminiscences

  • Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda - A Compilation
  • Talks with Swami Vivekananda - Recorded by Sharat Chandra Chakravarty
  • The Master as I Saw Him by Sister Nivedita

Works

  • Lectures from Colombo to Almora
  • Letters of Swami Vivekananda
  • To The Youth of India
  • Thoughts on the Gita
  • Pearls of Wisdom
  • My Idea of Education
  • Women of India
  • Selections from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
  • My India The Eternal India
  • Words of Inspiration
  • Swami Vivekananda : On India And Her Problems
  • Karma Yoga
  • Bhakti Yoga
  • Inspired Talks
  • Personality Development
  • My Life And Mission