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Swami Vivekananda ( , Shami Bibekānondo; , Svāmi Vivekānanda) (January 12, 1863–July 4, 1902), born Narendranath Dutta is the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of Ramakrishna Mission. He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and Americamarker and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the end of the 19th century. Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India. He is best known for his inspiring speech beginning with "sisters and brothers of America", through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicagomarker in 1893.

Swami Vivekananda was born in an aristocratic Kayastha family of Calcuttamarker in 1863. His parents influenced the Swami's thinking – the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament. From his childhood, he showed inclination towards spirituality and God realization. While searching for a man who could directly demonstrate the reality of God, he came to Ramakrishna and became his disciple. As a guru, Ramakrishna taught him Advaita Vedanta and that all religions are true, and service to man was the most effective worship of God. After the death of his Guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, touring the Indian subcontinent and getting a first-hand account of India's condition. He later sailed to Chicagomarker and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. An eloquent speaker, Vivekananda was invited to several forums in United Statesmarker and spoke at universities and clubs. He conducted several public and private lectures, disseminating Vedanta, Yoga and Hinduism in America, England and a few other countries in Europe. He also established Vedanta societies in Americamarker and Englandmarker. He later sailed back to India and in 1897 he founded the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, a philanthropic and spiritual organization. Swami Vivekananda is regarded as one of India's foremost nation-builders. His teachings influenced the thinking of other national leaders and philosophers, like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghosh, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Rabindranath Tagore.

Biography

Birth and Childhood

Bhuvaneshwari Devi (1841-1911).

"I am indebted to my mother for the efflorescence of my knowledge."—Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda was born in Shimla Pally, Calcutta at 6:33 a.m on Monday, 12 January 1863, during the eve of Makra Sankranti festival and was given the name Narendranath Datta. His father Vishwanath Datta was an attorney of Calcutta High Court. He was considered generous, and had a liberal and progressive outlook in social and religious matters. His mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi was pious and had practiced austerities and prayed to Vireshwar Shiva of Varanasimarker to give her a son. She reportedly had a dream in which Shiva rose from his meditation and said that he would be born as her son.

Narendranath's thinking and personality were influenced by his parents—the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament. From his mother he learnt the power of self-control. One of the sayings of his mother Narendra quoted often in his later years was, "Remain pure all your life; guard your own honor and never transgress the honor of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart." He was reportedly adept in meditation and could reportedly enter the state of samadhi. He reportedly would see a light while falling asleep and he reportedly had a vision of Buddha during his meditation. During his childhood, he had a great fascination for wandering ascetics and monks.

Narendranath had varied interests and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects. He evinced much interest in scriptural texts, Vedas, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. He was also well versed in classical music, both vocal and instrumental and is said to have undergone training under two Ustads, Beni Gupta and Ahamad Khan. Since boyhood, he took an active interest in physical exercise, sports, and other organizational activities. Even when he was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste and refused to accept anything without rational proof and pragmatic test.

College and Brahmo Samaj

Narendranath started his education at home, later he joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871 and in 1879 he passed the entrance examination for Presidency College, Calcutta, entering it for a brief period and subsequently shifting to General Assembly's Institution. During the course, he studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations. In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he passed the Bachelor of Arts.

Narendranath is said to have studied the writings of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin. Narendra became fascinated with the Evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, and translated Spencer’s book on Education into Bengali for Gurudas Chattopadhyaya, his publisher. Narendra also had correspondence with Herbert Spencer for some time. Alongside his study of Western philosophers, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works. According to his professors, student Narendranath was a prodigy. Dr. William Hastie, the principal of Scottish Church College, where he studied during 1881-84,wrote, "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 was regarded as a srutidhara—a man with prodigious memory. After a discussion with Narendranath, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar reportedly said, "I could never have thought that such a young boy had read so much!"

Narendranath became the member of the Freemason's Lodge and a faction of Brahmo Samaj, formally known as the "Sadharan Brahma Samaj". His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo Samaj, which believed in formless God, deprecated the worship of idols and devoted itself to socio-religious reforms. Not satisfied with his knowledge of Philosophy, he wondered if God and religion could be made a part of one's growing experiences and deeply internalized. Narendra went about asking prominent residents of contemporary Calcutta whether they had come "face to face with God". He met the leaders of Brahmo Samaj—Devendranath Tagore and Keshub Chandra Sen, questioning them about the existence of God, but he could not get convincing answers.

His first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly Institute, when he heard Principal Reverend W. Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem The Excursion and the poet's nature-mysticism. In the course of explaining the word trance in the poem, Hastie told his students that if they wanted to know the real meaning of it, they should go to Ramakrishna of Dakshineswarmarker. This prompted some of his students, including Narendranath to visit Ramakrishna.

With Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa


His meeting with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in November 1881 proved to be a turning point in his life. Aboutthis meeting, Narendranath said, "He [Ramakrishna] looked just like an ordinary man,with nothing remarkable about him. He used the most simple language andI thought 'Can this man be a great teacher?'– I crept near to him and asked him the questionwhich I had been asking others all my life: 'Do you believe in God, Sir?' 'Yes,' he replied.'Can you prove it, Sir?' 'Yes.' 'How?' 'Because I see Him just as I see you here, only in a much intenser sense.'That impressed me at once. […] I began to go to that man, day after day, and I actually saw that religioncould be given. One touch, one glance, can change a whole life."

Even though Narendra did not accept Ramakrishna as his guru initially and revolted against his ideas, he was attracted by his personality and visited him frequently. He initially looked upon on Ramakrishna's ecstasies and visions as, "mere figments of imagination", "mere hallucinations". As a member of Brahmo samaj, he revolted against idol worship and polytheism, and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali. He even rejected the Advaitist Vedantism of identity with absolute as blasphemy and madness, and often made fun of the concept

Though Narendra could not accept Ramakrishna and his visions, he could not neglect him either. It had always been in Narendra's nature to test something thoroughly before he would accept it. He tested Ramakrishna, who never asked Narendra to abandon reason, and faced all of Narendra's arguments and examinations with patience—"Try to see the truth from all angles" was his reply. During the course of five years of his training under Ramakrishna, Narendra was transformed from a restless, puzzled, impatient youth to a mature man who was ready to renounce everything for the sake of God-realization. In time, Narendra accepted Ramakrishna as guru, and when he accepted, his acceptance was whole-hearted and with complete surrendering as disciple.

In 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from throat cancer and he was shifted to Calcutta and later to Cossiporemarker. Vivekananda and his brother disciples took care of Ramakrishna during this final days. His spiritual education under Ramakrishna continued here. At Cossipore, Vivekananda reportedly experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. During the last days of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and some of the other disciples received the ochre monastic robes from Ramakrishna, which formed the first monastic order of Ramakrishna. Vivekananda was taught that service to men was the most effective worship of God. It is reported that when Vivekananda, doubted Ramakrishna's claim of avatara, Ramakrishna reportedly said, "He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body." During his final days, Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda to take care of other monastic disciples and in turn asked them to look upon Vivekananda as their leader. Ramakrishna's condition worsened gradually and he expired in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.

Baranagar Monastery

After the death of their master, the monastic disciples led by Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half-ruined house at Baranagarmarker near the river Gangamarker, with the financial assistance of the householder disciples. This became the first Math or monastery of the disciples who constituted the first Ramakrishna Order.

The dilapidated house at Baranagoremarker was chosen because of its low rent and proximity to the Cossipore burning-ghat, where Ramakrishna was cremated. Narendra and other members of the Math often spent their time in meditation, discussing about different philosophies and teachings of spiritual teachers including Ramakrishna, Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, and Jesus Christ. Narendra reminisced about the early days in the monastery as follows, "We underwent a lot of religious practice at Baranagore Math. We used to get up at 3:00 am and become absorbed in japa and meditation. What a strong spirit of dispassion we had in those days! We had no thought even as to whether the world existed or not" In the early part of 1887, Narendra and eight other disciples took formal monastic vows. Narendra took the name of Swami Vividishananda.

Parivrâjaka — Wandering monk

Swami Vivekananda's first photo as a Wandering monk at Jaipur.


In 1888, Vivekananda left the monastery as a Parivrâjaka—the Hindu religious life of a wandering monk, "without fixed abode, without ties, independent and strangers wherever they go." His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff, and his two favorite books—Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. Narendranath travelled the length and breadth of India for five years, visiting important centers of learning, acquainting himself with the diverse religious traditions and different patterns of social life. He developed a sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the masses and resolved to uplift the nation. Living mainly on Bhiksha or alms, Narendranath traveled mostly on foot and railway tickets bought by his admirers whom he met during the travels. During these travels he gained acquaintance and stayed with scholars, Dewans, Rajas and people from all walks of life—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Pariahs (low caste workers), Government officials.

Northern India

In 1888, he started his journey from Varanasimarker. At Varanasi, he met pandit and Bengali writer, Bhudev Mukhopadhyay and Trailanga Swami, a famous saint who lived in a Shiva temple. Here, he also met Babu Pramadadas Mitra, the noted Sanskrit scholar, to whom the Swami wrote a number of letters asking his advice on the interpretation of the Hindu scriptures.After Varanasi he visited Ayodhyamarker, Lucknowmarker, Agramarker, Vrindabanmarker, Hathrasmarker and Rishikeshmarker. At Hathrasmarker he met Sharat Chandra Gupta, the station master who later became one of his earliest disciples as Sadananda. Between 1888-1890, he visited Vaidyanath, Allahabadmarker. From Allahabad, he visited Ghazipur where he met Pavhari Baba, a Advaita Vedanta ascetic who spent most of his time in meditation. Between 1888-1890, he returned to Baranagore Math few times, because of ill health and to arrange for the financial funds when Balram Bose and Suresh Chandra Mitra, the disciples of Ramakrishna who supported the Math had expired.

The Himalayas

In July 1890, accompanied by his brother monk, Swami Akhandananda, he continued his journey as a wandering monk and returned to the Math only after his visit to the West. He visited, Nainitalmarker, Almoramarker, Srinagarmarker, Dehra Dunmarker, Rishikeshmarker, Hardwar and the Himalayasmarker. During this travel, he reportedly had a vision of macrocosm and microcosm, which seems to be reflected in the Jnana Yoga lectures he gave later in the West, "The CosmosThe Macrocosm and The Microcosm". During these travels, he met his brother monks —Swami Brahmananda, Saradananda, Turiyananda, Akhandananda, Advaitananda. They stayed at Meerutmarker for few days where they passed their time in meditation, prayer and study of scriptures. In the end of January 1891, the Swami left his brother monks and journeyed to Delhimarker alone.

Rajputana

At Delhi, after visiting historical places he journeyed towards Alwarmarker, in the historic land of Rajputana. Later he journeyed to Jaipurmarker, where he studied Panini's Ashtadhyayi from a Sanskrit scholar. He next journeyed to Ajmer, where he visited the palace of Akbar and the famous Dargah and left for Mount Abumarker. At Mount Abu, he met the Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri, who became his ardent devotee and supporter. He was invited to Khetrimarker, where he delivered discourses to the Raja. At Khetri, he also became acquainted with Pandit Narayandas, and studied Mahabhashya on Sutras of Panini. After two and half months at Khetri, towards end of October 1891, he proceeded towards Rajasthanmarker and Maharastramarker.

Western India

Continuing his travels, he visited Ahmedabad, Wadhwan, Limbdi. At Ahmedabad he completed his studies of Mohammedan and Jain culture. At Limbdi, he met Thakore Sahed Jaswant Singh who had himself been to England and America. From the Thakore Saheb, the Swami got the first idea of going to the West to preach Vedanta. He later visited Junagadh, Girnar, Kutch, Porbandermarker, Dwaraka, Palitanamarker, Barodamarker. At Porbander he stayed three quarters of a year, in spite of his vow as a wandering monk, to perfect his philosophical and Sanskrit studies with learned pandits; he worked with a court pandit who translated the Vedas.

He later traveled to Mahabaleshwarmarker and then to Punemarker. From Poona he visited Khandwamarker and Indoremarker around June 1892. At Kathiawar he heard of the Parliament of the World's Religions and was urged by his followers there to attend it. He left Khandwa for Bombay and reached there on July 1892. In a Punemarker bound train he met Bal Gangadhar Tilak. After staying with Tilak for few days in Poona, the Swami travelled to Belgaummarker in October 1892. At Belgaum, he was the guest of Prof. G.S. Bhate and Sub-divisional Forest officer, Haripada Mitra. From Belgaum, he visited Panjimmarker and Margaomarker in Goa. He spent three days in the Rachol Seminary, the oldest convent-college of theology of Goa where rare religious literature in manuscripts and printed works in Latin are preserved. He reportedly studied important Christian theological works here. From Margao the Swami went by train to Dharwarmarker, and from there directly to Bangaloremarker, in Mysore State.

Southern India

At Bangalore, the Swami became acquainted with Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore state, and later he stayed at the palace as guest of the Maharaja of Mysore, Shri Chamarajendra Wadiyar. Regarding Swami's learning, Sir Seshadri reportedly remarked, "a magnetic personality and a divine force which were destined to leave their mark on the history of his country." The Maharaja provided the Swami a letter of introduction to the Dewan of Cochin and got him a railway ticket.

From Bangalore, he visited Trichur, Kodungalloor, Ernakulammarker. At Ernakulam, he met Chattampi Swamikal, the guru of Narayana Guru in early December 1892. From Ernakulam, he journeyed to Trivandrummarker, Nagercoilmarker and reached Kanyakumarimarker on foot during the Christmas Eve of 1892. At Kanyakumari, the Swami reportedly meditated on the "last bit of Indian rock", famously known later as the Vivekananda Rock Memorialmarker for three days. At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda had the "Vision of one India", also commonly called "The Kanyakumari resolve of 1892". He wrote,

From Kanyakumari he visited Maduraimarker, where he met Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Setupati, to whom he had a letter of introduction. The Raja became the Swami's disciple and urged him to go to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. From Madurai, he visited Rameshwarammarker, Pondicherrymarker and he travelled to Madras and here he met some his most devoted disciples, like Alasinga Perumal, G.G. Narasimhachari, who played important roles in collecting funds for Swami's voyage to America and later in establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras. From Madras he travelled to Hyderabad. With the aid of funds collected by his Madras disciples and Rajas of Mysore, Ramnad, Khetri, Dewans, and other followers Vivekananda left for Chicago on 31 May 1893 from Bombay assuming the name Vivekananda—the name suggested by the Maharaja of Khetri.

First visit to the West

His journey to America took him through Chinamarker, Japanmarker, Canadamarker and he arrived at Chicago in July 1893. But to his disappointment he learnt that no one without credentials from a bona fide organization would be accepted as a delegate. He came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard Universitymarker. After inviting him to speak at Harvard and on learning of his not having credential to speak at the Parliament, Wright is quoted as having said, "To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens." Wright then addressed a letter to the Chairman in charge of delegates writing, "Here is a man who is more learned than all of our learned professors put together." On the Professor Vivekananda himself writes, "He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation."

Parliament of World's Religions



The Parliament of Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicagomarker. On this day Vivekananda gave his first brief address. He represented India and Hinduism. Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America!". To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name 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." And he quoted two illustrative passages in this relation, from the Bhagavad Gita—"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." Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.

Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, "India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors." He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the "Cyclonic monk from India". The New York Critique wrote, "He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them." The New York Herald wrote, "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." The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekananda as "the greatest figure in the parliament of religions" and "the most popular and influential man in the parliament".

He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism. The parliament ended on 27 September 1893. All his speeches at the Parliament had one common theme—Universality and stressed religious tolerance.

Lecturing tours in America, England

After the Parliament of Religions, held in Sept. 1893 at The Art Institute of Chicagomarker, Vivekananda spent nearly two whole years lecturing in various parts of eastern and central United States, appearing chiefly in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. By the spring of 1895, he was weary and in poor health, because of his continuous exertion. After suspending his lecture tour, the Swami started giving free and private classes on Vedanta and Yoga. In June 1895, for two months he conducted private lectures to a dozen of his disciples at the Thousand Island Park. Vivekananda considered this to the happiest part of his first visit to America. He later founded the "Vedanta Society of New Yorkmarker".

During his first visit to America, he traveled to England twice—in 1895 and 1896. His lectures were successful there. Here he met Miss Margaret Noble an Irishmarker lady, who later became Sister Nivedita. During his second visit in May 1896, while living at a house in Pimlicomarker, the Swami met Max Müller a renowned Indologist at Oxford Universitymarker who wrote Ramakrishna's first biography in the West. From England, he also visited other European countries. In Germany he met Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist.

He also received two academic offers, the chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard Universitymarker and a similar position at Columbia University. He declined both, saying that, as a wandering monk, he could not settle down to work of this kind.

He attracted several sincere followers. Among his other followers were, Josephine MacLeod, Miss Muller, Miss Noble, E.T. Sturdy, Captain and Mrs. Sevier—who played an important role in the founding of Advaita Ashrama and J.J.Goodwin—who became his stenographer and recorded his teachings and lectures. The Hale family became one of his warmest hosts in America. His disciples—Madame Louise, a French woman, became Swami Abhayananda, and Mr. Leon Landsberg, became Swami Kripananda. He initiated several other followers into Brahmacharya.

Swami Vivekananda's ideas were admired by several scholars and famous thinkers—William James, Josiah Royce, C. C. Everett, Dean of the Harvard School of Divinity, Robert G. Ingersoll, Nikola Tesla, Lord Kelvin, and Professor Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz. Other personalities who were attracted by his talks were Harriet Monroe and Ella Wheeler Wilcox—two famous American poets, Professor William James of Harvard University; Dr. Lewis G. Janes, president of Brooklyn Ethical Association; Sara C. Bull wife of Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist; Sarah Bernhardt, the French actress and Madame Emma Calvé, the French opera singer.

From West, he also set his Indian work in motion. Vivekananda wrote a stream of letters to India, giving advice and sending money to his followers and brother monks. His letters from the West in these days laid down the motive of his campaign for social service. He constantly tried to inspire his close disciples in India to do something big. His letters to them contain some of his strongest words. In one such letter, he wrote to Swami Akhandananda, "Go from door to door amongst the poor and lower classes of the town of Khetri and teach them religion. Also, let them have oral lessons on geography and such other subjects. No good will come of sitting idle and having princely dishes, and saying "Ramakrishna, O Lord!"—unless you can do some good to the poor."Eventually in 1895, the periodical called Brahmavadin was started in Madras, with the money supplied by Vivekananda, for the purpose of teaching the Vedanta. Subsequenly, Vivekananda's translation of first six chapters of The Imitation of Christ was published in Brahmavadin (1889).

Vivekananda left for India on 16 December 1896 from England with disciples, Capitan and Mrs. Sevier, and J.J.Goodwin. On the way they visited Francemarker, Italymarker, seeing Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper, and set sail for India from the Port of Naplesmarker on December 30, 1896. Later, he was followed to India by Miss Muller and Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita devoted the rest of her life to the education of Indian women and the cause of India's independence.

Back in India

Swami Vivekananda at Chennai 1897

Colombo to Almora

Vivekananda arrived in Colombo on January 15, 1897 and received a grand welcome. Here, he gave his first public speech in East, India, the Holy Land. From there on, his journey to Calcutta was a triumphal progress. He traveled from Colombomarker to Pamban, Rameshwarammarker, Ramnadmarker, Maduraimarker, Kumbakonammarker and Madrasmarker delivering lectures. People and Rajas gave him enthusiastic reception. In the procession at Pamban, the Raja of Ramnad personally drew the Swami's carriage. On way to Madras, at several places where the train would not stop, the people squatted on the rails and allowed the train to pass only after hearing the Swami. From Madras, he continued his journey to Calcutta and continued his lectures up to Almoramarker.While in the West he talked of India's great spiritual heritage,on return to India the refrain of his 'Lectures from Colombo to Almora' was uplift of the masses,eradication of the caste virus ,promotion of the study of science,industrialization of the country,removal of poverty,the end of the colonial rule.These lectures have been published as Lectures from Colombo to Almora. These lectures are considered to be of nationalistic fervor and spiritual ideology. His speeches had tremendous influence on the Indian leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Bipin Chandra Pal and Balgangadhar Tilak.

Founding of Ramakrishna Math and Mission

On 1 May 1897 at Calcutta, Vivekananda founded the "Ramakrishna Math"—the organ for propagating religion and "Ramakrishna Mission"—the organ for social service. This was the beginning of an organized socio-religious movement to help the masses through educational, cultural, medical and relief work. The ideals of the Ramakrishna Mission are based on Karma Yoga. Two monasteries were founded by him, one at Belurmarker, near Calcutta, which became the Headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the other at Mayavati on the Himalayas, near Almoramarker called the Advaita Ashrama and later a third monastery was established at Madrasmarker. Two journals were started, Prabuddha Bharata in English and Udbhodan in Bengali. The same year, the famine relief work was started by Swami Akhandananda at Murshidabadmarker district.

Vivekananda had inspired Sir Jamshetji Tata to set up a research and educational institution whenthey had travelled together from Yokohama to Chicagomarker on the Swami’s first visit to theWest in 1893. About this time the Swami received a letter from Tata, requesting him to head the Research Institute of Science that Tata had set up. But Vivekananda declined the offer saying that it conflicted with his spiritual interests.

He later visited Punjabmarker, in Pakistan with the mission of establishing harmony between the Arya Samaj which stood for reinterpreted Hinduism and the Sanatanaists who stood for orthodox Hinduism. At Rawalpindi, he suggested methods for rooting out antagonism between Arya Samajists and Muslims. His visit to Lahoremarker is memorable for his famous speeches and his inspiring association with Tirtha Ram Goswami, then a brilliant professor of Mathematics, who later graced monasticism as Swami Rama Tirtha and preached Vedanta in India and America. He also visited other places, including Delhi and Khetri and returned to Calcutta in January 1896. He spent the next few months consolidating the work of the Math and training the disciples. During this period he composed the famous arati song, Khandana Bhava Bandhana during the event of consecration of Ramakrishna's temple at a devotees' house.

Second visit to the West

He once again left for the West in June 1899, amid his declining health. He was accompanied by Sister Nivedita, Swami Turiyananda. He spent a short time in England, and went on to America. During this visit, he founded the Vedanta societies at San Franciscomarker and New Yorkmarker. He also founded "Shanti Ashrama" (peace retreat) at Californiamarker, with the aid of a generous 160 acre gift from an American devotee. Later he attended the Congress of Religions, in Parismarker in 1900. The Paris addresses are memorable for the scholarly penetration evinced by Vivekananda related to worship of Linga and authenticity of the Gita. From Paris he paid short visits to Brittany, Viennamarker, Constantinoplemarker, Athensmarker and Egyptmarker. For the greater part of this period, he was the guest of Jules Bois, the famous thinker. He left Paris in October 24, 1900 and arrived at the Belur Mathmarker in December 9, 1900.

Last years

Vivekananda spent few of his days at Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati and later at the Belur Mathmarker. Henceforth till the end he stayed at Belur Math, guiding the work of Ramakrishna Mission and Math and the work in England and America. Thousands of visitors came to him during these years including The Maharaja of Gwaliormarker and in December 1901, the stalwarts of Indian National Congress including Lokamanya Tilak. In December 1901, he was invited to Japan to participate in the Congress of Religions, however his failing health made it impossible. He undertook pilgrimages to Bodhgayamarker and Varanasimarker towards his final days.

His tours, hectic lecturing engagements, private discussions and correspondence had taken their toll on his health. He was suffering from Asthma, diabetes and other physical ailments. Few days prior to his demise, he was seen intently studying the almanac. Three days before his death he pointed out the spot for this cremation—the one at which a temple in his memory stands today. He had remarked to several persons that he would not live to be forty.

On the day of his death, he taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda to some pupils in the morning at Belur Math. He had a walk with Swami Premananda, a brother-disciple, and gave him instructions concerning the future of the Ramakrishna Math.Vivekananda expired at ten minutes past nine on July 4, 1902 while he was meditating. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi. Afterward, his disciples recorded that they had noticed "a little blood" in the Swami's nostrils, about his mouth and in his eyes. The doctors remarked that it was due to the rupture of a blood-vessel in the brain, but they could not find the real cause of the death. According to his disciples, Brahmarandhra— the aperture in the crown of the head must have been pierced when he attained Mahasamadhi. Vivekananda had fulfilled his own prophecy of not living to be forty-years old.

Teachings and philosophy

Vivekananda was a renowned thinker in his own right. One of his most important contributions was to demonstrate how Advaitin thinking is not merely philosophically far-reaching, but how it also has social, even political, consequences. According to Vivekananda, an important lesson he received from Ramakrishna was that "Jiva is Shiva" (each individual is divinity itself). This became his Mantra, and he coined the concept of daridra narayana seva - the service of God in and through (poor) human beings. If there truly is the unity of Brahman underlying all phenomena, then on what basis do we regard ourselves as better or worse, or even as better-off or worse-off, than others? - This was the question he posed to himself. Ultimately, he concluded that these distinctions fade into nothingness in the light of the oneness that the devotee experiences in Moksha. What arises then is compassion for those "individuals" who remain unaware of this oneness and a determination to help them.

Swami Vivekananda belonged to that branch of Vedanta that held that no one can be truly free until all of us are. Even the desire for personal salvation has to be given up, and only tireless work for the salvation of others is the true mark of the enlightened person. He founded the Sri Ramakrishna Math and Mission on the principle of Atmano Mokshartham Jagat-hitaya cha (आत्मनॊ मोक्षार्थम् जगद्धिताय च) (for one's own salvation and for the welfare of the World).

However, Vivekananda also pleaded for a strict separation between religion and government ("church and state") a value found in Freemasonry which as a Freemason he had been exposed to. Although social customs had been formed in the past with religious sanction, it was not now the business of religion to interfere with matters such as marriage, inheritance and so on. The ideal society would be a mixture of Brahmin knowledge, Kshatriya culture, Vaisya efficiency and the egalitarian Shudra ethos. Domination by any one led to different sorts of lopsided societies. Vivekananda did not feel that religion, nor, any force for that matter, should be used forcefully to bring about an ideal society, since this was something that would evolve naturally by individualistic change when the conditions were right.

Vivekananda made a strict demarcation between the two classes of Hindu scriptures : the Sruti and the Smritis. The Sruti, by which is meant the Vedas, consist of eternally and universally valid spiritual truths. The Smritis on the other hand, are the dos and don'ts of religions, applicable to society and subject to revision from time to time. Vivekananda felt that existing Hindu smritis had to be revised for modern times. But the Srutis of course are eternal - they may only be re-interpreted.

Vivekananda advised his followers to be holy, unselfish and have shraddha (faith). He encouraged the practice of Brahmacharya (Celibacy). In one of the conversations with his childhood friend Priya Nath Sinha he attributes his physical and mental strengths, eloquence to the practice of Brahmacharya.

Vivekananda did not advocate the emerging area of parapsychology, astrology (one instance can be found in his speech Man the Maker of his Destiny, Complete-Works, Volume 8, Notes of Class Talks and Lectures) saying that this form of curiosity doesn't help in spiritual progress but actually hinders it.

Influence

Several leaders of 20th Century India and philosophers have acknowledged Vivekananda's influence.The first governor general of independent India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, once observed that "Vivekananda saved Hinduism, saved India." According to Subhas Chandra Bose, Vivekananda "is the maker of modern India" and for Mohandas Gandhi, Vivekananda's influence increased his "love for his country a thousandfold." National Youth Day in India is held on his birthday, January 12, to commemorate him. This was a most fitting gesture as much of Swami Vivekananda's writings concerned the Indian youth and how they should strive to uphold their ancient values whilst fully participating in the modern world.

Swami Vivekananda is widely considered to have inspired India's freedom struggle movement. His writings inspired a whole generation of freedom fighters including Aurobindo Ghose and Bagha Jatin. Vivekananda was the brother of the extremist revolutionary, Bhupendranath Dutta. Subhash Chandra Bose one of the most prominent figures in Indian independence movement said,

Aurobindo Ghosh considered Vivekananda as his spiritual mentor.

The French Nobel Laureate, Romain Rolland writes, "His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Handel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings of his, scattered as they are through the pages of books, at thirty years' distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks, what transports, must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!

Vivekananda inspired Jamshedji Tata to set up Indian Institute of Science, one of Indiamarker's finest Institutions. Abroad, he had some interactions with Max Muller. Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of the Swami Vivekananda.

Above all Swami Vivekananda helped restore a sense of pride amongst the Hindus, presenting the ancient teachings of India in its purest form to a Western audience, free from the propaganda spread by British colonial administrators and Christian missionaries, of Hinduism being a caste-ridden, misogynistic idolatrous faith. Indeed his early foray into the West would set the path for subsequent Indian religious teachers to make their own marks on the world, as well herald the entry of Hindus and their religious traditions into the Western world.

Swami Vivekananda's ideas have had a great influence on the Indian youth. In many institutes, students have come together and formed organizations meant for promoting discussion of spiritual ideas and the practice of such high principles. Many of such organizations have adopted the name Vivekananda Study Circle. One such group also exists at IIT Madrasmarker and is popularly known as (VSC). Additionally, Swami Vivekananda's ideas and teachings have carried on globally, being practiced in institutions all over the world.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "Swami Vivekananda's writings need no introduction from anybody. They make their own irresistible appeal." At the Belur Mathmarker, Gandhi was heard to say that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda. Many years after Vivekananda's death, Rabindranath Tagore a Nobel Poet Laureate had said, "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative."

Vivekananda and science

In his book Raja Yoga, Vivekananda explores traditional views on the supernatural and the belief that the practice of Raja Yoga can confer psychic powers such as 'reading another's thoughts', 'controlling all the forces of nature', become 'almost all-knowing', 'live without breathing', 'control the bodies of others' and levitation. He also explains traditional eastern spiritual concepts like kundalini and spiritual energy centres.

However, Vivekananda takes a skeptical approach and in the same book states:

He further says in the introduction of the book that one should take up the practice and verify these things for oneself, and that there should not be blind belief.

Vivekananda (1895) rejected ether theory before Einstein (1905), stating that it cannot explain the space itself.

In his paper, read at the World Parliament of Religions (1893), Vivekananda also hinted about the final goal of Physics, what in these days, is attempted by theories like the String Theory.

The great electrical engineer, Nikola Tesla, after listening to Vivekananda's speech on Sankhya Philosophy, was much interested in its cosmogony and its rational theories of the Kalpas (cycles), Prana and Akasha. His notion based on the vedanta led him to think that matter is a manifestation of energy . After attending a lecture on vedanta by Vivekananda Tesla also concluded that, modern science can look for the solution of cosmological problems in Sankhya philosophy, and he could prove that mass can be reduced to potential energy mathematically.

Works

Vivekananda left a body of philosophical works (see Vivekananda's complete works) which Vedic scholar Frank Parlato has called, "the greatest comprehensive work in philosophy ever published." His books (compiled from lectures given around the world) on the four Yogas (Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga) are very influential and still seen as fundamental texts for anyone interested in the Hindu practice of Yoga. His letters are of great literary and spiritual value. He was also considered a very good singer and a poet. By He had composed many songs including his favorite Kali the Mother. He used humor for his teachings and was also an excellent cook. His language is very free flowing. His own Bengali writings stand testimony to the fact that he believed that words - spoken or written should be for making things easier to understand rather than show off the speaker or writer's knowledge.

See also



Notes

Bibliography



External links




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