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Swami Vivekananda

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Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda in Chicago, September, 1893. On the left Vivekananda wrote in his own handwriting: "one infinite pure and holy – beyond thought beyond qualities I bow down to thee".[1]
Born Narendra Nath Datta
(1863-01-12)12 January 1863 Monday
Calcutta, India
Died 4 July 1902(1902-07-04) (aged 39) Friday
Belur Math near Calcutta, India
Nationality Indian
Founder of Belur Math, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission
Guru Ramakrishna
Philosophy Vedanta
Literary works Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga
Prominent Disciple(s) Alasinga Perumal, Swami Abhayananda, Sister Nivedita, Swami Sadananda
Quotation Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter.[2]
(See more quotations in Wikiquote)
Swami Vivekananda (About this sound Shāmi Bibekānondo; pronounced: IPA: [ʃami bibekanonɖo]) (12 January 1863–4 July 1902), born Narendra Nath Datta[3] (IPA: [nɔrend̪ro nat̪ʰ d̪ɔt̪t̪o]), was an Indian Hindu monk. He was a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world[4] and was credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion in the late 19th century.[5] He was a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India and contributed to the notion of nationalism in colonial India.[6] He was the chief disciple of the 19th century saint Ramakrishna and the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.[4] He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech beginning with "Sisters and Brothers of America,"[7] through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893.
Born into an aristocratic Bengali Kayastha family of Calcutta, Swami Vivekananda showed an inclination towards spirituality and God realisation. His guru, Ramakrishna, taught him Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism); that all religions are true and that service to man was the most effective worship of God. After the death of his guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, extensively touring the Indian subcontinent and acquiring first-hand knowledge of conditions in India. He later travelled to the United States and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating tenets of Hindu philosophy in America, England and Europe. He established the Vedanta societies in America and England.
In America Vivekananda became India's spiritual ambassador. His mission there was the interpretation of India's spiritual culture and heritage. He also tried to enrich the religious consciousness of Americans through the teachings of the Vedanta philosophy. In India Vivekananda is regarded as a patriotic saint of modern India and his birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day.
In Swami Vivekananda's own words, he was "condensed India". William James, the Harvard philosopher, called Vivekananda the "paragon of Vedantists". Rabindranath Tagore's suggestion (to Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland) was– "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative."[8]



[edit] Early life (1863–1888)

[edit] Birth and childhood

Image of Bhuvaneswari Devi, mother of Swami Vivekananda
Bhuvaneswari Devi (1841–1911).
"I am indebted to my mother for the efflorescence of my knowledge."[9]—Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda was born as Narendranath Dutta in Calcutta, the capital of British India, on 12 January 1863 during the Makar Sankranti festival. He belonged to a traditional Bengali Kayastha (a caste of Hindus) family. There was precedence of ascetics in his family—Narendra's grandfather Durga Charan Datta renounced the world and became a monk at the age of twenty five.[10] Narendra's father Vishwanath Datta was an attorney of Calcutta High Court.[11] Vishwanath Datta had a liberal, progressive outlook on social and religious matters.[12] Narendra's mother, Bhuvaneswari Devi[nb 1], was a pious woman. Before the birth of Narendra, she yearned for a son and asked a relative at Varanasi to make religious offerings to the god Shiva.[14] According to traditional accounts, Bhuvaneswari Devi had a dream in which Shiva said that he would be born as her son.[15] Bhuvaneswari Devi accepted the child as a boon from Shiva and named him Vireswara, meaning "powerful god" in Bengali.[14] The rational approach of his father and the religious temperament of his mother helped shape young Narendra's thinking and personality.[16][17] He learnt the power of self-control from his mother.[17] In later life, Narendra often quoted a saying of his mother, "Remain pure all your life; guard your own honour and never transgress the honour of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart."[18] He was adept in meditation and could enter the state of samadhi (a higher level of concentrated meditation).[17] He would often visualise a light while falling asleep and had a vision of Gautama Buddha during his meditation.[19] During his childhood, he was fascinated by the wandering ascetics and monks.[17]
The house of 3, Gour Mohan Mukherjee street,Kolkata, where Vivekananda was born,[20] now it is maintained by the Ramakrishna Mission.
Narendra had interest and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects.[21] He evinced interest in the Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He trained in Indian classical music under two Ustads (maestro), Beni Gupta and Ahamad Khan.[22] He regularly participated in physical exercise, sports, and organisational activities.[21] 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.[14][16] Narendra joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871 and studied there till 1877 when his family moved to Raipur.[23] The family returned to Calcutta two years later.

[edit] College and Brahmo Samaj

In 1879 after his family moved back to Calcutta, Narendra passed the entrance examination from the Presidency College, Calcutta. He subsequently studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations in the General Assembly's Institution (now known as the Scottish Church College).[14][24] In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree.[25][26]
Narendra studied the works 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.[27][28] Narendra became fascinated with the evolutionism of Herbert Spencer and had correspondence with him;[29][30] he translated Spencer's book Education (1861) into Bengali. Alongside his study of Western philosophers, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works.[28] According to his professors, Narendra was a student prodigy. Dr. William Hastie, principal of General Assembly's Institution, 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."[27] He was regarded as a srutidhara—a man with prodigious memory.[31][32]
Narendra became the member of a Freemason's lodge and of a breakaway faction of the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshub Chandra Sen.[24] His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which included belief in a formless God and deprecation of the worship of idols.[33] 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 internalised. Narendra went about asking prominent residents of contemporary Calcutta whether they had come "face to face with God" but could not get answers which satisfied him.[34][35] His first introduction to the saint Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly's Institution, when he heard Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem The Excursion.[36][37] While explaining the word "trance" in the poem, Hastie suggested his students to visit Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar to know the real meaning of trance. This prompted some of his students, including Narendra, to visit Ramakrishna.[24][38][39]

[edit] With Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna, guru of Vivekananda.
"The magic touch of the Master that day immediately brought a wonderful change over my mind. I was astounded to find that really there was nothing in the universe but God! ... everything I saw appeared to be Brahman. ... I realized that I must have had a glimpse of the Advaita state. Then it struck me that the words of the scriptures were not false. Thenceforth I could not deny the conclusions of the Advaita philosophy."[40]
Narendra's meeting with Ramakrishna in November 1881 proved to be a turning point in Narendra's life.[41] Narendra said about this first meeting that
"Ramakrishna looked just like an ordinary man, with nothing remarkable about him. He used the most simple language and I thought 'Can this man be a great teacher?'. I crept near to him and asked him the question which 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 religion could be given. One touch, one glance, can change a whole life."[41][42]
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.[43] He initially looked upon Ramakrishna's ecstasies and visions as, "mere figments of imagination",[16] "mere hallucinations".[44] As a member of Brahmo Samaj, he revolted against idol worship and polytheism, and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali.[45] He even rejected the Advaitist Vedantism of identity with absolute as blasphemy and madness and often made fun of the concept.[44] Though at first Narendra could not accept Ramakrishna and his visions, he did not neglect him. Instead, he tested Ramakrishna, who 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 increasingly ready to renounce everything for the sake of realising God. In time, Narendra accepted Ramakrishna as his guru and completely surrendered as disciple.[43]
In 1885, Ramakrishna developed throat cancer and he was transferred to Calcutta and later to Cossipore. Narendra and Ramakrishna's other disciples took care of him during his final days. Narendra's spiritual education under Ramakrishna continued. At Cossipore, Narendra reportedly experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi.[46] During Ramakrishna's last days, Narendra and some of the other disciples received the ochre monastic robes from Ramakrishna, forming the first monastic order of Ramakrishna.[47] Narendra was taught that service to men was the most effective worship of God.[16][48] When young Narendra Nath doubted Ramakrishna's claim of avatar, Ramakrishna said, "He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body."[49] During his final days, Ramakrishna asked Narendra Nath to take care of other monastic disciples and in turn asked them to look upon Vivekananda as their leader.[50] Ramakrishna died in the early morning hours of 16 August 1886 at his garden house in Cossipore. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.[50]

[edit] Founding of the Ramakrishna Math

Swami Vivekananda and other disciples of Ramakrishna in Baranagar Math, in 1887[51]
After the death of Ramakrishna, many of his disciples returned home and were inclined towards a Grihastha (family-oriented) life.[52] Such Grihastha disciples financially helped the monastic disciples led by Vivekananda to form fellowship at a derelict house at Baranagar on the river Ganges. The house became the first building of the Ramakrishna Math—the monastery of the first monastic order of Ramakrishna.[41] The dilapidated house 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 spent their time in meditation, discussing the philosophies and teachings of spiritual teachers including Ramakrishna, Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, and Jesus Christ.[53] Narendra later reminisced about the early days in the monastery:[53]
We underwent a lot of religious practice at the Baranagar Math. We used to get up at 3:00 am and become absorbed in japa and meditation. What a strong spirit of detachment we had in those days! We had no thought even as to whether the world existed or not.
In January 1887, Narendra and eight other disciples took formal monastic vows. Narendra took the name of Swami Bibidishananda. Later he was crowned with the name Vivekananda by Ajit Singh, the Maharaja of Khetri.[54] In January 1899 the Baranagar Math was transferred to Belur in the Howrah district, now known as the Belur Math.[citation needed]

[edit] As a wandering monk in India (1888–1893)

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda at Jaipur, ca.1885–1893.[55]
Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda location unknown, ca.1888–1893[55]
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."[56] His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff, and his two favourite books—Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ.[57] Vivekananda travelled extensively in India for five years, visiting centres of learning, acquainting himself with the diverse religious traditions and different patterns of social life.[58][59] He developed a sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the masses and resolved to uplift the nation.[58][60] Living mainly on bhiksha (alms), Vivekananda travelled on foot and railway tickets bought by his admirers whom he met during the travels. During these travels he made acquaintance and stayed with Indians from all walks of life and religions—scholars, dewans, rajas, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, pariahs (low caste workers) and government officials.[60]

[edit] Northern India

In 1888, Vivekananda's first destination was the city of Varanasi, where he met the learned Bengali writer, Bhudev Mukhopadhyay and the saint Trailanga Swami. He also met Babu Pramadadas Mitra, the noted Sanskrit scholar, with whom he corresponded on the interpretation of the Hindu scriptures.[61] After Varanasi he visited Ayodhya, Lucknow, Agra, Vrindavan, Hathras and Rishikesh. At Hathras, he met Sharat Chandra Gupta, a railway station master who later became one of his earliest disciples as Sadananda.[62][63] Between 1888 and 1890, he visited Vaidyanath and Allahabad. From Allahabad, he went on to Ghazipur, where he met Pavhari Baba, a Advaita Vedanta ascetic who spent most of his time in meditation.[64] During this period, Vivekananda returned to Baranagar Math a few times, because of ill health and to arrange for monetary funds after Balaram Bose and Suresh Chandra Mitra, the disciples of Ramakrishna who sponsored the Math had died.[63]

[edit] The Himalayas

In July 1890, accompanied by the fellow monk Swami Akhandananda (also a disciple of Ramakrishna), Vivekananda visited the Himalayas. This constituted the first phase of his journey that would encompass the West.[63][65] He visited Nainital, Almora, Srinagar and Dehradun, Rishikesh and Haridwar. During these travels, he met Swami Brahmananda, Saradananda, Turiyananda, Akhandananda and Advaitananda. They stayed at Meerut for some days engaged in meditation, prayer and study of scriptures. At the end of January 1891, the Swami left his fellows and journeyed to Delhi.[65][66]

[edit] Rajputana

After visiting historical sites at Delhi, Vivekananda journeyed towards Alwar in Rajputana. Later Vivekananda journeyed to Jaipur, where he studied Panini's Ashtadhyayi with a Sanskrit scholar. He next travelled to Ajmer, where he visited the palace of Akbar and the Dargah Sharif. At Mount Abu, he met Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri, who became his ardent devotee and supporter. Swami Tathagatananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and the Head of Vedanta Society, New York, wrote of the relationship:
Swami Vivekananda’s friendship with Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri was enacted against the backdrop of Khetri, a sanctified town in Northern Rajasthan, characterized by its long heroic history and independent spirit. Destiny brought Swamiji and Ajit Singh together on 4 June 1891 at Mount Abu, where their friendship gradually developed through their mutual interest in significant spiritual and secular topics. The friendship intensified when they travelled to Khetri and it became clear that theirs was the most sacred friendship, that of a Guru and his disciple.[67]
At Khetri, he delivered discourses to the Raja, became acquainted with the pandit Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasu, and studied Mahābhāṣya on sutras of Panini. After two and a half months there, in October 1891, he proceeded towards Maharastra.[60][68]

[edit] Western India

Vivekananda visited Ahmedabad, Wadhwan and Limbdi. At Ahmedabad, he completed his studies of Islamic and Jain culture.[60] At Limbdi, he met Thakur Saheb Jaswant Singh, who had himself been to England and America. From Thakur Saheb, he first got the idea of going to the West to preach Vedanta. He later visited Junagadh, where he was the guest of Haridas Viharidas Desai, the Diwan of the State. Th Diwan who was so charmed with his company that every evening he, with all the State officials, used to meet the Swami and converse with him until late at night. Vivekananda also visited Girnar, Kutch, Porbander, Dwaraka, Palitana, Nadiad, Nadiad ni haveli and Baroda. At Porbander, he stayed three quarters of a year, furthering his philosophical and Sanskrit studies with learned pandits.[60]
Vivekananda's next destinations included Mahabaleshwar, Pune, Khandwa and Indore. At Kathiawar, he heard of the Parliament of the World's Religions and was urged by his followers there to attend it. After a brief stay in Bombay in July 1892, he met Bal Gangadhar Tilak during a train journey.[69] After staying with Tilak for a few days in Pune,[70] the Swami travelled to Belgaum in October 1892 and to Panaji and Margao in Goa. He spent three days in the Rachol Seminary, the oldest convent of Goa, where rare religious literature in manuscripts and printed works in Latin were preserved. There, he studied Christian theological works.[71]

[edit] Southern India

Vivekananda Temple on Vivekananda rock at Kanyakumari, India
Later Vivekananda travelled to Bangalore, where he became acquainted with K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of the Mysore state, and stayed at the palace as a guest of the Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wodeyar. Regarding the Swami's learning, Seshadri remarked on "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.[72]
From Bangalore, he visited Trichur, Kodungalloor, and Ernakulam. At Ernakulam, he met Chattampi Swamikal, contemporary of Narayana Guru, in early December 1892.[73] From Ernakulam, he travelled to Trivandrum, Nagercoil and reached Kanyakumari on foot during the Christmas Eve of 1892.[74] At Kanyakumari, the Swami meditated on the "last bit of Indian rock", famously known later as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, for three days. At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda had the "Vision of one India", also commonly called "The Kanyakumari resolve of 1892".[75] He wrote,
"At Cape Camorin sitting in Mother Kumari's temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock—I hit upon a plan: We are so many sanyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics—it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva use to say, 'An empty stomach is no good for religion?' We as a nation have lost our individuality and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to raise the masses."[75][76]
From Kanyakumari he visited Madurai, where he met the Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Sethupathi, to whom he had a letter of introduction. The Raja became his disciple and urged him to go to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. From Madurai, he visited Rameswaram, Pondicherry and Madras and there he met some his most devoted disciples, who played important roles in collecting funds for his voyage to America and later in establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras. 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, Ajit Singh.[76]

[edit] Visit to Japan (1893)

On his way to Chicago, Vivekananda visited Japan in 1893. He first reached the port city of Nagasaki, and then boarded a steamer to Kobe. From here he took the land route to Yokohama, visiting along the way the three big cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. He called the Japanese "one of the cleanest people on earth", and was impressed not only by neatness of their streets and dwellings but also by their movements, attitudes and gestures, all of which he found to be "picturesque".[77]
This was a period of rapid military build-up in Japan—a prelude to the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. These preparations did not escape the attention of Vivekananda, who wrote that "The Japanese seem now to have fully awakened themselves to the necessity of the present times. They have now a thoroughly organised army equipped with guns which one of their own officers has invented and which is said to be second to none. Then, they are continually increasing their navy." About the industrial progress he observed, "The match factories are simply a sight to see, and they are bent upon making everything they want in their own country."[77]
Contrasting the rapid progress of Japan with the situation back in India, he urged his countrymen—the "offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny" —to come out of their narrow holes and have a look abroad:
Only I want that numbers of our young men should pay a visit to Japan and China every year. Especially to the Japanese, India is still the dreamland of everything high and good. And you, what are you? ... talking twaddle all your lives, vain talkers, what are you? Come, see these people, and then go and hide your faces in shame. A race of dotards, you lose your caste if you come out! Sitting down these hundreds of years with an ever-increasing load of crystallized superstition on your heads, for hundreds of years spending all your energy upon discussing the touchableness or untouchableness of this food or that, with all humanity crushed out of you by the continuous social tyranny of ages—what are you? And what are you doing now? ... promenading the sea-shores with books in your hands—repeating undigested stray bits of European brainwork, and the whole soul bent upon getting a thirty rupee clerkship, or at best becoming a lawyer—the height of young India’s ambition—and every student with a whole brood of hungry children cackling at his heels and asking for bread! Is there not water enough in the sea to drown you, books, gowns, university diplomas, and all?[77]

[edit] First visit to the West (1893–1897)

His journey to America took him through China and Canada and he arrived at Chicago in July 1893.[78] But to his disappointment he learnt that no one without credentials from a bona fide organisation would be accepted as a delegate. He came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University who invited him to speak at the university.[79] On learning that Vivekananda lacked credential to speak at the Chicago 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."[citation needed] Wright wrote a letter to the Chairman in charge of delegates, "Here is a man who is more learned than all of our learned professors put together."[citation needed] 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."[80]

[edit] Parliament of the World's Religions

Swami Vivekananda on the platform of the Parliament of Religions September 1893. On the platform (left to right) Virchand Gandhi, Dharmapala, Swami Vivekananda[81]
Parliament of the World's Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the World's Columbian Exposition.[82] On this day Vivekananda gave his first brief address. He represented India and Hinduism.[83] Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America!".[79][84] 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 on behalf of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance."[85] He quoted two illustrative passages from the Shivmahimna Stotra—"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."[85] Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.[85][86]
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."[84] 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."[87] 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".[88] The Boston Evening Transcript reported that Vivekananda was "a great favourite at the parliament...if he merely crosses the platform, he is applauded".[89] He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism, Buddhism and harmony of religions. The parliament ended on 27 September 1893. All his speeches at the Parliament had the common theme of universality, and emphasised religious tolerance.[90]

[edit] Lecturing tours in America and England

"I do not come", said Swamiji on one occasion in America, "to convert you to a new belief. I want you to keep your own belief; I want to make the Methodist a better Methodist; the Presbyterian a better Presbyterian; the Unitarian a better Unitarian. I want to teach you to live the truth, to reveal the light within your own soul."[91]
Following the Parliament of Religions, Vivekananda spent nearly two years lecturing in various parts of eastern and central United States, mostly in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. By the spring of 1895, his busy and tiring schedule led to poor health.[92] He stopped lecturing tours, and started giving free and private classes on Vedanta and Yoga. Starting in June 1895, he conducted private lectures to a dozen of his disciples at the Thousand Island Park in New York for two months. Vivekananda considered this to be the happiest part of his first visit to America. He later founded the "Vedanta Society of New York".[92]
During his first visit to the West, he travelled to England twice—in 1895 and 1896. His lectures were successful there.[93] There in November 1895, he met Margaret Elizabeth Noble, an Irish lady, who would later become Sister Nivedita.[92] During his second visit to England in May 1896, Vivekananda met Max Müller, a renowned Indologist from Oxford University who wrote Ramakrishna's first biography in the West.[86] From England, he also visited other European countries. In Germany he met Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist.[94] He received two academic offers, the chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University[95] 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.[92]
Swami Vivekananda in Greenacre, Maine in August, 1894[96]
Vivekananda attracted several sincere followers. Among his followers were Josephine MacLeod, Miss Müller, 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.[92][94] The Hale family became one of his warmest hosts in America.[97] His disciples—Marie Louise, a French woman, became Swami Abhayananda, and Mr. Leon Landsberg, became Swami Kripananda. He initiated several other followers into Brahmacharya.[98]
Swami Vivekananda's ideas were admired by scholars such as 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.[16] Other personalities who were attracted by his talks were American poets Harriet Monroe and Ella Wheeler Wilcox; 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.[99]
From West, he also set his work back in India in motion. Vivekananda wrote several letters to India, giving advice and sending money to his followers and brother monks[nb 2]. His letters from the West in these days laid down the motive of his campaign for social service.[100] He constantly tried to inspire his close disciples in India to do something significant. His letters to them contain some of his strongest words.[101] 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."[102][103] Eventually in 1895, money sent by Vivekananda was used to start the periodical Brahmavadin, for the purpose of teaching the Vedanta.[104] Later, Vivekananda's translation of first six chapters of The Imitation of Christ was published in Brahmavadin (1889).[105] Vivekananda left for India on 16 December 1896 from England with his disciples, Captain and Mrs. Sevier, and J.J. Goodwin. On the way they visited France and Italy, and set sail for India from the Port of Naples on 30 December 1896.[106] He was later followed to India by Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita devoted the rest of her life to the education of Indian women and the cause of India's independence.[92][107]

[edit] Back in India (1897–1899)

Swami Vivekananda at Chennai 1897

[edit] Colombo to Almora

The ship from Europe arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 15 January 1897.[108] Vivekananda received an ecstatic welcome. In Colombo, he gave what constitutes his first public speech in the East, India, the Holy Land. From there on, his journey to Calcutta was a triumphal progress. He travelled from Colombo to Pamban, Rameshwaram, Ramnad, Madurai, Kumbakonam and Madras delivering lectures. People and Rajas gave him enthusiastic reception. In the procession at Pamban, the Raja of Ramnad personally drew Vivekananda's carriage.[citation needed] On way to Madras, at several places where the train would not normally stop, the people squatted on the rails and allowed the train to pass only after hearing him.[108] From Madras, he continued his journey to Calcutta and then to Almora. While in the West he talked of India's great spiritual heritage; on return to India he repeatedly addressed social issues—uplift of the population, getting rid of the caste system, promotion of science, industrialisation of the country, addressing the widespread poverty, and the end of the colonial rule. These lectures, published as Lectures from Colombo to Almora, show his nationalistic fervour and spiritual ideology.[109] His speeches had influence on the contemporaneous and subsequent Indian leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Bipin Chandra Pal, Balgangadhar Tilak and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.[110][111]

[edit] Founding of the Ramakrishna Mission

Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, a branch of the Ramakrishna Math, founded on 19 March 1899, later published many of Swami Vivekananda's work, now publishes Prabuddha Bharata journal
On 1 May 1897 at Calcutta, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission—the organ for social service. The ideals of the Ramakrishna Mission are based on Karma Yoga.[112][113] Its governing body consists of the trustees of the Ramakrishna Math—the organ to carry out religious works.[114] Both Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission have their headquarters at Belur Math.[86][115] He founded two other monasteries—one at Mayavati on the Himalayas, near Almora, called the Advaita Ashrama and another at Madras. Two journals were started, Prabuddha Bharata in English and Udbhodan in Bengali.[116] The same year, the famine relief work was started by Swami Akhandananda at Murshidabad district.[86][114]
Vivekananda had earlier inspired Jamsetji Tata to set up a research and educational institution when they had travelled together from Yokohama to Chicago on Vivekananda's first visit to the West in 1893. Now Vivekananda received a letter from Tata, requesting him to head the Research Institute of Science that Tata had set up. Vivekananda declined the offer saying that it conflicted with his spiritual interests.[117][118][119]

[edit] Visit to Punjab

Vivekananda visited western Punjab 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.[120] His visit to Lahore is memorable for his speeches and his association with Tirtha Ram Goswami, a professor of Mathematics, who later took monasticism as Swami Rama Tirtha and preached Vedanta in India and America.[114] After brief visits to Delhi and Khetri, he returned to Calcutta in January 1896. He spent the next several months consolidating the work of the Math and training the disciples. He composed the arati song, Khandana Bhava Bandhana during the consecration of Ramakrishna's temple at a devotee's house.[121]

[edit] Second visit to the West and last years (1899–1902)

Swami Vivekananda– the photo was taken in Bushnell Studio in San Francisco, 1900.[122]
The Swami Vivekananda temple at Belur Math, on the place where he was cremated.
Vivekananda once again left for the West in June 1899 despite his declining health.[123] He was accompanied by Sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda. He spent a short time in England, and went on to the United States. During this visit, he founded the Vedanta societies at San Francisco and New York. He also founded "Shanti Ashrama" (peace retreat) at California.[124] He attended the Congress of Religions in Paris in 1900.[125] The Paris addresses are memorable for the scholarly penetration evinced by Vivekananda related to the worship of Linga and authenticity of the Gita. From Paris he went to Brittany, Vienna, Istanbul, Athens and Egypt. For the greater part of this period, he was the guest of the philosopher Jules Bois.[124] He left Paris on 24 October 1900 and arrived at the Belur Math on 9 December 1900.[124]
After spending a few days at Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, he settled 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 Gwalior and the leaders the Indian National Congress including Bal Gangadhar 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 Bodhgaya and Varanasi towards his final days.[126] Declining health and ailments such as asthma, diabetes and chronic insomnia restricted his activities. Three days before his death he pointed out the spot for his cremation—the one at which a temple in his memory stands today. He had remarked to several people that he would not live to be forty.[127]

[edit] Death

On the day of his death he woke up very early in the morning, went to chapel and meditated for three hours, sang a song on Kali and then he whispered, "If there were another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done!"[128] He taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda to some pupils in the morning at Belur Math.[129] He had a walk with Swami Premananda, a brother-disciple, and gave him instructions on the future of the Ramakrishna Math.
Vivekananda died at ten minutes past nine p.m. on 4 July 1902 while he was meditating.[130] According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.[131] Afterward, his disciples recorded that they had noticed "a little blood" in his nostrils, about his mouth and in his eyes.[132] The doctors reported 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.[129] He was cremated on sandalwood funeral pyre on the bank of Ganga in Belur. On the other bank of the river, Ramakrishna had been cremated sixteen years before.[128]

[edit] Teachings and philosophy

Swami Vivekananda believed a country's future depends on its people; his teachings focussed on this area.[133] He wanted “to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.”[134] Swami Vivekananda believed that the essence of Hinduism was best expressed in the Vedanta philosophy, based on the interpretation of Adi Shankara. He summarised the Vedanta's teachings as follows:[135]
  • Each soul is potentially divine.[135]
  • The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal.[135]
  • Do this either by work, or worship, or mental discipline, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free.[135]
  • This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.[135]
Vivekananda advised his followers to be holy, unselfish and have Shraddha (faith). He encouraged the practice of Brahmacharya (celibacy).[136] In one of the conversations with his childhood friend Priya Nath Sinha, he attributes his physical and mental strengths, and eloquence, to the practice of Brahmacharya.[137]

[edit] Influence

Vivekanandar Illam in Chennai. This is remembered as the place where Swami Vivekananda stayed for nine days when he visited Chennai in 1897.
Swami Vivekananda remains the most influential figure in modern Hinduism. He revitalised the religion within and outside India. Vivekananda was the principal reason behind the enthusiastic reception of yoga, transcendental meditation and other forms of Indian spiritual self-improvement in the West.[138] Professor Agehananda Bharati explained that, "...modern Hindus derive their knowledge of Hinduism from Vivekananda, directly or indirectly."[139] Vivekananda espoused the idea that all sects within Hinduism and, indeed, all religions, are different paths to the same goal.[140] This view, however, has been criticised for oversimplification of Hinduism.[140]
In the background of germinating nationalism in the British-ruled India, Vivekananda crystallised the nationalistic ideal. In the words of the social reformer Charles Freer Andrews, "The Swami's intrepid patriotism gave a new colour to the national movement throughout India. More than any other single individual of that period Vivekananda had made his contribution to the new awakening of India."[141] Vivekananda drew the attention towards the prevalence of poverty in the country, and maintained that addressing such poverty was prerequisite for the national awakening.[142] His nationalistic thoughts influenced scores of Indian thinkers and leaders.
The first governor general of independent India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, said "Vivekananda saved Hinduism, saved India."[143][144] According to Subhas Chandra Bose, a major proponent of armed struggle for Indian independence, Vivekananda "is the maker of modern India";[145][146] for Mahatma Gandhi, Vivekananda's influence increased his "love for his country a thousandfold." Swami Vivekananda influenced India's independence movement;[147] his writings inspired a whole generation of freedom fighters such as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghose, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bagha Jatin.
Swami Vivekananda statue near Gateway of India, Mumbai.
Subhas Chandra Bose also said about Vivekananda,[148] "His personality was rich, profound and complex... Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, boundless in his love, profound and versatile in his wisdom, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks but yet simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours." Aurobindo Ghose considered Vivekananda as his spiritual mentor,[149] saying "Vivekananda was a soul of puissance if ever there was one, a very lion among men..."[149] At the Belur Math, Mahatma Gandhi was heard to say that his whole life was an effort to bring into action the ideas of Vivekananda.[150] Many years after Vivekananda's death, Rabindranath Tagore told French Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland,[151] "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative." Rolland himself wrote that "His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Händel 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!" [152]
Jamsetji Tata was influenced by Vivekananda to establish the Indian Institute of Science—one of India's best known research universities.[119] Abroad, Vivekananda had interactions with Max Müller. Scientist Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of Vivekananda. On 11 November 1995, a section of Michigan Avenue, one of the most prominent streets in downtown Chicago, was formally renamed "Swami Vivekananda Way".[153] National Youth Day in India is observed on his birthday, 12 January.[154] He is projected as a role model for youth by the Indian government as well as non-government organisations and personalities.[154][155] In September 2010, India's Finance Ministry highlighted the relevance of teachings and values of Swami Vivekananda in the modern competitive environment. The Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, approved in principle the "Swami Vivekananda Values Education Project" at the cost of INR100 crore (US$18.9 million) with the objectives such as involving the youth through competitions, essays, discussions and study circles and publishing Swami Vivekananda's complete work in different languages.[156]

[edit] Works

Manuscript of "Blessings to Nivedita" a poem written by Swami Vivekananda in his own handwriting.[157]
Vivekananda left a body of philosophical works. Only a handful of those were published during his lifetime. A notable theme in his works is different ways of worshiping suggested for varied types of individuals. Vivekananda observed that human could be classified into four categories—those who were in constant activity, or the worker; those who were driven by their inner urge, or the emotional; those who tended to analyse the working of their minds, or the mystical; and those who weighed everything with reason, or the rational.[158] So he discussed four ways of worships—Karma yoga for the worker, Bhakti yoga for the emotional, Raja yoga for the mystical, and Jnana yoga for the rational. Majority of his published works were compiled from lectures given around the world. Vivekananda was a singer and a poet,[159] and composed many songs and poems including his favourite Kali the Mother. He blended humour in his teachings; his language was lucid. His 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.[133]