Personalities :: Philosopher
The valiant monk who proclaimed in America the greatness of Hinduism and of Indian culture at a time when the West regarded India as a land of barbarians. He dedicated his life to the country and yearned for the progress of the poor, the helpless and the downtrodden. He was the great thinker and mighty man of action whose ringing words galvanized the slumbering Indians. For ages to come he will be a source of inspiration. Some examples are here:
"Brothers and sisters, the long night is at last drawing to a close. Miseries and sorrows are disappearing. Ours is a sacred country. She is gradually waking up, thanks to the fresh breeze all around. Her might no one can overcome."
"Are you prepared for all sacrifices for the sake of our motherland? If you are, then you can rid the land of poverty and ignorance. Do you know that millions of our countrymen are starving and miserable? Do you feel for them? Do you so much as shed a tear for them?"
"Have you the courage to face any hurdles, however formidable? Have you the determination to pursue your goal, even if those near and dear to you oppose you? You can be free men only if you have confidence in yourselves. You should develop a strong physique. You should shape your mind through study and mediation. Only then will victory be yours."
"I loved my motherland dearly before I went to America and England. After my return, every particle of the dust of this land seems sacred to me."
Real name Narendra Nath Dutta. His father was Vishwantha Datta and mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi. Narendra was born on 12th January 1863 in Calcutta. As a child he was very lively and naughty. When Narendra stepped into boyhood, his naughtiness grew. Once a landlord threatened the children saying, "There is a demon in the tree and he swallows children." Narendra was not impressed by this threat. He settled down on a branch. The other boys took to their heels. Narendra waited for several hours, but the demon did not appear. So, he declared that the landlord's story was a spoof.
Narendra's father was a lawyer. So every day his house used to be crowded with his clients belonging to different castes. The clients had breakfast and lunch there. It was the custom to provide the guests with hukkas (long pipes) for smoke after food. There was a different pipe for clients of each caste. Narendra wondered what would happen if he smoked the pipe meant for people of a different caste. Finally he experimented and nothing strange happened. He concluded that caste had no meaning.
He was quick and alert in his studies as well. After a single reading he could remember any lesson. His memory was amazing. Concentration was the key to his success. By 1880, Narendra passed his Matriculation and Entrance Examination. He joined a college. Day by day, his thirst for knowledge increased. He would borrow books from the library which are not related to the prescribed courses and read them to satisfy his thirst. He was particularly fascinated by the secrets of God's creation. Apart from history and science, he was well read in Western philosophy.
As he advanced in his studies, his thinking faculty developed. Doubts and uncertainties overtook him. He gave up blind beliefs but could not realize the truth. He placed his doubts before eminent scholars and sought their guidance. These scholars excelled in debate. But their logic did not convince Narendra. Their line of thinking was stale. It did not convince him, for none of them had direct experience of God.
Sri Ramakrishna was a priest in a temple of Goddess Kali.
He was not a scholar. But he was a great devotee. It was being said
of him that he had realized God. Scholars who went to him became his
disciples. Once, Narendra went with his friends to Dakshineswar to
see him. Sri Ramakrishna sat surrounded by his disciples; he was immersed
in discussions about God. Narendra sat in a corner with his friends.
Narendra's attractive figure and shining eyes filled him with wonder.
Later Narendra took up the profession of teaching. For some
time he taught in the Vidyasagar School. Now the family had at least
enough food. While he worked as a teacher he continued his study of
law. His Guru's health broke down. Sri Rama krishna developed a tumor
in the throat. Narendra gave up both his job and his studies and devoted
all his time to nursing his Master. Once, while Narendra was in meditation
he shouted, "Where is my body?" Others had to touch his
body and convince him of its existence. When Sri Ramakrishna heard
this episode, he was happy that at last his desire to find a worthy
disciple had been fulfilled.
It was the great good fortune of India that Narendra took
to sannyasa and became ' Vivekananda'. India became his home and its
inhabitants his brothers. The sacred task of wiping the tears of his
unfortunate brothers was dear to his heart. He had to travel all over
the country. His assets were - a saffron robe, 'Kamandalu' (an ascetic's
waterpot) and 'danda' (staff). On his way he visited many holy places.
He lodged at huts and choultries and slept on the bare ground. He
satisfied his hunger by begging for food. He was in the company of
sadhus, spending the time in religious discussions and holy rituals.
He traveled on foot or by any vehicle whose driver was hospitable.
Varanasi was the first city that Vivekanda visited. During his stay
there, he met many scholars and exchanged ideas with them. In philosophical
disputations he triumphed over them. In Ayodhya, his imagination pulsated
with the memory of Sri Rama and Sita. In Agra the Taj Mahal filled
him with wonder. On his way to Brindavan, he smoked a hukka borrowed
from a passer-by that was a fisherman; he drank water in a pariah's
house; begged for alms and accepted food from a cobbler. As he stepped
into Brindavan (where Lord Krishna is believed to have lived); he
was in ecstasy.
Swamiji reached the city of Chicago in the middle of July.
On his way he touched at the ports of Colombo, Singapore, Hongkong
and Tokyo. He chose a hotel for his stay. He made inquiry about the
opening of the Conference of World Religions. It was still three months
away. How was he to stay so long in a strange place? The money he
had was fast disappearing. Meanwhile, an international fair was going
on. Swamiji was wandering in the premises of the fair. Just then he
spotted a Maharaja from India. He approached the Maharaja. But the
Maharaja turned away with wry face. Since Chicago was a big city and
very expensive, Swamiji moved to the city of Boston. On the way he
met a lady. She was from Boston. She was amazed at Swamiji's strange
attire, his magnificent physique, and his bright eyes. She decided
that he was no ordinary man. She begged Swamiji to be her guest. He
agreed. Occasionally he addressed meetings at small clubs. The subject
of his talk was Indian Culture and the Hindu Dharma. Gradually many
scholars became his friends. One of them was John Henry. He was greatly
impressed by Swamiji's scholarship. The delegates to the Conference
of World Religions had to submit their letters of introduction to
the organizers. But Swamiji had lost his letter of introduction. Wright
himself wrote the letter of introduction, in which he called Swamiji
"A scholar who surpasses all of us." Swamiji went back to
Chicago. When he reached the city he found that he had lost the addresses
of some people. The people of the city were mostly Germans and could
not understand English. As a consequence, Swamiji could not stir out.
Finding no way out, Swamiji curled himself in an empty box, which
was lying in the railway station. The next morning he wandered about
in the streets. Unable to bear his hunger, he begged for alms at some
houses. He could not get anything. On the contrary he was insulted
and humiliated. He was sitting on the footsteps of a playground. A
lady came out of a house facing the playground and asked him, "Are
you a delegate to the conference of World Religions?" The Swamiji
replied, 'Yes'. The lady said, "Please come to my house. You
can bathe and have food. Then I shall take you to the Conference."
Her name was Mrs. George Hails. The conference started on 11th
September 1893. Thousands of delegates belonging to deferent countries
of the world had gathered at the conference. Vivekananda was the youngest
of them all. When it was his turn to speak, his throat went dry. Besides,
he did not have, like the other delegates, a prepared speech. He requested
the President to let him be the last speaker, His turn did come as
the last speaker. He prayed fervently to Sri Ramakrishna and Mother
Sarada Devi, and stood up to speak. When he began his address in his
pleasing voice with the words "Brothers and Sisters of America,"
there was a thunderous applause. When it subsided at last he continued
his short speech. He said that people born in different religions
finally reach the same God, as river born in different places finally
reaches the sea. He emphatically declared that no religion is superior
and none is inferior. The delegates, every one of them, praised his
speech. Newspapers carried his photographs and his speech. In later
days people flocked chiefly to listen to his speech. He became the
darling of the crowds. Whenever he rose to speak there was deafening
applause. Even as the conference was in session, many institutions
and associations extended invitations to Swami Vivekananda. Within
a short time he became famous. Wherever he went, he dwelt at length
on the greatness of Indian Culture. He spoke with spontaneous ease
on every topic, be it History, Sociology, Philosophy or Literature.
Meanwhile, he received pressing invitations from England. A rousing reception awaited him in London when he arrived there. The newspapers were all praise for the Hindu Yogi's oratory and outlook. Many became his disciples. Among them was Margaret Nivedita. She came to India and settled here. Swami Vivekananda returned to India after his foreign tour lasting four years.
By the time he arrived in India, Swamiji's fame had spread far and wide. When he landed in Colombo on 15th January 1897, he was accorded a welcome that befitted an Emperor. When he reached Madras there was an unprecedented crowd at the railway station. He was carried in procession in a coach drawn by an admiring crowd. Innumerable addresses and garlands were presented to him. Thereafter, wherever Swamiji went, he disseminated the message of his master. To those who came to him for guidance he taught the importance of spiritual development. To his fellow monks he explained the importance of dedicated service. He repeatedly told them that it was mere selfishness to look for personal salvation. He used to say, "I do not want salvation, as long as there is a single sorrow-stricken man in India." He had realized that social service was possible only through the concerted efforts on an organized mission. That is why he started Sri Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 and formulated its ideology and goal. During the next two years he bought a site at Belur on the banks of the Ganga, constructed the buildings and established the Ramakrishna Mutt.
Swamiji's health was constantly eroded owing to tireless
work. He visited many hill resorts in the Himalayas. But even there
his missionary work continued. He visited many cities in North India
in response to public demand. He visited America again at the invitation
of his American disciples. He participated in the Conference of Religions
in Paris and returned home. In spite of the entreaties of his disciples
he would not rest. He became more inward looking. The body grew weak,
but the mind and the soul remained alert and active. On 4th
July 1902 he breathed a deep sigh and went to sleep. Within a short
while he attained eternal bliss. His disciples and fellow-teachers
felt orphaned and cried like children.
This article is in courtesy of FreeIndia.org
Author - D.Javare Gowea