Swami Vivekananda,the mystic sage
Born on the January 12, 1863, Swami Vivekananda strode like a
Colossus on the Indian and International scene. He intorduced Hinduism
to the West and reawakened the Hindus of India from their slumber and
servitude. He was born at a time when his country was under British rule
and his people were politically suppressed, economically impoverished
and socially divided. He carried the message of the Oneness of humanity
and Hinduism's acceptance of all religions as true.
The Ramakrishna Order and the Wandering Monk
All was still on that late Christmas eve in 1892 when a young man in
Sannyasin's garb jumped into the turbulent waters of the Indian Ocean
athwart Kanya Kumari, the southern point in India. He swam across to the
rock off the coast and sat there for three days and nights to meditate
on Mother India, the ravages of colonial rule and its impact on her
The young man was Naren and his natural inclination towards wanting
to know the Truth made him a sceptical and ask the question, "Should one
believe in God?" This led to his meeting with Sri Ramakrishna, the
priest of the Dakshineswara Temple of Goddess Kali. And his question to
him was, "Have you seen God?" to which he replied, "Yes, I have seen Him
even more intensely than I am seeing you right now." And added,
according to Narens' own words, "I know who you are, You are Nara, the
ancient sage, the incarnation of Narayana who has come to earth to take
away the sufferings and sorrows of mankind."
Naren found Ramakrishna very compelling and together with a group of
young disciples he followed the teachings of the master.
His teachings taught them that religion was not doctrines nor
theories; not merely building temples nor attending worship or lectures
but consists of realisation of the oneness and that this is possible for
every one of us if we will only try. It is the relation between the Soul
Shortly before his death, Sri Ramakrishna inspired by his wife Shri
Sharadha Devi gave a select group of his disciples the orange robes and
initiated them into sannyasam. This was the beginning of the Ramakrishna
Order of monks and the young man Naren, became their natural leader.
During those early days, Naren, had a calling to live for a time as a
wandering monk. The urge to travel the length and breadth of India and
see for himself the plight of his country and his country-men started
him off on this wandering mission.
He left Kolkata and travelled far and wide through the length and
breadth of India spending time in meditation in the Himalayas, climbing
mountains and more often walking long distances for several days seeking
food and shelter. All these took a toll on his health but did not deter
him in anyway.
It was towards the end of three years after extensive yaatras to
various parts of the country that he came to the south. As he swam
across to sit on the rock that today bears his name, he was deeply
agitated at this sad level.
It was here that he received a vision of the future of one India and
realised, that as a nation, India had lost its individuality and that
that is the cause of all its problems
And he resolved, "to dedicate himself to the service of India and to
spread the message of the Vedanta."
He wrote, "At Kanya Kumari sitting on the last bit of Indian rock - I
hit upon a plan - we are so many Sannyasis wandering about and teaching
the people metaphysics - it is all madness.
Did not our Gurudev say to us, '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, feed them
and give back their individuality."
He was firmly convinced that India's Hindu traditions could be a
vehicle for spiritual and cultural renovations in the future. He was
firmly convinced that despite poverty, religion was still very important
in the life of the people. However, the people were steeped in rituals
and had never been taught the life-giving , ennobling principles of
Vedanta and how to apply them in practical life.
"This could be made possible through the training of the young minds
and the uplift of the women and the masses. The appalling poverty and
the backwardness of the masses need to be corrected," were his thoughts.
The immediate need was to provide food and bare necessities of life
to the hungry millions. And at the same time, due to centuries of
oppression the downtrodden masses had lost faith that they could improve
their lot. They now needed to be infused with faith. And for this
Hinduism's principle of the Atman, the doctrine of the potential
divinity of the Soul as taught in Vedanta should be used.
He realised that the masses needed to be given two kinds of knowledge
- secular knowledge to improve economic conditions, and spiritual
knowledge to infuse faith in themselves and strengthen their moral
And for this Education was his answer defining it in Vedantic terms
as, "Education is the manifestation of Perfection already in man."
The Parliament of Religions
It was at the end of his yaatra in south India that he was encouraged
to undertake the trip to the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893 in
Chicago as Swami Vivekananda - the Hindu representative.
The day he stood before the audience in Chicago at the Parliament of
Religions in 1893, unfurling the Hindu Dharma flag saying, "Sisters and
Brothers of America," he emanated a magnifying power that mesmerised the
audience into pin-drop silence, only to rise to give him a standing
ovation. The significance of the opening words was certainly not lost on
his audience. The words reverberate with the exquisite beauty of the
spiritual message of the Atman resounding with the all embracing call to
kinship, unity and love for all. And he said, "I bring greetings to 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.
"We accept all religions as true," he says -"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
"Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men
are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me."
He infused this spirit of tolerance and acceptance and its sense of
universality into the Parliament.
Swamiji's vision of the future of India
The method of education promulgated by Swamiji was based on the
ancient system of education, namely the concentration of the mind, the
observance of Brahmacharya as expounded in the shastras and the
Guru-Kula system. Concentrating all the powers of the mind and bringing
them into one focus becomes the essence of education. This is the key to
knowledge and the practice of meditation leads to mental concentration.
The observance of Brahmacharya which is the period of study for 12
years, helps in concentration as the student lives with his guru and
Saying, "Can a bird fly on one wing only," he sought equal
opportunities for women to receive education as men and a training in
the ideals of renunciation so that they could become the teachers of the
masses of women and rural folk.
It would be very appropriate to remember Swamiji's thoughts on the
education of women and the masses. No peace and harmony could be brought
about and no improvements could be effected in any society until and
unless the women and the masses who form a greater part of the
population are educated.
If women, who according to Swamiji are the embodiments of the Divine
Mother, are elevated then culture, freedom, peace and harmony will
spread not only in the homes but also amongst humanity for as Sarojini
Naidu said, "the true shrines of Liberty are in the homes of the nation
and women are the high priestesses who guard the sacred flame." Thus we
see that Swami Vivekananda's thoughts are based on the ancient Hindu
values giving them a freshness and vigour in order that they may provide
the answers to the questions that agitate an individual especially the
youth of today. These values are universal and bring out the best in the
individual and enable him to live in peace and harmony ushering Satyam,
Shivam, Sunderam. Swami Vivekananda was the giant who in a span of 39
years lived a life of 5,000 years of spiritual and national attainment.
He strode like a colossus in the national and international scenes
carrying the universal message of the Oneness of humanity and harmony of
religions advocating a new social order based on Hindu spirituality and
the scientific advancement of the west - a happy blend of religion and
science, moral excellence and material prosperity.