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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.


Swami Vivekananda

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 people.

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."

Religion

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 and God.

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.

Meditation

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 sense.

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 Thee!"

"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 learns.

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.

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