Friday, September 28, 2007
Swami Vivekananda began to plan his visit to America, and on 31st May 1893 he set sails for that far off land; the ochre robed sadhu planning to conquer the scientific reason of the West with Vedantic intuition of the East. Simple in life style, even unaware of exact dates of the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda reached Chicago much ahead of the commencement of the Parliament. He had no letter or credentials from any society or organization; he was not aware what religion he would represent at the Parliament, and most importantly he was short of money. In the Chicago Science Fare he was impressed by the advances America had made in the field of science and technology in comparison to which India was very poor and backward as far as material progress was concerned. The glamour, the innovative application of electricity, telephone, communication, applied aspects of physics for the welfare and comfort of the masses, all filled his heart with amazement and excitement. He used to think: Oh, how much India needs to learn and acquire!...
Swami Vivekananda's realization of the highest Truths, both in its formless and personal aspects, acted as 'theoretical' confirmation of the highest Vedantic principles as laid down in the Upanishads. They remained confined in the heart of Narendra making him aglow with effulgent divinity, but the condition of his mind was like a bird trapped in a golden cage. It wanted to spread its mighty wings all over, strengthened now with the power of nondual realizations and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. It wanted to soar high in limitless sky to cover the whole humanity under its massive wings and make it aware of those invaluable truths. The restlessness reached the stage when Swami Vivekananda could no longer confine himself to the four walls of Baranagore monastery. He intently desired to go into open world to learn more about practicality of Vedanta. How can Vedanta be applied in day-to-day life to alleviate the sufferings of the masses? Is it possible? Such and many similar questions crowded his mind from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn. And one day, alone, sometime in July 1888, Swami Vivekananda left Calcutta telling his brother disciples not to follow him. Thus started the second important phase in the life of Swami Vivekananda, the Parivrajaka Monk, wandering years of the Swami. He went to Varanasi, Ayodhya, Vrindavan, Lucknow, Agra, and the Himalayas, thus covering the entire north of India. These are the great places of historical, socio-religious, and spiritual importance. These are the places connected with life and teachings of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, Sita and Radha who glorified divine love and dharma as the final culmination of spiritual quest. The great Himalayas attracted him, where loneliness prevailed and called the sadhaka to be ready to merge in the glory of Infinite. This was a short trip and the Swami returned to Calcutta in a few months' time. For sometime he remained in the company of his brother disciples trying to devise the means and the ways to propagate their Master's message to every nook and corner of India and the world, but his future plans could but be sketchy, for he didn't understand how to go about it. The force of knowledge was very great in his heart, acting like a silent bomb; when and where would it burst, no one knew. The restlessness could not be contained in the narrow confines of his head and heart; it must come out to cover all the sky. And hence, for the second time in around July 1891, he left his brothers to wander all over the country, after seeking blessings from Ma Saradadevi.
Death of Narendra's father and his subsequent prayer to Ma Kali No one knows the complexities of divine play. Inscrutable are the ways of the Lord that only a few can understand; others call it fate. Such a life-shattering event occurred in the life of Narendra when he had passed his degree course in the college (he was about 21 years of age then). Everything was going on smoothly for him at home and at Dakshineswar, when his father suddenly died due to massive heart attack. The liberal attorney, Vishwanath Dutta, although outwardly appeared well off, was in fact in severe debt. His unusual generosity and carelessness in handling money-matters had put him in a situation where nothing was left as savings. The debtors took away their share, leaving the bereaved family in utter poverty and want. Narendra's uncles also shied away in this hour of crisis and, instead of helping him, they also took their share and kept aloof. It was difficult for Narendra to make two ends meet. To add to the difficulty, even after trying hard Narendra could not get a job. In this situation of utter emergency and despair, he took the decision to leave his home and walk out in the unknown world as a sannyasin. Here at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna in his spiritual mood came to know about the secret resolve of his beloved disciple to leave the world, which caused much anguish and concern in his heart. In such a situation Sri Ramakrishna met Narendra at one of the devotee's house. In his deep emotional voice, Sri Ramakrishna sang a song, which ran somewhat like this: 'I am afraid to speak, and equally afraid not to speak,The doubt rises in my mind, lest I should lose you' Immediately the meaning was clear to Narendra; he knew that Sri Ramakrishna had come to know his secret resolve to become sannyasin, and that the song was meant for him to reconsider his decision. Tears flowed down the cheeks of both the Guru and the disciple. All other devotees present there were surprised to see such an unusual behaviour of Sri Ramakrishna and Narendranath; no one could know the real cause behind this emotional outburst. After some time the emotions calmed down and Sri Ramakrishna forced Swami Vivekananda to accompany him to Dakshineswar. There Sri Ramakrishna inquired about the problem and requested Narendra not to desert him till his death. Narendra had to promise, for he could not disobey the sincerity in Sri Ramakrishna's appeal. Then Narendra said to Sri Ramakrishna, "Sir, please pray to the Mother so that my family is supplied with coarse grain and clothes. I know the Mother listens to you and definitely grants your prayers." But Sri Ramakrishna had different plans, if we can say so. Sri Ramakrishna said, "Look my boy, I have given everything to the Mother; how can I ask back anything from her now? But one thing I can tell you, why don't you go and pray to the Mother to fulfill your wish? My Mother is very kind and gracious and, I am sure, she will not disappoint you." Thus, Narendra was forced to pray to Mother Kali for fulfilling his wants. That night Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna were alone in the Kali Temple, when Narendra went to the Mother's shrine to pray and ask for material things of urgent necessity. However, as he entered the shrine all that he could say was, "O Mother, please give me Jnana and Bhakti." Having prayed thus, Narendra returned to where Sri Ramakrishna was waiting for him. Sri Ramakrishna inquired, "Naren, have you asked for food and money required for your family?" Swami Vivekananda, surprised as he was as well, replied, "Why, no sir. I asked for Jnana and Bhakti." "You naive," said Sri Ramakrishna, "Go and ask for wealth and the things you actually need now." Thrice Swami Vivekananda went to Ma Kali, but could not utter a word about money, clothes, food, and etc.; instead every time he prayed for Jnana and Bhakti. As soon as Swami Vivekananda used to enter the temple, his mind would rise to such a wonderful state of consciousness that the whole world, including money, material comfort, and food, lost its value, and in its place there shone forth the radiant face of divine and blissful Mother, gracious enough to grant highest Jnana and Bhakti. What fool would ask for transient and useless things when Mother was ready to grant Jnana? Who would ask for pebbles when someone was distributing the gems! Who would ask for vegetables to the king, when he was willing to grant his whole kingdom! Now Swami Vivekananda understood the deep meaning and significance of Sri Ramakrishna's word that formless God and God with form as Mother were but one. Swami Vivekananda accepted Mother as the highest embodiment of spiritual virtues, power, and knowledge. Exhausted, but satiated with inner knowledge of divinity in all of its aspects, he bowed down at the holy feet of Sri Ramakrishna and said, 'O Lord, today I came to know who you are. You are all, everything in this universe. I do not want anything anymore from the Mother. It is all your wish.' Embracing his disciple, the master assured, "Go my son, be at peace. From today onwards you and your family would ever be provided with simple clothes, food, and shelter. This much I guarantee for you."
Through the talks and stories, parables and devotional songs (bhajana) concerning Sri Krishna, Radha, Gopis of Vrindavan, Mother Kali, and Chaitannya, Narendra realized that the essence of religion was to 'realize the highest spiritual Truth' in our lives. As he was opposed and reluctant to accept idol or image worship, and believed in formless God with attributes, Sri Ramakrishna explained to him the subtle points about Brahma, Atman, and Unified Consciousness - the one without the second. Thus, Sri Ramakrishna persuaded Narendra to read to him Ashtavakra Gita and similar texts on Advaita Vedanta, and explained finer points therein, which were otherwise difficult to comprehend. Sri Ramakrishna preferred to tell these nuances in total privacy, when no one else would be present in the room. It was all Jnana and Yoga to begin with. Later Bhakti and Karma were added, which we shall subsequently touch upon. Sri Ramakrishna also instructed his disciples about the importance, ways, methods, and means about meditation and spiritual disciplines. Thus, between 1881 and 1886, for five years, Narendra was groomed to become a great yogi with unparalleled sharpness of intellect, reason, and spiritual knowledge. No one could stand his incisive power of critical analysis based on scientific reason and rationality in the matters of Vedanta. Added to this was the gracious gift of Sri Ramakrishna to his beloved Naren, the gift of Nirvikalpa Samadhi -highest nondual consciousness- through which Swami Vivekananda realized the truths of superconscious states. He was face to face with Atman, the God of Sri Ramakrishna. Therefore, as is said, 'nothing else remained for Swami Vivekananda to be realized now'. He had realized the Highest Truth. But was that the case, indeed! No. For, he still had to realize the truth of the Personal God, still had to accept that both impersonal and personal aspects of God are one and the same thing, as Shiva and Shakti are the two aspects of one Reality. God with form and God without form had relationship like that of fire and its power to burn, sun and its rays, milk and its whiteness, or diamond and its lustre. One cannot be separated from the other. On his way to the realization of ultimate Truth, one passes through various stages, which Swami Vivekananda later elaborated in one of lectures in the USA as, 'It is like taking photographs of the sun from different locations or stations in orbit; all the photographs would appear different, but the essence of each photograph would be the same one Sun.'
After this meeting Narendra was forced to change many of his preconceived notions about God, divinity, and perfected souls. He had formerly a great objection, as most of us have, to accept another man as a Guru or a spiritual guide. This is because we think that the person whom we accept as our Guru might turn out to be an ordinary man full of inherent weaknesses of lust and gold. But after coming in contact with Sri Ramakrishna, Narendra understood that such great souls with complete renunciation, selflessness, and compassion, though rare, actually are born in the world - souls with extraordinary purity, love, and penance - that shake the limited conception about God and God-Man existing in the little mind and intellect of we ordinary people. Therefore, if they are accepted as Gurus, ordinary men are benefited, and not harmed. Consequently Narendra was ready to accept Sri Ramakrishna as his Guru, but still he could not go so far as to accept indiscriminately whatever Sri Ramakrishna said. As Swami Saradananda writes, "A powerful mind feels strong resistance from within when, at the time of accepting new truth, it has to change its former convictions. Narendranath was in that predicament. Though acquainted with Sri Ramakrishna's wonderful powers, he could not completely accept him, and though feeling attracted, he tried to stand aloof from him." Narendra started visiting Sri Ramakrishna more frequently. Soon he got acquainted with a few more sincere disciples who had already decided to dedicate their lives at the Holy feet of Sri Ramakrishna. These meetings with the Master were full of fun and joy, pleasure and gaiety, and there was never a shadow of gloom, dejection, despair, or worry. It was always 'Ananda Mela' (joyous gathering) at Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna used to 'teach' in simple language through parables and stories. There was no feeling that Sri Ramakrishna was the Guru, and all the disciples looked upon him as their wise friend with huge spiritual knowledge born out of innumerable spiritual experiences.
The great soul in Narendranath readily recognized the extraordinary greatness in Sri Ramakrishna in the form of true love for God and great renunciation. However, his skepticism and logical mind was not ready to accept the 'powers' manifested in Sri Ramakrishna. He thought that the 'simple insane' Brahmin might be playing tricks with others in the form of hypnotism or mesmerism. His trance and samadhi were thought to be the whims and play of mind rather than divine superconscious states. In fact Swami Vivekananda postponed his second visit to Dakshineswar for about one month, although he had promised Sri Ramakrishna to visit him soon. But at last the call of Divine was far too powerful for Narendra to resist anymore. And one afternoon, alone on foot, he started for the second meeting with his mentor, and would be Guru. And what did he say? He asked, "Sir, have you seen God?" Calmly Sri Ramakrishna replied, "Yes, I see Him as clearly as one sees an apple over the palm; nay, even more intently. And not only this, you can also see Him." This unusual and most confident answer turned Narendra to more perplexity and surprise. He had been asking the same question 'Sir, have you seen God' to many a great religious and noble person, but he never got such clear cut answer from any one of them. Many religious Pundits, Devendranath Tagore and scholars of Brahmo Movement were reluctant to answer his question with any authority or resoluteness. But that day he got the most emphatic answer in positive. Sri Ramakrishna was sitting all alone. He was very pleased to receive Narendranath and called him near his tiny bedstead. Sri Ramakrishna went into a divine mood and touched Narendra with his right foot. Immediately Narendra had a wonderful experience, which is given in his own words: "I saw with my eyes open that all the things of the room together with the walls were rapidly whirling and receding into an unknown region, and my I-ness together with the whole universe was, as it were, going to vanish in an all devouring great void. I was then overwhelmed with terrible fear. I knew that the destruction of I-ness was death, so I thought that death was before me, very near at hand. Unable to control myself, I cried out loudly, saying, 'ah. What is it you have done to me? I have my parents, you know.'" Laughing loudly at his words, Sri Ramakrishna touched Narendra's chest with his hand and said, "Let it then cease now. It need not be done all at once. It will come to pass in course of time." Swami Vivekananda was amazed to notice how that extraordinary experience vanished as quickly as it had come. He came to normal state and saw things inside and outside the room standing still as before.
Swami Vivekananda was born in an educated and well-to-do family of Calcutta on 12th January 1863. His father, Vishwanath Dutta, was a famous lawyer with progressive, liberal, and scientific outlook. He was widely travelled and knew many languages including Persian and English. Swami Vivekananda's mother, Bhuvaneshawaridevi, was a pious and wise lady devoted to God. She inspired the latent virtues of fearlessness, honesty, justice, and devotion in her son, Narendra (as Swami Vivekananda was called in his childhood). She told him the stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the two great Indian Epics, which influenced later life of Swami Vivekananda. From his early childhood Narendra was naughty, brave, and fearless. He did not approve of injustice or sycophancy. But his peculiar tendencies in the childhood were 1) the ease with which he could get absorbed in deep meditation, and 2) the unusual capacity of intense mental concentration, which made him learn and remember the essence of his studies even by reading just once. As an example, let me cite the following incident from his later life: Once Swami Vivekananda was reading 'Encyclopedia Britannica'. His disciple (Sharatchandra Chakravarti), seeing those twenty-odd volumes, remarked, "It is difficult to master the contents of so many volumes in one life." He did not know at the time that the Swami had already finished ten volumes and was reading the eleventh. "What do you mean?" said Swamiji. "Ask me whatever you like from those ten volumes and I can tell you all about it." The disciple, out of curiosity, brought down the books and asked Swamiji many questions on difficult and varied topics, selecting from different volumes. Swami Vivekananda not only replied each correctly, but also in many instances quoted the very language of the books. At other time, Swami Vivekananda happened to turn the pages of a book in quick succession after looking at them just once. The disciple asked as to what Swamiji was doing. Swami Vivekananda replied, "Why, I am reading the book." The disciple was greatly surprised to see such odd method of reading the book. Then the Swami explained: Just as a child reads every letter of a word, and most of adults read a cluster of words or a part of a sentence, one can read paragraph to paragraph. Thus, just three glances and he could read the whole page. Later he greatly emphasized the need to cultivate powers of mind in the form of purity and concentration for spiritual gains. Concentration of mind also led to perfection in many other branches of knowledge including art and science, he maintained.
Rarely does humanity witness a combination of a great Guru (Spiritual Teacher) and equally capable Shishya (spiritual disciple) as Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda were. The Upanishads and the Gita do mention of such noble pairs, when a yearning aspirant seeking higher knowledge humbly bows down to the Teacher and says, 'Sir, please tell me: Which is that thing which having been known, all this becomes known, and nothing else remains to be known? Give me that, acquiring which all desires nullify. O gracious one, I surrender at your feet; please tell me what is right for me.' And the compassionate Teacher describes the nature of Self or Atman, starting as external reality and culminating into the true knowledge of our inner Self. As the Guru speaks, so does the aspirant (sadhaka) experience the Truth contained in those words. It is as if a film on Brahman is being run in front of the yearning aspirant. One such pair flourished in the last but one decade of nineteenth century, when Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa sculpted the most wonderful masterpiece in the form of Swami Vivekananda out of skeptical and rational, but fearless and dynamic Narendranath. Their association has unleashed a tremendous spiritual force that has started destroying dreary ignorance covering the minds and hearts of mankind all over the globe. Then, scientific knowledge based on reason and rationality was ushering in the era of Industrial Revolution; however, it also brought skepticism and contempt for religion. Science appeared to be partial and sectarian in its study of various phenomena, for it tried to leave religion out of its purview. As a result, the majority of people started believing that the goal of life was material progress alone. Religion was on the defensive in the face of clattering advances of modern technology. Decline in religion (Dharma Glani) manifested as ritualistic monotony, crass materialism, and excessive engagement in sense pleasures with resultant lack of discrimination and renunciation. Values of kindness and generosity, of forbearance and simplicity were relegated to the back seat. The priests and the rulers, the rich and the privileged became the custodians of religious truths. Selfishness replaced altruism, and religious fanaticism erupted as a legitimate weapon to spread "true religion" and destroy "false beliefs". Such states of decline in Dharma come in cycles. However, as the Gita says, a Man of God also comes on the scene to destroy wickedness and to reestablish the path of spirituality. These great seers and teachers come to 'set in motion the wheel of dharma,' as did Lord Buddha 2500 years ago. Such incarnations come from time to time, in every era, in every land, and help revive the noble path of transcendental realization as the source and proof of Knowledge and Truth. They give the sagging wheel of spirituality a powerful push for moving it again in right direction. In recent times world faced such a situation when, to revive the declining faith in religion and to instill knowledge of the true goal of humankind, Swami Vivekananda entered the world arena as a great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Vivekananda revived Hinduism on the basis of the interpretations and meaning given to the philosophy of Vedanta by great Rishis at various time-periods of history. The externals of Hinduism appear to change from Sri Rama to Sri Krishna, from Sri Chaitannya to Sri Ramakrishna, but the core of Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Religion) remains the same. Swami Vivekananda preached the essence of religion by way of finding newer insights in and application of Eternal Religion as per the requirement of modern times and global perspective. He highlighted the truth of the 'divinity of each soul' and the constant struggle and evolution of an individual to manifest this divinity fully. Transcendental realization of our true nature, i.e. pure consciousness, is what Hinduism (Vedanta) preaches right through the eternity. This is the essential teaching mentioned and elaborated in the Upanishads, the Gita, and the Brahma-sutras. The attempt to realize this truth is the beginning of religion, and getting established in transcendental divine state is the aim of human birth. Every person succeeding in this attempt is the basis and hope for fresh human endeavour and struggle for self-realization in future.
Ramakrishna suffered from cancer and passed away in 1886. During his illness, a group of select young men had gathered round him and began to nurse him while receiving spiritual guidance from him. Naren was the leader of this group. Ramakrishna had wanted that they take to monastic life and had symbolically given them Gerua cloth. They accordingly founded a monastery at Baranagar and began to live together, depending upon they got by begging. Sometimes they would also wander about like other monks. Naren also would sometimes go travelling. It was while he was thus travelling that he assumed the name of Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda travelled extensively through India, sometimes on foot. He was shocked to see the conditions of rural India-people ignorant, superstitious, half-starved, and victims of caste-tyranny. If this shocked him, the callousness of the so-called educated upper classes shocked him still more. In the course of his travels he met many princes who invited him to stay with them as their guest. He met also city-based members of the intelligentsia-lawyers, teachers, journalists and government officials. He appealed to all to do something for the masses. No one seemed to pay any heed to him-except the Maharaja of Mysore, the Maharaja of Khetri and a few young men of Madras. Swami Vivekananda impressed on everybody the need to mobilize the masses. A few educated men and women could not solve the problem of the country the mass power had to be harnessed to the task. He wanted the masses educated. The ruler of Mysore was among the first to make primary education free within his State. This, however, was not enough in Swamiji's view. A peasant could not afford to send his children to school, for he needed help in his field. He wanted education taken to the peasant's door-step, so that the peasant's children could work and learn at the same time. It was a kind of 'non-formal' education which perhaps he visualized. His letters to the Maharaja of Mysore on the subject show how much he had given to the subject and how original he was. Other princes, or the intelligentsia as a whole, were impressed by Swamiji's personality, but were much too engrossed with their own affairs to pay any heed to his appeals. Some of the young men of Madras, Perumal specially, dedicated himself to the ideas Swamiji propounded and his contributions to the success of his mission were significant. Swamiji could guess the reason why the so-called leaders of the society ignored him. Who was he ? A mere wandering monk. There were hundreds of such monks all over the country. Why should they pay any special attention to him ? By and large, they followed only Western thinkers and those Indians who followed the West and had had some recognition in the West by so doing. It was slave mentality, but that was what characterized the attitude of the educated Indians over most matters. It pained Swamiji to see Indians strutting about in Western clothes and imitating Western ways and manners, as if that made them really Western. Later he would call out the nation and say, 'Feel proud that you are Indians even if you're wearing a loin-cloth'. He was not opposed to learning from the West, for he knew the Western people had some great qualities and it was because of those qualities that they had become so rich and powerful. He wanted India to learn science and technology from the West and its power to organize and its practical sense, but, at the same time, retain its high moral and spiritual idealism. But the selfishness of the so-called educated people pained him more. They were happy if they could care for themselves and they gave a damn to what happened to the people. Swamiji wanted to draw their attention to the miserable condition of the masses-illiterate, always on the verge of starvation, superstitious and victims of oppression by the upper castes and the rich landlords.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KEEP IN MIND 1. Love Is The Law Of Life: All love is expansion, all selfishness is contraction. Love is therefore the only law of life. He who loves lives, he who is selfish is dying. Therefore, love for love's sake, because it is law of life, just as you breathe to live. 2. It's Your Outlook That Matters: It is our own mental attitude, which makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds. Learn to see things in the proper light. 3. Life is Beautiful: First, believe in this world - that there is meaning behind everything. Everything in the world is good, is holy and beautiful. If you see something evil, think that you do not understand it in the right light. Throw the burden on yourselves! 4.It's The Way You Feel: Feel like Christ and you will be a Christ; feel like Buddha and you will be a Buddha. It is feeling that is the life, the strength, the vitality, without which no amount of intellectual activity can reach God. 5. Set Yourself Free: The moment I have realised God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him - that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free. 6. Don't Play The Blame Game: Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way. 7. Help Others: If money helps a man to do good to others, it is of some value; but if not, it is simply a mass of evil, and the sooner it is got rid of, the better. 8. Uphold Your Ideals: Our duty is to encourage every one in his struggle to live up to his own highest idea, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the Truth. 9. Listen To Your Soul: You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul. 10. Be Yourself: The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves! 11. Nothing Is Impossible: Never think there is anything impossible for the soul. It is the greatest heresy to think so. If there is sin, this is the only sin - to say that you are weak, or others are weak. 12. You Have The Power: All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark. 13. Learn Everyday: The goal of mankind is knowledge... now this knowledge is inherent in man. No knowledge comes from outside: it is all inside. What we say a man 'knows', should, in strict psychological language, be what he 'discovers' or 'unveils'; what man 'learns' is really what he discovers by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge. 14. Be Truthful: Everything can be sacrificed for truth, but truth cannot be sacrificed for anything. 15. Think Different: All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.