In the nineteenth century many great men were born in India and particularly in Bengal of the time. Swami Vivekananda was one of the foremost of them.
Birth and parentage
Swami Vevekananda’s former name was Narendranath Dutta. He was born in Calcutta on January 12,1863. His grandfather, Durga Charan, became a monk. But his father, Biswanath, was a man of the world. He earned a lot of money as a lawyer. But he left nothing behind for the family. Narendra’s mother, Bhubaneswari, was a deeply religious lady.
Early life and Education
Narendranath was a meritorious boy. He passed the Entrance examination in 1879 from the Metropolitan Institution and graduated from the General Assembly’s Institution. In his college life he was much influenced by western thinkers and by the Brahmo Samaj.
Influence of Sri Ramakrishna
Narendranath had a religious bent of mind even from his boyhood. When he grew up, he desired to realize God. An opportunity came. He met Sri Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar Kali Temple in 1881 at the age of eighteen. By dint of his wonderful spiritual power, Sri Ramakrishna felt that Narendra would be the best person among his young disciples to preach his message to the world. Narendra had a strong will and a critical mind. He would not accept anything as true until he was fully convinced. He was a believer in one God without form. So he did not believe in the worship of images. But he found that Sri Ramakrishna worshipped the goddess Kali. Sri Ramakrishna told him that there was no difference between the goddess Kali and his God without form.
Both are true. Narendra did not believe that God without form could assume a human body as avatara, i.e., incarnation of God. But Sri Ramakrishna told him that it was possible. Narendra wanted to realize God. Sri Ramakrishna told him that he had seen God and had spoken to Him just as he was seeing Narendra and speaking to him. If Narendra wanted, he could also see God and speak to Him. Never before had any one said this to him. Still he had doubts. But the influence of Sri Ramakrishna worked on Narendra. He tested Sri Ramakrishna in various ways and at last he believed in his divine powers. He completely surrendered himself to him. He regarded him as his Guru or Master. He practised sadhana under the guidance of his Master. Finally he believed that Sri Ramakrishna was an avatara like Sri Rama and Sri Krishna. Later he said that Sri Ramakrishna was the greatest of all avataras.
Preparation for the great mission of his life
After the passing away of the Master from the mortal world in August, 1886,Narendranath and his brother disci pies renounced worldly life and became monks. They assumed new names. Narendranath was Swami Vivekananda. One duty of the monastic life is to travel and visit holy places of pilgrimage. Accordingly Swami Vivekananda travelled extensively. He had opportunity of mixing with people of all classes of society. He noticed the wretched condition of the vast majority of the people of India. He felt that unless their condition was improved, India could not be uplifted. He thought India’s greatness lay fundamentally in religion, but India now needed true education to help herself. This education would be based on religion. It would be given by those who would dedicate themselves completely to the service of man. They would be monks. They would work together within an organization. The West would help them with money and India would give them in return the valuable spirit of religion.
Swamiji’s visit to the West and his work there—In 1893, Swami Vivekananda went to America to attend the Parliament of Religion in Chicago as a Hindu delegate. In this great assembly the lectures of the young Hindu monk charmed the audience most. He became famous all over America. He was invited to lecture in many places there. Some Americans became his disciples and some his ardent devotees. Next he visited France and England. He was warmly received everywhere. His lectures were recorded and published in book forms, such as Chicago Lectures, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, My Master, etc. The name of one of his disciples is now well known all over India. She is Sister Nivedita, an Irish lady named Miss Margaret Noble. In January, 1897, Swamiji came back to India. Be fore returning he arranged to have some of his brother monks to continue his work in America and England.
His work in India
Swamiji was warmly received everywhere in India. Now he began his work in India. The Ramakrishna Math and Mission was set up at Helure near Calcutta to preach and practise the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna. The most important teachings of Sri Ramakrishna are : (1) All religions are true. The end of all religions is the realization of God, Only the ways to that goal are different. (2) There is Narayana or God in every man. So his followers should render service to men regarding them as Narayana. This service to man is service to God. Accordingly monasteries or maths and social service centres were set up in different parts of India and outside India to preach and act up to the ideals of the Master.
Swamiji’s health broke down due to excess labour. In spite of his bad health, he went on, with the help of his brother monks, with his work of uplifting India. Many educated young men were inspired by his ideals. They joined the Ramakrishna Mission and Math as monks. They carried on the works of social service along with their ideal to develop their spiritual life. This social service included helping people in distress due to epidemic diseases, flood, famine, earthquake and such other natural calamities. It also included setting up hospitals, dispensaries, schools, colleges, libraries, cultural institutions, publishing houses, etc.
Last days of Swamiji
As Swamiji’s health grew worse he went to visit the West a second time, hoping to improve his health by sea-air. That was in June, 1899. He did some valuable work in America and England. But his health grew worse further. So he returned to India in 1900. He trained the bands of young monks to do social service according to his plan along with their effort to attain salvation. The great Swamiji gave up his body on July 4, 1902.
Swami Vivekananda was the greatest religious and social reformer that India has ever seen. It was he who for the first time held before the West a picture of the glorious civilization and culture of ancient India. He said that the Indians had much to learn from the West for their material prosperity. But they must stick to their own spiritual basis. It was he who for the first time tried the uplift of the millions of poor, illiterate and downtrodden people of India. Everyone should read Swamiji’s biography and works and know what a miracle he did for the good of our country within the short life of thirty-nine years. His life should inspire us to follow his ideals in our life.