Swami Vivekananda was the chief disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, and was responsible for awakening India spiritually
He’s responsible for revitalizing Hinduism and for building his stature as a major world religion. He not only introduced the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the foreign soil, but is solely responsible for the enthusiastic response of these Indian spiritual techniques of self-improvement in the West. He is none other than Swami Vivekananda – a Hindu monk and main disciple of Ramakrishna. Born into a noble Bengali family, Vivekananda embraced the path of spirituality early in life. From a very young age, he was fascinated by the ascetics and led to practice meditation. However, life would not have been the same for this spiritual genius had he not met his mentor and guide – Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna was the powerful force behind Vivekananda who channeled the intellect and power of this young man to unite with God. The two shared an extraordinary bond with one another, which became one of the most unique relationships between gurus and disciples of history. Vivekananda spent most of his life preaching Vedanta philosophy to people around the world. A globetrotter, he became a sanyasi at the age of twenty-five years and since then dedicated his life for the betterment of humanity. He advocated the importance of secular and spiritual education, which he believed was the only way to enrich and inspire the lives of the masses.
Childhood & Early Life
- Swami Vivekananda was born as Narendranath Datta to Vishwanath Datta and Bhuvaneshwari Devi. Professionally, his father was an attorney while his mother was deeply religious.
- Fondly known as Narendra, he was deeply inspired by his parents who shaped much of his personality and thought process. It was since a young age that Narendra had a spiritual bent of mind.
- He acquired his preliminary education from Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Metropolitan Institution before attaining his graduation degree in Arts from the Presidency College, Calcutta.
- By the time Narendra completed his graduation in 1884, he had not only studied Western logic and philosophy but had even read Hindu scriptures in details, thanks to his insatiable urge to read everything.
- Post college, he became a spiritual apprentice. His beliefs were formulated by the Brahmo concepts which admonished idolatry and prophesized the presence of formless God.
- Narendra met Ramakrishna in 1881 at Dakhineshwar, where the latter stayed. During this time, Narendra was undergoing a time of spiritual crisis. It was his famous question to Sri Ramakrishna, “Have you seen God?” which transformed his life forever.
- Though Ramakrishna did not convince Narendra completely at the first go, the latter was bowled over by his selfless, unconditional love. Gradually, he became a frequent visitor of Ramakrishna.
- Meanwhile, the tragic death of his father Vishwanath Datta led Narendra to get closer to Ramakrishna who by then had helped Narendra move out of his spiritual crisis situation so much so that he was ready to renounce everything for the sake of realising God.
- In 1885, Ramakrishna was diagnosed with throat cancer which led him to relocate to a garden house in Cossipore. Narendra, along with fellow students, took great care of his master and nursed him with utmost devotion and love.
- Before renouncing his body, Ramakrishna made Narendra the leader of a new monastic order, which highlighted the importance of service to men as the most effective form of worship of God.
- Post the death of Ramakrishna, Narendra along with his young disciples began to live at Baranagar. It was in 1887 that they took the formal vows of sannyasa, thereby assuming new names. Narendra came to be known as Swami Vivekananda.
- In 1888, to profess the message of Ramakrishna to the world, Swami Vivekananda resolved to embark on a journey, extensively exploring India in the initial years. He walked on foot, lived on alms and led a life of a wandering monk.
- It was during his exploration of the country that he was exposed to the abysmal poverty and backwardness present amongst the masses. He was the first religious leader to claim the neglect of the masses as the major reason for the country’s breakdown.
- He understood that the masses required two kinds of knowledge – one which allowed them to improve their economic condition and the second which helped them to build faith and strengthen their moral sense.
- To accomplish his goal of bettering the life of the masses, Swami Vivekananda aimed at initiating an organization which aimed at serving the poor and uplifting their standard by providing them education. He even targeted at improving the life of women in society.
- In 1893, he travelled abroad for the first time to be a part of the World’s Parliament of Religions. He believed that the Parliament would not only provide him a bigger platform to spread the message of Ramakrishna, but also help him gain financial help for his project of uplifting the masses.
- At the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda became known as the ‘orator of divine right’ and ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western World’. For the next three years and a half, Vivekananda extensively travelled in the eastern part of US and London to spread the message of Vedanta.
- Upon returning to India in 1897, Swami Vivekananda gave a series of lecture to different parts of the country before finally returning to Calcutta. He initiated Ramakrishna Mission, an organization which propagated the teaching of Practical Vedanta and commenced various forms of social service such as hospitals, schools, colleges, hostels, rural development centres and so on.
- In 1898, Swami Vivekananda acquired a huge property at Belur which became a permanent abode of the monastery and monastic order. The place became known as Ramakrishna Math and was open to all men. Vivekananda adopted ancient monastic ideals to the conditions of modern life
He initiated Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Math, which propagated the upliftment of the masses and the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world.
Personal Life & Legacy
- Ever since a young age, Swami Vivekananda deep interest in spirituality led him to become a sanyasi later in life. He vowed to lead a life that aimed at bettering the life of the downtrodden and the poor.
- He breathed his last on July 4, 1902, while meditating. A rupture in the blood vessel is reported to the reason for his death. His disciples believe that the rupture was due to his brahmarandhra or opening of the crown of his head and thus claimed him to have received mahasamadhi.
- Swami Vivekananda was cremated on a sandalwood funeral pyre on the bank of the Ganges in Belur.
Numerous Indian and Western leaders have docketed Vivekananda as the one who awakened India spiritually. It was due to Swami Vivekananda’s teaching and vision that Jametji Tata established the Indian Institute of Science, one of India’s best-known research universities in the country.
- ‘Have you seen God?’ was the question that transformed the life of this Hindu monk who led his life revitalizing Hinduism and spreading Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world.
- The birthday of this great spiritual personality is celebrated as the National Youth Day in India.