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Touched by God
Click on underlined words to open paragraphHow can He who is the Absolute Brahman, omnipresent and pervading the whole universe, incarnate Himself as man?
The Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna < Click here to read the answer
Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa 1836-1886
Fools, not knowing My supreme nature, think low of Me, the Overlord of
the entire creation, who have put on the human semblance.
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers, for the firm
establishment of religion, I am born in every age.
Touched by God
By Swami Chetanananda, Belur Math.
(Lives of the mystics - A chronicle)
"Do you see a light when you are falling asleep?"
"Yes, I do. Doesnt everyone?" The boys voice was filled with wonder.
Soon after they first met, Sri Ramakrishna asked Narendra this question; his reply provided the Master with a deep insight into the past, the nature, and the destiny of this remarkable youngster who would later become Swami Vivekananda. In Vivekanandas adult years he himself described this supernormal faculty:
"From the earliest time that I can remember, I used to see a marvellous point of light between my eye-brows as soon as I shut my eyes to go to sleep, and I used to watch its various changes with great attention. That marvellous point of light would change colours and get bigger until it took the form of a ball; finally it would burst and cover my body from head to foot with white liquid light.
As soon as that happened, I would lose outer consciousness and fall asleep. I used to believe that was the way everybody went to sleep. Then, when I grew older and began to practise meditation, that point of light would appear to me as soon as I closed my eyes, and I would concentrate upon that."
Sri Ramakrishna had a vision
One day I found that my mind was soaring high in samadhi along a luminous path. As it ascended higher, I found on both sides of the way ideal forms of gods and goddesses. The mind then reached the outer limits of that region, where the luminous barrier separated the sphere of relative existence from that of the Absolute. Crossing that barrier, the mind entered the transcendental realm, where no corporal being was visible. But the next moment I saw seven venerable sages, seated there in samadhi. It occurred to me that these sages must have surpassed not only men but even the gods in knowledge and holiness, in renunciation and love.
Lost in admiration, I was reflecting on their greatness, when I saw a portion of the undifferentiated luminous region condense into the form of a divine child. The child came to one of the sages, tenderly clasped his neck with his lovely arms, and, addressing him in a sweet voice, tried to drag his mind down from the state of samadhi. That magic touch roused the sage from his super-conscious state, and he fixed his half-open eyes upon the wonderful child. In great joy the strange child spoke to him:
"I am going down. You too must go with me."
The sage remained mute, but his tender look expressed his assent. No sooner had I seen Narendra than I recognized him to be that sage.
Later Sri Ramakrishna disclosed the fact that the divine child was none other than himself.
Swami Vivekananda was born in Calcutta at 6.49 a.m. on Monday, 12 January 1863, and was given the name Narendranath Datta. Bhuvaneshwari Devi, Narendras mother, had practised austerities and prayed to Vireshwar Shiva of Varanasi to give her a son. She was delighted that the Lord had answered her prayer. Bhuvaneshwari Devi was deeply religious and raised her children according to the ancient spiritual traditions of India. She taught Narendra: "Remain pure all your life; guard your own honour and never transgress the honour of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart."
His father, Vishwanath Datta, was an attorney of the Calcutta High Court. He was extremely generous, and had a progressive outlook in social and religious matters, owing perhaps to the influence of the western education he had received.
Brought up and educated in nineteenth-century Calcutta, Narendra was introduced at an early age to the principles of Western thinking, which taught that one should not accept anything without evidence. Although he was a brilliant student and well-versed in history, philosophy, literature, and contemporary Western thought, he firmly held his conviction: Do not believe a thing because you read it in a book. Do not believe a thing because another has said it is so. Find out the truth for yourself. That is realization.
Sri Ramakrishna said about him: "Narendra is a great soul perfect in meditation. He cuts the veils of maya to pieces with the sword of knowledge. Inscrutable maya can never bring him under her control."
Once a cobra appeared when Narendra was meditating with his friends. The other boys were frightened; they shouted warning to him, and ran away. But Narendra remained motionless. The cobra, after lingering for a while, crawled away. Later he told his parents: "I knew nothing of the snake or anything else. I was feeling inexpressible joy."
At the age of fifteen he experienced spiritual ecstasy. He was journeying with his family to Raipur in Central India, and part of the trip had to be made in a bullock cart. On that particular day the air was crisp and beautiful plumage sang in the forest. The cart was moving through a narrow pass where the lofty peaks rising on both sides almost touched each other. Narendra caught sight of a large beehive in the cleft of a giant cliff. The hive must have been there a very long time. Suddenly his mind was filled with awe and reverence for the Divine Providence, and he lost outer consciousness. Perhaps this was the first time that his powerful imagination helped him to ascend to the realm of the superconscious.
Once during his days as a student, Narendra had a vision:
While at school one night I was meditating behind closed doors and had a fairly deep concentration of mind. How long I meditated in that way I cannot say. After the meditation was over I remained seated. Then from the southern wall of that room a luminous figure stepped out and stood in front of me. It was the figure of a Sannyasin (monk), absolutely calm, with shaven head, and staff and kamandalu (water pot) in either hand. He gazed at me for some time, and seemed as if he would address me. I, too, gazed at him in speechless wonder. Suddenly a kind of fright seized me. I opened the door and hurried out of the room. Then it struck me that it was foolish of me to run away like that; perhaps he might say something to me. But I have never seen that figure since. I think it was the Lord Buddha whom I saw.
Principal William Hastie of General Assemblys Institution (now Scottish Church College) remarked: "Narendranath is really a genius. I have travelled far and wide but I have never yet come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, amongst philosophical students."
Dr. Brajendra Nath Seal, Narendras fellow student, who later became a leading Indian philosopher, wrote: "Undeniably a gifted youth, sociable, free and unconventional in manners, a sweet singer, the soul of social circles, a brilliant conversationalist, somewhat bitter and caustic, piercing with the shafts of a keen wit the shows, and mummeries of the world, sitting in the scorners chair but hiding the most tender of hearts under that garb of cynicism; altogether an inspired bohemian but possessing what bohemians lack, an iron will; somewhat peremptory and absolute, speaking with accents of authority and withal possessing a strange power of the eye which could hold his listeners in thrall."
Narendra was a well-rounded person: he was a musician, debater, gymnast, philanthropist, an ideal yogi, mystic, ascetic, worker, and philosopher. He was energy personified. Some years later he told one of his English disciples: "In my childhood I used to observe an inexhaustible force arising in me, overflowing in my body, as it were. I used to become restless and could not keep quiet. This was why I used to fidget all the time My insides would vibrate, as it were, and make me restless to do something."
Romain Rolland, the famed French writer and Swami Vivekanandas biographer, wrote: "He was tall (five feet, eight and half inches), 170 pounds, square shouldered, broad chested, stout, rather heavily built; his arms were muscular and trained to all kinds of sports. He had an olive complexion, a full face, vast forehead, strong jaw, a pair of magnificent eyes, large, dark and rather prominent, with heavy lids, whose shape recalled the classic comparison to a lotus petal.
Nothing escaped the magic of his glance, capable equally of embracing in its irresistible charm, or of sparkling with wit, irony, or kindness, of losing itself in ecstasy, of plunging imperiously to the very depths of consciousness and of withering with its fury. But his pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. He was a born king and nobody ever came near him either in India or America without paying homage to his majesty."
In his intense desire to realize the truth, young Narendra practised meditation; he studied different religious and philosophical systems of the East and the West; he met different religious leaders, but nothing was of any avail. He even joined the Brahmo Samaj, a socio-religious organization, and asked its leader, Devendranath Tagore, "Sir, Have you seen God?"
Devendranath was embarrassed and replied: "My boy, you have the eyes of a yogi. You should practise meditation."
Narendras spiritual struggle continued. His first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred one day in a literature class, when he heard Principal Hastie lecturing on Wordworths The Excursion and the poets nature mysticism. Hastie told his students that with purity and concentration such transcendental experience was possible, but in modern times had become extremely rare. "I have known only one person," he added, "who has realized that blessed state, and he is Ramakrishna of Dakshineshwar. You will understand it better if you visit this saint."
Continued below (Part 2)
First Meeting with Sri Ramakrishna
Ramachandra Datta, Narendras cousin and a devotee of Ramakrishna, was aware of Narendras genuine hunger for God. Ramachandra told him: "If you really want to cultivate spirituality, then visit Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar."
However, Narendra first met Ramakrishna in Calcutta in November 1881 at the house of the Masters devotee Surendra Nath Mittra. Surendra had arranged a religious gathering and had invited Narendra to entertain the Master and the devotees with his devotional singing. The Master was extremely impressed with Narendra and after a few enquiries asked him to visit him at Dakshineshwar.
Narendra first visited Dakshineshwar sometime in the early part of 1882. He entered the Masters room by the western door that faces the Ganges. Indifferent to his external appearance, Narendras clothes were disheveled; his impressive eyes were partly indrawn. Ramakrishna marvelled: "How is it possible that such a great spiritual aspirant can live in Calcutta, the home of the worldly-minded?" There was a mat spread out on the floor. The Master asked him and his friends to sit on it, and then asked Narendra to sing a song. Narendra sang a song of the Brahmo Samaj:
Let us go back once more, O mind, to our proper home!
This song put the Master into ecstasy. When the singing was over, he took Narendra to the northern Veranda and closed the door. With tearful eyes the Master said to Narendra: "You have come so late! Was that proper? Couldnt you have guessed how I have been waiting for you? My ears are nearly burned off, listening to the talk of these worldly people. I thought I should burst, not having anyone to tell how I really felt."
Then with folded hand he said: "I know who you are, my Lord. You are Nara, the ancient sage, the incarnation of Narayana. You have come to earth to take away the sufferings and sorrows of mankind." The rational Narendra was dumbfounded, regarding this as the babble of an insane person.
When they returned to the Masters room, Narendras mind was agitated by the strange words and conduct of Ramakrishna. However, he asked the Master: "Sir, have you seen God?"
Without a moments hesitation Ramakrishna replied: "Yes, I have seen God. I see Him as I see you here, only more clearly. God can be seen. One can talk to Him. But who cares for God? People shed torrents of tears for their wives, children, wealth, and property, but who weeps for the vision of God? If one cries, sincerely for God, one can surely see Him."
"That impressed me at once," said Narendra later. "For the first time I found a man who dared to say that he had seen God, that religion was a reality to be felt, to be sensed in an infinitely more intense way than we can sense the world."
Narendra felt that Ramakrishnas words were uttered from the depths of his inner experience. Still, he could not comprehend the Masters words and conduct. Bewildered, he bowed down to the Master and returned to Calcutta.
A month later Narendra returned to Dakshineshwar and found the Master alone in his room. Ramakrishna was glad to see Narendra and asked him to sit on the corner of his bed. After a few minutes the Master drew near him in an ecstatic mood, muttered some words, fixed his eyes on him, and placed his right foot on Narendras body. At his touch Narendra saw, with open eyes, the whole world vanishing the walls, the room, the temple garden, and even himself were disappearing into the void. He felt sure that he was facing death. He cried out loudly: "Ah, what are you doing to me? Dont you know that I have parents at home?"
Listening to this the Master laughed and then touching Narendras chest, said: "All right, let it stop now. It will happen in its own good time." With this Narendra became normal again.
Narendra was proud of his strong body, sound mind, and rational intellect; but he felt helpless in front of Ramakrishna: he could not control himself. During his third visit to Dakshineshwar he tried his utmost to be on guard. The Master went for a walk with Narendra to Jadu Malliks garden house where they both sat down in the parlour. Then the Master went into an ecstatic mood and touched Narendra, who lost outer consciousness. In that state the Master asked Narendra questions about his past, his mission in the world, the duration of his present life, and so on. The answers only confirmed what he had seen about Narendra in the vision he had experienced many years before. Later the Master told his other disciples: "Narendra is a great soul, perfect in meditation. The day he recognizes his true self he will give up his body by an act of will, through yoga.
Master and Disciple
According to Hindu tradition, the disciple must obey the Guru without question. However, the influence of Western thinking did not allow Narendra to accept this; he was determined to test for himself everything that Ramakrishna taught him. He felt it was wrong for someone to surrender freedom of judgement to another. After their third meeting, Narendra felt the Masters superhuman spiritual power, but he was still somewhat sceptical. His scepticism made him one of the most reliable of all witnesses to Ramakrishnas greatness. Later he said to a Western disciple: "Let none regret that they were difficult to convince. I fought my Master for six long years, with the result that I know every inch of the way."
The meeting of Narendra and Ramakrishna was an important event in the lives of both. It was like a meeting between the occident and the orient, the modern and the ancient. Ramakrishna tamed the rebellious Narendra with his infinite patience, love, and vigilance. The Master was fully convinced of Narendras divine nature and mission to the world. He could not bear the slightest criticism of Narendra and told devotees: "Let no one judge him hastily. People will never understand him fully."
Ramakrishna did not hesitate to praise Narendras greatness in the presence of one and all, which sometimes embarrassed Narendra. One day Keshab Sen and Vijaykrishna Goswami, who were leaders of the Brahmo Samaj, visited Dakshineshwar with a number of Brahmo devotees. Narendra was also present. The Master remarked: "If Keshab possesses one virtue which has made him world famous, Naren is endowed with eighteen such virtues. I have seen in Keshab and Vijay the divine light burning like a candle flame, but in Naren it shines with the radiance of the sun."
Narendra later vehemently protested to the Master: "Sir, people will think you are mad if you talk like that. Keshab is famous all over the world. Vijay is a saint. And I am an insignificant student. How can you speak of us in the same breath? Please, I beg you, never say such things again."
"I cannot help it," replied the Master. "Do you think these are my words? The Divine Mother showed me certain things about you, which I repeated. And she reveals to me nothing but the truth."
"How do you know it was Mother who told you?" Narendra objected. "All this may be fiction of your own brain. Science and philosophy prove that our senses often deceive us, especially when there is a desire in our minds to believe something. You are fond of me and you wish to see me great that may be why you have these visions."
The Master was perplexed. He appealed to the Divine Mother for guidance, and was told: " Why do you care what he says? In a short time he will accept every word of yours as true."
Ramakrishnas affection for Narendra astonished everyone. If Narendra could not come to Dakshineshwar for a long time, the Master cried for him or he went to see him in Calcutta. Ramakrishna knew that he would not live long in this world, so he was eager to train his foremost disciple as early as possible. One Sunday the Master went to visit him at the Brahmo Samaj Temple, where Narendra sang devotional songs during the evening service. When he arrived in the middle of the service, there was a commotion among the congregation to see the saint of Dakshineshwar. The preacher was annoyed and abruptly ended his sermon, and the ushers turned out all the gaslights in order to make people leave the building a move which resulted in a chaotic stampede to the doors in the darkness.
Narendra was greatly pained by the Masters humiliation. He managed to elbow his way to Ramakrishnas side, then he led him out through a back door, got him into a carriage and rode with him to Dakshineshwar. Narendra reprimanded the Master, but Ramakrishna didnt care a bit about the scolding or his humiliating experience with the Brahmos. Then Narendra told him severely: "It is written in the Puranas that King Bharata thought so much about his favourite deer that he himself became a deer after his death. If thats true, you should beware of thinking about me!"
The Master was simple, much like a little boy. He took these words very seriously, because Narendra was a man of truth. Ramakrishna went to the temple and returned shortly, beaming with delight and exclaimed: "You rascal, I wont listen to you anymore. Mother said that I love you because I see the Lord in you. The day I shall not see Him in you, I shall not be able to bear even the sight of you."
As a member of the Brahmo Samaj, Narendra was committed to the belief in a formless God with attributes, and he despised all image worship. His friend Rakhal (later, Swami Brahmananda) also became a member of the Brahmo Samaj, even though he was devotional by nature. Later, under Ramakrishnas influence, Rakhal returned to the worship of God with form. When Narendra saw Rakhal bowing down before the images, he scolded his friend for breaking the Brahmo pledge. Rakhal was too soft natured to argue, but he was hurt and began to avoid Narendra. The Master intervened, saying to Narendra: "Please do not intimidate Rakhal. He is afraid of you. He now believes in God with form. How are you going to change him? Everyone cannot realise the formless aspect of God at the very beginning." That was enough: Narendra never interfered with Rakhals practice again.
Ramakrishna knew that Narendras mind was naturally inclined to the path of knowledge, so he initiated him into the teachings of nondualistic Vedanta. Sometimes he asked Narendra to read aloud passages from the Ashtavakra Samhita and other Vedanta treatises so that he could grasp the meaning of the Vedanta philosophy which teaches that Brahman is the ultimate Reality, existence- consciousness- bliss absolute. The individual soul is Brahman and nothing else. The world is shown to be nothing but name and form, all of which is apparent, not real, having only a relative existence.
In the beginning it was hard for Narendra to accept the non-dualistic view that "everything is really Brahman," because he was then a staunch follower of the Brahmo Samaj, which taught a theistic philosophy. He said to the Master: "It is blasphemous, for there is no difference between such philosophy and atheism. There is no greater sin in the world than to think of oneself as identical with the Creator. I am God, you are God, these created things are God what can be more absurd! The sages who wrote such things must have been insane."
The Master didnt mind Narendras outspokenness at all. He smiled and said: You may not accept the views of these seers. But how can you abuse them or limit Gods infinitude? Go on praying to the God of Truth and believe in any aspect of His that He reveals to you."
One day while chanting with Hazra at Dakshineshwar, Narendra ridiculed the Vedantic experience of oneness: "How can this be? This jug is God, this cup is God, and we too are God! Nothing can be more preposterous!" When the Master heard Narendras comment from his room, he came out and enquired: "Hello! What are you talking about?" Ramakrishna touched Narendra and went into samadhi. Later Narendra graphically described the effect of that touch:
"The magic touch of the Master that day immediately brought a wonderful change over my mind. I was stupefied to find that there was really nothing in the universe but God! I saw it quite clearly but kept silent, to see if the idea would last. But the impression did not abate in the course of the day. I returned home, but there too, everything I saw appeared to be Brahman. I sat down to take my meal, but found that everything the food, the place, the person who served, and even myself was nothing but That. I ate a morsel or two and sat still. I was startled by my mothers words: Why do you sit still? Finish your meal, and began to eat again. But all the while, whether eating or lying down, or going to college, I had the same experience and felt myself always in a sort of comatose state.
While walking in the streets, I noticed cabs plying, but I did not feel inclined to move out of the way. I felt that the cabs and myself were of one stuff. There was no sensation in my limbs, which, I thought, were getting paralyzed. I did not relish eating, and felt as if somebody else were eating. Sometimes I lay down during a meal, after a few minutes, got up and again began to eat. The result would be that on some days I would take too much, but it did not harm. My mother became alarmed and said that there must be something wrong with me. She was afraid that I might not live long. When the above state altered a little, the world began to appear to me as a dream. While walking in Cornwallis (now Azadhind Bag; gardens), I would strike my head against the iron railings to see if they were real or only a dream. This state of things continued for some days. When I became normal again, I realized that I must have had a glimpse of the Advaita (nondual) state. Then it struck me that the words of the scriptures were not false. Thenceforth I could not deny the conclusions of the Advaita philosophy."
One-day Ramakrishnas whole attitude to Narendra suddenly seemed to change. The Master looked at him without the least sign of pleasure and remained silent. Narendra thought that the Master was in a spiritual mood. He waited for a while, and then went to the Veranda and began talking to Hazra. In the evening Narendra bowed down to the Master and left for Calcutta. On his next several visits, the Masters mood towards Narendra did not change. He received him with the same apparent indifference. Ignored by the Master, he spent the days with Hazra and other disciples and returned home as usual. Finally, after more than a month, the Master asked Narendra,
"Why do you come here, when I dont speak a single word to you?"
Narendra answered: "Do you think I come here just to have you speak to me? I love you. I want to see you. Thats why I come."
The Master was delighted.
"I was testing you to see if you would stop coming when you didnt get love and attention. Only a spiritual aspirant of your quality could put up with so much neglect and indifference. Anyone else would have left me long ago."
Narendra was very bold and frank. He did not speak about people behind their backs. He took delight in criticizing the Masters spiritual experiences as evidence of a lack of self-control. He would even make fun of his worship of Kali. "Why do you come here?" the Master once asked him, "if you do not accept Kali, my Mother?"
"Bah! Must I accept her," Narendra retorted, "simply because I come to see you? I come to you because I love you."
"All right," said the Master, "before long you will not only accept my blessed Mother, but weep while repeating her name."
As Ramakrishna tested Narendra in various ways before accepting him as a disciple, so did Narendra test Ramakrishna before he accepted him as a guru. Narendra heard that the Masters renunciation was so absolute that he could not bear the touch of money. One day Narendra arrived at Dakshineshwar and found that the Master had gone to Calcutta. Suddenly he felt a desire to test the Master. He hid a Rupee under the Masters mattress and waited for him. The Master returned, but no sooner had he touched the bed than he drew back in pain, as if stung by a scorpion. The Master called a temple attendant to examine the bed, and the Rupee was discovered. Narendra admitted that he had put the money there. The Master was not displeased at all. He said to Narendra: "You must test me as the money changers test their coins. You mustnt accept me until youve tested me thoroughly."
On another occasion, the Master put Narendra to a difficult test. He said to him: "As a result of the austerities I have practised, I have possessed all the supernatural powers for a long time. I am thinking of asking the Mother to transfer them all to you. She has told me that you will be able to use them when necessary. What do you say?"
Narendra asked: "Will they help me to realize God?"
"No," said the Master, "they wont help you to do that. But they might be very useful after you have realized God and when you start doing His work."
Narendra said: "Then let me realize God first. After that, it will be time enough to decide if I need them or not. If I accept them now, I may forget God, make selfish use of them, and thus come to grief."
The Master was greatly pleased to see Narendras single minded devotion.
Ramakrishna emphasized the practice of chastity to his young disciples, whom he considered to be future monks. He told Narendra that if a man maintains absolute chastity for twelve years, his mind becomes purified and open to the knowledge of God. When the Master heard that Narendras parents were arranging his marriage, he wept, holding the feet of the image of Kali. With tears in his eyes he prayed to the Divine Mother: "O Mother, please upset the whole thing! Dont let Narendra be drowned." However, Narendras unwillingness forced his parents to cancel the marriage.
Continued (Part 3)
The Training of Narendra
Only a good student can be a good teacher. The Katha Upanishad says:
"Wonderful is the expounder (of the Atman or Soul) and rare the hearer; rarer indeed is the experiencer of Atman taught by an able preceptor." (1.2.7).
Ramakrishna was an avatar, an incarnation of God who came to the world to establish the eternal religion; he made Narendra a vehicle to carry out his mission. In the parable of the four blind men and the elephant, Ramakrishna recounted how each man touched a different part of the elephant, declared his partial understanding, and then they began to quarrel among themselves. But one with clear vision sees the whole elephant and does not quarrel. People with only partial realization form sects but those who have full realization cannot form sects. Ramakrishna therefore trained Narendra to have full realization and carry his message of the harmony of religions to the modern world.
On 5th March 1882, the Master asked Narendra: "How do you feel about it? Worldly people say all kinds of things about the spiritually minded. But look here! When an elephant moves along the street any number of curs and other small animals may bark and cry after it; but the elephant doesnt even look back at them. If people speak ill of you, what will you think of them?"
Narendra replied: "I shall think that dogs are barking at me."
The Master smiled and said: "Oh no! You must not go that far, my child! God dwells in all beings. But you may be intimate only with good people; you must keep away from the evil-minded. God is even in the tiger, but you cannot embrace the tiger on that account. You may say, Why run away from a tiger, which is also a manifestation of God? The answer to that is: Those who tell you to run away are also manifestations of God and why shouldnt you listen to them?"
On 19th August 1883, Ramakrishna went to the Veranda and saw Narendra talking to Hazra, who often indulged in dry philosophical discussions. Hazra would say that the world is unreal, like a dream: worship, food offerings to the Deity, and so forth, are only hellucinations of the mind. He would repeat: "I am He."
When the Master asked Narendra what they were talking about, Narendra replied with a smile: "Oh, we are discussing a great many things. They are rather too deep for others."
Ramakrishna replied: "But pure love and pure knowledge are one and the same thing. Both lead the aspirants to the same goal. The path of love is much easier."
On 25th June 1884, Ramakrishna advised his disciples to dive deep in God-consciousness and then sang a song:
"Dive deep, O mind, dive deep in the Ocean of Gods beauty. If you descend to the uttermost depths, there you will find the gem of love."
Then he continued: "One does not die if one sinks in this Ocean. This is the Ocean of immortality."
Once he said to Narendra: "God is the Ocean of Bliss. Tell me if you want to plunge into It. Just imagine there is some syrup in a cup and that you have become a fly. Now tell me where you will sit to sip the syrup?"
Narendra answered: "I will sit on the edge of the cup and stretch out my neck to drink, because I am sure to die if I go far into the cup."
Then Ramakruishna said to him: "But my child, this is the Ocean of Satchidananda. There is no fear of death in it. This is the Ocean of Immortality."
On 11th March 1885 M. recorded in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna:
Many of his devotees were in (Ramakrishnas) room. Narendra did not believe that God could incarnate Himself in a human body. But Girish (a devotee) differed with him; he had the burning faith that from time to time the Almighty Lord, through His inscrutable Power, assumes a human body and descends to earth to serve a divine purpose. The Master said to Girish: "I should like to hear you and Narendra argue in English." The discussion began; but they talked in Bengali.
Narendra: "God is Infinity. How is it possible for us to comprehend Him? He dwells in every human being. It is not the case that he manifests Himself through one person only."
Master (tenderly): "I quite agree with Narendra. God is everywhere. But then you must remember that there are different manifestations of His Power in different beings. At some places there is a manifestation of His Avidya-shakti (Gods power manifesting as ignorance), at others manifestation of His Vidya-shakti (Gods power manifesting as knowledge). Through different instruments Gods Power is manifest in different degrees, greater or smaller. Therefore all men are not equal."
Ram: "What is the use of these futile arguments?"
Master (sharply): "No! No! There is a meaning in all this."
Girish (to Narendra): "How do you know that God does not assume a human body?"
Narendra: "God is beyond words or thought."
Master: "No, that is not true. He can be known by pure Buddhi (intellect), which is the same as the Pure Self. The seers of old directly perceived the Pure Self through their pure buddhi."
Girish (to Narendra): "Unless God Himself teaches men through His human Incarnation, who else will teach them spiritual mysteries?"
Narendra: "Why, God dwells in our own heart; He will certainly teach us from within the heart."
Master (tenderly): "Yes, yes. He will teach us as our Inner Guide I clearly see that God is everything; He Himself has become all .I cannot utter a word unless I come down at least two steps from the plane of samadhi. Shankaras non-dualistic explanation of Vedanta is true, and so is the qualified non-dualistic interpretation of Ramanuja."
Narendra: "What is non-qualified non-dualism?"
Master: "It is the theory of Ramanuja. According to this theory, Brahman, or the Absolute, is qualified by the universe and its living beings. These three Brahman, the world, and living beings together constitute One."
Narendra was sitting beside the Master. He touched Narendras body and said: As long as a man argues about God, he has not realized Him. The nearer you approach to God, the less you reason and argue. When you attain Him, then all sounds all reasoning and disputing come to an end. Then you go into Samadhi into communion with God in silence."
Continued (Part 4)
In the early part of 1884, Narendras father died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Unfortunately, he left behind many unsettled debts, and the once well to do family was suddenly thrust into acute poverty. To add to their troubles, some relatives filed a lawsuit with the intent of depriving them of their home. Since Narendra was the eldest son, the responsibility for the familys welfare fell upon his shoulders. He had just passed his B.A. examination and had been admitted to law school. Many times he attended classes without having eaten and was often faint with hunger and weakness. He had no job and, moreover, no previous work experience.
Forced by circumstances, Narendra began visiting business and government offices, barefooted and shabbily dressed, looking for a job. Occasionally, one of his friends, who knew the gravity of his situation, anonymously sent modest amounts of money to Narendras mother. His friends invited him now and then to their homes and offered him food, but the thought of his hungry mother, sisters, and brothers at home prevented him from eating. At home he would eat as little as possible in order that the others might have enough. This first contact with the harshness of life convinced Narendra that unselfish sympathy is rare in this world. There is no place here for the weak, the poor, and the destitute.
Misfortune does not come alone. Narendra related: "Various temptations came my way. A rich woman sent me an ugly proposal to end my days of penury, which I sternly rejected with scorn. Another woman also made similar overtures to me. I said to her: You have wasted your life seeking the pleasures of the flesh. The dark shadows of death are before you. Have you done anything to face that? Give up all these filthy desires and remember God."
One day, after a futile search for a job, he sat down in the shade of the Ochterloney Monument in the Maidan (a large park). A friend who happened to be with him wanted to console him with a song: "Here blows the wind, the breath of Brahman; It is His grace we feel."
Narendra furiously blurted out: "Be quiet! That fanciful nonsense is all right for people living in the lap of luxury people who have no idea what hunger is people whose nearest and dearest arent going in rags and starving. No doubt it sounds true and beautiful to them as it did to me. But now I have seen what life is really like. That song is just a pack of lies."
Despite what he had said to his friend in the Maidan, Narendra did not lose his inborn faith in God and His mercy. He used to repeat the Lords name as he got out of bed in the morning. One day his mother overheard him and said bitterly: "Hush, you fool! You have been crying yourself hoarse for God since your childhood. Tell me what has God done for you?
These words stung Narendra to the quick. A doubt crept into his mind about Gods existence and His providence.
It was not in Narendras nature to hide his feelings. He began to tell people aggressively that God did not exist and that praying to him was also futile. The rumour soon spread that Narendra had become an atheist, and furthermore that he was mixing with people of bad character. Gossip spreads faster than the gospel. The Master heard it, but he paid no attention. One day a friend of Narendra tearfully said to the Master: "Sir, we never dreamed Narendra would sink so low!"
Immediately the Master said: "Silence, you scoundrels! The (Divine) Mother has told me that it is simply not true. I shant look at your face if you speak to me again that way."
Narendra remembered his past spiritual experiences when he came in contact with the Master, and he was firmly convinced that he had not been born to earn money, support a family, or seek worldly enjoyments. He secretly prepared to renounce the world as his grandfather had done and even fixed a date. When he heard that the Master was visiting a devotee in Calcutta, he decided to see him before he left home forever. When they met, the Master persuaded Narendra to accompany him to Dakshineshwar. When they arrived in his room, the Master went into ecstasy and sang a song, which clearly indicated that he knew Narendras secret plan. That night he sent the others away and said to Narendra with tears: "I know you have come to the world to do Mothers work; you can never lead a worldly life. But, for my sake, stay with your family as long as I am alive."
Narendra agreed. The next day he returned home and very quickly found a temporary job in an attorneys office, which was sufficient to cover the bare existence of his family. Unable to find a permanent solution to the financial problems of his family, however, Narendra went to the Master one day and asked him to pray to the Divine Mother on his behalf, as Narendra had faith that She listened to the Masters prayers.
The Master told him to go to the temple and pray to Her himself for help, assuring him that his request would be granted. Narendra went to the temple with great anticipation. But as soon as he came before the image of the Divine Mother, he saw Her as living and conscious: he forgot the world and the pitiable condition of his mother, sisters, and brothers. In ecstatic joy he prostrated before Her and prayed: "Mother, give me discrimination! Give me renunciation! Give me knowledge and devotion! Grant that I may have an uninterrupted vision of Thee!"
He went back to the Master and told him what had happened. The Master sent Narendra to the temple to pray again, but the same thing happened. The third time he remembered his intention, but he felt ashamed to ask for something so small from the Mother of the Universe. At last, at Narendras request, the Master blessed him, saying, "All right, your people at home will never be in want of plain food and clothing."
Narendra was relieved that his family would no longer suffer from starvation, and the Master was relieved that Narendra had accepted the worship of God with form. He knew that the concept of God as Mother would make Narendras spiritual life fuller and richer. Later Narendra said to one of his western disciples: "I used to hate Kali and all Her ways. That was my six years fight, because I would not accept Kali."
"But now you have accepted Her," interjected the disciple.
"I had to," said Narendra, "I had great misfortunes at that time. My father died, and so on Ramakrishna dedicated me to Her. And, you know, I believe that She guides me in every little thing I do, and just does what She likes with me."
Ramakrishna gave love and freedom to his disciples so that they could grow in their own way. Throughout the rest of his life, Narendra would frequently say: "Ever since our first meeting, it was the Master alone who always had faith in me no one else, not even my own mother and brothers. That faith and that love of his have bound me to him forever. The Master was the only one who knew how to love and who really loved. Worldly people only feign love to gratify their own self-interest."
Last Days with Sri Ramakrishna
Ramakrishna was a wonderful teacher, and he taught more by the silent influence of his inner life than by words or even by personal example. To live with him demanded of the disciple purity of thought, humility, truthfulness, and renunciation. He acted as a father, mother, and friend to his young disciples. He would joke and have fun with them and at the same time remind them that the goal of human life is God realization. They learned from their Master how to synthesize the four yogas (karma, bhakti, raja and jnana), the harmony of religions, the true meaning of the scriptures, and the worship of God in human beings.
One day at Dakshineshwar when the Master was seated in his room, he talked about three salient disciplines of the Vaishnava religion: love of Gods name, compassion for all living beings, and service to the devotees. Repeating the word Compassion he went into Samadhi. After a while he returned to normal consciousness and said to the devotees: " How foolish to speak of compassion! Man is an insignificant worm crawling on the earth and he is to show compassion to others! This is absurd. It must not be compassion, but service to all. Recognize them as Gods manifestation and serve them." Only Narendra understood the implication of the Masters words. Leaving the room, he said to the others:
"What a wonderful light I have discovered in those words of the Master! How beautifully he has reconciled the ideal of bhakti (devotion) with the knowledge of Vedanta, generally interpreted as dry, austere, and incompatible with human sentiments! What a grand, natural, and sweet synthesis! Those following the Paths of karma (action) and yoga (contemplation) are similarly benefited by these words of the Master. The embodied being cannot remain even for a minute without activity. All his activities should be directed to the service of man, the manifestation of God upon earth, and this will accelerate his progress towards the goal. If it were the will of God, I shall one day proclaim this noble truth before the world at large. I shall make it the common property of all the wise and the foolish, the rich and the poor, the Brahmin and the pariah."
Only a jeweller knows the value of a diamond. Ramakrishna knew the worth of his beloved disciple Narendra, so he made him the leader of his group of disciples. He told his disciples:
"Narendra belongs to a very high place the realm of the Absolute. He has a manly nature. So many devotees come here, but there is no one like him. Every now and then I take stock of the devotees. I find that some are like lotuses with ten petals, some like lotuses with a hundred petals. But among lotuses Narendra is a thousand-petalled one. Other devotees may be like pots and pitchers; but Narendra is a huge water barrel. Others may be like pools or water tanks; but Narendra is a huge reservoir like the Haldarpukur. Among fish, Narendra is a huge red-eyed carp; others are like minnows, or smelts, or sardines. Narendra is a very big receptacle, one that can hold many things. He is like a bamboo with a big hollow space inside. Narendra is not under the control of anything. He is not under the control of attachment or sense pleasures. He is like a male pigeon. If you hold a male pigeon by its beak, it breaks away from you; but the female pigeon keeps still. I feel great strength when Narendra is with me in a gathering."
In the middle of 1885 Ramakrishna contracted throat cancer. For the convenience of his treatment he was first taken to Calcutta and then to Cossipore, a suburb of Calcutta. Without concern for his body, he continued to train his disciples. When they begged him not to strain himself, he replied: "I do not care. I will give up twenty thousand such bodies to help one person."
Sarada Devi, the Masters wife, cooked for him, and Narendra and other young disciples took charge of nursing him. One day the Master distributed ochre monastic robes to Narendra and some of his young disciples and thus formed his own monastic order. He later told Narendra: "I leave them all to your care. See that they practise spiritual disciplines even after my passing away and that they do not return home."
Another day he wrote on a piece of paper, "Naren will teach people." When Narendra expressed opposition the Master said: "But you must. Your very bones will do it."
Ten years later Narendra described his Masters message to humanity:
"First make character that is the highest duty you can perform. Know truth for yourself, and there will be many to whom you can teach it afterwards; they will all come. This was the attitude of my Master. He criticized no one. For years I lived with that man, but never did I hear those lips utter one word of condemnation of any sect. I learned from my Master that the religions of the world are not contradictory or antagonistic. They are but various phases of one eternal religion.
Ramakrishnas illness showed no signs of abating in spite of the best available care and treatment. When Narendra realized that the Master would not live long, he intensified his own spiritual practices. One day he entreated Ramakrishna for the experience of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the highest realization of Advaita Vedanta. But the Master reprimanded him: "Shame on you! You are asking for such an insignificant thing. I thought that you would be like a big banyan tree, and that thousands of people would rest in your shade. But now I see that you are seeking your own liberation." He said further: "There is a state higher than that. It is you who sing, O Lord, Thou art all that exists." The Master wanted his disciples to see God in all beings and to serve them in a spirit of worship.
One evening, however, when Narendra was meditating with one of his brother disciples at Cossipore, he suddenly became aware of a light at the back of his head, as if a lamp had been placed there. It gradually became more brilliant until finally it seemed to burst. He was engulfed by that light and lost body consciousness. After sometime he began to regain normal consciousness and cried out, "Where is my body?" His amazed brother disciple assured him: It is here. Dont you feel it?" He then rushed to the Masters room upstairs and told him of Narendras condition.
"Let him stay in that state for a while," remarked the Master, "he pestered me long enough for it."
For a long time Narendra remained immersed in Samadhi, forgetting space, time and causation. After regaining normal consciousness, he entered the Masters room, and Ramakrishna told him: "Now the Mother has shown you everything. But this realization, like the jewel locked in a box, will be hidden away from you and kept in my custody. I will keep the key with me. Only after you have fulfilled your mission on this earth will the box be unlocked, and you will know everything as you have known now."
Narendra once narrated how the Master had transmitted his power into him: "Two or three days before Sri Ramakrishnas passing away, he called me to his side and looked steadily at me and went into samadhi. Then I felt that a subtle force like an electric shock was entering my body! In a little while I also lost outward consciousness and sat motionless. How long I stayed in that condition I do not remember. When consciousness returned I found Sri Ramakrishna shedding tears. On questioning him, he answered me affectionately: Today, giving you my all, I have become a beggar. With this power you are to do much work for the good of the world before you return.'
I feel that that power is constantly directing me to this or that work. This body has not been made for remaining idle."
A couple of days before Ramakrishnas passing away, when the Master was in excruciating pain, a thought flashed across Narendras mind: "Well, now if you can declare that you are God, then only will I believe you are really God Himself." Immediately the Master looked up towards Narendra and said distinctly: "O my Naren, are you still not convinced? He who in the past was born as Rama and Krishna is now living in this very body as Ramakrishna but not from the standpoint of your Vedanta (which posits that each soul is potentially divine), but actually so."
Continued (Part 5)
After Sri Ramakrishnas Passing Away
Ramakrishna passed away on Sunday, 16th August 1886, plunging his devotees and disciples into an ocean of grief. The young disciples wanted to continue worshipping Ramakrishnas relics at the Cossipore garden house, but they had no means to support themselves. The householder devotees, who had supported the Master, asked them to return home. However, three disciples had already left home forever, and they had no place to go. Narendra was helpless.
One evening early in September, while Surendra Nath Mittra was meditating in his household shrine, Ramakrishna appeared to him and said: "What are you doing here? My boys are roaming about, without a place to live. Attend to that, before anything else." Hearing the Masters command, Surendra hurried to Narendra and told him everything that had happened. He promised to provide the same amount of money every month as he had given for the Cossipore house prior to Ramakrishnas passing. Immediately Narendra and the disciples began to search for a house, and found one at Baranagore, midway between Dakshineshwar and Calcutta. Dreary, dilapidated, and deserted, it was a building that had a reputation of being haunted by evil spirits. It had two stories; the lower one was infested with lizards and snakes. This house was chosen because of its proximity to the Cossipore burning ghat, where the Masters body had been cremated.
M. wrote about the first Ramakrishna monastery at Baranagore in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: "The members of the Math (monastery) called themselves the danas and the daityas, which means the ghosts and the demons, the companions of Shiva. They took these names because of their indifference to worldly pleasures and relationships Narendra and the other members of the Math often spent their evenings on the roof. There they devoted a great deal of time to discussion of the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, and Jesus Christ, and of Hindu philosophy, European philosophy, the Vedas, the Puranas, and the Tantras."
In later years, Narendra reminisced about the early days in the monastery:
"After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna we underwent a lot of religious practice at the Baranagore Math (monastery). We used to get up at 3.00 a.m. and after washing our faces, etc. we would sit in the shrine and become absorbed in japam and meditation. What a strong spirit of dispassion we had in those days! We had no thought even as to whether the world existed or not There were days when the japam and meditation continued from morning till four or five in the afternoon. Ramakrishnananda (a brother monk) waited and waited with our meals ready, till at last he would come and snatch us from our meditation by sheer force . There were days when the monastery was without a grain of food. If some rice was collected by begging, there was no salt to take it with! On some days there would be only rice and salt, but nobody cared for it in the least. We were then being carried away by a tidal wave of spiritual practice. Oh, those wonderful days!"
In the middle of December 1886, Narendra and eight other disciples went to Antpur, the birth place of Baburam (later, Swami Premananda) for a retreat. One night they made a fire in the courtyard and sat around it for meditation. Suddenly Narendra was inspired to talk about Christs love and renunciation and his self-sacrifice for the good of humanity. In front of that sacred fire, the disciples vowed to embrace the monastic life. In a joyous mood they returned to their rooms and someone discovered that it was Christmas Eve all felt doubly blest. After a week of retreat, they returned to Baranagore, and in the early part of 1887, took formal monastic vows. Narendra took the name of Swami Vividishananda. Later, prior to his journey to America, he changed his name to Swami Vivekananda at the request of Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri.
Many years later, Narendra said to one of his disciples: "One eye shed tears of grief when I left home, because I hated to leave my mother, grandmother, brothers and sisters; and the other eye shed tears of joy for my ideal." Luxury and too many material possessions take the mind away from God. That is why most mystics remove themselves from family ties and worldly possessions. This is one of the initial tests of a spiritual journey. God embraces those souls and makes everything favourable for them who are endowed with purity and renunciation, poverty and humility, devotion and longing.
As a Wandering Monk
There is a saying, "The monk is pure who goes, and the river is pure that flows." In 1888 Vivekananda left the monastery to live as a penniless wandering monk. He carried a staff, a water pot, and his two favourite books Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ.
He first went to Varanasi, known as the city of light and a capital of ancient Indian culture. During his journey he met many holy people and scholars. One day while visiting the Durga Temple, he was attacked by a troop of monkeys. While he was running away, a monk shouted to him, "Face the brutes." Swamiji stopped and looked defiantly at the ugly beasts. They quickly disappeared. Later, as a preacher in America, he shared this experience with people and told them to face the dangers and vicissitudes of life and not run away from them. Vivekananda knew his lifes mission and felt a tremendous power within himself. He left the city of Varanasi with the prophetic words: "When I return here the next time, I shall burst upon society like a bombshell, and it will follow me like a dog."
On his way to Hardwar, he stopped at the Hathras Railroad Station. There he met Sharat Chandra Gupta, the assistant station master, whom he accepted as his disciple. When Sharat asked the Swami to stay with him longer, he replied: "My son, I have a great mission to fulfill. My guru asked me to dedicate my life to the regeneration of my motherland. Spirituality has fallen to a low ebb and starvation stalks the land. India must become dynamic again and earn the respect of the world through her spiritual power.
One day during his travels in the Himalayas, Vivekananda sat for meditation under a Pipal tree by the side of a stream. There he experienced the oneness of the universe and man that man in the universe in miniature. He realized that all that exists in the universe also exists in the body, and further, that the entire universe can be found contained in a single atom. He jotted down this experience in a notebook: "In the beginning was the word, etc. The microcosm and the macrocosm are built on the same plan. Just as the individual soul is encased in the living body, so is the Universal Soul in the living Prakriti (Nature) the objective universe . The dual aspect of the Universal Soul is eternal. So what we perceive or feel is this combination of the Eternally Formed and the Eternally Formless.
During Vivekanandas itinerant days, he had various kinds of spiritual experiences. Once in a vision he saw an old man standing on the bank of the Indus chanting Vedic hymns; he distinctly heard the invocation of the Gayatri mantram from the Rig Veda. The Swami believed that through this vision he had recovered the musical cadences of the early Aryans. He also experienced the presence of the Cosmic God in all beings.
Vivekananda visited Pavhari Baba, the famous yogi of Gazipur, and learned from him the secret of work: "Pay as much attention to the means of work as to its end." The yogi told him, "Live in the house of your guru like a cow," which means that one should cultivate the spirit of service and humility. There are many wonderful stories about Pavhari Baba. Once a cobra entered his cave; later, the yogi said to his frightened disciples, "It was a messenger who came from my beloved." Another day, a dog ran off with the yogis bread and he followed, praying humbly, "Please wait, my Lord; let me butter the bread for you."
While at Gazipur, Vivekananda suffered from stomach trouble and lumbago. He decided to take Hatha yoga initiation from Pavhari Baba in order to cure his ailment. However, that night Ramakrishna appeared before him, looking at him intently as if very grieved. This vision was repeated for twenty-one nights. He gave up the idea of initiation, reproaching himself for lacking complete faith in the Master.
Vivekananda travelled over almost all of India, mostly on foot, visiting places of history and pilgrimage. He was thus able to gain firsthand experience of the Indian people. Seeing the poor and deplorable conditions of the masses, he was at times moved to tears. He had suffered great poverty himself and had deep compassion for the suffering of others. Once he remarked, with his usual vigour, that a god who could not in this life give a crust of bread was not to be trusted in the next for the kingdom of heaven. He observed that religion was not the crying need of India, and recalled Sri Ramakrishnas pithy saying: "Religion is not for an empty stomach."
In his travels, Vivekananda met the maharajas of Khetri, Alwar, Mysore, Ramnad, and many other dignitaries. He boldly told them that the prosperity of India depended upon uplifting the masses by introducing good education, modern science, and industry. However, they did not show sufficient interest. Later, he expressed his feelings: "May I be born again and again, and suffer thousands of miseries so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls- and above all, my God the wicked, my God the miserable, my God the poor of all races, is the special object of my worship."
In February 1891, Vivekananda arrived at Alwar, Rajputana (western India) and met Maharaja Mangal Singh. He was very westernized, and although a Hindu, had no faith in worshipping images that to him were nothing but clay or stone figurines. Swamiji tried in vain to explain to him that Hindus worshipped God alone, using the images as symbols. The maharaja was not convinced. Then Vivekananda asked the Prime Minister to take down a picture of the maharaja that was hanging on the wall.
At Vivekanandas request it was handed to him. He then commanded the Prime Minister and others to spit on it. Everyone was horrified. He said to the audience: "Maharaja is not bodily present in the photograph. This is only a piece of paper. It does not contain his bones, flesh, and blood. It does not speak or behave or move in any way as the maharaja does, yet all of you refuse to spit on it, because you see in this photo the shadow of the maharaja. Indeed, in spitting on the photo, you feel that you insult your master, the Prince himself." Turning to the maharaja, he continued: "See, Your highness, though this is not you in one sense, in another sense it is you. That was why your devoted servants were so perplexed when I asked them to spit on it." The maharaja realized his mistake and begged Swamijis blessings.
While travelling in western and southern India, Vivekananda heard about the Parliament of Religions that was to be held in Chicago in 1893. A group of Indian rulers and influential people requested that he attend in order to represent Hinduism, the religion of Vedanta, but he refused. He was waiting for the Masters call. In December 1892, at Kanyakumari, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock in the Indian ocean, he received his call to go to the West.
One day, while in Madras, Swamijee had a symbolic dream: He saw Sri Ramakrishna walking into the water of the ocean and beckoning him to follow. He also heard the command: "Go!" Although Swamijee was now certain of his journey, he still felt necessary to have Holy Mother Sarada Devis permission and blessing. He wrote to Swami Saradananda: "I have had a vision in which the Master told me to go to the West. My mind is quite disturbed. Please tell Holy Mother everything and let me know her opinion." Saradananda went to Holy Mother and read Swamijis letter to her. Holy Mother did not give her opinion immediately, but asked Saradananda to wait. After a couple of days, Holy Mother had a dream. She saw Ramakrishna walking over the ocean waves and asking Narendra to follow him. Then Holy Mother told Sardananda: "Please write to Naren that he should go to the West." Swamiji was overjoyed when he received Holy Mothers approval and blessing.
In Madras, Vivekanandas followers began to raise money and make the necessary arrangements for his departure. In the meantime, Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri, who was a disciple of Swamiji, asked him to come to Khetri and bless his newborn son. He also offered to provide the ticket for his passage to America. Swamiji consented and went to Khetri for the birthday function. One evening while he was there, the maharaja invited him to attend a musical performance by a dancing girl. However, Vivekananda sent word that, as a monk, he was not permitted to enjoy secular pleasures. The girl was hurt when she heard the message and sang this plaintive song, that reached the Swamis ears:
Look not, O Lord, upon my sins!
Swamiji was deeply moved. This dancing girl, whom society condemned as impure, had taught him a great lesson: Brahman (the Supreme Reality), the ever pure, ever free, ever illumined, is the essence of all beings. He immediately realized his mistake and joined the party. He later said: "That incident removed the scales from my eyes. Seeing that all are indeed the manifestation of the One, I could no longer condemn anybody."
On his way to Mumbai (Bombay) Swamiji stopped at the Abu Road Station and met Swami Brahmananda and Swami Turiyananda. When he told them that he was going to America they were greatly excited. He explained to them: "I have now travelled all over India . But alas, it was agony to me, my brothers, to see with my own eyes the terrible poverty and misery of the masses, and I could not restrain my tears! It is now my firm conviction that it is futile to preach religion amongst them without first trying to remove their poverty and sufferings. It is for this reason to find more means for the salvation of the poor India that I am now going to America."
Continued (Part 6)
The Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893
Vivekananda left Mumbai (Bombay) on 31 May 1893 and reached Chicago on 30 July via Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canton, Nagasaki, Kobe, Osaka, kyoto, Tokyo, Yokohama, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Soon after his arrival in Chicago, he went to the information bureau of the Exposition and heard some heartrending news: The forthcoming Parliament of Religions would not open before the second week of September; no one without credentials from a bona fide organization would be accepted as a delegate; and the date to be registered as a delegate had passed. Moreover, he knew no one in Chicago and did not have sufficient money to pay the exorbitant hotel charges.
He managed to stay in Chicago for nearly two weeks and observed the Worlds Fair, which had been arranged in connection with the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbuss discovery of America. Marie Louise Burke states: "The primary purpose of the Worlds Columbian Exposition of 1893 was to bring together the fruits of mans material progress. Everything imaginable was on exhibit not only the achievements of Western civilization, but the better to show these off, life-size models of the more backward cultures of the world."
God plays in mysterious ways. Someone suggested that Vivekananda go to Boston, where living expenses would be much lower. Earlier, on the train from Vancouver to Chicago, he had met Katherine Sanborn of Boston. She had invited him to be her guest, so he now left for Boston to stay with her. She introduced the Swami to John Wright, the professor of Greek at Harvard University. He wrote some introductory letters for Vivekananda to some of his friends who were connected with the Parliament: "Here is a man more learned than all our learned professors put together." In addition, Professor Wright bought the Swamis railroad ticket back to Chicago.
It was late evening when Vivekananda arrived in Chicago. Unfortunately, he had lost the address of the committee in charge of Parliament delegates. He did not know where to turn for help, and no one came forward to assist this strange looking foreigner. Swamiji spent his first night without food, in an empty wagon that he found in the railroad station. The next morning, by divine providence, he met Mrs. George W. Hale. She took him into her home and later introduced him to her personal friend, Dr. J.H. Barrows, the president of the Parliament. Through him, the Swami was accepted as a representative of Hinduism and was lodged with the other delegates.
The Worlds Parliament of Religions was one of the most significant events in the history of the world, because this was the first time all great religions of the world assembled on the same platform. On 11 September 1893, in the opening session of the Parliament, Vivekananda reiterated the eternal message of Vedanta: "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their waters in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they may appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."
Mrs. S.K. Blodgett, an American lady who first saw Vivekananda at the Parliament, said later: "I was at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893, and when that young man (Vivekananda) got up and said: 'Sisters and Brothers of America,' seven thousand people rose to their feet as a tribute to something they knew not what. When it was over, I saw scores of women walking over the benches to get near him, and I said to my self, 'Well, my lad, if you can resist that onslaught, you are indeed a god.'"
On 27 September 1893, in the final session of the Parliament, Vivekananda concluded his speech: "If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: it has proved to the world that holiness, purity, and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: Help and not Fight, Assimilation and not Destruction, Harmony and Peace and not Dissension."
I have a Message For the West
The American news media gave Vivekananda a great deal of publicity, and he became widely known. The homes of some of the wealthiest people of American society were opened to him, and he was received as an honoured guest. But Swamiji never swayed from his monastic ideals or from the service he had set out to perform. He began lecturing all over the Mid West as well as on the East Coast and in some southern states of the USA. Vivekananda founded the Vedanta Society of New York in November 1894. On 30 December 1894, at the Brooklyn Ethical Society, Swamiji declared: "I have a message for the West, as Buddha has a message for the East."
Vivekananda taught Vedanta to the West, the universal philosophy and religion of the Upanishads, which originated thousands of years ago in India. Western audiences heard something new in his powerful words: Sectarianism, bigotry, superstition, intolerance were swept aside to make room for the harmony of all religions. It was an overwhelming message of goodwill and brotherly love. "The Swami had little patience with the constant harping on original sin in the West," wrote Swami Atulananda, a Western monk. "Why do you dwell on sin so much?" he exclaimed. "You are heirs of immortal bliss. We Hindus refuse to call you sinners! Ye are the children of God, holy and perfect beings. It is a sin to call man a sinner, it is a libel on human nature." Atulananda continued: "Thus the Swami declared the trumpet call of glad tidings, of hope, of cheer, of salvation for all. And a new thought wave swept over America. The Swami brought the gospel of the divinity of human beings."
"Swami Vivekananda had come to speak the Truth, not to flatter the American nation to win their applause and sympathy. He had great reverence for Christ and his teachings, but he saw flaws in current Christianity In Detroit, before a large audience he exclaimed: "I have come to make you better Christians. Remember Christs saying: "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God." Everything that has selfishness for its basis must perish. If you want to live, go back to Christ. Go back to him who had nowhere to lay his head. Go back to him . Better be ready to live in rags with Christ than to live in palaces without him."
Vivekananda redefined religion for his Western audience, saying: "You must bear in mind that religion does not consist in talk, or doctrines, or books, but in realization. It is not learning but BEING."
"The old religion said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is an atheist who does not believe in himself."
"Religion is the idea which is raising the brute unto man, and man unto God . Take religion from human society and what will remain? Nothing but a forest of brutes. Sense-happiness is not the goal of humanity. Wisdom is the goal of all life."
The supreme goal of human life, according to Vivekananda, is to manifest the divinity that is within all beings. How is this done? Vivekananda described the methods in detail in his talks on the four yogas: karma yoga, the path of unselfish action; bhakti yoga, the path of devotion; raja yoga, the path of meditation; and jnana yoga, the path of knowledge. These yogas, or spiritual paths, help people to unite themselves with God, or Brahman, so they can overcome all the weaknesses and problems in their lives and attain supreme bliss and freedom.
Truth is always simple, as the teachings of all great teachers of the world demonstrate. Since Vivekananda had himself experienced the Ultimate Reality, he could make the truths of Vedanta understandable to all. He wrote to one of his disciples: "To put the Hindu ideas into English and then make out of dry philosophy and intricate mythology and queer, startling psychology, a religion which shall be easy, simple, popular, and at the same time meet the requirements of the highest minds is a task only those can understand who have attempted it. The dry, abstract Advaita must become living poetic in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms; and out of bewildering yogi-ism must come the most scientific and practical psychology and all this must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it. That is my lifes work."
Establishing the Vedanta Movement in the West
During his lecture tour, Vivekananda came in contact with many well-known Western personalities. Robert Ingersoll, the famous orator and agnostic, cautioned Swamiji not to be too bold because people were intolerant of alien religious ideas. "Fifty years ago," he said, "you would have been hanged if you had come to preach in this country, or you would have been burnt alive. You would have been stoned out of the village if you had come even much later."
The great electrical inventor Nikola Tesla was impressed hearing Swamiji talk about the Vedantic Prana (energy), Akasha (space), and the Kalpas (cycles) which according to Tesla were the only theories modern science could entertain. Vivekananda also met John D. Rockefeller; and the Swami tried to help him understand that God had given him wealth so that he might have an opportunity to do good to others. Rockefeller was annoyed that any one would dare talk to him that way; he left the room without even saying goodbye. A week later he visited Swamiji and brought a paper that set forth his plans to donate an enormous sum of money to a public institution. "Well, there you are," he said, "you must be satisfied now, and you can thank me for it." Swamiji quietly read it and said: "It is for you to thank me."
Harriet Monroe and Ella Wheeler Wilcox, two famous American poets, heard Vivekanandas lectures and became his great admirers. Swamiji also left a lasting impression on Professor William James of Harvard university; Dr. Lewis G. Janes, president of the Brooklyn Ethical Association; Mrs. J.J.Bagley, the wife of the governor of Michigan; Sarah Farmer, the founder of Green Acre Conference; Mrs. Sara C. Bull, the wife of Ole Bull, the celebrated Norwegian violinist; Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress; and Madam Emma Calve, the well-known French opera singer.
Calve wrote in her autobiography: "It has been my good fortune and my joy to know a man who truly walked with God, a noble being, a saint, a philosopher, and a true friend. His influence upon my spiritual life was profound. He opened up new horizons before me, enlarging and vivifying my religious ideas and ideals, teaching me a broader understanding of truth. My soul will bear him eternal gratitude. The extraordinary man was a Hindu monk of the Order of the Vedanta. He was called the Swami Vivekananda, and was widely known in America for his religious teachings."
After lecturing extensively, Swamiji realized that mere talk was not enough; he needed to train some sincere souls who would continue spreading the message of Vedanta in his absence. In the summer of 1894 Swamiji was invited to speak at a "Humane Conference" held at Green Acre, Maine. Christian Scientists, spiritualists, faith healers, and groups representing similar views participated in the conference. On 31 July 1894 Vivekananda wrote to his devotees, the Hale sisters, who lived in Chicago:
"The other night the camp people all went to sleep under a pine tree under which I sit every morning a la India and talk to them. Of course I went with them and we had a nice night under the stars, sleeping on the lap of Mother Earth, and enjoyed every bit of it. I cannot describe to you that nights glories after the year of brutal life that I have led, on sleeping on the ground, to meditate under the tree in the forest! The inn people are more or less well-to do, and the camp people are healthy, young, sincere, and holy men and women. I teach them all Shivoham, Shivoham I am Shiva, I am Shiva and they all repeat it, innocent and pure as they are, and brave beyond all bounds, and I am so happy and glorified."
In the same letter, Swamiji inspired his American sisters, who sincerely helped his Western work: "Wealth goes, beauty vanishes, life flies, powers fly but the Lord abideth forever, love abideth forever . Stick to God. Who cares what comes, in the body or anywhere? Through the terrors of evil, say, My God, my love! Through the pangs of death, say, My God, my love! Do not go for glass beads, leaving the mine of diamonds. This life is a great chance. What! Seekest thou the pleasures of this world? He is the fountain of all bliss. Seek the highest, aim for the highest, and you shall reach the highest."
While in New York in the early part of 1895, Swamiji met Miss Josephine MacLeod and her sister Betty (who later married Francis Leggett). They not only worked for Vedanta, but also took care of Swamijis personal needs. In the middle of 1895, when Swamiji was exhausted from lecturing in New York, Mr. Leggett invited him to his retreat cottage at Camp Percy, New Hampshire. On 7 June 1895, Vivekananda wrote to a friend about his visit to the camp: "It gives me a new lease on life to be here. I go into the forest alone and read my Gita and am quite happy."
After a short visit to Camp Percy, Swamiji went to thousand Island Park on the Saint Lawrence River in New York State. Miss Elizabeth Dutcher, a Vedanta student, gave her cottage to Swamiji so that he could rest there as well as give classes for sincere students. Swamiji stayed there nearly seven weeks and taught his American students the uplifting philosophy of Vedanta along with the lives and teachings of other great teachers of the world. These teachings were later published as Inspired Talks. In Thousand Island Park Swamiji initiated some of his male and female students into sannyasa and brahmacharya (renunciation and celibacy), reminding them again and again: Find God. Nothing else matters. He emphasized morality as the basis of spiritual life. Without truth, non-violence, continence, non-covetousness, cleanliness, and austerity, he repeated, there could be no spirituality.
On the morning of 7 August 1895, he went for a walk with Sister Christine and Mrs. Mary Funke. They strolled about half a mile up a hill covered with trees, and sat under a low-branched tree. Vivekananda suddenly said to them: "Now we will meditate. We shall be like Buddha under the Bo-tree." Vivekananda became so still that he seemed to turn to bronze. Then a thunderstorm came, and it poured rain. The Swami was absorbed in meditation, oblivious to everything around him. Mrs. Funke raised her umbrella and protected him as much as possible. After a while Vivekananda regained his outer consciousness, and looking around, said, "Once more am I in Calcutta in the rains." That evening he left for New York.
In mid August, Swamiji left for Paris, where Mr. Francis Leggett had invited him to be his guest. Before he left, however, both Miss Henrietta Muller and E.T. Sturdy invited him to London to teach Vedanta. Swamiji was also eager to do some constructive Vedanta work in England, and decided to establish a society there. For that purpose, he brought from India Swami Saradananda, and later Swami Abhedananda. During his first visit to the West, Vivekananda travelled to England three times; from September to November 1895, from April to July 1896, and from October to December 1896. Miss Margaret Noble (later Sister Nivedita) wrote in her book The Master as I Saw Him:
"It is strange to remember, and yet it was surely my good fortune, that though I heard the teachings of my Master, the Swami Vivekananda, on both the occasions of his visits to England in 1895 and 1896, I yet knew little or nothing of him in private life, until I came to India in the early days of 1898.
What the world wants today, is twenty men and women who can dare to stand in the street yonder and say that they possess nothing but God. Who will go?" He (Swami Vivekananda) had risen to his feet by this time, and stood looking round his audience as if begging some of them to join him. Why should one fear? And then, in tones of which, even now, I can hear again the thunderous conviction, If this is true, what else could matter? If it is not true, what do our lives matter?"
During his second visit, the Swami electrified English audiences with his jnana yoga lectures. In addition he gave a series of lectures at the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours in Piccadilly, in clubs, educational societies, and in private circles. The British press expressed great admiration for him. Vivekananda wrote to a disciple in Madras, "In England my work is really splendid." Vivekananda attracted some sincere British followers who dedicated their lives for his mission. Two of them were J.J.Goodwin, who became his stenographer and recorded many of his lectures, and Margaret Noble, who later went to India and established a school for women.
Professor Max Muller, the well-known orientalist, wrote an article entitled A Real Mahatma, about Sri Ramakrishna (Nineteenth Century August 1896). He invited Vivekananda to his Oxford residence, and they became close friends. Later, in Germany, the Swami met Professor Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist, who believed the system of Vedanta to be one of the "most majestic structures and valuable products of the genius of man in his search for Truth."
Vivekananda left England on 16 December 1896 and travelled overland to Naples, the port of departure for India. Mr. and Mrs. Sevier, who later helped to establish the Advaita Ashrama in Mayavati, accompanied him. On their way to India, the group visited Milan, Florence, and finally Rome, where they spent Christmas week. Swamiji was impressed with the magnificent art collection of Italy, as well as the grandeur of the cathedrals. At Naples, Goodwin joined the party and they left for India on 30 December 1896.
Continued (Part 7)
The Return to India
On the eve of his departure from London, an English friend had asked him, "Swami, how will you like your motherland after three years experience in the luxurious and powerful West?" His significant reply was: "India I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me, the very air is now holy to me; it is the holy land, the place of pilgrimage."
Vivekananda and his devotees arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the afternoon of 15 January 1897. On that same day, the people of Colombo gave Vivekananda a royal reception. The Swami gave the first public lecture in the East, entitled India, the Holy Land, on the following day. Pointing to Indian spiritual tradition, the Swami said: "Slow and silent, as the gentle dew that falls in the morning, unseen and unheard, yet producing a most tremendous result, has been the work of the calm, patient, all-suffering spiritual race upon the world of thought."
Vivekanandas journey from Colombo to Madras was eventful. As soon as the Swami touched Indian soil, Bhaskar Setupati, the Raja of Ramnad, received his beloved guru cordially and arranged everything for him and his Western followers. Swamiji received overwhelming receptions at Kandy, Anuradhapuram, Jaffna, Pamban, Rameshwaram, Ramnad, Paramakudi, Madura, Trichonopoly, and Kumbhakonam.
It is amazing that an unknown monk became a national hero. The enthusiasm of the people reached its peak in Madras, where extensive preparations had been made for Vivekanandas reception. It was the people of Chennai (Madras) who had first recognized the Swamis greatness, and had equipped him for his journey to America. The city streets were profusely decorated and seventeen triumphal arches had been erected. As soon as he got off the train, thousands of people received him with thundering shouts and applause. An elaborate procession was formed and he was taken to Castle Kernan, where arrangements had been made for his stay in the city. Vivekananda gave four lectures in Madras. All of his lectures from Colombo to Almora were recorded by his English disciple, J.J. Goodwin, and later published.
Swami Vivekananda began to awaken the sleeping, subjugated nation with the clarion call of Vedanta: " Arise! Awake! And stop not till the goal is reached! Strength, strength is what the Upanishads speak to me from every page. Be not weak. Will sin cure sin, weakness cure weakness? Stand up and be strong."
"The first step in getting strength is to uphold the Upanishads, and believe: I am the Soul. I am the Omnipotent, I am the Omniscient. Repeat these blessed saving words . These conceptions of Vedanta must come out, must not remain in the forest, not only in the cave, but they must come out at the bar and the bench, in the pulpit, and in the cottage of the poor man."
Vivekanandas bold message reverberated all over India and awakened the national consciousness:
"My India, arise! Where is your vital force? In your immortal Soul. Each nation, like each individual, has one theme in this life, which is its centre, the principal note round which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any one nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, the direction which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, that nation dies . In one nation political power is its vitality as in England. Artistic life, in another, and so on. In India religious life forms the centre, the keynote of the whole music of the national life."
Vivekananda reminded his countrymen to be unselfish and to cultivate love for the masses: "Feel, therefore, my would-be reformers, my would-be patriots! Do you feel? Do you feel that millions and millions of the descendants of gods and of sages have become next-door neighbours to brutes? Do you feel that millions are starving today and millions have been starving for ages? Do you feel that ignorance has come over the land as a dark cloud? Does it make you restless? Does it make you sleepless? Has it made you almost mad? Are you seized with that one idea of the misery of ruin, and have you forgotten all about your name, your fame, your wives, your children, your property, even your own bodies? If so, that is the first step to becoming patriot."
"For the next fifty years let all other vain gods disappear from our minds. This is the only god that is awake: our own race everywhere His hands, everywhere His feet, everywhere His ears, He covers everything. All other gods are sleeping. Why should we vainly go after them, when we can worship the god that we see all around us, the Virat (the Cosmic god)? The first of all worships is the worship of the Virat, of those all around us. These are all our gods men and animals; the first gods we have to worship are our own countrymen."
Swamiji wanted to uplift the masses through his Man-making religion and Man-making education. He said:
"Men, men these are wanted: everything else will be ready; but strong, vigorous, believing young men, sincere to the backbone, are wanted. A hundred such and the world will be revolutionized." At the same time he cautioned his followers: "Let no political significance ever be attached falsely to my writings or sayings . I will have nothing to do with political nonsense. I do not believe in politics. God and Truth are the only policy in the world. Everything else is trash."
Vivekananda had a tremendous impact all over South India. After visiting the South, he and his party took a boat from Chennai (Madras) to Calcutta. The steamer reached Budge Budge on 19 February, and he boarded a special train for Sealdah, Calcuttta. Some of his brother disciples and thousands of people gave the Swami a wonderful reception: triumphal arches decorated the streets, and his unharnessed carriage was drawn by students in a huge procession with music and religious songs. Gopallal Seal Villa, a garden house on the bank of the Ganges, was arranged for the Swami and his party.
On 28 February 1897 the people of Calcutta honoured him with a public reception. Raja Benoy Krishna Deb presided and thousands of people attended. In response to the welcome address, Vivekananda spoke briefly about his work in the West, and how Vedantic teachings could improve the lives of the masses. He also paid a touching tribute to Sri Ramakrishna, "My teacher, my master, my hero, my ideal, my God in life." "If there has been anything achieved by me," he said with deep feeling, "by thoughts or words or deeds, if from my lips has ever fallen one word that has ever helped anyone in the world, I lay no claim to it; it was his. But if there have been curses falling from my lips, if there has been hatred coming out of me, it is all mine, and not his. All that has been weak has been mine; all that has been life giving, strengthening, pure and holy has been his inspiration, his words, and he himself. Yes, my friends, the world has yet to know that man."
In 1897 the birth anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna was celebrated at the Dakshineshwar temple garden. Vivekananda joined the festival along with his brother disciples and devotees. He walked barefoot on the holy ground, and was emotionally overwhelmed remembering his days with the Master. Vivekananda tried to speak a few words, but could not be heard over the noise of the large crowd around him. While Vivekananda was in Calcutta people flocked to him incessantly to pay their respects, or to hear his exposition of Vedanta. As a result, his health broke down and he left for Darjeeling, a Himalayan resort, for a much-needed rest. Swamiji regained his health to some extent, and then returned to Calcutta at the end of April 1897.
Vedanta was never an organized religion; it has been practised by mendicants all through the ages. However, Vivekananda felt the need of a monastic order that would carry the message of Vedanta all over the world, although he knew the pros and cons of organized religion. While he was in America this thought came to his mind: "To organize or not to organize? If I organize, the spirit will diminish. If I do not organize, the message will not spread." On 1st May 1897 Vivekananda called a meeting of the monastic and lay devotees of Ramakrishna at the Calcutta residence of Balaram Basu and discussed the establishment of his Vedanta work on an organized basis.
Swamiji proposed to the members present that the association should "bear the name of him in whose name we have become sannyasins (monks), taking whom as your idea you are leading the life of householders, and whose holy name, influence, and teachings have within twelve years of his passing away, spread in such unthought-of ways both in the East and in the West." All the members enthusiastically accepted the swamis proposal, and the Ramakrishna Mission Association came into existence. Swamiji then delineated the aims and ideals of the Ramakrishna Order, which are purely spiritual and humanitarian in nature and completely dissociated from politics.
Swamiji was overjoyed to see the auspicious beginning of his work in India. Inspired by Vivekananda, Mr. and Mrs. Sevier became involved in building the Advaita Ashrama at Mayavati in the Himalayas, where Westerners could practise non-dualistic Vedanta. Swamijee sent Swami Ramakrishnananda to start a centre in Madras, and Swamis Akhandananda and Trigunatitananda started extensive famine relief work in Murshidabad and Dinajpur. Swamiji encouraged his brother disciples to spread out all over India. On 9 July 1897 Swamiji wrote to Mary Hale in Chicago:
"Only one idea was burning in my brain to start the machine for elevating the Indian masses, and that I have succeeded in doing so to a certain extent. It would have made your heart glad to see how my boys are working in the midst of famine and disease and misery nursing by the mat-bed of the cholera stricken pariah and feeding the starving chandala, and the Lord sends help to me, to them, to all."
From May 1897 to the end of that year, Swamiji travelled and lectured extensively in northern India. He was over extending himself, sacrificing his health and comfort for the regeneration of India. Finally his doctors advised him to go to a cool place in the Himalayas. He therefore went to Almora, a Himalayan resort. On 29 May he wrote to his doctor: "I began to take a lot of exercise on horseback, both morning and evening. Since then I have been very much better indeed . You ought to see me, Doctor, when I sit meditating in front of the beautiful snow peaks and repeat from the Upanishads, He has neither disease, nor decay, nor death; for verily, He has obtained a body full of the fire of yoga."
On 3 June 1897 he wrote to Christine Greenstidel: "As for myself, I am quite content. I have roused a good many of our people, and that was all I wanted. Let things have their course and karma its sway. I have no bonds here now."
From Almora Vivekananda went to Punjab and Kashmir. Wherever he travelled, he inspired people to organize in order to carry on the work of practical Vedanta. In Jammu he had a pleasant meeting with the maharaja of Kashmir, and he discussed with him the possibility of founding a monastery in Kashmir for training young people. In Lahore the swami gave a number of lectures, and brought harmony between the Arya Samajists and the orthodox Hindus, two antagonistic sects. Swamiji was very much against religious dogmatism, and personality cults; he knew that personality cult grows speedily and dies quickly. Vivekananda preached the eternal, universal principles of Vedanta. One day at Lahore when Lala Hansraj, the leader of the Arya Samaj, was defending his orthodox view about the Vedas, Swamiji said to him:
"Sir, you emphasize that there can be only one interpretation of the Vedas, which I consider a kind of fanaticism. I know it helps to spread a sect rapidly. Again a personality cult spreads faster than scriptural dogma. I have the power to bring one-third of the population of the world under the banner of Sri Ramakrishna, but I have no intention of doing that, because that will counteract my gurus great message of harmony, As many faiths so many paths, and a new sect will originate in India."
Before returning to Calcutta, he visited Dehra Dun, Delhi, Alwar, Khetri, Ajmere, Jodhpur, Indore, and other places in northern and western India.
Continued (Part 8)
Training the Disciples
Vivekananda spent most of 1898 training his Indian and Western disciples and working to consolidate what had already been started. During this period he also travelled to Darjeeling, Almora, and Kashmir.
In 1892 the Ramakrishna Monastery had been moved from Baranagore to Alambazar, and then in February 1898 it was moved to Nilambar Mukherjees garden house in Belur village. A plot of land was purchased there on the bank of the Ganges. Under Swamijis direction, the brother monks supervised the levelling of the grounds, and the construction of the living quarters and the shrine. Several young men joined the monastery, inspired by Vivekanandas message. Besides conducting classes on Vedanta scriptures, the Swami spent hours with them in meditation and devotional singing. Vivekananda also engaged Swami Swarupananda and the Seviers to start an English monthly magazine, Prabuddha Bharata in Mayavati, Himalayas, and asked Swami Trigunatitananda to start the Bengali magazine Udbodhan in Calcutta. During that time, he also initiated Miss Margaret Noble into brahmacharya (celibacy) and gave her the name "Nivedita" the Dedicated One.
In March 1898 there was an outbreak of plague in Calcutta. Vivekananda immediately made plans for relief work, but there was no money. He told his brother disciples: "We shall sell, if necessary, the land that has just been purchased for the monastery. We are sannyasins (monks); we must be ready to sleep under the trees and live on alms as we did before. Must we care for the monastery and possessions, when by disposing of them we could relieve thousands of helpless people suffering before our own eyes?" Fortunately, monetary help came from the public, and the Ramakrishna monks and Sister Nivedita did extensive relief work in the city.
When the plague was under control, Swami left Calcutta with his Western disciples and went to Almora to rest as well as to train them for work in India. They learned from Vivekananda the Indian way of life, its history, religion, philosophy, and tradition. Sister Nivedita recorded these talks in her book Notes of Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda. Mrs. Ole Bull and Miss Josephine MacLeod were with Swamiji during this Himalayan journey. "How can I best help you?" asked Miss MacLeod. The Swami replied, "Love India." This remarkable American woman followed Vivekananda till her death. What a great service she gave to India! Mrs. Ole Bull was also a great devotee. She contributed financially to build the Belur monastery. In Almora the Swami heard that Pavhari Baba and J. J.Goodwin had died. He exclaimed in grief when on 21 June 1898 he received the cable announcing Goodwins death, "My right hand is gone!" He wrote a beautiful condolence letter to Goodwins mother in England and he also wrote a poem in his honour entitled "Requiescat in Pace".
On 11 June 1898 Swamiji and his party left Almora for Kashmir. While in Kashmir, the maharaja received Vivekananda with the utmost respect and offered him a plot of land to build a monastery and a Sanskrit college. Unfortunately this plan was later cancelled, because the British government did not approve it. While in Kashmir Swamiji decided to make a pilgrimage to Amarnath, the ice lingam of Lord Shiva in the glacial valley of the western Himalayas. Even today, it is a very difficult journey. He asked Nivedita to accompany him, so that she might have first hand experience of the Hindu pilgrims life. On 2 August 1898 the Swami and Nivedita entered the cave and worshipped the Lord. There Vivekananda had an overwhelming spiritual experience. He never disclosed it fully, except to say that he had been granted a boon by Amarnath, the Lord of Immortality, not to die until he himself willed it.
On 8 August the party arrived at Srinagar, where they remained until 30 September. During this period the Swamis mood was directed to Kali, the Divine Mother. He composed a poem about her, and later went to visit Kshir Bhavani, a temple dedicated to the Mother that had long ago been destroyed by Muslim invaders. Here he had a vision of the Goddess. Observing the ruins of the temple, Vivekananda felt sad and said to himself: "How could the people have permitted such sacrilege without offering strenuous resistance? If I had been here then, I would never have allowed such a thing. I would have laid down my life to protect the Mother." Thereupon he heard the voice of the Goddess saying: "What if unbelievers should enter my temple and defile my image? What is that to you? Do you protect me, or do I protect you? My child, if I wish I can have innumerable temples and magnificent monastic centres. I can even this moment raise a seven storied golden temple on this very spot." After his return, referring to this experience, he said to his disciples: "All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it is only Mother! Mother! I have been very wrong . I am only a little child."
The party left Kashmir on 11 October and went to Lahore. The Western disciples left for Agra and Delhi to sightsee, and the Swami returned to Belur Math on 18 October. After this pilgrimage his health again deteriorated. He suffered terribly from asthma.
On 12 November 1898, the day of the Kali worship, Holy Mother inaugurated the Nivedita Girls School in Calcutta. At the end she prayed that the blessings of the great Mother of the universe might be upon the school and that the girls it should train might be ideal girls. Thus the Swami encouraged Nivedita to educate Indian women, and gave her complete freedom to run the school.
On 9 December 1898 Belur Math was formally consecrated when Vivekananda installed the Masters relics in its shrine. Swamiji carried the urn of relics on his own shoulder, and on his way he said to a disciple: "The Master once told me, I will go and live wherever you take me, carrying me on your shoulder, be it under a tree or in the humblest cottage. With faith in that gracious promise I myself am now carrying him to the site of our future Math. Know for certain, my boy, that so long as his name inspires his followers with the ideal of purity, holiness, and charity for all men, even so long shall he, the Master, sanctify this place with his presence."
Vivekananda was in an ecstatic mood after the consecration: He was relieved to find a permanent place for the Master. Belur Math became the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order. He told the monks and devotees: "It will be a centre in which will be recognized and practised a grand harmony of all creeds and faiths as exemplified in the life of Sri Ramakrishna, and religion in its universal aspect, alone, will be preached. And from this centre of universal toleration will go forth the shining message of goodwill, peace, and harmony to deluge the whole world."
Vivekananda was an embodiment of renunciation and purity, and he reminded the monks that all power comes from those virtues. In the Belur Math rule book, he stated the monks primary goal: "This monastery is established to work out ones own liberation, and to train oneself to do good to the world in every way, along the lines laid down by Sri Ramakrishna." One day one of his disciples expressed a desire to go into seclusion in order to practise austerities. The Swami reprimanded him: "You will go to hell if you seek your own salvation! Seek the salvation of others if you want to reach the highest. Kill out the desire for personal liberation. This is the greatest spiritual discipline." This statement shows what an unselfish, gigantic heart Vivekananda had!
Second Visit to the West
On 16 December 1898 Vivekananda announced that he would return to the West to meet his old friends and to see the progress of the Vedanta work that he had started. The monks and devotees welcomed the idea, thinking the sea voyage would restore his failing health. Vivekananda left from Calcutta on 20 June 1899, accompanied by Swami Turiyananda and Sister Nivedita. This journey turned into a wonderful education for both of them: Swamiji taught Turiyananda how to work in the West and Nivedita how to work in the East. Nivedita wrote: "It was while we sat chatting in the river (Ganga) on the first afternoon, he suddenly exclaimed: Yes, the older I grow, the more everything seems to me to lie in manliness." Another day, the Swami said to Nivedita: "Social life in the West is like a peal of laughter, but underneath, it is a wail. It ends in a sob. The fun and frivolity are all on the surface: really, it is full of tragic intensity. Now here (India), it is sad and gloomy pri on the outside, but underneath are carelessness and merriment."
Vivekanandas belief in the effectiveness of Vedanta grew through his travels and observations, experiences and insights. He saw it not as a mere religion or philosophy, but rather as a means by which science and religion could become reconciled, and material prosperity and spirituality blended. He noticed that the East was strong in noble religious and spiritual traditions even though it suffered from grinding poverty; the West, however, for all its technological advancements and affluence, suffered from spiritual poverty. There was no reason, he thought, why East and West could not profit from each others strengths by removing each others weaknesses.
Vivekananda arrived in London on 31 July 1899 and stayed there a few weeks. He met with some old friends, but his fragile health did not allow him to give lectures. He then left for New York with Turiyananda and two American devotees, and arrived there on 28 August. It was arranged that the Swamis would live temporarily at Ridgely Manor, Francis Leggetts beautiful country home. The entire fall Vivekananda rested and recuperated. He was happy to see the activities of the Vedanta Society of New York (which he had founded in November 1894) under the leadership of Swami Abhedananda, and he engaged Swami Turiyananda to give classes in Montclair, New Jersey.
Vivekananda was in a relaxed mood at Ridgely. "There are many memories," writes Maud Stumm, an American devotee, "connected with those days at Ridgely. Nearly every day Swami was wonderful in a new way and now it would be music that he dwelt upon, now art, and once he burst into the morning room, declaring for Liberty. "What do I care if Mohammed was a good man, or Buddha! Does that alter my goodness or evil? Let us be good for our own sake on our own responsibility!'
Miss MacLeod wrote in her reminiscences: "In the evening, sitting around the great fire in the hall of Ridgely Manor, he would talk, and once, after he came out with some of his thoughts, a lady said, Swami, I dont agree with you there. No? Then it is not for you, he answered. Someone else said, O, but that is where I find you true. Ah, then it was for you, he said, showing that utter respect for the other mans views. One evening he was so eloquent, about a dozen people listening, his voice becoming so soft and seemingly far away; when the evening was over, we all separated without even saying goodnight to each other. Such a holy quality pervaded . My sister, Mrs. Leggett, had occasion to go to one of the rooms afterward. There she found one of the guests, an agnostic, weeping. What do you mean? my sister asked, and the lady said, That man has given me eternal life. I never wish to hear him again."
Continued (Part 9)
On 22 November Vivekananda left for Los Angeles via Chicago and stayed in southern California from 3 December 1899 to 22 February 1900. While in southern California he gave several lectures in Los Angeles and Pasadena. During his last six weeks there he stayed with the Mead sisters (Mrs. Carie Mead Wyckoff, Mrs. Alice Mead Hansbrough, and Miss Helen Mead) at their house at 309 Monterey Road in South Pasadena. (The house, now owned by the Vedanta Society of Southern California and carefully restored to its original state, is surprisingly small.) Mrs. Hansbrough became the Swamis private secretary during his California trip. During his stay in Pasadena he often played with the Mead sisters children, and sometimes would join them for picnics or sightseeing.
After lunch Swamiji would generally recline on the couch in the living room, and there he would read or talk while Mrs. Wyckoff busily pursued her various household tasks. "Madam," he said one day to her, "you work so hard that it makes me tired. Well, there have to be some Marthas, and you are Martha." Another day the Swami asked Ralph, Mrs. Wyckoffs son, "Can you see your own eyes?" Ralph answered that he could not, except in a mirror. "God is like that," the Swami told him. "He is as close as your own eyes. He is your own, even though you cant see Him."
Vivekananda then travelled to northern California, where in April 1900 he founded the Vedanta Society in San Francisco. Swamijis oratory and magnetic personality overwhelmed the people. "He once told us," Mr. Thomas Allan recounted, "that he had such faith in the Divine Mother that if he had to speak on a subject that he knew absolutely nothing about, he would get on his feet, for he knew that Mother would put the words into his mouth." Mrs. Edith Allan wrote in her reminiscences: "Although I attended all Swamijis public lectures both in San Francisco and Almeda, it was close contact with Swamiji that I most deeply cherish. Once after being quiet for some time Swamiji said: Madame, be broad-minded, always see two ways. When I am on the heights, I say, "I am He," and when I have a stomachache, I say "Mother, have mercy on me." Always see two ways. On another occasion he said: Learn to be witness. If there are two dogs fighting on the street and I go out there, I get mixed up in the fight; but if I stay quietly in my room, I witness the fight from the window. So learn to be the witness."
Swamiji was bold and fearless. He never tried to please or flatter others: he told people what was good for them. Ida Ansell, Swamijis stenographer, wrote in her memoirs: "What becomes of ones individuality when one realizes his oneness with God? You people in this country are so afraid of losing your in-di-vid-u-al-i-ty! he would exclaim. Why, you are not individuals yet. When you realize your whole nature, you will attain your true individuality, not before. In knowing God you cannot lose anything. There is another thing I am constantly hearing in this country, and that is that we should live in harmony with nature. Dont you know that all the progress ever made in the world was made by conquering nature? We are to resist nature at every point if we are to make any progress."
During his second visit to America Swamiji worked mainly in California. While there, he had a premonition of the approaching end; in April 1900 he wrote to Miss MacLeod, "My boat is nearing the calm harbour from which it is never more to be driven out." Before finishing his mission to the world, Swamiji sang his swan song; he poured out the quintessence of Vedanta:
"In this country (America) the king has entered every one of you. You are all kings in this country. So with the religion of Vedanta. You are all Gods. One God is not sufficient .You want to be democratic in this country. It is the democratic God that Vedanta teaches. There is a chance of Vedanta becoming the religion of your country because of democracy.
"Dont repent! Dont repent! Spit, if you must, but go on! Dont hold yourself down by repeating! Throw off the load of sin, if there is such a thing by knowing your true selves The Pure! The Ever Free! That man alone is blasphemous who tells you that you are sinners ..This world is a superstition. We are hypnotized into believing it real. The process of salvation is the process of de-hypnotization This universe is just the play of the Lord that is all. It is all just for fun.
"Stand up and fight! Not one step back, that is the idea. Fight it out, whatever comes. Let the stars move from the spheres! Let the whole world stand against us! Death means only a change of garment. What of it? Thus fight! You gain nothing by becoming cowards. Taking a step backward, you do not avoid any misfortune. You have cried to all the gods in the world. Has misery ceased? This bending the knee to superstitions, this selling yourself to your own mind does not befit you, my soul. You are infinite, deathless, birthless. Arise! Awake! Stand up and Fight!
"Enter not the door of any organized religion. Religion is only between you and your God, and no third person must come between you. Think what these organized religions have done! What Nepoleon was more terrible than these religious persecutions? If you and I organize, we begin to hate every person. It is better not to love, if loving only means hating others. That is no love. That is hell!"
Swamiji left for New York from California on 30 May 1900; on his way he stopped in Chicago to meet his old friends and devotees. He was the guest of the Hale family and exchanged many old reminiscences. Swami Nikhilananda recorded a touching incident from this visit:
"On the morning of his departure, Mary came to the Swamis room and found him sad. His bed appeared to have been untouched, and on being asked the reason, he confessed that he had spent the whole night without sleep. Oh, he said, almost in a whisper, it is so difficult to break human bonds! He knew that this was the last time he was to visit these devoted friends."
After arriving in New York on 7 June 1900, he sent Turiyananda to northern California to start a retreat, which later became Shanti Ashrama. Swamiji gave a few more lectures and classes in New York and then left for Paris on 26 July 1900 to attend the Congress of the History of Religions, where he spoke twice. On 24 October 1900 he left Paris for the East with Monsieur and Madame Loyson, Jules Bois, Madame Calve, and Miss MacLeod. He visited Vienna, Constantinople, Athens, and Cairo. "What a pilgrimage it was!" recalled Madame Calve. "Science, philosophy, and history had no secrets from the Swami. I listened with all my ears to the wise and learned discourse that went on around me . One day we lost our way in Cairo. I suppose, we had been talking too intently. At any rate, we found ourselves in a squalid, ill-smelling street, where half-clad women lolled from windows and sprawled on doorsteps. The Swami noticed nothing until a particularly noisy group of women on a bench began laughing and calling to him.
"Poor children! he said. Poor creatures! They have put their divinity in their beauty. Look at them now! He began to weep. The women were silenced and abashed. One of them leaned forward and kissed the hem of his robe, murmuring brokenly in Spanish, Hombre de Dios, hombre de Dios! (Man of God)."
In Cairo, the Swami felt intuitively that something was wrong in India, not knowing that Mr. Sevier was on his deathbed at Mayavati. He became restless to return to India and left alone on the first available boat to Mumbai (Bombay).
Continued (Part 10)
Towards the End
Vivekananda disembarked in Mumbai and immediately took a train to Calcutta, arriving at Belur Math unannounced late on the evening of 9 December 1900. His brother monks and disciples were jubilant to have their leader return. Later Swamiji was given the sad news of Mr. Seviers passing away. On 11 December he wrote to Miss MacLeod: "Alas, my hurrying was of no use. Poor Captain Sevier passed away, a few days ago thus two Englishmen (the other was Mr. Goodwin) gave up their lives for us us the Hindus. This is martyrdom, if anything is."
On 27 December 1900 Vivekananda left for Mayavati to console Mrs. Sevier. He arrived there on 3 January 1901. Swamijis love and concern assuaged Mrs. Seviers grief; she loved him as his own son. He stayed there for a couple of weeks and then returned to Belur Math on 24 January. During this time the Swami received invitations for a lecture tour to East Bengal (now Bangladesh), and also his mother expressed a desire to visit the holy places in that part of the country. On 26 January 1901 he wrote to Mrs. Bull: I am going to take my mother on a pilgrimage .This is the one great wish of a Hindu widow. I have only brought misery to my people (family) all my life. I am trying to fulfill this one wish of hers."
On 28 March 1901 Swamiji, in spite of his poor health, left for Dhaka with a large party. He gave two public lectures in Dhaka and exhorted the people there to cultivate manliness and the faculty of reasoning. To a sentimental young man he said: "My boy, take my advice: develop your muscles and brain by eating good food and by healthy exercise, and then you will be able to think for yourself." On another occasion, addressing the youths of Bengal who had very little physical stamina, he said, "You will be nearer to God through football than through the Bhagavad Gita.
On 5 April Vivekananda and his party left Dhaka and visited Chandranath in Chittagong, Kamakhya in Guwahati, and Shilong. Swamijis health was failing rapidly. In addition to the diabetes from which he had been suffering, he had another severe attack of asthma at Shilong. While the Swami was in pain, someone overheard him murmuring to himself: "What does it matter! I have given them enough for fifteen hundred years!" On another occasion he said to a Western devotee: "The spiritual impact that has come here to Belur will last fifteen hundred years and this will be a great university. Do not think I imagine it, I see it."
Returning from East Bengal, Vivekananda led a relaxed life in Belur Math, surrounded by his pets: his dog, Bhaga; the she-goat, Hansi; an antelope; a stork; several cows, sheep, ducks, and geese; and a kid called Matru who was adorned with a collar of little bells, with whom the Swami ran and played like a child. The animals adored him. Matru used to sleep in his room. When Matru died he grieved like a child and said to a disciple: "How strange! Whomsoever I love dies early."
Vivekananda had completed the mission that Ramakrishna had entrusted to him. Keeping his mind on his beloved Guru, Vivekananda waited for his own great departure. Sometimes he would talk to his own disciples about the Master. Swami Shuddhananda recorded:
"Swami Vivekananda was then Narendranath; he was visiting Ramakrishna regularly at Dakshineshwar. Pointing to Narendras well-combed curly hair, the Master teased him about his foppishness. Narendra was also uninspiring; he pointed out to the Master his varnished shoes, hubble bubble, mattress, bolster, and so on. Then the Master told him, Look here, the amount of austerity I practised for God-realization, if you can do one-sixteenth of that, I shall arrange for you to sleep on a costly bedstead putting mattress upon mattress. Swamiji practised severe austerity in his life; and then when he returned from the West, his Western disciples presented him with a spring bed and mattress (which are still preserved in his room). While lying on that Western mattress and remembering those words of the Master, Swamiji would tell that incident to his disciples with tears."
In spite of his illness Vivekananda kept a watchful eye on the monks and the activities of the monastery. He gave regular classes on Vedanta scriptures, conducted meditation in the shrine, inspired the workers with a spirit of virile confidence in themselves, and paid strict attention to discipline and cleanliness. One day he found that Swami Shivananda had missed the morning meditation in the shrine. He said to him: "Brother, I know you do not need meditation. You have already realized the highest goal through the grace of Sri Ramakrishna. But you should meditate daily with the youngsters in order to set an example for them." Shivananda obeyed that command till his old age.
Ramakrishna had always been very particular about cleanliness and Swamiji followed his example. He would check the beds and rooms of the monks, and asked that they be kept clean. Once the sweeper was sick and the privy was not cleaned for three or four days. Swamiji noticed this and decided to clean it himself. One morning at four oclock, without informing anybody, he began scrubbing the privy. Some young monks saw him in the dark and rushed to him, asking that he return to his room so that they could clean it. But he did not stop until he had finished the task. An ideal teacher is the person who practises what he teaches. Swamiji thus demonstrated the role of an ideal teacher.
Sometimes he talked to the poor labourers who were levelling the ground; he also supervised cooking arrangements, and would sing devotional songs with the monks. At other times he imparted spiritual instructions to visitors. His fragile body did not dampen his desire to work. When urged to rest, he said to a disciple: "My son, there is no rest for me. That which Sri Ramakrishna called Kali took possession of my body and soul three or four days before his passing away. That makes me work and work and never lets me keep still or look to my personal comfort." Vivekananda continued to train his disciples: "In every country, nations have their good and bad sides. Ours is to do good works in our lives and hold an example before others. No work succeeds by condemnation. It only repels people. Let anybody say what he likes, dont contradict him. In this world of maya, whatever work you take up will be attended with some defect.
All undertakings are beset with imperfections, as fire with smoke. (Gita, 18, 48).
But will you, on that account, sit inactive? As far as you can, you must go on doing good work."
Later, he disclosed his lifes experience: "After so much tapasya, austerity, I have known that the highest truth is this: He is present in all beings. These are all the manifested forms of Him. There is no other God to seek for! He alone is worshipping God, who serves all beings."
Towards the end of 1901, Kakuzo Okakura, a famous artist, and Mr. Hori came to Belur Math from Japan. Later, Reverend Takuno Oda, a Buddhist abbot, came to invite Vivekananda to attend the Congress of Religions in Japan. Because of his ill health, the Swami could not go; but he agreed to go with them to Bodh Gaya, where Buddha had attained illumination. Swamiji, Miss MacLeod, Okakura, and others left for Gaya on 27 January 1902. Sister Nivedita wrote about this visit:
"When the winter began to set in, he (Vivekananda) was so ill as to be confined to bed. Yet he made one more journey, lasting through January and February 1902, when he went first to Bodh Gaya and next to Varanasi. It was a fit ending to all his wanderings. He arrived at Bodh Gaya on the morning of his last birthday (January 29), and nothing could have exceeded the courtesy and hospitality of the Mahanta (head of the monastery). Here, as afterwards at Varanasi, the confidence and affection of the orthodox world were brought to him in such measure and freedom that he himself stood amazed at the extent of his empire in mens hearts. Bodh Gaya, as it was now the last, had also been the first of the holy places he had set out to visit. And it had been in Varanasi, some few years back (when he was an unknown monk), that he had said farewell to one, with the words, Till that day when I fall on society like a thunderbolt I shall visit this place no more!"
The maharaja of Varanasi offered Swamiji a sum of money to establish a monastery there. He accepted the offer and later sent Shivananda to organize the work. Vivekananda also inspired a group of young men who had started a small organization for the purpose of providing destitute pilgrims with food, shelter, and medical help. He said to them: "You have the true spirit, my boys, and you will always have my love and blessings! Go on bravely; never mind your poverty. Money will come. A great thing will grow out of it, surpassing your fondest hopes." Swamiji wrote an appeal for their support and named the institution "Ramakrishna Home of Service."
"I Shall Never See Forty"
Vivekananda returned to Belur Math on March 1902. He had accomplished his mission, and knew his end was near. Swamiji began to withdraw himself, delegating the responsibility of the monastery to his brother disciples. "How often," he said, "does a man ruin his disciples by remaining always with them! When men are once trained, it is essential that their leader leave them, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves." He was a true sannyasin, free from all attachments.
Miss MacLeod wrote in her memoirs: "One day in April (1902) he said, I have nothing in the world. I havent a penny to myself. I have given away everything that has ever been given to me. I said: Swami, I will give you fifty dollars a month as long as you live. He thought a minute and then he said, Can I live on that? Yes, o yes, I said, but perhaps you cannot have cream. I gave him then two hundred dollars, but before the four months were passed he had gone."
"At Belur Math one day, while Sister Nivedita was distributing prizes for some athletics, I was standing in Swamijis bedroom at the Math, at the window, watching, and he said to me, I shall never see forty. I, knowing he was thirty-nine, said to him, But Swami, Buddha did not do his great work until between forty and eighty. But he said, I delivered my message and I must go. I asked Why go? and he said, The shadow of a big tree will not let the smaller trees grow up. I must go to make room."
Sometimes Swamiji was in an exalted mood. Bodhananda, a disciple of Vivekananda, recalled:
"Once Swamiji said that he would do the worship of Sri Ramakrishna that day. So all of us went to watch Swamiji do it. We were curious to see how he would perform the ritual. First, in the usual way he took his seat as worshipper and meditated. We meditated too. After a pretty long time we sensed that someone was moving around us. I opened my eyes to see who it was. It was Swamiji. Taking the tray of flowers meant to be offered to Sri Ramakrishna, he got up. But instead of placing them before the Lord, he came to us, and touching the flowers with sandal paste, placed one on the head of each disciple.
"Considered from the ordinary traditional standpoint, this was an anti-traditional act. Imagine flowers meant for the Lord, offered by Swamiji to his disciples! Generally after the worship service, the leftover flowers are set aside to be thrown away. But instead of doing this, Swamiji approached the altar and what remained in the tray placed before the picture of Sri Ramakrishna. He also carried out the usual rites. Then he indicated that the time had come for food offering; so we all got up to leave the room. It is a custom in India that during the food offering no one should be in the shrine except the worshipper. We heard from outside Swamiji saying, addressing Sri Ramakrishna, "Friend, please eat!" Then he came out of the shrine and closed the door. His eyes were bloodshot with emotion."
Bodhananda later explained the significanceof Swamijis worship:
"Actually Swamiji did not worship the disciples. In placing a flower on the head of each one of us, he really offered the flower at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna in each disciple. Thereby he awakened His presence in us. That presence took different aspects in everyone. Some were devotional; others had the jnana (knowledge) aspect predominant. By his act of worship, Swamiji awakened the Divine in us. The remaining flowers were not in any way defiled. The same divine presence, which Swamiji saw in the photograph of Sri Ramakrishna on the altar, he also saw in his disciples; and at the altar he offered the remaining flowers. Lastly, Swamijis relation to his Chosen Deity was that of a friend. That is why, in offering the food, he addressed Sri Ramakrishna by that term."
Another day, touching the casket of Sri Ramakrishnas relics, Vivekananda asked himself: "Does the Master really reside here? I must test it." Then he prayed, "Master, if you are truly present here, bring here the maharaja of Gwalior (who was then visiting Calcutta) within three days." The next day Vivekananda left for Calcutta on some business. However, when he returned later that afternoon, he was told that the maharaja of Gwalior had stopped there earlier. He had been passing by the Grand Trunk Road near the monastery in his car and had sent his younger brother to see if the Swami was in. Since Vivekananda was not there, the maharaja had gone away disappointed.
When Swamiji heard this news, he remembered his test. He immediately rushed to the shrine, and holding the urn of relics on his head, repeatedly said: "Master, you are true! You are true! You are true!" At that time Swami Premananda entered the shrine for meditation, and he was bewildered. Later Swamiji told Premananda and the monks about his test and all marvelled at this proof of the Masters presence in the shrine.
One day Swamiji came downstairs and sat on the canvas cot under the mango tree in the courtyard, facing west, as he often did. The monks around him were busy with their activities. One was sweeping the courtyard with a broom. Swami Premananda was climbing the steps to the shrine after his bath. Suddenly Vivekanandas eyes became radiant. Surcharged with spiritual fervour, he said to a disciple: "Where will you go to see Brahman? He is immanent in all beings. Here, here is the visible Brahman! Shame on those who, neglecting the visible Brahman, set their minds on other things! Here is the visible Brahman before you as tangible as a fruit in ones hand! Cant you see? Here here here is Brahman!"
These words struck the people around him like an electric shock. For about fifteen minutes no one could move or function. Premananda went into ecstasy; others experienced peace and joy. At last Vivekananda said to Premananda, "Now go to worship," and all were released. The disciples were amazed to witness the spiritual power of Vivekananda.
Swamiji explained this phenomenon on another occasion: "He who has realized the Atman (soul) becomes a house of great power. From him as the centre, and within a certain radius, emanates a spiritual force, and all those who come within this circle become animated with his ideas and are overwhelmed by them. Thus without much religious striving they inherit the results of his wonderful spirituality. This is grace."
On 15 May 1902, Swamiji wrote to Miss MacLeod: " I am somewhat better, but of course far from what I expected. A great idea of quiet has come upon me. I am going to retire for good no more work for me."
His brother disciples were worried by his contemplative mood. They remembered the Masters forecast that Naren would merge forever into samadhi as soon as his mission was over, and that he would refuse to live in his physical body once he realized who he was. A brother monk one day quite casually asked him, "Do you know yet who you are?" The unexpected reply, "Yes, I now know!" awed everyone present into silence. Nobody dared to probe further. Another day he said to Saradananda: "I dont see that girl (Mother Kali) any more. She has withdrawn her hand from me."
A few days before his passing away, one of his boyhood friends came to Vivekananda and asked for some financial help. Swamiji asked Bodhananda to give his friend two rupees from his wallet. Bodhananda checked the wallet and said that if the friend was given two rupees there would not be much left. Immediately Swamiji said: Do you think I care for that? Give him two rupees plus a little more." Then he continued: "In a room, if one window is open and the corresponding window is closed, there is no ventilation; so let it go by one window and it will come by the other."
A week before the end, Vivekanand asked Shuddhananda to bring him the Bengali almanac. Swamiji turned several pages and then kept it in his room. He was seen several times on subsequent days studying the almanac intently, as if looking for something auspicious. It did not strike anyone what his intention might be; only after his death did they realize that he was selecting an auspicious day for his departure as Sri Ramakrishna had done.
Three days before his passing away, while walking on the spacious lawn of the monastery with Premananda, Swamiji said to him, pointing to a particular spot on the bank of the Ganges, "When I give up the body, cremate it there." Today on that very spot stands a temple in his honour.
Sister Nivedita left a vivid account that includes many significant facts in connection with Vivekanandas passing away and his foreknowledge of it: "When June closed he knew well enough that the end was near. I am making ready for death! he said to one who was with him, on the Wednesday before he died. A great tapasya (austerity) and meditation has come upon me, I am making ready for death.
"Once in Kashmir, after an attack of illness, I had seen him lift a couple of pebbles, saying, Whenever death approaches me, all weakness vanishes. I have neither fear, nor doubt, nor thought of the external. I simply busy myself making ready to die. I am as hard as that and the stones struck one another in his hand for I have touched the feet of God!
"Did we not remember, moreover, the story of the great Nirvikalpa samadhi of his youth, and know, when it was over, his Master had said: This is your mango. Look! I lock it in my box. You shall taste it once more, when your work is finished!
"It was on the last Sunday before the end that he said to one of his disciples, You know, the work is always my weak point! When I think that might have come to an end, I am all undone!"
On Wednesday (2 July) of the same week, the day being Ekadashi (the eleventh day of the moon, which orthodox Hindus observe by fasting), and himself by keeping the fast in all strictness, he insisted on serving the morning (noon) meal to the same disciple (Nivedita). Each dish as it was offered boiled seeds of the jackfruit, boiled potatoes, plain rice, and ice-cold milk formed the subject of playful chat; and finally, to end the meal, he himself poured the water over the hands, and dried them with a towel.
"It is I who should do these things for you, Swamiji! Not you for me!" was the protest naturally offered. But his answer was startling in its solemnity "Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Something checked the answer But that was the last time! as it rose to the lips, and the words remained unuttered.
On his last day, Friday, 4 July 1902, Vivekananda got up very early in the morning as usual and went to the shrine for meditation. He was not sick at all. During breakfast he was in a jovial mood, teasing Premananda and recalling many events of olden times. He had fruit, milk, and tea. A fresh shad (ilish) fish from the Ganges was brought from a fisherman, and it was shown to him. Shad fish is a delicacy for Bengalis. Seeing the fish, Swamiji in fun said to a novice from East Bengal: "Don't you worship the first shad of the season in your part of the country? Let me see how you do that."
At 8:00 a.m. he again entered the shrine for meditation. When at 9:30 a.m. Premananda entered the shrine to perform the daily worship, Swamiji asked him to carry his asana (seating mat) on the Masters bedroom, which was adjacent to the shrine, and shut all doors and windows. Swamiji dusted the Masters bed with his own hand, and again sat for meditation. Never before had he performed such meditation in the monastery. What transpired there, no one knows. He finished his meditation at 11.00 a.m., and then began to sing a song about Kali in his sweet voice which the monks heard from downstairs. The words of the song are:
Is Kali, my Mother, really black?
Descending the stairs of the shrine, he walked back and forth in the courtyard of the monastery. He appeared indrawn, as if travelling to a distant land. Suddenly Swamiji said to himself: "If there were another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done! And yet how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!" His statement was overheard by Premananda, who was standing on the verandah of the chapel. Never before had Swamiji spoken like this.
Then he expressed a desire to worship Mother Kali at the monastery the following day: It was Saturday, and there was a new moon, a very auspicious time for Mothers worship. Soon after, Ishwar Chandra Chakrabarty, Ramakrishnanandas father and a devout worshipper of Mother, came to visit Vivekananda. Swamiji was delighted to see him and expressed his intention of worshipping Mother Kali. He asked Shuddhananda and Bodhananda to procure all the necessary articles for the ceremony.
After instructing the disciples to make preparations for the Kali worship, Swamiji asked Shuddhananda to bring the Shukla-Yajur Veda from the library. When it was brought, Swamiji asked him to read the mantram beginning with the words Sushumnah suryarashmi with Mahindharas commentary on it (Vajasaneyi Samhita, 18.40). Listening to part of it, Swamiji remarked: "This interpretation of the passage does not appeal to my mind. Whatever may be the commentators interpretation of the word sushumna the seed or the basis of what the Tantras, in later ages, speak of as the Sushumna nerve channel in the body, is contained here in this Vedic mantram. You, my disciples, should try to discover the true import of these mantras and make original reflections and commentaries on the scriptures."
The purport of Mahindharas commentary may be put thus: "That Moon, who is of the form of Gandharva (a demi-god), who is Sushumna, that is, giver of supreme happiness to those who perform sacrifices, and whose rays are like the rays of the Sun may that Moon protect us Brahmins and Kshatriyas! We offer our oblations to Him! His (Moons) apsaras (nymphs) are the stars who illuminate all things we offer our oblations to them." Swamijis desire to perform the Kali worship and his discussion of the Sushumna suggest what he was thinking about at the time. He was planning to give up his body like a true yogi, passing through the six centres of the Sushumna and merging the Parmatman in the Sahasrara (crown of the head).
At noon he heartily enjoyed his lunch with the monks in the dining room. Because of his illness, he had generally taken his meals in his room. That day Swamiji relished various kinds of fish preparations, and humorously told Premananda: "I was very hungry because of fasting on the Ekadashi day. With great difficulty I skipped eating the cups and plates." Again, humorously, he said to his brother disciple in English, "Fish need water to swim"; and then with a chuckle, "Please give me a glass of water." He talked a while and then went to his room to rest. After fifteen minutes he came out of his room and told Premananda: "Let us go and study. Day sleep is not good for a monk. Today I did not get any sleep. I got a little headache, because of a long meditation. I see, my brain is getting weak nowadays!"
He went to the library and called the brahmacharins to attend the class on Sanskrit grammar (Laghu Kaumudi by Varardaraja). One who attended the class wrote: "The class lasted for nearly three hours (1.00 to 4.00 p.m.). But no monotony was felt. For he (Swamiji) would tell a witty story or make bons mots now and then to lighten his teaching, as he was wont to do. Sometimes the joke would be with reference to the wording of a certain aphorism, or he would make an amusing play upon its words knowing that the fun would make it easier for recollection. On this particular day he spoke of how he had coached his college friend, Dasharathi Sanyal, in English history in one night by following a similar process. He, however, appeared a little tired after grammar class."
Swamiji wanted each disciple to be original and not to follow him blindly. Warning against false prophets who might come in the future, he said to the boys: "If any man ever imitates me, kick him out. Do not imitate me."
At 4.30 p.m. Vivekananda drank some water and a cup of hot milk. Then he went for a walk with Premananda to Belur Bazar, one mile away. He felt good and talked to his brother disciple on many interesting subjects. Seeing a garden on the way, he began to describe Mr. Leggetts big and beautiful garden at Ridgely Manor, and how in America a few people are able to manage large gardens by using machinery. By the by, he said to Premananda: "Why should you imitate me? The Master would forbid one to imitate others. Dont be extravagant like me." He also mentioned his plan for establishing a Vedic college in the monastery. In order to have a clearer understanding of what Swamiji felt on the matter, Premananda asked, "What will be the good of studying the Vedas?" Swamiji replied, "It will kill superstitions."
At 5.30 p.m. he returned to the monastery from his walk. He sat on a bench under the mango tree and said: "my health is so good today, which I have not felt for a long time." Swamiji talked to Premananda and other monks about the history of European civilization and also colonial history. "India is immortal," he said, "if she persists in her search for God. But if she goes in for politics and social conflict, she will die." He also talked to Ramakrishnanandas father for some time.
At 6.30 p.m. when he found that some monks were taking tea, he went to them and said, "Will you give me a cup of tea?" He enjoyed the tea with them. When the vesper bell was rung at 7.00 p.m., he got up and went to his room upstairs. Bodhananda, who was Swamijis secretary and kept his little bit of cash, reminisced:
"I was standing by the stairway down on the ground floor. It was the month of July. In India the mosquitoes are so numerous and so dangerous that you get malaria from them, and no one can sleep in bed without the curtains. He had discovered that the curtains of some monks were torn, and his last command to me was, See that they all get new mosquito curtains."
Even in his last moments Vivekananda showed his great love and concern for the monks!
Entering his room, Swamiji said to his attendant Brahmachari Brajendra: "My body is very light today. I feel fine. Please give me my rosary." He sat facing the Ganges. Before he began his meditation, he asked Brajendra to go to the other room, and instructed him, "Wait and meditate till I call you." After an hour, at 8.00 p.m., the Swami called Brajendra and asked him to fan his head. Swamiji told him to open all the windows of his room, because he was feeling hot. Then, he laid himself down on his bed on the floor. He still had the rosary in his hand.
After a while Swamiji said to him: "All right, no more need for fanning! It would be better if you give a little massage to my feet." Soon, he seemed to fall asleep, and one hour passed in this manner. Vivekananda was lying on his left side and the brahmacharin was massaging his feet. He then moved and lay down on his back; shortly after that, he cried out like a baby cries for his mother. Towards the end, Brajendra noticed that Swamijis right hand trembled a little, there was perspiration on his forehead, he breathed a deep breath, and his head rolled down by the pillow. There was silence for a minute or two, and again he breathed in the same manner; his body became still. It was 9:10 p.m.
Bajendra thought that Swamiji was in samadhi, but he was scared and puzzled. He rushed downstairs and told Swami Advaitananda about Swamiji. Immediately the old swami went to Swamijis room, placed his hand on his heart, and checked the pulse. There was no breathing. Then Advaitananda asked Bodhananda, who had just arrived and was cooking Swamijis meal, to check the pulse. After doing this for a while, he stood up and cried aloud. Advaitananda then told Nirbhyananda: "Alas! What are you looking at? Hurry to Dr. Mahendra Nath Majumdar of Baranagore, and bring him here as soon as you can." Within a couple of minutes Premananda arrived and found Swamiji motionless. He, Nischayananda, and Ramakrishnanandas father began to chant "Ramakrishna" loudly into Swamijis ears, hoping that he would return from samadhi. Swamijis eyes were fixed in the centre of his eyebrows, and his face had assumed a divine expression with a sweet smile.
Nirabhyananda and another monk crossed the Ganges at night the former went to the doctor at Baranagore and the latter went to Calcutta to inform Swamis Brahmananda and Saradananda. Both arrived at Belur Math at 10:30 p.m. After a thorough examination, Dr. Majumdar found no sign of life; he still tried artificial respiration, but failed. "There was," said a brother disciple, "a little blood in his nostrils, about his mouth, and in his eyes." According to the Yoga scriptures, the life breath of an illumined yogi passes out through the opening on the top of the head, causing the blood to flow in the nostrils and the mouth. Vivekananda passed away at the age of thirty-nine years, five months, and twenty-four days, thus fulfilling his own prophecy, "I shall never see forty."
In the beginning of his mission Vivekananda had said, "I am a voice without a
form." Towards the end, he said: "It may be that I shall find it good to get
outside of my body to cast it off like a disused garment. But I shall not cease to
work! I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with
"That which is night to all beings, in that state (of divine knowledge and supreme
bliss) the God-realized yogi keeps awake, and that (the ever changing, transient worldly
happiness) in which all beings keep awake is night to the seer (sage)."
The Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna
"How can He who is the Absolute Brahman, omnipresent and pervading the whole universe, incarnate Himself as man?"
Once in Dakshineshwar some non-dualistic devotees came from Varanasi to visit the Master when Gangadhar (later Swami Akhandananda) was present. He later recorded their conversation in his memoirs:
One person asked: "Sir, how can He who is the Absolute Brahman, omnipresent and pervading the whole universe, incarnate Himself as man?"
"You see," the Master replied, "He who is the Absolute Brahman is the
witness and is immanent everywhere. The divine incarnation is an embodiment of His power.
The power is incarnate somewhere a quarter, somewhere else a half, and very rarely in
full. He in whom the full powers manifest is adored as Purna Brahman, like Krishna. And
three quarters of the Divine were manifested in Rama."
Sri Ramakrishna passed away in 1886. When Sri Ramakrishna passed away, Swami Vivekananda was 23 years of age. Sixteen years later, after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda passed away in 1902. We are going to focus on the first six years of these sixteen years.
Swami Vivekananda as young Narendra received from Sri Ramakrishna trasmission of spiritual powers several times. Narendra once narrated how the Master had transmitted his power into him:
(Henceforth the Master lived in the disciple.)
I feel that that power is constantly directing me to this or that work. This body has not been made for remaining idle.”
When Sri Ramakrishna passed away, he left a batch of young disciples imbued with his spirit, to continue his work. Headed by the great Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), these educated young men lived in obscurity for about six years, performing intense spiritual sadhana (austerity) and wandering, mostly on foot, through the length and breath of India, penniless and depending upon God alone. Thus, towards the close of 1892, Swami Vivekananda went to Rameshwaram, worshipped in the temple, and then went to Kanyakumari, the last southern extremity of India.
He prostrated himself before the goddess Kanyakumari inside the shrine and was there for sometime. He came out and went to the seashore. He saw at a distance a rock in the midst of the ocean. He felt an urge to go there. He asked some fishermen to ferry him across the creek to the rock. He had no money to offer to them and they were not interested in taking a beggar sanyasin (monk) to that far-off rock. Swami Vivekananda did what any person with a desperate longing would do. He jumped into the shark-infested waters, swam along at a brisk speed and reached the rock.
He climbed up the rock and sat in a meditative pose. He saw in front of him the vast ocean, surging with waves. In front of him was the vast land of his dear and beloved India, where the teeming masses of humanity, crowded in hovels and shanties, were leading a life of poverty and starvation.
His heart wept. He yearned for the spiritual quest. His heart was a seething cauldron bursting with a fierce storm. The agony of his mother country reflected in his soul and he pined to do something for the downtrodden, for the forsaken humanity of India.
He sat on the rock and meditated for three days and three nights, without food, all alone, with not a soul to keep him company. Overhead the birds and the seagulls were fluttering their wings; underneath, there sat a great yogi, with a live volcano heart, meditating like a lonely sentinel.
At Kanyakumari, in deep meditation, the whole history of India unfolded before his vision, and he became identified, as it were, with the achievements and failures, sorrows and triumphs, of his motherland. Her past glory and continued existence through millenniums filled him with inspiration; but her present condition filled him with dismay and dejection. Yet, presently, the future filled him with hope. With tears in his eyes and hope in his breast, he discovered his mission in life, which was to dedicate himself to the regeneration of India, the queen of his adoration, to reawaken her from her deep long sleep. And this awakening is to be of real good not only to her but also to the whole world. In short, an awakening India is to be a complete synthesis of the past and present, of the East and the West.
It was at Kanyakumari that a turning point came in his life. A strong synthesis of a patriot and a prophet got merged into each other. It was at Kanyakumari where the monk decided to actively consecrate his life to the service of humanity.
He came down from the rock and started swimming back to the mainland, to awaken the dormant spirit of man, to ignite the fire once again in the dead charcoals. His spirit was superb. The creek and the ocean sent forth dancing, singing waves, singing something divine, urging him, beckoning him, filling his spirit with a sense of urgency for the noble task that lay ahead.
Like a second Buddha emerging from the seclusion of Buddha Gaya, Swami Vivekananda emerged from his meditations at Kanyakumari with the same determination which impelled Buddha 2500 years ago to preach his great message, ‘For the good of the many, for the happiness of the many’, Bahujana-hitya, Bahujana-sukya; and in this mood of assurance and resolve, Swami Vivekananda arrived in Madras (Chennai). Here he attracted the attention of a few intelligent and educated young men, and here he closed, once for all, the chapter of his obscurity. The enthusiasm of these young men and the help and sympathy of the princely rulers of Mysore and Khetri enabled him to proceed to America and to attend the Parliament of Religions at Chicago held in September 1893.
His speech at the parliament was characterised by a wide sympathy, broad outlook, and utter sincerity.
And for the next four years, the Western world, for the first time, through the lips of Swami Vivekananda, heard the universal teachings of the sages of India, the imperishable and cultural treasures of India.
It was at Kanyakumari where Swami Vivekananda decided to actively consecrate his life to the service of humanity.
The disciples learned from their Master how to synthesize the four yogas (karma, bhakti, raja and jnana), the harmony of religions, the true meaning of the scriptures, and the worship of God in human beings, service to all, recognize them as God’s manifestation and serve them.
Letter from Lord Ram (14) (reproduced from our page