Swami Vivekananda (Bengali pronunciation: Shāmi Bibekānando (help·info)): Bengali pronunciation: [ʃami bibekanɒnɖo]) (12 January 1863–4 July 1902), born Narendra Nath Datta (Bengali pronunciation: [nɔrend̪ro nat̪ʰ d̪ɔt̪t̪o]), was an Indian Hindu monk. He was a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world and was credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion in the late 19th century. He was a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India and contributed to the notion of nationalism in colonial India. He was the chief disciple of the 19th century saint Ramakrishna and the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech beginning with “Sisters and Brothers of America,” through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.
Born into an aristocratic Bengali family of Calcutta, Vivekananda showed an inclination towards spirituality. He was influenced by his guru Ramakrishna from whom he learnt that all living beings were an embodiment of the divine self and hence, service to God could be rendered by service to mankind. After the death of his guru, Vivekananda toured the Indian subcontinentextensively and acquired a first-hand knowledge of the conditions that prevailed in British India. He later travelled to the United States to represent India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating tenets of Hindu philosophy in the United States, England and Europe. In India, Vivekananda is regarded as a patriotic saint and his birthday is celebrated as the National Youth Day.
Birth and childhood
Bhuvaneswari Devi (1841–1911).
“I am indebted to my mother for the efflorescence of my knowledge.” – Swami Vivekananda
Vivekananda was born as Narendranath in Calcutta, the capital of British India, on 12 January 1863 during the Makar Sankranti festival. He belonged to a traditional Bengali Kayastha (a caste of Hindus) family and was one of the nine siblings. Narendra’s father Vishwanath Datta was an attorney of Calcutta High Court. Narendra’s mother was a pious woman and a housewife. The progressive rational approach of his father and the religious temperament of his mother helped shape his thinking and personality. Young Narendranath was fascinated by the wandering ascetics and monks.
Narendra was an average student, but a voracious reader. He was interested in a wide range of subjects such as philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, arts, and literature. He evinced interest in the Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, theBhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He trained in Indian classical music, and participated in physical exercise, sports, and organisational activities. Narendra joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871 and studied there until 1877 when his family moved to Raipur. The family returned to Calcutta two years later.
College and Brahmo Samaj
In 1879 after his family moved back to Calcutta, Narendra passed the entrance examination from the Presidency College. He subsequently studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations in the General Assembly’s Institution (now known as the Scottish Church College). In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Narendra studied the works of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin. Narendra became fascinated with theevolutionism of Herbert Spencer and had correspondence with him; he translated Spencer’s book Education (1861) into Bengali. Alongside his study of Western philosophers, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works. Dr. William Hastie, principal of General Assembly’s Institution, wrote, “Narendra is really a genius. I have travelled far and wide but I have never come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, among philosophical students.” Some accounts regard Narendra as a srutidhara—a man with prodigious memory.
Narendra became the member of a Freemason‘s lodge and of a breakaway faction of the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshub Chandra Sen. His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which included belief in a formless God and deprecation of the worship of idols. Not satisfied with his knowledge of philosophy, he wondered if God and religion could be made a part of one’s growing experiences and deeply internalised. Narendra went about asking prominent residents of contemporary Calcutta whether they had come “face to face with God” but could not get answers which satisfied him. His first introduction to the saint Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly’s Institution, when he heard Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth‘s poem The Excursion. While explaining the word “trance” in the poem, Hastie suggested his students to visit Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar to know the real meaning of trance. This prompted some of his students, including Narendra, to visit Ramakrishna.
On 4 July 1902, the day of his death, Vivekananda woke up very early in the morning, went to chapel and meditated for three hours. He taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda, Sanskrit grammar, and yoga philosophy to pupils in the morning at Belur Math. He discussed with colleagues a plan to start a Vedic college in the Ramakrishna Math, and carried out usual conversation. At seven p.m. he went into his room and asked not to be disturbed. Vivekananda died at ten minutes past nine p.m. while he was meditating. According to his disciples, Vivekananda attained Mahasamadhi. Rupture of blood vessels in the brain was reported as a possible cause of the death. His disciples believed that rupture was on account of Brahmarandhra —the aperture in the crown of the head —being pierced when he attainedMahasamadhi. Vivekananda had fulfilled his own prophecy of not living to be forty years old. He was cremated on sandalwood funeral pyre on the bank of Ganga in Belur. On the other bank of the river, Ramakrishna had been cremated sixteen years before.
Vivekananda was a powerful orator and writer both in English and Bengali. Majority of his published works were compiled from lectures given around the world. Vivekananda was a singer and a poet, and composed many songs and poems including his favourite Kali the Mother. He blended humour in his teachings; his language was lucid. His Bengali writings stand testimony to the fact that he believed that words—spoken or written—should be for making things easier to understand rather than show off the speaker or writer’s knowledge
Books by Vivekananda
Published in his lifetime
- Karma Yoga (1896)
- Raja Yoga (1896 [1899 edition])
- Vedanta Philosophy: An address before the graduate philosophical society (1896)
- Lectures from Colombo to Almora (1897)
- Vedanta philosophy: lectures on Jnana Yoga (1902)
Here a list of selected books of Vivekananda published after his death (1902)
- Addresses on Bhakti Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
- Complete works. Vol 5
- The East and the West
- Inspired Talks (1909)
- Narada Bhakti Sutras – translation
- Lectures from Colombo to Almora (1904)
- Para Bhakti or Supreme Devotion
- Practical Vedanta
- Jnana Yoga
- Raja Yoga (1920)
- Speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda; a comprehensive collection
- Vivekavani (1986) – Telugu
- Yoga (1987) – Telugu
- name, Full name, First Name
- ▶1863; January 1863; January 12th 1863; India; the United Kingdom; …
- ▶1902, July 1902, July 4th 1902, India, the world, …
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- Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service
- University of Calcutta; Presidency College, Kolkata; Scottish Church College, Calcutta
- Age at Death
- 39 years, 5 months and 22 days old
- ▶person, Hindu, religious leader, clergyman, Capricorn person, …
- die (July 4th 1902)
- Has Visited
- Indore (June 1892), Ayodhya, Rameswaram, Thrissur, Khandwa (June 1892)
- Went to
- ▶the United States, India, the United Kingdom, Paris, Chicago, …
- Born During
- January 1st 1860, 00:00 – December 31st 1869, 23:59
- Died During
- January 1st 1900, 00:00 – December 31st 1909, 23:59
- Hindu, male, indian
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- Rare Terms
- “swami vividishananda”
- the 12th of January
- ▶”You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”; “You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.”; “Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being.”; “When an idea exclusively occupies the mind, it is transformed into an actual physical or mental state.”; “We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.”; …
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- In College
- At college Narendranath began to interest himself more seriously in studies. Apart from the usual college curriculum, he avidly studies western logic, the abstruse philosophy of Herbert Spencer, the systems of Kant and Schopenhauer, the mystical and analytical speculation of the Aristotelian school, the positivist philosophy of Comte, and John Stuart Mill’s Three Essays on Religion. He also mastered the ancient and modern history of Europe and the English poets like Shelley and Wordsworth. He even took a course in physiology with a view to understanding the functioning of the nervous system, the brain, and the spinal cord.
- But this contact with western thought, which lays particular emphasis on the supremacy of reason, brought about a severe conflict in Narendranath. His inborn tendency towards spirituality and his respect for the ancient traditions and beliefs of his religion which he had imbibed from his mother, on the one side, and his argumentative nature coupled with his sharp intellect which hated superstition and questioned simple faith on the other, were now at war with each other. Under a deep spiritual urge, he was then found observing hard ascetic practices, staying in his grandmother’s house, away from his parents and other relatives, following a strict vegetarian diet, sleeping on the bare ground or on an ordinary quilt, in accordance with the strict rules of brahmacharya. From youth, two visions of life had presented themselves before him. In one, he found himself among the great ones of the earth, possessing riches, power, honour, and glory, and he felt himself capable of renouncing all worldly things, dressed in simple loin- cloth, living on alms, sleeping under a tree, and then he felt that he had the capacity to live thus like the Rishis of ancient India. It was, however, the second vision that prevailed in the end, and he used to sleep with the conviction that by renunciation alone could man attain the highest bliss.
- In his eagerness for spiritual illumination he went to Devendranath Tagore, the leader of the Brahmo Samaj, and asked him: “Sir, have you seen God?” The old man was embarrassed by the question, and replied, “My boy, you have to eyes of a Yogi. You should practice meditation.” The youth was disappointed, but he received no better answer from the leaders of other religious sects whom he approached with the same question.
- At this critical juncture he remembered the words of his professor, William Hastie, who, while speaking of trances in the course of his lectures, had said, “Such an experience is the result of purity of mind and concentration on some particular object, and is rare indeed, particularly in these days. I have seen only one person who has experienced that blessed state of mind, and he is Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. You can understand if you go there and see for yourself.” … now in his trouble, the young seeker decided to have yet one more try to solve his problem.
- At the first meeting:
- Approaching him (Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar), Narendranath asked him the question which he had asked others often before: “Sir, have you seen God?” “Yes, answered Sri Ramakrishna, “I see Him just as I see you here, only I see Him in a much intenser sense. God can be realised; one can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you. But who cares to do so? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children for wealth and property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him. He surely manifests Himself.”
- This startling reply impressed Narendranath at once. For the first time he had found a man who could say that he had seen God, and recognised that religion was a reality to be felt. As he listened, he could not but believe that Sri Ramakrishna spoke from the depths of his own realisations
- The Baranagore days
- After the death of the Master. One of the lay disciples of Shri Ramakrishna offered to contribute towards the maintenance of a monastery where the young disciples of the Master could stay and continue their spiritual and devotional exercises, and where the householder disciples might now and then go for peace and solace. Accordingly, an old dilapidated house was rented at the Baranagore, and two of the monastic disciples went to live there. Narendranath who was busy conducting a law suit pending at the court, used to spend the night at the monastery. He exhorted the others to join the brotherhood.
At Baranagore – after the passing away of the Master
- Lest this devotion should become dammed up within the narrow limits of a creed or cult, the leader forced them to study the thought of the world outside. He himself instructed them in western and eastern philosophy, comparative religion, theology, history, sociology, literature, art, and science. He read out to them the great books of human thought, explained to them the evolution of the universal mind, discussed with them the problems of religion and philosophy, and led them indefatigably towards the wide horizons of the boundless truth which surpassed all limits of schools and races, and embraced and unified all particulars truths. In the light of the teachings of Shri Ramakrishna, he reconciled the apparent contradictions between the various systems.
- The wandering monk
The wandering – nameless monk – befriending princes and commoners
- Between the closing of 1888, when Narendranath first left on his temporary excursions, and the year 1891, when he parted from his brethren alone and as an unknown beggar, “to be swallowed up in the immensity of India”, there came over him a remarkable change in outlook. When he first left in 1888, it was mainly to fulfill the natural desire of an Indian monk for a life of solitude. But when he left the monastery in 1891, it was to fulfill a great destiny. By then he had realized that his was not to be the life of an ordinary recluse struggling for personal salvation. Many times he had tried it: he had entered the deepest of Himalayan forests to lose himself in the silent meditation of the absolute. Every time he had failed. Something or other brought him back from the depths of meditation to the midst of the suffering masses, beset with a thousand and one miseries. The sickness of a brother monk, or the death of a devotee, or the poverty at the Baranagore monastery, was enough to disturb him. More than all, the fever of the age, the misery of the time, and the mute appeal issuing from the millions in oppressed and downtrodden Indian pained his heart.
Seeking answers for India
- He lived in anguish during that period, in a seething cauldron as it were, and carried within himself a soul on fire whose embers took years to cool down. As he moved from place to place in the north, and later on in the south, studying closely the life of the people in all strata of society, he was deeply moved. He wept to see the stagnant life of the Indian masses crushed down by ignorance and poverty, and the spell of materialistic ideas among the educated who blindly imitated the glamour of the West but who never felt that they were the cause of India’s degeneration and downfall. Spirituality was at a low discount in the very land of its birth. The picture of ancient India, once the envy of the world, came before his eyes vividly in all its grandeur and glory. The contrast was unbearable. Things should not be allowed to drift in this way. He visualized that India must become dynamic in all spheres of human activity and effect the spiritual conquest of the world, and he felt that he was the instrument chosen by the Lord to do it.
- On the occasion of America’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., mounted a large portrait of Swami Vivekananda as part of its exhibition “Abroad in America: Visitors to the New Nation,” which paid tribute to the great personalities who visited America from abroad and made a deep impression on the American mind. Among those honored in the exhibition, some influenced art or literature, some science, education or social reform. But Swami Vivekananda touched the very soul of American people. The commemorative volume of the exhibition says: “The Swami charmed the audiences with his magical oratory, and left an indelible mark on America’s spiritual development.” This is no exaggeration. Swami Vivekananda was the first Hindu monk from India ever to visit America. Guided solely by the will of Providence, he embarked on this journey to the new world. The unknown wandering monk, lost in the streets of Chicago, suddenly became famous after his first day’s brief address before the Parliament. A select audience of nearly 7,000 enlightened representatives of different branches of American thought became thrilled to hear his message and welcomed him with sustained and thunderous applause. He captured the hearts of the American people. Crowds gathered in the streets of Chicago to see the picture posters of Swami Vivekananda placed on billboards around the city, and lecture bureaus vied with one another to enlist him for lectures in different cities. Leading newspapers and journals published his words in bold letters. Some of these newspapers described him as the “cyclonic Hindu,” some as “prince among men” or “Brahmin monk,” while others chose to designate him by such epithets as “warrior prophet” and “militant mystic.” Contemporary leaders of American thought who met him were entranced by the radiance of his spiritual personality and his powerful message. Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University told Swami Vivekananda: “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun about its right to shine.” After hearing Swami Vivekananda, the correspondent of one journal wrote: “The impertinence of sending half-educated theological students to instruct the wise and erudite Orientals was never brought home to an English-speaking audience more forcibly.” Professor William James referred to Swami Vivekananda as “the paragon of Vedantists.” The Parliament of Religions, which was an afterthought of the planners of the Columbian Exposition, became a focus of historic importance because it served as a pulpit for the presentation of the message of Swami Vivekananda to the American public. Recalling this event, Romain Rolland wrote: “His strength and beauty, the grace and dignity of his bearing, the dark light of his eyes, his imposing appearance, and from the moment he began to speak, the splendid music of his rich deep voice enthralled the vast audience…. The thought of this warrior prophet of India left a deep mark upon the United States.” America thus had the blessing of directly hearing a person of the stature of Buddha, radiating purity, compassion, and love.
- The message of Swami Vivekananda was the message of Vedanta — a spiritual teaching that again and again saved India during periods of decline and crisis. The keynote of this message is: “Truth is one: Sages call it by various names.” Its four cardinal points are non-duality of the Godhead, divinity of the soul, oneness of existence, and harmony of religions. Religion, in the light of Vedanta, is the manifestation of the divinity already in man. The central theme of Vedanta is harmony of religions. This spiritual harmony is to be realized by deepening our spiritual consciousness. Vedanta asks a Christian to be a true Christian, a Hindu a true Hindu, a Buddhist a true Buddhist, a Jew a true Jew, Moslem a true Moslem. The message was timely and powerful. America had received a rude shock from the Civil War and its aftermath. Science had already shaken the very roots of religious beliefs and dogmas, and the ideas of Darwin were challenging conventional American thought and religion. Americans were looking for a philosophy that could harmonize science with humanism and mystical experience, and Swami Vivekananda’s words gave them hope for the fulfillment of their spiritual aspirations. The message was powerful not because of its dialectical superiority or philosophical subtlety, but because of the personality of Swami Vivekananda. The message was an ancient one, but it bore a fire of conviction that was new. One familiar with the life of Swami Vivekananda will recall that his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, saw in him the power and potentiality of a great world teacher. Before the Master passed away, he prophesied: “Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) will teach others ….. Very soon he will shake the world by his intellectual and spiritual powers.”
- The news of Swami Vivekananda’s success in America soon reached the shores of India and spread like wildfire. The country, lost in the slumber of inertia, woke up with its new vigor and confidence, and a spiritual renaissance was set into motion that would propel India to great intellectual and social development. Today Swami Vivekananda is regarded as the “patriot prophet” of new India. His words carry the power of inspiration and transformation.
- Swami Vivekananda indicated Vedanta is the future religion of mankind. With his prophetic vision, he predicted that modern science and education would break down the barriers between nations and prepare the ground for the fulfillment of the age-old dream of one united world. But one world is possible only when there is one common Soul that transcends the limitations of race, culture, and religious denominations. Swami Vivekananda presents before humanity the World-Soul of Vedanta, the non-dual, nameless and formless all-pervading Pure Spirit that alone can make the dream of one world a reality. He foresaw a new world order in which science and religion would cooperate, mysticism would combine with humanism and spiritual harmony would replace religious dissension. His final words at the Chicago Parliament of Religions were, “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.'” At a time when world peace is being maintained by continuous wars, divisiveness is glorified at the expense of unity, and the human soul is being buried beneath the debris of brutality, violence and hatred, the words of Swami Vivekananda give us assurance — an assurance that we are not living the last days of our destiny and that the light of the Divine, shining in every heart, will triumph over the forces of darkness.