His life at glance
Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12th, 1863 in Clacutta, on the day of the great Hindu festival Makarasamkranti. He grew up to be a sweet, sunny-tempered but very restless boy. Two nurses were necessary to keep his exuberant energy under control. In order to quiet him, the mother often put his head under the cold-water tap, repeating Lord Shiva's name. He received his early education from her, who taught him the Bengali alphabet and his first English words, as well as stories from Ramayana and the Mahabharata. During his childhood, he daily experienced a strange vision when he was about to fall asleep. Closing his eyes, he would see between his eyebrows a ball of light of changing colours, which would slowly expand and at last burst, bathing his whole body in a white radiance. Watching this light he would gradually fall asleep. While still a child, he practiced medication with a friend before the image of Siva.
During these early years, his future personality was influenced by his saintly mother and his gifted father(who was an attorney-at-law of the High Court of Calcutta), both of them kept a chastening eye upon him. The father was a man of deep compassion and great sympathy and engaged in various charity activities. The mother played her part in bringing out his innate virtues. When he told her of having been unjustly treated in school, she said to him in consolation: "My child, what does it matter, if you are in the right? Always follow the truth without caring about the result. Very often you may have to suffer injustice or unpleasant consequences for holding to the truth; but you must not, under any circumstances, abandon it." Many years later he often recalled that "I am indebted to my mother for whatever knowledge I have acquired."
In 1871, at the age of eight, he entered high school. His exceptional intelligence was soon recognized by his teachers and classmates. After spending two years in Raipur in Madhya Pradesh with his father, he came back to Calcutta and entered the Presidency Collage of Calcutta for higher studies in 1879. After a year he joined the General Assembly's Institution (later known as the Scottish Church Collage). It was from Hastie, the principal of the Collage that he first heard the name Sri Ramakrishna, his future master. All through his boyhood, he retained admiration for the life of the wandering monk. Pointing to a certain line on the palm of his hand, he would say to his friends: "I shall certainly become a Sannyasin. A palmist has predicted it." In November 1881, he met Sri Ramakrishna; and this was to become the major turning point of his life. The Master said to him with tears: "Ah! You have come so late. How unkind of you to keep me waiting so long! Oh, how I have been yearning to unburden my mind to one who will understand my thought!" Although the relationship with Sri Ramakrishana is difficult to describe as Vivekananda would not accept any word of Sri Ramakrishna without testing it by his own experience and reason. However, as a result of his association with Sri Ramakrishna, his innate spiritual yearning was stirred up.
In 1884, his father died of heart problems which brought his family a great financial crisis. In the meantime he passed his B.A. examination and was admitted to Law collage, however, many times he went to his classes hungry. With the ever increasing desire for illumination, the studies of the Law became a torment to him and he would run away to take shelter at the feet of the Master. As the end of the Master came nearer, his passionate desire for the realization of God increased and intensified. The Master had already initiated him to be the head of the group of young monks who were to consecrate their lives to carrying out the mission. After the death of the Master, he began to organize disciples into a monastic brotherhood and tried to induce them to return to Baranagore where the first monastery of the Ramakrishna Order was started.
He was determined to break away from the monastery to test his own strength, to gather experiences of a new life, to make himself absolutely fearless. He therefore suddenly left Calcutta in 1888 and visited many places. In the course of his travelling, he witnessed the terrible poverty and sufferings of mankind; and he was urged to find more means for the salvation of the poor of India. In the course of this, he was prompted to go to the West to find the means to ameliorate the material condition of India. On May 31, 1893, he left for America.Upon arrival, although he had to go over many challenging situations there, by curious fate, he was invited to the Parliament of the Religions. On September 11, 1893, the first session was opened in the great Hall of Columbus; and his appearance and speech brought a tremendous impact. Swami Vivekananda at once became the most celebrated personality of the Parliament; and the American press rang with his fame. The news also poured into India. He accepted the invitation of the Brooklyn Ethical Association to deliver a series of lectures and acquired a group of earnest souls who were seriously bent on following his guidance for spiritual enlightenment. The Swami also instructed in the exercise of the double method of Raja-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga.In 1895, he sailed to England to carry the same message to the British people; and also visited other European countries. In 1897, he returned India. When he arrived at Mandras, the city erected for him seventeen triumphal arches, presented him with twenty-four addresses in various languages, and suspended her whole public activities. He became the "man of the hour" in India.After a whole, his health got worse. However, almost daily until his passing on July 4, 1902, he activity engaged in his mission and teachings.
He established the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Maths and Ashrams are in many places in India as well as foreign countries. "Belur Math" is the permanent headquarter. The duty of the Mission was to conduct in the right spirit the activities of the movement inaugurated by Sri Ramakrishna for the establishment of fellowship among the followers of different religions, knowing them all too be so many forms only of one underlying Eternal Religion. Its methods of action would be: 1) to train people so as to make them competent to teach such knowledge or sciences as are conductive to the material and spiritual welfare of the masses; 2) to promote and encourage arts and industries; 3) to introduce and spread among the people in general Vedantic and other religious ideas in the way in which they were elucidated in the life of Sri Ramakrishna.
Highlights of his teachings
The mission of his life was to create a new order of Sannyasins in India who would dedicate their lives to help and serve others. Thus the Swami interpreted his Master (Sri Ramakrishna)'s message in a new light, showing them that their supreme duty lay in the carrying on of the Master's mission, the bringing about of a religious rejuvenation by raising the condition of the masses through loving service, and spreading the life-giving ideas of the Master over the entire world.
One of the principle purposes of his teachings was to bring about an interchange of ideas and ideals between the East and the West. He brought some of his brother-disciples in India to teach and preach in America, and his English disciples to teach in India for a practical training-a message of science, industry, economics, applied sociology, organization and cooperation. The Indian needed that energy, that dexterity in action, that thirst for improvement which characterized the freedom-loving people of the active West. In his opinion, the Orient would be benefited by greater activity and energy like that of the West, as the latter would profit by a mixture of Eastern introspection and the meditative habit.
Some of his remarkable sayings are as follows:
"Do not believe in a thing because you have read about it in a book. Do not believe in a thing because another man has said it was true. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself. Reason it out. That is realization."
"The same Divinity dwells in the high and the low, the rich and the poor-in the entire creation. All are indeed the manifestations of the One."
"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?...Have you forgotten all about your name, your fame, your wives, your children, your property, even your own bodies? Have you done that? That is the first step to become a patriot-the very first step...Instead of spending your energies in frothy talk, have you found any way out, any practical solution, some help instead of condemnation, some sweet words to soothe their miseries, to bring them out of this living death? Yet, that is no all. Have you got the will to whole world stands against you, sword in hand, would you still dare to do what you think right?...If you have these three things, each one of you will work miracles."
"The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves. That faith calls out the divinity within. You fail only when you do not strive sufficiently to manifest infinite power. As soon as a man loses faith in himself, death comes. Believe first in yourself, and then in God. A handful of strong men will move the world. It is the salvation of others that you must seek; and even if you have to go to hell in working for others, that is worth more than to gain heaven by seeking your own salvation."
Swami Nikhilananda (2003). VIVEKANANDA: A Biography. Fourteenth Impression. Kolkata, India.
Swami Tejasananda (2003). A Short Life of Swami Vivekananda.Nineteenth Impression, Kolkata, India.