Anyone who even casually studies the nation of India, soon realizes that the country is awash in various religions and spiritual traditions. I would be hard pressed to find a more religious nation than India.
One of the key players in the revival and spread of the Vedanta schools of Hinduism in India and into the West was Swami Vivekananda. Narendranath Datta was born on this day in 1862 in Calcutta. The turning point in Narendranath’s life came in November of 1881 when he met the guru Ramakrishna. At first, Narendranath didn’t accept Ramakrishna’s ideas, but remained attracted to the guru anyway. When Narendranath’s father died, he leaned on Ramakrishna for inner comfort and began to accept Ramakrishna’s teachings.
“All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.”–Swami Vivekananda
Ramakrishna was diagnosed with throat cancer, Narendranath and other disciples cared for their guru. Near his end Ramakrishna requested that the other monks accept Narendranath as their own swami. Ramakrishna died in August of 1886.
The following year, Narendranath and his fellow monks had taken up practice at a dilapidated monastery that he founded. In early 1887, Narendranath was named Vivekananda by the Maharaja of Khetri, Ajit Singh.
“Never think there is anything impossible for the soul. It is the greatest heresy to think so. If there is sin, this is the only sin; to say that you are weak, or others are weak.”
Until 1893, Vivekananda was a wandering monk, taking in that form of Hindu religious seeking. He witnessed the intense poverty of India and vowed to uplift his nation.
“Our duty is to encourage every one in his struggle to live up to his own highest idea, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the Truth.”
After visits to Japan, China and other nations, Vivekananda arrived at Chicago, Illinois in 1893. Finally gaining permission to address the Parliament of Religions, he planned to introduce the gathering to India and Hinduism.
“All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.”
Following his speech, the press commented that it seems foolish to send missionaries to the “Mother Nation of Religion”. Vivekananda became a favorite of the Parliament of Religions and had intitiated Western interest in Indian religion.
“… the greatest error, says the Vedanta is to say that you are weak, that you are a sinner, a miserable creature, and that you have no power and you cannot do this and that.”
By the mid 1890s, Vivekananda had spent his time lecturing across the midwest and eastern U.S. He founded the Vedanta Society of New York and gave public teachings. His trying schedule led to a decline in health. By mid 1895 he gave free private lessons on Vedanta and Yoga and taught privately to his disciples in New York.
Vivekananda returned to India in 1897 to teach and address social issues of that nation. He advocated the abolition of the caste system, addressing poverty, industrialisation and promotion of science. More controversially, he urged the end of colonial rule by Britain.
“As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God.”
On July 4, 1902, Vivekananda awoke, practiced his routine meditation, taught and conducted his normal business. In the evening, he again went into meditation. Vivekananda died shortly after 9:00 PM. A rupture of blood vessels in the brain was the official cause of death.
Among the ideals of his legacy, Vivekananda taught that people should live their lives seeking truth, purity and unselfishness. These qualities would strengthen focused thought and action.
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is way great spiritual giants are produced.”
Vivekananda is a prime reason behind the west’s acceptance of Indian traditions. He is also at the heart of modern India, itself.
The Blue Jay of Happiness loves this Vivekananda quote: “The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.”