Continued from Previous Page
The Master Departs
In the month of October 1885 Sri Ramakrishna developed throat ailment, which subsequently proved to be incurable cancer of throat. The doctors gave up any hope of recovery, and there was, for the first time, an atmosphere of gloom, anxiety, and worry at Dakshineswar. Swami Vivekananda organized the team of his fellow brothers and devotees to take due care of the Master. Timetables were set up so that someone would always be available for providing necessary help to Thakur and Ma Saradadevi. The householder devotees on their part offered monetary and material help for Thakur's nursing care, medicines, and food. Thus a nucleus of sangha – mission – evolved around Thakur in his presence with the help and efforts of his monk-like disciples, Swami Vivekananda, in particular.
In these critical days of his illness Sri Ramakrishna made certain important moves. He called Narendra and told him 'to take care of these boys', i.e. his brother disciples, lest they should go back to the worldly life. Swami Vivekananda was to become their leader and see to it that they were properly trained and cared for as Sannyasins. Secondly, Sri Ramakrishna once wrote, 'Naren will teach.' Naren, at that time only 23 years of age, never dreamt of such a role in future life, but the telescopic vision of the Master could see the future role of Swami Vivekananda as the world teacher and world leader. He said, "Naren, at present you may deny and protest, but I tell you, your very nature would get this work done through you. The Mother would see to that you spread Her message all over." Thus, the mantle of leadership fell on the broad, powerful, pure, and wise shoulders of Narendranath.
One day, about three days prior to his leaving this world, Sri Ramakrishna called Swami Vivekananda and transferred all his spiritual powers to him, saying, "O Naren, today I have given you everything I had, and have become a fakir, a pauper."
And the last stroke was very touching, amusing a bit, and full with insight. Skepticism had not yet died down completely from the mind of Swami Vivekananda. One day, as he was sitting at the holy feet of his ailing Master, a thought arose in his mind, 'If now in this condition of distress the Master tells me he is Avatar Purusha, then I will accept him as the greatest of God Man." As soon as the thought arose in the mind of Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna, though weak and unable to get up, said, 'Even now you have doubts! O Naren, the same Rama and the same Krishna are embodied in this body as Ramakrishna. I am speaking the truth.'
Thus, was completed the training, revelations, and transfer of all the spiritual powers from the Master to his most able disciple for the welfare and benefit of future mankind. All doubts vanished from the heart and mind of Narendranath; he had become one with the Master. Therefore, we say that Sri Ramakrishna's spiritual experiences and powers were so vast that they could not be contained in one body. It required three bodies, those of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Ma Saradadevi, and Swami Vivekananda (the Holy Trio) for its full expression.
Sri Ramakrishna left the worldly abode on 16th August 1886. To fulfill his Master's desire, Swami Vivekananda now rented an old house at Baranagore and converted it into a monastery, where all his grief-stricken (but firm in determination) brother disciples started staying in great atmosphere of brotherhood. They daily worshiped Sri Ramakrishna in his photo image (I shall send you one) and everyone shared the work of begging for the food, worshiping the Master, teachings his message, and reading from the ancient Indian scriptures, viz. the Gita and Upanishads. The Ramakrishna Mission had come to life.
What Next? - The Soul Wants to Soar High
Swami Vivekananda's realization of the highest Truths, both in its formless and personal aspects, acted as 'theoretical' confirmation of the highest Vedantic principles as laid down in Upanishads. They remained confined in the heart of Narendra making him aglow with effulgent divinity, but the condition of his mind was like the trapped bird in a golden cage. It wanted to spread its mighty wings, strengthened with the power of nondual realizations and teachings of the Master, far afar. It wanted to soar high in limitless sky to cover the whole humanity under its massive wings and make them aware of those invaluable truths.
The restlessness reached the stage when Swami Vivekananda could no longer confine himself to the four walls of Baranagore monastery. He intently desired to go into open world to learn more of practicality of Vedanta. How can Vedanta be applied in day-to-day life to alleviate the sufferings of the masses! Is it possible? Such and many similar questions crowded his mind from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn.
And one day, alone, sometime in July 1888, Swami Vivekananda left Calcutta telling his brother disciples not to follow him. Thus started the second important phase in the life of Swami Vivekananda, the Parivrajaka Monk, wandering years of the Swami. He went to Varanasi, Ayodhya, Vrindavan, Lucknow, Agra, and the Himalayas, thus covering the entire north of India. These are the great places of historical importance due to their socio-religious and spiritual importance. These are the places connected with life and teachings of Rama and Sri Krishna, Sita and Radha who glorified divine love and dharma as the final culmination of spiritual quest. There is that great Himalayas where loneliness prevailed and called the individual sadhaka to ready himself/herself to merge into the glory of Infinite.
This was a short trip and the swami returned back to Calcutta in a few months' time. For sometime he remained in the company of his brother disciples trying to devise the means and the ways to propagate their Master's message to every nook and corner of India, and world, but his future plans could but be sketchy, for he didn't understand how to go about it. The force of knowledge was very great in his heart, acting as if like a silent bomb, which no one knew when and where would it burst. The restlessness could not be contained in the narrow confines of his head and heart; it must come out to cover all the sky. And hence, for the second time in around July 1890, he left his brothers to wander all over the country, after seeking blessings from Ma Saradadevi.
On Pilgrimage of India
For two years and more, he wandered all over from north to west, from west to southern tip of India learning and assimilating the prevalent religio-social culture and economic condition of India and her children. And what did he see? He saw that the masses were submerged in deep poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, and superstition. The many years of foreign rule and estrangement from the wisdom of Upanishads have made them slaves not only of British rule, but also of the outdated social customs and rituals. The meanings of God, religion, dharma etc. were distorted to their lowest and crudest level. In the face of utter poverty, food itself had become their dharma and God. And, indeed, the Swami once acceded, 'Religion can't come on empty stomach. For poor religion comes in the form of bread. Give bread, give secular education, improve their material condition, cover their half-naked bodies with some semblance of decency, and then tell the masses about spirituality. Then, talk of realization of Atman and Brahman, God and Religion. Oh, my Mother India, to what pitiable condition you have come to.’
His heart cried out in silence, and his eyes shed silent tears of sorrow at the suffering of masses. The mighty Jnani in the Swami became the compassionate saint like that Buddha. Bhakti and Jnana must be activated with Selfless Karma; it must be so. Something must be done for the masses; that was the pressing necessity. And thus indeed he resolved. Tears of anguish softened and broadened his heart, and one day he said, "O brother, I do not know the meaning of religion; but one thing is sure, now I feel my heart has broadened and is capable of accommodating and feeling for everyone, be he destitute or a king, healthy or afflicted. I see the same Narayana in poor and fool, wealthy and wise."
Swami Vivekananda's plan for future course was taking shape gradually. He must do something to alleviate the suffering of the Indian people. He was ready to keepsadhana and mediation aside for time being so that he could devote himself fully to this cause. He also thought of going to rich countries like America and earn such a large amount of money that could help him in fulfilling his pledge! To work is to worship; that was the new mantra that, Swami Vivekananda thought, would help India rise again. Sacrifice, renunciation and service were the essential requisites for this dream to come true and for India to come out of darkness of ignorance and poverty. Material progress, secular education, and service to sick must be added to meditation and spiritual practices for fulfillment of final spiritual aim.
Parivrajaka Sadhu: The 'Wandering Monk'
By 1892 Swami Vivekananda became a sage of high intellect, action, and devotion. In his life, he had experienced the Truth of all four Yogas, viz. Yoga of meditation,Jnana (discrimination), action, and devotion. He was well versed in the study of the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. He also studied life and teachings of Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohamed, and Lord Buddha. In fact it is believed that once Swami Vivekananda had the vision of Buddha in his deep meditation.
Thus having acquired direct knowledge of all the religions, having come to the conclusion that all religions speak of the same truth, Swami Vivekananda had intense desire to spread this wonderful message of divine unity of Existence and Unity in Diversity.
Accordingly, he continued to travel all over the Holy Land of India to get first hand information about the state of religion in the Indian masses. The vast land opened up a new challenge before the Swami to explore its religious-spiritual truths. These days of a ‘wandering monk’ make an important stage in the history of spiritual revival of India as well as the whole world.
Why? For, his experiences during the wandering days added compassion to his broad outlook and sharp intellect. He could understand the sad plight of fellow countrymen, their exploitation, poverty, suffering and affliction under the mercy of foreign rule and darkness of ignorance.
"To the hungry religion comes in the form of bread", he declared.
And he would have added, "And for the ignorant religion comes in the form of education".
Material progress and spiritual uplift are not contradictory, are not antagonist to each other, but, rather, the goal of religion and our efforts should be to bridge the yawning gap between the two, he maintained.
He was convinced that science and religion should join hands so that a new chapter could be written in the human history. He saw, learnt, and was convinced that, while material progress of India was as important as the spiritual revival, to the West religion would come in the form of spiritual blend with materialism.
He met with many eminent and noble persons, the Maharaja of Khetri, Dewan of Porbandar and Junagadh, Raja of Ramnad, and many intellectuals in the state of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madras. All these gentlemen were highly impressed by the sincerity, knowledge, spirituality and new Vedantic approach to life of this English speaking Monk.
And then, once during casual discussion, the Dewan of Porbandar said, "Swamiji, I am afraid you cannot do much in this country. Few will appreciate you here. You ought to go to the West where people will understand you and your worth. Surely you can throw a great light on Western culture by preaching the Sanatana Dharma!"
"The poverty ridden illiterate people of our country are not yet ready to receive the message of Vedanta. Why don’t you attend the Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago a few months hence? There you represent and elaborate the true Hinduism of which, your Guru, Sri Ramakrishna was the living embodiment."
Swami Vivekananda began planning for his visit to America, and on 31st May 1893 he set sails for that far off land; the ochre robed sadhu planning to conquer the scientific reason of West with Vedantic intuition of the East.
Swami Vivekananda Arrives in America
Swami Vivekananda began to plan for his visit to America, and on 31st May 1893 he set sails for that far off land; the ochre robed sadhu planning to conquer the scientific reason of West with Vedantic intuition of the East.
Simple in life style, unknown of exact dates of the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda reached Chicago much ahead of the commencement of the Parliament. He had no letter or credentials from any society or organization; he was not aware what religion he would represent at the Parliament, and most importantly he was short of money. In the Chicago Science Fare he was impressed by the advances America had made in the field of science and technology in comparison to which India was poor, very backward, as far as the material progress was concerned. The glamour, the innovative application of electricity, telephone, communication, applied aspects of physics for the welfare and comfort of the masses, all filled his heart with amazement and excitement. He used to think: Oh, how much India needs to learn and acquire!
Soon Swami Vivekananda started feeling the shortage of money, and thus he was forced to retreat to nearby Boston where life was somewhat easier and less costly. Here he got acquainted with one Professor John Wright of Harvard University. This professor was highly learned man, holding prestigious and privileged position in the social circle. During his talks and discussion with the Hindu monk, the professor realized the uniqueness of Swami Vivekananda; he realized that this sannyasin is no common man; he is very highly intellectual and spiritual soul. Thus, he arranged for the admission of Swami Vivekananda to the Chicago World Parliament Of Religions, gave him enough money, and letters of references for his comfortable and unobtrusive stay in Chicago.
After troublesome arrival at Chicago station, as it happened, one Mrs. George W. Hale invited the Swami to her house and gave orders to servants that he should be taken to a room and attended to in every way. She promised the Swami that after he had had his breakfast she herself would accompany him to the venue of the Parliament of Religions. The Swami was grateful beyond words. Mrs. George W. Hale, her husband, and children became his warmest friends. With Hale he called on the officers of the Parliament, gave his credentials, and was accepted as a delegate. He felt with the passing of each moment that the Parliament of Religions would be the great test, the crucial experience for him. He passed his time in prayer, in meditation, and in earnest longing that he might be made the true instrument of the Lord, the true spokesman of Hinduism, the true bearer of Sri Ramakrishna's message. He became acquainted with many distinguished persons who were to attend the Parliament. In this grand circle of ecclesiastics he moved as one lost in rapture and prayer. He had no personal feelings in the matter save as related to the carrying out the mission entrusted to him by his Master.
At the Parliament of Religions: 11th to 27th September 1893
Initially anxious, for the Swami had never spoken on public platform before, the swami went on postponing his turn on the day one of the Parliament: 11th September 1893. However, towards the end of the day, the swami rose to speak, and instantly became the celebrity, as we all know.
(1) 11th September 1893: 'Response To Welcome' Address
Swami Vivekananda addressed the august assembly of seven thousand people starting with the words: "Sisters and Brothers of America..." and the whole of audience went into inexplicable rapture with standing ovation and clapping that lasted for more than three minutes. What Swami Vivekananda spoke came from the inmost depth of his illumined soul, from his conviction and deep spiritual insight. This explains why his common words -'Sisters and Brothers of America'- created an unprecedented spontaneous spiritual upsurge of emotion in the minds of the audience of seven thousand members and raised them to their feet.
He continued, "I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of mother of religions; I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects".
The lord says in Gita, "Whosoever comes to Me; through whatever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me."
"I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all of persecution with the sword or with the pen."
(2) 19th September: Paper on Hinduism
"...Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical, and spiritual relation between soul and soul and between individual spirit and Father of all spirits, were there before their discovery, and would remain even if we forgot them."
"...Allow me to call you; brethren, by that sweet name-heirs of immortal bliss-yea, the Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth-sinners! It is a sin to call a man so; it is standing libel on human nature..."
(3) 27th September 1893: Address at the Final Session
"If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It ahs 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 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."
In USA After the Parliament
The unification of the world through the progress of science and technology, communication and commerce necessitated parallel spread of culture and religious ideas. To fulfill this global mission, Swami Vivekananda reached America in the year 1893. After his astounding success at the Chicago Parliament of Religions, he decided to stay in America to spread the message of Vedanta. His power to enthrall the audience, his eloquence, and his depth of spiritual knowledge automatically attracted many agencies and bureaus to invite him for a nationwide lecture series. Accordingly, for nearly one year, he traveled, toured, and lectured in various cities in big and small states of America.
Towards the end of 1894, Swamiji was 'tired and disgusted with the fame he had acquired, and felt that the interest he had awakened was not what he wanted; to his mind it was too superficial.' The Swami wanted earnest minded young people to take interest in his teachings of Vedanta. Therefore in the month of January 1895, the Swami established himself in a lodging in the city of New York at 54 West, 33rd Street. Here he held classes for the aspirants according to his choice of time and the topic, and free of cost.
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