- Vivekananda was born in Kolkata (1863). He learned at Calcutta University and acquired mastery of Western philosophy and history. He loved to practise meditation since his childhood, and was also associated with Brahmo Movement.
- In his early youth, he experienced a spiritual crisis with his mind overwhelmed with doubts about the existence of God. Then he met Sri Ramakrishna who was staying at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar.
- He straightaway asked the Master, “Sir, have you seen God?” Vivekananda put this question to many others but received no satisfactory answer. But Sri Ramakrishna, without a moment’s hesitation, replied: “Yes, I have. I see Him as clearly as I see you, only in a much intense sense.” This was how a great Guru-disciple relationship of modern times began. Vivekananda made rapid spiritual progress under Sri Ramakrishna’s guidance.
- Vivekananda had to cope with misfortunes as soon as he began his spiritual journey, his father died suddenly in 1884. Vivekananda had to bear the burden of supporting his family. The second tragedy was the illness and death of Sri Ramakrishna. Vivekananda bore these troubles with fortitude.
- He formed a monastic brotherhood with the other disciples of Ramakrishna, and set upon the mission of spreading the gospel of his master.In the middle of 1890, Vivekananda set out on a long journey of exploration and discovery of India.
DISCOVERY OF INDIA
- Swamiji was deeply moved by the appalling poverty and backwardness of the masses during his tours all over India. He was the first religious leader in India to understand and openly declare that the real cause of India’s downfall was the neglect of the masses.
- The immediate need was to provide food and other bare necessities of life to them by spreading knowledge of improved methods of agriculture, by promoting village industries and other similar activities.
- He saw India was repressed due to the following- Owing to centuries of oppression, the downtrodden masses had lost self-confidence, which could be restored through a life-giving, inspiring message. The masses had to be taught the life-giving, enabling principles of Vedanta and the means of applying them in practical life. They also needed worldly knowledge to improve their socio-economic condition. Vivekananda thought that education is the means of providing both forms of knowledge.
- Vivekananda found it in the principle of the Atman, the doctrine of the potential divinity of the soul, taught in Vedanta, the ancient system of religious philosophy of India. He was a follower of Advaita Vedanta (later Mahatma Gandhi ji also followed and propagated this message)
- To spread education and to improve the condition of the poor and women. He set up ” motion machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.” And finally founded the Ramakrishna Mission.
- During the course of his wanderings, Vivekananda heard about the World’s Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. Prompted by friends and admirers, he decided to attend the Parliament to present his Master’s message to the world. But he wanted a sense of inner certainty and of divine calling regarding his mission. He found these while in deep meditation on the rock-island at Kanyakumari.
- His speeches at the World’s Parliament of Religions made him famous as an ‘orator by divine right’ and as a ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world. After the Parliament, he spent nearly three and a half years mostly in the eastern parts of USA and in London spreading Vedanta as lived and taught by Sri Ramakrishna.
AWAKENING OF FELLOW COUNTRYMEN
- After returning to India in 1897, he delivered a series of lectures in various parts of India. In these lectures, Vivekananda attempted:
- To rouse the religious consciousness of the people and create in them pride in their cultural heritage;
- To bring about unification of Hinduism by pointing out the common bases of its sects;
- To focus the attention of educated people on the plight of the downtrodden masses and
- To expound his plan for their amelioration by the application of the principles of Practical Vedanta.
- Soon after his return to Kolkata, Swami Vivekananda founded (1897) Ramakrishna Mission. The Mission was to enable monks and lay people to jointly undertake propagation of Practical Vedanta, render various forms of social service, such as running hospitals, schools, colleges, hostels, rural development centres etc, and provide relief and rehabilitation to victims of natural calamities.
- In early 1898, Swami Vivekananda set up at Belur on the banks of the Ganges the famous Ramakrishna Math.
He interpreted religion as a universal experience of transcendent reality, common to all humanity. He denied any dichotomy between science and religion and described religion as the science of consciousness. This universal conception frees religion from the hold of superstitions, dogmatism, priest-craft and intolerance, and makes it the highest and noblest pursuit of freedom, knowledge and happiness.
New View of Man:
- Vivekananda’s concept of potential divinity of the soul’ is new and ennobles man. In the present age of humanism, scientific progress greatly improved human material wellbeing. The communications revolution made the world a ‘global village’.
- There has been moral degeneration as showed in increase in broken homes, immorality, violence and crime. Vivekananda’s concept of potential divinity of the soul prevents this degradation, divinizes human relationships, and makes life meaningful and worth living.
- He has laid the foundation for ‘spiritual humanism’
Principle of Morality and Ethics:
- The prevalent morality, in both individual life and social life, is mostly based on fear- fear of the police, fear of public ridicule, fear of God’s punishment and fear of Karma.
- The current theories of ethics also do not explain why a person should be moral and be good to others. Vivekananda has given a new theory of ethics and new principle of morality based on the intrinsic purity and oneness of the Atman.
- One shall be pure because purity is our real nature, our true divine Self or Atman. Similarly, we should love and serve our neighbours because we are all one in the Supreme Spirit known as Paramatman or Brahman.
Bridge between East and West:
- He built a bridge between Indian and Western cultures by interpreting Hindu scriptures, philosophy, institutions and way of life to Westerners in easily understandable manner and made them realize that they could benefit greatly from Indian spirituality.
- He was instrumental in ending India’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world. He was India’s first great cultural ambassador to the West. On the other hand, Vivekananda’s interpretation of ancient Hindu scriptures, philosophy and institutions made Indians receptive to Western science, technology and humanism.
- He taught Indians how to master Western science and technology while retaining their religious and spiritual roots. He emphasized that Indians need to adapt Western humanism (especially the ideas of individual freedom, social equality and justice and respect for women) to Indian ethos.
VIVEKANANDA CONTRIBUTIONS TO INDIA
- In spite of innumerable linguistic, ethnic, historical and regional diversities, India has from time immemorial a strong sense of cultural unity. It was, however, Swami Vivekananda who revealed the true foundations of this culture and thus clearly defined and strengthened the sense of unity as a nation
- He reminded Indians of their great national spiritual heritage and revived their pride in their past. Furthermore, he displayed the weaknesses of Western culture and how India could help in overcoming them.
- Sense of unity, pride in the past and sense of mission – which Vivekananda proclaimed greatly strengthened India’s nationalist movement.
- Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “Rooted in the past, full of pride in India’s prestige, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems, and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present… he came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralized Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance and some roots in the past.”
- Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose wrote: “Swamiji harmonized the East and the West, religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our countrymen have gained unprecedented self-respect, self-reliance and self-assertion from his teachings”.
- Swamiji’s most unique contribution to the creation of new India was to open the minds of Indians to their duty towards the downtrodden masses. Long before the ideas of Karl Marx were known in India, Swamiji spoke about the role of the labouring classes in the production of national wealth.
- Swamiji was the first religious leader in India to speak for the masses, formulate a definite philosophy of service and organize large-scale social service.
HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO CONSOLIDATION OF HINDUISM
- Swami Vivekananda gave to Hinduism as a whole a clear-cut identity, a distinct profile. Although Hindus had a clear sense of their roots and identity, Hinduism was considered a loose confederation of many different sects. Speaking about Swamiji’s role in giving Hinduism its distinct identity, Sister Nivedita wrote: “… it may be said that when he began to speak it was of ‘the religious ideas of the Hindus’, but when he ended, Hinduism had been created”
- Before Swamiji’s advent, discord and competition were common among the various sects of Hinduism. Similarly, the protagonists of different systems and schools of philosophy were claiming their views to be the only true and valid ones.
- By applying Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrine of Harmony (Samanvaya) Swamiji brought about an overall unification of Hinduism on the basis of the principle of unity in diversity
- Vivekananda was foremost among those who raised their voice in defence of Hinduism. This was, in fact, his main accomplishment in the West. Christian missionary propaganda had created a false view of Hinduism and India in Western minds. Vivekananda had to face stiff opposition in his attempts to defend Hinduism.
D) New Ideal of Monasticism
- A major contribution of Vivekananda to Hinduism is the rejuvenation and modernization of monasticism.
- In this new monastic ideal, followed in the Ramakrishna Order, the ancient principles of renunciation and God realization are combined with service to God in man. Vivekananda equated service to man with service to God.
Modern interpretation of Hindu Philosophy and religious doctrines: Vivekananda interpreted ancient Hindu scriptures and philosophical ideas in terms of modern thought. He also added several illuminating original concepts based on his own transcendental experiences and vision of the future.
SOME FAMOUS QUOTES OF VIVEKANANDA
(Quotes -Can be asked directly in ethics exam and can be quoted in mains or essays)
- “So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense pays not the least heed to them”
- “Whatever you think, that you will be. If you think yourselves weak, weak you will be; if you think yourselves strong, strong you will be.”
- “If you have faith in all the three hundred and thirty million of your mythological gods … and still have no faith in yourselves, there is no salvation for you. Have faith in yourselves, and stand up on that faith and be strong; that is what we need.”
- “Strength, strength it is that we want so much in this life, for what we call sin and sorrow have all one cause, and that is our weakness. With weakness comes ignorance, and with ignorance comes misery.”
- “They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.”
- “ This is the gist of all worship – to be pure and to do good to others”
VIDEOS TO WATCH FOR
1. Teachings of Vivekananda
2. Vivekananda’s Relevance in modern times