International Forum for NeoVedantins

Life and Teachings of Swami Vivekananda: Part 4

Swami Vivekananda: The Universal Man
[B. 12 January 1863; S. 4 July 1902]
Narendra = Narendranath = Naren = Swami Vivekananda
Master = Thakur = Sri Ramakrishna

Teachings of Vedanta

Through the talks and stories, parables and devotional songs (bhajana) concerning Sri Krishna, Radha, Gopis of Vrindavan, Mother Kali, and Chaitannya, Narendra realized that the essence of religion was to 'realize the highest spiritual Truth' in our lives. As he was opposed and reluctant to accept idol or image worship, and believed in formless God with attributes, Sri Ramakrishna explained to him the subtle points about Brahma, Atman, and Unified Consciousness - the one without the second. Thus, Sri Ramakrishna persuaded Narendra to read to him Ashtavakra Gita and similar texts on Advaita Vedanta, and explained finer points therein, which were otherwise difficult to comprehend. Sri Ramakrishna preferred to tell these nuances in total privacy, when no one else would be present in the room. It was all Jnana and Yoga to begin with. Later Bhakti and Karma were added, which we shall subsequently touch upon. Sri Ramakrishna also instructed his disciples about the importance, ways, methods, and means about meditation and spiritual disciplines.

Thus, between 1881 and 1886, for five years, Narendra was groomed to become a great yogi with unparalleled sharpness of intellect, reason, and spiritual knowledge. No one could stand his incisive power of critical analysis based on scientific reason and rationality in the matters of Vedanta. Added to this was the gracious gift of Sri Ramakrishna to his beloved Naren, the gift of Nirvikalpa Samadhi -highest nondual consciousness- through which Swami Vivekananda realized the truths of superconscious states. He was face to face with Atman, the God of Sri Ramakrishna. Therefore, as is said, 'nothing else remained for Swami Vivekananda to be realized now'. He had realized the Highest Truth. But was that the case, indeed!

No. For, he still had to realize the truth of the Personal God, still had to accept that both impersonal and personal aspects of God are one and the same thing, as Shiva and Shakti are the two aspects of one Reality. God with form and God without form had relationship like that of fire and its power to burn, sun and its rays, milk and its whiteness, or diamond and its lustre. One cannot be separated from the other. On his way to the realization of ultimate Truth, one passes through various stages, which Swami Vivekananda later elaborated in one of lectures in the USA as, 'It is like taking photographs of the sun from different locations or stations in orbit; all the photographs would appear different, but the essence of each photograph would be the same one Sun.'

Learning Through Hardships

Death of Narendra's father and his subsequent prayer to Ma Kali

No one knows the complexities of divine play. Inscrutable are the ways of the Lord that only a few can understand; others call it fate. Such a life-shattering event occurred in the life of Narendra when he had passed his degree course in the college (he was about 21 years of age then). Everything was going on smoothly for him at home and at Dakshineswar, when his father suddenly died due to massive heart attack. The liberal attorney, Vishwanath Dutta, although outwardly appeared well off, was in fact in severe debt. His unusual generosity and carelessness in handling money-matters had put him in a situation where nothing was left as savings. The debtors took away their share, leaving the bereaved family in utter poverty and want. Narendra's uncles also shied away in this hour of crisis and, instead of helping him, they also took their share and kept aloof. It was difficult for Narendra to make two ends meet.

To add to the difficulty, even after trying hard Narendra could not get a job. In this situation of utter emergency and despair, he took the decision to leave his home and walk out in the unknown world as a sannyasin. Here at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna in his spiritual mood came to know about the secret resolve of his beloved disciple to leave the world, which caused much anguish and concern in his heart. In such a situation Sri Ramakrishna met Narendra at one of the devotee's house. In his deep emotional voice, Sri Ramakrishna sang a song, which ran somewhat like this:

'I am afraid to speak, and equally afraid not to speak,
The doubt rises in my mind, lest I should lose you'

Immediately the meaning was clear to Narendra; he knew that Sri Ramakrishna had come to know his secret resolve to become sannyasin, and that the song was meant for him to reconsider his decision. Tears flowed down the cheeks of both the Guru and the disciple. All other devotees present there were surprised to see such an unusual behaviour of Sri Ramakrishna and Narendranath; no one could know the real cause behind this emotional outburst.

After some time the emotions calmed down and Sri Ramakrishna forced Swami Vivekananda to accompany him to Dakshineswar. There Sri Ramakrishna inquired about the problem and requested Narendra not to desert him till his death. Narendra had to promise, for he could not disobey the sincerity in Sri Ramakrishna's appeal. Then Narendra said to Sri Ramakrishna, "Sir, please pray to the Mother so that my family is supplied with coarse grain and clothes. I know the Mother listens to you and definitely grants your prayers."

But Sri Ramakrishna had different plans, if we can say so. Sri Ramakrishna said, "Look my boy, I have given everything to the Mother; how can I ask back anything from her now? But one thing I can tell you, why don't you go and pray to the Mother to fulfill your wish? My Mother is very kind and gracious and, I am sure, she will not disappoint you." Thus, Narendra was forced to pray to Mother Kali for fulfilling his wants. That night Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna were alone in the Kali Temple, when Narendra went to the Mother's shrine to pray and ask for material things of urgent necessity. However, as he entered the shrine all that he could say was, "O Mother, please give me Jnana and Bhakti."

Having prayed thus, Narendra returned to where Sri Ramakrishna was waiting for him. Sri Ramakrishna inquired, "Naren, have you asked for food and money required for your family?" Swami Vivekananda, surprised as he was as well, replied, "Why, no sir. I asked for Jnana and Bhakti."

"You naive," said Sri Ramakrishna, "Go and ask for wealth and the things you actually need now." Thrice Swami Vivekananda went to Ma Kali, but could not utter a word about money, clothes, food, and etc.; instead every time he prayed for Jnana and Bhakti.

As soon as Swami Vivekananda used to enter the temple, his mind would rise to such a wonderful state of consciousness that the whole world, including money, material comfort, and food, lost its value, and in its place there shone forth the radiant face of divine and blissful Mother, gracious enough to grant highest Jnana and Bhakti. What fool would ask for transient and useless things when Mother was ready to grant Jnana? Who would ask for pebbles when someone was distributing the gems! Who would ask for vegetables to the king, when he was willing to grant his whole kingdom!

Now Swami Vivekananda understood the deep meaning and significance of Sri Ramakrishna's word that formless God and God with form as Mother were but one. Swami Vivekananda accepted Mother as the highest embodiment of spiritual virtues, power, and knowledge. Exhausted, but satiated with inner knowledge of divinity in all of its aspects, he bowed down at the holy feet of Sri Ramakrishna and said, 'O Lord, today I came to know who you are. You are all, everything in this universe. I do not want anything anymore from the Mother. It is all your wish.'

Embracing his disciple, the master assured, "Go my son, be at peace. From today onwards you and your family would ever be provided with simple clothes, food, and shelter. This much I guarantee for you."

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