Swami Vivekanand, was born to an orthodox Hindu family in Bengal 1863. From an early age he displayed signs of great compassion and also the qualities of a natural leader. Vivekananda had a sharp intellect and devoured literature from both East and West. This included Western philosophy and the great English poets.
Vivekananda particularly liked the rational reasoning of the West and was easily dismayed by many of the religious superstitions and the cultural decline that Indian society found itself in. Thus Vivekananda was drawn to join the Brahmo Samaj.
The Brahmo Samaj was a modern Hindu movement who sought to revitalise Indian life and spirituality through a rationalistic approach and abandonment of image worship. However the rationality of the Brahmo Samaj could not satisfy the latent spiritual hunger of Vivekananda.
From an early age he began to have spiritual experiences and at the age of 18 felt an overwhelming desire to "See God". With a directness that was typical of Vivekananda he asked those around whether they had seen God.
All affirmed in the negative. This included the great Devendranath Tagore (father of Rabindranath Tagore) However Devendranath told Vivekananda that he saw in him the eyes of a Yogi and surely he would realise God in this lifetime.
Although none could satisfy his question, he came to hear of the name Ramakrishna Paramhansa who was reputed to be a great Spiritual Personality and had realised God.
In many ways Ramakrishna was different to Vivekananda. Ramakrishna was an illiterate and simple villager who had taken a post at a local Kali temple. However his simple exterior hid a personality of extraordinary spirituality.
For many years Ramakrishna had pursued the most intense spiritual practices burning with a longing for realisation of his beloved Mother Kali. But after attaining realisation.
Ramakrishna not only practised Hindu rituals, but also pursued the spiritual paths of all the main religions. Sri Ramakrishna came to the conclusion that all religions lead to the same goal of union with the infinite.
Swami's Math at Belur, Kolkata
It was thus fitting that his closest disciple, Vivekananda would later eloquently spread this message, - the harmony of world religions.
As Sri Aurobindo would later say: "The Master (Sri Ramakrishna) marked out Vivekananda as the heroic soul destined to take the world between his two hands and change it."
Ramakrishna instantly recognised the spiritual potential of Vivekananda and lavished attention on Vivekananda, who at first did not always appreciate this.
In the beginning the reasoning mind of Vivekananda was sceptical of this God intoxicated Saint and Vivekananda would frequently question and debate his teachings.
However, slowly the spiritual magnetism of Sri Ramakrishna melted Vivekananda's heart and he began to experience the real spirituality that Ramakrishna exuded.
Thus Vivekananda mental opposition faded away to be replaced by an intense surrender to the Divine Mother and a burning longing for realisation.
For a short but intense period of about 5 years, Vivekananda learnt directly from his Master Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna was able to awaken the dormant spiritual consciousness in his beloved disciple.
Vivekananda soon began to experience profound states of consciousness and Samadhi. After the passing of Ramakrishna, the other disciples looked to Vivekananda for leadership and he helped to form the first monastic order of Ramakrishna.
Under his constant guidance he urged his fellow brother disciples to renounce the world and seek communion with God. However for Vivekananda, personal liberation was not enough.
His heart ached for the downtrodden masses of India who suffered poverty and many hardships. Vivekananda felt that the highest ideal was to serve God through serving humanity.
Thus Vivekananda would later add social work as an important element of the Ramakrishna order. Thus after spending a few years in meditation Vivekananda became restless and began travelling throughout India, visiting many of the holy sites.
after travelling through India and coming into contact with many influential figures, it was suggested that Vivekananda would make an ideal candidate to represent Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions which was shortly to be held in Chicago, USA.
Before leaving Vivekananda went to receive the blessings of Sarada Devi, the wife of Sri Ramakrishna. After receiving her encouragement and blessings he made the momentous journey to America dressed in his ochre robe and maintaining the vows of a Sanyasin.
Quotes of Swami Vivekanand
01- The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.
02- The first sign of your becoming religious is that you are becoming cheerful.
03- You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.
04- Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being.
05- We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.
06- You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.
07- 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.
08- The more we come out and do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified, and God will be in them.
09- 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.
10- GOD of truth, be Thou alone my guide.
11- The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves.
12- YOU know, I may have to be born again, you see, I have fallen in love with mankind.
13- BY the study of different RELIGIONS we find that in essence they are one.
14- If faith in ourselves had been more extensively taught and practiced, I am sure a very large portion of the evils and miseries that we have would have vanished.
15- MY nature is love Him. And therefore I love. I do not pray for any-thing. I do not ask for anything. Let Him place me wherever He likes. I must love Him for love's sake. I can not trade in love.
16- To devote your life to the good of all and to the happiness of all is religion. Whatever you do for your own sake is not religion.
17- Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.
18- The will is not free - it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect - but there is something behind the will which is free.
19- 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.
20- When an idea exclusively occupies the mind, it is transformed into an actual physical or mental state.
21- All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.
22- Religion is the manifestation of the Divinity already in man.
23- That man has reached immortality who is disturbed by nothing material.
24- External nature is only internal nature writ large.
25- GOD is to be worshipped as the one beloved, dearer than everything in this and next life.