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The Man and His Mission - 4
|by Dr. Neria H. Hebbar|
Continued from Previous Page
Mission in India
After he returned to India, Vivekananda set out to do his 'work' in earnest. He had lofty goals of welfare of the poor, and education of women. He hoped to see an army of like-minded men and women 'fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion's courage by their sympathy'..to travel the length and breadth of India teaching the gospel of salvation, gospel of help and gospel of social raising up 'the gospel of equality.'
“ As the birds,
which have slept in the branches of a tree
wake up singing,
when the dawn comes,
and soar up into the deep blue sky,
so is the end of my life”
All the while the Swami’s health was deteriorating. He was suffering from attacks of asthma often. He also suffered from ‘neurasthenia’, a weakening of the nerves. His physical deterioration was noticed by others as well. Yet he went on pilgrimages to East Bengal and Assam. In 1901 he spent time in both Belur Math and at Mayavati. During January and February of 1902, he visited two of his most favorite places – Bodh Gaya where Buddha’s presence is felt even after 2500 years and Varanasi, his guru’s favorite place. In March of 1902, Vivekananda returned to Belur Math, showing signs of physical exhaustion. He was like the wind caught in the net, as one author would describe him. He had worked incessantly, inspiring both his monastic disciples as well as lay people.
Vivekananda liked to spend time in contemplation. On Friday July 4th 1902, he had taught his disciples a course on Vedanta in the morning. In the evening went for a two-mile walk with his brother-disciple, Premananda. He left specific instructions with Premananda concerning the future of Ramakrishna Math. On his return he was tired and wanted to retire to his bedroom, where he again meditated for half hour. He reclined on his bed and asked a boy to fan him. Soon the boy made haste to the house to report a tremor in the Swami’s hand and irregular breathing and crying as if in a dream. When others came to the room, he had already breathed his last. According to Sister Nivedita, he had “Quietly put the body down as a worn garment, after the evening meditation!”
The cause of death was apoplexy (sudden hemorrhage in a body cavity). In one of his last letters to one of his Western followers he had written, “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”
His body was cremated at Belur Math. At the same site a temple was consecrated, two decades later, on January 28, 1924. By the side of the temple is a bel (bilva) tree, replacing a similar tree under which he loved to rest and spend time in quiet meditation.
Towards the end of his life, from his letters, it becomes very apparent that he was ready to leave his body and take the final journey. He felt like a man freed from all his bondage and all his responsibilities. He had no regrets; he had a sense of accomplishment and tranquility that only comes with inner peace. He had finally felt that he had been successful in achieving what he had set out to do in his life.
Vivekananda had felt himself being drawn towards attaining Nirvana, during at least the last two years of his life. He had written to Josephine MacLeod that he was feeling a sense of urgency towards his own Nirvana. His end came two years after that letter. Like a true Bodhisattva, he made sure that the foundation had been laid for ordinary people to make their journey towards their own salvation before he chose it for himself. The difference between him and Buddha was very plain to see. Buddha had practiced a form of detached, impersonal compassion. Unlike Buddha, Vivekananda simply could not separate himself from the emotional attachments to people around him, because he thought the emotions to be a form of expression of love. And to him love was expansion, unlike selfishness, which was contraction and death. Love was the law of life, just as breath was to life. “This was the secret of selfless love, selfless action, and the rest.” This was Living Vedanta.
Even in his weakened state of health, he was still seen to turn radiant and magnificent whenever he was preaching an enthralled audience. He never lost his love for teaching Vedanta. However, towards the end of his life he was more and more withdrawn and he wanted to shed all responsibilities. He was elated when he handed over his presidentship of the Monastery. He wanted to resign from all responsibility of running of the Maths and Missions. A year and a half before his death, in one of his letters he wrote, to Sister Christine, that he had succeeded in his quests of life, and he felt jubilant despite all the difficulties and pitfalls. “I have attained my aim. I have found the pearl for which I dived in the ocean of life. I have been rewarded. I am pleased,” he wrote her.
Still, conflict and disappointments were also part of his life. The vicissitudes of life did not spare the Swami. This only made him more human. Some of his ardent supporters had turned against him in the end. In this regard he was deeply disappointed. The ashrams did not always run smoothly. There was always a lack of funds and he was the only one who had the power of earning large sums, especially from his trip abroad. Indians had disappointed him in this regard as well. He found them to be patient listeners but when it came to action they were nowhere to be found. Conflict within himself, which he was not in the habit of sharing with the others, because he feared that they would not understand, made him emotional at times. People who were around him had seen him calm, serene at times and frustrated at many other times. Any subject dear to his heart, especially the injustice of poverty, or caste discrimination in India brought out emotions deeply rooted within him. Though he understood very well that all people are not as noble in their thoughts as he had hoped for, he had difficulty in accepting this trait in other human beings.
Harriet Muller, who had donated money for the purchase of the land for the establishment of Belur Math had turned against him. She was unable to accept his illness, saying a Swami who is a yogi, should be able to overcome personal health problems. Obviously, her knowledge of Vedanta was superficial, at best. She left India very disillusioned and unhappy. This episode hurt the swami deeply. The man in charge of the Vedanta Society in New York, Abhedananda, was running afoul with some of Vivekananda’s supporters in America, including Sara Bull. He was one of the original disciples of Sri. Ramakrishna, who was growing more ambitious and was not trusted by others in New York. All these events compounded the disappointments he had felt and made him more and more withdrawn towards the end of his life.
Not being able to provide for his mother was another deep disappointment. Though he had worked hard and earned money, he felt that money belonged to his “work,” and not for his personal use. He discreetly wrote to his friend and supporter Raja of Khetri to make provisions for his mother – a house and sum of Rs. 100 every month. Generous Raja had obliged. But Vivekananda was involved with litigations from members of his own family even to save what little his father had left for his family. He was also uncomfortable about not providing for his two younger brothers, and wanted them to have children so that the family line did not become extinct. (Though he did not know it then, both Mahendranath and Bhupendranath remained bachelors and never married).
In April of 1902 while resting in Belur Math, one afternoon, he told Josephine MacLeod that it was his time to leave. He had just undertaken an exhausting journey to Bodh Gaya and Varanasi with her and returned. “I shall never see forty,” he told her. She reminded him that his beloved Buddha had done his best work between forty and eighty. He told her that in the shadow of a big tree it is difficult for little trees to grow. “I must make room for others,” he said. This was three months before that fatal July 4th. When he was in Cairo, in October of 1900, he had a sudden urge to come back to India. Though the plan was for him to return to America after his visit to Egypt, he decided on a whim to return to India. When asked why he had made such a decision, Vivekananda told them that he wanted to be with his brother monks during his last days. To his benefactor Emma Calve, who had generously bought him a ticket from Cairo to India, he said that he would die on 4th July!
A man who made a statement of great importance to dispel misunderstandings about India and its religion got his first break and start in America. By coincidence, he attained his own moksha on July 4th, when Americans were celebrating their one hundred and twenty sixth Independence Day. His message of Unitarianism and tolerance has been celebrated and has lived on. It is also by coincidence that religious bigots and intolerant militant Islamists attacked America on September 11th 2001, a hundred and eight years to the day of his inaugural speech at Parliament of Religions. Obviously his message has not reached all the citizens of the world, and much work is left to be done. If alive today, Swami Vivekananda would not have given up hopes. He relentlessly pursued his goals and worked diligently, hoping to convince - one soul at a time - to change and work towards the cause of uplifting the less fortunate souls amongst us. For this very purpose he has left a great legacy behind and his ‘work’ is being continued even today.
Vivekananda’s work continues hundred years later, with many Ramakrishna Missions spread across India, and many Vedanta Societies in the west. The fire lit by Vivekananda still burns in the room, despite his absence, as foretold by his guru, Sri Ramakrishna. The future of his movement is safe in the hands of the youth, who enthusiastically have taken his cause and have organized the Vivekananda youth movement in the form of Vedanta Study Groups across universities, where young men and women participate. Scores of young people have taken the cause of helping the poor and the downtrodden all across India, inspired by a man who taught them Living Vedanta.
The major source for this article comes from the excellent biography “Swami Vivekananda, The Living Vedanta” written by Chaturvedi Badrinath
Poems by Vivekananda
(From The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol5 Page 440. It is well known that Swami Vivekananda left his body on the 4th of July, 1902. On the 4th of July 1898, he was travelling with some American disciples in Kashmir, and as part of a domestic conspiracy for the celebration of the day- the anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence- he prepared the following poem, to be read aloud at the early breakfast.)
Here are the excerpts from another.
Quest for God
Chronology of Main Events related to Swami Vivekananda
Source of Chronology: belurmath.org
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