Swami Vivekananda:

The Man and His Mission - 4

Continued from Previous Page 

Mission in India

 'I am going to India to see what I can do in that awful mass of conservative
jelly-fish, and start a new thing, entirely new - smple, strong, new, and fresh as the first born baby.  The eternal, the infinite, the omnipresent, the omniscient is a principle, not a person. You, I, and everyone are but embodiments of that principle: and the most of this infinite principle is embodied in a person, the greater is he, and all in the end will be the perfect embodiment of that, and thus all will be one, as they are now essentially. This is all there is of religion, and the practice is through this feeling of oneness that is love.'

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' 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.'

He was impressed by the Americans' capacity to organize. If he brought anything from his experience that he wanted to implement in India immediately, it was to organize and push forward his life's goal of working for the poor and the downtrodden. He realized that without organization his goals would take more than his lifetime to achieve (he always said that his greatest 'temptation in America' was organization). For this purpose he formed the Ramakrishna Mission Association. He met with much resistance in the first instance, including from his own brother monks. He had consolidated his ideas during his stay in America and wanted to 'send hundreds of young men rolling like irresistible waves over India bringing comfort, morality, religion, education to the doors of the meanest and the most downtrodden.' He had always thought that this was what his master Ramakrishna had wanted him to do when he said, 'You have work to do.' 'Appreciation or no appreciation, this I will do or die,' he pledged.

To realize his goals he knew he needed money and funds. He had found Americans more generous than Indians in philanthropy and he tapped the altruistic nature of the Americans to fund his various missions he established both in America and in India. One of his first acts when he returned to India was to establish the Ramakrishna Mission Association. He established a Math (ashram) in a place called Belur on the western shores of River Ganga, which was consecrated on December 9, 1898. Belur Math was the final place for the order of the monks of Ramakrishna and was built solely by the generous financial help of the women of America. The Advaita Ashram at Mayavati was established on March 19, 1899, with the help of a British couple he had met in London. Captain and Mrs. Seviers sold their entire property in England and followed Vivekananda and helped him establish the Ashram at Mayavati. This serene Ashram is in the Himalayas at a height of more than 7000 ft. where, according to Vivekananda, it would be 'cool in summer and cold in winter, where the European workers can live.'

His return to India was not always filled with love and joy. He understood that and said the more people showed him love there always would be a number of people who did not like him or his message. Yet huge crowds gathered to meet him at Rameshwar, Ramnad, Madurai, Kumbakonam and Madras. He was aware of the criticism he was receiving from Mazoomdar and the orthodox Brahmanical hierarchy. His association with the Europeans and sharing a meal with them (Mlechchhas) was condemned as sinful. Even the Kali temple of his guru Sri. Ramakrishna closed its doors to his premier disciple because of his association with the Europeans.

Despite his warnings about the prejudices of Indian men, Margaret Noble decided to come to India and was ordained to the life of the Ramakrishna Order. She was given the name Sister Nivedita (one who is dedicated). This acceptance of a woman into the Order was again criticized heavily by his opponents. But Sister Nivedita spent her life in India dedicating her time towards the welfare and education of women of India, a daunting task at the end of nineteenth century India.

Vivekananda took head on the injustice in the religious practice of Hinduism and its discrimination based on caste. 'No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and low in such fashion as Hinduism,' wrote Vivekananda to his devotee Alasinga Perumal.

He agreed that faith could be a wonderful vehicle, which alone can save, but he understood that there was also a danger of fanaticism with faith. Jnana (knowledge) alone can lead to dry intellectualism. Bhakti (love), on the other hand is noble and great, but it can be mired in meaningless sentimentalism. Vivekananda wanted to find a synthesis between these two paths, a kind of harmony that can be enhanced by a like-minded group of people. He understood the limitation of an individual to achieve everything, but collectively, this harmony could be achieved. Whatever retards the onward progress or helps the downward fall is vice; whatever helps in coming up and becoming harmonized is the virtue.

No one was excluded and he would accept anyone to join his mission. From Chicago, he wrote to his followers in Madras, 'We reject none, neither theist, nor pantheist, monist, polytheist, agnostic, nor atheist; the only condition of being a disciple is modeling a character at once the broadest and most intense. Nor do we insist upon particular codes of morality to conduct, or character, or eating or drinking, except so far as it injures others. We leave everybody free to know, select, and follow whatever suits and helps him. Thus, for example, eating meat may help one, eating fruit another. Each is welcome to his own peculiarity; but he has no right to criticize the conduct of others, because that would, if followed by him, injure him, much less insist that others should follow his way.'

The Final Journey - 'Samadhi'


  “ 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.)
Behold, the dark clouds melt away,
That gathered thick at night, and hung
So like a gloomy pall above the earth!
Before thy magic touch, the world
Awakes. The birds in chorus sing.
The flowers raise their star-like crowns-
Dew-set, and wave thee welcome fair.
The lakes are opening wide in love
Their hundred thousand lotus-eyes
To welcome thee, with all their depth.
All hail to thee, thou Lord of Light!
A welcome new to thee, today,
O sun! today thou sheddest LIBERTY!
Bethink thee how the world did wait,
And search for thee, through time and clime.
Some gave up home and love of friends,
And went in quest of thee, self banished,
Through dreary oceans, through primeval forests,
Each step a struggle for their life or death;
Then came the day when work bore fruit,
And worship, love, and sacrifice,
Fulfilled, accepted, and complete.
Then thou, propitious, rose to shed
The light of FREEDOM on mankind.
Move on, O Lord, on thy resistless path!
Till thy high noon o'erspreads the world.
Till every land reflects thy light,
Till men and women, with uplifted head,
Behold their shackles broken, and
Know, in springing joy, their life renewed!
Here are the excerpts from another.
Quest for God
O'ver hill and dale and mountain range,
In temple, church, and mosque,
In Vedas, Bible, Al Koran
I had searched for Thee in vain.
Like a child in the wildest forest lost
I have cried and cried alone,
"Where art Thou gone, my God, my love?
The echo answered, "gone."
And days and nights and years then passed
A fire was in the brain,
I knew not when day changed in night
The heart seemed rent in twain.
I laid me down on Ganges's shore,
Exposed to sun and rain;
With burning tears I laid the dust
And wailed with waters' roar…..
….Years then passed in bitter cry,
Each moment seemed an age,
Till one day midst my cries and groans
Some one seemed calling me.

A gentle soft and soothing voice
That said 'my son' 'my son',
That seemed to thrill in unison
With all the chords of my soul…..
….And I was searching thee -
From all eternity you were there
Enthroned in majesty!
From that day forth, wherever I roam,
I feel Him standing by
O'er hill and dale, high mount and vale,
Far far away and high.

The moon's soft light, the stars so bright,
The glorious orb of day,
He shines in them; His beauty - might -
Reflected lights are they.
The majestic morn, the melting eve,
The boundless billowing sea,
In nature's beauty, songs of birds,
I see through them - it is He……
…..When holy friendship shakes the hand,
He stands between them too;
He pours the nectar in mother's kiss
And the baby's sweet "mama".
Thou wert my God with prophets old,
All creeds do come from Thee,
The Vedas, Bible, and Koran bold
Sing Thee in Harmony.

"Thou art," Thou art" the Soul of souls
In the rushing stream of life.
"Om tat sat Om." Thou art my God,
My love, I am thine, I am thine.
Chronology of Main Events related to Swami Vivekananda
January 12
Birth in Kolkata
Enters Presidency College
Transfers to General Assembly Institution
First meeting with Sri Ramakrishna
Association with Sri Ramakrishna
Passes B. A. Examination
Father passes away
Sri Ramakrishna’s last illness
August 16
Sri Ramakrishna passes away
Establishes Baranagar Math
December 24
Informal vow of sannyasa at Antpur
Formal vows of sannyasa at Baranagar Monastery
Travels all over India as itinerant monk
December 24
At Kanyakumari, South India
February 13
First public lecture, Secunderabad, South India
May 31
Sails for America from Mumbai
July 25
Lands at Vancouver, Canada
July 30
Arrives in Chicago
Meets Professor John Ft. Wright of Harvard University
September 11
First address at Parliament of Religions, Chicago
September 27
Final address at Parliament of Religions
November 20
Begins mid-western lecture tour
April 14
Begins lectures and classes on East Coast
May 16
Speaks at Harvard University
Source of Chronology:

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More by :  Dr. Neria H. Hebbar

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Views: 3649      Comments: 7

Comment Belur Math foundation by Swami Vivekananda 9th December 1898

Ardhendu Mukherjee
09-Dec-2015 10:25 AM

Comment Swami Vivekananda was very much human who had his faults, but he had the courage & the wisdom to accept it & move forward. He continues to inspire us with his ideals.

India will never see another Vivekananda.

The greatest tribute we can pay to this great saint is to carry forward the work of serving the downtrodden & always putting the society before self.

Long live Swamiji.

12-May-2015 00:47 AM

Comment thanks a lot for this essay

05-Dec-2014 10:58 AM

Comment Thank you very much to Dr. Neria H. Hebbar for this excellent article. I also bought
the excellent biographical book by Chaturvedi Badrinath, "Swami Vivekananda: The Living Vedanta" from a bookshop at New Delhi Airport. It shows what kind of problems SwamiJi faced in his life and how his strengths grew due to the struggle. We Indians are used to see him as a super-genius superhero, but the book shows how a college boy struggled through financial situations, facing hunger, extreme poverty and all odds in his life.

Raghvendra Jain
05-Nov-2014 02:24 AM

Comment I refer you to an excellent biographical book by Chaturvedi Badrinath, "Swami Vivekananda: The Living Vedanta". This well-written book was a major inspiration for my article.

Neria Harish Hebbar
13-Jan-2013 09:25 AM

Comment Please do write detailed books on this,It will benefit future generations.

12-Jan-2013 15:40 PM

Comment Awesome!!

prasad mhaise
11-Jan-2012 02:45 AM

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