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International Forum for NeoVedantins


Life and Teachings of Swami Vivekananda: Part 7

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

On Pilgrimage of India

For nearly two years, he wandered all over India from north to west, and from west to southern tip of India, learning and assimilating the prevalent religio-social culture and economic condition of India and her children. And what did he see? He saw that the masses were submerged in utter poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, and superstition. The many years of foreign rule and estrangement from the wisdom of the Vedas and the Upanishads had made them slaves not only of British rule, but also of the outdated social customs and rituals. The meaning of God, religion, and dharma was distorted to its lowest and crudest level. In the face of utter poverty, food itself had become their dharma and God. And, indeed, the Swami once acceded, 'religion cannot come to empty stomach. For the poor religion comes in the form of bread. Give bread, give secular education, improve their material condition, cover their half-naked bodies with some semblance of decency, and then tell the masses about spirituality. Then, talk of realization of Atman and Brahman, God and Religion. Oh, my Mother India, to what pitiable condition you have come to.'

His heart cried out in silence, and his eyes shed silent tears of sorrow at the suffering of the masses. The mighty Jnani in the Swami became the compassionate saint like the Buddha. Bhakti and Jnana must be activated with Selfless Karma; it must be so. Something must be done for the masses; that was the pressing necessity. And thus indeed he resolved. Tears of anguish softened and broadened his heart, and one day he said, "O brother, I do not know the meaning of religion; but one thing is sure, now I feel my heart has broadened and is capable of accommodating and feeling for everyone, be he destitute or a king, healthy or afflicted. I see the same Narayana in the poor and the fool, the wealthy and the wise."

Gradually his plan for future action was taking shape. He must do something to alleviate the suffering of people. For the time being he was ready to keep sadhana

and meditation aside so that he could fully devote himself to this cause. He also thought of going to rich countries like America and earn a large amount of money that could help him fulfill his pledge. To work is to worship; that was the new mantra that Swami Vivekananda thought would help India rise again. Sacrifice, renunciation, and selfless service were the essential requisites for this dream to come true, and for India to come out of darkness of ignorance and poverty. Material progress, secular education, and service to sick must be added to meditation and spiritual practices for fulfilling the final aim.

Parivrajaka Sadhu: The 'wandering monk'

By 1892 Swami Vivekananda became a sage of high intellect, action, and devotion. In his life, he had experienced the Truth of all the four Yogas, viz. Yoga of meditation, Jnana (discrimination), selfless action, and devotion. He was well versed in the study of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. He also studied life and teachings of Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammed, and Lord Buddha. In fact it is believed that once Swami Vivekananda had the vision of Buddha in his deep meditation. Thus having acquired direct knowledge of all the religions, having come to the conclusion that all religions speak of the same truth, Swami Vivekananda had intense desire to spread this wonderful message of divine unity of Existence and unity in diversity.
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