Swami Vivekananda


Swami Vivekananda was born in a prosperous family in Kolkata on 12 January 1863. Before Vivekananda attained monkhood, he was known as Narendra Nath Datta. His father, Vishwanath Datta, was attorney by profession. His mother, Bhuvneshwari Devi, was a lady with strong character and devotion to god.

Brilliant Scholar

Before monkhood, we will refer to Swami Vivekananda as Narendra. Narendra, was exceptionally smart and intelligent. He was proficient in music, gymnastics, studies and also spirituality. He graduated from Calcutta University and acquired in-depth knowledge of different subjects like Western philosophy and history. Narendra was a voracious reader.

Meeting of two great minds- an Indian Guru finds an eager brilliant western educated student.

By the time Narendra met Ramakrishna, he was already well versed in Western Philosophy as a brilliant student from an elite western institution, while Ramakrishna had already finished a life time of traditional Eastern spiritual education. Ramakrishna had to convince Narendra, a product of western education. Ramakrishna was probably one of the last few great saints who got educated in the Indian spiritual traditions untouched from western educational institutions. Ramakrishna probably realized the need to reach out to a western audience and the cream of the new generation who were increasingly western educated.

Both Test Each Other

Narendra was a product of western education and would not accept anything blindly. Sri Ramakrishna saw the calibre of Narendra intellectually and spiritually. At the same time his expectations were high. He constantly tested to see if Narendra was meeting those standards. Ramakrishna was seeking an ambassador who could share the divine knowledge. Ramakrishna saw Narendra as a potential leader of his disciples.

Narendra initially was not convinced about the theory of ‘ Advaita.’ Ramakrishna used to correct him by saying, ‘ There are many paths to achieve the ultimate goal.’

One day Ramakrishna took Narendra to a quiet place. He revealed, “ I have secured some super natural powers after meditating for years. You can achieve anything from those powers. Do you want those powers?” Narendra asked “I want to realize the self. Can these power help me achieve this.” Ramakrishna said, “ No.” Narendra replied, “ Let me realize the God. I don’t want anything else.” Narendra had passed another test of Ramakrishna.

Tough Times

Narendra graduated in 1884. The same year his father died. This put the family in economic crisis. Money lenders started demanding the money from the family. Narendra tried to find a job, but he didn’t get a job. He had to retire to bed without food for many days so that his mother and his brothers and sisters might have something to eat.

One day he went straight to his Guru and said, “Please speak to Kali about my poverty .” Ramakrishna told him to approach her on his own. At midnight, Narendra went before the Kali. He deeply meditated and pleaded, “Please let me see you. Become visible before me.” Narendra never spoke of poverty to the mother goddess. His guru’s heart was full with joy. He had passed one more test. He said, “ A man should not worry only for food and clothes. We should crave for the ultimate goal and should always believe in God.”

Death of Ramakrishna

Disciples of Ramakrishna had imbibed the spirit of sacrifice and brotherhood amongst one another. One day Ramakrishna asked them to go out and beg for food. This was the foundation of a new monastic order. On 16 August 1886 Sri Ramakrishna parted away from his mortal body. After the death of Ramakrishna, fifteen disciples, under the leadership of Narendra formed a new monastic brotherhood. In the year 1887 all these disciples took up sanyasa and assumed new names. Narendra was now known as Swami Vividishananda.

Setting his life’s Mission

Vivekananda set a greater mission in his life. Vivekananda thought in different lines about his Master in relation to India and the rest of the world. He considered him as the prophet of the present age and brought to light Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world and to India in particular. Vivekananda heard the inner call and his inherent powers urged him to wander alone across the globe. Before embarking on a long journey of exploration across India in 1890, Vivekananda received the blessings of Sri Sarada Devi. Sri Sarada Devi was known to the world as Holy Mother. Sri Sarada Devi was the divine consort of Sri Ramakrishna.

Wandering Whole of India and Seeing Things Directly with Own Eyes

In 1890, Narendra started for a long journey. He travelled across whole of India. He visited cities of Ayodhya, Agra, Vrindavan, Alwar, Varanasi etc. It was during this journey that Narendra acquired the name of Swami Vivekananda. However, it is believed that he was given the name Swami Vivekananda by Maharaja of Khetri because of his wisdom to judge what is good and what is bad. During his journey he lived in all sorts of places. If one day he lived at King’s palace the other day he lived at poor man’s hut. Swami Vivekananda had realised the need for nation building and make India a strong nation.

Understanding Reasons for India’s Downfall : Neglect of Masses and loss of Faith in their Capabilities

Swami Vivekananda was touched to see the dismaying poverty and appalling backwardness of the masses. He was pioneer amongst the religious leader in India to openly declare that reason for India’s downfall was the neglect of the masses. He felt that need of the hour was to provide basic needs of life including food to the millions. He stressed on the need of improved methods of agriculture, village industries, etc. Vivekananda got clarity about core reason of poverty in India: because of centuries of oppression, the deprived mass had lost faith in their capabilities. It was required that people’s mind should be reignited with faith in themselves. To regulate the lost faith of people in their capabilities they needed inspiration from Swamiji. Swamiji got the source of such inspiration in Vedanta. Swamiji found that principle of Atman and other principles of Vedanta should be applied in practical life.

People at Large needed Two kinds of Knowledge

Knowledge to improve their economic condition, and spiritual knowledge to reignite faith in themselves. The ultimate solution was spreading the education. But, to deliver his plans for the spread of education and uplift of the downtrodden masses, an umbrella organization of dedicated people was needed. In swamiji’s words,” to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.” To bring this machinery in real terms, Swamiji founded the Ramakrishna Mission, after few years.

Vivekananda Choses his Istha Devatha as Bharat Mata

In the last spell of his journey across India, Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari. He didn’t have money to pay to boatsman. So he straight away dived into the sea which had sharks in it. After reaching a barren rock he meditated there for three days. He meditated about past, present and future of India. Swami Vividishananda became the Swami Vivekananda. Today, that rock is famous as Vivekananda Rock and has become a major tourist destination.

Parliament of Religions and Swami Vivekananda Coming to Limelight

World’s Parliament of religions was to be held in Chicago in 1893. He saw the Parliament as an opportunity to propagate his Master’s message across the globe. He took a decision to go to America. Swamiji thought to get some financial assistance in America for his project of eradicating poverty.

His speeches at the World’s Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 became famous. He was called as an ‘orator by divine right’ and as a ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the western world.‘ For nearly three and a half years, he propagated Vedanta in US and in London. He consolidated his earlier reputation as the saint who can speak in English Plus his high IQ, knowledge of western philosophy and his knowledge of Vedanta was a rare combination in those days. He could understand the context of the Westerners questions and answer them about Vedanta in a way they could understand.

Ramakrishna Mission

Swami Vivekananda founded Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897. It was a unique type of organization where monks and common people together undertook spread of Vedanta. The mission was known for various social services like running hospitals, schools, colleges, rural development etc.

Belur Math

In 1898, Vivekananda identified a big plot of land on the western bank of the Ganga at Belur. This place at Belur was a permanent residence for the monastry and monastic order originally started at Baranagar. This was registered as Ramakrishna Math later. Here, Swamiji adopted a new and universal pattern of monastic life. It was balanced between personal illumination and social service. Further, it was open to all people of any caste or creed.


After attending parliament of religions, Swamiji had considerable influence in the west. Some citizens in the west became his disciples. For an instance Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita), Mrs. Sevier, Josephine McLeod and Sara Ole Bull are prominent names.

English Speaking Swamiji

Not only was Swamiji fluent in English. He had high IQ and was well read in the philosophies of the west and the Vedanta. This enabled a fantastic combination that was extremely rare during those times. His ability to communicate Hindu philosophy to either westerners or western educated Indians was his strength. Since the traditional monks were unaware of the methods, ways of thinking in English language. So their knowledge was limited geographically to India.

The fact that there was something in Indian spirituality that was that powerful and worth respecting stoked the self confidence of the regular Indian who was regularly subjected to the experience of having looked down as inferior.


He went to the west for a second visit in June 1899. He spent most of his time giving lectures in west coast of U.S.A. He returned to Belur Math in December 1900. He spent rest of his life in India, infusing inspiration in both monastic and common people. This work took heavy toll on his health. The end came on the night of 4 July 1902. Before his Mahasamadhi, he wrote to a follower. ‘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.’

Teachings of Swami Vivekananda

  1. God is present in everyone: This is the crux of all worship – to be pure and to do good to others. If you feel the presence of Siva in the poor, in the weak and in the diseased, then you worship Siva in real sense.
  2. God is inside you: You will never find god outside. We are the greatest temple. Our own souls contribute all of the divinity that is outside of us.
  3. Persevere in your search for god: To succeed, you must have tremendous perseverance and tremendous will. Persevering soul can drink the ocean and crumble mountains at will. We should inherit such energy and such a will.


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