The 19th Century Monk

An Ode to Swami Vivekananda, my spiritual guru.

This is my first blog post of 2019 and it gives me immense pleasure that I start it with the blessings of Swami Vivekananda. I consider him as my guiding light who opened the gates of spirituality for me.

Narendranath, (that’s his real name before he came to be famously known as Vivekananda) had his spiritual calling even as a young man. His favourite question to people was, “Have you seen God?” Well, how do you answer that! However, there was one man who not only answered his question but even led him to the path of God. He was Ramakrishna Paramhansa, who told Vivekananda that- ‘I have seen God and I see him in YOU right now‘. And something in the eyes of Ramakrishna told Vivekananda, that he was serious. This was the man who moulded the entire spiritual life of Swami Vivekananda in the five years they were together. It was on his insistence that Swami Vivekananda decided to spread the knowledge of Vedanta in this world.

He encouraged the people of India to “Arise, Awake” and realize the rich cultural heritage and scriptures of their own country. His speeches, his letters, his words even 100 years after his death, infuse the readers with passion, energy, and enthusiasm. It’s difficult not to be touched with his vigour and knowledge when you read his words. While reading his lectures, one feels as if Vivekananda is himself standing before you, and pushing you towards a higher ideal. Do you remember his famous words, “Arise, Awake and Stop not till your goal is achieved.” These words of his have been inspired from Katha Upanishad. He said,

“I preach only the Upanishads. If you look, you will find that I have never quoted anything but the Upanishads.”

Vivekananda represented India in the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, where he got a standing ovation on his talk on ‘universal religion’. He delivered numerous lectures worldwide talking about Hindu metaphysics, psychology, divinity of soul, oneness of existence, Advaita philosophy of Upanishads. Most importantly, he was the first monk of his time to have infused practicality in Vedanta. Swami Vivekananda brought the teachings of Upanishads from the books, temples and elite into the households and hearts of people around.

It is marvelling to note that Vivekananda has been the only spiritual guru who has successfully fused Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga and Jnana yoga into one. Very few people know that he was fond of singing, and many a time he used to sing bhajans in temples. Not only this, he was a voracious reader, who read not only the ancient Hindu scriptures but also the philosophy of Aristotle, Kant, Schopenhauer, and books by Adi Shankaracharya, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, David Hume, Thomas Kemphis, Edwin Arnold and many more. The list is exhaustive and I, at least, need another lifetime to read all these treasures. Vivekananda never asked anybody to follow him or his philosophy. He simply motivated people to open their eyes to a greater knowledge of Upanishads. In one of his lectures, he abruptly left midway. On asking him about this strange behaviour, he said,

“My listeners were becoming so absorbed in my teachings that I felt they were losing their individualities. They were like soft clay in my hands; I would have given them anything and they would have simply accepted it. This is not right. Each one of us has to grow and evolve according to our own inner law.”

Swami Vivekananda died a natural death in 1902 at the age of 39 years. Alas! Most of what he said has been lost. Only a little has been preserved in the fragmentary notes by his disciples. Please stay tuned for my next blog post, where I plan to share some insightful quotes from the speeches and letters of Swami Vivekananda and, also some books from where you can read his lectures.

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