Swami Vivekananda:


In 1897 Swami Vivekanda arrived in America as an anonymous and penniless sannyasin (wandering monk). He had travelled to America as a representative of Hinduism and the ancient Indian tradition of Vedanta. Yet Vivekananda was not bound by any formal ties of religion.


To the World Parliament of Religions he offered a message of a shared spirituality and the harmony of world religions. This universal message and his dynamic spiritual personality won the hearts and minds of many seekers; and his vision is still treasured today.


“Arise! Awake! And stop not till the goal is reached.”


Early Life of Vivekananda

Vivekananda was born to an orthodox Hindu family in Bengal 1863. From an early age he displayed signs of great compassion and also the qualities of a natural leader. Vivekananda had a sharp intellect and devoured literature from both East and West. This included Western philosophy and the great English poets.



Vivekananda particularly liked the rational reasoning of the West and was easily dismayed by many of the religious superstitions and the cultural decline that Indian society found itself in. Thus Vivekananda was drawn to join the Brahmo Samaj. The Brahmo Samaj was a modern Hindu movement who sought to revitalise Indian life and spirituality through a rationalistic approach and abandonment of image worship.

However the rationality of the Brahmo Samaj could not satisfy the latent spiritual hunger of Vivekananda. From an early age he began to have spiritual experiences and at the age of 18 felt an overwhelming desire to “See God”. With a directness that was typical of Vivekananda he asked those around whether they had seen God. All affirmed in the negative.


This included the great Devendranath Tagore (father of Rabintranath Tagore) However Devendranath told Vivekananda that he saw in him the eyes of a Yogi and surely he would realised god in this lifetime. Although none could satisfy his question, he came to hear of the name Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who was reputed to be a great Spiritual Personality and had realised god

Ramakrishna - Vivekananda


In many ways Ramakrishna was different to Vivekananda. Ramakrishna was an illiterate and simple villager who had taken a post at a local Kali temple. However his simple exterior hid a personality of extraordinary spirituality.


For many years Ramakrishna had pursued the most intense spiritual practices burning with a longing for realisation of his beloved Mother Kali But after attaining realisation, Ramakrishna not only practised Hindu rituals, but also pursued the spiritual paths of all the main religions.


Sri Ramakrishna came to the conclusion that all religions lead to the same goal of union with the infinite. It was thus fitting that his closest disciple, Vivekananda would later eloquently spread this message, - the harmony of world religions. As Sri Arbindho would later say:

" the Master (Sri Ramakrishna) marked out Vivekananda as the heroic soul destined to take the world between his two hands and change it."

Ramakrishna instantly recognised the spiritual potential of Vivekananda and lavished attention on Vivekananda, who at first did not always appreciate this. In the beginning the reasoning mind of Vivekananda was sceptical of this God intoxicated Saint and Vivekananda would frequently question and debate his teachings. However, slowly the spiritual magnetism of Sri Ramakrishna melted Vivekananda’s heart and he began to experience the real spirituality that Ramakrishna exuded. Thus Vivekananda mental opposition faded away to be replaced by an intense surrender to the Divine Mother and a burning longing for realisation.

For a short but intense period of about 5 years, Vivekananda learnt directly from his Master Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna was able to awaken the dormant spiritual consciousness in his beloved disciple and Vivekananda soon began to experience profound states of consciousness and Samadhi After the passing of Ramakrishna, the other disciples looked to Vivekananda for leadership and he helped form the first monastic order of Ramakrishna. Under his constant guidance he urged his fellow brother disciples to renounce the world and seek communion with God.


However for Vivekananda, personal liberation was not enough. His heart ached for the downtrodden masses of India who suffered poverty and many hardships. Vivekananda felt that the highest ideal was to serve God through serving humanity. Thus Vivekananda would later add social work as an important element of the Ramakrishna order. Thus after spending a few years in meditation Vivekananda became restless and began travelling throughout India, visiting many of the holy sites.


After travelling through India and coming into contact with many influential figures, it was suggested that Vivekananda would make an ideal candidate to represent Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions which was shortly to be held in Chicago, USA. Before leaving Vivekananda went to receive the blessings of Saradha Devi, the wife of Sri Ramakrishna. After receiving her encouragement and blessings he made the momentous journey to America dressed in his ochre robe and maintaining the vows of a Sanyasin

Vivekananda – World Parliament of Religions


Vivekananda at the Parliament of World Religions
At the opening ceremony Vivekananda was one of the last speakers to speak. The previous speakers had talked about the merits of their own religion but Vivekananda appealed to the whole audience with his vision of oneness and equality before God.
His opening words began with.

“Brother and Sisters of America.” … Spontaneously the audience rose to its feet to applaud, perhaps appreciating the visionary sentiments Vivekananda offered.

Swami Vivekananda was chosen to represent hinduism. However Swami Vivekananda did not try in any way to prove the superiority of his religion. Instead Vivekananda spoke with great sincerity about the harmony of world religions and the common spirituality of humanity. It was this universal message of oneness which captivated the audience.

“As different streams, having their sources in different places, all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”
Vivekananda proved to be an eloquent exponent of Vedanta and the ideals of all religions. In addition people felt in this handsome and striking Monk a calm detachment, a luminous personality and radiant spirituality. Unexpectedly Vivekananda proved to be the star of the World Parliament of Religions

The New York Herald said of Vivekananda.

“He is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation.”

The Boston Evening Post said.

“If he (Vivekananda) merely crosses the platform he is applauded; and this marked approval of thousands he accepts in a childlike spirit of gratification without a trace of conceit…”

Throughout the conference Vivekananda was undoubtedly the star, the organisers would save Vivekananda to the end to make sure the audience would stay to listen.

The conference propelled Vivekananda into the public eye and for many months he travelled across America giving talks on the ancient tradition of Vedanta and his hope of fusing the spirituality of the East with the materialism of the West.

In America Vivekananda also began training some close students so they could propagate the teachings of Vedanta. He was able to start small centres in both the US and Great Britain. Vivekananda admitted he entered Britain with deep misgivings since his heart rebelled at the effects of the British Empire on his beloved motherland. However he was delighted to find some individuals who were sincerely attracted to the teachings of Vedanta. One notable example was Miss Margaret Noble (later named Nivedita), originally from Ireland, Nivedita was to became a devoted disciple who would dedicate her life to the Indian people)

After several years in the West, Vivekananda returned to India where he was met with a rapturous reception. In particular, his brother monks who were full of pride with Vivekananda who had returned with glowing praise. Despite falling health Vivekananda threw himself into a whirlpool of activity reorganising the monasteries and exhorting his fellow Indians to return to the truth of the Vedantic principles. But also Vivekananda sought to imbibe in the Indian consciousness a renewed dynamism to improve their material life. As Vivekananda often said, it was no use teaching religion to those with empty stomachs.


Vivekananda passed away at the young age of 39 but he achieved a remarkable amount in this short time on earth. He combined the ancient spiritual traditions of India with the dynamism of the West. Many Indian politicians would later offer their gratitude to the impact and ideals of Vivekananda. To many Vivekananda is regarded as the patron saint of modern India.


Cause of Swami Vivekananda’s death:

The cause of Swami Vivekananda’s death on the 4th of July, 1902, has been long debated as whether it was a deliberate act of will—through the Swami’s powers of yoga, or took place because of his illness, aggravated by over-exertion.
One fact that might favor the former view is that the Swami wrote a poem in praise of the 4th of July, on that date in 1898.

Written when he was travelling in Kashmir with some disciples, including some American and English disciples—it was read aloud at breakfast that early morning.


The poem was preserved by one of his American disciples, Mrs. Ole Bull. While it may have been a coincidence and possibly not unique that someone wrote a poem in praise of the day/holiday on which he happened later to die, it may be singular that it was written by someone whose death has been much debated as to its cause (and for reasons other than this poem).

Moreover, the Swami’s meaning in the poem, while clearly referencing the ideal of Amercan freedom celebrated on this holiday, possibly alludes to a greater more eternal freedom…

The Swami passed away at the age of thirty-nine years, five months and twenty-four days, thus fulfilling a prophecy which was frequently on his lips, “I shall never live to see forty.”

Three days before his passing away, as the Swami was walking up and down on the spacious lawn of the monastery in the afternoon with Swami Premananda, he pointed to a particular spot on the bank of the Ganga, and said to his brother-monk gravely, “When I give up the body, cremate it there!” On that very spot stands today a temple in his honour.
Sister Nivedita, introducing many significant facts in connection with the Swami’s passing away and his foreknowledge of it, writes:

When June closed, however, he knew well enough that the end was near. “I am making ready for death!” he said to one who was with him, on the Wednesday before he died. “A great Tapasya and meditation has come upon me, and I am making ready for death!”



Once in Kashmir, after an attack of illness, I had seen him lift a couple of pebbles, saying, “Whenever death approaches me, all weakness vanishes. I have neither fear, nor doubt, nor thought of the external. I simply busy myself making ready to die. I am as hard as that” — and the stones struck one another in his hand — “for I have touched the Feet of God!”

Personal revelation was so rare with him, that these words could never be forgotten. Again, on returning from the cave of Amarnath, in that same summer of 1898, had he not said, laughingly, that he had there received the grace of Amarnath — not to die till he himself should will to do so? Now this, seeming to promise that death would never take him by surprise, had corresponded so well with the prophecy of Shri Ramakrishna — that when he should know who and what he was, he would refuse to remain a moment longer in the body — that one had banished from one’s mind all anxiety on this score, and even his own grave and significant words at the present time did not suffice to revive it.

Did we not remember, moreover, the story of the great Nirvikalpa Samadhi of his youth, and how, when it was over, his Master had said, “This is your mango. Look! I lock it in my box. You shall taste it once more, when your work is finished!” “…And we may wait for that,” said the monk who told me the tale. “We shall know when the time is near. For he will tell us that, again he has tasted his mango.”

How strange it seems now, looking back on that time, to realize in how many ways the expected hint was given, only to fall on ears that did not hear, to reach minds that could not understand!

It would seem, indeed, that, in his withdrawal from all weakness and attachment, there was one exception. That, which had ever been dearer to him than life, kept still its power to move him. It was on the last Sunday before the end that he said to one of his disciples, “You know, the work is always my weak point! When I think that might come to an end, I am all undone!”

On Wednesday [July 2] of the same week, the day being Ekadashi, and himself keeping the fast in all strictness, he insisted on serving the morning meal to the same disciple [Nivedita]. Each dish as it was offered–boiled seeds of the jackfruit, boiled potatoes, plain rice, and ice-cold milk–formed the subject of playful chat; and finally, to end the meal, he himself poured the water over the hands, and dried them with a towel.

“It is I who should do these things for you, Swamiji! Not you for me!” was the protest naturally offered. But his answer was startling in its solemnity — “Jesus washed the feet of His disciples!”

Something checked the answer — “But that was the last time!” — as it rose to the lips, and the words remained unuttered. This was well. For here also, the last time had come.

There was nothing sad or grave about the Swami during these days. In the midst of anxiety about over-fatiguing him, in spite of conversation deliberately kept as light as possible, touching only upon the animals that surrounded him, his garden experiments, books, and absent friends, over and beyond all this, one was conscious the while of a luminous presence, of which his bodily form seemed only as a shadow or symbol. Never had one felt so strongly as now, before him, that one stood on the threshold of an infinite light. Yet none was prepared, least of all on that last happy Friday, July the 4th, on which he appeared so much stronger and better than he had been for years, to see the end so soon.

On the day of the Mahasamadhi itself, whether consciously or intuitively, his actions were most deliberate and full of meaning. His solitary meditation for three hours in the morning from eight to eleven was the most striking. He rose rather early that day and, after partaking of his tea, entered the chapel of the monastery. After some time it was noticed that he had closed all the windows and bolted all the doors. What transpired there, no one will ever know. In his meditation his own Master and the Divine Mother — to his own realization One and the Same Personality — must have been present, for, when he had finished, he broke forth in a touching song in which the highest Jnana mingled with the highest Bhakti.


Descending the stairs of the shrine, he walked back and forth in the courtyard of the monastery, his mind withdrawn. Suddenly the tenseness of his thought expressed itself in a whisper loud enough to be heard by Swami Premananda who was nearby. The Swami was saying to himself, “If there were another Vivekananda, he would have understood what Vivekananda has done! And yet, how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!!” This remark startled his brother-disciple, for never did the Swami speak thus, save when the flood-gates of his soul were thrown open and the living waters of the highest Consciousness rushed forth.