Thursday, January 12, 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Avatars of the Modern Age

Swami Vivekananda was born on 12 January 1863 in Calcutta and died on 4 July 1902 at Belur Math in West Bengal. He was a philosopher and spiritual teacher who introduced Hinduism to the Western world and inspired the independence movement of India. He was one of the leading disciples of Ramakrishna and the founder of Ramakrishna Mission.

Known also under his birth name of Narendranath Dutta, he came from a wealthy family. His father was a lawyer but also a philosopher. His mother, very much impregnated with Hinduism, introduced him to early sacred texts of India. He was a remarkable student. The question of God was his main concern. He adhered to the Society of God, where intellectuals discussed the future of religions and the reform of Hinduism. At 17, he met his guru, Ramakrishna.

In 1886, Vivekananda became samnyasin in the Ramakrishna Ashram. Ramakrishna designated him as his successor sometime before his death, during a long encounter, during which both would have experienced ecstasy. After the death of Ramakrishna, in August 1886, he became head of the ashram. On 25 December 1887, on the night of Christmas, he founded The Order of Râmakrishna thereby marking his relationship with the Christian religion.

He then made several trips to India, during which his only possessions are a water pot and two favorite books the Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ.

In 1893, with the financial support of one of his disciples, he went to Chicago on the occasion of the World Parliament of Religions. He spoke on several occasions during the Parliament of Religions and its impact was considerable. In his introductory speech on Hinduism on September 11, 1893, the audience of 7,000 people gave a standing ovation of two minutes.

Thereafter, he held conferences and created many disciples the United States. He then traveled around the world to spread the teachings of Râmakrishna. His return to India was triumphant. He created the Râmakrishna Mission in various countries. He returned to the West in 1899.

The biography of Nikhilananda described how Vivekananda had experienced no bad resentment at being taken for a Black by the Americans. It often happened to him during his travels in the states of the American Southwest, to be refused entry into a hotel, a restaurant or a hairdresser because of the dark color of his skin.

In 1900, he experienced some health problems. He then worked for the most disadvantaged. He died at the age of 39 on 4 July 1902. One of his most attached disciples was the mystical German Christina Greenstidel, (1866-1930) better known as Sister Christine.

The impact of the introduction of the Vedanta to the West by Vivekananda was considerable. His work was transmitted by a faithful disciple who took English notes in shorthand. It was broadcast in French public through Romain Rolland, who published a book on the Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel and Jean Herbert, who made translations and published several of his works.

Vivekananda's work was important because of the shortness of his life. He remained very faithful to the teaching of Râmakrishna on religious and philosophical synthesis. He influenced many thinkers, including Mahatma Gandhi.

Some aspects of Vivekananda's thought were perceived as traditional, others as very modern. If Vivekananda put the Advaita Vedanta on top of the spiritual hierarchy, he stood out clearly what he saw as a cosmic illusion and fatalistic quietism. Vivekananda wanted to change the world and not only release himself individually. In its way he is perceived by some as a revolutionary, direct precursor of Shri Aurobindo.

Swami Vivekananda wallpaper

Vivekananda did not believe at all that the Vedanta contradicts the science of his time. For him, yoga was a mind of science that complements what the West brings in terms of the physical sciences. This science of the mind does not aim at the flight of the world. It increased man's power over the universe.

It is a power, a force of transformation. Therefore, there was no question of rejecting the karma yoga for the sole benefit of Jnana Yoga. Knowledge without action is sterile and action without knowledge is blind and crude. As for the bhakti yoga, he recognized that love was the highest form of knowledge, when the object and the subject of knowledge are one.

His spiritual conception made him reject all superstitions and submissions to chimerical deities. He considered the caste system in India as a social custom opposed to the principles of Vedanta. He also protested against the bigotry, the fanaticism that enclosed man in a narrow mental prison instead of universal. According to him, the great religions are not destined to disappear. But as there are several spiritual types, there would be several religions that correspond to each of these types. The more universal a religion, the more it is individualized according to the needs of each person.

In 1970, a memorial was built in his honor on a small rocky island opposite the town of Kanyakumari. Mahatma Gandhi said of him that he maintained Hinduism in a splendid condition by removing the dead wood of tradition. Rabindranath Tagore said that if you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive.

Vivekananda was a seductive blend of tradition and modernity. He was also an explosive mixture of mysticism and science. In the vast majority of previous yogic concepts to Swami Vivekananda, the central concern was to accelerate individual emancipation of yogi, and it was concerned not to influence the fate or evolution of humanity. Swami Vivekananda showed himself a faithful disciple of his master when he undertook the dual task of raising the material conditions of India and casting into the West ferments of high spirituality.