Swami Vivekananda is the legendary spiritual personality who brought international limelight to the glory and wisdom of India. His historic speech at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893 that he started with the opening statement, “Sisters and Brothers of America…” will be remembered forever. He possessed a fiery flame of renunciation and inspired countless people to wake up to the higher purpose of life.
Swami Vivekananda was born in Calcutta as Narendranath. He was educated in the prominent British-run schools of the time like the Presideny College and Scottish Church College in Calcutta. At a young age he began the enquiry about God and this brought him in touch with Brahmo Samaj of Sri Keshab Chandra Sen. Possessed with a very sharp intellect, he was not satisfied with the Samaj and searched for a man who saw God and who could show him God. This search led him to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineshwar.
Narendra met Ramakrishna for the first time in November 1881. He asked Ramakrishna the same old question he has asked others so often, “Mahashaya, have you seen god?.” The instantaneous answer from Ramakrishna was, “Yes, I see God, just as I see you here, only in a much intenser sense. God can be realized,” he went on “one can see and talk to Him as I am seeing and talking to you. But who cares? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children, for wealth or property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him, he surely manifests Himself.” Narendra was astounded and puzzled. He could feel the man’s words were honest and uttered from depths of experience. He started visiting Ramakrishna frequently. At first he did not believe that such a plain man could’ve seen god but gradually he started having faith in what Ramkrishna said.
During the course of five years of his training under Ramakrishna, Narendra was transformed from a restless, puzzled, impatient youth to a mature man who was ready to renounce everything for the sake of God-realization. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Narendra and a core group of Ramakrishna’s disciples took vows to become monks and renounce everything. In July 1890, he set out for a long journey, without knowing where the journey would take him. The journey that followed took him to the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. He reached Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent on 24 December 1892. There, he swam across the sea and started meditating on a lone rock. He thus meditated for three days and said later that he meditated about the past, present and future of India. The rock went on to become the Vivekananda memorial at Kanyakumari.
Swami Vivekananda successfully introduced yoga and Vedanta to the West and lectured around America introducing the topics. After four years of constant touring, lecturing and retreats in the West, he came back to India in the year 1897. He founded one of the world’s largest charitable relief missions, the Ramakrishna Mission and reorganized the ancient Swami order by founding one of the most significant and largest monastic orders in India, the Ramakrishna Math.
Swamiji has written a number of scholarly works on Yoga and Vedanta that remain invaluable gems of wisdom for spiritual seekers of all times.