Swami Vivekananda And His Progressive Vision Of Religion

By: Barnali Bose, Editor-ICN Group 

KOLKATA: Today, on the 156th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, it is my humble endeavour  to flip through the pages of the great missionary’s life,pause over a few and present before the readers glimpses of a few interesting events in his life.His short physical life of 39 years is in sharp contrast to the  scope of his achievements, perhaps unsurpassed by any other. It is indubitably wishful thinking to even be able to portray a miniscule portion of the great ocean of knowledge and wisdom that Swami Vivekananda symbolises.

His beliefs:

Swami Vivekananda wished to present the ideals of the Vedanta before the world. Vedanta was based on eternal principles and therefore could claim to be universal. Different religions he believed were mere paths to attain these ideals .These ideals when practised  intensely would lead to the manifestation of divinity within man. He moulded  the  old Vedantic religion to suit modern needs.

His journey to America:

It was to represent the principles embedded in the Vedanta that Swami Vivekananda journeyed to America . It was however the Raja of Ramnad who had persistently urged him to go to Chicago and Vivekananda,later, is said to have stated, “ India owes much to this good man ( the Raja).”

After facing many hardships,he came across Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University who introduced him to the Chairman of the Parliament of Religions  stating, “ Here is a man who is more learned than all our learned professors here.”

At the Parliament of Religions:

At the Conference,Vivekananda,initially was ill-at-ease  in the spacious hall of the Art Institute that was bursting at the seams with nearly 7000 people representing the  intelligentsia of the country. The Swami had never before addressed such  a large audience .

On the platform,representatives of every organised religion articulated their well-prepared  speeches . “A striking figure,clad in yellow and orange, shining like the sun of India in the midst of the heavy atmosphere in Chicago,a lion head, piercing eyes….” as Dr.Annie Besant describes Vivekananda   envisioned the image of Goddess Saraswati in his mind and uttered, “Sisters and Brothers of America…” A loud thunderous applause resonated in the hall  as the enraptured people mesmerised by his endearing address and eloquent speech rose to their feet.

Vivekananda spoke of a religion that was vast as the sky and deep as the ocean.So deep an impact his magnetic personality and words of wisdom had made, that the newspapers described him as the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions.

All subsequent speeches of Swami ji revolved around the common theme of Universality,gaining for him due appreciation and acclaim. After the conclusion of the Parliament, Swami ji lived a hectic schedule conducting lectures there.He later founded the Vedanta Society.

Observations on Swami Vivekananda in America

‘ ……. The people thronged about him wherever he went and hung with eagerness on his every word. The most rigid of orthodox Christians say  “He is indeed a prince among men.”—- Merwin-Marie Snell,President of the Scientific  section of the Parliament of Religions.” ‘

“ I don’t care if all our guests leave. The Indian is the most brilliant and interesting man who has ever been in our house and he shall stay as long as he wishes.”—- Mr John B. Lyon, the host in whose house the organisers lodged Swami ji.

“ …….. I saw scores of women walking over the benches to get near him,and I said to myself, Well,my lad, if you can resist that onslaught ,you are indeed a God.”—– Mrs S. K Blodgett in her reminiscences

“ Every human being would be made better by knowing him and living in the same house with him. I want everyone in America to know Vivekananda and if India has more such let her send them to us.”—– Mrs Bagley

Anecdotes on his stay in London:

During his visit to London, Swami Vivekananda was invited by Professor Paul Deussen to his house. Swamiji was seen turning the pages of a poetical work and did not respond when the professor spoke to him. Swamiji then quoted and interpreted verses from the book that made the professor marvel at his memory and intelligence.

At the hour of his departure, an English friend asked Swamiji’ “ How do you like your motherland now after four years’ experience of the luxurious,glorious, powerful West? Swami Vivekananda replied, “India I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me,the very air is now to me holy,it is now the holy land, the place of pilgrimage,the tirtha!”

A synopsis of Vivekananda’s teachings :

“Believe first in yourself,then in God. We need a heart to feel,a brain to conceive and a strong arm to do the work. Make yourself a fit agent to work. Work incessantly.God is in everything in every work,in every thought ,in every feeling.”

“Practice is absolutely necessary.You may sit down and listen to me by the hour every day, but if you do not practise,you will not get one step further.”

An introspection:

Religion was created so that man could choose his path to reach God . However  it is religion that has been one of the biggest causes of strife in History. Vivekananda spoke of a religion that encorporated within itself the various facets of all other religions.The Ramakrishna mission founded by Vivekananda stands for the amalgamation of all religions.

In life, Swami Vivekananda tirelessly strived to make man aware of the true significance of life and in death the aura of his indomitable spirit continues to guide us in the attainment of Universal Oneness.

Born: 12th January,1863

Breathed his last: 4th July 1902