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«O Children of immortality! Wake up, get up, and don't stop until you've reached your goal! »

Swami Vívekananda (1863-1902) was the chief disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. In his country he is considered the patriot saint who inspired the spiritual renaissance of India. He was the first great sage-yogi to go to America as India's spiritual ambassador. He worked to foster a better understanding between East and West, to create a better world that would bring together the best of Eastern religiosity and Western scientific rationality and efficiency. As a mystic, Vivekananda had direct and intuitive experience of Reality. His natural tendency was to transcend the world and get lost in contemplation of the Absolute. There was, however, another part of his personality that was bleeding from the sight of human suffering. For this - in obedience to the command of his guru and the Divine Mother - he dedicated his life to the service of humanity, carrying out an impressive amount of work in a few years.

Biography of Swami Vivekananda

Svámi Vivekànanda (1863-1902), whose family name was Narendranáth Dutta, was born in 1863 son of Bisvanàth, a well-known lawyer from Calcutta, and of Bhuvanesvari Devi, a woman of great intelligence and devotion. Bisvanáth used to engage in erudite conversations with clients and friends on politics, religion and social issues. He urged his son to take part in these events and to express his opinion on the subject matter. Narendra, not at all intimidated, said what seemed right to him, also bringing arguments to support his ideas and points of view. Some friends of Bisvanàth did not like the boy's presence also because he had the audacity to talk about adult matters. However, his father encouraged him and Narendra replied to the objections by observing: "show me where I'm wrong, but why should you oppose the free expression of my thought?"

Narendra learned the Epic and Puranas from her mother who was very good at telling fairy tales. He inherited memory from his mother, among many other qualities, and in fact owed it much, as he himself would later recognize.
Narendra was truly multifaceted. He knew how to sing, he did very well in sport, he had a ready wit, a vast knowledge, a rational mind and a great sense of solidarity with people. He had natural leadership skills and was highly sought after by people because of his qualities.

He passed the "Entrance Examination" at the Metropolitan Institution and passed the FA and BA exams at the General Assembly's Institution (now called Scottish Church College). The Rector of the College was struck by Narendra's philosophical intuitions and it was precisely by the Rector that he first heard of Ramakrishna.

As a student of philosophy, the problem of the existence of God persistently occupied his thoughts. Was there a God? If so, what did it look like? What kind of relationships did men have with him? Was this world, with its multiple anomalies, a creation of its own? He faced these problems with many people but no one was able to give him satisfactory answers. He then started looking for people who could claim to have seen God but did not find any. Meanwhile Keshab Sen had become head of the Brahmo Movement; he was a great speaker and many young people, attracted by his oratory, had enrolled in Brahmo Samaj. Narendra also signed up and for some time what he was taught satisfied him. Soon, however, he began to feel that, as far as spirituality was concerned, teaching could not get to the heart of the matter. A relative of his was advising him to visit Ramakrishna in Daksinesvar and assuring him that he would resolve all his doubts regarding religion. Instead, he met him by chance in a neighbor's house but we are not sure what the impression Ramakrishna produced in the young man's mind was. However, he invited Narendra to Daksinesvar to visit him when he wished. 1 days passed and Narendra became increasingly restless about the various puzzles that religion presented to him. In particular, he wanted to meet someone who could speak of God with the authority of a personal experience. Finally he went to Ramakrishna and asked him in no uncertain terms if he had seen God. Ramakrishna replied in the affirmative and added that if Narendra wanted him he could also have shown it to him. Naturally, the answer took him by surprise, but he did not know whether to take it seriously because, despite being impressed by the simplicity and love of the Divine shown by Ramakrishna, his idiosyncrasies made him suspect that he was a "fixed" . Thus he began to observe him carefully and continued for a long period of time until he had no more doubts: Ramakrishna was truly an extraordinary being, capable of exercising the most complete dominion over himself. He had never before encountered a man of this kind before. Furthermore, he was the best expression of every spiritual truth he preached. Narendra admired and loved Ramakrishna, and yet never gave up his independence of judgment. On the other hand, Ramakrishna, and this is of particular interest, never demanded such renunciation from him or from any other disciple. Despite this, Narendra gradually came to accept Ramakrishna as his Master.

Ramakrishna was struck with cancer and in 1886 left his mortal remains. During his illness a group of chosen young people, of which Narendra was the leader, had formed and had begun to take care of him by receiving his spiritual guide. Ramakrishna had wanted them to follow the monastic life and had symbolically given them the ocher (garua) robe. Following this indication, they founded a monastery in Baranagar and began to live together asking for alms for their livelihood. Every now and then they went around like other itinerant monks. Narendra also traveled and it was during one of these trips that he took the name of Svámi Vivekánanda.

Vivekánanda traveled widely throughout India, sometimes by train, sometimes on foot. He was painfully impressed by the conditions facing rural India, an ignorant, superstitious, undernourished and victim of caste tyranny. But even more he was struck by the indifference of the classes of the so-called wealthy and educated bourgeoisie. During his travels he met many princes from which he was invited as a guest. He also met many members of the educated city class: lawyers, teachers, journalists, and government officials. To all of them he made a heartfelt appeal to do something for the masses, but no one seemed to listen to him except the maháraja of Mysore, the maharaja of Khetri and some young people from Madras. Svàmi Vivekànanda made them understand the need to mobilize the masses. Intellectuals, men and women, would not have been able to solve the country's problems; for such an undertaking it was necessary to harness and direct the power of the mass which therefore had to receive education. The maharajah of Mysore was among the first to make elementary education free in his kingdom, but this, according to Svamiji's point of view, was not at all sufficient. A farmer could not afford to send his children to school as he needed their help in the fields. It was therefore imperative to bring the school to the farmers' homes so that their children could work and study at the same time. Perhaps he had a "non-formal" type of education in mind; his letters to the maharaja of Mysore demonstrate how much he had reflected on this question and how much originality.

Other princes, and the educated class as a whole, were affected by Svamíjí's personality but were too preoccupied with their personal interests to pay attention to his appeals. Some young people from Madras, and especially Perumal, devoted themselves to the ideals proposed by Svamiji and their contribution to the success of his mission was significant. It was not difficult for Svámiji to understand why those who could influence society's opinions ignored him. It was only a simple itinerant monk, and there were hundreds of them in the country. Why should they pay particular attention to him? They generally followed only Western thinkers and Indians who had gained recognition from the West because they shared their thinking. It was a slavish mentality, but this was the characteristic attitude of Indian intellectuals on almost all problems. Seeing his countrymen stalk in their western-style clothes, imitating Western ways and customs as if they were true Westerners, grieved Svámiji. Later he would address the Nation in these terms: "Be proud of being Indian even when you have to wear simple thongs." He was not opposed to learning from the West because he recognized the qualities by which the country had become rich and powerful. He wanted India to learn science and technology from the West together with its organizational capacity and practical sense but, at the same time, to keep its high moral and spiritual ideal unchanged. The selfishness of the people of the so-called cultured class made him suffer even more. They contented themselves with looking after their well-being, indifferent to what happened to others. Svámiji wanted to draw their attention to the miserable conditions in which the mass was facing: illiterate, always on the verge of survival, superstitious and victim of the oppression of the upper castes and wealthy landowners.

When Svámiji arrived in Madras the young people gathered around him attracted by his luminous figure and his inspired speeches. They asked him to go to the USA and to participate, as a representative of Hinduism, in the Parliament of Religions which would be held shortly thereafter in Chicago. And to that end they also began to raise funds. At first Svámiji was reluctant but then convinced himself that something good could come out of his visit to the West; in fact, if he could somehow arouse interest, his compatriots, who judged a good or bad thing based on what the West thought, would have listened to him with greater respect. This was exactly how it happened: Svámiji made a huge impression first in the United States and then also in England. The press gave him great recognition as an exponent of the traditional values of India. And in India he became a national hero in the blink of an eye. Suddenly everyone realized that there had to be something in Indian thought that Western intellectuals felt they had to admire. Slowly but inevitably they began to review their beliefs about their country and its civilization. They began to suspect that after all they were not as backward as they had believed and that indeed, in fields such as religion, philosophy, art and literature, they were even more advanced than Westerners. They had always been pitied, but now, for the first time, they became aware of the richness of their heritage: it was the beginning of the Indian Renaissance that we hear about. Many were the national heads of state, starting with Tilak, who drew inspiration from Svámi Vivekánanda and who through him "discovered" India, its strengths and weaknesses. "If you want to know India study Vivekánanda" was the advice that Tagore gave to Romain Rolland, a still valid advice because nobody has ever studied India as thoroughly as Svámiji did.

He denounced the state of abandonment in which the masses found themselves as a serious national stain. Another stain he said was the state of the woman without adequate provisions. The caste system, in its present form, was a third spot. Ethnic and religious pluralism did not represent a serious problem for him as India had always sought its unity in love and respect for all the different sects and communities. He welcomed the rise of socialism for both India and the rest of the world. The sudras, that is to say the proletariat, would have conquered power and in order to ensure a peaceful passage of powers he asked the brahmana, that is, the intellectuals, to facilitate it as much as possible. In order to avoid that a cultural decline could follow this step he tried to submerge the country in a spiritual atmosphere.

Svamiji hoped that India could give rise to a new social order and a new civilization by bringing together its highest spiritual traditions with the most recent scientific and technological discoveries; thus she would have been rich both materially and spiritually. He knew that wealth was not everything, man must also be human and in this he wanted India to lead by example.

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