Emily Buchanan, BBC world affairs correspondent, wrote on 18 January 2013 a ceremonial BBC article on Swami Vivekananda. He was a chief disciple of the Hindu mystic Ramakrishna, and died of diabetes at 39.
In India today, Vivekananda is revered as a saint, but in the west – where he had a huge following – he is virtually unknown today. Yet this Bengali intellectual introduced many people to yoga and meditation and was one of India's most influential spiritual teachers, and the first to package eastern philosophy for the west. Hed did so in part by distilling complex ancient texts down to a simple message – that all religions are equal and God is inside everyone. To those used to the Judeo-Christian view of an external God, his ideas on yoga and meditation were exciting and new.
He first shot to stardom at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. There he called for tolerance and the end of religious fanaticism. Women fell over each other to get a closer look at this handsome Hindu monk with ochre robes and turban who spoke flawless English. He became hugely in demand and people flocked to his lectures. He also had long lecture tours round America – ]◦Link]
A NEIGHBOUR said of the boy Narendranath (Narendra, Naren), who in time became known as Swami Vivekananda: "I have never seen a more hopelessly spoiled one than he . . . he goes along smoking a cigar in the presence of the elders of the quarter, and so on in all matters."
Ramakrishna, however, said of the young man Naren: "My Narendra is a coin with no alloy whatever; Narendra does everything with the greatest ease."
Another of Ramakrishna's disciples, Saradananda, tells how he met the other young man, and how he got to know that the young man who was so much praised by the Master, was the one that the neighbour had calumniated vehemently.
"One day some months earlier we had met Narendranath at the house of a friend. We were sitting in a room of the outer apartment when he entered the room and began humming a song. Seeing him smoke tobacco afterwards, we did not try to get introduced to him, but we got astonished with his scholarship. We then took leave.
"Ordinary people often regarded the bold and plain-speaking Narendra as arrogant and insolent and of improper conduct when they saw his conduct and perceived his great self-confidence – which later would re-instil hopes in the broken-hearted.
"Narendra even told Ramakrishna, "You are affectionate to me and want to see me great in everything; this is perhaps why such visions appear to you."
"Ramakrishna thought, "But I tested my visions before in various ways and found that the Mother always showed me what was true and never what was untrue." He placed the matter before the divine Mother and was freed from anxiety on hearing from her, "Why do you give ear to his words? He will accept in a short time all these things as true."
"Soon Ramakrishna had Narendra by his side." [Jagadananda 1970, 749-57, abstracted]
"Love for yourselves means [in the end] love for everything." – Vivekananda
He questioned people of holy reputation. Ramakrishna, who became his master, made his doubts go away and transformed him.
Compassion for India's people drove him to seek material help for them from the
His lectures and writings are gathered into nine volumes. They are on-line.
From an article written by Vivekananda after his visit to Paris, France, in the
latter part of the nineteenth century, when the British Empire appeared to be at its
Mass for a while, "The English
imitate the French"
What the French initiate, the Germans, the English, and other nations imitate, maybe
fifty or twenty-five years later. – Swami Vivekananda ◇
Yet be careful and don't go very
much into topics like "the charming hills and grasslands of France" after a visit to Paris
If anyone has to give the world any new idea, this Paris is 'the' place for
its dissemination. If one can gain the approbation of the citizens of Paris, that voice the
whole of Europe is sure to echo back. :) (3) – Swami Vivekananda
France. A picturesque country, neither very cold nor very warm, very
fertile, weather neither excessively wet nor extremely dry, sky clear, sun sweet, elms and
oaks in abundance, grass-lands charming, hills and rivers small, springs delightful.
Excepting some parts of China, no other country in the world have I seen that is so
beautiful as France. . . . Nature so lovely, the men so fond of beauty! – Swami
The wealthy of other countries . . . see Paris as the home of immorality and
enjoyments. . . . In other countries the means of enjoyment are commonplace and vulgar, but
the very dirt of civilized Paris is coated over with gold leaf. – Swami
Why should those who get rich hasten to Paris, of all places? Why do kings
and emperors, assuming other names, come to Paris and live incognito and feel themselves
happy . . . ? – Swami Vivekananda
French civilization roused England so that English progress could be won – for the French know how to enjoy even universities -
The spirit of the French Revolution is still working among the other nations of
Europe. (5) – Swami Vivekananda
We hear only of the darker side of this Paris in our country – that it is a
horrible place, a hell . . . Some of the English hold this view. – Swami
French civilization reached Scotland, and . . . it awoke and roused England.
- Swami Vivekananda ✪
One distinguished scientist of England told me the other day that Paris was
the centre of the world, and that the more a nation would succeed in establishing its
connection with the city of Paris, the more would that nation's progress be achieved. –
Paris is the centre of Western Civilization. – Swami Vivekananda
Paris is the fountainhead of European civilization . . . This huge
metropolis is . . . the city of constant rejoicing. Such luxury, such enjoyments, such
mirthfulness are neither in London nor in Berlin nor anywhere else. – Swami
The French have perfected [sense-enjoyment] as a science, they know how to
enjoy, they have risen to the highest rung of the ladder of enjoyment." – Swami
The Paris University is the model of European universities – Swami
The whole country [France] looks like a picture. – Swami
Of science, philosophy, and art, this Paris is the mine. (7) – Swami
- Mass for a while, "The English imitate the French" and see what happens.
- But be careful and don't go very much into topics like "the charming hills and
grasslands of France" after a visit to Paris alone -
- French civilization roused England so that English progress could be won – for
the French know how to enjoy even universities -
France got rid of the English soldiers only after some hundred years of warfare – And stockholders in the British East Indian Company got an interest of 150% a year for
tens of years – all of which spells severe exploitation – but not of the stockholders.
Before Vivekananda went to the West, he travelled about in India for a long time,
changing his name to Ramananda and so on to avoid being recognised. Once he visited the seer
Rajnarayan at Baidyanath with a brother disciple of Ramakrishna. Vivekananda had advised his
fellow disciple not to disclose to Rajnarayan that he himself knew English, and he pretended
to have no knowledge of that language, even though he was university educated.
Rajnarayan got the impression that Vivekananda knew no English, and therefore they
spoke in Bengali. Rajnarayan was highly pleased with the Bengali youth who did not use a
single word in English while they talked together.
Other Indians had it differently. One said: "I can speak in English, write in
English, think in English, and shall be supremely happy if I can dream in
English!" He loved his motherland still.
A Comment, "Fair is fit"
This chapter stems from utterances from a staunch upholder of Hindu faith at a time
when the British dominated India. On the one hand he speaks for his religion, Vedanta, on
the other hand he speaks well of France and Paris, but wasn't it a bit "off key" somehow?
Let historical facts speak for themselves. Yes, France was a fine place of learning at the time of Vivekananda, but England of the British Empire was supposedly not beneath France, far from it. As for arts like painting, Paris had not always been the centre – less than a generation earlier German towns like Dresden were thought to be perhaps more significant, so many had studied painting there, not in Paris. But that changed.
As for enjoyments, Indians have old texts and pictures for that side to life as well. Sir Richard F. Burton (1821-90) translated a few of them, including the Kamasutras and Ananga-Ranga. In our days, statistics indicate that the French may be about "European average" or a bit above that average when it comes to making love, depending of what sides to sex one queries into.
And how may you eulogise the whole country, France, after a visit to the capital?
What basis does the swami have to write swelling phrases of the mostly unseen un-encountered
countryside of France? Take care is a fine thing.
The above is included to serve better thinking – much of what the swami taught, is not worth anything. Besides, much seems outdated; things that perhaps were fit enough over a
hundred years ago, is rather out of tune today. Thus, it does not pay to become a blunt
believer of what is stated "black on white". That may be a recurrent lesson to some.
Heed the gentle wisdom of Buddha about not believing unfitly in things heard (hearsay); things repeated many times; mere conjecture;and guessing teachers and so on. [More]
Let your quiet mind listen and absorb. [Pythagoras]
Social life in the West is like a peal of laughter; but underneath, it is a wail. It ends in
a sob. The fun and frivolity are all on the surface: really it is full of tragic
You cannot really believe in God until you believe in yourself. [With Vivekananda]
The Great Lord will not allow me to become a hypocrite. [With Vivekananda]
To worship God even for the sake of salvation or any other reward is equally degenerate.
No need of text-torturing, as is the fashion in the West in modern times, no need of
stretching out texts until they will not stretch any more. [Vivekananda]
There are different stages of growth. [With Vivekananda]
When you have men who are ready to sacrifice their everything . . . India will become great.
Great work may have to pass through these stages – ridicule, opposition, and then
acceptance. Each man who thinks ahead of his time will probably be greatly misunderstood.
Be pure to do good. [Mod Vivekananda]
Practice is absolutely necessary. It depends on practice. Simply listening to explanations
and theories will not do. [With Vivekananda]
Kick out the priests who are always against progress. They are the offspring of centuries of
superstition and tyranny. [Vivekananda in short]
When a man has developed a high state of spirituality he can understand that the kingdom of
heaven is within him. [Vivekananda]
In some instances misery is a greater teacher than happiness. [Vivekananda]
I preach only the Upanishads. If you look, you will find that I have never quoted anything
but the Upanishads. [Vivekananda]
We have to know how to act. [Vivekananda]
When an idea exclusively occupies the mind, it can be transformed into an actual physical or
mental state. [With Vivekananda]
Think positively and masterfully, and life becomes richer. [With Vivekananda]
Learn to see things in the proper light. First, believe in this world. [Vivekananda]
Take care about what you think. Thoughts can travel far. [With Vivekananda]
To help the suffering world was the gigantic task to which Buddha gave prominence . . . yet
he had to spend years in self-searching, to realise the great truth . . . The greater the
work, the more must have been the power of realisation behind. – Swami Vivekananda
I have every respect and veneration for Lord Buddha. – Swami Vivekananda
The Vedanta has no quarrel with Buddhism. – Swami Vivekananda
"The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Where goest thou to seek for the kingdom of God? asks
Jesus of Nazareth, when it is there, within you.- Swami Vivekananda
Do not believe in a thing because you have read about it in a book.
Do not believe in a
thing because another man has said it was true.
Do not believe in words because they are
hallowed by tradition.
Find out the truth for yourself. Reason it out . . . (etc.) * –
*Similar to Buddha's ground-breaking Kalama Sutra – [Kalam Sutta]
All from the book Jnana Yoga, Chapter 3: "Maya and Illusion"
Don't pass time in pessimism,
delve inside instead, coupled with wise work to produce what is needed to afford wife
and childen. You may be allied with patent doctrine too
Iin this country (England) it is very difficult to become a pessimist. – Swami
I imagined that I should be entirely satisfied if I had a wife and children and
plenty of money. Today I laugh at all these ideals. – Swami Vivekanada ◇
Nowadays it is very hard even to talk of renunciation. – Swami Vivekanada
There is a theory that life came from other planets. It is a settled doctrine with
some Vedic philosophers that life comes in this way from the moon. :) – Swami
Wherever there is the power of producing a smile in us, there lurks the power of
producing tears. – Swami Vivekanada
A high standard is from the
Ocean, and should help you to reach the Ocean too
The idea of a Personal God, the Ruler and Creator of this universe, as He has been
styled, the Ruler of Maya, or nature, is not the end of these Vedantic ideas; it is only the
beginning. – Swami Vivekanada
Fanatics cannot work, they waste -. – Swami Vivekanada
The Hindus, to keep up a high standard of chastity in the race, have sanctioned
child-marriage, which in the long run has degraded the race. At the same time, I cannot deny
that this child-marriage makes the race more chaste. :) – Swami Vivekanada
The essence of life is going towards perfection. – Swami Vivekanada ◇
This is what is called Maya . . . this universe. – Swami Vivekanada
Is only a question of time when you and I, and plants and animals, and every
particles of life that exists must reach the . . . Ocean . . . must attain to Freedom, to
God. – Swami Vivekanada
We are all after the Golden Fleece . . . everyone struggles for it. :) – Swami
Vedantic philosophers find something which is not bound by Maya; and if we can get
there, we shall not be bound by Maya. – Swami Vivekanada
This world is what the
Vedanta doctrines rest on. Be not fooled away from that outlook.
WE MUST work for lessening misery . . . That lesson we shall have to learn, and it
will take a long, long time to learn it. – Swami Vivekanada
One end – death. That is all that is certain -- We do not know why, we cling to
life; we cannot give it up. – Swami Vivekanada
"This world has no existence." What is meant by that? It means that it has no
absolute existence . . . Nor can it be called non-existence, seeing that it exists. –
When the Hindu says the world is Maya, at once people get the idea that the world is
an illusion. -- Almost all of you have heard of the word Maya. Generally it is used, though
incorrectly, to denote illusion, or delusion, or some such thing. But the theory of Maya
forms one of the pillars upon which the Vedanta rests; it is, therefore, necessary that it
should be properly understood. – Swami Vivekanada
"By knowing Him who is beyond darkness we can go beyond death." -- The Vedantist
finds that He who, he thought, was standing outside, is he himself and is in reality within.
- Swami Vivekanada
The same thing which is producing misery in one, may produce happiness in another. –
Swami Vivekanada ✪
Animals are living upon plants, men upon animals and, worst of all, upon one
another, the strong upon the weak. – Swami Vivekanada
The man in the forest does not know what it is to be jealous, to be in the law
courts, to pay taxes, to be blamed by society, to be ruled over day and night by the most
tremendous tyranny that human diabolism ever invented. – Swami Vivekanada
Why cannot good be done through good, instead of through . . . diabolical methods? . . . Why must there be all this suffering now? – Swami Vivekanada
All sense-enjoyments, of all intellectual enjoyments, and of all the enjoyments of which the human mind is capable . . . they are within Maya -- In one of the latest Upanishads . . . the idea of Maya became fixed. We read in the Svetashvatara Upanishad, "Know nature to be Maya and the Ruler of this Maya is the Lord Himself." – Swami Vivekanada
The Maya of the Vedanta, in its last developed form, is . . . a simple statement of
facts – what we are and what we see around us -- We are not born as helpers of nature, but competitors with nature. We are its bond-masters, but we bind ourselves. – Swami Vivekanada
The cause of our ignorance is a kind of mist that has come between us and the Truth. - Swami Vivekanada
The more we progress, the more avenues are opened to pain as well as to pleasure. – Swami Vivekanada (7)
- To avoid passing time in blunt pessimism, be at least allied with patent
doctrine and meditation.
- A high standard is from the Ocean, and should help you to reach the Ocean too. This outlook links up to main Zen doctrines of Dogen (1200-53) about things to do also.
- This world is what various Vedanta doctrines rest on. Be not fooled away from that outlook, for as a result you may end up outsmarted, dogmatised into a great fool instead of entering your Way.
Pessimism tends to foster its own outlooks, even doctrines, but you should instead learn how to tune in with the Ocean and also reach It. That is in the teaching of Guru Dev (Shankaracharya Brahmananda Sarawati).
The Beatles were taught TM (Transcendental Meditation) by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a disciple of Guru Dev. In consequence, Maharishi was very much in demand by the press, who wondered at the attention he commanded.
An interviewer asked him, "What is it that you preach?"
"I preach ◦a simple system of transcendental meditation which gives the people the insight into life and they begin to enjoy . . . peace and happiness," said Maharishi.
◦Reduced substance abuse is another, marked effect of TM (Transcendental Meditation). "We must supply them with some tangible, simple, natural means to glorify all aspects of their personality and life," said Maharishi too.