Many things have already been spoken and written about Swami Vivekananda in various web sites and even books. Hence this article would not focus much on swamiji’s life but rather on what we have to learn from this great saint so as to achieve the goal of moksha in this very birth itself. Through an analysis of Swamiji’s life with respect to the Vedanta we will be able to learn a lot in order to help us attain the blissful state of Brahman. Else we will end up like any other orator who just goes on speaking the greatness of Swamiji without being able to apprehend even one small aspect of Swamiji thereby making him no different from the many people of the world who fail to apprehend the underlying reality of blissful Brahman.
Swamiji’s poorva ashrama name (name prior to sanyaassa) was Narendra. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Narendra was the pet of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. There are numerous references in the gospel of Sri Ramakishna Paramahamsa that indicate clearly that Ramakrishna Paramahamsa liked Narendra and his presence. Probably anticipating the reason for this, he says in one place that these youngsters have a lot of options in the world (to get deluded) but they still seek Ishwara and hence he likes them a lot. Of course this isn’t that common these days. Narendra when he met Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was just in his late teens. And he had learned all the scriptures very well and had the strong conviction to seek realization (experience of Ishwara or Brahman). Today hardly do we find people striving to realize the Self or tread the spiritual path – most of the youngsters are running here and there in search of worldly pleasures. As the world is progressing in technology and other fields, the options of sense enjoyment has also increased quite a lot. Today in order to enjoy a good pizza, one just needs to surf the net and order it – within minutes, the pizza will be at one’s home.
Rarely do we find young people wanting to realize and when we find such people, their parents, relatives and friends ensure that they are convincingly distracted from the spiritual path. This goes to such an extent that one of my cousin’s father used to stay behind him when he used to talk to my father – still my father’s words to seek Ishwara didn’t stop and hence his father ensured that the cousin never visits the house. And last but not the least, the so-called learned yet totally ignorant parents will somehow twist scriptural statements to suit their own needs. Hence it isn’t a surprise that Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was attracted to many of the youngsters like Narendra.
Today when we learn that there is a term called Vedanta, we are almost half-way through this life – if not half-way then at least one-third. Having accumulated so many vasanas, it therefore is very tough to do some sadhana or listen to a discourse with full attention. This doesn’t mean we should get discouraged – there is still lot of time left in this birth. If we were to focus on Ishwara from this moment onwards, then we will definitely achieve Ishwara in this very birth itself. Thus through Narendra, we find as to how strong the desire for moksha should be for a sadhaka. Once a devotee asked Ramakrishna Paramahamsa as to when he will realize Ishwara, instead of answering Ramakrishna pushed him into the water and kept him immersed. The person couldn’t breathe and wanted just one gulp of air. Then Ramakrishna let him come out of water and answered to him “when your desire to realize Ishwara is like your desire to get out of water, then you will realize”. Swami Vivekananda shows us that such strong desire for moksha isn’t just in theory but can be found in the world (even if it is very rare).
Narendra once he found Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, could sense the power of God completely. Hence he never strayed from Sri Ramakrishna. This resolve to not stray away from whatever gives us a glimpse of Ishwara through removal of sorrow and experience of bliss is something we ought to keep in mind. This is what is known as the two aspects of prathikoola varjanam and anukoola sevanam – removal of that which obstructs our goal and following that which will lead us to the goal. In Narendra’s case, it was company or association with Ramakrishna that would lead him towards the goal of moksha. For us seekers, it is learning, reflecting and contemplating on the Vedantic truth of Brahman that will help us towards the goal of moksha. We should therefore always keep Brahman in our thoughts, words and actions – this is as simple as constantly remembering that this entire world is Brahman and Brahman alone.
Many people also think that Swamiji was responsible for giving the four distinct ways to moksha as jnaana yoga, karma yoga, bhakthi yoga and raja yoga. In fact these ways are just ways – the goal is always one non-dual reality of Brahman as the substratum of the illusory world that we are currently experiencing. Swamiji himself explains this in many places of his discourses. At the end of his life, he calls his own disciple and tells him that “glad I did big blunders” and to assert that there is no world at all existing. This is the truth that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa experienced intuitively through his advaita guru of Totapuri.
Once when Swamiji was giving a discourse in the west saying that we are currently under the illusion of Maya and this world is just an illusion thereby making our very nature that of Brahman, then a girl stood up and proclaimed “Swamiji, you are hypnotizing us” to which Swamiji smilingly replied “No, you are already hypnotized by Maya and I am just de-hypnotizing you”.
If we start reading about Swamiji’s life and his words, then we will understand as to how important it is to stick to our goal whatever might happen – the goal being eternal bliss in the form of realizing our very nature of Brahman. The words from Katha Upanishad which said that we should strive to achieve the goal and rest not until the goal is achieved was one of Swamiji’s favorites. Swamiji never gave up the thirst for knowledge, dispassion and realization even when his family was struggling in poverty. We find this beautiful incident in his life. Once when his family was very much struggling, Sri Ramakrishna asked him to go and pray to Devi at the Kali temple to give his family wealth. Narendra started towards the temple and after some time returned very happy. Seeing him, Ramakrishna asked as to whether he asked and got the promise from Devi. To this, Narendra replied that he didn’t ask for wealth. When questioned as to what happened, Narendra replied that when he went to the temple he saw Devi there and he prayed to Devi that Devi might give him jnaanam and vairagyam (knowledge and dispassion) and then came back. Ramakrishna scolds him and sends him back again. This time too the result was the same. Ramakrishna sends him another time (the third time) and still the result was the same. Finally giving up, Ramakrishna says to Narendra that you cannot ask Devi. Therefore I will ask Devi to give your family the wealth they need to survive in the world. This incident truly speaks about Swamiji’s steadfastness towards the goal of moksha.
Just because a person is a sanyaasin doesn’t mean we should let others disrespect us. When Swamiji landed in America and an American pushed him down, Swamiji boldly stands up to him and asks “why did you push me”. It is a common wrong notion that renunciates and spiritual people shouldn’t have any worldly desires or sensual enjoyments. Vedanta never speaks anything about no sensual pleasures but speaks about remembering Brahman amidst all sensual pleasures too. There are many people in the world who don’t have any sense enjoyment but still aren’t nowhere in the spiritual quest towards Brahman. Thus having sensual pleasures or not isn’t the main point – the main point is whether we are able to remember Brahman in our mind while doing activities whether they are worldly or spiritual.
But this attitude of remembering Brahman as the underlying reality behind the illusory world of names and forms doesn’t mean that we just negate the world and ignore it. Swamiji addressed the world parliaments with the opening remarks of “Sisters and Brothers” – a real seeker who sees Brahman as pervading the world will consider everyone as oneself. If at least this attitude of seeing everything as our own Self is not possible (it may not be possible at the worldly plane as we can only see people as the Self in our mind, not externally), we should see everybody as our brothers and sisters. Most of us Indians would be familiar with the Indian prayer of “all Indians are my brothers and sisters” but how many of us truly understand the meaning; and how many of us are able to remember it; and still how many of us are able to implement it in our lives; very few indeed. Today states and people from different parts of India are fighting amongst each other. This is the reason why countries are also fighting amongst each other with no peace at all in the world – every nation behaves as if it is like an air-filled balloon ready to explode when pricked by another person. Swamiji’s remarks about everyone being our brothers and sisters should be memorized and we should strive to live it – if we are able to at least live it for a few moments in a day, the dual notions of likes and dislikes will vanish. When likes and dislikes vanish, then we will be able to lead a very blissful life remembering this entire world to be filled with one reality of Brahman.
There are many people in the world who consider others are their brothers and sisters – the most common being social-service workers. Social service is very good but not at the cost of remembering the world to be pervaded in and out by Brahman. The moment we forget Brahman, it doesn’t matter whether we are doing social service or not, we will end up in sorrow and sorrow alone. We cannot argue that the scriptures say that we should do social service – the scriptures ask us to do social service because social service is service to Ishwara because the world is Ishwara (because of the vision of seeing everything as Ishwara). If we forget the reason why social service is done, then we will end up in sorrow only at the end of this life because we will find many more people needing social service in the world (as the temporary and sorrowful world will always have sorrows in one or the other way). Thereby worrying about the suffering people of the world, we will either be born as a suffering person or be born to do more social service. This chain will continue over and over again – there will not be any contentment even after many births. Hence we should forget the underlying reality of Brahman irrespective of whether we are doing worldly activities, social service activities or spiritual activities.
Brahmani aadhaaya karmaani sangham tyaktvaa karothi yah
Lipyathe na sa paapena padma patram iva ambhasaa
Offering actions unto Brahman (Ishwara) without getting attached to the action or the fruits there-of, a person will get rid of all the sins accrued due to the action and the fruit; such a seeker will not be tainted by sin or sorrow even as a lotus leaf which is in water is not wet by water.
There are many slokas from Gita that can be quoted to show that actions need to be performed with a sense of surrender and as an offering; offering and surrender means as simple as remembering the world to be pervaded by Brahman. If the world is pervaded by Brahman, then actions are offered to Brahman (because actions performed in the world are performed in Brahman). Such actions are surrendering to Brahman too because everything is Brahman. This type of action is termed by the Lord in Gita as a Brahma Yajna where the doer is Brahman, the fruit is Brahman, the instruments are Brahman and it is done with the attitude of “everything is Brahman”.
This is the very basis of Swamiji’s life irrespective of whether he was living in India with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or whether he was establishing the order of monks in Ramakrishna Mission (or many other organizations that he helped created) or whether he was giving lectures in the States or any other country.
Let us through this very brief analysis of Swamiji’s life strive to live the truth preached and lived by Swamiji which is that everything is one Brahman so that our life will be fulfilled with this human birth itself making us ever rejoice in bliss even when Yama comes to us to take away the body.