Premonastic Name: Narendra Nath Dutta
Swami Vivekananda was born Narendranath Dutta, son of a well-known lawyer
in Calcutta, Biswanath Dutta, and a very intelligent and pious lady,
Bhuvaneswari Devi, in the year 1863. Biswanath often had scholarly
discussions with his clients and friends on politics, religion and
society. He would invite Narendranath to join in these discussions.
Narendra, not least embarrassed, would say whatever he thought was
right, advancing also arguments, in support of his stand. Some of
Biswanath's friends resented Naren's presence among them, more so
because he had the audacity to talk about matters concerning adults.
Biswanath, however, encouraged him. Naren would say: Point out where
I'm wrong, but why should you object to my independent
Naren learnt the Epics and Puranas from his mother, who was a good story-teller. He
also inherited her memory among other qualities. He, in fact, owed
much to her as he used to say later. Naren was all-round. He could
sing, was good at sports, had a ready wit, his range of knowledge
was extensive, had a rational frame of mind and he loved to help
people . He was a natural leader. He was much sought after by the
people because of his various accomplishments.
Entrance Examination from the Metropolitan Institute and F.A. and
B.A. Examinations from the General Assembly's Institution (now
Scottish Church College). Hastie, Principal of the College, was
highly impressed by Naren's philosophical insight. It was from
Hastie that he first heard of Sri Ramakrishna.
As a student of
Philosophy, the question of God was very much in his mind. Was there
a God ? If there was a God, what was He like ? What were man's
relations with Him ? Did He create this world which was so full of
anomalies ? He discussed these questions with many, but no one could
give him satisfactory answers. He looked to persons who could say
they had seen God, but found none. Meanwhile, Keshab Sen had become
the head of the Brahmo Movement. He was a great orator and many
young people, attracted by his oratory, enrolled as members of the
Brahmo Samaj. Naren also did the same. For some time he was
satisfied with what the Brahmo Samaj taught him, but soon he began
to feel it did not quite touch the core of the matter, so far as
religion was concerned. A relation of his used to advise him to
visit Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar, who, he said, would be able to
remove all his doubts about religion. He happened to meet
Ramakrishna at the house of a neighbour, but there is nothing on
record about the impression that he created on Naren's mind. He,
however, invited Naren to visit him at Dakshineswar some day. As the
days passed, Naren began to grow restless about the various riddles
that religion presented to him. He particularly wanted to meet a
person who could talk about God with the authority of personal
experience. Finally, he went to Ramakrishna one day and asked him
straightaway if he had seen God. He said he had, and if Naren so
wished, he could even show God to him. This naturally took Naren by
surprise. But he did not know what to make of it, for though his
simplicity and love of God impressed Naren, his idiosyncrasies made
him suspect if Ramakrishna was not a 'monomaniac'. He began to watch
him from close quarters and after a long time he was left in no
doubt that Ramakrishna was an extraordinary man. He was the only man
he had so far met who had completely mastered himself. Then, he was
also the best illustration of every religious truth he preached.
Naren loved and admired Ramakrishna but never surrendered his
independence of judgment. Interestingly, Ramakrishna himself did not
demand it of him, or of any other of his disciples. Nevertheless,
Naren gradually came to accept Ramakrishna as his master.
suffered from cancer and passed away in 1886. During his illness, a
group of select young men had gathered round him and began to nurse
him while receiving spiritual guidance from him. Naren was the
leader of this group. Ramakrishna had wanted that they take to
monastic life and had symbolically given them Gerua cloth. They
accordingly founded a monastery at Baranagar and began to live
together, depending upon they got by begging. Sometimes they would
also wander about like other monks. Naren also would sometimes go
travelling. It was while he was thus travelling that he assumed the
name of Swami Vivekananda.
travelled extensively through India, sometimes on foot. He was
shocked to see the conditions of rural India-people ignorant,
superstitious, half-starved, and victims of caste-tyranny. If this
shocked him, the callousness of the so-called educated upper classes
shocked him still more. In the course of his travels he met many
princes who invited him to stay with them as their guest. He met
also city-based members of the intelligentsia-lawyers, teachers,
journalists and government officials. He appealed to all to do
something for the masses. No one seemed to pay any heed to
him-except the Maharaja of Mysore, the Maharaja of Khetri and a few
young men of Madras. Swami Vivekananda impressed on everybody the
need to mobilize the masses. A few educated men and women could not
solve the problem of the country; the mass power had to be harnessed
to the task. He wanted the masses educated. The ruler of Mysore was
among the first to make primary education free within his State.
This, however, was not enough in Swamiji's view. A peasant could not
afford to send his children to school, for he needed help in his
field. He wanted education taken to the peasant's door-step, so that
the peasant's children could work and learn at the same time. It was
a kind of 'non-formal' education which perhaps he visualized. His
letters to the Maharaja of Mysore on the subject show how much he
had given to the subject and how original he was.
or the intelligentsia as a whole, were impressed by Swamiji's
personality, but were much too engrossed with their own affairs to
pay any heed to his appeals. Some of the young men of Madras,
Perumal specially, dedicated himself to the ideas Swamiji propounded
and his contributions to the success of his mission were
significant. Swamiji could guess the reason why the so-called
leaders of the society ignored him. Who was he ? A mere wandering
monk. There were hundreds of such monks all over the country. Why
should they pay any special attention to him ? By and large, they
followed only Western thinkers and those Indians who followed the
West and had had some recognition in the West by so doing. It was
slave mentality, but that was what characterized the attitude of the
educated Indians over most matters. It pained Swamiji to see Indians
strutting about in Western clothes and imitating Western ways and
manners, as if that made them really Western. Later he would call
out the nation and say, 'Feel proud that you are Indians even if
you're wearing a loin-cloth'. He was not opposed to learning from
the West, for he knew the Western people had some great qualities
and it was because of those qualities that they had become so rich
and powerful. He wanted India to learn science and technology from
the West and its power to organize and its practical sense, but, at
the same time, retain its high moral and spiritual idealism. But the
selfishness of the so-called educated people pained him more. They
were happy if they could care for themselves and they gave a damn to
what happened to the people. Swamiji wanted to draw their attention
to the miserable condition of the masses-illiterate, always on the
verge of starvation, superstitious and victims of oppression by the
upper castes and the rich landlords.
arrived in Madras, young people gathered round him drawn by his
bright and inspiring talks. They begged him to go to the USA to
attend the forthcoming Parliament of Religions in Chicago to
represent Hinduism. They even started raising funds for the purpose.
Swamiji was first reluctant but later felt some good might come of
his visit to the West, for if he could make some impression there,
his people back at home, who always judged a thing good or bad
according as the Western critics thought of it, would then give him
a respectful hearing. That is exactly what happened : Swamiji made a
tremendous impression, first in the USA and then also in England.
The press paid him the highest tributes as an exponent of India's
age-old values; overnight he became a great national hero in India.
Suddenly it was brought home to them that there must be something in
Indian thought that Western intelligentsia feel compelled to admire.
They began to suspect that perhaps they were not as backward as they
once thought, and in areas like religion and philosophy, in art and
literature, they were perhaps more advanced than the Western people.
They had always felt sorry about themselves, but, now for the first
time, they awoke to the richness of their heritage. This was the
starting point of the Indian renaissance one hears about. A long
successful of national leaders starting from Tilak have drawn
inspiration from Swami Vivekananda. They 'discovered' India-her
strong and weak points-through him. 'If you want to know India,
study Vivekananda', was Tagore's advice to Romain Rolland. This
holds true even today, indeed no one has studied India's body and
mind so thoroughly as Swamiji did.
It was Swamiji's
hope that India would create a new social order and a new
civilization by combining her best spiritual traditions with the
latest advancements in science and technology. She would be rich
both materially and spiritually. He knew affluence was not enough,
man had to be human, too. He wanted India to set an example in
Meaning: That which has no differentiation
Kali Prasad Chandra
Kali Prasad Chandra (Abhedananda) was a precocious scholar. At a very early age he learned Sanskrit and studied Western Philosophy. He was naturally open-minded and felt no prejudice in favour of any one religion. Having become fascinated by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he was eager to find someone who could teach him to follow the methods of meditation they prescribe. One of his classmates told him about Ramakrishna, so he went to visit him.As soon as Ramakrishna set eyes on the boy, he told him, 'You were a great yogi in your previous birth. This is your last birth. I am going to initiate you in the practice of yoga.' Thenceforward, Kali came to Dakshineswar as often as he possibly could. When Ramakrishna fell sick, he was among those who nursed him most devotedly. After Ramakrishna's death, he entered the Order and became known as Abhedananda.
In 1896, while Vivekananda was in London, he sent for Abhedananda to join him. When Abhedananda arrived, he found, to his dismay, that Vivekananda had already arranged a lecture for him and announced it to the press. Abhedananda had never spoken in public before in his life; but, such was his faith in Vivekananda's decisions, that he appeared in front of an audience which filled the hall to its capacity and gave a brilliant lecture.
Vivekananda was delighted, and left for India with perfect confidence that his work would be carried on as well as could be wished. Abhedananda remain in England for a year.
In 1897, Vivekananda asked him to take charge of the Vedanta Society in New York. There, too, Abhedananda was most successful. He appears to have felt more at home in America than any of his brother swamis. With the exception of one short visit to India in 1906, he stayed on there, teaching and lecturing, until 1921.
Abhedananda was always an individualist. When he returned to Calcutta, he founded his own Vedanta Society, which gradually dissociated itself from Belur Math, though there were no unfriendly feelings between the members of the two institutions. By 1939, the year of his death, Abhedananda was the last survivor of the direct disciples and one of the very few people still alive who had ever meet Ramakrishna.
Meaning: That which is wonderful
Premonastic Name: Rakhturam
"Latu is the greatest miracle of Sri Ramakrishna", Swamiji once said with reference to Swami Adbhutananda. "Having absolutely no education, he has attained to the highest wisdom simply at the touch of the Master". Yes, Latu Maharaj, by which name Swami Adbhutananda was popularly known, was the peer of the Master in this respect that he was entirely innocent of the knowledge of the three R's. Nay, he even surpassed the Master in his ignorance; for whereas the Master could some how manage to read and write, with Latu Maharaj any reading or writing was out of the question.
Once Shri Ramakrishna attempted to teach young Latu how to read and write. But in spite of repeated attempts, Latu pronounced the Bengali alphabet in such a distorted way that the Master, out of sheer despair gave up the attempt to educate Latu. It did not matter, however, that Latu had no book learning. Books supply us knowledge by proxy, as it were. Latu Maharaj had direct access to the Fountain-head of knowledge. The result was that great scholars and philosophers would sit dumb at his feet to hear the words of wisdom that dropped from his lips. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that when a ray of light comes from the great source of all light, all book-learning loses its value. His own life bore testimony to his fact.
The early name of Swami Adbhutananda was Rakhturam, which was shortened to Latu. He was born of humble parents in a village in the district of Chhapra in Bihar. His early life is shrouded in obscurity. It was very difficult to draw him out on that point. As a sanyasin he was discreetly silent on matters relating to his home and relations. If anybody would ask him any question about his early days he would sharply answer, "Giving up thought about God, will you be busy about these trifles?". Once a devotee expressed a desire to write a biography of Latu Maharaj. To this he raised objection saying, "What is the use of writing my life? If you want to write a biography, just write a biography of the Master and of Swamiji. That will be doing good to the world". From details that fell from the lips of Latu Maharaj in his unguarded moments it was known that his parents were very poor-they could hardly make both ends in spite of their hard labour. Scarcely was Latu Maharaj five years old when he lost both parents. His uncle then looked after him.
Latu Maharaj left with his uncle his home village for Calcutta and got employment in the house of Ram Chandra Datta, who was a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. At Ram Chandra's house, Latu heard of Sri Ramkrishna and naturally he felt eager to see him. At the very first meeting, brought about in this way, the Master was greatly impressed with the spiritual potentiality of the boy, and Latu felt immensely drawn to the Master even without knowing anything about his greatness.
The Master went to Kamarpukur for about eight months. When the Master returned back, he felt the necessity of an attendant. When he proposed the name of Latu to Ram Chandra, the latter at once agreed to spare him. Thus Latu got the long-wished-for opportunity of serving Sri Ramakrishna.