Great Educators in History (III): Swami Vivekananda

07 Tanuj Kalia_largeby Tanuj Kalia

As part of our Great Educators in History series, we invited Tanuj Kalia to share with us one of the most inspiring historical teachers from India. It was Swami Vivekananda’s charismatic, spiritual personality, logical, reformist attitude and ideals, as well as his powerful oratory and writing skills and profound knowledge that made him a teacher par excellence.

Early life

Siddhartha was born into a family of kings and became the Buddha! Narendra was born into an aristocratic family and became Swami Vivekananda!

“Vivekananda” comes from two Hindi words, Viveka meaning wisdom/knowledge/intelligence and Ananda meaning joy/bliss. Vivekananda was an excellent student, scoring a first-division in the Presidency College (Calcutta). He was an avid and an eclectic reader and was interested in the Hindu scriptures, Western logic and European history.

Ramakrishna Paramhansa was Vivekananda’s teacher and the two differed as much as they agreed in their ideals and beliefs. In honour of his teacher, Vivekananda founded the the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897. The project was for social service with its ideals rooted in Karma Yoga.

Karma Yoga (Karma: action, Yoga: union) means the path of union through perfection in action.

A teacher for India and the world

In the early 1890s, Vivekananda travelled throughout India delivering addresses and discourses and engaging in deep study and meditation. His ideas, writings, speeches and discourses made for the revival of the Hinduism religion in India. Many stalwarts of the India’s independence movement too were influenced by him. These included the likes as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghose, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi.

Vivekananda also popularised Yoga and the philosophy of Vedanta in the West. His tryst with the West is marked by the event mentioned below:

Vivekananda went abroad on 31 May 1893. On 11 September 1893, the day when the Parliament of the World's Religions happened in Chicago,  Swamiji gave a brief but a stirring and highly appreciated speech on India, secularism and Hinduism. His famous speech which began with the words “Sisters and brothers of America” received a standing ovation and world wide acclaim.

Vedanta  is the study of the Hindu philosophy mentioned in the sacred texts like the Bhagvad Gita, the Brahma Sutras and the Upanishads. The various schools of Vedanta strive to understand the relationship between the Atman (self, soul), the Brahman (the infinite, God) and the world. For more information, please see the Wikipedia link here.

His impact

  • In one of his lectures, he said: "Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is way great spiritual giants are produced”.
  • His most famous and the most cited quote goes: “Arise, Awake and Stop Not till the Goal is Reached.” You can find this on the walls of the rooms of many a young Indian!
  • Swamiji frequently urged the youth to be physically strong. He once said, “First of all, our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita.”
  • It is not for no reason that 12 January, the birthday of Swami Vivekananda, is also celebrated as the National Youth Day in India! 

His death: Mahasamadhi

The events of the day of the death of Swami Vivekananda will sound incredulous to most minds. Vivekananda had already proclaimed that he’d die before the age of 40 (he died when he was 39). On the day of his death, he woke up early, meditated and taught as per the usual routine. At 7:00 in the evening he went to his chamber to meditate. He died at 9:10 pm, after attaining mahasamadhi.

Mahasamadhi (great samadhi) is the act of willingly discarding one’s body at the time of enlightenment.

Samadhi is the 8th and the final stage in Yoga where in concentrated meditation the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object.

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