‘Arise, awake, and stop not untill the goal is reached’ is an inspirational slogan popularised in the 19th century by Indian Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda is respected as a prominent leader, thinker and a saint of the pre-Independence era. His teachings influenced many, not just in India but all over the world. He was inspired, motivated and guided by ancient scriptures of India (particularly Vedas and Upanishads). He spoke, preached and lectured at different places in India and in different parts of the world especially in the West.
Swami Vivekananda’s original name was Narendranath Datta. He was born on January 12, 1863, in a Bengali family in Kolkata. His father, Vishwanath Datta was a lawyer in the Kolkata High Court and his mother Bhubaneshwari Devi was a homemaker. His parents instilled in him the true spirit of nationalism and that led him onto the path of spirituality.
He got his education from a Christian College where he was introduced to Western philosophy and science. Ramakrishna Paramhansa, his mentor and spiritual Guru, supported and helped him to come out of the financial crisis after his father’s death. Ramakrishna Paramhansa made him realise that God resides in every person and thus, strengthened his spiritual beliefs. Vivekananda, further, merged his modern ideas with his spiritual evolution to pour them down as unique blend to awaken and enlighten the people of the world. He was not an ordinary man driven by lust, greed or worldly ambitions. He was a nationalist and a true visionary who knew that the tendency to become religious exclusivist and supremacist on one hand and suffer with inferiority complex on the other would sabotage the rise of India in future and its elevated place among the comity of nations in the days ahead. Such parochial tendencies practiced in the name of religion should have no place in India. Therefore, he asked people to rise above the concept of ‘religion in the kitchen’ and asked them to imbibe the lessons of co-existence to live together by rising above minor conflicts relating to religious or cultural differences.
Swami Vivekananda wanted all the Indians to join their hands together in the service of the nation. Though he followed the Hindu tradition for his spiritual growth, he had respect for all the other religions just like his mentor and spiritual Guru Ramakrishna Paramhansa. All the religious traditions lead to the same goal. He found that all the religions in the world teach love and fraternity so that people from different background can come together to serve the society and the nation. Every individual is capable of attaining the highest spiritual status which is the sole purpose of life. He was of the opinion that “You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself”.
Being a nationalist and a patriotic saint, Swami Vivekananda upheld the ancient tradition of India (BHARAT) in the true spirit of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (World is one family)’ when he visited the USA to address the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. He gave the same love and respect to Americans and other foreign attendees as he would have given to fellow Indians. His opening words in the address to the World Parliament were “Sisters and Brothers of America”. The moment he uttered these words, he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. After silence was restored, he began his address and greeted the youngest of the nations on behalf of ‘the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of Sanyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.’
He introduced Yoga and Vedanta to the Western world. He also founded the Ramakrishna Mission which is a spiritual organisation, named after his Guru with a view to preserving and spreading the spiritual legacy of his Guru Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Apart from the spiritual training, the Mission also focussed on helping people through social service and by educating them on various issues. The Mission spread over India and to different countries across the world in Asia, Europe and North America including the USA. The teachings of Saint Ramakrishna Paramhansa are based on the idea of equality of all religions. Swami Vivekananda devoted his life working for the poor and helping them throughout his life. He rendered selfless services to human life, teaching the world about equality of all religions. He advocated for access to education to all, particularly the youth of the country. He believed that the youth of the country has the potential to take the nation to new levels of growth and prosperity. That is why the Government of India decided to celebrate his birthday as the National Youth Day (January 12) to inspire the youth of the country with his ideals and philosophies. Swami Vivekananda believed that the dream of a developed nation can only be achieved when the masses are lifted out of poverty. The iconic saint left his mortal body on July 4, 1902. On that day, Swami Vivekananda woke up early, went to the monastery at Belur Math and meditated for three hours and quietly dropped his body. Vivekananda will continue to live with us till eternity through his thoughts and ideas.