‘Find God, Nothing else matters’ Swami Vivekananda. By Debbie Elliott

Swami Vivekananda was born on the 12th of January 1863 in Calcutta as Narenda Nath Datta. Narenda was a charismatic young man who was hungry to learn about life, especially the religious side of it. He sat with many spiritual teachers and decided to meditate and dedicate himself to God. He chose a teacher, Sri Rama Krishna. Sri Rama Krishna was a reclusive spiritual monk who not only practised Hinduism but other religions too, stating that all religions pointed to the same god. When Datta met Sri Rama Krishna he recognised a true man of God.

It was during his time with Sri Rama Krishna that Narenda Nath Datta changed his name to Swami Vivekananda, often known as just Swamji. Vivekananda took the same vow as his master living a life of poverty and chastity. They studied Eastern and Western philosophy and religion and they meditated long and often, singing songs and prayers to the Divine. Together they wandered India as religious men, welcomed in towns and villages for their wise words, and spending time in the country living in caves whilst collecting other followers and setting up a brotherhood dedicated to the Divine.

When Sri Rama Krishna passed away it was left to Vivekananda to run the brotherhood. But Vivekananda had an itch, he found the life of a wandering monk suited him and his needs and soon that itch was scratched as he set off again around India and beyond. He wandered solitary for two years thinking only of the Divine whilst meeting the people of the land who wanted to hear him speak, the poor, the inflicted, officials, kings and princes all wanted to meet him and learn from him. He travelled out of India eastwards where he learnt of the Far East’s religions and philosophies. He realized how spiritually alike they were with one another and his own beliefs.

Vivekananda heard that there was to be a conference in America on religions and he decided to attend. The conference was to be held in September 1893, called The World Parliament of Religions it was to be held in Chicago in the United States of America. Our young Indian swami was intent on bringing the east to the west.

The swami had not realized that one must register to attend; he just showed up in his orange robes on the docks in America. It was his first visit to America, and he was met with opposition due to his colour and clothes. Racism hit him hard and he couldn’t understand it. He spent his first night sleeping rough on the streets of the city. When he was confronted again with a hostile reception, he asked the people as to why they were like this to him and he was told it was because he was different.

He also discovered that he had arrived a month too early for the conference. The Swami was naive to the ways of the west, he had intended to beg his way around the States to the conference in Chicago but in America this was illegal to do and he had to survive on the small amount of money he had brought with him.

The Swami was shocked at how money was used in the West: “If money help a man to do good to others, it is of some value; but if not, it is simply a mass of evil, and the sooner it is got rid of, the better.” Said Swamiji.

The conference speakers each had a slot to talk and when it came to Vivekananda’s turn, he introduced himself as a representative of Hinduism, the mother of all religions. His introductory speech was well received, many liking his belief that there is a universality of religious truths, all attaining for the same goal.

This conference of religions was the first of its kind and Vivekananda saw this as an opportunity to reawaken people to spiritual ways. Vivekananda was different in that he embraced other religions and faiths as alternative paths to God and he was open for dialogue on this. He found the Christian speakers were not. Many refused to discuss religion with him and some were shocked that he made his faith universal and even worse, that he embraced Jesus too!

Vivekananda was alarmed at how religious folk proselytised, stating their religion was the one true religion and that all others were false.  He tried to explain to them that all paths led to the Divine and that all paths had the same moral and ethical standard-love each other. He also accepted other beliefs and believed other gods could help the individual find their spirituality, he accepted Jesus as the Christ figure and he wondered why the other representatives at this conference could not accept his religion and its gods too.

Vivekananda set out to wake the people up, he made them question their beliefs and how they thought, telling them not to be followers but found God themselves. Many mistook him for being argumentative when really, he was just making them question their own beliefs.

 “I have not found a way to please all,” he said but he advised them to look for truth in their investigations, as no man had found the truth yet.

He did find the theological debates to be more an attack on his beliefs and religion than discussion and he found many of the debaters to be hypocrites in their faith and beliefs and how they actually were in life. He came to the conclusion that one ‘live alone, walk alone.’

The only answer he could see would be to create a universal religion where the god would pass on blessings to one and all regardless of their religious preference, whether they were Christians or followers of Krishna, in this universal religion all paths led to the one true god. He told them that, “It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every man and woman.”

Vivekananda’s appearance at the Parliament of Religion made him a celebrity in America and a hero back home in India. He returned to the States for a lecture tour and found many people wanted to listen to his philosophy and learn of the ways of Raja Yoga and Karma Yoga.

One of his American students, a Miss Dutcher, offered him a residence on her property in Thousand Island Park. This house was situated far from any town and city, immersed in the American countryside it was a great place for a retreat. For 7 weeks Swamiji gave lessons to a small school of students.

Yet the western yearning for money still troubled him, he watched the western world become more materialistic whilst his own culture suffered. “So long as millions die in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expanse, pays not the least heed to them!” Swamiji

When his time was up in America, he sailed to England but not before setting up a Vedanta society in New York City. He wanted the society to bring together an interchange of teachings and dialogues between the East and the West.

In England he continued to give lectures and met up on a number of occasions with the Orientalist of the times, Professor Max Muller, who wanted to know all and everything about the East.

From England Vivekananda toured Europe continuing to spread his teachings to the many peoples who wanted to listen. Then he decided he wanted to go home.

Swamiji had been on tour for 4 years and his homecoming was full of much rejoicing. The people knew of his good works out in the west and still remembered all of his good works in the East when he had been a wandering monk.

Vivekananda had a new dream, he wanted to get India back on her feet, he believed a spiritual reformation as needed before a political or social one and such a spiritual awakening would put India back to the great civilisation she had once been. He wanted to eradicate poverty, homelessness and all the other blights that marked his land.

He went on promulgating this belief. India had many shrines and temples and Swamiji decided to go on pilgrimage to them, he took some disciples with him and once again he became a wandering monk, his devotion to the Divine always intense and eternal in his quest for illumination.

 “Take religion from human society and what will remain? Nothing but a forest of brutes. Sense-happiness is not the goal of humanity, wisdom is the goal of all life” Swamiji.

Swami Vivekananda was taken away from this world on the 4th of July 1902 at only 39 years of age but in those 39 years he put the east and the West onto a path together.

Published by hermesrisen

writer, theologian and broadcaster, my work can be found at www.debbie-elliott.co.uk Colyn Boyce is co-editor for Hermes Risen and is a writer, photographer and all round good guy.

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