Thank you, Swami Vivekananda

I had not come to India for spiritual reasons. Yes, I was interested in spirituality, but Hinduism seemed an obscure religion and I associated stereotypes like polytheism and caste system that I had heard already in school in Germany. Like many westerners, I was interested in Buddhism, but did not connect Buddhism with India, rather with Tibet or Japan. At that time I did not know that the British colonial masters had skilfully crafted this negative image of Hinduism, as they had realised that they could not subdue India, unless they break Indians away from their great culture.

I visited wildlife sanctuaries and travelled to Kanya Kumari. There, a little off the coast on a huge rock, is a memorial for Swami Vivekananda. I crossed over on a ferry. At a bookstall, I bought ‘Jnana Yoga’. I had not heard of Swami Vivekananda, but felt it would be sensible to learn about Indian thought while in India.

Swami Vivekananda had swum to this rock to meditate in December 1892. His guru, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, had died in Calcutta six years earlier. The young man had fire in his belly. He realised that his countrymen had fallen into torpor under British rule. He wanted to wake them up, give them back their self-respect and pride in their tradition.

On this rock, it dawned on him that he should participate at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago in 1893, and represent Advaita Vedanta, one of the highest flowerings among the different Indian philosophical systems. Advaita Vedanta is explained in the Upanishads, the last part (anta) of the Vedas, and postulates that basically, everything is a unity (a-dwaita = not two) – a view to which modern science meanwhile also subscribes.

Swami Vivekananda went to Chicago. He had neither been invited, nor had he registered for the congress. The first night he slept at the railway station in Chicago, and then went to a residential area to beg for food. A well to do lady noticed the young Indian on the pavement from the window of her apartment and sent her servant to bring him in. She was greatly impressed by his personality and wisdom and had the right connections to get him the opportunity to give a presentation at the world congress.

On September 11th, 1893 he stood on the dais – a young man of 30, dressed in a silk robe, with a silk turban on his head – and began his talk, “Sisters and brothers of America”. He couldn’t continue to speak. Thunderous applause greeted him for several minutes. What had happened? “He was the only one who meant what he said”, a commentator explained it at that time.

This young man became world famous. He contributed significantly to the renaissance of Indian wisdom in India and in the west.

I studied ‘Jnana Yoga’ and it felt like breathing fresh air after having been confined in a sticky room. It was truly an eye-opener. Swami Vivekananda expressed clearly what I vaguely had felt to be true. For example he postulated that all is interconnected or rather: ONE. Everything in this creation including ourselves is permeated by the same great power, like waves are permeated by the same ocean. The waves may think that they are separate from the ocean as they have a distinct form and name. They may even cling to their (temporary) form and be afraid to lose it, but ultimately all the waves are nothing but the one great ocean and nothing is lost when their form is lost. Similarly, though we may consider ourselves as separate from others and cling to our impermanent person, in truth we are the one consciousness and nothing of substance is lost when form and name are lost.

Further Swami Vivekananda claimed that the so called reality is not really real. It is a sense deception, in a similar way, as at dusk a rope is mistakenly seen as a snake, even though in reality there is only a rope. Truly true, he claimed, is our inner being that permeates everything and makes all appearances miraculously shine forth. It is infinite, eternal. It is not an object that can be seen with the eyes or thought of with the mind. It is however possible to be it. Rather, we are it already. All is this oneness, this consciousness.

Vivekananda did not hesitate to tell his American audience frankly, what he thought about their society. He considered it hypocritical. ‘What is the use of your proud talk about your society, if truth has no place in it?’ he asked. ‘What you call progress is according to me nothing more than the multiplication of desires. And if one thing is clear to me it is this: desires bring misery.’

He also was critical of religion. He admitted that it may be helpful for weak people, but asked, ‘Are not all prevalent religious practises weakening and therefore wrong?’ He wanted strong human beings who worship the spirit by the spirit. His ideal he expressed in a few words: ‘to preach unto mankind their divinity and how to make it manifest in every movement of life.’ What bold thoughts and what clarity!

Swami Vivekananda was given a triumphal welcome when he came back home. Yet his health had suffered during his early wanderings across India, and he died in 1902, at the age of only 39.

Nevertheless, Swami Vivekananda achieved great things He restored pride in India’s wisdom and put the west philosophically and socially into place. He explained in clear and simple terms why Indians can be proud of their tradition which is based on deep insights of the rishis and is meant to be experienced and expressed in life. It is not about confessing a creed. It is not about blind belief in dogmas. “It is as much a science as any in the world”, the Swami had declared. It is about enquiry, analysis and finally intimately knowing and directly experiencing the truth.  “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached!”

Thank you, Swamiji!

by Maria Wirth

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17 comments

  1. A heartfelt tribute to Swami Vivekananda. Thank you, Ms. Maria for bringing Swamiji’s message with such simplicity and clarity.

    My introduction to Swami Vivekananda was similar to yours, except that it was through a booklet titled, “Karma Yoga”. It is a small booklet of Swamiji’s speeches published by the Ramakrishna Mission. The thing that struck me the most in his words there was how he interpreted the karmic cycle for day-to-day life – he says that when one encounters a person in unfortunate circumstances, it is not our right to speculate on what his/her karma was in the past. We have no right or wisdom to interpret such a profund law, or be judgemental about others. What we do know, however, is that that person has been placed before us as an opportunity to alter OUR OWN karma. It is an opportunity placed before us.

    I was quite struck by that.

    Similarly, another work I found very inspiring and educative was “Lectures from Colombo to Almora” which is a collection of Swami Vivekananda’s speeches after his return from the West. They too, like everything else about Swamiji and Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, make for an enlightening read.

    Thanks again, Ms. Maria.

    Regards,
    Sumant.

  2. Please watch the youtume

    1. This white subservience is more often than not playing into the hands of white supremacy! I don’t quite agree with this. Not to take anything away from these people I dislike propping up these people for indigenous representation. I much prefer our own people doing this !

      1. What do you mean by “our own people”? Vivekananda is for all, so also Gita, Vedas and Vedanta. Let’s evolve and appreciate whereever we find goodness, good thoughts and proper understanding of spiritual principles.

      2. He is and he is not but it will take up a lot of space to talk about it so nevermind

      3. Grow up my dear Friend!

        Lets accept that we have been colonized in our minds & habits through the nasty brit/eurpean rule!
        And most importantly … using those habits & with a person like Maria, it is good to decolonise as well. Maria is doing a great job – perhaps following, in her own way, the footsteps of Nivedita a century back!

        If we have not had opportunities to allow the growth of our own indigenous people – we dont need to prop up anyone!

        Yes, we all need to grow up….
        and accept that Maria is very much a critical part of Dharmic Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as you & I are!

        Kudos Maria!

  3. thanks amma for such a nice article. your articles are thought provoking

  4. You have understood the message of the Bharatha Rathna and put the message in a nutshell. Thank you!
    Krish, CA, USA

  5. Rupesh Kumar Saigal · · Reply

    World Religious Parliament 1993 H. H. Asaram Bapu ji represented India

  6. rupeshkumarsaigal · · Reply

    Experience of a Devotee (from Switzerland), of Saint Asaram Ji Bapu

  7. N R Deshpande · · Reply

    Very nice tribute to the Indian culture and philosophy. You have chosen right day to refresh the memories of Swamiji. But Advaita is not the ultimate philosophy in India. If life is not real and every thing is one why there is suffering in life? Why there is discrimination in the life. No to things are same in the universe. I request you to go through the Tatvavaada of Madhwacharya.

    1. As i understand it, if truth is one on the ultimate level, it does not mean that the relative truth is not real on this relative level. If this life would not matter, because it is not absolutely real, why would all ancient text tell man how to live best, so that he can realise finally become one with Satchitananda? i appareciate Kashmir Shaivism a lot.

  8. […] The article first appeared as- https://mariawirthblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/thank-you-swami-vivekananda/ […]

  9. Pon Venthan · · Reply

    ” ‘to preach unto mankind their divinity and how to make it manifest in every movement of life.” – This was Swami Vivekananda’s ultimate goal towards human society, and it was frequently emphasized in his speeches in various places.
    The divine power within each & every human being regardless of race, gender & religion is known as the Kundalini energy or the YOGIC POWER! :

    http://www.rpt.com.my

  10. […] Source: Thank you, Swami Vivekananda […]

  11. […] (Note: This article was originally published HERE) […]

    1. Wonder why you left out “Swami”. you should have written the original title: Thank you Swami Vivekananda

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