The New Ideal, the New Doctrine, the New Life

In a letter[1] written to Kidi, one of his Madras disciples on 3rd March 1894 from Chicago, Swami Vivekananda writes with apostolic clarity: “Preach the new ideal, the new doctrine, the new life….

This clarity in Swamiji’s vision did not come about all of a sudden. There has been a distinct growth in his vision[2]. This article will try to understand how this happened. In doing so, we will have to re-construct the transformation of Narendranath into Swami Vivekananda. In effect we will be arriving at a much needed elaboration of these terms that Swamiji has used above.

Swami Vivekananda was a spiritual person of a rare caliber. He had innumerable spiritual visions and experiences throughout his life. Although each of those visions and experiences was important, there were a few distinct spiritual experiences that seemed to have an immediate bearing on this momentous transformation. They were:

  1. Nirvikalpa Samadhi at Cossipore Garden House in Jan 1886[3].
  2. The vision of Sri Ramakrishna for a whole month at Ghazipur in March 1890[4].
  3. The experience of the microcosm and the macrocosm at Almora in Aug 1890.[5]
  4. The experience while meditating at Cape Comorin in Dec 1892.[6]
  5. The experience of ‘Organization’ in America in 1893-94.[7]
  6. The vision of Divine Mother at Kshir-bhavani in Oct 1898.[8]

We will analyze these incidents one by one and try to re-construct how each of them helped Narendranath form a concrete picture of his mission in life, thereby transforming him into Swami Vivekananda, the great Prophet of this modern age.

The Beginning:

A university student Narendranath came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa sometime in Nov 1881. This meeting set in motion a series of transformations in the boy’s life. Sri Ramakrishna had performed unprecedented spiritual practices for 12 years at a stretch and had received some specific instructions. This was about 10 years before Naren came to him. He received a specific command from the Divine Mother saying, ‘Remain in Bhavamukha[9].’ His biographer Swami Saradananda mentions the following as the summing up of his extraordinary spiritual experiences[10]: The Master realized that as an instrument of the Divine Mother, he would have to establish a new religious order based on the universal truths revealed in his life. This was the mission that Sri Ramakrishna entrusted Naren with during his last days at Cossipore.

Sri Ramakrishna found in Naren a fit instrument through whom he could fulfil this divine mandate that he had received. So, in Cossipore, during his last days, he instructed Naren that he would hold the young men together. He would also need to do something of a permanent nature that would help the common masses to get spiritual benefit. He also infused into Naren all the spiritual powers that he had obtained through his unprecedented Sadhana.

After Sri Ramakrishna attained Mahasamadhi, Naren and the group of young sadhakas took the vows of renunciation and became monks. During his stay at Cossipore with Sri Ramakrishna, Naren had experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. This experience convinced Naren once and for all that Reality was Impersonal and that he was non-distinct from the Impersonal Reality. He was in essence all that existed. In fact, apart from what he experienced during that Samadhi, nothing else existed. An unspeakable calm descended upon him. When he met his Guru after returning from the Samadhi at Cossipore, there was genuine gratitude to his Guru, just as it has been described in innumerable Hindu scriptures. However, there was still one nagging problem that Naren faced. When he returned back to perceiving duality, post Nirvikalpa Samadhi, he considered the return as a ‘fall’[11] from the blessed state of Samadhi!

Not just that, he was also restless! This is something unheard of! Nirvikalpa Samadhi itself means that state which is devoid of all restlessness. A person who has attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi cannot become restless, ever. The memory of the experience is so overwhelming that never again does he lose his equanimity of mind. It has been traditionally believed that he who experiences Nirvikalpa Samadhi does not regain normal consciousness. He stays in that Samadhi for about three weeks and then leaves the body. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that only those rare few who had some Divine mission to fulfill would regain normal consciousness. But it was believed that under no circumstance does such a one experience restlessness! Why then was this happening? Swami Vivekananda himself stated that his mind was burning. It is quite natural that a Sadhaka who has attained to Nirvikalpa Samadhi feels he has ‘fallen’ from the blessed state when he returns to multiplicity, just as Tota Puri used to feel or any number of sadhakas in the Hindu lore have felt and recorded. But what is noteworthy here is the fact that Naren mentions specifically that his mind was agitated[12]! That is a new occurrence in the recorded spiritual history of mankind.

Raja Yoga as the Panacea:

The only reason we can adduce to this peculiar state of things is – the responsibility that Sri Ramakrishna, his Guru, had burdened his young shoulders with, was weighing too heavily on him. That was the cause of his restlessness. Added to that, he was not physically very well, either. He was suffering from diabetes and lumbago and indigestion. Swamiji’s mind was unique. That mind sought for integral solutions to problems. At the very least, he had three distinct problems at hand. [He was also trying to manage some issues related to his ancestral house, which we can discount at the moment.] Firstly, he had a weak physical constitution; second, he had to redeem his promise to his Guru of taking care of his brother disciples; third, he had to redeem his promise to his Guru about working out a scheme for spiritual development of the masses. He sought one solution that would take care of all these three problems simultaneously. What was that solution? He would learn Raja Yoga from Pavhari Baba. Using Hatha Yoga, a part of Raja Yoga, he would cure his ailments. Then, he would teach Raja Yoga to his brother disciples and form an Ashrama where they would all live together and make disciples and preach Raja Yoga. His experience of the spiritual degradation of the region where he lived, Bengal, was that the people were too sentimental[13]. They attached too much importance to the external manifestations of Bhava rather than focus on the essential characteristic of spiritual development which is formation of a strong moral character, culminating in realization of one’s true nature as Pure Consciousness. This he concluded was due to the inability of the Bengali people to see religion as a science. Thus, the masses would be benefitted as Raja Yoga is the most scientific method of spiritual development. He had almost decided to follow this path when the following incident occurred[14].

One day I reflected that I had not learnt any art for making this weak body strong, even though I had lived with Sri Ramakrishna for so many years. I had heard that Pavhari Baba knew the science of Hatha Yoga; so I thought that I would learn the practices of Hatha Yoga from him, and through them strengthen the body. You know, I have a dogged resolution, and whatever I set my heart on, I always carry out. On the eve of the day on which I was to take initiation, I was lying on a cot thinking; and just then I saw the form of Sri Ramakrishna standing on my right, looking steadfastly at me, as if very much grieved. I had dedicated myself to him, and at the thought that I was taking another Guru 1 felt much ashamed and kept looking at him. Thus perhaps two or three hours passed, but no words escaped my mouth: then he disappeared all on a sudden. Seeing Sri Ramakrishna that night my mind became upset, so I postponed the idea of initiation from Pavhari Baba for the day. After a day or two, again the idea of initiation from Pavhari Baba arose in the mind-and again at night Sri Ramakrishna appeared, as on the previous occasion. So when, for several nights in succession, I had the vision of Sri Ramakrishna, I gave up the idea of initiation altogether, thinking that since every time I resolved on it, I was having such a vision, no good, but only harm, would come of it.”

Thus it was Sri Ramakrishna who in the end triumphed. Long afterwards, the Swami composed a song in Bengali entitled “A Song I Sing to Thee” in which one finds a glimpse of this experience.

As a result of this nerve-shattering experience, Naren concluded that his decision about Raja Yoga being the solution for all his problems was wrong. He must have somehow decided that Bengal was a prototype of mankind[15], which unfortunately wasn’t the case. He needed more inputs before he could arrive at an informed decision. So now, he knew that Raja Yoga was not the solution, but again, Sri Ramakrishna did not specify what that solution would be in this vision, just as he hadn’t specified it when he had ordered Naren with the onerous responsibility of working out a path for the new ideal that Sri Ramakrishna had revealed to mankind. He now needed to observe first-hand the condition of the masses elsewhere in India. So he started wandering around the whole country, all the while trying to grasp the root of the problem that ailed this wonderful nation, with a view to finding a suitable solution thereof.

Naren establishes himself in Vijnana, the ‘New Ideal’:

During this wandering, he came to Almora, where he had yet another very intense spiritual experience. Let us see the description of this incident from ‘Vivekananda-a biography’[16]:

After visiting one or two places, Naren and Akhandananda arrived at Nainital, their destination being the sacred Badrikashrama, in the heart of the Himalayas. They decided to travel the whole way on foot, and also not to touch money. Near Almora under an old peepal tree by the side of a stream, they spent many hours in meditation.

Naren had a deep spiritual experience, which he thus jotted down in his note-book:

In the beginning was the Word, etc. The microcosm and the macrocosm are built on the same plan. Just as the individual soul is encased in a living body, so is the Universal Soul, in the living Prakriti (nature), the objective universe. Kali is embracing Siva. This is not a fancy. This covering of the one (Soul) by the other (nature) is analogous to the relation between an idea and the word expressing it. They are one and the same, and it is only by a mental abstraction that one can distinguish them. Thought is impossible without words. Therefore in the beginning was the Word, etc.

This dual aspect of the Universal Soul is eternal. So what we perceive or feel is the combination of the Eternally Formed and the Eternally Formless.

Thus Naren realized, in the depths of meditation, the oneness of the universe and man, who is a universe in miniature. He realized that, all that exists in the universe also exists in the body, and further, that the whole universe exists in the atom.

This experience was supremely vital to the transformation that we are trying to analyze here in this article. Sri Ramakrishna had revealed a new spiritual ideal for mankind. He had a name for that ideal. He called it Vijnana. It is a post-Nirvikalpa state of existence[17]. While in the rich spiritual heritage of India, every previous case of post-Nirvikalpa perception of multiplicity was considered as a ‘fall’ from beatitude, Sri Ramakrishna said for the first time that there are valid states of existence beyond Nirvikalpa Samadhi, when multiplicity is perceived, although in a totally transformed way. It was possible for a sadhakas to return from Nirvikalpa Samadhi when the Divine Mother ordains that some special work of Her’s needs to be done through that blessed soul. And this post-Nirvikalpa state was termed as Vijnana by him[18]. The particular point where the consciousness rests in such a person was termed as ‘Bhavamukha’ by him. It was this state of spiritual consciousness that he revealed to mankind as the ‘new ideal’.

The important point to note here is that post-Nirvikalpa states of consciousness can be integrated into the Sadhaka’s personality only when the sadhakas accepts the role of an active Divine Power as running this world. Reality will have to be conceptualized as Being-Will or the Personal-Impersonal. Traditional schools of thought in India had posited Reality to be either entirely Personal or entirely Impersonal. Traditionally, it has been considered that Nirvikalpa Samadhi requires that the Sadhaka mercilessly reject every object of perception. It was Sri Ramakrishna’s discovery that if the Sadhaka takes the path of negating every perception in order to attain Nirvikalpa Samadhi, then, he will be constitutionally incapable of experiencing the Vijnana state. For, he will feel that his perception of multiplicity post-Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a ‘fall’ and he will exhibit a constant urge to regain that state of monistic experience. However, if the Sadhaka attains Nirvikalpa Samadhi through the path of devotion to a personal God, as a gift from his Ishta, in other words, when the Personal God reveals the Impersonal Reality as but another aspect of Oneself, then that Sadhaka will be able to experience his post-Nirvikalpa perception of multiplicity as an extremely rich spiritual experience which has been termed as Vijnana. We can recall the incident of Tota Puri and the young Sri Ramakrishna[19] here as an apt illustration of the point we are trying to make. It is in this light that we can make sense of the fact that Sri Ramakrishna was overjoyed when Naren had come to accept the Divine Mother while the latter lived at Dakshineswar. This incident is recorded in the Divine Play as follows[20]:

This acceptance of God with form was of course a most significant event in Narendra’s life…This made the Master jubilant…The Master was seated alone in his room and Narendra was sleeping on the veranda outside. The Master was beaming with joy…he pointed to Narendra and said, ‘Look at that boy – that boy is very good. His name is Narendra. He wouldn’t accept the Divine Mother before, but last night he did. He was in need of money, so I advised him to ask Mother for it. But he couldn’t; he said he felt ashamed. When he came back from the temple, he asked me to teach him a song in praise of Mother. So I taught him, “Mother, Thou are our sole Redeemer,” and he sang it all night long. That’s why he’s sleeping now.’ And then the Master smiled with joy and said, ‘Narendra has accepted Mother Kali. That’s very good, isn’t it?’ seeing that he was as happy as a child about this, I answered, ‘Yes, sir, it is very good.’ A little later he smiled and said again, ‘Narendra has accepted the Mother. It’s very good. What do you say?’ And he kept smiling and saying that, over and over.

This experience at Almora helped Naren to completely integrate his Nirvikalpa Samadhi experience with the post-Nirvikalpa Samadhi perception of multiplicity as the blessed experience of Vijnana. Therefore this experience is by far the most important one when we consider the transformation of Naren into Swami Vivekananda. After this experience at Almora, the great responsibility that his Guru had kept on his shoulders no longer seemed to be a burden to be done with at the earliest, but as a divine play that he was participating in with great joy. No longer was there any conflict between monistic experience and the perception of multiplicity in him; it was rather a constant divine game of the One Real Existence appearing as the multiple, separate existences out of Its own sweet will. Armed with this unique vision of Unity behind multiplicity, Swamiji was able to clearly grasp the problem of India’s decadence in its entirety during his subsequent wandering over the length & breadth of this vast country. No longer did there exist any distinction such as spiritual and mundane in Swamiji’s eyes. It was all divine now. The problems were divine and the solution too would be a spiritual one. To deal with this world heroically was indeed as stern as a stance as the vow of renunciation & negation for him.

Condensed India’:

With this unique set of eyes, he now sat at the last tip of Indian rock in Cape Comorin and had yet another nerve-shattering spiritual experience. Again, the ‘Vivekananda-a biography’ records[21]:

At Cape Comorin the Swami became as excited as a child. He rushed to the temple to worship the Divine Mother. He prostrated himself before the Virgin Goddess. As he came out and looked at the sea his eyes fell on a rock. Swimming to the islet through shark-infested waters, he sat on a stone. His heart thumped with emotion. His great journey from the snow-capped Himalayas to the ‘Land’s End’ was completed. He had travelled the whole length of the Indian subcontinent, his beloved motherland, which, together with his earthly mother, was ‘superior to heaven itself.’

Sitting on the stone, he recalled what he had seen with his own eyes: the pitiable condition of the Indian masses, victims of the unscrupulous whims of their rulers, landlords, and priests. The tyranny of caste had sapped their last drop of blood. In most of the so-called leaders who shouted from the housetops for the liberation of the people, he had seen selfishness personified. And now he asked himself what his duty was in this situation. Should he regard the world as a dream and go into solitude to commune with God? He had tried this several times, but without success. He remembered that, as a sannyasin, he had taken the vow to dedicate himself to the service of God; but this God, he was convinced, was revealed through humanity. And his own service to this God must begin, therefore, with the humanity of India. ‘May I be born again and again,’ he exclaimed, ‘and suffer a thousand miseries, if only I may worship the only God in whom I believe, the sum total of all souls, and above all, my God the wicked, my God the afflicted, my God the poor of all races!’Through austerity and self-control the Swami had conserved great spiritual power. His mind had been filled with the wisdom of the East and the West. He had received in abundance Sri Ramakrishna’s blessings. He also had had many spiritual experiences of his own. He must use all of these assets, he concluded, for the service of God in man.

But what was to be the way?

The clear-eyed prophet saw that religion was the backbone of the Indian nation. India would rise through a renewal and restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness which had made her, at all times, the cradle of nations and the cradle of faith. He totally disagreed with foreign critics and their Indian disciples who held that religion was the cause of India’s downfall. The Swami blamed, rather, the falsehood, superstition, and hypocrisy that were practiced in the name of religion. He himself had discovered that the knowledge of God’s presence in man was the source of man’s strength and wisdom. He was determined to awaken this sleeping divinity. He knew that the Indian culture had been created and sustained by the twin ideals of renunciation and service, which formed the core of Hinduism. And he believed that if the national life could be intensified through these channels, everything else would take care of itself. The workers for India’s regeneration must renounce selfishness, jealousy, greed, and lust for power, and they must dedicate themselves to the service of the poor, the illiterate, the hungry, and the sick, seeing in them the tangible manifestations of the Godhead. People required education, food, health, and the knowledge of science and technology to raise their standard of living. The attempt to teach metaphysics to empty stomachs was sheer madness. The masses everywhere were leading the life of animals on account of ignorance and poverty; therefore these conditions should be removed. But where would the Swami find the fellow workers to help him in this gigantic task?

He wanted whole-time servants of God; workers without worldly ties or vested interests. And he wanted them by thousands. His eyes fell upon the numerous monks who had renounced the world in search of God. But alas, in present-day India most of these led unproductive lives. He would have to infuse a new spirit into them, and they in their turn would have to dedicate themselves to the service of the people. He hit upon a plan, which he revealed later in a letter to a friend. ‘Suppose,’ the Swami wrote, ‘some disinterested sannyasins, bent on doing good to others, went from village to village, disseminating education and seeking in various ways to better the condition of all, down to the untouchable, through oral teaching and by means of maps, magic lanterns, globes, and other accessories — would that not bring forth good in time? All these plans I cannot write out in this brief letter. The long and short of it is that if the mountain does not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain. The poor are too poor to go to schools; they will gain nothing by reading poetry and all that sort of thing. We, as a nation, have lost our individuality. We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality and raise the masses.’ Verily, the Swami, at Kanyakumari, was the patriot and prophet in one. There he became, as he declared later to a Western disciple, ‘a condensed India.’

But where were the resources to come from, to help him realize his great vision?

He himself was a sannyasin, a penniless beggar. The rich of the country talked big and did nothing. His admirers were poor. Suddenly a heroic thought entered his mind: he must approach the outside world and appeal to its conscience. But he was too proud to act like a beggar. He wanted to tell the West that the health of India and the sickness of India were the concern of the whole world. If India sank, the whole world would sink with her. For the outside world, in turn, needed India, her knowledge of the Soul and of God, her spiritual heritage, her ideal of genuine freedom through detachment and renunciation; it needed these in order to extricate itself from the sharp claws of the monster of materialism.

Then to the Swami, brooding alone and in silence on that point of rock off the tip of India, the vision came; there flashed before his mind the new continent of America, a land of optimism, great wealth, and unstinted generosity. He saw America as a country of unlimited opportunities, where people’s minds were free from the encumbrance of castes or classes. He would give the receptive Americans the ancient wisdom of India and bring back to his motherland, in exchange, the knowledge of science and technology. If he succeeded in his mission to America, he would not only enhance India’s prestige in the Occident, but create a new confidence among his own people. He recalled the earnest requests of his friends to represent India in the forthcoming Parliament of Religions in Chicago. And in particular, he remembered the words of the friends in Kathiawar who had been the first to encourage him to go to the West: ‘Go and take it by storm, and then return!’

He swam back to the continent of India and started northwards again, by the eastern coast.

Thus, the nascent Vivekananda was now born! Naren had finally transformed into Vivekananda! But this Vivekananda was yet to bloom completely, for, he was to bring man everywhere to the ‘new ideal’, not just in Bengal or in India. He was yet to observe at first-hand the living condition of the man in the West. Moreover, there was one more vital experience that he lacked for giving his mission its full and final form. And that experience he got during his visit to the West.

A self-adjusting organization:

Although the recorded biographies of Swamiji do not categorize the following experience as a spiritual experience, this experience was no less vital than the Nirvikalpa Samadhi he experienced at Cossipore or the experience he had at Almora or again the experience he had at Cape Comorin. We understand this from the impact this experience had on giving a final shape to his plans.

While in the West, he was wonderstruck at the achievements that man had accomplished in this life. There was no known force of nature that the man in the West hadn’t tamed. Every aspect of human life was studied as an end in itself and truths were discovered. These truths were then put into practical use by designing processes and gadgets and principles that enriched the experience of living in this world. His vision of Vijnana through which he now perceived all these enabled him to see each of these achievements as manifestations of the Divine Power that is lodged in man. He delved deeper into those wonderful achievements and then came face to face with the grandest achievement of them all – the one achievement that had made possible all other achievements that made the world modern – the ‘Organization’. Individuals can conceive of infinite power. But groups of men can harness infinite power to do their bidding. It was this revelation that gave the final touch to the sculpture of the ‘new doctrine’ that was taking shape in his magnificent brain.

He was now able to integrate all the experiences that he had had till then and found that forming an organization would redeem him of all his responsibilities. He would form an organization of monks. The nucleus would be formed by the jewels that his own Guru had hand-crafted over a period of 6 years. This organization would engage in every sort of activity that society needed to further its own journey to manifesting the truth that Man is divine. As he expressed it so clearly[22], “A self-adjusting organization is the great need of our time.”

It was by an equally compelling series of incidents that one of his brother disciples, Swami Brahmananda, was being prepared by the Divine Mother to complement Swamiji when he would arrive at this incredible solution of forming an organization; [although I will go into that here.]

Thus, while he was still shuttling between America and Europe, he started giving a concrete shape to the unique organization that was to become Ramakrishna Math in India. What was this organization meant to achieve[23]? His Master had discovered some universal truths regarding spiritual life. His Master had commanded Swamiji to form a group of dedicated monks who would ‘live’ the life and not just philosophize or ratiocinate about it. In fact, during his Cossipore days, Sri Ramakrishna himself had laid the foundation for this group, although it was on a purely informal basis. Swamiji was now giving it a formal shape and legal status as an organization. This group was meant to safeguard the living traditions of the spiritual fire that had been kindled by Sri Ramakrishna. At any given time, this organization would testify that the ‘new ideal’ was indeed realizable by means of practicing the ‘new doctrine’, which would result in the ‘new life’. Apart from serving this vital need, this organization would also be creating a much needed space wherein the age-old, time-tested spiritual modes of life would be practiced and preserved in this modern age. Once this organization was set up, a big load was off Swamiji’s chest. However, that would not be all.

The ‘New Doctrine’:

There was one more dimension of his Master’s command that Swamiji was yet to fulfil, as we have mentioned before. And for that, he felt that his presence in India was necessary. But before he could do that, there was still the important work of giving shape to the ‘new doctrine’ that would lead man to manifesting the ‘new life’ by realizing the ‘new ideal’.

By now, he had now studied the modern man in depth. He was now in a position to configure praxis, a ‘doctrine’, which could be as vast and all-inclusive as the ideal it was meant to achieve. His unprecedented personal experience of man enabled him to generalize that man, anywhere, could be categorized under one of four types – the emotional, the rational, the mystic and the practical. What this means is this – the entire personality of man is generally seen to be dominated by one or more of these faculties in him. There are people who are predominantly governed by their emotions. There are again those who are predominantly governed by reason, and so on. Swamiji now started giving a series of lectures that delineated one path for each of these faculties, namely Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga and Karma Yoga. Further, he specified that the modern man would have to practice all these four yogas together, ‘crowd all sail, put on all head of steam[24], to use his own words, since one of the chief characteristics of the modern man was his multi-sided-ness. He gave a new name to this doctrine – ‘Practical Vedanta’.

One interesting point may be highlighted here, though. While he delineated the four major paths of spiritual practice, his original contribution has been in delineating Karma Yoga[25]. He had learnt from his Master that sincere practice of one’s allotted duties, with a selfless attitude, as an offering to God, was a safe and sure way of spiritual growth. The duties may involve activities as mundane as running a household as well as extend to large-scale socially beneficial activities such as disaster relief and national education. In short, spiritual growth does not need any new kind of activity. Any activity that you are already involved in is sufficiently potent to lead you to the ‘new ideal’, provided you are selfless. To put it in more concrete terms, one would need to practice brahmacharya and perform one’s duties. The root of all selfishness is sex-consciousness. So, a person, irrespective of his being a monk or a married man, will have to practice complete continence, and then go on performing all duties that devolve upon him in his station of life. That was more than sufficient to lead him to a complete realization of Vijnana, the ‘new ideal’ in this very life. The practice of continence involved elements of the other three yogas, thus ensuring that a synthesis of all the four yogas was put into play.

This was indeed a stroke of genius on the part of Swamiji. A ‘new ideal’ called for a new set of rituals; else, the masses wouldn’t get a hold of the doctrine that would lead to the realization of the ‘new ideal’. Instead of creating yet another set of rituals in a world already riddled with innumerable rituals that were lifeless, [for all rituals lose their potency after a certain period of time, getting disconnected from the underlying thought that should accompany them] he apotheosized the entire life of man into a ritual that would lead him to the ‘new ideal’! Thus, he was able to hew out a path from multiplicity to Vijnana directly, without negating this world in Nirvikalpa Samadhi!

‘Rejuvenation of the Motherland’:

Swamiji then returned to India and created one more organization named Ramakrishna Mission apart from Ramakrishna Math. Through this organization, he opened up avenues for monks and married people to work out the ‘new doctrine’ and achieve the ‘new ideal’. The aim and objective of this organization were to achieve the fullest manifestation of divinity everywhere on earth. This organization would enable the newbie to put the ‘new doctrine’ into practice and achieve the ‘new ideal’ while at the same time allowing the person who had already realized the ‘new ideal’ to live the ‘new life’! But the immediate objective of this organization was ‘nothing short of a rejuvenation of my motherland’!

Having set this mammoth machinery in motion, he was to move away from the scene, because the growth of the organization needed steady, soft and silent work, the kind of work his other brother-disciples could perform. While Swamiji was like the rock-cutter who places dynamite sticks and blasts huge chunks of marble from the hills at the quarry, his brother-disciples, especially Swami Brahmananda, Swami Saradananda, Swami Premananda & Swami Ramakrishnananda were like the sculptors who chisel out delicate figurines from those blocks of marble.

Divine Mother validates his decisions:

His work was to end with yet another nerve-shattering spiritual experience that he was to have at Kshir-Bhavani, which is recorded in the ‘Life of Swami Vivekananda’ as follows[26]:

…The Swami retired abruptly on September 30th to the Colored Springs of Kshir- Bhavani (or Kheer Bhavani), leaving strict instructions that no one was to follow him. It was not until October 6th that he returned. Before this famous shrine of the Mother he daily performed Homa, and worshipped Her with offerings of Kshira or Kheer (thickened milk) made from one maund of milk, rice, and almonds. He told his beads like any humble pilgrim; and, as a special Sadhana, every morning he worshipped a Brahmin pundit’s little daughter as Uma Kumari, the Divine Virgin. He began to practise the sternest austerities. It seemed as though he would tear off all the veils that had come upon his soul through years of work and thought, and again be a child before the Divine Mother. Even though Her caresses might give pain to the body they would give illumination and freedom to the soul. All thought of Leader, Worker, or Teacher was gone. He was now only the monk, in all the nakedness of pure Sannyasa.

When he returned to Srinagar, he appeared before his disciples a transfigured presence, writes Nivedita. He entered their houseboat, his hands raised in benediction; then he placed some marigolds that he had offered to the Mother, on the head of each of them. “No more ‘Hari Om!’ It is all ‘Mother’ now!” he said, sitting down. “All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it is only ‘Mother! Mother!’ I have been very wrong. Mother said to me: ‘What, even if unbelievers should enter my temples, and defile My images! What is that to you? Do you protect Me? Or do I protect you?’ So there is no more patriotism. I am only a little child!”

One day at Kshir-Bhavani he had been pondering over the ruination and desecration of the temple wrought by the Muslim invaders. Distressed at heart he thought: “How could the people have permitted such sacrilege without offering strenuous resistance! If I were here then, I would never have allowed such things. I would have laid down my life to protect the Mother.” It was then that he had heard the Mother speaking as above. The disciples sat silent, awe-inspired. They could not speak, “so tense was the spot with something that stilled thought”. “I may not tell you more now; it is not in order”, he said gently, adding, before he left, ” — but spiritually, spiritually, I was not bound down!” In his meditation on the Terrible, in the dark hours of the nights at Kshir-Bhavani, there were other visions that he confided only to one or two of his brother-disciples. They were too sacred to make known to anyone else.

At this same shrine, in the course of worship one day, the Swami was brooding with pain on the dilapidated condition of the temple. He wished in his heart that he were able to build a new one there in its place, just as he wished to build monasteries and temples elsewhere, especially a temple to Sri Ramakrishna in the new Math at Belur. He was startled in his ruminations by the voice of the Mother Herself, saying to him, “My child! If I so wish I can have innumerable temples and magnificent monastic centres. I can even this moment raise a seven-storied golden temple on this very spot.” “Since I heard that Divine Voice,” said the Swami to a disciple in Calcutta much later, “I have ceased making any more plans. Let these things be as Mother wills!”

Sister Nivedita writes[27]: He spoke of the future. There was nothing to be desired, but the life of the wanderer, in silence and nudity, on the banks of the Ganges. He would have nothing. ‘Swamiji’ was dead and gone. Who was he, that he should feel responsible for teaching the world? It was all fuss and vanity. The Mother had no need of him, but only he of Her. Even work, when one had seen this, was nothing but illusion.

Swamiji was wracked by conflicts about the correctness of the measures he had taken for fulfilling the command of his Master. Almost every decision he had taken was unprecedented – organizing Hindu monks, asking all-renouncing monks to take up responsibility for socially productive activities on a national scale, re-introducing Karma Yoga back into Hinduism a thousand years after it was completely rooted out by Shankara [although the two versions were very different]. This experience he had at Kshir-Bhavani set at rest all those inner conflicts. Although, once in a while, these conflicts were to raise their head again in his super-sensitive mind as recorded by Sister Nivedita[28], he was able to conclude that the decisions he had taken in each case was indeed the handiwork of the Great Power that runs this world and holds itself responsible for its sustenance, the same Power that had incarnated as his Master Sri Ramakrishna.

Thus, we have seen how Naren became transformed into Swami Vivekananda. That transformation was the personal aspect of the impersonal manifestation of the ‘new ideal and the new doctrine’ that we mentioned in the beginning of this article.

‘The New Life’:

Regarding the ‘new life’ that Swamiji mentions in the letter to Kidi, well, it is the unprecedented life of Sri Ramakrishna that he alludes to. It is also true that he envisaged a time when multitudes would become prophets as a consequence of their following this new doctrine and realizing this new ideal in their lives. He said[29], ‘The time is to come when prophets will walk through every street in every city in the world…The time is coming when we shall understand that to become religious means to become a prophet, that none can become religious until he or she becomes a prophet. We shall come to understand that the secret of religion is not being able to think and say all these thoughts; but, as the Vedas teach, to realize them, to realize newer and higher one than have ever been realized, to discover them, bring them to society; and the study of religion should be the training to make prophets. The schools and colleges should be training grounds for prophets. The whole universe must become prophets; and until a man becomes a prophet, religion is a mockery and a byword unto him. We must see religion, feel it, realize it in a thousand times more intense a sense than that in which we see the wall. … We have to work now so that everyone will become a prophet. There is a great work before us.

*******************

[1] Cf: Letters of Swami Vivekananda; pg: 71;

[2] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita-I; Master as I saw him; pg: 39: “But wherein lay the struggle? Whence came the frequent sense of being baffled and thwarted? Was it a growing consciousness of bodily weakness, conflicting with the growing clearness of a great purpose?”

[3] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pp: 177-179: Ch-Cossipore & the Master.

[4] Cf: ibid; pp: 233-234: Ch-Itinerant days in Northern India.

[5] Cf: ibid; pg: 250.

[6] Cf: ibid; pp: 341-44;

[7] Cf: Swami Vivekananda in the West-New Discoveries-I by Sister Gargi; pp: 155-56; Ch-In & Around Chicago.

[8] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-II; pp: 382-83

[9] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His Divine Play by Swami Saradananda; Tr-Swami Chetanananda; pg: 447

[10] Cf: ibid; pg: 362.

[11] This fall is termed as ‘Anavastitattva’; inability to hold on to a blessed state of spiritual experience. The urge then comes to constantly regain that blessed state and remain in that state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

[12] Cf: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: pg: 988; Entry on 7th May 1887: Narendra says, ‘…but I still have no peace.’ See also: Letters of Swami Vivekananda; pg-24; 26th May 1890 to Pramadadas Mitra :“I write this…in great agitation of mind”; See also: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pg 236; “What shall I say to you about the condition of my mind! Oh, it is as if hell-fire were burning there day & night!”

[13] Cf: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: pg: 982; Entry on 25th Mar 1887: Narendra says, ‘Does mere emotion make a man spiritually great?’ See also: Letters of Swami Vivekananda: pg: 26; 26th May 1890 to Pramadadas Mitra; “The condition of Bengal is pitiable. The people here cannot even dream what renunciation truly means…”; See also: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pg: 236; “Our Bengal is the land of Bhakti & Jnana. Yoga is scarcely mentioned there. What little there is, is but the queer breathing exercise of the Hatha Yoga – which is nothing but a kind of gymnastics. Therefore I am staying with this wonderful Raja Yogi…”

[14] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pp: 233-34.

[15] We say ‘prototype’ because right from the beginning, Naren had the clarity that his Master’s mission was nothing short of the spiritual regeneration of the entire country. See for instance: Life of Swami Vivekananda-I; pg: 221; “My son, I have a great mission to fulfil and I am in despair at the smallness of my capacity. I have an injunction from my Guru to carry out this mission. It is nothing less than the regeneration of my motherland. Spirituality has fallen to a ebb and starvation stalks the land. India must become dynamic and effect the conquest of the world through her spirituality.” Swamiji said this to Swami Sadananda as early as 1888.

[16] Cf: Vivekananda, a biography by Swami Nikhilananda; pg: 98.

[17] For details, please refer to Meditation & Spiritual Life: pp: 542-551; Explanation of chart on Spiritual Unfoldment.

[18] For details of this term & the term Bhavamukha, please see: Sri Ramakrishna’s thoughts on Man, World & God by Swami Tapasyananda; pp: 26-30; 159-163; See also: Sri Ramakrishna-Life & Teachings (an interpretative study) by Swami Tapasyananda; pp: 57-71

[19] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His Divine Play: pg: 538;

[20] Cf: ibid; pg: 843-44.

[21] Cf: Vivekananda-a biography; pp: 110-114

[22] Cf: Inspired Talks: Entry on July 1st, 1895.

[23] Sister Nivedita says ‘Long ago, he had defined the mission of the Order of Ramakrishna as that of realizing and exchanging the highest ideals of the East and of the West.’: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita-I; Master as I saw him; pg: 42.

[24] Cf: Inspired Talks: Entry on 27th July 1895: “The ignorant will leads to bondage, the knowing will can free us. The will can be made strong in thousands of ways; every way is a kind of Yoga, but the systematized Yoga accomplishes the work more quickly. Bhakti, Karma, Raja, and Jnana-Yoga get over the ground more effectively. Put on all powers, philosophy, work, prayer, meditation — crowd all sail, put on all head of steam — reach the goal. The sooner, the better

[25] Some say that his ‘Raja Yoga’ too was quite original. But it will be seen that he just combined the existing schools of Patanjala Yoga with Tantra and Advaita Vedanta. This trend of seamlessly combining two or more schools of thought to produce a new path has been always present in India. For instance, one of the later Shankaracharyas combined Patanjala Yoga with Advaita Vedanta in the treatise ‘Aparokshanubhutihi’.

[26] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda-II; pp: 381-83;

[27] Cf: Complete works of Sister Nivedita-I; Master as I saw him; pp: 99-100.

[28] Cf: ibid: Ch-Conflict of Ideals.

[29] Please see Complete works of Swami Vivekananda-VI; Lecture on ‘Methods & purpose of Religion’.

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Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

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