Narendra Nath Datta, who later became Swami Vivekananda, was born on January 12, 1863.
Although he was an energetic and often naughty child,
he had from an early age a fascination for meditation and wandering monks. Whenever a Sadhu came to the door, Naren would be delighted and give
him anything he could find as an offering.
He would also have a peculiar experience when he would try to go to sleep.
As soon as he closed his eyes there appeared between his eyebrows a wonderful spot of light of changing colors, which would expand and burst and
bathe his whole body with a flood of white radiance.
He thought everyone fell asleep like this, and it was only much later that he learned that
it was sign of spiritual potential.
Narendra Nath was a top student, but while he was in college his exposure to western education made him question whether or not
God really existed. He wondered if anyone had ever actually experienced God directly and began to ask noted religious teachers,
"Sir, have you seen God?". Upon hearing of Sri Ramakrishna, he put the same question to him, and
Sri Ramakrishna answered, "Of course. God can be realized. One can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you."
Narendra Nath became Sri Ramakrishna's disciple and, after Ramakrishna's death in 1886, he renounced the world.
Sri Ramakrishna had always told others that Narendra Nath was a great sage, who had come to earth for the good of humanity,
and Narendra naturally became the leader of the group of boys who became monks. For many years Swami Vivekananda walked from
one end of India to the other a wandering monk. Everywhere he went he saw poverty and misery.
Finally, he reached Kanya Kumari at the very tip of India. He swam out to a rock and there went into deep meditation,
seeking to know the Lord's will for him and seeking to find a cure for the suffering he had seen. While meditating, he had the vision of
Sri Ramakrishna bidding him to go to the West.
Unsure what to do, he wrote asking Holy Mother's opinion of this vision.
She at once agreed and urged him to undertake the Master's work in the West.
With Sri Ramakrishna's command, he decided to go to the Parliament of Religions, which was being organized in Chicago.
The Parliament, which was part of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, was the first inter-faith gathering in the world-with delegates from
all of the world's major religions.
Swami Vivekananda was accepted as a delegate to the Parliament, and when he first arose and addressed the audience as, "Sisters and brothers of America!,"
the effect was electric. He had struck a mighty chord, and the entire audience of 4,000 rose from their seats and gave him a thunderous applause.
During the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda became a national figure. After the Parliament, he toured America and England, teaching extensively
and attracting numerous followers. He told American audiences, "I have a message for the West as Buddha had a message for the East".
He took the ancient teachings of Vedanta, the philosophy of the Vedas and Upanishads, and made them applicable to modern life.
He said, "Strength, strength is what the Upanishads speak to me from every page. This is the one great thing to remember, it has been
the one great lesson I have been taught in my life; strength it says, strength, oh man, be not weak."
Swami Vivekananda wrote what were probably the first books on Yoga in the West-Karma Yoga was published in America in 1896, and Raja Yoga
was published later that year in England. Both are Yoga classics. In 1896, he was offered the Chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University but declined.
When he returned to India in 1897, he was greeted with a hero's welcome. Thousands thronged to see him wherever he went.
Madras held a nine-day public festival in his honor. When he returned to Calcutta, 20,000 people met him at the station.
When he spoke to the crowds, he inspired them to renew India's past glory and urged them to help those in need.
In Madras, he said, "Do you feel that millions are starving today, and millions had been starving for ages? Do you feel that ignorance has come
over the land like a dark cloud? Does it make you restless? Does it make you sleepless? Has it gone into your blood, coursing through your veins,
becoming consonant with your heart beats? Has it made you almost mad? Are you seized with that one idea of the misery of ruin, and have you
forgotten all about your name, your fame, your wives, your children, your property, even your own bodies? Have you done that?
That is the first step to become a patriot, the very first step."
He soon established the Ramakrishna Math, a monastic order named after his teacher, Sri Ramakrishna, and the Ramakrishna Mission -
a social services organization in India. It runs hospitals, schools and orphanages, and it provides help in times of natural disaster.
The Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission now have over 135 centers worldwide, with more than a dozen in the United States.
Years of ascetic practices and non-stop work had undermined his health, and he went to Darjeeling to rest. However, in 1898, there was an
outbreak of plague in Calcutta, and he immediately returned to the heart of the plague districts, where he organized efforts to clean out the
sewers in the slums where the contagion had originated. Within days the plague subsided.
Swami Vivekananda's biographer, the Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland, wrote, "Earthly cries, the suffering of the ages, fluttered round him
like a flight of famished gulls. The passions of strength (never of weakness) were striving within his lion's heart. He was energy personified
and action was his message to men."
In 1899, the swami made a second visit to the West. After a brief stay in England, he went to America, where he spent ten weeks at
Ridgely Manor in New York. He then began to lecture extensively, especially on the West Coast.
In December of 1900 he returned to India. For the next year and a half, ailing seriously, he stayed mostly with his brother monks at Belur Math.
On Friday, July 4, 1902, he had an active day. He meditated several hours in the morning, sang devotional songs, and was heard saying to himself
as he came out of the shrine, "If there were another Vivekananda he would have understood what Vivekananda had done. And yet how many Vivekanandas
will be born in time!" He talked cheerfully, walked for several miles with a brother monk, taught the young monks for three hours, ate heartily,
made plans for the worship of Kali in the monastery, prayed quietly, and meditated in his room again in the evening.
He then lay down on his bed and suddenly passed away. He was only 39 years old