Born in Kolkata on January 12, 1863 in Kolkata, Swami Vivekananda was known as Narendra Nath Datta in his pre-monastic life. With a special interest in Western philosophy and history, Vivekananda was often assailed by doubts about the existence of God. It was during this time, that he met Sri Ramakrishna, who later became his guru. On meeting him, he straightaway raised the query that had been bothering him since a long time. “Sir, have you seen God?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Sri Ramakrishna replied: “Yes, I have. I see Him as clearly as I see you, only in a much intenser sense.” He then began visiting the monk frequently which impacted his life in a profound way.
A few years later, his family was caught in a difficult situation after the death of his father. Swami Vivekananda, during this troubling phase of his life, found support in Sri Ramakrishna. Despite poverty, Vivekananda continue to serve his ailing master. Sri Ramakrishna taught him the spirit of renunciation and fraternity. He distributed robes among his disciples and instructed Vivekananda to form a new monastic order, before dying of throat cancer.
In 1887, Vivekananda and other disciples of Ramakrishna Paramhansa took formal vows of sannyasa and renounced the worldly pleasures. He then began a tour of India and was appalled to look at the poverty in the country. He then decided to educate the masses about ways to improve their economic condition as well as imparted spiritual knowledge to strengthen their faith and moral sense.
To take his message to a wider audience and to seek financial help to help people, Vivekananda decided to attend World’s Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. His speech that dwelled about topics like universal acceptance, tolerance and religion; got him a standing ovation at the parliament. He then began delivering lectures at various places and became the ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world’.
After coming back to India, he formed in Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 “to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.” In 1899, he established the Belur Math on the western bank of the Ganga, which became his permanent abode. Through his speeches and lectures, the monk tried to rouse the religious consciousness among people and also tried to uplift the downtrodden using the principles of Practical Vedanata. Few of his books Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga include his philosophy.
Vivekananda breathed his last on July 4, 1902 in Belur. Before his Mahasamadhi he had written to a Western follower: “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”