Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Hindu monk, a chief disciple of the 19th-century Indian mystic Ramakrishna, He was born on 12 January 1863 as Narendranath Datta, but later he became known as Vivekananda. He was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the late 19th century.
Swami Vivekananda was a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India, and contributed to the concept of Indian nationalism as a tool of fight against the British empire in colonial India. Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. He is perhaps best known for his speech which began with the words – “Sisters and brothers of America …,” in which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.
I am starting an article series on the life of Swami Vivekananda. This is the first article from this series, I choose to reveal the humorous side of him. I have carefully collected a few incidents from his life that truly proves his highest form of intelligence and unbeatable humor.
1. Our Book is base to all of yours.
At the Chicago religious summit of 1893, religious leaders from all religions were resting in a common room waiting for the inauguration.
For the lack of space, they all had piled up each other’s books one over the other on a small table.
One of those sitting around the table saw his book on top of other books and humorously remarked “See, my book is on top of yours, it in itself signifies the superiority of my philosophy.” Others added funny remarks supporting their own.
To which Vivekananda replied, “Mine is the base to all of yours, if you pull mine away all of yours will fall off.”
2. How Vivekananda crushed ego of his bully Professor.
When Swami Vivekanand was studying law at the University College, London, a white professor, whose last name was Peters, disliked him intensely.
One day, Mr. Peters was having lunch at the dining room when Vivekananda came along with his tray and sat next to the professor.
The professor said, “Mr Vivekanand, you do not understand. A pig and a bird do not sit together to eat.”
Vivekanand looked at him as a parent would a rude child and calmly replied, “You do not worry professor. I’ll fly away,” and he went and sat at another table.
Mr. Peters, reddened with rage, decided to take revenge.
The next day in Class he posed the following question: “Mr. Vivekanand, if you were walking down the street and found a package, and within was a bag of wisdom and another bag with money, which one would you take?”
Without hesitating, Vivekanandji responded, “The one with the money, of course.”
Mr. Peters, smiling sarcastically said, “I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom.”
Swami Vivekanand shrugged and responded, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”
Mr. Peters, by this time was fit to be tied. So great was his anger that he wrote on Swami Vivekanand’s exam sheet the word “idiot” and gave it to Swami Vivekanand.
Vivekanand took the exam sheet and sat down at his desk trying very hard to remain calm while he contemplated his next move.
A few minutes later, Swami Vivekanand got up, went to the professor and told him in a dignified polite tone, “Mr. Peters, you signed the sheet, but you did not give me the grade.”
3. Swami Vivekananda proved “Presence of Moment is the Key”
Swami Vivekananda was travelling in a train. He was wearing a wrist watch gifted to him by a raja.
There were some girls making fun of Vivekananda by the way he looks and his clothes. They decided to play a prank.
They said to swami to give the watch to them or else they will complain the cops that Vivekananda was physically harassing them.
Swami acted as a deaf and made a sign to the girls that to write what they want to say.
Girls wrote and gave the paper to vivekananda.
Then Vivekananda spoke,
“Call the cops, I have a complaint to make.”
This was Vivekananda, wity and present in every moment.
4. Swami Vivekananda with Old Man in Himalayas:
Swami Vivekananda was having a long trek in the Himalayas when he found an old man extremely exhausted standing hopelessly at the foot of an upward slope. The man said to Swamiji in frustration, ‘Oh, Swamiji, how to cross it; I cannot walk anymore; my chest will break.’
Swamiji listened to the old man patiently and then said, ‘Look down at your feet. The road that is under your feet is the road that you have passed over and is the same road that you see before you; it will soon be under your feet.’
Swamiji reminded him that it was he who had crossed the previous road and so he can easily do this again and again, he can achieve it because he did this before.
These words emboldened the old man to resume his onward trek and he successfully reached the destination.
5. Swami Vivekananda Facing the Irate Monkeys Boldly:
One morning in Sarnath, after visiting the temple of Mother Durga, the Swami was passing through a place, where there was a large tank of water on one side and a high wall on the other. Here, he was surrounded by a troop of large monkeys. They were not willing to allow him to pass through and there was no other way. As he tried to walk past them, they howled and shrieked and clutched at his feet. As they pressed closer, he began to run; but the faster he ran, the bolder the monkeys got and they attempted to bite at him.
When it seemed impossible for him to escape, he heard an old sannyasi calling out to him: Face the brutes! The words brought him to his senses. He stopped running and turned majestically to boldly face the irate monkeys. As soon as he did that, they fell back and fled! With reverence and gratitude, he bowed and did ‘Pranam’ to the sannyasi, who smilingly responded with the same, and walked away.
6. Swami Vivekananda Showed the Power of Concentration:
In America, Swamiji was watching some boys. They were standing on the bridge trying to shoot at egg-shells that were floating on the river, but they always missed the target. No one was able to hit the target, they all were getting annoyed. Swamiji waited patiently seeing their practice.
Swamiji took the gun and aimed at the shells. He fired twelve times and every time he hit an egg-shell successfully.
The boys asked Swamiji: ‘Great, how did you do it? You must have experience with shooting before?
Swamiji said, “This is the first time I have picked up a gun.”
[Just to clarify, here we are talking about toy gun, not a real gun.]
7. Swami Vivekananda’s Childhood Ability to Focus on Two Planes Simultaneously:
Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) was a master Story-teller whose words were as Magnetic as his personality. When he spoke, everyone listened in rapt attention forgetting their work.
One day while in school, Narendra was talking animatedly to his friends during a class recess. Meanwhile, the teacher had entered the classroom and had begun to teach his subject. But the students were too absorbed in Narendra’s story to pay any attention to the lesson. After some time had passed, the teacher heard the whispering and understood what was going on. Visibly annoyed, he now asked each student what he had been lecturing on. None could answer. But Narendra was remarkably talented; his mind could work simultaneously on two planes. While he had engaged one part of his mind in talking, he had kept the other half on the lesson. So, when the teacher asked him that question, he answered correctly. Quite surprised, the teacher inquired who had been talking so long. Everybody pointed at Narendra Nath, but the teacher refused to believe them. He then asked all the students except Narendra to stand up on the bench. Narendra also joined his friends and stood up. The teacher asked him to sit down. But Narendra replied: ‘No Guruji, I must also stand up because it was I who was talking to them.’
8. Swami Vivekananda Selecting Bharat Over Materialistic West:
Before he left London, one of his British friends put this question to him: `Swami, how do you like now your motherland after four years’ experience of the luxurious, glorious, powerful West?’
Swamiji said: “India, I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me, the very air is now to me holy; it is now the holy land, the place of pilgrimage, the Tirth.”
9. Swami Vivekananda Believed in Vedic Humanity and Spread Awareness Against Caste System:
A Sanyasi, in the strictest sense of the term, is always a free soul. Like a river, he is always on the move. Sometimes he spends the night at a burning ‘Ghat’, sometimes he sleeps in the palace of the king, sometimes he rests at a railway station but he is always happy. Such a Sanyasiwas Swami Vivekananda whom people found living at a railway station in Rajasthan. People kept coming to him all day long. They had many questions, mostly religious, and Swamiji was tireless in answering them. Three days and three nights passed in this manner. Swamiji was so engrossed in talking about spiritual matters that he did not even stop to eat. The people who flocked to him also did not think of asking him if he had any food to eat!
On the third night of his stay there, when the visitors had all left, a poor man came forward and said to him lovingly, “Swamiji, I have noticed that for three days you have been talking and talking. You have not taken even a drop of water. This has pained me very much.”
Daridra Narayan or Daridranarayana or Daridra Narayan is an axiom enunciated by the Swamiji himself, espousing that “Service To The Poor Is Equivalent In Importance And Piety To Service To God.”
Swamiji always saw God in poor people as Daridra Narayan, he felt that God had appeared before him in the form of this poor man. He looked at him and said, “Will you please give me something to eat?” The man was a cobbler by profession, so he said with some hesitation, “Swamiji, my heart yearns to give you some bread, but, how can I? I have touched it. If you permit, I will bring you some coarse flour and dal and you can prepare them as you please.”
Swamiji smiled and said, “No, my child; give me the bread you have baked. I shall be happy to eat it.” The poor man was frightened at first. He feared the few people might punish him if they came to know that he, a low caste person, had prepared food for a Sanyasi. But the eagerness to serve a Sage overpowered his fear. He hurriedly went back home and soon returned with bread freshly baked for Swamiji. The kindness and unselfish love of this penurious man brought tears to Swamiji’s eyes. How many persons like this live in the huts of our country unnoticed, he thought to himself. They are materially poor and of so-called humble origin, yet they are so noble and large-hearted.
In the meantime, some men found that Swamiji was eating food offered by a shoemaker and became annoyed with this. They came to Swamiji and told him that it was improper for him to accept food from a man of low caste. Swamiji patiently heard them and then said,
“You people made me talk without respite for the past three days, but you did not even care to inquire if I had taken any food and rest. You claim you are gentlemen and boast of your high caste; what is more shameful, you condemn this man for being of a low caste. Can you overlook the humanity he has just shown and despise him without feeling ashamed?”
Swamiji knew that Varna System was contaminated in India by invaders while infecting it with inhumane Caste System.
10. Swami Vivekananda Witnessed the Transformation of An Evil Man into Good Human:
In Gazipur there was a Hindu Sage living by the side of the Ganga. A dacoit broke into his house. He had some silver vessels. For many days the dacoit had been watching. A lot of devotees used to give offerings to the saint. The dacoit thought that there must be some treasure in the vessels. In the first chamber the vessels were kept.
When the thief broke in, there was a lot of utensils. He took them and filled his bag. It made noise. The Sage who heard it said: “What is this? Some animal is coming.” So, he just came out of his meditation and saw a big man. When the thief saw him, the former began to take to his heels. Immediately the Sage took the bag of utensils and ran behind the thief asking him to stop. He overtook the thief and said: “Why are you afraid? These are yours. Some more I will give you.” And thus, the thief was sent away with all the things he had in his house. Years later, when Swami Vivekananda Ji was going on a pilgrimage to Kedar, Badri, etc., he saw a Sadhu lying on the icy region. In those days the conditions of travelling were quite different altogether. Then there was no right route and no proper facilities. With great difficulty he was making his pilgrimage. It was on his way somewhere that he saw the Sadhu in the icy region, lying helpless. Vivekananda Ji gave him his own blanket. At that time the Sadhu looked up, and finding that Vivekananda Ji was a spiritual man, began to narrate something of his past life.
“Have you heard of great Hindu Sage Pavahari Baba?”, he asked Swami Vivekananda Ji. Then he told him all about the incident that happened in the life of Pavahari Baba. He continued “I was that thief. From the day when the Sage touched me a transformation came into my life. I repented my action bitterly. Since that time, I am trying to atone for my sins.” That is the power of the true Hindu Sages. “God is everywhere”—this feeling is a wonderful, method of progressing in your attempt to commune with God and ultimately become one with Him.
11. Swami Vivekananda Ji Believed in Experience Before Following Suggestions:
Swamiji lived the ideal of fearlessness even as a small child. When he was barely 8 years old. He used to visit his, whose family had a Champa tree in their compound. The Champa flowers are liked by Bhagwan Shiv and were incidentally a favorite of Swamiji’s too. This was Swamiji favorite tree and he loved to dangle head down from it! One day as he was swinging from the tree, the old and nearly blind grandfather of the house recognized his voice and approached him. The old man was afraid that the boy might fall and hurt himself or worse that he might lose some of his precious Champa flowers! He called Naren (which was Swamiji’s childhood name) down and told him not to climb the tree again.Why? asked Naren. Because the old man answered a Brahmadaitya (a ghost of a Brahmin) lives in that tree and at night he goes about dressed all in white, and he is terrible to look at. This was new to Naren, who wanted to know what else this Ghost could do besides wander about. The old man replied and he breaks the necks of those who climb the tree.
Narendra simply nodded and said nothing and the old man went away smiling to himself in triumph. As soon as he had gone some distance, Naren climbed the tree again and was dangling back in his former position. His friend who was there all along cried out … Naren. The Brahmadaitya is sure to catch you and break your neck. Naren laughed heartily and said. What a silly fellow you are. Don’t believe everything just because someone tells you. If the old grandfather’s story were true then my neck would have been broken long ago.
I have been climbing the tree so many times before.
And this was Swamiji as a young boy. Bold and Fearless with an exceptionally strong common sense.
12. Swami Vivekananda Ji Defeated Lust, Kaam and Material Pleasures:
Pious Hindu Sages defeated lust and material pleasures, they won it over so as their focus on meditation never gets distracted.
While in America, there were few jealous Christian Missionaries who wanted to decimate the popularity of Swamiji. They wanted to distort his path of dharma. They tried numerous cunning ploys to fill Swamiji’s path with hurdles.
In lieu to this, they planted one attractive young American lady as disciple of Swamiji. The lady visited Swamiji along with other people to listen his discourses. Once she got the chance to meet Swamiji, in her first meeting itself, she praised Swamiji a lot and asked him to marry her.
Swamiji was surprised and asked her “why you want to marry me?”
Lady replied “I want a son exactly like you. I want to bear a child who looks exactly like you and who has similar features like you”
Swamiji bowed to the feet of the Lady and Said
“Why think of replicas, when the original is there to become your son. From now, you are my mother.”
Lady was ashamed of her wicked drama and pleaded guilty and she later became one of the ardent followers of Swami Vivekananda.
13. Swami Vivekananda Ji on The Cloth and Character of Indians:
Visiting the America in 1893, Swami Vivekananda walked along a street in Chicago, clad in two lengths of untailored Saffron cloth, wrapped around his body like a Sadhu.
At that time in the US, this kind of attire was quite unfamiliar for Americans.
On seeing this, a woman whispered to her husband, “I don’t think that man is a gentleman.”
Overhearing this remark, Swami Vivekananda said to her politely:
“Excuse me, Madam, in your country it is the tailor who makes a man a gentleman, but in the country from which I come, it is character which makes a man a gentleman.”
The couple were taken aback with such pragmatic response.
14. Swami Vivekananda Smartly Converted A Situational Set up of a Christian Missionary into an Opportunity:
Swamiji read Hindu texts, Vedas, Puranas and Ancient scripts. He was very famous among Indians about his positive attitude and in-depth Vedic knowledge. His fame reached ears of top merchants of India who sponsored Swamiji to attend Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 to put forth his views on Hinduism.
There was a situation which would have embarrassed a low-willed person but not Swamiji.
A Christian Missionary invited Swamiji to his house and took him to his personal library. He self-applauded his library and said mockingly “How you found the order of books here.”
Swamiji was astute on observing things and events around. Swamiji saw several religious books placed one over another. But could not find ‘Srimad Bhagwad Gita’, when his eyes reached the bottom of the books rack, he saw Gita was kept last and above Gita there were several other religious books. Bible was kept at top, over all other religious books. Swamiji smiled and said to the organizers “I am very happy to see you all know the truth and respected Srimad Bhagwad Gita, giving due importance.”
This amazed Christian missionary. Swamiji further added “You know Srimad Bhagwad Gita is the basis of all religions of the world. Gita is the oldest ancient text kept here. And you rightfully kept the Foundation of all religions at the bottom of all, you remove Bhagwad Gita and all others will fell down.”
The Christian missionary tried to demean Srimad Bhagwad Gita but the response of Great Swamiji converted that iniquitous trick into opportunity to give respect to our pious Hindu Past and Vedic History.
15. Swami Vivekananda Ji Introduced Nivedita to Seva Bhav:
Nivedita on her maiden visit to India asked Vivekananda Ji –
“How can I understand Indians? You are an Indian by birth and you have studied this philosophy in detail. I am from a different culture and it will take me ages to understand the people of India, let alone serve them with all my heart?”
“Go sweep the streets of Calcutta, beg for food and spend time with the people who do not have enough to feed themselves and their family. Do it not to help them, but do it to find out who you actually are.
Sister Nivedita was seen sweeping the streets of Calcutta and spending time with homeless people in West Bengal. She internalized the Seva Bhav taught by Vivekananda Ji.
Sister Nivedita started a school in Bagbazar, Howrah. The school is still operating today and has a statue of Sister Nivedita’s dedication in forming social reforms in west Bengal during early 1900’s.
16. Swami Vivekananda Ji Responded on Unity of Indians:
Once during his stay in the US, an American mocked Indian culture and then asked Swami Vivekananda Ji, “How do people in India stay together? Where does the unity come from when there is so much disparity in their colours? Some are dark, some are brown, some are red and some even fair!! Here in the US, everyone is of the same colour, viz. white!!”
To this, Vivekananda replied,
“Have you seen horses? They are all of different colours, yet they stay together. On the other hand, have you seen donkeys? They are the entire same colour. Now you tell me, does that make the horses inferior to the donkeys?”
The questioner stood dumbstruck at this answer.
17. Swami Vivekananda Ji Showed Indecent English their Real Place:
While Swamiji was travelling by train, in Rajasthan an interesting incident took place. He was resting in a second-class compartment with closed eyes as if meditating.
Seeing Swamiji’s Saffron dress and his relaxed composure, two Englishmen started abusing him. They were under the impression that the Swami did not know English. When the train arrived at the station. Swamiji asked a train official, in English, for a glass of water. The Englishmen were surprised; they asked Swamiji why he was silent though he could understand them. Swamiji snapped back, “This is not the first time I have met fools.”
The Englishmen were enraged, but Swamiji’s formidable physique silenced them.
18. Swami Vivekananda was Offered Food with the Blessing of Bhagwan Ram:
Being Sanyasi, Swamiji had control over senses. During his travel, Swamiji could travel by train only if somebody bought him his ticket. Otherwise, he had to travel on foot. He had to starve most of the time for he had no money.
Once it happened that a merchant travelling with him was helping himself to varieties of eatables. Swamiji was hungry and tired. But he did not beg for food. The merchant spoke to him tauntingly and said, “You are an idler. You wear the saffron clothes only because you do not want to work. Who will ever feed you? Who cares if you die?”
Just then, a sweet food seller who entered the train offered Swamiji some eatables and said, “I saw you in my dream this morning. The Bhagwan Ram himself introduced you to me.” The haughty merchant was put to shame when he saw all this. He bowed his head down.
19. Swami Vivekananda Taught Significance of Idol Worship:
The Dewan of the state of Alwar (now in Rajasthan), invited Vivekananda to the palace to meet the ruler.
Swamiji reached Alwar in February 1891, met the Maharaja of the place, and discussed with him the various problems of India.
This Maharaja was not a believer in image worship. Some of the times, it was heard he often made fun of Idol worship, demeaning the Vedic rituals to appease the British.
Vivekananda came to discuss problems of people but Mangal Singh wanted to divert the topic.
The ruler Mangal Singh asked Vivekananda: “I have heard you are a well learned man. You can easily earn money. Then why do you beg?”
Vivekananda pointedly replied sticking to the issue he wanted to discuss “Can you tell me, why you ignore your state duties, have lunch and dinners with Englishmen and go on hunting?”
The ruler then took a different tack and asked “Well, Swamiji, all these people worship idols, I don’t believe in idol worship. Can you tell me what will happen to me?”
Vivekananda replied “To each his own belief” and then suddenly asked an oil portrait of the Maharaja removed from the wall. Swamiji asked the Dewan to spit on the portrait, and the latter baulked at the request.
The Dewan said “What are you saying, Swamiji? How can we spit on the portrait of our Maharaja?”
Swamiji replied: ‘It may be his portrait, but the maharajah is not physically inside this portrait. It can’t move or speak like the Maharajah, and yet all of you are unwilling to spit on this portrait. Because you know that spitting on it would mean insulting your Lord, your Maharajah.”
The Swamiji then turned towards the maharajah and said:
“Well, Your Highness. Though you are not present inside this portrait, your men feel they will insult you if they spit on it.
The same applies to people who worship idols made of wood, soil or stone. The idol only reminds them of their god. They do not worship wood, soil or stone, they worship their god through these idols.”
Britishers employed cruel and cunning method of hypocrisy by criticizing Hindu idol worship through their stooges in the form of rulers like Mangal Singh. But never resorted to the same high handedness when they worshiped Jesus in their church (idol worship here too). Britishers used this sly ploy to appease Muslims who were opponents of idol worship and use their Islamic mindset to widen the rift with Hindus.
20. Swami Vivekananda was Able to Pass the Test of His Mother:
Before leaving for abroad for the first time to preach Hinduism, Narendra’s mother wanted to know whether he is all perfect for this mission or not, she invited him for dinner. Vivekananda enjoyed the food that had the additional flavour of his mother’s special love and affection. After the delicious dinner, Vivekananda’s mother offered Vivekananda a dish of fruits and a knife. Vivekananda cut the fruit, ate it and after that his mother said, “Son, can you please give me the knife, I need it.”
Vivekananda immediately responded by giving the knife. Vivekananda’s mother calmly said, “Son, you have passed my test and I heartily bless you for going abroad.”
Vivekananda surprisingly asked, “Mother, how did you test me? I did not understand.”
Mother replied, “Son, when I asked for the knife, I saw how you handed it to me, you gave the knife by holding its sharp edge and kept the wooden handle of knife towards me. This way, I would not get hurt when I take it and this means you took care of me. And this was your test in which you passed. The person who thinks of others welfare rather than thinking about self has got the right of preaching the world and you have got that right. You have all my blessings.” This was the most important mark he left in the hearts of many he met in his lifetime – to think of others before thinking for self.
21. Swami Vivekananda Sowed the Seeds of Scientific Development with Indian Institute of Science:
The RMS Empress of India started from Yokohama for Vancouver in 1893. On board were hundreds of men; among them were Swami Vivekananda and J. N. Tata. They got talking. Tata talked about his plans to import steel technology into India. Vivekananda blessed the endeavour and spoke of the duty of diverting the ascetic spirit in India into useful channels and also emphasized the development of fundamental science within India. Vivekananda took the train to Chicago, to attend the World Parliament of Religions, where he delivered his famous address.
Tata brought steel manufacturing technology to India.
Inspired by the conversation with Vivekananda, Tata began the process of establishing a quality scientific research institution in India. Five years after the voyage, Tata wrote to Vivekananda requesting him to lead the institution.
The Ramakrishna Mission effusively appreciated the efforts of Tata.
Tata passed away in 1904. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore was established in 1909.
22. How Swami Vivekananda Showed His Intellectual Greatness to Siddh Yogi:
It had happened after Swamiji had returned after his great address at World Parliament of Religion. He was wandering near Himalayas some time. In course of the journey he came across a river. The boat had already left the bank so he sat by the shore and waited for the boat to come back. As he was waiting, he saw another Sadhu, a Siddh Yogi (Realized Sage), approaching.
The Sadhu saw Swamiji sitting and asked why he was sitting. To this he replied he was waiting for the boat.
Curiously Sadhu asked “what’s your name?”
Swamiji replied “I am Vivekananda.”
The Sadhu said in a mocking tone “Oh! you are the famous Vivekananda who thinks just by speaking in foreign he has become a great Sage.”
“Could you cross this river? See I can cross the river by walking on it” and he demonstrates his power by walking few meters on the river.
Swamiji showing his respect asked him humbly “Indeed it’s a great power… how much time did the Yogi take to get this power?”
The Sadhu feeling proud replied “It’s not so easy, I had to bear the tough Himalayas for 20 years, devoted myself to (Tapasya) penance and after regular 20 years of extreme Sadhna I got this power.”
To this Swamiji said “You wasted 20 years to learn something that a boat would help me do in 5 minutes. You could have devoted these 20 years serving the destitute the poor. You wasted 20 years to save 5 mins, it’s not wisdom.”
The Sadhu was left speechless.
“True Sadhna lies in service of the poor the destitute.”
Swamiji always said and practiced Jeev Seva is Shiv Seva which means:
“Service to people is Service to God.”
23. Swami Vivekananda Tested His Own Guru RamKrishna Paramhansa:
The influence of Sree Ramkrishna Paramahans in moulding and guiding the character of Swami Vivekananda, is well known.
Vivekananda revered Ramkrishna but he never accepted his teachings at face value, he always questioned him, debated with him, and it was for this reason that he was the latter’s favourite disciple.
Once Ramkrishna claimed that he was so allergic to money, he could never really bear even its touch. In order to test him, Swami Vivekananda placed a coin under his mattress. When Ramkrishna sat on it, he began to experience a stinging pain, grew restless and started to cry out. He raised the mattress and saw the coin, demanded to know who put it there. Vivekananda said he did it just to test Ramakrishna’s claim, the latter was pleased “You are right Narendra, never believe anything blindly, test it”.
24. Swami Vivekananda Had Eidetic Memory:
When Swami Vivekananda lived in Chicago, he used to go to the library and borrow large volumes of books and take them home and return them the next day.
Few days later, the librarian became curious and asked him, “Why do you take out so many books when you can’t read them all in one day?”
Swami Vivekananda replied that he read each and every page of every book. The librarian could not believe it, and so Swami Vivekananda asked her to test him. She opened a book, selected a page and paragraph, and asked him to tell her what was written there. Swami Vivekananda repeated the sentence exactly as it was written in the book, without looking at it. The librarian was astounded and did more tests. Each time Swami Vivekananda repeated the exact words written in the page of the book. Later the librarian discovered that Swami Vivekananda had a photographic memory. He did not have to read books. His eyes, his mind, would capture the image on the page, and whenever he wished, he could just recall a book, a page, a sentence. That was the capacity of his brain and mind.
The librarian was impressed and asked him how he was able to grasp so much information in such a short duration – the secret to his eidetic memory. Swamiji explained her about the nuances of Yog and Vedic Meditation. The curiosity in her mind opened the doors of divine knowledge for her.
25. Swami Vivekananda Ebullience of Knowledge was Key to Attendance of Parliament of the World’s Religions (Chicago 1893):
Incident happened before attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1893).
Few days after his arrival in Chicago, he went to information bureau of the Columbian Exposition to ask about the Parliament of Religions. There he came to know that the parliament of religions has been put off until 1st week of September. He was also told that he needed references from bonafide organization to be admitted to the parliament of religions. And that it was too late to get registered as a delegate.
All of this was a shock to Swamiji. None of his friends, well-wishers, devotees who put lot of effort to raise funds to send him to America were aware of the complete process to attend the World Conference. No one knew the conditions of admission to the parliament of religions. All of them had thought that Swamiji would attend the meeting on that basis of his outstanding personality alone.
Having been in America for a few days, his expense was mounting and his funds depleted. Swamiji was thoughtful. He sent cable (no telephone calls that time) to his friends in madras for help. He did not have enough funds to maintain himself in Chicago until September. Finally, someone advised him to go to Boston where cost of living is less and Swamiji boarded train to Boston.
Swamiji arrived in Boston and stayed at Quincy House. He sent a telegram to Ms Sanborn. She replied to his telegram and welcomed him to stay with her. Ms Sanborn was able to introduce Swamiji to many well-known people from in and around Boston. Swamiji was annoyed by their strange, sometimes awkward questions regarding Hinduism and India. Their knowledge regarding these things was from reading the concocted reports prepared by Christian Missionaries. However, among the few serious-minded people that came to meet Swamiji were Ms Johnson, the Superintendent of prison and J.H Wright Professor of Greek at Harvard University. Swamiji visited the prison on invitation from Ms Johnson and was impressed by the Humanitarian treatment of prisoners.
It was the meeting with J.H. Wright that turned very providential. After several hours of conversation with Swamiji, learning the purpose of his trip to America, Professor Wright insisted that he should represent Hinduism in the Parliament. Swamiji explained his difficulties and said that he had no credentials. Professor Wright taken aback, exclaimed, “Swami ji, to ask you for credentials is like asking the sun about its right to shine”. He took upon himself to get Swamiji introduced to many influential people connected with parliament of religions. Dr Barrows, the Chairman of the committee responsible for selection of delegates happened to be his friend. He wrote a letter to him introducing the Swamiji and said, “Here is a Man who is more learned than all our learned professors put together”.
And what happened during lecture of Swamiji in the parliament became history; non-Vedic people remained Mesmerized by his voice and knowledge, clapping at every sentence he spoke about Hinduism.
26. Swami Vivekananda Turned the Table on Pranksters:
Once when Swamiji was in Britain, two persons followed him and were mocking his peculiar Saffron dress of a Yogi. Swamiji ignored them and was walking patiently. But later these two pranksters approached Swamiji and asked laughing loudly “Are you a fool or a knave?”
Swami stepped forward and looking into their eyes said “I’m standing between the two.”
The fearless Swamiji got the positive attitude practicing Yoga and meditation.
27. Swami Vivekananda Tit for Tat Treatment Towards Haters:
Most of the Britishers had a wrong opinion that Sages are useless people for Britishers because they teach Hindus to believe in their ancient culture and protect their solidarity and freedom. Sages helped in unifying Hindus. So, most of the Britishers were busy maligning Sages and demean Hindu culture, as they knew such things will lower self-esteem of Hindus and keep them enslaved for longer time for English to rule India.
Once Vivekananda was travelling via a train. This was the pre-Independence time. He took a second-class ticket and was travelling with a British army officer. Only these two people were there in a closed compartment.
That Britisher hated Hindu Sages. He was strong proponent of Christian Missionaries.
Vivekananda Ji wanted to take a nap. He just went for it. The British officer was restless from the time Vivekananda got into the compartment. He took Vivekananda’s shoes and threw them off the window. After sometime Vivekananda got up and realized that the Britisher had messed up with his shoes. He was quite said nothing.
The officer smiled and thought, he did not speak as he is scared of the British and would not know even a single word of English, and was overjoyed at his “Triumph”!
Now after some time, this Britisher went to sleep; Vivekananda took his coat and threw it off the window. After a while, the Britisher woke up and realized that his coat was missing. He asked Vivekananda where his coat was.
Vivekananda with glaring eyes towards him said, “Your Coat has may gone to search my boots”!
Reply from Vivekananda baffled this Britisher.
28. Swami Vivekananda’s First Conversation with Ramkrishna Paramhansa :
As a young man, Narendra was searching for a guru or a guide. He used to meet many sages, sadhus and wise people, but he was impressed with none. So, he continued his journey until one day in Varanasi he met Ramkrishna Paramhansa. After spending some time in his surrounding, closely watching Ramkrishna, Swamiji instantly realized that this is the Guru he is looking for; who can guide him through.
In the evening, Vivekananda walked down to the hut of Ramkrishna and knocked the door. After many attempts, someone from inside asked, ‘Who are you?’ Vivekananda didn’t even take a second and replied,’ If I knew who am I, I would not have come here’. Ramkrishna after listening to this called inside the hut.
Swami Vivekananda in his own words explained the incident of first Interaction with Ramkrishna Paramhansa in detail:
I heard of this man (Ramkrishna Paramahamsa) and I went to hear him. He looked just like an ordinary man, with nothing remarkable about him. Well I sang the song, shortly after, he suddenly rose and raking me by the hand led me to the northern veranda, shutting the door behind him. It was locked from the outside; so, we were alone, I thought he would give me some private instructions. But to my utter surprise he began to shed profuse tears of joy as he held my band, and addressing me most tenderly as one long familiar to him, said “Ah, you come so late! How could you be so unkind to keep me waiting so long! My ears are burn listening to the profane talks of worldly people, Oh, how I yearn to unburden my mind to one who can appreciate my innermost experience.”
I was altogether taken back by his conduct. “Who is this man whom I have come to see?” I thought he must be stark mad. He went back to his room, and bringing some sweets, sugar-candy and butter, began to feed me with his own hands. In vain did I say again and again,” Please give the sweets to me. I shall share them with my friends!”. He simply said,” They may have some afterwards,” and desisted only after I had eaten all. Then he seized me by the hand and said,” Promise that you will come alone to me at an early date.” I had to say “Yes” and returned with him to my friends.
I sat and watched him. There was nothing wrong in his words, movements or behaviour towards others. Rather from his spiritual words and ecstatic states, he seemed to be a man of genuine renunciation, and there was a marked consistency between his words and Life, He used the simplest language, and I thought, “Can this man be a great teacher?” I crept near him and asked him the question which I had asked so often, have you seen God, Sir?” “I have I see him just as I see you here, only in a much intense sense,” “God can be realised” he went on. “One can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you. But who cares to do so? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children, for wealth or property, but who does for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him, He surely manifests Himself.” That impressed me at once.
For the first time, I found a man who dared to say that he had seen God, that religion was a reality to be felt, to be sensed in an infinitely more intense way than we can sense the world. As I heard these things from his lips, I could not but believe that he was saying them not like an ordinary preacher but from the depths of his own realizations. But I could not reconcile his words with his strange conduct with me. So, I concluded that he must be a monomaniac. Yet I could not help acknowledging the magnitude of his renunciation. ‘He may be a Madman,” I thought, but only the fortunate few can have that renunciation. Even if insane this man is the holiest of the holy, a true Saint and for that alone, deserves the reverential homage of Mankind?” With such conflicting thoughts I bowed before him and begged his leave to return to Calcutta.
29. Swami Vivekananda’s Honesty and Innocence:
Once Ramkrishna Paramhansa asked the disciples of his ashram to steal a little rice from their own home with a condition that nobody sees them stealing.
Next day almost everyone proudly came with rice in the ashram as they had completed the task assigned to them by the Guru, but Swami Vivekananda came empty handed.
On being asked the reason, he told that how much ever he tried, he always saw himself stealing the rice. He couldn’t do because however harder he tried to hide his deeds from the world, he knew his self is witnessing it. So there never exists a situation when you can hide your deeds from everyone, because you know what you are doing and it can be never hidden from yourself.
Ramkrishna Paramhansa knew that Vivekananda’s honesty and innocence will make him his chief disciple one day.
30. Swami Vivekananda on Conflict of Thoughts to Choose Ramkrishna’s Mission or Family:
This is an excerpt of a Lecture which Swamiji delivered at the Shakespeare Club of Pasadena, California, on January 27, 1900.
It shows one of the agonizing moments Swamiji went through to practice penance and self-less devotion towards countrymen and people around the world, while highlighting the hardships he went through to realize the dream of Ramkrishna Paramhansa of serving the people around.
“…Meanwhile, I have been asked by your president and some of the ladies and gentlemen here to tell them something about my work and what I have been doing. It may be interesting to some here, but not so much so to me. In fact, I do not quite know how to tell it to you, for this will have been the first time in my life that I have spoken on that subject.”
“… Then came a terrible time — for me personally and for all the other boys as well. But to me came such misfortune! On the one side was my mother, my brothers. My father died at that time, and we were left poor. Oh, very poor, almost starving all the time! I was the only hope of the family, the only one who could do anything to help them. I had to stand between my two worlds. On the one hand, I would have to see my mother and brothers starve unto death; on the other, I had believed that this man’s ideas (Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa) were for the good of India and the world, and had to be preached and worked out. And so, the fight went on in my mind for days and months. Sometimes I would pray for five or six days and nights together without stopping. Oh, the agony of those days! I was living in hell! The natural affections of my boy’s heart drawing me to my family — I could not bear to see those who were the nearest and dearest to me suffering. On the other hand, there’s nobody to sympathise with me. Who would sympathise with the imaginations of a boy?”
“… Never mind! We plunged into the breach. I believed, as I was living, that these ideas were going to rationalise India and bring better days to many lands and foreign races. With that belief, came the realisation that it is better that a few persons suffer than that such ideas should die out of the world. What if a mother or two brothers die? It is a sacrifice. Let it be done. No great thing can be done without sacrifice. The heart must be plucked out and the bleeding heart placed upon the altar. Then great things are done. Is there any other way? None have found it. I appeal to each one of you, to those who have accomplished any great thing. Oh, how much it has cost! What agony! What torture! What terrible suffering is behind every deed of success in every life! You know that, all of you.”
“… So, things went on and on for ten years without any light, but with my health breaking all the time. It tells on the body in the long run: sometimes one meal at nine in the evening, another time a meal at eight in the morning, another after two days, another after three days — and always the poorest and roughest thing. Who is going to give to the beggar the good things he has? And then, they have not much in India. And most of the time walking, climbing snow peaks, sometimes ten miles of hard mountain climbing, just to get a meal. They eat unleavened bread in India, and sometimes they have it stored away for twenty or thirty days, until it is harder than bricks; and then they will give a square of that. I would have to go from house to house to collect sufficient for one meal. And then the bread was so hard, it made my mouth bleed to eat it. Literally, you can break your teeth on that bread. Then I would put it in a pot and pour over its water from the river. For months and months, I existed that way — of course it was telling on the health.”
It is not just meditation and doing Seva that makes one Swami Vivekananda but rigorous selfless hardships, followed by series of tough times to deal with fearlessly that carves Swamiji out of an ordinary man.
31. Swami Vivekananda Prophesied About a Guru of His Visitor:
Mr. Dickinson was dying drowning in a swimming pool as a 5-year-old boy in Nebraska when he started to have a vision, where he saw a man with tranquil eyes and a reassuring smile; then suddenly he was pulled out of the pool, saved by his brother’s companion.
12 years later, he saw Swami Vivekananda entering the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
“He is the man from my vision” the boy to his mother.
They went and met Swamiji after his speech.
Swamiji met Dickinson with a smile like meeting an old friend and read his thoughts and spoke – ‘No my son, I am not your guru’. Your teacher will come later and will give you a silver cup!
After years later, Paramhansa Yoganand gave a silver cup to Mr. Dickinson as a Christmas gift. He waited 43 years for this day to happen which Swami Vivekananda had told him more than 4 decades ago!
32. Swami Vivekananda Started Wearing Saffron Turban After This Incident:
Human body has limitations. If you sit on one place and do meditation then you might remain alive for several days without food in this Kaliyug, but when you take hardships and execute work using strength of your body, it becomes very difficult to remain alive without food or water for even couple of days.
Once Swamiji was in Rajasthan, walking in the desert, thirsty, hungry and in pain.
Scorching heat was taking a toll on his materialistic body. He tried hard and walked till the time his body allowed.
Swamiji after some time was barely able to walk, and he fell down. That’s when he saw some village women carrying water in Matkis (Pots).
One of the women rushed towards him and said “Drink some water son, drink some water” and gave her saffron dupatta (sort of long scarf) and advised “Wear this as a Turban” to cool off his head from further heat “It will help you to beat the Sun.”
Swamiji filled with gratitude and tears in his eyes, knew that Mother Durga came to his rescue in this scorching heat said “Maa I know it’s you. You always come to my rescue.”
He believed she was Maa Durga (one Avatar of Goddess Parvati). From that day onwards, Swamiji started wearing the Saffron turban.
33. An Incident That Reminded Swami Vivekananda Teachings of Ramkrishna Paramhansa:
Just before the Swamiji’s departure for the West, the Maharaja of Khetri, who had already become his initiated disciple, accompanied the Swami as far as Jaipur. On this occasion the Maharaja was being entertained one evening with music by a nautch-girl.
The Swami was in his own tent when the music commenced.
The Maharaja sent a message to the Swamiji asking him to come and join the musical performance.
The Swamiji sent word in return that as a Sanyasi he could not comply with such a request. The singer was deeply grieved when she heard this, and sang in reply, as it were, a song of the great Vaishnav Sage Surdas. Through the still evening air, to the accompaniment of music, the girl’s melodious voice ascended to the ears of the Swamiji.
She was singing this beautiful bhajan:
Beautiful Bhajan by Surdas:
O Prabhu, look not upon my evil qualities!
Thy name O Prabhu, is Same-sightedness.
One piece of iron is in the image in the temple,
And another is the knife in the hand of the butcher;
But when they touch the philosopher’s stone,
Both alike turn to gold.
So, O Prabhu, look not upon my evil qualities!
One drop of water is in the sacred Jumna,
And another is foul in the ditch by the roadside;
But when they fall into the Ganga
Both alike become holy.
So, Prabhu, do not look upon my evil qualities!
Thy name, O Prabhu, is Same-sightedness
( Original Devnagari Text of Surdas Bhajan:
प्रभू मोरे अवगुण चित न धरो ।
समदरसी है नाम तिहारो चा पारस गुण अवगुण नहिं चितवत कंचन करत खरो ॥
एक नदिया एक नाल कहावत मैलो ही नीर भरो ।
जब दौ मिलकर एक बरन भई सुरसरी नाम परो ॥
एक जीव एक ब्रह्म कहावे सूर श्याम झगरो ।
अब की बेर मोंहे पार उतारो नहिं पन जात टरो ॥ )
The Swami was completely overwhelmed. The woman and her meaningful song at once reminded him that the same Divinity dwells in the high and the low, the rich and the poor in the entire creation. The Swami could no longer resist the request, and took his seat in the hall of audience to meet the wishes of the Maharaja. Speaking of this incident later, the Swami said, that incident removed the scales from my eyes. Seeing that all are indeed the manifestations of the One, I could no longer condemn anybody.
34. No Farce Sights for Few Moments of Eyeful Pleasure but Inner Happiness of Meeting True Human:
One of the western disciples of Swami Vivekanandaji was very keen to show him beautiful sights.
But Vivekananda who always wanted people to develop themselves into great personalities curtly replied “No sightseeing… Do not show me sights… I’ve seen the Himalayas. I will not go 10 steps to see a beautiful sight but I will go 1000 miles to see a true human being!”
35. Swami Vivekananda In Cairo:
As told by Madame Emma Calve:
One day we lost our way in Cairo. We found ourselves in a squalid, ill smelling street, where half clad women lolled from the windows and sprawled on doorsteps.
The Swamiji noticed nothing until a particularly noisy group of women on a bench in the shadow of a dilapidated building began laughing and calling to him. One of the ladies of our party tried to hurry us along, but the Swamiji detached himself gently from our group and approached the women on the bench.
“Poor children!” he said. “Poor creatures! They have put their divinity in their beauty. Look at them now!” He began to weep.
The women were silenced and abashed.
One of them leaned forward and kissed the hem of his robe, murmuring brokenly in Spanish, “Humbre de Dios, Humbre de Dios (Man of God!).
Another, with sudden gesture of modesty and fear, threw her arm in front of her face as though she would screen her shrinking soul from those pure eyes.
This marvellous journey proved to be almost the last occasion on which I was to see the swami.
-An Excerpt from the book Vivekananda – East meets West by Swami Chetanananda.
36. Swami Vivekananda Showed Rockfeller The Path to Philanthropy:
Swamiji was a Realized Being, he can easily know the past of a person.
In Chicago, Swamiji told John D. Rockefeller much of his past that was not known to anyone but Rockfeller himself and made him understand that the money he had already accumulated was not his, that he was only a channel and his true duty was to do good to the world, God had given him all his wealth in order that he might have an opportunity to help and do good to the people.
Rockefeller was annoyed that anyone dared to talk to him that way and tell him what to do. He left the room in irritation, not even saying good-bye. But about a week after, again without being announced, he entered Swamiji’s study and threw on his desk a paper which told of his plans to donate an enormous sum of money toward the financing of a public institution.
“Well there you are”, he said. “You must be satisfied now and you can thank me for it.”
Swamiji didn’t even lift his eyes and did not move.
Then taking the paper, he quietly read it, saying, “It is for you to thank me.” That was all. Rest is history.
This was Rockefeller’s first ever largest donation to the public welfare.
37. Swami Vivekananda Saved His Friend from Further Humiliation:
Once Swamiji and one of his friends were travelling through Ship, they asked for a newspaper to read. Ship’s crew member provided newspaper to them.
Swamiji goes out for a while to another chamber of the Ship.
Due to heavy breeze and wind, while reading newspaper his friend slips the newspaper accidentally into sea. One of the Crew members came to know about this, he gets angry and scolds Swamiji’s friend in abusive manner.
After some time Swamiji returned, his friend informed him about the incident and how he was insulted. Swamiji asked for a pen and paper, he wrote down the entire newspaper very fast. The detailing was so correct that even comas and full stops were placed as it were on newspaper.
Swamiji handed over the paper to the crew and said that this is what your newspaper contained if you doubt, you can check it there is not a single detail missing in it. The Crew was speechless.
38. Swami Vivekananda was Always Proud of Indian Hindu Customs:
After learning about greatness and in-depth knowledge of Swamiji, he was invited by many famous personalities.
Once Swamiji was invited to have lunch with the then British Prime Minister, they sat on the same table and as the food was served, the prime minister started eating food with the help of cutlery but Swamiji did not care and started eating food with his bare hands.
The prime minister looked at him amusingly with a lot of contempt and finally asked him bluntly that why do Indian in this modern era still eat with their bare hands, To which Swamiji replied “Because no one has used my hands before to eat” and the prime minister was left dumbstruck and speechless.
39. “My dear Brothers and Sisters…” The Golden Words of Swami Vivekanandaji Set the Starting Tone for World Leaders:
Other speakers who attended World Parliament of Religions in Chicago started their speech with “My dear ladies and gentlemen…” and continued with appreciation of their religion while ignoring what it gave to the world.
Vivekananda addressed the same audience with “My dear Brothers and Sisters…”
As Swamiji said these initial words to start the speech, the entire hall was filled with continuous clapping for 2 minutes. It was the compassion with which Swamiji spoke that touched the hearts of the people there. It never happened again in the World history that mere 5 words listening to a first-time speech could get applaud for 120 non-stop seconds. People were gleefully clapping, some with tears in their eyes. They were mesmerized with the selfless love of a Hindu Sage who came to discuss the endless contribution of Hinduism to the world.
The speech was not mere appreciation of Hindu dharma but actually insight to how Hinduism shaped the world and kept the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam(World is my family) alive.
After completion of his speech a lady asked, “Does really deep desire can let me achieve anything in the world?”
Swamiji replied yes. She asked can I remove this mountain from my sight right now.?
Swamiji said it is very simple job just close your eyes and say in your mind that “You are not here, you longer exist in my eyes……” to the mountain and the mountain will be gone.
She did exactly same hesitatingly and when she opened her eyes the mountain was still there. Just when she was opening her eyes she said “I know you were here”.
She saw the mountain again. She asked Swamiji why the mountain was still there, Swamiji replied whatever you had wished happened. Maybe you were saying to mountain that you no longer exist but internally you know that it will be here only and that’s what you said after opening your eyes. Your conviction of seeing mountain was higher than not seeing it. And that’s what happened; you saw the mountain – what you have deeply desired.
- The Complete Work of Swami Vivekananda
“In a day, when you don’t come across any problems – you can be sure that you are travelling in a wrong path”