Our ability to perform any task or engage in any activity with quality requires that we are adequately trained and prepared for the same. One cannot decide to jump into the ocean without having first learned how to swim. Whether it is the world of business or that of service or that of the world of monasticism, one requires the preparatory training. This training requires suitably qualified people guiding and mentoring the student. The more the training and better the teacher, better will be quality of the trainee. This is especially true in the world of monks and spirituality. Both the teacher and the disciple have to be prepared and ready for this intense training. It is a different kind of life – a life of constant inquiry, of volitional poverty and abstinence, of single-minded pursuit of self discovery and knowledge seeking, and of service to all of humanity.
The training of young Narendra was no different. The personal supervision and oversight of an extraordinary teacher like Sri Ramakrishna was critical in the transitioning of Narendra into Swami Vivekananda. Living with the Master was itself a kind of austerity and spiritual discipline for Narendra. He had to rise beyond all known ideas and constantly challenge himself to go beyond the limitations of the senses. It also demanded a high level of concentration and character of the highest order to follow the Master’s thoughts and words. The rationalist in Narendra was challenged by the ecstasy and experience of divine emotion constantly. The Master was intimate and tender, but at the same time demanding of his favourite disciple. Their relationship was filial, natural, human and free from egoism. Referring to those days Narendra used to say, “It is impossible to give others any idea of the ineffable joy we derived from the presence of the Master. It is really beyond our understanding how he could train us, without our knowing it, through fun and play, and thus mould our spiritual life. As the master wrestler proceeds with great caution and restraint with the beginner, now empowering him in the struggle with great difficulty as it were, again allowing himself to be defeated to strengthen the pupil’s self-confidence – in exactly the same manner did Sri Ramakrishna handle us. Realizing that the Atman, the source of infinite strength, exists in every individual, pigmy though he might be, he was able to see the potential giant in all. Holding up that bright picture to view, he would speak highly of us and encourage us. Again he would warn us lest we should obstruct this future consummation by becoming entangled in worldly desires, and moreover he would keep us under control by carefully observing even the minute details of our life. All this was done silently and unobtrusively. That was the secret of his training of the disciples and his molding of their lives.”
This training also did not mean that Narendra had to give up either his boyish enthusiasm or his leonine spirit. He was like a sporting child in the presence of an indulgent parent. Though he held his master in the highest esteem, Ramakrishna allowed him to doubt him. The Master would also say, “Do not accept anything because I have said so, but test everything for yourself. It is not in assent or dissent that the goal is to be attained, but in actual and concrete realization.” Narendra was possibly the only disciple to fathom, understand and appreciate the greatness of his master while at the same challenge him and his ideas. In this relationship of the master and disciple, one can see how a person who is highly individualistic and well-informed could also be shaped with love, the power of experience and convictions that transcend ordinary human thought. It is the experience of this special relationship that shaped Narendra into becoming an extraordinary teacher in later life.