Leadership is indeed a great responsibility. To lead is not only to have a vision, but also inspire others to share the same vision. This would be easy if one were to lead and inspire people in the world of business or politics, but leading and inspiring others to share the vision of self-realization by willfully and cheerfully accepting poverty and celibacy will surely require a special person. Sri Ramakrishna was no ordinary soul. He not only had to inspire lay devotees to lead an ethical and religious life, but also had to build a team of young men who could take his message to the world outside. He had to ensure that these young men would work as a collective to achieve the larger intent that he had in mind, even after his death. His terminal sickness and impending death necessitated that he not only train each person individually, but also have a leader who would be fit enough to don the role and be trusted, loved and admired by the others.
Keeping all this in mind, Sri Ramakrishna was quietly preparing Narendra to be the leader of the group of youngsters who would carry out this mission. One day he called Narendra and told him, “I leave them in your care. See that they practice spiritual exercises even after my passing away and that they do not return home.” The relationship between a Guru and a Shishya is something very special. Not everyone is lucky to find a true Guru in one’s life. The love, affection, guidance and source of inner strength that a Guru gives his disciple can only be experienced and not explained. Words indeed would be a very limited way of expressing this special relationship. The relationship between Sri Ramakrishna and Narendra was all this and much more. Narendra saw more than a Guru in his teacher. For him, Ramakrishna was God incarnate and he worshiped him. His words and thoughts formed the basis of Narendra’s inner spiritual growth. The last days of Ramakrishna were days of intense physical suffering for him, yet days of bliss too, for he felt that he had fulfilled his mission on earth and was leaving a number of youthful, all-renouncing, determined disciples, who would carry his message across the world. His great hope was in Narendra and he was determined to use as much time as he could to mould and prepare him. He had already started giving hints of his impending death to his disciples and devotees.
Naren was looked upto by the other disciples because of Sri Ramakrishna’s estimate of his spiritual worth. He was also the most intellectual of them all. He was unique in the sense that he had a very high degree of rational thinking, while being very devotional at the same time. He could explain both his master’s teachings and monastic practices in a way in which both the believer and the layperson could understand and assimilate. He fired up his brother disciples and others around him by the power of his personality. Sri Ramakrishna encouraged this central position of Naren in many ways. He told his disciples that Naren was their leader, and made them feel that the spiritual understanding of his chief disciple should be their guide in the days to come.
A few days before his passing away, the Master called all his disciples except Naren and told them that they were to pay full attention to Naren and to do nothing that could cause any discomfort to him. He then called Naren separately and committed all his other disciples to his charge. Being weighed down by his illness and unable to speak, he wrote on a piece of paper that “Narendra will teach others”. Three or four days before his mahasamadhi, he called Naren and looked steadfastly at him and entered into deep meditation. Naren felt as though a subtle force resembling an electric shock had entered his body and he lost outer consciousness. When Naren awoke, Sri Ramakrishna told him, “Naren, today I have given you my all and have become a fakir, a penniless beggar. By the force of the power transmitted by me, great things will be done by you; only after that will you go where you came from.”
And thus was born a great leader, monk, spiritual teacher and inspirer of men who not only changed the course of India’s destiny but that of the world as well.