Whenever an effort is made to explore and understand the unfathomable depth and profundity of the life of Swami Vivekananda, the spiritual luminary of many facets, a new perspective reveals itself, and then one realizes how little one can comprehend about his great life. But this much can be said that his life was perfectly and impeccably a synthesis of the four yogas that he advocated—Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Raja.
Swami Vivekananda had razor-sharp knowledge, experienced many soaring visions, was a champion of selfless action, possessed a majestic and graceful form, exhibited boundless courage and was virtuously peerless right from childhood. Yet, what appeals most when one ponders through his complete works is the personification of divinity in his personality that issued forth from his spontaneous inclination towards God.
An effort is made in this article to focus on the Bhakti aspect of Swami Vivekananda, the ‘tender devotion’ that was inherent in him, about which Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Himself once remarked after minutely observing the physical features of his foremost disciple, thus: ‘Your eyes show that you are not a dry Jnani. In you tender devotion and deep knowledge are blended.’1 Indeed, as one explores Swami Vivekananda’s life meticulously, one is bound to realize his expression of ardent devotion, explicit or implicit though it might be.
Devotion from childhood
The first education on bhakti that Narendra received was from his pious mother. It was a routine practice every noon for her or another member of the family to read tales from the epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata in their home. In the small congregation that gathered in the household, the usually turbulent Naren would be found sitting quietly throughout the reading and listening with rapt attention. On other occasions, his maternal grandmother used to narrate many anecdotes from the Bhagavatam. Certainly, the stories from the epics and Puranas, the ideals and values ingrained in them, had a tremendous influence on Narendra. In all probability, most of the stories that Swami Vivekananda later recounted to his audiences during his talks must have been recollections of the same tales that he had heard from his mother and grandmother. He profusely narrated stories of Dhruva, Prahlada and other Bhaktas to impress upon the extraordinary power and charm of bhakti.
Once Naren was told that Hanuman lived in banana-groves. Young Naren was so anxious to meet the monkey chief that he asked if he could see him if he went there. An optimistic reply so as not to dishearten the child was given. But the boy went to a bananagrove near his home and prayed to Hanuman to show himself. He had to be later consoled by saying that Hanuman must have gone on some urgent mission of Sri Rama!
Another interesting incident in his childhood reflects his intense devotion coupled with immense power of concentration. As a boy, he was captivated by the life of Sri Rama to such a great extent that one day, along with his friend Hari, he bought a clay image of Sita-Rama, went to a room on the terrace of the house, securely closed the door and sat for meditation. After a frantic search everywhere by the members of the family, the door of the room was finally flung open. Hari at once fled down the stairs, but Naren, an adept in meditation from his very birth, sat motionless in deep contemplation before the flower-decked image. He was probably five or six years old then!
Yet, as a child, he was naughty and beyond control on occasions. The only remedy that the mother found to pacify him was to pour cold water on his head while chanting the name of Shiva in his ears or threaten him saying, ‘Shiva will not let you go to Kailas if you do not behave.’2 Only such a devotional reproach would quieten Narendra and bring him back to his joyous self again! Equally devoted was Narendra to his mother at whose feet his devotion to God blossomed. Throughout his life, Narendra loved his mother with all his heart and remembered her precepts. He used to say, ‘He who cannot literally worship his mother can never become great. . . I am indebted to my mother for the efflorescence of my knowledge.’3 Most certainly, that blossoming of knowledge had devotion at its very root.
Devotion to the Great Master
While Sri Ramakrishna’s brilliant intellect was hidden under the cover of devotion, Swami Vivekananda’s devotional heart lay hidden under knowledge. Perhaps Swami Vivekananda’s own words are the best guide to discerning his true nature. Comparing his own spiritual attitude with that of his Master, Swami Vivekananda once remarked, ‘He was all bhakti without; but within he was all Jnana. I am all Jnana without; but in my heart all is Bhakti.’4
Swami Vivekananda’s devotion to the Great Master was a reflection of the immense love that the Master showered upon him. He said: ‘Shri Ramakrishna was the only person who, ever since he met me, believed in me uniformly throughout . . . It was his unflinching trust in me and love that bound me to him forever.’5 The Master’s training of Naren was a gradual process that led the disciple from doubt to conviction. Naren’s regard for the Master progressively increased a thousandfold and he accepted the Master as the highest ideal of spirituality.
An incident that exemplifies Narendra’s veneration of his Master, an expression of unconditional bhakti, is worth mentioning here. On one occasion, Sri Ramakrishna’s attitude to Narendra suddenly seemed to change and he began to treat him with utter indifference. Narendra initially thought that the Master was in a spiritual mood. But on his next few visits too, the Master’s mood towards Narendra did not change. At the end of about a month, the Master asked Narendra, ‘Though I do not exchange a single word with you, you still continue to come! How is that?’ Narendranath replied, ‘Do you think that I come here only to listen to you? I love you and want to see you. This is why I come to Dakshineswar.’ Shri Ramakrishna was highly pleased at the reply and said, ‘I was only testing you to see if you would stay away when I did not show love and attention. Only one of your calibre could have put up with such neglect and indifference. Anyone else would have left me long ago, never to come again.’6 So intense, passionate and adoring was Swami Vivekananda’s Guru bhakti! Narendra cherished Sri Ramakrishna as his Master primarily because he found in him supreme devotion and truth. Later, he exalted his Master as the best among Avataras.
Swami Vivekananda admired the manner in which Sri Ramakrishna reconciled bhakti with service. Once at Dakshineshwar, the Master said to the devotees: ‘How foolish to speak of compassion! Man is an insignificant worm crawling on the earth—and he is to show compassion to others! This is absurd. It must not be compassion, but service to all.
Recognize them as God’s manifestations and serve them.’ Only Narendra understood the implication of the Master’s words. Leaving the room, he said to the others:
What a wonderful light I have discovered in those words of the Master! How beautifully he has reconciled the ideal of bhakti with the knowledge of Vedanta, generally interpreted as dry, austere, and incompatible with human sentiments! What a grand, natural, and sweet synthesis! . . . If it be the will of God, I shall one day proclaim this noble truth before the world at large.7
Cossipore Garden House, where Sri Ramakrishna spent his last days, was a place of intense spiritual practice for Swami Vivekananda. Sri Ramakrishna sometimes would send the young disciple to meditate and sometimes would ask him to sing devotional songs. While singing, waves of rapturous love for God would sweep Naren, carrying him to realms of ecstasy. Days and nights were spent in meditation, worship and prayer. The garden house transformed itself into a holy place of great yajna and sadhana, coupled with dedicated and devoted service to the Guru.
Devotion to the Divine Mother
As a youth, Narendra remained a staunch intellectual for a long time until he met the Great Master. In reply to Narendra’s question to Sri Ramakrishna on whether he should accept the Divine Mother just because he came to meet the Master, Sri Ramakrishna prophesied, ‘Before long, you will not only acknowledge my beloved Mother, but weep in Her name.’8 For, Sri Ramakrishna knew that the concept of God as Mother would make Narendra’s spiritual life fuller and richer. Swami Vivekananda observed in his later life,
How I used to hate Kali and all Her ways! That was the ground of my six years’ fight—that I would not accept Her. But I had to accept Her at last. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa dedicated me to Her, and now I believe that She guides me in every little thing I do, and does with me what She will! . . . She made a slave of me. . . And Ramakrishna Paramahamsa made me over to her.9
And how did the Divine Mother make a slave of him as Sri Ramakrishna had predicted? Familiar though it may be, it is fitting and relevant to narrate here the incident that led Swami Vivekananda to experience the living presence of the Divine Mother and forget all about the mundane things of life. And significantly this was the incident that revealed the zealous devotion that was inherent in Narendra. It was the point of time when Narendra’s father died suddenly, leaving the family in straitened circumstances. Not only was the family left with no means of sustenance, but there were also debts to be paid. Narendra did all that was honestly possible to get employment, but fortune was not in his favour. At last he went to Dakshineswar and entreated Sri Ramakrishna to pray to the Divine Mother for the removal of the sufferings of his family. In later life Swami Vivekananda recounted thus:
He (Sri Ramakrishna) said,
‘My boy, I can’t make such demands. But why don’t you go and ask the Mother yourself? All your sufferings are due to your disregard of Her’.
I said, ‘I do not know the Mother; you please speak to Her on my behalf. You must.’ He replied tenderly,
‘My dear boy, I have done so again and again. But you do not accept Her, so She does not grant my prayer. All right, it is Tuesday [a say sacred to Divine Mother]—go to the Kali temple tonight, prostrate yourself before the Mother, and ask of Her any boon you like. It shall be granted. She is Knowledge Absolute, the Inscrutable Power of Brahman. By Her mere will She has given birth to this world. Everything is in Her power to give.’
I believed every word and eagerly waited for the night. About 9 o’clock, the Master asked me to go to the temple. As I went, I was filled with a divine intoxication. My feet were unsteady. My heart was leaping in anticipation of the joy of beholding the living Goddess and hearing Her words. I was full of the idea. Reaching the temple, as I cast my eyes upon the image, I actually found that the Divine Mother was living and conscious, the perennial fountain of Divine Love and Beauty. I was caught in a surging wave of devotion and love. In an ecstasy of joy I prostrated myself again and again before the Mother and prayed, ‘Mother, give me discrimination! Give me renunciation! Give me knowledge and devotion! Grant that I may have the uninterrupted vision of Thee!’
A serene peace reigned in my soul. The world was forgotten. Only the Divine Mother shone within my heart.10
Coming to know of this, the Master asked Narendra to again go to the temple and offer his prayer. But before the living presence of the Divine Mother, even on the second and third attempts, Narendra could not ask for anything but knowledge and devotion!
Glimpses of Devotional Ecstasy
An incident at Cossipore reveals the devotional ecstasy that Swami Vivekananda experienced now and then. Sri Ramakrishna initiated Narendra with the name of Rama, telling him that it was the Mantra which he had received from his own Guru. Narendra’s emotions were tremendously stirred. Towards evening, he began to circle the house, repeating the name of the Lord, ‘Rama! Rama!’ in a loud and animated voice. Outward consciousness had apparently left him, and he was full of ecstatic fire. 11
On another occasion during his travels, Swami Vivekananda announced his desire to make a pilgrimage along with pilgrims to the great image of Siva in the cave of Amarnath and asked Sister Nivedita to accompany him. Observing every rite of the pilgrimage as he came along, besides telling his beads and practicing other austerities with zeal and devotion, Swami Vivekananda was in a state of devotional ecstasy when they reached Amarnath. As he entered the cavern, his whole frame was overcome with divine consciousness and he seemed to be going through a profound mystical experience.
Sister Nivedita recounts thus:
And now, as he entered the Cave, it seemed to him, as if he saw Shiva made visible before him. Amidst the buzzing, swarming noise of the pilgrim-crowd, and the overhead fluttering of the pigeons, he knelt and prostrated two or three times, unnoticed; and then, afraid lest emotion might overcome him, he rose and silently withdrew. He said afterwards that in these brief moments he had received from Shiva the gift of Amar—not to die, until he himself had willed it. . . And for the rest of his life, he cherished the memory of how he had entered a mountaincave, and came face to face there with the Lord Himself.12
Following the pilgrimage to Amarnath, Swami Vivekananda’s devotion became concentrated on the Divine Mother and his absorption on Her became more and more intense. During one of these days, he once told some disciples that ‘wherever he turned he was conscious of the presence of the Mother, as if She were a person in the room’.13 It was then that he wrote the poem ‘Kali The Mother’ in fervent inspiration. Shortly thereafter, he visited Kshir Bhavani leaving instructions that none of his disciples were to follow him. Here again, he practiced austerities, worshipped the Divine Mother with offerings, and told his beads like any other devoted pilgrim. When he returned after about a week, according to Sister Nivedita, he appeared before his disciples in a ‘transfigured presence’. Blessing them all with marigolds that he had offered to the Mother, he said at last, ‘It is all “Mother” now! . . . Everything is gone. Now it’s only “Mother Mother!”14
While relating about the experience to a disciple after his return to Belur, Swami Vivekananda revealed about the ‘divine voice’ that he had heard. He said,
Since hearing that divine voice, I cherish no more plans . . . as Mother wills, so it will be . . . Whether it be internal or external, if you actually hear with your ears such a disembodied voice, as I have done, can you deny it and call it false? Divine Voices are actually heard, just as you and I are talking.15
Devotion through Music and Poetry
To Swami Vivekananda, music and poetry were wonderful instruments of adoration of the Divine. Gifted with a delightful voice that was so lively and sweet, whenever Swami Vivekananda rendered a devotional song, the spirit of it used to become incarnate as it were in cadence and beauty. The captivating singing of Swami Vivekananda revealed the fervent devotion that was natural in him. In fact, it was through music that his first communion with Sri Ramakrishna took place. The latter would often go into Samadhi on listening to Narendra’s enchanting singing. Swami Saradananda relates one such incident: ‘Many devotees gathered together at the temporary residence of the Master at Shyampukur and were enjoying in his company the bliss and the talks and songs about the Divine. Narendranath began singing devotional songs . . . All were charmed by those exceedingly melodious vibrations of tunes coupled with remarkable spiritual fervor, and lost themselves completely in them. The Master was sometimes having ecstasy . . . Some of the devotees lost consciousness in deep spiritual emotions. There flowed in the room a strong current of bliss, which was almost palpable.’16 Poetry was another powerful medium for Swami Vivekananda to communicate his cherished feelings of divinity and devotion. Revealing the humane, passionate elements of his personality, the hymns of Swami Vivekananda form an integral relationship with his religious viewpoints and contribute to the spirit of Bhakti that was inherent in him. Quite ardently he muses in ‘A Hymn to Sri Ramakrishna’,
Devotion, aspiration and worship—all breakers of worldly bondage—are indeed sufficient to take one to the Supreme Truth . . .Thou art my sole refuge, O friend of the lowly and the lost!17
Expressions of devout thoughts are seen in his ‘A Hymn to the Divine Mother’, where Swami Vivekananda yearns for Her blessings thus:
Mother Supreme! Oh, may Thy gracious face Never be turned away from me, Thy child! . . . —the abode
Of fearlessness, worshipped by service true
There, at those blessed feet I take refuge! . . . She, My Mother, She, The All, is my resort . . . 18
The ‘burning devotion’ in him is further portrayed in his inspiring poem ‘A Hymn to Lord Shiva’:
Salutation to Shiva! whose glory
Is immeasurable, who resembles sky
In clearness, to whom are attributed
The phenomena of all creation,
The preservation and dissolution
Of the universe! May the devotion,
The burning devotion of this my life
Attach itself to Him, to Shiva, who,
Is Lord of all, with none transcending Him.19
The inner workings of the mind of a seerpoet that Swami Vivekananda was are indeed beyond the reach of ordinary knowledge. Yet, quite undeniably, such poems must have been written in moments of great devotional ecstasy.
Glorification of Bhakti
To Swami Vivekananda, Bhakti is a real and genuine search after the Lord, which begins, continues and ends in love. An ideal yet unpretentious Bhakta himself, he expounded that Bhakti Yoga is the science of higher love, that it shows us how to direct, control, manage and use it, how to give it a new aim, as it were, to attain the highest and glorious result of spiritual blessedness. His life and message reveal that universal love results from an intense state of Bhakti, where worship is offered to everyone, to every life and to every being. He cautions that it is really difficult to live truly the life of philosophy, whereas Bhakti Yoga is natural, sweet and gentle.
Yet he points out that the central secret of Bhakti Yoga is to realize that passions, feelings and emotions are not wrong in themselves as long as they are controlled and given a higher direction. Resolving the differences of opinion between knowledge and devotion, he elucidates that there is not really so much difference between the two as people sometimes imagine and reassures that in the end they converge and meet at the same point. He brilliantly reconciles the personal and impersonal aspect of God and provides a radical approach to bhakti. He questions and also clarifies thus:
Are there then two Gods—the ‘Not this, not this,’ the Sat-chit-ananda, the Existence-KnowledgeBliss of the philosopher, and this God of Love of the Bhakta? No, it is the same Sat-chit-ananda who is also the God of Love, the impersonal and personal in one. It has always to be understood that the Personal God worshipped by the Bhakta is not separate or different from the Brahman. All is Brahman, the One without a second; only the Brahman, as unity or absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped; so the Bhakta chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is, Ishvara, the Supreme Ruler. 20
Bhakti Symbolized in the Emblem
The supreme goal of human life, according to Vivekananda, is to manifest the divinity which is inherent in all beings. The ideal of synthesis of the four yogas propounded by Swami Vivekananda finds expression in the emblem of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. While the wavy waters represent Karma Yoga; the rising sun represents Jnana Yoga and the coiled serpent represents Raja Yoga; the lotus flower represents Bhakti Yoga.
Sri Ramakrishna used to pronounce Swami Vivekananda as a thousand-petalled lotus!
To the Indian mind, the lotus is more than a flower—it represents devotion, love, purity and non-attachment. Almost certainly, the lotus was chosen by Swami Vivekananda in the emblem to arouse in us the spirit of untainted absolute Bhakti and instill in us divine qualities of love, affection, adoration, worship and loyalty to God.
Swami Vivekananda lived to show that the path of love, devotion, and complete surrender to God and to one’s Guru has the potential to lead man to the attainment of the Supreme Truth. In this modern cynical age, spirituality, especially devotion, has come under grave scrutiny. Faith, a prerequisite to devotion, has come under mounting skepticism. The supreme values of devotion are being ignored by the youth of today and to make things worse, an outlook that Bhakti is antagonistic to modern science and development seems to be gripping their minds. Undeniably, a study of the life and message of Swami Vivekananda is mandatory for the present generation to recognize the relevance of devotion in one’s life and to appreciate the fact that it is through the path of bhakti and learning the secrets of divine love alone that we learn to transform the web of relationships of human life into oases of love and harmony.
Let us all recall and put into practice what Swami Vivekananda advocated, ‘This easy and smooth idea of Bhakti has been written and worked upon, and we have to embrace it in our everyday practical life.’ 21
- The Life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern and Western Disciples, Vol. 1, sixth edition, p.98
- ibid, p.12
- ibid, p.21
- ibid, p.145
- ibid, p.130
- ibid, p.99
- God Lived with Them, Swami Chetanananda, p. 35
- The Life of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 1, p.95
- Swami Vivekananda on Himself, p.33
- The Life of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 1, p.127-128
- ibid, p.160
- The Master As I Saw Him, Sister Nivedita, p.102-104
- ibid, p.106
- ibid, p.109
- Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.7, p.133- 134
- Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master, sixth revised edition, p.237
- Aratrika Hymns and Ramanam, Tr. By Swami Tapasyananda, p.18
- In Search of God and Other Poems, Swami Vivekananda, translated into English, p.60-61
- ibid, p.61
- Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.3, p.37
- ibid, Vol3, p.387
Source : Vedanta Kesari, December, 2015