Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Man Who Made Narendra Nath Dutta transform into Vivekananda


William Hastie was born in Scotland in July 1842. Even though he distinguished himself in Mathematics and Physics from the Edinburgh University, the subject, which attracted him most, was Philosophy. He finished his M.A. in Philosophy in the First Division after which he took a degree in Divinity. He pursued the study of philosophy still further in Germany and Holland. He was not keen on priesthood. In 1875 he obtained a license from the Church of Scotland to teach abroad. In 1878 he left Liverpool for Calcutta to join the General Assembly’s Institution [Established in 1830], later known as The Scottish Church College, as its Principal. He remained there till the end of 1883.

Dr.Alexander Duff, the first overseas missionary of the Church of Scotland in India, founded the institution in 1830. Incidentally, Dr. Duff along with Raja Ram Mohan Roy played a great role in the introduction of English education in India. Even to this day the Scottish Church College in Calcutta is known for the achievements of its teachers and much better known for its distinguished students. The fascinating galaxy of its alumni includes not only the name of Swami Vivekananda but also that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

When he joined the institution as its Principal, Hastie brought in a new vision and discipline. He restructured the Department of Philosophy of which Narendra Nath Datta,
[Who later became famous as Swami Vivekananda] was a student in the F.A.Class. It was the scholastic reputation of Principal Hastie that attracted Narendra to join this college in 1881. Reverend Hastie led an austere life style and had loving rapport with the students. He treated the college as his own house and considered all the students as inmates. Narendra was one of his pet students and Hastie was so fond of him that he made allowances for some of Narendra’s faults, one such fault being his habit of chain smoking.

Narendra was an atheist but he was also one who kept the doors of enquiry always open. He had read about Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa by reading the Brahmo Samaj Journals and his knowledge about Sri Ramakrishna was thus limited. However it was a comment made by Principal Hastie on Sri Ramakrishna during one of his lectures that acted as a turning point in Narendra Nath Datta becoming Swami Vivekananda.

On one occasion the professor of literature was absent and Hastie decided to take the class instead. Hastie took up the well-known English poet William Wordsworth [1770-1850] as the subject for discussion, with particular reference to his poem ‘Excursion’ written in 1814. While explaining the following lines [where the poet has an apprehension of Truth in its spiritual essence]

“ In such access of mind
In such high hours
Of visitation from the Living God
Thought was not, in enjoyment it expired.
Rapt in still communion, that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanksgiving to the power
That made him; it was blessedness and love”

the professor mentioned that Wordsworth fell into a trance when he experienced the sublime beauty of nature. The professor further added, “ I have seen Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa at Dakshineshwar attain this state of trance among contemporaries. You will understand it much better if you personally visit Dakshineshwar and see that state of mind”. This recommendation so excited Narendra, the brighter among the students, that he took it up seriously and went to Dakshineshwar almost immediately to meet Sri Ramakrishna for the very first time. This meeting took place in December 1881 when Narendra was eighteen years old.

It was a historic meeting of two great souls, the Prophet of Modern India and the carrier of his message. Nurtured in English education and European thought, Narendranath had turned agnostic. He had approached some religious luminaries of his time but none could speak to him of God with authority that comes from direct experience. At last when he came to Sri Ramakrishna he asked him the straight question “Have you seen God?”. “ Not only have I seen God but I can also show Him to you. I see Him more intensely than I see you” came the spontaneous and unequivocal reply from the great Master. Astonished and awed beyond words by his revelations, Narendranath surrendered himself to this prophet of God. At last, he had found one who could assure him from his own experience that God did exist.

Narendra’s doubts were completely dispelled and the meeting proved a turning point in the life of young Narendra. At the second meeting with Sri Ramakrishna, Narendra underwent a mystical experience at the touch of the Master.


NOTE: When Swami Siddeshwarananda of Sri Ramakrishna Mission, Paris, read out the above quoted lines of the poem ‘Excursion” by Wordsworth to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. the Maharshi appears to have observed in Malayalam “ How nicely they too have expressed the true sentiments of Samadhi”.

Created: Sunday, May 20, 2007


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