Sunday, March 20, 2011

Swami Vivekananda: The Burning Candle


Swami Vivekananda during the short span of his life of 39 years represented a burning candle. A burning candle is generally appreciated for its light but it is rear that one observes that the candle has to burn itself to shed that light. This analogy is well represented by the English saying “ He who sheds light must endure burning”. We are all aware of Swami Vivekananda’s visit to America for attending the Parliament Of Religions in Chicago which has almost attained the status of a legend. But a great deal of pathos and hardship underlies that legend. Perhaps we become more receptive to the legend once we appreciate the untold hardship that the Swamiji had to undergo before he was recognized, as would be evident from the following selected events in his life.

1. The death of his father in 1884 plunged the family into a financial crisis and all efforts by Narendra [the would be Swami Vivekananda] failed to resolve it. In despair he asked Ramakrishna Paramahamsa to intervene with Goddess Kali on his behalf. Instead Ramakrishna put Vivekananda in Kali’s presence thrice and asked him to seek Kali’s blessings for financial help. On all the three occasions when Vivekananda emerged from the God-intoxicated state, he forgot to ask the Goddess for any favour to himself. Within a few years from his renouncing the world, his younger sister committed suicide on account of extreme poverty.
2. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna in 1886, Swamiji traveled all over the country for three years as a wandering monk without any thought for the morrow. Sometime in 1888 he was traveling in the scorching summer of U.P. and alighted from the train at a place called Tari Ghat. A cloak dyed in ochre and a third class ticket someone had bought for him were his only possessions. When he got down from the train he was not even allowed to rest in the waiting room. So, he sat down leaning against a post of the waiting room on bare ground. A little distance from the Swamiji sat a bania on his mattress. He had traveled together with the Swamiji in the same compartment, making fun oft the Swamiji for his Sanyasa. When both got down at intermediate stations, the bania could quench his thirst by purchasing tender coconuts while the Swamiji continued with his parching lips, having no money to purchase anything to quench his thirst. When they sat almost near each other after alighting, the bania ordered some Poories and Laddus for himself and began eating in front of the Swamiji, relishing the food. With a derisive smile curling his lips, he told the Swamiji “ What tasty Poories and Laddus I am eating! You do not care to earn money and so you have to rest content with a parched throat and empty stomach and a bare ground to sit”. Swamiji never uttered a single word, never lost his temper, kept himself absolutely cool notwithstanding these provocations. Not a single muscle on his face moved.
3. On arriving at Chicago for the Parliament of Religions, Swamiji lost the address of his host and ended up in the north east side of the city inhabited mostly by Germans who did not understand him. Some even considered him to be a Negro and treated him with scant respect. The same Swamiji, on the very next day, shook America with his memorable address at the Parliament
4. On 11th September 1893 Swamiji addressed the Parliament and made his mark. We know how he spent the day. How did he spend the night?

“ As he retired the first night and lay upon his bed, the terrible contrast between poverty stricken India and opulent America dawned upon him irresistibly. He could not sleep pondering over India’s poverty and misery. The pillow was wet with tears. At last overcome with emotions, he fell to the ground literally in agony and crying out
“ Oh Mother, what shall I do with name and fame when my motherland remains sunk in utmost penury? Who will raise the masses in India! Show me, Oh Mother! How can I help them!” He wept too at the thought that his free solitary life with God was at an end and that he would have to spend the rest of his days in the glare of publicity”

5. Once when Sister Nivedita was with the Swamiji, an ugly looking shabbily dressed person approached the Swamiji. Even Nivedita found the prospect of that person approaching the Swamiji so disgusting that she brushed him aside. At this, Swamiji lost his temper and pulled up Sister Nivedita. It turned out that he was the same person who had begged earlier on the streets of Madras to raise funds to enable the Swamiji to go to Chicago.


Created: Sunday, May 20, 2007


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