You may be a child; a senior citizen, an adolescent or middle aged person. But you’re as old as you want to be. You’re as old as you think you are. Assuming and hoping you think you’re young, I wish you a very happy National Youth Day!
National youth day, as you may know, is celebrated to commemorate the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. He is one of the main representatives of the new age Hinduism that we see today (the term neo-Hinduism may be used). He was keen about the welfare of young people because he believed that they have immense potential and are assets to the country and even the whole world. Across India, schools and colleges celebrate this day by conducting speeches and seminars, student conferences, short film contests, essay competitions and many more activities with the main purpose being promotion of education, art, culture, yoga and inner enlightenment among youth.
Swami Vivekananda was born Narendranath Dutta on 12th January 1863 in the British capital city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Bhubaneshwari Devi and Vishwanath Dutta. Theirs was liberal, progressive family with a religious tinge added by his mother. Naren was a brilliant child who could grasp subjects better than most of his peers and possessed prodigious memory. He was deeply interested in religion and philosophy from a very tender age and read many Hindu scriptures such as Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. He also practiced meditation.
Swami Vivekananda was greatly influenced by his guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and subscribed to advaita siddhanta or the non-dualism philosophy. His teachings make the best of both worlds: the philosophies of the west and the Vedas and Upanishads of the east. While he advocated the spirituality that came with the Indian tradition, he also emphasized on social service. In this regard, he and his fellow Sanyasis (monks) established the Ramakrishna Mission (in memory of his guru) and the Belur Math that aimed at eliminating poverty and illiteracy.
He travelled all over the country to realize his life’s mission: to find out the relevance of his guru’s teachings in colonized India. He saw that the majority of the people in India were poor and downtrodden. He sensed that the people had ceased to believe in themselves.
This is when Swami Vivekananda realized that education alone could better the situation of the people. Through Ramakrishna Mission, he began the charitable services – he uplifted the masses from poverty, educated them regarding improving their economic conditions and gave spiritual training, started running schools and hospitals, setting up rural development centers and providing relief to earthquake and cyclone victims. He delivered inspirational speeches that created a great stir among the countrymen and women.
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda decided to take part in the World’s Parliament of Religions at Chicago, USA. It is here that he delivered the famous speech that gained a lot of accolades and widespread media coverage in the west. He travelled in the west for 3 more years before returning to India. The second time he went abroad, he established Vedanta Societies in San Francisco and visited Vienna, Istanbul, Egypt and Athens.
On 4th July 1902, he departed from his material body while meditating. Rupture of blood vessels in the brain was the medical cause of his death. However, Swami Vivekananda had prophesied that he would not live forty years and his disciples claim that he attained mahāsamādhi.
Just before his death, Swami Vivekananda had written the following words to a follower: “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”
Indeed, he continues to inspire.