Swami Vivekananda on Buddha’s greatness | Sunday Observer

Swami Vivekananda on Buddha’s greatness

4 June, 2023

A.L. Basham, a celebrated British historian, says, “Even now, a hundred years after the birth of Swami Vivekananda it is very difficult to evaluate his importance in the scale of world history. It is certainly far greater than any Western historian or most Indian historians would have suggested at the time of his death. The passing of the years and the many stupendous and unexpected events which have occurred since then suggest that in centuries to come he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world, especially as far as Asia is concerned, and as one of the most significant figures in the whole history of India’s religion.”

Swami Vivekananda, known in his pre-monastic life as Narendranath Dutta, was born in an aristocratic family of Calcutta (Kolkatta) on January 12, 1863. His father was Viswanath Dutta and mother was Bhuvaneswari Devi. Narendranath excelled in learning music, gymnastics, and many other subjects. By the time he graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history. Born with a yogic temperament, he used to practise meditation even from his boyhood.

At the threshold of youth he had to pass through a period of spiritual crisis when he was assailed by doubts about spiritualism. His quest for the truth brought him to his guru Sri Ramakrishna who is now worshipped by thousands of people as a prophet of the modern world.

It was probably in the middle of December 1881 that Narendranath went to meet Sri Ramakrishna. The first thing he did was to ask him questions which he had earlier asked several others. The event may be said to symbolise the meeting of the ancient world and the modern world as well as the dialogue between the East and the West. Sri Ramakrishna represented ancient India characterised by asceticism, contemplation and transcendental wisdom, whereas Narendra represented the modern world characterised by scepticism, rationalism and activism.

From the first meeting, Sri Ramakrishna who could fathom the extraordinary potentialities of young Narendra, won him over through his pure and unselfish love. Under the guidance of the master Narendra began to make rapid strides on the spiritual path after the passing away of the master Sri Ramakrishna. Fifteen of his disciples under the leadership of Narendranath took formal vows of ‘Sannyasa’ or monkhood and assumed new names and Narendranath eventually became Swami Vivekananda.

Parliament of Religions

Swami Vivekananda addressed the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, on September 11, 1893. His address provided a clear understanding of and a strong foundation for harmony of religions. His definition of religion as direct self-realisation and manifestation of man’s innate divinity gave Western people a totally new concept of religion. He returned to India in January 1897 and delivered a series of lectures in leading cities. He stirred the soul of the nation by instilling in the people pride in their cultural heritage and by reminding them of their duty to the masses. Within a few months he founded a new organisation known as the Ramakrishna Mission in which bhikkhus and laymen cooperated in various service activities for the poor and in spreading the message of Sri Ramakrishna as interpreted by Swami Vivekananda.

On Friday July 4, 1902 Swami Vivekananda attained ‘Mahasamadhi.’ His interest in the Buddha and his message began quite early in his youth. It is recorded in his biography that some time before he met his master Sri Ramakrishna, he had a vision of the Buddha which left a lasting impression on him. His attitude towards the Buddha was not of the nature of intellectual understanding like that of a modern scholar. He rather felt a deep emotional and spiritual kinship with the Buddha. In fact, none among the founders of world religions attracted and influenced him more than the Buddha.

The life of the Buddha, especially his renunciation, boundless compassion, fearless quest for the truth and utter independence provided tremendous inspiration for him. He saw the Buddha as the perfect embodiment of India’s ancient wisdom and virtues and so he repeatedly presented the Buddha to Western audiences as the shining example of India’s spiritual ideal.

India’s greatest personality

Swami Vivekananda says, “Buddhism is historically the most important religion – historically, not philosophically – because it was the most tremendous religious movement that the world ever saw, the most gigantic spiritual wave ever to burst upon human society. There is no civilisation on which its effect has not been felt in some way or the other. When Alexander the Great through his military conquests brought the Mediterranean world in contact with India, the wisdom of India at once found a channel through which to spread over vast portions of Asia and Europe.”

He said that the life of the Buddha has a special appeal. “All my life I have been very fond of the Buddha. I have more veneration for him than for any other person because of his boldness, fearlessness and his tremendous love and compassion.

He was born for the good of man. Others may seek God or try to seek the truth for themselves. The Buddha did not care to know the truth for himself. He sought the truth because the people were in misery. He wanted to help them. That was the only concern throughout his life. He never had a thought for himself. How can we be ignorant, selfish, narrow-minded human beings and ever understand the greatness of the Buddha?”

Swami Vivekananda paid the highest tribute to the Buddha when he said, “The Buddha is the ideal karma yogi acting entirely without motive. He was the greatest personality to be born in India.”

- The writer is a freelance journalist and Indologist based in Hyderabad, India.