Vivekananda AutoBiography – 1.BIRTH AND BOYHOOD

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CHAPTER I
BIRTH AND BOYHOOD

My father and mother fasted and prayed for years and years, so that I would be born.

I have such a memory when I was only two years old I used to play with my syce, at being a Vairagi, clothed in ashes and Kaupina. And if a Sadhu came to beg, they would lock me in upstairs to prevent my giving too much away. I felt that for some mischief, I had had to be sent away from Siva. No doubt my family increased this feeling, for when I was naughty they would say “Dear, dear, so many austerities, yet Siva sent us this demon after all, instead of a good soul!” Or when I was very rebellious, they would empty a can of water over me, saying Siva! Siva! and then I was all right. Always, even now, when I feel mischievous, those words keep me straight.

When I was a little boy at school, I had a fight with another fellow about some sweetmeats, and he being the stronger boy, snatched them from my hand. I remember the feeling I had; I thought that boy was the most wicked boy ever born, and that as soon as I grew strong enough I would punish him, There was no punishment sufficient for his wickedness. We have both grown up now and we are fast friends. This world is full of babies to whom eating and drinking and all these little cakes are everything. They will dream of these cakes, and their idea of future life is where these cakes will be plentiful.

What I saw and felt (on my way to Raipur in 1877)1 when going through the forest, has for ever remained firmly imprinted on my memory, particularly one event of one day. We had to travel by the foot of the Vindhya mountains of high peaks on that day. The peaks of the Ranges on both sides of the road were very high in the sky, bending under the weight of fruits and flowers. Various kinds of trees and creepers produced wonderful beauty on the sides of the mountains, birds of various colours flying from arbour to arbour or down on the ground in search of food, filled the quarters with sweet notes.

I saw all these and felt an extraordinary peace in my mind. The slowly moving bullock cart arrived at a place where two mountain peaks coming forward as in love, locked themselves up in an embrace over the narrow forest path. Observing carefully below the meeting points, I saw that there was a very big cleft from the crest to the foot of this mountain on one side of the path, cfad filling that cleft, there was hanging on it an enormous honeycomb, the result of the bees’ labour for ages. Filled with wonder, as I was pondering over the beginning and the end of that kingdom of bees, my mind became so much absorbed in the thought of the infinite power of God, the Controller of the three worlds, that I completly lost my consciousness of the external world for some time. I do not remember how long I lay in the bullock cart in that condition. When I regained external consciousness, I found that we had crossed that place and come far away. As I was alone in the cart, no one could know anything about it.

We cannot deny that there is much misery in the world; to go out and help others is, therefore, the best thing we can do, although in the long run we shall find that helping others is only helping ourselves. As a boy I had some white mice. They were kept in a little box which had little wheels made for them, and when the mice tried to cross the wheels, the wheels turned and turned, and the mice never got anywhere. So it is with the world and our helping it. The only help is that we get moral exercise.

When he (my tutor) came to our house, I brought my English and Bengali Books to him and showing him which part of which books were to be learnt that day, I lay or sat freely. The teacher repeated twice or thrice the spelling, pronunciation, meaning etc. of the words of these portions of the books, as if he was himself learning his own lesson and went away. That was sufficient for me to learn them.

Even while I was a student at Calcutta, I was of a religious temperament. I was critical even at that time of my life, mere words would not satisfy me.

I used to see all my life a wonderful point of light between my eyebrows as soon as I would shut my eyes in order to go to sleep, and observe attentively its various changes. In order that it might be convenient to see it, I used to lie on my bed in the way people bow down touching the ground with their foreheads. That extraordinary point used to change its colours, and increasing in size, become gradually converted into the form of a ball, and bursting at last, cover my body from head to foot with white liquid light. As soon as that happened, I lost external conciousness and fell asleep. I believed that all people went to sleep that way. I was long under that impression.

When I grew up and began to practice meditation, that point of light used to come before me, first of all, as soon as I closed my eyes, and I concentrated my mind on it. In those days I daily practised meditation with a few friends according to the instruction of Maharshi Devend-ranath. We talked among ourselves about the nature of visions and experiences each of us had. At that time I came to know from what they said that they never had the vision of such light and that none of them went to sleep in that way.

From my very boyhood I was a dare-devil sort of fellow. Otherwise do you think I could make a tour round the world without a single copper in my pocket?

While at school, one night I was meditating within closed doors and had a fairly deep concentration of mind. How long I meditated in that way, I cannot say.

It was over, and I still kept my seat, when from the southern wall of our room a luminous figure stepped out and stood in front of me. There was a wonderful radiance on its visage, yet there seemed to be no play of emotion on it. It was the figure of a sanyasin absolutely calm, shaven headed, and staff and kamandalu (a sanya-sin’s wooden water-bowl) in hand. He gazed at me for some time, and seemed as if he would address me. I too gazed at him in speechless wonder. Then a kind of fright seized me. I opened the door and hurried out of the room. Then it struck me that it was foolish of me to run away like that, and that perhaps he might say something to me. But I have never met that figure since. Many a time and often have I thought if I could again see him, I would no more be afraid but would speak to him. But I met him no more; I could find no clue to its solution. It was the lord Buddha whom I saw.

From my very boyhood, whenever I came in contact with a particular object, man or place, it would sometimes appear to me as if I had been acquainted with it beforehand. But all my efforts to recollect were unsuccessful, and yet the impression persisted. I will give you an instance. One day I was discussing various topics with my friends at a particular place. Suddenly something was said which at once reminded me that in some time past in this very house I had talked with these friends on that very subject and that the discussion had even taken the same turn. Later on I thought that it might be due to the law of transmigration. But soon I decided that such definite conclusions on the subject were not reasonable. Now I believe that before I was born I must have had visions somehow of those subjects and people with whom I would have to come in contact in my present birth. That memory comes, every now and then, before me throughout my whole life.

Just two or three days before the Entrance examination I found that I hardly knew anything of geometry. Then I began to study the subject keeping awake for the whole night and in course of twenty four hours I mastered the four books of geometry.

It so happened that I could understand an author without reading his book line by line. I could get the meaning by just reading the first and the last line of a paragraph. As this power developed I found it unnecessary to read even the paragraphs. I could follow by reading only the first and last lines of the page.

Further, where the author introduced a discussion to explain a matter and it took him four or five or even more pages to clear the subject, I could grasp the whole trend of his arguments by only reading the first few lines.

I studied hard for twelve years, and became a graduate of the Calcutta University.

As soon as I went to bed, two ideals appeared before me every night since I had reached my youth. One vision presented me as a person of endless wealth and property, innumerable servants and dependants, high rank and dignity, great pomp and power and I thought I was seated at the head of those who were called big men in the world. I felt I certainly had that power in me. Again, the next moment, I felt as if I had renounced everything of the world and putting on a loin cloth, eating whatever was available without effort and spending nights under trees, depending upon God’s will only, I was leading my life. I felt I could live the life of Rishis and Munis if I would.

These two pictures, according to which I could mould my life in two different ways, thus arose in my mind. But the latter would grip the mind in the end. I thought that in this way alone man could attain real bliss and that I would follow this path and not the other. Brooding on the happiness of such a life, my mind would then merge in the contemplation of God and I would fall asleep. It is a matter of astonishment that it happened to me, every night for a long time.

I never terrified children by speaking of hobgoblins as I was afraid of uttering a falsehood, and scolded all whom I saw doing it. As {he result of English education and my frequenting the Brahmo Samaj, the devotion to verbal expression of truth had increased so much then.

At the beginning of this century (19th) it was almost feared that religion was at an end. Under the tremendous sledge-hammer blows of scientific research, old superstitions were crumbling away like masses of porcelain. Those to whom religion meant only a bundle of creeds and meaningless ceremonials were in despair; they were at their wit’s end. Everything was slipping between their fingers. For a time it seemed inevitable that the surging tide of agnosticism and materialism would sweep all before it. When I was a boy, this scepticism reached me, and it seemed for a time as if I must give up all hopes of religion. But, fortunately for me, I studied the Christian religion, the Mohammedan, the Buddhist and others, and what was my surprise to find was that the same fundamental principles taught by my religion were also taught by all religions. It appealed to me this way.” What is the truth”, I asked.

When I was a boy here, in the city of Calcutta, I used to go from place to place in search of religion, and everywhere I asked the lectures after hearing very big lectures,Have you seen God?” The man was taken aBackat the idea of seeing God and the only man who told me “I have” was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and not only so, but he said “I will put you on the way of seeing Him too”.

He is born to no purpose, who, having the privilege of being born a man, is unable to realise God in this life.

SRI RAMAKRISHNA

Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divine within, by controlling nature external and internal.

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA.

1

In the year 1877, while Vivekananda (then Naren) was a student of third class, his father went to Raipur in the Central Provinces (Madhya Pradesh). He arranged that this family should follow him later on led by Naren. It was a journey partly by bullock cart via Allahabad and Jubbulpore through dense forests and over unfrequented roads, for the railways were in those days constructed only upto Nagpur.

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