(Born 152 Years ago today, January 12, 2015)
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; think of it; dream of it; live on that one idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success. Hold to the ideal a thousand times, and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more.”
“Blows are what awaken us. In the majority of cases it is misery that teaches more than happiness. It is the heroic endeavor to subdue adverse circumstances that carries our spirit upward.”
“This world is just a gymnasium in which we play; our life is an eternal holiday.”
“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you.”
“This is the question I put to every man, woman or child: Are you strong? Do you feel strong? Are you getting stronger? We suffer because we are weak.”
“Man has freedom already; but he will have to discover it. He has it but every moment he forgets it.”
My admiration for Vivekananda (1863-1902) began many years ago with my reading a tiny paperback booklet on his teachings that I happened to pick up while in a used bookstore somewhere in the Dakotas desperately searching for something—anything—to read between flights. At that time I was experiencing great outward success in every material way, but was dissatisfied and did not know why. That magical little booklet came to mean a great deal to me, and from it I progressed to a reading of all the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words spoken by this mesmerizing orator with a gleam in his eye who possessed “a quiet but assured air of command.”
When I find myself going astray (as I too often do) and wandering away from the deep down fundamental things, his words come to mind to rescue me, particularly, be fearless; have no fear, and “Go beyond the trifles of the world. Know that nothing can affect you. It is liberty to be affected by nothing. Be perfectly resigned, perfectly unconcerned.” In other words—if other words are needed—keep your bearings; don’t lose yourself craving what is inessential to you; don’t let superficial things and pettiness touch you; find that your life is more composed of meaningless nonsense than you have ever imagined. I think that if truly understood and taken to heart, these are among the most profound and therapeutic words ever spoken. If you and I were to “go beyond the trifles of the world” most of our worries, anxieties, fears, and doubts would fly out the window. So when things are pressing in on you from all sides and you wish them to stop, say to yourself, “Go beyond the trifles of the world” and watch what happens.
Unlike his mentor Ramakrishna, Vivekananda (born Narendranath Datta in Calcutta, India) was not a mystic. He was a spiritual man and fundamentally a teacher of how to live sincerely and honestly in this real world of work and family without losing sight our spiritual nature. The prophet of self-reliance, he was a person whose words expressed exactly who he was without phoniness, fakery, or pretense. When he died at the age of thirty-nine, the world from beggars to statesmen mourned.
“By means of the constant effort to do good to others we are trying to forget ourselves; this forgetfulness of self is the one great lesson we have to learn in life. Every act of charity, every thought of sympathy, every action of help, every good deed, is taking so much of self-importance away from our little selves.”
”Always keep your mind joyful; if melancholy thoughts come, kick them out.”
“We are responsible for what we are; and whatever we wish ourselves to be we have the power to make ourselves.”
“It is selfishness we should eliminate. I find that whenever I made a mistake in my life, it has always been because self entered into the calculation. Where self has not been involved, my judgment has gone straight to the mark.”
“It is thought which is the propelling force in us. Fill the mind with the highest thoughts, hear them day after day, think them month after month. Never mind failures…they are the beauty of life, these failures.”
“The one way out is through ourselves.“
“Almost all suffering is caused by our not having the power of detachment. We must learn not only to attach the mind to one thing exclusively, but also to detach it at a moment’s notice.”
“In all these little roughnesses that we meet with in life, the highest expression of freedom is to forbear.”
“The goal of all nature is freedom and freedom is to be attained only by perfect unselfishness: every thought, word, or deed, takes us toward the goal. Have no thought for yourself, no word for yourself”
“There is no limit to the powers of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point; that is the secret. In making money, or in worshiping God, or in doing anything, the stronger the power of concentration, the better will that thing be done.”
Vivekananda was little known outside a small circle in India when he appeared at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893—the first time the leaders of all the world’s major religions were brought together to talk to the public about their religions. Vivekananda had a handsome face and striking appearance and drew attention the morning before he was to speak for the first time. His turn to speak came, but he excused himself and asked for more time. Later he confessed that he had stage fright: the other speakers were prestigious religious leaders who had come prepared. He had arrived with no formal credentials, unknown, with no money, no resources, no place to stay, and hadn’t prepared a speech.
Such was the overwhelming impact of his mere presence on an audience that when in the afternoon he rose to his feet at the podium and began speaking with that extraordinarily deep bell-like voice, saying “Sisters and Brothers of America,” the reaction was astonishing. Instantly the entire audience—many hundreds of people— clapped and cheered wildly. Nothing like that had occurred at the conference though all the other speakers were better known. The audience must have sensed they were about to hear the most valuable words of a most exceptional human being.
© 2015 David J. Rogers
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6 responses to “Vivekananda: Practical Thoughts of an Exceptional Man”
Go beyond the trifles of this world. Of course, i was enjoying the article up to this point, but this is such wisdom i think. I recently read an article (excuse the language) about the importance of not giving a fuck. It’s not about not caring, but rather about caring too much about things that don’t matter, and not enough about things that do.
You’ve told me about Vivekananda before and it was great to hear more about him. Why did he die so early?
Good hearing from you. Was just thinking about you and wondering what you were getting yourself into. Of course I’ll read all about it pretty soon. You would be very interested in the eastern concept of non-attachment. It’s liberating. It’s very hard to get information on how Vivekananda died. The possible cause of death is thought to have been ruptured blood vessels in his brain, but it may have been something else. All his adult life he was sure he would never see forty.
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Wow. He was right 🙂 Amazing to think he had such an impact in such a short time – then again, Jesus was only 36 when he died wasn’t he?
Yes, I am very interested in the concept of non attachment, and practice it in various forms every day…
I ‘m just about to go on holidays with my family to the Gold Coast…so I have no idea whether I will be able to post this weekend. Maybe!
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Good to learn more about you, Sara. I try very diligently to be non-attached and to rid myself of ego every day, but I think that following a non-attached path is the most difficult route there is. I gather your Gold Coast is a place one goes for relaxation. We have a Gold Coast too in Chicago. It is a mile of the swankiest stores on the fanciest street. On it you will find the Water Tower, the only structure that survived the Chicago Fire that in the nineteenth century destroyed the city. Have a wonderful time on your trip with your family. I’m sure you’ll then tell us about it on your next post. I look forward to that.
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It is the hardest path, which is why I practice every day, in little ways. Sometimes it works, sometimes it so doesn’t. Never mind 🙂
Our Gold Coast hmmm. It’s a little different from yours 😉
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Enjoy your holiday!