Two mothers and a son: Bhuvaneshwari, Sarada Devi, and Naren

Sweeter than the sweetest is the smile of our physical mother. Deeper than the deepest is her affection. Mightier than the mightiest is the power of her blessing. Vaster than the vastest is her hope for her son.

If there be anything never-to-be forgotten, it is the reminiscences of one’s own mother. “Wife and children may desert a man, but his mother never,” so says Vivekananda. In his childhood and boyhood Vivekananda found his confidante in nobody else save his mother; and from her he inherited not only moral purity and aesthetic sense, but also many intellectual faculties and a unique memory. His mother’s commanding personality could easily win the respect and veneration of all who came in contact with her. Her son’s influence shook the world, and her influence moulded his life considerably.

The young Naren was subject to fits of restlessness. His temper was of the quickest and he was possessed of dauntless spirit and childish pranks, but even so, with no difficulty he could make a clean breast of the misdeeds of his restlessness to his mother.

“Should the worst come to the worst, never swerve from the path of truth.” One day the schoolboy Naren got this bold and precious advice from his mother after his return from school. A sad incident had taken place in the class. The geography teacher had said, “Naren, what you say is wrong.” “No, Sir, it is right.” “I say, it is not in the book.” “No, Sir, it is.” “No argument, I shall beat you black and blue.” Smack went the cane repeatedly. Yet Naren’s sincere and bold heart would not acquiesce in what he knew to be wrong. After a while the teacher opened the book. To his extreme sorrow and shame he found Naren to be perfectly right.

As Naren was wont to disclose everything to his dear mother, this sad incident too he related to her. A tender smile played upon her lips. She fondly caressed and blessed her son, saying, “I am really happy and proud of you, my son. Should the worst come to the worst never swerve from the path of truth.”

Another piece of advice he got from his mother in his boyhood. “Bileh [Naren], as you will try your utmost not to lose your prestige, even so never indulge in hurting or lowering others’ prestige.”

True, poverty is no sin. But this truth too we cannot altogether ignore — that poverty often doubts the existence of the merciful God. Within a few months after the death of Viswanath Dutta, the family members found themselves in the jaws of poverty. Friends and relatives began deceiving them terribly. The eldest, Naren, was simply unfit to make both ends meet. Alas, one morning while he was rising from bed and repeating the name of God, his attention was distracted by the sudden outburst of his mother, who cried out, “Fool, be quiet! you have made yourself hoarse with praying to God from your childhood up. And what has He done for you?” His mother’s words cut him to the quick. Such an occurrence, however, was very rare.

In after years, many times Vivekananda spoke of his mother with a deep sense of gratitude. “It is my mother who has been the constant inspiration of my life and work.”

In 1894 Vivekananda was a guest of Mrs. Ole Bull in America. To comply with her request he gave a lecture on “The ideals of Indian Women” to the women of Cambridge, suburb of Boston. They were so charmed by it that they could not help writing a letter to his mother in India.

"To The Mother of Swami Vivekananda,
  Dear Madam,
  ..we, who have your son in our midst, send you greetings. His generous service to men, women and children in our midst was laid at your feet by him in an address he gave us the other day on ‘The Ideals of Indian Women.’ The worship of his mother will be to all who heard him an inspiration and an uplift... Accept, dear Madam, our grateful recognition of your life and work in and through your son. And may it be accepted by you as a slight token of remembrance to serve in its use as a tangible reminder that the world is coming to its true inheritance from God, Brotherhood and Unity."

Two arresting incidents will form a significant contrast between the mother and the son with respect to mundane love for each other. One night during his lonely itinerancy, while he was in Madras, Vivekananda dreamed that his mother had died. He was utterly upset, for he firmly believed that his mother was actually dead — so much so that he was preparing himself to perform her obsequies in Madras. His disciple Alasingha Perumal pointed out that as a sannyasin, a renouncer, he had no right to perform the last rites of his mother. “Nonsense, how could Shankara do all that? I am not going to abide by such silly and obligatory rules which preclude me from making my last offerings of gratitude to the memory of my dearest mother,” came the prompt reply from the Swami. Subsequently he consulted an occultist who assured him that his mother was alive and hale and hearty. And this occultist’s word proved to be quite correct. On the other hand, when the news of her son’s entering the state of Final Illumination reached his mother’s ears, her brave heart voiced forth, “Giving birth to a son having such an exceptional genius I am ever prepared to receive such blows.”

Now let us turn to his spiritual mother, Sarada Devi. However great the earthly mother may be, her love is no match for the disinterested love of the spiritual Mother. Vivekananda’s deepest conviction about the spiritual Mother runs:

"Eternal, unquestioning self-surrender to the Mother alone can give us peace. Love her for herself, without fear... Love her because you are her child. See her in all, good and bad alike. Then alone will come ‘Sameness’ and Bliss Eternal that is Mother herself..."

Once Vivekananda’s physical mother went to the Belur Math with one of her woman friends. She showed her friend the newly constructed buildings and the beautiful surroundings and remarked, “My Naren has done all this.” Sarada Devi and Naren also happened to be near by. Vivekananda in no time corrected his mother, saying, “Not your Naren,” and pointing to Sarada Devi, “but hers. Your Naren is by no means capable of such achievements.”

On the eve of his departure for America he decided that he would cross the seas only after having some concrete indications from his Master. He waited and waited, but in vain. At last he argued that his spiritual Mother and the Master were one and the same, and that he would seek her permission to go abroad. Accordingly he wrote a letter to Sarada Devi from Madras. By the time he received a letter from her he had had a dream in which he saw his Master Sri Ramakrishna proceed to the West over the waves and waters. This he took for approval of his plan. Presently he received whole-hearted permission from his spiritual Mother. With redoubled faith he was able to undertake his historic voyage.

When the Swadeshi movement was in full swing, Sarada Devi once remarked, “Had my Naren been alive, he could not have remained quiet and would have surely been put in jail.” This indicates how constantly she cherished the memory of her darling Naren, whom she would not allow to go anywhere alone after his triumphant return from the West. We will not be far from the truth if we dare say that behind the fiery political activities of Nivedita her Master Vivekananda’s mighty influence loomed large. We are apt to lose sight of Swami Vivekananda’s great contribution to the reawakening of the Indian Nation. His spiritual genius has, so to speak, eclipsed his patriotism. To cite Amal Kiran (K.D. Sethna):

“We who live in this day of India’s reawakening to the Yogic secrets of her own past cannot but pay homage to the mighty figure of Vivekananda. Together with his Guru, Ramakrishna, he was the most potent early shaper of the resurgence of our national genius.”

Vivekananda’s heart pined for the removal of the untold poverty and suffering of the masses — not through alms and charity, but by awakening the Spirit in their hearts, so that they could make their own way and stand up with their heads erect, as men amongst other men.

On the day of Sri Ramakrishna’s passing his disciples and consort were standing by him. An excruciating pain was in their hearts. Sarada Devi’s eyes were full of tears, for soon her Kali (Ramakrishna) would pass behind the curtain of eternity. Naren was confused — almost baffled. Suddenly to their surprise Sri Ramakrishna, to whose life remained a few fleeting hours, said to Sarada Devi: “Why do you weep so bitterly? I leave your Naren with you.

We have dealt with the two mothers, physical and spiritual. Now let us focus our attention on their son. It will not be sufficient to say that Vivekananda was the son or brother or friend of so and so. Who, then, was Vivekananda? Or was there any need for any one to ask him for his credentials? Let us leave J.H. Wright6 to answer it. “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the Sun to state its right to shine.”

“The very fact that Ramakrishna’s chosen instrument for world-work was Vivekananda, a complex passionate analytic mind, a highly cultured master of system and organisation, a richly endowed physical nature, shows that India moves instinctively to grip earth no less than Heaven. At least the intention of Ramakrishna was to reshape through Vivekananda the whole of the country’s life in the light of God-realisation.” With these most significant words K.D. Sethna has depicted with unsurpassed mastery Vivekananda’s life-long mission.

Verily, Vivekananda once boldly declared that his personality was ushered upon the earth to bring down into the day-to-day practical life the precepts of Vedanta which Shankara wanted to reserve only for the ascetics dwelling in caves and forests.

"We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done."

These words of Longfellow are absolutely correct, but some more we may add to them: a genius can be judged only by another genius.

When Vivekananda’s days were numbered, he once said in a very low voice, “If there had been another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done. But in years to come hundreds of Vivekanandas will come into the world.”

It is left to history alone to bear witness to these profoundly pathetic and supremely prophetic words of Vivekananda, an Olympian leader of mankind.

117, 21. J.H. Wright was Professor of Greek at Harvard University. It was he who introduced Vivekananda to the President of the Parliament of Religions