After speaking at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda became famous overnight and acquired many friends and admirers. One day, some of these friends and admirers came to ask him many questions about Vedanta and Indian philosophy and spirituality. They were very moved by his answers to their questions. By the time they departed, it was around midnight.
All of a sudden Vivekananda thought of India, his poor India, especially Mother Bengal. He said to himself, “Now I am going to bed. But there are thousands and thousands of people without beds, who will be lying in the street, poverty-stricken, tonight. Here I have got a cosy and most comfort able bed. But once upon a time, I was a sannyasin. I used to roam in the street with no food, nothing. Even now I am a sannyasin. Still, from time to time even today, I have no food or clothes. I am in a destitute condition.
“Again, God blesses me with riches and my generous friends keep me at their homes. Right now some friends of mine have given me this beautiful apartment. Indeed, I am in great luxury. In a few minutes, I will go to sleep in a most comfortable bed. And yet so many of my brothers and sisters in Bengal will be living in the street.
“My heart bleeds for them. I have still not fulfilled my task. I have to help my poor Indian brothers. I have to save their lives, I have to illumine them, I have to awaken their consciousness. There is so much to do, so much to do! Alas, what am I doing here? I need rest, but I will not sleep on the bed. I will sleep on the floor.”
He took off his turban, placed it on the floor and passed the night lying down on his long turban. Early the following morning, when the owner of the apartment, who was his friend, came to invite him to breakfast, he saw this great Indian saint, this great Indian hero, lying on the floor. He said, “What is the matter?”
Vivekananda replied, “Thousands and thousands of my brothers and sisters spend the night in the streets. So how can I dream of spending the night in this most comfortable bed? I can’t, I can’t, unless and until I have done something for them. It is my bounden duty to serve God in the poor and the needy. So the life of comfort is not for me. The life of selfless service, the life of dedicated, devoted service, is for me. Service is my goal, service is my perfection in life.”