Find out the Truth for yourself
There used to come to Naren's house many of his father's clients. They would sit together chatting until their turn for consultation came. They were of various castes; there was even a Mohammedan, with whom Naren was particularly friendly, and each was provided with his own hookah. Caste was a mystery to the boy. Why should not a member of one caste eat with a member of another or smoke his hookah? What would happen if one did? Would the roof fall in on him? Would he suddenly die? He decided to see for himself. Boldly he went round the hookahs and took a whiff from each and every one. No, he was not dead! Just then his father entered. "What are you doing, my boy?" he questioned. "Oh, father! why, I was trying to see what would happen if I broke caste! Nothing has happened!" The father laughed heartily and with a knowing look on his face walked into his private study.
Even at an early age Naren evinced impatience with superstition and fear, no matter how hallowed by popular tradition. As he himself expressed it to a disciple in later years, "From my boyhood I have been a dare-devil; otherwise could I have attempted to make a tour round the world, almost without a penny in my pocket?" An incident that occurred around this time is illustrative of his "dare-devilry", which is to say, courage and independence of thought and action. To the house of a certain friend he would often have recourse as to a refuge from the monotonous moments that come even to boys. There was in their compound a favourite tree from which he loved to dangle head down. It was a Champaka (Michelia Champaca) tree, the flowers of which are said to be liked by Shiva, and which Hindu boys would go a long way to collect. It was the flowers of this tree that Naren also loved. One day as he was swinging from the tree, the old and nearly-blind grandfather of the house recognized his voice, which he knew and loved so well. The old man was afraid that the boy might fall, and that he himself might lose his Champaka flowers; he called Naren down and told him that he must not climb the tree again. Naren asked the reason. The old man answered, "Because a Brahmadaitya [a ghost of a Brahmin] lives in that tree, and at night he goes about dressed all in white, and he is terrible to look at." This was news to Naren, who wanted to know what else this ghost could do besides wander about. The old man rejoined, "And he breaks the necks of those who climb the tree."
Naren said nothing, and the old man went away smiling to himself in triumph. As soon as he had gone some distance Naren climbed the tree again just to spite the ghost of the Brahmin. His friend remonstrated, "The Brahmadaitya is sure to catch you and break your neck." Naren laughed heartily, and said, "What a silly fellow you are! Don't believe everything just because someone tells you! Why, my neck would have beenbroken long ago, if the old grandfather's story were true."
Only a boyish lark it was, true, but significant when viewed in the light of later developments: a forecast of the time when, as Swami Vivekananda, he was to say to large audiences, "Do not believe a thing because you read it in a book! Do not believe a thing because another has said it is so! Find out the truth for yourself! That is realization!"
Never surrender to injustice
There were many trying experiences in Naren's boyhood, but none more than that which he had one morning in the class-room. The incident shows the boy's innate fortitude and the difficulty of intimidating him. One of the teachers of the Institution was a man of very ugly temper and given to beating the boys severely when he thought that discipline was needed. One day, as he was severely castigating a boy, Naren began to laugh from sheer nervousness, so revolted was he by the exhibition of brutality. The teacher now turned his wrath on Naren, raining blows on him, and demanded that he promise never to laugh at him again. When Naren refused, the teacher not only resumed the beating, but seized him by the ears as well, even going as far as lifting the boy up from the bench by them and damaging one ear, so that it bled profusely. Still Naren refused to promise. Bursting into tears of rage, he cried out, "Do not pull my ears. Who are you to beat me? Take care not to touch me again."
Luckily, at this moment Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar came in. Naren, weeping bitterly, told him what had happened; then, taking his books, he declared that he was leaving the school for good. Vidyasagar took him to his office and consoled him. Later, an investigation was made of the disciplinary measures obtaining in the school and steps were taken to prevent any repetition of such incidents. When Naren's mother, in whom he always confided, heard of it, she was greatly incensed. She begged the boy not to return to the school; but he went the following day as though nothing had happened. For a long time his ear did not heal.
Stick to the truth
Even as a boy Naren was strong-minded and fearless. Once he had been assaulted by a teacher who thought he had made a mistake in geography. Naren insisted that he was in the right. Angered, the teacher ordered him to stretch out his hand. Naren did so and was struck on his palm time and again. He did not murmur. Shortly after, the teacher saw that it was he himself who had been in error. He apologized to the boy, and thenceforth held him in respect.
On this occasion as well Naren went to his mother, who consoled him and said, "If you are right, my boy, what does it matter? It may be unjust and unpleasant, but do what you think right, come what may." Many times he suffered, many times he was misunderstood even by those nearest and dearest to him when he adopted a course which to them seemed strange, but which to him was inevitable because, in his opinion, it was right. The maxim he had learned, and which he followed always in life was, "Stick to your guns, dead or alive!"
Naren had special enthusiasm for lathi-play. In this sport he took lessons from a number of Mohammedan experts, and acquired considerable mastery. When ten years old and a student of the Metropolitan Institution, he was present at a display of gymnastics. After some time, when lathi-play was going on and interest was sagging, Naren suddenly challenged anyone to cross lathis with him. The strongest of the participants took up his challenge and soon the lathis of the two were clashing. Naren's opponent was an older and stronger person, and so the outcome of the bout seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Yet, such was Naren's skill and courage that he won the enthusiastic applause of the audience. Unmindful of it and deftly manoeuvring himself, Naren all on a sudden gave such a resounding blow that his opponent's staff broke in two and fell on the ground, signifying total defeat. Naren had graduated, so to say, in his training. He won the day, and there was no end to the rejoicing of the spectators.
Naren and his friends were members of the gymnasium of Shri Navagopal Mitra, who had practically left its management in their hands. One day while they were trying to set up a very heavy trapeze, a crowd gathered to watch. Amongst them was an English sailor, whom Naren asked to help. But as the obliging sailor was lifting the trapeze to help the boys, it fell and knocked him unconscious. Nearly everyone but Naren and one or two of his friends disappeared from the scene, thinking the sailor had been killed. Immediately Naren tore a piece off his dhoti, bandaged the wound, sprinkled the sailor's face with water, and fanned him gently. When the sailor regained consciousness, Naren and his friends lifted him up and took him to a neighbouring schoolhouse. A doctor was sent for, and Navagopal Mitra was informed. After a week's nursing the sailor recovered, and Naren presented him with a modest purse, which he had collected from his friends.
Patriotism first, then Universalism
Once Someone told Swamiji that a monk should have no particular attachment to his country. Instead, he should view all countries as his own. At this, Swamiji replied: “He who fails to love and support his mother how can he provide sustenance for another’s mother?”What Swamiji meant was that even the sannyasins should love their motherland. How can he who cannot love his own country, embrace the world? Patriotism first, then universalism.
Swamiji’s Love for India
The Swami's appearance at the Parliament of Religions had without question made him irreversibly famous throughout the world. Never again was he to wander alone, unknown through his beloved country. His world mission in its public aspect had begun. But in the midst of all the immediate acclaim and popularity that his appearance at the Parliament had brought him, he had no thought for himself; his heart continued to bleed for India. Personally he had no more wants. The mansions of some of the wealthiest of Chicago society were open to him, and he was received as an honoured guest. On the very day of his triumph, he was invited by a man of great wealth and distinction to his home in one of the most fashionable parts of the city. Here he was entertained royally; a princely room fitted with a luxury beyond anything he could have conceived was assigned to him. But instead of feeling happy in this splendid environment, he was miserable. Name and fame and the approval of thousands had in no way affected him; though sumptuously cared for, he was the same sannyasi as of old, thinking of India's poor. As he retired the first night and lay upon his bed, the terrible contrast between poverty-stricken India and opulent America oppressed him. He could not sleep for pondering over India's plight. The bed of down seemed to be a bed of thorns. The pillow was wet with his tears. He went to the window and gazed out into the darkness until he was well-nigh faint with sorrow. At length, overcome with emotion, he fell to the floor, crying out, "O Mother, what do I care for name and fame when my motherland remains sunk in utmost poverty! To what a sad pass have we poor Indians come when millions of us die for want of a handful of rice, and here they spend millions of rupees upon their personal comforts! Who will raise the masses in India! Who will give them bread? Show me, O Mother, how I can help them."
On the eve of his departure from West, an English friend asked, "Swami, how do you like now your motherland after four years' experience of the luxurious, glorious, powerful West?" His significant reply was: "India I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me, the very air is now to me holy; it is now the holy land, the place of pilgrimage, the Tirtha!"
Swamiji was having a long trek in the Himalayas when he found an old man extremely exhausted standing hopelessly at the foot of an upward slope. The man said to Swamiji in utter frustration, “Oh, Sir, how to cross it; I cannot walk any more ; my chest will break.”
Swamiji listened to the old man patiently and then said, “Look down at your feet. The road that is under your feet is the road that you have passed over and is the same road that you see before you; it will soon be under your feet.” These words emboldened the old man to resume his onward trek.
Sinners are potential saints
Swami Vivekananda held Pavhari Baba of ghazipur in high esteem. He knew the yogi personally. While in Ghazipur, Swamiji heard that once a thief entered in to Baba’s hut to rob him of his few belongings. As the thief was about to leave the place with the stolen goods, the yogi woke up. This frightened the thief and he threw down everything and started running away. Pavhari Baba promptly picked up the things and followed the thief. Finally, after a hot chase, he caught the thief and begged him to accept the goods. “All these are yours, Narayana,” Baba told the thief, who stared at him in disbelief.
Years later during his wanderings in the Himalayas Swamiji one day noticed a sadhu of luminous appearance. After some conversation Swamiji became convinced that the sadhu was of a high order. But he was astonished when the latter said, “I was that thief who attempted to steal from the saint!” The monk continued his confession: “When Pavhari Baba handed me everything that belonged to him with a smile and addressed me as ‘Narayana’, I realized what a crime I had committed and how mean I was ! From that moment I gave up my eveil pursuit of material wealth and engaged myself in search of spiritual wealth.” His story deeply impressed Swamiji who later used to say: Sinners are potential saints.