Today marks the 162nd birth anniversary of Narendra Nath Dutta, aka “Yuganayak Swami Vivekananda.” Growing up in a Bengali household, several anecdotes from the life of Swami Ji were narrated to me. On this auspicious day, I would love to share some of those stories to acquaint you with an unconventional side of Swami Ji’s personality that does not resonate too much with the modern dogmas of religion.
How a young Swami Ji outwitted a racist professor during his university days?
During his university days, Swami Ji was particularly disliked by a professor named Peters. One day, Swami Ji joined Professor Peters at the dinner table. Appalled by this, Peters remarked, “A bird and a swine never dine on the same table.” To this, a young and rebellious Swami Ji replied, “Fine, Professor. I will fly to another table then.”
On another occasion, while checking Swami Ji’s answer sheet following an exam, instead of assigning him a grade, Peters wrote the word “Idiot” and handed it over to Swami Ji. After a few minutes, Swami Ji stood up and addressed Peters, saying, “Professor, you have signed the sheet, but you did not give me the grade.”
How Swami Ji tackled bullying:
During one of his Sannyas Yatras, Swami Ji had been travelling by train. He had donned a Sannyasi’s saffron attire but also wore an expensive apparel gifted to him by a monarch. After noticing his unconventional clothing, a few young lady co-passengers plotted to harass him. They ridiculed Swami Ji’s clothes and said, “Hey Swami, hand over that expensive apparel to us at once! Lest we should complain to the guard that you have been physically harassing us.”
The calm and composed Swami Ji, comprehending the plot, pretended to be a deaf man and gestured toward the ladies to give him in writing what they had been trying to convey. One of the ladies wrote their plot on paper and handed it over to Swami Ji. Swami Ji looked at the letter with a tranquil smile and uttered, “Now that I have your plan written in this paper as a confession, feel free to complain to the guard.” The ladies were stunned at Swami Ji’s astuteness.
How Swami Ji countered the West’s stereotypes of India:
While in the United States of America, Swami Ji was confronted by an American White man. The man asked, “How do you filthy Indians, with differing cultures and habits, live together as one nation? Look at us Americans — we are a civilised nation, and we all have fair skin and a supreme culture.”
Instead of taking offence, Swami Vivekananda calmly replied, “Have you seen a stable full of horses? Do you notice how horses with different skins and sizes live together as one community? On the other hand, have you noticed how jackals and mules with the same skin colour and shape roam together in rugged terrains? Now, you distinguished sir, tell me — whom do you consider filthier, a wild jackal or a horse?”
Spectators looked at Swami Ji with awe at his witty and spontaneous replies. One day, a fellow European theologist annoyed by Swami Ji’s jokes complained, “Do you never get serious?” Swami Ji replied with a grim look, “Yes. But only when I am constipated!” And they both burst into laughter.
When Swami Vivekananda humbled a pretentious Sadhu:
Once, Swami Vivekananda was waiting at the bank of the Ganges to embark on a ferry to get to the other side. Upon spotting Swami Ji, a not-so-humble Sadhu approached him and said, “It’s a shame that a Sannyasi like you has to depend on a low-caste boatman to get to the other side of the Ganges. I (boasted the Sadhu), another Sannyasi, have spent decades meditating inside a cave to learn a ‘Mantra’ using which I can easily walk on water!”
Swami Ji replied with a graceful smile, “Dear Sadhu Ji, what good does your ability of ‘walking over water’ hold for mankind? You could have spent those decades in the service of man instead of sitting inside a cave. But, instead of doing that, you claim to have mastered such a ‘quality’ that deprives these poor boatmen of their livelihood!”
Today, if you look around, you shall discover how there are more such pretentious Sadhus than Swami Jis. It is baffling to observe how some of these “enlightened men” (unlike Swami Ji) with greying beards tend to take offence if a young agnostic or non-believer questions them and challenges their spirituality. It’s rather “out of character” for modern ‘godmen’ or ‘spiritual gurus’ to lose their calm when non-believers counter their preachings with scepticism.
Can these ‘enlightened’ men not elucidate an ‘ignorant’ mind to believe in their preachings? After all, Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa accepted Narendranath Dutta’s scepticism and defiance with open arms before stirring up his conscience and metamorphosing him into Swami Vivekananda.
An enlightened soul is forever mischievous and lucid in mannerism. He is innocent like a child yet prudent like an octogenarian! Vivekananda’s witticism and humour are a few of the gamut of things that made him a philosopher, rationalist, and the embodiment of the bona-fide Sanatan Dharma!
Long live the eternal wisdom and philosophies of Yuganayak Swami Vivekananda!