Lord Buddha was one of the great spiritual ideals of Swami Vivekananda (Swamiji), whom he worshiped with intense love and devotion, just as he did his guru Sri Ramakrishna.
“Who was there ever like Him?” he once spoke of Buddha, his whole face aglow with inspiration. “The Lord – who never performed one action for Himself – with a heart that embraced the whole world! So full of pity that He – prince and monk – would give His life to save a little goat! So loving that He sacrificed himself to the hospitality of a pariah and blessed him!“
So immense was Swamiji’s reverence for Lord Buddha, Sister Nivedita relates, that he once told a lady “‘Madam, I am the servant of the servants of the servants of Buddha!’ as if even the title of a believer would seem, to his veneration, too exalted to claim.”
So it is not at all surprising to note that the deeply cherished ideal – Lord Buddha Himself, choose to appear before his ardent devotee, to shower his blessings on 2 noteworthy occasions.
Incident #1 – Lord Buddha Suddenly Manifests in Swami Vivekananda’s Room
The first incident took place when Swami Vivekananda was just a student (probably in his first year of Bachelor’s degree). Those were the early days of his discipleship under Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji was in the habit of spending the entire night meditating in his room, after his family had gone to bed.
Recollecting his special practice of meditation during those days, his brother disciple Swami Saradananda wrote:
“Narendra (Swamiji’s childhood name) adopted a new method of practicing meditation…and prayed to the effect: ‘O God, make me fit to see Your real nature.’ He then removed all kinds of thought from his mind and keeping it still and motionless like the flame of a lamp in a windless place, tried to remain in that state. As the result of doing so, Narendra’s mind used to merge in itself so deeply that even the consciousness of time and of his own body disappeared now and then.”
– Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master by Swami Saradananda, page 1134.
One day as a consequence of this kind of meditation, Swami Vivekananda had an extraordinary vision, which he later related to Swami Saradananda and his disciples Sister Nivedita and Sharat Chandra Chakravarty, on 3 separate occasions. A combined account of this incident in Swamiji’s own words, gathered from these 3 sources is presented here:
One day while meditating, “there flowed in my mind a current of serene bliss when I kept it still, devoid of all objects. I felt for a long time even after the end of the meditation, a sort of intoxication under its impulse.
So, I did not feel inclined to leave the seat and get up immediately. While I was sitting in that condition at the end of the meditation, from the southern wall of that room a luminous figure stepped out and stood at a little distance in front of me, filling the room with a divine effulgence.
It was the figure of a Sannyasin (monk) in ochre cloth, absolutely calm, shaven-headed, and staff and Kamandalu (a Sannyasin’s wooden water-bowl) in hand.
The man was tall and largely built. There was a wonderful radiance on his visage, yet there seemed to be no play of emotion on it. In his face was a calm so deep and so established, that it seemed, as if both pain and pleasure had been forgotten during infinite time.
He gazed at me for some time and I too gazed at him in speechless wonder. I felt very much drawn towards him. He walked forward towards me with a slow step, with his eyes steadfastly fixed on me, as if he wanted to say something.
But I was seized with fear and could not keep quiet. I got up from my seat, opened the door and walked out of the room with rapid step. The next moment I thought, ‘Why this foolish fear?’ I made bold and went back into the room to hear the monk, who, alas, was no longer there.
I waited long in vain and felt dejected, repenting that I had been stupid enough to fly away without listening to him. I have seen many monks, but never have I found such an extraordinary expression in any other face. That face has been indelibly imprinted in my heart.
It may be a hallucination, but very often it comes to my mind that I had the good fortune of seeing Lord Buddha that day.”
– Swami Vivekananda relating his vision of Lord Buddha, to Swami Saradananda (Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master, page 1134-1135); Sister Nivedita (The Master as I Saw Him) and Sharat Chandra Chakravarty (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 7).
Incident #2 – Vision of Lord Buddha at Bodh-Gaya
A few years after the above incident, just before the passing of Sri Ramakrishna in August of 1886, Swami Vivekananda and 11 other disciples took the monastic vow of Sannyas (renunciation), receiving from Sri Ramakrishna ochre clothes and rosaries of rudraksha beads. (Source: Ramakrishna and His Disciples)
Immediately after being initiated into Sannyas, Sister Nivedita writes, Swami Vivekananda’s first act was to hurry to Bodh-Gaya, the place where his monastic ideal Lord Buddha had attained to enlightenment.
For many thousands of years ago, Lord Buddha too had taken the same monastic vow of Sannyas, renouncing his kingdom and princely wealth and set out to attain Nirvana (enlightenment). Now Swamiji was walking in the holy one’s foot-steps.
While in Bodh-Gaya, Swami Vivekananda paid reverential respects to the Bodhi-tree, an offshoot of the original tree under which Buddha had attained Nirvana, and remained absorbed in meditation before the image of Buddha. (Source: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna)
It was while meditating thus that he for the second time, keenly felt the presence of Lord Buddha and saw vividly how the history of India had been changed by his noble teachings. (Source: Vivekananda a Biography)
Upon returning from Bodh-Gaya, Swamiji eagerly described this second vision of Buddha, to his guru Sri Ramakrishna. This conversation has been captured by “M” in his book the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Chapter 50: The Master and Buddha):
“M” (Mahendranath Gupta): Sri Ramakrishna asked Narendra by sign whether he had seen a tuft of hair on Buddha’s head.
Narendra (Swami Vivekananda): “No, sir. He seems to have a sort of crown; his head seems to be covered by strings of rudraksha beads placed on top of one another.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “And his eyes?”
Narendra (Swami Vivekananda): “They show that he is in samadhi.”
Many years later, upon returning back from his trip West, Swami Vivekananda once more visited the sacred soil of Bodh-Gaya on his 39th birthday. This visit was the last. He gave up his body in Samadhi shortly thereafter.
“When a man merges his Buddhi, his intelligence, in Bodha, Consciousness, then he attains the Knowledge of Brahman (God); he becomes Buddha, enlightened.
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