Swami Abhedananda

An introduction | The life story

An introduction

Monastic Name: Swami Abhedananda

Pre-Monastic Name: Kali Prasad Chandra

October 1866
Born on 2nd October to Rasiklal Chandra, an English teacher and Nayantara Devi, a gentle and spiritual lady

June 1884
Met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time

January 1886
Got ochre cloth (monastic robes) and rosaries distributed by the Master among 12 of his disciples.

January 1887
Took final monastic vows with other brother disciples by performing the traditional viraja homa in front of the Master’s picture.

March 1887 – 1892
Travelled and went on pilgrimages and with brother disciples, Holy Mother, and others. Also spent a lot of time practising meditation and studying Vedanta.

August 1896
Went to America on Swami Vivekananda’s call to keep the Vedanta Movement there alive, and spent almost the rest of his life there.

October 1896 onwards
Gave his maiden speech before a learned audience in America. After this he was unstoppable, and inspired thousands of Americans. Travelled all over the world – including Paris, London France, Switzerland, etc., spreading Vedanta and the mission of his Master.

8 September 1939
Passed away.

Towards the end he told his disciples “Tapasya or austerity enhances willpower. Have self-confidence. Have faith in yourself. Think: I am a child of Immortal Bliss. The infinite power is playing within me. If you have this conviction, you will conquer the world.”

Compiled from various sources

The life story

Swami Abhedananda was one of those rare souls who gathered round the magnetic personality of Sri. Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar and afterwards became instrumental in the fulfillment of his divine mission. The name by which the Swami was known before his taking orders was Kaliprasad Chandra.

Gifted with a genius for philosophic contemplation the boy soon began to interest himself in solving the various intricate problems of life. His desire to become a philosopher was greatly stimulated when he read for the first time in Wilson’s History of India that Sankaracharya was the propounder of the Advaita system of philosophy.

Even at this tender age he finished reading not only such abstruse books as John Stuart Mill’s Logic, Three Essays on Religion; Herschel’s Astronomy, Ganot’s “Physics, Lewis’s History of Philosophy and Hamilton’s Philosophy, but also the great works of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Banabhatta, and other eminent poets of our land – a fact which gives ample evidence of his prodigious intellect and extraordinary genius.

His intellectual allegiance was not confined to any particular school of thought. He developed even at this early age a remarkable sympathy for all faiths.

Meeting with Sri Ramakrishna
At the very first sight, the Master fathomed the depth of the boy’s soul, and was delighted to notice the vast spiritual possibilities latent in him. He instinctively felt that Kali belonged to the inner circle of his young devotees. Sri Ramakrishna was overjoyed to hear the words of the boy and said, “You were a great Yogi in your previous birth. This is your last birth. I shall initiate you into the mysteries of Yoga practices.” So saying he endearingly drew him to his side, wrote a Mantra on his tongue and placed his right hand on the chest of the boy. The mystic touch of the Master brought about a wonderful revolution in his mind, and he immediately became buried in deep meditation.

At the Baranagore monastery where one by one the young disciples of the Master gathered together and banded themselves into a holy fraternity of monks under the leadership of Narendra Nath, Kali used very often to shut himself up in his own room for intense spiritual practices as also for a systematic study of Vedanta and Western philosophy. This rigorous course of spiritual discipline and his deep devotion to the study of Vedanta excited the admiration of all and earned for him the significant epithets of “Kali Tapasvi” (the ascetic Kali) and “Kali Vedanti”. During this time he composed beautiful Sanskrit hymns on Sri. Ramakrishna and the Holy Mother. The latter was deeply impressed when she heard the excellent hymn composed about her own self, and she blessed him heartily, saying, “May the Goddess of Learning ever dwell in your throat.” Indeed this blessing of the Holy Mother came to be fulfilled both in letter and in spirit.

In response to an invitation from Swamiji who was then preaching Vedanta in London, he went there in the latter part of 1896.

Swami Vivekananda was fully confident that even in his absence Swami Abhedananda would be the fittest person to carry on, with success, the work which had been started in London. So he entrusted him with the charge of his classes on Vedanta and Raja-Yoga and left for India in December 1896. Swami Abhedananda continued his classes and delivered public lectures in churches and before religious and philosophical Societies in London and its suburbs for one year. During his stay in London he formed acquaintance with many distinguished savants including Prof. Max Muller and Prof. Paul Deussen. His eloquence, his lucid exposition of Vedanta philosophy and, above all, his depth of spiritual realisation made a profound impression on all who came in touch with him and listened to his illuminating lectures. It reflects much credit on his many-sided genius that even within this short period he succeeded in creating in the minds of the Western people a deep-seated regard for the richness and integrity of Indian thought and culture.

He was soon acclaimed as a great exponent of Hindu thought and culture and was invited to speak before various learned Societies. His profundity of scholarship, incisive intellectual powers, oratorical talents, and his charming personality made him so popular that in New York itself, in the Mott Memorial Hall he had to deliver ninety lectures to satisfy public demand. Even the greatest savants of America became greatly impressed by his intellectual brilliance.

On one occasion in 1898 Prof. William James held a discussion with him in his house on the problem of the Unity of the Ultimate Reality. It lasted for nearly four hours, and Prof. Royce, Prof. Lanman, Prof. Shaler, and Dr. Janes, the Chairman of the Cambridge Philosophical Conferences, took part. Prof. James was finally forced to admit that from the Swami’s standpoint it was impossible to deny ultimate unity, but declared that he still could not believe it.

In most of his lectures he called upon his audience to cultivate purity of thought and a spirit of love for all, irrespective of caste, creed, or nationality. “Whether we believe in God or not,” said the Swami, “whether we have faith in prophets or not, if we have self-control, concentration, truthfulness, and disinterested love for all, then we are on the way to spiritual perfection. On the contrary, if one believes in God or in a creed and does not possess these four, he is no more spiritual than an ordinary man of the world. In fact, his belief is only a verbal one.” The Swami was never tired of making it distinctly clear to his Western audience that the religion or philosophy taught in Vedanta is not merely an intellectual assumption, but is the result of a long and arduous search and inquiry into the ultimate principle of this universe. It is this Supreme Principle – the Unchangeable Substance – which has been expressed by human minds under various names such as God, Creator, Designer, First Cause, the Father, Jehovah, Allah, or Brahman, in different systems of thought.

He was one of the remarkable spiritual and cultural ambassadors of India to the outside world. His was indeed a life in which we find a happy blending of profound spirituality and a spirit of service – a life dedicated to the spiritual uplift of humanity. He came to the world in obedience to the Divine Will to fulfill the mission of the Master and after his task had been finished he went back to the Source of Light and Life from which he came.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

His teachings

If you desire to have firm and unshakable faith and devotion to the Lord, you should also take to Tapasya, hard austerities. Tapasya does not mean aimless wandering hither and thither, it really means regular and steadfast Japa, meditation, and self-control.

What one seeks, that one gets. You have got what you wanted. When you really hanker after God, He will raise your mind from things of the world and grant you His vision. But as long as you are attached to the world and are strongly inclined to the things of the world can you yearn for the Lord with all your heart?

Practise to be like the kitten, calling on their mother, and remain with joy and satisfaction in the place and state in which She, the Divine mother, puts you. Complete resignation to the will of the Divine Mother is what is wanted. You must become ever joined with the Lord wholly without any distraction. Pure and absolute single-mined devotion to the Lord is what you should cultivate.

It is by the power of habit that evil thoughts rise in the mind. Form a contrary habit by continued practice, and gradually the habit of evil thoughts may not arise in the mind. Bad thoughts gain strength by association. Hence, associate with the good and give up evil company.

The essentials of religion are principally two: Self knowledge and self-control. By religion I do not mean any particular doctrines, dogmas, beliefs, or faiths but I mean the realization in our daily life, in each case of the worship of the Supreme Being, which is the ideal of our religion.

The real purpose of life is to gain self-knowledge; life is not meant for a discussion as to whether virtue or vice exists. Virtue and vice arise from desires. Peace arises from detachment. Peace means the conquest of desires. And the way to the conquest of desires is through doing good to others, striving for the welfare of others. Instead of thinking about oneself, one should think of others, this leads to a gradual elimination of the nervousness of mind

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995