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Anna Hazare - His incredible story

Anna HazareAnna Hazare is a prominent leader of the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement. He was born Kisan Baburao Hazare on June 15, 1937 in Bhingar near Ahmednagar. He hailed from a very poor family and moved from his ancestral village of Ralegaon Siddhi to Mumbai. Poverty ended his education after grade 7 and he was selling flowers at Dadar railway station in Mumbai.  Eventually he owned 2 flower shops in Mumbai. In these early years, he became involved in vigilante groups that prevented the poor from being bullied out of their shelters by thugs employed by landlords.

The emergency recruitment measures by the Indian Army during the Indo-China war of 1962, Anna was recruited into the Army and was posted at the border in the Khem Karan sector. He was the sole survivor of an enemy attack and this incident became a turning point in his life. He had considered suicide during one point in his life, but now focused on the meaning of life and death. The war experience convinced him that the reason he was alive was because God wanted him to serve people. He spent his spare time reading Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave.
Anna survived another road accident while driving the army truck and after that incident, he took honorable discharge after serving the Army for 12 years.

Anna returned to Ralegaon Siddhi to begin its transformation. The village was typical Indian village plagued by acute poverty, deprivation, and fragile ecosystem. He started by using his gratuity from the Army to rebuild the vandalized temple as a focal point for the community.  Some responded with financial donations and others volunteered their labor (shramadaan). Using Vivekananda’s works, he organized the youths into Tarun Mandal.
Liquor and cigarettes were banned and a grain bank was instituted at the village temple. The grain bank provided food security to the needy farmers during times of drought or crop failure. Borrowed grain had to be returned in grain plus additional grain as interest. This ensured nobody in the village had to go hungry or borrow money to buy grain and also prevented distress sale at lower prices during harvest time.
Ralegaon is located at foothills, hence Anna persuaded the villagers to construct watershed embankments to increase ground water level and improve irrigation. Water intensive crops like sugar cane were traded for low water crops like pulses and oil seeds. When Anna Hazare first came to Ralegaon Siddhi only 70 acres of land was irrigated and he converted into about 2,500 acres. He also started dairy cattle breeding as a secondary occupation.

He started pre school, and high school in the village to increase the literacy rate. His moral leadership motivated the village community to shun untouchability and caste discrimination. Marriage expenses were the major cause of debt trap for the villagers. Collective marriages were instituted reducing the marriage expenses.
Hazare campaigned between 1998 and 2006 for amending the Gram Sabha Act, so that the villagers have a say in the development works in their village. The state government initially refused, but eventually gave in due to public pressure. As per the amendments, it is mandatory to seek the sanction of the Gram Sabha (an assembly of all village adults, and not just the few elected representatives in the gram panchayat) for expenditures on development works in the village.

In 1991 Hazare launched the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan (BVJA) (People's Movement against Corruption), a popular movement to fight against corruption and was responsible for exposing several government officials as well as cabinet ministers in the Maharashtra Govt. his skirmishes with the powerful led to his imprisonment in Yerawada Jail for 3 months. However, all the political parties came in support of Hazare.
In the early 2000s Hazare led a movement in Maharashtra state which forced the state Government to enact a revised Maharashtra Right to Information Act. This Act was later considered as the base document for the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI), enacted by the Union Government
His leadership during the Lokpal Bill captured the nations and world's attention. He was awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by Govt of India.
The unbelievable story of his life is summed up well by the great man himself...."I am still bemused as to how this all came about. A pauper living in a temple, who has no money, no power, no wealth; for him the entire country united and spoke in one voice."

The Lokpal bill was first proposed in 1968 by Shanti Bhushan but was not passed in the last 40 years. The bill targets to reign in the corruption by the very people with powers to pass the bill and hence the stalemate for the last four decades. Social activist Anna Hazare .....read more about the Lokpal Bill



Anna Hazare - His incredible story

Swami Vivekananda – Touring the World and Foundation of Ramakrishna Mission

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After the Parliament of Religions in 1893, in Chicago, Vivekananda spent nearly two whole years lecturing in various parts of eastern and central United States. By the spring of 1895, he was weary and in poor health, because of his continuous exertion. After suspending his lecture tour, the Swami started giving free and private classes on Vedanta and Yoga. In June 1895, for two months he conducted private lectures to a dozen of his disciples at the Thousand Island Park. Vivekananda considered this to be the happiest part of his first visit to America. He later founded the "Vedanta Society of New York”.

During his first visit to America, he traveled to England twice. His lectures were successful there. Here he met Ms. Margaret Noble, an Irish lady, who later became Sister Nivedita. During his second visit in May 1896, while living at a house in Pimlico, the Swami met Max Müller a renowned Indologist at Oxford University who wrote Ramakrishna's first biography in the West. From England, he also visited other European countries. In Germany he met Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist. He also received two academic offers, the chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University and a similar position at Columbia University. He declined both, saying that, as a wandering monk, he could not settle down to work of this kind.

Swami Vivekananda's ideas were admired by several scholars and famous thinkers—William James, Josiah Royce, C. C. Everett, Dean of the Harvard School of Divinity, Robert G. Ingersoll, Nikola Tesla, Lord Kelvin, and Professor Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz. From the West, he also set his Indian work in motion. Vivekananda wrote a stream of letters to India, giving advice and sending money to his followers and brother monks. His letters from the West in these days laid down the motive of his campaign for social service. He constantly tried to inspire his close disciples in India to do something big. In one such letter, he wrote to Swami Akhandananda, "Go from door to door amongst the poor and lower classes of the town of Khetri and teach them religion. Also, let them have oral lessons on geography and such other subjects. No good will come of sitting idle and having princely dishes, and saying "Ramakrishna, O Lord!"—unless you can do some good to the poor." Eventually in 1895, the periodical called Brahmavadin was started in Madras, with the money supplied by Vivekananda, for the purpose of teaching the Vedanta. Subsequenly, Vivekananda's translation of first six chapters of The Imitation of Christ was published in Brahmavadin.

Vivekananda left for India on December 16, 1896 from England with his disciples, Captain and Mrs. Sevier, and J.J. Goodwin. On the way they visited France, Italy, seeing Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, and set sail for India from the Port of Naples. Later, he was followed to India by Max Müller and Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita devoted the rest of her life to the education of Indian women and the cause of India's independence.

Once back in India, traveled the country again, making inspirational lectures to uplift the masses, eradicate the caste system, promote the study of science, industrialization of the country, removal of poverty, and the end of the colonial rule. These lectures have been published as Lectures from Colombo to Almora and are of nationalistic fervor and spiritual ideology.His speeches had tremendous influence on the Indian leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Bipin Chandra Pal and Balgangadhar Tilak.

In May 1897 at Calcutta, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission—the organization for social service. The ideals of the Ramakrishna Mission are based on Karma Yoga. Its governing body consists of the trustees of the Ramakrishna Math - the arm that carries out religious works. This was the beginning of an organized social and religious movement to help the masses through educational, cultural, medical and relief work.

Vivekananda also inspired Sir Jamshedji Tata to set up a research and educational institution when they had travelled together from Yokohama to Chicago on the Swami's first visit to the West in 1893. About this time the Swami received a letter from Tata, requesting him to head the Research Institute of Science that Tata had set up. But Vivekananda declined the offer saying that it conflicted with his spiritual interests.

Vivekananda once again left for the West in June 1899, amid his declining health. He was accompanied by Sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda. He spent a short time in England, and went on to America. During this visit, he founded the Vedanta societies at San Francisco and New York. He also founded "Shanti Ashrama" (peace retreat) at California, with the aid of a generous 160-acre gift from an American devotee.Later he attended the Congress of Religions, in Paris in 1900. The Paris addresses are memorable for the scholarly penetration evinced by Vivekananda related to worship of Linga and authenticity of the Gita. From Paris he paid short visits to Brittany, Vienna, Istanbul, Athens and Egypt. For the greater part of this period, he was the guest of Jules Bois, the famous thinker. He left Paris on October 24, 1900, and arrived at the Belur Math on December 9, 1900.

By this time, Swamiji’s tours, hectic lecturing engagements, private discussions and correspondence had taken their toll on his health. He was suffering from asthma, diabetes and other physical ailments. A few days prior to his demise, he was seen intently studying the almanac. Three days before his death he pointed out the spot for this cremation—the one at which a temple in his memory stands today. He had remarked to several persons that he would not live to be forty.

On the day of his death, he taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda to some pupils in the morning at Belur Math. He had a walk with Swami Premananda, a brother-disciple, and gave him instructions concerning the future of the Ramakrishna Math. Vivekananda died at ten minutes past 9 P.M. on July 4, 1902 while he was meditating. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi. Afterward, his disciples recorded that they had noticed "a little blood" in the Swami's nostrils, about his mouth and in his eyes. The doctors remarked that it was due to the rupture of a blood-vessel in the brain, but they could not find the real cause of the death. According to his disciples, Brahmarandhra — the aperture in the crown of the head — must have been pierced when he attained Mahasamadhi. Vivekananda had fulfilled his own prophecy of not living to be forty years old.

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Swami Vivekananda – The Journey from Narendranath to Vivekananda

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Swami Vivekananda was born as Narendranath Dutta in Kolkata (Calcutta) on January 12, 1863. His father Viswanath Dutta, a man of liberal and progressive outlook, was an attorney at Calcutta High Court. His mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi was pious and had practiced austerities. It is believed that she had prayed to Vireshwar Shiva of Varanasi for a son. She reportedly had a dream in which Shiva rose from his meditation and said that he would be born as her son.

Young Narendranath's thinking and personality were highly influenced by his parents—he had his father’s rational mind and his mother’s religious inclination. From his mother he learnt the power of self-control and truly believed and practiced her teaching - "Remain pure all your life; guard your own honor and never transgress the honor of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart." He was very adept at meditation and could enter the state of samadhi. It is alleged that he would see a light while falling asleep and he would have a vision of Buddha during his meditation.

Narendranath had varied interests and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects.  He was very interested in the Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He was also well versed in classical music, both vocal and instrumental and is said to have undergone training under two Ustads, Beni Gupta and Ahmad Khan. Since boyhood, he took an active interest in physical exercise, sports, and other organizational activities. Even when he was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste, and refused to accept anything without rational proof and pragmatic test.

His family moved to Raipur in 1877. At that time there were no good schools in Raipur so he spent his time with his father and had discussions on spiritual topics. He learned Hindi there and for the first time the Question of existence of God came to his mind. The family returned to Calcutta in 1879 but the two years in Raipur were the turning point in his life. Raipur is sometimes termed as the "Spiritual Birthplace" of Swami Vivekananda. In the same year, he passed the entrance examination for Presidency College, Calcutta, entering it for a brief period and subsequently shifting to General Assembly's Institution. During the course of his study there, he studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations. In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he passed the Bachelor of Arts.

Narendranath is said to have studied the writings of several Westerners like  David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin. He became fascinated with the Evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, and translated Spencer's book on Education into Bengali. Simultaneously, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works. According to his professors, student Narendranath was a prodigy.

Narendranath’s initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo Samaj concepts, which include belief in a formless God and deprecation of the worship of idols. Not satisfied with his knowledge of Philosophy, he wondered if God and religion could be made a part of one's growing experiences and deeply internalized. He went about asking prominent residents of contemporary Calcutta whether they had come "face to face with God", but could not get answers which satisfied him. That was the point when he was first introduced to Ramakrishna Paramhansa. The introduction occurred in a literature class in General Assembly's Institution. Principal Reverend W. Hastie was lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem The Excursion and The Poet's nature-mysticism. In the course of explaining the word ‘trance’, Hastie told his students that if they wanted to know the real meaning of it, they should go to Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar. This prompted some of his students, including Narendranath to visit Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

Narendranath met Ramakrishna for the first time in November 1881. This proved to be a turning point in his life. He asked Paramhansa the same questions that he had been asking others - "Do you believe in God, Sir?" "Yes", he replied. "Can you prove it, Sir?" "Yes".  "How?" "Because I see Him just as I see you here, only in a much intense way." This impressed young Narendranath and from that day he began to visit Ramakrishna Paramhansa regularly. Even though Narendra did not accept Ramakrishna as his guru initially, he was attracted by his personality. He initially looked upon Ramakrishna's visions as mere figments of imagination and hallucinations. And as a member of Brahmo Samaj, he revolted against idol worship and polytheism, and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali. He tested Ramakrishna, who never asked Narendra to abandon reason, and faced all of Narendra's arguments and examinations with patience—"Try to see the truth from all angles" was his reply. During the course of five years of his training under Ramakrishna, Narendra was transformed from a restless, puzzled, impatient youth to a mature man who was ready to renounce everything for the sake of God realization. In time, Narendra accepted Ramakrishna as his guru.

After the death of their master, Ramakrishna’s disciples, under the leadership of Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half-ruined house at Baranagar near the river Ganga. This became the first building of the Ramakrishna Math. Vivekanada and other members of the Math often spent their time in meditation and discussing different philosophies and teachings of spiritual teachers including Ramakrishna, Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, and Jesus Christ. In the early part of 1887, Narendra and eight other disciples took formal monastic vows. Narendra took the name of Swami Bibidishanand. In January 1899, the Baranagar Math was shifted to a newly acquired plot of land at Belur in the district of Howrah, now famous as the Belur Math.

In 1888, Vivekananda left the math as a Parivrâjaka—the Hindu religious life of a wandering monk. His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff, and his two favorite books—Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. Narendranath travelled the length and breadth of India for five years, visiting important centers of learning, acquainting himself with the diverse religious traditions and different patterns of social life. He developed a sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the masses and resolved to uplift the nation. Living mainly on Bhiksha or alms, Vivekananda traveled mostly on foot and railway tickets bought by his admirers whom he met during the travels. During these travels he gained acquaintance and stayed with scholars, Dewans, Rajas and people from all walks of life—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Pariahs (low caste workers) and Government officials. In Madurai, he met the Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Setupati. The Raja became the Swami's disciple and urged him to go to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. With the aid of funds collected by his Madras disciples and Rajas of Mysore, Ramnad, Khetri, Dewans and other followers, Vivekananda left for Chicago on May 31, 1893. At this time, he assumed the name Vivekananda as suggested by Ajit Singh, the Maharaja of Khetri.

On his way to Chicago, Vivekananda visited Japan. He called the Japanese "one of the cleanest people on earth", and was impressed not only by neatness of their streets and dwellings but also by their movements, attitudes and gestures.

His journey to America took him through China, Canada and he arrived at Chicago in July 1893. But to his disappointment, he learnt that no one without credentials from a bonafide organization would be accepted as a delegate. He came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University. After inviting him to speak at Harvard and on learning from him of not having credentials to speak at the Parliament, Wright, "To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens." Wright then addressed a letter to the Chairman in charge of delegates writing, "Here is a man who is more learned than all of our learned professors put together." Parliament of Religions opened on September 11, 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago. On this day Vivekananda gave his first brief address representing India and Hinduism. He bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America!" To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored, he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance." And quoted two illustrative passages in this regard, from the Bhagavad Gita—"As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea. So, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!" and "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me."  Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality. He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism. The parliament ended on September 27, 1893.

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Swami Vivekananda – The Journey from Narendranath to Vivekananda

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