At college and university, rendrath Datta began to immerse himself in his studies specializing in Philosophy and History. On top of the usual curriculum, he avidly studied western philosophy and logic including the abstruse philosophy of Herbert Spencer, the systems of Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, the mystical and alytical speculation of the Aristotelian school, the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte, and John Stuart Mill’s three essays on religion. He mastered the ancient and modern history of Europe and read English poets like Shelley and Wordsworth. He even took a course in physiology with a view to understanding the functioning of the nervous system, spil cord and brain.
However this contact with western thought, with its emphasis on the supremacy of reason, brought about a severe interl conflict within rendrath’s young mind. On one side was his inborn tendency towards spirituality based on his respect for the ancient traditions and beliefs of his religion, which he had learned from his mother. On the other side was his argumentative ture coupled with sharp intellect, which rejected superstition and questioned simple faith.
Under a deep spiritual urge, he started observing hard ascetic practices whilst staying at his grandmother’s house, away from his parents and other relatives. These included following a strict vegetarian diet, sleeping on the bare ground or on an ordiry quilt, and other such practices in accordance with the strict rules of brahmacharya.
From youth, two visions of life had appeared before him. In one, he found himself among the elite of the world, possessing riches, power, honour and glory; and in the other, he felt himself capable of renouncing all worldly things, dressed in simple loin-cloth, living on alms, sleeping under a tree — with the capacity to live thus like the rishis of ancient Bharat.
In his eagerness for spiritual illumition, he went to Devendrath Tagore, the leader of Brahmo Samaj, and asked him: “Sir, have you seen God?” Embarrassed by the question, the old man replied, “My boy, you have the eyes of a Yogi. You should practice meditation.” The youth was disappointed, but he received no better answer from the leaders of other religious sects whom he approached with the same question.
At this critical juncture, he remembered the words of his professor William Hastie, who while speaking of trances in the course of his lectures, had said: “Such an experience is the result of purity of mind and concentration on some particular object, and is rare indeed, particularly in these days. I have seen only one person who has experienced that blessed state of mind, and he is Ramakrish Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. You can understand if you go there and see for yourself.”
Now in the midst of his inner turmoil, the young seeker decided to have yet one more try to solve his problem. Approaching Sri Ramakrish at Dakshineswar, rendrath put to him the question: “Sir, have you seen God?”
“Yes, answered Sri Ramakrish, “I see Him just as I see you here, only I see Him in a much more intense way. God can be realised. One can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you. But who cares to do so? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children, for wealth and property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him, He surely manifests Himself.”
This startling reply impressed rendrath greatly. For the first time, here was someone who could say that he had seen God, and recognised that religion was a reality to be felt. As he listened, he could not but believe that Sri Ramakrish spoke from the depths of his own realizations. From this first meeting itself, rendrath Datta took the path which would turn him into Swami Vivekanda.
In subsequent meetings, the young seeker would sometimes go into a deep trance at Sri Ramakrish’s touch. The sage revealed later: “I put several questions to rendrath while he was in that state. I asked him about his antecedents, and where he lived, his mission in this world and the duration of his mortal life. He gave fitting answers after diving deep into himself.”
Sri Ramakrish concluded: “The answers only confirmed what I had seen and inferred about rendrath. I came to know he was previously a great sage who had attained perfection, a past master in meditation. The day he again understands his real ture, he will give up his body by an act of will, through Yoga.”