Home > Vivekananda and Vedanta > Swami Vivekananda and the Rockefeller Foundation

Swami Vivekananda and the Rockefeller Foundation

February 8, 2012

Most people know that Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission which today has grown into a large spiritual-social mission quietly working in all parts of the world for the betterment of humanity and amelioration of suffering. Very few know of another extraordinary organization that was founded on the suggestion of Swami Vivekananda.

It was early 1894 and Swamiji was traveling around the United States giving lectures. He had become very popular after his famous speech at the Parliament of Religions. It was around the same time another American had amassed a lot of riches from the oil business. This was John D. Rockefeller and he was known for his ruthlessness and single-minded pursuit for making money. In fact, he was known to be obsessed with his wealth and making profits that it had begun to tell on his health. It was around then that he learnt of the wonderful and extraordinary Hindu monk staying in the house of one of his business colleagues in Chicago. Rockefeller was invited many times by this friend but he refused the invitation. One day, although he did not want to meet the Swamiji, he was pushed to do so by an impulse and went directly to the house of his friend, brushing aside the butler saying that he wanted to meet the Hindu monk. The butler ushered him into the living room and not waiting to be announced, Rockefeller entered Swamiji’s adjoining study room and was much surprised to see Swamiji behind the writing table, not even lifting his eyes to see who has entered.

After a while, in a quiet voice Swamiji, who had not seen Rockefeller even once, talked to him of his (Rockefeller’s) innermost secrets and anxieties. He talked of things which even his closest friends and relatives would not have known. It seemed miraculous, almost supernatural to Rockefeller. “How do you know all this? Who has talked of this to you?” he burst out. Swamiji looked at him with a quiet, calm smile on his lips as if a child standing before him had asked a foolish question. Swamiji said, “Forget the past. Become gay again. Build up your health. Do not dwell on your sorrows. Transmute your emotions into some form of creative external expression. Your spiritual health requires it. You are only a channel for God’s money that you have accumulated and it is your duty to do good to the world. God has given you all His wealth in order that you may get an opportunity to serve Him and His starving millions of children”.

On hearing this, Rockefeller was annoyed that anyone dared to talk to him in that manner. He left the room in irritation, not even saying goodbye. But after a week, again without being announced, he entered Swamiji’s study and finding him the same as before, threw on his desk a paper which told of his plans to donate an enormous sum of money towards financing a public institution. “Well, there you are Swami” Rockefeller said, “You must be satisfied now and you can thank me for it”. Swamiji did not even lift his eyes, did not move for a time. Then taking the paper he quietly read it and said, “It is for you to thank me”. That was all!

That was Rockefeller’s first large donation to public welfare and that was how the activities of The Rockefeller Foundation started.

Kannada version in Prajavani (16-Feb-12)

Balu

  1. Arun Karpur
    February 8, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Balu: You have beautifully captured Swamiji’s interaction with Mr. Rockefeller. It always amazes me to know the influence of Swamiji’s teachings of vedanta has had on the world. His message of spiritual realization through selfless work and constant pursuit of God through service to men is alwasy uplifiting and energizing. In this current era of human existence that rewards greed and belives in phrases like “greed is good,” Swamiji’s message of unselfish service is so refreshing as well as at times unsettling to conflicted young minds. What was so great about Swamiji’s message of service is that his approach is highly practical. He never preached for one to give away everything and he never preached sacrifice of distancing one from their lives of achievement and accomplishments. What I alwasy find encouraging, is his message of continuing to do service to others while still living the “worldly” life of accomplishments and achievements. It resonates a lot to your message to our students of practicing “compssionate curiosity”.
    Regards
    Arun

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