A Biography by His Eastern and Western Disciples


With the exception of a short visit to Mormugao in the Portuguese seaside colony, the Swami came direct from Belgaum to Bangalore in the State of Mysore. For the first few days he lived an obscure life, but it was not long before he became the centre of attraction and made the acquaintance of Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore. A few minutes' conversation was sufficient to impress that remarkable man with the fact that the young Sannyasin before him possessed “a magnetic personality and a divine force which were destined to leave their mark on the history of his country.” He remained as the guest of this great statesman for some three to four weeks, during which time he met the distinguished officials and noblemen of the Court of Mysore. Wherever he went he was sought after not only by his co-religionists, but by people of other faiths and creeds as well. Sir Seshadri Iyer was delighted with “this learned Sadhu” and said on one occasion, “Many of us have studied much about religion. And yet what has it availed us? Here is this young man whose insight exceeds that of anyone I have ever known. It is simply wonderful. He must have been bom a knower of religion, otherwise how could he at such a comparatively young age have gained all this knowledge and insight?” Thinking that the Maharaja of Mysore might be interested in this “young Acharya,” Sir Seshadri Iyer introduced him to the Prince. The Swami, clad in his Gerua, princely himself in his bearing, entered the audience-room of the Maharaja, Shri Chamarajendra Wadiyar. The Prince was delighted with him. “Such brilliancy of thought, such charm of personality, such wide learning and such penetrating religious insight” quite won him over. The Swami became the guest of the State. Often he was closeted with the Maharaja, who sought his advice on many important matters.

One clay, in the presence of his courtiers the Maharaja asked, “Swamiji, what do you think of my courtiers?’’ “Well, I think Your Highness has a very good heart, but you are unfortunately surrounded by courtiers, and courtiers are courtiers everywhere!” came the bold answer. “No, no, Swamiji,” the Maharaja protested, “my Dewan at least is not such. He is intelligent and trustworthy.” “But, Your Highness,” said the Swami, “a Dewan is one who robs the Maharaja and pays the Political Agent.” The Prince changed the subject. Afterwards he called the Swami to his private apartments, and said, “My dear Swami, too much frankness is not always safe. If you continue to speak as you did in the presence of my courtiers, I am afraid you will be poisoned by someone.” The Swami burst out, “What! Do you think an honest Sannyasin is afraid of speaking the truth, even though it cost him his very life? Suppose, Your Highness, your son should ask me on the morrow, ‘Swamiji, what do you think of my father?’ Am I to attribute to you all sorts of virtues which I am quite aware you do not possess? Shall I speak falsely? Never!” But with what love and regard he spoke of this Maharaja in his absence! It was the Swami’s habit to take one to task for one’s weaknesses, but behind one’s back he had nothing but praise for one’s virtues, while the defects were disregarded.

During his stay at the Court, the Swami met a noted Austrian musician, with whom he discussed European music. All were amazed at the Swami’s knowledge of European music. Another day he met an electrician, who was engaged in an electric installation in the palace. Casually the talk turned upon the subject of electricity, and here also the Swami showed himself to be quite at home.

During his stay in Mysore a great assembly of Pandits was held in the palace-hall and the Swami was invited to be present. The Prime Minister was the Chairman; the topic was the Vedanta. After the Pandits had finished, the Swami was invited to speak. In telling language, now with epigrams, now with great eloquence, the Swami explained the ideas of the Vedanta, and the Pandits with one voice applauded him.

Pleased beyond measure with the Swami, the Prime Minister one day requested him to accept some presents from him, and ordered one of his secretaries to take him to the most expensive shop in the Bazar and purchase for him anything that he might like to have. To gratify his host the Swami accompanied the man, who took his cheque-book with him, ready to write a cheque for as much as one thousand rupees. The Swami was like a child; he looked at everything, admired many things, and in the end said, “My friend, if the Dewan wishes me to buy anything I desire, let me have the very best cigar in the place.” Emerging from the store, the Swami lighted the cigar, which cost a shilling only, and drove to the palace, eminently satisfied with his purchase.

One day the Swami was called to the apartments of the Prince, and the Prime Minister went with him. The Maharaja asked, “Swamiji, what can I do for you?” The Swami, evading a direct reply, burst forth into an eloquent description of his mission. He dwelt on the condition of India, saying that India's possession was philosophical and spiritual, and that it stood in need of modern scientific ideas as well as a thorough organic reform; that it was India’s place to what treasure it possessed to the peoples of the West, and that he himself intended going to America to preach the gospel of Vedanta to the Western nations. And the Prince promised, then and there, the necessary money to defray his travelling expenses. But for some reason best known to himself, perhaps because of his vow first of all to visit Rameswaram, the Swami refused the generous offer of the Maharaja at this time.

The longer the Swami remained with the Maharaja, the greater became the latter’s attachment to him. When the Swami spoke of departing, he was visibly distressed and requested him to stay a few days more. He added, “Swamiji, I must have something with me as a remembrance of your personality. So, allow me to take a phonographic record of your voice.” This the Swami consented to, and even now the record remains preserved in the palace, though it has long since become indistinct. In truth, so great was the admiration of this ruler for the Swami that he proposed to worship his feet, even as one worships those of one’s Guru; but this the Swami did not allow him to do.

Some few days later, the Swami said that it was high time for his departure. Hearing this, the Prince desired to load him with rich presents. The Swami declined the offer. But the Maharaja insisted. The Swami said, “Well, Your Highness, if you persist in offering me something, then please give me a non-metallic Hookah. That will be of some use to me.” Thereupon the Maharaja presented him with a beautiful rosewood pipe, delicately carved. On the Swami’s departure the ruler bowed at his feet, and the Prime Minister made many unsuccessful efforts to thrust a roll of currency notes into his pocket. The Swami finally said, “If you desire to do anything for me, please purchase my ticket to Trichur. I am on my way, as you know, to Rarneswaram, but I shall halt for a few days in Cochin.” Realising that the Swami would not allow him to do more for him, the Prime Minister purchased a second-class ticket and gave him a letter of introduction to Mr. Shankariah, the acting Dewan of Cochin.

At Trichur he remained only a few days, and then left for the southernmost part of India. He passed through Malabar and was particularly taken with the grand and picturesque scenery of Travancore. He visited Trivandrum, the capital city, where he stayed with Professor Sundararama Iyer, the tutor to the First Prince, the nephew of the Maharaja of Travancore. The celebrated scholar, Mr. Rangachariar of Madras, then Professor of Chemistry at the Maharaja’s College, met him as well. Mr. S. K. Nair of Travancore says:

“Both these gentlemen, who were themselves erudite scholars in English and Sanskrit, found great pleasure and derived much benefit by constant conversation with the Swami. Anyone who became closely acquainted with him could not but be struck with his powerful personality and be drawn to him. He had the wonderful faculty of answering many men on many questions at one and the same time. It might be a talk on Spencer, or some thought of Shakespeare or Kalidasa, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the Jewish history, the growth of Aryan civilisation, the Vedas, Islam or Christianity — whatever the question, the Swami was ready with an appropriate answer. . . . Sublimity and simplicity were written boldly on his features. A clean heart, a pure and austere life, an open mind, a liberal spirit, a wide outlook and broad sympathy were the redeeming characteristics of the Swami.”

During his visit here he taught in private the necessity of many reforms affecting the whole Indian nation, and of the necessity of raising the masses. Professor Sundararama Iyer in writing of the Swami's stay with him for nine days at Trivandrum says:1

“I met Swami Vivekananda for the first time at Trivandrum in December, 1892, and was privileged to see and know a good deal of him. ... He came to me accompanied by his Mohammedan guide. My second son, a little boy of twelve, took him for, and announced him to me as a Mohammedan too, as he well might from the Swami’s costume, which was quite unusual for a Hindu Sannyasin of Southern India. ... Almost the first thing he asked me to do was to arrange for his Mohammedan attendant’s meal. This companion was a peon in the Cochin State service and had been detailed to accompany him to Trivandrum by the Secretary to the Dewan, Mr. W. Ramaiya. ... The Swami had taken almost nothing but a little milk during the two previous days, but it was only after his Mohammedan peon had been provided with food and had taken his leave that he gave any thought to his own needs. After a few minutes’ conversation I found that the Swami was a mighty man. ... When I asked him what food he was accustomed to, he replied, ‘Anything you like, we Sannyasins have no preferences’. ...

“On learning that the Swami was a Bengali, I made the observation that the Bengali nation had produced many great men and, foremost of them all, the Brahmo preacher, Kcshab Chandra Sen. It was then that the Swami mentioned to me the name, and expatiated briefly on the eminent spiritual endowments of his Guru, Shri Ramakrishna, and took my breath completely away by the remark that Keshab was a mere child when compared with Shri Ramakrishna — that not only he, but many eminent Bengalis of a generation past had been influenced by the sage — that Keshab had in later life received the benefit of his inspiration and had undergone considerable change for the better in his religious views — that many Europeans had sought the acquaintance of Shri Ramakrishna and regarded him as a semi-divine personage — and that no less a man than the late Director of Public Instruction in Bengal, Mr. C. H. Tawney, had written a paper on the character, genius, catholicity and inspiring power of the great sage.

....The Swami’s presence, his voice, the glitter of his eye and the flow of his words and ideas were so inspiring that I excused myself that day from attending at the Palace of the late Martanda Varma, the First Prince of Travancore, who was studying lor his M.A. degree under my tuition. ... In the evening we went to the house of Prof. Rangacharya, Professor of Chemistry in the Trivandrum College, .... who was even then at the height of his reputation as a scholar and man of science throughout Southern India. Not finding him at home, we drove to the Trivandrum Club. There I introduced the Swami to various gentlemen present and to Prof. Rangacharya when he came in later on, to the late Prof. Sundaram Pillai, M.A., and others, among whom I distinctly remember a late Brahman Dewan Peshkar and my friend Narayana Menon. ... owing to an incident which, however trifling in itself, brought out a prominent characteristic of the Swami — how he noted closely all that was passing around him, how he combined with his rare gentleness and sweetness of temper, the presence of mind and the power of retort which could quickly silence an opponent. Mr. Narayana Menon had, while leaving the Club earlier in the evening, saluted the Brahman Dewan Peshkar, and the latter had returned it in the time-honoured fashion in which Brahmans who maintain old forms of etiqueite return the salute of Sudras, i.e. by raising the left hand a little higher than the right. ... As we were dispersing, the Dewan Peshkar made his obeisance to the Swami, which the latter returned in the manner usual with Hindu monks by simply uttering the name of Narayana. This roused the Peshkar‘s ire, for he wanted the Swami’s obeisance in the fashion in which he had made his own. The Swami turned on him and said, ‘If you can exercise your customary form of etiquette in returning Narayana Menon’s greeting, why should you resent my own adoption of the Sannyasin's customary mode in acknowledging your obeisance to me?’ This reply had the desired effect, and next day the gentleman’s brother came to us to convey an apology for the awkward incident of the night previous. Short as his stay had been at the Club premises, the Swami’s personality had made an impression on all. ...

“The Swami paid a visit the next day to Prince Martanda Varma, who had, when informed by me of the remarkable intellectual and imposing presence of my visitor, expressed a desire for an interview. Of course, I accompanied the Swami and was present at the ensuing conversation. The Swami happened to mention his visits to various Native Princes, and courts during his travels. This greatly interested the Prince, who interrogated him regarding his impressions. The Swami then told him that, of all the Hindu Ruling Princes he had met, he had been most impressed with the capacity, patriotism, energy and foresight of H. H. the Gaekwar of Baroda, that he had also known and greatly admired the high qualities of the small Rajput Chief of Khetri, and that, as he came further south, he had found a growing deterioration in the character and capacity of Indian Princes and Chiefs. The Prince then asked him if he had seen his uncle, the ruler of Travancore. The Swami had not yet had time to arrange for a visit to His Highness. I may here mention that a visit was arranged for two days later through the good offices of the Dewan, Mr. Shankara Subbier. ... The Maharaja received ... The Swami, inquired after his welfare, and told him that the Dewan would provide him with every convenience during his stay both in Trivandrum and elsewhere within the State. The visit lasted only for two or three minutes, and so the Swami returned a little disappointed. ...

“To return to the Swami’s conversation with the Prince . . . The Swami then made an earnest inquiry regarding Prince Martanda Varma’s studies, and his aims in life. The Prince replied that he was taking an interest in the doings of the people of Travancore, resolving to do what he could, as a leading and loyal subject of the Maharaja and as a member of the ruling family, to advance their welfare. The Prince was struck, like all others who had come in contact with him, with the Swami's striking figure and attractive features; and being an amateur photographer, asked the Swami to sit for his photograph. . . .

“. . . The Swami found me much inclined to orthodox Hindu modes of life and beliefs. Perhaps that was why he spoke a good deal in the vein suited to my tastes and views, though occasionally he burst out into spirited denunciation of the observance of mere Deshachara, or local usage. . .

“The Swami once made a spirited attack on the extravagant claims put forth by science on men’s allegiance. If religion has its superstitions, the Swami remarked, ‘science has its superstitions too. Both the mechanical and evolutionary theories are, on examination, found inadequate and unsatisfying, and still there are large numbers of men who speak of the entire universe as an open secret. Agnosticism has also bulked large in men’s esteem, but has only betrayed its ignorance and arrogance by ignoring the laws and truths of the Indian science of thought-control. Western psychology has miserably failed to cope with the superconscious aspects and laws of human nature. Where European science has stopped short, Indian psychology comes in and explains, illustrates and teaches how to render real the laws appertaining to higher states of existence and experience. Religion alone — and especially the religion of the Indian sages — can understand the subtle and secret workings of the human mind and conquer its unspiritual cravings so as to realise the One Existence and comprehend all else as its limitation and manifestation when under the bondage of matter.’ Another subject on which the Swami spoke was the distinction between the world of gross matter (Laukika) and the world of fine matter, (Alaukika). The Swami explained how both kept within the bondage of the senses, and only he who rose superior to them could attain the freedom which is the aim of all life and raise himself above the petty vanities of the world, whether of men or gods. The Swami spoke to me of the institution of caste, and held that the Brahman would continue to live as long as he found unselfish work to do and freely gave of his knowledge and all to the rest of the population. In the actual words of the Swami which are still ringing in my cars, ‘The Brahman has done great things for India; he is destined to do greater things for India in the future. The Swami also declared himself sternly against all interference with the Shastric usages and injunctions in regard to the status and marriage of women. Women, like the lower classes and castes, must receive a Sanskrit education, imbibe the ancient spiritual culture, and realise in practice all the spiritual ideals of the Rishis, and then they would take into their own hands all questions affecting their own status and solve them in the light thrown on them by their own knowledge of the truths of religion and the enlightened perception of their own needs and requirements.  . . .

“On the third and fourth day of the Swami’s stay with me, I sent information to a valued friend of mine in Trivandrum, . . . M. R. Ry. S. Rama Rao, Director of Vernacular Instruction in Travancore. . . . I remember vividly how once Mr. Rama Rao wished the Swami to explain Indriya Nigraha, the restraint of the senses. The Swami launched forth into a vivid story very much like what is usually told of Lila-Shuka, the famous singer of Krishna-Karnamritam. The picture he gave of the last stage in which the hero is taken to Vrindaban and puts out his own eyes in repentance for his amorous pursuit of a Sett’s daughter and his resolve to end his days in unswerving meditation on the divine Shri Krishna at the place of His childhood on earth, remains with me even after the lapse of twenty-one years, with somewhat of the effect of those irresistibly charming and undying notes on the flute by the late miraculous musician, Sarabha Sastriar, of Kumbakonam. The Swami’s concluding words were, ‘Even this extreme step (of putting out the eyes) must, if necessary, be taken as a preliminary to the restraint of the wandering and unsubjugated senses and the consequent turning of the mind towards the Lord.’

“On the third or fourth day of his stay, I made enquiries, at the Swami’s request, regarding the whereabouts of Mr. Manmatha Nath Bhattacharya, Assistant to the Accountant-General, Madras. ... From that time on the Swami used to spend bis mornings and dine with Mr. Bhattacharya. One day, however, when I complained that he was giving all his time to Mr. Bhattacharya, the Swami made a characteristic reply, ‘We Bengalis, are a clannish people.’ He said also that Mr. Bhattacharya had been his school or college mate, and that he had an additional claim for consideration as he was the son of the late world-renowned scholar, Pandit Mahesh Chandra Nyayaratna, formerly the Principal of the Calcutta Sanskrit College. The Swami also told me that he had long eaten no fish, as the South Indian Brahmans, whose guest he had been throughout his South Indian tour, were forbidden both fish and flesh, and would fain avail himself of this opportunity to have his accustomed fare. I at once expressed my loathing for fish or flesh as food. The Swami said in reply that the ancient Brahmans of India were accustomed to take meat and even beef and were called upon to kill cows and other animals in Yajnas or for giving Madhuparka2 to guests. He also held that the introduction and spread of Buddhism had led to the gradual discontinuance of flesh as food, though the Hindu Shastras had always expressed a theoretical preference for those who avoided the use of flesh-foods, and that the disfavour into which flesh had fallen was one of the chief causes of the gradual decline of the national strength, and the final overthrow of the national independence of the united ancient Hindu races and states of India. ... The Swami‘s opinion, at least as expressed in conversation with me, was that the Hindus must freely take to the use of animal food if India was at all to cope with the rest of the world in the present race for power and predominance among the world's communities, whether within the British Empire, or beyond its limits. ...

“Once a visitor, the Assistant Dewan or Peshkar in the Huzoor Office, Trivandrum, Mr. Piravi Perumal Pillai, detained the Swami from his usual visit to his Bengali countryman, Mr. Bhattacharya. He came to ascertain what the Swami knew of the various cults and religions in India and elsewhere, and began by voicing objections to the Advaita Vedanta. He soon found out that the Swami was a master from whose stores it was more important to draw what one could for inspiration without loss of time than to examine what were the depths and heights in which his mind could range. I saw the Swami exhibit on this occasion . . . . his rare power of gauging in a moment the mental reach of a self-confident visitor, and turning him unconsciously to suitable ground and giving him the benefit of his guidance and inspiration. On the present occasion, the Swami happened to quote from Lalita Vistara some verses descriptive of Buddha's Vairagya and in such an entrancingly melodious voice that the visitor's heart quite melted; and the Swami skilfully utilised his listener's mood to make a lasting impression of Buddha’s great renunciation, his unflinching search after truth, his final discovery of it and his unwearied ministry of forty-five years among men and women of all castes, ranks and conditions of life. The discourse occupied nearly an hour, and at its close the Swami’s visitor was so visibly affected and acknowledged himself as feeling so much raised for the time being above the sordid realities and vanities of life, that he made many devout prostrations at the Swami’s feet and declared, when leaving, that he had never seen his like and would never forget the discourse.

. . . Once I happened to ask him to deliver a public lecture. The Swami said that he had never before spoken in public and would surely prove a lamentable and ludicrous failure. Upon this I inquired how, if this were true, he could face the august assembly of the Parliament of Religions at Chicago at which he told me he had been asked by the Maharaja of Mysore to be present as the representative of Hinduism. The Swami gave me a reply which at the time seemed to me decidedly evasive, namely, that if it was the will of the Supreme that he should be made His mouthpiece and do a great service to the cause of truth and holy living, He surely would endow him with the gifts and qualities needed for it. I said I was incredulous as to the probability or possibility of a special intervention of this kind. . . . He at once came down on me like a sledge-hammer, denouncing me as one who, in spite of my apparent Hindu orthodoxy so far as my daily observances and verbal professions went, was at heart a sceptic, because I seemed to him prepared to set limits to the extent of the Lord’s power of beneficent interposition in the affairs of the universe.

“On another occasion, too, some difference of opinion existed in regard to a question of much importance in Indian ethnology. The Swami held that wherever a Brahman was found with a dark skin, it was clearly a case of atavism, due to Dravidian admixture. To this I replied that colour was essentially a changeable feature in man and largely dependent on such conditions as climate, food, the nature of the occupation as entailing an outdoor or indoor life, and so on. The Swami combated my view and maintained that the Brahmans were as much a mixed race as the rest of mankind, and that their belief in their racial purity was largely founded on fiction. I quoted high authority — C. L. Brace and others — against him in regard to the purity of Indian races, but the Swami was obdurate and maintained his own view.

“During all the time he stayed, he took captive every heart within the home. To every one of us he was all sweetness, all tenderness, all grace. My sons were frequently in his company, and one of them still swears by him and has the most vivid and endearing recollections of his visit and of his striking personality. The Swami learned a number of Tamil words and took delight in conversing in Tamil with the Brahman cook in our home. ... When he left, it seemed for a time as if the light had gone out of our home. ...

The Swami next went eastwards in the direction of Rameswaram, stopping on the way at Madurai where he met the Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Setupati, to whom he had a letter of introduction. This devout Prince, who was one of the most enlightened of India's noblemen, became a devoted admirer and disciple of the Swami. To him the Swami expressed many of his ideas pertaining to the education of the masses and the improvement of agricultural conditions, of the present problems of India and her great possibilities. The Prince persistently urged the Swami to go to the Parliament of Religions that was about to be held at Chicago, saying that that would be the most favourable opportunity of drawing the attention of the world to the spiritual light of the East and also of laying the foundation of his future work in India. He encouraged him and promised to help him. Being eager to visit Rameswaram, the Swami took leave of the Raja, telling him that he would let him know his decision about going to America in the near future.

Rameswaram is the Varanasi of Southern India. It is the holiest of holy places, immortalised in the RaMayana, in the journey of Rama to Lanka (Ceylon) in search of his abducted Queen Sita. The great temple at Rameswaram is entered by a gate one hundred feet in height. The glory of the temple is its great corridors and open galleries. It is said that Shri Ramachandra on his return from Lanka after having defeated and slain Ravana founded this temple and worshipped Shiva there. The Swami was happy to have accomplished one of the most cherished purposes of his life.

The Swami next journeyed on to Kanyakumari, (Cape Comorin) the southernmost extremity of India. Now was finished that great pilgrimage which extends northwards to those distant snow-clad regions where the Himalayas pass into Tibet. He thought of the sacredness of India and of the deep, deep spiritual life of which Badarikashrama and Kanyakumari were the towering landmarks. He was eager as a child to see the Mother; reaching the shrine he fell prostrate in ecstasy before Her image. Worship finished, he crossed to a rock which was separate from the mainland. About him the ocean tossed and stormed, but in his mind there was even a greater tempest. And there, sitting on the last stone of India, he passed into a deep meditation upon the present and future of his country. He sought for the root of her downfall, and with the vision of a seer he understood why India had been thrown from the pinnacle of glory to the depths of degradation. The simple monk was transformed into a great reformer, a great organiser and a great master-builder of the nation. There, where all was silence, he thought of the purpose and fruition of the Indian world. He thought not of Bengal or of Maharashtra, or of the Punjab, but of India and of its very life. All the centuries were arranged before him, and he perceived the realities and potentialities of Indian culture. He saw the whole of India organically and synthetically, as a great master-builder sees the whole architectural design. He saw religion as the very blood and life and spirit of India’s millions. Most vividly did he realise in the silence of his heart, “India shall rise only through a renewal and restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness which has made of India, at all times, the cradle of the nations and the cradle of the Faith.” He saw her greatness and her weaknesses as well, the central evil of which was that the nation had lost its individuality. The only hope was, to his mind, a restatement of the culture of the Rishis. He found that religion was not the cause of India’s downfall, but the fact that true religion was nowhere followed, for religion when dynamic was the most potent of all powers.

His soul brooded with infinite tenderness and infinite anguish over India’s poverty. What use is the Dharma, he thought, without the masses? Everywhere and at all times he saw that the poor and the lowly had been oppressed and downtrodden for hundreds of years by every Power that had come in the changes of fortune to rule them. The autocracy of priesthood, the despotism of caste, the terrible demarcations that these created within the social body, making the majority of the followers of Dharma the outcasts of the earth — these the Swami saw as almost insurmountable barriers to the progress of the Indian nation. His heart throbbed with the great masses; he seemed to have entered, in some supreme mode of feeling, that world of India’s outcasts and poverty-stricken millions. In their sufferings he found himself sharing, at their degradation he found himself humiliated, in their lot his great heart longed to share. Agony was in his soul when he thought how those who prided themselves on being the custodians of Dharma had held down the masses for ages upon ages. In a letter written many months after, one catches the ardour and the intensity of his meditation here. The Swami writes, “In view of all this, specially of the poverty and ignorance, I got no sleep. At Cape Comorin, sitting in Mother Kumari’s temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock, I hit upon a plan: We are so many Sannyasins wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics — it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva use to say, 'An empty stomach is no good for religion?’ That those poor people are leading the life of brutes, is simply due to ignorance. We have for all ages been sucking their blood and trampling them under foot.”3

But what was the remedy? The clear-eyed Swami saw that renunciation and service must be the twin ideals of India. If the national life could be intensified through these channels everything else would take care of itself. Renunciation alone had always been the great dynamo of strength in India. So in this critical time he looked to the men of renunciation to uphold the cause of India’s downtrodden masses. He hit upon a plan. “Suppose,” he continues in the same letter, “some disinterested Sannyasins, bent on doing good to others, go from village to village, disseminating education and seeking in various ways to better the condition of all down to the Chandala, through oral teaching, and by means of maps, cameras, globes and such other accessories — can’t that bring forth good in time? All these plans I cannot write out in this short letter. The long and short of it is — if the mountain does not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. The poor are too poor to come to schools and Pathashalas; and they will gain nothing by reading poetry and all that sort of thing. We as a nation have lost our individuality, and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality and raise the masses. The Hindu, the Mohammedan, the Christian, all have trampled them under foot.

Again the force to raise them must come from inside, that is, from the orthodox Hindus. In every country the evils exist not with, but against, religion. Religion, therefore, is not to blame, but men.”

What could he do, a penniless Sannyasin! In the midst of black despair, came to him the great light of inspiration. He had travelled through the length and breadth of India, and he was sure he could find in every town at least a dozen young men who would help him in his endeavour to uplift the masses. But where to get the necessary money? He asked for help, but got only lip sympathy. “Selfishness personified — are they to spend anything!” thus the Swami wrote later on. In his despair he looked to the infinite ocean, and a ray of light shot across his vision. Yes, he would cross the ocean and go to America in the name of India’s millions. There he would earn money by the power of his brain and returning to India devote himself to carry out his plans for the regeneration of his countrymen or die in the attempt. Shri Ramakrishna would show him the way out, even if nobody in the world helped him in his work.

Ay, here at Kanyakumari was the culmination of days and days of thought on the problems of the Indian masses; here was the culmination of hours of longing that the wrongs of the masses might be righted. His eyes looked through a mist of tears across the great waters. His heart went out to the Master and to the Mother in a great prayer. From this moment his life was consecrated to the service of India, but particularly to the outcast Narayanas, to the starving Narayanas, to the millions of oppressed Narayanas of his land. To him, in this wonderful hour, even the final vision of Brahman in the Nirvikalpa Samadhi and the bliss thereof became subservient to the overwhelming desire to give himself utterly and entirely for the good of the Indian people. And his soul was caught up in an ecstasy of vision of the Narayana Himself — the Supreme Lord of the Universe, whose love is boundless, whose pity knows no distinction between the high and the low, the pure and the vile, the rich and the poor. To him religion was no longer an scheme of things not only the Dharma, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the meditation of Sages, the asceticism of great monks, the vision of the Most High, but the heart of the people, their lives, their hopes, their misery, their poverty, their degradation, their sorrows, their woes. And he saw that the Dharma, and even the Vedas, without the people, were as so much straw in the eyes of the Most High. Verily, at Kanyakumari the Swami was the Patriot and Prophet in one!

And so out of his meditation, as its very result, he determined to go to the West. He would make that intensely individualised and aggressively self-conscious West bow down to the Oriental experience as embodied in India's message to the world. That on which the monks concentrate as the ideal of the race, and the realisation of which affords them infinite ecstasy and insight — That in Its entirety he would preach to the West. And in the wake of that preaching by himself and others yet to come, India would rise, he knew, as a great light, ay, even as the Sun itself, illuminating the whole world. He would throw away even the bliss of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi for the liberation of his fellow-men in India and abroad! Thus was the spirit of Shri Ramakrishna revealed to him in one of the most luminous visions of his life, the fruition of the deep meditations of many years. No wonder that he spoke of himself to one of his beloved Western disciples in later times as “A condensed India".

  1. ^The narration has been condensed at places to economise space.
  2. ^A mixture of honey containing meat etc., given to an honoured guest as a respectful offering.
  3. ^Complete Works, Vol. VI.