It is an exceedingly difficult task to keep up with the Swami in his travels following upon the Parliament of Religions. His lecture tour under the bureau carried him far and wide. But his travels, while going about delivering lectures and holding parlour meetings and class talks, on his own account, were even more varied. Within the short time of a year he had visited practically every city of consequence from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River, and had given innumerable lectures, both public and private, the reports of most of which are unfortunately not available now. Wherever he went, he went as a guest. In Detroit he was for about four weeks the guest of Mrs. John J. Bagley, the widow of the ex-Governor of Michigan and a lady of rare culture and unusual spirituality. She often said that during this time the Swami constantly expressed the highest in word and action, and that his presence was a “continual benediction.” After leaving Mrs. Bagley, he spent two weeks as the guest of the Hon. Thomas W. Palmer, the President of the World’s Fair Commission and formerly a U. S. Senator and the Minister of his country to Spain. When not travelling, or answering invitations coining from all directions, he was frequently the guest of Mr. George W. Hale of Chicago. After giving a series of lectures in the Unitarian Church at Detroit in February, the Swami spent the months of March, April and May of 1894, alternately in Chicago, and New York and Boston. June he spent in Chicago, while during the mid-summer months he delivered a series of lectures at Greenacre in New England, where the “Greenacre Conferences” were being inaugurated and before which he had been asked to speak. Here a group of earnest students gathered round him, and the Swami expounded the Vedanta philosophy as they sat in oriental fashion under a venerable pine tree, since called “The Swami’s Pine.” These conferences became widely known through the School of Comparative Religions conducted there by Dr. Lewis G. Janes, who was long the President of the Brooklyn Ethical Association. Following upon his work in Greenacre, where he left an indelible impression, the Swami visited on invitation various intellectual and society people in the cities and suburbs of Boston, Chicago and New York. In this way he spent the autumn, visiting Baltimore and Washington at the end of October. In November he went to New York again. His previous visits to the city had been only casual, as a guest in the homes of friends. He had given a few public lectures but was not yet in a position to begin regular work. It was at this time that he met Dr. Lewis G. Janes, mentioned above, who was so much struck with his unusual attainments as well as with his message that he invited him at once to give a series of lectures on the Hindu Religion before the Brooklyn Ethical Association. This the Swami accepted. From that time until death separated them he and Dr. Janes were fast friends.
His first lecture in Brooklyn before that Association ensured him immediate success. A large and enthusiastic audience greeted him on that night — the last night of the year — to listen to his lecture on Hinduism, “and as the Swami, in his long robe and turban, expounded the ancient religion of his native land, the interest grew so deep that at the close of the evening there was an insistent demand for regular classes in Brooklyn”. The Swami acceded, and a series of class meetings were held and several public lectures were given at the Pouch Mansion, where the Ethical Association held its meetings, and elsewhere.
Of his appearance before the Brooklyn Ethical Society, The Brooklyn Standard writes:
“It was the voire of the ancient Rishis of the Vedas, speaking sweet words of love and toleration through the Hindu monk, Paramahamsa Swami Vivekananda, that held spellbound every one of those many hundreds who had accepted the invitation of the Brooklyn Ethical Society and packed the large lecture hall and the adjoining rooms of the Pouch Gallery on Clinton Avenue to overflowing, on the 30th December, 1894.
“. . . . Men of all professions and callings — doctors and lawyers and judges and teachers — together with many ladies, had come from all parts of the city to listen to his strangely beautiful and eloquent defence of the Religion of India. . . .
“And they were not disappointed. Swami (i.e. Master or Rabbi or Teacher) Vivekananda is even greater than his fame. . . . He was a splendid type of the famous sages of the Himalayas, a prophet of a new religion combining the morality of the Christians with the philosophy of the Buddhists . . . .
“Whatever else may be said of the Swami’s lecture or address (for it was spoken extemporaneously), it was certainly intensely interesting . . . .”
This series of lectures constituted the real beginning of the Swami’s work in America. He had already anticipated the serious character of his future activity by breaking away from social invitations and establishing himself in quarters of his own in the city of New York. He was tired and disgusted with the fame he had acquired; and he felt that the interest he had awakened was not what he wanted; to his mind it was too superficial. He desired earnest-minded followers whom he could teach freely, while living independently in a place of his own. For this reason he announced classes and lectures free of charge, himself paying expenses with the money he had gained in his lecturing tours. Many came, some from curiosity, others from earnest sincerity “to learn the ancient teachings of India and the all-embracing character of its philosophy, . . . and, above all, to hear the constant lessons of the Swami on a world-wide universal toleration”. Miss S. E. Waldo, of Brooklyn, who became one of the Swami’s foremost disciples, and well known under the name of Sister Haridasi, writes as follows, taking up the thread of her narrative from the time of his lecture before the Ethical Association:1
“A few of those who had heard him in Brooklyn now began to go to the place where he lived in New York. It was just an ordinary room on the second floor of a lodging house. The classes grew with astonishing rapidity, and as the little room filled to overflowing it became very picturesque. The Swami himself sat on the floor and most of his audience likewise. The marble-topped dresser, the arms of the sofa and even the corner wash-stand helped to furnish seats for the constantly increasing numbers. The door was left open and the overflow filled the hall and sat on the stairs. And those first classes! How intensely interesting they were! Who that was privileged to attend them can ever forget them! The Swami so dignified yet so simple, so gravely earnest, so eloquent, and the close ranks of students, forgetting all inconveniences, hanging breathless on his every word!
“It was a fit beginning for a movement that has since grown to such grand proportions. In this unpretentious way did Swami Vivekananda inaugurate the work of teaching Vedanta philosophy in New York. The Swami gave his services free as air. The rent was paid by voluntary subscriptions; and when these were found insufficient, the Swami hired a hall and gave secular lectures on India and devoted the proceeds to the maintenance of the classes. He said that Hindu teachers of religion felt, it to be their duty to support their classes and the students too, if they were unable to care for themselves, and the teachers would willingly make any sacrifice they possibly could, to assist a needy disciple.
“The classes began in February, 1895, and lasted until June; but long before that time they had outgrown their small beginnings and had removed downstairs to occupy an entire parlour floor and extension. The classes were held nearly every morning and on several evenings in every week. Some Sunday lectures were also given, and there were ‘question’ classes to help those to whom the teaching was so new and strange that they were desirous to have an opportunity for more extended explanation.”
It is touching to find the Swami teaching Americans of wealth and position, in the fashion of the ancient Gurus. Though they had money, he would not make a single charge. Religion, to his mind, ought to be given free, for it was something not to be bartered but realised. Though it is true that regular classes did not begin until February of the year 1895, yet numbers of visitors flocked to him constantly. The Swami now felt that he was carrying on his message, slowly, perhaps, but surely, in the right way. Formerly he had stood merely in the limelight, which to the superficial mind means success. But the Swami knew better, for he had within him the Sannyasin instinct for sounding the reality and worth of things. He abandoned readily the surroundings and the invitations of persons of wealth and social position for the simple and yet intense life which he deemed necessary for the spread of the cause.
At this time he worked more strenuously than ever; he gave his whole time to teaching by means of talks and lectures, and regularly every day trained some chosen followers how to quiet the mind in the silence of meditation. Teaching his auditors how to meditate he would himself drift into the meditative state, and oftentimes so deeply that he could not readily be brought back to normal consciousness. When the Swami emerged from such states, he would feel impatient with himself, for he desired that the Teacher should be uppermost in him, rather than the Yogi. In order to avoid repetitions of such occurrences, he instructed one or two, how to bring him back by uttering a word or a Name, should he be carried by the force of meditation into Samadhi. Often he would be found singing Sanskrit hymns in gentle tones, or murmuring to himself some of the great Shlokas of the Vedas and the Upanishads. He literally radiated spirituality. Indeed, that same atmosphere of ecstasy and insight that hovered about the Master at Dakshineswar, now hovered about the Swami in these strange surroundings in a far-off land. An atmosphere of benediction, of peace, of power and of inexpressible luminosity was felt by one and all who came to his classes.
It is interesting to read the description of the Swami given by the Phrenological Journal of New York. It reads:
“Swami Vivekananda is in many respects an excellent specimen of his race, he is five feet eight and a half inches in height and weighs one hundred and seventy pounds. His head measures twenty-one and three-fourths inches in circumference by fourteen from ear to ear across the top. He is thus very well proportioned as regards both body and brain. His instincts are too feminine to be compatible with much conjugal sentiment. Indeed, he says himself that he never had the slightest feeling of love for any woman. As he is opposed to war and teaches a religion of unmixed gentleness, we should expect his head to be narrow in the region of the ears at the seat, of combativeness and destructiveness, and such is the case. The same deficiency is much marked in the diameters a little farther up at secretiveness and acquisitiveness. He dismisses the whole subject of finance and ownership by saying that he has no property and does not want to be bothered with any. While such a sentiment sounds odd to American ears, it must be confessed that his face, at least, shows more marks of contentment than the visages of Russel Sage, Hetty Green and many others of our multi-millionaires. Firmness and conscientiousness are fully developed. Benevolence is quite conspicuous. Music is well indicated in the width of the temples. The prominent eyes betoken superior memory of words and explain much of the eloquence he has displayed in his lectures. The upper forehead is well developed at causality and in comparison to which is added a fine endowment of suavity and sense of human nature. Summing up the organisation, it will be seen that kindness, sympathy and philosophical intelligence, with ambition to achieve success in the direction of higher educational work are his predominant characteristics. Being a graduate of the Calcutta University, he speaks English almost as perfectly as if he were a native of England. If he does no more than continue the development of that splendid spirit of charity which was displayed at the World’s Fair, his mission among us will certainly prove eminently successful.”
Yet, in spite of the appreciation of the beauty of his character and the grandeur of his mission and leaching, the path before the Swami was not a smooth one. With his great veneration for Jesus the Christ, which all who knew him were aware of, it is almost unbelievable that the Swami was continuously persecuted by sectarian and bigoted Christians who, not satisfied with criticising his work and philosophy, made attacks upon his personal character. Sometimes notes and letters were sent to persons who had invited him to their homes, which declared that the Swami was not what he represented himself to be, and contained all kinds of calumnies against him. Occasionally these notices had the desired effects, and the Swami would find that the doors of his intended hosts were closed to him! But in most instances, the error would be discovered after a time, and they would call and apologise, and become greater friends than ever. So the obstacles he had to face were enormous, keeping him on edge, as it were, constantly. Everywhere he encountered the weighty opposition of sheer ignorance. Some idea of the difficulties may be gleaned from a letter written to the Brahmavadin in the following year by Swami Kripananda, an American disciple, which is quoted at some length here to show the Swami’s mettle.
“The wonderful success which the Swami Vivekananda achieved in spreading the religious and the philosophical ideas of the Hindus in America, rnay lead one to the erroneous conclusion that this happy result was due to a coincidence of favourable circumstances, rather than to his extraordinary ability. It is only by studying the fin de siècle condition of our country, by taking cognisance of the antagonistic forces that had to ho coped with, and considering the numerous difficulties to be overcome in this attempt, that we come to fully appreciate the grandeur of the work accomplished, and to realise that the great success accompanying it, is solely due to the personality of the Teacher, to his extraordinary moral, intellectual and spiritual endowments, and to his exceptional energy and willpower.
“It is true that, on the occasion of the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, many Indians succeeded in calling the attention of the world to the Light from the East, and caused a wave to pass over our country; but this wave would have died away as quickly as it had come, without leaving any lasting clfcct, had it not been for the efforts of this one man who unremittingly persisted in grafting the Hindu religious ideas on Western materialism and never rested until his work was crowned with success.
“At the time the American mind was coated with thick layers of superstition and bigotry that had come down from olden times and there was no humbug, no charlatanry, no imposition which had not left there an impress extremely difficult to eradicate. The Americans are a receptive nation. That is why the country is a hot-bed of all kinds of religious and irreligious monstrosities. There is no theory so absurd, no doctrine so irrational, no claim so extravagant, no fraud so transparent, but can find their numerous believers and a ready market. This morbid craving for the abnormal, the occult, the sensational, has practically brought about a revival of the Middle Ages. To satisfy this craving, to feed the credulity of the people hundreds of societies and sects are born for the salvation of the world and to enable the prophets to pocket $25 to $100 initiation fees. Hobgoblins, spooks, Mahatmas and new prophets were rising every day. In this bedlam of religious cranks, in this devil’s kitchen of fraud, imposture and knavery, the Swami appeared to teach the lofty religion of the Vedas, the profound philosophy of the Vedanta, the sublime wisdom of the ancient Rishis. The most unfavourable environment for such a task! Before even starting this great mission, it was necessary to first perform the Herculean labour of cleansing this Augean stable of imposture, superstition and bigotry, a task sufficient to discourage the bravest heart, to dispirit the most powerful will. But the Swami was not the man to be deterred by difficulties. Poor and friendless, with no other support than God and his love for mankind, he set patiently to work, determined not to give up until the message he had to deliver would reach the hearts of truth-seeking men and women.
“In the beginning crowds of people flocked to his lectures, consisting partly of curiosity-seekers, partly of the representatives of the cranky and fraudulent elements mentioned before, who thought that they had found in the Swami a proper tool to forward their interests. Most of the latter type of persons tried to induce him to embrace their cause, first by promises of support, and then by threats of injuring him if he refused to ally himself with them. But they were all grievously disappointed. For the first time they had met with a man who could be neither bought nor frightened — ‘the sickle had hit on a stone,’ as the Polish proverb says. To all these propositions his only answer was, I stand for Truth. Truth will never ally itself with falsehood. Even if all the world should be against me, Truth must prevail in the end.’ He denounced fraud and superstition in whatever guise they appeared, and all those untrue and erratic existences hid themselves, like bats at the approach of daylight, in their haunts before this apostle of Truth.
“The methods and tactics of the Christian Missionaries are well known. They would have liked to have the Swami preach Christianity as they understood it, but ‘It could not, should not be,’ as runs the refrain of the German folksong. Indifferent to the filthy stories they set in circulation about him, he peacefully continued to preach God and Love and Truth, and their gossip had only advertised his lectures, and gained him the sympathy of all fair-minded people.
“A worthier antagonist, though not commensurate with his strength, he had to meet in another class of people, the so-called Free-thinkers, embracing the atheists, materialists, agnostics, rationalists, and all those who, on principle, are averse to anything that savours of religion. They thought that this Hindu monk was an easy match for them, and that all his theology would be crushed under the weight of Western civilisation, Western philosophy, and Western science. So sure were they of their triumph, that they invited him, in New York, to lecture before their society, anxious to show to their numerous followers how easily religious claims could be refuted by the powerful arguments of their logic and pure reasoning. I shall never forget that memorable evening when the Swami appeared single-handed to face the forces of materialism, arrayed in their heaviest armour of law, and reason, and logic, and common sense, of matter, and force, and heredity, and all the stock phrases calculated to awe and terrify the ignorant. Imagine their surprise and consternation when they found that, far from being intimidated by these big words, he proved himself a master in wielding their own weapons, and as familiar with the arguments of materialism as with those of the Advaita philosophy. He showed them that their much-vaunted Western civilisation consisted principally in the development of the art to destroy their fellow-men, that their Western science could not answer the most, vital questions of life and being, that their immutable law's, so much talked of, had no outside existence apart from the human mind, that the very idea of matter was a metaphysical conception, and that it was the much-despised metaphysics upon which ultimately rested the very basis of their materialism. With an irresistible logic he demonstrated that their knowledge proved itself incorrect, not by comparison with knowledge which is true, but by the very laws upon which it depends for its basis; that pure reasoning could not help admitting its own limitations and pointed to something beyond reason; and that rationalism when carried to its last consequences must ultimately land us at a something which is above matter, above force, above sense, above thought and even consciousness, and of which all these are but manifestations.
“The powerful effect of this lecture could be seen on the following day, when numbers of the materialistic camp came to sit at the feet of the Hindu monk, and listen to his sublime utterances on God and religion.
“Thus the Swami gathered around himself, from among the most heterogeneous classes of society a large and ever-increasing following of sincere men and women animated with the only desire to pursue truth for truth's own sake.
“This is a delineation of the negative side of the Swami’s work. He had first to clear the ground and lay a deep foundation for the grand edifice to be built.”
More and more, as time went on, the Swami found himself winning, to a greater and still greater extent, the confidence and the respect, and even the reverence, of large numbers of people in America. Many of these devoted themselves heart and soul to his work and became his followers in a definite sense.
Meanwhile his disciples in India were looking up to him for guidance, sending him numerous letters and even begging him to return to India; to which his reply was that they should depend upon themselves, believe in themselves and '‘march on”. The Swami seemed, in some aspects, to have the strength of a military leader; his letters charging and inciting them to work were always military in character and intensity; and his reprimands and words of encouragement were alike replete with martial enthusiasm. He had no patience with lack of self-confidence and his constant watchword was, “Stand on your own feet!” He wrote, “. . . if you are really my children you will fear nothing, stop at nothing. You will be like lions. We must rouse India and the whole world. . . .” All his letters to India at this time are filled with this spirit and with a remarkable penetration into the nature of Indian problems. His comments on Christianity, during this period, are also interesting. In a letter he writes as follows, at the very time of the agitation against him by missionary bodies in America, and it is mentioned to show the great generosity and kindly spirit of the Swami:2
“. . . . The Christianity that is preached in India is quite different from what one sees here; you will be astonished to hear that I have friends in this country amongst the clergy of the Episcopal and even Presbyterian churches, who are as broad, as liberal and as sincere, as you are in your own religion. The real spiritual man is broad everywhere. His love forces him to be so. Those to whom religion is a trade, are forced to become narrow and mischievous by their introduction into religion of the competitive, fighting and selfish methods of the world.”
When his Indian friends had sent to him the missionary criticism concerning himself and his work, he answered:3
“. . . . In future do not pay any heed to what people say either for or against me . . . . I shall work incessantly until I die, and even after death I shall work for the good of the world. Truth is infinitely more weighty than untruth; . . . . It is the force of character, of purity and of truth-of personality. So long as I have these things you can feel easy; no one will he able to injure a hair of my head. If they try they will fail, sayeth Lord. . . .”
Probably none other of the Swami's writings are so surcharged with the apostolic fire of his own personality as his letters, and particularly his letters written at this time to his Gurubhais and his Indian devotees. These abound with such fine utterances as the following taken at random:4
". . . . Plunge into the fire and bring people towards the Lord. Everything will come to you if you have faith.”
“I always pray for you; you must pray for me. Let each one of us pray day and night for the downtrodden millions in India who are held fast by poverty, priestcraft and tyranny — pray day and night for them. I care more to preach religion to them than to the high and the rich. I am no metaphysician, no philosopher, nay, no saint. I am poor, I love the poor . . . . Who feels in India for the two hundred millions of men and women sunken for ever in poverty and ignorance? Where is the way out? Who feels for them? They cannot find light or education. Who will bring the light to them — who will travel from door to door bringing education to them? Let these people be your God — think of them, work for them, pray for them incessantly — the Lord will show you the way. Him I call a Mahatma, whose heart bleeds for the poor, otherwise, he is a Duratma. . . . We may die unknown, unpitied, unbewailed, without accomplishing anything, but not one thought will he lost. It will take effect sooner or later. . . . So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them I . . . We are poor, my brothers, we are nobodies, but such have always been the instruments of the Most High.”5
“I only want men to follow me, who can be true and faithful unto death. I do not care for success or non-success. . . . I must keep my movement pure, or I will have none of it.”
“India’s doom was sealed the very day they invented the word MIeccha and stopped from communion with others.”6
“An organisation that will teach the Hindus mutual help and appreciation is absolutely necessary.”7
“. . . . Work among those young men who can devote heart and soul to this one duty — the duty of raising the masses of India. . . . Cultivate the virtue of obedience. . . . No centralisation is possible unless there is obedience to superiors. No great work can be done without this centralisation of individual fortes. . . . Give up jealousy and conceit. Learn to work unitedly for others. This is the great need of our country.”8
The letters that the Swami sent constantly to India, both to his disciples in Madras and Northern India and to his Gurubhais in the monastery at Baranagore, had almost the same value as his presence. They encouraged all who read them; they made them ambitious to do and to serve; and one finds many of his disciples earnestly devoting themselves, at his bidding, to the carrying out of his plans and ideas. After he started his systematic work in New York, the Swami constantly urged his disciples in Madras to launch a magazine on Vedantic lines. He even helped them to carry out this project by sending them enough money from the proceeds of his secular lectures, and the magazine called Brahmavddin came into existence. He begged them to study the Sanskrit scriptures and gave the following suggestions in a letter from New York dated May 6, 1895, as to the lines on which the journal was to be conducted:
"Now I will tell you my discovery. All of religion is contained in the Vedanta, that is, in the three stages of the Vedanta philosophy, the Dvaita, the Visihishtadvaita and Advaita; one comes after the other. These are the three stages of spiritual growth in man. Every one is necessary. This is the essential of religion. The Vedanta applied to the various ethnic customs and creeds of India, is Hinduism. The first stage, i.e. Dvaita, applied to the ideas of the ethnic groups of Europe, is Christianity; as applied to the Semitic groups, Mohammedanism; the Advaita as applied in its Yoga perception form, is Buddhism. Now, by religion is meant the Vedanta; the applications must vary according to the different needs, surroundings and other circumstances of different, nations. You will find that although the philosophy is the same, the Shaktas. Shaivas and others apply it, each, to their own special cult and forms. Now, in your journal write article after article on these three systems, showing their harmony as one following after the other, and at the same time avoiding the ceremonial forms altogether. That is, preach the philosophy, the spiritual part, and let people suit it to their own forms. . . . The journal must not be fllippant but steady, calm and high toned. . . . Be perfectly unselfish, be steady and work on. . . .”9
Thus the Swami was also ushering some work in India and guiding it through letters from distant America. He was preparing a field for himself when he would return back to India. To return to a further consideration of the Swami’s work with his classes in New York, the nature of it was largely that of Raja-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga. He taught the students the path of practical spirituality by the inner control of the senses, through Raja-Yoga, to still the mind, and to subordinate the sense-impulses to reason; in short, to spiritualise the whole personality. Meditation was the key to spirituality, and he held regular classes in which the students were taught to concentrate. The Swami himself spent long hours in meditation, squatting on the ground in the Yogi fashion as in India. Thus the students learnt how to overcome physical consciousness and to realise the potential divinity within them. They learnt that religion was not a question of belief but of practice, and they began to practise under the Swami’s guidance systematically certain spiritual and physical exercises by which equilibrium of the body and the mind could be established.
In order to achieve success, the Swami enjoined on the students the necessity of absolutely pure lives, and of simple Sattvika food, else grave mental and physical disorders, and even insanity, might result. Thus his classes took on the aspect of monastic gatherings, permitting the highest flights of philosophy and spiritual recollectedness. He warned his students against the occult, pointing out that psychic powers were impediments to real spiritual progress, and only diverted one from the right path. The Swami was almost violent in his denunciation of the sects or persons who subordinated spirituality to that grossest of all superstitions, psychic powers. And the Swami put into practice that which he preached. Thus one sees him in his New York retreat, in the morning or the evening quiet, or at dead of night, meditating. Oftentimes he was lost in meditation, his unconsciousness of the external betraying his complete absorption within.
And the Swami was pre-eminently fitted to teach the practices of meditation. Having practised innumerable forms of meditation under the guidance of his Master and possessing a mind informed of all the details and intricacies in the experience of its different states, he was qualified to know the tendency of every disciple and to develop everyone according to his special tendencies, giving every disciple, in accordance with his nature a special ideal and special form of meditation. His scientific turn of mind gave him a deep insight into the rationale of Yoga exercises; and therefore he could analyse his own experiences and those of his disciples, endeavouring at all times to give a subjective rather than an objective interpretation to the visions and phenomena of meditation; and his counsel was to test everything by reason. Whatever he taught to his disciples he said that he had himself experienced. His theories of the anatomy of the nervous system and of its relations to the brain, his statements as to the relation between states of mind and nervous changes, drew the attention of a great number of noted American physicians and physiologists, some of whom championed his theories, avowing that they contained truths concerning the functions of the body which were worthy of careful investigation. His claim that meditation brought about the extension and development of the human faculties and produced supernormal experiences, hitherto classified as miraculous phenomena, interested the foremost American psychologists, particularly Prof. William James of Harvard University. But his personal disciples were concerned with the spiritual rather than the academic side of religious study, and their efforts at meditation continued unabated.
His lectures at this time were replete with the deepest philosophical insight and with extraordinary outbursts of devotion, revealing his nature as essentially a combination of the Jnani and Bhakta, the saint and true mystic in one. Sometimes it would seem as if the veils that blind the spiritual vision were rent, and the Swami would stand before his classes a veritable knower of the Self. His hours when not employed in meditation, in private or class teaching, or in replying to various correspondents, were consumed in the pursuit of secular knowledge which he absorbed and turned to spiritual account. The flow of life in the Western world interested him. He was also engaged at this time in penning those immortal thoughts that have become embodied in his now famous work, Raja-Yoga, and which were originally given as class lectures in his New York centre.
It was some time about June that he completed Raja-Yoga. The manner in which he wrote this is of exceeding interest. His staunch disciple, Miss S. E. Waldo of Brooklyn, was his amanuensis, and she says:
“It was inspiring to see the Swami as he dictated to me the contents of the work. In delivering his commentaries on the Sutras, he would leave me waiting while he entered deep states of meditation or self-contemplation, to emerge therefrom with some luminous interpretation. I had always to keep the pen dipped in the ink. He might be absorbed for long periods of time and then suddenly his silence would be broken by some eager expression or some long deliberate teaching.”
Day after day the Swami was in this constant atmosphere of intense rccollectedness and deep intellectual work, teaching Raja-Yoga, practising it, writing about it. That the Swami maintained the meditative habit throughout his Western life was remarkable; for the disturbances were innumerable. Oftentimes, whilst those about him were talking vivaciously, it would be noticed that the Swami’s eyes would grow fixed, his breath would come slower and slower till there would be a pause and then a gradual return to consciousness of his environment. It is said of him:
“His friends knew these things and provided for them. If he walked into the house to pay a call and forgot to speak, or if he was found in a room, in silence, no one disturbed him, though he would sometimes rise and render assistance to an intruder, without breaking the train of thought. Thus his interest lay within, and not without. To the scale and range of his thought his conversation was of course our only clue.”10
The Swami had already made ardent admirers and even disciples of many distinguished persons. It was his earnest desire to initiate a few as Sannyasins, and to train them so that they would be fitted to carry on his American work in his absence. Two had already become “his proclaimed disciples”, though they had not as yet received actual initiation into Sannyasa. These were Madame Marie Louise and Herr Leon Landsberg. The description of these two followers of the Swami is best given in The New York Herald a few months after they received Sannyasa in the summer of 1895. To quote from the paper:
“The Swami Abhayananda is a French woman, but naturalised and twenty-five years resident of New York. She has a curious history. For a quarter of a century she has been known to liberal circles as a materialist, socialist. . . . Twelve months ago she was a prominent member of the Manhattan Liberal Club. Then she was known in the press and on the platform as Mme. Marie Louise, a fearless, progressive, advanced woman, whose boast it was that she was always in the forefront of the battle and ahead of her times.
“The second disciple is also an enthusiast. With skill which Vivekananda shows in all his dealings with men, the Hindu has chosen his first disciples well. The Swami Kripananda, before he was taken into the circle and took the vows of poverty and chastity, was a newspaper man, employed on the staff of one of the most prominent New York papers. By birth he is a Russian Jew, named Leon Landsberg, and, if it were know’ll, his life history is probably as interesting as that of Swami Abhayananda. . . .”
Among others who were devoted to the Swami’s teachings were Mrs. Ole Bull, wife of the celebrated violinist and Norwegian nationalist, Dr. Allan Day, Miss S. E. Waldo, Professors Wyman and Wright, Dr. Street, and many clergymen and laymen of note.
Mr. and Mrs. Francis Leggett and Miss J. MacLeod, well-known society people of New York, became his most intimate friends and helped him in various ways. The members of the Dixon Society, before which he was invited many times to lecture, became the champions of his ideas. Later on, the great electrician, Nicolas Tesla, hearing the Swami’s exposition of the Sankhya philosophy, admitted the superiority of its cosmogony and its rational theories of the Kalpas (cycles), Prana and Akasa, to which, he said, modern science might well look for the solution of cosmological problems. He assured the Swami that he could prove them mathematically. It was at this time that Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress, the “Divine Sarah” as she is called, sought an interview with him and expressed her admiration and intense interest in the sublime teachings of the philosophy he so eloquently and so truly represented.11 Later on Madame Calve, the celebrated singer, became his ardent devotee.
It would be interesting to give here the reminiscences of Madame Calve of her first meeting with Swami Vivekananda — and of the profound effect the Swami’s teaching produced upon her life:
“It has been my good fortune and my joy to know a man who truly ‘walked with God’, a noble being, a saint, a philosopher and a true friend. His influence upon my spiritual life was profound. He opened up new horizons before me, enlarging and unifying my religious ideas and ideals; leaching me a broader understanding of truth. My soul will bear him eternal gratitude.
“ . . . . He was lecturing in Chicago one year when I was there; and as I was at that time greatly depressed in mind and body, I decided lo go to him, having seen how he had helped some of my friends. An appointment was arranged for me and when I arrived at his house, I was immediately ushered into his study. Before going I had been told not to speak until he addressed me. When I entered the room, I stood before him in silence for a moment. He was seated in a noble attitude of meditation, his robe of saffron yellow falling in straight lines to the floor, his head swathed in a turban bent forward, his eyes on the ground. After a pause he spoke without looking up.
“‘My child,’ he said, ‘What a troubled atmosphere you have about you: Be calm: It is essential.’
“Then in a quiet voice, untroubled and aloof, this man who did not even knew my name talked to me of my secret problems and anxieties. He spoke of things that I thought were unknown even to my nearest friends. It seemed miraculous, supernatural.
“‘How do you know all this?’ I asked at last. ‘Who has talked of me to you?’
“He looked at me with his quiet smile as though I were a child who had asked a foolish question.
“‘No one has talked to me,’ he answered gently. ‘Do you think that it is necessary? I read in you as in an open book.’
“Finally it was time for me to leave.
“‘You must forget,’ he said as I rose. 'Become gay and happy again. Build up your health. Do not dwell in silence upon your sorrows. Transmute your emotions into some form of eternal expression. Your spiritual health requires it. Your art demands it.’
“I left him, deeply impressed by his words and his personality. He seemed to have emptied my brain of all its feverish complexities and placed there instead his clean and calming thoughts. I became once again vivacious and cheerful, thanks to the effect of his powerful will. He did not use any of the hypnotic or mesmeric influences. It was the strength of his character, the purity and intensity of his purpose that carried conviction. It seemed to me, when I came to know him better, that he lulled one’s chaotic thoughts info a state of peaceful acquiescence, so that one could give complete and undivided attention to his words.
“He often spoke in parables, answering our questions or making his points clear by means of a poetic analogy. One day we were discussing immortality and the survival of individual characteristics. He was expounding his belief in reincarnation which was a fundamental part of his teaching. ‘I cannot bear the idea,’ I explained. ‘I cling to my individuality, unimportant as it may be: I don’t want to be absorbed into an eternal unity. The mere thought, is terrible to me.’ ‘One day a drop of water fell into the vast ocean,’ the Swami answered. ‘When it found itself there, it began to weep and complain just as you are doing. The great ocean laughed at the drop of water. ‘Why do you weep?’ It asked. ‘I do not understand. When you join me, you join all your brothers and sisters, the other drops of water of which I am made. You become the ocean itself. If you wish to leave me, you have only to rise up on a sunbeam into the clouds. From there yon can descend again, little drop of water, a blessing and a benediction to the thirsty earth”12
By the month of June, 1895, the Swami had placed his work on a solid foundation. He had constant support from wealthy and influential followers and whatever financial returns he received went towards the further consolidation of his work. Though he was helped, he also helped himself, as has been seen, by giving secular lectures. Not content with the success of his work in America, the Swami, as early as August 1894, meditated a trip to England. He decided that the whole Western world should hear of the glory of the Indian Dharma. Besides his manifold labours and innumerable plans and hopes, he had to make his way constantly explaining himself and his ideas to numerous audiences in which were strangely mingled such opposite types as the hodcarrier and the scientist.
Various moods visited the Swami in the year 1895. This was the year of his hardest work, of his highest hopes, of his greatest endeavours to gain a number of souls of whom he could be sure that they would carry on his work. He went into the very heart of things in his efforts to make some see his vision and become free. He had all manners of plans; he longed, at times, for an organisation that would represent his ideas and his aspirations. Amidst the enormous difficulty of settling himself in a new land, amidst all the strain of propagating new ideas to those who were bred and brought up in a different ideal of life and religion, the Swami in spite of his indomitable will and vigour sometimes felt worried and exhausted. He was at times led to think that all work was but a trap of Maya, but he knew that there was no other object in work except personal purification. Thus one finds him writing to a disciple to say that he had done his best, that he was working out the great Karma that had fallen upon him and that he hoped that the Lord would soon liberate him from the task of preaching. And in one of his epistles he cries out, even as early as January 1895, “I long, oh, I long for my rags, my shaven head, my sleep under the trees, and my food from begging13 and in another mood, in the latter part of March of the same year, he writes, “That is why I desire so much to have a centre. Organisation has its faults, no doubt, but without that nothing can be clone . . . . One must work as the dictate comes from within, and then if it is right and good, society is bound to veer round, perhaps centuries after one is dead and gone14 . . . These words show the spirit of the man, burdened with much aflliction, and yet bent on giving his message, bent on working, and yet in the long run indifferent to the fruits. He did not believe in external success. He was truly ready to wait even for centuries.
In the cause of spreading the ideas of the Vedanta, as he himself has said, he was ready to sacrifice everything, even his life. He would work, work, work, But in the very midst of work he would always inwardly rest in the silent and blissful freedom of the life of the true Sannyasin! He was now in the very rush of the world. He found, however, that even some of his followers, devoted as they might be, interfered unintentionally in the method of carrying out his work. Perhaps some stilted Boston lady would ask him to take elocution lessons, as if he who had shaken the very soul of the Parliament of Religions and was a born teacher of men needed ‘elocution lessons’. Another would worry him about how to organise; another would say, “Swami, you must do so and so; you must live in better surroundings, and you must be fashionable so as to reach and influence society people.” At all this the Swami would become fierce with righteous indignation, and exclaim, “Why shall I be bound down with all this nonsense? I am a monk, a monk who has realised the vanity of all earthly nonsense! I have no time to give my manners a finish. I cannot find time enough to give my message. I will give it after my own fashion. Liberty, Mukti, is my religion. I shall never be dictated to. I feel I am guided by the Most High, and as I am guided so shall I do. I don’t care for your sort of success. Shall I be dragged down into the narrow limits of your conventional life? Never!”
In a letter to an esteemed friend the Swami wrote in April:
“Miss H wants me to be introduced to the ‘right kind of people’. This is the second edition of the ‘hold yourself steady’ business, I am afraid. The only ‘right, sort of people’ are those whom the Lord sends — that is what I understand in my life’s experience. They alone can and will help me. As for the rest, Lord bless them in a mass and save me from them!”15
Then the Swami went on to say that, even though he lived in poor quarters the right kind of people did come to him, even she who had criticised him. Then he launched forth in an eloquent appeal to Lord Shiva, in which he dedicated himself entirely to the Will of the Lord, writing in his anguish and in his burning love, “Lord, since a child I have taken refuge in Thee. Thou wilt be with me in the tropics or at the poles, on the tops of mountains or in the depths of ocean . . . .” And a few days later he writes, “. . . The less help from man, the more from the Lord.” And again, three days later, he writes,
“It is the duty of a teacher always to turn out the ‘right sort’ from the most unrighteous sort of persons . . . . Through the mercy of Ramakrishna my instinct ‘sizes up’ almost infallibly a human face as soon as I see it . . . .”16
The Swami was always grateful for any kindness shown to him. About this time he gave those who had befriended him in his early days in America, rich presents sent to him for this purpose by the Prime Minister of Junagad and the Maharaja of Mysore. Now perhaps it would be a Kashmiri shawl, then a costly Indian carpet, again, a valuable piece of brass or some exquisite silk or muslin. He also wrote to his Indian disciples to send him Rudraksha beads and Kushasanas, which he gave to those initiated disciples who were practising regular meditation.
All through 1895 the Swami’s work was enormous; he was in the very whirlwind of work; lecturing both privately and publicly, and always at a tension, he began to feel himself wearing out. His nerves were racked, his brain tired, his whole body exhausted. He longed for a brief period of rest and recuperation. Personally he was satisfied. His message was being kindly received, and he had thousands of disciples, many of whom he never even saw. In his rushing hither and thither over the American continent, he had scattered ideas, and he himself saw that they were being echoed in pulpits and in rostrums, though it might be that he received no credit for them. He was satisfied that the ideals of the Sanatana Dharma were spreading and percolating through the whole thought world of America. In July, 1895, he wrote to the Maharaja of Khetri that he was bent on preaching, that the more the Christian missionaries opposed him, the more determined he was to leave a permanent impression on Christian countries. And he stated that his plan was to initiate some of his followers into Sannyasa and have them continue the work.
To have impressed the entire American nation with a new thought was no easy task. And to have done so within two years of work was all the more wonderful. The Swami had, no doubt, the Divine Power behind him; he had intense sincerity, great ability and unwearying perseverance. Above all, he had Realisation. That was the secret.
Having almost exhausted himself by the uninterrupted work of class and public lecturing, the Swami in the beginning of June, 1895, accepted the invitation of one of his friends and went to Percy, N. H., for a period of rest in the silence of the pine woods. His classes in New York had grown out of all proportions. And yet these classes were to be outdone by the glory and the light of those he was to hold at Thousand Island Park in the immediate future. Before he left for Percy, N. H., his disciples were eager that he should return and continue his work of teaching through the summer months, but being too tired, he demurred to prolonging his work at a tension through the hot weather; besides, many of his students had arranged to leave Ncw York for seaside or mountain resorts.
The problem however solved itself. One of the students owned a small cottage at Thousand Island Park,17 the largest island in the St. Lawrence River; and she olfered the use of it to the Swami and as many of the students as it would accommodate. This plan appealed to the Swami and he agreed to join the students there after a brief visit to the Maine Camp (Percy, New Hampshire) of one of his friends.
The Swami said that those students who were willing to put aside all other interests and devote themselves to studying the Vedanta, travelling more than three hundred miles to a suitable spot, were the ones really in earnest, and he should recognise them as disciples. He did not expect many would take so much trouble, but if any responded, he would do his share of helping them on the path.
Miss Dutcher, the student to whom the cottage belonged, feeling that a special sanctuary should be prepared for the occasion, built as a true love offering to her Teacher, a new wing that was nearly as large as the original cottage. The place was ideally situated on high ground, overlooking a wide sweep of the beautiful river with many of its far-famed Thousand Islands, Clayton could be dimly discerned in the distance, while the nearer and wider Canadian shores bounded the view to the north. The cottage stood on the side of a hill, which on the north and west sloped down abruptly towards the shores of the river and of a little inlet that like a small lake lay behind the house. The house was literally “built upon a rock”, and huge boulders lay all around it. The new wing stood on the steep slope of the rocks like a great lantern tower with windows on three sides, three storeys deep at the hack, and only two in front. The lower room was occupied by one of the students. The one over it opened out of the main part of the house by several doors, and being large and convenient, became the classroom, where for hours each day the Swami gave the students familiar instruction. Over this room was the one devoted exclusively to the use of the Swami. In order that it might be perfectly secluded, Miss Dutcher had supplied it with a separate outside staircase, although there was also a door opening upon the second storey of the piazza.
The upstairs piazza played an important part in the lives of the students as all the Swami’s evening talks were given here. It was wide and roomy, roofed in, and extended along the south and west sides of the cottage. Miss Dutcher had the west side of it carefully screened off by a partition, so that none of the strangers who frequently visited the piazza to see the magnificent view it commanded, could intrude upon their privacy. There, close by his own door, sat the beloved Teacher every evening during his stay and communed with the pupils who sat silent in the darkness, eagerly drinking in his inspired words. The place was a veritable sanctuary. At their feet, like a sea of green, waved the leaves of the tree tops, for the entire place was surrounded by thick woods. Not one house of the large village could be seen, it was as if they were in the heart of some dense forest, miles away from the haunts of men. Beyond the trees spread the wide expanse of the St. Lawrence, dotted here and there with islands, some of which gleamed bright with the lights of hotels and boarding-houses. All these were so far away that they seemed more like a pictured scene than a reality. Not a human sound penetrated their seclusion; they heard but the murmur of the insects, the sweet songs of the birds, or the gentle sighing of the wind through the leaves. Part of the time the scene was illumined by the soft rays of the moon and her face was mirrored in the shining waters beneath. In this scene of enchantment, “the world forgetting, by the world forgot”, the devoted students spent seven blessed weeks with their beloved Teacher, listening to his words of inspiration. Immediately after the evening meal each day of their stay, they all repaired to the upper piazza and awaited the coming of the Swami. Nor had they long to wait, for hardly had they assembled ere the door of his room would open and he would quickly step out and take his accustomed seat. He always spent two hours with them and more often much longer. One glorious night, when the moon was about full, he talked to them until she set below the western horizon, apparently as unconscious as the students were of the lapse of time.
Speaking of the Swami and his stay Miss S. E. Waldo, one of the students, writes:
“To those who were fortunate enough to be there with the Swami, those were weeks of ever-hallowed memory, so fraught were they with unusual opportunity for spiritual growth. No words can describe what that blissful period meant (and still means) to the devoted little band who followed the Swami from New York to the Island in the St. Lawrence, who daily served him with joy and listened to him with heartfelt thankfulness. His whole heart was in his work, and he taught like one inspired.
“Of these talks it was not possible to take notes. They are preserved only in the hearts of the hearers. None of us can ever forget the sense of uplift, the intense spiritual life of those hallowed hours. The Swami poured out all his heart at those times, his own struggles were enacted again before us; the very spirit of his Master seemed to speak through his lips, to satisfy all doubts, to answer all questioning, to soothe every fear. Many times the Swami seemed hardly conscious of our presence, and then we almost held our breath for fear of disturbing him and checking the flow of his thoughts. He would rise from his seat and pace up and down the narrow limits of the piazza, pouring forth a perfect torrent of eloquence.
“The Swami did not appear to address us directly, but rather seemed to he speaking to himself in words of fire, as it were, so intense were they, and so convincing, burning into the very hearts of his listeners, never to be forgotten.
“Never was he more gentle, more lovable than during these hours. It may have been much like the way his own great Master taught his disciples, just allowing them to listen to the outpourings of his own spirit in communion with himself.
“It was a perpetual inspiration to live with a man like Swami Vivekananda. From morning till night it was ever the same, we lived in a constant atmosphere of intense spirituality. Often playful and fun-loving, full of merry jest and quick repartee, he was never for a moment far from the dominating note of his life. Everything could furnish a text or an illustration, and in a moment we would find ourselves swept from amusing tales of Hindu mythology to the deepest philosophy. The Swami had an inexhaustible fund of mythological lore, and surely no race is more abundantly supplied with myths than those ancient Aryans. He loved to tell them to us, and vve were delighted to listen; for he never failed to point out the reality hidden under myth and story and to draw from it valuable spiritual lessons. Never had fortunate students greater cause to congratulate themselves on having so gifted a Teacher!
“Those ideas were new and strange to us, and we were slow in assimilating them, but the Swami’s patience never flagged, his enthusiasm never waned. In the afternoons he talked to us more informally, and we took usually a long walk.
“By a singular coincidence just twelve students followed the Swami to Thousand Island Park, and he told us that he accepted us as real disciples and that was why he so constantly and freely taught us, giving us his best. All the twelve were not together at once, ten being the largest number present at any one time. Two of our number subsequently became Sannyasins. . . .
“The ceremony of initiation was impressive from its extreme simplicity. A small altar fire, beautiful flowers and the earnest words of the Teacher alone marked it as different from onr daily lessons. It took place at sunrise of a beautiful summer day and the scene still lives fresh in our memories. . . .
“On the occasion of the consecration of the second Sannyasin, the Swami initiated five of us as Brahmacharins.”18
It was decided, when they went to Thousand Island Park, that they should live as a community, each doing his or her share of the house-work in order that no alien presence should mar the serenity of the household. The Swami himself was an accomplished cook and often prepared for them delicious dishes.
Every morning, just as soon as the various tasks were over (and often before), the Swami cafled the students together in the large parlour that served as a class-room and began to teach. Each day he took up some special subject, or expounded from some sacred book, as the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, or the Vedanta Sutras of Vyasa.
In these morning lessons the point of view presented was sometimes that of pure dualism as represented by Madhva, while on another day it was that of the qualified non-dualism taught by Ramanuja, known as Vishishtadvaita. Most frequently, however, the monistic commentary of Sliankara was taken up; but because of his subtlety he was more difficult to understand, so to the end Ramanuja remained the favourite among, the students.
Sometimes the Swami took up the Bhakti-Sutras of Narada. They are a short exposition of devotion to God, which gives one some conception of the lofty Hindu ideal of real, all-absorbing love for the Lord, love that literally possesses the devotee to the exclusion of every other thought.
In these talks the Swami for the first time spoke to them at length about Shri Ramakrishna, of his daily life with the Master and of his struggles with his own tendency to unbelief, which at times drew tears from his Master.
As the days and weeks passed by, the students began to really understand and grasp the meaning of what they heard, and they gladly accepted the teaching. Every one of the students there received initiation by Mantra at the hands of the Swami, thus becoming his disciples, the Swami assuming towards them the position of the Guru.
Mrs. Funke speaking of her delightful experience at Thousand Island Park writes as follows:
“We (she and Miss Christine Greenstidel) had no chance to meet him in a personal way at the time (during his first visit to Detroit), but we listened and pondered in our hearts over all that we had heard him say, resolving to find him some time, somewhere, even if we had to go across the world to do it. We lost trace of him completely for one year and a half and thought that probably he had returned to India, but one afternoon we were told by a friend that he was still in this country and that he was spending the summer at Thousand Island Park. We started the next morning, resolved to seek him out and ask him to teach us.
"At last after a weary search we found him. We were feeling very much frightened at our temerity in thus intruding upon his privacy, but he had lighted a fire in our souls that could not be quenched. We must know more of this wonderful man and his teaching. It was a dark and rainy night, and we were weary alter out long journey, but we could not rest until we had seen him face to face. Would he accept us? And i fhe did not, what then could we do? It suddenly seemed to us that it might be a foolish thing to go several hundred miles to find a man who did not even know of our existence, but we plodded on up the hill in the rain and darkness, with a man we had hired to show us the way with his lantern. Speaking of this in alter years, our Guru would refer to us as ‘my disciples, who travelled hundreds of miles to find me, and they came in the night and in the rain.’ We had thought of what to say to him, but when we realised that we had really found him, we instantly forgot all our fine speeches, and one of us blurted out, ‘We come from Detroit and Mrs. P. sent us to you.’ The other said, ‘We have come to you just as we would go to Jesus if He were still on the earth and ask Him to teach us.’ He looked at us so kindly and said gently, “If only I possessed the power ol the Christ to set you free now!’ He stood for a moment looking thoughtful and then turning to his hostess who was standing near, said. ‘These ladies are from Detroit, please show them upstairs and allow them to spend the evening with us.’ We remained until late listening to the Master who paid no more attention to ns, but as we bade them all good-night we were told to come the next morning at nine o’clock. We arrived promptly, and to our great joy weie accepted by the Master and were cordially invited to become members of the household.”
In a letter to a friend at this time she writes:
“So here we are — in the very house with Vivekananda, listening to him from 8 o’clock in the morning until late at night. Even in my wildest dreams I could not imagine anything so wonderful, so perfect. To be with Vivekananda! To be accepted by him! . . .
“Oh, the sublime teaching of Vivekananda! No nonsense, no talk of ‘astrals,’ ‘imps,’ but God. Jesus, Buddha. I feel that I shall never be quite the same again for I have caught a glimpse of the Real.
“Just think what it means to listen to a Vivekananda at every meal, lessons each morning and the nights on the porch, the eternal stars shining like ‘patines of bright gold’! In the afternoon, we take long walks, and the Swami literally, and so simply, finds ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good (God) in everything.’ And this same Swami is so merry and fun-loving. We just go mad at times.
"Later. We have been soaring on the Heights, since I last wrote you. Swami tells us to forget that there is any Detroit for the present — that is, to allow no personal thoughts to occupy our minds while taking this instruction. We are taught to see God in everything from the blade of grass to man — ‘even in the diabolical man’.
“Really, it is almost impossible to find time to write here. We put up with some inconveniences as it is so crowded. There is no time to relax, to rest, for we feel the time is all too short as the Swami leaves soon for England. We scarcely take time to array ourselves properly, so afraid are we of losing some of the precious jewels. His words are like jewels, and all that he says fits together like a wonderfully beautiful mosaic. In his talks he may go ever so far afield, but always he comes back to the one fundamental, vital thing — ‘Find God! Nothing else matters.’
“I especially like Miss Waldo and Miss Ellis, although the whole household is interesting. Some unique characters. One, a Dr. Wright of Cambridge, a very cultured man, creates much merriment at times. He becomes so absorbed in the teaching that he, invariably, at the end of each discourse ends up with asking Swamiji, “Well. Swami, it all amounts to this in the end, doesn’t it ? I am Brahman, I am the Absolute.’ If you could only see Swami’s indulgent smile and hear him answer so gently, ‘Yes, Dokie, you are Brahman, you are the Absolute, in the real essence of your being.’ Later, when the learned doctor comes to the table a trifle late. Swami, with the utmost gravity but with a merry twinkle in his eyes, will say, ‘Here comes Brahman’ or ’Here is the Absolute.’
“Swamiji’s fun-making is of the merry type. Sometimes he will say, ‘Now I am going to cook for you!’ He is a wonderful cook and delights in serving the ‘brithrin’. The food he prepares is delicious but for ‘yours truly’ too hot with various spices; but I made up my mind to eat it if it strangled me, which it nearly did. If a Vivekananda can cook for me, I guess the least I can do is to eat it. Bless him!
“At such times we have a whirlwind of fun. Swamiji will stand on the floor with a white napkin draped over his arm, à la the waiters on the dining cars, and will intone in perfect imitation their call for dinner — “Last call fo’ the dinning cah. Dinner served.’’ — Irresistibly funny. And then, at table, such gales of laughter over some quip or jest, for he unfailingly discovers the little idiosyncrasies of each one — but never sarcasm or malice — just fun.
“Since my last letter to you when I told you of Swamiji’s capacity for merriment so many little things have occurred to make one see how varied are the aspects of Vivekananda. We are trying to take notes of all that he says, but I find myself lost in listening and forget the notes. His voice is wondrously beautiful. One might well lose oneself in its divine music. However, dear Miss Waldo is taking very full notes of the lessons, and in that way they will be preserved.
“Some good fairy must have presided at our birth — Christine's and mine. We do not, as yet, know much of Karma and Reincarnation, but we are beginning to see that both are involved in our being brought into touch with Swamiji.
“Sometimes I ask him rather daring questions, for I am so anxious to know just how he would react under certain conditions. He takes it so kindly when I in my impulsive way sometimes ‘rush in where angels fear to tread’. Once he said to some one. ‘Mrs. l’unke tests me she is no naive.’ Wasn’t that dear of him?
“One evening, when it was raining and we were all sitting in the living room, the Swami was talking about pure womanhood and told us the story of Sita. How he can tell a story! You see it and all the characters become real. I found myself wondering just how some of the beautiful society queens of the West would appear to him — especially those versed in the art of allurement — and before I took time to think, out popped the question and immediately I was covered with confusion. The Swami. however, looked at me calmly with his big, serious eyes and gravely replied, ‘If the most beautiful woman in the world were to look at me in an immodest or unwomanly way, she would immediately turn into a hideous, green frog, and one does not, of course, admire frogs!' . . .
“Now he has closed the class for the morning, and he has turned to me, ‘Mrs. Funke, tell me a funny story. We are going to part soon, and we must talk funny things, isn’t it?’ Alas, he leaves on Monday. . . .
“We take long walks every afternoon, and our favourite walk is back of the cottage down a hill and then a rustic path to the river. . . . Sometimes we stop several times and sit around on the grass and listen to Swami’s wonderful talks. A bird, a flower, a butterfly, will start him off, and he will tell us stories from the Vedas or recite Indian poetry. I recall that one poem started with the line. ‘Her eyes are like the black bee on the lotus.’ He considered most of our poetry to be obvious, banal, without the delicacy of that of his own country.
“Wednesday, August 7th. Alas, he has departed! Swamiji left this evening at 9 o’clock on the steamer for Clayton where he will take the train for New York and from there sail for England.
“The last day has been a very wonderful and precious one. This morning there was no class. He asked C. and me to take a walk as he wished to be alone with us. (The others had been with him all summer, and he felt we should have a last talk.) We went up a hill about half a mile away. All was woods and solitude. Finally he selected a low-branchcd tree, and we sat under the low-spreading branches. Instead of the expected talk, he suddenly said, ‘Now we will meditate. We shall be like Buddha under the Bo Tree.’ He seemed to turn to bronze, so still was he. Then a thunder-storm came up, and it poured. He never noticed it. I raised my umbrella and protected him as much as possible. Completely absorbed in his meditation, he was oblivious of everything. Soon we heard shouts in the distance. Tlie others had come out alter us with raincoats and umbrellas. Swamiji looked around regretfully, for we had to go, and said, ’Once more am I in Calcutta in the rains.’
“He was so tender and sweet all this last day. As the steamer rounded the bend in the river, he boyishly and joyously waved his hat to us in farewell and he had departed indeed.”19
Sister Christine (Miss Christine Greenstidel) speaking of these days at Thousand Island Park writes:
“All that, winter the work went on, and when the season came to an end, early in the summer, this devoted group was not willing to have the teaching discontinued. One of them owned a house in Thousand Island Park on the St. Lawrence River, and a proposal was made to the teacher that they all spend the summer there. He consented, much touched by their earnestness, he wrote to one of his friends that he wanted to manufacture a few Yogis out of the materials of the classes. He felt that his work was now really started and that those who joined him at Thousand Islands were really disciples. . . .
"Early in June three or four were gathered at Thousand Island Park with him and the teaching began without delay. We came on Saturday, July 6, 1895. Swami Vivekananda had planned to initiate several of those already there on Monday. ‘I don’t know you well enough yet to feel sure that you are ready for initiation,’ he said on Sunday afternoon. Then he added rather shyly, ‘I have a power which I seldom use — the power of reading the mind. If you will permit me, I should like to read your mind, as I wish to initiate you with the others tomorrow.’ We assented joyfully. Evidently he was satisfied with the result of the reading, for the next day, together with several others, he gave us a Mantra and made us his disciples. Afterwards, questioned as to what he saw while he was reading our minds he told us a little. He saw that we should be faithful and that we should make progress in our spiritual life. He described something of what he saw, without giving the interpretation of every picture. In one case, scene after scene passed before his mental vision which meant that there would be extensive travel apparently in Oriental countries. He described the very houses in which we should live, the people who should surround us, the influences that would affect our lives. We questioned him about this. He told us it could be acquired by anyone. The method was simple at least in the telling. First, think of space — vast, blue extending everywhere. In time, as one meditates upon this space intently, pictures appear. These pictures must be interpreted. Sometimes one sees the pictures but does not know the interpretation. He saw that one of us would be indissolubly connected with India. Important as well as minor events were foretold for us nearly all of which have come to pass. In this reading, the quality of the personality was revealed — the mettle, the capacity, the character. Having passed this test, there can he no self-depreciation, no lack of faith in one’s self. Every momentary doubt is replaced by a serene assurance. Has the personality not received the stamp of approval from the one being in the worId . . .?
“Of the wonderful weeks that followed, it is difficult to write. Only if one’s mind were lifted to that high state of consciousness in which we lived for the time, could we hope to recapture the experience. We were filled with joy. We did not know at that time that we were living in his radiance. On the wings of inspiration, he carried us to the height which was his natural abode. He himself, speaking of it later, said that he was at his best in Thousand Islands. Then he felt that he had found the channel through which his message might he spread, the way to fulfil his mission, for the Guru had found his own disciples. His first overwhelming desire was to show us the path to Mukti, to set us free. ‘Ah’, he said with touching pathos, ‘If I could only set you free with a touch!’ His second object, not so apparent perhaps, hut always in the undercurrent, was to train this group to carry on the work in America. On his own little verandah, overlooking the tree tops and the beautiful St. Lawrence, he often called upon us to make speeches. It was a trying ordeal. Each in turn was called upon to make an attempt. There was no escape. At these intimate evening gatherings often he soared to the greatest height as the night advanced. What if it was two o’clock in the morning? What it we had watched the moon rise and set? Time and space had vanished for us.
“There was nothing set or formal about these nights on the upper verandah. He sat in his large chair at the end, near his door. Sometimes he went into a deep meditation. At such times we too meditated or sat in profound silence. Often it lasted for hours and one after the other slipped away. For we knew that after this he would not feel inclined to speak. Or again the meditation would be short, and he would encourage us to ask questions afterwards, often calling on one of us to answer. No matter how far wrong these answers were, he let us flounder about until we were near the truth, and then in a few words, he would clear up the difficulty. This was his invariable method in teaching. He knew how to stimulate the mind of the learner and make it do its own thinking. Did we go to him for confirmation of a new idea or point of view and begin, ‘I see it is thus and so.’ his ‘Yes?’ with an upper inflection always sent us hack for further thought. Again we would come with a more clarified understanding and again the ‘Yes?’ stimulated us to further thought. Perhaps after the third time when the capacity for further thought along that particular line was reached, he would point out the error — an error usually due to something in our Western mode of thought. And so he trained us with such patience, such benignity. It was like a benediction.
“It was a strange group — these people whom he had gathered around him that summer at Thousand Islands. No wonder the shopkeeper to whom we went for direction upon our arrival, said, ‘Yes, there are some queer people living up on the hill, among whom is a foreign-looking gentleman.’ There were three friends who had come to the Swami's New York classes together — Miss S. E. Waldo, Miss Ruth Ellis, and Doctor Wight. For thirty years, they had attended every lecture on philosophy that they had heard of, hut had never found anything that even remotely approached this. So Doctor Wight gravely assured us, the newcomers . . . .
“. . . . We in our retirement seldom saw anyone except now and then someone who came for the view. The conditions were ideal for our purpose. One could not have believed that such a spot could be found in America. What great ideas were voiced there! What an atmosphere was created, what power was generated! There the Teacher reached some of his loftiest llights, there he showed us his heart and mind. We saw ideas unfold and flower. We saw the evolution of plans which grew into institutions in the years that followed. It was a blessed experience — an experience which made Miss Waldo exclaim, 'What have we ever done to deserve this?’ And so we all felt.
“The original plan was that they should live as a community, without servants, each doing a share of the work. Nearly all of them were unaccustomed to housework and found it uncongenial. The result was amusing; as time went on, it threatened to become disastrous. Some of us who had just been reading the story of Brook Farm felt that we saw it re-enacted before our eyes. No wonder Emerson refused to join that community of transcendentalists! His serenity was evidently bought at a price. Some could only wash dishes. One whose work was to cut the bread, groaned and all but wept whenever she attempted the task. It is curious how character is tested in these little things. Weaknesses which might have been hidden for a lifetime in ordinary intercourse, were exposed in a day of this community life. It was interesting. With Swamiji the effect was quite different. Although only one among them all was younger than himself, he seemed like a father or rather like a mother in patience and gentleness. When the tension became too great, he would say with the utmost sweetness, ‘Today, I shall cook for you.’ To this Landsberg would ejaculate in an aside, ‘Heaven save us!’ By way of explanation he said that in New York when Swamiji cooked he, Landsberg, would tear his hair, because it meant that afterwards every dish in the house required washing. After several unhappy experiences in the community housekeeping, an outsider was engaged for help, and one or two of the more capable ones undertook certain responsibilities, and we had peace.
“But once the necessary work was over and we had gathered in the class room, the atmosphere was changed. There never was a disturbing element within those walls. It seemed as if we had left the body and the bodily consciousness outside. We sat in a semi-circle and waited. Which gate to the Eternal would be opened for us today? What heavenly vision should meet our eyes? There was always the thrill of adventure. The Undiscovered Country, the Sorrowless Land opened up new vistas of hope and beauty. Even so, our expectations were always exceeded. Vivekananda's flights carried us with him to supernal heights. Whatever degree of realisation may or may not have come to us since, one thing we can never forget: We saw the Promised Land. We, too, were taken to the top of Pisgah and the sorrow and trials of this world have never been quite real since.
“. . . . When he saw how deep the impression was which lie had made, he would say with a smile. 'The cobra has bitten you. You cannot escape.’ Or sometimes, I have caught you in my net. You can never get out.’
“Miss Dutcher, our hostess, was a conscientious little woman, a devout Methodist. How she ever came to be associated with such a group as gathered in her house that summer would have been a mystery to anyone who did not know the power of Swami Vivekananda to attract and hold sincere souls. But having once seen and heard him, what could one do but follow? Was he not the Incarnation of the Divine, the Divine which lures man on until he finds himself again in his lost kingdom? But the road was hard and often terrifying to one still bound by conventions and orthodoxy in religion. All her ideals, her values of life, her concepts of religion were, it seemed to her, destroyed. In reality, they were only modified. Sometimes she did not appear for two or three days. ‘Don’t you see,’ Swami said, ‘this is not an ordinary illness? It is the reaction of the body against the chaos that is going on in her mind. She cannot bear it.’ The most violent attack came one day after a timid protest on her part against something he had said in the class. ‘The idea of duty is the midday sun of misery scorching the very soul,’ he had said. ‘Is it not our duty.’ she began, but got no farther. For once that great free soul broke all bounds in his rebellion against the idea that anyone should dare bind with fetters the soul of man. Miss Dutcher was not seen for some days. And so the process of education went on. It was not difficult if one’s devotion to the Guru was great enough, for then, like the snake, one dropped the old and put on the new. But where the old prejudices and conventions were stronger than one’s faith, it was a terrifying, almost a devastating process.
“For the first time we understood why all religions begin with ethics. For without truth, non-injury, continence, non-stealing, cleanliness, austerity, there can be no spirituality . . . .
“Continence-Chastity: This subject always stirred him deeply. Walking up and down the room, getting more and more excited, he would stop before some one as if there were no one else in the room. ‘Don’t you see,’ he would say eagerly, ‘there is a reason why chastity is insisted on in all monastic orders?’ Spiritual giants are produced only where the vow of chastity is observed. Don’t you see there must be a reason? The Roman Catholic Church has produced great saints, St. Francis of Assisi, Ignatius Loyola, St. Theresa, the two Katharines and many others. The Protestant Church has produced no one of spiritual rank equal to them. There is a connection between great spirituality and chastity. The explanation is that these men and women have through prayer and meditation transmuted the most powerful force in the body into spiritual energy. In India this is well understood and Yogis do it consciously. The force so transmuted is called Ojas and is stored up in the brain. It has been lifted from the lowest centre of the Kundalini — the Muladliara — to the highest.’ To us who listened, the words came to our remembrance: And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.’
“. . . . How touchingly earnest Swami Vivekananda was as he proposed this subject, lie seemed to plead with us as if beg us to act upon this teaching as something most precious. More, we could not be the disciples he required if we were not established in this. He demanded a conscious transmutation. ‘The man who has no temper has nothing to control,’ he said. ‘I want a few, five or six who are in the flower of their youth.’ . . .
“It is needless to repeat the formal teaching, the great central idea. These one can read for onescll. But there was something else, an influence, an atmosphere charged with the desire to escape from bondage — call it what you will — that can never be put into words, and yet was more powerful than any words. It was this which made us realise that we were blessed beyond words. To hear him say, 'This indecent clinging to life,’ drew aside the curtain for us into the region beyond life and death, and planted in onr hearts the desire for that glorious freedom. We saw a soul struggling to escape the meshes of one to whom the body was an intolerable bondage, not only a limitation but a degrading humiliation. ‘Azad, Azad, the Free,’ he cried, pacing up and down like a caged lion. Yes, like the lion in the cage who found the bars not of iron but of bamboo. 'Let us not be caught this time,’ would be his refrain another day . . . .
“We seemed to be in a different world. The end to he attained was Freedom — freedom from the bondage in which Maya has caught us, in which Maya has enmeshed all mankind. Sooner or later the opportunity to escape will come to all. Ours had come. From these days every aspiration, every desire, every struggle was directed towards this one purpose — consciously by our Teacher, blindly, unconsciously by us, following the influence he created.”20
Wednesday, June 19, marked the beginning of the regular teaching given daily by the Swami to his group of disciples at Thousand Island Park. He came on this first morning with the Bible in his hand and opened it at the Book of John, saying that since the students were all Christians, it was proper that he should begin with the Christian Scriptures. With August 6, ended these beautiful lessons and on the following day he left for New' York.
Though all the talks of the Swami during his stay at Thousand Island Park were not written down, some were, and these have been embodied in book-form known as Inspired Talks. It is to Miss Waldo that the followers of the Swami are indebted for these immortal words and the title of the book has been well chosen, for they were indeed inspired. The Swami threw light upon all manner of subjects, historical and philosophical, spiritual and temporal. It was as if the contents of his nature were pouring themselves forth as a grand revelation of the many-sidedness of the Eternal Truth. Certainly the seven weeks at the Thousand Island Park were one of the freest and the greatest periods in the Swami’s life. He was there in the uninterrupted stillness of the island retreat, in an atmosphere similar to that in which his Master had lived and taught in the Dakshineswar days of old. And there on the banks of the St. Lawrence, in a mood of supreme ecstasy, one day, he entered while meditating into the Nirvikalpa Samadhi as he had done in the days of blessed memory at Cossipore. Though at the time he spoke of it to no one he reckoned this experience as one of the most exalted in his life. The whirlwind of spiritual rhapsody and ecstasy that has swept the souls of devotees in Dakshineswar on the bank of the Ganga, swept here anew the souls of other devotees in the island retreat of the beautiful St. Lawrence river, and the spirit of the Master and the realisation of the Swami burned constantly in vast, ignorance-destroying flames.
Just before leaving New York for Thousand Island Park the Swami had received an invitation to visit the Greenacre Conferences, but he declined. The reason of this one finds in a letter written to a friend in which he says that he intends “to manufacture a few Yogis out of the materials of the classes and a busy fair like Greenacre is the last place for that”. Therefore he had decided to go to the St. Lawrence retreat. For his work at Thousand Island Park, his short stay at Percy, New Hampshire, evidently fitted him. There in the silence of the pines he read the Gita, meditated alone in the stillness of the forest for hours and days together. His one idea was to be by himself in communion with the Highest; and therefore it was little wonder that he came forth from the solitude a very avalanche of spirituality, making his disciples realise many forms of Truth at but a glance or touch or wish.
In the autumn of 1895, following upon his Thousand Island work, the Swami is seen writing to Swami Abhayananda concerning organisation. Dissatisfied with those who mistook what he meant by the term organisation in his letter, and who did not catch the spirit, thinking, perhaps, that he wanted to “make a success” of his work, he wrote:
“We have no organisation, nor want to build any. Each one is quite independent to teach, quite free to preach whatever he or she likes.
“If you have the spirit within, you will never fail to attract others . . . .
“Individuality is my motto. I have no ambition beyond training individuals. I know very little: that little I teach without reserve ; where I am ignorant I confess it as such. . . . . I am a Sannyasin, As such I hold myself as a servant, not as a master in this world.”21
And he adds that whether people love him or hate him, they all are alike welcome. He says that he seeks no help, nor rejects any, that he has no right to be helped and that if he is helped by others it is their mercy. He avers that when he became a Sannyasin he did so with his whole mind, welcoming anything, even starvation and the utmost misery.
Gradually his disciples came to understand his ideal. Possessed with the Western consciousness of the necessity of external organisation, it took some time for them to see that what he desired was a spiritual rather than a temporal organisation, a union of noble, pure, persevering and energetic souls, bent on personal realisation and moved to work by a genuine interest and love for humanity. He had carried on his work in this spirit, and already it had assumed large proportions. In a letter to a distinguished Indian he said, in the glory of his realisations at the Thousand Island Park, “I am free, my bonds are cut, what care I whether this body goes or does not go? . . . . I have a truth to teach, I, the child of God. And He that gave me the truth will send me fellow-workers from the Earth’s bravest and best.” Now and then the monk would come out in protest against his surroundings and distraction. His poem, The Song of the Sannyasin, considered by some to be his masterpiece, was written in a state of spiritual fervour and in protest to one who interfered with his life, trying to dictate terms to him. He had received a letter, criticising his determination to work among the people instead of among the rich; and as an answer he sent back by return mail, The Song of the Sannyasin. Three verses selected from this poem afford an insight into the ardour and the power of the Swami’s spirit of Sannyasa and of his realisation.
Strike off thy fetters!
Bonds that bind thee down,
Of shining gold, or darker, baser ore;
Love, hate — good, bad — and all the dual throng.
Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free;
For fetters though of gold, are not less strong to bind;
Thus be thou calm, Sannyasin bold! Say—
“Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Heed then no more how body
lives or goes,
Its task is done. Let Karma float it down;
Let one put garlands on, another kick
This frame; say naught. No praise or blame can be
Where praiser, praised — and blamer, blamed — are one.
Thus be thou calm, Sannyasin bold! Say —
“Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Few only know the Truth. The
rest will hate
And laugh at thee, great one; but pay no heed.
Go thou, the free, from place to place,
and help Them out of darkness, Maya’s veil. Without
The fear of pain or search for pleasure, go
Beyond them both, SannyAsin bold! Say —
“Om Tat Sat, Om!”22