On June 20, 1899, the Swami boarded the steamer Golconda and was off for the West. In the Bay of Bengal the sea was exceedingly rough. On the twenty-fourth the ship touched at Madras. Here a great crowd was waiting, for the news of the Swami’s coming had been telegraphed on, but on account of plague in Calcutta, the Indian passengers were not allowed to land. This was a great disappointment to the whole city.
Old friends and disciples of the Swami, as also Swami Ramakrishnananda and others came in boats alongside the steamer, bringing fruits, flowers and other offerings to the Swami, who greeted them from the railing and talked to them until fatigue overcame him. Alasinga Perumal, that devoted worker, was especially anxious to consult the Swami concerning the management of the Brahmavadin magazine and for this reason he purchased a ticket to Colombo.
At Colombo the Swami received a great ovation. He was glad to see his old friends again, among whom were Sir Coomaraswamy and Mr. Arunachalam. He visited Mrs. Higgin’s Boarding School for Buddhist girls, and also the convent and school of his old acquaintance, the Countess Canovara.
The steamer left Colombo on the morning of June 28. It was monsoon time and the ship tossed heavily all the way to Aden, which was reached in ten instead of the usual six days. At Socotra, the monsoon was fiercest, this being its very centre, as the Captain remarked to the Swami. Beyond this point the sea was comparatively calm. The steamer reached Aden on July 8, and Suez, through the Red Sea and the Suez canal, on the fourteenth. After touching at Naples, it went on to Marseilles, and the Swami was in London on July 31.
For the Sister and the Swami’s Gurubhai, this voyage was a pilgrimage and an education. Sister Nivedita has recorded in her charming style, in The Master As I Saw Him some of the striking conversations of the Swami from her diary, and her impressions. These being of absorbing interest to the readers of the Swami’s life, as they show the Master in varying moods, the biographers need make no apology for making the following quotations from them. Writes the Sister:
“From the beginning of the voyage to the end, the flow of thought and story went on. One never knew what moment would see the flash of intuition, and hear the ringing utterance of some fresh truth. It was while we sat chatting in the River on the first afternoon that he suddenly exclaimed, ‘Yes! the older I grow, the more everything seems to me to lie in manliness. This is my new gospel. Do even evil like a man! Be wicked, if you must, on a great scale!’ And these words link themselves in my memory with those of another day, when I had been reminding him of the rareness of criminality in India. And he turned on me, full of sorrowful protest. ‘Would to God it were otherwise in my land!’ he said, ‘for this is verily the virtuousness of death!’ Stories of the Shivaratri, or Dark Night of Shiva, of Prithvi Rai, of the Judgment-seat of Vikramaditya, of Buddha and Yashodhara, and a thousand more were constantly coming up. And a noticeable point was that one never heard the same thing twice. There was the perpetual study of caste; the constant examination and restatement of ideas; the talk of work, past, present and future; and, above all, the vindication of Humanity, never abandoned, never weakened, always rising to new heights of defence of the undefended, of chivalry for the weak. . . .
“I cannot forget his indignation when he heard some European reference to cannibalism, as if it were a normal part of the life in some societies. ‘That is not true!’ he said, when he had heard to the end. ‘No nation ever ate human flesh, save as a religious sacrifice, or in war, out of revenge. Don’t you see? That is not the way of gregarious animals! It would cut at the roots of social life!’ Kropotkin’s great work on ‘Mutual Aid’ had not yet appeared, when these words were said. It was his love of Humanity, and his instinct on behalf of each in his own place, that gave to the Swami so clear an insight.
“Again he talked of religious impulse. ‘Sex-love and creation!’ he cried, 'These are at the root of most religions. And these in India are called Vaishnavism, and in the West Christianity. How few have dared to worship Death, or Kali! Let us worship Death! Let us embrace the Terrible, because it is terrible; not asking that it be toned down. Let us take misery, for misery’s own sake!’
“As we came to the place where the river-water met the ocean, . . . the Swami explained how it was the great reverence of Hindus for the ocean, forbidding them to defile it by crossing it, that had made such journeys equal to outcasting for so many centuries. Then, as the ship crossed the line, touching the sea for the first time, he chanted, ‘Namah Shivaya! Namah Shivaya! . . .’
“He was talking again of the fact that he who would be great must suffer, and how some were fated to see every joy of the senses turn to ashes, and he said, ‘The whole of life is only a swan-song. . . .’
“Now he would answer a question, with infinite patience, and again he would play with historic and literary speculations. Again and again his mind would return to the Buddhist period, as the crux of a real understanding of Indian history.
“‘The three cycles of Buddhism,’ he said one day, ‘were five hundred years of the Law, five hundred years of images, and five hundred years of Tantras. You must not imagine that there was ever a religion in India called Buddhism, with temples and priests of its own order! Nothing of the sort. It was always within Hinduism. Only at one time the influence of Buddha was paramount, and this made the nation monastic. . .’
“And he drifted on to talk about the Soma plant, picturing how for a thousand years after the Himalayan period, it was annually received in Indian villages as if it were a king, the people going out to meet it on a given day, and bringing it in rejoicing. And now it cannot even be identified! . . .
“‘Yes, Buddha was right! It must be cause and effect in Karma. This individuality cannot but be an illusion!’ It was the next morning, and I had supposed him to be dozing in his chair, when he suddenly exclaimed, ‘Why! the memory of one life is like millions of years of confinement, and they want to wake up the memory of many lives! Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof!’
“I have just been talking to Turiyananda about conservative and liberal ideas,’ he said as he met me on deck before breakfast one morning, and straightway plunged into the subject.
“‘The conservative’s whole ideal is submission. Your ideal is struggle. Consequently, it is we who enjoy life, and never you! You are always striving to change yours to something better, and before a millionth part of the change is carried out, you die. The Western ideal is, to be doing: the Eastern, to be suffering. The perfect life would be a wonderful harmony between doing and suffering. But that can never be.
“‘In our system it is accepted that a man can never have all he desires. Life is subjected to many restraints. This is ugly, yet it brings out points of light and strength. Our liberals see only the ugliness, and try to throw it off. But they substitute something quite as bad, and the new custom takes as long as the old, for us to work to its centres of strength.
“‘Will is not strengthened by change. It is weakened and enslaved by it. But we must be always absorbing. Will grows stronger by absorption. And consciously or unconsciously, will is the one thing in the world that we admire. Suttee is great in the eyes of the whole world, because of the will that it manifests.
“‘It is selfishness that we must seek to eliminate! I find that whenever I have made a mistake in my life, it has always been because self entered into the calculation. Where self has not been involved, my judgment has gone straight to the mark.
“‘Without this self, there would have been no religious system. If man had not wanted anything for himself, do you think he would have had all this praying and worship? Why! he would never have thought of God at all, except perhaps for a little praise now and then, at the sight of a beautiful landscape or something. And that is the only attitude there ought to be. All praise and thanks. If only we were rid of self!’
“‘You are quite wrong,’ he said again, ‘when you think that fighting is a sign of growth. It is not so at all. Absorption is the sign. Hinduism is the very genius of absorption. We have never cared for fighting. Of course we struck a blow now and then, in defence of our homes! That was right. But we never cared for fighting for its own sake. Everyone had to learn that. So let these races of newecomers whirl on! They’ll all be taken into Hinduism in the end!’
“He never thought of his Mother-Church or his Motherland except as dominant; and again and again, when thinking of definite schemes, he would ejaculate, in his whimsical way, ‘Yes, it is true! If European men or women are to work in India, it must be under the black man!’
“He brooded much over the national achievement. ‘Well Well!’ he would say, ‘we have done one thing that no other people ever did. We have converted a whole nation to one or two ideas. Non-beef-eating for instance. Not one Hindu eats beef. No, no!’ — turning sharply round — ‘it is not at all like European non-cat-eating; for beef was fomerly the food of the country!’
“We were discussing a certain opponent of his own, and I suggested that he was guilty of putting his sect above his country. ‘That is Asiatic,’ retorted the Swami warmly, ‘and it is grand! Only he had not the brain to conceive, nor the patience to wait!’ and then he went off into a musing on Kali. . . .
“I love terror for its own sake,’ he went on, ‘despair for its own sake, misery for its own sake. Fight always. Fight and fight on, though always in defeat. That’s the ideal. That's the ideal.’
“‘The totality of all souls, not the human alone,’ he said once, ‘is the Personal God. The will of the Totality nothing can resist. It is what we know as Law. And this is what we mean by Shiva and Kali and so on.’
“It was dark when we approached Sicily, and against the sunset sky, Etna was in slight eruption. As we entered the Straits of Messina, the moon rose, and I walked up and down the deck beside the Swami while he dwelt on the fact that beauty is not external, but already in the mind. On one side frowned the dark crags of the Italian coast, on the other, the island was touched with silver light. ‘Messina must thank me!’ he said, ‘It is I who give her all her beauty!’
“Then he talked of the fever of longing to reach God, that had wakened in him as a boy, and of how he would begin repeating a text before sunrise, and remain all day repeating it, without stirring. He was trying here to explain the idea of Tapasya, in answer to my questions, and he spoke of the old way of lighting four fires, and sitting in the midst, hour after hour, with the sun overhead, reining in the mind. ‘Worship the terrible!’ he ended, ‘Worship Death! All else is vain. All struggle is vain. That is the last lesson. Yet this is not the coward’s love of death, not the love of the weak, or the suicide. It is the welcome of the strong man, who has sounded everything to its depths, and knows that there is no alternative.’”
Often during the voyage the Swami talked of those saints whom he had known personally. Paramount was Shri Ramakrishna of whom he told, among many other things, how with but a touch he could impart the highest insight, as instanced in the case of the lad who never spoke the remaining ten years of his life, save to say, “My Beloved! My Beloved!” after being touched by the Master's hand. And he spoke also of a certain woman who on being offered salutation by the Master in the name of the Mother, by throwing flowers on her feet and burning incense before her, passed immediately into the deepest Samadhi, from which it was most difficult to recall her to sense-consciousness till two or three hours had elapsed. Before she left,
“None had the forethought to make a single enquiry as to her name or abode. She never came again. Thus her memory became like some beautiful legend treasured in the Order as witness to the worship of Shri Ramakrishna for gracious and noble wifehood and motherhood. Had he not said of this woman, ‘a fragment of the eternal Madonnahood'? . . . ‘Was it a joke,’ the Swami said, ‘that Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa should touch a life? Of course he made new men and new women of those who came to him, even in these fleeting contacts!’
“And then he would tell story after story of different disciples. How one came, and came again, struggled to understand. And suddenly to this one he turned and said, ‘Go away now, and make some money! Then come again!’ And that man today was succeeding in the world, but the old love was proving itself ever alight.”
The Swami spoke with great feeling of Nag Mahashaya, who had paid him a visit in Calcutta only a few weeks before his departure. Nag Mahashaya, he said again and again, was “one of the greatest of the works of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa”. He related how on one occasion he had cut down the supporting pole of his cottage, in order to make the fire to cook food for a guest.
Speaking of the modern saints of Hindusthan, such as Pavhari Baba, Trailanga Swami, Raghunath Das and others, as also of those of ancient times,
“His whole soul went to the interpretation of each, as he rose before him, and it would have been impossible at any moment for the listener to think of any other as higher. . . .
“Raghunath Das had been dead two months, when the Swami reached his Ashrama. He had been a soldier originally in the British service, and as an outpost sentinel was faithful and good, and much beloved by his officers. One night, however, he heard a Rama-Rama party. He tried to do his duty, but ‘Jay Balo Rama-Chandra Ki Jay!’ maddened him. He threw away his arms and uniform, and joined the worship.
“This went on for some time, till reports came to the Colonel. He sent for Raghunath Das, and asked him whether these were true, and if he knew the penalty. Yes, he knew it. It was to be shot. ‘Well,’ said the Colonel, ‘go away this time, and I shall repeat it to no one. This once I forgive you. But if the same thing happens again, you must suffer the penalty.’
“That night, however, the sentinel heard again the Rama-Rama party. He did his best, but it was irresistible. At last he threw all to the winds, and joined the worshippers till morning. Meanwhile, however, the Colonel’s trust in Raghunath Das had been so great that he found it difficult to believe anything against him, even on his own confession. So in the course of the night, he visited the outpost, to see for himself. Now, Raghunath Das was in his place, and exchanged the word with him three times. Then, being reassured, the Colonel turned in, and went to sleep.
“In the morning appeared Raghunath Das to report himself and surrender his arms. But the report was not accepted, for the Colonel told him what he had himself seen and heard. Thunderstruck, the man insisted by some means on retiring from the service. Rama it was who had done this for His servant. Henceforth, in very truth, he would serve no other.
“‘He became a Vairagi,' said the Swami, ‘on the banks of the Saraswati. People thought him ignorant, but I knew his power. Daily he would feed thousands. Then would come the grain-seller, after a while, with his bill. ‘H’m!’ Raghunath Das would say, ‘A thousand rupees you say? Let me see. It is a month I think since I have received anything. This will come, I fancy, tomorrow.’ And it always came. . . .
“And then, perhaps came the story of Sibi Rana. ‘Ah, Yes!’ exclaimed the teller, as he ended, ‘these are the stories that are deep in our nation’s heart! Never forget that the Sannyasin takes two vows, one to realise the truth, and one to help the world, and that the most stringent of stringent requirements is that he should renounce any thought of heaven!’”1
One day the talk drifted to the question of what becomes of those who failed to keep their vows. Quoting the memorable Shlokas of the Gita on the point,
“First he explained how everything, short of the absolute control of mind, word and deed, was but ‘the sowing of wild oats’. Then he told how the religious who failed would sometimes be horn again to a throne, ‘there to sow his wild oats’, in gratifying the particular desire which had led to his downfall. ‘A memory of the religious habit,* he said, ‘often haunts the throne.’ For one of the signs of greatness was held to be the persistence of a faint memory. Akbar had had this memory. He thought of himself as a Brahmachari who had failed in his vows. But he would be born again, in more favourable surroundings, and that time he would succeed. And then there came one of those personal glimpses which occurred so seldom with our Master. Carried away by the talk of memory, he lifted the visor for a moment, on his own soul. ‘And whatever you may think,’ he said, turning to me suddenly, and addressing me by name, ‘I have such a memory!’ . . .
“His voice sank into silence, and we sat looking out over the star-lit sea. Then he took up the thread again. ‘As I grow older I find that I look more and more for greatness in little things. I want to know what great man eats and wears, and how he speaks to his servants. I want to find a Sir Philip Sidney greatness! Few men would remember the thirst of others, even in the moment of death.
“‘But any one will be great in a great position! Even the coward will grow brave in the glare of the footlights. The world looks on. Whose heart will not throb? Whose pulse will not quicken, till he can do his best? More and more the true greatness seems to me that of the worm, doing its duty silently, steadily, from moment to moment, and hour to hour.’
“How many points on the map have received a new beauty in my eyes, from the conversations they recall! As we passed up the coast of Italy, we talked of the Church. As we went through the Straits of Bonifacio, and sat looking at the south coast of Corsica, he spoke in a hushed voice of ‘this land of the birth of the War-Lord’, and wandered far afield, to talk of the strength of Robespierre, or to touch on Victor Hugo’s contempt for Napoleon III, with his ‘Et tu Napoleon?’
“As I came on deck, on the morning of our passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, he met me with the words, ‘Have you seen them? Have you seen them? Landing there and crying, “Din! Din! The Faith! The Faith!’’’ And for half-an-hour I was swept away into his dramatisation of the Moorish invasions of Spain.
“Or again, on a Sunday evening, he would sit and talk of Buddha putting new life into the customary historical recital of bare facts, and interpreting the Great Renunciation as it had appeared to him who made it.
“But his talks were not all entertaining, nor even all educational. Every now and then he would return, with consuming eagerness, to the great purpose of his life. And when he did this, I listened with an anxious mind, striving to treasure up each word that he let fall. For I knew that here I was but the transmitter, but the bridge, between him and that countless host of his own people, who would yet arise, and seek to make good his dreams.
“One of these occasions came on a certain evening, as we neared Aden. I had asked him, in the morning, to tell me, in broad outline, what he felt to be the points of difference between his own schemes for the good of India, and those preached by others. It was impossible to draw him out on this subject. On the contrary, he expressed appreciation of certain personal characteristics and lines of conduct, adopted by some of the leaders of other schools, and I regarded the question as dismissed. Suddenly, in the evening, he returned to the subject of his own accord.
“‘I disagree with all those,’ he said, ‘who are giving their superstitions back to my people. Like the Egyptologist’s interest in Egypt, it is easy to feel an interest in India that is purely selfish. One may desire to see again the India of one’s books, one’s studies, one’s dreams. My hope is to see again the strong points of that India, reinforced by the strong points of this age, only in a natural way. The new state of things must be a growth from within.’
“‘So I preach only the Upanishads. If you look, you will find that I have never quoted anything but the Upanishads. And of the Upanishads, it is only that one idea — Strength. The quintessence of Vedas and Vedanta and all, lies in that one word. Buddha’s teaching was of Non-resistance or Non-injury. But I think this is a better way of teaching the same thing. For behind that Non-injury lay a dreadful weakness. It is weakness that conceives the idea of resistance. I do not think of punishing or escaping from a drop of sea-spray. It is nothing to me. Yet to the mosquito it would be serious. Now, I will make all injury like that. Strength and fearlessness. My own ideal is that giant of a saint whom they killed in the Mutiny, and who broke silence, when stabbed to the heart, to say, ‘And thou also art He!’
“‘But you may ask, What is the place of Ramakrishna in this scheme? He is the method, that wonderful unconscious method! He did not understand himself. He knew nothing of England, or the English, save that they were queer folk from over the sea. But he lived that great life; and I read the meaning. Never a word of condemnation for any! Once I had been attacking one of our sects of Diabolists. I had been raving on for three hours, and he had listened quietly. ‘Well, well!’ said the old man as I finished, ‘perhaps every house may have a back door. Who knows!’
“‘Hitherto the great fault of our Indian religion has lain in its knowing only two words —Renunciation and Mukti. Only Mukti here! Nothing for the householders! But these are the very people whom I want to help. For, are not all souls of the same quality? Is not the goal of all the same?
“‘And so strength must come to the nation through education.’
“I thought at the time, and I think increasingly as I consider it, that this one talk of my Master, had been well worth the whole voyage, to have heard. . . .2
“The Swami was constantly preoccupied with the thought of Hinduism as a whole, and this fact found recurring expression in references to Vaishnavism. . . .
“He loved to dwell on the spectacle of the historical emergence of Hinduism. He sought constantly for the great force behind the evolution of any given phenomenon. Where was the thinker behind the founder of a religion? And where, on the other hand, was the heart to complete the thought? Buddha had received his philosophy of the five categories — form, feeling, sensation, motion, knowledge — from Kapila. But Buddha had brought the love that made the philosophy live. Of no one of these, Kapila had said, can anything be declared. For each is not. It but was, and is gone. Each is but the ripple on the water. Know, O man! thou art the sea’.
“Krishna, in his turn, as the preacher and creative centre of popular Hinduism, awoke in the Swami a feeling which was scarcely second to his passionate, personal adoration of Buddha. Compared to His many-sidedness, the Sannyasa of Buddha was almost a weakness. How wonderful was the Gita! . . . How strong! But besides this, there was the beauty of it. The Gita, after the Buddhist writings, was such a relief! Buddha had constantly said, ‘I am for the People!’ And they bad crushed, in his name, the vanity of art and learning. The great mistake committed by Buddhism lay in the destruction of the old.
“For the Buddhist books were torture to read. Having been written for the ignorant, one would find only one or two thoughts in a huge volume. (The Dhammapada he placed, however, on a level with the Gita.) It was to meet the need thus roused, that the Puranas were intended. There had been only one mind in India that had foreseen this need, that of Krishna, probably the greatest man who ever lived. He recognised once the need of the People, and the desirability of preserving all that had already been gained. Nor are the Gopi story and the Gita (which speaks again and again of women and Shudras) the only forms in which he reached the masses. For the whole Mahabharata is his, carried out by his worshippers; and it begins with the declaration that it is for the People.
“‘Thus is created a religion that ends in the worship of Vishnu, as the preservation and enjoyment of life, leading to the realisation of God. Our last movement, Chaitanyaism, you remember, was for enjoyment. (The Swami was characterising the doctrine here; he was not speaking of the unsurpassed personal asceticism of Chaitanya.) At the same time, Jainism represents the other extreme, the slow destruction of the body by self-torture. Hence Buddhism, you see, is reformed Jainism, and this is the real meaning of Buddha’s leaving the company of the five ascetics. In India, in every age, there is a cycle of sects, which represents every gradation of physical practice, from the extreme of self-torture to the extreme of excess. And during the same period will always be developed a metaphysical cycle, which represents the realisation of God as taking place by every gradation of means, from that of using the senses as an instrument, to that of the annihilation of the senses. Thus Hinduism always consists, as it were, of two counter-spirals, completing each other, round a single axis.
“‘Yes! Vaishnavism says: It is all right! This tremendous love for father, for mother, for brother, husband or child! It is all right, if only you will think that Krishna is the child, and when you give him food, that you are feeding Krishna! This was the cry of Chaitanya. ‘Worship God through the senses!’ as against that Vedantic cry, ‘Control the senses! Suppress the senses!’
“‘At the present moment, we may see three different positions of the national religion — the Orthodox, the Arya Samaj, and the Brahino Sainaj. The orthodox covers the ground taken by the Vedic Hindus of the Mahabharata epoch. The Arya Samaj corresponds with Jainism, and the Brahmo Samaj with the Buddhists.
“‘I see that India is a young and living organism. Europe also is young and living. Neither has arrived at such a stage of development that we can safely criticise its institutions. They are two great experiments, neither of which is yet complete. In India, we have social communism, with the light of Advaita — that is, spiritual individualism — playing on and around it; in Europe, you are socially individualists, but your thought is dualistic, which is spiritual communism. Thus the one consists of social institutions hedged in by individualistic thought, while the other is made up of individualist institutions within the hedge of communistic thought.
“‘Now we must help the Indian experiment as it is. Movements which do not attempt to help things as they are, are, from that point of view, no good. In Europe, for instance, I respect marriage as highly as non-marriage. Never forget that a man is made great and perfect as much by his faults as by his virtues. So we must not seek to rob a nation of its character, even if it could be proved that the character was all faults.’
“His mind was extraordinarily clear on the subject of what he meant, by individualism. How often has he said to me, ‘You do not yet understand India! We Indians are Man-worshippers, after all! Our God is man!’ He meant here the great individual man, the man of Self-realisation — Buddha, Krishna, the Guru, the Mahapurusha. But on another occasion, using the same word in an entirely different sense, he said, ‘This idea of man-worship (that is to say, the worship of the manhood which exists in any man, in all men, apart from their individual achievement of thought or character, humanity) exists in nucleus in India, but it has never been expanded. You must, develop it. Make poetry, make art, of it. Establish the worship of the feet of beggars, as you had it in Mediaeval Europe. Make man-worshippers.’
“He was equally clear, again, about the value of the image. ‘You may always say,’ he said, 'that the image is God. The error you have to avoid, is to think God the image.’ He was appealed to, on one occasion, to condemn the fetishism of the Hottentot. ‘I do not know,’ he answered, ‘what fetishism is!’ A lurid picture was hastily put before him, of the object alternately worshipped, beaten and thanked. ‘I do that!’ he exclaimed. ‘Don’t you see,’ he went on, a moment later, in hot resentment of injustice done to the lowly and absent, ‘Don’t you see that there is no fetishism? Oh, your hearts are steeled, that you cannot see that the child is right! The child sees persons everywhere. Knowledge robs us of the child’s vision. But at last, through higher knowledge, we win back to it. He connects a living power with rocks, slicks, trees, and the rest. And is there not a living Power behind them? It is symbolism, not fetishism! Can you not see?’
“But while every sincere ejaculation was thus sacred to him, he never forgot for a moment the importance of the philosophy of Hinduism. And he would throw perpetual flashes of poetry into the illustration of such arguments as are known to lawyers. How lovingly he would dwell upon the Mimamsaka philosophy! With what pride he would remind the listener that, according to Hindu Savants, ‘the whole universe is only the meaning of words. After the word comes the thing. Therefore, the idea is all!’ And indeed, as he expounded it, the daring of the Mimdmsaka argument, the fearlessness of its admissions, and the firmness of its inferences, appeared as the very glory of Hinduism. . . . One day he told the story of Satyabhama’s sacrifice and how the word ‘Krishna’, written on a piece of paper, and thrown into the balances, made Krishna himself, on the other side, kick the beam. ‘Orthodox Hinduism,’ he began, ‘makes Shruti, the sound, everything. The thing is but a feeble manifestation of the pre-existing and eternal idea. So the name of God is everything: God Himself is merely the objectification of that idea in the eternal mind. Your own name is infinitely more perfect than the person, you! The name of God is greater than God, Guard you your speech!’ Surely there has never been another religious system so fearless of truth! As he talked, one saw that the whole turned on the unspoken conviction, self-apparent to the Oriental mind, that religion is not a creed, but an experience; a process, as the Swami himself has elsewhere said, of being and becoming. If it be true that this process leads inevitably from the apprehension of the manifold to the realisation of the One, then it must also be true that everything is in the mind, and that the material is nothing more than the concretising of ideas. Thus the Greek philosophy of Plato is included within the Hindu philosophy of the Mimamsakas, and a doctrine that sounds merely empiric on the lips of Europe finds reason and necessity, on those of India. In the same way, as one declaring a truth self-evident, he explained on one occasion. ‘I would not worship even the Greek gods, for they were separate from humanity! Only those should be worshipped who are like ourselves, but greater. The difference between the gods and me must be a difference only of degree.’
“But his references to philosophy did not by any means always consist of these epicurean titbits. He was merciless, as a rule, in the demand for intellectual effort, and would hold a group of unlearned listeners through an analysis of early systems, for a couple of hours at a stretch, without suspecting them of weariness or difficulty. . . .
“Nor would Western speculations pass forgotten in this great restoration of the path the race had come by. For his was a mind which saw only the seeking, pursuing enquiry of man, making no arbitrary distinction as between ancient and modern. . . .”3
In this way he would run over all the six systems of Hindu philosophy, analysing, comparing, reconciling one with the other, and showing their points of difference from Buddhism. Thus he dwelt long and minutely on the Vaisheshika and the Nyaya philosophy in particular, side by side with that of the Vedanta, and of Kant. He concluded by saying:
“One set of persons, you see, gives priority to the external manifestation, the other to the internal ideal. Which is prior, the bird to the egg, or the egg to the bird! Does the oil hold the cup, or the cup the oil? This is a problem of which there is no solution. Give it up! Escape from Maya!”
But the Swami was not occupied all the time with problems; free from the cares of public life, he was often jovial, and gave himself up to fun and merriment with his Gurubhai and his disciple. He enjoyed the long sea-voyage and fulfilled his promise to the editor of the Udbodhan, by writing Bengali articles for the paper. These were for the greater part penned in the most delightful and humorous style, interspersed here and there with serious and instructive thoughts, both secular and spiritual. These contributions were later collected and made into a book called, Parivrajaka or “the Itinerant Monk”. This is, indeed, from one point of view, a singular production, being in its nature untranslatable keeping to its native spirit, and shows that he could have been the Mark Twain of Bengali literature if he had so wished.
Thus passed the time, until on July 31, the party arrived in London, to be met on landing at the Tilbury Dock by many friends and disciples of the Swami. Among them were, much to his surprise, two American ladies who had come all the way from Detroit to meet him in London, having seen in an Indian magazine that he would sail from India on June 20, and especially because they were alarmed at the reports they had heard regarding his health. One of these, Mrs. Funke, describing his appearance says, “He had grown very slim and looked and acted like a boy. He was so happy to find that the voyage had brought back some of the old strength and vigour.”
It being the off season period in London, the Swami remained but two weeks in Wimbledon, a suburb of the metropolis, where quarters were found in a roomy old-fashioned house. It was very quiet and restful, and all spent a happy time there. With the exception of several conversations, the Swami did no public work in London at this time. On August 16, in response to the many invitations which constantly reached him from America, he left London, accompanied by Swami Turiyananda and his American disciples. Of the voyage across the Atlantic Mrs. Funke writes:
“. . . These were ten never-to-be-forgotten days spent on the ocean. Reading and exposition of the Gita occupied every morning, also reciting and translating poems and stories from the Sanskrit and chanting old Vedic hymns. The sea was smooth and at night the moonlight was entrancing. Those were wonderful evenings; the Master paced up and down the deck, a majestic figure in the moonlight, stopping now and then to speak to us of the beauties of Nature. ‘And if all this Maya is so beautiful, think of the wondrous beauty of the Reality behind it!’ he would exclaim.
“One especially fine evening when the moon was at the full and softly mellow and golden, a night of mystery and enchantment, he stood silently for a long time drinking in the beauty of the scene. Suddenly he turned to us and said, ‘Why recite poetry when there,’ pointing to sea and sky, ‘is the very essence of poetry?’
“We reached New York all too soon, feeling that we never could be grateful enough for those blessed, intimate ten days with the Guru. . . .”
The very afternoon of his arrival in New York from Glasgow, after visiting the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, the Swami with his Gurubhai accompanied them to their beautiful country-home called Ridgely Manor, on the Hudson, in the Catskill mountains, about one hundred and fifty miles from New York. He waited there “for the leading that he confidently expected, to show him where his next effort was to lie”. A month later he was joined there by Sister Nivedita. The hosts with their family were devoted to the Swami, who was much better, and had put himself under the treatment of a famous osteopath. He remained in this country-retreat until November 5; his presence was a constant delight to his hosts, and his mind reverted to many interesting experiences of his former stay in America.
Swami Abhedananda who had been away from New York on a lecturing tour at the time of the Swami’s arrival, was soon wired to by him to come and meet him at his retreat, in order to report concerning the New York work. He stayed about ten days, and it was with great satisfaction that the Swami learned that the Vedanta Society was now in permanent quarters. On October 15, the “Vedanta Society Rooms” were formally opened by Swami Abhedananda, who held regular classes there from the twenty-second. An American Brahmacharini writes concerning the Swami at the time:
“It is already three weeks since Swami Vivekananda and Swami Turiyananda reached America from England. Swami Vivekananda is rapidly recovering from all indisposition, and for the gain made in health during the voyage from India to England, is daily adding renewed vigour. The few chosen ones who have heard the Swami in easy home-talks since his arrival, are deeply impressed with the great message of truth he bears — a larger and fuller prophecy and vision than any he has yet given to the East or West. Swami Turiyananda is beloved by all who meet him and is heartily welcomed as a needed teacher. Happy and blessed are we by their presence. . . . Swami Vivekananda is resting quietly in the home of loving friends, where Swami Turiyananda also is, together with Swami Abhedananda. Swami Turiyananda has endeared himself to all who have met him, and his work is opening out to him in a hearty welcome from students of Vedanta, eager for his teaching. ...”
And soon work did open out for the newly-arrived Swami Turiyananda. He was seen a few weeks later in Mont Clair, a short distance from New York, teaching the children, by rheans of stories and with readings from the Hitopadesha and other books of Indian wisdom. He also lectured regularly at the Vedanta Society Rooms, co operating in the work of Swami Abhedananda. Later on, in December, he went to Cambridge, Mass., and did much valuable work there. On December 10, he read a paper on "Shankaracharya” before the Cambridge Conference. The professors of the Harvard University and many other learned men spoke in high terms of it.
The first appearance of Swami Vivekananda was at a meeting of the New York Society at which he presided on Tuesday, November 8, to a question-and-answer class. On the tenth he was given a public reception, in the library of the Vedanta Society, to which many of his New York friends of former days came to meet their beloved teacher again. There was also present a large number who had been attracted by his name or his books and wished to meet him personally. An address of welcome was presented to him by some of his old friends, in reply to which the Swami made it plain that his heart was overflowing with love and goodwill to them.
Even in the midst of his multifarious activities, the Swami would, now and then, get a glimpse of a strange foreboding regarding his life on this mortal plane. One day he said to Swami Abhedananda, "Well, brother, my days are numbered. I shall live only for three or four years at the most," The Gurubhai replied, "You must not talk like that, Swamiji. You are fast recovering your health. If you stay here for some time, you win De completely restored to your former strength and vigour. Besides, we have got so much work to do. It has only begun.” But the Swami replied significantly, “You do not understand me, brother. I feel that I am growing very big. My self is expanding so much that at times I feel as if this body could not contain me any more. I am about to burst. Surely, this cage of flesh and blood cannot hold me for many days more.”
After a fortnight’s stay in New York, during which he paid visits to a few neighbouring towns, the Swami left on November 22 for California. At the earnest solicitation of his devoted friends and admirers in Chicago he stopped over there, attending several receptions which were given in his honour. He met again many people who had known him in the days of the Parliament of Religions. It was a great delight to him to find how many, who had not even seen him, had been attracted to his teaching and had not only gained understanding by reading his books, but had also developed a great reverence for India and Indian things. Here, also, he visited several outlying suburbs where he was entertained at dinner or at receptions by various distinguished persons. The Swami reached California in the first days of December and did not return to New York until June 7 of the following year.
The Swami’s immediate destination was Los Angeles where he was the guest of Mrs. Blodgett who moved in distinguished intellectual circles. Miss MacLeod’s brother had died in that house; but she still continued there to be near the Swami. He remained in Los Angeles till the middle of February. Shortly after his arrival there, he found himself again surrounded bv many persons eager to see the Teacher with whose religious writings they were familiar. Invitations pressed in upon him. He was compelled to give a series of lectures, the first of which was delivered on December 8, in Blanchard Hall, the subject being the “Vedanta Philosophy”. The next lecture, “The Cosmos,” was given at Amity Church under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences of Southern California. Several other lectures were delivered in public halls in Los Angeles, and among them were, “Work and Its Secret” (January 4, 1900), “Powers of the Mind” (January 8), and “The Open Secret”. He also spoke in the adjacent town of Pasadena, in the Universalist Church and in the Shakespeare Club. The lectures, “Christ the Messenger” and “The Way to the Realisation of a Universal Religion” delivered to huge audiences were the most popular. He gave several noteworthy addresses on “The Epics of Ancient India” before the Shakespeare Club. Among others, the subjects of this series were “The Ramayana”, “The Mahabharata”, “The Story of Jada Bharata”, and “The Story of Prahlada”. On February 3, he also gave before the same club his lecture on “The Great Teachers of the World”. In fact, between Los Angeles and Pasadena, a distance of ten miles, he had to deliver, at the earnest request of the public, one lecture every day during his stay there. It seemed as if much of the old spirit of work had come back to the Swami. The climate, happily, proved to be most salutary for him, and he worked at his best.
At the special request of an association known as the “Home of Truth” he spent nearly a month at its headquarters in Los Angeles, and held many classes there, and gave several public lectures at which, every time, more than a thousand people attended. He spoke much, in these days, of “Applied Psychology” and found that Californians were particularly ready for the “Raja-Yoga” path of the spiritual life. Many of the members of the Home of Truth became the Swami’s ardent followers. His simple manners, his great intellectuality, and above all, his towering spirituality completely won them over. According to a rule of their organisation tobacco was tabooed. In the Swami’s case this rule was abrogated, because their love for him was beyond measure. The sect was much akin to Christian Science, and was therefore exceedingly interested in his remarks concerning the overcoming of body-bondage and ailments through mental and spiritual processes.
At Los Angeles he was for a time the guest of Miss Spencer, who became one of his fervent disciples. While there, he was wont to sit on the floor beside her aged mother who was blind and nearing the end. At Miss Spencer’s question, why he seemed so interested in her mother, he told her that death like birth was a mystery, and so the mother was an interesting study to him. When the body approaches dissolution, the sense-activities are stilled as the soul gradually passes to the life beyond. This state, so sad and repulsive to a mind limited to external appearances, was to the Swami’s spiritual insight, pregnant with interest and significance!
The magazine, Unity, describing his work in Los Angeles, speaks as follows:
“. . . Hindu missionaries are not among us to convert us to a better religion than what Christ gave us, but rather in the name of religion itself, to show us that there is in reality but one Religion, and that we can do no better than to put into practice what we profess to believe. We had eight lectures at the Home by the Swami Vivekananda, and all were intensely interesting. . . . There is combined in the Swami Vivekananda the learning of a university-president, the dignity of an archbishop, with the grace and winsomeness of a free and natural child. Getting upon the platform without a moment’s preparation, he would soon be in the midst of his subject, sometimes becoming almost tragic as his mind would wander from deep metaphysics to the prevailing conditions in Christian countries of today, whose people go and seek to reform the Filipinos with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other, or in South Africa allow children of the same Father to cut each other to pieces. In contrast to this condition of things, he described what took place during the last great famine in India where men would die of starvation beside their cattle (cow’s) rather than stretch forth a hand to kill. . . .”
When the Swami left Los Angeles he was to become the guest of the Reverend Dr. Benjamin Fay Mills of Oakland, at whose church, the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, he gave eight lectures to crowded audiences numbering often as many as two thousand persons; and the mornings following, he would find his name blazoned in all the leading newspapers of the State. These lectures were given on the occasion of a local Congress of Religions that was being held at the time in the Rev. B. F. Mills’ church, and thus hundreds of prominent Californian clergymen had the opportunity to meet the Swami, to exchange ideas, and in many instances, to be converted to his spiritual outlook. In a lecture before the gathering, the Rev. Dr. Mills speaking on “The Hindu Way of Salvation”, introduced the Swami in terms of highest praise, describing him as, “a man of gigantic intellect, indeed, one to whom our greatest university professors were as mere children”.
The impression which the Swami made was tremendous. A great stir was created in the leading intellectual circles of the State. In the latter part of February, at the request of numerous distinguished residents of the adjoining city of San Francisco, the metropolis of the State of California, the Swami went there and worked strenuously till the month of May. His first lecture was on “The Ideal of a Universal Religion”, delivered at the Golden Gate Hall, where he received a tremendous ovation. He was induced to take spacious quarters in Turk Street so that he might open private classes for the benefit of numerous interested persons. Here he commenced regular training classes in Raja-Yoga and meditation, and gave also semipublic lectures on the Gita and the Vedanta philosophy in general. He had come to this State, practically unknown except to a considerable number of newspaper readers who recalled the reports of his lectures at the time of the Parliament of Religions. Of course, in ecclesiastical circles all over the United States his name was widely known.
Every Sunday during the months of March and April, the Swami spoke publicly in San Francisco, at Red Men’s Hall, Golden Gate Hall, and at Union Square Hall. Three evening lectures a week were also given at Washington Hall, and later at the Social Hall he gave a short series of lectures on Bhakti-Yoga. Besides these, on alternate evenings he lectured at Alameda and Oakland. The subjects of some of his Sunday public lectures given in San Francisco were, “Buddha’s Message to the World”, “The Religion of Arabia and Mohammed the Prophet”, “Is the Vedanta Philosophy the Future Religion?”, “Christ’s Message to the World”, “Mohammed’s Message to the World”, “Krishna’s Message to the World”, “The Mind and Its Powers and Possibilities”, “Mind Culture”, “Concentration of the Mind”, “Nature and Man”, “Soul and God”, “The Goal”, “Science of Breathing”, “Meditation”, “The Practice of Religion, Breathing and Meditation”, “The Worshipped and Worshipper”, and “Formal Worship”. “Art and Science in India” was the topic on which he addressed the audience at Wendte Hall in San Francisco.
This list, though a partial one, of lectures delivered by the Swami on the Pacific coast of America up to the end of April, shows that most of them touched on Raja-Yoga. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few, all are lost, because they were not taken down.
Once, whilst in some town on the banks of a river in America, he chanced to meet with a party of young men who were shooting vainly from a bridge at egg-shells, which were moving with the current of a small stream. These shells were loosely strung together with strings, at one end of which were tied small bits of wood inserted crosswise into the shells, and at the other, a tiny stone, which served as a sort of anchor. The Swami watched them, smiling at their failure, when one of the party noticed this and challenged him to try his hand at the game, assuring him that it was not so easy as it looked. Then the Swami took a gun and successively hit about a dozen shells! They were all astonished and thought that he must evidently be a practised hand. But he assured them to the contrary, saying that he had never handled a gun before, and that the secret of his success lay in the concentration of the mind.
The Swami found his California work prospering beyond measure. In Los Angeles and Pasadena, Vedanta meetings were being held by his students regularly, and the Swami received many letters begging him to return there, but this was at present impossible as his work in the northern part of the State absorbed all his attention. He, however, promised his disciples that he would send some other Sannyasin teacher to take up his work, when feasible. In the North, several Vedanta centres were formed in San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda. Among his more intimate disciples in California were Mrs. Hansborough of Los Angeles, and Dr. M. H. Logan, and Messrs. C. F. Patterson and A. S. Wollberg, respectively the President, Vice-President and Secretary of the newly-formed Vedanta Society in San Francisco. The San Francisco Vedanta students were eager to have a Swami and a permanent Vedanta centre. So, like the Los Angeles disciples, they begged the Swami to send them another teacher when he should depart; and this he promised to do. In fact, he wrote to Swami Turiyananda to come at once, but this was not practicable as he was then conducting the classes in New York in the place of Swami Ahhedananda, who was away on a lecture tour. The Swami stayed in San Francisco and its vicinity until the end of May.
Before he left California the Swami received the munificent gift of a large tract of land, 160 acres in extent, as a place of retreat for students of the Vedanta, through the generosity of Miss Minnie C. Boock, one of his devoted students. Though the Swami himself did not visit this place, he was much pleased with the accounts he heard of it. It was very suitably adapted for the purpose, being fifty miles from a railway station and twelve miles from the nearest habitation, except the post-office, three miles distant. It was virgin soil, surrounded by forests and hills, being situated on the uplands in the southern part of the valley of the San Antone on the eastern slope of Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County of California at an elevation of about 2,500 feet. It was twelve miles from the famous Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. Being thus removed far from the conflicting influences of worldly life, the name Shanti Ashrama or “Peace Retreat" was appropriately given to it. On August 2, Swami Turiyananda went there for the first time with twelve students whom he trained regularly in meditation, living with them the austere monastic life as in India. These annual retirements of one month in the year were continued for some time by the Swami in charge of the San Francisco centre.
Late in the spring of 1900, in the company of friends the Swami retired to Camp Taylor, in the country, for a short vacation. The end of the lecture course found him much exhausted. His health necessitated rest and change; and when he returned to San Francisco after three weeks, it was thought advisable that he should stop at the residence of his disciple, Dr. Logan, in Oak Street, there to be under constant medical supervision, if necessary. Dr. William Forster also attended him. He was prevented from public lecturing for the moment, but gave a series of four talks on the Gita in the parlours at 6 Geary Street, and at the private hall at 770 Oak Street on May 24, 26, 28 and 29.
There were many occasions, here in California, when the Swami gave himself over to recreation and communion with his disciples. At the retreat at Camp Taylor he took long walks in the open country and felt himself much improved thereby. And he would often join picnic parties arranged by his disciples in the hills that lie between Pasadena and Los Angeles, or even beyond Pasadena, in the forest defiles and mountain valleys. There were three ladies, well-connected in Los Angeles society and sisters of the well-known banker, Mr. Mead, whom the Swami reckoned as his disciples. One of these, Mrs. Hansborough, would go to any length to be of service to the Swami. They it was who attended to his needs while in that city. He frequently told these three sisters stories of his Indian experience and initiated them, in an especial sense, into Indian ideals, and they in their turn helped in propagating the Vedanta teaching.
But though he was generally full of mirth and childlike sweetness and freedom, there was always the undertone of serious states of mind. Throughout his Western experience one notices the longing for the Absolute, in letters, from the platform, or in private conversation. And at Alameda, probably when his work had weighed heaviest on him physically, and his mind was tired from the strain, one finds him writing a letter to Miss MacLeod, in which is a very passion of longing to break all bonds and fly unto the Highest, One finds in this letter the old monastic instinct in him cropping forth; the desire for the Supreme Isolation, the yearning for that ecstasy which he had so often known in Dakshineswar in days long past. This letter, dated April 18, 1900, reads:
“. . . Work is always difficult. Pray, for me, that my work stops for ever, and my whole soul be absorbed in Mother. Her work, She knows. . . .
“I am well, very well mentally. I feel the rest of the soul more than that of the body. The battles are lost and won! I have bundled my things and am waiting for the Great Deliverer.
“Shiva, O Shiva, carry my boat to the other shore!
“After all, I am only the boy who used to listen with rapt wonderment to the wonderful words of Ramakrishna under the Banyan at Dakshineswar. That is my true nature; works and activities, doing good and so forth are all superimpositions.
“Now I again hear his voice, the same old voice thrilling my soul. Bonds are breaking, love dying, work becoming tasteless; the glamour is off life. Now only the voice of the Master calling! ‘I come, lord, I come.’ ‘Let the dead bury the dead; follow thou Me!’ ‘I come, my beloved lord, I come!’
“Yes, I come! Nirvana is before me! I feel it at times, the same infinite ocean of peace, without a ripple, a breath.
“I am glad I was born, glad I suffered so, glad I did make big blunders, glad to enter Peace. I leave none bound; I take no bonds. Whether this body will fall and release me, or I enter into Freedom in the body — the old man is gone, gone for ever, never to come back again!
“The guide, the Guru, the leader, the teacher, has passed away; — the boy, the student, the servant, is left behind.
“You understand why I don’t want to meddle with . . . ; who am I to meddle with any one? I have long given up my place as the leader. I have no right to raise my voice. Since the beginning of this year, I have not dictated anything in India. You know that. . . . The sweetest moments of my life have been when I was drifting. I am drifting again — with the bright, warm sun ahead, and masses of vegetation around — and in the heat everything is so still, so calm — and I am drifting, languidly, in the warm heart of the river! I dare not make a splash with my hands or feet, for fear of breaking the wonderful stillness — stillness that makes you feel sure it is an illusion!
“Behind my work was ambition, behind my love was personality, behind my purity was fear, behind my guidance the thirst for power! Now they are vanishing and I drift. I come. Mother, I come, in Thy warm bosom — floating wheresoever Thou takest me — in the voiceless, in the strange, in the wonderland. I come, a spectator, no more an actor!
“Oh, it is so calm! My thoughts seem to come from a great, great distance in the interior of my own heart. They seem like faint, distant whispers, and peace is upon everything — sweet, sweet peace — like that one feels for a few moments just before falling into sleep, when things are seen and felt like shadows — without fear, without love, without emotion — peace that one feels alone, surrounded with statues and pictures! I come, Lord, I come.
“The world is, but not beautiful nor ugly, but as sensations, without exciting any emotion! Oh, the blessedness of it! Everything is good and beautiful, for things are all losing their relative proportions to me — my body among the first. Om That Existence!”4
The Swami, it may be said, had worked in California to excess. In all, his public lectures both in the north and in the south of the State numbered no less than one hundred. Besides these, he was always busy giving private interviews and intimate teaching to numerous ardent souls. No wonder then that he was exhausted. But in a letter written at the time he said that his mind was never clearer than in these days. The lectures which created the widest attention and which were reported in long hand were, as has been said, first of all, “Christ the Messenger”, then “Work and Its Secret”, “The Powers of the Mind”, “Hints on Practical Spirituality”, “The Open Secret”, “The Way to the Realisation of a Universal Religion”, and “The Great Teachers of the World” — all of which were delivered either at Los Angeles or at Pasadena.
Towards the latter part of his stay in California, the Swami received a pressing invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, then in London, to join them in Paris in July for the sake of his health. He was also invited by the Foreign Delegates’ Committee of the Congress of the History of Religions that was to be held in conjunction with the Paris Exposition of 1900, to lecture before that distinguished assembly. As he thought it best to spend several weeks in New York before sailing, he bade his disciples in San Francisco, Alameda and Oakland farewell, at the end of May, promising them to send in the near future Swami Turiyananda as the head of the Vedanta movement in California.
The journey across the continent proved most fatiguing. He made short stops en route at Chicago and Detroit to visit his old friends there. When he arrived in New York, he took up his residence at the Vedanta Society headquarters, and received many of his former disciples and admirers, persons who desired to meet him after reading his books. He gave only a few public lectures, as his time was chiefly given over to teaching and conversation with his old friends and disciples. He was much pleased at the progress of the Vedanta Society. Because of the pressure of other business, Mr. Leggett had resigned the presidentship in favour of Dr. Herschell C. Parker of Columbia College, who was unanimously elected to replace him. Among the honorary members of the Society at this time were the Rev. Dr. R. Heber Newton and Charles R. Lanman, Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University. The Swami lectured on four successive Sundays and held Gita classes on four Saturday mornings during his stay in New York. He spoke to Swami Turiyananda, who had been lecturing at the Society rooms since April, and holding Children’s Classes in Vedanta, of his intention of sending him to California at once. At first the Swami found it extremely hard to persuade Swami Turiyananda to take charge of the Shanti Ashrama. The brother-disciple always hesitated to plunge headlong into any work — and tried to avoid all responsibilities. Devoted to meditation and austerity, he was averse to activity. Failing to persuade Swami Turiyananda by arguments to take charge of the Shanti Ashrama, the Swami said at last, “It is the will of the Mother that you should take charge of the work there.” At this the brother-disciple said jocosely, “Rather say, it is your will. Certainly you have not heard the Mother to communicate Her will to you in that way. How can we hear the words of the Mother!” “Yes, brother,” said the Swami with great emotion, “yes, the words of the Mother can be heard as clearly as we hear one another. It only requires a fine nerve to hear the words of the Mother.” The Swami expressed this with such fervour that Swami Turiyananda could not but accept the Swami's words as expressing the will of the Divine Mother, and he cheerfully agreed to take charge of the Shanti Ashrama.
In the report of the Assistant Secretary of the Vedanta Society for June, one reads:
“ . . . On June 7, Swami Vivekananda came to New York from California and stayed in the Vedanta Society Rooms, 102 E. 58th St., with Swami Turiyananda and Swami Abhedananda. At that time Sister Nivcdita was also in the City, and she was present at most of the meetings.
“On the following Saturday, June 9, Swami Vivekananda conducted the morning class on the Bhagavad-Gila, relieving Swami Turiyananda, who usually taught the class. On Sunday morning, June 10, Swami Vivekananda lectured in the Vedanta Society Rooms on the subject of ‘Vedanta Philosophy’. The rooms were filled to their utmost capacity with students and old friends of the Swami. A reception was given to him on the following Friday evening, thus giving an opportunity to old friends to meet him once more, and many students, who had long wished to meet the renowned author of Raja Yoga, were made happy by a few kind words and a grasp of the Master’s hand. He spoke on the object of the Vedanta Society, and of the work in America.
“The next morning, Saturday, June 17, he also took charge of the class and lectured on ‘What is Religion?’ Sister Nivedita spoke in the evening on ‘The Ideals of Hindu Women’, giving a most beautiful and sympathetic account of their simple life and purity of thought. The women students, who were always eager to hear of the every day life and thought of their Hindu sisters, especially enjoyed this talk. The Sister Nivedita was pleased at this interest and answered many questions giving a clearer idea of life in India to most than they had ever known.
“On June 23, Swami Vivekananda conducted the Gita class, and on Sunday, June 24, he lectured on ‘The Mother-worship’. In the evening Sister Nivedita spoke again on ’The Ancient Arts of India’. Her talk was most entertaining because of her familiarity with the subject. Her visit and conversation were very instructive. . . .
“Swami Vivekananda conducted the class on the morning of June 30, and the next morning, Sunday, July 1, lectured on the ‘Source of Religion’. As on all previous occasions, the rooms were crowded, and all felt it a privilege to listen to him. On July 3, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Turiyananda left New York, the former going to Detroit to visit old friends, and the latter to California to establish a Shanti Ashrama and to take charge of the Vedanta Society work at San Francisco. . . .
“On July 10, Swami Vivekananda returned from Detroit and stayed at the Society rooms here until the latter part of July. On the 20th he sailed for Paris. . . .”
Memorable were the parting words of the Swami to Swami Turiyananda when the latter asked for some advice as how to conduct the work which he was being sent to take up. “Go and establish the Ashrama in California,” exclaimed the Swami in reply. “Hoist the flag of Vedanta there. From this moment destroy even the very memory of India! Above all, live the life, and Mother will see to the rest!”
Among the celebrities who were in sympathy with the Swami’s work and with the Vedanta philosophy and Indian culture at large, were Professor Seth Low, the President of the Columbia University, Prof. A. V. W. Jackson of Columbia College, Professor Thomas R. Price and E. Engalsmann of the College of the City of New York, and Professors Richard Botthiel, N. M. Butler, N. A. McLouth, E. G. Sihler, Calvin Thomas and A. Cohn of the New York University.
Among the disciples whom the Swami frequently visited in New York and with whom he spent many hours in discussing philosophy and plans of work was Miss Waldo. Another intimate friend of the Swami, and one who had introduced him into very distinguished circles, both in Chicago in the days of the Parliament of Religions, and in New York, was Mrs. Annie Smith, whom he was wont to call “Mother Smith”. She was born in India, and from early womanhood had interested herself in Indian philosophy. She was well known in America as a lecturer on Oriental subjects. Mrs. Smith, some time after the Swami’s passing away, spent four years in Los Angeles and in Pasadena, and wrote that she “found the spiritual seed of the Swami’s planting springing up all over the Pacific coast, for he vitalised American religions and sects, as well as Hinduism”.
His stay of seven days in Detroit at the house of Mrs. Greenstidel was devoted to resting; only once or twice did he hold conversaziones for the benefit of his immediate disciples and intimate friends. The last ten days that the Swami spent in rest and retirement in New York in the circle of his followers, were enjoyed not only by the latter but also by himself, though the stay was all too short. One of them writing of the Swami at this time, says:
“He has broadened in his sympathies and expanded in his knowledge during the four years of his absence from America. While the season is now over for lectures and classes, Swamiji’s old friends are basking in the sunshine of his presence. His health is now excellent, and he is his dear old self once more, with yet a mingling of a newer, nobler self that makes us adore him more than ever. . . . He has to be a world-worker, and so no rest can be for him until that work is done.”
Before taking final leave of Swami Vivekananda from the American work it would be interesting to go through the following reminiscences recorded by an intimate disciple of the Swami, which give an impression of his influence in California through lectures and classes:
“It is now more than ten years since the Swami Vivekananda lectured to California audiences; it seems but yesterday. It was here as elsewhere; the audiences were his from the outset and remained his to the end. They were swept along on the current of his thought without resistance. Many there were who did not want to resist: whose pleasure and novelty it was to have light thrown into the hidden recesses of their minds by the proximity of a luminous personality. There were a few who would have resisted if they could, but whose powers of resistance were neutralised by the irresistible logic, acumen and childlike simplicity of the Great Teacher. Indeed, there were a few who arose to demur but who resumed their seats either in smiling acquiescence or in bewildered impotency.
“The Swami’s personality impressed itself on the mind with visual intensity. The speaking eyes, the wealth of facial expression and gesticulation; the wondrous Sanskrit chanting, sonorous, melodious, impressing one with the sense of mystic potency; the translations following in smiling confidence — all these, set off by the spectacular apparel of the Hindu Sannyasin — who can forget them?
“As a lecturer he was unique: never referring to notes, as most lecturers do; and though he repeated many discourses on request, they were never mere repetitions. He seemed to be giving something of himself, to be speaking from a super-experience. The most abstruse points of the Vedanta were retrieved from the domain of mere speculation by a vital something which seemed to emanate from him. His utterances were dynamic and constructive: arousing thought and directing it into synthetic process. Thus he was not only a lecturer but a Teacher of the highest order as well.
“He encouraged the asking of questions at the conclusion of every lecture and would go to any length to make his questioners understand. On one occasion after persistent queries by a number of persons, it occurred to some one that they were plying the Swami too insistently with questions, and he remarked to that effect. ‘Ask all the questions you like — the more the better’, was the Swami’s good-natured reply. ‘That, is what I am here for, and I won’t leave you till you understand.’ The applause was so prolonged that he was obliged to wait till it subsided before he could continue. At times he literally started people into belief by his answers. To the question, after a lecture on Reincarnation, ‘Swami, do you remember your past life?’ he answered quickly and seriously, 'Yes, clearly, even when I was a little boy.’
“Quick and, when necessary, sharp at repartee, he met all opposition with the utmost good nature and even enjoyment. His business was to make his hearers understand, and he succeeded as, perhaps, no other lecturer on abstruse subjects ever did. To popularise abstractions, to place them within the mental grasp of even very ordinary intellects was his achievement. He reached them all. ‘In India', he said, ‘they tell me that I ought not to teach Advuita Vedanta to the people at large. But I say that I can make even a child understand it. You cannot begin too early to teach the highest spiritual truths.’
“Once at the conclusion of a lecture he thus announced his next lecture: ‘Tomorrow night I shall lecture on The Mind: Its Powers and Possibilities. Come to hear me. I have something to say to you, I shall do a little bomb-throwing’. Here he glanced smilingly over the audience, and then with a wave of his hand added, ‘Come on! It will do yon good’. The next night there was barely standing-room. He kept his word. Bombs were thrown, and he of all people, knew how to throw them with telling effect. In this lecture he devoted considerable time to the subject of chastity as a means of strengthening the mind. As a practice to develop purity, he expounded the theory of looking upon every woman as one's mother. When he had presented the idea, he paused and, as though in response to inarticulate questionings from the audience, said, ‘O yes, this is a theory. I stand up here to tell you about this beautiful theory; but when I think of my own mother I know that to me she is different to any other woman. There is a difference. We cannot deny it. But we sec this difference because we think of ourselves as bodies. This theory is to be fully realised ill meditation. These truths are first to be heard, then to be meditated upon’.
“He held purity to be for the householder as well as for the monk, and laid great stress on that point. ‘The other day a young Hindu came to see me,’ he said. ‘He has been living in this country for about two years, and suffering from ill-health for some time. In the course of our talk, he said that the theory of chastity must be all wrong because the doctors in this country had advised him against it. They told him that it was against the law of nature. I told him to go back to India, where he belonged, and to listen to the teachings of his ancestors, who had practised chastity for thousands of years.’ Then turning a face puckered into an expression of unutterable disgust, he thundered, ‘You doctors in this country, who hold that chastity is against the law of nature, don’t know what you are talking about. You don't know the meaning of the word purity. You are beasts! beasts! I say, with the morals of a tomcat, if that is the best you have to say on that subject!’ Here he glanced defiantly over the audience, challenging opposition by his very glance. No voice was raised, though there were several physicians present.
“Bombs were thrown in all of his lectures. Audiences were jolted out of hereditary ruts, and New Thought students, so-called, were subjected to scathing though constructive criticisms without mercy. Smilingly, he would announce the most stupendous Vedantic conceptions so opposed to Christian theologic dogma; then pause an instant — how many, many times, and with such winsome effect! — with his teeth pressed over his lower lip as though with hated breath observing the result. Imagine, if you can, greater violence done to the traditional teachings of Christendom than by his fiery injunction, Don’t repent! Don’t repent! . . . Spit, if you must, but go on! Don’t hold yourselves down by repenting! Throw off the load of sin, if there is such a thing, by knowing your true selves — The Pure! The Ever Free! . . . That man alone is blasphemous who tells you that you are sinners. . .’ And again, ‘This world is a superstition. We are hypnotised into believing it real. The process of salvation is the process of de-hypnotisation. . . . This universe is just the play of the Lord — that is all. It is all just for fun. There can be no reason for His doing anything. Know the Lord if you would understand His play. Be His playfellow and He will tell you all. . . . And to you, who are philosophers, I say that to ask for a reason for the existence of the universe is illogical because it implies limitation in God, which you do not admit.’ Then he entered into one of his wonderful expositions of the salient features of the Advaita Vedanta.
“In the questions which usually followed a talk on this subject, there was almost sure to be the question, ‘But, Swami, what will become of one’s individuality when one realises one’s oneness with God?’ He would laugh at this question, and playfully ridicule it. He would say, ‘You people in this country are so afraid of losing your in-di-vidu-al-i-ties,’ drawling out the word in laughing mockery. ‘Why, you are not individuals yet. When you know God you will be. When you realise your whole nature, you will attain your true individualities, not before. In knowing God you cannot lose anything worth having. . . . There is another thing I am constantly hearing in this country, and that is that we should ‘live in harmony with nature!’ ‘Har-mo-ny with nature,’ he ridiculed. ‘Why, don’t you know that all the progress ever made in the world was made by fighting nature, by conquering nature? There never has been an exception. Trees live in harmony with nature. Perfect harmony there; no opposition there — and no progress. We are to resist nature at every point if we are to make any progress. Something funny happens and nature says “cry”, and we cry —’
“‘But,’ interposed an old lady in the audience, ‘it would be very hard not to mourn for those we love, and I think we would be very hard-hearted if we did not mourn.’ ‘O yes, Madam,’ he replied, ‘it is hard, no doubt. But what of that? All great accomplishments are hard. Nothing worth while comes easy. But don’t lower the ideal because it is difficult to attain. Hold the banner of freedom aloft ! You do not weep, Madam, because you want to, but because nature forces you. When nature says, ‘Weep!’ say ‘No! I shall not weep! Strength! Strength! Strengt! — say that to yourself day and night. You are the Strong! The Pure! The Free! No weakness in you; no sin; no misery!’
“Such statements, vitalised by his tremendous personality, placed him in the same class with the world’s greatest spiritual teachers. During these lectures, one was suspended in a spiritual firmament by the proximity of a Soul to whom the world was really a joke, and to whom Consciousness, super-cosmic, was the One and only Reality.
“The Swami was blessed with an irrepressible sense of humour, which enlivened his lectures and classes, and at times relieved the tenseness of embarrassing situations. Observe his parry to the question incredulously hurled at him at the close of a lecture which culminated in an impassioned outburst on the glory of God-Consciousness: ‘Swami, have you seen God?’ ‘What?’ he returned, his face lighting up with a happy smile, 'Do I look like it — a big fat man like me?’
“On another occasion while he was expounding Advaita, an old man, sitting in the front row, arose deliberately, and with a look which said as plainly as words, ‘Let me get out of this place in a hurry,’ hobbled down the aisle and out of the hall, pounding the floor with his cane at every step. The Swami apparently enjoyed the situation, for amusement overspread his features as he paused to watch him. The attention of the audience was divided between the Swami, smiling, fun-loving, and the disgusted old man who had had enough of him.
“The whimsical, playful side of the Swami’s character would break out at any moment. Certain Thcosophic and New Thought students were interested primarily in occult phenomena. One such asked, ‘Swami, have you ever seen an elemental?’ ‘O yes. We have them in India for breakfast,’ was the quick reply. Nor did he hesitate to joke about his own personality. At one time when looking at some works of art the Swami, surveying a painting of some corpulent monks, remarked, ‘Spiritual men are fat. See, how fat I am!’ Again, speaking about the power of prophecy in the saints he said, ‘Once when I was a little boy playing in the streets, a sage, passing by put his hand on my head and said, “My boy, you will be a great man some day.” And now see where I am!’ At this little conceit his face fairly beamed with fun. There was nothing egotistical in such statements. His simple fun-loving nature carried his hearers along with him in the spirit of his joke. At another time: ‘The Christian idea of hell is not at all terrifying to me. I have read Dante's Inferno three times, but I must say that I find nothing terrible in it. There are many kinds of Hindu hells. When a glutton dies, for instance, he is surrounded by great quantities ot the very best kinds of food. He has a stomach a thousand miles long, and a mouth as small as a pin head! Think of that!’ During this lecture he got very warm owing to the poor ventilation. On leaving the hall after the lecture, he was met by a chill blast of north wind. Gathering his coat tightly about him he said vehemently, ‘Well, if this isn’t hell, I don’t know what is.’
“Dilating on the life of the Sannyasin as compared to that of the householder he said, ‘Someone asked me if I was ever married.’ Here he paused to glance smilingly over the audience. A multitudinous titter was the response. Then the smile giving place to a look of horror, lie continued: ‘Why, I wouldn’t be married for anything. It is the devil’s own game.’ Here he paused as though to give his words effect. Then raising his hand to check the audible appreciation that had begun, he went on with a quite serious expression overspreading his features, ‘There is one thing, however, that I have against the monastic system, and that is’ — (another pause) — that it takes the best men away from the community.’ He did not attempt to stem the outburst that followed. He had his little joke and enjoyed it. On another occasion while speaking seriously he suddenly broke out in merriment, ‘As soon as a man gets a little sense he dies. He begins by having a big stomach which sticks out farther than his head. When he gains wisdom, his stomach disappears and his head becomes prominent. Then he dies.’
“The Swami’s assimilation of the world’s maturest religious thought and his consummate power in expounding it, contrasted curiously with his youthful appearance, and much conjecture was rife as to his age. He must have known this, for he availed himself of an opportunity to have a little fun on this point at the expense of the audience. Alluding to his own age, which was apropos of the subject, lie said, ‘I am only —’ (breathless pause, anticipation) — ‘of a few years,’ he added mischievously. A sigh of disappointment ran over the audience. The Swami looked on waiting for the applause, which he knew was ready to break out. He enjoyed his own jokes as much as did the audience. Once he laughed outright at some particularly pointed joke which he had just told. The house was in an uproar at once. The joke is irretrievably lost. What a pity! During his series of lectures on The Ideals of India, the fact was disclosed that he was a wonderful story teller. Here, perhaps, he was at his best. He gave life to the ancient tales by telling them in his inimitable fashion, the subject giving full play to his unsurpassed power of interpretation, and to that wealth of facial expression which was his greatest personal charm. ‘I love to tell these stories,’ he said. ‘They are the life of India. I have heard them since babyhood. I never get tired of telling them.’
The Swami commanded reverence when he revealed himself at times to his audience in one of those wonderful waves of transcendental feeling which lie did not try to check. As when he said, ‘All faces are dear to me. . . . As it is possible to ‘see Helen in an Ethiop’s face’, so we must learn to see the Lord in all. All, even the very worst, are Mother’s children. The universe, good and bad, is but the play of the Lord.’
“In private interviews he was the ideal host, entering into conversation, argument or story-telling, not only without restraint, but with apparent enjoyment. His personal appearance on my first interview was a pleasurable shock from which I have never fully recovered. He had on a long grey dressing gown, and was sitting cross-legged on a chair, smoking a pipe, his long hair falling in wild disarray over his features. As I advanced, he extended a cordial hand and bade me be seated. Memory delivers but fragments of those interviews. What remains vivid is the contact with the great Sannyasin — the impressions and impetus received — which refuses to be less than the greatest experience in lile.
“Speaking of spiritual training for the mind he said, ‘The less you read the better. What are books but the vomitings of other men’s minds? Why fill your mind with a load of stuff you will have to get rid of? Read the Gita and other good works on Vedanta. That is all you need.’ Then again: ‘The present system of education is all wrong. The mind is crammed with facts before it knows how to think. Control of the mind should be taught first. If I had my education to get over again, and had any voice in the matter, I would learn to master my mind first, and then gather facts, if I wanted them. It takes people a long time to learn things because they can’t concentrate their minds at will. . . . It took three readings for me to memorise Macaulay’s History of England, while my mother memorised any sacred book in only one reading. . . . People are always suffering because they can't control their minds. To give an illustration, though a rather crude one: A man has trouble with his wife. She leaves him and goes with other men. She’s terror! But, poor fellow, he can’t take his mind away from her, and so he suffers.’
“I asked him to explain why the practice of begging, common among religious mendicants, was not opposed to renunciation. He replied, ‘It is a question of the mind. If the mind anticipates, and is affected by the results — that is bad, no doubt. The giving and receiving of alms should be free; otherwise it is not renunciation. If you should put a hundred dollars on that table for me, and should expect me to thank you for it, you could take it away again, I would not touch it. My living was provided for before I came here, before I was born. I have no concern about it. Whatever belongs to a man he will get. It was ready for him before he was born.’
“To the question: What do you think about the immaculate Conception of Jesus?’ he replied, ‘That is an old claim. There have been many in India who have claimed that. I don’t know anything about it. But for my part, I am glad that I had a natural father and mother.’ ‘But isn’t such a theory opposed to the law of nature?’ I ventured. ‘What is nature to the Lord? It is all His play,’ he replied as he knocked the ash from his pipe against the heel of his slipper, regardless of the carpeted floor. Then blowing through the stem to clear it, he continued, ‘We are slaves of nature. The Lord is the Master of nature. He can do as He pleases. He can take one or a dozen bodies at a time, if He chooses, and in any way He chooses. How can we limit Him?’
“After answering at length various questions about Raja-Yoga, he concluded with a friendly smile, ‘But why bother about RAja-Yoga? There are other ways.’
“This interview was continued fifteen minutes beyond the time set for a class on Raja-Yoga to be held in the front room of the house. We were interrupted by the lady in charge of affairs, rushing into the room and exclaiming, ‘Why, Swami ? You have forgotten all about the Yoga class. It is fifteen minutes past time now, and the room is full of people.’ The Swami arose hastily to his feet, exclaiming to me, ‘O, excuse me! We will now go to the front room.’ I walked through the hall to the front room. He went through his bedroom, which was between the room we had been sitting in and the front room. Before I was seated he emerged from his room with his hair (which I have said was in a state of wild disorder) neatly combed, and attired in his Sannyasin robe! Not more than one minute had elapsed from the time he started from his room with dishevelled hair and in lounging attire, till he came leisurely out into the front room ready to lecture. Speed and precision of action were evidently at his command. It was difficult at times, however, to persuade him to stir beyond the pace he had set for himself. When late for a lecture, for instance, it was sometimes impossible to induce him to hurry for the street car. In response to entreaties to hurry, he would drawl, ‘Why do you hurry me? If we don’t catch that car, we will catch the next.’
“At these Yoga classes one came closer to the man and teacher than was possible in the lecture hall. The contact was more personal and the influence more direct. The embodiment of holiness, simplicity and wisdom, he seemed speaking with incisive power, and drawing one’s mind more to God and renunciation than to proficiency in Raja-Yoga practices.
“After delivering a short lecture, he would seat himself cross-legged on the divan and direct in meditation such of the audience as remained for that purpose. His talk was on Raja-Yoga, and the practical instruction on simple breathing exercises. He said in part: ‘You must learn to sit correctly; then to breathe correctly. This develops concentration; then comes meditation. . . . When practising breathing, think of your body as luminous. . . . Try to look down the spinal cord from the base of the brain to the base of the spine. Imagine that you are looking through the hollow Sushumna to the Kundalini rising upward to the brain. . . . Have patience. Great patience is necessary.’
“Such as voiced doubts and fears, he reassured by his, ‘I am with you now. Try to have a little faith in me.’ One was moved by his persuasive power when he said, ‘We learn to meditate that we may be able to think of the Lord. Raja-Yoga is only the means to that end. The great Patanjali, author of the Raja-Yoga, never missed an opportunity to impress that idea upon his students. Now is the time for you who are young. Don’t wait till you are old before you think of the Lord, for then you will not be able to think of Him. The power to think of the Lord is developed when you are young.’
“Seated cross-legged on the divan, clothed in his Sannyasin garb, with hands held one within the other on his lap, and with his eyes apparently closed, he might have been a statue in bronze, so immovable was he. A Yogi, indeed! Awake only to transcendental thought, he was the ideal, compelling veneration, love and devotion.”
It is with these thoughts that one closes this record of the last visit of the Swami to America, and travels on with him to other scenes in other lands. On July 20, the Swami sailed for Paris where further fame and honour awaited him.