Sister Nivedita First Meeting with Swamiji
It was in the month of November 1895 that Swami Vivekananda met Margaret Noble for the first time and she was to later to become his most devoted disciple – Sister Nivedita. During his second visit, 1896, the bond became irrevocable.
Swami Vivekananda was seated on the floor of West End drawing room in meditative pose, his face radiant with dignity and poise. Childlike simplicity and calm was radiating spiritual aura. Nearly fifteen to sixteen curious listeners, newcomers to Hindu thought, sat around the Swami in a half circle and listened with rapt attention every word coming from the mouth of the great Jnani and the orator. Margaret Noble was one of them listening to the celestial words of the Swami who was elaborating ancient wisdom of the Upanishads and Vedanta to the small group:
Friends, your Church is true, our temples are true; and true is Brahman, formless and eternal, beyond the two. Time has come when nations would exchange their spiritual ideals as treasures, as they are already exchanging the commodities in the market. These ideals are but various impressions in different modes of manifestation of the One. ‘All these are threaded upon Me, like pearls upon a string,’ so says the Lord in The Gita. Love is the highest virtue, love knows of giving alone, never expecting anything in return. Love God, but don’t barter worldly pleasures and comforts in exchange for that.
Further the Swami exhorted: Try not to accept the report of senses, for both mind and senses are but incomplete expressions of the transcendental third, the Self. Turning our
faith in realization of that Self is religion. Karma, Bhakti, and Jnana are but three paths to this end. And common to all the three is renunciation. Renounce the desires, even of going to heaven, for every desire related with body and mind creates bondage. Our focus of action is neither to save the humanity nor to engage in social reforms, not to seek personal gains, but to realize the indwelling Self itself. Renunciation points to turning away from the world in search of this Self.
And Margaret Noble, later to become Sister Nivedita, listened to every word, every idea, and every concept that was unique to her, new to her. Those words were full with deep meaning about true religion; words sweet yet foreign to this educated, literate, bold, and intelligent lady. Initially her ego resisted accepting what the Swami said, but for how long a disciple can turn a deaf ear to the call from the Guru?
As if, in the cool breeze at the bank of the holy Jamuna in the small hours of rising sun she heard the sweetest music of the Flute, attracting her unresistingly towards it. And drawn she was in ecstasy of madness in search of the music of supernatural love and beatitude. As she went nearer, clearer was the music; and soon she was enthralled with the most attractive face of Sri Krishna with his flute, beckoning her nearer and nearer. When she regained her consciousness Sri Krishna had disappeared, the storm of ecstasy had subsided, and instead there she was alone shining in the glory of realization. A sweet music emanating from within her heart, every beat was a sweet note of Bhakti and gratitude. The Swami had become her Master, and she the sister Nivedita.
The words full with wisdom of ancient Hindu thought entered her mind as the Swami continued:
Man proceeds from lower truth to higher truth, and not from error to truth. This growth in search of higher and still higher truth is what religion is all about. In the flow of time this thought is lost to the mankind and religion loses its force. And ‘whenever religion decays or declines and irreligion
prevails, then I manifest myself. For the protection of the good and for the destruction of the evil, for the firm establishment of the truth I am born again and again,’ so says Sri Krishna in the Gita. This is the simple essence of Divine Incarnation. Christ and Buddha, Rama and Krishna are but mighty waves on the ocean of spirituality, on the everlasting substratum of the ocean of Spirit, The Brahman.
Margaret Noble was progressive in her outlook and thought and could easily tear through the veil of Christian orthodoxy. She was pleased to listen to and meet the Hindu Yogi. But skepticism does not easily leave the mind of an educated person. The mind rebels and refuses to accept the truth. Ms. Noble was later teasingly reminded of this initial hesitancy of hers in the presence of the Swami. But the Swami, so considerate and respectful to his devotees, had said: “Let none regret that they were difficult to convince. I fought my Master (Sri Ramakrishna) for six long years, with the result that I know every inch of the way. Every inch of the way.”
The words continued to make impact on Margaret, as if she continued to listen to the words of her master in the state of ecstasy:
You must have heard the mischievous word Maya. Some call it delusion, others say it’s an illusion or magic; still some call it Shakti or Nature. But, listen; I tell you, Maya is a simple statement of facts about the universe, as we perceive it, what we are and what we see around us. It took the Swami full four lectures to elaborate and bring home the concept of Maya, but still, Sister Nivedita wondered as to how many had really understood the intricacies of it. How many could fathom the deep meaning therein. Maya cannot be understood by trying to decipher its meaning in words or sentences, it is to be understood as a concept juxtaposed with the Self or Purusha.
One particular thing that Sister Nivedita noticed about her Master was that he never quoted anything other than the Gita, the Vedas, and the Upanishads. He was deeply convinced of
the need for ancient Indian thought to penetrate the Western psyche so that a beneficent amalgamation of science and spirituality could surface all over. What Europe needed was a ‘rationalistic religion’. The quest of scientific materialism to find the unity by exploring the external nature/universe required support and basis of inner search, search for Atman.
In this attempt to bring about ‘hand shake’ between science and religion, the Swami unknowingly brought about new trends in monastic order. The struggle that Sister Nivedita perceived in the life of her Master was an effort of translating the superconscious into practical life. She remembered Sri Ramakrishna mildly rebuking his beloved disciple ‘I thought you had been born for something greater my boy’ when Swami Vivekananda was put the question ‘Naren, what is your highest ambition’ and he had answered ‘to remain always in samadhi’. These teachings, further buttressed by many subsequent episodes, had convinced Swami Vivekananda that new monastic order would have to undertake ‘work as worship’, would have to wipe the tears of oppressed and inflicted, and to clear the ‘blot of untouchability’ by inculcating the twin ideals of ‘renunciation and service’. Equally significant was the task of mass education and educating the women in particular.
Thus continued the teaching of a disciple in the lecture series through 1895 and 1896. In those few days Sister Nivedita travelled the whole of the ancient realm of Indian spirituality dating Backto 5000 BCE. Words like Atman, Brahman, Self, Maya, Ishwara, God, Realization etc. opened up new vistas in front of her inner eyes, like flowers arranged in a wonderful bouquet by a deft artist. Listening led to contemplation that merged into meditation, and soon Nivedita left everything comfortable in her land of birth and accompanied her Master to reach the shores of India afflicted with poverty, want, disease, ignorance, and burden. The only force of attraction for her was Vedanta as preached by none other than her venerable Master, Swami Vivekananda.