WALKS AND TALKS BESIDE THE JHELUM
Persons The Swami Vivekananda and a party of Europeans, amongst whom were Dhira Mata – ‘the Steady Mother,’ ‘One whose name was Jaya’; and Nivedita.
Place :- Kashmir.
Time :- July 20th to 29th, 1898.
Next day, we came to the ruins of the two great temples of Avantipur. Each hour, as we went deeper and deeper into the interior, the river and the mountains grew more lovely. And amidst the immediate attractions of fields and trees, and people with whom we felt thoroughly at home, how difficult it was to remember that we were exploring a stream in Central Asia!
To those who have seen Kashmir in any season, a wealth of memory is called up, by Kalidas’s picture of the spring-forest, in all its beauty of wild cherry-blossom, and almond and apple, – that forest, in which Siva sits beneath a dheodhar, when Uma, princess of the Himalaya, enters with her offering of a lotus-seed garland, while close at hand stands the beautiful young god with his quiver and bow of flowers. All that is divine in an English spring, or lovely in the woods of Normandy, at Eastertide, is gathered up and multiplied, in the charms of the vale of Kashmir.
That morning, the river was broad and shallow and clear, and two of us walked with the Swami, across the fields and along the banks, about three miles. He began by talking of the sense of sin, how it was Egyptian, Semitic and Aryan. It appears in the Vedas, but quickly passes out. The Devil is recognised there, as the Lord of Anger. Then, with the Buddhists, he became Mara, the Lord of Lust, and one of the most loved of the Lord Buddha’s titles was “conqueror of Mara”, vide the Sanskrit lexicon (Amarkosha) that Swami learnt to patter, as a child of four! But while Satan is the Hamlet of the Bible, in the Hindu scriptures, the Lord of Anger never divides creation. He always represents defilement, never duality.
Zoroaster was a reformer of some old religion. Even Ormuzd and Ahriman, with him, were not supreme: they were only manifestations of the Supreme. That older religion must have been Vedantic. So the Egyptians and Semites cling to the theory of sin, while the Aryans, as
Indians and Greeks, quickly lose it. In India, righteousness and sin become vidya, and avidya, – both to be transcended. Amongst the Aryans, Persians and Europeans become Semitised, by religious ideas, hence the sense of sin.*
And then the talk drifted, as it was always so apt to do, to questions of the country and the future. What idea must be urged on a people, to give them strength? The line of their own development runs in one way, A. Must the new accession of force be a compensating one, B? This would produce a development midway between the two, C, a geometrical alteration, merely. But it was not so.
National life was a question of organic forces. We must reinforce the current of that life itself, and leave it to do the rest. Buddha preached renunciation, and India heard. Yet within a thousand years, she had reached her highest point of national prosperity. The national life in India has renunciation as its source. Its highest ideals are service and mukti. The Hindu mother eats last. Marriage is not for individual happiness, but for the welfare of the nation and the caste.
Certain individuals of the modern reform, having embarked on an experiment which could not solve the problem, “are the sacrifices, over which the race has to walk.”
And then the trend of conversation changed again, and became all fun and merriment, jokes and stories. And as we laughed and listened, the boats came up, and talk was over for the day.
The whole of that afternoon and night, the Swami lay in his boat, ill. But next day, when we landed at the temple of Bijbehara – already thronged with Amarnath pilgrims – he was able to join us for a little while. “Quickly up and quickly down,” as he said of himself was always his characteristic. After that, he was with us most of the day, and in the afternoon, we reached Islamabad.
The dungas were moored beside an apple-orchard. Grass grew down to the water’s edge, and dotted over the lawn stood the apple and pear and even plum trees, that a Hindu state used to think it necessary to plant, outside each village. In spring-time, it seemed to us, this spot must be that very Island-Valley of Avilion.
“Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow.
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies,
Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard-lawns,
And bowery hollows, crowned with summer sea.”
The houseboat, in which two of us lived, could not be taken so far, so it came to rest in a very deep and rapid portion of the stream, between high hedges, and how beautiful was the walk, from the one point to the other, under the avenue of poplars, with the wonderful green of young rice on either hand!
In the dusk that evening, one came into the little group amongst the apple trees, and found the Master engaged in the rarest of rare happenings, a personal talk with Dhira, Mata, and her whose name was Jaya. He had taken two pebbles into his hand, and was saying how, when he was well, his mind might direct itself to this and that, or his will might seem less firm, but let the least touch of pain or illness come, let him look death in the face for a while, and “I am as hard as that (knocking the stones together), for I have touched the feet of God.”
And one remembered, apropos of this coolness, the story of a walk across the fields, in England, where he and an Englishman and woman had been pursued by an angry bull. The Englishman frankly ran, and reached the other side of the hill in safety. The woman ran as far as she could, and then sank to the ground incapable of further effort. Seeing this and unable to aid her, the Swami, thinking – “So this is the end, after all” – took up his stand in front of her, with folded arms. He told afterwards how his mind was occupied with a mathematical calculation, as to how far the bull would be able to throw. But the animal suddenly stopped, a few paces off, and then, raising his head, retreated sullenly.
A like courage – though he himself was far from thinking of these incidents – had shown itself, in his early youth, when he quietly stepped up to a runaway horse, and caught it, in the streets of Calcutta, thus saving the life of the woman, who occupied the carriage behind.
The talk drifted on, as we sat on the grass beneath the trees, and became, for an hour or two, half grave, half gay. We heard much of the tricks the monkeys could play, in Brindaban. And we elicited stories of two separate occasions in his wandering life, when he had had clear previsions of help, which had been fulfilled.
One of these I remember. It may possibly have occurred at the time when he was under the vow to ask for nothing, and he had been several days (perhaps five) without food. Suddenly, as he lay, almost dying of exhaustion, in a railway-station, it flashed into his mind that he must rise up, and go out along a certain road, and that there he would meet a man, bringing him help. He obeyed, and met one, carrying a tray of food. “Are you he to whom I was sent?” said this man, coming up to him, and looking at him closely.
Then a child was brought to us, with its hand badly cut, and the Swami applied an old wives’ cure. He bathed the wound with water, and then laid on it, to stop the bleeding, the ashes of a piece of calico. The villagers were soothed and consoled, and our gossip was over for the evening.
The next morning, a motley gathering of coolies assembled beneath the apple-trees and waited some hours, to take us to the ruins of Marttand. It had been a wonderful old building -evidently more abbey than temple, – in a wonderful position, and its great interest lay in the obvious agglomeration of styles and periods in which it had grown up.
Never can I forget the deep black shadows under the series of arches that confronted us, as we entered in mid-afternoon, with the sun directly behind us, in the west. There were three arches, one straight behind the other, and just within the farthest of them, at two-thirds of its height, a heavy straight-lined window top. The arches were all trefoil, but only the first and second showed this, as we saw them at the moment of entering.
The place had evidently originated as three small rectangular temples, built, with heavy blocks of stone, round sacred springs. The style of these three chambers was all straight-lined, severe. Taking the middle and furthest East of the three, some later king had built round it an enclosing wall, placing a trefoil arch outside each low lintel-formed doorway, without interfering with the original in any way, and then had added to it in front, a larger nave, with a tall trefoil arch as entrance.
Each building had been so perfect, and the motive of the two epochs of construction was so clear that the plan of the temple was pure delight, and until one had drawn it, one could not stop. The dharmsala or cloister, round the central building, was extraordinarily Gothic in shape, and to one who has seen this, and the royal tombs of Mohammedanism in the north of India, it is at once suggested that the cloister is, ideally, the whole of a monastery, and though, in our cold climates, it cannot be so retained, its presence is a perpetual reminder that the East was the original home of monasticism.
The Swami was hard at work, in an instant, on observations and theories, pointing out the cornice that ran along the nave from the entrance to the sanctuary, to the west, surmounted by the high trefoils of the two arches and also by a frieze; or showing us the panels containing cherubs; and before we had done, had picked up a couple of coins. The ride back, through the sunset light, was charming. From all these hours, the day before and the day after, fragments of talk come Backto me.
“No nation, not Greek or another, has ever carried patriotism so far as the Japanese. They don’t talk, they act – give up all for country. There are noblemen now living in Japan as peasants, having given up their princedoms without a word to create the unity of the empire.1 And not one traitor could be found in the Japanese war. Think of that!”
Again, talking of the inability of some to express feeling, “Shy and reserved people, I have noticed, are always the most brutal when roused.”
Again, evidently talking of the ascetic life, and giving the rules of brahmacharya. – “The sannyasin who thinks of gold, to desire it, commits suicide,” and so on.
The darkness of night and the forest, a great pine-fire under the trees, two or three tents standing out white in the blackness, the forms and voices of many servants at their fires in the distance, and the Master with three disciples, such is the next picture.
Of the road to Vernag, under the apple-orchards and along the common-sides, of the pouring rain, and the luncheon in the hard-won sunshine, of that grand old palace of Jehangir, with its octagonal tank at the foot of the pine-wooded hills, much might be said. But the crown of the day came in the hours after dinner, when we were, at long last, alone, and the constant file of visitors and worshippers, with their gifts, had ceased.
Suddenly the Master turned to one member of the party and said “You never mention your school now, do you sometimes forget it? You see,” he went on, “I have much to think of. One day I turn to Madras, and think of the work there. Another day I give all my attention to America or England or Ceylon or Calcutta. Now I am thinking about yours.”
At that moment the Master was called away to dine, and not till he came Backcould the confidence he had invited, be given.
He listened to it all, the deliberate wish for a tentative plan, for smallness of beginnings, and the final inclination to turn away from the idea of inclusiveness and breadth, and to base the whole of an educational effort on the religious life, and on the worship of Sri Ramakrishna.
“Because you must be sectarian to get that enthusiasm, must you not?” he said. “You will make a sect in order to rise above all sects. Yes I understand.”
There would be obvious difficulties. The thing sounded, on this scale, almost impossible, for many reasons. But for the moment the only care need be to will rightly, and if the plan was sound, ways and means would be found to hand, that was sure.
He waited a little when he had heard it all, and then he said, “You ask me to criticise, but that I cannot do. For I regard you as inspired, quite as much inspired as I am. You know that’s the difference between other religions and us. Other people believe their founder was inspired, and so do we. But so am I, also, just as much so as he, and you as I, and after you, your girls and their disciples will be. So I shall help you to do what you think best.”
Then he turned to Dhira Mata and to Jaya, and spoke of the greatness of the trust that he would leave in the hands of that disciple who should represent the interests of women, when he should go west, of how it would exceed the responsibility of work for men. And he added, turning to the worker of the party, “Yes, you have faith, but you have not that burning enthusiasm that you need. You want to be consumed energy. Siva! Siva!” – and so, invoking the blessing of Mahadeva, he said goodnight and left us, and we, presently, went to bed.
The next morning, we breakfasted early, in one of the tents, and went on to Achhabal. One of us had had a dream of old jewels lost and restored, all bright and new. But the Swami, smiling, stopped the tale, saying “Never talk of a dream as good as that!”
At Achhabal, we found more gardens of Jehangir. Was it here, or at Vernag, that had been his favourite resting-place?
We roamed about the gardens, and bathed in a still pool opposite the Pathan Khan’s Zenana, and then we lunched in the first garden, and rode down in the afternoon to Islamabad.
As we sat at lunch, the Swami invited his daughter1 to go to the Cave of Amarnath with him, and be dedicated to Siva. Dhira Mata smiled permission, and the next half-hour was given to pleasure and congratulations. It had already been arranged that we were all to go to Pahlgam and wait there for the Swami’s return from the pilgrimage.
So we reached the boats that evening, packed, and wrote letters, and next day in the afternoon, started for Bawan.