Heroic Struggle – Chapter 3

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Swamiji’s spiritual attitude toward nationalism. Swami Vivekananda’s nationalistic fervor was uniquely passionate and powerful. Only those nearest to him in spirit could understand it. When Swamiji returned from his first visit to America, Swami Turiyananda went to see him in Calcutta at Balaram Mandir and described it perfectly:

I found him pacing the verandah like a caged lion. He was deep in thought and did not notice my presence. . . . He began to hum under his breath a celebrated song of Mirabai. And the tears welled up in his eyes. He stopped and leaned against the railing, and hid his face in his two palms. His voice became more distinct and he sang, repeating several times: “Oh, nobody understands my sorrow!” And again, “Only he who suffers knows the anguish of sorrow!” . . . His voice pierced me through and through like an arrow. I could not understand the cause of his affliction. . . . Then suddenly I understood. It was his rending sympathy which made him often shed tears of burning blood. And the world would never have known it. . . .”

Do you think that these tears of blood were shed in vain? No! Each one of those tears, shed for his country, every inflamed whisper of his mighty heart will give birth to troops of heroes, who will shake the world with their thoughts and their deeds.47

Swamiji’s agony for India calls forth the grace of the Divine Mother. Numerous worries and setbacks greatly troubled Swamiji’s mind and health. Two things about the Baranagore Math caused him much anxiety: the uncertain financial support of his brother-disciples and the administration of the Math. In addition, he lost two dedicated workers. His disciple E. T. Sturdy and Miss Henrietta Mueller betrayed his trust and abandoned him. The two disciples that Swamiji had initiated into sannyasa at Thousand Island Park in 1895, Leon Landsberg (Swami Kripananda) and Mme. Marie Louise (Swami Abhayananda) turned against him, despite receiving his blessing and his authorization to teach. “We have no organization, nor do we want to build any. Each one is quite independent to teach, quite free to preach whatever he or she likes. If you have the spirit within, you will never fail to attract others. . . . Individuality is my motto, I have no ambition beyond training individuals up,” he had written in a letter to Swami Abhayananda in late 1895. Swami Kripananda defected in 1898. Neither had succeeded in attracting new members and neither served his cause as he had hoped. The mission in America, Swamiji concluded with disappointment, “would have to be carried on by Indians.”49

His health was poor and the environment was hostile. His agonies came to a climax in the second week of September 1898. The

Divine Mother had given him all his strength. Now, he meditated deeply upon the darker and painful side of life, upon Death. He experienced Mother Kali in Her inscrutable horrific aspect and was granted Her vision. That experience shook his body and mind to the core. Swamiji said, “That which Sri Ramakrishna called “Kali,” took possession of my body and soul . . . . That makes me work and work, and never lets me keep still or look to my personal comfort.”50

Swamiji endures the slow response to his mission. The two years Swamiji spent in India between his first two visits to the West were “specially bad,” he wrote to Miss Mary Hale in 1900. He continued, “I have been living in mental hell . . . I never know a moment’s peaceful life. It has always been high pressure, mentally.”51 Firstly, despite his hard work, the Indian people were not adequately responding to his clarion call to action. This was partly due to the opposing influence of orthodox Brahmins, the Brahmo Samaj, Theosophists, and Christian missionaries. Secondly, his brother disciples also were slow to accept his mission. Tearfully, he said to his brother disciple Swami Turiyananda, “Dear Haribhai, can’t you see me laying down my life inch by inch in fulfilling this mission of my Master till I have come to the verge of death? Can you look on without helping by
52relieving me of a part of my great burden?”

Swamiji’s remedy for suffering. During his second visit to America, Swamiji sometimes mentioned his difficulties to his American disciples when writing to them about other matters:

Some days I feel I can bear everything and suffer everything . . . Then again, I am afraid. . . . I can always work better alone, and am physically and mentally best when entirely alone! I scarcely had a day’s illness during my eight years of lone life away from my brethren. Now I am getting up, being alone. Strange, but that is what Mother wants me to be. “Wandering alone like the rhinoceros .

I have lost many, suffered much . . . “I was in the glare, burning and panting all the time . . . My life is made up of blows like that, and hundred times worse, because of poverty, treachery, and my own foolishness!”54

Swamiji rarely spoke about his “jarring and clashing life55 to others. On 5 January 1900, he made an exception. He was speaking to a spellbound audience in Los Angeles, California. His lecture, “The Open Secret,” was about man’s essential divinity and the means of attaining it. He said that it is our duty and innate human right to assert our divine heritage in the midst of our troubles and misery. We are miserable because we are ignorant about the glory of the Self or Atman. Swamiji said:

Many times I have been in the jaws of death, starving, footsore, and weary; for days and days I had no food, and often could walk no farther; I would sink down under a tree, and life would seem ebbing away. I could not speak, I could scarcely think, but at last the mind reverted to one idea: “I have no fear nor death; I never hunger nor thirst. I am It! I am It! The whole of nature cannot crush me; it is my servant. Assert thy strength, thou Lord of Lords and God of gods! Regain thy lost empire! Arise and walk and stop not!” And I would rise up, reinvigorated, and here am I, living, today.56

With these words, Swamiji vindicated his earlier statement of fearlessness, strength and faith made to his countrymen during his lectures from Colombo to Almora in 1897:

Awake, Awake, Awake from this hypnotism of weakness. None is really weak; the soul is infinite, omnipotent and omniscient. Stand up, assert yourself, proclaim the God within you, do not deny Him! Too much of inactivity, too much of weakness, too much of hypnotism has been and is upon our race. O ye modern Hindus, de-hypnotize yourselves. The way to do that is in your own sacred books. Teach yourselves, teach everyone his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul, and see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come when the sleeping soul is roused to self-57
conscious activity.

Whenever Swamiji spoke of strength, it was exhilarating. Hearing him, others were filled with new hope and courage. “Strength” was the core and kernel, the secret, of his heroic life.

Swamiji’s inspired sense of duty knew no obstacle. He left America the second time on 26 July 1900 and eventually returned to India in shattered health. He had diabetes, dropsy and asthma, and the sight in his right eye almost gone. In spite of suffering from these conditions for the remainder of his life, he never abandoned any duty that he considered sacred. No obstacle could hinder him.

His explanation of the contrasting elements of his life. Swamiji traced his suffering and mistakes to his emotional nature. Once, he indicated that this was the cause of his checkered life:

There are two sorts of persons in the world. The one – strong-nerved, quiet, yielding to nature, not given to much imagination, yet good, kind, sweet, etc., . . . they alone are born to be happy. There are others again with high-strung nerves, tremendously imaginative, with intense feeling . . . For them there is no happiness. . . . [They] will have to run between ecstasy and misery.58

My mistakes have been great, but every one of them was from too much love. How I hate love! Would I never had any Bhakti! . . . The peace, the quiet I am seeking, I never found. I went years ago to the Himalayas, [with the intention] never to come back; and my sister committed suicide, the news reached me there, and that weak heart flung me off from that prospect of peace! It is the weak heart that has driven me out of India to seek some help for those I love, and here I am! Peace I have sought, but the heart, that seat of Bhakti, would not allow me to find it. Struggle and torture, torture and struggle!59

His longing for solitude is spiritually fulfilled. Swamiji’s inner peace did not depend on human affection or friendship. He attuned himself to the living, eternal Truth. He wished always to draw nearer to that Truth through renunciation. He wanted to forego all human companionship and consolation and remain a Sannyasin in solitude. Recognizing the futility of this wish, he mentally renounced that desire. In March 1900, he wrote to Miss Mary Hale:

My health is so-so, but my mind is very peaceful and has been for some time. I am trying to give up all anxiety unto the Lord. I am only a worker. My mission is to obey and work. He knows the rest. “Giving up all vexations and paths, do thou take refuge unto Me. I will save you from all dangers” (B. Gita, XVIII: 66). I am trying hard to realise that. May I be able to do it soon.60

The world did not beguile Swamiji. Still, it was hard for him to quit yearning for an end to his travels and teachings. Ten days later, he wrote again to Miss Mary Hale:

As for me, I am tired on the other hand, of eternal tramping; that is why I want to go Backhome and be quiet. I do not want to work anymore. My nature is the retirement of a scholar. I never get it! I pray I will get it, now that I am all broken and worked out. Whenever I get a letter from Mrs. Sevier from her Himalayan home, I feel like flying off to the Himalayas. I am really sick of this platform work and eternal trudging and seeing new faces and

Swamiji easily endured his share of emotional suffering. He carried the will of his Master in his heart. He offered all his actions, thoughts and feelings as his devout adoration, worship, love and dedication to Sri Ramakrishna. Therefore, his cross made him a Man of Joy, not a “Man of Sorrows.” Six days later, he sent another letter to Miss Mary Hale that shows he had gone beyond all intellectual understanding. He had found the peace of the Self of Advaita Vedanta:

This is to let you know “I am very happy.” Not that I am getting into a shadowy optimism, but my power of suffering is increasing. I am being lifted up above the pestilential miasma of this world’s joys and sorrows; they are losing their meaning. It is a land of dreams; it does not matter whether one enjoys or weeps; they are but dreams, and as such, must break sooner or later. . . . I am attaining peace that passeth understanding, which is neither joy nor sorrow, but something above them both . . . My passing through the valley of death, physical, mental, last two years, has helped me in this. Now I am nearing that Peace, the eternal silence. Now I mean to see things as they are, everything in that peace, perfect in its way. “He whose joy is only in himself, whose desires are only in himself, he has learned his lessons.” This is the great lesson that we are here to learn through myriads of births and heavens and hells – that there is nothing to be asked for, desired for, beyond one’s Self. “The greatest thing I can obtain is my Self.” “I am free,” therefore, I require none else for my happiness. “Alone through eternity, because I was free, am free, and will remain free forever.” This is Vedantism. I preached the theory so long, but oh, joy! Mary, my dear sister, I am realizing it now every day. Yes, I am – “I am free.” “Alone, alone, I am the one without a second.”

PS. Now I am going to be truly Vivekananda. Did you ever enjoy evil! Ha! Ha! You silly girl, all is good! Nonsense. Some good, some evil. I enjoy the good and I enjoy the evil. I was Jesus and I was Judas Iscariot; both my play, my fun . . . Be brave and face everything – some good, come evil, both welcome, both of you my play. I have no good to obtain, no ideal to clench up to, no ambition to fulfill; I, the diamond mine, am playing with pebbles, good and evil; good for you – evil, come; good for you – good, you come too. If the universe tumbles round my ears, what is that to me? I am Peace that passeth all understanding; understanding only gives us good or evil. I am beyond, I am peace.62

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