Swamiji’s attitude towards suffering. Suffering is the greatest teacher. Swamiji says, “In studying the great characters the world has produced, it would be found that it was misery that taught
more than happiness, it was poverty that taught more than wealth, it was blows that brought out their inner fire more than praise.”63 Although most people are willing to suffer greatly for worldly gains, they dread the spiritual suffering of self-denial and selfsacrifice. They pray to God only for happiness and peace. Swamiji was of the opposite nature. We read in the Imitation of Christ that there are “few who desire suffering . . . few follow Him in the humiliation of His cross.”64 The mystic further says,
“Sometimes, he is so greatly comforted by the desire to suffer adversity for the love of conforming to the Cross . . . that he would not wish to be without grief and pain, for he knows that the more he can suffer for His sake, the more pleasing he will be to God . . . That which nature fears and avoids, he boldly meets and loves through ardour of spirit.”65 Swamiji accepted pain. More than this, he welcomed pain and sometimes longed for it: “It is a mistake to hold that with all men pleasure is the motive. Quite as many are born to seek pain. There can be bliss in torture too.”66 Suffering makes us grow spiritually. Swamiji once wrote to a devotee, “I fervently wish no misery ever came near anyone; yet it is that alone that gives us an insight into the depths of our lives, is it not? In our moments of anguish, gates barred forever seem to open and let in many a flood of light. We learn as we grow.”67 Those who are earnest and sincere in their spiritual life are not afraid of adversity. Sometimes, they will even seek it as evidence of their love for God. The greatest of these are the prophets who accept their suffering with love for the sake of redeeming humanity. The cross of the prophet is never the cross of the ordinary person. The prophet lives, moves and performs all actions while in a constant state of Pure Consciousness.
Price of redemptive grace. The highest idea symbolized by the cross is redemptive sacrifice. Swamiji was a prophet with a universal message. He was born to redeem others. He carried the burden of human ignorance and sorrow willingly and voluntarily with loving compassion. Sri Ramakrishna blessed him by giving him power to redeem others, as he had done. That power included
the heavy cross of self-sacrifice. “I may have had Divine help – true,” wrote Swamiji, “but oh, the pound of blood every bit of Divine help has been to me!!”68 Towards the end of his life, he exclaimed:
I had to work till I am at death’s door and had to spend nearly all that energy in America, so that the Americans can learn to be broader and more spiritual. . . . Anyhow, I am quite satisfied with my work. I never planned anything. I have taken things as they came. Only one idea was burning in my brain – to start the machine for elevating the Indian masses – and that I have succeeded in doing to a certain extent . . . my boys are working in the midst of famine and disease and misery – nursing by the mat-bed of the cholera-stricken Pariah and feeding the starving Chandala – and the Lord sends help to me and to them all. “What are men?” He is with me, my Beloved; He was when I was in America, in England, when I was roaming about unknown from place to place in India. What do I care about what they talk . . . What! I, who have realised the Spirit and the vanity of all earthly nonsense, to be swerved from my path. . . .
I never wanted earthly enjoyments. I must see my machine in good working order, and then knowing sure that I have put in a lever for the good of humanity, in India at least, which no power can drive back, I will sleep, without caring what will be next; and may I be born again and again, and suffer thousands of miseries so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls – and above all, my God the wicked, my God the miserable, my God the poor of all races, of all species, is the special object of my worship. . . .
My time is short . . . the power behind me is not Vivekananda but He the Lord, and He knows best. If I have to please the world, that will be injuring the world; the voice of the majority is wrong, seeing that they govern and make the sad state of the world.69
Swamiji’s transcendence of suffering. In his brief life, Swamiji demonstrated that he had risen above misery. His life was filled with purposefulness and dynamism. Swamiji once defined renunciation as “the love of death” and had no fear of death. The hero of Divinity had a heroic message to impart to the world. Swamiji said:
Great men have died. Weak men have died. Gods have died. Death – death everywhere. This world is a graveyard of the infinite past, yet we cling to this [body]: “I am never going to die.”70
Will such a day come when this life will go for the sake of others’ good? The world is not a child’s play – and great men are those who build highways for others with their heart’s blood. This has been taking place through eternity, that one builds a bridge by laying down his own body, and thousands of others cross the river through its help. “Be it so! Be it so! I am Shiva! I am Shiva!71
Swamiji, an unsurpassed model of heroism. Heroes encourage the world to make progress through their own inspiring example. There is a human tendency to emulate heroes. The man or woman who has achieved excellence in science, technology, literature, poetry or philosophy, the talented performer, the intrepid adventurer and the sports champion all stir our imagination and inspire young people to follow in their footsteps. The result may be new achievements or feats, but there is no spiritual awakening or transformation.
Drawn by the sufferings of humanity, heroic spiritual personalities come in every age to reawaken the healthy spiritual values of life. They accept the prison of the human body in their earthly exile. They bear the sufferings of others and their own without comfort. They are supreme exemplars of spiritual purity, compassion, universal love, fearlessness and self-sacrifice. They are the manifestation of infinite Truth, of supreme Divine Love. They are spiritually courageous and daring beyond all human ability. They are capable of transforming others. Therefore, they are to be distinguished from ordinary heroes, patriots and reformers.
Swamiji is the highest kind of hero who brings imperishable, lasting, immortal truths to bear in our mundane lives.
Before leaving for America in May 1893, Swamiji had said to Swami Turiyananda at Mount Abu, “Haribhai, I am still unable to understand anything of your so-called religion. But my heart has expanded very much, and I have learnt to feel. Believe me, I feel intensely indeed.” He had wept, and a deep silence had followed. Swami Turiyananda wrote, “Are not these, I thought, the very words and feelings of Buddha? . . . I could clearly perceive that the sufferings of humanity were pulsating in the heart of Swamiji: his heart was a huge cauldron in which the sufferings of mankind were being made into a healing balm.”73
His affinity with the heart of Buddha helps us to understand Swamiji’s strong words to his countrymen who were ambitious to do great things for their nation. He told them, “First, feel from the heart . . . Feel, therefore, my would-be reformers, my would-be patriots! Do you feel? . . . Does it make you restless? Does it make you sleepless? . . . Has it made you almost mad?” Such words will not stir worldly people whose goals are pleasure, wealth and power. His words are for the person who wants to improve his or her character, for the sincere spiritual aspirant and the monastic disciple – these will make his words their own. They are words to install in the shrine of one’s heart, words to live by. They were spoken by one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known and will ever know. Swamiji willingly spent his entire life and shed every drop of his blood working ceaselessly with love for the rebirth of a “man-making religion” in India and for the welfare of man. Did he not say, “I give, and there it ends. It is gone from me. My mind, my powers, my everything that I have to give, is given: given with the idea to give, and no more.”75 That is Swamiji’s idea of perfect unselfishness.