Madame Emma Calve Was a celebrated opera singer in France. She also enjoyed great popularity in the United States. But despite her professional success, her personal life was miserable, she was very obstinate and quick-tempered and had strong likes and dislikes. Naturally she had no peace of mind. To add to her suffering, in March 1894 she lost her only daughter in an accident in Chicago. After this tragedy she nearly lost her mental balance. At this moment, a friend of hers wanted to take her to Swamiji, but Madame Calv£ refused, for she thought there was only one way left for her to get permanent peace and that was to commit suicide. She tried four times to do this but failed. At last she decided to go to Swamiji, having seen how he had helped some of her friends.
She went to the place where he was staying and was admitted to the study. When she was called in, she found Swamiji ‘seated in a noble attitude of meditation, his robe of saffron-yellow falling in straight lines to the floor, his head, swathed in a turban, bent forward, his eyes on the ground’.
Swamiji did not look up, but in a gentle, affectionate voice said, ‘My child, what a troubled atmosphere you have about you! Be calm! It is essential!’ In her memoirs Madame Calve wrote : ‘Then in a quiet voice, untroubled and aloof, this man, who did not even know my name, talked to me of my secret problems and anxieties. He spoke of things that I thought were unknown even to my nearest friends.’ When it was time for her to leave, Swamiji showered blessings on her and said : ‘You must forget. Become gay and happy again. Build up your health. Do not dwell in silence upon your sorrows.’ In a moment Madame Calve felt she had no more sorrows, no more anxieties. In her words, ‘He seemed to have emptied my brain of all its feverish complexities and placed there instead his clear and calming thoughts.’
Madame Calve gave her friend, Madame Paul Verdier, the following account of Swamiji’s encounter with the American millionaire John D. Rockefeller.
According to Madame Verdier’s notes, Mr Rockefeller had heard from his friends about Swamiji. They wanted him to meet the extraordinary Indian monk, but on one pretext or another, he refused. He was very strong-willed and it was difficult for anyone to change his decision. But one day, on an impulse, Rockefeller went to the house of a friend in Chicago where Swamiji was staying. Brushing aside the butler who opened the door, he demanded to see the Hindu monk.
The butler ushered him into the living room, and not waiting to be announced, Rockefeller entered Swamiji’s adjoining study. He was greatly surprised to see Swamiji seated at his writing table not even lifting his eyes to see who had entered. After a while, as with Calve, Swamiji told Rockefeller much about his past that was not known to anyone but himself, and made him understand that the money he had already accumulated was not his, that he was only a channel and that his duty was to do good to the world – that God had given him his wealth in order that he might have an opportunity to help reople. Rockefeller was annoyed that anyone dared to alk to him that way. He left the room in irritation, not wen saying goodbye. But about a week later, again vithout being announced, he entered Swamiji’s study ind finding him the same as before, threw on his desk a taper which told of his plans to donate an enormous ium of money toward the financing of a public institution.
‘Well, there you are,’ he said, ‘you must be satisfied low, and you can thank me for it!’ Swamiji didn’t even ift his eyes, didn’t move. Then taking the paper, he juietly read it and said, ‘It is for you to thank me.’
This was Rockefeller’s first large donation to the :ause of public welfare. Later he became widely known or his philanthropy.
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It was again in Chicago that Swamiji met Robert ngersoll, me famous orator and agnostic. They were »les apart, while Swamiji was spirituality in flesh and ilood having unshakable faith in transcendental truth ind was only against religious fanaticism and jretensions, Ingersoll was opposed to all religious reliefs and had no faith in transcendental truth. Nevertheless, they met on more than one occasion and liscussed religious and philosophical matters.
One day Ingersoll said to Swamiji, ‘I belive in naking the most out of this world, in squeezing the >range dry, because this world is all we are sure of.’
Swamiji replied : ‘I know a better way to squeeze the orange of this world than you do; and I get more out of it. I know I cannot die, so I am not in a hurry. I know that there is no fear, so I enjoy the squeezing. I have no duty, no bondage of wife and children and property; and so I can love all men and women. Everyone is God to me. Think of the joy of loving man as God! Squeeze your orange this way and get ten thousandfold more out of it. Get every single drop!’
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Before he left London, one of his British friends put this question to him: ‘Swami, how do you like now your motherland after four years’ experience of the luxurious, glorious, powerful West?’ Swamiji said : ‘India I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me, the very air is now to me holy; it is now the holy land, the place of pilgrimage, the tirthaV
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One day in Calcutta, Swamiji told Priyanath Sinha, his disciple, that a man becomes bold and courageous when he truly loves his own religion, and that such a steadfast love could bring about the unity that was lacking among Indians. In this connection, Swamiji narrated an incident that took place on board the ship that was carrying him to India.
During the voyage two Christian missionaries had come to him and insisted on discussing the merits and demerits of Hinduism and Christianity. As the missionaries began to lose ground in the debate, they grew increasingly belligerent and started slandering the Hindus and their religion. Swamiji stood it as long as he could; then walking close to them seized one of the missionaries by the collar and said jokingly yet firmly, ‘If you abuse my religion again, I will throw you overboard!’ The frightened missionary ‘shook in his boots’ and said under his breath, ‘Let me go, sir! I will never do it again.’ After that, Swamiji told Priyanath, the missionary treated him respectfully whenever they met.
Having told this story, Swamiji turned to his disciple and asked him what would he do if someone insulted his mother. Priyanath replied : ‘Why, I would catch him by the neck and give him a good dressing-down!’ Pleased with the reply, Swamiji said, ‘Well Sinha, if you had the same unflinching loyalty to your religion, the true Mother of our countty, you could not bear to see the conversion of your Hindu brethren to Christianity. You see this occurring everyday, yet you are quite indifferent. Where is your faith! Where is your patriotism! Everyday Christian missionaries abuse Hinduism to your face, and yet how many are there amongst you who will stand up in its defence?’
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During the sea-voyage just referred to, Swamiji had with him a number of English disciples. When their ship cast anchor at Aden, Swamiji disembarked and went to see some places of local interest, three miles from the port. The disciples followed him.
As the party was moving about, Swamiji suddenly spotted an Indian betel-leaf seller. He left his companions and hurried to where the man was seated. It was a great joy for him to talk to an Indian after such a long time.
Meanwhile, his disciples were looking for him. They did not know where he had gone. After some time they found him sitting comfortably beside the betel-leaf seller. It was a wonderful sight! They smiled when they heard him say to the simple-looking pan – wallah, ‘Brother, do give me your pipe.’ The pan-wallah gave his hookah to Swamiji who began to smoke it with great satisfaction, Swamiji’s boyish simplicity, love for his fellow countryman and his capacity to get joy out of small things greatly impressed Captain Sevier and the others.
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Swamiji was not keeping well since his return from the West. His health was deteriorating day by day. So on the advice of his brother monks, disciples and well-wishers, he went to Daijeeling for a change.
One day, when he was out for a morning walk, he was pained to see a Bhutia woman trudging along with a heavy load on her back. Those who were with Swamiji noticed Swamiji’s feeling for her, sharing every bit of her
At the Parliament of Religions : September 1893
suffering as it were! Suddenly the woman stumbled and fell down with all her burden. She sustained serious injuries to her ribs. But Swamiji also felt excruciating pain in his ribs at the same time. He stood still for some time, then said, ‘I cannot move. I am suffering from terrible pain! ‘ The companions asked, “Where do you feel the pain, Swamiji?’ Pointing to his ribs, Swamiji said : ‘Right here! Did you not see how badly that woman was injured a few moments ago?’
Though rare, such things happen in the lives of those who are very sensitive and who have great sympathy for others. We find such incidents also in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. One day, Sri Ramakrishna cried out in pain when a boatman on the Gahga was struck by another boatman.
There was no change in the ways and behaviour of Swamiji towards his friends even when he became famous and was worshipped by thousands of devotees at home and abroad. He was the same ‘Naren’ to them throughout.
When in Lahore, Swamiji met his boyhood friend Motilal Bose by chance. Motilal, who owned the Great Indian Circus, was there in connection with a show of his troupe. Having met his friend after a long time Swamiji plunged into conversation with him. But Motilal felt uneasy. He said, ‘Brother, how should I address you, as “Naren” or “Swamiji”?’
Swamiji burst out laughing and said ; ‘Are you crazy? My dear Moti, nothing has changed. You are to me the same “Moti” and I am “Naren’V Swamiji uttered these words with so much love and tenderness that Motilal was deeply moved and forgot all his diffidence.