BackTO LONDON AND A TOUR OF THE CONTINENT
On April, 15, 1896, Swami Vivekananda left New York for London. A pleasant surprise awaited him there. Swami Sarada-nanda had arrived from Calcutta on April 1 and was the guest of Mr. E. T. Sturdy. For several years the Swami had not seen any of the Gurubhais. So his meeting with Swami Sarada-nanda was an event of great joy. Swami Saradananda brought all the news from India. He told his brother-monk about the monastery in Alambazar and of every one of the Gurubhais. The Swami was full of plans at the time which he communicated to his brother-monk who was lost in wonder at his indefatigable energy and his apostolic fervour.
The Swami himself foresaw the success that lay before him on his second visit to England. All who had known him during his previous sojourn in London welcomed him Backmost cordially. Together with Swami Saradananda he made his home in St. George’s Road, as the guest of Miss Muller and Mr. Sturdy. Soon he found himself teaching privately and preaching publicly ; and the fame of his personality and utterances travelled wide. In a short time many persons of distinction, students of comparative religion and earnest seekers after truth were visiting his quarters and he was introduced to many new people who became his followers. He talked to them of the philosophies of India and their relation to modern life and explained to them the various forms of Yoga, and gathered round him a considerable number of people desirous of seriously studying the problem of human existence in their light.
In the beginning of May, 1896, the Swami began his regular classes, lecturing mostly on Jnana-Yoga, or the Path of Wisdom. Towards the end of May, he inaugurated a series of Sunday lectures in one of the galleries of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours in Picadilly. The subjects were, “The Necessity of Religion”, “A Universal Religion” and “The Real and the Apparent Man”. These three lectures proving a great success, another course was arranged for in Princes’ Hall for Sunday afternoons from the end of June to the middle of July. Among these lectures were “Bliakti-Yoga”, “Renunciation” and “Realisation”. Besides these, the Swami held regularly every week five classes at which the attendance was uniformly good, and on Friday evenings a question-and-answer class, which was especially educative. In his first series of class lectures he dealt mainly with the history of the Aryan race, its developments, its religious advance, and the diffusion of its religious influence. Besides his class lectures on Jnana-Yoga, he gave a course of lessons on Raja-Yoga. Then followed a series of discourses on Bhakti-Yoga. Shorthand reports of these ‘lectures were taken down by Mr. Goodwin.
But all these classes and Sunday lectures and interviews did not by any means cover the whole of the work the Swami was doing in England. He lectured also in many drawingrooms, and at several well-known clubs. At the invitation of Mrs. Annie Besant he spoke at her lodge in Avenue Road, St. John’s Wood, on Bhakti. He also delivered an address on “The Hindu Idea of Soul” at the residence of Mrs. Martin.
The Swami also spoke at Notting Hill Gate at the residence of Mrs. Hunt, as well as at Wimbledon, when a good deal of helpful discussion followed the lecture and several other meetings of a similar nature were arranged for. At the Sesame Club, he delivered an address on “Education”. Swami Saradananda writing to the Brahmavddin of June 6, says:
“Swami Vivekananda has made a good beginning here. A large number of people attend his classes regularly and the lectures are most interesting. Canon Haweis, one of the leaders of the Anglican Church, came the other day and was much interested. He had seen the Swami before at the Chicago Fair, and loved him from that time. On Tuesday last the Swami lectured on Education at the Sesame Club. It is an important club organised by women for the education of their sex. In this he dealt with the old educational systems of India, pointed out clearly and impressively that the sole aim of the system was ‘man-making’ and not cramming, and compared it with the present system.”
The Swami was warmly received at the residence of Canon Wilberforce, where a levee was held in his honour, in which many distinguished ladies and gentlemen took part.
Mr. Eric Hammond in recording his reminiscences of the Swami’s visit to London and especially of a lecture before a club says:
“On his arrival in London, Swami Vivekananda was welcomed in the quiet, thoughtful, semi-calculating way to which Londoners generally habituate themselves. Perhaps the Missionary, everywhere, is met by an atmosphere not exactly antagonistic, but, at the best, doubtful. That Swamiji recognised this clement of doubt and of wonderment is certain, and it is certain too, that his winning personality cleared a way through it and found glad welcome in many hearts.
“Clubs, societies, drawing-rooms opened their doors to him. Sets of students grouped themselves together in this quarter and that, and heard him at appointed intervals. His hearers, hearing him, longed to hear further.
“At one of these meetings, at the close of his address, a white-haired and well-known Philosopher said to the Swami, ‘You have spoken splendidly, sir, and I thank you heartily, but you have told us nothing new.* The lecturer’s sonorous tones rang through the room in reply, ‘Sir, I have told you the Truth. That, the Truth, is as old as the immemorial hills, as old as humanity, as old as the Creation, as old as the Great God. If I have told it in such words as will make you think, make you live up to your thinking, do I not do well in telling it?’ The murmur of ‘Hear!’ ‘Hear’! and the louder clapping of hands showed how completely the Swami had carried his audience with him. One lady present on that occasion, and on many more, said, ‘I have attended church services regularly all ruy life. Their monotony and lack of vitality had made them barren and distasteful. I went to them because others went and one hates to be peculiar. Since I heard the Swami, light has flooded into religion. It is real ; it lives ; it lias a new glad meaning and is altogether transformed for me.*
” ‘I will tell yow how ,’ came to know the Truth,’ continued the Swami, and in the telling they learned something of the earth-life of Sliri Rama-krishna ; the sublime simplicity of his character ; his indefatigable search for Truth in this religions phase and that; his discovery and his fine proclamation of it: ‘Where I am, there the Truth is!’
” ‘I found Truth,’ said the Swami, ‘because I had it in my heart already. Do not deceive yourselves. Do not imagine you will find it in one creed or in another creed. It is within you. Your creed will not give it to you, you must give it to your creed. Men and priests give it various names. They bid you believe one thing and another thing. Listen:
You have it within yourself, this pearl of great price. That which exists is one. Listen :’Thou art That!’
“From first to last of this address lie dwelt on the message of his Master, Shri Ramakrishna. He had, he said, not one little word of his own to utter, not one infinitesimal thought of his own to unfold. Every* thing, every single thing, all he was himself, all lie could be to us. all he might be to the world, came from that single source ; from the pure soul, from the illimitable inspiration who, seated ‘there in my beloved India, had solved the tremendous secret and bestowed the solution broadcast, ungrudgingly, with divine prodigality.*
“In passages of exquisite eloquence he dilated upon Shri Ramakrishna. Self was utterly forgotten, altogether ignored. ‘I am what I am. and what I am is always due to him, whatever in me or in iny words is good and true and eternal came to me from his mouth, his heart, his soul. Sliri Ramakrishna is the spring of this phase of the earth’s religious life, of its impulses and its activities. If I can show the world one glimpse of my Master I shall not live in vain.* ”
One cannot read the above eloquent tribute of the Swami to his Master without noting a beautiful phase of his character – how even in the midst of his triumphs when he was hirnself hailed on all sides as Master, he again and again pointed out in all humility that he was only a disciple of Shri Ramakrishna at whose feet he had learned everything, that the credit of his teaching was not his but was due to his Master. It is only a true disciple that can be a true Master.
The Indian students resident in London naturally looked to him for guidance. The Swami endeared himself to them all by making them feel quite at home with him and helping them in various ways. And so when on July 18, a social conference of Indian residents in Great Britain and Ireland was held under the auspices of the London Hindu Association, it was he who was asked to preside. The subject of the discourse was, “The Hindus and Their Needs”. At this meeting many English ladies and gentlemen were present.
The Swami worked indefatigably in these days, even more than he had done during his previous visit. It must be noted that even at that time in the midst of his multifarious activities he had devoted a good deal of his time in helping Mr. Sturdy in his translation of the Ndrada-Sutras on Bhakti-Yoga. The book which was published about this time, with copious commentaries by the Swami, was deservedly popular.
One of the memorable events, during the Swami’s stay in London, was his meeting with the celebrated Orientalist, Professor Max Muller of Oxford University, at his residence, by special invitation, on May 28. Of that pleasant experience the Swami himself wrote as follows to the Brahmavadin on June 6:
. . What an extraordinary man is Professor Max Muller! I paid a visit to him a few days ago. I should say, that. I went to pay my respects to him, for whosoever loves Shri Ramakrishna, whatever be his or her sect, or creed, or nationality, my visit to that person I hold as a pilgrimage. . . .
“The Professor was first induced to inquire about the power behind, which led to sudden and momentous changes in the life of the late Kcshab Chandra Sen, the great Brahmo leader ; and since then, he has been an earnest student and admirer of the life and teachings of Shri Ramakrishna. ‘Ramakrishna is worshipped by thousands today, Professor,’ I said. ‘To whom else shall worship be accorded, if not to such?’ was his answer. The Professor was kindness itself, and asked Mr. Sturdy and myself to lunch with him. He showed us several colleges in Oxford, and the Bodleian Library. He also accompanied us to the railway station, and all this he did because, as he said, ‘It is not every day one meets with a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.’
“The visit was really a revelation to me. That nice little house, its setting of a beautiful garden, the silver-headed sage, with a face calm and benign, and forehead smooth as a child’s in spite of seventy winters, and every line in that face speaking of a deep-seated mine of spirituality somewhere behind ; that noble wife, the helpmate of his life through his long and arduous task of exciting interest, overriding opposition and contempt, and at last creating a respect for the thoughts of the sages of ancient India – the trees, the flowers, the calmness and the clear sky – all these sent me Backin imagination to the glorious days of ancient India, the days of our Brahmarsliis and RAjarshis, the days of the great VAna-prasthas, the days of Arundhatis and Vasishthas.
“It was neither the Philologist nor the Scholar that I saw, but a soul that is every day realising its oneness with the Brahman, a heart, that is every moment expanding to reach oneness with the Universal. . . .
“. . . And what love he bears towards India! I wish I had a hundredth part of that love for my own motherland. Endued with an extraordinary, and, at the same time, an intensely active mind, he has lived and moved in the world of Indian thought for fifty years or more, and watched the sharp interchange of light and shade in the interminable forest of Sanskrit literature with deep interest and heart-felt love, till they have all sunk into his very soul and coloured his whole being. Max M tiller is a Vcdantist of Vedantists. . . .
” ‘When are you coming to India? Every heart there would welcome one who lias done so much to place the thoughts of their ancestors in the true light,’ I said. The face of the aged sage brightened up – there was almost a tear in his eye, a gentle nodding of the head, and slowly the words came out: ‘I would not return then ; you would have to cremate me
there.’ Further questions seemed an unwarrantable intrusion into realms wherein are stored the holy secrets of man’s heart.”
This letter was written by the Swami shortly after the Professor had written an article, from information gathered in India, concerning Shri Ramakrishna, which was to appear in the Nineteenth Century> entitled “A Real Mahatman”. Out of the enthusiasm with which the Swami had inspired him, he asked, “What are you doing to make him known to the world?” He was anxious to know more concerning the Master and said that he would be glad to write a large and fuller account of his life and teaching, provided ampler facts and details were given him. The Swami at once commissioned Swami Saradananda to get into communication with India and to collect as much as was possible of the sayings of Shri Ramakrishna and of the facts concerning his life. This was done ; and the Professor set to work at once and jnibodied them in a book which has been published under the title, Ramakrishna : His Life and Sayings. This
book breathes a fervid devotional and yet critical spirit, and contains a number of the Master’s sayings. It has aided materially in giving the Swami and his mission a firmer hold on the English-speaking world. The Swami and the Professor were frequent correspondents and fast friends. Only in matters of philosophical criticism did they sometimes differ.
The Swami was in the highest spiritual moods during his stay in London. Oftentimes he was all radiance and ecstasy, with infinite love and sympathy for everybody and everything, and nothing better illustrates this than a letter dated July 6, which he addressed to Mr. Francis H. Leggett in the endearing term of “Frankincense”, and which reads as follows:
“. . . Things are going on with me very well on this side of the Atlantic.
“The Sunday lectures were quite successful, so were the classes. The season has ended and I too am thoroughly exhausted. I am going to make a tour in Switzerland with Miss Muller. . . .
. . Well, the work is growing silently yet surely in England. Almost every other man or woman came to me and talked about the work. This British Empire with all its drawbacks is the greatest, machine that ever existed for the dissemination of ideas. I mean to put my ideas in the centre of this machine, and they will spread all over the world. Of course, all great work is slow and the difficulties are too many, especially as we Hindus are the conquered race. Yet, that is the very reason why it is bound to work ; for spiritual ideals have always come from the downtrodden. Jews overwhelmed the Roman Empire with their spiritual ideals. You will be pleased to know that I am also learning my lessons every day in patience and, above all, in sympathy. I think I am beginning to see the Divine, even inside the haughty ‘Anglo-Indians’. I think I am slowly approaching to that state when I would be able to love the very ‘Devil’ himself, if there were any.
“At twenty I was the most unsympathetic, uncompromising fanatic ; I would not walk on the footpath, on the theatre-side of the streets in Calcutta. At thirty-three I can live in the same house with prostitutes and never would think of saying a word of reproach to them. Is it degenerate? Or is it that I am broadening out into that Universal Love which is the Lord Himself ? Again, I have heard that if one docs not sec the evil around one, one cannot do good work – one lapses into a sort of fatalism. I do not see that. On the other hand, my power of work is immensely increasing and becoming immensely effective. Some days I get into a sort of ecstasy. I feel that I must bless everyone, everything, love and embrace everything, and I do see that evil is a delusion. I am in one of these moods now, dear Francis, and am actually shedding tears of joy at the thought of your and Mrs. Leggett’s love and kindness to me. I bless the day I was bom. I have had so much of kindness and love here ; and that Love Infinite that brought me into being, has guarded every one of my actions good or bad (don’t be frightened). For what am I, what was I ever but a tool in His hands, for whose service I have given up everything – my beloved ones, iny joy, my life? He is my playful darling, I am His playfellow. There is neither rhyme nor reason in the Universel What reason binds Him? He the Playful One is playing these tears and laughters over all parts of the play! Great fun, great fun, as Joe says.
“It is a funny world and the funniest chap you ever saw is He – the Beloved Infinite! Fun, is it not ? Brotherhood or playmatehood – a school of romping children let out to play in this playground of the world! Isn’t it? Whom to praise, whom to blame, it is all His play! They want explanations, but how can you explain Him? He is brainless, nor has He any reason. He is fooling us with little brains and reason, but this time He won’t find me napping.
“I have learnt a thing or two: beyond, beyond reason and learning and talking is the feeling, the Love’, the ‘Beloved*. Aye, ‘Sake’, fill up the cup and we will be mad.
Yours ever in madness, Vivekananda.”
Here one has Swami Vivekananda himself. We see him in a mood, almost akin to the ecstasy of Saint Francis of Assisi, or bordering on that Divine Madness which possessed the Sufis of old, as he speaks of his Beloved Lord.
But returning to a consideration of the Swami’s work, it will be hard to gauge the import and character of it and the interest it created in London. It was more spiritual than organised. Many ministers of the Gospel and distinguished clergymen were caught up in the grandeur and the freshness of the thought he sent forth. Distinguished intellectual and society people were captivated until it seemed as if some great movement was about to be born in his name. He conferred the spirit, leaving the form to be organised later, in whatsoever way it might be possible. He often said of himself that he was not an organiser, but a preacher and a monk ; and it is in this sense that his work in England must be regarded.
But apart from the public significance of the Swami’s work in London, his second visit is memorable ; for he made then some of the most valuable contacts of his life and gathered to his fold some of the most diligent and heroic workers and helpers in his cause. True, in his previous visit he had made acquaintances which ripened into friendship with such talented souls as Miss Henrietta Muller, Miss M. E. Noble, Mr. E. T. Sturdy and others, but now they became his disciples, ready to sacrifice everything for him and his cause. To this group were added two of his most faithful disciples, Mr. and Mrs. Sevier, of whom we shall often have occasion to speak later. Mr. and Mrs. Sevier met Swamiji soon after his arrival in London, having heard from a mutual friend that a Hindu preacher was going to hold classes on Eastern philosophy. Both of them were earnest students of religion and sought for the Highest Truth in various sects and creeds, but none of these satisfied the yearning of their souls. They were disappointed with the forms and theological dogmas which passed under the name of religion. So it was with expectant hearts that they came to listen to the exposition of a new religion from the lips of an “Indian Yogi”. What was the surprise of the devoted couple to find on comparing notes that they, when hearing the Swami, had felt intuitively and simultaneously thus: “This is the man and this is the philosophy that we have been seeking in vain all through our life.” What appealed to them most was the Advaita philosophy. The very first time they met the Swami in private, the latter addressed Mrs. Sevier as “Mother”, and asked her, “Would you not like to come to India? I will give you of my best realisations.” From that day they looked upon the Swami not only as their Guru but as their own son. Thus was established a relationship which was to bring forth inestimable fruits in the fulfilment of one of the Swami’s great missions to the West. Indeed, he held Miss Noble (Sister Nivedita), J. J. Goodwin and Mr. and Mrs. Sevier as the fairest flowers of his work in England.
Exhausted with the strenuous exertions of his London work, the Swami accepted the invitation of three of his more intimate friends for a tour and a holiday on the Continent. He was “as delighted as a child” at the prospect. Those who planned the Swami’s holiday and accompanied him on his tour were Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Sevier and Miss Henrietta Muller. For some time, they had been urging the Swami to rest, for they felt that he could not endure much longer the strain of his work. Then, too, it was the holiday season for London in general; and many of the Swami’s students and admirers were leaving the metropolis for seaside or mountain resorts. When the suggestion was made to him, the Swami readily assented. He was particularly eager to visit Switzerland. He said, “O! I long to see the snows and wander on the mountain paths!”
So in the afternoon of one of the last days in July, the Swami and his friends left London with the best wishes of all his students and disciples. Arriving at Dover, the party took passage to Calais. The English Channel, often choppy, chanced on this occasion to be comparatively calm. In order to break the long journey between Calais and Geneva the travellers spent the night in Paris. On the following day, they resumed their journey, arriving in excellent spirits at Geneva. The hotel in which the party found accommodation overlooked the beautiful and peaceful lake. The cool invigorating air, the intense blue of the waters, the sky and the fields, the picturcsquencss of the houses, and the novelty of things about him deeply appealed to the Swami.
Geneva is a great bathing-resort, and the Swami availed himself twice of the opportunity for full water bathing. A visit to the Castle of Chillon ended a three days’ sojourn in this historic city. They originally intended to remain longer, but the programme was suddenly changed, and we next find the travellers in the far-famed retreat of Chamounix, some forty miles away. When they approached this place, the grand spectacle of Mont Blanc opened up to view, presenting a vision which the Swami said he had not enjoyed even amidst the Himalayas. He cried out, “This is really wonderful! Here we are actually in the midst of the snows. In India the snows are so far distant. One walks for days and days amidst the mountains to come near them. But then, these are mere hills compared with those mighty peaks that tower on the borders of Tibet. Yet this is beautiful! Come! let us make the ascent of Mont Blanc.” But the guides told them that only skilled mountaineers should attempt such a feat. This was a disappointment to the Swami, but as he gazed through the telescope and saw the appallingly steep ascents, he granted that it was impracticable. However, he was bent on crossing a glacier at all costs. Without this, he felt, his visit to Switzerland would be incomplete. Fortunately the famous Mer-de-Glace was within easy approach. Accordingly several days later, the party travelled on mules to the village whence the passage over the glacier begins. The actual expedition was not so pleasant as the Swami had anticipated. It was difficult to keep his footing, even though he admired the beautiful green tints of the
crevasses. They were appallingly deep and so beyond much.
When the glacier proper is crossed a very steep ascent must be climbed to reach the village above. It was here that the Swami suffered from vertigo for the first time in his life. This vertigo made it very unsafe, and he was glad when he reached the little chalet at the summit without any untoward accident.
The Swami observing the characteristics of the peasantry, remarked to his friends, “Why, these people in many of their manners and in their costumes remind me of the peasants in the hills of the Himalayas! Those long baskets that the people carry on their backs are exactly like those used in the mountainous districts of my country.” It was in the Himalayas of Europe that those who were to be the founders of the Advaita Ashrama and dedicate their lives to it, heard for the first time of the Swami’s longing to establish a monastery in the heart of his beloved Himalayas. He said, “O, I long for such a monastery where I can retire from the labours of my life and pass the rest of my days in meditation. It will be a centre for work and meditation, where my Indian and Western disciples can live together and them I shall train as workers, the former to go out as preachers of Vedanta to the West, and the latter to devote their lives to the good of India.” A thought, something akin to vision, crossed the minds of his disciples ; and Mr. Sevier, speaking for himself and his wife, said, “How nice it would be, Swamiji, if this could be done. We must have such a monastery!” At the time, it was only a passing remark, but as the months went by, that stray remark made in the heights of the Alps, was seen to have been prophetic, for so deep had the idea sunk into the hearts of those disciples that the Swami’s great desire was fulfilled through their practical help and co-operation.
From Chamounix, the travellers visited the village of Little Saint Bernard. High above rises the famous Saint Bernard Pass, on the crest of which stands the celebrated hospice of the Augustinian monks, the highest inhabited spot in Europe. At the request of Miss Muller, the party next wandered on to an interesting retreat some miles away, where a sojourn of two weeks was made. The Swami was at his best in this village, nestling in the Alps. On all sides rose the snow-capped peaks ; all about was the silence and the peace of village life. No rude note of worldliness crept in here. It was here that the Swami enjoyed some of the most lucid and luminous spiritual moments of his life. He seemed far, far away from all worldly concerns. The world and all thought of work were forgotten entirely. He was not even the Teacher, but the silent, meditating monk of old. Many times he walked silently on the mountain paths, and his friends seemed to be caught up with him in a world of meditation and of peace. One of those who were with him in this wondrous fortnight says, “There seemed to be a great light about him, and a great stillness and peace. Never have I seen the Swami to such advantage. He seemed to communicate spirituality by a look or with a touch. One could almost read his thoughts which were of the highest, so transfigured had his personality become! “
Two weeks of this quiet life completely restored the Swami. There was only one incident of a slightly disturbing character. He had been walking one morning with his friends, reciting and translating passages from the Upanishads, creating in the Alps an Indian atmosphere. On this morning, lost in reverent contemplation he gradually dropped behind. After some short time, they saw him approaching rapidly, calling out in great excitement, “I have been saved by the grace of the Lord! I nearly fell over a precipice. I was walking along, planting my alpenstock firmly on the ground. Suddenly it broke through into a deep crevice and I almost fell over the precipice. Certainly it was only a miracle that saved me!” His friends were greatly agitated when they heard this and congratulated themselves and the Swami over his marvellous escape. Thenceforth they took special care never again to leave him alone.
On the way homewards, there was a little mountain chapel. As the Swami saw it, he said quietly, “Do let us offer some flowers at the feet of the Virgin!” His face shone with great tenderness, and he went forth, one of the party accompanying him, and gathered some Alpine flowers. “Offer them at the feet of the Virgin,” he said to Mrs. Sevier, “as a token of my gratitude and devotion.” And with a strange note of religious certainty, he added, “For She also is the Mother.” He would have offered them himself, but feared that the fact that he was not a Christian might cause trouble.
At this out-of-the-way village in Switzerland the Swami received news, which changed the course of his continental tour ; it was in the form of an urgent letter from the well-known Orientalist, Paul Deussen, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kiel. He had written to the Swami’s London address, cordially inviting him to visit him at his residence in Kiel. The Professor had been studying the Swami’s lectures and utterances, and found in him an original thinker and a spiritual genius. Deeply interested as he was in the Vedanta philosophy, and having recently returned from Hindusthan itself, he naturally desired to meet the Swami to discuss philosophical questions with him. The Swami therefore made plans to go to Kiel before returning to England. But his hosts insisted that he should complete his Swiss tour before going to Kiel, and arranged that he should also see something of Germany on the way. Urgent business, however, compelled Miss Muller to leave the party at Lucerne, the destination next in view.
At Lucerne, visits were paid to all the places of interest and, with the exception of Mr. Sevier, all made the ascent of Mount Rigi by the mountain railway, a fascinating experience, the view from the summit commanding one of the finest snow vistas in the world. He was now restless to proceed onwards ; and so bidding farewell to his disciple, Miss Muller, he and Mr. and Mrs. Sevier journeyed to Zermatt, one of the beauty spots of Switzerland, where he hoped to climb the Komergrat and to secure the view of the Matterhorn. But of the party only Mr. Sevier succeeded in reaching the summit, the air being too rarefied for the other two. The next move was made to Schaffhausen, where the Falls of the Rhine are seen at their best.
From Schaffhausen the three tourists went to Heidelberg, the centre of one of the greatest German Universities, where two days were spent. A visit to the University and the caatle above the city was made. Then on to Coblenz. Here a halt was made for the night, and on the next day the party boarded a steamer to journey up the Rhine as far as the city of Cologne, where the travellers expected to stay several days. The Swami marvelled at the great cathedral and attended a service there, and visited its sanctuary.
Mr. and Mrs. Sevier had planned to take tlieir guest from Cologne direct to Kiel, but he was anxious to see the great city of Berlin. His hosts, eager to please him, made a large detour, intending not only to visit Berlin, but Dresden as well. The Swami was struck with the general prosperity of the country and with the large number of its cities built after the modem style. Berlin with its wide streets, fine monuments and beautiful parks made him compare it favourably even with Paris itself.
When he was informed that their next destination was Dresden, he hesitated saying, “Professor Dcusscn will be expecting us. Wc must not defer our visit longer.” Accordingly the party proceeded to Kiel. A very interesting account of this visit recorded by Mrs. Sevier who, together with her husband, was also invited to be the guests of the Deussen family, is given here:
“. . . My recollection of Kiel, a town in Germany, which is beautifully situated on the Baltic, is bright with agreeable memories of a pleasant day spent in the society of Dr. Paul Dcusscn, Professor of Philosophy in the University there – a man of rare philosophical grasp, standing foremost in the rank of European Sanskrit scholars,
“On hearing that the Swami had arrived at the hotel, the Professor immediately sent a note requesting his company at breakfast on the following day, courteously including my husband and myself in the invitation. Punctually at 10 o’clock the next morning we presented ourselves at his house, and were ushered into the Library, where we received a cordial reception from Dr. and Mrs. Deussen who were expecting us. After a few preliminary inquiries regarding the travels and plans of Swamiji, I noticed the Professor directing his eyes to some volumes lying open on the table, and with a scholar’s appreciation of learning, he soon turned the conversation on books. … He considered the system of the Vedanta as founded on the Upanishads and Veddnta-Sutras, with Shankaracharya’s commentaries, some of the most majestic structures and valuable products of the genius of man in his search for Truth, and that the highest and purest morality is the immediate consequence of the Vedanta. . . .
“It seems, the Professor added, that a movement is being made Backtowards the fountain-head of spirituality, a movement that will in the future, probably make India, the spiritual leader of the nations, the highest and greatest spiritual influence on earth,
“The Swami interested himself in some translations Dr. Deussen was making, and a discussion arose on the precise significance and correct understanding of various obscure passages. The former pointed out that clearness of definition was of primary, and elegance of diction of very secondary importance. The vigorous and lucid interpretations given by the Oriental exegetist with such firmness or conviction, and yet such delicacy of perception, eventually quite won over the German savant. . .
But to return to the narration of the day spent in Kiel. Some time during the day, the Professor found the Swami turning over the pages of a poetical work. He spoke to him but got no response. When the Swami came to know of it afterwards, he apologised, saying that he was so absorbed in reading that he had not heard him. The Professor was not satisfied with this explanation until, in the course of conversation the Swami quoted and interpreted verses from the book. Dr. Deussen was dumbfounded, and like the Maharaja of Klietri asked the Swami how he could accomplish such a feat of memory. Thereupon the conversation turned upon the subject of the concentration of the mind as practised by the Indian Yogi, and that with so much perfection that, the Swami said from personal knowledge, in that state he would be unconscious even if a piece of burning charcoal were placed on his body.
At this time, there was an exhibition in Kiel, which Dr. Deussen insisted that the Swami must visit and offered to take him there. So immediately after tea, the Swami’s party accompanied their host to the exhibition, and some time was spent in studying the various arts and industries of Germany. Partaking of light refreshments there the party returned to the hotel where the Swami was staying. The Professor suggested that the Swami should see the objects of interest in and about the city, and it was decided that on the next day they would all make an excursion to some of the outlying districts, notably to the famous harbour of Kiel, opened only a few days previously by the Kaiser.
About six weeks had been spent in holiday touring and the Swami felt that he could now take up his London work again with renewed vigour. Accordingly, he asked Mr. and Mrs. Sevier to make plans for returning immediately. Dr. Deussen had hoped that the Swami would prolong his visit so that he would have opportunities to discuss many philosophical matters with him in the quiet retreat of his own residence, where his treasure-room of learning and of books would have added much to the interest of their discussions. He tried to induce the Swami to remain if only for a few days, but when he was told that the Swami was anxious to put his work on a solid basis before returning to India which he intended to do in the near future the Professor understood and said, “Well, then, Swami, I shall meet you in Hamburg, and thence, via Holland, we shall both journey to London, where I hope to spend many happy hours with you/’
At Hamburg Professor Deussen joined them. The party, with its additional member, went to Amsterdam for three days, during which time they visited the art galleries, the museums, and other places of interest.
The channel crossing, a most unpleasant voyage, was fortunately soon over. Professor Deussen made his home with friends in St. John’s Wood, while the Swami accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Sevier to their home in Hampstead. The Swami was much improved in health and felt that he could meet the demands of his work with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
Having initiated Swami Saradananda by personal example and instructions into the manner and matter of the preaching work that he would be called upon to take up, the Swami at the repeated requests of his disciples and students of Vedanta in America, had sent him to New York, at the end of June, in the company of Mr. J. J. Goodwin. The sweet and gentle personality of the new teacher and his masterly exposition of Hinduism, at once drew to him large numbers of men and women in America, “who were attracted to the Vedfinta by the other Swami’s eloquence and example, but who had not had sufficient opportunity for personal contact to become what one would call, established in it”. Soon after his arrival he was invited to be one of the teachers in the Greenacre Conference of Comparative Religions, where he began his work with a lecture on Vedanta, and classes on the Yoga Systems, under the large Pine tree known as the “Swami’s Pine”, which had served as a canopy and open pulpit for Swami Vivekananda two years ago. At the close of the Conference, Swami Sarada-nanda was invited to lecture in Brooklyn, New York and Boston. During his tour on the Continent, the Swami was delighted with the news of his brother-disciple’s immediate success and constantly growing influence, and to hear, from private letters, that the students’ expectations of their new teacher were fully satisfied.
After a few days’ stay with Mr. and Mrs. Sevier in Hampstead, the Swami commenced his work by giving two drawing room lectures within the first two weeks at Airlie Lodge, Ridgeway Gardens, the residence of Miss Muller at Wimbledon. On the first occasion Mr. J. F. Schwam presided and the room was crowded, the majority of attendance being society ladies. The Swami spoke on “Vedanta as a Factor in Civilisation”. The lecture was a great success and it was followed by the opening of systematic classes in which the Swami gave both private and general instruction, teaching many the principles of Raja-Yoga and the practices of meditation.
His public lectures in England were mostly devoted to the exposition of the philosophical portions of the Vedanta, known as Jnana-Yoga. In order to grant the general public an opportunity of hearing the Swami, Mr. E. T. Sturdy had engaged a large room at 39 Victoria Street with ample accommodation. Close by Mr. and Mrs. Sevier had taken a flat, at 14 Grey Coat Gardens, Westminster, for the Swami and his Gumbhai, Swami Abhedananda, who had just arrived from India at the urgent call of the Swami to help him in his London work. The Swami did all in his power to impress the new-comer with the responsibilities of his new life. Day after day he trained him so that he would be able to carry on the work alone. He was thinking of sailing for India at the end of the year and was therefore eager to leave behind a worker, fitted both spiritually and intellectually to take his place.
At this time he was writing also to his Indian disciples giving them instructions on various subjects, keeping them informed of the progress of his London work, which was growing apace. He was hopeful and enthusiastic, stating that with twenty earnest-minded and capable preachers of Vedanta he could convert the West in as many years. He realised the vast importance of his work so far as its influence on the Indian public was concerned, for he wrote, “One blow struck outside of India is equal to hundred thousand struck within.”
Professor Deussen often visited the Swami, discussing with him the principles of the Vedanta and gaining from him a much clearer insight into the whole body of Vedanta thought. He was in thorough agreement with the Swami when the latter pointed out to him the difficulties that lay in the way of a thorough understanding of the Vedanta metaphysics by Western minds, the trouble resting in the fact that the Western philosopher was apt to regard Indian idealism through the lens of preconceived ideas. And as he came to know the Swami more intimately, he understood that one must become de-Occidental-ised, as it were, in order to master the spirit of the Hindu philosophical systems, for these were not so much systems of logic as methods of spiritual vision. For two whole weeks, during his stay in London, the Professor was with the Swami, either by day or by night. At the same time Professor Max Muller of Oxford was in communication with the Swami.
From Switzerland the Swami had written to an Indian disciple, “There is a big London work waiting for me next month,” and so it proved to be. The most notable feature of his work during the months of October and November, was his delivery of the message of the Vedanta both in its most practical and highest metaphysical aspects. He opened his lecture course with a masterly exposition of that most abstruse subject, the Hindu theory of Maya, to define which has not only confounded the best Sanskrit scholars of the West but puzzled even the ancient philosophers of his own land. In fact, the burden of all his subsequent lectures in London was the idea of Maya. How successfully he has achieved this most difficult task will be apprehended by every one who carefully studies his lectures on “Maya and Illusion”, “Maya and the Evolution of the Conception of God”, “Maya and Freedom”, “The Absolute and Manifestation”. In his other lectures delivered during the period which followed, such as “God in Everything”, “Realisation”, “Unity in Diversity”, “The Freedom of the Soul”, as also in the last series of four lectures known as “The Practical Vedanta”, one sees the Swami full of the one luminous thought of the Advaita, that there is but One Infinite Existence, the Sat-Chit-Ananda, the Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss Absolute – and That is the innermost nature of man, and, as such, the soul of man is, in essence, eternally free and divine, all manifestations being but the varying expressions of this nature of the Soul. No better exposition of a rationalistic religion – upon which, the Swami believed, depended the salvation of Europe – could be conceived than these unique presentments of the Highest Truth. Extraordinarily equipped as he was to garb the greatest metaphysical truths in a poetic language of wonderful depth and profundity, he made the dizzy heights of Advaita appear like a land rich with the verdure of noblest human aspiration and fragrant with the flowers of finest emotions. The tremendous power of his personality behind his utterances, made every word fall like a thunderbolt upon his audience. In one of his lectures on Maya he rose to such heights of feeling that his whole audience were transported out of themselves, so much so that they lost all sense of personality, as it were, being merged in the consciousness of the Highest for the time being. In such moments as these, his hearers admitted, a teacher can transmit his realisation even by a spoken word and make his pupils touch the borderlands of the Infinite. All these lectures were delivered on the spur of the moment, without the least preparation.
During the months of October and November the Swami also received numerous invitations to lecture in private drawing-rooms, in fashionable clubs and to select audiences in London and Oxford. He made a friend of Canon Wilberforce who received him at his residence in Westminster with great cordiality and marked attention, and became a keen student of the Vedanta philosophy. Several times he spoke before the Sesame Club, and some of the members became his ardent followers. Among many other celebrities with whom he came in contact were Mr. Frederick H. Myers, the well-known author of several psychological works, the Rev. John Page Hopps, the Nonconformist minister, Mr. Moncure D. Conway, the Positivist and peace advocate, Dr. Stanton Coit, the Rev. Charles Voysey, the Theistic leader, Mr. Edward Carpenter, the author of Towards Democracy, and many other persons of culture and enlightenment. Not only many Nonconformist clergymen, but even high clericals of the Anglican Church, were deeply impressed with the principles of the Vedanta ; and on several occasions the Swami himself went to churches where he listened to sermons, the ideas of which were characteristic of that advanced religious thought which he had propagated.
At this time the Swami was occupied with “writing something big on the Vedanta philosophy”, as he said in a letter, and was “busy collecting passages from the various Vedas bearing on the Vedanta in its threefold aspect”. Besides numerous private interviews, many classes a week, and constant writing and public lecturing, he was planning for his work in India and giving instructions accordingly to his Indian disciples and Gurubhais. He was unable to fulfil his long-cherished desire of leaving a systematised statement of his philosophy in book form before departing for India. It, however, was a matter for satisfaction to him to see that there was a great demand for his published lectures and class lessons especially for his Raja-Yoga, the first edition of which had been sold out by October, and that there were already standing orders for several hundreds when the second edition went to press in November. But the idea of writing books on Hindu philosophy never left him, and even as late as January 1901, when he came to Mayavati, he said to his disciples that he was seriously thinking of retiring from public life to devote the rest of his days to writing books in a secluded spot – and no other place he could think of, he said, was more suitable for this than Mayavati.
All this work was beginning to tax him ; he was growing more and more world-weary. The old Paramahamsa spirit which feels the bondage of any work – even that of doing good to others – as unbearable, possessed him at times and he longed to throw it off and to be merged in the Infinite Peace. Even as early as August 23, he had written from Lucerne in Switzerland:
“I have begun the work, let others work it out. So you sec, to set the work going I had to defile myself by touching money and property, for a time. Now I am sure my part of the work is done and I have no more interest in Vedanta or any philosophy in the world, or in the work itself. I am gel ting ready to depart to return no more to this hell, this world.
“Even its religious utility is beginning to pall on me …. These works and doing good and so forth are just a little exercise to cleanse the mind. I have had enough of it. . . .”
But though the Swami felt and wrote in this fashion, the Will of the Lord was otherwise. He was yet to do a world of work in his own land in the re-statement and re-valuation of the Sanatana Dharrna. The Swami had been writing from England, even as he did formerly from America, to the effect that his disciples must learn to stand on their own feet, and must be filled with his own enthusiasm and spread the new light all over India. And again from Switzerland he wrote, “Do not be afraid. Great things are going to be done, my children. Take heart. . . . In the winter I am going Backto India and will try to set things on their feet there. Work on, brave hearts, fail not – no saying nay; work on – the Lord is behind the work. Mahashakti is with you. . . .” And in India the work was being pushed on by his disciples. The Brahmavadin was disseminating the Swami’s ideas broadcast, and instilling into the hearts of the people the great ideals of Hinduism,
One of the events which satisfied the Swami immensely, was the success of the maiden speech of Swami Abhedananda, whom he had designated to speak in his stead at a club in Bloomsbury Square, on October 27. The new monk gave an excellent address on the general character of the Vedanta teaching; and it was noticed that he possessed spiritual fervour and possibilities of making a good speaker. A description of this occasion, written by Mr. Eric Hammond, reads:
“Sonic disappointment awaited those that had gathered that afternoon. It was announced that Swamiji did not intend to speak, and Swami Abheda-nanda would address them instead.
“An overwhelming joy was noticeable in the Swami in his scholar’s success. Joy compelled him to put at least some of itself into words that rang with delight unalloyed. It was the joy of a spiritual father over the achievement of a wcll-belovcd son, a successful and brilliant student. The Master was more than content to have effaced himself in order that his Brother’s opportunity should be altogether unhindered. The whole impression had in it a glowing beauty quite indescribable. It was as though the Master thought and knew his thought to be true: ‘Even
if I perish on this plane, my message will be sounded through these dear lips and the world will hear it. . . .’ He remarked that this was the first appearance of his dear Brother and pupil, as an English-speaking lecturer before an English audience, and he pulsated with pure pleasure at the applause that followed the remark. His selflessness throughout the episode burnt itself into one’s deepest memory.”
At this time the Swami was also delighted to hear frequently of Swami Saradananda’s success in America chiefly through the newspaper cuttings sent to him. Following upon his teaching at the Greenacre Conference, Swami Saradananda had gone to deliver lectures at Boston, Brooklyn and New York, and everywhere had made many friends and won the love and esteem of earnest followers. He then settled down in New York to carry on the Vedanta movement in a regular and well-organised way. There was no doubt that he was making an impression among some of the best people in New York and its environs, as the reports of his work at this time testify.
Moreover, Miss Waldo whom the Swami regarded as his ablest and best-prepared student, had at his express desire organised classes of her own and was conducting them with great credit. Among her other labours, during the absence of the Swami Saradananda in Cambridge for November and December, she conducted the classes in the Vedanta Society in New York.
That the interest in the VecUinta philosophy went on steadily increasing in America since the Swami left for England, and that he was remembered with endearing love and gratitude by his students, will be evidenced by the following letter written to the editor of the Brahmavadin by Helen F. Huntington on October 14, 1896, from Gainesville, Georgia:
“I am sure you will be glad to know that the peaceable fruits of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings have been all the while increasing; his influence is like sunshine – so quiet, so potent and far-reaching. It will always be a marvel to us that an Oriental could take such a firm hold on us Occidentals, trained as we have been by long habits of thought and education to opposing views. . . . Our interest is not of the noisy effervescent quality often incited by passing fads ; today it is stronger and deeper than ever before, and all of the Swami’s followers endeavour earnestly to spread the truth according to the various opportunities afforded to them – some quietly within domestic circles, others more prominently, as the case may be. And who is able to estimate the measure of mairs silent influence? . . .
“Even down here, a thousand miles or more from the scene of the .Swami’s work, I hear mention of his name. … I hope the time is not far distant when the Vedanta will be as well known here as in New York City. . . .
“It is impossible not to wish for Swami Vivekananda’s return to our midst, as he has endeared himself so deeply to all of us. As he said of his Guru, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, ‘His presence was a blessing to everyone, saint and sinner,* so was his own life among us; for he influenced us to better living and brotherly kindness to all men. …”
The Swami had great confidence that the work in America would not suffer by his absence in England. His friends and disciples corresponded with him regularly, and he saw from the tone in which they addressed him that they were heart and soul in their enthusiasm for the movement.
During the month of October, 1896, the S warm’s mind turned more and more towards India. He had been thinking for some time of returning thither and had spoken accordingly to some of his more intimate friends, particularly to Mr. and Mrs. Sevier. But there was nothing definite, his remarks being only of a passing character. He had written also in a tentative way to Mrs. Bull concerning his intention. In reply he received a letter, asking if he would be willing to accept a large sum of money with which to further his work in India, especially with regard to the founding of a permanent home, as the headquarters of the brotherhood in Calcutta. The Swami replied a week before his sailing for India, to the effect that lie was profoundly grateful for the generous offer, but that he did not feel at the time that he should encumber himself with such responsibilities, as he wished to commence his work on a small scale in India, and that until he had found his bearings he could not accept her kindness. He promised, however, to write details from India.
It was after one of the class lectures towards the middle of November that the Swami called Mrs. Sevier aside and asked her quite suddenly to purchase four tickets immediately for the most convenient steamer from Naples, as he desired to shorten the sea-voyage by travelling to Naples via the Continent. It was a surprise to her, even though she knew that the Swami intended sailing. Both she and her husband, who were to accompany him to help in his work in India and lead the Vanaprastlia life, accelerated their preparations. It was decided that they would visit some of the important cities in Italy en route. That same day they secured berths on a new steamer of the North German Lloyd, which was to leave Naples for Ceylon on December 16. Subsequently however, they were transferred to the steamer “Prinz Regent LuitpokT, as the new steamer was not ready to sail on that day.
The Swami at once wrote to his Madras followers informing them of his coming, stating casually that he wanted to establish two centres, one in Calcutta, the other in Madras, and that Mr. and Mrs. Sevier intended founding a Himalayan Centre. He added, “We will begin work with these three centres ; and later on, we will get to Bombay and Allahabad. And from these points, if the Lord be pleased, we will invade not only India, but send bands of preachers to every country in the world.” His mind was full of plans, and he discussed them enthusiastically with Mr. and Mrs. Sevier. He seemed to be consumed with the desire to deliver his message to his motherland, and they in their turn anticipated great results, and made up their minds to renounce the world and dedicate themselves to the furtherance of his mission and to the practical realisation of those of his teachings which they had made their own. So they made quick preparations to settle their domestic affairs, and in a short time had disposed of their belongings consisting, among other things, of ornaments, pictures, books and furniture. Like true disciples they handed over to their Guru the whole of the proceeds of the sale. They took rooms elsewhere so as to be ready to start whensoever he wished. His devoted disciple, Mr. Goodwin, who had taken the vow of a Brahmachari and served the Swami as his secretary and personal attendant, was also to accompany him. Miss Muller with her lady-companion, Miss Bell, was preparing to follow him at a later date. In his plans of work in India the Swami, as a true patriot, did not forget to plan to help the women of his own land. Simultaneously with his idea of founding the three monastic centres for the training of young men as preachers, he had thought of starting an institution for the education of girls on national lines, producing not only ideal wives and mothers, but Brahmacharinis working for the improvement of their own sex. The Swami had inspired Miss Muller with the idea of being of service to the women of India, and she had gladly promised to support the proposed educational institution for Hindu girls. He had also in mind to bring Miss Margaret Noble to India in due time in order to put her in charge of his intended work for women. Thus from all points of view the prospects of launching a successful campaign in India seemed bright with a glorious promise, and the Swami was transported with joy at seeing that the dearest dream of his life – the rejuvenation of his motherland was going to be fulfilled at last.
When his English students came to know that the Swami was to leave in the middle of December, they were filled with sadness. It was decided to hold a farewell reception in his honour. The chief organiser of this final meeting was that indefatigable worker, Mr. E. T. Sturdy, than whom the Swami had few better friends. It was he and Mr. Goodwin who drew up the farewell address and sent invitations to all of the Swami’s friends and followers.
On December 13, the final Sunday before the Swami’s departure from London, the gathering at the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours, in Piccadilly, where the meeting was held, was enormous. Scores of people from all parts of the city, and some even from the distant suburbs poured into the hall, until there was hardly standing-room. Swami Abhedananda was there. He had now made a place for himself in the huge metropolis, and it was to him that the gathering unconsciously turned for solace on this day of loss. The Swami’s heart was full when he entered the hall amidst a stillness which spoke eloquently of the bond between him and his London followers. Mr. Eric Hammond eloquently describes this farewell gathering in the following words:
“It was Sunday in London, when shops were shut, business at a standstill, and the city streets silenced for a while from some at least of the rattle and the rumble of their heavier traflic. Londoners wore their Sunday clothing, their Sunday bearing and manner, and grey, subdued, and semi-silent folk wended their way to church and chapel. This afternoon the friends of Swamiji were to say ‘Good-bye’ to him whose coming had meant so much to them. In the hall of meeting, dedicated to the use of the artists, paintings hung upon the walls : palms, flowers and ferns decorated the platform from which Swamiji would utter his final speech in England’s great metropolis to the British people. All sorts and conditions of men were there, but all alike were filled by one desire: to see him, to hear him, even it may be, to touch his garment once again.
“On the platform musicians and singers at stated intervals ‘discoursed sweet sounds’. Speeches illustrating the esteem and affection which Swamiji had won, were made by men and by women. Salvoes of applause punctuated and followed them. Many were silent, tongue-tied and sad at heart. Tears were very near to some eyes. Grey and gloom without were intensified and deepened by grey and gloom within. One form, one figure, fought and triumphed over sorrow ; arrayed in garments, glistering as of amber, Swamiji passed among the people, like a living shaft of sunshine.
” ‘Yes, Yes, he said, “we shall meet again ; we shall.* “
The Chairman of the meeting, Mr. E. T. Sturdy, presented an address to the Swami. The Swami was much moved and replied in terms of great endearment and glowing spiritual fervour. He pointed out the fact that history repeats itself and that Christianity had been rendered possible only by the Roman peace. “He perhaps meant,” comments Sister Nivedita, “that mere wouia yet DC seen a great army oi inaiaii preacnci.s m uic West, reaping the harvest he had sown so well, and making ready in their turn new harvests, for the distant reaping of the future.” And above all his public utterances at the time of his departure, ring out that triumphant statement which he made to Mr. Hammond, “I may even find it good to get out of this body, to throw it off like a disused garment. But I shall never cease preaching and helping mankind until all shall come to know the Highest Truth.” It is remarkable how, here and there, ever since his death, persons who had never seen him in his lifetime, are now feeling his spiritualising influence by communing with him through the great utterances he has left behind. True, he visited London again, but not in the capacity of a public teacher, as at that time other fields were calling him, in the United States of America. And there was yet work to be done in India.
The Swami’s last lecture in London on the “Advaita Vedanta” was the fitting culmination of the whole series, as it speaks the final word on the highest stage of Realisation. Reporting this lecture, but particularly making a survey of the influence created by the Swami, a distinguished correspondent to The Indian Mirror writes as follows on December 14, from London:
“The last lecture on the Advaila philosophy was given by the Swami Vivekananda to a crowded audience, which was anxious not to lose this last opportunity of hearing him for some time to come, on December 10, 1896. The regularity with which these thoughtful people have attended the Swami’s lectures in London is an indication of the serious attention which they have given to the whole of the present Vedanta exposition – an exposition which, in the hands of a personality which many have learned to very deeply respect and others to love, finds an application to every phase of Western life, as well as to that of Eastern life, where its first presentment was made. It is this liberal and wise interpretation, which has brought people of many varying shades of opinion, including several of the clergy of the Church of England, to group themselves together in an effort, to make the Swami’s teaching as widely known as possible. . . .
“A deep spiritual teaching is not likely to move rapidly at first, but steadily the Eastern thought is being more and more understood through an army of conscientious and industrious translators, and a teacher like the Swami Vivekananda comes and gives a living force to this lore,
wrapped up in books, and also adjusts discrepancies. Yet, notwithstanding all that has been done by various scholars, the majority, probably, of those people who certainly may be called refined and educated, who have attended the Swami’s lectures, have now had their attention called for the first time to tlu: great treasures of Universal Thought and Wisdom, which India holds through the ages in trust, as it were, for the world. … If the Swami Vivekananda’s work may be called a missionary effort, it may be contrasted with most of the other missionary efforts of the day by its not having produced any bitterness, by its not having given rise to a single instance of ill-feeling or sectarianism. The reason of this is simple, and great is its strength. The Swami is not a sectarian ; lie is the promoter of Religion, not of one religion only. The exponents of single points in the vast field of religion can find nothing in him to fight.
“. . . Amongst those who attended the farewell reception were several old officers and civilians who had spent years of their life in India, and who cannot be presumed to be carried away by an enthusiasm for a particular exponent, a philosophy or a people of whom they know nothing.”
Many people after hearing the Swami in London declared that the manner and matter of his exposition of the Vedanta philosophy revealed to them an entirely new and encouraging view of life and that eternal substratum beneath it. Thus writes Miss M. a. Noble who afterwards became known as Sister Nivedita:
”To not a few of us the words of Swami Vivekananda came as living water to men perishing of thirst. Many of us have been conscious for years past of that growing uncertainty and despair, with regard to Religion, which has beset the intellectual life of Europe for half a century. Relief in the dogmas of Christianity has become impossible to us, and we had no tool, such as we now hold, by which to cut away the doctrinal shell from the kernel of Reality, in our faith. To these, the Vedanta has given intellectual confirmation and philosophical expression of their own mistrusted intuitions. ‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,’…
“. . . It was the Swami’s ‘I am God’ that came as something always known, only never said before. . . . Yet again, it was the Unity of Man, that was the touch needed to rationalise all previous experiences and give logical sanction to the thirst for absolute service never boldly avowed in the past. Some by one gate, and some by another, we have all entered into a great heritage and we know it. . . .”
Mr. Bepin Chandra Pal, a celebrated Indian publicist, speaking of the impression which Swami Vivekananda left in
England, wrote from London to The Indian Mirror of February 15, 1898:
“Some people in India think that very little fruit has come of the lectures that Swami Vivekananda delivered in England, and that his friends and admirers exaggerate his work. But on coming here I see that he has exerted a marked influence everywhere. In many parts of England 1 have met with men who deeply regard and venerate Vivekananda. Though I do not belong to his sect, and though it is true that I have differences of opinion with him, I must say that Vivekananda has opened the eyes of a great many here and broadened their hearts. Owing to his teaching, most people here now believe firmly that wonderful spiritual truths lie hidden in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Not only has he brought about this feeling, but he has succeeded in establishing a golden relation between England and India. From what I quoted on ‘Vivekanandism’ from The Dead Pulpit by Mr. Haweis, you have clearly understood that, owing to the spread of Vivekananda’s doctrines, many hundreds of people have seceded from Christianity. And how deep and extensive his work has been in this country will readily appear from the following incident.
“Yesterday evening I was going to visit a friend in the southern part of London. I lost my way and was looking from the corner of a street thinking in which direction I should go, when a lady accompanied by a boy came to inc, with the intention, it seemed, of showing ine the way. . . . She said to me, ‘Sir, perhaps you are looking to find your way. May I help you?’ . . . She showed me my way and said. ‘From certain papers I learned that you were coming to London. At the very first sight of you I was telling my son, ‘Look, there is the Swami Vivekananda/ As I had to catch the train in a hurry I had no time to tell her that I was not Vivekananda, and was compelled to go off speedily. However, I was really surprised to see that the lady possessed such great veneration for Vivekananda, even before she knew him personally. I felt highly gratified at the agreeable incident, and thanked my Gerua turban which had given me so much honour. Besides the incident, I have seen here many educated English gentlemen who have come to revere India and who listen eagerly to any religious or spiritual truths, if they belong to India.”
During his stay in England, both before and after his visit to the Continent, the Swami himself was pleased with the results of his English labours. To one of his closest American friends he wrote (almost in a mood of prophecy concerning the future character and success of his mission) that he believed in the power of the English to assimilate great ideas ; that though the process of assimilation might be slow, it would be all the more sure and abiding. He often spoke of the hold the Vedanta would eventually have in England and believed that the time would come when distinguished ecclesiastics of the Church of England, imbued with the truth and the idealism of the Vedanta, would fonn a liberal community within the Anglican Church itself, supporting the universality of religion, both in vision and in practice.
Referring to his work in England, in his famous “Reply to the Address of Welcome in Calcutta”, the Swami says:
“My work in England has been more satisiactory lo me than my work in America. The bold, brave and steady Englishman, … if he has once an idea put into his brain, it never comes out, and the immense practicality and energy of the race makes it sprout up and immediately bear fruit. It is not so in any other country. That immense practicality, that immense vitality ot the race you do not sec anywhere else. There is less of imagination, but more of work, and who knows the well-spring, the mainspring of the English heart? How much imagination and feeling is there! They are a nation of heroes ; they are the true Kshatriyas ; their education is to hide their feelings and never to show them. From their childhood they have been educated up to that. . . . But with all this heroic superstructure, behind this covering of the fighter, there is a deep spring of feeling in the English heart. If you once know how to reach it, if you get there, if you have personal contact and mix with him, he will open his heart, he is your friend for ever, he is your servant. Therefore in my opinion, my work in England has been more satisfactory than anywhere else. …”
Before his departure for India, he wrote to a group of women disciples in America:
“The work in London has been a roaring success. The English are not so bright as the Americans, but once you touch their heart, it is yours for ever. Slowly have I won success, and is it not remarkable that by six months’ work altogether I should have a steady class of about one hundred and twenty persons apart from public lectures? Here everyone means work – the practical Englishman. Captain and Mrs. Sevier and Mr. Goodwin are going to India with me to work and spend their own money on it! There are scores here ready to do the same: men and women of position, ready to give up everything for the idea once they feel convinced! And last, though not least, the help in the shape of money to start my work’ in India has come and more will follow. My ideas about the English have been revolutionised. I now understand why the Lord has blessed them above all other races. They are steady, sincere to the backbone, with great depths of feeling – only with a crust of stoicism on the surface ; if that is broken, you have your man.”
Certainly there never acted a greater force to produce a sympathetic relation and co-operation between the Eastern and Western worlds than that wielded by the Swami and his Guru-bhais and his disciples.
On December 16, the Swami and Mr. and Mrs. Sevier left London for the Continent, Mr. Goodwin sailing from Southampton to meet them at Naples. Several intimate friends were at the London station to see them off. Mr. E. T. Sturdy voiced the feelings of many of his fellow-disciples when he penned the following lines in a private letter to one of them in America:
”Swami Vivekananda left today …. He had a magnificent reception in the Galleries of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours. There were about five hundred people there, and a good many friends were away from London. His influence has sunk very deep into many hearts. We are going straight ahead with his work. His brother-Swami, a nice, attractive, ascetic-minded young man will help me in this. . . .
”Your presumption is correct. I am heavy-hearted today at the loss of the noblest, friend and the purest teacher I have met in this incarnation. I must have stored some exceptional merit, in the past to receive such a blessing now. What I longed for all my life I have found in the Swami.”
Before closing the narrative of the Swami’s life in England, an incident which shows his courage in the face of danger, must be mentioned. Once as he was walking with Miss Muller and an English friend across some fields, a mad bull came tearing towards them. In the words of Sister Nivedita:
“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.”