THE PARIS CONGRESS AND A TOUR IN EUROPE
From August 1, 1900, when he is seen in Paris, until the middle of the following December when he returned unexpectedly to India, the Swami stayed mostly in Paris with short visits to Lannion in the province of Brittany, Vienna, Constantinople, Athens and Egypt.
In Paris he was at first the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Leggett at their handsome residence in the Place des Etats Unis. Later, on his return from Brittany, where he was the guest of Mrs. Ole Bull, he lived with Monsieur Jules Bois, a famous philosopher, journalist, writer, and student of comparative religion, in order that thereby he might become more proficient in the French language, as his host and his household spoke nothing but French.
While the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, the Swami met numerous distinguished people at their large and lavish entertainments and numerous salons, where celebrated men of all departments of knowledge and culture gathered – poets, philosophers, professors, sculptors, painters, scientists, singers, actors and actresses and moralists. The conversaziones proved splendid opportunities for him to spread his message and exchange ideas with many leading thinkers of the West.
The main event of his stay in Paris was his appearance at the Congress of the History of Religions then in session at Paris in connection with the Paris Exposition Universelle. For this occasion the Swami had prepared himself for two months, endeavouring to master the French language so that he could deliver his lectures in that tongue. Within that time he found that he could speak French with sufficient ease to make the intricate terms of Sanskrit philosophy readily intelligible to his hearers.
The Congress of the History of Religions had been substituted for a real Parliament of Religions which had been the primary idea or the organisers ot the Congress. Kumour had it that, owing to the vehement opposition of the Roman Catholic world, the idea of holding another Parliament of Religions had been defeated because of the fear that Oriental ideas might jeopardise the safety of orthodox. Christianity. Therefore, at the Paris Congress no discussion on the views and doctrines of any religion was allowed. Its purpose was only to enquire into the historic evolution of the different forms of established faiths and other facts incidental to it. Accordingly, missionary sects of different religions and their beliefs were not represented in the Congress; it was attended only by such scholars as devoted themselves to the study of the origin and history of different religions. Though he was present at several sittings of the Congress, the Swami’s ill-health prevented him from lecturing before that assembly more than twice. He had been appointed by the committee to debate with the Western Orientalists as to whether the Vedic religion was the outcome of nature-worship or not. The prominent position he had attained as the spokesman of the Vedanta philosophy and Indian culture in the West, and his numerous lectures and writings, which the Westerners either read or heard, made it evident that he, above all others, was best fitted to interpret the Indian position.
His first words at the Congress were in connection with the paper read by Mr. Gustav Oppert, a German Orientalist, who tried to trace the origin of the Shalagrama-ShiH and the Shiva-Linga to mere phallicism. To this the Swami objected, adducing proofs from the Vedas, and particularly the Atharva-Veda Samhitil, to the effect that the Shiva-Linga had its origin in the idea of the Yupa-Stambha or Skambha, the sacrificial post, idealised in Vedic ritual as the symbol of the Eternal Brahman. “As, afterwards,” said the Swami, “the Yajna (sacrificial) fire, its smoke, ashes and flames, the Soma plant, and the bull that used to carry on its Backthe wood for the Vedic sacrifice, gave place to the conceptions of the brightness of Shiva’s body, his tawny matted hair, his blue throat and the riding on the bull of Shiva, and so on ; just so, the Yupa-Skambha gave place in time to the Shiva-Linga, and was deified to the high Devahood of Shn Shankara. lhen, also, tne Shiva-Linga might have been more definitely developed through the influence of Buddhism, with its Bauddlia Stupa, or memorial topes, in which the relics, either of the Buddha himself, or of some great Buddhist Bhikshus, used to be deposited. It was quite probable that during the Buddhistic ascendancy the Hindus adopted this custom and used to erect memorials resembling their Skambha. The Shalagrama-Shilas were natural stones, resembling the artificially-cut stones of the Dhatu Garbha, or “metal-wombed” stone-rclic-cases of the Bauddlia Stupas, and thus being first worshipped by the Bauddhas gradually were adopted into Vaislinavism. The explanation of the Shalagrama-Shila as a phallic emblem was an imaginary invention. It had been a degenerate period in India following the downfall of Buddhism, which had brought on the association of sex with the Shiva-Linga. In reality, the Shiva-Linga and the Shalagrama-Shila had no more to do with Sex-worship than the Holy Communion in Christianity had in common with cannibalism.”
In his second lecture the Swami dilated on the Vedas as the common basis of Hinduism as also of Buddhism and every other religious belief in India, the priority of Shri Krishna to Buddha and the alleged influence of Greek thought and art on Indian culture. The Gita, the Swami held, was prior to, if not contemporaneous with, the Mahabharata. Both the thought and the language of the Gita were the same as those of the Maliabharata ; therefore, how could the Gita have been later than the MahabhSrata? And if it had been compiled much later, in the Buddhist period, why, when it attempted the reconciliation of all the religious creeds prevalent in India at that period, should the Gita not have mentioned Buddha and Buddhism, if Buddhism were then in existence? He said that Krishna was several centuries prior to Buddha, and that the worship of Krishna was much older than that of Buddha.
And as for Greek influence on Indian culture he denied the contention that it was on everything Indian – Indian literature, Indian art, Indian astrology, Indian arithmetic, and so on. There might be, it was true, some similarity between the Greek and Indian terms in astronomy and so forth, but the Westerner had ignored the direct Sanskrit etymology and sought for some far-fetched etymology from the Greek. That such shallow and biased learning had been manifested by many Orientalists in the West was most deplorable. From a single Sanskrit Shloka, that reads, “The Yavanas are Mlechchhas, in them this science is established, therefore, even they deserve worship like Rishis . . in the West they have gone so far as to declare that all Indian sciences are but echoes of the Greek! Whereas a true reading of the Shloka might show that the Mlechchha disciples of the Aryans are herein praised in order to encourage them to a further study of the Aryan sciences. The effort to trace the Indian drama to Greek sources was also preposterous, for nothing in the Sanskrit dramas bore any similarity, either to Greek literary methods or to Greek histrionic forms. Lastly, turning Professor Max Muller’s own premisses against him, the Swami argued that unless one Hindu who had known Greek could be brought forward, one ought not to talk even of Greek influence on Indian science or culture. The Swami closed his arguments with the sound counsel that Western Orientalists, who spent so much time on a single Greek work, should do likewise with Sanskrit works ; then only some true account of the exchange of ideas between East and West, in various historic periods, could be gathered. Like Pythagoras, the celebrated Greek, whom Clement of Alexandria had no hesitation in calling a pupil of the Brahmanas, they might even come to India to learn.
After the lecture, many present expressed their opinion that the views of the modem school of Sanskrit scholars in the West were largely the same as those of the Swami. They agreed also with his statement that there was much that was historically true in the Puranas and Hindu traditions. But the learned President of the Congress, however, differed from the Swami with reference to the contemporaneousness of the Gita and the Mahabharata, his reason being that the majority of Western Orientalists thought that the former was not a part of the latter.
While in Paris, both before and after the Congress, the Swami busied himself with observations on French culture. Many of these he embodied in his article The East and the West. In this connection, the Paris Exposition afforded him unique opportunities for study. He visited the Exhibition on numerous occasions, always bringing therefrom some new revelation, new contrast, or intellectual discovery. The varied and artistic exhibits pleased the fastidious eye of the Swami, and nothing of interest escaped his keen glance. The authorities of the Exposition received him with honour and he was accorded every opportunity for original observation.
Among the distinguished persons with whom he came into intimate contact during his stay in Paris, were Professor Patrick Geddes of Edinburgh University, Monsieur Jules Bois, Pere Hyacinthe, Mr. Hiram Maxim, Madame Calve, Madame Sarah Bernhardt, Princess Demidoff, and his own countryman, Dr. J. C. Bose, who had also been invited to attend the Exposition in connection with the Congress of Scientists, and who by his remarkable discoveries had thrilled the whole scientific world. He met Dr. Bose frequently, and he would point out to his numerous acquaintances the greatness of this Indian scientist, “the pride and glory of Bengal”. Once at a distinguished gathering, when a disciple of a certain celebrated English scientist laid claim to the fact that her master was experimenting on the growth of a stunted lily, the Swami replied humorously, “O, that’s nothing! Bose will make the very pot in which the lily grows respond! “
It was after the Congress of the History of Religions that the Swami accepted the invitation of Mrs. Ole Bull, to become her guest in a cottage she had taken at Lannion in Brittany. Here he gave himself up to leisure and retreat, though his conversations with those who surrounded him, including Sister Nivedita, now returned from America and likewise the guest of Mrs. Bull, were unusually luminous. The story of Lord Buddha was much in his mind in these days and one finds him reciting passages from the Jdtakas, or the Lalita Vistara, or the Vinaya Pitaka and other great Buddhist works. He would tell how after the Nirvana of Buddha, he became the very embodiment of the highest spiritual poetry, and he would illustrate his thoughts with beautiful passages from the Buddhist scriptures relating to the famous Updli Prichcha, or the “Questions of Upali, the Barber,” or to the Dhaniya Sutta from the famous Sutta Nipdta. Drawing philosophical contrasts he would show the points of difference between the Buddhist and the Advaita positions, and then point out the unity of ideas between the Sublime Negation of the Buddhist and the Supreme Negation of Advaita. saying, “Buddhism must be right ! Reincarnation is only a mirage! But this vision is to be reached by the path of Advaita alone!” In his final summing up of statement in this connection he said, “The great point of contrast between Buddhism and Hinduism lies in the fact that Buddhism said. ‘Realise all this as illusion,’ while Hinduism said, ‘Realise that within the illusion is the Real.’ Of hoiv this was to be done, Hinduism never presumed to enunciate any rigid law. The Buddhist command could only be carried out through monasticism ; the Hindu might be fulfilled through any state of life. All alike were roads to the One Real. One of the highest and greatest expressions of the Faith is put into the mouth of a* butcher, preaching, by the orders of a married woman, to a Sannyasin. Thus Buddhism became the religion of a monastic order, but Hinduism in spite of its exaltation of monasticism remains ever the religion of faithfulness to daily duty, whatever it be, as the path by which man may attain to God.” Hinduism, he held, included not only all the faiths within her own fold but the message of Buddhism and Buddha himself as well. She, as the mother of religions, had learned to regard Buddha as the most lion-hearted of all her Avataras.
One of the most powerful factors which contributed to the Swami’s supreme veneration for Buddha was, to quote Sister Nivedita’s words,
“The spectacle of the constant tallying of his own Master’s life, lived before his eyes, with this world-attested story of twenty-five centuries before. In Buddha, he saw Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: in Ramakrishna he saw Buddha. In a flash this train of thought was revealed, one day when he was describing the scene of the death of Buddha. He told how the blanket had been spread for him beneath the tree, and how the Blessed One had lain down, ‘resting on his right side, like a lion’, to die, when suddenly there came to him one who ran, for instruction. The disciples would have treated the man as an intruder, maintaining peace at any cost about their Master’s death-bed, but the Blessed One overheard, and saying, ‘No no! He who was sent (Lit. the Tathagata, ‘A word,’ the Swami explained, ‘which is very like your Messiah’) is ever ready’, he raised himself on his elbow and taught. This happened four times, and then, and then only, Buddha held himself free to die. . . .
“The immortal story went on to its end. But to one who listened, the most significant moment had been that in which the teller paused at his own words – ‘raised himself on his elbow and taught’ – and said in brief parenthesis, 7 saw this, you know, in the case of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa! ‘ And there arose before the mind the story of one, destined to learn from that Teacher, who had travelled a hundred miles, and arrived at Cossipore only when he lay dying. Here also the disciples would have refused admission, but Shri Ramakrishna intervened, insisting on receiving the new-comer, and teaching him.”
Sometimes it would give the Swami pleasure to play off Shankaracharya against Buddha, as it were, by calling in Advaita to the aid of Buddhism. The combination of the heart of Buddha and the intellect of Shankaracharya, he considered the highest possibility of humanity, and this he saw only in his own Master amongst the muster-roll of the world’s Teachers and Saviours.
The Swami was always the religious observer. In some small chapel in Brittany, or in the great cathedrals of Paris, he saw the points of similarity between the ritual of Hinduism and Roman Catholicism; and in this sense he once proclaimed, “Christianity is not foreign to the Hindu mind.” It was in Brittany, when he paid a visit on Michaelmas Day with his hostess and fellow-guests to Mont Saint Michael that, looking at the dungeon-cages where prisoners were isolated in mediaeval times, he was heard to remark under his breath: “What a
wonderful place for meditation! ” At another time, filled with a consciousness of the Power that worked through him, he exclaimed, “All that is against me must be with me in the end. Am I not her soldier?”
Some days before he left Brittany his disciple, Sister Nivedita, left for England, there to try to raise interest in her work on behalf of Indian women. Before she went he gave her his blessing and said, “There is a peculiar sect of Mohammedans who are reported to be so fanatical that they take each new-born babe and expose it, saying, ‘If God made thee, perish! If Ali made thee, live!’ Now this which they say to the child, I say, but in the opposite sense, to you, tonight – ‘Go forth into the world, and there, if I made you, be destroyed! If Mother made you, live!'” On this occasion, now that she was about to enter, for an indefinite period, on new paths of endeavour without his immediate guidance, the thought must have crossed his rnind that old ties were perilous to a foreign allegiance. He had seen so many betrayals of honour that he seemed always to be ready for a new desertion. In any case, the moment was critical to the fate of the disciple, and this he did not fail to realise. Before she had left India, in his company, he had told her that she must resume, as if she had never broken them off, all her old habits and social customs of the West.
When he returned from Brittany to Paris, the Swami again moved in the most distinguished circles. In all his talks he missed no opportunity of showing, in ways distinctly his own, the influence of India over the entire thought of mankind. He would refer to the unmistakable evidences of Hindu religious ideas having travelled in ancient times from India, on the one side to Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes, Australia, and even as far as the shores of America, and on the other side, to Tibet. China, Japan, and as far up as Siberia. He would dilate on the extension of the Buddhist missionary work in Syria, Egypt, Macedonia and Epirus in the reigns, respectively, of Antiochus Theos, Ptolemy Philadelphus, Antigonos Gonates and Alexander. Then, perhaps, he would tell his interested visitors, of the influence of the Tartars in the making, of universal history, and of their later conquests in Central and Western Asia, and finally in India itself. And oftentimes he would say, “The Tartar is the wine of the race! He gives energy and power to every blood! ” He saw Europe as the admixture of numbers of Asiatic and semi-Asiatic races, intermingled with the barbarians of the forests of Germany and the wilderness of ancient Gaul and Spain. He saw European culture as formed, to a large extent, by Moorish influence in Spain and the learning and science of die mediaeval Arabs. The monumental learning and patriotism which the Swami evinced, captured all minds and hearts. He was scathing in his denunciation of the claim that the European culture dominated over the Asiatic ; and history and archaeology and philosophy were always at his service to prove his contentions to the contrary.
One of the greatest intimates at this time was Pere Hyacinthe, the whilom Carmelite monk. As a monk he exerted a great influence in France and in the whole Catholic world by his learning, oratory and austerities. Fie was excommunicated in 1869 for persisting in denouncing the abuses of the Church. He obtained a dispensation from his monastic vows and became the Abbe Loyson ; but he protested against the declaration of papal infallibility and sided with the Old Catholics. In 1872 he married an American lady and became known as Monsieur Charles Loyson. These episodes in his life created a stir in Europe at the time. The Roman Catholics hated him, the Protestants welcomed him with open arms. The aged Loyson wfas devoting his time to a reconciliation of the many conflicting views prevalent in Christianity, and to the study of comparative religion. In the Swami’s owm words: “He was
possessed of a very sweet nature, modest and of the temperament of a Bhakta.” Many were the times when the Swami, who always called him by his old monastic name, and the Pare had long discussions on religious subjects and the spiritual life, and on sects and creeds ; on these occasions the Swami spoke eloquently to him of Vairagya and renunciation, and the old memories of monastic life were stirred up in the heart of the erstwhile monk. Later on, he with his wife accompanied the Swami and his party in their travels to Constantinople. They met again at Scutari in Asia Minor, whither the Pare had
proceeded on his journey to Jerusalem to bring about a rapprochement between the Christians and the Mohammedans.
M. Jules Bois, with whom the Swami now stayed, was a man moving in the highest intellectual cricles in Paris, a follower of those Vedantic ideas that had influenced Victor Hugo and Lamartine among the French, and Goethe and Schiller among the Germans, and a scholar keen in detecting the historical truths underlying religious sects and superstitions.
With Professor Geddes, the Swami had numerous conversations pertaining to the evolution of races, the modern transition in Europe, ancient Greek civilisation and the great influence it had exerted in formulating European culture. About this time the Swami met Mr. Hiram Maxim of machine-gun fame. Mr. Maxim was a lover of China and of India, and a well-known writer on religion and philosophy. “He could not bear,” says the Swami, “Christian missionaries going to convert people in China, he himself being a lover of Confucius. Under various Chinese pseudonyms he often wrote to the papers against missionary propaganda in China. His wife was of the same religious views and opinion.”
The Swami met again Sarah Bernhardt, the greatest actress of the West. She had a great love for India and told the Swami many times that his country was “very ancient, very civilised.” One year she staged a drama concerning India, and she presented on the stage a perfectly realistic scene of an Indian street, with its men, women, children, and Sadhus. After the play was over, she told the Swami that in order to gain a true setting for her play, she had visited for one full month every museum, and carefully studied and acquainted herself with everything relating to Indian men and women, their dress, the streets and so on. She had a great desire to see India. “C’est mon reve” – that is the dream of my life – she said, and she confided to the Swami that the Prince of Wales who later became the King-Emperor Edward VII, had promised to arrange everything for her travels in India and for shooting tigers and elephants. She told the Swami, however, that she could not go to India just then, as she must have her special train, a retinue of attendants and companions, and it would be too expensive.
During his stay in Paris the Swami also came into closer touch with one of his old admirers, Madame Calva, the greatest opera singer of the West. Her culture was not confined to music for she was also learned in philosophical and icligious literature. Of her the Swami wrote: “She was born poor, but
by her innate talents, prodigious labour and diligence and wrestling against much hardship, she is now enormously rich and commands respect from kings and emperors. . . . Though there are other great singers of both sexes, . . . Calve’s genius coupled with learning is unique. The rare combination of beauty, youth, talents and ‘divine’ voice has assigned Calve the highest place among the singers of the West. There is, indeed, no better teacher than misery and poverty. That constant fight against dire poverty, misery and hardship of the days of her girlhood, which has led to her present triumph over them, has brought into her life a unique sympathy and a depth of thought with a wide outlook.”
Miss Josephine MacLeod proved a most helpful personal companion for the Swami in Paris ; it was she who conducted him to the various places of interest, of pleasure and study. She enjoyed a great personal friendship with the Swami. She was one of those who saw that he required relief from his missionary labours ; and it was her pleasure – and she felt it her duty – to keep him from too great an abstraction of mind. Whenever he was her guest, she made him feel that he was free to come and go as the spirit moved him. Others would ply him with questions, but not Miss MacLeod. Her buoyant nature amused him. Yet sometimes he would pour forth in her presence some of the most soul-inspiring utterances of his whole life. From the first she “recognised” the Swami as a Messenger of the Spirit, a Christ-Soul, and became an ardent champion of his cause. She had already studied the Gita and her vision was moulded according to its teaching. She came to India as we have seen from America in company with Mrs. Ole Bull and Swami Saradananda and with other Western disciples, spent many days with the Swami, living in the neighbourhood of the monastery at Belur. To her he was Master and friend in one ; and to this day her memories of the Swami are numerous and interesting.
After almost three months’ sojourn in France, the Swami left Paris on the night of October 24, by the Oriental Express train. His companions were Monsieur and Madame Loyson, M. Jules Bois, Madame Calv<5 and Miss Josephine MacLeod. Madame Calva had decided not to sing that winter but to rest in the temperate climate of Egypt, and the Swami went as her guest. On the evening of the twenty-fifth the party reached Vienna, where a stop of three days was made. Here the many places of interest were visited, notably the Schonbrunn Palace, near Vienna, where Napoleon’s son had been kept almost as a prisoner, and had died of a broken heart – an episode immortalised in a play, named L’aiglon (the Young Eagle), which the Swami had recently seen played by Sarah Bernhardt. He was interested in finding that every room of this Palace was furnished and decorated with the art and workmanship of some special country. India and China had not been forgotten, and he was specially pleased with the Indian decorations. The museum was also visited, and its scientific section and Dutch paintings were especially interesting. But all other cities of Europe after Paris were disappointing to him. Of Austria, he remarked, “If Turkey is called ‘The sick man of Europe’, Austria ought to be called, ‘The sick woman of Europe!'”
On October 28, the party took the Oriental Express for Constantinople which they reached on the thirtieth, having passed through Hungary, Serbia, Roumania, and Bulgaria ett route. When they arrived, they had trouble with the customs which confiscated all their books and papers. After heated discussion and pulling of wires by Madame Calva and Jules Bois, all but two of the books were returned.
The day after their arrival in Constantinople the Swami and Miss MacLeod decided to visit Scutari, which lies across the strip of water that separates Europe from Asia Minor, and see Pare Hyacinthe who was on his way to Palestine.
Some difficulty was experienced because neither could speak Turkish or
Arabic. By signs they managed to hire a boat to take them to Scutari, where the Swami visited Pare Hyacinthe. That day he had his meal in the Scutari cemetery, no better place being found. The trip Backto Constantinople proved somewhat difficult, as the boat in which they had come was found only after a long search, and they were landed on the opposite shore far from their hotel. The Swami made his stay in Constantinople useful in various ways ; every centre of interest was visited ; he saw the museum, the sarcophagi, the charming scenery from the top of the place from which the daily gun was fired, the foreign quarters and the old wall within which was the dreaded jail.
He met several distinguished persons, both in Vienna and in Constantinople, through the letters of introduction he had brought with him from Mr. Maxim. Thus in Constantinople he dined with a French charge d’affaires, made the acquaintance of a Greek Pasha and also an Albanian celebrity. As P6re Hyacinthe was not permitted to speak publicly in Constantinople, the Swami also was denied permission to do so. Several private conversaziones and drawing-room lectures were, however, arranged for him, at which he spoke on the religion of the Vedanta to select audiences.
After several days in Constantinople the Swami and his friends took steamer for Athens, seeing the Golden Horn and the islands of Marmara en route, where he visited a Greek monastery and was much impressed with what he saw. On one of the islands he met the distinguished Prof. Leppel, whom he had known when the latter wras a Professor in the Pachiappa’s College in Madras. In another of these islands he saw the ruins of a temple on the seashore, which he thought must have been dedicated to Neptune.
Four days after he had arrived in Athens, the Swami embarked on the Russian steamer Czar for Egypt. In Egypt he was especially interested in the Cairo museum, and his mind often reverted, in all the vividness of his historical imagination, to the reigns of those Pharaohs who had made Egypt mighty 45 and a world-power in the days of old. And yet, in his inmost: heart, he was withdrawn from all external matters. The underlying vanity of everything had made him reflect powerfully on the terrible bondage of Maya. The Sphinx and the Pyramids brought on, as it were, a world-weariness. The meditative habit, which had revealed itself ever since his second visit to the West in intenser forms, now reached a veritable climax. In Paris, oftentimes his mind had been far aloof from his environment; and here in Egypt it seemed as if he were turning the last pages in the Book of Experience. Even the days spent on the Nile amidst the glories of ancient temples and rich scenery did not affect him. And one who was with him at the time said, “How tired and world-weary he seemed! “
And then there were other reasons. In far off India Mr. Sevier, his great friend and disciple, had left the body ; and the Swami had perceived this intuitively. He became restless to return to India. Thus one day quite suddenly he told his companions that he would depart for India. They were all saddened at this news. Madame Calva using a Roman Catholic expression had always addressed him as Mon Pcre, “My Father”. To Miss MacLeod he was Guru and friend in one, to Monsieur Bois he was a great thinker and Man of God. So it was with a feeling, partly of sadness and partly of resignation, that they saw him last when he extended his hands to them in a final benediction.
He boarded the first steamer for India, a Peninsular and Oriental vessel. When the steamer touched the shores of India, he was beside himself with joy. His longing to be with his Gurubhais and disciples was now about to be realised. His home-coming was entirely incognito. Only, on the way from Bombay to Calcutta did he meet with Manmatha Nath Bhatta-charya. They stared at each other for a moment in astonishment and entered into joyous conversation*
Late at night on December 9, 1900, the Swami arrived at the Belur monastery. His brother-monks and the Brahmacharim were taking their meal, when the gardener out of breath came running in to tell them, “A Saheb (European gentleman) has come! ” Immediately there was much excitement and speculation as to who the Saheb might be who had come at that late hour and what his business with them could be. Then to their great surprise the Saheb rushed into their midst; and when they all saw who the Saheb was, there was no sleeping that night. “O Swamiji has cornel Swamiji has cornel” they all cried out excitedly. They could not believe their eyes. At once an Asana (seat) was spread for him and he was served with a large helping of the Khichudi which was the food prepared for that night. He partook of it with great zest, as it was many months since he had tasted it. Later the monks enjoyed several delightful hours, while the Swami chatted to them about his varied experiences in the West. They were happy beyond measure. He had come Backto them, altogether unexpectedly. No words can describe their feeling. And now, though they knew it not, he was to be with them till the end.
The Swami said that when he had first visited the Occident, he was impressed with its power and organisation and its apparent democracy; but now he saw that its commercial spirit was composed for the most part of greed, selfishness and struggle for privilege and power. He was averse to the system of exploitation by which small business interests could be swallowed up by large combinations; that was tyranny indeed. “A strong combination he was able to admire, but what beauty of combination was there, amongst a pack of wolves?” He said to someone that his riper experience of Western life made it appear to him ”like hell”, and he held that China had gone nearer to the ideal conception of human ethics than newer countries had ever done or could do.
Before closing the chapter it will be interesting to know Sister Nivedita’s impression of the Swami’s bearing during his last visit to the West. She says:
“The outstanding impression made by the Swami’s bearing, during all these months of European and American life, was one of almost com* plete indifference to his surroundings. Current estimates of value left him entirely unaffected. He was never in any way startled or incredulous under success, being too deeply convinced of the greatness of the Power
that worked through him,to be suprised by it. But niether was he unnverved by external failure.Both victory and defeat would come and go.
He was their witness. . . .
“He moved fearless and unhesitant through the luxury of the West. As determinedly as I had seen him in India, dressed in the two garments of simple folk, sitting on the floor and eating with his fingers, so, equally without doubt or shrinking, was his acceptance of the complexity of the means of living in America or France. Monk and king, he said, was obverse and reverse of a single medal. From the use of the best, to the renunciation of all, was but one step. India had thrown all her prestige, in the past, round poverty. Some prestige was. in the future, to be cast, round wealth.
“Rapid changes of fortune, however, must always be the fate of one who wanders from door to door, accepting the hospitality of foreign peoples. These reversals he never seemed to notice. No institution, no environment. stood between him and any human heart. His confidence in that Divine-within-Man of which he talked, w’as as perfect, and his appeal as direct, when he talked w’ith the imperialist aristocrat or the American millionaire, as with the exploited and oppressed. But the outflow of his love and courtesy was always for the simple.
“Thus, student and citizen of the world as others w’ere proud to claim him, it was yet always on the glory of his Indian birth that he took his stand. And in the midst of the surroundings and opportunities of princes, it was more and more the monk who stood revealed.”