10. TRIALS AND TRIUMPH
Some of the letters that Swamiji wrote during the month of June were, as usual, addressed to India. Ever since his arrival in America, through the busiest of his days he had found time to write of his plans for the rejuvenation of his motherland. Halfway across the world he had conveyed to his disciples the tremendously energizing power of his own spirit and enthusiasm, sometimes rebuking them scathingly, sometimes praising them, and always exhorting them to do the work which was so dear to his heart and of which he never lost sight – that ot lifting the Indian masses through education. In June of 1894 he continued to write such letters, blit now a new note entered them.
As has been pointed out in an earlier chapter, almost a year had passed and Swamiji “could not,” as he said, “succeed at all” in his plan for raising funds for his Indian work. Although in 1894 America was in the throes of a depression, this was not the primary cause of his lack of financial success. The rich were still rich and would have been able to contribute the relatively small amount of money that he was attempting to raise. The difficulty lay not in America’s “poverty.” but in the fact that ever since the opening of the Parliament of Religions Swamiji’s enemies, both Christians and Hindus, had been waging a continuous campaign in an attempt to discredit his character and his work in the eyes of the American people. Coupled with this, the Hindu communities in India had uttered not a word of official support and, by their silence, had unwittingly confirmed the slander published and written about him. By April the situation had become, to say the least, difficult. Beset on all sides and in fear lest even his American friends lose faith in him, Swamiji wrote on April 9 to Alasinga asking him to organize in Madras a meeting of prominent
Stout hearts like yours are not common my brother. This is a queer place – this world of ours. On the whole – I am very very thankful to the Lord for the amount of kindness I have received at the hands of the people of this country – I a complete stranger here without even “credentials”. Every thing works for the best –
Yours ever in gratitude Vivekananda
P.S. The East India Stamps are for your children if they like.
That Mrs. Bagley, who had been Swamiji’s hostess in Detroit, was actually unsettled by the article in the Boston Daily Advertiser is difficult to believe. She knew Swamiji well and only a few days after he had written the above letter to Professor Wright was to write one of her adamant letters in his defense – letters which have been quoted in an earlier chapter. To judge from her letter of June 22, she had already invited Swamiji to spend the summer in Annisquam and had by no means rescinded the invitation. Her silence subsequent to sending Swamiji the article in the Boston paper was surely misconstrued by him, but the fact remained that, beleaguered on all sides, he thought that Mrs. Bagley had lost faith in him, and this must surely have hurt him deeply.
The month of June, which Swamiji spent in Chicago, was indeed a dark one for him. Even the Hale sisters had left town for a vacation. Yet, in spite of all, on June 26 he wrote to them what is perhaps thtTmost beautiful of all his letters. This letter has been published, but the original, which Isabelle Mc-Kindley saved along with those addressed to her alone, differs in some respects from the published version. Inasmuch as this letter was undoubtedly written in a mood of spiritual ecstasy, I think the reader might like to see it exactly as Swamiji wrote it. It is, moreover, indispensable to our narrative, for it shows the deeper state of his mind during this period of tribulation. Swamiji wrote*:
The 26th June 1894
Dear Sisters –
The great Hindi poet Tulsidas in the benediction to his translation of the Ramayan says “I bow down to both the wicked and the holy, but alas for me they are both equally torturers – The wicked begin to torture me as soon as they come in contact with me – the good alas take my life away when they leave me” I say amen to this. To me for whom the only pleasure and love left in the world is to love the holy ones of God – it is a mortal torture to separate myself from them.
But these things must come – thou music of my beloved’s flute – lead on I am following. It is impossible to express my pain – my anguish – at being separated from you noble and sweet and generous and holy ones. Oh, how I wish – I had succeeded in becoming a stoic. Hope you are enjoying the beautiful village scenery – “Where the world is awake there the man of self-control is sleeping Where the world sleeps – there he is waking.” May even the dust of this world never touch you for after all the poets may say – it is only a piece of carrion covered over with garlands. Touch it not if you can. Come up – young ones of the bird of paradise – before your feet touch this cesspool of corruption this world and fly upwards.
“Oh those that are awake do not go to sleep again.” –
“Let the world love its many, we have but one beloved – the Lord – We care not what they say – We are only afraid when they want to paint my beloved and give him all sorts of monstrous qualities – let them do what ever they please – for us He is only the beloved – my love my love my love and nothing more.”
“Who cares to know how much power, how much quality he has – even that of doing good – We will say once and for all – we love not for the long purse – we never sell our love – we want not we give.”
“You philosopher come to tell us of His essence – man said they were assembled to express their admiration and their thanks to the great American people for the very kindly and sympathetic reception which they had accorded to Paramahamsa Swami Vivekananda, whom all here knew so well and revered so much. They had met also to convey to the Swami their high appreciation of the signal services which he had rendered in America in the Parliament of Religions and in other places. There could be no doubt that his visit to the great Western country and his services there were of excellent augury. He believed that it was a precurser of many such visits and still greater services on his part and on the part of others who had such great capacity as Swami Vivekananda had of rendering national services. He had no doubt that all present were agreed that for a long time to come they must simply be learners and students and endeavor to learn and assimilate what was good and excellent in the civilization of the West. In the formal thanks sent .to America are these fervent words:
“Amid all the troubles and humiliations of our past history, in spite of our present fallen condition, we, Hindus, yet retain undiminished our faith in our ancient system of religion, of which the fundamental and central conceptions have been placed before you with such conspicuous power and success by our gifted representative. All of us who have the privilege of knowing personally Swami Vivekananda never felt a
moment’s doubt that his mission to your great and
free nation would prove an entire success and that his genius, enthusiasm, wisdom and eloquence will bear fruit. India is still the home of spirituality, as it was the cradle of the world’s civilization. Virtue and holiness still continue a power with our people ; and, as long as this continues, our ancient conviction that ours is the holy land and ours the chosen race cannot desert us. Our Anglo-Saxon rulers – your near and our distant kinsmen – are fulfilling, with such might and sincerity as is possible, their heaven-sent mission in this
land; already the signs of a brighter era of rejuvenated nationality are beginning to dawn upon us; and when all our fetters break asunder as they must with the progress of good government and material prosperity, we hope that our race will yet be able to utilize her national resurrection for the spiritual elevation of the world. It is in this light that the Hindoo community views the great success of Swami Vivekananda’s mission to America, and the kindly and enthusiastic reception which your great nation, in its centres of light, might and freedom, has been pleased to accord to our gifted representative and to his exposition of the teachings of our sages and prophets.”
On reading the above, Swamiji wrote to Alasinga: “I just now saw an editorial on me about the circular from Madras in the Boston Transcript. Nothing has reached me yet. They will reach me soon if you have sent it already. So far you have done wonderfully, my boy. Do not mind what I write in some moments of nervousness. One gets nervous sometimes alone in a country 15,000 miles from home, having to fight every inch of ground with orthodox inimical Christians. You must take those into consideration, my brave boy, and work right along.” Swamiji’s mail, which was possibly being again forwarded here and there, finally caught up with him, and he duly received the Madras Address itself. In the meanwhile, the newspapers kept him informed. On August 31 the Chicago Interocean spread the story of his official vindication as follows:
It is pleasant to note, that this Hindoo teacher is not a prophet without honor in his own country, and that, at a public meeting recently held in Madras, the Hindoo community indorsed all his efforts in America, and sent their thanks to America for the manner in which he was received. The Hindoos of Madras have sent to THE INTEROCEAN a communication expressing their thanks and admiration for “the gracious hospitality and large-hearted philanthropy which characterizes your great and powerful community. The
generous fervor with which your great people have received and listened to the holy man who undertook to convey to them the message to mankind of our Hindoo sages and prophets, has proved to us how false and foul are the charges which we have every now and then seen leveled against America, that she is the motherland of unblushing dollar worship, that her sons are absorbed in gross materialism, and that there is no love among them for the things of the spirit.’
The Parliament of Religions has begun to show its fruits far off in India. The people are correcting their impressions of America since they have seen it through eyes in which they have confidence as representing themselves, and India through the reports of Swami Viveka-nanda, the great Hindoo teacher, will learn to admire the Western world and learn from it many things that will improve her material welfare, as Americans learned of the spiritual beauties of Hindoo philosophy as taught by one of the great Hindoo priests. The World’s Congress had for its motto ‘Not Things but Men,’ but it will show in its fruits many advancements that concern things as well as men, when the seeds sown by the delegates to these great congresses take firm root in the soil of the Orient.
The New York papers, the Sun of September 2 and the Daily Tribune of September 3, followed suit, taking a delight, it seemed, in Swamiji’s triumph, as well as in India’s gratitude to the American people.
India had at last become aware of her responsibility to her champion. Following *ttic Madras Meeting, other public meetings were held throughout India, with the utmost jubilation and ceremony. The Calcutta Meeting of September 5, in which the “enthusiasm reached a pitch of frenzy,” perhaps meant the most to Swamiji, for Calcutta was not only his birthplace, where his life and character were well known, but was the seat of Mr. Mazoomdar’s opposition. It was owing largely to the efforts of Swami Abhedananda, one of Swamiji’s brother monks, that this crowning and highly successful meeting was held. “[The Swami] worked day and night like a mad man for the meeting” Mahendranath Dutt, Swamiji’s brother wrote, “and raised funds for the purpose from his acquaintances. He had the proceedings of the meeting printed and sent them to the press for wider publicity, and he performed this task with the utmost devotion.” (“Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda” in Bengali.) The acclaim of Calcutta vindicated Swamiji as nothing else could, setting upon him and his work the official seal of approval with final and indisputable authority and silencing his enemies once and for all. When the climactic news arrived from Calcutta, Swamiji wrote in the fullness of his joy and gratitude to the Hales. This letter is perhaps the most heart-rending of all Swamiji’s letters, revealing as it does how humanly deep his previous sufferings must have been and how childlike and pure his joy at the news of his vindication. Thus, although it has been published in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works” and may be familiar to the reader, I feel that it should be included here. (It should be mentioned that in Volume VIII, and also in a copy of the original, this letter has been given the date, July 9, 1894 – a date which must be in error; for the letter obviously refers to the Calcutta Meeting and, therefore, could not have been written earlier than late September. I quote from an unedited version:)
Oh my sisters
Glory unto Jagadamba [Mother of the Universe] – I have gained beyond expectations – the prophet has been honored and with a vengeance. I am weeping like a child at His mercy – He never leaves his servant, sisters – The letter I send you will explain all – and the printed things are coming to the American people – The names there are the very flower of our country. The president was the chief nobleman of Calcutta and the other man Mahesh Chander Nyaya-ratna is the principal of Sanscrit College and the chief Brahman in all India and recognized by the Government as such – The letter will tell you all – Oh! sisters! what a rogue am I that in the face of such mercies sometimes the faith totters – seeing every moment that I am in his hands –
Still the mind sometimes gets despondent. Sisters, there is a God – a father – Mother who never leaves his children – never, never, never – Put uncanny theories aside and becoming children take refuge in Him – I cannot write more – I am weeping like a woman.
Blessed Blessed art thou Lord God of my Soul –
Yours affly Vivekananda –
News of the Calcutta Meeting duly reached the American papers. This time, however, a dissenting voice was heard. The Critic, a periodical which was ordinarily favorable to Swamiji, viewed with a somewhat irritated and jaundiced eye the proceedings in Calcutta. The following article was printed on May 4, 1895:
On the return [?] of their delegate, Swami Vivekananda from the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, the Hindu community of Calcutta met in the Town Hall, 5 Sept., 1894, to thank him and the American people publicly. A large number of influential orthodox Pundits were in this great gathering of nearly 4000 people, and the speeches and proceedings were mostly in English. The English and Bengali texts are reprinted in a pamphlet, from which Oriental and American readers can find out what took place. We have read all the speeches that were given in English, and from them it is very evident that modern America has but just been discovered by these our Oriental brethren. It is very evident also, that the Hindu is as fond of hifaluting panegyric and bombastic conceit as is the American when he breaks loose on the Fourth of July. Apart from the naturally strong expression of faith and joy in their own Hindu tenets, we are informed by one of these fellow Aryans of ours of what we owe to the dwellers in the land of the Vedas. Almost everything of high thought and aspiration in Christendom, it seems, may be traced to one or another of the successive influxes of Hindu ideas. We learn also that, while America is starving for spiritual nourishment, pretty much all the men and women of light and leading among us are turning to Hinduism for mental food, and that the prospect of the people of the United States becoming Hindus is excellent. One must go abroad to get the latest home news. The pamphlet is well calculated to burn like red pepper in the eyes of the ultraorthodox Christian hater of the study of comparative religions, and to warm the cockles of the hearts of all who would enjoy seeing Christianity sink to a level among the various religions of the world. The sagacious man who can read between the lines, who has some sense of humor, and who enjoys human nature in its various manifestations will appreciate this proof that in both its needs and aspirations, as well as in conceit and boasting, the whole world is kin. Only 2000 copies of these “Proceeding of the Calcutta Town Hall Meeting Regarding Swami Vivekananda” have been printed. (Calcutta: New Calcutta Press).
But although there may have been resentment in some quarters, there could no longer be doubt in anyone’s mind that Swami Vivekananda was a prophet well honored in his own country.