12. THE LAST BATTLE
“I arrived safely in New York and proceeded at once to Brooklyn where I arrived in time,” Swamiji wrote to Mrs. Ole Bull on Friday, December 28 – the function for which he arrived in time being an evening reception given him by Mr. Charles M. Higgins on that same Friday. “We had a nice evening,” Swamiji continues. “Several gentlemen belonging to the Ethical Culture Society came to sec me. . . . Dr. Janes was as usual very kind and good and Mr. Higgins is as practical as ever.”
The Brooklyn Ethical Association, which is what Swamiji meant by “the Ethical Culture Society,” was founded in 1881 by Dr. Lewis G. Janes, who in 1885 became its president. Because of Janes* frequent lectures on the subject, the Association soon became known as a defender of evolutionary views and an exponent of Herbert Spencer’s system of philosophy, ethics and sociology. Janes, largely self-educated, was an ardent and excellent scholar, devoted to the spirit of free inquiry. In 1896 he relinquished the presidentship of the Ethical Association and became the director of the Cambridge Conferences, an annual scries of lectures for “the comparative study of ethics, religion, and philosophy” that Mrs. Ole Bull had started in her home. Janes also became the director of the Monsalvat School of Comparative Religion at Green acre, and, in 1899, was elected president of the Free Religious Association, upon the retirement of Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson. “[Janes] and I agree so much,” Swamiji had written from Green-acre, but whether Janes agreed entirely with Swamiji’s metaphysics, which left the Spencerian doctrine of evolution far behind, is open to question. His mind, however, was broad and flexile enough to weigh carefully any viewpoint earnestly
and rationally held, and when his support was needed he was to become one of Swamiji’s most loyal and articulate champions. Indeed Dr. Janes was one of the few men in America who openly and uncompromisingly defended Swamiji against attack.
Mr. Charles M. Higgins – the Higgins of the then well-known Charles M. Higgins & Co., Manufacturers of Inks and Adhesives – was a member of the Committee on Comparative Religion of the Brooklyn Ethical Association. In November of 1894 he had had a ten-page pamphlet printed about Swamiji, which he distributed, as the title page tells, “among those interested in the study of Oriental Religions.” This pamphlet, which has recently come into our hands, was well prepared and consists of articles regarding Swamiji taken from both American and Indian newspapers, some of which have already been quoted in the course of this narrative. Under what circumstances Mr. Higgins had it printed is not known, for as yet we know almost nothing of Swamiji’s life during most of November, 1894. Perhaps Mr. Higgins, being a practical man, distributed the pamphlet as a sort of forerunner to Swamiji’s coming lectures at the Brooklyn Ethical Association. In any case, it stands as evidence of the regard in which Swamiji’s friends held him.
Mr. Higgins, “practical as ever,” evidently invited a reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to his reception ; for on December 30, that paper ran the following article (written on December 29), which was accompanied by a line drawing of Swamiji in his turban:
VISIT OF A HINDOO MONK
To Lecture To-morrow on Vedic Philosophy
He Comes to Brooklyn at the Request of the Ethical Society, and Last Night was Given a Reception at the Residence Of Charles M. Higgins.
The Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, who has been well known in this country since the time of the
world fair, when he attended the congress of religions, arrived in this city on Friday from Boston. He has-accepted an invitation from Charles M. Higgins of 499 Fourth street to lecture before the Brooklyn Ethical society, the admission to which will be free to all. In order that his guest might become acquainted with some of Brooklyn’s well known people and the members of the society before which he is to lecture Mr. Higgins gave an informal reception at his home in Fourth street Friday night. Among the people there were William C. Burling, Abram H. Dailey, Delmore Elwell, Dr. Lewis G. Janes, Dr. Charles H. Shepard, Mrs. Charles H. Shepard, Miss Shepard, James A. Skilton, Miss Mary Phillips, H. W. Phillips and Professor Landsbery [Landsbcrg] of New York. The reception was entirely informal. The people who were l here talked on various topics, but the chief one discussed was that in which the monk was most deeply interested, the philosophy of the Vedic religions. He explained many points which had previously been a mystery to his hearers as a foretaste of his lecture at the Pouch gallery to-morrow evening.
Of Swami Vivekananda, an Indian admirer [G. CL Narasimhachariar of Madras] observes: “The first that strikes you when you look at his calm and pleasant face is his eyes, which are large and brilliant, and whenever he gets enthusiastic over anything, they roll and shed a peculiar luster. He would not say anything about himself, and all that I am able to tell you now about his early life is what I gleaned from respectable persons who knew him from his infancy. He is a man of about 32 or 33 years of age. He belongs to a respectable family in Bengal and is a graduate of the Calcutta university. His secular name was Norendra Nath Dutta. In his younger days, unlike other youths of his age, he showed a strong inclination for spiritual things. He would never pass the Salvation army marching in the streets of Calcutta, or a Brahmo Samaj congregation without joining them and chanting their chorus. He was very fond of frequenting holy places and talking to holy personages. His 20th year marks an epoch of his life, when, on the death of his father, he became a sanyasi (monk), under the illustrious Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He lived with the Paramahamsa for a period and, after his death, he took to traveling. He lived on the Himalayas for some time, and, after traveling on foot to Thibet and other places, he returned to India. He used to speak occasionally of the sublime sceneries and the eternal snow regions of the Himalayas, and say that while there he first acquired calmness of mind. After ten or twelve years [?| of such a life, he took a vow to travel the whole of India and not to touch metal. It was during this trip that many of us became acquainted with him. It was by fortuitous concurrence of circumstances that we met him. We met him at a time when many of our young men at Madras were absorbed in their fashionable thoughts of the day, at a time when they had no proper idea of their own selves and their mission in this world. It was a godsend to many of them that they met one so full of spirituality that even a short contact with him made them turn over a new leaf in their lives. They found in him a wonderful combination of religious orthodoxy and social radicalism, Western scholarship and Eastern spiritual wisdom. He claimed equal rank both with the Pandits and with the professors. His discourses on any subject were interesting, but on a religious question, non pareil. Sri Paramahamsa Ramakrishna is said to have once observed that Narendra Nath had in him both the spirit of divine knowledge and the spirit of divine love highly developed. Nobody who came in contact with him escaped the magic influence of his heart. The happiness which one felt in his company was not a mere gratification of the intellect, but it transcended all emotions of the heart. I am not competent enough, gentlemen, to pass an opinion on his knowledge. But this much I can say, that his eloquent course on the
teachings of Krishna turned many a man into a statue.
He preached a wonderful religion of harmony. He taught that tlic Vedas should be studied through the spectacle of evolution; that they contain the whole history of the process of religion until religion has reached its perfection in unity – Advaitism; and that no new religious idea is preached anywhere which is not found in the Vedas, which teach from Agnitnida [Agnimide] to Tatsah [Tat Sat]. To him the seeming contradictions and conflicting teachings of the Vedas are all true as describing portions of the one Infinite Reality ; and Hinduism, where one passes from truth to truth, and not from error to truth as in other religions, was the religion of religions. He defined God as the apex of the triangle of creation and drew a sharp line between God and Brahman.”
Swamiji’s first lecture sponsored by the Ethical Association was given at what was known as the Pouch Mansion. This building was on one of the wide, tree-lined avenues of Brooklyn’s residential district. I visited the spot where the Pouch Mansion had once stood, hoping to find it still there, but in its place found a tall, red brick apartment building. Here and there on the same street remained large residences surrounded by spacious lawns and gardens, all of which bespoke Swamiji’s era, but these too are rapidly being replaced by the ubiquitous and characterless red brick. I mention this nostalgic fact, not to decry change, but only to impress upon the reader that it was a very different scene that greeted Swamiji than greets us today. It was a world in which men generally moved not much faster than the trot of a horse, in which a motorman of an electric trolley – of which Brooklyn boasted – was arrested for going at the death-defying speed of twelve and a half miles an hour and in which a controversy was raging as to whether or not a revolver might be more serviceable to the cavalry than a saber or a sword.
Swamiji’s first lecture in Brooklyn was reported not only by the Brooklyn papers, but by the New York Tribune of December 31. The following excerpt from the Tribune is typical of the confusion prevailing at the time regarding Hinduism:
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA IN BROOKLYN
The Pouch Mansion, in Brooklyn, was crowded last evening by an audience assembled to hear a lecture by Swami Vivekananda, of Bombay, upon “The Religions of India.” The lecture was under the direction of the Brooklyn Ethical Association. Dr. Lewis G. Janes presided. The lecturer, who is a Hindoo monk, represented the religion of the Hindoos at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago last year.
He appeared in his native garb, with a yellow turban and a scarlet robe. In the course of his lecture he expounded the Zoroastrian philosophy, founded upon the Vedas. He said that the religion of the Hindoos taught a positive something and not a negative nothing.
After the address a number of questions put by A. W. Tenney, Dr. R. G. Ecdcs, Delmore El well and others were answered by Mr Vivekananda. A reception was given for him before the lecture.
Swamiji’s lecture on “The Religions of India” (during which he does not seem to have expounded Zoroastrian philosophy) will not be unfamiliar to readers of “The Complete Works,” for a report of it, which appeared in the Brooklyn Standard Union of December 31, 1894, has been reproduced in Volume I under the title, “The Hindu Religion.” In early editions of “The Complete Works” the Standard Union report has been quoted in fffil, but in later editions one finds that the descriptive portions have been omitted. These portions have also been omitted, or at least greatly reduced, in the fourth edition of “The Life.” Inasmuch as the vivid picture of Swamiji painted by the reporter of the Standard Union is nowadays out of print, I am reproducing the descriptive part of the article in full, omitting the lecture proper. (It should perhaps be mentioned that this lecture can be found “not only in Volume I of “The Complete Works” but in Volume IV as well, under the title, “Indian Religious Thought” This latter article differs in wording from the first but is in essence the same.)
The Ancient Vedas Defended by Swami Vivekananda.
An Ancient Religion of Love With the Modern Attribute of Sciences and Philosophy – The Migration of the Soul and Individual Divinity
“All Kinds of Religions Must be True”
It was the voice of the ancient Rishis of the Vedas speaking sweet words of love and toleration through the Hindoo monk Paramhamsa Swami Vivekananda, that held spellbound last evening every one of those many hundreds who had accepted the invitation of the Brooklyn Ethical Society and packed the large lecture hall and the adjoining rooms of the Pouch Gallery on Clinton avenue to overflowing.
The fame of the Oriental ascetic, who came to this Western world as the emissary and representative of the most ancient form of philosophical religious worship, Buddhism, had preceded him, and as a result men of all professions and callings – doctors and lawyers and judges and teachers – together with many ladies, had come from all parts of the city to listen to his strangely beautiful and eloquent defense of the “Religions of India” They had heard of him as the delegate of the worshipers of Krishna and Brahma and Buddha to the “Parliament of Religions” at the World’s Fair in Chicago, where he had been the most honored of all pagan representatives; they had read of him as the philosopher who, for the sake of his religion,
had given up what promised to be a most brilliant career, who, by years of ardent and patient study, had taken the scientific culture of tfie West and had transplanted it to the mystic soil of the ancient tradition of the Hindus ; they had heard of his culture and his learning, of his wit and his eloquence, of his purity and sincerity and holiness, and hence they expected great things.
And they were not disappointed. “Swami” i.e., Master or Rabbi or Teacher Vivekananda is even greater than his fame. As he stood, last night, upon the dias in his picturesque kafftan of bright red, a stray curl of jet-black hair creeping from under the many folds of his orange turban, his swarthy face reflecting the brilliancy of his thoughts, his large, expressive eyes, bright with the enthusiasm of a prophet, and his mobile mouth uttering, in deep melodious tones and in almost perfect English, only words of love and sympathy and toleration, he was a splendid type of the famous sages of the Himalayas, a prophet of a new religion, combining the morality of the Christians with the philosophy of the Buddhists, and his hearers understood why, on Sept. 4, 1894, a crowded mass meeting at Calcutta was held for the sole purpose of “publicly recording the grateful appreciation of his countrymen for his great services rendered to the cause of Hinduism.”
Whatever else may be said of the Swami’s lecture or address (for it was spoken extemporaneously), it was certainly intensely interesting. After thanking the audience cordiafPP for the hearty reception it had given him after his introduction by Dr. Janes, the president of the Ethical Association, Swami Vivekananda said in part: [Here follows the report of Swamiji’s lecture which can be found in Volume I of “The Complete Works” under the title, “The Hindu Religion.” The article ended with the following paragraph:]
The speaker was frequently and heartily applauded. At the end of his lecture he devoted some fifteen
minutes to answering questions, after which he held an informal reception.
The December 31 issues of the Brooklyn Times and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle also contain lengthy reports of this same lecture. They vary somewhat from the report in the Standard Union and read, respectively, as follows:
BROOKLYN ETHICAL ASSOCIATION Addressed by Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo Monk.
The Brooklyn Ethical Association, at the Pouch Gallery last night, tendered a reception to Swami Vivekananda, of Bombay, the Hindoo monk who first came into prominence in this country, as the representative of the religion of the Hindus, at the Congress of Religions, at Chicago, during the World’s Fair.
Previous to the reception the distinguished visitor delivered a remarkably interesting lecture on “The Religions of India.” The interest excited by Swami Vivekananda and his lecture, was shown in the numbers present. The rooms were crowded to suffocation. Long before the commencement of the lecture, all the seats [a line omitted here by the printer] was a luxury, by the time the visitor from the far East began to talk.
Swami Vivekananda made his appearance last night in his native Eastern costume. He is a heavily built man of medium stature, with a bright, handsome face and dark, flashing eyes, and when he smiles he reveals two rows of even, white teeth. Last night he wore a turban, and a bright scarlet cloak enveloped his form clear down to his feet. He speaks English fluently. He delivered his lecture in a sort of monotone which was not at all unpleasant. He speaks with an earnestness that seems to carry conviction with his words. Among other things he said:
“The Hindoo’s view of life is that we are here to
learn ; the whole happiness of life is to learn ; the human soul is here to love learning and get experience. I am able to read my Bible better by your Bible, and you will learn to read your Bible the better by my Bible. If there is but one religion to be true, all the rest must be true. The same truth has manifested itself in different forms, and the forms are according to the different circumstances of the physical or mental nature of the different nations.
“If matter and its transformation answer for all that we have, there is no necessity for supposing the existence of a soul. But it can [not] be proven that thought has been evolved out of matter. We can not deny that bodies inherit certain tendencies, but those tendencies only mean the physical configuration through which a peculiar mind alone can act in a peculiar way. These peculiar tendencies in that soul have been caused by past actions. A soul with a certain tendency will take birth in a body which is the fittest instrument for the display of that tendency, by the laws of affinity. And this is in perfect accord with science, for science wants to explain everything by habit, and habit is got through repetitions. So these repetitions are also necessary to explain the natural habits of a new-born soul. They were not got in this present life : therefore, they must have come down from past lives.
“All religions are so many stages. Each one of them represents the stage through which the human soul passes to realize God. Therefore, not one of them should be neglected. None of the stages are dangerous or bad. They are good. Just as a child becomes a young man, and a young man becomes an old man, so they are traveling from truth to truth ; they become dangerous only when they become rigid, and will not move further – when he ceases to grow. If the child refuses to become a young man, or a young man refuses to become an old man, then he is diseased, but if they steadily grow, each step will lead them onward until
they reach the whole truth. Therefore, we believe in both a personal and impersonal God, and at the same time we believe in all the religions that were, all the religions that are, and all the religions that will be in the world. We also believe we ought not only tolerate these religions, but to accept them.
“In the material physical world, expansion is life, and contraction is death. Whatever ceases to expand ceases to live. Translating this in the moral world we have: If one would expand, he must love, and when he ceases to love he dies. It is your nature ; you must, because that is the only law of life. Therefore, we must love God for love’s sake, so we must do our duty for duty’s sake ; we must work for work’s sake without looking for any reward – know that you are purer and more perfect, know that this is the real temple of God.”
He closed his lecture with a scries of arguments showing that religion is based upon experience.
At the conclusion of the lecture, Swami Vive-kananda answered questions pertinent to his subject, which were propounded by members of the association.
THE RELIGIONS OF INDIA
Lecture by Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu Monk.
He Addressed a Large Audience under the Auspices of the Ethical Society. In a Picturesque Garb He Discusses the Tenets of the Ancient Vedas.
A large audience gathered in the Pouch mansion last evening to listen to a lecture by Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, on “The Religions of India.” The gallery, the parlor adjoining and the hall were filled to overflowing, many of the audience standing throughout the entire lecture. The speaker was
introduced by Dr. Lewis G. Janes, president of the Brooklyn Ethical association, under whose auspices the lecture was given. He wore a bright red robe, reaching just below the knee and bound at the waist with a girdle of darker red. On his head was a turban of light yellow silk. He is a man of medium height, of stout build, and his face, which u rather swarthy in color, was cleanly shaven. His eyes are dark and large and his features regular. His voice is low and musical. He spoke in a monotone and his language was marked with a slight foreign accent.
After referring to the views of the Mohammedans, the Buddhists and other religious schools of India, the speaker said that the Hindoos received their religion through the revelations of the Vedas, who teach that creation is without beginning or end. They teach that man is a spirit living in a body. The body will die, but the man will not. The spirit will go on living. The soul was not created from nothing for creation means a combination and that means a certain future dissolution. If then the soul was created it must die. Therefore, it was not created. He might be asked how it is that we do not remember anything of our past lives. This could be easily explained. Consciousness is the name only of the surface of the mental ocean, and within its depths are stored up all our experiences. The desire was to find out something that was stable. The mind, the body, all nature, in fact, is changing. This question of finding something that was infinite had long been cjiscussed. One school of which the modern Buddhists are the representatives, teach that everything that could not be solved by the five senses was non-existent. That every object is dependent upon all others, that it is a delusion that man is an independent entity. The idealists, on the other hand, claim that each individual is an independent body. The true solution of this problem is that nature is a mixture of dependence and independence, of reality and idealism. There is a dependence which is proved by the fact that the movements of our bodies are controlled by our minds, and our minds are controlled by the spirit within us, which Christians call the soul. Death is but a change. Those who have passed beyond and are occupying high positions there are but the same as those who remain here, and those who are occupying lower positions there are the same as others here. Every human being is a perfect being. If we sit down in the dark and lament that it is so dark it will profit us nothing, but if we procure matches and strike a light, the darkness goes out immediately. So, if we sit down and lament that our bodies are imperfect, that our souls are imperfect, we are not profited. When we call in the light of reason, then this darkness of doubt will disappear. The object of life is to learn. Christians can learn from the Hindus, and the Hindus from Christians. He could read his Bible better after reading ours. “Tell your children” he said, “that religion is a positive something, and not a negative something. It is not the teachings of men, but a growth, a development of something higher within our nature that seeks outlet. Every child born into the world is born with a certain accumulated experience. The idea of independence which possesses us shows there is something in us besides mind and body. The body and mind are dependent. The soul that animates us is an independent factor that creates this wish for freedom. If we are not free how can we hope to make the world good or perfect? We hold that we are makers of ourselves, that what we have we make ourselves. We have made it and we can unmake it. We believe in God, the Father of us all, the Creator and Preserver of His children, omnipresent and omnipotent. We believe in a personal God, as you do, but we go further. We believe that we are He. We believe in all the religions that have gone before, in all that now exist and in all that are to come. The Hindu bows down to the all religion [sic] for in this world the idea is addition, not subtraction. We would make up a bouquet of all beautiful colors for God, the Creator, who is a personal God. We must love God for love’s sake, we must do our duty to Him for duty’s sake, and must work for Him for work’s sake and must worship Him for worship’s sake.
“Books are good but they are only maps. Reading a book by direction of a man I read that so many inches of rain fell during the year. Then he told me to take the book and squeeze it between my hands. I did so and not a drop of water came from it. It was the idea only that the book conveyed. So we can get good from books, from the temple, from the church, from anything, so long as it leads us onward and upward. Sacrifices, genuflections, rumblings and mutterings are not religion. They are all good if they help us to come to a perception of the perfection which we shall realize when we come face to face with Christ. ‘These are words or instructions to us by which we may profit. Columbus, when he discovered this continent, went Backand told his countrymen that he had found the new world. They would not believe him, or some would not, and he told them to go and search for themselves. So with us, we read these truths and come in and find the truths for ourselves and then we have a belief which no one can take from us.”
After the lecture an opportunity was given those present to question the speaker on any point on which they wished to have his views. Many of them availed themselves of this offer. In answer to a question as to the origin of evfl the lecturer said he would try to answer it, if the questioner would prove the existence of evil. Devil worship, he said, was not a part of the Hindoo religion. All men were not equally enlightened, therefore some were better or purer than others, but every man had a chance to make himself better; we cannot unmake ourselves, we cannot destroy the force, that force which animates us, but we can give it a different direction.’ In reply to a question as to the
individuality and the question of cosmic entity of matters [sic] about us or whether they were simply imaginings of our mind, the speaker replied by relating the story of a scholar, [who] when asked by his teacher what would happen if the earth should fall [said]: “Where would it fall to?” The world is certainly an entity in his opinion, but it mattered not whether it was or not. We are moving onward and upward. We are not individuals now. Our souls and spirits are individualities in us. When we pass from this state to the higher state and meet God face to face we shall be perfect individuals. As to the question of the blind man brought to Christ and the question asked of Him whether he or his parents sinned that he was born blind, the speaker said that while the question of sin did not enter into the problem in his mind, he was convinced that the blindness was due to some act on the part of the spirit in the man. Asked as to whether or not the spirit passed at death into a state of happiness the speaker replied: “Time and space are in you.
You are not in time and space. It is enough to know that as we make our lives better here as every opportunity is given us, we come nearer and nearer to the perfect man.”
A more complete version of the question and answer period which followed Swamiji’s lecture of December 30 has been published in Volume V of “The Complete Works” in the section entitled “Questions and Answers.” It will be found that Swamiji was also asked: “What is the Hindu theory of the transmigration of souls?” “Why are the women of India not much elevated?” “Do you not think if the fear of future hell-fire were taken from man, there would be no controlling him?” “Do you intend to introduce the practices and rituals of the Hindu religion into this country?” (To this last he answered: “I am preaching simply philosophy.”) It was during the course of this discussion that, in addition to giving succinct answers to all the questions asked, Swamiji first made his now famous statement: “I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East.” (A year later an identical statement was quoted in an article on Swamiji published in the New York Herald of January 19, 1896.)
In a letter to Mrs. Bull, which I shall reproduce in full later on, Swamiji wrote of the success of his first lecture in Brooklyn: “Some [of the prominent members of the Ethical
Society] thought that such Oriental religious subjects will not interest the Brooklyn public. But the lecture through the blessings of the Lord proved a tremendous success. About 800 of the elite of Brooklyn were present and the very gentlemen who thought it would not prove a success are trying for organizing a series in Brooklyn.” Of Swamiji’s immediate success in Brooklyn Miss Ellen Waldo, who was a member of the Ethical Association and who later became one of Swamiji’s most devoted disciples, writes in her “Introductory Narrative” to “Inspired Talks”: “The lecture was on ‘Hinduism’ and as the
Swami, in his long robe and turban, expounded the ancient religion of his native land, the interest grew so deep that at the close of the evening there was an insistent demand for regular classes in Brooklyn. The Swami graciously acceded and a series of class meetings was held and several public lectures were given in the Pouch Mansion and elsewhere.” Announcing the series of public lectures, the Brooklyn Ethical Association sent out the following bulletin:
Brooklyn Ethical Association
LECTURES BY SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, of India,
Pouch Gallery, 345 Clinton Avenue,
Near Lafayette Avenue.
Religious and Social Customs in India.
Sunday Evening, January 20th, 1895:
Ideals of Womanhood, – Hindu, Mohammedan and Christian.
Sunday Evening, February 3d, 1895:
Buddhism as understood in India.
Sunday Evening, February 17th, 1895:
The Vedas and Religion of the Hindus. What is Idolatry ?
Commencing At 8 p.m.
Course Tickets, $100 Single Admission, 50 Cents. These Lectures are for the joint benefit of the Swami Vivekananda’s Educational Work, and the Publication Fund of the Ethical Association.
THE BROOKLYN ETHICAL ASSOCIATION takes pleasure in announcing that it has engaged the services of the distinguished and eloquent Hindu Monk, SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, of Bombay, India, for a series of lectures on the important topics above specified. The profound interest which has been awakened in our city by the address of the lecturer before the Association at the Pouch Gallery, on the evening of Sunday, December 30, has aroused a general and widespread desire to hear further from this able apostle of Hinduism, of the Vedas, and the Philosophy of the Vedanta, not only upon subjects religious and philosophical, but upon the phases of modern life now presented in India. Upon all these topics the lecturer speaks with authority. He is, by birth and education, deeply imbued with the profound mysteries of the Brahman faith, than which no more interesting and profoundly suggestive system has yet been offered in the history of speculative thought. His views upon comparative religion are those of the universal acceptance of all creeds and beliefs as essentially true, and to be interpreted as necessary phases of the religious sentiment. We reprint the following from his address before the Parliament of Religions: [Here follows an excerpt regarding the unity of religions from Swamiji’s “Paper on Hinduism” and, following that, a quotation from the Brooklyn Standard Union of
December 31, 1894. An announcement at the end of the bulletin read: ]
Tickets for sale at Chandler’s, at the Pouch Gallery on the evenings of the Lectures, or may be obtained of Members of the Association.
According to the above bulletin, three weeks elapsed between Swamiji’s first lecture in Brooklyn and his second of January 20, 1895. As will be seen later, he spent these weeks in Chicago, where he visited the Hale family. To avoid confusion it should also be mentioned that the above schedule of lectures was subsequently changed. The third lecture, “The Vedas and Religion of the Hindus. What is Idolatry ?” which was scheduled for February 17, did not, as far as is known, take place. In its stead Swamiji lectured on “India’s Gift to The World” on Monday evening, February 25. In addition he gave in Brooklyn two “parlor lectures” and, on April 7, a final lecture at the Pouch Mansion on “Some Customs of the Hindus: What They Mean and How They Are Misinterpreted.”
To judge from his enthusiastic reception in Brooklyn, the time, on the whole, was ripe for receiving his message. Compared to the Midwest, the East Coast was broad-minded. Moreover, few dared openly oppose Swamiji, whose fame had traveled so widely, who was revered by so many American men and women of high intellectual and social standing, who had been officially recognized by India as the most outstanding representative of her highest religious and philosophical thought, and who was known by now as a power to be respected. The direct opposition from the Christian missionary camps had been silenced. It must be said, however, that indirectly the orthodox clergy was still active in the efforts to nullify his influence.
There was, for instance, one Reverend Dr. T. De Witt Talmagc of Brooklyn, who was taking a trip around the world and, through a series of newspaper articles mailed from India, was enlightening America regarding the superstition and sin of heathendom. The Reverend Dr. Talmage’s “Round-the-World” series ran through December of 1894 and into January of 1895 and was published not alone in Brooklyn but in other cities as well. A few excerpts from Talmage’s weekly articles will suffice to show what kind of thing the American people were being fed. Talmage, who was, incidentally, immensely popular and on the platform a showman of no mean ability, wrote as follows: “To show you what Hinduism and Mohammedanism really are, where they have full swing, and not as they represent themselves in a ‘Parliament of Religions’ and to demonstrate to what extent of cruelty and abomination human nature may go when fully let loose, and to illustrate the hardening process of sin, and to remind you how our glorious Christianity may utter its triumph over death and the grave, I preach this my second sermon in the ‘Round-the-World* series, and I shall speak of ‘The City of Blood,’ or Cawnporc, India.” “The life of the missionary is a luxurious and indolent life. Hindooism is a religion that ought not to be interfered with. Christianity is guilty of an impertinence when it invades heathendom; you must put in the same line of reverence Brahma, Buddha, Mohammed and Christ. To refute these slanders and blasphemies now so prevalent, and to spread out before the Christian world the contrast between idolatrous and Christian countries, I preach this sermon . . .” “The Ganges is to the Hindoo the best river of all the earth, but to me it is the vilest stream that ever rolled its stench in horror to the sea. . . . Benares is the capital of Hindooism and Buddhism. But Hindooism has trampled out Buddhism, the hoof of the one monster on the grisly neck of the other monster. It is also the capital of filth and the capital of malodors, and the capital of indecency.” “Notwithstanding all that may have been said in its [Hinduism’s] favor at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, it makes a man a brute, and woman the lowest type of slave. I would rather be a horse or a cow or a dog in India than be a woman. The greatest disaster that can happen to a Hindoo is that he was born at all.”
Thus did Talmagc, week after week, in column after column, share his travels with his public. Nor did he leave them without hope:
“. . . the missionaries are busy,” he wrote, “some of them in the churches, in chapels, and bazaars. … In its mightiest stronghold [Banaras] Hindooism is being assaulted. . . . Christianity is undermining heathenism, and not a city or town,
or neighborhood of India but directly or indirectly feels the influence, and the day speeds on when Hindooism will go down with a crash. . . . All India will be taken for Christ.” . . all the mosques and temples of superstition and sin will yet be turned into churches. . . . The last mosque of Mohammedanism will be turned into a Christian Church. The last Buddhist temple will become a fortress of light. The last idol of Hindooism will be pitched into the fire.”
This type of thing was in the nature of a last stand on the part of the Christian missionaries, and it is perhaps significant that the Rev. Dr. T. De Witt Talmage had been for several months out of touch with the trend of thought in America. He was fighting a battle already lost, for, as Swamiji wrote to India in the last part of 1894: “Here the missionaries and their ilk have howled themselves into silence and the whole world will ¦do likewise.”
There was, however, one more battle to be waged between Swamiji and the missionaries’ ilk, who found it their Christian duty to malign India in the name of “helping” her and who were thrown off balance by any word in her favor. In Brooklyn, bitter opposition from a new source was aroused by the report of Swamiji’s second lecture sponsored by the Brooklyn Ethical Association. This lecture, “Ideals of Womanhood – Hindu, Mohammedan and Christian,” was delivered at the Pouch Mansion on Sunday evening, January 20, and was reported by the Standard Union of January 21, as follows:
She is the Wife in the West, the Mother in the Orient.
Story of Umar and Shiver [Uma and Shiva]
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu Monk, Speaks to A Large Audience at the Pouch Mansion – The Perfect Woman a Mixture of All Ideals,
Perhaps the Remedy of All Evils.
Swami Vivekananda, the celebrated Hindu monk,
somewhat disappointed the large audience which had assembled last night at the Pouch Mansion, on Clinton avenue, to hear his lecture on “Ideals of Womanhood – Hindu, Mohammedan and Christian,” the first in a course of three given under the auspices of the Brooklyn Ethical Association.
Not that the discourse was uninteresting – far from that; but Swami Vivekananda seemed to digress toa often into subjects only distantly related to the theme proper, thereby mystifying and confusing his hearers. Still, the lecture contained so many beautiful thoughts, so many noble truths, so many bright pictures of the customs and conditions of a race so wholly different from our own, that no one can regret the two hours spent last night at the feet of this Oriental philosopher and sage. Swami Vivekananda, after being presented to the audience by Dr. Janes, president of the Ethical Association, said in part:
“The product of the slums of any nation cannot be the criterion of our judgment of that nation. One may collect the rotten, worm-eaten apples under every apple tree in the world, and write a book about each of them, and still know nothing of the beauty and possibilities of the apple tree. Only in the highest and best can we judge a nation – the fallen are a race by themselves. Thus it is not only proper, but just and right, to judge a custom by its best, by its ideal.
“The ideal of womanhood centres in the Arian race of India, the most ancient in the world’s history. In that race, men and women were priests, “sabatimini [saha-dharniini],” or co-religionists, as the Vedas call them. There every family had its hearth or altar, on which, at the time of the wedding, the marriage fire was kindled, which was kept alive, until either spouse died, when the funeral pile was lighted from its spark. There man and wife together offered their sacrifices, and this idea was carried so far that a man could not even pray alone, because it was held that he was only half a being, for that reason no unmarried man could
become a priest. The same held true in ancient Rome and Greece.
“But with the advent of a distinct and separate priestclass, the co-priesthood of the woman in all these nations steps back. First it was the Assyrian race, coming of Semitic blood, which proclaimed the doctrine that girls have no voice, and no right, even when married. The Persians drank deep of this Babylonian idea, and by them it was carried to Rome and to Greece, and everywhere woman degenerated.
“Another cause was instrumental in bringing this about – the change in the system of marriage. The earliest system was a matriarchal one ; that is, one in which the mother was the centre, and in which the girls acceded to her station. This led to the curious system of the Polianders [polyandry], where five and six brothers often married one wife. Even the Vedas contain a trace of it in the provision, that when a man died without leaving any children, his widow was permitted to live with another man, until she became a mother ; but the children she bore did not belong to their father, but to her dead husband. In later years the widow was allowed to marry again, which the modern idea forbids her to do.
“But side by side with these excrescences a very intense idea of personal purity sprang up in the nation. On every page the Vedas preach personal purity. The laws in this respect were extremely strict. Every boy and girl was sent to the university, where they studied until their twentieth or thirtieth year ; there the least impurity was punished almost cruelly. This idea of personal purity has imprinted itself deeply into the very heart of the race, amounting almost to a mania. The most conspicuous example of it is to be found in the capture of Chito [Chitor] by the Mohammedans. The men defended the town against tremendous odds; and when the women saw that defeat was inevitable they lit a monstrous fire on the market place, and when the enemy broke down the gates 74,500 women jumped on the huge funeral pile and perished in the flames. This noble example has been handed down in India to the present time, when every letter bears the words “74,500,” which means that any one who unlawfully reads the letter, thereby becomes guilty of a crime similar to the one which drove those noble women of Chi to to their death.
“The next period is that of the monks ; it came with the advent of Buddhism, which taught that only the monks could reach the ‘nirvana,’ something similar to the Christian heaven. The result was that all India became one huge monastery ; there was but one object, one battle – to remain pure. All the blame was cast onto women, and even the proverbs warned against them. ‘What is the gate to hell ?’ was one of them, to which the answer was: ‘woman.’ Another read: ‘What is the chain which binds us all to dust ? Woman/ Another one: ‘Who is the blindest of the blind ? He who is deceived by woman.’
“The same idea is to be found in the cloisters of the West. The development of all monasticism always meant the degeneration of women.
“But eventually another idea of womanhood arose. In the West it found its ideal in the wife, in India in the mother. But do not think that the priests were altogether responsible for this change. I know they always lay claim to everything in the world and I say this, although I am myself a priest. I’ll bend my knees to every prophet in every religion and clime, but candor compels me to say, that here in the West the development of women was brought about by men like John Stuart Mill and the revolutionary French philosophers. Religion has done something, no doubt, but not all. Why, in Asia Minor, Christian bishops to this day keep a harem l
“The Christian ideal is that which is found in the Anglo;Saxon race. The Mohammedan woman differs vastly from her western sisters in so far as her social and intellectual development is not so pronounced. But
do not, on that account, think that the Mohammedan woman is unhappy, because it is not so. In India woman has enjoyed property rights since thousands of years. Here a man may disinherit his wife, in India the whole estate of the deceased husband must go to the wife, personal property absolutely, real property for life.
“In India the mother is the centre of the family and our highest ideal. She is to us the representative of God, as God is the mother of the Universe. It was a female sage who first found the unity of God, and laid down this doctrine in one of the first hymns of the Vedas. Our God is both personal and absolute, the absolute is male, the personal, female. And thus it comes that we now say: ‘The first manifestation of
God is the hand that rocks the cradle’ He is of the ‘arian’ race, who is born through prayer, and he is a nonarian, who is born through sensuality.
“This doctrine of prenatal influence is now slowly being recognized, and science as well as religion calls out: ‘Keep yourself holy, and pure/ So deeply has this been recognized in India, that there we even speak of adultery in marriage, except when marriage is consummated in prayer. And I and every good Hindoo believe, that my mother was pure and holy, and hence I owe her everything that I am. That is the secret of the race – chastity.”
Of this lecture Swamiji wrote to Isabelle McKindley on January 24:
24th Jan 528 5th Ave New York
Dear Miss Bell I hope you are well . . .
My last lecture was not very much appreciated by the men but awfully so by vemen You know this Brooklyn is the centre of anti-women’s rights movements and when I told them that women deserve and
are fit for everything they did not like it of course. Never mind the women were in ecstasies.
I have got again a little cold. I am going to the Guernseys I have got a room downtown also where I will go several hours to hold my classes etc Mother church must be all right by this time and you are all enjoying this nice weather. Give Mrs. Adams mountain high love and regard from me when you see her next.
Send my letters as usual to the Guernseys.
With love for all
Ever your aff bro Vivekananda
But not all the “vemen” appreciated Swamiji’s lecture. In the light of the propaganda which had been spread by the Pundita Ramabai in America, it caused a furore among the members of the Ramabai Circle in Brooklyn. The tumult, however, did not become public until some five weeks after the lecture had been given, and will be dealt with later on. In the meantime, Swamiji delivered both public and semipublic lectures in Brooklyn.
A letter from Leon Landsberg to Isabelle McKindley, which has recently come into our hands, throws some light on his Brooklyn activities during the last week of January, 1895. The letter reads as follows:
54 W. 83rd str. New York, Jan’y. 26th. 95.
The enclosed circular may interest you.
Yesterday [January 25] the Swami held the first of a series of parlour lectures at Mrs. Auel’s residence in Brooklyn. The lecture was attended by about sixtyfive persons, most of them ladies. The Swami gave an outline of. the Upanishads and the Yoga system, and his conversation was highly appreciated. His next conversation will be on Tuesday next.
I am sorry to say that since his arrival from Chicago, the Swami is constantly suffering from colds. But I hope that with the change of weather he will regain his usual good health.
With sincere regards
The following bulletin was enclosed in the above letter:
BROOKLYN ETHICAL ASSOCIATION
LECTURE and CONVERSATION will be given by the SWAMI VIVEKANANDA of India,
Under the Auspices of the Brooklyn Ethical Association, at the Parlors of
Mrs. Charles Auel, 65, Lefferts Place,
Friday Afternoon, Jan. 25, 1895, At 3-30 O’clock, Preliminary to the formation of a Class for the Exposition and Study of the Upanishads and Yogi Doctrine, as taught and practised by the Sages of India.
Subject of the First Conversation:
“THE UPANISHADS, AND DOCTRINE OF THE SOUL.”
The expositions of the VEDANTA PHILOSOPHY and Religious and Ethical Teachings of the Hindus, by the SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, have delighted and instructed cultivated audiences in Cambridge, Chicago, St. Louis, and elsewhere in the United States.
The course of mental discipline inculcated is, it is claimed, based on scientific psychological principles.
One who has attended the Cambridge Classes of the SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, writes: He has helped
many students (in Harvard University) in the solution of philosophical problems in which they had become involved in their course of study”
As only a limited number can be admitted to these classes, a minimum fee of Fifty Cents will be charged for admission to each Conversation, payable at the door. Those who voluntarily desire, can contribute larger free-will offerings toward the Swami’s Educational work.
(The above mention of the “Cambridge Classes” refers, of course, to the morning talks which Swamiji gave during December at Mrs. Ole Bull’s home.)
As has been seen in Landsberg’s letter of January 26, Swamiji gave a “parlour lecture” in Brooklyn on January 29, as well as on January 25. Very likely there were more Brooklyn parlor lectures but unfortunately we have at present no record of them.
Swamiji’s third public lecture in Brooklyn at the Pouch Mansion was entitled, “Buddhism as Understood in India” This lecture was delivered on Sunday, February 3 and was reported upon in the Brooklyn Standard Union of Monday, February 4, as follows:
An Eloquent Defense of It by Swami Vivekananda
The Hindoo Monk at His Best
Buddhism a Reformation of Ancient Society and Religion – It Combated Casts, and was the First to Preach Mercy towards Animals – Scenes from the Life of Buddha – Meeting of the Ethical Society at the Pouch Mansion.
Never before, during his stay in this city, was Swami Vivekananda more eloquent or impressive than
last evening, when he spoke to a large audience, at the Pouch Mansion, on the subject: “Buddhism as Understood in India.” Himself imbued with a holy enthusiasm for the ancient religion of his forefathers, the celebrated Hindoo monk held his hearers spellbound with the fascinating earnestness of his speech.
Buddha has no truer disciple than this youthful priest, who, conscious of his own strength, boldly declares: “The morality of true Buddhism is the
noblest yet given to the world! ” His tribute to “Buddha, the Great, the Master,” was touching in its grand simplicity; as it was admirable in its noble eloquence. His words last night were not those of a paid exponent of a peculiar system of philosophy, but rather those of an apostle, preaching a creed which has become a part of his very self.
Swami Vivekananda, being presented by Dr. Janes, the president of the Ethical Association, under whose auspices these lectures are given, said in part: “The Hindoo occupies a unique position towards Buddhism. Like Christ, who antagonized the Jews, Buddha antagonized the prevailing religion of India ; but while Christ was rejected by his countrymen, Buddha was accepted as God Incarnate. He denounced the priest craft at the very doors of their temples, yet to-day he is worshipped by them.
“Not, however, the creed which bears his name. What Buddha taught, the Hindoo believes, but what the Buddhists teach, we do not accept. For the teachings of the Great Master, spread out broadcast over the land, came Backin tr£01tion, colored by the channels through which they passed.
“In order to understand Buddhism fully we must go Backto the mother religion from which it came. The books of Veda have two parts ; the first, Cura makanda [Karma Kanda], contains the sacrificial portion, while the second part, the Vedanta, denounces sacrifices, teaching charity and love, but not death. Each sect took up what portion it liked. The charvaka, or materialist,
basing his doctrine on the first part, believed that all was matter and that there is neither a heaven nor a hell, neither a soul nor a God. The second sect, the Gains [Jains], were very moral atheists, who, while rejecting the idea of a God, believed that there is a soul, striving for more perfect development. These two sects were called the heretics. A third sect was called orthodox, because it accepted the Vedas, although it denied the existence of a personal God, believing that everything sprang from the atom or nature.
“Thus the intellectual world was divided before Buddha came. But for a correct understanding of his religion, it is also necessary to speak of the caste then existing. The Vedas teach that he who knows God is a Brahma [Brahmana] ; he who protects his fellows is a Ghocta [Kshatriya], while he who gains his livelihood in trade is a Visha [Vaishya]. These different social diversions developed or degenerated into iron-bound casts [castes], and an organized and crystallized priestcraft stood upon the neck of the nation. At this time Buddha was born, and his religion is therefore the culmination of an attempt at a religious and a social reformation.
“The air was full of the din of discussion ; 20,000 blind priests were trying to lead 20,000,000 [?] blind men, fighting amongst themselves. What was more needed at that time than for a Buddha to preach? “Stop quarreling, throw your books aside, be perfect!’ Buddha never fought true casts, for they are nothing but the congregation of those of a particular natural tendency, and they are always valuable. But Buddha fought the degenerated casts with their hereditary privileges, and spoke to the Brahmins: ‘True Brahmins
are not greedy, nor criminal, nor angry – are you such? If not, do not mimic the genuine, real men. Cast is a state, not an iron-bound class, and every one who knows and loves God is a true Brahmin.’ And with regard to the sacrifices, he said: ‘Where do the Vedas say that
sacrifices make us pure? They may please, perhaps, the angels, but they make us no better. Hence, let off these mummeries – love God and strive to be perfect/
“In later years these doctrines of Buddha were forgotten. Going to lands yet unprepared for the reception of these noble truths, they came Backtainted with the foibles of these nations. Thus the Nihilists arose – a sect whose doctrine it was that the whole universe, God and soul, had no basis, but that everything is continually changing. They believed in nothing but the enjoyment of the moment, which eventually resulted in the most revolting orgies. That, however, is not the doctrine of Buddha, but a horrible degeneration of it, and honor to the Hindoo nation, who stood up and drove it out.
“Every one of Buddha’s teachings is founded in the Vedantas. He was one of those monks who wanted to bring out the truths, hidden in those books and in the forest monasteries. I do not believe that the world is ready for them even now ; it still wants those lower religions, which teach of a personal God. Because of this, the original Buddhism could not hold the popular mind, until it took up the modifications, which were reflected Backfrom Thibet and the Tartars. Original Buddhism was not at all nihilistic. It was but an attempt to combat cast and priestcraft; it was the first in the world to stand as champion of the dumb animals, the first to break down the caste, standing between man and man”
Swami Vivekananda concluded his lecture with the presentation of a jew pictures from the life of Buddha, the “great one, who never thought a thought and never performed a deed except for the good of others; who-had the greatest intellect and heart, taking in all mankind and all the animals, all embracing, ready to give up his life for the highest angels as well as for the lowest worm” He first showed how Buddha, for the purpose of saving a herd of sheep, intended for a king’s sacrifice, had thrown himself upon the altar, and thus accomplished his purpose. He next pictured how the great prophet
had parted from his wife and baby at the cry of suffering mankind, and how, lastly, after his teachings had been universally accepted ,in India, he accepted the invitation of a despised Pariah, who dined him on swine’s flesh, from the effects of which he died.
The New York World of February 4 briefly mentioned the lecture on Buddhism as follows:
AN EXPOSITION OF BUDDHISM
Six hundred people assembled in the ballroom of the Pouch Gallery at No. 345 Clinton Avenue, last evening to listen to an address by Swami Vivekananda, whose able expositions of the Veda’s philosophy have delighted large audiences in Brooklyn before.
As the address was to be given before the Brooklyn Ethical Association, the largest part of the audience were members of that organization.
It will be remembered that in his lecture at the Pouch Mansion on January 20 Swamiji had said: “In India woman
has enjoyed property rights since thousands of years. Here a man may disinherit his wife, in India the whole estate of the deceased husband must go to the wife, personal property absolutely, real property for life.” Inoffensive as it may seem, this statement had a devastating effect upon the women of the Ramabai Circle of Brooklyn.
The Pundita Ramabai Sarasvati was a well-known exponent of education for Hindu child widows, and the somewhat romantic story of her life was legend among her Western friends. Bom in 1858, she was the daughter of a Marathi priest, who brought her up in seclusion and educated her in Sanskrit. On the death of her parents, Ramabai, then sixteen, wandered on foot with her younger brother through India, finding occupation as a cook in various Brahmin families and incidentally gathering, it is said, a knowledge of Hindu customs. On reaching Calcutta, she was acknowledged by the professors of the university as a Sanskrit scholar and received from them the title of “Sarasvati,” goddess of learning. After this followed two years of travel, lectures and writing in the interest of Hindu women. When twenty-two, Ramabai married and settled down, only to be left two years later a widow with an eight-months-old daughter. She forthwith sold her husband’s house and set off for England, where she became a Christian convert and was made professor of Sanskrit in Cheltenham College. Then, coming to the conclusion that she could best help her countrywomen by starting a school in India for child widows, she came to America to study modern educational methods. During the two and a half years that she remained in this country she directed her energies to raising $25,000 in a lump sum in order to establish her proposed school and $5,000 to be donated annually for ten years for its perpetuation. To this end she enlisted the support of many influential men and women and founded “Ramabai Circles” from one end of the United States to the other – fifty-five in all. These Circles were by no means obscure organizations. The first Board of Officers of the Ramabai Association of the United States, for instance, included among its members the Reverends Lyman Abbott and Edward Everett Hale, both highly influential preachers and writers.
But though Ramabai’s purpose was no doubt admirable, the means she employed did nothing to mitigate the poor opinion of India already rooted deep in the American mind. In an effort to raise funds she spread tales of her motherland which were on a par with the most lurid exaggerations of the Christian missionaries. Her lectures, published in the American newspapers, were replete with such statements as: “Widows are not allowed to
marry again, and are left to starve and drudge.” “There are over 20,000,000 child widows in India, nearly a fifth of them under four years of age, suffering untold wretchedness and misery.” “Of the 250,000 [?] women in India one fifth are widows, the beasts of burden for their community.” “But it’s the child widow, upon whom, in an especial manner, falls the abuse and hatred of the community, as the greatest criminal upon whom Heaven’s judgments have been pronounced.” – And so on.
In “The High-Caste Hindu Woman,” written in 1887, Ramabai let her emotional imagination run lull riot. The book reads like an early version of “Mother India” and was, as were her lectures, calculated to wring the hearts and purses o£ American women.
“Mothers and fathers,” Ramabai pleaded in conclusion, “compare the condition of your own sweet darlings at your happy firesides with that of millions of little girls of a corresponding age in India, who have already been sacrificed on the unholy altar of an inhuman social custom, and then ask yourselves whether you can stop short of doing something to rescue the little widows from the hands of their tormentors. Millions of heart-rending cries are daily rising from within the stony walls in Indian zenanas ; thousands of child widows are annually dying without a ray of hope to cheer their hearts, and other thousands are daily being crushed under a fearful weight of sin and shame, with no one to prevent their ruin by providing for them a better way.” To promote the sale of this book Ramabai’s friends had “A Christmas Thought for India,” which was that “those women of the United States who know and who trust Ramabai, will make one united effort at this season of gift-making and gladness, to sell an extraordinarily large number of copies of The High-Caste Hindu Woman “
The American women of the latter part of the nineteenth century were restless. Tired of being merely the ornaments of the country, beginning to assert themselves as Women – always with a capital “W” – and yet still barred from business and politics, they sought out some noble cause, something which the) alone could understand and which they alone could serve. The persecuted Hindu child widows of Ramabai’s lectures and book met every requirement, providing, as they did, drama, pathos and an opportunity to patronize. In view of this it is clear why Swamiji’s statement to the effect that Hindu wives and widows were protected by law to a greater extent than were nineteenth-century American women came as a severe blow to the good ladies of the Ramabai Circle. It not only undermined the effectiveness of their fund-raising propaganda, but destroyed a good deal of the personal satisfaction they had derived from being benefactors to a class of women less emancipated and less respected than they themselves. On Sunday, February 24, the president of the Circle registered a protest through the pages of the Daily Eagle, which read as follows:
RAMABAI CIRCLE AROUSED
Statement of Lecturer Swami Vivekananda Denied as to Treatment of Widows.
The Hindoo Monk Declares that Child Wives Left by High Caste Hindoos are Protected by Law – The President of the Ramabai Circle Cites Testimony to Prove that They are Starved and Beaten.
A sharp issue has arisen between certain persons in this city, who are interested in Christian work in India, and Swami Vivekananda, a Hindoo monk now in Brooklyn, on the question of the suffering of child widows in India. Swami Vivekananda denied, in a lecture in the Pouch mansion a fortnight ago, that widows of high caste Hindoos undergo suffering. High caste Hindoo widows are, he said, especially protected by law. This statement is held by many persons in this city to be open to question, and especially by those who are members of the Brooklyn Ramabai circle. Pundita Ramabai Sarasvati, from whom the Brooklyn circle and about sixty others in this country are named, visited this country eight years ago, and among other large cities visitea Brooklyn. She was a convert to Christianity, and is now conducting an undenominational school for girls in India. The Ramabai circles in this country contribute from $100 to $150 a year each for the support of the institution. That which caused the creation of the Ramabai circles and is the strength of their financial support to the school in India is chiefly the stirring account Ramabai gave when here, though it is declared that there is ample
corroborative proof of her representations in that respect.
The president of the Brooklyn Ramabai circle is Mrs. James McKeen of 136 Henry Street. Mrs. McKeen said yesterday to the reporter of the Eagle:
“A square issue of fact seems to be presented on this question of the suffering of child widows in India. We learned from Ramabai, in her addresses here, that girls 3, 4, 5 and 6 years old were married to men of 50 or 60 years of age. If they were not married before they were 11 years old it would be a family disgrace. If the husband died without having a son born to him the widow was compelled to enter upon the most abject life. All their fine clothing and jewelry was taken from them, coarse garments were put on and they became household drudges. I know of one instance from an American woman, who was in India at the time and was personally acquainted with the facts, that a young Hindoo girl married an old man and, a year after his death, was found sick and coarsely clad, lying on an old mat and praying for death to relieve her from her sufferings. She said to this visitor, who told me the story, Tray that all the child widows may die. It would be a relief from their sufferings/ From other sources I am thoroughly convinced that Ramabai’s story is correct in every detail. As a member of the Ramabai circle in Brooklyn, during the past six years, I have many times solicited money from the public in behalf of suffering child widows in India. It has been reported to me by many creditable gentlemen that they have lately heard it publicly stated by one entitled to know of what he speaks that there does not exist in India any such class as that for which we have appealed. India is a large country, very much larger than many of us are apt to imagine who look only upon the map of it drawn to a scale of 500 miles to the inch. I have never been in any part of it, and cannot pretend to speak of its manners and customs from personal knowledge. But it seems to me that in some respects this absence of personal contact with the subject involved may fit one better for a calm survey of the testimony proffered, as a judge is supposed to be better qualified for giving an unprejudiced judgment when his personal sympathies, interests and tastes are not at all concerned in the decision. What might seem to one born and bred in India a proper and happy condition, might seem to another born and bred in a western land a condition of humiliation and misery. Without desiring, therefore, to assume any superior knowledge on this subject, or to call in question the statements of any others from their own points of view – happiness and unhappiness being to some extent relative terms – I am willing to state the reasons that lead me still to believe that there is much suffering among the child widows of India, and a condition of degradation and misery among its women that the happier people of America are in duty bound to alleviate to the extent that may be within our power.
“It may be asked what is the credibility of my witnesses? Naturally the first witness to whom I turn is the Pundita Ramabai. Concerning her probity, consider the personal regard in which she is held by those who have known her for many years, both in this country and in England, and also look at the unsolicited testimony of her compatriots as to her truthfulness and honor. [Here follows some favorable testimony concerning Ramabai and her wdrk from Max Miiller, a Miss Hamlin, an unidentified Madras paper and the London Atheneum. Mrs. McKeen then continues: ]
“It seems to me that when a woman, such as Ramabai is here described to be, devotes her’ life to the work of relieving a certain class from misery it is not unreasonable to believe that such a class exists.
“The Bishop of Bombay evidently thought that such a class existed, since he sent £58 to Ramabai to aid her work. Miss Manning, honorable secretary of the British National Indian association, is persuaded
that such a class exists, for she has contributed £158 to Ramabai for its relief, and, finally, Mrs. J. W. Adams of Boston, Mass., widely known in this city, and much beloved and honored, having been sent to India by the Ramabai association to look after its work, wrote from Poona last year these stirring words:
” ‘We have been told that the life of the child widow is not so hard and pitiless as represented; that the majority have happy homes and they yield cheerfully, bravely, to the restrictions, customs or religion placed upon them. Why, then, are the shaven head and the coarse white garment badges of shame? Why are the bodies emaciated and disfigured by starvation and cruel blows? Why the sullen, joyless expression of the face? Why so many suicides and lives of shame among the child widows? Let him who believes such statements, though made by the Hindoos themselves, come to the Sharada Sadana, listen to the pitiful histories of some of its inmates, sec the white marks of the hot iron on the head, the little white scars made by sharp finger nails meeting the tender flesh of the face – as I have heard and seen all this, and much more – and he will not only know the truth, but he will feel it a privilege to do something for these unfortunate children/
“I think what I have said is sufficient to convince any unprejudiced person that if I have been mistaken in this matter I do not speak unadvisedly and have the honor to be mistaken in good company. I shall be glad to mail reports of the work done in India to anyone who will send me his or her address.”
For the newspapers a disturbance such as this was always welcome. The Daily Standard Union was quick to take advantage of Mrs. McKcen’s animadversion and on February 25 printed the following:
WIDOWS IN INDIA
Swami Vivekananda’s Statements Denied In The Ramabai Circle
In his lecture delivered in the Pouch Gallery before the Brooklyn Ethical Association two weeks ago [January 20] the Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk who is endeavoring to enlighten Americans as to political, economic, social and religious affairs in India, denied the existence of the ill treatment of widows in that country which is alleged to exist. The Pundita Ramabai Sarasvati, a convert to Christianity who visited America eight years ago, and who is now engaged in her own country in the conduct of an undenominational school for her own sex, stated in her talks here, that if the husband of a woman dies leaving no male heir the widow is despoiled of her jewelry and good clothing and is made a household drudge. Corroborative statements have come from other sources. In denying such statements the Swami Vivekananda declared that high caste widows in India are especially protected by law. His denial has created quite a stir in the Ramabai Circle of this city, which is one of many such circles founded in this country to foster the Pundita Ramabai’s work in India.
The revolt promises to be a very pretty controversy, as the Swami Vivekananda has won many friends in this city, and will undoubtedly have a respectable following, while*therc will be a disposition among a large number of persons interested in such questions to give both sides an impartial hearing. The matter was referred to last night by Dr. Lewis G. Janes, president of the Brooklyn Ethical Association, at the opening of the meeting in the Pouch Gallery. He regarded the position of the Ramabai Circle as tending to bring into disrepute the Swami Vivekananda’s own educational work in India, and he said that the association
had made careful investigation as to the monk’s position and character before inviting him to come here.
Indeed, Dr. Janes lost no time in coming to Swamiji’s defense. Having read Mrs. McKeen’s statement in the Eagle, he at once wrote a letter to that paper. Although the following was dated erroneously March 3 and published ou March 6, it had actually been written and sent on February 24:
Defended by the Brooklyn Ethical Association’s President
To the Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle:
The excellent ladies of the Ramabai circle are laboring under an unfortunate misapprehension. Swami Vivekananda did not at the Pouch mansion or elsewhere in Brooklyn or at any other place deny that widows of high caste Hindoos undergo suffering. He has not, publicly or privately, as far as I am aware, in any way reprobated wise efforts for the education and elevation of Hindoo women. His only allusion in his public addresses in Brooklyn to Hindoo widows was in his lecture on “Ideals of Womanhood, Hindoo, Mohammedan and Christian,” delivered at the Pouch mansion, not a fortnight ago, but on Sunday evening, January 20, five weeks ago. In this lecture he did not even allude to the Pundita Ramabai or her work, and made no such statement as that alleged in your issue of today. His allusion to Hindoo widows was brief and wholly incidental to the main topic of his discourse, and referred exclusively to the property rights of high caste widows under the Hindoo law. These, he asserted, were superior to those guaranteed to widows in this country, giving them absolute possession and control of their inheritance in their husbands’ and patrimonial estates. [Dr. Janes erred; Swamiji
did not say ”patrimonial.”] Unless this statement can be disproved Swami Vivekananda’s only assertion in Brooklyn with respect to high caste Hindoo widows goes unchallenged.
The lecture on “Ideals of Womanhood” was introduced with the explanation that the purpose of the speaker was solely to present the ideal side, the broad, general tendency of the respective civilizations with reference to social purity and the position of woman. There was a nether side, an aspect of degradation, he admitted, in India as well as in countries called Christian, but of this side he did not propose to speak. It would be as unjust to judge India by the nether side as to judge America by the revelations of the Parkhurst investigation and the Lexow committee. Of child marriage and the social disabilities of Hindoo widows, therefore, he said nothing. As a patriotic Hindoo he presented the type of womanhood on its best and ideal side as developed under the inliucnces of the religion and civilization prevailing in his country. That ideal was the ideal of motherhood. No nobler conception of the mother function as the highest development of the ever womanly nature has ever been presented in my hearing. No more exigent moralit), alike obligatory on man and woman, has ever been preached in any pulpit in this City of Churches. The object of this communication, however, is not merely that of the correction or denial of the misapprehensions expressed and implied in the interview entitled “Ramabai Circle Aroused,” but to endeavor to thjgw some light upon the real attitude of our guest toward the philanthropic movement in which the good ladies of the Ramabai circle are so deeply interested. The Brooklyn Ethical association numbers among its honorary corresponding members in India a gentleman whose devoted labors in behalf of the education and elevation of high caste Hindoo widows long antedated the work of Ramabai. This gentleman is Babu Sasipada Banergie [Banerjee] of Baranagar, a suburb of Calcutta, himself a Hindoo, who, in defiance of current prejudices, more than thirty years ago embarked on this work of reform,, which, with his own good wife as a helper, he has since prosecuted with untiring assiduity and devotion. He has won the respect and indorsement of many of the best citizens of his own faith, as well as of Christians who are sufficiently large hearted and liberal to be capable of seeing that good may sometimes come out of Nazareth. Swami Vivekananda is his friend and believes in his work. I have this assurance from his own lips. The work of Babu Sasipada Banergie has been conducted quietly and without ostentation, but it has been fruitful of good result. It is not the object aimed at by the Pundita Ramabai that Swami Vivekananda criticises, but the methods adopted for collecting money, and the impossibility, as he believes, of accomplishing large results in the way proposed. The fact that the Pundita Ramabai is herself a Christian convert is sufficient to repel a great majority even of the liberally inclined high caste Hindoos from encouraging it, as the printed reports of the Ramabai circles are themselves insufficient [ ? J to demonstrate. Nor will the lofty and not altogether reprehensible pride of the Brahmin permit him to be the recipient of favors rendered possible by the solicitation of money in distant countries from those of an alien faith. To do-this would be contrary to a deep seated religious and social prejudice, which, whether we reprobate it or not is an unquestionable fact. The wise helper of his fellow human beings will never waste his strength in kicking against facts. As the reports of Ramabai’s work also show, it has been impossible to meet with even a small measure of success save by the assurance that her school was absolutely non-Christian and that no efforts toward proselyting would therein be tolerated. A breath of suspicion that this rule was in danger of being violated, some time since, caused a considerable secession of pupils from her school, and the resignation of all the members of a board of advisors consisting of high caste Hindoo gentlemen of great liberality and the highest social standing. That the practice of the Swami Vivekananda, while in this country, has been consistent with this high conception of duty, I have had occasion to know. Though he has at heart a noble enterprise for the education of the religious teachers of his own faith in sociology, economics and the better things in our Western civilization, he has made absolutely no effort to solicit subscriptions for this purpose. Nor will he accept one penny for his work as a teacher ; nor even for this larger work, save as a voluntary, free will offering from people of calm judgment, intellectually convinced of the importance of the work. In Brooklyn he has absolutely declined to hold classes where an admission fee is charged, even for the purpose of paying the expenses of the room and advertising. For himself he accepts from public lectures only what is necessary for traveling expenses and his food, clothing and lodging, from week to week. I personally know of one instance where he returned to an enthusiastic admirer a check for $500 freely given, declining to receive it because he did not need it, and feared the donor was carried away with undue enthusiasm. Those who know the Swami Vivekananda best write in testimony to his nobility of character, and the purity and elevation of his daily life. I have made diligent inquiry in Chicago, where he has many devoted friends ; in Cambridge, where his lectures and classes were attended by people of the highest culture, including students of the university, and elsewhere, and have heard but one reply. In the town hall of Calcutta, on September 5 last, a large meeting of his own people was held, which in terms of unqualified eulogy indorsed his character and work. This meeting was reported in the Indian Mirror of the day following, together with a sketch of his life and experiences, from one acquainted with his entire career. The New York Sun of September 2, contained an account of a similar meeting held in Madras. From Professor Rhys-Davids we
have the assurance that the gentlemen participating in these meetings are of the highest standing in the community. We are justified, therefore, in regarding the word of the Swami Vivekananda as above reproach, and we know him to be in full sympathy with all wise movements for the elevation and improvement of the people, both here and in his own country. That India has something to teach us, that our obligations are reciprocal, he unquestionably believes and teaches.
And in this conclusion, when we rid ourselves of our ethnic narrowness, I, for one, believe we shall agree with him. I need only add that I have written without consultation with Swami Vivekananda, and have said in his behalf some things which his modesty and position as a religious teacher would doubtless prevent him from saying for himself.
Lewis G. Janes.
President Brooklyn Ethical Association.
Brooklyn, March 3 [February 24], 1895.
As Dr. Janes said, it was true that Swamiji had not dwelt upon the condition of high-caste widows in India; he had, indeed, not mentioned the lives of widows at all. The question then is, what had aroused Mrs. McKeen’s passionate and insistent declaration that Hindu widows did undergo suffering ? This question was, I believe, partially answered when it was pointed out earlier that Swami ji’s statement regarding the inheritance laws of India implied that widows as a class were not persecuted victims of India’s social system. Another fact which explains the apparently unprovoked excitement of the women of the Ramabai Circle was that Swami ji’s views regarding child widows were not unknown to them. The reader will remember that his first talk in America had been delivered before the Ramabai Circle in Boston in August of 1893 (Chapter One). There can be little doubt that at that time he had spoken directly about the condition of Hindu widows in India and that Ramabai’s followers had received a severe shock. It would not ‘be unreasonable to believe that thenceforth all the fifty-five circles of America had been antagonistic to him and that this antagonism had grown in proportion to his growing fame and influence. Moreover, it is very likely that the Ramabai Circles had been influenced in their attitude toward Swamiji by the Christian missionaries. Indeed, as is evidenced by a letter which he wrote on July 1, 1895, to Alasinga, Swamiji suspected this to be the case. The Brooklyn Circle was not, therefore, as it might have appeared to an outsider, suddenly aroused; rather it was making a last stand against an old and feared opponent.
Silence would perhaps have better served the Ramabai Circles’ interest, for Swamiji made no compromise in his reply. After his fourth lecture in Brooklyn, given the day following the printing of Mrs. Me Keen’s interview with the press, he was directly questioned regarding Hindu widows and, in a few clear words, denied Ramabai’s tales – a denial which the Circle had anticipated and which was, to them, shattering. This lecture of Monday, February 25, was entitled “India’s Gift to The World,” and was reported upon in the Brooklyn Standard Union of February 27 as follows:
The Subject of Swami Vivekananda’s Last Lecture.
Religion, Science and Art have all been Advanced by The East, He Says – Christianity the Offspring of Buddhism – Some Charges Refuted by the Hindoo Monk.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, delivered a lecture Monday night under the auspices of the Brooklyn Ethical Association before a fairly large audience at the hall of the Long Island Historical Society, corner Pierrepont and Clinton streets. His subject was “India’s Gift to the World.”
He spoke of the wondrous beauties of his native land, “where stood the earliest cradle of ethics, arts, sciences, and literature, and the integrity of whose sons and the virtue of whose daughters have been sung by
all travelers” Then the lecturer showed in rapid details, what India has given to the world.
“In religion” he said, “she has exerted a great influence on Christianity, as the very teachings of Christ would [could] be traced Backto those of Buddha” He showed by quotations from the works of European and American scientists the many points of similarity between Buddha and Christ. The latter’s birth, his seclusion from the world, the number of his apostles, and the very ethics of his teachings are the same as those of Buddha, living many hundred years before him.
“Is it mere chance” the lecturer asked, “or was Buddha’s religion but the foreshadowing of that of Christ ? The majority of your thinkers seem to be satisfied in the latter explanation, but there are some bold enough to say that Christianity is the direct offspring of Buddhism just as the earliest heresy in the Christian religion – the Monecian [Manichaean] heresy – is now universally regarded as the teaching of a sect of Buddhists. But there is more evidence that Christianity is founded in Buddhism. We find it in recently discovered inscriptions from the reign of Emperor Oshoka [Ashoka] of India, about 300 B.C., who made treaties with all the Grecian kings, and whose missionaries discriminated [disseminated ?] in those very parts, where, centuries after, Christianity flourished, the principles of the Buddhistic religion. Thus it is explained, why you have our doctrine of trinity, of incarnation of God, and of our ethics, and why the service in our temples is so much alike to that in your present Catholic churches, from the mass to the chant and benediction. Buddhism had all these long before you. Now use your own judgment on these premises – we Hindoos stand ready to be convinced that yours is the earlier religion, although we had ours some three hundred years before yours was even thought of.
“The same holds good with respect to sciences India has given to antiquity the earliest scientifical physicians, and, according to Sir William Hunter, she has even contributed to modern medical science by the discovery of various chemicals and by teaching you how to reform misshapen ears and noses. Even more it has done in mathematics, for algebra, geometry, astronomy, and the triumph of modern science – mixed mathematics – were all invented in India, just so much as the ten numerals, the very cornerstone of all present civilization, were discovered in India, and are in reality, Sanskrit words.
“In philosophy we are even now head and shoulders above any other nation, as Schopenhauer, the great German philosopher, has confessed. In music India gave to the world her system of notation, with the seven cardinal notes and the diatonic scale, all of which wc enjoyed as early as 350 B.C., while it came to Europe only in the eleventh century. In philology, our Sanskrit language is now universally acknowledged to be the foundation of all European languages, which, in fact, are nothing but jargonized Sanskrit.
“In literature, our epics and poems and dramas rank as high as those of any language ; our ‘Shaguntala [Shakuntala] was summarized by Germany’s greatest poet, as ‘heaven and earth united’ India has given to the world the fables of Aesop, which were copied by Aesop from an old Sanskrit book ; it has given the Arabian Nights, yes, even the story of Cinderella and the Bean Stalks. In manufacture, India was the first to make cotton and purple [dye], it was proficient in all works of jewelry, and the very word ‘sugar’ as well as the article itself, is the product of India. Lastly she has invented the game of chess and the cards and the dice. So great, in fact, was the superiority of India in every respect, that it drew to her borders the hungry cohorts of Europe, and thereby indirectly brought about the discovery of America.
“And now, what has the world given to India in return for all that J Nothing but nullification [vilification] and curse and contempt. The world waded in her children’s life-blood, it reduced India to poverty and her sons and daughters to slavery, and now it adds insult to injury by preaching to her a religion which can only thrive on the destruction of every other religion. But India is not afraid. It does not beg for mercy at the hands of any nation. Our only fault is that we cannot fight to conquer ; but we trust in the eterniLy of truth. India’s message to the world is first of all, her blessing ; she is returning good for the evil which is done her, and thus she puts into execution this noble idea, which had its origin in India. Lastly, India’s message is, that calm goodness, patience and gentleness will ultimately triumph. For where are the Greeks, the one-time masters of the earth ? They are gone. Where are the Romans, at the tramp of whose cohorts the world trembled ? Passed away. Where are the Arabs, who in fifty years had carried their banners from the Atlantic to the Pacific ? and where are the Spaniards, the cruel murderers of millions of men ? Both races are nearly extinct; but thanks to the morality of her children, the kinder race will never perish, and she will yet sec the hour of her triumph.” At the close of the lecture, which was warmly applauded, Swami Vivekananda answered a number of questions in regard to the customs of India. He denied positively the truth of the statement published in yesterday’s [February 25] Standard Union, to the effect that widows are ill treated in India. The law guarantees her not only her own property, before marriage, but also all she received from her husband, at whose death, if there be no direct heirs, the property goes to her. Widows seldom marry in India, because of the scarcity of men. He also stated that the self-sacrifices of wives at the death of their husbands, as well as the fanatical self-destruction under the wheels of the Juggernaut, have wholly stopped, and referred his hearers for proof to Sir William Hunter’s “History of the Indian Empire.”
On February 26 the Brooklyn Times printed a brief report of Swamiji’s lecture, and on February 27 the Daily Eagle ran a detailed, though, as will be seen later, faulty account of his answer to the question about Hindu widows. These two articles follow, respectively:
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA LECTURES.
He Tells about the Arts and Sciences of India.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk who first came into prominence in this country in connection with the world’s Congress of religions at the fair in Chicago, and who has recently been delivering a series of lectures in Brooklyn, spoke last night in Historical hall under the auspices of the Brooklyn Ethical association. He delivered his lecture on “India’s Gift to the World” to an audience that was extremely enthusiastic and appreciative. The lecturer’s subject was particularly interesting to those of antiquarian turn of mind, for he spoke of the arts and sciences which India has given to the world, of the astronomy, the medicine, the mathematics which were developed in that country. He was frequently and heartily applauded. With him on the platform sat President Lewis G. Janes, of the Ethical association ; the other officers of the association, Dr. Charles H. Shepard, James A. Skelton, Mrs. Ole Bull and a number of other ladies and gentlemen.
Denies that the Child Widows of India are Abused.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk, lectured in Historical hall Monday night under the auspices of the Brooklyn Ethical association, on “India’s Gift to the World.” There were about two hundred and fifty people in the hallwhen the Swami stepped on the platform. Much interest was manifested on account of the denial by Mrs. James McKeen, president of the Brooklyn Ramabai circle, which is interested in Christian work in India, of the statement attributed to the lecturer that the child widows of India were not protected [ill-treated]. In no part of his lecture was reference made to this denial, but after he had concluded, one of the audience asked the lecturer what explanation he had to make to the statement. Swami Vivekananda said that it was untrue that child widows were abused or ill treated in any way. He added:
“It is a fact that some Hindus marry very young. Others marry when they have attained a fair age and some do not marry at all. My grandfather was married when quite a child. My father when he was 14 years old and I am 30 years old and am not yet married. When a husband dies all his possessions go to his widow. If a widow is poor she is the same as poor widows in any other country. Old men sometimes marry children, but if the husband was wealthy it was all the better for the widow the sooner he died. I have traveled all over India, but failed to see a case of the ill treatment mentioned. At one time there were religious fanatics, widows, who threw themselves into a fire and were consumed by the flames at the death of their husbands. The Hindus did not believe in this, but did not prevent it, and it was not until the British obtained control of India that it was finally prohibited. These women were considered saints and in many instances monuments were erected to their memory.”
The above report of Swamiji’s answer to the question regarding widows was, as he himself later pointed out, imperfect and incomplete. While denying that all widows were ill-treated, he had admitted that some cases of ill-treatment might exist; these, however, were sporadic and exceptional. He repudiated positively and without qualification the statement that ill-treatment of widows was an accepted and traditional part of Hindu custom, restating, as has been seen in the Stand ard Union report, the pertinent inheritance laws. Swamiji further declared himself in full sympathy with movements for the education of Hindu widows.
Whether the editors of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle were biased in favor of the Ramabai Circle, or whether they just delighted in keeping the controversy alive is a moot point; but, in either case, they managed to confuse things. It was on March 6 that the Eagle finally thought fit to publish Dr. Janes’ letter of February 24, in which he had pointed out, referring to the lecture on “Ideal Womanhood,” that Swamiji had not mentioned the condition of Hindu widows. The date of this letter was falsified to read March 3, making it seem that Dr. Janes had written it after Swamiji’s lecture of February 25, in which he had spoken of Hindu widows in answer to a question. Mrs. McKeen was quick to take advantage of the false position in which Janes had been placed and forthwith provided the Eagle with more copy. On Sunday, March 10, the following article appeared in that paper:
THE PUNDITA RAMABAI
Mrs. McKeen Says She is a Woman Christian or Hindoo can Trust.
The controversy between the friends of the Pundita Ramabai and those of the Hindoo monk, Swami Vivekananda as to the treatment of the child widows of India, though slumbering, is still far from being settled. When Mrs. James McKeen, one of the Pundita’s staunchest friends, was asked what she had to say regarding the statement made by Dr. Lewis G. Janes of the Ethical society to the effect that the Hindoo monk had not at any time denied the suffering of the widows detailed by the Pundita, she said:
“It is very gratifying to the friends of the Pundita Ramabai that Dr. Janes who has taken upon himself the responsibility of recommending Swami Vivekananda to this community as a religious teacher, should
tell us that his oriental guest ‘did not at the Pouch mansion or elsewhere in Brooklyn or any other place, deny that widows of high caste Hindoos undergo sufferings.’ Nevertheless, in view of the widespread impression to the contrary, in view of the fact that one member of the New York chamber of commerce, whose word is everywhere as good as his bond, distinctly told the writer that he had heard the monk so declare, and once two prominent members of the Ethical association also reported to the writer the same statement, since four reputable and well known citizens unite in giving us the same testimony, since an Eagle report of the lecture in the Historical hall, on February 25, gives the same evidence, and, finally, since one of our own national board heard him so declare at a meeting of a well known Boston literary club, it seems not unreasonable to suppose either the monk’s words have been capable of two interpretations, or that our friend has been caught napping in his presidential chair.
“It is pleasant also to record that our learned Pundita quite agrees with Dr. Janes and his Hindoo friend as to the best method to be employed in order to reach the high caste Hindoo widow (whether suffering or not) and give her the priceless boon of education. Ramabai refused to accept the proffered support of a prominent Congregational church in Boston and also-a like offer from an Episcopalian church, which would have been glad to enter the field of India with such a helper. She persistently declared that the orthodox high caste Brahmin could only be reached by a non religious school and that she could only accept aid from a body of good men and women of all denominations and of all creeds, who would unite solely for the rescue of these little widows from ignorance and misery.
“As to the position of these widows before the law, it has always been Ramabai’s strong contention in her many public discussions of the subject in India, that the Hindoos themselves were transgressing the old laws which they profess to serve, in persecuting these little ones. She has stood as Luther stood at Wittenberg appealing to the scriptures, the law of the church against the church. As to Baba Sasipada Panergie [Babu Sasipada Banerjee], the friend of Swami Viveka-nanda, whose work and methods he so wholly approves, I quite agree in according to him all praise. I wish I had now at hand a letter leceived from him some years ago, explaining his work to our association and asking for our sympathy and aid. It is difficult to understand what seems to be a rooted antagonism among the cultivated Hindoos toward Ramabai and her work. Perhaps an experience related to me by Mr. Moncurc D. Conway may somewhat explain it. Mr. Conway happened to be in Persia when the news reached there of Ramabai’s conversion to Christianity. Mr, Conway himself seemed to rather regret the step she had taken. He told me he had seen the young men in Persia fairly gnash their teeth in rage while tears rolled down their cheeks, as they exclaimed, “To think that our Ramabai, our brilliant Ramabai, of whom we were so proud, to think that she has embraced Christianity!” According to Mr. Conway, the very thought of it seemed to fill them with rage and shame.
“It is well known that there is no such bitter hostility as religious hostility. And incredible as it may seem it is a fact that both here and in India some of the hardest blows Ramabai has received have come from men to whom she had given substantial and much needed aid. One Hindoo student who came to this country friendless and poor brought a letter of introduction from Ramabai to her circle with a request to the treasurer to give him for her almost 10 per cent, of her own small income in order to aid him prosecute his studies. The young man accepted the money and settled down to work. Almost the first use he made of his newly acquired power was to attack Ramabai and pronounce her work a failure. I am glad to say this man was not Mr. Vivekananda. The story, however,
may illustrate how deep the religious hate of an educated Hindoo may bite.
“The Shawda Sadan [Sharada Sadana] did indeed receive a great blow last year and that, too, at the hands of its professed friends. We are, however, able to report that many of them have repented of their hasty move and some of the most eminent of whom Dr. Janes speaks in high commendation have taken pains to publicly express their renewed confidence in the school. At the latest reports there were fifty-six pupils in the school, with new applications from day to day. And one word more as to Ramabai’s Christianity, which seems to bring upon her what might be called a mild rebuke from our esteemed president of the Ethical society. No one emphasizes more clearly than Ramabai the ethical side of Hindooism. She is thoroughly loyal to her people, and would neither , Anglicize nor Americanize them with a foreign creed.
She bears the heart of a Paul and not of a Peter. And from what I have heard her say, from what I have read and heard of her writings, I believe she would hold Christianity as not antagonistic to the best Brahminism, but inclusive of it, as Paul declared on Mars hill, ‘Whom ye ignorantly worship him declare I unto you.’
In short, she is a woman in whom both Hindoo and Christian may safely trust.”
So Swamiji was now pronounced guilty of religious hatred! This barb was probably unique in all those he had received in America. But Mrs. McKeen was suffering from an unhealed wound that had been caused by the Hindu dislike of Christian proselytizing. The “great blow” to the Sharada Sadana (Ramabai’s school at Poona) to which she refers, was the resignation in a body of the Hindu Advisory Board. In the records of the Brooklyn Ramabai Circle the following letter, dated August 13, 1893, is to be found: “To Mrs. J. W.
Andrews, Boston: In the last letter we wrote to you … it
was stated … we were unwilling to undertake any responsibility as an Advisory Board in regard to the Sharada Sadana.
We are therefore surprised to find that in the reports published by you our names are still mentioned as constituting an Advisory Board in Poona. . . . No such Advisory Board as you mention has existed for the past two or three years. If the Sadana is to be conducted as an avowed proselytizing institution, we must disavow all connection with it. We beg you will take into view this declaration and cease to mention our names as members of the Advisory Board.” (In August, 1893, blows were raining heavily upon Ramabai’s friends. It was shortly after Mrs. Andrews had received the above letter that Swamiji gave his talk before the women of the Boston Circle.) Mrs. Andrews of Boston hastened forthwith to Poona “to see for herself” and returned with the news that there was no proselytizing. Although, after a time, some of the members of the Advisory Board relented, suspicion remained – as well it might, Ramabai being a Christian convert.
As has been said, the controversy provided excellent copy for the Brooklyn newspapers and also excellent publicity for the Ramabai Circle. On March 16, the Standard Union devoted two and a half columns to Ramabai’s life and work, dwelling at length and in detail upon the horrors of a widow’s lot in India. The headlines, which are enough to quote, read as follows:
The Achievements of One High Caste Hindoo Woman Her American Supporters
Brooklyn Contributes Funds for the Enlightenment Of “Darkest India” – Authentic Descriptions of The Conditions of Child Widows – The Wonderful School At Poona and Some of the Pupils.
Having read the indefatigable Mrs. McKeen’s remarks in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of March 10, Dr. Janes felt again constrained to make Swamiji’s position clear to the reading
public. Although in some important respects he failed to present this position correctly, his effort was valiant. The following letter, written on March 12, appeared in the Daily Eagle of March 17:
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA Lewis G. Janes on the Hindoo Widow Question.
To the Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle:
I am strongly disinclined to continue any semblance of controversy with the good ladies of the Ramabai circle. I deprecate, indeed, any interpretation of my previous communication which would regard it as written with controversial intent. My object, on the contrary, was to show that controversy was out of place. It did not originate with us and had been commenced under a misapprehension as to the real attitude of the Swami Vivekananda toward the movement for the education of Hindoo widows. The interview with Mrs. James McKeen, as reported in your issue of last Sunday [March 10], confirms the position taken in my letter of February 24, but which has been wrongly dated March 3, in your issue of March 6, when it was published. ‘The facts stated by Mrs. McKeen as to the incident related to her by Mr. Moncurc D. Conway, strangely located by your reporter in Persia, where there are r*o Hindoos, and where the Pundita Ramabai probably was never heard of, curiously confirm the practical sagacity of Swami Vivekananda in recognizing the fact that the Hindoo people can be most effectively reached and helped through the teachers of their own faith. Nor is the repugnance of high caste Hindoos to the ministrations of Christian converts so phenomenal as it may at first appear, when we put ourselves in their place, and reflect upon the spirit with which we habitually regard a so-called pervert from Christianity. It is questionable whether, if the most cultivated and devoted lady in Brooklyn should avow her belief in Buddhism
or Mohammedism [sic], she would be more acceptable as a reformer of society in this country than the Pun-dita Ramabai is in India. Human nature is very much the same the world over. I do not question the sincerity or devotion of the Pundita Ramabai. I do not rebuke her Christianity, mildly or otherwise, any more than I rebuke Swami Vivekananda’s Hindooism or Mrs. Besant’s conversion to Buddhism and Theosophy* I respect the sincere belief of every human being, and would bid them good speed in every effort for the uplifting of humanity. I deprecate, however, an attack on the Swami Vivekananda, in the name of Ramabai, which I am sure that loyal woman would never have made herself, and the false inference that the unthinking might derive that the Swami was opposed to the education oE Hindoo women. This inference we hope to dispose of soon, and effectually, by a lecture which will be delivered by the Swami Vivekananda in Brooklyn, in aid of the educational work of Babu Sasipada Banerjee, so warmly commended by Mrs. McKeen. The greatest affliction of the Hindoo widow is ignorance. Education will emancipate her from the chief burden which she bears to-day. Other burdens of ill treatment, abuse, etc., which may exist in some instances are, we doubt not, sporadic and exceptional. When reputed as if they were habitual, one cannot wonder that they excite indignant protest from a patriotic lover of his people. I will only add in my own behalf that the erroneous date appended to my letter makes it appear to have been written subsequent to the remarks of $wami Vivekananda at Historical hall on February 25, reported in the Eagle of the following day ; whereas it was written a day before the delivery of his lecture. And on behalf of the Swami Vivekananda I will add that the report of his remarks in the Eagle was both imperfect and defective.
While he repudiated the unfair and extravagant statements about the treatment of Hindoo widows he also declared himself in full sympathy with the movement in favor of their education, as conducted by his friend and compatriot, Sasipada Banerjee.
Lewis G. Janes.
President Brooklyn Ethical Association.
Brooklyn, March 12, 1895.
Swamiji’s decision to donate the proceeds of his next (and extra) lecture in Brooklyn to Sasipada Banerjee was hjs own and was prompted, no doubt, not only by a desire to make his position regarding the education of Hindu widows clear but by Banerjee’s need for help in his work. This incident is mentioned somewhat inaccurately and without reference to the Brooklyn controversy, in the first edition of “The Life” where it is stated that Swamiji gave over “the proceeds of his lecture on ‘The Ideals of Hindu Women/ delivered before the Ethical Association of Brooklyn, to its President, to be forwarded by him to Babu Sashipada Banerjee’s Baranagore Boarding School for Hindu Widows.” (It was, as we now know, not until long after the lecture on “The Ideals of Hindu Women” that Banerjee entered the picture.) “The Life” continues: “In forwarding the proceeds Dr. Lewis G. Janes wrote to Sashipada Babu as follows: ‘This sum constitutes the proceeds
of a lecture before our Association by your able countryman, the Swami Vivekananda, who has spoken for us several times before large audiences and created great interest in the Vedanta philosophy and also in the social and political conditions in India. In justice to the Swami I should say that the proposition to give a benefit lecture for your school was his own voluntary idea with which we were delighted to co-operate.’ “
But despite all evidence and despite Dr. Janes’ explanation that Swamiji was not opposed to the education of Hindu women but, on the contrary, was in favor of it, Mrs. McKcen could never forgive Swamiji for having stated (1) that Hindu widows inherited their husbands’ wealth, and (2) that they were not ill-treated. These statements had come as a severe shock to a deeply rooted pattern of thought which was not peculiar to the Ramabai Circle, but was common to a generation brought up on Christian missionary propaganda. Swamiji was fighting a nation-wide psychological necessity for a sustained belief in
the degraded state of the Oriental races – a belief which had given sanction to Western imperialism and provided a satisfying glow of self-righteousness and superiority such as little else could. But Swamiji’s visit to America had been well timed, for by the 1890’s there was a growing segment of the people who heard his lectures with relief and rejoicing, who championed him and whom he championed. It was Robert Ingersoll, the famous agnostic, who pointed out to him: “Forty years ago you would have been hanged if you had come to preach in this country, or you would have been burned alive. You would have been stoned out of the villages if you had come even much later.” Ingersoll cautioned Swamiji to be careful even in 1895. Contemplating the ire of Mrs. McKeen, who was representative of thousands, one can well see why. The Ramabai Circle, like the missionary circles, did not hesitate to invent and spread scandals about him. In March 21 Swamiji wrote to Mrs. Bull: “I am astonished to hear the
scandals the Ramabai circles are indulging in about me. Among others, one item is that Mrs. Bagley of Detroit had to dismiss a servant-girl on account of my bad character! ! ! Don’t you see, Mrs. Bull, that however a man may conduct himself, there will always be persons who invent the blackest lies about him. At Chicago I had such things every day against me! And these women are invariably the very Christian of Christians!”
Although Dr. Janes did his best to clarify Swamiji’s position, the Ramabai Circle became only further aroused. Mrs. McKeen’s next interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle appeared on April 6 and read as follows:
SHE PLEADS FOR CHILD WIDOWS
Mrs. James McKeen Replies to Dr. Janes.
Hindu Law Givers are Quoted
A Suspicion that the Handsome Monk Vivekananda, Who Criticizes the Pundita Ramabai’s Methods Has Hypnotized the Women of Boston.
The Position of Lecturer Sasipada Baneriee,
Now in Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Ethical society has issued a card of invitation to the public to attend a lecture to be given by Swami Vivekananda on Sunday evening, when a collection will be taken in behalf of the Hindu Widows’ home, conducted by Babu Sasipada Banerjee, near Calcutta. This announcement revives the question of Swami Vivekananda’s attitude toward the question of the treatment of child widows in India and the recent controversy, printed from time to time in the Eagle, between Mrs. James McKeen of this city and Dr. Janes of the Ethical society over the Pundita Ramabai and her teachings. Mrs. McKeen was seen yesterday at her home, 136 Henry street, and was asked whether there was any reply to Dr. Janes’ last letter, printed in the Eagle. Mrs. McKeen, who is the manager of the Brooklyn Ramabai circle, said:
“If the whiff of controversy between Dr. Janes and myself shall result in a substantial contribution to this great charity I can only paraphrase the prayer book and exclaim: ‘The Lord has indeed granted us a happy issue out of all our troubles! ‘ But it is difficult to understand why it was necessary to preclude [?] all this with a declaration that the young widows of Hinduism were not ill treated by a settled custom of religious prejudice, as we maintain, and that ‘their property rights were superior to those guaranteed to widows in this country, giving them absolute control of their inheritance in their husbands’ and patrimonial estates.’ As to their property rights, the proof is abundant on every side that they have no rights of inheritance at all. We have, in the first place, the laws of their great law giver, Manu, which are still enforced, and did not need to be increased in severity to suit degenerate times. In Manu v: 147-156: ‘In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her son ; a woman must never be independent.’ Again, Devcndra N. Das, a Hindu, writing in the Nineteenth Century Magazine of September, 1886, tells us, quite in conformity with this law of Manu: ‘Among Hindus a woman cannot inherit any paternal property, and if a widow is left any property by her husband she cannot call it her own. All her wealth belongs to her son if she have any, and if she have none she is made to adopt an heir and give to him all her property directly he comes of age, and herself lives on a bare allowance granted by him. To a Hindu widow death is a thousand times more welcome than her miserable existence.’
“Mr. James Wilson, a close friend and supporter of Mr. Banerjee, says of the ‘Widows’ Home’ in his ‘Female Education in Bengal’: ‘This is, perhaps,
the boldest experiment yet undertaken by Mr. Banerjee and can only be carried on by generous support. The widows themselves are not in a position to meet the expenses even of board and clothing.’ In the annual report ot the school itself for 1893 it said: ‘Considering the unfortunate position of widows in this country their case is one purely to call forth sympathy.’ And the Indian Magazine of London, 1889, in recording a visit made to the school by the arch deacon of Calcutta, says: ‘Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee are stimulated by keen sympathy with the sad condition of so many young widows.’ Again in Manu, v’: 157-158, we read: ‘Left the widow emaciate her body by living on pure flowers, roots and fruits. Until death let her be patient of hardships.’ Why is it especially enjoined among the duties of a widow to ‘be patient of hardships’ if there are none that belong especially to her position? In Tew Notes on the Life and Work of Sasipada Banerjee’ we find speaking of the Hindu widows they ‘with the spread of education and better ideas now feel it hard to continue subject to the austerities of a widow’s life.’
“It seems to those who know well and have long known the unspeakable sufferings of a young and childless widow in India, as if we were trying to prove the existence of the sun in the firmament. It is a fact well known to all who are not willfully blind. There is a point in Dr. Janes’ letter of March 3 that puzzles the understanding. He says: ‘Nor will the lofty and not altogether reprehensible pride of the Brahmin permit him to be the recipient of favors rendered possible by the solicitation of money in distant countries from those of an alien faith. To do this would be contrary to a deep seated religious and social prejudice which, whether we reprobate it or not is an unquestioned fact.’ How, then, does it come that a collection is to be taken up at a meeting of the Ethical society for the benefit of Mr. Banerjee’s Home and School for Widows? Does Dr. Janes mean to imply that the Ethical society has been converted bodily to Hinduism by the eloquent monk and therefore have ceased to be a people of an ‘alien faith’ from whom the ‘not reprehensible pride’ of a Hindu forbids him to solicit aid? Some of the women in Boston declare that this handsome Hindu hypnotizes them and we may perhaps excuse the vagaries of our learned Ethical president upon the same ground, for surely nothing less than some such paralyzing power could betray so able a man from the paths of common sense. Our suspiciQn of hypnotism becomes further strengthened when we read in the same letter of March 3, ‘It is not the object aimed at by Ramabai that
Swami Vivekananda criticizes, but the methods adopted for collecting money and the impossibility, as he believes, of accomplishing large results in the way proposed/ And Swami Vivekananda is the friend ‘of Mr. Banerjee and ‘believes in his work/ Must not Mr. Vivekananda therefore have used some occult means for concealing from the president of his recently converted society that Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee sailed for England the 18th of April, 1871, and when there traveled the length and breadth of the land establishing auxiliary societies in aid of female education in India? One striking result of this journey may be found in Mr. Banerjee’s own words in reference to his home for widows, when he says: ‘The widows’ home could not have gained
ground without the help and support of friends in England And since in speaking of Mr. Banerjee’s faith he calls him a Hindu and commends him for having won the indorsement of many of the best citizens of his own faith – the inference is inevitable that he supposes Mr. Banerjee to be an orthodox Hindu.
“This puzzling question then comes to us to add to our bewilderment: How is it possible that Dr.
Janes should not know that the honorary corresponding member of the Brooklyn Ethical association, Mr. Sasipada Banerjee, is just as much a heretic and outlaw to the orthodox Hindu as Ramabai herself? The hottest persecution Mr. Banerjee ever encountered was not when he first began befriending widows, nor when he established his girls’ school, but when, in July, 1865, he gave up idolatry and caste and threw off the sacred Brahminical thread. In the following August a meeting of orthodox Hindus was held ‘to take organized steps to persecute him/ Day and night meetings were held to put him and his wife to all sorts of inconvenience. Not a friend to help or a kind word from any quarter, Mr. Wilson on ‘Female Education in Bengal [sic]. An Englishman’s letter in the jlndia Minor [Indian Mirror?] of that day says, ‘A sudden stop was now put to the progress of the school by the
fact of the founder having embraced Brahmoism. For months no girl came to his school except his niece.;
“But we are compelled to give up the whole mass of objection to Ramabai as incomprehensible when we read again in Dr. Janes’ letter of March 3 that the work of Babu Sasipada Banerjee is commended because ‘It has been conducted quietly and without ostentation’ and the Pundita’s is condemned because it has not been carried on quietly and without ostentation. Surely this good doctor must be under some malign influence. From every publication concerning the work of Mr. Banerjee comes the report of patronage from the very beginning of his schools, of lords and ladies, archdeacons and bishops – presents from members of the royal family, letters of congratulation from the queen. That Mr. Banerjee has kept himself well informed as to every avenue of possible help we very well know who received applications of aid from him in almost the very beginning of Ramabai’s enterprise. And far from condemning him, we approve his methods. Indeed, it was probably from his visit to England that Ramabai obtained the hint she so modestly followed here. The Bombay Educational Review, published by the government, says: ‘What
epithet we wonder should be applied to the journey to America of an unprotected Hindoo widow, to her loving reception by American ladies, to the formation of Ramabai circles, to the return of the wanderer to India and finally to the installation of the Sharada Sadana in a building of its own worth 45,000 rupees. Romantic is no word for it! It is gratifying to know that all that is best in native society is in hearty sympathy with the work of this gifted and brave Maratha lady/
“The Pundita Ramabai was a pupil and friend of Babu Keshub Chunder Sen. It was from books lent her by this great teacher that she first learned of Christianity. It was from him also that Mr. Banerjee first received his spiritual impulse. Chunder Sen was
the founder of an eclectic theistic society, as much noted for its piety as the Neo-Hindus, to whom Viveka-nanda belongs, are noted for what his admirers call ‘freedom of soul/ I have searched in vain through several published accounts of the life and work of Mr. Banerjee, looking for some mention of Sanyasi monks among his friends and helpers. He mentions in great detail very many trifling acts of friendship as well as more substantial support. I have failed to find any allusion to Sanyasi monks, unless, indeed, they figure without name among the bands of orthodox who organized to persecute him when he joined the Brahmo Samaj. Indeed, the Unity and the Minister, the official organ of the Brahmo Samaj, the society to which Mr. Banerjee belongs, in Calcutta, goes so far as to say they know Babu Norendra Nath Dutt (alias Vivekananda), better as an actor on the stage of the Nava-Vindavan theater than as a philosopher. The Ethical society publishes many extracts from Hindu papers commending their protege, but they seem entirely to ignore the criticisms of other Indian periodicals of high standing.
The Indian review ridicules the idea that Vivekananda should be supposed to be preaching Hinduism. It says his moral philosophy was taught him at a Christian college in Calcutta and the Unity and the Minister, from which we quoted above, goes on to say: ‘Any
follower of modern Hinduism (referring to Vivekananda) cannot command that respect from us which we entertain for a genuine orthodox Hindu/ “
The above article constituted the last of the published statements made by Mrs. McKeen and Dr. Janes, and to that section of the reading public which had been conditioned to think the worst of India it might have appeared that Mrs. McKeen had had the last word. First, Dr. Janes had not sufficiently clarified the actual position of the young and childless widows in India, with whose lot the Ramabai Circle was largely concerned. Second, although he had established the fact that Swamiji was not opposed to the education of Hindu women, he had not clearly explained the reasons why Swamiji did not approve of Ramabai’s methods of raising funds. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, moreover, did not seem altogether unbiased in presenting the controversy, and Janes* position was not helped by the paper’s misquotations and falsification of dates. Nor did the hysteria to which Mrs. McKeen was reduced in her last letter, in which she accused Swamiji of hypnotism, serve to clarify matters. Thus, all in all, the controversy as it stood was inconclusive and, to say the least, confusing.
As will be seen later, in one climactic lecture Swamiji put an end to all the haggling over the pros and cons of whether or not widows were mistreated in India. This was not done, however, by a point-by-point answer to his opponents, and therefore, as far as the present reader is concerned, the issues in question were left, as it were, in mid-air. In fairness to Dr. Janes, it should be mentioned that he later prepared a full answer to Mrs. McKeen. A letter from Mrs. Bull to Mary Hale, which has only recently come to light and which is dated April 16, 1895, reads in part:
I am going to quote from a letter just received, which will interest you as it comes from a man of fine mind and character, and whose friendship and commendation are of value. He is President of the Ethical Society of Brooklyn – Dr. Janes – and he says: “It is a
great gratification to me that the Swami has been with us in Brooklyn and the final outcome of his lectures and the little controversy with our Ramabai friends is sure to bring broader and juster view of the religions,
philosophy and social life of the Hindus… I have prepared a full reply to Mrs. McKeen’s communication to the
Eagle with ample quotations from the code of Manu and the reliable authorities, which ought
completely to dispose of the legal questions raised by the Brooklyn critics. My article is rather long and I am not sure that the
Eagle will print it, but I shall try in some way to bring it before our Brooklyn public. In
the North American Review of October, 1888, you will find an interesting article on ‘Child Marriage in India/ by Babu Raj Coomar Ray, a kinsman of Keshab Chunder Sen and Mozoomdar, an Honorary corresponding member of the Brooklyn Ethical Association.
It coincides entirely with the Swami’s view”
But the Brooklyn Eagle evidently did not publish Dr. Janes’ article, and the reading public was none the wiser. Thus, since Swamiji’s position was not adequately presented and since he himself altogether refused to engage in a petty debate, it would not be amiss for us to attempt to unravel, at least to some extent, the threads of the controversy.
The main point of contention between the Ramabai Circle and Dr. Janes, who represented Swamiji, was, of course, the position of widows in Hindu society. According to the women of the Circle, who had obtained their information directly from the sensational lectures and book of Ramabai, the vast majority of high caste Hindu widows, particularly young widows, were cruelly treated, persecuted and forced to live a life of abject poverty, loneliness and disgrace. This ill-treatment, they contended, was not sporadic but was decreed by Hindu law and custom and was therefore habitual and universal. Contending thus, the Ramabai Circle automatically condemned Hindu society as having willfully and inhumanly degraded a whole class of women.
Dr. Janes, on the other hand, upheld Swamiji’s denial that Hindu widows as a class were the degraded and persecuted objects of social scorn that Ramabai had made them out to be. As Swamiji’s representative, he admitted that sporadic and exceptional cases offTll-treatment of widows might exist, for in every country and in every social system deviations from the norm are inevitable. However, as Dr. Janes pointed out, it was not Swamiji’s purpose to dwell on the “nether” side of Indian civilization, but rather to present its best and most characteristic features.
Mrs. McKeen was not satisfied with this. The purpose of the Ramabai Circle was to be benefactor not merely to a few exceptional cases of ill-treated widows, but to an entire class.
According to Mrs. McKeen’s own brand of logic, she had spent the past six years soliciting funds for this class; therefore it must exist. Moreover, the numerous hair-raising reports she had heard regarding the condition of Hindu widows had further convinced her that, just as Ramabai had said, they were persecuted and degraded by a settled custom that applied in all cases.
These two viewpoints – Mrs. McKeen’s and Dr. Janes’ – were so diametrically opposed that obviously both could not be correct. It is clear to us today, and it was clear to Dr. Janes, that Swamiji’s simple statement to the effect that widows as a class were not mistreated was far more valid than were pages of Mrs. McKeen’s “testimony.” Swamiji, being a Hindu who had recently come from India, was certainly in a position to know the true conditions of Hindu society. Moreover, as Dr. Janes well knew, his integrity and his ability to form a clear judgment regarding so complicated a matter as Indian society were beyond dispute. But while these things were apparent to Dr. Janes, many readers of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle might have been reluctant to accept Swamiji’s simple undocumented statement as an adequate contradiction to Mrs. McKeen’s “facts.”
The apparent weakness of the presentation of Swamiji’s position lay in the fact that although Dr. Janes had done his noble best he had failed to make one all-important point clear, without a knowledge of which one could not possibly pass judgment upon the life of Hindu widows. The fact was that the life of the Hindu widow, rich or poor, young or old, was one of extreme religious asceticism, that is to say, of poverty and self-denial. It is the confirmed and not unjustifiable belief of the Hindu that without self-mortification moral and spiritual values cannot be acquired. The widow’s life is, by custom, one in which spiritual and moral values are held to be supreme, and therefore it is, by custom, austere. To an outsider, unaware of this fact or without sympathetic understanding of it, such a life would appear to be incontrovertible evidence of the Hindus’ cruelty to and mistreatment of their women. But to those who understood it the widows’ life would appear as something entirely different from that portrayed by Ramabai.
In Hindu society the widows represented an informal order of nuns, who, though not secluded in convents, lived in every essential respect the life of monastics. If such lives could be thought of as evidences of ill-treatment, then with equal justification one could consider the austere and rigorous lives of Christian nuns to be evidences of Christian cruelty. In both cases the life was one of hardship, but also in both cases it was one traditionally endured for the sake of a lofty religious ideal. Traditionally, the Hindu widow divested herself of jewelry, donned coarse cloth and cut her hair. Nunlike, she subsisted on plain fare, slept on a hard bed and did not join in the secular festivities of the family. But while observing these hard rules of widowhood, which could not be violated, she was treated with the utmost tenderness and sympathy by her parents or in-laws and was helped to endure the disciplines of her life and to grow strong in their observance.
Child widows, of whom there were not many, but with whom Ramabai was particularly concerned, were, in the vast majority of cases, naturally given as much love and care as were other daughters of the family, and while they may not have at first understood the reasons for observing the rules of widowhood, those rules were made as easy as possible for them to follow and in no sense involved servitude, isolation or degradation. Child marriage was, of course, in itself, frowned upon by Swamiji. “I hate the very name of marriage in regard to a boy or girl,*’ he wrote in May of 1895 to Swami Saradananda. And again, on December 23, 1895, “I have a strong hatred of child-marriage. I have suffered terribly from it and it is the
great sin for which our nation has to suffer… I must set my foot to the best of my ability upon this devilish custom of child marriage… I can kill the man who gets a husband for a baby.”
But while Swamiji deplored the custom of child marriage, it did not follow that girls who were widowed were cruelly treated or that, not remarrying, their lives were henceforth blighted. To Swamiji, as to most Hindus, a married life was not the end and all of human aspiration. In India the life of spiritual renunciation, which the widow undertook, was universally considered to be a far more exalted and fruitful life than that of matrimony, and while* the dedicated life of the widow was, to be sure, never one of comfort, its reward was great. The remarkable fact was that the widow, whatever her previous disposition may have been, often developed the prized qualities of endurance, fortitude, selflessness and serenity. Devoting herself to religious practices she became spiritually alive ; she was an asset to the community, her leadership and advice were sought after, and she was looked upon by all with respect often amounting to reverence.
As for the economic status of Hindu widows, Swamiji was certainly in a position to give authoritative testimony. Having completed a course in Indian law in the University of Calcutta (refraining only from appearing in the final examination), he was fully versed in inheritance laws, and his statement concerning them was correct. A Hindu widow who had no sons had complete control over her husband’s property, and it was to this fact that Swamiji referred when he said: “The whole
estate of the deceased husband must go to the wife, personal property absolutely, real property for life.” If the widow had sons the real property was divided among them when they came of age. It was unthinkable, however, for a son not to provide as well as possible for his mother. Indeed, the status of the Hindu mother was so high and unassailable that the Hindu lawgivers never thought of legislating specifically for her support by her sons. The rare son who did not have enough filial devotion to provide for his mother was prompted by fear of social ostracism to do so. A widow, moreover, had absolute right to whatever gifts of money or property she had received from her husband, parents or other relatives. As Swamiji had said in Detroit: “As to their [the Hindus’] property laws, the
wife’s dowry belongs to her exclusively, never becoming the property of the husband. She can sell or give away without his consent. The gifts from any one to herself, including those of the husband, are hers alone, to do with as she pleases.” It was, of course, a fact that in India, as in any country, a widow whose parents and husband had been poor and who had no sons to provide for her was generally left without means of self-support. But in this case she was always taken care of by either her in-laws or her own relatives. She often, particularly if she was young, returned to her parents’ home and there entered the communal life of the family, not as an object of charity or of scorn, but as a respected member of the group.
Although it was true that women did not inherit anything from their fathers (in this respect Dr. Janes misquoted Swamiji, who had not mentioned patrimonial inheritance), it was not true that their fathers ignored them. It may not have been known to Mrs. McKeen and her kind, but Hindu parents were also very affectionate to their daughters and, in lieu of a legacy, provided them with as big a dowry as possible, often going into debt to do so. Furthermore, parents adorned their daughters on the eve of their marriage with as many gold ornaments as they could, all of which were inviolably theirs. Even in times of emergency a Hindu husband would be reluctant to ask his wife to sell her jewelry. Indeed, throughout their married life he himself bestowed upon her as many gold bangles and other ornaments as he was able, so that in case of her widowhood she would have a treasure to fall Backupon.
If the stories the Ramabai Circle had assiduously collected regarding the ill-treatment of child widows were true and correctly interpreted, which is unlikely, they pertained to cases so exceptional as to be ruled out as valid testimony. As for the laws of Manu which Mrs. McKeen so triumphantly quoted, even Ramabai had pointed out that the old laws of India protected women. Had Mrs. McKeen been genuinely interested in the subject, she could have found with a little research such verses in Manu as: “Women must be honored and adorned
by their fathers, husbands, brothers, and brothers-in-law, who desire (their own) welfare.” “Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are dishonored, no sacred rites yield rewards.” “Where female relatives live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.” “In like manner, care must be taken of barren women, of those who have no sons, of those whose family is extinct, of wives and widows faithful to their lords, and of women afflicted with diseases.” Such laws as these were so much a part of a Hindu’s heritage that to transgress them was akin to sacrilege. Other “proofs” given by Mrs. McKeen in no way indicated that widows were ill-treated. The fact, for instance*, that Ramabai’s school had received support from various people acquainted with India meant only that the widows, like millions of other Hindus, were in need of education and that, like millions of other Hindus, some were not “in a position to meet expenses even of board and clothing.”
No one, least of all Swamiji, denied the fact that education was called for in India; as is well known, one of his most urgent plans for the regeneration of his country was the education of Hindu women – whether widowed, married or unmarried. Again and again one reads in his letters to his disciples and brother monks his heartfelt belief in the importance of woman’s place in his country. “Can you better the condition of your women?” he wrote in December of 1893. “Then there will be hope for your well-being. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now.” And in another letter written in 1895: “There is no chance for the welfare
of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.” Indeed, if one were to quote all of Swamiji’s admonitions to his countrymen regarding the necessity for uplifting and educating Hindu women, many pages would be covered.
Nor was it true that he did not welcome help from America and other foreign countries. His main purpose in coming to America was precisely to seek financial help. Unfortunately, as in the case of explaining the significance of a widow’s life, the good Dr. Janes had failed in explaining why Swamiji did not like to receive aid from non-Hindus after Ramabai’s fashion. Yet this was a simple matter. Even a member of the Ramabai Circle would surely have understood that a person would rather starve with his own people than receive charity from those who condemned them; a question of self-respect or “morale” was involved. It was this same question that was involved in receiving foreign help in India. Swamiji was keenly aware that help is of two sorts and that what was ordinarily given to his country by foreigners was almost invariably contaminated by contempt. This was true of the “help” given by the Christian missionaries and, to almost the same extent, it was true of that given by the Ramabai Circle. Swamiji had made it clear, particularly in his lectures in Detroit, that such help was worse than none, for it sapped the self-respect of the nation which received it and thus served to ruin rather than to restore.
Swamiji’s disapproval of the methods of Ramabai were based on the fact that she had deliberately catered to the psychological urge of the American women of that era to play the part of Lady Bountiful to some poor unfortunates – preferably a whole class of poor unfortunates. Moreover, Ramabai’s own psychology was somewhat strange and tended to disqualify her as a true servant of India. While her unusual and romantic life made her particularly appealing to Western women of Mrs. McKeen’s generation, one can hardly think that an isolated upbringing fitted her to enter into Hindu Society and become a judge of its complex conditions. Undoubtedly Ramabai was much concerned with the lot of Hindu women, particularly widows, and more particularly child widows. Her interest was sincere and intense, but one cannot think that it was in any sense enlightened. On reading her book and excerpts from her lectures, one sees very clearly that her judgments were based almost entirely on an emotional response to external appearances rather than on a thoughtful and level-headed understanding of the underlying facts. Indeed, so lacking was Ramabai in a real grasp of India’s problems that, in order to serve the cause of the Hindus, she condemned them wholesale and with much fanfare. Furthermore, Ramabai had repudiated Hinduism and identified herself with another religion, the determined missionary purpose of which was to destroy everything Hindu. Whatever her personal justification may have been for this shift in loyalty, the fact remained that her Christian conversion inevitably cast suspicion on her school in Poona.
In this connection, it should be pointed out that there was no question of religious prejudice in the Hindus’ distrust of Christian institutions. If the Christians were regarded with a wary eye it was not because they were followers of Christ but because they were avowed enemies of Hinduism. Whatever Mrs. McKeen or Ramabai herself may have said to the contrary, the attitude of the Ramabai Circle toward India would indicate that Ramabai was no exception to the general run of nineteenth-century Christians. Although, unlike the missionaries, she had extolled Hindu ideals,’ the net effect of her campaign was, it would appear, the same as theirs. Under her tutelage her followers had manifestly developed no respect for Hindu customs and no love for the Hindu people ; as for Hindu ideals, they became infuriated at the very mention of them. It was for this reason that, while Swamiji never criticized Ramabai, he could never have sanctioned her methods of obtaining help for her work.
On the other hand, Mr. Sasipada Banerjee, whom, incidentally, Swamiji had also helped in the past, had not forsaken his own religion for one which sought to destroy it. Although the Brahmo Samaj, of which he was a member, advocated many social reforms horrifying to the orthodox, it was still a part of Hinduism, and while Banerjee may have stepped outside the pale of orthodox Hindu society by becoming a Brahmo Samajist, he remained, nevertheless, within the fold of the Hindu religion. His educational work was, on the whole, in keeping with the reform program of the Samaj, with which Swamiji, as he had written to Professor Wright, was in sympathy. It is true that in certain details Bancrjee’s method of work left much to be desired. As Mrs. McKeen was quick to point out, it was similar to that of Ramabai, characterized by an undignified and toadying appeal for foreign help. Whether or not Swamiji knew these unfortunate and damning circumstances is a question that we cannot answer, nor is it altogether important. His main reason for supporting Banerjee rather than Ramabai was that Banerjee was a Hindu trying to help Hindu widows and, as such, was worthy of help.
As long as Western help was characterized by patronage and vilification, Swamiji would have none of it; he would accept only such help for his country as was given in sympathy and respect. The type of foreign aid he had in mind was later demonstrated by the lives of those Western men and women who, at his request, devoted themselves to the service of India. Perhaps the most representative of these was Sister Nivedita, who, in serving the Hindus, became a part of their society ; who, in giving love and respect, was in turn loved and respected, and whose help never undermined in the slightest the strength of those who received it.
Was it possible for Mrs. McKeen, whom we may take to be typical of a large number of American women of her era, to have understood those things? Could she, for instance, have understood the spiritual foundation of the Hindu widow’s life? Could she have understood that a life of asceticism was not necessarily one of brutal treatment? And could she have understood that help given in contempt and pity was deadly to the recipient? Whether she could have understood these things or not, Swamiji made no effort to explain them to her, nor to her friends, in his answering lecture.
The Brooklyn Times of April 6 ran a short announcement of this lecture at the Pouch Gallery as follows:
Brooklyn Ethical Association. Pouch Gallery, 345 Clinton Ave. Free lecture by Swami Vivekananda, of India, Sunday evening April 7, at 8 o’clock. Subject “Some Customs of the Hindus: What They Mean and How They Are Misinterpreted.” Collection for Babu Sasipada Banerjee’s school for Hindu widows. All are cordially invited.
Both the Standard Union and the Daily Eagle of April 8 reported on this lecture, in which Swamiji, striding up and down the platform, “his eyes bright and a flush mantling his face,” answered his opponents in his own way. The two reports read, respectively, as follows:
Swami Vivekananda Tells of Peculiarities of India.
His Talk on Caste, Its Advantages and Defects,
And of the Prospect of Its Total Extermination In the Immediate Future.
A special meeting of the Brooklyn Ethical Association, with an address by Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk, as the main feature, was held at the Pouch Gallery, on Clinton avenue, last night. “Some
customs of the Hindus; what they mean, and how they are misinterpreted” was the subject treated. A large throng of people filled the spacious gallery.
Dressed in his Oriental costume, his eyes bright, and a flush mantling his face, Swami Vivekananda started to tell of his people, of his country, and its customs. He desired only that justice be shown to him and to his. In the beginning of his discourse he said he would give a general idea of India. He said it was not a country but a continent; that erroneous ideas had been promulgated by travellers who had never seen the country. He said that there were nine separate languages spoken and over 100 different dialects. He spoke severely of those who wrote about his country, and said their brains were addled by superstition, and that they had an idea that everyone outside of the pale of their own religion was a horrible blackguard. One of the customs that had often been misinterpreted was the brushing of the teeth by the Hindus. They never put hair or skin in their mouths, but use a plant. “Hence a man wrote” said the speaker, “that the Hindus get up early in the morning and swallow a plant” He said the [custom of widows throwing themselves under the] car of juggernaut did not exist, never had, and that no one knew how such a story started.
Swami Vivekananda’s talk on caste was most comprehensive and interesting. He said it was not a granted [graded] system of classes, but that each caste thought itself to be superior to all the others. He said it was a trade guild and not a religious institution. He said that it had been in existence from time immemorial, and explained how at first only certain rights were hereditary, but how afterward the ties were bound closer, and intermarriage and eating and drinking were restricted to each caste.
The speaker told of the effect that the mere presence of a Christian or Mohammedan would have on a Hindu household. He said that it was veritable pollution for a white man to step into a Hindu’s
presence, and that after receiving one outside of his religion, the Hindu always took a bath.
The Hindu monk abused the order of the Pariahs roundly, saying they did all the menial work, ate carrion and were the scavengers. He also said that the people who wrote books on India came only into contact with these people, and not with genuine Hindus. He described the trial of one who broke the rules of caste, and said that the only punishment inflicted was the refusal of the particular caste to intermarry or drink or eat with him or his children. All other ideas were erroneous.
In explaining the defects of caste, the speaker said that in preventing competition it produced stagnation, and completely blocked the progress of the people. He said that in taking away brutality it stopped social improvements. In checking competition it increased population. In its favor, he said, were the facts that it was the only ideal of equality and fraternity. That money had nothing to do with social standing in the caste. All were equal. He said that the fault of all the great reformers was that they thought caste was due only to religious representation, instead of ascribing it to the right source, namely, the curious social conditions. He spoke very bitterly of the attempts of the English and Mohammedans to civilize the country by the bayonet and lire and sword. He said that to abolish caste one must change the social conditions completely and destroy the entire economic system of the country. Better, he said, that the waves of the [Bay of] Bengal flow and drown all rather than this. English civilization was composed of the three “B’s” – Bible, bayonet, and brandy. “That is civilization, and it has been carried to such an extent that the average income of a Hindu is 50 cents a month. Russia is outside, saying, ‘Let’s civilize a little,’ and England goes on and on.”
The monk grew excited as he walked up and down, talking rapidly about the way the Hindus had been treated. He scored the foreign educated Hindus, and described their return to their native land, “full of champagne and new ideas.” He said that child-marriage was bad, because the West said so, and that the mother-in-law could torture her daughter-in-law with impunity, as the son could not interfere. He said that the foreigners took every opportunity to abuse the heathen, because they had so many evils of their own that they wanted to cover them up. He said that each nation must work out its own salvation, and that no one else could solve its problems.
In speaking of India’s benefactors he asked whether America had ever heard of David Herr [Hare], who established the first college for women, and who had devoted so much of his life to education.
The speaker gave a number of Indian proverbs that were not at all complimentary to the English. In closing he made an earnest appeal for his land. He said:
“It matters not as long as India is true to herself and to her religion. But a blow has been struck at her heart by this awful godless West when she sends hypocrisy and atheism into her midst. Instead of sending bushels of abuses, carloads of vituperation and shiploads of condemnations, let an endless stream of love go forth. Let us all be men! “
Resolutions thanking the monk were unanimously adopted, and a collection was taken for the benefit of Babu Sasipada Banerjee’s school for the education of Hindu widows at Baranagar.
LET INDIA ALONE.
Then It will Come Out All Right,Says Swami Vivekananda.
The English people were given a raking over last night by Swami Vivekananda of India, who lectured to a throng at the Pouch mansion. He said that the English used three B’s – Bible, brandy and bayonets – in civilizing India. The preacher went ahead with the Bible to get the lay of the fortifications. The English, he said, had exaggerated the social conditions of India in their writings. They got their ideas from the Pariahs, who were a sort of human scavenger. No self-respecting Hindoo, he declared, would associate with an Englishman. The story about widows throwing themselves under the chariot of Juggernaut he declared to be a myth. Child marriage and caste he agreed were bad. Caste, he said, originated with the mechanics’ guilds. What India needed was to be let alone, and it would come out all right.
From the time of this lecture to the end of Swamiji’s American visit practically all public opposition to him was silent. Yet, on reading the above reports, one finds very little to account for its drastic effect, for far from giving a detailed reply to the women of the Ramabai Circle, Swamiji had not so much as mentioned the condition of widows in India. It may have been, of course, that by explaining in general the significance of India’s customs and the Hindus’ attitude toward meddlesome foreigners, he had placed the specific problems of widows in a new light and had thereby enlightened Ramabai’s friends. It is somewhat difficult to believe, however, that such determined opponents could be silenced by mere reason. Some other element must have been involved, and one can only think that somehow, by means known only to himself, Swamiji had in Brooklyn exerted the same power as he had in Detroit, where, in one final lectureT he had silenced the cavilings of the Christian missionaries. In Brooklyn, as in Detroit, he must have sent forth shafts of lightning-like thought which struck directly at the state of mind that had found satisfaction in defiling India. It would almost seem as though he raised himself that evening to a position where he could reach the deep levels of all minds and, being himself only good and bent on doing only good to others, removed from those minds much that was harmful and ‘untrue. Only a Swami Vivekananda could have the ability to reach the collective mind at its unconscious level and there influence it; and in view of our knowledge that he had that power, it is not too farfetched to think that when necessary he used it.