13. DAWN OF THE WORLD MISSION
We have devoted many pages to what may be called the “Ramabai controversy,” it being of importance in the history of Swamiji’s work in America and also illustrative of his method of dealing with actively hostile groups. The controversy, however, took little of his time and energy. As far as is known at present, between December 30, 1894, and April 8, 1895, Swamiji delivered only seven lectures in Brooklyn (including two parlor lectures). While in his last lecture he had silenced with a thunderbolt of awesome power a whole section of American club women, the focal point of his interest during these months was in New York, or, to speak more accurately, in Manhattan. In order, then, to give a complete picture of his life during the first part of 1895, we must go Backin our narrative to Friday, December 28, when he arrived in New York from Cambridge. Unfortunately for our purpose, the New York newspapers of 1895 took scarcely any notice of Swamiji’s classes and lectures. It was not until January of 1896 that the reporters began to become aware of the importance of the “Hindu Monk.” “The newspapers have taken me up this week,” Swamiji wrote to Mr. E. T. Sturdy in the beginning of 1896, “and altogether I have stirred up New York considerably this year.” While Swamiji also “stirred up New York” in the spring of 1895, it was a stir that was not obvious to the journalistic eye, and thus I have been unable to make “new discoveries” concerning this period. Most of the material and information that follows may be familiar to many readers, it having been gathered from Swamiji’s biographies and also from the published memoirs of those who knew him. Yet this period is so important that I do not think a repetition of known facts will be out of order, particularly as they have not heretofore been brought together
in one place. I trust, therefore, that the reader will bear with me through the following pages.
Presumably Swamiji spent the week-end of December 28-30 with either Dr. Janes or Mr. Higgins. He was entertained, as has been seen, at a reception on Friday evening, and on Sunday he lectured at the Pouch Mansion. A hitherto unpublished letter reveals that he then entrained for Chicago so that he might spend New Year’s Day with the Hale family, whom he looked upon as his own. This letter, written to Mrs. Bull on January 3, reads as follows:
Chicago, 3rd January 1895 541 Dearborn Avenue
Dear Mrs. Bull:
I lectured at Brooklyn last Sunday. Mrs. Higgins gave a little reception the evening J arrived and some of the prominent members of the Ethical Society including Dr. Jain [Janes] were there. Some of them 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. The New York course for me is nearly ready but I do not wish to fix the dates until Miss Thursby comes to New York. As such Miss Phillips who is a friend of Miss Thursby’s and who is arranging the New York course for me will act with Miss Thursby in case she wants to get up something in New York.
I owe much to the Hale family and I thought to give them a little surprise by dropping in on New Year’s day. I am trying to get a new gown here. The old gown is here but it is so shrunken by constant washings that it is unfit to wear in public.
I am almost confident of finding the exact thing in Chicago.
I hope your father is all right by this time.
With my love to Miss Farmer, Mr. and Mrs. Gibbons, and the rest of the holy family, I am ever yours,
P. S. I saw Miss Couring at Brooklyn. She was as kind as ever. Give her my love if you write her soon.
From a paragraph, which has been deleted in the published version of a letter Swamiji wrote on January 20 to Mrs. Bull, on hearing of the death of her father, we learn that he did not return to Brooklyn until January 19. This informative paragraph appears at the close of the letter and reads in the original as follows:
I am to lecture here [Brooklyn] tonight and two other lectures in the next month. I came in only yesterday. Miss Josephine Lock and Mrs. Adams were very kind to me in Chicago and my debt to Mrs. Adams is simply inexpressible.
As was seen in Swamiji’s letter of January 3 to Mrs. Bull, tentative plans were being made for his New York lectures and classes. One can well imagine the many conversations and discussions which must have been held in this regard among his friends, for many matters, both ideal and practical, had to be thought of on the eve of this new venture. There was, for instance, the practical problem of where classes would be held. Obviously, what was called for was a place where Swamiji could be unhampered by the routine of a household, be able to eat, sleep and meditate aThe chose and, above all, be free day and night to receive seekers of spiritual truth – in short, a place where he could create the atmosphere of a Himalayan ashrama in the very heart of an American metropolis. Financial matters were also to be considered ; for Swamiji, true religious teacher that he was, steadfastly refused to accept fees for his classes or for private instruction. There was also in the offing, as in any organized work of the sort he was about to undertake, the prospect of a great deal* of secretarial work.
A more important problem, and one to which Swamiji no doubt gave a great deal of thought, was how to extract the essence of the Vedanta philosophy and way of life from its age-old Indian incrustations and transfer it alive and intact to an American setting. “I want to give them dry, hard reason, softened in the sweetest syrup of love and made spicy with intense work, and cooked in the kitchen of Yoga, so that even a baby can easily digest it,” he wrote a year later to Mr. E. T. Sturdy. And to Alasinga: “To put the Hindu ideas into English and then make out of dry Philosophy and intricate Mythology and queer startling Psychology, a religion which shall be easy, simple, popular and at the same time meet the requirements of the highest minds – is a task only those can understand who have attempted it.” It was this task upon which Swamiji was now embarking and one with which his mind must have been preoccupied.
Of these ideas and needs he probably talked with his friends, earlier with Mrs. Bull in Cambridge and now in New York with the Guernseys, Miss Phillips, Miss Farmer, Miss Thursby and others, some of whom understood his purpose, some of whom did not, but all of whom were eager to help. It should be noted in passing that these friends were perhaps members of the New York society which Swamiji had established in November. But although this organization existed, it was not much in evidence during either the preparations for his new venture or its beginnings. It was Leon Landsberg, a bachelor and ardent disciple, who was able to give him immediate assistance. In the course of an article concerning Swamiji, the New York Herald of January 19, 1896, described Landsberg [then Swami Kripananda] as “a man of middle age, medium height, possessed of a shock of curly hair and a pair of eyes in which the fire of the true fanatic undoubtedly burns.” Sister Christine, who first met Leon Landsberg at Thousand Island Park, speaks of him in her “Memoirs” at greater length. He was, she writes, “an American by citizenship and a Russian Jew by birth. He had all the great qualities of his race – emotion, imagination, a passion for learning and a worship of genius. … His intimate knowledge of Europe, its philosophies, its languages, its culture, gave him a profundity and depth of mind which are rare. He was fiery and picturesque. His indifference to his personal appearance9 his fanaticism, his pity for the poor, which amounted to a passion, drew Swamiji to him. He often gave his last penny to a beggar, and always he gave not out of his abundance, but out of a poverty almost as great as the recipient’s.”
Landsberg took over, with characteristic intensity, the burden of the practical details of Swamiji’s work. He rented rooms, volunteered to take charge of irksome secretarial matters and to become, all in all, Swamiji’s right-hand man. On January 23 Landsberg wrote to Isabelle McKindley as follows:
144 Madison Ave New York, Jan’y 23d 95
I received your kind note with express notice, for which many thanks.
That I am ready to comply with your wishes va sans dire. You are the Swami’s friend, and this is sufficient reason for me to do anything in my power to please you. So if there is anything I can do for you, know that my services are always at your command.
I mailed to you two newspapers containing reports of the Swami’s Brooklyn lectures. His last lecture on “Ideal Women” was a success. He was at his best. He has to hold two more lectures before the Brooklyn Ethical Association, besides several parlour lectures.
He gains daily more friends. I am sure that his sojourn in New York will not only add to his glory, but also leave a permanent impress on all those who are favored to hearTiim.
Miss Thursby and Miss Farmer are arranging parlour lectures for New York.
It will interest you to learn that I have rented two rooms, one for me and the other to serve as the Swami’s headquarters, which we are going to occupy from Sunday next. The Swami will board and sleep at the Guernseys, and only use new engaged room as his business office stnd to hold group meetings in Yoga.
It would therefore be advisable to address your letters to the new place, 54 West 83d Street, where I shall be constantly present to receive them, and to answer all the inquiries concerning the Swami.
Don’t you think that this was a good idea ?
The Swami is in good health and happy, and in speaking of you and your family he has only words of love and blessings.
With kindest regards Very sincerely, Yours
It might be noted here parenthetically that while Swamiji was surely happy, he was not altogether in good health. In a letter to Isabelle McKindley, written three days after the above, Landsberg admitted that Swamiji had been suffering from a series of colds, and Swamiji himself wrote to Isabelle McKindley on the 24th of January, “I have got again a little cold.” Traveling Backand forth in the last week of January across the Brooklyn bridge in the bitterness of a New York winter did not perhaps make matters any better.
But a cold was no deterrent to Swamiji’s plans. Everything had at last been arranged, and on Sunday, January 27, he moved into the two humble rooms that Landsberg had rented at 54 West 33rd Street and there, most probably on January 28, started his classes on Vedanta and Yoga, which were to become so famous and which constituted the very heart of the second phase of his work in the West. Although in April lie thought of moving to another location, he kept his lodgings at West 33rd Street until June.
54 West 33rd Street was a brownstone rooming house close to Sixth Avenue on the south side of the street. In the 1890’s this was none too good a neighborhood. On the West Side the rich and fashionable had moved north beyond 59th Street. Trade was sweeping up Fifth Avenue well past 33rd, and most of the once luxurious old homes had been replaced by business buildings or converted into inexpensive lodging houses. Worse, the district known as the “Tenderloin” (a district of ill repute) now embraced the area from Madison Square to 40th Street, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues. There remained, however, islands of respectability in this deteriorating neighborhood. Miss Mary Phillips, for instance, lived at 19 West 38th Street, in a block that was undoubtedly respectable, if not fashionable, and the block in which Landsberg had rented rooms was no doubt of equal, though shabby, gentility. Across the street from these rooms and at the Fifth Avenue end of the block the brand-new Waldorf Hotel, luxurious and splendid, reared its towers thirteen stories high ; and although a hotel, however grand, did not render the surroundings residentially select, it no doubt saved them from total disrepute.
It has been generally taken for granted that Landsberg and Swamiji chose such unfashionable quarters because of financial difficulties; and this was no doubt partly the case. In Sister Devamata’s “Memories of India and Indians,” however, we are reminded of another reason for the choice of lodging. “When Swami Vivekananda came to New York,” she writes, “he encountered a strong racial prejudice, which created many hardships for him both in his public and in his private life. Among other things it was extremely difficult for him to secure a proper lodging. Landladies invariably assured him that they had no feeling themselves, but they were afraid they would lose their boarders or lodgers if they took an Asiatic into the house. This forced the Swami to accept inferior living quarters.” But whatever may have been the reason for Swamiji’s choice of quarters, some of his well-wishers considered his rooms unthinkable. One remembers, for instance, his letter to Mrs. Bull regarding her weljdpcaning friend, Miss Hamlen, who took it upon herself to organize Swamiji’s work:
Miss Hamlin has been helping me a good deal.
She is very kind and, I hope, sincere. She wants me to be introduced to the “right kind of people.” This is the second edition of the “Hold yourself steady” business, I am afraid. The only “right sort of people” are those whom die Lord sends – that is what I understand in my life’s experience. They alone can and will help me. As for the rest, Lord help them in a mass and save me from them.
Every one of my friends thought it would end in nothing, this my living and preaching in poor quarters all by myself, and that no ladies will ever come here.
Miss Hamlin especially thought that “she” or “her right sort of people” were way up from such things as to go and listen to a man who lives by himself in a poor lodging. But the “right kind” came for all that, day and night, and she too. Lord, how hard it is for a man to believe in Thee and Thy mercies I Shiva! Shiva! Where is the right kind and where is the bad, mother? It is all He! In the tiger and in the lamb, in the saint and sinner all He!
Despite Swamiji’s “poor quarters” even his early classes were crowded. We learn of them from several sources, one of which is an account by Miss Ellen Waldo, as quoted in “The Life”:
A few of those who had heard him in Brooklyn now began to go to the place where he lived in New York. It was just an ordinary room on the second floor of a lodging house. The classes grew with astonishing rapidity and as the little room filled to overflowing it became very picturesque. The Swami himself sat on the floor and most of his audience likewise. The marble-topped dresser, the arms of the sofa and even the corner washstand helped to furnish seats for the constantly increasing numbers. The door was left open and the overflow filled the hall and sat on the stairs. And those first classes! How intensely interesting they were! Who that was privileged to attend them can ever forget them! The Swami so dignified yet so simple, so gravely earnest, so eloquent, and the close ranks of students, forgetting all inconveniences, hanging breathless on his every word!
It was a fit beginning for a movement that has since grown to such grand proportions. In this unpretentious way did Swami Vivekananda inaugurate the work of teaching Vedanta philosophy in New York. TheSwami gave his services freeas air. The rent was paid by voluntary subscriptions, and when these were tound insufficient, the Swami hired a hall and gave secular lectures on India and devoted the proceeds to the maintenance of the classes. He said that Hindu teachers of religion felt it to be their duty to support their classes and the students, too, if they were unable to care for themselves, and the teachers would willingly make any sacrifice they possibly could to assist a needy disciple.
The classes began in February [?] 1895, and lasted until June;>ut long before that time they had outgrown their ‘small beginnings and had removed downstairs to occupy an entire parlour floor and extension.
The classes were held nearly every morning and on several evenings every week. Some Sunday lectures were also given, and there were “question” classes to help those to whom the teaching was so new and strange that they were desirous to have an opportunity for more extended explanation.
Another recollection of Swamiji’s early classes in New York comes from Miss Josephine MacLeod, who became one of his most devoted friends and helpers. She was also, it can be said, his disciple, for though she often declared that she was only his friend, in her own reminiscences she speaks of some instruction she had received from him and of an experience she had as a result of following it. Surely receiving spiritual instruction from Swamiji was enough to make her a disciple. But however that may be, in 1898 Miss MacLeod, who was affectionately known as “Tantine,” followed Swamiji to India, where she joined him with a group of American and English disciples. Loving India, she often stayed in her later life at the Belur Math, where the upper floor of a guest house was kept in readiness for her. Her “Reminiscences o£ Swami Vivekananda,” which contains memories of her first meeting with him and of his early classes, was published in Prabuddha Bharata of
December, 1949. But before quoting Miss MacLeod directly, I should like to include an excerpt from the notebooks of Mme. Paul Verdier, who knew her well and who heard from her lips many recollections of Swamiji not otherwise available. The following notes were made immediately after a conversation in 1947:
Tantine was living with her sister at Dobbs Ferry on the Hudson about 30 miles from New York. Her sister had two children, a boy and Alberta. She was friendly with Mrs. Dora Roethlisberger, who was very
spiritual and also very psychic….Around the 25th of January, 1895, Tantine received a letter from Mrs. Roethlisberger while in Dobbs Ferry, asking her and her sister to come down to New York to hear and see a wonderful man from India. They both came down and on January 29 the three of them went to 54 W.
33rd Street, where Tantine saw Swamiji for the first time.
Of that class held on January 29, which must have been Swami ji’s first or second, Miss MacLeod tells in her “Reminiscences” :
On the twenty-ninth of January, 1895, I went with my sister to 54 West 33rd Street, New York, and heard the Swami Vivekananda in his own sitting room where were assembled fifteen or twenty ladies and two or three gentlemen. The room was crowded. All the armchairs were taken so I sat on the floor in the front row. Swami stood in the corner. He said something, the particular words of which I do not remember, but instantly to me that was truth, and the second sentence he spoke was truth, and the third sentence was truth. And I listened to him for seven years and whatever he uttered was to me truth. From that moment life had a different import. It was as if he made you realize that you were in eternity. It never altered. It never grew. It was like the sun that you will never forget once you have seen.
I heard him all that winter, three days a week, mornings at eleven o’clock. I never spoke to him, but as we were so regular in coming, two front seats were always kept for us in this sitting room of the Swamiji.
One day he turned and said: “Are you sisters?”
“Yes,” we answered. Then he said: “Do you come very far?” We said: “No, not very far – about thirty
miles up the Hudson.” “So far? That is wonderful.” Those were the first words I ever spoke to him….
His power lay, perhaps, in the courage he gave others. He did not ever seem to be conscious of himself at all. It was the other man who interested him. “When the book of life begins to open, then the fun begins,” he would say. He used to make us realize there was nothing secular in life; it was all holy. “Always remember, you are incidentally an American, and a woman, but always a child of God. Tell yourself day and night who you are. Never forget it.” That is what he used to tell us. His presence, you see, was dynamic. You cannot pass that power on unless you have it, just as you cannot give money away unless you have it. You may imagine it, but you cannot do it.
According to Leon Landsberg’s letter of January 23 to Isabelle McKindley, Swamiji had planned to board and sleep at the Guernseys’, using the rented room only for his classes. Actually, however, as we learn from one of his letters, he generally also ate and slept in his “poor quarters.” On February 1 he writes to Mary Hale: “I am living with Lands
berg at 54 W. 33rd Street. He is a brave and noble soul, Lord bless him. Sometimes I go to the Guernseys’ to sleep.” And on February 14 to Mrs. Ole Bull: “I am very happy now. Between Mr. Landsberg and me, we cook some rice and lentils or barley and quietly eat it, and write something, or read or receive visits from poor people who want to learn something, and thus I feel I am more a Sannyasin now than I ever was in America.”
Evidently life with Landsberg at 54 West 33rd Street was at first harmonious, btit later on some difficulty arose. Accord
ing to the Bengali edition of “The Letters” Swamiji wrote on April 25 to Mrs. Bull, “Mr. Landsberg has given up his connection with me.” And on May 7 “Landsberg doesn’t come [to the classes]. I am afraid he is very much annoyed with me.” Later Swamiji wrote to Mary Hale: “Landsberg has gone away
to live in some other place so I am left alone – I am living mostly on nuts and fruits and milk, and find it very nice and healthy too.” Whatever the cause of Landsberg’s defection may have been, Swamiji readily forgave him. “May the Lord bless Landsberg wherever he goes,” he wrote again. “He is one of the few sincere souls I had the privilege in this life to come across. All is for good. All conjunctions are for subsequent disjunction. I hope I will be perfectly able to work alone. The less help from men the more from the Lord I”
But Landsberg shortly returned to his guru. In July we find him at Thousand Island Park, where Swamiji initiated him into sannyasa and gave him the name “Kripananda” – obviously in view of his compassionate nature, “kripa” being Sanskrit for “compassion,” and “ananda” for “joy” or “bliss.” Much later, Landsberg again deserted his guru and again received only blessings from him. But this takes us far beyond the limits of the present story, for we are concerned here only with the early weeks at 54 West 33rd Street, where Swamiji and Landsberg ate their lentils and barley in peace, where Landsberg attended to Swamiji’s business matters, serving him with devotion, and where Swamiji launched into his intense work of holding at least twelve classes a week, of training a few staunch disciples in the life of spirituality and of receiving visits from “poor people who want to learn something.”
As Miss Waldo pointed out, Swamiji “gave his services free as air.” He had by this time relinquished any attempt to raise money for his Indian work and was satisfied, indeed overjoyed, to cast all financial problems off his shoulders and to live, sannyasin that he was, without thinking of money. It was only to support his classes that he occasionally gave public lectures, holding them at first, not, as Miss Waldo tells, in a hired hall, but on the, lower floor of his lodging house. On March 21 he writes to Mrs. Bull: “I am going to have a series of paid
lectures in my rooms (downstairs), which will seat about a hundred persons, and that will cover the expenses” In February and March he gave two lectures on “The. Vedanta Philosophy” that have been known as the “Barbar House lectures.” These talks,” as newly discovered material has disclosed, were given under the auspices of Mrs. Ole Bull in the New York home of a Mrs. A. L. Barber, who lived at 871 Fifth Avenue. He lectured also before the Dixon Society (The People’s Church), and in MayT and perhaps also in April, he gave several public lectures in the upper hall of the Mott’s MempnaT Building. Of these last the titles of two given in May are unfortunately all that we know; the first, delivered on May 13 was entitled “The Science of Religion,” and the second, the date of which is not known, “The Rationale of Yoga.”
Swamiji may well have given other public lectures in the spring of 1895, and perhaps it was one of these of which Sister Devamata speaks in her “Memories of India and Indians,” which ran in several 1932 issues of Prabuddha Bharata. Sister Devamata is unfortunately vague as to dates, but the installment in which she recalls her first sight of Swamiji seems to pertain to the early months of 1895. She writes:
One day, as I was walking up Madison Avenue, I saw in the window of the Hall of the Universal Brotherhood a modest sign saying: “Next Sunday at
3 p.m. Swami Vivekananda will speak here on ‘What is Vedanta?’ and the following Sunday on ‘What is Yoga?’ ” I reached the hall twenty minutes before the hour. It was already over half full. It was not large, however – a long, narrow room with a single aisle and benches reachingfrom it to the wall; a low platform holding reading aesk and chair at the far end; and a flight of stairs at the back. The hall was on the second story and these stairs gave the only way of access to it – audience and speaker both had to make use of them.
By the time three o’clock had arrived, hall, stairs, window-sills and railings, all were crowded to their utmost capacity. Many even were standing below, hoping to catch a faint echo of the words spoken in the hall above.
A sudden hush, a quiet step on the stairs and Swami Vivekananda passed in stately ercctness up the aisle to the platform. He began to speak; and memory, time, place, people, all melted away. Nothing was left but a voice ringing through the void. It was as if a gate had swung open and I had passed out on a road leading to limitless attainment. The end of it was not visible; but the promise of what it would be shone through the thought and flashed through the personality of the one who gave it. He stood there – prophet of infinitude.
The silence of an empty hall recalled me to myself. Everyone was gone except the Swami and two others standing near the platform. I learned later that they were Mr. and Mrs. Goodyear, ardent disciples of the Swami. Mr. Goodyear made the announcements at the meetings.
I do not know at present when Mr. and Mrs. Walter Goodyear first met Swamiji, but the meeting could have taken place in or before January of 1895, for by that time Swamiji had many friends in New York. We know that in September, 1895, Mr. Goodyear was the American agent for the Brahmavadin, the magazine published fortnightly at Swamiji’s urging by his Madrasi disciples. This, of course, does not indicate that earlier in the year Mr. Goodyear was handling Swamiji’s lectures, and therefore does not help us to determine the date of the lecture of which Sister Devamata speaks. But whether or not the lecture took place in the spring of 1895, it was no doubt of the same type as those that did.
During the first months of his work, Swamiji’s classes were concerned largely with jnana yoga and raja yoga. His purpose was never to teach mere philosophy, however lofty, but to lead his students step by step to the highest experience. Thus he trained them not only in the principles of Advaita Vedanta, but in the art and science of spiritual living. “It is the patient upbuilding of character, the intense struggle to realise the truth, which alone will tell in the future of humanity,” he wrote to Mr. E. T. Sturdy in April of 1895. “So this year I am hoping to work along this line – training up to practical Advaita realisation a small band of men and women.” Swamiji enjoined upon his students the need to live the purest and most regulated of lives, to be careful of their diet, to be cautious regarding the company they kept and, in general, to be strictly moral and even austere in their’ habits. He no doubt instructed many class members individually in the observance of all the details which spiritual practice entails, and, knowing each person through and through at a glance, guided each along the path best suited to him. “His scientific turn of mind,” reads “The Life,” “gave him a deep insight into the rationale of Yoga exercises; and therefore he could analyse his own experiences and those of his disciples, endeavouring at all times to give a subjective rather than an objective interpretation to the visions and phenomena of meditation; and his counsel was to test everything by reason. Whatever he taught to his disciples he said he himself had experienced”
Into his work Swamiji poured his heart, brain and spirit. “He worked continually and faithfully” Mrs. Bull wrote to Mary Hale in April during a temporary suspension of his classes, “his lectures requiring on his part reading and careful thought. His teaching in class was so clear and gentle in spirit that I felt it to be perhaps the best of all his work. It has served to call together earnest people among those who come to know him, and I hope that a center of work for him in this country may be the permanent result of it all. He is tired now, but rest will soon make all the positive good apparent to him. The real character of the man and his work are now known to many and at any time [his work] may be resumed, as there are those who would always gladly welcome and assist him…. All who know him love the beauty of his life, and he brings with him the realization of all good and noble endeavour Godward”
These classes were a far cry from “parlor lectures” and it is not unlikely that Swamiji, becoming more and more absorbed in his work of giving intense training to those who came to him for help and guidance, dispensed with the idea of preliminary lectures. At any rate, as far as is now known the “parlor lectures” which, according to Swamiji’s letter of January 3 to
Mrs. Bull and Landsberg’s letter of January 23 to Miss McKindley, were to be arranged by Miss Thursby and Miss Fanner did not take place. In February, however, a Miss Corbin, who was a friend of both Miss Farmer and Miss Thursby, asked Swamiji to hold classes in her home. Swamiji writes of this to Mrs. Bull: “I went to see Miss Corbin the
other day, and Miss Farmer and Miss Thursby were also there. We had a nice half hour, and she wants me to hold some classes in her home from next Sunday [February 17].” The Sunday classes at Miss Corbin’s, however, lasted approximately one month. On March 21 Swamiji writes to Mrs. Bull: “I went to Miss Corbin’s last Saturday [March 16] and told her that I would not be able to come to hold classes any more. Was it ever in the history of the world that any great work was done by the rich? It is the heart and brain that do it ever and ever and not the purse.”
From a hitherto unpublished letter that Swamiji wrote to Mr. Francis Leggett, who was later to become his ardent disciple and devoted friend, we learn that Swamiji also held a class, or classes, at the home of a Miss Andrews at 40 West Ninth Street, indicating that he may have held other classes outside his own rooms, of which we at present have no record. His letter reads as follows:
10th April 95
To F. Leggett Esqr.
It is impossible to express my gratitude for your kindly inviting me to your country seat. I am in a mistake now and find it impossible for me to come tomorrow. Tomorrow I have a class at Miss Andrews of 40. W. 9th Street. As I was given to understand by Miss M’cleod that that class could be postponed I was only too glad to join their company tomorrow. But I find now that Miss M’cleod was mistaken and Miss Andrews came to tell me that she can not by any means stop the class tomorrow or even give notice to the members who are about 50 or 60 in number.
In face of this I sincerely regret my inability and hope that Miss M’cleod and Mrs Sturges will understand that it is an unavoidable circumstance and not the will that stands in the way of my taking advantage of your kind invitation.
I will only be too glad to come day after tomorrow or any other day this week as it suits you.
Ever sincerely yours Vivekananda
(I should mention here that Swamiji’s visit to Mr. Leggett’s country home took place later in the month.)
While there was no public opposition to Swamiji’s work in New York, there were, nevertheless, several classes of people (aside from “the right kind of people”) with whom he had to contend. The first of these were the confused and confusing pursuers of the occult, with which New York abounded at the end of the nineteenth century. I believe no better description of the situation can be found than that of Leon Landsberg (then Swami Kripananda) in a letter written on January 12, 1896, to the Brahmavadin. Landsberg wrote in part (I quote from the original article published in the Brahmavadin of February 15, 1896) as follows:
We Americans are a very receptive nation; and this is why our country has become the hot-bed of all kinds of religious and irreligious monstrosities that ever sprang from a human brain. There is no theory so absurd, no doctrine so irrational, no claim so extravagant, no fraud scTtransparent that it cannot find here numerous believers and – a ready market…. Hundreds of societies and sects have been given birth to, to feed the credulity of the people and, in turn, draw support therefrom. The whole atmosphere is here in some places filled with hobgoblins, spooks, and Mahatmas…; and new prophets are rising every day in Israel, sent from some great hierophant of the “Brotherhood of the Motherhood of the Golden Candelabra” and similar known and unknowable Gobi and Himalaya dwellers to start some new sect for the salvation of the world, and pocket from $25 to $100 initiation fee from fools ready to pay it.
In searching through the 1895 and 1896 New York papers I found most wondrous news items, which amply illustrate Landsberg’s thesis. The abnormal and the fantastic were the rage. I remember in particular a line drawing (photo-engraving was not then in general use) of a pop-eyed young girl, sitting bolt upright in bed and staring hypnotically at a doctor. She was demonstrating her remarkable gift for seeing thought-waves, which were pictured rippling like smoke down the arms, spine and legs of the somewhat pompous and startled man. This talent made the girl very nervous, which accounted for her being in bed.
There were many other wonders: enormous and deadly serious meetings of spiritualists, heated arguments as to who was a reincarnation of whom, and little girls with second sight. Almost every day headlines such as the following were splashed across the pages telling of new marvels: “MRS. PIPER
AGAIN MANIFESTS HER WONDERFUL POWER AS A MEDIUM. ASTONISHING STORY OF COMMUNICATION WITH THE UNSEEN WORLD VOUCHED FOR BY A WELL KNOWN ACTRESS.’
Although occultism had its Western sources, it was the mode of the day to trace mysterious and psychical powers to India, and therefore it was inevitable that at first many dabblers in the occult attended Swamiji’s New York lectures and that the leaders of various spiritualistic groups tried in one way or another to associate themselves with him. Of this phenomenon Landsberg writes in the same Brahmavadin letter:
In the beginning, crowds of people flocked to his lectures. But they were not of the kind that a teacher of religion would be pleased to have for his auditors. They, consisted partly of curiosity-seekers who were more interested in the personality of the preacher than in what he had to preach, partly of the representatives of the cranky and fraudulent elements mentioned before, who thought they had found in the Swami a proper tool to forward their interests. Most if not all of this latter type of persons tried to induce him to embrace their cause, first by promises of their support, and then by threats of injuring him if he refused to ally himself with them. But the) were all grievously disappointed. For the first time, they had met with a man who could be neither bought nor frightened: – “trafil kosa na kamienia,” “the sickle had hit on a stone” as the Polish proverb says. To all these propositions, his only answer was and is: – “I stand for Truth. Truth will never ally itself with falsehood.
Even if all the world should be against me, Truth must prevail in the end!’ He denounced fraud and superstition in whatever guise they appeared, and all those untrue and erratic existences, like bats at the approach of daylight, hid themselves in their haunts before this apostle of truth.
The intensity and sureness with which Swamiji worked brooked no interference whatsoever. Even his closest friends were sometimes startled to see the utter independence of his spirit, which defied all the conventional rules of “getting ahead.’* The fact is that Swamiji had no desire for “success” as the world conceives it. It was his for the asking; yet he scorned it. “Now, my children,” he wrote to Alasinga in May of 1895, “I could have made a grand success in the way of organizing here, if I were a worldly hypocrite.” And again at a later date, “I sought praise neither from India nor from America, nor do I seek such bubbles. I have a truth to teach, I, the child of God. And He that gave me the truth will send me fellow-workers from the earth’s bravest and best.” It was never in numbers that Swamiji counted the strength of his following, but in the intensity and sincerity of the individual student. In answer to the surprise of a disciple that his teachings did not attract a larger audience, he said: “I <;ould have
thousands more at my lectures if I wanted them. It is the sincere student who will’help to make this work a success and not merely large audiences. If I succeed in my life in helping one man to reach freedom, I shall feel that my labors have not been in vain, but quite successful.”
Swamiji not only refused to make concessions, on the one hand to “the right kind of people” and on the other hand to the occultists, but would in no way compromise his message for the sake of establishing harmonious relations with the Christian cleigy. In this last respect he was often a source of perplexity and worry to many of his friends who, loving him, sought to advise and protect him. This was much like trying to advise the lion to accommodate .himself to the ways of the lamb – if not to those of sheep. Swamiji walked alone – single-minded, indomitable. It was at this period of his life that even the Hale family began to fear he had changed; for to those brought up in the Christian tradition, to whom meekness and mildness are synonymous with holiness, the actual ways of God and His prophets are, to say the least, astonishing. Swamiji’s superhuman power, his unswerving determination to carry out his mission in America, his impatience with all that was antithetical to truth, were apt to be mistaken for a lack of religious humility – particularly by those who were at a distance from him. It was in answer to what was probably a rebuke from Mary Hale that Swamiji wrote on February 1 one of his most fiery letters, which has since become a well-known example of his uncompromising spirit. He said in part:
I am very glad of your criticisms and am not sorry at all. The other day at Miss Thursby’s I had a hot argument with a Presbyterian gentleman, who as usual got very hot, angry and abusive. However, I was severely reprimanded by Mrs. Bull for it, as such things hinder my work. So it seems is your opinion. I am glad you write about it just now because I have been giving a good deal of thought to it. In the first place,
I am not at all sorry for these things – perhaps that may disgust you, it may. I know full well how good it is for one’s worldly prospects to be sweet, but when it comes to a horrible compromise with the truth within, there I stop. I do not believe in humility,
I believe in Samadarshitvam – same state of mind with regard to. all. The duty of the common man is to obey the commands of his “God*’ society – the children of light never do it. This is an eternal law. One accommodates himself to surroundings and social opinion and gets all good things from their giver of all goods(?) – society. The other stands alone and drags society up towards him. The accommodating man finds a path of roses – the non-accommodating, one of thorns – but the worshipper of “Vox populi” goes to annihilation in a moment – the children of truth live for ever. …
The last fight with the Presbyterian priest and the long fight afterwards with Mrs. Bull showed me in clear light what Manu says to the Sannyasin – “Live alone – walk alone.” . . . Sister, the way is long, the time is short – evening is approaching – I have to go home soon. I have no time to give my manners a finish – I cannot find time enough to deliver my message. You are good, you are so kind, I will do anything for you – but be not angry – I see in you all only children. . . .
You are mistaken, utterly mistaken if you think I have a work as Mrs. Bull thinks. I have no work under or beyond the sun. I have a message – I will give it after my own fashion – I will neither Hinduize my message nor Christianize it nor make it any ize in the world – I will only Myize it and that is all. Liberty – Mukti – is all my religion and everything that tries to crush it I will avoid by fight or flight. Pooh I I try to pacify the -priests !!!!!!! … Come out if you can of this network of foolishness they call this world – I will call you indeed brave and free. If you cannot, cheer those that dare dash this false God – society – unto the earth and trample on its unmitigated hypocrisy ; if you even cannot cheer them, pray be silent but do not try to drag them down again into the mire with such false nonsense as compromise and becoming sweet.
It may be that Mary Hale replied to this blast with a wounded cry, for on February 15 Swamiji wrote to her a conciliatory poem, to which she, in turn, replied in verse. This rhymed correspondence, which has been published in full in volume eight of “The Complete Works,” took a new turn in its second round, touching upon the difference between Swamiji’s teachings and those of Christian Science, which the Hale sisters studied and about which Swamiji took delight in teasing them. Indeed it might be mentioned in passing that around this same time he wrote a short note from New York to Isabelle McKindley in which he slyly poked fun at the “Scientists’ ” practice of never confessing to sickness:
54 West 33 New York The 25th Feb ’95
Dear Sister – I am sorry you had an attack of illness. I will give you an absent treatment though your confession takes half the strength out of my mind.
You have rolled out of it is all right. All’s well that ends well.
The books have arrived in good condition and many thanks for them
Your ever affectionate bro Vivekananda
Although both Mrs. Bull and the Hales felt concern lest Swamiji’s fearless dealings with the Christian clergy spell ruin to his work, and although both scolded him for what appeared to them as behavior unbecoming to a saint, they did not meet to compare notes until the latter part of March, 1895, when Mrs. Bull visited Chicago. A hitherto unpublished letter of Swamiji written on March 27 to Isabelle McKindley verifies this fact:
54 W. 33.
Your kind note gave me pleasure inexpressible. I was also able to read it through very easily. I have at last hit upon the orange and have got a coat, but could not as yet get any in summer material. If you get any,
kindly inform me. I will have it made here in New York. Your wonderful Dearborn av misfit tailor is too much even for a monk.
Sister Locke writes me a long letter and perhaps wondering at my delay in reply. She is apt to be earned away by enthusiasm ; so I am waiting and again I do not know what to answer. Kindly tell her from me that it is impossible for me to fix any place just now. Mrs. Peake though noble grand and very spiritual is as much clever in worldly matter as I, yet I am getting cleverer everyday. Mrs. Peake has been offered by some one whom she knows only hazily in Washington, a place for summer.
Who knows that she will not be played upon ? This is a wonderful country for cheating and 99-9 per cent have some motive in the background to take advantage of others. If any one just but closes his eyes for a moment he is gone I 1 Sister Josephine [Locke] is fiery Mrs. Peake is a simple good woman I have been so well handled by the people here that I look round me for hours before I take a step. Everything will come to right Ask Sister Josephine to have a little patience.
You are every day finding kindergarten better than running an old man’s home I am sure. You saw Mrs. Bull and I am sure you were quite surprised to find her so tame and gentle. Do you see Mrs. Adams now and then Mrs. Bull has been greatly benefited by her lessons. I also took a few but no use ; the ever increasing load in frontjjoes not allow me to bend forward as Mrs. Adams wants it. If I try to bend forward in walking the centre of gravity comes to the surface of the stomach and so I go cutting front somersaults. [Mrs. Florence Adams taught something called, sweep-ingly, the Art of Expression.]
No millionaire coming ? Not even a few hundred thousanders ? Sorry very sorry ! ! ! I am trying my best what I can do. My -classes are full of women. You of course can not marry a woman. Well have patience
I will keep my eyes open and never let go an opportunity. If you do not get one it would not be owing to any laziness at least on my part.
Life goes on the same old ruts. Sometimes I get disgusted with eternal lecturings and talkings, want to be silent for days and days.
Hoping you the best dreams (for that is the only way to be happy).
I remain ever your loving bro Vivekananda
It would seem that Swamiji had never before manifested such power as he did when starting his classes in New York, and one thinks of him as striding with unimaginable force over every obstacle. The power he exhibited in his answering lecture to the Ramabai Circle in Brooklyn was but one instance of his ability to reach inside the minds of others and tear away veil after veil of blinding ignorance and its counterpart, blinding arrogance. “Sister, you do not know the Sannyasin,” he wrote to Mary Hale. ” ‘He stands on the head of the Vedas ! * say the Vedas, because he is free from churches and sects and religions and prophets and books and all of that ilk.” No one could long withstand such independence. Those who came to Swamiji to argue, or to scoff and those who came to learn some psychic trick remained to sit at his feet and to drink in the pure water of spirituality which he gave to all without stint.
“Some Theosophists came to my classes in New York,” he wrote in August, 1895, to Mr. E. T. Sturdy, “but as soon as human beings perceive the glory of the Vedanta, all abracadabras fall off of themselves’. This has been my uniform experience” In his classes Swamiji made his students perceive spiritual truths, and thus he launched them irrevocably upon the path to spiritual enlightenment. Even the dyed-in-the-wool materialists were no match for him. The story told in Lands-berg’s letter of January 12, 1896, to the Brahmavadin concerning his guru’s complete conquest over this group no doubt refers to the first months of 1895 and will bear repeating here:
The so-called free-thinkers, embracing the atheists,
materialists, agnostics, rationalists, and all those who, on principle, are averse to anything that smells of religion, thought this Hindu monk was an easy match for them, and that all his theology would be crushed under the weight of Western civilization, Western philosophy, and Western science. So sure were they of their triumph, that they invited him, in New York, to lecture before their Society, anxious to show to their numerous followers how easily religious claims can be refuted by the powerful arguments of their logic and pure reasoning. I shall never forget that memorable evening when the Swami, accepting the challenge, appeared single-handed, to face the matadors of materialism, all arrayed with their heaviest armour of law, and reason, and logic, and commonsense, of matter, and force, and heredity, and all the stock phrases calculated to awe and terrify the ignorant mass. Imagine their surprise and consternation when they found that, far from being intimidated by these big words he proved himself a master in wielding their own weapons, and as familiar with the arguments of materialism, as with those of the Advaita philosophy. He showed them that their much vaunted Western civilization consisted principally in the development of the art to destroy their fellowmen, that their Western science could not answer the most vital questions of life and being, that their immutable laws, so much talked of, had no outside existence apart from the human mind, that the very idea of matter was a metaphysical conception, and that it was the much despised metaphysics upon which ultimately rested the very basis of their materialism. With an irresistible logic he demonstrated that their knowledge proved itself incorrect, not by comparison with knowledge which is true, but by the very laws upon which it depends for its basis ; that pure reasoning could not help admitting its own limitations and pointed to something beyond reason ; and that rationalism when carried to its last consequences must ultimately land us at a something which
is above matter, above force, above sense, above thought and even consciousness, and of which all these are but the manifestations: – “Him the sun cannot express, nor the moon, nor the stars, the lightning cannot express Him, nor the fire; through Him they all shine.”
The powerful effect of this lecture could be seen on the following day, when numbers of the materialistic camp came to sit at the feet of the Hindu monk and listen to his sublime utterances on God and religion.
But while Swamiji always opposed and corrected falsehood wherever he found it, never accommodating himself or his message to the dictates of others, and while the word “power” lias been often used in describing him, it should never be forgotten that the power he exerted over the minds of others had its source in profound inner peace and was, for this very reason, irresistible and beneficent. Though we have spoken of his battles with Presbyterian ministers, Ramabai Circles and the like, these controversies were but small waves on the vast and fathomless ocean of his mind and, paradoxical as it may seem, the more dynamic his outward expression the deeper was his inner calm. One is reminded in this connection of the answer he gave to his Hindu disciple, Chakravarti, when the latter asked: “Well,
sir, did not the bigoted Christians oppose you ?” “Yes, they did,” Swamiji replied. “When people began to honour me, then the padres came after me. They spread slander about me by publishing it in the newspapers. Many asked me to contradict these things. But I never took the slightest notice of them. It is my firm conviction that no great work is accomplished in this world by low cunning; so without paying any heed to these vile reports, I used to work steadily at my mission. The upshot was that often my slanderers, feeling repentant, would surrender to me. They would themselves contradict the slander in the papers and would
offer apologies….The fact is, my son, this whole world is full of mean ways of worldliness. But men of real moral courage and discrimination are never deceived by these. Let the world say what it chooses, I shall tread the path of duty – know this to be the line of action for a hero.”
To best understand the spirit in which Swamiji started and conducted his work in New York, one has to remember that a year and a half of mixing with hundreds and thousands of people had created within him, on the one hand, a strong desire to bless and enlighten the common man, and, on the other hand, a resistance to public life and a need to throw off the restricting and defiling circumstances of a traveling lecturer. By the time he arrived at New York he felt a great urge to teach Americans and, simultaneously, as great an urge to live once again the unfettered life of a Hindu monk. To Swamiji the satisfaction of both these urges was possible. Breaking away from the surroundings and demands of his rich and fashionable friends, he took up his own quarters and there lived the austere and spiritually intense life of the sannyasin. Not only did he remain in a high state of spiritual consciousness, but he would plunge at the slightest opportunity into the depths of meditation. He would recite texts from Sanskrit scriptures, he would repeat the name of God, or caught up in a mood of divine love he would sing devotional songs from the depths of his heart. And who can say how many hours in the silence of the night he remained lost in the abyss of divine union, or what experiences were his while the world slept? As is known, it was Swamiji’s habit to sleep only an hour or two in the twenty-four, and when one thinks of his exalted state one cannot but feel that he lived both day and night on the very edge of the Infinite. “He literally radiated
spirituality… An atmosphere of benediction, of peace, of power and of inexpressible luminosity was felt by one and all who came to his classes.’
“One sees him in his New York retreat,” reads “The Life,” “in the morning of the evening quiet, or at dead of night, meditating. Oftentimes he was lost in meditation, his unconsciousness of the external betraying his complete absorption within.” Or, surrounded by a group of vivacious talkers, his “eyes would grow fixed, his breath would come slower and slower till there would be a pause and then a gradual return to consciousness of his environment.” Swamiji’s friends understood his habit of falling into meditation and respected it – indeed, none would dare intrude with chatter upon that deep, majestic silence. “If he was found in a room, in silence, no one disturbed him, though he would sometimes rise and render assistance to ail intruder, without breaking the train of thought.” Even while holding a class, he would plunge into profound contemplation. “When the Swami emerged from such states,” “The Life” relates, “he would feel impatient with himself, for he desired that the Teacher should be uppermost in him, rather than the Yogi. In order to avoid repetitions of such occurrences, he instructed one or two how to bring him Backby uttering a word or a Name, should he be carried by the force of meditation into Samadhi.”
One can well imagine that to attend Swamiji’s classes was no simple matter. To come suddenly from a cluttered, urban life and from noisy, winter-dreary streets into the rarefied atmosphere of his rooms, which literally vibrated with spiritual power, peace and joy, to be day after day in the presence of a radiant prophet and to have one’s mind suddenly lifted and expanded to where it might behold a realm never dreamed of before, was an experience that could be overwhelming. But it was Swamiji’s greatness as a teacher to guide his students so that their bodies and minds became fit vessels to receive the almost terrible gift of his awakening power.
He gave to everyone: lecturing, teaching, talking, even scolding. Nor did he save his bounty for his friends or students alone. The tramp in the street was to him as worthy of his love and blessings as the most qualified spiritual aspirant. One recalls Sister Christine’s memories of Swamiji in New York, and though she speaks of a later year than that with which we are concerned, her story can no doubt be applied also to 1895. “Once,” she writes, “there was a pitiful little group that dung to him with pathetic tenacity. In the course of a walk he had gathered up first one and then another. This ragged retinue returned with him to the house on 58th Street which was the home of the Vedanta Society. Walking up the flight of steps leading to the front door the one beside him thought, ‘Why does he attract such queer abnormal people?’ Quick as a flash he turned and answered the unspoken thought, ‘You see, they are Shiva’s demons.’ “
When Swamiji was not holding classes and lectures or giving private instruction or meditating, he spent much of his time in the study of Western life and knowledge. As always, everything pertaining to humanity interested him, and, as always, he read prodigiously, retaining all he read and relating every facet of man’s life and thought to spiritual ideals. In the spring of 1895 he was also organizing his work in India by means of innumerable letters. Indeed this period was one of intense activity in this regard, and his work of planning, of finding practical solutions to India’s complex problems, and of directing and inspiring his brother monks and disciples, was in itself a stupendous task. But in the midst of furious work, of teaching, giving lectures, studying, carrying on a voluminous correspondence, in the midst of bitter opposition, and of adulation from both those who looked upon him as “a social lion” and those who knew his true worth, he remained always in the blissful repose that asked nothing of and took nothing from the world.
It is only through understanding Swamiji’s unbroken, luminous serenity and his immense, all-embracing love that one can understand the quality of his power. He moved the tides of man’s thought much as “the innocent moon, that nothing does but shine, moves all the labouring surges of the world.” Going his own way, he had altered the course of history. ” ‘Go thou thy way, Sannyasin!’ ” he had written to Mary Hale, quoting Bhartrihari. ” ‘Some will say, who is this mad man? Others, who is this Chandala? Others will know thee to be a sage. Be glad at the prattle of worldlings.’ But when they attack, know that the elephant passing through the market-place is always beset by curs, but he cares not. He goes straight on his own way. So it is always, when a great soul appears there will be numbers to bark after him.”
Numbers had barked after Swamiji, but he had stridden on unperturbed, chastising where it was necessary with one or two well-directed blows awakening and quickening the minds of thousands, and bestowing his blessings upon friend and foe alike. Both America and Swamiji had changed from a year and a half’s contact with each other. The eyes of the country had been opened to a new vista of thought and the living seed of spirituality had been firmly planted in the souls of the people, where it would inevitably grow. Swamiji himself had developed and given form to many of his ideas, he had learned the ijeed of the West for the philosophy of Vedanta and he had seen how that philosophy could be applied to every problem of modem man.
He was now ready to nurture the seed he had planted into a sturdy tree whose roots would strike deep and whose branches would give shelter to the world.
Swamiji’s life from the spring of 1895 forward is well known, and his teachings have been amply recorded. Toward the end of the year his American devotees engaged the services of Mr. J. J. Goodwin, who was able to transcribe his lectures and class talks accurately, and it is to his faithful and tireless service that we owe many of the lectures that have been published in “The Complete Works.” Other records of Swamiji’s life and teachings dating from 1895 to his death on July 4, 1902, are available in the form of letters, memoirs, notes of lectures and talks, and complete records of conversations. Thus my particular task, which was to tell only of the early and heretofore little-known period of his American visit, is finished.
But though my narrative has come to an end, one vital question remains unanswered. The reader will remember that in the last section of Chapter Eight I attempted to discover the true significance of Swamiji’s lecture tour through the Midwest and the East. By studying what he himself said and did, I found that the idea of teaching Vedanta to the West did not evolve in his mind until the latter part of 1894 and that prior to that time the apparent motives that had guided him were twofold: (1) to raise funds for the development of his Indian work and incidentally to provide for his own support during his stay in this country, and (2) to give the American people a correct idea of Hinduism, to remove current misconceptions regarding his motherland and to inculcate a spirit of religious tolerance. But while these were motives not unworthy of Swamiji’s great patriotism and intellectual genius, they were not, one must concede, commensurate with his spiritual stature. I was forced, therefore, to recognize that his tour had another and more fundamental meaning and concluded that during his travels he was, consciously or unconsciously, fulfilling the function of a divine prophet to America – scattering the seeds of spirituality wherever he went and bestowing his blessing upon innumerable men and women. As he himself later wrote to Swami Ramakrishnananda: “I am careering all over the country. Wherever the seed of his power will fall, there it will fructify – be it today, or in a hundred years.”
This prophetic mission was, of course, not peculiar to Swamiji’s lecture tour. Throughout his life, wherever he was and whatever he was outwardly doing, he permanently lifted the consciousness of all with whom he came in contact. It was truly said of him: “Vivekananda is nothing if not a breaker of
bondage.” His very presence was a profound blessing, and we shall miss the full significance of his activities and teachings if we forget that above all he was a prophet, born – if his Master is to be believed – for the good of mankind. We are not concerned here, however, with his functions as a divine prophet, but rather with the development of his message and his world mission.
If the reader has accepted the view that Swamiji did not come to America with a ready-made message, then the question has no doubt arisen in his mind as to how, why and when it evolved. It is this question which I should like now to discuss and to which I shall try to find as clear an answer as possible. One of the best means of doing this is to search for clues through the foregoing narrative, through Swamiji’s letters, both published and heretofore unpublished, and through other available records of his thought prior to 1895.
In making this research I am not unaware of certain handicaps. First, although we are now in possession of more material pertaining to 1893 and 1894 than has been included in the biographies and “The Complete Works,” many gaps in our knowledge of the period still remain. Second, the available material consists largely of newspaper reports, in which Swamiji’s lectures and talks reach us colored by the minds of the reporters. When we compare these reports with the accurate transcriptions of his later lectures made by the faithful Goodwin, and compare the press interviews with, for example, the vivid account of his conversations in Annisquam written by Mrs. John Henry Wright, we are forced to recognize that much of the originality and* subtlety of his ideas and many of the fresh and shining insights that must have flashed through his lectures, illuminating whole fields of knowledge, were lost upon the general run of reporters – and thus lost to us. The newspaper reports, moreover, are for the most part short. While we are often told by the reporters of Swamiji’s clarity and strength of thought, of his genius for imparting new ideas, we are seldom given a verbatim account of those ideas. Lectures that took him two hours to deliver were summarized in one or two columns, and ideas which must have poured forth in torrents were reduced to a trickle. (It should also be mentioned that sometimes Swamiji was deliberately misquoted and misrepresented by hostile writers. But in such cases, his friends, as has been seen, often came to his defense and set matters straight. There is little danger therefore of our being misled in this respect. It is also possible that some fictitious and deleterious reports reached India through the machinations of his enemies, but these also need not concern us here.)
However, despite the above deficiencies, the reports included in this book are on the whole dependable and, when checked for accuracy against Swamiji’s letters, serve as invaluable source material. We should in fact be grateful to the reporters for doing as much and as well as they did. They have thrown light not only on the development of Swamiji’s mission, but on a great deal more. They have, for instance, given us general information about his activities which we cannot come upon elsewhere. They have also highlighted many small details as to what he said and did, which, while perhaps not always of primary importance, are sources of delight to us, for it is through such small, endearing and revealing glimpses of him that he emerges as a living and vital personality. We should be particularly grateful to the reporters for having given so much attention to his personal appearance, his clothes, his manner, his voice and his way of speaking. Such descriptions bring home to us the fact, sometimes hard to grasp, that Swamiji walked this earth and that he talked to and smiled upon people such as you and me. Apart from contributing these details, the newspapers in their editorials, letter columns and even in their headlines give us an idea of the reaction of the public to the “Hindoo Monk.” The reported titles of the lectures, moreover, serve as an index to the ideas he was interested in propagating during his tour, and the reported contents of these lectures, though at times regrettably skimpy, are nevertheless revealing of the way in which he dealt with those ideas. We gain, for instance, a fair knowledge of his appraisal and defense of Hinduism and Hindu culture in the face of American criticism; we learn how he attacked Christian bigotry; we see his impact upon the nineteenth-century Western mind and also something of its impact upon him.
While a knowledge of these things serves, I admit, only a subsidiary purpose to our main research, it is, in itself, invaluable to students and devotees of Swamiji, and so, in passing, I would like to refer briefly to some of these contributions of the American press.
It is curious that nowhere else does one find so detailed a description of Swamiji’s personality as in the American newspapers. Although Romain Rolland gives us a general picture of him in his “Prophets of the New India” and “The Life” has reproduced a paragraph from the Phrenological Journal of New York, in which his measurements are given and head bumps interpreted, the Indian biographies and the memoirs written by people who had known him seem with scrupulous care to avoid describing him. Unfortunately this is also true of the biographies of Sri Ramakrishna’s other disciples and those of Sri Ramakrishna himself. Were it not for a few available photographs we should be left completely in the dark in regard to the personal appearance of these great souls. Possibly this oversight is due to the Hindu writers’ concern with spiritual rather than physical facts. Yet the Hindu is aware that the devotee never tires ojjhearing detailed descriptions of the object of his devotion. He wants to know about the shape and size of his eyes, the texture of his hair, the exact hue of his complexion, his height, the build of his body, the quality of his voice, his characteristic gestures, his clothes, his likes and dislikes and so on. In fact, this hunger for knowledge regarding the outer characteristics of the manifestations of God and of the knowers of God is more typically Indian than Western. Why the Hindu biographers of Sri Ramakrishna and his great disciples were so unrealistic in these matters seems, therefore, an unanswerable
question. Could it be that the long political subjection of the Hindus has deprived them of that robust idealism which the ancient Hindus possessed to such an extraordinary degree and of which a sense of the real at every level of perception is an integral part ?
Be that as it may, the American reporters of the 1890*s have happily made up for this lack in regard to Swamiji. Although in some instances their descriptions are contradictory, on the whole they agree and, combined, give a fairly clear picture of him as he was in the full vigor of his youth.
According to the consensus, he was a little over medium height and strongly built. After the summer of 1894 he is spoken of as heavy, weighing, one reporter guessed, 225 pounds. Most likely, however, this was a wild guess, for the Phrenological Journal, whose writers were given to taking accurate measurements, describes him as five feet eight and a half inches tall, weighing 170 pounds. But perhaps accurate measurements were impossible in Swamiji’s case, for we learn from a reporter of the New York Herald, writing on January 18, 1896, that he had a curious habit of altering his height up and down to an astonishing degree! This may also have been true of his weight! But whatever Swamiji’s weight may have been at any given time, he was always described as well-proportioned, and his carriage was always spoken of as majestic, graceful and utterly unself-conscious. On first laying eyes on him, Mrs. Wright wrote of him to her mother: “He came Friday! In
a long saffron robe that caused universal amazement. He was a most gorgeous vision. He had a superb carriage of the head, was very handsome in an Oriental way. . . .” She was later to enlarge upon Swamiji’s appearance in her article written from notes taken during this first encounter. “There was a commanding dignity and impressiveness in the carriage of his neck and bare head” she wrote, “that caused everyone in sight to stop and look at him; he moved slowly, with the swinging tread of one who had never hastened.” And recalling her first sight of him, Mrs. Mary Funke wrote: “I can see him yet as he stepped upon.the platform [in Detroit], a regal, majestic figure, vital, forceful, dominant . .
It was no doubt Swamiji’s “superb carriage” that lent so much glamour to his robe and turban, for while these were in themselves sights to behold, they became on him the raiment of a king. Almost invariably they were commented upon by the reporters, one of whom was so bedazzled as to write, with delicacy, that the “Brahmin priest” was wearing “red nether garments” According to later witnesses, Swamiji’s trousers were black. His robe, reaching slightly below his knees, was at first a rich orange-yellow, bound with a red sash, which led to his being described as wearing “Baltimore Oriole” dress – ¦ the Baltimore oriole being a bird of brilliant orange and black plumage. During the summer of 1894 he had new robes made; the exact gerua (ocher) color being impossible for him to find, these were more red than orange and were described variously in Baltimore and Brooklyn as maroon, bright scarlet and bright red. As to his turban, almost everyone was in accord. It was light yellow silk, “the flowing end of which was brought in front over one shoulder” – which end, a Salem reporter wrote, “he used for a handkerchief.” This reporter also tells us that Swamiji was wearing “Congress shoes” – a type of shoe then in fashion, ankle-high and equipped with triangular elastic insets at the sides.
When not lecturing, he sometimes dressed “like a well-to-do American” – with the exception, perhaps, of his turban. According to Mrs. Martha Brown Fincke, who met him during his visit to Northampton in the spring of 1894, his dress “was a black Prince Albert coat, dark trousers and yellow turban wound in intricate folds about a finely shaped head.” This may have been the suit which Mary Hale “appreciated so much” and which later received a drenching in Annisquam. Although Swamiji insisted that this drenching damaged this suit not at all, he very likely had a new one made, for two months later a Baltimore reporter tells us that “the garb he wore . . . was rather of a clerical cut.”
While Swamiji’s robe and turban and the majestic way in which he wore them drew the attention of everyone, it was his face that held people spellbound. According to all reports, he was extraordinarily handsome, indeed strikingly so- as handsome as a god of classic sculpture,” Mrs. Constance Towne wrote in her reminiscences. His complexion was described
variously as “quite dark,” “bronze,” “dusky,” “rather swarthy,” “deep olive,” and “resembling that of an Indian,” by which last was probably meant an American Indian, whose skin is generally copper in tone. All in all it appears that Swamiji was, for a Hindu, more fair than dark and perhaps when a flush mantled his face, as it did during a lecture in Brooklyn, his complexion became red-gold and luminous.
His features were regular and well-rounded. His forehead was called “intellectual,” and his face, “fine, intelligent and mobile,” “its lineaments expressive at once of both intellectuality and sentiment.” His hair was thick, wavy and “black as midnight,” and sometimes, when not wearing a turban, he let it fall over his forehead, so that it reached “nearly to his eyebrows.” His teeth, which rarely show in his known photographs, were “straight, even and pearly white.” But the most wonderful and arresting features of Swamiji’s face were his eyes. They were large, jet-black (or, as Miss Gibbons remembers, “midnight blue”), “of great brilliancy,” “bright,” “sparkling,” “full of light,” “bright with the enthusiasm of a prophet” and “suggestive of deep spirituality” ; indeed, although the reporters do not say so, these were eyes that had looked upon God and held within their depths the light of Infinity.
Swamiji’s voice was often compared to a musical instrument. In her story of his conversations at Annisquam, Mrs. Wright tells of how in his serious and intense utterances his “beautiful voice” deepened “till it sounded like a bell.” “He had a beautiful voice like a violoncello,” Miss Josephine MacLeod told Romain Rolland, “grave without violent contrasts but with deep vibrations that filled both hall and hearts. Once his audience was held he could make it sink to an intense piano piercing his hearers to the soul. Emma Calv£, who knew him, described it as ‘an admirable baritone, having the vibrations of a Chinese gong/ ” And Mrs. Mary Funke wrote of his voice as being “all music – now like the plaintive minor strain of an Eolian harp, again, deep, vibrant, resonant.” The newspaper reports amply confirm this, consistently, describing Swamiji’s voice as “music, had you not understood a word,” as “deep and musical,” “rich and sonorous,” “prepossessing one at once in his favor.”
As for his speech, his fluent, eloquent and precise use of the English language was “beyond praise,” and was sometimes a source of as much amazement as was the subtlety and brilliance of the thought it carried. “This heathen,” wrote a Detroit reporter, “speaks the English language with more elegance than is usually heard from our platforms and pulpits, and he seasons his descriptions with a refinement of wit that is almost unequalled among all the speakers whose words are familiar to our ears in public addresses.” “His choice of words,” wrote another reporter, “are [sic] the gems of the English language.” “He speaks without notes,” commented Lucy Monroe of the Critic, “presenting his facts and his conclusions with the greatest art, the most convincing sincerity, and rising at times to a rich, inspiring eloquence.” Swamiji’s accent, we are told, was only slight, “similar to that of a cultured member of the Latin race familiar with the English language.” (Miss Conger refers to it as “the lilt of a slight well-bred Irish brogue.”) Sometimes he stressed the wrong syllable of an English word, and sometimes, if he has been quoted correctly, he gave a quaint twist to an English phrase, all of which must have lent further enchantment to the wit and poetry that wove like a sunlit brook through his lectures, giving “light and life to every subject he touched.” “The workings of his mind, so subtle and so brilliant, so well stored and so well trained, sometimes dazzled his hearers,” wrote one reporter; and another: “He speaks English not only distinctly, but fluently, and his ideas as new as sparkling, drop from his tongue in a perfectly bewildering overflow of ornamental language. . . . He is an artist in thought, an idealist in belief and a dramatist on the platform.”
But although Swamiji’s lectures were suffused with poetic imagery and drama, they were at the same time logically precise. “The speaker differs in one respect in particular from some American orators,” commented a Memphis reporter. “He advances his ideas with as much deliberation as a professor of mathematics demonstrates an example in algebra to his students. … He advances no ideas, nor makes assertions that he does not follow up to a logical conclusion.” Swamiji’s critics were sometimes prone to emphasize the fact (presumably damning) that his audiences consisted primarily of women. Women, it is true, may have predominated in the lecture halls, but hi$> vast learning and the impeccable logic with which he presented his thesis attracted to him intelligent and educated people of both sexes. As the Northampton Daily Herald commented, “To see and hear Swami Vivekananda is an opportunity which no intelligent fair-minded American ought to miss if one cares to see a shining light of the very finest product of the mental, moral and spiritual culture of a race which reckons its age by thousands where we count ours by hundreds and is richly worth the study of every mind.” “All classes flocked to hear him,” the same paper wrote, “and professional men in particular were deeply interested in his logic and soundness of thought.” One also remembers that Mrs. Bagley of Detroit included among those whom she invited to hear him speak “lawyers, judges, ministers, army officers, physicians and business-men with their wives and daughters,” and that “all listened with intense interest to the end.” In Brooklyn “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 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.”
Swamiji’s learning was prodigious “beyond comparison with most of our scholars” ; and this, together with his irresistible charm and “magnetic attractiveness,” made him not only an incomparable lecturer but a superb conversationalist. “As a companion,” wrote a Memphis reporter, fortunate enough to know whereof he spoke, “he is a most charming man, and as a conversationalist he is, perhaps, not surpassed in the drawingrooms of any city in the Western World.” The combination of humility and erudition, of simplicity and wisdom, endeared him to all with whom he came in contact. “He is remarkably well versed upon religious, scientific and metaphysical literature,” another Memphis reporter wrote, “not only of his owp country but of the world as well, and is capable, by reason of his versatility, of maintaining himself in any position in which circumstances may cast his lot. There is throughout his bearing and conversation a certain child-like simplicity of manner that enlists one’s sympathy, and convinces one of the sincerity of the man’s utterances before he begins to speak.” “Swami Vivekananda has been entertained in a public and private way by the citizens and has created a profound sensation in all cultured circles,” wrote the Memphis Commercial. “His learning embraces such a wide range of subjects and his knowledge is so thorough that even specialists in the various sciences, theology, art and literature, learn from his utterances and absorb from his presence.” In Baltimore he was written of as “a charming conversationalist . . . familiar with the works of all the great writers in a dozen different tongues, and he quotes long selections from Spencer, Darwin, Mill or others of the great philosophers with a fluency that is surprising.” And withal, Swamiji was “as good-natured and jolly as it is possible for a man to be.”
Yet there was about him the majesty of his spiritual stature. Though he was “jolly” and sometimes “turned the laugh on the [impertinent] inquirer,” one senses throughout the reports of his lectures and conversations his immense, though “modest,” dignity and “magnetic power.” “There was a sense of tranquility and power about him,” Malvina Hoffman wrote, “that made an imperishable impression upon me. He seemed to personify the mystery and religious ‘aloofness’ of all true teachers of Brahma, and combined with this a kindly and gentle attitude of simplicity towards his fellow men.” And Mrs. Martha Browne Fincke, who met him at Smith College when she was a young girl, wrote of “the face with its inscrutable expression, the eyes so full of flashing light, and the whole emanation of power [which were beyond description.”
The word “dynamic,” so often used in connection with Swamiji, is apt to give rise to a false picture. He was not “dynamic” in the ordinary sense of the word ; that is, he was not explosive. His intense power and magnetism were felt rather than seen; and far from being violent he was “gentle in manner, deliberate in movement, and extremely courteous in every word, movement and gesture.” In spite of the power and vitality of his words, his manner of speaking was quiet and precise. Unlike the majority of contemporary lecturers, who stood glued to one spot from which they held forth, he had a habit of walking about the stage or platform, “talking sometimes in a way that suggests a soliloquy.” He never orated, nor did he ever substitute loudness of voice for true force of expression. He convinced his hearers “by quietness of speech rather than by rapid action,” “his low, earnest delivery making his words singularly impressive.” As a Northampton reporter ably expressed it, “the slow, soft, quiet, unimpassioned musical voice, embodying its thought with all the power and fire of the most vehement physical utterance, went straight to the mark.” One striking instance of Swamiji’s ability to electrify a large audience without raising his voice is his first lecture in Brooklyn. This lecture, which was such a tremendous success and which “held spellbound . . . everyone of those many hundreds” who attended, was delivered, wrote a reporter, “in a sort of monotone.”
Swamiji’s criticisms of Western life, of which there were more and more as time went on, were never exaggerated, and despite their pointedness were always “courteously, kindly, giacefully expressed.” “If he stabs a belief or custom which is distasteful to him he always does it with a needle and not with a spike-staff,” a Detroit reporter wrote, and, expressing the same idea, Lucy Monroe wrote of his early lectures, “Though the little sarcasms thrown into his discourses are as keen as a rapier, they are so delicate as to he lost on many of his hearers. Nevertheless his courtesy is unfailing, for these thrusts are never pointed so directly at our customs as to be rude.” Later on, Swamiji’s thrusts became, perhaps, more direct, causing Mrs. Wright to refer to them in May of 1894 as “witty, bitter, sharp flings that were all deserved, all neatly done, all to the point. . .
Indeed, as time went on Swamiji’s manner changed; although he remained always reserved, his approach to the public became more positive. At first he was “modest in demeanor, . . . inclined to be diffident until aroused.” In his letters to Professor Wright, written shortly after the Parliament of Religions, he appears modest and humble, depending for his own strength on God, and apparently feeling his way in his new field of work, sensing its overwhelming difficulties and grateful for any kindness and help. Swamiji never became indifferent to kindness, but as he began to understand the scope of his work and the extent of his responsibility, he began to develop an unshakeable faith in his ability to “convulse the world.” He knew with ever-increasing certainty that behind his work and his words was a power greater than any on earth. “I see a greater Power than man, oi God, or devil at my back,” he wrote in September of 1895 to Alasinga; and however gentle he may have been, he carried about him an aura of that power, which some found difficult to bear. (It was only, however, through 1893 and 1894 that he exerted this power against the critics of his people. From the spring of 1895 onward he felt that his work of breaking the Backof missionary fanaticism was over. Henceforth he became comparatively nonresistant to criticism.)
But while Swamiji was assertive, he was “never aggressive,” and only those who stood to lose by the keenness and truth of his observations took offense. He himself was totally innocent of personal rancor. “He does not antagonize,” Mrs. Bagley wrote, “but lifts people up to a higher level – they see something beyond man-made creeds and denominational names, and they feel one with him in their religious beliefs.” His simplicity was often remarked upon by those whom he engaged in conversation. “Those who came to know him best,” wrote the Iowa State Register, “found him the most gentle and lovable of men, so honest, frank, and unpretending, always grateful for the many kindnesses that were shown him.” His brilliance, his ready wit, his vast and astonishing fund of knowledge on every subject and his insight into every person and every situation were so devoid of self-consciousness and egotism that they enhanced rather tfian concealed his childlike nature. The fact is that when Swamiji came to America he was already established in the state of a Paramahamsa (a transcendental knower of God), and had become in his total purity similar to a child, uncontaminated and blissful. Now and then one catches hints of what his inner state must have been during his wandering days in India. There is, for instance, his confidence to Mary Hale written in a letter from Thousand Island Park: “Every day
I feel I have no duty to do; I am always in eternal rest and peace. It is He that works. We are only the instruments. Blessed be His name! The threefold bondage of lust and gold and fame is as it were fallen from me for the time being, and once more even here I feel what sometimes I felt in India, ‘From me all difference has fallen, all right and wrong, all delusion and ignorance has vanished, I am walking in the path beyond the qualities. What law I obey, what disobey ?’ ” The last two sentences are Swamiji’s free translation of the first verse of “Shukashtakam” (“Eight Verses of Shuka”) and are a description of the state beyond all gunas – the transcendental state, which once attained, is never actually lost.
Even while Swamiji was in the midst of arduous work we again and again find comments upon his holiness and “childlike simplicity of manner.” One is reminded, for instance, of what Mrs. Wright wrote at the beginning of his American visit: “We saw him leave us . . . with the fear that clutches the heart when a beloved, gifted, passionate child fares forth, unconscious, in an untried world.” But having fared forth, Swamiji was changed by neither fame nor hardship. After he had traveled through the Midwest and the East, maligned by ill-wishers and lionized by the elite of intellectual and social circles, Mrs. Bagley wrote of him: “He is a strong, noble human being,
one who walks with God. He is as simple and trustful as a child,” and the Brooklyn papers spoke of “his purity, sincerity and holiness.” This quality of unruffled and inviolable innocence, this uncomplicated childlikeness, which, despite, or perhaps because of, his “personal reserve when speaking to ladies,” always brought out the maternal instinct in the women who knew him, such as Mrs. Lyon and Mrs. Hale in Chicago, Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Bagley, Mrs. Bull and,” no doubt, Mrs. Guernsey and many others, is characteristic, as the Hindu reader will know, of the Paramahamsa – he who is eternally united with God.
As has been said, the titles of Swamiji’s reported lectures give a good indication of the subjects he dealt with during his tour and of the general ideas he was trying to implant in the American mind. In the course of the foregoing narrative I have presented reports and notices of sixty-three lectures, seven informal talks and six interviews which were given during flie period from August 27, 1893, to January 28. 1895, on which date he opened his classes in New York. In addition there are reports of three lectures delivered in Brooklyn on February 3, February 25 and April 8 of 1895, which should, I believe, be considered as belonging to the period of his lecture tour, for though they overlap the start of his New York classes, they are more concerned with an explanation of Indian customs than with Vedanta. We have in all, therefore, sixty-six reports of lectures which can be classified as “pre-Vedanta.”
On the basis of their titles these lectures can be divided into three categories: those which dealt with India, those which pertained to the harmony of religions, and those devoted to a discussion of Buddha and Buddhism. Of the lectures which fall within the first group, two, delivered in Saratoga Springs, were entitled “The Mohammedan Rule in India” and “The Use of Silver in India” ; eleven were concerned with giving a general picture and interpretation of the Hindu way of life, and six with explaining the life of Hindu women; two dealt directly with the position of the Christian missionary in India, and twenty-three were devoted to an explanation of the religions of India, including five on the subject of reincarnation. In the second group of lectures, which pertained to the harmony of religions, nine were directly concerned with that subject and eight with the general meaning of religion. In the third group were five lectures on Buddha and Buddhism.
While it is true that Swamiji’s lectures defy strict classification by titles, for his mind was not compartmented but was an organic whole in which every thought was intimately integrated with every other thought, it is nevertheless clear from the above analysis that his easly lectures in America were primarily concerned with explaining India, with inculcating religious tolerance and, through emphasis on Buddha, with teaching compassion.
It is interesting to notice in connection with Swamiji’s lectures on India that those which were given prior to the Parliament of Religions differed in tone and content from those which came after. Reading the reports of the lectures given in Salem in August of 1893, one notices a certain innocence in his approach – a belief that most people had the welfare of their fellow men at heart, that American wealth presupposed American generosity, and that a simple explanation of India’s real needs would be sufficient to draw a response from the large-hearted American public. Although Swamiji was, of course, not unaware of Christian bigotry, having encountered it in India, he was no doubt surprised by the bitter antagonism that greeted his explanation that it was the Hindu body rather than the Hindu soul which was in need of saving.
Shortly thereafter the tone of his plea changed. At the Parliament of Religions he rebuked the Christians for their hypocrisy. “You Christians,” he asked, “who are so fond of sending out missionaries to save the soul of the heathen – why do you not try to save their bodies from starvation? In India, during the terrible famines, thousands died from hunger, yet
you Christians did nothing….I came here to seek aid for my impoverished people, and I fully realized how difficult it was to get help for heathens from Christians in a Christian land.” Indeed it had not taken long for Swamiji’s realization of the difficulty to become complete.
After the Parliament he abandoned the plan of publicly interesting Americans “in the starting of new industries among the Hindoos,” and decided, rather, to earn the money himself with which to start an educational project for the benefit of his people. Although it is true that he continued to explain his Indian work to sympathetic friends, speaking, for instance, at a Detroit dinner party of his dream of founding an industrial college for monks, his approach to the general public became, so to speak, more educational. Aware that India’s defects would be attributed to her lack of Christianity and yvould elicit not sympathy but only further criticism, he no longer spoke of the poverty, ignorance and suffering of the Indian masses. He was also aware that the mores of any people, when viewed against the background of a foreign Weltansicht, are open to fantastic misinterpretation. It became his primary purpose, therefore, to explain the Hindu’s basic outlook on life – his religion and nioral idealism – and to give, against this background, a true picture of Hindu culture. In addition, he found it imperative to disabuse the American mind of the rank falsehoods that had been’ diftned into it, refuting wherever he went the distorted and often totally fictitious tales of such things as widow-burning, suicide under the car of Jagannath, throwing infants to the crocodiles, persecution of widows and so on.
Swamiji refused to be one of those Hindus, who, having identified themselves with a conquering nation, held the misery of their own people up to ridicule and contempt. “My mission in life,” he wrote later, “is not to be a paid reviler,” and with what Sister Nivedita was to call his “splendid scorn of apology for anything Indian” he always spoke with pride of his people and his country. Indeed Swamiji was the first to present India in her true light to the West. As he himself wrote to Alasinga: “I am the one man who dared to defend
his country and I have given them such ideas as they never expected from a Hindu.” His brilliant and convincing descriptions and interpretations of India’s customs and religion came as a revelation to open-minded Americans, who, having seen the true India through his eyes, could never again accept the calumnious talcs of the missionaries and other detractors. Even the die-hard bigots were forced to modify their views, so thoroughly discredited had they become. Swamiji’s very presence was enough to militate against them. “His culture, his eloquence, and his fascinating personality have given us a new idea of Hindoo civilization,” Lucy Monroe of the Critic wrote shortly after the Parliament of Religions, and as time went on this new idea became an established conviction.
It can, I believe, be rightly said that in a little more than one year Swamiji permanently altered the strong current of antagonistic thought that for decades had been directed against his motherland. This he did without using methods of propaganda; rather, with a few descriptions of and insights into the life of India he revealed the character and meaning of the whole of Hindu culture. There was, for instance, his comparison made at Radcliffe College, recorded by Mrs. Wright: ” ‘When we are fanatical/ he said, ‘we torture ourselves, we throw ourselves under huge cars, we cut our throats, we lie on spiked beds; but when you are fanatical you cut other people’s throats, you torture them by fire and put them on spiked beds! You take very good*care of your own skins!'” Again, there were his moving depictions of the pure and noble life of Hindu women: “In the West woman is the wife; in the East she is
the mother. The Hindoos worship the idea of mother, and even the monks are required to touch the earth with their foreheads before their mothers.” Or he spoke of the Hindu’s total unselfishness and extreme hospitality. “As long as a Hindu has anything in the house,” he told his audience in Detroit, “a guest must never want. When he is satisfied, then the children, then father and mother partake. They are the poorest nation in the world, yet except in times of famine no one dies of hunger.” He explained the merits of the caste system. “It is true that there is caste in India,” he once said. “There a murderer can never reach the top. Here, if he gets a million dollars he is as good as any one. In India, if a man is a criminal once, he is degraded forever.” And again, “In caste the poorest is as good as the richest, and that is one of the most beautiful things about it. . . . The man of caste has time to think of his soul, and that is what we want in the society of India.” Nor were Swamiji’s listeners likely to forget the description of a Himalayan community of pure Hindus, “unknown to Mahometan and Christian alike,” which he gave during one of his afternoon talks in Detroit and which is to be found nowhere else in his lectures or writings. “Pure in thought, deed and action,” reads the report, “so honest that a bag of gold left in a public place would be found unharmed twenty years after; so beautiful that, to use Kananda’s own phrase, ‘to see a girl in the fields is to pause and marvel that God could make anything so exquisite.’ Their features are regular, their eyes and hair dark, and their skin the color which would be produced by the drops which fell from a pricked finger into a glass of milk. These are the Hindus in their pure type, untainted and untrammeled.”
To those who considered the Hindus’ culture only a step more advanced than that of the savage, Swamiji’s lecture, “India’s Gift to the World,” which he delivered in Brooklyn, must have come as a shock. Indeed it must have come as a shock even to the more liberal-minded, for it constituted what was probably the first public exposition of India’s many and invaluable contributions to Western civilization. After hearing this lecture, even those who ranked material gifts higher than spiritual bad to bow their heads before the land whose civilization was father to their own.
Through disclosures such as these Swamiji opened, as it were, a door into a new world. Americans had been told, and had believed, that behind that door lay ghosts and spirits, devils, devil-worshipers and a race of monsters who all but devoured their own children. Suddenly there was disclosed a land of hoary culture, of lofty idealism, of purity and self-sacrifice, where persecution was nonexistent and where the ethical standard was the highest among nations, based on the belief that “all non-self is good and all self is bad.*’ From any lecturer this would have come as a surprise, but from Swamiji, who was the very personification of India’s highest ideals, who was the living proof of his own words – “a splendid type,” as a Brooklyn reporter wrote, “of the famous sages of the Himalayas’* – it came as a never-to-be-forgotten revelation which destroyed the old beliefs and permanently raised India in the estimation of the West.
In presenting his country to America, Swamiji never attempted to hide the facts. He never hesitated to tell his audience her defects when this was called for, but he never imagined and never gave the impression that these defects were representative. His purpose was to make Americans feel the true pulse beat of India, and thus in his general descriptions he always portrayed her healthy and normal state. “The product of the slums of any nation cannot be the criterion of our judgment of that nation,” he said in his lecture in Brooklyn on “Ideals of Womanhood.” “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 beauties and possibilities ofthe 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 Christian missionaries and some Indian reformers did not accept this view, nor did they understand it. To them the rotten, worm-eaten apples were representative of the whole tree. Both concentrated on deviations from the norm: the reformers advocated radical changes that dug at the very foundation of
Hindu culture, and the missionaries condemned Hinduism with a blind fanatical zeal, more often than not misrepresenting it and insisting that it be uprooted and replaced by Christianity. It was not alone this wholesale condemnation of Hinduism to which Swamiji objected, but the persistent attempt on the part of so-called reformers, both foreign and Indian, to force Hindu life into an alien mold.
In an earlier chapter I have tried to present Swamiji’s position in relation to the activities of Christian missionaries in India and I need not repeat myself here, but this is as good a place as any to clarify a certain point left undiscussed. The reader may have noticed that an apparent contradiction exists between Swamiji’s main thesis and his imitation to “hundreds and thousands of missionaries of Christ.” “We want missionaries of Christ,” he declared in Detroit. “Let such come to India by the hundreds and thousands. Bring Christ’s life to us and let it permeate the very core of society. Let him be preached in every village and corner of India.” Although during the course of this same lecture, he said: “As far as converting
India to Christianity is concerned, there is no hope. If it were possible it ought not to be done,” his invitation was interpreted to mean that he was not averse to Christian conversion but only to the poor caliber of the contemporary missionary.
The fact is that Swamiji made a distinction between Christian missionaries and “missionaries of Christ.” A clear indication of this is to be found in a report of a Memphis lecture, in which he was quoted as having said that “when the people of the West wanted God [as a man under water wants air], then they would be welcome in India, because missionaries would then come to them with God, not with the idea that India knows not God, but with love in their hearts and not dogma.” Thus when he said, “Let him [Christ] be preached in every village and corner of India,” he meant not the Christ of dogma – the one and only Savior, but rather, a perfect embodiment of spiritual and moral virtues, a knowledge of whose life would benefit any culture.
In inviting “hundreds and thousands” of missionaries of Christ to India, Swamiji, of course, had in mind men and women whose sole purpose would be to implant the seeds of goodness and spirituality in the hearts of the people, to serve the poor, the downtrodden and the miserable, and who would give more importance to the spirit of religion than to its outward forms, caring little whether the Hindus worshiped Christ or Shiva, Sri Krishna or Buddha. “A true lover of God,” he said in Detroit, “would be so wrapt up in his love that he would have no time to stop and tell members of another sect that they were following the wrong road . . . and strive to bring him to his way of thinking.”
If such true lovers of God were to crowd into every comer of India, Swamiji knew that Hinduism would be safe from attack – would, indeed, be enriched and benefited. His invitation, therefore, did not by any means indicate that his country was an open field for conversion ; indeed, though India welcomed all who came to her with respect and sympathy, her doors were closed to those who came to interfere and to destroy. During one of his informal talks in Detroit, he explained this attitude of the Hindu toward the foreigner. The report reads: “When the studious Greeks visited Hindustan to learn of the Hindu, all doors were open to them, but when the Mohammedan with his sword and the Englishman with his bullets came, their doors were closed. Such guests were not welcome. As Kananda deliciously words it: ‘When the tiger comes we close our doors
until he has passed by”
There is, of course, much more to be learned from the reports of Swamiji’s lectures and talks on India, and I am tempted to go on speaking of them. For while it is true that his lectures given in India, his recorded conversations, his letters to his brother monks and to his disciples and his Bengali writings, such as “Modern India” – all of which are included in “The Complete WtJfks” – are replete with passages in which he states his views of his country’s past, present and future, I do not believe that there is anything in “The Complete Works” to take the place of his presentation of India in his lectures of 1893, ’94 and ’95. I must, nevertheless, resist the temptation to say more on this subject and will devote myself to my main thesis, which is to discover the evolution of his message and mission. For this we must first turn to the two groups of lectures which I have classified under the headings of harmony of religions and Buddha and Buddhism, for it is in these that we find him beginning to move toward a definite formulation of his ultimate message to the world.
It was inevitable that from the start Swamiji would lecture in the West on religious harmony, for he was a Hindu, born with an instinctive reverence for all faiths and all sages and prophets. Moreover, and more importantly, the great doctrine of the harmony of religions had been an essential part of his Master’s message and had been vividly demonstrated in his life. It was not surprising, therefore, that at Annisquam Swamiji began his first public lecture in America with the statement – as remembered by one of the audience – “The Hindus are taught to have a great respect for other people’s religions.” But while it was natural that he would at first put forward the doctrine of the harmony of religions in its general form, it was inevitable that he would not remain satisfied with it.
This doctrine has been generally understood to mean that since every religion leads to the same goal – God, every man, while faithfully following the particular religion in which he was born or in which he feels most at home, should at the same time maintain a respectful attitude toward other religions, neither criticizing their beliefs nor obstructing their practices. Swamiji explained this teaching in his first address at the Parliament, when he spoke of his country’s acceptance of all religions as true and quoted from the Gita: “All men are struggling
through paths which in the end lead to Me.” But while such a teaching might at first glance seem to make it possible for various religions to live in peace with one another, it left them more or less separate. It was in practice a teaching of live and let live – a teaching that could not give rise to a stable harmony among religions unless an underlying unity was recognized by them. It was this unity, therefore, which Swamiji later stressed in his “Paper on Hinduism” when he spoke of truth as being the “same light coming through glasses of different colours,” and described the future universal religion as one “which will have no location in place or time, which will be infinite, like the God it will preach, . . . which in its catholicity will embrace in its infinite arms, and find a place for, every human being, from the lowest grovelling savage not far removed from the brute to the highest man . . . and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be centered in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature.”
Although Swamiji did not at this time indicate how such a religion could come into existence, in his final address at the Parliament we find him suggesting a means by which at least a partial unity could be established among religions. Going further than in his first talk, he declared that while the Christian was not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian, “each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.” He was here advocating more than respect for other religions; he was urging a receptive attitude toward all the great spiritual thoughts of the world and a breaking down of the walls that surrounded each faith, isolating it from the others. The absurdity of religious narrowness was, of course, patent to him from the start, and, knowing that a parable could sometimes bring home a truth more quickly than a statement, he told at the Parliament and in many places thereafter the story of the pompous frog who considered his own small well to be the entire universe and who could never be convinced of the contrary.
As Swamiji started on his lecture tour we find him laying greater and greater stress on the unity of religions and suggesting various means by which it could be realized. However, while his lectures show a definite development in thought, he did not completely reject his earlier ideas; rather, he retained and often repeated for the sake of those whom it would benefit the teaching that all religions lead to the same goal and that they should all, therefore, be recognized as true and good. “The Hindus,” he is reported as having said in Memphis, “hold that there is good in all religions, that all religions are embodiments of man’s inspiration for holiness, and being such, all should be respected.” Although Swamiji felt that mutual respect among religions could not in itself lead to unity, he knew that such respect was nonetheless a prerequisite, for once bigotry had taken root in a man’s heart there could be no hope. In the same city he related the saying of an Indian monk: “I would believe
you if you were to say that I could pluck a tooth from the mouth of the crocodile without being bitten, but I cannot believe you when you say a bigot can be changed.” Was this perhaps told in answer to the Christian minister in Memphis who, as Swamiji later wrote in his reply to the Madras Address, preached that “in every village of India, there is a pond full of the bones of little babies”?
Confronted in America by legions of such bigots, Swamiji could not but stress the fundamentals of tolerance. Again and again he emphasized the fact that all religions are good, that variations are essential. “Why take a single instrument from the great orchestra of the earth?” he asked in Detroit. “Let the grand symphony go on. . . . Each creed has something to add to the wonderful structure.” Illustrating this point further, he often told the story of the five blind men, each of whom investigated a different part of an elephant and each of whom vigorously defended his own conception of what manner of creature the elephant was. Each was, of course, wrong, but taken all together their pronouncements fairly approximated the truth. “One religion is best adapted to a certain people because of habits of life, association, hereditary traits and climatic influences,” he said in Detroit. “Another religion is suited to another people for similar reasons. . . . Let the great stream flow on, and he is a fool who would try to change its course, when nature will work out the solution.” Or again, “Men are different. If they were not, the mentality of the world would be degraded. If there were not different religions, no religion would survive.” Thus Swamiji retained all that would be of value to various kinds of listeners; but while teaching the fundamentals of tolerance he at the same time continued his effort to define the principles that would embrace all religions and constitute their unity.
An excerpt from a report of a lecture given on November 27, 1893, in Des Moines, Iowa, reads: “He [Swamiji] holds that one
must embrace all the religions to become the perfect Christian.
What is not found in one religion is supplied by another. They are all right and necessary for the true Christian. When you send a missionary to our country he becomes [or should become] a Hindoo Christian and I a Christian Hindoo” Here Swamiji was trying to show how one might in actual practice not merely assimilate the spirit of other religions but identify oneself with them, while remaining true to the faith of one’s own choice. A Christian should be able, for instance, to worship God without hesitation or fear in a temple or a mosque when in India. Religious labels were to him the handmaidens of narrowness, and narrowness the cause of dissension. “My Master used to say,” he wrote to Mrs. Bull in 1895, “that these names as Hindu, Christian, etc., stand as great bars to all brotherly feelings between man and man.” Very likely, however, he felt the device of adding the names of other religions to one’s own would not in itself suffice to bring about the unity which he so ardently desired, for we do not find him mentioning it in any subsequent lecture.
In this same Des Moines lecture Swamiji presented a more advanced idea. Expansion of religious life, he pointed out, could be achieved by seeking the common denominator of every form of worship ; for underlying all creeds, sects or religions there are permanent and basic principles, which he called by the simple name of religion. “There are in our country,” he said, “two words which have altogether different meanings than they do in this country. They are ‘religion’ and ‘sect.’ We hold that religion embraces all religions. . . . Then there is that word ‘sect.’ Here it embraces those sweet people who wrap themselves up in their mantle of charity and say, ‘We are right; you are wrong.'” Swamiji- now asking Christians to stop identifying themselves with a sect or creed and to embrace the universal, timeless principles of one all-encompassing religion.
As time went on, he began to stress more and more the difference between religion and creed and sought to formulate the unifying principles through which one could see all creeds as parts of one great whole. Creed, he contended, was not wrong when understood as subservient to religion, but when taken to be religion itself it was deadly. “Religion,” he said during the course of an interview in’Detroit, “is the acceptance of all existing creeds, seeing in them the same striving toward the same destination. Creed is something antagonistic and combative. There are different creeds because there are different people, and the creed is adapted to the commonwealth where it furnishes what the people want. . . . Religion recognizes and is glad of the existence of all these forms, because of the beautiful underlying principle. . . . All the creeds which are accepted by all people are but the endeavors of humanity to realize that infinity of Self”
According to Swamiji, Christianity, “because of its antagonistic features,” was more a creed than a religion. Hinduism, on the other hand, was a religion, for “one of the great factors in the Hindoo religion is its tolerance of other religions and beliefs.” It was not, of course, merely tolerance that constituted religion, but, as he said, an acceptance of the underlying principles which unify all creeds. True and lasting tolerance was a natural outcome of this acceptance. “I ask the preachers to give up first the idea of nationality ; and second, the ideas of sects,” he said in Detroit. “God’s children have no sects.”
Swamiji illustrated the difference between religion and creed in many ways. One of the most beautiful of these illustrations, and one which is not found elsewhere in his lectures or writings, was given during the course of his spectacular lecture in Detroit of March 11, “Christian Missions in India.” “He told them,” reads the report, “how the savage man might find a few jewels, and prizing them, tie them with a crude thong and string them about his neck. As he becomes slightly civilized he would perhaps exchange the thong for a string. Becoming still more enlightened he would fasten his jewels with a silken cord; and when possessed of a high civilization he would make an elaborate gold setting for his treasures. But throughout all the changes in settings the jewels – the essentials – would remain the same.”
He also endeavored to define the fundamental principles of religion itself. “Religion,” he said, according to a Detroit report, “is the manifestation of the soul nature,” or, as he wrote about this same time to his Madrasi disciple, Kidi, “Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already in man.” One of his unique illustrations of the soul’s struggle to realize its own innate perfection is contained in a lecture in Memphis and is worth
repeating here. If you put a simple molecule of air in the
bottom of a glass of water it at once begins a struggle to join the infinite atmosphere above. So it is with the soul. It is struggling to regain its pure nature and to free itself from this material body. It wants to regain its own infinite expansion. This is everywhere the same.” Again in Detroit he said, “A bubble of air in a glass of water strives to join with the mass of air without; in oil, vinegar and other materials of differing density its efforts are less or more retarded according to the liquid. So the soul struggles through various mediums for the attainment of its individual infinity.” But realizing the divinity within did not constitute the whole of the one religion which Swamiji was seeking to define during his first year in America; as is seen from a study of his complete message, his idea of one religion embraced many other aspects of human life. (Unfortunately I am not able to trace each separate step of his evolving thought in this connection, for in the material at present available to me there are not many indications of how all the many facets of his message were integrated into a single whole. It is clear, however, that as time went on, more and more streams entered the current of his thought – each to find its fulfillment in his ultimate message.)
In a subsidiary attempt to find a basis for religious unity Swamiji often pointed out the historical relationship between Eastern and Western religions, declaring, for instance, to the indignation of the orthodox, that Buddhism was the foundation of the Christian religion, particularly of the Roman Catholic Church. He also dwelt upon the common cultural heritage of all Indo-European peoples. “By comparing philology,” reads a report of his lecture ftf-Streator on October 8, 1893, “he sought to establish the long admitted relationship between the Aryan races and their descendants in the new world.” Throughout his tour Swamiji spoke in a like vein. An excerpt from a Detroit paper reads: “In ancient times they spoke Sanscrit. … In the
words father, mother, sister, brother, etc. the Sanscrit gave very similar pronunciations. This and other facts lead him to think we all come from the common stock, Aryans. Nearly all branches of this race have lost their identity.”
In the common descent of Europeans and Hindus Swamiji
saw a justification for building a unified civilization. During a dinner party in Detroit he voiced this idea. A report of this conversation written by one of the dinner guests reads: “The mission of Kananda is . . . one that should commend itself to every lover of humanity. He hopes to see the best of our material philosophy and progress infused into Hindoo civilization, and that, also, we may take lessons from them, until we shall all become, as was once in ages past, brother Aryans,, possessing a common civilization – the exalted philosophy of non-self, being alike without sect or creed in oneness with God.” On the East Coast Swamiji again sought to impress his listeners with the cultural and racial kinship of Eastern and Western peoples. A Northampton report of one of his lectures was headed “An Evening With Our Hindoo Cousins,” and read, or, rather, continued: “For Swami Vivekananda proved conclusively that all
our neighbors across the water, even the remotest, are our close cousins, differing only a trifle in color, language, customs and religion.”
Swamiji’s active interest in the founding of an international university, or “Temple Universal,” whose faculty was to “include professors selected from all religions,” is yet another indication that he was seeking ways and means by which the unity of religions could be achieved. In Baltimore he envisioned this university, which was to be located near Boston, as one “where all the religions of the world can be taught,” and which “may serve to educate a superior kind of missionary for work in India.”
Although the international university – which the Rev. Hiram Vrooman referred to as “one of Mr. Vivekananda’s pet ideas” – did not materialize, a near approach to it was the Monsalvat School for the Study of Comparative Religions, founded at Greenacre in 1896 by Swamiji’s friends, Miss Sarah Farmer and Dr. Lewis G. Janes. One object of this school was, Miss Farmer said, “to train missionaries for the work in foreign lands, . . . where they would go, not to quarrel but to meet on the common plane between religions” – a statement which sounds very much as though Miss Farmer and Swamiji had been conversing on the subject.
It is important to notice that Swamiji was the first prophet to define thoroughly and teach explicitly the unity of all religions. As is evidenced by his lectures, his letters and his other writings, the search for this unity was continually in his mind, almost like a driving force which gave him no rest. One might wonder why this was so. Was it because, being a philosopher as well as a prophet, he naturally and persistently sought to formulate the one principle behind all religious phenomena? Or was it because, being essentially a prophet, he was aware that the world – politically, economically, socially and culturally – was rapidly, becoming a close-knit whole, which could be stable only if a unity was also found among religions – a unity not dogmatically imposed, but inherent in religions themselves? Or again, was it because he understood Sri Ramakrishna’s message to be that of one religion? Possibly Swamiji was motivated by all these three considerations, yet the strongest motive must have been his understanding of his Master’s life. True, one does not find in the available teachings of Sri Ramakrishna many indications that he sought to present the one religion underlying all religions. Rather, we find the doctrine that all religions in their several forms are good and true, that none should be disturbed. While Swamiji by no means repudiated this teaching, he seems to have understood it in a deeper sense than it is generally understood and, as we have seen, sought from the very first days of the Parliament to formulate a comprehensive doctrine which would include every religion and creed.
We do not find in his early lectures, talks and interviews, however, any indication of how this one religion was to be conceived in detail, of how the prevalent religions or creeds were to make their adjustments with it, or of how it was to be formulated and tattght so that it would be inclusive of all the spiritual aspirations, efforts and experiences of man. These were problems which no doubt occupied Swamiji’s mind during the latter part of his lecture tour, and which were ultimately to find their solution in his affirmation of Vedanta.
In Swamiji’s effort to explain the essentials of religion to the American people and also in his effort to present India in her true light, he laid a great deal of stress upon India’ religious maturity – her knowledge of and adherence to the lofty principles of spirituality. But among practical-minded Americans the question inevitably arose why, if India’s religion was so superior to that of the West, she was so backward materially. This was not necessarily a taunting or thoughtless question, nor was it one which Swamiji passed off as irrelevant. Although he often rebuked the American people for “dollar-worship,” he was a great admirer of America’s inventive genius, its spirit of enterprise, its gift of organization and, above all, its elevation of the com* mon man. He who had at heart the welfare of man in every respect – physical and mental, as well as spiritual – could never belittle material progress as such. Indeed, one of his fondest desires was to bring material well-being to India. But the problem was how to do this without in any way jeopardizing her spiritual outlook on life.
To many Hindus and also to some Americans the combination of spirituality and material prosperity has seemed to pose no particular problem. It is generally taken for granted that a spiritual and material renascence go almost hand in hand and that the strong revival of India’s spiritual power, ushered in by Sri Ramakrishna, will automatically bring prosperity in its wake. Yet Swamiji never made this assumption. Being a thorough student of history and of human nature, he clearly recognized that religious development and material advancement have always in the past been mutually exclusive and that their desired combination in the future could not be left to nature or to chance. Although he declared again and again that a spiritual renascence was India’s only hope, he did not unrealistically imagine that a golden age of material well-being would follow as a matter of course.
In answer to a question put to him during a discussion in Memphis as to why India’s religion had not elevated her among the nations of the world, Swamiji said: “Because that is not the
sphere of any religion. My people are the most moral in the world, or quite as much as any other race. They are more considerate of their fellow man’s rights, and even those of dumb animals, but they are not materialists. No religion has ever advanced the thought or inspiration [sic] of a nation or people. In fact, no great [material?] achievement has ever been attained in the history of the world that religion has not retarded. Your boasted Christianity has not proven an exception in this respect.
Your Darwins, your Mills, your Humes, have never received the endorsement of your prelates.” One is reminded of his statement made a year later during his lecture in Brooklyn on “The Ideals of Womanhood” to the effect that “the development of all monasticism had always meant the degeneration of women.” “I’ll bend my knees to every prophet in every religion and dime,” he continued, “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 French revolutionary philosophers. Religion has done something, no doubt, but not all.”
During the course of an interview in Detroit Swamiji again expressed his belief that adherence to moral and spiritual principles had retarded India’s material progress. “Where brute strength and bloodshed has advanced other nations,” he is reported as having said, “India has deprecated such brutal manifestations and by the law of the survival of the fittest, which applies to nations as well as to individuals, it has fallen behind as a power on the earth in the material sense.” On the other hand, he was keenly aware that those nations which had forged ahead materially had done so at the sacrifice of their spiritual development.
Swamiji faced the fact that when the best energies of a people had been devoted to spiritual development, their material life had suffered, and when those energies had been spent in improving material life, spirituality had been lost. So had it always been in the past, and so would it be in the future – unless some remedy were found. As the bearer of Sri Ramakrishna’s message and as one who had come to the earth for the good of mankind, he was bound to seek that remedy, and it was inevitable that during his wanderings in India and America he should give a great deal of thought to the problem of how spirituality and material prosperity could be combined to the advantage of both.
“I believe that the Hindoo faith has developed the spiritual in its devotees at the expense of the material,” he is quoted as having said in Memphis, “and I think that in the Western world the contrary is true. By uniting the materialism of the West with the spiritualism of the East I believe much can be accomplished.” In Detroit he again expressed his belief that material progress and spiritual developihent need not, and should not, be forever opposed. “May not one combine the energy of the lion and the gentleness of the lamb?” he asked during an interview, and according to the report, continued by intimating that “perhaps the future holds the conjunction of the East and the West, a combination which would be productive of marvelous results.”
We know that in his Vedanta – particularly in his teaching of karma yoga and in his emphasis on the divinity of man – Swamiji later worked out the means by which this combination could be achieved, thus assuring that the advent of Sri Rama-krishna would indeed usher in a golden age of total well-being. “From the day Sri Ramakrishna was born dates the growth of modern India and of the Golden Age,” he wrote to his brother monks from America, and continued: “You are the agents to
bring about this Golden Age. To work, with this conviction at heart!” It was Swamiji who laid down the lines this work was to take, and there can be no doubt that his solution of the problem of how man might devote his energies to spiritual realization and yet not neglect the material needs of the world constitutes one of his greatest contributions to both the religious and the secular thought of the modern age.
Swamiji was, of course, not the first Indian teacher to try to combine material life and spirituality. The first, barring some Upanishadic .sages, was Sri Krishna whose teachings in the Bhagavad Gita deal in general with the same problems with which Swamiji was concerned. But just as Sri Krishna said to Arjuna: “Through long lapse of time this yoga has been lost to the world,” so could Swamiji say that Sri Krishna’s teachings had, in turn, been gradually forgotten and that he himself was reviving and restating them, blending with them the spirit of compassionate service. In this respect alone he could well declare, as he did to Swami Turiyananda: “I have discovered a new path for mankind.”
There was always, we can be sure, a reason for whatever Swamiji taught. Although, as I have pointed out, one of the primary purposes of his lecture tour was to explain Hinduism to the American people, he evidently felt from the first that an exposition of Buddhism must form an essential part of that explanation. Speaking with the Vrooman brothers at their lecture series on “Dynamic Religion,” he cited Buddha’s teachings as a remedy for social ills. “The remedy” he said, “is not to place trick against trick and force against force. The only remedy is in making unselfish men and women. You may enact laws to cure present evils, but they will be of no avail…. [Buddha] always insisted upon this fundamental truth, that we are to be pure and holy, and that we are to help others to be holy also. He believed that man must go to work and help others, find his soul in others, find his life in others” In Brooklyn Swamiji spoke of Buddha as “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 worms.” How much this sounds like Swamiji himself, whose heart responded to the cry of all humanity and who once said, “I would be willing to go to a hundred thousand hells if thereby I could relieve the sufferings of even one man! ” The serenity and compassion of Buddha were reflected in Swamiji’s features. One remembers how in London a reporter remarked upon his “most striking resemblance to the classic face of Buddha,” and how Sister Nivedita wrote in 1901: “Mr. Tata told me that when Swami was in Japan everyone who saw him was immediately struck by his likeness to Buddha.”
In a world which was growing ever more complex, in which religious dogmas no longer served as goads and sanctions for moral action, in which blind faith had lost its strength as a bulwark against despair and in which the religious outlook was thought to be incompatible with reason, Swamiji knew that the elements of self-reliance, reason and compassion must each play a large part in tfn$fajreligion that would meet the needs of the times. Standing free from the current dogmas, philosophies and traditions of India, Buddha had blazed a path of reason. This was, in effect, what modern man also was attempting to do. Like Buddha, he was skeptical and iconoclastic; Buddha’s agnosticism, his pioneering spirit, his thorough-going rationality certainly appealed to him. But was he ready, as Buddha had been, to push reason to its utmost limit and venture upon that tremendous voyage of the spirit which alone leads to moral and spiritual perfection? Clearly, he was not. It was no doubt in an effort to inspire the Western world to follow the path of highest reason to its end – an end which nullifies all self and which alone can bridge the gap between matter and spirit – that Swamiji so often spoke of Buddha’s life and teachings. He was perhaps also impelled by the fact that this age, if it is to fulfill its promise, is one in which pure and uncalculating sympathy with all men must be a predominant motive of action. No greater example of unconditional and unselcctive compassion could be found than Lord Buddha, and since the elements of self-reliance, reason and compassion formed a large part of Swamiji’s message to the world, he could not but give prominence to this most independent, most rational and most compassionate of all men. It was, to be sure, no accident that in his book, “Karma Yoga,” he cited Lord Buddha as an example of the supreme karma-yogin.
But there were other reasons for Swamiji’s pronounced interest in Buddhism, and although these are not strictly pertinent to a discussion of his lectures in America, some reference to them will not be out of place. The fact is that until recently Buddhism has been thought of in India as non-Hindu and has thereby been excluded from the Hindu’s consciousness of his heritage. If we consider that the origin, the development and the flourishing of Buddhism occupied about a thousand years of India’s history, it is clear that the Hindu heritage, minus Buddhism, has a hole in it about a millennium wide. Unlike Hindu teachers of the past, such as Shankara, who repudiated Buddhism, Swamiji saw little reason why those thousand years of Buddhistic achievement, both in India and abroad, should not be accepted as an integral part of the Hindu heritage. Moreover, he wanted to imbue Hinduism with the motif of compassion. As is well known, Swamiji identified himself with the Mahayana school of Buddhism, which was opposed not only to the nihilistic doctrines of the Hinayana school but also to the self-centeredness which nihilism tended to breed among its followers. To him, Mahayana Buddhism, which he held to be the older of the two schools, more clearly expressed the humanity of Buddha’than did Hinayana, and it was this humanity, this latgeness of spirit and all-embracing sympathy, that Swamiji felt was wanting in Hinduism. It was not that Hinduism exeluded the spirit of mercy, of charitableness and of good will, but that the often spurious desire of the average Hindu to become God-absorbed had, generally speaking, pushed the teachings of active service into the background. As a result, compassion had not for a long time been a prime motivating power of the Hindu nation, and it was in this sense that Swamiji found Hinduism lacking. As he later wrote, “Taking up this plea of sattva [illumination], the country has been slowly sinking in the ocean of tamas, or dark ignorance.”
“This state of things must be removed,” he wrote to Alasinga as early as August, 1893, “not by destroying religion, but by following the great teachings of the Hindu faith, and joining with it the wonderful sympathy of that logical development of Hinduism – Buddhism.” A month later he said at the Parliament of Religions: “Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism. Then realize what the separation has shown to us, that the Buddhists cannot stand without the brain and philosophy of the Brahmanas, nor the Brahmana without the heart of the Buddhist. . . . Let us then join the wonderful intellect of the Brahmana with the heart, the noble soul, the wonderful humanizing power, of the Great Master.”
How often Swamiji wrote from America to his brother monks and disciples, exhorting them to devote themselves to the service of man! “If you want any good to come,” he wrote to his monastic brothers in the early summer of 1894, “just throw your ceremonials in the waters of the Ganga and worship the visible God, He who wears all these various human forms. . . . This world is His universal form. Worshipping Him mggps serving the world; this indeed is work, not indulging in ceremonials. . . . My salutation to those of you who have any brain, and my earnest prayer is that you spread like fire and preach this worship of the Virat [God visible as the universe] – a form of worship which was never undertaken in our country.” In this same letter, which is one of his most inspired and in which he himself said, “I feel as if somebody is moving my hand to write in this way,” he wrote: “He alone is a child of Sri Ramakrishna who is moved to pity for all creatures and exerts himself for them even at the risk of incurring personal damnation. . . . Whoever will be ready to serve him – no, not him but his children – the poor and the downtrodden, the sinful and the afflicted, down to the very worm – who will be ready to serve these, in them he will manifest himself” Again he wrote: “I can secure my own good only by doing your good. There is no other way, none whatsoever.
. . . The only way of getting our divine nature manifested is by helping others do the same.”
That this idea was not a passing one with Swamiji is evidenced by his letter of May 30, 1897, to Pramada Das Mitra in which he wrote: “Another truth I have realized is that altruistic service alone is religion; the rest, such as ceremonial observances, is madness – it is wrong even to hanker after one’s own salvation. He alone becomes liberated who gives up everything for others, whereas those who worry their brains day and night thinking ‘My salvation I’ ‘My salvation 1’ wander about to the ruin of both their present and future well-being. I have seen this happen many a time with my own eyes.”
To Swamiji, Buddha was an outcome of the teachings of the Upanishads, an extension or demonstration of the ancient Vedanta. Yet this had never been sufficiently recognized by the Hindus. By embracing Buddha’s great heart and incorporating it in his message to the world, Swamiji was to revive that lost aspect of his country’s religious heritage, he was to set afire a philosophy that had grown cold through lack of heart, through lack of spirit of service to others. Hinduism, he knew, would become transformed through the acceptance of Buddhism as a part of itself, would become immeasurably richer, immensely more self-confident, and full of an all-embracing sympathy. Only thus could Hinduism fill the role of spiritual leadership to the world, which Swamiji knew it must.
But Swamiji’s attempt to formulate one religion, his concern with resolving the conflict between material prosperity and spirituality, and his insistence upon introducing the motive of compassion into the lives and works of men did not constitute the only elements that went into the evolution of the message he was tp call Vedanta. So comprehensive and so diverse was this message by 1895 that there can be little doubt that during its formulative period he pondered over many other problems of modern life. There were,.for instance, the current conflicts between science and religion, rationalism and faith, utilitarianism and mysticism, the spirit of self-reliance and the spirit of submission. While these nineteenth-century dilemmas may have been on Swamiji’s mind during his wandering days in India, his tour in America must have brought them into greater prominence, and it can be safely assumed that his contact with.the intellectual and the thoughtful – particularly on the East Coast – made him deliberate upon them with greater intensity than ever before. Knowing, as we do, that everything that concerned man was of deep concern to him and knowing of the vast knowledge lie possessed of human life in all its phases, we can be sure that he studied and understood modern civilization with the combined insight of a sociologist, psychologist, historian, philosopher and mystic. As was said of him, he acquired “the greatest familiarity with the institutions of this country, religious, political and social.” Nor was this familiarity acquired through contact with intellectuals alone ; rather, as he said during the course of his Midwestern tour, he spoke also with laborers and farmers; his finger was, as it were, on the pulse of the nation. Being born a world teacher, he must have felt a spontaneous urge to seek a comprehensive solution to all the many and complicated problems that beset and imperiled the world. Indeed, I feel sure that the latter part of 1894 was a period of great mental stress for him. New ideas, new answers must have pressed forward in his mind, some to be rejected and replaced by others, until by the beginning of 1895 the final answer – Vedanta – emerged in clear outline.
As has been pointed out in Chapter Eleven, one can detect a change in Swaimj&»thought during the summer of 1894 and the beginnings, at least, of a new concept of his mission in America. But it was very likely not until he attended the Green-acre Conferences in July-August that the importance of teaching and giving intensive spiritual training to Americans began to be apparent to him. Whatever else may be said of the people at Greenacre, they were, as Swamiji wrote to Mary Hale, “healthy, young, sincere and holy men and women.” “I teach them all Shivoham, Shivoham,” he wrote with evident delight, “and they all repeat it, innocent and pure as they are and brave beyond all bound*.” As we know, he held classes in monistic Vedanta under the Lysekloster pines, and, using as his text the “Avadhuta Gita,” taught his receptive and eager listeners the very essence of spirituality. In Chapter Eleven I have dwelt upon the meaning of Greenacre in Swamiji’s life in America; suffice it to say that one would not be far wrong in believing that his stay there marked a turning point in his attitude toward his American work and that he henceforth began to think of it as valuable for its own sake as well as for that of India. A study of his letters amply bears this out.
“The whole world requires Light” he wrote to Alasinga at the end of August. “It is expectant ! India alone has that Light, not in magic, mummeries and charlatanism, but in the teaching of the glories of the spirit, of real religion – of the highest spiritual truth. That is why the Lord has preserved the race through all its vicissitudes unto the present day. Now the time has come.” Swamiji’s first mention of teaching Vedanta in America appears in a letter of September 21, when he wrote to this same Madrasi disciple, “I am teaching Vedanta in various ways.’* Unfortunately we have not been able to find any record of the lectures he gave in August and September of 1894, but, although we cannot assume from the above that he had already formulated his message as Vedanta, it is clear that he was deliberately disseminating at least some ideas of the Vedanta philosophy.
One indication that during the fall of 1894 he was coming to close grips with the multifarious problems of mankind and was seeking a clear solution of them is that the desire to write, which he had had in July, became insistent in September. “Today this vagabond lama was seized with* a desire of going right along scribbling” he wrote to Mary Hale on September 13. And to Mrs. Bull on September 19, “What I want is to get a place where I can sit down and write dQwn my thoughts” “I have not been able to write a line yet for my proposed book,’* he wrote regretfully to Alasinga on September 21. “Perhaps I may be able to take it in hand later on” As we know, Mrs. Bull offered him her house in Cambridge for this purpose – an invitation he would not have accepted had not his need for a quiet place where he could ponder deeply been urgent. But even at Mrs. Bull’s Swamiji was not able to take his book in hand. “You must remember/9 he wrote to Alasinga on October 27, “that I have to work incessantly in this country and that I have no time to put together my thoughts in the form of a book.”
A clue to the direction his thought was taking during this period can, however, be found in his lengthy reply to the Madras Address, which he was “busy writing99 around the end of September and in which he strongly stressed the point that the Jnana-kanda portion of the Vedas – the Upanishads, or Vedanta – stands as the basis of all the religious sects and schools of Hinduism. “If it be asked to point out the system of thought toward which as a centre, all the ancient and modern Indian thoughts have converged,” he wrote, “if one wants to see the real backbone of Hinduism in all its various manifestations, the Sutras of Vyasa [the “Vedanta-Sutras”] will unquestionably be pointed out as constituting all that. … He will find that all these various teachers and schools have as their basis that system, whose authority is the Shruti [the Upanishads], the Gita its divine commentary, the Shariraka-Sutras its organized system, and all the different sects of India, from the Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharyas to the poor despised Mehtar disciples of Lalguru, are different manifestations.” In other words, Swamiji was finding in Vedanta the basic unity and innate strength of all aspects of Hindu religion. His paper was a direct call to his countrymen to “Let the lion of Vedanta roar.” “Let us take our stand,” he urged, “on the one central truth in our religion – the common heritage of the Hindus, the Buddhists and Jains alike – the Spirit of man, the Atman of man, the immortal, birthless, all-pervaviiog, eternal Soul of man.”
While one cannot but recognize on reading this reply to the Madras Address that Swamiji’s attention was still largely centered in India, one must also recognize that he was at this time keenly aware of Western needs. “Today,” he wrote in the reply, “the West is awakening to its wants, and the ‘true self of man9 and the ‘spirit9 is the watchword of the advanced school of Western theologians. … Is it not curious that, whilst under the terrific onset of modern scientific research, all the old forts of Western dogmatic religions are crumbling into
dust; . . . whilst the vast majority of thoughtful Western humanity have broken asunder all their ties with the church, and are drifting about in a sea of unrest, the religions which have drunk the water of life at that fountain of light – the Vedas – Hinduism and Buddhism, alone are reviving ? The restless Western atheist or agnostic finds in the Gita or in the Dhammapada the only place where his soul can anchor.’* One must further recognize the fact that Swamiji was finding in Vedanta the rallying point not only of all Hindu sects but of every religion, Indian or Western: “As the Vedas are the only scriptures which teach this real absolute God, of which all other ideas of God are but minimized and limited visions; as the Shruti takes the devotee gently by the hand, and leads him from one stage to another, through all the stages that are necessary for him to travel to reach the Absolute; and as all other religions represent one or other of these stages in an unprogressive and crystallized form, all the other religions of the world are included in the nameless, limitless, eternal Vedic religion.” Clearly, it was but a step from this concept to the formulation of Vedanta as his message to the West.
Coupled with his growing awareness of America’s need for India’s religion was his growing belief that India’s hope for survival lay not only in reviving the pure religion of the Upanishads but in spreading that religion broadcast. This conviction, which was later to ring like a call to battle through his lectures to his own countrymen (“Up India and conquer the world with your spirituality !”), seemed to find its first explicit expression in his reply to the Calcutta Address, which he mailed to India on November 18, 1894. Although a portion of this letter has already been quoted in Chapter Eight, it will bear repeating here. “Give and take is the law,” Swamiji wrote, “and if India wants to raise herself once more, it is absolutely necessary that she brings out her treasures and throws them broadcast among the nations of the earth, and in return be ready to receive what others have to give her. Expansion is life, contraction is death. Love is life and hatred is death. We commenced to die the day we began to hate other races, and nothing can prevent our death unless we come Backto expansion, which is life.”
In December there is definite proof that Swamiji’s message to the West was taking conscious form, for from December 5 to 28 we find him in Cambridge teaching a philosophy to which he gave the name “Vedanta.” From what we know of these Cambridge classes, we can be almost certain that they were preparatory to his New York work and that during the course of them he experimented with methods of teaching adapted to the Western mind and gave a unified form to his message. From a bulletin later printed by the Brooklyn Ethical Association we learn that during the Cambridge classes he “helped many students [of Harvard University] in the solution of philosophical problems in which they had become involved in their course of study” ; and surely we can infer that he helped not only Harvard students to solve their problems through the application of Vedanta but many others who attended his classes.
As has been mentioned, in the fall of 1894 new thoughts were surging in Swamiji’s mind and were demanding written expression. Yet he found little time to write. “I am writing no book on Hinduism now,” he wrote to Alasinga toward the end of the year, “I am simply jotting down my thoughts.” That these thoughts were concerned with Vedanta is evidenced by the fact that in this same letter he urged Alasinga and his other Madrasi disciples to give their minds to its study. “If you could start a magazine on Vedantic lines it would further our object. . . . Expand your hearts and hopes as wide as the world. Study Sanskrit, especially the three Bhashyas [Commentaries] on the Vedanta. Be ready, for I have many plans for the future.” The importance of the study of Vedanta was by no means a passing, thought with Swamiji, for in January we find him still insisting upon it.
But while it seems reasonable to infer that Swamiji’s “jottings” were concerned with Vedanta as an answer to world problems, they have remained undiscovered. In Volumes IV and V of “The Complete Works” we find synopses of two books that he intended to write, but these do not seem relevant to the period we are considering. In its May 1955 issue, however, Prabuddha Bharata has published an unfinished article by him, the contents of which seem to be in keeping with the trend of his thought in 1894 and 1895. Although this article is unfortunately undated as well as unfinished, I do not think one would be far wrong in assuming that it was written either in 1895 or during the last part of 1894. Indeed it may possibly be the jottings which Swamiji mentioned; for remembering his concern with finding a unity among the various religions of the world, one finds it hard to believe that the article was not written while this search was under way and drawing to its close. A portion reads as follows:
Strictly speaking there are no absolutely racial religions, yet it may be said that . . . the Vedic, the Mosaic, and the Avestan religions are confined to the races to which they originally belonged ; while the Buddhistic, the Christian, and the Mohammedan religions have been from their very beginning “spreading” religions.
The struggle will be between the Buddhists and Christians and Mohammedans to conquer the world and the racial religions also will have unavoidably to join in the struggle. Each one of these religions, racial or “spreading” has already been split into various branches and has undergone vast changes, consciously or unconsciously, to adapt itself to varying circumstances. This very fact shows that not one of them is fitted alone to be the religion of the entire human race. Each religion being the effect of certain peculiarities of the race it sprang from, and being in turn the cause of the intensification and preservation of those very peculiarities, not one of them can fit the universal human nature. Not only so, but there is a negative element in each. Each one helps the growth of a certain part of human nature, but represses everything else which the race from which it sprang did not have. Thus for one religion to become universal would be dangerous and degenerating to man.
Now the history of the world shows that the two dreams, viz., that of a universal political empire and that of a universal religious empire, have been long
before mankind; but that again and again the plans of the greatest conquerors had been frustrated by the splitting up of his territories before he Gould conquer a considerable part of the earth and that similarly every religion had been split into sects before it was fairly out of its cradle.
Yet it seems to be true that the solidarity of the human race, social as well as religious, with a scope for infinite variation, is the plan of nature ; and if the line of least resistance is the true line of action it seems to me that this splitting up of each religion into sects is the preservation of religion, by frustrating the tendency to rigid sameness, as well as the clear indication to us of the line of procedure.
The end seems, therefore, to be not destruction but a multiplication of sects until each individual is a sect unto himself. Again, a background of unity will come by the fusion of all the existing religions into one grand philosophy. In the mythologies or the ceremonials there will never be unity, because we differ more in the concrete than in the abstract. Even while accepting the same principles, men will differ as to the greatness of their ideal teachers.
So, by this fusion will be found a unity of philosophy as the basis of union [of religions], leaving each at liberty to choose his teacher or his form as illustrations of that unity. This fusion is what has been naturally going on for thousands of years; only, by mutual antagonism, it has been woefully held back. a Mk-
Instead of antagonizing, therefore, we must help
all such interchange of ideas between different races,
by sending teachers to each other, so as to educate
humanity in all the various religions of the world; but we must insist, as the great Buddhist Emperor of India, Ashoka, did in the second century before Christ, not to abuse others, nor to try to make a living out of others’ faults; but to help, to sympathize with, and to enlighten all.
Whatever might be the date on which Swamiji wrote the above, it is certain that by the end of December, 1894, he was finding in Vedanta “the one grand philosophy” and that he was fully conscious of the nature and dimensions of his message, for it was on the last day of the year that he declared with the startling directness of a true prophet: “I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East” – a statement which can leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that he had arrived at a clear knowledge of his mission. A few weeks later he settled in New York to open his classes on Vedanta. (It should be noted here that for a while he associated the word “Yoga” with Vedanta in naming his message. Later on, however, he was satisfied to use simply “Vedanta,” no doubt recognizing that it was inclusive of Yoga.)
Almost immediately after the beginning of 1895 Swamiji embarked with full vigor and full assurance upon his world mission, that of teaching Vedanta as he conceived it – a religion and philosophy that would suit all different temperaments and different stages of religious development and yet meet man’s highest spiritual needs; a religion and philosophy, also, that could be practiced in every walk of life, that would be of benefit to every aspect of human existence and would solve such problems as the conflict between science and religion, utilitarianism and mysticism. At the same time, as we find in his letters to his brother monks and disciples, he continued to stress the fact that Vedanta could be of immense service to the Indian people in their national regeneration and to urge its study. On January 3 he wrote to Sir S. Subrahmanya Iyer: “After taking a far and wide view of things, my mind has now been concentrated on the following plan. First, it would be well to open a Theological College in Madras, and then gradually extend its scope; to give a thorough education to young men in the Vedas and the different Bhashyas [Commentaries on Vedanta] and Philosophies including a knowledge of the other religions of the world.” On January 12, he wrote to Alasinga: “We must have a College in Madras to teach comparative religions, Sanskrit, the different schools of Vedanta and some European languages;” Swamiji’s insistence on the importance of the study of the three aspects of Vedanta is shown by the fact that he continued to urge it, writing on April 4 to Alasinga, “My idea is for you to start a society where people could be taught the Vedas and the Vedanta with the commentaries. Work on these lines at present”
It is true, of course, that Swamiji gave greater importance to Advaita as the answer to world problems than to the two other Vedantic schools. On April 24, he wrote to Mr. E. T. Sturdy : “I quite agree with you that only the Advaita Philosophy can save mankind, whether in East or West, from “devil worship’ and kindred superstitions, giving tone and strength to the very nature of man.” But he by no means discarded the other Vedantic schools of thought. Indeed, it was in all three that he found the unity of religions, or, rather, Religion itself, wnich he had been seeking so long to formulate.
“Now I will tell you my discovery,” he wrote to Alasinga on May 6, 1895. “All of religion is contained in the Vedanta, that is, in the three stages of the Vedanta philosophy, the Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita and Advaita; one comes after the other. These are the three stages of spiritual growth in man. Each one is necessary. This is the essential of religion. The Vedanta applied to the various ethnic customs and creeds of India, is Hinduism. The first stage, Dvaita, applied to the ideas of ethnic groups of Europe is Christianity; as applied to the Semitic groups, Mohammedanism. The Advaita as applied in its Yoga-perception form, is Buddhism, etc. Now by religion is meant the Vedanta. The application must vary according to the different needs, surroundings and other circumstances of different nations. You will find that although the philosophy is the same, the Shaktas, Shaivas, etc. apply it to their own special cult and forms. Now, in your journal write article after article on these three systems, showing their harmony as one following after the other, and at the same time keeping off the ceremonial forms altogether. That is, preach the philosophy, the spiritual part, and let people suit it to their own forms. I want to write a book on this subject, therefore I want the three Bhashyas, but only one volume of the Ramanuja has reached me as yet.”
Swamiji’s desire to write this book was persistent. In June of 1895 he wrote to Mary Hale: “‘The three great commentaries of the Vedanta philosophy belonging to the three great sects of dualists, qualified monists and monists are being sent to me from India. . . . Then I will have an intellectual feast indeed. I intend to write a book this summer on the Vedanta philosophy” Again, in 1896 he wrote to Alasinga from London: “I am busy writing something big on the Vedanta philosophy. I am busy collecting passages from the various Vedas bearing on the Vedanta in its threefold aspect. … It would be a pity to leave the West, without leaving something of the philosophy in book form.” But although Swamiji did not write this book, which was evidently to be a sort of textbook on Vedanta, he certainly did not leave the West without leaving “something of the philosophy in book form.” His recorded lectures given in 1895 and 1896, his “Karma Yoga,” “Raja Yoga,” “Bhakti Yoga” and “Jnana Yoga,” are in themselves a large work on the subject and, together with later lectures and writings, constitute a message that will, as he himself paid toward the end of his life, be enough to last the world for fifteen hundred years.
Parallel to the development of Swamiji’s message during the fall of 1894 was a decided change in his plan of work. We know that through 1893 and most of 1894 he was reluctant to remain long in America. The major part of his attention was centered in India; and while it is true that throughout his lecture tour he shed the blessings of a divine prophet upon the American people and also taught them a great deal of religion, his evident motive was to find means of bettering the material condition of the Indian masses. By the middle of March, 1894, he had had enough of the West, and being thoroughly disgusted with lecturing to large crowds, wrote to Mary Hale from Detroit, “I shall come Backto Chicago for a day or two at least before I go out of this country.” Yet he remained.
One cannot help wondering what held him in America. At first glance it would appear that it was his determination to raise funds, against all odds, for his Indian work, but more probably it was his knowledge that he was acting in accordance with the divine,will. Although he was seldom explicit in regard to the details of the guidance he received from the Mother of the Universe or from Sri Ramakrishna, he often hinted at them, and now and then more than hinted. I have heard, (or instance, from a monk of the Ramakrishna Order that Swamiji once confided to a brother monk, Swami Vijnanananda, that during his lecture tour in America he sometimes received direct instruction from Sri Ramakrishna as to which places he should or should not visit. Knowing this, we can be sure that he was being literal when he wrote on May 28, 1894, to Alasinga, “I do not know when I am going Backto India. It is better to leave everything in the hands of Him who is at my Backdirecting me.” And again, “I am in His hands, … I will go Back[to India] when I get the command” Thus while Swamiji sometimes felt that he was doing little permanent good through lecturing here and there and that from a financial point of view he could not “succeed at all” he kept on. In the depth of his being he must have known that he was God’s prophet to America and that he had a message to give to the West. Yet as late as the end of September, 1894, he was writing: “I long to go Backto the Himalayan quiet,” and again: “I do not know when I come Backbut I have seen enough of this country I think, and so soon will go over to Europe and then to India.”
A conclusive indication that in the fall Swamiji was becoming conscious that his mission must include the West is that around the end of October a definite change in tone appears in his letters. Quite suddenly his repeatedly expressed longing to return to India disappears altogether and in its place is the repeated assertion that America is a great field for the propagation of high ideas. On October 22 he writes from Baltimore to Swami Ramakrishnananda: “There is no end of work here –
I am careering all over the country. Wherever the seed of his power will fall tlierMt will fructify, be it today, or in a hundred years.” And the next day he writes to Vehemia Chand, “By this time I have become one of their own teachers.”
Perhaps the clearest sign that his plans had changed is contained in his letter of October 27 to Alasinga: “I think I have worked enough, now I want to rest and to teach a little to those that have come to me from my Gurudeva [Sri Ramakrishna].” Here one sees .an indication of the form Swamiji’s American work was later to tak? – the ripening of a desire which, as has been said, may have begun at Greenacre. Not only did Swamiji now desire to teach American disciples, but he obviously felt that such teaching was an essential part of his divine mission. “Look not for me,” he wrote in this same leiter. “Here is a grand field. What have I to do with this ‘ism* or that ‘ism’? I am the servant of the Lord, and where on earth is there a better field than here for propagating all high ideas? Here, where if one man is against me, a hundred hands are ready to help me; here, where man feels for man, and women are goddesses.”
It is true, of course, that Swamiji had always found in what he had called “this thoroughly materialistic country” “honourable exceptions” ; he had seen thousands of men and women respond to his ideas and had from the first looked upon the American women as “goddesses.” But despite his early admiration for many aspects of Western civilization and despite his fondness for Americans, he had not previously regarded the country as “a grand field” for spreading his ideas. “All is right with them,” he had written on September 25 in summation of the American character, “but that enjoyment is their God.” Now in late autumn he wrote, “Tell the sapient sage who writes to me to finish my preaching work here and return home . . . that this country is more my home. . . . To return, home! Where is the home? I do not care for liberation or for enjoyment, I would rather go to a hundred thousand hells, ‘doing good to others like the spring season/ This is my religion.” Shortly after, he wrote to Swami Bralunananda, “There is no certainty about my going Backto India. I shall have to lead a wandering life there also, as I am doing here. But here one lives in the company of scholars, and Lhere in the company of fools – there is this difference as between heaven and hell.” “Mv intention,” he wrote toward the end of 1894, “is to do something permanent here, and with that object I am working day by day. I am every day gaining the confidence of the American people.”
As time went on Swamiji expressed an ever-growing awareness of his ultimate mission and an ever-growing sense of responsibility in regard to it. For instance, in a letter to Swami Abhedananda, which is dated simply “1894,” but which, in view of internal evidence, can be placed around the end of November or the beginning of December, he expressed a consciousness of his status as prophet. According to a literal translation of the original Bengali, which differs from that given in the English edition of “The Letters” he wrote: “As long as you gird up your loins and stand united behind me, there is no fear even if the whole world combines against us. Finally I have understood this much – that l shall have to assume a very high position”
“I find,” he writes on January 3, “I have a mission in this country also.” And on January 11: “Know . . . that this is a grand field for my ideas, and that I do not care whether they are Hindus or Mohammedans or Christians, but those that love the Lord will always command my service.” “I have a message, arid I will give it after my own fashion,” he wrote to Mary Hale on February 1. “I will neither Hinduize my message, nor Christianize nor make it any ize in the world. I will only Myize ii and that is all.” One cannot but conclude from such state’ ments and others like them that Swamiji’s attitude toward his American work had undergone a radical change, a change so great that on February 14 he wrote to Mrs. Bull, “Collecting funds even for a good work is not good for a Sannyasin. . . . 1 had these childish ideas of doing this and doing that. These appear like a hallucination to me now. I am getting out of them. . . . Perhaps these mad desires were necessary to bring me over to this country. And I thank the Lord for the experience.”
While the temptation is sometimes great to attribute such statements to a mere variation in mood and to dismiss them summarily, a careful, chronological study of Swamiji’s letters shows unmistakably that during the last part of 1894 and the beginning of 1895 Ji£ was becoming keenly aware of his world mission. One sees, moreover, that the change in his thought was permanent. Henceforth, whenever occasion arose, he reminded those who might otherwise forget it that his mission was not to India alone but to the world. “Truth is my God,” he wrote to Alasinga in August of 1895, “the universe is my country. … I have a truth to teach, I, the child of God.” And on September 9, “I know- my mission in life, and no chauvinism about me; I belong as much to India as to the world, no humbug about that.” And again: “You must not forget that my interests are international and not Indian alone” A reader of “The Letters” can find for himself many more such passages – none of which, he will discover, appears before the last part of 1894.
The way in which Swamiji used the word Vedanta was somewhat his own. From what I have been able to learn, the term had been used in Northern India mainly to indicate the monistic interpretation of the Upanishads and the Brahma-Sutras. It was in this sense that Sri Ramakrishna himself often used it, distinguishing it from non-monistic Hindu doctrines – although sometimes he spoke also of the Vishishtadvaita (qualified monistic) school of Vedanta. “Here,” he once said, referring to himself, “people of all sects come – Vaislinavas, Shaktas, Kartabhajas, Vedantists, and also members of the modern Brahmo Samaj.” Or again, “I respect the Shaktas, the Vaishnavas, and also the Vedantists.” In Southern India Vedanta was generally understood to include qualified monism and dualism as well as monism, but it was nevertheless applied only to faiths which had the Upanishads and the Brahma-Sutras as their philosophical basis. Never before Swamiji’s time had the term been given such universal significance as he *>ave it. Never before had it been broadened into a philosophy and religion which included every faith of the world and every noble effort of man – reconciling spirituality and material advancement, faith and reason, science and mysticism, work and contemplation, service to man and absorption in God. Never before had it been conceived as the one universal religion, by accepting the principles of which the follower of any or no creed could continue along his own path and at the same time be able to identify himself with every other creed and aspect of religion.
A chronological study of Swamiji’s use of the word Vedanta up until 1895 is extremely revealing. At the outset it should be said that in the press reports of the lectures and interview’s included in this book the word Vedanta does not occur even once. In making this study, therefore, we have to depend for the most part upon his letters and other writings, such as his replies to the Madras and Calcutta Addresses. Apart from these, the other available records of Swamiji’s thought prior to 1895 are the brief accounts given in “The Life” of his 1893 lecture in Hyderabad, to which I have referred in an earlier chapter, and the “Notes taken down in Madras, 1892-93,” which are to be found in Volume VI of “The Complete Works.”
Consulting these various sources, I find that Swamiji first used the word Vedanta in a letter of August 17, 1889, to Pramada Das Mitra, with whom he had been discussing the Erahma-Sutras. Here his uses of the word were purely academic and had no connection with his future message. In a second letter to Mr. Mitra, written on March 3, 1890, he said, “I am a very soft-natured man in spite of the stern Vedantic views I hold.” These “stern Vedantic views” were, of course, those of Advaita Vedanta, the uncompromising monistic philosophy, in which he had been trained by Sri Ramakrishna and which therefore represented only his personal philosophy – not his message. In this same letter Swamiji also used “Vedanta” to apply exclusively to Advaita when he spoke of his Master as either the Avatara, “or else the ever-perfect divine man, whom the Vedanta speaks of as the free one, who assumes a body for the good of humanity.” In regard to the “Notes taken down in Madras” in 1892-93, we find that although the word Vedas in the sense of Vedanta often occurs, there is no indication that he had at that time conceived his message to be Vedanta; indeed the word Vedanta as such does not occur at all. In “The Life,” Swamiji is indirectly quoted as having said in his Hyderabad lecture of February, 1893, that he felt it an “imperative duty … to reveal to the world the incomparable glory of the Vedas and the Vedanta.” But, as I have pointed out in Chapter Eight, it is highly doubtful that he actually said this. As far as direct quotations* are concerned, it was not until May of 1894 that he again used the word Vedanta, when in a postscript to a letter to Professor Wright (see Chapter Ten) he remarked that “the ‘booby’ religion [of the Brahmo Samajists] could not hold its own against the old ‘Vedanta* ” – meaning Advaita Vedanta to which the Brahmo Samaj was opposed.
Clearly, in the above uses Swamiji had no thought of identifying his own message with Vedanta. On September 2L 1894, however, he wrote to Alasinga, “I am teaching Vedanta in various ways,” which, as I have already pointed out, shows that
he was now, at least partly, identifying his message with Vedanta and disseminating many of its ideas through his lectures and classes. In a letter of September 25 to Swami Ramakrishnananda he writes, apropos of Christian Scientists: “They are
Vedantins; I mean, they have picked up a few doctrines of the Advaita and grafted them onto the Bible.” While this does not indicate anything more than it says, a large part of this letter is a thunderous affirmation of Advaita Vedanta and evinces his desire to make Advaita a vital part of his message to India. Around this same time he wrote his reply to the Madras Address, which contains abundant evidence that he was identifying his message to India with Vedanta and that he was also aware that India’s religion in its pure form was essential to the West.
Henceforth – that is, after September – Swamiji began to use the word Vedanta as more or less synonymous with his message – although a complete identification of the two did not take place until a few months later. On October 27 he writes to Alasinga: “It is good to talk glibly about the Vedanta, but
how hard to carry out even its least precepts!” Had Swamiji not been thinking of his own teaching in terms of Vedanta he would not in this instance have called his disciple, whom he had been instructing and inspiring through innumerable letters from America, a follower of Vedanta. Even a cursory reading of this letter will show that throughout he was speaking in the spirit of Advaita Vedanta; he could not, therefore, have been using the word Vedanta to refer to the fact that Alasinga had been born and brought up in a family devoted to Vaishnavism – the qualified monistic school of Vedanta as taught by Ramanuja.
I have already referred to the fact that toward the end of 1894 Swamiji began to urge Alasinga and his other Madrasi disciples to take up the study of the three Bhashyas on the Vedanta. I need not, therefore, repeat that quotation here ; but it was surely a telling evidence that he was now recognizing Vedanta to be his message to the world. His next use of the word Vedanta is found in a letter written to Swami Shivananda around the end of 1894 in which he equated Sri Ramakrishna’s message* to the total truth of religion. “Without studying Ramakrishna Paramahamsa first,” he wrote, “one can never understand the real import of the Vedas and the Vedanta, of the Bhagavata and the other Puranas. … He was the living commentary to the Vedas and to their aim. … A single word of his is to me far weightier than the Vedas and the Vedanta.” By this Swamiji did not mean that Sri Ramakrishna taught anything which was not a part of the Vedas and the Vedanta, but rather that his utterances were direct living revelations and therefore of far more value than written texts. (In a later Bengali writing entitled “Hinduism and Sri Ramakrishna’* we find him describing his Master as “Veda-murti,” the Embodiment of the Vedas.) In December, as has been seen, Swamiji wrote to Mary Hale of his classes on Vedanta – a clear indication that he was now designating his teachings by that name.
Thus we see that from the summer of 1894 onward simultaneous developments, keeping pace with one another, were taking place in Swamiji’s thought along three lines: there was the evolution of his message, the change in his plan of work and the increasing degree in which he identified his own message with Vedanta. All three were aspects of a single event – the emergence of his world mission, and all three have left their undeniable traces in his written and spoken words. I do not think it would be true to say, however, that by the beginning of 1895 Swamiji had given the final form to his Vedanta; for through the following years his message was to shift in emphasis and to become ever more complete and detailed. Nor from what knowledge I have of the texts of Vedanta does it appear to me that he taught orthodox Vedanta in every respect. He mixed with it, for instance, a great deal of Sankhya in order to answer some of the,questions posed by modern knowledge. It is not my purpose, however, to expound Swamiji’s Vedanta or to discuss the detailed developments that took place in it. I want only to point out that such changes did take place and that Vedanta, as he taught it, was in certain respects his own contribution to the modern age.
One may ask why Swamiji gave a name – Vedanta – to the principles of one religion. On the face of it, this was not necessary, for as he himself often observed, those principles have always existed, in greater or lesser degree, in every religion.
And did he not write, “The real thing is the Religion taught by Sri Ramakrishna; let the Hindus call it Hinduism, and others call it in their own way”? Why, then, if the Religion could be found in established religions, did he call it by a specific name? One obvious and important reason is, of course, that the name already existed. The one religion in all its aspects had already been formulated and for thousands of years had been called Vedanta. Swamiji could not ignore this fact. I can think, however, of at least two other reasons.
First, he had, as we have seen, attempted throughout his lecture tour to define the harmony of religions in the truest sense and had concluded that it consisted in the recognition of the unity of religions or, rather, in the recognition of religion, which is always one and the same. Now, had he not given religion a name, its concept would have remained vague, and the dangers of such vagueness are apparent. There would, for instance, be little likelihood of the essentials of religion remaining clearly defined and unadulterated if it were left for each creed to interpret them according to its particular inclinations. Compromise would be an inevitable result, and shortly the fundamentals of religion would be again lost in various dogmas. Moreover, not every religion or creed is possessed, or wants to be possessed, of all the fundamentals of religion; in fact, every religion, other than Hinduism, would be hard put to it to discover room for them within its tenets.
The second reason I can think of why Swamiji wanted to give a name to the one religion was that in so doing he not only ensured the purity of its principles, but made it possible for anyone to follow those principles without first attaching himself to a specific creed and burdening himself with forms and ceremonials not necessary to him. One could, in short, become a “Vedantin” and go straight to the heart of religion itself. “By combining some of the active and heroic elements of the West with calm virtues of the Hindus, there will come a type of men far superior to any that have ever been in this world,” he had written in September 1894 to Haridas Viharidas Desai. Now in May of 1895 he wrote with firm purpose to Alasinga, ,lI am to create a new order of humanity here.” But this new type of man could not come into existence unless he was thoroughly trained in the doctrines and practices of pure religion ; and those doctrines and practices necessarily had to be defined and named, not only to safeguard them from adulteration, but to give them clarity and cohesiveness in the minds of their followers.
In attempting to analyze the way in which Swamiji arrived at his message and mission, I may have made it appear that his efforts in this respect were mainly intellectual and therefore speculative. I did not mean to imply, however, that his ideas necessarily originated on the level of discursive reason or depended upon it for their validity. It is true that during his lecture tour he seems to have been working toward a complete definition of his message, to have been thinking it out. It is also true that, according to Sister Christine, he sometimes spent hours debating aloud the pros and cons of a given problem before coming to its solution. But does reasoning preclude divine inspiration or divine confirmation?
One cannot ignore the fact that Swamiji was an illumined soul and that his thought was not like that of ordinary men but was intuitive and free of laborious process. Indeed, the line between his thought process and divine inspiration was a fine one and perhaps impossible to draw. He often said that there are truths which cannot be comprehended by reason but which, though beyond its grasp, are never contradictory to it. Innumerable must have been the times when, in search of truth, he stepped far beyond reason’s boundary and discovered facts unavailable to reason but nevertheless harmonious with it. To him who was effortlessly in touch with a vast and infinitely wise consciousness that boundary was not a barrier. Rather, the working of reason and that of superreason must have been for him a continuous, single process.
In thinking of the ease with which Swamiji’s mind moved between the realms of reason and superreason, one is reminded of two passages in Sister Nivedita’s “The Master as I Saw him.” Writing of “the stories he would tell of his lecturing experiences,” she narrates: .”At night, in his own room, a voice, he said, would begin to shout at him the words he was to say on the morrow, and the next day he would find himself repeating, on the platform, the things he had heard it tell. Sometimes there would be two voices, arguing with each other. Again the voice would seem to come from a long distance, speaking to him down a great avenue. Then it might draw nearer and nearer, till it would become a shout. ‘Depend upon it,’ he would say, ‘whatever in the past has been meant by inspiration, it must have been something like this!'” “Again,” Sister Nivedita writes in the same book, “there was the dream that he recounted on board ship, ‘in which I heard two voices discussing the marriage-ideals of the East and the West, and the conclusion of the whole was, that there was something in each, with which as yet, the world could ill afford to part.’ “
Whether the voices Swamiji heard came from the depths of his own being or from some other source is immaterial. The fact remains that his thoughts often originated in a region far beyond that of the ordinary mind. “I am an instrument, and He is the operator,” he wrote to Swami Ramakrishnananda apropos of his mission in America. “Through this instrument He is awakening the spiritual consciousness in thousands of hearts in this far-off country.” We know that iq America Swamiji was in direct communion with his Master. During the course of this book I have given several instances of this fact and have quoted his own avowals of it. There are many more hints and affirmations in his letters to the effect that his work and thought were divinely directed and also that his experiences were far beyond the range of ordinary comprehension and often too sacred or too startling to be divulged. “For the last six months,” he wrote to Swami Ramakrishnananda in 1894, “I have been saying, the curtain is going up, the sun is rising. The curtain is lifting – lifting by degrees, slow but sure. It will be known in time. He knows.” He goes on to quote the first line of a song Sri Ramakrishna used to sing, ” ‘How can I tell you the secret of my heart, friend ? I am forbidden to do so/ ” and then continues, “Brother, these are not things I can write about or speak about.” And to Alasinga in August of 1895,, “I could have told you many things that could have made your heart leap, but I will not. I want iron wills and hearts that do not know how to quake.”
But while Swamiji did not reveal his spiritual experiences in his letters, he left no doubt about the fact that he was continually receiving divine guidance. “While I am on earth, Sri Ramakrishna is working through me,” he wrote to Swami Ramakrishnananda in 1895. “So long as you believe this, there is no danger of any evil for you.*’ And there was his assurance to Alasinga: “I see a greater Power than man, or God, or devil at my back.”
That his decisions were not guided by reason or practical considerations alone is well illustrated by the fact that during the peak of his success in London in 1896 he decided to leave for India – a departure which from a common-sense point of view was, to say the least, untimely. But to Miss MacLeod he wrote: “Of course everybody here thinks it foolish to give it [the London work] up just now that the ‘boom’ is on, but the Dear Lord says, ‘Start for Old India.’ I obey.” At a later date he wrote to Mary Hale, who was fearful lest by his outspokenness he antagonize people: “My time is short. I have got to unbreast whatever I have to say, without caring if it smarts some or irritates others. Therefore, my dear Mary, do not be frightened at whatever drops from my lips, for the power behind me is not Vivekananda but He the Lord, and He knows best.” Few people, if any, fully understood Swamiji. To his disciple, Alasinga, he wrote: “I am a singular man, my son, not even you can understand me yet.” And to another disciple, G. G. Narasimhacharya, “You have not caught my fire yet – you do not understand me.” Indeed, Sri Ramakrishna himself had said, “No one will be able to understand Naren [Swami Viveka-nanda]” – and so it was. What he said and did were at times beyond the understanding of even his brother monks, his actions and words sometimes seeming to them impetuous and detrimental to his own mission. He worked, however, according to an inner knowledge. “You need not be afraid,” he wrote to one of his brothers in 1897, “I do not work alone, but He is always with me.”
One remembers how he thundered when another of his brother monks felt that he was departing from the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna: “How. do you know that these are not in keeping with his ideas ? Do you want to shut Sri Ramakrishna, the embodiment of infinite ideas, within your own limits ? I shall break these limits and scatter his ideas broadcast all over the world. . . . He himself is at my Backand is making me do all these things in these ways.” And again, “I am a slave of Ramakrishna, who left his work to be done by me and will not give me rest till I have finished it.”
In view of these things, it is quite clear that Swamiji’s conclusions regarding his message either originated with Sri Ramakrishna or had his approval, and one cannot think, therefore, that the evolution of his message as Vedanta was the product of reason alone; one would be far more correct in thinking that it was of the nature of revelation. Yet all prophets must put their revelations into terms comprehensible to the human mind, terms that can be grasped by thought and understood step by logical step. This translation of a divine vision into philosophical and practical form is one of the essential functions of a world teacher, and was, in Swamiji’s case, a work immensely complex. We can say, therefore, that he was guided both by divine inspiration and by his own intellect. But in so saying we must bear in mind that his intellect opened out into the realm of superconsciousness, that his thought was so penetrative and so broad that it could in itself scarcely be distinguished from revelation.
Swamiji’s mission was, in a sense, twofold. First, he was deeply concerned with finding a practical and unified answer to the many problems facing the modern world. Second, being the appointed messenger of Sri Ramakrishna, he was equally concerned with spreading his Master’s teachings* in their most pristine and also most complete form. As 1 pointed out above and as he so often said, he taught nothing that was not of Sri Ramakrishna. The combination of these two objectives into one mission had involved, on the one hand, a thorough and prescient knowledge of the interwoven and enormously complicated struggles of an age which at the end of the nineteenth century had only just begun, and, on the other hand, a thorough understanding of every aspect of a divine personality of infinite scope. Had Sri Ramakrishna been less than he was – a complete and universal being, combining within himself every mode of God and every ideal of man – it would have been more difficult, if not impossible, for Swamiji to equate Vedanta with his Master’s life and message. As it was, he saw the two as one and inseparable. Although it is not apparent that every aspect of Swamiji’s Vedanta was derived from the recorded teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, the Master was, in Swamiji’s understanding, its complete living embodiment. And, conversely, Vedanta, as it appeared to Swamiji, was the systematic representation and exegesis of that great life. That which, as principle, was Vedanta, was, as living existence, Sri Ramakrishna. “His life,” Swamiji wrote, “is the living commentary on the Vedas of all nations” To make Vedanta inclusive of all human aspirations, efforts and achievements, to comprehend the universal dimensions of his Master’s life and teachings, and to equate the two, was one of Swami Viveka-nanda’s supreme contributions to the world – a stroke of prophetic genius which not all of Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees understood at first and which some, one suspects, do not under-stand yet.