3. IN AND AROUND CHICAGO
Among the many gaps in the biographies of Swami Vivekananda is one which appears after the Parliament of Religions and extends over the period comprising the last part of 1893 and almost the whole of 1894. This gap, to be sure, is not total. We know, for instance, that Swamiji toured through the Middle West and East, lecturing in many cities, for a time in connection with a lecture bureau and later independently, and also we catch distant and disconnected glimpses of him as he went from place to place. But when we consider the hundreds of conversations he must have held during this period, the scores of lectures and the many private interviews he must have given, to say nothing of the innumerable spiritual experiences he must have had, we cannot help feeling dissatisfied with the meagemess of our present knowledge. In this current chapter, therefore, and in those to follow I have tried to throw a little more light upon Swamiji’s post-Parliament activities.
One thing that has been obscure is the length of time Swamiji remained in Chicago before commencing his lecture tour. Supported by one or two contemporary reports, we can now hazard the guess that he made his home there for at least two months, during which time he took short trips to nearby towns. In connection with this period we are fortunate enough to have two heretofore unpublished letters that Swamiji wrote to Dr. Wright. These are, I believe, among the most valuable of his letters, for they not only supply facts regarding his activities but convey something of his ecstatic state of mind during the early days of his American mission. The first letter, which follows, was written on October 2:
the 2nd October ’93
Dear Adhyapakji –
I do not know what you are thinking of my long silence. In the first place I dropped in on the Congress in the eleventh hour. And quite unprepared and that kept me very very busy for some time. Secondly I was speaking almost every day in the Congress and had no time to write and last and greatest of all – my kind friend I owe so much to you that it would have been an insult to your Ahetuka (unselfish) friendship to have written you business like letters in a hurry. The Congress is now over.
Dear brother I was so so afraid to sland before that great assembly of fine speakers and thinkers from all over the world and speak but the Lord gave me strength and I almost every day heroically (?) faced the platform and the audience. If I have done well He gave me the strength for it if I have miserably failed – I knew’ that before hand – for I am hopelessly ignorant.
Your friend prof. Bradley was very kind to me and he always cheered me on And oh! everybody is so kind here to me who am nothing – that it is beyond my power of expression. Glory unto Him in the highest in whose sight the poor ignorant monk from India is the same as the learned divines of this mighty land. And how the Lord is helping me every day of ray life brother – I sometimes wish for a life of million million ages to serve Him through the work dressed in rags and fed by charity.
Oh how I wished that you were here to see some of our sweet ones from India – the tender hearted Buddhist Dhainmapala the orator Mazootndar and realize that in that far off and poor India there are hearts that beat in sympathy to yours, born and brought up in this mighty – and great country.
My eternal respects to your holy wife and to your sweet children my eternal love and blessings.
Col Higginson a very broad man told me that your daughter had written to his daughter about me and he was very sympathetic to me. I am going to Evanston tomorrow and hope to see prof. Bradley there.
May He make us all more and more pure and holy so that we may live a perfect spiritual life even before throwing off this earthly body.
[The letter continues on a separate sheet of paper: ]
I am now going to be reconciled to my life here. All my life I have been taking every circumstance as coming from him and calmly adapt myself to it. At first in America I was almost out of my water I was afraid I would have to give up the accustomed way of being guided by the Lord and cater for myself – and what a honid piece of mischief and ingratitude was that. I now clearly see that He who was guiding me on the snow tops of the Himalayas and the burning plaines [sic] of India is here to help me and guide me. Glory unto Him in the highest. So I have calmly fallen in my old ways. Some body or other gives me a shelter and food some body or other comes to ask me to speak about Him and I know He sends them and mine is to obey. And then He is supplying my necessities and His will be done
“He who rests [in] Me and gives up all other self assertion and struggles I carry to him whatever he needs” Gita
So it is in Asia So in Europe So in America So in the deserts of India So in the rush of business in America for is He not here also? And if He does not I only would take for granted that He wants that I should lay aside this three minutes body of clay – and hope to lay it down gladly –
We may or may not meet brother. He knows. You are great learned and Holy. I dare not preach to you or your wife – but to your children – I quote these passages from the Vedas –
“The four Vedas, Sciences, languages, philosophy and all other learnings are only ornamental the real
learning – the true Knowledge is that which enables us to reach him who is unchangeable in His love”
“How real, how tangible, how visible is He through whom the skin touches the eyes see and the world gets its reality”
“Hearing Him nothing remains to be heard
Seeing Him nothing remains to be seen
Attaining Him nothing remains to be attained”
“He is the eye of our eyes the ear of our ears the
Soul of our Souls.”
He is nearer to you my dears than even your father and mother – you are innocent and pure as flowers – remain so and He will reveal Himself unto you. Dear Austin when you are playing there is another playmate playing with you who loves you more than anybody else and oh He is so full of fun. He is always playing – sometimes with great big balls which we call the sun and earth sometimes with little children like you and laughing and playing with you.
How funny it would be to see him and play with Him my dear think of it.
Dear Adhyapakji, I am moving about just now – only when I come to Chicago – I always go to see Mr. and Mrs. Lyons one of the noblest couples I have seen here. If you would be kind enough to write to me kindly address it to the care of Mr. John B. Lyons 262 Michigan Ave Chicago.
“He who gets hold of the One in this world of many – The one constant existence in a world of flitting shadows – the One life m a world of Death – He alone crosses this sea of misery and struggle. None else none else” Vedas
“He who is the Brahman of the Vedantins Ishwara of the Naiyayikas, Purusha of the Sankhyas, cause of the Mimamsakas Laiv of the Buddhists absolute zero of the Atheists and love infinite unto those that love, may [He] take us all under His merciful protection” Udayanacharya(a great philosopher of the Nyaya os Dualistic school and this is the Benediction pronounced at the very beginning of his wonderful book “Kusumanjali a handful of flowers” in which He attempts to establish the existence of a personal creator and moral ruler of infinite love independently of revelation.)
Yours ever grateful friend Vivekananda
Until recently, where Swamiji stayed during the sessions of the Parliament of Religions has been a mystery. Suddenly, however, floods of light have been thrown on the subject. Thanks to Cornelia Conger, a granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Lyons, whom Swamiji mentions in the above letter, we learn that it was they who were his hosts during this period. Cornelia Conger was only six years old in 1893, but her memories of Swamiji are vivid, and her excellent “Memoirs of Swami Vivekananda” which appeared in the Prabuddha Bharata of May 1956 give an invaluable picture of him at this important time in his life. It is to Swami Shankarananda, President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in India, that we owe Miss Conger’s article, for, having considered her memories “childish and trivial,” she had been reluctant to give them written form. “But the Swami [Shankarananda] said something,” Miss Conger writes, “infinitely kind and gracious which I shall never forget: That every great man is like a jewel with many facets. That each facet is important as it reflects a different aspect of his character.” “So here,” she continues, “is my very tiny ‘facet’ offered in memory of someone I have loved for all these 62 years.” Her “Memoirs” read in part:
Before the Congress (or Parliament) of Religions met in Chicago at the time of the Columbian Exposition in 1893, members of various churches volunteered to ask into their homes as guests delegates to it. My grandmother, Mrs. John B. Lyon, was one of these, requesting, if possible, that a delegate who was broadminded be sent to us as my grandfather was much interested in philosophy but heartily disliked bigots!
Our home was 262, Michigan Avenue, a pleasant somewhat old-fashioned frame house, painted olive green with boxes of red geraniums across the front. It was full of guests all that summer as my grandparents were naturally hospitable and this World’s Fair was a very exciting and fascinating affair. So all our out-of-town relatives and friends were eager to come to Chicago to see it. When word came that our delegate was to arrive on a certain evening, the house was so crowded that my grandmother had to send her elder son to a friend’s house to have his room for our guest. We had been given no idea who he would be nor even what religion he was representing. A message came that a member of our Church – the First Presbyterian – would bring him after midnight. Everyone went to bed except my grandmother who waited up to receive them. When she answered the doorbell, there stood Swami Vivekananda in a long yellow robe, a red sash, and a red turban – a very startling sight to her because she had probably never seen an East Indian before. She welcomed him warmly and showed him to his room. When she went to bed she was somewhat troubled. Some of our guests-were Southerners as we had many friends in the South because we owned a sugar plantation on the Bayou Teche in Louisiana. Southerners have a strong dislike for associating with anyone but whites because they stupidly think of all people who are darker as on a mental and social plane of their former Negro slaves. My grandmother herself had no color prejudice and she was sufficiently intelligent anyway to know that Indians are of the same Caucasian inheritance as we are.
When my grandfather woke up, she told him of the problem and said he must decide whether it would be uncomfortable for Swami and for our Southern friends to be together. If so, she said he could put Swami up as our guest at the new Auditorium Hotel near us. My grandfather was dressed about half an hour before breakfast and went into the library to read his morning paper. There he found Swami and, before breakfast was served, he came to my grandmother and said, “I don’t care a bit, Emily, if all our guests leave! This Indian is the most brilliant and interesting man who has ever been in our home and he shall stay as long as he wishes.” That began a warm friendship between them which was later summed up – much to my grandfather’s embarrassment! – by having Swami calmly remark to a group of my grandfather’s friends one day at the Chicago Club: “I believe Mr. Lyon is the most Christ-like man I ever met!”
He seemed to feel especially close to my grandmother, who reminded him of his own mother. She was short and very erect, with quiet dignity and assurance, excellent common sense, and a dry humor that he enjoyed. My mother, who was a pretty and charming young widow, and I – who was only six years old – lived with them. My grandmother and my mother attended most of the meetings of the Congress of Religions and heard Swamiji speak there and later at lectures he gave. I know he helped my sad young mother who missed her young husband so much. Mother read and studied Swamiji’s books later and tried to follow his teachings.
My memories are simply of him as a guest in our home – of a great personality who is still vivid to me! His brilliant eyes, his charming voice with the lilt of a slight well-bred Irish biogue, his warm smile! He told me enchanting stories of India, of monkeys and peacocks, and flights of bright green p;irrots, of banyan trees and masses of flowers, and markets piled with all colors of fruits and vegetables. To me they sounded like fairy stories, but now that I have driven over many hundreds of miles of Indian roads, I realize that he was simply describing scenes from the memories of his own boyhood. I used to rush up to him when he came into the house and cry, “Tell me another story, Swami,” and climb into his lap. Perhaps, so far from home and in so strange a country, he found comfort in the love and enthusiasm of a child. He was always wonderful to me! Yet – because a child is sensitive – I can remember times when I would run into his room and suddenly know he did not want to be disturbed – when he was in meditation. He asked me many questions about what I learned in school and made me show him my school-books and pointed out India to me on the map – it was pink, I recall – and told me about his country. He seemed sad that little Indian girls did not have, in general, the chance to have as good an education as we American children. . . . My grandmother was president of the Women’s Hospital at home and he visited it with lively interest and asked for all the figures in infant mortality, etc.
I was fascinated by his turban which struck me as a very funny kind of a hat, especially as it had to be wound up afresh every time he put it on! I persuaded him to let me sec him wrap it Backand forth around his head.
As our American food is less highly seasoned than Indian, my grandmother was afraid he might find it flat. He told us, on arrival, that he had been told to conform to all the customs and the food of his hosts, so he ate as we did. My grandmother used to make a little ceremony of making salad dressing at the table and one of the condiments she used was Tabasco Sauce, put up by some friends of hers, the Mcllhennys, in Louisiana. She handed him the bottle and said, “You might like a drop or two of this on your meat, Swami.” He sprinkled it on with such a lavish hand that we all gasped and said, “But you can’t do that! It’s terribly hot! ” He laughed and ate it with such enjoyment that a special bottle of the sauce was always put at his place after that.
My mother took him to hear his first Symphony Concert on a Friday afternoon. He listened with great attention but with his head a bit on one side and a slightly quizzical expression. “Did you enjoy it?” mother asked at the end. “Yes, it was very beautiful” he replied, but mother felt it was said with some reservation. “What are you thinking?” she asked. “I’ am puzzled by two things,” he answered. “First. I do not understand why the program says that this same program will be repeated on Saturday evening.. You see in India, one type of music is played at dawn. The music for noontime is very different, and that for the evening is also of a special character. So I should think that what sounds suitable to your ears in the early afternoon would not sound harmonious to you at night. The other thing that seems strange to me is the lack of overtones in the music and the greater intervals between the notes. To my ears it has holes in it like that good Swiss cheese you give mel”
When he began to give lectures, people offered him money for the work he hoped to do in India. He had no purse. So he used to tie it up in a handkerchief and bring it Back- like a proud little boy! – pour it into my grandmother’s lap to keep for him. She made him learn the different coins and to stack them up neatly and to count them. She made him write down the amount each time, and she deposited in her bank for hirn. He was overwhelmed by the generosity of his audience who seemed so happy to give to help people they had never seen so far away!
Once he said to my grandmother that he had had the greatest temptation of his life in America. She liked to tease him a bit and said, “Who is she, Swami?” He burst out laughing and said, “Oh, it is not a lady, it is Organization!” He explained how the followers of Ramakrishna had all gone out alone and when they reached a village, would just quietly sit under a tree and wait for those in trouble to come to consult them. But in the States he saw how much could be accomplished by organizing work. Yet he was doubtful about just what type of organization would be acceptable to the Indian character and he gave a great deal of thought and study how to adapt what seemed good to him in our Western World to the best advantage of his own people. … I spoke earlier of his delightful slight Irish brogue. . . . My grandfather used to joke him about it. But Swami said it was probably because his favorite professor was an Irish gentleman, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin.
After Swami left us, my mother was eager to do some studying along the lines of Oriental philosophy, as she realized she had not enough background to understand his teachings as fully as she wished. A Mrs. Peake held some classes in Chicago that following winter and, in the course of them, mother discovered much to her surprise that if she held a letter tom up into fine bits between her hands, she received a brief but vivid impression of the writer, both physically and mentally. When Swamiji returned to Chicago a year or so later to give lectures, mother asked him about this strange gift and he said he had it also, and that when he was young he used to have fun doing it to show off, but Ramakrishna had rapped his knuckles and said, “Don’t use this great gift except for the good of mankind! Hands that receive these impressions can also bring relief from pain. Use this gift to bring healing!”
On this second visit, he only stayed with us for a short time. He knew he could teach better if he lived in his own regime of food and of many hours for meditation. It also left him free to receive many who came to him for help. So my grandmother helped him find a simple but comfortable little flat, but I do not recall that I ever saw it.
Swamiji was such a dynamic and attractive personality that many women were quite swept away by him and made every effort by flattery to gain his interest. He was still young and, in spite of his great spirituality and his brilliance of mindrseemed to be very unworldly. This used to trouble my grandmother who feared he might be put in a false or uncomfortable position and she tried to caution him a little. Her concern touched and amused him and he patted her hand and said, “Dear Mrs. Lyon, you dear American mother of mine, don’t be afraid for me! It is true I often sleep under a banyan tree with a bowl of rice given me by a kindly peasant, but it is equally true that I also am sometimes the guest
in the palace of a great Maharajah and a slave girl is appointed to wave a peacock feather fan over me all night longl I am used to temptation and you need not fear for me I “
… I asked my mother’s sister, Katharine (Mrs. Robert W. Hamil) what she could add to my scattered memories. She was a bride and had her own home.
So she was not at her mother’s and father’s so yery much. She recalled Swamiji much as I did, but never heard him lecture. However, she and her husband were “young intellectuals” and had a group of young professors from our university, young newspaper men, etc. around them. One Sunday evening she was telling them how remarkable Swamiji was and they said that modem scientists and psychologists could “show up” his religious beliefs in no timel She said, “If I can persuade him to come here next Sunday evening, will you all come Backand meet him?” They agreed and Swamiji met them all at an informal supper party. My aunt does not recall just what subjects were brought up, but that the entire evening was a lively and interesting debate on all sorts of ideas. Aunt Katharine said that Swamiji’s great knowledge of the Bible and the Koran as well as the various Oriental religions, his grasp of science and of psychology were astounding. Before the evening was over the “doubting Thomases” threw up their hands and admitted that Swamiji had held his own on every point and they parted from him with warmest admiration and affection.
During the two months Swamiji lived in Chicago, he not only lectured in and about the city, but absorbed all kinds of information regarding the workings of Western civilization, in so far as such information could be of benefit to India. Chicago offered him a broad field of study, for there is little representative of the West that cannot be found there ; and this was as true in 1893 as it is today.
The Chicago correspondent of the Critic, Lucy Monroe, whose article of October 7 was quoted in the last chapter, again wrote about Swamiji on November 11. Lucy Monroe, it might be mentioned here, was a sister of Harriet Monroe, the poetess, whose vivid description of Swamiji has also been quoted. Unlike her sister, Lucy Monroe went to hear Swamiji more than once, not merely because of her duty as a reporter but, to judge from her articles, because of her personal appreciation of him. A small portion of the following report may be familiar to the reader, for, by way of illustrating the fact that he was proving to America that Hindus “are not savages,” Swamiji himself quoted from it in a letter to India. The full report reads as follows:
THE CHICAGO LETTER
… It was an outgrowth of the Parliament of Religions, which opened our eyes to the fact that the philosophy of the ancient creeds contains much beauty for the moderns. When we had once clearly perceived this, our interest in their exponents quickened, and with characteristic eagerness we set out in pursuit of knowledge. The most available means of obtaining it, after the close of the Parliament, was through the addresses and lectures of Suami Vivekananda, who is still in this city. His original purpose in coming to this country was to interest Americans in the starting of new industries among the Hindoos, but he has abandoned this for the present, because he finds that, as “the Americans are the most charitable people in the world,” every man with a purpose comes here for assistance in carrying it out. When asked about the relative condition of the poor here and in India, he replied that our poor would be princes there, and tharhe had been taken through the worst quarter of the city only to find it, from the standpoint of his knowledge, comfortable and even pleasant.
A Brahmin of the Brahmins, Vivekananda gave up his rank to join the brotherhood of monks, where all pride of caste is voluntarily relinquished. And yet he bears the mark of race upon his person. His culture, his eloquence, and his fascinating personality have given us a new idea of Hindoo ciwlization. He is an interesting figure, his fine, intelligent, mobile face in its setting of yellows, and his deep, musical voice prepossessing one at once in his favor. So it is not strange that he has been taken up by the literary clubs, has preached and lectured in churches, until the life of Buddha and the doctrines of his faith have grown familiar to us. He speaks without notes, presenting his facts and his conclusions with the greatest art, the most convincing sincerity; and rising at times to a rich, inspiring eloquence. As learned and cultivated, apparently, as the most accomplished Jesuit, he has also something Jesuitical in the character of his mind ; but though the little sarcasms thrown into his discourses are as keen as a rapier, they are so delicate as to be 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. At present he contents himself with enlightening us in regard to his religion and the words of its philosophers, fie looks forward to the time when we shall pass beyond idolatry – now necessary in his opinion to the ignorant classes, – beyond worship, even, to a knowledge of the presence of God in nature, of the divinity and responsibility of man. “Work out your own salvation” he says with the dying Buddha ; “I cannot help you. No man can help you. Help yourself.”
In connection with the above statement that Swamiji had abandoned his purpose of interesting Americans in the starting of new industries among the Hindus, the second hitherto unpublished letter to Prof. Wright clarifies his ideas on the subject:
c/of J. Lyons 262 Michigan av.
26 October ’93
You would be glad to know that I am doing well here and that almost everybody has been very kind to me, except of course the very orthodox. Many of the men brought together here from far off lands have got projects and ideas and missions to carry out and America is the only place where there is a chance of success for everything. But I thought better and have given up speaking about my project entirely – because I am sure now – the heathen draws more than his project. So I want to go to work earnestly for my own project only keeping the project in the background and working like any other lecturer.
He who has brought me hither and has not left me yet will not leave me ever I am here. You will be glad to know that I am doing well and expect to do very well in the way of getting money. Of course I am too green in the business but would soon learn my trade. I am very popular in Chicago So I want to stay here a little more and get money.
Tomorrow I am going to lecture on Buddhism at the ladies’ fortnightly club – which is the most influential in this city. How to thank you my kind friend or Him who brought you to me – for now I think the success of my project probable and it is you who have made it so.
May blessings and happiness attend every step of your progress in this world.
My love and blessings to your children
Yours affly ever Vivekananda
In September, 1894, almost a year after the Parliament, the Interocean, a Chicago newspaper, ran an article on Swamiji, which I have referred to before and which included a sentence pertinent to the weeks with which we are concerned at present:
. . . Vivekananda lingered in Chicago for several months after the great Parliament of Religions closed, studying many questions relating to schools and the material advancement of civilization in order to carry Backto’ his own people as convincing arguments regarding
America as he brought to this country concerning the morality and spirituality of his own people.
Although Swamiji “lingered in Chicago” for so long a time, the only definite information we have at present regarding his lectures in the city comes from his letter of October 26 (quoted above), in which he says: “Tomorrow [October 27] I am going
to lecture on Buddhism at the ladies’ fortnightly club – which is the most influential in this city.” We have, however, been able to gather from the contemporary newspapers a few reports regarding his lecture engagements in neighboring towns. As has been seen in his letter of October 2, Swamiji visited Evanston, a city just north of Chicago, where Prof. Wright’s friend, Dr. Bradley, lived. The Evanston lecture engagement was made almost immediately after the Parliament in conjunction with Dr. Carl von Bergen, a fellow delegate from Stockholm, Sweden. Dr. von Bergen, to judge from a photograph published in “Neely’s History of the Parliament of Religions,” was a rather formidable, beetle-browed man, bald-headed and bewhiskered. According to the records, lie spoke only once at the Parliament, giving on the opening day a short talk in which he made it clear that the broad and tolerant outlook of the Christian church in Sweden long antedated that of the Parliament of Religions. The conception that all religions have a measure of good in them was not new to him. We have reason to believe that von Bergen was one of those delegates who later developed a friendship with Swamiji, for we find that he attended a small and intimate luncheon in his company many months after the Parliament. But of this, more later.
The first information regarding the Evanston lectures was found in the Chicago Evening Journal of September 29, 1893, in the form of a preliminary announcement:
ALTRUISM OF CHRISTIANITY
It Will be Contrasted with Hindoo Ethics in Lectures at Evanston
Suami Vivekananda,a representative from India to the recent World’s Parliament of Religions,and Dr. Carl
Von Bergen, a representative from Scandinavia, will give three lectures in Evanston beginning to-morrow evening.
The other lectures will be given on Tuesday and Thursday evenings of next week in the Congregational Church. The subjects for Saturday evenings are “Altruism in Christianity ; illustrated by the life of Catherine of Siena, the herald of pure Christianity in the middle ages,” by Dr. Von Bergen; “Hindu Altruism,” by Suami Vivekananda. Tuesday evening, “Monism,” Suami Vivekananda; “Lord Shaftesbury, the most earnest philanthropist of our age,” Dr. Von Bergen. On this evening John W. Hutchinson will sing a number of the old time songs which have made him so famous. Thursday evening, “Huldine Beamish: the founder of the Edelweiss,” Dr. Von Bergen. “Reincarnation,” Suami Vivekananda.
The first announcements in the Evanston papers of this lecture course appeared in the Evanston Press and the Evanston Index, September 23, four days before the close of the Parliament. The announcement in the Press read as follows:
Suami Vivekananda is the brilliant Hindu monk at the Parliament of religions. He has been the center of attraction ori all occasions, not only by his “Baltimore Oriole” dress, but by his beaming countenance, his perfect unconsciousness [sic] and his marvelous eloquence in expounding Hindu philosophy. This brilliant orator has been engaged to give a course of three lectures in EvanslorTlJeginning Saturday, Scpt. 30.
The announcement in the Evanston Index was much the same as that above, and I will not burden the reader with it here, except to say that the Index referred to Swamiji himself – not his dress – as “the Baltimore Oriole.” Notices in both papers appeared also on September 30, giving the additional information that admission to one lecture was fifty cents, and to the course of three, one dollar.
Since both Evanston papers were weeklies, it was not until Swamiji and Dr. von Bergen had completed their three lectures that the Evanston Press and the Evanston Index each ran a report on the series. The report in the Evanston Index of October 7, 1893, which is the more comprehensive, reads as follows (I have omitted those passages which relate only to Dr. Carl von Bergen):
At the Congregational Church, during the past week, there have been given a course of lectures which in nature much resembled the Religious Parliament which has just been completed. The lecturers were Dr. Carl von Bergen, of Sweden, and Suami Viveka-nanda, the Hindu monk. . . . Suami Vivekananda is a representative from India to the Parliament of Religions. He has attracted a great deal of attention on account of his unique attire in Mandarin colors, by his magnetic presence and by his brilliant oratory and wonderful exposition of Hindu philosophy. His stay in Chicago has been a continual ovation. The course of lectures was arranged to cover three evenings. [The lectures of Saturday and Tuesday evenings are listed without comment; then the article continues:] On Thursday evening Oct. 5, Dr. von Bergen spoke on “Huldine Beamish, the Founder of the Kings Daughters of Sweden” and “Reincarnation” was the subject treated by the Hindu monk. The latter was very interesting; the views being those that are not often heard in this part of the world. The doctrine of reincarnation of the soul, while comparatively new and little understood in this country, is well-known in the east, being the foundation of nearly all the religions of those people. Those that do not use it as dogma, do not say anything against it. The main point to be decided in regard to the doctrine is, as to whether we have had a past. We know that we have a present and feel sure of a”future. Yet how can there be a present without a past? Modern science has proved that matter exists and continues to exist. Creation is merely a change in appearance. We are not sprung out of nothing. Some regard God as the common cause of everything and judge this a sufficient reason for existence. But in everything we must consider the phenomena; whence and from what matter springs. The same arguments that prove there is a future prove that there is a past. It is necessary that there should be causes other than God’s will. Heredity is not able to give sufficient cause. Some say that we are not conscious of a former existence. Many cases have been found where there are distinct reminiscences of a past. And here lies the germ of the theory. Because the Hindu is kind to dumb animals many believe that we believe in the reincarnation of souls in lower orders. They are not able to conceive of kindness to dumb animals being other than the result of superstition. An ancient Hindu priest defines religion as anything that lifts one up. Brutality is driven out, humanity gives way to divinity. The theory of incarnation does not confine man to this small earth. His soul can go to other, higher earths where he will be a loftier being, possessing, instead of five senses, eight, and continuing in this way he will at length approach the acme of perfection, divinity, and will be allowed to drink deep of oblivion in the “Islands of the Blest.”
I will not give here the report on the lectures that appeared in the Evanston Press of the same date, for nothing additional is to be learned from it except that “Mrs. Elizabeth Boynton Herbert entertained the lecturers at her residence Thursday evening, and here the third lectures were delivered.”
Another evidence of Swamiji’s lecturing outside of Chicago comes from the letter, given in the first chapter, which he wrote to Mrs. Tannatt Woods on October 10, 1893. “…Just now” Swamiji wrote, “I am lecturing about Chicago – and am doing very well – it is ranging from 30 to 80 dollars a lecture . . . Yesterday I returned from Streator where I got 87 dollars for a lecture. I have engagements every day this week. . . “
Streator is a relatively small city, ninety miles southwest of Chicago. To judge from the announcement which appeared in the Streator Daily Free Press of October 5, 1893, the prices of admission to Swamiji’s lecture, delivered in the Plumb Opera House, were twenty-five cents for the first floor and thirty-five cents for the balcony! By a mathematical process, and allowing for the percentage taken by the manager of the house, one can arrive at the conclusion that Swamiji’s audience consisted of approximately six hundred people. But although the lecture was well attended, the Streator Daily Free Press of October 9 ran the following somewhat dreary review:
The lecture of this celebrated Hindoo at the Opera House, Saturday night, was very interesting. By comparative philology, he sought to establish the long-admitted relationship between the Aryan races and their descendants in the new world. He mildly defended the caste system of India which keeps three-fourths of the people in utter and humiliating subjection, and boasted that the India of today was the same India that had watched for centuries the meteoric nations of the world flash across the horizon and sink into oblivion. In common with the people, he loves the past. He lives not for self, but for God. In his country a premium is placed on beggary and tramps, though not so distinguished in his lecture. When the meal is prepared, they wait for some mail to come along who is first served, then the animals, the servants, the man of the house and lastly the woman of the household. Boys are taken at 10 years of age and are kept by professors for a period of ten to twenty years, educated and sent forth to resume their former occupations or to engage in a life of endless wandering, preaching, and praying, taking along only that which is given them to eat and wear, but never touching money. Vivekananda is of the latter class. Men approaching old age withdraw from the world, and after a period of study and prayer, when
they feel themselves sanctified, they also go forward spreading the gospel. He observed that leisure was necessary for intellectual development and scored Americans for not educating the Indians whom Columbus found in a state of savagery. In this he exhibited a lack of knowledge of conditions. His talk was lamentably short and much was left unsaid of seeming greater importance than much that was said.
It is clear from the above report that the American press, for one reason or another, did not always give Swamiji an enthusiastic reception.
To date, these reports are all we have been able to gather in connection with his side trips from Chicago, although undoubtedly there are many more waiting to be found.
In regard to Swamiji’s state of mind during this period, the reader has gathered a litde from his letters to Professor Wright. Additional new material indicates what a blessed state it was – a state which, despite his incessant activity, was one of perfect peace. How fortunate were those who knew him at this time, for his inner serenity was such that it shone out as a blessing and a revelation. An excerpt from a newly discovered letter written to Swamiji by Mrs. Hale is illustrative of this fact. Although this letter was written long after the Parliament, it will not be amiss to quote here the following passage in which Mrs. Hale recalls Sw’amiji as
. . . the great and glorious soul that came to the Parliament of Religions, so full of love of God, that his face shone with Divine light, whose words were fire, whose very presence created an atmosphere of harmony and purity, thereby drawing all souls to himself.
One look at a hitherto unpublished photograph which has recently come to our hands is enough to show us something of what Mrs. Hale meant, for one cannot fail to be moved by the childlike tenderness of Swamiji’s appearance, and by the wonderful peace and calm of his expression. Inasmuch as this picture was copyrighted in Washington by the photographer, it was evidently taken after Swamiji had become famous, that is, after the first day of the Parliament. It has come to us along with a group of five other photographs, all of which, there is reason to believe, were taken in September of 1893, and all of which have been published. One of these is no doubt familiar to the reader ; it is that in which Swamiji stands with arms folded across his chest and which was used as a colored poster during Parliament days. All six pictures are autographed by Swamiji and inscribed with English translations from Sanskrit mottoes, some with the original Sanskrit written in Bengali characters. The mottoes are as follows:
1. Ajaramaravat prajnah vidyam arthancha chintayet Grihita-iva kesheshu mrityuna dharmam acharet
When in search of knowledge or prosperity think that you would never have death or disease, and when worshipping God think that death’s hand is in your hair.
2. Eka eva suhrid dharma
Virtue is the only friend which follows us even beyond the grave.
Everything else ends with death.
3. One infinite pure and holy – beyond thought beyond qualities I bow down to thee
4. Samata sarva-bhuteshu etanmuktasya
Equality in all beings this is the sign of the free
5. Thou act the only treasure in this world
6. Thou art the father the lord the mother the husband and love
It is through the kindness of Swami Vishwananda, who is in charge of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society in Chicago, that these photographs and other invaluable material regarding Swamiji have come to our hands, and it is with his assent that we are making them known. The story of how this material was discovered by Swami Vishwananda is worth telling here, for it is an example of those coincidences that occur so frequently in matters concerning Swamiji. Swami Vishwananda tells us that a young man, unconnected with Vedanta, had received from his grandmother a bundle of unpublished letters, photographs and other material, all pertaining to Swami Vivekananda. Knowing that his grandmother had cherished them, the oung man had kept them, and indeed might still possess them, or perhaps by this time have discarded them, had it not been that a friend of his was a student of Swami Vishwananda. How this friend came to know’ of the bundle of old documents is not known, but one day she told Swami Vishwananda of its existence. The Swami forthwith visited the young man and found, with what joy we can imagine, a veritable feast of hitherto unknown material! The young man gladly gave him the bundle, which had originally belonged, the Swami tells us, to Miss Isabelle McKindley, a niece of Mr. and Mrs. Hale. It is discoveries such as this which give us hope that eventually more hidden material regarding Swamiji will come “to light, slowly pushing its way up through the years.
But to return to Swamiji as he was during the Chicago days following the Parliament. Perhaps the clearest indication of his exalted state is given in a letter that Swami Vishwananda received in 1989 from Sarat Chandra Chakravarti, a disciple of Swamiji whose diary is published in “The Complete Works” A translated portion of this letter reads as follows:
. . . Swamiji once told me that one moonlight night when he was on the shore of Lake Michigan his mind began to merge in Brahman. Suddenly he saw Sri Ramakrishna and he remembered the Work for which he had come to this world, and then his mind came down and again turned toward the fulfillment of his mission. I recorded this in my diary, but I did not think it necessary to make it public; therefore I have not published it as yet. I am letting only you know…
In what transcendent spiritual state Swamiji lived at the very time when the world was his for the asking! The doors of the rich, the socially prominent, the brilliant, were all open to him, and everywhere he was in demand. But Swamiji’s difficulty, it would seem, was not to lift his mind above the world that pressed about him on all sides but, for the sake of his work, to hold it down.
During the months Swamiji remained in Chicago after the Parliament of Religions, he must have been the house guest of various friends. He himself writes of this period: “Many of
the handsomest houses in this city are open to me. All the time I am living as a guest of somebody or other.” As we know, one of the homes that was always open to him and where he stayed both during and after the Parliament was that of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Lyon at 262 Michigan Avenue. Unfortunately, however, we do not know at the present time who Swamiji’s other hosts were, but from the fact that a letter dated November 19, 189.’J, which he wrote to Mrs. Tannatt Woods (see Chapter One) was written on stationery bearing the letterhead: George W. Hale, 541 Dearborn Avenue, Chicago, we can judge that he was a guest of the Hale family for at least part of the time. The Hales were excellent hosts, treating him from the first as a cherished member of the family and understanding him, perhaps not fully, but far better than most.
The Hale home was a block and a half from Lincoln Park, and there Swamiji sometimes went to sit in the sun and open air. I have recently heard of a touching and revealing incident that took place during these outings. It seems that each day as Swamiji sat in the park, a young woman and a little girl six
years old would pass by on their way to the market, une day the woman, no doubt convinced that the young Hindu was kind and trustworthy, asked him if she might leave her child in his charge while she went about her marketing. Swamiji assured her that she might, and thenceforth each morning that they met in the park, Swamiji took the little girl into his care. But the story does not end here. When the child had grown to fifteen or sixteen her mother came upon a picture of Swamiji, of whose fame she had by that time learned, and showing it to her daughter, asked, “Do you remember your friend ?” She remembered ; for who knowing Swamiji even at the age of six could forget? Later, after she had married and moved to Philadelphia, the memory of Swamiji again became vivid in her mind, drawing her to the spiritual life. She became a student of Swami Akhilananda, who used to visit that city now and then to meet with a group of devotees. How many small happenings such as that of a mother leaving her child in his charge must have taken place throughout Swamiji’s visit to America, how many chance contacts he had with people whose path was led upward through his touch or glance, we can only guess.
The Hale family, of whom more later, were perhaps the most fortunate of all; for, as is known, not only was Swamiji their guest from time to time, but he made their home his headquarters during almost all of 1894, before the pivot of his activities moved eastward to the Atlantic Coast. It was on George W. Hale’s letter paper and thus, presumably, during one of his stays in the latter’s home, that Swamiji jotted down in pencil a series of notes on the subjects of reason, faith and love, which have recently come to light. Unfortunately the date of the manuscript cannot be accurately determined, but inasmuch as Swamiji wrote these notes *hi the sanctuary that the Hales offered him in Chicago, I think their reproduction here will not be out of place. I am giving them exactly as they appear in the original:
Reason – has its limits – its base – its degeneration. The walls round it –
Agnosticism. Atheism. But must not stop The beyond is acting upon influencing us every
moment – the sky the stars acting upon us – even those not seen. Therefore must go beyond – reason alone can’t go – finite can not get at the infinite
Faith its degeneration when alone – bigotry f ana t icism – sec tariani sm. N arrow ing finite v. can not get to the infinite Sometimes gain in intensity but looses [sic] in extensity – and in bigots & fanatics become worship of his own pride & vanity
Is there no other way – there is Love it never degenerates – peaceful softening ever widening – the universe is too small for its expansivencss.
We can not define it we can only trace it through its development and describe its surroundings
It is at first – what the gravitation is to the external world – a tendency to unification forms and conventionalities are its death.
Worship through forms – methods – services forms – up to then no love.
When love comes method dies.
Human language and human forms
God as father, God as mother, God as
the lover – Surata-vardhanam etc. Solomon’s Song of
Songs – Dependence and independence
Love Love –
Love the chaste wife – Anasuya Sita – rioi as hard dry duty but as ever pleasing love – Sita worship –
The madness of Love – God intoxicated man The allegory of Radha – misunderstood The restriction more increase –
Lust is the death of love
Self is the death of love
individual to general
Concrete to abstract – to absolute
The praying Mahomedan and the girl
The Sympathy – Kavir –
The Christian null from whose hands blood came The Mahomedan Saint
Every particle seeking its own compliment [sic]
When it finds that it is at rest
Every man seeking – happiness – 8c stability
The search is real but the objects are themselves
but happiness is coming to them momentary at least
through the search of these objects.
The only object unchangable and the only compliment
of character and aspirations of the human Soul is God
Love is struggle of a human Soul to find its compliment its stable equilibrium its infinite rest
While Swamiji was in Chicago, word of his great and saving spiritual power spread from person to person, and very likely many came to him for private interviews seeking help and guidance. A story of one such interview has been recounted by Mme. Emma Calv£ in her autobiography, “My Life” and subsequently reproduced in “The Life of Swami Vivekananda.” But Mme. Calve evidently did not choose to tell the whole story in her book. We are fortunate enough to have in our possession an account of this same meeting as she told it to a sympathetic friend long before she wrote her memoirs. It is to Mme. Paul Verdier, of Paris and San Francisco, that we are indebted for this earlier and more complete version, for it was she to whom Calvl confided the following story and who shortly after hearing it jotted it down.
Apparently it was in March of 1894, when Emma Galv£ was visiting Chicago with the Metropolitan Opera Company, that she first met Swamiji. She was at the peak of her career, having recently had a tremendouSTSuccess in Europe and New York with her dramatic interpretation of the role of Carmen. The world was at her feet; she was entertained, as are most celebrities, b} the cream of society, and had become friendly with whomever Swamiji was staying with at this time (most likely not the Hales). But Calv£, the toast of two continents, was possessed of a temperament that rarely makes for happiness. Tempestuous, headstrong and sensuous, she was, it would seem, frequently involved in emotional attachments. The most recent and most deeply felt
of these had just come to an unhappy end, leaving her desolate. Her only comfort was her daughter, who had accompanied her to Chicago and upon whom she lavished her love. I shall let Mme. Verdier’s notes tell the rest of the story, for they more closely approximate Mme. Calve’s own words:
She [Calve] told me that one evening at the opera where she was singing Carmen her voice had never been so beautiful, and although she felt nervous going to the theatre, she had after the first act a tremendous success.
During the first intermission she suddenly felt terribly depressed and thought she would not continue the second act, but with a great effort she succeeded in getting ready, and although she had the impression she would not be able to sing, she sang magnificently. Right after the second act, coming Backto her dressing room she almost collapsed and asked the manager to announce she was ill. She was more depressed than before and had difficulty in breathing. The manager and people around her insisted so, that finally she continued and was almost carried to the stage for the last act. She told me that at that minute she made the greatest effort of her life to finish the performance. She also said that it was the day she sang her best and the public gave her a tremendous ovation. She ran to her dressing room without waiting for the applause, and when she saw several people and the manager waiting for her with sad faces, she knew something tragic had happened.
The tragedy was that her daughter, who had been in a house of a friend that evening, was dead, having been burned to death during the performance of Carmen. Calv6 collapsed.
Then came the period of days during which she wanted to commit suicide. Her friend Mrs. X was constantly with her, trying to comfort her, asking, begging her to come to her house to see Swamiji. Calve constantly refused. She told me that her only thought was to commit suicide by throwing herself in the lake. Three different times she left her house to drown herself and took the direction of the lake, and each time as though in a daze she found herself on the road to Swamiji’s house. She said it was like awaking from a dream. And each time she came Backhome. Finally, the fourth or fifth time, she found herself on the threshold of her friend’s house, the butler opening the door. She went in and sat in a deep chair in the living room. She was there for a while as in a dream, she said, when she heard a voice coming from the next room saying, “Come, my child. Don’t be afraid.” And automatically she got up and entered into the study where Swamiji was sitting behind a large table-desk.
From here on the story as it is quoted in “The Life” is substantially the same as that told to Mme. Verdier, and therefore I will not repeat it. The reader knows how Swamiji brought peace to Mme. Calve’s grief-strickcn heart, and that for the rest of her life she was grateful to him.
There is yet another story which Mme. Calve told regarding this period of Swamiji’s life. Unfortunately we are not in a position to authenticate it, but it is not in essence an unlikely story, and at the risk of providing material for the start of a legend I think that I should let Swamiji’s followers know of it. The story’ is related in Mme. Verdier’s journal from notes taken during conversations with Mme. Calve and reads as follows:
Mr. X, in whose home Swamiji was staying in Chicago, was a partner or an associate in some business with John D. Rockefeller. Many times John D. heard his friends talking about tjjis extraordinary and wonderful Hindu monk who was staying with them, and many times he had been invited to meet Swamiji but, for one
reason or another, always refused. At that time Rockefeller was not yet at the peak of his fortune, but was already powerful and strong-willed, very difficult to handle and a hard man to advise.
But one day, although he did not want to meet Swamiji, he was pushed to it by an impulse and went directly to the house of his friends, brushing aside the
butler who opened the door and sayipg that he wanted to see the Hindu monk.
The butler ushered him into the living room, and, not waiting to be announced, Rockefeller entered into Swamiji’s adjoining study and was much surprised, I presume, to see Swamiji behind his writing table not even lifting his eyes to see who had entered.
After a while, as with Calve, Swamiji told Rockefeller much of his past that was not known to any but himself, and made him understand that the money he had already accumulated was not his, that he was only a channel and that his duty was to do good to the world – that God had given him all his wealth in order that he might have an opportunity to help and do good to people.
Rockefeller was annoyed that anyone dared to talk to him that way and tell him what to do. He left the room in irritation, not even saying goodbye. But about a week after, again without being announced, he entered Swamiji’s study and, finding him the same as before, threw on his desk a paper which told of his plans to donate an enormous sum of money toward the financing of a public institution.
“Well, there you are,” he said. “You must be satisfied now, and you can thank me for it.”
Swamiji didn’t even lift his eyes, did not move. Then taking the paper, he quietly read it, saying: “It
is for you to thank me.” That was all. This was Rockefeller’s first large donation to the public welfare.
The reader can make of this what he will. Except for the fact that it was about this time that Rockefeller entered upon his career of philanthropy, there is nothing in the published accounts of his life to corroborate the story that he was inspired by Swamiji. But on the other hand, this is so intimate a story that it is unlikely it would find its way into the biographies of a financier. We do know that in his own way Rockefeller was interested in religion, and once, almost as though echoing Swamiji, he said, explaining the reason behind his great philan
thropies: “There is more to life than the accumulation of
money. Money is only a trust in one’s hands. To use it improperly is a great sin. The best way to prepare for the end of life is to live for others. That is what I am trying to do.” (“John D. Rockefeller” by B. F. Winkleman, page 213.)
A definite picture of Swamiji’s life in Chicago begins now to emerge. We sec him in the full bloom of his youth, his face shining with a heavenly light, fulfilling many lecture engagements, and no doubt many social engagements, taking a keen interest in Western life and institutions, and explaining India’s life and culture in their true significance. That fraction of his mind with which he attended to the world was brilliantly alert – indeed, was in itself far more than a match for the keenest intellect. But we see also that this fraction was informed and illumined by a far larger part that lay quiet and untouched beneath the surface, always absorbed in God, ready to pour out blessings upon and alter the lives of those who came to him for help. How often Swamiji verged upon nirvikalpa samadhi, only to be drawn Backby Sri Ramakrishna, or by his own love and compassion for man, in order that he might fulfill his mission here, we cannot know ; but we can assume that he always lived on the borderline between the relative and the Absolute, as a prophet of his supreme eminence must.
It is still not known exactly when Swamiji felt it advisable to enlist with a lecture bureau. Unfortunately we cannot be much more precise than “The Life” which tells us that “it must have been in the very late atttumn or the early winter months when, to use his own expression, he ‘began to whirl to and fro.’ ” Although it must indeed have been around this time that the lecture tour started, Swamiji used the expression “I was whirling to and fro” at a much later date and in connection with his rapid travel between New York and Boston. He actually tells very little about his mid-Western “whirlings,” or when and why he had joined a lecture bureau. But if his purpose was to broadcast the truth regarding Indian religion, culture and customs, which had been so systematically and thoroughly misrepresented to this country by Christian missionaries, and if he felt that he must earn money both for his own support and for the work in India, then to engage himself with a lecture bureau would seem the logical step for him to take. Then, as now, lecture bureaus, concert agencies, impresarios, etc. were necessary evils to anyone who would come before the general public throughout America, there being no other way to make coordinated engagements in many towns. The expedience of this move may have occurred to Swamiji as early as November 2, for in a letter written on that date lie speaks of the fact that “a Christian lady from Poona, Miss Sorabji, and the Jain representative, Mr. Gandhi, are going to remain longer in the country and make lecture tours” From this we can gather that while Swamiji had not yet made any definite plans, he may have been considering the advantages of enlisting with a lecture bureau.
One is surprised to learn, however, that when he did engage himself he signed a three-year contract! It is in a sense difficult to understand this, for although Swamiji was uncertain of the future at this time, he had little intention of remaining in America for three years, and certainly would not have wanted to commit himself to do so. It is also difficult to understand why no one warned him that almost as a matter of course attempts would be made to exploit him, unless it were that his friends were as naive in this respect as was he. In any case, if one is to-believe what one reads in newspapers, he did sign a long-term contract. This information is to be found in the Appeal–Avalanche of January 21, 1894, a Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper. “He” this paper says, meaning “Swami Vivekananda,” “is under contract with the ‘Slayton Lyceum Bureau/ of Chicago, to fill a three-years’ engagement in this country.” In this connection it might be mentioned that in the “Memoirs of Sister Christine” as published in the February 1931 issue of Prabuddha Bharala, it is said, “after the Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda was induced to place himself under the direction of Pond’s Lecture Bureau and make a lecture tour of the United States.” There is, however, no record of a Pond’s Lecture Bureau having existed in Chicago in the 1890’s and “Pond’s” may have been merely another way of designating the Slayton Lyceum
Bureau, which did exist. The correct name of the bureau with which Swamiji enlisted is of no little consequence, for consider how valuable would be the files of that bureau if found! Perhaps among them, still undestroyed, is a list of all the towns Swamiji visited while under contract and the dates on which he spoke. In trying to follow his footsteps across America scarcely a greater find could be conceived. However, little by little, even without this help we are able to fill in the gaps – although, to be sure, many remain.
One thing that should perhaps be of some consolation to those who would like to see all the gaps filled in the story of Swamiji’s life, is the fact that his brother monks and friends in India had an even more difficult time than we in attempting to keep track of him. By way of illustrating this, let me give here a letter of some poignancy, written at the direction of those whose hearts ached to hear of the doings and triumphs of their beloved Swamiji in this strange land. The letter was addressed to Thos. Cook and Sons, Calcutta:
Dear Sirs –
Care Mr. Geo. W. Hale
541 Dearborn Ave, Chicago
The above Hindu monk has been travelling under Messrs Tho. Cook 8c Sons Agency. Your Bombay people arranged last year for his passage to America where he went to represent the Hindu religion at the Parliament of Religions held in connection with the World’s Fair at Chicago – Swami Vivekananda is reported to have delivered several lectures in America, a few of which only are reproduced or noticed in the Indian papers – But as the extracts and notices that appeared here are believed to be unsatisfactory, the brother monks and admirers of Swamiji are anxious to obtain all the American papers or cuttings thereof as most convenient containing all the speeches that have been delivered in and about Chicago, and in fact
wherever he spoke in America, these to include all newspaper notices or criticisms both for and against that are known to have appeared, but not to include the Report of the Parliament of Religions issued by the Secretary of the Chicago Exhibition, a copy of which has already been secured from here. Under the circumstances the undersigned on behalf of the brother ihonks and admirers of Swami Vivekananda shall be very much obliged if you will kindly arrange, owing to the excellent facilities you possess on a/c of your numerous agencies and branches, with your people at Chicago for the collection of papers and pamphlets named above together with one or two copies of photos if they are in circulation, and have them all forwarded to your care, the express thereof shall be paid by Swamiji’s admirers through the undersigned. Further the only address known of Swami Vivekananda is noted as above.
It is quite possible that Swamiji has or will have left the place ere this reaches your Chicago Agent, therefore I beg to ask you to kindly write and inform your Chicago Agent to put himself in communication with Mr. Hale or any other party regarding the movements of Swami Vivekananda, who according to the rules of Hindu Sannyasi (ascetic) will not write and inform of his whereabouts, which information however is so anxiously looked for by his admirers and brother monks –
10-1 Old Court House St. Yours obediently
Calcutta 28th March/94 Kali Krishna Dutta
Cashier & Accountant Thos Cook &: Sons Calcutta
Until quite recently it has seemed evident that Swamiji did not communicate with his brother monks until he had been in America for over seven months, or until March 19, 1894, which is the date given on the published version of what is clearly his first letter to any one of them. However, in the book “Swami Vivekananda, a Forgotten Chapter of His Life” by Beni Shanker
Sharma (Oxford Book & Stationery Co., Calcutta, 1963), one finds that on February 18, 1894, Swami Ramakrishnananda wrote to Munshi Jagmohanlal, the private secretary of the Maharaja of Khetri, giving him a resume of the first, recently-received letter from Swamiji. Swami Ramakrishnananda’s resume goes into some detail, and there can be no doubt that it refers to the same letter as that which has all along been dated March 19 ; nor can there be any doubt that this letter was written not in March but probably around the middle of January. Indeed, the description it contains of the bitter cold of the American winter, the snow and ice and the frozen rivers, should in itself have led us to question the correctness of the date assigned to it.
But even though this letter was written in January and not in March, many months had passed since Swamiji had left India, months during which he had written at least three times to his Madrasi disciples, and the question remains why he had waited so long before communicating with his brothers. Had he grown out of the habit of writing to them through a long separation? Or was he not yet prepared to offer them the new program which was taking shape in his mind, wanting perhaps to initiate it through his own disciples? Or, again, was he waiting for a divine command before asking his brothers to follow his ideas? Yet another and more simple explanation presents itself: during this time most of the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were still wandering through India and were as hard to trace as was Swamiji himself. The difficulty with this answer is that when Swamiji wanted to communicate his plans to his brother monks, he found their dispersion over India no particular drawback. It was possibly in April of 1894 that he wrote to Swami Shivananda asking that he call all the monks Backto the Math to begin work. Shortly after receiving this letter, Swami Shivananda met Swami Brahmananda and Swami Turiyananda in Lucknow and relayed Swamiji’s request to them. Swami Turiyananda returned to Calcutta in August, while Swami Brahmananda went first to Brindavan, not leaving there for Calcutta until November or December. Gradually all returned. During the first nine or ten months of 1894 Swamiji’s published letters to his brothers are not many. From November forward, however, we find him writing frequently. These letters did not
give much news or his external me, it is true, but they gave something better – the power of his inspiration and vision that was to revolutionize the concept of monasticism in India.