6. THE CLIMAX AT DETROIT
Having left Memphis on January 22, Swamiji arrived in Chicago in time to keep an engagement on the evening of the 25th. Although no reports can be found in the contemporaneous Chicago papers to throw light on this visit, he presumably remained in Chicago almost three weeks, for on Sunday, February 11, he lunched there with Mr. and Mrs Woodhead and Carl von Bergen, at which time he copied out a passage from a travel book on India. This passage was quoted earlier and readers will remember that the Backof one of the pages on which he had written bore a notation to the effect that he left Chicago for Detroit on Monday, February 12
In “The Life” and other biographies very little has been said of Swamiji’s visit to Detroit in 1894, and one is left with the impression that this city was just another on his itinerary where he delivered a few lectures and received the usual amount of both acclaim and criticism. Although it is true that we have been able to learn from the memoirs of Sister Christine and Mrs. Mary Funke something of the extraordinary and radiant power which he manifested during his Detroit lectures, nowhere is there an intimation that the Detroit period was one of the most important in his American qyssion, almost equal in significance to that of the Parliament of Religions. The old Detroit newspapers, however, tell the story of what took place, without a knowledge of which Swamiji’s Midwestern tour seems inconclusive and, coming after the Parliament of Religions, almost anti-climactic.
Detroit is known as “the dynamic city” not only because it is today one of the greatest industrial centers of the world, but because it was always, from early days, a town of energy and enterprise. One of the oldest cities in the United States, it is,
also one of the most restless, “ever renewing itself” as one historian writes, “lucky – or at least versatile – in finding new sources of wealth, new patterns of life, new inventions to profit by, new contentions to debate.” Although in February of 1894 the first automobile had not yet chugged along the streets, industry had long been thriving, and the people, of whom there were a little over two hundred thousand, were energetic and adventurous, alive to every issue and ready to battle for every opinion. Detroit was, in a sense, a turbulent vortex of the contemporaneous thought of the nation, both conservative and radical, and this fact, together with the fact that Swamiji’s power was rising to a peak, tended to make his visit there akin to the explosion of a long-brewing storm.
The first clouds had gathered, of course, at the Parliament of Religions. Although at that historic assembly every eflort had been made to maintain a spirit of “tolerance and fraternity” and although displays of antagonism had been forbidden, the animosity of the more rigidly orthodox toward non-Christian religions had broken through in unrestrained bursts of anger. Politic hand-clasps with the heathen and fraternal smiles had overstrained the endurance of many a clergyman, and it is little wonder that directly after the Parliament was over good manners were dropped altogether. Indeed it was considered a Christian duty to drop them. “While in the Parliament, he [Swamiji] was here as our guest,” wrote the editor of a Presbyterian newspaper in Chicago, “but now that it is over we ought to make an enthusiastic attack against him and his false doctrines.” In this spirit of Christian righteousness Swamiji was openly persecuted
“However a man may conduct himself,” he wrote later to Mrs. Bull, “there will always be persons who invent the blackest lies about him. At Chicago I had such things every day against me!”
But that was only the beginning. During the next four months, as Swamiji toured the Midwest, attracting large crowds and gaining the acclaim and support of influential citizens, antagonism against him increased. The pulpits rang with frantic repudiations of his teachings and equally frantic affirmations of the superiority of Christianity. As in Memphis, perhaps in almost every town where Swamiji lectured horrified clergymen warned their flocks against the heathen and his false doctrines. Yet, although these cries were loud and anguished, it was not until he reached Detroit that his opponents launched, for the first time, an unrestrained and concerted attack against his every word – particularly his words regarding conditions in India and the value of Christian missions.
On reading the diatribes against Swamiji, it is hard today to comprehend that they were not the work of a few fanatics and cranks, but were representative of a solid block of contemporary opinion and prejudice. Bigotry, hiding behind a guise of moral righteousness, was a national force, a force which was, it is true, dying out, but, because dying, all the more virulent. Swamiji faced the assault of opposition undaunted. He was the warrior monk, whose only reaction to criticism and slander was an increase in power, and who strode on without the slightest hesitation, fighting never for himself but for his motherland and also for America.
On February 12,1894 when Swamiji arrived in Detroit, he was greeted by a blizzard. It was a fitting reception, foreshadowing the antagonism that was to howl around him for the next six weeks. But this was not the only welcome he received, and the other, though in sharp contrast, was equally prophetic. On the evening following his arrival Mrs. John J. Bagley, one of Detroit’s most influential women, ‘Who had met– Swamiji five months earlier at the Parliament of Religions and who was now his hostess, honored him with an enormous and gala reception to which the whole town, as it were, was invited. Here in the warm, cheerful drawing rooms of Mrs. Bagley’s home the leading lights of Detroit’s social and cultural life paid their respects to the famous Hindoo monk, and here again was a foreshadowing of what was to come. For throughout Swamiji’s Detroit visit he was ffited and championed by many friends who loved and revered him.
Mrs. Bagley’s reception was one such as the town had not seen for a long time. The invitation list, which was printed in the Detroit Free Press of February 14, was imposing, including the names of bishops, clergymen, rabbis, professors, the mayor and his wife and at least three hundred of the cream of Detroit society. The list occupies an eleven-inch column of small type. Swamiji, whose last wish would have been to be taken up by “the best people,” had nevertheless become the “social lion of the day,” as the following item from the Detroit Journal of February 14, 1894, makes clear:
PERSONAL AND SOCIAL
The social lion of the day is Swami (brother) Vivekananda. Hejs,the .guest of Mrs. John J._ Bagley at her home on Grand Circus park, and last night was given a reception that was one of the most important social functions that has taken place in Detroit this season.
The most common impression that prevails of the great east, its philosophy and mysticism, is akin in character and color to the impression that was received from the reading of the “Arabian Knights.” Perhaps in the whole of literature, excepting the bible, there is no book that has left so marked an impression as these thousand fairy tales. They are entrancing in themselves and were read and are read by every boy and girl in the land when the mind and imagination were so susceptible to such influences that the impressions are indelible.
The popular mind in a hazy sort of a way, realizes India as a land of ghastly and beautiful mysteries, and when it was ingeniously announced that a monk of the Hindoo religion, one of the eminent ecclesiastics of the country, was to be a guest in Detroit, society turned its eyes in an easternly and heavenly direction and expected to see him appear on a white horse in mid air. Even after he had properly arrived on a railroad train and had been typographically announced by the reporters, there was still an eagerness to see realized in flesh and blood one of the fascinating figures of childhood dreams.
Aside from exhausting the visiting list of exclusive society in compiling the invitation list Mrs. Bagley made a special effort to bring to her reception, thinkers of all religions and creeds. In this she was extremely successful. There has not gathered in a home in Detroit in many a day and perhaps never such a distinguished assemblage of Detroiters as were present last evening to meet the polished Hindoo monk. The reception with its dignities and formalities was entirely worthy of its reason.
Swami Vivekananda speaks perfect English and was able to be pleasantly intimate with the men and women, who did themselves the honor to be present in Mrs. Bagiev’s home last evening.
Tonight, tomorrow night, and Saturday night he will lecture at the Unitarian church, under the auspices of the Unity club. Tonight the subject of his lecture will be “Manners and Customs in India” and he will be introduced by Bishop Nindc.
The Detroit Tribune of February 14 commented more satisfactorily upon the reception, and in the following report one can almost sec Swamiji in his robe and turban beaming upon the ladies and gentlemen who Hocked about him in the gas-lit drawing rooms of Mrs. Bagley’s spacious home.
THEY MET KANANDA
A Reception to the Hindu Monk at Mrs. Bagley’s
One of the Most Brilliant Affairs of the Kind This Season.
The Distinguished Oriental Greatly Pleased at the Opportunity to Meet a Real American Blizzard – He Charmed Everyone with His Manner Last Night.
An exceptionally large and representative assemblage – pronounced by many of the guests presents the most brilliant reception of many years – filled the large hospitable rooms last evening of the Bagley home on
Washington avenue, which has been the scene of so many famous gatherings. The reception was given by Mrs. J. J. Bagley in honor of the Hindu monk and scholar, Swami Vivekananda. His English was polished, his smile cordial, his manners dignified and pleasing, and he made a most picturesque and attractive feature in his long robe of orange, with its scarlet sash, and his pink turban. He conversed easily and happily with the throng that crowded around him and expressed himself as highly favored by having a chance to witness the American “blizzard” of Monday. As snow was an unknown quantity to him until he came to America, and as Monday gave him his first experience with a flying snowstorm, it all forms a few more links in his chain of experiences, and experiences he considers the only items that can minister to growth.
Mrs. Bagley formed a charming picture by his side with her fair and madonna like face framed in its characteristic bands of smooth hair and the pale gray gown shading into delicate old lace at the throat and wrists. She was assisted in receiving by Mrs. John Newbury Bagley, Mrs. Florence Bagley Sherman, Miss Olive Bagley and Miss Helen Bagley. Roses bloomed in profusion and the dining room was brilliant in an arrangement of poinsettia and smilax.
One noticeable fact was that nearly all the religious
denominations in the city were represented, which was an appropriate carrying out of the idea of the congress of religions at Chicago last summer, in which Kananda was so prominent and so earnest. It was not only a society but an intellectual gathering and as such of unusual interest. The following is the invitation list and as all but about one hundred of those invited were present it shows that the guests who were in attendance came because they desired to do so, while all present felt more than repaid in the enjoyment of the rare hospitality of the home and the unique pleasure they had in meeting the guest of honor: . . . [Here follows the long invitation list mentioned above.]
Kananda will deliver his first lecture at the Unitarian Church under the auspices of the Unity Club tonight, and will be introduced by Bishop Ninde of the M.E. Church. The bishop has been in India and is especially interested in the lecturer’s subject, “Manners and Customs of India.”
There was a discordant note in this reception that the reporter does not mention and that must have been infinitely more embarrassing to Mrs. Bagley than to Swamiji. Despite the warmth of her drawing rooms, a little of the blizzard crept in. In a letter which was printed in the Detroit Free Press of February 23 and which will be quoted in full in another connection, we find the following information: “Before he ever addressed one word to the public here, a woman, be it said to her shame, took it upon herself to attack and most unkindly denounce him to his face in a house to which she was invited as a guest to meet him.” How often Swamiji met with such malicious persecution in America one can only guess – perhaps every day; and this, as he once wrote, from “the very Christian of Christiansl”
In as much as Mrs. Bagley was close to Swamiji and befriended him, it is perhaps well to know more about her than has been hitherto known by readers of his biographies. She is spoken of in “The Life” as “the widow of the ex-governor of Michigan and a lady of rare culture and unusual spirituality.”
She was also a woman of unusual spirit, for in those days to be
hostess to a “heathen” who was preached against in orthodox pulpits was to court many a raised eyebrow and pursed lip. Mrs. Bagley was undoubtedly merely criticized. We have learned from her granddaughter, Mrs. Frances Bagley Wallace, who was nine years old when Swamiji first came to Detroit, that the children at the private school she was attending made faces at her because her family was host to the heathen – faces that undoubtedly reflected the horrified shock of their elders.
But Mrs. Bagley was in a position not only to withstand criticism but to command the leading citizens of Detroit, clergymen and all, to greet her guest on his arrival, and thus many who otherwise might not have dared approach Swamiji for fear
of social stricture came into his presence and benefited by his influence.
Mrs. Bagley was born in Rutland, Ohio, in 1833. Her father, the Reverend Samuel Newbury, a Presbyterian minister from Vermont, was “a man of great mental vigor and enthusiasm,” and her mother “a spirited woman of culture and executive ability.” During her childhood she was taken on many travels abroad, which may account for the fact that she was, for the age in which she lived, unusually liberal in her outlook.
In 1855 she was married to the young John Judson Bagley of Detroit, who had just embarked upon the manufacture of a fine-cut chewing tobacco. In those days small beginnings plus great enterprise quickly resulted in huge fortunes. Bagley prospered. He became a director in several banks, a power in the Republican Party in Michigan and, in 1872, when he was forty, governor of the state. He was well known in Detroit for his progressive ideas in charitable, religious and political affairs, and one might well believe that had he lived to know Swamiji he would have understood and loved him. But Bagley died in 1887 at the age of forty-nine.
In the meantime, Mrs. Bagley had been extremely active. During her husband’s governorship, she was “much admired and esteemed for her refined and elegant manners and the intelligence with which she aided him in all philanthropic work.” She was, moreover, busy with many undertakings of her own. In connection with the Unitarian Church, of which she was a member, she taught a Sunday Bible class on ancient religion, a class so popular that it soon overflowed the church parlors. She was also instrumental in organizing a union Sunday school near Detroit’s House of Correction, where for many years she taught a class of young women. At the time of Governor Bagley’s death she was president of the Woman’s Hospital, which she had helped to found. She was also actively interested in Detroit’s Industrial School and various other charitable institutions whose object was to educate and uplift the poor from a life of ignorance and drudgery.
It is obvious that Mrs. Bagley took a keen and warm interest in the world in which she lived, but her interest extended also to ancient cultures. She was a member of the English Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Study and of the Archeological Institute of America, whose Michigan branch was organized at her house. She was also a corresponding member of the Anthropological Society in Washington and of the Egyptian Exploration Society. Aside from all these various interests and activities she found time throughout her life to travel widely.
In 1893, Mrs. Bagley was elected one of the lady managers at the Chicago World s Fair. At the time of her appointment it was said of her: “An extensive acquaintance throughout Europe
and America has admirably fitted Mrs. Bagley for a commissioner at large. Being an example of the society born and reared in the state of which Chicago is the Metropolis, free from provincial prejudices, of cosmopolitan tastes, genial in manner, and having a warmth of nature, she will help to serve as hostess of our American society when the people from beyond the oceans shall seek the shores of this continent.”
It was undoubtedly at one of the elaborate receptions held for the delegates during the first week of the Parliament that Mrs. Bagley first met Swamiji. Whether she was instrumental in arranging for him to lecture in Detroit is not certain; it is certain, however, that upon his arrival she gave him, as it were, the key to the city. One might even say that she introduced him to Detroit were it not for the fact that even before her reception the city was in a state of excitement over the arrival of the distinguished and already famous Hindu. On February 11, the Detroit Free Press heralded his coming with a short but excited announcement, a portion of which has been quoted in “The Life.” The article was accompanied by a line drawing of the photograph that shows Swamiji standing with arms folded and that was used as a colored poster during the Parliament. The full text reads as follows:
FROM THE OTHER SIDE.
A Distinguished Brahman Coming to Detroit.
He is Said to be an Eloquent and Fascinating Orator.
The people of this country are already beginning
to be familiar with many oriental peoples. The Chinese and Japanese are well-known figures in the streets of all cities and large towns. They belong chiefly to the common people and so the more highly educated and cultured members of these races are scarcely known to us. This is true of both classes of India. They are rare and novel, and a high caste Brahman is almost a natural curiosity. They were, however, among the most distinguished and attractive in the congregations of the world’s fair, and especially the parliament of religions.
One of the most popular of these Hindu representatives was Swami Vivekananda, formerly a high caste Brahman who abandoned his order for the sake of joining a brotherhood of monks, whose first principle is to sacrifice their pride by relinquishing their Brahminical privileges. He showed himself to be one of the best of orators at the congress, speaking faultless English without notes, and with an utterance that many of his hearers declared would of itself have been music had you not understood a word.
Since the parliament he has spoken to immense audiences in many towns and cities who have but one opinion of praise and [are] enthusiastic over his magnetic power, and his way of giving light and life to every subject he touches. Naturally his views of great questions, coming like himself from the other side of the globe, are refreshing and stirring to American people. His hearers are pleasantly astonished when the dark-hued, dark-haired, dignified man arises in rich yellow robes and speaks their own language with fluency, distinctness and correctness.
He is to address Detroit audiences at the Unitarian church, on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings of this week.
The day after Swamiji’s arrival he was visited and inter-viewed by a reporter from the Detroit Free Press. The reader will notice that during this interview he touched upon the same problem as he had during a discussion in Memphis, Tennessee – the problem , of combining material power with spirituality. The development of a new type of man who would combine the “energy of the lion with the gentleness of the lamb” typifying the union of West and East, was later to take a prominent place in Swamiji’s thought. The interview, which was published on February 14, read as follows:
The Distinguished Hindoo Monk is in Town.
Differences Between Creed and Religions Defined.
Interesting Conversation with the Visitor.
He will Give Several Lectures at the Unitarian Church.
The complacency of the Hindoo god is superlative. Nothing disturbs him ; nothing ruffles the infinite calm which rests upon his features; nothing changes the placid conscientiousness of his inner life. More inscrutable than the Sphinx, the mysticism of the Indian atmosphere surrounds him and with eyes which seem infinite in their wisdom he has gazed and continues to gaze upon the developments of religious ideas, and only those versed in Sanscrit lore question the mute lips. Beside the multitude of Oriental hearts that have bowed down before the eastern mountain of life, a band of westerners, with Edwin Arnold and others acting as guides, have wandered as pilgrims into the recesses of the old country, which suffers a material decadence whatever may be its spiritual condition. Swami Vivekananda, a monk of the Hindoo religion, is in the city, the guest of Mrs. John J. Bagley, and
while here he will deliver a number of lectures. Swami (or Brother) Vivekananda attracted much attention at the Chicago congress of religions, his wonderful eloquence and profound spirituality marking him as a unique and impressive iigure among the masters assembled on that occasion. Strange as it may appear, the Indian exponent of divine doctrines made many converts in the Windy City, and he received a great deal of adulation. His personality is charming.
Upon hearing that the eastern monk was coming here, a certain lady said: “I think it is so funny that
they should bring to Detroit a heathen to speak upon religious matters. Why, he has even converted many people since he came to this country.”
In this connection the conversation which the representative of The Free Press had with the gentleman seems especially significant, indicating an entire lack of the missionary spirit in the distinguished visitor. Swami is a person of medium stature, with the dusky complexion common with people of his nationality, gentle in manner, deliberate in movement, and extremely courteous in every word, movement and gesture. But the most striking feature of his personality are his eyes, which are of great brilliancy. The conversation naturally drifted upon the subject of religion, when Swami said among many other striking remarks:
“I make the distinction between religion and creed. Religion 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 people want. As the world is made up of infinite variety of persons of different natures, intellectually, spiritually and materially, so these people take to themselves that form of belief in the existence of a great and good moral law, which is best fitted for them. Religion recognizes and is glad of the existence of all these forms, because of the beautiful underlying principle. The same goal is reached by different routes and my way would not be suited perhaps to the temperament of my western neighbor, the same that his route would not commend itself to my disposition and philosophical way of thinking. I belong to the Hindoo religion. That is not the Buddhists’ creed, one of the sects of the Hindoo religion. We never indulge ir: missionary work. We do not seek to thrust the principles of our religion upon anyone. The fundamental principles of our religion forbid that. Nor do we say anything against any missionaries whom you send from this country anywhere. For all of us they are entirely welcome to penetrate the innermost recesses of the earth. Many come to us, but we do not struggle for them ; we have no missionaries striving to bring anyone to our way of thinking. With no effort from us many forms of the Hindoo religion are spreading far and wide, and these manifestations have taken the form of Christian science, theosophy, and Edwin Arnold’s “Light of Asia.” Our religion is older than most religions and the Christian creed – I do not call it a religion, because of its antagonistic features – came directly from the Hindoo religion. It is one of the great offshoots. The Catholic religion also takes all its forms from us, the confessional, the belief in saints and so on, and a Catholic priest who saw this absolute similarity and recognized the truth of the origin of the Catholic religion was dethroned from his position because he dared to publish a volume explaining all that he observed and was convinced of.” [Swamiji’s reference was doubt to Bishop Brigandet’s “Life of Buddha.”]
“You recognise agnostics in your religion?” was asked.
“Oh, yes ; philosophical agnostics and what you call infidels. When Buddha, who is with us a saint, was asked by one of his followers: ‘Does God exist?’ He replied: ‘God. When have I spoken to you about
God ? This I tell you, be good and do good.’ The philosophical agnostics, there are many of us, believe in the great moral law underlying everything in nature and in the ultimate perfection. All the creeds which are accepted by all people are but the endeavors of humanity to realize that infinity of self which lies in the great future”
“Is it beneath the dignity of your religion to resort to missionary effort?”
For reply the visitor from the orient turned to a little volume and referred to an edict among other remarkable edicts.
“This,” he said, “was written 200 B.C., and will be the best answer I can give you to that question.”
In delightfully clear, well modulated tones, he read:
“The King Piyadasi [Ashoka], beloved of the gods, honors all sects, both ascetics and householders ; he propitiates them by alms and other gifts, but he attaches less importance to gifts and honors than to the endeavor to promote the essential moral virtues. It is true the prevalence of essential virtues differs in different sects, but there is a common basis. That is, gentleness, moderation in language and morality. Thus, one should not exalt one’s own sect and decry others, but tender them on every occasion the honor they deserve. Striving thus, one promotes the welfare of his own sect, while serving the others. Striving otherwise, one does not serve his own sect, while disserving others and whosoever from attachment to his own sect and with a view to promote it decries others, only deals rude blows to his own sect. Hence, concord alone is meritorious, so that all bear and love to bear the beliefs of each other. It is with this purpose that this edict has been inscribed ; that all people, whatever their fate may be, should be encouraged to promote the essential moral doctrines in each and mutual respect for all the other sects. It is with this object that the ministers of religion, the inspectors and other bodies of officers should all work.”
After reading this impressive passage Swami Vivekananda remarked that the same wise king who had caused this edict tp be inscribed had forbidden the indulgence of war, as its horrors were antagonistic to all the principles of the great and universal moral doctrine. “For this reason,” remarked the visitor, “India has suffered in its material aspect. Where brute strength and bloodshed has advanced other nations 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.”
“But will it not be an impossibility to find in the great combative western countries, where such tremendous energy is needed to develop the pressing practical necessities of the nineteenth century, this spirit which prevails in placid India?”
The brilliant eyes flashed and a smile crossed the features of the eastern brother.
“May not one combine the energy of the lion with the gentleness of the lamb?” he asked.
Continuing, he intimated that perhaps the future holds the conjunction of the east and the west, a combination which would be productive of marvelous results. A condition which speaks well for the natures of the western nation is the reverence in which women are held and the gentle consideration with which they are treated.
He says, with the dying Buddha, “Work out your own salvation. I cannot help you. No man can help you. Help yourself.” Harmony and peace, and not dissension, is his watchword. “
The following story is one which he related recently regarding the practice of fault-finding among creeds: “A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it hada eyes, and that it every day cleansed the waters of all the worms and bacilli that
lived in it, with an energy that would give credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat – perhaps as much so as myself. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea, came and fell into the well.
” ‘Whence are you from?’
” ‘I am from the sea.’
” ‘The sea? How big is that? Is it as big as my well?’ and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.
” ‘My friend,’ says the frog of the sea, ‘how do you compare the sea with your little well?’
“Then the frog took another leap and asked: ‘Is your sea so big?’
” ‘What nonsense you speak to compare the sea with your well.’
” ‘Well, then,’ said the frog of the well, ‘nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this ; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out/
“That has been the difficulty all the while.
“I am a Hindoo. I am sitting in my own little well, and thinking that the world is my well. The Christian sits in his little well and the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his well and thinks the whole world that. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish that purpose”
Last evening Swami Vivekananda was given a reception at. the residence of Mrs. John J. Bagley. It was a brilliant occasion and one which many persons availed themselves of in order to meet the learned and scholarly visitor. To-night to-morrow night and Saturday night he will lecture at the Unitarian church.
The Evening News of February 14 took its copy directly from the above, prefacing it, however, wi.th a touch of sarcasm:
THE HINDOO RELIGION
As it is Explained by Swami Vivekananda.
He is a High Grade Hindoo and Says Christianity is Not a Religion but Only a Creed and a Hindoo Offshoot.
Such Christians as desire to become converted to the Hindoo religion can apply for the purpose at the residence of Mrs. John J. Bagley. A monk of that faith is the lady’s guest, Swami Vivekananda, who was one of the higher grades of ecclesiastics who made an impression upon the Chicago congress of religions.
From Canada’s icy mountains, from Florida’s sunny strands, where California’s fountains roll down their golden sands ; from many a Michigan river, from many a western plain, we’ve called him to deliver our souls from error’s chain. What though our handsome city will make an artist smile ; w here every fancy pleases and only man is vile ; in vain with lavish kindness great Vishnu’s gifts are shown, the Christian in his blindness is fighting for the bone.
[The above is a parody of certain lines of a Christian hymn by Bishop Heber, which went:
From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strands.
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand;
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain, They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain. What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle ;
Though every prospect pleases and only man is vile: In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown ; The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.J
The Hindoo religion, artistically speaking, is of the half tone order, soft, modified and mellowed by the receding centuries, a religion that appeals to the romantic and dreamy as in itself a dream. But its code of morals is essentially the same as that of the Christian. Those with whom the various creeds have become a little stale, perhaps, might seek long before they would find anything more adaptable to their moral needs than the quieting creeds of the orient. But, seriously speaking, and placing implicit reliance upon Kananda’s own statements, the Hindoo theologist is not here to do missionary work. [The remainder of this article is the same as that in the Free Press.]
Swamiji remained in Detroit from February 12 to 23, and then again from March 9 to 30. During these two visits he gave, in all, eight public lectures (not including those delivered in nearby towns) and spoke often at private gatherings. The material in the Detroit papers regarding these visits is voluminous. The battles that raged between the liberal and reactionary forces of Christianity through letters and editorials were long, complex and revealing as to the salutary upheaval that Swamiji created. “The power that emanated from this mysterious being,” wrote Sister Christine, who attended every lecture Swamiji gave in Detroit, “was so great that one all but shrank from it. It was overwhelming.” In this connection Mrs. Charles Erskine Scott Wood, the American poetess, better known as Sara Bard Field, tells of an incident that was related to her by a Miss Marguerite Cook. Miss Cook, a teacher of German in a Detroit high school at the time of Swamiji’s visit, attended one of his lectures at the Unitarian Church. Although of a stolid German nature and ordinarily unimpressionable, she was deeply struck by Swamiji’s power and, for the first time in her life, felt an impulse to congratulate a speaker. Shaking hands with Swamiji after his lecture, she felt suddenly overwhelmed .and at a loss for words. Swamiji held her hand for several moments. “I shall never forget his searching look,” she told Mrs. Wood many years later. “I was so aware of his greatness and holiness thaf I couldn’t bear to wash my hand for three days!” It is little wonder, considering Swamiji’s effect upon his audience, that the city was in an uproar.
Mrs. Wood, whose family lived in Detroit in 1894, also tells us, quoting her father, that for weeks one could not pick up a daily paper without seeing the name, Swami Vivekananda. Only a child at the time, Mrs. Wood remembers that her father, a stem Baptist, was scornful of Detroit’s uninhibited excitement over Swamiji. Surfeited with reading about and hearing about the heathen monk (being a friend of the Bagley family, he must have heard a great deal), he protested by appearing one morning at the breakfast table with a towel wrapped turban-wise around his head and sonorous syllables in imitation of Sanscrit chanting issuing from his mouth. (It was a protest unheeded by his small daughter who in later life has become an ardent Vedantin.)
It will not be possible in this narrative to reproduce in its entirety every editorial and letter which was written under the impact of Swamiji’s presence in Detroit, but I hope at least to tell of them all, insofar as they serve as an index of the various popular reactions and their developments.
Reports from the Detroit Free Press of four of the lectures which Swamiji gave during his first stay in Detroit were made available in the Vedanta Kesari of February 1924, and subsequently in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works.” The story of how these reports came to light after thirty years is, I believe, one that is worth telling. In 1908 the clippings from the Free Press of February, 1894, were sent to Swami Brahmananda by Mrs. Mary C. Funke, one of Swamiji’s most ardent Detroit followers, who later became his disciple. The closing paragraph of the letter which accompanied the clippings and which was printed in the Vedanta Kesari
reads: “Dear Swami, I am enclosing the newspaper clippings of fifteen years ago, for I think they may be of interest to you. They are priceless to me and cannot be duplicated. I trust that you will not consider it selfish in me to ask you to return them, but at your leisure. I have so few mementos of him and you have the Math, his room, and the sacred spot under the Bel tree. Please keep them as long as you wish. …”
Thirteen years later, while cleaning, out an old catch-all chest of drawers at the Ramakrishna Math in Madras, Swami Ashokananda came across a copy of Mary Funke’s letter together with typed-out copies of the Detroit Free Press clippings. Recognizing the value of these treasures, the Swami rescued them from oblivion and forthwith gave them to the editor of the Vedanta Kesari. Thus it is that we have not had to wait until now for those excellent reports of some of the most fiery and inspiring lectures that Swamiji gave in America – the lectures of which Sister Christine later wrote: “Was it possible to hear and feel this and ever be the same again? All one’s values were changed. The seed of spirituality was planted to grow and grow throughout the years until it inevitably reached fruition.”
Swamiji gave his first lecture in Detroit on Wednesday evening, February 14, at the Unitarian church. In recalling it Mrs. Mary C. Funke is quoted in “The Life” as having said: “The large edifice was literally packed and the Swami received . an ovation. I can see him yet as he stepped upon the platform, a regal, majestic figure, vital, forceful, dominant, and at the first sound of the wonderful voice, a voice all music – now like the plaintive minor strain of an Eolian harp, again, deep, vibrant, resonant – there was a hush, a stillness that could almost be felt, and the vast audience breathed as one man.”
The text of the Detroit Free Press report of this lecture is given in full in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works” under the title “India.” The headlines which accompanied the report, however, are not reproduced in “The Complete Works,” and are well worth quoting here:
MOST MORAL NATION
Vivekananda States He So Considers India.
Though in Bondage Its Spirituality Endures. Eloquent Address by the Eastern Brother.
Tonight He will Speak on “Hindoo Philosophy.”
These words, “Most Moral Nation” were fighting ones to at least one member of the Christian clergy, as were two paragraphs of the text itself which I shall quote from Volume VIII as a help to the reader’s memory:
“It seems somewhat singular that the eastern monk who is so outspoken in his disapproval of missionary labor on the part of the Christian church in India (where, he affirms, the morality is the highest in the world) should have been introduced by Bishop Ninde, who in June will depart for China in the interest for foreign missions. The bishop expects to remain away until December, but if he should stay longer he will go to India.”
Further along in the article Swamiji is quoted as having said:
“There is something Christ-like in the humility of the people to endure the stings and arrows of outraged fortune [sic], the while the soul is advancing toward the brighter goal. Such a country has no need of Christian missionaries to ‘preach ideas/ for theirs is a religion that makes men gentle, sweet, considerate and affectionate toward all God’s creatures, whether man or beast. Morally, said the speaker, India is head and shoulders above the United States or any other country on the globe. Missionaries would do well to come there and drink of the pure waters, and see what a beautiful influence upon a great community have the lives of the multitude of good and holy men.”
This was the first bombshell that Swamiji dropped in Detroit. The lecture was quoted in the Evening News, the Tribune and the Journal as well as in the Free Press, and there was probably no literate pocson in the city who was not now aware of the fact that Christian missionaries, for all their talk, were not doing any too well in India. Although the other reports of the lecture were, for the most part, repetitious of that in the Free Press, the Tribune of February 15 adds considerably to our knowledge of what Swamiji said and helps to explain some of the subsequent criticisms. With the exception of those portions that are repetitious of the Free Press report, and which I have omitted, the Tribune covered the lecture as follows:
HAD TO ENTERTAIN
Kananda Tells of the Hospitality of the Hindu.
He is Bound to Guard Against Selfishness Above All Things.
The Famous Monk Addresses an Interested Audience at Unity Church – Facts about the People of India Told by an Indian in the Purest English.
Last evening a good sized audience had the privilege of seeing and listening to the famous Hindu Monk of the Brahmo Samaj, Swami Vivekananda, as he lectured at the Unitarian Church under the auspices of the Unity Club. He appeared in native costume and made with his handsome face and stalwart figure a distinguished appearance. His eloquence held the audience in rapt attention and brought out applause at frequent intervals. He spoke of the “Manners and Customs of India” and presented the subject in the most perfect TEngUsh. He said they did not call their country India
nor themselves Hindus. Hindostan was the name of the country and
they were Brahmans. In ancient times they spoke Sanscrit. In that language the reason and meaning of a word was explained and made quite evident but now that is all gone. Jupiter in Sanscrit meant “Father in Heaven.” All the languages of northern India were now practically the same, but if he should go into the southern part of that country he could not converse with the people. In the words father, mother, sister, brother, etc., the Sanscrit gave very similar pronunciations. This and other facts leads him. to think we all come from the common stock, Aryans. Nearly all branches of this race have lost their identity.
There were four castes, the priests, the landlords and military people, the trades people and the artisans, laborers and servants. In the first three castes the boys at the ages of ten, eleven and thirteen respectively are placed in the hands of professors of universities and remain with them until thirty, twenty-five and twenty years old, respectively…. In ancient times both boys and girls were instructed, but now only the boys are favored. An effort, however, is being made to rectify the long-existing wrong. A good share of the philosophy and laws of the land is the work of women during the ancient times, before barbarians started to rule the land. In the eyes of the Hindu the woman now has her rights. She holds her own and has the law on her side.
When the student returns from college he is allowed to marry and have a household. Husband and wife must bear the work and both have their rights. In the military caste the daughters oftentimes can choose their husbands, but in all other cases all arrangements are made by the parents. There is a constant effort now being made to remedy infant marriage. The marriage ceremony is very beautiful, each touches the heart of the other and they swear before God and the assemblage that they will prove faithful to each other. No man can be a priest until he marries. When a man attends public worship he is always attended by his wife. In his worship the Hindu performs five ceremonies, worship of his God, of his forefathers, of the poor, of the dumb animals, and of learning. As long as a Hindu has anything in the housc-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. Civilization is a great work. But in comparison the statement is made that in England one in every 400 is a drunkard, while in India the proportion is one to every million. A description was given of the cerenjony of burning the dead. No publicity is made except in the case of some great nobleman. After a fifteen days’
fast gifts are given by the relatives in behalf of the forefathers to the poor or for the formation of some institution. On moral matters they stand head and shoulders above all other nations.
Bishop Ninde, a Methodist Episcopalian, who had introduced Swamiji with the prayer that the heathens would someday see the light and who had evidently been under the impression that he was going to hear entertaining descriptions of heathen customs and, perhaps, praise, direct or implied, for the work of Christian missions, had received a severe shock. Before his very eyes, on the same platform with him, Swamiji had captured the audience, extolled the religion of the Hindu people and declared that India was a moral nation in no need of Christian missionaries! The bishop was shaken and, very likely, in serious difficulties with his church. A hasty explanation was in order, and directly following Swamiji’s first lecture in Detroit he penned a letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press, which appeared on February 16 as follows:
FROM FREE PRESS READERS.
Vivekananda’s First Lecture.
To the Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
In referring to the above lecture, your issue of yesterday says: “It seemed somewhat singular that the
eastern monk, who is so outspoken in his disapproval of missionary labor on the part of the Christian church in India (where, he affirms, the morality is the highest in the world) should have been introduced by Bishop Ninde, who in June will depart for China in the interest of foreign Christian missions.”
It is due to myself and to the Christian public who believe in missions that I should claim the privilege of making an explanation. I was courteously invited by
friends in whom I have the fullest confidence to introduce the lecturer to his audience, with the assurance that nothing would be said that could be at all offensive to Christian ears. I inferred that we should be treated to an entertaining description of the manners and customs of one of the most interesting countries on the globe, and without any manifest religious bias. It was suggested that the introduction, coming from me, would be appropriate, as I was, perhaps, the only person in the city who had visited India. I felt no hesitation under the circumstances in rendering so simple a courtesy to a gentleman of such acknowledged ability and learning as Mr. Kananda. Imagine my surprise, however, as the lecture proceeded, when I saw it to be a studied effort to magnify the virtues of the Hindoos and discount the morals of Christian nations, with the evident purpose of showing the impertinence and uselessness of Christian missions. Had I foreseen the drift of the lecture, and especially some of its more caustic and unfriendly references, I should have felt obliged by simple self-respect to decline the honor of presenting the speaker.
But the lecture, though able and interesting, instead of weakening my faith in the value of Christian missions in India, has strongly confirmed my conviction of their importance and ultimate triumph. The lecture from first to last was a scathing arraignment of modem Brahmanism (the accepted religion of India to-day) from the view point of a professed Hindoo reformer.
One who has been on the ground cannot be misled by rose-colored exhibits of Hindoo morality. The lecturer stated with emphasis that drunkenness was unknown among the Hindoos, when to the writer’s personal knowledge the drinking habit had become quite recently so rife among the natives in a portion of western India that a firm of Hindoo merchants in Bombay engaged one of our unemployed missionaries to go
through the country in company with a Brahman to lecture on temperance and offer the pledge. In fact,
the moral abominations that prevail throughout India to-day, and under the sanctions of the accepted religion, are too notorious to be successfully denied.
I have no doubt that Mr. Kananda and a few others of like spirit are doing their best to counteract the ever-downward tendency and restore the simpler yet greatly inadequate faiths of primitive Hindooism; yet I am firm in the conviction, despite his denial, that such beneficent reforms as have come about in these latter times in the social and moral condition of India have sprung, not from impulses within the body of Hindooism, but from the direct and indirect influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the work which the toilsome and self-denying missionaries are doing to-day in India should be the subject, not of sneering or critical animadversion, but of warm and unstinted praise. The success of our Methodist missions in central India in making converts is simply marvelous. It indicates with unerring certainty the speedy breaking away of great masses from the old superstitions and their reception of a revealed religion that will satisfy all their needs and regenerate, as no other power can, that ancient and noble race.
I repeat what I said in introducing the distinguished speaker, that, “while I differ very widely from him in my conception of the religious idea and religious duty, yet I long and pray for the day when, in the clearer light which God’s spirit may vouchsafe to each one of us, the people of all lands and all races may see eye to eye and be perfectly joined together in the service of a common divine Redeemer.”
Detroit, February 15, 1894 W. X. Ninde.
The war was on. Henceforth the newspapers fairly bristled with letters and editorials attacking and defending Swamiji, and one can imagine the discussions that must have taken place in the drawing rooms, in the church parlors and in the club rooms of the city. Members of orthodox, or what Swamiji would call “blue-nose,” Christianity were happy with the bishop’s letter, and on February 24 the Michigan Christian Advocate, a weekly published in Detroit, printed it with the following introduction:
A HINDOO IN DETROIT.
The distinguished Hindoo monk, Swamie Vivekananda, lectured two or three times in Detroit last week, praising the religion of Buddha and making numerous “cute little jabs at the Christian religion,” as the daily papers said. But the cunning heathen was careful to avoid any comparison between the social condition of the people in his own land and those to whom he was speaking, though he boldly animadverted upon the great missionary movements of Christianity and sought to belittle and disparage them as other heathen in America have recently been doing. As Bishop Ninde was induced to introduce the speaker the first evening, he wisely made a very satisfactory and instructive explanation through the Free Press next day: [Here followed the full text of the bishop’s letter.]
Bishop Ninde’s “satisfactory and instructive explanation” was made good use of by Swamiji’s missionary opponents. In November, 1894, the Homiletic Review, an organ of the orthodox Christian churches, printed an article in defense of Christian missionaries in India. The writer set the stage for his attack on Swamiji by the £ollowingJJnterpretation of the Detroit incident:
. . . Vivekananda, acting under the auspices of hospitable friends in Detroit, gave a series of lectures on the superiority of Hinduism, which created no little stir in religious and antireligious circles. He spoke repeatedly in Unitarian churches, and he received many courtesies also from men of what are known as the orthodox creeds. On one occasion he was very courteously introduced to his audience by Bishqp Ninde of the Methodist Episcopal Church. But so contemptuous and bitter was the attack upon Christianity and Christian missions which followed, that the good Bishop felt compelled to apologize through the press for the position in which his Hindu friend had placed him as a minister and a bishop in the Christian Church.
Needless to say, when on Thursday evening, February 15, Swamiji gave his second lecture, the good bishop did not introduce him. And sad to say, although the public crowded into the Unitarian Church, the Detroit press had been intimidated by the bishop’s repudiation of his Hindu friend. Methodism was strong in the city, and Bishop Ninde, a stalwart figure, was well known and highly respected among the orthodox. Thus the reports of Swamiji’s second lecture, “Hindu Philosophy,” are meager and, with one exception, misrepresentative.
The Detroit Journal of February 16 took a safe stand beside the bishop, whom its reporter had interviewed:
Vivekananda Tells about the Trouble it Has Caused in India.
Bishop Ninde did not introduce the Hindoo monk, Vivekananda, last evening when he was to deliver his second lecture at the Unitarian church. In fact, the bishop had ceased to take any stock in the Hindoo, because of his propensity for attacking the Christian religion, as well as for what he considered his untruthfulness as displayed in his lecture on Wednesday evening. The bishop has traveled in India extensively himself, and in an interview with the Journal after the lecture said the monk had evidently been talking for the purpose of creating an impression. If a more worldly man than the bishop had been describing the monk’s lecture he would have said he was “talking through his hat” as that is just what the bishop meant.
“For instance” said the bishop, “he told us there was absolutely no drunkenness in India; that one might travel all through the country without seeing an intoxicated man. Now, I know better, for I have been there and have observed with my own eyes to what an extent the drink habit has taken hold of the natives. Why, it is positively a fact that English liquor merchants have been sending men throughout India for the express purpose of educating the natives to drink intoxicating liquors, and from my observations I should say they were very apt pupils. I could recite many instances of degradation caused by the drink habit if it was necessary.”
The monk’s lecture last evening was on “Hindoo Philosophy,” but those who expected to learn something from the lecture must have been greatly disappointed, for the whole lecture was made up of pointed little cracks at the Christian religion. He dwelt at some length on what he designated the trouble and misery his people had experienced by the introduction of Christianity into India. His references to “Hindoo Philosophy” were so very few that they could hardly be distinguished from his attacks upon the Christian religion. He thought it only an idle dream to think of all the nations of the earth having the same religious view.
He said finally that Buddhists had sent out the first missionaries, and they are the only people who can say they have converted millions without shedding a drop of blood.
It is interesting to notice, in connection with the attacks against Swamiji, that those who opposed him, although often men of high standing in the community, almost invariably betrayed a confusion of mind either in their style of writing or in their multiple self-contradictions. Bishop Ninde, for instance, not only misquoted Swamiji regarding drunkenness in India, but attributed its existence to the beguilement of a Christian nation ! But in whatever muddle the bisfrop managed to get himself, the fact remained, as Swamiji had pointed out, that the alcoholic Hindu was an extreme rarity.
The Detroit Free Press of February 16 was as cautious as the Journal in its report on Swamiji’s second lecture. It was from the following article of February 16 that the Michigan Christian Advocate picked up the phrase, ”cute little jabs at the Christian religion”:
Another Large Audience Listens to Swami Vivekananda.
The second lecture of the Hindoo monk, Swami Vivekananda, was given last evening at the Unitarian church to a large and very appreciative audience. The expectation of the audience that the speaker would enlighten them regarding “Hindoo Philosophy,” as the lecture was entitled, was gratified to only a limited extent. Allusions were made to the philosophy of Buddha, and the speaker was applauded when he said that buddhism was the first missionary religion of the world, and that it had secured the largest number of converts without the shedding of a drop of blood ; but he did not tell his audience anything about the religion or philosophy of Buddha. He made a number of cute little jabs at the Christian religion, and alluded to the trouble and misery that had been caused by its introduction into heathen countries, but he skillfully avoided any comparison between the social condition of the people in his own land and that of the people to whom he was speaking. In a general way he said the Hindoo philosophers taught from a lower truth to a higher; whereas, a person accepting a newer Christian doctrine is asked and expected to throw his former belief all away and accept the newer in its entirety. “It is an idle dream when all of us will have the same religious views” said he. »”No emotion can be produced except by clashing elements acting upon the mind. It is the revulsion of change, the new light, the presentation of the new to the old, that elicits sensation.”
Fortunately the Detroit Tribune consistently upheld Swamiji, and thus in its report of February 16 we are able to get some idea of his lecture on “Hindu Philosophy.” Although the Tribune reporter seems to have taken somewhat sketchy notes, his account was unbiased and gives ample proof that the lecture by no means consisted of “cute little jabs at the Christian religion”:
The Subject of Kananda’s Talk to the Unity Club Last Night
The Brahman monk, Swami Vivekananda, again lectured last evening at_the Unitarian church, his topic being “Hindu Philosophy.” The speaker dealt for a time with general philosophy and metaphysics, but said that he would devote the lecture to that part pertaining to religion. There is a sect that believes in a soul, but are agnostic in relation to God. Buddahism [sic] was a great moral religion, but they could not live long without believing in a gpd. Another sect known as the giants [Jains] believe in the soul, but not in the moral government of the country. There were several millions of this sect in India. Their priests and monks tie a handkerchief over their faces, believing if their hot breath comes in contact with man or beast death will ensue.
Among the orthodox, all believe in the revelation. Some think every word in the Bible comes directly from God. The stretching of the meaning of a word would
perhaps do in most religions, but in that of the Hindus they have the Sanscrit, which always retains the full meaning and reasons of the word.
The distinguished Oriental thought there was a sixth sense far greater than any of the five we know we possess. It was the truth of revelation. A man may read all the books on religion in the world and yet be the greatest blackguard in the country. Revelation means later reports of spiritual discoveries.
The second position some take is a creation without beginning or end. Suppose there was a time when the world did not exist ; what was God doing then? To the Hindus the creation was only one of forms. One man is born with a healthy body, is of good family and grows up a godly man. Another is born with a maimed and crooked body and develops into a wicked man and pays the penalty. Why must a just and holy god create one with so many advantages and the other with disadvantages? The person has no choice. The evildoer has a consciousness of his guilt. The difference between virtue and vice was expounded. If God willed all things there would be an end to all science. How far can man go down? Is it possible for man to go Backto brute again?
Kananda was glad he was a Hindu. When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans several thousand [Jews] settled in India. When the Persians were driven from their country by the Arabs several thousand found refuge in the same country and none were molested. The Hindus believe all religions are true, but theirs antedates all others. Missionaries are never molested by the Hindus. The first English missionaries were prevented from landing in that country by English and it was a Hindu that interceded for them and gave them the first hand. Religion is that which believes in all. Religion was compared to the blind men and the elephant. Each man felt of a special part and from it drew his conclusions of what an elephant was. Each was right in his way and yet all
were needed to form a whole. Hindu philosophers say “truth to truth, lower truth to higher.” It is an idle dream of those who think that all will at some time think alike, for that would be the death of religion.
Every religion breaks up into little sects, each claiming to be the true one and all the others wrong. Persecution is unknown in Buddahism. They sent out the first missionaries and are the only ones who can say they have converted millions without the shedding of a single drop of blood. Hindus, with all their faults and superstitions, never persecute. The speaker wanted to know how it was the Christians allowed such iniquities as are everywhere present in Christian countries.
Obviously Swamiji’s “jabs” were directed for the most part toward the contention that the whole world must become Christian or be doomed. Such “jabs,” even when embodied in a long lecture on Hindu philosophy and spoken without rancor, entered the orthodox mind as lightning thrusts, obliterating everything else that had been said. Often in a reading of Swamiji’s lectures his pointed criticisms of the contemporary religious scene appear to constitute but a small part of his message, and one can only imagine the power behind his words when he spoke them from the platform – a power not of voice but of spirit, a force that drove his rebukes deep into the very soul of those for whom they were intended and brought forth howls of protest.
But nothing could have exposed the worst aspects of Christian orthodoxy more effectively than its adherents’ denunciation of Swamiji. It was poshaps largely through the process of self-exposure on the part of bigotry that his lecture tour rid America of its most pernicious aspects. He rarely made any rejoinder to his critics. He did not have to. Shortly following Bishop Ninde’s repudiation of “Mr. Kananda,” for instance, three long and forceful letters ridiculing and reprimanding the bishop appeared in the daily newspapers. The first of these, dated February 16, appeared in the Free Press of February 17 and is quoted at some length gs follows:
Bishop Ninde and Kananda.
To the Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
In The Free Press of Friday Bishop Ninde offers an explanation by way of apology for having been induced under what he seems to construe as false pretenses, to act as chairman and introduce the Brahmin Monk Kananda to a Unitarian church audience. It would now seem from the tone of his letter, that the good Methodist bishop feels as if he had “fallen from grace” and now repents of the disgrace, as he would probably put it if he expressed his innermost convictions. His acceptance and fulfillment of the duty with such good grace, won much admiration from all liberal minded people, many Christians included. It is lamentable that he did noL have the grace and moral courage to let well enough alone, even though his private views conflicted with those of the Brahmin. . . .
Bishop Ninde again errs when he attempts to convey the impression in his letter that he was supposed to be the only man in Detroit who had visited India. He should know that this is simply nonsense. But a few days ago Frederick Stearns gave a lecture in the city upon his travels in India, and the bishop well knows that there are scores of others here who have seen as much of that wonderful country as he has, and the public are not ignorant of that fact. The writer was present at the first and last lectures of Kananda, and saw the bishop wince and squirm at the mild mannered, though telling rebuke of “Christian” methods and intolerance with not only the alleged heathen, but with different “Christian” denominations, among themselves. . . . The discourse of [Kananda] was indeed “caustic,” as the bishop says, but not “unfriendly,” as he further states. . . . He fails to recognize the liberal, generous and holy spirit with which it was conveyed. . . .
The bishop furthermore affirms that whatever social and moral conditions exist in India “have not sprung from impulses within the body of Hindooism, but from
the direct and indirect influences of the gospel of Jesus Christ.'” This the bishop knows to be false if he is versed in ancient history, as he should be. The fundamental morals and virtues of Buddha, Brahma, Confucius and other moral reformers were known long before Christ’s coming. Human brotherhood and the godlike in man were taught ages before. If Bishop Ninde is going to the orient as a true missionary he will have to learn the chief lesson of “God in man*’ before he can truthfully preach the glad tidings of a gospel of peace and love. . . .
O. P. Deldoc.
The second long letter which was written in reproach of Bishop Ninde and in defense of Swamiji was published in the Free Press of February 18. It was signed “Lover of Fair Play” and expressed, for the most part, the same sentiments and emphasized the same points as did the above. The following salient passages, however, should be quoted:
. . . The fundamental principle of the Hindoo religion is the absolute tolerance of all other religions, and it strikes me that the learned bishop has displayed a great deal of intolerance in advocating his own cause. He states that he inferred, when called upon to introduce the speaker, that nothing would be said that showed any religious bias. May a layman be permitted to ask why should we not have one Hindoo missionary among us when we send hundreds to India? Is not turn about fair play? What,Then, about the quality of the distinguished brother’s moral teachings? He says we should live up to the doctrine that all self is bad and all non-self is good. Is not such teaching grand and ennobling? Is it not as beneficial to poor human nature as the golden rule? The Hindoo religion being the most spiritual in the world, goes further than the golden rule. It teaches its followers to treat * your neighbor better than you would expect to be treated. Can anyone question sijch morality as this? …
… It seems strange that the bishop should resent the expression of his views from the visitor. Do not the missionaries of the church he so ably represents intrude their views upon the benighted heathen, who in their five daily worships show that the unselfishness of the Hindoo religion is something beautiful to contemplate? . . .
… I know full well that Vivekananda will not reply to the bishop’s letter because his theory is that silence is golden when a religious controversy is impending. He says there should be no quarreling among the representatives of the creeds, for he who casts a reflection upon another creed casts a slur upon his own faith.
He casts no reflection upon the Christian religion. What he said was that different people have different religions, and that is well. The Christian religion may answer the needs of certain people, but the Hindoo religion answers better the needs of the people of India, because it teaches them higher doctrines of morality than other nations are prepared to receive.. . . The sublime religion of the Hindoo we are unprepared for and therefore the Christian religion answers every purpose. This is a cutthroat generation and the gentle doctrine of the divinity of non-self is too far in the future for us. . . .
The third letter appeared in the Detroit Journal of February and was signed “E. J.” It read in part as follows:
… It would have done more credit to our Christianity for the bishop to have accepted without comment Vivekananda’s assertion that there is comparatively little drunkenness in India than to have proved its falsity by admitting that a Christian nation, professing a civilization and a religion far in advance of that of Buddha, introduced that degrading vice to a temperate and religious people, and spread it broadcast there through insatiate love of gain. It is a more bitter reflection upon our boasted Christianity than any Vivekananda made. . . .
As for the ‘cracks at the Christian religion” the sting lay in their truth. This Hindoo knows where to find the weak joints in our armor. We ought to be grateful to him for the hits he didn’t make. Do our missionaries treat foreign – pagan, we like to call them – religions as tenderly and inoffensively as Vivekananda treated ours? He was not here to convert us; indeed, in his last lecture he expressly disclaimed any such purpose. . . .
To tell the truth, his broad liberality, that recognizes in every human soul the effort toward freedom (his sxnonym of our “salvation”) and light, and makes that effort religion, irrespective and independent of creed or dogma, shames us all. The spectacle of a Methodist bishop introducing a Buddhist monk in a Unitarian church to an audience composed of Christians,
Jews and Gentiles, looked like a move toward the breaking down of the barriers of sectarianism. It seems a pity the bishop thought necessary to excuse his commendable part in it, to the extent of a quarter column of solid nonpareil in the morning papers, because a Brahmin of the Buddhists didn’t preach orthodox Christianity.
It can be safely assumed that a large percentage of the Detroit population both read and approved these letters. Bishop Ninde in his denunciation of Swamiji had done nothing but play directly into the hands of the liberals and strengthen their position.
A further point that Swamiji’s defenders should have clarified was that in speaking against the Christian missionaries after having been introduced by the bishop he had not overstepped the bounds of courtesy. Bishop Ninde, probably under the impression that Swamiji, like Mazoomdar and other “enlightened” Hindus, looked to Christianity for the salvation of India, had introduced him with a fervent prayer for the day “when people of all lands and all races may sec eye to eye and be perfectly joined together in the service of-a common divine Redeemer” – that is, in the service of Jesus Christ. Swamiji’s subject was “Manners and Customs in India” and he could not, in giving a true picture of his country, avoid referring to the Christian missionaries who had so misrepresented her to the world and who had done her such untold harm. But while his purpose in appearing on the platform was not to observe the social amenities, had Bishop Nindc omitted his prayer, Swamiji might in courtesy to him have softened his blows. As it was, the bishop had forfeited his right to such consideration. Because of the* prayer, it became incumbent upon Swamiji to make his points all the more clear and telling, to correct all misconceptions regarding his country and, above all, to disabuse his audience of the notion that Christianity was India’s only hope.
There were two misconceptions regarding India prevalent in (he 1890’s. While on the one hand she was maligned as a land of immorality, idolatry and superstition and in crying need of Christian missionaries, on the other hand she was lauded as a realm of mystery and marvel where “Mahatmas” performed wonderful feats of occult power and telepathically communicated cosmic secrets to the elect. This latter view resulted in a kind of delirium in which occultism, spirituality, superscience and the turban were hopelessly confused. It was in the throes of such confusion that the Evening News of February 14 had greeted Swamiji on his arrival in Detroit with the following-article :
GIVE US SOME MIRACLES.
It may sound vulgar, but it is not improper for Detroit to insist, now that it has gotten one of these wonderful East Indian mahatmas or priests, or whatever they are called, in its social grip, that he either “put up or shut up” During the past 10 or 15 years the people of Christian lands have been asked to believe that there exists among some of the upper casts of India a profundity of esoteric wisdom and a knowledge of the
laws of nature which, in comparison with our occidental ignorance, borders on the infinite. The mystifying tricks of the eastern fakirs have been long recognized as the best specimens of sleight-of-hand work that exist anywhere in the world, and these tricks have been used as the foundation for stories of wonder-working that places the doings of the adepts of India on a par with the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth.
A series of articles is now running in the Arena, written by a man who claims to have seen all that he tells about, tending to prove that the eastern adepts have gotten so far on the inner side of things in this world that they have almost complete control over all the powers of nature. Large trees from 40 to 75 feet high are grown before man’s eyes in a few minutes and the spectators are permitted to climb into the branches of them ; rocks and mountains which have stood for centuries are made to disappear and then to reappear; thunderbolts leap from the tips of the fingers of the mahatmas and do what destruction the owner of the finger wills, and other works are done which show that the performers are possessed of powers divine.
Now if all this wonder-working were advanced to show how much more skillful in legerdemain the easterns are over the westerns, we could well confess the superiority and let it go at that; but the claim is that it all shows that the adepts have pushed nearer the center of things than we have, and that it shows how very low and childish our boasted civilization is. It is claimed that the religious knowledge of the adepts is luminosity itself compared with our poor Christian paganism.
The obvious answer to all these claims of miracle working is that if they were true, the adepts would come west and do some missionary work by showing the Christians what the eastern knowledge would do. The adepts answer this by saying that they have a secret reason why they will not do this. But the world’s fair brought a small swarm, of these people to our shores,
and one of the most celebrated of them is in Detroit at the present moment. The present moment, then, is the time to give notice to Swami Vivekananda that this great opportunity has arrived to prove that all that has been said about his wonderful miracle-working powers is true.
Swami Vivekananda will talk at the Unitarian church, but will he do nothing but talk? There are thousands of Americans who can talk better and longer than he can. They can say sweeter things and say them in more elegant form, but they cannot grow a pine tree before the eyes of 10,000 people. They cannot pick up Belle Isle and sink it in Lake St. Clair and then put it Backagain. If Swami Vivekananda declines to do some of these things in addition to saying sweet things, he will injure his boasted religion of superiority more than he will help it. If his religion is better than ours, it surely does not show among the millions of the people of India. It docs not show in any wonders seen by western eyes. Where, then, does it show? Answer: As
yet only in sensational stories of travelers which thousands of Americans have swallowed. Will Kananda do something handsome while in Detroit?
In the tense atmosphere of Detroit no criticism of Swamiji was let pass without public rejoinder. Through the letter columns of the Detroit Journal of February 16, one of Swamiji’s most articulate defenders, a writer by the name of O. P. Deldoc, whose retort to Bishop Ninde has been reproduced above, was the first to give the Evening News a staunch reply:
FROM THE MAIL BAG
Mysteries and Miracles.
I read with no little surprise and disgust an editorial in the Evening News of February 14, headed, “Give us Some Miracles,” said article being called forth on account of the appearance in Detroit of
Swami ViveKananda, the Brahmin monk, who edified and delighted, not only the clergy of all denominations, but all who heard him in the parliament of religions at Chicago. His candor, simplicity and marvelous mentality are only exceeded by his earnest efforts towards the unity of religion and the brotherhood of man.
The editorial in substance calls upon Vivekananda, whom it styles “one of those wonderful East Indian mahatmas, to shut up or put up,” and challenges him to show some of the “mystifying tricks” alleged to have been witnessed by travelers in India, special attention being called to the articles written by Dr. Hcnsholdt, now being published in the Arena. The editorial sneer-ingly and sarcastically alludes to these “doings of the adepts of India” as professedly “being on a par with the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth,” yet carries the inference that they are but “tricks of fakirs.” The article concludes by avowing that “Kananda will talk, but do nothing but talk,” and because he does not produce any of the so-called miracles “he will injure his boasted religion of superiority more than he will help it.”
The writer of that editorial ought to know that none more stoutly declare that there are no miracles, never was such a thing as a miracle, that nothing is supernatural, more than the “wise men of the east,” or the intelligent recorder or traveler, familiar with the Orient. What the East Indians do claim, and what theosophists and all profound thinkers claim, is that the learned of that country have a better and purer knowledge of the hidden forces of nature, of spirituality, of practical humanity, of religious mysteries, and the occult generally, than has been revealed to many in the western world.
They have a better knowledge of the Arians, earth’s earlier ages, and of pure Sanscrit literature, including the lost arts and sciences of modem times, and alsb of the fundamental basis of all religions. The wise of India are no more responsible for. the superstitions, the pretensions, or for those who err and sin, than the good of our own land are responsible for the mistakes and wickedness of the present day. Why call an honest exponent of a pure and simple religion of charity and humanity, to account for the errors of some of his fellows of that vast and varied country, whose total population some self-styled Christians delight in dubbing “heathen”? Shall we send our sectarian missionaries to his land, and kick him out of ours because forsooth! he can’t hoodoo us with some hocus-pocus tricks, or show us what never existed – a miracle?
Christ when in the flesh, was thus importuned by the ignorant rabble, who disbelieved his holy name, and charged him with being an imposter, and who was finally spat upon and put to death by the same bigoted, intolerant mob, who only cried: “Crucify liiml” When they jeered him to scorn, and cried, “Show us a miracle” he calmly and meekly rebuked them, saying, “Ye would not believe Moses and the prophets, neither would ye believe though one arose from the dead.” It is only the igtioranL who expect or seek for the miraculous.
The adepts of India or of any other land do not pretend to do marvels; they only by a superior spirituality gained by long fasting, long study, long crucifying of the lusts of the flesh, long meditation upon “nature’s liner forces,” are enabled to do what would fill the minds of the superstitious with awe and wonder. All scientists familiar with that wonderful country declare the natives experts or adepts in hypnotic power, and for unknown ages they have held the key to electricity. and many other of nature’s marvels. India was very old before our nation was born, and her savants have forgotten more than we with our boasted civilization know.
If Swami Vivekananda succeeds in expounding a gospel of peace, of purity, of self-sacrifice and brotherly love ; if he succeeds in opening the blind eyes of bigotry, and in unstopping the deaf ears of the intolerant, and shows the professed Christian that even a heathen has
some virtues which Christians lack, and more than all if he softens the strong heart of humanity, which he already seems qualified to do, his mission among us will not be in vain.
O. P. Deldoc.
Another retort to the Evening News appeared much later in a letter to the editor of the Free Press, in which the author, “having pursued the published reports of Swami Vivekananda’s course of lectures,” dutifully set himself to point out the errors of Swamiji’s logic. The result, as might be expected, was total confusion, with which I will not burden the reader. The letter concludes, however, with the following more lucid paragraph:
But despite the Hindoo’s errors there is so much that is good and true in his tenets and their application that the self-professing Christian may well profit by.
For certain it is that few, indeed, of any “nation or people, or tongue,” can derive any substantial advantage or profit by the adoption of Christianity as at present taught and practically applied; which is but a travesty of the teachings of ChrisL and his immediate apostles and disciples ; and the Hindoo teacher may well return the brutal and blasphemous cry recently hurled at him by certain professed Christians (?): “Give us some miracles.”
But the most pertinent and conclusive reply to the editorial was given by Swamiji himself when the Evening News, more by way of self-justification than*”apology, printed on February 17 the following brief interview:
ONLY WONDERS WORKED.
No Miracles in the Pure Hindoo Religion.
“I cannot comply with the request of The News to work a miracle in proof of my religion,” said Vive
Kananda to a representative of this paper, after being shown The News editorial on the subject. “In the first place, I am no miracle worker, and in the second place the pure Hindoo religion I profess is not based on miracles. We do not recognize such a thing as miracles. There are wonders wrought beyond our five senses, but they are operated by some law. Our religion has nothing to do with them. Most of the strange things which are done in India and reported in the foreign papers are sleight-of-hand tricks or hypnotic illusions. They are not the performances of the wise inen. These do not go about the country performing their wonders in the market places for pay. They can be seen and known only by those who seek to know the truth, and not moved by childish curiosity.”
Thus the matter was settled. Later, the Evening News of February 20 was to boast at the end of a rather sour editorial:
The News has done the only sound service that has been done for the Detroit public and the occidental world in connection with this visit of the Hindu monk.
It has wrested from highest Hindu authority testimony about the wonder-working that has been so persistently claimed for the mahatmas of the cast. Kananda says that the truth of the Hindu faith does not rest on wonder-working. He makes no pretension either for himself or any of his countrymen on this line. He despises as much as any occidental can the tricks of the fakirs. Truth stands on its own feet. This testimony which The News has wrested from so high authority sweeps away the huge mass of claims that have been set up for the eastern mahatmas by such writers as Sinnet and Blavatski and the writer now running a series of articles in the Arena. The News appreciates Kananda, not as a popular fad, but because he has come and delighted us with the things that are valuable for their own sake.
It was, of course,, not necessary to “wrest” a denunciation of miracle-working from Swamiji. With every lecture and every interview he gave – indeed, by his very presence – he established for all thinking people the distinction between true Eastern mysticism and mysterious occultism.
It is not surprising, however, in view of his extraordinary personality, that many people regarded him as a miracle-worker. Nor is iL surprising that stories confirming this assumption spread far and wide. One such story was told me out of the memory of Mrs. Frances Bagley Wallace, and concerns the reception her grandmother, Mrs. Bagley, held for Swamiji. Mrs. Wallace writes: “1 was only nine years old at the time, but
I remember that after being locked in Grandfather’s study at one end of the house, the Swami materialized in the center of the big parlor at the other end of the house where the guests were. When the prominent gentlemen who had locked him in the study and had pocketed the key returned and unlocked the door, there sat the Swami in the same position as he had been when they had locked him in there! ” This story is not altogether incredible, for £Uch materialization is not unknown. There is, for instance, an authentic story regarding Sri Ramakrishna, who, being at Dakshineswar temple, appeared at the same time in a city in East Bengal. What is difficult to believe, however, is that Swamiji would have submitted himself to such a test of his powers, or that lie would have used those powers to entertain and astound his friends. Although Mrs. Wallace is definite regarding the authenticity of her memory, a skeptic might be inclined to consider that she had been too young at the time to discriminate between rumor and fact. But however that may be, the story at least proves tbai fascinating rumors were current regarding Swamiji. It may well have been such rumors that reached the skeptical ears of the editor of the News and prompted him to write his sarcastic editorial.
In any case, Swamiji, with one stroke, absolved India of “Mahatmaism” as well as “heathenism” – a stroke which neither the Theosophists nor the missionaries thanked him for.
By the time Swamiji gave his third lecture, “The Divinity of Man,” at the Unitarian Church, on Saturday, February 17, the Detroit newspapers had recovered from their reticence and reported upon it at some length. The first two paragraphs of the report in the Free Press of February 18 have been quoted in “The Life” (fourth edition, page 335), and the next five paragraphs in Volume IV of “The Complete Works” under the title, “Is India a Benighted Country?”. But although much of the following article will be familiar to the reader, I will nevertheless reproduce it in its entirety, for it gives so excellent a picture of both Swamiji and his Detroit audience. Moreover, so far as I know, the last half of this report has not hitherto been reprinted:
Swami Vivekananda’s Lecture Last Evening.
Philosophy of Swedenborg from a Hindoo Source.
Fatalistic Qualities of the Ancient Indian Religion.
Unitarian Church Crowded to the Doors by Pleased Auditors.
Swami Vivekananda, Hindoo philosopher and priest, concluded his series of lectures, or, rather, sermons, at the Unitarian church last night, speaking on “The Divinity of God” [sic]. In spite of the bad weather, the church was crowded almost to the doors half an hour before the eastern brother – as he likes to be called – appeared. All professions and business
occupations were represented in the attentive audience – lawyers, judges, ministers of the gospel, merchants, a rabbi – not to speak of the many ladies who have by their repeated attendance and rapt attention shown a
decided inclination to shower adulation upon the dusky visitor whose drawing-room attraction is. as great as his ability in the rostrum.
The lecture last night was less descriptive than preceding ones, and for nearly two hours Vivekananda wove a metaphysical texture on affairs human and divine, so logical that he made science appear like common sense. It was a beautiful logical garment that he wove, replete with as many bright colors and as attractive and pleasing to contemplate as one of the many-hued fabrics made by hand in his native land and scented with the most seductive fragrance of the Orient. This dusky gentleman uses poetical imagery as an artist uses colors, and the hues are laid on just where they belong, the result being somewhat bizarre in effect, and yet having a peculiar fascination. Kaleidoscopic were the swiftly succeeding logical conclusions, and the deft manipulator was rewarded for his cfTorts from time to time by enthusiastic applause.
The lecture was prefaced with the statement that the speaker had been asked many questions. A number of these he preferred to answer privately, but three he had selected, for reasons which would appear, to answer from the pulpit. They were:
“Do the people of India throw their children into the jaws of the crocodiles ?”
“Do they kill themselves beneath the wheels of the juggernaut ?”
“Do they burn widows with their husbands?”
The first question the lecturer treated in the vein that an American abroad would answer inquiries about Indians running around in the streets of New York and similar myths which are even to-day entertained by many persons on the continent. The statement was too ludicrous to give a serious response to it. When asked by certain well-meaning but ignorant people why they gave only female children to the crocodiles, he could only ironically reply that probably it was because they were softer and more tender and could be more easily
masticated by the inhabitants of the rivers in the benighted country. Regarding the juggernaut legend the lecturer explained the old practice in the sacred city and remarked that possibly a few in their zeal to grasp the rope and participate in the drawing of the car slipped and fell and were so destroyed. Some such mishaps had been exaggerated into the distorted version from which the good people of other countries shrank with horror. Vivekananda denied that the people burned widows. It was true, however, that widows had burned themselves. In the few cases where this had happened, they had been urged not to do so by the priests and holy men who were always opposed to suicide. Where the devoted widows insisted, stating that they desired to accompany their husbands in the transformation that had taken place, they were obliged to submit to the fiery test. That is, they thrust their hands within the flames and if they permitted them to be consumed no furl her opposition was placed in the way of the fulfilment of their desires. But India is not the only country where women who have loved have followed immediately the loved one through the realms of immortality ; suicide in such cases have occurred in every land. It is an uncommon bit of fanaticism in any country ; as unusual in India as elsewhere. No, the speaker repeated, the people do not burn women in India ; nor have they ever burned witches.
Proceeding to the lecture proper, Vivekananda proceeded to analyze the physical, mental and soul attributes of life. The body is but a shell ; the mind something that acts but a brief and fantastic part; while the soul has distinct individuality in itself. To realize the infinity of self is to attain “freedom” which is the Hindoo word for “salvation.” By a convincing manner of argument the lecturer showed that every soul is something independent, for if it ‘were dependent, it could not acquire immortality. He related a story from the old legends of his country to illustrate the manner in which the realization of this may come to the
individual. A lioness leaping towards a sheep in the act gave birth to a cub. The lioness died and the cub was given suck by the sheep and (or many years thought itself a sheep and acted like one. But one day another lion appeared and led the first lion to a lake where he looked in and saw his resemblance to the other lion. At that he roared and realized the full majesty of self. Many people are like the lion masquerading as a sheep and get into a corner, call themselves sinners and demean themselves in every imaginable fashion, not yet seeing the perfection and divinity which lies in self. The ego of man and woman is the soul. If the soul is independent, how then can it be isolated from the infinite whole? Just as the great sun shines on a lake and numberless reflections are the result, so the soul is distinct like each reflection, although the great source is recognized and appreciated. The soul is sexless. When it has realized the condition of absolute freedom, what could it have to do with sex which is physical? In this connection the lecturer delved deeply into the waters of Swedenborgian philosophy, or religion, and the connection between the conviction of the Hindoo and the spiritual expressions of faith on the part of the more modern holy man was fully apparent. Swedenborg
seemed like a European successor of an early Hindoo
priest, clothing in more modern garb an ancient conviction ; a line of thought that the greatest of French philosophers and novelists saw fit to embody in his elevating tale of the perfect soul. Every individual has in himself perfection. ¦It lies within the dark recesses of his physical being. To say that a man has become good because God gave him a portion of His perfection is to conceive the Divine Being as God minus just so much perfection as he has imparted to a person on this earth. The inexorable law of science proves that the soul is individual and must have perfection within itself, the attainment of which means freedom, not salvation,, and the realization of individual infinity. Nature! God! Religion! It is all one.
The religions are all good. A bubbly 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. One religion is best adapted to a certain people because of habits of life, association, hereditary traits and climatic influences. Another religion is suited to another people for similar reasons. All that is, is best seemed to be the substance of the lecturer’s conclusions. To try abruptly to change a nation’s religion would be like a man who sees a river flowing from the Alps. He criticizes the way it has taken. Another man views the mighty stream descending from the Himalayas, a stream that has been running for generations and thousands of years, and says that it has not taken the shortest and best route. The Christian pictures God as a personal being seated somewhere above us. The Christian can not necessarily be happy in Heaven unless he can stand on the edge of the golden streets and from time to time gaze down into the other place and see the difference. Instead of the golden rule, the Hindoo believes in the doctrine that all non-self is good and all self is bad, and through this belief the attainment of the individual infinity and the freedom of the soul at the proper time will be fulfilled. How excessively vulgar, stated Vivekananda, was the golden rule! Always self! always self I was the Christian creed. To do unto others as you would be done by! It was a horrible, barbarous, savage creed, but he did not desire to decry the Christian creed, for those who are satisfied -with it to them it is well adapted. 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. Spiritualist (in the true acceptance of the word) and fatalist, Vivekananda emphasized his opinion that all was well and he had no desire to convert Christians. They were Christians; it was well. He was a Hindoo ; that, also, was well. In his country different creeds were
formulated for the needs of people of different grades of intelligence, all this marking the progress of spiritual evolution. The Hindoo religion was not one of self; ever egotistical in its aspirations, ever holding up promises of reward or threats of punishment. It shows to the individual he may attain infinity by non-self.
This system of bribing men to become Christians, alleged to have come from God, who manifested Himself to certain men on earth, is atrocious. It is horribly demoralizing and the Christian creed, accepted literally, has a shameful effect upon the moral natures of the bigots who accept it, retarding the time when the infinity of self may be attained.
The letter which Mary Funkc wrote to Swami Brahmananda and which has been published in the Vedanta Kesari, gives a much better picture of Swamiji in the process of answering questions than does the above report. Mary Funke writes:
“I remember that on his first visit to Detroit, when he was lecturing at the Unitarian Church, we were told that the Swami would be glad to answer any question we might wish to ask. The questions were to be written and put in a box one night and the Swami was to answer them publicly the evening following. Many of the questions submitted were serious, others were trivial and flat. Of course, some ninny asked the same old question about Hindu mothers throwing their babies to the crocodiles, etc. I noticed the Swami shrink as he read it and then came a smile of merry mischief and he told in a half serious, half comic manner how, when he was a baby, his mother took him to the Ganges but that lj£, was ‘such a fat little baby the crocodiles refused to swallow me’; and he added facetiously, ‘whenever I feel badly about being such a fat monk, I think of how I was saved from the crocodiles and am comforted/ Then he suddenly became very serious, even stern, drew himself up proudly and in tones of thunder hurled forth, ‘But, ladies and gentlemen, we, I assure you, never burned witches/ This brought down the house and there was cheer after cheer, for an American audience enjoys a joke on itself and none of us are proud of the burning of witches at Salem” (Actually,
Swamiji gave this retort in connection with widows, not crocodiles.)
To continue with the newspaper reports of this Saturday evening lecture: The Tribune reporter, perhaps the same who
had earlier heard “giants” for “Jains,” this time heard “bury” for “burn” ; but otherwise, with the exception of Swamiji’s statements regarding the golden rule, he seems to have reported more or less accurately:
THEIR OWN CHOICE
That Story About Burying Widows Alive.
Swami Vivekananda’s Version of an Old Custom of India.
The Practice Forbidden by One Emperor, but It Grew Again Until Stopped by the English – Religious Fanatics in All Religions.
Swami_Vivekananda at the Unitarian Church last night declared that widows were never buried alive in India through religion or law, but the act in all cases had been voluntary on the part of the women. The practice had been forbidden by one emperor, but it had gradually grown again until a stop was put to it by the English government. Fanatics existed in all religions, the Christian as well as the Hindu. Fanatics in India had been known to hold iheir hands over their heads in penance for so long a time that the arm had gradually grown stiff in that position,, and so remained ever after. So, too, men had made a vow to stand still in one position. These persons would in time lose all control of the lower limbs and never after be able to walk. All religions were true, and the people practiced morality, not because of any divine command, but because of its own good. Hindus, he said,did not believe in conversion,calling it perversion. Associations, surroundings and educations were responsible for the great number of religions, and how foolish it was for an exponent of one religion to declare that another man’s belief was wrong. It was as reasonable as a man from Asia coming to America and after viewing the course of the Mississippi to say to it: “You are running entirely wrong. You will have to go Backto the starting place and commence it all over again.” It would be just as foolish for a man in America to visit the Alps and after following the course of a river to the German Sea to inform it that its course was too tortuous and that the only remedy would be to flow as directed. The golden rule, he declared, was as old as the earth itself and to it could be traced all rules of morality [sic]. Man is a bundle of selfishness. He thought the hell fire theory was all nonsense. There could not be perfect happiness when it was known that suffering existed. He ridiculed the manner some religious persons have while praying. The Hindu, he said, closed his eyes and communed with the inner spirit, while some Christians he had seen had seemed to stare at some point as if they saw God seated upon his heavenly throne. In the matter of religion there were two extremes, the bigot and the atheist. There was some good in the atheist, but the bigot lived only for his own little self. He thanked some anonymous person who had sent him a picture of the heart of Jesus. This he thought a manifestation of bigotry. Bigots belong to no religion. They are a singular phenomena [sic].
This same paper (the Detroit Tribune, February 18), discussed the importance of Swamiji’s first three lectures – “Manners and Customs of India,” “Hindu Philosophy,” and “The Divinity of Man” – in an editorial entitled “The Hindu Among Us”:
People whose ideas of India and its inhabitants are chiefly derived from the school book pictures of the Hindu mother standing on the bank of the Ganges and
throwing her baby to a crocodile, an£ of the great car of juggernaut rolling over and crushing scores of devotees, must be a good deal astonished to hear a native Hindu like Swami Vivekananda talk for an hour or two before intelligent American audiences, and hold their attention to the point of absolute silence, upon the customs, philosophy and religion of his own country. This heathen 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 unequaled among all the speakers whose words are familiar to our ears in public addresses. His intellect is agile in a way that is marvelous, and if he stabs a belief or a custom which is distasteful to him he always does it with a needle and not with a pike-staff. His method is not like that of our conventional speakers. In his habit of moving about on the stage and talking sometimes in a way that suggests a soliloquy, he reminds one of John Fiske [a popular lecturer on Darwinism, etc.].
It is not necessary for one to be a Hindu, or to have any sympathy with the Hindu system of religious belief, to appreciate and enjoy a man like Vive Kananda who has given a course of three lectures here in the last week. He could apparently go on without much effort and talk for a dozen successive evenings with a new topic and fresh thoughts for every night. It would be hard to imagine him reading from a manuscript or coming to an end of his discourse except for the reason that his time was up. He is not what is called a “talkative” man by any means, but when he is making a talk in the way of a lecture his fluency and readiness and nicety of expression are beyond praise.
It is a good sign when Christians are willing to hear all that can be said about religions other than their own. It is a hopeful state of affairs when a distinguished Christian can meet a distinguished Hindu and listen respectfully to what he has to offer. The congress of religions at Chicago may be said to have marked an
epoch in the histqry of beliefs. It showed the advocates of diverse faiths that they all had something to learn from each other. It was a great and fruitful experiment in the field of religious toleration. One result has been the appearance of this distinguished Hindu in our midst. It would not hurt us to listen to a disciple of Mahomet and another of Confucius. The study of religions by comparison is not an old science but it is one that marks in a very useful way the progress of the nineteenth century.
This was, of course, the voice of liberal Christianity – -a voice, which, added to Swamiji’s own, was enough to drive missionary-minded Christians into a veritable frenzy. Swamiji’s opponents, however, almost invariably based their criticism upon written reports of his lectures. Because of this, a whole week went by and he had already left Detroit before the pulpits resounded with attacks against his provocative Saturday evening lecture, “The Divinity of Man” which was not printed until Sunday morning – too late for the sermons.
In the meantime, the liberal ministers who had heard his lecture had much to say. On Sunday, February 18, the Reverend Reed Stuart of the Unitarian Church delivered a sermon entitled, “The Gate Opening Toward the East,” and Rabbi Grossman of the Temple Beth El spoke on “What Vivekananda Has Taught Us.” Condensed versions of both these sermons wefe given in the Detroit. Journal of February 19. The Detroit Tribune of the same date, however, gave a oaore complete text of each. The following articles are condensations of the Tribune reports:
Rev. Reed Stuart preached a sermon on “The Gate Opening Toward the East” at the Unitarian Church yesterday morning. The subject was suggested by the recent lectures of Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu priest. Kananda was in Mr. Stuart’s congregation yesterday morning, and he nodd.ed his head in approval at frequent intervals during the discourse.
Mr. Stuart said: “… As persons are, so they think and as they think they act. Thus, sciences, governments, arts, philosophers, religions, are the product of temperament ; and temperament is largely a product of latitude and longitude and material surroundings.
“Nowhere is this diversity more apparent than between the east and west. The eastern mind deals with the larger aspect of things ; the western with the minute and mcasurcable. The one believes in the All ; the other also believes in the All, but separates it into the Many. The one unites, the other divides. The one believes in infinity ; the other in boundaries. The one meditaLes ; the other acts. . . . The one thinks of nature as an illusion and something to be freed from. The OLher faces nature, analyzes it, and sets it to work for him. . . . The one has given philosophy ; the other science. The east has given religion ; the west has given creeds. . . .
“The interesting young lecturer from India pleads that those of his countrymen who have given themselves up wholly to meditation shall be left to ply their avocation undisturbed. The more critical and incisive intellects from other nations should not molest them in their pleasant dreams. His plea ought to be granted. But to grant that, wholesale condemnation need not be passed upon all those who are gifted with power of action, or mixing their thoughts with nature and events and turning them to use for the welfare of humanity. . . .
“Civilization is not a fixed quantity. It implies a mysterious progress. It is mounting up a spiral stairway, the first step of which lies hidden now in the black abyss where the brute began to fade and the human began to appear – where soul gained its first triumph over sense – and whose last step is still hidden in the empyrean. Mankind is slowly and laboriously passing along it. The nations are all groups upon it at different stages. Some are higher than others. But no one is high enough to begin to boast. What they should do is to make a sympathetic comparison of the excellencies of each, and exchange good for good for the benefit of all humanity, and not make a hostile contrast between the best of one and the worst of the other. There is no need for any nation to send missionaries half around the world merely to point out the defects of another nation. Whatever exchange there is should be in kind. One excellence should be added to another excellence. Our missionaries who have returned have told us only of the vices of the East. When they were there they only told of the virtue of the Christian civilization of the West. They told of the peace and purity and gentleness of Christianity. When they came home they told us of the vices of paganism. The books they wrote abounded in illustrations of the car of Juggernaut and the deluded mortals casting themselves under the wheels ; of widows burning themselves upon the burial pyre of their husbands ; of devotees torturing themselves in many ways; of aged parents exposed to die of neglect; of mothers flinging their babies into the jaws of hideous crocodiles. Whatever good there was was all concealed from us.
“It would have been better for them and for us if they had told all the truth. Now that the East is sending missionaries to the West, it is to be hoped that they will not make the same mistake. They can go home and tell that so many in every thousand become murderers ; many become thieves; that intemperance is widespread ; that divorces are frequent; that there is much public and private dishonesty; that infanticide is not unknown. It would be easy to convince their countrymen that America is a complete failure, and that Christianity is a religion of cruelty, fraud and superstitions. If they do this they will only do what our missionaries have done in the past. How much wiser and how much better for the world if they would go and find what is good in each civilization and carrying it Backwould make it common property. The ivory of one nation would make a fine setting for the gold of
another nation. The spirituality of the East ought to be set in the practical reason of the West. . . .
“There is a demand becoming now quite general for a freer and larger religion. That we have gone to excess in our zeal for exact definitions and measurements there cannot be much doubt. Around religion we have built doctrinal and verbal barriers. It was all confined to one ancient book. Or it was crowded into a dogma, and put into the pigeon holes the sects had made and labeled as their own. . . .
“There is a growing disposition to remedy that mistake. It is seen in the unrest now prevalent in ail the sects. . . . The time seems to be full of promise.
Men are looking through the gate which opens toward the East, and see streaming through it the glory of the ideal, of the infinite – the splendor of that universe which lies beyond sense. . . .”
The Reverend Reed Stuart was perhaps a little cautious in making comparisons between East and West, but not so Rabbi Grossman. The rabbi, whose sermon follows, later became a devoted friend of Swamiji. It was at his temple that Swamiji lectured when he revisited Detroit in 1896:
A GOD EVERY DAY
Rabbi Grossman is Refreshed by Swami Vivekananda
Hails the Words of the Talented Hindu as Great Wisdom
The Lesson of Universal Brotherhood Taught by the Indian – Too Much Creed about the Beliefs of the West and Not Enough of True Religion.
Dr. Grossman, of the Temple Beth El, yesterday morning spoke on “What Vivekananda Has Taught Us” He said:
“It was refreshing to hear the healthy sense of Kananda after the morbid ecstacy of the Chapman revival. After listening to his truly natural religion one is not quite sure but there is more heathenism in this land of ours than ever we charged to his people. His religion goes beyond the limits of creed. Our creeds often go beyond the decent limits of religion. . . . Kananda says his Sanscrit has no word for persecution, but our language, our theology, our history, our life, is infected with a brood of such terms and our society is only the truce, and hostilities in it never cease. A quarrel about a vowel and the fine deduction of the scholiasts from it set Europe afire with zealotry. That word [homoiousion or homoousion] was written out with the blood of nations. What has not bigotry done? It has stalked, death in every step, over fertile iields and peaceful homes. It has torn parents from children, and children from parents, and today its gaunt hand is raised in secret against fellow-citizens and neighbors. Thank God, that at last, today, it must shrink from the light and is driven to its last despair.
“For years the churches have had missionaries to India, to China, and to the rest of the heathens. Good money, and what is more, the good will of the people have been put into the proselyting work, while all along our poor were at our door, and the charity, which was so much needed here, was turned into an enterprise as sanctimonious as it was distant. Every day hundreds pine away their dreary, somber lives in the tenement houses of New York, in tfR! miserable back-yard shanties of our own city. The ministration of kind people might have cheered many a despondent soul, might have manned many an exhausted laborer, might have refreshed lives and rescued children from the infection and contagion of impoverished morality, but missionaries had to go to the ‘heathen.’ How, in this good and sympathetic country of ours, such an illusion, I will not say delusion, could enthrall* the robust and sound-sensed citizens, I do not un4erstand. Kananda has told us something o£ the heathen with a clearness, with a precision, with a candor, which puts to shame the confused and vehement pretension which so long has usurped an unrighteous prestige in church and religion.
“Religion is life, not thought. We have many ideas, iine, elegant notions, but they lloat in the air. Our religion deals with great ideas, but in catechisms only. The ilesh and the blood of the average man has not yet been disciplined into the noble, natural sense, which is as reliable as it is sufficient. We talk of brotherhood, but insult freely a fellowman who happens to live in the Kast. Our theology makes free to condemn dissenters to hell and our priests and preachers are Loo busy in peopling the lower world to notice they are at the same time despoiling the world, for many, of its beauty, and charm and divine attractiveness. . . . We westerners, we have a God in the sky. Kananda has a God on earth. Our spirit [God] from the beginning is divinely idle save when unfortunate persons who pray unctuously every Sunday give Him something to do and send Him on multifarious errands of grace. Let us learn from the Hindu the lesson that God lives and reigns, now and ever, that God is in every (lower of the (ield ; in every breath of the air ; in every throb of our blood.
‘I take your Jesus,’ Kananda said last Saturday
evening. I take him 10 my heart as I take all the great
and good of all lands and of all times. But you, will you take my Krishna to your heart? No – you cannot, you dare not – still you are the cultured and I am the heathen/
“Here is the contrast, the great fatal ilaw in Christianity. It is a sect, a restricted, limited sect, not that responsive absorpture [sic], great world-thought and world-fact of a brotherhood. Oh, we say much of something like brotherhood and of equality and such things. True words. But you hear your pastor in the pulpit, that’s one thing, do you see the facts of practice? That’s another.
“The Hindu is hospitable – Aditi’ [Atithi, guest],
cries the child into the door of the house, though the family be the poorest. ‘Aditi’ is the charm that opens all the floodgates of hospitality, and the guest is sacred. Contrast our parlor hypocrisies. The church is a holy place – oh, so it is, on Sunday for two hours. But not even on Sunday evening, that’s the time for the young to come in pairs, as if to a party, which is as cheap as it is guileless. But to a people of 5,000 years of domestic virtue and neighborly rectitude every day is holy and every spot earnest and significant. . .
Both these sermons reflected the current dissatisfaction with Christian orthodoxy and the need for a vital religion undivorced from the intellectual, emotional and social conditions of the modern world. It was a need which Swamiji’s teachings both stimulated and filled. But the Evening News, which in a later article called itself “an arbiter of the truth and an impartial friend or critic of all creeds and dogmas,” took a somewhat resentful attitude toward the idea that the West could learn from the East. Rabbi Grossman’s talk on “What Vivekananda Has Taught Us” did not sit too well with the editor of the News, as is evidenced by the following excerpts of an editorial that appeared on February 20:
THE WONDERFUL LUCK OF SWAMI KANANDA
Swami Vivekananda may well pray his gods to save him from his American friends. This oriental gentleman came to Detroit last week and conducted himself in a manner to win all hearts. In personal appearance his very eye is suggestive of deep spirituality; in social converse he is delightful; on the lecture platform he is eloquent and persuasive. But the moment this distinguished personage became a temporary guest of Detroit, his admirers began to make him the fad of the hour. Though he did not give to the people of this city a single utterance that added to their previous knowledge
of things in the heavens above or in the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth, yet he was pushed to the front in private conversation and in editorials as the possessor of knowledges more wonderful than have ever been revealed to the occidental world.
Sunday the pulpit took up the fad, and Dr. Gross-mann, of Temple Beth El, devoted the time usually allotted to a sermon to encomiums of the things that Kananda said in Detroit, as if that gentleman said a single thing that the students of Christian literature are not perfectly familiar with. . . .
It is true that Rabbi Grossmann pointed out yesterday a thing or two that distinguishes, or which he concedes as distinguishing, oriental from occidental modes of thought. For instance, he points out that Kananda claims for the Sanscrit language that it has no word for what we call persecution. But does not the good rabbi know that neither has the English language any such word? It is probable that the Hindu monk did not know the meaning of the word “persecute” when he made that ridiculous comparison. We ourselves had to borrow the word from the Latins, and its meaning is nothing more horrid than to “follow up.” The English is quite as lacking as the Sanscrit in a single word that expresses the idea of continuous pursuance with the purpose of injuring. Does the friend of Kananda believe that the Sanscrit has no way of expressing the
idea of persecution? Does he believe Kananda if he
says that the Hindu man never followed up to injure a Hindu man? And will Kananda look an intelligent occidental in the face with those great honest eyes of his and affirm that his language would have no word to express the act if a Hindu should suddenly take to persecuting another Hindu? . . .
(The remainder of this editorial consists of the paragraph, earlier quoted, which tells of how the News “wrested testimony” from Swamiji regarding miracles.)
Although those ministers who were, to say the least, not in
accord with Swamijhhad missed his Saturday night lecture, they undoubtedly found ample subject matter for many a sermon in his first and second lectures – particularly the first, in which he had said, with emphasis, that India was morally head and shoulders above the United States or any other nation on the globe and that missionaries would do well to learn from her. Unfortunately, the first Sunday sermons preached against Swamiji are not available, but that they existed is evidenced from the following letter, written by one of his anonymous defenders. This letter, which appeared in the Free Press of February 23, also gives a little information regarding the almost constant ”following up” that Swamiji underwent:
Praise For Kananda
To the Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
Much has been said about Swami Vivekananda’s attacks on the Christian religion. I do not think any one who has heard his lectures can truthfully say he has attacked the religion itself – that is, what Jesus taught. On the contrary, he has ever spoken with love and reverence of Jesus and His work. What he has done is to denounce the outward expression of so-called Christianity, the creeds, dogmas, superstitions and bigotry which degrade our faith on the one hand, and the dishonesty, cruelty, intolerance and utter selfishness which dominate our social and business life on the Other. lie has told us that in India with its population of 300,000,000 in about half the area of the United States, no one acluallfsuffers for food if food is to be had ; that only in time of famine, when there is no food, are any allowed to want. He that hath freely gives to him that hath not. What does he see in this country to day, this country of twice the area of his own and only 65,000,000 of people? Hundreds and thousands cold and starving and half clad, not through a failure of the food supply, not because there is not plenty of fuel in the land, not because we have no wool and cotton for clothing – for there is an abundance
and to spare of all these, so that none may suffer – but because of our false industrial conditions, because of our selfish greed and grasping, every man for himself regardless of his brother man, so that the few have almost all, the many scarce nothing [sic]. is this Christianity, what Jesus meant when he said “l.ovc thy neighbor as thyself”? I deny it.
Also, when we come to know the facts as to how Kananda has been treated personally, is it to be wondered at that he has told us some caustic truths about ourselves? In Chicago he was maligned and persecuted by fanatical women- Amci ican women, think of it! Ill this city he has been assailed with most insulting leLtcrs in nearly every mail. Bcloie he eer addressed one word to Lhe public here, a woman, be it said to her shame, took it upon herself to attack and most unkindly denounce him to his face in a house to which she was invited as a guest to meet him. He has also been imposed upon and most unjustly dealt with in the management of his lecture tour through his lack of knowledge of our laws and our custom to overreach and take every mean advantage we can in business. He has been preached against in almost savage tenns from some of our orthodox pulpits by ministers who know nothing of what he has said except by the newspaper reports, which, I think, were inadequate and greatly misleading. How dare these men pronounce upon him without first hearing him! “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
Under these circumstances, is it astonishing that he has told us some of our faults? Indeed, I think he has been exceedingly mild and temperate. It seems to me it is a good thing for us that people outside the Christian world should come and tell us how we appear to them. Give us more Kananda not less, to make us see ourselves as others see us, say I. How is it that we, who claim to worship the gentle Nazarene, who gave us a gospel of toleration and love, were ever ready in the past to kill and torture, and are in the present eager to bitterly attack and persecute those who differ from us? Our preachers preach the universal brotherhood of man, and yet, when the eastern brother comes to us, we have nothing but contumely for him. How can we expect him to form any opinion of us other than he has?
And yet, Kananda, judge us not all to be so narrow and unfeeling. There are some of us, not many, I am sorry to say, who really try to strip our minds of the dogmas and superstitions that have somehow attached themselves to our faith, and to truly follow the humble and lender teacher of Judea, whose love included the whole world, and all of us extend to you the hand of welcome and of fellowship, and say to you, “brother.”
This letter from “Justitia” started off a controversy in the Detroit Free Press letter column, “From Our Readers,” that lasted through Fcbruaiy. The main issue was whether or not one had to heai and see Swamiji before one could be in a position to judge him. Although this controversy was fruitless, it is revealing of the fact that those who had seen and heard him were convinced that he was no mere lecturer, but a power, and that to see and hear him was an experience, the essence of which one could not communicate through words. It is evident that Swamiji’s lectures, significant as they are, were but a small fraction of what he gave to America through the tremendous vitality of his presence. Furthermore, those who heard him always spoke of his “mild manner,” “his liberal, generous and holy spirit” – and so forth. On reading his lectures, his criticisms, though rare, seem sometimejHftrastic; yet he was never harsh, and except for his enemies, his hearers seldom took offense at his rebukes, for such was his love for all men and such was his uplifting power, that few felt from him anything but benediction. The following letters are indicative of this, and I believe they are also indicative of the general ferment and excitement that Swamiji created in Detroit. “Justitia” and “One Who Heard All The Lectures” are no doubt representative of hundreds who heard him, and* “Occidental” of hundreds who didn’t hear him and perhaps of some who did.
The first response to “Justitia” from “Occidental” appeared the Detroit Free Press of February 25:
To The Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
Being one of those found fault with in a communication in Friday morning’s Free Press for assuming to criticise Mr. Kananda without having heard him, it seems eminently proper to state my position. Mr. Kananda has been thrust upon me as a subject for discussion without my asking. Some of my most intimate and cordial friends, who have heard the Hindoo monk, have not hesitated to discuss the subject matter of one or more of his addresses in my presence, thereby inevitably thrusting upon me the position of defending my own tenets of faith or giving silent consent to those of the discussion. And now, forsooth, one is told that he must have heard the addresses in order to deal fairly with the subject.
My position is like this, which is formulated merely from the statements of what my friends have heard.
The conviction is strongly impressed on my mind that this man of the east is as great a trickster with facts as some of his native prestidigitators are with eggs, or other material objects, making them appear and disappear at pleasure. Don’t infer from this, please, a fear on my part of having my religious faith shaken by what he might say ; this would imply a decided lack of steadfastness, but rather infer a scorning to hear sacred truths handled in a spirit savoring in the least of unfairness or charlatanism.
And now please follow me through one or two examples of this lack of fairness in Mr. Kananda’s method of treating Christianity. In the course of one of his discussions he read letters or extracts of letters that had been addressed to him here. One of these he statecl contained a picture, for which he desired to return thanks, which picture he further stated was called
“The Heart of Our Savior” Of course it was only necessary to make such a statement without comment to cause a sardonic smile to ripple over an audience of Christian believers, to say nothing of the emotions caused in the skeptics present. However, Mr. Kananda must have known that he thus implied an exhibition of a synonym of our religion, whereas, and notwithstanding any amount of gentlest sentiment that might cluster around such a symbol of our Savior’s love for the sender, ninety-nine persons out of every hundred would say, and ought to say, on sober second thought, that there was more sentiment than sense in thus placing a weapon of ridicule in an opponent s hands. But is this a fair way to deal with such a sacred subject, may I ask?
Again, Mr. Kananda stated that one inquirer wished to know whether or not they burned widows in his country. ‘To this he replied by condoning the fact that wjdows burned themselves, as he stated, and added: “We do not burn witches i.n.jndia” Here is exhibited the same spirit of unfairness and ridicule. Docs Mr. Kananda mean to seriously imply that we condone the burning of witchcs as a tenet of our religious faith, or that the Christian world ever did so?
We assume to be progressive, if anything, and assert with little fear of controversion [sic] that Christianity has done more to humanize mankind, wherever founded, than any or all other religions. Then, why this implication by Mr. Kananda? Undoubtedly we have the Spanish inquisition, the Scottish kitk and the Salem, Mass., episodes to blush for in connection with the followers of our faith, but we have not, thank heaven, such scenes as attended the Sepoy insurrection as a recent heritage from the humanizing influences of Christianity.
Let me suggest, in closing, that if any friends conclude to serenade Mr. Kananda before he leaves our city, that they may secure a .Scotch band to play “The Campbells are Coming,” which, it will be remembered,
was the first sound to greet the ears of the besieged at Lucknow and notify them that relief was at hand.
Detroit, February 24.
Before “Justitia” had a chance to answer this diatribe, she gained an ally in “One Who Heard All The Lectures”:
Doesn’t Think Hearsay Will Do.
To the Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
I observed a communication in this morning’s Free Press from one who signs himself “Occidental.” The writer states that one cannot judge Kananda, so he is told, unless lie has heard the monk. The writer of the communication expresses surprise that he is not capable of judging him from what his friends have told him about the lectures. Jt seems to me that one could as easily criticise one of Raphael’s pictures from hearsay as to express an opinion about anyone without having heard him. T could just as accurately pass an opinion upon one of Mozart’s operas from having heard a friend hum or whistle a few arias as this writer can upon the Brahman visitor without either having met him or having listened to him. Under the circumstances it seems supremely stupid either to sit in judgment or even to venture to express an opinion, no matter how pompous the writer may he in the way he words his opinions. In confessing to ignorance of the monk, the writer stamps his ideas of him at once as totally valueless and unworthy of more than passing mention. One should realize that hearsay cannot be depended upon ; after statements have passed through a few hands they emerge in all kinds of distorted forms, and this meager and misleading information is all that the writer has to base his opinions upon. Without in any way desiring to eulogize Kananda, it might not be amiss to respectfully advise the writer of the communication under consideration to go and hear the monk when he
again comes here, to digest carefully what he says, sleep over it, throw away from his clouded intellect all habiliments of prejudice and then, after praying and fasting for a time, write another letter to The Free Press, giving his estimate of the character of the visitor’s religious teachings.
I was at the lecture and heard what Kananda said about witches. He cast no reflection on Christians. What he said was that, so far as widows being thrown into the flames by the people of his country was concerned, no facts could bear out the exaggerated statements of travelers relating thereto. After refuting the falsehood, he added, but in “India they never did burn witches.” So much for this alleged fling at Christianity. The conclusion of the letter is unworthy of serious consideration. In India Kananda says that the Hindoos receive the Christian missionaries in the spirit of tolerance. They smile at them and say: “Let them go
ahead. They are children in religion. Let them amuse themselves.” They regard them with a broad philosophical smile. How differently have we treated a single Hindoo missionary? We haven’t stoned him or tried to boil him in a pot in a cannibal fashion, but we have assailed him with mean, anonymous letters, calling him
all kinds of vilifying names and have politely informed
him, without signing any names, that there was a warm place waiting for him hereafter, and we have robbed him of the funds to which he is entitled as a lecturer. No wonder he feels bitter toward Americans as a money-loving country when heHias realized hardly nothing from his lectures for the grand object he has in view – -the establishment of an educational institution in India – while his unscrupulous managers have reaped nearly all. Kananda knows not the value of money. He was an easy mark for speculating managers. I am not a profound admirer of Kananda, but I like to see a square deal given everyone even if he is a “heathen.”
One Who Heard All the Lectures. Detroit, February 25.
“Occidental,” who, on the whole, dqes not appear to have been very bright, evidently confused “One Who Heard All the Lectures” with his original opponent “Justitia,” and answered as though carrying on the same correspondence:
To the Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
It appears that “One Who Heard All the Lectures” (Kananda’s) still insists that a person must at least hear the oriental, whether inclined that way or not, in order to enter into an intelligent discussion of the subject matter of his discourses. But, unhappily for me, there is added both penance and prayer before my condition will be fitted for this exalted privilege. And it is hinted at in the Raphael simile that one must see as well as hear Kananda before a just estimate of his discourses can be formed ; be ifc. known, therefore, that Occidental must have seen him once, having occupied a front seat at the opening of the world’s congress of religious bodies. However, isn’t all this simply absurd?
Suppose the Hindoo’s addresses had received that attention that “One Who Heard All the Lectures” regards as requisite, must another person surrender at command every opinion formed by forty years of casual reading as well as those resulting from conversations with an intimate acquaintance (a missionary’s son), born in India, who grew to young manhood there, speaking their language and singing their songs, merely on Kananda’s statements?
Having heard and seen the Hindoo, is it not possible that some might not be better prepared to discuss the questions involved than before: besides, in this country is it not usual to defend opinions when they are assailed without such formality as this case seems to demand?
Sympathy is extended to the disappointment manifested over the financial failure of Kananda’s undertaking, but if he also failed to make converts here, please
regard the sympathy as ending with the money questions involved.
In conclusion, please receive assurance that nothing has been said less complimentary of Kananda than he has said collectively of all American men and women.
February 27, 1894
But it was “Justitia” who had the last word. In the same column as the above letter, appeared her reply to “Occidental’s” previous one.
“Justitia” to “Occidental.”
To The Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
Referring to the letter of “Occidental” in reply to my former communication, I am pleased to see the gentleman realized his position requited defense. He admits that the inquisition, Scottish kirk and Salem persecutions were stains upon our past, but from his manner of referring to the Sepoy insurrections as a recent outcome of the eastern faith, one is led to infer that he would have us think we have no blots upon our modern life to blush for. In the first place, the Sepoy rebellion was not altogcthei a religious matter. It was the rising of a subject people against a foreign invader, and would never have occurred if the English had kept their hands off India. It was not a case of fratricidal strife of the people among Acmselvcs. Let us look at Christendom. Has the gentleman forgotten the French revolution, an internal outbreak of Lhc people against rulers of their own blood and faith, the atrocities of which certainly equaled, if they did not surpass, those of the Sepoy mutiny? And yet France had been Christian for centuries. Coining to our own time and country, has he also forgotten the war of the rebellipn, which emphatically was one of.brother against brother, where we sprung to cut one another’s throats in the
heart of our own nation, and the,horrors of whose Andersonvillc and Libby prisons, at least, were not far behind those he refers to? And yet we were Christians, and so were our forefathers for genciations before us. Kananda does not claim that his religion and civilization contain all the good there is in the world and ours all the bad. Neither should we, I think, arrogate to ourselves all the good and ascribe to his land all the bad. Let us be actuated by a broad spirit of charity and remove the beam from our own eyes before we attempt to do so for others. As to the principles upon which our civilization and faith aie founded, there are none grander. Let us live up to them.
In conclusion, I would ask the reverend brother whether he thinks such preaching and writing as he has indulged in exemplify a gospel of love. Also, would a brass band serenading Kananda with “The Campbells Are Coming” be Jesus’ way to bring the stranger within our gates to a realizing sense of the “humanizing” influence of Christianity?
Detroit, February 26.
This was the end of (he matter, “Occidental” no doubt went on thinking as he thought, but for nearly a month he wrote no more lctiers, or if he did, they were not published.
While we are on the subject of letters, a curious one appeared in the Detroit Free Press letter column during the progress of Lhe above controvcisy. It is diflicult to know just what the writer was endeavoring to prove, but whatever it may have been, his letter stands as added testimony to the fact that Swamiji’s statements were not taken lightly by anyone. They were either vehemently resented or heartily endorsed. In this age of transition, in which Western civilization was beginning to re-examine its foundations and structure, Swamiji, as has been pointed out, championed the reforming and progressive spirit of America. The liberal forces rallied round him, while the reactionary forces attacked him with any weapon they could – even citing at length,the ancient laws of Manu. The letter in question read in part as follows:
Hindoo vs. Christian Civilization and Law.
To the Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
In view of the fact that this community has been recently favored with the presence of a distinguished and learned Hindoo monk – Kananda – who expressed himself freely, as he had an undoubted right to do, in criticism of our “Christian” civilization, I am tempted to devote a leisure hour or two in laying before the multitude of your readers, a few scattered points of Hindoo law, as taken from Sir William Jones’ “Institutes of Hindoo Law,” being a translation of the “Ordinances of Manu.”
The laws of a nation are the best criterion of its civilization. The extracts herewith presented – like the early statutes or ordinances of the Puritans in this land – may have been, many of them, repealed; but do not both tend to show the fact, as the monk is reported to have stated, of a kinship of both peoples to the ancient Aryan race, with the Sanscrit language in common? I quote: “In the Hindoo law of Baron and Feme we find many judicious enactments. Thus every Hindoo is enjoined not to marry ‘a girl with reddish hair,’ or ‘with inflamed eyes/ or who is ‘immoderately talkative/ but one who ‘walks gracefully like a phenecopteros (?) or like a young elephant.* By way of insuring respect for the Feme (woman) in theanarried state, the Baron is very properly forbidden ‘to eat with his wife or look at her eating or sneezing, or yawning, or sitting carelessly at her ease.* The gentleman is also himself enjoined not ‘to read lolling on a couch, nor with his feet raised on a bench, nor with his thighs crossed, nor having lately swallowed meat.* “
The mode of recovering a debt is much the same as under the Grutoo law: “By.whatever means a Lawful creditor may have gotten possession of his own property,
let the king ratify such payment by t)he debtor, though obtained even by compulsory means. By the mediation of friends, by suit in court, by artful management, or by distress, a creditor may recover the property lent, and fifthly by legal force.” [Here follows a solid column of ancient Hindu laws which are not pertinent to nineteenth century America. The writer, no doubt a lawyer, ends his letter with the following plea:]
I ask the admirers and apologists of this monk if the standard of civilization is the regulated liberty enjoyed by and the enlightened intelligence possessed by the individual in a nation, about how much inferior are the American people of to-day to this priest-ridden people of Hindoostan?
Hamilton Gay Howard.
Detroit, February 23, 1894
While Swamiji was making enemies among the “blue-nosed,” “hard-shelled” and “soft-shelled” fanatics, he was at the same time making numerous friends among the cultural and intellectual circles of Detroit. Readers of “The Life” know from the letters of Mrs. Baglcy how deeply he was respected in that “old conservative city,” and how much sought after. Perhaps no day went by during his stay in Detroit that he was not entertained. “We all enjoyed every day of the six weeks he spent with us,” Mrs. Bagley writes. “. . . He was invited by the different clubs of gentlemen m Detroit, and dinners were given him in beautiful homes so that greater numbers might meet him and talk with him and hear him talk . . . and everywhere and at all times he was, as he deserved to be, honoured and respected.”
A report in the “Personal and Social” column of the Detroit, Journal of Monday, February 19, tells of the various luncheons, teas and dinners given for Swamiji during his first week in Detroit. Although the following item seems somewhat
confused, it at least indicates that he was often and elaborately entertained, or, more to the point, that many people came into close con tael with him, conversed with him and absorbed something of liis thought, and who knows how much of his spirit;
“PERSONAL AND SOCIAL”
Charles L. Freer gave a small reception and supper Saturday evening in honour of Swami Vivekananda.
The guests were George H. Russel, William H. Wells, Bryant Walker, l)r. F. W. Mann, Fred H. Seymour,John N. Bagley, Joseph H. lirewster, L. A. McCreary,
John C. Grout, Capt. Gardiner, Charles M. Swift, F. T. Sibley, Harr) W. Skinner. Dr. Devendorf, T. S. Jerome,Dr. Jennings, I. T. Cowles, L. F. Schultz, George Mason,
Zacli Rice, S. T. Douglass, George Nettleton, George S. Hosmcr and Rev. Reed Stuart.
A number of fashionable and private entertainments were given last week in honor of the social lion of the day, Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk. Tuesday evening [?] Miss Helen Baglcy gave a luncheon at the Detroit club to a favored few. Thursday evening, the evening after the large public reception given by Mrs. John J. Baglcy, at the family residence on Washing-ton-avo., a select tea was given by Mrs. Baglcy. Friday evening C. L. Freer entertained the Witenagamote club at his home on Ferry-ave., for Mr. Kananda. A number of other guests were present. All of these entertainments were very elaborate affairs.
Mr. Charles I.. Freer was a young railway and industrial capitalist – a partner in the Michigan-Peninsular Car Company, which was the largest car-building enterprise in the country. Huge fortunes were made readily in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and, as has been pointed out, even before the advent of the automobile Detroit was a city of industry and wealth. For the most part, wealthy industrialists were absorbed in making and spending their. fortunes. But Freer was an exception to the rule. “By one of those subtle alchemies of
personality that escape logic,” one account of him tells, his interest was centered in Oriental art. Charles Freer gathered what is said to be the greatest collection of Chinese and Japanese masterpieces ever brought together in America. This entire collection he later gave to the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D. C., together with the building which houses it. Although Freer did not start to gather his masterpieces in earnest until he retired in 1900, very likely his house already showed signs of becoming a museum of Oriental art when Swamiji dined there in 1894.
It seems unfortunate that those who knew Swamiji in the various American cities he visited were not contacted during their lifetime. What a wealth of anecdotes could have been gathered! But at least two incidents, which could have occurred at Freers dinner party, are preserved by the following item in the Evening News of February 25:
CULTURE AT HOME.
Anecdotes of Swami Vivekananda’s Visit to Detioit.
Anecdotes of Swami Vivekananda’s visit are numerous and amusing – at least they must have been amusing to him, although a little humiliating to the American self-love. One lady said:
“I really was ashamed at the contrast between the knowledge possessed by him and by some of our Detroit men who consider themselves gentlemen of culture. At one dinner a gentleman asked Kananda what books he would advise him to read on chemistry, whereupon the Hindu monk responded with a long list of English works on this science, which one would naturally expect an American to know more about than a Hindu. Another gentleman followed by a request as to books on
astronomy, to which Kananda obligingly answered with another equally good list of English astronomical works.
But his growing astonishment reached its climax when a lady spoke of ‘The Christ/ and said, ‘What do those words mean?* He again furnished the desired information, but in a tone growing slightly sarcastic”
Probably the choicest example of nineteenth century civilization and culture was given by a lady, who asked Kananda if he liked the English. He very naturally responded that he did not. Then she continued, with fine tact, to pursue the subject still further by touching references to that pleasant event, the Sepoy rebellion. As the Hindu grew excited she smiled at him ironically and said:
“I thought I could disturb your philosophical Eastern calm.”
It was indeed rare that Swamiji grew excited. Those who knew him often remarked upon the fact that no matter how violent his antagonist, he remained always calm and serene. Perhaps the only subject which aroused his anger, particularly in the early days, was that of the English in India – a topic best left undiscussed. But there was no dearth of topics to discuss with Swamiji, who continually surprised and delighted his friends with his unending knowledge on every imaginable subject. The conversations at the private gatherings held for him must have covered many fields – science, history, art, politics – and upon each he must have thrown the light not only of his intellectual knowledge but of his spiritual insight. But the subject dearest to his heart vfm India. That the desire to collect funds for his motherland was still uppermost in his mind during the Detroit period can be seen from the following excerpts of an article that appeared in the Detroit Tribune of February 18 and was written by one of the guests at the Saturday (?)
evening supper given by Mr. Freer:
Its Recent Expression by Vivekananda.
His Mission Worthy the Serious Attention of Americans.
The Two Remarkable Things in the United States Which Gratifies the Distinguished Pagan – What Environment Will Do for Any People – Rap at Missionaries.
There has seldom been such a sensation in cultured circles in Detroit, as that created by the advent of Swami Vivekananda, the learned Hindu monk, whose exceptional command of our own language has enabled us to receive impressions concerning ourselves from an oriental standpoint and to acquire “knowledge of a people of whose peculiar civilization and philosophy we have heard so much.
Both in public and private the Hindu brother lias talked freely and frankly. He acknowledges that the masses in India are very poor, very ignorant and are divided into a diversity of sects, with forms of worship varying from downright idolatry to the broadest and most liberal form of divine conception based on the brotherhood of man and the oneness of God. His mission, he says, is not to proselyte us – to try and make us think as he does – but to get means to start a college in India for the education of teachers who are to go among the common people and work a reform of existing evils, of which there are many. He states that India is priest-ridden to a harrowing degree. It is priestcraft that distorts truth and perpetuates ignorance. It is priest-craft that substitutes its own crude and narrow interpretations for truth, which perverts the people and prevents their moral progression. The Swami regards all sects and creeds from a broad basis. He even sees good in idolatry. It is an ideal, he thinks, for the ignorant whose mental capacity is insufficient to grasp abstract ideas, and who require a direct personification in some material form. He frankly states that we of the Occident are also retarded in our progression by too much priest-craft, and that we are not free from idolatrous practices, in that some of our sects worship shrines, figures and pictures and even the sanctity with which the rostrum and pulpit of a modem church is regarded is an ideal idolatry.
Two Remarkable Things in This Country.
The Swami notes two most remarkable things in this country, when asked his frank opinion of us: First,
the superiority of our women, as regards inlluence in position and intellect. Second, in our charities and treatment of the poor, he says, we have almost solved the problem as to what shall be done with them. Not only in this, in the direction of hospitals and charitable institutions, but in our tremendous development of labor-saving machinery. He has no admiration for our material progress, as it docs not make man better, nor for our boasted civilization, as we only ape and imitate the customs and manners of the English – sometimes to a very ridiculous extent. We are yet too young, to have a distinctive civilization ; we have yet to assimilate the human sewerage of Europe we have allowed to be poured upon us, before we produce a distinct American type.
[The writer goes on to say that Swamiji’s Indian background makes it difficult for him to understand that Western competitiveness is not undesirable but a primal law of nature itself – the survival of the fittest, and that inasmuch as “the dreamy and sentimental
philosophy of the Hindoos” accounts tor their poverty, degradation and domination by a “mere handful of Englishmen,” the Swami would do well neither to ignore nor despise the materialism of the West. Having thus editorialized, he continues more factually:]
His Criticism of Missionaries.
If what he states is true about the results accomplished by foreign missions in India, the various boards of these various organizations would do well to consult him and follow his advice. It is for the betterment of his people he is here. But he says missionary work does no good ; only .adds additional sects and creeds to an already sect-ridden country ; that the teachings of the Vedas, with which every Hindoo is familiar, is identical with the teachings of Christ. He makes the reasonable plea that foreign creeds and dogmas are not consonant with their inherited proclivities or civilization, and are consequently difficult to propagate.
The mission of Kananda is, however, one that should commend it [self] 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 we once were 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.
FRED H. SEYMOUR.
It is almost impossible to know how much help Swamiji was able to obtain for the work in India from individual donations, but very likely some of his wealthy and sympathetic friends contributed at least something to his cause. We know, for instance, that Mr. Charles Freer was such a contributor. The following letter from Mrs. Bagley’s married daughter, Mrs. Florence Bagley Sherman, gives evidence of this fact and also of the fact that Swamiji was considering a return to India. It was written after Swamiji had left Detroit the first time and was addressed to the care of Mrs. Hale at 541 Dearborn Avenue, Chicago:
Washington Avenue Feb. 24th 1894
Dear Mr. Vivekananda:
My mother wishes me to write for her, expressing her regret that the draft for the money received here was not sent today. It will go early Monday morning, and I trust will be received on time to save you any annoyance.
Mr. Freer, the gentleman at whose house we dined, sent a check last evening, for two hundred dollars – to Mrs. Bagley – to be forwarded to you, so that is included in the draft.
Do believe me – my dear Mr. Kananda – when I say – that when you have been able to enlist the interest and practical help of men like my friend Mr. Freer, in your work, you have no right to go Backto India without one supreme effort for your normal school: your personal appeal – with your magnetism – your powerful – masterful presence, can alone make that appeal effective. If in any way we can aid you – I am sure you will ask us, feeling sure of our sympathy and respect.
Yours very sincerely Florence Bagley Sherman
The draft referred to was no doubt for money collected at a lecture Swamiji gave at Mrs. Bagley’s home. It may also be mentioned, parenthetically, that it was of Mrs. Bagley Sherman that he wrote to Mary Hale on March 30, when he was about to make his final departure from Detroit: “By the by, Mrs.
Sherman has presented me with a lot of things amongst which is a nail set and letter holder and a little satchel etc., etc. Although I objected, especially to the nail set, as very dudish with mother of pearl handles, she insisted and I had to take them although I do not know.what to do with that brushing instrument. Lord bless them all. She gave me one advice – * never to wear this Afrikee dress in society* Now I am a society man I Lordl What comes next? Long life brings queer experiences!”
Although Swamiji’s first visit to Detroit extended from February 12 to 23, he had originally intended to stay only one week, giving a series of three lectures at the Unitarian Church. But the people – the hundreds who had heard him speak both publicly and at private gatherings, and the hundreds more who wanted to hear him – would not let him leave their city so soon. As is seen by the following announcement in the Detroit Free Press of Monday, February 19, he was induced to give a fourth lecture:
Vivekananda ON “LOVE.”
The Hindoo monk, Vivekananda, will give an extra lecture at the Unitarian Church on Wednesday evening, February 21, on the subject of “Love.” Many of those who have already heard him, and many who have failed to do so, have put in a special request for another opportunity to listen to his interesting and eloquent discourses.
There was some confusion regarding the date on wh.ch this lecture was to be given. As has been seen above, it was announced, as late as February 19, as scheduled for Wednesday, February 21. Other papers made this same mistake in their “Amusement Columns,” which must have misled all those who failed to check further, for actually Swamiji gave his fourth lecture on Tuesday, February 20. Although a correction did not appear in the papers until Tuesday morning, the confusion of dates did not confound too many. The Unitarian Church was jammed, and one is reminded of Sister Christine’s description of Swamiji’s Detroit audiences:
“Those who came to the first lecture at the Unitarian Church came to the second and to the third bringing others with them. ‘Come/ they said, ‘hear this wonderful man. He is like no one we have ever heard’; and they came until there was no place to hold them. They filled the room, stood in the aisles, peered in at the windows.” And Swamiji’s fourth lecture, which Sister Christine does not mention, was the most crowded of all!
The Detroit Free Press report on “The Love of God” was one of those which was sent by Mary Funke to Swami Brahma-nanda and which has been reproduced (in slightly altered form) in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works.” The headlines and first paragraph of the actual report read as follows:
SONGS OF SOLOMON
Kananda Views Them with the Greatest Admiration.
One Should Not Approach God in a Begging Spirit.
Story of the Religion of a Hindoo Saint.
Another Lecture This Afternoon on Hindoo Philosophy
Vivekananda delivered a lecture on “The Love of God” at the Unitarian church last night, before the largest audience that he has yet had. The trend of the lecturer’s remarks was to show that we do not accept God because we really want Him, but because we have need of Him for selfish purposes. Love, said the speaker, is something absolutely unselfish ; that which has no thought beyond the glorification and adoration of the object upon which our affections are bestowed. It is a quality which bows down and worships and asks nothing in return.
Another version of this lecture, which will not be so familiar, was given by the Detroit Tribune of February 21, as follows:
THE HINDU ON LOVE
He addresses a Large and Fashionable Audience
The First Unitarian Church was crowded last night to hear Vivekananda. The audience was composed of people who came from Jefferson avenue and the upper part of Woodward Avenue. Most of it was ladies who seemed deeply interested in the address and applauded several remarks of the Brahman with much enthusiasm.
The love that was dwelt upon by the speaker was not the love that goes with passion, but a pure and holy love that one in India feels for his God. As Vive Kananda stated at the commencement of his address the subject was “The Love the Indian Feels for His God.” But he did not preach to his text. The major portion of his address was an attack on the Christian religion. The religion of the Indian and the love of his God was the minor portion. The points in his address were illustrated with several applicable anecdotes of famous people in the history. The subjects of the anecdotes were renowned Mogul emperors of his native
land and not of the native Hindu kings.
The professors of religion were divided into two classes by the lecturer, the followers of knowledge and the followers of devotion. The end in the life of the followers of knowledge was experience. The end in the life of the devotee was love.
Love, he said, was a sacrifice. It never takes, but it always gives. The Hindu never asks anything of his God, never prayed for salvation and a happy hereafter, but instead lets his whole soul go out to his God in an entrancing love. That beautiful state of existence could only be gained when a person felt an overwhelming want of God. Then God came in all of His fullness.
There were three different ways of looking at God.One was to look upon Him as a mighty personage and fall down and worship His might. Another was to worship Him as a father. In India the father always punished the children and an element of fear was mixed with the regard and love for a father. Still another way to think of God was as a mother. In India a mother was always truly loved and reverenced. That was the Indian’s way of looking at their God.
Kananda said that a true lover of God 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 to secure the God, and strive to bring him to his way of thinking.
Vivekananda said last night that he expected to leave Detroit this evening.
The Detroit Journal also commented on “The Love God” as follows:
A MERE HOBBY.
That is Vivekananda’s Opinion of Modem Religion.
If Vivekananda, the Brahmin monk, who is delivering a lecture course in this city could be induced to remain for a week longer the largest hall in Detroit would not hold the crowds which would be anxious to hear him. He has become* a veritable fad, as last evening every seat in the Unitarian church was occupied, and many were compelled to stand throughout the entire lecture.
The speaker’s subject was, “The Love of God.” His definition of love was “something absolutely unselfish ; that which has no thought beyond the glorification and adoration of the object upon which our affections are bestowed.” Love, he said, is a quality which bows down and worships and asks nothing in return.
Love of God, he thought, was different. God is not accepted, he said, because we really need him, except for selfish purposes. His lecture was replete with story and anecdote, all going to show the selfish motive underlying the motive of love for God. The Songs of Solomon were cited by the lecturer as the most beautiful portion of the Christian Bible and yet he had heard with deep regret that there was a possibility of their being removed.
“In fact,” he declared, as a sort of clinching argument at the close, “the love of God appears to be based upon a theory of ‘What can I get out of it?’ Christians are so selfish in their love that they are continually asking God to give them something, including all manner of selfish things. Modern religion is, therefore, nothing but a mere hobby and fashion and people flock to church like a lot of sheep.”
Kananda expected to leave the city this morning, but he has been prevailed upon to remain over and deliver one more lecture this afternoon. It will be given at the residence of Mrs. John J. Bagley.
Jefferson Avenue and the upper part of Woodward Avenue, referred to at the beginning of the Tribune report, were representative of the most fashionable residential streets of Detroit. Here many of the city’s influential industrialists of the gay nineties lived in large stone mansions, surrounded, especially on Woodward Avenue, by broad lawns and great trees Perhaps not all the industrialists attended Swamiji’s lectures, for, although he had many ardent admirers among Detroit’s men, few had time to divert their attention from business to philosophy. On the whole, it was the women who had taken over the cultural life of the nation. “Women not only controlled education and religion,” writes H. S. Commager of the latter part of nineteenth-century America, “but largely dictated the standards of literature and art and clothed culture so ostentatiously in feminine garb that the term itself came to have connotations of effeminacy.” But to Swamiji there was nothing effeminate, nothing weakening, in the influence of women. He could not say enough in his letters to India of these American “goddesses.” “I am almost at my wit’s end,” he once wrote, “to see the women of this country l . . . They do all sorts of work – I cannot do even a sixteenth part of what they do. They are like Lakshmi in beauty, and like Saraswati in virtues – they are the Divine Mother incarnate, and worshipping them, one verily attains perfection in everything. … If I can raise a thousand such Madonnas – Incarnations of the Divine Mother – in our country, before I die, I shall die in peace. Then only will your countiymen become worthy of their name.”
It was hardly Swamiji’s fault that those who attended his lectures belonged mainly to the intellectual and cultural classes. Indeed, it could not very well have been otherwise. Nor was it his fault that the progressive ministers who espoused his cause had, at the same time, a reputation for catering to the wealthy and the fashionable. Yet, there existed so much bitterness between classes in the nineties that Swamiji was accused, along with other slander, of being exclusive 1 One such criticism came in a letter dated March 20, 1894, to the editor of the Detroit Free Press from one who certainly had not heard all the lectures.
The anonymous writer stated with a good deal of asperity that the preachers of progressive, or creedless, Christianity catered only to wealth and aristocracy, thus dividing religion into social castes and failing to make any impression on the masses. “From a social standpoint” he writes, “the religious revival inaugurated in Detroit by Swami Vivekananda, Citizen Palmer and others is the ideal of missionary work. To deliver well-paid lectures to a select audience, to give banquets where the guests are all intellectual and interesting people, and then and there, while sipping good old wine, discourse on genuine Christianity, free from the cobwebs of creed – that indeed is the latest and most pleasant device yet imagined to diffuse the right kind of religion among our fellowmcn.” He goes on to say: “When
ViveKananda said to his audience at the Detroit Opera House, ‘Send to India missionaries like Francis Xavier, who mingled with the downtrodden people,’ this was the best illustration of what we need in this country as much as in India. For when Vive Kananda was extolling true Christianity and lauding missionaries like Francis Xavier, the poor .of Detroit could not listen to him, because they had not the money to pay for their seats and their clothes were too antiquated to sit ,with propriety among his well-dressed listeners.”
The writer explains Swamiji’s affiliation with progressive Christian ministers by stating that he was brought up in a religion which for “6,000 years has divided India into exclusive castes.” He then concludes his article with the somewhat irrelevant observation that the “so-called science of the Hindoo sages was looked upon with reverence only so long as it was kept secret,” and that submitted to the light of investigation, it was found incapable of producing a single labor-saving device.
This letter was no doubt representative of a popular resentment against “fashionable religion.” But in chaiging Swamiji with religious snobbishness the writer woefully failed to realize, in the first place, that the nonfashionable Clni tian creeds would not give him a hearing and, in the second place, that Swamiji had asked Christian missionaries to give to the poor in India, not religion but bread. In India both rich and poor alike had religion to spare, whereas in America both were in need of it. A further point that might be mentioned here is that in both India and America Swamiji, in the tradition of Hindu monks, accepted the hospitality of rich and poor alike and with equal compassion gave his teachings to both. Quite literally lie saw the same in all – be they Brahmins or outtastes, industrialists or paupers. This was not true, however, of the Christian missionaries who, professing to serve the poor of India, invariably associated themselves with the English community, whose members lived in a style far grander than that of the most wealthy Hindu.
It is true that Swamiji’s Detroit audiences consisted on the whole of “the best people,” but it was these very people whom he scolded for the wrongs of Christian civilization. He neither identified hirnself with them nor did he belabor them in anonymous tirades behind their backs ; he spoke directly to them – and they listened and asked for more.
It was at Swamiji’s fifth lecture in this city, given at the insistence of his friends, that he blasted the rich for the excessive wealth tftey had so long believed to be theirs through the will of God. This now famous lecture was delivered at Mrs. Bagley’s
home on Wednesday afternoon, February 21, and the Detroit Free Press report of it has been printed in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works” under the title “Hindus and Christians.”
The headlines and first paragraph of the original report are as follows:
IT IS IRONY OF FATE.
Christian Religion Preached in the Name of Luxury.
Idols in India are Nothing but Suggestive Symbols.
The Hindoo Monk Lectured Yesterday at the home of Mrs. John J. Bagley
The most interesting lecture Vivekananda has yet delivered was that of yesterday afternoon at the residence of Mrs. John J. Bagley, on the different Hindoo philosophies. The large rooms were crowded. The monk spoke for two hours about the different philosophies, showing how thousands of years ago the spiritual science of India had reached a condition equal to that of today.
As on other occasions the talk was freely interspersed with charming stories from the Sanscrit.
The lecture was open to the public, but evidently Mrs. Bagley also invited many of her friends. Of this occasion she writes: “I had included lawyers, judges, ministers, army officers, physicians and business-men with their wives and daughters. Vivekananda talked two hours on ‘The Ancient Hindu Philosophers and What They Taught/ All listened with intense interest to the end. Wherever he spoke people listened gladly and said, ‘I never heard man speak like that’ He does not antagonize, 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”
“You are not Christians” Swamiji had said at the end of this lecture. “No, as a nation you are not. Go Backto Christ!
I Go Backto Him who has nowhere to lay His head. ‘The birds have their nests and the beasts their lairs but the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay His head/ Yours is religion preached in the name of luxury. What an irony of fatel Reverse this if you want to live; reverse this. It is all hypocrisy that I have heard in this country. If this nation is going to live, go back to Him. You cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time. All this prosperity, all this from Christ ! Christ would have denied all such heresies. All prosperity which comes with Mammon is transient, is only for a moment. Real permanence is in Him. If you can join these two, this wonderful prosperity with the ideal of Christ, it is well. But if you cannot, better go Backto Him and give this up. Better be ready to live in rags with Christ than to live in palaces without Him.”
In this same lecture Swamiji also gave the “blue-nose” ministers and missionaries a bad time. Among other things, he said:
“One thing I would tell you, and I do not mean any unkind criticism. You train and educate and clothe and pay men to do what? – to come over to my country and curse and abuse all my forefathers, my religion and my everything. They walk near a temple and say: ‘You idolators, you will go to hell’ . . . And then you, who train men to abuse and criticize, if I just touch you with the least bit of criticism, with the kindest of purpose, you shrink and cry: ‘Don’t touch us ; we are Americans,’ . . . And whenever your ministers criticise us let them remember this: If all India stands up and takes all the mud that is at the bottom of the Indian ocean and throws it up against the western countries, it will not be doing an infinitesimal part of that which you are doing to us.”
Another thing that was to create much commotion in the pulpits was the following:
“With all your brags and boasting, where has your Christianity succeeded without the sword? Show me one place in the whole world. One, I say, through the history of the Christian religion – one ; I do not want two. I know how your forefathers were converted. They had to be converted or killed ; that was all.”
I have taken these quotations directly from the Free Press. For the most part the lecture as printed in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works” follows this report word for word.
There is, however, oqe minor descrepancy that I think should be corrected.4 In Volume VIII and also in the Vedanta Kesari of February 1924 Swamiji is quoted as having said: ” . . . we never teach our children to swallow such horrible stuff, that man alone is vile where everything else is pure.” What he actually said was: “We never teach our children to swallow
such horrible stuff: Where every prospect pleases, and man alone is vile.” As the reader will remember, there was a missionary hymn which was often sung sanctimoniously in the nineties and which included the line: “[Where] every
prospect pleases and only man is vile.” It was to this popular sentiment that Swamiji alluded.
A short report of this same lecture appeared in the Detroit Journal of February 22 and is interesting largely because of its headline:
HIS PARTING SHOT
Vivekananda Delivered His Final Lecture Yesterday.
Monk Kananda delivered his last lecture in Detroit at the residence of Mrs. John J. Bagley yesterday afternoon. In many respects it was the most entertaining lecture of the scries. The large rooms and halls of the Bagley mansion were filled to their utmost capacity, and the audience listened for over two hours while
this talented orator discussed the different philosophies.
The burden of his argument, was that the Hindoo never argues that his is the only way to salvation. Vive Kananda made many friends during his brief stay in Detroit, and many were the regrets over his departure.
To judge from the following report in the Detroit Journal of Friday, February 23, Mrs. Bagley held a small farewell tea for her departing guest:
He Tells Something About the Conditions of Hindoo Laborers.
Svvami Vivekananda repaid the admiration of his lady acquaintances In writing verses, at the same time religious and scmi-scntimcntal, yesterday afternoon. He departed this morning for Ada
In a conversation concerning the material condition of the Hindu workingmen, the learned monk said that the poor lived on porridge alone. The laborer ate a breakfast of porridge, went off to his daily toil and returned in the evening to another breakfast of porridge and called it dinner. In most of the provinces the farmers were so poor that they could not afford to eat any of the wheat raised. A day laborer on a farm received only 12 pence a day, but a dollar in India brought 10 times as much as it would in this country. Cotton was raised, but its fiber was so short it had to be woven by hand, and even ihcn it was necessary to import American and Egyptian cotton to mix with it.
Swamiji had been in Detroit less than two weeks, but there were, perhaps, few people who had not heard of him. On the evening of his departure, a miniature “Kananda” appeared at a children’s “fancy carnival” and was the hit of the evening.
The Deiroii Tribune covered the masquerade as follows:
A PSEUDO KANANDA.
One of the Characters at Strassburg’s Children’s Party.
The natives of nearly every nation on the globe, as well as many characters of literature and mythology were impersonated in miniature at the children’s fancy carnival in Strassburg’s Hall last night. And among
the 200 characters a little prototype of Vivekananda was the most noticed by the spectators.
The carnival last night was occasioned by the closing of the first quarter’s classes of children in the Strassburg [Dancing] Academy. It was one of the social events of the season with the little ladies and gentlemen. [Here follows a description of the various costumes.]
And walking about in all this cosmopolitan throng was the prototype of Vivekananda, with his orange robe, red sash, and buff colored turban in exact counterfeit of the costume worn by the Hindoo lecturer.
On the morning of Friday, February 23, Swamiji at last left Detroit. He went directly to Ada, Ohio, a small town several hours distant by train, and lectured there that same evening on “The Divinity of Man.” Although a report of this lecture should, chronologically, be given here, I believe that it can wait until a later chapter, for it has little bearing on the story of Detroit, with which we are not yet finished.
Presumably when Swamiji left Detroit for Ada, he did not intend to return. He remained in Ada for only a day or two, giving one lecture, and then, as far as can be ascertained, went “home” to the Hales in Chicago. This last assumption is based on two facts ; one, Mrs. Florence Bagley Sherman’s letter to him, dated February 24, was addressed in care of Mrs. Hale; and two, on March 3 he wrote to India from 541 Dearborn Avenue, Chicago – the Hales’ home address. But although Swamiji had said goodbye to Detroit, Detroit had not said goodbye to him, for as will be seen in the following chapter, the city continued to quiver under the impact of his recent presence. These repercussions, which threatened to undo his work, were shortly to draw him Backinto the field to settle, as it were, some unfinished business.