8. RETURN OF THE WARRIOR
The first lecture Swamiji gave on his return to Detroit might very well have been the reason for that return, for it was a direct reply to his antagonists. Not only had local orthodox clergymen attacked him vigorously, but the missionaries and missionary students, who had considered their convention an antidote to his lectures, had surely left nothing unsaid in the effort to counteract his influence. No doubt Swamiji’s friends had relayed to him the criticisms made in his absence, and had implored him to return to give answer. An announcement in the Detroit Journal of March 9, corroborates this supposition.
The Hindu Will Speak at the Detroit Opera House.
Vivekananda, the Hindu monk, will return to
Detroit to-night from Chicago, and will be the guest
either of Mrs. John J. Bagley or Hon. T. W. Palmer. Next Sunday evening ff&nanda will lecture at the Detroit opera house on “Christian Missions in India,” his subject suggested by the convention of student volunteers held here last week.
Falsehood and hypocrisy always aroused the warrior in Swamiji, and one is. reminded in this connection of a letter he wrote the following year in which he said : “The more I have been opposed, the more my energy has always found expression.” It must have been obvious to him that his opponents in Detroit
were in need of a finishing blow, and thds he returned, not to defend himself but to defend the truth ; not in anger but in valor. “Christian Missions in India,” delivered on March 11, was his answer.
The Detroit Free Press report of this lecture has been reprinted, with some variations, in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works” under the title, “Christianity in India.” The headlines and first two paragraphs, which have been omitted in Volume VIII, read as follows :
NOT EASY TO CONVERT
The People of India Take the bait but not the Hook.
Missionaries are not in Sympathy with the People.
Do not Speak the Language or Understand the Natives.
Vivekananda spoke to a crowded audience at the Detroit Opera House last night. He was given an extremely cordial reception and delivered his most eloquent address here. He spoke for two hours and a half.
Hon. T. W. Palmer, in introducing the distinguished visitor, referred to the old tale of the shield that was copper on one side and silver on the other and
the contest which ensued. If we look on both sides
of a question there would be less dispute. It is possible for all men to agree. The matter of foreign missions has been dear to the religious heart. Vivekananda, from the Christian standpoint, said Mr. Palmer, was a pagan. It would be pleasant to hear from a gentleman who spoke about the copper side of the shield.
Vivekananda was received with great applause….
The Detroit Tribune report of this same lecture caught many of Swamiji’s sentences that were missed by the Free Press and reads as follows:
KANANDA, THE PAGAN
Attacked Christian Missions in Last Night’s Lecture.
And His Words were Warmly Applauded by the Audience.
Christian Nations Kill and Murder, He Said, and Import Disease into Foreign Countries, then Add Insult to Injury by Preaching of a Crucified Christ.
Swami Vivekananda lectured to a very large audience at the Detroit Opera House last night on “Christian Missions in India.” One could believe that the lecture was intended as an answer to the many statements of missionaries which have been aimed at Kananda during the past two weeks in this city.
Kananda was introduced by Honorable Thomas W. Palmer last night, who recited a fable by way of preface. “Two knights of honor once met on the field,” he said, “and seeing a shield hanging on a tree they halted. One said: ‘What a very line silver shield.’ The other
replied that it was not silver but copper. Each disputed the other’s statement until at last they got off their horses, tied them to the tree, and drawing their swords fought for several hours. After they were both well spent by the loss of blood they staggered against each other and fell on the opposite sides from where they had been fighting. Then one glanced up at the pendant shield and said: You were right, my friend. The
shield is copper.’ The other looked up and said: ‘It
is I who was mistaken. The shield is silver.’ If they had looked at both sides of the shield in the first place it would have saved the loss of much blood. I think that if we looked at both sides of every question there would be less argument and fighting.
“We have with us tonight a gentleman who, from the Christian standpoint is, I suppose, a pagan. But he belongs to a religion which was old long before ours was thought of by men. I am sure that it will be pleasant to hear from the copper side of the shield. We have looked at it only from the silver side. Ladies and Gentlemen, Swami Vivekananda.”
Kananda, who had remained seated on the stage during Mr. Palmer’s remarks, stepped to the front, clad in the orange robe and unique turban of the Brahman priest, bowed in acknowledgement of the welcoming applause, and launched at once into his subject.
What India Is.
‘I do not know about the efforts of Christian missionaries in China and Japan except through reading the books and literature on the subject, but I can speak about the efforts of christianizing India. But before I go into this I want to place before )ou an idea of what India is.”
Then he explained in detail how the 300,000,000 inhabitants of India are divided into castes, between which there can be no affiliation, how the natives of the south cannot understand the language of the ones of the north, and vice versa. He told how the lower caste lived on the flesh of dead animals, and never bathed their bodies, and how impossible it would be for the higher
class to mingle with them, although they were granted the protection of the same laws.
He referred to the first appearance of the Christians in an attempt to evangelize the followers of Buddah. They were Spaniards, he said, and they discovered a temple near Ceylon, in which was presented a tooth of Buddah as a sacred relic.
“The Spaniard Christians thought that their God commanded them to go and fight and kill and murder,” he said, “and so they seized the tooth of Buddah and destroyed it. By the way, it was not a tooth of Buddah at all, but a relic manufactured by the priests – it was a foot long. (Laughter) Every religion has its miracles ; you needn’t laugh because the tooth was a foot long. Well, after the Spaniards took away the tooth they converted a few hundred and killed a few thousands ; and there Spain stops in the history of missionary efforts among the Buddhists.”
The Portugese Christians, he said, discovered the great temple at Bombay, built in the form of a body with three heads, in representation of the trinity as the Hindoo believes in a trinity.
“The Portugese saw it and couldn’t explain it,” said Kananda, with a sarcastic ling in his voice, “and so they concluded that it was of the devil, and gathered their forces and knocked ofl the three heads of the temple. The devil is such a handy man. I am sorry to see him so fast disappearing.”
Then Kananda outlined the various stages of Christian evangelization in India, and paid very high tribute to two or three missionaries, who, he said, had been great exceptions to the rule, and lived among the people to uplift and minister to their needs.
Antagonize Native Interests.
The Hindoo priest told how as soon as the land came into possession of the English people every village had its white colony, which huddled itself together and withdrew from all association with the natives. Then when the missionaries reached the country, he said, they would naturally ga»at once among the English people, who sympathized with them and with whom they could converse. The missionaries know nothing of the native language, he says, and so they cannot dwell with the people. Most of them are married and for the sake of getting their wives into the English society they identify themselves with all their interests, and in doing so directly antagonize the interests of the natives, and make it impossible to get in touch with them.
“We sometimes have famines in India,” he said.
“And so the young missionaries will hang about the fag end of a famine and give a starving native 5 shillings, and there you have him, a ready-made Christian ; take him. That was probably a baptist missionary, and so when a methodist missionary comes along he gives the same native 5 shillings, and his name is again registered as a convert. The only band of converts around each missionary is composed of those dependent upon him for a living. They have to be Christians or starve. And they are dwindling as the money supply decreases. I am glad if you want to make Christians in India by giving work and bread to the poor. God speed you to do that. There is one beneliL that must be credited to the missionary movement. Il makes education cheap. The missionaries bring some money with them from the people who send them, and the Indian government appropriates some, so that there are some very good colleges and schools available to the natives through missionaries. But I will be frank with you. There are no conversions from the schools to the Christian religion. The Hindoo boy is very clever. He takes the bait, but never gets the hook.”
The speaker said that the lady missionary’ goes into certain houses, gets four shillings a month, reads the Bible, while the native girls give indifferent attention, and teaches them to knit while they pay very keen attention, The girls, like the boys, lie said are always alert to learn practical things, but they will give little heed to the Christian religion, although they will espouse it if necessary to get the oiher advantages.
Most Missionaries Incompetent.
“The most of the men whom you send us as missionaries are incompetent” he said. “I have never known of a single man who has studied Sanscrit before going to India as a missionary’ and yet all our books and literature are printed in it.”
He suggested as an explanation of the visits of the missionaries that ”perhaps the atheism and scepticism at home is pushing the missionaries out all over the world” When in India he said he had thought the sole business of Christianity [was] to send all people to the fires of hell, but since coming to America he has found that there are a great many libera] men. He referred to the parliament of religions, and told how a certain editor of a presbyterian paper had written an article at the close of the parliament entitled “The Lying Hindoo,’* in which he had scored him very severely.
In the article the editor said that “while in the parliament he was here as our guest, but now that it is over we ought to make an enthusiastic attack against him and his false doctrines.”
In referring to the medical missionaries in India Kananda said: “India requires health, but it must be
health for her people. And how can you help our people if you do not get in touch with them? When you come to us as missionaries you ought to throw over all idea of nationality. Jesus didn’t go about among the English officials attending champagne suppers. He didn’t care to have his wife get into high European society. If your missionary does not follow Christ what right has he to call himself a Christian? We want missionaries of Christ. Let such coine to India by the hundreds and thousands. Bring Christ’s life to us and let it permeate the very core of society. Let Him be
preached in every village and corner of India. But don’t have your missionaries choose their profession as a means of livelihood. Lyct them have the call of Christ. Let them feel within that they were born for that work.
“As far as converting India to Christianity is concerned, there is no hope. If it were possible it ought not to be done. It would be dangerous ; it would mark the destruction of all religions. If the whole universe should come to have the same temperament, physical or mental, destruction would immediately result. Why couldn’t you convert the Jew? Why couldn’t you make the Persians Christians? Why is it that to every African who becomes a Christian 100 become followers of Mohammed? Why can’t you make an impression on India and China, and Japan? Because oneness of mental temperament all over the world would be death. Nature is too wise to allow such things.
Filled the World with Bloodshed.
“The Christian nations have filled the world with bloodshed and tyranny. It is their day now. You kill and murder and bring drunkenness and disease in our country, and then add insult to injury by preaching Christ and Him crucified. What Christian voice goes through the land protesting against such horrors? I have never heard any. You drink the idea in your mothers’ milk that you are angels and we are devils. It is not enough that there be sunlight; you must have the eyes to see it. It is not only necessary that there be goodness in people ; you must have the appreciation of goodness within yourselves in order to distinguish it. This is in every heart until it has been murdered by superstition and hideous blasphemy.”
Then Kananda drew a very beautiful simile to illustrate that the essential truths of all religions are same, and all else is but incidental and unimportant environment. He told how the savage man might find a few jewels, and prizing them, tie them with a rude
thong and string them about his neck. As he became slightly civilized he would perhaps exchange the thong for a string. Becoming still more enlightened he would fasten his jewels with a silken cord ; and when possessed of a high civilization he would make an elaborate gold setting for his treasures. But throughout all the changes in settings the jewels – the essentials – would remain the same.
“If the Hindoo wishes to criticize the Christian religion he talks of the fables and miracles, and all the nonsense of the Bible, but he does not say one word in disparagement of the sermon on the mount, or of the
beautiful life o£ Jesus. And so when the Christian criticizes the Hindoo religion he talks about the dogmas and the temples, but he says nothing [should say nothing] against the morality and philosophy of the Hindoo. Help the Jew and let him help you. Help the Hindoo and let him help you. I deny that any human being has the faculty of seeing good at all who cannot see it in all places. There is the same beauty in the character of Christ and the character of Buddah. It is not an assimilation that we want, but adjustment and harmony. I ask the preachers to give up, first, the idea of nationality; and second, the idea of sects. God’s children have no sects.
“Much has been said about the ladies of India, and of their faults and condition. There are faults ; God help us to make them right. We are thankful for your criticism of our women. But while you are speaking of them I will say that I should be glad to see a dozen spiritual women in America. Nice dress, wealth, brilliant society, operas, novels – . Even intellectuality is not all that there is for a man or woman. There should be also spirituality, but that side is entirely absent from Christian countries. They live in India.”
Vivekananda’s large audience listened very respectfully to his remarks last night, and once or twice applauded heartily.
Even in Swamiji’s estimation this lecture was one of his best. The following day he wrote to Mary Hale, “My last address was the best I ever delivered. Mr. Palmer was in ecstasies and the audience remained spellbound, so much so that it was after the lecture that I found I had spoken so long. A speaker always feels the uneasiness or inattention of the audience.” There was certainly no inattention that Sunday night, and it might be said that his words became a part of the mental convictions of many who heard him. True, perhaps only a thousand or so heard that lecture, but a handful of people with firm convictions – provided that those convictions coincide with truth – can slowly change the thought of a nation. Moreover, Swamiji’s words were spread through the medium of the press, not only in reports but in editorials. For instance, the Evening News, which was one of the most widely read papers in Detroit, printed an article on March 12 entitled, “A Pointer for the Missionaries.” A large portion of this editorial was later reprinted by the Boston Evening Transcript of April 5, 1894, and thereby found its way into Volume IV of “The Complete Works” where it was included under the title, “Is India a Benighted Country?” But although most of the following article will be familiar, I believe it should be reproduced here in its entirety, for it is indicative of the reaction to Swamiji’s repudiation of Christian missionary work in India:
A POINTER FOR THE MISSIONARIES.
Most people will be inclined to think that Swami Vivekananda did better last night in his opera house lecture than he did in any of his former lectures in this city. The merit of the Brahman’s utterances last night lay in their clearness. He drew a very sharp line of distinction between Christianity and Christianity, and told his audience plainly wherein he himself is a Christian in one sense and not a Christian in another sense. He also drew a sharp line between Hindooism and Hindooism, carrying the implication that he desired to be classed as a Brahman only in its better sense. Swami Vivekananda stands superior to all criticism when he says:
“We want missionaries of Christ. Let such come to India by the hundreds and thousands. Bring Christ’s life to us, and let it permeate the very core of society.
Let Him be preached in every village and comer of India.”
When a man is as sound as that on the main question, all else that he may say must refer to the subordinate details. The best Christian thought and hope of all the centuries have wholly to do with what Kananda says he wants to see in India – Christ’s life “permfcating every corner of society.” Here is the highest “testimony,” as our religionists are pleased to
call it, of the essential truth and power of the real gospel of the Nazarene. The failure of Christian missions in foreign lands is not to be referred to the divine person who stands behind the missionaries, for the pagans themselves are quite willing to concede the glory of that life, but to the missionary failure to illustrate that life in their methods and customs. There is infinite humiliation in this spectacle of a pagan priest reading lessons of conduct and of life to the men who have assumed the spiritual supervision of Greenland’s icy mountains and India’s coral strand, but the sense of humiliation is the sine qua non of most reforms of this world. Having said what he did of the glorious life of the author of the Christian faith, Kananda has the right to lecture the way he has the men who profess to represent that life among the nations abroad.
“If your missionary does not represent Christ what right has he to call himself a Christian? Let Christ be preached in every village of India, but don’t have your missionaries choose their profession as a means of livelihood. Let them have the call of Christ. Let them feel from within that they were born for that work.” And after ail, how like the Nazarene that sounds! “Provide neither silver nor gold nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves ; for the workman is worthy of his meat.” Those who had become at all familiar with the religious literature of India before the advent of Kananda are best prepared to understand the utter abhorrence of the orientals of our western commercial spirit – or what Kananda calls the shopkeeper’s spirit – in all that we do, even in our very religion.
Here is a pointer for the missionaries which they cannot afford to ignore. They who would convert the eastern world of paganism must live up to what they preach in contempt for the kingdoms of this world and all the glory of them.
Swamiji’s lecture at the Opera House not only impressed his
friends but silenced his critics, at least for the time being. The following Sunday not one orthodox minister dared openly respond. An editorial in the Sunday News Tribune, which was controlled by the publisher of the Evening News, anticipated this silence in the following editorial that appeared on March 18:
THE LESSON OF TOLERATION.
“Every real thought on any real subject knocks the wind out of somebody or other,” wrote Dr. Holmes many years ago, and when the sufferer gets his breath he begins the “back-talk” ; but it is not at all likely that the pulpits of Detroit will resound today with anything like the vigorous whacks which fell upon them after Kananda’s first visit. The provocation, if such it can be called, which he gave a week ago in his lecture of two hours and a half, was greater than on the occasion of his former appearance, and this last address was professedly and openly in response to statements which had been made while the missionary convention was in session here, and it is reckoned the ablest of all his discourses in Detroit; nevertheless the chances are a good many to one that the clergymen hereabouts will not with one accord this time stand up and reply in any very vehement manner. It is more than probable that the placid Hindu has taught us a lesson and that the fruit of all his work here will be a broadening of our sympathies and some enlargement of our ability to comprehend views upon important subjects that are quite out of the beaten path in which our thoughts and opinions have been accustomed to travel.
From hearing what an intelligent Hindu like Kananda has to say of the religion of his country it is no more necessary to adopt that religion than it is to worship Zeus and Apollo as a result of studying the theology of the Greeks. Kananda is not a Buddhist, but if an educated priest of Buddhism should come along and be willing to tell us more than we knew before of the faith that has the largest following of any in the
world, it would surely not be beneath the dignity of a scholar of the nineteenth century to listen patiently to what he had to say. The Mohammedans at one time led the world in learning and scientific attainments. If an Arabian disciple of Mohammed, fit to instruct in his religion, should crave audience of our people, it might be very safe and profitable to listen t’o him. The old Shinto religion of Japan has held the belief of myriads of men with intellects pretty nearly as acute as ours ; would it be likely to damage our spiritual perceptions to hear a Shinto priest explain it?
We seem to be in some danger of taking a one-sided view of our own position and that of persons from whom we differ. There appears to be no question of politeness or propriety when we go to the people of Asia in their own land and beg to assure them that they have been following a vain shadow for several thousand years and that if they do not accept our new religion in place of their old religion they will find themselves booked for something decidedly uncomfortable in the next world ; but we do not recognize the right of every person to preach his own religion quite so clearly when it is the man from Asia who comes to us.
There is no finer test of intellectual strength than the willingness to receive and consider the well-digested thoughts of all the people under the sun. The horizon of religious toleration stretches further and further away every year. Twelve months from now it is not at all likely that Kananda’s coming to Detroit and talking to people who might chooSP to hear him would shake the churches from center to circumference or agitate the clergymen at all. It is not easy to see any sufficient reason why it should have done so at any time. While not many persons are greatly concerned about the Hindu’s theology, there are members who feel thankful for the fresh encouragement that has been given to the spirit of toleration.
The writer of the above article was probably the same who
two weeks earlier, had raised his eyebrows at the pulpit-pounding that had followed Swamiji’s first week in Detroit. He still did not seem to grasp the fact that the very nature of orthodox Christianity, which deemed itself to be the one saving religion and all else the work of the devil, prevented its preachers and followers from “tolerating” Swamiji. The color and mood of the silence following the Opera House lecture was perhaps well expressed by the following anonymous letter that appeared in the Detroit Free Press of March 17:
Mission Work in India.
To the Editor of The Detroit Free Press:
Kananda claimed in his lecture, Sunday evening, to be perfectly well posted in regard to mission work in India. How comes it then, that he is ignorant of the fact that all missionaries try to speak to the people among whom they work in their own vernacular?
Many missionaries do not learn the Sanskrit because it is a dead language, spoken nowhere, hence they spend their time on the spoken languages. It would please me to show you books in one vernacular, the work of American missionaries, notably a dictionary, by a man whose memory is revered, not only in Detroit, but, also, by many as learned Brahmans as Kananda himself.
This dictionary is the only one in the language it represents, and is constantly used by natives learning English, and by the English learning the native language.
May I ask Kananda why it is that the low caste people, in India, are so changed after coming in contact with the missionaries? Why are they better educated ; why are they superior; why are they different from their own class who are still under the rule of the Brahman? It would also be a gratification to one who has lived years in India, and who knows a little about the country, and, also, about natural history, to learn what those creatures are that are seen by the hundreds (by all travelers), sunning themselves on the sand churs, in every large river in India, if they are not crocodiles?
Can it be possible that the god Krishna, that wonderful incarnation of the pure and immaculate Vishnu, with his sixteen wives, and 16,000 concubines, and all the progeny he murdered, are disporting themselves under this guise, and is that the real reason why the creatures are bullet-proof?
Will Kananda tell us where he finds his definition of the word Swami? The Sanskrit dictionary, at the public library, says it means lord-master, owner-husband ; but never a word about brother.
One thing more. Will the learned Babu tell us all he knows about the rites and ceremonies necessary for him to perform, before he can appear before his own people as a real Hindoo Brahman? It will gratify many, and prove instructive to hear from his own lips all about these ceremonies and their spiritual significance.
One of the Missionaries.
No one answered this letter through the Free Press columns, but an article by our friend, O. P. Deldoc, who never hesitated to speak his mind, appeared in the Detroit Critic on March 18 and expressed, no doubt, the opinion of many. The following highly abridged version of Deldoc’s lengthy polemic shows to what an extent Swamiji had aroused the liberal element of Detroit, and how dry the timber which he had set ablaze:
A Brainy Writer Discusses One of the Great Questions of the Present Day
Was there No Love, No Joy, No Hope and No Religion Before Christ Came to Us?
Were All Noble Souls before His Time Doomed to Perdition?
It is nearly 1900 years since the religion of Christ was taught in all its primitive grandeur and purity. A
religion of forbearance, meekness, charity and love, yet its fundamental principles of truth and righteousness were old and widely known and practiced before Christ was bom. There were patriarchs, prophets, saints and martyrs; men who “walked with God” ; law givers and high priests ; good, wise and holy men, whose bones had crumbled to dust ages before the Star of Bethlehem arose. . . .
Was there no love, no hope, no joy, no religion then? …
Were all the noble souls abiding before Christ doomed to perdition? –
The question is not whether Christianity is true, but are we true to Christianity as professed Christians?
I claim that the vast majority of so-called Christians are not true, but false to the precepts and practices of their Lord and Master. They are only chimerical Christians, who roar with the lion’s head, disguise tlieir body in the form of a goat, and a scapegoat at that, and then wiggle the tail of a venomous dragon. They are continually belching forth flames of fire (hell fire) upon all who differ from their favorite dogmas, creeds and sects, vide Dr. Briggs, the “heretic,” and Kananda, the “pagan.” Some of their pet and petrified dogmas are comprised in this quarto of beautiful specimens, “The fall of man in Eden” ; “The sin of unbelief” ; “An atonement by proxy,” and “The eternal punishment of the damned.” If they encounter an individual with manhood, moral courage and wisdom …, they proceed at once to damn him.
These mongrel specimens love to sing “This world is all a fleeting show,” and so it is, a veritable Wonderland menagerie, filled with curious, incongruous monstrosities and deformities, such as Baptist barnacles, petrified Presbyterians, and Methodist mummies. . . .
Mind, I do not speak of those broad-hearted, liberal, thinking, reasoning, truthful Christians, of whom thank God there are many. I am speaking of the vaster body of chimerical Christians. “By their works ye shall know them.” Intolerance, bigotry, superstition, envy, malice and falsehood are their prominent features.
. . . They evade the truth, and are false even unto themselves. . . . They delight to prate of missionary work among the heathen, thanking God “they are not as other men are.” The pagan, so-called, could teach them more of the fundamental truth of religion than they ever dreamed of in their philosophy. Better far to be like the heathen worshipping even a false god, than to be false to the God they pretend to worship. . . .
There is but one religion, one philosophy, one God over all. Religion is love ; not love of self, but love of God and all His creatures. Religion: People preach for it, write for it, fight for it, die for it, do everything but live for it. . . .
A religious Hindoo comes to us and talks of love, asking for bread and they give him a stone. He tells them he gladly accepts their Christ with His religion which is old to them as the “rock of ages” upon the eternal hills, but they will accept neither his word, his philosophy or his religion. . . . They claim Christianity has caused all advancement, all civilization. Whence came all the glory, all the grandeur and all the wisdom existing before the Nazarene Reformer was born among men and became one of the Sons of God? … It is as falsely ridiculous to claim such chimerical Christianity has been the cause of civilization as it would be to say that it was due to plug hats and suspenders. . . .
All nations and all eras have had their reformers and their saviours, and there are more to follow, until even the despised Jew may yet have his long-looked-for Messiah. . . .
Since the advent of the Brahmin Monk, over-zealous and bigoted preachers have tried to defame him and denounce his pure philosophy. They have pointed out the ungodly condition of India ; they have claimed her women were slaves, her law corrupt and vile. A sapient lawyer has quoted whole volumes of the laws of India with sneering sarcasm [see Chapter Six] ; as well might
he have quoted the ancient Mosiac Code, or the blue laws of Connecticut or pointed out our own laws with regard to licentiousness, women and prohibition. India never had drunkards until Christian lands carried them liquor.
As well point out our barbarous treatment of the western Indian, our old slave laws or the records of vice and crime as found in the slums of our modern civilization. . . .
Truth is mighty and must prevail. This world or any other of God’s unlimited universe does not stand upon a turtle, nor is it supported upon any Hercules.
Its corner stones are light, liberty, love and law, and it is the chimerical Christians who would knock away these four corner stones of the universe. . . .
Another intolerant bigot, occupying a Detroit pulpit, recently cast a slur on the world’s parliament of religion, by warning his brethren to have no affiliation therewith. . . .
Let the Star of Bethlehem be the true Christian’s polar star; let it arise and shine with all its ancient glory, as beheld by the wise men of the east; let its splendid light banish the mists of error and the darkness that befogs men’s brains. Let it light up the dark and narrow aisles, not alone in pagan but in Christian lands, until the monster Chimera, the false deformity of Christianity, shall hide its hideous head forevermore.
Deldoc is to be thanked for his articulate dissertations, for rarely do we find so explicit a description of the religious bigotry existing in the United States some sixty years ago. It was, moreover, a description which would tend to make Christian ministers less inclined to cast stones across the sea.
During the first week of Swamiji’s second visit to Detroit he was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Palmer. Mr. Palmer was one of Detroit’s wealthy businessmen who felt it their responsibility to enter politics. “In those days,” it is said in a history of Detroit, “a financially successful man was supposed to put his talents to the public service; a duty to keep public affairs straight was part of the price of success.” Palmer put his talents to the service not only of Detroit but of the federal government. After holding various local offices, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1883, and at the end of his term was appointed Minister to Spain. Shortly after Palmer had resigned this post, he was chosen Chief Commissioner of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, and it was, no doubt, at the Parliament of Religions that ho first came to know and to love Swamiji.
Of his Detroit host Swamiji wrote to Mary Hale on March 12 : “I am now living with Mr. Palmer. He is a very nice gentleman. He gave a dinner the night before last to a group of his old friends, each more than 60 years of age, which he calls his ‘old boys’ club.’ ” And again, on March 15, he writes: “I am pulling on well with old Palmer. He is a very jolly, good old man…
The funniest things said about me here was in one of the papers which said, ‘The cyclonic Hindu has come and is a guest with Mr. Palmer. Mr. Palmer has become a Hindu and is going to India ; only he insists that two reforms should be carried out: firstly that the Car of Jaggernath should be drawn by Percherons raised in Mr. Palmer’s Loghouse Farm, and secondly that the Jersey cow be admitted into the pantheon of Hindu sacred cows.’ Mr. Palmer is passionately fond of both Percheron horse and Jersey cow and has a great stock of both in his Loghouse Farm. . . . [He] makes me laugh the whole day. Tomorrow there is going to be another dinner party.”
Mr. Palmer’s “Old Boys Club” consisted of some of the most influential citizens of Detroit, one of whom was host on the evening of March 15 at one of the many dinners given for Swamiji. The following items which tell of this event appeared in the Detroit Journal of March 16, and the Free Press of March 17, respectively:
DINNER TO KANANDA
Pleasant Function of E. W. Cottrell Last Evening.
Eber W. Cottrell gave a very elaborate dinner last evening at his residence, 155 Lafayette-ave., Vive Kananda being the guest of honor. The other guests who shared the delightful affair were Ex-Senator T. W. Palmer, M. S. Smith, W. Livingstone, jr., F. E. Driggs,
Capt. Gardener, of Fort Wayne, Michael Brennan, G.W. Cottrell and George C. Robinson.
KANANDA LECTURES AGAIN MONDAY.
Eber W. Cottrell entertained Kananda at his residence, 155 Lafayette avenue, last night. A charming dinner was given and the distinguished Hindoo was the center of attraction. Among others who were present were Hon. T. W. Palmer, M. S. Smith, W. Livingstone, Jr., F. E. Driggs, Michael Brennan, George Robinson and Capt. Gardener, of Fort Wayne. Kananda is extremely happy in this kind of a gathering. He is quick to reply to all questions, and his conversation is interesting and instructive. One of the guests commenting upon the event remarked that the eastern brother displayed a subtlety which is a characteristic of the educated Hindoos. On Monday night Kananda will lecture at the Auditorium, taking for his subject “Brahmanism.” [His subject was “Buddhism.”]
Almost every name mentioned in the above reports is also mentioned in histories of Detroit. These were men who ardently and dutifully engaged in politics and who championed numerous measures intended to promote the public welfare. They were, in a sense, merchant-princes in an age in which politics had a place folr merchants and princes. They were good and solid men, and Swamiji talking to them at their elaborate, many-coursed dinners was as much a( home as he was at Mrs. Bagley’s feminine “afternoons.”
Swamiji stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Palmer for a festive and strenuous week, toward the end of which Mrs. Bagley, understandably, began to become restive. A letter from Swamiji to Isabelle McKindley was given in Chapter Five, in which he says: “I have returned today to Mrs. Bagley’s as she was sorry that I would remain so long with Mr. Palmer. Of course in Palmer’s house there was real ‘good time.’ He is a real jovial heartwhole fellow, and likes ‘good time’ a little too much and his ‘hot Scotch.’ But he is right along innocent and childlike in his simplicity.” (Although Mr. Palmer liked his “hot Scotch,” it should perhaps be mentioned that in later years he became an ardent advocate of Prohibition.)
It was probably while Swamiji was staying with Mr. Palmer that he broke his contract with the lecture bureau – a three-year contract which within four months had become a kind of bondage to him. Perhaps it was some of Swamiji’s businessmen acquaintances who were instrumental in freeing him, for according to Sister Christine, had it not been for the intervention of influential friends, there would have been no way out. Breaking the contract, however, involved a financial loss. It has been learned from a reliable source that it was a loss of almost all the money Swamiji had so far saved for India!
It is difficult to estimate exactly how much he had earned and saved during his tour, for his references to money – a subject distasteful to him – are few and far between. It is fairly certain, however, that although he had lectured almost incessantly since his arrival in America, he could not have accumulated a great deal by March, 1894. Not only had the management of the bureau exploited him as though he were some sort of curiosity at whom people in small towns would pay to stare, but it had cheated him at every turn, taking from the box-office receipts a much greater percentage than was customary. In addition, while trying to earn money for India Swamiji had many expenses of traveling, staying in hotels, buying suitable clothing and so on.
As for financial contributions to his cause, we know only that Mr. Freer donated two hundred dollars. Whether or not Mr. Palmer and the other “merchant-princes” of Swamiji’s acquaintance also contributed we have no.way of knowing. We do know, however, a little in regard to his earnings. For instance, immediately following the Parliament he writes that he received “from 30 to 80 dollars a lecture” (Chapter One). His next mention of his earnings comes in January of 1894, when he wrote, “A lecture fetches [in America] from two hundred up to three thousand rupees. I have got up to live hundred [about 166 dollars].” Again, on July 11, he wrote, “I earned in one [Detroit lecture] $2,500, i.e., Rs. 7,500, in one hour, but got only 200 dollars! I was cheated by a roguish lecture bureau.” Perhaps, taking the tour as a whole, Swamiji averaged at the most about 75 dollars a lecture. This was an extremely small sum ; but in trying to compute his earnings, one must take into consideration the fact that although prices in general were considered exorbitant, the value of the dollar in America was higher in those days than it is today. As Swamiji himself pointed out, a decent pair of men’s shoes cost $8 and a servant received $2 a day. According to an advertisement in an 1894 Detroit newspaper, one could buy, on sale, a man’s winter suit for $6*75 and a hundred-piece English porcelain dinner set for $7-50. At this rate, 75 dollars was perhaps no trifling amount even in America, whereas in India it was a small fortune. Nonetheless, compared to the amount of energy that Swamiji expended, his Midwestern tour was, to say the least, not lucrative. Moreover, the criticism he was receiving from missionary circles as well as from some of his own countrymen was doing his work considerable harm. On June 20 he wrote to India: “Now lecturing for a year in
this country, l could not succeed at all (of course, I have no wants
for myself in my plan of raising some funds for setting up my work. First, this year is a very bad year in America ; thousands of their poor are without work. Secondly, the missionaries and the Brahmo Samaj try to thwart all my views. Thirdly, a year has rolled by, and our country could not even do so much for me as to say to the American people that I was a real Sannyasin and no cheat, and that I represent the Hindu religion.”
For almost a year Swamiji labored without the slightest support from his countrymen, and while he earned enough through lecturing* to pay his own expenses, there could not have been much left over. For the benefit of those who judged his financial success by the popularity of his lectures and who, for one reason or another, begrudged him any gain, the following item in the Detroit Critic, March 25, pointed out how little he was actually making:
I hear a great deal about the money Kananda is making by his rather sensational campaign in the efforts to propagate the great truths and beauties and spiritual blessings of heathenism in Detroit. The financial gain to Kananda, I happen to know, is almost as meager as the salaries of Christian missionaries sent to India at the instance of the Foreign Missions departments of our various denominations. The fact is that he is making barely anything. He has been here now some six weeks, and during that time has given a public lecture at the Detroit Opera House, one at the Auditorium, one in a church and one or two in the state. At the first the opera house got about all the money in sight; at the Auditorium, unless Mrs. Bagley made him the present of the use of the building – which seems possible as he has been her guest – he did well if he cleared expenses; at the church I don’t know how he came out, probably better than anywhere else. The afternoon talks at private houses which gave him his reputation are as free as air. So Kananda, as I figure it, has done little more the past six weeks than play even and besides, the territory is now worked out. The fact remains, however, that with rapid traveling and large territory he would be a paying attraction.
The afternoon talks which are mentioned above as having given Swamiji his reputation and as having been as free as air, electrified Detroit as much as did his public lectures. During these talks in private homes Swamiji spoke on many subjects which did not fall within his. lectures, answering innumerable questions that must have ranged all the way from the conditions of village life in India to the subtleties of Hinduism and, in so doing, refreshing the minds of his listeners with the newness and brilliance of his ideas. Even his most casual comments and observations were quoted far and wide. One of these was published by the Evening News of March 21, as follows:
Curiosity, says our Hindoo visitor, is the most conspicuous trait of the American people ; but he added that it is the way to knowledge. This has long been the European estimate of the American, or more strictly the Yankee character, and perhaps the Hindoo’s comment was only an echo of what lie had heard the Englishmen in India say of the “Yankee.”
The News, of course, was consistently adverse to giving Swamiji any credit for originality. It is noteworthy, however, that the phrase, “Our Hindoo visitor,” needed no further explanation, so famous had he become in Detroit.
Fortunately Swamiji’s afternoon talks are not entirely lost to us. ‘Flic following article, which appeared in the Detroit Tribune of March 17, was evidently written from notes on Friday afternoon, March 16:
KNEW NOT KIPLING.
Kananda Never Heard of Him till He Came Here.
Hardly Agrees Will Some of the Stories Rudy aid Has Told.
The Monk Explains that It is Not Proper to Talk of the Profession of Lalun in India – The Oriental Custom a Terrible Thing, Kananda Admits.
“Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world. Lilith was her very great-grandmamma,
and that was before the days of Eve, as everyone knows. In the west people say rude things about Lalun’s profession and write lectures about it, and distribute the lectures to young persons in order that morality may be preserved. In the east, where the profession is hereditary, descending from mother to daughter, nobody writes lectures or takes any notice.”
The story of which the sentences that precede this one are a paragraph, was written in India. They were written by Rudyard Kipling, from whom most of us have learned all that we definitely know about India, with the exception of the fact that India raises wheat enough to be a great competitor of our own farmers, that men work there for two cents a day and that women throw their babies into the Ganges, which is the sacred river of the country.
But Vivekananda, since he came to this country, has exploded the story about the women of India feeding their babies to the alligators, and now he says that he never heard of Rudyard Kipling until he came to America and that it is not proper in India to talk of such a profession as that of Lalun, out of which Mr. Kipling has made one of his most delightful and instructive tales.
“In India,” said Kananda yesterday, “we do not discuss such things. No one ever speaks of those unfortunate women. When a woman is discovered to be unchaste in India gjjue is hurled out from her caste. No one thereafter can touch or speak to her. If she went into the house they would take up and clean the carpets and wash the walls she breathed against. No one can have anything to do with such a person. There are no women who are not virtuous in Indian society. It is not at all as it is in this country. Here there are bad women living side by side with virtuous women in your society. One can not know who is bad and who is good in America. But in India once a woman slips 3he is an outcast forever, she and her children, sons and daughters. It is terrible, I admit, but it keeps society pure.”
“How about the men?” was asked. “Does the same rule hold in regard to them? Are they outcast when they are proven to be unchaste?”
“Oh, no. It is quite different with them. It would be so, perhaps, if they could be found out. But the men move about. They can go from place to place. It is not possible to discover them. The women are shut up in the house. They are certainly discovered if they do anything wrong. And when they are discovered they are thrown out. Nothing can save them. Sometimes it is very hard when a father has to give up his daughter or a husband his wife. But if they do not give them up they will be banished with them, too. It is very different in this country. Women cannot go about there and make associations as they do here. It is very terrible, but it makes society pure.
Our Great Sin.
“I think that unchastity is the one great sin of your country. It must be so, there is so much luxury here. A poor girl would sell herself for a new bonnet. It must be so where there is so much luxury.”
Mr. Kipling says this about Lalun and her profession: “Lalun’s real husband, for even ladies of Lalun’s profession have husbands in the east, was a great, big jujube tree. Her mama, who had married a fig, spent ten thousand rupees on Lalun’s wedding, which was blessed by forty-seven clergymen of mama’s church, and distributed 5,000 rupees in charity to the poor. And that was a custom of the land.”
In India when a woman is unfaithful to her husband she loses her caste, but none of her civil or religious rights. She can still own property and the temples are still open to her.
“Yes,” said Kananda, “a bad woman is not allowed to marry. She can not marry any one without their being an outcast’like herself, so she marries a tree, or sometimes a sword. It is the custom. Sometimes these women grow very rich and become very charitable, but they can never regain their caste. In the interior towns, where they still adhere to the old customs she cannot ride in a carriage, no matter how wealthy she may be ; the best that she is allowed is a pair of bullocks. And then in India she has to wear a dress of her own, so that she can be distinguished. You can sec these people going by, but no one ever speaks to them. The greatest number of these women is in the cities. A good many of them are Jews, Loo, but they all have different quarters of the cities, you know. They all live apart. It is a singular thing that, bad as they are, wretched as some of these women are, they will not admit a Christian lover. They will not eat with them or touch them – the ‘omnivorous barbarians/ as they call them. They call them that because they eat everything. Do you know what that disease, the unspeakable disease, is called in India? It is called ‘Bad Faringan’ which means ‘the Christian disease’ It was the Christians that brought it into India”
“Has there been any attempt in India to solve this question? Is it a public question the way it is in America?’
“No, there has been very little done in India. There is a great field for women missionaries if they would convert prostitutes of India. They do nothing in India – very little. There is one sect, the Veshnava [Vaishnava], who try reclaim these women. This is. a religious sect. I think about 90 per cent of all prostitutes belong to this sect. This sect does not believe in caste and they go everywhere without reference to caste. There are certain temples, as the temple of Jagatnot [Jagannath], where there is no caste. Everybody who goes into that town takes off his caste while he is there because that is holy ground and everything is supposed to be pure there. When he goes outside he resumes it again, for caste is a mere worldly
thing. You know some of the castes are so particular that they will not eat any food unless it is prepared by themselves. They will not touch any one outside of their caste. But in this city they all live together. This is the only sect in India that makes proselytes.
It makes everybody a member of its church. It goes into the Himalayas and converts the wild men. You perhaps did not know that there were wild men in India. Yes, there are. They dwell at the foot of the Himalayas.”
“Is there any ceremony by which a woman is declared unchaste, a civil process?” Kananda was asked.
“No, it is not a civil process. It is just custom. Sometimes thcic is a formal ceremony and sometimes there is not. They simply make pariahs of them. When any woman is suspected sometimes they get together and give her a sort of trial, and if it is decided that she is guilty then a note is sent around to all the other members of the caste and she is banished.
“Mind you,” he exclaimed, “I do not mean to say that this is a solution of the question. The custom is terribly rigid. But you have no solution of the question, either. It is a terrible thing. It is a great wrong of the western world.”
On March 13, the Evening News printed the following little item:
CHANCE FOR KANANDA
Another Christian Pastor Touches up His Religion.
A leading catholic clergyman of Detroit, who gives the origin of Buddhism as it is found in the encyclopedias, says the 10 commandments of Buddha were taken from Hebrewism, which spread into India in the reign* of Alexander the Great. These 10 commandments are the same as those which Moses found up in the mountain. Here’s a chance for Kananda.
Whether Swamiji was aware of this “chance” or not, he gave a very clear answer to the leading Catholic deigyman of Detroit in the lecture which he gave at the Auditorium on Monday, March 19. The following article is a report of that lecture which appeared in both the Detroit Journal and the Detroit Tribune of March 20. Unfortunately, for it is all we have of this lecture on Buddhism, it is short. The following is from the Tribune:
AS THE WAVE FOLLOWS WAVE
So Soul Follows Soul, according to Kananda.
Vivekananda lectured to an audience of about 150 [according to the Journal, 500] at the Auditorium last night upon “Buddhism, the Religion of the Light of Asia.” Honorable Don M. Dickinson introduced him to the audience.
“Who shall say that this system of religion is divine and that doomed?” asked Mr. Dickinson in his introductory remarks. “Who shall draw the mystic line?”
He also said that at one time the followers of Buddha were the unwilling allies of the Christian religion. Kananda appeared in a robe of orange yellow with a sash-like cord about the waist, and a turban draped out of some eastern cloth of silken texture, the flowing end of which was brought in front over one shoulder.
Vivekananda reviewed at length the early religions of India. He told of the great slaughter of animals on the altar of sacrifice ; of Buddha’s birth and life ; of his puzzling questions to himself over the causes of creation and the reasons for existence; of the earnest struggle of Buddha to find the solution of creation and life; of the final result.
Buddha, he said, stood head and shoulders above all other men. He was one, he said, [of] whom his
friends or enemies could never say that he drew a breath or ate a crumb of bread but for the good of all.
“He never preached transmigration of the soul” said Kananda, “except he believed one soul was to its successor like the wave of the ocean that grew and died away, leaving naught to the succeeding wave but its force. He never preached that there was a God, nor did he deny there was a God.
” ‘Why should we be good?’ his disciples asked of him.
” ‘Because,’ he said, ‘you inherited good. Let you in your turn leave some heritage of good to your successors. Let us all help the onward march of accumulated goodness, for goodness* sake/
“He was the first prophet. He never abused any one or arrogated anything to himself. He believed in our working out our own salvation in religion.
” ‘I can’t tell you,’ he said, on his death bed, ‘nor any one. Depend not on any one. Work out your own religion [salvation]
“He protested against the inequality of man and man, or of man and beast. All life was equal, he preached. He was the first man to uphold the doctrine of prohibition in liquors. ‘Be good and do good/ he said. ‘If there is a God you have him by being good.
If there is no God, being good is good. He is to be blamed for all he suffers. He is to be praised for all his good.’
“He was the first who brought the missionaries into existence. He came as a savior to the downtrodden millions of India. They could not understand his philosophy, but they saw the man and his teachings and they followed him”
In conclusion Kananda said that Buddhism was the foundation of the Christian religion; that the catholic church came from Buddhism.
This lecture on Buddhism had been advertised as Swamiji’s “farewell lecture” which he no doubt intended it to be, for on
March 20 he had an engagement at Bay City, and on March 21 one at Saginaw, relatively small cities in Michigan not far from Detroit. But before he left Detroit Swamiji evidently had to promise his friends to come Backas soon as he “had filled his out-of-town engagements (which will be dealt with in a later chapter). In the Sunday News Tribune of March 18 we read the following item:
Swami Vivekananda has been prevailed upon to deliver a lecture on “The Women of India” next Saturday evening in the Unitarian Church. This is a subjec t he has not exploited in Detroit, and his immediate friends here expect to be highly entertained and instructed.
The condition of women in India, as has already been seen, was one of the topics of discussion at Swamiji’s afternoon talks. So inspiring and so ennobling must have been his description of the Hindu ideals of womanhood, and so contrary must they have been to missionary propaganda that it is little wonder that Swamiji was asked to make his talks on the subject available to the public. This he did, but unfortunately his lecture on “The Women of India” was reported upon only briefly by the Free Press and the Evening News of March 25 respectively, as follows (an item in the Journal was a repetition of that in the Free Press.):
WOMEN OF INDIA
In the West Woman is a Wife ; in the East a Mother.
Kananda lectured last night at the Unitarian church on “The Women of India.” The speaker reverted to the women of ancient India, showing in what high regard they are held in the holy books, where women were prophetesses. Their spirituality then was admirable. It is unfair to judge women in the east by the western- standard. In the west woman is the wife ; in the east she is the mother. The Hindoos worship the idea of mother, and even the monks are required to touch the earth with their foreheads before their mothers. Chastity is much esteemed.
The lecture was one of the most interesting Kananda has delivered, and he was warmly received.
Vivekananda Lectured upon Them Last Night.
Swami Vivekananda lectured at the Unitarian Church last night on ” The Women of India, Past, Medieval and the Present.” lie stated that in India the woman was the visible manifestation of God and that her whole life was given up to the thought that she was a mother, and to be a perfect mother she must be chaste. No mother in India ever abandoned her offspring, he said, and defied any one to prove the contrary. The girls of India would die if they, like American girls, were obliged to expose half their bodies to the vulgar gaze of young men. He desired that India be judged from the standard of that country and not from this.
Evidently Swamiji did not say enough in this lecture to satisfy those who had heard his afternoon talks on the same subject. Fortunately, however, someone had the good judgment to take notes at one of those informal gatherings, and thus at least some of the things that Swamiji had said and did not repeat in the lecture were preserved for the Detroit public (and for ns) in the following article which appeared in the Tribune of April 1, 1894:
“WOMEN OF INDIA.”
Things Kananda Forgot to Say Publicly.
Scraps of Conversation Reported by One of His Listeners.
When He Sees a Hindu Girl Kananda “Marvels That God could Make Anything so Exquisite” – Christian Witch vs. Hindu Widow Burning – Things to Read.
While Swami Kananda was in Detroit he had a number of conversations, in which he answered questions regarding the women of India. It was the information he thus imparted that suggested a public lecture from him on this subject. But as he speaks without notes, some of the points he made in private conversation did not appear in his public address. Then his friends were in a measure disappointed. But one of his lady listeners has put on paper some of the things he told in his afternoon talks, and it is now for the first time given to the press:
To the great tablelands of the high Himalaya mountains first came the Aryans, and there to this day abides the pure type of Brahman, a people which we westerners can but dream of. Pure in thought, deed and action, so honest that a bag of gold left in a public place would be found unharmed twenty years after; so beautiful that, to u&T Kananda’s own phrase, “to see a girl in the fields is to pause and marvel that God could make anything so exquisite.” Their features are regular, their eyes and hair dark, and their skin the color which would be produced by the drops which fell from a pricked finger into a glass of milk. These are the Hindus in their pure type, untainted and untrammeled.
As to their property laws, the wife’s dowry belongs to her exclusively, never becoming the property of the husband. She can sell or give away without his consent. The gifts from any one to herself, including those of the husband, are hers alone, to do with as she pleases.
Woman walks abroad without fear; she is as free as perfect trust in those about her can render her. There is no zenana in the Himalayas, and there is a part of India which the missionaries never reach. These villages are most difficult of access. These people, untouched by Mahometan influence, can but be reached by wearisome and toilsome climbing, and are unknown to Mahometan and Christian alike.
India’s First Inhabitants.
In the forest of India are found races of wild people – very wild, even to cannibalism. These are the original Indians and never were Aryan or Hindu.
As the Hindus settled in the country proper and spread over its vast area, corruptions of many kinds found home among them. The sun was scorching and the men exposed to it were dark in color.
Five generations are but needed to change the transparent glow of the white complexion of the dwellers of the Himalaya Mountains to the bronzed hue of the Hindu of India.
Kananda has one brother very fair and one darker than himself. His father and mother are fair. The women are apt to be, the cruel etiquette of the Zenana established for piotection from the Mohammedans keeping them within doors, fairer. Kananda is thirty-one years old.
A Clip at American Men.
Kananda asserts with an amused twinkle in his eye that American men amuse him. They profess to worship woman, but in his opinion they simply worship youth and beauty. They never fall in love with wrinkles and gray hair. In fact he is under a strong
impression that American men once had a trick – inherited, to be sure – of burning up their old women. Modern history calls this the burning of witches. It was men who accused and condemned witches, and it
was usually the old age of the victim that led her to
the stake. So it is seen that burning women alive is
not exclusively a Hindu custom. He thought that if
it were remembered that the Christian church burned old women at the stake, there would be less horror expressed regarding the burning of Hindu widows.
The Hindu widow went to her death agony amid feasting and song, arrayed in her costliest garments and believing for the most part that such an act meant the glories of Paradise for herself and family. She was worshiped as a martyr and her name was enshrined among the family records.
However horrible the rite appears to us, it is a bright picture compared to the burning of the Christian witch who, considered a guilty thing from the first, was thrown in a stifling dungeon, tortured cruelly to extort confession, subjected to an infamous trial, dragged amid jeering to the stake and consoled amid her sufferings by the bystander’s comfort that the burning of her body was but the symbol for hell’s everlasting fires, in which her soul would suffer even greater torment.
Mothers are Sacred.
Kananda says the Hindu is taught to worship the principle of motherhood. The mother outranks the wife. The mother is holy. The motherhood of God is more in his mind than the fatherhood.
All women, whatever the caste, are exempt .from corporal punishment. Should a woman murder, her head is spared. She may be placed astride a donkey facing his tail. Thus riding throifgh the streets a drummer shouts her crime, after which she is free, her humiliation being deemed sufficient punishment to serve as a preventive for further crime.
Should she care to repent, there are religious houses open to her, where she can become purified or she can at her own option at once enter the class of monks and so become a holy woman.
The question was put to Mr. Kananda whether the freedom thus allowed in the joining the monks without a superior over them did not tend to hypocrisy among the order, as he claims, of the purest of Hindu philosophers. Kananda assented, but explained that there is no one between the people and the monk. The monk lias broken down all caste. A Brahmin will not touch the low-castc Hindu, but Jet him or her become a monk and the mightiest will prostrate himself before the low-caste monk.
‘The people are obliged to lake care of the monk, but only as long as they believe in his sincerity. Once condemned for hypocrisy he is called a liar and falls to the depths of mendicancy – a mere wandering beggar-inspiring no respect.
A woman has the right of way with even a prince. When the studious Greeks visited Hindustan to learn of the Hindu, all doors were open to them, but when the Mohammedan with his sword and the Englishman with his bullets came their doors were closed. Such guests were not welcomed. As Kananda deliciously words it: “When the tiger comes we close our doors
until he has passed by.”
The Untied States, says Kananda, has inspired him with hopes for great possibilities in the future, but our destiny, as that of the world, rests not in the lawmakers of today, but in the women. Mr. Kananda’s words:”The salvation of your country depends upon its women.”
The lecture, “The Women of India” was Swamiji’s last in “the dynamic city” He left shortly afterward, not to return until the early part of 1896 when, on invitation, he held classes and lectures in Detroit for a period of about two weeks. Of this later visit Mary Funke writes:
He was accompanied by his stenographer, the faithful Goodwin. They occupied a suite of rooms at The Richelieu, a small family hotel, and had the use of the large drawing-room for class work and lectures.
The room was not large enough to accommodate the crowds and to our great regret many were turned away. The room, as also the hall, staircase and library were literally packed. At that time he was all Bhakti – the love for God was a hunger and a thirst with him.
A kind of divine madness seemed to take possession of him, as if his heart would burst with longing for the Beloved Mother.
His last public appearance in Detroit was at the Temple Beth El of which the Rabbi Louis Grossman, an ardent admirer of the Swami, was the pastor. It was Sunday evening and so great was the crowd that we almost feared a panic. There was a solid line reaching far out into the street and hundreds were turned away. Vivekananda held the large audience spell-bound, his subject being … “The Ideal of a Universal Religion.”
He gave us a most brilliant and masterly discourse. Never had I seen the Master look as he looked that night. There was something in his Beauty not of
Inasmuch as Swamiji was so much loved and respected by the Bagley family, it would seem strange that he did not stay at their home during this 1896 visit. On making inquiries, however, I have learned that in 1896 Mrs. Bagley was making a prolonged stay in Colorado where one of her daughters was recovering from tuberculosis. (Two years later, still in Colorado, Mrs. Bagley died from a sudden attack of appendicitis.) Had she been in Detroit in 1896 Swamiji would surely have again been her guest – together with the faithful * Goodwin – and have filled her large drawing-rooms with crowds of people; for despite the fact that a whispering campaign had been waged against him during his absence, his fame and popularity had grown rather than decreased.
As has been pointed out earlier, there was scarcely any opposition in Detroit to Swamiji’s highly provocative lecture, “Christian Missions in India,” which he had delivered in reply to previous and uninhibited criticism from the orthodox clergy and the missionaries. Why this sudden silence? It certainly did not mean that Swamiji’s opponents had been overcome by a sense of universal brotherhood and toleration. One factor, however, that should never be ignored in trying to explain various reactions to Swamiji’s lectures is the tremendous – one might almost say supernatural – power he was able to exert when he so wished, and in this particular instance it would indeed seem that some power had drained away the strength of his opponents. But however that may be, the strange new silence marked a turning point in the attitude of orthodox Christianity toward India. From this time forward few missionaries or clergymen stood up in America and openly made absurd statements in regard to Hinduism such as had for generations poisoned the Western mind.
This is not to say that all open opposition to Swamiji was suddenly dispensed with. On the contrary, Christian missionaries still indulged in a great deal of propaganda, although the center of their operations was henceforth India rather than America. As far as America was concerned, the opposition went underground where, joining already existing forces, it commenced a whispering campaign in an effort to besmirch Swamiji’s character. It is shocking to contemplate, but Swamiji’s enemies, whoever they may have been, not only spread malicious scandal about him in a desperate attempt to discredit him in the eyes of his supporters and followers, but plotted to do away with him altogether.
The following story comes to us from the recorded and published conversations of Swami Vijnanananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, who heard it from Swamiji himself. It was at a
dinner in Detroit that Swamiji, about to drink his coffee, saw by his side the vision of Sri Ramakrishna warning him, “Do not drink – it is poisoned.” Such a story would perhaps not pass as evidence in the law courts, but when told by Swamiji and retold by Swami Vijnanananda, a great monk, a great knower of God and a great scholar, we cannot doubt its veracity, nor can we fail to accept it as an indication of the virulent enmity of some individuals towards Swamiji. ,
“But the Guru is with me,” he had written in another connection to Swami Ramakrishnananda in January of 1894, “what could anyone do?”
Swamiji’s friends were also unshakably with him. We know from “The Life” how Mrs. Bagley and her daughter, Helen Bagiev, wrote letters repudiating the scandal his enemies had spread in Detroit and elsewhere through anonymous letters and whispering campaigns. The Bagley letters are so eloquent and throw so much light on Swamiji’s stay in Detroit, that I believe they can be quoted here without fear of burdening the reader.
Writing to a friend from Annisquarn, Massachusetts, on June 22, 1894, Mrs. Bagley says:
You write of my dear friend, Vivekananda. I am glad of an opportunity to express my admiration of his charac ter and it makes me most indignant that anyone should call him in question. He has given us in America higher ideas of life than we have ever had before. In Detroit, old conservative city, in all the Clubs he is honoured as no one has ever been, and I only feel that all who say one word against him are jealous of his greatness and his fine spiritual perceptions ; and yet how can they be? He does nothing to make them so.
He has been a revelation to Christians, … he has made possible for all of us a diviner and more noble practical life. As a religious teacher and an example to all I do not know his equal. It is so wrong and so untrue to say that he is intemperate. All who have been
brought in contact with him day by day, speak enthusiastically of his sterling qualities of character, and men in Detroit who judge most critically, and who are unsparing, admire and respect him. .. . He has been a guest in my house more than three weeks, and my sons as well as my son-in-law and my entire family found Swami Vivekananda a gentleman always, most courteous and polite, a charming companion and an , ever-welcome guest. I have invited him to visit us at my summer-home here at Annisquam, and in my family he will always be honoured and welcomed. I am really sorry for those who say aught against him, more than I am angry, for they know so little what they are talking about. He has been with Mr. and Mrs. Hale of Chicago much of the time while in that city. I think that has been his home. They invited him first as guest and later were unwilling to part with him. They are Presbyterians ; . . . cultivated and refined people, and they admire, respect and love Vivekananda. He is a strong, noble human being, one who walks with God. He is simple and trustful as a child. In Detroit I gave him an evening reception, inviting ladies and gentlemen, and two weeks afterwards he lectured to invited guests in my parlour. … I had included lawyers, judges, ministers, army-officers, physicians and businessmen 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.
Every human being would be made better by knowing him and living in the same house with him. . . . I want every one in America to know Vivekananda* and if’India has more such let her send them to us.
And in another letter, dated March 20, 1895, Mrs. Bagley writes to the same friend, who was evidently hearing a great deal of gossip and who was inclined to listen:
Let my first word be that all this about Swami Vivekananda is absolute falsehood from beginning to end. Nothing could be more false. We all enjoyed every day of the six weeks he spent with us. . . . He was invited by the different clubs of gentlemen in 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. No one knew him without respecting his integrity and excellence of character and his strong religious nature. At Annisquam last summer I had a cottage and we wrote Vivekananda, who was in Boston, inviting him again to visit us there, which he did, remaining three weeks, not only conferring a favour upon us, but a great pleasure I am sure, to friends who had cottages near us. My servants, I have had many years and they are all still with me. Some of them went with us to Annisquam, the others were at home. You can see how wholly without foundation are all these stories. Who this woman in Detroit is, of whom you speak, I do not know. I only know this that every word of her story’ is as untrue and false as possible. . .
We all know Vivekananda. Who are they that they speak so falsely?
“This dignified and powerful refutation of the scandals circulated against the Swami,” says “The Life,” “was supplemented by another letter written on the following day by Mrs. Baglcy’s daughter”:
I am glad to know that the story was not circulated by R-. If I find it possible I wish to see Mrs.
S-and ask her what her authority for such a statement was. I shall do it quietly of course, but I am
going to find out for once, if possible, iwho starts these lies about Vivekananda. These things travel fast, and if once one is uprooted, perhaps these women will stop to think before they circulate a story so readily. If only they would investigate them they would find how false they all are. . . .
It is significant that the only public rejoinder of any importance to the lecture on “Christian Missions in India” came from outside Detroit when, on March 21, the Reverend R. A. Hume, the director of a mission in India, wrote an open letter to Swamiji in an obvious but unsuccessful attempt to draw him into a public debate. Swamiji replied briefly to this letter, whereupon Hume, having received little satisfaction, again stated what he considered to be his case, and there, for the time being, the matter rested. This correspondence, according to Hume’s wish, was published in the Detroit Free Press of April 8, 1894, and later led to a long-drawn-out controversy in which Swamiji took no part. The Rev. Mr. Hume, who, as readers may remember, had said at the Parliament of Religions: “In a
generation all the positions of influence and responsibility will be in the hands of the Christian community of India,” wrote his first letter to Swamiji from Auburndale, Massachusetts, on March 21, 1894. It commenced:
My Fellow-countryman from India:
A Detroit Free Press of March 12, 1894, has just been sent me, giving a long report of your address in the Detroit Opera House on March 11. As one who was born in India and has spent most of his life there, who
has traveled there extensively, and known leaders of Indian thought in all parts, and seen hundreds of missionaries in their work, I am surprised at many things which you are reported as having said. Therefore I write you this letter and first send it privately, with the hope that in reply you will wish decidedly to modify the impression made by that report. But as that has been printed, I desire afterwards to have this letter
printed, and, if you wish, to have your answer also printed.
Much as I should like to speak of many things in your reported address, it seems better to touch only a few points.
The remainder of Hume’s letter occupies a column of small type two feet long. As this seems too much to impose upon the present reader, I shall give a summary of Hume’s points. There were eight of them.
1. Hume expressed surprise and regret that the Swami did not have one good thing to say about Christian missionaries in India and declared that the majority of missionaries were college graduates and self-sacrificing men and women who spoke the vernaculars better than any other group of foreigners. In defense of their activity he quoted from a report of the director of public instruction in Madras, and also from an appreciative editorial in the Hindu, a daily paper published in Madras for and by Hindus.
2. Hume did not approve of Swamiji’s disparagement of Christian converts and stated that whatever insincerity and venality there might be in some was “manifestly due, not to their Christianity but to their Hinduism.”
3. Hume was astonished that Swamiji had said that the interest in America in foreign missions was probably due to a decline of Christianity at home. He countered by saying that if Christianity were declining at home, the people would not be so interested in spreading their religion abroad.
4. Hume denied that missionaries vilified the people of
India and spread vile falsehoods about them. Some of the stories,
he admitted, might not apply to the whole of India, but were true of parts of India that Swamiji had not visited.
5. He then proceeded to give Swamiji an overall picture of the Indian people and their religion, a picture that was ninety-nine per cent condemnatory.
6. He further told him what the missionaries were trying to teach: they were trying to teach that God was universal and that Jesus Christ was the only savior.
7. In substantiation of the missionaries’ belief that only Christianity could save India, Hume quoted from Kipling: “What’s the matter with this country is not in the least political, but an all-round entanglement of physical, social, and moral evils and corruptions, all more or less due to the unnatural treatment of women. . . . The foundations of their life are rotten – utterly rotten.”
8. In conclusion Hume challenged Swamiji to invite his audience to come to India and help the Hindus. “You are not likely,” he said, “to get more than a few travelers who would like your help in studying theosophy and jugglery and in seeing the country.” The fact was, Hume said, that the Christian missionaries were the only body of foreigners who had cornc to India and who were willing to serve her.
Swamiji wrote a hurried reply to Hume, confining liis remarks, for the most part, to correcting certain statements falsely imputed to him. Other than this he neither modified the Detroit Free Press report of his lecture nor repeated it. His letter read as follows:
Detroit, March 29, 1894
Dear Brother, – Your letter just reached me here. I am in a hurry, so excuse a few points which I would take the liberty of correcting you in.
In the first place, I have not one word to say against any religion or founder of religion in the world – whatever you may think of our religion. All religions are sacred to me. Secondly, it is a misstatement that I said that missionaries do not learn our vernaculars. I still stick to my statement that few, if any, of them pay any attention to Sanskrit; nor is it true that I said anything against any religious body – except that I do insist on my statement that India can never be converted to Christianity, and further I deny that the conditions of the lower classes are made any better by Christianity, and add that the majority of southern Indian Christians are not only Catholics, but what they call themselves, caste Christians, that is, they stick close to their castes, and I am thoroughly persuaded that if the Hindu society
gives up its exclusive policy, ninety per cent of them would rush Backto Hinduism with all its defects.
Lastly, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for calling me your fellow-countryman. This is the first time any European foreigner, born in India though he be, has dared to call a detested native by that name – missionary or no missionary. Would you dare call me the same in India? Ask your missionaries, born in India, to do the same – and those not born, to treat them as fellow human beings. As to the rest, you yourself would call me a fool if I admit that my religion or society submits to be judged by strolling globe-trotters or story-writers’ narratives.
My brother – excuse me – what do you know of my society or religion, though born in India? It is absolutely impossible – the society is so closed ; and over and above, everyone judges from his preconceived standard of race and religion, does he not? Lord bless you for calling me a fellow-countryman. There may still come a brotherly love and fellowship between the East and West.
Yours fraternally, Vivekananda.
In Hume’s defense it should be said that Swamiji had been misquoted in the Detroit papers as having said that Christian missionaries in India could not speak the native language. But although we know that he had been referring to Sanskrit and not to the vernaculars, the fact remained that the attempts of the missionaries to speak the languages of the people left much to be desired. Their often incomprehensible jargon was a standing joke among the Hindus. (Even Protap Chandra Mazoomdar, the Brahmo leader, an avowed devotee of the Christ and a great friend of the Christians, emphatically maintained in an article published in the Outlook that the Christian missionaries did not know the vernaculars as they were spoken by the people.) A few did, however, attain a working knowledge of the native languages, and with Hume’s avowal of this fact Swamiji readily concurred.
But Hume was not content to let the matter drop. His second letter to Swamiji, written on March 31, was largely concerned with the linguistic talents of his colleagues. The important thing, he said, was that the missionaries knew the vernaculars. It did not matter whether or not they knew Sanskrit because even the best Brahmins in India had, he said, no real knowledge of that language. The fact was, however, Hume continued, that some missionaries did know Sanskrit. He himself knew four or five men who were well versed in that language. lie named them.
Hume went on in this second letter to quote again from the Hindu in contradiction of Swamiji’s assertion that the lower classes in India were not benefited by Christianity. In conclusion he avowed that he looked upon India as his own motherland.
Swamiji did not answer this second letter at all, and because of this he was later criticized as having evaded the main issues.
An article in the Outlook of April 28, 1894, editorialized upon the Hume-Vivekananda letters as follows:
MISSIONARIES IN INDIA
Since the meeting of the Parliament of Religions in Chicago two or three members of that body have devoted themselves to lecturing in various parts of the United States against the missionary work in India. One of them – Vivekananda – has been speaking in Detroit, and, as a result of his lectures, an interesting correspondence has appeared in the “Free Press’* of that city. The Hindu monk has met an able and courteous antagonist in the Christian missionary Robert A. Hume. We have seldom read anything more courteous and more utterly conclusive than the letters of Mr. Hume. The Hindu monk unqualifiedly denounced the missionaries; he had not one good thing to say about them. Mr. Hume begins his letter, “My Fellow-Countryman from India.”
He is entitled to begin it in that way because he was himself born in India and has spent the greater part of his life there. [The article goes on to summarize Hume’s letter and then continues:]
The reply of the monk is evasive, and closes with the simple assertion that it is not possible for foreigners to know the people of India, that it is not possible for Mr. Hume, even though he was born in that country. . . .
The simple fact, to say the least, is that Vivekananda finds it quite as difficult to understand and appreciate the Christians as he imagines they And it difficult to understand his people.
Actually, as Swamiji said in the course of a letter, he suspected that Mr. Hume was trying to drag him into a public debate, into which he refused to enter. He had no wish to engage in a controversy with men whose outlook was narrow and superficial, for such debate could be nothing but a waste of time and energy. He again expressed his feeling on this subject when, at a later date, he wrote to Mrs. Hale: “I do not care the
least for the gambols these men play, seeing as I do through and through the insincerity, the hypocrisy and love of self and name that is the only motive power in these men.’ Swamiji’s stand in this matter was fully justified, for later the Reverend Mr. Hume was to show himself in his true colors. Sometime in August of 1894 Swamiji wrote to Dhannapala: “A retired
missionary in this country wrote me a letter addressing me as ‘Fellow-countryman* and tried to create a sensation by quickly printing my brief reply. But you know what the people here think of these gentlemen. This very missionary went to some of my friends in secret and tried to persuade them not to help me in any way. He received only pure contempt from them. I am surprised at this man’s behavior. He is a minister of religion, yet what a hypocrittfhe is!” Nor was the Reverend Mr. Hume satisfied with his attempts to slander Swamiji in America; he later extended his activities to India. On September 9, 1895, Swamiji wrote to Alasinga: “If the missionaries
tell you that I have ever broken the two great vows of the Sannyasin – chastity and poverty – tell them that they are big liars. Please write to the missionary Hume asking him categorically to write you what misdemeanours he saw in mp, or give you the names of his informants, and whether the information was first-hand or not; that will settle this question and expose the whole thing.’* There can be little doubt that this is the same Hume with whom we are concerned and with whom Swamiji rightly refused to engage in debate.
But even had Swamiji wanted to give a point by point reply to Hume, he could only have repeated what he had already said many times to American audiences. Moreover, Hume’s points, though couched in weighty language, were without substance. His central theme (points 5, 6 and 7 of his first letter) was that Hindu religion and culture were all wrong for the Hindus and that conversion to Christianity was their only salvation. Holding this view, it was inevitable that Hume would express surprise and regret that Swamiji had found nothing right about Christian missionaries (point 1) and that he had disparaged Christian converts (point 2). But Swamiji was convinced that one could not change the indigenous religion and culture of a people without destroying the people themselves. His view was that the missionaries could justify their presence in India only by being of real service to the Indian people and not by simply preaching Christianity to them. In order to render real service, an understanding of the religion and culture of the people was essential. Such understanding, however, was impossible without a sympathetic and respectful approach to Hinduism, which the Christian missionaries refused to make, and therefore Swamiji could not but condemn them. Further, the missionaries alienated the loyalty of the converts to their country and its heritage, directing it toward those who financed missionary projects and also toward the religious heads of the Christian churches, both of whom were foreign. That conversion of non-Christians creates problems of national loyalty is one of the unfortunate offshoots of Christian missionary activity, and one of which Swamiji was undoubtedly aware. There is, moreover, no denying the fact that missionary activity in Oriental countries has gone hand in hand with the conquest of those countries by Western powers. Just as such conquests have been considered to be political and economic colonialism, so Christian conversion has been looked upon as a sort of religious colonialism.
As Regards point 3, Swamiji, as quoted by the Detroit Tribune, had said, “Perhaps the atheism and scepticism at home is pushing the missionaries out all over the world.” This was a matter of opinion and not one for debate. There may have been many reasons, very different from the ostensible one, why missionaries went out to foreign lands, and the motives behind missionary activity were open to various interpretations. Swamiji’s could have been a very good one. But that missionaries had spread false and vilifying stories about India (point 4) was a fact. It was one that Swamiji had vouched for many times, and one which he now could only have repeated. Hume’s denial of the falsity of these stories was as absurd as his supporting contention that Swamiji did not know India.
Hume’s further contention that the Christian missionaries were the only foreigners who had gone to India to “serve” the Indians (point 8) was neither here nor there. Their uniqueness did not necessarily make them either helpful or welcome.
In defense of missionary activity in India, Hume quoted from a report of the director of public instruction, who was, I dare say, an Englishman and a Christian. The director found that the students among Christian converts had a higher degree of English education than the students from Hindu communities. Swamiji was well aware that Christian missionaries provided schools and colleges in India and that, from a practical point of view, such institutions were helpful. But the value of education cannot he judged from a pragmatic standpoint alone. A foreign system of education which is superimposed upon any country is hound to he destructive, and the superimposition of English education upon India was certainly not to her best interests. Such education was not designed to make its students true upholders of Indian culture and religion ; rather it implanted alien ideas in their minds and had the effect of turning them into hybrid products belonging neither to India nor to any other country. From Swamiji’s point of view, the schools and colleges of the missionaries only made more complete the process of denationalization begun by Christian conversion. He could hardly, therefore, find them objects of his unadulterated praise. Indeed, shortly before his passing, he expressed the opinion that the introduction of English education in India had set Backher progress by at least fifty years.
Hume also quoted from the Hindu, a daily paper of Madras, whose Hindu editor, a Mr. G. S. Iyer, had written appreciatively
of the missionaries and their work. It should be mentioned,, however, that while Mr. Iyer may have been a good editor, it does not follow that he was a good Hindu imbued with and loyal to the ideas and ideals that had sustained his country for millenniums. Sad to say, he and many other Hindus of his time (and of the present time also) were infatuated by Western culture to the neglect and disparagement of their own. The fact is that despite the name of his journal, Mr. Iyer was an opponent of orthodox Hinduism. In an article published in the Vedanta Kesari of January and February, 1923, which tells of Swamiji’s visit to Madras in 1897, Professor K. Sundararama Iyer writes: “Mr. G. Subrahmanya Aiyer [the then editor of the Hindu] had once been a ery orthodox Hindu. . . . He changed to the opposite extreme of a social revolutionary.”
To justify the work of the Christian missionaries, Hume also quoted, of all people, Kipling, an aggressive jingo. Indeed Mr. Hume’s authorities were in themselves enough to disqualify his letter as worthy of serious consideration and reply.
As for his second letter, Hume’s statement that few Hindus knew Sanskrit was absurd. India abounded in Sanskrit scholars. Moreover, the large majority of those Hindus who did not know Sanskrit were nonetheless imbued with the age-old philosophy and religion of their country. It was not necessary for the Hindus to be Sanskrit scholars in order to comprehend their own religion, whereas it was essential for the Christian missionaries if they were to understand India and Hinduism and were to be of service to the country. Hume’s admission that very few of liis colleagues knew Sanskrit was tantamount to an admission that very few knew anything about Hinduism. Hume did not say what attitude the few who knew Sanskrit held toward Hinduism. Possibly such a disclosure would have been inconvenient.
As regards the missionaries’ knowing the vernaculars, how many were able to read the religious literature embodied in those languages? And of those who were able, how many read to discover the excellences of the Hindu religion rather than its weaknesses? Perhaps none. The result was, of course, an almost total ignorance of Hindu religion and philosophy.
Except through a thorough reading knowledge of both
Sanskrit and the vernaculars there was no way in which the missionaries could learn the inner meaning of Hinduism, for in those days no one in India would have taught the religion of the Vedas to avowed enemies of that religion. While India has always disclosed her spiritual treasures to those who have come in earnestness and respect, she has always and traditionally hidden them from those who have sought to pry into her religion in order to destroy it. Swamiji was being literal when he said that Hindu society and culture were closed to Hume.
It should be mentioned here parenthetically that in its criticism of Swamiji the Outlook was not just in equating his relation to Christians with the missionaries relation to the Hindus. Swamiji had a full knowledge of Christianity, he had a deep reverence for Christ and his teachings, and, as he again and again stated, he had not come to America to convert the people to Hinduism. Comparable things could not be said of the Christian missionaries in India.
As for Hume’s contention that the Hindus of the lower classes were benefited by becoming Christians, the fact was that on the whole the benefit was so superficial as to be harmful. Certainly no one could have longed more for the economic betterment of the Indian masses than Swamiji, but not at the cost of their integrity. Cultural suicide should never, in his estimation, be committed for material gain. That had never been and never should be India’s way.
But Mr. Hume and others like him were incapable of understanding this. Nor were they willing to understand. Swamiji did not work on the same plane where Hume lived and thought, and it would have been laughable had he engaged in a point by point controversy with him. Nor was there need for Swamiji to reply in any detail to letters such as Hume’s, for the controversy was carried on by others. The Hume-Vivekananda letters set off a bitter debate which lasted into the early part of 1895 and which was published in various widely-read periodicals such as the Forum, the Arena, the Monist, and so on. The principal antagonists were, on the missionary side: the Right Reverend Mr. J. M. Thobum, Missionary Bishop to India and Malaysia, Mr. Fred Powers, Rev. J. M. Mueller and Rev. E. M. Wherry; and on the Hindu side: Mr. Virchand R. Gandhi and Mr.
Purushottam Rao Telang. Every conceivable facet of the subject was anatomized, dissected, thrashed out and rethrashed, until by the end, if the American public knew nothing else they at least knew that there were two sides to the matter and that, as Mr. Telang had said, “to preach Christianity to the Hindu who had a religion and was civilized before the dawn of history seems … the most ridiculous thing on earth – indeed, audacious.”
It is not hard to see, when we survey Swamiji’s lecture tour through the Midwest, that his visit to Detroit marked its climactic finish. He had by this time spoken to every type of Midwestern American, his ideas had spread throughout the “Bible Belt,” and there was perhaps not an orthodox minister who was not shaken by them, nor a person ready to benefit from them who was not uplifted. On both the intellectual and spiritual levels, he had poured out enough energy to revitalize a whole nation. He had done a major part of his work, and whether or not he consciously thought of it in this way, we can see from his letters that he knew it was time to move to the East Coast. The fact was that after Swamiji had delivered his lectures in Detroit, he had said all that was necessary for him to say in his battle with the missionaries, and he could well write to India: “The
conflagration that has set in through the grace of the Guru will not be put out”
But was it merely to give battle to the bigots that a prophet of Swamiji’s supreme eminence underwent such suffering as his-Midwest lecture tour entailed? No doubt a question has been growing in the reader’s mind as to the real meaning of this strange winter as well as of the period which followed when, released from the clutches of the lecture bureau, he continued to tour the country. Swamiji rarely mentioned the hardships he had to endure, and thus one is apt to forget them or, at least, minimize them. I have already mentioned something of the trials of the Midwestern tour ; but that was not all: throughout his Eastern tour his work continued to make rigorous and exhausting demands upon him. A hint of these trials comes
from a letter which he wrote to India in February of 1895. “In order to give lectures” he confided, “I had often to make my way through snow-covered mountains in the terribly severe winters and had to travel even up to one or two o’clock at night. From Swami Abhedananda we also learn something of Swamiji’s incessant labor. In his lecture, “Vivekananda and His Work” the Swami says: “Sometimes he would be invited by people
living in different cities hundreds of miles apart to give public addresses on the same day and he would accept in every case, travelling for hours by train or by any available conveyance.”
I myself cannot but ask: Why did Swamiji undergo this
ordeal? What did he think and feel during this time? What motives, conscious or unconscious, guided him, and how are we to interpret the significance of this itinerant period in relation to his mission as a whole? I imagine that the reader must have been asking himself similar questions, for as far as I am able to discover, no clear or satisfactory answers to them have ever been set forth in the biographies.
One cannot forget that Swamiji was at the peak of his youth and vigor during these many months. They comprised the best time of his life, when his spiritual power was fully matured and his mental and physical energies were still fresh. And it was during these months that he gave of himself unstintingly until, by the end of 1894, his health was already declining and his best energy going. This lecture-tour period, which extends from the time Swamiji first came to America until he settled in New York at the beginning of 1895, deserves, I believe, much more study than it has hitherto been given ; for one cannot believe that Swamiji, “who was born on earth,” as Sri Rama-krishna said, “to remove the miscries of mankind,” gave the best of his youth and power without sufficient reason – a reason commensurate with his gigantic spiritual stature. (It should be mentioned here that while Swamiji’s lecture tour cannot be said to have come to a definite end until he settled in New York, the last part of 1894 marks a transition in his attitude toward his American work. In Chapters Eleven and Thirteen the reader will find a discussion of this period.)
One can distinguish in the biographies three interpretations of Swamiji’s activities during his lecture tour. First, it is said that he was preaching Vedanta to the West; second, that his primary object was to clear the ground of much that was false and detrimental in American thought, so that later on Vedantic philosophy might flourish in congenial soil; and third, that his motive was primarily to obtain material help for India, and also to destroy the missionary-created prejudice against his country, which choked American generosity and stifled reason. Broadly speaking, all three interpretations have been woven together and considered sufficient explanation of Swamiji’s tour. But in studying this period I have felt not only that all three interpretations, whether taken singly or together, miss the mark, but that the first two are not even in accord with the facts.
When one tries to learn something of Swamiji’s thought, not from what has been said of him, but from what he himself said and did, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the idea of teaching Vedanta to the West did not fully evolve in his mind until the last of 1894. It was a complex and profound idea, involving an intimate and mature knowledge of the characteristics and needs of the Western mind. As Swamiji later conceived it, Vedanta was the one unifying force of all the diverse religious, philosophical and cultural outlooks of man. He made it the philosophy of all religions, the ultimate goal of science, the justification of all social, moral, psychic and philosophical efforts of man to realize his own glory, and he made it also the method by which that glory might be fully attained. Vedanta, as he conceived it, was India’s saving gift to the world, and for this reason he pleaded with his countrymen to become strong in order to give, and to give in order to become strong. In the early part of Swamiji’s American visit one does not lind this conception of the function of Vedanta in the modern world worked out in his mind and put into practical form. It was a development that required time.
Although Swamiji’s mature conception of his mission was, of course, implicit in all his earlier activities, and although inevitably he taught some Vedanta in all bis lectures – whether under that name or not – Vedanta being a part of his very nature, still we cannot read the concepts of 1895 into those of 1893 and 1894 without running headlong into complications.
For instance, even a cursory reading of his letters written
during the first nine br ten months of his stay in this country can leave no doubt that his conscious purpose in coming to America was to obtain material help for the masses of India, whose suffering he felt as only he could feel. “With a bleeding heart I have crossed half the world to this strange land, seeking help,” he wrote on August 20, 1893. And again in 1894 he said in his first letter to Swami Ramakrishnananda, “I have come to America to earn money myself, and then return to my country and devote the rest of my days to the realization of this one aim of my life [the regeneration of India].” Again and again Swamiji made similar statements, and it does not appear to me that they are the statements of one concerned essentially with spreading Vedanta in the West. The intensity of Swamiji’s desire to obtain American help for India can be gathered from the fact that he never gave up the hope of doing so. As late as April 1897 he wrote to Sarala Devi, a niece of Rabindranath Tagore: “My
going to the West is yet uncertain ; if I go, know that too will be for India. Where is the strength of men in this country? Where is the strength of money?” (It may be noted here that today, some seventy years later, Swamiji’s dream of substantial material help from America to India is coming true.)
Readers will remember that before Swamiji left for America he went to Hyderabad and in February of 1893 there delivered his first public lecture. His subject was “My Mission to the West.” It cannot be regretted enough that the biographers were able to obtain only one direct quotation from this lecture at a time when many who had heard it must still have been living. The passage in which this phrase is quoted is to be found in the first edition of “The Life” and reads as follows: “Finally he spoke of his Mission, ‘which is nothing less than the regeneration of the Motherland/ and he declared that he felt it an imperative duty to go out as a missionary from India to the farthest West, to reveal to the world the incomparable glory of the Vedas and the Vedanta.”
Now I must confess to grave doubts as to the veracity of the indirect part of this quotation. If Swamiji had proclaimed so early his intention of teaching Vedanta, then why did he not mention it again for so long a time? It is true that he spoke of the philosophy of Hinduism at* the Parliament of Religions, but from this it cannot be inferred that his intention in coming to this country was essentially to preach Vedanta.
On the contrary, the Parliament to him was incidental. After his return to India Swamiji said very clearly in his lecture, “My Plan of Campaign”: “I travelled years all over India,
finding no way to work for my countrymen, and that is why I went to America. Most of you know that, who knew me then. Who cared about this Parliament of Religions? Here was my own flesh and blood sinking every day, and who cared for them? This was my first step.” Again during an interview in India he explained, “My mission in America was not to the Parliament of Religions. That was only something by the way, it was only an opening, an opportunity.” We know, moreover, that had it not been for the urging, the insistence, of Professor Wright, Swamiji would not have attended the Parliament at all. Wc know also that his first lectures in this country were not concerned with the preaching of Vedanta (Chapter One). Indeed, nowhere during the first year of his visit in America does he speak of the imperative duty of revealing the glories of the Vedas and Vedanta to the West, and nowhere does he ask that his disciples and friends in India help spread spiritual knowledge outside of their country. Rather, again and again he emphasizes his mission as the regeneration of his motherland, writing inspiring and fiery letters urging his disciples to dedicate themselves heart and soul to India alone – to her downtrodden, suffering millions. It is true that in a letter from America, dated December 28, 1893, he writes: “We will teach them [Americans] our spirituality, and assimilate what is best in their society.” But for many months we do not again read of this idea, and although the thought may have occurred to Swamiji from time to time, it had not taken deep root in his mind. Indeed, it is not until around the end of 1894 that the prophetic idea of an exchange between India and the West rings out in his writings in unmistakable terms. On November 18, 1894, in his formal reply to the address which he had received from the citizens of Calcutta expressing their gratitude for the great sendees rendered by him in America to the cause of Hinduism, he writes: “Give
and take’is the law, and if India wants to raise herself once more, it is absolutely necessary that she brings out her treasures and throws them broadcast among the nations of the earth, and in return be ready to receive what others have to give her. . .
After making a study of his letters, interviews and lectures, I myself cannot but believe that throughout the last part of 189S and a large part of 1894 he was not conscious of the broad and world-encompassing mission which he later knew to be his. It was only toward the end of 1894 and the beginning of 1895 that the fullness of his message began to take shape in his mind and that he settled down to formulate it.
The second interpretation of Swamiji’s activities following the Parliament comes from the pen of Swami Kripananda, more generally known as Leon Landsberg, one of the three people in America whom Swamiji initiated into sannyasa. In a dispatch to the Brahmavadin, Swami Kripananda wrote in regard to Swamiji’s work: “Before even starting this great mission [of
the teaching of Vedanta in the West], it was necessary to first perform the Herculean labour of cleansing this Augean stable of imposture, superstition and bigotry, a task sufficient to discourage the bravest heart, to dispirit the most powerful will. But the Swami was not the man to be deterred by difficulties. Poor and friendless, with no other support than God and his love for mankind, he set patiently to work, determined not to give up until the message he had to deliver would reach the hearts of truthseeking men and women.”
Now, there is no gainsaying the fact that one result of Swamiji’s lecture tour through America was, as has been seen, to correct much that was erroneous in contemporary religious thought; but to interpret his activities prior to 1895 as a conscious and deliberate effort to prepare the American mind for the message of Vedanta wouJjJ imply that Swamiji intended all along to remain in the West to deliver that message in its fully developed form. We know from his letters that this was not the case. As late as September 21, 1894, he wrote to Alasinga: “I
hope soon to return to India. I have had enough of this country. . . .”
It would seem, then, that the only warranted interpretation of Swamiji’s outer activities during 1893 and most of 1894 is the third and most obvious one. It appears very clear from all the evidence we have at hand that’the uppermost outward motives that guided him were (1) to raise funds fpr the development of his work in India, and incidentally to provide for his self-support during his stay in this country, and (2) to give the American people correct ideas of Hinduism, to combat the current misconceptions regarding India, and to inculcate the spirit of tolerance. With these correlated aims in mind, Swamiji joined a lecture bureau as the best means of carrying them out – not as the best means of teaching Vedanta philosophy to the Western world.
In other words, when we analyze the biographies in the light of history and untangle the motives which have been erroneously attributed to Swamiji from those that are in accord with his own statements and activities, we are faced with the strange conclusion that an illumined soul of the greatest magnitude gave his best energies to the task of earning money for India, of explaining Hindu customs and religion to the American people, and of answering questions asked, for the most part, by the ignorant, the bigoted and the dull! I, for myself, find it very difficult to accept this as a complete interpretation of the itinerant period of Swamiji’s life in America. I cannot help thinking that the essential significance of his lecture tour has been overlooked.
In reading the lives of saints and sages, it has seemed clear to me that the activity of an illumined soul must necessarily be understood on two levels. There is, first, the outer activity, which embraces the visible purposes of his life and which can be seen and comprehended by all in greater or lesser degree. But strenuous and inspired as such activity may be, it occupies only a part of his mind, by far the larger and more potent part operating on a level hidden from our view. Indeed, it would seem that the very essence of such a person consists in the fact that far beneath his surface mind are depths that are fully awake and fully absorbed in God. It is said that in its deepest levels the mind of a saint is so close to God that His effulgence forms, as it were, its very substance and texture. Surely that vast and silent part of Swamiji’s mind, which was at one with God even while he was in the midst of the most “cyclonic” outer life, not only served to inform and illumine his surface mind but had a function of its own which constituted the true and special significance of his mission.
But strangely enough, this most important aspect of Swamiji’s life has been given little importance in his biographies, and the chapters on his life in America have been so presented as to give the reader the impression that he was primarily a “man of action” a lecturer and writer – spiritually inspired, it is true, but first and foremost an intellectual genius. We do not see him as he must have been: continually in a transcendental state of consciousness, possessed of innumerable spiritual experiences of the highest order and, while undertaking the most rigorous of active lives, performing on a deeper level a service of incalculable value to the world.
But before attempting to discover in what that deeper activity consisted, I should first like to make clear that I do not mean to minimize the importance of Swamiji’s external accomplishments. The biographers have understandably placed a great deal of emphasis upon his magnificent vindication of India, his glowing and convincing oratory and his brilliant exposition of Hinduism in its various phases. All this was certainly the work of great genius and helped to establish India in the eyes of the world as a nation worthy of honor and respect. But I must confess that to Americans Swamiji’s patriotism is not so important as it is to his own countrymen. And I believe that as time goes on and India forgets her past degradation and urgent need for national vindication in the eyes of the world, even she will see less glory in it. It would seem, therefore, a serious fault that in the interpretation of Swamiji’s mission in this country the patriotic and intellectual aspects have been overemphasized, while the most important part – that which sprang from the depths of his being and which had unique and infinitely more lasting value – has been almost lost sight of.
It is interesting to note in this connection that the biographies of the other monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna are rich with accounts of their exalted spirituality and Spiritual experiences, but not so that of Swamiji, although, as is well known, he was acknowledged by his Master and his brother monks to have been spiritually the greatest among them. The biographers themselves tell us this, but then, as though forgetting their own words, they seem to become bedazzled by the radiance of his external accomplishments to the neglect of all else. I am afraid that Swamiji has been’done an ill service in this respect and that so one-sided a portrayal has left the way open to a great deal of misunderstanding.
For instance, some modem interpreters have carefully explained that Swamiji fulfilled the external aspect of Sri Ramakrishna’s mission, while the vast legacy of spiritual power was embodied elsewhere! Again, one is shocked to read in an essay on Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda that if Swamiji had never visited Dakshineswar, he might well have become one of India’s foremost politicians. Such evaluations are, I believe, the consequence of a failure on the part of Swamiji’s biographers to emphasize strongly and consistently the fact that he was, according to Sri Ramakrishna himself, nitya-siddha, eternally perfect, and born to save the world. Surely it was no accident that Swamiji visited Dakshineswar.
Other interpreters, taking Swamiji’s activities during the lecture-tour period at their face value, have been led to remark that he could not have been receiving divine guidance at this time, for his mission was apparently of a temporal nature and was directed, moreover, by his own instincts and his own will. It has been suggested that, as far as his world mission is concerned, this early period was one of groping and of indecision and that, all in all, it was more human than divine.
Now it would seem to me that the blame for this judgment must also be laid at the door of the biographers ; for to criticize Swamiji as not having been divinely guided simply because at times he seemed to decide matters for himself is to fail in appraisal of his spiritual stature. Not only was Swamiji divinely guided in the sense of receiving commands from God, but, if we are to believe the opinion of Sri Ramakrishna, he was himself Ishwara–kalpa, literally Godlike. Living as he did on the very borderland of the Absolute, his will was God’s will, his every action the action of God. More than this, he was born with the tremendous spiritual power of a world-teacher. For the full appreciation and understanding of Swamiji’s life, particularly in America where he gave his best, these things must be brought into prominence, for only then can we understand what Swamiji was accomplishing during his long lecture tour.
As I see it, by its very nature the deep center of an illumined mind shines out over the relative world, redeeming it and awakening it; and it was this activity, this shining forth in its full perfection and power, which constituted Swamiji’s greatest service to America. The fact is that Swamiji’s American devotees view him, not as an intellectual expounder of the Vedanta philosophy, but as the first great prophet sent to this country by God. Swamiji himself said that he did not lecture, he gave. Being what he was – a completely illumined soul whose heart cried over the suffering of all men – he inevitably poured out his blessings as the sun pours out its light. In and through everything he said and did his profound calm and peace, his boundless compassion for all humanity and his ready ability to awaken spirituality in others loomed large. And it was these things – not his patriotism nor his intellectual genius – that captured the heart of this country.
Wherever Swamiji went, whatever his external activities, his mission was, first and always, to impart spirituality to whoever was able to receive it. Such was his very nature. Whether he was answering questions regarding India’s customs, lecturing on Hinduism, or castigating the bigoted and hypocritical, whether he was attending social gatherings or making chance acquaintances on trains or in hotels, he was, under all circumstances, shedding divine light. Quite literally he planted the seeds of spirituality deep in the hearts of innumerable human beings, changing the course of their lives forever. So spontaneously and naturally did Swamiji do this, that it almost seems as if he himself were not aware of it. But such “unawareness” has always characterized prophets and saviors – just as it characterizes the sun, which docs not deliberate upon whether or not it shall shine.
It was during the period of the lecture tour that Swamiji came in contact with more p?5ple than at any other time ; and if we accept the Hindu belief that every word of an illumined soul bears everlasting beneficial fruit in the life of the hearer, then we cannot even begin to estimate the spiritual effect of that tour upon the life of America. How many hundreds and thousands received his blessings as he went about from city to city in the Midwest, South and East we can never know. Possibly even many of those who received them were at the time not conscious of the fact, for blessings often work in secret though inexorable ways. Thus, although the .outer purpose of Swamiji’s tour was to collect funds for India, to spread a true knowledge of her culture and religion and to combat the slander broadcast against her, his deeper purpose was to fulfill the divine function of a prophet among the people of the Western world, mingling with as many as possible and blessing all. We in America believe that it was this last which formed the true substance and inner power of Swamiji’s mission to the West, and we believe that America has been divinely favored.
Perhaps of all his interpreters Swami Abhedananda, who knew Swamiji as he was in this country, came closest to the American evaluation of him when, in his lecture before the Vedanta Society of New York on March 8, 1903, he said: “The
preachers of truth are very few, but their powers are felt by those who happen to come within the atmosphere of their divine personality. Such a preacher of truth occasionally appears like a gigantic comet above the horizon, dazzling the eyes and filling the hearts of ordinary mortals with wonder and admiration, and silently passes away into the invisible and unknown realms of the universe. The late Swami Vivekananda was one of those great comets who appeared in the spiritual firmament once perhaps after several centuries”
Yes, truly Swamiji was in the fullest sense a prophet sent by God to America. He was a prophet who prepared us to meet the modern age, which not only needs the philosophy of Vedanta to solve its many and complex problems but requires thousands of spiritually awakened people to put that philosophy into practice and make it a living force in the future history of the world. And since such a prophet can fulfill his function only by mingling with the people, blessing them through his very presence, it would seem strange had Swamiji not traveled here and there, enduring untold hardships and giving of himself without stint. Only thus could he quicken and transform the inner life of this nation ; and this in truth is what he did.
It was only after having fulfilled this essential part of his prophetic mission that Swamiji settled down in New York to establish a center, to give Vedanta a definite intellectual form, to write, books and to train disciples. One might well say that during the first sixteen months of his American visit he lit the fire of spirituality in innumerable hearts, and then, during the next sixteen months, built up a legacy of spiritual and philosophical knowledge by which that fire might be fed for centuries to come.
If I am right in thus interpreting Swamiji’s activities during 1893-1894, then the reader will agree that this period forms the most, rather than the least, important part of his mission. It is to be viewed as an essential and indispensable part of his function as a divine prophet, and I believe that unless we look in this light upon Swamiji and all that he did, we shall fail to understand the true meaning of his visit to this country – indeed, we shall fail to understand Swamiji himself.