Swamiji’s 1895 classes in New York lasted through May. Summer was about to settle over the city; people were leaving for the mountains and seashore, and Swamiji himself longed for rest. Yet more urgent than his need for rest was his desire to place his work on a permanent footing. Since many of his students themselves disliked the thought of his classes being discontinued during the summer months, a plan was evolved which made it possible for him to escape from the sweltering city and, at the same time, to train a group of men and women to carry on his work – a plan which resulted in the most spiritually fruitful days of his American mission. One of his students, a Miss Dutcher, offered him a small house she owned on Thousand Island Park, an island in the St. Lawrence River, for his own use and that of as many students as it would accommodate. Swamiji accepted, agreeing to join at Thousand Island Park any students who were earnest enough to travel the three hundred miles from New York.
In the meantime he accepted an invitation from his friend and disciple, Mr. Francis Leggett, to visit the latter’s fishing camp at Percy, New Hampshire. Here for ten days he was free to wander alone in the birch woods and by the lake, to read his Gita and to meditate under the trees. The story is told by Miss MacLeod, who, with her widowed sister, Mrs. William Sturges, was also a guest of Mr. Leggett, that on one of these days Swamiji was discovered by a gardener on the shore of the lake – to all appearances dead. Rushing to the scene, Mr. Leggett and the two women did everything in their power to rouse their beloved friend and teacher. Failing, they were about to accept the incredible fact of his death when signs of life appeared in his body and he returned gradually to normal consciousness. Swamiji had been in nirvikalpa samadhi (union with the Absolute), a state from which only the great spiritual teachers can descend to the relative world.
Refreshed spiritually, mentally and physically, he returned briefly to New York and from there traveled to Thousand Island Park, where a few students were already assembled and where Miss Dutcher had thoughtfully added a large wing to the house for his own use. The island, nine miles long and from one to two miles wide, was in those days thinly populated. Miss Dutcher’s cottage stood on the side of a wooded and bouldered hill, overlooking the broad river. There twelve students in all (never more than ten at a time) sat at the feet of their great guru, and there Swamiji was in one of his most exalted and luminous moods. Indeed, so high was the state of his mind during these weeks that, while sitting in meditation on a large rock a mile or so from the river, he again entered into nirvikalpa samadhi.
Every morning from June 19 to August 6 he held classes on Vedanta, using as his texts first one world scripture and then another – the New Testament, the Gita, the Upanishads or the Vedanta-Sutras. But his teaching did not stop with classes. On long walks through the woods, at meals, even on the occasions when he himself prepared dinner for his disciples, he would turn each small occurrence into a spiritual lesson and each hour of the day into a festival. In the cool, silent evenings he would talk long to the group which gathered in breathless attention on the upper veranda of the house.
At Thousand Island Park Swamiji initiated two disciples into sannyasa (the final vows of monasticism): Leon Landsberg, who thus became Swami Kripananda, and a French woman, previously known as Madame Marie Louise, who became Swami Abhayananda. Five other students were initiated into brahmacharya (ths ¥#ws of chastity and poverty taken by a novice), and others received mantras (sacred words or phrases to be repeated). None, one can be sure, ever forgot those seven ecstatic weeks; but they were weeks that passed all too quickly. Swamiji held his last class in Miss Dutcher’s house on August 6 and the following day returned to New York City. From there, on August 17, he sailed for Europe.
For many months. Swamiji had been considering the possibility of going to London, but the time to do so had never seemed ripe. Now the way opened up of itself. Miss Henrietta Muller, an English woman whom he had met in America, invited him to be her guest in London. Hearing of his intended visit, Mr. E. T. Sturdy, whom Swamiji had never met but with whom he had been carrying on a correspondence, wrote him a cordial letter extending a like invitation. Around the same time, Mr. Francis Leggett invited him to travel to Paris. Coming one upon another, these invitations, Swamiji felt, constituted “a Divine call.” There was no doubt in his mind that he should accept them.
After a week in Paris, during which he witnessed his host’s marriage to Betty Sturges (Miss MacLeod’s sister), he went directly to London where he commenced work almost at once. Staying first with Miss Muller and then with Mr. Sturdy, he held small morning and evening classes, news of which spread rapidly. Soon visitors began to seek a word with or a glimpse of the “Hindu Yogi,” newspapers published interviews with him, invitations poured in, and within three weeks Swamiji found himself engaged in work as strenuous as that in New York. Through October and most of November he gave lectures and held classes at private residences, clubs, public halls and also in rooms rented for the purpose. The London press wrote enthusiastically and with the utmost respect of his teachings.
Swamiji was satisfied with his London work and surprised that he had been so well and sympathetically received by a people he had thought inimical to Hindu culture. “I am astonished myself at it,” he wrote to a Madrasi disciple on November 18. . . Bands and bands come and I have no
room for so many; so they squat on the flobr, ladies and all. … I shall have to go away next week, and they are so sorry.” It was in answer to the urgent call of his American disciples and in answer also to his own desire to see his New York work permanently established that he left London on November 27. After a stormy and tedious passage, he arrived in New York on December 6.
During Swamiji’s last year in the West he accomplished an incredible amount of work. The first three months – December, 1895, January and February, 1896 – were spent in New York
City, where he held classes twice daily, wrote his books “Karma Yoga,” “Bhakti Yoga,” and “Raja Yoga,” gave innumerable interviews and, in January and February, delivered two series of free Sunday lectures, some of which are included in “Jnana Yoga.” In addition he lectured at Hartford, Connecticut, and at ^the Brooklyn Ethical Association. Moreover, through correspondence, he continued to guide his work in India, which included now the direction of the Brahmavadin, the magazine his Madrasi disciples had started at his urging.
In March and April Swamiji revisited the other American cities where his thought had struck deep roots – Detroit, Cambridge and Chicago – and there lectured and held classes before crowded audiences. His intellectual triumphs in America were perhaps crowned when he was invited to lecture on March 25 before the Graduate Philosophical Society of Harvard University and when, after the lecture, he was offered the chair of Eastern Philosophy – an honor which, being a monk, he declined.
On April 15 Swamiji sailed again for London. There from May to December – with the exception of a summer holiday, during , which he toured Europe with his English disciples, Captain and Mrs. J. H. Sevier – he held classes and gave lectures almost incessantly. Many of these London lectures were transcribed, as were those in New York, by his secretary-disciple, Mr. Goodwin, and were later incorporated into the now famous “Jnana Yoga,” which in the opinion of many of his students contains the very essence of his teachings.
Thus, by the end of 1896, after three years and three months of constant toil, Swamiji had laid the foundations of his work in America and England so firmly that, as he wrote to Swami Brahmananda, “Nobody has the power to shake them.” He had left a rich legacy of his thought in the form of four books; he had given intensive training to many disciples and had blessed innumerable men and women. In New York the Vedanta Society had been established, and Swami Saradananda, whom in London Swamiji had coached in the ways of the West, had come to help with the work. Although no society had been organized in London, the work was put under the guidance of Swami Abhedananda, who at Swamiji’s call had also come from
India. Satisfied that he had done all that he could, Swamiji left London on December 16 and, in company with the Seviers (and Mr. Goodwin who joined the party in Naples), headed at last for his motherland.
Although Swamiji knew that the people of India would respond to his message, he was not prepared for the tremendous ovation that greeted him. Traveling by stages from Colombo, where he had landed on January 15, 1897, to Madras, he received everywhere the adoration and homage of thousands upon thousands of his countrymen. Everywhere the streets were elaborately decorated and lengthy speeches were delivered in his praise. At one place his carriage was drawn by a group of devotees, at another, hundreds flung themselves on the tracks in front of his approaching train, forcing it to stop so that they might catch a glimpse of him. Everywhere he addressed the multitudes, firing them with his spirit and awakening them to an appreciation of their ancient culture. His nine-day stay (February 6-15) at Madras was a veritable festival, as vas the reception given him in the city of his birth, Calcutta, to which he had traveled from Madras by boat, arriving on February 20. No honor was too great to pay him, no words effusive enough to express the love and reverence the people felt for him. To Swamiji all this meant but one thing – that India’s spiritual greatness still lived, that she was still able to give higher tribute to a homeless sannyasin than to a military hero, a statesman or a king. He was profoundly moved.
In Calcutta Swamiji made his headquarter during the day at the riverside home of Gopal Lai Seal in Cossiporc. At night he stayed with his brother monks at the Ramakrishna Math in Alambazar. To both places a stream of people came to visit him – scholars, students, householders and monks – asking questions that touched upon everything from abstruse philosophy to matters of personal concern. To all, particularly to the young unmarried men, in whom he saw India’s hope, he communicated his dream of awakening the giant soul of his motherland, inspiring them with his own enthusiasm and determination. Many of
Swamiji’s brother monks did not at first fully understand or approve of his new conception of spirituality and monasticism. For millenniums, India’s sannyasins had been striving for illumination through the age-old and not invalid means of solitude, austerity, meditation and ceremonial worship. The monks of the Ramakrishna Math had continued, more or less, in the old order of things, finding in Sri Ramakrishna a tremendous spiritual impetus, but failing to find in his teachings a radical departure from the traditional paths of spiritual practice. Then, like a whirlwind, Swamiji burst upon them, exhorting them to lay down their lives in the service of others, to be intensely active, teaching the ignorant, feeding the poor, nursing the sick, bringing help to disaster-stricken areas, publishing magazines, opening centers, preaching throughout India. At last, won over by the overwhelming force of his love for them, as much as by the fervor of his conviction, Swamiji’s brother monks devoted themselves to his work, understanding that it was in truth their Master who spoke through him and remembering, no doubt, that Sri Ramakrishna had left them in his charge and had asked them to obey him. Perhaps this conversion of his brothers from the old type of monasticism to the new, in which the ideals of renunciation and service were united, constituted one of Swamiji’s greatest accomplishments; for it was through the devoted and faithful cooperation of Sri Ramakrishna’s monastic disciples that the work of revitalizing India and the world could be undertaken, and though perhaps personal reservations lingered in the minds of some, Swamiji’s brothers gave that cooperation without demur. Yet, needless to say, the work of the Order itself would not have come into existence had not Swamiji planned it, inspired it, guided it and poured into it his tremendous spiritual vitality and knowledge. On May l, 1897, he called a meeting of his Master’s monastic and lay disciples and inaugurated, with himself as General President, the Ramakrishna Mission Association, the purpose of which was to establish the humanitarian work of the Order on an organized basis.
Swamiji’s poor health soon forced him to leave the hot, humid climate of Bengal. On May 6, accompanied by a party of brother monks and disciples, he left Calcutta for Almora, where Miss Muller and Mr. Goodwin awaited him. But rest was a factor that played little part in his life. Although the dry and cool air of Northern India benefited him, his two and a half months in Almora were spent in almost continual activity, in receiving streams of visitors, holding discourses and granting interviews. In early August he started on a lecture tour of Northern India, accompanied by several of his brother monks and disciples. For the next five months, though often ill, he lectured and talked almost unremittingly, visiting many places in the Punjab, Kashmir, Rajputana and Central Provinces, awakening in the minds of the people a luminous vision of a resurgent India and placing before them the ideals of renunciation and service.
In the middle of January, having finished his tour, he leturned to the Alambazar Math, and there, along with many other activities, continued the training of his young disciples. He held classes not only in Sanskrit scriptures, but in material sciences and history as well, he gave lectures, spent hours with them in meditation or devotional singing and discussed with them every topic under the sun, until his ideas became an integral part of their thought and until they themselves became, as he wanted, “strong, vigorous, believing young men, sincere to the backbone.”
Swamiji gave as much care and attention to his Western disciples as to his Eastern. At his call, Miss Margaret Noble had come from England in January, 1898, to found a school for Hindu girls. In February, Mrs. Ole Bull and Miss Josephine MacLeod arrived to help him in whatever way they could. To the question of how this could best be done, Swamiji replied in two words: “Love India !” – and it was through his constant and careful guidance that they learned to do so. Indeed, it was not difficult to love India when the country was seen through his eyes and understood through his heart. From May to October his Western disciples, together with a number of his brother monks and Eastern disciples, traveled with him through Northern India. He made them thrill as he did himself to the glories of India’s history, to the beauties of her present and to the simple but noble life of the people, which was rooted in a tradition whose beginnings were lost in an unfathomable past and whose meaning had been continually enriched by generation upon generation of God-centered lives. The party journeyed from Naini Tal to Almora, where the Seviers were already established and where, in the early part of June, Swamiji received the shocking and heart-breaking news of the death of his young disciple, Mr. Goodwin. Traveling on, the party reached the beautiful Kashmir Valley, and there leisurely meandered in houseboats up the River Jhelum through the Vale of Srinagar.
In India a new side of Swamiji was revealed to his Western disciples: they saw not only the benign, all-loving and serene teacher they had known in the West, but the fervent, almost fierce, patriot and “man-maker.” They saw, moreover, the majestic and awesome moods of the supreme knower of God, whose spiritual experiences reached heights incomprehensible to the mind and who walked paths where none could follow. In India, even during the first weeks after his arrival, when the whole country rose as one man to welcome him, he would enter during the course of the day into many a brief samadhi. Professor K. Sundararama Iyer, who has related his impressions of Swami ji’s nine days in Madras in February of 1897, tells us of his moods of “sweet serenity when his face assumed the air both of a child and an angel from Heaven,” and of his sudden lapses into a strange state. “He was always having visitors about him,” Professor Iyer writes, “and sat listening or speaking to them. Suddenly his eyes became still, though remaining open, and he seemed not to listen or even to be conscious of what was passing about him. When once more he became aware of the scene, he seemed as if he had been utterly insensible to it. He had been neither asleep nor «awake. . . . His eyes . . . remained fixed and without the least sign of movement. . . . He seemed to me like one who for awhile had left this physical tenement and fleeted away to another state of existence.” Indeed, Swami Shivananda and Swami Niranjanananda, who were with Swamiji in Madras, both noticed his frequent though brief absorptions into samadhi, and the former was heard many years after to remark that ever since Swamiji’s first return from the West he had dwelt in & continuous state of superconsciousness.
While in Kashmir with his Western disciples, Swamiji
suddenly announced his desire to visit the Cave of Amarnath, the far-away shrine of Shiva, to which hundreds of devotees were making a pilgrimage. Alone of his Western disciples, Sister Nivedita was chosen to accompany him, making the four-day climb on foot, up and across precipitous, snow-covered mountains. In the huge Cave of Amarnath, Swamiji, nude except for kaupina, or loincloth, his body covered with ashes and his face glowing with devotion, looked upon the great ice symbol of Shiva, and in a supreme moment of divine consciousness beheld the living God Himself. He spoke little of this experience, but when he returned to the Vale of Kashmir it seemed to those near him as if Shiva, the Eternal One, had literally permeated his being.
Following his absorption in Shiva, Swamiji’s mind and heart turned to the Divine Mother, the Power behind all relative forms. With the same awesome intensity with which he had been concentrated in the motionless and silent God, he was now absorbed in His dynamic aspect. Abruptly he left his disciples and retired for a week to the Colored Springs of Kshir-Bhavani, a famous shrine of the Mother. There, lost to the world, he performed daily worship and practiced severe austerities. Although we know that at Kshir-Bhavani Swamiji heard the voice of the Divine Mother speaking to him, we know little of his other experiences, of which he no doubt had many; for, after returning from the shrine he quoted his own poem “Kali, the Mother” and said: “It all came true, every word of it; and I have proved it, for I have hugged the Form of Death 1 “
The impact of the spiritual experiences through which Swamiji had passed left his body shattered; yet his work continued. Returning to Calcutta in October he took up as strenuously as ever his task of guiding the activities of his brother monks and disciples. In December he installed the sacred relics of Sri Ramakrishna in the new Math (Monastery) at Belur – where, earlier in the year, he had purchased seven acres on the Ganga. A month later the monastery was moved to these permanent headquarters and thenceforth became known as the “Belur Math.” Until June of 1899 Swamiji remained, for the most part, in Calcutta, and then, on the advice of his doctors and friends, set sail once again for the West.
Swamiji was aware that there were but few years left to him on this earth. “I am getting ready to depart to return no more to this hell, this world” he wrote to Mrs. Bull as early as August, 1896; and to Mary Hale in July of 1897: “At most three or four years more of life is left. . . . My time is short.” Again, on August 11, 1897, while on his lecture tour in Northern India, he said to a monk accompanying him, “I shall live five or six years more.” Thus, knowing how little time he had, he worked with impatience to finish his task and to train others to feel as he felt and to work as he worked. It was an almost terrible impatience, in which his spirit thrashed against the inertia of the world that he longed to lift and exalt – an impatience which led Sister Nivedita to write: “From the moment of my landing in India … I found something quite unexpected. … It was the personality of my Master himself, in all the fruitless torture and struggle of a lion caught in a net.”
Torture it may have been; but fruitless it was not, for during Swamiji’s two and a half years in his motherland he had put his “machine in strong working order.” Aside from the immeasurable influence he had exerted over the minds and hearts of his countrymen, he had permanently organized the Ramakrishna Math and Mission – the monastic and humanitarian branches of the Order. (In 1900 Swamiji was to hand over the presidency of both the Math and the Mission to Swami Brahmananda. “Now I am free,” he wrote to Sister Nivedita on August 25, 1900, “as I have kept no power or authority or position for me in the work. I also have resigned the Presidentship of the Ramakrishna Mission. The Math etc. belong now to the immediate disciples of Ramakrishna except myself. The Presidentship is now»-Brahmananda’s – next it will fall on Premananda etc., in turn. I am so glad a whole load is off me, now I am happy.” Swamiji also expressed his relief at no longer being the head of the Ramakrishna Order to Sister Christine.
I am sending all the money I earned in America to India,” he wrote to her in October of 1900. “Now I am free, the begging-monk as before. I have also resigned from the Presidentship of the Monastery. Thank God, I am free !” But in 1897, *98 and ’99 the “whole load” of Qrganizing and supervising the work of the Order was mainly his.) Under his direction, Swami Rama-krishnananda had successfully started a center in Madras. On November 12, 1898, Sister Nivedita had opened her girls’ school. His disciples, Swamis Virajananda and Prakashananda, had, at his wish, gone to Dacca in East Bengal to preach Vedanta; two of his brother monks, Swamis Saradananda and Turiyananda, had departed to preach in Gujerat (the former, in December of 1899, went also to Dacca and other cities of East Bengal), and Swami Shivananda had traveled to Ceylon, where he formed classes in raja yoga and the Gita.
Aside from having established monastic centers in Calcutta and Madras, Swamiji realized through the help of his London disciples, Captain and Mrs. Sevier, his long cherished dream of setting up a monastery in the Himalayas. The site of Mayavati, which the Seviers had found after much searching, was an entire hill, 6,300 feet above sea level. After its purchase, Swamiji commissioned four of his disciples to construct additional buildings on the property, to make roads and to landscape the grounds. The monastery was dedicated to the principle of Advaita, or Monistic, Vedanta. External worship of any kind was barred. “Here will be taught and practised,” Swamiji wrote, “nothing but the Doctrine of Unity, pure and simple ; and though in entire sympathy with all other systems, this Ashrarna is dedicated to Advaita and Advaita alone.”
The message of Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji was disseminated not only by the preaching activities of the Order, but through the medium of the written word. Very dear to Swamiji’s heart were the three magazines which he had established between 1895 and 1899. The first of these, the Brahmavadin, was published in English by his Madrasi disciples and had been under way since September of 1895. In 1897, while he was in Almora, Swamiji arranged to revive the defunct magazine, Prabuddha Bharata, an English language monthly, the editor of which had recently died. With the help of the Seviers the editorial offices were moved from Madras to Almora and, with Swami Swarupananda as editor, the magazine was published as an organ of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Later, the offices were transferred to Mayavati, where, to this day, Prabuddha Bharata, or Awakened India, is edited monthly, spreading the ideals of the Order. A third magazine was the
Udbodhan. Since 1894 Swamiji had urged his gurubhais (brother monks) to start a Bengali periodical. Swami Trigunatita was the first to take up the idea of the magazine with enthusiasm and, as early as 1896, made plans to publish it. It was not, however, until January 14, 1899, that the Udbodhan made its first appearance with Swami Trigunatita as its editor and manager.
The publication of books, which today forms an important function of the Ramakrishna Order, was also undertaken during Swamiji’s lifetime, his own works being published in both English and Bengali by the Math.
An important part of the work of the Ramakrishna Mission was the opening of temporary relief centers in times of disaster. In 1897 Swami Akhandananda, who had earlier established schools in Khetri under Swamiji’s encouragement and detailed direction, began to work in the famine-stricken district of Murshidabad in Bengal in an effort to give what help he could. On hearing of this Swamiji was, of course, overjoyed. He sent two of his disciples as assistants and started a fund to which contributions poured in. Though at a distance, he directed the work, making sure that it followed his far-seeing policy. At his urging, Swami Akhandananda instituted a nonsectarian orphanage for both boys and girls at Mohula – the first of its kind to be founded under the auspices of the Ramakrishna Order. The orphanage had – as had all of Swamiji’s work – the support of his brother monks. Swami Brahmananda, who was then president of the Calcutta branch of the Mission, wrote on July 7, 1898, to Swami Akhandananda: “I am very glad to learn that you are working hard for the orphanage. . . . When you will feel much, and tremendous want for money, please at once write to your servant [Brahmananda] who will try his utmost to help in your noble cause. Even he is ready to sacrifice his life for your cause.”
Other relief work was set up under the guidance of Swamiji by his various brother monks and disciples. In August of 1897, Swami Trigunatita opened a famine relief center in Dinajpur. About the same time a third relief center was established at Deoghar by Swami Virajananda, and a fourth and a fifth at Calcutta and Dakshineswar. In May of 1898 Swamiji prepared
for relief operations in Calcutta to meet a threatened outbreak of plague, coming down from a needed vacation in Darjeeling to do so. “If the plague comes to my native city,’ he had written from Darjeeling on April 29, 1898, “I am determined to make myself a sacrifice” In the few days during which the epidemic seemed imminent he did all that was necessary to meet it. Through means of plague manifestoes, he brought confidence to the panic-stricken people; further, he made arrangements for setting up a quarantine camp and also for teaching sanitation to the people and, if need be, for cleaning the lanes and houses of various districts. The following year, 1899, when an epidemic actually broke out in the city, the Ramakrishna Mission plague service went at once into action under Swamiji’s direction. The management of the work was placed in the hands of Sister Nivedita as secretary and Swami Sadananda as ofiicer-in-chief. In four districts of the city the poor quarters were cleared of cartloads of filth and with the help of scavengers thoroughly disinfected. Swamiji himself went to live in the slums, that he might bring comfort and courage to the people. On April 21 lie presided over a public meeting held in Calcutta, during which fifteen students volunteered for service in response to his stirring plea. As an outcome of this a permanent plague service was established at the Math, making it possible, when the most virulent epidemic of all broke out in 1900, for the Ramakrishna Mission to give invaluable aid.
On June 20, 1899, Swamiji, in company with Swami Turiyananda and Sister Nivedita, set sail for London, where six weeks later he disembarked. After a stay of two weeks in Wimbledon, a suburb of London, he voyaged on to America. Badly in need of rest, he did not at once take up his work of lecturing and teaching, but accepted the invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Leggett to make a retreat at their country house on the Hudson, Ridgley Manor. Here, with Swami Turiyananda and later Sister Nivedita, he remained until November 5. Then, after a brief stay in New York City, he left for California, where six months of arduous work awaited him.
In Los Angeles Swamiji was not unknown, for hundreds of people had become familiar with his books, particularly “Raja Yoga,” and were eager to meet him and to hear him speak. Indeed, the interest was so great that during his stay of two and a half months in Southern California he gave many lectures to large audiences and also held classes on raja yoga at the “Home of Truth” and elsewhere.
Leaving Los Angeles around the middle of February, Swamiji traveled to Northern California, where he became the guest of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Fay Mills, pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. In connection with a local Congress of Religions, which was being held at the time in Dr. Mills church, he delivered eight lectures to audiences often composed of as many as two thousand people, among whom were prominent California clergymen. The impression he created was tremendous, and at the request of some San Franciscans, he moved to their city toward the end of February. There he worked strenuously through March and April, lecturing and holding classes almost incessantly. Aside from appearing in San Francisco, he delivered lectures also in Oakland and Alameda, staying at the “Home of Truth” in the latter city. In San Francisco Swamiji formed, as he had in New York and Los Angeles, a Vedanta Society. Moreover, he directed Swami Turiyananda to establish a retreat, “Shanti Ashrama,” on a tract of land in the San Antonio Valley, about ninety miles south-east of San Francisco, which had been given to him by one of his devoted students. In May, Swamiji, in the company of a few friends, spent three weeks at Camp Taylor – a quiet, wooded spot in Marin County, which has now been incorporated in a state park. It*wafijn memory of his stay there that the Vedanta Society of Northern California has in recent years founded its second retreat and monastery on an extensive tract of scenic forest land not far from the park.
In San Francisco Swamiji was in one of his most supernal moods. He had known two years of extreme suffering, the nature and intensity of which can perhaps be understood only by another eternally free soul held as he by the Divine Mother in the relative world to dp Her work. Now his mind was at peace. His health also was better than it had been in years.
“I never had a struggle in the jaws of death but it meant a tremendous upheaval of the whole life,” he wrote to Sister Nivedita from San Francisco. “One such brought me to Ramakrishna, another sent me to the U.S., this has been the greatest of all.” Again on April 7 he wrote to an American friend, “I am more calm and quiet now than I ever was. I am on my own feet, working hard and with pleasure. To work I have the right. Mother knows the rest. . . . My boat is nearing the calm harbour from which it is never more to be driven out.” The six months in California completed Swamiji’s work in America, he having now extended it to the West Coast, as he had not done during his visit of 1893-96. Toward the end of May he finally left San Francisco and, after stopping over briefly in Chicago and Detroit to visit his friends, arrived in New York on June 7.
For several weeks he lived at the quarters of the New York Vedanta Society, delivering four Sunday lectures and holding four Saturday morning Gita classes. Then, on July 20, he bade a last farewell to America, the country to which he had given the best years of his life.
The next four months were spent, for the most part, in France. In Paris he spoke twice at the Congress of the History of Religions, having mastered the French language well enough to elucidate highly technical and controversial points regarding Vedic religion and Sanskrit literature, which were at the time being debated by Western Orientalists. In France, as everywhere, Swamiji held many conversations with leading intellects of the day, delighting them with his monumental learning and the brilliance with which he threw floods of new light upon every subject. Yet, though outwardly active, he was finding it increasingly difficult not to plunge at the slightest provocation into profound meditation, oblivious of his surroundings, lost to the world.
In Egypt, to which he traveled with a party of friends and disciples via Vienna, Athens and Constantinople, his meditative habit seemed to reach a peak. He became more and more withdrawn and appeared to his companions to be letting the world slip at last from his shoulders like a mantle no longer wanted.
Indeed, according to Mme. Emma Calve, who joined the party in Athens, Swamiji knew at this time the very day on which he would die. “He told me” Mme. Calv6 related to her friend Mme. Paul Verdier, who has passed the story on to us, “that he was eager to return to his brother monks at Belur, for he was going to leave his body on July 4.” To his friends* profound regret, but perhaps not altogether to their surprise, he one day declared his intention of returning at once to India. He had had a premonition, if not of his own death, of the approaching death of his dear disciple, Captain Sevier – perhaps also he knew that there was nothing left for him to accomplish in the West: his work there was done.
To the surprise and unbounded joy of his brother monks and disciples, Swamiji arrived unheralded at the Belur Math on the night of December 9, 1900. He, too, was overjoyed to be Backand to find that during his absence the Indian work had been carried on faithfully by Swami Brahmananda and his other brothers and his disciples. On December 26 he wrote to Miss Macleod: “They have worked all right as far as they could; . . . They are as good and faithful as ever.’*
Before taking up the work that awaited him in connection with the many branches of the Ramakrishna Order, he traveled to Mayavati where, indeed, Captain Sevier had passed away. Swamiji’s bad health, together with the severe cold of the Himalayan winter, made it impossible for him to remain at Mayavati for more diaii two weeks, but while there he wrote three articles for Prabuddha Bharata, carried on his ever voluminous correspondence and supervised the life of the monks who were living at the Ashrama.
Having returned to Belur on January 24, he again set out, this time to accompany his mother on her pilgrimage to the holy places of East Bengal and Assam – a trip which he combined with a lecture tour. For two months he traveled, lectured and received hundreds of visitors, resting only intermittently. It was clear to all that his health was growing steadily worse and that his body could not much longer bear the strain of constant work. This, indeed, was his last public lecture tour. He returned to the Belur Math in the second week of May and, except for a short visit to Banaras in the early part of 1902, was not again to leave the monastery.
During the last year of his life, Swamiji devoted himself to training his young monks, that they might advance far in spiritual life and learn to carry on his work. Although technically he had turned the Math over to a Board of Trustees, and although his brothers presumably now directed the manifold work of the Order, thereby gaining in strength and experience, he nevertheless remained the acknowledged head of the Math and Mission, continuing, at the least, to guide their basic policy and to supervise the intimate life of the monastery, meticulous as to its routine. He also held daily classes in Vedanta and received the many visitors who came to him for spiritual instruction. But though he worked tirelessly at Belur, he was able at last to live a simple life, free from the demands of the public, dressing as he pleased, sometimes strolling through the grounds of the Math, lost in profound thought, sometimes finding a child’s delight in his pets – his dog, goat, antelope and ducks, sometimes gardening, writing, studying, or – one of his chief pleasures – experimenting in the kitchen. An aura of peace, joy and holiness surrounded him. No matter what his mood – playful, deeply serious, fiery, devotional or meditative – it was in each case the mood of a giant personality, a superlative mood, not alone in intensity but in quality, the light of his great spirit transfiguring his every emotion and thought from the human to the divine.
As has been said, during Swamiji’s absence in the We3t his Indian work had been carried on by his brothers and disciples. In the latter part of 1899 India had suffered from one of the most severe famines she had known in many years. With the modest means at their command the members of the Order had set to work to feed as many as they could and to relieve as much suffering as was possible. In the State of Kishangarh in Rajputana, Swami Kalyanananda organized a famine relief center and orphanage, receiving support for his work from the local Durbar and also from individual donations.
Another work of famine relief was conducted by Swami Suresh-warananda at Khandwa in the Central Provinces. Disaster relief was also undertaken. In the Bhagalpur District of Behar, entire villages had been swept away by a devastating flood. Hundreds had been killed and hundreds more left destitute. From his orphanage at Mohula Swami Akhandananda rushed to the stricken area and there opened a relief center at Ghoga, where he worked from October 15 to December 20 of 1899. Another catastrophe in which the Mission provided help was a landslide at Darjeeling. Here in 1899 Swami Shivananda brought relief to hundreds who were left homeless. The work done during the plagues in Calcutta has already been referred to. It should be mentioned, however, that in March of 1902 a plague camp was opened in Vaniyambadi in the Madras Presidency by the local devotees of Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji.
Besides these temporary relief centers set up in times of emergency, Swamiji wanted to see India covered with permanent Sevashramas or Homes of Service, which would give all possible aid to the poor, diseased and helpless people of his motherland. Before his passing, two such centers were founded: one in Banaras and the other at Kankhal in
Hardwar. Out of these small but spirited beginnings, large Homes of Service with outdoor dispensaries and hospitals with many wards were eventually built up in both places, which today give succor to thousands of men and women. Several years after Swamiji’s passing, similar Sevashramas were founded in Brindavan and Allahabad.
The Maths at Belur, Madras and Mayavati, which were all established by Swamji, were, as he wrote to Mary Hale, his “normal schools” – the schools he had long dreamed of, from which monks would spread throughout India bringing to the people both spiritual and secular knowledge. A branch monastery at Banaras and the nucleus of one at Allahabad were also started before he passed away, and it was his inspiration which later led Swami Shivananda to establish a center at Almora. Moreover, societies were formed during Swamiji’s lifetime by his lay disciples for the study and teaching of Vedanta and the undertaking of practical humanitarian works.
One of Swamiji’s long-held desires was to found a convent for women with Holy Mother at its head. “Mother has been born to revive that wonderful Shakti [Divine Energy] in India” he wrote in 1894, “and making her the nucleus, once more will
Gargis and Maitreyis [women sages] be born into the world….
Hence it is her Math [Convent] that I want first.” It can be said that this was perhaps the one wish that Swamiji did not realize during his lifetime. Yet in a sense it was realized, for Holy Mother evidently agreed to his plan and recognized herself as the head of a monastic movement for women. In a letter which she wrote on August 30, 1902, to a monk at Mayavati, Mother gave “Convent for Women” as part of her address. (Incidentally, I have been fortunate enough to have seen and to have had translated for me Holy Mother’s original letter. Aside from the lines which have been quoted in “The Life,” she wrote in part: “How can I express what agony I am suffering at the passing of Sri Sri Swamiji Maharaj! . . . Live carefully in the monastery now that there is no longer the sustaining power of Swamiji.”) Although the convent for women was not formally organized at that time, the very fact that Mother acknowledged its existence and regarded herself as its head gave it spiritual substance. It was only a matter of time Before the convent would be realized – as it has been – on the concrete plane.
But though the convent for women was not, practically speaking, organized during his lifetime as Swamiji would have wished, almost every other branch along which the Ramakrishna Order was to grow had been placed on a practical and sound basis. Between the day of his arrival at Colombo on January 15, 1897, and the day of his passing on Jyly 4, 1902, he had organized Maths and Missions, relief centers, orphanages and schools, preaching work and magazine and book publication. He had taught his Western disciples to work in India and had sent Hindu preachers abroad, thus setting the precedent for the exchange of workers between India and the West. Through his letters from the West and later in conference with his brother monks, he had drawn up a set of rules for the guidance of the Order in both its monastic and humanitarian aspects and had personally directed every detail of its government and
policy. He had, moreover, exemplified his own teachings through his life of selfless work and had instilled his own spirit into his brothers and disciples, thus ensuring that the work he had begun would never die. But although the amount 6f visible work which Swamiji accomplished was enormous, compared with the invisible silent work, it was but small. Indeed, the ordinary mind cannot fathom the depth and extent of his work, cannot see the subtle forces he had activated nor divine their ultimate effect upon the visible world. As he himself was heard to say toward the end of his life: “If there were another
Vivekananda, he would have understood what Vivekananda has done I “
It was time for Swamiji to leave this world to which he had given so much. But though his work was done, one might ask, as did Miss MacLeod, “Why go?” His answer was characteristically selfless. “The shadow of a big tree,” he said, “will not let the smaller trees grow up. I must go to make room.”
On the evening of July 4, 1902, after a busy day during which his health had seemed better than it had in months, Swamiji entered into his final samadhi. But though he cast aside his body, returning with what joy one cannot even dream to that realm of infinite bliss from which he had come, he so loved mankind that one knows his words spoken long before his death were prophetic ones. “It may be,” he had said, “that I shall find it good to get outside my body – to cast it off like a worn-out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with God.”