From May 1897 to the end of that year, the Swami travelled and lectured extensively in Northern India. The physicians had advised him to go as soon as possible to Almora, where the air was dry and cool, and he had been invited by prominent people in Northern India to give discourses on Hinduism. Accompanied by some of his brother disciples and his own disciples, he left Calcutta, and he was joined later by the Seviers, Miss Müller, and Goodwin.
In Lucknow he was given a cordial welcome. The sight of the Himalayas in Almora brought him inner peace and filled his mind with the spirit of detachment and exaltation of which these great mountains are the symbol. But his peace was disturbed for a moment when he received letters from American disciples about the malicious reports against his character spread by Christian missionaries, including Dr. Barrows of the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Evidently they had become jealous of the Swami’s popularity in India. Dr. Barrows told the Americans that the report of the Swami’s reception in India was greatly exaggerated. He accused the Swami of being a liar and remarked: “I could never tell whether to take him seriously or not. He struck me as being a Hindu Mark Twain. He is a man of genius and has some following, though only temporary.”
The Swami was grieved. At his request the people of Madras had given Dr. Barrows a big reception, but the missionary, lacking religious universalism, had not made much of an impression.
In a mood of weariness the Swami wrote to a friend on June 3, 1897:
As for myself, I am quite content. I have roused a good many of our people, and that was all I wanted. Let things have their course and karma its sway. I have no bonds here below. I have seen life, and it is all self — life is for self, love is for self, honour for self, everything for self. I look back and scarcely find any action I have done for self — even my wicked deeds were not for self. So I am content — not that I feel I have done anything especially good or great, but the world is so little, life so mean a thing, existence so, so servile, that I wonder and smile that human beings, rational souls, should be running after this self — so mean and detestable a prize.
This is the truth. We are caught in a trap, and the sooner one gets out the better for one. I have seen the truth — let the body float up or down, who cares?…
I was born for the life of a scholar — retired, quiet, poring over my books. But the Mother dispensed otherwise. Yet the tendency is there.
In Almora the Swamiji’s health improved greatly. On May 29 he wrote to a friend: ‘I began to take a lot of exercise on horseback, both morning and evening. Since then I have been very much better indeed….I really began to feel that it was a pleasure to have a body. Every movement made me conscious of strength — every movement of the muscles was pleasurable….You ought to see me, Doctor, when I sit meditating in front of the beautiful snow-peaks and repeat from the Upanishads: “He has neither disease, nor decay, nor death; for verily, he has obtained a body full of the fire of yoga.”‘
He was delighted to get the report that his disciples and spiritual brothers were plunging heart and soul into various philanthropic and missionary activities.
From Almora he went on a whirlwind tour of the Punjab and Kashmir, sowing everywhere the seeds of rejuvenated Hinduism. In Bareilly he encouraged the students to organize themselves to carry on the work of practical Vedanta. In Ambala he was happy to see his beloved disciples Mr. and Mrs. Sevier. After spending a few days in Amritsar, Dharamsala, and Murree, he went to Kashmir.
In Jammu the Swami had a long interview with the Maharaja and discussed with him the possibility of founding in Kashmir a monastery for giving young people training in non-dualism. In the course of the conversation he sadly remarked how the present-day Hindus had deviated from the ideals of their forefathers, and how people were clinging to various superstitions in the name of religion. He said that in olden days people were not outcasted even when they committed such real sins as adultery, and the like; whereas nowadays one became untouchable simply by violating the rules about food.
On the same topic he said a few months later, at Khetri: ‘The people are neither Hindus nor Vedantins — they are merely “don’t touchists”; the kitchen is their temple and cooking-pots are their objects of worship. This state of things must go. The sooner it is given up, the better for our religion. Let the Upanishads shine in their glory, and at the same time let not quarrels exist among different sects.’
In Lahore the Swami gave a number of lectures, among which was his famous speech on the Vedanta philosophy, lasting over two hours. He urged the students of Lahore to cultivate faith in man as a preparation for faith in God. He asked them to form an organization, purely non-sectarian in character, to teach hygiene to the poor, spread education among them, and nurse the sick. One of his missions in the Punjab was to establish harmony among people belonging to different sects, such as the Arya Samajists and the orthodox Hindus. It was in Lahore that the Swami met Mr. Tirtha Ram Goswami, then a professor of mathematics, who eventually gained wide recognition as Swami Ram Tirtha. The professor became an ardent admirer of Swami Vivekananda.
Next the Swami travelled to Dehra-Dun, where, for the first ten days, he lived a rather quiet life. But soon he organized a daily class on the Hindu scriptures for his disciples and companions, which he continued to conduct during the whole trip. At the earnest invitation of his beloved disciple the Raja of Khetri, he visited his capital, stopping on the way at Delhi and Alwar, which were familiar to him from his days of wandering prior to his going to America. Everywhere he met old friends and disciples and treated them with marked affection. The Raja of Khetri lavished great honours upon him and also gave him a handsome donation for the Belur Math, which was being built at that time.
Before returning to Calcutta, he visited Kishengarh, Ajmer, Jodhpur, Indore, and Khandwa and thus finished his lecture tour in North India. During this tour he explained to his fellow countrymen the salient features of Hinduism and told them that they would have a glorious future if they followed the heritage of their past. He emphasized that the resurgent nationalism of India must be based on her spiritual ideals, but that healthy scientific and technological knowledge from the West, also, had to be assimilated in the process of growth. The fundamental problem of India, he pointed out, was to organize the whole country around religious ideals. By religion the Swami meant not local customs which served only a contemporary purpose, but the eternal principles taught in the Vedas.
Wherever the Swami went he never wearied of trying to rebuild individual character in India, pointing out that the strength of the whole nation depended upon the strength of the individual. Therefore each individual, he urged, whatever might be his occupation, should try, if he desired the good of the nation as a whole, to build up his character and acquire such virtues as courage, strength, self-respect, love, and service of others. To the young men, especially, he held out renunciation and service as the hightest ideal. He preached the necessity of spreading a real knowledge of Sanskrit, without which a Hindu would remain an alien to his own rich culture. To promote unity among the Hindus, he encouraged intermarriage between castes and sub-castes, and wanted to reorganize the Indian universities so that they might produce real patriots, rather than clerks, lawyers, diplomats, and Government officials.
Swami Vivekananda’s keen intellect saw the need of uniting the Hindus and Moslems on the basis of the Advaita philosophy, which teaches the oneness of all. One June 10, 1898, he wrote to a Moslem gentleman at Nainital:
The Hindus may get the credit for arriving at Advaitism earlier than other races, they being an older race than either the Hebrew or the Arab; yet practical Advaitism, which looks upon and behaves towards all mankind as one’s own soul, is yet to be developed among the Hindus universally. On the other hand, our experience is that if ever the followers of any religion approach to this equality in an appreciable degree on the plane of practical work-a-day life — it may be quite unconscious generally of the deeper meaning and the underlying principle of such conduct, which the Hindus as a rule so clearly perceive — it is those of Islam and Islam alone.
Therefore we are firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, the theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entierely valuless to the vast mass of mankind. We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas nor the Bible nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of the Religion which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.
For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedantic brain and Islamic body — is the only hope. I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedantic brain and Islamic body.
For the regeneration of India, in the Swami’s view, the help of the West was indispensable. The thought of India had been uppermost in his mind when he had journeyed to America. On April 6, 1897, the Swami, in the course of a letter to the lady editor of an Indian magazine, had written: ‘It has been for the good of India that religious preaching in the West has been done and will be done. It has ever been my conviction that we shall not be able to rise unless the Western countries come to our help. In India no appreciation of merit can be found, no financial support, and what is most lamentable of all, there is not a bit of practicality.’
The year 1898 was chiefly devoted to the training of Vivekananda’s disciples, both Indian and Western, and to the consolidation of the work already started. During this period he also made trips to Darjeeling, Almora, and Kashmir.
In February 1898, the monastery was removed from Alambazar to Nilambar Mukherjee’s garden house in the village of Belur, on the west bank of the Ganga. The Swami, while in Calcutta, lived at Balaram Bose’s house, which had been a favourite haunt of Shri Ramakrishna’s during his lifetime. But he had no rest either in the monastery or in Calcutta, where streams of visitors came to him daily. Moreover, conducting a heavy correspondence consumed much of his time and energy; one can not but be amazed at the hundreds of letters the Swami wrote with his own hand to friends and disciples. Most of these reveal his intense thinking, and some his superb wit.
While at the monastery, he paid especial attention to the training of the sannyasins and the brahmacharins, who, inspired by his message, had renounced home and dedicated themselves to the realization of God and the service of humanity. Besides conducting regular classes on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the physical sciences, and the history of the nations, he would spend hours with the students in meditation and devotional singing. Spiritual practices were intensified on holy days.
In the early part of 1898, the site of the Belur Math, the present Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, was purchased with the help of a generous donation from Miss Müller, the devoted admirer of the Swami. Mrs. Ole Bull gave another handsome gift to complete the construction, and the shrine at the Belur Math was consecrated, as we shall see, on December 9, 1898. Sometime during this period the Swami initiated into the monastic life Swami Swarupananda, whom he considered to be a real ‘acquisition.’ This qualified aspirant was given initiation after only a few days’ stay at the monastery, contrary to the general rule of the Ramakrishna Order. Later he became editor of the monthly magazine Prabuddha Bharata, and first president of the Advaita Ashrama at Mayavati, in the Himalayas, founded on March 19, 1899.
Among the Western devotees who lived with Swami Vivekananda at this time were Mr. and Mrs. Sevier, Mrs. Ole Bull, Miss Henrietta F. Müller, Miss Josephine MacLeod, and Miss Margaret E. Noble, all of whom travelled with him at various times in Northern India. The Seviers identified themselves completely with the work at the Mayavati Advaita Ashrama. Mrs. Ole Bull, the wife of the famous Norwegian violinist, and a lady of social position, great culture, and large heart, had been an ardent admirer of the Swami during his American trip. Miss Müller, who knew the Swami in both England and America and had helped defray, together with the Seviers and Mr. Sturdy, the expenses of his work in England, had come to India to organize an educational institution for Indian women.
Miss MacLeod had attended Swami Vivekananda’s classes in New York, and for months at a time he had been the guest of her relatives at their country home, Ridgely Manor. She became his lifelong friend and admirer and cherished his memory till the last day of her life, but though she was devoted to him, she never renounced her independence nor did he demand that she should. By way of spiritual instruction, the Swami had once asked Miss MacLeod to meditate on Om for a week and report to him afterwards. When the teacher inquired how she felt, she said that ‘it was like a glow in the heart.’ He encouraged her and said: ‘Good, keep on.’ Many years later she told her friends that the Swami made her realize that she was in eternity. ‘Always remember,’ the Swami had admonished her, ‘you are incidentally an American and a woman, but always a child of God. Tell yourself day and night who you are. Never forget it.’ To her brother-in-law, Francis H. Leggett, the Swami had written, on July 16, 1896, in appreciation of Miss MacLeod: ‘I simply admire Joe Joe in her tact and quiet ways. She is a feminine statesman. She could wield a kingdom. I have seldom seen such strong yet good common sense in a human being.’
When Miss MacLeod asked the Swami’s permission to come to India, he wrote on a postcard: ‘Do come by all means, only you must remember this: The Europeans and Indians live as oil and water. Even to speak of living with the natives is damning, even at the capitals. You will have to bear with people who wear only a loin-cloth; you will see me with only a loin-cloth about me. Dirt and filth everywhere, and brown people. But you will have plenty of men to talk philosophy to you.’ He also wrote to her that she must not come to India if she expected anything else, for the Indians could not ‘bear one more word of criticism’.
On one occasion, while travelling in Kashmir with the Swami and his party, she happened to make a laughing remark about one of his South Indian disciples with the caste-mark of the brahmins of his sect on his forehead. This appeared grotesque to her. The Swami turned upon her ‘like a lion, withered her with a glance, and cried: “Hands off! Who are you? What have you ever done?”‘
Miss MacLeod was crestfallen. But later she learnt that the same poor brahmin had been one of those who, by begging, had collected the money that had made it possible for the Swami to undertake his trip to America.
‘How can I best help you,’ she asked the Swami when she arrived in India. ‘Love India,’ was his reply.
One day Swami Vivekananda told Miss MacLeod that since his return to India he had had no personal money. She at once promised to pay him fifty dollars a month as long as he lived and immediately gave him three hundred dollars for six months in advance. The Swami asked jokingly if it would be enough for him. ‘Not if you take heavy cream every day!’ she said.
The Swami gave the money to Swami Trigunatita to defray the initial expenses of the newly started Bengali magazine, the Udbodhan.
But of all Swami Vivekananda’s Western disciples, the most remarkable was Margaret E Noble, who was truly his spiritual daughter. She had attended the Swami’s classes and lectures in London and resolved to dedicate her life to his work in India. When she expressed to him her desire to come to India, the Swami wrote to her, on July 29, 1897:
‘Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was wanted was not a man but a woman, a real lioness, to work for the Indians — women especially. India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations. Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination, and above all, your Celtic blood, makes you just the woman wanted.
‘Yet the difficulties are many. You cannot form any idea of the misery, the superstition, and the slavery that are here. You will be in the midst of a mass of half-naked men and women with quaint ideas of caste and isolation, shunning the white-skins through fear or hatred and hated by them intensely. On the other hand, you will be looked upon by the white as a crank, and every one of your movements will be watched with suspicion.
‘Then the climate is fearfully hot, our winter in most places being like your summer, and in the south it is always blazing. Not one European comfort is to be had in places out of the cities. If in spite of all this you dare venture into the work, you are welcome, a hundred times welcome. As for me, I am nobody here as elsewhere, but what little influence I have shall be devoted to your service.
‘You must think well before you plunge in, and afterwards if you fail in this or get disgusted, on my part I promise you I will stand by you unto death, whether you work for India or not, whether you give up Vedanta or remain in it. “The tusks of the elephant come out but never go back” — so are the words of a man never retracted. I promise you that.’
He further asked her to stand on her own feet and never seek help from his other Western women devotees.
Miss Noble came to India on January 28, 1898, to work with Miss Müller for the education of Indian women. The Swami warmly introduced her to the public of Calcutta as a ‘gift of England to India,’ and in March made her take the vow of brahmacharya, that is to say, the life of a religious celibate devoted to the realization of God. He also gave her the name of Nivedita, the ‘Dedicated,’ by which she has ever since been cherished by the Indians with deep respect and affection. The ceremony was performed in the chapel of the monastery. He first taught her how to worship Siva and then made the whole ceremony culminate in an offering at the feet of Buddha.
‘Go thou,’ he said, ‘and follow him who was born and gave his life for others five hundred times before he attained the vision of the Buddha.’
The Swami now engaged himself in the training of Sister Nivedita along with the other Western disciples. And certainly it was a most arduous task. They were asked to associate intimately with the Holy Mother, the widow of Sri Ramakrishna, who at once adopted them as her ‘children.’ Then the Swami would visit them almost daily to reveal to them the deep secrets of the Indian world — its history, folklore, customs, and traditions. Mercilessly he tried to uproot from their minds all preconceived notions and wrong ideas about India. He wanted them to love India as she was at the present time, with her poverty, ignorance, and backwardness, and not the India of yore, when she had produced great philosophies, epics, dramas, and religious systems.
It was not always easy for the Western disciples to understand the religious ideals and forms of worship of the Hindus. For instance, one day in the great Kali temple of Calcutta, one Western lady shuddered at the sight of the blood of the goats sacrificed before the Deity, and exclaimed, ‘Why is there blood before the Goddess?’ Quickly the Swami retorted, ‘Why not a little blood to complete the picture?’
The disciples had been brought up in the tradition of Protestant Christianity, in which the Godhead was associated only with what was benign and beautiful, and Satan with the opposite.
With a view to Hinduizing their minds, the Swami asked his Western disciples to visit Hindu ladies at their homes and to observe their dress, food, and customs, which were radically different from their own. Thus he put to a severe test their love for Vedanta and India. In the West they had regarded the Swami as a prophet showing them the path of liberation, and as a teacher of the universal religion. But in India he appeared before them, in addition, in the role of a patriot, an indefatigable worker for the regeneration of his motherland.
The Swami began to teach Nivedita to lose herself completely in the Indian consciousness. She gradually adopted the food, clothes, language, and general habits of the Hindus.
‘You have to set yourself,’ he said to her, ‘to Hinduize your thoughts, your needs, your conceptions, your habits. Your life, internal and external, has to become all that an orthodox brahmin brahmacharini’s ought to be. The method will come to you if you only desire it sufficiently. But you have to forget your past and cause it to be forgotten.’ He wanted her to address the Hindus ‘in terms of their own orthodoxy.’
Swami Vivekananda would not tolerate in his Western disciples any trace of chauvinism, any patronizing attitude or stupid criticism of the Indian way of life. They could serve India only if they loved India, and they could love India only if they knew India, her past glories and her present problems. Thus later he took them on his trip to Northern India, including Almora and Kashmir, and told them of the sanctity of Varanasi and the magnificence of Agra and Delhi; he related to them the history of the Moghul Emperors and the Rajput heroes, and also described the peasant’s life, the duties of a farm housewife, and the hospitality of poor villagers to wandering monks. The teacher and his disciples saw together the sacred rivers, the dense forests, the lofty mountains, the sun-baked plains, the hot sands of the desert, and the gravel beds of the rivers, all of which had played their parts in the creation of Indian culture. And the Swami told them that in India custom and culture were one. The visible manifestations of the culture were the system of caste, the duties determined by the different stages of life, the respect of parents as incarnate gods, the appointed hours of religious service, the shrine used for daily worship, the chanting of the Vedas by the brahmin children, the eating of food with the right hand and its use in worship and japa, the austerities of Hindu widows, the kneeling in prayer of the Moslems wherever the time of prayer might find them, and the ideal of equality practised by the followers of Mohammed.
Nivedita possessed an aggressively Occidental and intensely, English outlook. It was not easy for her to eradicate instinctive national loyalties and strong personal likes and dislikes. A clash between the teacher and the disciple was inevitable. Ruthlessly the Swami crushed her pride in her English upbringing. Perhaps, at the same time, he wanted to protect her against the passionate adoration she had for him. Nivedita suffered bitter anguish.
The whole thing reached its climax while they were travelling together, some time after, in the Himalayas. One day Miss MacLeod thought that Nivedita could no longer bear the strain, and interceded kindly and gravely with the Swami. ‘He listened,’ Sister Nivedita wrote later, ‘and went away. At evening, however, he returned, and finding us together on the veranda, he turned to her (Miss MacLeod) and said with the simplicity of a child: “You were right. There must be a change. I am going away to the forests to be alone, and when I come back I shall bring peace.” Then he turned away and saw that above us the moon was new, and a sudden exaltation came into his voice as he said: “See, the Mohammedans think much of the new moon. Let us also, with the new moon, begin a new life.”‘ As he said these words, he lifted his hand and blessed his rebellious disciple, who by this time was kneeling before him. It was assuredly a moment of wonderful sweetness of reconciliation. That evening in meditation Nivedita found herself gazing deep into an Infinite Good, to the recognition of which no egotistic reasoning had led her. ‘And,’ she wrote, ‘I understood for the first time that the greatest teachers may destroy in us a personal relation only in order to bestow the Impersonal Vision in its place.’
To resume our story, on March 30, 1898, the Swami left for Darjeeling, for he badly needed a change to the cool air of the Himalayas. Hardly had he begun to feel the improvement in his health, when he had to come down to Calcutta, where an outbreak of plague was striking terror.
Immediately he made plans for relief work with the help of the members of the monastery and volunteers from Calcutta.
When a brother disciple asked him where he would get funds, the Swami replied: ‘Why, we shall sell if necessary the land which has just been purchased for the monastery. We are sannyasins; we must be ready to sleep under the trees and live on alms as we did before. Must we care for the monastery and possessions when by disposing of them we could relieve thousands of helpless people suffering before our own eyes?’ Fortunately this extreme step was not necessary; the public gave him money for the relief work.
The Swami worked hard to assuage the suffering of the afflicted people. Their love and admiration for him knew no bounds as they saw this practical application of Vedanta at a time of human need.
The plague having been brought under control, the Swami left Calcutta for Nainital on May 11, accompanied by, among others, his Western disciples. From there the party went to Almora where they met the Seviers. During this tour the Swami never ceased instructing his disciples. For his Western companions it was a rare opportunity to learn Indian history, religion, and philosophy direct from one who was an incarnation of the spirit of India. Some of the talks the Swami gave were recorded by Sister Nivedita in her charming book Notes of Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda.
In Almora the Swami received news of the deaths of Pavhari Baba and Mr. Goodwin. He had been closely drawn to the former during his days of wandering. Goodwin died on June 2. Hearing of this irreparable loss, the Swami exclaimed in bitter grief, ‘My right hand is gone!’ To Goodwin’s mother he wrote a letter of condolence in which he said: ‘The debt of gratitude I owe him can never be repaid, and those who think they have been helped by any thought of mine ought to know that almost every word of it was published through the untiring and most unselfish exertions of Mr. Goodwin. In him I have lost a friend true as steel, a disciple of never-failing devotion, a worker who knew not what tiring was, and the world is less rich by the passing away of one of those few who are born, as it were, to live only for others.’
The Swami also sent her the following poem, which he had written in memory of Goodwin, bearing witness to the affection of the teacher for the disciple:
Requiescat In Pace
Speed forth, O soul! upon thy star-strewn path;
Speed, blissful one! where thought is ever free,
Where time and space no longer mist the view;
Eternal peace and blessings be with thee!
Thy service true, complete thy sacrifice;
Thy home the heart of love transcendent find!
Remembrance sweet, that kills all space and time,
Like altar roses, fill thy place behind!
Thy bonds are broke, thy quest in bliss is found,
And one with That which comes as death and life,
Thou helpful one! unselfish e’er on earth,
Ahead, still help with love this world of strife!
Before the Swami left Almora, he arranged to start again the monthly magazine Prabuddha Bharata, which had ceased publication with the death of its gifted editor, B. R. Rajam Iyer. Swami Swarupananda became its new editor, and Captain Sevier, the manager. The magazine began its new career at Almora. Then, on June 11, the Swami, in the company of his Western disciples, left for Kashmir as the guest of Mrs. Ole Bull.
The trip to Kashmir was an unforgettable experience for the Westerners. The natural beauty of the country, with its snow-capped mountains reflected in the water of the lakes, its verdant forests, multi-coloured flowers, and stately poplar and chennar trees, make the valley of Kashmir a paradise on earth. Throughout the journey the Swami poured out his heart and soul to his disciples. At first he was almost obsessed with the ideal of Siva, whom he had worshipped since boyhood, and for days he told the disciples legends relating to the great God of renunciation. The party spent a few days in house-boats, and in the afternoons the Swami would take his companions for long walks across the fields. The conversations were always stimulating. One day he spoke of Genghis Khan and declared that he was not a vulgar aggressor; he compared the Mongol Emperor to Napoleon and Alexander, saying that they all wanted to unify the world and that it was perhaps the same soul that had incarnated itself three times in the hope of bringing about human unity through political conquest. In the same way, he said, one Soul might have come again and again as Krishna, Buddha, and Christ, to bring about the unity of mankind through religion.
In Kashmir the Swami pined for solitude. The desire for the solitary life of a monk became irresistible; and he would often break away from the little party to roam alone. After his return he would make some such remark as: ‘It is a sin to think of the body,’ ‘It is wrong to manifest power,’ or ‘Things do not grow better; they remain as they are. It is we who grow better, by the changes we make in ourselves.’ Often he seemed to be drifting without any plan, and the disciples noticed his strange detachment. ‘At no time,’ Sister Nivedita wrote, ‘would it have surprised us had someone told us that today or tomorrow he would be gone for ever, that we were listening to his voice for the last time.’
This planlessness was observed in him more and more as his earthly existence drew towards its end. Two years later, when Sister Nivedita gave him a bit of worldly advice, the Swami exclaimed in indignation: ‘Plans! Plans! That is why you Western people can never create a religion! If any of you ever did, it was only a few Catholic saints who had no plans. Religion was never, never preached by planners!’ About solitude as a spiritual discipline, the Swami said one day that an Indian could not expect to know himself till he had been alone for twenty years, whereas from the Western standpoint a man could not live alone for twenty years and remain quite sane. On the Fourth of July the Swami gave a surprise to his American disciples by arranging for its celebration in an appropriate manner. An American flag was made with the help of a brahmin tailor, and the Swami composed the following poem:
To The Fourth Of July
Behold, the dark clouds melt away
That gathered thick at night and hung
So like a gloomy pall above the earth!
Before thy magic touch the world
Awakes. The birds in chorus sing.
The flowers raise their star-like crowns,
Dew-set, and wave thee welcome fair.
The lakes are opening wide, in love
Their hundred thousand lotus-eyes
To welcome thee with all their depth.
All hail to thee, thou lord of light!
A welcome new to thee today,
O sun! Today thou sheddest liberty!
Bethink thee how the world did wait
And search for thee, through time and clime!
Some gave up home and love of friends
And went in quest of thee, self-banished,
Through dreary oceans, through primeval forests,
Each step a struggle for their life or death;
Then came the day when work bore fruit,
And worship, love, and sacrifice,
Fulfilled, accepted, and complete.
Then thou, propitious, rose to shed
The light of freedom on mankind.
Move on, O lord, in thy resistless path,
Till thy high noon o’erspreads the world,
Till every land reflects thy light,
Till men and women, with uplifted head,
Behold their shackles broken and know
In springing joy their life renewed!
As the Swami’s mood changed he spoke of renunciation. He showed scorn for the worldly life and said: ‘As is the difference between a fire-fly and the blazing sun, between a little pond and the infinite ocean, a mustard seed and the mountain of Meru, such is the difference between the householder and the sannyasin.’ Had it not been for the ochre robe, the emblem of monasticism, he pointed out, luxury and worldliness would have robbed man of his manliness.
Thus the party spent their time on the river, the teacher providing a veritable university for the education of his disciples. The conversation touched upon all subjects — Vedic rituals, Roman Catholic doctrine, Christ, St. Paul, the growth of Christianity, Buddha.
Of Buddha, the Swami said that he was the greatest man that ever lived. ‘Above all, he never claimed worship. Buddha said: “Buddha is not a man, but a state. I have found the way. Enter all of you!”‘
Then the talk would drift to the conception of sin among the Egyptian, Semitic, and Aryan races. According to the Vedic conception, the Swami said, the Devil is the Lord of Anger, and with Buddhists he is Mara, the Lord of Lust. Whereas in the Bible the creation was under the dual control of God and Satan, in Hinduism Satan represented defilement, never duality.
Next the Swami would speak about the chief characteristics of the different nations. ‘You are so morbid, you Westerners’, he said one day. ‘You worship sorrow! All through your country I found that. Social life in the West is like a peal of laughter, but underneath it is a wail. The whole thing ends in a sob. The fun and frivolity are all on the surface; really, it is full of tragic intensity. Here it is sad and gloomy on the outside, but underneath are detachment and merriment.’
Once, at Islamabad, as the group sat round him on the grass in an apple orchard, the Swami repeated what he had said in England after facing a mad bull. Picking up two pebbles in his hand, he said: ‘Whenever death approaches me all weakness vanishes. I have neither fear nor doubt nor thought of the external. I simply busy myself making ready to die. I am as hard as that’ — and the stones struck each other in his hand — ‘for I have touched the feet of God!’
At Islamabad the Swami announced his desire to make a pilgrimage to the great image of Siva in the cave of Amarnath in the glacial valley of the Western Himalayas. He asked Nivedita to accompany him so that she, a future worker, might have direct knowledge of the Hindu pilgrim’s life. They became a part of a crowd of thousands of pilgrims, who formed at each halting-place a whole town of tents.
A sudden change came over the Swami. He became one of the pilgrims, scrupulously observing the most humble practices demanded by custom. He ate one meal a day, cooked in the orthodox fashion, and sought solitude as far as possible to tell his beads and practise meditation. In order to reach the destination, he had to climb up rocky slopes along dangerous paths, cross several miles of glacier, and bathe in the icy water of sacred streams.
On August 2 the party arrived at the enormous cavern, large enough to contain a vast cathedral. At the back of the cave, in a niche of deepest shadow, stood the image of Siva, all ice. The Swami, who had fallen behind, entered the cave, his whole frame shaking with emotion. His naked body was smeared with ashes, and his face radiant with devotion. Then he prostrated himself in the darkness of the cave before that glittering whiteness.
A song of praise from hundreds of throats echoed in the cavern. The Swami almost fainted. He had a vision of Siva Himself. The details of the experience he never told anyone, except that he had been granted the grace of Amarnath, the Lord of Immortality, not to die until he himself willed it.
The effect of the experience shattered his nerves. When he emerged from the grotto, there was a clot of blood in his left eye; his heart was dilated and never regained its normal condition. For days he spoke of nothing but Siva. He said: ‘The image was the Lord Himself. It was all worship there. I have never seen anything so beautiful, so inspiring.’
On August 8 the party arrived at Srinagar, where they remained until September 30. During this period the Swami felt an intense desire for meditation and solitude. The Maharaja of Kashmir treated him with the utmost respect and wanted him to choose a tract of land for the establishment of a monastery and a Sanskrit college. The land was selected and the proposal sent to the British Resident for approval. But the British Agent refused to grant the land. The Swami accepted the whole thing philosophically.
A month later his devotion was directed to Kali, the Divine Mother, whom Ramakrishna had called affectionately ‘my Mother.’
A unique symbol of the Godhead, Kali represents the totality of the universe: creation and destruction, life and death, good and evil, pain and pleasure, and all the pairs of opposites. She seems to be black when viewed from a distance, like the water of the ocean; but to the intimate observer She is without colour, being one with Brahman, whose creative energy She represents.
In one aspect She appears terrible, with a garland of human skulls, a girdle of human hands, her tongue dripping blood, a decapitated human head in one hand and a shining sword in the other, surrounded by jackals that haunt the cremation ground — a veritable picture of terror. The other side is benign and gracious, ready to confer upon Her devotees the boon of immortality. She reels as if drunk: who could have created this mad world except in a fit of drunkenness? Kali stands on the bosom of Her Divine Consort, Siva, the symbol of Brahman; for Kali, or Nature, cannot work unless energized by the touch of the Absolute. And in reality Brahman and Kali, the Absolute and Its Creative Energy, are identical, like fire and its power to burn.
The Hindu mind does not make a sweepingly moralistic distinction between good and evil. Both are facts of the phenomenal world and are perceived to exist when maya hides the Absolute, which is beyond good and evil. Ramakrishna emphasized the benign aspect of the Divine Mother Kali and propitiated Her to obtain the vision of the Absolute. Swami Vivekananda suddenly felt the appeal of Her destructive side. But is there really any difference between the process of creation and destruction? Is not the one without the other an illusion of the mind?
Vivekananda realized that the Divine Mother is omnipresent. Wherever he turned, he was conscious of the presence of the Mother, ‘as if She were a person in the room.’ He felt that it was She ‘whose hands are clasped with my own and who leads me as though I were a child.’ It was touching to see him worship the four-year-old daughter of his Mohammedan boatman as the symbol of the Divine Mother.
His meditation on Kali became intense, and one day he had a most vivid experience. He centred ‘his whole attention on the dark, the painful, and the inscrutable’ aspect of Reality, with a determination to reach by this particular path the Non-duality behind phenomena. His whole frame trembled, as if from an electric shock. He had a vision of Kali, the mighty Destructress lurking behind the veil of life, the Terrible One, hidden by the dust of the living who pass by, and all the appearances raised by their feet. In a fever, he groped in the dark for pencil and paper and wrote his famous poem ‘Kali the Mother’; then he fell exhausted:
The stars are blotted out,
The clouds are covering clouds,
It is darkness, vibrant, sonant;
In the roaring, whirling wind
Are the souls of a million lunatics,
Just loose from the prison-house,
Wrenching trees by the roots,
Sweeping all from the path.
The sea has joined the fray
And swirls up mountain-waves
To reach the pitchy sky.
The flash of lurid light
Reveals on every side
A thousand thousand shades
Of death, begrimed and black.
Scattering plagues and sorrows,
Dancing mad with joy,
Come, Mother, come!
For terror is Thy name,
Death is in Thy breath,
And every shaking step
Destroys a world for e’er.
Thou Time, the All-destroyer,
Come, O Mother, come!
Who dares misery love,
And hug the form of death,
Dance in Destruction’s dance —
To him the Mother comes.
The Swami now talked to his disciples only about Kali, the Mother, describing Her as ‘time, change, and ceaseless energy.’ He would say with the great Psalmist: ‘Though Thou slay me, yet I will trust in Thee.’
‘It is a mistake,’ the Swami said, ‘to hold that with all men pleasure is the motive. Quite as many are born to seek pain. There can be bliss in torture, too. Let us worship terror for its own sake.
‘Learn to recognize the Mother as instinctively in evil, terror, sorrow, and annihilation as in that which makes for sweetness and joy!
‘Only by the worship of the Terrible can the Terrible itself be overcome, and immortality gained. Meditate on death! Meditate on death! Worship the Terrible, the Terrible, the Terrible! And the Mother Herself is Brahman! Even Her curse is a blessing. The heart must become a cremation ground — pride, selfishness, and desire all burnt to ashes. Then, and then alone, will the Mother come.’
The Western disciples, brought up in a Western faith which taught them to see good, order, comfort, and beauty alone in the creation of a wise Providence, were shaken by the typhoon of a Cosmic Reality invoked by the Hindu visionary. Sister Nivedita writes:
And as he spoke, the underlying egoism of worship that is devoted to the kind God, to Providence, the consoling Deity, without a heart for God in the earthquake or God in the volcano, overwhelmed the listener. One saw that such worship was at bottom, as the Hindu calls it, merely ‘shopkeeping,’ and one realized the infinitely greater boldness and truth of teaching that God manifests through evil as well as through good. One saw that the true attitude for the mind and will that are not to be baffled by the personal self, was in fact that determination, in the stern words of Swami Vivekananda, ‘to seek death, not life, to hurl oneself upon the sword’s point, to become one with the Terrible for evermore.’
Heroism, to Vivekananda, was the soul of action. He wanted to see Ultimate Truth in all its terrible nakedness, and refused to soften it in any shape or manner. His love of Truth expected nothing in return; he scorned the bargain of ‘giving to get in return’ and all its promise of paradise.
But the gentle Ramakrishna, though aware of the Godhead in all its aspects, had emphasized Its benign side. One day several men had been arguing before him about the attributes of God, attempting to find out, by reason, their meaning. Sri Ramakrishna stopped them, saying: ‘Enough, enough! What is the use of disputing whether the divine attributes are reasonable or not?…You say that God is good: can you convince me of His goodness by this reasoning? Look at the flood that has just caused the death of thousands. How can you prove that a benevolent God ordered it? You will perhaps reply that the same flood swept away uncleanliness and watered the earth, and so on. But could not a good God do that without drowning thousands of innocent men, women, and children?’
Thereupon one of the disputants said, ‘Then ought we to believe that God is cruel?’
‘O idiot,’ cried Ramakrishna, ‘who said that? Fold your hands and say humbly, “O God, we are too feeble and too weak to understand Thy nature and Thy deeds. Deign to enlighten us!” Do not argue. Love!’ God is no doubt Good, True, and Beautiful; but these attributes are utterly different from their counterparts in the relative world.
The Swami, during these days, taught his disciples to worship God like heroes. He would say: ‘There must be no fear, no begging, but demanding — demanding the Highest. The true devotees of the Mother are as hard, as adamant and as fearless as lions. They are not in the least upset if the whole universe suddenly crumbles into dust at their feet. Make Her listen to you. None of that cringing to Mother! Remember, She is all-powerful; She can make heroes out of stones.’
On September 30 Swami Vivekananda retired to a temple of the Divine Mother, where he stayed alone for a week. There he worshipped the Deity, known as Kshirbhavani, following the time-honoured ritual, praying and meditating like a humble pilgrim. Every morning he also worshipped a brahmin’s little daughter as the symbol of the Divine Virgin. And he was blessed with deep experiences, some of which were most remarkable and indicated to him that his mission on earth was finished.
He had a vision of the Goddess and found Her a living Deity. But the temple had been destroyed by the Moslem invaders, and the image placed in a niche surrounded by ruins. Surveying this desecration, the Swami felt distressed at heart and said to himself: ‘How could the people have permitted such sacrilege without offering strenuous resistance? If I had been here then, I would never have allowed such a thing. I would have laid down my life to protect the Mother.’ Thereupon he heard the voice of the Goddess saying: ‘What if unbelievers should enter My temple and defile My image? What is that to you? Do you protect Me, or do I protect you?’ Referring to this experience after his return, he said to his disciples: ‘All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it is only “Mother! Mother!” I have been very wrong…I am only a little child.’ He wanted to say more, but could not; he declared that it was not fitting that he should go on. Significantly, he added that spiritually he was no longer bound to the world.
Another day, in the course of his worship, the thought flashed through the Swami’s mind that he should try to build a new temple in the place of the present dilapidated one, just as he had built a monastery and temple at Belur to Sri Ramakrishna. He even thought of trying to raise funds from his wealthy American disciples and friends. At once the Mother said to him: ‘My child! If I so wish I can have innumerable temples and monastic centres. I can even this moment raise a seven-storied golden temple on this very spot.’
‘Since I heard that divine voice,’ the Swami said to a disciple in Calcutta much later, ‘I have ceased making any more plans. Let these things be as Mother wills.’
Sri Ramakrishna had said long ago that Narendranath would live in the physical body to do the Mother’s work and that as soon as this work was finished, he would cast off his body by his own will. Were the visions at the temple of Kshirbhavani a premonition of the approaching dissolution?
When the Swami rejoined his disciples at Srinagar, he was an altogether different person. He raised his hand in benediction and then placed some marigolds, which he had offered to the Deity, on the head of every one of his disciples. ‘No more “Hari Om!”‘ he said. ‘It is all “Mother” now!’ Though he lived with them, the disciples saw very little of him. For hours he would stroll in the woods beside the river, absorbed within himself. One day he appeared before them with shaven head, dressed as the simplest sannyasin and with a look of unapproachable austerity on his face. He repeated 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.’
Sister Nivedita writes: ‘The physical ebb of the great experience through which he had just passed — for even suffering becomes impossible when a given point of weariness is reached; and similarly, the body refuses to harbour a certain intensity of the spiritual life for an indefinite period — was leaving him, doubtless, more exhausted than he himself suspected. All this contributed, one imagines, to a feeling that none of us knew for how long a time we might now be parting.’
The party left Kashmir on October 11 and came down to Lahore. The Western disciples went to Agra, Delhi, and the other principal cities of Northern India for sightseeing, and the Swami, accompanied by his disciple Sadananda, arrived at Belur on October 18. His brother disciples saw that he was very pallid and ill. He suffered from suffocating attacks of asthma; when he emerged from its painful fits, his face looked blue, like that of a drowning man. But in spite of all, he plunged headlong into numerous activities.
On November 13, 1898, the day of the worship of Kali, the Nivedita Girls’ School was opened in Calcutta. At the end of the inaugural ceremony the Holy Mother, Sri Ramakrishna’s consort, ‘prayed that the blessing of the Great Mother of the universe might be upon the school and that the girls it should train might be ideal girls.’ Nivedita, who witnessed the ceremony with the Swamis of the Order, said: ‘I cannot imagine a grander omen than her blessing spoken over the educated Hindu womanhood of the future.’
The dedication of the school was the beginning of Nivedita’s work in India. The Swami gave her complete freedom about the way to run it. He told her that she was free from her collaborators if she so chose; and that she might, if she wished, give the work a ‘definite religious colour’ or even make it sectarian. Then he added, ‘You may wish through a sect to rise beyond all sects.’
On December 9, 1898, the Ramakrishna Monastery at Belur was formally consecrated by the Swami with the installation of the Master’s image in the chapel. The plot of land, as already stated, had been purchased in the beginning of the year and had been consecrated with proper religious ceremony in March that year. The Swami himself had performed the worship on that occasion at the rented house and afterwards had carried on his shoulder the copper vessel containing the Master’s sacred relics. While bearing it he said to a disciple: ‘The Master once told me, “I will go and live wherever you take me, carrying me on your shoulder, be it under a tree or in the humblest cottage.” With faith in that gracious promise I myself am now carrying him to the site of our future Math. Know for certain, my boy, that so long as his name inspires his followers with the ideal of purity, holiness, and charity for all men, even so long shall he, the Master, sanctify this place with his presence.’
Of the glorious future he saw for the monastery the Swami said: ‘It will be a centre in which will be recognized and practised a grand harmony of all creeds and faiths as exemplified in the life of Sri Ramakrishna, and religion in its universal aspect, alone, will be preached. And from this centre of universal toleration will go forth the shining message of goodwill, peace, and harmony to deluge the whole world.’ He warned all of the danger of sectarianism’s creeping in if they became careless.
After the ceremony, he addressed the assembled monks, brahmacharins, and lay devotees as follows: ‘Do you all, my brothers, pray to the Lord with all your heart and soul that He, the Divine Incarnation of the age, may bless this place with his hallowed presence for ever and ever, and make it a unique centre, a holy land, of harmony of different religions and sects, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many.’
Swami Vivekananda was in an ecstatic mood. He had accomplished the great task of finding a permanent place on which to build a temple for the Master, with a monastery for his brother disciples and the monks of the future that should serve as the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order for the propagation of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings. He felt as if the heavy responsibility that he had carried on his shoulders for the past twelve years had been lifted. He wanted the monastery at Belur to be a finished university where Indian mystical wisdom and Western practical science would be taught side by side. And he spoke of the threefold activities of the monastery: annadana, the gift of food; vidyadana, the gift of intellectual knowledge; and jnanadana, the gift of spiritual wisdom. These three, properly balanced, would, in the Swami’s opinion, make a complete man. The inmates of the monastery, through unselfish service of men, would purify their minds and thus qualify themselves for the supreme knowledge of Brahman.
Swami Vivekananda in his vivid imagination saw the different sections of the monastery allotted to different functions — the free kitchen for the distribution of food to the hungry, the university for the imparting of knowledge, the quarters for devotees from Europe and America, and so forth and so on. The spiritual ideals emanating from the Belur Math, he once said to Miss MacLeod, would influence the thought-currents of the world for eleven hundred years.
‘All these visions are rising before me’ — these were his very words.
The ceremony over, the sacred vessel was brought back to the rented house by his disciple Sarat Chandra Chakravarty, as the Swami did not want to carry back the Master from the monastery where he had just installed him.
It was a few months before the buildings of the new monastery were completed and the monastery was finally removed to its present site. The date of the momentous occasion was January 2, 1899. The Bengali monthly magazine, the Udbodhan, was first published on January 14 of the same year, and regarding its policy, the Swami declared that nothing but positive ideas for the physical, mental, and spiritual improvement of the race should find a place in it; that instead of criticizing the thoughts and aspirations of ancient and modern man, as embodied in literature, philosophy, poetry, and the arts, the magazine should indicate the way in which those thoughts and aspirations might be made conducive to progress; and finally that the magazine should stand for universal harmony as preached by Sri Ramakrishna, and disseminate his ideals of love, purity, and renunciation.
The Swami was happy to watch the steady expansion of the varied activities of the Order. At his request Swami Saradananda had returned from America to assist in the organization of the Belur Math. Together with Swami Turiyananda, he conducted regular classes at the Math for the study of Sanskrit and of Eastern and Western philosophy. Somewhat later the two Swamis were sent on a preaching mission to Gujarat, in Western India, and for the same purpose two of the Swami’s own disciples were sent to East Bengal. Swami Shivananda was deputed to Ceylon to preach Vedanta. Reports of the excellent work done by Swamis Ramakrishnananda and Abhedananda in Madras and America were received at the Math. Swami Akhandananda’s work for the educational uplift of the villages and also in establishing a home for the orphans elicited praise from the Government.
One of the most remarkable institutions founded by Swami Vivekananda was the Advaita Ashrama at Mayavati in the Himalayas. Ever since his visit to the Alps in Switzerland, the Swami had been cherishing the desire to establish a monastery in the solitude of the Himalayas where non-dualism would be taught and practised in its purest form. Captain and Mrs. Sevier took up the idea, and the Ashrama was established at Mayavati, at an altitude of 6500 feet. Before it there shone, day and night, the eternal snow-range of the Himalayas for an extent of some two hundred miles, with Nanda Devi rising to a height of more than 25,000 feet. Spiritual seekers, irrespective of creed and race, were welcome at the monastery at Mayavati. No external worship of any kind was permitted within its boundaries. Even the formal worship of Sri Ramakrishna was excluded. It was required of the inmates and guests always to keep before their minds the vision of the nameless and formless Spirit.
Swami Vivekananda in the following lines laid down the ideals and principles of this Himalayan ashrama:
‘In Whom is the Universe, Who is in the Universe, Who is the Universe; in Whom is the Soul, Who is in the Soul, Who is the Soul of man; to know Him, and therefore the Universe, as our Self, alone extinguishes all fear, brings an end to misery, and leads to infinite freedom. Wherever there has been expansion in love or progress in well-being of individuals or numbers, it has been through the perception, realization, and the practicalization of the Eternal Truth — the Oneness of All Beings. “Dependence is misery. Independence is happiness.” The Advaita is the only system which gives unto man complete possession of himself and takes off all dependence and its associated superstitions, thus making us brave to suffer, brave to do, and in the long run to attain to Absolute Freedom.
‘Hitherto it has not been possible to preach this Noble Truth entirely free from the settings of dualistic weakness; this alone, we are convinced, explains why it has not been more operative and useful to mankind at large.
‘To give this One Truth a freer and fuller scope in elevating the lives of individuals and leavening the mass of mankind, we start this Advaita Ashrama on the Himalayan heights, the land of its first formulation.
‘Here it is hoped to keep Advaita free from all superstitions and weakening contaminations. Here will be taught and practised nothing but the Doctrine of Unity, pure and simple; and though in entire sympathy with all other systems, this Ashrama is dedicated to Advaita and Advaita alone.’
After the Swami’s return from Kashmir his health had begun to deteriorate visibly. His asthma caused him great suffering. But his zeal for work increased many times.
‘Ever since I went to Amarnath,’ he said one day, ‘Siva Himself has entered into my brain. He will not go.’
At the earnest request of the brother monks, he visited Calcutta frequently for treatment; yet even there he had no respite from work. Visitors thronged about him for religious instruction from morning till night, and his large heart could not say no to them. When the brother monks pressed him to receive people only at appointed hours, he replied: ‘They take so much trouble to come, walking all the way from their homes, and can I, sitting here, not speak a few words to them, merely because I risk my health a little?’
His words sounded so much like those of Sri Ramakrishna during the latter’s critical illness, no wonder that Swami Premananda said to him one day, ‘We do not see any difference between Sri Ramakrishna and you.’
But the Swamis greatest concern was the training of the sannyasins and brahmacharins — the future bearers of his message — and to this task he addressed himself with all his soul. He encouraged them in their meditation and manual work, himself setting the example. Sometimes he would cook for them, sometimes knead bread, till the garden, or dig a well. Again, he would train them to be preachers by asking them to speak before a gathering without preparation. Constantly he reminded the monks of their monastic vows, especially chastity and renunciation, without which deep spiritual perception was impossible. He attached great importance to physical exercise and said: ‘I want sappers and miners in the army of religion! So, boys, set yourselves to the task of training your muscles! For ascetics, mortification is all right. For workers, well-developed bodies, muscles of iron and nerves of steel!’ He urged them to practise austerities and meditation in solitude. For the beginners he laid down strict rules about food. They were to rise early, meditate, and perform their religious duties scrupulously. Health must not he neglected and the company of worldly people should be avoided. But above all, he constantly admonished them to give up idleness in any shape or form.
Of himself he said: ‘No rest for me! I shall die in harness! I love action! Life is a battle, and one must always be in action, to use a military phrase. Let me live and die in action!’ He was a living hymn of work.
To a disciple who wanted to remain absorbed in the Brahman of Vedanta, the Swami thundered: ‘Why? What is the use of remaining always stupefied in samadhi? Under the inspiration of non-dualism why not sometimes dance like Siva, and sometimes remain immersed in superconsciousness? Who enjoys a delicacy more — he who eats it all by himself, or he who shares it with others? Granted, by realizing Atman in meditation you attain mukti; but of what use is that to the world? We have to take the whole world with us to mukti. We shall set a conflagration in the domain of great Maya. Then only will you be established in the Eternal Truth. Oh, what can compare with that Bliss immeasurable, “infinite as the skies”! In that state you will be speechless, carried beyond yourself, by seeing your own Self in every being that breathes, and in every atom of the universe. When you realize this, you cannot live in this world without treating everyone with exceeding love and compassion. This is indeed practical Vedanta.’
He wanted his disciples to perform with accuracy and diligence the everyday tasks of life. ‘He who knows even how to prepare a smoke properly, knows also how to meditate. And he who cannot cook well cannot be a perfect sannyasin. Unless cooking is performed with a pure mind and concentration, the food is not palatable.’
Work cannot produce real fruit without detachment on the part of the worker. ‘Only a great monk’, the Swami said one day, ‘can be a great worker; for he is without attachment….There are no greater workers than Buddha and Christ. No work is secular. All work is adoration and worship.’
The first duty of the inmates of the monastery was renunciation. How the Swami idolized the monastic life! ‘Never forget, service to the world and the realization of God are the ideals of the monk! Stick to them! The monastic is the most immediate of the paths. Between the monk and his God there are no idols! “The sannyasin stands on the head of the Vedas!” declare the Vedas, for he is free from churches and sects and religions and prophets and scriptures. He is the visible God on earth. Remember this, and go thou thy way, sannyasin bold, carrying the banner of renunciation — the banner of peace, of freedom, of blessedness!’
To a disciple who wanted to practise spiritual discipline to attain his own salvation, the Swami said: ‘You will go to hell if you seek your own salvation! Seek the salvation of others if you want to reach the Highest. Kill out the desire for personal mukti. This is the greatest spiritual discipline. Work, my children, work with your whole heart and soul! That is the thing. Mind not the fruit of work. What if you go to hell working for others? That is worth more than to gain heaven by seeking your own salvation….Sri Ramakrishna came and gave his life for the world. I will also sacrifice my life. You also, every one of you, should do the same. All these works and so forth are only a beginning. Believe me, from the shedding of our lifeblood will arise gigantic, heroic workers and warriors of God who will revolutionize the whole world.’
He wanted his disciples to be all-round men. ‘You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to go into deep meditation now, and the next moment you must be ready to go and cultivate the fields. You must be prepared to explain the intricacies of the scriptures now, and the next moment to go and sell the produce of the fields in the market….The true man is he who is strong as strength itself and yet possesses a woman’s heart.’
He spoke of the power of faith: ‘The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves. That faith calls out the inner divinity. You can do anything. You fail only when you do not strive sufficiently to manifest infinite power. As soon as a man loses faith in himself, death comes. Believe first in yourself and then in God. A handful of strong men will move the world. We need a heart to feel, a brain to conceive, and a strong arm to do the work….One man contains within him the whole universe. One particle of matter has all the energy of the universe at its back. In a conflict between the heart and the brain, follow your heart.’
‘His words,’ writes Romain Rolland, ‘are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Handel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings of his, scattered as they are through the pages of books at thirty years’ distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shock, what transports must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!’
The Swami felt he was dying. But he said: ‘Let me die fighting. Two years of physical suffering have taken from me twenty years of life. But the soul changes not, does it? It is there, the same madcap — Atman — mad upon one idea, intent and intense.’