REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
A GLANCE THROUGH
JOSEPHINE MACLEOD’S LETTERS
Miss Josephine MacLeod is well known to the students of Swami Vivekananda’s life. Swamiji used to call her ‘Joe’, and his disciples and admirers addressed her as ‘Yum’, ‘Jaya’ or “Tantine’.
Josephine’s father, John David MacLeod, married Mary Ann Lennon in 1845. and had two sons and three daughters. He was an American of Scottish descent and stayed at various places in the United Slates before permanently settling at Chicago. Among the daughters, Besse or Betty (1852-1931) and Josephine (1858-1949) came in intimate contact with Swami Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna-Vedanta Movement. Betty married Mr. William Sturges of Chicago in the year 1876, and had a son named Hollister and a daughter named Alberta. Josephine always stayed with Betty even after the latter’s marriage. After the death of Mr. William Sturges in the year 1894, Betty married Mr. Francis Leggett, a business magnate of New York, in the September of 1895; and as Swamiji was by that time known to them, he attended their marriage at Paris. Josephine, Hollister and Alberta naturally became part of Betty’s new household at New York and Ridgely, near Stone Ridge, in Ulster County, New York.
January 29, 1895, was a memorable day for Josephine, because on this day she and Betty attended Swamiji’s Vedanta class at New York for the first time. Both sisters were very much impressed by the personality and teachings of Swamiji, and through them Mr. Francis Leggett, Alberta and Hollister became Swamiji’s close friends and admirers. The whole family loved Swamiji and helped in their own way in propagating his message and work.
Right from the first day of their meeting, Josephine accepted Swamiji as a prophet; and although she disclaims formal discipleship, she became his ardent admirer and friend, so much so that Swamiji used to call her a ‘lady missionary’ of the Ramakrishna Order. Even after Swamiji’s death, Josephine continued to be an admirer of the Ramakrishna Order and often came and stayed at the Belur Math headquarters of the Order for many days.
Josephine had strong attachment for India as well, and on occasion she tried to do what was within her power for the betterment of India and her people. During British rule in India, the Ramakrishna Order had to face difficulties from time to time; and she did her best to help the Math overcome them, through her acquaintance with some British Government officers.
In spite of her roving habits, Josephine maintained a regular correspondence with her niece Alberta Sturges, who was married to George Montagu, the Eighth Earl of Sandwich, in 1905. As Josephine was charged with love for Swamiji, the Ramakrishna Order and India, we find in these letters many of her reminiscences about Swamiji, his brother-disciples and other members of the Order, and the expression of her love for India and the work she did for the country. She lived for about half a century after the demise of Swamiji, and her letters written to Alberta are naturally very informative and interesting. Alberta left this valuable treasure with her daughter Lady Faith Culme-Seymour of Bridport, Dorset, England. who very kindly loaned those belonging to 1911-1946 period, to the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre of England. Swami Bhavyananda, the Minister in charge of the Centre, and Swami Yogeshananda, then his assistant, worked hard on these letters and took relevant extracts from them. They prepared cyclostyled copies of these extracts and sent them, a few years ago, to some monks and devotees of the Ramakrishna Order. One of these sets was sent to the President of the Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, in case he would be interested in publishing them in the Prabuddha Bharata.
At the request of the Editor, Prabuddha Bharata, I studied these extracts and tried my best to arrange them topicwise for the information of the devotees and admirers of Swami Vivekananda. These letters bring to light some hitherto unknown facts about Swamiji’s personality and the activities of the Ramakrishna Movement in the East as well as the West. The matter under quotes has been taken verbatim from the aforesaid letters to maintain the originality; and I have introduced the various topics in my words to keep the continuity. The dates of the letters are mentioned in parentheses after the quotation marks.
Miss Josephine MacLeod first met Swami Vivekananda in New York on January 29, 1895. About this she writes: ‘Every phase of the Swamiji epoch is clear, as it is the foundation of my life since forty-eight years. We were living with Mrs. Davidson at Dobbsferry; and coming one day to lunch with aunt Dora Roethlesberger in N.Y. [New York], we found a note from her — “Do come to 54 West 33rd St. and hear the Swami Vivekananda, after which we will return to luncheon” — so Mother1 and I went to his parlour-sitting room, where twenty ladies and two or three men were, Swamiji sitting on the floor. His first sentence made me know I had heard the Truth — the truth that sets one free’ (December 9, 1943). ‘I think that is what happened to me forty-one years ago, January 29, when I saw and heard Swamiji. Somehow one was lifted above the body and time and space’ (January 2, 1936).
Afterwards Josephine used to consider January 29, 1895, as her spiritual birthday — the day on which ‘she found her own soul’. Thus she wrote: ‘I’ll be forty-eight — next January 29th! At the same time, eighty-four in my physical birthday!’ (January 21, 1943). ‘It seems as if all my life dated from that event. As if I’d fulfilled the mission I was born for — recognition of the new Buddha’ (May 9, 1922). Ruminating on that day, in later life she never failed to wonder about that first meeting. She believed that the meeting was preordained: ‘Oh, the wonder of my having recognized Swamiji instantly and irrevocably; on that recognition the past forty-four years of my life has been built’ (March 13, 1939). ‘It isn’t chance that you at fifteen and I at thirty-five should come under the influence of Swamiji — as Nivedita said. “Representing the next 3.000 years as Ramakrishna did the last 3,000 years”‘ (October 4, 1923).
After the first meeting Josephine and her sister began to attend Swamiji’s lectures regularly, but they kept these visits secret from their friends for a few weeks. About this she wrote: ‘Mother and I came down to N.Y. [New York] three times a week and we brought you and Holly2 on Saturdays. We never mentioned him [Swamiji] to anybody, for to us, he was holy. Some weeks after, Pater3 invited us to dine at the Waldorf-Astoria (just opposite to where Swamiji had his classes). So we accepted his invitation to dinner, but said we could not spend the evening with him. When at 8 p.m. we rose to go to the lecture, Mr. Leggett said, “Where are you going?” We said, “To a lecture”; he said, “May I not come?” We said, “Yes, do come.” At once the lecture was over Pater went up to Swamiji and invited him to dine; there, at that dinner, we met Swamiji socially and not many weeks after, we all, including you two children and Swamiji, went to Ridgely Manor for a six-day visit!…Then Mother and I went to visit Pater with Swamiji at Lake Christine, Percy Coos Co., New Hampshire, and when they [Betty and Mr. Francis Leggett) became engaged to be married. Pater asked Swamiji to be his witness at the honeymoon and the next day Swamiji went to stay with Mr. Sturdy in England, and Swamiji began a series of big lectures in London (St. James Hall),4 all the London papers quoting him as a “Yogi”. Isabel 5 read this and went to call on him and later let her house in London to the Vedanta Society. having her two children Kitty and David blessed by Swamiji — so you see Isabel’s and my friendship is based on the Eternal. that came into each of our lives’ (December 9, 1943).
We find in these letters how Josephine and her relations got on with Swamiji: ‘It was that attitude [of giving perfect liberty] in our family towards Swamiji that kept him with and near us. Days without speaking, days and nights continuous speaking! We followed his moods and kept ourselves busy in our own lives and happy when he wasn’t about, so that there was no sort of weight put upon him’ (December 19, 1913).
Love and admiration for Swamiji was common lo them all: ‘We all recognized and loved Swamiji — you and Holly quite as much as Mother and Big Francy (Mr. Francis Leggett.) and me. Perhaps on no other point did we all so heartily agree! It was the biggest synthesis that we ever came across, and it included us one and all. Mother has gone on one line, you another, I a third, according to our talents. None of us could exhaust that spiritual force. nor come to its limitations’ (November 15, 1926).
Josephine’s attitude towards Swamiji is well revealed in her letters. To her Swamiji was unique: ‘I believe Swamiji to have been the biggest spiritual force that ever came to earth’6 (February 25, 1913). He was to her the prophet of the present age: “And we have known the new Buddha!’ (June 22, 1939). ‘I’m deep in reading the Gospel of St. John — thrilling! So like the influence of Swamiji and his miracle of changing lives by his very presence, not by changing water into wine or healings. New prophets bring new gifts, don’t they?’ (June 11, 1941). She was amazed and held by his unlimitedness: “The thing that held me in Swamiji was his unlimitedness!. I never could touch the bottom — or top — or sides! The amazing size of him, and I think Nivedita’s hold was that too’ (March 12, 1923). Occasionally, her feeling towards Swamiji was intensely personal. She claimed to have a right on him: ‘It was to set me free that Swamiji came and that was as much part of his mission as it was to give renunciation to Nivedita — or unity to dear Mrs. Sevier’ (March 12, 1923). ‘Swamiji was only a friend, but a friend who knew God, and so passed him on to me. Meeting Swamiji changed my life, in a twinkling!’ (July 2, 1941).
But Josephine never failed to wonder at the immensity of Swamiji and to appreciate his role in her life in particular and in the world at large: “The Vivekananda episode in our life is of the Eternity quality! So let’s play that game’ (October 4, 1923). “I’ve known and lived for seven years with a world force. I’m charged through and through with it’ (October 23, 1923). To have known and assimilated even a tittle of Swamiji is no small inheritance!’ (April 7, 1924).
Swamiji gave her a sense of security: ‘Somehow Swamiji is back of us one and all’ (March 5, 1914). ‘Our lives are not left to blind chance. We are directed and protected. In a way we believe that, but if we realized it we could never have another moment’s anxiety’ (July 12, 1916). ‘I fee! that Swamiji was a rock for us to stand upon — that was His function in my life. Not worship, nor glory, but a steadiness under one’s feet for experiments!’ (March 12, 1923).
He gave her faith: ‘Our great role is yet to be played. How? Where? I don’t know nor really care — but we’ve not lived with and loved Swamiji for nothing. It’s bound to work out gloriously; but even if it didn’t, knowing Him was worth this and other worlds!’ (June 15, 1914).
Josephine had many an occasion to know how Swamiji influenced the lives of others. To some of these instances she referred in her letters: ‘Mr. (Homer) Lane says what Swamiji has done for him is to make everything holy — all life, effort, work, play, prayer — equally holy, all complement parts and necessary parts of life’ (February 11, 1913). “Yesterday Mrs. Hansbrough,7 who is one of the three sisters who have always been devoted to Swamiji these fourteen years, said that after one of Swami’s brilliant lectures here (Los Angeles) a man got up and said, “Then, Swami, what you claim is that all is good?” “By, no means,” Swamiji answered. “My claim is that all is not — only God is! That makes all the difference.”… And Mrs. Hansbrough says that that one sentence has been the rock on which she has lived all these years’ (March 16, 1914). ‘As Swamiji said to you at Rome, of the gorgeousness of the religious ceremonies at St. Peter’s, “If you do believe in a personal God, surely you would give your best to Him!” (November 5, 1923). Today I’ve written (again) to the Maharaja of Alwar, asking him to come to the Birthday Celebration of Swamiji on January 17th….It seems he’s “on fire” with Swamiji. It was his father that asked Swamiji “What’s the use of all these images and idols?”, and Swamiji, turning to the Prime-Minister said, “Take that picture of His Highness and spit on it.” And he said, “How can I? With His Highness sitting there?” But Swamiji insisted several times, the Prime-Minister refusing. Then Swamiji said, “It isn’t His Highness, it is only a picture-image of him — not he”. Then His Highness saw. The image is sacred because it reminds one of God’ (December 9, 1924), ‘It is Swamiji, bringing back to his race the great sustaining traditions of Hinduism, as lived by Ramakrishna, that is the new leaven pervading India and overflowing to the whole world. “Eternal, pervading, sustaining”, as the Gita puts it. I can even see it in your letter this week: “Swamiji didn’t bless me for nothing, or train me to sit down and cry. I may be lying down, but I will deal with this”‘ (November 15, 1926), ‘A young Parses, K —, given a mantram years ago by Shivanandaji, has told me such a lovely story of Swamiji, told him a month ago in Ajmere by two Americans who were sent out to India by missionaries to offset Swamiji’s influence. When they arrived, Swamiji was deep in meditation but when he finally appeared, his face radiating the light his meditation had given him, they were so overcome, that they turned to Swamiji asking, “Where shall we find Truth?” Swamiji’s answer: “But It is with you always” — turned them into disciples: these two old men now, never leaving India” (February 9, 1939).
Anyone who had served or even had contact with Swamiji at any time had a special place in Josephine’s heart: ‘Today Mrs. Wright comes to see me, widow of the Harvard professor who sent Swamiji to the World’s Parliament. I am finally to begin my quest of his staff and drinking bowl’ (February 20, 1912). ‘I’ve written to Mary Hale Matteini8 that if she has anyone to take her a Swamiji crystal from England, I’d gladly give her one for the Hale Family. Without them to have nourished and protected him that long year, we might never have had him in our midst. It is interesting to see how each plays a different part in Swamiji’s scheme, isn’t it? The Hales had him for a whole year and always gave to him, I feel, that admiration and respect for American womanhood that was so fundamental in his life — then after that, he rarely saw or heard from. Then “We” came along and remained to the end, seven years’ (April 24, 1922). ‘Mary Hale Matteini is living her own loving life, gentle, considerate, faithful to mother, sister, husband. Deep down, there is the big note that Swamiji brought to them all, but no inclination to help his work. However she gave me £5 for the Math and £5 to buy his books. I fancy this is the first contribution she has given. They live in luxury. Beautiful rooms. Two maids, companion for Mrs. Hale, motor, and Mary feels herself to be Italian and gives and works in local charities in Italy. I love her, just as she is!’ (December 15, 1925). ‘David Margesson’s appointment will please dear Isabel, (Mrs. Isabel Margesson.) to whom I owe much, perhaps most in her recognition of Swamiji!’ (December 25, 1940). ‘She [Malvina Hoffman] saw Swamiji when eight or nine years old in a boarding-house in 38th Street. So we formed a real relationship. How curious!’ (May 9, 1941)
Anyone who appreciated Swamiji struck a responsive cord in her: ‘I miss your personal letters dreadfully — but one from F— three days ago tells of her full life… and her having, at last, at forty-four years of age. discovering [discovered] Swamiji, whose life she is reading, and “What a Romance — his coming to Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1893!” she writes. So now she and I will have new and old contacts. Life is so amazing, isn’t it?’ (December 27, 1940)
Josephine referred to many sayings of Swamiji in her letters; for instance: ‘”Whatever exists has a reason; find that reason” is really the basis of Swamiji’s teachings, I think’ (September 14, 1922). ‘I do think that “the constitutional belief in freedom is the basis of all reasoning” — as Swamiji fundamentally puts it’ (October 4, 1923). ‘”Always free on the spiritual plane; never free on the mental and physical — hence the struggle,” said our Swamiji’ (March 25, 1925). ‘”Tell me what you’ve suffered, and I’ll tell you how great you are,” said Swamiji’ (February 16, 1916). ‘As Swamiji put it, “Don’t fight your faults; fill yourself with something else; then they will drop off, not being nourished”‘ (March 27, 1939). ‘Swamiji says, “The heart is the river of your life; the head is the bridge over the river — always follow your heart”‘ (December 5, 1923). “Get your Post (God) as Swamiji says, and then play any game you like: nothing matters but the Post‘ (January 29, 1925). ‘”Wherever there is filth, or degradation, or ignorance, there I identify myself’, says Swamiji’ (February 26, 1913). ‘I don’t think anyone can go far who hasn’t faith in the people. That is what Swamiji had, pre-eminently. He knew that each one of us was a child of God — so he told it broadcast: “Make every man a Brahmin, a twice-born. Do it by thousands, by nations, and the people will rise en masse“‘ (April 6, 1928). ‘The day before Swamiji died he told them how great this place, Belur Math, was to be! They smiled incredulously. He said. “The power of this place will last nine hundred years. Nothing can withstand it”‘ (June 29,1922).
Josephine was not an all-renouncing type of woman like Sister Nivedita. Nor had she the single-minded devotion to an ideal which we find in Sister Christine. But in her own way she took the propagation and realization of Swamiji’s ideas as the mission of her life. Her sense of responsibility in this respect becomes evident as we read her letters.
Rejoicing when certain happenings augured well for the prospects of the Belur Math she wrote: ‘It’s such fun to see the pattern being woven, and only be responsible for one’s own tittle thread and keep it straight and unknotted so that it can be used‘ (March 3, 1926). On another occasion she wrote: ‘You can see that a great Prophet, as Swamiji was, saw in vast expanses of time, coming world-issues and changes. He was true. To me, this is a great satisfaction. It does not lessen our today’s responsibility, but gives further scope for solution’ (July 2, 1941).
Josephine came into contact with all sorts of people during her long life, and she tried to inspire many of them with Swamiji’s ideals. Some instances of this, scattered through her letter, are as follows:
‘I’ve poured out all my heart of all the wealth that Swamiji poured into me — on him (DhanGopalMukheriee) — and now my work is done and I feel a curious lightness’ (June 17,1922). ‘I have never heard from the Bernard Shaws — have you? — if they received the Lalique Swamiji crystals. Two months ago I wrote to her to say so, but still no answer!’ (November 7, 1922). ‘When on Bernard Shaw’s eighty-eighth birthday, there was in New York Times a picture of him sawing wood, I wrote to him saying we were both in the category of the eighties, he taking much exercise and I none, and at once I got a p.c. (postcard) from him in his beautiful writing: “My dear Josephine, how very jolly to hear from you. I have been a widower since 12th September last. A little before that we were talking about you and wondering what had become of you. You were and are a special friend; and we always hoped that we should foregather again at Hallscroft.9 But I am better out of sight now. I’m dreadfully old. G. Bernard Shaw.” Of course, I answered at once. saying, in this new world there would be much for us to do. Then I told him of the Willcock’s10 Irrigation of Bengal, etc. etc.’ (September 18, 1944). ‘Lord Lytton11 wrote on February 26th: “We were delighted with our visit to Belur (Math), and I shall long cherish grateful recollections of that haven of peace, The little Lalique statuette of Vivekananda now stands upon my writing table and every afternoon as it catches the rays of the setting sun, it shines as if lit up by a sacred flame from within”‘ (March 5, 1924). ‘Lady Wavell has written to Isabel [Margesson], thanking her for the Lalique crystal of Swamiji, and to me for the four little Swamiji books. It is such fun to be used at eighty-five, to scatter these truths!’ (June 19, 1944). ‘Isabel Margesson has written a page of her glowing memories of Swamiji to the February  Prabuddha Bharata. Perhaps some day you’ll do so?’ (February 10, 1939). ‘Have you Sankara’s Chudamani?12 If not ask — for one. I had sent her four. You know, Swamiji said he was Sankara! He came back after 800 years’ (April 10, 1944).
‘Last evening at 6-30 two brothers came to see me after I was tucked away behind my mosquito net, to tell me that the younger, twenty-eight (since nine months a member of the Ramakrishna Math at Dacca), had been one of seventy-two new prisoners taken by the eighteenth century ordinance and had been to Dacca jail since October 24th. Today he must give himself up to the Superintendent of Police of 24-Parganas, to be interned in the village of Haroa, Bengal, till further orders….So I had my chance of telling him what it really meant! And what he might do for India and Swamiji, whose ideal was that each village of India (over 700,000) should have a centre, one man of education, to recreate the village. So I gave him five volumes of Swamiji and told him that “Mother” had chosen him, by the Governor and Council to do Her work….Darling, to have seen those two brothers’ faces change from despair to hope! Eager to begin! And saying they “were ignorant and didn’t know ‘Mother God’ worked that way.” Simple children! Then I told them that Swamiji’s definition of his own religion is “to learn” and with that spirit go into this new village of Haroa, to learn the village’s needs, to teach sanitation, English and Swamiji’s ideals, and to live them, and lift India! (November 27, 1927).
Josephine considered the propagation of Swamiji’s message in the West as her special responsibility. After the outbreak of World War II she wrote: ‘I am not at all inclined to go to the War zone, in India or Europe, and as Swamiji says, “My work will be more in the West: thence it will react on India.” I may help more in U.S.A. than in India. Now there are hundreds interested in Indian spirituality in U.S.A.; they will grow to thousands, then millions, and as America is becoming the leading country, its influence will react on the world” (March 6, 1940).
Whenever there was some celebration, the opening of a centre or some special worship, Josephine strove to be present there, believing sincerely that her presence lent a touch of Swamiji to the occasion. She writes: ‘Little by little new openings are coming here for Swamiji’s message. Yesterday three of us met to consecrate a little meditation room in the basement of Miss Spencer’s house. It may mean something, or nothing. The real thing is that we keep His message ever before us that all men are Divine’ (March 16, 1914). ‘Today I had one hour of Kali Puja — at Nikhilananda’s centre, about twenty of us; they do so like my going to them, since I knew Swamiji’ (October 8, 1940). ‘It seems I am the last living person who knew Swamiji well, personally. This year being the fiftieth anniversary of Swamiji’s coming to U.S.A., Chicago, July 1893, each Vedanta Centre is to celebrate this, and Nikhilananda wants me to give a little talk at his Centre, 17 E. 94th St., and Swami Virajananda, the Abbot of the Math, wrote in his last letter “that Tantine [Josephine] has kept alive all these forty-eight years the vividness of Swamiji shows His spirituality”‘ (October 6, 1943).
Josephine spared no troubles and expenses for the publication of Swamiji’s works in Western languages. She writes: ‘Edgar Lee Masters has written to MacMillan (Publishers who refused to publish Swamiji’s four Yogas): “I believe that the spiritual solution of the world depends upon the assimilation of these works.” So without telling me the reason they have asked me to return Swamiji’s books for further consideration which I have done today. But isn’t life thrilling! And aren’t we to play a big part?’ (June 9, 1919). Today airmail I’ve sent to Toni Sussman the written manuscript of Inspired Talks that 1 want her to read — oversee — and change anything she wishes to, have typed, and sent where she sent her translation of Jnana Yoga. I’ve already paid Jean Herbert to have this printed in German, thus completing the four small [books] of Swamiji. I don’t know how it was to be done, nor where, but I paid Jean Herbert the 1,600 dollars he asked, to be responsible and publish all these works of Swamiji in German. Toni has asked me what further work can she do for Swamiji. This I should like her to do, as soon as possible. Mrs. Berliner has made this translation, but she thinks Toni’s Jnana Yoga much finer, so go ahead, please’ (April 4, 1941). ‘Today you go to Hallscroft and on July 25 Toni goes there for the week end. I am writing you today, to send you her last fine letter to me, as I am also writing her airmail and send the American pocket edition of Inspired Talks to her, for it is this edition I want her to put into German, every word and picture and poem! It sums up Swamiji in a synthetic way’ (July 21, 1941).
Naturally, advancement of the cause of women, especially Indian women, was something dear to Josephine’s heart; ‘You see it is women teachers who are so rare to find in India … and the girls (Sister) Christine trains will be long in coming to maturity, and though the method is right that she is using, the experience and prestige is not acquired except by responsibility ….In twenty years from now there ought to be several centres for women under women in India, and we’ll have to help to choose the right women; all depends upon them’ (March 20, 1916). ‘Sister Gayatri. ..is splendid; has been sixteen years in U.S.A., knows Sanskrit, has been lecturing thirteen years, and wants to continue Paramananda’s work in California and here, together with Sister Daya, daughter of Senator Jones of California. So now we have women capable and consecrated to found the Women’s Math — a thing Swamiji always wanted. I am rejoiced!’ (September 10, 1940).
Whenever there was any expansion in the Ramakrishna- Vivekananda movement, any new activity, Josephine was delighted. Her sense of involvement in_the movement becomes evident from the following extracts: “These little glimpses into the lives and purposes of these young monks show the lines along which the Order will grow. One of their great achievements now is that they are starting Agriculture. The Gov’t expert comes today from 3 to 5 and all are gradually to be trained so as to carry scientific food-growing as part of the outside centres’ work. It’s all slow, but it is true solid! There is no good in attacking a big problem till the home one is solved, and these men have been lighted by the torch that Swamiji carried round the world. … Remember Swamiji said, “No fact in your life can equal your imagination, Alberta” ‘ (June 2, 1926). ‘You remember Swamiji saying Belur Math will be a great University with religious foundation, so perhaps in yours and my lifetime, we will see his prophecy come true’ (February 22, 1939). ‘I’m begging them here at the Math to send the young out, to beg, as Swamiji did, his own food, on foot. walking, learning by actual experience. Swamiji didn’t come full-fledged from the sky; he grew And his monks must do the same, or else they will be soft, no fibre or resilience, power of adaptation’ (February 16, 1927). “Thrift gives me the joy of spiritually helping, for that is what money does when it saves courage in those I love’ (October 23, 1939). ‘Thousands are below (on the Belur Math grounds)! Just to pay their tribute to that one life — Swamiji’s Birthday Celebration! I sit and wonder. Boshi Sen comes to cook the things Swamiji loved tonight. I furnish chocolate ice-cream — which they all eat. It is so childish, yet because of that very thing perhaps, his life is kept young and fresh and vital’ (January 25, 1927).
What glimpses of Josephine’s mind do we get from these letters? The things which strike us most are her enthusiasm and her receptivity; for instance, she writes: ‘I seldom return anywhere. “Life is beautiful, the future sacred”, so I’m out for new experiences and friends. It was because Swamiji was new and fresh every day that he held one! So if we learn every day, as he did, we will not grow old, or stale or flat! Life is expectancy, wonder! So is the Lord, isn’t He?’ (December 7, 1938). ‘Life always seems to me to be just beginning — no five-year-old ever felt it more than I do — and as at five, I had the dream in Detroit that if I’d dig in the garden I’d find gold, (and did find the gold drop of an ear-ring), — so now I’m looking, digging into and finding wonders everywhere, now especially that my body has stopped worrying me… .There is no asceticism in me; that I see plainly; but recognition of the good, I find everywhere, including the Best occasionally. When I see what others put up with, I am filled with amazement and admiration, and it is only when one gets at the heart, the confidence of people, one learns: that is the reason I like confidence — friendships that only grow in intimacy… .If I go to New York, it is for the Unknown!. The Unknown God. that takes such myriad of shapes and forms, always keeping us guessing — wondering!’ (March 21, 1939). ‘It is this wonder that keeps me alive; what the other man has to give me — not what I give to him. I like people lo be different to me, and to take and use (not exploit) them as they are, thus broadening my horizon. It would be difficult to deepen it, since I lived with Swamiji’ (September 7, 1946). ‘I live mostly in others. I expand, with fresh ideas and culture’ (November 27, 1938). ‘”The readiness is all” shall be put on my tombstone if I ever have one!… I stumbled into a family that gave freedom! Then Swamiji at thirty-five, gave spiritual freedom; no wonder I’m happy — learning! (February 28, 1939). ‘Life, here on earth, is a grand opportunity; learn, learn, day and night, knowing that all one can learn on earth one can use, any and everywhere, since Spirit never dies’ (December 22, 1939). ‘When I joined the Town Hall Club last Monday, they asked my occupation and I wrote: “To Learn” ‘ (October 30, 1940). “Well, my Religion is to learn from any and everybody, for this is the Lord’s world and He has put me here to learn, as well as to worship!’ (May 14, 1941).
Josephine herself declared: ‘I haven’t any Renunciation! But I’ve freedom, to see and help India grow. That’s my job, and now I love it. To see this group of fiery idealists, burning new paths and outlets from this jungle called life’ (March 12, 1923).’
But this enthusiasm and involvement were based on deep knowledge and conviction and were imbued with a sense of detachment: ‘I’m beginning to see that when the present is deepened it does become Eternity. A son of new dimension, as Einstein puts it’ (October 4, 1923), ‘It’s all a pretty pageant, life just now, and I do enjoy it all — but deep down knowing that empires pass away — and only God remains!’ (January 29, 1925). ‘You ask if I am utterly secure in my grasp on the Ultimate. Yes — utterly. It seems to be part and parcel of me. It is the “Truth” (that I saw in Swamiji) that has set me free. One’s faults seem so insignificant. Why remember them, when one has the Ocean of Truth to be one’s playground?’ (March 12, 1923). “But do remember that Life is fluid, like water, takes on different shapes, colours, tastes, constantly; so if we can take on this fluidity, instead of the shape, colour, taste, we will watch — be the witness, instead of the victim’ (December 30, 1938). ‘We know so little of ourselves, don’t we? Our needs? Only a tiny window is opened of ourselves, and we are so surprised at the depths, heights, widths, that have never been fathomed, only apprehended. We are really much finer, nobler than we know, and are so often surprised at our own capacity!’ (August 11, 1928).
The following extracts sum up her philosophy of life: ‘I find that when they say we must get rid of our Ego, I don’t agree, for the basis of every life is the Spirit — Ego, only covered up! Gel rid of the covering, and let the Ego shine in ail its glory’ (December 22, 1939). ‘I do not feel called upon to adjust the world’s problems, but my own little intimate one, a narrow one, limited by my physical strength first, then the moral and spiritual values as I see them. This is the reason I said to Swamiji, “I’ve never done an unselfish act in my life” — and he answered, “True, but there is a larger or a smaller self” — to which I agreed. If I can expand, like loving others, it is I that expand, isn’t it? And the more I expand and love others, the more represent the Lord, the one, unique’ (March 22, 1940).
Does weakness ever take hold of her?: ‘What is this crouching fear of death that possesses one? Instead of making the occasion for a great achievement, a glory. The fact is hidden, as if it were a curse, instead of a blessing, an opportunity, to show that the spirit is triumphant over the flesh’ (September 4. 1923). ‘Bless you darling, you and yours. Try to keep alive till I go out of the body; but the Soul is Eternal so why trouble too much about the body?’ (August 29, 1943).
But through all her robustness, at times we can see the devotee in her: ‘I am rejoiced to see — keeps her heart so full of kindness towards —. I see so much anger and criticism everywhere, not changing the world, but shutting out the Lord, as if two things can be in the heart at once!’ (December 7, 1939). ‘I’d like Incarnation to come each generation to revive and reinspire humanity in its own divine birthright and outlook; wouldn’t you? Perhaps they do come. Certainly I’ve known one, and it is they that keep us “floating on the warm heart of the Mother”, as Swamiji put it. If we could learn to float, instead of gripping so hard, we’d have more time and strength for watching and learning. However, I’m not managing this world’ (September 21, 1922).
(Prabuddha Bharata, February 1939)