On December 16, 1898, Swami Vivekananda announced his plan to go to the West to inspect the work he had founded and to fan the flame. The devotees and friends welcomed the idea since they thought the sea voyage would restore his failing health. He planned to take with him Sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda.
Versed in the scriptures, Turiyananda had spent most of his life in meditation and was averse to public work. Failing to persuade him by words to accompany him to America, Vivekananda put his arms round his brother disciple’s neck and wept like a child, saying: ‘Dear brother, don’t you see how I am laying down my life inch by inch in fulfilling the mission of my Master? Now I have come to the verge of death! Can you look on without trying to relieve part of my great burden?’
Swami Turiyananda was deeply moved and offered to follow the Swami wherever he wanted to go. When he asked if he should take with him some Vedanta scriptures, Vivekananda said: ‘Oh, they have had enough of learning and books! The last time they saw a warrior;1 now I want to show them a brahmin.’
June 20, 1899, was fixed as their date of sailing from Calcutta. On the night of the 19th a meeting was held at the Belur Math at which the junior members of the monastery presented addresses to the two Swamis. The next day the Holy Mother entertained them and other monks with a sumptuous feast.
The steamship ‘Golconda,’ carrying the Swami and his two companions, touched Madras, but the passengers were not allowed to land on account of the plague in Calcutta. This was a great disappointment to Swami Vivekananda’s South Indian friends. The ship continued to Colombo, Aden, Naples, and Marseilles, finally arriving in London on July 31.
The voyage in the company of the Swami was an education for Turiyananda and Nivedita. From beginning to end a vivid flow of thought and stories went on. One never knew what moment would bring the flash of intuition and the ringing utterance of some fresh truth. That encyclopaedic mind touched all subjects: Christ, Buddha, Krishna, Ramakrishna, folklore, the history of India and Europe, the degradation of Hindu society and the assurance of its coming greatness, different philosophical and religious systems, and many themes more. All was later admirably recorded by Sister Nivedita in The Master as I Saw Him, from which the following fragments may be cited.
‘Yes,’ the Swami said one day, ‘the older I grow, the more everything seems to me to lie in manliness. This is my new gospel. Do even evil like a man! Be wicked, if you must, on a grand scale!’ Some time before, Nivedita had complimented India on the infrequency of crime; on that occasion the Swami said in sorrowful protest: ‘Would to God it were otherwise in my land! For this is verily the virtuousness of death.’ Evidently, according to him, the vilest crime was not to act, to do nothing at all.
Regarding conservative and liberal ideas he said: ‘The conservative’s whole ideal is submission. Your ideal is struggle. Consequently it is we who enjoy life, and never you! You are always striving to change yours to something better, and before a millionth part of the change is carried out, you die. The Western ideal is to be doing; the Eastern, to be suffering. The perfect life would be a wonderful harmony between doing and suffering. But that can never be.’
To him selfishness was the greatest barrier to spiritual progress:
‘It is selfishness that we must seek to eliminate. I find that whenever I have made a mistake in my life, it has always been because self entered into the calculation. Where self has not been involved, my judgement has gone straight to the mark.’
‘You are quite wrong,’ he said again, ‘when you think that fighting is the sign of growth. It is not so at all. Absorption is the sign. Hinduism is the very genius of absorption. We have never cared for fighting. Of course, we struck a blow now and then in defence of our homes. That was right. But we never cared for fighting for its own sake. Everyone had to learn that. So let these races of new-comers whirl on! They all will be taken into Hinduism in the end.’
In another mood, the theme of his conversation would be Kali, and the worship of the Terrible. Then he would say: ‘I love terror for its own sake, despair for its own sake, misery for its own sake. Fight always. Fight and fight on, though always in defeat. That’s the ideal! That’s the ideal!’ Again: ‘Worship the Terrible! Worship Death! All else is vain. All struggle is vain. This is the last lesson. Yet this is not the coward’s love of death, not the love of the weak or the suicide. It is the welcome of the strong man, who has sounded everything to the depths and knows that there is no alternative.’ And who is Kali, whose will is irresistible? ‘The totality of all souls, not the human alone, is the Personal God. The will of the totality nothing can resist. It is what we know as Law. And this is what we mean by Siva and Kali and so on.’
Concerning true greatness: ‘As I grow older I find that I look more and more for greatness in little things. I want to know what a great man eats and wears, and how he speaks to his servants. I want to find a Sir Philip Sidney greatness. Few men would remember to think of others in the moment of death.
‘But anyone will be great in a great position! Even the coward will grow brave in the glow of the footlights. The world looks on. Whose heart will not throb? Whose pulse will not quicken, till he can do his best? More and more the true greatness seems to me that of the worm, doing its duty silently, steadily, from moment to moment and hour to hour.’
Regarding the points of difference between his own schemes for the regeneration of India and those preached by others: ‘I disagree with those who are for giving their superstitions back to my people. Like the Egyptologist’s interest in Egypt, it is easy to feel an interest in India that is purely selfish. One may desire to see again the India of one’s books, one’s studies, one’s dreams. My hope is to see the strong points of that India, reinforced by the strong points of this age, only in a natural way. The new state of things must be a growth from within. So I preach only the Upanishads. If you look you will find that I have never quoted anything but the Upanishads. And of the Upanishads, it is only that one idea — strength. The quintessence of the Vedas and Vedanta and all, lies in that one word. Buddha’s teaching was of non-resistance or non-injury. But I think ours is a better way of teaching the same thing. For behind that non-injury lay a dreadful weakness — the weakness that conceives the idea of resistance. But I do not think of punishing or escaping from a drop of sea-spray. It is nothing to me. Yet to the mosquito it would be serious. Now, I will make all injury like that. Strength and fearlessness. My own ideal is that giant of a saint whom they killed in the Sepoy Mutiny, and who broke his silence, when stabbed to the heart, to say — “And thou also art He.”‘
About India and Europe the Swami said: ‘I see that India is a young and living organism. Europe is also young and living. Neither has arrived at such a stage of development that we can safely criticize its institutions. They are two great experiments, neither of which is yet complete.’ They ought to be mutually helpful, he went on, but at the same time each should respect the free development of the other. They ought to grow hand in hand.
Thus time passed till the boat arrived at Tilbury Dock, where the party was met by the Swami’s disciples and friends, among whom were two American ladies who had come all the way to London to meet their teacher. It was the off-season for London, and so the two Swamis sailed for New York on August 16.
The trip was beneficial to the Swami’s health; the sea was smooth and at night the moonlight was enchanting. One evening as the Swami paced up and down the deck enjoying the beauty of nature, he suddenly exclaimed, ‘And if all this maya is so beautiful, think of the wondrous beauty of the Reality behind it!’ Another evening, when the moon was full, he pointed to the sea and sky, and said, ‘Why recite poetry when there is the very essence of poetry?’
The afternoon that Swami Vivekananda arrived in New York, he and his brother disciple went with Mr. and Mrs. Leggett to the latter’s country home, Ridgely Manor, at Stone Ridge in the Catskill Mountains, Swami Abhedananda being at that time absent from New York on a lecture tour. A month later Nivedita came to Ridgely, and on September 21, when she decided to assume the nun’s garb, the Swami wrote for her his beautiful poem ‘Peace.’ The rest and good climate were improving his health, and he was entertaining all with his usual fun and merriment.
One day Miss MacLeod asked him how he liked their home-grown strawberries, and he answered that he had not tasted any. Miss MacLeod was surprised and said, ‘Why Swami, we have been serving you strawberries with cream and sugar every day for the past week.’ ‘Ah,’ the Swami replied, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, ‘I am tasting only cream and sugar. Even tacks taste sweet that way.’
In November the Swami returned to New York and was greeted by his old friends and disciples. He was pleased to see how the work had expanded under the able guidance of Swami Abhedananda. Swami Vivekananda gave some talks and conducted classes.
At one of the public meetings in New York, after addressing a tense audience for about fifteen minutes, the Swami suddenly made a formal bow and retired. The meeting broke up and the people went away greatly disappointed. A friend asked him, when he was returning home, why he had cut short the lecture in that manner, just when both he and the audience were warming up. Had he forgotten his points? Had he become nervous? The Swami answered that at the meeting he had felt that he had too much power. He had noticed that the members of the audience were becoming so absorbed in his ideas that they were losing their own individualities. He had felt that they had become like soft clay and that he could give them any shape he wanted. That, however, was contrary to his philosophy. He wished every man and woman to grow according to his or her own inner law. He did not wish to change or destroy anyone’s individuality. That was why he had had to stop.
Swami Turiyananda started work at Montclair, New Jersey, a short distance from New York, and began to teach children the stories and folklore of India. He also lectured regularly at the Vedanta Society of New York: His paper on Sankaracharya, read before the Cambridge Conference, was highly praised by the Harvard professors.
One day, while the Swami was staying at Ridgely Manor, Miss MacLeod had received a telegram informing her that her only brother was dangerously ill in Los Angeles. As she was leaving for the West coast, the Swami uttered a Sanskrit benediction and told her that he would soon meet her there. She proceeded straight to the home of Mrs. S. K. Blodgett, where her brother was staying, and after spending a few minutes with the patient, asked Mrs. Blodgett whether her brother might be permitted to die in the room in which he was then lying; for she had found a large picture of Vivekananda, hanging on the wall at the foot of the patient’s bed. Miss MacLeod told her hostess of her surprise on seeing the picture, and Mrs. Blodgett replied that she had heard Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago and thought that if ever there was a God on earth, it was that man. (See) Miss MacLeod told her that she had just left the Swami at Ridgely Manor, and further, that he had expressed the desire to come to Los Angeles. The brother died within a few days, and the Swami started for the West Coast on November 22. He broke his trip in Chicago to visit his old friends, and upon his arrival in Los Angeles became the guest of Mrs. Blodgett, whom he described in a letter to Mary Hale as ‘fat, old, extremely witty, and very motherly.’
The impression the Swami left in the mind of this good woman can be gathered from the following lines of a letter written by her to Miss MacLeod after Swamiji’s passing away:
I am ever recalling those swift, bright days in that never-to-be-forgotten winter, lived in simple freedom and kindliness. We could not choose but to be happy and good….I knew him personally but a short time, yet in that time I could see in a hundred ways the child side of Swamiji’s character, which was a constant appeal to the mother quality in all good women….He would come home from a lecture, where he had been compelled to break away from his audience — so eagerly would they gather around him — and rush into the kitchen like a boy released from school, with ‘Now we will cook!’ Presently Joe would appear and discover the culprit among the pots and pans, and in his fine dress, who was by thrifty, watchful Joe admonished to change to his home garments….In the homely, old-fashioned kitchen, you and I have seen Swamiji at his best.
Swami Vivekananda gave many lectures before large audiences in Los Angeles and Pasadena; but alas! there was no Goodwin to record them, and most of what he said was consequently lost. Only a little has been preserved in the fragmentary notes of his disciples.
At the Universalist Church of Pasadena he gave his famous lecture ‘Christ, the Messenger’; and this was the only time, Miss MacLeod said later, that she saw him enveloped in a halo. The Swami, after the lecture, was returning home wrapped in thought, and Miss MacLeod was following at a little distance, when suddenly she heard him say, ‘I know it, I know it!’
‘What do you know?’ asked Miss MacLeod.
‘How they make it.’
‘How they make what?’
‘Mulligatawny soup. They put in a dash of bay leaf for flavour.’ And then he burst into a laugh.
The Swami spent about a month at the headquarters of the ‘Home of Truth’ in Los Angeles, conducted regular classes, and gave several public lectures, each of which was attended by over a thousand people. He spoke many times on the different aspects of raja-yoga, a subject in which Californians seemed to be especially interested.
The Swami endeared himself to the members of the Home of Truth by his simple manner, his great intellect, and his spiritual wisdom. Unity, the magazine of the organization, said of him: ‘There is a combination in the Swami Vivekananda of the learning of a university president, the dignity of an archbishop, with the grace and winsomeness of a free and natural child. Getting upon the platform, without a moment’s preparation, he would soon be in the midst of his subject, sometimes becoming almost tragic as his mind would wander from deep metaphysics to the prevailing conditions in Christian countries of today, whose people go and seek to reform the Filipinos with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other, or in South Africa allow children of the same Father to cut each other to pieces. In contrast to this condition of things, he described what took place during the last great famine in India, where men would die of starvation beside their cows rather than stretch forth a hand to kill.’
The members of the Home of Truth were not permitted to smoke. One evening the Swami was invited for dinner by a member of the organization along with several other friends who were all opposed to the use of tobacco. After dinner the hostess was absent from the room for a few minutes, when the Swami, perhaps due to his ignorance of the rule about tobacco, took out his pipe, filled it up, and began to puff. The guests were aghast, but kept quiet. When the hostess returned, she flew into a rage and asked the Swami if God intended men to smoke, adding that in that case He would have furnished the human head with a chimney for the smoke to go out.
‘But He has given us the brain to invent a pipe,’ the Swami said with a smile.
Everybody laughed, and the Swami was given freedom to smoke while living as a guest in the Home of Truth.
Swami Vivekananda journeyed to Oakland as the guest of Dr. Benjamin Fay Mills, the minister of the First Unitarian Church, and there gave eight lectures to crowded audiences which often numbered as high as two thousand. He also gave many public lectures in San Francisco and Alameda. People had already read his Raja-Yoga. Impressed by his lectures, they started a centre in San Francisco. The Swami was also offered a gift of land, measuring a hundred and sixty acres, in the southern part of the San Antone valley; surrounded by forest and hills, and situated at an altitude of 2500 feet, the property was only twelve miles from the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. He at once thought of Swami Turiyananda, who could be given charge of the place to train earnest students in meditation.
During his trip back to New York, across the American continent, the Swami was very much fatigued. He stopped in Chicago and Detroit on the way. In Chicago he was the guest of the Hale family, and many old reminiscences were exchanged. On the morning of his departure, Mary came to the Swami’s room and found him sad. His bed appeared to have been untouched, and on being asked the reason, he confessed that he had spent the whole night without sleep. ‘Oh,’ he said, almost in a whisper, ‘it is so difficult to break human bonds!’ He knew that this was the last time he was to visit these devoted friends.
In New York the Swami gave a few lectures at the Vedanta Society, which by this time had enlisted the active co-operation of several professors of Harvard and Columbia University. At the earliest opportunity he spoke to Turiyananda about the proposed gift of land in northern California, but the latter hesitated to accept any responsibility. The Swami said, ‘It is the will of the Mother that you should take charge of the work there.’
Swami Turiyananda was amused and said with good humour: ‘Rather say it is your will. Certainly you have not heard the Mother communicate Her will to you in that way. How can you hear the words of the Mother?’
‘Yes, brother,’ the Swami said with great emotion. ‘Yes, the words of the Mother can be heard as clearly as we hear one another. But one requires a fine nerve to hear Mother’s words.’
Swami Vivekananda made this statement with such fervour that his brother disciple felt convinced that the Divine Mother was speaking through him. He cheerfully agreed, therefore, to take charge of Santi Ashrama, the Peace Retreat, as the new place was called.
In parting, the Swami said to Turiyananda: ‘Go and establish the Ashrama in California. Hoist the flag of Vedanta there; from this moment destroy even the memory of India! Above all, lead the life and Mother will see to the rest.’
The Swami visited Detroit again for a week and on July 20 sailed for Paris.
Before continuing the thread of Swami Vivekananda’s life, it will be interesting for the reader to get a glimpse of his state of mind. During the past two years, the Swami wrote to his friends, he had gone through great mental anguish. His message, to be sure, had begun to reach an ever-increasing number of people both in India and in America, and naturally he had been made happy by this fact; yet he had suffered intensely on account of ‘poverty, treachery, and my own foolishness,’ as he wrote to Mary Hale on February 20, 1900. Though his outward appearance was that of a stern non-dualist, he possessed a tender heart that was often bruised by the blows of the world. To Margaret Noble he wrote on December 6, 1899: ‘Some people are made that way — to love being miserable. If I did not break my heart over the people I was born amongst, I would do it for somebody else. I am sure of that. This is the way of some — I am coming to see it. We are all after happiness, true, but some are only happy in being unhappy — queer, is it not?’
How sensitive he was to the sufferings of men! ‘I went years ago to the Himalayas,’ he wrote to an American friend on December 12, 1899, ‘never to come back — and my sister committed suicide, the news reached me there, and that weak heart flung me off from the prospect of peace! It is the weak heart that has driven me out of India to seek some help for those I love, and here I am! Peace have I sought, but the heart, that seat of bhakti, would not allow me to find it. Struggle and torture, torture and struggle! Well, so be it then, since it is my fate; and the quicker it is over, the better.’
His health had been indifferent even before he had left for the West. ‘This sort of nervous body,’ he wrote on November 15, 1899, ‘is just an instrument to play great music at times, and at times to moan in darkness.’ While in America, he was under the treatment of an osteopath and a ‘magnetic healer,’ but received no lasting benefit. At Los Angeles he got the news of the serious illness of his brother disciple Niranjan. Mr. Sturdy, his beloved English disciple, had given up the Swami because he felt that the teacher was not living in the West the life of an ascetic. Miss Henrietta Müller, who had helped him financially to buy the Belur Math, left him on account of his illness; she could not associate sickness with holiness. One of the objects of the Swami’s visit to California was to raise money to promote his various activities in India: people came to his meetings in large numbers, but of money he received very little. He suffered a bereavement in the passing away of his devoted friend Mr. George Hale of Chicago. Reports about the work in New York caused him much anxiety. Swami Abhedananda was not getting on well with some of Vivekananda’s disciples, and Mr. Leggett severed his relationship with the Society. All these things, like so many claws, pierced Vivekananda’s heart. Further, perhaps he now felt that his mission on earth was over. He began to lose interest in work. The arrow, however, was still flying, carried, by its original impetus; but it was approaching the end, when it would fall to the ground.
The Swami longed to return to India. On January 17, 1900, he wrote to Mrs. Ole Bull that he wanted to build a hut on the bank of the Ganga and spend the rest of his life there with his mother: ‘She has suffered much through me. I must try to smooth her last days. Do you know, this was just exactly what the great Sankaracharya himself had to do. He had to go back to his mother in the last few days of her life. I accept it. I am resigned.’
In the same letter to Mrs. Ole Bull he wrote: ‘I am but a child; what work have I to do? My powers I passed over to you. I see it. I cannot any more tell from the platform. Don’t tell it to anyone — not even to Joe. I am glad. I want rest; not that I am tired, but the next phase will be the miraculous touch and not the tongue — like Ramakrishna’s. The word has gone to you and the boys, and to Margot.’ (Referring to Sister Nivedita.)
He was fast losing interest in active work. On April 7, 1900, he wrote to a friend:
‘My boat is nearing the calm harbour from which it is never more to be driven out. Glory, glory unto Mother! (Referring to the Divine Mother of the Universe.) I have no wish, no ambition now. Blessed be Mother! I am the servant of Ramakrishna. I am merely a machine. I know nothing else. Nor do I want to know.’
To another friend he wrote, on April 12, in similar vein:
Work always brings dirt with it. I paid for the accumulated dirt with bad health. I am glad my mind is all the better for it. There is a mellowness and a calmness in life now, which never was before. I am learning now how to be attached as well as detached — and mentally becoming my own master…. Mother is doing Her own work. I do not worry much now. Moths like me die by the thousands every minute. Her work goes on all the same. Glory unto Mother!…For me — alone and drifting about in the will-current of the Mother has been my life. The moment I have tried to break it, that moment I was hurt. Her will be done….I am happy, at peace with myself, and more of the sannyasin than I ever was. The love for my own kith and kin is growing less every day — for Mother, increasing. Memories of long nights of vigil with Sri Ramakrishna, under the Dakshineswar banyan tree, are waking up once more. And work? What is work? Whose work? Whom to work for? I am free. I am Mother’s child. She works, She plays. Why should I plan? What shall I plan? Things came and went, just as She liked, without my planning, in spite of my planning. We are Her automata. She is the wire-puller.
With the approaching end of his mission and earthly life, he realized ever more clearly how like a stage this world is. In August 1899 he wrote to Miss Marie Halboister: ‘This toy world would not be here, this play could not go on, if we were knowing players. We must play blindfolded. Some of us have taken the part of the rogue of the play; some, of the hero — never mind, it is all play. This is the only consolation. There are demons and lions and tigers and what not on the stage, but they are all muzzled. They snap but cannot bite. The world cannot touch our souls. If you want, even if the body be torn and bleeding, you may enjoy the greatest peace in your mind. And the way to that is to attain hopelessness. Do you know that? Not the imbecile attitude of despair, but the contempt of the conqueror for the things he has attained, for the things he has struggled for and then thrown aside as beneath his worth.’
To Mary Hale, who ‘has been always the sweetest note in my jarring and clashing life,’ he wrote on March 26,1900:
This is to let you know ‘I am very happy.’ Not that I am getting into a shadowy optimism, but my power of suffering is increasing. I am being lifted up above the pestilential miasma of this world’s joys and sorrows. They are losing their meaning. It is a land of dreams. It does not matter whether one enjoys or weeps — they are but dreams, and as such must break sooner or later….I am attaining peace that passeth understanding — which is neither joy nor sorrow, but something above them both. Tell Mother (Referring to Mrs. Hale) that. My passing through the valley of death — physical, mental — these last two years, has helped me in this. Now I am nearing that Peace, the eternal Silence. Now I mean to see things as they are — everything in that Peace — perfect in its way. ‘He whose joy is only in himself, whose desires are only in himself’ he has learnt his lessons. This is the great lesson that we are here to learn through myriads of births and heavens and hells: There is nothing to be sought for, asked for, desired, beyond one’s self. The greatest thing I can obtain is myself. I am free — therefore I require none else for my happiness. Alone through eternity — ;because I was free, am free, and will remain free for ever. This is Vedantism. I preached the theory so long, but oh, joy! Mary, my dear sister, I am realizing it now every day. Yes, I am. I am free — Alone — Alone. I am, the One without a second.
Vivekananda’s eyes were looking at the light of another world, his real abode. And how vividly and touchingly he expressed his nostalgic yearning to return to it, in his letter of April 18, 1900, written from Alameda, California, to Miss MacLeod, his ever loyal Joe:
Just now I received your and Mrs. Bull’s welcome letter. I direct this to London. I am so glad Mrs. Leggett is on the sure way to recovery.
I am so sorry Mr. Leggett resigned the presidentship.
Well, I keep quiet for fear of making further trouble. You know my methods are extremely harsh, and once roused I may rattle Abhedananda too much for his peace of mind.
I wrote to him only to tell him his notions about Mrs. Bull are entirely wrong.
Work is always difficult. Pray for me, Joe, that my work may stop for ever and my whole soul be absorbed in Mother. Her work She knows.
You must be glad to be in London once more — the old friends — give them all my love and gratitude.
I am well, very well mentally. I feel the rest of the soul more than that of the body. The battles are lost and won. I have bundled my things and am waiting for the Great Deliverer.
‘Siva, O Siva, carry my boat to the other shore!’
After all, Joe, I am only the boy who used to listen with rapt wonderment to the wonderful words of Ramakrishna under the banyan at Dakshineswar. That is my true nature — works and activities, doing good and so forth, are all superimpositions. Now I again hear his voice, the same old voice thrilling my soul. Bonds are breaking — love dying, work becoming tasteless — the glamour is off life. Now only the voice of the Master calling. — I come, Lord, I come.’ — ‘Let the dead bury the dead. Follow thou Me.’ — ‘I come, my beloved Lord, I come.’
Yes, I come, Nirvana is before me. I feel it at times, the same infinite ocean of peace, without a ripple, a breath.
I am glad I was born, glad I suffered so, glad I did make big blunders, glad to enter peace. I leave none bound, I take no bonds. Whether this body will fall and release me or I enter into freedom in the body, the old man is gone, gone for ever, never to come back again!
The guide, the guru, the leader, the teacher, has passed away; the boy, the student, the servant, is left behind.
You understand why I do not want to meddle with Abhedananda. Who am I to meddle with any, Joe? I have long given up my place as a leader — I have no right to raise my voice. Since the beginning of this year I have not dictated anything in India. You know that. Many thanks for what you and Mrs. Bull have been to me in the past. All blessings follow you ever. The sweetest moments of my life have been when I was drifting. I am drifting again — with the bright warm sun ahead and masses of vegetation around — and in the heat everything is so still, so calm — and I am drifting, languidly — in the warm heart of the river. I dare not make a splash with my hands or feet — for fear of breaking the wonderful stillness, stillness that makes you feel sure it is an illusion!
Behind my work was ambition, behind my love was personality, behind my purity was fear, behind my guidance the thirst for power. Now they are vanishing and I drift. I come, Mother, I come, in Thy warm bosom, floating wheresoever Thou takest me, in the voiceless, in the strange, in the wonderland, I come — a spectator, no more an actor.
Oh, it is so calm! My thoughts seem to come from a great, great distance in the interior of my own heart. They seem like faint, distant whispers, and peace is upon everything, sweet, sweet peace — like that one feels for a few moments just before falling into sleep, when things are seen and felt like shadows — without fear, without love, without emotion — peace that one feels alone, surrounded with statues and pictures.—I come, Lord, I come.
The world is, but not beautiful nor ugly, but as sensations without exciting any emotion. Oh, Joe, the blessedness of it! Everything is good and beautiful; for things are all losing their relative proportions to me — my body among the first. Om That Existence!
I hope great things come to you all in London and Paris. Fresh joy — fresh benefits to mind and body.
But the arrow of Swami Vivekananda’s life had not yet finished its flight. Next he was to be seen in Paris participating in the Congress of the History of Religions, held on the occasion of the Universal Exposition. This Congress, compared with the Parliament of Religions of Chicago, was a rather tame affair. The discussion was limited to technical theories regarding the origin of the rituals of religion; for the Catholic hierarchy, evidently not wanting a repetition of the triumph of Oriental ideas in the American Parliament, did not allow any discussion of religious doctrines. Swami Vivekananda, on account of his failing health, took part in only two sessions. He repudiated the theory of the German orientalist Gustav Oppert that the Siva lingam was a mere phallic symbol. He described the Vedas as the common basis of both Hinduism and Buddhism, and held that both Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita were prior to Buddhism. Further, he rejected the theory of the Hellenic influence on the drama, art, literature, astrology, and other sciences developed in India.
In Paris he came to know his distinguished countryman J. C. Bose, the discoverer of the life and nervous system in plants, who had been invited to join the scientific section of the Congress. The Swami referred to the Indian scientist as ‘the pride and glory of Bengal.’
In Paris Swami Vivekananda was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, at whose house he met many distinguished people. Among these was the young Duke of Richelieu, a scion of an old and aristocratic family of France. The title had been created by Louis XIII, and one of the ancestors of the Duke had been Premier under Louis XVIII. Born in Paris, educated at a Jesuit school in France, and later graduated from the University of Aix-en-Provence, the Duke of Richelieu became greatly attached to the Swami and visited him frequently. On the eve of Vivekananda’s departure from Paris, the Swami asked the Duke if he would renounce the world and become his disciple. The Duke wanted to know what he would gain in return for such renunciation, and the Swami said, ‘I shall give you the desire for death.’ When asked to explain, the Swami declared that he would give the Duke such a state of mind that when confronted by death he would laugh at it. But the Duke preferred to pursue a worldly career, though he cherished a lifelong devotion to Swami Vivekananda.
During his stay in Paris the Swami met such prominent people as Professor Patrick Geddes of Edinburgh University, Pere Hyacinthe, Hiram Maxim, Sarah Bernhardt, Jules Bois, and Madame Emma Calve. Pere Hyacinthe, a Carmelite monk who had renounced his vows, had married an American lady and assumed the name of Charles Loyson. The Swami, however, always addressed him by his old monastic name and described him as endowed with ‘a very sweet nature’ and the temperament of a lover of God. Maxim, the inventor of the gun associated with his name, was a great connoisseur and lover of India and China. Sarah Bernhardt also bore a great love for India, which she often described as ‘very ancient, very civilized.’ To visit India was the dream of her life.
Madame Calve the Swami had met in America, and now he came to know her more intimately. She became one of his devoted followers. ‘She was born poor,’ he once wrote of her, ‘but by her innate talents, prodigious labour and diligence, and after wrestling against much hardship, she is now enormously rich and commands respect from kings and emperors….The rare combination of beauty, youth, talents, and “divine” voice has assigned Calve the highest place among the singers of the West. There is, indeed, no better teacher than misery and poverty. That constant fight against the dire poverty, misery, and hardship of the days of her girlhood, which has led to her present triumph over them, has brought into her life a unique sympathy and a depth of thought with a wide outlook.’
After the Swami’s passing away, Madame Calve visited the Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. In old age she embraced the Catholic faith and had to give up, officially, her allegiance to Swami Vivekananda. But one wonders whether she was able to efface him from her heart.
Jules Bois, with whom the Swami stayed for a few days in Paris, was a distinguished writer. ‘We have,’ the Swami wrote to a disciple, ‘many great ideas in common and feel happy together.’
Most of the Swami’s time in Paris was devoted to the study of French culture and especially the language. He wrote a few letters in French. About the culture, his appreciation was tempered with criticism. He spoke of Paris as the ‘home of liberty’; there the ethics and society of the West had been formed, and its university had been the model of all others. But in a letter to Swami Turiyananda, dated September 1, 1900, he also wrote: ‘The people of France are mere intellectualists. They run after worldly things and firmly believe God and souls to be mere superstitions; they are extremely loath to talk on such subjects. This is truly a materialistic country.’
After the Congress of the History of Religions was concluded, the Swami spent a few days at Lannion in Brittany, as the guest of Mrs. Ole Bull. Sister Nivedita, who had just returned from America, was also in the party. There, in his conversations, the Swami dwelt mostly on Buddha and his teachings. Contrasting Buddhism with Hinduism, he one day said that the former exhorted men to ‘realize all this as illusion,’ while Hinduism asked them to ‘realize that within the illusion is the Real.’ Of how this was to be done, Hinduism never presumed to enunciate any rigid law. The Buddhist command could only be carried out through monasticism; the Hindu might be fulfilled through any state of life. All alike were roads to the One Real. One of the highest and the greatest expressions of the Faith is put into the mouth of a butcher, preaching, by the orders of a married woman, to a sannyasin.2 Thus Buddhism became the religion of a monastic order, but Hinduism, in spite of its exaltation of monasticism, remains ever the religion of faithfulness to daily duty, whatever it may be, as the path by which man may attain to God.
From Lannion, on St. Michael’s Day, he visited Mont St. Michel. He was struck by the similarity between the rituals of Hinduism and Roman Catholicism. He said, ‘Christianity is not alien to Hinduism.’
Nivedita took leave of the Swami in Brittany and departed for England in order to raise funds for her work on behalf of Indian women. While giving her his blessings, the Swami said: ‘There is a peculiar sect of Mohammedans who are reported to be so fanatical that they take each new-born babe and expose it, saying, “If God made thee, perish! If Ali made thee, live!” Now this which they say to the child, I say, but in the opposite sense, to you, tonight — “Go forth into the world, and there, if I made you, be destroyed. If Mother made you, live!”‘ Perhaps the Swami remembered how some of his beloved Western disciples, unable to understand the profundity of his life and teachings, had deserted him. He also realized the difficulties Westerners experienced in identifying themselves completely with the customs of India. He had told Nivedita, before they left India, that she must resume, as if she had never broken them off, all her old habits and social customs of the West.
On October 24, 1900, Swami Vivekananda left Paris for the East, by way of Vienna and Constantinople. Besides the Swami, the party consisted of Monsieur and Madame Loyson, Jules Bois, Madame Calve, and Miss MacLeod. The Swami was Calve’s guest.
In Vienna the Swami remarked, ‘If Turkey is called “the sick man of Europe,” Austria ought to be called “the sick woman of Europe”!’ The party arrived in Constantinople after passing through Hungary, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Next the Swami and his friends came to Athens. They visited several islands and a Greek monastery. From Athens they sailed to Egypt and the Swami was delighted to visit the museum in Cairo. While in Cairo, he and his women devotees, one day, in the course of sightseeing, unknowingly entered the part of the city in which the girls of ill fame lived, and when the inmates hurled coarse jokes at the Swami from their porches, the ladies wanted to take him away; but he refused to go. Some of the prostitutes came into the street, and the ladies saw from a distance that they knelt before him and kissed the hem of his garment. Presently the Swami joined his friends and drove away.
In Cairo the Swami had a presentiment that something had happened to Mr. Sevier. He became restless to return to India, took the first available boat, and sailed for Bombay alone.
Throughout his European tour the Swami’s friends had noticed that he was becoming more and more detached from the spectacle of external things, and buried in meditation. A sort of indifference to the world was gradually overpowering him. On August 14 he had written to a friend that he did not expect to live long. From Paris he wrote to Turiyananda: ‘My body and mind are broken down; I need rest badly. In addition there is not a single person on whom I can depend; on the other hand, as long as I live, all will be very selfish, depending upon me for everything.’ In Egypt the Swami had seemed to be turning the last pages of his life-experience. One of the party later remarked, ‘How tired and world-weary he seemed!’ Nivedita, who had had the opportunity of observing him closely during his second trip to the West, writes:
The outstanding impression made by the Swami’s bearing during all these months of European and American life, was one of almost complete indifference to his surroundings. Current estimates of value left him entirely unaffected. He was never in any way startled or incredulous under success, being too deeply convinced of the greatness of the Power that worked through him, to be surprised by it. But neither was he unnerved by external failure. Both victory and defeat would come and go. He was their witness….He moved fearless and unhesitant through the luxury of the West. As determinedly as I had seen him in India, dressed in the two garments of simple folk, sitting on the floor and eating with his fingers, so, equally without doubt or shrinking, was his acceptance of the complexity of the means of living in America or France. Monk and king, he said, were the obverse and reverse of a single medal. From the use of the best to the renunciation of all was but one step. India had thrown all her prestige in the past round poverty. Some prestige was in the future to be cast round wealth.
For some time the Swami had been trying to disentangle himself from the responsibilities of work. He had already transferred the property of the Belur Math from his own name to the Trustees of the organization. On August 25, 1900, he had written to Nivedita from Paris:
Now, I am free, as I have kept no power or authority or position for me in the work. I also have resigned the Presidentship of the Ramakrishna Mission. The Math etc. belong now to the immediate disciples of Ramakrishna except myself. The Presidentship is now Brahmananda’s — next it will fall on Premananda etc., in turn. I am so glad a whole load is off me. Now I am happy…. I no longer represent anybody, nor am I responsible to anybody. As to my friends, I had a morbid sense of obligation. I have thought well and find I owe nothing to anybody — if anything. I have given my best energies, unto death almost, and received only hectoring and mischief-making and botheration&….
Your letter indicates that I am jealous of your new friends. You must know once for all I am born without jealousy, without avarice, without the desire to rule& #151; whatever other vices I may be born with. I never directed you before; now, after I am nobody in the work, I have no direction whatever. I only know this much: So long as you serve ‘Mother’ with a whole heart, She will be your guide.
I never had any jealousy about what friends you made. I never criticized my brethren for mixing up in anything. Only I do believe the Western people have the peculiarity of trying to force upon others whatever seems good to them, forgetting that what is good for you may not be good for others. As such I am afraid you would try to force upon others whatever turn your mind might take in contact with new friends. That was the only reason I sometimes tried to stop any particular influence, and nothing else.
You are free. Have your own choice, your own work….
Friends or foes, they are all instruments in Her hands to help us work out our own karma, through pleasure or pain. As such, ‘Mother’ bless all.
How did America impress Swami Vivekananda during his second visit to the West? What impressions did he carry to India of the state of things in the New World? During his first visit he had been enthusiastic about almost everything he saw — the power, the organization, the material prosperity, the democracy, and the spirit of freedom and justice. But now he was greatly disillusioned. In America’s enormous combinations and ferocious struggle for supremacy he discovered the power of Mammon. He saw that the commercial spirit was composed, for the most part, of greed, selfishness, and a struggle for privilege and power. He was disgusted with the ruthlessness of wealthy business men, swallowing up the small tradespeople by means of large combinations. That was indeed tyranny. He could admire an organization; ‘but what beauty is there among a pack of wolves?’ he said to a disciple. He also noticed, in all their nakedness, the social vices and the arrogance of race, religion, and colour. America, he confided to Miss MacLeod, would not be the instrument to harmonize East and West.
During his trip through Eastern Europe, from Paris to Constantinople, he smelt war. He felt the stench of it rising on all sides. ‘Europe,’ he remarked, ‘is a vast military camp.’
But the tragedy of the West had not been altogether unperceived by him even during his first visit. As early as 1895 he said to Sister Christine: ‘Europe is on the edge of a volcano. If the fire is not extinguished by a flood of spirituality, it will erupt.’
One cannot but be amazed at the Swami’s prophetic intuition as expressed through the following remarks made to Christine in 1896: ‘The next upheaval will come from Russia or China. I cannot see clearly which, but it will be either the one or the other.’ He further said: ‘The world is in the third epoch, under the domination of the vaisya. The fourth epoch will be under that of the sudra.’3