REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
WHEN Swamiji came to London, he created considerable attention. Something of the wonder and admiration which had surrounded him during the Parliament of Religions at Chicago had anticipated his advent. His arresting appearance and even more arresting eloquence called many persons to his presence. London affords full scope for multitudinous experiences. It is a city of a thousand phases. Preachers and pleaders of all opinions from all parts of the world gravitate to London. The metropolis with its teeming millions is the natural lodestone that attracts men whose views are as varied as the countries by which they are sent forth. Every form of doctrine is exploited there. Every day a host of halls are filled by anxious inquirers listening to exponents of theories more or less thrilling. Opinions and theories are weighed in the balance. Religions are reviewed. Creeds are criticized and compared. The notation of human impulse, onward, upward, is sounded by performers of all degrees.
London is indeed a very volcano of eruptions, sometimes pious, sometimes philosophical, sometimes pretentious, but mainly eager and earnest. Here, then, to London came Swamiji to place himself, among many conflicting elements, as the protagonist of Hinduism. No more fitting or outstanding person could have arrived at the centre of British thought. Fortified by his intimate acquaintance of, and his infinite belief in, Shri Ramakrishna, he brought the full force of that great soul to bear upon the minds of his hearers. The bed-rock principle on which Shri Ramakrishna stood, and which Swamiji expounded, is slated by the latter in these few words: “Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas, or sects, or churches, or temples; they count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man which is spirituality; and the more this is developed in each man, the more powerful is he for good. Earn that first, acquire that, and criticize no one, for all doctrines and creeds have some good in them. Show by your lives that religion does not mean words, or names, or sects, but that it means spiritual realization. Only those can understand who have felt. Only those that have attained to spirituality can communicate it to others, can be great teachers of mankind. They alone are powers of light” (My Master) This essential doctrine of spirituality and its realization, preached as only Vivekananda could preach it, drew folks towards him from far and near. London quickly learnt that a striking personality had made his advent. Swamiji started a course of addresses, received visitors — in a word made himself known and felt. Among his earnest admirers was Miss Margaret Noble who was predestined subsequently to become his ardent follower, a nun of the Order of Shri Ramakrishna, a resident in India, a wonderfully vivid speaker and writer in defence of the Vedanta. It was indeed at her persistent urging that this present correspondent journeyed from an outlying district to Swamiji’s lodging. There, on certain specified occasions, he might be seen and conversed with. A very uncomfortable evening, cheerless and dismal, found us at his door, where we were met, at first, by disappointment. Swamiji was not at home. However, a very kindly message awaited us. We were permitted – so the message ran – to follow him to the Sesame Club whither he had gone, at brief notice, to speak in place of a lecturer who was prevented from appearing. Obeying instructions with alacrity we sought the Club. We found ourselves in a big drawing room or hall, filled almost to overflowing by smart people in evening dress. Some courteous and obliging person ushered us close to a platform where one or two chairs were vacant. The position was conspicuous and so, alas! were we. Our overcoats were dripping with rain, nor were we otherwise clothed in fine raiment; not anticipating a summons to so distinguished a gathering. Most of those present were, we discovered, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, tutors and the like. The subject announced for lecture was “Education”. Soon he, Swamiji, appeared. He had little, if any notice, and his speech could not have been in any wise prepared. Yet, then, as always, he proved himself more than equal to the occasion. Collected, calm, self-possessed, he stood forward. A Hindu, primed in heart and tongue with Hindu lore and Hindu faith, backed by the prestige of an ancient civilization and culture which inspired him! It was a novel sight, a memorable experience. His dark skin, his deep glowing eyes, even his costume, attracted and fascinated. Above all, eloquence acclaimed him. the eloquence of inspiration. Again, his surprising command of the English language delighted and held his audience, an audience it must be remembered which consisted largely, as we have said, of men and women whose profession it was to teach English students their mother-tongue and through the medium of that tongue instruct them in other branches of knowledge. More. Swamiji soon showed that he was equally versed in history and political economy. He stood among these people on their own ground. Without fear, beseeching no favour, he dealt them blow upon blow enforcing the Hindu principle that the teacher who taught for the money-making was a traitor to the highest and deepest truth. “Education is an integral part of religion and neither one nor the other should be bought or sold.” His words, rapier-like, pierced the armour of scholastic convention; yet no bitterness spoilt his speech, This Hindu, cultured, gracious with his notable smile that disarmed unkindly criticism, held his own and made his mark. He had come sent by the spirit of Shri Ramakrishna, to make that mark; and he had succeeded al the first attempt. The idea that teachers should work with their pupils for love, and not for the love of lucre, not even for the love of livelihood
Discussion followed. Climatic and other reasons for charges for teaching were set forth, but Swamiji maintained his position.
Such then was our first meeting with him; a meeting which suited in reverent friendship, in genuine admiration and in most grateful remembrance.
(Vedanta Kesari, May 1922)