REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
ON the twenty-ninth of January 1895, I went with my sister in 54 West 33rd Street, New York, and heard the Swami Vivekananda in his sitting room where were assembled fifteen or twenty ladies and two or three gentlemen. The room was crowded. All the arm-chairs were taken; so I sat on the floor in the front row. Swami stood in the corner. He said something, the particular words of which I do not remember, but instantly to me that was truth, and the second sentence he spoke was truth, and the third sentence was truth. And I listened to him for seven years and whatever he uttered was to me truth. From that moment life had a different import. It was as if he made yon realm; that you were in eternity. It never altered. It never grew. It was like the sun that you will never forget once you have seen.
I heard him all that winter, three days a week, mornings at eleven o’clock. I never spoke to him, but as we were so regular in coming, two front seats were always kept for us in this sitting room of the Swamiji. One day he turned and said. “Are you sisters?” “Yes”, we answered. Then he said, “Do you come very far?” We said, “No. not very far — about thirty miles up the Hudson.” “So far? That is wonderful.” Those were the first words I ever spoke to him.
I always felt that after Vivekananda, Mrs. Roethlisberger was the most spiritual person I ever met. It was she who took us to him. Swamiji had a great place for her also. One day she and I went to the Swami and said. “Swami, will you tell us how to meditate?” He said. “Meditate on the word ‘OM’ for a week and come again and tell me.” So after a week we went back and Mrs. Roethlisberger said,”I see a light.” He said, “Good, keep on,” “O no, it is more like a glow at the heart.” And he said to me, “Good, keep on.” That is all he ever taught me. But we had been meditating before we ever met him, and we knew the Gita by heart, I think that prepared us for recognition of this tremendous life force which he was. His power lay, perhaps, in the courage he gave others. He did not ever seem to be conscious of himself at all. It was the other man who interested him. “When the book of life begins to open, then the fun begins,” he would say. He used to make us realize there was nothing secular in life; it was all holy. “Always remember, 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.” That is what he used to tell us. His presence, you see, was dynamic. You cannot pass that power on unless you have it, just as you cannot give money away unless you have it. You may imagine it, but you cannot do it.
We never spoke to him, had nothing much to do with him; but during that spring we were dining one night with Mr. Francis. H. Leggett, who later became my brother-in-law. “Yes, we can dine with you but we cannot spend the evening with you,” we had told him. “Very well,” he answered, “just dine with me.” When dinner was over, he said, “Where are you going this evening?” We told him we were going to a lecture; and he asked. “Mayn’t I come?” We said. “Yes.” He came, he listened; and when it was over, he went up to Swamiji, shook hands with him and said. “Swami, when will you dine with me?” And it was he who introduced us to Swami socially.
The Swami came to Ridgely Manor, Mr. Leggett’s place in the Catskill Mountains, and spent some days there. At the time some of the students said. “But Swamiji, you can’t go. The classes are going on.” Swami turned with great dignity and answered. “Are they my classes? Yes, I will go.” And he did. While he was there, he met my sister’s children who were then twelve and fourteen years old. But when we came down to New York and the classes began again, he did not seem to remember them, and they, very much surprised, said. “Swami doesn’t remember us.” We said to them. “Wait until the class is over.” While he was lecturing, he was always completely absorbed in what he was talking about. When he was through speaking, he came up and said, “Well children, how nice to see you again,” showing he did remember them. They were very happy.
Perhaps it was during this period, when he was our guest in New York City, one day he came home very quiet and subdued, He did not speak for hours, and finally we said to him, “Swami! What did you do today?” And he said, “I have seen a thing today that only America can show. I was in the street car. Helen Gould sat on one side and a negro washerwoman, with her washing on her lap, on the other. No place but America can show that.”
In June of that year Swami went up to Camp Percy, Christine Lake. N. H., to be the guest of Mr. Leggett at his fishing camp. We also went. There my sister’s engagement to Mr. Leggett was announced, and Swami was invited to go abroad and be the witness at the wedding. While he was at the Camp, Swami would go out under those beautiful white birch trees and meditate for hours. Without telling us anything about it he made two beautiful birch bark books, written in Sanskrit and English, which he gave to my sister and me.
Then when my sister and I went to Paris to buy her trousseau, Swami went to Thousand Island Park and for six weeks gave those wonderful talks called Inspired Talks, which to me are the most beautiful words that were written, because they were given to a group of intimate disciples. They were disciples, whereas I was never anything but a friend. But that quality that he gave them! Nothing I think revealed his heart as those days did.
He came over to Paris with Mr. Leggett in August. There, my sister and I stayed at the Holland House, and the Swami and Mr. Leggett stayed at a different hotel; but we saw them every day. At that time Mr. Leggett had a courier who always called Swami ‘Mon Prince!‘ And Swami said to him. “But I am not a prince. I am a Hindu monk.” The courier answered, “You may call yourself that, but I am used to dealing with Princes, and I know one when I see one.” His dignity impressed everyone. Yet, when someone once said to him, “You are so dignified, Swami”, he replied, “It isn’t me, it’s my walk.”
On the ninth of September Mr. and Mrs. Leggett were married, and the next day Swami left for London to be the guest of Mr. E. T. Sturdy, who had already met some of the Ramakrishna monks in India and who was a Sanskrit scholar. After Swami had been there some time he wrote. “Come over and get up classes.” But by the time we went over he was already lecturing. He lectured very eloquently at Princes’ Hall, and the next day the papers were full of the news that a great Indian yogi had come to London. He was very honoured there. Until the fifteenth of December we stayed in London. Then Swami again came to America to continue his work here. In April of the following year he went back to London when he established classes and began a real definite work. That was in 1896. He worked there all summer until July when he went to Switzerland with the Seviers.
Swamiji’s knowledge was prodigious. Once when my niece, Alberta Sturges, later Lady Sandwich, was with him in Rome, showing him the sights, she was amazed at his knowledge of where the great monuments were. And when she went to St. Peter’s with him, she was still more amazed to see him so reverential to the symbols of the Roman Church — to all the jewels, all the beautiful draperies, put upon the saints. She said, “Swami, you don’t believe in a Personal God; why do you honour this so much?” He answered, “But Alberta, if you do believe in a Personal God, surely you give it your best.”
That autumn he went from Switzerland to India with Mr. and Mrs. Sevier and Mr. J. J. Goodwin, where a great ovation awaited him by the entire nation. This can be read about in the discourses called Lectures from Colombo to Almora. Mr. Goodwin was the stenographer who had been engaged at 54 West 33rd Street to take down the lectures of Swami Vivekananda. Mr. Goodwin was a court-stenographer, which meant two hundred words a minute, and he was very expensive; but as we did not want to lose any of Vivekananda’s words, we engaged him. After the first week Mr. Goodwin refused any money; when they said to him, “What do you mean?” he said, “If Vivekananda gives his life, the least I can do is to give my service.” He followed Swami around the world, and we have seven volumes (nine now) hot from his lips that Mr. Goodwin took down.
I never wrote to Swami after he went to India, waiting to hear from him. Finally I had a letter, “Why don’t you write?” Then I sent back, “Shall I come to India?” And his answer was, “Yes, come, if you want filth and degradation and poverty and many loin cloths talking religion. Don’t come if you want anything else. We cannot bear one more criticism.” Naturally I went over by the first ship; I sailed on the twelfth of January with Mrs. Ole Bull and Swami Saradananda. We stopped in London. Then on to Rome. We arrived in Bombay on the twelfth of February where Mr. Alasinga met us, who wore the vertical red marks of the Vaishnavite sect. Later on, once when I was sitting with Swami on our way to Kashmir, I happened to make the remark, “What a pity that Mr. Alasinga wears those Vaishnavite marks on his forehead!” Instantly Swami turned and said with great sternness, “Hands off! What have you ever done?” I did not know what I had done then. Of course I never answered. Tears came to my eyes and I waited. I learnt later that Mr. Alasinga Perumal was a young Brahmin teaching philosophy in a college in Madras earning 100 rupees a month, supporting his father, mother, wife, and four children, and who had gone from door to door to beg the money to send Vivekananda to the West. Perhaps without him we never would have met Vivekananda. Then one understood the anger with which Swamiji met the slightest attack on Mr. Alasinga.
When we arrived in Bombay they were very keen that we stay there; but we took the first train to Calcutta, and at four o’clock on the second morning following Swamiji met us with a dozen disciples. There were a score of other distinguished Indians with purple and gold and crimson turbans, to whom Mrs. Ole Bull had offered hospitality when they were in America. They covered us with garlands. We were literally enwrapped with flowers. It is always frightening to me to have garlands put on. Mrs. Ole Bull and I went to a hotel and Mr. Mohini Chatterjee came and stayed there from five o’clock in the afternoon until ten at night. I happened to remark, “I hope your wife will not be worried? He answered; “I will explain to mother when I get home.” I did not understand what that meant. After I knew Mr. Chatterjee well enough, perhaps a year later, I said to him. “What did you mean that first day when you said you would explain to mother?” He answered, “O, I never go to my room for the night without first going to my mother’s room and confiding to her everything that happened during the day.” “But your wife?” I said, “Don’t you confide to her?” He answered. “My wife? She gels that relation from her son.” Then I realized that fundamental difference between the Indian and our Western civilizations. The Indian civilization is based upon motherhood, and our civilization is based upon wifehood, which makes a tremendous difference.
In a day or two we went up to see Swami at his temporary monastery at Belur, at Nilambar Mukherjee’s garden-house. During the afternoon Swami said, “I must take you to the new monastery that we are buying.” I said, “O, but Swami, isn’t this big enough?” It was a lovely little villa he had, with perhaps an acre or two of land, a small lake and many flowers. I thought it was big enough for anyone. But he evidently saw things in a different scale. So he took us across little gullies to the place where is now the present monastery. Mrs. Ole Bull and I, finding this old riverside house empty, said, “Swami, can’t we use this house?” “It isn’t in order,” he answered. “But we’ll put it in order,” we told him. With that he gave us permission. So we had it all newly whitewashed and went down to the bazars, bought old mahogany furniture and made a drawing-room half of which was Indian style and half of which was Western style. We had an outside dining room, our bedroom with an extra room for Sister Nivedita who was our guest until we went to Kashmir. We stayed there quite two months. It was perhaps the most beautiful time we ever had with Swamiji. He came every morning for early tea which he used to take under the great mango tree. That tree is still in existence. We never allowed them to cut it down, though they were keen to do it. He loved our living at that riverside cottage; and he would bring all those who came to visit him, to see what a charming home we had made of this house he had thought uninhabitable. In the afternoons we used to give tea-parties in front of the house, in full view of the river, where always could be seen loads of boats going up-stream, we receiving as if we were in our own drawing-rooms, Swamiji loved all that intimate use we made of things which they took as a matter of course. One night there came one of those deluges of rain, like sheets of water. He paced up and down our outside dining room veranda, talking of Krishna and the love of Krishna and the power that love was in the world. He had a curious quality that when he was a bhakta, a lover, he brushed aside karma and raja and jnana yogas as if they were of no consequence whatever. And when he was a karma-yogi, then he made that the great theme. Or equally so, the jnana. Sometimes, weeks, he would fall in one particular mood utterly disregardful of what he had been, just previous to that. He seemed to be filled with an amazing power of concentration; of opening up to the great Cosmic qualities that are all about us. It was probably that power of concentration that kept him so young and so fresh, he never seemed to repeat himself. There would be an incident of very tittle consequence which would illuminate a whole new passage for him. And he had such a place for us Westerners whom he called “Living Vedantins”. He would say, “When you believe a thing is true, you do it, you do not dream about it. That is your power.”
It was one rainy night that Swami brought the Ceylonese Buddhist monk. Anagarika Dharmapala, to visit us. Mrs. Ole Bull, Sister Nivedita, and I were so happily housed in this cottage, it gave Swami particular joy to show his guests how simply Western women could settle there and make a real home.
On the twelfth of May in 1898 we started en route to Kashmir. We stopped at Naini Tal, the summer residence of the U. P. Government, and there hundreds of Indians met Swami with a beautiful hill pony on which they put him. Then they scattered before him flowers and palms, exactly as they did before Christ when he went into Jerusalem. And I said at once, “So, this is an oriental custom.”
He left us alone for three days. We did not see him at all. We stayed at a hotel. Finally he sent for us. We went into one of the little houses, and there I saw him sitting on his bed wreathed in smiles, so happy was he to see us again. We had given him utter freedom. We never paid any attention to him. He never felt the weight of us. There was never any feeling of the necessity of entertainment.
From there we started for Almora where he became the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Sevier. We took a bungalow of our own, and there we stayed a month. Swamiji always meant Almora to be the Himalayan home of his Western disciples and expected the monastery to be founded there. But Mr. Sevier, who took his vocation of founding a monastery very seriously, was so interrupted by people coming in to tea-parties daily that he insisted on going forty miles farther into the Himalayas; so Mayavati Ashrama, when started, was eighty miles from a station — and there were no proper roads.
While we were there, word came that Mr. Goodwin had died at Ootacamund. When Swamiji learnt that Mr. Goodwin had died, he looked a long time out upon the snow-capped Himalayas without speaking and presently he said. “My last public utterance is over.” And he seldom spoke in public again.
We left Almora on the twentieth of June for Kashmir. By train to Rawalpindi, where we got tongas with three horses abreast to drive us the two hundred miles up into Kashmir. There were relays of horses every five miles, so that we dashed through on top of this beautiful road, as perfect then as any road the Romans ever made. Then to Baramulla where we got four native house boats. These boats called dungas are about seventy feet long and broad enough to have two single beds in them and a corridor between, covered with a matting house; so wherever we wanted a window we only had to roll up the matting. The whole roof could be lifted in the day-time, and thus we lived in the open, yet knew there was always a roof over our heads. We had four of these dungas, one for Mrs. Ole Bull and me, one for Mrs. Paterson and Sister Nivedita, and one for Swami and one of his monks. Then a dining room boat where we all met to have our meals. We stayed in Kashmir four months, the first three in these simple little boats until after September, when it got so cold, we took an ordinary house boat with fire-places and there enjoyed the warmth of a real house. Sister Nivedita has written a good deal of the talks we had there. Swami would get up about half past five in the morning, and seeing him smoking and talking with the boatmen, we would get up too. Then there would be those long walks for a couple of hours until the sun came up warm; Swami talking about India, what its purpose in life was, what Mohammedanism had done and what it had not done. He talked, immersed in the history of India and in the architecture and in the habits of the people, and we walked on through fields of forget-me-nots, bursting into pink and blue blossoms, way above our heads.
Baramulla is something like Venice. So many of the streets are canals. We had our own little private boat in which we went to and from the main land. But the merchants would come in small crafts all about our boats. We did most of our shopping over the rails of the boat. Each of our boats cost thirty rupees a month, which included the boatmen who fed themselves. The boatmen consisted of father, mother, son. daughter, and tiny children. They had their own little place at the end of the boat, and many a time we begged them for a taste of their food, the aroma being so delicious. The manner of travelling in these boats is that the boat is punted up the river, or it is dragged, the boatmen walking along the shore, or it is rowed. There is nothing extra to pay regardless of how one is navigated. When we wanted to move up the Jhelum river to some of the lakes, we would tell our servants the night before; they would get in supplies of food including ducks or chickens, vegetables, eggs, butter, fruits, and milk. In the morning, when we awakened, we would feel the boat moving along, gliding so imperceptibly that we were scarcely conscious of the motion. Our servant who had walked ahead would then have a delicious meal waiting for us. This he made over a little trough long enough and narrow enough to hold three pans, one containing soup, one meat, and the other rice. The dexterity of these people was a wonder and something we never got over. As a chicken is not considered clean food by the orthodox Hindus, we never told the people we intended to eat the chickens we bought. But when we went up the river, the lower part of the boat held half a dozen clucking chickens. The Pandits who could come to visit Swami would hear them and look around for them. Swami, who knew they were hidden underneath, had a twinkle in his eye, but he would never give us away. Then the Pandits would say. “But Swami, why do you have to do with these ladies. They are mlechchhas. They are untouchables.” Then the Westerners would come to us and say, ‘But don’t you see? Swami is not treating you with respect. He meets you without his turban.” So we had great fun laughing at the idiosyncrasies of each other’s civilization.
Swamiji then sent for Swami Saradananda to come and travel with us, to show us the sights of India — Lahore, Delhi, Agra, Kurukshetra, and so on, Swami going straight down to Calcutta. By the time we got down there, he had already founded the monastery in our little cottage at Belur, As we would not go back there, we took a small house about two miles up at Bally and stayed there until we left for the West.
Mrs. Ole Bull had given several thousand dollars to found the monastery. I having very little, it took me some years to have eight hundred dollars. One day I said to Swamiji. “Here is a little money you may be able to use.” He said. “What? What?” I said, “Yes,” “How much?” he asked. And I said. “Eight hundred dollars.” Instantly he turned to Swami Trigunatita and said, ‘There, go and buy your press.” He bought the press which started the Udbodhan, the Bengali magazine published by the Ramakrishna Mission.
In July 1899 Swami came to England again with Sister Nivedita, where Sister Christine and Mrs. Funke met him. From there he came to America and he came to us at Ridgely Manor in September of that year where we gave him his own cottage with two of his monks, Turiyananda and Abhedananda. Sister Nivedita was also there, and Mrs. Ole Bull. It was quite a community of people who loved and honoured the Swami, He used to call my Sister, Mrs. Leggett. “Mother”, and always sat beside her at table. He particularly liked chocolate ice cream, because, “I too am chocolate and I like it,” he would say. One day we were having strawberries, and someone said to him. “Swami, do you like strawberries?” He answered, “I never tasted them.” “You never tasted them, why you eat them every day!” He said, “You have cream on them — pebbles with cream would be good.”
In the evening, sitting around the great fire in the hall of Ridgely Manor, he would talk, and once after he came out with some of his thoughts a lady said. “Swami, I don’t agree with you there.” “No? Then it is not for you,” he answered. Someone else said. “O, but that is where I find you true.” “Ah, then it was for you.” he said showing that utter respect for the other man’s views. One evening he was so eloquent, about a dozen people listening, his voice becoming so soft and seemingly far away; when the evening was over, we all separated without even saying goodnight to each other. Such a holy quality pervaded. My sister, Mrs. Leggett, had occasion to go to one of the rooms afterward. There she found one of the guests, an agnostic, weeping. “What do you mean?” my sister asked, and the lady said, “The man has given me eternal life. I never wish to hear him again.”
It was while the Swami was at Ridgely Manor that a letter came from a lady unknown to us to say our only brother was very ill in Los Angeles and that she thought, he would die and we ought to know it. So my sister said to me, “I think you must go.” And I said, “Of course. “Within two hours I was packed, the horses were at the door, we had four miles to drive to a railway station, and as I went out Swami put up his hand and said some Sanskrit blessing and then he called out. “Get up some classes and I will come.” I went straight to Los Angeles and in a small white cottage covered with roses, on the outskirts of the city, lay my brother, very ill. But over his bed was a life-size picture of Vivekananda, I had not seen my brother for ten years, so after I had an hour’s talk with him and saw how very ill he was, I went out to see our hostess, Mrs. Blodgett and said to her. “My brother is very ill” She said, “Yes.” I said, “I think he will die.”She said. “Yes.” “May he die here?” I asked. She said, “O yes.” Then I said, “Who is that man whose portrait is over my brother’s bed?” She drew herself up with all the dignity of her seventy years and said, “If ever there was a God on earth, that is the man.” I said, “What do you know about him?” She answered, “I was at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893, and when that young man got up and said, ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’, seven thousand people rose to their feet as a tribute to something they knew not what; and when it was over and I saw scores of women walking over the benches to get near him, I said to myself, “Well, my lad, if you can resist that onslaught, you are indeed a God.” Then I said to Mrs. Blodgett, “I know him.” “You know him?” she asked. I said. “Yes, I left him in the little village of Stone Ridge, of two hundred people, in the Catskill Mountains in New York.” She said, “You know him?” I said, “Why don’t you ask him here?” She said, “To my cottage?” “He will come”, I told her. In three weeks my brother was dead and in six weeks Swamiji was there and began his classes on the Pacific coast, in “Kalifornia”.
We were Mrs. Blodgett’s guests for months. This little cottage had three bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and a sitting room. Every morning we would hear Swami chanting his Sanskrit from the bath, which was just off the kitchen. He would come out with tousled hair and get ready for breakfast. Mrs. Blodgett made delicious pancakes, and these we would eat at the kitchen table. Swami sitting with us; and such discourses he would have with Mrs. Blodgett, such repartee and wit, she talking of the villainy of men and he talking of even the greater wickedness of women! Mrs. Blodgett seldom went to hear him lecture, saying her duty was to give us delicious meals when we got back. Swami lectured a great number of times at the Home of Truth and in various halls, but perhaps the most outstanding lecture I ever heard was his talk on “Jesus of Nazareth”, when he seemed to radiate a white light from head to foot, so lost was he in the wonder and the power of Christ. I was so impressed with this obvious halo that I did not speak to him on the way back for fear of interrupting. as I thought, the great thoughts that were still in his mind. Suddenly he said to me. “I know how it is done,” I said, “How what is done?” “How they make mulligatawny soup. They put a bay leaf in it.” he told me. That utter lack of self-consciousness, of self-importance, was perhaps one of his outstanding characteristics. He seemed to see the strength and the glory and the power of the other man who felt that courage enter into him, until everyone who came near him went away refreshed and invigorated and sustained. So when people have said to me. “What is your test of spirituality?” I have always said, “It is the courage that is given by the presence of a holy man.” Swamiji used to say, “The saviours should take on the sins and tribulations of their disciples and let the disciples go on their way rejoicing and free. There is the difference! The saviours should carry the burdens.”
Another thing he once said to my niece at Ridgely Manor is, “Alberta, no fact in life will ever equal your imagination of it.”
One day Mrs. Blodgett had three ladies come to call on the Swami. I left immediately, so he could be alone with them; and after half an hour he came to me and said. “These ladies are three sisters and they want me to come and make them a visit at Pasadena,” I said. “Go.” He said, “Shall I?” “Yes, go.” I told him. They were Mrs. Hansborough. Miss Mead. and Mrs. Wyckoff. Mrs. Wyckoff’s house is now the Vivekananda House in Hollywood, and one of Swamiji’s monks is there with her.
It was from Alameda, California, he wrote me on April eighteenth 1900, the most beautiful letter I think he ever wrote. This is the last letter in Inspired Talks.
Later in 1900 my sister and Mr. Leggett took a house in Paris for the Exposition. We went over in June, and Swami followed in August. He stayed some weeks with us until he went to stay with Mr. Gerald Nobel, a bachelor. Afterwards he said of Mr. Nobel: “It is worth having been born to have made one friend as Mr. Nobel.” So greatly he honoured this friend of ours. We entertained largely during these six months. Swami coming nearly every day to luncheon.
One day at luncheon in Paris Madame Emma Calve, the singer, said she was going to Egypt for the winter. So as I suggested accompanying her, she at once turned to Swami and said, “Will you come to Egypt with us as my guest?” He accepted. We started out via Vienna for two days. Constantinople for nine days, and four days in Athens, then to Egypt when after a few days Swami said, “I want to go.” “Go where?” I asked. “Go back to India. “I said. “Yes, go. “”May I?” he asked. “Certainly”. I said. So I went to Madame Calve and said. “Swami would like to go back to India.” She said. “Certainly.” She bought him a first class ticket and sent him back. He arrived there in time to hear of he death of Mr. Sevier, and he wrote me at (1 , 2) once of the serenity and beauty of the way in which Mrs. Sevier had taken the death, she continuing the life at the Mayavati Ashrama as if her husband were there.
Going up the Nile and meeting some charming English people who begged me to go to Japan with them, I had occasion to pass again through India en route. Again I saw Swamiji, and he said he would go to Japan if I wrote for him. In Japan I made the acquaintance of Okakura Kakuzu who had founded the fine arts Bijutsuin school of painting in Tokyo. He was very anxious to have Swami come over and be his guest in Japan. But Swami refusing to come. Mr. Okakura accompanied me to India to meet him. One of the happy moments of my life was when after a few days at Belur. Mr. Okakura said to me rather fiercely. “Vivekananda is ours. He is an Oriental. He is not yours.” Then I knew there was a real understanding between them. A day or two after, Swami said to me, “It seems as if a long lost brother has come.” Then I knew there was a real undemanding between these two men. And when Swami said to him. “Will you join us?” Mr. Okakura said, “No, I haven’t finished with this world yet.” Which was a very wise thing.
That summer General Paterson, the American Consul General, allowed me to have the Consulate, and there I had as guest Mr. Oda, who had been my host at the Asakusa temple in Tokyo.
I saw Swami off and on all that year. One day in April he said, “I have nothing in the world, I haven’t a penny to myself. I have given away everything that has ever been given to me.” I said, “Swami, I will give you fifty dollars a month as long as you live.” He thought a minute and then he said, “Can I live on that?” “Yes, O yes,” I said, “but perhaps you cannot have cream.” I gave him then two hundred dollars, but before the four months were passed he had gone.
At Belur Math one day, while Sister Nivedita was distributing prizes for some athletics. I was standing in Swamiji’s bedroom at the Math, at the window, watching, and he said to me, “I shall never see forty.” I, knowing he was thirty-nine, said to him. “But Swami, Buddha did not do his great work until between forty and eighty.” But he said. “I delivered my message and I must go.” I asked. “Why go?” and he said, “The shadow of a big tree will not let the smaller trees grow up, I must go to make room.”
Afterwards I went again to the Himalayas. I did not see Swami again. I went back to Europe for the King’s Jubilee, As I said, I never was a disciple, only a friend, but I remember in my last letter to him in April 1902, as I was leaving India — I was never to see him again — I distinctly remember writing in this good-bye letter the one sentence, “I swim or sink with you.” I read that over three times and said. “Do I mean it?” And I did. And it went. And he received it. though I never had an answer. He died July 4.1902.
On the second of July, Sister Nivedita saw him for the last time. She went to inquire whether she should teach a certain science in her school. Swami answered, “Perhaps you are right, but my mind is given to other things. I am preparing for death.” So she thought he was indifferent. Then he said. “But you must have a meal.” Sister Nivedita always ate with her fingers, a la Hindu; and after she had eaten. Swami poured water over her hands. She said, very much the disciple, “I cannot bear you to do this.” He answered. “Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples. “Sister Nivedita had it on the tip of her tongue to say. “But that was the last time they ever met.” It was the last time she ever saw him. That last day he spoke to her of me and of many people, but when he spoke of me he said, “She is pure as purity, loving as love itself.” So I always took that as Swamiji’s last message to me. In two days he died having said, “The spiritual impact that has come here to Belur will last fifteen hundred years — and this will be a great university. Do not think I imagine it, I see it.”
They cabled me on the fourth of July, “Swami attained nirvana.” For days I was stunned. I never answered it. And then the desolation that seemed to fill my life made me weep for years and it was only after I read Maeterlinck who said, “If you have been greatly influenced by anyone, “prove it in your life, and not by your tears”. I never wept again; but went back to America and tried to follow the traces of where he had lived. I went to Thousand Island Park and became the guest of Miss Dutcher to whom the cottage belonged, who gave me the same room that Swami had used.
Fourteen years elapsed before I returned to India. Then I went accompanying Professor and Mrs. Geddes. I then found, instead of India being a place of desolation, all India was alive with Swamiji’s ideas, with half a dozen monasteries, thousands of centres, hundreds of societies. Since that time I have been going frequently. They like to have me at the monastery guest house, because I keep Vivekananda alive, as none of these young men have ever seen him. And I like to be in India, remembering once when I asked him, “Swamiji, how can I best help you?” his answer was, “Love India!” So the upper floor of the guest house at the monastery is mine where I go and will probably go winters, until the end.
(Prabuddha Bharata, December 1949)
[In an undated letter written from the Belur Math guest house, after Swamiji’s passing, she thus describes the impress of his life on hers:]
…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!…Oh, such natures make one so free. It’s the reaction on oneself that matters, really, isn’t it? What one gets out of it.
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 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 our play-ground? It was to set me free that Swamiji came, that was as much a part of his mission as it was to give Renunciation to Nivedita or unity to Mrs. S—. But it is Renunciation that is India’s great spiritual gift, and so the workers in and for India (Nivedita) used to say. “I only hear one word ringing through my ears day and night. Remember Renunciation.” Hence her hold and grip on India and the coming generations. I haven’t any Renunciation, but I’ve freedom. Freedom to see and help India to grow — that’s my job and how I love it. To see this group of fiery idealists burning new paths and outlets from this jungle called Life ….
I feel that Swamiji is 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! At last I’m free. It’s so curious to feel free, not needed any more in the West, but all my characteristics — in India.
…With two new upper chambers of the guest house I am living in great luxury and space, quiet on this great river. I never dreamed of such luxury anywhere! The luxury of space — no furniture to lake care of, no rugs, pictures, dishes — only a tea set. That impingement of things is gone! Things to do, to take care of, all melted into thin air. Yet I’m not alone! (That I couldn’t bear.) One doesn’t have lo leave the body to find Heaven.
I see — and why all this? That’s the wonder.
“They are fooling us with little brains, but this time they won’t find me napping. I’ve found a thing or two beyond brains, and that is love” as Swamiji wrote to Mrs. Leggett, bless them both.
(Vedanta and the West, November-December 1962)