REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
1. Calcutta, February 15, 1899: My lecture on Kali came off on Monday. The Albert Hall was crammed. The Chairman spoke against Kali and me, and was very touching, when unfortunately a devotee got up and amidst tremendous excitement called him all sorts of names. I am sorry to tell you that I laugh whenever I think about it all. Swami was greatly pleased about the lecture, and I trust that there is some reason, for I have several times since been inclined to think that I had done nothing but harm. You see the — declare that that was not Kali worship, and that only what appealed to their lowest feelings was understood by the mob.
Anyway, the Kalighat people have asked me to speak on Kali worship there, at Kalighat. It may not come to anything, but Swami thinks that would be the greatest blow that could be struck against exclusiveness. One lovely gift my lecture has brought me is the friendship and enthusiasm of a young boy full of noble impulses and freshness. I have found out the culminating point of sacrifice, and wonder if I could express it. It seems that the sacrifice of animals only goes on till the devotee is strong enough to offer himself instead, and then, like the Pelican he draws his own blood, and buries the feet of the Mother in flowers dipped in it. To me it explains and justifies the whole. I don’t know how you will feel about it. Everyone seemed to know about that when Swami explained it to me, so I suppose it is recognized.
Yesterday morning two of us went early to be blessed by the old Devendra Nath Tagore. Swami sent word early that he was particularly pleased, and I told the old man this, and said I felt that I was making Swami’s pranams as well as my own. He was quite touched, said he had met Swami once when wandering round in a boat, and would greatly like him to come to him once more. When I told Swami, he was wonderfully moved, and said, “Of coarse I’ll go, and you can go with me, and fix a day as soon as you please!” It seems that as a boy he clambered up into Mr. T’s boat and put anxious questions about Advaitism, and the old man paused and said gently at last, “The Lord has only shown me dualism.” And then he had patted him and said he had the yogi’s eyes.
2. Calcutta, February 21, 1899: My Kali lecture had been a good foundation for bringing Swami to an issue with some friends, whom we were visiting. And so the talk had been all of symbolism. He said,”Poor M. has never studied the history of symbolism. That is why he does not understand that the natural symbols are no good. You see I had a curious education; I went to Shri Ramakrishna and I loved the man, but I hated all his ideas. And so for six years it was hard fighting all the time. I would say, I don’t care in the least for this thing you want me to do’, and he would say, ‘Never mind, just do it, and you will see that certain results follow.’ And all that time he gave me such love; no one has ever given me such love, and there was so much reverence with it. He used to think, “This boy will be So-and-so’, I suppose, and he would never let me do any menial service for him. He kept that up to the very moment of his death too. He wouldn’t let me fan him, and many other things he would not let me do.”
3. Calcutta, March 12, 1899: Last night a monk called, and when I said I wanted to interview Swami for Awakened India, offered to take me back at 6 in the house-boat, if I would drive home. S. came too, in order to bring me home, so we walked. We got there at 8 o’clock. Swami had been sitting beside the fire under the tree…. When I had interviewed him, he said, “I say, Margot, I have been thinking for days about that line of least resistance, and it is a base fallacy. It is a comparative thing. As for me, I am never going to think of it again. The history of the world is the history of a few earnest men, and when one man is earnest the world must just come to his feet. I am not going to water down my ideals, I am going to dictate terms.”…
4. Calcutta, April 9, 1899: Swami says my great fault is attempting too much, in which he is emphatically right. I am to give up all thought of plague-nursing and throw my whole heart and soul still deeper into the sanitation that we have now on hand. Won’t I be just? This is an infinitely higher proof of self-sacrifice and obedience on my part, as you know well, than the delightful excitement of risking plague would be. I say this out of a childish haughtiness, because a friend I prize well is grieved that I have not gone on. And I, too proud to give him a chance of overtly saying so, much less of vindicating myself, am still not proud enough to be beyond the doubts of conscience.
We have had two hundred and thirty-five rupees subscribed for sanitation. It seems a great success, though of course we could do with a great deal more. When the monk who has the work in hand went over on Saturday to report, he said Swami was so touched by the news, that they had two hours of everything, from the Upanishads onwards, “There could be no religion without that activity, that manhood and co-operation. There was Nivedita living in a corner and English people helping her. God bless them all!” But to my great amusement when I reported today, he just winked and said. “Plague, Margot, plague.” He told me, “Our men might be rough and unpolished, but they were the manly men in Bengal. The manhood of Europe was kept up by the women, who hated unmanliness. When would Bengali girls play this part, and drench with merciless ridicule every display of feebleness on the pan of man?”
5. Calcutta, May 1, 1899: …At the Math Swami is lying ill with fever and bronchitis.
On Friday I went to lunch with Swami… .His mood on Saturday was entirely different, however. His days were drawing to an end; but even if they were not, he was going to give up compromise. He would go to the Himalayas, and live there in meditation. He would go out into the world and preach smashing truths. It had been good for a while to go amongst men and tell them that they were in their right place, and so on. But he could do that no longer. Let them give up, give up, give up. Then he said very quietly, “You won’t understand this now, Margot; but when you get further on you will.” …
I find there is money enough in Bengal for Swami, but people want to make their conditions, and so it never reaches him. This is his true attitude of staunchly refusing plum cake, and accepting starvation as the price of principle…..Swami is right about the world being reached that way and no other. The world is something that overcomes the man who seeks it and crouches to him who renounces it….
6. Calcutta, May 8, 1899: How beautiful those times are, “Thy place in life is seeking after Thee. Therefore be thou at rest from seeking after it,” After all, that is the whole truth. The things after which one may and must seek are so very different.
I have seen Swami today. He told me how, as a child of thirteen, he came across a copy of Thomas à Kempis which contained in the preface an account of the Author’s monastery and its organization. And that was the abiding fascination of the book to him. Never thinking that he would have to work out something of the sort one day. “I love Thomas à Kempis, you know, and know it almost off by heart. If only they had told what Jesus ate and drank, where he lived and slept, and how he passed the day, instead of all rushing to put down what he said! Those long lectures! Why, all that can be said in religion can be counted on a few fingers. That does not matter, it is the man that results that grows out of it. You lake a lump of mist in your hand, and gradually, gradually, it develops into a man. Salvation is nothing in itself, it is only a motive. All those things are nothing, except as motives. It is the man they form, that is everything!” And now I remember he began this by saying, “It was not the words of Shri Ramakrishna but the life he lived that was wanted, and that is yet to be written. After all, this world is a series of pictures, and man-making is the great interest running through. We were all watching the making of men, and that alone. Shri Ramakrishna was always weeding out and rejecting the old, he always chose the young for his disciples.”
7. Calcutta, 1899: The event of the week has been my talk with my friends on Friday night. The husband told me, with some bitterness, that he meant to school himself into calling me “Sister Nivedita” instead of “Miss Noble”, then he would be able to think of me less of a human being. At present my dreadful narrowness hurt him unbearably. I got him to tell me our differences. Then it came out. The worship of Swami’s guru, “A man cast in a narrow mould, a man who held woman to be something half-fiend, so that when he saw one, he had a fit.” Between a gasp and a smile I said I could not accept the description. I pointed out that we, none of us, least of all Swami, wanted him to worship too. That was personal. Then again, “An avatara-doctrine could not supply India’s present need of a religion all-embracing, sect-uniting, etc.” To me this is curious, for it seems the only possible way to meet that need — an avatara that declares that sects are at an end. The man who does not believe in incarnation will not call him an avatara like Swami. Again my friend said, “This could not prove the new religion.” I said no one wanted it, no one was planning or bothering to do more than this one bit of educational work that the Order had before it, in all directions now. Questions of worship and the religion of the future could do what they liked. Then he spoke of the great thrill with which he heard Swami say that his mission was to bring manliness to his people, and with which still in England he read the Calcutta lectures and saw him contemptuously tear his great popularity to tatters for the real good of truth and man. But when he found him proceeding to worship his guru and other things, he had dropped with a groan. The man who had been a hero had become the leader of a new sect. I tell you all this by way of record. Some day people will say, “Swami neither did nor taught anything new”, so this emotional divergent is very precious to me.
8. Coasting Ceylon, June 28, 1899: It was quite exciting at Madras. Crowds of people had an appeal to the Governor to let Swami land. But plague considerations prevailed, and we were kept on board, to my great relief, for the sea-voyage is doing him a world of good, and one day of crowds and lectures would be enough to cause him utter exhaustion. It was sufficiently tiring to have to look down and be polite to the constant succession of boat-loads who came to the snip’s side with presents and addresses all day….
… Swami had just been here for an hour, and somehow the talk drifted on to the question of Love. Amongst other things he talked about the devotion of the English wife and the Bengali wife, of the suffering they would go through without a word. Then of the little gleam of sunshine and poetry, to which all human love must wade through oceans of tears, Then the tears of sorrow alone bring spiritual vision, never tears of joy. That dependence is fraught with misery, independence alone is happiness. That almost all human love, save sometimes a mother’s, is full of dependence. It is for oneself, not for the happiness of the one loved, that it is sought. That the love on which he could most surely count, if he became a drunkard tomorrow, was not that of his disciples, they would kick him out in horror, but that of a few (not all) of his gurubhais. To them he would be still the same. “And mind this, Margot,” he said. “It is when half a dozen people learn to love like this that a new religion begins. Not till then. I always remember the woman who went to the sepulchre early in the morning, and as she stood there she heard a voice and she thought it was the gardener, and then Jesus touched her, and she turned round, and all she said was “My Lord and my God!’ That was all, ‘My Lord and my God.’ The person had gone. Love begins by being brutal, the faith, the body. Then it becomes intellectual, and last of all it reaches the spiritual. Only at the last. ‘My Lord and My God.’ Give me half a dozen disciples like that and I will conquer the world.”
9. America, October 9, 12 & 13, 1899: Swami has been pacing up and down for an hour and a half,’warning me against politeness, against this “Lovely” and “Beautiful”, against this continual feeling of the external. “Come to the Himalayas,” he would say every now and then. “Realize yourself without feeling; and when you have known that, you can fall upon the world like a bolt from the blue. I have no faith in those who ask. ‘Will any listen to my preaching?’ Never yet could the world refuse to hear the preaching of him who had anything to say. Stand up in your own might. Can you do that? Then come away to the Himalayas and learn.” Then he broke into Shankaracharya’s sixteen verses on Renunciation, ending always with a humming refrain “Therefore, you fool, go and worship the Lord”. To get rid of all these petty relations of society and home, to hold the soul firm against the perpetual appeals of senses, to realize that the rapture of autumn trees is as truly sense-enjoyment as a comfortable bed or a table dainty, to hate the silly praise and blame of people — these things were the ideal that he was holding up, “Practise titiksha,” he said again and again, that is, bearing the ills of the body without trying to remedy, and without remembering them. The monk whose fingers were rotting away with leprosy and who stooped gently to replace the maggot that fell from the remaining joint, was the example he used. And he talked about loving misery and embracing death. Later he was pointing out how the only civilizations that were really stable were those that had been touched with vairagya.
Surely it cannot be that anyone of us fails to see that even the round of duties is merely a formula. It seems so clear that one is held by a chain that one has never yet been strong enough to break. Yesterday Swami talked of Shiva. “Let your life in the world be nothing but a thinking to yourself,” Even meditation would be a bondage to the free soul, but Shiva goes on and on for the good of the world, the Eternal Incarnation, and Hindus believe that but for the prayers and meditations of these great souls, the world would fall to pieces (that is, others would find no chance of manifesting and so coming to freedom) at once. For meditation is the greatest service, the most direct, that can be rendered.
He was talking too of the Himalayan snows and the green of the forests melting into them. “Nature making eternal Suttee on the body of Mahadeva,” he quoted from Kalidasa.
10. America, October 18, 1899: At lunch on Friday, Swami talked about Shri Ramakrishna. He abused himself for being filled and poisoned with the Western reaction of those days, so that he was always looking and questioning whether this man was “Holy” or not. After six years he came to understand that he was not “Holy”, because he had become identified with holiness. He was full of gaiety and merriment and he had expected the Holy to be so different! Later he began to talk of the functions of the nations, apropos, I suppose, of the Boer War. And as he passed to the problems of the Shudra, which would first be worked out here, his face took on a new light, as if he were actually seeing into the future; and he told of the mixture of races, and of the great tumults, the terrible tumults through which the next state of things must be reached. “And these are the signs,” he quoted from old books! “The Kali Yuga is about to thicken, when money comes to be worshipped as God, when might is right, and men oppress the weak.”
At one of the meals, Mrs. B. turned and pointed out how his poetry had been the weak point on which he had been beguiled to the loss of honour. And she said her husband was never sensitive to criticism about his music. That he expected. He knew it was not perfect. But on road engineering he felt deeply, and could be flattered. Then, in our amusement, we all teased Swami for his carelessness about his religious teacherhood and his vanity about his portrait painting; and he suddenly said. “You see there is one thing called Love. and there is another thing called Union; and Union is greater than Love. I do not love religion, I have become identified with it. It is my life; so no man loves that thing in which his life has been spent, in which he really has accomplished something. That which we love is not yet oneself. Your husband did not love music for which he had always studied: he loved engineering, in which as yet he knew comparatively little. This is the difference between bhakti and jnana; and this is why jnana is greater than bhakti.” All morning his talk of the great sweep of the Mogul hordes under Genghis Khan had been going on. It had begun in his talking about Law, the old Hindu conception of it as the King of kings who never slept and showing that the Hindu had in the Vedas the true notion of it, while other nations only knew it as regulations. On Sunday evening three of us accompanied a guest to her home. We had been reading Schopenhauer on “Women” aloud. Coming back it was wonderful moonlight, and we walked on up the avenue in silence; it seemed as if a sound would have been desecration. About it Swami said, “When a tiger in India is on the trail of prey at night, if its paw or tail makes the least sound in passing, it bites it till the blood comes.” And he talked of the need we Western women had to absorb beauty quietly, and turn it over in the mind at another time.
One afternoon so quiet was everything, we might have been in India. I had been feeling quite inferior to the people who wanted Advaitism and the Vedic texts, but oh, what a dose of the other was here.
It began with a song of Ramprasad, and I’ll try to give you the whole of that early talk.
From the land where there is no night
Has come unto me a man.
And night and day are now nothing to me.
Ritual-worship is become for ever barren.
My sleep is broken. Shall I sleep any more?
Call it what you will, I am awake.
Hush! I have given back sleep to Him whose it was.
Sleep have I put to sleep for ever.
The music has entered the instrument,
And of that mode I have learnt a song.
And that music is always playing before me,
And concentration is the great teacher thereof.
The world hast thou charmed, Mother,
Charmer of Shiva.
Thou who playest on the vina,
Sitting on the huge lotus of muladhara3.
This body is the great vina
And sushumna, ida and pingala are the strings thereof.
And thou playest on the three gamuts,
With the great secret of qualitative differentiation.
Ramakrishna used to see a long white thread proceeding out of himself. At the end would be a mass of light. This mass would open, and within it he would see the Mother with a vina. Then She would begin to play; and as She played, he would see the music turning into birds and animals and worlds and arrange themselves. Then She would stop playing and they would all disappear. The light would grow less and less distinct till it was just a luminous mass, the siring would grow shorter and shorter, and the whole would be absorbed into himself again. And as Swami told this, he said. “Oh, what weird scenes things bring before me, the weirdest scenes of my whole life! Perfect silence, broken only by the cries of the jackals, in the darkness under the great tree at Dakshineswar. Night after night we sat there, the whole night through, and He talked to me. when I was a boy. The guru was always Shiva and was always to be worshipped as Shiva, because he sat under the tree to teach, and destroyed ignorance. One must offer all one’s doings, or even merit would become a bondage and create karma; so Hindus getting you a cup of water will say, ‘To the World’ or may be ‘To the Mother’. But there is one soul that can take it all without harm — One who is eternally protected, eternally the same. unspoilt — He who drank the poison of the world and only made Himself the blue-throated. Offer all you do to Shiva.”
Then he talked of vairagya, how much grander to give one’s youth, how miserable to have only age to offer. Those who come to it old attain their own salvation; but they cannot be gurus, they cannot show mercy. Those who come young shall carry many across without any benefit to themselves.
Then he talked of the school, “Give them all you like, Margot, never mind A B C. It matters nothing. Give as much Ramprasad and Ramakrishna and Shiva and Kali as you like. And do not cheat these Western people, do not pretend it is education and A B C you want money for. Say it is the old Indian spirituality that you want and demand help, do not beg it. Remember you are only the servant of Mother, and if She sends you nothing, be thankful that She lets you go free.”
11. America, October 27, 1899: Yesterday three of us were together when Swami came in, and said. “Let’s have a chat.” He talked about the Ramayana. I’ll tell you a curious thing. When Sadananda talks about the Ramayana. I become convinced that Hanuman is really the hero; when Swami talks of it, Ravana is the central figure. So he told us: Rama was called “The Blue-lotus-eyed”, and he trusted to Mother to help him to recover Sita.4.
But Ravana had prayed to Mother too, and Rama came and found him in her arms so he knew he must do something tremendous, and he vowed one hundred and eight blue lotuses to her image if she would help him. Hanuman went off and got the lotuses, and Rama began the great “Call upon the Mother”. (It was autumn, and the time of Her puja was the spring, so it is in memory of that worship by Rama that the Great Mother Worship has ever since been held in September). Now he covered Her feet with blue lotuses till one hundred and seven were offered (and Mother had stolen one); and lo, the last was missing. But Rama was determined. He was not to be beaten, and calling for a knife, he was about to cut out his own eye that the number of blue lotuses might be complete. And that won the Mother; and She blessed the great hero, so that his arms prevailed. Though not indeed his arms altogether, for in the end Ravana was betrayed by his own brother, and the struggle was brought to an end. “But it was great about the traitor brother in one sense,” said Swami. “For he was taken away to reside at the court of Rama, and thither came the widow of Ravana to look upon the face of the warrior who had robbed her of her husband and son. Rama and his court stood prepared to receive the cortège; but to his amazement, he could see no great queen adorned in splendour, only a simple-looking woman attired in the simple garb of a Hindu widow. ‘Who is this lady?’ he asked the brother in bewilderment, and he replied, ‘Behold, O King, the lioness whom thou hast robbed of her lion and whelps! She comes to gaze upon thy face.'”
What ideals of womanhood Swami holds! Surely not even Shakespeare or Aeschylus when he wrote Antigone, or Sophocles when he created Alcestis had such a tremendous conception. As I read over the things he has said to me of them, and as I realize that it is all, every word of it, a trust for the women of the whole world’s future, but first and chiefly for them of his own land, it seems a trilling thing whether oneself should ever be worthy or not.
One night he was in a great mood of devotion, and told us of Hrishikesh and the little hut that each sannyasin would make for himself and the blazing fire in the evening, and all the sannyasins sitting round it on their own little mats, talking in hushed tones of the Upanishads, “For a man is supposed to have got the truth before he becomes a sannyasin. He is at peace intellectually. All that remains is to realize it; so all need for discussion has passed away and at Hrishikesh, in the darkest of the mountains, by the blazing fire, they may only talk of the Upanishads. Then by degrees, the voices die — silence! Each man sits bolt upright on his mat, and one by one they steal quietly off to their own huts.” Another time he broke out with: “The great defect in Hinduism has been that it offered salvation only on the basis of renunciation. The house-holder was bound by his consciousness of an inferior lot. His part was karma. Renunciation was nothing to him. But renunciation is the whole law. It is all illusion that anyone has been trying to do anything else. We are all struggling to release this great mass of energy. What does that mean but that we are hurrying towards death as fast as we can? The burly Englishman who thinks he wants to possess the earth is really struggling more than most of us to die. Self-preservation is only a mode of renunciation. The desire for life is one method of the love of death.” Swami talked some time of the Sikhs, and their ten Gurus, and he told us a story of Guru Nanak, from the Granth Sahib: He had gone to Mecca, and lay with his feet towards the Caaba Mosque. Then came angry Mohammedans to waken, and if need be, to kill him, for turning his feet towards the place where God was. He woke up quietly, and said simply, “Show me, then, where God is not, that I may turn my feet that way.” And the gentle answer was enough.
12. America, November 4, 1899: On Thursday evening, Swami came in when two of us were talking earnestly; so he joined in, of course. For the first time he talked of defection and disease and treachery. Amongst other things, he said he found himself still the sannyasin, he minded no loss, but he could be hurt through defection. Treachery cut deep.
The details of this Boer War are terrible to me. Strange how the fate of a nation overshadows a man’s karma, and brings a man like General White to disaster! Not England, but Victoria, says the Hindu, won the empire; and even so today, in a detail like the Boer War, no greater than so many that have gone before, no man can foretell the results, for they will be governed by the fact that a new star has appeared in the sky of destiny. By this, and not by any force of arms or numbers, or any visible factor whatever, even the very greatest of men, seem like blind pawns on the chess-board of time, don’t they? The hand that moves them is unseen; only a prophet’s eye now and then catches a glance of the reason; and he who is dashed to pieces in the game seems the only one who is not befooled.
When Swami was talking of Krishna and Rukmini, he said something of the double strain in us of preference and approval. Of how often we give way to desire, and of how our only guide should be the good. Therefore, the wise man is he who likes nothing, and witnesses all. Men find it easy to play their part of life, but something holds the heart captive, and there they do not play. Let the whole be play; like nothing; act; a part all the time. Again he talked of Uma and Shiva. As be says, “It beats all mythology hollow.” Speaking of Shiva he said, “Young is the guru, old is the disciple,”because in India the man who gives his young life is the true guru, but the time for learning religion is old age. And then he commanded us to offer all we did to Shiva, the only protected soul in the universe. Uma, speaking to the Brahmin, said. “Why should He, the Lord of the Universe, dwelt in a graveyard?”
At lunch time I laughed and said that your letter spoke at your wanting “nothing and nobody”. Swami looked up and: said, “No, she doesn’t, that’s right. It’s the last stage one comes to. The beggar must look for alms and rebuffs; but for him who asks nothing, there are no rebuffs.” He said he had been reciting the hatred of fame and wealth all his life, but he was only now beginning to understand what is really meant.
13. Chicago, December 10, 1899: Somebody asked me, “How is it that Swami is so great, and yet today he says, Spirituality is the only thing for my country; I was wrong to desire material good,’ and tomorrow he will be insisting the material benefits must be India’s and so on?” “And his action remains constant both times,” I said; then I went on, showing part of the great helpfulness of these contradictions to myself, how he dramatized for one absolute renunciation of the fruits of action….How true it is indeed that there is no peace without freedom! Is it not absurd to be touched by trifles? I feel the whole need of the whole Vedanta, for it is so helpful to have a will to serve and help absolutely, than to have to sit encased in one body with one way of throwing oneself at difficulties, and only one little narrow path to walk along. But we are all one: is not your way as much mine as Nivedita’s? If one could only realize it!
To Swami Vivekananda:
Your birthday-poem reached me here last night. There is nothing I could say about it that would not seem commonplace: except that if your beautiful wish were possible, it would break my heart.
For here I am one with Ramprasad — “I do not want to become sugar; I want to eat sugar!” I do not want even to know God in any way; even to think of such things is ridiculous of course — that would not leave my Father unattainably above.
I know one would not need to think of one’s guru — that he would vanish if one realized the Divine — but even in that moment I cannot conceive of perfect bliss without the assurance that his was greater.
One is trying to say impossible things, to think unthinkable thoughts, but you well know what I would express.
I used to think that I wanted to work for the women of India — I used to have alt kinds of grand impersonal ideas — but I I have steadily gone on climbing down from these heights, and I today I want to do things only because they are my Father’s will.
Even knowledge of God seems too like a return of benefits. One longs to serve for serving’s sake, for ever and ever, dear, Master — not for one miserable little life.
And another thing I am sure of, and need to be sure of in true moments, and that is that you will have thousands of children who will be bigger and worthier and able to love you and serve you infinitely better than I, in days that are close at hand.
14. Detroit, January 18, 1900: At present I have not in any way come to grief over my relation to Swami — and I have not told it to the world at all. Of that I am sure.
But experience contradicts theory all the time.
On this journey I have seemed to find my feet and to be led every step by Mother Herself. And as I look back I see that the same thing was true before. When I have been free, everything has gone well, but it has been necessary that people should accept my personality with a certain readiness to love me, and when this is so, I find that I simply sit and tell them, for the present, the things Swami tells us. I don’t will one thing or another but unconsciously I seem to be a channel, and I sit and listen to him talking. When I first discovered this, I kept a tight hold over myself, because the acknowledgement of plagiarism while it would have satisfied myself would have been a jarring note. Now I see that it is all right and I don’t bother. Shall a child not rejoice in speaking its fathers’s message?
15. Chicago, January 26, 1900: I am finding daily that Kali’s ways are not as ours, if one may put it so. She puts one person out of the way, only to discover someone else standing ready where one had no more dreamt of help than of flying.
Did I tell you at the last centre how my most blessed helper was the thorniest of all thorns at the beginning of the week? And here it is just the same; two or three of the strongest workers are the most unspeakably unexpected. I find, too, that the marks of a great Renunciation are very different from those of a small, and I laugh daily at our mutual friend’s blindness about Swami’s. Why, that way he has of finding himself in any company, of holding or withholding light indifferently, of caring nothing about people’s opinions of him, are simply gigantic. I only realized, when, after all the love and warmth I had in one town, I reached another and found myself fuming and chafing against the artificiality of people about me, what Swami’s greatness really was, in this respect. And it was these very people, from whom I would have escaped at once if I could, who proved Mother’s appointed instruments — thus setting the seal on Swami’s ways. That irresponsibility of his is so glorious too. Nothing is more enticing than to put oneself into the attitude of generalissimo of the forces, and make splendid plans, compelling fortune; but Swami just waits, and drifts in on the wave. And so on. I am just beginning to understand his bigness.
16. New York, June 4, 1900: You know to my nature a thing hardly seems true or accomplished till it is somehow uttered and left on record.
Swami has just lectured.
I went early and took the seat at the left end of the second row — always my place in London, though I never thought of it at the time.
Then as we sat and waited for him to come in, a great trembling came over me, for I realized that this was, simple as it seemed, one of the test-moments of my life. Since last I had done this thing, how much had come and gone! My own life — where was it? Lost — thrown away like a cast-off garment that I might kneel at the feet of this man. Would it prove a mistake; an illusion; or was it a triumph of choice; a few minutes would tell.
And then he came; his very entrance and his silence as he stood and waited to begin were like some great hymn. A whole worship in themselves.
At last he spoke — his face broke into fun, and he asked what was to be his subject. Someone suggested the Vedanta philosophy and he began.
Oneness — the Unity of all…. “And so the final essence of things is this Unity. What we see as many — as gold, love, Sorrow, the world — is really God…. We see many, yet there is but One Existence…. These names differ only in the degrees of their expression. The matter of today is the spirit of the future. The worm of today — the God of tomorrow. These distinctions which we so love are all parts of one Infinite fact and that one Infinite fact is the attainment of Freedom….
“All our struggle is for Freedom — we seek neither misery nor happiness but Freedom…. Man’s burning unquenchable thirst — never satisfied — asking always for more and more. You Americans are seeking always for more and more. At bottom this desire is the sign of man’s infinitude. For infinite man can only be satisfied when his desire is infinite and its fulfilment infinite also….”
And so the splendid sentences rolled on and on, and we, lifted into the Eternities, thought of our common selves as of babies stretching out their hands for the moon or the sun — thinking them as baby’s toys. The wonderful voice went on:
“Who can help the Infinite….Even the hand that comes to you through the darkness will have to be your own.”
And then with that lingering, heart-piercing pathos that no pen can even suggest, “We — infinite dreamers, dreaming finite dreams.”
Ah, they are mistaken who say that a voice is nothing — that ideas are all. For this in its rise and fall was the only possible music to the poetry of the words — making the whole hour a pause, retreat, in the market place of life — as well as a song of praise in some dim cathedral aisle.
At last — the whole dying down and away in the thought — “I could not see you or speak to you for a moment — I who stand here seeing and talking — if this Infinite Unity were broken for a moment — if one little atom could be crushed and moved out of its place….Hari Om Tat Sat!”
And for me — I had found the infinitely deep things that life holds for us. To sit there and listen was all that it had ever been. Yet there was no struggle of intellectual unrest now — no tremor of novelty.
This man who stood there held my life in the hollow of his hand — and as he once in a while looked my way, I read in his glance what I too felt my own heart, complete faith and abiding comprehension of purpose — better than any feeling ….Swami says, “All accumulations are for subsequent distribution, this is what the fool thinks.”
17. New York, July 15, 1900: This morning the lesson on the Gita was grand. It began with a long talk on the fact that the highest ideals are not for all. Non-resistance is not for the man who thinks the replacing of the maggot in the wound, by the leprous saint, with “Eat, Brother!” disgusting and horrible. Non-resistance is practised by a mother’s love towards an angry child. It is a travesty in the mouth of a coward, or in the face of a lion.
Let us be true. Nine-tenths of our life’s energy is spent in trying to make people think us that which we are not. That energy would be more rightly spent in becoming that which we would like to be. And so it went — beginning with the salutation to an incarnation:
Salutation to thee — the guru of the universe,
Whose footstool is worshipped by the gods.
Thou one unbroken Soul,
Physician of the world’s diseases.
Guru of even the gods,
To thee our salutation.
Thee we salute. Thee we salute. Thee we salute.
In the Indian tones — by Swami himself.
There was an implication throughout the talk that Christ and Buddha were inferior to Krishna — in the grasp of problems — inasmuch as they preached the highest ethics as a world-path, whereas Krishna saw the right of the whole, in all its parts — to its own differing ideals. But perhaps no one not familiar with his thought would have realized that this lay behind his exclamation, “The Sermon on the Mount has only become another bondage for the soul of man!”
All through his lectures now, he shows this desire to understand life as it is, and to sympathize with it. He takes less of the “Not this, not this” attitude and more of the “Here comes and now follows” sort of tone. But I fear that people find him even more out of touch at a first hearing than ever used to be the case.
He talked after lunch about Bengali poetry, then about astronomy. He confessed to a whimsical doubt as to whether the stars were not merely an optical delusion, since amongst the million of man-bearing earths that must apparently exist, no beings of higher development than ours yet seemed to have attempted signalling to us.
And he suggested that Hindu painting and sculpture had been rendered grotesque by the national tendency to refuse psychic into physical conceptions. He said that he himself knew of his own experience that most physical or material things had psychic symbols, which were often to the material eye grotesquely unlike their physical counterparts. Yesterday he told me how, as a child, he hardly ever was conscious of going to sleep. A ball of coloured light came towards him and he seemed to play with it all night. Sometimes it touched him and burst into a blaze of light, and he passed off. One of the first questions Shri Ramakrishna put to him was about this, “Do you see a light when you sleep?” “Yes,” he replied, “does not everyone sleep so?”
One of the Swamis says this was a psychic something which showed that concentration was a gift with which he started this life, not to be earned during its course. One thing I am sure of, that gift of Swami’s, of never forgetting any step of his experience, is one of the signs of great souls. It must have been a part of that last vision of Buddha.
When we get to the end. we shall not want to know our past incarnations. Maria Theresa and Petrarch and Laura will have no meaning for us, but the steps of our realization will. This is what he shows. I sit and listen to him now, and all appears to the intellect so obvious, to the will so unattainable; and I say to myself. “What were the clouds of darkness that covered me in the old days? Surely no one was ever so blind or so ignorant!” You must have been right when you thought me hard and cold. I must have been so, and it must have been the result of the long effort to see things by the mind alone, without the feelings.
Swami is all against bhakti and emotion now — determined to banish it, he says. But how tremendous is that unity of mind and heart, from which he starts. He can afford to dispense with either — since both are fully developed, and the rest is merely discipline. I fancy most of us will do well to feel all we can.
18. New York, June 24, 1900: Swami is also a visitor in this house where I am staying.
I have just wound up my stay in America by writing a comforting letter to the Rev. Mother (Dhira Mata – Mrs. Ole Bull) telling the dear soul how all his luck has turned, and he is looking like a god, and leaving her to inter that all earth’s crowns are at his feet.
But indeed his all true! As he is now, nothing can resist him.
This morning at eleven, he is to lecture on Mother-Worship, and you shall have every word of that lecture, it I have to pay ten dollars to get it taken down. It was mentioned by someone yesterday to me, before him, and he turned and said, smiling. “Yes — Mother-Worship — that’s what I am going to lecture on, and that is what I love.”
The other morning I offered him advice that struck him as wrong. I wish you could have seen him! It was worth the offence to catch such a glimpse!
He said, “Remember that I am free — free — born free!” And then he talked of the Mother and of how he wished the work and the world would break to pieces that he might go and sit down in the Himalayas and meditate. That Europeans had never preached a religion, because they had always planned; that a few Catholic Saints alone had come near to this; that it was not he but Mother who did all, and whatever She might do was equally welcome to him. That once Shiva, sitting with Uma in Kailasa, arose to go, and when she asked him why, He said “There, look, that servant of mine is being beaten. I must go to his aid.” A moment later He came back-and again She asked him why. “I am not needed. He is helping himself,” was all the reply.
And then he blessed me, before he went, saying “Well! well! You are Mother’s child.” And I went away much moved, because the moment was somehow so great.
(Prabuddha Bharata, January-December 1935)