FROM the close of the era of the Buddhist Missions, until the day when, as a yellow-clad Sannyasin1, the Swami Vivekananda stood on the platform of the Parliament of Religions in the Chicago Exhibition of 1893, Hinduism had not thought of herself as a missionary faith.
Her professional teachers, the Brahmins, being citizens and householders, formed a part of Hindu society itself and as such were held to be debarred from crossing the seas. And her wandering Sadhus2, – who are, in the highest cases, as much above the born Brahmin in authority, as saint or incarnation may be above priest or scholar, – had simply not thought of putting their freedom to such use.
Nor did the Swami Vivekananda appear at the doors of Chicago with any credentials. He had been sent across the Pacific Ocean, as he might have wandered from one Indian village to another, by the eagerness and faith of a few disciples in Madras. And with American hospitality and frankness he was welcomed, and accorded an opportunity of speaking.
In his case, as in that of the Buddhist missionaries, the impelling force that drove him out to foreign lands was the great personality of One3 at whose feet he had sat, and whose life he had shared, for many years. Yet, in the West, he spoke of no personal teacher; he gave the message of no limited sect. “The religious ideas of the Hindus” were his theme at Chicago; and similarly, thereafter, it was those elements which were common to, and characteristic of, orthodox Hinduism in all its parts, that formed the burden of his teaching. Thus, for the first time in history, Hinduism itself formed the subject of the generalisations of a Hindu mind of the highest order.
The Swami remained in America until August of the year 1895, when he came to Europe for the first time. In September he found his way to England, and a month or so later, he began teaching in London.
1. Sannyasin: A monk who has renounced the world in service of God. Sanyasins usually belong to an order and are initiated into spiritual practices by a guru. They are given a title such as “Swami”,which means one who has complete control over himself – his senses, thoughts and deeds.
2. Sadhu: A saintly person who is on the quest for God.
3. Here Sister Nivedita is referring to Swami Vivekananda’s guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.