Even a journey round the world becomes a pilgrimage, if one makes it with the Guru. It was late one evening, in the Red Sea, when I brought to the Swami some perplexity, of a personal nature, about the right method of helpfulness to others. It was rarely, indeed, that he would answer a question of this sort, without first turning for authority to some dictum of the Shastras’.
And how grateful does one become later for this fact! It was his personal opinion that one desired. But giving this, as he did, in the form of a comment on some text, it went much deeper into the mind, and became the subject of much longer thought and consideration, than if he had answered at once, in the sense required by the impatient questioner.
In the same way, when I had asked him what becomes of those who failed to keep their vows, he had gone all the way round by a beautiful Sanskrit quotation, to answer me. Even now, I hear the ring of his wonderful voice, repeating Arjuna’s question:
They who begin with Shraddha2, and afterwards become unsteady, to what end do those come, O Krishna, who fail in yoga? Do they, fallen from both estates, perish, – blasted, like a summer-cloud before the wind?
And the answer of Sri Krishna, fearless, triumphant, –
“Neither here nor hereafter, O Son of Pritha, shall such meet with destruction. NEVER shall one who has done good, come to grief, O my son!”
And then he drifted into a talk that I can never forget. First he explained how everything, short of the absolute control of mind, word, and deed, was but “the sowing of wild oats.” Then he told how the religious who failed would sometimes be born again to a throne, ‘there to sow his wild oats,’ in gratifying that particular desire which had led to his downfall. ‘A memory of the religious habit,’ he said, ‘often haunts the throne.’
For one of the signs of greatness was held to be the persistence of a faint memory. Akbar had had this memory. He thought of himself as a brahmacharitf who had failed in his vows. But he would be born again, in more favourable surroundings, and that time he would succeed.
And then there came one of those personal glimpses which occurred so seldom with our Master. Carried away by the talk of memory, he lifted the visor for a moment, on his own soul. “And whatever you may think,” he said, turning to me suddenly, and addressing me by name, “I have such a memory!
When I was only two years old, I used to play with my syce, at being a vairagi, clothed in ashes and kaupina. And if a Sadhu came to beg, they would lock me in, upstairs, to prevent my giving too much away. I felt that I also was this, and that for some mischief I had had to be sent away from Siva. No doubt my family increased this feeling, for when I was naughty they would say “Dear, dear! so many austerities, yet Siva sent us this demon after all, instead of a good soul! Or when I was very rebellious they would empty a can of water over me, saying ‘Siva! Siva’! And then I was all right, always. Even now, when I feel mischievous, that word keeps me straight. ‘No!’ I say to myself, ‘not this time!’ “
On the present occasion, then, he went back, in similar fashion, to the Gita. “The Gita says,” he answered me, “that there are three kinds of charity, the Tamasic, the Rajasic, and the Sattvic. Tamasic charity is performed on an impulse. It is always making mistakes. The doer thinks of nothing but his own impulse to be kind. Rajasic charity is what a man does for his own glory. And sattvic charity is that which is given to the right person, in the right way, and at the proper time.
“Your own,” he said, referring to the incident that had brought about my question, “was, I fear, like the tamasic charity. When it comes to the sattvic, I think more and more of a certain great Western woman, in whom I have seen that quiet giving, always to the right person in the right way, at the right time, and never making a mistake. For my own part, I have been learning that even charity can go too far.”
His voice sank into silence, and we sat looking out over the starlit sea. Then he took up the thread again. “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 the thirst of others, even in the moment of death.”
“But anyone will be great in a great position! Even the coward will grow brave in the glare of the foot-lights. 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.”
How many points on the map have received a new beauty in my eyes, from the conversations they recall! As we passed up the coast of Italy, we talked of the Church. As we went through the Straits of Bonifacio, and sat looking at the south coast of Corsica, he spoke in a hushed voice of “this land of the birth of the War-Lord,” and wandered far afield, to talk of the strength of Robespierre, or to touch on Victor Hugo’s contempt for Napoleon III, with his “Et tu Napoleon!”
As I came on deck, on the morning of our passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, he met me with the words “Have you seen them? Have you seen them? Landing there and crying ‘Din! Din! The Faith! The Faith!'” And for half-an-hour I was swept away into his dramatisation of the Moorish invasions of Spain.
Or again, on a Sunday evening, he would sit and talk of Buddha, putting new life into the customary historic recital of bare facts, and interpreting the Great Renunciation as it had appeared to him who made it.
But his talks were not all entertaining, nor even all educational. Every now and then he would return, with consuming eagerness, to the great purpose of his life. And when he did this, I listened with an anxious mind, striving to treasure up each word that he let fall. For I knew that here I was but the transmitter, but the bridge, between him and that countless host of his own people, who would yet arise, and seek to make good his dreams.
One of these occasions came on a certain evening, as we neared Aden. I had asked him, in the morning, to tell me, in broad outline, what he felt to be the points of difference between his own schemes for the good of India, and those preached by others. It was impossible to draw him out on this subject. On the contrary, he expressed appreciation of certain personal characteristics and lines of conduct, adopted by some of the leaders of other schools, and I regarded the question as dismissed. Suddenly, in the evening, he returned to the subject of his own accord.
“I disagree with all those,” he said, “who are 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 again 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 Vedas and Vedanta and all, lies in that one word. Buddha’s teaching was of Non-resistance or Non-injury. But I think this is a better way of teaching the same thing. For behind that Non-injury lay a dreadful weakness. It is weakness that conceives the idea of resistance. 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 would make all injury like that. Strength and fearlessness. My own ideal is that giant of a saint whom they killed in the Mutiny, and who broke his silence, when stabbed to the heart, to say – ‘And thou also art He!’
“But you may ask – what is the place of Ramakrishna in this scheme?”
‘He is the method, that wonderful unconscious method! He did not understand himself. He knew nothing of England or the English, save that they were queer folk from over the sea. But he lived that great life, – and I read the meaning. Never a word of condemnation for any! Once I had been attacking one of our sects of Diabolists1. I had been raving on for three hours, and he had listened quietly. ‘Well, well!’ said the old man as I finished, ‘perhaps every house may have a back door. Who knows’?
“Hitherto the great fault of our Indian religion has lain in its knowing only two words -renunciation and mukti. Only mukti here! Nothing for the householder!”
“But these are the very people whom I want to help. For are not all souls of the same quality? Is not the goal of all the same?”
“And so strength must come to the nation through education.”
I thought at the time, and I think increasingly, as I consider it, that this one talk of my Master had been well worth the whole voyage, to have heard.