REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
ALL the superlatives in the language couldn’t convey one’s impressions of Swami Vivekananda when he introduced us, early in 1900, to a completely new conception of life and religion. I have been requested, as one who took notes of his lectures for her own use, with no thought of their ever being published, to give my impressions of him. How to do it? He seemed like a radiant being from a higher plane, and yet so understanding of every phase of humanity. He appealed to every grade of intelligence by his oratory, his humour, his mimicry, his scornful denunciation of any form of pettiness or intolerance, and by his compassion for every human need.
Startled at the loftiness of his conception compared with our little ideals, we knew, as we left the hall with the Swami’s vibrant chanting of a Sanskrit shloka still ringing within, that he was ushering us, in the beginning of this twentieth century, into a new and larger conception of the meaning of life.
It is interesting to look back on a long life and note the changes in one’s sense of values, and also to note what tiny, insignificant events changed the whole course of life. If I had not accepted the offer of a course in stenography just before entering high school, and if, in the second year of high school I had not had a nervous breakdown and been forced to leave school, I might never have met Swamiji, although I probably would have heard some of his lectures. I had been studying the piano as well as going to school. The doctor, whose verdict was, “You must give up school or music, or you will not need either”, sent me to Miss Lydia Bell for help. Miss Bell was the leader of the California Street Home of Truth in San Francisco. I was staying in the Home and taking notes of her morning classes and Sunday lectures.
In the morning classes we were studying Swami Vivekananda’s Raja-Yoga (it had been published in New York during his earlier visit to the West) when the Swami, then in Los Angeles, accepted an invitation from Rev. B. Fay Mills to give some lectures in the First Unitarian Church in Oakland. There I went with Miss Bell and other friends, early in February 1900, and we were startled and astonished at what we heard, amazed and enraptured at the Swami’s appearance. He was surely a Mahatma or a divine being, more than human. No one had ever been so sublimely eloquent or so deliciously humorous, such an entrancing story-teller, or such a perfect mimic. When I saw and heard him and thought of the interpretation we had been given of the civilization that had produced him, I felt almost ashamed that I was an American. I went to most of his lectures with Miss Bell and to some with other friends and met the same glowing enthusiasm in all, though with some it was the man rather than the doctrine that appealed most. I remember one very wealthy and aristocratic young lady. who was studying music with my teacher, saying ecstatically, “Oh, he is tike a lovely golden statue!”
Besides the public lectures. Swamiji had some morning classes for earnest students, in meditation. They were held in the living room of an apartment on Turk Street where Mrs. Alice Hansborough (Shanti) and Mrs. Emily Aspinall (Kalyani) kept house for him. I was able to attend only a few of these classes and did not take any notes. First there would be a meditation and then a period of instruction, followed by questions and answers and practical suggestions as to exercise, rest and diet. Swamiji stressed the importance of moderation in amount and mildness in quality of food. One suggestion I remember was that we refrain from eating salt for a week. thereby benefiting the nervous system, as salt is considered an irritant.
Many questions were answered in these classes. Also, for those who arrived before class time, there was a little opportunity for getting acquainted personally with the Swami. We were invited into the dining room, where we enjoyed some informal talks. He would make fun of our habit of rushing here and there. He never hurried. That majestic calmness never left him. It amused him to see someone run for a street car. “Won’t there be another one?” he would ask. It did not trouble him at all if he was late in beginning a class or a lecture, and there was no set time for its ending. He would continue until he finished his subject, even if it took more than double the allotted time These early morning visits previous to the class were completely informal. Swamiji would wear a gray flannel robe, sit cross-legged in an arm-chair, smoke, answer questions, and tell jokes. When it was time for the class, he would appear two minutes later in the living room, clad in his ochre robe, his hair smooth, and the pipe missing. But the jokes continued to be interspersed among the serious subjects.
The same was true in his public lectures. He playfully ridiculed the question: What becomes of one’s individuality when one realizes his oneness with God? “You people in this country are so afraid of losing your in-di-vid-u-al-i-ty!” he would exclaim. “Why, you are not individuals yet. When you realize your whole nature, you will attain your true individuality, not before. In knowing God you cannot lose anything. There is another thing I am constantly hearing in this country, and that is that we should live in harmony with nature. Don’t you know that all the progress ever made in the world was made by conquering nature? We are to resist nature at every point if we are to make any progress.”
He encouraged questions at the end of each lecture, and once when someone suggested that they were tiring him with too many questions, he said, “Ask all the questions you like, the more the better. That is what I am here for and I won’t leave you until you understand. In India they tell me, I ought not to teach Advaita (monistic) Vedanta to the people at large, but I say I can make even a child understand it. You cannot begin too early to teach the highest spiritual truths.”
Speaking of spiritual training for the mind, he said,”The, less you read, the better. Read the Gita and other good works on Vedanta. That is all you need. The present system of education is all wrong. The mind is crammed with facts before it knows how to think. Control of the mind should be taught first. If I had my education to get over again and had any voice in the matter, I would learn to master my mind first, and then gather facts if I wanted them. It takes people a long time to learn things because they can’t concentrate their minds at will. It took me three readings to memorize Macaulay’s History of England, while my mother memorized any sacred book she wanted to in one reading. People are always suffering because they can’t control their minds. To give an illustration, though rather a crude one, a man has trouble with his wife. She leaves him and goes off with another. She’s a terror! But the poor fellow cannot take his mind away from her even so, and so he suffers.”
One Sunday evening Swamiji was scheduled to give a lecture at the Home of Truth. “Come to my lecture tonight,” he said to some friends. “I am going to throw some bombs. It will be interesting and it will do you good!” It was interesting and terribly convincing. He told us in plain and forceful language just what he thought of us and it was not flattering, but very wholesome if we could take it, and I think we could. I don’t remember that any one left. He stressed the idea of chastity as a means of strengthening the mind, and purity for the house-holder as well as for the monk. He told of a Hindu boy who had been in America for some time and was suffering from ill health. The boy told Swamiji that the Indian theory of chastity must be wrong because the doctors here had advised him against it. Swamiji said, “I told him to go back to India and listen to the teachings of his ancestors who had practised chastity for thousands of years.” And then he severely rebuked the American doctors for giving such advice.
Mrs. Steele had prepared an excellent dinner which was served before the lecture, at which Swamiji was delightfully informal and jolly. We waited expectantly for him to say the usual grace, but to our surprise he immediately commenced to eat. He made some remark about saying grace after dinner rather than before, and he also said, addressing Mrs. Steele, “I will say grace to you, Madame; you have done all the work.” She had some very fine dates for desert, which Swami evidently enjoyed, and when, after the lecture she expressed her appreciation of it, he replied, “It was your dates Madame”
One evening Swamiji was talking of the different interpretations of heaven and hell presented in the Indian scriptures. He described several varieties of hell. Usually after a lecture some of the devotees would take him either to Mr. Louis Juhl’s restaurant in the section of San Francisco known as Little Italy or to some uptown cafe, depending on whether his mood and the weather called for hot food or ice-cream. On this particular occasion it was a very cold night and Swamiji shivered in his overcoat, remarking. “If this isn’t hell, I don’t know what is.” But, in spite of the hellishly cold weather, he chose ice-cream, which he liked very much. Just as it was time to leave the cafe the hostess had to go to the telephone and asked us to wait. As she left for that purpose, Swamiji called after her, “Well don’t be long or when you come back you will find only a lump of chocolate ice-cream.”
On another occasion a waitress made a mistake in the order and brought Swamiji an ice-cream soda, which he did not like. He asked her if she would change it. As she was on her way to do so Swamiji happened to see the annoyed manager, and called out loudly, not caring who heard him, “If you scold that girl I’ll eat all the ice-cream sodas in the place.”
Congregational singing in the Christian churches he referred to as “bottle-breaking business”. He made all sorts of fun of”Beulah Land”:
I’ve reached the land of corn and wine
And all its riches freely mine.
Another hymn that amused him was the “Missionary Hymn”:
From Greenland’s icy mountains
To India’s coral strand….
He would sing it all through to the end, in his rich voice, and then pause, point dramatically at himself, and say, smilingly: “I am the heathen they came to save”
On March 30 Swamiji wrote to Swami Turiyananda, who was then in New York helping Swami Abhedananda. “I am leaving for Chicago next week.” But more lectures followed and on April 23 he wrote to Mary Hale, “I ought to have started today, but cannot forego the temptation to be in a camp under the high redwood trees of California before I leave. Therefore I postpone it for three or four days.” As it turned out he should have said “three or four weeks”, for he did not leave the Bay district until May 26.
The invitation to be in such a camp had come to him from Miss Bell, to whom Mr. Juhl, the owner, offered it for a summer vacation. Miss Bell invited Mrs. Eloise Roorbach and me to accompany her. Various letters indicate that Swamiji remained in the Turk Street apartment until April 19, then worked and lived at Alameda on the other side of the Bay for some days, not actually reaching the redwood camp until May 2.
On April 22, Miss Bell, Mrs. Roorbach, and I were established at Camp Irving (the name of Mr. Juhl’s camp at the outskirts of Camp Taylor, a rustic summer retreat in Marin County) a few miles north of San Francisco. The camp ground was a narrow strip of land between a railroad track and a creek. There was a circular clump of trees at one end which we used as a sort of chapel for classes and meditation. The kitchen was at the other end and its equipment consisted of a stove under a tree, a trunk for supplies, a rough board table with benches on either side, and some shelves built into the tree for dishes, the pots and pans being hung on nails driven into the tree. Between these two provisions for spiritual and material food there was room for four tents and an open space for a camp-fire.
When Swamiji did reach the camp, he arrived with Shanti after a series of efforts to get there which she related to me when I was in San Francisco a few years ago. She told me of her mental conflict in regard to going to the camp. She was torn between the desire to accompany Swamiji and the wish, after three months’ absence, to get back to her daughter in Los Angeles. Swami said to her, “Don’t go to Los Angeles. Come with me to the camp and will teach you to meditate.” In order to go from Alameda to Camp Irving it was necessary to take two ferry boats, one across the Bay to San Francisco and one north from there to Marin County. In Alameda there were two rail-road lines which carried passengers to the docks, one broad gauge and one narrow gauge, just a few blocks apart. Swamiji and Shanti missed the train at one of them and went to the other. Seated in the car, they discussed the matter of whether to have breakfast on the boat from Alameda to San Francisco or on the boat from San Francisco to Marin County. and then discovered that there was no engine attached to the car in which they were sitting. They returned to the Home and had breakfast there, and Swamiji said, “We missed the train because your heart was in Los Angeles and there is no force or power in the universe that can pull against the human heart.”
Shanti told me of how, after reading Swamiji’s books for two years, she had first heard him lecture in Los Angeles the winter of 1899-1900. At once she had been eager to help in his work. A society was organized of which Shanti was the First Secretary. Lectures were given at Blanchard Hall, the Los Angeles Home of Truth, the Shakespeare Club of Pasadena, and other places. Swami had been staying at the home of Mrs. S.K. Biodgett. He was also the guest of the Mead sisters in South Pasadena, of whom Shanti was one. The other two were Mrs. Carrie Mead Wyckoff, who in later years gave her Hollywood home as the headquarters of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, and Helen Mead, who took some of Swamiji’s Los Angeles lectures in shorthand. When Swamiji left for Oakland, he said. “You three sisters have become a part of my mind for ever.”
Shanti told me: “Swamiji had such simplicity about him, he put one right on a level with himself. He said to me, ‘You have no reverence.’ When I told this to Swami Turiyananda, he remarked. “Yes, he said that, but he was pleased that you did not have reverence. Where there is equality there is exchange of perfect love. Where there is no superior and inferior you have that perfect union.'”
When Swamiji received the invitation to lecture in the Unitarian Church in Oakland, he asked Shanti if she would like to accompany him north. He said, “If you want to go with me, don’t let anybody keep you from coming.” So Shanti went to San Francisco and at last to Camp Irving. There she was very active in caring for Swami’s needs and comfort. One morning he found her in the kitchen preparing food when it was time for his morning class. “Aren’t you coming in to meditate?” he asked. “Yes.” she replied, “but I have to get this broth simmering first. Then I shall come in.”
Then Swamiji said, “Well, never mind; our Master said you could leave meditation for service.”
Two never-to-be-forgotten nights stand out in my long life. To think of either of them is a cure for any ill. One is the first night at Shanti Ashrama with Swami Turiyananda, about whom I have already written. The other is Swamiji’s first night at Camp Taylor, May 2. 1900. I close my eyes and see him standing there in the soft blackness with sparks from the blazing log fire flying through it and a day-old moon above. He was weary after a long lecture season, but relaxed and happy to be there. “We end life in the forest,” he said, “as we begin it, but with a world of experience between the two states.” Later after a short talk, when we were about to have the usual meditation, he said. “You may meditate on whatever you like, but I shall meditate on the heart of a lion. That gives strength.” The bliss and power and peace of the meditation that followed could never be described.
The next day it rained all day. In the morning after breakfast Swamiji sat on Miss Bell’s cot and talked for a long time. although even then he had a fever. That night he was very ill, so ill that he made a will, leaving everything to his brother monks. Shanti and Kalyani took care of him. I can see Shanti now, in the pouring rain, heedless of getting drenched, spreading an extra piece of canvas over his tent directly opposite to the one I shared with Miss Bell.
The next day was Saturday and Miss Bell and I had to go to San Francisco. When we returned Sunday afternoon, Swamiji was better. He had been invited to the camp to rest, but every day after breakfast he would sit on Miss Bell’s cot and talk to us for a long time, telling stories, answering questions. He told of his hopes for a better understanding of the East and the West and their mutual benefit thereby. He told of his love for Thomas a Kempis and how he had travelled all over India with two books, the Gita and The Imitation of Christ. In one of his lectures in San Francisco Swamiji closed with a quotation from the latter: “Silence all teachers, silence all books; do Thou only speak unto my soul.”
After the morning talk and meditation, Swami would be interested in the preparations for dinner. Sometimes he helped. He made curry for us and showed us how they grind spices in India. He would sit on the floor in his tent with a hollow stone in his lap. With another smooth, round stone he would grind the spices much finer than we can do with a bowl and chopper. This would make the curry quite hot enough for us, but Swami would augment it by eating tiny red-hot peppers on the side. He would throw his head back and toss them into his mouth with a great circular movement of his arm. Once he handed me one of them, saying, “Eat it, It will do you good.” One would eat poison if offered by Swamiji, so I obeyed, with agonizing result, to his great amusement. At intervals all the afternoon he kept asking, “How is your oven?” Another time he made rock candy for us, explaining how it is the purest kind of candy, all the impurities being removed by boiling and boiling.
The meals were jolly and informal, with no end of jokes and stories. Shanti had been to Alaska and was accustomed to roughing it, and her carefree spirit and indifference to conventions pleased Swamiji. At one breakfast he reached over and took a little food from her plate, saying. “It is fitting that we should eat from the same plate: we are two vagabonds.” He also said to her again, “You have become part of my life for ever,” and to Kalyani he remarked that if she had lived on the highest mountain she would have had to come down to take care of him. “I know it, Swami,” she replied.
Nothing escaped Swami’s notice. Some work was being done on the place by a Mexican or American Indian, and Swami noticed that he watched us having breakfast. Later on he talked to the boy, who complained of not having been given any coffee. He said, “Black man like coffee; white man like coffee; red man tike coffee.” This amused Swami very much. He requested that the boy be given some coffee, and all the afternoon he kept repeating the boy’s remark and laughing.
The afternoons were devoted to long walks. The grand climax of the day’s activities was the evening fireside talk and the following meditation. After telling stories and answering questions Swamiji would give us a subject for meditation such as “Firm and Fearless” before beginning to chant. One morning he inspired us with a talk on “Absolute Truth, Unity, Freedom” and the subject for the evening meditation was “I am All Existence, Bliss, and Knowledge.”
So the days went by all too fast, with serious mornings, merry afternoons, and sublime evenings.
When Miss Bell invited me to spend the summer with her at Camp Irving, it was agreed that I would go down to San Francisco each Saturday morning, give a music lesson in the afternoon-and return Sunday after her lecture, which I was to try to take in shorthand. On the second week-end Miss Bell, for some reason that I have forgotten, went alone to San Francisco on Friday afternoon, with the understanding thaT I was to follow on Saturday.
When I was getting ready to take the train as usual, Swamiji said to me, “Why do you go?”
“I have to go, Swami.” I replied. “I have to give a lesson.” I have always regretted the answer, for the dollar I received for the lesson was not the motive forgoing. The real motive was Miss Bell’s lecture.
Swamiji said, “Then go, and make half a million dollars and send it to me for my work in India.” He took me up the steep steps to the railroad track and flagged the train for me. There was no station and the train stopped only on signal. Swamiji’s carriage was magnificent. His eyes were always fumed skyward, never down. Someone said of him that he never saw anything lower than a telegraph pole.
When the engine passed us, as the train slowed down, I heard the fireman say to the engineer, “Hellow! Who is this sky pilot?” I had never heard the expression and was puzzled at first as to its meaning. Then I realized that it must mean a religious leader, and that it was evident to any one who saw him that Swamiji was such a leader.
It has always been a matter of regret that I went to San Francisco that week-end, for soon after that Swami left Camp Irving. The half million dollars for his work in India has not been made, but I have never given up the childish hope that in some miraculous way it may yet be accomplished. Swami Turiyananda said many times, “Mother can make the impossible possible.”
I do not know the exact date that Swamiji left Camp Irving, but various letters written by him indicate that he was still in San Francisco on the 26th of May and that he was under the care of Dr. M.H. Logan, at whose home he stayed, and gave three lectures on the Gita on May 26, 28, and 29. He wrote from Los Angeles on June 17, “Am leaving for Chicago in a few days,” and he was in New York on July 11.
Tom Allan and his wife Edith (Ajoy and Viraja) are my oldest friends and they have told me many times of their first impressions of Swamiji and their experiences with him, and of the immense benefit they received from him. Edith was very ill when Swamiji first came to Oakland in 1900 and Tom went alone to hear the Hindu monk whose lecture was advertised in the paper. When he returned, he was very much excited and could scarcely contain his enthusiasm. He said, “I have met a man who is not a man; he is a god! And he spoke the truth!” Edith asked him to tell her what he had said that impressed him so much, and the two most startling ideas were these: Good and evil are the obverse and reverse of the same coin; and you cannot have one without the other. We had been taught in the Home of Truth that all is good and there is no evil. The other idea that deeply impressed him was that a cow cannot tell a lie and a man can, but the cow will always be a cow. while a man can become divine.
Tom immediately began to give his services as usher in Swamiji’s lectures, and as soon as she was able, Edith went to hear him. It was while she was standing near the entrance waiting for Tom to count the collection that Swamiji saw her, and called to her, “Madame, you come here,” She went to him and he said. “If you would like to see me privately come to the flat. No collection is taken there; everything is free.”
“When shall I come?” she asked.
“Tomorrow morning at nine o’clock.”
She went to the flat the next morning and sat on one side of a bay window. Swamiji came in chanting and sat at the other side of the window. “Well, Madame,” he said. Edith was so moved that she could not speak and could not stop crying for a long time. Then Swamiji said. “Come tomorrow morning at the same time.” She went to him several times for spiritual instruction. He gave her some simple breathing exercises, warning her not to practise them except in his presence. He told her that he thought the work of the Home of Truth was the best then available in the West, and he appreciated the fact that the workers there did not charge for spiritual assistance, as some others did.
One time Swamiji said, “I am the disciple of a man who could not write his own name, but I am not worthy to unloose his shoes. How often I have wished that I could take this intellect and throw it in the Ganga.”
“But Swami,” protested one woman, “your intellect is what we like about you.” “That is because you are a fool. Madame, as I am,” was Swamiji’s answer.
At the end of the last meeting of the class, Edith was departing quietly when Swamiji shouted. “Madame, you come back. Go into the dining room and sit down.” When he finished saying good-bye to the others, he went in and asked her to stay to dinner. Then he began to cook and made her peel potatoes and onions. While working, he was chanting verses from the Gita and once he stopped and recited in English the sixty-first verse of the eighteenth chapter: “The Lord lives in the heart of every creature. He turns them round and round upon the wheel of his Maya.” “You see, Madame,” he said, “he has us on the wheel. What can we do?”
When Swamiji was slaying for a time at the Alameda Home of Truth, Edith had some wonderful times helping him cook. While the service was going on in the living room, they would be busy in the kitchen preparing the meal. There he was jolly and informal, but she was also given many incidental lessons. Once she was wearing a new green dress of which she was very proud. Suddenly some butter from the frying pan splattered on it. She was bemoaning the mishap and making a great tragedy of it, while Swami continued to chant and go about his work without taking the slightest notice of the incident.
Once they bought some pickles in a little wooden dish. Some of the pickle juice ran out on Swami’s hand. He immediately put his fingers to his mouth and began to lick off the liquid. This seemed undignified, and Edith said. “Oh Swami!” in a shocked tone. “This little outside.” Swami replied. “That’s the trouble with you here; you always want this outside to be so nice.”
Tom told me many of his experiences. He acted as usher of Swamiji’s lectures and several times introduced him to the audience. The first time they stood together on the platform, Tom had the feeling that Swamiji’s height was about forty feet and his about six inches. After that, when introducing him, he always stood at the foot of the platform. On one occasion Swamiji was speaking on India. Before beginning the lecture he said, “When I start on India I never know when to stop; so you attract my attention at ten o’clock.” So Tom stood at the back of the hall and at ten o’clock took out his watch and swung it back and forth on the chain like a pendulum. After a time Swamiji noticed the signal and said, “I told them to stop me at ten o’clock. They are already swinging the watch and I haven’t got started yet.” But he stopped and, from that time on as long as he lived, Tom Allan always carried and used every day that same old watch.
On Easter Sunday night a group of friends were sitting on the porch of the Home of Truth, and Swamiji was telling some of his experiences in America. On one occasion he was advised to consult a lady chiropodist for some foot treatment. He evidently did not think very highly of her, for he always referred to her as the lady toe-doctor and said, “My toe hurts every time I think of her.”
That evening someone asked Swamiji about renunciation. “Babies!” he answered, “what do you know of renunciation? If you want to be my disciples, you must face the cannon without a murmur.”
Tom was English and had been an officer in the British Army. His speciality was naval engineering, and he had a stiff military bearing. Swamiji once said to him, as Tom stood up in his presence. “Mr. Allan, we are both in the same caste. We are in the military caste.” When Tom asked him where he found his best disciples. Swamiji replied promptly. “In England. They are harder to get, but when you get them, you’ve got them.”
Swamiji always attracted attention wherever he went. He had a majestic bearing which everybody recognized. As he would walk down Market Street, people would stand aside to let him pass or turn around and ask. “Who is the Hindu prince?” It was in this way that he was able to see a ship launched from the actual launching platform. Tom was working in one of the big iron works of San Francisco at the time. and when Swamiji expressed a wish to see a launching, he invited a little group to the shipyard. The launching platform was closed except to the invited guests of the management who had tickets, and the ramp leading to the platform was guarded by two attendants. Swamiji decided he would have a better view from the launching platform, so he just calmly walked past the guards, who made no protest. When he came down, after the launching, he said. “It is like the birth of a child.”
Swamiji emphasized the fact that spiritual people are not fanatical or severe. “They are not long-faced and thin.” he said. “They are fat, like me.”
During one of the talks in Miss Bell’s tent at Camp Irving. Miss Bell remarked that the world is a school where we come to learn our lesson. Swamiji asked. “Who told you that the world is a school?”
Miss Bell was silent. Swamiji went on, “This world is a circus, and we are clowns come to tumble.” Miss Bell asked, “Why do we tumble. Swamiji?” Swamiji replied. “Because we like to tumble. When we get tired of tumbling, we quit.”
Tom and Edith had an apartment in San Francisco which was permeated with the atmosphere of Swamiji. All the Swamis of the Ramakrishna Order in this country loved to visit them when they went to San Francisco, and some of them said or wrote. “You, more than anybody else in the West, are able to make Swamiji real to us.” One of my friends said of them when she and her son visited the Allans a few years ago that their account of Swami Vivekananda was so full of joy and so vivid, it seemed as though he himself could walk into the room. There was a beautiful picture of him in the dining room, and the guests were always seated facing it. Chanting always preceded the meal, and there was little talk of anything during it other than of Swamiji, his Master, and his work. All his books were there, and the Allans had an enormous collection of pictures which they enjoyed showing to their guests. One particular favourite was taken in a garden. Swamiji was lying on the grass, enjoying a conversation with some friends, when someone came and wanted to take his picture. He did not want to get up but, urged by all to do so, he stood up, just as he was, without turban or robe, against a background of flowering vines, looking as if about to speak, and the result is one of his best portraits.
Edith had a nice contralto voice, and sometimes she would sing, with deep feeling, some of the songs associated with Swamiji. A favourite was the song of the nautch-girl, which she adapted from Swamiji’s translation of a song sung by a courtesan in the palace of a Raja where he was staying just before leaving for America the first time. Although he left the room when he learnt that this girl was about to sing, he heard the song from outside and was so moved by the words and her manner of singing that he returned and spoke most beautifully to her, even thanking her for the lesson she had given him, thus removing the last vestige of a possible spiritual pride, and completing the preparation for his work in the West.
Never since the day Swamiji perceived Edith’s need for help has he been out of her mind. Many times in the last fifty years she has remembered the words spoken at their last meeting: “It ever you are in trouble, you can call on me. No matter where I am, I’ll hear you.” Many ordeals she has met bravely, sustained by that promise.
In one of his lectures Swamiji said, “If a bad time comes, what of that? The pendulum must swing back to the other side. But that is no better. The thing to do is to stop it.” Then he uttered an American expression which children used to use when swinging, when they would stop pumping and let the swing slow down to a halt: “Let the old cat die.”
To have seen and heard Swamiji and to have felt his words of power flow through me on to paper and thence to print for many to read, thereby receiving courage and inspiration, is a rare privilege and is compensation for all ills of life. It makes me almost ready to let the old cat die.
(Vedanta and the West, May-June 1954)