It was amongst the lawns and trees of the Ganges-side that I came to know, in a personal sense, the leader to whose work my life was already given. At the time of my landing in India (January 28th. 1898), the ground and building had just been purchased at Belur, which were afterwards to be transformed into the Calcutta Monastery of the Order of Ramakrishna. A few weeks later still, a party of friends arrived from America, and with characteristic intrepidity1 took possession of the half-ruined cottage, to make it simply but pleasantly habitable. It was as the guest of these friends, here at Belur, and later, travelling in Kumaon and in Kashmir, that I began, with them, the study of India, and something also of the home-aspects and relationships of the Swami’s own life.
Our cottage stood on a low terrace, built on the western bank of the river, a few miles above Calcutta. At flood-tide the little gondola-like boat, – which to those who live beside the Ganges serves the purpose of a carriage, – could come up to the very foot of the steps, and the river between us and the opposite village, was from half to three-quarters of a mile broad. A mile or so further up the eastern bank, could be seen the towers and trees of Dakshineswar, that temple-garden in which the Swami and his brothers had once been boys, at the feet of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
The house which was in actual use at that time as the Monastery, lay some half mile or so to the south of our cottage, and between us and it were several other garden-houses, and at least one ravine, crossed by a doubtful-looking plank made out of half of the stem of a palm tree. To our cottage here, then, came the Swami daily, at sunrise, alone or accompanied by some of his brothers. And here, under the trees, long after our early breakfast was ended, we might still be found seated, listening to that inexhaustible flow of interpretation, broken but rarely by question and answer, in which he would reveal to us some of the deepest secrets of the Indian world.
I am struck afresh whenever I turn back upon this memory, by the wonder as to how such a harvest of thought and experience could possibly have been garnered, or how, when once ingathered, could have come such energy of impulse for its giving-forth.
Amongst brilliant conversationalists, the Swami was peculiar in one respect. He was never known to show the slightest impatience at interruption. He was by no means indifferent as to the minds he was addressing. His deepest utterances were heard only in the presence of such listeners as brought a subtle sympathy and reverence into the circle about him. But I do not think he was himself aware of this, and certainly no external circumstance seemed to have power to ruffle him. Moods of storm and strength there were in plenty; but they sprang, like those of sweetness, from hidden sources; they were entirely general and impersonal in their occasion.
It was here that we learnt the great outstanding watchwords and ideals of the Indian striving. For the talks were, above all, an exposition of ideals. Facts and illustrations were gathered, it is true, from history, from literature, and from a thousand other sources. But the purpose was always the same, to render some Indian ideal of perfection clearer. Nor were these ideals always so comprehensible as might have been supposed. This was a world in which concentration of mind was the object of more deliberate cultivation than even the instincts of benevolence could require, but the time was not yet come in which this was to be argued as for or against India.
The attainment of the impersonal standpoint was boldly proposed, in matters personal “Be the Witness!” was a command heard oftener than that which bids us pray for our enemies. The idea of recognizing an enemy would have seemed to this mind a proof of hatred. Love was not love, it was insisted, unless it was ‘without a reason,’ or without a ‘motive,’ as a western speaker might have attempted, though perhaps with less force, to express the same idea. Purity and renunciation were analyzed untiringly. The Great God, tempted by nothing -not kingship nor fatherhood; not wealth nor pleasure; in all the worlds He had created, proving on the contrary, in matters worldly, ‘a very simple fellow,’ incurious, easily deceived, and begging His daily handful of rice from door to door, shone through all our dreams.
Titiksha, or non-correction of evil, was a mark of the religious life, and of this we might find a western example in that monk who was a leper, and who, when the maggots fell from his finger-joints, stooped and replaced them, saying, “Eat brothers!” The vision of Raghunath was one of the perfections of the soul, and that saint had had it, who fainted, when the bullocks were beaten in his presence, while on his back were found the weals made by the lash. We were even called upon to understand a thought immeasurably foreign to all our past conceptions of religion, in which sainthood finds expression in an unconsciousness of the body, so profound that the saint is unaware that he goes naked. For that delicate discrimination of a higher significance in certain cases of nudity, which, in Europe, finds its expression in art, in India finds it in religion. As we, in the presence of a Greek statue, experience only reverence for the ideal of beauty, so the Hindu sees in the naked saint only a glorified and childlike purity.
There was one aspiration, however, which was held, in this new thought-world, to be of the same sovereign and universal application in the religious life as that of the concentration of the mind. This was the freedom of the individual soul, including all the minor rights of thought, opinion, and action. Here lay the one possession that the monk was jealously to guard as his own, the one property on which he must brook the foot of no intruder; and as I watched the working out of this, in daily life, I saw that it amounted to a form of renunciation.
To accept nothing, however pleasant, if it concealed a fetter; at a word to stand ready to sever any connection that gave a hint of bondage; how clear must be the mind that would do this, how pure the will! And yet this ideal, too, was eloquent of many things. One could not help seeing that it accounted for the comparative non-development of monasticism in India, for the fact that the highest types of the religious life, in the past, had been solitary, whether as hermits or wanderers.
In the monastery beside us there were men, as we were told, who did not approve of their leader’s talking with women; there were others who objected to all rites and ceremonies; the religion of one might be described as atheism tempered by hero-worship; that of another led him to a round of practices which to most of us would constitute an intolerable burden; some lived in a world of saints, visions and miracles; others again could not away with such nonsense, but must needs guide themselves by the coldest logic. The fact that all these could be bound together in a close con-fraternity, bore silent witness to their conception of the right of the soul to choose its own path. It also, as I could not help thinking, both then and after, accounted for the failure, in certain respects, of the old Indian forms of authority.
For, in order that the highest and most disinterested characters may throw themselves into the work of the city and the state, it is surely necessary that they should sincerely hold the task of such organisation to be the highest and most honourable which they could aspire to carry out. In the India of the past, however, the best men had been too conscious of the more remote spiritual ideals, and amongst them, of this conception of freedom, to be capable of such an enthusiasm for the assertion of the civic and national discipline. And we cannot wonder that in spite of the existence of ability and character, certain advantages of the modern system have thus been left for the moderns to demonstrate.
That Hinduism, nevertheless, is capable enough of adding to her development that of the inspiration and sustenance of such activities, is shown, as I believe, in the very fact of the rise of Ramakrishna and his disciple Vivekananda, with their characteristic contribution to the national thought.
It was perhaps as an instance of that ‘exchange of ideals’ which he had ever in mind, that the Swami gravely warned us again and again, as the great fault of the Western character, against making any attempt to force upon others that which we had merely found to be good for ourselves.
And yet at the same time, when asked by some of his own people what he considered, after seeing them in their own country, to be the greatest achievement of the English, he answered, ‘that they had known how to combine obedience with self-respect’.
But it was not the Swami alone whom we saw at Belur. We were accounted by the monastery as a whole, as its guests. So back and forth would toil the hospitable monks, on errands of kindness and service for us. They milked the cow that gave us our supply, and when the servant whose duty it was at nightfall to carry the milk, was frightened by the sight of a cobra in the path, and refused to go again, it was one of the monks themselves who took his place in this humble office. Some novice would be deputed daily, to deal with the strange problems of our Indian house-keeping. Another was appointed to give Bengali lessons. Visits of ceremony and of kindness were frequently paid us by the older members of the community. And finally, when the Swami Vivekananda himself was absent for some weeks on a journey, his place was always duly taken at the morning tea-table by someone or another who felt responsible for the happiness and entertainment of his guests. In these and a thousand similar ways, we came in touch with those who could reveal to us the shining memory that formed the warp, on which, as woof, were woven all these lives of renunciation.
For they had only one theme, these monastic visitants of ours, and that was their Master Sri Ramakrishna and his great disciple. The Swami had now been back with them for thirteen or fourteen months only, and scarcely yet had they recovered from their first pleasure and surprise. Before that he had been practically lost to them for some six years. It was true that of late he had corresponded with them freely, and that for no time had they been, long, altogether off his track. And yet, when his first success in America had been heard of, most of his brethren had had only their confidence in the great mission foretold by his Master, to tell them that it was he.
Those who have witnessed here or there some great life of asceticism, will recognise a mood of passionate longing to lose one’s own identity, to be united with the lowliest and most hidden things, to go forth from amongst men, and be no more remembered by them, as an element in the impulse of renunciation. This it is which explains, as I think, the long silence and seclusion in caves; the garb of mud and ashes, so often worn as a man wanders from forest to forest, and village to village; and a thousand other features of this type of religion, which to the Western onlooker might seem inexplicable.
This mood would seem to have been much with the Swami in the early years after the passing of his Master. And again and again he must have left the little band of brethren, in the hope never to be heard of more. Once he was brought back from such an expedition by the community itself, who heard that he was lying ill at a place called Hathras, and send to take him home. For such was the love that bound them all to each other, and especially to him, that they could not rest without nursing him themselves.
A few months later he was followed to the monastery by a disciple whom he had called to himself during his wanderings. This man’s name, in religion, was Sadananda, and from his account, with its strong broken English, I glean the record of the life that was lived at this period in the monastery. When he arrived – it had taken him some two or three months, by means of railway service, to earn his way to Calcutta from his old home – he found the Swami on the point of setting out once more. But for his sake this journey was abandoned, and the departure that was to have taken place that evening did not occur till twelve months later. “The Swami’s mission began with me,” says this first disciple proudly, referring to this time.
During this year, he the Master, “would work twenty-four hours at a time. He was lunatic-like, he was so busy!” Early in the morning, while it was still dark, he would rise and call the others, singing, “Awake! Awake! all ye who would drink of the divine nectar!” Then all would proceed to meditation, afterwards drifting almost unconsciously into singing and talking, which would last till noon, or even later. From hymns and chanting they would pass into history. Sometimes it would be the story of Ignatius Loyola; again Joan of Arc, or the Rani of Jhansi; and yet again the Swami would recite long passages from Carlyle’s French Revolution, and they would all sway themselves backwards and forwards dreamily, repeating together “Vive la Republique! Vive la Republique!”
Or the subject of their reveries might be S. Francis of Assisi, and with the same unconscious instinct of the dramatist, they would lose themselves in an endless identification with his “Welcome, Sister Death!” It might perhaps be one or two o’clock when Ramakrishnananda -the cook, housekeeper, and ritualist of the community – would drive them all, with threats, to bathe and eat. But after this, they would “again group” – again would go on the song and talk, till at last evening had come, bringing with it the time for the two hours of Arrati to Sri Ramakrishna.
As often as not, even this would scarcely break the absorption, again would follow song, and talk of the Master; again would come the trances of meditation. Or on the roof, till long after midnight it might be, they would sit and chant ”Hail Sita-Rama!” The special festivals of all religions brought each their special forms of celebration. At Christmas time, for instance, they would recline, with long shepherds’ crooks, around a lighted log, and talk in low tones of the coming of the angels to the lonely watchers by their flocks, and the singing of the world’s first Gloria.
Very curious is the story of how they kept Good Friday. Hour after hour had gone by, and they had risen gradually to that terrible exaltation of spirit which comes to those who give themselves to that day. Food was not to be thought of, but they had contrived to have by them a few grapes, and the juice was squeezed out, and mixed with water, to be drunk out of a single cup by all. In the midst of such scenes, the voice of a European was heard at the door, calling on them, in the name of Christ.
With inexpressible delight they swarmed down on him, twelve or fifteen men of them, eager to hear of the day from the lips of a Christian. “- But he said he belonged to the Salvation Army, and knew nothing about Good Friday. They only kept General Booth’s birthday and something else, I forget what”, said Sadananda, and in the cloud that overcast the face and voice of the teller, one could realize the sudden depression that fell, at this discovery, upon the monks. It seems that in their first disappointment, they snatched his Bible from the unfortunate missionary, saying he was not worthy to possess it, and drove him forth. It is said however that one of their number stole round by another door and brought him back to eat, and have his property secretly restored to him.
“Those were hot days,” says the teller of the tale, with his face aglow, “there was no minute of rest. Outsiders came and went, pundits argued and discussed. But, he, the Swami, was never for one moment idle, never dull. Sometimes he was left alone for a while, and he would walk up and down, saying, ‘Hari bol! bol! bol! Call on the Lord! Call! Call!’ or ‘Oh Mother!’ in all these ways preparing himself for his great work. And I watched all the time from a distance, and in some interval said, ‘Sir, will you not eat?’ – always to be answered playfully.”
Sometimes the talk took place while cooking was going on, or during the service of the altar, offices in which all shared without distinction. For in spite of the poverty of those days, many came to the monks to be fed. Their own resources were scanty. They had only one piece of cloth amongst them that was good enough to be worn across the shoulders, outside the monastery. So this was kept on a line and used by anyone who went out. And they could afford no more. Yet food was found somehow for the poor and for guests, and many came for help or teaching.
They begged funds enough also, to buy and distribute some hundreds of copies of the Bhagavad Gita, and the Imitation1, the two favourite books of the Order at that time. “Silence, all ye teachers! And silence, ye prophets! Speak Thou alone, O Lord, unto my soul!” was, years after, a sentence that the Swami quoted at a venture as all that he then remembered of Thomas a Kempis. For it is perhaps needless to say that while this book took its place by degrees amongst experiences remembered, the Gita grew every day in fullness of power and beauty in the minds of these Hindu children of Ramakrishna.
So passed some twelve months. Then the Swami went away to Ghazipur to visit Pavhari Baba,* that saint whom he always held second only to Ramakrishna. He came back in a couple of months to share the treasure he had gained with others. Suddenly news came that one of the brothers, by name Yogananda, was lying ill with small-pox at Allahabad, and a party, followed by the Swami, started to nurse him.
At Allahabad, to take up once more Sadananda’s account, many days were passed in religious education. It was as if Yogananda’s sickness had been a mere incident, a call given through him, and the whole town came and went in a great stirring. Small groups would enter and leave, in a constant succession, for days and nights together, the Swami being always in his highest and greatest mood. On one occasion he saw a Mohammedan saint, a Paramahamsa, “whose every line and curve told that he was a Paramahamsa,” and this was the occasion of a great hour.
“Sometimes naked, sometimes mad,
Now as a scholar, again as a fool,
Here a rebel, there a saint,
Thus they appear on the earth, the Paramahamsas.”
1 The Imitation of Christ hy Thomas a Kemnis was one of Swami Vivekananda’s favourite books. Pavhari Baba was a saint who lived near Ghazipur. He died by burning, in 1898.
– So repeating “The Marks of the Paramahamsas” from the Viveka Chudamoni of Sankaracharya, there passed, as the disciple would put it, “a whole night fermenting.” Such experiences lasted perhaps for two weeks, and then the party left Allahabad, and by twos and threes returned to the monastery, in the village of Baranagore on the banks of the Ganges.
But now there came a time, in the year 1890, when the Swami left his brothers, not to return, till the great triumph of the year 1897.
This time he set out with a monk known as Akhandananda, who took him to Almora and left him there, enjoying the hospitality of a family who had formerly befriended himself on a journey to Thibet. It is said that on the way up the mountains, the Swami one day fainted with hunger, when a poor Mohammedan found him, and prepared and gave him a cucumber, which practically saved his life. How long the brothers had been without food I do not know. It may have been that at this time, as certainly later, he was under the vow to ask for nothing, waiting always for food and drink till they were offered. He told someone who knew him during that period and questioned him, that the longest time he had ever gone without food, under this austerity, was five days.
After this, the thread of his wanderings was lost. He wrote occasionally, but the monks themselves were scattered.
‘It had been so dull after they lost him’! says the narrator. And even the first home had to be abandoned, for the landlord talked of rebuilding. There was one monk, however, Ramakrishnananda by name, who would not leave the ashes of their Master, but vowed, with rock-like determination, to keep a roof over-head, come storm, come shine, so to speak, for them and for his brothers, till they should all foregather in their worship-room once more. He, then, with Nirmalananda, the occasional residence of one Premananda, and the new member of the fold, ‘as dish-washer’, removed to a house some distance away, but still in the immediate neighbourhood of Dakshineshwar, and the monastery which had previously been at Baranagore was now known as the Alum Bazar Math.
Akhandananda at this time was always “chasing,” always in pursuit of the absent leader. Every now and then he would hear of him in some town, and would arrive there, only in time to hear that he was gone, leaving no trace. Once the Swami Trigunatita found himself in trouble in a Guzerati state, when someone said that a Bengali Sadhu was staying with the Prime Minister, and if he appealed to him, would surely give him aid. He made his appeal, and found that the unknown Sadhu was the Swami himself. But he, after rendering the assistance that was needed, sent his brother onwards, and himself proceeded alone. The great words of Buddha, constantly quoted by him:
“Even as the lion, not trembling at noises, even as the wind, not caught in a net, even as the lotus-leaf untouched by the water, so do thou wander alone, like the rhinoceros!
– were the guiding principle of his life at this time.
It had been at Almora, as we now know, that news reached him, of the death, in pitiful extremity, of the favourite sister of his childhood, and he had fled into the wilder mountains, leaving no clue. To one who, years after, saw deep into his personal experience, it seemed that this death had inflicted on the Swami’s heart a wound, whose quivering pain had never for one moment ceased. And we may, perhaps, venture to trace some part at least of his burning desire for the education and development of Indian women, to this sorrow.
At this time he passed some months in a cave overhanging a mountain-village. Only twice have I known him to allude to this experience. Once he said, “Nothing in my whole life ever so filled me with the sense of work to be done. It was as if I were thrown out from that life in caves to wander to and fro in the plains below.” And again he said to someone, “It is not the form of his life that makes a Sadhu. For it is possible to sit in a cave and have one’s whole mind filled with the question of how many pieces of bread will be brought to one for supper!”
It was perhaps at the end of this period, and in expression of that propulsive energy of which he spoke, that he made a vow to worship the Mother at Cape Comorin. In carrying this out, he was lavish of time, yet it must have taken him only about two years to accomplish the vow. In the course of his wanderings towards this end, he seems to have touched upon and studied every phase of Indian life. The stories of this period are never ended. The list of the friends he made is never full. He received the initiation of the Sikhs; studied the Mimansa Philosophy with Mahratta pundits; and the Jain Scriptures with Jains; was accepted as their Guru by Rajput princes; lived for weeks with a family of sweepers, in Central India; was able to observe at first hand such obscure questions as the caste-customs of Malabar; saw many of the historic sights and natural beauties of his Mother-land, and finally reached Cape Comorin too poor to pay for a seat in a ferry-boat to the shrine of Kanya Kumari, and swam across the strait to the island, in spite of sharks, to offer the worship he had vowed.
It was on his return northwards through Madras, that he formed the strong group of disciples who became the means of sending him to America, for which country he sailed finally from Bombay, about the beginning of June 1893.
Even this however he was not eager to do. His disciples in Madras still tell how the first five hundred rupees collected for the object were immediately spent by him in worship and charity, as if he would force on his own destiny, as it were, the task of driving him forth. Even when he reached Bombay, he was still waiting for the feeling of certainty. Struggling to refuse the undertaking, he felt as if the form of his own Master appeared to him constantly, and urged him to go.
At last he wrote secretly to Sarada Devi, the widow of Sri Ramakrishna, begging her, if she could, to advise and bless him, and charging her to tell no one of this new departure, till she should hear from him again. It was only after receiving, in answer to this letter, her warm encouragement, and the assurance of her prayers, that he actually left India for the West.
Now, at last, there was no escaping fate. That quest of forgotten-ness that had first borne him out of the doors of the monastery, had led him also to change his name in each Indian village that he reached. And in later years someone heard from him how, after his first great speech at Chicago, the mingling of the bitterness of this defeat with the cup of his triumphant achievement, racked his consciousness all night long. He stood now in the glare of publicity. The unknown beggar could remain unknown no more!
In these wanderings through India, I find the third and final element, in my Master’s realization of that great body of truth, which was to find in him at once its witness and its demonstration.
There can be no doubt, I think, that the formative influences in his life were threefold: first his education in English and Sanskrit literature; second, the great personality of his Guru, illustrating and authenticating that life which formed the theme of all the sacred writings; and thirdly, as I would maintain, his personal knowledge of India and the Indian peoples, as an immense religious organism, of which his Master himself, with all his greatness, had been only, as it were, the personification and utterance. And these three sources can, as I think, be distinctly traced in his various utterances.
When he preaches Vedanta and upholds before the world the philosophy of his people, he is for the most part drawing upon the Sanskrit books of past ages, though, it is true, with a clearness and certainty of touch that could only be the result of having seen them summed up in a single wonderful life.
When he talks of Bhakti as of “a devotion beginning, continuing and ending in love,” or when he analyzes Karma Yoga, ‘the secret of work,’ we see before us the very personality of the Master himself, we realize that the disciple is but struggling to tell of that glorified atmosphere in which he himself has dwelt at the feet of another.
But when we tread his speech before the Chicago Conference, or his equally remarkable “Reply to the Madras Address,” or the lectures in which at Lahore, in 1897, he portrayed the lineaments of a generalized and essential Hinduism, we find ourselves in presence of something gathered by his own labours, out of his own experience. The power behind all these utterances lay in those Indian wanderings of which the tale can probably never be complete. It was of this first-hand knowledge, then, and not of vague sentiment or wilful blindness, that his reverence for his own people and their land was born. It was a robust and cumulative induction, moreover, be it said, ever hungry for new facts, and dauntless in the face of hostile criticism. ‘The common bases of Hinduism had,’ as he once said, ‘been the study of his whole life.’ And more than this, it was the same thorough and first-hand knowledge that made the older and simpler elements in Hindu civilization loom so large in all his conceptions of his race and country. Possessed of a modern education that ranked with the most advanced in his own country, he yet could not, like some moderns, ignore the Sannyasin or the peasant, the idolater or the caste-ridden, as elements in the great whole called India. And this determined inclusiveness was due to that life in which he had for years together been united with them.
It must be remembered, however, that we have not entirely analyzed a great career when we have traced, to their origin in the personal experience, those ideas which form its dominant notes. There is still the original impulse, the endowment of perennial energy that makes the world-spectacle so much more full of meaning to one soul than to another, to be accounted for. And I have gathered that from his very cradle Vivekananda had a secret instinct that told him he was born to help his country. He was proud afterwards to remember that amidst the temporal vicissitudes of his early days in America, when sometimes he did not know where to turn for the next meal, his letters to his disciples in India showed that this innate faith of his had never wavered. Such an indomitable hope resides assuredly in all souls who are born to carry out any special mission. It is a deep unspoken consciousness of greatness, of which life itself is to be the sole expression. To Hindu thinking, there is a difference as of the poles, between such consciousness of greatness and vanity, and this is seen, as I think, in the Swami himself at the moment of his first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna, when he was decidedly repelled, rather than attracted, by what he regarded as the old man’s exaggerated estimate of his powers and of himself.
He had come, a lad of fifteen, as a member of a party visiting Dakshineshwar, and someone, probably knowing the unusual quality of his voice, and his knowledge of music, suggested that he should sing. He responded with a song of Ram Mohun Roy’s, ending with the words, “And for support keep the treasure in secret, – purity.”
This seems to have acted like a signal – “My boy! my boy!” cried Sri Ramakrishna, “I have been looking for you these three years, and you have come at last!” From that day the older man may be said to have devoted himself to welding the lads about him into a brotherhood whose devotion to “Noren,” as the Swami was then called, would be unswerving. He was never tired of foretelling his great fame, nor of pointing out the superiority of his genius. If most men had two, or three, or even ten or twelve gifts, he said, he could only say of Noren that his numbered a thousand. He was in fact “the thousand-petalled lotus.” Even amongst the great, while he would allow that with one might be found some “two of those gifts which are the marks of Siva,” Noren had at least eighteen of such.
He was sensitive to the point of physical pain himself, in his discrimination of hypocrisy, and on one occasion refused to accept a man whose piety of life was regarded by those about him as unimpugnable. The man, he said, with all his decorum, was a whited sepulchre. In spite of constant purification his presence was contamination, while Noren, on the other hand, if he were to eat beef in an English hotel, would nevertheless be holy, so holy that his very touch would convey holiness to others. By such sayings he sought constantly to build up an enduring relation, based firmly on essentials, between those who were to be his supporters, and this disciple who was to lead.
It was his habit, when a new disciple came to him, to examine him mentally and physically in all possible ways. For the human body was to his trained eye, as significant in all its parts, as any model of a machine to a skilled scientific observer. These examinations moreover would include the throwing of the newcomer into a sleep, in which he had access to the subconscious mind. The privileged, as I have been told, were permitted in this condition to relate their own story; while from the less honoured it was evoked by means of questions.
It was after such an examination of “Noren” that the Master told all about him, that when the day should come for this boy to realize who and what he was, he would refuse for a moment longer to endure the bondage of bodily existence, going out from life, with its limitations. And by this was always understood by the disciples, the remembering by the lad of what he had already attained, even in this world, in lives anterior to his present consciousness. No menial service to himself was permitted by Sri Ramakrishna from this particular follower. Fanning, the preparation of tobacco, and the thousand and one little attentions commonly rendered to the Guru, all these had to be offered to the Master by others.
Amongst the many quaint-seeming customs of the East, none is more deep-rooted than the prejudice against eating food cooked by one who is not respected. And on this point the Swami’s Master was as sensitive as a woman. But what he would not eat himself he would give freely to his favourite disciple, for Noren, he said, was the “roaring fire,” burning up all impurity. The core of divinity again, in this boy’s nature was masculine in its quality, as compared to his own merely feminine.
Thus, by an attitude of admiration, not unmixed with actual reverence, he created a belief in the destiny of this particular lad, which, when he himself had passed away, was to stand him in good stead, in furnishing authenticity and support to his work. For the Swami was nothing, if not a breaker of bondage. And it was essential that there should be those about him who understood the polar difference between his breaches of custom and those of the idly selfindulgent. Nothing in the early days of my life in India, struck me so forcibly or so repeatedly as the steadiness with which the other members of the Order fulfilled this part of the mission laid upon them. Men whose own lives were cast in the strictest mould of Hindu orthodoxy, or even of asceticism, were willing to eat with the Europeans whom their leader had accepted.
Was the Swami seen dining in Madras with an Englishman and his wife? Was it said that while in the West he had touched beef or wine? Not a quiver was seen on the faces of his brethren. It was not for them to question, not for them to explain, not even for them to ask for final justification and excuse. Whatever he did, wherever he might lead, it was their place to be found unflinching at his side.
And surely none can pass this spectacle in review, without its being borne in upon him, that meaningless as would have been the Order of Ramakrishna without Vivekananda, even so futile would have been the life and labours of Vivekananda, without, behind him, his brothers of the Order of Ramakrishna. It was said to me lately by one of the older generation that “Ramakrishna had lived for the making of Vivekananda.” Is it indeed so? Or is it not rather impossible to distinguish with such fixity between one part and another, in a single mighty utterance of the Divine Mother-heart? Often it appears to me, in studying all these lives, that there has been with us a soul named Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, and that, in the penumbra of his being, appear many forms, some of which are with us still, and of none of whom it could be said with entire truth that here ends, in relation to him, the sphere of those others, or that there begins his own.