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Book  stop.gif (845 bytes)  Weekly Message Archive


In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.







SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, an unknown monk of India, suddenly leapt into fame at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, at which he represented Hinduism. His vast knowledge of Eastern and Western culture as well as his deep spiritual insight, fervid eloquence, brilliant conversation, broad human sympathy, colorful personality, and handsome figure made an irresistible appeal to the many types of Americans who came in contact with him.  Reports from newspapers of the time and reminiscences of those who met the Swami reveal to us the many facets of his magnetic personality.

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda

From the reminiscences of Josephine MacLeod

      On the twenty-ninth of January 1895, I went with my sister to 54 West 33rd Street, New York, and heard the Swami Vivekananda in his sitting room where were assembled fifteen or twenty ladies and two or three gentlemen. The room was crowded. All the arm chairs were taken; so I sat on the floor in the front row. Swami stood in the corner. He said something, the particular words of which I do not remember, but instantly to me that was truth, and the second sentence he spoke was truth, and the third sentence was truth. And I listened to him for seven years and whatever he uttered was to me truth. From that moment life had a different import. It was as if he made you realize that you were in eternity. It never altered. It never grew. It was like the sun that you will never forget once you have seen.

      I heard him all that winter, three days a week, mornings at eleven o’clock. I never spoke to him, but as we were so regular in coming, two front seats were always kept for us in this sitting room of the Swamiji. One day he turned and said, “Are you sisters?” “Yes,” we answered. Then he said, “Do you come very far?” We said, “No, not very far – about thirty miles up the Hudson.” “So far? That is wonderful.” Those were the first words I ever spoke to him.

      I always felt that after Vivekananda, Mrs. Roethlisberger was the most spiritual person I ever met. It was she who took us to him. Swamiji had a great place for her also. One day she and I went to the Swami and said, “Swami, will you tell us how to meditate?” He said, “Meditate on the word ‘OM’ for a week and come again and tell me.” So after a week we went back and Mrs. Roethlisberger said, “I see a light.” He said, “Good, keep on.” “O no, it is more like a glow at the heart.” And he said to me, “Good, keep on.” That is all he ever taught me. But we had been meditating before we ever met him, and we knew the Gita by heart. I think that prepared us for recognition of this tremendous life force which he was. His power lay, perhaps, in the courage he gave others. He did not ever seem to be conscious of himself at all. It was the other man who interested him. “When the book of life begins to open, then the fun begins,” he would say. He used to make us realize there was nothing secular in life; it was all holy. “Always remember, you are incidentally an American, and a woman, but always a child of God. Tell yourself day and night who you are. Never forget it.” That is what he used to tell us. His presence, you see, was dynamic. You cannot pass that power on unless you have it, just as you cannot give money away unless you have it. You may imagine it, but you cannot do it....

      In the June of that year Swami went up to Camp Percey, Christine Lake, N.H., to be the guest of Mr. Leggett at his fishing camp. We also went. There my sister’s engagement to Mr. Leggett was announced, and Swami was invited to go abroad and be the witness at the wedding. While he was at the Camp, Swami would go out under those beautiful white birch trees and meditate for hours. Without telling us anything about it, he made two beautiful birch bark books, written in Sanskrit and English, which he gave to my sister and me.

      Then when my sister and I went to Paris to buy her trousseau, Swami went to Thousand Island Park and for six weeks gave those wonderful talks called Inspired Talks, which to me are the most beautiful words that were written, because they were given to a group of intimate disciples. They were disciples, whereas I was never anything but a friend. But that quality that he gave them! Nothing I think revealed his heart as those days did.

      He came over to Paris with Mr. Leggett in August. There, my sister and I stayed at the Holland House, and the Swami and Mr. Leggett stayed at a different hotel; but we saw them everyday. At that time, Mr. Leggett had a courier who always called Swami ‘Mon Prince!’ And Swami said to him, “But I am not a prince. I am a Hindu monk.” The courier answered, “You may call yourself that, but I am used to dealing with princes, and I know one when I see one.” His dignity impressed everyone. Yet, when someone once said to him, “You are so dignified, Swami,” he replied, “It isn’t me, it’s my walk.”...

      Swamiji’s knowledge was prodigious. Once when my niece, Alberta Sturgis, later Lady Sandwich, was with him in Rome, showing him the sights, she was amazed at his knowledge of where the great monuments were. And when she went to St. Peter’s with him, she was still more amazed to see him so reverential to the symbols of the Roman Church – to all the jewels, all the beautiful draperies, put upon the saints. She said, “Swami, you don’t believe in a personal God; why do you honor this so much?” He answered, “But Alberta, if you do believe in a personal God, surely you give it your best.”

      That autumn he went from Switzerland to India with Mr. and Mrs. Sevier and Mr. J. J. Goodwin, where a great ovation awaited him by the entire nation. This can be read about in the discourses called Lectures from Colombo to Almora. Mr. Goodwin was the stenographer who had been engaged at 54 West 33rd Street to take down the lectures of Swami Vivekananda. Mr. Goodwin was a court-stenographer, which meant two hundred words a minute, and he was very expensive; but as we did not want to lose any of Vivekananda’s words, we engaged him. After the first week Mr. Goodwin refused any money; when they said to him, “What do you mean?” he said, “If Vivekananda gives his life, the least I can do is to give my service.” He followed Swami around the world, and we have seven volumes hot from his lips that Mr. Goodwin took down.

      I never wrote to Swami after he went to India, waiting to hear from him. Finally I had a letter, “Why don’t you write?” Then I sent back, “Shall I come to India?” And his answer was, “Yes, come, if you want filth and degradation and poverty and many loin cloths talking religion. Don’t come if you want anything else. We cannot bear one more criticism.” Naturally I went over by the first ship; I sailed on the twelfth of January with Mrs. Ole Bull and Swami Saradananda. We stopped in London. Then on to Rome. We arrived in Bombay on the twelfth of February where Mr. Alasinga met us, who wore the vertical red marks of the Vaishnavite sect. Later on, once when I was sitting with Swami on our way to Kashmir, I happened to make the remark, “What a pity that Mr. Alasinga wears those Vaishnavite marks on his forehead!” Instantly Swami turned and said with great sternness, “Hands off! What have you ever done?” I did not know what I had done then. Of course I never answered. Tears came to my eyes and I waited. I learnt later that Mr. Alasinga Perumal was a young Brahmin teaching philosophy in a college in Madras earning 100 rupees a month, supporting his father, mother, wife, and four children, and who had gone from door to door to beg the money to send Vivekananda to the West. Perhaps without him we never would have met Vivekananda. Then one understood the anger with which Swamiji met the slightest attack on Mr. Alasinga....

      In a day or two we went up to see Swami at his temporary monastery at Belur, at Nilambar Mukherjee’s garden-house. During the afternoon Swami said, “I must take you to the new monastery that we are buying.” I said, “O, but Swami, isn’t this big enough?” It was a lovely little villa he had, with perhaps an acre or two of land, a small lake and many flowers. I thought it was big enough for anyone. But he evidently saw things in a different scale. So he took us across little gullies to the place where is now the present monastery. Mrs. Ole Bull and I, finding this old riverside house empty, said, “Swami, can’t we use this house?” “It isn’t in order,” he answered. “But we’ll put it in order,” we told him. With that he gave us permission. So we had it all newly whitewashed and went down to the bazaars, bought old mahogany furniture and made a drawing room half of which was Indian style and half of which was Western style. We had an outside dining room, our bedroom with an extra room for Sister Nivedita who was our guest until we went to Kashmir. We stayed there quite two months. It was perhaps the most beautiful time we ever had with Swamiji. He came every morning for early tea which he used to take under the great mango tree. That tree is still in existence. We never allowed them to cut it down, though they were keen to do it. He loved our living at that riverside cottage; and he would bring all those who came to visit him, to see what a charming home we had made of this house he had thought uninhabitable. In the afternoons we used to give tea-parties in front of the house, in full view of the river, where always could be seen loads of boats going up-stream, we receiving as if we were in our own drawing rooms. Swamiji loved all that intimate use we made of things which they took as a matter of course. One night there came one of those deluges of rain, like sheets of water. He paced up and down our outside dining room verandah, talking of Krishna and the love of Krishna and the power that love was in the world. He had a curious quality that when he was a bhakta, a lover, he brushed aside karma and raja and jnana yogas as if they were of no consequence whatever. And when he was a karma-yogi, then he made that the great theme. Or equally so, the jnana. Sometimes, weeks, he would fall in one particular mood utterly disregardful of what he had been, just previous to that. He seemed to be filled with an amazing power of concentration; of opening up to the great cosmic qualities that are all about us. It was probably that power of concentration that kept him so young and so fresh. He never seemed to repeat himself. There would be an incident of very little consequence which would illuminate a whole new passage for him. And he had such a place for us Westerners whom he called “Living Vedantins.” He would say, “When you believe a thing is true, you do it, you do not dream about it. That is your power.”...

      In July 1899 Swami came to England again with Sister Nivedita, where Sister Christine and Mrs. Funke met him. From there he came to America and he came to us at Ridgely Manor in September of that year where we gave him his own cottage with two of his monks, Turiyananda and Abhedananda.... In the evening, sitting around the great fire in the hall of Ridgely Manor, he would talk, and once after he came out with some of his thoughts a lady said, “Swami, I don’t agree with you there” “No? Then it is not for you,” he answered. Someone else said, “O, but that is where I find you true.” “Ah, then it was for you,” he said, showing that utter respect for the other man’s views....

      Swami lectured a great number of times at the Home of Truth and in various halls, but perhaps the most outstanding lecture I ever heard was his talk on “Jesus of Nazareth,” when he seemed to radiate a white light from head to foot, so lost was he in the wonder and the power of Christ. I was so impressed with this obvious halo that I did not speak to him on the way back for fear of interrupting, as I thought, the great thoughts that were still in his mind. Suddenly he said to me, “I know how it is done.” I said, “How what is done?” “How they make mulligatawny soup! They put a bay leaf in it,” he told me. That utter lack of self-consciousness, of self-importance, was perhaps one of his outstanding characteristics. He seemed to see the strength and the glory and the power of the other man who felt that courage enter into him, until everyone who came near him went away refreshed and invigorated and sustained. So when people have said to me, “What is your test of spirituality?” I have always said, “It is the courage that is given by the presence of a holy man.” Swamiji used to say, “The saviors should take on the sins and tribulations of their disciples and let the disciples go on their way rejoicing and free. There is the difference! The saviors should carry the burdens.”...

      At Belur Math one day, while Sister Nivedita was distributing prizes for some athletics, I was standing in Swamiji’s bedroom at the Math, at the window, watching, and he said to me, “I shall never see forty.” I, knowing he was thirty-nine, said to him, “But Swami, Buddha did not do his great work until between forty and eighty.” But he said, “I delivered my message and I must go.” I asked, “Why go?” and he said, “The shadow of a big tree will not let the smaller trees grow up. I must go to make room.”...

      On the second of July, Sister Nivedita saw him for the last time. She went to inquire whether she should teach a certain science in her school. Swami answered, “Perhaps you are right, but my mind is given to other things. I am preparing for death.” So she thought he was indifferent. Then he said, “But you must have a meal.” Sister Nivedita always ate with her fingers, a la Hindu; and after she had eaten, Swami poured water over her hands. She said, very much the disciple, “I cannot bear you to do this.” He answered, “Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples.” Sister Nivedita had it on the tip of her tongue to say, “But that was the last time they ever met.” It was the last time she ever saw him. That last day he spoke to her of me and of many people, but when he spoke of me he said, “She is pure as purity, loving as love itself.” So I always took that as Swamiji’s last message to me. In two days he died having said, “The spiritual impact that has come here to Belur will last fifteen hundred years – and this will be a great university. Do not think I imagine it, I see it.”


(To be continued)


Book  stop.gif (845 bytes) Weekly Message Archive