Thursday, 28 September 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Martha Brown Fincke : 1

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by Martha Brown Fincke

EARLY in November 1935, I landed in Calcutta and set foot for the first time on the soil of India. As I left my home in the United States of America journeying westward to encircle the globe, I thought of myself as a tourist in the different countries through which I passed. Only when I reached India did I in thought become a pilgrim. As a pilgrim I went the day after landing to the Belur Math on the farther side of the Ganga to bow my head in reverence before the tomb of the great Swami Vivekananda. In the upper room of the guest-house I met Miss Josephine MacLcod, his devoted friend. I also met several of the resident Swamis. When to each of them I said that I had once known Swami Vivekananda, their eagerness to hear of that far-off meeting surprised me. It was indeed to me one of the most vital influences of my life, but could it mean anything to others? Since they assured me that it was so, I am setting down my recollections of those two days, now 42 years ago, when I came under the influence of that great man.

In September 1893, at the World's Fair held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, a Parliament of Religions was a part of the programme. To this journeyed the then unknown young Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda. His power over the audiences who heard him set forth his universal Gospel and the magic of his personality are common knowledge.

At the close of the Parliament, in order to be independent of the personal benefactions of his admirers, the Swami engaged with a Lecture Bureau to tour the States beginning with the East, and early in November he came to the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. This charming old town, half-way between New York and Boston, and since prominent as the home of Calvin Coolidge, is situated on low hills in the Connecticut Valley just before the river plunges into the gap between Mt. Tom and Mt. Holyoke. In flood seasons the low-lying meadows about the town shine with the covering waters, and the purple outline of the Mt. Holyoke range forms the horizon to the south. Stately elm trees border the streets, and the place had then a slumberous aspect except when an eruption of students woke it to animation. For a women's college formed the centre of its intellectual life, Smith College, founded in 1875 by Sophia Smith for the higher education of women.

To this College I went as a freshman in the fall of 1893, an immature girl of eighteen, undisciplined but reaching out eagerly for the things of the mind and spirit. Brought up in a sheltered atmosphere, in the strictest Protestant Christian orthodoxy, it was with some misgivings that my parents saw me leave the home and be exposed to the dangers of so-called "free-thinking". Had not one of my friends gone the year before to Vassar College and was rumoured to have "lost her faith"?